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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Can someone explain to me....

Can someone explain to me why our culture has taken to referring to women as 'bitches'?

What a bunch of crap.

In my life, women have repeatedly stepped up to take care of me when I was a boy, and when I was a man, while all the men disappeared.

What a bunch of crap.

BBQ and Low Temperature Cooking

This blog actually started out somewhere else that I was going to go, but it took on a life of its own, so I just started following it. I hope to get to the direction I was heading in a future post!

If you've been reading this blog from the start, then you will be aware that I have been cooking BBQ for a long time - I started trying (!) in 1986. It was hard back then because we were living in Florida, there wasn't any BBQ insight available that would lend insight on how to make it, and there wasn't any Internet (although I did have a usenet feed via uucp to a UNIX system I was running at home - circa 1989).

BBQ, for the uninitiated, is cooking tough cuts of meat, at a low temperature, for a long period of time. Since, as all God's chosen (Southerners) know, BBQ is only pork - it ain't beef, and typical cuts are the shoulder , which when split yields the Picnic and the Boston Butt.

Butt butt butt you say, I thought the butt was at the rear end of the pig! Nope; it's at the shoulder/neck, where the shoulder butts up against the neck. The rear end is the Ham, and that's a whole different creature.

While you will see references as high as 250dF to cook BBQ, this is a poor way to make it. People that smoke their Pork at 250dF are doing it because they are in a hurry, and don't mind sacrificing quality for speed. Well, go to McDonald's and get a McRib. You'll also see references to 225dF, which is better, but no joy yet. Real BBQ has to be done below 212 (at sea level; lower if you live higher).

Think about this: I'm sure you've seen a pressure cooker in action. That pressure is created by boiling water, and water boils (at sea level, lower temperatures at higher elevations) at 212 dF. You've got to put a lid on that pot and lock it down to be able to contain that pressure - it's trying to burst out!

So what's going to happen to meat that you cook above 212 dF? It's going to heat the water in all the little cells, cause them to expand, burst through the cell walls, and flow out of the meat where it will evaporate. You just lost a lot of moisture.

But flavor is transported by fat; so what happens to the fat when you cook at 250dF? Pork fat [rules]starts to render out of the meat at 140 dF. The higher the temperature, the faster it renders. So if you are looking for low-fat BBQ, then continue to cook at 250 dF, or 225 dF.....and you are tossing a lot of that flavor out of the meat.

So why are people cooking at 250 dF and at 225 dF? It's because they are in a hurry. Well, I'm cooking BBQ for FLAVOR and I'm not in a hurry to get it!

Note that we are concerned with two different temperatures here. The first temperature we are concerned with is the temperature of the oven, while the second temperature is the internal temperature of the meat. The temperature of the oven determines, ultimately, the highest internal temperature the meat will reach. For instance, if I cook at an oven temperature of 145 dF, then the internal temperature of the meat can not ever go above 145 dF, regardless of how long we leave the meat in the oven....2 years later and it will still not be above 145 dF.

So the oven temperature determines the following things: it determines how fast the internal temperature of the meat will come to your desired temperature; it determines what the maximum internal temperature of the meat can reach; it determines the temperature difference between the outside meat and the inside meat; and, since temperature determines the amount of time you can leave the meat in the oven, it also determines the tenderness of the meat.

The higher the temperature of your oven, the faster heat will be transferred to your meat. It can only be transferred by going from the outside of the meat into the inside of the meat. So the outside of the meat is going to get hotter and this hotter temperature will gradually be transferred into the interior of the meat. The higher the outside temperature of the meat, the higher the difference between the interior of the meat, and the faster the transfer. If the meat is left in the oven long enough, then at some point, the interior temperature and exterior temperature of the meat will reach equilibrium, and no further transfer will take place; the whole of the meat is at a steady uniform state.

When people look at cooking temperature vs. time charts, for example when cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey, they are interested in two things: the oven temperature, and the time to leave the turkey in the oven at that temperature. That temperature and time solution is solving the following problem: trying to cook the turkey in the shortest time, while getting the interior of the turkey done. Too long at too high a temperature and the surface is dry and hard while the interior is just right. Too short at too high a temperature and the surface is just right while the interior is still raw. So the temperature that is chosen is that which will satisfy the need to have the surface not too dry while the interior has had enough time for the heat to migrate into the interior and bring it up to a safe, good temperature.

The larger the piece of meat, the greater the distance from the surface to the interior middle of the meat. The larger this distance is, the further the heat has to travel, and the longer it takes for the heat to do so. So big pieces of meat takes longer for the heat to migrate into the interior - another way of saying this is it takes longer for the meat to get done.

This is the reason fast food hamburgers are wide and thin - the heat migrates all the way through in just a few minutes; the whole thing is done, at the same temperature, in a really short amount of time, so you can blast it with a lot of heat. Thicker pieces and you've got to lower that temperature and cook it for a longer time to allow the heat to migrate to the center.

Harold McGee, in "On Food and Cooking" remarked that the real way to cook something would be to cook it at the desired temperature you want it to end up at. In other words, if you want your BBQ to end up at 160 dF, which the US Government says is safe, then you want to cook it at 160 dF. However, Alton Brown says that pork is at it's prime at 145 dF.

That means I may want to cook mine to 145 dF, as that is probably the best temperature for flavor. But I haven't tried this yet, because I haven't had an accurate enough low temperature oven and temperature controller yet....but I'm changing that! I have cooked a Chuck Roast at 165 in a low temperature oven. It came out tender and moist.

Pork cooked to 145 or even 160 won't look very appetizing; it will look gray - dull, and unappetizing. To improve that, you'll want to place that Pork into an oven (a smoker is an oven, just with some smoke in it) at 325 - 400 dF after cooking at 145 or 160, in order to create a Maillard Browning effect. But at 325 - 400 dF for how long? I'm not sure yet, but I'm researching; so in the meantime, you'll have to just put 'er in and watch till it gets to the point where it looks like you want it to look!

But back to how long to cook the Pork meat at 145 or 160 dF?

That brings us to Low Temperature Cooking.

Sous Vide has pioneered low temperature cooking for the average cook. However, we've already seen that BBQ is the basis for low temperature cooking, and Sous Vide is just adapting this approach, by putting it into a plastic bag, removing the air, and cooking it low and slow.

If you read about Sous Vide cooking, you will note one similarity with this approach and BBQ - how tender the meat is.

So, if our goal is to cook BBQ and have it at it's peak (which for me is 145 dF), and at it's NC style Pulled-Pork tender, then you need to cook it for at least 2 days, and maybe 3 days...I don't know yet, but I'm going to experiment to find out, and when I do I'll post an update here.

Which leads me to the post I actually wanted to make - low temperature cooking, which will be in a future post.

I'm designing and building a low temperature controller for a low temperature cooking oven.

When I've got it completed, I will post it here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My motorcycle wreck

I don't remember anything about my wreck on my 2007 Harley Davidson Heritage Classic - an 800 lb beast. The police report says a woman ran me off of the road, and a witness stated I did everything I could to avoid hitting her.

I have 30,000 miles of experience on motorcycles. I've taken all the training available to me - accident scene management, CPR, and 5 days of training (parts 1 and 2) of the Motorcycle Safety Institutes basic and advanced training. I'm an Instrument rated pilot; I'm an engineer - I preflight everything I do......and according to the police, but not in the report, an Indian woman ran me off of the road while pulling in from a side street because, in her culture, it is my obligation to avoid her - there are no rules of the road to her and her culture except bigger owns all rights. So I pay for her convenience. But she left me with no options, and no where to go to avoid her.

In looking at the scene months later, I realize I took the best choice of those bad choices presented to me: exit the road and take a curb at a bad angle which threw me off of the motorcycle (this was it); run into the car, possibly sliding under the car and being run over like one guy I knew of; hit a tree; run over a 10 foot cliff and drop down onto a parked car.

My skid marks show I was successful in turning the bike, then bringing it upright, then applying full brakes. This is the correct way to make an emergency maneuver. A lot of people don't know, but applying full brakes while in a turn will drop a motorcycle; my training worked; I just ran out of room to stop.

I remember leaving the house, about 20 minutes before the wreck. I was returning to the office from meeting a contractor at my house at lunch to detail some work he was doing for us.

The next memory I have is of a dim episode with me being on a gurney being wheeled into the operating room. Someone asked me if I was allergic to anything - I responded in my typical joking manner, that I was only allergic to pretty girls, as my wife would beat me about my head. They all laughed. My wife isn't like that, so I took this cheap joke at her expense, but I knew she wouldn't mind - she would just laugh and roll her eyes and allow me this liberty at her expense. What a woman!

My next memory is the sound around me coming into focus, like someone that has headphones on that are keeping out all sound, then the sound gradually comes up, then the sound, all of it, is all there. Sssssssssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuupppppppp - and I have sound! All kinds of sounds; all odd and different. No vision yet, but other things are so big in my existence right now that lack of vision doesn't matter. And my throat - what the hell is this - it's like it's caked dry; I can't swallow! Just dry - a choking dryness. And what's this - something at my neck. I reach up to pull it away and people are yelling at me to stop! What the hell? There's a lot of people around me that I wasn't aware of!

My wife begins telling me that I've been in a wreck. Panic sets in - not because of the idea of a wreck, but because of the beyond-belief dryness in my throat - I can hardly breath, there's something over my mouth and nose, I can't swallow, I can't talk because my mouth is so dry, something is clinging to my neck, and I'm going to rip all of this shit off and find out just what-in-the-hell is going on! Why am I on my back? Why, when I move my arms and feel pressure from things, are there things connected to my arms? I'm getting up and throwing all this shit off! What the hell, bunch of god-damn crap, fuck this shit - it's all coming off, and it's coming off now!

My daughter's voice, H's, cuts through and orders me to "leave it alone, don't touch it!" What? I freeze - I don't know what's going on, but I trust my family's orders. My daughter is ordering me, she's ordering me? Respect for each other is a core tenant of our relationships for our whole family, for all of us - me, P(wife), H(daughter), and S(daughter). If H is ordering me, then you can bet your ass I'm listening and obeying! If she's ordering, then it's critical that I comply!

H orders me to "get a hold of your mind, like you've taught me to do". What! "You can't do this! You've got to leave everything alone!" What? But I listen and leave whatever it is at my neck alone. I begin applying some of the meditation I've learned, where you focus your mind to the exclusion of other things. On the one hand, I focus on minutia, while on the border, in the peripheria, I can feel the boundary: chaos, fear and panic. I know I don't want to go there, so I focus my mind on remaining calm, as H requires. I focus on her voice and that of my wife's, and I analyze every word, every nuance, for clues: what has happened, how bad is this, what's wrong with me, where am I? I think of these in a flash, not as separate thoughts, but one single thought: whathashappenedhowbadisthiswhatswrongwithmewhereamI. But I can't yet say anything because of the dry throat, the mask on my face....

P, my wife, tells me, in one stream of information, that I've been in a wreck, that I'm OK, but I'm in the hospital, that I've had an operation, and I've lost my spleen. Bang - one coherent stream of information. As an engineer, that's exactly what I wanted - straight information, no bullshit - bless you baby! That I have four broken ribs. What! That I've had a concussion. What! That I've got some sort of respirator hooked up and it's connected at my neck and I've got to leave it alone. OK - I can do that now that I know that it's there for a reason, not just some wild something that has a suck-attached itself on my neck.

I feel guilt. Me, myself, my entity, I view as separate from my body. I, my intellect, my mind, is responsible for my body. I need my body in order to have a mind, so I am dependent on it for survival. We form a symbiotic relationship: I adjust my environment to provide a safe place to experience life, and it provides me with my ability to live. And I've gone and caused my body to lose an organ. Damn. It's my fault, I'm not sure yet at this point because I don't know what has happened, but my body has to pay for whatever happened. I'm in total can I ever make this up to my body? Crap.

I want water. Badly. I want water. I want water. I want water. I want want want want water. It's the next day after my wreck that I'm waking up to this, and my mouth is 'caked in dry'.

Somewhere during this time, I become aware that I have vision. I don't know when it came back; it's just been there for a while before I become aware of it. The top part of an oxygen face mask frames everything. I realize the words I'm saying aren't clear because of the face mask. I reach up to take it off to better communicate, but someone orders me to leave it alone. I give up and comply.

Someone, a nurse, tells me in response to my plea that I can't have any water. I am going to get water, I don't give a shit what anyone says, I'm going to get water. Are they crazy? No water my ass! If they want all this shit in me to stay connected, then they are going to give me water. Till Heather tells me to either lie still or they are going to strap me down. Holy shit! As a claustrophobic, I damn sure don't want that! I'm not sure I can handle that! That looms as a bigger problem then the excruciating problem of no water!

So I can't bull my way - I've got to find another way to get water. From deep somewhere inside, I recall reading that while hospitals may not directly give you water, frequently they will give you a sponge soaked in a small amount of water, so that you can suck on it. I manage to ask for this. It's discussed, then decided I can try this - reality sets in that other people are controlling what I can, and can not, do; what I can, and can not, have access to. I've got to play their game to get what I must have. I've got to find a way to get my environment of people to help me get what I need.

A small sponge-like Popsicle with water on it is placed into my mouth. I suck on it, and a gush of water squirts into the back of my throat and down - too fast, out of control, and I'm on the verge of choking. But I realize, if I cough, I won't get any more water soaked sponge. So I fight... I hold my breath, I swallow swallow swallow, and finally I have it down without choking....I just do a little 'ummm ummm' throat clearing, and that gets me through it. God - I can't make that mistake again! I also become aware that coughing, with four broken ribs, is not something to be taken lightly!

It's amazing how much more claustrophobic I feel when I can't get water! If I can just get water, then a lot of stress will go away.

Water becomes my sole focus. I realize I've got to get it by guile, by intimidation, by any means possible. Any time someone leaves, or someone else returns, I ask for water. My goal is to build up an internal supply so I'm off the immediate demand need. And it works. I drink water all water prior to a nurse's shift change, then ask for more when a new nurse comes in. I hide water. I hide a cup. My goal is to drink all that I can, never let a cup leave with water in it. I transfer any water left in my cup that I can't drink right now to my hidden cup. It works - I have a small reservoir of hidden water, which helps to lessen the stress on my mind. It is four days before I can relax, somewhat, about drinking water and having a stash of water.

My immediate world consists of obtaining, and hoarding, water. I'm a one-trick-pony: anything for water.

And my wife, knowing full well what I'm doing, helps me. Bless her sweet, sweet southern heart. I'll never forget it.

End of part 1.

A Month at the Beach

We (my wife and I) have decided to take a month at the beach - Edisto Island Beach to be precise.

This is a island beach located about 1 hour's drive south of Charleston, SC.

We are staying in a 'studio' condo, which means everything (except for bathroom) is in one room - the kitchen, the 'bedroom', etc. It's probably about 300 ft^2 total. But it works for us, as it's just the two of us!

This time of year is our favorite - no crowds, temperatures are moderate, rain is less frequent, and rental rates are lower.

We ate out the first night we were here, at a cost of about $50.00 for that meal. Not particularly high, but since we are going to be here for a month, we need to economize some. Therefore, we've been eating out less frequently, but buying local fresh seafood, taking it back to our studio and preparing it ourselves. So far, this has provided us with better quality seafood for $8 - $16 per meal total for the two of us.

Some prices: oysters $13 per pint (1/2 pound); flounder $10/pound; medium shrimp $7/pound; Scallops $14/pound.

We've been steaming the shrimp (1 inch in a pot, then a colander resting on the top of the pot, then shrimp, then lid), sauteing the scallops and oyster in butter. They have all been great!

More later!

Where did the time go?

Wow! Can't believe it's been 5 months since my last post! And 'double wow' - somebody has decided to follow me! Ha!