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Friday, January 20, 2012

Legos - What a great video!

This is pretty stunning!  If this doesn't get your kids whipped into a frenzy, then they need to retire!

It's a movie showing a massive Rube Goldberg machine built from Legos!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Cooking Meat - letting it stand

I've done a series on cooking meat in this blog, but this is going to concentrate on a single aspect of cooking meat that is often overlooked, and that is - letting the meat stand for a few minutes after removing it from the cooking environment.

I'm going to provide some important insight into this step.  But first, I want to explain why it is necessary.

Alton Brown is one of my favorite cooking educators.  He does a show where he cooks the exterior of a steak, first on high heat in a cast-iron pan on the stove, then transferring it to the oven to cook the internals to the proper desired finishing temperature.  He then transfers it to an inverted plate for the juices to run away from the steak in order not to dilute the browned-surface of the steak while it far, so good.

Alton has two things going on here while he lets the meat rest.  The first is a method to prevent the juices that are still seeping from the meet to form a pool that the steak is sitting in.  This pool of fluids will dilute the browned crust that he worked so hard to put on while browning it in the cast-iron pan.

But why does he want it to rest in the first place?

Meat contains a lot of liquid.  I know this first hand from cooking BBQ using big pieces of pork.  Slow roasting cooked BBQ will reduce the weight of the meat by around 30%!  This is lost moisture, not lost meat.

When I was just starting the process of automating my cooking of BBQ (after the novelty wore off, I got tired of staying up all night tending a smoking fire), I inserted multiple channels of thermocouples into the cooking environment.  Some were in the combustion chamber (where the wood was burning), some were in the smoking chamber (where the meat was cooking), some were in the exhaust stack (where the smoke exited the cooker), and some were outside in the ambient air.  Some were also inside the meat.  I placed some on the surface of the meat, and buried several more, each going about 1 inch deeper than the previous thermocouple, until I had reached the middle of the meat.

I then proceeded to cook the meat using a controller that I built that would precisely control the temperature of the smoke chamber to within 2 degrees by opening and closing the inlet air damper.

From this series of tests, I was able to note an interesting thing.  The internal temperature of the meat would gradually increase, in a logarithmic manner manner (temperature increasing faster at first,  but gradually the increase grew slower and slower until it more-or-less flat-lined).  This internal meat temperature would hold steady for hours....and then the temperature would start taking off higher again!

What the heck was going on?  The combustion chamber, smoke chamber, and exhaust stack were not changing temperature, yet the internal temperature of the meat was suddenly climbing after hours of not moving.   So what was going on?

Well, I'll tell you.  The meat had been seeping moisture from the internals to the surface of the meat, where it would evaporate in the hot smoking chamber.  You could not actually see this moisture moving away from the meat.  But it was moving off of the surface of the meat, leaving behind brown-goodness, AKA Maillard Browning.   This fluid, moving off of the surface of the meat into the air of the smoke chamber works the same way your skin works in perspiring - the fluids you perspire evaporate away from your skin, taking heat with it, and keeping your body cool.

The meat, in having fluids move to the surface, where it evaporated into the smoke chamber's air, was removing heat from the meat.  So, as soon as the meat ran out of fluids that could remove the heat through evaporation, the internal temperature of the meat started to rise.  So when this occurs, you have direct evidence that the meat has given up it's moisture and now is a heavy slab of dried out meat.

So what makes the moisture move to the surface of the meat anyway?  Obviously heat is involved.  And when you heat something with water in it that is enclosed, then the internal pressure of the meat is raised.  So by heating the meat, the fluids inside the meat are heated, and this heat raises the pressure of the fluids trapped within the cell walls.  Rising the temperature high enough and long enough will cause the fluids to push their way out of the cells, and eventually cell wall to rupture and release all of the remaining fluids.

So pressure, due to increased temperatures, pushes the fluids out of the meat.  And fluids leaving the meat take heat from them.  And if the temperature of the oven is low enough, then there will be a balance struct between the internal temperature of the meat and the temperature of the smoke chamber - the internal temperature of the meat will stay constant, as long as moisture remains in the meat.  As soon as the meat runs out of moisture, the internal temperature of the meat will start to climb.  Now, this can be overcome if the oven temperature is significantly higher than the temperatures used in cooking BBQ, just like your body can be overheated while perspiring if the outside air temperature is high enough.

 So I can observe this when I make BBQ, because I cook mine at 185 - 190 typically, for a period of 24 hours.  And it's an interesting thing to see.

So all of this to get back to the one thing - how to properly rest the meat.

We now know why we want to do this - by removing the meat from the heat source, we are allowing the internal temperature of the meat to lower, and we now know that this lowering of internal temperature will result in lower pressure, so the fluids will no longer be squeezed out of the meat.  And assuming you don't want dry meat, this is a good thing!

But the last piece of this puzzle is how to allow the meat to cool (or rest) so that the outside Maillard Browning crust isn't diluted by the pooled fluids?

Alton Brown using an inverted dish to place his meat on while enclosing the whole thing inside aluminum foil.  But this is sort of awkward.

Instead, I put my steak to rest on a pie-cooling wrack (it stands just 1/4 inch above the surface it rests on).  I put down a piece of aluminum foil, set the pie-cooling wrack on it, then the steak, then tent the whole thing and let it rest this way for 10 minutes, and bingo!  I've got my perfect cooked steak.

My whole method for cooking steak indoors:

  1. Heat a cast-iron pan on the stove on high heat with just a little bit of oil in it, preferable canola oil as it can take higher heat best.  The oil is really there to help transfer the heat to the steak from the pan.
  2. When the oil just starts to smoke, reduce the heat a little and immediately add the steak to it.
  3. Brown on one side until it reaches a deep dark color before flipping to the other side.  Watch for smoke - if it's producing a lot of smoke than it's too hot and cut it back a little.  You'll just have to experiment with this.
  4. Cook this second side until it's done like the first side.
  5. While this is being performed, place a pie-cooling rack onto a plate large enough to let the rack stand on.
  6. Cut the heat off.
  7. Transfer the steak to the pie-cooling rack so steak fluids don't dilute the surface browning. 
  8. Now transfer the pie-cooling rack, which has the steak on it, to the top of the pan.  My pie-cooling rack overlaps the top edge of my pan so that the steak is sitting on top of the pan on the rack.
  9. Transfer the whole pan-and-steak to the oven, placing it into the top 1/3 of the oven preheated to 325 and cook it for about 10 minutes without turning.
  10. Put a piece of aluminum foil onto a plate.  This should be large enough for the pie-cooling rack and steak to sit in and be wrapped up on all sides, forming a tent.
  11. Remove the pie-cooling rack with steak and place onto the aluminum foil, then bring together and crimp all sides without letting it touch the steak on the sides or on the top.
  12. Leave it to sit for 10 minutes - resting.
  13. Serve!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I hate printers

I hate printers.

I have a home network with 8 computers on it, a mix of Vista, Windows 7, and Linux (two flavors there too).

There's always a problem with printers.

I hate printers.

I just watched the movie "Office Space", where they take a printer out into a field and beat it apart.  It reminded me of the time I took a Brother printer/scanner/fax and tossed it from the first floor to the concrete basement floor.   It broke up and out.

It felt great!

I hate printers!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Banjo Cooks Breakfast with Goolsby's Sausage

Goolsby's Sausage, Stone-ground Cheese Grits, Eggs, Sausage and Cheese Stuffed Puff Pastry (like Hot Pockets).....OMG!

Note: for my Sausage Patty Melt using Goolsby's Sausgae, go here

This is a great breakfast!  It's big enough that it's breakfast and lunch!

Total Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour.

This recipe uses Goolsby's Sausage (frozen), which we obtain from Costco.  We used to cook with Jimmy Dean sausage, but after 36 years of happy marriage, we've switched to Goolsby's!

We particularly like this sausage because:
  • It taste great!
  • It's already formed into patties.
  • It doesn't need to be thawed before cooking
  • It's inexpensive - we are able to purchase 24 preformed patties (2 lb) for $7.00 at Costco.
  • We can just take out the number of patties we want to cook for that meal and return the rest to the freezer.
This recipe is assuming you will be cooking for two servings.

  • 1/2 lb (8 oz) Extra Sharp Cheese
  • 2 eggs (or more if you desire)
  • 1 sheet of Frozen Puff Pastry Sheets
  • 4 servings of stone-ground grits (see instructions that come with your grits)
  • 4 sausage patties (the times here are assuming you will be using Goolby's frozen sausage patties - if you use different, then you'll need to make some adjustments for your sausage cooking time.  Goolsby's takes 8 minutes to prepare).
Cooking instructions
  1. Note time now; you will base some steps as elapsed time from now.
  2. Start cooking stone-ground grits.  They will require about 45 minutes to cook.  Follow instructions that come with your stone-ground grits.  Make enough for 4 servings and some will be left over....they get better tomorrow!
  3. Remove puff pastry frozen sheets (1 sheet per 2 pastries) and place where it can thaw.  It will require about 40 minutes to thaw.
  4. Grate 1 lb of  Extra Sharp Cheese.  Set aside 1 cup for cheese grits.  The rest will be used in the stuffed puff pastry.
  5. About 30 minutes after start: Set oven to 400 dF and turn on.  Place a rack towards the top, maybe 3/4 up from bottom. Not critical, but placing it towards the top will help with not burning the bottom of the puff pastries.  Continue with rest of steps while oven comes up to temperature.
  6. About 30 minutes from start, heat pan to point where drops of water will rapidly sizzle.  If you have an electric skillet, place it for 375 and allow to come up to temperature.
  7. Place 2 of 4 sausage patties into skillet and cook, 4 minutes per side (for Goolsby's).  After 4 minutes on a side, flip to other side.  Total cooking time is 8 minutes.
  8. When pastry sheets have thawed, open up and cut in half width and cut in half length.  This will give you 4 equal size pieces.
  9. Place a large helping of shredded cheese onto 2 of the squares.  Heap it up.
  10. When sausage has finished cooking, place each sausage onto the cheese on a pastry square.
  11. Add lots of cheese to the top of the sausage.
  12. Place remaining 2 pastry squares onto tops of cheese-sausage squares.
  13. Crimp the edges together on each puff pastry.  
  14. Place into greased cookie tin and place into 400 degF oven.  Cook for 15 minutes.  Watch last 5 minutes to ensure you don't burn, as all ovens cook at different speeds due to differences in temperature controls.
  15. Stir cheese into grits, and recover.
  16. Take remaining 2 sausage patties and cook in skillet, with 4 minutes on the first side, then flip.
  17. Different step for cooking on the 2nd side of the sausage.  After flipping, cook 2nd side for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 or moderate.  Sausage should still gradually sizzle now, but not a 'hot' sizzle.
  18. Open 2 eggs into skillet onto sausage oil.  
  19. Cover and let eggs and sausage cook until your desired level of cooking is achieved.  Using the cover will help the eggs to cook on top without burning the bottoms.
  20. When the puff pastries are ready, everything should be ready.
  21. Plat and serve!
We like to serve with: 
  • Chipotle Tabasco 
  • Orange juice
  • Strong, black coffee.