Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Update on sous-vide

When I ordered my sous-vide circulator, I thought I'd probably use it occasionally, but I was worried I wouldn't use it often enough to justify the cost.  Since then, I don't think I've cooked normal meat any other way.  (Normal meaning minimally processed, not including things like bacon, ham or hot dogs)

One of the huge advantages is repeatability--Either Wife or I can cook medium rare beef reliably every time.  We switched from 135 to 134 degrees F--that small tweak made an improvement, but that amount of difference wouldn't be repeatable with traditional methods.  It turns out that 133 is too rare.  Another advantage is that you can get the tenderizing effect of a long cook time while keeping medium rare--London Broil is a cheap cut, but is tender and tastes fantastic sous vide for 6 hours or so.   I like it better than Sirloin--more flavor and as tender.

We often cook in bulk, running a beer cooler full of meat that needs to cook at the same temperature, then cooling in an ice water bath, and freezing most of it still vacuum sealed.   This means that for a later meal instead of a 4 hour (or 36 hour) cook, we just put it in the sous-vide bath long enough to warm back up, usually about an hour.   I've started marking the cook temperature on the package so whoever is cooking knows how hot to reheat.   I still have to look up temperatures other than beef.  I'm keeping a notebook of times and temperatures.

Even hamburgers benefit--did a batch of burgers at 140 for 2 hours.  Next batch will be at 138, but the burgers were very good--not as good as the best charcoal grilled, but well above average for indoor burgers.  I'm guessing that over a blazing hot charcoal fire for a minute or two would make them excellent.    Burgers from loose ground beef need to get a large dimple in the center, otherwise you wind up with meatballs. Pre-formed frozen patties don't go spherical, but they weren't improved over fried, tasted too processed, possibly cooked too long.  (I may try making my own frozen patties to see if they go spherical)

And while sous vide takes a little more planning, the time the cook has to spend watching, stirring, flipping, etc is a lot less.  Fill the pot, set the circulator, drop the bags in and come back for dinner, a minute or two searing.  No defrosting necessary for most foods.  Cleanup is easier too, no baked on goo.

Using a torch for searing is easier than a pan, and for some foods can be more even.  I started with a hardware store propane torch, but I got the wrong model--its nozzle was mostly upright, and tipping the torch enough to reach the food made the flame sputter out.  Others have reported nozzles at right angles to the tank work well.  I bought an Iwatani butane culinary torch, that works very well, and I've wound up using it for other foods, like crisping leftover pizza or toasting cheese.

When I bought cans of butane fuel, Amazon's "people who bought this also bought" list lead me to butane hash oil equipment.  Apparently some people soak marijuana  in liquid butane, throw the marijuana out, then cook the butane away and smoke what's left...if nothing catches fire.

Having hours between "barely long enough" and "cooked too long" is great--get everything else ready, the meat won't overcook or sit out getting cold if your timing is off on side dishes.  One downside is that meat needs to be served immediately after searing, since even with a sear the outer 'well done' extra hot layer isn't thick enough to keep the rest warm very long.   I got some cast aluminum platters at a restaurant supply place, that helps.

Not everything has been completely successful.  I've tried smoking meat to start, and sous vide to finish--texture is great, but the smoke flavor changes in a way I don't like. Apparently some of the smoke migrates through the bag, there's a smoky smell in the water.   Chicken can be overcooked, it turns mushy and grainy.  Chicken also has different ideal temperatures for light and dark meat, a minor inconvenience.  Medium rare chuck roast cooked for 24 hours is tender...but the combination of strong beefy "pot roast" flavor is odd with the medium rare texture.  




Friday, December 06, 2013

Motorcycle turn signal beeper

I finally got around to installing a turn signal beeper on Wife's motorcycle.  Rather than a simple beeper that's on whenever the signal is on. I did one that's on only when the signal is on...and the brakes are off.   With brakes on, the buzzer shuts up.   Much easier than I expected.   The trick is to ground the buzzer through the positive wire of the brake light.   When the brakes are off, there is a path to ground through the bulb--you don't get full voltage, but plenty to run the buzzer whenever the turn signal is on.  When the brakes are on, you get 12 volts on both sides of the buzzer...so no sound.

An additional benefit is that a blown out brake light bulb will keep the buzzer from working,  and a bad brake light switch (a problem Wife's Savage had when we got it) means that the buzzer will be on even with the brakes applied.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sous Vide cooking

Sous Vide is a method of cooking food in a vacuum sealed plastic bag (Sous Vide means "under vacuum" in french, although vacuum is a minor part of the process) in a precisely controlled hot water bath, generally for a longer than normal time but at a lower than normal temperature--usually at the final temperature of the food.  It was invented in the late 60's.  I first heard about it in a restaurant trade magazine in the late 80's.  Until recently the equipment needed would cost several thousand dollars, but prices have come down drastically.    Last year I ran across a couple of articles on sous vide machines at the high end of consumer prices.  A few months ago saw an article on a Kickstarter project for Sansaire, Sous Vide for $200.  That sparked my interest, and I almost pre-ordered before doing more research.

With Sous Vide, doneness (as in medium rare or well-done) can be controlled separately from cooking time.  Long cooking times still makes the meat more tender, but at a temperature low enough that the meat does not cook past the level of doneness you select.  Also the entire portion is the same level of doneness, rather than a well-done exterior gradually changing to a rare interior.  You can safely cook many foods to a much lower temperature than otherwise--In most cases, internal temperature of 130F for an hour is sufficient.  (Don't rely on me for exact times and temperatures, do your own research)

To cook this medium rare London Broil, I set the temperature to 135 degrees F.  I sealed the meat in a Foodsaver bag and put the bagged meat in the bath for several hours.  Just before serving heat a frying pan or griddle to high heat with a little oil, then dry the meat and sear for 30 seconds or so per side--just enough to brown the outside layer, not long enough to further cook the inside.  Serve immediately.  An added bonus is that the meat doesn't lose its juices on your plate--this means my wife can eat medium rare meat without being turned off by the bloody juices.   According to many sources the most expensive cuts of beef are prized for tenderness, despite having less flavor than cheaper cuts.

For Country-Style pork ribs, 145 for 32 hours resulted in a moist rib that could be cut even across the grain with a fork.

You can put meat in directly from the freezer, and it thaws quickly, passing through the spoilage "danger zone" for a fraction of the recommended maximum time.  If the meal is delayed, the meat can stay in the hot bath until serving time without burning or over-cooking.

There are some oddities--You apparently can't use raw garlic with most meat, because the garlic needs a much higher temperature to cook.  It is difficult to cook vegetables and meat in the same bath, since vegetables require much hotter temperatures.  Without a sear, meat appears as if boiled or poached.  Meat needs to be served immediately after removing from the bath and searing, since there isn't a layer of overheated meat to keep it warm.   For most foods that require long cook times, you can pre-cook, then refrigerate or freeze in the bag and re-heat in the bath just long enough to heat through.

Currently home Sous-Vide setups can be divided into 3 broad categories--All in one, Circulator, and controllers.

All in One units (Sous Vide Supreme) are generally the most expensive and include the container for the water--but generally rely only on convection to circulate the water.  They are also quite large.





Controllers (Dorkfood) are the least expensive, but require your own appliance-a rice cooker, manual crock pot or coffee urn for example.  These also rely on convection.   If you already have an appropriate appliance, these take the least storage space.








Circulators generally clamp to a container you provide, which can be a large pot, bucket, plastic bin or cooler.    They are generally less expensive and take up less storage space. Most of the latest generation of moderate cost Sous Vide machines are circulators--Anova, Polyscience, Sansaire, Nomiku, and SideKIC. Most of these are very similar in design--they are fairly tall an narrow, clamp to your container with the heater and impeller submerged.

The PolyScience circulators are made by a lab equipment company, and appear to be well made and versatile--but they are at least twice as expensive as the Anova or Sansaire.

Nomiku is a kickstarter project, and appears to be a well made unit at around $300.


The SideKIC uses the same principles, with a different implementation.  It is the cheapest by a relatively small amount, but also the most limited in design. Based on reviews its heater is weak--it maintains temperature well, but takes a long time to raise the temperature. It has a  narrow range of acceptable water levels, is often out of stock and has reliability problems.

Sansaire and Anova are both around $200, and both have received positive reviews.  The deciding factors for me were that the Anova has been quietly selling for the last year, it's reviews are based on production units.  Like the PolyScience, it is made by a (competing)
 established US lab circulator company.   Meanwhile the Sansaire is being contract manufactured in China for a start-up company and has yet to ship retail (reviews have all been on pre-production samples).  With Anova dropping their price to $200 (plus $20 shipping) to match the Sansaire, the decision was easy, and I bought the Anova.  So far I've used it in a large stock pot covered in aluminum foil.  I just bought a cooler, cut a hole in the lid for the circulator  and I've got chicken breasts in it right now.  Update-Chicken breasts cooked at 147 degrees for 4 hours were slightly more tender than I'd prefer.  Next time I'll probably try 150 for 2 hours.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Stand Your Ground and the Zimmerman case

In the US, the state laws governing when deadly force is justified in self defense can be broadly divided into three categories:  (Note--I am not a lawyer, and although I am attempting to be accurate, I'm nearly certain to get some details at least slightly wrong)

Stand Your Ground--In a place you have the legal right to be, you are not required to retreat from an aggressor, and if attacked may use deadly force if a 'reasonable person' under similar circumstances would believe that the attack was likely to cause death or grievous injury.    Without Stand Your Ground, self defense is generally regarded as an affirmative defense--In order to use the claim in a criminal trial, the victim of an attack who claims self defense has to essentially plead "Guilty but justified", then prove justification.  Stand Your Ground means that someone claiming self defense remains "presumed innocent" until there is enough contrary evidence.  As long as they are presumed innocent, they aren't arrested without that contrary evidence.  Most stand your ground laws also include some form of civil immunity--If you are defending against a person committing a felony, you cannot be held civilly liable for injuring or killing them unless you are found guilty in the criminal phase.   This is based on civil rules rather than criminal, so a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond reasonable doubt.  

Castle Doctrine is similar to Stand Your Ground, but in limited locations--It applies at home.  Depending on the state it may apply when a guest in someone else's home, in your car, or in the workplace. 

Duty to Retreat is the situation where neither of the above concepts are a defense--Where a victim is required to retreat before using force.  In the US, there are only a few states that have a duty to retreat, and even in those states case law generally gives at least some of the features of Stand Your Ground, sometimes via case law rather than through legislation. 

Stand your ground is irrelevant in determining the verdict in the Zimmerman-Martin case.  Its application in criminal trials is in an extremely narrow set of circumstances--where a victim is in a place he has the right to be, realizes that an unwarranted violent attack is imminent and recognizes a viable escape route available that does not increase danger to the victim or people he is responsible for.    

In no scenario from either side is there an opportunity for escape.  If Zimmerman was the first to initiate violence, he gave up his right to self defense with or without SYG--in that case, the jury came to the wrong verdict.  If Martin jumped Zimmerman, then there was no opportunity for escape, again SYG does not apply.   Being followed is not by itself justification for violence.  It is unlikely that Zimmerman could run backwards faster than Martin could run forward.  

I've seen quite a few comments that Zimmerman-Martin shows that SYG is wrong and needs to change--but none of them explain how it would have changed the verdict here, or how it would help in general.  Instead I've heard "A Zimmerman juror mentioned it", or "someone might think they can shoot someone and get out of it just by claiming to be scared".  In some cases the people making these claims are lawyers and politicians who almost certainly know better--but believe that their audience does not, and that confusion on the issue will increase support for gun control.  

Personally, if I've ever got the choice between running to safety and shooting or killing someone, I'll run even if the law doesn't require me to.  I still support Stand Your Ground--in large part for its civil immunity.  Someone committing a felony should not be able to sue their victims unless the victims  commit a crime against the felon at least as serious.   There is also the timing problem--the prosecution has weeks or months to find the escape route you missed in the few seconds you had available.  As a general rule, I think people who initiate violence should have far less rights than those who are defending. 

Common misconceptions:

Opponents call Stand Your Ground a "Shoot first" or "Make My Day" law,  claiming that it allows people to shoot any time they feel vaguely threatened, and that it will result in blood in the streets.  The law almost always has a "reasonable person" clause, in that the threat has to be considered valid by a reasonable person under the same circumstances with the same information.  We also have decades of experience in most states, 

"He was unarmed"  "It was just going to be a beating, not worth killing over".  It is entirely possible to kill with bare hands and feet, so self defense (even without SYG) allows self defense--often requiring a disparity of force.  The disparity may be 2 against one, young vs old, man vs woman--or may just be an avid and able fighter vs someone who hasn't been in a fight since grade school.  (In the last case, it might be that the disparity isn't evident until the victim begins to lose the fight).  

"Stand Your Ground is inherently racist".  Recent studies have shown that the Florida law is claimed disproportionately by minorities, and that they are disproportionately successful.   We have recently had at least one case quite similar to the Zimmerman/Martin incident, except the shooter was black, and his attackers were both white.  Very little news coverage. 

"It means you can't arrest anyone who claims self defense".  No, it means you need a preponderance of the evidence that it was NOT self-defense in order to arrest--that would be 50.1% that the accused is guilty.  Meanwhile, the standard for a conviction is "beyond a reasonable doubt"--this would have to be at least 95% positive (I'm more inclined to go with Ben Franklin's "better 100 guilty escape than one...").   If you cannot prove above 50%, what are the chances you will be able to prove 95 or 99%?  Should you really arrest someone you probably can't convict?







Monday, May 27, 2013

Suzuki Savage review

About a year ago, I bought a low miles 1987 Suzuki Savage for my wife.  The  Savage (also known as the Boulevard S40) is an underrated and misunderstood bike.   It is a light and simple single cylinder 650cc cruiser-style bike, with belt drive and a 4 speed transmission.   Its target market sees that it is a 650, and assumes it is too big and powerful.  People considering  650cc bikes find the Savage underpowered.

Ignore the displacement of the engine--rather than comparing to other 650cc bikes, compare it to bikes with similar seat height, weight and horsepower.  (I've never understood focusing on displacement rather than power and weight)  This puts it in the upper end of the 250 class of bikes--low seat height, similar weight, a bit more horsepower and lots more torque.

Horsepower is responsible for top speed, and also for acceleration when driven hard, and is likely to get inexperienced riders in trouble..  Torque is responsible for off the line and everyday performance when you aren't thrashing the bike.  More torque makes starting and shifting easier--if you let the clutch out too fast, it may chug and complain, but it isn't likely to stall.

The early Savage models had a 4 speed transmission, while later models are 5 speed.   The 5th gear  was added for marketing purposes--basically top gear was raised a tiny amount and another gear slipped in between 3rd and top.  This requires an extra shift, but with the torque curve of this engine there's no advantage from the extra gear.

I'm not a fan of cruiser styling in general, but that's taste rather than a valid criticism.   It does allow forward controls, which let the seat height be low enough for almost any adult while leaving enough room for a 6 foot rider.  (The Savage is a bit cramped for me but rideable.  The Honda Rebel is just plain too small)   The tank-mounted gauges are a significant sacrifice in usability to gain an uncluttered handlebar area--the gauges are well out of the rider's normal line of sight requiring a deliberate look down instead of being visible with a quick glance, especially with a full face helmet.    This is especially problematic for the turn signals--when I ride with my wife, I'm constantly reminding her on the intercom to turn the signal off.  (I'm going to add a beeper, or a light she can see)   Another flaw is the lack of either a fuel gauge or trip odometer--every bike should have at least one.   No tachometer, but on this bike not really needed.