08 April 2014

Sous Vide Gyros (Doner Kebabs)

The Ginger Pig has started a "fakeaways" series on their blog. The other week they did doner kebabs and it looked really good. Check out their recipe -- it's really easy. I adapted it as follows:

1kg lamb mince
40g (approx) garlic, minced (about 7 cloves)
2g onion powder
1.5g black pepper
8g salt
5g ground cumin
2g chili flakes

in food processor, blend all ingredients well (pulsing to the point mixed well but not too gummy, don't let it heat up)
in large bowl, knead it a bit until thoroughly worked then form into thick cylinder
roll in cling film, ballotine-style, to form smoother shape
pack in bag, still in cling film
3+ hrs @ 63C

chill thoroughly -- start in ice water -- it will keep for quite a while in fridge like thisto finish, slice thinly, lengthwise or disks -- we used a meat slicer
then pop a trayfull under the broiler browning one side only

06 April 2014

Sous Vide Ox Heart

At last year's Meatopia London, we had two different ox heart dishes, and loved them both. I eventually got around to trying it at home.

It's a hefty lump of a thing. To trim, rather than working from the outside in, I worked from the inside out. I essentially opened it up further, like butterflying it, trimmed all the sinew and such off, then cut slices off with the blade parallel to the cutting board, until reaching the outer layer of tissue. Sharp knife required.

To cook mix up

  • chopped garlic
  • chili
  • smoked paprika
  • ground cumin
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • olive oil
  • red-wine vinegar
Toss meat slices until coated evenly. If you don't want to cook it sous vide, marinate it a while then grill the slices. To cook sous vide:

Bag it all and cook @ 55C 3+ hrs. It should get more tender a few hours more but three hours was good. To finish, reserve liquid from bag, sear slices in very hot cast iron pan and set aside on warm plate. Deglaze plan with all the liquid from the bag, then reduce into a sauce. Spoon sauce over the heart slices.

We served on shredded lettuce and red onions with a squeeze of lime and some cilantro, as a salad or wrapped in a large tortilla.

22 March 2014


Yes, I do eat vegetables, too.

pay no attention to the salami and cheese

I recently got myself a Gärtopf -- simple, old design, but very clever & effective -- and started turning 2.7kg of cabbage into sauerkraut. I love it. It seems too simple to work but it is just so good. I used up to 2.5% salt by weight, including top-up brine as needed. It was really nice after a few days. It's two weeks in and getting even better.

precision-engineered German crockery

The biggest problem with making your own sauerkraut is feeling like a complete idiot for paying 100x too much for inferior grocery store stuff for so many years.

small jar, did not last long

16 March 2014

Measuring by Weight vs. Volume for Dry Ingredients

I recently read a recipe calling for "3 tablespoons of sea salt". Well, I have six different kinds of sea salt in my cupboard so I grabbed three and weighed each to see how much the density would vary. The results:

1:  8.80g per tablespoon
2: 11.75g per tablespoon
3: 17.75g per tablespoon

Much better to use weight measures for dry ingredients in recipes.

05 March 2014

Sous Vide Beefathon: Silverside, Pickled Brisket, and Shortrib Rendang

This arrived Saturday at 6:01am
A very weak observational study just came out that says people who claim to eat lots of animal protein who are between 50 and 65 years old die more than people of that age who say they eat low protein, but that people who are older than 65 who say they eat more protein actually die less. Naturally the press took this with a bit of perspective in their usual calm and reasoned way...

TelegraphHigh-protein diet 'as bad for health as smoking'
GuardianDiets high in meat, eggs and dairy could be as harmful to health as smoking
IndependentEating too much meat and eggs is ‘just as bad as smoking’, claim scientists
Fox News: Eating large amounts of meat, cheese may be as deadly as smoking, study shows 

Sigh. [The only semi-reasonable writeup I've seen is here.]

I must have had a premonition because this weekend I kicked off three different beef dishes, all of which have now been completed and tried. All meat came from Turner & George.

(1) shortrib rendang
I based it on this recipe. It was very tasty, but I wasn't thrilled with it. It turned out well, but needs quite a bit of work. Next time: less aromatics, more coconut, will use dried chilies, and maybe a few other changes. I cooked it 48 hours at 62C, which worked beautifully for the shortrib meat, which I'd cut off the bone into cubes. I did reduce the sauce after it was done cooking, might be no way around that. Definitely will try again.

(2) silverside
This one I brined based on this. Meh. The brine I can live without. Cinnamon with beef? Maybe in Cincinnati. Not my favourite. Next time just a salt brine. The cooking, though, was spot-on: 8 hours at 55.5C. Turned out perfectly cooked. Thoroughly chilled in the bag, then thinly sliced.

(3) pickled brisket
Normally I would brine the brisket myself but I didn't want to wait a week so got pre-pickled brisket and simply cooked it for 24 hours @62C. This was for sandwiches. If it had been meant to eat hot as a roast I would have left it in for 48 hours. Thoroughly chilled this and then sliced it thinly. This was really good. Definitely an easy way to get high quality corned beef (aka salt beef) for sandwiches. Next time I should really do my own brining though. Could have used a touch of juniper and pepper.

02 March 2014

The Jay Rayner Atherosclerosis Joke Counter

Oh dear. After an eight-joke review season in 2013, Jay started out strong in 2014 with a full two months clean before ruining it with a March kickoff. Damn.

2014-03-02: Hoi Polloi review: "I feel my arteries begin to harden in protest."

2013-12-29 Foxlow review: "by this point I imagined my entire cardiovascular system had called a flash meeting in my bowel to discuss strike action over unreasonable employment practices"
2013-11-03 "news bites": "the artery-hardening joys "
2013-09-15 Le Menoir aux Quat'Saisons review: "that have you tapping your wrists to check the blood can still push through the narrowed arteries"
2013-08-25 Whyte & Brown review: "glorious, salty artery blocker."
2013-07-07 Peckham Refresment Rooms review: "The heart sighs even as the arteries harden."
2013-07-04 Honey & Co review: "of the sort to make a cardiologist start calculating the bill for their services to come."
2013-06-02 Joe Allen review: "This restaurant has a special place in my congested heart."
2013-03-17 Ondine review: "to fur the arteries."

Seriously, Jay Rayner is my favourite food writer. Check out his stuff here.

26 February 2014

Salt, Smoke, Sear: Seven Months of Sous Vide, Part 2

Sous vide usually ends up as one step of several. There are exceptions: salmon is a nice single step. Chicken breast for chicken salad needs no finishing. Chicken breast for the plate could use some searing. Much sous videry involves both pre and post work. Post is often quick, and sous vide in the middle usually removes worry about timings.

brine for goose and duck

Beef shortribs: my favourite method is to smoke them for a couple hours then sous vide for 48hrs @62C then finish under the broiler, either sauced or not. Turkey breast: an herb brine, then sous vide, then finish under the broiler. Poached eggs: sous vide then crack into simmering water for a quick dip.

Much of this is all very simple. Sometimes, like with the chili, it becomes part of more steps. Over the next 7 months I'll likely try some more complex dishes with it.

24 February 2014

Sous Vide Seven Months In

I've had my sous vide setup since July. I use it frequently. It's been a good purchase so far. So what have I learned?

  • Vegetables: why bother? I've done some veggies in it but more trouble than they are worth. There are quicker and better ways to cook vegetables.
  • Meat: yes. Usually great results on everything from pork tenderloin to turkey breast to beef shortribs to ribeyes. Excellent use case, but...
  • The time needs to match the cut: At 55C, 72 hours turns Beef shortribs into a tender steak-like consistency, but 24 hours can dry-aged rump into mush (7 hours probably would have been about right).
  • Temperature! Well, duh. This is the reason for investing in something precise in the first place. But this means you get a fun science experiment every time you decide to cook some eggs. It means if you want to turn shortribs into filet mignon you cook them at 55C, but if you want to turn them into pull-off-the-bone ribs, 62C gives them a completely different texture.
  • Fish: also great. Salmon is so easy, and quick, and perfectly cooked every time. And has even worked fine straight from the freezer.
  • Vacuum packing is fun: This still hasn't gotten old. I might still have a 7-month old slice of bread somewhere. I will soon be sealing up an iPad and trying it in the shower.

23 February 2014

How To Dress For -27F

Recently went skiing and at the start of the week it was shockingly cold. Before it warmed up and dumped a bunch of lovely fresh snow on us the second half of the week, we had to adjust to being outside in temps as low as -33C. That's properly cold.

What eventually worked for me:

  • three layers of wool: long-sleeve tops, each outer layer progressively thicker, outer two layers with zip-up necks
  • wool head covering under helmet
  • stretchy sleeve covering neck, chin, mouth
  • helmet with padded ear pieces and vents closed
  • goggles
  • another stretchy bandana thing covering face, nose, ears
  • ski shell
  • wool leggings
  • ski trousers
  • wool ski socks
  • ski boots [duh]
  • silk glove liners
  • insulated lobster claw ski glove/mittens (thumb, forefinger, then mitten for remaining 3 fingers on each hand)
top half

That was still kind of cold. Normally when moving I have no problem warming up, but even at moderate speeds through -30C air will wick the heat right out of your extremities. Some lessons learned: 
  • snow gets really slow and grippy when it's that cold
  • cover up all the skin in the car before getting out
  • wool is wonderful stuff
  • that said, silk glove liners seem to outperform wool ones at identical thickness
  • thicker ski socks do not necessarily mean warmer feet -- good blood flow is key; some people double up on socks and that seems like a bad idea to me
  • ski instructors recommend boot heaters and chemical packs for the toes
  • heated seats and the heated steering wheel in the rental car were brilliant

11 January 2014

Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me

It's that time of year. Gyms are crowded with the temporarily enthusiastic. The disease of dieting afflicts many. I've gotten much better at just keeping my mouth shut. Most people have no idea what they're talking about, and that's ok. The world is still filled with people who think that egg yolks are bad for you. I'm learning to live with this. I nod a lot.

05 January 2014

Chicago Style Pizza

oven ready
John's Stewart's tantrum about Chicago style pizza was funny but really dumb. People seem to get hung up on the fact that it's called "pizza".  It's like being mad at enchiladas for not being tacos. But hey, there are a wide variety of pizzas, and I find it pretty easy to love all styles.

The biggest problem with loving Chicago style pizza is that it's nearly impossible to get outside of Chicago. Somehow pizza weekend was declared on Friday, so for Saturday I attempted the Chicago-style. It was actually a big success. Exceeded expectations. Made two 12" pizzas for 4 of us, one with sausage and pepperoni, one with sausage, spinach, and garlic.

I am wholeheartedly endorsing www.realdeepdish.com for DIY Chicago style. I've seen different recipes over the years, and even tried some out on my own back in the 90s. But after a very long break from making this kind of pizza, this site looked best to me, and the results speak for themselves. In particular, I used the basic recipe posted on this page.

01 January 2014

Products: Headphones & Earbuds Roundup

I've gone through a lot of headphones and earbuds. Here are my current recommendations.

For walking around, everyday use, and sports: Bose MIE2i
These are in-ear with a weird soft curvy piece that holds the piece onto/in the ear. It comes with three sizes. The default middle size fits me fine. It seems odd at first but it really works. I've gone through several different designs trying to find some that will stay in while working out and the only ones previously that actually worked were Sennheiser PMX680 -- the ones with a hard rubber/plastic behind-the-head neckband. These actually stayed in place while running or doing other sweaty things. Other styles I'd tried always eventually came out. So far so good for the Bose, and the sound quality and comfort is much higher.

These some with a microphone and a little inline 3-button controller. I got them for all-purpose walking-around/iPhone use and they work very well for calls. Easier to use and easier to hear than holding the phone up to my head. The middle button answers calls and hangs up. It also pauses or plays music, or, with a double-tap, iPod-style, it skips to the next song. The other two buttons are volume up/down. There is a slightly cheaper version without the microphone and controls.

That these work well for sports is an unexpected bonus. I would recommend these for general use. If I was only ever going to use them for sports, I would probably just get the Sennheiser PMX680s again since they are much cheaper.

For airplane use: Sennheiser PCX450
I got these in the US on sale nearly four years ago. Looks like the price I paid is a bit lower than they currently sell for at amazon.com, and still about a 40% discount to the current price in the UK. Since I bought them, they've gone on every long-haul flight I've taken, and have been great. If you travel on airplanes a lot, active noise-cancelling headphones are worth the price. Just the difference in volume level between normal and noise-cancelled is huge. This is my third pair (and third brand) of noise-cancelling headphones over the years, and by far my favorite.

For TV (more clearly and at higher volume than the rest of your family): Sennheiser RS160
These are a very recent addition. The problem with television is the same as with movies: the sound effects are mixed way too loud and the dialogue is relatively way too quiet. This awful mixing practice has infected everything, not just films with too many explosions and tediously long action sequences. E.g. even shows such as Top Gear do this, where they crank the engine noise. So if you turn up the TV to hear the dialogue, you regularly get assaulted by SFX. Maybe you don't care. Or maybe it's annoying enough that someone delicate and sensitive in your house keeps turning the TV down so that you can't hear the dialogue because you are old and feeble and listened to really loud music and played drums when you were younger. Ahem. So now that I'm ancient I got a pair of wireless headphones. They come with a little base station that takes the audio line out from the TV -- not the headphone jack, as that would silence the TV's speakers -- and broadcasts it to the headphones. The headphones have a battery and separate volume controls. They are close-backed so as not to disturb anyone else in the room. The base station can run off of batteries (which I do, using rechargeables), or plus into a power adapter (included).

Not only do these let me listen to TV at volumes I can hear the dialogue perfectly, regardless, of how quietly the TV speakers are set for everyone else in the house, the sound quality is much better than through the TV speakers. I don't use these all the time, but do use them now quite a bit. Also very handy for watching late-night when everyone else is asleep.

For music (at home): Grado SR60i
I had an earlier iteration of these headphones in the 90s, then they got toddlered and I gave up on decent headphones for home audio use for quite a while. These were a christmas gift and I'm really glad to be back using them. It would be easy to spend 10x more on audiophile phones. I think these sound great and are exceptionally good value-for-money.