Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Pellet Grill Pepperoni Pizza

One of the ways I'd seen people using their pellet grills was as a pizza oven so I wanted to see how using it for usual pizza recipe would affect the final product.  I started with my usual dough recipe, which is supposed to be a clone of Mellow Mushroom's dough.   finally had a chance to eat at one of their restaurants when I visited family in Florida in June and decided to make a few changes to see if I could get a bit closer.  First thing is that their dough seems to have less molasses than mine so I swapped out half of molasses in the recipe with honey, that seemed to work out well.  The other thing I did was try to use up some 00 flour I had from when I tried a clone of Roberta's Pizzeria dough recipe, that didn't turn out as well.  I replaced about 1/2 of the regular bread flour with 00 flour and made the dough as usual.  After kneading, portioning and rounding I coated the dough balls with oil and put them in the refrigerator to cold-ferment for 2 days.  On the day of the cook a dough ball was removed from the refrigerator and allowed to sit (covered) at room temperature for ~ 90 minutes to come up to temp, when you form cold dough in to skins and bake them off you end up with huge bubbles so tempering the dough is critical.  I then set up the Camp Chef pellet grill by placing a pizza stone on the grates and filling the hopper with Treager Signature Blend Pellets, I thought the blend would work better than the cherry pellets I had used for the pulled pork cook a few weeks earlier.  About 30 minutes till cook time I turned on the pellet grill and turned the dial to 11 (the dial says "High" but I read that as "11").  The temperature at high got up to around 465° which is close to the temperature I use for this particular dough in the inside oven.  Now it was time to form the skin and get the pizza ready for the grill and it was here that I learned that the 00 flour I had wasn't the same as the 00 flour I had used for pizza dough in the past.  The dough didn't have a lot of gluten development so stretching it out by hand resulted in the dough tearing, I eventually had to settle on rolling it out with a pin.  Once I finally got the skin stretched out it was placed on parchment paper which was trimmed so it wouldn't overhang the pizza stone and placed on a pizza peel for dressing. 
Toppings were kept simple, sauce I had on hand, whole milk mozzarella and pepperoni on top.  I wasn't sure how long this would take to cook properly so after loading the pizza on to the atone and closing the lid I set a timer for 5 minutes and waited.  After checking and seeing it wasn't nearly done I repeated checking after 5 minutes until the cheese on top was beginning to brown, took a total of ~ 15 minutes.  After removing the pizza and putting the pellet grill in to shutdown mode it was tie to eat!

 With the exception of the dough not being up to snuff the pizza was really good, the smoke flavor was there but not overwhelming.  Next time I try this I'll keep the 1/2 molasses and 1/2 honey change to the dough but use all bread flour instead of cutting it with 00 flour (unless I can find some locally that specifies it's for pizza).  That should allow me to stretch out the skin the way I like with a really thin center with a good puffy edge.  The bottom of the crust was a little over-browned for my taste, but not burnt.  Rather than just letting the top brown from heat radiated down from the grill lid I may break out my Searzall next time and use it to brown the top once the bottom of the crust is cooked to my liking.  Lots of room for experimenting here!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

First cook on the Camp Chef PG24 DLX Pellet Grill

This past weekend was the first day since being cleared to eat regular food again (due to dental surgery) and with no rain forecasted so I took the opportunity to finally use my new Camp Chef PG24 DLX Pellet grill.

A few days earlier I had stopped by the local grocery store and found whole pork shoulder butts on sale so I grabbed one of those and a salmon fillet for the non-carnivores in the house.  The rub was made with whatever I could find in the cupboard, mainly kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper and paprika with brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, chipotle powder and cayenne pepper.  Very early in the morning I debagged the pork shoulder, patted it dry and coated it with yellow mustard, then liberally encrusted it with my rub mixture.  I let that sit while I set up the smoker.  After adding what I thought were enough pellets I set the dial to "Hi Smoke" and turned on the power, once the smoke started and I knew the pellets were lit and could close the lid to wait for everything to reach temp (Hi Smoke is ~ 220°f).  At around 5:30 am the pork butt was loaded on to one of my old Bradley Smoker racks for easy transport and placed in the pellet grill, the temperature probe that came with the pellet grill was plugged in and inserted to about center mass of the pork.  By pressing a button on the controller to have it display the probe temperature instead of the chamber temp it was easy to keep an eye on things from inside the house.  I let it go on the Hi Smoke setting for about 3 hours spritzing occasionally with a mixture of apple juice and apple cider vinegar before turning the temp up to about 250°f.

About this time I added the salmon fillet seasoned with a little of the rub and topped with thinly sliced lemon, I didn't want the skin sitting directly on the rack so it was placed on a piece of parchment paper before being loaded in the smoker.  I was looking for an internal temp of about 135°f.  When the salmon was done the internal temperature of the pork but was around 160°f so it was time to wrap, it was placed atop pieces of aluminum foil with some extra rub, butter and honey added before wrapping it up tightly, returning it to the smoker and reinserting the temperature probe.  Now it was just time to wait until the internal temp came up to 205°-210°f.  At one point the flame went out because I hadn't added enough pellets to the hopper at the beginning, but this was caught quickly and I was able to get things started before things had a chance to cool down.  Total cook time was 11-12 hours.

After letting the pork butt rest for ~ 20 minutes it was removed from the foil and pulled, the accumulated juices from the foil were added to some store bought BBQ sauce and reduced down a bit before being mixed in with the pork.  Pulled pork sandwiches were served with hot pickles and mustard slaw, I also made a huge mess because I thought making hush puppies would be a good idea.  The salmon also turned out excellent.

Some observations about the cook:  The Camp Chef produces thin, blue smoke for the most part which from my understanding is what you want to see and is probably more appealing to my neighbors than the acrid white smoke my electric smoker produced.  The pork butt had a distinct smoke ring, but the smoke flavor was less pronounced than what I got from the electric smoker I had been using for the past several years (which was a little too harsh in my opinion).  I may look in to getting a Pellet Smoker Tube for future cooks which is supposed to help increase the smokiness, but first I'll probably just try not wrapping the meat for the last half of the cook.  Adding some hickory pellets will also result in more smoke flavor than just using the cherry I had for this cook.  So far I'm enjoying this pellet grill, not sure what I'm going to do next but seeing as how it can be used as an outdoor wood burning oven I'm thinking I'll throw on a stone and see how my standard pizza recipe works out on the new grill.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

It's Here!: Camp Chef PG24 DLX Pellet Grill.

Right now on out patio we have a huge Front Avenue (by Charbroil) propane gas grill that hasn't been used in years, a really old built in Ducane natural gas grill that's small and underpowered, my Bradley Smoker and my Weber Kettle Grill.  Since it's just the two of us now I haven't needed to use the big Front Avenue Grill for years, opting instead to use the charcoal grill.  I've enjoyed my smoker over the last few years but began looking in to pellet grills after seeing them on TV and reading about them.  The more I looked in to it the more it seemed like I could replace the grills and smoker with one piece of equipment and give us a less cluttered patio.  When Woot.com had a Camp Chef PG24DLX pellet Grill up for a good price I pulled the trigger and ordered.

A pellet grill uses wood pellets as fuel, these pellets are loaded in to a hopper and moved via an auger to a fire pot within the grill.  A computer controls the rate the pellets are moved to the fire pot based on a temperature probe within the cook chamber allowing the pellet grill to maintain a fairly stable temperature throughout a cook with minimal effort.

After a few false delivery attempts (carrier says they attempted to deliver but 1, I was at home both times and 2, video doorbell did not record anyone trying to deliver) the box finally arrived late Tuesday.  The box was in pretty rough shape so I opened it up and didn't see any obvious damage.  It was too late to start assembly by that time so I had to wait until after work the next day.  When I started unpacking all of the parts I found a couple of pieces that were bent, the flange on the smokestack was bent back in several places and the side shelf mounting tabs were severely bent.  I went ahead and started the assembly anyway.  Assembly isn't too difficult, the main body of the pellet grill comes preassembles so all you have to do is attach the legs, some handles, the smoke stack and the side shelf.  Took about an hour or so for me to assemble everything by myself.  I was able to get the smoke stack put on, but the warping in the flange left a few gaps that will probably leak smoke and let water in to the cook chamber if it rains when the grill is uncovered.  The side shelf, on the other hand, was a lost cause.  Neither of the damaged parts makes the
grill unusable, assuming the weather forecast is accurate and we won't have any rain tonight I plan on taking the pellet grill outside and doing the initial firing to burn off any oil residue on the parts and to cure the paint.  The process is to set the grill to 350°f and let it run for 30 minutes at temp.  Once I had finished the assembly I could do I got on to Camp Chef's website and submitted warrantee claims for both the damaged parts, to my surprise I got a response in less than 20 minutes letting me know that they would be shipping out replacement parts asap.  That's pretty outstanding customer service if you ask me, they heard about a problem and rook immediate steps to correct it for the customer.  They also sent me a code for 10% off my next purchase through their website, which I may take advantage of as I'm seriously thinking of adding a sear box to my pellet grill.  Unfortunately I'm currently restricted to soft foods (for the next week at least) so I'll have wait on smoking some ribs, but there may be some smoked salmon in my immediate future!

Friday, May 17, 2019

It's Here!: Breville BOV650XL Compact Smart Oven

Been neglecting this blog for too long and since I have a new toy coming next week I thought I'd get started again.  For the past few six months or so I've been getting back in to reef keeping after a 20+ year hiatus and have been focusing my energy on that.  In my late teens and 20's I was really in to aquarium keeping having as many as 18 tanks set up at once, then I got a job as an aquarist at a public aquarium which effectively killed my joy of the hobby.  After spending all day cleaning exhibits the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was aquarium maintenance.  17 years after leaving that job I finally caught the bug again and jumped back in, though I don't see keeping more than 2 or 3 tanks at a time in my future.  May have to start another blog about that hobby since a lot has changed and I'm having to relearn almost everything.

This wasn't something I planned to purchase.  For some time we've been using a cheap, underpowered, small toaster oven at the house that took a VERY long time to get up to temp and was too small to fit much in besides toast.  A few weeks ago the door spring broke which gave me an opportunity to finally get something decent.  I wanted an oven that would fit in the available space (17-18" wide), has decent build quality and enough power to heat up quickly.  After spending a week or so reading reviews I finally settles on the Breville BOV650XL Compact Smart Oven.

At 17" across it is small enough to fit in the space with some room to spare to allow heat to dissipate, it's also much deeper than the old oven which allows it to fit a 12" frozen pizza with ease.

The oven has 8 modes...Cookies, Reheat, Pizza, Bagel, Toast, Bake, Broil and Roast.  The rack has 3 different positions it can be placed in depending on the mode you will be using, the positions for each mode are printed on the oven door.  Once you set the mode with the top dial the bottom dial is used to set the parameters which will vary depending on the mode, for toast you select the number of slices and desired darkness and the oven will set the time.  The quartz elements heat up and cool down much quicker than the resistive elements found in cheaper ovens so the smart oven can maintain proper temperature much better than the resistive elements found in cheaper toaster ovens preventing the top or bottom of the food from becoming over-browned.  Other than the pizza, (which turned out pretty good for a frozen pizza) we've mainly used the toast, broil and reheat modes.  I recently picked up a small cookie sheet that will fit in the oven so we'll be trying out the cookie mode soon and I'm sure I'll be trying out the bake and reheat modes as well.  So far we've been very happy with this oven and hope the high price reflects good build quality that will mean this oven will continue to work for years to come.

The incoming toy is a Camp Chef PG24DLX pellet grill (I got the black one instead of the bronze), I'm planning on using it to replace my big, old gas grill that we never use anymore and the Bradley Original Smoker I've been using for the past few years.  The pellet grill is due to arrive next week but I'm restricted to soft foods until after Memorial Day so it'll probably be June before I really get a chance to play around with it and post a review.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Vacmaster VP215 6 week Check-in

I had the Vacmaster VP215 chamber sealer for about 6 weeks and have been using it quite a bit for vacuum compression and sealing up proteins for cooking sous vide.  I generally buy meats in bulk, season, seal and throw in the freezer, when it's time to cook I just pull them from the freezer and put them right in the bath.  Depending on the thickness of the protein I'll generally add 30-45 minutes to the total cook time and I'll usually throw it in the bath while it's still heating up.

I have been thinking about the best settings for various items and have found some resources online to point me in the right direction.  Vacmaster has a chart online that gives recommended vacuum, seal and cooling times for several models of the sealers, it can be found here.  For the VP215 is recommends a 30 second vacuum time for meat, fish and poultry, 20 seconds for fresh fruits and vegetables and 15 seconds for soups.  Out of the box the VP215 has a default setting of 40 seconds vacuum time, for some reason mine started out at 60 seconds.  The seal and cooling times depend on the thickness of the bags you're using, the chart doesn't indicate what types of bags the times are for but they're what I use for 3 mil bags.  Thicker bags and bags made of other materials (like Mylar) may require adjustments to the settings.

Dave Arnold from Cooking Issues and his company Booker and Dax (Searzall, Spinzall) wrote an interesting piece back in 2009 about an experiment he did where he compared the results of vacuum sealing three different proteins ate 5 different vacuum levels with and without oil in the bag for chicken and fish and oil in the bag for all steak samples, the article can be found here.  The vacuum levels he used were  90%, 98%, 99%, 99.9% and 99.9% + 15 seconds of vacuum and each vacuum level had one with and one without oil in the bag.  All  bags of each type of protein were cooked at the same time and temperature and in each case the one sealed at 90% vacuum with oil was the preferred product.  The VP215 only allows you to set vacuum by time rather than % vacuum so I'll have to do some playing around to try and get appropriate times to achieve 90% vacuum with and without the filler plates in place.

EDIT 9/27/18:  Was vacuum sealing some bacon last night to sous vide and played around with the vacuum times, with both filler plates in place it took 15 seconds to achieve ~90% vacuum.  That does leave a little bit of air in the pouch so floating was an issue.  The pouch sealed with 30 seconds of vacuum time looked to be 98-99% vacuum and did not need to be weighted down.  I'll probably stick with 30 seconds to package meats just so I don't have to worry about them floating during the cook.

Like I said at the beginning I've been doing a lot of vacuum compressing since getting the VP215 and have really enjoyed the results with honeydew melon and watermelon.  Recently someone suggest trying pineapple sealed with a little rum and it was fantastic!  Next time I try it though I may add a pinch of salt to make the flavors pop.  Might also be interesting to all some coconut to the mix to try and get a piƱa colada vibe.

Friday, August 10, 2018

It's Here: Vacmaster VP215 Chamber Vacuum Sealer eidtion.

This is one I've been waiting for for a long time!  For the last year I've been saving up my Amazon credit card points and gift cards with the intention of buying a chamber vacuum sealer.  The Vacmaster VP215 was my first choice.  One of the primary things I was looking for was a chamber sealer with a oil vacuum pump rather than a dry piston pump, an oil pump requires some maintenance (changing the oil after a certain number of hours of use) but the payoff is that it will last much, much longer.  Last week while doing my regular price checking I saw a newer brand/model of chamber vacuum sealer called a Vac-Vida VS301 that seemed to have specs very similar to the Vacmaster VP215 but for only $625.  I seriously was considering buying one but there were a few red flags.  The first is that when running the Amazon reviews through Fakespot.com it came with an F rating for review reliability.  This is a pretty niche product and there were only 5 reviews at the time so everything could be on the up and up, but it was enough for me to take a step back and ponder things for a bit.  The other thing that caused me to hesitate is the complete lack of user reviews online, but I did see in a Reddit thread (now deleted) that the manufacture only started selling these in June so it could be that there hasn't been enough time for units to get in the hands of enough customers for user reviews to start showing up.  In any event, while I was trying to decide if I wanted to take the risk of buying an unproven chamber sealer or wait to have enough to buy my first choice a seller put up some Vacmaster VP215 chamber sealers on sale for $670.  Not Prime, but free shipping so I pulled the trigger and bought one!

So here is my new chamber vacuum sealer.  First off, this thing is HEAVY!  FedEx had the crate at 106 pounds.  Delivery was a bit unusual...first day they said it would be here I took a 1/2 day off work but they just didn't show up.  The next day I waited and waited and waited, then at 7:30 pm tracking went to the dreaded "Pending" so I figured it was delayed again so I got ready for bed (I get up at 4:30am for work), then the doorbell rang just before 9:00 pm.  f course I just go to sleep when there was a new toy sitting in a box downstairs so I decided to at least get thing set up.  I had watched a lot of videos on YouTube prior to ordering this so I knew what needed to be done in order to get the VP215 ready for use.  After unboxing and lugging it upstairs I removed the back cover, unscrewed the oil fill cap and added vacuum pump oil until it came up to just over 1/2 way on the sight glass.  Once the cap and back cover were back in place I moved it to its permanent (at least for the time being) home and plugged it in.  It was late by that time so I didn't have time to really play around but I had some slices of watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and pineapple ready in the fridge so I decided to try some fruit compression.  This process involved putting the fruit in a strong vacuum for 60 seconds then sealing it in a vacuum bag.  During the vacuum phase the pressure is so low that water in the fruit will start to boil at room temperature, this disrupts cells and when the bag is sealed and the chamber pressure goes back to normal the fruit will be compressed.  This leads to some interesting changes in texture and appearance.

As you can see in the picture, the watermelon slice that has been vacuum compressed is much darker than the one that hasn't been processed, it also has a much firmer texture and is "juicer".  The process also makes the fruit more translucent, this was most evident in the case of the honeydew melon, it ended up being clear enough that you could see your finger through it when picking it up.  The only other thing I've done since then is vacuum compress some strawberries with some of the strawberry juice I clarified recently with my Spinzall.

Some final thoughts...

The advantages of a chamber vacuum sealer over a standard edge sealer (like a Foodsaver) is that it pulls a much stronger vacuum, it allows you to seal liquids (or very wet items), you can do vacuum marinating, instant pickles and the bags are far cheaper than the textured ones required for edge sealers (Foodsaver quart bags are a little over $0.40/bag, Vacmaster 8" x 10" 3 mil bags are under $0.05/bag or less if you buy in bulk).  The edge sealers have the advantages of being much cheaper and more portable.

I've been keeping an eye out for reviews of the Vac-Vida VS301 and it has occurred to me that the layout of the vacuum gauge/indicators/control panel on the VS301 is almost exactly the same as it was on the old model of the Vacmaster VP215 when they had user selectable seal temperatures.

A couple of new knives

I've been trying to build by collection of good quality knives lately and have added a few more.

The first is a ZHEN Japanese VG-10 67-Layer Damascus Steel Vegetable Usuba/Nakiri Hollow Ground 6.5 inch Knife/Cleaver.  This is the same manufacturer that made the Damascus vegetable cleaver I bought last year that I liked so much.

This is a pretty light knife with a thin blade.  It has a full tang, is well balanced and the handle is comfortable to hold.  The handle is made of Pakkawood, which is an engineered wood/plastic composite material.  The blade has a very slight curvature to it so it is better for a chopping motion than a rocking one.  I've found that it is excellent for tasks like slicing onions and other soft vegetable prep.  It is exceedingly sharp and the hollow edge helps the cut food fall off the knife rather than sticking to it.  If you're in the market for a Nakiri style knife this is one you may want to consider.

The second new addition to my collection is a DALSTRONG Kiritsuke Chef Knife - Shogun Series - AUS-10V - 8.5" (216 mm) - Sheath.  This was kind of an impulse buy on Prime Day last month.

 Like the Zhen nakiri and vegetable cleaver this knife is made of Damascus steel, I'm a fan of the patterns created by the layering of the steel.  This knife is much heavier than the nakiri and has more of a curvature to the blade so it can be used in a rocking or chopping motion.  Like the others it has a full tang with a triple riveted handle.  The handle itself is made of G-10, which is a glass based epoxy resin laminate.  It's also well balanced and the heft of the knife makes it easier to get through harder vegetables.  The blade on this knife is ground to an 8-12° bevel so it is stunningly sharp, I dropped a plum tomato on the blade from ~ 9" above and it sliced it in two by gravity alone!  I've kind of run out of space in my knife blocks so this will probably be my last acquisition for a while, if I see something else I want to get I'll have to first put some of my other, less used knives in storage or get rid of the altogether.  It's still good to have some cheaper knives on hand for people who don't tend to take care of nice knives properly.