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.





Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Cue-Vide Baby Back Ribs

For Memorial Day this year I wanted to try something a little different and combine two cooking techniques that I frequently use, smoking and sous vide.  My local grocery store had baby back ribs on sale for the holiday weekend so I bough a rack and went about trying to plan my cook.  After doing a web search figure out time/temps for baby backs I settled on 149°f for 24 hours.

After removing the rack of ribs from the cryovac packaging they came in they were rinsed, cut in two (so they'd fit in my 12 quart Cambro) and the membrane removed by loosening a bit with a skewer, grabbing it with a paper towel and peeling it off.  For the rub I mixed the remains of two types of commercial rubs I had in the pantry from last season, Bad Byron's Butt Rub and McCormick's Brown Sugar Bourbon Seasoning in roughly equal portions.  I filled up a 12 quart Cambro container to the 10 liter mark, attached my ChefSteps Joule circulator, put on the lid I had cut to fit the circulator and used the Joule app to set the bath temp to 149°f.  While the bath was heating I liberally applied the rub mix to the ribs and vacuum sealed them with a FoodSaver.  Because this was going to be a long cook I double bagged the ribs, first each 1/2 slab was vacuum sealed in individual 8" wide bags then those were put in to an 11" wide bag and vacuum sealed again.


Ribs tend to float in the bath so I used a couple of large, stainless steel spoons to weigh down the bag during the cook.  Once the bath was at temp and the ribs added I set the timer on my Joule app for 24 hours and just let them soak, checking back occasionally to make sure the bag was still fully submerged and repositioning the spoons when needed.  The cook was started on Saturday and when the timer went off on Sunday we were on the other side of town.  This is when wi-fi connectivity comes in handy, when the timer went off I was able to lower the set temp of the bath down to 130°f remotely so the ribs wouldn't overcook and get mushy by the time I finally made it home a few hours later.  The ribs were removed from the bath and chilled overnight.



On Memorial Day morning I grabbed my Bradley Smoker from the storage shed and hooked it up using my homemade PID controller set to 250°f.  There were still a few pecan bisquettes left in the hopper so I left those and added some Jim Beam bisquettes on top.  The ribs were added once the chamber temp got to 225°f, below are some baked beans with a little diced onion, green pepper and garlic added.  After an hour on smoke the ribs were sauced with a bottled barbeque sauce (Simple Truth Barbeque Sauce) that I doctored by adding a little balsamic vinegar from Old Town Oil and some of the rub mix.  The ribs were put back on the smoker for about 20 more minutes for the sauce to set.

After bringing them in the ribs and beans were put under the broiler for a few minutes to get a little char on them and to make sure the sauce was nice and set.


Here are the ribs after cutting, they're extremely juicy and tender.  Easy to bite through, as close to the "perfect bite" I've seen on barbeque competition shows as I've ever been able to do at home.  I was concerned that putting rub on at the beginning would make the finished ribs too salty, but that was not the case.  They had just the right salt level and the flavors of the rub permeated the meat.

The final plate, next to the ribs are the smoked baked beans, gochujang coleslaw (bagged coleslaw mix with a dressing of mayonnaise, gochujang, sherry vinegar, celery salt, salt, shichimi togarashi, minced dry garlic and minced dry onion) and a Caesar salad.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Refinement of Chicago deep dish pizza recipe

I've been making some modification to the Chicago deep dish pizza recipe I posted about quite a while ago, the main issue I had was that the dough was a bit too slack and wouldn't stay pressed up against the side of the cast iron skillet i use in place of a dedicated deep dish pan like I used to have.  Here is the new dough formula:


AP Flour    340.0g     100.0%

Water        180.0g      52.9%
Oil              80.0g       23.5%
IDY            9.0g         2.6%
sugar         4.0g         1.2%
salt             6.0g         1.8%

I used olive oil for this since that's what I had on hand, a 90/10 mix of corn oil/EVOO would be preferred as that imparts more of a buttery flavor.  All ingredients were placed in the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mixed for 1 minute on low.  The bowl was covered and the dough allowed to autolyse for 15 minutes before being placed back on the mixer and kneaded for 2 minutes.  The dough should be allowed a long, warm fermentation to develop the best flavor (4-6 hours at room temp), but I didn't have time for that so I put it in the fridge until I could use it the next day.  

For the sauce I also used a new recipe...

1 28 oz can crushed tomato
1/2 TB kosher salt (Morton)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (good stuff from Old Town Oil)
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix well and allow to sit for at least a few hours for the flavors to meld.

The dough was pressed in to and up the sides of the oiled skillet.  For toppings I used Italian sausage from Bari Finer Foods, pepperoni, onions and green peppers then covered with the sauce and a sprinkling of romano cheese.  The oven was preheated to 425°f with a baking steel on the bottom rack.  The pizza was baked for 30 minutes on the middle rack, then moved  down to the baking steel for another 10 minutes to make sure the bottom crust was cooked through and the broiler turned on for the last 2-3 minutes.











This pizza turned out much better than the one I posted about in July 2016.  The dough on the side didn't slump down, but I still think a little lower hydration would be in order.  The sauce was something I made up on the fly and I was really happy with it, hope I didn't forget any of the ingredients I used but I think the recipe above is complete.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

uKeg 64 Pressurized Growler

It's been a while since I last posted but if I keep my New Year's resolution to cook more meals at home I'll hopefully have some interesting things to share this year.  For the first post of 2018 I wanted to share what is probably the best Christmas gift I received this past Christmas, a uKeg 64 ounce pressurized growler.


This is basically a double-wall insulated 64 ounce growler with a tap.  It has a built in regulator in the cap that uses standard soda charges to pressurize the growler with CO2 (came with 2 8 gram cartridges) to keep the beer fresh and carbonated.  So far I've only filled it up once, Illinois law only allows your to get growlers filled at breweries so I went to the newly re-opened Goose Island Brewhouse on Clybourn.  No problem with the filling, but there was a bit of leakage on the way home which was probably due to the bartender not tightening the cap enough.  Growlers have to be sealed at the bar for it to be legal to take off premises, they usually use a shrink-plastic collar but in this case they just used masking tape.  There's a locking mechanism on the tap handle to keep it from opening when you don't want it to, like while driving home from the brewery.  From what I've heard the insulted growler will keep beer cold for up to 8 hours and if refrigerated and charged with CO2 it'll keep fresh for up to a month, not that I'll ever let 64 ounces of beer sit for that long.  Besides filling it with fresh beer from a brewery it should also be good for filling up with canned/bottled beer when I'm up on the computer and don't want to run downstairs to the beer fridge for a refill, that'll let me test how long it can keep something cold.

Friday, September 15, 2017

It's Here!: Spinzall Edition.

Yesterday evening my Spinzall arrived!

 The Spinzall is the latest product from Dave Arnold's company Booker and Dax, makers of the Searzall torch attachment.  It is the first centrifuge designed for the home cook.  Late last year Booker and Dax launched a crowdfunding campaign at Modernist Pantry to fund the tooling and initial production run and since I'm a bit of a gadget hound I jumped in.  The delivery was made in the evening while I happened to be at the grocery store so I picked up some fresh basil and a neutral flavor vegetable oil so I would have something to play with.  After unpacking the Spinzall I cleaned all the parts that would contact the food with hot, soapy water, rinsed well and allowed to dry while I finished reading through the instruction book.  For the first trial run I cooked some whole garlic cloves in about a cup of the oil until they started turning brown, then turned off the heat and added another 3/4 cup of room temperature oil to stop the cooking.  I cooled the oil further by placing the bottom of the saucepan in cold water, then put everything in a blender jar with about 1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves and blended on high for about a minute.  After reassembling the Spinzall the basil/garlic/oil mixture was poured in the rotor, the lid and bowl locked in place and the timer set to 15 minutes.

In the video below I had left the cap off the feeder, so it's a little louder than normal.  I also may not have one of the fins in properly.







I should have taken a photo of the basil oil before spinning to show all the particulate matter it contained, but here is the final product.  Some of the bits came loose while I was removing the rotor from the bowl and the fins from the rotor, but they could have been easily filtered out if I had bothered.  Definitely could have used more basil and there are probably some enzymes I could use that would break down the leaves more.  I ordered the Spinzall Pre-Treatment Starter Kit from Modernistpantry.com this morning so hopefully I'll be able to make a better product in the near future.  Videos of different things that can be made with the Spinzall are starting to pop up so I'll be able to explore more possibilities for this piece of equipment.