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Christian Conkle

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  1. Just a little post by way of self-introduction. Having come across this thread, and thence into the little world of sous vide, a few months ago, I eventually got tired of just reading, and went on a little buying spree: an Auber WS-1500, the Foodsaver V3825 from Costco, and an Aroma brand 15-cup rice cooker from Walmart. I'm just about entirely happy with all three of them so far; the cooker could be a tiny bit deeper, and the Foodsaver could use roll material a bit more efficiently, but I think this trio will serve me pretty well for now. My quantitative side has been going through withdrawal since I started graduate study in the humanities, so one of my first projects was to tune the PID using the most quantitative-ish guidelines I could find: those from the eBook Practical Process Control: Proven Methods and Best Practices for Automatic PID Control. Once I realized that the cooker is better modeled as an "integrating" process--when the heater's on more than about 20% of the time, the temperature continues rising without stabalizing at some particular temperature--I filled the cooker up to the "2.4L" line (actually more like four liters) and took some very simple measurements with a kitchen timer and the temperature display on the Auber. I've written up a little condensed step-by-step guide here. I spent two afternoons playing around, but having figured out how to do it, recording the data only takes a few hours. Projects so far have included: Chuck roast, cut up and at 131 for 46 hours, served as part of a grab-bag Christmas dinner to positive reviews; I only managed to grab a bite or two and found it a bit dry, although the out-of-a-bag "au jus" sauce helped. Potatoes for french fries, parcooked with some butter at 181 for a few hours and deep-fried, to more positive reviews and frying oil all over the place. Incidentally, since we had the oil hot--I was home with family, and we never deep-fry--we just had to put some other stuff in. I stole some little pickle slices from the hamburger fixin' platter and dipped them in the onion ring batter (out of Joy of Cooking); they were fantastic. A few failed/insipid projects, notably the beef ribs at 135 for 48 hours. I hadn't trimmed them correctly; I've never worked with ribs before. The meat was wonderful, but surrounded by all sorts of inedible fat and connective tissue. And finally, in the past two days, the real payoff successes: Tri-tip "steak" from Costco, bagged with salt and pepper and a little bit of bottled hibachi sauce, 135 for about 46 hours; browned with my new blowtorch and EVOO; bag liquids warmed, strained through a wet paper towel, reduced a little, and thickened with unsalted butter. Glorious! The connective tissue had broken down just the right amount; perfectly tender, but still some body; great flavor. I haven't had a proper hunk of beef in a long, long time. I only had about forty-five minutes to prep, eat, clean up, and go; no rush. Cheap boneless chicken breast. This was the other big reason for buying the system: weeknight chicken dinner 2 hours after coming home, with virtually no hands-on prep time. (I'll try putting in the chicken before leaving in the morning some day; I wonder what will happen?) Tonight, 148 for about 2 hours (got distracted); browned with the blowtorch and EVOO; bag juices warmed, strained, reduced a little, and thickened with cream. Served over jasmine rice. Next time I'll try using some chicken broth to produce more sauce; there was barely enough to cover the chicken, much less sauce the rice. But again, very good; more tender than the last one I made (at 146), very serviceable weeknight dinner. Next projects? Well, I've got some more tri-tip and chicken in the freezer, already bagged. I've made a few 2-hour eggs, which are good but I haven't really learned to eat yet; I guess I'll have to have my grandmother show me. (20-hour eggs--I got distracted--don't work as well...) I'll try some vegetables, too; I'm looking around for decent really-cheap food sources in my area. I haven't summoned the courage to buy one of Costco's enormous chuck roasts or briskets and figure out how to cut and bag it.
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