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Everything posted by Syzygies

  1. 22 pounds of aluminum stays at whatever temperature it's at. The box had been in trucks for days, and if my hands had been wet they would have frozen to the disk when I unpacked it. (Poor man's anti-griddle? Seriously.) It then took forever (well, an hour) for the above stack to reach griddle temperatures. Then I went off for office hours for several hours, and when I came back the aluminum was still too hot to touch. They make disks half this thickness, for $25. That may be a better bet, in which case what do you have to lose, trying experiments yourself? Not like investing in a Baking Steel.
  2. eBay: 1 Aluminum Disc, 1 1/4" thick x 14 3/4" dia., Mic-6 Cast Tooling Plate, Disk (21.6 lbs, $54 USD) Some people prefer aluminum for pizza steels. One can find aluminum blanks on eBay, typically scrap from cutting holes in aluminum plates. I'm using an aluminum disk to help with even heat distribution for my custom 1/2" x 15" Baking Steel, which I use both stovetop and in the oven. It needed modest cleanup, to smooth edges and remove residues, easily accomplished with premium very fine sandpaper on a power sander, and then paper towels and rubbing alcohol.
  3. I periodically find myself cooking for elderly family members who must severely restrict their salt intake. (Having been the driver to the ER several times after sequences of restaurant meals, and seeing a radical improvement after following a low salt protocol, yes I'm willing to stipulate for purposes of this discussion that in some cases this is necessary.) When one has thoroughly enjoyed good restaurant and home cooking in better days, it is hard to find joy in drab food meant for the elderly. Looking forward to eating is looking forward to life itself. If our skills as cooks mean anything to us, they should come to the fore at times like this. What would an Iron Chef do, cooking with no salt? I phrase my question this way, because previous threads have hung up on the need to reduce salt, or the politics of restricting salt for the rest of us, or on finding complete recipes for average cooks to support such a diet. An Iron Chef may be able to recite 10,000 recipes, but generally cooks without a recipe and knows what to do. Moreover, when cooking in a very limited kitchen, after shopping in a strange town, even to execute a recipe as written involves a lot problem-solving. To leave out salt, and yet end up with something that tastes surprisingly good to the person that matters, is a fascinating problem to solve. I want to know techniques (divorced from the question of complete recipes) that the winner would apply to enhance flavor, if an episode of Iron Chef left out the salt. Standard advice is to add lemon, and increase the herbs. I interpret this as to be very thoughtful about acid balance, and to use fresh herbs which taste more alive and are less likely to be overbearing. But this advice alone would quickly wear thin. A bit of something in the madeira, sherry, even armagnac category, with the alcohol boiled off, introduces a new note of depth and roundness. This can be applied in dishes where such a note might be unexpected if one were using salt. Umami - Coming from an Irish-American background, I'm of the conclusion that umami was simply off the radar in my childhood cuisine, and in many similar American traditions. Even the Brits have their funky dark sauce concoctions, perhaps hard to find without salt, that introduce an umami component. If one is going to leave out salt, one has to master umami, to compensate. Dried porcini mushrooms (less challenging than many wild mushrooms, and widely available), kelp (yes from the sea, but not salty?). It would be good to have a list of options to consider, as one tastes and tweaks any recipe, without prejudice as to what flavors belong in the dish.
  4. Syzygies

    Knife Sharpeners Article

    Getting cooking advice from CI is like buying food at TJ's. One could do far worse. And those who do better don't need to read how on CI. Synthetic water stones are great, one doesn't need a natural stone that comes with its own island legend. But do get some sort of diamond stone for regularly flattening the water stones. Google "Atoma" for example. If we're going to suffer angst over other people's sharpening choices, feel bad for the people who have never reflattened their water stones. This isn't however the target audience of a CI article.
  5. ...which is an interesting way to win an argument, he suggests that those who don't understand are posers who ... uh ... don't understand. I have cellared wine for decades, and have various friends far further into this than I am. I have worked to acquire this taste. My cases of 1977 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella were phenomenal after 20 years, though when I realized I could get $250 a bottle at auction, I stopped drinking them myself. Nevertheless, I'm calling the king has no clothes on. There's so much attitude and context that gets layered on older wines, covering the fact that most of them would have been better drunk a bit earlier. Better to err on the side of too young. (This was also my dating strategy until I married age-appropriate. There are arguments both ways there too, but the reality is age just means closer to death.)
  6. You remind me of my take on cellaring wine. (I don't need a lecture on the theory: some wines are made to be aged, some cellars do a better job that others.) Drinking great wines both young and "properly aged", my take is that idolizing older wines is just old gheezers trying to put a positive spin on their own mortality. With few exceptions (Brunello comes to mind) I've always preferred the same bottle young.
  7. Syzygies

    Food Dehydrators: The Topic

    We have two American Harvester round stacks, a total of 12 trays. The first design was moronic, placing the heater and fan at the bottom so juices would eventually destroy the unit. The new top-down design is fine. The total cost for two units and 12 trays is not far off from an Excalibur of similar capacity; one shouldn't decide on price. Cleaning twelve AH trays is a moderate nightmare; the ease of Excalibur cleanup could be the deciding factor here. We almost exclusively use these to process garden and farmers market tomatoes, for the year. We haven't opened a can of tomatoes in over a decade. A fair bit of work in season (like our agricultural past), and radicalizing; in even the fanciest restaurants, the taste of canned tomato becomes like the taste of a canned mushroom on a cheap slice of pizza. One doesn't want to be a snob, but one has a gag reaction, and regrets eating out. We use these packets for everything, but the signature use would be for a sauce with fresh pasta, from flour freshly ground in a Wolfgang Mock grain mill. The idea came from the "precious tomato" recipes of Colicchio, Keller and the like, which were too much work. We wash and scald 20 to 30 lbs of tomatoes, cool and skin, then slice and salt into the dehydrator. Reduce the weight by a factor of four over 8 to 12 hours (more wattage may not be better); this ratio depends on the tomato, as market tomatoes are often more watery. The result should be "gooshy", just wet enough to release enough juice to cover when pressed into a bowl overnight in the fridge (to equalize juices). Then partition into freezer packages, label and freeze till needed. The labels matter; farmers market tomatoes don't taste as good as garden tomatoes, late season are more acidic, and so forth, issues in selecting a packet for a particular application. Chamber vacuum bags work best, one can fiddle to get the air out, then seal them with a $30 impulse sealer, less work than a clamp or chamber machine, with an easier time dealing with the liquid. Zip lock bags work for a trial run but are far worse. The second staple that we're starting to depend on is Italian "strattu", a very concentrated tomato paste, air dried rather than simmered to death. Here, our preferred tomato is a Santa Cruz dry-farmed Early Girl, which a few farms bring to Bay Area farmers markets. Not the traditional choice, but the crown jewel of commercial tomatoes in California.The relatively pedestrian Early Girl is the strain uniquely best suited to that microclimate and technique. In Sicily, strattu would involve several days on special tables out in the searing sun. A dehydrator does a fine job. Strattu is however a relative space hog, and requires the lips on the fruit roll inserts for the American Harvester, so a half cup of liquid per tray doesn't run off before drying. Silpat liners would be great, but what does one do for a lip? I crave the 9 tray Excalibur for the extra capacity, but only if I can solve this problem. For comparison, an American Harvester tray is 11.5" in diameter with a 2" hole, so 12 trays (two units) is roughly 1200 square inches. A five tray Excalibur is a near match, and a nine tray Excalibur is over 2000 square inches. Preparing tomatoes to crowd the nine tray unit would be an operation that overwhelms most kitchens, but liberal spacing is always a good idea here. So what is the best way (think Silpat with a lip) to dry liquids (as for strattu) in the Excalibur? I'm tempted.
  8. A circulator is a tool, nothing more, and one that we use all the time. One needs to unlearn the idea that sous vide is the centerpiece technique for fou fou skyscraper food at home. Remember the ancient idea that cookbooks were to help out for that rare "dinner party"? No such book gets opened, and no such device gets used. Identify technical flaws in conventional cooking, and swap in sous vide as a fix, but still remain in control of the outcome, actively intervening as one would in more familiar ground. These flaws are everywhere, not where one would expect from the prevailing association between sous vide and fancy food. A better association would be to see sous vide as originating as an unseen labor-saving device in restaurants, limiting the damage that less-skilled or less attentive cooks can do. Serious Eats tackled apple pie. All of the pitfalls of apple pie can be traced to the use of raw apples, and not everyone wants to saute the apples first as for galette. Sous vide is a great prep step here. By far, our most frequent use of sous vide is to prep vegetables, at 85 C or above for around an hour. Beet salad. Pan-fried potatoes is a great side. Better to get that twice-cooked thing going, like in french fries, but conventional approaches are unpredictable and often add water. Dice, sous vide, then chill the package (in an ice-water bath if you're rushed) as an ideal start. Set the circulator to 0 C to defrost freezer packages as fast as possible without cooking or entering the danger zone. (I wish that circulators had temperature alarms; one would be useful here.)
  9. Controlled temperature and duration. Huh. Sounds like sous vide. I'm a big fan of general purpose tools such as my Anova One circulator ($200, -vs- $999 for the EZtemper). Or is there an undisclosed ultrasonic component in play here? If so, should we all be looking for other uses for an ultrasonic insert for our water baths? More quickly break down collagen in a long meat cook?
  10. I've bought various incarnations of OrangeX juicers for myself and others. My largest classic OrangeX is going on twenty years home use, and nothing else comes close. A smaller, more recent model in my other home is still my best option there, but disappointing by comparison. The signature idea is that the OrangeX doesn't squeeze all the juice, and avoids most of the more bitter rind flavors. I like a fuller flavor, and more juice, so depending on the fruit I insert red French jar gaskets to prop up the juice basket a bit, making for a more complete squeeze. The cast iron is often out of true, to the point where an OrangeX won't stand flat on a countertop. I'd typically examine three to buy one, in person at Zabars in NYC. Buying online, be prepared to make returns. A related issue is how securely the lever stays in the up position. If it's always on the brink of falling on its own, in the worst case an OrangeX could sever a finger. No one with mandoline experience will be impressed with this risk, but it is there. Avoid units that are particularly unstable (hard to recognize until one has seen a good unit), and develop a protocol that doesn't put hands at risk. My most recent, shoddier OrangeX (smaller, cheaper) has rubber feet that mark my counter. Lame. In my hall of shame next to chest freezers whose top surfaces can't support any weight without permanently crinkling. What planet do these engineers inhabit? Not the real world. It is naive to equate "Commercial" with higher quality than for home use. "Commercial" often means that management doesn't give a rat's hoot what the immigrants on the front lines have to put up with. It's not simply a term implying suitability for harder use. I'd pay twice what this market asks for the best example of an OrangeX-style juicer, executed flawlessly. Given how people react to current prices, I doubt I'll ever get this chance. A massive, lever-style juicer is an amazing thing when it works, no compromise comes remotely close.
  11. Syzygies

    Infrared grills

    My current favorite way to cook steak is to sous vide to target internal temperature an hour or two (depending on the cut), then throw on a 1/2" thick baking steel for a minute per side. Get the steel as hot as possible on the most powerful stovetop burner, and its thermal mass will barely notice the steak. http://www.bakingsteel.com/shop/the-big
  12. Syzygies

    Shelf Life of Alcohols

    Even with distilled spirits, important to finish the bottle once it gets low. I lost the last glass of a '42 armagnac by imagining I'd drink it someday.
  13. The VP115 handle is its highest point when the lid is fully open, and just fits inside 16" of height. However, one wants additional room for one's hand to fit over the handle. Realizing I was beyond the return period, I removed the paper stickers. They'll age and degrade faster than the unit itself, but they're glued on pretty good. VacMaster, make up your mind! Either provide a permanent label as classy as the unit itself, or use labels that peel off as cleanly as those on Rubbermaid products back in their integrity heyday. Soaking with rubbing alcohol after breaking the surface of each sticker, then scraping with one's finger nails, does the trick. Allow some time, and try to avoid speculating on who VacMaster thinks will actually be operating these machines. Our kids go to school with T-shirt tags sticking up their necks, right, what's one more tag? This may bother other people less. I'm still scarred by the memory of all those "passed" stickers on SLR cameras from the '70s. Or business folks on planes with "Intel Inside" stickers on their thick black laptops, when our daughter outgrew stickers on her Macbook when she was six.
  14. Syzygies

    Ambai Pans

    I have used Rakuten along with Tenso freight forwarding, to buy a grade of Japanese blackboard chalk that far exceeds the quality of any western chalk. Tenso gives you an address in Japan, and they forward anything arriving at that address to you. You provide the Japanese address to the Rakuten merchant. The challenge is manageable, though more on the order of doing one's taxes (or swapping a hard drive in an iMac) than one-clicking Amazon Prime (or swapping memory in an early MacBook). I recommend calling your credit card company in advance, because it is quite reasonable for them to reject as fraudulent a charge for a product only shipped within Japan, if you're not in Japan. In my case, 2/3rds of the expense was shipping, but I still saved money over buying from a (then rare) US source. http://global.rakuten.com/en/help/service/forwarding.html
  15. Syzygies

    Mijiu v Shaoxing/Huangjiu

    I have found this in Manhattan's Chinatown; I even insisted on cooking with it for a period. There is no true substitute, but many better flavors out there, in the wine/sake/sherry universe. Draw a triangle with wine, sake, sherry in your mind, and it's somewhere inside the triangle. To use this? That is a litmus test for the importance of authenticity, and different people reach different conclusions. Now, if they sold a $30 bottle, it would probably work better than a $30 sake.
  16. Syzygies

    Fresh Turmeric

    Here's an easy Thai showcase for fresh turmeric: Catfish Rounds Simmered in Turmeric-Flavored Coconut Sauce The last time I made this, it took far longer in Manhattan's Chinatown to find a catfish tank I wanted to eat from. They clubbed and gutted a catfish for me, but the whole alive -vs- dead question is rather blurry for such primitive creatures. The different reactions as my bag twitched in various neighborhoods was amusing. FInally home, every slice twitched around on my cutting board. More out of respect than horror, I stepped out of the kitchen for a bit. Substitute any firm fleshed white fish, if one prefers filets.
  17. I'm in the middle on this one. I'll deliberately make substitutions to improve the dish, whether I have the original ingredients on hand or not, but I want the recipe to describe the original ingredients. I too have tried and failed to find an acceptable Shaoxing wine. The sherries and sakes available to me are different and of a much higher quality. This substitution is not born out of an inability to find the original ingredient. In Thai cooking, one can open a 99 cent jar of sludge, or one can make a curry paste by pounding together twenty mostly fresh ingredients. No surprise, the difference is dramatic. I love Chinese cooking, but I wish I knew how to make a greater range of pastes from scratch. There is an absurdity to the pursuit of authenticity in a western kitchen: One hasn't replicated the experience back in the country in question. In Thailand, one ducks down to the local open market to buy a homemade paste prepared by a vendor. Twisting open a 99 cent jar doesn't bring anyone closer to that kind of experience. To make this more concrete, I wish I knew a dozen recipes as good as this one: Roasted Chilli Paste
  18. Syzygies

    Oysters....unshucked on the grill

    I've been to oyster cookouts done on a grill. Didn't pay close attention at the time, but they were very good. In Spanish "La Plancha" cooking (cooking on a steel plate) it is common to cook clams and mussels directly on a steel plate. Air is a very poor conductor of heat, metal is much better. The heat capacity (thermal mass) of metal is a mere fraction (1/6?) of water, but in direct contact with bivalves metal does a good job of transferring that heat. The moral here is to get the scale right. One is raising the dead, not merely genuflecting. There was a very amusing thread where Thomas Keller took a lot of kidding for proposing in "The Bouchon Bakery" the (old) idea of putting a tray in an oven with 30 lbs of chains and rocks, to generate steam comparable to a commercial deck oven for bread baking. Two spritzes with a plant sprayer isn't the same. (I use 350g ice to buy a few seconds of handling time, for the energy required to bring ice to a boil is much less than that to actually boil the water.) Interestingly, a 1/2" baking steel http://bakingsteel.com/shop/the-big/ is also 30 lbs. A huge mistake to discount this as only "for the kind of pizza I don't make". It makes a fantastic stovetop griddle (they know this and an actual griddle is in the works: http://bakingsteel.com/baking-steel-griddle-update/). This is the best dosa and crepe pan I've ever seen. Heat to 550 F and slap on some sous vide steak, a fraction of a minute per side, for the best way I know to sear at home. It's all in the physics. Baking Steel sells rounds (1/4" in stock, thicker by special order) that better fit some grills like my http://www.komodokamado.com/ ceramic cooker. That would be how I'd do these oysters, after a serious preheat. Any juice trickling off just amalgemates into the smoky BBQ flavor you're building.
  19. Syzygies

    Modifying a gas stove: bad idea?

    I've modified that metal piece helpfully called a "top burner". There's a pinhole where the gas reaches the igniter. When holes like this get wet, simplest to get them really hot, but fastest to blow them out with a can of compressed air. (Accept a six month challenge to use compressed air in every way possible, e.g. cleaning brass pasta dies, drying a razor blade after shaving,..) I've also seen this hole clog from stray food. Or, on an older stove, just generally give the impression it is too small. Drill it, one step at a time, till the burner lights easily.
  20. A heads up, if one has an established sourdough starter for making bread, one can easily ferment the batter for Indian dosas. Commercial yeast isn't quite right, and trusting the ingredients alone can be hit or miss. A sourdough starter is already in the ballpark, and works nicely with predictable results. Googling for recipes, note that the ideal fermentation temperature is about 31 C (86 F to 90 F), well below that of a yogurt maker (110 F). One can probably get by with a warmed oven. I have an Anova One immersion circulator, so I rigged a water bath. Not a reason alone to buy one, but tools that take up space need to earn their keep. Note also the add-ins. Standard is urad dal and rice, we ground the urad dal after soaking in a Vita-Prep (much easier to clean than the Indian stone grinder I have in the back shed somewhere). We ground Massa Organics brown rice in the same Wolfgang Mock grain mill we use for flour for baking. Typical add-ins include a bit of fenugreek (actually also a dal), and chana dal (chick peas) to give that restaurant crunch. The pan is a 15" round, 1/4" thick Baking Steel. They will sell 1/2" thick as a special order; Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid for example recommend clay tawas for their thermal stability. Nothing offers the combination of nonstick and browning of a well-seasoned baking steel, and I can compare with more pans than any sensible person should own. Go with 1/2" thick to get the thermal mass, though 1/4" is fine and heats faster. A bit of sourdough starter is plenty to get a dosa batter fermentation going. The wheat is a welcome addition. Six hours may be plenty; like the sourdough starter itself, the batter continues to sour with longer ferments. The usual guidelines to watch expansion of the batter only apply if the batter is thick enough to trap bubbles. A batter thin enough for use without further thinning won't expand while fermenting.
  21. Syzygies

    Pork Chops

    My favorite pans in the cast iron / carbon steel range are Spring USA Blackline (I've tried many alternatives, vintage to modern cast iron and French carbon steel). My hanging pan rack is very crowded, but I kept a large All-Clad stainless steel skillet for acidic sauce reductions after searing. I don't like the effect of acids on cast iron pan seasoning.
  22. Syzygies

    Chamber Vacuum Sealers, 2014–

    So I had a bit of a mess, trying to package some chilled Okra Sambar to freeze before leaving town. Just thick enough that the air pockets eject food rather than slipping by food. (Having urged chamber machine owners to try a basic impulse sealer (not a clamp machine), I felt a responsibility to give my chamber machine some more chances with liquids. A Heloise Hint for cleaning up around the hardware that grips the bag: Get up what one can with a wet paper towel, then blow out the water and debris with a can of compressed air. Rinse and repeat. Once one gets the hang of the impulse sealer, it's faster and does a better job with less risk of a mess.
  23. Syzygies

    Chamber Vacuum Sealers, 2014–

    The VP 112 had an image problem for me; had I studied one in person, I might have bought one over a year ago. The pictures made it look like a plastic knockoff of a "real machine", squished so it could be used by opening the long way on a kitchen counter, without banging the cabinets overhead. My kitchen counter space is way too precious to give up for such a beast. The space nearby has no overhead obstacles, and favors opening a lid to face out at me. Their market research must have found I'm not alone, for the VP 115 addresses all of my prejudices, founded or unfounded. It shows more actual metal like a "real machine", while maintaining a lighter, smaller form factor that one person can easily lift. And it opens and closes in an orientation that makes sense to me. So yes, I worried about the price difference between the VP112 and the full-sized, oil pump machines we should probably all be getting. And the size and weight; the price difference keeps shrinking. When I saw the VP115 for sale, I saw the machine I'd wished they had sold as the VP 112, and I didn't perceive any price difference. Just that this was going to save me hundreds of dollars over a machine I'd have trouble lifting alone. The ability to seal 12" or two 6" bags would be very nice. Were I to do this over again, however, I'd go up to some oil pump machine. That search is a rabbit hole; the VP215 is a fine machine but one reads sound arguments for spending twice as much...
  24. Syzygies

    Chamber Vacuum Sealers, 2014–

    You do mean one of these, right? Your description of the mess sounds exactly like my experience trying to seal liquids in an external clamp vacuum sealer such as the FoodSaver (or more upscale, something like the Minipack Cyclone 30). I dislike external clamp vacuum sealers for all the same reasons as you. Is that what you thought I meant? An impulse sealer like shown above sells for a song in various lengths. Its only control is a seal timer, engaged when one presses down the top arm. I place it near the edge of a kitchen counter. I take a tiny block of wood (intended for texturing handmade pasta) to prop up one end. Using ordinary (not textured) chamber vacuum sealer bags, set up a liquid-filled bag to seal, with one hand on each side of the sealer, supporting the bag as it hangs off the counter. Squeeze the hanging liquid to force the remaining air up and out. Because of the slope, the liquid will want to escape at the high point of the ridge over the sealing strip. After it escapes, smooth the plastic along the sealing strip, and seal. If a small amount of liquid cleared the ridge onto the counter, clean it up in a couple of seconds with a paper towel.
  25. Syzygies

    Chamber Vacuum Sealers, 2014–

    $696 versus $629 on Amazon, a $67 difference. (I paid $689 a few months ago.)