Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Local Bourbon

Last month, I got an email informing me that my bottle of Albany Distilling Company's Ironweed Bourbon Whiskey was ready for me to pick up. So I headed down to the distillery (pretty much next door to the CH Evan's Pump House) to pick up my bottle. For $45, you get a bottle of the bourbon along with a nice sipping glass.

I enjoyed the bourbon. My favorite part was tasting how the Coal Yard New Make Whiskey (basically this bourbon prior to aging) evolved in a barrel for three months. While the bourbon was enjoyable I'd be interested in seeing if 6 months of aging made it better. However, at this price point I feel like I can find better bourbon. I haven't priced it recently, but a bottle of Basil Hayden was going for about $35 the last time I looked at Empire. While I don't think Ironweed is as good as Basil Hayden (they are very different too so this might not be the best comparison), I have faith that Albany Distillers will keep improving their products. So much faith, I have reserved a bottle of their Ironweed Rye that will be bottled in the next few weeks.

I should also mention that when I drink bourbon or Scotch, I usually just drink the bourbon or Scotch. Not a cocktail, rarely ice, once in awhile a splash of water. Just pour the whiskey in a glass and sip. That said, this bourbon may excel in a number of cocktails. I don't know. I just drank it straight. All of it.

If you see some Albany Distilling Company's products in the bars around town, give them a try. I tried their Quackenbush Still House Rum in a watermelon drink at the All over Albany birthday party. It was very good.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Shop Rite Visit

I was walking around Shop Rite, wandering through the frozen vegetable section, when out of the corner of my eye I saw it. I haven't seen it in years. Wasn't even sure they still made it. Seabrook Farms Creamed Spinach.

Sure it is highly processed and has lots of ingredients it shouldn't, but I loved this stuff. Back in the pre-microwave  days, you'd simmer the frozen ice-cube pouch of creamed spinach in water. I just nuked it.

When it's good and hot, you cut the top off the bag and pour it into a bowl. Since I love the stuff, every drop is squeezed out of the pouch.

As a kid, we always ate this with Near East rice pilaf. The rice dish is less processed than the spinach although it has just the right amount of autolyzed  yeast extract to make you eat the whole bowl.

Also in Shop Rite during that visit, I heard a series of loud popping noises while I was in the produce area. The staff at the cheese counter had their Magic Pop machine running. I had seen Magic Pop before, but I never saw it being made. It was kind of impressive and reminded me of the pancake machine I ran into at a Holiday Inn. Dough gets squirted into a little contain, the container closes, I'm guessing a combination of heat and pressure makes it pop, and these little popcorn-esque Frisbees come flying out.

If you look midway up on the left hand side of the next photo, I managed to capture the Magic Pop in flight.

After a bunch, the machine jammed up and need to be cleared out. The woman running the machine happily offered to bag me a fresh package of Magic Pop. These were cheddar cheese flavored.

Not a bad lite snack. I think a cracker was only 15 calories. I would describe them as a rice cracker with knock off Smartfood flavoring. Excuse me, I have to go clear out some space in the freezer and get a case of that spinach.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Channeling My Inner MacGyver

Well, I don't actually have an inner MacGyver but with help from some friends and assistance from  willing PizzaMaking.com forum member FeChef, I put together a DIY sous vide system. I am very pleased with how the system works. DISCLAIMER: I barely know what I'm doing. If you copy this, you're on your own.

The process began with seeking out a heating element. I tracked down an indoor turkey fryer on Craigslist and bought it. Turns out that without cracking it open to make some adjustments, the fryer element wasn't going to do it for me. Plus, the damn thing is so shiny and pretty I don't want to break it - I want to deep fry things in it.

After reading a several DIY sous vide articles online, a small water heater element looked like it would do the trick. So I went to Lowes to check one out. It was 10 bucks so figured I'd give it a shot. My idea was to drill a hole though a piece of stainless steel, thread the heating element through and cover up the electrical connection with a combination of shrink tube and electrical tape. Side note: I decided to uses stainless steel for the rust resistant properties completely forgetting that it is harder to cut and drill. During the development of this heating element, I went through a few hacksaw blades (I kept trimming the steel afraid to trim to much - 3 cuts later it fit snugly) and a drill bit. Here's the heating element:

The piece of stainless steel started at 14 inches long and was slowly whittled down to about 13 5/8ths and fits snugly onto the rim of our largest cooler. My idea was that it could then be place on top of other, smaller coolers for jobs that needed less water. We'll have to see how well that works.

Next up was securing all the electronics. This was pretty much a parts list supplied on a PizzaMaking.com post about brisket. Got an outlet, a PID controller, an SSR and heat sink, a better PT100 sensor (temperature sensor - the PID controller came with one too) and a water pump for circulation. Assembly took 2 nights. It was pretty straightforward (thanks again to FeChef's wiring diagram). The delay was more in me putting things together and then taking them apart to try and put together a little better.

After some mandatory trouble shooting, I was off to the basement for some testing. I filled a cooler with some hot sink water, set up the heating element and temperature probe and took it for a test drive.  It held 140 what it thought was 140 degrees for a few hours. My instant read thermometer and the PT100 sensor differ by 2 degrees. I still have to put them both in ice water to see which one is off.

Today, I set it up in the big cooler with the water pump and cooked a sirloin steak in it. The box got hot during the heat up, but wasn't hot when cycling off and on to maintain the water temperature. A future improvement will include wither a cooling fan or additional heat sink. Here it is warming up on its way to 132 degrees.

I put the steak in an old rib rack so it would float around. I also wire tied a baking cooling rack to the heating element to keep everything away. The water pump suction feet didn't want to stay stuck to the cooler walls so it ended up positioned and clamped to the wire rack. I put the heating element and temperature sensor on one end of the cooler and was able to close the the larger part of the cooler lid to hep insulate the water and slow down any evaporation during future cooks.

Once out of the water bath, I gave the steak a quick sear on the grill. Not exactly the most appetizing thing right out of the water. Looked better after the sear and I was left with edge to edge medium rare.

Definitely a toy I'll glad to have. There's brisket, short ribs and a few other things I'd like to try in here. Many thanks to FeChef, the Harries (would you believe I know two guys named Harry?) and Jim for their guidance.