ziploc vacuum bags
Even if you managed to find an inexpensive solution for cooking sous vide at home, it used to be the case that you were still on the hook for a vacuum sealer, and the $150 FoodSaver was the de facto appliance for the job.  Sure, for short cooking times, you can immerse a zip-top bag in water and force out most of the air, but that strategy doesn’t let you safely cook-then-chill foods for reheating later.  Furthermore, as the small amount of remaining air expands in non-vacuumed bags, they tend to float to the surface and cook unevenly.  However, Ziploc recently introduced a line of vacuum seal bags that use an inexpensive hand pump and achieve nearly the same results as that pricey FoodSaver.  Read on for my head-to-head test and conclusions…

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Reading time: 4 min

centrifuged emulsions composite

Have you ever wondered what happens when you subject shelf-stable emulsions from your local grocery store to 3,000 times the force of Earth’s gravity using a centrifuge?  Yeah, me too! 

I chose three different types of emulsions: mayonnaise, salad dressing, and canned soup.  [I also tested spaghetti sauce, but one of the test vials exploded mid-‘fuge, so the results were inconclusive].  For each emulsion, I centrifuged two popular brands to note their differences in separation after an hour at 3,000 RPMs (equivalent to 3,000 Gs in my centrifuge).  It is important to note that an emulsion that separates under these conditions does not indicate a better or worse product, simply a stronger or weaker emulsion.  The goal of this experiment was not to determine which brand you should buy.  The goal of this experiment was to spin a bunch of shit at extremely high G-forces and see what happened. 

The results:

  1. Best Foods Real Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise, as it turns out, is a pretty strong emulsion.  This brand showed a slight separation visible at the bottom of the vial, but more or less held together.  If I spun it for longer, I wonder if I would have ended up with a layer of egg and a layer of oil…
  2. Miracle Whip – This was the strongest emulsion I tested, showing no signs of separation whatsoever.  I personally can’t stand the stuff, but for those of you who are fans of this mayo alternative, rest assured that it is highly acceleration-resistant.
  3. Kroger Zesty Italian Dressing – If you’ve ever made an oil and vinegar salad dressing at home, you know it’s naturally prone to separation.  This brand separated easily leaving perfectly clear oil at the top, vinegar in the middle and solids at the bottom.  +1 for “just like mom makes”, especially if your mom makes it from a bottle.
  4. Kraft Free Zesty Italian Dressing – I chose this product because, on the shelf, the emulsion looked extremely stable – all of the solids were held in suspension, which was likely for marketing reasons.  Although all of the solids separated out, the liquid phase didn’t clarify at all.  It seems the people at Kraft have found a way to make oil, water and vinegar extremely fond of one another.
  5. Kroger Chunky New England Style Clam Chowder – I expected that the chunky solids would wind up compressed at the bottom of the vial, but I was surprised to discover that the soupy part of the soup held intact.  I guess Chef Kroger (cough, cough) must have been very careful with his roux when he made this particular can of soup.
  6. Campbell’s Select Harvest 98% Fat Free New England Clam Chowder – As you can see, there was some significant separation in this sample.  My guess is the light-colored top layer of thin, watery liquid has something to do with the low fat claims on the label – diluting soup with water would certainly be an easier way to make it “healthier”. 

As I said earlier, this experiment was more about messing around than testing a hypothesis.  Speaking of messing around, what substances would you like me to try spinning?  The centrifuge is still my newest toy, and like all toys, I’m eager to fill it with unusual liquids. 

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Reading time: 2 min

duck prosciutto

 

Did you know that you can cure meat at home using nothing more than a wine refrigerator? 

This was my first attempt at meat curing, and I’d say it went fantastically well.  This project was inspired by Matt Wright and his insanely beautiful blog, WrightFood.  Matt has some serious curing experience under his belt, and offers detailed recipes and techniques for home curing.  For this project, I followed his recipe for Duck Prosciutto (recipe is towards the bottom of the post). 

The recipe calls for curing duck breasts in salt for 24 hours before hanging them up to cure at 55F with 60% relative humidity until they have lost 30% of their original mass. 

Although I’ve got big plans in my head for building a high-tech curing chamber (one day), I also remembered that I had an unused wine refrigerator sitting in the basement.  Nothing is sadder than an empty wine fridge, so I decided to repurpose it for a bold new mission.  The fridge has an adjustable temperature setting for champagne, whites, reds and long-term storage.  Luckily for me, one of those settings corresponds to 55F.  I didn’t bother measuring the humidity in the wine fridge, but I reasoned that it would have to maintain a reasonable humidity level to keep wine corks from drying out.  The fridge also has a small fan, which is great for circulating the air inside and a desirable condition for curing meat. 

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Reading time: 3 min
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