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Syzygies

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Syzygies last won the day on August 7

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About Syzygies

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    Senior Member
  • Birthday 11/29/1955

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    New York, NY and Concord, CA
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    Mathematician

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  1. A 20 pound box of dry-farmed Santa Cruz Early Girls, into 5 pounds of paste. It seems like more than a 4:1 reduction, but dry-farmed tomatoes start with less water. There's a vintage effect. This year's paste is nowhere near as sweet as last year's paste. They had a rainy Spring leading to a late crop; it's just now possible to buy boxes. The Silpat non-stick silicone baking mats were a revelation. I would have bought a commercial dehydrator if I could have figured out how to contain quarts of puree per tray. Instead, the Silpat liners drove the design process. They fit full sheet pans, which fit bakery racks, figure out something starting from there. The non-stick is amazing: I had thin dried films on the edges everywhere, starting with six trays, two quarts of puree per tray (1/3 of nominal capacity; the trays hold six quarts each to the brim). I thought this was a lost cause, to soak off later. Instead, the films peeled off cleanly like separating the protective film from double-sided tape. Mixed back into the paste, these films tend to equalize and rehydrate.
  2. Here are before, after photos of about 10 pounds of garden tomatoes. Far less effort that using, cleaning a stack of Nesco American Harvest dehydrator trays with fruit roll inserts, and the drying is more uniform. These are dried till most of the water is out, but the tomatoes are still "gooshy". This greatly enhances the flavor; it's how we make many midweek quick tomato sauces during the year. The tomatoes will now be vacuum packed and frozen in roughly 210g packets, each representing two pounds or so of tomatoes. This weekend I hope to make paste.
  3. His work is amazing: Sam Maloof Woodworker I oscillate between obsessed with walnut and obsessed with cherry. This was opportunistic cherry, it will turn red with more sun. My next door neighbor is a master woodworker; he used to work at Berkeley Mills and now has his own shop other side of our fence. Steve Jobs lived in an empty mansion because nothing was good enough for him, until he bought Pixar and they walked him down the street to see Berkeley Mills. In any case, my neighbor has a serious problem with exotic scrap wood; we've sat around fires that included bits of mahogany and teak. We've bought various pieces from him (outdoor table that used to be theirs, solid cherry kitchen table, an exact reproduction/replacement for particle board box store bathroom vanity in solid cherry). Much of the storage in my garage is from his "customer changed their minds" cabinetry. This was an unneeded sheet of 7-ply (middle layer MDF) plywood with Cherry veneer, that he sold me. I loved the math involved in how he reworked my cut list, to get new edges on all sides with a minimum number of cuts. I love my $900 Kreg track saw table, but his table saw is in a different league. In any case, they're also flooded with tomatoes, and they'll be using this dryer too. In Sicily they spread paste on tables in the sun, over multiple days. I buy two 20 pound boxes of Santa Cruz dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes at a farmers market, for $100. Wash several times, core, quarter, add 35g salt per ten pounds gross (here, 140g salt) and simmer in a commercial stock pot. (My favorite is the VOLLRATH SAUCE POT, 22QT. PROFESSIONAL STAINLESS STEEL - 3905.) Pass through coarse then fine food mill screens. By my records this yields 20 quarts of sauce. Each full sheet pan lined with Silpat will hold six quarts liquid to the brim, with an absolutely level dehydrator (note the leveling feet on my base). Seven trays is 42 quarts, so 20 quarts is less than half full, a comfortable margin. One scrapes and combines down to fewer trays as the sauce thickens. One aims for a 4:1 or 5:1 reduction. This used to take on the order of 12 hours in a conventional dehydrator; we'll see with this new rig. Right now the heater is 1000 watts; I've ordered a 1500 watt replacement to be able to reach any temperature / fan setting combination that I want. My version of estrattu is less salty and less dried than the Sicilian original. Theirs did not require refrigeration; we fridge or freeze ours, leaving a concentrated but fresher flavor. This is a matter of taste. For cooking year round, we freeze packets of skinned (shown above after blanching 30 seconds), sliced, salted, partially dried garden heirloom tomatoes. I'll be laying them in these same Silpat-lined full sheet pans, oiled with olive oil. 22.75 square feet of surface area (7 full sheet pans lined with Silpat). That’s nominally a bit more than the 24 American Harvester dehydrator trays we used to use. However, one fills an 18" x 26" full sheet pan much more efficiently, and efficiency isn’t a liability because there’s 3” of headroom per tray, and stronger airflow. That takes on the order of ten hours, depending on temperature and airflow. Again, we'll see with the new rig. Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef" had a strong influence on me when it came out, even though we don't follow the recipes. He had a version of fussy tomatoes in there: Following his lead, we used to roast tomatoes in a cazuela in our Kamado, pulling off the skins as they came loose. This is spectacular but doesn't really scale well. Later I spotted versions of precious tomatoes in books by some of my other zombie masters (such as Thomas Keller), and I reworked the approach to use a dehydrator as above, for handling our entire crop (200 pounds so far this year). It stuns me that something like this isn't for sale, e.g. at Eataly in NYC; if I had a restaurant, I'd be busy stocking tomatoes for the year, selling my overflow through Eataly. If I go to a $100 Italian restaurant, I more or less have to avoid tomato dishes. I have to ask first the provenance of the tomatoes, which makes me sound like a jerk if I don't nail the tone of the question right, but otherwise I can taste the canned tomato effect, which I don't like. We grind our own flour, which startles many people who grind their own coffee. They need a drug as inducement for obsessive behavior that comes naturally to me. Similarly, my peer group for this project would be my neighbors who make beer. (One neighbor is an owner of More Beer, where I bought the temperature controller.) Again, the alcohol is an inducement, but every beer maker becomes a DIY fanatic. The scale of my dryer project is nothing compared to some of the garage brewing rigs I've seen.
  4. We like to skin, salt, partially dry, and freeze our garden tomatoes. We haven't opened a can in well over a decade. Living in the "California" region of Italy, we're not hidebound by tradition. In Sicily and the south of Italy they make a very concentrated tomato paste from the best tomatoes they can grow. It's nothing like commercial paste in cans. As winemakers migrate to new climates, they adapt, recognizing which grape varieties grow best in their new digs. Similarly, the most remarkable tomatoes in California are dry-farmed Early Girls from Santa Cruz, and they make a spectacular estrattu tomato paste. Making this paste on fruit roll trays lining our 24 American Harvester dehydrator trays was quite the nuisance, so for a few years I've been meaning to make a dehydrator optimized for drying tomatoes and tomato paste. Each full sheet pan holds well over a gallon of liquid. The frame of this dehydrator is a 10 shelf sheet pan rack, that accepts full sheet pans with Silpat liners. The heat source is a Com-Pak wall heater suspended in a box, controlled by a Johnson A421 Digital Temperature Controller. The exit fans are an AirTitan T8-N crawl space fan array, with a control panel that looks much more at home in this application. The airflow is blocked on alternate sides of each sheet pan, directing the air to pass over each pan. In initial testing, tomato slices dry much more uniformly than in any commercial dryer I've used.
  5. I have the greatest respect for ThermoWorks. However, there's no reason to believe that their public-facing spokespeople understand this product as well as their engineers. I'm guessing that this description is "misleading". How well does the Billows actually work? My BBQGuru can struggle if the fire is having trouble jumping between pockets of fuel, but almost always for a long low & slow it locks on to exactly the target temperature. Does the Billows do this or not? To be blunt, they have to be using the PID algorithm. They couldn't possibly be that stupid, to have freelanced a different algorithm. They could be selling a poorly tuned PID controller, but I doubt that. My money is on ignorant documentation writers.
  6. Congrats! If it comes off with shop rags, go for it. If it's just cosmetic, call it a life well lived. I took a rag to mine for comparison, and what came off was dry powder, and not so much. Make a pizza at 500 F, and declare it clean. Grates are an interesting question. The best degunking tool is a 3/8" wrench (shown) with a rounded opening that matches the grates. Some people never clean grates, but that can get sketchy after a slow & low cook. Some of us plug the hole in a metal water heater pan to make a wash basin, and use the scrubbies one finds in the painting aisle to clean while hosing down and soaking. I've heard tell of leaving grates in a trash bag with ammonia, but even if this did restore a "new" look, what would be the point. I happen to own an electric pressure washer, and I like using it on my grates after a messy cook. It makes me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger wielding a flamethrower in Commando (or Jiarby lighting a fire with his flamethrower, for a more local reference old-timers might get).
  7. We've already harvested 100 pounds of tomatoes this year, well ahead of our usual pace. Warmer nights in the early growing season. Shown: A quarter of this haul, cooling after 30 seconds in boiling water to loosen skins. We slice, salt, partially dehydrate (to 25% or so by weight, still "gooshy"), and freeze in vacuum pouches. We haven't opened a can of tomatoes in 15 years; when I need coconut milk for cooking Thai, the hardest part is finding the can opener.
  8. Resident mathematician here. Any pit controller (BBQ Guru, Billows, ...) is implementing a classic feedback mechanism: proportional–integral–derivative controller If your fan is always on at 200 F, always off at 240 F, and on part of the time in between, proportionate to the pit temperature, then your pit will stabilize at some temperature between 200 F and 240 F. Where? It depends on everything. Same as a hiker climbing a mountain, and a hiker descending a mountain, they have to cross paths somewhere. Not necessarily at the halfway point, just somewhere along the trail. Suppose that you want to stabilize at exactly 220 F? The PID mechanism learns the system it's controlling, and adjusts the fan rate to nudge where your pit stabilizes. Every pit is different. It doesn't matter, the PID mechanism figures it out. I have several sizes of fans for my BBQ Guru. It doesn't matter, the PID mechanism figures it out. Here we get abstract. Abstraction is easy, it's forgetting part of a problem that turns out to be irrelevant. Here, your PID controller sees the effect of turning a system on and off at regular intervals, as measured by the pit thermometer. It has no clue what your pit looks like. It has no clue what your fan looks like. It sees a system, as a black box that it controls. Where am I going with this? If the Signals fan output is 12V like all standard computer case fans, then it can control any fan you like, such as a BBQ Guru fan that happens to perfectly fit the existing Guru port in our KKs. There are several complications here. First, there are two flavors of fan control: On/off, and pulse code modulation. In other words, one could run a fan faster or slower as needed, rather than cycling it on and off. The BBQ Guru fan doesn't support this. Can anyone who has a Billows tell us? Does it run at a variable rate, or does it cycle on and off? Second, we have a cabling problem. The Billows connects via a USB-C cable to the fan adapter. Now, frequently USB-C is used merely for charging, in which case we need to splice the appropriate wires on a USB-C cable to make something a Guru fan can plug into. Billows Replacement Fan Adapter (Single) Third, the Signals needs to recognize that a Billows is attached. Here, hopefully it actually detects the fan adapter. Can anyone who has a Billows play with this? Does Signals "see" a Billows attached when the fan adapter is attached, but the Billows itself is not? I'm not hopeful here. Many devices can tell when a USB cable is successful. We're talking a ten cent circuit, to insure that the Signals handshakes with the Billows via the adapter. If they engineered this way, then we can't swap in our fan of choice. If the handshaking is only with the adapter, then swapping in our fan of choice will be easy. The PID mechanism doesn't care, it sees a black box.
  9. Feeding Laurie's church today. Four pork butts in bourbon sauce, pot beans, cole slaw. Dry rub was California and Guajillo chiles, salt, pepper, and pimenton. We'll serve butt mixed with sauce on buns (sloppy joe style). I used dry ice to chill the six quarts of bourbon sauce, from a liter of bourbon. Fun play break (the dog was concerned) but next time I'll stick to conventional ice. I thought this main grill mound of four butts was being clever, and I'd do it again, but it has unintended consequences. That's more thermal mass on the main grill than I'm used to, causing a greater disparity between a pit probe reading anchored to that grill, and a pit probe reading through the Tel-Tru dome hole. More reliable to just cook with the dome hole, and make adjustments as needed. Also, the mound has a greater "effective mass" than a single ten pound butt, and so it cooks slower. 19 hours at 225 F is not enough. Though, as I've said before, I think the "disintegrating rope" standard for pulled pork is a scam, and I've never had decent pulled pork commercially in the Carolinas. I'd rather undershoot, than dry out the butts this way. Mine are more work to pull, but I like the juicy, tender result. Still, I'll move up from 225 F to somewhere near the recently more popular 275 F next year, and we'll figure out how to adjust the timing. The pot clamped for travel is the 22 quart Optio Sauce Pot 3095, our favorite big pot. There's a shorter version, but too short to cook four pounds of pot beans. After a brief hard boil, the beans simmered overnight in a 240 F oven.
  10. Syzygies

    Zucchini Boats

    This is indeed zucchini season. Remember to roll up your car windows at church! Our favorite indoor version, from Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, the remainder pile cookbook many of us of learned from back in the day (we make boats also, rather than tubes):
  11. Cake - Sheep go to heaven goats go to hell (with lyrics)
  12. Syzygies

    Electric Comversion

    There are electric barbecues; I'd research the best ones before deciding what to do. What would be gained, keeping your KK under these circumstances? Thermal mass. Huh. Great once at cruising altitude, but that will take a while with an electric heating element, and you'll never reach pizza oven temperatures. I'm reminded how FibraMent used to refuse to sell their thicker stones to consumers, knowing no consumer would have the patience for the long preheat these need. A restaurant keeps their pizza oven on all day, different story. Those "Forged by the Gods" (anyone seen the https://komodokamado.com/ home page lately? I don't remember Dennis looking quite like that!) steel grates. I'd miss them. Otherwise, if you need an electric BBQ, buy one from someone who has perfected the form, similar to how Dennis has perfected the KK form.
  13. Syzygies

    Electric Comversion

    1. Look at how the gas burner assembly works for a KK. Start with another door, and fashion something similar with an electric charcoal starter? It will survive extended use, as we're going to toggle the power to it. 2. One can still buy sous vide controllers with an A/C outlet, from many sources. Many of us use a BBQ Guru or similar for charcoal fire temperature control. The basic idea of a PID Temperature Controller long predates these BBQ units; they all control the heat somehow in response to a temperature reading and a target temperature. One could use a thermometer in the KK as input to ta PID controller toggling power to the electric charcoal starter. 3. Would your condo allow use of the KK KK Cold Smoker ? If not, I'd experiment with ways to use the electric charcoal starter to also generate smoke. A lightweight alternative to my "smoke pot" would be an all-steel water bottle and cap, such as the Klean Kanteen and the separate all-steel cap. Remove the silicone seal, and drill a few holes to relieve pressure and let out smoke. Rest on the charcoal starter; you'll get smoke but not flame, as oxygen can't get in. This is mostly guesswork, but I have a reasonable track record inventing KK gadgets. I do have experience with PID controllers. In the early 80's I read Harold McGee on food science, and I also read how in restaurants in France that had vacuum packers, they'd package fish and marinades as an alternative to steaming. (I'm probably conflating two stories in imagining they then put the fish in a dishwasher.) Huh. A light bulb went off, as McGee's main point was how arbitrary the boiling point of water was, yet cooking technique leans against this particular temperature because we're too lazy to stand up. I imagined Sous Vide cooking without ever having heard of it beyond these two clues, and researched gear for chem lab temperature control. I gave up, not sure it would work and barely able to afford the gear in question. It turns out that Restaurant Troisgros had already been using sous vide technique for a decade, to get better foie gras yields, but the idea was not yet popular. A few decades later, when I heard to my chagrin that sous vide was a thing that actually worked (and I still couldn't afford the official gear) I rewired a soup warmer to be controlled from a PID controller, and started cooking sous vide.
  14. I use my weed burner screwed onto a small camping propane tank, like you'd use with a camp stove or lantern. It takes very little space. I also attached a hose clamp along the tube, to aid in balancing the burner in position. I adjust it every minute or so, rather than standing there holding it.
  15. As a kid on a family camping trip, I fashioned a slingshot, and went foraging in the woods for suitable projectiles. I found an inexhaustible supply of perfectly formed pellets. I was briefly chagrined when my Dad identified them. If memory serves me right, though, I kept using them. The traditional diet of hare in the south of France (where it is now 45 C) is wild-grown Herbes de Provence. They would be spectacular in a pellet smoker.
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