Monthly Archives: December 2013

Shrimp and grits for Christmas Dinner

Basing in on this recipe from Anson Mills, although we didn’t see their grits at HEB, so I’m using a yellow grits/polenta corn product.


Presoak in water starting at 1:45. Cook with lots of stirring and adding more water. Add salt about halfway through.Add butter and black pepper at the end. Is this grits or polenta?


IMG_0917I have some frozen shrimp from HEB. Thaw these in the Nomiku set to 32F. Tap water started at about 65… dropped to the mid 50s pretty quickly.  A problem with irregularly shaped things like shrimp and vegetables has been getting things to stay submerged.  Here, I’m using a bowl and the lid of the Cambro box to hold the shrimp under.

The main use of time in this recipe is making a tasty shrimp stock.

  • Sautee celery, onions, garlic, shrimp shells
  • Add thyme, lemon peel, a couple of spoons of tomato paste, water, a bit of chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for more than an hour to reduce
  • Sautee chopped bacon in the large frying pan on low heat
  • Increase heat. Add shrimp. Recipe says to cook in a monolayer, but I had too many and didn’t feel like doing batches, so I dumped them all in and tossed/stir fried them in the bacon.  Added chopped scallions (light part), since I didn’t have shallots, and red pepper flakes. SaltIMG_0922ed too.
  • Dumped shrimp on a plate.
  • Added the strained shrimp stock to the pan. Boil some more to reduce, add beurre manie, from about 1.5 Tb flour in 2 Tb butter to thicken a bit
  • Dump shrimp back in, toss, turn off heat.  Serve on grits with chopped scallions (green part)


Sous vide beets

Partly this is because these pictures look so good, and partly because I want to try sealing with liquids in the ThriftyVac.

  • Preheat Nomiku to 82°C (=179.6°F, close enough to 180 for other root veg recipes)
  • I peeled and cut the beets in half so they would fit better in the 1 qt ziploc bags. I need to get a larger exterior bag for the ThriftyVac if I want to use larger bags for the food
  • Added minced ginger, brown sugar, salt, balsamic vinegar, and oil. One bag was sealed in the ThrifyVac, the other by water displacement.

IMG_0910 IMG_0911

In the left picture, the bag on the left was done by water displacement, while the one on the right was done on the ThriftyVac. The spoons (2 tsp/bag) are to provide weights to make the bags sink. The good news is that doing the ThriftyVac with the liquid present wasn’t that hard. In the pic on the right, the vacuumed bag is on the bottom. The bad news is that there seems to be as much trapped gas, if not more, as in the water displacement bag. After a few minutes in the hot bath, both bags are like portuguese man of war jellyfish – a floating air sac on the surface with the food submerged by the weight of the spoons.

It could be that I need more practice with the ThriftyVac; it’s acting like the only thing that happened was that the bag got flattened by the exterior bag in the same way you would see with the water displacement, and then air got back into the spaces between the irregularly shaped beet chunks.  I also didn’t oil the seal this time, thinking that the liquid in the bag would serve that purpose.

In at ~3:30 PM. Pulled at ~6:20…the beets were flavorful and al dente.  The spoons eventually led the bags to leak, fortunately after the food was out of the bath… with beets I think I would be able to tell if it had leaked in the bath.  I think the idea of weights is good, but I need something less likely to puncture the plastic. Or better bags.

For the protein for dinner, I did sous vide chicken breast (hoping to not kill anyone). 140°F chicken breast is recommended to cook for at least 95 minutes, and can go for up to 10 hours, so I probably should have done the chicken first, chilled it, and then reheated.  Starting with partially frozen chicken, I should go longer.  Turned down the bath to 140 and added some cold water until it got to around 160.  Meanwhile, seasoned a bag of skinless chicken that Debby had taken out of the freezer earlier, put it back in the bag and used water displacement to reseal. The bath was still > 150 °F but the chicken should cool it, I hope.  In at 6:30. Bath reached 140 at 6:40.  The outside surface of the meat looks cooked already, but I suspect the interior is still cold.  Used my thermapen to check at about 6:50… internal temp was about 90°F. So, target 8:30 for dinner, while we watched The Shop Around the Corner.  The chicken was moist, but I think I prefer the white meat from a properly roasted chicken, which isn’t a fair comparison, since I started with boneless chicken breasts, which pretty much define blandness. The sous vide is essentially a way of poaching things in their own juices.

Meanwhile, I’m making roasted potatoes. Cut into chunks. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer in water with salt and vinegar. Tossed with bacon fat mixed with olive oil. Put on a rimmed cookie sheet in a 500 F oven. Cooked for a total of about 45 minutes, turning a couple of times. These came out really well.




First sous vide eggs; ThriftyVac



I’ve had the Nomiku for a couple of weeks now.  Last weekend I tried what is supposed to be one of the most difficult tests: soft boiled eggs. I set the Nomiku for 145°C and plopped in some eggs to serve on a stir fry.

I let them go for just about an hour. I probably should have gone a touch longer, as the whites were a tiny bit on the runny side, as expected.  But I was impatient.  I’m wondering if its better to go >90 minutes, or to do 145 for an hour, and then briefly raise the temperature.


Previously, I used a 12 quart stainless steel stock pot for the bath. Here, I’m using a Coleman cooler we have. This
should be more energy efficient, but I didn’t like the way the lid got in the way.  I  moved the setup closer to the sink too.  Before I remembered 

that we had the cooler, I ordered a 12 quart polycarbonate food container, which seems to be a popular vessel in other pics of sous vide circulator setups.

The other component in many sous vide setups is a vacuum sealer. I haven’ t been using one, and the “water displacement method” has worked well for the meats. Vegetables have had problems with floating, but it’s not clear whether that is due to outgassing or just gas trapped in the bags. So when I saw the ThriftyVac, I decided that $26 including shipping from Amazon was worth trying, vs real sealers that cost hundreds.


The ThriftyVac came yesterday. As the inventor says very specifically, it’s that cheap because his ability to reuse components that already exist.

  • The chamber is a big ziploc bag
  • The pump is this one, with modifications
  • The platform is his design.
  • The check valve is a modified existing design, I think.

It’s a clever design.  There are some critiques of how well it should work, but I think they are irrelevant to my sous vide uses.  I also plan to use it to decrease freezer burn for when we freeze meat*, and I suspect I’ll think of more things to use it for as I have it longer.

*Supermarkets seem to only sell pork chops and chicken parts in amounts suitable for larger families than ours.

Catching up on CFB

Didn’t blog championship week, as the Badgers and Ags were out of it.  Stanford is back in the Rose Bowl, after beating Arizona State in Tempe.  The Cardinal will play Michigan State, who thwarted Ohio State’s effort to get to the last BCS championship.

The big new in CFB, however, is the Mack Brown out at Texas saga, and how Nick Saban’s agent seems to have played Bama and Texas off each other for a big raise.

Then there was the Heisman. Everyone is soooo glad this year’s winner doesn’t have off the field issues like like Johnny Manziel, right?

Belated CFB Week 14: War damn eagle, I guess

Didn’t post in a timely way over the Thanksgiving weekend, even though it was an eventful one for College football 2013.  The big news, of course, was Auburn upsetting the Crimson Tide by running back a missed FG attempt at the end of the game, after Nick Saban had argued to get one more second added back to the clock.

In less insane action, the Ags and Badgers lost, while Stanford beat Notre Dame.

The Aggie fans are crushed, but Mizzou was favored and at home. To add insult to injury (for some) Mizzou then hired our President to be their Chancellor.  What made the loss especially frustrating, however, was that the much maligned D held Mizzou to only 28 points. The high-powered Ags could only manage 21, for the second disappointing offensive performance in a row.  Partly this is because Missouri has a very good D, which was under-appreciated due to their injury-riddled 2012 campaign. But there was also the sense that Johnny Manziel was off again, combined with suggestions that other players did not give their best effort.

Speaking of underperforming, the Badgers performance against Penn State was worse than the 31-24 final score.  Penn State scored 24 unanswered points to go from down 14-7 to up 31-14 before the Badgers scored 10 points in the 4th quarter.

Other notable results

  • Fresno State fell from the ranks of the unbeatens and will not be the last BCS buster. Congrats to former Aggie D coordinator Tim DeRuyter on a great season… but giving up 62 points to San Jose State is not like Boise losing to Nevada a few years ago.
  • Arizona State clinched the home field for this weekend’s Pac12 championship. Stanford will travel to Tempe.
  • Duke beat UNC to get the  right to play Florida State in the ACC championship. I would love to see the Blue Devils knock off the Noles.  Unlikely, but it would be great.
  • Michigan State beat Minnesota and Ohio State edged Michigan to set up the Big 10 championship.  The Buckeyes stayed unbeaten thanks to a gift from Michigan coach Brady Hoke who decided to go for 2 instead of kicking a PAT to send the game to OT.

Sous Vide Flank Steak Experiment

My long-awaited Nomiku arrived just before Thanksgiving.  I did some experiments over the holiday and this weekend I’m going to test it for flank steak.  The purpose is to examine the effect of sous vide time on the cooking of flank steak. Recipes online advocate 16-48 hours, but if less time works, then less advance planning is needed.


two bags in the bath

  1. Divided a ~1.5 lb flank steak from HEB into 3 portions. Salted and put into individual bags with a touch of olive oil, some parsley stems, some fresh thyme, and some slivers of garlic.  Mark them 48, 24, and same day.
  2. First bag into a 130°F bath at 7:30 PM on Thursday. Other two in back into the meat drawer of the fridge.
  3. Second bag into the bath at ~7:00 PM on Friday. Bag 1 has a fair amount of red liquid around the meat.
  4. Third bag in at 9:00 AM Saturday

I wanted to do these roasted sweet potatoes too, but the recipe calls for an hour at 150°F and I don’t have a second temp controlled bath (yet!).  I figured it couldn’t hurt to go longer at 130°F and see what happens (the amylases are supposed to kick in at 135°F, but we don’t know the shape of the temperature dependence.  Sliced sweet potatoes into ~half-inch slices into the bath at 3:15 PM.  As with the carrots we did at Thanksgiving, the veggies float more than the meat, so it’s being held under by a colander.  I put a little water inside the bag in this case, but it didn’t help the flotation much.

Pulled the sweet potatoes and drained them. Spread them on a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and rosemary.  Salted with kosher salt and put into a preheated 400°F oven.  After 30 min, flipped them individually and returned to the oven for another 20 minutes.

Pulled the meat at about a bit before 6 (we had an Aggie Women’s game at 7). I ran some cold water over the bags to cool the periphery of the meat. Then I pulled it out, discarded the wilted herbs, and patted it dry with a paper towel.  I seared in a hot cast iron pan with some canola oil, flipping every 30 sec for a total of 2 minutes.

Results and Discussion

This is what it looked like before and after searing.

IMG_0895 IMG_0896

IMG_0897And this is what it looked like after slicing.

We tasted pieces going from the shortest time to the longest. Debby and I agreed that the longer time was noticeably more tender when tasting the three together. However, we both think that, for us, the difference isn’t worth going longer than overnight.  All three portions were very tasty, and even the 9 hour was pretty tender. Also, when we mixed them up on the dinner plate, the differences were not obvious between the 24 and 48 h incubations.

The roasted sweet potatoes were very good, and the caramelization suggested that the incubation had helped. However, I didn’t do controls on the sweet potatoes.  The browning was not as even as I would like; I think a better sheet pan, and/or moving the slices mid-cook might have helped.

I saved cooked the bag juices from the meat and used them to make a tiny risotto snack after the game.