Smoked Salmon

My daughter Elyse and her husband Paul went fishing on Lake Michigan for Paul’s birthday. Charter boat for 5 hours with a no catch / no pay policy. It was a Friday morning in mid September and they ended up trolling within the McKinley Marina breakwater as it was too rough to go out farther. They ende dup with 5 salmon, 2 at 17 lbs. The Boat crew said that this time of year the salmon are better smoked than fresh. So that is where I come in. I have smoke salmon and carp a few times with great success. When I came home from work there was 25 lbs of skin on filets left for me to prepare.

First we took about 5-6 lbs and made gravlax. 1.5 c salt, 1 c sugar, 3TB dried dill rubbed on the filets and then they were wrapped and pressed in the fridge for 36 hours. Pin bones were pulled with a serrated pliers. Shallow jelly roll pan on the bottom to contain the juice. After 12-24 hours drain the excess liquid.  Prior to vacuum packing and freezing to -10F to kill any parasites. Early samples are great tasting , although I am not fond of the slime.  Next time we will scale or skin first.

For the smoked fish we used 1.5c salt, 3c brown sugar and 4 TB dill . Coat the filets liberally and layer in a large bowl. Fattest / belly meat on the bottom. These went in the fridge  Rotate the filets after 18-24 hours. Leave the juice.  Best if the fillets are sliced lengthwise along the lateral line and then across about 3/4 the way through into 2-3 ” wide chunks.  Morning of smoking, take the filets out and rinse liberally in cold water. Then soak in several changes of water for another hour. This prevents the surface from being overly salty or sweet.

For smoking, let them air dry for 1-2 hours to form a pellicle on the surface. I also added more dill and black pepper. Then place in the smoker. I used a Big Green Egg with 3 level cooking grate. Put the thinnest on the bottom and thickest on the top rick. I had to use toothpicks to keep the fillets from sliding off. Next time I will use uncolored toothpicks, the colors of the party toothpicks migrated into the meat and looks wierd.

Smoke with cherry wood chunks at 185 for 5 hours. This is where the heatermeter really pays off, holding this low temp accurately for hours on end. FInal meat temp was 150. However it hits this at about 2 hours in and then you get the “stall” as the moisture evaporates and the meat temp really does not rise for the next few hours. So don’t get alarmed that the fish comes up to final temp “too early”.

Take the pieces off (yes it can be a struggle if you forget to oil the racks). Cool and then pull of the skin and scrape the grey meat along the lateral line off (so called mud line) to get rid of the bad flavor of that region.  These were then vacuum bagged and frozen. From a food safety these are just fine as is (aside from watching your mercury intake thanks to the coal fired power plants).

We ended up with just under 9 lbs of finished product.

Fillets loaded and ready to go. Note the order of loading needs to be reversed with thick belly filets on top and tails on the bottom . Toothpicks keep the fillets from sliding off.

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Heatermeter in its water resistant case , This is a great project in and of itself and saves a lot of worry on long or low temp smoking sessions. In the winter being able to pull up the current stats on you computer is a big plus. d3u_8744

Vacuum bagged and ready to freezed3u_8748

 

Stuffed chicken roll-ups

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We have been making stuffed chicken roll-ups of various sorts for a number of years. They have been a family favorites, but we keep experimenting, trying new variations on the theme. We started out with chicken breasts and they were stuffed with cheese and sometimes ham or pepperoni. Breading was a triple dip: flour, egg/milk, bread crumbs with herbs and crushed pine nuts.  However, while these were good, the breasts often were drier than we would like and I wanted to reduce the amount of oil needed for a crispy crust. So there has been an evolution. Switching from breasts to boneless thighs, moving where herbs and other flavorings would reside (stuffing, base coat/ dredge, wash, crumbs). Each iteration was a bit different.

Tonight I pushed it a bit farther and we are really happy with the results. So here is the recipe to the best of my recollection (some day I will write as I cook).

Meat

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (costco). Remove the fat deposits, and butterfly as flat as you can trying for 6×8″ or so. Pound out under plastic wrap to about 3/8″ thick. The chicken will be fragile and have holes – don’t worry.

Filling

10-12 oz chopped frozen spinach. Thaw and wring out as hard as you can.

1/4c lemon juice

3/4 c shredded cheese . We used our staple mexican cheese blend. You could use feta for a sharper flavor, farmers or Monterey jack for a smoother flavor

1/4 c pine nuts

1/8 tsp salt (the cheese already adds salt)

Mix well and break up the spinach lumps

Coating batter / wet dip

1/3 c corn starch

2/3 c milk

2 tsp granulated garlic

2/3 tsp italian seasoning

1/3 tsp sweet paprika

a few good grinds of black pepper

Whisk these together and let sit (and whisk again). It should be a very thin batter, like a crepe batter. Note the mix will thicken after sitting a few minutes.

Outer coating

2/3 c grated parmesan (green can cheese)

2/3 c corn meal

1/4 c panko bread crumbs (can omit  )

Building the roll ups

Take the very irregular and pounded out chicken thighs and lay out. Place 1/4 of the spinach mixture in a line along the best looking long dimension. Roll up – yes they will have holes and not be pretty at this point. Tie with string in 3-5 places,  to make a rough log.

Dip and roll  in the batter. Then dip and roll in the coating. Set aside to rest for 5-15 minutes (longer is better for adhesion of the coating) .

Cooking

Saute, in a preheated mix of olive oil and bacon grease (about 2 TBSP each) . Place in the pre heated pan and let brown (about 3-4 min) , flip over 180 degrees, and brown again, rotate 90 browning again, and finally flip over.

Now drain off the excess grease and  then throw the pan in the oven at 325 on convect for about 20-30 min. Cook to internal temp of 175-180. Yes it sounds high, but these are thighs – you would do breasts to 160-165.

Pull from oven  and let sit 5-10 min and serve.

 

Compared to the regular panko crumb crust, there is about 1/ 2 the absorption of the fat.

 

Salsa Day

It is now late summer and we are blessed with an overabundance of tomatoes and peppers. It is always hard to predict how well they will do so we plant 12+ of each. This summer things have gone well with plenty to eat and give away. However, much of the summer has been hot and dry and recently we have had a lot of rain. This causes the tomatoes to split and rot if not picked aggressively. This means we have gallons of tomatoes, Yellow pears, orange and red cherries up through some really nice beef steaks (Romas were a bust).  For peppers we have loads of  sweet bananas, cubanelas (sweet), jalapenos and a decent number of poblanos.

Last weekend we made tomato sauce and this weekend is salsa. Low 70s temp and rainy so it was a perfect day to be in the kitchen.

Our oldest daughter Jessie brought up the idea canning of Pineapple – tomato salsa . This sounded interesting but there are few recipes available. However we found one on Taste of Home: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/spicy-pineapple-salsa and modified it slightly.

NOTE: canning of salsa is one of the more risky endeavors and you need to follow well documented and tested recipes. This is not a time to risk a “pinterest fail” and be poisoned with botulism.  Don’t just take my word for it, read up on several of the University extension web sites prior to doing this for proper safety procedures such as:

  • http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/b3570.pdf
  • http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/tomatoes-salsa/canning-tomato-based-salsa-safely/
  • http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/sensational_salsa.pdf

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I really have to give credit to my wife Teal. She cleaned and chopped gallons of tomatoes today. On top of it she doesn’t eat tomatoes, salsa or pineapple (unless blended with rum and coconut).  We ended up with 29 jars of salsa.

Our final version was close to the original but we went for roasting the pineapple and jalapenos as well as draining the pineapple to make it thicker. Final cooled sauce pH test with pH test paper came in at between 3.5 and 4 .well under the 4.6 required for safety.

So here is our version:

5 lbs tomatoes chopped – Yellow pear, orange sungolds, yellow plum

2 large yellow onions chopped

2 sweet banana pepper chopped – preferably ripe and reddish if you have them

1 can 12-18 oz crushed or chunk pineapple  – drained (save juice for the rum drinks later)

1 can chunk pineapple roasted on skewers on the grill – go for caramelization – not black – beware it sticks badly

1 can (15oz) tomato paste.   If only there was yellow tomato paste – the color would be better.

2 large sweet banana peppers seeded and chopped

2/3 c roasted, skinned , seeded and chopped jalapenos and / or poblanos – go for a nice dark roast and bubbly skin

1/3 c cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon  salt (you can always add more later depending on your chips)

6-8 large garlic cloves minced (about 2/3 bulb of garlic)

2 tsp fresh ground cumin (seeds in your mortar and pestle – none of the pre ground stuff)

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Mix and cook at a hard boil for 15 min.. Stir frequently. If you want a smoother consistency (as we did ) use a stick / immersion blender to smooth it out near the end of cooking (yes it will clog up but just shake the skins off).

Pack into pint jars and boiling water process for 15 min.

Enjoy.

We made a bunch of conventional tomato salsa as well – that recipe will be a subsequent post .

 

Baby Gate completion

The baby (and dog) gate turned out well. The flat pieces were all 1/2″ ash. Pivots are 3/8″ dowels. These may need to be sanded or the holes reamed a bit due to the variation in the dowel diameters. Make sure to round off the ends to make assembly easy.

The spindles were all pre-finished prior to glue-up . This is very important. You cannot get good coverage once assembled but more importantly, if you have any glue squeeze out form the dowels you could end up with a frozen / inoperable gate.

D3U_7350Stain is Minwax Provincial which is what we used when we built the house. As well as 2 coats of garnet shellac to moderately match the aging and provide a modest degree of protection. The 2 coats of garnet shellac help the color match tremendously but the old wood is still more yellow. Oak and Ash yellow considerably in the first 2-10 years of sunlight exposure. So new pieces stained the same and placed next to old ones will look sickly pale in comparison. The shellac makes up most of the difference. Don’t go for an exact match as the wood will darken, you just don’t want it to be seen as initially being completely out of place.

D3U_7352The gate pieces were fastened on to the stairs with # 6x 1.5″ screws. So when it is removed years from now the holes will be small and easy to fill and match.

The left side rests on a couple of rests that are fastened to the stair baluster . They are unobtrusive when open and almost completely hidden when closed off.

D3U_7347When parked to the side the gate rests on a small block that raises it up parallel to the hand rail and holds it open. We expect that cats, kids, and dogs will try to shut it on the unsuspecting and this will likely foil their evil plans.

Overall, it is a successful project. Teal is happy and as a reward today is Meatball Day ( she gets Swedish and I get Italian).

I am waiting for the replacement stepper motor controller for the CNC router.  Some of the parts for the over-voltage / counter -EMF protection have started to show up. That will be for another post.

Baby gate and CNC dead in the water

This past weekend we started on a new project: building a baby / dog gate for the bottom of the stairs. When the kids come over they often bring their dogs which we don’t want upstairs and at some point our grand son,  Sawyer will be wandering about and stairs are not an desirable early adventure.

D3U_7344So we need to make a gate at the bottom of the stairs . However the end of the stair is exposed and wider than there is clearance on either side. So an ordinary swinging gate wont cut it.

After searching for a bit we came across a post at: http://woodgears.ca/home/baby_gate.html that was close to what I had in mind!. SO here was the jumping off point for the new design.

Design constraints:

  • Made of oak or ash ot match the existing wood work, yet not weigh a ton
  • Pivot out of the way on the inside of the stairs
  • Stain to match existing wood work as this is likely to be in place for 10 years or so.
  • Use the CNC router (yes I still need to show pay back for the $$$ invested)

2016-02-10 19_22_50-gate.skp - SketchUp MakeInitial rough design was done in Sketchup, to slim out the spindles I went with “lollipop ends”. They would be a pain to do manually but a perfect excuse for the CNC router.to make them .

Stock is 1/2″ thick ash. This was to use up some planks I had that were a bit on the thin side and save weight compared to oak.

The spindle drawing was exported from Sketchup and imported into Vcarve Pro.

From there it was copied and I laid it to do multiples form one board. Several things to VCarve Pro - [spindles]watch out for:

  • Auto tab placement in this case is useless. You need to place the tabs yourself to make them line up with each other rather than air.
  • Add more tabs than you think you will need. Sometimes the wood will spring as it is cut due to internal stresses. You don’t want to have the pieces ruined due to the tabs breaking  due to stress.
  • Make sure you have adequate material left for your clamps and consumable clamp ends if “cutting it close” to fit the available stock

So the with the first piece I got 3 spindles cut before the board warped and broke apart (hence the lots of tabs requirement). Plus I was seeing more chatter / roughness than I would like with 4 tabs per piece . Second  plank was done with 6 tabs per piece. Much better cut quality and  it held together. Here is a sample of the CNC router cutting the spindles – sped up after the first cuts.

I then moved the gantry to the far end  to clear off the parts and place the blank for the new one. On removing the pieces, I see the waste board has the outline of part of the last spindle — oh oh – router bit slipping in the collet – I must tighten more next time. I then reset the bit, put in the new blank and then go to move the gantry and – nothing.  System is in emergency stop and on further investigation I find one of the stepper drivers for the Y axis is malfunctioning.

Bummer. I had hoped to run a bunch of parts over the weekend and the stepper drivers are 1 week short of the 1 year warranty limit.

D3U_7339Even with the failure I had almost enough spindles cut to make the gate.  One had to be cut by hand on the bandsaw and then cleaned up with hand plane, scraper and sander   –what a pain. So we had the parts ready for staining and assembly the first day although with the CNC failure my mood was not great. We pre-stained the parts and added 2 coats of garnet shellac to better match the yellowing of the 20 year old wood.

D3U_7342Assembly went rather well.  The shot above shows the spindles with the lollipop ends. This photo shows the gate with the cover side glued on.

Beef Brisket – sous vide and smoke

We had a craving for slow cooked smoked  brisket.  I have tried a couple of times in the past with corned beef but that was too salty (even after soaking over night in a pot of water). We wanted this for Saturday night dinner so I was running short on cooking time (most recommend 13-16 hours at 225-250) and some sort of mix of smoker and wrapping or steaming.  Final target temp 195-203 but testing for tenderness to see when it is truly done

With ideas in mind and research in hand, the experiment begins…

Teal picked up a whole “packer cut” brisket, 14lbs at Costco. . She liberally applied one of my rubs to it and set it aside in the “big fridge”  (that is the garage in the winter). This set  for 8 hours. 24-48 hrs would probably be better but were running short on time.

The whole brisket was then cut lengthwise and the halves vacuum bagged. The reason for the cut was that my biggest bags are only 11″ wide rolls and it would not fit otherwise. More surface area also means more smoke and spice flavor.

The bagged meat was then put in the canning kettle with the Anova Cookerset for 170. This ran overnight for 11 hours. Next time, I will need to cover the kettle as the water level dropped almost 2″ over night . When the meat was unbagged, there was about 5 cups of juice and a cup of rendered fat. Juice was saved for later.

D3U_7317The Big Green Egg (BGE) was started , the Heatermeter hooked up and set for 240. The meat was on at 7AM. Here is a shot of the meat as it first goes on the smoker. The internal temp at this point is about 155-160 degrees.

Cherry chunks are providing the smoke flavor.

The reason that there are 3 pieces i on one half I separated the flat and point / deckle muscles. The other half was left intact as it was not quite so thick at the point end.

brisket_temp_plot7 hours in the smoker and the temps were approaching the 190 range and it was feeling tender and I was afraid of it drying out if left on longer. So it was pulled off and put in a large covered pan in the oven with the juice that was saved from the sous vide step. Set for 200 degrees for 3 more hours.

Temperature curves are bit odd, with the big piece seen in the top left rising and then falling. You can see also at the beginning I let the BGE get too hot while tending to other things before putting the meat on.

We had most of the kids and their spouses (Elyse, Paul, David and Kelly)  over for dinner and the unanimous decision was that this was definitely a keeper recipe. Tasty, juicy meat. Sides were twice baked stacked potatoes,  green beans with garlic, sesame and lemon as well as Teal’s buttermilk biscuits. This photo shows just part of the meat. Note the nice smoke ring seen on the left.

Definitely not a high speed recipe (who would rush smoked meat anyway?), but one that is handily done in just over one day. D3U_7321

 

 

Sous Vide cooking – steaks

This past summer I talked Teal into letting me get a an Anova Culinary Bluetooth Precision Cooker. It was a bit of a stretch as she once again thought I was crazy and then crazier still when we then went to Costco and picked up an enormous roast.

The roast was portioned out into 1.5-2″ thick slices and seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and fresh thyme, marjoram and oregano. Each was then vacuum sealed, dated and thrown in the freezer, except for  for the first dinner.  First steak was cooked at 129 degrees for 90 min. We have since moved to 130 for 2 hours as the sweet spot for these steaks as our standard.

Prior to grilling remove as much fat as you can. This prevents flare ups and a sooty / bitter exterior. You want a clean crisp dark brown but not black surface. Grill needs to be blazing hot 700-900 degrees for 2-3 min per side. I use the Big Green Egg but you can get similar heat by placing the grill right on top of the charcoal chimney.  Note that the sliced steak photo is NOT the way to go – trim the fat and life is much easier.

The technique works perfectly whether doing 1 or 6 of these . Perfectly consistent and fork tender.

sous_vide_steakon_grillsteak_sliced

The Serious Eats and Anova web sites provide lots of ideas for Sous Vide cooking.  I also strongly recommend: The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Scienceby Kenji Lopez Alt. I first ran across his posts on Serious Eats and the book is a must have for anyone who is looking to go from just experimenting a bit to really understanding what they are doing in the kitchen.

CNC touch plate

The CNC router has achieved functional status. That is I can now with modest effort actually make useful things. These can be furniture pieces or parts for the router or other tools.

One of the hard parts has been zeroing out each of the  axis. X and Y i have been doing with a standard edge finder. I particularly like the 1/2 inch diameter ones like this one: Brown & Sharpe 599-792 Edge Finder Single. The smaller diameter (typically .2″ diameter touch) are bit small for woodworking due to the rougher surface of the wood and the large ones seem to be easier for me without false indications of the edge.

The way I am currently setting up my fixturing on the CNC table, I have a left size (x axis work zero)  fence and some movable stops from Rockler in the table slots. This works out quite well. I measure from the stops / fence to the home position and modify the zero references and I am off and running for several projects.

The hard part has been easily zeroing out for cutter height. This has to be done after each tool change and is just plain tedious. So I was determined to set up a touch plate and have that working with the Mach 4 controller software. This took a little bit of time. First was getting the Mach 4 “Probe” input  working.  It requires at least version 2803 of the Mach 4 software which I am using with the Ethernet Smooth Stepper (ESS) version 130 software.   The touch plate is simply a block of acrylic plastic about 3/8″ thick  with a sheet of brass mounted on top and connected to the “Probe” input.  The router spindle itself is grounded for safety and this conveniently completes the circuit for the touch plate.

The idea is to drive the Z axis down at modest speed until it touches the plate, and then it backs off slightly (~0.1″) and then moves downward very slowly to touch again for the final height.  Once complete, the height of the touch plate is subtracted off and you now have the height of your base (spoil) board on which the project will rest. This is all great in concept but the Mach4 software does not complete this for you. So I had to modify the UI / Screen set, add a new button and some scripting to do this.  This is one of the points where having an active user community helps tremendously. Searching for help on the Mach4 forums I came across a thread on this topic and some script code from another user “DazTheGas” see the message thread.  I had to convert from metric to inch measurements for the movements and enter the height of my touch plate (.487″). This works great. Much easier than manual zeroing and I don’t have to worry about breaking small diameter tools or chipping the carbide on bigger ones.  You can see the video of the process here

 

Lembeh Straight Diving 2015

In October of 2105 we went to Indonesia with the group from Underwater Connection. The primary destination was Lembeh Straight. Lembeh is well known for what is often referred to as “muck diving”. It is really that you are diving on a black sand bottom. The depths are typically quite shallow (<30 feet) and visigbility is not great. The slightest movement can easily stir up clouds of debris and swirling sand which takes minutes to settle back down. The goal of this diving is to see the many rare and unusual critters that inhabit this area.  It is macro photography heaven.

We stayed at Kasawari Lembeh resort. This is a small boutique resort with excellent service and attention to detail. One of the key details was the small groups on the dive boats. Typically 6 divers to a dive guide.  The guides are a necessity. We were looking for critters that were well camouflaged and often the size of your fingernail. We often wondered : “How did they see that?”  However, after a few dives we started spotting some on our own but still not with the regularity of the guides.

On many trips we feel lucky to see an octopus or a small group of squid on a trip. Here we had the fun of seeing as many as 5 species in a single dive! These included coconut octopus, mimic octopus, wonderpus, blue ring, flamboyant cuttlefish and more.  Dozens of nudibranchs (including mating couples),  and an endless variety for shrimp and crabs.

A sample of the photos can be found here: Lembeh Straight Critters 2015

These were taken with  a Nikon D300S, Nikon 60mm macro, Subsee+10 wet diopter, Ikelite housing with glass flat port, Ikelite DS125 strobe and a Light and Motion Sola 600 as a focus light. The side lighting pf the focus light was extremely helpful to find the target and actually provided nice fill in of the shadows.  The overall murky conditions were best suited to macro. I did not get a chance to do any significant wide angle shots. For those I use a Tokina 10-17 and Ikelite 8″ dome with a single strobe and diffuser.

Rebuild in progress

I am in the process of overhauling my website and postings. In the meantime you can find my old boatbuilding website here: Riviera Construction Project.

In the last few years I have been letting my projects, comments and photos get scattered. This has resulted in a mix of items on Facebook, columns I have written and   various forums with the unfortunate consequence of not having a single place to go and find my prior posts which are located at:

  • Glen-l boatbuilding forum  – I was active while building and did a column for the monthly newsletter for a few years
  • Wisconsin Woodworkers Guild – I wrote a monthly column while I was president.
  • Facebook – Lots of posts , notes and photo albums including the majority of my dive photos, but not very accessible to the general public
  • Youtube – I have a Youtube Channel that will be gaining more content. Currently mostly dive videos.
  • Southbend lathe yahoo groups – Superb resource for those interested in South Bend Lathes . Huge help when I rebuilt my SBL 13
  • HID Dive Lights yahoo group   – This is where I documented much of my dive light builds
  • Hobby Machinist – Another great resource and most helpful while I rebuilt my Bridgeport Mill
  • CNC Zone – Current CNC router project resource

and more – you get the idea. Lots of scatter.

So now I will be consolidating everything back here. It will take some time to gather the various pieces back as well as get the new content posted.

The impetus for all of this is my newest project. It is a CNC router. This is another scratch built project.   I want to document the build and resources as I did with the boat and not just have it in another web site’s forum.