Tuesday 29 April 2014

Sous Vide - Cooking with Sansaire first impressions.

What is Sous Vide, well it literally means under vacuum, referring to the practice of cooking food sealed in vacuum bags.  It has however come to refer to cooking in a water bath a low, precisely controlled temperatures. Why would I want to do this, there are many reason but they nearly always come down to either improving texture or removing timing criticality.

Having eaten food cooked using the sous vide method when at restaurants I was keen to find a way of doing it at home without breaking the bank.  First I looked at commercial water baths but they were all well outside my price range.  Experiments at ghetto sous vide using a cooler and adding hot water to maintain the temp were at best a mixed bag. Providing the cooking time are short (under an hour) and the food you were cooking does not need precise temperature control (so no eggs) you can just about get away with it but all in all it is more hassle than its worth.

When I saw the Sansaire on Kickstarter for only $220 including shipping to the UK I decided it had to be worth a try.  After a long wait it finally arrived middle of March. As I have only had my Sansaire immersion circulator for just over a month  its still early days, here's what I have tried so far.  Sorry for the lack of pictures I will add some more soon.

Well like most people the first thing I tried was an egg.  Having read many article and seen the tables I decided on 63.5c as the cooking temp.  This seemed the best way of getting a poached style egg.  I was expecting the texture of eggs but was surprised by the flavour, in all the articles I had read nobody seemed to of mentioned that the flavour of the white of the egg improves.  For me this was a real revelation, having been used to the white of an egg being pretty tasteless.

Next I tried a simple sirloin steak. I first seasoned the steak and then sealed it in a vacuum bag.  After cooking at 50c for an hour I finished it off in a searing hot griddle pad for just 30sec on each side. This resulted in a perfect rare steak, although the fat could of done with a little longer on the griddle to give it a bit more colour and crisp it up.

Finally I tried a piece of belly pork which skinned and seasoned and them cooked in a vacuum bag at 65c for 14 Hours. Once removed from the bag I dried the meat with kitchen paper and replaced the salted skin and finished in a hot oven for 45min. Once again this turned out well with forkable meat and crisp crunchy crackling.

Other than the odd chicken breast this is all I have tried but I will be experimenting more as soon as time allows.

The Sansaire itself

First lets get out the way the bad points out the way. Well for me I am yet to find any other than that the back cover is a little difficult to refit. A few others seem to of had issues with the reset button but so far mine is working perfectly.

So here are my thoughts in general. The unit takes a little over 15min to bring a pan of water up to 63.5 to do an egg and once there the temperature holds to within a tenth of a degree.  I have check the temp using a calibrated thermo couple and the temp seem to be a tenth of a degree too low which I feel to be acceptable. I like the turning the dial to change the temp but the direction seemed to be counter intuitive.  I do however like the clip, the fact that it can be used on a thin walled pan and some thing as thick as a cooler is a real bonus.  The clip does struggle with containers with a pronounced lip, including one of the gastronomes I tried it with, but you can't have everything.

All in all I am very happy but until I give it a real test I will reserve judgement.  Once we get to BBQ season I will have a few more opportunity's to test.

Things To Try

As well as trying a few more recipes I am looking forward to trying a blow torch sear meat instead of using a griddle pan. So I think I will try and hunt one out and give it ago at the weekend.  Pre empting me liking this I have ordered a Searzall which is an attachment for your torch to help achieve a more even heat and reduce torch taint.

I think these new kitchen gadgets are going to be fun......

Sunday 20 April 2014

Nest Thermostat after 14 days - Victor Kiam moment.

It has now been a fortnight since I installed my first Nest thermostat in my house and in the mean time I have added an additional one to control another zone.  According to my energy history it is already saving me money.  The Auto Away feature is now working and has cut in a few times, I look forward to seeing more changes appear to my schedule.

Last week I had a few concerns, lets recap.
  1. "How long will it take it to learn how long my Underfloor Heating takes to come to temperature?  Currently it seems to be going at least 3C over temp."  Slowly the amount it goes over temperature seems to be reducing as it learns how long it takes my under floor heating to heat up and cool down.
  2. "Will having the Nest on the stand on a counter top slightly lower than the ideal have a major effect on performance?"  This does not seem to be causing any problems but intend to check the temperatures with a thermometer just to make sure.
  3. "What should I do in the summer, traditionally I have always turned my heat off from May till the end of September but I am not sure this is the way to go with a Nest."  I have decided I will leave my heating on all year round and see how the Nest Learning Thermostat handles things.
  4. "It would be really nice if you could put the stat into demo mode to disable learning when give demo's to friends and family." This is one thing I would like to see, every friend who come round seems to want to play with!
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have had a Victor Kiam moment, I like the Nest Thermostat so much I have purchased the company.  Well that's not exactly true, first of all Google beat me to it and secondly the price would of been a bit out of my reach.  I have however done the next best thing, and become a certified installer.  Having owned a heating company for many years it seem an ideal blend of IT and heating.

Friday 18 April 2014

Makita 18v Lithium-ion Battery Failiure

I have been a big fan of the Makita 18v LXT cordless tools for several years now.  In most cases I rarely if ever use the corded tools they replaced, despite this there does seem to be a major week point, the batteries.  Of the eight batteries I have purchased over the years four have failed out side of the warrantee period, plus two failed within or just after the end of the warrantee and were replaced at no charge by Makita with the assistance of ITS the reseller I purchased them from.

Is it just me?

Having spoken with friend and colleagues who have also invested in the LXT range it would seem I am not alone in having these problems, almost everyone I spoke to has had at least one battery die.  A quick google confirms that this seem to be a rather common problem.

Why are they failing?

It seems there are two main failure causes, number one over heating and the second is the first two cells fail due to them being used to power the battery management chip and slowly discharging over an extended idol period.  This causes the battery to be unbalanced. 

So what can I do about it?

Well the most important thing is if the battery fails to charge stop!  If you continue to try on the third attempt the battery will be bricked.  Whilst I am no expert I think this is down to the battery management chip being a little over zealous and stopping you from recharging what it thinks is an unsafe battery.

Once I realised this I discovered that there are a few things I could do to lessen the chance of battery failure.
  1. Try to keep every thing dust free, its easy for the batteries and chargers to get choked with dust which can lead to overheating.  Where possible don't recharge your batteries on the floor.
  2. If you are using a tool with high current draw such as the circular saw extensively, check the battery temp (just by touch no need to get a thermometer).  If it feels too hot let it cool down for a while before continuing.
  3. Never recharge a battery straight from use let it cool down a bit first.
I have bricked my battery, is all lost?

If your battery is still in warrantee then Makita should just swap it out no questions asked, but even if you are out of warrantee they may still be able to help.  Regardless of if your battery is out warrantee, providing it has seen little use (under 150 recharges seems to be the magic number) Makita seem to be willing to replace it for free.

If Makita can't /won't help you still have options, frequently it will just be one or two cells that need replacing.  Makita seem to use the Sony Konion LiMn cells and these are available online for between fire and ten pounds each or you can frequently pick up failed batteries on ebay and cannibalise these for parts.

At this point you would have a repaired battery but no way to charge it.  Several people have had success using chargers such as the Fusion Elysium Pro although I am yet to try this myself.  Hopefully I will have time to attempt some repairs over the next few weeks.

If you don't fancy trying to fix them.

That leaves you with three options, one get some one else to fix them, two buy replacement genuine batteries or three consider buying some of the third party batteries that are now available.  I haven't purchase any of the third party batteries myself but I have used a colleagues and the seem ok.  For now I will be sticking with the genuine article or having ago at repairing them myself.


Well for me despite the reliability problems I still feel these are a good product. The batteries I have purchased more recently seem to be holding up much better. Only time will tell.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Nest Thermostat after 7 days.

Well its one week since I installed my first Nest thermostat in my house and so far I am very pleased but do have a few minor concerns.
  1. How long will it take it to learn how long my Underfloor Heating takes to come to temperature?  Currently it seems to be going at least 3C over temp.
  2. Will having the Nest on the stand on a counter top slightly lower than the ideal have a major effect on performance?
  3. What should I do in the summer, traditionally I have always turned my heat off from May till the end of September but I am not sure this is the way to go with a Nest.
  4. It would be really nice if you could put the stat into demo mode to disable learning when give demo's to friends and family.
Time will tell, and I will be posting regular updates.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Nest Install Uk

Well after a long wait Nest have released there learning thermostat in the UK.  The product that we have got is quite different from the US model, whilst much of the basic functionality remains the same the installation is very different.  Unlike the US model the UK version can operate via wireless and requires a base station, if you currently have a wireless stat it is very much the same thing.

Should I install it myself?

First of all installing the Thermostat involves mains voltage electrical connection unless you are both competent and confident doing this I would strongly recommend you employ a certified installer to do the install for you. Assuming you are happy doing this type of work the next thing you need to identify is what type of heating system you have.  I would say that unless you are a plumber or electrician you should only consider installing yourself if you have a combi boiler or fancy the challenge of figuring out a maze of wiring!

The install

I decided to install it myself mainly because I have underfloor heating and felt it could take a while to explain how this is set up to an installer.  The install was very simple and took me about 45min.  I opted to mount my Nest on the stand which you need to purchase separately, it costs an extra £29.

The configuration

I found the configuration very quick and easy it takes you through the steps one by one. A few things you need to be aware of:
  1. During the install you are asked if you currently have a programmer, if you say yes you have to enter your program into the stat. I found this very awkward to do at the stat, I would suggest its much easier to set this up through the web portal.
  2. The Nest does not support 5Ghz wifi, this did not cause me much in the way of problems but I know others have had issues with interference from neighbours etc.
  3. The auto away function does not work until it has had time to learn your habits.

To be honest its to soon to make any but so far my first impressions are good. I will update once I have some more experience with it.