I know cooked food is often more attractive than its raw alter ego, but damn't, I just liked the photo of these hens:
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
About two weeks ago, I tapped my keg of pumpkin ale. As brewing goes, I always hope for the best and expect the worse. As I go from primary to secondary to keg, I taste every step of the way. Through the warm, non-carbonated beer, I hinge my hope on each batch being better than the last.
So, as I followed this batch of pumpkin ale, I was pleasantly surprised each step of the way. When tap day finally came, I realized it wasn't just my imagination, I actually had a really good pumpkin brew. Now as a matter of disclaimer, no one in the society has tasted it yet. I've shared it with a few non-beer friends, but no one of "critical tasting" status has yet to try it. With this in mind, my happiness with this batch may simply be a figment of my imagination, just waiting for Drew to wad it up in a small ball and spike it in the backyard.
Since I have been so pleased, I find it worthwhile to go back to the Brew Day where this batch started. If you will, let's step back into my "way back machine" and return to late September...
With summer coming to a close, several of us where chomping at the bit to brew. However, with all of our hectic schedules, it was quite a non-typical brew day, with only a few of us showing up.
With fall setting in, I was determined to brew a pumpkin ale.
My batch was based on a Northern Brewer recipe:
7.5 lbs 2-Row 2.5 lbs Munich Malt .5 lbs Caramel 80L .25 lbs Caramel 20L
1 oz Hallertauer hops
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 pkg American Ale
Oh, and one roasted pumpkin. Which, brought me to my first challenge, finding a pumpkin. Thankfully, I did…but, barely.
After scooping out the guts, I roasted the pumpkin on the grill for about an hour. In hindsight, I probably should have gone two, as it wasn't quite as roasted and soft as I would preferred.
From there, I chopped up the pumpkin and added it directly to my mash.
While I tended to my mash, Eric worked diligently on his cocoa porter. For him, this is a yearly brew.
Dave swung by with his trusty sidekick, Andrew. Although not in brew mode, Dave did what I wish I did as well, organize.
Earlier in the month, Drew and Dave went together on a 50 pound bag of 2-row. In order to ready his next batch, Dave prepped his grain bill and milled some grain.
Did I say mill? I meant pulverize. Dave used Drew's grain mill which, in our opinion, does just that: pulverize. Although Drew will challenge our view of his device…and most likely cut us off from using it the more we gripe, it does do far more than crack the grain. I believe it is also the reason for several stuck spurges….thankfully, though, not mine.
All brew days come with food and since this was more of a sporadic brew day, the food was sporadic as well.
The kettle served up a "rack" of "rib:.
And the Summit cranked out a batch of beer brats;
The highlight of the day was watching Andrew work his way through the ribs. I respect that kind of appetite!
The food, as it usually does, went pretty fast. However, hop addition time was on and brewing was close to an end.
For being such an impatient person, brewing is an odd hobby. I suppose that's why we take brew day to the extreme. We have our experiences together to provide an immediate response to brewing, even though the true test, a successful batch, is weeks, if not months away.
I suppose this "delay in satisfaction" is why I felt it was a good time to revisit the pumpkin brew day. Behind every good taste is a great experience. The reward is never fast, but when it comes, it certainly is worth it. Now, even though I'm happy with this batch, I think next time I will roast the pumpkins longer and more than likely, add a little more spice too. These small changes will hopefully lay the groundwork for the next great pumpkin experience and if all goes well, another trip to the way back machine.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Last Sunday, I spent some quality time with two good friends of mine: bacon and beer. Part of my love for brewing comes from my desire to better understand beer. Part of my love for bacon comes from my desire to eat an endless supply of bacon.
About a week prior, I turned to my well worn copy of Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie and 12 pounds of pork belly I picked up at the local butcher.
I keep meaning to do other things with the belly besides bacon, but I get too blindsided and excited about the process to deviate. Using my salt cure I've had sitting around in the pantry, I cut the pork belly in half and rubbed one half in a sweet cure with ample amounts of brown sugar and a savory cure with garlic, crushed black pepper and bay leaves.
From there, I bagged the bellies and stuck them in the fridge for a week to cure.
The process is that easy. Everyone should make bacon. Everyone.
On the beer front, I was in racking mode. I brewed this porter last month. Now, on its way to oaked bourbon status, I moved the beer from the primary fermentor to the secondary fermenter and added in 2 cups of bourbon and 2 ounces of oak chips.
I was only planning on fermenting for two weeks in the secondary, but the chips suggested I needed eight weeks. Not being one to turn down professional advice, i will try and push it out as long as possible.
Logically, it does make sense for the chips to have extended contact with the beer, as they are simply a substitue for making an "oaked" beer in plastic and glass fermenters. Now if I only had an oak cask...
Anyway, I'm excited about this batch. Warm and non-carbonated, it tasted spot on, but, as always, only time will tell. I've failed miserably before!
Back on the bacon front, my week of curing was over and the only thing was left was the hot smoke.
After removing the bacon from it's temporary plastic holding chambers (read: bags), it was rinsed off and dried. I prepped the grill for low and slow at about 225 F. Using my elevated grill grate, I placed both pieces on the Saffire and smoked them for about an hour, until they reached an internal temperature of 150 F.
True to form, I sliced off a little of both to enjoy right away. Wow...heaven, or at least my bacon-y version. The rest was sliced and stored. Breakfast just got better and in about 8 weeks when the beer is done, I bet dinner will be too!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Sunday, October 09, 2011
It seems like just yesterday I built my hop trellis. I've watched in awe for most of the summer as the little hop rhizomes I planted in the spring, grew and climbed their lines. Typically, the first year of hop growth does not yield flowers, or cones. Although, funny enough, of the three hop varieties I planted, Fuggles, Chinook & Kent Goldings, the Chinook bucked the trend and not only climbed the highest, they produced some beautiful cones, too.
The Chinook cones mean one thing: harvest. As this was my first harvest, I was lucky to have a resident hop harvest expert on hand, Zoe's mum, Wendy. Growing up as a young girl in Kent, England, Wendy spent several summers harvesting hops. Not being one to deny expert help and, as a means to pay off her summer lodging with us, I immediately drafted Wendy to service.
Wendy explained how, as a "teenager", she spent several weeks in the summer picking hops. Crouched on a stool in a field, Wendy pulled hops from the bine, as they passed by, and dropped them in to a wire framed basket. I'm fairly certain her work also broke several child labor laws...but in the pursuit of better beer, I'm fine with her efforts and thanked her profusely.
In order to recreate her "young adulthood" as much as possible, I pulled her up a chair and told her to "get to it".
In all seriousness, I think we both enjoyed the nostalgia. She was quick to remind me to carefully pluck the cones, as to not damage them, and I was quick to remind her of...nothing.
Holding her hand in cup, she worked her thumb and forefinger to pull the cone from the bine. She was like a well oiled machine.
In no time flat, she completed the hop harvest. As an aside, I wasn't exactly screwing off the whole time. While Wendy labored, I removed the other bines from their trells lines. It was definitely a joint effort.
After a day of drying (the hops were placed on a screen and blown by a fan after their harvest), I packaged just over 2 ounces of dried hops. Although I had originally toyed with the idea of wet hopping my next brew, I'm just happy to have something I grew in the backyard to add to my next batch. Thanks to Wendy and her Kent heritage, my next brew day will be even more special than usual.
Although the trellis now stands bare, I'm already excited to see what happens next year. Perhaps we can get Wendy over here again to help out...in a supervisory role, of course.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Alright, I'll be the first to admit. I find it impossible to remain wordless. However, although I cannot be wordless, I promise to at least remain brief. My Relatively Wordless Wednesday posts from here on out will be just as titled: relatively wordless. Case in point, the week day rotisserie chicken: cheap and easy with multiple meals in the making. It can not be beat and it's presence, certainly, can't be wordless.
Sunday, October 02, 2011
Grilling food in, or on, a "vessel" (corn husks, grape leafs, wood, banana peels) is not only a fun way to mix up your grill repertoire, it is easy, forgiving and yet one more reason to ditch the kitchen oven and get outside.
A lot of times, I strive to put the entire meal on the grill. By doing this and using a vessel, there is a lot less work and a lot more leeway. If I'm individually grilling root vegetables, I have to worry turning, burning and spacing. If I'm grilling in a vessel, I can easily balance my time by working the vessel over the different zones of the fire. No muss, no fuss. Plus, the presentation is pretty cool.
Corn Boats with Zucchini & Pepper Jack Cheese
Adapted from Epicurious
4 ears corn, unhusked
2 T olive oil
1 zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 cup red onion, finely chopoed
1 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese with hot peppers
2 T crushed corn tortilla chips
The first step is to make the corn boats. Take an ear of corn and pull back approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches worth of husk strips to expose the corn kernels. Remove the strip.
With the corn exposed, remove the cob from the husk by snapping the bottom. When done, you should be left with the "boat". Toot toot.
With one of the discarded pieces of husk, tie the end of the husks together. This is part presentation and part insurance policy so that the boat doesn't separate and its passengers parish over hot coals.
Cut the kernels off the cob and save. In a medium skillet over medium high heat, add oil. Once heated, saute the zucchini until browned, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt.
Add the corn kernels and onion to the skillet and saute for about 4 minutes. Then, cover the skillet and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Once tender, transfer the corn and onion to the bowl with the zucchini. Season with salt.
Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then add in the cheese.
Preheat the grill for indirect medium heat. Spoon the zucchini and cheese mixture into the boats.
If you have some left over, like I did, a small cast iron skillet can easily help share the load.
When ready to grill, sprinkle the filled husks with the tortilla chips and then cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until heated.
Since this was an easy, one grill meal, it made sense to use a vessel for the protein, too. There is no easier or better "vessel" for fish than a plank of wood. Of course, if I was stranded at sea, I would certainly prefer a boat over a plank. However, when stranded on my grill, I'll take both.
For the cod, I changed out the fish from my planked haddock with lemon zest tartar sauce.
Everything fit on the grill and took about the same amount of time to cook. It's a "one grill" meal that lives up to its easy philosophy. We enjoyed the corn boats so much, we had them two nights in a row. With corn still everywhere, it was nice to have it presented in a slightly different fashion. Better yet, the boat "system" lends itself to a ton of variations. Add in some peppers, tomatoes, different cheese, or even other root veg. The possibilities are endless. Hell, you can even name/christen them if you fancy.
Next time you get ready to pitch those corn husks, don't think trash, think boat...and get stuffing.