Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Homebrewing III: Honey Hefeweizen

This time I decided to brew a hefeweizen, which is a beer that has a grain profile made up of about 1/2 malted wheat and characteristic cloudiness due to yeast in suspension. A hefeweizen is not my favorite style, but I do enjoy it when I'm hanging out with friends, at a BBQ, or when I just want to drink something refreshing without having to think too hard. Again, I started with a Home Sweet Homebrew kit as the base, their Wascal Wheat, what they describe as a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen. To this kit, I added 1 lb each of malted wheat and Carapils and 2 lbs of Honey. The wheat is to add a little more grain flavor and spiciness, Carapils is for body, and the Honey contributes a some floral character but mostly to bump up the alcohol level.

Similar to the Brown Ale I previously brewed, this beer required mashing the grains in 155F water and sparging (rinsing) with 170F water. This liquid and some water were boiled with the malt extract and the Hallertau hops for 60 minutes before being cooled and dry yeast was pitched. I fermented in the plastic bucket for 5 days before transferring to the glass carboy to finish. I made a little mistake and added a bit too much water so the beer didn't all fit in the carboy, but I improvised and made another fermenter out of an extra 1 gallon water jug I had laying around.

This beer has been very interesting to watch because unlike the other beers I've made, the yeast never really settled out. Usually, most yeast will floccuate (coagulate and drop out of suspension) after some time when fermentation is almost over, but this beer after 2 weeks of fermentation was still very hazy with many streams of CO2 bubbles rising to the top. The yeast seems to work a little slower than the yeasts I've used because after 2 weeks the specific gravity was still 1.020, which means there is still a lot of unfermented sugar left in solution. I waited another week to bottle so that the yeast to do some more work making some more alcohol and conditioning the beer.

For Chinese New Year, I bottled one 22 oz bottle a little before it was ready just to be able to share with everyone. This beer wasn't anyone's favorite as it has very distinct clove, banana, and citrus flavors, but I liked it. For this style of beer, the yeast provides the majority of the flavors, so it is important to use a good reliable yeast strain and keep it happy. In the winter, I keep my house on the cooler side, so the beer fermented at a much lower temperature, which keeps down the off-flavors and promotes formation of the good flavors.

I bottled this beer last week, but when it's fully carbonated and ready, I'll post a picture of it.

Geek Stats:
Grain Bill and Sugars: 6.6 lb Weizen Malt Extract, 1 lb Wheat Malt, 1 lb Carapils Malt, 2 lb Honey, 5 oz Honey for priming
Hops: 1 oz Hallertau (60min)
Yeast: Safbrew WB-06
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.017
ABV: 5%

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snowed-in February

I think I got a little burned out from cooking and blogging everyday in January, hence the recent lack of posts. February in Philadelphia has been pretty crazy, with nearly 4 feet of snow in two consecutive storms and more falling as I write. There were some fun times, like Upper Darby Snowpocalypse Night at Justin's and the excitement of the first snow day. But there were downsides too. My car was trapped for most of the last two weeks, which limited our mobility. And Alex quickly realized that a week of snow days means an extra week at the end of the school year. We are definitely looking forward to spring.

As far as culinary endeavors, February has been pretty quiet. You'd think we'd have been making lots of soups and stews during the storms, but that didn't really happen. Not having a car meant not being able to make big shopping trips so we ended up picking things up at the local store as we needed them. We've still been enjoying all the frozen leftovers. One of our most fun meals were snow day nachos, for which we made our own chips by frying corn tortillas and then covered them with cheese and other toppings.Other than that, I haven't been trying many new recipes, mainly making comfort foods and doing some more baking. Let's hope as the snow melts that I'm more inspired to cook and blog.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Home Brewed Beer II: English Nut Brown Ale

After the success of the first batch, I decided I would go to Home Sweet Homebrew myself this time and put together a beer. I like hoppy, high alcohol, aggressive beers, but these are not beers that I can easily quaff or share since many people don't necessarily like big beers. So I thought a mild, full-bodied, malty brown ale would be a great idea. Since I was making this beer, I made sure there was enough bitterness and herbal hoppiness to make a balanced beer to suit my palate.

I went to HSH and told them I wanted to take an malt extract kit as a starter and then jazz it up with some fancy hops and actual malted grain. The proprietor was very helpful and started with the Dark Star English Brown ale as the starter, additionally added 1 lb Demerara sugar, 1 lb Crystal Malt, 1 lb English Brown Malt, and Bramling Cross and Kent Golding aroma hops. The Demerara sugar is a special type of raw sugar from the Caribbean, the Crystal hops add a caramel flavor, the Brown Malt is for the rich color and chocolately flavor, and the Kent Golding adds a herbal, low bitterness, fragrant quality.

I decided to buy 5 gallons of spring water this time because accurately measuring all that water last time was a pain and this way I could be sure that I had the right amount of water and didn't have to worry about boiling or water loss from evaporation. I poured a gallon and a half of water into my biggest pot and boiled the malt extract along with the bittering hops (Gramling) for 45 minutes; then I added the Demerara sugar and another pound of dark brown sugar (for extra flavor and alcohol) and boiled for 15 minutes more. I then added half an ounce of the East Kent Golding hops, closed the lid to the pot and let it rest. At the same time, I steeped the 2 pounds of milled grain in 1 gallon of water at 150 F for 45 minutes. After that I boiled for 15 minutes to sterilized. After both liquids were ready I poured them into the fermenter with 2 gallons of cold spring water and let the mixture get back to room temperature, before I added dry yeast.

By the end of the day, the beer was already bubbling the krausen had risen about half a foot, almost to the top of the bucket. I let it go for 3 days and then transferred into the glass carboy for fermentation, dry hopping with the rest of the East Kent Golding hops. After 5 days, it was still going strong, so it must be all that extra sugar from the brown sugars, and malted grain. After another week the fermentation had about stopped and I wanted to start another batch of beer so I added corn sugar and bottled.

After about two weeks after bottling, the beer was fully carbonated. It could use a little more bottle conditioning to develop a little more, but it's great to drink now! The color is a little misleading as it's more of a dark brown than black, but the tan head looks great with a long sustaining head and a sticky lacing. The beer fermented quickly and with good attenuation which makes it clean with a dry finish featuring flavors of chocolate, walnuts, and herbal hops. If I were to brew this again, I think I would use a more complex malt to give a little more sweetness and body, however, for my first partial grain beer I am very pleased.

Beer Geek Stats:
Grain Bill: 6.6 lb Amber Malt Extract; 1lb English Brown Malt; 1 lb Crystal Malt 120L; 1lb Demerara Sugar; 1lb Brown Sugar; 5 oz Dextrose (priming)
Hops: 1 oz Bramling Cross (60min); 1 oz East Kent Golding (1/2 after boil, 1/2 dry hopped into secondary)
Yeast: Safale S-04 English Ale
OG: 1.058
FG: 1.013
ABV: 6.0%

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Final Feast with the Veggie Dinner Club

Fortuitously, my turn to host dinner club coincided with the end of home-cooked January. I decided to make a big meal full of comfort food. If this meal had a theme, it was butter, which was incorporated into most of the dishes. We had spinach yogurt dip for an appetizer, beet and avocado salad, "meat"loaf, macaroni and cheese, carrots, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and biscuits. I made two desserts, a chocolate-pear cake and cocoa brownies (both recipes from Smitten Kitchen, a fabulous food blog and great source of recipes all month). No one went home hungry...in fact, quite a few of us ate ourselves into food comas, but it was a great time and a fitting end to my month of cooking. I even got to use my new tabletop convection oven (Thanks, Mom!). Here are some photos and recipes:

Spinach Yogurt Dip (from Joy of Cooking)
10 oz package frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
3 scallions
2 cloves garlic
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Minced scallions and garlic in the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth. Refrigerate for at least one hour. I served with Hawaiian bread.

Beet and Avocado Salad
3 beets (roasted at 400F for 1 hour, peeled and cooled)
2 avocados, sliced
Red onion, sliced
Layered and topped with:
Lemon Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and plenty of black pepper
Combined with 1 tbsp warm water and pulsed in blender to combine and poured over the salad before serving.

Vegetarian Meatloaf (from allrecipes.com)
1/2 (14 ounce) package vegetarian ground beef (e.g., Gimme Lean TM)
1 (12 ounce) package vegetarian burger crumbles
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 1/2 slices bread, cubed (I used 1 cup bread crumbs)
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a large bowl combine vegetarian ground beef, vegetarian ground beef crumbles, onion, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, sage, garlic powder, mustard, oil, bread crumbs and milk. Transfer to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and form into a loaf. Cover with ketchup glaze (1/2 cup ketchup, 1 tsp mustard, and 1 tbsp brown sugar). Bake for ~1 hour.

Mac & Cheese (from the Barefoot Contessa)
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi (I used shells)
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups) (I also used some Parmesan - the photo shows the 12 CUPS total cheese for 2 trays of mac & cheese)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Quick-Glazed Carrots (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
1 pound carrots, sliced
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup white wine

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then cover and adjust heat to simmer. Cook 10-20 minutes until carrots are tender and liquid is nearly gone. Uncover and boil off remaining liquid.

Braised and Glazed Brussel Sprouts (see previous post)

Roasted Cauliflower
Simply cut a head of cauliflower into florets, combine with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400F until browned (~45 minutes).

Yogurt Biscuits (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 5 tbsp cold butter (more is better)
7/8 cup yogurt

Using the food processor, mix dry ingredients. Then pulse with butter. Stir in yogurt until it forms a ball. Turn the dough out and knead 10 times (no more!). Press into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle and cut out 2 inch rounds. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 450F. Serve warm.

Al Di La’s Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake] (from Smitten Kitchen)
Courtesy of Al Di La Restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs (I cheated and used flour), set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Best Cocoa Brownies (from Smitten Kitchen)
Adapted from Alice Mendrich’s Bittersweet

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks, 5 ounces or 141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (9 7/8 ounces, 280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 7/8 ounces, 82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Melt butter in microwave and add sugar cocoa and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Boy, that was a lot of food. Reflections on the month of cooking to come soon. And don't worry, I'll keep posting tasty recipes and stories of our adventures (in and out of the kitchen).

Homebrewing Beer I: Amber Waves

Kim bought me a beer homebrewing kit for Christmas this year and after a hectic holiday season I finally found the time on January 8 to get start brewing. The beer kit was for a hoppy, medium bodied, low alcohol amber ale, Kim bought from Home Sweet Homebrew on 2008 Sansom Street. The kit is made from extract, meaning one uses a malt syrup instead of actual grain, which makes for easier first time brewing--where all you have to do is melt and boil the syrup in the water.
I neglected to plan ahead and realized that I need to sterilize by boiling about 5 gallons of water first and start a yeast culture for brewing the beer, so it set me back a day. But the next day, with football on, I started brewing some beer. In a two gallon stock pot, I brought 1.5 gallons of water to a boil, stirred in the malt extract, and brought it up to a boil. I added some hops for bitterness. At this point, the wort (the liquid that turns into beer after fermentation) needs to be boiled vigorously for 60-90 minutes. After the wort finished cooking, I cooled it in a bath of ice water before pouring it into the bucket with about 3 gallons of water. Then I added the yeast starter culture, sealed the lid and waited for magic.

It took about a day for the yeast to start working, but when it did, CO2 bubbles came out of the airlock once every minute and the krausen (foam from the fermenting wort) rose up about 4 inches from the top of the liquid level. After two days when the yeast start to slow down, the beer gets transferred to a glass carboy for further fermentation. I let this go for about ten more days before bottling.

After a week from the beginning of fermentation, when the beer wasn't bubbling anymore and most of the sugar was turned into alcohol, I siphoned the beer into the bottling bucket and get ready to start filling bottles. I'd been saving bottles since Christmas and after taking off the labels, I run them through the dishwasher on the hottest water setting and dried them. In order to carbonate the beer, you have to add a little extra food for the yeast to consume while in the bottle to make bubbles. So, I dissolved dextrose (corn sugar) in a pint of water and boiled to sterilize it, then poured it into the beer. I mixed this all up, filled the clean bottles with the beer, capped them and waited.

The instructions said to wait 7-10 days after bottle to try, so naturally I waited 6 days and popped one. The cap came off with a satisfying hiss and it was good.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spinach and Feta Flatbread

Mom sent me a recipe for a spinach and Feta pita and it sounded so good that I had to try it for lunch today. I didn't have the exact ingredients in the recipe, so I just improvised and put together my own version. I spread some pesto on a whole wheat flatbread and covered it with fresh spinach. Then I topped it with some sun-dried tomatoes, green olives and Feta, put it in the oven at 350F for a few minutes just to let the cheese melt a little. Yum.
I didn't have enough flatbread to make one for Mike, so he made himself a double decker egg and cheese sandwich with tomato. It looked pretty tasty!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cheese Omelette

I knew today would be a busy day so I got my cooking out of the way early by making a cheese omelette for breakfast. I don't think I've ever made an omelette before, but it was pretty simple. Basically, you just get heat some butter in a hot skillet and pour in beaten eggs combined with salt and pepper. I used 3 eggs since the skillet I have is pretty big. After pouring the eggs into the skillet, I let them cook, while using a spatula to lift the edges, letting the uncooked eggs move to the sides and cook. It was looking pretty good, though not perfect:I didn't want any runniness in the eggs, so I cooked it for a couple extra minutes. Then I put some shredded cheddar in the middle, folded it in half and slid it off the pan. This finished product was a little brown from the longer cooking, but it tasted good. I will definitely try making omelettes again, next time adding some more exciting ingredients.