Saturday, February 27, 2010

Doom Doom Doom

Tsunami Doom.

We'll be fine. Japan and Hawaii on the other hand...

Update: looks like my friends in Hawaii and Japan are just fine.
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taiko Drumming

I was watching my sake fermenting happily away and I got to thinking about the odori, or "dancing ferment" of the yeast. That made me think about Taiko drumming, so I brought some up on youtube and it brightened up my morning. So I present one of Seattle's Taiko groups playing a couple years back at the Seafair's Bon Odori Festival at the Seattle Buddhist Temple.

The Sakura Festival is coming up in April, looking forward to making it out for some live Taiko. And my sake should be done by then!

Here's another one from that festival a couple years back.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thoughts on the Upcoming WA Bar Exam

The first day of the Winter Washington State Bar Exam began today, and my best wishes go out to the poor dumb bastards everyone taking it, especially a friend of mine from UM. Good luck! You'll do fine.

I thought I should come up with some encouragement, so I present this:

The Story of Wajahat Ali, a terrified young attorney who saved his very first clients from foreclosure at the hands of Wells Fargo. His writing captures exactly what it's like to be a new attorney.

My favorite part:

Despite being equipped with some—some—knowledge, I shared the quintessential trait of all young attorneys: unrelenting, paralyzing fear. It overwhelms everything we do and contaminates the first two to three years of our law jobs. The thought process goes something like this: "I know nothing. How the hell did I get this degree? How the hell did I pass the bar? Law school didn't teach me anything. Do my employers know I'm incompetent? How long can I fake this before they figure it out? Are my peers like this? How come everyone else knows what they're doing? What if I never learn? What happens if I get fired or fail? Will I get disbarred? I bet I'll get disbarred! Damn, I'm getting disbarred! Please, God, don't let me get disbarred."

I had all these thoughts as the Lipkin family sat on my friend's office couch and told me that they were about to lose their home. These people trusted me more than I trusted myself. God help us both.

It's a great read, and also a timely view into the current state of the legal job market and the workings of the housing crisis.
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Nettle, Goat Cheese, and Wild Mushroom Ravioli


Here's the first thing I've done with nettles this year. They have a taste and texture that can be similar to spinach, so this seemed a natural choice.

Made up a batch of pasta dough. There's a bunch of recipes on the 'net, but pasta is basically just water, flour and eggs.

Still managed to screwed it up, of course. Not enough liquid. It was like kneading a brick. Also, thanks to a bike accident some years back I'm now partly bionic. It hasn't really hampered me but and kneading is about the only thing my shattered wrist really, really doesn't like to do. Well, that and pushups. But my wrist and I are in agreement on that one. So I tend not do much baking or anything that requires lots of kneading. But between the limit of my kneading abilities, my stand mixer, and my wife's capable hands we managed salvage some decent semolina pasta dough out of it. Stuck the ball of dough in the fridge to rest and worked on the filling.

The Filling

Into a Cuisinart went:
  • A cup of Ricotta from Seabreeze Farm
  • Two marinated crotins of my homemade Mushroom Marinated Goat Cheese (about 5 oz.)
  • A couple tablespoons of the marinated wild mushrooms from the jar
  • A cup of nettles, blanched first to remove sting, shocked and drained
  • Salt and Pepper
  • A dash of balsalmic
Blitzed to a nice texture, tasted and adjusted seasonings until it seemed ok.

Right. So I have to admit that I hate making raviolis and every time I do it I tell myself that I won't ever do it again. But eventually I fall off the wagon and find myself making another round of oddly shaped, floppy, leaky, and generally messy ravioli. This time would be different! But unlike all the other times, this one actually was.

This was due to three major differences. First, semolina flour in the dough made it a bit more stretchy and forgiving. Second, I managed to somehow inherit a ravioli crimper from my mother. Third, I used a pastry bag to fill the raviolis.

So I divided up the dough into four balls and got to rolling.

For the first set I had a brilliant idea. I would press parsley leaves into the dough before the last run through the pasta maker, creating a decorative leaf pattern in my pasta.

It looked great. I was excited.

Back to the drawing board. Total failure. The #6 setting just shredded the leaves up, though it did press them into the dough. So it wasn't a total loss.

Thus only 1/4 of the ravioli's had the Mark of the Beast on them, the rest were just normal pasta dough.

Once the pasta had been rolled out onto a floured work surface, I folded the long sheets of pasta over on themselves lengthwise, then trimmed off the ends to square things up.

Then it was just a matter of piping a tablespoon or so of filling in two rows down half the sheet of pasta.

Using a brush I put a little water around all the edges and between the fillings, then carefully laid the other half of the sheet over the top.

The next step is fairly important. You gently press down around the raviolis and try to press out as mush air from the pockets as possible, or it may expand and pop the ravioli during cooking.

Then run the ravioli crimper around and cut out the individual raviolis. There you go, 1/4 done! Transfer them to a floured cookie sheet in one layer and either freeze them or get ready to cook them. I froze about half and cooked half.

The Sauce

I had some wild mushrooms around, Hedgehogs and Black Trumpets, and they needed to be used ASAP. So I made a Brown Butter sauce similar to this one.

Sweated a large chopped shallot for a couple minutes, added the mushrooms until they started to give off liquid, then deglazed with 1/2 cup of white wine. Once the wine was cooked down I added a stick of butter and cooked till it browned. Finished with a bit too much lemon juice. Still good though.

To cook the ravioli, bring a gallon or more of salted water to boiling, then back just off the boil. Add the raviolis and cook until they float, about 1-2 minutes.

All in all I was pretty happy with this. Wish I had some better photos, the lighting in my kitchen is really quite terrible. I think if I had anything to change I might add a dash or two of red pepper flakes into the filling. Otherwise, it made enough ravioli for probably 8 servings and I've got some in the freezer for later. Pretty good use for an obnoxious weed!
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Friday, February 19, 2010


So I was shopping for ingredients for the Soup Dumplings in my local Pan-Asian/Mexican/Russian market and I came across something that seriously tempted me. A week or two later I was back looking for sake koji and finally gave in.

Kvass. Russian Kvass. For like a $1.50 a liter. Look! It's got a fat and happy little monk. And yet it's only 73 calories a serving.

Kvass is a malt beverage, like Malta, for example. It's basically a form of un-or-lightly fermented beer. To be clear, I hate Malta, and similar brands like Vitamalz. Seriously, sorry, it's terrible. Just too darn sweet for my tastes. But Kvass... I couldn't resist a try. And it was only a $1!

How was it? Like Lemon Iced Tea and Tootsie Rolls. Actually, reasonably good. The sweetness was cut with a tart lemon thing that is lacking in other malt beverages. Not too shabby, but I'm not sure I want gallons of it.

Check out the wiki, Kvass has a weird and interesting anti-cola war going on in the former Eastern Bloc right now.
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Brewday: 'Oz Is Not A Proper Irishman' Irish Red

The lovely weather continues and as they say, "Make beer while the sun shines!"

St. Patrick's Day is a month away and while I have a good half-keg left of the Buckwheat Honey Stout I felt that I needed to get something else ready for the other tap. Why not an Irish Red?

The second most popular traditional Irish beer, Reds are an exercise in balance. Not too strong, not too malty, not too hoppy, fruity but not too fruity, toasty but not too toasty. A nice red session beer. And they are easy. Here's my take on it, based on the one from Brewing Classic Styles.

Irish Red

5.5 Gallons, All Grain, 90 min boil.
Est OG: 1.054
Act OG: 1.056
Est FG: 1.014
Act FG: 1.012-14
Est ABV: 5.25%
Act ABV: 5.5%-5.75%
SRM: 17
IBU: 22
  • 10 lbs 2-Row Pale
  • 6 oz. Crystal 40
  • 6 oz. Crystal 120
  • 6 oz. Roasted Barley
Mash in at 153. Water treatment for 3.5 gallons mash liquor: 7 gm chalk, 2 gm gypsum, 2 gm Calcium Carbonate, 1 gm Epsom Salts, 1 gm Baking Soda, 1 gm salt.
  • 1.5 oz. leaf domestic Hallertau @ 4.7% AA @ 80 minutes.
  • whirlfloc tab at 15 minutes.
Yeast was Wyeast Irish Ale yeast in a 1L starter. Will ferment at house temp, 65 degrees.

Brewday was largely uneventful. Had my first boilover in a long, long time. Less computer, more attention! Minor mess. Gravity was a bit high, I think I may have boiled a bit too much. Oh well. Used Hallertau because I had some around for my upcoming Pilsner. Had planned on Nugget, could use EKGs. Doesn't really matter, just use 22 IBUs of a clean bittering hop. Decided to name it after an episode of Oz and James Drink To Britain, where James May refuses to believe Oz is part Irish. It was either that paraphrasing, or "You're about as Irish as my arse, and that came from Seattle". Guess this makes it the second beer I've named after James May. That's not creepy or anything.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010


It’s been an unusual Winter here in Seattle. In fact, it’s turned out to be the nicest Winter I can remember. El Niño has kept temperatures high, and lessened the otherwise constant rain. In fact, this last January was the warmest ever recorded in Seattle. As I sit here it is sunny and 60 degrees out. In February! Outrageous!

Also: "More please!"

Spring is here.

As a result, things are coming up early. A walk around the neighborhood shows bulbs sprouting in every yard. The Cherry trees are blooming all around. Mushrooms are beginning to pop up too. Last weekend I spotted some Fairy Rings, as well as other assorted small brown mushrooms. There was even on large white one growing down the road. Not sure what it was, it looked like a Field or Horse mushroom, an Agaricus of some kind, but it had a viscid top. Beats me. Yesterday I spotted some small Oyster mushrooms in a lady's yard, and told her about them, but she just complained about having to weed again. Some people.

With the warm weather another perennial pain in the ass is also sprouting: Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica). But this year I resolved to put the hurt on them for a change. I am going to eat them.

For all their stinging obnoxiousness, nettles are actually one of the most nutritious plants you can eat. Loaded with iron, vitamins, and other medicinal goodies they’ve been recognized as a folk cure for ages. You can make tea, beer, pasta, soup, pretty much anything with them. So I packed some scissors, a glove, and a plastic bag and set out to a local park to see if they were sprouting yet.

They were.

The trick is to pick them when they are no more than 8” or so tall. At that stage, you can go ahead and eat the whole thing. Later on in the season, the stalks get woody and unpleasant, forcing you to either harvest just the tips, or pick just the leaves.

There is a way to pick them using just your fingers and a quick, firm grasp. No thank you. I opted for scissors and a yard glove. In no time I'd picked a grocery bag full and set off home.

From this point you you have to remove the sting, caused by tiny silica needles that inject you with a cocktail of itchy, obnoxious chemicals. You can either lay them out on a rack to dry for several days, which will remove the sting and which I might try later this week. Or you can blanch them for 20-30 seconds in boiling water, then plunge them into some icewater to shock them and set the vibrant green color. Which is what I did with this batch.

As the season unfolds I'll post a couple things that I'm going to try with them. It is so nice I out right now I'm thinking I may go pick some more this afternoon, soon as this brewday is finished.

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Cat and Girl: Food Fight


Today's Cat and Girl made me laugh. It's one of the best webcomics out there, but then again I was a liberal arts major and spent a lot of time Exoticizing the Otter.

You should check it out.

Brewday today, so I'll try to get some posts up while I'm sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

(P.S. I had a bit of trouble sizing the comic correctly, so if you can't read it just click on it.)
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sake Update

The Sake Saga continues.

So I've made it through the Moromi stage. The idea here is that you add three additions (the hatsuzoe, nakazoe, and tomezoe) of rice, koji and water over four days. Each addition doubles the volume of the mash, sequentially stepping up the amount to the full volume. This stepping-up allows the koji enzymes to keep working on fresh rice while the yeast is replicating and fermenting, preventing shock to the yeast and the koji, and allowing for a fully fermented sake with a greater alcohol level. I expect it will be around 18% when finished.

The problem is that the rice must be steamed, not boiled.

A lot of rice. 10 pounds of rice.

The hatsuzoe wasn't a problem. The night before, I took out the now completed moto, and added a cup of koji to it. Left it upstairs to warm up overnight. The next day I soaked 2.5 cups of my rice in water for an hour and a half or so, then steamed it in two layers using my bamboo steamer. The steaming took 45 minutes. While that was going on I mixed 1.25 teaspoons of Morton Salt Substitute (potassium chloride) into 2.75 cups of water and stuck in the fridge to chill. When the rice was done I moved it to a large clean pot, added the water, and mixed until it was chilled to below 85. Then I mixed it into the moto.

I also took this opportunity to drill a hole in my bucket lid to accommodate an airlock. Isn't the vinyl in my kitchen lovely? I call it The Gong Show Kitchen. At least it doesn't show dirt. I had white tile in my last one. Never again.

Ok: first major deviation from the recipe. The Recipe says "Long-time beermakers hate this step" and he's right. You're supposed to wash your hands and forearms really well, then use your hands to stir the mash, breaking up clumps, for a full half hour.

Screw. That.

I decided that I'm more willing to chance a few clumps than stick my filthy paws into the mash. So I used a sanitized wire whisk and just whisked the heck out of it, breaking up clumps as best I could, for a good 10 minutes. Seemed to work well. The way I figure it, Gekkeikan isn't mixing it by hand, they're going to use something like a whisk, so I will too. If the sake is a failure, well, lesson learned. Somehow I think it will turn out just fine.

Anyhow, the mash was to be stirred every two hours for twelve hours. Well, I mashed in at about 8 PM on a weeknight. So it got stirred once before bed, then again a couple times in the morning. C'est la vie. I took to just swirling the bucket around really well rather than opening it. The rice turns to watery goo pretty quickly.

It started to bubble away within an hour. The noise actually woke me up in the middle of the night, and I was worried that it might be getting too hot. But a 4:00 AM thermometer check showed 69 degrees. Perfect!

Next came the nakazoe, the middle addition. After 12 hours of fermenting (i.e. the next morning) I added 1.5 cups of koji. That evening I soaked 6 cups of rice for an hour and a half in preparation for steaming it. This created a problem: how to steam that much rice? 2.5 cups basically maxed out my bamboo steamer. At 45 minutes a batch, I wasn't excited to spend two hours steaming rice.

Then it hit me: my couscousiere! It's basically a big aluminum pot, with an even bigger lid that has a bunch of holes in it. In Moroccan couscous cooking the idea is that you make a big stew in the bottom and use the steam generated by it to cook the couscous. This sucker will make couscous for a village. Seriously, the smallest amount I've ever made in it fed twelve. And it was about $30 at a Middle Eastern market in Miami. But it doesn't have a lid, and I worried that the rice on top wouldn't cook as fast as that on the bottom. So I used my wok lid. Fit perfectly. Sweet.

Steamed the rice for 45 minutes. Put it in a big 4 gallon pot. Added 8.75 cups of cold water. Whisked to break up clumps. The idea was to chill it to 70, and it was taking a long while. So I put it in an icebath in the sink. Worked great. Pitched it into the mash. Stirred every couple hours.

The next morning: the tomezoe. Mixed in the remainder of the koji, a whole 20 ounce container. Stirred a couple times during the day. By now the airlock was bubbling away and fermentation was clearly rocking.

That evening came the Big Steam: the rest of the rice. Over five pounds of it.

The couscousiere worked like a champ. Here it is pre-steam. I like how the soaked polished sake rice looks like Styrofoam pellets.

When the rice was done it went into my 4 gallon pot, set in a sink full of ice water. Added a gallon plus a cup of cold water and got to work with the whisk. Whisked till it was 70 degrees. Given the volume of rice, I figure this is important. If say, you only cooled to 90 it would take hours, maybe even a day or more, to drop to ambient 70. But in the ice-water bath it took maybe 15 minutes to whisk it down to 7o. Then into the mash it went, along with some good whisking to mix everything up a bit.

It took off like a shot. Happily burbling CO2 out the airlock. Interestingly, the bucket created a sort of drum, and the airlock made a thurb thurb thurb noise all night long. ALL NIGHT LONG. By morning it had actually krausened out the airlock. The Japanese call this odori, the Dancing Ferment.

I made this video so you can experience the magic yourself.

Next time, it gets to dance somewhere more quiet. Like the basement.

Fortunately in the morning it was time to chill it. So I moved it downstairs into my lagering fridge. There it will stay for three weeks at 50 degrees. I lowered the fridge to 45 degrees for the first 12 hours to help cool it, and even then it was probably warm for a while and I hope that won't impact it badly. Ideally I'd use a Stopper Thermowell and set the fridge to stay on until the sake hit 50, but I lost the thermowell in the move. Man I need to get another one.

So there we go. Sake is bubbling away. I think the project is going swimmingly so far. Most importantly, it smells like sake. No off-sour notes or anything weird, just sake and a bit of yeasty. We'll see how it turns out.

Next up: The Pressing.
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Guest Post Up at Nose To Tail At Home

Hey, I've got a guest post up at the excellent Nose To Tail At Home.

You should go check it out the site for some serious organy goodness.

And to visitors linking over, welcome.

I've got a couple posts in the pipe that I'll try to get up today, but first I've got a hefeweizen to bottle.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pain d'Epi FAIL


Yep. Going to have to try that one over again...

It looks like a Mummy's severed arm. Maybe it will cure 16th Century diseases. Or bring me good luck. Or perhaps an angry Zahi Hawass.

Still tastes good though.

Here of course is the goal, perfect Pain d'Epi:

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Tool + Wine = Blood Into Wine

Maynard James Keenan, frontman of the band Tool, is making wine in Arizona. And he's made a documentary about it, Blood Into Wine. Here's the trailer:

Sadly, it's not showing in Seattle. Still, neat.
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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Terry Pratchett - "Shaking Hands With Death"

A week ago Sir Terry Pratchett gave the 34th Annual Dimbleby Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians, a speech entitled "Shaking Hands With Death." Following his Alzheimer's diagnosis Sir Terry has become a spokesman for Alzheimer's research, health care reform, and the Right to Die. It's hard to understate just how beloved he is, not just in the U.K. but worldwide. Over 65 million books sold. Annually at least 3% of all books sold in England, or so I've heard. A well-deserved knighthood last year. I've been a huge fan of his books for many years now, and I was immensely saddened by his diagnosis. But I was also uplifted by his response to it.

So here's the lecture, in which Pratchett discusses his disease and makes his case for the Right to Die, on his terms, at home, and with dignity. It's about an hour long. It's well worth watching. It's bittersweet. It's actually mostly read by Tony Robinson, forever 'Baldrick' of Blackadder fame, due to Sir Terry's condition. And he does a bang-up job.

If you haven't got an hour, no problem, the text of the lecture is here.
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Monday, February 08, 2010

Brewday: Schwarzweisse I

So I'd planned on brewing a Weizenbock this month and ordered ingredients to that effect. A big malty, wheaty, spicy 8% beast. However, around New Years I formed a resolution of sorts to brew more reasonable, low-octane house beers, hence my latest English Brown. So I figured I'd scale it down to a Dunkelweizen of some kind. But then I got to thinking, which is always dangerous: "Has anyone ever made a Schwarzbier-weizen?" Lo and behold, yes a few have. So I decided to take a crack at it myself. Ideally it will be a wheaty, spicy, malty, jet-black hefeweizen.

Recipe formulation was tricky on this one. At its heart it's a Dunkelweizen, but I'm tweaking the color and toastiness by careful use of Carafa II. Ideally, I'd planned on using Carafa Special II, which is dehusked to lessen any bitter, astringent character it might add (the bane of Schwarzbiers everywhere). Unfortunately, it can be tricky to find, and I only had 7 ounces of it.

But there's another way to make dark but not astringent beers: cold steeping. Like making cold-process coffee, soaking the roasted grains overnight in cold water will leech out the color and flavor, but not the harsh bitterness. So I steeped 5 ounces of normal Carafa II in a pound and a half of water, then sparged into another bowl with a little hot water, and added the steep near the end of the main sparge.

Brewday was a bit of a disaster. Long story short: I made a big, stupid mistake on the recipe. See, I'd gone to all this trouble to avoid getting the roasted grain above 170 degrees so it wouldn't leech tannins and roastiness. Weeeeeell I mashed in, looked to see what my next step was, and realized that without thinking about it I'd designed it for a double decoction mash! I was set for a protein/ferulic acid rest at 111-113 degrees, followed by a decoction to 152, followed by a decoction to 168. I was literally set to boil a portion of the grains I'd tried so hard to keep cool and pH buffered. So I swore for a bit, then thought about what I was going to do.

The miserable solution was four pseudo-decoctions. I pulled about 2.5 gallons, heated to 154, held for 15 minutes, heated to 168, added back into the mash. Repeat. As a result I ended up creating rests at 111, 122, 131, 144, and 151. So if this is the best beer ever it certainly will be a pain to replicate.

Other than that everything went mostly fine. I got an OG of 1.o50, which is less than expected. I attribute some of that to the crazy mash schedule, and some to my grain mill. Wheat berries need to be ground on a wider setting than barley kernels, as they are fatter. I learned my lesson on this a couple years ago when I was brewing a Triticale Pale Ale ("Tri-te-KAY-ley Pale-y Ale-y"). I left the mill set where it was for barley, put the pound of triticale in, and pulled the trigger on the hand drill I use to power it. The mill immediately jammed up, and the resulting torque of the drill flipped the entire mill over, spilling all of my grain across the deck. Lesson learned but the scars remain. Unfortunately, in a flash of stupidity, I mixed my wheat and Munich malt before I ground it. As a result, I had to grind the mix coarsely, and so I think I lost some efficiency off the Munich.

As a result of this chaos, I'm going to brew the same recipe again in a few days, with a double infusion this time and cold steeping all the Carafa separately. This way I can try them side by side and see the differences, if any.

Schwarzweisse I

All Grain, 6 gallons
Est OG: 1.053
Est FG: 1.014
Est ABV: 5.1%
Act OG: 1.050
IBU: 16
SRM: 29
  • 5 1/2 lbs Wheat Malt
  • 2 1/2 lbs Dark Munich Malt (20L)
  • 2 lbs Pale Malt
  • 12 oz Carafa Special II (or 12 oz. Carafa II, cold steeped separately)
  • 6 oz Special B
  • 4 oz Caramunich
  • 4 oz Caravienna
  • rice hulls before knockout
Mash as it should be: infusion at 113 for a Ferulic acid rest of 20 minutes, then infusion to 152 for a rest of 40 minutes or so until conversion. Add a few handfuls of rice hulls. Then infusion up to 168 for the sparge. Mash water treatment for Seattle water was: 8gm chalk, 1gm gypsum, 4 gm soda, 2 gm salt.

Mash as it was: infusion at .5 gallons/pound of grain at 113, then pull 2.5 gallon decoctions, raising to 152-54 for 15 minutes, then 168 and add back to the mash. Took four of these. Oy.

Collected 8 gallons for a 60 minute boil.

Whole Tettenanger Hops at 4.5%AA
  • 1 ounce at 60 minutes
  • 1/2 ounce at 30
  • 1/2 ounce at 0
Yeast is Safale WB-06 dry wheat yeast. Giving it a shot to see how it stacks up. Dry hefe yeasts have a bad rap, so hopefully this new one comes out great. Fermenting at 60, that's right, 60, down in my basement. Some people ferment them hot, like a Belgian, but I am firmly in the hefes-need-cold camp. The ferulic acid rest should provide enough precursors the the 'clove' character, 4-vinylguaiacol or '4VG', without it being overwhelming due to excess temperature.

Anyhow it's sitting downstairs chugging away. I'm giving it a 10 day primary then straight into bottles if the hydrometer says it's done. Should be drinkable inside of three weeks.

Update: 2/17/10

After 9 days gravity was 1.012 and I decided to bottle it. Got a good 19 22's and 25 12's out of it. It's like I laid 40 delicious little alcohol eggs.

Bottled the whole batch with 6 oz of priming sugar. I actually had to melt in some Cooper's Carb Drops because I only had 4 oz of corn sugar. It's been a long time since I bottled a whole batch, but that's the only way to go with hefe's. My past experience kegging them (given no separate regulator for upping the pressure just on the hefe) has been...not so good. The pressure creates a lot of foam and the yeast and haze just settle as they get cold. I actually hear some commercial breweries store their hefe kegs upside down so they get flipped when finally delivered to the customer. Anyhow, this should be 2.9 volumes of CO2, high but right for the style. Seriously looking forward to popping one of these. There was a nice banana thing going on. My only concern is a bit too much lemon-tartness. Also: not black. Not black at all. Very, very dark Dunkelweis, but not dark enough. Back to the drawing board.

UPDATE: 3/2/10 Taste.
UPDATE: Bronze at the 2010 Cascade Brewer's Cup!
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Friday, February 05, 2010

Goat Cheese


Chevre to be precise. It's been a while since I last made cheese, and after last Summer's minor failure I was itching to give it another go. And do it right this time.

First up: milk. Goat milk can be tricky to find, particularly if you're planning on making cheese with it. The reason is that, while most grocery stores stock some kind of goat milk, it's almost always Ultra Pasteurized. Which means, it's useless. The higher temperature of the Ultra pasteurization process allows the product to have a longer shelf life (which is good for broad distribution/low turnover products like goat milk). However, the high heat denatures many of the milk's proteins, meaning that it will no longer form a "clean break" when the rennet is added.

Fortunately, we can get straight, raw goat milk at the farmer's market from St. John Creamery up in Everett. The milk is fresh, raw, whole fat, nearly organic, and from rare-breed Oberhasli goats. Sweet! $15 a gallon. Bummer. But, needs must. And it ended up making chevre for about $10 a pound, which isn't so bad actually.

Step One: Pasteurization

Wait, didn't you just say pasteurization was bad? Well, yes and no. Ultra is bad for cheese, yes. Also, there is a compelling argument to be made that well controlled raw milk is as safe, or safer, than pasteurized store bought milk. On the other hand, Listeria, E. Coli, Tuberculosis, get the picture.

For cheeses, my feeling on it is that if it's going to be a dry, long-aged cheese, pasteurization isn't necessary due to the salting, drying, and heating process. If it's something quick and creamy, like chevre, pasteurization will help it last a while longer than it might otherwise and might just kill something nasty off. So I opted to pasteurized my gallon of milk.

Stick a two gallon pot on the stove. Put a half cup or so of water in, heat to boiling, slap the lid on, turn the heat down and steam clean everything for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat, ditch the water, pour the milk in. Put it back on the heat, on medium to medium low, and slowly raise it up to 145 degrees. Hold it there, as best you can, for a half hour. It's not that easy (it works better if you can rig a double boiler of some kind), and I went a bit colder at times, but so long as you don't go way too hot it's ok. Useful tools include a sanitized spoon to stir (no scorching the bottom!) and a laser thermometer or sterilized probe thermometer to check the temp.

I *heart* my laser thermometers.

Step 2: Sour The Milk, Set The Curd

Cheesemaking is a lot like brewing: it's all about temperature. Cool temps and mesophilic (read: "Moderate loving") starter bacteria produce a softer, creamier cheese like Chevre, Cream Cheese, etc. Warmer temps and thermophyllic (read: "Heat loving") bacteria produce firmer, dryer cheeses like Parmesan. Go beyond that to the point where enzymes are deactivated, proteins denatured, and you get Mozzarella.

So for this one I used a starter packet of New England Cheesemaking Co's 'Chevre', a pre-mixed combo of mesophyllic bacteria and rennet designed to set one gallon of goat milk for ladling into goat cheese molds. It's a direct set culture, so you set it and forget it. Har har.

I took the hot, now pasteurized milk and set it in a sink full of ice water. Stirred it around with my sanitized spoon until it was 86 degrees, then added the culture and placed it in a slightly warmed oven. There I left it for 12 hours.

Step 3: Cutting The Curd, Draining The Whey

At the end of 12 hours (and about 10:30 at night...) the curd had firmly set and was settled at the bottom of the pot. The next step is to ladle it into a mold of some kind to help it take shape and drain off the excess whey. Unlike many firmer cheeses, no weight is used and chevre is not pressed. So you use special molds. Several years ago I bought four of these little goat cheese molds and it's about time I get some use out of them. They were sanitized, then I began to ladle the cheese in.

One thing I should mention: in most kinds of cheese there is a step where you 'Cut The Curd', which is basically a way to dice it up so that the whey drains properly. The chevre packet doesn't tell you to do this, but I'd recommend it. I took a long, thin sanitized knife blade and diced up the curd, at an angle, into 1/2"-3/4" dice.

Place the molds on a rack over a 13x9 pan. Then ladle this into the molds until they're full. It took about an hour and a half to add all the curds, you have to wait for the whey to drain before you can add a bit more. But four molds will do a gallon of whole goat milk chevre. Just barely. Patience.

Leave the cheeses to drain for about 18 hours. At this point, you can start to flip them over every six hours or so. With very clean hands, pop the crottins out, flip them over, and carefully reinsert them into the molds. This helps them maintain that familiar cylindrical shape.

Of course, you don't actually need the fancy chevre molds. You could just use cheesecloth and hang the bundle over the sink to drip.

After a about a day and a half they were almost dry enough. So I gave the top a light sprinkling of kosher salt, flipped, and then sprinkled the other side. Left to drain another six hours or so and they were ready.

Wrapped them in plastic wrap and popped them in the fridge. They'll be good for two weeks or so.

If you want you could roll them in spices. Black pepper and slightly ground Herbs de Provence are faves of mine.

All told I got about 1 1/2 lbs of cheese from the gallon of milk. That's a fair amount to eat within two weeks. So I began thinking of ways to use it. First, one would obviously just be snacks. Another would go to Meredith for a baking project of some kind. I'd planned on making a St. Maure style mold-ripened cheese, but I couldn't get any of the white penicillium in time. So this left me with two crottins to play with.

Marinated Goat Cheese - Wild Mushroom, and Lemon, Rosemary and Fennel

One tasty thing you can do with goat cheese is marinate it. This creates a pretty-near instant appetizer, ready to go whenever you need it. So I went with two recipes off Epicurious. The first would be a Wild Mushroom Marinade. I followed the recipe, except that I subbed in an ounce of Foraged And Found's Wild Mix instead of pure dried Porcini's. This meant there were also Morels, Chanterelles, Lobsters, and other wild mushrooms on top of the Porcini's that were in there. The second cheese was a Lemon, Rosemary, Fennel and Red Pepper Marinade. These little olive oil filled jars will last much longer than the plain cheese would.

I began to wonder how long, though. The recipes said to stash them in the fridge, but I wonder if that is just the American knee-jerk "stash everything in the fridge!" reaction. Olive oil in the fridge sets up quite unattractively, meaning that I'd have to bring these back up to room temp before serving, which is a bit of a pain. If you think about it, many things are conserved in oil: peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, truffles, and sometimes: cheese.

One of my favorite meze foods is the Lebanese cheese-balls-in-oil, Labneh Makbous. These are basically a cheese similar to chevre, made from strained yoghurt, rolled and jarred in olive oil with spices. And notably not refrigerated. So long as everything is nicely submerged under the oil, and was pretty clean to begin with, I think it will be fine in our relatively cool kitchen for a couple weeks. Wouldn't go much past a month though, before it goes into the fridge.

Not that they'll last that long...

UPDATE: 2/7/10 Tried the marinated cheeses. The fennel, lemon, rosemary one is quite good. The mushroom one could probably use another week. Also, I wish I had less oppressive olive oil.
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Organic Grocery Budget

0 comments a Catholic Indulgence. Pretty much sums it up.

Achewood is hands down one of the best webcomics and comes out with these flashes of insight with disturbing regularity.

I'm sure that for some people a trip the supermarket is a: "Lord, I know I should not have had that New-Zesty-Fiesta-Gordo-Burritoburger(tm), perhaps it will return me to thy favor if I purchase these Organic Cheesepuffs...Amen."

Of course, I'm not sure what sins I'm paying for with my own food budget. Maybe I just made peace with the fact that good food must necessarily cost more under the current agricultural system. But this is not the time to debate the Farm Bill.

Here's the full comic.
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Ramona Falls - 'I Say Fever'

Thank you Internets.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Guava Cheese Pizzalito

During my time in Miami I learned many things.
  • Humidity is exactly 100x worse than excessive heat. The combination of the two is 1000x worse.
  • Hurricanes are only as fun as the size of your alcohol stockpile. Also, it's a great way to finally meet your neighbors.
  • Everyone has cockroaches, it's only a problem if you regularly see them.
  • Firehose rain lasts about 5 minutes, then you've got a window of about 10 minutes to run wherever you need to go before the next one.
  • Look twice before you cross the road. And before you change lanes. And before you look twice. Remember: roads have two directions, just not always opposite ones, and you are free to decide which at whim.
  • If it gets too cold iguanas will rain from the trees.
  • The Rule of Law, that fragile glowing string that ties society together, is very, very thin, and frayed at the edges.
I also learned a lot about food. Collards can be edible if done right. Canistel, Monstera Deliciosa, Mamey and Black Sapote are all delicious fruits. Cuban Sandwiches and coffee? Yes please. Hogfish, Mangrove snapper, Pompano, Wahoo, Kingfish and 'Cuda? All great.

But if there's one food I'll miss most it's probably Guava Cheese Pastelitos. This was our Sunday Morning go-to food, whenever we were tired, hungover or had guests over. (Often all three.) Someone would be drafted to go to Karlo Bakery and pick up a box of the flaky triangular pastries, stuffed with guava paste and queso fresco. They're sublime. There are other kinds of pastelito in the case there, but you walk right by them, nose high, because they don't come close. The guava ones? Good. The cheese ones? Also Good. But it's like heat and humidity: the combo of the two increases their intensity logarithmically.

So we were watching a recent episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe was with Miami's Chicken Buster unit, the workers responsible for rounding up the thousands of wild chickens that inhabit the city. Before they start, the whole crew digs into a box of pastelitos and you can see Mike's eyes glaze over momentarily. Meredith and I looked at each other: the craving had struck. So the next day I picked up some ingredients.

Guava paste usually comes in either blocks or tins. I found this round tin from Goya at our local Asian/Mexican/Russian grocery store. It's a sticky thick paste. If you melt it on the stove it makes hallucinatorily good barbecue sauce. As for the cheese: Queso Fresco. A light, crumbly cheese you can find almost anywhere nowadays.

Get some frozen puff pastry and you can make quite passable, but not perfect, pastelitos with just these three ingredients.

But we didn't go that route. Some years back several of us were at the bar having a debate about pizza toppings. For example, I have long posited that strawberries would be good on a pizza, so long as the sauce was also a bit sweet. No one had faith in me. So we all got together to try out various experimental toppings. Out of that madness came: the Guava Cheese Pizza.

We recently bought a pizza peel ($14. Go Seattle Restaurant Supply!) which has greatly improved our ability to get bread and pizzas on and off our oven stone. And I've been messing about with Artisan Breadmaking in 5-minutes a Day, so we've had plenty of ready-to-go dough just sitting in the fridge. It was pizza time!

First comes the sauce. The sauce is very important. I always make my own. Not because I'm uppity about it. I do it because it's stupidly easy. I never measure anything or keep track, but basically: saute about half an onion and a minced clove or two of garlic, add a can of crushed tomatoes if it's winter or some fresh tomatoes if it's summer. Add a few shakes of dried oregano, basil, thyme, chile flakes or whatever else you feel like. Cook for about 10 minutes, or longer if you prefer. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste. It's all about seasoning it to taste. For this pizza, I go light on basil and heavier on the sugar. You don't want it crazy sweet, just enough that it's not particularly savory.

Roll out the dough, about 1/8" thick. Spread out on a cornmealed pizza peel. Spread on some sauce. Add thin slices of guava paste. Sprinkle a good amount of queso fresco around. If you've also made up some caramelized onions, they go very well in here. Then I add some mozzarella to kind of hold everything down and glue it together, it melts better than the fresco.

Pop it in the oven. 10-ish minutes on the pizza stone at 500 degrees should do it. YMMV.

How is it? Outstanding. This is my go-to pizza for any "Make your own pizza" night. The guava is sweet, fruity and gooey. It's unexpected, but delicious. The queso fresco is salty and a bit crumbly. The caramelized onions play a nice background note if they're there. If you don't bother with the onions, and have dough ready in the fridge like I do, it takes about 40 minutes to make, start to finish.
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