Sunday, October 26, 2008


Yes, it is true. Sometimes, I use the dried stuff. There she is, my starter all hungry and cold, needing attention and a bite to eat. My familiar hand reaches past for the small balls in the jar on the next shelf up. Cold I tell you. I can't help but feel as though I am cheating.

Fidelity toward the sourdough aside, sometimes I want to taste a flour without even a hint of sour. Sure, you can do quick, warm fermentations and other things to lessen the development of the tang. This was not enough. I wanted fluffy, unhealthy tasting sandwich bread. We've had some nice flour coming our way in our grain CSA and it was time to play with some barley flour. I got to thinking along the lines of a barley wonderbread loaf. Turns out buttermilk barley bread satisfies the craving. It was so good, we did a repeat of this bread the following week, noshed through another and managed to stash a loaf in the freezer.

We have grains to go though, with part of the focus being learning new things about more stuff. (Nice technical ring to that one.) Along came kamut. Do you know it? Have you met? Well, if not, let me tell you it is deliciously nutty. I'd made a few Kamut baguettes the week before and they turned out nice and crunchy. I contemplated doing more. I thought maybe having a guest help me out would be nice, but then remembered how a few years ago the last guest swiped the bread and took His sweet time to leave me with a pathetic note to explain. Screw the guest thing. I figured if I pair kamut with cornmeal it would be all the more sweet and earthy. This screamed pizza dough. Or maybe, the monkeys were rowdy, I screamed and made pizza dough. Once again, I cheated and used the dried stuff.

It was time to work on the toppings and caramelizing onions are a great place to start. Being the Fall, and apple pears are on the counter next to the really, I did do this on purpose. Not to say it didn't help that the size and shape was correct. I've had pizza with pear on it before and just figured that caramelizing it before tossing it on the pie would be nice. Being an apple pear, not all squishy, I hoped it would hold up. These doing a slow, simmery, release the juices thingy, I went and pulled out more ingredients.

Next it was pesto time. Tonight, I could give a rat's ass about how local it was. Dammit I was having pine nuts and parmesan. Okay, so it's not entirely true as the basil, lemon and oil are from the market, but whatever. The pine nuts came from either Korea, Russia or Vietnam and the cheese was from, uh, let's see here.......Parma! Not even close to close on those last two but sometimes you just have to say f*%$ it.

Ahhhh, all the ingredients assembled. My favorite time in the pizza making process. I can pretend I didn't just spend three hours prepping everything while tending to the monkeys. I close my eyes and imagine I just came in and feel like making some pizza. Hey, sheeit look, fixings for a pizza pie! Crank on that oven and make sure to get the pizza tile nice and hot.....wait, what was that, you did already? Sheesh, how thoughtful! Well, since you have everything else taken care of, maybe I'll go pour us some beer.

Version 1.0 had a pesto foundation, caramelized onion/pear and fresh mozzarella, with sweet Italian sausage on half and sliced black olives on the other. Both monkeys were digging this one. Sweet, with meat. Go figure. There were no leftovers of this version. Luckily we prepped version 2.0 while this was in the oven or we probably would have just made the same thing. Next time.

Nope. Turns out our creativity was compromised by the last ingredients and we managed to make the same pizza, only with a tomato sauce as the base. Even with this simple difference, the taste was hugely different. I'd have to say I prefer the pesto combo considering the sweet onions and sausage involved. Maybe it was the nutty crust, but the flavors just seemed to work better together.

So, yes, loyal readers. It is sad but true, sometimes I cheat and use the dried stuff to lift my loaf. Please don't hate me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

local apple cider

Yapple-dy dapple-dy it's that time of year again! Time to get out the juicer or cider press and get mashin'. Time to preserve some apples. You can sauce them, bake them, boil them and such, but why? Juice them, add some yeast and let it do most of the work. In about two months time you will be drinking one of the most satisfying refreshments to ever touch your lips, because whether your friends drink it or not, you made it. And should it suck, chances have it that some time "cellaring" might take care of the offensive character. I've heard some take a year or more. Well, call it beginners luck but my experiments last year, overall, tasted good right away and only got better. Wish I'd made more.........

Step one: Find a source of apples that need picking. Get a ladder. Or better yet find a friend with a ladder and an apple tree. Bring boxes, bags and buckets. Start picking. I recommend starting with at least a target size of between a three and five gallon batch. Use the rough guestimate of 5lbs of apples equals 1 quart of juice and pick an appropriate amount. (Thanks Paul!) Stop picking when either you have enough or realize that no one has gotten hurt. Remember to put the ladder away and promise to give your friend some cider when the time comes.

Step two: Load all the apples into the ride home. Looking at this now, I think I could have gotten it home on my bike, but I didn't know how many pounds I would pick (about 60 it turns out) so I brought the car. Please make sure to keep all apples securely fastened while driving home for in the case of an accident, well over two hundred fist sized pieces will be flying about the inside of your vehicle. I don't speak from experience, but I do have an active imagination and a deep appreciation for simple physics.

Step three: Juice the apples to a pulp. Or rather, separate the pulp from the juice. Grind them, mash them, spin them amongst countless blades, whatever method you use make sure to extract as much juice as you can. In this case, I filled a container with everything that came out of the juicer and let bouyancy and time do the work. It is amazing what just sitting around can accomplish. Choose the yeast you need that will get the job done.

Step four: Siphon the juice into a large, sterilized glass vessel and pitch your yeast. Affix a one way valve to the top to allow exhaust only. Place a more or less sterile liquid like whiskey into the air lock (and yourself should you care) and then give the contents a mix. Make sure to keep the experiment near 70 degrees until you see some vigorous bubbling and sure signs of fermentation. Make sure to not let monkeys pull the valve off of the container. Should this happen, immediately clean the valve and perhaps monkey and place (valve not monkey) onto the carboy again. Put in a higher location.

Step five: Keep the foamy goodness from coming out the air-lock. Or be prepared to keep cleaning up a sticky mess. Maintain the carboy at nice ambient home temps of around 65. Watch and wonder. Well, especially wonder since this is a lager yeast and I've yet to hear of someone trying such. Last year I used English ale yeast, this year I'm giving a California Common yeast a try. So far, so good, but we'll have to wait about a month before we do some bottling and have a better idea.

Give me a shout if any of this interests you and you have the time!

BOTTLING UPDATE (11/27/08): So, on Turkey day we tasted some from a bit that I stashed in a bottle right before fermentation shut down completely, with the hopes of some completely natural carbonation. The suspense was high as I cracked the seal, but a fine foamy effervescence was what greeted us. Nice crisp apple, but supremely dry. It was a fitting libation to start the thanksgiving feast, a common homemade cider, that was truly from this years local harvest. Thanks once again Paul. We will share one soon.....

And for the few homebrewers who might be wondering:

Does a California common yeast work well for making apple cider? Answer: yes. Very well in fact. Makes for a nice dry product, much like using a dry english ale yeast like Danstar's Windsor or Nottingham. A starting gravity of 1.058 took a month (like the other yeasts) and finished at 0.998, packing an alcohol content of near 8%! Now that, is a merry x-mas.......

Monday, October 13, 2008

gringo verde

This is my first year growing tomatillos. Being a relative of the tomato, they share many of the same attributes, but in what seems like a wilder form. I forget exactly how many we planted this year, but I think it was only four or so in the "box." Growing three to four feet tall, with an understory of lemon cucumbers, it became the green hedge we have out front. In July, they were a riot of blooms and paper bells, foretelling of a green salsa in my future.

I've been feeling a bit neglectful of my garden lately, and noticing tomatillos beginning to fall of the plants all on their own (I mean, it was mid-September by now) meant time for action. I brought the monkeys out front and we conducted a fruit raid.

Easily filling a gallon sized bowl, we brought the loot back in and took the skins off. I've learned that my elder monkey has a propensity for the tedium, and will gladly work on this task as I tend to the "lil' bruther." After a quick rinse to remove the remaining bits and pieces, and maybe, just maybe a bit of whatever the sticky, strange, not quite entirely oily feeling stuff on them is off, we tossed them in a roasting pan (whew, talk about a run-on!)

I haven't had much luck with growing peppers here in oaktown. I've tried, boy I have, sporadically, for like five years or so. I'm no Chilebrown. (Let me tell you, he's got such a peppery green thumb, that after the simple act of shaking hands with him, you better wash up before touching any sensitive membranes around your eyeballs.) Anyway, this year, once again I gave it a go. I forget which varieties they were, something compact, but mild for sure. Because of all this, I made sure to include the seeds in the salsa to extract any bit of heat they had.

I had a few onions from earlier in the year out in the back shed and I was hoping to use them. I had envisioned an all from the monkey ranch salsa. But no. They had started to rot on the inside after sprouting a bit. Damn. I used a big white onion on the counter and went from there. All mixed up and ready for roasting I had a laugh. I always enjoy the look of all the little green balls in a pan. It reminds me of those ball pits they have at amusement parks where you can "swim." Okay, maybe that comes from having a beer with this one, but, what the hell.

I gave the roasted mess a blend and then went and picked some cilantro to finish it off. After mincing and mixing in we chowed down on some chips. It was super tangy and puckery. Given that it was at least 3/4 tomatillos I wasn't too surprised. I made a mental note about growing these husky tomato relatives here: flavor is good despite small size of fruit. Combine this with the ease of growing them and we have a winner in my book.

I have a feeling, that after seeds get into the soil this year I'll be harvesting volunteers next year. Well, and the next, and so on and so forth. With any luck, all the way into the sweet with heat, chile verde sunset years of life.