Saturday, July 25, 2009

To Market, To Market...

The professor and I went to the Mercato in Little Italy today in hot pursuit of a good farmer's market in San Diego. This quest comes on the heels of visiting, and enjoying, the Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. What I loved so much about these places was all the fresh fruit and veggies, just begging to be taken home, and the over zealous shopkeepers eagerly hoping you'll buy whatever it is they're selling. It's crowded, and smells funny, but there's something really comforting about these public markets. It's not just because most of the food is organically grown by local farmers, and it's not just because you get to try lots of free samples of infused olive oil and homemade hummus, although those are certainly valid reasons to go. (Note to vendors: I really, really would like to buy a $12 bottle of fancy olive oil from you but I can't justify the expense. Even if I did buy it, I'd feel guilty every time I used it since I know how much I paid for it so it would probably just sit in my cupboard untouched. Thanks for the sample, though. Note to readers: Infused olive oil makes a great gift.) I think it has to do with the fact that the people you're buying this stuff from actually made (or grew) it. When you go to the grocery store, the clerk doesn't know (or care) where the artichokes he's selling came from. At a farmer's market, those artichokes came from Joe's farm up north. Maybe I've read Fast Food Nation or In Defence of Food too many times, but I don't care.

So grab your reusable tote and bring it to the Mercato. It could just be the perfect inspiration for your next meal. This weekend we'll be having pancetta mixed with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and pasta, and Sunday is jambalaya. And of course, there are fresh flowers on the table, which makes everything taste better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brewing In The New Year - Part 3

Today is Sunday, and that can mean only one thing... it's tasting day. Our beer has been laying dormant for two weeks and this morning we placed the two tasters in the fridge and let them cool for a few hours. Then finally the moment of truth. We opened, we poured, and we tasted. The beer is a little cloudy, but with good color and a good amount of head (possibly too much but the bottles we opened were filled towards the end of the bottling process so they may have extra foam in comparison). As the weeks go by, the beer should clear up a little. The taste was bitter, but not prohibitively, with a pretty strong hops flavor and good carbonation. Our only goal (aside from learning the process, of course) is that our first batch of beer didn't taste completely awful which would inevitably cause us to re-think our new hobby. And in that, we were more than successful. The taste will change over the next few weeks and I'm optimistic that it will be ready for public consumption soon. And when all of our bottles our empty, we'll get to start the process all over again. Long live Maiden Voyage Ale!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brewing In The New Year - Part 2

In preparation for bottling day, Saturday's task was getting all the pieces prepared and sanitized, including the four dozen bottles which our beer will call home for the next few weeks. Everything was dry and ready in time for Sunday morning's home-coming, also known as bottling day.

First, we prepared the vessel for our harvest - the beer cases. At the recommendation of my friend Brian, we lined the inside of the case with a plastic bag just *in case* one of the bottles explodes. Apparently, many first-timers experience a beer bath
when they add too much carbonation.

Then we boiled 16 ounces of water and added 3/4 cup of sugar to make the magical confection, carbonation. Pouring the syrup into the carbonation container, it is gradually mixed with the non-fizzy beer through a magic process of “gravity.” I tried to get more information from The Professor about how this phenomenon happens, but basically we put this tube in the beer in the top container, and it magically gets sucked up and dumped down into the syrup mixture. All I know is that it's supposed to be hard, but it only took two tries to get it started. Once all the beer is added to the syrup, it’s time to bottle.

After we hooked up the tube to the now-fizzed container, the tube goes to the bottom of each bottle. Press lightly and liquid (magically?) comes out and fills to the top. Then you hand it to the capper (The Professor) who applies some pressure to each cap with the red-gripper mad-capper. Now our beer is sitting idly by waiting to be ready to drink...
Our first batch yielded 50 bottles
and the tasting day is triumphantly scribbled on the kitchen calendar... two weeks from now!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Brewing in the New Year - Part 1

This Christmas, Santa was nice enough to bring a home brewing kit for my partner-in-crime, the Absent Minded Professor. "Brewing beer at home?" You could say, "What's the point?" It stinks, you're spending as much in ingredients as you would on a few packs of high quality brew, and there's no guarantee that it will turn out, not to mention the fact that you have to wait with the patience of a Tibetan monk to see if it even tastes okay. And you're absolutely right. But patience is a virtue, and I think that finding out where my favorite foods come from (and yes, beer is a food), is part of what being a Foodie Wannabe is all about.

Today was brew day, and we woke up with all the excitement of young scientists getting to break into a shiny new chemistry set. We started the brewing process. First, we boiled 1.5 gallons of water in a 12-qt stock pan. Then we took it off the heat, and stirred in 6 pounds of amber malt and 1.5 ounces of hops (we're making a red ale - I nominate we call it New Year Beer, the Professor wants to call it Maiden Voyage Ale). Returning the mixture to the heat, we let it boil and reduce for one hour. Then, we mixed in the last 0.5 ounce of hops and enough spring water to reach 5 gallons. We mixed the liquid over the tub, just in case. Crisis, and spills, averted, we let the mixture sit to cool to room temperature (4-5 hours). Then we added a packet of Dry Ale Yeast and stored it away for the fermenting magic to begin. The waiting game should take a few days, but let's be honest, we'll be vigilantly checking the container to see how everything is progressing. Updates will be coming soon - any other ideas for a name?