Sunday, August 26, 2007

August In Review

We are off on a three week road trip, so the August photo collage comes a few days early:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fancier Photo Collages

I recently added some new functionality to my photo collage generator. It now has mouse-over selection of the individual photo elements. Clicking one brings up a larger image with a recipe title. Clicking the enlarged image closes it, and clicking the recipe title shows the full-size picture.

I have updated the "July In Review" collage with the new features.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the Importance of Late Extract Addition

Update: While late extract addition is a very important technique, particularly with all-extract brewing, going to partial mash makes much more of a difference. You can check out our partial mash IPA post here.

In an earlier post on San Diego Pale Ale, we mentioned our progression toward brewing a beer in this style. The other day, we opened up bottles of each of our four batches in this series to compare taste and color. Above, you can see the color progression from our first batch on the left to our most recent on the right.

Batch #1. Our first attempt. It was made pretty much directly from an American IPA recipe we got from Home Brew Mart. It used all liquid light malt extract and Centennial hops both during the boil and for dry hopping. The yeast was White Labs Burton Ale Yeast. The beer came out darker than we would have liked, and had a caramelized malty overtone to the taste. Not a problem if you were trying to make a nut brown ale, but we were after an IPA.

Batch #2. We noticed that a number of the beers we really liked were featuring two relatively new hop varieties: Simcoe and Amarillo. In fact, the two varieties are the duo in Alpine's Duet, one of my absolute favorites. For this batch, we switched hops from Centennial to a pretty even mix of Simcoe and Amarillo. Additionally, to try to combat the dark color, we used a lighter crystal malt for steeping (20L instead of 40L). The beer did come out lighter, although not significantly so. In terms of style, we really like the different in aroma that we got from the new hops, but the taste was still overpowered by the maltiness (we've since used it to cook Beer-Braised Lamb Shanks, which worked great).

Batch #3. Figuring that we had the hops down, we decided to really try to combat the dark color in this batch. Doing some research, we found out about late extract addition. The idea is that your malt extract has already been boiled - it just needs to be brought up to temperature long enough for sanitation. The boiling period is primarily for hop extraction, so in order to avoid over-caramelization of the wort, you add the majority of the malt extract near the end of the boil. In addition to using late extract addition for this batch, we also switched from liquid malt extract to dried. I find that liquid extract tends to impart a certain "home brew" taste to the beer. Additionally the dried malt extract starts out lighter in color, so combined with the late addition we were hopeful. The final difference was switching to White Labs California Ale Yeast. The result: a much lighter beer, and the first one we were really happy with.

Batch #4. For this batch, the idea was to perfect the recipe and further improve upon what we were already happy with in the previous batch. We added an extra pound of dried malt extract to go for a more high alcohol beer (I find that my favorite examples of this style fall in the 7-8% range) and we were even more aggressive with the late extract addition, adding nearly all of it at knockout, off the heat. Finally, we went even more overboard with our dry hopping, adding a bunch more Simcoe and Amarillo several days before bottling.This batch came out even better than #3, and we are looking forward to seeing how it changes with age. The full recipe for this beer can be found at the bottom of this post.

Above, you can see batches 1 and 4 compared. They taste like two completely different beers. Interestingly, the first two batches taste much more alike than either tastes like batches 3 or 4. This despite the switch to our current hop varieties of choice for batch two. It seems that the flavor of the hops just can't shine through if the beer is over-caramelized. It also seems likely that the switch in yeast to California Ale from the more English-style Burton may have been significant as well.

Tasting and trying to photograph the four batches was an evening of beer mayhem. This is what the aftermath looked like:

Batch #4
45 minute boil; very late malt extract addition; lots of dry hopping.
8 lb Briess Golden Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)
1/2 lb 10L Crystal Malt
1/4 lb Carapils
1/4 lb Biscuit malt
White Labs California Ale Yeast
4 oz Amarillo Hop Plugs (9.5% AA)
4 oz Simcoe Hop Plugs (13.2% AA)
1 tablet Whirlfloc
4 1/2 oz corn sugar (for bottle priming)

Hop Schedule:
1/2 oz Simcoe & 1/4 oz Amarillo at 45-30 minutes
3/4 oz Simcoe & 3/4 oz Amarillo at 30-15 minutes
1/2 oz Simcoe & 3/4 oz Amarillo at 15-0 minutes
1/4 oz Simcoe & 1/4 oz Amarillo at 0 minutes
1 oz Simcoe & 1 oz Amarillo dry hop
1 oz Simcoe & 1 oz Amarillo late dry hop

Heat 3/4-gallon water to 170 degrees and remove from heat. Place the grains (10L Crystal, Carapils and Biscuit) in a steeping bag and let steep in the hot water for 30 minutes. Add the steeping liquid to the brew pot and rinse the grain bag with 2 cups hot water over the brew pot.

Add 2 1/4 gallons water to the pot and bring to a boil. Off the heat, add 1 pound DME and stir until dissolved. Return to a boil and add hops bit by bit, according to the schedule.

At time zero, remove from heat and add remaining DME one pound at a time, stirring to dissolve. Stir in 1 tablet whirlfloc. Cover and let sit 15 minutes to pasteurize the DME.

Move brew pot to an ice bath and cool quickly to under 80 degrees. Transfer wort to a primary fermenter, straining most of the hops. Add water to reach the 5 gallon mark. Swirl vigorously then pitch the yeast.

Ferment in primary for 7 or 8 days, then transfer to secondary and dry hop with 1 ounce Simcoe and 1 ounce Amarillo. After 10 days in secondary, add the remaining Simcoe and Amarillo hops. Bottle after a total of 14 days in secondary (boil the priming sugar in 1 cup water before adding).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mu Shu Pork with Mandarin Pancakes

Back when Sherry and I first started dating at UCSD (I was a grad student and she worked in a neurobiology lab) I was starting to teach myself how to cook Chinese food with the help of a copy of the Sunset Chinese Cook Book. One day we decided to attempt what was then a somewhat daunting task - cooking Mu Shu Pork with Mandarin Pancakes out of said cookbook. Despite our trepidation, it came out great. More than ten years later we now have a lot more Asian cookbooks, but we still have that first one - yellowing pages stained with cooking sauces. And we are still making Mu Shu Pork from that same recipe.

First the Mandarin Pancakes. While we will admit to using flour tortillas instead when we are being lazy, it really does taste much better with these pancakes. The secret to getting them thin to the point of being semi-translucent is the special rolling out technique. First you roll out 3 inch rounds and then you brush them with sesame oil and stick them together in pairs.

After rolling out the stuck-together pairs even thinner, you quickly cook them and then gently peel the two halves apart.

The result is super-thin pancakes that would have been difficult or impossible to achieve without the stick-together technique.

The Mu Shu itself is a simple stir-fry with really fun flavors, both savory and a little sweet. Obtaining dried black fungus and dried lily buds (also called golden needles) can be difficult if you don't have an Asian market handy, but once you get a supply they keep basically forever. An easily procured, seemingly pedestrian but absolutely essential component is iceberg lettuce. Sliced into thin shreds and then cooked up with the sauce, the lettuce is transformed into a whole new beast - somewhat silky, slightly crunchy, and very satisfying.

Stir-fried with matchstick pieces of pork, carrot and bamboo shoots, everything comes together with the addition of some soft-cooked egg.

Time to eat! Take a pancake, spread on some hoisin, add green onion and some of the Mu Shu mixture, roll it up, eat, repeat.

Mu Shu Pork

Adapted from Sunset Chinese Cook Book

1/3 cup dried lily buds
4 dried black fungus or 4 medium-sized dried mushrooms
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1/2 pound boneless lean pork, cut in matchstick pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons salad oil
8 green onions
3 eggs, lightly beaten (with 1/4 teaspoon salt)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots, cut in matchstick pieces
1 small carrot, shredded
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
Hoisin sauce

For the cooking sauce:

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak the lily buds and black fungus in warm water for 30 minutes while preparing the remaining ingredients. When softened, drain the lily buds, then cut off and discard any hard tips. Drain the black fungus, then cut it into thin slices. Discard any hard, knobby parts (or mushroom stems if using).

In a small bowl, combine the cooking sauce ingredients and set aside. Cut the green onions into 1 1/2-inch pieces, then into long shreds. Set aside half of the green onion slivers for serving at the table.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When hot, add the eggs, stir gently and cook until the eggs are just softly set. Remove from pan and set aside.

Increase the heat to high and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the ginger, followed by the pork and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes or until the pork is lightly browned. Stir in the lily buds and black fungus. Cook about 1 minute, then add the bamboo shoots, carrot, lettuce, green onions and cooking sauce. Continue to stir-fry until the lettuce just begins to wilt, 1-2 minutes.

Break the scrambled eggs into bite-sized pieces and return them to the pan. Mix through, then transfer the Mu Shu to a warm serving bowl. Serve immediately with hoisin sauce, shredded green onion and Mandarin Pancakes.

Mandarin Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
Approx. 2 tablespoons sesame oil

Place the flour into a bowl and pour in the boiling water. Mix with a fork or chopsticks until it begins to hold together as a dough, then turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 5 minutes. The dough will become soft, satiny and easy to work with. Place in a plastic bag and let rest for 30 minutes.

Using your hands, roll the dough into a dowel about a foot long. Cut into 12 equal sized pieces, and set aside, covered.

Heat an ungreased frying pan over medium-high heat.

To make a pair of pancakes, cut a piece of dough exactly in half. Shape each half into a ball and flatten somewhat. With a rolling pin, roll both balls into 3-inch rounds. Brush the entire surface of one round with a little sesame oil, then place the second round on top. Press together, then roll out into a 6 or 7-inch pancake.

Cook the pancake-pair in the hot, dry frying pan, turning every 15 seconds, until the cake is poofy with air pockets and the surface is dry and parchment like (but do not overcook or they will lose their elasticity).

Remove from the pan and gently pull the two halves apart. Stack on a plate and keep covered while you repeat the process for the remaining pancakes.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

San Diego Pale Ale

San Diego is craft beer mecca. Local breweries like Alpine, Port Brewing, Green Flash, Ballast Point and Stone are putting out some amazing beers. Even more traditionally "brew-pubby" outfits like the La Jolla Brew House and the Coranado Brewing Company have jumped on the bandwagon recently and started producing some stand-out beers. We are lucky to live within stumbling distance of the Liars' Club, where we often get the chance to sample these great brews.

In particular, our favorite beer style is the west coast version of the American India Pale Ale. These beers are light in color, but big on flavor. Using tons of west coast hops (Simcoe and Amarillo being the current prominent varieties) gives not just the bittering element, but a wonderful floral and citrus character that comes out in both the aroma and the taste.

The style is quite different from IPAs brewed farther east (which tend to be darker and maltier), and those beers in turn are quite different from their British IPA cousins, which tend to be milder. The differences are pronounced enough to raise the question of whether we should even be calling these modern west coast ales IPAs at all.

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery has suggested that the style be dubbed San Diego Pale Ale. He was referring specifically to the Double IPA, but I think it applies equally well to the lower octane brews (maybe the higher alcohol beers in the style should be called San Diego Strong Ales). Some examples of the style that we really like include:

And there are some out-of-towners worth mentioning as well. Sonoma county is producing some great beers. Russian River Brewing Company's Vinnie Cilurzo (often credited as originating the Double IPA style when he was running Blind Pig Brewing Co. in Temecula) leads the charge with Pliny (both Elder and Younger). And Bear Republic's Racer 5 is one of our favorites.

But enough waxing poetic about other people's beer. The picture at the top of this post is the latest homebrew batch in our ongoing quest to brew a great San Diego Pale Ale. It is batch number 4, and it is pretty damn good. You can find the recipe here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Breakfast Pizza

We started making breakfast pizza years ago, so long ago that I don't remember how it came about. Our normal weekday breakfast fare is pretty simple: bagel or toast, maybe a quesadilla, served with fresh fruit and a double espresso. But occasionally we do something special, and one of our favorites is quick, fresh, personalized breakfast pizza (or two).

We make a really tasty uncooked pizza sauce right on the cutting board with tomato, garlic, fennel, oregano, salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne and a drizzle of olive oil. All that's needed is a sharp knife to chop it up and blend it together.

Toasted english muffins serve as a very satisfying pizza crusts, topped with an assortment of offerings then popped under the broiler until the cheese is melty and lightly browned.

This time we used goat gouda and mozzarella cheeses, crimini mushrooms, white onion and savory ham bits. Mmmmm, I'd eat breakfast pizza any day of the week...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

July In Review

Since starting this blog, we have been pretty good about taking pictures of our food. In the recipe management software I have been working on, we have a food log where we keep track of what we have made with links to the recipes. The recipes have photos attached to them, and I added a feature to show a photo carousel for all recipes for a given month.

With all of the pictures we have taken this month, the carousel started to get pretty crazy, so I added the ability to generate a photo collage. Here's July in review: