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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

menu plan for the week (11/14/11)

Monday:  I made dinner and I don't like to cook, so I did leftovers and stuff I can do in the microwave.  We had egg salad with homemade bread, along with spaghetti squash and baked potatoes.  Just cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds, put some wet paper towels on it, and microwave for about 15-20 minutes.  Potatoes just need to be poked by a fork several times, wrapped in wet paper towels, and microwaved.  Our microwave actually has a baked potato button (I can't believe some grocery stores sell individually wrapped and labeled potatoes for microwaving - any potato can be microwaved).

Tuesday: Jaimie made chicken tenders, leftover spaghetti squash & rice.

Wednesday:  With a sick girl, we went out to eat for lunch after her doctor's appointment.  With a lot of leftovers, we're having that for dinner. 

Thursday:  Wild rice soup.  It's quick and we're leaving town. 

Friday to Sunday we're out of town for a wedding, so out to eat for each of those days.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brewing extravaganza - mead making part 3

This is the last racking in the mead-making process.  Your mead is in the carboy and you need to get it into bottles (unless you are keeping it in the tapper bucket).  Of course, you sanitize your bottles.  You can either use bottles with caps that are attached or ones that you'll cork.  The ones with the caps are a bit more expensive, but can be used for beer too, and you don't need to buy corks or a corker.  Most people will give you their used wine bottles though (read: free) and corks aren't too expensive, so it's great for gift-giving or just because you prefer to have a full wine bottle rather than a 16 oz. bottle.

If you are transferring from tapper to bottle, you can just fill the bottles that way (though it's much more difficult to see where the sediment ends).  From a carboy, you'll need to bring out and sanitize your siphon tube.  I like to put my (sanitized) bottles in a sanitized baking dish.  More than a few fit in there and then the mead that may spill into the dish rather than on your floor.  If you've got a pressure release system, then there's less dripping, or you could just bend your tube.

Either cap the bottles or cork them.  If you are planning on corking them, you'll need a corker.  The floor corkers are the easiest to operate and takes less strength, especially if you are going to cork often, but it is the most expensive choice too.

Label them and share with friends.

Brewing extravaganza - mead making part 2

After your mead stops bubbling, you'll need to rack it into either another bucket or a carboy.  I like it in a carboy because you can see it in all its loveliness.  If you want to drink it strait from a tapper bucket, you could just rack it into that.  The purpose of racking is to get all the sediment (dead yeast, old fruit, etc) out.  You want a clear product.  Racking it can get the yeast going again, so you'll want to leave it in the second racking (carboy or bucket) for awhile again.  Otherwise, you could use potassium sorbate if you want to stop it (but I generally don't add it).  However, if you decide to bottle it and it's still fermenting, there's the potential to blow the corks out or the bottoms off, or maybe it might just be fizzy.  (If you have bottled some and the corks are leaking honey, or some have blown, then you'll want to put them in the fridge and drink them quickly.)

First, sanitize all you equipment.
If you had a bag or fruit in there, remove the bag or as much of the fruit as you can with a straining spoon.  Save your fruit for smoothies or something.  Now, take your siphon tube and get it going.  You can either get a pump one or one that you have to start the suction yourself.  (This is a great time for a taste test).  Allow the mead to flow from the bucket to the carboy, avoiding letting the sediment from the bottom get into the tube by pulling out the tube when you've got as much of the clear mead as you can in the tube.  Put the airlock back on and allow it to sit for awhile again (a month or two or however long it takes you to get to it). 

Only one more step until you are enjoying your home brewed mead.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brewing extravaganza - mead making part 1

Yesterday we had some friends and family over who wanted to learn how to brew, both mead and beer.  Jaimie is better at beer making and I do more of the mead. One group of people just wanted to watch the mead process.  Another group wanted to brew both mead and beer, but started their yeast "smack pack" a little late (for the refrigerated yeasts, you are to wait at least 3 hours before pitching it). I am grateful that my friend taught me how to brew, because it is a lot of fun and the end result is delicious.

The first three rules of brewing are:
1) Sanitize
2) Sanitize
3) Sanitize

Mead-making 101:

Supplies needed:  5-6 gallon food-grade bucket with lid (the lid must have a 1/2 inch hole to fit the airlock.  Brew stores sell in both sizes); an airlock (also called an s-tube for ones that look like an S, but not all do) & cap; canning kettle (or some other large pot); long stir stick; floating thermometer; siphon tubes; second bucket or carboy with a lid and airlock; bottles; corks; corker; hygrometer (optional - if you want to measure your alcohol content).   For sanitizing, you could boil everything, which would be time-consuming.  Most brewers will buy some powdered sanitizer (the brand we usually use is One-Step) and just add that to water.

Brew stores would have all of those supplies (maybe not the canning kettle), though you could buy 5-gallon buckets at the hardware store and drill your own hole in the lid (You do want a 6-gallon bucket if you are going to use fruit).  The brew store will have the grommet to fit the lid, and you could save some dough that way.  It's the start-up costs that are expensive.

Mead is, legally, a wine.  It's a honey-based wine that's easy to brew.  They sell it at some liquor stores but not in many varieties of flavors, and it's rather expensive considering you can make a batch on the cheap.  All you need is water, honey & yeast.  Everything else is flavoring, additives for controlling it to prolong or stop the process, or up-selling.  For a five gallon batch (the most common batch size in this house), you start with one gallon of water.  Heat that up on the stove and add one gallon of honey (12 lbs, or 16 cups).  If your honey has crystallized, that's okay.  Honey doesn't really ever go bad.  I mean, it does, but it won't go bad till long after we're all dead.  Did you know that they found honey is the pyramids that was still good?  So don't worry if your honey is "old." There's no honey that's too old for eating or mead-making. 

Melt that honey into the water.  If you want your honey to take center stage in your mead, just warm it.  You just need to get all the honey melted.  There are some great flavors of honey, depending on where the bees went.  Some friends had some sage honey that made a lovely mead.  White Tupelo is the most expensive, but wonderfully tasty, honey.  Orange blossom honey would make a great mead.  Commonly, the brew stores sell wildflower honey, which is also good.  If you are going to add flavoring to your mead, I'd buy the cheapest honey available, generally an amber blend, because the flavor will overpower the subtleties in the honey and it won't be worth the extra cost. We buy our honey from a local apiary and we buy it in bulk - 10 gallons at a time - and that lasts us about a year. 

If you are flavoring your mead, go ahead and get that honey pasteurized, stirring it for 10 minutes or so (don't allow it to boil).  You also don't want to just leave it on the heat without stirring, because you'll end up with honey burnt on the bottom of your pot.  Again, if not flavoring, just get it to melt or you could lose some of the flavor (not that the mead would be bad at all though).  

Now that you've got 2 gallons on the stove (1 gallon of water to one gallon of honey), put that in your sanitized bucket.  This bucket is called your primary.  (The carboy is the secondary, followed by bottling.  Each time you move it, you are racking it).  You want to bring down your temperature of the honey water to what it says on your yeast packet.  If using a smack-pack, then you'll have waited the 3+ hours.  If using a dry yeast, you would put that in lukewarm water and let those babies come alive.  At least one person we know likes to use pineapple juice to get the little beasties going, because yeast loves sugar.

To get the 2 gallons to cool down, you start adding more water.  Add another 3 gallons.  I find that if I just put in cold water then it gets down to the temp needed. Keep your thermometer in there and read it as you add.  You can always wait a bit for the temp to lower, but if you need it higher then you've got to heat some of it back up, or add more (more water won't damage the mead, but the recipe is really for 5 gallons).  Once it's at the right temp (generally 109 to 114 for the dry yeast), add the yeast.  You'll hear it called "pitching" the yeast, but really, it's just adding it to the honey water.

Then, you stir, almost frantically, with that same long stir stick you used on the stove, to aerate your mead.  Set a timer and do this 5-10 minutes.

Want flavoring?  It's easy enough.  It's worth experimenting because you really can't easily screw it up.
You can add a 4 oz. bottle of flavoring from a store (4 oz. will flavor one 5-gallon batch).  You could even mix and match half of a bottle with a half of another flavor.  The brew store has many flavors, but I've found some exciting flavors at the Asian market too.  You can add before or after stirring.

You can add frozen juice concentrate.  It MUST be 100% juice.  You'll need 4 cans of it for your 5-gallon batch.  Thaw it out and add it in before stirring.

You can add 10-15 lbs. of fruit.  (If you add fruit, you really want to use a 6 gallon bucket so that it doesn't bubble through your airlock and get fermented fruit everywhere).  For cleanliness sake, we add after stirring.  (Bonus: you can use the fruit in smoothies or such when done with it in the primary).

You can add herbs or flowers.  We sew a sachet of lavender and add that in before stirring.  Lavender mead is delicious. 

Put your (sanitized) lid and airlock on the bucket. Fill your airlock.  A lot of sites or stores will tell you to fill the airlock with water but we fill it with vodka.  It's sterile and anything that makes it into the capped tube will not be making it into the bucket.  You want to keep all hair, dust, etc out of there.

Put your bucket in a warm enough place to let it sit and ferment.  You don't have to leave the heat on high for it, but you don't want to put it in your cold basement either (that will make the yeast go dormant and you will end up with them waking when the bottles are left out, leaving exploding bottles and stickiness all over).  When you no longer hear bubbling (a few weeks, a couple months, whenever you eventually get to it), you are ready for part 2.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Menu plan for the week (11/6/11)

Monday:  Egg foo young.  Jaimie makes this taste good, even though I've never liked it before.  Plus, we didn't use as many eggs as we thought we would last week and we've got a lot to use up.

Tuesday: Soup with winter melon.  We bought some winter melon at the Asian market.  I thought that it would be sweet like a regular melon.  Looking it up online, it is not sweet and is meant for soups and such.  So, we'll make up something with it, likely along with the onions we got.  Like anything else, it'll be an experiment.

Wednesday: Quinoa and acorn squash

Thursday: Spaghetti squash, rice and lamb.  I cannot believe how tasty the spaghetti squash was last time with just some butter.  Normally I would use it like pasta (hence the name), but I like it as a side too.

Friday: Leftover lamb, carrots & purple potatoes.  We didn't do so well on growing potatoes this year but we got a few purple ones that I'm excited to eat.  We'd had them roasted once before.  I don't know whether we'll roast them with the carrots, or mash them.  Either way, they'll be tasty.

Saturday: We've got company coming and not much time for cooking.  I think we'll have a whole chicken, baked potatoes, and a veggie yet to be determined.  It takes time to do the chicken, but once it's in you just let it go, so it doesn't take too much effort.

Sunday:  We'll be brewing on the 13th, so we'll figure out something quick from the freezer (leftovers of some sort likely).

spelt tortillas with dinner tonight

Tonight I tried out my tortilla press.  You've got to use plastic (like a cut plastic bag) on both sides of the press.  Don't use wax paper because it'll stick.  We learned the hard way.

I had some spelt flour that I've been waiting to use on something but wasn't sure what to do with it.  I'd read that it doesn't tend to be as lofty of a loaf if used in bread, but tortillas are supposed to be flat so I figured I'd try it on that.  The tortillas obviously don't come out as perfectly round as you get in the store, but they were still good.  I would have liked it if I'd gotten them a little more flat.  With them being slightly thicker, we thought that we could probably make pitas with the same recipe and it would hold its shape.

Jaimie made something tasty to fill the tortillas. He used chicken breasts, dried peppers and dried tomatoes from our garden, a bunch of seasonings from the cupboard and a little of whatever was in the fridge.  It turned out fabulous.  We had that along with some fried plantains with jalapeno jelly for dipping.