Saturday, April 9, 2016

Zero for Two

Well, I'm having the best of luck in the kitchen lately.  A little awhile ago, I made vinegar instead of the dark ale the recipe was for. So that's my adventures in brewing. During this time, I've also been canning food because that's a good way to save food. Especially useful with the amount of food we get from the food co-op. Tomatoes, pickles, and fruit jelly are the most common items to can. my last batch of jelly didn't turn out well. What you're supposed to do is mash the fruit with sugar to make a syrup and then the syrup is supposed to set as it goes into the jars. In this latest batch, the syrup never set and I don't know why. It's still strawberry syrup so it's not like the whole batch has to be thrown out. It's just one of those things that I'll have to try again with more berries some other time. Oh well.

Friday, January 29, 2016


For many reasons, I've decided to reduce how much food I waste.  I compost almost all of my kitchen scraps which then becomes soil to grow more vegetables in the garden.  I am also using more of everything, like getting a week's worth of meals from a single chicken.  Something I've started recently is roasting seeds.
Pumpkins and other gourds like squash make edible seeds and planting just a few can lead to a bountiful harvest. The remainder of the seeds can be roasted for a nutritious snack.  I've been doing it with every spaghetti squash I get from the food co-op and the effort is well worth it.

Step One

Sterilize everything... no, not really.  But I'll never retire a good running gag.  My first step to roasting seeds is to brine them.  Scoop out the pulp and seeds from the gourd.  Pumpkin, squash, sunflowers obviously, and even some melons yield seeds suitable for roasting.  
Wash and separate the seeds from the pulp.  Take the pulp out to the compost and soak the seeds in salt water.  Two cups of water to one tablespoon of salt is a good ratio but you can adjust this for taste.  You can even replace the table salt with a salt based flavoring like Old Bay.  Brining the seeds soaks flavor into the seed rather than sprinkling it on the surface after roasting.  
Soak the seeds any time from overnight to 24 hours or so.

Step Two

Before taking out the seeds, preheat the oven to 300 oF.  Now that the seeds have soaked overnight, drain and rinse the seeds and decide on a flavor.  The seeds will be damp after rinsing but don't pat them with paper towels; the seeds will stick to the towel.
I've found that the most effective way to flavor seeds is to toss them in a bag with flavoring.  Any powdered spice will work.  Remember they'll already be slightly salty from the brine.

  • Old Bay is a Chesapeake regional classic.
  • Go with Hatch, NM, chili powder for pepper heads like me.  
  • Garam masala makes an Indian inspired snack.
  • Use oregano and parmesan for Italian flavor.
  • Barbeque flavor can be yours with brown sugar, chipotle pepper, and ground cumin.
  • Or just leave the seeds brine salted.

Spread seeds evenly on a cookie sheet one layer thick.  If you have a lot of seeds, use several cookie sheets.
Roast the seeds for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step Three

Eat and enjoy.  Gourd and melon seeds are high in dietary fiber along with many essential minerals influenced by the soil they're grown in.  Roasted seeds are a very healthy snack and making them yourself lets you limit things like sodium that overwhelms store-bought snacks.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

India Dark Vinegar

Well, shit.  That didn't work.  I was brewing an India Dark Ale five gallon extract kit and something went wrong.  Maybe not wrong but not right.  Basically, the whole batch tastes like vinegar.  It's pretty gross.
It's my fault, too.  I got lazy and didn't secondary ferment or bottle on time.  Secondaries and bottling days don't have to be strictly on schedule.  You can push them back but don't let it go too long like I did.
So the end result is that I start this year and go into Febrewary with five gallons of extra hoppy vinegar.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I've been having a lot of fun with making mead at home but that's not the only alcohol I drink.  I'm also a big fan of flavored vodka.  Because the production of vodka involves distillation it isn't legal to make at home but it is legal to infuse flavor into vodka you purchase.

Vodka, if you weren't familiar with the recipe, is essentially wine made with potatoes and then run through a still.  The technical aspect is quite simple but there's a law against distilling alcohol by home brewers.  We can ferment it; we can't distill it.  In addition to vodka, the law takes other distilled alcohols like brandy and whiskey off the product lineup as well.

While distilling vodka from scratch isn't available, buying unflavored vodka off the shelf and infusing your own flavors into it is legal and super easy.  My girlfriend and I are members of a food co-op and occasionally have too much food.  Rather than let the fruit rot or toss it in the compost, I've taken to making infusions with it.  To do this yourself you'll need a half-gallon (roughly 2 L) empty growler, a 1.75 L bottle of vodka, and a handful of fruit.

First step, as in all home brewing operations, is to sanitize everything.  It isn't actually critical because you're not fermenting anything here but it's good shop practice.  Chop the fruit into pieces small enough to cram into the growler.  Some fruits, especially whole berries, need to be muddled to release their flavor.  Place your hand over the mouth of the growler and give it a good shake to lightly bruise the fruit.  Now pour in the vodka, cap the growler, and place it on a shelf out of your way.  Wash out the vodka bottle and save it.  Use a solid cap and not an airlock because, again, this is infusing and not fermenting.

The infusion should be complete in one week.  Give it a good stir to thoroughly distribute the flavor and pour off a sample.  If the flavor isn't strong enough, cap it and put it back on the shelf.  Check it again every couple of days until the alcohol has reached peak flavor.  When it's done infusing, pour the vodka back into its original bottle, straining out the fruit.  Keep the fruit though since it's now the same proof as the alcohol it was soaking in.

My first batch of blueberry was a big hit among my friends.  I have batches of melon, citrus, grape, and even apple cinnamon in the works.  Blackberries will be ripe around August and a peppermint infusion will be a big hit for the holidays.  Don't do pumpkin spice; just don't.

I've written this entire article specifying vodka as the alcohol but any unflavored drinking alcohol will work.  It's just that most other alcohols have a strong flavor of their own. Vodka is uniquely advertised on the basis of the purity of its distillation and is often the base for store-bought alcohols with novelty flavors.  Anyway, drink responsibly and enjoy a new dimension of alcohol.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It's Not Compelling

I've just completed a batch of mead following the recipe from Brewing Mead.  It's much better than the peach abomination I made last summer but it's still not as good as a commercial mead like Chaucer's.  The new technique to prep the honey paid off and the clarity is much better but my mead is quite dry.
Like I said in the previous article I made not mead but the more advanced metheglin.  The difference is the addition of a spiced tea before bottling.  I used Anaheim peppers from our local food cooperative.  The pepper tea reduced the clarity somewhat so I will need to work on processing the gruit.  Perhaps by extracting the flavor at a lower temperature.  I'll need a book on canning, I think.  Incidentally, the pepper pairs well with the dryness in this batch.  I think it is good but it's nothing like the mead you get at a Renaissance Fair.
Some time later, I'll try the sack mead recipe with more honey and sweet mead yeast.

Trademarks are the property of their respective owners and are used for example only and should not be taken as endorsement or advertisement. Please drink responsibly. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gizmo Likes Bread, Too

In the foreground is a loaf of the trencher bread I made.  In case you wanted to know what it looks like being eaten by a greedy cat.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Better Bread

My previous foray into bread making was not a resounding success.  Keeping with my new philosophy of follow the recipe, I found a few new bread recipes to try out.

First up is a simple two pound white bread recipe from a bread machine book.  Total easy mode.  Go out and get a bread machine and follow the basic white bread recipe.  Bread machines really make this easy but of course the ingredients can be combined in a mixing bowl and cooked in a regular oven just as easily.

Stepping it up, I found an historic beer bread recipe called trencher bread.  The ingredients include eight cups of rye flour, seven cups of spelt flour, and two cups of beer.  A half ounce of dry yeast is proofed into one cup of warm water.  I've talked about proofing yeast before.  The recipe finishes up with an additional quart of water and two tablespoons of salt.  My grocery store has many things but didn't have these varieties of flour but I found them at the food co-op.  To make this bread, mix the flours together and split off half of the mix to rise overnight with the beer, yeast, and water.  The rest of the flour gets salted and mixed back together the next day.  It rises and gets kneaded again and formed into almost a dozen small loaves which rise one last time before they're baked.  Of course, we should be able use our yeast starter to make an ale for the beer in this beer bread recipe.  I'll report back on how that goes.