Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cider Update

We pulled a bottle of cider today, chilled it and gave it a try.  The amount of carbonation from the bottle ferment is spectacular.  The taste is clean, but a little yeasty as there is still a haze from the bottle frement.  It has gone to pretty (not perfectly) dry again, which I found refreshing, but Betsy was a little disappointed as she wanted some residual sweetness.  I think this batch is going to be worth the effort with a nice acid balance and a sharp dry apple taste that lasts through the finish.

No pictures as we've mislaid the camera cable :?( and the Olympus chip is such an odd size it won't fit any of my card readers.  New cable should be her in a few days.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ensouplapedia – An alphabet of soups

I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen the phrase “soup season” or some variation tossed out in the past month, but it was plenty to know we aren’t the only ones that feel that way.  Something about the dark and gloom of post holiday winter.  It’s like when the first exciting snowfall of the season turns into piles of gritty, icy snow in the back corners of parking lots.  You’re just ready for Spring but it is still a couple months before any real semblance of spring will appear.
We tend to hole up and cook a lot more soups and stews.  One recent stormy Sunday we were browsing the blogs looking for new recipes to try.  Staggered by the volume of amazing soup recipes we uncovered, Ensouplapedia was born.  Enjoy~

 A – Armenian Red Kidney Bean Soup: Adelina’s (My Tasty Handbook’s) soup features kidney beans, carrots and celery simmered in a tomato and red pepper base, seasoned with parsley and cilantro.  Accompanied by pita chips it looks like summer in a bowl.   Vegan and low carb it also looks like a great option after all the heavy holiday food we’ve consumed.

B – Bacon, Pumpkin, Leek  and White Bean Soup : I know, you’re thinking “Wait a minute, that post starts with Pumpkin, How come its ‘B’?”  If of course you are a proper adherent to the cult of bacon you’ll quickly realize that in any recipe containing bacon, bacon takes precedence by default.  Gareth (Stumptown Savoury) blends the four titular ingredients with white wine, sage and an engaging voice to create a thick mouth watering soup.

C- Coconut Curry Chicken Soup:  We love Thai curry so this soup from A Couple in the Kitchen seemed a winner  for ‘C’.  Coconut curry broth laced with shredded chicken, rice noodles and a cup of Cilantro comes together to make this tasty soup.  I love cilantro almost (but not quite) as much as I love bacon.  

D – Spicy Chicken with Ditalini and Basil Soup:  Some letters you just know are going to be hard, take Q &  X for example.  Who’d have thought D would be a problem child?  Fortunately we found this recipe by Molly and Connor McDonald posted  by Boston Food Rules  that looks divine and delicious (two more D words) so we were set.  The recipe is fairly involved, roasting a chicken and making stock before we even get to the Ditalini soup part.  Not a quick and easy, but it looks like it would be a worthy way to kill a dark winter day.  This recipe is also in a New England Soup Competition, so you can stop by and vote for it if you have a spare moment.

E – Cream of Fava Bean and Edamame with Poached Quail Eggs:  We like Edamame – munching them hot out of the bowl while swigging cold Nigori sake.   They came to our rescue for the letter E too with this exquisite looking cream soup by Citronetvanille featuring edamame and fava beans pureed with onion, garlic and crème fraiche and garnished with tiny poached quail eggs.

F – Fennel and Winter Squash SoupIsabelle’s (Mahna Mahna)writing style and her soup making style both resonate with me.  This serendipitous melding of on-hand ingredients makes a warm and comforting looking soup and our entry for F.

G – Giouvarlakia: I always enjoy EatGreek’s post as they are very approachable, but usually something completely new to me.  Giovarlakia, meatballs in an egg, lemon soup (or sauce – you be the judge) certainly fits that and has been added to my “need to try this” list.

H- Herbed croutons on Carrot & Leek Soup:  The picture was one of the first things that grabbed me on this post by The Mom Chef.  It just looks thick and rich and warm, with crunchy croutons crying out for attention.  We love carrots and leeks together and often make creamed vegetable soups, so this was a natural to add to our list.  Many of The Mom Chef’s posts glean interesting recipes from current cooking magazines, and give them a real world test.   This one she brings to us from the December 2010 / January 2011 issue of Fine Cooking.

I – Italian Cabbage, Ham and Potato Soup:  This stew-like soup is cries out comfort, with a mix of root vegetables, cabbage and ham slow cooked in a crockpot.  Like many of Claudia’s (Pegasuslegends) posts the recipe is accompanied by great pictures, a little background and lots of comments from her readers.

J- Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Sage Croutons:  The actual title of this post by Victoria (Food Mission)is “This Soup Will Change Your Life”.  A creamed soup of Jerusalem Artichoke, leek, fennel and celery seasoned with pancetta looks amazing.  My wife was helping me pick recipes and when she ran across this one, she piped up, I’ve got J! – can we make it this weekend?

K- Korean Beansprout Soup with Clam 'Kong Na Mul Guk' :  We’ve got a K in Korean and English for this soup.  It caught my eye because of its simple elegance.  Reading through Phoebe Chung’s post provides an illustrated step-by-step guide to making this dish.  It also raises questions?  How do the bean sprouts make the soup taste bad if you open the lid before it comes to a boil?  I have no idea and I find that fascinating.  Phoebe has also done a great video of the process also available on her post.

L- Lentil Sausage Soup:  Liren of Kitchen Confidante makes an adaptation of Ina Garten’s lentil  soup and it sounds like the perfect dish for a rainy day, whether you’re in San Francisco or Portland (or wherever).  You can almost taste her photos.

M – Slow-cooked Minestrone:  I knew we wanted to use a minestrone for M, so after browsing through a lot of great posts, we chose Cassie Marie’s version.  In addition to a nice recipe, she has also offered tips for cooking it around a busy schedule.

N- Noodle Soup, Chicken :  We couldn’t  think of a more classic soup that chicken noodle.  It’s the quintessential comfort soup.  Luna’s unique Asian spin on this classic is both homey and exotic in the same bowl.

O- French Onion Soup:  Onions and broth and a little cheesy goodness broiled on top.  Priscilla – She’s Cooking does an excellent blog on this soup.  She takes elegant looking recipes and makes them approachable enough that you wouldn’t mind tackling them on a week night.  This recipe looks pretty straight forward, but the results look 4 star.

P- Parsnip and Sweet Potato Bisque:  This hearty root bisque by Dish By Trish has garnered a lot of attention.  Check it out and you’ll see why (and it’s not just the giveaway).  Trish is a Registered Dietician and focuses on the winning combination of good nutrition, taste and presentation.

Q- Quinoa and Spinach Soup:   I thought it was going to be queso, but quinoa ruled the day.  This was one of several soups from Vegetarian Times that Rockin The Stove tried and documented in this post. 

R- Rustic Tomato Soup with Toasted Cumin and Mini Rajas:  Betsy asked me “Rustic? Really?  You’re kind of reaching there” but after she read the recipe, she agreed that this post by Christopher Ranch Garlic was a great add.  The combination or tomatoes, chilies and spices looks enticing and rajas starts with R too.  I’m just saying.

S- Spicy Curried Butternut Squash Soup:  Going for the triple letter score here.  This post by Taste With The Eyes looks yummy, but it was really the presentation that clinched it.  I love to make soup and it usually get slopped into a bowl and consumed.  I don’t have the patience or dinner ware for fancy delivery, but I really appreciate the artists that can take food to that next level with an elegant presentation. 

T- Hearty Tuscan Soup:   As Mr. & Mrs. P point out, the right ingredients can transport you.  Their Tuscan soup features Cannellini beans, Italian sausage, veggies and greens, spiced with sunny summer flavors of oregano, rosemary and lemon.  Their post walks you through the preparation of this quick and hearty soup.

U- Thai Chicken Udon:  This Asian inspired soup by Linda’s Yummies  looks delish and exotic, the perfect thing on a gray, cold winter day.  Daring spices, homey chicken, veggies, noodles and umami packed Shitake mushrooms, need I say more?  If Asian noodle soups appeal to you, this is a post worth spending a few minutes on.

V- Vegetable Soup with Chorizo:  Vegetable soup owns the letter V, the question is, which one would be the ambassador to the Ensouplapedia?  The answer, WildeintheKitchen’s version featuring Chorizo.  The first thing that grabbed me was that there is more stuff than soup and I find that admirable in a soup.  The addition of the sausage also give it a unique spin so here it is.

W- Wonton Soup & My Mothers Wonton Soup:   Ok, I couldn’t decide between these two, so throw me a bone.  I’m a huge fan of Asian dumplings in all their forms, wonton soup included.  The first of these two offerings is by Ryan Boudreaux,  Cajun Chef Ryan and while it isn’t recent, it features a great recipe and the friendly charm of all his posts.  Joylicious offers a beautiful Wonton soup with a great back story and fantastic photos.

X- Sup Ca Chua Dau Xanh (Vietnamese Green Bean and Tomato Egg Drop Soup):   X was the hardest letter in our alphabet soup.   I don’t speak Vietnamese, so I have no idea what the Xanh stands for, but it is soup and it has a prominent X.  This post by Wandering Chopsticks looks delicious.  None of the ingredients are too exotic, but the outcome looks spectacular.

Y- Yummy Wild Mushroom Soup:  OK, I was reaching on this one but if you’ve read my blog much, you’ve probably figured out that I love mushrooms, so I decided  “y not”.  Shirley (Blackswan) takes an interesting tack on cream of mushroom soup that looks yummy and could be easily tweaked depending on the mushrooms you have available.

Z- Zuppa di Porri:  I always enjoy Frank’s (Franfajr)posts on Memorie di Angelina, and he came through with a perfect  Z to wrap things up.  Zuppa di Porri is a leek soup.  Like so much great Italian cooking it focuses on bringing out the true essence of a few simple ingredients.  We love leeks and grow several rows of them in our garden right next to the Roman Chicory.  We’ve already finished off ours so I’ll be picking up a few more to try this recipe soon.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Hard Cider - America's Underdog Home Brew

Hard cider is an underappreciated underdog in America. There was a time when it was a beverage of choice, going toe-to-toe with beer and outstripping wine. Our population was predominantly rural and everybody had apple trees around the place. It was a great way to save the harvest and produce a tasty drink that wasn’t liable to give you polio or dysentery the way the water of the time might.
I believe prohibition and the urbanization of the country were the 1-2 punch that set cider back. It is beginning a resurgence with the import of European labels and drafts and the growing number of artisanal ciderys springing up across the country. The biggest detractor is that many of the mass market ciders regularly available aren’t much more than apple flavored wine coolers.

Ciders come in a variety of styles from fully dry to very sweet, still or carbonated, and ranging from 2% to 12% alchohol. Like a wine, the cider is dependent on the fruit it is made from, but the finished product bears the signature of the maker, with the handling, choice of yeasts, decisions on oaking and aging all coming into play.

As a home project, cider is more forgiving than beer, and quicker than wine, and can yield a result that is imminently drinkable. Our biggest problem is that making it in 3-5 gallon batches, we are always running out.

This batch of cider started out on Thanksgiving weekend with 3 gallons of an acidic blend of unpasteurized cider grown in Zillah Washington, and pressed and bottled in Gervias, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. While it tasted refreshingly tart, there was enough sugar to reach 6% alcohol, but it was masked by the acidity. That’s a good thing, because without a strong acid backbone, cider tends to come out tasting insipid. Typically a 3-4 Ph is where you want to be.
We sterilized a 5 gallon food grade bucket, poured in the cider and added some sodium metabisulphate which “sterilizes” the cider, getting rid of any native yeasts that are present. We let it sit for 24 hours covered with a Tea towel allowing the sulphur compounds to dissipate. Apples are high in pectin which can lead to a cloudy finished product. Pasteurized cider is worse as the heat treatment changes the pectin causing it to be more likely to stay in suspension. I added Pectic Enzyme which will react with the pectin and cause it to precipitate more easily. I also added a touch of powdered tannin to boost the tannic mouth feel in the finished cider. Finally we added the yeast and let it go.

The yeast you choose has a surprising impact on the finished product. Ale yeasts produce something of a beery quality that I tend to equate to some of the English scrumpy style ciders. Use of a white wine yeast like Montrachet produces a more winey cider something like a Saxon Hausen Apfelwein from Germany. For this batch, we chose a Wyeast Laboratories Dry Mead yeast. Why? Because we’d never used it before and I wanted to see what it would do.

We let the primary ferment go for a week or so until it began to taper off. At that point we siphoned the cloudy juice off of the sludge of yeast and apple waste in the bottom of the bucket and into a 3 gallon glass carboy. Since I wasn’t making this in an oak barrel I added a tablespoon of toasted oak chips to the cider and let the slow ferment continued for another week. At that time obvious fermentation had stopped and we were totally dry, all of the sugar converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

At the end of December, the cider had cleared and was a beautiful amber-straw color. It was time to bottle.

As with all things fermenty, cleanliness is next to goodlyness. I picked out 30 12 oz. beer bottles, inspected them for cracks, chips or encrusted gook inside and then washed them in the dishwasher on sani-rinse. I then soaked them in an ammonia bath to further eradicate any unwanted microbes, then triple rinsed each bottle to get rid of any hint of ammonia or soap.

We siphoned the cider off the lees, the mat of expended yeast and pectin on the bottom of the jug, into a sterilized and triple rinsed 5 gallon bucket. We then tasted it and found that it had good balance, a nice apple component, a subtle vanilla-caramel aspect from the light oaking, and no off flavors. It was hard dry with no residual sugar. We decided to add apple cider concentrate to re-introduce a hint of sweetness which accentuates the apple and makes it more identifiable. It will also allow for a little secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce carbonation. We filled the bottles, capped them and I’ll leave them in the house where they are warm for a few days to help induce the secondary fermentation, then transfer them to a case in the garage which this time of year is about like a fridge. We’ll start checking them in a couple weeks and we’ll be enjoying a little bottled summer during the dark, wet days of February.