Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thoughts on Dark Days

I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about the Dark Days Challenge that is posted on (not so) Urban Hennery. I love the idea of cooking one fully local meal every week throughout the winter, but I realize that is an unpractical challenge for me right now. I did preserve some food from this summer (Potatoes, Carrots, Kale, Green Beans, Leeks, Blueberries, and Strawberries), but this, plus what I can get throughout the winter (mostly dairy, eggs and meat), really provides for a limited number of meals. With two small boys in the house, the fights that would ensue from forcing my family to eat what I concoct to fulfill this challenge simply is not worth the effort. With that said, I still want to use local ingredients throughout the winter AND use up what I have preserved. So here is my personal Dark days challenge:
  • Use local ingredients as the primary ingredients in 2 - 3 meals every week (until they run out)
Also, next summer I will definitely do a better job preserving so I can participate in the 4th anual challenge, but this is the most practical way for me to proceed. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happry Thanksgiving!

We are not fortunate enough to be hosting a thanksgiving this year, so I did not stress myself out fining all of the local ingredients I could find ...but I do imagine doing that during Christmas :)

I hope everyone is having a safe and happy thanksgiving and remembers the fact that we are celebrating the harvest and all that entails.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Labeling Beer

I now have a fleet of bottles of Home-brewed beer. Most of the Winter Ale is in 12 oz bottles, with a couple of 22's and 2 64 oz growlers. The Porter is mostly in 22's with a couple of 12 oz bottles and 2 growlers. Here are close-ups of the labels:

Based on initial taste tests, both are good, but the porter is definitely going to be better. Conversely, I think the Winter Ale label definitely came out better. If I was going to do this again, I would invest in enough growlers so that I would use very few smaller bottles. The 22's are a lot of beer to drink in one sitting, especially at 6% alcohol. The small bottles took a lot longer to fill than the 22's or growler.

In early December I will have to have a poker game/tasting party so I can get some unbiased feedback from my astute beer drinking friends.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Local Beer... well sort of

I decided that I wanted to give beer brewing a try. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Chris came over and helped me brew my first batch of beer. Chris has been brewing beer for years so he let me borrow all of the necessary equipment. All I needed to do was buy a kit with the necessary ingredient. I went to the Home Brew Emporium in West Boylston and bought a "Brewers Best Robust Porter" kit. It included: Instructions, 2 cans of Malt Extract, a bag of sugar, yeast, 2 packets of hops (Cluster bittering hops and Willamette flavoring hops), a 1lb bag of mixed grains (crushed crystal malt, black patent malt and chocolate malt), a mesh bag for steeping the grains, and 60 bottle caps.
The way you brew beer is first you steep the grains in a giant pot of water. We used a digital thermometer to make sure the steep was between 160 and 170 F for a hlaf an hour.
Then we removed the steeping bag, raised the temperature to poinling and threw in the bittering hops. After 50 minutes, we added the flavoring hops and the the two cans of Malt Extract. The instructions say to add the Malt when you start the boil, but Chris said that increases the risk of burning the sugars.

After another 10 minutes, we removed the pot from and then used a copper coil to rapidly cool the "wort" (which is what the mixture is called at this point).

Once the mixture gets down to around 120 F, we poured it through a filtering funnel to into a 6.5 gallon carboy (a big glass jug that looks like a watercooler bottle). We filled the carboy up to the 5 gallon mark with cool water (lowering the temp to under 90 F) and then "pitched" in the yeast. We then capped the carboy with a special cap that allowed the yeast to blow off the inital foam that is created from the initial carbonation.

Six days later, I siphoned carboy into a 5 gallon bucket and mixed in the remaining sugars. From this 5 gallon bucket, I bottled the beer. The day I bottled the beer I made a "Holiday Ale" with my own concoction: 1lb of Crystal Malt, 2 packets of Mt. Hood Hops, 2 cans of extra light malt, cinnamon sticks, ground nutmeg, and honey for the finishing sugars. They are both bottled and should be aged enough for drinking by the week of thanksgiving.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Musings about a Ground Meat Recall

As many may have read, there is currently a recall of ground meat sold in Massachusetts and other northeast states (see story This recall highlights meat sold at many different types of retailers: BJ's, Trader Joe's, Wild Harvest and Shaw's. In other words: big wholesaler, boutique grocer, "healthy" grocer, and bog-standard supermarket. What does this tell us about meat sold in America? Who can you trust?

E. Coli in meat (and other industrial raised foods) may be a symptom of a broken food system, but how well does the general public understand how to cure this problem? One could easily say to themself that this is an unavoidable risk of our modern industry. It is a cost of convinience, so no use fretting over this risk. Others could conclude that modern meat just can't be trusted and therfore vegetarianism is the only logical option. I thought about this as I stopped at Balance Rock Farm on my way home from work today. I know where my meat comes from. I know my family eats safe food because I have been to the farm where the meat was raised. Would USDA recalls be needed if everyone knew where their meat came from? Just a thought.