Saturday, September 22, 2012

Brewing "The White House Honey Ale"

Beekeeping got a big bump after the Obamas installed beehives at the White House a couple years ago.  Recently word got out that the President had purchased beer making equipment and instructed his chefs to brew up ales incorporating honey.  The clamor from the wonky home brewing community for the recipes actually made national news.  Bowing to the "pressure," the White House staff posted a video and two recipes on their website.

As the resident brewer here at SteffesWood Apiary, I was assigned to test the Executive Branch's effort.  The Honey Ale is roughly equivalent to a British ESB (Extra Special Bitter), a full bodied amber beer with a 7% alcohol content.

New to brewing?  If you can make soup, you can brew beer, though you'll obviously require some specialized equipment that will run you $100-150.  A good tutorial on basic technique can be found at How to Brew.  Beginner's kits and ingredients can be purchased in the Pittsburgh area at one of South Hills Brewing's locations.  There are plenty of on-line sources available as well, including Northern Brewer Home Brew Supply, which has already put together an ingredients kit.
Here is the recipe from the White House website:

And here is how I brewed it:
All the ingredients
1.  A 3 gallon pot is MINIMUM. Bigger is better.  Boil overs are common if you are not careful. You don't need to use "sterile water" as the heat will do that. If you like the taste of your tap water, use that or bottled spring water. The crushed grains are steeped in a grain or hops bag.just like tea.  They add color and flavor but be careful not to overheat, steep too long or squeeze the bag dry.  Doing so can impart an unpleasant astringency from the tannins in the hulls.  Just like tea!
2.  Malt extract in both its forms is used.  You can add both now or just the dry stuff and add the liquid 15 minutes before the end of the boil.  Be careful to stir the liquid extract enough when added to put it in solution or it will burn on the bottom.
Steeping the grains
3.  The Kent Goldings hops are added when the boil starts. 45 minutes is the minimum time for the hops to give the brew (called "wort" at this stage)  enough bitterness to balance the malt.  The cooks screwed up here as they neglected to say when 1 oz. of the Fuggles hops gets added, so we're winging it already.  I added that errant ounce 10 minutes after the Goldings, figuring the ample fermentables in the recipe could use the extra balancing.  The Northern Brewer kit calls for the 1 oz. Fuggles addition at 15 minutes before the end of the boil.  The gypsum is used to harden and acidify the wort with the aim of "Burtonizing" the water.  This refers to the water used to brew Bass Ale, at Burton-on-Trent.  If your water is already hard, it is unnecessary.  I split the difference and used just 1 oz.
 A word of warning: don't let the pot out of your sight during the boil if you want to avoid a sticky mess on your stove!  Don't ask me how I know this!  Stir frequently.
plug hops (left) and leaf hops (right)
4.  The last 1/2 oz. of the Fuggles are added at the end of the boil to give the ale aroma and flavor without extra bitterness.  Note that I used leaf and plug hops in the grain/hops bag.  If you use pellets, you just leave them in the wort.
5.  I added the honey with the Fuggles as I wanted to preserve the delicate aromatics of that fine SteffesWood honey as much as possible.  My experience with brewing is that honey does not contain any microbes that will spoil the beer so it doesn't need to be sterilized.
cooling wort in ice bath

6.  You want to cool the wort as rapidly as possible down to the temp you can safely add yeast, about 80 degrees F.  I put the pot in an ice bath in the sink, then pour the cooled wort into the fermenter with enough chilled spring water to bring the volume up to 5 gallons.
pitching the yeast

7.  The recipe calls for Windsor dry yeast, a typical English ale yeast that will impart a fruity taste to the end product.  I used Safale S-04, a similar product.  All you need to do to "pitch" the yeast is make sure the wort is not too hot, sprinkle it in, close the lid (and block the airlock hole) and give the bucket a good shaking.  The yeast is aerobic and needs to have air incorporated in the wort to do its work of breaking the sugars down into CO2 and alcohol. Fit the airlock and open up a beer to celebrate all your hard work.
8.  I ferment in the basement, where the temperature is a constant 68 degrees.  Ale yeast is pretty flexible and will work well over a wide range.  
9.  You don't need to use a secondary fermenter, though I often do.  You can leave it in the same bucket for a couple weeks until there is just one bubble a minute coming out of the airlock.  If you have a hydrometer, the beer is fermented out when the final gravity is 1.020 ( the starting gravity is about 1.060)
bubbling away!
   10.  We'll pick up the narrative when it's bottling time in about two weeks, so stay tuned!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Roasted Beets with Honey & Lemon

I'm a confirmed beet lover and could eat them at every meal.  I know, though, that beets are not America's favorite veggie. An Eating Well blog includes them among the top five "most hated vegetables" in the U.S.   (What's America's most favorite vegetable?  Apparently, according to a report in Bloomburg News, it's potatoes!) 

Roasting beets is one way to persuade a confirmed beet hater to give them another try. Roasting caramelizes the sugars in the beets and makes very sweet yet they still retain their savory earthiness. I'm not promising that the beet haters in your life will convert after you serve these--but I am suggesting it's a worth a try!

Roasted Beets with Honey & Lemon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Figure on about 1 large, 2 medium or 3 small beets per person.  I usually roast extra since the oven's on and I'm happy to eat roasted beets throughout the week.  It's best if you roast similarly-sized beets in the same pan (that is, not mixing large and small beets together).  Truth be told, though, I usually throw 'em all in together when I'm short on time.

Wash the beets well and cut off their tops, leaving about 1 inch of the stalks. (This ensures the beets won't bleed too much during roasting.)  Select a roasting or baking dish that is large enough to hold all of your beets in one layer. Line it with a piece of aluminum foil that is large enough to cover the bottom of the pan AND fold over to fully envelop the beets.  Drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on the foil.  Place the beets in the pan, tossing them in the oil and drizzling more oil on them to be sure every beet is covered with olive oil.  Sprinkle kosher salt on the beets--at least a pinch for each beet.  Fold the foil over the beets, being sure to securely crimp the edges together to keep the heat inside.  The beets will roast and steam in this packet.  Place in the pre-heated oven for at least 40 and up to 60 or 65 minutes (depending on how big your beets are).  Remove from the oven and let them sit on the counter until cool enough to handle--about 20 minutes.  This extra time will enable them to cook a bit longer, too.

Remove the beets from their foil packet and slip off their skins.  Cut them into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl.  I had about 2 cups of beets when all was said and done.  Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (go ahead and used bottled if that's what you have) and 2 to 3 tablespoons honey over the beets, tossing to mix thoroughly.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  You can serve them as is at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate them to serve cold later.  You can also add some fresh lemon zest to zing up the lemon flavor a bit and/or some chopped parsley to add color.  If so, add the parsley just before serving.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cherry Tomatoes in Honey Brine

As I lamented in a previous post, we lost all of our tomato plants to the destructive late blight.  I was particularly sad to say good-bye to two vibrant yellow cherry tomato plants.  We'd been enjoying these sweet-like-candy tomatoes throughout August.  This recipe for brined cherry tomatoes gave me a chance to use some of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes still left on the vines.  In fact, this recipe requires not-quite-ripe tomatoes.  Ripe tomatoes will get too mushy in the brine, but those that haven't ripened fully keep a nice crunch.  This is, admittedly, a recipe for adventuresome cooks (and eaters). It's very simple to do, but requires patience (time for the tomatoes to soak in the brine) and the result is crispy, salty, piquant pickled tomatoes--a few go a long way.  They'd be great as part of an antipasto platter, or served with cheese and crackers, or gracing the side of grilled cheese sandwich or added to a leaf lettuce salad.  Use them where ever you'd use a dill pickle.

Cherry Tomatoes in Honey Brine
1 1/4 pounds half-ripe cherry tomatoes
6 dill heads (or 2 tablespoons dill seeds and about 6 sprigs of fresh dill)
1/4 cup fresh horseradish, grated (you can used bottled horseradish instead--just be sure it's not a horseradish sauce with cream)
3 sprigs of fresh parsley
1/2 fresh hot pepper, seeded (I used a Hungarian hot) and cut in a few pieces
2 tablespoons pickling salt (or UNiodized salt)
2-3 tablespoons honey
1 quart of water

In a jar that will hold two quarts, layer the tomatoes interspersed with the herbs, horseradish and pepper pieces.  Dissolve the salt and honey in the water and pour over the tomatoes in the jar.  Be sure the tomatoes are submerged in the brine--I filled a small zipper-lock bag with some water and placed it on top of the tomatoes to keep them under the brine.  If your jar has a large opening, you could put a plate or saucer on top.  Let the tomatoes ferment in the brine, unrefrigerated, for a week.  When a week is up, cover them tightly and place in the refrigerator to develop more fully.  You can taste them throughout the process--and you might enjoy the delicate flavor they begin to develop after about a day.  They should keep in the fridge for at least a month.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sweetness and Blight: Honey Roasted Tomatoes

Slightly ripe plum tomatoes, ready for roasting
We were dismayed to head to the garden last week to find that our tomatoes were hit with the dreaded (and highly contagious) late blight, which destroyed the plants in a day. This is the pathogen that was responsible for the Irish potato famine--it affects both tomatoes and potatoes.  The spores of the pathogen, Phytopthora infestans, readily spread by wind and rain, so the plants must be destroyed immediately to be sure they don't spread the infection to a neighbor's crop. There is nothing to do but pull up the plants, burn them and cry.  Well, actually, there is one more thing to do:  roast the tomatoes that you can save.

We harvested the (mostly green) tomatoes that weren't yet infected and carted them inside to ripen as best they could.  These would not be the season's most delectable tomatoes, that's for sure.  After a week in a basket under some newspapers, the tomatoes turned rosy. To pump up their sweetness and flavor, I roasted them with honey, garlic and thyme--a simple but delicious way to deal with less-than-perfectly ripened tomatoes, and a nice alternative for processing tomatoes if you have a bumper crop.  You can honey roast any kind of tomato--plum, globe, cherry--and they make a great lunch meal with some crusty bread, a unique side dish, or can be pureed into a nice tomato sauce for pasta. The process is simple, and the results are good enough that these tasty tomatoes can even provide some solace for the heart break of late blight.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Plum tomatoes after the roast
Slice tomatoes in half (larger tomatoes can be quartered if you like) and remove the seeds. Line a cookie sheet with a lip or a roasting pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease with olive oil.   Place tomatoes in the pan, skin-side down.  It's fine to crowd the pan, but there should be only one layer of tomatoes.  Tuck unpeeled cloves of garlic in and among the tomatoes (optional but very nice, especially if you plan to make pasta sauce with this)--we like garlic, so I usually use a whole head.  Tuck sprigs of fresh thyme in and among the tomatoes and garlic. Sprinkle the tomatoes generously with olive oil and then slightly less generously with honey.  Make sure every tomato has splashes of oil and drizzles of honey.  Sprinkle about 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt all over.  Roast for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on what kind of tomatoes you're roasting (cherry tomatoes will take much less time) and how caramelized you'd like them to be.  I roasted a bunch of plum tomatoes and Paul Robeson heirlooms (see photos below) for 60 minutes.  You can serve the tomatoes as is, taking care to peel the roasted garlic first, and offering lots of crusty bread on the side to sop up the juices.  Or, you can let them cool, remove the skins and whirl them and the (peeled) garlic in a blender or food processor for roasted pasta sauce.  You can also freeze the tomatoes once they cool or freeze the tomato sauce.

A NOTE ABOUT AMOUNTS:  You can roast as many or as few tomatoes as you have.  If you're roasting globe tomatoes, figure on about 1/2 per person if you're serving them as a side dish.  You might need 2 or 3 paste tomatoes (which make the best roasted tomato sauce, too) per person.  Cherry tomatoes--well, maybe 10 per person?  How hungry are you and your peeps? :)

Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes ready for roasting

Paul Robeson heirlooms after the roast-a bit juicier than the plums!

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Matter of Convenience Art Show!

Anna E. Mikolay
Check out this Art Show, "A Matter of Convenience," at Future Tenant Art Space, 819 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (hours Thursday-Sunday, 12-4pm).

It features the work of five artists who explore the ease and convenience of the way our food is produced.  An installation of one of the artists, Anna E. Mikolay, "explores bees through the lens of observation and research including their movements, the honey they produce and their decline in recent years."  Anna visited our apiary this summer and we're looking forward to viewing her work along with the other artists!

 The opening is Friday, September 14, from 6-9pm and the show runs through October 14.  Click here for directions.