Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Beer-Making, Part Four: Oh, the humanity!

A few days ago, I heard the sound of shattering glass and was startled, but had no idea from where it had come. I went into James' office, and Aish seemed to be telling me from where the sound had emanated... But it was impossible. She was looking directly at a drawer in James' computer desk. How could glass break in there?

As I stood, glancing around the office, though, I started to smell something sweet-yeasty-smelling. I looked down, and it appeared that the desk was bleeding. But, no: It was beer. Beer was pouring out from under the cabinet.

I was still pretty dense; I couldn't understand this. Still, I opened the bottom drawer and found, among the bottles James had apparently stored in there, one of his fermenting new bottles had exploded. I cleared out the intact bottles and then it occurred to me to take this picture.


Yeah. I'm very glad that wasn't sitting on a shelf somewhere, out in the open, especially near the cat.

There was no way to stop the beer from just spilling out all over the floor. I had to hose out the drawer, too. And one of James' favorite bottles is history. Le sigh.

According to this blog, we did everything right... except for maybe one thing: Cool/dark place. We live in Austin, TX. Dark, we can give the beer. Cool? Not this time of year. We only cool our house to 78, and the thermostat is in the living room, which is probably the mildest room of the house. In the mornings, James' office gets pretty warm (that's where this happened) and in the afternoon, our bedroom heats up.

This morning, the same kind of thing happened, though it wasn't as dramatic-sounding. Still looked pretty horrifying.


(Direct all comments about the boxes and whatnot to James; it's his "Hobbit Hole" and he keeps it as he pleases.)

The reason it hadn't sounded quite as clinky/explosive was that this box happened to have the cardboard divider panels in it.


So there wasn't as much collateral damage. Still, especially after having read that blog, I'm glad it was in a box. I'm thinking we need to box ALL of it up; there are a few bottles sitting in the floor, I believe, and the cat (and the computer) spends a lot of time in the office.


James said he'd never had a beer explode before, and that the friends he's had who did mostly seemed to have the bases kind of blow off. I also wonder if the fact that these are self-sealing lids has any relevance. My only other idea was that the first bottle was larger than the average beer bottle, so that perhaps the head space we gave at the top wasn't adequate for a larger volume of carbonating liquid. Anyone else have any clues?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Spicy Peanut Butter Mousse-filled Chocolate Coffee Cake

Years ago, I bought a Betty Crocker Bake'n Fill pan set, and I've used it with varying levels of success over the years. I think this one will be remembered as a hit.

First, I made this eggless chocolate cake, (because I was out of eggs) except that I used baby food carrots instead of oil. It added moisture without any fat. But don't worry! The "no fat" wasn't the goal; it was really just an experiment to see how the cake would turn out. Turns out, it's spongy and moist, and tastes very nicely of coffee-flavored chocolate.

I used the more "squared off" of the two outer cake pans (one is round for balls and more uniformly dome-shaped cakes) and put the filling insert in. Then I baked the cake base.

Next, I made the peanut butter mousse from this recipe, but we didn't have any heavy cream and I wasn't willing to walk further than the 7-11 at 8:30 last night, so we substituted almost an entire can of spray whipped cream. Oh! Also, I used half regular peanut butter and half of the Rebo spicy peanut butter from Haiti. (Please take the time to read that article; it's a good one.)

After I put the mousse into the cake well, I topped it with the base and put it in the refrigerator to set overnight.

This afternoon, I melted a stick of butter. I melted a bag of chocolate chips. Then I mixed that with about 2 tablespoons of corn syrup and enough powdered sugar that it looked like frosting. You know what I mean.

I frosted the cake and put it all in the fridge to let the frosting harden so that I could wrap the cake without making it look too hideous, and here is the outcome. Daphne said it's delicious! (I'm still too full from sampling frosting to try it.)




This cake is an honorary birthday cake for my brother-in-law, who lives many miles away and can't enjoy it, but don't worry, Khrys: Tomorrow, we will eat this thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if we have to, just to prove how much we honor your special day.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

S'mores! But even MORE than just s'mores...

Several weeks ago, after we'd brewed the beer, we were left with a giant mush pot of barley and assorted grains.

We do not like to waste food items around here. James mentioned that he and his brother had tried to make an oatmeal-type breakfast out of it before, and that it tasted really bad. I decided to dry it out first and see what might happen.



It spent about a day in a 170-degree oven and the dried stuff actually tasted not bad at all. It was mildly sweet and very crunchy because the barley still has some hulls.

I decided to make two things: 1) granola bars (that turned out to be a disaster because of user error, but would have been lovely had I followed the recipe here correctly.) 2) and barley "flour."


At first, I wasn't certain what to do with the barley, but after a couple of days, it hit me: homemade s'mores. But instead of graham flour, I'd use this. I couldn't do it immediately, because to attempt such a thing when Daphne was gone seemed very wrong.

Thankfully (on many levels), she came back last week, and once we got through the bottling drama of the weekend, yesterday seemed like a great day to attempt this project!

First, I used Alton Brown's graham cracker recipe, but really only as a guide. For instance: I didn't use graham flour, I used milled brewer's barley et al.; I don't have a food scale (anymore: battery acid got one of the nodes), so I measured in cups and teaspoons and eyeballs; I was concerned that I didn't have enough brown sugar, so I supplemented with dark chocolate chunks. All of this makes sense, right? My point is: "If it feels right, do it" is horrible life advice, and it's an often disastrous cooking tip, but in this case... it happened to turn out okay. Try it sometime.

Dry stuff before processing.

Dry stuff after processing.

After adding butter.

After buttermilk, molasses, and vanilla. Look at those beautiful chunks!
At this point, the dough had to be refrigerated for at least half an hour, so Daphne and I went to work on the marshmallows. Yes, that's right. We made those, too. Yes, I know that you can buy them at Wal-Mart. But I can guarantee they're not this tasty, or this much fun. It's science!

Hey, guess what? We also use Alton Brown's marshmallow recipe. I've never had it fail on me!

Three packets of gelatin dissolved in a bit of water.

Boil the sugar slurry until it hits 240 degrees.

Meanwhile, Daphne prepares a sprayed pan with an equal mixture of corn starch and powdered sugar.
Once the syrup hits 240, it's time to add it to the gelatin. Slowly.

Verrrrry slowly.
 Next, you whip the mixture for a very. long. time. 12-15 minutes, as a matter of fact.

It's already gaining volume!

Still growing!
 Toward the end, your mixer will be whining in protest. That's how you know it's done!

It's tempting just to eat it now.
Finally, you pour the mixture into a prepared pan and then cover it with the same sugar/cornstarch mixture and let it sit overnight to dry.

Then, of course, there is this.
 After the ceremonial licking of the bowl, we moved back to the process of cracker-making.
Put the dough between two sheets of parchment.

Roll it out and put it on a cooking sheet.
You need to cut the crackers before they bake. Also, fork holes allow the steam to escape without causing the crackers to rise.

The finished product, darker and more textured than Alton's, but looking just as charmingly rustic.
This afternoon, D and I cut the marshmallows. We knew that we wanted to use them mostly for s'mores, so we cut them pretty big. I don't know whether you looked at the instructions for making mini marshmallows, but that whole deal with piping sounds very labor-intensive. (If that made you laugh, then you can just go read another blog.)
The dried slab.
After cutting, you coat the marshmallows in the sugar/cornstarch mixture to keep them from sticking to each other. Like this:

Okay, okay, okay... Here's the SERIOUS FOOD PORN!

After dinner, we made s'mores. We just toasted them, open-faced, in the toaster oven, then opened OUR faces and shoved them in! SO delicious. Worth every minute that went into making them! (Plus, it was just fun.)







Monday, August 12, 2013

The Art(ful Dodger) of Shaving

Have you attempted to purchase a shave brush stand recently? At The Art of the Shave, the least expensive one that they have is $50. Rumor is that they DO have their $6 stand somewhere in the store, under a cabinet somewhere, and will sell it to you if you're super obnoxious about how you will NOT pay $50 and want a shave stand NOW... but apparently I didn't protest enough and was not offered the Holy Grail of shave stands.

This weekend, James wondered aloud why he couldn't make one out of a wire hanger. Later, when I Googled "Why are shave brush stands so expensive?" we happened upon instructions from a man who had done just that. A quick glance at the multiple steps put James off of that plan. He wandered into the bedroom, performed a few cursory twists, and proudly came up with this.


What followed was a fanciful discussion about how to sell these on Etsy, perhaps for $.49 each, but charging $300 shipping. Or naming the account CrapNoOneShouldBuy.

But, seriously, that thing was huge. I had to have a crack at it.

I used vise grips and a wrench, and pulled a lot (but not all) of the powder-coating off of the hanger. However, it takes up much less real estate on the sink now, and it even holds his razor blade!


Stubb's, Sam Tsui, and an unseasonable storm

Last night, D and I walked with my sister and her older three to Stubb's Bar-B-Q *shudder* (at the misspelling) to see Sam Tsui. There were going to be other performers there, too, but that was the headline act for us.

Since Stubb's is only 1.3 miles from the Nuthaus and there's no free parking, we walked. It was hot. In fact, it was 98 degrees with 33% humidity. When we got there, it was about 15 'till doors, and there was a line down the front of the building...

The front doors are just at the right, and we were back about twice the distance of that big truck. In fact, we were here...

See the window at the left? In the white-bricked building? That's where we were standing. You can see the front end of that same truck at the right frame. Anyway, notice the ATM and the small awning there and for a few feet beyond it. That will be important later.

It was nearly 100 degrees and we were waiting in full out sun. Ugh. As it got closer to 6:00 PM, the line got a lot longer. Also, people started packing in very tightly. Eventually, even though the doors weren't open so no one had moved, we were closer to the scraggly tree.

Then it started sprinkling. We were so relieved. It felt amazing! For about three minutes. Then some serious rain broke out. Like big, downpour drops. Uncomfortably heavy rain. Thankfully, they opened the doors and we started moving.

Here is where Reminder #1 of the night that I'm an old person happened: As the people poured into the building and up under the larger awning of Stubb's (note the first picture) some sweet little things in front of us apparently strategized that they would wait under the post-ATM awning until the line thinned out enough for them to dart across the half block of rain and up under the shelter themselves.

I didn't notice this at first, but a person behind me did. She asked, "Are you guys going to go, or what?" One of the sweet little things said that she was, "but..." and that's when it hit me what they were doing. So I reminded her of something that she apparently had not thought. I said, "Well, while you're standing there NOT getting wet, EVERYONE ELSE in line behind you IS getting wet. You need to go."

See? Right there. I mommed someone who wasn't mine. Old lady style.



Yeah. We were all pretty much drenched. Then it stopped. It apparently barely sprinkled here at the Nuthaus.

This was Reminder #2 that I am an old lady: I hadn't really fixed up for the show at all. There were a lot of girls who had obviously ironed their hair and picked out special clothes... and the fact that everyone got dumped on by this rainstorm was infinitely amusing to me.

But don't worry. I am about to get mine.

We walked inside and realized, as I should have guessed, that this was a standing room concert. Ugh. Pppth. Fortunately, we were early enough that the front row of the "balcony" (really just the top floor of the bar area that is opened to the stage below) was open, so we stood there. Then people stood behind us. And in case you've never been in Texas before when it has been nearly 100 degrees while people were waiting in the sun, sweating, THEN poured rain, thus giving everyone a bunch of moisture that's sure to hang around in the ensuing 55% humidity, and THEN had every one of these people all stand shoulder-to-shoulder and front-to-back... let me assure you, it's a ripening situation.

Again, we were lucky enough to be on the front row, so we didn't have to smell anyone's backside. But people had to smell ours.


The first band was King the Kid. They were AWESOME. They rocked, and I was glad because, frankly, after standing there for 45 minutes, I needed an excuse to MOVE. Here's an official video.

After they played for a while, the instruments were reset and Landon Austin and Luke Conrad took the stage.


They were good, too, but I felt like, with their acoustic set, they really should have opened. Rather, if I were the one putting the concert together, I would have had them go first so that the energy could build throughout the show. I would think that would put them in the best position to make a good impression on those of us who had not heard them before.

Luke started off in a band called The Ministry of Magic, and if you've never heard of Wizard Rock, you can either trust me that it's a thing, or go here and read about it. He sang one of his songs about Hermione and Ron called "Accio Love," and that was sweet.

It's interesting, though, how when Sam Tsui took the stage, it was a whole other level of presence. He was just this rock star. Even though the other two bands were talented, and I think that King the Kid could have a great future if they stay with it, Sam Tsui is an entertainer on a whole different level.


I had to grab him on keys because when he wasn't playing, he was all over the place. I recorded a bit, but it was so loud, my camera didn't capture well; everything sounds blown out. His show was very high-energy all the way through. As you can tell from this picture, he was "glistening," as I might have mentioned the heat. And the people. Which one doesn't notice as much when one is being engaged. 

Here is one of the songs Sam Tsui performed last night. He did several original songs from his new album, as well as a couple of covers and medleys. But I'm including this one because I think the video is pretty clever. For this song, he and the guitar player unplugged and did everything acoustically.



Alex Goot was on after Sam Tsui, but I don't know him well enough to hang out another hour. That, friends, was Reminder #3 that I'm old: I have a back injury and it is excruciating to stand in one place for three hours. I was glad that Daphne and I were in a cornerish area and/or near the railing because I was able to brace myself to pop my back if I needed to.

My sister and her kids stayed after the show and got pictures with Sam and the guys from King the Kid. Daphne and I walked back after Sam's portion of the concert. So we didn't get a picture with Mr. Tsui, but I saw this on the way back. It was pretty lovely.





Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beer-Making, Part 3: Bottling and Bubbling

After two weeks in the primary fermenter and one week in the secondary fermenter (officially called "carboys"), it was time to bottle James' honey blonde beer. We hot-washed and essentially baked the bottles to sterilize them for bottling.

All of these beer bottles in the dishwasher remind me of the Cathedral of Junk!
James found a few more self-topping bottles after we'd run the wash, so he washed them himself using a very cool (if very leaky) bottle-washing attachment for the sink.

Water violence!
At this point, we had to boil two cups of water, then dissolve sugar in that and boil it for another minute, then cool the liquid down to 80 degrees. The sugar's job is to reactivate the yeast. This is what will eventually carbonate the beer.
Enjoying an earlier incarnation of Jamesbeer.
James explained what we had done so far to bring Daphne up to speed, then it was time to move the beer out of the carboy and into the container we were going to use for bottling.

A good pump on the siphon, and we're off! The sugar water was already in the bottom of the bucket.


You siphon rather than pour the beer to 1) keep air out of it and 2) keep the yeast at the bottom of the carboy.


Ready for service!
James has a tap for the 5-gallon bucket, and a neat attachment for the end of the tube. The attachment is fitted so that you press it to the bottom of the bottle, and as long as it's depressed to the bottom, it is open. Once the beer reaches the top of the bottle, you pull up on the device, and it closes. When you pull the tube out, it leaves just enough space at the top of the bottle.


Then the non-self-closing bottles have to be capped.

He's working so hard!

Mmm! Yes! I do love me some beer. (This is a lie. I do love my husband and enjoy making things in the kitchen.)

Measuring the specific gravity of a sample, to check the alcohol content of the brew.

Now we just have to wait three weeks or so while the stuff carbonates. James said the flavor has mellowed a lot since a week ago, when it was pretty hoppy. He said now it's getting closer to a light summer beer. We'll see in a few weeks!