Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where's my card reader? Dutch oven baking..

Man, the card reader got lost somewhere along the way a couple weeks ago, as I think I've remarked before.. and it's just downright sad that I can't post pictures now. Unless I take 'em with the iSight cam in the Mac, I'm out of luck. Take this as the best I can do:

That is the best tasting loaf of bread I've ever made, and this picture won't do it justice! I finally got around to trying a trick from the web that I've been pondering for a while now, but have just been putting off. I sure wish I had tried this earlier! It requires the use of a Dutch Oven (DO), which we just happen to have, thanks to our pal Crystal, who scored one for us a while back. There's nothing different between the bread dough itself, it's just the method of baking that's the key. All you do is preheat the DO in the oven while your dough proofs, and when it's time, lower the dough into the DO using the parchment paper as a type of sling, then stick the cover back on the DO and bake it up.. I baked at 450 because the phenolic knob of our DO is only rated to 450, and I wish I could have done 500 degrees, but I'll have to wait to try that when I get a metal knob. Anyway, I baked the standard sourdough loaf at 450 for 20 minutes, and then popped the DO cover off and baked the loaf for another 10 minutes.. when I first pulled the lid off after the 20 minute mark, the loaf was seriously pale colored and had risen quite a lot. I was very excited about that.. after the ten additional minutes of baking, I checked the loaf again and found it was still too pale, so continued for another few minutes, checking it as we went along.. I think I baked this thing for a total of 34-35 minutes, which is about 10 minutes or so longer than my standard loaf in the oven solo goes for.

The thing that's going on here is multifaceted.. the DO keeps the moisture in the kettle and there's no need for spritzing with water in this method. I also got a really nice 'curl' to the slashes that I've never gotten before, which you can just barely see in the terrible photo above. The loaf seemed to rise a bit more than usual, and the crumb was definitely more open, but also more even inside than ever before. Additionally, and most encouraging to me, was that my sourdough actually was slightly SOUR, which totally blew me away. I was really excited to get that flavor, finally, and we've already eaten most of this loaf in just a few days now. The next best thing about this method is, my crust is about half as thick, and way crispier and more pleasing to eat. Whereas before I had a really thick, dark crust that was a bit chewy, this one is light, crispy, and very full of flavor.. reminiscent of Amy's bread loaves. *very* encouraging stuff here.

It makes sense to me to preheat the DO for this method, since you're trying to get the loaf to really 'pop' and then bake, but there are people online who claim there's just really no difference between using a pre-heated DO and a non-preheated DO.. they put the dough in the DO and let it do it's final proof inside there, and then stick that whole thing in the oven to bake.. I can't imagine how that works nearly as well since the DO is now shielding and absorbing the initial temp jump from the oven and you'd think this would totally inhibit the oven spring effect, but a lot of people are saying no, it doesn't. I'll be trying this for sure.. but now, the chance of getting a loaf of bread of less quality than this one just breaks my heart. But I'll try it.. in the name of science. ;)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Brutal Truth: Jody's Octoberfest.. sorta.

This was, of course, going to be a Brutal Truth on Jody's Octoberfest, as stated above.. but this bottle was presented to me in a plastic bottle with a carbonator cap attached to the top.. and when I poured it into the glass I have in fornt of me, it was mostly flat. There's a couple of bubbles in here, but not much. It's not really a fair game like this.. so, I'll give it a quick run through, but don't judge this beer on tap at his house on what I'm saying in here.

Aroma: A really faint Nor'Easter style aroma resents itself here, except like, 1/4 of what that beers nose is like. I get a microscopic note of some esters in here, with a bit of a sweet note as well. It's damn close, but these aromas are so faint with no carbonation to lift them. I'll go 8/12 here, because what there is is awesome.. but it must be hampered by the carbonation thing.

Appearance: I can read text on the screen through this wicked ruby colored beer. Gorgeous color, for sure. No foam whatsoever, though. Because of the clarity and fabulous color.. I'm torn on this.. but it's just ham-stringed with no bubbles or foam. 1/3

Flavor: Moderate hop bitterness, fabulous maltiness.. finishes relatively dry, which is surprising for the flavor you get here, with it's sorta not sweet-but Munich'y flavor. Tricky, that. Well done, still.. 15/20, hurt by it's lack of 'lift' from the bubbles.

Mouthfeel: Medium body still, with no carbs, but of course it's flat in the long run. Fabulous finish.. Again, well done here too. A bit of a slickness in the finish.. not a diacetyl thing, though.  2/5

Overall Impression: Ah, my kingdom for carbonation! This beer would have scored huge, if not for that one glaring defect. This is a great beer, that aside. Not my favorite style, but I can appreciate it on occasion.  All in all, 7/10, because of an huge amount of greatness bruised up by one huge aspect of blah.

In the end, a 33/50 isn't something to be taken lightly. Cold and flat, this beer still kicks the crap out of a lot of commercial beers on the market in this same segment. If properly carbonated, this thing would easily have been a 40+ brew. It's that good. One mans opinion, of course..

Friday, December 3, 2010

Zone control and eHLT..

I think I pretty much failed to capture any of it in photos, but me and Jeremiah took the eHLT for a spin last Friday and brewed up a batch of stout with the new eHLT in action. It performed flawlessly and I love the conversion. I am, so far, highly recommending this procedure. The new stout uses 12% roast barley, up 2% from the last batch, and I dropped the chocolate malt 1% as well.. we'll see hw this works out. Unfortunately, when I got home I found the Breiss Roast barley is only 300L instead of the normal 500L of most other brands.. but the SRM numbers came up into Stout territory, so we'll just have to check that color when it's in the glass. That beer is still in the fermenter, and the Amber is up next on deck.. so it'll be a few weeks before it's test time. Stand by for that..

Otherwise, I had a bit of a run in with this thing a couple of days ago:

That's a zone control power head motor you're looking at there in the top picture, and the housing it normally is bolted to in the lower picture. The motor itself failed, the housing was fine. In my particular heating setup, with a hot water boiler, a circulator pump and a couple of zone control valves, this things job is to either open or close the appropriate zone valve to let hot water through into the correct baseboard heater. If you failure, like I did here in the upper lever of my house, you might get a valve stuck in the OPEN position.. which results in unbearable heat all the time, unstoppable, unless you turn off the boiler and kill the heat. Since this broken condition was discovered at midnight when I got home, I had *all night* to think about it, and no idea what was actually wrong with the thing. Long story short, the next morning I got up, packed the kids off to school and sent the momma to work.. and then broke out the internet and became an expert on hot water heating systems in about two hours. After I got my education, I started diagnosing the issues from the thermostat to the boiler.. and eventually found this thing to be the culprit. A quick trip to T-town and $37.37 later, I ha the new part installed and it's been working fine ever since.

Who's the man?

Tis' all for now.. tomorrow, I have that Salsa making class to go to and then the Commando party in the evening after the kids concert. Maybe get some pics from the party to post up.. then, I'm gonna cut down all the lettuce and arugula in the hoop house and call that project finished. I just noticed I had a couple of lettuce plants keel over and die, so I think about mid to late November is about all I can really expect from a hoop house for keeping things alive. Time to get the rest of the nutrients into that lower bed and get some manure in there to do it's thing over the winter. Good times!

Oh yeah, also got my new sourdough starter fired up and I'm trying to get my first firm starter to do it's thing as I type this. We'll see how that goes..

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Amaryllis blooming..

The Amaryllis has, partly, bloomed..


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Garden update

Quick note to indicate the status of the garden.. just documenting how long a kitchen type garden can be kept going this year, and wanna keep the pics going as long as I can, tedious though it is on some days, so I can look back next year and actually *see* and not just think.. "well, I think it was OK tup to November-ish.." you know what I mean? So, bear with me.. we've gotta be in the home stretch now.. this thing can't hold together *that* much longer, right? So, on with the documentation:

Just an overview of the beds.. chickens in sight!

Too much empty space. Should have planned further ahead!

These are the lettuce transplants from the planter box from earlier..

Arugula and Spinach in sight. Barely...

The peas, however, are hit!
Like I said, just an update.. I see the Amaryllis is doing awesome over there on the windowsill, however. I'll have to take some pics of that tomorrow and get those up and online. Looks like three big flowers just popped up overnight. Not opened yet, but emerging.. stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Amaryllis and eHLT..

The Amaryllis is coming along pretty well.. on the verge of popping out and actually looking like a flower any day now. Check it out:

It's about 2' tall now..

Otherwise, here's some pics of the grounding ring idea I came up with, with a bit of help from my engineering team ;), to ground the electric element to the keg and thus the ground. Also, a pic or two of the JB Weld attachment of the electrical extension box to the side of the keg. This stuff is *way* stronger than I had any idea it would be. To take this off now would require a hammer and some finish work with a grinder to get the JB Weld off. It's serious stuff!

Simple. A metal flat plate with a big hole in it for the element to pass through and ground on.. 


And bottom view, with gasket on there.. 

I put a bit of JB Weld on the outside of the box, but..

..most of it is on the inside. 
Next, I did a little electrical work on the inside of the box, including fabricating up all the wires and jumpers and putting the box all together. Check out the mostly finished project:

Not so complicated after all.. 

All buttoned up. ON is UP!

Add caption
Haven't run a powered on test yet, because I discovered a small leak around the gasket yesterday when I filled it up with water.. seems there's some seepage around the main gasket that wasn't there before I installed the grounding ring thing. I may have to rethink that a bit.. I'll report back with a solution later.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Pulled up the horseradish yesterday.. this is what I got:

Sort of an ugly bugger. I thought it was gonna be more like carrots, with each root sorta more carrot shaped with a tuber going straight down.. but it's more hop rhizome like than that, with just a big tangled mass of roots all over the place. There's also going to be no problem with next years crop, because this thing pretty much infested the side herb garden area with little rootlets. Awesome. Now I just gotta go get some more llama manure and make that soil area more hospitable. It's really sandy and terrible stuff for growing, really.

Anyway, a little more hosing of off this tangled mass found this stuff underneath..

That's the biggest single chunk of root that I found in there. about the same size as that piece my dad brought me from his friend somewhere in America that time.. so I remembered how to process this stuff into the horseradish sauce that we all know and love (well, those of us with taste, I should say..). Easy stuff.. just dice it up into chunks about an inch long or so after you peel the outside layer of rough skin off the thing, and then zing it for a few seconds or so in your food processor until it's almost a paste. Then, give it the sniff test and keep an eye on it for about 30 seconds or less till the stuff has reached the level of pungency you want, and then douse it with vinegar and stir, to cancel the reaction and lock the flavor into place. The trick with vinegar is, once you dice and shred the root into small bits, the exposure to the air is what activates the enzymes inside to break down this stuff inside the root called 'sinigrin'. When this happens, the byproduct of the breakdown process is isothiocyanate, which is an harsh and mean as the name implies. The longer you leave the shredded bits exposed to the air, the more powerful the stuff becomes. By adding vinegar, a mild acid, you quench the process and stop it in it's tracks right where it is.. so, home made horseradish is very flexible stuff.. as it can be as mild or mean as you want it to be. Frickin' awesome!

When I was all done, speeded up in part to my horseradish processing associate Jody, we ended up with this:

Two jars of heaven. Again, awesome! Next year, I hope to have much more. There is really nothing on earth easier than horseradish, I think.. great stuff and easy to do. Just don't plant it anywhere near your regular garden.. it get's everywhere.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chicken moltin'...

Got me a chicken that's a moltin'.. there's feathers all over the yard. One of the Barred Rocks, the bigger one, is sheddin' all over the place and she really looks like hell now. The kids think it's kinda funny though, and they're collectin' the big feathers from around the yard and keepin' them in a jar.. presumably to re-create the whole bird eventually? I can't imagine why else they'd do that. Check it out.. snapped a few pics this morning of the poor, fashion-less bird:

Yeah. Gonna get chilly, I suspect..

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Big Brew at Don's Dad's house...

Just wanted to share a few pics of the Big Brew we had at Don's Dad's place, sponsored of course, by Don's Dad & Mom as well as Don himself. Great time was had by all. This event also marked the debut of two brand spankin' new brewing rigs, Don and Geoff's metallic monster and Jeremiah's half electric, half propane Frankenbrewery. Here's a few pics of the event and attendees to document the fact that the damn thing happened on Saturday, November 6th, 2010...

Jeremiah with his newest brewery creation.. eHLT!

Timmay and Eric, spargin'.. 

Geoff and Don's new single spine gravity tree..

Launch controler..

Mike Hill, doing something mysterious..

Will and Alex, goofing around.

Jody, rockin' the Top Tier. Classy..

The fruits of Jer's and my brew day.. 5 gallons each of Am. Amber. The newest revision..

Jer took home all of the brewer spent grain that day to feed to some local cows. Damn, we're green!
So, yeah. Resounding success. And I think we may have even inspired some other non-brewers to maybe look into the process. Seems everyone had a pretty good time..

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wicked HLT graphs!

Did something funny today and jury-rigged up my HLT.. no switch, no safety covers, just plugged it straight into the wall and let it rip. Talk about yer' reckless!

Did this with a mostly typical strike water sized volume of water.. 10 gallons. Actually, most strike water volumes for the beers I brew are more like 8.0 to 9.5 gallons for the initial batch of strike water.. and somewhere generally in that same ballpark for the sparge water after the mash. But I figured, let's go large, right? So, I filled it up with cold water from the outdoor faucet which leveled out at 10 gallons of 58 degree water. Then, I plugged in the element and started writing down numbers and times.. I started out doing 2 minute intervals, but I got bored of that pretty quick, and moved to three minutes.. then I missed one along the way and moved to four minutes. It seemed to be doing a pretty straight temp rise anyway, based on the rough numbers in my head that I was seeing, so, whatever.. I then whipped out a handy online graphing program and plotted the 21 data points I gathered and.. lo and behold! This is what I got:

Damn straight, that's a pretty straight line. What the chart is failing to show, for some reason, is the last two points on either end. It ended up boiling at the 74 minute mark, and that's off the chart up there. The main thing to look at, however, is that I never heat stone cold water. I always heat water from the hot water tap that comes out at like, 160 degrees or so.. by the time I get it into the cold HLT and all filled up, it settles in at around the 140 F range, and we heat from there. I can't recall ever measuring exactly how long it takes propane to heat water from 140 to a typical strike water temp like 162 or so, but I'd guess somewhere in the 25-40 minute range. We're usually milling grain and shooting the bull and drinking coffee at this stage of the game anyway, so it doesn't matter much.. but according to this chart, this element will heat from about 140 to around 162 in roughly 10-12 minutes. It's about a 10 degree rise in temp every 4 minutes or so, give or take.

Oh, snap! That's fast. And this is with a 3500w element. You can imagine how quick Jeremiah's is with a 5500w element. That thing is a monster. I think 3500 is enough for me, though. :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Brewery mods for electricity..

Just got back from the welder shop where I picked up my newly modified kettle that now has the big stainless steel nut welded into the side for the electric element to attach on to. Check the pics for some detail.

Interior view of the element coming into the keg..

Nice welding job, done by Accurate Welding of Barkhamsted. 
The next step is to gather up the appropriate parts to make the connections from the 220v wall outlet to the element, which includes the switch, the box to hold all the parts, the wire holder thingy, and the plug itself. I've already got 16 feet or so of 14 gauge three strand wire, so it's just the little pieces I've got to gather up now. I think a trip down to Lowes should pretty much do the trick. I've been talking to my electrician friend Dave E. and my other ingenious pal Jeremiah to work out the details of all these connections and how to make it safe and workable, and I think I have a plan in mind. Stay tuned for that..

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Amaryllis and Spinach..

Hmm.. a bit of a slow time recently. Got some SPinach growing slow but sure out in the hoop house. Check it:

This was taken a couple days ago, so it's a bit bigger than this now, but still small. The Arugula is almost near the zone where I'd consider almost calling it 'Baby Arugula" and eating every last leaf of it in a baby Arugula salad.. but it would literally be entirely gone if I did that.

Did some bagels up yesterday. I've had better end results, but the process this time was really nice. Here's a step by step timeline..

A large dough round

Split up into smaller rounds..

shaped and risen..

Boiling the bagels..

The best of the bunch. 
Other than that, here's a snapshot of the Amaryllis I'm grown. Again, thanks Dad. This one is a trip!

She's geting' pretty big now, and you can see where the flower is gonna form eventually. Neat stuff..

The IPA I've got downstairs that I made with Timmay is just about done doing it's thing. Should be able to keg that in a day or two and get it ready to go online.. but I'm still really looking forward to the Dubbel I made with Jeremiah that's right ahead of it in the que. Speaking of brewing, I failed to get pictures of this, but last night I went out into the shop and bored a huge hole in the side of my HLT at about the 3 gallon mark. Then, today, I brought that kettle down to the welder guy next door with instructions for where to weld in the SS nut that I got from McMAster Carr to fit in the electric element. I'm still hashing out some details with my electrician friend Dave E. from down south CT, but we'll get it figured out sooner or later. It may or may not be ready for the next brew session I do here, but the next beer I do up will most certainly be the one on Nov. 6th with the Commandos at Don's Dad's place in T-Town. Stay tunes for a million pics of that event.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A bit of a frost..

So there was a bit of a frost last night. Took some pics of the bed with the hoops on it to show, and also an update on the Garlic planting that I did the other day. Check the garlic first:

Gonna be planted in the upper bed, in the four squares right next to the end-most ones..

Holes dug for garlic bulbs, and garlic jammed in..

Those three at the top are actually Organic Elephant Garlic from the store.. just for fun

And some mesh over the top to keep the damned dog out.

Otherwise, here's some pics of the interior of the hoop house I mentioned above after the frost last night. Clearly, the basil didn't like this frost idea at all, and it's totally expired now. But everything else looks OK. Check it out..

See? Everything else is OK.. 
So, the experiment continues, minus the basil. That basil was a bit more fragile that I had anticipated. I thought for sure that, under the hoops, it would get past a minor frost like this one.. I think we only just barely touched 32-ish.. not a deep freeze by any means. Live and learn. Maybe if I'd had some thicker plastic it would have done better, but too late to find out now. ;) Next year..