Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.
I am annoyingly active on Facebook. “Annoying” certainly for myself, since I’d like to believe I have better things to do than scroll through an increasingly bleak news feed and let fear/ anxiety/ envy consume what remains of my energy. (Fun fact: I do, I just kinda suck at reminding myself to do them.)
One thing that Facebook HAS done for me, however, is connected me with a community of fellow professional cooks and chefs from around the world. I tend to haunt these conversations more than I talk- you wouldn’t believe just how much of being a good storyteller is listening, rather than talking.
The other day, though, I felt the need to pipe up.
One chef in the community was working in the kitchen of a hospital, and had recently been put in charge of their pastry department as well as their hot kitchen. He was okay enough with the baking aspects- he knew how to follow a recipe, do the math, and so on. There was only one thing he was concerned about with his new duties- chocolate work.
The hospital had an EXCELLENT food program. They make chocolates and truffles in-house for their OB-Gyn unit- new mothers get a little box of specialty chocolates. The chef had chocolate on hand, tools, materials, equipment… but he knew NOTHING about working with chocolate.
Myself and another chef leapt in with a host of advice- tempering, flavoring, handling, sourcing, the works. The majority of my knowledge came from culinary school, and occasional experimenting in the casino under my friend Karen, but apparently it was more than my friend had ever gotten to hear.
Afterward, I got to thinking “You know, this is probably something a lot of folks would like to know. I should write something about it.”
Here we go, then. Strap in.
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
If you've been reading this blog for even a little bit, you probably know at least three things about me:
1. I like a food. Like, a lot.
2. I am a proud New Jersey native.
and 3. I currently live in a pretty weird place.
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
It's Sunday morning- my Monday at the cafe, and the ritual begins as soon I walk in.
Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.
The words that have been used to describe my soul include "kind," "warm," "simple,"... and "old as f***."
"Fluffy" as well, but this blog is about why old things are really cool.
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
I don't go to the gym.
I was never really a "gym rat" or part of gym culture. For the couple early years I DID have a membership, I didn't really go there to socialize. The hours I went tended to forbid that. The gym was open 24 hours, and my preferred times were either in the early morning hours (before work) or in the middle of the night (after my shifts at the hospital.
Here's the story of how I learned to keep $50 a month in my pocket and still stay fit.
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Actually, I told you how to how to get started brewing a simple mead at home. Here's what you do for when the 10 days- 2 week fermentation time is up!
Ok, not to curb your enthusiasm or anything, but just a quick note- this is only the PRIMARY fermentation. Today, we'll be getting your delicious mead off the dead cells, sediments and whatnot that might mess up the flavor if you let it sit there. Your mead will KEEP fermenting until either it runs out of sugar (which can take years) or you choose to kill it by boiling and filtering it.
Mead is interesting in that, in most cases, after it is bottled it can be cellared INDEFINITELY. You can drink this stuff in 5 years and see where the reaction and aging has taken it. If you just want a sweet, quick little drink, go ahead and enjoy now. Otherwise, hold off for a while- this is only a BABY mead at this point.
What To Do When Your Mead is Done
First of all, you might want to get some equipment from your local homebrew supply store:
A large tub for sanitzing everything (remember what I said about cleanliness?). This is a storage tub I got from Home Depot, filled up with about 10 gal. of water.
This is my preferred sanitizing agent, BTF Iodophor- an iodine-based cleaner. It's food-safe, doesn't require rinsing afterwards (even though I do anyway,) and doesn't leave a funky flavor on the stuff it cleans. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that won't leave weird flavors, and DEFINITELY won't mess with your equipment.
Just dump the appropriate amount in (following the sanitizer's instructions) and mix.
You'll also want a couple of tools to make this process a little easier for you. None of these things will break the bank, and in fact some homebrewing stores may include them in a "starter" kit.
This is an auto-siphon, an open-ended pump that'll make it super easy to get your mead from your big fermenting jug to smaller bottles. This one even has a special cap on the bottom to keep it from sucking up TOO much of the sediment.
You'll also need a length of food-safe tubing. I picked up a clamp for mine just to keep things neat.
This is a bottle filler, and it will prevent a LOT of cleanup later, trust me. The valve on the bottom only opens when pressed, so with your siphon and hose connected to this bad boy, your mead will go where you want it- as opposed to the floor.
Those are the basics. I also have a hydrometer, testing flask, capper and caps.
These are for if you are a super-nerd like me and really want to figure out the proof (alcohol content) of your mead. The capper and caps are only a must if you want to store it in bottles that don't have a swing or screw top, and it's cheaper than a corking machine.
At this point, you will want to chill your mead down as best you can. This will slow down the fermentation and it will gather most of your sediments to the bottom in a process called "clarifying."
This whole process is called "racking." In winemaking, this would be when the wine is pumped from steel fermentation containers to barrels so that it can sit and age. In my case, my big 3 gal. fermenter can't fit in my fridge, so I split it up between several smaller containers so I can clarify it more quickly and fully rack it later.
EVERYTHING that interacts with your mead must be cleaned, sanitized, drained, and air-dried. EVERYTHING.
Once you have your cleaning out of the way, it's time to set up your siphon and get things going!
Simply take your hose and connect your auto-siphon to one end, and your bottle filler to the other. Drop the business end of your siphon slowly into your mead so that it sits JUST ABOVE the sediment on the bottom. Yes, you will lose some mead to that. Sorry. :C
If you've ever filled up a fuel can or cleaned a pool, you know how a siphon works. Put simply, it's when water goes down a tube in such a way that it pulls more water with it. The pump on your auto-siphon will get your mead "up the hill" enough that it can fall and create the siphoning action. Since the end of your hose has your bottle filler on it, you might need someone to press that down into your first bottle while you pump. That'll get everything going.
From there... just fill up your bottles!
Cap them in whatever way pleases you. I love swing-top bottles just for this purpose.
Voila! You have bottled your first mead! Now label it, date it, and either drink it or store it!
Just remember, before you put all your equipment away...
Yeah, you weren't getting away from that one. Brewing is mostly cleaning.
At least you get booze out of it!
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Like many good, honest souls across this great land of ours, indeed this whole wonderful world... I like my booze.
Wide and varied is the world of fermented portables, and I am very keen to try as many as I can from as far abroad as I can. Call it my humble task in bringing understanding and goodwill the world over... or I just want to get pickled in the tastiest ways possible. Whichever way is tax-deductible
That said, sometimes my financial situation is not exactly conductive to my altruistic bringing-peace-through-boozing desires. Being a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, though, makes that MUCH less of an obstacle.
With the recent rush toward everything being local, seasonal, homemade, small-batch, etcetera, the long-loved tradition of homebrewing in America has emboldened the "microbrewing" surge, and let humble beer and wine-lovers like myself not only embrace a new set of skills, but make the jump into entrepreneurship- bringing the taste of home and local flavor to the masses.
While most of these ambitious drinkers embrace the complexities of beer or austerity and mystery of wine, I have chosen a more simple, ancient, and no less wonderful beverage to bend my thirsty energies against.
The legendary drink of Vikings, and potentially the oldest fermented drink in history. Thick and sweet or light and refreshing, easy to make, and usually gluten-free.
Mead is little more than a fermentation of honey and water, sometimes with the addition of fruit, juices, spices, herbs, or any other conceivable flavoring. While beer and wine aficionados will argue to the end of time, throwing archaeological proof at each other over whether man fermented grain or grapes first, I make the humble assertion that only honey NATURALLY occurs in a fermentable state. Grapes must be crushed, and grain must be milled and steeped to make mash for beer or whiskey- raw honey only needs water and time. With Paleolithic evidence available for the gathering of honey from wild hives, I maintain that mead has a VERY strong case.
I started brewing my own mead about a year or so ago, after Emily's family gave me a copy of "The Art of Fermentation" for Chanukah. The book is a veritable encyclopedia for anyone who wishes to understand and control the forces of fermentation, pickling, canning, and pleasurable decomposition. Since then, I have made several brews ranging from the acrid to the pleasurable to the competition-worthy (one of which I have just recently entered into the Oregon Homebrewing Festival.)
Obviously, if homebrewing is something you wind up REALLY getting into, there are WAY more sources for you than my little blog, and a lot more details you can play around with. Online, you can get a lot of leads from the American Homebrewers Association. The books on homebrewing are numberless, but recently my go-to guide for how-tos and ideas is Ken Schramm's "The Compleat Meadmaker." If you have a homebrew supply store nearby, you can absolutely ask there or even see if they offer classes.
For the purposes of this blog, though, I'm just going to give you a quick how-to on an absolutely basic level spiced mead.
How to Get Hopped Up On Honey
YOU WILL NEED:
(All of this should be SANITIZED- you can use whatever means you like- steam, chemical, whatever. Just make sure they are really REALLY clean.)
At homebrew stores, there's a lot of other equipment you can get that can give you metrics on your mead- hydrometers, acid testers, flasks, and such. That stuff you might want to forego until you decide that homebrewing is something you are really into. Other stuff will make these steps a little easier, but aren't strictly necessary for what we are doing here- siphons, filters, and such.
Here's my set up for my next mead that I'm calling "Besamim," after the aromatic spices used to end the Jewish observance of Shabbat.
In case you're wondering, that thing down at the lower left corner is my preferred airlock, with a cork for the container. My container is a 3 gallon PET carboy, since I'm making a larger batch here.
Now, how do you get everything started?
Yup. That's really it.
"What happens now?"
Well, now your job is over for the time being. Inside that container, you've just diluted the honey enough that the live cultures trapped inside can get busy fermenting! Fermenting is when microorganisms (usually yeast) eating sugar, and excreting alcohol and CO2- and you just threw them into a Scrooge McDuck-style vault of their favorite food.
All you have to do, for at least the next 10 days or so, is put your mead (well, technically, "must" at this point. It's not mead yet) in a cool spot in your house, give it a little shake about twice a day, and let those little guys have fun. If you decided not to use a cork and airlock like I have here, you'll need to vent it about twice a day to let the CO2 out but just SLIGHTLY untwisting or opening the top and resealing it quickly- remember, you REALLY don't want outside air in there, with all the nasty stuff it carries.
That's all for the time being- stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days, for what to do when your mead is ready!
As she was running out the door for work Monday morning, Emily made a request:
"Hun, think you could make some bannocks that I can grab for breakfast? No raisins or anything- just plain is fine."
Jokes aside, I didn't mind. Bannocks are one of my staple recipes for a reason. They are a perfect blend of oatmeal cookie and biscuit that can be grabbed quickly, keep for a long time, and are an ideal breakfast with a quick schmeer of butter or jam.
Bannocks have been around for centuries, a catch-all description being, "Bannock is a variety of flat quick bread or any large, round article baked or cooked from grain."
The ones I make are at least partially inspired by the smaller, dry, trail ration variant that was popular among settlers and explorers alike for their easily portable ingredients, ease in making over a campfire, long shelf-life, and the fact that these little pucks of carbs had a tendency to blow up in your stomach after you drank some water, and thereby helped you feel full for quite a while. There was even a simple recipe that Lord Baden-Powell included in the first few editions of "Scouting for Boys"- the original Boy Scout Handbook.
It may seem like all of that is utterly irrelevant to you, but stick with me here.
No, most of us don't have to worry about hitting the trail for weeks at a time. What we DO have to worry about is energy and getting a decent breakfast in the morning. Getting a good breakfast in the morning (and in my experience, within one hour of waking up) primes your metabolism. It reminds your body that food is plentiful and it doesn't need to go into "starvation mode," where the metabolism slows down because your body thinks it needs to hoard energy. By eating something nice and carb-heavy like these bannocks, your metabolism is primed AND you get some quick energy for the morning!
So here we go. You're really not going to need any special equipment except for:
Pre-heat your oven to 450 F (232 C), and get your ingredients together.
What I've got here are:
I'll put the whole recipe in a more concise form, complete with yield, down at the bottom of the entry, along with approximate nutrition info.
You're going to start by taking all your dry ingredients....
... and mixing them together.
You want it really well mixed so that there aren't any clumps of brown sugar.
Next, you drop in the butter and work it in completely. Once again, you aren't looking for clumps. This isn't pie dough.
Your goal is for the butter to be COMPLETELY worked in. At this point, the mix should look a lot like bread crumbs.
Now it's time for the milk. You may need a little more or less than the cup you have- you want to make a stiff dough, but your don't want any flour or dry stuff left over. Add the milk, and stir with a wooden spoon until it feels too stiff to stir- then go in there and knead it by hand.
There we go.
Now, it's time to get rolling!
Sprinkle some extra flour on a clean surface, set your dough on it, and roll it out to a big sheet about 1/3" thick.
There we go! Remember, you want it to be about 1/3" thick.
Now here's where you can make a choice. Traditionally, you'd use a cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many piece as your could, then re-roll the scraps and go again. For simplicity's sake, however, today I've rolled it into a rough square and I'm just going to cut square pieces.
Take each piece and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch apart. You can use parchment paper if you want, but they'll be fine either way.
Oh yeah.... that's the stuff. Now you've got a quick and tasty breakfast for when you need to get out the door!
Emily's gonna be happy.
I think you'll be pretty happy too.
As promised, here's the actual recipe:
Yield: 16 Bannocks
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes
After plugging this recipe into MyFitnessPal, here's the nutritional information for each bannock. Be aware, this is for the all brown sugar, almond milk version I did here. If you change the sugars, or use regular milk instead of almond, the actual nutritional content will obviously be different.
Enjoy, and happy baking!
Good evening, friends and neighbors! Sorry about the long silence- things have been in a state of upheaval for the last month, but seem to be settling down now. Miss me?
'Course ya did. Because we're going to talk about pointy things.
A good knife is one of the Swiss Army... well... knives of the kitchen. In the picture above, you might notice that the only actual "knives" I keep on me are paring knives, a serrated knife, and a chef's knife. All the rest of my sharps have particular uses, but with those three kinds of knives- with some good knife skills- you could be just fine in a bakeshop without most of the others.
Kitchen stores will be happy to sell your four-figure matching sets of 15 different kinds of knives with 18 different uses. Better to save your money and just get a few good ones.
Let's go in order:
The Serrated Slicer
Meet an honest-to-God workhorse for your knife roll. I use this bad boy for BIG jobs- if I need to slice bread, or a whole cake, the teeth on this fella make short work of it. This is also invaluable when I need to reduce a giant slab of chocolate to shaves, or chunked chocolate to sand for smoothest-possible ganache.
The one I use is a stainless steel blade from Sani-Safe, a good commerical brand. Whatever it is you have, as long as it's a strong blade with good sharp teeth, you're in business.
The Chef's Knife
Here it is- the main attraction. The ultimate multi-tasker. Chefs treat their knives like prized heirlooms, and God help you if you handle them without permission. I remember first picking this knife up- it was like a meeting with destiny.
What do I use this knife for?
You get the idea.
As much as you will be using this knife, this is NOT one you want to cheap out on. Look for high-carbon steel (good and strong), full tang construction that balances well and feels good in your hand.
This is your Old Faithful. Your sidearm. Get a good one, take care of it, and you will be giving it to you great-grandchildren one day.
The Sharpening Steel
Not a knife, per se, but necessary and worthy of a place in your knife roll. Most knife sets come with one, or you can get them separately- a long, thin spike of steel with fine ridges. Despite what you have seen in cartoons and on TV, this is NOT for sharpening your knives exactly. Sharpening should be done on a stone or a strop, if not by you then by a professional. Some knives have a warranty where you can send them back to the manufacturer for sharpening.
What running your blade along the steel does is ALIGN the edge. Look under a microscope at the edge of any blade- even a razor blade,- and you'll see that there are ultra-fine grooves that act like a serrated blade's teeth. Through use, these grooves can be warped or bent, slightly dulling your blade.
Using a steel properly (such as in this video) re-aligns the edge, along your knife to be as sharp as possible.
These little guys are ideal for small jobs- scraping a vanilla bean, seeding a pepper, etc. They are also most likely the knives you will lose track of the easiest. Paring knives, in general, are cheap and you can get a decent one for very little cash. They come in various sizes, shapes, weights, colors- some specialized for different jobs, and others more versatile. Don't sweat these too much.
There are some jobs in the bake shop that can't be done by your actual knives. Others CAN be done, but these will just make it easier. We'll just breeze through these real quick, top to bottom:
Before we wrap things up, just a few words of wisdom to take with you into the kitchen-
Next week, we move on to the next two groups of tools- Mixers and Movers, and Dough Management. As always- and despite the language in that last graphic-
Good evening, friends and neighbors!
Recently, I was talking to my older sister. She bakes occasionally and enjoys cooking at home for herself and her fiancée. Unfortunately, the kitchen in their apartment is extremely small, so space is at a premium. My sister is constantly on the lookout for ways to save or creatively use space, or simply pare down the amount of stuff in her kitchen.
"I'd bake more," she said, "but I really don't have room for all the stuff you would need!"
Thus she echoes yet another fear that keeps the hungry and curious from taking up home-baking- what equipment to get? What tools? How do I find the best ones? What's necessary, what's not?
I've been baking since I was 10, and professionally for nearly 4 years now. This still qualifies me as a bit of a rookie in the grand scheme of things, but there is one thing I have learned: you can find yourself getting a LOT of stuff.
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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