Thursday, September 29, 2011

PEI Burger Love

This past Spring, PEI Cattle Producers, the PEI Department of Agriculture, Fresh Media and participating restaurants presented the PEI Burger Love campaign where local restaurants were challenged to create the ultimate burger with no rules except that it be made from 100% PEI beef. The general public could then sample (or devour?) as many burgers as possible, while submitting reviews and voting on their favorites.

Unfortunately, we had not yet returned to our native red-soiled land while this was happening and missed our chance to weigh in on the entries and cast a vote. However, fortunately some restaurants are still serving their creations, I assume mostly due to popular demand for these amazing feats of meat.

I now present to you four of the burgers that I've been able to try so far. I believe there are still more out there (I'm lookin' at you Dubfibrillator) so hopefully there will be a part two to this post...

#1 - The "East West Burger" - The Merchantman Pub

This was one of the co-winners and I certainly concur. Basically a burger with sushi condiments. Teriyaki glazed, with smoky bacon and pickled ginger as the featured toppings. It was also massive. I've had it twice already and will definitely be back again.

East meets West meets a party in my mouth

#2 - The Lord of Montague - Sir Isaac's in Montague

The other co-winner. A pretty standard burger topped with a block of cheese, other standard toppings and banana peppers.  I can see why it was received so highly because it's an excellent example of a "regular" burger, meaning that there weren't any crazy sauces, spices or toppings used besides the banana peppers... though I'm sure many asked that those be left off. It was designed to be enjoyed by the masses (even the ketchup-only burger lovers) but I'm a little more adventurous and find the other entries much more exciting/appealing. 

All hail the Lord of Montague

 #3 - The Real Matterhorn - The Pilot House

Topped with swiss cheese and a pile of mushrooms, this was a top-notch burger... And I have to say to most amazing part was the crisp pretzel-like bun.  I think what I had may be a slightly smaller/toned-down version of what they were serving in the Spring, but none-the-less, it was an excellent burger.

I would climb the Matterhorn... to eat the Real Matterhorn

 #4 - Three Pigs Burger - Daniel Brenan Brickhouse

Now this was a real treat. A ground pork patty topped with stringy pulled pork pork and a slice of smoked pork belly (aka Über bacon). Hmm... no beef... Well this rogue entry (if it even was an entry?) has nothing to be ashamed of. Even if it got no PEI Burger Love, it gets mine... over and over again... but I digress. Go try it for yourself and you'll understand.

Little pigs, little pigs, get in ma belly

All-in-all, I've been impressed so far and look forward to future burger adventures. And who knows, maybe the Iron Donkey slider platter will step into the ring some day against these champions?

A few more pics here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Double brew-day Sunday = Double yeast-starter Friday

Wyeast 1056 - American Ale on the left for an IPA and Wyeast 3463 - Forbidden Fruit on the right for a Belgian Blonde. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

IPA II - Brewed with tips from a brewmaster

The first IPA was certainly satisfactory but wasn't exactly as envisioned. The final bitterness, aroma, body, head and alcohol content fell short of the pre-calculated values. It was still perfectly drinkable so I knew that I hadn't done anything "wrong" but there must have been something I could do "more right" during the next attempt.

As luck would have it, while attending the annual St. John's Beer Fest, I was introduced to the brewmaster at the Yellow Belly Brewery. We chatted briefly and he said that anytime I wanted to stop by and talk brewing, he would be more than happy to give me some tips, and... wait for it... free yeast!!

Now free (and fresh!) yeast might not sound like something most people would get excited about but I couldn't wait to schedule my next brew day and take him up on his offer. So I went down to see him one afternoon after work, with a bottle of my last IPA, the recipe sheet and a head full of questions.

The first thing we did was crack open the bottle I brought for him. It poured out with a decent head and a slightly darker colour than his Yellow Belly Pale Ale (one of the only hoppy beers served in Newfoundland). He took a few sips and commented "Good beer. I would drink that."... Not too bad, eh? I was pretty happy with that review anyway.

We spent the next hour discussing brewing (my process and his), and in the end I took away some tips that will stick with me for the rest of my brewing days. I won't go into any more detail than I have to, but a few things I learned are:

1. Boil everything it one pot - Having all the wort in one pot (as opposed to 3) leads to better hop utilization (ie: more bitterness), most consistent flavour and less liqud lost to boil-off.

Now that's a big pot.

2. Harden the water. The water in St. John's is quite soft (ie: low in calcium). A calcium deficiency can reduce the mash/boil efficiency, meaning less sugars and ultimately lower alcohol content. 

Gypsum. Apparently the Sin Jawns wadda isn't 'ard enough.

3. Cool the wort faster. The faster you cool it down from boiling to room temp, the less hop aromas will escape and the less chance you have of a bacterial infection... I should say, the pot in the bathtub is only a slightly improved technique over leaving the pot in a snowbank for a couple hours. I hope to have a proper work chiller soon. Pending budgetary approval.

Improved cooling technique.

3. Get all the alpha acids oils out of the hops. He didn't advise me on this one, but rather that doing my normal slow wort straining using a sauce pan and strainer, I poured the cooled wort and hops through a straining bags and then squeezed every last ounce of hop oil into the beer.

"Improved" straining technique.

4. Use healthy, viable yeast. It doesn't get much better than yeast fresh from a local microbrewery.

Real brewery yeast. Fresh off the conical.

Shaken and well poured.

I also added some CaraPils malt to the recipe for better mouthfeel and foam stability.

Tasting/seeing the results, I am certainly very pleased and wouldn't change anything the next time I make it.

Nice active head.

I left the brewmaster a bottle of it but unfortunately never got a chance to get his reviews before we moved back to PEI. I will look him up, the next time I'm over for a visit.

So farewell Newfoundland. The hoppiest beer ever served on the Rock (as far as I know) was a one-shot deal.

All the pics here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Triple C IPA

Well due to several (positive!) events going on, I neglected the blog quite a bit in March... but that didn't keep me from brewing!!

Shortly after I went through my first all-grain brewing experience, I was eager to improve my technique and apply what I learned to another batch. A fellow Islander joined me for this brewing session and we split the costs and the bounty.

The choice of beer was easy. We wanted to brew a big IPA like the Garrison Brewery's Imperial IPA. 

Now before I go too far, I just want to set the record straight and let you all know that our once-beloved Nova Scotia India Pale Ale is certainly not a IPA according to the Beer Style Guidelines. It is not even close to being bitter and hoppy enough...

The first 2 glasses of our IPA, served in ironic mugs.

In terms of recipe, we looked into a few IPA recipes from the Joy of Homebrewing and from other resources online. We were also reliant on the stock of the local homebrew store, which didn't happen to have the exact hops we were looking for originally. In any case, this was the final grain-bill:
  • 14lb 4oz Canadian 2-row Pale Malt
  • 500g Crystal Malt - 40L 
  • 12oz Toasted Malt
(Sorry for the mixing of imperial and metric units but that's just how it's going to be on this blog.)
We actually bought 15 lbs of the 2-row and then toasted 12 oz of it in the oven for 15mins @ 350F, stirring it around a bit after 10.

The mash was done in my converted Coleman cooler. We added hot water in a ratio of 1¼ quarts per pound to achieve a mash temperature of 155F (5.03 gallons @ 169F). 

Mashing in the grain with the hot water.

Checking the mash temperature

This was held for 60mins, after which the sweet liquor was drained out completely, yielding a volume of about 3.5 gallons. In order to account for evaporation during the boil, the final target volume was 7.5 gallons so we needed to rinse/drain the grain with 4 more gallons of water. This was split into two equal parts of near boiling water, which before draining was allowed to rest for 15mins each time.

The drained grain.

This technique is called batch sparging and I found the process/result/stress-factor were much improved compared to the poor attempt we did at fly sparging the first go around with all-grain. Both sparging techniques are described more here.

Once the mash was done,  we moved on to boiling the wort and added the following hops:

  • 2oz Chinook (full boil - 60mins)
  • 1oz Citra (5mins remaining)
  • 1oz Cascade (5mins remaining)
Adding the boiling hops.

We also added 1 Tbsp of Irish Moss for the final 15 mins of the boil. This is supposed to attract solids and make your final product more clear. I think that it helped anyway.

The remaining 1oz each of Citra and Chinook were used to dry-hop the beer, after it had finished fermenting in the bucket and was transferred over to the carboy for conditioning.

Dry-hopping with Citra and Cascade

The yeast we used was a classic American Ale yeast, Wyeast 1056. Their liquid yeast packs are only designed to inoculate five gallons of wort (up to 1.060 SG) and since our batch was around 6 gallons with an SG of ~1.070, we needed to grow more cells ahead of time.

Growing the yeast starter. Picture taken before I found out the hard way the airlock was a bad idea.

I used this online calculator and since I wasn't sure how much I would be able to attend to it,  I compared the results from Intermittent Shaking to Simple Starter and averaged them. Meaning a 1.5L starter would suffice. This was the recipe for the yeast starter:
  • Water - 1.5 L
  • Dry Malt Extract (DME) - 1.5 cups
  • Boil 10mins
  • Add 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient 
  • Boil 10mins
  • Cool to 20C in sink
  • Pour into growler
  • Shake to aerate
  • Add yeast 
The target SG of the starter was 1.040 but since I didn't measure the DME by weight (bought a scale the next day), I ended up with 1.060, so I diluted it slightly before I pitched the yeast. Probably didn't need to dilute but I did anyway. The next night, when I was "stirring", foam and liquid starting spraying out the top of the airlock! I then found out that you are suppose to just put some loose fitting foil over the top of your starter jug... 

Here's a link to the online recipe calculator I used which includes the calculated/estimated values for the final bitterness and alcohol percentage... a professional brewer estimated the actuals to be 6.5% and 45 IBUs. He said it was good enough for him to drink though!

It was fermenting in the bucket for 11 days, then dry-hopped in the carboy for 10, then bottled and allowed to carbonate for 9 more before we poured the first tasty glasses.

The state of fermentation after 4 days.

This beer was certainly delicious and between myself, SWMBO and a few other friends, we're almost out! Good thing I'm brewing more in the morning...

More pics here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Snowcream with Dulce de Leche!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when life gives you snow... just shovel it and quit complaining!

But before that, make snowcream! 

Even gremlins enjoy snowcream and dulce de leche.

Anyway, I'm as sick of shoveling as the next guy, but here's a reason to look forward to the next snowfall and make the most of it.

To start, immerse a can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water. (Of course, if you don't have any on hand, you can skip down to the part where we make the ice cream.)

Boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk for 3hrs

Boil for 3hrs. During which, it caramelizes and becomes dulce de leche!

The most amazing ice cream topping ever!

It was in the midst of snowing, so we set a pot out on the step to collect what we could while we waited for the dulce de leche. Then when the time came, we scooped some more clean snow in to the pot. I was kind enough to let Laura go outside for the scooping.

Scoop faster! You're letting the heat out!

Blend the snow with some milk, sugar and vanilla.

Blending up the snowcream

Here is the approximate recipe we used:
  • 12 cups snow
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sugar
That made more than enough for 4 people to eat a couple of dishes each of this amazing treat.

Absolute heaven in a bowl

Hope you give it a shot next time it snows!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Epic Pulled Pork Chili

Well I decided to make use of that leftover pulled pork and was immediately impressed by the first chili recipe Google found for me. There wasn't quite as much meat left as I had originally thought so I followed her guide and bought a small piece of pork tenderloin, seared it with some salt and pepper and threw that in the pot too. I broke up the bbq pork in to shreds, and discarded most of the fatty bits.

BBQ pulled pork shreds

The main ingredients and spices I used are pretty standard for chili including: onions, red/green pepper, mushrooms, black/kidney beans and chili powder. But it's obviously the specialty items that really made this shine. The stars of the show included honey and the rest of the morning's coffee:

This leftover coffee is not just going down the drain

Her recipe called for bourbon. I didn't have any of that, but I figured this scotch was no slouch.

The richest and smokiest scotch around

I fried up the veggies, put it all together and let it simmer and reduce for a couple of hours.

The spicy masterpiece simmering away

So my final ingredient list was something like this:

  • 2 lbs bbq pulled pork
  • 1 lb boneless pork loin
  • salt and pepper 
  • 2 small onions, chopped 
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped 
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar 
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder 
  • 2 Tbsp cumin seeds 
  • 28 ounces canned diced tomatoes 
  • 4 Tbsp honey 
  • 1 cup black coffee 
  • 3/4 cup smoky scotch
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained 
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
With the wife gone to the great white north of Labrador for the next month, I had to enjoy the first bowl by myself.

The first magic bowl

So much flavour. The scotch and the bbq pork each contribute a special smokiness, while the coffee and honey add a lot of richness and depth. I think that instead of eating it for lunch every day this week like I usually do with big meals like this, I'm going to save it in the freezer and bring it out for a special occasion...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

BBQ Pulled Pork

In honour of the Super Bowl and related gluttony, we decided to cook up something appropriate the day before. For the biggest pigskin game of the year, I figured pig made sense, so I picked up a 4kg bone-in pork shoulder butt from Sobey's to make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

Now when I'm taking about BBQ, I'm taking about the real deal using charcoal and smoking it low and slow. It's a full day affair, but the results are certainly worth the efforts.

To start the day, I liberally applied a spice rub, namely Weber's Type-A, which I found in my copy of Weber's Big Book of Grilling. That book is a fantastic collection of rubs, sauces, meat, sides, techniques and bbq folklore and a great source of inspiration, particularly the forward written by Al Roker. That man knows his BBQ and has the physique to prove it.
Applying the rub.

The rub ingredients are dry/powdered: mustard, onion, paprika, garlic, coriander, cumin and of course S 'n P.

The ying and yang of cooking.

While I let the rub set (for about an hour), I went outside to shovel off the deck and get the BBQ started. Oh the joys of BBQing in Winter. Again, the results were worth the efforts.

Making room for the BBQ.

Now I normally have a lot of trouble getting the charcoal lit and up to a decent heat. Takes a lot of lighter fluid, newsprint, matches and cursing. So I decided to get a chimney starter. The idea is that you fill it with charcoal, crumple up newsprint to stuff the bottom, light the paper and sit back and watch, relax and have a homebrew. Then once the tops coals are red, spread them out. No problem.

Using a chimney starter to get the charcoal going

Unfortunately, I didn't save myself any lighter fluid or cursing because even with the chimney starter, it still took me a while to get the meat on (almost 2hrs), but that was my fault for buying charcoal in bulk and leaving it to freeze and crumble in the garage... there's always a donkey twist to my projects... But once I got the meat on, the rest of the day went pretty smooth.

Ready to go! Low and slow!

My BBQ manufacturer makes it easy to know if your heat is sufficient. Just make sure the needle is on IDEAL and everything will be A-OK.  
Ideal = ~275F

Of course, I like to have a little more knowledge and control over what's going on with my BBQ so I added a couple of digital thermometers to the mix. One to monitor the internal temperature of the meat, and the other for the cooking temp. I tried to keep it around 275F for the 6-7hrs of cooking time.

The smoker with dual-digital thermometers.

Every hour, I added soaked wood chips (hickory and pecan) and 8-10 charcoal briquettes to keep the heat up. This handy hatch makes that job pretty simple.
Adding wood chips.

The sight and smell of a big old piece of meat smoking on the grill is a wonder to behold...

To top up the sandwiches, I made a coca-cola bbq sauce and a mop sauce made from cider vinegar, a beer and some of the spice rub. On a related note, the secret recipe for coke is out now so I will not be able to resist making that sometime soon!

Coke BBQ sauce and beer vinegar mop sauce

We had some buttermilk that my wife also needed to make whoopie, so I whipped up a buttermilk dill coleslaw dressing, also found in the Weber book.

Buttermilk dill coleslaw dressing

So it took about 7hrs for the meat to reach an internal temperature of 190F. Then I wrapped it in foil and let it rest while we got the rest of the meal ready. The meat pulled apart almost effortlessly into smokey, succulent morsels. 

Some of the outside pieces with nice pink smoke rings.

I decided to serve the meat on slider buns because then we could have more sandwiches!!

Double pork sliders served with buttermilk slaw.

Fortunately, there were lots of leftovers to enjoy while we watched the game the next night. Unfortunately, the Steelers lost. I actually still have a big tub of frozen meat left that I'm going to use to make chili soon.

You can see all the pics from the day here.