Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gueuze for a game day

There is something resembling a stockpile of Belgian beer at my house. Mostly I forget about it because its in the basement, and I only go down there to contemplate the mess leftover from the flood and work out to the movies of Woody Allen and Kevin Costner. But yesterday was a big day - we had playoff tickets for Bulls vs. Cavs - as well as a ride to the game. In other words: time for some beer.

We selected a couple gueuzes, a sour beer from Belgium that has it's fair share of fans as well as haters. We happen to love the tart, sour taste as well as the funky / barnyard-y smell. However plenty of folks SERIOUSLY hate them, not just because the beer is funky and strange but because the bacteria used in production has messed with beers not meant to be sour.

Initially I thought that Petrus Aged Ale was not gueuze, but it clearly was. It had that barnyard smell that some soft cheeses have, and the flavor was light but definitely sour. I had started with a very hoppy (non-Belgian) beer, and this was a great contrast. Gueuze can be very effervescent and almost light despite the strange flavor. Germany has something similar - gose - which is not only sour, but also saline. It's actually not as strange as it sounds, but its not something I'd have every day or even as often as I might want a gueuze.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hopefully Hop Rhizome Planting

With the first legitimately warm weekend of the year came the urgency to dig in the dirt. And I had good cause as just this week my hope rhizomes arrived by mail! This is my second year growing hops, having failed at it last year. But I have reason to believe that this year will be better due both to the condition of the hops I received as well as the quality of my garden skills.

The varieties I chose are Mt. Hood, Fuggle and Chinook. Interested gardeners can order them online from various reputable retailers, and I got mine from www.freshhops.com. You can plant from seeds, though everything I've read suggests the way to go is to start from rhizomes, which are cuttings from the root of the plant.

I was very impressed with the quality of the hops I received! These byoot
s were moist in the plastic bag they came in and (!) already had shoots and pretty pink buds. I seem to recall that the hop rhizomes I received last year were not so fresh. Or it could be that I let them dry out before planting. them. I have been known to cripple myself with indecision!

But onward and upward! This is a new day...

To the right is the close-up of the Mt. Hood hop rhizome. It looks fairly gnarly, like a creation from a Guillermo Del Toro movie. Here's hoping that what comes of soaking this bad boy in water is not this, but some lovely decorative and (someday) useful vines.

I am starting the hops in plants in containers though eventually they will probably be
planted in the ground.
The planting medium is 1/3 each compost, soil, and peat moss. Peat moss is controversial because of how it is extracted from bogs, which are a finite resource. However I didn't know this when I bought the stuff way back a couple years ago, so I'm going to continue to use it. So there!

There was some disagreement about the proper way to orient the hops in the ground / container. Some say vertical, others horizontal. I kind of split the difference and planted them lopsided which probably is the worst of all worlds. HOWEVER I checked today: and there are buds popping out. Not new buds, but the buds have grown an eensy bit. And I'll take it.

Hops need full sun and plenty of water, both of which I should be able to provide. Them's the basics, right?

In other planting news I managed to get some arugula and bok choy planted (direct) as well as some tomatoes started in containers. The tomato varieties are quite spectacularly named: Arkansas Traveller, Oregon Spring Bush and, for the grand finale, Bloody Butcher. Oh my, do I have high expectations for those Bloody Butchers!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pretzel Nuggets

Yummy. Big soft pretzels are one of the (many) foods I look forward to when I'm heading to see a baseball game, but I've been disappointed recently so have had to take matters into my own hands. Here's the latest attempt.

Pretzel Nuggets

Makes 36 nuggets

1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)

1 tsp sugar 2 1/4 tsp yeast

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, as needed to form dough

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

1 cup water

Coarse salt

2 T melted butter

Dissolve sugar in warm water in a glass. Using a thermometer (this is the best no-fail way to proof yeast), wait until water temperature reaches approximately 105-110 degrees F, then add the yeast. Allow to proof until bubbles form about an inch above surface water.

In large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of flour and all of the salt. Once your yeast is proofed, add the proof mixture to the flour mixture and combine to form a dough. Continue to add flour until dough is formed and just barely sticky to the touch. Continue to knead/mix for 5-10 minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl and place dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in warm spot to rise for about an hour.

Once dough is risen, preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Prepare 2 baking sheets with Silpats, parchment paper, or light grease. Set aside for now. Divide dough into four equal pieces and "snake" out to 8-10 inches long. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Cut each "snake" into 8 equal pieces. Meanwhile warm water in a pot on the stove, dissolving baking soda in the water. Dip each pretzel nugget into baking soda water then place on prepped baking sheets. Lightly sprinkle each nugget with coarse salt to taste. Once all nuggets are prepped, bake in oven for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

While nuggets are in the oven, melt 2 T butter. Once the nuggets are baked and out of the oven, brush the nuggets with the butter for a little extra flavor. To maximize your enjoyment of these delicious nuggets, dip in con queso while watching a Cubs game.