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This is my final post in the 365 Foods project, and what could be more appropriate than drinking a beer to celebrate?  I’ve had so much fun both contributing and reading the posts by the 365 team and my co-guest bloggers.  So I’m raising a glass to each of the foodies here, and to all you readers out there too.  We appreciate you dropping by!

* See Note

I have to say, I am a lucky, lucky woman.  Why?  My boyfriend makes fantastic home-brew.  For several years now he’s been producing carefully tailored brews right in our apartment, and there’s no pleasure in life quite like the pleasure of tasting a beer that has been carefully planned and prepared over the course of weeks.  As summer approaches I can count on him to produce a gorgeous Belgian-style witbier, perfect for sipping in our camp chairs.  Other times he’ll turn out IPAs, Amber Ales, or whatever is tickling his creative fancy.

To those of you who have politely sipped at terrible home-brew and tried to pour it in the nearest house plant: trust me – there’s a whole other world out there.

I will attempt only a cursory intro to home-brewing today.  The process is far too involved to do justice in a little blog post.  However, if you are intrigued by what you see, don’t be intimidated!  Once you’re familiar with the process it’s quite easy and doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  In fact, fabulous results can be had with a method easier than the one I’m describing today.

A dear friend of ours got us into home-brewing, and introduced us to Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies. Dan is incredibly knowledgeable and stocks everything you could possibly need to make top-quality beers customized to your own tastes.  He offers many recipes to get you started, and will help you create your own recipes too.  This isn’t your standard “pick-a-boxed-beer-kit” U-brew kind of place.

Today’s beer is an ale loosely based on Liberty Ale by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company.  I’ll break it down by ingredient, and then roughly describe the process.  I’m not the expert in the house (and while we are careful we aren’t as meticulous as some brewers out there) so I acknowledge now that what I’m about to write should be taken as a loose guide only!

Malt

In brewing, Malt refers to grains (usually barley) that have been germinated, dried, and sometimes roasted.  In this recipe we’re using mostly Canadian-grown 2-row malt, which is a classic British beer malt, and a little bit of Carastan malt, a roasted malt that adds some body and sweet, toffee-like flavour.

Hops

Hops are flowers that not only flavour beer, but act as a natural preservative.  Hops add both bitterness and aroma to the beer.  We used two American varieties: Centennial and Cascade, which both have spicy, floral characters with a lot of grapefruit.

Yeast

Yeast ferments the sugars in the malt creating alcohol and CO2.  We used dry Nottingham yeast, a fairly neutral ale yeast that would let the malt and hop flavours really shine.

The Process

We used an “All grain” method for this beer, which means that we extracted all the sugars from the malt ourselves.  A quicker method that still yields excellent results makes use of malt extract and pretty much skips the mash and sparging steps I’m about to describe.

Mashing

Mashing is the process of soaking the malt in hot water to convert the complex starches into simple sugars that the yeast can easily ferment.  We use our camping cooler and diligent attention to keep the mash at the right temperature.  The sugary fluid that results from the mash is called Wort.

Sparging

Sparging combines two processes: draining filtered Wort from the mash tun (in this case our cooler) and flushing as much sugar out of the malt as possible with more hot water.  We modify our cooler to include a spigot that filters the wort through braided stainless steel cable, keeping all the grain debris out of the wort.

Boiling and Hopping

The boil serves three purposes.  First, it sterilizes the Wort.  Second, it purifies the Wort by removing undesirable compounds, some of which evaporate and some of which coagulate at this stage and can be removed later.  Third, the boil releases flavour from hops by releasing alpha acids.  Hops are often added at more than one stage of the boil.  Hops added early in the boil add lots of bitterness but little aroma while hops added near the end add little flavour but lots of aroma.  We added the Centennial hops at the beginning of the boil and some of the Cascades at the end.  More Cascade hops were reserved for a later stage.

Chilling

The Wort needs to be cooled very rapidly.  We used a cold water bath and ice.  We then strained out the hops and transfered the wort into the Primary Fermentor.

Fermentation and Dry-hopping

Once the Wort is cool enough, activated yeast is added and the beer is left to ferment.  The first stage, or Primary Fermentation, takes a few days – we usually let it go for a week.  During this time the fermentation is apparent from the bubbling in the bung (um, yeah) as CO2 escapes the fermentor.

When primary fermentation is complete the beer is carefully siphoned into the Secondary Fermentor (for this stage we use a gigantic glass bottle called a carboy).  For this beer we will be “dry-hopping” which means more hops are added to the Secondary to increase the beer’s aroma.  Secondary Fermentation clarifies the beer and can rejuvenate the yeast a bit.  We generally leave beer in the Secondary for two weeks.

Bottling

We don’t use kegs, so we rely on bottle conditioning to carbonate our beer.  The beer is carefully siphoned out of the secondary into another vessel and Priming Sugar is added.  The beer is then poured into bottles and capped.  The yeast in the beer gorge on this new sugar and create CO2 in the bottles.  After a few weeks in the bottles the beer is carbonated and ready to drink.

* * *

This batch is currently in the Primary, so we’ll probably get our first taste in mid-November, and it will continue to improve for several weeks after that.  This batch will produce about 23 litres of beer (about 65 standard sized bottles) from $30 worth of ingredients.  That’s about $0.46 per beer.

I’d share with you all if I could.  But please enjoy Drink Beer Day in whatever manner suits you best!  All my best, and thanks for a great year here at 365 Foods!

~ Sage

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* Sorry. I don’t know who to attribute the beer mug photo to.  It’s on over 60 websites and I don’t know who the photographer is.

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Ed.: A 365foods day first – today’s post is exactly in conventional text. Oh no, J. has a far more interesting presentation in mind. Click on each picture to get a bigger, easier to read version. You don’t want to miss a doodle!

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I didn’t have nachos tonight in preparation for National Nacho Day.  I had pizza.  Crappy pizza too.  Stupid excessively overpriced crappy pizza.  This is what happened…

The past two nights, G has stayed up late and has been energetic and lots of fun so I planned on that tonight.  I planned on picking him up from daycare and we would go shopping to pick up the stuff for the Best Nachos Ever and it would be loads of fun.  Like this!

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Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot #1

I forgot though.  Yesterday we went to one of the mass inoculation clinics and he got shot up with seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 vaccine … and then he woke up at 5 this morning with a fever and cranky.  So when I picked him up from daycare, it was a lot more like this …

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Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot #2 (can you still call it cute when it looks like this?)

Suffice to say, we did not make it to the grocery store and I did not make nachos.  Instead, I ordered this crappy-ass pizza from this crazy place that charged me $3.00 to put less than an ounce of feta on my small pizza!  But I digress …

Since my child has yet again prevented me from being able to provide you with delicious photographs of delicious food, the least I can do is provide you with my Philosophy of Nachos and some delicious recipes.

Here’s my Philosophy of Nachos:

Nachos are all about the layers, the cheese and the salsa.  Well, nachos ARE cheese on top of tortilla chips.  Otherwise, they’re just tortilla chips.  So really, the tortilla chips are conduits.  Conduits for yummy ooey gooey melted cheese and tart juicy salsa.  Of course, you should also put other toppings on your nachos to make it really spectacular which is what I almost always do.  But the key is the layers.  To build a really good plate of nachos, you have to layer your nachos, cheese, toppings like you are building a really complex lasagna, or playing Tetris or something like that.

You start with a nice deep casserole dish, or even better, a deep cast iron frying pan.  Spread a two chip thick layer of tortilla chips across the bottom.  Use good chips.  You’re making nachos here – there is no “diet-friendly” here – nachos are about excess!  Skip the baked tortilla chips and go straight to the good ol’deep-fried corn tortilla chips.  Don’t buy unsalted chips either.  You’d just be cheating yourself.

Evenly sprinkle a layer (silly aside here – I just accidentally typed “lawyer” not “layer” – I have work on the brain) of grated “cheese” (explained below) and a layer of “toppings” (also explained below), followed by another two chip thick layer of chips, another layer of cheese, another layer of toppings and so on until you have filled the casserole dish.  Finish by topping the last layer of toppings with a layer of cheese.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until all the cheese is thoroughly melted.  It can’t be a little bit melted.  It has to be bubbling-boiling-oil-separating-from-the-milk solids melted.  Take it out of the oven and then eat your nachos by dipping them in a variety of “delicious dips” (explained below) and sour cream before carefully putting them in your mouth trying not to burn your tongue on the melted cheese.  Drink beer with your nachos. Or maybe a Margarita if you want to pretend you are on a tropical holiday somewhere lounging on the beach …

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Gratuitous Cute Kid Shot #3 - On the

Delicious Recipes:

“Cheese” – should be a mixture of cheese.  Not just any old cheese.  Mix monterey jack (preferably with jalapenos or habaneros in it) and extra old cheddar.  That’s the best combo.

“Toppings” – this is where things can get crazy.  Skip the canned black olives (eeewwwww!!!) and go for any combination (or all) of the following:

1. The Fresh Veggie Topping: Finely chopped bell peppers of every hue (red, green, yellow, orange), tomatoes (use Romas – they’re less juicy so they won’t make your chips soggy), sweet onion (stay away from yellow and purple – too strong!).

2. The Taco Sunday Veggie Topping: Saute onions, mushrooms and diced red peppers until tender but still crunchy.  Add black beans, corn and spices.  “Spices?”  Spices.  Specifically, toasted ground cumin, chili powder, toasted ground coriander, cayenne, salt and lime juice.  Yes, I consider citrus a spice.  Cook long enough to meld all the flavours, but remember that your veggies will be cooking in the oven while the cheese is melting so don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with mush.

3. The Taco Sunday Meat Topping: Brown extra lean ground beef or bison meat.  Properly lean meat will actually require some oil in the pan and there won’t be anything to drain off.  Add spices and a slurry.  Spices are pretty much the same as for the Veggie Topping, but don’t put lime in it unless you really, really like citrus.  Make a slurry with some corn starch and some water, or if you want to stick with our family’s Taco Sunday tradition, use beer.  Mix the spices with the slurry, slop it onto the meat and cook on med-low heat until it thickens.  You can do the same thing with chicken instead but it’s best to rub spices on the chicken, grill it, shred it and then simmer it in the spicy slurry.  If you use chicken, definitely use the lime.

4. The Taco Sunday Extra Best Special Topping: Chorizo and lime.  That’s it.  Just chorizo (really good quality of course) sauteed with some fresh lime juice squeezed on it.

5. The Gotta Have Something Pickled Topping: pickled jalapenos, banana pepper rings, green chiles, olives (again, let me reiterate, not the canned ones! eeeeeewwwwww!), etc.

“Delicious Dips” – there’s a variety here.  It’s all about salsa fresca – which just means “fresh sauce” which doesn’t really tell you much about what you’re eating except that it’s “fresh”.  No, that doesn’t mean it’s going to pinch you in the butt when you walk by.  It means fresh raw ingredients.  The best salsa is made with the best produce, so if you’re gonna make it, splurge on the high quality produce and buy local whenever you can – it almost always tastes better.

Because I am blessed to live in the heart of farm market country, I rarely eat store bought salsa.  Salsa fresca is easy to make and delicious to eat so why would I?  First, make your base.  What you do is you finely mince a mid-size clove of garlic and put it in a bowl.  Add about a quarter of a sweet onion finely diced, a couple of handfuls of fresh cilantro leaves, a pinch of cayenne and some fresh squeezed citrus (you pick lemon or lime – depends on what else you’re putting in the salsa).  Amounts are not specific (if you have a problem with that, please go re-read my profile – you can’t say you weren’t warned).  Point is to have a light touch with the onion, heavy touch with the cilantro, cayenne to taste.  I almost always include a fresh hot pepper, like a jalapeno or serrano or habanero, in my base, but it’s optional.  Not everyone likes the really spicy stuff.

For tomato salsa, add to the base some fresh finely diced tomatoes.  Use good flavorful tomatoes like Super Sweets or Romas.  Not cardboardy flavourless beefsteaks.  You might as well buy something in a jar if you’re gonna do that.

For tomatillo salsa, skip the citrus and add a bunch of finely diced tomatillos and some avocado.  Tomatillos are very acidic so you don’t need citrus, unless you feel like having a perma-pucker while you eat.

For fruit salsa, add a finely diced fruit, like a papaya, mango or pineapple (or all of them mixed together).  These are tropical fruits which is a deviation from the fresh local produce refrain.  It’s the exception to the rule.  You could, in fact, make a salsa using fruits local to BC and it would still be delicious.  Peach salsa, for instance.  Or apples.  Or … you get the point.

That’s about it for salsa fresca.  I am not going to talk about guacamole here.  Why?  Because I know there is a guacamole day coming up someday and I wouldn’t want to steal it’s thunder.  Plus, I think this is my longest post yet and I’m concerned I have lost your attention by now.

I am SO going to make nachos this weekend!

B.