Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Foto: Cheesecake with Blueberry Sauce

Over the last few weeks, I've come across numerous instances where people have modified a recipe from our cookbook to suit their own preferences.  Maybe they've added some vanilla extract to a recipe that didn't call for it, or added bok choy to a stir fry dish for some extra greens, or spiced up our marinara sauce with the addition of some fennel seed.  These are all great things!

Recipes are dynamic and constantly evolving.  Sure, you can make them tried and true as a recipe specifies, but there's nothing wrong with a little experimentation, ad libbing, or modification to make a recipe "yours" or to simply suit your own preferences.  My Belgian grandmother was both famous and infamous for this - she seemingly couldn't leave any recipe alone; she always had to leave her mark on it.  She was a wonderful cook, and so most often the result was wonderful.  But from time to time, her well-intentioned ways led a recipe seriously astray.

We, too, are big recipe modifiers.  Of course, this happens naturally each time we take a "traditional" recipe and make our own gluten-free version.  But it also happens in the course of making recipes from our own cookbook.  Most often, this is the case when we get a craving for a certain dish, but don't feel like running out to the store to get the requisite ingredients.  Instead, we simply look in our pantry and our fridge, and "go with it" from there.

Today's Friday Foto is a case in point.  I was craving a blueberry pie.  Kelli was craving a cheesecake.  As you can see, we met in the middle on this one.  We whipped up a batch of basic gluten-free cookies that became the crust.  Kelli made our cheesecake.  And then, using frozen blueberries from our freezer, we made a blueberry version of our cookbook's raspberry sauce (dialing down the sugar accordingly, since the blueberries are sweeter than the raspberries).  The result was a dessert that was at once familiar and different...all thanks to a little recipe modification.

- Pete

Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Ode to the Hamburger/Hot Dog Bun

I'm not exactly sure why - maybe it's the coming of summer and its attendant barbecues - but I've been thinking a bit lately about hamburgers and hot dogs, and more specifically, about the buns people usually use to eat them.  As I actually type this, I'm realizing that that must sound strange, but it's true.

The thing is, I'd be willing to bet some good hard cash (not much cash, mind you...I'm not much of a gambler) that most people who eat their hamburger or hot dog with a bun don't give a second thought to that bun.  It's merely a delivery mechanism.  It's a way to keep the meat, toppings, and condiments all contained, and all conveniently pick-up-able in an entirely edible package.  If the bun is thought of at all, it's merely considered as an afterthought, nothing more.

In other words, it's all about the meat.  As evidence, consider this recent article in New York magazine about Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat Purveyors.  If you don't want to read the article, here's the main gist: Pat LaFrieda Meats is the meat supplier behind nearly all of New York City's best, most acclaimed hamburgers.  They'll do a custom ground meat blend for each customer/restaurant, and the result is a pretty tasty burger.  But with all of those words spent opining about hamburger meat, not a single word is given to the hamburger bun on which those esteemed burgers are eaten.

But shouldn't (and doesn't) the bun matter?  Do you like it soft and fresh, or grilled with beautiful grill marks, or toasted to a golden brown?  Do you like a white bread bun, or one topped with sesame seeds, or my personal favorite from my gluten days long ago...the potato bun.  (Oh so moist, oh so soft, oh so tasty...)

We gluten-free foodies have a leg up on our gluten-eating counterparts who take their buns for granted.  Sure, on the one hand, we often miss out on eating our burgers and dogs with a bun.  But as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Because we so often eat our burgers and dogs sans bun, we have a deeper appreciation for eating them with a bun.  Perhaps we miss the gluten buns we used to eat, or we lament the crappy GF bun we're eating now.  (A good GF hamburger bun, I've decided, may be one of the rarest GF baked goods on the market...)

It naturally follows, then, that eating a burger or dog without a bun, while possibly inconvenient and messy, is also liberating.  There's no hiding behind a big, fat piece of bread.  The burger patty or hot dog - in all its glory or all its mediocrity - is left to fend for itself.  It shines, alongside the toppings and condiments.  If you really want to judge the best burger in NYC, take the Pat LaFrieda signature meat blends, and have each restaurant serve it up without the bun.

Of course, no restaurant would do that.  "You can't have a hamburger without the bun!" they'd say.  The gluten-free foodie in me would respond, "Well actually, you can. I do it all the time."  But another part of me would say, "Righto.  The bun is important, so let's give it the respect it deserves."

- Pete

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Foto: Mahi-Mahi Fish Tacos

After discussing malting, barley and beer for the last six (6!) posts, today's Friday Foto is a nice change of pace. For the last week, we've been on vacation in North Carolina at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and for me, that means one thing: a seafood binge.  (Actually, it means several things, including a healthy dose of surfing, but for the purposes of today's post, it's all about the food...)

Here in the Buxton and Avon area of the Outer Banks, there are a handful of great local seafood markets that sell fresh, local catch - Diamond Shoals, Risky Business, and Surf's Up, to name three.  (Check out this website to find these and other markets in the surrounding communities.)  Each day this week, we've "indulged" in a different option... grilled fillet of red snapper, bay scallops over GF pasta in a marinara sauce, vegetable kabobs with grilled tuna steak and sea scallops, steamed blue crabs.  Each meal has had its own wonderful appeal, but perhaps my favorite has been the mahi-mahi fish tacos.

After rinsing and patting dry the fish, I lined a baking tray with tin foil.  Each mahi-mahi piece went on the tin foil, then I rubbed down each with a little oil.  A sprinkling of salt and pepper, some minced fresh garlic, and a squeeze of lime juice, and they were ready to go in the oven under the broiler.  About halfway through broiling, the garlic began to brown heavily. At that point, I scraped the garlic off the top of the fish so it wouldn't burn and get too bitter. Then I returned the fish to the broiler to finish cooking. The fish were done when they flaked easily with a fork.

We served the fish with corn tortillas, sauteed peppers and onions, brown rice, salsa, and fresh chopped cilantro.  Divine!  The clean flavor the mahi-mahi, with a little brightness from the lime, really made the dish.

- Pete

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rethinking Malt Vinegar

As you've undoubtedly noticed, in recent posts I've focused pretty heavily on barley, brewing beer, and malting grains.  This makes it timely, I think, to revisit the topic of malt vinegar.  It is made by first malting barley, and then fermenting/brewing that malted barley into a basic form of beer.  Lastly, the beer is allowed to turn into vinegar (via a second fermentation process), during which the beer's ethanol (alcohol) converts to acetic acid.

In the United States, the conventional wisdom has been - and continues to be - that malt vinegar is NOT SUITABLE for someone on a gluten-free diet.  This rationale is based primarily on two important factors: 1) That malt vinegar is made from barley, a gluten-containing ingredient, and 2) That, unlike other vinegars, malt vinegar is not a distilled vinegar.  (For more information on distillation and gluten-free foods, see this post.)

However, recent research suggests that this degree of caution may be unfounded.  I won't go into the finer points of the science here, but the main gist is that the process by which malt vinegar is made systematically and incrementally breaks down its gluten (and/or lowers its concentration) to sufficiently low levels to make it acceptable for people on a gluten-free diet.  For instance, the process of malting breaks down some of barley's hordeins (the gluten protein in barley).  The mashing part of the brewing process as well as the yeast fermentation both continue that sequence of further breaking down barley's hordeins.  Lastly, the malt vinegar is then diluted with water (typically to 5% acidity).  (It's also worth noting that malt vinegar is almost always used as a condiment in low quantities...)  Again, the idea is that at each stage of the malt vinegar production process, the gluten is either a) broken down, or b) diluted.

The end result is that malt vinegar in theory contains very little - or possibly even no - in tact gluten.  Surely, this will come as a surprise to many in the United States.  It may even be considered controversial, or dismissed outright.  But consider that Coeliac UK, the leading non-profit focused on Celiac Disease in the United Kingdom, maintains that malt vinegar is ACCEPTABLE for people on a gluten-free diet.  (See the 3rd question under the gluten-free diet FAQ here.)  This is major news for us US-based gluten-free foodies.  

It goes without saying that you should consult your doctor before you consider adding malt vinegar to your gluten-free diet.  I haven't exactly gone out and started chugging half bottles of malt vinegar to test things out.  But I did recently attend a dinner at a friend's house, and they served jerk pork.  The recipe included 2 tbsp malt vinegar to every 2.5 pounds of pork, and when all was said and done, I didn't get sick.  I'm only a sample size of one, and hardly representative of all gluten-free foodies out there - we're a diverse group with different conditions (Celiac, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy) and different levels of sensitivity.  But I do believe we're living at a time when some of the conventional wisdom surrounding the gluten-free diet may be overthrown, if not revised.

Only time will tell what reforms take hold...

- Pete

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shifting Sands

Yesterday's post about the gluten-free beers as The Alchemist pub and brewery in Waterbury, Vermont is a great example of the shifting sands of gluten-free products. The "Old Guard" - in this case, beers such as RedBridge, New Grist, and company - has been upstaged by a "newcomer."  In this context, you might call the Alchemist a game changer, a new standard, a reviser of expectations, or a mover of the target.  This is a decidedly good thing.

Sometimes, we adjust our expectations for lack of choice in gluten-free foods, or we lower our expectations to meet what is currently available, since "something" is better than "nothing."  And sometimes, when enough time passes with us eating "lowered expectation" foods, we forget what "the good stuff" tastes like.  In this sense, we've recalibrated what "normal" is (the same way I recalibrated what normal was for my body after years of being sick... until I was suddenly healthy on the gluten-free diet more than three years ago and remembered what normal really was).

Then, someone like John Kimmich comes along and upsets the pecking order.  His beers are charting new territory for GF brews.  Less than 24 hours after tasting his Celia Saison and Celia Framboise, I knocked back a bottle of RedBridge.  And to be honest, it suddenly left a lot to be desired.  I hesitate to call it "undrinkable," but whereas before I would be content to enjoy a few bottles, I was now more than happy to stop at one bottle.  The flavor didn't invite me to enjoy another; not the way Kimmich's beer did. 

More recently, my brother- and sister-in-law and their family visited us in Colorado.  One night we all went out for pizza for dinner.  The pizzeria happened to serve New Planet gluten-free beer, and - curious to see if my RedBridge experience would be repeated in the wake of the Alchemist - I ordered a bottle to do an updated review.  When I poured the bottle into a pint glass, it held no more or less head than my home brew.  The nose and the flavor both had very strong tastes of apple and citrus (not what I'd expect in a pale ale).  It was more like drinking a beer-like hard cider, or a hoppy, effervescent apple wine, than it was like drinking a true beer.  My tasting notes included the word "disappointing."

But when I reviewed New Planet here on NGNP a little while back, I mostly had positive things to say.  What had changed?  Certainly nothing about the beer itself.  Rather, the landscape of GF beer had changed, thanks in very large part to Kimmich and the Alchemist.  

On the one hand, this creates a dilemma for me as a reviewer.  What do I do about all the beer reviews I've previously written?  I feel like I have to go back and include an asterisk at the end of each post.  It also creates a dilemma for other gluten-free brewers.  RedBridge, New Planet, New Grist and the like are faced with steep competition.  They can respond in one of two ways - maintain their status quo, or improve their beer to stay on the leading edge of quality and taste.  Those that adhere to the former won't last for long, and those that adhere to the latter are a benefit to us GF beer drinkers.  When someone like Kimmich comes along and changes the rules of the game, other companies are forced to follow suit, and our GF beer-drinking taste buds can be very thankful for it.

And now, a question for you: What companies or products have been game changers for you?  Maybe a local GF bakery, or a pasta, or whatever.  But let us know who's setting the standard for you in the gluten-free world!

- Pete

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT

Skiers and Vermont locals alike know The Alchemist, a pub and brewery in Waterbury a short distance off Interstate 89 and VT Route 100 (which links Stowe, Waterbury and the Mad River Valley).  I personally experienced the Alchemist a few winters ago, when a few friends joined me for a day of backcountry skiing in Mount Mansfield on assignment.  On our way back to my buddy, Kirk's, place, we stopped in at the Alchemist, which was packed with the apres ski crowd.  Back then, I enjoyed a pint of hard cider.  But my, how things have changed.  In my strong opinion, the Alchemist now brews the best gluten-free beer in the country.  Period.

In 2009, the Alchemist took both Gold and Bronze at the annual Great American Beer Festival.  More recently, at the even more prestigious, biannual World Beer Cup earlier this month, the Alchemist also took Gold.  After years of seeing commercial GF beers like RedBridge take top honors, there's a new number one dog in town. When I was going to be in the Mad River Valley in March on assignment, I couldn't resist setting up a meeting with brewer John Kimmich to taste the beers and learn about the brewery.

The Alchemist is a 7-barrel brewery where every pint of beer - GF or otherwise - costs $4.  (The exception are a few of the high ABV specialty beers which cost more to make...) What's more, you won't find Alchemist beers in bottles or cans, or even on tap at area bars. The only place you can get an Alchemist beer is at the Alchemist (and you can only drink it growlers to go).  Kimmich is a brewer who's passionate about beer, especially his beer, and he wants to create a unique community surrounding his beer at the pub, and also wants to ensure that nothing negatively impacts the quality of the beer you're drinking.

Historically, he "scoffed at gluten-free beer," and there seemed to be only occasional customer interest in it.  Then, Kimmich's wife, Jen, was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  He brewed a GF beer, mostly for her, but as soon as he brewed it, "the response was huge," he told me.  That was in the summer of 2009, almost one year ago.  Now, he always keeps a gluten-free beer on tap, and "absolutely will continue."  To give you a sense for how in-demand his GF beers are, a 7 barrel batch of GF beer will last about 8-10 weeks, which equates to selling 150-200 pints per week!  "People have come out of the woodwork," he says.

Kimmich's first GF beer was an IPA, but the sorghum he used didn't pair well with the style.  He says that sorghum lends itself much more toward wild yeast and Belgian-style fermentations, which is exactly what he's done with his most recent, award-winning, exceptional brews.

One of his GF beers is the Celia Framboise, brewed with raspberries and pomegranate. It's sorghum-based, with no hops, and fermented with Brettanomyces yeast that imparts a distinctive horse/barnyard aroma that is a classic part of the flavor profile of fruity Belgian Lambics. It's a little sour, a little sweet, with a relatively stiff 7.8% ABV. Visually, the beer has beautiful warm red highlights.  It's clear why this beer won a Gold at GABF.  Even non-GF beer drinkers will order it at the pub.  They see the Framboise style, don't even notice the GF designation, and it's not until their 2nd or 3rd pour that they even realize they're drinking a GF beer.  "I wanted to make a beer that's scrumptious for everyone," Kimmich says.  "Even regular beer drinkers that scoff at GF beer." He's clearly succeeded with his Celia Framboise.

The other GF beer is the Celia Saison, also based on sorghum, which took Gold at the recent WBC. It's 5.4% ABV, lightly spiced, with a crisp hoppy finish.  The hops are amarillo hops, and the spices are primarily a bit of coriander and Curacao orange.  It has phenomenal head retention - I don't know how Kimmich gets the foam to be so lacy along the walls of the glass. The hoppy nose is slightly floral. When my buddy, Kirk, tried this beer one night when we all went out to dinner at the Alchemist, he couldn't tell it was a gluten-free beer.

The bottom line is that the gluten-free beers at the Alchemist are the undisputed best GF beers in the country, if not the world - as based not only on my opinion, but also his Gold medal wins at both GABF and WBC.  For me, the take away is that Kimmich has quite possibly ruined other GF beer for me.  His beer is so good, that suddenly RedBridge, New Grist and the rest of the lot just don't measure up.  The Alchemist has set a new bar for expectations in a GF beer.  I'm not one to have a tear come to my eye over an especially good GF food or beer, but at the Alchemist, I came close.  If you're a GF beer drinker, you owe it to yourself to visit the Alchemist.

Beyond the beer itself, the pub also has GF options on its dining menu, which "naturally followed the beer," Kimmich says.  The servers can guide you through the standard menu, helping to highlight what's safe to eat, and what substitutions can be made - for example, you can sub a GF bun on sandwiches and burgers for $1 extra, or use a GF rice tortilla for quesadillas. On my recent visit, I ordered the spicy andouille sandwich on a GF bun with no cheese and no sauce (which was thickened with flour). Instead, they subbed the brewery's signature spicy ketchup, and topped the andouille with tomato and fresh greens.  The bun was excellent, one of the better GF buns I've had at a restaurant.  The andouille was indeed spicy, and overall, the meal was highly satisfying.

So there you have it.  As the brewery's Alchemist name implies, brewer John Kimmich is indeed something of a magician with beers, including GF beer.  My only regret is that the Alchemist is in Vermont, and I currently live in Colorado.  "I need to be making beer," Kimmich told me of his chosen profession.  Thank goodness for the rest of us...we all need to be drinking his beer.

- Pete

Photo courtesy of The Alchemist.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Foto: Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit

After three weeks bottle conditioning, it was finally time to pop a bottlecap off a bottle of Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit and sample my inaugural GF homebrew! It was a moment filled with anticipation, excitement, curiosity, uncertainty, and perhaps just a wee bit of worry (what if it tasted horrible??).

I took bottle opener to bottle cap, and as I pried it off, a delightful "psshht" emerged from the bottle. The carbonation was right on the money. I poured the beer into a pint glass and assessed. The beer had almost zero head retention (I'd later learn why this was probably the case), but the nose smelled great. It was slightly sweet, and Kelli suggested that it reminded her of Blue Moon (not bad, since that's a "real" barley- and wheat-based Belgian Wit!). Frankly, I think it was one of the best noses I've smelled on a GF beer. (If only the taste matched the smell...)

The taste was slightly bitter (in a good, beer kind of way). The chestnuts were surprisingly prominent, largely masking the aromatic hops. The orange came through just a little, and I barely detected the coriander. As expected, it was yeasty. I could certainly improve on the depth of flavor, and I'd like the finish to linger longer (at present, it stops abruptly).

Overall, however, it was beyond drinkable. In fact, it was quite tasty (I think it tasted best cool, not cold). The more I drank it, the more I liked it. Sure, I'm biased, but I think it's better than many commercial GF beers I've had. My bias aside, it's objectively good GF beer. And to me, it tastes more like "real" beer than many GF brews.

You don't have to take my word for it, though. For another, take Kelli's: her first reaction was that "it's pretty good." Next: "the more I drink it, the more I like it." Finally, we agreed that it's "actually quite delicious." As evidence, she kept reaching for another sip from the pint glass.

I also shared a few bottles of the beer with my regular gluten beer drinking friends and family. Here's a sampling of their responses: "Very nice." "This is really good. I'm impressed." One person liked it enough he joked that I'm going to have to brew more beer. Another, who describes himself as a "beer lover" as opposed to a "beer aficionado" also agreed that it was good. In fact, not a single person didn't like it. Now of course, they could have just been acting polite for my sake. And that's a total possibility. But I like to think that at least one person would have given me some honest negative feedback or constructive criticism if they thought the beer was lousy.

So I decided to share a few bottles with someone who had a more discriminating palate - Dennis O'Harrow, the head brewmaster at the C.B. & Potts brewery in Broomfield, CO. In 2007 and 2008, Dennis brewed a seasonal GF beer that I reviewed here on NGNP. More importantly, he brews lots of regular beers, knows how to do it well, and could offer his experienced opinion of my inaugural effort. Here's what he thought:

"It's different, but I like it better than most gluten-free beers I've tasted."

"I get the chestnuts. The oils from the chestnuts probably killed your head of foam." [Aha!]

"The chestnut taste hides the orange and coriander."

"I wouldn't have known it's a wit. It's like a saison almost."

"There's a little caramel taste. It would taste even better if it was drier."

"I like it more as it gets warmer. I'm pleasantly surprised that there are none of the sorghum flavors to it."

So there you have it. In the end, I'm quite proud of my beer (all 3% alcohol by volume of it!). Especially for my virgin homebrew effort. Of the initial batch, I have "just" 24 bottles left, which means it's time to start planning the next brew. Now...what style to brew this time, and with what ingredients?

- Pete

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gluten-Free Beer Brewing, 1

With my millet malted, it was time to brew some gluten-free beer. The question was: what kind of beer to brew? Actually, before I answer that question, I'd already made an earlier brewing do an all-grain beer.

Beer brewing at home basically can be done in three ways: extract (in which you use a dry powder or a syrup where the starches have already been converted to fermentable sugars for the yeast to act upon), a partial mash (basically an extract brew, with grain "adjuncts" added for flavor, body and character), and all-grain (in which you use 100% grain, some of which must be malted, and you are dependent on the science of the process and the enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars).

Being the from-scratch purist that I am, I opted to go the all-grain route, which is why I was malting millet in the first place. (Otherwise, I could have greatly simplified the process and bought some sorghum syrup and skipped many of the steps I'm about it describe.)

But back to the question of what kind of beer to brew. Of course, the simplest answer is "tasty." That goes without saying! But it also helps to have a particular style in mind, and I chose to attempt a Belgian Wit. Wits are typically yeasty and cloudy, with hops plus strong hints of orange peel and coriander. I thought the style would pair well with gluten-free grains.

Ultimately, my recipe included several pounds of pale millet malt, a pound or so of medium roasted malted millet, another pound of medium roasted unmalted millet, and some medium roasted chestnut chips. I also used Czech Saaz hops, some bitter orange peel, and some coriander.

Before Brew Day could happen, I still had a little prep to do (for example, making a few pieces of brewing equipment...). I also had to prep the grain. Since I don't yet own a grain mill, I crushed the grain using the Barbarian Method - transfering the grain to a plastic zip top bag in batches, I used a rolling pin and a meat mallet to do the crush. (Note: this method is inferior, and I plan on investing in a grain mill before my next all-grain batch of beer!)

Finally, it was time to brew. An oversimplified description of my day goes like this:

1. Steep the unmalted millet and chestnuts in water to begin to extract the starches, then bring to a boil to gelatinize those starches (this makes it easier for the enzymes to act on them).

2. Allow the boil to cool to strike temperature, then add the malted millet, confirm proper temperature, remove from heat, cover in blankets, and let sit for a specified period of time. This is known as the mash. During this time, the enzymes created during the malting process do their work, gobbling away at the starches and proteins, turning them into amino acids and fermentable sugars.

3. Remove the grain from the wort (the sweet liquid that will ferment to become beer) and sparge (drain additional water through the spent grain to extract every last bit of goodness). Add the sparge water to the brew kettle.

4. Bring the wort to a boil and add bittering hops.

5. Late in the boil, add the orange peel, coriander, and aromatic hops.

6. Rapidly chill the wort from boiling to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Transfer to a carboy (the primary fermentation vessel), pitch the yeast, attach an air lock, and then sit back and have a drink. You've earned it.

At that point, I allowed the beer to ferment for about one week. During this time, fermentation accelerates rapidly, remains strong for a period of time, and then tapers off until there's no visible activity. Also during this time, spent yeast as well as proteins and suspended solids settle out to the bottom of the fermenter. At the end of the week, I bottled the beer. From that point, it was another three weeks of patiently waiting while the beer carbonated and bottle conditioned. Then, at long last, more than a month before I first started malting millet, it was time to taste the fruits (err...fermented grains...) of my labor. (But that's for tomorrow's Friday Foto post.)

What follows below is a photo montage of the brewing process. A couple of notes: these are photos we took casually for our own amusement. We weren't thinking ahead about using them on the NGNP blog, so they're quite informal. Also, we didn't photo-document every stage of the brewing process, but at least you can see some of the steps.

A trip to the hardware store for some raw materials, plus a blow torch and some solder, and I had my own home-made immersion wort chiller. The copper coils are submerged in the boiling hot wort, and cold water is circulated through the chiller, rapidly cooling the wort. I was able to make my own for about half the cost of buying one from a brewing supply store.

When you're boiling upwards of 7 gallons of liquid, you need a pretty powerful burner that can really crank out the BTUs. I opted to go with a propane turkey fryer burner. As a double bonus, it came with a 7 gallon frying pot, which I repurposed as my brew kettle. Bonus! Here, Marin is helping me assemble the burner.

Sanitation, sanitation, sanitation. It's the mantra of the homebrewer. Pretty much everything that touches your would-be beer must be sanitized, including the carboy. Here, Marin is helping me measure gallons so I could make graduated markings on the side of the container.

Stirring the mash. Some brewers call adding the grain to the water "doughing in." It was easy to see why. Imagine adding crushed grain to water. It makes a kind of dough, so it's nice to have a large ladle or paddle so that you can mix it up.

Later that night, at the end of a long brew day, I "stole" a small quantity of the wort in order to take gravity measurements with my hydrometer. The difference between the starting and final gravities (before and after fermentation) allow you to calculate the percent alcohol content of your beer.

Roughly 5 gallons of beer, fermenting in a dark closet at approx. 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you look carefully, you can see a light tan-colored ring around the bottom. That is the traub...the settled proteins plus spent yeast.

Bottling day. 48 bottles cleaned and sanitized and ready to receive their beer.

The bottling setup. First, the beer is siphoned from the carboy to the bottling bucket. Then, the beer is siphoned from the bottling bucket to the bottles.

Bottling the beer. (Yes, I was so excited to bottle that I literally rolled out of bed, wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and man slippers, and got right to it.)

Putting on bottle caps.

There it is! A certified bottle of Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit. (I named it Zonder Gluten as a nod to my Flemish-speaking family in northern Belgium. "Zonder" means "without" in Flemish, and so Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit translates as "Gluten-Free Belgian Wit.")

Lastly, the bottles went into a cardboard box and were relegated to a back corner of a closet where they sat for 3 weeks, slowly carbonating and bottle conditioning.

Coming tomorrow: the outcome!

- Pete

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Malt of the Matter

De-hulled millet, as commonly sold in supermarkets (both pre-packaged and bulk bins)

Within gluten-free circles, saying the word "malt" is aking to saying a four letter word. Yes, it's literally a four letter word (m-a-l-t). But it's also a Four Letter Word, a taboo. That's because, in the United States, "malt" is synonymous with barley, and as I'm sure you're aware, barley is a no-no if you're on a strict gluten-free diet. Both the FDA and TTB officially define malt as being made from barley, and culturally, there's that assumption as well. The result is that foods such as malt vinegar, some cereals, and beer all contain gluten, because they're made from malt, aka malted barley, aka barley malt extract. In this context, we're talking about malt as a noun.

But there's also malt, the verb. As in, to malt. In this context, it's a process, and it can be applied to any grain, including gluten-free grains such as millet, corn, sorghum, buckwheat, and quinoa. At its most basic, the process is a simple one: you germinate the grain. Natural food aficionados will know this process by another name: sprouting. To do it, you basically soak your chosen grain in water for a specified period of time, then remove it from the water and maintain it under conditions that foster germination.

Why sprout? Generally speaking, sprouting produces a series of desirable changes in a grain. Most important are conversions that take place - namely, the production of enzymes, the conversion of proteins to amino acids, and the conversion of carbohydrates into simpler sugars. The benefits for the human eating sprouted grain are numerous. For example, sprouted grains are easier to digest (since the grain's own enzymes are doing some of the work for you), tastier (they're slightly sweeter), and they're more nutritious (since the amino acids and sugars are more readily absorbed).

People use sprouted grains in all sorts of ways, such as baking special breads.

Millet with the hull, prior to soaking and germination

My interest in sprouted grains was motivated by another reason: brewing gluten-free beer. Malting, as specific to brewing, is more or less a very specific form of sprouting. Consider it a carefully controlled germination. That's because in brewing, the temperature of germination, moisture content of the grain, and duration of germination all have important impacts on the development of desirable characteristics (such as the amount and balance of alpha and beta amylase enzymes). The idea is to create the right amount of enzymes in the right proportions in order to break down the complex carbs into simpler fermentable sugars (which the brewing yeast converts to alcohol and carbon dioxide) and in order to develop the proper amount of amino acids, including Free Amino Nitrogen (which is important in yeast nutrition).

One of the unique aspects of malting (and sprouting more generally), is that you need grain with the hull still on. Alas, it almost never is. Most supermarkets sell grains that have been de-hulled (see the top-most photo above). The thing is, grain without the hull almost never germinates. (In the case of millet, less than 10% might germinate...hardly a good ratio.)

For my own malting (with millet), I obtained my grain from a millet farmer in northeastern Colorado - a 50-pound bag of millet with the hulls still on. Next, I weighed out 6 pounds of millet, and gave it three 8-hour soaks in water, with an "air rest" in between each soak. The result was better than 90% germination rate.

Just after initial germination

Once germination began, I was amazed how rapidly it progressed. First, the rootlets appeared. They grew longer and longer, seemingly before my very eyes. Next, the shoots began to emerge.

After 60 hours (~2.5 days)

Soon, the kitchen began to smell like a greenhouse (or at least, like wet vegetation). After about 2.5 days, germination had progressed far enough that the enzymes would be well-developed, and it was time to halt the process. This is in order to avoid "malting loss." The longer your grain germinates, the more the growing plant feeds on the carbs and protein. And the longer the plant feeds, the less you have for the brewing yeast to turn your hard-earned malt into beer.

After kilning, with most roots and shoots removed, mildly roasted

In order to stop germination, I kilned the millet in our oven for several hours over fairly low temperatures. This dries out the grain and dessicates the roots and shoots, halting the process. Finally, I separated the roots and shoots from the grain, retaining only the millet. A short roast in the oven, and I was ready to begin brewing with my home-malted millet. But this, of course, was the good kind of malt...gluten-free malt, just the thing I needed to make some gluten-free beer.

- Pete

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Foto: Caramel Apples

It's no secret that, from time to time, Kelli and I can have a bit of a sweet tooth. (Marin, I'm guessing, will have a sweet tooth, too, at such point as she has more teeth. She's currently at 6 and counting, with numbers 7 and 8 currently breaking through...) We'll often have a small portion of some kind of dessert a few nights a week after dinner. Usually it's cookies, or a sliver of pie, or scones, or as with one night earlier this week, some leftover corn tortillas from a taco dinner that became cinnamon-sugar tortillas for dessert. Our belief (or perhaps it's a rationalization?) is that a little dessert in moderation on a fairly regular basis prevents mega-binges that would really throw us under the dietary bus.

Even so, from time to time, we feel a little more indulgent and crave a sugar bomb. More often than not, the craving comes in the form of a caramel apple. (And with a crunchy, fresh apple underneath all that caramel, it almost feels sorta a loaded with sugar kind of way.) Oftentimes, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory - ubiquitous throughout Colorado - delivers. But for us, the creme de la creme are the caramel apples at a little candy shop in Estes Park, the gateway community on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park about one hour north and west of us.

Lately, though, Kelli's been using our candy thermometer and a good bit of persistence to develop our own caramel apple recipe. Sure, there are plenty of recipes out on the Internet. But we wanted something that was distinctly NGNP, and which suited our tastes...just the right sweetness, just the right richness to the caramel, just the right soft-yet-firm texture.

Our (Kelli's) early attempts were a bit like Goldilocks trying the porridge of the three bears - too hot, too cold, just right. One round of caramel apples looked beautiful initially, but as the caramel cooled and set up, it became hard and brittle. On another occasion, it was too liquid, running off the sides of the apples and pooling in the tray on which they were standing. Now, we're very close. I think one more round of testing to confirm that the recipe works, and we'll be ready to share it here. Hooray! Until then, I hope today's Friday Foto makes you drool just a little bit. I know that I, for one, could go for a caramel apple right about now...

Have a great weekend.

- Pete

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ski G-Free: Arapahoe Basin, CO

On a recent Friday a few weeks ago, I attended a media day hosted by Colorado Ski Country USA at Arapahoe Basin. About a dozen writers and editors, along with many reps from the state's esteemed ski areas, convened on the mountain for a day of business conducted on skis. (All business meetings should be so fun...)

As lunch time neared, we retired to Black Mountain Lodge, which sits mid-mountain beneath its namesake Black Mountain and Lenawee Ridge, just a stone's throw from the cannon ski patrollers use to launch explosives onto the upper mountain to mitigate avalanche danger. (The view from the deck is truly stunning - one of the best in Colorado.)

To my partial surprise and great delight, as I neared the front of the line to order from the grill, a small printed sign noted that they offered gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns. I had already resigned myself to ordering a burger sans bun, but lo and behold, a burger with bun was on the menu for the GF crowd. Waiting for my burger to grill, I carefully eyed the rest of the operation, trying to gauge the potential for cross-contamination. (The last thing I needed was getting sick on the mountain that afternoon...) The french fries, for example, are cooked in the same oil as breaded chicken fingers, so the standard side was out. I grabbed a bag of potato chips instead.

I loaded up my burger with the fixin's: lettuce, red onion, tomato, a bit of ketchup. Then I took my first bite, and... the bun splintered into pieces. It was dry and crumbly, and it took considerable effort for me to eat the burger on the bun without it all falling apart in my hands. Bummer.

Later that afternoon, I sat down with Certified Executive Chef Chris Rybak to get the skinny on gluten-free on-mountain dining at A-Basin. Rybak was formerly the chef at the acclaimed four-star restaurant, Alpenglow Stube at nearby Keystone Resort, before coming over to head up dining operations at A-Basin.

It turns out that the gluten-free dining options are new this ski season, unveiled Fall 2009. Interestingly, the motivation to add GF options didn't come so much from the skiers themselves, but rather from Rybak and resort staff. For example, Kim T, A-Basin's social/new media director, has Celiac Disease and was part of an employee push for more dining options. Rybak, for his part, has a friend with gluten intolerance, and has always been interested in catering to as many guests as he can...whether their dietary restriction is gluten, or meat, or whatever.

While the effort is still a work in progress, there are already plenty of options. At Black Mountain Lodge, you can order a GF hot dog on a GF bun, or a hamburger, or grilled portobello mushroom, or a tuna sandwich. Since the fries are off-limits, you can substitute a small Caesar salad (with no croutons, of course). At the base lodge, you'll also find gluten-free pizzas, as well as prepackaged gluten-free cookies and brownies. (The buns and pizza crusts are sourced from Deby's Gluten Free Bakery in Denver. It's surprising the bun was so disappointing, since Deby's delicious pizza crust is used not only at A-Basin, but also at BeauJo's.)

All in all, though, it's a great effort that's much appreciated. It's nice to have options, and I commend A-Basin for taking the step to help meet the needs of GF guests (even if my hamburger bun took the wind out of my sails a bit...).

Looking ahead, the one big thing A-Basin is working on is getting the word out. Apart from that one small sign I saw at Black Mountain Lodge, there was little to tell me - at the ski area, or on their website - that GF dining options were available. If you weren't in the loop, you could very easily miss out. And so improved signage at the ski area dining facilities, as well as info posted on the website, will help to raise awareness.

Photos courtesy of Arapahoe Basin.

- Pete

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend

UPDATED: 4/13/11

A fundamental component of many of our recipes - especially baked goods - is our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend. Those of you who own a copy of our cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, will already be familiar with it (the recipe is on page 15). We're also continually developing new recipes for the NGNP blog, and use the Artisan GF Flour Blend there as well. only made sense to post the recipe here on NGNP so it's readily accessible.

Single Batch (about 3 cups)

1 1/4 cups (156g) brown rice flour
3/4 cup (88g) sorghum flour
2/3 cup (90g) cornstarch
1/4 cup (37g) potato starch
1 tbsp + 1 tsp (14g) potato flour
1 tsp (3g) xanthan gum

Quadruple Batch (about 12 cups)

5 cups (625g) brown rice flour
3 cups (350g) sorghum flour
2 2/3 (360g) cups cornstarch
1 cup (148g) potato starch
1/3 cup (57g) potato flour
1 tbsp + 1 tsp (14g) xanthan gum

Common Substitutions

If you have a sensitivity to one of the components in the flour blend, not to worry. True to our blog title, that's no problem! Try these straightforward substitutions:

Sorghum - omit the sorghum, and substitute additional brown rice flour
Corn - omit the cornstarch, and substitute arrowroot flour (use about 2/3 as much arrowroot as you would cornstarch)
Potato - omit the potato starch and flour, and substitute 1/3 cup tapioca starch (or 1 1/3 cups tapioca for a quadruple batch)

Measuring Flour

By cup measure... Use the spooned flour method of measuring. Use a spoon to stir and lightly aerate your master batch of flour. Then use the spoon to scoop flour into your measuring cup. Lastly, use a straight edge, such as a knife, to level the cup of flour. Voila! (For more background on differences in volumetric flour measuring, check out this post.)

By weight... One cup of Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend weighs 125g. 'Nuff said.

- Pete

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Foto: Grilled Old Bay Shrimp

Today's Friday Foto is about as simple as a recipe can get - just three (3!) ingredients. All you need are raw, uncooked shrimp, olive oil, and seasoning. That's it.

As the recipe name implies, the seasoning in question is Old Bay. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Old Bay. When used over seafood, it's very easy to be too heavy-handed. I remember years ago, when I was on a vacation to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, I ordered soft shell crab from a renowned local seafood joint. To my dismay, the crab was served so covered in Old Bay that I couldn't even taste the crab meat. (The chef would have done well to follow Old Bay's current tag line: "Bold flavor. Sprinkle responsibly.")

Used in just the right amount, however, Old Bay can be a wonderful complement to a wide array of seafood flavors, including shrimp. To make our grilled Old Bay shrimp, you could use name-brand Old Bay, or you could do as we do...mix up your own seafood seasoning blend. (We provide a recipe on page 53 of our cookbook, to go along with our crab cakes...)

Then, to make the recipe:

Start with raw/uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp. (For the photo above, I used 31-40 count shrimp, and grilled about 25, which yielded enough shrimp for dinner for Kelli and me, plus a few for Marin.) Then skewer the shrimp so that they're ready to grill.

Next, whip up a wet rub. Simply mix together equal parts Old Bay / seafood seasoning and olive oil. About 1-2 tbsp each will be more than enough to season 25 shrimp. Use less for more shrimp flavor and milder spice; use more for a bigger kick. Coat the shrimp.

Lastly, cook the shrimp over a preheated grill. When grilling shrimp, I like to do about 80% of the cooking on one side. Then I flip the shrimp once to finish off the cooking, which takes just a minute or two more. Delish.


- Pete