Archive for June, 2011

Homemade Soda

I’m from Pittsburgh, so it’s “pop”… let’s just get that out of the way. And one of my favorite pops is Red Ribbon Cherry Soda, made by the Natrona Bottling Company, in Natrona, PA. It’s awesome. Sweet. Kinda tart from the CO2. Nostalgic. Perfect. That, coupled with my homebrewing experience, inspired me to make my own soda. It’s so easy, it’s crazy to NOT do it. I don’t think this should get filed under “Money Svaing”, but it’s fun… and probably something great to do with some youngsters.

mmmmm... the sweet, sweet, taste of nostalgia.

Fist things first, clear out half of a shelf in the fridge. You’ll need it to store the pop in the chill box after it’s done carbonating… if you leave the bottles unrefrigerated, the bottles will continue to ferment, creating more CO2, which will cause an explosion. No one wants that. It’ll be a mess… and could be dangerous. Ok. No fridge space, no soda making…. rule #1. Also, you’ll need seven or eight 16.9oz plastic bottles.  Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Also, the credit for this recipe goes to:

1/2 gallon grape juice
1/2 gallon water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ale or champagne yeast

Simmer juice, water and sugar in a stockpot for 30 minutes. Let cool, and then add the yeast. Let the soda stand at room temperature for 24 hours, then use a funnel to pour the soda into bottles. Leave 1 to 2 inches of empty space at the top of the bottle and attach the bottle caps. Write the date on the bottles and store them in a warm, draft-free place, ideally at room temperature, for an additional 24 hours. Then refrigerate. For best results, let the soda sit an additional day or two in the refrigerator before drinking. Makes 1 gallon.

I substituted a half gallon of Juicy Juice Cherry juice.. it’ll probably work with orange drink for orange soda… or apple juice… maybe even grapefruit juice? Anything, really.

Also, I used two packets, totaling four grams, of some leftover Mr. Beer dry ale yeast instead of the champagne yeast called for in the recipe. I had the packets laying around, so I figured “eh… what the hell?” It worked pretty good. I followed the directions above, but sprinkled in the ale yeast, then bottled, then let the bottles sit out out for two days at room temp. Next time, I’m only going to use one packet (2 grams) of ale yeast and only let them sit out for 24 hours since my first batch was overcarbonated… it “gushed” over when I opened the cap, and the soda had a massive head on it (I know,I know… “he said ‘head’ *snicker*”).  Just let the bottles sit out at room temperature and ferment until the bottle is absolutely ROCK hard… that means they have enough CO2 to be carbonated. And, yes… since you’re relying on fermentation to produce the CO2 that is carbonating the soda, there will be a trace amount of alcohol… like 0.5%ABV. Absolutely minimal, and you would need to drink like 8 or 10 sodas to equal ONE beer. SO don’t worry about it… and it should be fine for the kids, too.

Champagne yeast is available online, or at a local homebrew shop (LHBS). Google for “homebrew shop” and you should find something in your area. If there isn’t a LHBS around, you’ll have to order online…,,, austin hombrew shop… all good choices. And, if you choose to substitute ale yeast for the champagne yeast, use a neutral ale strain, like the Mr. Beer packets, or Safale US-05. The only reason I chose to use the ale yeast was because I had it on hand… and I think it’ll flocculate (when the yeast cells “clump” together and drop out of solution) a little better than the champagne yeast when the soda bottles go in the fridge. DO NOT USE A LAGER YEAST! A lager yeast will continue to ferment the beer (albeit slowly) in the fridge… fermentation means CO2 production… CO2 production in a closed container means pressure will build… too much pressure equals ah’splosions. Ah’splosions are bad.

Be careful when you pour the soda into a glass… try not to disturb the layer of crud at the bottom of the bottle. That crud, known as trub (pronounced “troob”), is the natural “leftovers” from the yeast. And I wouldn’t try to drink the pop out of the bottle… same reason. I’d also think about “conditioning” the pop for a week or two in the fridge after you move it from room temperature… that’ll give the yeast cake at the bottom of the bottle time to compact, and for more yeast to fall out of solution. My first go was at this produced a very “yeasty” tasting pop… the extra time in the fridge might help.

And remember, the bottles of finished soda need to stay refrigerated… or they could explode. I wouldn’t even put them in a cooler full of ice.



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Eff the Coffee Shop.

Get one of these… a Mr. Coffee counter-top espresso machine. I got mine at Target for $30 on sale. It’s small, but makes a decent cup of espresso. I’m not going to pretend this is a substitute for a barista using a multi-thousand dollar espresso machine. But, if you’re not a complete coffee snob, then it shouldn’t be a big deal. Hell, I’m so much of a coffee snob that I home-roast my own coffee beans… but I love this little machine.

…this might have been the best $30 I’ve ever spent

Once a week, I usually make a blender pitcher of caramel “frappuccino” for the wife to have every morning. It’s perfect. She loves it. I make myself a caramel latte on a Friday or an espresso machiatto on the weekend and sit back and relive my trip to Italy. I use Cafe Bustelo from the grocery store… it works great and it’s like $3 for a can. Perfect. And, it sure beats $3 or $4 PER TRIP to Starbuck’s.

My favorite recipes:

Wife’s Caramel Frap:

  • Fill espresso filter to the 4 cup mark, then tamp down the grounds and compress (yes, the directions say not to do this, but I’ve had good luck when I tamp the grounds). Insert the filter into the machine, and lock it into place.
  • Fill the espresso decanter to the bottom of the silver band with warm water, then pour that water into the reservoir and close the cap tightly and brew four cups of espresso.
  • Pour the espresso into a blender pitcher, and add about 2 cups of milk.
  • Squirt in Hershey’s Caramel Syrup to taste… maybe a spoon of sugar, or some vanilla extract, too.
  • Add two large handfuls of ice.
  • Turn the blender on low to crush the ice, then crank it up to grind everything up and aerate the liquid.
  • Enjoy over ice, or add a fresh handful of ice to the blender and blend it all up again. The blender full of frap will keep for the week in the fridge, so my wife fills up a cup to go every morning.
My Caramel Latte:
  • Fill espresso filter to the 2 cup mark, then tamp down the grounds and compress (yes, the directions say not to do this, but I’ve had good luck when I tamp the grounds). Insert the filter into the machine, and lock it into place.
  • Fill the espresso decanter to 3 “cups” with warm water, then pour that water into the reservoir and close the cap tightly and brew two cups of espresso.
  • Turn the machine to “off”, and pour the espresso in your coffee mug. Add Hershey’s Caramel Syrup to taste… maybe a spoon of sugar, too. Mix it all up so the syrup dissolves in the espresso.
  • Get a cup or so of milk in a heat-proof cup… a Pyrex measuring cups works well. Steam the milk until it’s nice and hot, then froth the surface of the milk to build up a nice foam.
  •  Using a spoon to hold back the foam, pour the hot milk into your coffee mug. Scoop a few tablespoons of foam on top and enjoy.

You’ll figure out a favorite recipe. If you know how you like your drinks, figure out how to use the machine to do it at home… guarantee you’ll figure out how to do it and  it’ll work amazingly well.  But, the best part is the price. $30 for the machine (I’ve had mine for three years, and it’s still going strong), $3 for a can of Cafe Bustelo, plus the milk and syrups you’ll use. So, seriously… eff the coffee shop and their $4.50 for a drink. You can make a whole lot of drinks at home for that price.

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Smoked Pork Shoulder

I absolutely love barbecue. I saw a shirt once that said “Beer is proof that God loves us”… but I think pork is the proof. There is a place near my office in downtown St. Louis, called Bogart’s Smokehouse, that has some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had in my life…. smokey, sweet, enough grease to hold it all together, but not so much that it feels slippery. I try to get my coworkers to go there as often as possible. But, you have to go early… the line quickly gets out the door and down the block if you don’t beat the lunch rush.

But I figured, if they can do it, why can’t I? I’ve seen all those barbecue shows on Food Network. Some of those guys aren’t… the brightest bulbs in the box… so I figured it has to be easy enough for anyone to do for themselves. And it is. It’s just one of the most time consuming things I’ve ever undertaken… but the results were ABSOLUTELY worth the effort. Here’s how I did it…

Brinkmann Smoke'N Grill

Have the time and commit. This is absolutely an entire day project. You have to wake up early. You can’t leave your house while the meat is one the smoker. Save the barbecuing for a weekend, or a day off. Commit 100% to doing it, or you’ll be disappointed. If you can’t commit to waking up early and spending an entire day tending to the smoker, that’s ok… find a good barbecue joint nearby and enjoy. There is also a small investment to buy the equipment if you don’t have it already, so be ready for that.

Get the equipment. I picked up a Brinkmann Smoke’N Grill at Wal Mart for $38… they sell the same thing at Lowe’s and Home Depot, too. You could probably get away with using a Weber (or some other brand) charcoal grill… but that might be a little more difficult. You could also go nuts and buy some custom built barrel smoker… whatever you want. But, for me, the little R2D2-looking Brinkmann is great. It has little door to add charcoal, and is designed to be a smoker. It worked great. I also picked up two big bags of Kingsford charcoal, as well as one bag of hickory wood chunks. You’ll also need a charcoal chimney starter to get the coals ready to go on bbq day. If you’re using a new smoker for the first time, make sure to follow the direction to “season” the smoker, or you’ll ruin it on bbq day. Get a good probe thermometer, too.

Get a good cut of meat. Surprisingly, our supermarket had them in the meat case. It came in at about 4.8lbs, which was enough for my wife and I, plus a few sandwiches for lunches the next week. However, I think I got the wrong cut of meat. I got the actual pork shoulder… and I’ve read that you want to look for a cut called the Boston Butt… which isn’t actually from a pig’s butt… it’s a different part of the shoulder. I think Costco and Sam’s Club sell good cuts of Boston Butt… I think I’ll head over to one of those places next time. Once you get your cut, get it defrosted, or whatever you have to do to get the meat ready to go, get it done so the meat is ready to go two days before you plan to smoke it. Prep the meat by removing the skin (if it has any one there). Don’t worry about trimming the fat… fat is good when it comes time to smoke.

A good Boston Pork Butt... which is actually a cut from the shoulder area.

The Rub. I’ve used rubs before, so I had an idea of what to do to make one. And, when it comes to rubs, you can go two routes… make and write down a standard recipe. Or, do what I do, and make it up on the fly. You can be consistent and dial in the exact flavors you want, or have the meat taste a little different each time. I like that it’s a little different. I’m not running a restaurant, so I don’t have to worry about being consistent. Either way, think about what you want the end product to be. Sweet? Spicy? Garlicy? Adjust your rub accordingly.  My rub usually ends up being: 1 tbsp brown sugar; 1 tsp paprika; 1 tsp season salt; 1 tsp black pepper; a dash of cayenne pepper; a couple dashes of onion powder; a couple dashes of garlic powder. Mix the rub in a bowl, and get to town rubbing the meat. Make sure every little nook and cranny gets rubbed. The rub will turn into a liquid as you rub it on the moist meat. That is good. Work it all around. Massage the meat. Love the meat. When you get the entire thing rubbed, do it again. Put your rubbed meat on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and park it in the fridge for at least overnight. But, the longer it sits, the longer the flavors have to work into the meat. Oh yeah, and save the left over rub… you’ll need it later.

BBQ Day. Kinda sucks, but you gotta drag your ass out of bed early. I got up at 7AM, had the fire going and the meat on by 8:30AM, and pulled the meat off at 6PM. If you’re new to smoking, like I am, try a smaller cut of meat first… bigger cuts take more time, and if it’s your first time, you’ll have no idea how early you need to start. Smaller cuts will finish by dinner time, and you can kind of use your first time to gauge how your smoker works.

  • Pull the meat out of the fridge when you wake up. This will let it come up to room temp by the time it’s ready to get on the smoker. Insert the probe thermometer, too… you need to monitor the meat’s temp as it sits on the grill… just make sure you get the wire of the probe set in a way that it doesn’t burn in the smoker. It should be ok, just keep it away from the direct fire.
  • Put the hickory wood chunks in a bowl of water, too. You want them to be soaked through, so they smoke when you put them on the coals.
  • Start your fire. Use the charcoal chimney to start the coals. Fill the chimney about two-thirds full of briquettes, and set it on top of balled up newspaper. Lite the newspaper, make sure it’s on fire, then walk away for 15 mins. Come back and check on the coals… if you did it right, they should be glowing and ready to go.
How to use a charcoal chimney starer… in case you need a tutorial.
If you’re feeling super-adventurous, you can DIY a chimney starter…
but I just bought one for $10 at Wal Mart.
  • Dump the glowing coals into the charcoal pan, and set up the smoker. Fill the water bowl of the smoker with water… I used a couple bottles of Noble Pils, too. Add more charcoal to the charcoal pan, and let the smoker warm up to the “Ideal” range… or about 225° F for those using a thermometer. Add three or four of the soaked hickory chunks so the smoker gets all smokey by the time it’s ready to go.
  • Add the meat. Fat side up. Close the lid.
  • Maintain the fire by adding more charcoal to keep the temperature in the “Ideal” range… or keep the fire at 225°F. I set a timer so I would go check on the fire every half hour. You’ll figure it out. Don’t sweat if the fire gets too cool… you can add a little more charcoal… but not so much that the fire jumps up to be too hot. Don’t worry, you’ll get the touch. Keep adding the soaked wood chunks, too… it’ll keep the fire nice and smokey.
  • Once every hour and half or so, check the meat. Open the lid, and see how things are going. Make sure the water bowl is still filled. And, spray down the meat with a mixture of: 2 parts apple juice; 1 part apple cider vinegar; and the rest of your rub. This’ll keep the meat nice and moist, and get a good bark formed. Just don’t overdo it… every time you open the lid, you’ll lose some heat, and lose the smoke.
  • That’s pretty much it. Maintain the heat… low and slow. Spray the meat down. Watch the temp of the meat rise, until you hit the “150Hump”…

The 150 Hump. When the internal temp of the meat hits somewhere around 150° F, the fatty tissue of the meat will start to break down. At this point, the heat from the smoker is converting the fats into gelatin instead of actually raising the internal temp of the meat, so the temperature will stop rising. That is ok… it’s supposed to be what’s happening. Don’t over-react and add a tone more charcoal… just keep maintaining the “Ideal” temp. It might take an hour or two, but once the conversion of the fatty tissue is done, the temp will start to rise again. Bingo… you’ve made it through The 150 Hump. You’re almost there.

Pull it off the smoker at 190° F. Once the internal temp of the meat hits 190°F, you’re done. Pull the meat off the smoker, and put it on a pan. Let it sit and rest for 45 mins or so. If you’re having trouble getting the meat to reach 190°, that’s ok. Preheat your oven to 250°, and put the shoulder in the over to finish. There’ll be plenty of smoke… even if you have to finish it in the oven.

Pull that meat! After the 45 min rest, pull the meat. I used two forks. Pull the meat off of the bone, and “shred” it up a little bit. Mix the bark (the black, charred, outer shell of the meat) in with the interior meat… the bark is where the most flavor is. You should see a little pink ring under the bark, too. That is the smoke ring, not raw meat. You’re golden.

Throw some meat on a bun, add a little squirt of your favorite barbecue sauce, add a scoop of creamy coleslaw to the top, and enjoy the best pulled pork sandwich you’ve ever had.

See? Easy, right?

I might post some pics next time I do a shoulder… but, I think you get the idea.

A quick picture of my Brinkmann in action… baby back ribs this time, not pulled pork. Did I mention that pork is amazing?

My Brinkmann... see the wire from the probe thermometer coming out from under the lid? And the chimney starter?

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