Dave's Rotten Stinking Wine

Several readers have asked about my recent adventure into wine. And they kept asking. And asking. And they won't go away. So we're coming clean. Deep down we're scientists damn it and we're not afraid of failure. We fail often, but we learn from it.

The crew here at Dave's Beer are an adventurous bunch. We routinely make damn good ale that we'd easily match with the best commercial ales. We laughed at the potential difficulties of making our own wine.

But this project served only one purpose. It made two buck chuck taste like a Chateau Lafitte. It was vile. The Weber_cam is a happy place and a detailed description of the result of this pursuit would not be appropriate here. This subdomain gets more traffic than the whole site and we fear some children may occassionally read this.

We're just hoping the city doesn't slap a fine on us for dumping it into the sewer system.


Goodbye Fresh Tomatoes

Second only to pasta and grains, tomatoes are a favorite staple in our house year-round. Even Suzi likes them. From October to June we have no choice but canned (Dei Fratelli is are our current favorite brand). The only reason for eating grocery store tomatoes during the off season is it makes the home grown, freshly-harvested tomatoes from the garden that much more perfect.

Our favorite dish from July to September is hot pasta tossed with diced FRESH RIPE tomatoes, with finely sliced fresh basil (thanks K & E!!), good quality olive oil, a tiny bit of sliced garlic and salt and pepper. The hot pasta is tossed and the residual heat is enough to just barely cook the tomatoes. The mixture is allowed to sit for up to 20 minutes (very convenient for toddlers). During this time the flavors blend. We eat it slightly warm and topped with finely shredded reggiano (and of course, a crust of bread). It's a decadent treat that only comes 3 months a year. We look forward to it.


La Baguette: The Proof

My Baguette is the most often baked bread in our house but, historically, it's not been the most reproducible. Each parameter seems critical.

I once took a statistical experimental design short course. I forgot most of what I learned because I don't use it anymore. In fact, my current profession only requires me to use an organ grinder and tincup for donations of loose change. But that's another whole thing.

When I did learn it, the first application (other than for chemical reaction scale-up, my previous career) I thought I would try is with this loaf but there were simply too many parameters and the dependent variable - the outcome - was too difficult to numerically characterize. What I do recall is when planning the design, you need to know boundary conditions of the independent variables; extreme values for each parameter. Using either of these extreme values would cause a failure and optimization would provide a value somewhere between these two extremes.

This long-winded discussion brings me to the value for the final proof time for this straight and fast dough. The final proof is probably the most critical part of any baked loaf of bread. Too long and it hits the oven, sinks and comes out dense; too short and it gets good oven spring but still comes out dense. However, this isn't my profession and experimentation with this value can mean my family gets a lousy loaf of bread. I have to be careful when I do my experimentation. My currently written recommendation for the final proof is 20-25 minutes for the Baguette. Last night, I decided to go dangerously close to what I guessed to be the lower limit of the final proof, 15 minutes. Oops, Frankie needed a diaper change at 12 minutes. I docked the loaf, tossed it in, threw in a shot of steam and dutifully went to change the diaper.

WOW! What an awesome result. Great oven spring, good crust, good volume, good color, just awesome. I think I established a new lower limit for the final proof parameter.


Kettle Corn Emergency

We here at DavesBeer.com take viewer mail quite seriously and also happen to pride ourselves in the level of detail we communicate during our culinary pursuits. A reader said she tried to make Kettle Corn using our method and failed. However, she used a Le Creuset (beautiful cookware) but probably too heavy-duty for this application. I suggested a lighter weight, non-stick pan and she got a lot of unpopped and burned kernels.

Totally unacceptable. We're sorry. We take full responsibility and will refund your money immediately.

In the meantime, I did another run Saturday night while watching a movie about a place I'm familiar with.

What I did this time
I repeated my procedure linked above but made a few more measurements and tried to increase the batch size. I used a 3 1/2 qt. sauce pan with loose fitting lid and added 30 grams of canola oil (2 1/2 T) and placed it with my two test kernels on top of a full-blast 14,000 BTU gas burner and fumbled to find the lid (and then put the lid on). It took a good 2 minutes till I heard the first kernel pop and an additional 20 seconds for the second. I then dumped in 1/3 C kernels (white corn, generic brand) and 1 T white sugar, put the lid back on and waited for popping to commence while the heat was still full blast. Things started going in about 20 seconds and took over a minute to fully pop. During this period I left it on the burner and only jostled it a few times during the entire period. BUT, fearful of burning (from my reader's findings), I pulled the batch off while I still heard popping. I then quickly dumped it from the hot saucepan into a waiting bowl and lightly salted it. It clumps a bit at the beginning and as it cools, it becomes more brittle and easily breaks up. Note: Many of the dimensions here were measured. In the previous post, I estimated and guessed.

The quality was excellent. T had more than half and Suzi wasn't interested. The yield was low though; lots of unpopped kernels but no burned ones. I became timid at the end.

I think this has to be done with really, really high heat in a pan that heats and cools quickly. My next expt on this will make use of a cheap, thin aluminum (not non-stick) pan that I have yet to find (Goodwill).

Don't know if this will help but email me again and we'll figure it out. It's worth it.


Follower of the Toasted Marshmallow

I don't follow a religion to find peace, but if I did, it would involve toasting marshmallows.

I had never toasted them over a fire before. Honest. I learned quickly though and then became obsessed. There are apparently as many preferences in the way marshmallows are done as there are ways bagels can be cheesed - and everyone's preference is the ONLY correct one.

My tactic involved heating the marshmallow until it was uniformly warm inside; an endpoint only gleaned from experience. The appearance helps also. As it puffs, it acquires a type of tiled appearance. Once warm, the marshmallow is lowered closer to the flame to achieve the final browning.

Browning - not blackening.

But, this is the tricky part. Once the marshmallow begins to brown, it loses its hold on the marshmallow stick (another post entirely). Balancing this browning with the weakening grip is the final stage of achieving the perfect treat. Just as it's slightly brown, puffed and hot you must eat it right off the stick. While contemplating the joy of this treat though, you have to start on the next one. It is totally addictive.

Let me know your marshmallow preferences in the comments.
(I recently altered the font size in the comments; should be easier to read now.)