Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brew Meister Monica

I've drank my share of beer in my life. My first taste was when I was 7, and expressed curiosity when my uncle Mike Forrestall was drinking it, and he said "You want a taste?" I took a sip, wrinkled up my face in disgust, said "Ewwwwww" and didn't taste the stuff again...till high school.  For teens in Nova Scotia, it was the drink of choice: Alexander Keiths beer was brewed in my old home town. (Canadian beer on average has a higher alcohol content than US beer: Keiths is 5%.) And it was amazing how slack pubs were, back then about asking for ID. Me and my girlfriends, all 16 years old, had regular Friday nights at a bar a mile or so from our neighborhood.
But up till last week I'd never tried to make any. On my trip to Albuquerque, I visited Kelly's Brew Pub (an Albuquerque landmark)  on Route 66 to make a batch myself and learnt a lot. Love that the brewery is located in an old garage (below) The Old Jones Motor Company built in 1939. Lots of character, with old gas pumps out front, surrounded by tables and chairs.
Beer making central is down the hallway in the back. Here guests can sign on to make their own kegs, and it's where the in-house brew master makes beer for the restaurant. Today, he helped us make one of my favorite beers, Oatmeal Stout.
He pulled out the recipe, and we got started.
First step was measuring out all the grains. They are stored in big plastic bins and you scoop it out with a big scoop and then weigh it on a scale to make sure it's correct. Its very much a science, and too much of one grain will drastically effect the flavor.

Scooping out some of the grains for Oatmeal Stout.
After measuring out all the grains, we poured it into a grinder (that looked pretty homemade). This isn't to pulverize the grains, just to open up the husk, the beer master explained, so they can absorb water and ferment. 
Then the ground grains are poured into the copper tanks to begin the process. I stirred a bit, to speed up the soaking process with a big stainless paddle (below).

We added two large plastic pitchers of syrup (left) and then let it cook. The whole process in-house takes an hour and a half. Then there is a two-week aging in keg period, which are kept in a chilled room in another building behind the brewery.
Then, it's either put on tap at the brewery (like my batch will be) or it's bottled up, labelled with labels that are custom printed for visiting beer meisters, and picked up. It's a popular thing apparently to do for corporate events and weddings. That would make a fun take away gift for a bachelor, or bachelorette party!
                                                                  Stirring the mash.

Friday, November 6, 2009

SEE JANE (& Monica) COOK: New Mexico Cooking class

     Monica (right) and cookbook author Jane Butel 
in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Got to meet & cook with a very famous New Mexican chef, Jane Butel, while I was in Albuquerque. If the name's not ringing a bell, Jane is credited with starting the Tex-Mex trend, and she published her first book on New Mexican and American Mexican food in the 1960's. She taught me how to make Sopaipillas, a disturbingly delicious fried bread recipe that originated in Albuquerque, 300 years ago. (I admit when she first said fried bread, my mind was reeling...FRIED FOOD!?! But this was worth the calories. Jane greeted me at the door of her beautiful adobe-style home, with her frantic 7-month old daschaund lapping our ankles. After giving me some of her fascinating history, I watched as Jane expertly mixed up a dough recipe all by hand (after removing some of her beautiful turquoise rings). I took copious notes, wanting to try this back home in New York. When Jane was rolling out the smaller amounts of dough on her granite counter, she used a small wooden mini roller, which was the perfect size for the amount of dough she was rolling out. 

After cutting the dough into quarters, Jane slid the 
pieces straight down (so the oil wouldn't splash) into a pre-heated TeFal deep fryer. Jane's kitchen, where she has been teaching cooking classes for many years, is a dream spot for any cook. It opens up onto a large casual dining area with large windows that face the jaw dropingly beautiful Sandia Peak (part of The Sangre De Cristo mountain range). Jane's kitchen has everything, from two red KitchenAid standmixers to a garland stove to massive cookbook storage shelves---and more specifically everything she needed to create the thousands of New mexican recipes that have gone into her 18 cookbooks. 

As a New Yorker with a small kitchen/limited space and as someone obsessed with kitchen tools, I was having serious gadget envy. 
Jane kindly arranged to have her publisher send me her latest book "Real Women eat Chiles". And of course I splurged and bought 4 bags of the amazing chili spices she makes: Chipotle Chile, Pequin Quebrado, Caribe Chile and New Mexico Red Chili. I can't wait to try some of these recipes out on my chili-loving husband Kerry. 

For more details on Jane's books, spices, cooking classes etc..check out her website below. She's living the spicy life www.