Saturday, November 28, 2015

Gail's Hot & Sour Soup

This quote on Facebook from my high school friend Melinda prompted me to share my wife's recipe for hot and sour soup.
"Was excited to read some homemade hot and sour soup recipes until I got to one whose ingredients completely turned me off: "This silky version includes traditional ingredients like earthy tree ear fungus, tender bamboo shoots and lily buds." TREE EAR FUNGUS???? Turkey vegetable it is."
I strongly encourage you to not let "fungus" turn you off. It's just a funny translation of "mushroom." Here is a picture of the three odd ingredients in the recipe:

On the left is the dried lily flower, which is also called golden needles and in Melinda's recipe, lily buds. They are the strange ingredient. They are a rolled up lily flower petal. The middle ingredient is simply labeled "dried mushrooms," and are also called black mushrooms, but they are simply Shiitake mushrooms. You want the dried ones because they are much more flavorful. The third package is Melinda's tree ear fungus. The package is labeled "dried black fungus," and they are also called tree ear or wood ear mushrooms. They are just a mushroom. We see small ones growing on oak trees in our own yard.

We found these bags at H Mart, but they are available in any Asian grocery.

Gail's recipe is the result of many increasingly better attempts until this excellent soup emerged. The key bit of advice from a friend of hers was, "No hot oil; white pepper." We like it thick, but the nice thing here is you can tune the hot by varying the white pepper, the sour with the vinegar, and the thickness with the cornstarch.

Gail's Hot & Sour Soup
Quadruple the recipe to use a whole can of bamboo shoots and a whole lb. of tofu.
Makes: 4 c
Hands-on prep time: 30 min
Start-to-finish time: 2 hr

1 oz uncooked chicken

8 dried black mushrooms
6 pieces dried wood ears (1 T)
6 pieces dried golden needles (1 T)
4 c vegetable stock

¼ c bamboo shoots
4 oz tofu

½ t white pepper
4 oz can mushrooms in liquid

2 T brown sugar
2 T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar

1 T chopped scallion
1 egg
¼ t sesame oil

3 T plus 2 t firmly packed cornstarch
¼ c water

Heavy soup pot with cover
  1. Defrost chicken if necessary; soak black mushrooms, wood ears and golden needles in stock 30 min.
  2. While dried vegetables soak, drain and rinse bamboo shoots; cut into matchsticks; cut tofu into ½” cubes; cook chicken and cut into matchsticks. 
  3. When dried vegetables are softened, remove from stock; cut into matchsticks, discard any hard stems. If bouillon is used for stock, make sure it is completely dissolved. 
  4. Combine stock, soaked vegetables, bamboo shoots, tofu, chicken, white pepper and canned mushrooms, including liquid, in pot; bring to boil. 
  5. When soup boils, reduce heat; cover; simmer 30 min. 
  6. Stir brown sugar, soy sauce and vinegar into simmered soup. Taste and correct seasonings. Recipe can be paused at this point. Reheat to boiling before continuing. 
  7. Remove soup from heat; chop scallion; beat egg; mix in sesame oil; set aside. Dissolve cornstarch in water; stir into soup; return to med-high heat, stirring constantly, until liquid thickens slightly and becomes translucent, 1-2 min. Do not stop stirring for even a moment or else cornstarch mixture will sink to bottom and form an unappetizing glob! 
  8. Slowly add egg mixture, stirring for a count of 5 (to keep egg from cooking in one big piece), then letting sit undisturbed for a count of 5 (so egg isn’t completely incorporated into broth). 
  9. Serve immediately, topped with chopped scallion. 
Substitute pork or shrimp for chicken, or eliminate meat and egg entirely for a vegan version.

Warning: Reheat on the stove since this soup explodes in a microwave when hot enough to eat, even with short heatings separated by frequent stirrings.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Festbier Education 2015

I went on a festbier frenzy this year, tasting a total of twelve. Five were from Germany and seven from the US:

By German law, Oktoberfest beer includes any beer both following the Reinheitsgebot and brewed in Munich. So, it can really range in style, but is classically a Märzen style beer, sweet and malty, low hops with a rich mouth feel. My tasting ranged from the light blah of the Hofbräu Oktoberfest to the over-the-top dark and rich Berkshire Brewing Company Oktoberfest Lager.

The top beer of the group was the Ayinger, which was the best example of the style and a most wonderful malty, clean drinking joy. The best of the US beers was the Left Hand. It had all the characteristic malty richness and green bell pepper flavors I came to expect from the festbiers. The Berkshire is worth a special note. It was basically true to style but pushed over the top. Think double IPA compared to an IPA. It was probably my favorite beer of the bunch, but I never would have appreciated its differences without tasting the others. As a group, I found the US beers better since the German beers were uneven.

Here are a few notes on each beer:

Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen - Malty, honey brown and crystal clear, slightly thin finish, rich on the back of the tongue, with caramel notes. A decent beer, but not noteworthy.

Weihenstephaner Festbier - Straw colored with an impressive, bright white and lacy head. It had tiny bubbles that tickled my tongue. Malty but not cloying, rich, full, chewy, not a bit watery. It finished with pepper flavors (both black pepper and bell pepper) that I found characteristic of the style.

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur-Märzen - Rusty apple brown, cloudy, thin head, ordinary, slightly malty, like Michelob. I'd pass on this.

Hofbräu Oktoberfest - Straw colored, light head, creamy, slight malt, not sweet but with a sweet
finish, a little sour, blah. Again, a pass.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - Light brown, bright white head, malty with rich pepper flavors. This was the best of the set. If you can only have one, this is the one.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - This is a collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele. Honey colored, full head, no lacing, malty, rich, green pepper, full bodied finish. Better than any of the German beers except Ayinger.

Brooklyn Oktoberfest - Brown, medium head that dissipates quickly, light malt flavor, tiny bubble effervescence, lighter bodied than average, slightly cloying finish, saccharine. I'd skip this one.

Victory Festbier - Brown, clear, lacy head, lightly malty and clean, but not rich enough. It was okay, but not great.

Left Hand Oktoberfest Märzen Lager - Dark brown with foamy head, malty, rich with green peppers. A good showing.

Sam Adams Oktoberfest - Honey brown with good malty flavors. This is a good, safe bet beer.

Märzen Scorseze Oktoberfest Lager - A good, safe beer, similar to the Sam Adams.

Berkshire Brewing Company Oktoberfest Lager - Amazingly interesting, true to style but pushed to 11 like a double IPA compared to an IPA style. Intensely creamy, malty and pepper flavors amped up
to the point of giving hops-like bittering.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Craft Beer Cellar 2014 Advent Beer 4

I mentioned in my previous post that I struggled to drink a beer each day last year, and that I had a plan for that. Now the plan can be revealed. I'm sharing the beer box with my two (grown) daughters. Since they've been out of the house, we've sent them a present for each day of December, just like this beer Advent box. And so this year, I split the beer three ways.

Now on day 4 I had my second beer, an Allagash Saison. While saison is not my favorite style, this was a good example.  It was easy drinking and dry, with pepper and grapefruit notes. I would have rather had either of the beers my daughters got. Day two was a Firestone Velvet Merlin, an oatmeal stout with coffee/chocolate flavors. Day three was a Scaldis Noel, which I remember fondly from last year as one of the highlights.

As any good father would say, I'm glad my daughters got the best of this cycle.