Friday, March 6, 2015

The World of Beer

Pilsners, European Lagers, German Ales, Stouts, Porters, Weissbiers, Lambics, Bitters . . . the variety of beer available today seems endless. To educate yourself about the different varieties of beer can be as challenging as learning the various kinds of wine. So when youre searching for the perfect beer for you, where do you begin?

Hard evidence as to when beer was first produced dates back about 5000 years to the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. Ceramic vessels were unearthed with a sticky beer residue from as early as 3400 B.C., including recipes for a nutrient-rich brew that was probably safer to drink than the local water. It was referred to as liquid bread. In ancient Egypt, everyone from pharaohs to peasants, even the children, drank beer as part of their everyday diet. These early beers were flavored with things like dates and olives. The beer we know today didnt arrive until the Middle Ages when we started using hops to season our beer.

Whether you are interested in making your own beer, or simply wish to know what youll find on store shelves, begin by understanding the brewing process. You need to begin with the malted grain, either barley, wheat or rye. The malt is made by allowing a grain to germinate, after which it is dried in a kiln. Sometimes it can be roasted, depending on the desired flavor of the final product. The amount of roasting that is done will directly influence the color and flavor of the beer. The enzymes created during this process with eventually convert the starch in the grain to sugar. Most breweries do not handle the process of malting and the malt is purchased at this state from a maltster. However, some brands, as well as small micro brews and home-made beer may include this process.

Once in the hands of the brewery, the malt is crushed and the grist is mixed with heated water in a large vat. This is known as mashing. It allows the enzymes to break down and turn the starch into sugar. The temperature is slowly increased, resting at various levels, until finally topping out at between 149 and160 degrees. The higher the temperature results in a more full-bodied beer containing less alcohol. Finally it will be raised to 170 degrees to deactivate the enzymes.

Next the mash is strained to remove the grain from the liquid. The remaining liquid, called wort, is placed in a large tank and boiled with hops and other ingredients such as herbs and sugars. This terminates the enzymatic process and sterilizes the wort. The hops add flavor and aroma. At the end of the process, the hops settle and are separated out.

Finally the wort is fermented with yeast to convert the sugars to malt. After several weeks, the beer is cooled close to freezing and the yeast is purged. The beer is now allowed to rest from several weeks to several months. It may be filtered one last time before it is ready to serve.

There are the four main families of beers, which are determined by the variety of yeast used in their brewing:

    Ales are made with top-fermenting yeasts. Ale yeast ferments more quickly and produces a sweeter, fuller-bodied, fruitier tasting beer.

    Lagers are made using bottom-fermenting yeasts at lower temperatures. Pale lagers are the most widely consumed beer in the world. Examples of a pale lager would be Pilsner or Bock.

    The Lambic beer is our third family. This variety is made with wild yeasts. These beers are referred to as Beers of Spontaneous Fermentation. This variety is only brewed around Brussels, Belgium. The yeast used is a particular strain that only lives in the Zenne River which flows through Brussels.

    The last family of beer are those of mixed origin. They are created by using blends of the other three families of beer.

In recent years, however, beer production and the consumption of beer has exploded in popularity. There are now thousands of new micro breweries in the United States alone. Here in the Twin Cities, some local favorites you may recognize include Lift Bridge, Surly, and of course one of our first micro breweries, Summit. You can choose from hundreds of varieties at any given store. So how do you choose a quality beer?

First learn to distinguish one from another. Determine which beers are bottle-conditioned, or contain a living yeast. You can tell when you examine the bottle and see the yeast settled on the bottom. These varieties are more beneficial because much of the healthy constituents can be removed during the yeast removal process. But some dont like the taste of the yeast.

Next, note which beers are dark or light in color. Dark beers use dark barley, but also tend to contain some of those health constituents that are lost with the filtered light beers. However, if a light beer appears hazy or you see small particles in the brew, some of these healthy antioxidants may not have been processed out. Some of the European lagers are aged, or lagered, for many months before being bottled and will appear quite clear after the extended lagering period.

Greater quantities of hops create a more bitter tasting beer, but these beers also have richer flavors and aroma. Some of the flavors to look for as you are sampling beers are its crispness, whether there is a delicate fruit flavor or it is malt-accented? Is there a brisk hoppiness? Is it earthy and dry? Or is there boldness, a citric or herbal flavor? The malt may encourage nutty or toasty flavors. Roasted grains may taste smooth and silky. You may taste spicy or meaty flavors in beers created using the smoking process. Sample many varieties and search for these flavors to determine what you enjoy most.

Visit a store that sells a wide variety of imported and micro brewed ales and lagers. Many local liquor stores in the Twin Cities will allow you to create custom six-packs by hand selecting single bottles of various kinds. So take your time and purchase beer from each family and brewing style, simply tasting your way to finding your favorite style. Once there, your can begin to explore the countess flavors that are being used today to enhance the base flavors in craft beers. You may find a chili pepper flavored beer, or even tangerine wheat. You never know what flavors you will find. Enjoy them all, in moderation of course!

-Christine Schiltz
Owner & Catering Director
Lake Elmo Inn Event Center

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

For The Love of Chocolate

Chocolate: One of the more versatile and most loved foods in the world. We associate it with quality, social class, love, and romance. We use it to end a fine meal, and share as gifts with friends and family. So why do we have such a fascination with chocolate? One of the biggest reasons is obvious: its flavor. The rich aroma and taste of chocolate is identical, which is not true for many foods. Women may actually enjoy eating chocolate just a little bit more than men because they have a better sense of smell. Chocolate seems to pair well with anything from caramel to raspberries to habaneros. But it is best all by itself.

For centuries, chocolate has been a tried and true staple for lovers. Now there is actual proof from the scientific community that there are some benefits. Besides the jolt of caffeine served up in a piece of chocolate, this savory candy also contains PEA, or phenylethylamine, the very same molecule that courses through the veins of one who is in love. Combine our internal stores of the natural amphetamine with chocolate and it will serve to heighten that giddy sensation. Both dark and milk chocolate contain roughly the same amount of calories per gram, but dark chocolate contains more cocoa which is believed to have some additional health benefits. Eating chocolate one or two times a week may lead to a reduction in heart risk. There are also studies that suggest a regular intake of cocoa will improve mental function. Oddly enough, it seems there is a connection. It has been observed that the countries which have the most Nobel prize winners also enjoy the highest consumption of chocolate. But lets not kid ourselves. Were not eating it for those reasons. It simply makes us feel good.

Chocolate takes on many shapes and textures. It is amazing how many beautiful things are made with chocolate. We see it as lively bunnies or a lovely chocolate rose. It can be solid enough to create large statues. Or soft enough to dip into it, drink it, spread it, or roll it in nuts. Chocolate plays a part in most of the major holidays we hold dear: Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and Valentines Day. It has deeply woven its way into the fabric of our daily lives.

As with all foods, desserts have grown to become an artful and creative business. Since many of our favorite desserts are made with chocolate, Pastry Chefs are challenged to make fresh and unique items that one simply cannot resist, even after a fulfilling meal. That was how the Sin of the Inn was born. Pastry Chef, Joni Marty, wanted to create a delectable delight that people could not resist. The Sin of the Inn is just that: an amazing creation of pecan crust, layered with caramel, white satin, chocolate ganache, and topped with white chocolate mousse. It is truly exquisite! Ganache is another popular way chocolate is used. Ganache is made by simply heating cream, then mixing it into solid chocolate pieces. You may add liqueurs or flavors to this mixture as well. The result is a soft, rich chocolate substance that can be used in many different ways. Pastry Chef Joni also makes the most perfect chocolate dipped strawberries. She has made literally tens-of-thousands of them during her pastry career, making over 7000 last December alone. Joni suggests that if you are planning to dip your own strawberries, or any other items in chocolate, you need to use a high quality melting chocolate, heating it very slowly so it doesnt seize up or lose its smooth texture. Melting chocolate is superior for dipping as it hardens nicely when it cools and isnt sticky.

The many ways chocolate is used in desserts is endless: Decadent Chocolate Lava Cake, Chocolate Cheesecake, Chocolate and White Chocolate Mouse, Chocolate Tortes, Fudge, Turtles, Cakes, Cupcakes, and Cookies. This list goes on and on. But theres an old Midwest favorite that has made an appearance at almost every family reunion and graduation party for decades: the Brownie.

Pastry Chef Joni has been perfecting the art of bars and cookies for many years, and she shared her favorite Brownie recipe with us to try:

            Jonis Favorite Brownies

            3-1/4 cup Sugar
            13 oz. Butter
            Cream together, scrape bowl.
            Add 6 Eggs
            Blend well, scrape bowl.
            Add 1-1/3 cups Flour
            2 cups Cocoa
            1/8 cup Vanilla
            Blend well, scrape bowl.
            Add 8 oz. Chocolate Chips
            Spread in a Parchment Lined Pan 15-1/2 x 10-1/2
            You may use Foil Greased with Shortening
            Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
So, enjoy your chocolate, in moderation. Now you know, there are many reasons why you should. The marvelous flavor is only one of them.

-Christine Schiltz
Owner & Catering Director
Lake Elmo Inn Event Center

Monday, January 5, 2015

Wedding Trends Come and Go

 There is a current trend out there that has built slowly the last few years and hit the wedding scene hard in 2014. It is the rustic, whimsical, romantic, vintage theme with a dash of the unexpected. It really has been quite a year to see all the different versions and visions of this concept that were created. If you attended a wedding reception in a barn in the last year, you are not alone. Barns all across the Twin Cities are opening up to host grand receptions and parties, draped in linen fabrics and bare bulb lighting, and dont forget the mason jars at the bar. What backdrop is more beautiful than an apple orchard, a garden, or a vineyard?

As a caterer, this trend has had a great impact on how we serve our products as well. More and more, we require multiple and thorough planned walk-throughs of these unusual sites to carefully plan how we will execute multi-course plated meal services. We have also had a lot of fun designing stations and food displays that play into the whole rustic theme. Our cold stations, for instance, may be decorated with smooth stones, interesting succulents, rich moss, and lots of candles. Lots of candles! It seems the rule of the day is that anything from nature goes. From decorative wood slices to hay bails, youll see it all. Suddenly there is burlap everywhere! The thing I love most about this concept is that it is very easy to incorporate just about any meaningful family heirloom or items from dear loved ones into your reception to make it personal to you. Gather all the white glass vases you can find from your relatives and create multi-vase gatherings of garden flowers as centerpieces. Incorporate old wooden crates from Grandmas basement, suitcases from Aunties attic, or herbs from Dads garden.

Food trends for this type of reception have been equally as fun as the decor. We are finding high-end comfort foods, as well as, old family favorites are very popular. Since we are very comfortable creating custom menus of any kind, and really thrive on the challenge of making every event unique, it has opened up a lot of opportunity to create some fun dishes. Back to the basics with Fresh Garden Greens, Fried Chicken, Buttermilk Biscuits, and Mac and Cheese. But Mac and Cheese with a twist? Maybe Truffle Mac and Cheese. We are all Foodies these days. Three kinds of Chili with an assortment of amazing toppings on a cool September evening? These menus would not seem out of place in the least at even a more formal reception in a barn. They would seem creative and fun. Rustic chic. And how many chefs do you know who are happy to prepare moms favorite soup recipe for 250 guests! Ours will!

Interestingly enough, the top colors for receptions in 2015 are reminiscent of this rustic theme so we may be looking at seeing this trend continue to develop in upcoming years. Other popular trend predictions are that edible guest favors are a must, small sip or sample size beverages are being offered, family-style dining is coming back, and hors d’oeuvres or food station dining is still very much in vogue. Guest tables without linen, rustic wooden tables and chairs, and dining al fresco is still a desirable choice.
But interestingly enough, here in Minnesota, we still see the more traditional full-service, plated dinner and traditional bridal table more often than not. After all, a Minnesotans roots go pretty deep.

If you are set on having an outdoor or rustic wedding this year, change things up a bit. Maybe instead of using mason jars, use antique milk bottles. Upgrade from burlap to dyed muslin linens. Change up the photo booth to short-clip videos of all your guests. Remember, it is all about making it truly your own.