December 17, 2013

Last Minute Holiday Deals

I know I should be posting recipes, but I couldn't help but announce some last minute holiday deals.  As Amazon continues their cyber week (going on all month, likely into January like last year) daily deals which can be found here:

There are a couple of items today that might be worth checking out. I'm not sure if the deals can be had by clicking on the product links below, but they are definitely valid by browsing the daily deals on the link above.  First, going on sale at 4:40pm (EST) is this portable high top bar:


Basically it's a high table that has a shelf and a skirt that goes around the front.  It comes with a black skirt, a football skirt, and a tiki skirt.  While Amazon never reveals beforehand what the savings are going to be, I'd guess it will probably be selling for at least 10% off.

Next up is a book that has been reviewed on this site before, and has apparently won some awards since.  Winner of the James Beard Foundation award and an IACP Cookbook Awards Finalists (which is funny since it's not much of a cookbook, more a reference), Sandor Ellix Katz's The Art of Fermentation goes on sale tonight at Midnight (EST) on Amazon:

Again, I'd expect at least 10% off, maybe more for this one.  There's not a lot of soda information in this one, but what it does have is quite unique and this is very handy for anyone looking to make soda (or anything really) via fermentation.

What's more, both of these items are eligible for free shipping via Amazon Prime.  My wife just signed us up for a free trial on this, mainly for the instant streaming (which we do through the Wii)  At $79 a year, it seems pricey, but it works out to be about the less than Netflix or Hulu Plus, though admittedly, there's not as much content.  But the bonus is the free 2-day shipping, which is absolutely awesome for holiday purchases.  Nothing is worse than ordering something online and never knowing when it's going to show up, or waiting forever for it to plop on your doorstep.  

Not everything on Amazon is eligible for free shipping, but a lot of things are.  If you don't believe me on how awesome the free and quick shipping is, then it's free to try for yourself for 30 days.  So you can still order stuff online and get it before Christmas! And you thought it was too late!  Give it a try.

November 19, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide 2013

So, how did it get to be that time of year again?  Where has 2013 gone?  Didn't we just play this game?  Not that I'm complaining.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Holidays just as much as the next guy, but I was really looking forward to this summer.  Did it come yet?

Personally, I think this should be on everyone's holiday list:
Barnes & Noble

That's right ladies and gents.  My book has a release date and it's already up for preorder!  Available June 1st!  Which I must admit, it's rough putting something on your Christmas list that you won't see for six months, but it's so totally worth it!

Anyway, I've reined in my holiday guide this year and broken it down to a few different categories.  This past year I've looked at soda making through some different lenses and here are five soda-maker personality types that I've chosen a few gifts for this year.

For The Nostalgic
This is the one that yearns for a bygone era.  The golden age of soda shops, soda jerks, and buying a bottle for a nickel.  The Nostalgic collects bottles and caps and anything soda related that looks old.  If she's on your Christmas list, you've come to the right place.

Vintage Soda Tin Signs
Tin advertising signs span generations.  You can pick up originals from antique or specialty stores, or you can find some great reproductions on places like Ebay and Amazon.  For anyone that has a space in the house dedicated to soda, The Nostalgic is sure to love some decor to spruce it up.

Nostalgia Electrics Dispenser Fridge icon
I saw this come out sometime this year, but I have heard little about how it works.  I've kept my eye out for mini fridges to build kegerators, and I can't help but think that this could be modified to dispense a keg with the built in dispenser.  If not, it still looks neat nonetheless.

Soda Siphons
Basically the original soda stream.  I picked up one of these glass soda siphons for their retro look, and am pleased that it is basically a self contained alternative to the SodaStream.  Plus I can carbonate anything I want in it, I can take it apart to clean it, and I'm working on a solution to be able to hook it up to a larger CO2 source.  For now it runs on 8g CO2 cartridges, but that's fine for the time being.
Classic Glass and Metal Mesh Seltzer Bottle also available in Green or Blue

You can also browse Ebay for a soda siphon that's truly Vintage.  Though some I would trust only as decor.

For The Copycat
The Copycat is a true DIYer.  Like a reformed con-artist, he is proud to offer his version of your favorite beverage.  Homemade cola? He's got you covered, do you want the red can recipe or the blue can recipe?  Like a connesieur of fine wines, he can name all 23 of the Dr's mystery flavors and whip up a batch for your next party.  Not sure what to put under the tree for him?  We do.

Sprecher Root Beer Extract icon
Sprecher has got to be one of the best root beers out there.  Rumor has it that Sprecher Brewery's root beer out sells all of their regular beers combined.  While it may be hard to get a hold of in bottles other than ordering online, it's much better to just order a jug of extract to make 5 gallons yourself.  Not exactly like cracking the secret recipe, but it's the next best thing.

Soda Keg O-Ring Kits
For carbonating in a keg, it's always good to have extra o-rings on hand.  There are numerous sets available on ebay and it's always good to have a few extras on hand.

The Twist N Sparkle by iSi was sold as an alternative to the soda stream, and while it was recalled last year due to safety concerns, the Soda Sparkle emerges as its replacement.  It still runs on CO2 cartridges, but it makes for a very compact setup that stores easily.

White Collar Season 4 on DVD icon
This one is just a bonus and would inspire any copycat.  I particularly liked the episode where Neal has to counterfeit a bottle of whiskey; bottle, beverage, and label.  It really struck a chord with the food scientist in me, even though I don't drink alcohol.

For The Syrup-er
As a rather casual sodamaker, the Syrup-er may have gotten into the craft by wanting just a little more variety out of her SodaStream than their off-the-shelf syrups, yet she's not interested in investing in a keg right now.  Or she could be a fan of mixed drinks or flavored coffees, and she just really enjoys the versatility of having various flavor syrups on hand.  Beyond syrups, what does this gal want?  Read on.

Make Your Own Soda: Syrup Recipes for All-Natural Pop, Floats, Cocktails, and More by Anton Nocito
As founder of P&H Soda Co. Anton Nocito seeks to share his recipes with all.  Syrups are the foundation of this book, and while they can be adapted to other soda making methods, it's always easier to have the whole recipe and process right in front of you without having to calculate to your own adaptation.  With a gourmet flair, Nocito shows how to make some tasty, tasty syrups.

Cuisinart Carbonator and Syrups
Cuisinart usually makes some quality stuff.  I have one of their Ice Cream makers, and it's pretty good for the price.  While it seems there are few places to get your hands on their elusive carbonator (which looks a lot like the Soda Sparkle), they do have some promising artisan syrups.

For The Fermenter
The Fermenter is patient and not afraid to get his hands dirty with a complicated recipe.  For him, that satisfactory hiss of a heavily carbonated bottle outweighs any yeasty off-note or trace of alcohol.  Old-school and natural is his style.  He may not be as picky as other soda makers, but here are some selections that are sure to please.

Mr. Root Beer Kit
This is a complete kit sure to get anyone hooked on making soda.  There are refills for the items in this kit, but the same items can be purchased elsewhere and the bottles reused.  But to gather all of those items can be a chore and so the kit comes in handy for the first-timer.

Brown PET Bottles icon
Ok, ok, so The Fermenter already has a preferred extract and yeast.  Perhaps some more bottles would be more in line so larger batches can be made all at one time.  Nothing wrong with that, and if you don't want to empty commercial bottles of store-bought swill, just buy some brand new PET bottles perfect for fermenting.
True Brews by Emma Christensen
Emma Christensen of the Kitchn put this out this year as a guide to all things fermented for those with limited space.  She claims that all the recipes are scaled to be able to be made in a small apartment.  Not bad for a hobby that is on its way to taking over my basement (and that's just soda, I'd hate to think how much more gear I could amass if I were to actually homebrew other beverages).  The soda section may be only a portion of the book, but the recipes are not bad at all.  Be sure to check out the watermelon-mint soda that looks to be the red one showcased on the cover, it's fabulous.

For The Budding Pro
Right now in the U.S. craft beer is on the rise, so why not craft soda?  The Budding Pro is poised and ready to take on the Big Three in the soda business and has a brand and logo to prove it.  On the pro's Christmas list this year, you can be sure that you'll likely find one or more of these:

Branded Brewski Bell Soda Glass
Glassware is great to drink from.  There's something magical about it.  There's something even more magical about drinking from glassware with your own logo on it.  There is a minimum order and a setup fee, but if you don't mind picking up a few dozen, these are a perfect way to start your own brand. They are available as 6.75 oz and 21 oz sizes.

Custom Patches
Hawk your wares in style with your own logo attached to ball caps, jackets, polos or whatever.  The best alternative to embroidering a shirt is buying embroidered patches and then attaching them to whatever you wish.  It's more versatile and inexpensive than direct embroidery. primarily caters to the Boy Scouts, but they're open to other orders as well.

Bottlemark Custom Caps
Labels are easy enough to make with a laser printer, but the ultimate in customized bottled beverages is the custom bottle cap.  Bottlemark specializes in custom printed caps and they can work with just about any size order.  They're pretty popular among craft brewers, though, so order early!

And with that, hopefully you'll get some ideas for that crazy soda-maker in your life.  Happy Holidays!

September 27, 2013

Hacking Home Soda

It's been a while since I posted anything, so I decided to dig up a story that I found a while back from the NY Times just to keep things going.  I'll have some more recipes sometime soon, I promise.  I've been bogged down with other projects lately, but I'm almost ready to jump back in to recipe development.

As much as I dislike the SodaStream for it’s faddish image and overpriced CO2 refills, I do have to recognize that this little gadget is what has brought many recipe seekers here to the blog.

A few months ago, I found this article from the New York Times to be a confirmation of what I already know, and that people are wanting more out of their home carbonators, despite the big void stamp it puts on the SodaStream’s warranty once you carbonate other beverages. 

It is precisely this challenge that almost entices me to pick one up.  iSi certainly isn’t as concerned about their siphons having issues with other liquids in them, but then again they're not connected to as large a CO2 supply as the SodaStream is. Not that it can't be changed , but that's probably another warranty issue.

In related news, Green Mountain Coffee, creator of the Keurig, has apparently filed for copyright status on the name Karbon with intentions to make their own home carbonator.  With their aim to have a K-cup brewer in every home, it will be interesting to see what happons with the Karbon.  People have been reusing/hacking their K-cups for a while now, and even commercial refillable cups are available at big box stores.  I'm guessing whatever this Karbon machine is, it will definitely incorporate some sort of single serve function that I'm sure someone will want to hack right out of the gate.  I can only imagine something similar to a post-mix fountain with individual syrup cartridges of some sort.  I'm guessing that if they can get something that can carbonate more than just water, they can win over a number of disenchanted or rogue SodaStream-ers that want something more.

August 24, 2013

Recipe 28: Jamaica Sunrise

So some caveats on this recipe before I begin:

This has nothing to do with the island of Jamaica, sorry.
This is not to be confused with the Jamaican Sunrise cocktail, sorry.
It's a soda, so it's not necessarily for breakfast, sorry.

If you've ever frequented a tacqueria, particularly a mom-and-pop type, you've likely been greeted by a deep red agua fresca that's labeled with the word "Jamaica".  I'm not sure of the origins, but I know it's tasty.  It's fruity; bearing a slight resemblance to tamarind with a subtle, ever-present floral note.  However, it's made from the bright red hibiscus flower.  Yeah, you know, the stereotypical tropical flower that adorns everything from tahitian dancers to board shorts.

While a straight up Jamaica recipe is a great candidate for carbonation on its own, I wanted to add a little something extra.  I don't know how I settled on adding orange, but doesn't that sound like the perfect breakfast drink?  A nice glass of orange juice with some deep red hibiscus tea added for color cheery floral notes.  And so came "Jamaica" from the mexican name for the hibiscus tea and "Sunrise" from the fact that orange juice is just inexplicably tied to breakfast.

1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cups sugar
zest and juice from 1 orange
1/4 cup orange juice concentrate
1 tbsp lemon juice.
carbonated water to top up to 1 gallon.

Steep the flowers, ginger, and orange zest in about 1 cup of near boiling water, remove from heat and allow to steep for about 30 min.
Strain to remove all the particulates.
Add the sugar and bring to a boil to dissolve completely.
Add the juices and simmer for an additional five minutes.
Allow the syrup to cool and then add to carbonated water by the glass or into bottles.

August 7, 2013

Syrup Review: Orange Crush Water Enhancer

From the makers of Otter Pops, among other things, comes Orange Crush water enhancer.  I first saw this displayed by the manufacturer at a trade show back in November.  I've often thought of trying MiO and some of the other water enhancers with carbonated water, but this one is just begging for the chance.

So while I work on recipes that will some day make it to these pages and while R.E.M. bounces around my head, I decided to pick one of these up.

I really like this stuff because it mixes so easily.  There's no actual sugar to thicken it up, so you just squirt some into the bottom of the glass, fill with carbonated water, and drink.  You don't have to struggle to get it to mix like you might with a thick syrup.  The flavor is good, and the (artificial) color is vibrant.  The sucralose and ace k taste like expected, so if you don't like artificial sweeteners, then this is not for you.  If you want a diy Diet Crush, then this is right up your alley.

Grape is also available, and it seems like the company displayed strawberry at the show as well, though I haven't seen it on shelves.

One downside (other than artificial sweetness) is that the instructions are a bit ambiguous.  It's 1 squirt for an 8oz serving and 2 squirts for 16oz bottle.  It shoots out in a thin stream, and I'm not sure how big of a squeeze is a single serving.

The economics of it is only a bit better than buying your Crush as is.  One $3 bottle makes 24 8oz servings.  That comes to about a gallon and a half or three 2-liter bottles.

So... all in all, it's not too bad, but I don't know if it's a must have.

July 12, 2013

Book Review: True Brews by Emma Christensen

from Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House
Available from Amazon , (also on Kindle , Barnes and Noble, (also on Nook)

Another homemade soda book has recently hit the shelves.  True Brews from Emma Christensen, recipe editor at The Kitchn, focuses on teaching the basic how to for just about all things fermented.  Although only one of the eight chapters is about soda, it's a helpful starting place for anyone looking for fermented recipes.

True Brews ends up being a bit pricier than some of the other books I've reviewed, but it's solid hardcover book that will hold up as a reference for batch after batch.  One thing that sets True Brews apart from other homebrew books is that Christensen's goal is to make homebrew accessible to everyone, even those in small apartments.  As such, she outlines equipment that is required and what isn't.  Then she starts with a master recipe and the other recipes are detailed variations on the master.  Each chapter starts with a brief interview with an expert to give tips and inspiration to aspiring homebrewers.

With each chapter devoted to a different beverage, there's little space to devote to a lot of variation.  So on first glance it may seem like each page is nearly a copy and paste of the previous.  In total there are 8 different soda recipes, most of them fruit based, which makes it the most recipe-heavy chapter in the book even if it's not the largest by page count (soda recipes are very simple compared to the other beverages).  I had to remind myself that the recipes are meant as a template to get a beginner started, and not really for something fancy and advanced.

Though the recipes are simple, that by no means makes them any less tasty.  I only had the resources to try one so far, and since Christensen recommended the Watermelon Mint, that's where I started.  It ended up much better than one of my earlier blogged recipes, WatermeLemon.  Probably because it used more watermelon for a smaller recipe.  I had never thought of combining watermelon with mint, but they do complement each other quite well.  The recipe ferments quickly in warm weather.  Be careful not to ferment too far because with the sediment it gushes quite easily.

Overall, True Brews is a great introduction to homebrewing.  Other homebrew books are a bit more on the technical side, whereas it's obvious from the full color pictures in this book make it more artisan friendly.  So if a homebrew book has scared you off in the past, this may be your invitation back to the hobby.  With that in mind, however, the book is a little light on advanced troubleshooting tips, so prepare to go back for something more technical once you have a few batches under your belt.  It may not be a must have book for the homemade soda maker's library, but it's a welcome addition for anyone who wants to get well start in on fermenting recipes.

July 8, 2013

Andrew Schloss's Homemade Soda Book on Kindle only 2.99!

UPDATE: NOVEMBER 16, 2013 - The price has dropped back down again, but not quite as low.  The Kindle edition can now be had for 3.49.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 18, 2013 - The price on this has gone back to 9.99 as noticed by an anonymous commenter.  I hope you picked up your copy when it was available at the lower price.  It's still a great book, but for that price, I'd go for even a used hard copy rather than digital.  That's just personal preference, I suppose.

One of the best homemade soda books of all time is Andrew Schloss's Homemade Soda: 200 Recipes for Making & Using Fruit Sodas & Fizzy Juices, Sparkling Waters, Root Beers & Cola Brews, Herbal & Healing Waters, Sparkling ... & Floats, & Other Carbonated Concoctions.  Wow, I never really realized how long that subtitle is.

Anyway, I was browsing some other things on Amazon and came across the Kindle Edition of this for the super low price of $2.99, so I thought I'd share that with you here.

I don't own a Kindle, so I'm not sure how this looks on it, but you can't beat that price for the tasty recipes in this book.  A lot of them are for soda by the glass, but there are some good ones that are designed for soda siphons or fermented batches.  My personal favorite is the Honey Lemonade Soda, which I've mentioned before on the blog, but it's a really good substitute for a San Pellegrino Limonata.

July 5, 2013

Recipe 27 - Jones Soda Crushed Melon Clone

Back in the day, before Jones Soda was available at major retailers and their really fun and innovative flavors weren't reserved for short run limited editions, Jones had a number of flavors that were legendary. If not for their flavor, their rarity.  My two favorites were Pink and Crushed Melon.  Pink was later "renamed" Strawberry & Cream, but it never tasted the same after that and shortly thereafter it was retired.  Along with some other black sheep flavors such as, Pink in it's original form has been officially forgotten by Jones Soda.

Crushed Melon, however, has not suffered such an ill fate.  It is at least still listed on their Retired Products page.  That tells me it was likely more popular and more profitable.  Though the real reason I made a clone recipe is to get me a little closer to Pink as they had a similar aftertaste.  (And it was easier to nail down the flavor.)  So without further ado, here's my version of Jones Soda's Crushed Melon

1 lb diced canteloupe (1/4 average sized melon)
1 lb diced honeydew (1/4 average sized melon)
1 lb diced watermelon (1/8 average sized melon)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb sugar (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup water

Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil, let it simmer on medium to medium high heat for 15 minutes.  If the color starts to dark, remove from heat immediately and add in a bit of cold water.
Pour the syrup over the diced melon and use a potato masher to crush it up with the syrup.
Once the melon is crushed up and the syrup is pulpy, run it through a fine-mesh strainer and add the vanilla.
Top the resulting syrup up to 1 gallon with carbonated water.

This syrup turns out a little on the thin side and it does contain a fair amount of pulp.  Mine yielded about 4 cups of syrup which makes the mix ratio about 3:1 carbonated water to syrup.  The pulp makes it fizz up rather easily when you mix it, so keep that in mind when you add this into your Sodastream.
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