Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

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Better Beers for the Party Season

December 12, 2008

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Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas tree…” or perhaps, “Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree.
..” or hopefully not, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer…”

These are some of the lyrics that will invade our subconscious in the coming days as we navigate holiday parties. We’ll all try to drink, eat and be merry as we rub elbows with friends we’ve may have seen earlier in the day shopping at the supermarket, or that acquaintance, who turns out to be your best friend’s brand new flame, that you’ve not seen since last year’s party, or just a chance to get together with your aunts, uncles, siblings, and parents with the buffer of friends and without the formal requirements of carving a roasted beast.

Whatever the invite list, odds are you are going to be there a while. Someone is going to have the radio or the cable music channel set to “sounds of the season,” while you try to maneuver a drink, a fork, a napkin, and full plate with two hands and try to keep your Christmas sweater from needing a trip to the dry cleaner’s before Tuesday’s office Christmas party.

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Now I could make a suggestion about delicious hors d’oeuvres. We have plenty in our recipe index, but I’m actually going to speak to the bigger foul — the beer. Oh, I know some of you people don’t drink or think you don’t like beer. Heck, I didn’t like beer until a couple years ago, and the still wife looks at me funny sometimes. But, people, we can do better than Bud, Bud Light, et al.

One of the best things I learned about beer is that it is more like food then you might think. It’s got its seasons. In the spring, you drink the rich bochs developed by monks as “liquid bread” to sustain them through the fasting of lent. In the summer, you drink pilsners and lagers with their light crisp styles. In the fall, you drink harvest beers and sometimes delicious pumpkin ales. At this time of year, you drink Christmas beers. Now, some of them are bad, and tragically so. Yet there are a few really great ones, brewed with things like dried cherries, honey, cinnamon, thyme, and orange peel. The results are some delicious beers that stand up to cheese plates, fatty finger foods, and  even  some delicious sweets.

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So these are my recommendations to replace your big case of Rolling Rock. The one warning is that all of these are rather ‘high test.’ They have more in common with drinking a glass of white wine than your normal beers. So, warn folks who enjoy their beer, or you might find people frisky in the coat closet.

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Troeg’s Mad Elf (11% AbV)— This Pennsylvania brewer combines cherries and local honey to create this slightly sweet and medium-bodied beer. It’s got nice carbonation  that keeps it light enough to pair well with a lot of foods. But, in general, it’s a joy to drink.

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St. Bernadus’ Christmas Ale (11% AbV) & N’ice Chouffe (10% AbV) — Both are classic Belgium Christmas beers. Brewed with orange peel, they are dark brown, spicy and medium bodied. Lots of good dried fruit flavor in both beers.

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Brooklyn Brewery’s Dark Chocolate Stout (10% AbV) — This is on my short list of all-time favorite beers. This beer tastes so rich and full of chocolate, it’s amazing to realize this flavor is created only by the blend of roasted malts. It’s creamy and has good carbonation. This can be served across a chocolate dessert instead of coffee, or surprisingly, against a pungent cheese. I’m a huge fan and it is one of the few beers I’ve ever bought a case of.

Finally, just a reminder that we are giving away copies of my wife’s and grandmother’s book. Just participate in our holiday traditions event.

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Beer is good. Fathers are good. A post about excellent collaborations.

June 12, 2008

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Fathers don’t always want ties for Father’s Day. They don’t always want breakfast in bed. Dads don’t always want power tools for their birthday (unless of course they are cooking geeks and want a cold smoker — ahem, Jack, you get the message there, buddy. Notice the link.).

It is true, however, that dads like a good beer. OK, even that isn’t always true. But it is true of this father on his second Father’s Day. That is why I’ve decided to make a pair of recommendations to all you folks looking for something for dear old Dad.

So, a couple of years ago, Garret Oliver — brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, beer luminary, and Slow Food guru — had a moment of mutual admiration with Hans-Peter Drexler, brewmaster of G. Schneider & Son of Germany. The American loved the wheatbeers of the German. The German loved the hoppy beers of the American. And in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment of brilliance, they decided to combine efforts.  Their joint venture became these two bottles of beer.

 

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While using essentially the same recipe, they manufactured two distinct beers. Brooklyner-Schneider is brewed here in the States using American hops and Schnieder’s yeast; the Schnieder-Brooklyner is brewed in Germany using local hops and Brooklyn’s yeast. The result is some of the most delicous beer I’ve had. Both are snappy, with a myriad of flavors like banana, but with high acidity. These are perfect beers for lighter summer fare or even richer barbeque food. They are also spectacular for sitting and drinking on the back porch after the kids have left the house or gone to bed.

Either beer would make an excellent gift for a Dad. I tend to favor the Brooklyner, the wife seems to favor the Schneider. So, have fun and pour both to decide for yourself. This is the second year of this collaboration, and the beers are available only in limited quantities — so they may be difficult to find. Try your local beermonger.

Finally, in the last food post, I mentioned a pairing for the salad with some great craft beers. I also felt a little self conscious because I gave such light beers my first nod. So I feel the need to prove my manliness and my growing understanding of beer. Yes, real men only drink dark, monster hopped IPAs and Budweiser. Well, OK, I don’t drink like that. But I’m a man, dammit! I’ve a son to prove it to!

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As a result of this need to prove my manlihood, I’ll occasionally make suggestions for pairings of beer and food. I’ll also drop a post now and then about something exceptional I’m drinking. We aren’t going to become a beer blog; there are better and smarter guys doing that sort of writing. Instead, we like to think of ourselves as being about the food and the joyous event of sharing time with people. I hope you enjoy this new twist. Also, if you’ve got insights and suggestions on things that you are drinking, we’d love to incorporate them.

So, if you don’t have a chance to sit down and pour your Dad a beer, and/or sit down and share a meal with him, I hope you call him on Sunday.

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A refreshing rhubarb-grapefruit salad for a sizzling summer day

June 10, 2008

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It’s hot here. Brutally hot. The kind of hot where the scorching seat of your car can inflict third-degree burns and the sidewalk can literally cook eggs. It’s too hot to venture outside. It’s too hot to move. It’s almost — dare I say it — too hot to eat.

Wait. It’s never too hot to eat.

Of course, at times like these you do have to be very discerning about what you eat. That’s why my husband has cooked up — all caps, here – a REFRESHING salad that reminds the eater that no, it won’t always be 100 degrees outside, it will get better… and why don’t you go to the pool or something.

Yes, his rhubarb-grapefruit salad does speak that eloquently to me. It is light and (it bears repeating) refreshing, with a delightful sweetness from the cooling grapefruit and crunchy rhubarb and a wonderful twang from the zesty vinagrette. Plus, that beautiful heap of greens hides shredded mint to further cool your taste buds… and the whole thing is just plain gorgeous.

Sure, it’s hot outside — but at least the salad I’m eating is cool.

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And now the husband’s take…

Well, the wife is right about the heat.

When I got in my car today, I saw something I didn’t think was even possible. I looked down at the dashboard where it displays the temperature and saw three numbers: a 1 and a 0 and another 0. That’s right: One hundred degrees here in the US capitol.

It was the empirical evidence of what the last four days have been — HOT. A stifling hot. The kind that, unless you have been trained in Arizona for several years, you are unlikely to survive if you go outside. The kind that makes you sit in your air conditioned house and not want to move for fear that any slight twitch of friction might cause the trees outside your window to ignite.

But even with triple-digit heat, you still get hungry. The solution? Cold recipes. Something refreshing to keep the minions happy. This salad is all about being cool. While there is a stove component, you can do even those parts over a grill. Or you can bear 10 minutes of high heat.

Now to the brass tax on this recipe — there are a lot of little things going on. First, you have the poached rhubarb. It is cooked lightly in a sweet syrup of sugar and grenadine. Second, the grapefruit. It becomes the backbone of the salad through the tartness of its flesh, and its acidity in making a vinaigrette. Third, the greens. They are a combination of spring greens and herbs to give brightness. Fourth, syrups. Simple syrup is used to keep the grapefruit from becoming too tart, and a ginger syrup adds a bit of zing. Finally, there is a little bit of pecan to give you that deeper flavor and savory sensation that would traditionally be associated with a cheese (which has been omitted since dairy and 100 degree temperatures don’t mix).

Finally, I want to suggest a pair of perfect drinks for this. When we came back, my wife mentioned my growing love affair with beer. And the past few days, I’ve had reason to enjoy the pleasures of beer. So my suggestions to pair with this are two fruit-influenced beers. First is Abita’s strawberry harvest lager. Enough subtle strawberry to match with the grapefruit and rhubarb that you get a nice fruit flavor. Second is Unibroque’s Ephémère. This beer is fermented with apple juice and then flavored with classic orange peel, coriander and allowed to develop slightly bready character by being bottled with its yeast. Both these beers are delicious and dry (meaning not sweet…).

By the way, let’s not go into the fact I chose such light, delicate beers as my first recommendations. It’s hot enough without my manhood being questioned… just wait until the red meats and I’ll show you!
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Poached Rhubarb & Grapefruit Herb Salad

Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients:
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
2-inch piece of ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 large ruby red grape fruit
1 cup spring greens
1/2 medium head frisee lettuce
12 leaves mint (chiffonade/thin ribbons)
20 leaves flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pecan (toasted/crushed)
rhubarb batons (see recipe below)
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Prepare the rhubarb according to recipe below.

2. Prepare the syrup. In a medium-size sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over high heat. Once the sugar has melted completely, pour half out and set aside. Return the other half to the heat and add the chopped ginger. Bring the sugar water to a boil until it starts to form tight bubbles and thicken into a syrup. You are looking for something the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, let cool. Once cool, strain the ginger out, and cover or place syrup in a bottle. The ginger syrup should keep refrigerated nearly indefinitely. Both this and the rhubarb can be done a day in advance easily.

3. Supreme the grapefruit. Using a sharp knife, slice the top and bottom of the grapefruit off just until you reach the flesh of the fruit. Slicing along the shape of the fruit remove the pith and skin of the fruit. This should leave you with just the juicy flesh. Working over a bowl, cut along both sides of each membrane, removing the grapefruit segments. Allow the juices to collect in the bowl and place the segments in the unflavored sugar syrup you set aside earlier. Once all the segments are removed, squeeze the remaining fruit over the bowl to extract the last of the juice.

4. Make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the reserved grapefruit juice with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And salt and pepper to taste.

5. Wash and dry all the herbs and lettuce. Toss together. Then toss gently in a little of the grapefruit vinaigrette. Place on a plate. Make sure you have a decent amount of frisee, this is what will give your lettuce height. Layer with some grapefruit segments, rhubarb batons, pecans, and then gently drizzle the ginger syrup lightly over the salad.

Rhubarb Batons

Ingredients:
2 stalks rhubarb
500 ml water
100 ml grenadine
200 g white sugar

Note: This is based on a recipe by Heston Blumenthal. You can find it printed in the Times here. Furthermore, this recipe makes more rhubarb than is needed for this recipe. However, I found them a delicious sweet/tart snack, so I didn’t make any alterations to the amounts in this recipe.

Directions:
1. Clean the rhubarb and cut stalks into 2-inch segments. Make sure you discard any leaves of the rhubarb. They are poisonous and can give you a nasty stomachache.

2. In a medium-size saucepan, add the water, sugar and grenadine. Bring the water to 65C/150F. Add the rhubarb, shut off heat, and let sit for 15 min.

3. Pour rhubarb and liquid into container and refrigerate for several hours.

4. Once cool — and when you are ready to make the salad –slice the rhubarb into thin strips along the length, creating planks of rhubarb, then cut the planks lengthwise again to create batons. (Note: A sharp knife is your friend even though these will be soft.)

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Braised pork shoulder… It’s magically delicious!

May 12, 2008

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Ah, the pig.

That regal creature that Homer Simpson once referred to as a “wonderful, magical animal.” Indeed, I believe the pig may be magical: After all, a little bit of pig seems to make everything a lot more delicious. (And, never having had unicorn, I can only assume the pig is far tastier.)

My husband has long been under the spell of the swine, and has lately become a little more obsessed. Take, for example, the menu he prepared last week when we had family in town:

Monday: Braised pork belly. Tuesday: Braised pork shoulder. Wednesday: Barbecued pork ribs. If he had prepared pig trotters on Thursday, I was going to start ransacking the house looking for the pig carcass he was obviously hiding.

Not that I’m complaining. Doctors may not agree, but I believe a steady diet of pig leads to healthy — or at least, happy — living. And that is why we’re sharing with you Tuesday’s masterpiece: Braised pork shoulder.

Yes, the husband has not only blessedly turned his attention to that wonderful, magical animal… he has also dedicated himself to studying perhaps the most delicious art of food preparation: braising. Braising, that most perfect of techniques for concocting tender, delectable, melt-in-your-mouth meat. And pig, that meat most amenable to the BBQ chef’s mantra of “low and slow.”

The result of combining these two divine things? Heavenly, tender, succulent pork shoulder and a lovingly reduced sauce that will transport your taste buds to nirvana. I’m not exaggerating. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

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And now, the husband speaks…

I do love some pig. I’ve made more than a few pork dishes in the past week, but how’s that my fault? I mean, I didn’t make the pig that delicious.

But while this dish does demonstrate the magic of pig, it also is an example of the greatest technique I learned in culinary school — sauce making. There is perhaps nothing more French than the act of making sauce, and you have to give those cheese-eaters credit: Uninteresting morsels of food can be turned into something really special with the right sauce. In this dish, the sauce is made by reducing the cooking liquid to a near-glaze until it it is rich, delicious, and enhances the flavor of the meat.

What’s more, this dish also works with a newer obsession of mine: beer. I have to admit, I spend an inordinate amount of time at Rick’s Wine and Gourmet here in Alexandria, Va. I’ve even become friends with my local beermonger and fellow blogger, Nick. The store and Nick have been my cheerful suppliers as I continue to plow along. But this post is about demonstrating the glorious potential of beer, not about the high likelihood of seeing me in my little beer shop around the corner.

Here the beer is part of the braising liquid. The pork shoulder is browned and then slowly cooked in combination with Belgian strong ale and chicken stock. Along with their higher alcohol content, Belgian strong ales are known for their intense flavors that I feel pair naturally with pork. Here, I used a dark or golden variety of this style that exhibits fruit, citrus rind and spice; it reminds me of the classic pairings of pork with apples and cinnamon. The sauce that is rendered from the cooking liquid has a sweetness and a nice acidity — and I’m fairly confident would make my fingers delicious enough to eat.

Finally, this recipe is an homage to Daniel Boulud. While we were living NYC, my wife and I went to his flagship restaurant, Daniel, in midtown. For both my wife and I that experience was incredibly memorable not only for the amazing meal, but for the hospitality heaped upon us by the staff. After finding out I was a culinary student, the chef did those little extras that made us feel lavished upon. Beyond a clear demonstration of what it means to receive multiple Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times, it showed us a sense of generosity that we’ll try to show to others.

This recipe was inspired by his recent book Braise. He has a recipe for pork shoulder with hazel nuts and Jerusalem artichokes (AKA sunchokes). While I liked the original version, I changed it to include more American flavors such as bourbon and pecans, gave up white wine for my heartier ale and swapped the very earthy Jerusalem artichokes with the milder new potatoes. The recipes do vary in grades from there, but I’d like to think this version is… I won’t say better, just more pleasing to a pair of people.

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Click here to download the recipe.

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