Thursday, October 1, 2009

Barolo is a lovely thing

I've been away for ages I know, but work has kept me swamped. Hopefully things have calmed down a bit so I can spend more time in the kitchen and more time sharing recipes!

Some time ago, TheTooth was given a rather lovely bottle of Barolo: a 1990 Castiglione Falletto from the castle vineyards. We never managed to find out much about the wine, but were able to visit the castle village last summer. The castle is still a private residence, so we didn't get to get too close, but the tower is in this image. The region was one of the highlights of our trip -- incredible scenery, no crowds, great hidden art and architecture, and by far the best food and wine in northern Italy. (I'll have to share the place we stayed at some point.)

Knowing that the wine was about to enter it's peak period, and that it had a few periods of uncertain storage, we decided to enjoy it a bit early just in case. What a wonderful decision. To keep the focus on the wine, I kept the menu simple: gnocchi in a pesto cream, and a pan-seared steak. I'm still working on the whole gnocchi idea. While I was fairly happy with the results, I still need to tweak the recipe a bit before sharing. So far I'm keeping the potatoes baked and using a mix of cake flour and all-purpose. When I tried before with boiled potatoes I ended up with a heavy mess.

As for the wine, it was absolutely all that we had hoped for and more. It was seductive in the glass, a deep brick red with a nose that had hints of dark fruits and just a bit of leather. The flavor was full and lingered, and while the tannins were mellow there was still enough structure to cut through the fat of the steak. Our only regret is that we don't have another bottle to enjoy further down the road.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kitchinspirations September challenge -- Help!

The challenge this month is apple pie. I am an abject failure at pie crust. I have tried more times than I care to count. Since we are in the middle of the first month of school, I do not have the time to make multiple attempts at yet another pie crust. Fortunately I can take the idea and get creative with it. So, are there any suggestions out there? Biscuit pies? Something based on filo or puff pastry? Cobblers? Any recipes or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Foodie BlogRoll

You might notice a new element on the sidebar. We've been accepted into the Foodie BlogRoll! Click on over to it and check out some great food blogs. Find some new favorites and be inspired by the recipes!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Super-Easy Lamb Meatballs

I really enjoy Nigella Lawson's work. Yes, she takes shortcuts, and yes, I wish she would embrace fresh citrus instead of the horrid plastic squeeze things, but her cooking has it's roots in great flavor and streamlined technique. On one of her shows, she highlighted a recipe she called "Merguez with Halloumi and Flame Roasted Peppers". After making it and fiddling with it a bit, I've come up with my own version that is perfect for us. TheTooth can't handle really spicy stuff, so instead of the merguez, I make lamb meatballs. We found the halloumi too squeeky, so I switched to kaseri. Served with some flatbread, tzatziki, and hummus, it is a Mediterranean feast!

Quick Greek Lamb Meatballs

For Meatballs:
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp greek seasoning
1 egg

For the Dish:
1 block kaseri cheese
1 jar roasted peppers
1 recipe meatballs

1. Heat the oven to 425F.
2. Mix meatball ingredients well and form into golf-ball sized rounds. Place on an sheet pan that is lined with foil and lightly oiled. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.
3. Slice cheese into 1/4 inch slices, and tear peppers into bite-sized bits. After 10 minutes, surround the meatballs with the cheese and peppers. Pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
4. Serve with flatbread and whatever else you have on hand.

For our hummus, I just take a can of cannelini beans drained, a big dollop of tahini, a garlic clove minced, and a couple of glugs of lemon olive oil. (I will tell you all about my love of Pasolivo soon.) Run this through the food processor and you're good to go.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Confit and Gueuze

I was in Crate and Barrel the other week, got to talking to one of the employees about the joy of Dutch ovens, and my mind turned to velvety duck. We're big fans of duck confit. Once upon a time, it seemed perfectly logical to fork out a bunch of cash for a couple of duck legs with whatever side dish came along with it. Here's the reality: those restaurants aren't charging for skill or anything, they're charging for the time and the mystique. In reality, confit was originally peasant food. Poach the bird (or other animal) in it's own fat, cool, then cover it in said fat and keep in the root cellar for months. Thankfully we now have refrigerators, packaged duck fat, and tons of olive oil roaming the supermarket aisles.

For Christmas last year, I received the divine The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal. If you eat meat, you need this book. The appreciation for the flesh is incredible. Meat should be treated with respect, and Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstal really respects what he cooks. Inspired by his recipe for confit, and the post of Michael Ruhlman on the subject at his blog, I have developed my own version of this incredibly divine dish. And, I'm not above turning the oven to 300F for a few hours on a summer weekend to create heaven. My (and the Tooth's) heartfelt thanks to both gentlemen for the inspiration!

Duck Confit:

As many duck legs as you can fit in your dutch oven in a couple of layers at most
Kosher Salt (about 1/2 Tbsp per leg or so)
About 1 tsp thyme per leg
About 1/2 clove garlic minced per two legs
1 tsp dried orange peel (Penzey's has it!) for every two legs
4 or 5 grinds of pepper for every two legs
1 bay leaf for every two legs
A small container of duck fat and olive oil as needed

1. Combine all spices and cover duck generously.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours.
3. Wipe the vast majority of the spice mixture off the duck just before you go to cook it. You may rinse if you wish, but it won't be quite as flavorful. Be sure to dry it well if you rinse it.
4. Place legs in your Dutch oven and cover with the duck fat and olive oil. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then place covered in a moderate oven (300F) for about three hours, or until the meat has pulled far from the end of the legs and the legs themselves have sunk to the bottom.
5. Remove from oven and cool completely. Place duck in a container, cover with the fat/oil mixture until it is submerged, and refrigerate. It will keep a month or so if you can keep yourself away.
6. To serve, take out a couple of legs per person and wipe off as much fat as possible. Heat up a pan and cook the legs for 5-6 minutes a side, making sure to crisp up the skin. Serve with some potatoes or polenta or a simple salad. YUM.

The other night, I served this with fried polenta (fried in the duck fat), roasted asparagus, and a Belgian sour beer, Oude Gueuze from Hanssens Artisanaal. The acidity of the beer cut beautifully through the richness of the meat. The Tooth thought it was perfect. I think I still prefer wine with confit, but this would be a great second choice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stuff I Like: Penzey's and Honey Pacifica

Finding quality ingredients can sometimes be difficult, especially when those ingredients can be termed specialty ingredients. Some things are easy: I do my best to buy my meat from a butcher if at all possible. You might remember these guys (and gals): They stood behind a counter of meat which they have trimmed, ready to help you find the perfect cut or even cut something special for you. Butchering is an art form that cannot be replicated by plastic-wrapped Styrofoam folks! (Look, I occasionally fall prey to vacuum-sealed meat but I really try!) The meat tastes better, and you know you're not getting the weird bits that you really don't want when you can look someone in the eyes. On the other hand, finding things like spices, great honey, and such can be a real chore. Luckily, I've found places that specialize in both locally, and for those of you not in Southern California, one has many branches and one ships!

In the world of spices, may I suggest Penzey's? They have branches throughout much of the United States, and they also ship. If you're still buying your spices and dried herbs at the grocery store, stop. Seriously. Penzey's is fresher, their spices and herbs are of a higher quality, and to be perfectly honest, they're cheaper. I am more than willing to drive the 10 or so miles up a LA freeway just to get to their closest store. The smells when you walk in are the best perfume in the world. As much as I love fresh herbs, sometimes that's just not possible, and I will take the dried herbs from Penzey's over wilted, overpriced supposedly fresh herbs any day.

It's been a long time since stores carried nothing but clover and orange blossom honey. Still, it's hard to find good quality honey that hasn't had the nuances of flavor completely processed out of it. Luckily, there is Honey Pacifica to rescue us from bland honey. They use minimal processing on their honey, and it shows on the palate. They carry a wide variety of sizes, and even some great infused honey. PB and mango infused honey sandwich anyone? Yum. They ship, but if you happen to live near Lakewood CA you can stop on in and pick up what you need. Just be sure to call first as they're not a shiny storefront operation. I'm not complaining as a shiny fancy store means higher prices.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lamb Chops!

I completely forgot to take a picture so you'll just have to use your imagination.

I've recently decided I will never again purchase lamb rib chops. Why pay to have someone cut a rack of lamb into nice little lamb popsicles? I can't for the life of me remember which magazine recently had an article on cutting your own, but it stuck in the back of my mind for a while. I happened to find a good deal on lamb, so I brought a rack home, trimmed the fat and bits of silverskin, and carved it into nice chops. Amazingly enough, I even managed to get them fairly even. Here's what I did:

Marinade for lamb chops:

1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup red wine

Mix this in your favorite marinading vessel. I prefer plastic bags, but to each their own. Stick back in the fridge for a few hours. This marinade also works for lamb shoulder (make more of the marinade so it will cover the shoulder) or a full rack if you plan on roasting. For roasting, decrease the red wine a bit so it's more like a rub. Take the lamb out of the refrigerator a good 10 minutes or so before cooking so it won't be ice cold when you throw it on the grill or in the oven. Seeing as it was super late and I didn't feel like setting up the BBQ I grilled these on my grill pan for 2 minutes a side then let them rest. I also poured the marinade into a sauce pan when I pulled the chops out of the fridge, added another half cup of wine, and boiled it for a good 25 minutes. Served with some steamed baby broccoli and Parmesan risotto, it was a lovely meal.

Wine pairing: Petite Sirah is always awesome with lamb. There's something about this pairing that brings out the best in both the lamb and the wine. We had the San Marcos Creek 2004 Estate Petite Sirah. It was a rather lovely example of this varietal. Dark berries on the nose, with currant, berry, and a hint of chocolate in the finish. Yum.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wine review: Mastery Napa Valley Red Wine 2005

This is a very small production blend from Napa Valley made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Kevin Vogt, the main face of this wine, is a Master Sommelier, and it shows in his wine blending. (He's also a really great all-around guy, but I digress.) We had the opportunity to have this wine the other night along with a pork Wellington I made. I had heard whispers that this vintage scored incredibly well, amazingly high for a first release. I didn't know what to expect, and I was happily rewarded with the first sip.
A perfect deep purplish red in the glass, with a mildly spicy, dark fruit jam in the nose. This was one rich wine with a very plush feel and a beautifully layered blending of flavors: dried cherries leading to a bit of spice then a bit of earthiness. It reminded me of putting on a favorite cashmere sweater for the first time in winter. Overall, rather yummy. Unfortunately, the price point puts this wine out of the reach of many at $95 a bottle. Then again, the production is tiny, just over 350 cases overall. Would I buy it? Potentially, depending on the wine budget for the year. Would I be happy to enjoy it again? Absolutely!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kitchinspirations August Challenge: A la Julia

A couple of weeks ago, OakMonster from Hmm...Food...Good talked me into joining Kitchinspirations, a monthly cooking challenge blog. I figured it would be a good way to expand my cooking horizons even further from time to time. This month, the challenge is as follows:

And so this month ~ I challenge you to get to know Julia Child. Let her influence your cooking. Let her teach you something. Cook with Julia. If possible, or - if you haven't already, get your hands on a copy of Volume 1. Pick a recipe that inspires you - something you've always wanted to learn, to improve, or try for the first time. If you don't have a copy and don't want to buy just yet, ask around! As popular as this book has been, chances are it is in the collection of one of your friends or family members. Check the library, or (in Oregon) borrow from me.

Sounds like fun, right? I grew up watching her shows on PBS as a kid and have many fond memories of her descriptions of everything as "simple". Of course, to a little kid, nothing she made seemed simple at the time. I made my way to the kitchen, opened the bookcase to grab my copy of whatever Julia Child cookbook I had (I must have picked one up at an estate or rummage sale, right?) only to discover No Julia in the Collection. I checked a few times not believing the omission myself. Then, off to the bookstore I went. I picked up a copy of the classic Volume 1, and sat down with what I found to be a darned good read. Of course, I love butter, cream, and mushrooms, so how could I not love the book? Choosing what to make was the hard part. Eventually, I settled on the souffle au chocolat, or chocolate souffle.

It has been ages since I've played with folding whipped egg whites into anything, so I cheated and experimented first. On Friday we had some friends over for dinner and I made a recipe I found on Food and Wine for a Chocolate Souffle Sundae. It turned out pretty well, so I figured what the heck and decided to make the souffle for dessert after the parents brought over a ton of seafood for a boil dinner last night.

One warning to those who cook off the cuff and don't read a recipe in full before beginning: don't even attempt to do so with Miss Julia. She will find a way to make you miserable if you do. Fortunately, I did read the recipe through a few times before starting. I also decided to heck with a couple of her instructions and cheated with an easier route. I'm posting my version here. If you want the full real version, go get the book silly! You can find used copies for cheap.

Chocolate Souffle (based very heavily on Julia Child's Souffle au Chocolat on page 619 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

The Ingredients:
7oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup leftover coffee
1/2 Tbsp softened butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 Tbsp butter
4 eggs separated and 2 additional egg whites
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar

Special equipment: an 8in souffle dish

Oven preheat: 400F

1. Heat up your coffee to simmering. Stir in the chocolate and set aside to fully melt and cool.
2. Butter the souffle dish, place a buttered foil collar around it that comes up at least 3" above the top, and set it aside.
3. Put the flour in a saucepan, and slowly whisk in the milk. Add the butter and bring to a boil slowly. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly, then take off the heat and continue to stir for another couple of minutes.
4. Beat the egg yolks just enough to break them up a bit, then temper them with a bit of the white sauce. Once fully tempered, add the egg yolks to the sauce a bit at a time. When fully incorporated, stir in the chocolate mixture, then the vanilla.
5. Whip the egg whites and salt in another bowl until they form soft peaks. Slowly begin to add the sugar and continue to whip until stiff shiny peaks are formed. Pretty much make it look like meringue.
6. Pour the chocolate mixture down the side of the mixing bowl, and fold it into the egg whites. When you no longer see streaks of white, pour the mixture into your souffle dish.
7. Place the souffle in the prepared oven, then turn it down to 375F. Bake 40 minutes for a softly set souffle, 45 for a firm set souffle.
8. Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before removing the collar. Remove the collar, and serve immediately with either whipped cream, custard cream, or vanilla ice cream.

My deviations include the chocolate melting method, tempering the eggs rather than hoping I could mix them into the sauce one by one without scrambling, and I skipped the powdered sugar topping for the last few minutes of baking. OK, I forgot the powdered sugar. It still turned out, OK? The family loved it, and wouldn't have missed the part that fell off when I removed the collar if I hadn't mentioned it.

Will I make this again? Absolutely. It was pretty, and it tasted great. Will I bother with the creme anglaise? Nope. Whipped cream will be just fine. And if some spills on the counter again, I'm calling it the cook's share and eating it when no one is looking.

Oh, and the best part? It really was as simple to make as Julia made everything on her show seem.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kriek De Ranke

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of beer beyond the Miller/Coors/Bud swill, get out there and look around. Try some real beer, then come back. For the rest of you, TheTooth found a great lambic that both of us would put at the top of our lists. From a very small brewery in Belgium, Brewery de Ranke, Kriek de Ranke is a wonderful cherry lambic. Their story is pretty long, but if you have a moment, check it out here. Friday was a pretty hot evening, so I decided to throw together a cheese & crackers & meat platter. I know, I know, all of the "experts" say not to have more than a few cheeses on one platter, but how would we know which ones we liked with the beer? As for the meats, I can't call it a fancy charcuterie platter since I left off the condiments and all. (Admission time. This is one of our favorite summer meals as we can graze for the duration of the evening and enjoy a great beverage at the same time.)

About that beer: if you haven't tried a real lambic, you're missing out! True lambics have a bit of a sour note, so if you like anything fruity to be sweet, move on. In reality, that sourness is perfect here as it helps round out the fruit flavors. We went with tulip-shaped glasses, and discovered a red, tingly brew in the glass. The head was a dark pink that quickly dissipated into a thin film. The nose was very tart, more acidic than cherry, but the cherry crept up on you. And the flavor? Amazing. Full, round, sour cherry, followed with a bit of earthiness. The sourness was pleasant, not too sharp. On the mouth, the feel was crisp and clean, but not thin. The level of carbonation made this seem even drier than it was.

Heavenly pairing: Peppered goat cheese smeared on whole wheat crackers. There's really nothing to say about it except wow.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Estate Sale Finds

My Dad is the king of great estate sale finds in this area. While most people are looking for the "big hits" of antiques or are trying to get collectible dustables super-cheap, he finds the real treasures. Sometimes, it's a Christmas item. If you know my parents, you know they Do Christmas. More often than not, it's something cool for the kitchen. Dad and Mom found the vast majority of my corning ware at such sales, for far less than you find the stuff on eBay. You know the stuff: the old kind, squared-shapes with handles and designs on two sides. I still swear it is better than anything the Corning company has come up with in ages. Dad also finds the best cookbooks at estate sales. Years ago, he found me a full set of the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery. Originally sold at grocery stores the set covers just about everything and has the best pumpkin pie recipe out there. Dad even found the entire "The Good Cook" series from Time Life for $10. I marvel at his knack for the good stuff.

Last week he had another great outing. Time Life did another series, this one called "Foods of the World". This series came as two books: one large format book with pretty pictures and recipes, and a companion spiral bound of just recipes. While the large books are cool, and appeal to my love of all things kitsch, it is the spiral bounds I've been after. Thanks to Dad, I now have 20 more! With my earlier discoveries, I now have all but three of the books. I've only just started exploring the books, so expect to see some recipes soon! Thanks Dad!

Vino & Cucina in Long Beach

Just a brief one tonight. Vino & Cucina has become (over the last couple of years) one of our favorites! This is a lovely little trattorria here in Long Beach. The food and service remind both of us of our time in Italy last summer: relaxed service, portions for a human, an obvious sense of caring overall about the ingredients and the people. This is not a place to go when you are in a hurry, and I really think more Americans should take note. Dinner is to be enjoyed slowly, with the food and the company being part of the experience. Chew, think, discuss, repeat. There would be much less obesity around here...

I have to admit that I just didn't feel like cooking tonight. We finished the wine cellar (for now) and I just needed to get away from the house. I don't like to go out often, but this is one of my favorites. They also take reservations, which is always a bonus in our book. So we stopped in for a couple of plates of fettuccine rustiche. Think fettuccine in a creamy vodka tomato sauce with a hint of red bell pepper, but somehow the chef makes it call come together somehow more ethereal than it sounds. Edit: TheTooth would like the description of the dish to include the all-important sausage. You're right dear, the sausage makes it sing. If you happen to be in southern California, stop in and taste what Italian food should be, not the massive slop the chains would have you believe. More is not better. Do so soon though...the restaurant is closing for expansion and remodeling in the next month or so.

Best dishes: Depending on the special, this could easily be the choice. They make a killer stuffed artichoke heart, great calamari, the fettuccine above is wonderful, as is the spaghetti della nona, their risotto is actually risotto instead of paste, and is to die for. Dessert? If they have panna cotta, you must save room. The rest are good, but their panna cotta is divine.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Some Very Generous People out there in the Card Collecting World

If you checked out my first post, you might have noticed that this will occasionally take a detour from cooking to the world of card collecting. Being a history buff, I got sucked into the Allen & Ginter craze in 2006 and am working on my review (and want lists and trade lists) of this year's product.
Since I started reading the card blogs I've been really impressed at the generosity these guys and gals show each other. If only the rest of the world were as kind. Here is one more example: Trader Crack is giving away quite a bounty. Of course, just by posting this I've entered the contest. If you like sports cards, so should you!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Kitchen Remodel, or why I'm blogging about stuff that goes in the oven.

Back in May, TheTooth and I finally moved to our new house. Unfortunately the house came without kitchen appliances. Fortunately, this presented us with our best opportunity to do things over. This is an image of the before version. Yeah, it's a mess, and I had already run out of space:

As you can see, outside of the fridge we brought from the old garage, and our microwave (both on the right) there's not much with which to cook, and little usable space. Best guess is this kitchen was created in 1964 when the house was remodeled and the Formica countertop was added some time later. It needed help. So, TheTooth, my wonderful parents, a couple of friends who helped out, and I created my paradise. It's still undergoing a bit of renovation as I haven't yet picked out the lighting, we just installed the baseboards, the pass-through needs to be finished, and we need to repaint again, but here's the result pretty much to date.

View from the same direction:

View of my cookbook bookshelves, countertops, and my favorite cabinet pulls (ya gotta love forks, knives, and spoons in the kitchen!):

Yes, I am spoiled rotten, and yes, I have already used most of the burners. I know I won't much of the time but I prefer gas and unless I wanted to redo the whole gas arrangement for the kitchen to accommodate wall ovens, this was my option. Trust me, I am in no way complaining. I prefer this version. I know it's summer and all, but I just can't resist cooking on it. Plus, that vent hood works so well the house really doesn't heat up.

You might wonder why I went with wood when granite and all of the composites are the big thing. One reason: huge cutting surface. Yes, I'll have to go to a bit more trouble to keep it clean and in good condition, but for me it was worth it. Also, we have no intention of ever moving again, so what do we care about resale values and such?

I can't thank those who helped me create this place enough: my appliance guy, who helped me find refurbished appliances so I could stay in budget, my wonderful hubby TheTooth, my incredible parents who worked like mad on this, and the great friends who pitched in too. I can't wait to cook many meals for you all!

Beer tasting Dinner Part Three -- Dessert

Finally, dessert. TheTooth bought me a propane torch for the kitchen for Christmas, so I immediately set about making Creme Brulee. I chose a chocolate version for this dinner, which I suspect is now his favorite. Again, forgive the blurry shot. I'm still figuring this out. Just look at the small one, OK?

Dessert: Chocolate Creme Brulee Served with: Vanilla Bourbon Porter

This dessert is so simple to make that ordering it in a restaurant seems downright silly. Yes, it is not exactly light in the calories, but if you don't eat it everyday you should be OK. TheTooth likes a thicker solid crust on his so I deviate from almost every recipe. I'm sure you can broil this, but a torch is so much more fun. Trust me.

Chocolate Creme Brulee (my version, mixed up from about 10 others)

Serves 6

3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
9 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ounce cocoa powder
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Enough turbinado sugar to cover your ramekins

1. Heat your oven to 300F.

2. Combine half the cream, and the granulated sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, make sure that the sugar dissolves.

3. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate and cocoa powder until melted and dissolved in the mixture.

4. Get out a roasting pan, place a clean kitchen towel in the bottom, and place your ramekins on the towel. Boil some water (enough to come 2/3 up the ramekins).

5. Once cream has cooled a bit and the chocolate is fully combined, stir in the rest of the cream. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until light in color. Whisk in the vanilla and about 1/4 cup of the cream mixture to begin tempering the eggs. Once that is combined, add in another 1/4 cup of the mixture. Do this once more, then add the rest of the cream mixture and whisk until fully combined. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a big pyrex measuring cup or other pitcher. Divide among your ramekins.

6. Carefully place the pan with the ramekins on an oven rack located in the lower third of your oven. Pour boiling water into the pan, but don't splash into the ramekins, until the water comes up 2/3 of the way of the ramekins. Bake until firm, which should take about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your oven. Check it after 30 just to be safe.

7. Remove ramekins from pan to a cooling rack using rubber-banded tongs (thanks Alton Brown!) and cool to room temperature. Cover each tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

8. When ready to serve, remove the plastic, and blot off any moisture from the custards with a paper towel. If you like a thinner crust, sprinkle the ramekin with a tablespoon or so of the turbinado, turning the dish to coat evenly, and tapping out the excess. If you like a thicker crust, pulverize about a cup of the sugar in your food processor (so you'll have extra for next time) until it is as fine as baking sugar. Use this to coat the ramekins in the above fashion.

9. Get out your torch, fire it up, and brown those tops. Be careful not to set the whole kitchen on fire. I suppose you could broil them until bubbly, but a torch gives a better crust and is just more darned fun!

The pairing worked OK, but we ended up having a ruby port with this.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Beer Tasting Dinner Part Two

The next two courses in the dinner are far less interesting, so I'll only talk about them briefly. Course five is a great standby that I make fairly often.

Third Course: Baked Goat cheese salads with pignolas and cherries with a Kreik vinaigrette Served with: Kreik Boon and Lindenman’s Kreik

I really like making this basic salad, using the recipe from Cook's Illustrated. Of course, I can never find the Melba toasts when I want them, so I use those mini-toasts from Trader Joe's. As always, they came out creamy and delicious, and the vinaigrette actually worked. Of course, it would have helped if I had written down the recipe. Sigh. The pairing? Kriek Boon is a lovely example of a Lambic. Somewhat tart, with a true cherry flavor mingling with the malt and hops. Taking a sip of the Lindeman's, we were reminded how much like a wine cooler this stuff really is. I hate to admit it, but I used to like the stuff. Now I know much better.

Simplified Baked Goat Cheese
For Appetizers or Salads

Serves 4 or more (depending on application)

1 small log garlic and herb goat cheese
1 egg
1 cup crushed mini toasts (fairly large crumb)

1. Put crumbs in a shallow dish, and beat egg into another shallow dish.
2. For salads, divide the cheese into four portions, and roll into balls, then flatten slightly. For an appetizer, skip this step.
3. Roll the cheese, then the egg, making sure to cover in crumbs completely.
4. Put the coated cheese in the freezer for 15 minutes (this is the IMPORTANT Cook's Illustrated step. Skip this and you've got ooze.)
5. heat your oven to 475F. When it is ready, cover a baking sheet with foil, oil the foil lightly, then place your cheese on the foil. Bake in heated oven for about 8-10 minutes for salad size, 10-12 for the whole log.

Fourth Course: Creole Turtle Soup Served with: Bernie’s Molasses Porter (homebrew) and Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine (commercial)

I'm not bothering with the photo for this one. For those of you who love turtle soup, more power to you. All I can say about this is thank goodness this was in small portions. Better yet we discovered the dog loves turtle. Therefore, he got to enjoy turtle.

The beers were chosen through recommendations on a brewing forum. we didn't eat the soup, so I cannot comment on the pairing. The porter is one of my favorites and I'm hoping TheTooth makes it again soon. Rich, only slightly sweet, and roasty as all get out. The barleywine really needed more time to rest and mellow out. It was young and sharp, and really darned hoppy. We should have tried another beer and left this to rest for a couple of years. Live and learn.

Fifth Course: Pan Seared Rib Eye with steamed vegetables and sour cream chive mashed potatoes; Brown Ale BĂ©arnaise Served with: Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale

Forgive the photo. I know it's a bit blurry, but I had been tasting all those beers... My favorite way to cook a steak, courtesy of the always-on-target Alton Brown (with modifications of course):

Serves 2-4, depending on what else is on the menu.

1 Delmonico or rib-eye steak, between 1.3 and 1.8 lbs. (It should be a good 1 1/2 inches thick, preferably 2 inches)
1 Tablespoon Hawaiian red sea salt
1 teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder
1/2 Tablespoon fresh ground pepper
Grape seed oil

1. You need a big ol' cast iron skillet for this. Go get one if you don't have one. It will become your best friend in the kitchen.

2. Put the skillet in the oven, and turn it up as hot as it will go, hopefully about 500F.

3. Take the steak out of the fridge and season it liberally with the salt, garlic and onion powders, and pepper. Drizzle it with grape seed oil. Let the chill come off the steak while the oven comes to temperature.

4. Once the oven has reached it's hottest point, do nothing for a good five minutes. This will allow the pan to get good and hot.

5. When you're ready, grab a good timer and some heavy oven mitts. Turn your closest burner on high, then get the pan out of the oven. USE THE MITTS. Trust me on this one, OK? I came close to grabbing the pan once and still burned myself without ever touching it. Put the pan on the burner, then immediately put the steak in. Leave it for 40 seconds, then flip and leave it another 40 seconds.

6. Put the pan back in the oven, and leave it for 3:30. Flip the steak again, and cook it another 3:30. Pull it out and rest, covered with foil for 10 minutes. Slice and enjoy.

The pairing: Brown ale is one of our favorites, and this did not disappoint. While I normally prefer a nice juicy tannic red wine to cut through the richness of the steak, this beer did quite nicely. There was a bit of fruit in it, and a bit of an acidic tang that cut through the meat well. We had run out of TheTooth's brown the day before so I couldn't do a double pairing here. Bummer.

Next time: Dessert!

Beer Tasting Dinner Part One

Fair warning...this will be a long one!
For New Year's Eve, we nearly went to a local BBQ place that does beer tasting dinners. The dinner for the holiday sounded great, but they didn't take reservations. Ack! Who wants to stand out in the cold for possibly hours waiting for a table on New Year's Eve? Not us, that's for sure. Heck, places that take reservations for parties of two get our business more often than not. (You hear that restaurant industry? Reservations are your friend! Have a policy to only hold tables for 10 minutes if you want. Just take the reservation for goodness sake!) But I digress. I offered to come up with a pairing dinner of our own instead. Most of the pairings came out well. If you have suggestions for any others let me know!

Yeah, I'm a geek. I make a menu for every holiday or special occasion. What can I say? (The pictures of the courses will come as soon as I get them all pretty and corrected for contrast and such.)

First course: Prosciutto Roulades with herbed goat and mascarpone cheeses Served with: Herr Buddy’s Kolsch (homebrew) Hollywood Blond Kolsch (commercial)

Very easy to make, and very yummy too! Take a small tub of mascarpone, about the same amount of goat cheese, and a touch of cream, and mix well. It helps if the cheeses are soft. Mix in some fresh herbs of your choice, and garlic if desired. I used thyme, marjoram, and oregano, along with a touch of salt, pepper, and garlic. Roll in a thin piece of prosciutto, top with a drizzle of your favorite extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and chopped parsley. You can make the rolls as big or as small as you wish, and if you roll the prosciutto like a log you can slice it in pinwheels and serve for a party. Since this was a holiday dinner, I got all fancy and plated it with a thin slice of lemon and some endive.

As of the beers, we discovered that the Hollywood Blond Kolsch wasn't really a Kolsch at all. It was some Americanized over-hopped sort-of version. Designed for IPA fanatics, it just didn't suit us. (It is the left glass in the picture.) Herr Buddy's was closer, but still not quite the beer of Koln. TheTooth will have to make another attempt soon. Both paired well with the dish, their crispness playing nicely off the richness of the cheese and ham. The lightness also cut through the tang of the goat cheese. This is a pairing to keep.

Second course: Cheese Stuffed Shrimp with Prosciutto and a Saison Dijon Cream Dipping Sauce Served with: The Bruery Tradewinds Tripel

This recipe comes from page 79 of the wonderful The Best of American Beer & Food by Lucy Saunders. If you like good craft beer and food, you need this book. She has a site with all sorts of great info: I made a couple of deviations from the recipe, mainly the use of prosciutto (oops, left the wrong pig on the menu) and I made a sour cream-saison sauce instead of the sauce in the recipe (a recipe I have for butter poached lobster has a Dijon sour cream sauce and TheTooth likes it better than the mayo version.) Here's the recipe, but it's the only one you'll get here! You need to buy the book for the rest. (Come on, you know how to find cheap copies on Amazon now.)

"Cheese-Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp with Bacon
18 slices pancetta
18 tail-on jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 count), peeled, deveined
1 cup grated Swiss cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In large skillet over medium heat, cook pancetta until half cooked but still pliable, set aside to cool.

2. Butterfly each shrimp (slice lengthwise, about two-thirds through largest section of shrimp) and fill cavity with one tablespoon cheese.

3. Pinch shrimp closed around stuffing and wrap with 1 strip par-cooked bacon in a spiral, securing ends with toothpick. Place on baking sheet and bake until golden, turning once, about three minutes per side. Do not overcook as shrimp will continue to cook when removed from oven. Serve with Dijon Saison Sauce.

Dijon Saison Sauce
6 ounces saison-style ale
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 tablespoons hot water
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1. Decant ale and let carbonation settle. In medium saucepan, combine ale, butter, water, mayonnaise, and mustard; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until reduced to a creamy consistency, about 30 minutes.
2. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with shrimp."

My cheat on the sauce was as follows: Mix sour cream and Dijon mustard in a ratio of 3:2. Stir in 1 tablespoon ale for each cup of sauce. Add in a pinch of garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

The Bruery's Tradewinds Tripel was a wonderful pairing. If you haven't had the treat of sampling one of this Southern California craft brewer's Belgian-style ales, find one. Beautifully balanced, with just a hint of the basil they use as a spice, it went nicely with the mild heat of the Dijon and the saltiness of the cheese and pig. Yeah, yeah, it is their summer brew but it is too tasty to limit to one season!

More courses in the next post...

Kicking things off

Hi there,

If you're here, I guess like us you have an interest in either wine, homebrew, or cooking like us. I wanted to start a discussion about good recipes, interesting experiments, and some of the things we just love eating or drinking. I've been meaning to start this blog for ages, but as is usual in life, the little things keep popping up. In the last seven months, instead of blogging, we've sold a house, bought another, moved, remodeled a kitchen, and finally built our wine cellar. So, if some of my first posts contain content that seems as if I wrote it ages ago, you'll have to forgive me. Oh, and if an occasional post pops up about baseball or football cards, or even the sports themselves, you're still in the right place. I hope you enjoy the blog, and if you have a recipe to share, please do!