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!