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Food Stuffs

Cooking at home. Not much here at the moment, just some notes and favorite recipes.

Random Bites

Organic baked beans: We've tried some "organic" baked beans in the past, but found ourselves longing for some of the flavor of the non-organic varieties (such as Bush). We were delighted to find ShariAnn's Maple & Onion Organic Baked Beans, which had the flavor we craved.

The beef hot dogs from Yorkshire Farms that come five to a pack ("Deli style") are a bit too large to fit in any normal-sized hot-dog roll. They do have a wonderful, spicy flavor, but the casing is thick and therefore somewhat chewy. We have tried both the all-beef and pork/beef blend versions (eight to a pack) and prefer them to the Deli style.

Unlike many people I know, I never liked macaroni and cheese as a kid. Anne has introduced me to a mac & cheese that I love: Annie's Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese (are you surprised I love it with a name like that?). My favorite flavor is Shells and White Cheddar. Now that's comfort food--no matter what your age.

Speaking of cheese, we've become fans of a sharp, white cheddar we received as a gift. It's called Cougar Gold and is manufactured by the students in the Food Science and Human Nutrition program at the Washington State University Creamery. It's one of the best cheeses I've ever eaten, and if you like cheddar, there's none better.

Recipes

Raised Waffles

This recipe came originally from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham and is the best waffle recipe we've ever found. The batter is quite thin, however, and we found it doesn't work well in our waffle iron (a Philips HD4482). We had a problem with gaps or voids on the tops of our waffles. Our variation simply decreases the amount of milk in order to make a thicker batter and makes a few other small changes. This recipe uses yeast and so requires time for the batter to rise. We simply make it the night before.

 

  • 2 cups milk, warmed
  • 1/2 cup (one 1/4-pound stick) melted unsalted butter (if you use salted butter, omit the teaspoon of salt)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

 

1. Choose a large mixing bowl to allow room for the batter to rise. Put 1/2 cup of the warmed milk, the sugar, and the yeast into the bowl. (In comparison to Marion's version, we substituted milk for water here and add the sugar at this point rather than later. Warm liquid and sugar are a standard proofing solution.)

 

2. Add the remaining milk, butter, flour, and salt to the yeast mixture and beat until smooth. We just use a whisk. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

 

3. Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs, add the baking soda, and stir until well mixed.

 

We like crisp, well-done waffles and bake them until steam stops escaping, about 7 minutes. We enjoy our waffles topped with honey, either liquid or creamed. Although we both love butter, neither of us feels the need to butter the waffles; they are quite rich enough as they are.

In our waffle iron, this recipe makes ten waffles. Five waffles makes a meal for the two of us, but we make all ten waffles the same day and reheat them (in the toaster) the next time. They are actually even crisper when reheated.

Rhamkuchen (Cheesecake)

I remember fondly my mother's cheesecake as being the best I ever had, but I thought the recipe had died with her eighteen years ago. At least I have never been able to find it among her cookbooks and clippings. The other night I was browsing through one of the old cookbooks and finally found the recipe! I had never looked in this book before for the cheesecake because I was sure that the recipe was on a recipe card and not from a book.

The recipe originally appeared in A World Of Good Eating: A Collection of Old and New Recipes From Many Lands by Heloise Frost (Phillips Publishers, Inc., 1951). The country of origin was Germany and the recipe is for "rhamkuchen" ("cheese cake" is in parentheses as the translation). My comments on the original recipe are in brackets.

I haven't made the recipe yet, but will soon.

 

Crust

  • 11/2 cups rolled Zwieback crumbs [about 16 slices of Zweiback toast]
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Cake

  • 1 pound cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 eggs; separated
  • 1 cup thick sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • vanilla [I used 1/2 teaspoon]

 

1. Blend the rolled crumbs with melted butter and 2 tablespoons sugar. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch spring-bottom pan. Place in warm oven [I used 300 degrees] for 5 minutes to set the crust. Cool.

 

2. Warm the cream cheese to room temperature and break up with a fork. Blend in the sugar and lemon juice, rind and vanilla. Drop in the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well after each one. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the mixture with a spatula.

 

3. Pour over the crumb base and bake for 45 minutes at 300 degrees.

 

4. Mix 1 tablespoon sugar and the vanilla into the sour cream. Spread lightly over the top of the cake and return it to the oven to bake 10 minutes more. [The sour cream should brown lightly. I needed to rotate the pan to get the cake to brown evenly.]

 

5. Let the cake cool and remove the rim of the spring pan to serve.

(Provisional) Margarita Recipe

Margarita recipes I've seen are all over map regarding proportions and ingredients. In creating my personal favorite, I'm going to take a stab at a recipe for a non-frozen, traditional margarita and refine it as new information becomes available. Herewith then, is a recipe for the margarita I like.

 

  • 3 parts Tequila
  • 2 parts Cointreau
  • 9 parts lime juice (limeade, real limes, or some combination). If using limeade, mix it "strong." Instead of 4 cans of water, use only 3.

A good way to make the salt adhere to the rim of the glass is to put the glass in the freezer for a few minutes. When the warm air hits the cold glass, the resulting frost gives the salt something to stick to. Then run the rim of the glass through a pile of coarse kosher salt.

Posts in “Food”

July 14, 2010

Drinking Our Way Across Pennsylvania

Nothing breaks up a long car trip like good food and drink, so we were looking forward to trying some new places on a trip to Erie over the Fourth of July weekend. The detours added at least three hours to the travel time, but made the trip seem shorter and certainly far less grueling.

I was not familiar with places outside the southeastern corner of the Keystone State, so for guidance we turned to Lew Bryson's dead-tree compendium “Pennsylvania Breweries,” an iPhone app called Find Craft Beer and, of course, beermapping.com.

The first stop was Selin’s Grove Brewing which had the most imaginative and best-executed menu of any place on the trip, including many vegetarian options. Their beer was good, too. We sat outside in perfect weather. A delightful experience, and only a mere three hours from home!

Next was Blue Canoe Brewery in Titusville. Blue Canoe occupies the building formerly occupied by Four Sons, which we had visited in years past; not much has changed. More good food and beer and even live music.

Considering its size, Erie itself disappointing, almost devoid of craft beer, at least according to our references. We had lunch at Matthews Trattoria & Martini Lounge. Fine food, but macros only. From there, we walked a few blocks to the only brewpub, The Brewerie at Union Station, which, in the middle of Friday afternoon was basically empty. Andy’s Pub had an acre of pool tables, but only two beers on tap: Bud Lite or Miller Lite. Fortunately, their bottle list included some winners even though they were out of many of them.

On the way home we stopped for lunch at Otto’s Pub & Brewery in State College. They had the best beer of any place and fine food as well.

Overall, we liked Selin’s Grove best followed closely by Otto’s.

March 27, 2010

Brewing with Glacier Hops

So what did we do with all those hops? Well, in the spirit of Sly Fox’s Hop Project, we decided to brew a single-hop pale ale. We picked a simple pale ale recipe (“Gone Fishin’” from The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian). I was advised that fresh hops are equivalent to pellets, so we measured out the same amount by weight.

To get maximum hop extraction, we tried something called the Texas Two-Step, which splits the boil into two stages. Previously, we boiled 2.5 gallons of water and added all the ingredients to that, then added 2.5 gallons to the fermentation bucket. The Two-Step has you split your ingredients and add half to each 2.5-gallon boil. Even with that, the beer tasted weak and watery at first. Disappointing. Now that the beer has been in bottles for a few weeks it tastes much better, but it still has virtually no hop flavor. Either our hops are “weak,” or we didn’t use enough of them, or both, probably.

For our next batch (a Hoegaarden clone), we will be using pellet hops and adding some of our Glacier hops for aroma. Hoping this batch will be much better.

Comments

Fresh hops are nowhere near as potent as pellets. Approx 5 oz of freshies to an ounce of pellets.

Mat,
That's good to know, thanks! We started some Columbus hops this year. They did well, but won't have enough for a batch. We should have enough by next year this time, we hope.

January 13, 2010

First Hop Harvest

[Thanks to the economy, I had to lay off the entire editorial staff of mere cat, interns and all, hence the long gap in posting. Although I have a backlog of blog drafts that I hope to turn into actual posts, it’s just me doing everything from now on, so I think posting will continue to be light.

A few drafts were devoted to hops. Here’s the first. It should have been posted in October. Confound those insolent, indolent interns.]

 

Harvesting Glacier hops

Anne picking the driest Glacier hops off the bines in the first picking session in early October.

Besides our regular crop of tomatoes (a record 350-odd this year), we (meaning my wife) usually grow other random crops in a corner of our little quarter-acre lot. Some brewing experiments led us to try growing our own hops.

We picked up five hop rhizomes from Keystone Homebrew in early 2008. None did well the first year, but this year our Glacier plant really took off, covering an entire wall. We started harvesting the hops while they were still on the bine, picking the driest ones at first. As novice hop growers, it was difficult to determine when to harvest them. We may have harvested them a little late, but most still seemed green and moist and only just beginning to dry out. We air-dried them briefly and bagged them for the freezer. Below is a picture of about half our harvest. Hops weigh almost nothing, but I think we came close to a pound.

Glacier hops

Comments

That is so cool that you are growing hops on the side of your house!

Also, I'm jealous about all of your wonderful tomatoes!

When do I get to sample the Glacier Hop brew?

Robin

seadragon, Full disclosure on the tomatoes: We have a community garden plot where most of the plants were; that's how we got so many. Our yard is too shady for more than a few tomato plants.

Robin, No one gets to sample the Glacier Hop brew, which is a pale ale—it was a disappointment (post coming soon explaining why). We plan to use those hops in a style that doesn't depend on strong hop flavor. Hope to share some of that. :-)

Looking forward to seeing the brew that these are used for. :)

I love hoppy beer. I'm about to crack a Hop Wallop and take Judy out for a walk.

September 10, 2009

Jenkintown’s Jazz and BrewFest This Sunday

The tenth annual Jenkintown Jazz and BrewFest is this Sunday, September 13 (I will be one of the orange-shirted volunteers). I have been coming to the Fest even before I moved to Jenkintown and always had a great time. It’s so much more than a beer festival with lots of great food and world-class jazz (alto saxophonist Richie Cole and singer Denise King this year). Plus this year there’s a new special tasting event before the regular BrewFest: “Breakfast and Brew,” hosted by award-winning author Lew Bryson. Info and tickets here.

March 16, 2009

Philly Beer Week 2009: Winding Down and Wrapping Up

I promise this will be the last Beer Week post until next year—because Beer Week is over. *sniff*

My Beer Week ended with a whimper rather than a bang. For the last three days of Beer Week, I strayed rather far from my “plans,” such as they were. On Friday, I was planning to head solo to Eulogy Belgian Tavern for Brasserie d’Achouffe night, but when Anne expressed an interest in some Beer Week action, we switched the plan and headed back to Teresa's Next Door for Chimay Night.

Although Chimay is one of the most widely-available Belgians, I believe I have only had one before. We ordered a flight of three: Red, White, and Blue. (I should repeat this on Flag Day.) All were very fine, but I particularly liked the spicy White (the tripel is my favorite Belgian style). As good as the Chimay was, the big surprise and thrill of the evening was tasting Monk's Café Sour Ale (a “Flanders Oud Bruin”). I have only had a couple of sour ales before, and I think this was my favorite, mostly because I felt it was well-balanced and not too sour or too anything.

Saturday came and went with no beer outings. On Sunday we stopped at Moriarty’s (after the Go Green Expo), because they were one of the places hosting Ballast Point. They still had two on tap: Abandon Ship Smoked Lager and Black Marlin Porter. I had the porter, which was exceptionally smooth and satisfying without any heaviness.

I didn’t come out of this year’s Beer Week with much of a shopping list, but I did make mental notes of a lot of new places I would like to get to during the year. In that respect, the promotional side of Beer Week in lifting the profile of local bars is working very well indeed.

Comments

For me, every week in Philly is beer week. Just less crowded.

You said it. Although I haven’t been to Monk’s in years because of the crowds, and I had the same problem the one time I hit Local 44.

March 13, 2009

Philly Beer Week 2009: Summit at Bridgewater’s Pub

I knew I wanted to support one of my favorite haunts, Bridgewater’s Pub in 30th Street train station, by showing up at least once during Beer Week. They were holding tastings almost every day, and I pass through 30th Street every day. Ergo, easy peasy. Thursday was the day I picked, and the featured brewer happened to be Summit Brewing of St. Paul, Minnesota. They were pouring (in Summit pub glasses!) three Summit brews: Maibock, Great Northern Porter, and IPA. The Summit IPA is often on tap at Bridgewater’s, and I have had it a number of times, but the other two were new to me. My favorite was the Porter, but then I love porters.

March 12, 2009

Philly Beer Week 2009: Ithaca Beer at Teresa’s

Since “discovering” Ithaca Beer at the 2008 Craft Beer Festival, I had been waiting for them to be distributed in southeastern Pennsylvania, which happened sometime last summer. The first sign I noticed was that McGillin’s began serving Apricot Wheat in early August. Not long after our local distributor, Hatboro Beverage, started carrying them, and we picked up the Variety Pack. I have had only four of their beers, however, so I was looking forward to sampling their other efforts.

Ithaca was well-represented during Beer Week. Tuesday’s schedule showed that Ithaca was holding events at three locations: the Foodery, Misconduct Tavern, and Teresa’s Next Door. Decisions, decisions. Ultimately, I chose Teresa’s if for no other reason than its proximity. I felt quite inconspicuous from my perch at the end of the bar and ordered the flight of all four featured Ithaca brews along with some food to wash it down.

Brute
Tart, tangy and sweet all at once. Fruit-juicy delicious. I am definitely acquiring a taste for the sours.
Keller Pils
Crisp and dry, more hoppy than bitter.
Bourbon Ten
A huge, sippin’ beer. Reminded me more of a sherry than a whiskey.
Flower Power
I need to try this again, because while it tasted fine, I actually couldn’t decide where to place in the continuum of IPAs. You know what this means, don’t you? More data is needed!

I am more enthusiastic about Ithaca than ever, thanks to this very pleasant evening in one of my favorite places.

March 10, 2009

Philly Beer Week 2009: Session Beer Project

Beer Week festivities continued last night with a visit to The Tiedhouse in the Franklintown (Fairmount) section. (The Tiedhouse is "tied" to the General Lafayette Inn, a brewpub in Lafayette Hill. Despite the alliance, they also serve beer from other brewers.) I was intrigued by the focus of this tasting: a roundup of “Session Beers.” Our tasting tutor was no less than Lew Bryson, who is the primary proponent—if not originator—of the Session Beer movement. I had been reading Lew Bryson’s blog for a while, and was looking forward to hearing him speak as well.

Not surprisingly, Lew made the case for session beers eloquently. Macro brewers, of course, already produce session beers by the tanker-load in the form of their “lite” offerings, but Lew’s session beers are low-alcohol beers with flavor. To help drive the point home and calibrate our palates, he gave everyone a taste of Miller Genuine Draft Light 64. The MGD64 was barely recognizable as beer, and succeeded in dramatizing the incredible difference in flavor between beers of similar ABV. Lew then turned the floor over to brewer Russ Czajka, who described the brewing process and technical challenges of making low-alcohol beer. We ordered a flight of all seven of the session beers:

As much as I love me some big beer, I have to say I didn’t miss much flavor in any of these diminutive brews. I thought the English Stout wanted for nothing, and I especially liked the Economizer and Brawler.

But enough about beer; I really should mention the food. I was all set to order the cheesesteak spring rolls, but they were out of them, so I settled on the hot turkey sandwich on ciabatta, which was awesome.

March 8, 2009

Philly Beer Week 2009: Opening Tap

I wasn’t planning on writing a separate post about Opening Tap, but after writing up the Craft Beer Festival, I realized that even after sampling 29 beers, there wasn’t one I would single out for special mention. In contrast, the comparatively smaller group of brewers represented at Opening Tap yielded several I thought were memorable.

Whatever Earth Bread + Brewery was serving was quite interesting; the program identified it as Weak Mild IPA. The two smoked beers were fun—Railbender’s Railbender Ale and Yards’ Grodziski Smoked Wheat. The Grodziski was the smokier of the two, although not as smoky as the Rauch Porter we had at Victory last week. That was really Bacon-in-a-Bottle. Anne and I both really liked River Horse’s Double Wit. I was also very impressed by the Highlander Stout from Stewart’s Brewing, kindly brought to my attention by Dave Martorana of Two Guys on Beer. Suffice to say that the selection at Opening Tap was more unusual and interesting than the much-larger selection at the Craft Beer Festival. Plus, we all got Hammered, so to speak. That is all.

March 7, 2009

Philly Craft Beer Festival 2009

We survived Philly Beer Week’s Opening Tap last night at the Comcast Center (and according to a friend, we were “on the news”). It was a lot of fun—Mayor Nutter showed Olympian form tapping the first keg, there were lots of new beers to try, and even though the event was sold out, it wasn’t too crowded.

Today we went to the Philly Craft Beer Festival, our third year attending. This year, the Festival fell within Philly Beer Week, competing with about 40 other events. It’s a great opportunity to try a lot of beers in a short time, and a great party to boot. The band was different this year, Dirk Quinn instead of The Bullets. They mostly covered fusion tunes written before they were born. They were excellent, although I didn’t spend a lot of time listening to them. Another change was the addition of a large tent at one end of the hall. Best of all, the weather was glorious. It was about 70, much warmer than any previous festival, and all the doors were left open.

We fell a little behind last year’s pace and tasted a mere 30 beers (and one hard cider). I was happy that there were lots of new beers (to me, anyway) to try. There are only a couple on this list that I have had before (in order of tasting):

Comments

My scorecard, for what it's worth, is here: http://www.spiltwine.amberhorizon.com/?p=325

March 5, 2009

Philly Beer Week “Plans”

Last year I posted my Philly Beer Week schedule a month ahead of time; this year, only a day ahead. That’s simply a symptom of my state of mind this year. Beer Week has grown so much in just one year (and it was already huge last year), that I am simply overwhelmed. I got tickets to two events in plenty of time, but other than that haven’t planned much of anything. Just for fun, though, I tried listing the events I am interested in even if I don’t get to any of them (which is why I’m calling this list my “plans”). It’s a mix of new places and old favorites and things that sound otherwise interesting. It’s funny how my attitude about money has changed. Last year, I gave a lot of thought to spending $40 for the Craft Beer Festival. This year, that seems like the low end of the price range. So while the sticker shock is gone, I am just not committed to beer enough to go to more than two pricy events. For that reason, virtually all the events I have listed are pay-as-you-go.

Friday, March 6
Opening Tap [Update: SOLD OUT]
Comcast Center
1701 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
7:00 p.m. $40
Even though it will probably be an absolute zoo, I can’t see missing this, what with Mayor Nutter promising to heft a giant hammer to tap the first keg. You just have to be there, even if you can’t see anything. Kind of like Obama’s inauguration.
Saturday, March 7
Philly Craft Beer Festival [SOLD OUT]
Philadelphia Cruise Terminal
12:30 p.m. $45
The only other ticketed event we are attending.
Sunday, March 8
Bell’s Eccentric Jazz Brunch
The Sidecar Bar & Grille
2201 Christian Street
10:30 a.m.
Jazz and beer, two of my favorite things. And I love Bell’s.
Ballast Point Keg v. Firkin
Bridgid’s Bar and Restaurant
726 N 24th Street
4:00 p.m.
I like Ballast Point’s Calico Amber Ale a lot, and I’ve never been to Bridgid’s.
Ballast Point and Hoppy Brewing - Meet The Brewers
TIME - Restaurant, Whiskey Bar & Tap Room
1315 Sansom Street
6:00 p.m.
Another chance to drink Ballast Point.
Monday, March 9
Lancaster Brewing Company
Bridgewater's Pub
30th Street Station
5:00 p.m.
I will try to get to Bridgewater’s Pub at least once this week.
Extreme Homebrewing Event II
Jose Pistola’s
263 S 15th Street
7:00 p.m. $50
I went last year and had a great time, but I just can’t afford it.
Deep Sea Diving with Ballast Point
The Institute
549 N 12th Street
6:00 p.m.
Ballast Point again.
The Session Beer Project
the tiedhouse
2001 Hamilton Street
“Join Lew and General Lafayette brewer Russ Czajka as they explore the world of full-flavored, low-alcohol beers.” I’ve never been to the tiedhouse, which opened last year.
Tuesday, March 10
Hook & Ladder Brewing Company
Bridgewater's Pub
30th Street Station
5:00 p.m.
Bridgewater’s Pub again. Someone from Hook & Ladder was handing out T shirts at Bridgewater’s just two weeks ago. I got me one.
Meet the Brewer: Ithaca Beer Company
Misconduct Tavern
1511 Locust Street
6:00 p.m.
Special affection for Ithaca and have never been to Misconduct
Wednesday, March 11
Detox!
Actually, I am heading to New York for the “Philly Salon,” a showing of photographs by Philadelphia photographers at Robin Rice Gallery. Do they have beer in New York, too?
Thursday, March 12
Summit Brewing Company
Bridgewater’s Pub
30th Street Station
5:00 p.m.
Colorado Night - Really Taste the Rockies
The Grey Lodge Pub
6235 Frankford Ave
5:00 p.m.
The Grey Lodge is another favorite place that I don’t go to often enough even though it is relatively close to home.
Ithaca Brewing Sponsors “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
P.O.P.E.
1501 E Passyunk Avenue
7:00 p.m.
I’ve never seen “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and I’ve never been to P.O.P.E., but I do like Ithaca’s beer.
Friday, March 13
Friday the Firkinteenth
The Grey Lodge Pub
6235 Frankford Ave
9:00 a.m.
Never been to a Firkinteenth and already missed the first one this year. I don’t know about that 9:00 a.m. time. We got to the Grey Lodge at 10:00 a.m. to watch the inauguration and were the only ones there for at least an hour.
Meet the Brewer: Chris Bauweraerts of La Chouffe
Eulogy Belgian Tavern
136 Chestnut Street
7:00 p.m.
Never been to Eulogy. Seems like a good reason to go.
Saturday, March 14
Uncle Jack's Beer Story Hour
Standard Tap
901 N. Second Street
11:00 a.m.
I love a good story.
River Horse/ Khyber Pub Grub Lowbrow & Local Food Pairing
The Khyber
52 South 2nd Street
2:00 p.m.
Sounds interesting. Promise “lowbrow” food and I’m there.
Sunday, March 15
Detox?
Hardly. I’ll be in Jim Thorpe, PA, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day where there’s booze aplenty, although I don’t have much. I drink just enough to work up my courage to take pictures of the revelers.

Comments

We're going to the craft beer festival-- it's our first time. Maybe we'll see you amidst the throngs of people and beer.

Cool! We'll be at the afternoon session (12:30) and I'll keep an eye out.

oops- I thought we were going to the afternoon session, but we had tickets for the evening session. Sorry- we'll have to meet up some other time!

No problem! Hope you had a great time.

December 13, 2008

Sly Fox IPA Project Day

We went to our first IPA Project Day at Sly Fox last night. The “IPA Project” is to brew a series of IPAs each based on a single hop variety. It started in 2004 with eight varieties and this year there were something like twelve. All this brewing culminates on Project Day when all the varietals are available along with Odyssey, an Imperial IPA that packs all the hop varieties into one brew.

We arrived around 6:00 to a packed house. They had no idea how long the wait for a table would be (“could be 20 minutes, could be 2 hours”), but we put our name in anyway. Turns out the wait was less than 15 minutes, and we were seated upstairs at a cozy table for two. Our waiter attempted to convince us to order the Hop Head Dream Package, which included all the varietals and a case of Odyssey, but it was just too much.

We ordered Flights One and Three, each of which included four varietals and a glass of either 2007 or 2008 Odyssey. This was a fantastic opportunity to sample the different hop flavors, and I was surprised how different they all tasted. Cascade was one of the bitterest and was my favorite, followed by Styrian, one of the milder ones. The others in our flights were Cluster, Amarillo, Perle, Galena, Sterling and Mt. Rainier. Made me want to try brewing my own IPA.

December 1, 2008

These Kids Today: Thanksgiving 2008

Is it too late for a Thanksgiving recap post? I think not! After all, you’re all still eating leftovers, right?

We went to my brother’s house on Thanksgiving (armed with only a coconut cream pie) and discovered that my niece and nephew cooked the entire dinner themselves. I just wanted to say how proud I was of them both for tackling such a big job and pulling it off so well.

alt

Andrew was in charge of the turkey.

alt

The bird is ready for its closeup.

alt

Making gravy.

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My brother squeezed between them just long enough to whip up some hollandaise.

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Anne carved expertly.

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My plate, loaded with everything except the salad.

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Note the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA in the foreground; my brother has good taste in beer.

Anne and I cooked our own Thanksgiving dinner on Black Friday (she did most of the work) and on Saturday we packaged everything up and drove to New York for a gathering with her side of the family.

alt

Our menu included turkey with stuffing and gravy, of course, as well as mashed potatoes, acorn squash, Belgian endive salad, rustic Italian bread and several bottles of wine.

November 15, 2008

Neologism: Beershopping

A friend sent me this fake Miller beer ad earlier this year:

Miller beer ad

Now I have a term for it. Just as “photoshopping” is the use of Photoshop to make a photograph of a person more attractive, “beershopping” is the use of beer to make an actual person more attractive.

Comments

I don't think it should be a fake ad. This is one of the best beer ads I've seen in years and if was Miller I would run in on the Super Bowl to battle anything Anheiser Busch ran that day.

August 29, 2008

First Cherry Pie

I didn’t grow up eating fruit pies (homemade or otherwise) other than the occasional Tastykake. Around 1980, however, I had an epiphany in the form of a transcendent slice of cherry pie at O.G. Dining Room (in Greenwich Village). Since then, cherry pie has been my favorite fruit pie.

Store-bought cherry pies just didn’t do it for me, and I have been talking about making a cherry pie from scratch for a long time. (We have some fruit pie experience. Anne regularly makes a killer apple pie using a recipe by Nick Malgieri, and I contribute the crust.) The only problem was—the cherries. I can't remember ever seeing sour cherries in any store. Last summer, we finally found fresh sour cherries, bought a ton of them, and... made a big mistake. Instead of using them right away, we froze them. When we finally thawed out the cherries last week, we learned our lesson—pit them first (freezing turned them into limp sacks of juice, which made pitting much more difficult). Despite that, the Oxo pitter worked well.

Cherry pies usually sport a lattice crust, which neither of us had ever made. Fortunately, the directions in Baking Illustrated were straightforward. I made the dough, which was a little different from what I usually make. It had more flour and water and less fat (I used a combination of lard and unsalted butter). The dough was easy to roll out and turned out better than it usually does. Anne made the lattice crust as well as the rest of the pie; I just took pictures.

Lattice strips

Half the dough is cut in to strips for the lattice. This was supposed to be a “rectangle of dough.” Um, close enough.

Weaving the lattice strips

Weaving the lattice. You don't actually weave; just fold back strips alternately.

The finished lattice top

Done! Now, to get it on the pie.

Lattice top in place

There, that was easy. Lots of nipping and tucking was required at this point.

Cherry pie filling

The filling was pretty soupy (cherries ruptured because of freezing), and we should have drained off more of the juice.

The finished cherry pie

The finished pie. It was superb!

Comments

beautiful!

Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal carries sour cherries when they're in season.

this looks great!

Good to know, thanks! Making this pie will probably become a summer tradition.

You can bet your biscuits we'll be trying this out. Care to share the recipe and lattice crust instructions?

March 21, 2008

Bridgewater’s Pub After Beer Week

My only regret regarding Beer Week was not being able to attend all 150-odd events (kidding!). Especially painful was missing the Beer Week happy hours at one of my favorite joints, Bridgewater’s Pub, a haven of good food and drink in bustling 30th Street Station. According to the schedule at least, they hosted Summit, Spaten, Southampton, and Lancaster.

Last night, I stopped in for dinner and passed up such delicacies as Duck Fat Popcorn for the more conventional Pulled Pork Sliders topped with slaw. I had time for two beers, a Southampton IPA and a Spaten Spring Bock, served in a large Spaten glass mug. Hey, it was the first day of Spring!

Today, we got out of work early, and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. SEPTA helped me decide where, because the R5 I was on ended in Philadelphia. With an hour to kill, I took that as a sign and headed straight back to Bridgewater’s Pub, this time for lunch. You might think I was in a rut, but every time I go back, there’s something different. They had already switched out one of the draft beers, replacing the Southampton IPA with Southampton Biere de Mars. Their IPA is good, but the Biere de Mars was one of the tastiest and most drinkable beers I’ve ever had. They also added Beamish Stout on draft (it’s possible I just missed seeing it yesterday), so I had one of those, too. Delicious. I had Beamish on the brain anyway from watching the premier episode of “Two Guys on Beer” (the two guys being Johnny Bilotta and David Martorana), which featured a “Stout Shootout,” a blind tasting of Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. Check it out. Oh, I had the veggie burger to help wash down the beer.

There was an interesting moment just as I was leaving. I was sitting at one of high-top tables instead of the bar (partly because the bar was crowded, but mostly so I could use the laptop). From this vantage point, I noticed that when one of the customers left his seat at the bar temporarily (I knew he was coming back because he left his bags), his cell phone fell on the floor among the bar stools. This happened just as I was getting the check, so I didn’t have a chance to catch him. By the time I finished with the check, somebody else had arrived and put their luggage right on top of the cell phone. Now, I am a shy person, and it was amusing to me that I would have to explain that I needed to shift their baggage so I could grab this phone. So I asked the one guy to pick up his giant backpack so I could get the cell phone—I felt like a magician who could produce cell phones from thin air—and then handed it to the other guy (who was now back). He was very appreciative and gave me a look like I had saved his life. He was just really surprised. Even though the clock at Bridgewater’s is ten minutes fast, I really had to go so, checking my pocket for my cell phone, I headed to the platform.

Comments

Have you considered changing the name of your blog to BereCat...? :-)

March 20, 2008

Beer Week 2008: Michael Jackson Tutored Tasting

As a newcomer to beer, I basically learned who Michael Jackson was when he died last year. He started the Tutored Tastings series at Penn almost twenty years ago, and it looks as if the event will continue without him indefinitely. Judging by the number of heartfelt tributes I heard this week, it’s a shame I never got to hear him speak. I believe he would wish us all to stop moping around, have a good time and drink up, so let’s get on with it. Cheers, Mr. Jackson!

The tutored tasting consists of three sessions each with seating for about 400 people in the Upper Egyptian Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I went to the first one at 1:00 PM. Because I was one of the last people in the room, I ended up near the end of a long table and basically had my own set of beer samples arrayed before me, the envy of all who surrounded me. But believe me, I shared. This stuff doesn’t drink itself, you know; I needed help.

I believe there were four panelists on the dais, Don Russell (he’s everywhere! he’s everywhere!), Tom Dalldorf (editor of Celebrator Beer News), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), and somebody else? They were far away, although the sound system was decent.

Presenting the beers:

This was my first tasting with an actual scorecard. We were supposed to rate each beer on appearance, bouquet, balance, mouthfeel (whatever that is), aftertaste, and overall impression. Even though I didn’t have a clue, I played along and filled out my card. According to my scorecard, I’m one heck of a golfer! Oh, wait, I forgot what I was doing. Since we’re talking uniformly good beer here, it’s no surprise that my scores for all of them were very much the same. The lowest score went to Old Companion, and the highest to Palo Santo Marron. This beer was deep—rich in complex flavor and balanced, the kind of beer you could proudly serve to shut up a wine snob who looks down on the whole beer-appreciation scene. It was a little intense for a daily drinker, but it would be outstanding for a special occasion. My overall favorite was Saison Dupont, however, which I could drink all the time if it wasn’t so expensive. A sentimental favorite would have to be the Oatmeal Stout. It was an oatmeal stout (from the late Independence Brew Pub, if you must know) that sucked me into this whole beer thing a couple of years ago.

With each tasting, the crowd grew noisier and noisier, but we ran out of beer before things got totally out of control and with that, the mob was turned loose on the Chinese Rotunda for a free-for-all tasting. Yes, yet another list of what I tried from the 150 available:

  • Rogue Santas Private Reserve (a double-hopped Saint Rogue Red)
  • Brasserie des Géants Goliath Tripel
  • Sly Fox Saison Vos (it really is like champagne)
  • Radeberger Pilsner (exceptionally light and crisp)
  • Allagash White (one of my favorite Belgian wheats)
  • Great Divide Titan IPA
  • Victory Hop Wallop (you know, maybe a leetle too hoppy for me)
  • Climax Porter (nice, not too heavy)
  • Climax ESB
  • Legacy Hoptimus Prime (I have had this before and I love it)
  • Samuel Smith Organic Lager
  • Arcadia Hopmouth Double IPA
  • Arcadia London Porter
  • Bell’s Best Brown Ale (I’m a Bell’s fan, but this was kind of disappointing, actually)
  • Bell’s Pale Ale
  • Bell’s Hop Slam (a lot of good things going on in this IPA)
  • Erie Railbender
  • Weyerbacher Merry Monks Belgian-style Abby trippel Ale (really good!)

And that was the end of Beer Week for me. To Michael Jackson, may you rest in peace! As for the rest of you still earthbound, hope to see you next year.

Comments

It sounds funny to hear you say that you're a newcomer to beer. As long as I've been reading your blog, you've been into beer! Even stranger, I think I've been a beer snob for longer than you have, despite being much younger....

The Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is one of my personal favorites, too, as is the Allagash White.

Yeah, you’re right, but I still feel like a newcomer because it seems that everywhere I go I find many beers that I have never even heard of. I date my interest in beer to early 2005 and that oatmeal stout I used to drink at Independence Brew Pub during blogger meetups. It was a while before I would try anything else. What’s oddest is that for decades I wouldn’t touch beer at all. No explanation for the transformation, except that I finally realized what I had been missing. Now I guess I’m making up for lost time ;-)

March 19, 2008

Beer Week 2008: A Bitter Bite with Joe Sixpack

In February, when I was planning my Beer Week schedule, I had decided to avoid “all the dinners featuring multiple courses and beer pairings,” because I just don’t have the capacity to eat and drink that much. The description of “A Bitter Bite with Joe Sixpack” (Jose Pistolas, March 13) sounded innocent enough: “a fun taste of hoppy beers, paired with an imaginative menu.” That didn’t say “dinner” to me, or maybe I just fixated on all those hoppy beers! Mmmm.

When I got there at 6:40, the downstairs dining room was empty except for one person, but by 7:15 every seat was filled (about 25 people). I sat at a table for four and was joined by Tom, Steve (visiting from Denver), and David, who said he has a blog (although the URL I wrote down didn’t work). One beer-related tidbit I picked up during our wide-ranging conversation was that English “bitters” is really something wonderful to try if you go to England. I was told that there’s nothing like it here in the US. Someday... I also heard that the “Most Expensive Beers” dinner, held the night before at Monk’s, was an amazing party that even included a marriage! Hard to believe, but why would they lie?

I persuaded Casey Parker (our host, representing Jose Pistolas) to sign page sixty-six of my copy of Don Russell’s book (where he lists his favorite beers). Actually, it didn’t take much persuading. :-)

The beer lineup and pairings:

WELCOME BEER
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe Great IPA with a slight metallic aftertaste, probably my favorite IPA of the evening.
FIRST COURSE
Heavy Sea’s Small Craft Warning Uber Pils Delicious and not too hoppy. You don’t need to be a hophead to appreciate this one.
paired with: Serrano Ham and Asparagus Risotto; shaved queso cojito and mint
SECOND COURSE
Dogfish Head Aprihop Different, with a nice hoppy note added to the fruitiness.
paired with: Pan-Seared Diver Scallops; applewood bacon and Jever Pilsner braised
CHEESE COURSE
Sly Fox Cask Rt. 113 A treat to have this on cask. Wonderful, bitter flavor, one of my favorite IPAs, but tonight, at least, I preferred Weyerbacher’s by a nose.
paired with: Iowa Maytag bleu cheese; tomato confiture, spiced balsamic syrup
ENTREE
Stoudt’s Smooth Hoperator Excellent. DeRanke XX Bitter was an alternate choice, but I didn’t taste it.
paired with: Barleywine Marinated Pork Tenderloin; sweet corn souffle, creamed spinach, Vermont maple demi
DESSERT
Urthel Hop-It A Belgian IPA, combining the best of both worlds, but by this point, my head was spinning, so I barely sipped this one.
paired with: Isgros South Philly Rum Cake

I think I was the first person to leave and left the table in the middle of a heated discussion about global warming. I was feeling kind of warm myself—what you earthlings call drunk. I had reached my limit just before the dessert course, but all those delicious beers were just too good to pass up. Fortunately, the walk to the train helped sober me up.

Of the four events I attended during Beer Week, this was my favorite. It wasn’t just one thing that stood out. Rather, everything was just right—my favorite kinds of beer and the best food of any of the events, all in a relaxing and friendly setting. Thanks to Don Russell for making it happen.

Oh, by the way, if you’re planning to go to Beer Week in 2009, don’t wait until February like I did to make up your mind.

March 18, 2008

Beer Week 2008: Schmidt’s History at Triumph Brewing

Tuesday the 11th was my next outing, and this time I dragged my wife along to one of the many “Meet the Brewer” events, this one featuring local beer historian Rich Wagner and Jack Ehmann (formerly of Schmidt’s) at Triumph Brewing. Unlike most of the other events, this one wasn’t built around tasting a variety of craft beer, but my father was a loyal Schmidt’s drinker, and besides, I had never seen Rich Wagner speak.

We arrived around 6:30 and asked to be seated as close to the screen (past the bar on the back wall) as possible. Since there were quite a few people there already, we weren’t that close, so while it was pretty easy to see, it wasn’t so easy to hear. We settled in and started ordering. During the course of the talk, we ordered schlachtplatte mit brotchen (a sausage and cheese sampler—a Beer Week special), buffalo chicken spring rolls, edamame, and a nicoise salad. I’ve always enjoyed the food at Triumph, and tonight the sampler was particularly outstanding. Our beer selection included a Kellerbier Pilsner and Bengal Gold IPA (for me) and a Honey Wheat and Schwarzbier (for Anne).

Somehow I got the impression that this lecture would be an overview of the history of brewing in Philadelphia, but it was really only about the history of Schmidt’s. No problem, as the history of Schmidt’s alone provided more than enough material for a fascinating presentation.

March 17, 2008

Beer Week 2008: Extreme Beer Homebrew Challenge

It’s going to be all beer all the time for the next few days here at mere cat as I wrap up my adventures during Philly’s first-ever Beer Week.

I had hoped to start Beer Week right on its opening day of March 7th by attending “Beer and Cheese: A Victorious Combo” (at Tria’s Fermentation School), because, well, I love beer and cheese, but it sold out before I could get a ticket. Monday was my next free night, so I decided to go to Jose Pistolas for “The Extreme Beer Homebrew Challenge.” My interest in homebrewing is nascent, but from experience sampling the beers of the few homebrewers I know, I was sure the beer would be both unusual and excellent. Also we do happen to have basic brewing equipment (acquired when Anne made a batch of mead last year), so I thought the evening might help inspire me to try it myself.

The event was presented in part by Home Sweet Homebrew (homebrew supplier), and I had the pleasure of meeting George and Nancy Hummel, the proprietors, as well as Casey Parker, one of the owners of Jose Pistolas. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet the other sponsor, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. I really only knew one person who was going to be there (one of the homebrewers), but during the evening, I ran into an old friend of mine who has been brewing for a while.

The place was so packed, I actually had a little difficulty getting to taste all the beers, but in between gorging myself on chicken and quesadillas, here’s what I tried:

  • Cuckoo for Cocoa Bock (Weizenbock) by Chris Clair
  • Hop Goggles Belgian IPA by Chris Coval
  • Greer’s Garage Grand Cru Belgian Strong Ale by John Greer
  • Hop God Ale by Bob Grossman
  • Belgian Wheat by Mark Kenesky
  • Paradise Pumpkin Wit by Kyle Kernozek and Michelle Dickey
  • Mint Chocolate Porter by Howard Ross, Michael Pearlman, and Ari Romm

Unfortunately, I never got to try the Scarlet Fire (with chipotle peppers) or the It Ain’t Just for Breakfast Coffee Porter. All of the beers had outstanding flavor and balance. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Belgian IPA, because as I’ve said recently, I have a weakness for hopped-up versions of things. Kudos to Jose Pistolas for hosting this event, and I can strongly recommend hitting any of the homebrew events next year.

March 3, 2008

Philly Craft Beer Festival 2008

Another beer post, and Philly Beer Week is still a week away!

Saturday we went to second Philly Craft Beer Festival (last year’s festival was so much fun). This year, I didn’t have much of a strategy; about all I did was try to avoid breweries I know fairly well (skipping Yuengling, Lancaster, Victory, and Yards). For some reason, we were able to taste more beers this year. While it seemed just as crowded (and I mean crowded), no line was much more than five people long, so in about three hours, we were able to taste 33 beers, listen to the band, and split a corndog. Not bad. Another bonus this year was that I found some beers I liked well enough to buy a whole case of, but more on that in a moment. First, here’s the list in order of tasting:

Thirty-three beers seems like a lot, but that’s only 66 ounces split two ways—barely three beers in a three-hour stretch. Even though we barely felt a thing, flavor fatigue set in, and we reached saturation. We’ll try for 40 next year. ;-) I should mention that $40 is a lot to pay for 33 ounces of beer, but the tasting opportunites of the festival make it worthwhile for me.

At a festival like this, it’s pretty hard to find a bad beer, and I was very pleased with most of the beers on this list. Still there were a few high and low points worth mentioning.

I stayed away from most IPAs (currently my favorite style), but couldn’t resist trying a few. I liked them all (except the Butternuts), but my favorite was Stoudt’s, and I plan to pick up a case of this. Despite being a distinguished local brand, I had almost no experience with Stoudt’s before. Check out this profile of Stoudt’s at American Hops.

Two other exceptional beers were Erie Brewing’s Presque Isle Pilsner and Southampton’s Arrogant Bastard. I think the way to win my heart is to take any style, hop it up a bit, and I’ll lap it up.

Finally, my most exciting discovery was Ithaca Brewery. I really liked both of their beers, especially the Red Ale, probably my favorite overall at this year’s festival. It would be fun to make a pilgrimage to Ithaca (I have fond memories of the Moosewood restaurant there).

There were only three clunkers, and while it was probably just me, I didn’t care for the Anchor Porter, Long Trail’s Blackberry Wheat (watery), or the Butternuts IPA (just didn’t meet my expectations of what an “IPA” should taste like).

Sorry, no pictures this year. I didn’t even bring a camera. Special shout out to the Bullets, who rocked hard. This year’s festival sold out early, so if you’re thinking of going in 2009, don’t delay.

February 29, 2008

Philly Beer 101

On Tuesday, we attended “Philly Beer 101,” a beer-appreciation class taught by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy. “This thirst-quenching course takes you through the confusing choices with a focus on the best values in the local beer scene. We’ll discuss the people behind the breweries, the styles they make, great beer bars and pairing your favorites with great food.” Herewith some random notes on the evening.

He served us some Miller Lite first, which he used to demonstrate the marked contrast between its feeble flavor and the more-robust beers to follow.

He then continued by explaining the two great branches of beer taxonomy, ales and lagers. The first pair of lagers were Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils and Troeg’s Troegenator. Here were two lagers that taste vastly different. He noted that the Philly area is rich with great pilsners (Victory and Stoudt’s also make one).

Next were two ales, Yards Philly Pale Ale and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (an “Imperial” IPA with 9% ABV, twice as much as the Yards!). These beers were similar in flavor, but at opposite ends of the bitterness/hoppiness scale. I love Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute, but the 90 Minute was a little too much for me.

Moving on to the Belgian styles, Don noted that Philly boasts many places with fine selections of Belgian beers. He served us Flying Fish’s Belgian Abbey Double and Yards Saison. I liked both of these a lot (how can you not like a saison—they are so refreshing), but was surprised that I loved the Abbey Double, which wasn’t too malty and sweet for my taste.

Stoudt’s Winter Ale was next and this was my favorite beer of the evening. Victory’s Baltic Thunder was next. It was introduced recently to some fanfare, and while it wasn’t bad, it was the first Victory brew that I didn’t think was perfect. Something about the balance didn’t seem right, and I think I still prefer Three Floyds Christmas Porter and Fuller’s London Porter.

Don classified Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre as a brown ale, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. To me, it tasted “Belgian” i.e., malty. Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot is a barleywine with 11% ABV (the highest in this group). This was my first barleywine and for me at this point, I would have to classify it as an acquired taste.

In between the tastings, Don wove a spellbinding (to me, at least) commentary on each beer, embroidering each description with innumerable facts and figures. We also received an excellent handout with 24 recommended bars and a list of about 30 beer styles each with a representative example.

After class, Don was selling copies of his book, Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide, which was just released. I think the title says it all, although there’s also excellent coverage of the surrounding counties and even two places in New Jersey. I bought a copy, of course.

This class will be held one more time on March 25. It is already sold out, but you can add your name to the waiting list. I had a great time.

Tomorrow, it’s the Philly Craft Beer Festival as Tony’s Beer Month continues. Cheers!

Comments

Thanks for the follow-up! Very interesting! I've had a lot of those beers. There are so many good brews in Philly! I think that Dogfish Head and Victory makes some of my favorites. Though I do love that Sly Fox Stout! yum!!

i'm a big fan of the raison d'etre. soooo good especially for a high ABV (i think 8%) beer. i find that many high ABV beers are too alcoholy without enough craft going into the flavor of the beer.

February 25, 2008

Culinary Breakthroughs: Pasta Water

Yes, pasta water—that unappetizing gray soup I’ve been flushing down the drain all these years. Now I am convinced it’s a miracle ingredient. What happened?

When I read Heat (Bill Buford's memoir of learning to cook professionally at Mario Batali’s Babbo), I was intrigued by his description of the restaurant’s pasta water, which, after several hours turned into “a sauce thickener, binding the elements and, in effect, flavoring the pasta with the flavor of itself.” He thought it should be bottled and sold. The starchy water combines with the dish’s sauce and helps it cling to the pasta: “It was no longer linguine, exactly; it had changed color and texture and become something else... This, I thought, is the equivalent of bread soaked in gravy.”

Intriguing, yes, but I didn’t get it until last night when we made shrimp scampi from a recipe in Saveur (recipe). The last step has you adding some reserved pasta water and cooking until “sauce has thickened slightly, 1–2 minutes more.” I can’t say I noticed much thickening, but the linguine was evenly coated with a heavenly blend of butter, wine, seasonings, and shrimp juices, transforming the pasta and producing the same effect Buford described. I have always loved pasta, but now I am looking at it in a whole new way. Try the recipe yourself (it’s easy) and be swept away.

Comments

Yes, yes, yes. My magical moment came through the only pasta dish I really cook -- linguine with white clam sauce -- but the revelation was the same. That last step, in which one condenses and concentrates the sauce, is key.

What a brilliant idea. I am gonna have to try that in the near future. I assume this is in place of corn starch/flour.

What a neat idea! I'm not a seafood person, but I'll try this the next time I make a pasta dish (which should be any day now, as I am a legendarily lazy cook and pasta = insta-meal).

Matt, interesting that in the book, Buford’s pasta-water epiphany was linguine with clams.
lcsa99, I don’t really understand the chemistry, but I think the pasta water helps the sauce cling to the pasta as much as thickening it. I mean it does thicken the sauce, but the cool part is the way the sauce coats the entire strand of pasta. Maybe traditional thickeners (corn starch/flour) would do the same thing, but the simplicity of using the pasta water appeals to me.

It was good to know about the pasta water which was a miracle ingredient. Most pasta is made from durum wheat flour and contains protein and carbohydrates. It is a good source of slow-release energy and has the additional advantage of being value for money. It takes little time, but is quite easy and well worth the effort.

I always make carbonara with pasta water, not with cream. Fry lardons, add pasta water. When cooled stir in an egg and grate in parmesan. That;'s it

Rich, I've never made carbonara myself and more importantly never used lardons (although we save our bacon fat). I'll have to try that; it sounds delicious.

How amazing, and it's obvious when you think of it. We'll definitely be trying this. A couple of teaspoons of french mustard also works well in the spag/other pasta sauce - but this is "free".

great idea
a couple of teaspoons of french mustard in pasta / spaghetti sauce also works, but pasta water is "free"
L

February 15, 2008

Beer Week Schedule

Philly Beer Week is less than a month away. There are well over 80 events, and I have been struggling to decide which ones will best advance my malty education. Some decisions were easy. For example, I have avoided all the dinners featuring multiple courses and beer pairings. Typically, it’s all I can do to finish my entrée, let alone eat six courses. Even though I listed something on almost every day, there’s no way I have the stamina to attend every event on this list. Since I won’t actually be attending all these events, I attempted to rank them (see number in parentheses). I hope to go to the first four or five, although most of them are already sold out.

The Philly Beer Week site has details on all the events, and the Beeryard has all the events arranged in calendar format. See also Beer Radar (Joe Sixpack/Don Russell), the Brew Lounge, and Seen Through a Glass (Lew Bryson) for more info.

Saturday, March 1
Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival (1)
We went to this last year and had a great time. I concentrated on IPA tastings (I had never liked hoppy beers before), and now that’s my favorite style.
Friday, March 7
Beer and Cheese: A Victorious Combo (3) [SOLD OUT]
Tria’s Fermentation School
1601 Walnut Street
215-972-7076
www.triacafe.com
7:30 p.m. $50
Victory Brewing Company's Bill Covaleski and Tria's own Michael McCaulley match artisanal cheese to Victory's brews.
Saturday, March 8
Detox!
Sunday, March 9
Belgian Beer Basics Class (2) [SOLD OUT]
with Tom Peters
Monk’s Café
264 South 16th St
215-545-7005
www.monkscafe.com
2 p.m. $25
Not a big Belgian fan. I was hoping this would nudge me out of my comfort zone.
Monday, March 10
Go Yeast, Young Man (9) [SOLD OUT]
Tria’s Fermentation School
1601 Walnut St.
215-972-076
www.triacafe.com
6:30 p.m. $45
“Legendary craft brewer Larry Bell of Michigan's Bell's Brewery explores that important beer ingredient that we can’t see, but can often taste in ales—yeast.” Bell’s beers are a favorite.
Tuesday, March 11
Meet the Brewer Night (8)
Price?
“Drop in at taverns throughout the city to meet the craftsmen and who make your favorite ales and lagers!”
Wednesday, March 12
Philly-Area Beer: Yeah, We've Got That (5)
TJ's Everyday
35 Paoli Plaza, Paoli
$25 for food; pay-as-you-go for beer.
“...a wild waltz through the full breadth of beer produced by local brewers”
Thursday, March 13
A Bitter Bite with Joe Sixpack (4)
Jose Pistola’s
263 S. 15th St.
215-545-4101
www.josepistolas.com
Hop heaven.
Friday, March 14
Detox!
Saturday, March 15
Michael Jackson: The Man and His Legacy (6)
19th Annual Tutored Tasting at Penn Museum
Chinese Rotunda and Upper Egyptian Gallery
Benefitting the Penn Museum's research programs
Annenberg Box Office - 215-898-3900
$45 per guest; $40 for Museum members
Sunday, March 16
Real Ale Festival (7)
Sponsored by Yards Brewing and Triumph Brewing
Triumph Brewing Company
117 Chestnut St.
www.triumphbrewing.com
1-4 p.m. Tix TBA.

Comments

I'm so looking forward to this event! and maybe even shooting video. Beer geeks galore! Maybe a beer death match between Yards and new upstart rival Phila Brewing Company.

John, I'm looking forward to seeing some video from you and eager to compare Yards and new Phila Brewing. STILL trying to get my Beer Week schedule and tickets in some kind of order.

November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Early dismissal today, and I’m home and heading downstairs to toast me some flour for to make some awesome gravy tomorrow. Thanks to Marisa for showing the way to make the Ultimate Gravy on Fork You! and her blog. I made this last year, and it was the best gravy I’ve ever had.

And if you’re looking for the perfect wine for Thanksgiving, check out PhilaFoodie’s take on Thanksgiving wine pairings. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s toast time. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Comments

Happy Thanksgiving! Gravy....yeah, that's one of my faves.

funny web log :)

September 29, 2007

National Toast to Michael Jackson

The National Toast to Michael Jackson is tomorrow, September 30 at 9:00 PM EST (search Upcoming for “MJBeerHunter” to find the location nearest you). Proceeds from most of these toasts benefit the National Parkinson Foundation. I have wanted to go to the Standard Tap for quite some time, so this seems like the perfect reason. I am planning to head down there for one of their famous burgers and to participate in the toast.

September 21, 2007

Teresa’s Next Door

Finally made it to Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne, after a company party at the always-excellent Christopher’s. Wow, do they have a lot of beer here. Twenty-four taps, half of which were Belgian and two hand pumps (currently dispensing Yards ESA and Troegs HopBack Amber). In addition, they also offer about 250 beers in bottles, at least 150 of which were Belgian. (Is Belgium that big a country?) I was only there for half an hour and my head was spinning from all the choices. I finally decided on Brewer’s Art Resurrection (an Abbey-style dubbel). Very good. I really need to brush up on my “Belgian.”

Comments

Impressive! Thanks for the tip. I seldom get out to Wayne but now I have an excellent reason. Cheers.

September 3, 2007

Michael Jackson Dies

I’ve been away for two days and just beginning to catch up with the outpouring of tributes and reminiscences following “Beer Hunter” Michael Jackson’s death on August 30. I came to beer very late in life, and in fact, I had never even heard of Michael Jackson until earlier this year when he arrived in Philadelphia to host his annual dinner and beer tasting at Penn’s University Museum. His Beer Hunter site now redirects to michaeljacksonthebeerhunter.blogspot.com that features some memorial posts and links to other tributes. The most surprising thing I learned is the existence of the British Guild of Beer Writers. I had no idea there were enough beer writers in the UK to form a guild, but judging from the size of the membership, there certainly are.

Farewell to a titan. Local luminary Lew Bryson’s post is a good place to start.

August 30, 2007

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

I have to say that Victory HopDevil is my current favorite IPA, but I love trying new ones. Next on my list was one from Stone, but this brew was unavailable, so I ended up with a case of Bell’s Two Season Ale. The label of Bell’s Two Fisted Ale features some kind of fish; I’m not sure what that has to do with the name “Two Headed Ale” or beer for that matter. Ah, well, so many beer names are fanciful and enigmatic. After sampling a few bottles of Two Cylinder Ale, I like it a lot, but don’t prefer it to HopDevil. The hoppiness kind of sneaks up on you at the end with a nice bitter finish. Maybe that’s why they called it Two Timing Ale. Whatever the origin of the name, the really weird thing is that Anne claims I keep saying the name wrong. Maybe I slur my words a little bit, but I don’t think I’m name confused about the...

August 8, 2007

Sour Grapes, er, I Mean Cherries

Have I ever mentioned how much I love cherry pie? It is my favorite pie and one of my favorite desserts ever. Yet I have never made a cherry pie from scratch. (Parenthetical digression: We don’t eat a lot of pie, but when we do, it’s usually made from scratch. I specialize in crust. I like to call myself the CrustMaster 2000™ mostly because I have been using a food processor recently instead of a pastry blender to cut in the shortening.)

I have never seen fresh sour cherries for sale at the market, so imagine my excitement when we found sour cherries for sale last week at the fabulous Brown’s Orchard & Farm Market in Loganville, PA. We bought all they had and packed the station wagon with cherries (OK, not quite).

Coincidentally, Anne noticed an Oxo cherry pitter featured in the September issue of Fine Cooking (page 22). Never having had any cherries in need of pitting, we were shy one cherry pitter, so naturally she ordered one. You can’t miss the thing; it’s right on the home page.

Oxo home page with cherry pitter

Sure looks as if Oxo’s trying to move some cherry pitters, doesn’t it? Ha!

When the cherry pitter didn’t arrive with our order, we were stunned to learn that our order was cancelled! Reason: “Product not available.” Not even back-ordered as if it were out of stock, just cancelled.

Products are discontinued for all sorts of reasons, but they were featuring the cherry pitter so prominently, we just had to go back to oxo.com and check. Sure enough, it’s still the featured product on the home page. In fact, you can still add one to your shopping cart! Criminy. Don’t they have computers or something to keep track of this stuff?

So now what are we supposed to do. Pit our cherries by hand?

Comments

I've never used a cherry pitter, but the construction looks very similar to a garlic clove peeler, and I do know that that tool does not work.

I made a sour cherry clafoutis earlier this summer. yummy.

I too enjoy a good pie crust, Mr. CrustMaster 2000. Surely someone else has these in stock?

Colin, once we got over the shock we realized that there were probably plenty of cherry pitters languishing unbought at various retailers, although many places list it as out of stock. We found some at Williams-Sonoma and bought two. The extra one will go to the highest bidder for this apparent rarity among kitchen gadgets.

I bought a cherry pitter earlier this summer at Fante's in the Italian Market. It wasn't an OXO one, but has proven to be quite effective (it does create a slightly morbid splatter effect, but I have a feeling they all make your kitchen look like you've committed small-scale murder). I have a quart of pitted sour cherries in my freezer, just waiting for the right crust or cake batter.

I have a feeling that I would dig really good cherry pie. Unfortunately, I've never had really good cherry pie.

But now I've got that song (and video) stuck in my head. "I love cherry pie..."

I wish I was in York last weekend; I might have run into you. I'm going this weekend and will of course make the pilgrimage to Brown's. I hope to find some nice second quality peaches for jam.

I'm actually surprised you found sour cherries in August. For some reason, I thought they were a mid June crop. Anyway, last year I made sour cherry jam and pitted the cherries by hand. Between pitting and chopping, it took me hours and it's not something I look forward to attempting again.

I hope you enjoy whatever you end up doing with those cherries.

Melissa, you’re right about the date. Brown’s harvest calendar lists cherries as being available late June/early July. Anyway, have fun at Brown’s!

May 7, 2007

I Can Has Lolbee?

I confess that lolcat fever has struck mere cat, which is usually meme-free. It started when I happened upon a few amusing examples, but didn’t fully understand that it was a full-fledged movement until I read Scott’s explanation of the whole lolcat phenomenon. I couldn’t resist trying one, but as much as I love cats, that area has been strip-mined, so I thought I would do something more personal. Photography maybe? im in ur kamera, settin ur white balanz. Nah, it needs an animal of some kind. Then I thought, why not a lolbee:

im in ur flowerz, stealin ur nekter

To the untrained eye, this little fellow looks like he is gathering nectar, but he is actually harvesting pollen... Ouch! Anne dope-slaps me to remind me that the “little fellow” is a female.

Making mead

Cooking honey in preparation for our first batch of mead.

OK, good. I’ve got that out of my system.

In more serious bee news, Anne started her first batch of mead yesterday. It's a basic mead recipe that used about ten pounds of honey and will yield about five gallons of mead. The mead batch has already started bubbling slowly but steadily. In about a year, we can has mead!

Once the mead is bottled and we have an empty bucket again, I might try making a batch of beer. That should be an interesting experience even if the beer isn’t any good. It seems like every brew pub has a nice diagram of the process, but I have yet to get it all straight.

April 4, 2007

Spring Break in Paris [nanoblog]

The Girl Who Ate Everything documented her spring break in Paris (!) in a series of achingly beautiful photographs mostly of food. Really hit me where I live. Simply. Amazing. Via The Amateur Gourmet.

March 6, 2007

60 Minute IPA at Bridgewater’s Pub

I didn’t expect to post a followup to the Philly Craft Beer Festival quite this soon, but I happened to grab dinner at Bridgewater’s Pub in 30th Street Station tonight on the way to the OWASP meeting and had an interesting beer. The lobster roll I was looking forward to is off the menu for the moment (the chef told me he would have to charge $25 for it at current prices—the New York rate—and to look for it to return in May), so I tried the hamburger, which was excellent.

In researching the Craft Beer Festival post, I stumbled across a list of 25 best beers in America which included Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA (“the best we’ve found”). As luck would have it, Bridgewater’s Pub serves this beer in bottles. It had the characteristic grapefruit-juice flavor of an IPA, but was less bitter and hence more drinkable than the ones I remember from Saturday. Bridgewater’s Pub has a nice selection of beer, not to mention great food if you happen to be stuck waiting for a train. On tap:

  • O’Hara’s Irish stout
  • McChouffe
  • Legacy’s Hedonism Red Ale
  • Spaten Lager
  • Stoudt's Triple Ale
  • Smithwick’s Irish Ale

In bottles:

  • Harp Lager
  • Youngs Double Chocolate Stout
  • Chimay Cinq Cents White Cap
  • Dogfish 60 Minute IPA
  • Railbender Ale
  • Ayinger Dunkel
  • Corsendock Dark (Brown)
  • Duvel (Belgian Ale)
  • Lindeman's Kriek and Pomme
  • Erdinger Bock
  • Éphémère Apple

March 4, 2007

Philly Craft Beer Festival Recap

We had a great time at the Philly Craft Beer Festival yesterday. Whether it was worth $40+ is another story to be explored below, but it sure was fun.

Philadelphia Cruise Terminal

The Philadelphia Cruise Terminal hosted the Festival. After recent rains, it was a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid-fifties.

We went to the first of two four-hour sessions (noon and 6:00 PM), arriving at the parking lot around 12:30. There was no traffic at all, and there weren’t that many cars in the lot. It was easy to get a seat on the next school bus shuttle to the terminal building. So far, so good. That is, until we arrived at the terminal and got a look at the incredibly long line queued up still waiting to get in. While we were waiting, they announced that the Festival had sold out, so the few people without tickets left the line, disappointed. In the end, it actually didn’t take long to get though this line and receive our complimentary 4-ounce tasting glass. We were in and immediately swept into the teeming multitudes.

Philly Craft beer Festival

Despite the tipsy camera angle, this was taken before I had had enough to affect my aim.

People cheering at Philly Craft Beer Festival

Later in the afternoon, people hoisted their glasses and whooped for no apparent reason. I guess it’s like doing the wave.

For a few seconds there I was freaking out because of the crowd. I have rarely been in situations with this many people all packed together (despite riding SEPTA every day), but everything turned out just fine. Everyone was polite, there was no rude or rowdy behavior, and everyone was in a good mood. While at first it seemed that getting to the beer was a hopeless case, it didn’t take that long at all. All in all, a well-organized event with 1500 really nice people. On to the beer.

Joe Sixpack advised, “Have a plan. Try comparing a specific style - say, pilsener - from different breweries.” I’m not a fan of “hoppy” beers, but after a recent favorable impression of Victory’s Hop Devil, I decided to compare some pale ales. I tasted:

I confess I couldn’t tell them apart. I had a slight preference for Arrogant Bastard and the Yards IPA, but the preference was probably statistically insignificant. Unfortunately, Victory ran out of Hop Devil in the first hour before I could get a sample for comparison. Either pale ales really are all the same, or I lack the sophistication and discernment to tell them apart. I suspect the latter.

Other beers I tried in no particular order:

The Original Bullets

Bobby Bloomingdale (bass), Michael Davis (guitar), Walter Epting (drums) of The Bullets.

That’s nearly 20 varieties (between the two of us), but we only scratched the surface of the 150-odd beers available. I particularly liked Southampton Double White Ale, Nodding Head Grog, and Victory Golden Monkey, but there wasn’t a single beer that compelled me to run out and buy a case the way I did after I tasted Three Floyds Alpha Klaus Xmas Porter, a brew which blew me away. I’m ambivalent about whether I would attend the Festival again, mostly because of the cost. While it was a terrific party and offered an unparalleled opportunity to compare a multitude of beers, the opportunity was always at risk because of the logistics. Beyond some notations on a chalkboard, it wasn’t clear what varieties were available from each brewery, and the festival was so crowded it was easy to get swept away from the brewery you thought you were in line for. Because of this element of randomness, comparing beers in an organized way was more difficult than it would be in a well-stocked bar like Monk’s. Of course, I could never sample five IPAs at Monk’s without passing out. Still I had a lot of fun pretending to be a beer connoisseur and will probably go again next year.

Afterwards, I had hoped to stop by the renowned John’s Roast Pork for a roast pork sandwich, but learned they are closed on the weekends. That was a disappointment, but it was the only one in a great day.

Comments

Tony, if I count correctly, that 16 tastings...yum...me, being a cheap drunk, I would haven't' gotten through half that many...and then I would have NEEDED that roast pork...

I'm not great with pressing crowds, but that event sounded like fun. Now I'm going to have to find some Three Floyds...sounds tasty...

Sounds like I missed a pretty good time! Glad you enjoyed yourself. I could see the situation getting a little overwhelming, due to the crowds and the inability to systematically taste the beers you wanted to in order to form a good opinion of any one of them.

Perhaps for so much money, and the obvious good turn out, they should extend it to an entire weekend limiting each session to less than 1,000 people or something. That may have gone a long way to making the price a little easier to swallow (pun intended).

I really appreciate you jotting down your experiences.

count me as one of the many would-be patrons of john's who were turned away by a closed door. i believe their hours are 11-3 and only during the week. nuts i tell ya.

Rogue Dead Guy Ale is one of my favorites, but I think I'm biased, being that it's a beer from Oregon.

March 2, 2007

Philly Craft Beer Festival

Just learned about the Philly Craft Beer Festival yesterday, but Saturday was already a busy day. Then the Mac programming meeting was postponed and my plans for Saturday night were canceled, so suddenly it looks like we're going. It was meant to be.

Comments

Does this mean that you are going? If so, please let me know soon.

I'm looking into going. But it doesn't seem to be worth the entry price. 35 bucks a head (if you buy online), and you get to taste beer but food is not included?

Seems sorta steep for some reason. Thoughts?

Colin, We are going to the first session (12-4pm). It is quite spendy, considering how few ounces of beer I will actually drink (I calculate about $20 worth at retail prices). On the other hand, it seems like a great opportunity, since I've only sampled beer from about 10 of those breweries. When I saw the price, I waffled. It's probably not worth it, but I talked myself into it.

Grrr. I was tempted. But the price, plus the drive, plus the fact that I can only go at the 6PM session... makes my decision much easier. I think we'll pass this time. Thanks for blogging about it (otherwise I would have never heard of it). Hopefully I can hook up with you at one of these types of events sometime in the future.

February 2, 2007

Half-Hearted Diet Progress

I started a half-hearted diet back in October and, although it’s going slowly, it is working. I have lost 10 pounds. I know, I know, on a real diet you could probably lose that much in a week. Still, it is satisfying and 10 pounds is about half my goal. At my goal weight of 145, I would still be 10 pounds over my twenty-something weight, but I think I can live with that. It will probably be much more difficult to lose the next 10; I have already noticed that the rate of lossage is decreasing. Maybe I should, like, um, exercise or something.

Comments

Nah-- "real diets" shouldn't promise quick weight loss, since you're more likely to regain the weight. A good diet should have slow progress, since it should acclimate your body to the change and make it stick.

In any case, good for you! Exercise is good too.

Tony, I'm trying that too. Down 5 lbs so far but 5 is not as solid of a success as 10 -- mine could just be water loss or something.
My goal is to drop 20 also.
Do you think I should cut back on the beer?

Good luck to you.

That’s a great start—congratulations! You might have to cut back on beer a little if you think beer contributes a significant number of calories to your diet. But to me, a calorie is a calorie whether it comes from beer or something else. I don't drink much, so I haven't had to give any up yet. Here's a story: Last week, I weighed 155 one morning, ate an entire tube of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, had a hamburger and beer for dinner, and the next day weighed 154. When I told the guy I bought the cookies from that I had lost a pound on the “Girl Scout cookie diet,” he told me I should have had two rolls! The point is that I don't think what you do on any single day has any effect on your weight. It's the day-in day-out balance between the calories you eat vs what your body burns. If you eat fewer calories than you need, you lose weight. I found that if I eat when I'm actually hungry and not just when the clock says it’s time, I easily cut out a lot of calories without the hunger pangs that can ruin a diet.

February 1, 2007

Book: “New England’s Favorite Seafood Shacks”

As promised yesterday, a return to normalcy with a post about lobster rolls. With some snow headed our way here in the depths of winter, my mind has been spinning fanciful images of warm breezes and good food. Since those images won’t be fulfilled for many months, how about curling up with a good book in the meantime?

I knew of only two books with any kind of focus on lobster rolls: Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie: Three Generations of Recipes and Stories from Summers on the Coast of Maine by Rebecca Charles (who owns the Pearl Oyster Bar in Manhattan) and Deborah Di Clementi, and The Lobster Roll {and other pleasures of summer by the beach} by Andrea Terry and Jodi della Femina. (Andrea Terry is owner of The Lobster Roll restaurant in Amagansett.) Surprisingly, I don’t own either book, but yesterday I discovered a book that was published last year that I will have to buy: New England's Favorite Seafood Shacks: Eating Up the Coast from Connecticut to Maine by Elizabeth Bougerol.

I thought I had eaten at a lot of places over the years, but wow, this book is amazing. It’s not devoted exclusively to lobster rolls, but virtually every seafood shack serves them, and Ms. Bougerol claims to have eaten 156, so there’s lots of lobster love and plenty of new places to visit. Read more about the book and pay a visit to her Flickr gallery. It’s guaranteed to chase those winter blues away.

Comments

Oh! It's cheesy, to be sure, but I love the falling snow effect you put on your page at the moment. :)

Cheesy for sure! I was hoping to have it coincide with the actual snowfall, but it stopped snowing not long after I activated it and then I forgot about it. I'll probably leave it on until Saturday when the weather is supposed to clear up.

January 19, 2007

Milk and Honey

To get our fix of local viands after the collapse of Covered Bridge Produce, we started ordering things from Philadelphia Winter Harvest, a “buying club” we found through Farm to City. Unlike most CSAs that require a large payment up front at the beginning of the season, Winter Harvest is more a pay-as-you-go system. Send them a minimum of $50 to start and then go crazy up to the limit in your account and so on. We’ve been getting a few items once every two weeks.

One staple we order every time now is raw (unpasteurized) milk. Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that permit sales of raw milk; there are over 50 licensed suppliers in the states. I was always curious about raw milk, because it was supposed to be much better tasting, and it is, although not dramatically so. The milk we receive is homogenized (no cream on top), but it clearly has a higher fat content than “whole milk” from the supermarket. That probably contributes to the enhanced flavor as much as the lack of pasteurization does. Incidentally, Whole Foods sells un-homogenized milk, although it is pasteurized. You can’t have everything. Unfortunately, there’s still no officially sanctioned way to buy products made from raw milk, such as butter and cheese.

Our last order included a big jar of local honey as well. Anne is making her first batch of mead, and the principal ingredient is, of course, honey. The homegrown honey is almost gone, and besides, she didn’t want to sacrifice it for this experimental batch.

Comments

hey-- we've been getting stuff through Winter Harvest as well! My husband likes the raw milk also.

I had some mead many moons ago at General Lafayette Inn, I think. I remember liking it very much. I had barleywine there, too (although not on the same night). mmm.

If you can, I highly suggest Red Earth Farm for the spring-fall CSA. It may be very competitive to get a share this year, thou8gh.

I'll have to try some barleywine. Sounds good. I'm not sure what we're doing this season, but I think we're going with Pennypack Farm as they are closest.

We are also enjoying the Winter Harvest buying club. I prefer it to Red Earth, which was a little dicey last season, and it had fewer choices than I was used to. I'd love to try out the raw milk. It's supposed to have great health benefits and is treated as a black market wonder in the states where it's illegal. Unfortunately, the pregnancy prevents me from ingesting anything that hasn't been pasteurized (leaving me with no options but American goat cheese. Hmmph!). Maybe next year!

January 11, 2007

Waterless Pie Crust

I discovered—by accident—how to make pie crust without using water. First, however, here are a few words of context for those who never made crust from scratch.

What turns pie crust into dough (something you can roll out) is a little water you add to the flour and fat mixture. Recipes caution to use just enough to get the dough to hang together. Too little and the dough cracks; too much and you risk making your pastry tough. Typically, I usually ended up adding the maximum amount of water and while my crust was good, it never achieved the ultimate in flaknitude.

When a friend strongly encouraged me to try using a food processor, it was a revelation. The food processor did a much better job of mixing, and it allowed me to add much less water. I thought I didn't have that much more to learn until we got a tub of lard from our CSA. I made a crust with half lard and half unsalted butter and put it in the food processor. To my amazement, in the time it normally took to blend the fat and flour, I had dough in the work bowl! This dough was moist and didn't crack at all, but it was sticky and extremely fragile. Chilling it made it possible to roll out, but it didn’t make it into the quiche dish in one piece, I can tell you, although it was easy to repair. It did produce an extremely flaky crust, however. Next time, I will stop blending early and add just a little water.

Comments

Hmm, I've never tried making my own pie crust, maybe it's about time. On a lard-related note, did you ever have those potato chips that are fried in lard? Wow, they're really tasty.

Tony, last night I was eating from the bar menu of Philadelphia Fish & Company and they have a lobster roll for $15. I didn't get it (I can't say I have the same obsession that you do) but as soon as I saw it I thought of you.

Melissa, I haven’t tried those chips, but I’m sure I would love them. Philadelphia Fish serves the best lobster roll in Philly, although that’s not saying much. Still, it’s fairly authentic, and I recommend it. My review is here (scroll down about halfway).

December 4, 2006

Shiroi Hana

After writing about our visit to Pod back in April, I got some sushi restaurant recommendations from Yoko and Marisa. Despite being chopstick-impaired and otherwise ignorant in the ways of the sushi bar, I decided that for my birthday dinner I would try one of these places. I picked Shiroi Hana, because it’s the easiest for me to get to, and because I have walked past it a million times, always choosing Frank Clements Tavern next door instead.

Comments

Hope you like it-- and I hope you have a happy birthday!

November 28, 2006

The Thanksgiving Post

It’s not like I need to ride the train in order to write—but it sure seems that way, and because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I haven’t been on a train until today. I present, therefore, my belated Thanksgiving post.

Our Thanksgiving turkey

Our 15 pounder.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We sure did—two in fact. For the traditional meal on Thursday, we hosted dinner for my wife's family, six of us in all. I hadn't roasted a turkey in about 20 years, so I did some research. We decided not to go with the full-on brining that all the cool kids are doing, but instead followed the simpler instructions in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated. We started by picking up a fresh, free-range turkey from Whole Foods and then rubbing kosher salt under the skin of the bird on Tuesday night. On Thursday, we took the bird out of the refrigerator and laid it breast side down on bags of ice for an hour. The idea is to let the dark meat warm up while keeping the white meat cool, so everything cooks more evenly. Whether it was the fresh turkey, the salt treatment, or the icing, it seemed to work; I've never had better turkey. The sides were stuffing, sweet potatoes, haricot verts in garlic butter sauce, really awesome gravy, and store-bought cranberry sauce. Our guests brought the desserts.

Some of our guests are football fans, so we dragged the TV out of mothballs and plugged it in. Anne’s sister gasped when she saw the rabbit ears and without missing a beat Anne explained that we were using the latest in technology: “wireless” TV. We don’t need to be tethered to a cable anymore, but can receive programs anywhere in the house. Amazing. After a long day of football, everyone stayed for the night. Anne and I camped out in the chilly attic. It was so cold up there that I had to burn some of my poetry to keep warm (good riddance!). In the morning, we whipped up mass quantities of bacon, sausage and eggs.

To celebrate Thanksgiving with my side of the family, we delivered dinner to my sister-in-law, who is recuperating from knee surgery at the Acute Rahab unit of Jeannes Hospital. The kids were home from college and the six of us sat down to dinner in the waiting room. It was fun playing caterer and trying to duplicate Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital. We didn't bring a tablecloth or candles, but we did bring everything else we could think of—china plates and our best flatware, a coffee maker, and of course turkey with all the trimmings.

All in all, a great Thanksgiving. It’s ridiculous how much I have to be thankful for.

Comments

I'm glad you had such a good holiday - mine was good too. And I like the turkey tip!

November 14, 2006

On Pronouncing Smithwicks

We had a great time visiting Anne’s sister and her husband over the weekend. I met their newest kitty, Logan, who although shy around strangers, consented to sit for his portrait. (If you click through the cats you can see him. He’s one of the orange ones; hover the mouse to see the name.)

At lunch, Smithwicks sounded like the most tempting beer on tap, so three of us ordered it. Our waiter confirmed the order, pronouncing it “Smitticks.” When I got home, a little Googling confirmed that that is apparently the correct pronunciation; I am suitably chastened. A fine beer, too.

Back at the house, I was offered some Magic Hat “Batch 375.” I am not fond of hoppy brews, but this was the first IPA I liked or at least didn’t hate. I wonder whether this is an unusually drinkable IPA or my taste is maturing (like the rest of me, unfortunately).

Comments

Maybe its because Magic Hat does not make a bad beer?

October 19, 2006

Even the Devil Thinks I Should Diet

I started a half-hearted diet this week. I try not to do anything half-heartedly, but I love to eat, hence half-hearted was all I could manage. I was a good boy for two days, eating only yogurt and a small bag of pretzels for lunch, and then having a small dinner. Today, however, I had a cheesesteak. It cost $6.66. If that isn't a sign I should get back on my diet, I don't know what is. Of course, it was the Devil (who landed on my shoulder right after dispatching the Angel with his pitchfork) who goaded me into eating that cheesesteak in the first place. Tricksy, it is.

Comments

Water! Lots and Lots of Water helps any diet, half hearted or not.

September 4, 2006

Secret Sauce

We’ve been setting aside some of the tomato harvest (plums and Juliets) to try and make sauce.

Plum and Juliet tomatoes

Plum and Juilet tomatoes we set aside for sauce.

In the past, our homemade sauce has tasted more like tomato soup than tomato sauce. It has a delicious tomato flavor, but tastes nothing like the jar sauce we usually use (Whole Foods’ 365 brand marinara) or any other I’ve tried for that matter. For this attempt, Anne borrowed a Victorio food strainer from a friend.

Victorio food strainer

The Victorio food strainer. Whole tomatoes go in the hopper; pulpy juice comes down the chute.

We ended up with about 7 quarts of tomato juice that was very watery. After adding onions and garlic, we let it simmer for hours. When it was reduced to about 2 quarts, it was still thin, but the texture seemed right. We’re wondering does it really take that many tomatoes to make two measly quarts? What’s the secret? Anyone? Bueller?

Comments

I don't know for certain, but I suspect it has to do with the variety of tomato and its "meatiness to pulpiness" ratio. (I made that up.) That's my guess, anyway-- perhaps I should do my own research on the subject....

We always chop and drain the tomatoes and then only add the liquid as needed. Also, try frying a bit of good quality tomato paste in olive oil and chopped onions before adding the fresh tomatoes. Finely minced carrots and celery also do wonders for flavor.

Yoko, You’re right that meaty is good, which is why we grew plums this year, which are very meaty and suitable for sauce, but not a lot of meat survived the Victorio.
Jim, Some recipes we consulted specified chopping the tomatoes, but we wanted to try the Victorio. I tasted it today, and it is delicious; nothing like tomato soup. I think it needs a touch of sugar. I don’t think it’s too late to add carrots and celery; thanks for the suggestion.

It sounds like you have plenty of tomatoes to work with, and all the right machinery. I find that I usually need to add 2 cans of tomato paste, those tiny little cans.

Sparky, Jim also recommended tomato paste. Next time... I added finely diced carrots and celery and the final sauce was truly excellent, bursting with tomato flavor without tasting like tomato soup as our efforts usually did in the past.

September 1, 2006

I Feel the Need for Mead

When I think of mead, I think of a beverage so antique that it was last quaffed by Robin Hood and his Merry Men or maybe King Arthur and his posse. Mead is old, supposedly older than wine, but it is still being made. I confess I never even knew what it was until recently. Wikipedia told me more than I wanted to know, but suffice to say it is “an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water.” I finally tasted some.

On vacation, we stopped at a “wine bar” in Rockland, Maine, called In Good Company. It was my first wine bar experience. Although I remember a place in Philly back in the Eighties called Le Wine Bar, I had never set foot in the place nor in any other wine bar since. They made us feel right at home and we were offered a list of at least 60 wines and 20 beers. There on the last page at the end of the beer list was a single mead, Lurgashall English Mead. Surprisingly, no in the place had ever tasted it, so Anne being all about honey, ordered it. Mead is neither a wine nor a beer, but frankly it's far closer to wine than beer. It smelled like honey, but was surprisingly dry in taste. Delicious. No wonder it was so popular in olden days. We ordered a cheese assortment from the tempting appetizer menu and had a merry ole time, except for some occasional urges to rob from the rich and give to the poor.

Comments

That brought back memories. When most kids in my high school were having keg parties in the woods, my posse and I were making mead in the bathtub. Ah, good times.

August 28, 2006

Vacation Reading

I took a book with me on vacation, although I didn’t expect to do much lounging around reading (and didn’t), but the urge to stop moving and settle in with a good book was often there. When we visited towns (in New Hampshire and Maine on this trip), we always made time for strolling and poking around and typically gravitated toward the bookstore. In one of the first (Village Books in Littleton, New Hampshire), I found a copy of Heat: An Amateur Cook’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher on a Hilltop in Tuscany by Bill Buford. I bought it.

I was introduced to this book two years ago when The New Yorker ran a preview (“The Pasta Station”) in the September 6, 2004 issue. I still have it—and I don’t save magazines. The article enthralled me, and when I got the book, I could hardly put it down. Now, I lap this stuff up, but even so, I think Buford would inspire anyone with his own passion for cooking and his portrayal of the ambitious perfectionism of his mentor Mario Batali. After reading Heat, you might be inspired to apprentice yourself—if only the pay were better and it wasn’t such hard work—but it’s a job you could love.

As an amateur cook with no professional experience, I have always been fascinated by what goes on in restaurant kitchens, and not just the best ones. The challenges of short-order cooking are just as interesting (to me) as those of haute cuisine. I like restaurants with open kitchens that provide a glimpse of the action. I don’t learn much by watching, though. There is a vast chasm between my fumbling around in the kitchen and the professional’s confident moves. Buford draws back the curtain by sharing a lot of inside knowledge. For example, when he was assigned to the grill, he had to learn to keep track of the state of 20 or more items at once. He broke a lot of fish learning to flip them. He learned to grill meat by feel. “You cook a steak until your ‘touch’ tells you it’s there.” It’s all fun to read about, but alas, there’s no substitute for all that practice and having Mario Batali correct your mistakes.

The book I took with me was Mac OS X Internals: A Systems Approach written by the brilliant Amit Singh. I never touched it on vacation, but have dipped into its 1600 pages a few times since then. It’s an impressive achievement and a useful one, too.

August 11, 2006

Basil Ice Cream? How About Garlic

Mac wrote recently about making basil ice cream, which I’ll bet was delicious, because now I have tasted garlic ice cream and lived to tell about it. I had some homemade garlic ice cream last week at a friend’s house. Garlic was the only flavoring; the other ingredients were the standard eggs, milk, cream, sugar... something like that; I’ve never made ice cream. If garlic works, then basil must be heavenly. Of the flavor, she writes, “it’s sweet with a light basil note to it.” That’s how the garlic ice cream tasted—mostly sweet and creamy with a subtle edge that was unmistakably garlic. It was surprisingly well-balanced if you can ever balance sugar and garlic, but then I like garlic a lot. I think what would really make my head spin around, though, is cilantro ice cream, if there is such a thing. Cilantro is one of my favorite flavors ever.

Comments

All I could find was lime-cilantro sorbet, which would probably be less creamy and tarter (but it seems like the flavors would blend well and refreshingly, no?). Anyhoo, here it is: Cilantro-Lime Sorbet

I was treated to dinner a couple years ago at a bistro in north Jersey called the Garlic Rose.

Excellent Italian fare. Everything comes with a Garlic clove, and they even have garlic ice cream. It wasn't horrible, but comparing other flavors to it isn't exactly setting the bar very high either.

July 14, 2006

A Popular Recipe

We made a delicious and extremely simple recipe the other night: Start by blanching some greens (we used chard). Heat a little oil and garlic in a pan, add raisins and pine nuts until golden brown, then add the greens. It’s a nice combination I never would have thought of. The next day, Anne happened upon a video segment from “Everyday Italian” that illustrated basically this exact recipe (with broccoli rabe for the greens). I mentioned this to a friend this morning and darned if he hadn't made the same recipe three days ago.

June 25, 2006

The Vegetable Adventure Begins

I haven’t had to work the last two Saturdays and have been taking full advantage of the time off. Last Saturday was the Blogger Meetup, which I believe broke all attendance records. Other than drinking some weird beer that tasted like cherry soda, I had a great time. Following that was a themed party/art exhibit at Ted Adams’ gallery. I brought a print which he graciously found room for and a whole mess of Texas shrimp and rice, which couldn’t compete with all the amazing edible art the creative people brought. (Look among these pix on Flickr for any tagged “Food Fetish Picture Party”) Despite being my usual mild-mannered wallflower self at both events, I still managed to meet and have speech with some really interesting people.

Last night, we made dinner with some “new” vegetables. Thursday evening, while I was at a user group meeting sharing pizza with fellow FileMaker developers, Anne picked up our first “share” of the season, a selection of ten fruits and vegetables from a nearby farm (see Anne’s post for details). Anne dug up enough recipes to use all the produce, and last night we made kale with cannellini beans from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Kale and cannellini

Accompanying the fried catfish is kale and cannellini garnished with lemon and parmesan.

We deliberately chose produce we’ve never eaten before just for the culinary challenge and adventure of it. For example, I’ve never tried kale before, having eaten only spinach and collards. Kale is somewhere between these two in flavor and texture and is an interesting alternative. It promises to be an interesting summer experiencing so many new flavors. I think we would be lost without Deborah Madison’s terrific cookbook, however. On Friday, we made our first recipe from her book, using homegrown arugula and spinach linguine. Both recipes we’ve prepared so far have turned out great. If anyone has any other cookbooks slanted towards vegetable cookery to recommend, please let me know. I love cookbooks almost as much as I love food.

Comments

I'm a fan of the "cherry soda beer"/Lindemanns Frambois Kreik (but I still prefer the "raspberry soda beer"/Lindemanns Frambois Lambic) - thanks for the taste!

The food looks yummy and I think I like the cookbooks more than the cooking (but that's from having a hitchen the size of a postage stamp).

June 3, 2006

Chimay is Belgian for Expensive

One more tale from the weekend. Last weekend. (Real-time blogging this ain’t.) This is about beer, which has become one of my favorite subjects in the last few years.

I’ve seen Chimay beer offered at various places, and I’ve always been curious about it, simply because it’s so expensive. Last Friday, we had dinner at Shanachie, an Irish pub in Ambler run by singer Gerry Timlin. We were feeling expansive on our big night out (earlier we had caught a set by Overunderground at the Brew Ha Ha), so we split a Chimay. According to Chimay.com, there is more than one “Chimay.” I’m not sure exactly what we got, but I think it was called Grand Reserve, and it came in a large bottle (750-ml?), so one was enough for both of us. It tasted just like Guinness to me (which I love), only more expensive. I don’t have the palate, the experience, or the vocabulary to draw any more comparisons than that. Did I mention it was expensive? It must be good, then.

The highlight of the meal wasn’t the beer or the food or even the live Irish music, but an encounter with the charming Mr. Timlin himelf. He drew a bead on me from across the room and swooped down, exclaiming, “I like your haircut!” referring to nothing more than our shared male-pattern baldness and beard. We do look a lot alike (see his picture at GerryTimlin.com), enough so that people at the next table wondered if we were brothers. I can add Gerry to the short list of celebrities I resemble (at least superficially), which includes Leonard Maltin (the movie reviewer) and local DJ John Harvey.

Sorry for that digression; back to beer. Chimay Blanche made Forbes’ list of the the 20 coolest beers. There are a few on that list I’m interested in trying. What can I say. I like lists.

Comments

I love Chimay Blue and, since discovering the brew on a European vacation (that has resulted in serious blackmail material for most of my friends) have been willing to pay the price for it. I didn't get a chance to try the blanche until a business trip to Brussels last year - it's actually pretty good. I can't say I care for their other brews too much (especially not the red, which is more readily available in this area than the blue or blanche). Using a chambord shaped glass does make a difference in taste - for the better (this is how it's served in Europe and by folks who know a heckuvalot more about fine beers than I). Just remember, never drink it from the bottle!

I've always resisted the urge to try the Belgians too. Still haven't had a Chimay. I did have 2 glasses of the Flying Fish [Delaware] Belgian Style Dubbel which was quite nice and I'm told it's a decent substitute for the real thing.

Re: the Forbes list - Boddingtons has been one of my favorite beers for some time now. It's an easy drink, a light Guinness. And I just discovered the Spaten Optamator last week and good god is it good. They have it on tap at Ludwigs Garten where they have some ot the best brews in town [even though I do hate me some hefe weisse]. The food there is good too. I was surprised at how many of the beers on the list I've had and for the most part enjoyed.

I live too close to the Beerery, err, I mean the Foodery, to not give it a try sometime soon. I've been gettiing more into the beer as I get older. And re: Ludwigs - LOVE Ludwigs, both the food and the beer!!! Have to see if they still serve the 7 oz. samplers....

Pammianne, I think our beer was a blue. While our Chimay wasn’t served in a beautiful glass, at least it was in a glass!
Albert and Ellen, I think I need to take a road trip to Ludwig’s Garten soon. By the way, a friend at work considers hefe weisse his favorite—but he’s German. I’ve never had one. Both Spatens sound interesting to me.

I love the spaten optimator. Ever since I discovered it at Ludwigs that's all I order (hey, i tend to stick to things i like) but it's definitely the chimay what I tend to order over at Monks...
Has anyone heard of Elephant? I believe it's german. it's good too.

May 29, 2006

Impress Her with Your Volume

Lots to blog about this weekend in the It’s a Wonderful Life department, but not much time to write about it. Three-day weekend, beautiful weather, getting to see old friends, lots of food...

Anne brought home a jar of honey from a local hive on Saturday that she witnessed being made. The wooden frames supporting the honeycomb are placed inside a machine like a giant salad spinner and centrifugal force extracts the honey. We were looking for something to do with this fresh honey so last night while we were making a vat of applesauce (our contribution to today’s picnic), I whipped up a batch of waffle batter. Just to explain, I like yeast waffles best, which have to be made the night before (recipe here). I just followed the recipe as I usually do, but this batch made the lightest and crispiest waffles we’ve ever had. Anne was impressed, hence her suggestion of the spammy post title.

Hope you’re having a great weekend with your honey, too.

Comments

Sounds like it was a great weekend - and am glad you had a honey-filled weekend!

Would the yeast waffle recipe work as pancakes too? I've always wondered that as I don't have a wafflemaker? It seems conceptually that it might.

Ellen, it probably would work; they’re very similar. Compared to the best pancake recipe I’ve ever tried (Better Blueberry Pancakes in July/August 2003 Cooks Illustrated), the waffle recipe uses about twice as much butter, an extra egg, and yeast instead of baking powder. Might be the best pancakes ever!

May 18, 2006

My Latest Brew Ha-Ha

Most mornings, I’m grateful for my autonomic nervous system; it’s the only thing keeping me alive before I’ve had my morning coffee. I’m just not capable of coherent voluntary action before that first cup. That includes making the coffee. Introducing the Matrix of Failure, which illustrates all the ways I’ve screwed up making that first pot of the day.

CoffeeNo coffee
Water Coffee goodness! Been there.
No waterDone that.OK, I never did this. Yet.

Time to add a new dimension to the matrix: carafe! This morning I added the coffee and the water, but left the carafe on the counter. A flood was averted by the little valve in the basket, which is designed to prevent such a catastrophe. It worked.

February 6, 2006

Getting Our Share

When I was a little kid, my parents would always tell me “Eat your vegetables.” In those days, vegetables didn’t get much love from me. I could never imagine liking them. Spinach? Yuk! Peas? Blechh! Brussels sprouts? I’d rather die! Yet it has come to pass. We eat vegetables almost every day, mostly purchased from Whole Foods, although Anne has contributed quite an assortment of homegrown fruits and vegetables to the table. And you thought she just grew watermelons.

If we have a problem, it’s only that we eat the same ten or so vegetables over and over. A solution presented itself when I learned about Community Supported Agriculture last year from Jim:

Each Friday we pick up a box full of fresh-from-the-farm-just-picked fruit and veg (flowers and herbs also) and plan a menu for the week.

That sounded great to me. It was too late in the season for us, but we resolved to sign up somewhere for what’s called a “share” next year. That time is now, so I researched our options at Local Harvest. The closest farm to us is the 20-acre Pennypack Farm, but it’s still a 30-minute drive. What we liked about them is their flexibility—they offer small, medium and large shares, and instead of pre-selected shares, they offer the opportunity to choose whatever you want from among the selections that week.

Another option is Covered Bridge Produce, which is more of a farmer’s market than a CSA, however, in that the farm itself is in Berks County instead of near its customers. Like Pennypack Farm, CBP offers a lot of flexibility. Instead of them packing your share, you select exactly what you want from what’s currently available. Your selections are then delivered to one of nearly 25 pickup points in Philadelphia and the northern and western suburbs. The closest pickup point to us is less than 10 minutes away, as close as our supermarket. We decided to go with Covered Bridge Produce this year.

Our season doesn’t start until the week of June 4, 2006. To whet our appetite in the meantime, we spent some time browsing what was offered last season. That first share looks like it will be heavy on the greens. The best part—and the point of all this—is that I’ve never even had half the greens on the list. I’m really looking forward to this.

Comments

Ooooh, comments! I like it. Sorry for your troll troubles - and never fear, those of us who know you IRL know that you are not vanilla, and Anne is not a gold-digger (that accusation has officially blown my mind).

I just wanted to say that I am doing the Red Earth Farm buying club this year for the first time. I participated in the Winter Harvest buying club through farmtocity.com, and that was pretty cool, and a good first experience. We'll have to compare notes (Covered Bridge was also being offered, but only as a seasonal subscription where you take whatever they give, and I guess I'm a bit of a control freak).

Can't wait to see photos of the goods and whatever you guys grow this year!

December 21, 2005

Wolfgang Puck, M.D.

I already had my monster cold for the year, so I was kind of surprised when I felt a sore throat coming on last Friday. It didn’t ruin my weekend; I went to the Philly blogger meetup on Saturday and heard Paranoid and Mosaik at the Sellersville Theater on Sunday. By Monday, however, I was really sick. Unfortunately, there was a serious fire burning at work, so I had to go in. At the urging of co-workers (who for some strange reason were all holding handkerchiefs over their mouths), I stayed home Tuesday.

My body craved chicken soup, so when i finally got up, I headed out to Whole Foods. There were only two choices, one of which was called No Chicken Noodle Soup. Now it’s all well and good to leave the chicken meat out of the soup, but how do you make no-chicken broth? I needed the real thing. The other choice was Wolfgang Puck’s Organic Chicken with Egg Noodles. Just the ticket! I had this soup for lunch and dinner and spent the rest of the time in bed. Today as if by magic my sore throat is gone. Of course, I know it’s not magic, it’s the chicken soup. Who needs a flu shot?

Now that my illness is over, it occurs to me how unfair it is that after all that suffering I don’t get to keep the husky, sexy voice I was blessed with for the last few days. Oh, well, I’m just grateful to be healthy again. Thanks, Dr. Puck. My co-pay is in the mail.

October 30, 2005

Mmmmm. Stew!

Even though the weather wasn't very crisp and autumnal today, we were nevertheless inspired to try a beef stew recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I've always made my stew using a recipe from an ancient James Beard cookbook. It's served me well, but this Provençal-style stew just sounded wonderful. I mean, how can you go wrong when the recipe calls for an entire bottle of cabernet sauvignon? Mais oui, c'etais magnifique!

October 23, 2005

Watermelon Harvest... Finally

We harvested our first watermelon on Labor Day. It wasn’t quite ripe, so we decided to leave the others on the vine as long as possible. When the vine began dying back, Anne harvested the remainder, figuring there was no point waiting any longer. She was right; these watermelons were ripe and delicious. We don’t think we’ll be growing watermelons next year, however. For one thing, the vines tend to take over the rest of the garden, and more importantly, we’re not really in the mood for watermelon in mid-October! Still it was fun having our own home-grown.

2005 watermelon harvest

Watermelon family portrait. “Pee-wee,” the smallest melon, was about the size of a bowling ball. (No, we didn’t actually name them, but that would have been fun.)

And now for Something Completely Different. It’s the the new taste sensation that’s sweeping the nation (not): the pawpaw (the Wikipedia entry). Someone in one of Anne’s classes was giving them out. The tree is native to Pennsylvania, but the fruit’s flavor is decidedly tropical, although very subtle. The texture is unique in my experience—extremely smooth and creamy. I was surprised that I had never even heard of the pawpaw before. They don’t seem to be available commercially, at least not where we shop.

September 19, 2005

First Watermelon

I’ve been meaning to take some pictures of our homegrown watermelons, but still haven’t gotten around to it. The crop has yielded five bouncing baby melons, some seedless and some seedful (a necessity when you grow the seedless kind). The watermelon foliage has snaked its way through the surrounding garden and almost taken over that side of the yard. Obviously it takes a lot energy to make a melon.

We had some friends over on Labor Day for some grillin’ and chillin’, and on that occasion Anne harvested the biggest of the watermelons. My contribution was to subject the melon to the “thump” test to determine ripeness. “Yep,” I declared confidently, “this here’s one ripe melon.” Wrong. That melon made a fool out of me. (No surprise, since it’s the first I ever tested.) When she cut into it, it didn’t look anywhere near ripe. The flesh was very pale, so we didn’t serve it (guests got Klondike bars instead). We tried some ourselves later, and it turned out to be surprisingly sweet and quite edible. Recently, one of Anne’s colleagues suggested an alternative serving suggestion. He thought we should have tapped the melon and injected it with vodka. Party melon! Yeah! Spiked melon balls would certainly liven up any fruit, um, cocktail and help kick things up a notch, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t ruin a perfectly good watermelon. If we ever get some vodka, it might make a worthy experiment.

August 10, 2005

Nothing Personal

The tomato crop has been coming in so fast that we’ve had to give some of it away. We staked Jim with an assortment of red, yellow, and orange ones, and he was kind enough to give us four ears of fresh, locally-grown corn, all of which we polished off last night.

Tomatoes aren’t the only comestibles Anne is growing in the garden this year. She’s trying seedless watermelons, too. These are challenging to grow (don’t ask me; something about diploid and triploid), but so far we have four thriving babies on the vine. Anne told me she saw something new and strange at Whole Foods yesterday—the “personal” watermelon. Cute, but weird and kind of sad in a way. Between the two of us, we go through a lot of watermelon in a summer, so the personal size just wouldn’t cut it. Besides, one personal costs about as much as an impersonal.

We wondered why watermelons are so huge, so breeding a more wieldy toy variety makes some sense. At the moment, our biggest homegrown watermelon has almost reached the “personal” size (it’s a little bigger than a grapefruit). It will be interesting to see just how big it gets.

July 12, 2005

Cheesy Treats

I just finished devouring the April issue of Saveur, which was completely devoted to American artisanal cheese. I was disappointed that there was no mention of two of my favorite cheeses (and I'm not talking about the Whiz at Pat's). That's understandable in the first case, however, because it's the cheese used in the Greek dish saganaki, kefalotiri. I first had saganaki (pan-fried kefalotiri) at Chef Theodore's in Philadelphia years ago and most recently at a couple of restaurants in Greek Town in Chicago. It is sensational. Check it out.

A favorite all-American cheese is a terrific cheddar called Cougar Gold that comes from the Washington State University Creamery. You can order it online, although they aren't taking any more orders until cooler weather arrives.

May 26, 2005

Store Wars

Jim sent me a link today to a very funny Star Wars spoof called Store Wars (requires Flash). Let me just say that I avoid sharing most of the crap that lands in my In box, partly because, well, it's crap, but mostly because, being out of most if not all loops, by the time I hear about something, everyone else has. For this piece, I'm making an exception, not because I agree with the “message” (which I do), but because it's so well done, and just plain funny. So there.

The piece was produced by the Organic Trade Association and Free Range Studios... better yet, just read the press release. They are preaching to the converted in my case, because we do the vast majority of our food shopping at Whole Foods, although we don't always choose organics. Whole Foods almost always offers both organic and “conventional” versions of produce items. Normally the organic version is more expensive (sometimes way more expensive), and sometimes is scrawnier than the conventional. We usually go with the organic, but don't feel too bad buying conventional, because, quite frankly, we trust them.

Store Wars promotes buying organic products wherever they are available, including more and more supermarkets. That, of course, includes Whole Foods, but I learned from a different Jim how we could “use the farm” more directly without apprenticing ourselves to Yoda (oh, sorry, I mean Yogurt). Jim participates in Community Sponsored Agriculture where you sign up to buy a certain amount of produce from a local farm. Check out Local Harvest for a farm near you. We found one only fifteen minutes away.

May 15, 2005

Chardonnay Deathmatch

Last year I posted results of some informal wine tasting and determined that—to our unsophisticated palates at least—more-expensive wines taste better. Subsequent tests all produced the same result, so we stopped comparing. A couple of clarifications are in order. For one, we restricted our tastings to wines on the low end of the price scale (under $20). It wouldn't surprise me if the results were different for premium wines. In other words, we might end up preferring a $40 bottle over one that cost twice as much. Of course, we'll never know the answer without the help of those lottery winnings. The other point is that even though we preferred the more-expensive vintage, we were perfectly content (with a few exceptions) guzzling the cheaper stuff. I knew what I was missing, but it didn't bother me.

When we were testing, we always compared two wines of the same type (Merlot vs. Merlot), of course, but otherwise didn't attempt to match any other characteristics such as vintage year. Last week Anne spotted two almost-identical Chardonnays that inspired her to try just one more test.

In one corner is a Clos du Bois 2003 Chardonnay (our “house wine” when nothing is on sale). The challenger is a Clos du Bois 2003 Reserve Chardonnay that cost $2 more. The judges included Anne and me and Anne's parents who were staying with us for a couple of days. We all could easily tell the difference between the wines and everyone except Anne preferred the Reserve. She could tell one from the other; she just didn't express a strong preference. Frankly, I was happy drinking the plain Chardonnay, too. Very happy.

The Clos du Bois web site revealed that the Reserve is made from the grapes of a single appellation, the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, while the other is a blend of Chardonnays from “prime vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Solano Counties.” It's no wonder they taste different.

While it's fun exploring the appellation trail, this latest test reaffirmed our current default strategy of just buying whatever is on sale.

One more thing. In case anyone is wondering, we haven't seen Sideways yet.

April 23, 2005

The Pyramid of Geezah

The big news this week was from the USDA, who redesigned the venerable Food Pyramid (oh, and there's a new Pope, too!). This reminds me of a joke (stop me if you've heard it): Overheard at the Stonehenge construction site, "What was wrong with the old wooden one?" But I digress.

I thought the old pyramid design was pretty cool, and it lent itself to endless interpretation. For example, feast your eyes on this Google images search. In contrast, one is immediately struck by the way the new pyramid looks. While the old one was constructed stone by stone, as it were, in horizontal rows, the new one is comprised of triangular sub-pyramids. In the old pyramid, evil carbs inhabited the base, and I think the USDA doesn't want to send the message that carbs are the foundation of a healthy diet what with plumpnitude rampant among the citizenry. The vertical triangles representing the food groups all have the same emphasis (although the width is proportional to the quantity of the food group). Genius. It's unfortunate, however, that those triangles look like pizza slices. To me, anyway.

New Food Pyramid

My custom pyramid. At normal magnification, the object in the circle looks like an apple slice.

Besides the new look, the pyramid web site lets you build a customized pyramid based on age and activity. I was dismayed to discover that my custom pyramid is the same as a 60 year old man's. That was a little disheartening, since I still have nine years to go. Then I took a closer look at my pyramid and realized that it was truly customized just for me as the pictures illustrate.

My Food Pyramid

At high magnification, however, the object is revealed as a lobster roll! This truly is a custom pyramid. I can get with this program!

One oddity concerns the USDA web site. The address I have heard publicized is mypyramid.gov, but there is an almost identical site at mypyramid.org with a different set of choices for the “amount of moderate or vigorous activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, aerobics, or yard work) you do in addition to your normal daily routine, most days.”

At mypyramid.gov:

  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • More than 60 minutes

At mypyramid.org:

  • Less than 5 minutes
  • 6 to 10 minutes
  • More than 11 minutes

Strange. I'll have to check back and see if they synchronize the two versions.

March 21, 2005

Crab Helper

We don't eat much food that comes in boxes (except for Annie's Shells & White Cheddar), but just for fun, we made a box of Tuna Helper®. The sauce wasn't bad, and egg noodles are probably my number-one comfort food. I thought that maybe something other than tuna could gussy it up a bit. Naturally for me, lobster was a choice, but for this sauce, I thought crabmeat would be perfect. A few weeks later, Anne got another box and a can of crabmeat. Because the canned crab was chopped, it didn't make as much of a contribution as I had hoped. Next time we'll try it with jumbo lump crabmeat. We served it with a crisp and fruity Gewürztraminer.

Now let's all sing “Shells & White Cheddar” to the tune of “Nights in White Satin.” Aw, I'm just being silly; it's the Gewürztraminer talking.

January 11, 2005

Say It With Biscotti

One of the joys of the Christmas season is the gift of homemade biscotti from my friend Lenny. His pistachio and cranberry biscotti are, quite simply, the best we’ve ever tasted (see pictures).

Anne was inspired to recreate the biscotti in our own kitchen and found a recipe on the web (originally from Gourmet magazine). She baked the first batch last night, and they were great; not as good as Lenny’s, but so close it didn’t much matter.

Comments

I love homemade biscotti, I have never tried cranberry biscotti so I will have to that.