Friday, January 11, 2019

Great Lakes Imperial Oyster Stout

The oyster stout has always perplexed me.  I am not a brewmaster. I have never brewed a beer. However, I have shucked many an oyster.  And, with a deep knowledge of the oyster, I have a hard time picturing how a brewer can add oysters to a beer to make an oyster stout.

Of course, this style of beer has existed for quite some time.  Back in the late 1800s, oysters were added to beer to "promote clarity."  Whether that clarity was ever achieved, it was undeniable that oysters provided a subtle, smooth mouthfeel and a briny flavor to the beer. To be sure, there is a difference between an oyster stout and a run-of-the-mill stout.  The mouthfeel and brine that is provided by oysters is perhaps the reason why brewers have continued to add oysters to beer. After all, what does clarity have to do with an oyster stout?  An oyster stout beer is supposed to be as black as pitch darkness. 

Anyways, if I had to choose what would be the best oyster stout that I have ever had, it would be the Great Lakes Imperial Oyster Stout.  The brewers at Great Lakes used "East Coast oysters," which is a useless label, given the wide variety of oysters along the eastern coast of the United States. For example, there is a huge difference between oysters found in the estuaries in Maine and the oysters found in the Chesapeake Bay.  Whatever oysters were used, they clearly did add a smoothness in the body of the beer and a slight briny element in the finish. 

As for the other ingredients, the brewers used an interesting combination of malts and hops.  The malts include Harrington 2-Row, Roasted Barley, Oats, Chcoolate, Cara 45.  The hops were both Simcoe and Mt. Hood. The other ingredients included the obvious -- oysters -- and the less the slightly less obvious -- cacao nibs and salt. The end result is a beer with an IBU of 37 and an ABV of 11%.

The Imperial Oyster Stout pours pitch black, the blackness one would expect when he or she  was floating in the middle of deep space, far away from the light of any star.  A slight tan foam appears as the beer is poured in to the glass.  The foam recedes rather quickly to the edges of the glass, exposing the beer to the nose.  

The aromatic elements, along with the taste of the beer, of the beer heavily emphasize the roasted malts.  There are notes of chocolate, as well as some mild coffee flavors in the taste of the beer.  The thing that sets this oyster stout apart from the others that I have had in the past is that there was truly a "softness" in the beer, which could only be attributed to the oysters.  

This beer is definitely worth the purchase. My only regret is that I did not buy an extra bottle.  Until next time...


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Blistered Shishito Peppers

For a while, it seemed that the trendy thing for trendy restaurants to do was to offer a small plate or appetizer of blistered shishito peppers. These peppers seemed to be everywhere, even go so far as to conquer the City of New York. (Somewhere, there is an idea for a Grade B - or perhaps more accurately, a Grade D - horror movie.  I can see it now, someone dressed up in a pepper costume terrorizing the people on Fifth Avenue, yelling "you ate my family, now I eat you.")

I don't know where the shishito pepper trend started, or, quite frankly, whether it is still ongoing. I try not to get caught up in culinary fads. Nevertheless, the dish was there and everywhere. And, for someone like myself, who loves peppers, I have to admit that I was intrigued. But, that interest was not enough to have me spend anywhere from $4.99 or $7.99 for a small plate of the peppers.   

During a recent trip to a local supermarket, I found myself confronted by the peppers. Not in in the horror movie sense.  I was walking up and down the produce aisles and saw these small packages of peppers.  They were not in the pepper section, where I traditionally pick up my anaheims, jalepenos, serranos and habaneros.  Instead, these packages of peppers were all by themselves, as if specifically meant to stand out from the other surrouniding produce. Sure enough, the label read, "Shishito Peppers."  I bought a small container of the peppers and then decided to do a little research into the peppers themselves and recipes for preparing them.  

Shishito peppers are a relatively sweet, East Asian pepper also known as kkwari gochu in South Korea.  An interesting "fact" about these peppers is that about 1 in 10 also tends to be hot or spicy. It is a kind of Korean roulette for people who don't ordinarily like spicy foods but want to challenge themselves: eat a pepper and see if it is the spicy one.  For me, I would like 10 out of 10 to be spicy.  In the end, the spiciness or piquancy of the peppers depends upon the exposure to sunlight and other "environmental factors." Unfortunately for me, although I had about a dozen peppers in the package, none of them were spicy.  The odds were not in my favor.

This recipe is really easy to make.  The blistered peppers make a great tapas-style dish that could be served along other simple, small plates, such as different types of cheese or slices of prosciutto.  If I ever see a package of these peppers again, I will probably make this recipe as a simple side or garnish.  But, I have not seen the peppers recently?  I wonder if I got in too late for this culinary fad?

Recipe from  Bon Appetit
Serves 4-6

3 pounds of shishito peppers
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook peppers, turning occasionally, until they begin to blister on all sides.  Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A New Year for Chef Bolek

As I look back at 2018, I am happy that I have been able to cook more than in previous years, as well as write more on this blog. Admittedly, I have only a handful of hobbies right now (due to time constraints). Cooking has been the most important of those hobbies.

I use cooking, as well as this blog, as a way to relieve stress from my day job (which was very stressful last year).  The research and preparation of a dish allows me to forget about my day job and focus on the ingredients, processes, and plating of the meal.  It is one of the few hobbies that allows me to do that; and, perhaps, that is one reason why I love to cook.  

But, cooking and my blog also serve another important purpose ... to learn about food, cultures and people.  They have inspired me to pursue my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, which I completed seven main courses from seven different countries (Italy, Croatia, Djibouti, Panama, South Korea, Guyana and Ghana).  Each of those challenges involved a lot of research into the countries, their cuisines and their cultures.  (Unfortunately, due to time constraints, not all of that research made it into the blog posts.)  I have also done research into various aspects of food and cooking, looking at the history of ingredients and cooking processes, as well as particular dishes.  

But, as I turn to 2019, there are going to be some changes.  I am still working them out, but here are some of the bigger ones: 

(1) Healthier Foods.  I am a carnivore at heart, but I have to protect that heart.  I will still make meat dishes, but, my goal for 2019 is to make healthier dishes, with an increase in the use of fruits and vegetables.  This is one aspect of a larger goal of creating a healthier diet (something along the lines of a Mediterranean diet or perhaps a diet based upon Ayurvedic principles).

(2) More Socially Conscious Choices.  I have already been doing this in 2018, focusing on where things come from (especially seafood) and/or how they are raised (such as primarily buying grass-fed beef).  This has been a significant part of the research that I have done in preparation of dishes.  I want to take it to the next level, perhaps by going back to a community supported agriculture program for vegetables and more work to source ingredients locally.  This may lead to a resurrection of my CSA Challenge.

(3) More Posts About Issues of Concern to Me.  Not only am I going to focus on making more socially conscious choices, I may start blogging more about issues related to food that concern me.  There are many of them and I have been tempted to do this in the past. Issues such as the environment, which is important to me because of the Chesapeake Bay, an estuary that has a special importance in the area where I live.  Issues such as human rights and worker rights, which are important in practically every aspect of agriculture and food production, but especially important with respect to modern day slavery on fishing vessels and elsewhere.  

(4)  More Experimentation.  There are many things that I have wanted to do.  They form a bucket list of sorts.  I want to make a dish using different proteins, such as alligator or turtle meat (responsibly and sustainably sourced, of course).  

(5) More conservation.  Finally, I am going to continue working on portion sizes with a goal of minimizing food waste.  Did you know that 40% of the food in the United States does not get eaten?  With starving people and children in the United States and around the world, this is unconscionable.  Change starts with oneself and then it can build from there.  So, for this year, I am going to be far more aware of the amounts of food that I buy so that I do not end up throwing away leftovers after a few days.  I am also going to explore other ways that I and my family can reduce our footprint on this planet.  I hope that you can do so too.

These are just a few thoughts that I quickly typed out for this year.  Please check back over the course of the year to see how I do and how my cooking evolves over time.  Until then ... 


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Tidewater Mushrooms

These are not the prettiest things to ever grace a plate.  My guess is that the cooks at Mount Vernon were not interested in the appearance when they made Tidewater Mushrooms. Medium sized mushroom caps, topped with an overflowing oyster, and drizzled with a combination of white wine and butter before being placed in a fire. With the edges of the oysters curled and the meat slightly firmed, the mushrooms would be removed and put on a plate for service.  

Nothing more.  Not even a sprinkle of chopped parsley or chives.

If there was ever a challenge to my general (lack of) ability to photograph food, there is this recipe.  However, the look belies the flavor of these little bites. At first, I did not think that oysters and mushrooms would be a good flavor combination (except when they are oyster mushrooms), even with butter and wine tying the two ingredients together. I checked my Flavor Bible, and, to be sure, for every category of mushroom, there was no mention of oysters.  Then, I checked oysters, and, interestingly enough, there was a reference to oysters.  That got me to thinking a little more.

Mushrooms are perhaps the quintessential ingredient for earthy tones; and, oysters have a briny characteristic that could work well with mushrooms.  To be sure, there are briny oysters that can be found along the Chesapeake Bay.  Fishermen would have brought those oysters to shore and to market, and, they would have made their way to kitchens along the the Bay. The best oysters would be small to medium-sized, briny bivalves.  

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your view), the only oysters I had were "smalls" that, in reality, were "larges."  (Someone may have had an off day at the packing facility.)  That was a problem when it came to perching the oysters on their mushrooms  I was able to overcome that by using a muffin tray, placing one mushroom in each cup and plopping an over-sized oyster on top. 

Recipe from Mount Vernon
Serves 4

1 pound of medium large fresh mushrooms
Salt , to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pint oysters (medium size)
White wine or sherry

Remove stems from mushrooms, wipe clean.  Drain oysters and pet dry with toweling.  Dip mushrooms in melted butter and place cup side up on a well greased shallow pan.  Put an oyster in each cup, sprinkle with salt and pepper, dot with butter and 1/2 teaspoon white wine or sherry.  Broil under moderate heat until edges of oysters curl. Serve round a dish of cocktail sauce and horseradish for those who wish it.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is probably my favorite time of year. It is definitely not the presents.  I already have everything that I have ever wanted with my beautiful Angel and my two little kids.  It is definitely not the snow, because we have not had a white Christmas in a couple of years.  

The reason why I love Christmas is the food.  In my family, there were strong and abiding food traditions. Some of those traditions were based on family history, such as the Christmas Eve dinner based upon traditions that originated in Abruzzo, Italy. Each meal opened with a plate of antipasti.  There was a selection of meats and cheeses, carefully sliced and placed on the platter, with garnishments that usually included olives and anchovies.  There was also the baccalao, salted cod fish, prepared by my grandfather because he loved it. Everyone else ate some of that cod as well.  While I initially liked it, I grew to dislike it a lot.  (It is one aspect of the family food tradition that I am happy to say has been relegated to memory.)

Once the antipasti course was completed, there was the traditional minestra maritata or Italian wedding soup.  As the link above suggests, I have previously posted the recipe to this dish.  The central ingredients in this dish, at least from my perspective are the whole chicken and the little meatballs. Traditionally, those meatballs were made from beef.  My beautiful Angel does not eat either beef or chicken.  So, for this year, I made an all turkey version of the soup.  The first problem was one of logistics: I could not boil a whole turkey.  But, I could boil a deconstructed turkey.  So, I bought a packages of thighs, wings and legs, as well as some breast meat.  I also used ground turkey for the meatballs.  The end result was just as good as the original. 

And, for the finale, there was the traditional pasta with tomato sauce, meatballs and sausage. I made a few alterations to the tomato sauce, borrowing inspiration from the Sunday Sauce in the Godfather movie. There was an all turkey version, with turkey sausage that helped to flavor the sauce.  However, there was also Sunday gravy with the beef/pork/veal meatballs and Italian pork sausage (both spicy and mild). 

All of this preparation and cooking was for Christmas Eve.  For the holiday itself, there is a 10 pound bone-in ribeye roast awaiting me.  As I tend to that project, I just want to wish everyone ...


Monday, December 17, 2018

Project Maryland BBQ: Part 3, The Sauce

Barbecue styles are not just about the protein, but, also about the sauce (or, in some cases, the lack of sauce).  Many well established barbecue styles have a particular sauce that helps to define that style. The best example of a sauce that defines a barbecue style can be found in northern Alabama. Think Big Bob Gibson's Barbecued Chicken with White Sauce.  Chicken smoked low and slow, finished off in a bath of a barbecue sauce that is part vinegar, part apple juice and part mayonnaise. 

And, in some cases, the sauce can draw the borders of the barbecue. The Carolinas provide the best example of those borders.  Carolina barbecue is pork centric, usually whole hog or pulled pork.  Nevertheless, there is Eastern Carolina barbecue, which is known for its thin, peppery vinegar sauce. If one traveled west toward Lexington, North Carolina, pitmasters add tomatoes to that vinegar sauce or, as they call it, the "dip," That tomato/vinegar sauce is the defining characteristic of Lexington style or Piedmont style barbecue.  And, if that person then travels south, he or she will find that pitmasters use mustard, which is thinned with the vinegar.  That mustard sauce is the cornerstone of South Carolina style barbecue.

Yet, all of the sauces that I have discussed are not even the most well known sauces.  When most people think about barbecue sauce, they think of Kansas City.  A thick sauce, with both sweet and tangy characteristics, that is often slathered on ribs. The sauce is usually made with ketchup, molasses, vinegar, and brown sugar (which gives you an idea where both the sweet and tangy come from), along with a variety of spices to add depth.   A variant of Kansas City style barbecue sauce could be found in Memphis, where the sauce is thinner, and more vinegar based.

With all of this said, the question is, if there was a Maryland style of barbecue, what sauce would be part of that style?

Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce
One would think that, due to its proximity to the Carolinas, a Maryland-style sauce would be, at the very least, influenced by the use of vinegar, if not vinegar based. Vinegar base sauces have made their way, to differing extents, into Virginia.  So, it is not too difficult to imagine vinegar based sauces in Maryland.  Indeed, if one were to check out local BBQ joints in the Delmarva, he or she would probably fine examples of a vinegar BBQ sauce.  The sauce is not a true vinegar sauce as one would find in eastern Carolina.  Rather, it is probably closer to a Lexington barbecue sauce, because there is usually tomato in the sauce.

With the use of tomatoes (whether sauce or ketchup), I think that brings us closer to what the barbecue sauce would be with a Maryland style of barbecue. But, I don't think that the sauce would go so far as to be a thick, sweet or smoky sauce that one would find in Kansas City barbecue, or even in Memphis barbecue.  I think that the sauce would be a little more basic; tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, and spices.  In this regard, I think I would go there and add some Old Bay, because that spice mix is quintessential Maryland.

So, in the end, I decided to make a Maryland barbecue sauce.  I started with a simple sauce from the New York Times.  That sauce had good proportions of tomato (ketchup), vinegar (apple cider) and sugar (I used dark brown sugar, which I prefer in sauces), along with the use of smoked paprika, which gives a little hint of smoke to the finished product. The original recipe also provides for the use of cumin, and, it is a very cumin-forward sauce.  I decided to swap out the cumin with the Old Bay, which, surprisingly enough, does not stick out as much as the cumin did. The end result is pictured below and it worked out very well.

Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking
Makes 1 1/2 cups

2/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon Old Bay
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Linden Petit Verdot (2013)

Linden Vineyards is definitely located in a beautiful place.  Perched on a high spot in northern Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains, there are beautiful views of the rolling hills, with rows of vines near and forests afar.  Even on a gloomy day, such as the one last February when my beautiful Angel and I visited the winery, cannot put a damper on the vistas. 

A visit to Linden is not without its rules.  I've been to many tasting rooms, but none with all of the rules of Linden.  For example, the winery discourages you from bringing your kids, but the rules preclude, among other things, parties of more than 4 people and food from outside the winery.  (Most wineries that we have visited usually allow children, especially where there is space for them to run around, and have no issue with outside food).  Still, the rules did not matter to us, as it was just my Angel and myself.  

We did the wine tasting, tasting four wines, including a 2016 Viognier and 2016 Petit Manseng, as well as the 2013 and 2014 vintages of the Petit Verdot.  After the tasting, we decided to buy a couple of bottles to take home, including that 2013 vintage of the Petit Verdot.  This wine is made with 96% Petit Verdot grapes and 4% Cabernet Franc grapes. 

Interestingly, I have reviewed two Petit Verdot wines in the past, and both came from Virginia.  The first was the 2010 Vintage of the Petit Verdot from Gallino Cellars.  The second was the 2014 vintage from Pearmund Cellars.  Both got very positive reviews because both were very good wines.  They set the bar for the consideration of a Petit Verdot wine from Linden Vineyards.

The Petit Verdot pours a dark ruby red. As the wine sits in the glass, one is greeted by aromas reminiscent of a small basket full of fruit, particularly cherries and raspberries.  There were also some floral notes, that I had a little difficulty placing.  But, the one thing that I had no problem with identifying is the brightness that could be found in the aroma. The Linden Petit Verdot was brighter than I would have expected for a wine based principally, if not entirely, upon this varietal.

That brightness carried over to the taste of the Linden wine. Each sip revealed a bowl of ripe cherries, completed by a few raspberries and/or blackberries. There is also just a hint of earthiness in the back, a faint reminder of the reason why winemakers use Petit Verdot in the blending of Bordeaux red wines. Those faint reminders could not overcome the bright, full-bodied nature of this wine, as if its aroma and flavor were intended to make this wine stand out.  They succeeded in that regard. 

To be sure, I liked this wine as much as I liked the Petit Verdot wines from Gallino Cellars and Pearmund Cellars.  All three were good wines and, rather than say which one is better or the best, I will close this post by pointing out that these wines demonstrate why Petit Verdot may be one of the best wines to come out of the State of Virginia.  Until next time, 


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Kansas City Style Burnt Ends

Brisket and me have not had it always so easy.  I have smoked brisket a couple of times; but, despite my efforts, the end result isn't always so great. I've tried different ways to preserve the tenderness of the meat, such as injections of beef broth or mops of beef stock and ingredients, but the finished product is far from what I want or expect.  

I think the problem is that I have worked exclusively with the brisket flat. That piece is long, flat and very lean. It is difficult to smoke because it dries out and can become tough.  But the flat is just one part of the brisket; there is also the point.  The point is thicker and fattier.  It is far more forgiving to a amateur pitmaster like myself.  Together, the flat and point constitute an entire "packer brisket."  However, that packer typically weighs between 8 to 12 pounds.  I don't have the time, patience or appetite to eat an entire brisket point, at least right now. 

A while back, I decided to check out a local butcher cshop called Chop Shop Butchery.  I went there expecting to buy some pork, like a Boston butt, to smoke.  However, as I stared into the glass case, I saw brisket points.  My mind began to race. Do I want to do brisket?  How long had it been since I smoked a brisket? What I can I do with brisket point? I decided to answer that last question with a quick Google search.  The answer was simple: burnt ends. The quintessential Kansas City barbecue.

The history of burnt ends begins with that packer brisket. Some pitmasters removed and set aside the brisket points. The points were, so thought the pitmasters, too fatty to serve, caramelized and burnt.  The pitmasters and restaurants, like Arthur Bryant's, set aside the points and ends on the counter, offering them as a treat to customers while they waited for their brisket sandwiches. Customers ate  those fatty, caramelized pieces of brisket.  One such customer, a food writer and Kansas City native, Calvin Trillin, wrote, "I dream about those burnt ends."  Trillin further dubbed Arthur Bryant's "the best single restaurant in the world." After that, some restaurants took notice, and, collected the end pieces to sauce them once more time and serve them on bread.  Burnt ends made it on to menus and are now as BBQ as the brisket sandwiches themselves.

Although I have not made it to Kansas City (yet) or had the opportunity to eat at KC BBQ joints like Arthur Bryant's (yet), I have had burnt ends.  Those barbecue joints that are closer to where I live, and who strive to provide different kinds of barbecue, inevitably have burnt ends on the menu.  This at least gave me some idea of what the end result should look like.  Now, I had to try to make it myself.

Overall, I think that my first effort at making burnt ends was successful. It may not have been Arthur Bryant's successful, but it was amateur pitmaster in the Mid-Atlantic successful. The burnt ends had the smoke rings, along with some of the expected caramelization and bark that defines these little one-bite wonders. If there was anything that I could improve upon,  I think that the burnt ends could have been a little more caramelized.  That might require some additional time in the smoker at the end, or,m some refinement to the sauce recipe.

(You can learn a lot more about burnt ends from Burnt Legend, the Story of Burnt Ends, available at PBS.) 

Recipe adapted for Brisket and Sauce from Hey Grill Hey
Serves several

Ingredients (for the Burnt Ends):
1 6 to 8 pound brisket point
2 teaspoons coarse ground kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 cup beef stock
1 cup Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce (see below)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar

Ingredients (for the Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce):
14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup ketchup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

1.  Prepare the cook.  Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit using wood charcoal.  

2.  Prepare the brisket point.  combine the salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Shake liberally on all sides of the brisket point.

3.  Smoke the brisket point.  Place the brisket point in the smoker, close the lid and smoke until the internal temperature of the meat reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  This step usually takes 6 to 8 hours depending upon the size and thickness of the meat.  Spritz with 1 cup of beef stock every hour during the initial smoke period. 

4.  Continue smoking the brisket point.  Once the brisket reaches 165 degrees, wrap tightly in butcher paper (or aluminum foil) and return to the smoker.  Smoke until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees and then remove to a cutting board.  This typically takes another three hours

5.  Make the sauce.  Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sauce pan.  Whisk to combine.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Allow to cook completely before transferring to an air tight container.  You can refrigerate it overnight to get the best flavor. 

6.  Create the brisket ends.  Once the temperature of the meat reaches 195  degrees Fahrenheit, unwrap the meat and drain any liquid into an aluminum pan.  Cut the brisket point into cubes about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Place the cubes into the aluminum pan and toss with the BBQ sauce and brown sugar.  Work quickly during this step to prevent your brisket from cooling down too much.

7.  Finish the cook.  Set the uncovered pan back on the smoker and close the lid.  Continue smoking at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 1-2 more hours, or until the burnt ends have started to absorb the BBQ sauce and caramelize on all sides and are very tender.

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