Monday, February 28, 2011

Troegs Brewing Company Pale Ale

Two brothers -- Chris and John Trogner -- founded Troegs Brewing Company in 1997 and, for the past fifteen years, they have expanded its operations and the distribution of their beers to the point that they are fairly common around where I live.  I've had several of their beers, including some of their more hoppy offerings, such as Hopback Amber and Nugget Nectar.  But, recently, I realized that I never had Troegs Pale Ale. 

Almost every brewer produces a pale ale and, often times, the pale ale is just ordinary or forgettable.  By contrast, the Troegs Pale Ale is really, really good.  Troegs brews this beer in the style of  an American Pale Ale. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, an American Pale Ale is usually a pale golden beer with a moderate to strong hop aroma.  An American Pale Ale also has an equally moderate to strong hop flavor, that highlights the citrusy quality of the hop and provides a lingering bitterness that hopheads, like myself, like in a beer. 

Troegs Pale Ale pours a pale gold or copper in color.  The aroma is full of hops, but it does not overwhelm the drinker.  The taste of the beer is also full hops.  Troegs uses Cascade hops to make this beer. Although the brewer uses crystal malts in the brewing process, there really is no malty flavor to this beer.  Instead, the beer is very hoppy through the finish.  Like most pale ales, there is a bitterness that can be tasted with every sip and the beer has a certain dryness to it.  However, those are the attributes that one expects with an American Pale Ale. Troegs Pale Ale has an ABV of 5.4%, which is within the range of most American Pale Ales. 

The Troegs Pale Ale is available in most beer stores, as well as  Rodman's and Corridor Wine.  It sells for about $8.99 or $9.99  for a six pack. 

ENJOY!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fresh Green Beans with Romaine and Tomatoes, Oil and Lemon Dressing

Photo courtesy of Nanther Thangarajah
I am a big fan of Julia Child, although I have to admit that I do not have any of her cookbooks and I have not made any of her recipes.  This is the first Julia Child recipe that I've ever made.  Both Clare's father and I made this dish as a side dish for the Guest Chef Night menu. 

While I am not a very big fan of vegetables, I have to say that this recipe is a refreshing mix of beans, onions and tomatoes.  All of these vegetables (and fruits) are all tied together with very light, lemony dressing that is probably the most labor intensive part of this recipe, but all of that labor is definitely worth it in the end. 

As for the beans, they just need to be blanched and then cooled in an ice bath, which helps to preserve their color and crispness.  Each ingredient to this salad -- the beans, tomatoes and onions -- need to be refrigerated and then assembled shortly before serving.  This is a great side dish to any many course.   

FRESH GREEN BEANS WITH ROMAINE AND TOMATOES,
OIL AND LEMON DRESSING
Recipe by Julia Child from Julia Child and Company,
     Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1978 at 154-55
Serves 8

Ingredients for salad:
2 1/2 pounds fresh green beans trimmed and blanched
1 head romaine lettuce (or other fresh salad greens)
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Ingredients for dressing:
1 lemon
1 small clove of garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
6 or more tablespoons of olive oil
2 medium size red onions sliced into thin rings
1 quart cherry or grape tomatoes 

Directions:
1.  Blanche the beans in hot boiling water for about three minutes and then remove the beans to an ice bath.  Once the beans are cooled, wrap the blanched beans in a clean towel and store in a plastic bag.  Wash and dry salad greens.  Wrap in a clean towel and store in a plastic bag.  Refrigerate both the beans and the greens.

2.  Zest half of the lemon.  Pound garlic and zest with a little salt into a paste.  Whisk in mustard, a tablespoon of lemon juice and olive oil.  Taste the dressing to ensure that it does not become too acidic.

3.  Toss the onions with the dressing and refrigerate. Halve the tomatoes, place cut side up on a dish and lightly salt.  Cover and refrigerate.

4.  Arrange salad greens on plate and lightly salt.  Toss the blanch beans in a bowl with the onions and dressing.  Arrange the tomatoes around the edge of the plate.  Baste the tomatoes with dressing.  Cover and keep cool until serving time.

ENJOY!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Couscous alla Trapanese con Pollo e Salsiccia

This recipe is based upon a recipe by Chef Giuliano Bugialli, who wrote a cookbook of recipes from the Italian islands, like Sardinia and Sicily.  Couscous is an ingredient in Sicilian cooking, particularly in Trapani, which is both a city and a province in Western Sicily.  Trapani is near North Africa and, hundreds of years ago, Arabs ruled over this part of the island.  The Arabs brought, among other things, couscous.  Today, the couscous used in Sicilian cooking is usually Moroccan couscous rather than Israeli couscous.  In Trapani, couscous is made with fish, rather than with meat as it is in Northern Africa.

This is one of two couscous recipes that are being posted.  This recipe focuses on chicken and sausage.  While not the traditional ingredients used in Trapani couscous, it provides an alternative for those who do not eat fish and calamari.  This recipe is substantially revised from Chef Bugialli's recipe, primarily to make it easier to make.  One major revision is that the couscous is toasted in butter first.  This helps to develop the flavor of the couscous.  Another major revision is the use of canned tomatoes over fresh tomatoes, because they are easier to use and the puree that comes with the canned tomatoes can help to thicken the sauce.  (For those who like thicker sauces, you can add more puree.)

COUSCOUS ALLA TRAPANESE CON POLLO E SALSICCIA
Adapted from Chef Giuliano Bugialli
Serves 6-10

Ingredients for the Sauce:
1 large red onion
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds of canned whole tomatoes, seeded and
     cut into large pieces, with puree
1 large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 large pinch of saffron
20 sprigs of flat leaf parsley, leaves only
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
10 very large fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
3 cups of chicken stock

Ingredients for the Chicken and Sausage:
3 pounds or chicken
1 pound of mild Italian sausage
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Ingredients for the Couscous:
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cups of couscous
1 cup of water
1 cup of chicken stock
1 pinch of saffron

Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. First begin preparing the sauce by heating the oil in a large saute pan.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for five minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every once in a while.  Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes.

2.  Finely chop the parsley and garlic together.  Add the chopped ingredients and the whole basil leaves to the saute pan and mix very well.  Cook for 5 minutes more.  Dissolve the tomato paste in the broth and pour it into the casserole.  Lower heat and simmer for 1 hour.

3.  Now prepare the couscous.  Heat the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat.  When the foaming subsides, add the saffron and couscous and cook, stirring frequently until the grains are beginning to brown, about five minutes.  Add water, broth and salt, stirring briefly to combine.  Cover and remove pan from heat.  Let stand until grains are tender, about seven minutes.  Uncover and fluff grains with fork.  Season with ground pepper to taste.

4.  Taste the sauce for seasoning.  Start adding the chicken.  Cook the chicken for a few minutes and then add the sausage. 

5.  Transfer the couscous to a platter, pour the sauce over the couscous and arrange the chicken and sausage on top or on the side.  Sprinkle with parsley.  Serve hot.

ENJOY!

Couscous alla Trapanese con Pesce y Calamari

This recipe is based upon a recipe by Chef Giuliano Bugialli, who wrote a cookbook of recipes from the Italian islands, like Sardinia and Sicily.  Couscous is an ingredient in Sicilian cooking, particularly in Trapani, which is both a city and a province in Western Sicily.  Trapani is near North Africa and, hundreds of years ago, Arabs ruled over this part of the island.  The Arabs brought, among other things, couscous.  Today, the couscous used in Sicilian cooking is usually Moroccan couscous rather than Israeli couscous.  In Trapani, couscous is made with fish, rather than with meat as it is in Northern Africa.

This is one of two couscous recipes that are being posted.  This recipe focuses on the use of fish and calamari, in the traditional Trapanese style.  This recipe is substantially revised from Chef Bugialli's recipe, primarily to make it easier to make.  One major revision is that the couscous is toasted in butter first.  This helps to develop the flavor of the couscous.  Another major revision is the use of canned tomatoes over fresh tomatoes, because they are easier to use and the puree that comes with the canned tomatoes can help to thicken the sauce.  (For those who like thicker sauces, you can add more puree.)  

COUSCOUS ALLA TRAPANESE CON PESCE Y CALAMARI
Adapted from Chef Giuliano Bugialli
Serves 6-10

Ingredients for the Sauce:
1 large red onion
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds of canned, whole tomatoes, seeded and
     cut into large pieces, with puree
1 large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
20 sprigs of flat leaf parsley, leaves only
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
10 very large fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
3 cups of seafood stock

Ingredients for the Fish and Calamari:
3 pounds of fish
1 pound of calamari, heads and bodies, cleaned
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Ingredients for the Couscous:
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cups of couscous
1 cup of water
1 cup of seafood stock
1 pinch of saffron
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. First begin preparing the sauce by heating the oil in a large saute pan.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for five minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every once in a while.  Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes.

2.  Finely chop the parsley and garlic together.  Add the chopped ingredients and the whole basil leaves to the saute pan and mix very well.  Cook for 5 minutes more.  Dissolve the tomato paste in the broth and pour it into the casserole.  Lower heat and simmer for 1 hour.

3.  Now prepare the couscous.  Heat the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat.  When the foaming subsides, add the saffron and couscous and cook, stirring frequently until the grains are beginning to brown, about five minutes.  Add water, broth and salt, stirring briefly to combine.  Cover and remove pan from heat.  Let stand until grains are tender, about seven minutes.  Uncover and fluff grains with fork.  Season with ground pepper to taste.

4.  Taste the sauce for seasoning.  Start adding the fish.  Cook the fish for a few minutes and then add the calamari.

5.  Transfer the couscous to a platter, pour the sauce over the couscous and arrange the fish and calamari on top or on the side.  Sprinkle with parsley.  Serve hot.

ENJOY!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sicilian Chickpea and Escarole Soup

Photo courtesy of Nanther Thangarajah
When we were designing the menu for Guest Chef Night, both Clare's father, Frank, and I went through a few recipes trying to decide upon a primi or first course (after the antipasta or appetizer).  Initially, we thought about a pasta; however, we could not find a pasta recipe that would fit with the overall menu.

Frank found a recipe for Sicilian Chickpea and Escarole soup, which he had made for friends in the past and which had gotten great reviews.  The recipe includes an interesting selection of ingredients, including garlic, chickpeas, fennel, onions, escarole, anchovies and the Parmigiano Reggiano rinds.  We decided to do this soup for Guest Chef Night and, once again, it got rave reviews from the guests.

The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen and calls for the use of chicken broth.  Both Frank and I wanted to make sure that this soup could be enjoyed by everyone, including my beautiful wife Clare who does not eat meat.  So, we modified the recipe to use vegetable stock.  When we made this soup for Guest Chef Night, we used a homemade vegetable stock that Frank carefully made over the course of a couple of days.  Homemade stock is always better than store-bought stock.  If you do not want to make your own stock, look for a vegetable stock that is low in sodium.

While I am not a big fan of vegetable soups, I love this soup.  So did everyone who came to the Guest Chef Night.   The use of the Parmigiano Reggiano rinds provides a depth and richness to this soup that complements the flavors of the fennel and anchovies.  I highly recommend this soup.   

SICILIAN CHICKPEA AND ESCAROLE SOUP
Recipes from Soups, Stews and Chilis, America's Test Kitchen at 148-149
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds of fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks
     cored and chopped fine
1 small onion chopped medium
1 can of chickpeas
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
     (or 1/2 teaspoons of dry oregano)
2 anchovy fillets, minced
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
7 cups of water
5 cups of vegetable broth
1 five inch long piece of Parmigano Reggiano rind
2 bay leaves
1 three inch long strip of zest from an orange
1 large tomato cored, and chopped medium
1 pound of escarole, tripped and cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste
8 to 10 slices of toasted garlic bread
1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions:
1.  Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or cast iron pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the fennel and onion.  Cook until the vegetables are softened, which should be about seven or eight minutes.  Stir in the garlic, oregano, anchovies and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook until fragrant, about thirty seconds.

2.  Stir in water, broth, soaked chickpeas, Parmigiano Reggiano rind, bay leaves, and zest.  Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook until the chickpeas are tender, which should take about one and one-half hours.

3.  Stir in the tomato and continue to simmer for twenty minutes longer.  Then stir in escarole and cook until wilted, which should take about five to ten minutes more.

4.  Remove from the heat.  Remove bay leaves and the cheese rind (scraping off any cheese that has melted back into the soup.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5.  To serve, place the toasted garlic bread on the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle the soup over the top of the bread. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the soup and drizzle lightly with additional olive oil.

ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mushroom Gratinate

I have made mushroom crostini for people several times using different recipes.  However, a recipe from Lidia Bastianich gets the best reviews.  It is like the "King" or "Queen" of mushroom crostini recipes, with the title of "Gratinate." This title is especially appropriate because the cheese used in the "Gratinate" is Parmigiano Reggiano, the "king" of Italian cheeses.

The recipe calls for garlic, sage, thyme and flat leaf parsley to be added while you saute the mushrooms. This mixture of herbs contributes a lot of flavor that complements the mushrooms themselves.  You do not have to limit yourself to these herbs, you could experiment by adding some rosemary, to underscore the earthiness of the dish, or some cracked black peppercorns, to provide a little bite. 

This dish was the first course of the four course dinner served at the Guest Chef Night.  We used eight pounds of mushrooms to create this course and went through all of the mushrooms.  Guests who tasted it both at the test kitchen and the Guest Chef Night really liked these crostini.  The recipe set forth below is designed to serve about twelve people, depending upon the size of the crostini or bread that you use.


MUSHROOM GRATINATE
Adapted from Lidia's Italy
Serves 12

Ingredients (for the mushrooms):
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2½ pounds mushroom, cleaned, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
4 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

Ingredients (for the base and gratin):
12 slices hearty wheat bread, lightly toasted
3 tablespoons soft butter
¼ cup Italian parsley, freshly chopped
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

Directions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Heat the olive oil in the skillet over medium heat and saute the garlic, stirring, until the garlic just begins to color but well before it begins to brown. Add the butter and, when it melts, toss in the mushrooms, sprinkle on the thyme, sage, and salt.  Cook the mushrooms and other ingredients, stirring now and then, until the water evaporates and the mushrooms start to caramelize. Remove from the heat, then stir in the grated cheese.

3.  Lay the bread slices in one layer in the baking pan to cover the bottom completely. Spread the soft butter all over the bread and spoon the mushrooms evenly on top, pressing them down into the bread. Sprinkle the parsley on and top with grated cheese.

4.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese has browned and the edges of the bread are crisp. Let rest a few minutes, before serving.

ENJOY!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Chef Night -- Some Last Thoughts

Photo courtesy of Clare
With some sleep and a lot of thought, I have had the chance to reflect upon Guest Chef Night.  I want to take this opportunity to sum up the Guest Chef Night, especially what I learned or what I was reminded of during this special event. 

First, I was vividly reminded that the role in which food plays in our lives.  The Guest Chef Night was billed as an opportunity for people to come and enjoy a four course meal designed by and cooked by Frank and myself.  I admit that I contributed to that billing through my blog posts.  But, in reality, Guest Chef Night should have been billed as an opportunity for family and friends to gather together and share, not only in the food, but also in our time together.

Over the course of one night, I had the opportunity to see many great people, including some who I had not seen since my wedding to Clare.  Although many months had passed since that time, it seemed as if we had just seen each other just the other day ... and perhaps the reason for that was this very night.  Family and friends had been following the developments of the evening, both by word of mouth and through this blog, so that the time and distance disappeared in a matter of moments.  I am very happy and grateful to have been able to share this night with all of them.

Second, food can not only bring together family and friends, but also create new friendships.  Over the course of the night, people who did not necessarily know each other nevertheless sat together at the same table or in vicinity of one another.  As they enjoyed the meal, they were able to talk about the one thing that they have in common -- being related to or friends of to those who brought them together to share in a special meal.

Third, cooking is -- and will always be -- a hobby for me.  It will never be a job.  While the Guest Chef Night was an amazing experience, and I think a very good success, food will always remain an outlet for me to escape the stress of other parts of my life.  The stress of cooking in a restaurant on a regular basis would probably rob me of what is most important in cooking for me ... an ability to escape from the daily pressures and pursue my own creativity in making my own dishes or learn about the cuisines of different cultures around the world. 

Fourth, I am very blessed to have family and friends who support me as I pursue my cooking generally, and events like Guest Chef Night in particular, but support me.  With in-laws like Frank and Geri, as well as my beautiful wife Clare, I was able to try my hand at a Guest Chef Night.  While my parents, Ken and Denise, as well as sister Kim and brother-in-law Jeff could not be there, they provided invaluable encouragement and support.  And, as I mentioned above, there are all those family and friends who came out for Guest Chef Night and had the dinner.  There are also my friends who helped me out with the test kitchen, when I practiced the dishes in anticipation of the big event.

I am also thankful for both Johnny and Bobby Lorino, the owners of Rag's Italian Bistro, who gave us the opportunity to be guest chefs.  They have a great little restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama and I hope that the Guest Chef Night will create and continue relationships with new and existing customers.

Finally, while the Guest Chef Night was a great experience, I am going to return to the focus of my hobby ... on my own cooking adventures.  Over the days, weeks and months ahead, I will continue making my own dishes, trying recipes of other cooks and chefs, and pursuing my culinary challenge Around the World in 80 Dishes. Maybe in a year or two, I'll be talking and planning another Guest Chef Night.  Who knows?  Until then...

ENJOY!

Guest Chef Night -- A Great Night and a Big Thank You

Well, the night is over and I am very tired.  I planned to say a lot about the Guest Chef Night, but, quite frankly, I am exhausted.  There are still a few things that have to be said.

First, I want to thank everyone who came out to join us for this special occasion.  It is my sincere hope that you all had a great time and a great dinner.  We worked to provide the best meal that we could and, while there was a little chaos at the beginning as we worked to get the flow in the kitchen, we were able to get our bearings and settle into a groove for the rest of the night.  It was great to see all of you and see how you enjoyed the meal.  I should note that there is something to be said about how good food can bring people together and make new friends.  And, for those who did join us, ten percent of the proceeds of your dinner went to First Light, which is a shelter for homeless women and children in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

Second, I want to thank Frank, Geri and Clare, who all worked hard with me to make this night a success.  Together, we were able to put together a very complicated meal.  Both Frank and I worked in the Kitchen, while Geri and Clare provided valuable support.  Geri also baked the Almond Tortes that were the dessert and Clare expertly plated the dessert when we were a little backed up in the kitchen.

Third, I want to thank the kitchen staff, Wayne and Barry, who stepped up to help us as we worked to get out the orders.  Wayne is the cook at Rag's and his expert work at the stove helped during the busiest part of the night.  Barry did a great job at the front, helping to plate the dishes as they came up.

Finally, I want to thank Johnny and Bobby Lorino, the owners of Rag's Italian Bistro.  Without them, this opportunity would not be possible.  They were very gracious to open up their kitchen and, indeed, their restaurant for this evening.  Without them, this evening would not have been possible. 

Well, I am very exhausted at this point.  Once again, I want to express my gratitude to everyone who made this evening a success by saying ...

THANK YOU!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Chef Night -- The Big Day

Today is the "big day," the day that I officially -- albeit temporarily -- step back into a restaurant kitchen to prepare a four course meal for family, friends and guests at Rag's Italian Bistro.  I will be joined by Clare's father, Frank, who is a great cook in his own right, and who provided a lot of assistance in crafting the menu for this special occasion.  I would also be remiss if I did not mention two other people who have contributed a lot to this occasion ... my wife Clare and her mother, Geri.  Together, this meal is not so much about me, but about family.  Together, we have all worked very hard to prepare and present a great meal for everyone.

Photo courtesy of Clare
However, as I sit here typing this post, I have to admit that I am still a little nervous.  I have been running the entire kitchen process through my head, especially with respect to the main course.  We have an ambitious dish ... Couscous alla Trapanese.  We are not making just one couscous, but two couscous dishes so that we can accommodate the eating preferences of our guests.  That means two sauces and two couscous pots.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about how we will prepare both couscous dishes at once.  I think I have it sorted out, at least in my mind, but only time will tell whether it will work.

Despite my nervousness, I have a lot of added motivation for making sure that this meal is a success ... ten percent (10%) of the proceeds from every meal sold will be donated to First Light, which is a shelter for homeless women and children in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.  The mission of First Light is a very important one ... to work with homeless women and their children to create hospitality in a safe and nurturing community, to encourage them to find hope, to seek opportunity, and to grow spiritually, thereby achieving their full potential.  During the year, both Frank and Geri donate their time to First Light to prepare meals for the women and children.  

Well, I need to get back to the preparations.  Usually, I limit myself to one post per day; but, given the special occasion, I may try my hand at micro-blogging using the blogger app on my phone or twitter/facebook to provide updates as we prepare and serve the meal.  All of that assumes that I will have time to make such updates.  More to come about that ...

ENJOY!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Chef Night -- The Prep Kitchen

It is the day before Guest Chef Night, when Clare's father, Frank, and I will be presenting a four-course dinner at Rag's Italian Bistro.  All of the ingredients have been ordered, and, now everyone's attention is turning to the prep work.  We expect to have about thirty family members, friends and guests in attendance.   With the able assistance of Clare and her mother, Geri, we have spent a good part of the morning doing some basic prep work for some of the courses at home.  We then moved the prep work to the restaurant, where we continued our work to prepare for the special day.

This meal requires a lot of preparation.  The prep work started with grating Parmigiano Reggiano for the Mushroom Gratinate and the Chickpea and Escarole Soup.  The Mushroom Gratinate necessarily calls for a good amount of cheese, which is added to the sauteed mushrooms as they are spooned onto french bread and then topped with even more cheese before going into the oven in order to melt and crisp just a little around the edges.

So, I began to grate the cheese by hand.  I broke down one of the two big chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano that we have for the dinner, removing the rind as the first step and then cutting the cheese into several large pieces to grate.  When I was done, I had a small mountain of grated cheese, which was about six cups.  We will need about four and a half of those cups to use in making the Mushroom Gratinate.  The remainder, along with additional grated cheese will be in a bowl that a server will use to sprinkle over the Chickpea and Escarole soup as it is being served.  

While I was grating the cheese, Frank was busy working on other ingredients for the Chickpea and Escarole soup, such as chopping several pounds of fennel into small pieces for the soup.  As is the practice with most restaurants, we planned on making the soup ahead of time, leaving the final steps, such as the addition of tomato and escarole, to right before we have to serve the soup.  Frank cut a lot of fennel, which will provide a licorice flavor to the soup, adding to the complexity of the taste of this dish.

Photo courtesy of Clare
Then our attention turned to the green beans that will be used in our Green Beans with a Cherry Tomato Salad, which is a dish that has to be prepared ahead of time.  Once again, all four of us -- Frank, Geri, Clare and I -- confronted pounds of green beans.  The first task was to trim the beans, cutting off the ends where they had been attached to the stalk  After weighing the beans and determining the proper serving size, Frank, Geri and Clare worked on blanching the green beans.  Given the amount of green beans we were working with, they had to do three batches of beans.

While Frank, Geri and Clare worked on the beans, I turned my attention to six pounds of red onions, which had to be diced for the two sauces that we are preparing for the couscous.  One sauce will be seafood based and the other one will be chicken based.  The recipe calls for one big red onion.  However, we are tripling the recipe and doubling it again in order to make the two sauces.  That meant I had to dice six large, red onions.  Surprisingly, no tears.  Perhaps the lack of tears while cutting all of those onions comes from having cut a lot of onions in my time.  Anyways, the prep work was coming along at a good, albeit relaxed pace.

Once we got to the restaurant, we continued the prep work.  First, we finished the slicing and dicing of vegetables to make the Chickpea and Escarole Soup.  We diced onions and garlic and chopped anchovies.  With all of the prep work finished, at least for the soup, we began cooking.  We focused first on the soup, making the base of the soup so that those ingredients could be refrigerated overnight to help the flavors meld together.  Once we finished working on the soup, it was about 5:30 in the evening and we decided that it was a good time to stop.  We all knew that we would be back at it tomorrow morning.

So, that was the first part of our prep work.  We will be doing much more prep work tomorrow before the big night.  More to come about that....

ENJOY!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Libya

As I was perusing the meat section at my local Whole Foods, I came across an ingredient that I had never seen before ... lamb hearts.  I was curious about what dishes I could make with this ingredient, so I searched the Internet for recipes that used lamb hearts.  I came across a couple recipes, but only one truly caught my attention.  It was Khalyat Alkadba wal Galoob, or Fried Liver and Heart.  The recipe originates from Libya and it incorporates two interesting spice mixes, Bzaar and Hararat (also known as Libyan five-spice).  With my interest piqued, I decided that I would cobble together a last minute challenge that would take me around the world to Libya.

Khalyat Alkadba wal Galoob is prepared using both lamb hearts and lamb livers.  Lamb is the principal form of meat used in Libyan cooking.  The cuisine of Libya reflects a mixture of North African and Mediterranean cuisines and ingredients.  Part of the North African influence is Moroccan couscous, which is a common dish in Libya.  These two  ingredients, lamb and couscous, are the base of the dish that will be my challenge. 

THE MAIN COURSE

Khalyat Alkadba wal Galoob represents a first for me ... cooking with offal.  The term offal is used to describe the innards of an animal, such as the liver, heart and brains.  I don't know why I have not cooked with offal before, especially given that these ingredients are packed with vitamins.  For example, liver contians Vitamin A, B Vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin D, along with the good fatty acids.  Heart contains iron, niacin, riboflavin and zinc.  (For more on the nutritional benefits of offal, check out this website.)  In addition, I am a big fan of Andrew Zimmern and his show, Bizarre Foods. I have spent many hours watching Andrew eat all sorts of animal innards made in many different ways.  Yet, I've never used these ingredients in my cooking.  Still, I am open to trying new ingredients; and with this challenge, it was my chance to be like Andrew.

One last note.  I was proceeding with the proverbial blindfolds.  I could not find any pictures of Khalyat Alkadba wal Galoob and I am not sure what exactly the dish should look like when it is finished.  I was also someone hindered by the fact that the recipes for the spice mixes use whole spices and, while I thought I had all of the whole spices in my kitchen, I was missing a couple of them.  So, I tried to modify the recipes to use ground spices.  This may have thrown off the measurements a little.  But still, I was ready to proceed with the challenge and I have set forth all of the recipes below.


KHALYAT ALKADBA WAL GALOOB (Fried Liver and Heart)
Recipe adapted from Celtnet Recipes
Serves 2-3

Ingredients:
2/3 pound of lamb liver
2 lamb hearts
3 tablespoons of butter
8 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 teapsoon of bzaar (recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon of hararat (recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon of hot chili powder 

Directions:
1.  Prepare the offal.  Slice the liver into thin strips.  Open the hearts and remove the valves.  Cut the heart into thin strips.

2.  Saute the offal.  Add the liver and the heart to a pan on medium to low heat, with no oil.  Cook the liver and heart gently, on medium to low heat until the meat almost is dry.  This may take fifteen minutes or more.

3.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Add the butter, oil, tomato puree and spices. (I actually added more than what was called for in the recipe, because I love spices.)  Bring the ingredients to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Cook at medium to medium low heat for about twenty minutes, until the meat is tender and cooked through.

4.  Plate the dish.  Serve over rice or couscous.

SPICE MIX #1

The main dish requires two spice mixes.  The first spice mix is bzaar, which is a spice blend used in Libya and throughout North Africa.  The cinnamon and cloves are very predominant in this spice mix, although the chiles are also present.  The original recipe called for the use of whole spices but, as I mentioned above, I used ground spices.  As a result, my measurements may be a little off, particularly because I was trying to make half of the original recipe.  If you want to use whole spices, you can check the original recipe using the link provided below.



BZAAR (North African Spice Mix)
Adapted from Celtnet Recipes

Ingredients:
3 teaspoons of cinnamon powder
3 teaspoons of chile powder (I used Aleppo peppers)
1 teaspoon of cloves
1/2 teaspoon of tumeric
1 teaspoon of dried ginger
1 teaspoon of black pepper
2 teaspoons of cumin powder

Directions:
Mix all of the ingredients together.

SPICE MIX #2

The second spice mix is hararat, also referred to as Libyan five spice. Hararat is a traditional spice blend that is primarily used in soups, but, in the case of Khalyat Alkadba wal Galoob, the spices find their way into the sauce in which the liver and heart simmers for about twenty minutes. This is also a very fragrant spice mix, primarily because of the allspice, cinnmon and cumin. As with the bzaar recipe, I used ground spices instead of whole spices. Thus, the measurements might be a little off. If you want to use whole spices (which I will probably do the next time I make this mix), check out the original recipe using the link provided below.


HARARAT (Libyan Five Spice)
Adapted from Celtnet Recipes

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons of cinnamon powder
2 tablespoons of cumin powder
2 teaspoons of coriander powder
1 teaspoon of chili powder (I used Aleppo peppers)
1/2 teaspoon of allspice

Directions:
Mix all of the ingredients together.

*     *     *

While I cannot truly say whether this challenge was a "success," I have to say that I find lamb liver and lamb heart to be very delicious, especially with the use of the bzaar and hararat.  When I added the spice mixes, the kitchen fills with really nice aromas that can make someone forget that he or she is cooking with animal organs.  The only thing keeping me from having this dish again is whether or not I will ever come across lamb hearts or lamb livers again.  Regardless, I will definitely experiment with these spice mixes with other meats.  Until next time ...

ENJOY!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thomas Henry Pinot Noir (2009)

Followers of this blog know that I love Pinot Noirs, especially wines from Oregon's Willamette Valley.  However, Oregon is only the second largest Pinot Noir producing state.  The largest is California, which has many Pinot Noir regions, such as Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Central Coast, Santa Rita, Santa Clara and parts of Napa Valley.

It is in Napa Valley where Thomas Henry Wines produces its Pinot Noir.  Thomas Henry is a vineyard named after winemaker Tom Meadowcroft's father.  Meadowcroft first started to learn his wine-making skills first in Bordeaux, and later in Washington and California.  He has said that he produces his wines in the European style of winemaking, something said by a lot of new world winemakers (i.e., winemakers in the Western Hemisphere).

The Thomas Henry Pinot Noir is a fairly earthy wine.  Its aromatic elements and nose reveal some complexities that are similar to Oregon Pinot Noirs.  On the label, Meadowcroft describes the nose as having "dark cherry and wild strawberry aromas, with a touch of the heathlands."  I usually pick up dark cherries and I did with this wine.  I could also see the wild strawberry in the nose.    As for the taste, the winemaker says the cherries and strawberries are also present in the wine itself.

The winemaker suggests that this wine can be paired with pastas and tapas.  In a past blog post, I paired this wine with Mushroom Gratinate, tying the earthy notes of the wine (the dark cherries and the "touch of the heathlands" with a quintessential earthy ingredient (mushrooms).  I also think this wine would go well with pasta dishes with red sauces and even lamb.

This wine is available at restaurants, like Rags Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, where Clare's father, Frank Savage, and I will be hosting a Guest Chef Night on Monday, February 21, 2011.  This wine is also available at wine stores, such as Olney Wine and Beer in Olney, Maryland.  It sells for about $18.99 a bottle.

ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lakefront Brewery New Grist Beer

Typically, beer is brewed with four ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast.  Then, there is the Reinheitsgetbot, the Bavarian purity law,  that limited beer making to those four ingredients.  The problem for some, is that one of those ingredients -- the malt -- makes all of those beers off-limit.  The malt is typically barley or wheat, which creates an issue for those who suffer from Celiacs Disease.

The good thing about the American craft beer movement is that the innovation and ingenuity knows little to no bounds.  To serve those who suffer from disease, craft brewers have begun making gluten-free beers, substituting high-gluten grains with ingredients like sorghum, rice, corn and buckwheat.

Recently, I purchased a six-pack of Lakefront Brewery's New Grist Beer.  I bought it partly because I wanted a Wisconsin craft beer for my Super Bowl Party and partly because I was intrigued with the idea of a gluten free beer.  Until the New Grist, I had never tried such a beer.

Gluten-free beers are completely different than regular beers.  This is something that I think escapes most people when they review the beer.  I've read reviews and, for the most part, they tend to be a little negative.  Raters give the beer a C or a D, instead of an A or B, arguing that, while the beer is very drinkable, it just lacks something.  So, I went into drinking this beer with a completely open mind, recognizing that this beer is brewed using different ingredients in an effort to open the craft beer movement to people who ordinarily cannot enjoy beer. 

The beer pours like a very light beer, with a lot of fizzy carbonation that quickly dissipates.  The nose of the beer is very subtle, reminiscent of club soda.  Maybe some light apple or other fruit.  The taste of the beer is different from a beer made with traditional ingredients.  The beer has flavors of a light cider or pears.  It is definitely a different drinking experience, but that is what I expected.  I really like the beer and would recommend it for those who want to try something different.

Obviously, when it comes to pairing this beer with food, all foods with gluten are literally and figuratively off the table.  The crispness of this beer makes it a good pairing with spicy foods, chili or barbecue.   I served this beer with the Mini-Open Faced Ribeye Sandwiches and the Hot Wings

The beer is about $8.99 a six pack and is available at most beer stores that have a large craft beer selection.  I found this six pack at Corridor Wine in Laurel, Maryland.

ENJOY!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Adelsheim Vineyards Auxerrois (2006)

When I was planning our honeymoon, I wanted to stop at Adelsheim Vineyards because both Clare and I had tried Adelsheim's wines at Grapeseed American Bistro and Wine Bar.  The problem was that our guide had a very difficult time arranging the visit and, so, Adelsheim did not make the cut.  Still, we really like the wines and, one time when we were in Cleveland and having a glass of wine at Vinomatique, I saw a bottle of Adelsheim's Auxerrois (2006).  So, I bought it and took it home to open when I could pair the wine with a good meal. 

Adelsheim Vineyard is located in the northern part of Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Using sustainable farming practices, Adelsheim produces a range of Pinot Noir wines, as well as a Syrah. The vineyard also produces Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc wines.  But, it is the Auxerrois (pronounced "oak-sair-wah") that caught my attention.

The Auxerrois is actually a white grape grown in the Alsace region, as well as in Germany and Luxembourg.  The grape is actually a cross between a Pinot Noir grape and a Goulais Blanc grape.  Adelsheim grows its Auxerrois on three acres at its Ribbon Springs Vineyard.  When making the wine, the grapes are gently pressed, allowed to settle for one day and then pumped into stainless steel tanks.  Some of the wine is aged in barrels, which the winemaker says enhances the texture of the wine.  After a cool fermentation, the wine is "sur lies aged" (that is, aged with a portion of the spent yeast in contact with the wine) in the tank and then bottled. 

When poured, the wine pours a light gold.  The winemaker says that the wine "takes on aromas of pear and anise." I could also get a little lemon in the aroma as well.  The wine is very easy to drink, light and crisp, with flavors of green apple and pear.

Like many crisp white wines, such as Rieslings, the Auxerrois goes very well with spicy food and food with a lot of flavor, like curries.  The wine draws out the flavors of these foods.  I recently made Roasted Red Chili Seafood Stir Fry and thought that this wine would go well with the red chilis and sweet curry powder used in that dish.

To the extent the 2006 vintage is still around, it sells for about $22.00 a bottle.  More recent vintages are available at fine wine stores.

ENJOY!

For more on the Auxerrois grape, check out Wikipedia.  For more about the wine, check out Adelsheim's website.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guest Chef Night -- The Test Kitchen

With the Guest Chef Night rapidly approaching, I have to admit that I am getting a little nervous about the prospect of having to cook for thirty or more people.  The last time I worked in a restaurant was more than fifteen years ago, when I worked in a seafood restaurant to earn money during college.  I started out as a dishwasher, but quickly moved to the position of steam cook, which was a fairly easy job.  I stuffed pots full of blue crabs, spreading handfuls of Old Bay over the crabs as they go into the pot.  I also steamed lobsters, crab legs and all sorts of shellfish (oysters, claims, mussels, steamers, etc.).  Eventually, I was "promoted" to the saute and grill section, making sauteed soft shells, broiled fish and even strip steaks for tens if not more than a hundred guests a night.

However, I have not cooked for that many people since my days as a seafood cook.  The dishes that we will be making are far more complex than anything I made as a cook before.  The expectations are much higher, I think both for myself and the guests.  I have one thing going for me, in that Clare's father will be cooking with me, and he is a very good cook.

But, I felt that I needed to cook these dishes for a group of people before the Guest Chef Night.  So, I decided that I would turn our kitchen into a test kitchen.  While I wanted to invite a lot of people to serve as taste testers, I had to keep a couple things in mind, such as the size of our dining room and the cost of this little project.  I decided to invite a handful of good friends (all of whom I had not seen in a long time).  Clare and I gave our friends one task -- to provide feedback on each dish to help me as I prepare to make this meal on Guest Chef Night.  My friends provided very detailed feedback, which will certainly benefit the guests and diners who will be attending the Guest Chef Night. 

I've had an opportunity to review all of their comments, and, I thought I would share some of their observations, along with what I have learned from them. 

Mushroom Gratinate:  This is the first course, the antipasta.  Overall, everyone liked the course.  They noted the presentation, namely the toasted slices of wheat bread topped with soft mushrooms, sauteed in garlic and herbs, topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  The guests liked the contrast in textures, crunchy crusts on the bread, surrounding a softer, buttery center topped with the mushrooms and cheese.  If there was something that I learned about this dish, it is to make sure that I focus on the contrast in textures, along with the balance between mushrooms and cheese.   

Sicilian Chickpea and Escarole Soup:  This is the second course.  Garlic toast is plated at the bottom of the bowl, with a soup made from onion, garlic, fennel, chickpeas and escarole.  Frank and I have modified the recipe a little bit, substituting vegetable stock for chicken stock.  I also did not use the anchovies because I wanted to make the soup so that everyone, including one of our vegetarian friends, could try it.  I also restrained myself when it came to adding salt, because I was concerned about the salt favors that the cheese rind would add to the soup.

Once again, everyone liked the course.  They liked the presentation, although one person suggested not fully submerging the bread in the soup.  All of the guests enjoyed the flavors of the soup, with one person noting there was a good balance between the ingredients, while another person noting that the flavor of the fennel really came out at the end of the soup.  Everyone also had the same observation ... the soup needed a little more salt.  They also noted that a little grated Parmigiano Reggiano gave the soup more depth.  The key for me is to monitor the level of salt, because we will be using anchovies in the soup at Guest Chef Night. 

Couscous alla Trapanese:  This is the main course.  Moroccan couscous served with either chicken and sausage or tilapia and squid that is cooked in a red tomato sauce flavored with saffron.  I decided that I would prepare the the couscous as originally called for in the recipe ... steaming the couscous with stock.  I had to make three different couscous with three different sauces.  In addition to the chicken and fish couscous, I also made a vegetarian version of this dish. In steaming the couscous, I had to jerry-rig my pots and colanders to make the couscous and that had an effect on the final product. 

I also had to improvise a little in making this dish in an effort to keep cooking times consistent so that the chicken and the fish would be done at the same.  We had some fairly thick chicken breasts, so I decided to chunk the breasts into even size pieces that would cook faster.  As it turned out, the fish still cooked faster than the chicken so I think that when we make the dish, we need to start the chicken before starting the fish.

Overall, people liked the dish, particularly the protein, whether it was the fish and shrimp or the chicken and sausage, although they thought I could have added a little more sauce.  As for the couscous, everyone noted that the couscous was a little dry or uneven.  Clare's dad suggested an alternative way to prepare the couscous, which will be the way that we prepare it for the dinner because, the more couscous we have to prepare, the harder it is to get the couscous to the desired, even consistency.

Fresh Green Beans with Romaine, Tomatoes, Oil and Lemon Dressing:  This is a cold vegetable dish that actually is quite tasty.  The beans are blanched, served on romaine and topped with onions that have been marinating in the oil and lemon dressing, along with a garnishment of tomatoes.  The one difficulty I had with this dish is that I needed two and a half pounds of green beans, but I had a problem finding that many green beans.  I should have reduced the amount of red onion, but did not do that.  And our guests picked up on that.  Everyone loved the presentation and a couple people especially noted the crunch of the beans.  In addition, everyone also loved the dressing.    The key for me with respect to the side dish is to maintain a good equilibrium between green bean and red onion.

Strawberry Banana Ice Cream: Although this was a special treat for our guests, I would be remiss if I did not note that everybody LOVED the ice cream.  Clare did an amazing job making the ice cream and it was a great way to end the night.

Overall, this test kitchen experience was a success.  Everyone provided very well thought, detailed comments that have provided a lot of assistance in terms of helping me to focus on what I need to do to ensure a great meal for the Guest Chef Night.

I want to thank everyone who participated in the test kitchen ... you know who you are.  I also want to think my amazing wife, Clare, for all of her help in preparing the meal.

The Guest Chef Night is about a week away.  Although everyone enjoyed the meal, I still have my work cut out for myself.   More to come about that ....

ENJOY!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Belgium Brewing Le Fleur, Misseur? Ale

New Belgium Brewing is a socially conscious craft brewer in Fort Collins, Colorado that produces some great beers, including the one that the brewer is probably best known for, ... Fat Tire.  New Belgium beers are distributed primarily out west and in the Midwest.  Whenever I am traveling and I see a New Belgium beer on the menu, I am more likely than not to order a bottle to enjoy with dinner.  

A few months ago, when I was strolling the aisles of a Binny's Beverage Depot outside of Chicago, I came across a rather interesting beer from New Belgium ... the Le Fleur, Misseur? Ale.  On the bottle, the brewer writes that it is "a beer worthy of misspelling," and beckons the consumer to "learn why this beer holds a special place in our history at New Belgium."  Intrigued, I bought a bottle to try.

New Belgium produced Le Fleur, Misseur? Ale  for its employees to celebrate the company's fifteenth anniversary.  According to the brewer, the name of the beer originates from an experience of the brewery's founder, Jeff Lebesch, while sitting on the side of a road in Belgium.  A kid passed by, picked a flower, and offered it to Lebesch.  Hence, "Le Fleur, Misseur?"

The key to this beer is Brettanomyces or "Brett."  Brettanomyces are wild yeast that were once the bane of brewers, dooming beers by creating what most considered to be "off-flavors."  Note that I said "most."  There is a sizable contingent of brewers -- mainly the Belgians -- who actually welcome Brettanomyces into their beer.  Over the decades (and, indeed, centuries), they have been able to use "Brett" in the production of some great beer styles, such as Lambics and Geuze.  Perhaps, the most well known "Brett" beer is Orval, which is produced by Trappist Cistercian Monks.

More and more American craft brewers are experimenting with Brettanomyces to produce "wild beers."  New Belgium relies upon "Brett" to provide its Le Fleur, Misseur Ale with its unique aromatic characteristics and taste.  The brewer suggests that the aromas include flower, fresh bread and honey.  I could smell the flower, the bread and honey were a little harder for me to pick up from the beer.  As for taste, the brewer suggests pineapple clove or honey, with an herbal finish.  I definitely got the herbal finish, as well as some of the clove and honey. 

The beer pours with a thick white to off-white foam, that lasts for quite a while.  The beer does pour a nice deep golden color.  The nose and taste of the beer are different -- in a very good way -- and can lead one to overlook the fact that the beer is made with Pale, Victory, Wheat, C-80, Carapils and Oats malts, as well as Target and Willamette hops.  The beer has an ABV of 6.2%.

One would ordinarily think that pairing food with a "Brett" beer would be extremely difficult because of the favors produced by the yeast; however, the brewery provides food pairings recommended by different people on its website.  Many of the ideas sound very interesting, such as Ancho Chile Seasoned Buttermilk Fried Chicken Drizzled with Honey and Served on top of Blue Corn Waffles; Basil Crusted Pork Loin with Candied Pears and Pasta with Wild Mushroom Ragu.

I am a big fan of "Brett" beers and, in my opinion, New Belgium has definitely "tamed" the wild yeast to produce a great beer.  I would definitely recommend this beer for those who love craft beers and, in particular, those who are open to different tastes in their beers.  I found this beer at a Binny's Beverage Depot outside of Chicago, Illinois.

ENJOY!

For more about this beer, check out the brewery's website.  For more about Brettanomyces, check out Wikipedia.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Roasted Red Chili Seafood Stir Fry with Lime Jasmine Rice

I planned on making a red curry one night except I inadvertently bought a jar of roasted red chili paste rather than the red curry paste.  So, I improvised and the curry turned into a stir-fry.  I used the roasted red chili paste in this dish and combined it with some sweet curry powder.  The end result is rather tasty.

This is a mixed seafood stir fry so, really, anything goes.  Having made a lot of fish recently, I decided that I would stick to other seafood, such as scallops, squid and shrimp.  The key to this dish, which is the key to any mixed seafood dish, is timing.  Scallops take longer than squid.  Both scallops and squid take longer than shrimp.  The size of the seafood can further change all of the cooking times.  The times in this recipe are approximate.  Cooking seafood is best done with your eyes, watching the seafood go from their "translucent" state to opaque.  When you see that start to happen, add the next seafood. 

ROASTED RED CHILI SEAFOOD STIR FRY WITH LIME JASMINE RICE
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

Ingredients (for the rice):
1 cup of jasmine rice
2 limes
Zest from one of the limes
2 cups of water

Ingredients for the stir fry:
1/2 pound of cleaned squid
1/2 pound of 16-20 count shrimp, shelled and deveined
4-6 sea scallops
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1 green pepper, sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, diced
3 teaspoons of roasted red chili paste
2 teaspoons of sweet curry powder
4 tablespoons of canola oil
1 heirloom tomato, sliced into quarters or eighths

Directions:
1.  Make the rice.  Pour the rice in the bowl.  Take one lime and squeeze the juice over the rice, making sure that the rice absorbs the lime.  Heat the water on high.  Once the water begins to boil, add the rice and juice from the second lime.  Reduce the heat and cook until the rice absorbs the water.

2.  Cook the vegetables.  Heat the oil in a wok on medium high.  Add the shallots, green pepper and garlic.  Add two of the teaspoons of roasted red chili paste and one teaspoon of sweet curry powder.  Saute for five to seven minutes until the vegetables are well cooked.

3.  Cook the scallops and squid.  Move the vegetables to the side of the wok, but keep the oil on the other side.  Turn up the heat a little. Add the scallops and cook until the scallops begin to become opaque and browned on the bottom, which should take four to five minutes.   Flip the scallops and then add the squid.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili paste and 1/2 teaspoon of the sweet curry powder.  Stir to mix the paste and powder amongst the scallops and squid.  Continue to cook the scallops and squid, stirring and flipping the squid to make sure that it is cooked on all sides. 

4.  Add shrimp and tomatoes.  When the squid becomes opaque, which should be about another five to six minutes, add the shrimp and heirloom tomatoes.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili paste and 1/2 teaspoon of the sweet curry powder.  Stir to mix the paste and powder amongst the seafood ingredients.    Add 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili paste and 1/2 teaspoon of the sweet curry powder.  Continue to cook until the shrimp becomes opaque.  Stir all of the vegetables with the seafood.

5.  Plate the dish. Plate the rice in the center and spoon the seafood over the rice.  You could also place the rice to one side and spoon the seafood on the other side.  Garnish with the lime zest.



For a dish that I created on the fly, this turned out fairly well. The roasted red chili paste and the sweet curry powder blended well together.  The different seafood worked well together as well.  I liked the green pepper in the dish, but I think other vegetables may also work well.  I would suggest a crisp white wine, such as a Riesling or Pinot Grigio for this dish.

ENJOY!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Harpoon Brewery Leviathan Imperial India Pale Ale

In 1986, Harpoon Brewery opened its doors in Boston, Massachusetts and, for many years, it was known for the Harpoon IPA.  The beer is very good for an IPA; however, in my opinion, it is Harpoon's Leviathan series that truly pique my interest.  The Leviathan series are the brewery's big beers, like a Barleywine, an Imperial Rye and an Imperial India Pale Ale.

I bought a four pack of the Imperial India Pale Ale.  The beer is extremely bitter and very hoppy in taste, primarily due to the use of a lot of hops.  Harpoon uses Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo hops.  The brewery also uses its own proprietary yeast during the production of this beer. The result is a beer that has a whopping 10% ABV.

The Leviathan Imperial India Pale Ale has an amber color as it is poured into a glass.   The hops in the beer are very present in the nose of the beer, which is something you expect from this style.  The aromatic elements also include some pine.

With regard to taste, this beer is also not for lightweights.  If you do not like hoppy or bitter beers,  then this beer -- and, for that matter, any Imperial India Pale Ale, is not the beer for you.  But, for people like me, who really like hoppy beers, this beer is a good example of an Imperial India Pale Ale.  The taste of the beer is full of hops, which are not only up front, but also in the finish. The hoppiness of the beer also makes it fairly dry.

The intense hop flavor of this beer makes it a little difficult to pair with food.  However, in his book The Brewmaster's Table, brewmaster Garrett Oliver suggests that regular India Pale Ales can be paired with a wide array of ingredients and food, such as chili relleno, chorizo, fajitas, jambalaya, gumbo, and Thai food.

The beer sells for about $9.99 for a four pack and is available in stores like Whole Foods and Rodmans.

ENJOY!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Yogurt Sauce

Occasionally, I watch the show "Throwdown with Bobby Flay."   In each episode, Bobby Flay challenges a cook or chef known for making the best of a particular dish.  In one episode, Bobby challenges the "Wing King," Drew Cerza to a throwdown to determine who makes the best wings.

People who know me know I love wings.  At first, I loved wings with the hottest sauce that was served.  I still remember one bar I went to in my home town where I had an informal challenge with the cook.  He would make the wings as hot as he could and I would eat them.  The showdown came one day, when I was with my dad at the bar.  The waitress brought out the wings, with her arms fully extended (so as to avoid breathing the fumes).  I ate all of the wings, and, in the end, the cook expressed amazement.  I remember his words well, "damn, I used an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce to make those."  

Today, I still like hot wings, but, now I am more interested in sauces with complex flavors, rather than simply sauces that are the hottest that I could find.  This recipe calls for the use of various chiles, namely  ancho, hatch and chipotle.  These chiles add not only heat, but a smoky flavor as well.  And, while Drew Cerza may have beaten Bobby Flay in the throwdown, I think that Bobby's recipe is the better one. 

HOT WINGS WITH BLUE CHEESE YOGURT SAUCE
Adapted from a recipe by Bobby Flay
Serves many

Ingredients for the Wings:
3 pounds of chicken wings
3 tablespoons of ancho chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of pureed chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 tablespoon of Hatch chili powder
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of honey
1 stick of unsalted butter

Ingredients for the Sauce:
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
1 cup of Greek yogurt
1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons of finely grated red onion
2 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Make the blue cheese sauce.   Combine the yogurt, blue cheese, onion and cilantro in a small bowl and then salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate for at least thirty (30) minutes prior to serving.

2.  Prep the dry rub for the wings.  Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add the 1 tablespoon of ancho chili powder and garlic powder in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Lay the wings on a baking tray and sprinkle the powder over the wings.  Cook the wings for at least 30 minutes or until done.

3.  Prepare the sauce for the wings.  Bring the vinegar, chipotle puree and 2 tablespoons of ancho chili powder and the Hatch chili powder to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Whisk in the mustard, salt, honey and butter until smooth.  Add the wings and mix to cover and coat.

I should note that when I made these wings for my most recent Super Bowl party, I forgot to put out the Blue Cheese Yogurt Sauce.  Still, the wings came out well.  You could definitley taste the smokiness of the sauce thanks to the chipotles and anchos.  The wings were not as hot as I expected they would be.  I used a medium Hatch pepper, but I could have made it hotter by using either a medium-hot to hot pepper.  If you choose to use a hotter pepper, you should be mindful about the amount that you use in the sauce.

ENJOY!
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