Friday, October 20, 2017

Chef Bolek's Italian Beef Sandwiches

The Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwich has been on Chef Bolek's "Bucket List" for a very long time.  It all began with a trip to Chicagoland.  I was visiting my sister and her family, and, we went to a place called Portillo's.  I had my first Chicago-Style Italian Beef sandwich there.  It was amazing.  

Fast forward several years later, and, my beautiful Angel bought me a roast from a local store.  My mind immediately turned to making Italian Beef Sandwiches out of that roast.  So, I did what I always do, and that is to set out and learn about what I am going to make.

The origin of the Chicago-style Italian Beef Sandwich appears to be somewhat lost to history, although there are some who claim to know how the sandwich came to be.  Generally speaking, the sandwich was created by Italian immigrants who came to Chicago to work in the stockyards.  They were only able to afford the tougher cuts of beef, which they would roast in a pan with beef stock.  Once the roast was cooked, they would slice it thinly, dip the meat back in the juices, and then pile it onto bread with some giardiniera (which is a relish of carrots, cauliflower, olives, and peppers in vinegar.  Once the sandwich was prepared, it would also be dipped into the juices).  If you want to learn more about the history of this sandwich, you can cheek out Thrillist or Amazing Ribs

I wanted to get to making this sandwich.  The recipe is relatively easy to make.  I created my own Italian style rub -- basil, oregano, garlic, onion, salt and pepper -- and then marinated the meat overnight.  The next day, I roasted the meat until it was medium rare and then set it aside as I strained the jus from the bottom of the roasting pan for the dipping.  After the beef rested, I sliced it thinly, piled it high on a bun and added some hand-chopped giardiniera.  The end result was as delicious as the sandwiches I had in Chicago.  

Recipe Inspired by Many Others
Serves a lot

1 (4 to 5 pound) top sirloin roast, sirloin tip roast or other roast
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon basil
1/3 tablespoon oregano
1/2 cup beef broth or stock, plus more for jus
1 bottle of giardiniera, drained
Sub rolls

1.  Prepare the roast.  Mix the garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, rosemary, basil and oregano.   Spread the rub over the roasts, making sure that all sides of the roast are covered.  Wrap the roast and refrigerate overnight. 

2.  Roast the beef.  Place the beef in a roasting pan.  Add 1/2 cup of beef broth or beef stock.   Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the roasting pan in the oven and roast the beef until it is medium rare, about 145 degrees.  This will take about one and one-half hours.  Remove the roast from the oven and the pan.  Tent with foil and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes.  

3.  Toast the rolls.  While the meat is resting, brush olive oil on the sub rolls and toast them for about one to two minutes under the broiler. 

4.  Prepare the giardiniera.  Chop the various vegetables in the giardiniera, until they are small pieces.  Place in a bowl and set aside.   

3.  Finish the dish.  Strain the juices from the roasting pan and set aside.  If you need more as an au jus, stir in some warm beef stock or broth.  Slice the beef into thin slices.  Dip the slices into the au jus and place on the bun.  Spoon over the chopped giardiniera over the beef and serve with a small dipping container of au jus.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Black Flag Flying Over Columbia

The Black Flag stands in direct opposition to the established norms.  That is a statement tat, as a fan of punk music, I would expect from Henry Rollins, the singer for the hardcore punk band that goes by that name.  However, the italicized sentence sums up Black Flag Brewing Company, a relatively new brewery in Columbia, Maryland.  

I have to admit that the name is catchy, because I am a big fan of the punk rock band, Black Flag.  When I saw the signs for the brewery, Black Flag, thoughts emerged In My Head about how I'm the One who would drive From Hell and Back to grab a Six Pack for a TV Party in a Padded Cell known as Room 13.  6 song titles and 1 album title in one sentence about getting beer.  Not to shabby.

With that out of the way, we visited Black Flag Brewing to check out the taproom and the beers.  The brewery is trying to keep from being type-cast in the craft beer world.  Its owner does not want to be known for a specific style of beer (for example, Sierra Nevada and its IPAs).  Thus, the ten taps that lie behind the bar have a range of styles including a blonde, Belgian saison, sour, breakfast stout, pale ale and a Double IPA, as well as seasonals like an Octoberfest and a pumpkin beer. 

The first beer I tried was the Mambo Sauce (which itself is a reference to the condiment found in Washington, D.C. area restaurants that is akin to a barbecue sauce.   Black Flag's Mambo Sauce is nothing like the bottles that might grace a restaurant table.  The brewery describes its beer as a "big tropical monster," with "huge juicy hop additions hidden behind smooth bitterness."  

The Mambo Sauce DIPA is pictured to the right.  The beer pours a golden-orange color, with a little haziness; but, it comes as advertised.  The aromatic elements are full of ripe citrus fruit, such as grapefruit, tangerine and lemons.   Those aromatic elements carry through to the taste of the beer, although they are couched in the malt tones, which add a little sweetness to the flavor profile of the beer.  The latter are the result of the brewers' efforts to smooth out the bitterness of the hops.  The effort to round out the bitterness represents, to a certain degree, the efforts to be non-conformist.  After all, most DIPAs push the bold hop aromas and flavors, not thinking too much about the malts.  

In the end, Black Flag Brewery illustrates the promise of the craft beer movement in Maryland: new  breweries open, creating beers that stand out on their own.  We will definitely be stopping in again ... very soon.  


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Smoked Ribeye Roast

While the prime rib roast -- or standing rib roast -- is the king of cuts (in my humble opinion), that roast can be very difficult to find in grocery stores, especially outside of certain major holidays.  The roast is cut from the rib section of the cow, from the sixth bone to the twelfth bone.  The entire cut, from the bones, to the eye and the layers of fat, give rise to a cut of meat that is amazing delicious and expensive.  I love prime rib roasts, which are often my go-to recipe when I entertain.  (I almost never buy the entire seven bones of the roast, which is a lot of meat and very expensive.  I usually go with a roast that is about 3 bones or, at most, 4 bones).

Take away the bones, you have a large central muscle that runs through the roast, which is the ribeye roast.  For some reason, it is easier to find ribeye roasts than it is to find standing rib roasts.  My beautiful Angel recently bought a ribeye roast for me to cook or smoke.  I have been wanting to smoke a standing rib or ribeye roast for quite a while, so this presented an opportunity for a little experimentation and education.

A few months ago, I bought a book called Prime: The Complete Prime Rib Cookbook.  I have been wanting to use this cookbook and the ribeye roast presented the perfect opportunity.  The cookbook has a recipe for a smoked prime rib.  The recipe calls for the use of a standing rib roast.  While I did not have that roast, I decided to adapt the recipe for a ribeye roast.  I jettisoned the instructions for handling the bones and tying the roast with fresh herbs.   I also modified the instructions for the rubs, developing a two part rub based upon what I had in my spice drawer.  The first rub part is just freshly grounded black pepper and kosher salt.  The second part is a mixture of ground and dried herbs, with some ground onion and minced garlic.  

Recipe adapted from John Whalen, 
Prime: The Complete Prime Rib Cookbook, pg. 108-109
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients (for the rib roast):
1 ribeye roast (about 4 pounds)
1/8 cup of extra olive oil (plus more if necessary)
2 tablespoons of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of sea salt or Kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon granulated onion powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
3 chunks of hickory, oak or mesquite chunks

Ingredients (for the au jus):
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh sea salt.

1.  Prepare the rib roast.  About two days before the smoke, combine the salt and black pepper in a small bowl.  Apply the rub to the roast, making sure that the rub covers the entire roast.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

2.  Continue to prepare the rib roast.  In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, dried thyme, dried rosemary and onion powders with the olive oil.  Add a little more oil to get the desired consistency if necessary.  Generously massage the meat with the garlic and herb rub so that it clings to the cap of the rib roast.

3.  Prepare the grill.  Prepare the fire to feature both direct and indirect heat with an average low temperature of about 300 degrees.  You'll wan tot make sure that you have a strong foundational layer of coals so that you can easily maintain the heat and smoke as you grill your prime rib.  While you prepare the grill, add the hickory or maple wood chips or chunks. 

5.  Smoke the roast.  When the fire is ready, at about 300 degrees with the coals lightly covered with ash, place the rib roast over the direct heat of the grill and sear each side, including the ends, for about 2 to 3 minutes each.  Transfer the rib roast over the direct heat and flip the rib roast to meat side up.  Take a handful of wood chips and throw them over the flame.  Cover the grill, aligning the air vent away from the fame so that the smoke pillows around the rib roast, and begin slowly roasting about 3 to 4 hours until the rib roast is charred and an instant thermometer reads 125 degrees.  For the first 3 hours of the grilling process, distribute handfuls of the hickory or maple wood chips about every 30 minutes or so.

6.  Prepare the au jus.  Combine the wine and broth and heat over medium low heat.  Whisk the butter.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

7.  Finish the dish.  Remove the rib roast from the grill and transfer to a large carving board.  Let stand for 10 minutes before carving, allowing the meat to properly store its juices.  


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tugboat Brewing, R.I.P.

The year was 2007.  That was the first time I visited Tugboat Brewing Company.  I had traveled to the city of Portland, Oregon for work.  That work guaranteed that I would be in Portland for a few days.  After I finished my work, I would return to my hotel, the Benson, and take some time to think about what I would do for dinner and a drink.  The drink was almost always a pint of craft beer.  

I knew of Rogue Ales and I visited its Portland taproom.  I learned about Deschutes Brewing and ate at its brewpub.  I enjoyed both of those breweries,  their food, and their beers.  But, if one were to ask which Portland brewery was the most memorable, my response would have been Tugboat Brewing Company, with its slogan: Small. Powerful. Hardworking. 

The brewery opened in 1989 in a small hole in the wall on S. Ankeny Street.  One block up, turn left.  I remember the little storefront, with the neon sign.  I opened the door and was greeted by cigarette smoke.  It was thick.  It hung in the air, just as naturally as the books that lined the shelves on the wall.  Straight ahead was the bar, with the handles.  There were about half a dozen Tugboat handles, which was quite a feat for a brewery that had enough equipment to brew only one beer at a time.  The rest of the handles were "guest beers" from other breweries, both local and distant.  I was not there for the guest beers.  I was there for the beers that embodied the brewery.  Small.  Powerful.  Hardworking.  

I walked up to the bar, where there would be one or two other people sitting.  I ordered a Tugboat beer and tried to relax. I spent the time trying to forget about the work that brought me to Portland, while thinking about what I could do with my free time.  And, in between all of that, I kept thinking about how this small brewery kept going.  Pint after pint.  Day after day.  Year after year.  Until the end of August 2017.  

I'll be honest.  I don't remember the names of any of Tugboat beers.  I cannot describe any of the beers for you as I write this post. After all, it has been several years since I have been to Portland, Oregon. However, I can say that the beers were very good.  How do I know that?  The answer is simple: every time that I visited the City of Roses (Portland), I made a visit to Tugboat Brewing, sat down at the bar, and had a couple of beers.   

Recently, my parents were traveling through Portland.  I asked them to stop by Tugboat to buy me a new hat.  (The hat I bought on one of my trips was getting old.)  That's when I learned of the news.  Tugboat Brewing had closed its doors.  The issues had nothing to do with the brewery itself, but with the other tenants in the building.  Still, it is sad to lose a little spot where I gained some memories. I hope that the owners of Tugboat Brewing decide to revive their little brewery.  If they do, I'll make my way back to Portland.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Old Westminster Alius (2015)

When my beautiful Angel, Clare, and I visited Old Westminster Winery a couple of years ago, we heard people talking about an orange wine named Alius.  We asked about that wine.  Everyone said, "you have to try the Alius, but, it is so popular that you have to wait for it to come and even then it is only available to wine club members."  Well, needless to say, we became wine club members (not because of the orange wine, but because Old Westminster's other wines are very good).

Eventually, we were able to get a bottle of Alius and we recently opened it.  According to the winemakers, Alius is named after the Latin word meaning "something different."

The name fits the wine.  The Alius has been described as an "orange wine."  The color, texture and tannins come from the maceration process.  This is the process where the skin of the grapes comes in contact with the juice.   In the case of the Alius, the grapes are Pinot Gris and were grown on a rocky hillside in northern Maryland.  After the maceration, the wine was fermented with native yeast in stainless steel.  At the end of the process, the winemakers at Old Westminster Winery bottled 63 cases on April 25, 2016. 

The Alius pours an orangish hue as advertised.  The pictures really do not portray the wine's color very well.  The orangish hues had some amber and tangerine notes, depending upon the light. 

As the wine sits in the glass, there are notes of peach, pear and white nectarine in the area of the Alius.  Some of these notes carry through to the taste of the wine.  There is some tartness at the beginning, but as the wine opens and warms, the tartness recedes and the fruit flavors -- especially the white nectarine -- open up more.  The fruit becomes more mellow, with melon and honey notes becoming more present. 

The Alius is definitely an interesting wine, and, as it opened, it was a very enjoyable wine as well. This wine is available only to wine club members of Old Westminster Winery.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Broiled Lamb Hearts with Salsa Verde and Fresh Chickpea Salad

If you are looking for an economical cut of meat that is still very tasty, then you have to look no further than lamb heart.  At about $4.99 a pound (give or take a few cents or a dollar),  as compared to $9.99 or even $19.99 for other more popular cuts of lamb or beef, it is definitely worth a try.  The only thing is that you have to look very hard to find lamb hearts.  The average grocery store does not stock them.

Fortunately, I have found lamb hearts on occasion at a certain large grocery store that just happened to merge with an online behemoth.  I have cooked with this ingredient twice before.  My first dish was Khalyat Alkadba Wal Galoob (Fried Heart and Liver), which is a Libyan dish I prepared in connection with my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge.  The second dish was Cuore di Agnello Brasata al Chianti (Lamb Hearts Braised in Chianti).  Both dishes were very good and have always left me wanting more.  

During a recent trip to said large grocery store soon to be owned by even larger online behemoth, I saw that it had lamb hearts.  I decided to buy them and try a more simpler preparation.  I was not going to prepare them in an ethnic style (although I did give that a thought for a moment).  I was not going to do anything fancy with a bottle of wine.  Instead, I decided that I would broil the hearts and try to find different ways to add contrasting and complementing flavors.  

I found a recipe for broiling lamb hearts on LiveStrong, which had a preparatory step that I did not know.  The recipe called for placing the lamb hearts in a bowl of salted water.  In other words, to do a brine.  The recipe did not provide any time limits for the brining of the lamb hearts.  I was also working only with slightly over a half of a pound of meat, as opposed to a twelve pound turkey.  So, I decided that, at most, a half an hour in the brine.  That half of an hour made an incredible difference.  Once cooked the meat was far more tender than my previous attempts and a little more flavorful.  After trying this preparation, I would strongly recommend a brief brine for lamb hearts because it will pay off in the end. 

Still, I only had lamb heart.  I needed something to go with that meat.  I pulled out my cookbooks and surfed the Internet until I came across two recipes from Michael Symon, the well-known chef who hails from Cleveland (which is also my hometown).  One recipe was for a salsa verde, which I thought would go well over the broiled lamb heart.  The recipe was for a Fresh Chick Pea Salad, which made a great side dish.  Both sides are very easy to make and helped to round out a complete meal. 

Now, I know most people are already turned off by the lamb hearts.  Unfortunately, we have been raised to only think about steak, like ribeyes, strip steaks, or burgers.  The supposedly more adventurous think about lamb shanks and rack of lamb.  But, it is in these often overlooked cuts of meat where one can find some true culinary joy. 

Lamb heart recipe adapted from Live Strong
Salsa Verde and Fresh Chick Pea Salad from Cooking Channel

Ingredients (for the lamb):
1/2 pound of lamb heart
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of sherry vinegar
Ground pepper

Ingredients (for the salsa verde):
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 shallot, minced
1 salt packed anchovy (or a teaspoon anchovy paste)
2 tablespoon salt-packed capers
Pinch red chile flakes
1/2 Fresno chile (or a Cubanelle or Anaheim chile)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup chiffonade fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chiffonade
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Freshly cracked black pepper
Kosher salt

Ingredients (for the chick pea salad):
3 cups fresh chickpeas, shelled
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 Fresno chile (or a Cubanelle or Anaheim chile)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly picked flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly picked mint leaves

1.  Prepare the lamb hearts.  Use kitchen scissors or a sharp knife to remove as much fat and connective tissue from the surface of the lamb heart as possible.  Rinse the heart and place it in a bowl of cold water mixed with a pinch of salt.  Preheat the broiler.  Combine the oil and vinegar and whisk together.

2.  Prepare the salsa verde.  In a medium bowl, add the garlic, shallot, anchovy, capers, red chile flakes, chile, lemon zest (save juice for later), mint and parsley.  Save the lemon juice just until serving  - this will help prevent the herbs from turning a dark unappealing color.  Add the extra virgin olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.  Set aside.  Do not salt now.  Allow the flavors to come together.  

3.  Prepare the chickpea salad.  Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, season with salt and add the chickpeas.  Allow to blanch for about 10 to 15 seconds.  Add the shallots and chile to a medium bowl.  Drain the chickpeas and add to the shallots and chile.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Toss in the parsley and mint leave.  Taste and season if needed.

4.  Broil the lamb hearts.  Remove the heart and pat dry with towels.  Put on a broiler pan.  Brush with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place under the broiler for about 3 minutes.  Flip the hearts and brush the other side with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.  Continue to cook for 3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from the broiler and let rest for 3 minutes.  


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Black Ankle Vineyards Slate 3

Wine blends are very intriguing. I have spent a lot of time learning about different varietals, especially ones that people don't usually see.  However, while I work to get an understanding of different grapes, there are people out there who are blending different varietals together.  The learning process almost has to start over again.

Yet, I am willing to continue learning, especially when it comes to the blends such as Black Ankle Vineyard's Slate 3.  This is the third iteration of this blend.  I have previously reviewed the original Slate.  I have tasted the Slate 2, and, there is a bottle in our wine cage.  (That means a wine review may be in the offing.)  But, my beautiful Angel pulled out a Slate 3 from that cage and opened it recently.  So, the wine reviews of the Slate iterations are going to be out of order.  

The Slate 3 is a blend of Bordeaux grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot.  This blend already marks a departure from the original Slate, which had a substantial amount of Syrah and a little Malbec blended into it.  The breakdown for the Slate 3 is 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot.  The grapes come from vines that grow on decomposing slate laced with veins of quartzite, with the slopes facing predominantly to the west and the south.  The wine was aged 18 to 30 months in French oak barrels, with 31% of those barrels being new.   It was bottled in April 2017 and 725 cases were produced. 

The wine pours a crimson red with burgundy tones, suggesting a robust red wine.  The winemakers describe the wine with aromatic elements of dried plums, blackberries and currants, with additional taste elements of orange peel and cracked pepper.  

The fruit elements are clearly present in the aroma of the wine.  In addition to blackberries and currants, I thought I sensed some raspberries.  The body of the wine is firm, with a soft middle gently introducing the fruit elements of the wine, while the edges are a little tighter, with some tannins.  The edges also give those pepper notes and even, appropriately enough, some mineral or slate tones.  There is a dry finish that one would expect from a bold red.  

Overall, the Slate 3 is very good and probably will be even better with age.  That is why we still have a couple additional bottles still sitting in the wine cage.  The wine sells for $45 a bottle. 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chicken Saltimbocca

As the story goes, the dish known as Saltimbocca originated in Rome.   The story seems kind of sketchy, because one of the featured ingredients - Prosciutto - does not hail from Rome or the province of Lazio, where the capital is located.  Prosciutto comes from two places.  First, there is Prosciutto di Parma, which comes from the region of Emilia Romagna.  Second, there is Prosciutto di San Daniele, which comes from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.  Given that prosciutto comes from places other than Rome, it made me a little skeptical of the story. 

So, I did my research.  According to one source, the dish of Saltimbocca came from Brescia, which is in Lombardy.  That source also traced the recipe to its first written origin, which was an "influential book" published toward the end of the 19th century by Pellegrino Artusi, an Italian chef.  Chef Artusi included a recipe for "Saltimbocca alla Romana" as Recipe No. 222 in his book.  He also claimed to have the dish at a trattoria named "La Venete" in Rome. 

On additional note about the history of Saltimbocca.  In Rome, Saltimbocca is most commonly prepared with veal.  The recipe adapted as it made its way to America with Italian immigrants, who prepared it with chicken instead of veal.  Chicken is far more commonplace in the United States and is far cheaper than veal. 

I found a recipe for Chicken Saltimbocca in a cookbook by Mario Batali, America Farm to Table.  The recipe looked simple enough to prepare on a busy weekday night, and it included a pan sauce with mushrooms that looked delicious.   

As I made this recipe, I would note a couple of observations.  First, the marsala wine.  One could buy a nice bottle of Marsala wine, which I am sure would make a difference in the final product.  I did not want to spend a lot of money on a wine that I don't drink and, to be honest, don' t cook with very often.  So, I got a store-bought version that probably barely resembles marsala wine.  The cheaper version worked just fine.  Second, the recipe calls for cremini and oyster mushrooms.  That is definitely a good pairing of mushrooms, but I could not find any oyster mushrooms when I went shopping.   The thing about fungi is that they are, for the most part, fungible.  I bought some shiitake mushrooms and they worked just as well as the oyster mushrooms.  

In the end, I can see why Chicken Saltimbocca is a very popular dish.  The flavors from the chicken, sage and prosciutto, enhanced by the sauce and, in this preparation, the tender mushrooms, made for a very enjoyable dinner.   

Recipe from Wedge Oak Farm
Printed in Mario Batali, America Farm to Table, pg. 176
Serves 4

1 cup all purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs,
8 large fresh sage leaves
8 large slices prosciutto
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound of a mix of cremini and oyster or shiitake mushrooms, 
     cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup sweet marsala wine
1/2 cup of chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh, flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (1/4 cup)

1.  Prepare the chicken. Place the flour in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Lightly pound the chicken thighs to 1/4 inch thickness.  Season with salt and pepper and lay a sage leaf on each thigh.  lay 1 slice of prosciutto over each thigh and fold in half like a book.  Secure the two sides with a toothpick and dredge the whole piece in the seasoned flour. 

2.  Saute the chicken.  In a 12 to 14 inch saute pan, heat the oil until just smoking.  Add the chicken and saute until golden brown on both sides, then transfer to a plate.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until the mushrooms have sweated out their liquid, 5 to 6 minutes.  Add the marsala and chicken stock and cook over high heat until reduced by half.  Return the chicken thighs to the an with the sauce and simmer for 3 minutes.  Swirl in the butter, add the parsley and serve. 


Friday, September 1, 2017

Massaya Le Colombier (2014)

When one thinks of wine, he or she probably thinks of France or Italy.  Australia or Chile.  Argentina or California  Very few people would think of Lebanon.  Yet, the land of the Cedars happens to be one of the oldest wine producing areas in the world. The history of wine-making can be traced back as far as 2686 BC, when wines of Byblos were sent to the Old Kingdom of Egypt.  Wines of other cities in what is now Lebanon -- such as Tyre and Sidon -- were reknown throughout the Mediterranean, spreading along with the Phoenicians as they traveled across the sea.

Wine continued to be produced over the years, decades and centuries.  As the region came under control of a caliphate, wine production decreased.  It was prohibited outright by the Ottoman Empire, although exceptions were made for Christians in the region (as consumption of wine by Muslims is prohibited).  Wine experienced a resurgence when the region came under the control of the French in the 1920s.  After Lebanon gained its independence, wine production continued, although it suffered during the long civil war.  Once the war ended and peace was restored, the wine production experienced another boom. 

The boom has taken place principally in the southern portion of the Bekaa Valley (or Bequaa Valley). The grapes grown in this region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. The largest producers are Chateau Ksara, which produces about 70% of the wine in the region.  The next largest producers are Chateau Kefraya and Massaya.

I recently purchased a bottle of Massaya's Le Colombier (2014).  The wine is described as a "vin plaisir" or "pleasure wine" that resembles a blend inspired by French wine.  The blend for Le Colombier is 35% Cinsault, 35% Grenache Noir, 15% Syrah, and 15% Tempranillo.  All of the grapes were grown on the hillsides of the Beqaa Valley.  The wine was aged in Faqra cellars, which were dug into the mountainside.  

The Le Colombier pours a deep crimson red, symbolic of a very hearty wine, well beyond any French blend.  The wine looks more like an old vine wine (the vines are old, some as old as 40 years).  As one breathes in the wine, there is some hint of fruit, but also earth, slate, and minerals. The fruit shows through more in the taste, There is some strawberry, but raspberry and blackberry notes quickly overtake the milder fruit.  There is a well developed tannin presence, which grips the sides of the tongue and never lets go.   The strength of the tannins is symbolic of the strength of the Lebanese people, who have endured so much over the course of history (especially between 1975 and 1992) yet their grip over their lives and their futures remained strong despite those odds. 

This wine is a great example of why one should venture beyond the standards.  Beyond a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.  Beyond a French Pinot Noir.  Beyond a Tuscan Chianti.  Beyond an Argentinian Malbec. The Le Colombier is a great example of why people should search out wines from regions that one would not think of when one thinks of wines.  This wine sells for about $12.99 per bottle.  


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q Chicken with White Sauce

As a recreational (and novice) chef and pitmaster, I have spent a lot of time trying to learn all about the different styles of barbecue.  Much of the barbecue literature is fixated on the well known styles of barbecue, such as Texas brisket or eastern Carolina whole hog.  There are many other styles of barbecue, some of which you have to discover by either going to the locale or trying to bring that style to your kitchen.

One such example of a barbecue style is that found in the State of Alabama.  Pitmasters in Alabama smoke pork, ham and chicken, using sauces that are reminiscent of other southern styles, such as the Carolina vinegar sauce.  However, Alabama has a barbecue sauce that is unique to that State's barbecue.  It is a white sauce, used to dip smoked chickens right before serving.  That sauce originated with Big Bob Gibson, who opened a barbecue joint in Decatur, Alabama back in 1925. 

As the story goes,  Big Bob Gibson served pork and chicken at his restaurant.  Gibson used an Eastern Carolina vinegar sauce for his pork, but he needed something for his chicken.  The sauce had to help keep the moisture in his chickens, which were smoked for about 3 hours.  Big Bob Gibson developed a white sauce using mayonnaise.  The sauce gave the chicken a "peppery, vinegary" flavor that helped to keep the chicken moist.  Gibson served this white sauce alongside the Carolina vinegar sauce when he opened his store in 1925.

More than 80 years later, my beautiful Angel's parents took me to Big Bob Gibson's to experience barbecue in Alabama.  I ordered a sampler, which did not include the chicken with white sauce.  I have to admit that, at the time, I was a little skeptical of the white sauce.  Added to that skepticism was my general distaste for mayonnaise.  Consequently, I never tried it at Big Bob Gibson's restaurant.

But, as I noted above, there is the option of bringing the style to your kitchen.  Recently, I decided to  set aside my general distaste for mayonnaise and try the Big Bob Gibson's recipe.  I spatchcocked a couple of whole chickens and put them in the smoker.  I followed the "simple technique" used by the pitmasters at Big Bob Gibson's, namely smoking the chickens over hickory wood, basting the chickens with oil, and then dipping the smoked chickens in that white sauce.   The flavor of the hickory smoke was present in the chicken, especially in the dark meat.  The skin did crisp up, but not to what I would have liked.  (I always need some room for improvement; and, in this case, it is working on how to crisp the skin better.)  

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The white sauce combines mayonnaise with vinegar, prepared horseradish, apple juice and lemon juice.  The vinegar and horseradish give the sauce the kick that one would expect (in my humble opinion) from a barbecue sauce.   That kick gets a little boost from cayenne pepper, but the horseradish is what does the trick for me.  While I followed the recipe in this case, I think that I would add a little more horseradish the next time.    

One final note, the consistency of the white sauce was a little more like a mop sauce than what I would consider to be a barbecue sauce.  That probably explains why the chicken is submerged in the white sauce.   When the chicken was served, I included some of the white sauce in a ramekin or bowl for dipping.

Recipe from Chris Lilly, Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book, page 119
Serves 4 to 8

Ingredients (for the chicken):
2 whole butterflied chickens
1 tablespoon of salt
1 cup oil (vegetable, olive, lard)
2 tablespoons black pepper

Ingredients (for the white sauce):
2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1.  Prepare the fire.  Build a fire (wood or a combination of charcoal and wood) for indirect cooking by situating the coals on only one side of the cooker, leaving the other side void.  Preheat the cooker to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Smoke the chickens.   Dust each whole chicken evenly with salt.  Place the chickens over the void side of the cooker, with the skin side  up.  When the skin on the chicken is golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours, turn the chickens skin side down, basting both sides with the oil.  Sprinkle the cavities of each chicken with pepper.  Cook the chicken for an additional 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add more wood to the fire as needed to replenish the supply of coals and maintain a temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

3.  Prepare the white sauce.  While the chicken is being smoked, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and blend well.  

4.  Finish the dish.  Pour the white sauce into a narrow deep container and position it next to the cooker.  Remove each chicken from the cooking grate and submerge it into the pot of white sauce.  Remove the chicken from the sauce, cut each chicken in half between the breasts and then quarter by cutting between each breast and thigh.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Market Garden Brewery's Citramax IPA

When it comes to the craft beer scene in Cleveland, as one person it, "the word is out." There has been a remarkable growth in craft brewers.  At one time, there was only Great Lakes Brewing Company.  Now, there are breweries like Fat Head's Brewing, Platform Beer Company, Butcher & Brewer, and Market Garden.

The latter brewery, Market Garden, is located next to my favorite spot in Cleveland ... the West Side Market.  THe past couple of times that I have been in Cleveland and I have made a trip to the market, it has always included a side trip to Market Garden.  That side trip was a necessity, because it offered me a chance to try some very good beer.  Beers like the Cluster Fuggle, an IPA, or the Illuminator, a Doppelbock.

The great thing about Cleveland craft beer is that there are so many choices, even within one brewery.  The bad thing about Cleveland beer is that I can only get it when I am in Cleveland.  However, there has been a recent push for many of these breweries to bottle or can their beer.  And, during a recent visit to Cleveland, I was able to find Market Garden's Citramax in a local grocery store.  Needless to say, I bought a six pack and took it back home with me.  

The Citramax is described as a West-Coast style IPA.  The feature of this beer is in the name - Citra.  The brewers dry hopped this West Coast IPA with organic Citra hops.  The goal was to impart intense tropical and citrus fruit aromas in a beer with an aggressive-boldly bright American Hop character that will leave you craving another.

Mission achieved.  The Citramax pours a golden color with a thick foam.  That foam recedes quickly to the edges of the beer, opening the way for an aroma full of tangy citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and tangerine.  As one sips the Citramax, there is a moderate level of bitterness, encasing elements of those citrus fruits with some pine notes on the edges.  This IPA differs a little from most other IPAs that I have had in that the moderate bitterness is also followed by a little sweetness on the palate.  The sweetness helps to balance the beer, making it more palatable for people like my beautiful Angel who are not big hop heads.

As with most Cleveland beers, the Citramax is available in the Cleveland area. If I recall correctly, that six-pack cost about $9.99 or $10.99.  If you see a six pack sitting on the shelf, it is definitely worth trying.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fire Roasted Gazpacho with Maryland Lump Crab

My beautiful Angel, Clare, loves gazpacho.   Previously, I made a gazpacho with shrimp based upon a recipe from Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz, who is the wife to Jose Andres. That particular chilled soup was so delicious that it has become one of our favorites.  It was a traditional gazpacho, with raw tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers being blended into a liquid (with other ingredients, such as stale bread) and served with a garnish.

Indeed, a traditional gazpacho is made with raw tomatoes and vegetables.   The raw nature of the tomatoes and vegetables is what, in my humble opinion, gives this soup its fresh character.   And, it is a very delicious character.  However, I did not want to make just another gazpacho.  I wanted to experiment with this dish.  The only question is what tweeks or twists could I do to make something that is just as delicious as the traditional soup.

As it turns out, I was planning to smoke a pork shoulder when I was thinking about this issue.  The thought of lighting the chimneys for the smoker got me to think about grilling the tomatoes and vegetables.  I then did some research and came across a recipe for a Fire Roasted Gazpacho.  The recipe comes from Steven Raichlen, the professor at Barbecue University.  The recipe calls for grilling the traditional ingredients to a gazpacho -- tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers -- along with onions.  It also calls for roasted garlic (which is not an ingredient in the traditional soup).  After all of the grilled vegetables are cool, then you remove the skins and blend them just as you would if they were raw vegetables.  The end result is just as delicious as the traditional recipe.

But, I wanted to experiment a little further.  Rather than using traditional gazpacho garnish, such as diced tomatoes, peppers and stale bread cubes, I decided to garnish this dish with some jumbo lump blue crab.  A nod to Steven Raichlen's roots of growing up in the State of Maryland, where the blue crab is king. It was definitely a great final touch to this recipe.  (It was a bit of a splurge, so you can use lump crab or even claw meat, but don't use special or backfin because the pieces will be too small for the soup).  

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4

3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 large tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds)
1 medium cucumber
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 medium sweet onion, unpeeled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, unpeeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs, plus more for garnish
1 cup cold water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1.  Grill the vegetables.  Light a grill.  Wrap the garlic cloves in a sheet of foil.  Grill the tomatoes, cucumber, green and red peppers, onion and garlic until the vegetables are charred all over and almost softened, about 8 minutes for the tomatoes, cucumber and bell peppers, about 10 minutes for the garlic and 15 minutes for the onion.  When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, remove the charred skins as well as any stems and seeds and chop them coarsely.

2.  Prepare the gazpacho.  Transfer all of the vegetables, including the peeled garlic to a food processor and puree.  With the machine on, gradually add the 1/4 cup of olive oil, then blend in the vinegar.  Add the 1/4 cup of the herbs, then transfer the mixture to a bowl.    Stir in the water and season with the salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Ladle the gazpacho into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and serve.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Head Trip

It is the beer with the "kaleidoscope eyes."  That fat-headed man, wearing a monk's robe, who adorns a label that asks you to "[p]icture yourself in a worn tie-died t-shirt" and "your head in the clouds."  All you see is "Belgian malt in the sky." You hear "somebody tells you to sip it quite slowly."  You oblige, and you experience, "spicy phenolics with yeast, fruit and clove.  Showering over your head."  The experience is such that, "you can't help but smile when it drifts past your nose."  You take another sip.  "The aroma so incredibly fine.  Complex fruit, hops, yeast and more clove.  A rich mouthfeel and a slightly sweet finish."

That is quite the description for a Belgian Tripel.  I could just see a bunch of Trappist Monks at Westmalle (where the style is said to have gained its popularity), strolling around the brewery wearing their tie-died Rassaphones, Stavrophores, and even Great Schemas.  All looking up in the Belgian sky while those spicy aromatic compounds rain down on their hooded heads.   

The Belgian Tripel style has its traditional characteristics. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a tripel should be deep yellow or deep gold, with aromatic fruity esters of pepper, cloves, and citrus or banana.  Those phenols find themselves in the taste of the tripel beer.  a combination of spicy, fruity, and alcohol notes.  The spice comes from pepper notes, the fruit comes from the banana or citrus elements, and the alcohol comes from, well the ABV, which can fall within the range of 7.5% to 9.5%.

The brewers at Fat Head's have created a Belgian-style Tripel that fits neatly within the BJCP guidelines and worthy of an award.  The Head Trip pours a mellow golden color, with a thin foam that sits like lazy clouds on a warm summer day.   The aroma of this beer speaks of malt, with some banana, clove and yeast.  As for the taste,  with a thin level of foam. Aromas of malt, some banana and clove, yeast.  Those phenols find themselves in the taste of the Head Trip. Clove, banana gum, allspice.

This beer is not available where I live, because Fat Head's does not distribute in my area.  However, if you happen to be in the Cleveland, Ohio area, or in another area where you see it sitting on the shelves, this beer is definitely worth a try.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Oaxacan-Style Grilled Sirloin

I am a very big fan of Steve Raichlen, who is the author of the Barbecue Bible and host of shows such as Primal Grill.   Maybe it is his straightforward presentation of recipes that are easy to understand and replicate.  Maybe it is the line of grills and smokers that are in the background of his shows.  Maybe it is understanding that, during the process of  following recipes, it is okay to make mistakes.  After all, Steve Raichlen has said, "there's no such thing as a mistake in a kitchen, just a new recipe waiting to be discovered.

In the end, I think it is the undeniable fact that Steve Raichlen is synonymous with grilling and barbecue, both of which are among my favorite cooking methods.  Many of his recipes have inspired my cooking, especially when it  comes to my Steak Night meals or Savage Bolek BBQ recipes.  (The Baltimore Pit Beef recipe, which is Steve Raichlen's take on the quintessential Maryland "BBQ" ranks as one of the most popular recipes on this blog.)

One particular recipe, Oaxacan-Style Grilled Sirloin, grabbed my attention and did not let go.  The reference to Oaxacan cuisine was one reason, because I am intrigued by regional Mexican cooking.   For examples, you can check out my Pollo a las Brassas, which is based on street food from Sinaloa, or my Mole Verde Zacatecano, which is based on the green sauce from Zacatecas.

Raichlen's recipe is a nod to a under-appreciated fact about Oaxacan cuisine.  While Oaxaca may be known as the land of the seven moles, simply grilled meats wrapped in tortillas -- carne asado -- are as quintessentially Oaxacan as any of those seven sauces. Luke Pyerson, of the Boston Globe, recounted the experience of searching out carne asado at the Mercado Noviembre 20, a market locate just off the the zocalo or main square.  He described following the scent of grilled meat to the vendors, who served it in corn tortillas along with roasted onions and peppers, guacamole, and anything you purchased from the vegetable vendors at the market.  

If you want to transform the whole experience from print to video, I would assume it looked something like this: 

(Note: the first two and a half minutes are about the market, the rest of the video is about Oaxacan crafts and folk art, which is interesting too.)  After reading the article and watching the video, I wished there was an alley of smoked meats in my neighborhood.  Not just for the carne asado, but also the music.  

So, with a very hungry stomach, I made Steven Raichlen's Oaxacan-Style Grilled Sirloin.  Needless to say, I was not disappointed.  It was the best I could do without standing in the middle of the Mercado 20 Noviembre.  Given the ease of the recipe, as well as how tasty the results are, this recipe is going to be added to my quickly growing "go-to" recipes.   It is definitely a great summer recipe and, quite frankly, it is also a recipe that is worth standing in 3-4 inches of snow during the winter time just to grill the meat.

Recipe from Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bible
Serves 8

2 bunches scallions, white and green parts trimmed
8 chiles de agua, cubanelle peppers, jalapeno peppers or poblano peppers
Coarse salt
2 pounds of boneless sirloin steak, cut into broad sheets 1/4 inch thick
16 corn or flour tortillas, or more as needed
4 limes, cut into wedges

1.  Prepare the grill.  Preheat the grill to high heat.

2.  Prepare the vegetables.  If using charcoal, toss the scallions and peppers right on the coals.  If using gas, arrange the scallions and peppers on the hot grate.  Cook, turning with tongs, until nicely charred and tender, about 5 minutes.  

3.  Continue preparing the vegetables.  Transfer the grilled scallions to a serving plate and set aside until ready to serve.  Scrape the charred skins off the peppers with a sharp night (don't worry about removing every last bit.  Cut the peppers in half and scrape out the seeds.  Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

4.  Grill the steak.  When ready to grill the beef, brush and oil the grate.  Generously salt the beef and place it on the hot grate.  Grill, turning with tongs, 1 to 4 minutes per side for well done (the way Oaxacans like their beef cooked).  While you are at it, arrange the tortillas, a few at a time, on the grill for a few seconds to ehat them, then keep them warm in a cloth lined basket.  Transfer the grilled beef to a cutting board and cut it into thin strips or 1/2 inch dice.  

5.  Serve.  Set out the bowls of lime wedges, guacamole and salsa, along with the scallions and peppers.  To eat, place a few pieces of beef on the tortilla.  Place a grilled scallion and half pepper on top.  Top with spoonfuls of guacamole and salsa, and a squeeze of lime juice.  Roll the whole thing up and eat it.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Bunkhouse at Waredaca

One of the highlights of the craft beer scene in the Free State is the growth of "farm-to-brewery" movement.  I've written about this movement in a past blog post.  The movement grew out of a bill passed by the Maryland legislature that allows farms to brew beer on their premises and sell the beer on premises provided that the beer is brewed with ingredients grown on the farm.   Farmers began to grow hops on their farms, and, with those vines, came a host of new brewers, including Waredaca Brewing Company.

Waredaca has been known more for its horse farm.  The farm consists of about 220 acres of pastures, hills and woodland.  The farm also is the home of about 80 horses.  The drive up to the brewery takes one through those pastures where the horses roam to the brewery, which sits near a small pond or lake, and, which is near where the hop vines grow.  Once at the taproom, customers can try seven or eight beers, such as the Bunkhouse. 

The Bunkhouse is  Waredaca's saison or farmhouse ale.  The Beer Judge Certification Program defines the style as a pale, moderately bitter and moderately strength Belgian ale with a very dry finish.    The aroma and taste of a saison typically has a low fruit or spice, opening the way to the malt and the hops providing the character of the beer. 

To comply with the Maryland law, Waredaca brews the Bunkhouse with hops grown on the farm.  The brewers describe the beer as having an "expressive yeast" with a "super dry finish."  The beer pours a pale gold color, with a decent foam from the carbonation.  As the foam recedes, the combination of malts and hops provide a balanced aroma.  The aroma suggests a very drinkable beer, which is the case.   The Waredaca hops shine through in both the aroma and the taste.  The hops provide a moderate, piney bitterness that one would expect from a saison.  That bitterness is smoothed out by the malts, with a dry finish.  The beer has an ABV of 5.0%, which is standard for a saison.

The Bunkhouse is available at the Waredaca tap room, where you could get a pint for about $6.00 and sit out on the grounds.   You can do what we did and buy a crowler to take home and enjoy while the sun sets.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Carolina Chicken Bog

The story of chicken bog begins during the 1800s in Horry County, South Carolina. According to CraveFW, who recounted passages from a book on Southern barbecue written by Eric Spigner, Captain Henry Buck owned a plantation along the Wacamaw River, not too far from the Pee Dee River.  Buck owned 100 individuals as slaves; and, according to the accounts, he compensated these people for their work.  Buck also allowed these individuals to plant their own vegetables and raise their own livestock.  With that livestock, the made their own sausage, ham and bacon in a building that they used as a smokehouse. 

Two of the slaves were said to be extraordinary cooks.  These slaves -- Gibby and Pody -- boiled chicken, sausage and spices in a cast iron pot.  After the chicken was done, the cooks removed the meat and separated it from the bones.  They added rice to the pot.  Once the rice was done, the shredded chicken was returned to the pot.  The result was a delicious, moist dish of chicken bog. 

A classic South Carolina chicken bog is a simple dish to make.  The principal ingredients can largely be counted on one hand: chicken, smoked sausage, rice, salt and pepper.  With that handful, cooks have created a wide variety of chicken bog recipes.  I chose one from Cooks Country, which relies upon the main ingredients and makes a few adjustments. For example, the recipe calls for chicken thighs, which have more flavor and hold up to cooking better than chicken breasts.  The recipe also calls for the use of onion and garlic, along with chicken broth, which helps to develop a deeper, more flavorful cooking broth.  That depth is a good thing because, depending upon the smoked sausage you use, the smoke can often rival, if not overpower the chicken.

Other bog recipes use additional ingredients, such as fresh herbs, bell peppers and other vegetables. Some recipes go further, calling for the cook to add gizzards, cockscombs and chicken feet to the pot. For this effort, however, I think simpler is better (and tastier) in this case.  

After all, simplicity is the key.  That is how the Gibby and Pody would have made it for their families back on that plantation.  I'll save the gizzards, cockscombs and chicken feet for the next time. 

Recipe from Cooks Country Eats Local, pp. 98-99
Serves 6 to 8

6 (5 to 7 ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces smoked kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
1 onion chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups long grain white rice

1.  Brown the chicken.  Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking.  Cook chicken, skin side down, until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.  Transfer chicken to plate.  Discard skin.

2.  Continue cooking.  Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot and return to medium heat.  Add sausage and onion and cook until onion is translucent and sausage begins to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add broth, chicken, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender about 30  minutes. 

3.  Cook the rice.  Remove chicken from pot and set aside.  Stir rice into pot, cover and continue to cook over low heat until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.  

4.  Finish the dish.  Shred chicken into bite size pieces, discard bones.  Gently fold shredded chicken into rice mixture.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered for 10 minutes.  Serve immediately.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017


The message is clear on the can: "[a]nd so it was written ... According to the Mayan and Hopi Calendars, the 'transition from one world age to another' will happen on December 21, 2012."  Well, that was over four years ago and, if I am not mistaken, I am currently typing this blog post.  So much for the transition that the Mayans and Hopi predicted.  

Nevertheless, the brewers at DC Brau paid homage to that single date with Imperial India Pale Ale called On the Wings of Armageddon or O.T.W.O.A.   It is a single hop Imperial IPA brewed with Falconers Flight hops.  These hops are known for floral, citrus and tropical fruit elements, with an emphasis on lemon and grapefruit flavors. These characteristics of this hop varietal are matched with Pale, Cara-60, and CaraPils malts and malted wheat.  This blend of a single hop with these malts provide a very hop-forward beer that has a good malt backbone.  

The O.T.W.O.A. pours a hazy, orange color.  The haze of the beer is capped by a light foam, which dissolves into thin strings resembling a galaxy.  (The Mayans and Hopi always looked to the stars.)  The aromatic elements highlight the features of the Falconers Flight hops, particularly the citrus notes.  The brewers also note there are elements of white grapes, grapefruit, light bread and biscuit notes.  I get the grapefruit (as that is citrus), as well as the bread and biscuit notes from the malts.  As with any Imperial IPA, the taste of this beer is hop-centric.  There is a significant lemon and grapefruit presence, but some piney notes. The ABV of 9.2% is present with some subtle boozy tones, but it is not overwhelming.  Just a reminder that this is a beer to be sipped and enjoyed slowly.  

I am a big fan of DC Brau beers.  After all, I have reviewed five of them in the past.  I have to say that, of all the DC Brau beers that I have tried, On the Wings of Armageddon is the best beer that the brewers make.  It is so good that it is worth the $14.99 to $19.99 that you have to pay for a six pack. 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Crab Flake Salad

If you took the Baltimore & Ohio's Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C., you would have had the opportunity to have a special experience on one of the Martha Washington dining cars, with the wooden interiors, white table cloths and the very fancy china.  The surroundings would have raised expectations about the offerings on the menu.  Guests would have expected fine cuisine, whether it was an appetizer, salad or main course.

That is what I thought when I saw the recipe for Crab Flake Salad in the book Dining on the B&O.  The recipe calls for an equal amount of "large crab meat flakes" and "small diced hearts of celery."  It also calls for "a creamy mayonnaise made with lemon juice instead of vinegar, with a garnish of quartered hard boiled eggs.    Although the recipe appears in Dining on the B&O, it originated in the quintessential cookbook, The Edgewater Beach Hotel Salad Book.  

Despite this pedigree, there was something about a "creamy mayonnaise" with lemon juice that did not seem appealing. It is probably because I am not a very big fan of mayonnaise.  The question became, however, what to substitute for mayonnaise.  I decided to draw from another crab recipe, the West Indies Salad (which is one of my favorite lump crab recipes).  The West Indies Salad uses vinegar, rather than mayonnaise.  In my humble opinion, vinegar works much better with crab meat than mayonnaise, and, it is probably healthier too.  I also decided to use finely diced onions, which are used in West Indies Salad, along with the finely diced celery used in the Crab Flake Salad.

The end result is Chef Bolek's interpretation of the B&O's Crab Flake Salad, which I have to say was very, very good.  The celery actually added an additional flavor that is not in the West Indies Salad, and the use of the vinegar kept the salad lighter and provided a good, sharp taste to contrast with the sweetness of the crab meat. 

Recipe adapted from Dining on the B&O, pp. 33-34
Serves several

1 pound of jumbo lump crab, picked
1 heart of celery, diced finely
1 sweet onion, diced finely
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
Cracked black pepper
Sea salt

1.  Marinate the crab.  Line the bottom of the bowl or dish with half of the diced onion and celery.  Add the crab meat.  Spread the remaining onion and celery over the crab meat.  Add the cider vinegar to the water and then add the oil, whisking it all together.  Drizzle the mixture over the crab meat and vegetables.  Drizzle the mixture over the crab meat and onions.  Let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. 

2.  Prepare the salad. Gently mix the salad.  Place some lettuce leaves on a plate and spoon the salad over it.  Serve with crackers. 

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