Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Cocoa Mole and the Lips of Faith

Last year, I reviewed a beer called El Mole Ocho, which was New Holland Brewing Company's effort to create the eighth mole in a beer.  The beer accomplished the brewer's goal, with a chile spice up front, followed by chocolate and more chile spice.  The beer really struck a cord with someone who loves food, culinary traditions and, of course, chile peppers.  

New Belgium Brewing Company throws its hat in the ring with the Coca Mole.  The beer is brewed with Target hops, along with Pale, C-80, Chocolate and Dark Chocolate malts. New Belgium also uses cocoa, chile and cinnamon to flavor the beer.   When it comes to the peppers, the brewer uses some classic Mexican peppers. The chiles used are ancho, guajilo and chipotle peppers.  The ancho and chipotle peppers help to provide smoke to any dish ... and, in this case, any beer.  The guajillo pepper helps to add a little spice to the body of the beer. 

With the beer in the bottle, New Belgium proclaims, "say hola to a spiced up ale full of cocoa and ancho, guajillo and chipotle peppers."  The brewer adds that no one should fear the heat, because there are "plenty of caramel and chocolate malts bring a smooth, complex flavor."

The beer pours a dark brown to almost black, evoking the characteristic color of a mole negro.  There are aromatic elements of cinnamon and chile powder, although the chile aromas are more prevalent than the cinnamon.  With respect to the taste, there is a good dose of heat.  The piquancy of the peppers somewhat outshine the smokiness one would expect from ancho and chipotle peppers.  After having felt the burn, the cocoa and chocolate appear to sooth the tongue and the throat.

The Cocoa Mole is a very good beer, and, along with the El Mole Ocho, it is the start of a great new style of beers ... mole beers.  This beer is available at stores that sell New Belgium beers and a bottle sells for about $8.99 a bottle.  


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Masaledar Cholay (Chickpeas in Spicy Tomato Gravy)

I am not a fan of making vegetarian dishes and I often say I will eat anything that is not vegetarian.  It stems from my belief that every dish benefits from the addition of a little (or a lot) of meat.  However, I do eat vegetarian dishes.  Since I have been married to my beautiful Angel, I have begun to cook with vegetables and make dishes that I would never have made in the past.  One such dish is this recipe for Chickpeas in Spicy Tomato Gravy.  

Chickpeas in a Spicy Tomato Sauce is actually known as Masaledar Cholay, a Punjabi dish that is popular in both Pakistan and India.  A cholay is a chickpea masala.  The Pakistani version uses potatoes; however, the Indian version uses tomatoes.

The key to Masaledar Cholay is the "gravy." It begins with the processing of garlic, ginger and jalapenos into a paste, which is added with dry spices (coriander, cumin and cayenne) to the sauteeing onions.  The liquid of the gravy comes from tomatoes and water, although I will admit that I left out the water.  Many recipes call for the gravy to be "almost dry." I just used the water in the tomatoes, as they broke down, to provide the liquid for the gravy.  Although it was not "almost dry," it was very flavorful from the paste and the spices.

In the end, this is an amazing dish.  Both Clare and I really enjoyed it.   Masaledar Cholay makes a great side dish or appetizer.  It can also stand alone as a main course, served with naan or fried Indian bread such as pooris or bhatooras. 

(Chickpeas in Spicy Tomato Gravy)
Adapted from a recipe by Sanjeev Kapoor in Food & Wine
Serves 2 to 3

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 cup of water
1/3 teaspoon of cayenne powder
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno chopped
1 15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
3/4 cup of canned diced tomatoes

1.  Create a garlic/jalapeno/ginger paste.  In a food processor, process the chopped garlic, jalapenos and ginger into a paste.

2.  Saute the onions.   In a non-stick frying pan, heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions and cook for three minutes.  Reduce the heat and continue to saute the onions until they are brown, about seven more minutes. 

3.  Add the spices.  Add the paste to the onions and stir until fragrant, which should take about two minutes.  Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne.  Stir and cook for an additional minute. 

4.  Add the tomatoes.  Add the tomatoes and continue to simmer over moderate heat until the mixture begins to thicken.  This should take about six minutes.

5.  Add the chickpeas.  Add the chickpeas and the water . Continue to simmer for about eight minutes or until the chickpeas are flavored with the gravy. 

6.  Plate the dish.   Season the chickpeas with salt, garnish with the cilantro and serve in small bowls.  This dish can be served with yogurt and/or naan, pooris, or bhatooras bread.


Food & Wine suggests that the best pairing for Masaledar Cholay is a fruity, Italian rosato.  Rosato wines are produced in Tuscany and Piedmont, including Banfi's Rosa Regale.   I have not reviewed any Italian rosato wines, but I have reviewed a French rosé wine from the Loire Valley, which I think could work well with this dish:

Famille Bougrier -- Rosé d'Anjou (2010)
Grolleau grapes
D'Anjou, Loire Valley, France
Flavors of fresh strawberries and raspberries 

Other French regions also produce some great rosé wines, such as Provence.  As always, Indian dishes also pair well with beers.  Indian beers, like Taj Mahal and Kingfisher, are lager beers, so I would recommend a light to medium lager beer with this dish. I think a pilsner beer, which is brewed in the lager style, could work well with this cholay.  One such pilsner beer that could work well is this beer:

Great Lakes Brewing Co. -- The Wright Pils
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Slight hoppiness, some malt


Friday, February 24, 2012

Vale do Bomfim Douro (2009)

When it comes to wine and Portugal, one most often thinks of Port, the fortified wine from the Douro Valley.  This is probably due to the fact that the large Port houses -- like Dow -- have been successfully making the wine for centuries.  However, these same houses have also begun to use their grapes to produce both red and white wines.  One such red wine is the Douro, which has its own DOC, or Denominação de Origem Controlada.

The Douro DOC is found along the Douro River in the Trás os Montes e Alto Douro of northern Portugal.  The principal red grape varieties in this DOC include the Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (also known as the Tempranillo grape in Spain) and Tinto Cao.  Many of these grapes are used in the production of Port; however, the Port House of Dow has taken these grapes to produce the Vale do Bomfin, a red wine that I found at a local grocery store. 

The Vale do Bomfin is produced by the Symington family.  This is the family that owns and operates the venerable Dow Port House, which has been producing Port wine since 1798.  The Val do Bonfim is named after Quinta do Bonfim, which is where the Dow House has its headquarters. This Douro wine is a blend of five grape varietals.  For this vintage, the blend is 30% Tinta Barroca, 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinta Roriz, and 5% Tinto Cao.  The family describes this Douro wine as reflecting "the new style of wine of wines coming from the Upper Douro valley, where it offers assertive spice aromas and delicious wild berry flavors."

This intensely garnet-hued Douro wine provides a lot of wild berry aromas and flavors, such as cherries, black cherries and a small handful of raspberries.  This Douro also has a little oak and earthiness hiding amongst all of that fruit, in the background of a this rather bold wine, providing a subtle reminder of the aging of the wine. The wine also is rather tannic, providing a certain dryness and astringency that often comes from big, bold red wines.  

Like those big bold wines, the Val do Bonfim is best paired with red meats, whether grilled, broiled or pan seared.  This wine would also pair well with flatbreads or pizzas that have red sauces, sausage, and mushrooms.  And, speaking of sausage, this wine would also pair well with the iconic Portuguese sausage ... linguiça, along with chourico (or chorizo). 

I found this wine at a local grocery store.  It sells for about $9.99 for one bottle. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Saffron Infused Lobster, Roasted Peppers, Arugula

Recently, my beautiful Angel, Clare, wanted me to make her a salad.  I wanted to try something different.  The result is this dish.  It is an experiment with different ingredients ... saffron, lobster, peppers, onions, arugula and pecorino romano.  I decided to combine the first two, using the saffron to flavor the lobster.  With respect to onions, I decided to let them soak in some red wine vinegar.  The peppers were roasted.  The arugula and pecorino romano were left alone.

As with most Chef Bolek originals, I posted this dish after the first attempt at making it.  I think it is visually appealing, with a good contrast in colors .. the yellow, saffron-infused lobster, the orange roasted peppers, the pinkish onions, and the green arugula.  The dish tasted good as well.  The saffron obviously flavored the lobster, which contrasted well with the peppery arugula and the roasted flavors of the peppers.

Although I have a hard time getting back to making dishes a second time (there is so many recipes and so little time), I will revisit this recipe and work on this dish. I will also update the recipe based upon what I learn and how I improve it. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

3 to 4 four ounce lobster tails, shelled and cut into 
     bite sized pieces
1 green bell pepper, roasted and diced
1 red bell pepper, roasted and diced
1 medium shallot, finely diced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
3 cups of baby arugula
1 pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pecorino Toscano or Pecorino Romao, shaved
Sea salt, to taste

1.  Marinate the lobster and onions.  Rehydrate the saffron in warm water for fifteen minutes in a medium sized bowl.  Once the water has cooled, add the lobster and let it sit for about four to five minutes.  In a separate bowl, pour 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Remove the lobster from the saffron water and place the lobster (with as many saffron threads as possible, in the separate bowl.  Refrigerate for at least fifteen minutes.  In a separate bowl, add the red onions and the red wine vinegar.  Mix to make sure that the vinegar covers all of the onions.

2.  Saute the shallots.  Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and saute until translucent.  

3.  Saute the lobster.  Add the lobster and saute the lobster until opaque, about eight minutes.  Make sure to stir the lobster and make sure that all sides of the lobster are cooked.  Add the roasted peppers to warm them again.

4.  Plate the dish.  Plate the arugula in the center of the dish.  Add some of the onions on top of the arugula.  Add some of the lobster on top of the onions, along with some shaved Pecorino.


This dish is best paired with a white wine.  A range of white wines could work, although I would stick with a lighter, fruiter white wine.  A wine such as a Pinot Gris or Sémillon would work well, such as one of these:

Lemelson Vineyards -- Tikka's Run Pinot Gris
100% Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
Flavors of apricot, melon and fennel

L'Ecole No. 41 -- Columbia Valley Sémillon
100% Sémillon
 Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
Flavors of pear and apple

Although white wines would work with this dish, I would steer clear from Chardonnays, especially oaked wines.


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Devil's Saddler

Roughly tranlsated, "Sella del Diavolo" means "The Devil's Saddler" or "Seat of the Devil."  It is one of the beers from Birrificio Barley or "Barley.""  Barley is a small craft brewer based in Maracalagonis, a town on the island of Sardinia.  Barley produces three year round beers, including the Sella del Diavolo.

The Sella del Diavolo is brewed in the style of a Bière de Garde.  This style is a farmhouse ale typically brewed in northern France.  The name, "Bière de Garde," translates roughly into "beer that has been kept or lagered."  Traditionally, the beer is brewed in early spring and then kept in cold cellars until the summertime. 

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a Bière de Garde can be blond, amber or brown in color, with a malty sweet aroma and a taste that features toffee or caramel.  A Bière de Garde draws more from the malts used to produce the beer than the hops.  Indeed, there is usually little to no hop flavor in this style of beer. 

The brewer, Barley, describes the Sella del Diavolo as having a "[w]inking amber color with orange reflections plus cream colored and persistent foam [that] reveals ... [the] torrified malts promising biscuit and roasted flavors."  This description is largely accurate, with the beer's amber color having dark copper or rust tones.  

As for the taste of the Sella del Diavolo, the brewer describes the beer as a  "cohabitation" between "caramel and fruity (plums and morello cherry) notes and peppery and herbal notes coming from a long-sighted use of aromatic hops."  The brewer adds, "[w]arm and vinuous in the palate with an appropriate dryness giving it a good between the sweet fruity, roasted, slightly smoked notes and a long, dry, very bitter aftertaste."  For me, the beer definitely had a caramel flavor, but the supporting flavors were not so much fruit, but bready, biscuity flavors.  There was a warmness, but the beer did not have the roasted, smoky notes.  This may be due to the age of the beer, because I am not sure how long it sat on the shelves before I bought it and it was in our basement for a few months.  

The brewer recommends pairing this beer with roast lamb or piglet which is slowly cooked over a fire, as well as medium but not to salty cheeses.  Those suggestions are definitely spot on for this beer,although you do not need to roast an entire animal.  The beer goes will with grilled or broiled steaks, lamb chops, and/or pork chops.    

This beer is hard to find in beer stores.  We found this beer at State Line Liquors in Elkton, Maryland, where, if I recall correctly, it sold for about $20.00 a bottle.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saffron Tagliatelle, Blue Crab, Cardamom Cream Sauce

Every once in a while, I have the urge to make pasta.  The urge is necessary because I have a rule against buying pasta that I can make my self.  My most recent urge was to try to make saffron pasta.  This is a lot harder than I thought.  The first batch did not work at all.  I was a little dispirited, but, I decided I would try again.  After all, I was making dinner for my beautiful wife, who volunteers to try some of the unusual things that I make.  

While saffron pasta may seem out of the ordinary, this dish falls within the category of "unusual dishes" because of the sauce.  I did not want to do a red sauce or a white sauce.  I wanted to do something different.  As ingredients raced through my head, there was one that caught my attention .... cardamom.  I thought that cardamom would match well with the saffron in the pasta.  So, it was decided.  I would make a cardamom cream sauce.

The sauce probably needs some work and refinement.  The major components are heavy cream, citrus (lemon and lime) and cardamom.  I used ground cardamom, but you could easily buy a few pods (green cardamom pods work best), toast them and grind them into powder.  Finally, I added some crab, using both lump and backfin, so that there would be different sized pieces of crabmeat in the sauce.  

The sauce turned out a little lighter than I expected, but this is probably because I am not a big fan of thick, white sauces.  I could not bring myself to make an alfredo-type sauce, so I ended up with a lighter sauce that, while covering the noodles, did not really show though in the pasta.

Even though the sauce did not work out like I wanted, I am still fascinated by the saffron-cardamom pairing.  I am definitely going to make this sauce again and I will update this post with each effort.


A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

Ingredients (for the pasta):
2 eggs, beaten
1 pinch of saffron
4 cups of all purpose flour

Ingredients (for the sauce):
1 pound crab meat (preferably jumbo lump meat, but
     you can also use backfin meat or a combination)
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tablespoon of ground cardamom
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
Freshly grated nutmeg
Zest from 1 lemon and juice from 1/2 lemon
Zest from 1 lime and juice from 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon of sugar

1.  Make the dough.   Make a mound with the flour and a well in the middle of the mound.  Reinforce each side of the mound with the back side of a spoon.  Add the egg and saffron to the well.  Add a little flour at a time into the egg, stirring the flour into the egg with a fork.  Continue stirring and adding flour until the dough begins to form.  This may take a little while.  Always be mindful of the sides of the well and make sure that there are no cracks where the egg can escape. 

2.  Knead the dough.  Once the dough has formed enough to pick up (it may still be a little runny), scoop up the dough into one of your hands and cover it with flour.  Continue to work the dough into a ball in your hands by adding flour until there is no more "liquid."  Return the dough to a floured surface and begin to kneed the dough with the palm of your hand and your fingers.  Continue to kneed the dough for about ten minutes or until the dough no longer seems "wet."  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for a few hours.

3.  Make the pasta.  Follow the directions on your hand-crank machine, running the dough on the widest setting and working toward the narrow setting. Sprinkle flour onto the dough if you feel any "wet" spots.  Let the dough sit for a couple of minutes.  Then use the attachment for whatever type of pasta you would like to make. As you cut the pasta using the attachment, make sure that the pasta noodles are separated from one another by either hanging the noodles on a pasta rack or arranging the noodles in a way that will prevent them from sticking together as they dry.  You should also sprinkle flour over the noodles, which will help to keep the noodles separate.

4.  Make the sauce.  Heat the heavy cream in a sauce pan.  Add the lemon zest, lime zest and cardamom.  Stir well.  Add the lemon juice and lime juice, continuing to stir.  Bring to a low simmer and reduce by about one third, about seven to eight minutes.  Add the crab meat and stir gently. 

5.  Cook the noodles.  Heat a pot of water to boiling.  Cook for about two to three minutes and drain.

6.  Finish the dish.  Add the pasta to the sauce and stir until the sauce covers the noodles. 


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hops on the Rampage

"Wading through the jungle of beers on the shelf can be daunting, even mind numbing," reads the label.  "Session beers have their place," the label adds, "but this is not your normal sitting beer."  An Imperial India Pale Ale can never be mistaken for a session beer, with aromas and tastes thick with citrus and pine.  "Sort of like the big fella on the front," the possessed elephant, "he's been called ... Nothing but a massive thundering rampage of hops will do...."

Imperial India Pale Ales beckon a history of beer where brewers produced beer for the crews of vessels with names such as Atlas, Bengal, Hercules, and Sovereign, as they traveled thousands of miles to reach ports where, once they were ashore, they could see ... among other things, elephants.

A little closer to home, Black Diamond Brewing Company produces the Rampage Imperial IPA from its brewery in Concord, California.  The brewery gets its name from the nearby coal mines, where miners hauled black diamonds from the Earth. 

The Rampage pours copperish gold in color, which approximates the ideal color of an Imperial India Pale Ale.  A thin foam rests along the surface of the beer, which slowly recedes toward the edges, leaving a palette of foam resembling the clouds in the sky.  

As one would expect, the aromatic elements of the Rampage foreshadows what is to come.  The aroma features a range of citrus, principally grapefruit, with a little hint of grass. The taste is grapefruit first and foremost, with tastes of resin and pine following the citrus flavor. The bready flavors of the malt linger around the edges of the beer. 

I found this beer at a local market.  A 22-ounce bottle sells for about $8.99.  And, as the brewer says, "[b]ecause you can't really tame the beast, but you can definitely make it happy."


Monday, February 13, 2012

Savage Boleks' Steelhead Sliders

Followers of this blog may recall that my beautiful Angel provided a guest blog post about the Salmon Burgers that she made.  When we were preparing for our Super Bowl party, I decided that we should make slider versions of those amazing burgers.  We went to a local warehouse store, looking for pounds of sustainable salmon.  (This is a challenge, which is best left for another day.)  We looked at the salmon there, but we were not impressed with the fillets.  There were discolorations and imperfections that, as someone who has cooked a lot of fish and seafood, left me very uneasy. The store also had fillets of  Steelhead.   Those fillets looked a lot better, so we bought a couple to make our sliders. 

Steelhead are sometimes referred to as salmon; however, they  are not salmon.  Steelhead are rainbow trout that share a lot in common with salmon.  Born in freshwater, the steelhead migrate to the oceans to grow and mature.  Once they are ready to reproduce, they return up the rivers to where they were born.  The one significant difference is that, while salmon die after reproducing, steelhead usually continue to live and reproduce.  This makes steelhead more sustainable, because they are able to reproduce up to several times before they die.  Today, most steelhead are farmed like Atlantic Salmon and conservation watchdogs, like the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, list steelhead as a "best choice."  

This recipe follows Clare's salmon burger recipe very closely.  We served the burgers with a choice of dill yogurt or ancho guacamole condiments.   These are great sliders, which can also be made with actual salmon (whether sockeye, coho or king salmon).

A Chef Bolek Collaboration with Clare Bolek
Serves 12-18

2 pounds of fresh steelhead fillets
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons of prepared mustard
1 medium Vidalia onion, diced
1 cup of dried mushrooms, ground into powder
3 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 beaten eggs
3 cloves garlic, diced finely
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup of Greek yogurt or guacamole
1 tablespoon of fresh dill (if you use yogurt)

1.  Prepare the salmon mixture.  Cutting the salmon into even pieces.  Place the salmon pieces in a food processor and process until the salmon is broken up.  Add the salmon to a bowl and add the onion, garlic, cilantro, paprika and lemon juice.  Mix thoroughly and then add the Panko bread crumbs, eggs and olive oil. Continue to mix thoroughly.

2.  Make the slider patties.  Make patties by taking a handful of the salmon mixture.  You should get about a dozen patties.  Place the patties on a sheet of wax paper.  Once all of the patties are formed, place them in the freezer for about one half of an hour.

3.  Cook the patties.   Let the burgers cook for about three to four minutes and then flip them.  Continue to cook the burgers for about three more.  Remove the burgers from the heat.

Serve the salmon sliders on toasted or grilled buns.  You can use whatever toppings you like, such as lettuce, tomato, red onion or ... guacamole.  If you use yogurt, chop the dill very finely and mix it into the yogurt.  Spoon a little yogurt onto the bottom of the bun and place the slider on top.


When one thinks of salmon, especially in the Pacific Northwest, the thoughts turn to Pinot Noir.  Oregon has many great Pinot Noir wines (some of which I have reviewed on this blog).  A couple of suggestions include the following:

Privé Vineyard -- Le Nord (2008)
100% Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
Flavors of cherries and spice

100% Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
Flavors of dark berries and mocha

If you would like to pair these sliders with a beer, an American Pale Ale or a regular Pale Ale would pair well.  These beers have a moderate hop flavor that should not be too piney, bitter or resinous.  I would advise against an India Pale Ale, which would probably be too bitter for this dish.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Privé Vineyard Le Nord (2008)

There is something about Privé Vineyard that appeals to both Clare and myself.  Maybe it is the fact that Privé is a small family owned vineyard and winery, with only a couple of acres of vines.  Maybe it is the vineyard's drive to recreate French style wines in Willamette Valley.  When we visited the vineyard, we left with three bottles of wine, including the Le Nord (2006).  We have continued to buy wines from Privé, including the Le Nord (2008).

According to its label, "at Privé, we believe exceptional wines demand constant attention in the vineyard and minimal intervention in the winery."  In the vineyard, there are twenty-two year old vines of Pommard (Burgundian) clones.  A clone is a separate vine that is genetically identical to the mother plant.  A clone is created by taking cuttings from the mother plant, rather than the seeds.  (Pollinated seeds will result in a different genetic makeup for the new vine.)  For Privé, its clones are Pinot Noir vines from the Burgundy region.  These clones were planted and continue to grow in Jory soil on a moderately slopped Southwest-facing slope.

After the grapes are picked, sorted and pressed, the wine is aged in French oak barrels.  At least twenty-five percent of the barrels are new French oak.  Approximately 200 cases of this wine are produced a year. 

Privé Vineyard's Le Nord pours a beautiful garnet red in color.  The winemaker describes this wine as being "[t]typical of red fruit characteristics layered with cinnamon and clove and an undertone of forest floor and truffle."  As we drank the wine, I could definitely identify the the cherry fruit in the aroma, as well as a little minerality (perhaps that "forest floor" or truffle).  As for the taste, the elements obviously include cherries, but there was also a little spice around the edges.  I am not sure that the spice was cinnamon or clove; instead, it seemed like some cracked black pepper.  The Le Nord is a very smooth, medium-bodied wine that has as earthy finish to it. 

With only 200 cases produced in a year, this wine is a little difficult to obtain.  It can only be obtained through the winemaker's website.  It is definitely worth the effort. 


Thursday, February 9, 2012

North African Merguez Sliders

I love to barbecue and grill food, and I follow a lot of chefs, BBQ pitmasters, and professional grillers, always looking for ideas and inspiration.  One of my favorites is Steven Raichlen, whose television shows -- BBQ U and Primal Grill -- are always interesting to watch.  When I recently came across Steven Raichlen's recipe for lamb sliders, I thought it would be a great dish for a Super Bowl party.

Raichlen's recipe called for the use of ground lamb and his Planet Barbecue North African Rub.  I did not have any of the rub.  So, I began to think about what I could use as a substitute.  If Steve Raichlen was drawing inspiration from the flavors of North Africa, from countries like Morocco or Algeria, then I needed to focus on a substitute spice mix.  The first thought was Merguez, the mix used to make the sausage of the same name. 

Merguez is a type of fresh sausage (as opposed to dry sausage) that is common throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East.  It is usually made with mutton or beef, with a spice mix that draws from a range of interesting and flavorful ingredients.  A Merguez spice mix typically includes paprika, along with fennel, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and chile powder (or cayenne pepper).  The best part is that Merguez sausage is typically grilled, just like Steve Raichlens' recipe for the lamb sliders. 

So I found a couple recipes for a Merguez Spice from and and set about to make the spice.  The recipe below produces a lot of the spice mix; and, in the end, I used about 2/3 to 3/4 of the mix with the meat.  I tried to eyeball how the spice was being incorporated into the ground lamb to make sure that it was not too little or too much.  I would suggest adding about half of the mix (a little at a time while mixing with your hands).  After that, continue to add a little of the mix, a tablespoon at a time, until it seems like there is enough of the spice mix throughout the ground lamb. 

Recipe is adapted from Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue and
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Sliders):
1 1/2 pounds of ground lamb
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons of Merguez spice mix
Greek yogurt
Sliced tomatoes
Slider buns or mini-pitas

Ingredients (for the Merguez Spice):
1/4 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons of ground fennel seeds
2 tablespoons of ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon of ground coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1.  Make the lamb slider patties.  Combine the ground lamb, onion and Merguez spice mix.  Form two inch patties.

2.  Grill or cook the patties.  Grill or cook the patties either over high heat on a grill or under the broiler of a stove, approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side.

3.  Plate the dish.  Spread a thin layer of Greek yogurt on the bottom of the slider bun or the mini-pita.  Place one slider on the bun or pita. Top with sliced tomatoes.

This dish turned out really well.  The lamb burgers actually had the spice and the consistency of Merguez sausage.  Although making your own spice mix generally takes more work and a lot more guesswork when it comes to adding it to the ground meat, the end product is often that much more rewarding.


The lamb sliders are spicy, both in terms of piquancy and in terms of flavor.  The use of cayenne pepper provides the heat, but the combination of coriander, cumin and fennel also provide a different type of heat.  Given the different types of heat, a lighter, refreshing beer or wine would be best paired with this dish.  With respect to a beer, a pilsner beer would work very well, providing a refreshing break from the spice.  One such pilsner is the following:

Dogfish Head Ales -- My Antonia
Czech Style Pilsner
Milton, Delaware, USA
Aroma of hops, lighter body with hop taste

If you are looking for a wine, fruity wines like Pinot Grigios and Pinot Gris, as well as Vinho Verdes, will probably not stand up to the trifecta of the coriander, cumin and fennel.  Still, a white wine like a Vouvray, which has honey and floral notes, would work well to complement the flavors of the sliders.  I have not reviewed any Vouvray wines, but, when I do, I will add it to this recipe. 


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

D.C. Brau's The Citizen

For years, the craft beer scene in Washington, D.C. was limited.  Sure, there were a handful of craft brewers, but they were rather large chains, like Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch.  Recently, however, there has been a boom in craft brewers.  First, there was Port City Brewing, which produces a very good Porter. And, then there is D.C. Brau.

D.C. Brau was started by Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, two residents of the District.  Brandon handles the sales and Jeff handles the brewing.  Jeff's experience includes an apprenticeship with Franklin's Restaurant and Brewery and work at Flying Dog Brewing Company.  Since they started D.C. Brau, they have produced  a solid set of annual offerings, including the Public, a Pale Ale.  I first tried the Public at Meridian Pint in D.C. and was impressed by the beer.  D.C. Brau also has two other annual offerings: Corruption, an India Pale Ale and The Citizen, a Belgian Pale Ale.

A visit to D.C. Brau had been on my to-do list for a long time.  Recently, when Clare and I had some free time, we decided to visit the brewery, sample the beers and, as I planned, to buy a growler of my favorite.  When we got to D.C. Brau's brewery, we immediately confronted a line of people who had the same idea that we did.  Still, the line moved fast, with everyone going to the taps and walking away with their hands full of two to three samples of the beer. 

As I previously mentioned, D.C. Brau's The Citizen is brewed in the style of a Belgian Pale Ale Style.  According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a Belgian Pale Ale should be amber to copper in color, fruity to moderately spicy with a soft smooth malt flavor and relatively light hop flavor.  D.C. Brau used American and British hops in this beer, although the brewery does not identify the particular varieties.  The brewers also used a Belgian yeast strain, which brewers often do in an effort to add flavors reminiscent of Belgian specialty beers.

According to D.C. Brau, The Citizen is inspired by Belgian Tripel beers. The beer pours a light copper color, with a thin layer of foam that recedes to the edges of the glass.  While the foam recedes, the aromas of the beer greet the nose with hints of the hops used to make the beer, as well as some floral notes, and scents of dough and honey.  The taste of The Citizen falls squarely in line with a Belgian Pale Ale, with a moderate fruity flavor with subtle hop notes.  This beer is a striking contrast to some other Belgian Pale Ales or Belgian IPAs, which have much stronger hop flavors.  The Citizen is also noteworthy for the sweetness in the taste, which is, as the brewers intended, a nod to the Belgian Tripel style.

This beer is availale at the brewery, where you can also sample D.C. Brau's other offerings.  You can check the Brau Finder on D.C. Brau's website to see where else the beer is available.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spicy Sriracha Chicken Wings

Few people have probably ever heard of Huy Fong.  Until I wrote this blog post, the name did not mean much to me, even though I encountered Huy Fong almost every day.  Huy Fong is the name behind Sriracha, a hot sauce made with a paste of chile peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. 

The name, "Sriracha," comes from the city of Si Racha, which is located in Chonburi province of Thailand.  Chile pastes are a common ingredient in that region, although they differ from Huy Fong's sauce.  Indeed, the Sriracha, with the rooster on the label and the green top, transcends the Chonburi province and reaches across the globe ... a fact reinforced by the instructions on the back of every bottle, which are written in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, Spanish and French.

According to Food & Wine, Sriracha Sauce is one of Michael Symon's favorites.   Chef Symon is one of the chefs that I follow, because of his creativity with his dishes, not just as an Iron Chef, but also with respect to the dishes that he serves at his restaurants in Cleveland, such as Lola and Lolita.  When I came across this recipe, I decided to include it in a menu for a Super Bowl Party. 

A recipe from Michael Symon, available at Food & Wine
Serves 10

10 pounds of chicken wings, split
1/4 cup of coriander seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup Sriracha chile sauce
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Finely grated zest and juice of 3 limes
3 quarts of vegetable oil (only if frying)

1.  Marinate the wings.  In a very large bowl, toss the wings with the coriander and cumin seeds, cinnamon, kosher salt and olive oil.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

2.  Roast the wings.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the wings on 3 large rimmed baking sheets for about thirty minutes. If you do not want to fry the wings, you can continue to roast them for about one hour longer, until the wings are crispy and golden.

3.  Prepare the sauce. Add the Sriracha, butter, cilantro lime zest and juice to a bowl or sauce pan.  

4.  Fry the wings (optional).   In a deep fryer or saucepan, heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fry the wings in 4 or five batches until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes per patch.  Drain, shaking off the excess oil.  As each batch is finished, add the wings to the sauce and toss well.  Transfer the wings to the platter, leaving the sauce in the bowl for remaining batches.  Serve hot. 

Although I do not find Sriracha to be very spicy (it is certainly less spicy than Tabasco), this sauce had a good kick to it.  I should add that the sauce recipe did not cover the full ten pounds of wings.  The next time, I think I'll make a double batch of the sauce.  Overall, this is a great recipe and it was well received.


When it comes to pairing anything that is spicy, usually a lighter beer or wine is recommended.  Food & Wine recommmded a "crisp, lager beer," such as Great Lakes Brewing Company's Dortmunder Gold.  Great Lakes Brewing Company is based in Cleveland, Ohio, making it a good pairing for a recipe by a chef who also hails from Cleveland.  I would also recommend any pilsner beer, such as:

Great Lakes Brewing Company -- The Wright Pils
Pilsner Beer
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Flowery bouquet, slight hop flavor

If you are looking for a wine, a light, fruity white wine works well with moderately spicy foods.  A wine such as Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris could pair with this dish, as well as a Vinho Verde from Portgual, such as:

Opala -- Vinho Verde (2009)
Blend of grapes
Rias Biaxas, Portugal
Flavors of Granny Smith apples and pears


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vino del Corazón Merlot

When it comes to wine, there is always a lot of talk about "terroir."   Generally speaking, terroir refers to the special characteristics of an area or region.  For oenophiles and sommeliers, terroir involves climate, as well as soil type and topography.  For me, I never really understood what the fascination is with terroir.  They say that the climate, soil and topography affects the taste of the wine.  However, I have never experienced the weather of the Bordeaux region, I have never ran my fingers through the soil of the Garnacha region nor have I studied the shapes of Chile's valleys.  For me, terroir could have a more personal aspect, one that ties a person to where the particular wine comes from.  An excellent example of this personal aspect of "terroir," is the Vino del Corazón Merlot.

Vino del Corazón is a vineyard and winery in, of all places, New Mexico.  It is the dream of the founders and owners, Erica and Richard Hart.  After having worked for other vineyards, the Harts planted their own vines, grew the own grapes, and began to produce their own wines.  I first encountered the Vino del Corazón wines when I traveled to Santa Fe for work.  After a long day, I decided to walk around the town.  As I walked throughout the historic downtown, I came across the Vino del Corazón wine tasting room. Intrigued by the thought of wine in New Mexico, I checked it out.  Every time I came to Santa Fe, I would check out the wines at the tasting room.  I never took any wine home with me, for fear that it would shatter in my suitcase.  Instead, I always returned home with pounds of the iconic New Mexican ingredient ... ground hatch chile peppers.  And, while followers of this blog know that I love chile peppers, I always regretted not taking home some wine.  That was, until, I realized that I could have it shipped to me.  

One of the bottles that I had shipped to me is the Vino del Corazón Merlot.  While wine professionals may view "terroir" as something involving the climate of northern New Mexico, the composition of its soils, and/or the shape of the hills (all of which may be very important), this wine drives home what I think could be the personal aspect of terroir. 

The Vino del Corazón Merlot pours a crimson red, although the red is a few shades lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winemakers, that is the Harts, describe the aroma of their Merlot to include violets, cherry and spice.  For me, I have always had problems identifying particular floral aromas, as opposed a more general sense of flowers.  I did readily detect the aroma of cherries, which are the centerpiece of the aromatic feature of this wine.  There are also whiffs of earth or spice lingering in the background, but the cherry aroma is first and foremost with this wine.

And, as for the taste, that is where the personal aspect of the terroir comes into play.  I do not know if it is the climate, soil type or terroir, but this wine clearly speaks of New Mexico.  The Harts describe the wine as having flavors of vanilla, plums and black cherry.  I could see the plums and black cherry, but the vanilla was a little too far in the background. 

However, what truly caught my attention is the spice flavors.  Not just any spice, but a suggestive hint of  that quintessential New Mexican spice ... hatch chiles.  The spice is not heat, but flavor.  The hatch chile flavor lingers around the edges of the wine, particularly in the finish.  It was as if someone sprinkled a little green or red hatch chile powder on those plums and black cherries. I really enjoyed that hatch chile flavor, which got me to thinking about the jars of ground hatch chiles sitting in our cabinets.  The chile flavor is most noticeable in the first several sips of the wine, but, as the wine sits, the spice flavor fades a little into the background, with the fruit taking over.  

I had this wine delivered to my home.  I checked Vino del Corazón's website, and it does not look like it is available. However, the Harts have other wines available, such as their Cabernet Sauvignon, which I have previously reviewed and which I also recommend.   


Friday, February 3, 2012

Roasted Whole Pompano with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Olives

One of my favorite things to do is cook a whole fish.  So, it came as no surprise that when I saw whole pompano at a local grocery store, I bought one.  It was the first time that I had seen pompano in the grocery store.  Generally, the whole fish tend to be red snapper, rockfish or branzino (sea bass).  I could not pass up the opportunity to cook with this fish.  

Pompano or Florida Pompano can be found in the coastal waters along the eastern United States.  It is a relative of the jack Pompano are fast growing fish and reproduce early in life. These features helped the pompano recover from being overfished (although there are still some concerns with respect to the fishing of pompano along the Atlantic coast of Florida).  So much so that the pompano is now considered a good alternative by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood watch. 

I used a recipe from Bon Appetit, as a guide, although I made a few changes.  I stuffed the fish with fresh thyme and basil, rather than thyme and marjoram.  I also baked the fish in white wine, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier, rather than a combination of white wine and water. 

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 2

1 whole pompano, cleaned
3/4 pounds of russet potatoes, cut into rounds
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 lemon slices, cut in half
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh basil
1/2 cup of white wine
4 small tomatoes, quartered
6 whole Kalamata olives
Salt, to taste
Pepper to taste

1.  Bake the potatoes.  Toss the potato slices in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Lay the slices out on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with one tablespoon of the fresh thyme, salt and pepper.  Bake until almost tender, about twelve minutes.

2.  Prepare the pompano.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on the outside and inside of the fish.  Stuff the fish with the sprigs of thyme and basil, as well as the slices of lemon.  Add a tablespoon of oil to a baking dish and spread it.  Add the fish to the baking dish.  Add the white wine and sprinkle the rest of the remaining thyme. 

3.  Roast the fish.  Roast the fish for fifteen minutes.  Scatter the olives and tomatoes around.  Tuck in reserve potatoes.  Continue to roast until the fish is opaque in the minutes, about ten to fifteen minutes. 

4.  Plate the dish. Fillet the fish and place the fillets on each plate, with tomatoes, olives and potatoes. 


As with most fish, a white wine is the best pairing for this Roasted Whole Pompano.  A Viognier or Chenin Blanc (or blend of the two) works very well.  The fruit flavors provide a complement to the earthier flavors of the potatoes, tomatoes and olives in the dish.  Other white wines, such as a Vouvray, Pinot Gris or even an unoaked Chardonnay could also work well this dish. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Beer That Does Not Exist ...

There is a beer that does not exist.  Search for it on the brewer's website and you are left with nothing.  Literally, nothing.

But there are rumors.  If the beer existed, it is a "robust stout," brewed in secret.  If the beer existed, the brewers trained the beer in bourbon barrels for four months.  Having passed that training, the beer faced its final test ... being bottled flat in a bottle and re-fermented with Champagne yeast.  That is, if the beer actually existed. 

There have been sightings.  Anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 cases ... total during a year.  Those cases hide in the crowd of millions of barrels of Miller Genuine Draft, Rolling Rock and Bud Light.  Very rarely, individual bottles emerge on the store shelves, only to be strike at the hearts of beer aficionados and beer lovers, like myself.  

After one long and bad day, I was staring at the store shelves, looking at dozens of beers that I've seen in the past.  Then, I caught a glimpse of the beer that does not exist.  One bottle.  No price tag.  I turned to the employee stocking the shelves and asked him, what about this beer?  He said, it was the last bottle.  Someone asked the employee to set it aside, but the employee felt that he could not do that. The bottle re-emerged on the shelf.  I grabbed the bottle and, as I looked at the label, the employee explained that the store had gotten only one case, which had basically been sold within a couple of days.  There was only one bottle left.  I asked how much the beer cost, as if it actually mattered.  The decision had been made. 

So, I purchased a bottle of the beer that does not exist ... Brooklyn Black Ops.  The Brooklyn Brewery, and its head brewer Garrett Oliver, brew this beer in the style of a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.  The brewer describes the beer as "creating big chocolate and coffee flavors with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like oak notes."  This description is actually an understatement.  

The Black Ops pours pitch black, with a caramel hued foam. The aroma gets the nose with Woodford bourbon and Madagascar vanilla.  Perhaps the aromas of Bourbon vanilla, i.e., vanilla from the island of Bourbon in the Indian Ocean.  Wherever the vanilla came from, its sweetness and alcohol warm the drinker before even the first taste.

The taste of this beer ranks as definitely one of the best barrel-aged beers that I have tasted and, one of the best beers that I have tried.   The chocolate, bourbon, and vanilla elements were clear and well-defined.  These flavors dominated the front and middle of each taste.  As the finish emerged, the coffee flavors arose and grabbed the edges of the tongue.  As the beer is consumed, the warmth from the 10.7% ABV becomes noticeable, or maybe that is just the smile of contentment.

With only 1,000 to 1,200 cases produced a year, the Black Ops is hard to find.  It is also quite expensive, at $25.99 a bottle.  However, in this case, the beer is definitely worth the price.