Monday, April 22, 2013

A Brief Vacation

I realize that it has been a few days since I posted anything, but I am going to take a very short break for a very good reason.  My beautiful Angel, Clare, and I are now the proud parents of a little baby boy.  As we have been getting to know this special little guy, I have not had the opportunity to cook very much.  Both Clare and I have been the beneficiaries of some delicious meals prepared by our parents.  

I am not giving up cooking or this blog.  It is one of my primary forms of relaxation.  However, I will be taking a few days or a couple of weeks off so that I can devote my full attention to the newest addition to our family.  

Stay tuned, the posts will resume.  Until then ...


Monday, April 15, 2013

Oskar Blues G'Knight Red IPA

A few months back, I was wondering the aisles of a local beer and wine store, looking for wines to pair with courses for one of our wine club dinners.  As I was looking for Riesling Sekt Trockens and Marsannes, I came across a display and beer tasting for Oskar Blues.   Located in Longmont, Colorado, Oskar Blues is one of the craft brewers to fully embrace the use of cans for its beers.  At the time, canned beer was seemingly the province of the Anheuser-Busch or Miller.  You were more likely to find Busch Light or Budweiser cans, than any craft beer.  Although I do not know whether Oskar Blues was the first craft brewer to can its beers, I do know that its beers are perhaps most the most commonly associated with cans rather than bottles. 

Back to that beer tasting, I did what everyone else did ... sample the whole range of Oskar Blues beers.  I was very familiar with some of the brewery's standards, like Dale's Pale Ale and Mama's Little Yellow Pils.  There was one beer that I had not seen before.  It was the G'Knight, an Imperial Red Ale.  I've tried all sorts of imperial beers, from imperial porters to imperial white beers, but an imperial red beer is rather unusual. I have previously tried a couple of Imperial Red Ales, like the Nosferatu and the Monstre Rouge, and, I decided to give the G'Knight a try.

Oskar Blues brewed this Imperial Red Ale in tribute to a fellow Colorado craft beer pioneer and Vietnam vet who died fighting a 2002 wild fire outside of Lyons, Colorado.  The brewers describe their “Velvet M-80” as "a hefty, dry hopped double-red ale with a nose full of aroma, a sticky mouthfeel, a malty middle and unctuous hop flavors." 

The G'Knight pours a nice reddish amber color, with a thick, slightly off-white foam.  The aromas are hop-driven, with some pine and resin up front, followed through by some sweeter elements, like caramel, which are from the malts used in the production of the beer.  The taste of this beer is very hop-centric.  The hop flavors are more toward the piney and resinous, rather than the citrus.  What is interesting is that, while I found there was a lot of hoppiness to this beer, some reviewers seemed more preoccupied with the malt flavors.  To them, the beer was more malt-driven than hop driven.  While I could definitely taste the bready and caramel flavors provided by the malts, I would not classify this red ale as a malt-driven beer.  I guess this is to be expected given reviewing beers has a substantial subjective component to it.

In any event, the G’Knight is a rather big beer, with an 8.7% ABV and 60 IBUS.  The beer is sold in four-packs for about $10.99.  For detail about the craft beer pioneer and Vietnam Veteran for whom this beer is dedicated, check out:


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Souvlaki Hirino (Pork Kebabs)

In the times of antiquity, the Greeks prepared a meal that consisted of grilling skewers of pork over pits of charcoal and flames.  They referred to these pork skewers as ὀβελίσκος (obeliskos), which is a diminuitive form of the ancient Greek word for "spit," ὀβελός (obelos).    References to obliskos can be found in the literary works of Ancient Greeks such as Aristophanes, Xenophon and Aristotle.

At some point in culinary history of Ancient Greece, someone paired these grilled pork skewers with a slightly leavened, wheat bread.  We commonly refer to that bread as pita, but when it was combined with the pork skewers, the Greeks referred to the dish as kandaulos.  Much like the obliskos, there are references to the pork skewer/pita bread kandaulos in ancient literary works, including the works of Homer.

Fast forward to today, if one wanted to find this dish while strolling the streets of a Greek city, such as Athens, one could walk into a souvladzidika or souvlaki shop and ask for Souvlaki Hirino.  I decided that I would turn my kitchen into that souvladzidika for one night and make this dish.  Previously, I focused more on Persian cuisine, such as making Kebab-e Jojeh (Chicken Kebabs) and Kebab-e Chenjeh (Lamb Kebabs).  These preparation of these dishes is very similar to Souvlaki Hirino.  The meat is marinated for a period of time, from just a couple of hours to overnight, and then skewered.  While the marinating process is common to these recipes, the ingredients used in the marinade reflect the cuisines of the countries and the ingredients available to their cooks.  For example, the marinade for the Jojeh uses saffron, an ingredient that is available in the Middle East and, in particular, in Iran.  By contrast, the Souvlaki Hirino uses mint and oregano, which are ingredients commonly associated with Greek cuisine.

When I made this dish, I decided to use the broiler as opposed to the gas grill.  I admit that the choice was one of ease as opposed to authenticity.  The broiler did its job, but I could not stop thinking about how grilling the kebabs would provide those slight singed edges that I like with grilled meats.  I also decided to make a simple tzatziki-like sauce, which used yogurt, garlic, mint and cucumber,  In the end, I really liked this dish, although I plan on grilling the pork skewers rather than using the broiler.

Recipe from Saveur
Serves 2-4

Ingredients (for the Souvlaki Hirino):
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup red wine
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. dried mint
1 tbsp. dried oregano
8 cloves garlic, smashed and 
   minced into a paste
1 bay leaf, finely crumbled
1 lb. trimmed pork shoulder, 
   cut into 1 1⁄4" cubes
4  9" wooden skewers
Kosher salt and freshly ground 
   black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges, for serving

Ingredients (for the Yogurt Sauce):
1 cucumber (about 12 oz.)
1 1⁄2 cups yogurt
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp. extra-virgin sesame oil or
   extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste

1. Marinate the pork.   In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, wine, lemon juice, mint, oregano, garlic, and bay leaf; add pork and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Meanwhile, soak skewers in water. 

2.  Make the yogurt sauce.  Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce. Cut the ends off the cucumber and peel it. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a small spoon, scrape out and discard the seeds from each half. Finely chop the cucumber and transfer it to a bowl. Stir in the yogurt, mint, oil, and garlic, and season with salt. Cover the sauce with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. (The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

3. Grill or broil the kebabs.  Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high. (Alternatively, arrange an oven rack 4" below the broiler element and set oven to broil.)  Thread about 4 to 6 pieces of pork onto each skewer so that pork pieces almost touch each other.  I like to leave a little space between the pieces of pork.   Season with salt and pepper and transfer to the grill (or, covering exposed ends of skewers with foil, put skewers on a rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet). Cook, turning often, until cooked through and slightly charred, about 10 minutes.

4.  Plate the dish.  Heat up a pita bread under the broiler for 1 minute on each side.  Place the bread on the plate, spoon some of the yogurt sauce in the middle of the bread and place 1 to 2 skewers on the bread.  (You can and probably should remove the pork from the skewers when you serve the dish).  You can also serve the souvlaki with lemon wedges.

If you are looking for a wine to pair with this dish, check out a Greek wine, like the wines made with the Assyritiko grape. I paired a Papantonis Meden Agen Agiorgitiko (2010), which paired perfectly with the Souvlaki Hirino.   


For more about the history of souvlaki, check out Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Taster's Choice

The lyrics are straightforward ... "Well I guess I'd better drink me one more bottle of beer. Well I guess I'd better drink me one more bottle of beer.  Well baby baby baby why don't you come on here."  They come from a B-side song aptly entitled, "One more bottle of beer," which is performed by the Washington, D.C. area ska band, the Pietasters. And, if you were to ask the Pietasters which beer, perhaps the answer would be ...

Taster's Choice.  And it is not what first comes to your mind!

The Taster's Choice is a collaboration between the Pietasters and two breweries: D.C. Brau and Ska Brewing.  It is brewed in the style of a Doppelbock, which is a stronger and darker version of the traditional Bavarian bock beer.  By their very nature, doppelbock beers are usually a dark gold to brown color, with strong malt aromas and rich flavors.  The brewers from Ska and D.C. Brau reinforced those traditional characteristics by infusing the Taster's Choice with coffee.

I recently purchased a growler of the Taster's Choice from D.C. Brau's brewery.  The beer pours a dark coffee brown, with a thin, off-white, creamy foam.  As that foam recedes, the light struggles to penetrate the surface of the beer.  After the beer is poured, light aromas of coffee bean and mocha greet the nose.  As for the flavor of the beer, the Taster's Choice is malt-driven, with little hop presence in the beer.  This is to be expected from a doppelbock.  What is a little unexpected is the nice balancing of the bitter and the sweet.  The bitter is embodied in flavors of roasted coffee.  (And, by coffee, I don't mean the kind made by a certain Swiss company.  I mean really good coffee.)  The sweetness is present in flavors of chocolate powder or maybe some molasses. The beer balances the bitter and the sweet exceptionally well.  The Taster's Choice is a good illustration of how to achieve complexity in the flavor of a beer in ways other than the traditional contrast between hops and malts. 
The proceeds from this beer go to the Todd Eckhardt Scholarship Fund, which was set up to honor the memory of former Pietasters bassist and songwriter Todd Eckhardt, who passed away in 2001. The scholarship fund provides benefits to students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts through the Ellington Fund.  A great beer and a worthy cause.  What more could you ask for.

The beer is available on draft, with an ABV of about 7.4%, at DC Brau and, perhaps, at local beer bars.  If you can find it, try it ... if only to try a unique twist on a doppelbock.  Hopefully, the brewers at Ska and DC Brau will join forces again to brew this beer very soon.  


Monday, April 8, 2013

Quiche Lorraine

I am not the only one who cooks in our family.  My beautiful wife, Clare, is also a great cook and a great baker.  Every once in a while, I ask my Angel to provide a guest blog post so that I can share some of the amazing and delicious things that she makes for family, friends and, of course, me.  She has already provided guest blog posts about Cuban Bread, Loyalist Bread, Salmon Burgers, Peach Cobbler and Parmesan Soufflé with White Wine Butter Sauce.   So, without further ado,

A Guest Blog Post by Clare ...

It has been a very long time since my last guest blog post.  Every Easter, Keith and I host some friends for dinner.  The meal is a potluck, with the guests bringing appetizers, salads, sides, beverages and even dessert.  We supply the main course.  In the past, Keith has prepared the main course, but, this Easter, I decided to take the lead in the kitchen.  I also decided to host a brunch, and, I knew what I wanted to make ... quiches.

I made three quiches, all of which everyone enjoyed.  However, Keith asked if I would agree to do a guest blog post about the Quiche Lorraine.  I think it is because it was the only quiche that had bacon in it.  (The other two quiches were a broccoli quiche and a spinach quiche.)  In fact, I know that is the reason.

At this point, Keith would probably give some background or history of the dish.  Something like an observation about how Quiche Lorraine dates back to the 16th Century, when it was said that Charles III, the Duke of Lorraine would eat this dish.  Keith would also probably note that, at that time, they did not call it quiche.  The name "quiche" did not appear to until the 19th century, when it was used in L'Histoire de Nancy.  He would most likely add that the word "quiche" is not even of French origin.  It is derived from the German word "küchen" or "cake."

A quiche is hardly a cake. It is more like a delicious egg pie.  And, this particular quiche is doubly delicious for Keith because of the use of bacon.  One thing that I did differently is that I did not use all of the bacon in the initial making of the quiche.  Instead, I reserved some of the bacon to sprinkle on the top before I put it into the oven to bake.  

Recipe from All Recipes
Makes 1 Quiche

9 inch single crust pie
12 slices of bacon
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup minced onion
4 eggs, beaten 
2 cups light cream 
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of white sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1.  Preheat the oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Prepare the quiche. Place bacon in a large skillet, and fry over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop coarsely. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion into pastry shell.  In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, sugar and cayenne pepper. Pour mixture into pastry shell.

3.  Bake the quiche. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Allow quiche to sit 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.

And, as "Chef Bolek" always says ...


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Papantonis Meden Agen Agiorgitiko (2010)

The history of Greece is full of ancient lore, so it comes as no surprise that there are myths about wine.  One of those legends explains the rich, dark and soft wines produced with the Αγιωργίτικο or Agiorgitiko grape.  The wines got their character because of the vines of the Agiorgitiko grapes were stained by the blood of the lion slayed by the Greek hero, Hercules.

The Agiorgitiko grape is grown throughout the region of the Nemea on the Pelopennese.  One of the vineyards that grows this grape is the Papantonis winery, which is located in the ancient city of Argos.   The vineyards themselves are located near the village of Maladreni, which is in the highlands of the Argolis province and is nestled in the Nemea region.  

The winery grows only two grapes and produces only two wines, one of which is the Meden Agan Agiorgitiko.  The name, Meden Agan, is derived from the Ancient Greek for "nothing in excess."

The Medan Agan pours a dark ruby red, which reviewers say is typical of an Agiorgitiko wine.  The wine has a nice aroma of ripe cherries and maybe even a little strawberry or blueberry.  There is a little hint of earth or spice, but not much.  The berry aromas carry over to the taste of the wine, which is full of cherries and some of those strawberries.  Although I may still be learning about wines and reviewing them, I thought that the taste of the Medan Agan Agiorgitiko was somewhat reminiscent of a Chianti or maybe a Beaujolais. 

One reviewer suggested that an excellent pairing for the Medan Agan is any red meat, as well as hearty stews or casseroles. In my opinion, the Medan Agan pairs very well with souvlaki.  I paired this Agiorgitiko wine with Souvlaki Hirino, which was a very good pairing.  The fruit flavors of the wine worked well with the grilled pork kebabs.

I found this wine at a local grocery store.  I don't recall the price of the wine, but it was definitely under $20 and most likely under $15.  


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blackened Catfish with Maque Choux

An important aspect of my cooking hobby is education, an effort on my part to learn from others.  I strive to achieve that goal in many different ways.  I  have taken cooking classes, I read cookbooks, and I follow websites of people who share a love of cooking.  One of the websites that I follow is Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.  It is the website of Hank Straw; and, in some ways, his story is one that I quite admire.  

As you can tell from his website address, Hank Straw and HAGC is all about "honest food."  But, it is his efforts to walk the "less-traveled path" that have me checking the website on a regular basis. Hank does not purchase packaged and processed foods; he hunts for his meat or buys it from people who raise animals in a humane way; and he focuses his attention on, in his words, "those meats and veggies that people don't eat much any more."  It's that less traveled path.

Recently, I made one of Hank's recipes ... Blackened Catfish with Maque Choux.  You can read his post about the history of blackened fish, which is a very interesting one, especially considering the sustainability issues.  What got my attention was the Maque Choux, a dish that incorporates the cooking of the Acadians (i.e., the Cajuns) and Native Americans in southern Louisiana.   The recipe incorporates corn, green peppers, onions and tomatoes.  Due to the time of the year, I had to use frozen corn, but I think that the dish would be infinitely better with fresh corn.  I will definitely be making Maque Choux in the summer.

Finally, one note about the blackened catfish.  Hank suggests that you use a cast-iron skillet to cook the fish.  When I worked in a seafood restaurant, we used a large cast iron skillet to cook blackened catfish and blackened tuna.  While I do have a cast iron skillet, I decided to try using a regular, non-stick pan.  While a certain aspect of the "blackened" character of the fish is lost with a non-stick pan, it is easier to clean up and I don't have to worry about cracking any pans. 

Serves 4

Ingredients (for the catfish):
4 catfish fillets
1/2 cup melted butter

Ingredients (for the blackening rub):
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon of dried oregano

Ingredients (for the Maque Choux):
2 tablespoons of butter
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cups corn kernels
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Salt, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste

1.  Make the maque choux.  Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the onion. Saute the onion for 1 minute, then add the green pepper. Sprinkle salt over everything and saute for about 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the corn kernels and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover while you make the fish.

2.  Prepare the pan.  Get a cast-iron frying pan hot over your hottest burner.  Turn the stove fan on high, and open the windows nearby, as this creates smoke. Let the frying pan get hot for a good 3-4 minutes. (Alternatively, you can heat a non-stick pan on high for a couple of minutes).  

3.  Prepare the catfish fillets. While the pan is heating up, melt the butter and pour the Cajun spices into a shallow dish.  Dip the fish fillets in the melted butter, then dredge in the Cajun spices. Shake off any excess spices. Do this for as many fillets as will fit in the frying pan, which is usually about four fillets. 

4.  Cook the fillets.  Lay the fish down on the hot pan. It will sizzle up fiercely and smoke. This is normal. Let the fish cook this way for 2-3 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, carefully flip the catfish fillets and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.  

5. Finish the maque choux.  When you flip the catfish, add the tomatoes and the Tabasco to the maque choux.

6.  Plate the dish.   Plate one fillet on a dish, add the maque choux, and serve with rice and a good beer.  (I suggest anything from Abita Brewing.)


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ska + Peppers = Mole Stout

One of the trends in craft beer is the "mole" beer.  This growing "style" of beer is one that is brewed using some of the ingredients that are used to make the sauces that define the cuisines of Mexican states like Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala.  I have previously reviewed two mole beers in the past ... New Belgium Brewing Company's  Cocoa Mole and New Holland Brewing Company's El Mole Ocho.  

There are several different mole sauces.  For example, in Oaxaca, there are seven traditional moles: Mole Negro, Mole Rojo, Mole Coloradito, Mole Amarillo, Mole Verde, Mole Chichilo and Mancha Manteles.  As the names suggest, these moles use different ingredients and result in sauces of different colors (negro = black, rojo = red, verde = green, etc.).  However, when it comes to "mole" beers, brewers stick to the one that could most easily been reproduced in a beer ... turning a stout into mole negro.  Both the Cocoa Mole and El Mole Ocho embodied this approach.

Recently, I was able to try other mole beer, the Autumnal Mole Stout brewed by Ska Brewing Company.  The brewers describe the beer as "an ale brewed with cocoa nibs, spices and three varieties of chile peppers: Mulato, Ancho and Hatch green chiles, (also known as Anaheim Peppers.)"

The description is fitting.  The Mole Stout pours pitch black.  The beer gives hints of aromas of cinnamon, Mexican chocolate, coffee and/or espresso.  There are also some hints of spice from the peppers, along with some nutmeg in the aroma.  As for the taste, this beer is very similar to the El Mole Ocho, with flavors of the ancho and hatch chiles really come through in the taste.  The peppers are seemingly surrounded or encased by the sweetness of Chocolate and cocoa, presumably brought out by the use of chocolate and/or roasted malts in the brewing process.

When it comes to pairing this beer, it would be easy to say ... "serve it with Mexican cuisine."  You should think of the beer as the sauce.   For example, Chef Rick Bayless prepared a Oaxacan Black Mole for the Mexican state dinner at the White House.  That mole was served over grilled chicken.  Any grilled or roasted meats, including beef and pork, would be easily paired with a mole beer like the Autumnal Mole Stout  You could also pair this beer with barbecue, although I would avoid very spicy rubs and/or sauces because that would only increase the spice in the beer.  (I don't mind the increase in heat, but for people who are not used to very spicy foods, it may be a little too much.)

This beer was given to me as a gift.  I do not see Ska Brewing Company's beers around me, but I believe they are available out west and as far east as Chicago.  Until next time ...