Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spencer Trappist Ale

With the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, it seems appropriate to post a review of a Trappist beer.  A trappist beer is one that is brewed by or under the strict supervision of monks from the Order of the Cisterians of the Strict Observance.  I have posted a few reviews of Trappist beers, including the Orval Ale, the La Trappe Quadrupel, and the Westmalle Tripel.  Each one of those reviews was propelled by a fascination and curiousity of the notion of monks brewing beer.

Until just a few years ago, trappist beers were brewed from only a handful of breweries that had been registered with the International Trappist Associaiton.  All of those breweries were located in either Belgium and the Netherlands.   As the craft movement has grown, so has Trappist beer, with new breweries in Italy and the United States.  And, it is the one in the United States -- operated by St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts -- that provides the United States with its first officially recognized Trappist beer, which is conveniently named the Spencer Trappist Ale.  

St. Joseph's Abbey is a community of Trappist monks who follow the Benedictine tradition of ora et labora (prayer and work), the monks pursue a simple life of contemplative prayer, manual labor and hospitality.  A few years ago, some of the Brothers at the monastery expressed an interest in brewing beer, and even received some training at a local craft brewery.  The brothers then toured all of the existing Trappist breweries, to see how those beers were produced.  After completing thieir learning, the monks at the Spencer abbey began procuding their own trappist ale.

The Spencer pours a nice golden color, with an even foam across the entire surface. The aroma has a variety of mild, pleasant notes, including some bread, honey and herbal tones.  The beer is a very good example of a trappist ale, with some grass and clove up front,  There are also some biscuit and caramel notes from the malts that follow, but are not as prominent in the beer. 

Overall, this is a very good beer, and, an excellent first effort by the monks at the Spencer Abbey.  This beer sells for $11.99 for a 22 ounce bottle or $19.99 for a four pack of 12 ounce bottles.  It is definitely worth a try, especially if you, like me, were looking for a beer to toast the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. 


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mongolian Lamb with Green Scallions

When I think of Mongolian cuisine, I think of meat and vegetables cooked over preheated stones, whether in a sealed milk can (which is known as khorkhog) or in the cavity of a dead animal (which is known as boodog).  I don't normally associate Mongolian lamb with Mongolian cuisine.  Perhaps that is because whenever I see this dish, it is on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, not a Mongolian one. 

And, I have to admit that I am not a very big fan of Mongolian lamb served by Chinese restaurants.  I order the dish, but what I get served is usually a heapful of overcooked lamb drowned in a sauce that is reminiscent of MSG and high fructose corn syrup.  The dish is almost always a let-down, which is sad because I really love lamb.  I have always wanted to find a better Mongolian lamb dish.  Perhaps my quest should have begun with finding a better Chinese restaurant.  However, I am a cook; and, for me, a better starting place is in front of my own stove.

It begins with trying to find a good recipe.  I get some e-mails from various websites, like Food & Wine, Saveur and About Food, which suggest recipes.  One day, About Food had a recipe for Mongolian lamb.  The recipe seemed simple and straightforward, which is a bonus these days with two small children to look after.  The other bonus with respect to this recipe is that the sauce is thinner, a combination of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and rice wine or dry sherry.  

I set about to make this recipe.  The dish itself was very delicious; however, the pictures provide two helpful suggestions for the future.  First, despite my best efforts, I need to slice the lamb a little thinner.  Thinner lamb equals an even quicker cooking time.  It also provides a possibility of crisping the lamb around the edges, which adds some texture to the dish.  The other suggestion is to thicken the sauce.  This recipe went a little too far in the other direction.  The sauce, which was very tasty, was a little too thin and it was somewhat lost in the dish.  While I would not add corn syrup, I think something was needed to thicken the sauce just a little bit.  

On the whole, this dish is far better than any Mongolian beef that I have ordered at any Chinese restaurant.  Nevertheless, it could still use some minor tweeking.  This is what I love about cooking.  It opens the possibility for experimentation the next time I make this dish.  And, when I do that, I will either update this post or create a whole new one.  Until then ...

Recipe from About Food
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the lamb):
1 1/2 pounds of boneless leg of lamb
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 scallions, cut into 3 inch lengths and then sliced thinly
Freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients (for the marinade):
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

Ingredients (for the sauce):
5 teaspoons dark soy sauce
5 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
4 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1.  Prepare the lamb.  Cut the lamb into thin strips. Marinate the lamb for 25 minutes. 

2.  Prepare the sauce. While the lamb is marinating, combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Stir fry the lamb.  Heat a wok over medium to high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons oil.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic. Stir fry until aromatic (about 30 seconds).  Add the lamb.  Stir fry very briefly until the lamb changes color (about 1 to 2 minutes).  Add the sauce and bring to a boil.  Stir in the scallions.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired.  Stir-fry for 1 more minute or until sauce is absorbed.  Remove from the heart, stir in the sesame oil, and serve immediately with rice.