Saturday, March 28, 2020


The Aluna is, to say the least, elusive.  I came across the beer at a Made in Maryland event, where the brewer Peabody Heights had a table.  Peabody Heights is a brewer located in the Charles Village area of Baltimore (which was originally known as Peabody Heights). The brewery is somewhat unusual, offering small brewers the opportunity to brew their beers under the guidance of master brewers. Peabody Heights brews its own beer, with three year around beers (a wit, a pale ale and an IPA) and a host of seasonal beers.  

When I visited the Peabody Heights website, there was no sign of the Aluna. Nothing. There were the three year around beers.  There were 13 seasonal beers. No Aluna.  I searched the Internet, but had more success finding Aluna, a documentary film about a Kogi tribe stepping out of its isolation into the modern world.  Hardly a movie about beer.

All that I have to go on is the can.

The can declares that it is an Imperial Milk Stout.  The style tends to be a sweet stout, which comes from the use of lactose.  There are some of the more common elements one would expect from a stout, such as chocolate notes. 

The Aluna stands apart, primarily from the brewers use of peanut butter, chocolate and vanilla wafers.  That's right. Vanilla wafers.  When one takes a look at the pitch black, oily liquid, one does not expect wafers.  But as the aromatic elements waft into one's nose, the wafers are front and center.  They also feature prominently in the taste of the beer. Every sip is full of those wafers, with the chocolate and peanut butter notes playing supporting roles.  This combination of sweetness, vanilla and chocolate makes for a very drinkable milk stout.  With an ABV of 8%, the alcohol catches up with you after a while.

The Aluna is a very good milk stout.  I say that, even though milk stouts are not perhaps my most favorite style of beers.  (Indeed, I am not a big fan of adding lactose to beer, and, generally, steer away from those beers.)  If you find this beer on a shelf, it is defintely worth a try. 


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Jerked Octopus

I am a huge fan of the Jamaican jerk style of cooking.  The combination of spices and peppers, along with the smoky notes used when cooked over wood is perhaps one of the best ways to cook proteins.  When it comes to the protein, one most often sees jerked chicken. However, the cooking process has also been used for pork, beef, goat and lamb.  It has even been used for shrimp and shellfish.  

I have prepared jerked chicken in the past, but I got to thinking that this style and process of cooking seemed perfect for octopus. Generally speaking, a common way to prepare octopus is to marinate the tentatcles and then grill it. This cooking technique is perhaps best known from the octopus dishes prepared in Greece. The basic method of cooking remains the same, the only differences would be the marinade and (in theory) the actual cooking process (that is, the wood used if one were using wood).  In the end, those differences do not really matter, because the overall style of jerk cooking seemed to be a natural fit for octopus.  And, it was.

I went back to some old jerk recipes to come up with a good jerk marinade for the octopus. The key to the marinade is the use of allspice and, of course, the scotch bonnet pepper (or a habanero, if your local market does not have the scotch bonnet).  Other spices, such as cloves, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg help to round out the marinade.  Once the marinade is ready, the tentacles should be marinated for at least a few hours, but overnight may be preferable.     

When it comes to cooking, if one wants to be authentic, then he or she would grill the octopus over the coals from a pimento wood fire.  I did not have any pimento wood.  So, I grilled the tentacles on my gas grill.  It worked just as well when it came to the requisite charring of the edges, but, it will lakc the smoky element that only grilling over hardwood can give.  (One could always cheat and add a little smoked paprika to the marinade, but I did not cheat with this recipe.) I was fine without the smoky taste.  The octopus was just too damn good to even care. 

Adapted from recipe from Food Stories
Serves 4

1 package of precooked octopus, about 2 pounds
1 1/2 tablespoons of allspice (freshly ground is best)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon thyme
1 bunch scallions (white part, chopped)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 Scotch bonnet chiles (deseeded)
Juice of 2 large limes
1 teaspoon salt

1. Marinade the octopus. Blend the allspice, sugar, cloves, thyme, scallions, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, chiles, lime juice.  Insert skewers through the octopus to straighten the tentacles.  Combine the marinade with the octopus and allow it to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours, or overnight. 

2.  Grill or broil the octopus.  Cook the octopus over direct heat, flipping frequently until a little charred, brushing every now and then with the marinade (because the octopus is already precooked, there is no worry about contamination).  Serve immediately with a side, such as Jamaican rice and peas. 


Friday, March 6, 2020

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Dominican Republic

When it comes to my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, the selection of the country is sometimes left to chance and sometimes intentional.  When my beautiful Angel purchased sixteen pounds of goat meat for me to cook, that led to some specific challenges.  There was the Guyanese Goat Curry, which satisfied the challenge to make a main dish from the country of Guyana.  Then there was the Jollof Rice with Goat, which satisfied the challenge for the country of Ghana.  A couple of other specific challenges followed, which involved Tonga and, most recently, Myanmar

Now, I am returning to the random country selection. The first country that came up was the Dominican Republic; and, quite coincidentially, the main course to be selected is Chivo Guisado, or goat stew.  However, before I get to the challenge, some background is necessary. 

The Dominican Republic lies in Greater Antilles, sharing the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Long before any European set foot on the island, the Taino people called the land their home.  Since about 650 A.D., the Taino fished, farmed and hunted across the island. (The Taino may have been the people whose cooking inspired what ultimately became known as barbecue.)  By the time European explorers reached the island in 1492, there were five Taino kingdoms with a combined population of more than one hundred thousand people. Four years later, the first permanent European (Spanish) settlement was founded at Santo Domingo.  With the rise of Spanish, the Taino fell. The Europeans  found gold on the island and established mines.  The Spanish conscripted the native Taino to work in the gold mines, exploiting the workers who endured horrible conditions.  Eventually, the Spanish exhausted both the mines and the native Taino.  As focus turned to agriculture (such as sugarcane) and other industries, and, the need for labor increased, the Spanish brought African slaves to the island. 

The colonial history continued for centuries, but the peoples of what would become the Dominican Republic declared their independence from Spain in 1821.  The turbulence continued for decades, first with a united Hispaniola country and then another war of independence in 1844 that resulted in the Dominican Republic. The troubles continued for many more decades, until the 1970s, when peace and stability finally took hold in the country.  


The foregoing is just a thumbnail sketch that does not do justice to the history of the country.  Nevertheless, that sketch provides the outline for the cuisine of the country.  A cuisine that still has its roots in the native Taino culture, with broad strokes of Spanish culinary influence, that are filled in by African  food traditions.  The food is a combination of meats, rice, beans, vegetables and stews.  This is what led me to the preparation of a guisado or stew.  The only question is what protein to use in the stew.  And, the answer led me to chivo or goat.

The use of goat in dishes is quite common throughout the Caribbean, and, it is no different in the Dominican Republic.  Goat meat is considered a special ingredient in the country's cuisine.  As the story goes, goats graze on the naturally growing oregano in the Dominican countryside, with the herb imparting its flavor in the meat.  (It also explains the use of oregano in the recipes, see below.)

So, with a lot of goat still on hand, I have decided to undertake the challenge of making Chivo Guisado or goat stew.  As one can expect, there is no one standard recipe, with each cook or chef preparing this dish with his or her own twists.  I pulled from two different recipes, one more traditional and one a little less traditiona. to make this dish.  The end result is a somewhat spicer stew with more of a tomato base, which I think follows more closely to what one would expect from this stew.  

Recipe adapated from Manusmenu and Dominican Cooking
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the goat):
2.2 pounds of goat meat, with bones
1 orange, juiced
1/2 lime, juiced
2 bay leaves
1 white onion, diced 
1 bunch of cilantro (coriander)
1 cubanelle pepper, diced
4 plum tomatoes or 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves
Salt, to taste
3 tablespoons of oregano

Ingredients (for the braise):
2 tablespoons of oil
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of tomato sauce

1.  Prepare the ingredients.  Cut the goat meat into smaller pieces (but do not trim the fat as it adds lots of flavor and keeps them meat soft.  Dice the onions, coriander and spring onions.  Put the garlic cloves, oregano and salt in a mortar and grind to a paste.

2.  Marinate the goat.  Put the goat meat in a big bowl and add all of the marinade ingredients. Mix well, cover the bowl and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight.

3.  Braise the goat. Heat the oil and cook the sugar until it turns to a caramel color.  Be careful not to burn it.  Add the meat, with the marinade kept in reserve. Brown the goat meat on all sides.  Add the marinade, stir and add the tomato paste. 

4.  Cook the goat.   Add some water, little by little, and cook it over medium heat until the meat is very tender, about one and one-half hours.  Season to taste, serve with white rice and fried plantains.


No main course is complete without a side; and, one very popular side in Dominican cuisine is Tostones or fried plaintains.  I have to admit that this is my first effort cooking plaintains, so my expectations were not very high.  Nevertheless, I thiink the end result was pretty good.

Recipe from Dominican Cooking
Serves 4

2 unripe plaintains, peeled and cut in 1 inch slices
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon salt (or more to taste)
1 chopped tomato
4 sprigs of parsley
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of sugar

1. Prepare the dipping sauce.  Combine the tomato, parsley, garlic, black pepper and olive oil in a blender or food processor.  Pulse until thoroughly blended but not liquefied.

2.  Fry the plantains.  Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the plantains until golden.  Remove from the oil and flatten to 1/4 of an inch.  Fry the plantains again until golden yellow again.  Serve immediately with the dipping sauce. 


It has been a long time since I prepared a drink in connection with my culinary challenges.  The last drink was Po Cha, a butter tea, that was part of my culinary special to prepare a Tibetan main course.  (It's hard to believe that it has been eight years since that culinary experience.)  For this challenge, I decided to make a papaya drink, which seems appropriate for this Caribbean challenge.   

Recipe from Dominican Cooking
Serves 4

3 cups of papaya, cut into cubes
3 cups of ice cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 quart of evaporated milk
1/2 cup of sugar

Put all of the ingredients (but only half of the sugar) in a blender and keep on high speed until the ice is blended.  Try and add more sugar if needed, blend for a few additional seconds. 

*     *   *

With my third goat challenge under my belt, I have to say that I am ready for a challenge involving another protein. Still, the Chivo Guisado turned out very well, and, I count this challenge as a success.  If I could improve upon it, I could have had a better cut of goat (one with less bones and connective tissue. The tostones and the batida de lechosa were both excellent and definitely something that I am going to keep in the back of my mind. Now, it is time to turn to the next challenge.  Until then ...


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Parmesan Crusted Rack of Lamb

A rack of lamb or carré d'agneau presents an amazing canvas for the right ingredients. The rack of lamb is a cut perpendicular to the spine of the lamb that includes sixteen (16) ribs.  This is an amazing cut of meat, which was often referred to by the British as the "best end of lamb."  And, as one could expect for the "best end," it is also one of the more expensive cuts of lamb sold at a butcher shop or grocery store.  

There are many recipes for a rack of lamb out there on the Internet.  A large segment of those recipes focus around a "crust" for the meat.  Generally speaking, a crust has two to three components: something wet, something dry and something interesting.  The "something wet" is an ingredient that can hold together the other components to the rack. Typically, mustard or olive oil could work. The "something dry" is usually bread crumbs. Finally, for that "something special," it is typically a combination of herbs and spices.  If the right ingredients are combined together, the crust will enhance the taste of the lamb with a depth of added flavors and aromas.

For this recipe the three components are fairly straight forward.  The "something wet" is olive oil and the something dry is bread crumbs. The "something special" is truly special, the king of cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, along with rosemary and parsley.  The combination of the Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley and rosemary provide levels of earthy flavors that complement the lamb. The amazing flavors are really noteworthy given how easy it is to prepare the dish.

Everytime I think about this recipe, I think about how I need to go out and buy a rack of lamb.  Speaking of which, I need to go out and buy one.  Until next time....

Recipe adapted from New York Times Cooking
Serves 41

1 rack of lamb, approximately 1.5 ponds, frenched
2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tablespoon fresh parsley

1. Sear the lamb.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Put a large frying pan over high heat until very hot.  Rub lamb with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season aggressively with salt and pepper and then sear the meat in the pan the meat in the pan until it is golden brown all over, about 4 minutes a side.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes, until cool.

2.  Prepare the crust.  In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, rosemary and parsley.  Rub the cooled off lamb with the remaining oil, then pat the seasoned bread crumbs all over the meat in an even layer. 

3.  Roast the lamb.  Put the lamb back on the baking sheet, and roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 120 degrees Fahrenheit, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove the lamb from the oven and allow to stand, covered loosely in foil for about 10 minutes.  Carve into chops and serve on a warmed platter.