August 29, 2010

Beer Tasting

Our friend Renny is a beer crazy man. It is actually he that got both Sarah and I excited about [some] beer and started us out along a beer loving path. Sarah and I are more wine people and don't usually think to ourselves, "OMG, I need a beer!" Typically we think, "hmmm, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc would be quenching at the moment, hmmm." Yeah, we're snobs.

In the spirit of encouraging us and our friends to continue enjoying beer and in preparation for the eventual opening of Ye Olde Santa Cruz Beer Shoppe (there is currently not a serious proposal in the works, so calm down) Renny got a bunch of us together for a beer tasting and food pairing.  Each of us was assigned a style of beer to bring along with something that would pair well with that style. Renny was also generous enough to rummage around in his considerable cellar for a few gems to share with the group.

We started the night with a sour style and worked our way up and out in an ascending spiral to the barleywine.  I don't have a lot to say about the beers, I was only taking the briefest notes on who made them and what they were and don't have much on what they were like.  You'll just have to try them for yourselves.

Belgian Flanders Style: 
Cascade Brewing Apricot Ale 2009 Bottling (9%)
  Paired with bitter greens and vinaigrette.

  From Cascade's Web Site: Brewmaster Ron Gansberg based this Apricot Ale on a Belgian Tripel, putting it through 16 months lactic fermentation and aging in French oak wine barrels. The apricots were allowed to slowly ripen before introduction into the beer; the beer then aged another four months on the fruit before bottling. The finished product features the intense aroma of fresh-picked, slow ripened Northwest apricots warmed by the summer sun.

Strong Pale Ale:  
Mikkeller "It's Alive!" (8%). 
  Paired with apple cheddar bread.

  From Mikkeller's Web Site: It's Alive! is Mikkeller's answer and tribute to the trappist beer Orval. It's Alive is an easy-to-drink beer, with a lot of hops. The color is amber, the foam is high, white and dense. The potent Brettanomyces culture makes It's Alive continue to develop in the bottle.

Fantôme Biere Artisanale sur lie (8%)
  Fruity and skunky.  Paired with Camembert and chutney.

Brown Ale:
Sierra Nevada Tumbler 2010 (5.5%)
  Comes across as bitter and toasty.  Paired with Gouda.

  From Sierra Nevada's Web Site: As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down.

The Hop Bomb:
Devon's Double IPA 2010 (~8%)
  Highly aromatic of hops; sweet start, bitter finish.  Paired with aged sharp blue cheeses.

Devon says:  It's good, huh?

Imperial Stout:
Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch - Weasel (10.9%)
  Paired with aged Gouda and chocolate.

  From Mikkeller's Web Site: This imperial Oatmeal stout is brewed with one of the world’s most expensive coffees, made from droppings of weasel-like civet cats. The fussy Southeast Asian animals only eat the best and ripest coffee berries. Enzymes in their digestive system help to break down the bean. Workers collect the bean-containing droppings for Civet or Weasel Coffee. The exceedingly rare Civet Coffee has a strong taste and an even stronger aroma.

English BarleyWine:
Valley Brewing Company Old Inventory BarleyWine (11.3%)
  Paired with stinky blue cheese.

(photo courtesy of

Allison's Spic Cycle Buzz Mead 2005 (Unknown) 
  Made with Clover Honey and Champagne yeasts.

And that was the night. 

August 24, 2010

Borscht: Soup as Practice

Soup, I feel, is one of the easiest foods to make and the most forgiving thing on this good Earth.  Some vegetables, a little bit of stock or water, herbs, spices, salt and pepper, and you've got yourself a cozy little bowl of heaven.  The amount of each thing isn't even really that important as long as you taste along the way; in fact, I think it is probably a good practice to approach soup in this manner.  If you have a recipe, plumb it for ideas and then set it aside.  Use soup as a stepping stone to effective kitchen experimentation and enlightenment; try new combinations and new methods of adding and intensifying flavors.  Have fun.  

The worst thing that will happen is the dish might come across as bland or ugly, the first can be remedied with some salt and the worst of the second can be mitigated with a bit of clever plating.  

Making soup in this way is like playing with blocks; if you mess up nobody gets hurt, it can all be put back together again, and through the process maybe you stretch your abilities a little bit and become more familiar with your kitchen and your ingredients.  I wouldn't recommend this practice for something like pie dough or custard.  A slap-dash approach to either of these is like driving over a mountain with your eyes closed; you're liable to make a huge mess of things and somebody is going to have their day ruined. 

Borscht is a very simple soup that allows for experimentation while generally ending up tasting very good.  This version of borscht is basically red cabbage, beet, and potato in stock underpinned with diced mirpoix (onion, celery, and carrots), tomatoes, herbs, and spices.

Simple Borscht:

Olive Oil or Butter
1 Onion, diced
2 Cloves Garlic
2 Celery Sticks, diced
2 Carrots, diced
Other herbs or spices (red pepper flake, thyme, bay leaf, maybe some tarragon)
1 small head of red cabbage, cut into strips
1 or 2 red beets
1 or 2 waxy yellow or red potatoes (maybe do celeriac here, or parsnips, or parsley root, rutabega?)
1 lb. peeled and diced tomatoes (canned works well of course)
Vegetable Stock or water
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sour cream for serving

Sautée up the onion in olive oil or butter until well browned (20 minutes).  Add the garlic and other herbs or spices with the celery and carrot and sautée for a few minutes more.  Add in the cabbage, beets, potato, and tomato all at once with a hearty helping of salt and pepper.

Add enough stock and/or water to get the soup to your desired consistency.  If you like it more like a stew, add less, if you like a more brothy soup, add more. Bring to a boil then simmer covered until the beet is tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

August 13, 2010

Sarah's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Summer has come to Santa Cruz in its standard form: fog and heavy mist.  "Welcome to Sunny California!": my bum.  Needless to say, every once in a while during the summer months the slim possibility of sun on the weekend is just not enough to sustain us.  For a little extra boost there are Sarah's cookies.

Sarah is the head cookie baker in our house.  A lot of the cooking we share but when it comes to baking cookies she just has some kind of special touch.  There's something about freshly made cookie dough and warm cookies right out of the oven that just turns me to mush.  These oatmeal cookies are her standby when she's in a rush to whip up something for a party or group get-together.

Sarah's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Cups Flour
2 1/2 Cups Oatmeal (Quick Oats work best)
1 Cup Chocolate Chips (More or less depending on one's preference)

First, run the quick oats through a few pulses of a food processor so they are greatly reduces.  This will allow the cookies some texture while not making them too crunchy.

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Beat in the eggs - one at a time - until well incorporated.  Mix in the vanilla, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Work in the flour and oatmeal in stages until all incorporated then work in the chocolate chips.  Chill the dough for about an hour in the fridge will you head the oven to 375F (Sarah doesn't chill the there you go).  Spoon cookie sized portions of dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets and bake for 10 - 12 minutes.  Because our oven temp is wonky Sarah likes to turn the sheets about half way through so each side of the tray cooks evenly.

What we're looking for in a done cookie is a little bit of squish in the center with lightly browned edges.  Once they come out of the oven let them sit on the tray for a minute or two to finish up, then lay them out on a cooling rack.  They'll firm up once they cool down.

Don't eat too many, or you may get sick.

August 7, 2010

Carrot and Parsley Soup

This week the CSA box presented us with carrots and parsley. Tons of both. Typically what happens is we'll use up the carrots, feed the carrot greens to the chickens (they're a little too bitter to use all at once and usually end up going south anyway) and pull our hair out trying to figure out what to put the parsley on/in before it gets wilty (which takes a while, but we don't usually use a lot of parsley).

This time we figured to just use up everything all at the same time in a soup. Ha! What follows is our successful attempt at delivering a tasty meal with what we had on hand.

Carrot and Parsley Soup

Olive Oil
1 Onion Diced
More onions if you've got 'em.
Herbs and Spices:
Garlic, Red Pepper Flake, Bay Leaf, Rosemary, Oregano
1 Bunch Carrots Roughly Chopped
1 Small Bunch Parsley Chopped
Veggie Stock
1/4 cup Rice (white works best for this soup, could also use red lentils, bulgur wheat, or another cracked grain)
Yogurt or Sour Cream for garnish

Saute the onion in the olive oil until browned slightly (15 - 20 minutes). Add the herbs and spices with some salt and pepper and cook a minute or two more. Toss in the carrots and the parsley and saute a few minutes to sweat the carrots.

Add in the stock and the rice and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes, until the rice is tender. Taste for seasoning.

If you want to use brown rice instead of white don't add the rice with the stock into the soup pot. Instead, start a little earlier and cook the rice separately in stock or water until done then add it into the soup pot once it has had a chance to simmer and the carrots are tender.

You can have this soup rough like a stew or minestrone or you can blend it smooth. I like creamy soups so if given the choice I would blend it down with a stick blender (absolutely necessary in the kitchen if one likes creamy soups...a blender just does not cut the mustard).

Stir in some yogurt or sour cream into your bowl of soup before you serve it. Garnish with parsley to add some color.

Variation: Curried Carrot Soup
For the more ambitious crowd, one can forgo the French/Italian vein and exchange curry powder for the rosemary and oregano.