Mmmm... Beer

Beer is much less pretentious than wine. Generally less expensive by the glass, too. Don't get me wrong, I like wine just fine but my palate takes to beer more easily.

This past weekend I attended the Best Beers of 2006 event at The Drafting Room in Exton, PA. Given that it was the same weekend as the famed Oscars, I liken it to be the Oscar Awards of the brewing industry. No actual awards are bestowed, just lots of good drinking of rare beers. What I like most about events at the Drafting Room is that the beers are offered in a 5 oz. option so I get to taste everything and still drive home. Captive Husband does not like to be the designated driver!

My favorite of '06 was 10 years alt from Victory Brewing Co. It's no longer available, brewed to mark their 10 year anniversary. The style is native to Germany, specifically Dusseldorf and Rhineland. The term Altbier translates literally to old beer referring to it's ancient past. Today it refers to a beer brewed for a special occasion, usually a bit darker and stronger than the breweries normal output. It's not common among artisan micro breweries either, making this incarnation extra special. Victory's brew had a wonderful balance of bitter and malt and floral hop flavors and aromas. You knew it was special the moment it passed your lips. It was available in a 3L format, known as a Jeroboam larger than a magnum. The bottles were signed and dated by Bill and Ron, the brewers. We picked one up intending it for our wedding reception which was to be later this year. Since we sped things up, we'll save it for our anniversary. When consumed, it will be one and a half years alt!

The photo is a perfect pour of stout floating atop hard cider. It was a wonderful greeting from my brother in law on a recent visit to DC. While we knew it as a Snakebite,
Wikipedia states it's more accurately a Poor Man's Black Velvet. A Black Velvet is a mix of champagne and stout. Whatever you call it, sipping sweet cider through chocolately stout is divine.


Sunday Dinner

There's something about warm and filling comfort food on Sunday, especially in the winter. This is my favorite time of year because I get to make my favortie dishes. Macaroni and cheese or polenta layered with Bolognese ragu, a recipe from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's The Splendid Table. How about a big pot of Mom's gravy - meatballs and sausage? Pumpkin risotto, braised short ribs, smothered steak, french onion soup. Chicken and biscuits, biscuits and gravy, buttermilk biscuits; biscuits and anything. If none of these foods interest you, please hit "Next Blog" now and move on.

All of these foods are inteneded for more than two people, so invite over that friend you've been meaning to get together with and get cooking! Maybe send a plate to your elderly neighbor or the lonely guy across the hall. This food isn't only about warming your stomach, it's to warm your soul as well.

Tonight's dinner - White cheddar macaroni and cheese with a warm salad of asparagus, red onion and mushrooms over field greens. One of the first episodes of Desperate Housewives featured Bree's family around a table asking for "food" rather than "cuisine". Like me, she's a gastronomic athlete. We don't need anything to help our hamburger and our chunky soup doesn't come from a can. Yet once in awhile you need to trade in the chef coat for an apron your Mother in law gave you.


Five Guys, Four Burgers

These Five Guys might replace Ben & Jerry as my best friends. Truly intending to make pollo al mattone I thought I had plenty of time to take a short nap and still make a tasty dinner. My "short" nap lasted 4 hours. What to have for dinner quickly? The captive husband suggested our new meaty paradise, Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries.

Normally this would be an occasion where loving husband gathers food and brings it back to his appreciative wife. This food doesn't travel well. The bag is soaked with grease after simply carrying it to your table. Waiting on the table are a pail of peanuts in the shell and a pail for said shells. Nice touch. The wrappings are reminiscent of take out diner food, foil sheet on the burgers, styrofoam cups (don't tell PETA) for fries. This is intentional to convince you this is YOUR local burger joint, not the successful franchise that it is or the McFranchise down the street. The burgers are even hand formed to play to the personal approach here. Don't even think about looking for a drive thru.

The 'Have it your way' chain can take a lesson here. You choose from a long list of freebies - fried onions, A-1 sauce, jalopenos to name a few. The minimal bacon charge is worth it, it's crispy and salty and smokey. The fries are skin on twice fried 8th wonder of the world with ample malt vinegar on hand for dousing. Cooked in proper peanut oil. Most of the bag grease is attributed to an additional portion of fries scattered in the bag. Another nice touch. Altough I'm sure it's covered in the cost the appearance of more than expected is welcomed.

The burger itself is beefy, and crispy on the edges from the griddle. You don't get to specify a doneness but these are about medium well. Still lots of flavor - cooked enough to avoid lawsuits. Notice the fact that they are thick enough to notice a temperature, not a thin line of gray meat stacked 4 high. Also the meat has never been frozen. This is integral for retaining juiciness even ideal freezing situations cannot accomplish. I'd estimate half pound total post cooking weight. No one's leaving hungry here.

Maybe one day I can bring myself to order the only other item on the menu: a kosher dog. With all the griddles, I bet they are similar to Nathan's and wonderful. Forgoing my cheeseburger in paradise would be difficult at best.


Chicken under a brick. Pollo al mattone

Every passionate cook has a dish they've always wanted to make. Chicken under a brick is mine. Right now, I'm the closest I've ever come to making it. I have all the ingredients, even went to Home Depot to buy bricks. Each night, something comes up resulting in an alternate dinner. The, "It's too late, I need to make something fast." excuse yielded manicotti with leftover sauce. Last night's, "I had a few too many drinks to be handling bricks in my kitchen." resulted in calling out for a stuffed meat lovers pizza. All tasty - but not the intended meal.

I've seen this recipe in countless cookbooks which I consume like novels. It's been featured on all the cooking shows worth watching (not Giada and her cleavage). The recipe is memorized as if I prepared it in a professional kitchen nightly for years. But has yet to make an appearance at Chez Lisa, my home kitchen.

The recipe is more of a method as opposed to an ingredient list. Take 1 tasty fryer chicken. Remove the backbone and butterfly it. Remove keel bone connecting the breasts. Cut off the wing tips and the last joint of the legs so they don't burn. Marinate if desired. The dish is native to Tuscany so I will marinate in Chianti vinegar, some of my costly olive oil, lemon thyme and garlic. Maybe I will push some lemon zest under the skin to protect it from burning. Grey salt and pepper and into a heavy skillet it goes, skin side down. Before the skin sets in the pan, I will weight each half of chicken with 1 cement brick wrapped in foil. Saute on medium for about 20 minutes. Remove bricks, flip chicken and finish in a 400 degree oven another 20 minutes. Why bricks? At over 5 lbs. each, they will cause the skin to become duck crackling crispy. Because the meat is pressed, it will have a nice meaty texture and the flavor will spread throughout so the bird will taste like happy poultry as opposed to, well, chicken.

I had fun sharing the recipe with the Home Depot clerk. He inquired as to why I would purchase only 2 bricks. Often they are sold by the pallet. He never anticipated that they were for cooking. And at only $.41 each, they're the least expensive cooking equipment I own!

Googling 'chicken under a brick' yields many worthy results, including another great blog that inspired this one, Gastronomie. Her recipe states that it's time to turn the chicken, "when the smell from the kitchen causes your husband to start drooling." Indeed, husband drool is a side effect of tasty dinners. That is why our apartment is littered with coffee cans. People think we dip, but no, there's a husband in captivity here.

Tonight I will try hard not to let anything take me away from the intended meal. I'll serve it with a warm salad of haricot verts with the same Chianti vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, cucumber and onion. Of course, I'll be back to share the triumphs.


Haut Chocolate

Chocolate, sushi and olive oil are my biggest food expenses. Luckily I received an assortment of Vosges Exotic Candy Bars for Christmas from a very wise friend. Since we went to their storefront while I was last visiting her, the gift was even more special. Yesterday I snacked on the Barcelona Bar - truly extraordinary. 41% cacao with sea salt and smoked almonds. Now some may say you need darker chocolate - not when you want to taste the other components in the bar. The sea salt is crunchy and the almonds buttery. This bar had less almonds than the last bar I had but that's OK. It means it wasn't made by a machine and I'm happy to endure inconsistencies for artisan product.

I will note that smoked almonds are a little nontraditional for a Spain inspired bar. In Barcelona proper you'd find Marcona Almonds in the chocolate bars, commonly pressed into the back of the bar while setting. They combine 2 of my weaknesses as the almonds are fried in olive oil, salted and then combined with the chocolate.

All of the Vosges products (another great company that is owned by a woman) are interesting and unique. I consumed all of their chocolate covered toffee in one sitting. Considering the cost, that was an expensive 5 minutes. Their most 'out there' truffle is chocolate mixed with taleggio cheese with balsamic vinegar. On paper is may sound repulsive. The food adventurer in me said, "I have to have one!" While it was tasty, it was made on the safe side so the funky cheese wasn't very prevalent. I would prefer a chocolate covered baton of cheese, now that's haute chocolate.


Welcome to the Jungle

Here lies my first food blog. I'll offer a glimpse into the world of my tastebuds and their adventures. I strive to make everyone's day tastier. Feel free to suggest topics, cuisines or ingredients to check out.