Archive for the food Category

Why Fresh Cut Grass Is Important

Posted in beer, food, life, soccer with tags , , , on August 9, 2014 by cueball

Fresh cut grass.  Not cookies, cakes, or pies baking in the oven or the smoke from a grill on a summer’s evening.  It is the smell of fresh cut grass that I love the most. 

That aroma reminds me of being young and on a soccer field.  The sun beating down on you.  You watching the ball on the far end of the field waiting for it be played.  Then you see the ball take off and hear the thump of the kick and watch for a split second to check the flight of the ball and judge the run of the man you’re marking.  In that split second your mind does thousands of mathematical and physics computations that you could not explain in a million years to know how fast and where to run.  Then you are both off like Labradors after a tennis ball.  You beat your guy to the ball by the width of your shoe and deflect it away to the right.  You knew your plan instinctively so you are able to gain a little more space as you both sprint towards the spheroid.  You collect it, take a couple of dribbles and play a long ball to the other side of the field and watch the last 15 seconds of your life play out in a mirror image 60 yards away. 

You would entertain yourself for hours chasing a round ball all over a grassy meadow with a bunch of other likeminded individuals.  You would push yourself, test yourself, and entertain yourself in the pursuit of what?  Freedom, joy, happiness.  Yes. 

That smell is probably why I love hoppy beers.  When I have a good IPA poured into my glass I always take the time to get a good whiff taking in all the fresh cut grass and piney aromas I can before I sip.  That is the power of good food and good drink.  Not just the enjoyment at that very moment, but the memories it conjures of the past. 

That breakfast plate you are so fond of at the diner across town isn’t about the greasy goodness of the eggs and bacon, it is about the Sunday mornings you had as a kid watching your father cook his one meal of the week and the joy of sharing that meal and that time with him.  That double cheeseburger at the new place down the block you love so much isn’t about your love of cheddar, it is about the burgers your uncle cooked on those long summer nights of your childhood.  You and all your cousins would eat and then go chase fireflies until it was too dark to see while the adults sat, watched, and heckled from their lawn chairs.  Everyone a big happy mostly functional extended family.  

Food and drink aren’t important just as nourishment and fuel.  They are important because they are a key that gives us access to memories we hold sacred in our hearts and in our minds.  The memories that make our life something more.  That is why cooking real food still matters and why the slow food movement has taken such a strong hold.  Yes, you can get your vitamins and minerals from a host of semi-edible substances and you can get your caffeine from semi-drinkable liquids, but you lose that connection with your past and the world that way. 

That is the difference between existing and living.  You can exist by joylessly performing all the necessary functions to keep your body alive.  However, to live is to enjoy the food and the drink that not only nourishes your body, but also your mind and your memories. 

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Penne Pasta with Alfredo Sauce and Steamed Broccoli and Asparagus paired with Flying Dog Brewery’s In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2014 by cueball
Flying Dog's In-Heat Wheat pairs wonderfully with this pasta dish

Flying Dog’s In-Heat Wheat pairs wonderfully with this pasta dish

I started with the idea of making a lighter spring/summer vegetable dish.  I found this Alfredo sauce recipe on Allrecipes.com and decided that asparagus and broccoli would be the perfect match for it.  Once I had the recipe I wanted I knew I wanted a lighter summer beer.  I looked at the recipe and figured out the dominant tastes would be the creamy sauce and the asparagus and broccoli.  That was pretty easy to figure out since outside of the penne they are the only things in the recipe.

The next question was do I want the beer to complement or contrast the flavors?  What would be the best way to highlight the food and the beer together?  I did not find that many recommendations for pairings with an Alfredo sauce and the ones I did find recommended pale ale.  Honestly, those are useless recommendations without naming a specific pale ale.  Pales are not necessarily light enough to work with a light summer dish nor do they have enough carbonation to work with a sauce that is as cloying as an Alfredo sauce, unless you are recommending one of the lighter spring/summer seasonal pales like Little Hump from Highland Brewing.  Thinking about the recipe, my mind went in a different direction immediately anyway:  hefeweizens or witbiers.

Then I just had to choose a beer.  So, I went down to Dragonfly and bought a handful of different hefeweizens and witbiers that I like, Weeping Willow Wit, Orange Avenue Wit, Shotgun Betty, and In-Heat Wheat.  Any of them would have worked, but I choose the In-Heat Wheat.

In-Heat has a classic hefeweizen taste of cloves and bananas from the yeast, a lot of carbonation, and it is light on the tongue.  The one thing that worried me about using a wheat beer was the cloves and banana.  I was not sure how that would go with the sauce and the vegetables.

I was surprised by how the cloves and bananas complemented the asparagus and the sauce.  This sauce is good because it adapts to whatever it is being served with including beer and the light vegetable flavor of the asparagus also fit with the taste of the beer nicely.  Where this beer works better than a pale ale is in the lightness and the carbonation.  The lightness fit with the overall feel of the dish and the carbonation cut through the sauce keeping it from being too heavy and overwhelming the vegetables and pasta.

Penne Pasta with creamy Alfredo Sauce and steamed Asparagus and Broccoli

Penne Pasta with creamy Alfredo Sauce and steamed Asparagus and Broccoli

One of the lighter spring or summer seasonal pales would have worked because of their lightness and would have brought a different flavor profile because of their hoppy vegetal taste.  That would have placed more of the emphasis on the vegetables instead of the sauce.  The yeasty taste of a wheat beer moves the emphasis to the sauce instead of the vegetables and in turn, with this sauce in particular, the sauce accepts some of the tastes of the beer highlighting both.  That yeasty sweetness also complemented the vegetables without getting in their way giving me a good summer pairing.

Mixed Vegetable Frittata and Allagash White Food/Beer Pairing

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by cueball

This may be my favorite pairing so far and it will probably stay as one of my favorites for a good while.  Why?  It was a purely spontaneous pairing.

This is what happened.  I spent the morning as I do on Saturdays watching Premiere League soccer and cleaning my house.  I met Eightball for lunch at my favorite place in Shelby for beer (today the newly tapped Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale) and food, Pleasant City.  Then I went over to my local beer store, Dragonfly Wine Market, tasted  few of my favorite North Carolina beers (Lonerider: Sweet Josie and Shotgun Betty; Mother Earth Brewing Endless River; and Highland Brewing Oatmeal Porter) and purchased more beer then I should have but not as much as a I wanted.

I arrived back home and almost drove to the grocery store (which would have been my third trip in two days) when I decided to look at what I had laying around.  For whatever reason, the milk, eggs, and frozen vegetables jumped out at me.  A frittata would be a great light dinner with a lot of flavor. So I went through my recipe books and found a recipe for a pasta frittata.  I didn’t have pasta, so I just substituted the vegetables and added some Parmesan cheese to make it all come together and in 30 minutes I had nice light and feathery tasting frittata.

As soon as I decided on the frittata, I knew exactly what I was going to pair it with.  Taking advice from the ur-text of beer and food pairing, The Brewmaster’s Table, witbier was the obvious choice of what is currently in my fridge.  Luckily, my only witbier at the moment was the Allagash White.

First off, as it should, Allagash White pours a little cloudy and has a nice quickly disappearing head.  On the nose, you get a little bit of cloves from the yeast and the orange peel and coriander among others from the added spices.  On the front of the taste, you get the bright orange peel/citrusy taste with the cloves, coriander, and other spices coming along behind.  On the finish there is a touch of wheat that makes you want another sip.

The White’s orange peel and coriander flavors matched perfectly with the brunchy nature of dinner.  Even with its substantive and full flavor it is light enough to not over power the eggs, milk, and Parmesan mixture.  The frittata is a great last second way to use up extra food.  You can use any filler you want:  pasta, mixed vegetables, spinach, ham, sausage, etc.  In this case I used frozen mixed vegetables to make a quick simple meal.  I also love to use left over pasta or almost caramelized onions.  With the frittata you can make it taste however you want by changing the filler ingredients and the cheese used to bind it together.

This meal would have been better with fresh vegetables, but I was in a hurry and wanted to do something simple.  Isn’t this is how most people deal with wanting to cook something at the after a long day at work or at the last minute to help make a real meal:  What’s in my fridge and pantry that will let me make something that tastes good and is relatively easy?  The next time I’ll get vegetables and chop them and add different flavors and textures to make this better, but because of the situation and how I was feeling at the time this was almost perfect.

This was the essence of what I really want to do.  Find simple, maybe not easy, foods that anyone can make and then try to match them with beer?  In this case I choose a light brunch/breakfast type food for dinner.  To match with that I wanted to first find something that was light and had a profile that was reminiscent of orange juice.  Witbiers are the perfect beer for that situation.

Now, this may be the first of two food and beer posts this weekend.  Eightball and I are probably going to watch Daytona tomorrow.  What beer goes best with driving around in circles for 500 miles?

Vegetable Pot Pie and Hi-Wire Brewing Bed of Nails Brown Ale Pairing

Posted in beer, food, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2014 by cueball
Tastes better that it looks

Tastes better than it looks

I used to think I was a pretty good cook.  I thought that because I can chop onions and mince garlic and put some stuff in a slow cooker and make a pretty good meal.  Yeah, I know how to cook good rice but today’s recipe was easily the most complicated thing I have ever made.  Vegetable pot pie has so many moving parts.  I take that back.  It has a major, huge demonstrably difficult moving part called pie crust.

Anyway, we’ll get to the food in a second.  On to the beer.

Bed of Nails Brown Ale, Hi-Wire Brewing

I’ve become really fascinated with English and English-style beers since thinking about and trying this pairing experiment.  Bed of Nails Brown is another English-style American beer, this time from a relatively new brewery out of Asheville, Hi-Wire.  The reason I chose English-style beer for nice bit of comfort food made was precisely because while it is full of hop bitterness it is not overwhelmed by the more American hop taste.  You get a lot of the hop aromas in the glass, piney and citrusy, with this beer, but it does not over power you with that same piney/citrusy taste.  The hop bitterness works well with the cocoa/chocolate bitterness to make a very well-choreographed and easy drinking beer.

Vegetable Pot Pie

I got his recipe from Allrecipes.com.  I tweaked it a little, but not much.  It actually tasted very good.  Better than it looked actually.  The crust was a little gummy as I figured it would be.  This is the first pie crust I’ve made.  Anyway the vegetables tasted it great.  They were cooked to the perfect texture and were seasoned well.

Back to the crust for a second.  In the short time I’ve really been trying to work on my home cooking skills I have found baking to be the hardest thing.  I haven’t burned anything in the oven yet, but you don’t have to do that to screw up a pastry.  Timing and temperature have to be so precise in baking that the slightest mistake can screw up a dish.  That makes it not to dissimilar to brewing.  I have learned the same thing through a couple of screwed up home brew batches.

Why this pairing worked

By being an English-style beer Bed of Nails hops are less assertive then the more American-style browns like Duck Rabbit Brown or Lonerider’s Sweet Josie.  The use of the soy sauce with the primarily root vegetables and mushrooms fit perfectly with the less hop forward taste.

In my time trying to find good beer and food pairings I have come to one conclusion, besides the one where pale ales, to some extent, work with almost anything.  This is the conclusion:  Brown ale + umami = awesome.  This word is borrowed from Japanese where it literally translates to, “pleasant savory taste.”  To me it means more than that.

It is the idea of the comfort and home comfort food, Southern food, and “Soul” food represents.   It is the food equivalent of that favorite quilt you have that you always wrap yourself in when you have flu.  For me brown ales tend to accentuate that taste and feeling in foods.

I haven’t posted in a little over a week because of a weird cold that never turned into an actual cold, but wouldn’t go away and a bout of insomnia caused by the cold that then made the cold feel worse, but I’m back now.

Beer/Food Pairing Attempts: Creole Hoppin’ Jean and People’s Porter

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by cueball

Creole Hoppin’ Jean from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry paired with People’s Porter by Foothills Brewing.

Question you never hear asked:  What will pair well with this Bud Light?

What you probably have heard is the old joke, how is American beer like having sex in a canoe?  They’re both fucking close to water.

Trying to figure out beer and food pairings is an example of why I love craft beer.  Craft beers are more than just slightly fizzy alcohol delivery devices.  They also, for the most part, aren’t just product to be made and sold by the unit.  Craft beer when made well has character that can be celebrated on its own or in tandem with food.

Periodically, this year (I’m hoping once a week) I’ll be making a recipe out of one of my many cookbooks (almost all vegetarian) and pairing them with a beer.

Pairings usually work best when you choose the beer first.  I am going to do that from now on and I will explain why in a moment.

I love People’s Porter.  It is a great example of a British-style porter.  The hop presence is more herbaceous and less citrusy and piney and it has a wonderfully dry maltiness with chocolaty taste and espresso finish.  For a beer that dark with a light caramel head it is very light and easy to drink with just enough bitterness to make you take another sip.

This Hoppin’ Jean recipe is also very good.  It has wonderful layers of flavors built on the base of the black-eyed peas and the brown rice.  The use of homemade vegetable stock instead of water adds even more depth with and earthy quality.  It was a bit too spicy and I’ll adjust that on future versions.  It has that warming feel of home that good soul/southern food always provides.

Did the pairing work?  Not so much, and it was precisely because I picked the food before I picked the beer.  I had never made this hoppin’ john recipe before.  I had no idea what its flavor profile would be.  My beer selection was a guess.  It was a somewhat educated guess, but it was still a guess.

The Hoppin’ Jean was too spicy and overpowered the porter.  That is rather surprising because I chose a porter instead of a brown ale because I believed it would stand up to the spiciness.  The other problem was I thought the tomatoes would be a bigger presence and provide a little more sweetness to balance out the heat from the spices.

The next pairing for this dish will have to be something hoppier or something leaning towards a sweeter malt profile.  The first thing that comes to mind is an American-style brown ale (Duck Rabbit Brown Ale or Lonerider Sweet Josie).  That would provide a bigger hop profile to fight through the spiciness and still keep the darker malt flavors which did work.  Maybe an American pale ale which would be hoppier then the brown ale, and give malt flavors closer to biscuits and bread.  An IPA might be too much hops for this.  Or, better yet, go with a Belgian style dubbel or tripel.  The sweetness in the beer would hopefully bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and the high alcohol content would cut through the spiciness.  The same could go for an imperial Russian stout.

I almost did not write about this initial tasting because it did not work.  Then it dawned on me that I learned so much from this precisely because it did not work.  If it had worked, I literally would have just been fat and happy.  I would have enjoyed the meal, cleaned up and went on about my day.  I would be jotting down notes on how great wonderful the experience was.  Instead, it didn’t come off exactly like I wanted it and I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out why. 

What did I learn?  First, choose the beer first or choose the food first, but choose the one whose taste you understand best.  Second, spiciness and heat can overpower a beer unless it is really hoppy or is high ABV with lots of alcohol to cut through that spiciness.

I will revisit this recipe later to find the right pairing.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, I’m going to try something else next week.  I don’t know what yet, but I’ll have fun figuring it out.

Bar Tour: Olde Hickory Tap Room

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2014 by cueball

Occasional Dispatches by Cueball and Eightball from bars around NC/SC.

Olde Hickory Tap Room, Hickory, NC

This is hopefully the first of occasional bar reviews from our journeys around North and South Carolina.

This first dispatch is from an impromptu Martin Luther King, Jr. Day visit to Olde Hickory Tap Room in Hickory, NC.

First off, it was an insanely beautiful and unseasonably warm January day.  If you have never been to Olde Hickory it is in a great spot in downtown (or is it uptown?) Hickory.  For a holiday at a business district restaurant there was a pretty good crowd, but we were able to find two good spots at the bar.

The place has a good dark oak beer inspired décor.  We did not have to wait too long for our bartender to find us and get us started with a menu and some beer suggestions.  We both started off with the Stone Brewing Double Bastard.  It is a nice big American Strong Ale weighing in at 11.2% ABV.  Luckily for Mr. Lankford (Eightball), who was driving, they properly serve such a big beer in a smaller Belgian Goblet.

We started the food off with the Pub Chips with Beer Cheese Sauce as an appetizer.  The chips were seasoned nicely and the cheese sauce was good.  I will say I prefer that sauce to ranch.

Once we finished our first round and were waiting for our sandwiches to arrive we had a cool discussion with our bartender and she went through a few of the beers we might like.  She offered us a taste of among others the Olde Hickory Brewery (OHB) Death By Hops.  I tasted it, and loved it.  Lankford on the other hand doesn’t like IPAs or the taste of really hoppy beers.  The bartender did point him into another direction and he settled on the OHB Hickory Stick Stout.  I loved the Death By Hops, but I thought it would overmatch my sandwich and selected the OHB Table Rock Pale Ale.

I ordered the Black Bean Burger with fries and Lankford got The Martin, a jerk chicken sandwich on sourdough bread, with fries.  The food did come pretty quickly and my sandwich was pretty good.  Maybe the patty was a little over cooked, but I actually like my vegetarian patties a little past well-done.  Lankford seemed to enjoy his since it went quickly.  The fries were not really hot, but it was during a bit of the lunch rush and they were probably sitting under a heat lamp for a few minutes.  However, they were still seasoned well and crisp.

If you have read any of the things I’ve written about reviewing things in the recent past you know I don’t like star systems or any other kind of ranking system, but I think recommendations should be much simpler:  would I recommend this to a friend.  So, yeah, I would wholeheartedly recommend Olde Hickory Tap Room to a friend.  Cool spot, cool atmosphere/décor, and knowledgeable bartenders.  I would love to go back one night especially when they have music and take a date (don’t laugh, that could happen).  That said, if you are passing through or near Hickory and need a nice meal and a good beer it is a great place.

I Just Felt Like Posting About Food and Beer

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by cueball

I just made this recipe I got off of Allrecipes.com tonight:

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 pounds potatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  • Combine the onions, celery, potatoes, and dill weed in a slow cooker; drizzle the olive oil over the mixture. Pour the vegetable broth into the slow cooker.
  • Cook on High until the vegetables are tender, about 6 hours.

I was surprised at how tasty this was despite its simplicity.

What really worked was drinking a Denver Pale Ale from Great Divide Brewing.  Because it is and English-style pale ale, the more mellow hoppiness paired really well with the dill weed and the Earthy nature of all the root vegetables.