Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beer Style Breakdown 101: Saisons

Ready to pop some bubbly?

If you missed the first class, you can borrow my notes.

Berry White was kind enough to volunteer his time and his bottle of Brooklyn's Sorachi Ace for today's demonstration.

 Pencils (and glasses) ready.

Style:  Saison 
Country of Origin:  Belgium
Also known as:  Farmhouse ale

Saisons (French for "season") first originated in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.  Traditionally, they were brewed in the winter time and enjoyed by thirsty farmers during the long, hot summers.  The farmers were allowed to drink up to five liters a day.

Pretty sweet deal.

Saisons are pale and golden in color and have a rich, sudsy head.

Hello, sunshine.

The complexity of this style really shines through its aroma and flavor.  Saisons are moderately tart, rich in spices and have a noticeable "funkiness" to them (some more in-your-face than others) that can be attributed to the yeast.  The finish is dry and slightly bitter on the tongue.  Although they possess some fruity notes, saisons are not nearly as sweet as fruit lambics (which I'll cover another week.)

My personal favorites:  Ommegang Hennepin (NY), The Bruery Saison Rue (CA), Saison Dupont (Belgium)

Saisons are a popular choice during the summer (given their history and all) but are great to sip on all year round.  This is a fun style to pair with food or to do a side-by-side tasting with offerings from different breweries.  

Try it out.  Your tastebuds will appreciate the challenge.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sugared Cinema: The Breakfast Club

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong...but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are.  You see us as you want to see us...in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.  But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete...and a basket case...a princess...and a criminal...

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club

The plot was so brilliantly simple:  five students report to their high school for a day of detention.  It's a premise only John Hughes could bring to life.  Rest in peace, Mr. Hughes.

The Breakfast Club was so far from your typical coming-of-age film and has maintained its cult following since its release in 1985.  While the cast went on to star in other great (and some not so great...remember Men at Work?) films, The Breakfast Club was, in my opinion, the movie that defined them.

Sorry to get all Ebert on you there.  But 80's teen dramas are serious business.

A few years after the movie came out, "Bender" (Judd Nelson) was in DC for some big event on Capitol Hill (advocating school disciplinary programs?  I'm not entirely sure) and my sister, Manda, got to meet him and get his autograph.  Considering the fact that her only other brush with celebrity-hood was when she met a young Joey Lawrence at the White House Easter Egg Roll, this was a pretty big deal.

Today's recipe is a popular breakfast treat that, much like the five detentionees, will not conform to the pressures and expectations of griddles, pans and menu platters named after plays in baseball.

Chocolate Chip Pancake Muffins

Recipe by the mighty Bakerella
Makes 12 muffins or 24 mini muffins
Here's what you'll need:

 1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, extra for the tops
The original recipe calls for milk chocolate chips but I used dark chocolate chunks because the squared edges seem to latch onto the batter more efficiently.

Or because they were all I had in the pantry.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Grease up a muffin or mini-muffin pan.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, maple syrup and melted butter. 

 Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and mix it up.

  Fold in the chocolate chips/chunks/bits.

Divide the batter between the muffins cups.  Sprinkle a few chips on top of each one.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Let them sit for a few minutes then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Wake up, sleepyhead.

You can eat them plain, slather on a little butter or drizzle them with maple syrup.

Man, these really do taste like pancakes!

When you're running late in the morning, scrambling to find your keys and filling up your insulated travel mug...

don't you...

...forget about these.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Boozy peaches set on fire then doused in cream.

Peaches for pyros, if you will.

Yesterday, my usual Monday ho-humness was overshadowed by the summer solstice.  For the first Monday in many Mondays, there was an unusually bouncy spring summer in every step I took in my Payless BOGO flats.

To celebrate, I wanted to make something fresh, fun and that didn't require preheating the oven.  I also had two peaches sitting on my counter that were less than 24 hours away from being overripe, as well as a bottle of Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that never sees the light of day unless I need to make spiked buttercream.

I discovered the perfect Rachael Ray recipe to kick off the balmy season...Fired-Up Peaches and Cream.

Here's what you'll need:

2 Tablespoons butter, cubed
2 medium ripe peaches, sliced
pinch ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 shots whiskey (hoo boy)
ice cream or whipped cream

I love recipes with consistent, whole-numbered measurements.  This recipe serves 2 people so if you want 3 servings, just increase the amounts by 1.  Simple math all the way down and easy to store up here (points to head.)

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet.

Add in peaches.  Sprinkle with cinnamon then give them a stir.

Increase the heat to medium-high and let the peaches cook for a few minutes.

Mix in the brown sugar.

Let it get all gold 'n bubbly.

Now comes the fun part.  

The initially-terrifying-if-you're-home-alone-but-ultimately-fun part.

Remove the pan from heat then add the whiskey.  Tip the pan...

...and turn those peaches into a BLAZE OF GLORY!

If tipping the pan doesn't work, carefully light a corner of the sauce with a match or an extended lighter.

This is seriously the most badass thing I've ever experienced in the kitchen.

Although I have to admit, I was relieved when the fire started to subside.  The flames almost hit the stove hood when I first added the liquor.  I can't tell you how happy I am that Mike wasn't home when all of this went down.

When the flames burn out, spoon the hot peaches into bowls and top with a scoop of ice cream or some fresh whipped cream.

I love the way the brown sugar and the whiskey partner up in this dessert.  You can really pick up on the whiskey at the end of each bite.

Not a whiskey fan?  Substitute it with rum.  Designated driver?  Omit the alcohol.  Whatever floats your inner tube.

Now go out and find a river to be lazy in.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sugared Cinema: Punch-Drunk Love

Healthy Choice and American Airlines got together and put this promotion: If you buy any 10 Healthy Choice products, they will reward you with 500 frequent flier miles; with this special coupon, they'll up it to 1,000 miles.  So, I think they are trying to push their teriyaki chicken which is $1.79, but I went to the supermarket and I looked around and I saw that they had pudding... for 25¢ a cup... comes in packages of four.  But insanely...the barcodes...are on the individual cups!  So, quarter a cup, say you bought $2.50 worth.  That's worth 500...with the coupon it's 1,000 miles.  It's a marketing mistake but I'm taking advantage of it.  If you were to spend $3,000, that would get you a million frequent flier miles.  You would never have to pay for a ticket the rest of your life.

Punch-Drunk Love is a classic love story:

Shy boy with repressed anger meets mysterious girl.  Girl is injured after phone sex operator sends henchmen to ram car.  Boy lays beatdown on henchmen then drives to Utah to speak with phone sex supervisor.  Boy and girl fall in love and travel for free using pudding miles.

It all makes perfect sense, really.

Adam Sandler is one of those actors you either love or hate.  Between The Wedding Singer, Spanglish, Reign Over Me and this movie, I'd say he's done a swell job at transitioning from his alma mater, SNL.  He is SO much more than just a Waterboy.

Sooo, after last month's casualty, I decided to give pudding one more try using a Scharffen Berger recipe.  If it didn't turn out, the recipe was going for a ride through the shredder and I would just have to stick to Bill Cosby and his Jell-O cups and his terrible sweaters.

Guess what?  It worked.

A quick heads up:  the directions listed on their site tell you to stir in the milk and chocolate at the same time.  This is incorrect.  If you follow the steps I walk you through below, it'll all work out. 

Chocolate Pudding
Recipe by Scharffen Berger

Here's what you'll need:

4 Tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler, combine cornstarch, sugar and salt.

Slowly stir in the milk.

Let the mixture heat up for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the bowl.

Once the pudding has thickened, stir in all of the chocolate shards.

Parting is such decadent, bittersweet sorrow.

Stir and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes.

Remove from heat then add the vanilla.

I was feeling ballsy (or lazy) and said to heck with a measuring spoon.

If you like your pudding extra smooth, pour it through a strainer before ladling it into bowls or cups.

Cover the pudding with plastic wrap unless you like yours to have that congealed "skin" on top.  I prefer mine sans skin but I could go either way.  I just wish there was a more appetizing way to describe it.  Because "skin" is just gross.

Refrigerate the pudding until it's cool, set or until you lose your patience.

THANK you.  Finally.

In last month's pudding attempt post, a few people commented on how good the Scharffen Berger recipe turned out for them.  They weren't kidding.  It's fantastic.

Plain, dolloped with whipped cream or, better yet, topped with some fresh berries.  Doll it up (or not at all) and enjoy.

You can go to places in the world with pudding. That's funny.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beer Style Breakdown 101: Hefeweizens

I started dabbling in the whole craft beer thing about three years ago.  I remember discovering that life-changing "crossover" beer, the one that made me want to learn more about what was in that bottle I was drinking from.  I figured if I was going to partake, I might as well enjoy it on the way down.  You don't eat solely to get full, right?  Why only drink to get drunk?

The Beer Aisle can be pretty intimidating when you're trying to broaden your horizons.  All of those different breweries and punny beer names and colorful labels...it's a lot to take in.  It's like walking through the New Release section at those old-fashioned video rental stores from back in the decade.

For those interested in learning more about craft beer, I've decided to do a (number to be determined)-part series covering various beer styles here on the blog.  I won't get too crazy or elaborate - just a quick, simple breakdown of a particular style, its characteristics and a few of my personal favorites, if you want a little head start.

Since I spend most of my waking life in the kitchen, I thought we could switch it up and take our lesson outside.

Isn't this birdhouse darling?  It's seen better days but I can't bring myself to toss it.

Okay, okay, let's get started.

Style:  Hefeweizen
Country of origin:  Germany
Also known as:  Hefeweissbier (in the Bavarian region of Germany)

 In German, the word "hefeweizen" can be broken down into two words.

"Hefe" = yeast
"Weizen" = wheat

Simply put: a hefeweizen is a traditional German-style beer that is brewed with wheat and whose yeast sediment is left unfiltered.

See how you can't even see through the glass?

That's one unfiltered beer.  No Britas allowed.

In addition to its cloudy appearance, hefeweizens are beautifully golden in color, use minimal hops (which means less bitterness), have a fluffy, pillow-like head (as I so gracefully demonstrated a few pictures up) and typically possess hints of banana and cloves, brought forth from the yeast.  It's a super refreshing style of beer, which makes it a popular choice during the summer months.

My personal favorites:  Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (Germany), Ayinger Brau Weisse (Germany), Victory Sunrise Weissbier (PA)

Hefeweizens are often confused with witbiers (Blue Moon being one of the most widely known) and while they both fall under the category of wheat beer, they are two different styles.  We'll cover witbiers another day when I don't have a pizza on the way.

Until then, happy (and safe) sipping.  I hope that didn't sound too teacher-y.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sugared Small Screen: True Blood

When you came in the air went out.
And every shadow filled up with doubt.
I don't know who you think you are,
But before the night is through,
I wanna do bad things with you.

Due to the fact that I live in the paleolithic era and don't yet own a DVR, there are very few shows that I will make a solid effort to catch on a regular basis.  True Blood is one of them.

The characters, the lascivious bite scenes, the humor, the occasionally forced Louisiana accents...I love it all.  I've been chewing on my hand in anticipation of the new season.

Any predictions?

Will Eric and Sookie hook up?
Will Tara find inner peace?
Will Sam shapeshift into a squirrel and water ski around a baby pool?

Season 3 premieres this Sunday at 9pm.  

You know what that means...

...themed sweets.

To decorate these cookies, we'll be using the flooding technique that I used on these citrus slice cookies.

You'll need:

oval-shaped baked sugar cookies
royal icing (we'll call it "RI")
green food coloring (I used Wilton Leaf Green)

After you've made the royal icing, divide it between two small bowls.  Gradually add and stir in green dye to one bowl of RI until it reaches a bright, vibrant, Merlotte's-y green.

Pour the green icing into a piping bag or bottle.  Keep the other bowl of RI tightly sealed until ready to use.

Using the green icing, pipe a dam around the cookie.

Flood the cookie.

Fill it in using a toothpick.

Let the first layer set while you're catching up on Season 2.

When dry, it's time to add the details.

Transfer the other bowl of icing into a bag or bottle.  Test out the consistency on a napkin or plate, give yourself a quick pep talk and pipe away.


Sam would never push these at the bar.  My piping skills could definitely use a little honing.

Shoddy pipework aside, these are pretty easy to make and are a nifty addition to your True Blood viewing party.

Can I interest you in a little bubbly?

I hope you like O Positive.

Sip, eat, enjoy.

That cookie is MINE.

Or just sip.

Happy Friday, my fang-banging friends.