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Oh hey, remember me?

11 Jan

Your absentee blogger is back on premises

So yeah, I kind of fell off the face of the blogosphere for a bit there, didn’t I?  Yeah, I did.  Sorry about that.  You don’t need any excuses and I don’t have any other than…I went through the inevitable blogger’s-block that strikes from time to time.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions (why set yourself up for failure?), but my first goal for 2011 is to get my act together and get back to blathering on about what new beer and wine I’m guzzling and food I’m shoving in my face, because I know these few months haven’t been the same for you all without it.

Rest assured, I’m still trying great new beers and wines and I even occasionally make food that’s tasty and pretty enough to snap blurry photos of and I think I’m ready to share my thoughts with the world again.  So, to those of you still plugged-in and even mildly interested…I’M BACK.  For now, anyway.  Like I said, why set yourself up for failure.  Happy 1/11/11!

New Brew: Ale Asylum Bedlam! Trappist IPA

24 Apr

The Belgian-style pale ale fest continues with Ale Asylum Bedlam! Trappist IPA.  Ale Asylum has attempted to one-up your standard Belgian-style beer by evoking the holy aura of the Trappist designation.  While obviously not a true Trappist beer (Ale Asylum’s East Side warehouse digs are neither a monastery in Europe nor staffed by monks of the Trappist order), the use of the phrase summons a certain expectation of sublime complexity due to proprietary yeast profiles used by the famous breweries.  If nothing else, the word gets your average beer geek all hot and bothered.  Brewer Dean Coffey has exhibited a fairly deft hand with Belgian-style beers in the past – his Triple Nova, Diablo, Happy Ending, and Mercy all strong efforts.  Paired with a demonstrated love for hop-forward ales (Hopalicious, Ambergeddon, Balistic IPA, and Action Jacksin DIPA all tongue-scorchers), Bedlam! has the pedigree for New World-Old World nirvana.

Ale Asylum Bedlam! Trappist IPA

Style: Belgian-style IPA

Vitals: ~7.5% abv; Citra hops; Trappist-style yeast; ~$9.79/six-pack at Barriques Market in Fitchburg

Company line: “A chaotic blend of Citra hops and Trappist-style yeast give this IPA aromas of summer fruit and a bright hop presence with a plush finish.  Bedlam is unfiltered and all natural for superior flavor and quality.  It is brewed with passion and is best enjoyed that way.”

My take: pours a radioactive reddish-orange in the glass, echoing the hue of the mad bear-creature on the label.  Aroma is intensely citrusy and dominated by the lime-y hop profile, with ripe fruit and spice filling out the bouquet.   The aptly-named Citra hops are the first impression on the palate as well, followed by apricot, mango and yeasty spice.  Body is light and airy, which along with the dry, hoppy finish lends ample drinkability.  A beer and a style made for spring, Bedlam doesn’t quite deliver enough Belgian-style yeast character to overcome the brisk Citra hop profile, but makes a fine warm-weather quaffer nonetheless.  While Ommegang BPA and Flying Dog Raging Bitch might deliver more of the spicy/fruity Belgian yeastiness, Bedlam is a hop-forward foray into the posh, tradition-blending new style set to take the brewing scene by storm this season.

It’s so watery – and yet there’s a smack of ham to it – Baked Ham with Coffee and Brown Sugar Glaze

8 Mar

Somewhere between Christmas and Easter, I found myself with a second-hand ham taking up half of my freezer.  Sometimes a lazy Sunday is reason enough to cook 11 pounds of meat and watch some basketball (always a pleasure seeing Bruce Weber stymied by Bo and the boys).  Oh and the Oscars (The Dude wins!).  I guess today was a holiday after all.

A quick scanning of my modest cookbook library yielded an interest-piquing recipe from my Dean & DeLuca Cookbook for a poached/baked ham with a coffee and brown sugar glaze.  The severe lack of coffee and coffee-related food items in my life right now made this one a no-brainer.  Coffee and pork – together at last.

Baked Ham with Coffee and Brown Sugar Glaze

(courtesy of The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook)

Though it does sound a little unusual, the glaze in the recipe lends a lovely color and flavor to the exterior of the ham; after all, ham with red-eye gravy (made with coffee) is a Southern classic. And there’s another creative element in this dish: though this is baked ham, it spends most of its cooking time poaching in water on top of the stove. This keeps the ham very moist (it heats to the center more quickly than in a dry oven). Additionally, the water method draws out the salt in the ham, rather than concentrating it. Just make sure that you keep the water below the boiling point—say, 180° to 190°F. Also make sure, of course, that the ham you choose is the best ham you can find. Serves at least 20

Ingredient rundown:

  • 12 to 14-pound smoked, ready-to-eat Ham
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup strong black brewed coffee (some potently French-pressed Alterra Love Supreme worked quite nicely)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • (I added a teaspoon or so of molasses to the glaze as well.  You know I’m never satisfied following a recipe to the letter)

I ended up making a half recipe so I cut my 11-12 lb ham in half and halved the measurements for all of the glaze fixins.

How I did it:

  1. Place ham in a very large pot and fill with water until it covers ham. Cook over high heat on top of stove until water begins to boil. Reduce heat to low, and let ham poach for 1 1/2 hours.
  2. While the ham is cooking, prepare the glaze: Combine the brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, and black coffee in a bowl, and stir with a fork until the sugar is dissolved. Add the breadcrumbs and blend. (The glaze will become pasty.)
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Remove the ham from the pot of water and place in a large baking pan. Carve away the excess fat, and some of the rind. Spread the glaze evenly over the ham. Reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees and bake the ham for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is hot and dark brown. Allow the ham to cool for at least 15 minutes before carving.

My housemate was kind enough to put together some Hooks 3-Year Cheddar risotto (which can be made in much the same manner as my Mushroom risotto, only with the red wine swapped for white and a cup or so of grated cheddar instead of, or in addition to, the parmesan at the end)  that paired pretty damn well with the ham.  The glaze provided a nice hit of sweet/roasty/malty depth of flavor that was a welcome change of pace from your standard pineapple and clove accoutrement.  Now how long is it going to take for me to eat 10ish pounds of baked ham?  I have some ideas, don’t worry.

Hot Ham Water. Better thirst-quencher or BEST thirst-quencher?

Wine O’clock: Sumptuary Amador County Zinfandel 2007

12 Feb

Tonight’s wine comes with an interesting story.  I’ll let one of the big men behind the Barriques empire, Finn Berge, set the scene:

Sumptuary.  Kinda like Sanctuary but not.  That is of course unless you’re a trademark lawyer.  This will come as no surprise to any of you but I am not a lawyer and therefore when I heard about the David versus Goliath struggle between Tom Meadowcroft(David) and Brown Forman(Goliath) I just shook my head.  However, I stopped shaking my when I heard the end of the story where poor David lost the battle with Goliath and was ordered by the courts to sell off 900 cases of very spectacular Zin at lower then rock bottom prices.  Sniff, sniff…ah, opportunity!  But let’s back up a second.

Tom Meadowcroft operates a small 15,000 case a year winery in Cali.  They produce 4 different specialty wines including a Zinfandel called Sumptuary from Amador County.  Sumptuary comes from ancient Greece and Rome referring to laws controlling extravagance and morals of social hierarchies in society.  Brown Forman on the other hand, is one of the largest liquor and wine companies in the world.  They produce a wine called Sanctuary which is a compilation of juice from various appellations in California.  Now I’m betting that you wouldn’t confuse the two wines pictured below.

Sumptuary ZinfandelSanctuary

The lawyers for Brown Forman disagreed and forced Meadowcroft to stop selling the Sumptuary.  He was given 90 days to unload his remaining 900 cases which is where we left off.

Tough break for the little guy.  The least I could do was grab a bottle at what amounts to little more than half of its pre-litigation selling price.  This is my first time with a zin.  I hope she’s gentle.

Wine: Sumptuary Amador County Zinfandel 2007

Vitals: 14.9% abv; Region – Amador County, California; Grapes – 100% Zinfandel

Company line: sealed by court order or something.  There’s nothing.  Really.

My take: sits a vibrant, translucent  ruby red in the glass.  Nose explodes with blackberry and currant – extremely ripe and juicy.  Palate is brash with semi-sweet dark red fruits, brown sugar and spice.  Mouthfeel is juicy with a powdery finish that coats the mouth and demands another sip.  Sumptuary is fruity, warming, and pulls no punches.  A lot of wine for $10.99 (or $9.29 if you e-mail the big man asap).  Don’t worry, big guy.  Dudes can drink zin, too.  This ain’t no Franzia.

Let’s do lunch: The Coopers Tavern

17 Jan

The Coopers Tavern is a restaurant a long time in the making.  A venture of Peter McElvanna, former manager of Brochach Irish pub, it was recently announced that local restaurant conglomerate  Food Fight! has stepped in as a financial partner with McElvanna retaining most autonomy to run the business.  A cozy space on the square that previously held short-lived dessert bar Sucré and a McDonalds has been transformed into a rustic-yet-chic upscale pub atmosphere.

A mix of exposed, weathered brick, lots of hardwoods, clean cool wall treatments and brass fixtures makes for country-meets-city vibe that works well for what they’re trying to do.  Tables made of barrels (owing to the cooperage theme) are foiled by the standard wall-length-bench-booth-facing-chairs-style seeting so common in upscale urban eateries these days.  Among the more unique features of the space are a genuine Irish snug a private room with access to the bar via a window or small door.  Historically used by women when it was frowned upon for them to socialize openly in a pub, and others seeking more privacy during their revelry; Coopers’ snug would be perfect for small gatherings and is apparently available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Also of note are the ceiling fans which are connected and driven belts and pulleys and add to the bucolic atmosphere.

The bar itself is dominated by two tap towers featuring some 28 beers on draft and a pair of large chalkboards over the bar listing the beer and wine offerings.  A pair of modest LCD TV’s on either end of the bar were tuned to soccer when we arrived (switched to the Vikings-Cowboys playoff game at the request of a fellow patron) and a larger wall-mounted TV dominated the rear wall of the pub next to the kitchen door.  While not a sports bar per se, I can imagine Coopers being a great place to watch the upcoming World Cup in South Africa with a good beer in hand.

In the gastropub tradition (is the gastropub phenomenon old enough to have a tradition yet?), Coopers’ menu aims at upscale pub fare paired with beverages for discriminating palates – namely the 28 tap beers and an extensive bottle list numbering over 100.  On this visit, I must warn, their tap offerings were limited either because the beers weren’t available yet or they had already sold out of them in the few days since their soft opening.  The first 3 beers I tried to order on-tap were not available, though I was happy to settle for a Blanche de Bruxelles Belgian white ale.

Their current offerings come from a limited lunch menu consisting of a few appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches.  Word is a more comprehensive dinner menu will be added in a month or two.  I can’t blame them for trying to establish themselves with a solid and simple line-up that doesn’t overreach.  During today’s Sunday lunch with Mom, the poutine was tough to pass up as a starter.  For those unfamiliar with the French Canadian delicacy, poutine  consists of french fries/frites topped with fresh cheese curds and brown gravy.  Forget your diet for a day.  You’ll be fine.  It’s a wonder there isn’t another joint in town offering this joyous pile of deliciousness.  The frites were good, if not a little soggy (hard to avoid with a slathering of gravy that, as my mother commented “was good, but needed a little something”) and the cheese curds, which had melted into a mass underneath the pile of frites added another layer of gooey goodness.  It ain’t exactly high-brow, but it’s comfort food to the core.  Puzzlingly, the poutine was delivered with our meal instead of as, you know, a starter.  Apparently this isn’t a unique instance.

I ordered the reuben and my mother ordered the lamb sandwich, both with house salad of mixed greens and herb vinaigrette.  We decided to swap a half sandwich so we could each try both.  The reuben was very good, if not a little…sweet overall.  The corned beef was tender and flaky and the Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale-soaked sauerkraut and house-made 1000 island were tasty but lacked a certain zing, lending to the perceived sweetness of the sandwich.  The dark rye was buttery and held up well to the generous fixings within.  The lamb sandwich on sourdough was filled with tender thin-sliced lamb with creamy caramelized onions and a thick and herbaceous, paste-like “tomato jam” that served as a great compliment to the lamb.

Based on our experience today, I think Coopers fills a great niche on the square, much like Brasserie V does on Monroe Street.  While their tap list isn’t as inspired and their food offerings are limited, the concept is right and the execution seems to be on point.  And it’s always great to have another place to grab a good sandwich and tasty beer with friends.

24 Dec

To all a good night.

3 Oct

Ducktoberfest: cold beer, colder mud.

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