Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 19

Advent Beer Day 19:
Trifecta from Night Shift Brewing

Anna asks, "Why Trifecta." The label says it's a Belgian style pale ale with vanilla, so my best guess is it will be like a tripel. A quick look at the ABV; only 6.7% so too light to be a tripel.  I really have no idea why it's called "Trifecta." The website clears it up saying it is also made with three Trappist yeasts.

This beer was beautiful. I could taste the vanilla, but only when I concentrated on it. The flavor blended well with the traditional Belgian flavors. Although, I didn't taste any of those classical Belgian yeasty characters in this beer. That's a bit surprising given the use of three transit yeasts. It was very smooth and easy to drink. I have yet to have a bad beer from Night Shift.

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 18

Advent Beer Day 18:

This is described as brewed with juniper and piney hops. I got a hint of those flavors, but not as much as I expected. Certainly hops can have a piney character, so I was hoping for that flavor driven over the top, especially with the addition of juniper. it was a nice dark ale with IPA flavors to it, but surprisingly mild counter to my expectations. I was hoping for a "pine bomb."

Labeled as a dark IPA, without all the pine-hype, I would have loved this beer.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 17

Advent Beer Day 17:

The label calls this an India Style Red Ale. I'm thinking IPA hops on top of a red character beer, which is exactly what this is, and done really well. I must say, I'm a bit confused though about why this is in the Advent Box. It is a year round beer from 21st Amendment, albeit one I haven't tried. It does have a warm set of flavors like I'd hope for in a winter ale: green pepper, broccoli, cauliflower. it certainly works as a winter beer, but it doesn't evoke Christmas to me. Could it be they were triggering on "red?"

The beer has a long-lasting, lacy head, a beautiful red tint and is slightly hazy. It has a nice creamy effervesce followed by a lingering bitterness across the whole tongue. You can almost chew this one. I'm trilled to have tried this, but don't think it was an excellent fit in the box.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 16

Advent Beer Day 16:

I was anxious about this beer. The label says it is sour at a level of 5 out of 5.  The web suggests that this is the sour beer by which all sour beers should be judged. I'm not a sour fan.

While this still isn't my thing, it was not as scary as I was led to believe. It was sour, like a strong barleywine or like sucking on a clover stem if you've done that. It also had some other flavors that stood out, notably new oak and grapefruit with a very slight black pepper taste.

I can tell it is very good. I still don't love sours.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 15

Advent Beer Day 15:

As you can tell from the picture, I only had about two sips to enjoy of this beer. Fortunately, I've had it before, and I imagine I'll have it again. It is an outstanding oatmeal stout, which doesn't rely on sweet chocolate flavors to get it's point across. It drinks clean, while presenting a creamy texture. There are subtle chocolate notes along with green pepper notes like in a marzen. I wish I had a few more sips.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 14

Advent Beer Day 14:

It's always fun to get this year's Anchor Christmas beer. This year's seems darker than I remember. It tastes like a porter, with chocolate malt flavors, but not very chocolaty. I taste allspice and perhaps apples with a long sweet finish. A good showing this year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 13

Advent Beer Day 13:
Riverwalk Storm Door Porter

First thing that hits you is a blast of chocolate, then you get a subtle vanilla flavor followed by spices like cloves and mace. Really, it's all chocolate. For those of you who have brewed, it has that flavor deep on the back of your throat that you get from the dust that is worked up when you mill chocolate malt: slightly grassy, slightly sweet, slightly burnt and chocolatey. Did I mention chocolate?

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 12

Advent Beer Day 12:
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

A delightful selection for the box. The label always cracks me up. Look at that pillowy head (the beer, not the monk). It keeps growing after you pour it, so watch out. I tend to associate a growing head with an infection, but I didn't taste anything off in this beer. It did have the typical tangy esters of the Belgian Abby Ale style.

The beer had flavors of chocolate, peaches and cream. Yum.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Beer Day 11

Advent Beer Day 11:
pot & kettle oatmeal porter from Trillium

This porter tastes halfway between coffee and chocolate, but not really like either one.  It has a very smooth and creamy texture and a lingering sweetness on back of the tongue, but not too sweet. A very nice selection.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box Day 10

Advent Beer Day 10:

One of the joys of the Advent box is that I get to try things I wouldn't normally buy. I said before that I don't gravitate toward sour beers. Except for the excellent label, I would never have picked up this beer. The label describes it as a "sour ale brewed with chestnuts, oak aged farmhouse saison." It sounds like a perfect Christmas beer.

I've had a few sour beers in this advent box, all of which I've liked ... unfortunately, except this one. I'm sure it was good, it just wasn't my thing. To me it was very bitter and astringent like chewing apple seeds with a level of sour that was more than I could appreciate. I could certainly see why some people would love this beer, but it wasn't for me.

Friday, December 9, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 9

Advent Beer Day 9:

A simple, dark German beer in a great little bottle. It was a bit under-hopped for my taste, with a tartness that lingered too long on the back of my tongue. On the plus side, it had the strong green pepper flavors I enjoy in a good marzen.

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 8

Advent Beer Day 8:

This dark brown and cloudy beer was a real treat. It had almost no head, but still sufficient effervescence for a rich mouthfeel. It is a a barleywine, but hopped enough to remove the tang I don't usually love in a barleywine. The first flavors are caramel and coffee on the back of the tongue. It is tingly on the front of the tongue with a delicious sweetness that lingers and a richness on the front of the tongue. Flavors included honey, chocolate, and burnt sugar. This was quite special.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 7

Advent Beer Day 7:
Rosetta cherry ale from Ommegang

The label says, "Ale aged on cherries with other natural flavors added. These sweet and fruity flavors plus the very low ABV of 5.6% made it a good dessert beer. The cherry flavors were strong, and not too sour. A nice, nighttime treat.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 6

Advent Beer Day 6:

A good Belgian triple with yeast sourced from Chouffe.  The yeasty esters are fun, if a bit stronger than I'm used to with other triples. I can't remember the flavors from the last time I had a Chouffe to know if it is closer to their style. The initial aroma almost put me off, like an over-sour barley wine, but the flavors were not as sour. I enjoyed it.

There is some confusing information on the internet about the ABV. Almost everywhere on-line it is listed at 6.7%. My bottle was labeled 8.5%. I wrote to the brewery. John Laffler from the brewery told me that 6.7% was listed on the initial label approval application and was later adjusted to the actual ABV of 8.5%.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box: Day 5

Advent Beer Day 5:
Rothaus Pils Tannenzapfle

This is a nice little pilsner in a really cute bottle. Tannenzapfle means pinecone, which I'm going to guess it the reason this bottle showed up in the box. I usually find pilsners too light for my taste, and this is no exception. This pils was tasty with green pepper flavors like a light marzen.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Beer Day 4

Advent Beer Day 4:
Hugh Malone Ale (Belgian Style IPA) from Allagash

Look at the beautiful color and head on that beer. It tastes like a mix of Duvel and a New England IPA. The yeast strains delivered the typical ester flavors found in Belgian singles that layered well with the floral bitterness of an IPA. And it had the fresh, clean flavors characteristic of Allagash. This was an excellent, unexpected pick for the box.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box Day 3

Advent Beer Day 3:

A perennial Christmas favorite much like the Anchor Christmas Ale. I've been very happy with Sierra Nevada's recent collaborations. I was looking forward to this beer being a standout in the advent box. It was a good beer, but not as good as I remember from years past.

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box Day 2

Advent Beer Day 2:
Arquebus Barleywine Ale from the Cambridge Brewing Company

The CBC started out as a local Cambridge brewpub. I was fortunate to work just a couple of blocks away back then. Now they are bottling up a great range of beers and selling them locally. I had a certain nostalgic feeling opening this bottle.

This is described as a dessert barleywine with honey and Semillon grapes. Semillon is the grape of Sauternes, France's decadently sweet dessert wine.

This ale is tangy with just enough sweetness to make it work. I'm not a huge fan of barleywine, but Arquebus is quite good. It's a high alcohol beer, so this bottle is great for sharing - or three nights in my case. It has burnt caramel and honey flavors, and hint of pine.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 Craft Beer Cellar Advent Box

This is my fourth year getting the Craft Beer Cellar Advent box. On the first year, 2013, I kept it all to myself. That was too much beer for me. The second year, 2014, I split it three ways with my two daughters. That was too little for me and too much for them. The third year, 2015, I took the even days and split the odd days between my two daughters. This was still too much for them.

This year I'm keeping the whole thing for myself. Yes, that is still too much for me, so I'm breaking into it early and not keeping strictly to the marked days. I will start early and end late having them as they fit with our life. I haven't forgotten the girls, though. If you see them, don't tell them, but I got each of them a few special beers that I also got for me, so on those days we can all be sharing the same beer across the miles.

I had the first beer on November 12th. It was Pacificmost mango and guava gose from Wicked Weed. Gose is a beer style new to me this year. The first one I had was not good. I'll skip naming that brewer, but I was wary of this one. Gose is a sour style originating from Goslar, Germany, where it is said the local mineral water accounts for its salty character.

Although sour and salty don't sound good, this Gose was very good. The tropical fruits made the sour more of a tangy flavor, and the saltiness was much less than the bad Gose I first had. This seems like more of a summer thirst quencher than an advent box beer, but the mango and guava made me think I was getting that special orange from an old time Christmas stocking.

I'm looking forward to my next selection.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016 Olympics Report #1

I'm sitting here watching the table tennis match between Congo's Suraju Saka and Puerto Rico's Brian Afanador. While this is the first event I've watched since the opening ceremonies, it is not the first event I've watched during these
Olympics. I was able to catch parts of two women's soccer games on Wednesday night.

So far the sports have been great. The table tennis match is really close. And even thought I should be rooting for Afanador since he's arguably from the US, I can't help but root for the older Saka, who is more relatable to me. Wednesday's soccer games were not close. I saw France beat Columbia 4-0 and the US beat New Zealand 2-0. I'm not really a fan of soccer, but today's game is US vs. France and I'll be interested to see who wins that one.

Last night was the opening ceremonies. They were not as intriguing to me as past Olympics. I was struck by how much of the ceremony was orchestrated for the TV audience. There was one point where dancers were running across a simulated roofline projected onto the field. There was only one angle where that made visual sense: the TV angle. I found that distracting. There was also a long segment of infographics about global warming. Perhaps those were also shown on screens in the stadium, but again seemed optimized for the TV audience.

Gail and I usually make international dishes for most nights of the Olympics. Since our daughter, Noele came home for a visit last night, we decide to go out to Japanese/Korean instead. We kept the international theme, just didn't cook it ourselves. I did have a glass of Greek ouzo in honor of the first Olympics.

By the way Brian Afanador won the table tennis match 4-3.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Political Conventions and a Celebration of American Food

This year has been a particularly contentious campaign season so we thought it would be a good idea to remind ourselves how wonderful this country is and keep in mind that we are all Americans. Here's what we made for the nights of the first week's convention. We originally posted these pictures to Instagram with the captions that follow.

Monday, New England: white clam pizza, Boston lettuce with dried cranberries and VT cheddar, RI coffee stout for Ken and coffee milk for me, grape nut ice cream with Maine blueberries.

Tuesday, South Atlantic: MD crab cakes, low country boil, key lime tartlets. Ken had a MD Dead Rise beer with Old Bay, but we didn't get picture.

Wednesday, Mountains: AZ fry bread taco, CO trout, baked ID potato, and non-mountain OH Buckeyes. Epic Imperial IPA from UT for Ken, which he pronounced "stunningly good".

Thursday, East North Central (Midwest): beef and noodles over mashed potatoes, reminiscent of Ken's grandmother's chicken and noodles, Hoppin Frog double IPA from OH, and sugar cream pie.

Continuing our celebration for the second week's convention, we made the following.

Monday, West North Central (Midwest): Our most whimsical dish so far: Tater Tot Hot Dish, from MN. Served with roasted corn and sweet tea, rumored to have been invented at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, MO.
Tuesday, Pacific: Salmon, the "California blend" vegetables of my youth, cous cous with red peppers, Hawaiian beer and pineapple shave ice.

Wednesday, South Central: Kentucky beer, first zucchini from the garden, fried catfish and the official fruit and vegetable of Arkansas, pink tomatoes.

Thursday, Mid-Atlantic: Buffalo wings, Philly cheese steak and NJ Taylor ham, with beer from Brooklyn Brewing Co.

We had so many good ideas and enjoyed celebrating these regional dishes that we also made these:

St. Louis pizza, baking powder vs. yeast crust, an approximation of Provel cheese, and served in square pieces.

Michigan Coney dog.

North Dakota knoephla soup. Knoephla are like potato-less gnocchi, and the potatoes are cubed in the soup.

Fox's Lobster House and One More Lobster Roll

On Father's day Gail and I took a trip up to Maine on a quest for fried lobster. Gail's cousin posted to FaceBook about a fried lobster she had at Fox's Lobster House in York Beach. For a few weeks we had this stuck in our heads and couldn't find a place more local to try it.

It turned into a great trip. We went to a dairy farm and bought raw milk and eggs. We stopped at a few breweries including the eclectic Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We walked over the world's smallest suspension bridge: The Wiggly Bridge in York Maine. We walked on the beach. We got a soft serve. We stopped at a great candy shop: Harbor Candy Shop in Ogunquit, Maine. And, right across the parking lot from Fox's is the scenic Nubble Light. All in all, a perfect day.

The fried lobster was exactly the decadence we expected. Tender fried pieces of chunky lobster tail, dipped in drawn butter. It was sweet and sinfully rich. Amazing! Since we had recently done a side-by-side of lobster rolls, it seemed only fitting to get Fox's lobster roll too. That roll beat all the others we had tried, although not by much. It had a good New England-style roll that could have been a touch fresher, but otherwise it had a good mound of lobster with good salt and mayonnaise levels, and just the right amount of lettuce. At $18.95, it wasn't the least expensive, but it did come with a generous portion of onion rings. It was table service, so overall not too bad.

To put a cap on this lobster trek, we had to try McDonald's seasonal lobster roll. It was priced at $8.99, and probably had 4 ounces of meat. They didn't skimp. The roll was toasted, and like so many of them, could have been a touch fresher. They had a good balance of mayonnaise and celery salt, but overdid the lettuce. That's not such a huge problem after we picked it off. Overall, we've had better, and we had worse. At $9 it was an excellent value.

Try the World Box: Sweden

The Sweden box was a bit incoherent. It had plenty of treats, but not enough ingredients for a Swedish meal. The recipe card included recipes for salmon and dill toasts, Swedish dumplings and ham & cheese toasts. There was also a pointer to a Swedish meatball recipe. The closest thing to an ingredient for these dishes in the box were the crackers and lingonberry jelly to garnish the dumplings.

We did make the toasts, and dumplings. They were good, but not enough for a meal. We augmented it with a Swedish shrimp sandwich called räkmacka that I learned about on a business trip to Sweden. Räkmacka is a pile of tiny shrimp with a lump of mayo and egg on the side. People mix as much of the egg and mayo as they want into each bite. Together these dishes made a mini Swedish smorgasbord.

Sweden also has a tradition of fika, which is a mid-day sweet snack with coffee. Swedes will drop everything in the middle of the workday: "Time for fika." The box included cookies, licorice, fudge and coffee in support of fika. Swedes like strong coffee, and have barely heard of decaf.

The box included:

Mörsjö Deli gourmet crisps - A thick salty cracker, that was good. Our package was a little bit crunched up.

Nordic Rosehip Fudge - This very soft fudge was flavored more like penuche. It was very good, but we didn't taste any rose flavors.

Tillmans Elderflower saft syrup - This was the star of the box. A little of this in a glass of seltzer made for a deliciously refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail.

Gille Double Chocolate Crisps - This was an interestingly elaborate cookie with two cookie layers enrobed in chocolate sandwiched with some caramel.

Löfbergs Kharisma Coffee - Good strong Swedish coffee.

Hafi Lingonberry Preserves - Lingonberry jelly just yells Sweden to me. It's sort of sweet and sour like a mix of strawberry and cranberry.

Lakritsfabriken Sweet Licorice - A good, strong licorice with a slightly salty flavor. This was a softer version of the center of a Good & Plenty.

Liss Ellas Sweet and Hot Mustard - This was a decent hot and sweet mustard with big mustard grains.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three Lobster Rolls Compared on National Lobster Day

Yesterday was national lobster day. Gail went on a quest and got us three different lobster rolls from Wegmans (left), D'Angelo's (middle) and Roche Bros. (right). She tried to get one from Market Basket, but they didn't have one.

Here are the results of our taste test:

Wegman's ($10): 4oz. of lobster meat. The New England-style roll was beautifully seared with a criss-cross pattern, and the lobster meat was packaged separately to avoid making the bread soggy. Despite this, the bread was a little south of fresh. This was a good lobster roll with big chunks of lobster in a very light mayonnaise. It had decent flavor and no sense of the traditional celery salt seasoning. On the plus side, the bread was toasted with a noticeable amount of butter that made each bite taste like fresh lobster dipped in drawn butter.

D'Angelo's ($10.99): 4oz. of lobster meat. This roll also had a New England-style roll that was south of fresh. The lobster meat was lightly cooked and had just the right amount of mayonnaise. It also had a decent flavor with a hint of celery salt.

Roche Bros. ($5.99): 3oz. of lobster meat. This was a bigger potato roll that was perfectly fresh. The roll was lined with iceberg lettuce, which filled the space but gave a nice cool tasting crunch to the sandwich. The meat was lightly cooked and coated with a bit too much mayonnaise. This gave the mouth impression of mixed tunafish more than chunky lobster meat. While it also had a hint of celery salt, the flavor was the mildest of the set.

Each one had strong merits and each one was good, but none of them stood out as being the best. That said, after this tasting we had a better sense of what makes a great lobster roll: We like a fresh New England-style roll, toasted with plenty of butter. The lobster meat should be chunky but cooked lightly, coated in a medium amount of mayonnaise and seasoned liberally with celery salt.

UPDATE: Two more lobster rolls reviewed here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summer Dinners: Thai Beef Spinach Salad

Hi all! Noele here, Ken's daughter, in for a guest post. I'm closing out my first year as a public school teacher in New York City and getting ready for the ultimate teacher job perk: summer off! Cooking is one of my favorite things to do with my downtime, and I thought I'd pop in this summer and share some of the meals I make and enjoy on my patio. I hope you enjoy what is hopefully the first of a summer dinners series!

Thai Beef Spinach Salad 

I was inspired to make this Thai Beef Spinach Salad by this awesome restaurant in Redhook that I went to recently with my boyfriend. We had a dish called Muu Paa Kham Waan -- thin strips of boar that were limey, garlicky, and so spicy that they came with a palate cleanser/cooler (mustard greens served over crushed ice) in case you couldn't take the heat! I loved the concept of the dish and wanted to come up with a weeknight dinner version of it that would be easy for a home cook to tackle. 

My version of this dish swaps in eye of round steaks for boar, is served over a bed of spinach, and features quick-pickled cucumbers and red grapes. It took about an hour of "on" time to make and could feed two hungry people or three or four as an appetizer or light dinner. 

Here's what you'll need: 

1 thumbs length of ginger, minced and separated (about 2 tbsp) 
1 bunch cilantro, washed, roughly chopped, and separated (about 1/2 cup chopped) 
10 cloves of garlic, more or less, minced and separated
Juice from 3 limes, separated
1/4 cup soy sauce, separated 
2 tbsp sesame oil, plus a little extra for cooking 
1 tsp honey 
red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp-2 tsp 
1 tbsp sesame seeds

2 pickling cucumbers
1/2 lb eye of round steaks, boar, or other red meat of your choice 

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and chopped
1/2 cup red grapes, halved 
To start, I prepared a marinades for the steaks and the cucumbers. 

1. This should go without saying, but you can really use as much ginger, garlic, or cilantro as you like. I like all of these ingredients quite a lot and wanted them to really coat the meat, so I went ham and used as much as I could before it got ridiculous. If you're one of those "cilantro tastes like soap" people, I can see this recipe being still delicious if you swapped in the cilantro for some thai basil. Chop everything up so that it's pretty fine, especially the ginger -- you're not going to get the same effect with big hunks of ginger in your marinade. 
Now that you have your garlic, ginger, and cilantro chopped up, get two bowls handy so that you can make the two separate marinades at the same time -- they share a lot of ingredients. Put all the cilantro, 2/3rds of the garlic, and 2/3rds of the ginger in one bowl. This is the start for your meat marinade. Shake some red pepper into this bowl to taste. (I held back a little bit and only used about a teaspoon because my sister Anna who doesn't love spicy food was coming over.) Put the remaining 3rd of the garlic and ginger in the second bowl (no big if some cilantro clings on). This is the start of your pickling juice for the cucumbers.
This is probably a good time to open up a beer and pour it into a frosted glass. I chose Cisco Brewer's Summer of Lager and poured it into one of my belgian beer glasses. Yum. This meal pairs great with a light ale or lager. If you can get it, drink Singha (thai beer)! Anna was drinking Sixpoint's Sweet Action, which is always a good summer choice. 

Squeeze the juice from two limes and add it to the meat marinade (bowl with cilantro & red pepper flakes). Squeeze the juice from the remaining lime and add it to the cucumber marinade. Put 2 tablespoons of soy sauce into each bowl. Add the honey to the cucumber bowl and the sesame oil to the meat bowl. Add the sesame seeds to the cucumber bowl. 

Stir them both up. Add the meat to the marinade, make sure it's fully coated on all sides, cover it, and put it in the fridge to chill for a while. I left mine for about an hour and it was delicious, I'm sure more or less time would be fine too. 

Cut up the cucumbers as shown below: into little half moons. Or really, cut up the cucumbers however you want to cut the cucumbers. Toss those cucumbers into the pickling juice, cover them, and put them in the fridge with the meat. 

Go chill in your backyard, drink some beer, read a book, or whatever while your cukes and meat soak up the marinade. 

When you deem it time, take the meat out of the fridge and drain it through a fine sieve so that it is free of excess liquid but still has all the goodies (ginger, garlic, cilantro, red pepper) clinging to it. Be advised that the meat will no longer be pink because of the lime juice. Heat some oil (I used sesame, vegetable would be fine) in a small frying pan until it's sizzling. Lay the steaks in the oil and give them about a minute on each side. My steaks were relatively thin, so this was the perfect time to keep them a little pink on the inside. Use your discretion if you have large steaks or like your meat more or less well done. I served my meat cool/room temperature, but you could certainly serve it hot or even completely chilled. In any case, when you're ready to serve, slice up the steaks into thin strips. 

To serve, put a bed of spinach on the bottom of a plate. Sprinkle the red grapes on top of the spinach, followed by the pickled cucumbers. You can use the remaining pickling juice as a light dressing. Finally, lay your steak over the salads. I also made scallion pancakes using this recipe, which is surprisingly easy and really rounded out the meal. 

Enjoy with loved ones!