December 30, 2012

Holiday Week 2012 Send-Off

 In years past I've done recaps or best-of posts about things that really moved me throughout the year. This year, no such post. I spent the last week with family in town just enjoying company and eating and drinking too much. I didn't take a lot of pictures, just tried to enjoy some time with people I don't get to see enough. We did find time to drink some very good wines:
My brother was kind enough to bring a cooler full of Berkshire Brewing Company beer, some of my favorite beers that I don't get to drink often as they are only available in New England. Excellent craft beers across the board by the Berkshire folks:
Did lunch at the Brick Store on Thursday where I tried a draft from Decatur's newest brewery, Blue Tarp Brew. Their Bantam Weight Ale is an Irish red ale that features lower alcohol by today's craft beer standards and is an entirely drinkable beer. The sausage and grit cakes below were pretty tasty as was the fried pierogi starter.
We also spent some time at Bakery at Cakes & Ale getting fat while eating too many desserts. Tried the Caliente, their version of a Mexican mocha with dark Mexican chocolate, and chili powder that was pretty damn awesome on a blustery late afternoon.
Of course, as it is our Christmas tradition, we also made time for some Pappy.
All-in-all it was a fun week with family...Hope you had a good holiday season as well. Now, on to 2013.

December 22, 2012

Home Cooking: Ramen

I, like perhaps many Americans who like to cook at home, am intimidated by homemade ramen. I don't know why that is. Perhaps it's due to the fact that a good bowl of ramen is a time-consuming thing to prepare. Therein lies its magic. Recently, I decided to spend some time on a rainy Saturday making ramen. I followed the step-by-step instructions for David Chang's ramen in his Momofuku book. Certainly there are more traditional recipes, but I like Chang's book, so I went with his recipe.

I started by making the tare, an enriched grilling/basting sauce produced from roasting chicken necks and backs and then adding them to a soy sauce, mirin, and sake reduction. The end product is basically an amped-up and insanely salty sauce of which a couple of tablespoons is used to flavor the ramen broth right before serving. The sauce is also great used as one would use a traditional bbq sauce; however, not sure it's really worth effort. I might just reduce some soy sauce and mirin next time.
The ramen broth begins with the roasting of five pounds of meaty pork bones. You could also throw in some trotters, but I went with five pounds of assorted bones that I sourced from YDFM.
While the bones are roasting, konbu steeps in six quarts of water. After the konbu steeps for ten minutes it is removed and dried shitake mushrooms are added for thirty minutes. After the shitakes steep for 30 minutes, they are removed an entire chicken is added to the pot. The chicken cooks and flavors the broth for about one hour (or until the meat pulls from the bone). You now also have a very flavorful whole poached chicken that can be used in multiple other applications.
By this time the pork bones have finished roasting in the oven and they get added to the stock once the cooked chicken is removed. At this point, it gets a little easier as the pork bones simple simmer in the pot for as many hours as you can spare, but at least six or seven according to Chang. While the pork bones and stock reduced I prepped the toppings, which can very according to what you have around.
I used some of the traditional accoutrements: scallions, a slow-poached egg, some of the leftover mushrooms, a little piece of nori, pulled pork, and some of the pork belly pictured above which was leftover from this project. I also followed Chang's advice and cheated a bit by using store bought low mein noodles. Ramen noodles can be a controversial topic, let's just say, I was happy with the noodles I used. Not perfect, but I retained my sanity and the bowl was pretty damn good for my first attempt.

December 18, 2012

Bell's Brewery Holiday Dinner at Big Tex

I was fortunate to get a ticket to the sold out Bell's Brewery Holiday Beer dinner at Big Tex in Decatur last Thursday night. It was the first ever beer dinner at Big Tex and the staff did a nice job of trying to make the evening special and memorable. The dinner was prepared by Big Tex Chef, Rick Watson, and featured five courses matched with specific Bell's beers. A brief take on the courses:
1st Course– Amuse Bouche of Rappahannock Oysters two ways, raw and grilled, matched with Bell's Winter White Ale.  This was a great pairing, but really, the White Ale is just a great beer all around that I could drink anywhere anytime. Fresh, briny Chesapeake Bay oysters were nice way to start.
2nd Course- Beef Carpaccio with Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. Beef carpaccio was decent, but questionable in the use of tomato and corn in December.

3rd Course- Lamb Slider and Deck Fat Fries with Bell's Best Brown Ale. This course was fine. A slider, some crispy fries, not much not to like and it was executed well. Tasty match with the Brown Ale, too.

Interlude--This item, brought over from Fox Bros. and not listed on the night's menu, was the best taste of the night. Succulent Duroc pork belly with Fox Bros Bbq sauce and cole slaw on buttery toast. Not surprisingly, this was a great bite as it is in the Fox Bros. wheelhouse.
Course 4- Braised Georgia wild boar paired and cabbage purse with Bell's Porter. Decent dish, lamb a bit tough, and the dish was luck warm by the time it came to the table. 
Course 5- Bell's Black Note Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout paired with a Bourbon caramel chocolate eclair. Bell's Black Note is one of their rarest beers. It also packs quite a punch at 11.5% alcohol. It's a good dessert beer, but it is big, rich beer and best in small doses.
Overall, this was a fun night with some very good beers, some decent bites and good company. While I've been a fan of Bell's, this dinner certainly cemented Bell's as belonging near the top of my go-to list for American craft beers.

December 13, 2012

Bourbon Tasting: Some of the Best

Recently, my good buddy from Thirsty South invited me to taste a selection of rare American whiskeys from some of the best distillers in the country. We tasted through a terrific lineup of boutique bourbons, and one whiskey, produced in small quantities and costing more than most of us should probably spend on a single bottle of hard liquor. While I've had my share of expensive bourbons from Pappy Van Winkle, Elijah Craig, and others, this was truly a stellar collection. The lineup was as follows:
St. George's Single Malt Whiskey, 30th Anniversary Edition, Bottle 689/715, 94.6 Proof
2012 Parker’s Heritage Collection Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 131.6 Proof
William Larue Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 2011 and 2012 Releases, 123.4 Proof
Elijah Craig, 12 years old, Barrel Strength, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 128.5 Proof
Four Roses Single Barrel, 13 years and 10 months old, and 17 Years. Old, 126 Proof
Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 15 Years, 2008 bottling, 107 Proof
I'm nowhere talented enough as a bourbon taster to offer notes on all of these, and Thirsty South already has a great post up on our tasting. However, I can say that some of the tastes clearly separated themselves from the pack and are worth noting.
St. George's Single-Malt Whiskey, 30th Anniversary Edition belongs in a class of it's own. A singular tasting experience, it's a whiskey that gives off a nose that is a dead-ringer for an aged Riesling. Never smelled anything like it in a whiskey. It also shows citrus and pear notes on the clean and crisp palate. Not sure I'd want copious amounts of this, but it was amazing to taste. Yours for $400 a bottle if you can find it.
Another standout was the 2011 release of the William Larue Weller bourbon. This was the all-around package to me, and the best bourbon of the night. It showed a beautiful perfumed and fragrant nose and impeccable balance on the palate. At over 123 proof, I was expecting a good bit of aggressive heat, but it was surprisingly supple and smooth on the palate. This is a bourbon I will seek out. At around $70 it is a relative steal.  Also showing really well were the Four Roses Single Barrel 13 years and 10 months, and the Pappy Van Winkle 15. That's picking nits a bit as all of these bourbons were first class, and I'd be happy to drink any one of them.

Thanks again to Thirsty South and Jason at Sour Mash Manifesto.

December 6, 2012

Wine Review: 2009 Les Vignerons d'Est├ęzargues Signargues La Granacha VV

I don't often post wine reviews here anymore. Not sure they ever very helpful. However, when I find things locally that I think are interesting, I will occasionally make a recommendation. I recently tried the Les Vignerons d'Estezargues Signarues, which turns out to be a pretty good wine for $15.

Signargues is the furthest south of the Cotes du Rhone Villages Appellation and it spreads out over 4 different communities: Domazan, Estozargues, Rochefort du Gard and Saze. This wine is bottled without fining or filtration and clocks in at a respectable 14.5% alcohol. Despite not being a big fine of grenache form the southern rhone valley, I like this wine. It tastes like a rich and spicy Beaujolais, it's got fruit and a heady dose of acidity to keep things lively. I drank it on the cool side with some carne arsada and was quite happy with the wine. It can be found around town for $15.