Thursday, February 28

Beer: BB Dexi

Another Italian craft beer! This time I present The Barley Brewery's "BB Dexi", or, "BB Ten". It's another wacky Italian brew that doesn't quite fit into any of the conventional beer styles. I suppose you could call it a quadrupel if you were really bent on fitting it into a box; however, don't let the faux-label fool you -- like sundry other epicene phenomena this beer doesn't fit any boxes, labels, traditions, or expectations. It's a wood-aged ale from Sardinia made with orange peel and Cannonau grape juice. Cannonau is the red wine varietal of choice in Sardinia, and thus a natural (yet startlingly inventive) choice for a Sardinian melange of wine and beer.

The BB Ten is on the darker side without hitting the deep, rich hues characteristic of stouts or porters. A dark tan head caps the medium-bodied brew as the slew of tiny bubbles reveal a persistent yet moderate carbonation. Hoppy fruitiness dominates the nose, but the palate reveals a complexity of plums, figs, licorice, and sour grapes. The flavor is sweet yet bitter, and although I recognize this is not the first juxtaposition of bitter and sweet the BB Ten certainly provides an original spin.

Although I enjoyed the BB Ten I found it left an unsettling mouthfeel, and I would prefer to imbibe with food. The brewers recommend serving their beer with a chocolate or ricotta dessert, or perhaps a Sardinian cheese. I think hard, mild, fruity cheese would pair well, as well as bittersweet fruity desserts, inappropriate love affairs, and poorly-timed victories. Suggested serving temperature is 57-60 degrees F.

Monday, February 25

On the subject of beer...

Of course this is "set" in Santa Cruz. Of course.

Thanks to Thomas Cizauskas at Yours for Good Fermentables.

Beer: Chocarrubica

The latest buzz in the brewing world? Italian microbreweries. Yes, the Italians are branching out from wine, Limoncello, and Amaretto (those are my favorites anyhow) and taking the brewing world by storm. One such brewery, Birrificio Grado Plato, recently dazzled me with their oatmeal stout, Chocarrubica.

This beer boasts a light-to-medium body and smooth, quaffable character. When making an oatmeal stout, the brewers actually add oats to the mash, contributing a velvety texture that tends to lightly coat the mouth. In this instance, 30% of the mash is oats (the other 70% comprised of the traditional malted barley), which is pretty darn high. In addition, those stereotypically-voluptuous Italians add Venezuelan cacao and Sicilian carob. Yes -- carob. In a beer. There's talk of hints of Brettanomyces yeast strains as well, as the beer finishes with a sharp, slightly bitter pungency. Italians do like bitters. Chocarrubica displays notes of banana and tropical fruits on the nose, and a surprisingly subtle chocolate profile, perhaps tempered by the slightly more savory carob. I find the carbonation pleasantly present without interrupting the smooth character of the beer.

The nice folks over at Beer Advocate gave Chocarrubica a dismal D-, claiming it smelled of cheese and tasted flat. One reviewer called it "simply undrinkable." Are we drinking the same beer here? Most of my coworkers seem to enjoy Chocarrubica, and I hope most of our customers do, too.

Protein: Gardenburger Riblets

I've been a vegetarian (of some permutation) for nearly fourteen years. My family never ate a ton of red meat, but it was still a tricky transition for ten-year-old me. For the first year (while I was still eating fish and poultry) the two things I missed most were salami and beef stew (with tender, well-sauced chunks of meat, carrots, and potatoes...ahh). Back in those days, the only meat substitute in my juvenile culinary lexicon was tofu, which I had to admit was not really an adequate replacement for the aforementioned products. I still haven't found a suitable replacement for cured meats, but these days my craving of choice is probably the least vegetarian mass-market meat around: ribs. Yep, I used to really love sucking the flesh off a seared and sauced animal bone. Well. Times have changed, but my tastes still crave the sweet, meaty harmony of barbecued ribs. Fortunately, Gardenburger's "Riblets" serve as a great stand-in, even in (faux) beef stew. These have got to be my favorite Gardenburger product, with a dense, chewy texture, and thick, molasses-rich sauce. Three minutes in the microwave and you've got a superbly satisfying meal. My favorite way to consume these riblets is on a hoagie roll with a little extra barbecue sauce and some stewed tomatoes. Today, however, I took a slightly healthier (and more colorful) route by serving the riblets on toasted sourdough with mustard, spinach, and yellow tomatoes. Still divine. The Gardenburger web site suggests cutting them into hefty chunks and serving on skewers with grilled or roasted vegetables, and I would love to try to cook the riblets themselves on a barbecue. And there's always the beef stew option.

NB: Unless you're downing your riblets at 11am with a cup of green tea, like me, eat them with a hearty Spanish red or beer, beer, beer. A pale ale, IPA, or saison would be my choices -- something with a nice hop backbone and a cutting effervescence.


I feel like I have finally made a real entrance into the food-blogging world, and as with all fun new things in my life it's turning into an obsession. In a good way? Here are some of the best food blogs I've run across, and am duly linking on the side bar -- I'm even adding a wine and beer section (come on, who didn't see that coming?)

_Still Life With, a great resource for anyone interested in food photography (looking or taking).

_Taste Spotting: My dear Allison always sends me the greatest links. I'm a sucker for pretty food photos, which is basically the entire layout of this site. It's also a great way to surf the network of food bloggers and share your own delights.

_Chocolate Shavings, artistically presented by Jenn, a Parisian studying at the French Culinary Institute in Montreal, and her boyfriend Oliver (I don't know how I mixed that up the first time around!).

_Cook Almost Anything At Least Once, an adventurous and pretty blog from down under.

_Eat NZ, a great portrayal of Kiwi cuisine via Chef Paul. Way to represent.

_Swirling Notions, on food and wine, and then a little more on wine.

_The Second Glass, "Your magazine for the new era of wine drinking." It's new-ish but doing great so far -- check out the front-page article on biodynamic wines.

_Musings Over a Pint, a pretty great blog on craft beer and a bit of foodie indulgence.

_Bigger Than Your Head, a fantastic overview of the wine world.

_Beer Blog with Roger Protz, a great way to stay up-to-date on the goings-on of the beer world.

_A Good Beer Blog. Need I say more?

Wednesday, February 20

A Survey: What Do You Have to Have?

Risa needs a bottle of champagne in her refrigerator.

Perrin advocates an avocado in the house at all times.

Stu keeps our freezer stocked with veggie chicken nuggets/strips/cutlets.

I, myself, think of peanut butter as the world's most perfect and versatile food, and will always, always have a jar on hand.

I want to know: what one food product do you have to have in your kitchen?

Vegetable: Mustard Greens

Or, That's a shitload of vitamin K. --Perrin

This week's focus is mustard greens. I'm currently having a passionate gastronomic affair with another leafy green -- kale -- and I thought our relationship was getting a little too intense. In an effort to branch out and see other vegetables, I picked up a huge bunch of mustard greens at Reading Terminal this week. In season from December through April, these greens stem from the plant that produces the acrid-tasting brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard. Mustard greens originated in the Himalayan region of India, but I think many Americans associate them with the antebellum South. Greens were a staple of Southern slaves' diets, and mustard greens, collard greens, and kale remain a feature of Southern cooking. To me, mustard greens are evocative of Southern meals complete with fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and maybe some black-eyed peas. Please note: I have never lived in the South. But I do have a Georgia-beauty-queen best friend, which I somehow feel entitles me to make these assertions.

Mustard greens are also incredibly healthy. One cup of boiled mustard greens packs in a whopping 525% of the RDA of vitamin K (!), 85% of the RDA of vitamin A and 60% of the RDA of vitamin C, but only 21 calories and less than half a gram of fat. Additionally, they boast high quantities of vitamin E and B-vitamins, and a host of minerals, including folate, manganese, magnesium, iron, trytophan (yes, like turkey), calcium, and potassium. Mustard greens are hailed for their concentration of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and thus their free-radical-fighting (read: anti-cancer) powers. Additionally, they are said to promote lung and heart health.

If you're anything like me, you read the previous paragraph and had a thought akin to, "Yeah. Great. But do they taste good?" Well, as with most food items, particularly fresh produce, that depends on how you prepare them. While chopping I decide to sample a chunk of raw leaf, which was surprisingly edible. Slightly bitter, with a peppery bite at the finish, the flavor is piquant without being overwhelmingly spicy or sharp. Furthermore, unlike kale and collards, mustard greens have a lighter, leafier texture making them amenable for salads or garnishes. Still, when working with leafy greens I generally prefer to blanch, braise, or saute. In this case, I chose the last option, frying a couple onions in my wok before adding handfuls of coarsely chopped mustard greens, still damp from washing. I added half the greens, let them wilt a bit, then added the other half and tossed them together with a little more water, which in hindsight wasn't really necessary: I let the greens simmer/saute for about six minutes, then had to drain the excess (nutrient-rich) water from the pan.

Near the end of the cooking time I was not impressed with my results, so I started to get creative. I was serving the greens with a marinated three-bean-and-avocado salad on toasted rosemary bread and breaded yellow tomatoes, so I toasted the leftover bread crumbs and threw them on top. Then I started eyeing the leftover egg, and dumped it in the same pan to make a small but flavorful omelet, which I cut into strips and tossed on top of the bread crumbs. Almost there, but I still wanted more crunch -- a handful of almonds went into the same skillet, and just as they started to brown I added them to the wok. Voila -- sauteed mustard greens with style.

Today I was debating what to make for brunch, and I stumbled across the tupperware housing the last few bites of mustard greens. They didn't look terribly appetizing on their own, but stirred into four beaten eggs with some oregano, salt, and pepper they made a great base for an omelet filled with sauteed apples, vegan sausage, pepper jack, and provolone. The sweetness of the apples offset the subtly bitter punch of the greens, and the pepper jack magically brought it all together.

Other recipe ideas include salads, particularly with a warm vinaigrette to wilt the greens (I admit that bacon would be a lovely addition, but I advocate frozen vegan bacon!) I also thought Epicurious's Red Beet Risotto With Mustard Greens And Goat Cheese sounded particularly tasty, and I would enjoy a hearty soup or stew with a few handfuls of mustard greens thrown in.

As far as beverage pairings, I lean heavily towards beer. I think a farmhouse ale (versatile but particularly apropos here) would be pretty stellar, or even a well-balanced IPA to complement the bitter quality of the greens. If you wanted to take the wine route, I would pick a smooth, slightly crisp and medium-bodied white with a hint of spice and no oak -- maybe a Pinot Gris or a robust Gruner Veltliner. If you decided to make a slightly heartier dish I'd advocate a light-to-medium-bodied earthy red with a hint of spice, for instance an Oregon Pinot Noir or an Old World Syrah.

Mustard greens are obviously extremely nutritious, but I still prefer my stand-by kale, which has a coarser, sturdier texture that holds up to cooking a bit better. I would even opt for something like broccoli rabe over mustard greens, soliciting the wilted texture and bitter flavor profile but avoiding the damp, lettuce-like presentation I struggled with this round. Still, I got my week's supply of vitamin K in one heart-healthy dose.

Monday, February 18

Times Are A-Changin'

It's time to be honest with myself.

I'm nowhere close to vegan.

Sure, I'm totally on board with a lot of the philosophy and ethics of eating vegan, and because of my bizarre dietary needs and preferences (and aforementioned philosophy and ethics) many people interpellate me as a tree-huggin', granola-crunchin', man-hating vegan (ok, that last bit has more to do with my sexual orientation)...but I'm not. I like cheese, I love eggs, and sometimes I (gulp) use real butter in my cooking. I'm all about conscious, responsible, sustainable eating, but I don't think you have to be vegan or even vegetarian to participate in that sort of ideology.

Additionally, a good friend recently send me a link to Food Blogga's pretty, pretty web site. The author, Susan Rosso, also writes for NPR, and her recent feature on kumquats inspired me to revamp my own approach to blogging.

Here's what I'm considering: Reading over Susan's blog and my own content, I noticed that the posts that really grab my interest are those featuring a single product or ingredient. Add to that my recent grocery expeditions and culinary adventures, and again I notice that I really love taking a single vegetable, or beer, or cheese and getting creative with it. What's the history of this product? How can I use it? How do other people use it? How can I pair it with other foods or beverages?

So I'm keeping the domain, but changing the title of this blog to, "By Product." There will be less posts about, say, random good meals, and more of a streamlined focus highlighting specific products. And there will probably be less posts, but that's probably good since I'm starting a Master's program in four months! Comments, suggestions, and requests are welcome.

Sunday, February 17

I Love...Produce!

This post goes out to all the fruits and vegetables out there. I love you. I really do. I know this totally outs my dorkiness and weirdness, but I just have to sing my passion and praises for fresh produce. I mean, look! It's beautiful! My roommates and I spent the morning at Reading Terminal Market -- Perrin sold people baked goods (and snuck us cookies) from Metropolitan Bakery's stand while Stu and I ate vegan cheesesteaks and sweet potato fries at Basic Four. Then we wandered through the produce and cheese stands to procure:

Mustard greens
Yellow tomato
Green beans
Snap peas

And these don't quite count as produce, but they do count as delicious:
Sliced almonds
Wasabi peas
Bobby's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Bliss. Let the spirit move you -- go buy some produce.

Wine and Cheese Links

* Crushpad is a San Francisco winery where "you are the wine maker." Crushpad provides grapes from West Coast vineyards, an industry-acclaimed wine making team and a state-of-the-art winery focused on making wine in small lots. It sounds pretty great to me.

* Winemonger has an awesome "ULTIMATE CHEESE AND WINE PAIRING GUIDE." I find it quite thorough and informative -- check it out!

* One of my favorite parts of Fork and Bottle is their collection of wine maps and other great online resources. There's a LOT of information here -- I've just begun investigating.

Saturday, February 16


Penny and I made vegetarian quesadillas! Not vegan, due to the tri-cheese combo (cheddar, pepper jack, and feta), but wonderfully vegetarian with roasted red peppers, cilantro, and vegan artichoke-and-sun-dried-tomato sausage. We doused them with Frank's Red Hot and devoured them before I had to run off to work.

I had Penny roast the peppers while I showered. I thought my directions were pretty straightforward: turn the broiler on high; cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds; put them in a baking dish and let them broil until the skins are charred black. Unfortunately I neglected to mention that they ought to be positioned cut-side down, thus we ended up cutting off the burned edges...which Perrin gobbled down in her impatience for the quesadillas to cook. She actually wanted to eat them raw (the quesadillas, not the peppers), but I think it's safe to say we're both glad we held out for this:

Please note that I kept to my eight-ingredient vow! :)
1) Whole-wheat tortillas
2) Cheddar
3) Pepper jack
4) Feta
5) Cilantro
6) Oregano
7) Roasted red peppers
8) Vegan sausage

Monday, February 11

Green Wine?

Is drinking wine bad for the planet? One conscientious oenophile conducted a study, measuring the amount of carbon resources it took to ship wine from California and from France. He ended up drawing the Green Wine Line featured on the map below: drinkers West of the line will leave the smallest carbon footprint by drinking wine from California, Oregon, or Washington, while wine enthusiasts East of the line will do best to indulge in European counterparts. The study didn't include data on shipping wine from the Southern Hemisphere.

You can also minimize the impact your drinking has on the environment by picking bigger bottles (yeah, magnums!) and saying "no" to bottled water (or at the very least choosing a local bottled water!).

Grower Champagne

A very good friend once advised me always to keep a bottle of champagne in my refrigerator. And thus began my love affair with sparkling wine.

As many readers may know, the term "Champagne" is reserved for wines originating in Champagne, France. There are 261 large-scale négoçiants and coopératives in Champagne. They produce 80% of the total output in Champagne, yet they only own 12% of the vineyards. This means in Champagne (France), there are 15,000 growers in the region who do not make their own wine! Large-scale champagne production involves extensive use of chaptalization (adding sugar), acidification, cultured yeast strains, enzymes, nitrogenous yeast nutrients and rapid temperature controlled fermentations. These houses account for over 88% of all Champagne exports, and this number rises to 97% of exports outside of Europe.

Small Growers, or “récoltant-manipulants,” may purchase only 5% of their fruit. The same people who grow the grapes ferment and blend the wine. This allows the grower/winemaker more interaction with the ingredients and more control over the final product -- terroir in the truest sense.

This week we did a blind taste test featuring one "large-scale" producer and one bottle of grower champagne. The former, Paul Goerg "blanc-de-blancs" (all Chardonnay), offered the typical characteristics of champagne: ripe pears and green apples, slightly bready and yeasty aromas, and a moderately sweet finish. The grower champagne featured a completely different and unique profile. My primary impression was the aroma of raw eggs and bread crumbs right before you bread some lucky food destined for frying. The fruit profile included nectarines and other stone fruits, with a very faint herbal quality on the finish. It was significantly more effervescent, with a complexity and depth unrivaled by the more traditional champagne. I'm honestly not entirely sure whether I liked it, but it was definitely a compelling experience -- I wanted more!

So how can you support grower champagne? As you're examining that bottle of champagne you'll be keeping in your refrigerator now, you may notice the letters NM, RM, or CM. NM denotes négociant-manipulants, the large companies that buy, blend and produce very large quantities of wine. RM are récoltant-manipulants, growers who make and sell their own wine, and CM are co-opératives-manipulants (the co-ops).

EDIT: The ad sent by Marc Hebrart, who makes the champagne we now carry, started, "Drink grower champagne if you've forgotten champagne is wine." I think that's quite apt. Way to go, Mr. Hebrart.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

My roommates and I had a couple guests over for dinner, and we decided to make a Mexican feast. I made guacamole and tossed cubed mangoes with lime juice and salt; Stu made tacos with soy crumbles and peppers; and Perrin sucked on the mango pits and entertained everyone. For dessert I made Mexican Wedding Cookies, which are basically glorified shortbread with toasted walnuts, rolled in powdered sugar and traditionally served at Mexican weddings. I thought this recipe (from The Joy of Baking) was a bit too buttery (I like mine a bit drier), so next time I would add a bit more flour, a lot more nuts, and perhaps some almond extract.

2/3 cup toasted nuts walnuts
1 cup butter
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Add flour and salt and beat until combined. Stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour or until firm.

Form the dough into 1 inch balls and place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 12 - 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, line another baking pan or tray with parchment or wax paper. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar on the bottom of the pan and then place the slightly cooled cookies on top of the sugar. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a fine strainer or sieve and then sprinkle the tops of the cookies (or you can just roll the cookies in the sugar).

I served the cookies with Mexican hot chocolate, made by bringing a vat of soy milk nearly to a boil then turning off the heat and whisking in a couple handfuls of grated Mexican chocolate (you can use any sort of dark chocolate, sweetening as necessary) and a few shakes of cinnamon. I also added a generous splash of brandy, which added the perfect finishing touch.


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