Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

With all of us caught in the middle of the holiday madness, some of us enjoy the opportunity to sample seasonal beers.

So, have you even wondered what was really in those beers besides yeasts and other goodies? You can read it all here. As a guy with a chem minor, I was really digging this article. A hat-tip to Rosemary for passing it along.

In the meantime, make the best of your Holidays! Don't waste your time leaving Santa cookies and milk. At my house, he gets a nice, dark porter. I have a few hours to figure out which one he gets...

Friday, December 19, 2008

#521 and #522

In the last week or so, I managed two new beers. They are still a part of the "party stash." I am getting behind in other projects, so I am just now getting around to telling you about 'em!

Olde 22 (#521) from the Arbor Brewing Company was a total winner. The color was that warm, deep brown pushing black. Awesome. After the pour, the head was easily 3 fingers deep and thick like mirangue. The carbonation and body were in perfect balance with the malty/roasty tones. The finish was a bit dry, but not in a bad way. A very well done beer. Bring a six-pack of this stuff to party and you will be a hero. 5 out of 5.

#522 was a gift from Discount Drinks, one of the premier beer places Downriver. When I was buying stuff for my November party, he gave me a bottle for free! Ya can't beat that! It was an Oktober Fest-Marzen from the Brauerei Aying in Germany. All in all, very average. The off-white head was another thick one (3+ fingers) while the body was amber. Medium body. Dry finish. Not a disappointing beer by any means. Just average. 3 out of 3.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dumplings, Bilingual Skills, and Mustard Gas

Lager Steamed Thai Turkey and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings in a Pale Ale Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce.

Quite a mouthful, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too. That is why I decided to cook it. The more impressive the title, the better the meal, right? It is kind of like when I buy wine - if the label looks cool (ie: a bird or a bug), I buy it. So, knowing I had a Christmas party for work, I figured it would be the perfect chance for me to poison my co-workers with undercooked poultry...ummm, I mean....try a new recipe and gets lots of feedback.

So, a few days back, I got a new cook book - "The Best of American Beer and Food: Pairing and Cooking with Craft Beer". You can order it here. The recipes are great. (On a negative note, however, the binding of the book is a bit weak. It has already given way. If I am not careful, pages will be falling out soon.)

The recipe consisted of three basic parts - the dumplings, the dipping sauce, and the steaming liquid. Of the three, the dipping sauce was the easiest. Very easy in fact. Chili Sauce, beer (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), sugar, soy sauce, etc. Piece of cake.

The dumplings? Well, a bit more of a challenge. Peppers, cumin, Shiitake mushrooms, etc. Nothing crazy there. But wonton wrappers? What the world is a wonton wrapper? After checking various local stores, I came to the conclusion that I may not get to make this recipe if I can't find these things. A last minute search online (thanks Al Gore!) helped me located a small asian market in Dearborn. Fortunately, my GPS was right on the money. Tucked away in a little shopping complex, was the Zhongshan Oriental Grocery. Perfect. In 10 seconds, I had my wonton wrappers.

I also thought this would be a good chance to square away some confusion about the recipe. At no point does it say "cook the turkey and stuff the wrapper". Was I to believe that the 20-minute steaming would cook the raw turkey? So, I spoke to the charming asian woman behind the counter.
"Excuse me. I have a question about a recipe I am going to try. Can you help?"
She nods
"I need to steam these dumplings. But the recipe doesn't say anything about cooking the turkey beforehand. That can't be right. I have to cook the turkey before I stuff the wrapper, right?
She looked at me like I insulted her family. "No. Row. Row" she said with a harsh chinese accent.
"Row? No, I walked here. I need to know if I cook the turkey before I stuff the wrapper?"
"Row! Row!"
Realizing we where dealing with a language barrier, I decided I needed to start speaking chinese. Yes, folks, I know chinese. It's simple - speak English slower and louder with lots of hand gestures:
"I (pointing to myself)...NEED...TO...STUFF (fingers from hands into the palm of the other)...THE WRAPPER (pointing to the wrappers)...WITH ....TURKEY (no, I didn't put my hands under my armpits and flap my elbows, but in hindsight, I should have)... DO I...COOK...THE TURKEY FIRST?"
"Row! Row! Steeeeeeemm....cooooooook...turkey. Steam."
"Oh! Raw! Raw! Stuff the wrappers with raw turkey?"
"Ya. Row! Row!"
"Ah, cool "
"Egg. Egg on wrapper. Wrapper stick"
"Huh? The recipe doesn't say anything about eggs?"
"Egg. Wrapper stick. Egg on edge."
"Ya. Eggs. Stick."
"Ahh. I get it. Merci."

So, after Thursday's cultural experience, I got up a bit early Friday to tackle the dumplings. Each batch needed to be steamed for 20 minutes and I could only do 8 at a time in my steamer. The steaming liquid was basically beer (Yeah!), lime, garlic, and not one, but two serrano peppers (perhaps five times hotter than a jalepeno but, only one-fifth as a hot as a habernaro). The beer, by the way, was Sam Adams Boston Lager.

When steaming, it is very important that the steaming liquid volume is maintained. If it steams, you are losing liquid, right? So, you watch it, and if it looks low, you add more. Crack another beer and dump it in. Easy, right? Yes, it was.

For the most part.

I tested one of the dumplings to make sure everything was good. After a few minutes, my eyes started to get watery. Breathing was getting harder with a little of wheezing. My chest was tightening. I thought - "Holy crap, I'm just ate a poison dumpling. I'm having an allergic reaction here....I'm going to die of anaphalaxis ..." I glanced on the stove. The steam was not so much steam as it was a fine smoke. Yup, the beer was gone and my nuclear serrano peppers were now frying in the pot. I had just created the culinary equivalent of Mustard Gas. Fortunately, no blisters or vomiting. While my kitchen was not quite like the scene of a World War I battlefield (pictured here), I think you get the point. Even if it was below freezing, the doorwall had to be opened and the pot filled with water. Pronto. Before too long, the smell and haze dissipated (somewhat...) and breathing returned to normal. Note to self - don't EVER run out of liquid when steaming with peppers.

All that said, I should probably tell you about the dumplings. They were fantastic. Time consuming, yes, but very good. Alot of people complimented me on them. Plus, the dipping sauce could be used for other things to, I suspect. Good stuff.

Cooking. Always an adventure...

Thursday, December 11, 2008


You've seen 'em - scarecrows in fields? They scare away the birds so they don't eat the crops? Don't let the scarecrow on the bottle of Dundee Oktoberfest (#520) scare you off. Another Marzen style beer, this one is from the High Falls Brewing Company, and is hardly scary. Not award winning, but certainly not scary.

As one might expect, the color was the wonderful brown/orange (amber) color. After the pour, the head (an light tan colored) lingered a bit leaving a slight lacing on the glass. Caramel and sweetness where certainly noted in the aroma while the palate was a bit more complicated. Medium bodied and malty, for sure, but beyond that? I dunno...maybe more caramel? A tiny bit of hops could be detected at the finish.

Easily, a three out of five. Watch for it next year! Don't be scared.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Wow. I have some catching up to do. A few weeks back, I had a party and bought some beer (Me? Buy beer? Shocking!). It was my intention to sample those beers, but I never got around to it. I was in Texas, I have been busy with this, that, and other thing. On top of that, I found a 12-pack of seasonal (winter) Sam Adams beers. So, needless to say, I am backed up a bit. At least eight new beers await me in the fridge. Many are autumn beers.

So tonight, I cracked open Punkin Ale (note the spelling) from the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. You may recall I have had their beer before. I am at the point now where I almost anticipate trying a new beer from them. "Punk", as it is known, is no exception to their brewing history. They know what they are doing.

They claim it is a full-bodied brown ale with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Right from the get-go, you know you are getting something cool. The key? Real pumpkin. Oh sure, alot of places call their beers pumpkin ales, but they don't really contain pumpkins. Seasonal spices, yes, but not real pumpkins. As I understand it(take that with salt...what do I know?), pumpkin is hard to brew with, so alot of places dont really do it.

On the pour, the body was a light colored brownish orange (go figure - a brown ale with pumpkin turns out brown orange! No way!). The head, which was a light tan, was not one finger high and disappeared rather quickly, but the lacing was good. The body was certainly full, as they said, but a bit malty. Not bad or overpowering, mind you, but malty for sure. A strong suggestion of sweetness was there too, but I think it was more of a caramel sweetness. On the finish, the sweetness seemed to transform...I'm not sure how that happened but it did. As one would expect with an ale, a bitterness was present as well. I think the sweetness gave way to the bitterness.

Interestingly enough, I honestly can't tell you exactly when I tasted the pumpkin. Go figure.

Life beer #519 clearly gets a 4 out of 5. Pretty good stuff.