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Friday, May 25, 2012

Beer and Bacon Dinner- Tuscarora Mill Restaurant

For our next beer related post, we figured we'd talk about a beer dinner we went to back in February right here in Leesburg, at Tuscarora Mill Restaurant. They run a number of beer dinners through the year, each one featuring a specific brewery, or in this case specific foods to pair with beer. This was our first beer dinner at Tuskies, and we'll be going back again! As forewarning, the photos aren't great since they were taken quickly with an iPhone, since we didn't want to be the jerks with a flash going off at every course, and we weren't about to wait to compose a perfect picture while bacon got cold!

For this, both Amy and myself will be commenting on the food and beer for each course. As you'll see, we'll put our names in big bold print before our options after an initial description of each course and it's beer pairing.

Upon entering, we were given glasses of Lagunitas Censored Ale (AKA Kronic). This is a fairly hoppy red ale. As with all Lagunitas beers, you can definitely smell and taste the hops.
Zach- I enjoyed it, and could imagine it being good to pair with a spicy soup. Lagunitas beers don't shy away from using aggressive hops, and that was evident with Censored. It's definitely a step up from a pale ale, maybe bordering on an IPA in terms of hop presence. All in all, a drinkable beer.
Amy -- This was a good beer, though a bit hoppy for my tastes but the hops were used in the way I like, mostly as aroma and not leaving the bitter taste in my mouth.  I thought it was a great opener to sort of wake up your palate and get you ready for the bacon-centric (ie pork fat filled) foods to follow.  

Lagunitas Censored Ale

Our first real food/beer pairing was a mini BLT (with tiny waffle chips) with Stone Pale Ale.
Zach- The BLT itself was tasty, but the bread was a little dry without the toasty brown color I would expect. Tasty, but not excellent. The Stone Pale Ale is a prototypical American Pale Ale, full of hop aroma but not overly bitter. It poured a nice orange-amber color, and I would enjoy drinking it again.
Amy -- I LOVED the waffle chips/fries/whatever they were.  They were crispy and delicious and everything that a fried potato product should be.  The BLT was good, nothing special, just a basic BLT but I find that to be comforting in a simple way.  The beer was a good pairing, as usual I prefer any pale ales with food.  On their own I find them to be too overwhelming, but this pairing worked.  
Stone Pale Ale with Mini BLT

The second course was pancetta wrapped monkfish on creamed spinach with bacon, paired with Bell's Two Hearted Ale.
Zach- The monkfish was fantastic, but really what wouldn't be fantastic when wrapped in bacon? As far as the beer, I enjoyed the Two Hearted, but after sampling a fellow homebrewer's attempt at a clone, I have to say that the homebrewer made a much better beer. Now, when I drink Two Hearted the hops just seem subdued and dim. I wish there was more hop aroma, but overall it's quaffable.
Amy -- This course was my second favorite.  But, I agree with Zach, what isn't good wrapped in bacon??  Again, I liked the pairing and didn't mind the hoppiness of the beer when matched with food.  I enjoyed the big portions of beer to really be able to evaluate it on it's own and with the food.  
Delicious monkfish with Bell's Two Hearted Ale

Next up was one of our favorite courses: spicy bacon sausage bits over a chipotle tomato sauce with a smoked gouda crostini, paired with Founder's Dry Hop Pale Ale.
Zach-This was a great dish, with a lot of spice from the sausage that was inspired by a Portugese lingua seca. Lots of flavor, and the little crostini was deliciously crispy. The beer was pretty well paired for a dish like this, with the pungent hop aroma mixing well with the spicy sausage. In this case, I think the beer and food combo was great, but by now I was looking for something other than hops to pair with the food.
Amy -- This was definitely my favorite course.  The sausage was spicy and juicy and delicious and was a great pairing with the beer.  I do agree with Zach that the hoppiness of the successive pale ales was getting to be repetitive and would have enjoyed some other styles of beers somewhere along the line.  
Spicy sausage with Founder's Dry Hop Ale (on the left)

The next entree/beer combo was orange braised pork belly with spicy kimchee, soba noodles and crushed peanuts, paired with New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale.
Zach- I really liked the pork belly, and thought the overall dish worked very well. I like the Asian flavors, and a big piece of pork belly paired with noodles is ok with me any day of the week. The Cabin Fever Brown Ale was nice and malty, and we finally got something that didn't feature a ton of hops. There was good maltiness to this beer, some slight hops, and a long lasting nutty finish. I would definitely drink this beer on it's own.
Amy -- This dish was 'ehhhhh' to me.  Not my favorite, and not bad, but not great either.  I didn't get to finish mine, the staff took my plate away while I was in the restroom, but I wasn't entirely disappointed about that.  If it had been the previous course I would have been much more upset!  I was glad for a new style to pair with the food, and this beer was great.  I'm finding I enjoy brown ales more than I thought I did and have started ordering them as an option for drinking more often, probably partly due to this great beer experience.  
Noodles and New Holland Cabin Fever

Our final entree combo was fatty smoked brisket over saffron mashed potatoes with bacon braised brussels sprouts, paired with both Stone Smoked Porter and Great Divide Smoked Porter.
Zach- Absolutely nothing was bad on this plate of food. The brisket was smoky and tender, the potatoes smooth and creamy, and the brussels sprouts were just like we would make on our own. All in all, a fantastic plate of food. The beers were spot on in terms of matching the plate of food. Both were big, intense porters with a lot of flavor. The Stone Smoked Porter had a ton of smoke flavor in it and a really nice mouthfeel. The Great Divide was a little more bitter from what I remember, and had a lot of roasty flavors. If you haven't had a smoked beer before, the comparison of bacon in a glass is fairly apt. Look for lots of roasty flavors in this case from the dark malts used, as well as huge smokiness. I'm a big fan of smoked beers, and I would add both of these to my growing cellar to enjoy on their own. However, I do feel both of these would be great for a summer BBQ.
Amy -- I liked that this course came with two beers that were the same style but from different breweries.  I think that was a great way to be able to compare the beers to each other alone, but also be able to compare them as partners for the food.  I liked both beers, but I like anything smoked, so that's not a surprise.  The smoked beer was a great pairing for any dish with bacon, but I think it was the perfect choice for this dish since the porters really balanced the fattier brisket and sometimes bitter brussel sprouts.  
Brisket (yum!) with Stone Smoked Porter (left) and Great Divide Smoked Porter (right)

Our dessert consisted of a bacon brownie paired with Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti and Bell's Java Stout.
Zach- The brownie itself was good, but at this point we were pretty full. It had good chocolate flavor, and nice chunks of bacon. I would have preferred a slightly gooey-er brownie, but this was probably much easier to cut up for large scale service. Both beers were good, but again at this point we were starting to cut back on drinking and were simply too full to enjoy all of the beer. There was a lot of coffee flavor in both stouts, and you could definitely pick up the oak on the Yeti. I would drink both of these stouts on their own at any time.
Amy -- I was stuffed at this point.  I remember the candied bacon on top being excellent, but not being able to finish my brownie from being so full.  The beers were super, so I saved my little remaining stomach room for them.  The coffee flavors of the beers matched really well with the chocolate of the brownie and it was a great way to end the evening!
Bacon+brownie=awesome. Also with Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti (left) and Bell's Java Stout (right)

So to summarize, we got a ton of food, and very generous beer pours at each course. We went in expecting to get 4 oz pairings with each course, but instead were served almost full glasses of each beer! It felt bad to leave behind undrunk beer, but we had to be responsible and make sure we could drive home. Next time we will not make the mistake of grabbing a pre-dinner beer! The Tuskie's Beer and Bacon dinner is going on our calendar as soon as it's announced next year, and you'll find us right there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Perfect Sugar Cookies: SRC part 2!

As I said on Monday's post I couldn't pick just one recipe from Debby's blog A Feast for the Eyes!  I had to make these cookies.  As soon as I saw the title I was hoping it would be this exact recipe.  I had the same experience Debby did -- watching an episode of America's Test Kitchen and seeing these cookies and then immediately thinking "I NEED to make those."  So when I saw the recipe on her blog I knew I had to follow through.  The recipe is easy to follow, though you definitely have a few moments of 'Are you sure this is right?  Should it really look like this?" because of the odd mixing method -- melting the butter, no mixer needed, just whisking in ingredients, but trust me, it all works out!

These cookies are amazing.  Everyone needs to make these ASAP, not kidding.  I don't usually make proclamations like that, but these cookies are just that good.  They are crispy on the edges, soft in the middle and super, super flavor.  They are everything you ever dreamed a sugar cookie should be.  As we were eating our first cookie after making them, not even halfway through that first cookie, Zach said "Well, I guess we never have to look for another sugar cookie recipe ever again."  And I agree, 100%.  Yes, recipe fanatic, and cookbook collector that I am, know that this recipe is THE ONE for sugar cookies.  I will now have to go through my shoebox of recipes and toss out all other sugar cookie recipes, well, except for cut-out cookies, I'm still on the hunt for the 'perfect' cut-out cookie!

Perfect Sugar Cookies
from ATK/Cook's Illustrated November 2010, as seen on A Feast for the Eyes
makes 24-28 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpats. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Place 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese in large bowl.  Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogeneous dough forms.
  • Measure 1/3 cup sugar into small bowl.  Use cookie scoop (#40, or about 2 tablespoon size) to portion out dough. Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in small bowl of sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet.
  • Using bottom of drinking glass, or bottom of measuring cup, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with remaining sugar from small bowl.
  • Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Puffy Apple Pancake: Secret Recipe Club

It's time for another installment of Secret Recipe Club! This month I got Debby's blog, A Feast for the Eyes. It was super tough to chose only one recipes -- in fact I ended up making two! But it was hard to narrow it down to two recipes even! I had many, many ideas, both savory and sweet but ended up going with two sweet choices. Watch for the second recipe to be posted on Wednesday! 

This first one is a breakfast I've had many a time at a pancake house and was excited to try to recreate at home for myself. It was great! It had great crispy edges and a tender texture inside. I really questioned if it would rise, since the batter didn't have any baking powder or baking soda, only flour and eggs, but it definitely did! It loses it's puff as it cools, but it still tastes delicious! We topped with powdered sugar and enjoyed!

Puffy Apple Pancake

from A Feast for the Eyes
serves 4

1 large apple
2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  
  • Peel, core and slice the apple into 1/4 inch thick pieces. 
  • Using an open-proof 10 inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the apple slices, making one layer and saute for 3-4 minutes, until beginning to soften.  
  • Turn apples over and add brown sugar and cinnamon to the mixture, stirring to coat apples with sugar.  Continue cooking apples for 3-4 minutes longer.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs then add milk, flour and vanilla and whisk until lumps are broken up and mixture is smooth.  
  • Pour the batter on top of the apple and sugar mixture and place skillet in the oven to bake, about 15 minutes.  The pancake will puff up and be golden brown on the edges.  
  • Remove from oven, cut into four wedges and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sorachi Ace Saison

Welcome to my first all-original brew. I was inspired to make this beer after drinking Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace. Like several of my beers, the impetus to make this came from our drinking a beer and Amy asking "Can you make this?". In this case, I loved the inspiration beer, so I was all for making my own version.

Sorachi ace hops are a relatively new variety of hops that is distinguished by both very high alpha acids (~10-16%) and distinct lemony taste and aroma. They are a Japanese hybrid hop, and for quite some time weren't used much by commercial breweries. With the current craze of using citrusy hops like Citra, Cascade, Centennial, etc, the use of Sorachi Ace hops is trending upwards and it's not unusual to see them in a Pale ale or IPA.

I knew my base for the beer should basically be a lot of pilsner malt, and that I'd let the hops and yeast provide all of the other flavors. Sorachi Ace (the beer, not the hop) is about 10% ABV, and I wanted to get something similar in the end, but maybe a bit lighter to allow more drinking. With those goals in mind, I ordered a bunch of supplies from Northern Brewer.

1 lb Briess Caramel 10L
3.15 lb Pilsen LME
3 lb Pilsen DME
1 lb Candi Syrup
2 oz Sorachi Ace pellets
2 oz Sorachi Ace whole leaf hops (for dry hopping)
Wyeast 3711 French Saison

I used the Briess Caramel 10L as a steeping grain to give the beer a pale golden color. Like with other kits, this was heated to 170 F in a mesh bag, then discarded. The rest of the brewing process was straightforward. I added the DME and LME when the water came to a boil, then returned the wort to a boil. The hop pellets were added at 60 minutes (0.5 oz), 15 minutes (0.5 oz) and 5 minutes (1 oz) left in the boil period. After brewing, the wort was chilled to <80 F, brought up to 5 gallons with cool water, and aerated with my aquarium bubbler for 20 minutes. Following aeration, I pitched a 650 mL starter culture of the Wyeast 3711 into the beer, and let it go to town.

Fermentation was kept in the mid 70s, and finished out in about a week. I racked the beer into secondary for 2 weeks, then bottled the beer. I decided I really wanted lots of hop aroma, but not necessarily bitterness so I dry hopped this beer. Basically, you just dump additional hops into your fermentation bucket or carboy 1 to 2 weeks before bottling. To help with later transfer of the beer from the carboy into a bottling bucket, I placed the hops into a muslin bag to prevent clogging of the siphon. Next time, I will do my dry hopping in a bucket, as it was a pain to transfer the bag into a carboy. Additionally, I would consider adding even more hops next time. The whole leaf hops worked well, but I'd like to compare dry hopping with pellet hops next time. I dry hopped with 1 oz of whole leaf hops at about 2 weeks and 1 week before bottling. Following transfer to bottling, I ended up with just shy of 2 cases of beer from this.

The beer itself is fantastic. It pours a pale golden color, and you can definitely detect the hops on this beer. There's a great lemon edge to the beer, and to me the hops also add a bit of mustiness in a good way. It's refreshing and pretty much turned out exactly as I had planned. Definitely will be keeping this a recipe for routine brewing, and as a summertime treat.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Brie and Scallion Burgers: Recipe Swap

I've spent the last 4 years frequenting a cooking message board, which I know, makes me sound like a total food nerd, but I've met some great ladies (and even a guy or two!) on there and it was where I first got the idea to start a food blog.  I started this blog mostly as a way to have an online recipe collection/personal cookbook.  It's great to have all our favorite recipes in one spot and have them easily accessible via internet.  I check in with my foodie friends at least once a day to talk about what's for dinner, great restaurants, new ingredients and everything in between.  They've been doing a recipe swap for awhile now, but when it started I was in a blogging lull but now that I'm back into the groove I decided to join in the fun.  

For this exchange I got A Taste of Home Cooking.  Not only is she a member of my lovely group, but she's also the organizer of the Recipe Swaps -- I immediately felt the pressure!  I spent a good hour looking through her blog and picking some recipes to chose from.  Some that were on the final list but didn't make the cut will be on my menus in the future -- Buffalo Chicken Tacos, Jalapeno Popper Chicken, and Soutzoukakia.  For this choice we went with the Brie and Scallion Burgers and we were not disappointed!  They were cheesy, juicy and delicious.  The cheese is hidden inside the burgers which is a nice surprise and the scallion paste is spicy kick to compliment the creamy brie.  We enjoyed them a lot and I'm sure we'll be enjoying them again throughout the summer grilling season.  We've already thought of other uses for the scallion paste -- tossed with pasta, on shrimp, in sandwiches, it'd probably even be good with tortilla chips!  As you can see, we served it with waffle fries and steamed broccoli.

Brie and Scallion Burgers
serves 4

4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
freshly ground pepper
4 ounces brie, rind removed
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 hamburger buns

  • Make the scallion paste -- combine the scallions, garlic, jalapeno, lemon zest, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle (or a small bowl).  If using the mortar and pestle, grind the ingredients into a paste.  If using a bowl, use the back of a spoon to smash everything together.  Once you have a paste, slowly add in the olive oil to loosen up the paste.  
  • Preheat your grill on high.
  • Start working on the burgers -- season the ground beef with salt and pepper.  Form 8 patties from the ground beef.  Measure out one ounce of brie, put it on top of one patty, then top with another patty and seal the edges.  Do this again three more times to make four burgers.  
  • Cook the burgers on the grill, about 4-6 minutes per side.  Grill the burger buns.  Top burgers with scallion paste, mayo and serve!