29 June 2007

Espiral Vinho Verde

Another entry in the wonderfully long Trader Joe's $4 bottle of wine list, the Espiral Vinho Verde has been described elsewhere as "[s]pritzy and lemony with some killer acidity," and I wouldn't disagree. Like many of the $4 TJ wines, it is not a thoroughly complex experience, but is neither unsatisfying for it - a generically Champagne-y nose, with a bright young taste and a dry, fine finish. Adam M. says, "If you were at a large party and it were served by the case, you wouldn't feel bad about either drinking it or pouring it on your fellow partygoers."

Wolaver's Wit Bier: white beer with orange peel and coriander

Served with a thin slice of orange peel, Padgett Station's newest beer (and according to Emmett, their current best-seller) is a solid, mildly cloudy entry - organic but, as with many beers, not affected particularly in price or taste one way or the other. Not overly sweet even with the orange, this definitely joins the "recommended summer white beers" list right off the bat. Reminiscent of Hoegaarden (in a good way), with a bit fuller body.

27 June 2007

Eel River Extra Pale Ale

Despite what the name would seem to imply, this Eel River offering is actually a medium-golden hue, several shades darker than lager. Nor is it IPA- or Northwest- hoppy, despite the Santa Cruz address. These are not, however, bad things - it has a smooth, balanced taste, a finish clean but not too dry and with just a hint of floral hoppy finish. Solid and satisfying, but neither exceptional nor unusual enough to warrant special notice.

24 June 2007

American Stouts

From Brad of Sadly, No!, an overview of several stouts:

This is the Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. It’s gotten excellent reviews from both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. And what do I think of it, you ask?

Well, it’s nice. It’s a very smooth stout, it has a deep, rich color, and a smoky odor. And oh yeah- it has a 9.5% alcohol content! Yum!

And yet… it leaves something to be desired. Personally, Brad has been very, very spoiled over the years by by Rogue’s Shakespeare Stout and Avery Mephistopheles Stout over the years. Frankly, he thinks those two stouts are the best in the entire world, and it would take an awfully special one to knocked them off their throne.

So in the end, I give the Oak Aged Yeti Stout four out five pint glasses. It’s very nice stuff, but I just can’t justifying putting it up there with the best of the best.

I echo in full the high marks given to Rogue's Shakespeare Stout, though I'm not familiar with either the Avery entry (though I've enjoyed all of their line I've had) or the Great Divide (whose beers I tend to find good-if-not-great). My recent trip to Seattle gave me the opportunity to have a pint of the Rogue's Shakespeare Stout on tap (and fresh), and it was one of the finer stout experiences I can remember. Unlike most American stouts (including, it seems, the Great Divide Yeti), the Shakespeare actually goes for - and nails - the flavor and mouth-feel of an Irish stout. Specifically: it's the best non-Guinness Guinness I've had outside of Castle Milk Stout. And while there is many an American variation on stouts that I find superior (see, e.g., pretty much the entire line of Bell's [how great is that page?], most esp. the Double Cream Stout, more or less the best beer evar), there is certainly something to be said in taking lessons from the master. Especially when the lesson sticks.

22 June 2007

These two bananas in the freezer looked so bored


1/2 c. sugar (almost)
1/2 c. butter or almost ½ cup oil if you forgot the butter last time you went grocery shopping
2 eggs (1 egg worked fine yesterday)
2 ripe bananas, mashed (1 c.), works very well if they were frozen first.
3/4 c. honey (half a cup is fine)
1/4 c. milk (or soy milk)
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. oatmeal
1 c. raisins or cranberries
1/2 c. walnuts or other nuts that inspire you

Cream sugar and butter. Add egg, bananas, honey and milk. Add the combined flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt (like a dash or two) and oatmeal. Stir until blended. Add nuts and raisins. Spoon in greased muffin tins. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Yes, you should have preheated it before combining your ingredients.


-I've been experimenting with flour, not in overall quantity, but in proportions. Instead of using just all-purpose flour, I'll use cut that to a smaller proportion and add three tablespoons of rice flour, or buckwheat flour, or whatever flour I find in the cupboard that strikes my fancy (though not corn flour). It doesn't affect much to the consistency or flavor, not in such small proportions, it seems.

-Not all ovens are created equal. Some heat more than their thermostat tell you, or less, some heat more at the bottom than at the top, or at the back than at the front, and so on. Get to know your oven, so that when you read a recipe that says, 'Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes', you know that for your oven it translates into 'Bake 375 degrees for 18 minutes in the middle right corner of the oven and rotate the muffin tray halfway through'.

-Sugar is overrated, and over-used. As a rule of thumb, any baking recipe I find (unless it's bread), I will cut the sugar by 20-30%, and everything turns out fine. (Especially in this case where the raisins and/or cranberries add their own sugar) Besides, if a baked good isn't sweet enough, it is easily corrected at the consumption end of the spectrum by eating it with jam or Nutella...

21 June 2007

Victory V-Twelve

There's a new line of small-batch craft brews from Victory Beers, one of my favorite East Coast breweries, (in large part due to their Prima Pils, America's best lager in my estimation), and the latest offering is the V-Twelve. The Twelve is a reference to the ABV, and the automotive reference is no mistake - this beer definitely revs high. They describe it as "immense" and that is not a misnomer, but it's not immense in the nose - the high alcohol does not overwhelm as some Belgian-style beers of even lower registers sometimes do. It's unmistakably winey but not to a fault, and as the Prima Pils does, finishes clean (though with a broader and fuller register) and without the sometimes-distracting fruitiness of some other contemporary North American Belgians. Bottle-conditioned and released in a 750 mL corked bottle, this is a beer that will keep for some time, and it might not be a bad idea to pick up a couple of bottles - at just $6.50 (at Weaver Street Market, anyways), this carries the full alcohol content and much more taste than comparably sized and priced bottles of wine.

Allen & Son Pit Cooked Bar-B-Q

After several trips to Allen & Son that ended without a verdict - due to their being unaccountably closed - a call ahead today confirmed that not only was it open but that the special was BBQ pork chops. And so off we went, and were not disappointed.

After only a few minutes' deliberation, I settled on the special, pretty sure that I'd never had BBQ pork chops before. They didn't disappoint. Incredibly tender and with the flesh pink not from undercooking but from something in the cooking itself, they were coated with a slightly thicker and fuller version of Allen & Son's vinegar-heavy (natch) BBQ sauce and, while they didn't quite fall off the bone, there wasn't any problem separating the flesh. The sides delivered, too - sweet and savory yams with copious brown sugar and cloves; butter-soaked peas and pearl onions; and deep-brown hushpuppies, just a bit sweet. The tea was sweet-but-not-too-much, and perfectly refreshing. And the whole package - including an innocuous palate-cleanser of iceberg lettuce, Bac-O, flavorless carrots and tomato salad - was, as the special, $6.80.

Hard to beat, and I've finally had my fix of excellent NC BBQ.

20 June 2007

Saranac Kölsch Ale

One of Saranac's "12 Beers of Summer," the Kölsch Ale advertises itself as "clear, crisp, and easy to drink," and it doesn't disappoint on any of the counts. The crispness especially is notable, one of the better finishes of any American beer - reminiscent even of the superlative Victory Prima Pils - and ranks the Kölsch Ale immediately as one of my favorite offerings from Saranac (which, given that it's one of my favorite breweries, is saying something). It's a pity that it's only a seasonal offering, but those do seem to be some of Saranac's best brews these last years - see especially, e.g., the Caramel Porter and Scotch Ale (though the Pomegranate Wheat [also in the 12 Beers of Summer pack] is a trendy trainwreck of a beer, with none of the good notes of either pomegranate or wheat).

A visit to Saranac's web site also reveals a new semi-regular line of beers:
Imperial IPA
(Big Beer Series)

We are pleased to announce that Saranac Imperial IPA, the first in our “High Peak Series”.

The Saranac “High Peak Series” is a series of Special Beers, limited to one single batch. These beers will be much bigger, more complex, and targeted to craft beer aficionados.

This is a beer to be sipped and savored; a “real show and tell . . . blow your head off beer”

The first of our series, Saranac Imperial IPA, is brewed with 10 different hops and 10 different malts and is 8.5% alcohol and 85 IBU’s.

Look for Saranac Imperial IPA at your local retailer!

Clearly, Saranac is feeling a push from the higher-end regional brewers (e.g., Ommegang and Allagash), but I'm not sure that pitching their products against the craft brewers' is a good idea. Saranac to me has always been notable as a microbrewery that makes beer at more or less the same price point (and often the same style) as many other mass domestics but with notably higher quality. What it isn't is a high-end craft brew - but that's fine. Saranac has been able to pull the trick of maintaining a pretty solid level of quality even as they've moved to a national distribution footing, which is quite a trick to pull. The craft brewers do make beer that is often better, but I'd never find myself making my way through more than one or two pints of Allagash (save for the White Ale), Ommegang, Dogfish Head et al. - and Saranac should realize that most of those beers will never sell that many cases, in any event. Saranac is, and remains, a solidly drinkable line of beers. The Kölsch Ale shows the brewery at its best.

On Fisheries

Excellent interview in Salon with Charles Clover, author of The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat. Overall of course, the picture is quite bleak as regard fisheries, but a few interesting details (and even some hope) emerge from the interview:

From a consumer's point of view, should we be eating fish at all?

I didn't say in my book, "Don't eat fish." I say, "Don't eat certain fish, don't eat endangered fish." If a fish takes 20 years to double its population, that's a long time. If it takes 30 years before it breeds, don't touch it. But if you eat something that's fast reproducing and not overfished, you should be all right. And there's quite a lot of those species out there. You can eat a hell of a lot of shellfish, a huge amount of mussels and oysters, and your deep-water scallops, with a clear conscience. You can have a really nice fish stew, it's not a problem. But why eat endangered fish? And the slow-reproducing ones are probably going to have mercury in them anyway, so it's a win-win.


You also uncover a hidden secret about McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich: that the fish comes from two fisheries actually certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. In other words, McDonald's fish sandwich is more sustainable than Nobu's tuna sashimi. Did that surprise you?

Not really. McDonald's is sustainable because it is a big company and needs continuity of supply, but isn't that arguably a definition of sustainability?

Buying Alaskan pollock as McDonald's does is not a bad practice -- except that they don't seek to advertise their MSC connection, which might mean they would have to pay for the logo. Gambling you can make your fortune before you run out of exotic fish is an individual decision and one Nobu shares with many restaurateurs from Asia.

But why has it gone right, say, in Alaska? In the U.S., we always hear how good the wild Alaskan salmon fishery is.

I think it's like Iceland: When you've got nothing else, you look after it. When you're an island surrounded by cod, if your cod goes down, you are stuffed. I think it's pretty much the same with Alaska; they understand they have a resource they haven't destroyed yet. They were able to act on the basis of other people's mistakes. Sooner or later the message gets across that mistakes have been made and if you're the last one starting out, maybe you're going to make slightly fewer than anyone else.


If you want to invest in anything else you put loads of people and money in -- but with fishing it's the opposite. It's an extractive industry.

That's what was interesting about the marine sanctuaries you write about in New Zealand, where fishing has been completely banned. Not only have the fish populations recovered, but they have reached a level of growth and biodiversity the scientists never imagined was possible.

If we did that with the cod we'd be caught up to our eyeballs. I don't see why you can't have a low-impact fishery, a buffer zone, like you do for land-based parks in Africa. It keeps everyone happy, and you keep everything protected.

The whole thing is worth checking out, as is, I suspect, Clover's book. I won't read it because I like my doses of rank pessimism to come concentrated in short bursts rather than drawn out across a whole book, but if you're a long-form nonfiction reader and either addicted to reading about fisheries collapse or want to learn more about it, this seems like a good place to start.

19 June 2007

Rainbow Chard and Caramelized Onion Pasta

The Rainbow Chard looked good yesterday at Weaver Street Market, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I have limited experience with the more exotic (to me, anyhow) greens but am generally a fan, so with the housemates all being out of town it seemed like a good opportunity to try something that might fall entirely flat on its face. That's not quite what happened, but... well, I'll explain.

Recipe: Cursory Google search turned up several intriguing possibilities, and I went with this one because I'm generally a sucker for anything that says "caramelized" and I already had the requisite pasta (though a spaghetti-linguine blend, which would prove a bit problematic) in the fridge. The recipe:
Rainbow Chard and Carmelized Onion Pasta

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 C. chard stems, chopped finely
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sugar
2 C. torn chard leaves
2 Tbs. port
12 oz. egg noodles or fettuccine
2 C. veggie or chicken stock

Heat the oil and butter in large skillet over med. heat. Add the onions and sauté them for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the onions with the sugar, reduce heat to medium-low and sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, until translucent in the center and browned at the edges, about 15 min. Pour the port over the onions and stir. Remove from heat. Remove onions with slotted spoon to a plate. Do not rinse or wash skillet.

Bring large pot of water to boil. Return skillet to the stove when water almost boils. Add the stock and chard stems to skillet and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 min. Stir in salt and pepper, and keep warm over low heat.

Add noodles to boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and add noodles to skillet with stock. Add chard leaves and onions and cook for 5 min. until chard is wilted and pasta is heated through.

Modifications: So, several caveats. I sliced up three (3) onions but, after another look at my pan, decided to use only about two of them. I considered using more port - and should've - but didn't. I also added a (small) head of roasted garlic to the stock-and-chard-stems stage of the recipe. And, as it later occurred to me, I should've about halved the stock, since I wasn't going to be taking the pasta from al dente to cooked but instead just mixing in everything with it.

Results: In retrospect, the substitution of my cooked pasta for the proscribed semi-cooked pasta was one of two things that undid the recipe - I also didn't sauteé the chard quite long enough, and it overwhelmed everything a bit with its semi-rawness. As per usual, I didn't add salt or pepper, and again probably should've. A bit.

To accompany, I had parmigianno reggiano, several slices of a loaf of potato bread with onion and rosemary (also from the Weave, on clearance) and the balance of a bottle of Dr. Beckermann's Liebraumilch Qualitatswein (a Trader Joe's 4$-a-bottle stalwart). The wine is... very sweet, but somehow not saccharine. And not a chardonnay. It was very hot today, and the wine went down easily (esp. at only 9.5% ABV). The cheese was fine but not quite the right call with the pasta. But the bread was an excellent, excellent addition - good enough that I'll probably be fishing through the leftovers of the pasta for the chard and onions to pile on a few slices of the bread for a sandwich tomorrow.

Conclusions: I overreached with this recipe and the audibles. For now, chard and the various other tougher greens move back into the "as a simple side-dish only" category until I can figure out their mysterious ways more reliably.

About this Blog

Hello. This blog will be about food, which is to say it'll be about a lot of things. Life tends to revolve around food, and my life particularly does so - eating well (in all senses of the word) is one of my central tenets. This means that, among other things, I live in a vegetarian co-op in Chapel Hill (though I'm not a vegetarian) but also enjoy exotic, salty snacks; that I love shopping for a specific meal and also using whatever happens to be in the fridge; that I like cheap, tasty wines and also more expensive and differently-tasty beers; and so on. Maybe I'll get more erudite as I go along here, but the chief aims of this blog are to catalog the food-elements in my life: to write down recipes successful and failed, restaurants excellent and disappointing, wines good and sulfuric, beers surprising and overpriced, markets useful and not. Other writers may join with similar or overlapping missions, and all are encouraged to offer feedback and contributions.