Nerd Alert!

Once a nerd, always a nerd.  My middle and high school years were spent dressed in fiendcamouflage and memorizing the contents of the Fiend Folio.  I went to Renaissance Faires, in costume, complete with chain mail I made myself.   If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I don’t know what would.

In the decades since much has changed about my life.  My clothes come from Nordstrom Rack as opposed to I. Goldberg. I haven’t played D&D in almost a decade (though I still have my  Fiend Folio) nor can I remember the last time I shouted Huzzah! or walked around Mount Hope with a smoked turkey leg and leather mug.

But the fact is, I’m still a nerd.  I just swapped memorizing facts about fictional monsters for memorizing the ABV and IBU’s of hundreds of different beers.  Instead of reading countless trashy novels of Gor,  I now devour the equally lurid but far longer and better written Game of Thrones.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.

But every once in a while my nerd-i-verses collide.  And so it was that last month I found myself immersed in the great nerd-convergence as fragments of my past mingled with the present.

Like millions of others my wife and I were looking forward to April 12th with great anticipation.  If you need to ask why April 12th was significant then I fear that what I am about to share will just leave you shaking your head.  But please read on nonetheless.

As the date for the premiere of Season Five of Game of Thrones drew closer we started planning how we could celebrate this momentous event in the style it deserved.

DSC_4200And so it was that my many nerdy facets starting coming together.  The fact that I am now a beer nerd came in handy.  I went to the cellar and broke out my collection of all five (to date) GOT themed beers from Ommegang.  My wife did her part by breaking out her GOT cookbook- a Feast of Ice and Fire.  And Ren Faire background kicked in by providing chain mail, a shield and sword to decorate the table.

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The end result was either totally awesome or kind of sad (though how anyone could failDSC_4221 to be impressed by bacon lattice topped beef pie is beyond me).  It all depends on whether or not you are a nerd.  Because no matter how much your tastes may change over the years the fact remains: once a nerd, always a nerd.  And you know what, I’m just fine with that.

 

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Habaneros, Ghosts and Scorpions… Oh My!

I try to know my limits.  How much can I eat without feeling stuffed and immobile?  How much can I drink without getting schnocked and then waking up hung over? I have even allowed such better judgment to govern my hot pepper intake.  It used to be that I looked forward to eating food so hot that the sweat would be dripping off the end of my nose.  Although my mouth can still handle the heat, with each passing year the unfortunate truth is that my gut makes me pay dearly for the pleasure the next day.

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Knowing this I have stayed away from the recent additions to the nuclear arsenal now embraced by extreme fire eaters, namely the Ghost and now the Scorpion peppers. If I have to be judicious with Habaneros (which clock in at 350,000 scovilles) what possible interest could I have in peppers that tip the scales at 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 respectively?

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But on a beautiful September afternoon I threw all that caution to the wind and decided to make a hot pepper mash using all three members of the Holy (Shit That’s Hot) Trinity of hot peppers mentioned above.

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Based on much previous experience the first thing to do was to make sure I could work DSC_3290outside using the side burner of my grill.  I made the mistake of making a mash using only habaneros indoors once.  If you have ever been pepper sprayed then you have an idea of what it was like trying to breathe in my kitchen once those peppers hit the hot oil in the pan.

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DSC_3293With that object lesson firmly in mind I took my garlic, onion, peppers, salt and honey out into the garage.  From there I thought it would be simple.  Cook things down then puree.  I knew I did not want to lean too far over the pan because of the toxic fumes.  Little did I know what I was actually in for.

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After five minutes of cooking I found I was coughing anytime I approached the pan.  Meanwhile, one floor above and inside what I thought was the relative safety of the house my wife had run around and frantically closed all the windows because even the trace amounts that blew in were making her quite unhappy.

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By the time I transferred from pan to food processor my throat was tight and my cheeks were burning as if I had touched them after handling the peppers.  The sweat was dripping from my forehead and nose the way it does after eating a hot vindaloo curry.  If just being around this concoction has this effect I can only imagine what actually ingesting it will do. I tried the tiniest amount on a tortilla chip and it left my tongue happily burning for five minutes.

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DSC_3302Since you may be wondering the same thing let me tell you what I have done with past (albeit it milder) batches.   I tend to use a teaspoon to tablespoon amount of the mash as an ingredient in making the sauce for my Ultimate Wings.  You can also use it to spice up chili or if you are daring use a little as a relish on a cheese steak or other sandwich.  The good news is that you don’t have to use it quickly.  Just store it in some tupperware in your fridge and it will last for a year or more.  I can only assume that it is so toxic that no bacteria can grow in it.

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I look forward to testing my limits and trying my triple threat mash as part of some new daring dish.  I will post an update when I do.  If you make it for yourself  please let us know how you like it!  And whenever you do make sure you have a cold beer (or six) handy to quench the flames.

Beer Cocktails

I confess that I am rather skeptical when it comes to  beer based drinks.  Beer, be it a simple pilsner or a complex barrel aged stout, is best appreciated on its own.   Yet they seem to be growing in popularity.  From classic concoctions like the michelada to dreck like Bud Light’s Limearita and its ilk, there are many different cocktails out there that rely on beer for their flavor.  To date I have yet to find one I really liked, until this summer that is.

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 That’s when I finally decided to try this recipe from Draft Magazine.  I find this magazine one of the best out there about beer since it includes more than just the usual assortment of brewer and style profiles, it also devotes many pages to food and recipes.  And so it was, not without some reluctance, that I decided to give this one a try.

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I used a good resposado tequila and the same Cuvee Rene gueuze shown in the picture which I chose strictly because of the price point.  I sure didn’t want to use an expensive bottle only to find that I had wasted it on a dud recipe.  Given that there were only 4 ingredients it came together rather quickly.  One word of advice- don’t fill the shaker to the brim- the gueuze will foam up when you shake it!

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The result was not just decent- it was excellent.  While it could never be mistaken from a traditional margarita the balance of flavors was wonderful.  Sour but just sweet enough it went down dangerously easy.

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I liked it so much I have made it twice more using different gueuzes with equally good results.  In fact, I like it so much I plan to try my own variations using gose and Berliner Weisse beers instead of the gueuze.  The light sour, and in the case of the gose, the salt too, should stand in nicely.

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The recipe and photos below come directly from the March/April 2014 issue.

How to: Make the ultimate beergarita

It doesn’t look like a bright yellow marg, but the flavors are dead-on, and the bubbles are a refreshing bonus! Here’s how to mix up a proper beer margarita:

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YOU’LL NEED:

2 ounces gueuze

1 ounce tequila

1 teaspoon agave nectar

squeeze of lime

A gueuze stands in for tart Triple Sec, and a little agave soothes the sour. Shake it up, salt your glass, pour over ice and serve.

To see the original article click here.

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If you try it let us know how you like it!

Turkey, Pumpkin Pie and Growlers?

Thanksgiving

We love to cook.  Carefully choosing the recipes, going shopping for the right ingredients, prepping, rubbing, marinating, setting the table.  It all comes together when we sit down around the table.  Of course Thanksgiving (especially for 14) requires even more than our usual amount of organization and effort.  But not to worry, we’ve got it in hand.  From the organic turkey that I just started brining to the pies my wife started putting together last night, we have it down to a science.

1298392524-beer_vs_wineBut then it comes time to plan the beverages.  I know that many people prefer wine.  It still has a stranglehold on fancy meals the way beer has a lock on the ballpark.  But I want beer and I want it to truly compliment the meal that we have worked so hard to create.  In fact, I want it to pair so well that it might seduce a few of those wine drinkers away from their Zinfandels and Rieslings.

The problem is there are not obvious pairings for the traditional array of turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.  If you’re having pork or sausage then a good German Helles or Dopplebock turkey1is the way to go.  Brown Ale or Porter with your burger.  A biting IPA or even a Imperial Russian Stout to go with that rich and spicy chili.  But turkey, green beans and sweet potato casserole?  That’s not so obvious.

The best source of advice on pairing food and beer can be had from Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and author of the monumental work, The Brewmaster’s Table.  He recommends Bierre De Garde (which like Saisons tend to vary wildly within the limits of the style).  Having tried it myself on several occasions I can agree with himi that it’s a good choice.

growlerPersonally, I am hoping for a growler of Burton (English Style) IPA from the new Barren Hill Brewery to pair with my turkey.  Balanced and understated in terms of hops it should go nicely with the earthy flavors of the meal while biting through the fat of all the butter and gravy.

What about you?  What beer best complimented your Thanksgiving?  Please let us know.  In the meantime, let me wish you and yours a blessed and safe Thanksgiving.

Beer and Spicy Food

I love hot food and I love beer and more often than not I drink beer when I am eating spicy food.  BUT, contrary to popular opinion/practice swilling large quantities of beer does NOT help with extreme heat from things like Habanero peppers (or Thai Dragon or anything else that high on the Scoville scale- I don’t even bother with Ghost or Scorpion peppers- I can’t taste anything through the pain).

So what do you do when the heat gets the better of you and you already know that chugging the pitcher of beer just won’t help? chugging Well, when you need to put out the fire, dairy products are best- hence the popularity of bleu cheese dip with hot wings (the celery is more or less only a means of delivery).  Milk and yogurt are also very good at neutralizing heat.  Bread or dry crackers like Saltines are also good in this role.

This is not to say that beer can’t still be tasty to drink along with such volcanic dishes (like the wings from my previous column), so long as you understand that  it will not really help dampen the fire. If you are with me so far then the next problem that confronts us is which beer to pair with that habanero mash or five alarm chili?

To my mind, when it comes to fiery concoctions only BIG beers are up to the test.  Dopplebocks, DIPA’s, RIS, Barely Wines and even the occasional Belgian Quad all have enough flavor to add to the taste experience as opposed to getting lost as an ordinary lager or pilsner might.  Even many ales evaporate when facing such extreme heat.

MaharajaMy favorite paring is to use a BIG Imperial (or Double if your prefer) IPA like The Maharajah by Avery.  This beast of a beer is loaded with hops (100-110 IBU’s) yet also super malty.  It is so strong in flavor and alcohol (11%) that it would completely overwhelm your average pasta dish or salad.  But when paired with my Jumbo Smoked Wings with Habanero Mash, the “unstoppable force” meets the “unmovable object” and bliss ensues.

If your palate (and stomach) are up to a real challenge, give this duet a try.

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Ultimate Wings

wingsOn the heels of the Super Bowl and  two parties, I want to deviate a bit and offer a quick column on food.  It should come as no surprise for you to learn that I not only like libation, but also food in almost all of its wondrous varieties.  Now having gone to college in upstate New York, I quickly acquired a taste of Buffalo Wings.  In my years since graduation I have made wings in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of success.  The recipe I am about to share with you is a more recent (yet highly delicious) addition to my wing repertoire.  I find that the smoked meat pairs beautifully with the very hot yet sweet sauce.

Smoked Jumbo Wings with Habanero Mash

Prep Time: 6 hours (not including overnight marinade)

The Wings: It all begins with the wings themselves.  You really want to get the largest and highest quality wings you can find.  I am blessed to live in the City of Brotherly Love and therefore I like to go to Cannuli House of Poultry in the world famous Italian Market for my wings.  They cost more per pound than the regular sized variety but the extra meat is needed because of the smoking and to be honest, if you are going to spend this long making wings then you want as much meat as possible to savor when you are done.

The Marinade: Minced garlic- 1-2 cloves per pound of wings.  Cheap hot sauce- like Franks or Durkees- 1 bottle per 5 pounds.  After removing the wings make sure you reserve the marinade for use in the sauce.

The Smoking: If you have never used a smoker it would take too long to explain the process here.  Anyway use good hardwood chunks (better than chips).  Smoking time depends on the heat of your fire and the amount of meat you have put in.

The Crisping: Simply smoking meat can produce a leathery skin that is not unpleasant but I have found that if you throw your freshly smoked wings on the grill for 5-10 minutes the flames get the skin to crisp nicely thus simulating traditional wing crunch nicely.  You can also crisp them in an oven set at 425.

The Sauce: OK- this is the tricky part to relate because I am not a scientific cook- meaning I don’t measure much when I cook.  Also when working with Habaneros, one’s heat tolerance comes into play.  Anyway, when I make this mash, I make a large amount and store it for future use.  First thing is to Ventilate The Kitchen!  Better yet, if you have a burner on your grill just cook it outside.  Take 6 cloves of minced garlic, 1 minced small onion and 12 minced habaneras (consider wearing gloves when handling the peppers).  Sautee in oil.  When thoroughly cooked down add 2-4 tbls of honey and puree in a blender.  Store in a plastic, air-tight container.

Pour the marinade into a saucepan and add 4 tsps of butter or margarine.  Heat to a boil.  Turn off the heat.  Stir in 1-4 tbls of the Habanero Mash depending on your heat tolerance.

The Finish: Pour sauce over the wings and coat thoroughly.  Serve!

Quick Prep Variation: If you do not have a smoker or you do not have the time to use it you can simulate the results by cooking your wings on the grill the whole time and using a smoker box insert (a small metal box that goes on the flames under the grill surface).  Cook over low heat for 1 hour.  Turn up heat to high and follow Crisping directions.

Asian Variation

Once proclaimed as my contribution to Western Civilization, these wings follow the same recipe as above with the exception of the maranade and sauce :

1 part Chili-Garlic paste, 1 part Hot Teriyaki (I like World Harbors Maui Mountain Hot Teriyaki and for a more sesame laden twist I like Soy Vey brand), 1 part basic hot sauce like Crystal or Durkee (for that dash of traditional flavoring).  You can play with the combination but basically you want to get the heat of the chillies, the garlic and the sweet/sticky of the teriyaki.  Naturally Sriracha sauce makes a nice addition and you can also monkey with wasabi, sesame, Thai or curry variants if you are so inclined.  I have also made a fresh mash with Thai Dragon peppers.

I will post a bit more on what kind of beer pairs best with these wings in the near future.