Thursday, March 12, 2009

Of Growlers

Now that we are "keg people" Mr. Chops and I tend to show up at social gatherings with jugs of beer instead of six packs. These 1/2 gallon glass jugs are known as "growlers". Many people in CT are unaccustomed to them, mainly due to our state's strict adherence to "blue laws". Blue laws, for those of you who live in modern, progressive states- are a mysterious group of laws created by our Puritan ancestors to prevent early Americans from having fun. For some reason, even though most states have yanked these ridiculous laws because they were sick of not being able to buy beer on Sunday or they tired of being arrested for holding hands in a public places- CT seems to rejoice their existence as an addition to the state's already very un-fun image. This being said, in many states, you can stroll down the street to your local bar or brew pub with a jug (!!!!!) and fill it up with a half-gallon of beer (!!!!!) go home and drink it in the privacy of your own home! I know! I know! The horror! Just think of what might happen?

Inevitably, when we refer to half gallon jugs as "growlers", someone asks how they got that name. Beer snobs are apparently supposed to know the answer to this question, so I looked it up. What I found was a whole bunch of unsubstantiated claims having to do with the sound a jug made when you filled it up, or something to do with drinking beer to make your stomach stop growling. But mostly, it just sounded like B.S. so I think I'm just going to make up my own story that sounds better. I encourage you to do the same. Also, I am sure that my sister, Lady Pilsner, queen of all internet research, will find the real answer for me because I am too busy knitting. There, I said it.
Speaking of Lady Pilsner, I might add that in the Czech Republic you can stumble into your local village bar and fill up any water-tight vessel with beer and bring it home. A plastic liter water bottle, rubber boot, watering can, flower pot, whatever! And somehow, even in spite of this, society prevails and chaos has not ensued. Now that's my kind of place.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Food Snob Alert!

When I was a kid my sister and I read the New york Times Magazine religiously. Mainly the fashion and food sections. But, really, what else is there, right? Although, it would be hard to tell now how much time I spent studying haute couture as a kid (I wear a navy blue uniform to work in my real life) But I think I have finally achieved a level of elitist foodie-ness to best the Times. Let me explain- if any of you out there ever read the food section of the New York Times, you know that it specializes in very chic glossy photos of meals, the ingredients of which you would never be able to find- much less afford- or be able to prepare without specialized equipment. This was indescribably maddening, as a young foodie and budding cook. It was sort of like getting a piece of furniture from Ikea and not being able to put it together because one of those ridiculous wooden pegs is missing. I wanted so badly to recreate the exotic looking meals featured in this glossy erudite magazine. But I never had panko bread crumbs, kobe beef, or the equipment to make lobster flavored foam, seaweed-flavored gelato, or whatever. Anyway, you get the idea. It was as if the editors always put in one really eccentric ingredient as if to say "Ha! You see? You are not a rich yuppie from Manhattan and you never will be! Ha, ha, ha!" Well you food snobs feast your eyes on this! This winter we made goose confit, and late last fall we made our first home-made sausages. This was the recipe I came up with to showcase both hard to come by ingredients.

Cassoulet with Home Made Venison Sausage and Goose Confit

Note: Although this recipe calls for Venison Sausage and Confit I am not snobby enough to pretend it wouldn't be equally delicious with substitutions such as a portion of leftover duck or turkey and whatever store bought sausage you want.

Soak 1/2 pkg. dry white beans over night (If you don't have time, or forgot to soak them overnight just soak as long as possible)

1 Onion (chopped finely)
2 Carrots (chopped finely)
2 large Celery Ribs (chopped finely)
2 cloves garlic (chopped finely)

1 1/2 lbs Venison Sausage (or any mild flavored sausage)
2 Jars shredded confit (1 1/2 lb shredded poultry- preferably turkey, duck, or dark meat chicken)
2-3 TB Reserved fat from confit, or 2-3 strips of bacon
1 large can chopped tomatoes
Chicken stock
2-3 Cups bread crumbs
Handful of chopped fresh parsley
Handful of Parmesan
Bay leaf

Drain soaked beans, rinse, and submerge in well flavored chicken stock. Cook until tender replenishing stock as needed. Heat oven to 350 F. Brown sausages in large dutch oven or heavy casserole on top of stove. If you happen to be using confit, make sure to reserve some fat from the jar to brown the sausages and veggies. If you are not using confit, cook a couple strips of bacon and use the fat for cooking. Reserve the strips for later. Brown sausages well in fat. While this is going on, chop onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. When sausages are done, transfer them to a plate. Add veggies (except garlic) to pan, brown well, scraping all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Just before they are done, add garlic and saute for a few moments but avoid burning it. When beans are tender, add them and the remaining vegetable stock into the casserole with the veggies. Return sausages, crumbled bacon (if using), confit (or other poultry) to pan. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid and a fresh bay leaf. Put in oven. Cook at 350 until most of the liquid in the pot has been absorbed (40 minutes or so) While you are waiting for the cassoulet to be done, brown bread crumbs in a pan with some butter over medium heat and set aside. When most of the liquid has been absorbed from the cassoulet, sprinkle the top of it with a thin layer of fresh chopped parsley, bread crumbs, and Parmesan. Put back in oven until top is crisp and brown (10 minutes)

Serve cassoulet in bowls with a tossed salad and crusty bread, and of course, a good beer. Saison Dupont would be nice with this...........

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Valentine Beer for...

Dear Mr. President,

I'm not a celebrity hound. I could give a crap about the rich, powerful, and famous. Further more, even if I could- I would never invite people of that sort over for a drink. But frankly, I think you are F**cking awesome. And, I wish you could come over for a beer. There, I said it. Oh, and by the way- those suits you're drinking with in this particular photo look like a bunch of weenies.

But your new Secretary of State looks like a much better drinking partner.
Looks like staff meetings could get pretty lively...and who's this looser in the front left corner toasting with a glass of milk anyway?

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Forget drinking beer- get powerthirst instead! I hope you find this as amusing as I do.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


A while back (yes I am still catching up on things from this summer) Mr. Chops and I went on a bacon field trip to Nodine's. I had heard reviews of this much revered smokehouse on TV and on the radio and since it was only 45 minutes from Chopsland, I figured, why not? Although Nodine's runs a huge mail order business and supplies smoked meat to some of the fanciest food stores in Manhattan, I figured I could get a better feel for things if I went up and saw the operation for myself. Truth be told, Nodine's retail store is, how shall we say this...modest? It's pretty much a shack filled with meat, really delicious smoked meat. Which, is totally fine with me, but I was picturing, especially after all the rave reviews, I don't know- maybe something a little more grand. More like a meat mecca. So if you were looking for some smoked meat abience by visiting the quaint store in Goshen, CT- better to skip the trip and just order in.
Despite the humble appearances, we did manage to scurry back to the car with six pounds of bacon and a really wonderful ham. We got Juniper Bacon, Breakfast Strips (Nitrate Free), and double smoked bacon. The juniper bacon was thin and in a one pound slab. The other two varieties were thick cut, and in a smaller package. They were all extremely tastey, but I have to say my favorite was the juniper bacon. I'm won't to lie to you and say I could really taste the juniper, but it was just straight up yummy.
Some of you die-hard readers might be wondering how Nodine's compares with the Amish bacon I reviewed last year and I have got to say, although Nodine's might be a natural choice for bacon connoisseurs or people with lots of disposable income (Nodine's is on the spendy side) Stoltzfus bacon is a probably a better value and every bit as good, especially for everyday bacon eating. That's right, I said everyday bacon eating. No, I do not own stock in the company that makes lipitor, but I probably should.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bad Beer Continued

When life hands you bad beer, make malt vinegar! When our first beer flopped at the end of this summer, I decided to try my hand at making vinegar. It didn't seem hard, just pour your failed alcoholic beverage into an open container (stainless steel or ceramic), cover with cheese cloth and wait. If you are lucky, vinegar-making bacteria will come and live on it. Take a peek every couple of weeks, and you will eventually see a layer of mold covering the top of your liquid. This is mother-of-vinegar, the magical beasty that makes vinegar sour. In my case, after about 4 months, this finally happened and now I have some pretty damn' delicious malt vinegar! When you think it's acid enough for your taste, filter it through some cheese cloth and bottle it. I knew mine was ready when Mr. Chops (the Golden Nose) started complaining that our office smelled like cheese. I was keeping my pot of vinegar under the desk because it was too cold in the cellar. What? Not everybody does this? Whatever....Apparently, you can also make vinegar with all those unfinished dregs of wine bottles you might have just lying around. Just keep on pouring them into a crock (under your desk/table/bed), and with a little patience (and some funky smells), wine vinegar! It will undoubtedly be tastier, and better quality than the everyday swill in the grocery store.

Friday, January 23, 2009

From the Brew Room: A Cautionary Tale

Brewing can be easy and fun- if you begin like normal people would, not like type A, beer-snob control-freaks. That being said- we decided to cut some corners in the venerable process of learning to brew and went straight to brewing all-grain. With our noses high in the air after our first successful brew (most of this success we really owed to our brewing tutor, the Naughty Nurse) we went straight to brewing all-grain Belgian beer recipes. This, if you know anything about brewing, is laughable. So our second brew- a saisson-style beer failed, our third beer a Belgian golden did too. At this point, we cried/whined for many hours. It was only after we seriously considered a conspiracy theory where Terry Boyd (of Mountview Plaza Wines and Liquors) secretly infected our basement with rampant funky yeast strains that rendered us incapable of brewing so we would be forced to only buy kegs from him- that we snapped out of it and decided to get some answers. So we headed to our local bar and unofficial Beer Nerd headquarters, My Place, to accost our wiser, and unwitting brewing colleagues with a most regrettable taste test. Here's how our critique sessions started off:

Mark: (Takes a whiff) "Hmmmmm...doesn't smell infected. (Tastes) Oh my god! Band aids! "

Crapper: "Wow...phenolic bomb...I taste clove, banana, cleanser, chlorine?"

The Nurse: "Christ! There's something good under the phenols but I mostly taste throat lozenges. You know the fake lemony ones?"

Phil: "Smells pretty good really- but the taste....soapy"

Crapper: "Yeah, I'm done tasting that. (gags, pushing the glass to a safe distance)"

After much helpful consideration here are the theories on how we went wrong:

Crapper- "It's the plastic primary fermenter! That's your problem! Jesus! Just man up and buy a glass carboy"

Nurse- "I've used the same plastic bucket for 15 years! I think it's the water..."

Crapper- (to the Nurse) "You're wrong, just so wrong!" (To us) "Don't listen to him..." (back to the Nurse) "How would you know anyway? How many brewing awards have you won?"

Nurse: "I don't need awards, I save them for people like you, who have to constantly bolster their own egos"

Mark: "Well, it could be the water, it could be your racking cane, the temperature you brewed at, the plastic....we need to get rid of some variables."

Crapper: "Start by getting the Nurse's brewing equipment out of your basement! That's your real problem."

And there you have it- back to the drawing table. And what of our failed beers? Well, I was unable to let go of the first failure so it became Eisbock ( beer that's frozen to concentrate the alcohol) This actually came out really good- although the yield was pretty low, only a couple of bottles. The rest of that batch went to making malt vinegar. Also pretty good so far (still fermenting) Our second, most recent beer failure is being combined with a lactic yeast strain, mixed with fruit, and left, hopefully to breath off its phenol band-aids and magically become's a long shot but I hate to waste anything especially, $70 worth of brewing ingredients (ouch!) and a days worth of labor. I am left thinking about our friend and fellow beer enthusiast, Jan's response when we asked whether or not he brews beer. His answer, which echoes in my brain, was "Brew beer? Why? There are so many delicious beers I can just go out and buy!" Hurumph!!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christmas The Whole Year Through

If you are anything like me, Christmas = Delicious Food and Drink. Some holiday items, like Christmas cookies, fruit cake, or your crazy uncle Eddie- no one wants to revisit throughout the year, but Christmas beers are a different story. There are many holiday beers still in stores right now that are worth stocking up on. Many holiday beers are dark, rich, spicy, and very alcoholic. These beers are great as a nite cap or instead of dessert, but some defy the normal range of everyday drinkability. This Pere Noel however, is different. Made by De Ranke Bewery in Belgium, this beer has a crisp refreshing champagne like character. It is also rather generously hopped for a Belgian ale and not too high in alcohol. Although it is indeed festive enough for the holidays, it is also a good candidate for year-round drinking. I suspect Pere Noel is actually the same recipe as one of my all time favorite beers by De Ranke, Double X bitter. However, it is richer, more heavily spiced and aged longer (perhaps in oak?) than the Double X to make it special for the holidays. Although I am sure it would go well with food, I think it is perfectly delicious all on its own. I happened to noticed a couple of liquor stores in the area were still stocking this beer. So pick up a bottle or two and like the Santa on the lable, you too will be hugging your glass.