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Flavors That Thai Together

At a recent meeting of the Estate Ian challenged us to come up with a menu around 4 Michigan wines he chose. More details on the menu and wines will be forthcoming. Today I'll be focusing on the soup course, as this recipe was the star of the show, it seemed. Drawing heavily on Thai influences I came up with this pork and coconut milk concoction to pair with Brys Estate Gewurztraminer out of Old Mission peninsula in northern Michigan. Ingredients: 2 quarts chicken stock 14 oz. (1 can) coconut milk 2 ribs of celery, cut in half length wise and sliced thin on a bias 1 carrot, peeled, cut in half length wise and sliced thin on a bias 1 leek, white part only, rinsed, cut in half length wise and sliced very thin 4 small heads of Choy Sum, greens trimmed and chiffonade, whites sliced thin (baby Bok Choy will work as well) (See my chiffonade demonstration here) 2 tablespoons grated Ginger root 6 oz. dry Vermouth 4 tablespoons Madras curry paste 1 pound center cut Pork loin, cut into 1/4 inch x 1/2 inch x 1 inch strips 8 oz. Shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and caps sliced into strips 6 oz. scallion, sliced thin on a bias 1 Bosc pear, cut into batons or very small cubes (hold in cold water with a little lime juice to prevent oxidation) 6 oz. fresh chopped Cilantro 2 tablespoons light oil 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil Zest of 1 large Lime, or 2 small Limes Fish sauce to taste 1/2 pound toasted Cashews, crushed Procedure:

Sweating the veg components

If you go with bone in pork loin, remove the bones and place in a pot with the chicken stock and discarded Shiitake stems and bring to a simmer for at least 1 hour. In a large heavy bottomed pot add the oils and place over medium heat. Once the oils are heated, add the celery, carrot, leek, shiitake caps, and choy sum whites. Saute over medium heat until soft but not browned. Crank the heat up and add the ginger and curry. Saute for 1 minute, until very fragrant, and deglaze with the vermouth. Reduce the vermouth by half then add the coconut milk, lime zest, and strained chicken stock.

The pork goes in for a quick simmer

Once the soup has come back to a simmer, add the pork and fish sauce for salt to taste and simmer for 1 minute before adding the choy sum greens and remove from heat. Allow the soup to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Simmering too long once the pork is added will over cook it and you'll have little strips of drywall floating in the soup, so timing is key on that part. I firmly believe there should be a special prison for people who over cook pork... Or any meat, for that matter.

Garnishing the serving bowls

For service, place equal quantities of the scallion, Bosc pear, and cilantro in the bottom of the serving bowls, and pour the hot soup over the garnish. Top with a sprinkle of toasted cashews and serve. Serves 8 people as a course in a larger menu, less if chosen as a main.

Crushed cashews for a finishing touch

The way I handled the garnish on this dish once again reflects my practice of choosing and implementing garnishes that tie into the dish in a much more intricate way than simply adding color. The sweetness of the pears, the crunch of the cashews and the brightness of the fresh cilantro all added at the very end elevated this soup and further blended the flavors with the wine it was built around. My next post will be a more detailed account of the whole spread and how the food and beverage pairings interacted, elaborating on the photo gallery already posted. As always, feel free to post any questions or comments. Jack

Fatty, Ducky Goodness!

At a recent R.E. meeting I went a little overboard on the decadence quotient... I did a duck dish with whole ducks prepared 2 ways, and it was one of the best meals we've done to date. Pan seared breast and a confit of the leg. In this post I'll be focusing on the confit. It's a long process, but don't let that scare you, it's well worth it! Easy, relatively cheap, and one of the greatest culinary delights you will ever encounter. Duck is my favorite bird, hands down. The breast is like steak and the leg is heavenly. So here's my recipe for duck leg confit. Ingredients: 4 raw duck legs 1 pound dark brown sugar 1 pound kosher salt 4 oz. ginger, sliced Peel of 2 oranges 10 thyme stems, whole 5 garlic cloves 10 juniper berries 8 black peppercorns Rendered fat of 2 ducks (all but the skin on the legs) Lard and/or bacon fat if needed (and it might be) Procedure: Pat the legs dry and set aside. Mix the brown sugar and kosher salt well and in the bottom of a container that will fit all four legs without touching, layer in and pat down gently half of the mixture. Place the duck legs on top and press in gently, then cover with the remaining mixture. Place in the refrigerator and place a light weight on top (I used the pan containing the 4 breasts, but a pan full of ice will suffice) and leave to cure for 6 hours. While the legs are curing, strip the skin and fat off of the duck carcasses, cut into small pieces, and place in a pot over low heat. Render out as much fat as possible, strain out the remaining skin and refrigerate for later use. After the 6 hours, rinse the legs clean under cold running water and pat dry again. Store in the cold box until ready to use (within the day).

Legs in the pan, ready for broiling.

Place the garlic, sliced ginger, orange peel, and peppercorns in the bottom of a cake pan with high enough walls to rise above the legs. In another pan on the stove, melt the reserved duck fat over low heat. Place the legs in the pan with garlic, ginger and orange peel, skin side up, and put under the broiler until the skin is brown. Keep a constant eye on this part of the procedure, it will go from brown to black pretty quickly, but a little black won't ruin it. Once browned, pour in the warmed duck fat. If the fat does not cover the legs by at least 3/4 add more by means of bacon fat (preferred) or lard, or both. Toss in the juniper and thyme. Once the pan has cooled a bit from the broiling, cover with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and put in a 225 F degree oven for 3 hours. At this point pull it out every 20 minutes or so and check on it. If the leg bone does not twist out of the meat with little pressure from a pair of tongs, it's not ready yet. Ours went for close to 4 hours before it was done.

Browned legs with the reserved duck fat, bacon fat, and lard added. Try not to touch yourslef if there are children present...

At this point you can store it in the 'frige or freezer for up to 6 months, but once you've tasted it, I doubt it will last the rest of the evening! Pull the legs out once they're cool enough to handle and pull the meat from the bones. It should fall off with little to no effort. The meat can be added to pretty much anything with stunningly great effect! Or just eat it by it's self with appropriate sides! Or hell, eat it by it's self! I tossed it into a saute of mushrooms, onions, roasted redskin potatoes, toasted pecans, dried cherries, wilted spinach, and a port wine and duck stock pan sauce... (if you're lucky I might just post that recipe too...) topped with a spiced and seared duck breast... Yeah, we are THAT crazy-decadent at R.E.!

The finished Confit. A gentle twist of that bone sticking out will tell you when it's done.

It may be a long process, (up to 12 hours long...) but do NOT let that deter you! It's well worth the time involved, and you can blow the socks off of any guests you might have for a dinner party! At our gathering I think only about half of the finished product was used in the featured dish... the rest was gobbled straight out of the fat! This served 4 people, for 2 just cut the recipe in half. This is probably the most affordable of all the pillars of fine dining and haute cuisine... More time involved, sure, but time well spent! The next best thing to Foie Gras, in my opinion, and way more affordable! So go buy a fuckin duck already! The breasts are perfect medium rare, and combined with this recipe, are a great way to showcase the versatility of the bird. Jack

Observations of a Kitchen Veteran

Any of my writing thus far that came off like a rant wasn't intended to, until now.... I will state right up front that this will be a rant. A few things that have been pissing me off for a long time that I just need to get off my chest before I stab someone in the fucking eye. I'll also admit from the get-go that it might just be me, mostly. I expect, and even demand, total professionalism in a restaurant kitchen. I get a little (read as "extremely") agitated when something goes wrong and the person accountable denies accountability and/or should have fucking known better to begin with! I'm also willing to admit that I'm not perfect, but I try to always have perfection in my cross-hairs, and will admit when I was the fuck up. Many of the worlds best Chefs agree, as do I, that perfection is never truly attainable, but should always be strived for. The act of reaching for it as hard as you can will make you a better cook. Indeed, this is true of any profession, but we cooks, those of us serious enough, passionate enough, and (let's face it) crazy enough to undertake this unattainable goal, tend to be a bit obsessive about it. To quote the late, great George Carlin, "I don't have 'pet peeves', I have major psychotic fucking hatreds!" This is a list of a few of mine.... Waitstaff: Ahh, waitstaff, also known as servers, waitrons, waitron units and "the morons".... My friend, my nemesis... First thing I have to say to them is "learn the fucking menu!" Take one home after you know you got the job and study it that night. If you have ANY questions about it I'll quite gladly take the time to answer them. I even extend the invitation to taste anything you're curious about so you can better describe and sell the dish. Whenever I change my menu I even demand that the floor managers gather all the waitrons for this very purpose. Before service at any fine dining restaurant we do whats called a "lineup". "Show and tell" is another suitable name for this practice. It's to educate them on any daily specials/soups for the same reasons, to tell you anything I can about the dish and answer any questions. So fucking pay attention! We're all here for the same reason, to make money! Sometimes descriptions can be lengthy, and things get forgotten. I understand this, but if you're picking your nose, reading a text message, or otherwise not focused during lineup and come back during dinner rush with inane questions, distracting me from getting the food out, don't look surprised when I blow a fucking gasket! Another thing... Nothing! Sits under! The lamp! Got it?! We do not work at Denny's, or Ram's Horn, or fucking White Castle! I've worked very hard perfecting these recipes and during service to get you the food your table ordered, please do not let it wallow under the heat lamp getting dry and over cooked! And be ready for it if you're gonna fucking hover over me waiting to get it! This is probably my biggest "psychotic fucking hatred" about waitrons. I've seen it literally a million times. They stand there at the window staring at you (which is fucking annoying to begin with) and as soon as they see you plating the food for their table they run off to get silverware, or bread, or whatever the fuck they need to have at the table, thus letting the plates bake under the lamp when that shit should have been done while you were staring at me like a dog waiting for me to drop a scrap of food! If your gonna hover, be fucking ready when the food is! Nothing pleases me more than seeing a server grab the plates as soon as they hit the window, and nothing pisses me off more than them running away when it's ready after they've already annoyed me by standing there watching me plate it! In the early years of my career I viewed them mostly with loathing and contempt. Immediately assuming the worst from them all at all times. Lately I've been seeing how befriending them helps. It makes it much easier to get them to do something I might need them to do if I've gotten them to like and respect me, not just fear me and my temper tantrums. Though, there are still a few that when, say, a customer sends something back or they just fucked up an order and need me to fix it, they approach me like a cringing abused child. Anticipating "the look" or thrown objects. I can't say I don't like that, to be honest, or at the very least find it amusing. A Chef I once worked under told me, "There are three kinds of waiters. The technical type, one that knows where the beef is from, what the primary diet of that fish is, what region that wine you ordered is from. This type is rarely very good table side, chatting with and entertaining the guests. Then there's the outgoing type. Great with the customers, talkative, easy to get along with. This type is rarely good with the technicalities. The third is one that's good at both.... we call them 'managers'...." Which brings me to... Floor managers: A good one can be a cooks best friend, a bad one can be your worst nightmare! Managing waitrons is very much like herding cats, so I do not envy you your job.... At least try to keep them organized... Please?! If you know one tends to crack on busy nights, give them a smaller section. If an otherwise good server has a bad night (and we all do), discreetly let it slide. Keeping the kitchen informed of the reservation count on any given night is also a good idea. At the very least, leave the "ressie" book in a place that's accessible so we can look ourselves. If we know a ballpark figure of what to expect for the evening things will run a lot smoother since we'll know (somewhat) what to expect and prep accordingly. And another thing, if a guest has a complaint, don't blow up on the staff before it's investigated. And please, for fear of your untimely demise, do NOT try to tell a kitchen veteran how to cook... Especially if you've never worked in a kitchen! If you haven't noticed, we tend to get a bit testy about that... and we have knives.... I'm not tryin to say anything, just sayin... Disorganized cooks: It's like fingernails on a fucking chalkboard to walk by a cooks station and see a disaster area resembling Baghdad after a bombing. His mise en place scattered and in disarray, dirty towels and pans strewn about, dirty cutting boards covered with bits of herbs and butter and scraps of food. Most of the time I'll just walk away and address it later when the action dies down, because I know myself, and therefore I know I'd try to start the talk calmly but it would inevitably crescendo into a psychotic rant episode. What's worse is when I get in the weeds and need help, but that guy is the only one with the spare time to assist. So by the time we get caught up he scurries off and my station looks like the Tasmanian Devil on crack just whizzed by. Please listen to me carefully, work fucking clean! If you keep things clean and organized it'll make service that much easier! Not to mention the sanitation issues. This is generally the same fucker that NEVER has his sani-water close at hand, if he even has it at all! I keep using a male model for this archetype because women in professional kitchens very rarely fall into this category. The chick in an upscale restaurant kitchen is usually also the biggest ball-busting hard ass in the room, so even if she did it's doubtful anyone would say anything to her for fear of getting your nuts clamped with a pair of tongs, or worse! Dishwashers: Also known as dish-dogs. These unsung heroes have a special place in my heart, probably because that's where I started in the industry, so I know how unappreciated they feel. However, as the job title implies, your job is to wash the dishes. Wash implies "make them clean"! This is not a hard thing to accomplish! If it comes out of the machine and it's still dirty, scrub the fucking thing! DO NOT put it away! If I find it, it's just going to come back to you any-fucking-way! Save me, and yourself the aggravation, and just get it done right the first time! The dining public: As a guy that's been in fine dining as long as I have I can tell you there's a love/hate relationship between cooks and guests. Most cooks view the dining public with what can only be described as writhing contempt. Automatically assuming they know nothing about food or how to enjoy it. Even to the point that when we are payed a compliment the thought that usually runs through our heads goes something like, "that's nice, but you probably wouldn't know a perfect plate if it hit you in the face, so I'm gonna take your kind words with a grain of salt..." In restaurants where customers are paying top dollar for their meal one would assume they'd to be able to appreciate, even expect artistry. Not always the case. We cooks will go out of our way (the dedicated ones anyway) to accommodate a guest that we know appreciates food in all it's various forms. But when a vegetarian, or worse, a fucking soulless vegan, walks into a steakhouse and expects the menu and the whole staff to accommodate them, guess again. Or when a person who won't touch sushi walks into a sushi bar, don't expect to be greeted with open arms. Understand where you're going and that not all places can accommodate your picky, narrow minded little food views.

David Chang, a carnivores hero

David Chang, owner/executive chef of the Momofuku restaurant group in New York has become a hero to all carnivores. I recently heard from multiple sources a story about him that made him the envy of meat loving chefs everywhere. Apparently there was a complaint at one of his properties that there weren't enough vegetarian offerings on the menu. He went to work on that immediately! The next day every single item on the menu had bacon incorporated into it! Go David!!! Speaking of vegans, kill yourself.... seriously.... If your gonna drag your weak, pasty ass out to a non-vegan restaurant for whatever fucking reason, eat before you go. It's insulting to me and my efforts and my hard work for you to come in and tear apart a dish with your fucking finicky eating habits. Or force me to drop everything and pull something out of my ass to feed you. Humans evolved as OMNIVORES! We have canines for a fuck-damn reason! Do the future of the species a favor and either recant your blasphemous ways or remove yourself from the gene-pool however you see fit! Might I suggest hanging, or a shotgun blast to the head will surely get the job done... Fuck you... Fuck your politics... Fuck your bleeding heart, limp wristed, whiny hippie bullshit... Go die! While we're on the subject, there's another sect of the vegetarian camp that pisses me off just as much as the vegans, though for entirely different reasons. That would be the "pesco-vegetarians". These are walking sacks of brain-dead meat with eyes that won't eat animal flesh.... but somehow fish don't count as animals... Apparently, they only appall the consumption of the cute animals, and have actually formulated a twisted non-logic that says fish aren't animals. You're not a vegetarian if you eat fish, you retarded fucking asshats! Maybe I'm coming at this train of thought the wrong way, if so there should at least be a different label for this group of fuckwits. Picky eaters are a different story when food allergies are involved. If you are honestly deathly allergic to foods, or are one of the poor bastards that's a celiac, we understand and will happily do what we can to help you. The occurrence of honest food allergies in humans is pretty low, however, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% or lower of the population. But it seems like they ALL go out to eat for every meal! This is due to false positive tests, which occurs 40-50% of the time, and just plain dip-shits that say they're allergic to a food just because they "don't like it" and because they know we HAVE to take allergy claims seriously. Onion allergy claim is my favorite one. Most foods have onions of some kind somewhere in the preparation and the flavor of them that comes through in most cases is mild and almost unnoticeable. Assholes that don't like eating onions whole in any form tend to be the most common offenders of this. In any case, if you have a true onion allergy (which, by the way, most doctors have never even heard of!) there's not much I can do for you. There are onions in the ALL of the stocks we use, all of the soups, most salads, salad dressings, most starch preparations, a good portion of the vegetable preparations, and in meat marinades. If you don't like onions, just fucking say that! Ask for them to be omitted! That's not a problem. Don't sit there and lie to the server or cooks face because YOU "don't like the texture" or what-the-fuck-ever! If you have a real allergy to them, though, you're pretty much screwed. Sorry to say. "V.I.P.'s": This comes up all the time, especially in fine dining restaurants. The General Manager will come into the kitchen and say,"There are VIP's at table 6, take care of them. Make sure their plates are perfect." Now, I may be in the minority here among professionals, but my psychotic O.C.D. won't allow me to put ANY plate in the window that isn't as perfect as I can humanly make it. So taking "extra special care" with a tables food is pretty much impossible for me, I do that with EVERY table! You want me to give 'em a slightly larger portion? Sure! I can do that! You want me to send out a little freebie appetizer, or maybe a dish we've been experimenting with? No problem! I can't really do any better than I would for any other table, though, 'cause I already do my best on every freakin' order! And please don't ask me to go out to the table and talk with these people! A) I'm busy. B) I'm not good with people, and generally don't like them. And C) Most "VIP's" are total self-absorbed douche-bags, or worse, try to tell a cook HOW TO COOK! In any case, the situation could end very poorly. If it's a personal friend or family of someone in the restaurant, no problem. It's just that most VIP's aren't really accustomed to the way cooks in general talk and behave. We're normally not very good at censoring ourselves. Our crude language and gallows humor will most likely offend their sheltered little ears. That's one of the reasons we're in the kitchen, locked away from these people, and YOU are out on the floor. Leave us to our cooking, and we'll happily let you deal with the public, with your fake painted on smile. Well done: Possibly my biggest psychotic fucking hatred of all! Squirmy little shits that get squeamish at the sight of a little meat juice or blood on their plate. Marco Pierre White has been known to kick these fucktards out of his restaurant, and Bourdain talks about how he used to employ the saving of the older, almost unusable (but not quite sickness inducing) cuts of meat for these orders, marking them "reserve for well". This may sound disgusting, but when you cook the crap out of it you won't notice the difference, and I'd rather save the nicer cuts for people who will actually appreciate them! My personal approach to these nitwits is somewhere in between. I'll use an older cut that's filled with gristle and big chunks of fat and purposely burn the shit out of it. Again, I've worked very hard on these recipes, obsessing about them, developing them, even sleepless nights working them out in my head, not to mention the time it took learn how to cook it properly. Now this mush-mouth comes along and wants me to ruin it? You want me to paint a clown face over the Mona Lisa while I'm at it? Just because you like clowns? FUCK YOU! You'll eat that burnt piece of shoe leather I give you and like it, or you'll get nothing at all! I don't give a flying fuck if you aren't happy with it and NEVER come back! That's actually my goal here! So fuck off, and go back to your hut you fucking peasant! Dishonest menus: Anthony Bourdain wrote in a passage from Kitchen Confidential that "mise en place is my religion". I couldn't agree more, and would like to take that a step further by saying "the menu is my Bible" (you can quote me on that!). The plate that lands in front of the guest had better fucking be what the menu description said it was! The biggest lie perpetuated on menus is the ever present "wild mushrooms". Be it "wild mushroom risotto", "sauteed wild mushrooms", "wild mushroom compote", or "wild mushroom soup". Most of the time this means they used a blend probably consisting of Shiitakes, Portobellas, Criminis, White Buttons, maybe some White or Blue Oysters, and maybe even Trumpet Royales. While some of these are certainly exotic, NONE of them are wild! They are ALL cultivated! This is yet another of my biggest psychotic fucking hatreds! Blatant dishonesty in menu wording to make a dish sound more appealing. Believe it or not, this practice of lying to the dining public extends farther than you think. Even into the realm of sushi! Ever had Red Snapper at a sushi bar? You may think you have, but in actuality MOST sushi bars use Red Tilapia and call it Snapper. There are several reasons for this. The first being it's cheaper and looks so similar when cut into the small pieces required only a well trained eye can discern the difference. Then there's the fact that real Red Snapper looses it's color quicker and therefore doesn't keep for more than a couple days. It also doesn't freeze as well. Yes, contrary to popular belief, most sushi fish has been frozen, but there are good reasons for this that even I can't bitch about, primarily to kill parasites. The final, and maybe biggest reason this ruse is so far widespread is the unreliability of the fresh product. Red Snapper is a delicate fish that needs to be served as close to catch as possible, so it's a dice throw when you order it whether or not it will be of high enough quality to serve it raw. Health Inspectors: As soon as you see that strange face with a clipboard walking through the kitchen you know it's that time again, health inspection. Nothing gives cooks the feeling of walking on egg shells like one of these megalomaniacal power-tripping twits. Not that I'm saying they aren't needed, but the fact is most health codes were written for keeping in line the slack-jawed, hockey helmet, nose picking fucktards that work for street vendors, fast food chains, and chains like Denny's. In short, the lowest tier of this profession. The ones that don't know any better, don't care, or don't understand the germ theory of disease. In most cases those of us in the upper echelons of the industry understand better than the inspectors what is risky and what isn't. The constant changing and morphing of the health codes just adds to the frustration. They seem to delight in the fact that they know since their last visit their cryptic and sometimes illogical canon of guidelines has changed, and they also know you are unaware of this. Therefore they have no problem citing you for an infraction that just six months ago was a non-issue. They also seem to enjoy citing you for things they don't even recognize without asking any questions. I was cited once for "open container of gravy at room temperature". When, in fact, if the hyper-vigilant fuckwad would have asked me what it was it wouldn't have been an issue. It was roux, not gravy... butter and flour are the only ingredients, it's cooked thoroughly, and they are BOTH safe at room fucking temperature! In most restaurants the health inspector visits every six months or so, and it's usually unannounced. So whenever they show up there's a covert mad dash in the kitchen to make sure the walk-ins are organized, everything labeled and dated, and all is up to the last known set of standards. Passing an inspection 100% is nearly impossible, though, because even if the inspector can't find anything to bitch about, in most cases they will just look harder until they do. Not wearing gloves is their favorite citation. It appears they would have us sleep in the damn things, and the procedure they want us to adopt most of the time is impractical at best and not cost effective by any sense of the term. I once worked at a bar that served a lot of burgers, and the health inspector said he wanted to see the guy running that station put on a fresh pair to pull them out of the cooler, another to toast the bun, another to handle the toppings (which were getting cooked anyway) and yet another to season and put the burger on the grill. That's 4-5 pairs of gloves for EVERY burger sold, and we sold around 200 every lunch alone! Close to 500 every day! We got 4-500 fresh burgers in every morning! Do the fucking math! That's a huge expenditure in latex gloves! Most of the time they're getting served medium and medium rare, so the customer OBVIOUSLY understands that it will be undercooked, and menus are fucking REQUIRED to include advisories about undercooked meats! So how is this an issue at all so long as the cook in question washes his hands on regular basis?! Which, by the way, is another thing they harp on about, so every cooks station is within reach of a hand sink. They also like to drone on about the paper towel supply at each of the 4-5 hand sinks located throughout any kitchen. All the dispensers need to be full at all times, as if the paper towel fairy must be on his toes and replace every single used towel with a fresh one immediately! This is usually not a citation worthy offense, but they will still yammer about it every single time they come through. If the dispensers are less than totally full, you're gonna hear about it. We'll fill it back up when it's empty, asshole! I'm not gonna waste any time of my already hectic day to refill the paper towel dispenser if there are still usable towels in it! Get a fucking life, and get over your over-compensating Napoleon complex! You have the power to shut us down, whoopty-fuckin-doo! If there is honest reason to do so, go for it! If there isn't, again, we have knives.... a lot of them... and grease traps that conceal bodies quite nicely.... I'm not tryin to say anything, just sayin.... Parting words: I hope this little tirade enlightens somebody that needed it. Even if it does not reach any of the groups mentioned it was written as catharsis to begin with, so it's already served it's purpose. To me, anyway. I'm guessing most people browsing the food blogosphere don't fall into any of these categories, so self therapy is probably the best I can hope for, but I know there are those that find my rants amusing. In all honesty, so do I! So self entertainment was also accomplished. Phew, that feels better already! Now hopefully I won't be quite as aggravated the next time a waitron fucks up or some douche-cunt orders well done lamb chops..... but I wouldn't count on it... I know myself well enough to know better... Jack

Oktoberfest 2010

Autumn is my favorite season, especially here in Michigan. The humidity starts to give us a much needed reprieve, the weather cools down a little, and the trees in this State start to show off their beautiful autumnal palette of woody browns, flashing yellows and vibrant reds. The cider mills start churning out their outstanding apple libations and otherworldly doughnuts. And let's not forget the beer! No other season makes me crave beer like the fall. The fact that the typical flavors of this brewing season are the kinds that made me fall in love with beer probably helps. Medium bodied, robust roasted malts, amber hues, and higher than normal ABV to fend off the chill of the evening. Marzen/Oktoberfest style is the undisputed king of autumn concoctions. Which will be the topic I cover this time out. I've made it my mission to explore this years batch from as many breweries as possible, and share with you the best (and worst) this year has to offer. I'll be delving into some classics (Paulaner, Hacker-Pshorr) and some lesser known micros in search of the best of the crop of 2010. I'm not going to cover food pairings in this post, since it would likely start sounding like a broken record given the fact that I'm focusing on a single style. Suffice it to say, pork (sausage form or otherwise), roasted or caramelized cabbage, nuts, fennel bulb and seed, berries, and cheeses like Butter-Kasse, Gelmini Gorgonzola DOP (specifically) and Havarti would pair well. I also don't feel it very necessary to include ABV (Alcohol By Volume), since they will invariably fall in the upper 5% to lower 7% range. So here are my tasting notes on the 2010 Oktoberfest offerings. Leinenkugel's: Generally not my favorite brewery, ranking somewhere in the area of Killians. Not horrible, but mediocre at best. Their Oktoberfest is par for that course. Smooth, and easy to drink, as it should be, it still fails to impress all that much. The sweet malty aroma and flavor right up front gives way to a mild hoppiness on the finish. The medium body and carbonation are what one would expect from the style. The price point makes it a justifiable buy, but if your looking for an exemplary incarnation of the style, look elsewhere. 4 "chugs" out of 10 Sam Adams: This brewery is very hit or miss with me, usually. While if I'm cooking with beer I will reach for the Boston Lager about 75% of the time, some of their other brews are just kind of "eh". I've never had a beer from them that made me wanna spit it out, though, and in fact their hard to impossible to find Scotch Ale is probably one of the best American beers I've had (it's been years, however, I may re-evaluate that stance if I ever get my hands on it again) but a lot of their beers just don't strike home with me, and they all have a signature taste. You know when your drinking something from that brewery, which isn't always a bad thing. With a nice head and the typical reddish amber color, the Sam Adams Octoberfest is a decent example of the style. Mild aroma and medium-high carbonation with an almost creamy smooth mouth-feel right up front tapering quickly into the sweetness of caramel malts and almost imperceptible hop finish. A very drinkable beer, but the sweetness is a bit much for my taste, didn't stop me from killing the 6 pack, though... 5 chugs out of 10 Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest: Magic Hat is quickly becoming one of my favorite breweries. Their quirky approach and tendency to color outside the lines (and actually do it well) have endeared them to me. Their new Hex Ourtoberfest is more of the same from an innovative brew-house. Slightly darker in color than the standard Oktoberfest, with a deeper red hue, I was not disappointed. Great malt profile that's pretty typical of the style, where they detour from the norm is the cherry wood notes on the finish and the slight berry notes in the mildly hoppy nose. The slight hint of smoke on the palate are also a diversion from tradition, though not very far from. It all works well enough that I don't think even the most hardcore Oktoberfest purist wouldn't find a reason to bitch about this offering (as I am such). This brewery is well known for canning fan favorites to do something new. Last years fall seasonal was Roxy Rolles, replaced this year by Hex. I did like Roxy Rolles, but I can't complain about their decision to move forward and explore new territory. Keep at it, guys. Doin' well so far! 7 out of 10 Sierra Nevada Tumbler: While they aren't calling this an Oktoberfest, it is their Autumn seasonal, and follows the Oktoberfest blueprint for the most part. Color is a dark brown in the glass, a couple shades darker than a typical Oktoberfest, but the flavors are on par with the style. Roasted malt, caramel and a faint hop finish on the nose. Slightly viscous mouth feel with medium carbonation. The flavor is pretty much typical Oktoberfest, but a little higher on the caramel and brown sugar flavors, and (as typifies Sierra Nevada) a decent hop finish. 7 of 10 Abita Fall Fest: I hear a lot of people tout this brewery, but I don't really get it... While everything I've had from them is very drinkable, they have yet to impress me. This offering is no different. Pale amber color in the glass, and bread with a hint of caramel on the nose. Smooth and light mouth feel with light carbonation. The flavor is heavy on the crystal malt, with rock candy notes and a faint hop finish. Not a bad beer, but maybe I'm trying to classify it wrong. They aren't trying to put it in the Oktoberfest category outwardly, but it seems that was vaguely what they were going for. 6 of 10 Flying Dog DOGtoberfest: First let it be said that I generally like this brewery, but I tend to like breweries that are heavy handed (but not overly so) with the hops. That said, this might be my most disappointing experience with their products. Rich red color in the glass, with a very mild aroma of faint malt and hops. Medium bodied, very smooth with medium-high carbonation. The flavor is slightly alkaline, crystal malt and brown sugar in the middle and a mild hop finish. Name aside, it's a very likable beer, but since they put an Oktoberfest insinuation on the name, I was expecting more. 6 of 10 Shmaltz Brewing Company Coney Island Freaktoberfest: I was not familiar with this brew-house when I picked this one up, and I doubt I will become any more so... I did an online search, but was unable to come to a satisfactory result as to why this beer has a cherry Kool-Aid red color and head... Artificial color? Strike one! Malty nose with hints of red berries, strike two! Medium body and carbonation with malt flavors right up front and raspberry/strawberry in the middle. Strike three. No real finish to speak of. While I give them credit for trying to think outside the box, they missed the mark. I'm still bothered by the unnaturally red hue, and more so by the fact that they don't divulge why. 1 of 10 Stoudts Oktoberfest: I hate to keep panning these beers, but the best is yet to come, I promise you. That said, Stoudts Oktoberfest is yet another that I was unhappy with. Golden amber color. Malt and sugar on the nose with hints of yeast and malt extract (wtf?!). Light and smooth mouth feel with mild carbonation. The flavor is unremarkable, at best. There's a faint hint of what it's supposed to be, and under another name I might find it to be a drinkable beer, but not a good representation of the style at all. 4 of 10 Shiner Marzen-Style Oktoberfest: As German styles go, Shiner is one of the better breweries in the States. Mild nose of roasted malts and light carbonation. Amber color in the glass and very smooth mouth feel, medium bodied. In short, everything I'd expect from an Oktoberfest. While not exemplary, it's probably the best you'll find this side of the Atlantic. Add to that the fact there is much less travel and storage time involved as with imports, and this is my recommended Oktoberfest! 8 of 10 Erdinger Oktoberfest Weizen (?) Generally a good German brewery, this one intrigued me. In my search for as many Oktoberfest beers as I could find I stumbled upon this brew from a producer I'm familiar with, but had never seen this one before. It managed to slip under my radar. A Weizen Oktoberfest? Had I noticed this oddity before I surely would have tried it! Wheat is generally not used in this style of beer, but being a reputable German brewery, and the Germans being pretty damn good at wheat beers, I simply could not pass this one up. After I got it home I noticed that the bottle I picked up was last years batch, but be that as it may. Reddish amber color, and cloudy (as expected of German wheat beer) with an almost, but not quite, fruity nose. With this beer you get the best of both worlds. The typical Oktoberfest flavors blend well with the light wheat beer flavors and slight yeasty character. Leave it to the Germans to make the best deviation from the traditional style! As I said, the one I had was a year old, but if you're a fan of Oktoberfest and a fan of Weizen or Heffe-Weizen, seek this one out! 8 of 10 I'll give you the link to the website, but be warned, it's all in German... So to those of you that speak the language, enjoy! This might be the norm from here on in, as I've saved the Germans for last. Kostritzer Oktoberfest: Not one I was very familiar with, though I know of the brewery. But as I said, I was on a mission. Pale golden amber hue in the glass, with light carbonation. Smooth and light mouth feel, with pretty typical nose for the style. Yet another bottle that was a year old and I didn't notice until I got it home, so this might not be the best representation. Malty and caramelly, as one would expect, no noticeable hop finish, but I could tell it was aged. A solid beer, to be sure, but one better enjoyed fresh, I'm also sure. All in all, it stands up pretty well to a year of aging, so don't let the date scare you off. Still a formidable beer, and very drinkable! 7 of 10 Didn't find an official website. Spaten Oktoberfest: Now we're gettin' into the big dogs. Reddish amber color, and light carbonation that typify the style. All the hallmarks of a great Oktoberfest are here... malty caramel nose, smooth mouth feel, nutty flavor from the crystal malts, and an ever so slight hop note on the finish. Despite the green bottle, if you get it fresh enough you can't go wrong. Look for it around the beginning of September and only at reputable beer stores simply because of the green bottle. (The photo I included is an old stock photo, it's packed in green bottles now.) Didn't see a "best by" date on the bottle, but I'm positive the one I got was a year old. That aside, a classic of the style. While not the best, nothing to turn your nose up at. If you do, you need to drink more beer, or give up on it all together... 9 of 10 Hofbrau Oktoberfest: For the style, and being from Germany, this one was surprising, but not in a good way. Golden color in the glass, so much so that it's almost a Pilsner color. It pretty much follows all the hallmarks of a Pilsner, as well. Light nose of hops, smooth mouth feel, mild maltiness and carbonation. Yet another bottle that didn't have the "best by" date on the label, and I'm sure the bottle I got was last years batch. The green bottle didn't help matters at all... As harsh as this may sound, the "Bud" of German beers... If only they would go with a brown bottle and not call it an Oktoberfest, I may have liked it more.... I would expect more from the Germans, so my rating may be harsh... 3 of 10 Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest: As soon as I raised the glass to my nose, I knew that this was the real deal! Brown bottle with an expiration date of 6/11, this is the good stuff, here. Amber color in the glass with a hint of red. Smooth mouth feel, medium carbonation. The flavor up front is pure German malt, and the carbonation enhances the mild hoppy finish. Undertones of hazelnut, brown sugar, and citrus peel. I pretty much knew which ones were gonna be my favorites from the onset, though Hofbrau shocked me a little. Hacker-Pshorr and Paulaner were saved for last for a reason. That, and I didn't want to sit down to them first and spoil the rest of the flight. 9 of 10 Again, the site is in German, so have fun! Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen: I haven't had a Paulaner in a few years, but I remember holding it as the benchmark of what an Oktoberfest should be. Like Bass with Pale Ale, Newcastle Brown, or Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, it is exactly what this beer should taste like. Amber-red in the glass, nice white fluffy head. Malt, hazelnut, mild caramel, and very faint hops on the nose. Caramel, malt, and nuts right up front, smooth going down with an almost dusty quality in the middle, and a silky hop finish all make this beer King of the Hill for it's style. And yes, they print the "best by" date on the label. This one also said 6/11. 10 of 10 You simply can't tell sometimes what year the beer was made with imports. Some print a "best by" date on the label, but not all, so with beer it's usually best to go with domestic brews in a brown bottle unless you're vigilant enough to actually look for the printed date. Beer in clear or green bottles, especially imports that are subjected to more storage and transportation, tends to spoil much faster than in brown bottles. This is due to light contamination. Light is a bottled beers worst enemy. To much exposure to light will cause "off" flavors in a beer, when this happens the odor will be off as well, having an almost sulfur/metallic tinge to the nose. A brewer or beer aficionado would call this beer "skunked" because the scent is faintly reminiscent of skunk spray. If you've ever noticed this yourself it didn't come that way from the brewery, light did it. One last tasting note, if you're a fan of Guinness, don't drink it after an Oktoberfest. The flavors in Oktoberfest are pretty much the same as the middle flavors in Guinness, so if you drink the Oktoberfest first the flavor left on your tongue cancels out those middle ground flavors in Guinness. Leaving you with nothing but the sweetness and the bitterness. I found this out the hard way. I thought I got a bad batch of the Irish Titan of beers, but when I went back to it the next day it tasted perfectly fine. Somewhat counter-intuitive to the "lighter beverages always first" guideline, I know, but I just thought I'd pass that on. If you live in South Eastern Michigan, or better yet, the Western suburbs of Detroit, you can find all of these beers and more at the Wine Barrel Plus in Livonia. They also carry (as the name implies) an astounding array of wine, liquor, several large cigar humidors, and an on-site temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar for the higher end bottles. If they don't have what you're looking for just ask Mark, he'll get it in for you if it's available in Michigan. So to recap quickly: Best American Oktoberfest I found - Shiner Worst - Shmaltz Freaktoberfest Best German - Paulaner (with honorable mention to Hacker-Pshorr) Worst - Hofbrau These reviews are, of course, subjective. So feel free to tell me I wouldn't know a good Oktoberfest if it hit me in the face. I hope this little list helps you all out though, at the very least in what to avoid like the plague. If I missed something or you actually WANT my opinion on a beer not included, let me know in the comments. Life's too short to drink shit beer! Jack

Getting Curried Away with Ice Cream

The stars of the show.

The theme was Curry, in all it's various forms. Well, 5 of it's forms, to be honest. There are more than that, but how could you fit it all into one meal while trying to showcase each one? Masman, Red, Green, Yellow, and the one we will be focussing on today, Madras. I hosted this one. My house, my menu. The most interesting course (to me at least) was the dessert. Me, with my self proclaimed dessert indifference, had an idea for one. Being my first try at it, the original results were a little heavy on the mint, so this recipe will be a little lighter with it. Regardless, the results were amazing, and went well with both the Mango tart served with it (provided by Raquel) and the Bourbon County Stout, from Goose Island in Chicago, that was chosen to pair with it. Because the mint was so strong it fought with the beer a little bit, at least I thought it did, no one else present commented on it. Truth be told, I hijacked the base recipe from "The French Laundry" and tweaked it to get the mint and curry in. So here it is:

The Madras curry singled out

Madras Curry, Vanilla, Mint Ice Cream: The ingredients: 2 Tablespoons Madras Curry paste 1 Tablespoon Fresh Mint chiffonade 2 cups milk 2 cups heavy cream 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 vanilla bean, split 10 large egg yolks 1/2 cup honey (preferably wildflower) The procedure: In a 1 quart saucepan over medium heat toast the curry paste lightly, stirring the whole time. When fragrant and starting to brown slightly, add the cream, milk, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar to the pan. Scrape the vanilla bean and add it to the pot with the pod. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and allow the flavors to infuse for 30 minutes. Rewarm the mixture.

Madras curry/mint Ice Cream with Mango Tart.

Meanwhile, in a mixer or metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thickened and lightened in color. Gradually whisk in one third of the warm milk mixture to temper the eggs. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over medium heat until the custard has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the mint chiffonade to a bowl set over an ice water bath and pour the hot custard through a strainer over it and stir in honey to combine. Let the custard cool at room temperature, move to a container to refrigerate for at least 5 hours. Overnight will give you an even creamier texture. Freeze the cold custard in an ice cream machine. Remove to a covered container and freeze for several hours, or until hardened. Or for a shorter time if you like it softer. Scoop and serve. I've made ice cream in the past and I always wonder why people think it's so hard and time consuming. It really isn't. Home made ice cream can really add flair to a dinner party and give the guests a sense that you went all out. So give it a go! The recipe above can be tweaked to provide a myriad of variations, too! Next up I'll be reviewing this years crop of Oktoberfest options including the classics and whatever little known micros I can get my greasy paws on. So until then, make some damn ice cream! Jack