Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: Cider: Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson

I picked up the second edition which includes new material on Perry, i.e. pear “cider” for most of us who would never have heard of this otherwise. This book ended up being a nice bump for me after my cider experiment in 2009 and all of the feedback I have received on the different styles.

The wonderful thing about books like this is the fact that you get information of all kinds. A good start is a history about the beverage and then add in process, customs & variations, DYI details and last but not least tasting, pairing and applications/cooking.

Cider has a long and storied history around the world. While production volumes have changed a lot over the years it stands to reason that some of the very best cider products are available right now, if you know where to get them. Today I enjoyed the section of the book on the departments of Normandy, France and their customs in the making and consumption of Calvados. A kiss of Calvados on the lips during baptism and we can’t love the French?

Ben Watson, the author of Cider: Hard and Sweet, succeeds in an impressive effort to present a breadth of information on a topic that isn’t familiar to most, and seems to point to a tradition in decline from its heights. That is certainly true, but the upside with reading Watson’s book is knowing where to get good cider, he readily tells you about all of them, how to serve them and what enjoyment awaits those that do. Our own home-state favorite, Farnum Hill Ciders at Poverty Lane Orchards and its owner/cider maker Steven Wood is quoted, described and toasted in the book.

I made cider for the first time in 2007 after a bad go of making an apple wine in the two years before. My initial attempt at cider including charging the bottles much like you would with beer (creating the bubbles through a closed fermentation) resulting in volcanic openings on a couple boxes. My 2008 batch was still (no carbonation) and worked much better. The sections of the book on basic cider making, upgrades and longer term projects represent a true hands-on experience and processes others could follow to a happy outcome.

I love cider, but my experience with it is pretty limited. Once I could make my own I didn’t end up tasting too many others. I remember buying Farnum Hill ciders right after college and drinking them with my now wife on our weekends away together while she finished school. At the recent Wine Riot in Boston I had a heritage varietal cider from Farnum Hill that blew my socks off. I’ve also had Woodchuck and Cider Jack, but they aren’t the same beverage.

Then came 2009.

In my cider post earlier in month I explained my approach to a 7 bucket project to produce a bunch of different cider types. I got good results from all of them and one just took First Place in Common Cider category of the Northeast Regional Homebrew Competition. I’m learning and trust me I coming on strong again next year with new ideas and new products.

Towards the end of the book Watson shares recipes and cooking tips. Braising meats with cider is a slam dunk. Marinades and salad dressings using cider are not a stretch. (Recipes below)

Making your own cider vinegar sounds easier than most people, including me, would have thought. I am hoping this extends to wine vinegar as well. Unfortunately I have some wine I could blend for vinegar (it isn’t good to drink), but I’d like to use cider to make vinegar on purpose. Allowing a finished wine/cider to aerate in a warm dark place and then stabilizing it like wine can net gallons of ready to use vinegar. The uses for it are well beyond cooking and a variety of health benefits have been observed in some daily consumers. Thanks Ben!

The details on how the author lined up and tasted many ciders, compiled scores and described the facets of the best ciders was very intriguing to me. Food pairing with any beverage is a lot of fun and some of the notable things we have tried with our ciders are grilled margherita pizzas, candied bacon and barbeque. Our cider party was a drunken barn dance a-la South Park, and the hangover a few of us had was pretty intense; but what a way to celebrate all the hard work!

The chapter on Perry contained information completely new to me. I made a pear wine in 2008 but found it off tasting and have used it mainly to create wine punches. Fine Perry can be made from specific heirloom pear varieties and is typically drier and sharper than that which we create from dessert pears, e.g. those that are directly edible. Pear and apple blends are noted here as well. I think an experiment with a pear dessert wine is worthy for 2011!



Barnes & Noble info for the book


Braising / Slow Cooking

I have changed the liquid ingredients using cider in place of ½ of any broth and water in an original recipe. If the recipe also calls for white wine I would continue as is, but recipes that call for too much red wine are a problem as the wine can overpower the apple flavors which are not typical in such wines.

Cider Salad Dressing

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ dry hard cider
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp crushed Mexican oregano
½ tsp crushed rosemary

Combine cider, vinegar and spices. Slowly mix in oil. Serve over greens with candied nuts, dried cranberries and Roquefort cheese.

Other NH Cider Products We Have Tried

Crooked Tree Winery – we had several great tastings at a public event
Farnum Hill Ciders – our favorite!
Silver Mountain Ciders – lots of different styles, found in NH & VT

Out-of-State Mention

Crispin Ciders – Crispin is active on Twitter organizing events and might be coming to NH next year.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Highlights

Well, this week certainly turned out to be the adventure you are always anxious about. My Dad is becoming famous for needing to visit the hospital on Thanksgiving. This time it was serious, but he’s on the mend. Our family had Thanksgiving plans on multiple dates and in multiple locations before the detour. As much of that as could went on as scheduled. As a result, I’ve been low key this week and didn’t take a lot of pictures. I did very much have fun spending time with family and friends. We also decorated the house for our upcoming holiday events and shared some homemade wine with friends at an open house.

My Holiday Pies post from earlier in the week was executed at our place in VT. My parents were supposed to be there, I was responsible for pie ingredients and my Mom had some fantastic recipes to try for meals. Unfortunately my parents were at home with my Dad having some tests to see what was going on. With no specific worries afoot we went to VT and made all the pies.

A trip out to Dutton’s was necessary to pickup apples and snacks.

( Some of these are in our holiday pies! )

( Squash = Thanksgiving }

I made the pie crusts in the morning and we made the pies from early afternoon into the evening. Six apple, two pumpkin and two blueberry. Making pies all by hand is taxing but to worth it.

We also had a nice sunset walk up Adams road, a favorite of the whole family.

Early in the week I spent two days down in CT with my family. Everyone was nervous on Tuesday before surgery and relieved to hear my Dad crack a joke about how bad he felt after surgery. Yeah no kidding.

Dad was going to be rocking the hospital for the holiday and my brother and his wife were going to go to VT without my parents much like we did the weekend before. We were going to be with friends up in Croydon, NH as planned. My Mom took friends up on a prior offer and joined them on Thanksgiving in between visits with my Dad.

Our Thanksgiving with Missy & Steve was everything you would want in a holiday. Just for the record Missy and Steve might not agree on the count that they were moving the week of the holiday, but they will also read on to find out my take. Moving is so much fun that Margot and I have sworn it off for almost 10 years now. That day will come. Prior to the moving coming up we had planned a nice quiet “extended” family holiday at their home. We had worked out that they would do the turkey, stuffing, potatoes and squash and we would bring snacks, side dishes, bread, pies and wine/beer/cider. Despite being exhausted from moving, and being in a new place, Missy and Steve pulled it off. There were moments specifically noted as being very much like “a fun old-fashioned family Christmas” a-la National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, but we all had fun and the food was fantastic. I should have used a cart to get myself out of there.

Steve totally killed it with the turkey. Wrapped in bacon and baked until complete. That is just too damn easy for something that was as good as it was. Missy makes a mean stuffing using a combination of packaged and fresh ingredients. I didn’t get the recipe yet but I can say I really enjoyed it.

Margot and I brought three cheeses and opened three of our own dessert wines for a starter. All three wines, Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Peach are very sweet with a good balance of acid and paired best with the goat cheese for me. The sharp cheddar and horseradish cheeses are great in their own rights but did also pair well with the wines.

I then opened up a cherry flavored cider and a medium dry cider from 2009. Both had great clean flavors, not apparent re-fermentation (a problem being watched) and were smooth and refreshing. My cider project is developing a nice legend! We didn’t have the materials at the time but when I mentioned the following beer cocktail everyone’s ears perked up. Next time.

Cherry Stout
½ Dieu du Ciel Imperial Stout
½ Ancient Fire Cherry Cider

For a side dish Margot and I made glazed leeks and carrots. Steve’s admission pretty much sums this up. “I had never had a leek in my life until Jay made these earlier in the year, and now they are never not in my fridge.”

Glazed Leeks and Carrots

5 medium leeks, washed and cut (white part only)
5 medium carrots, washed, peeled and cut 3/8 inch
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick butter
¼ tsp ground ginger
Salt & pepper to taste

Boil the cut carrots until just tender. Drain. Melt butter in large sauté pan. Add leeks. Saute 3-5 minutes. Add carrots, sugar, ginger and mix well. Saute until sugar is thickened and leeks begin to caramelize.

We also made buttermilk biscuits that were great with some melted butter on them. The second bag was specifically requested to stay behind when we left. I didn’t make more when we got home and now I am missing them! We opened 2008 Viognier and 2009 Pinot Noir with dinner. Both were easy matches for all the food.

( Gracie, Missy, Steve and lots of food! )

( Gracie with a cameo, me and Margot. Again the food! )

On Saturday our friends Ed and Jim had their annual holiday open house. You go for the food and the decorations. We missed their Thanksgiving celebration the weekend we were making pies but sent a gift ahead to say we were sorry. Ten bottles of wine! Ed and Jim were so nice to us in appreciation of the wine. Their friends we saw yesterday couldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it, how much they drank of it and asked why I didn’t do this for a job many times. For Thanksgiving we prepared a menu of wines for them to serve at their celebration.

Pacific Quartet – Cocktails & snacks; wine is light fruit and medium-dry
Symphony – Dinner white; subtle smoked fruits and medium to light body, dry
Cabernet Blend – Dinner red; presents good fruit flavors without much heft, dry
Pomegranate / Black Currant – After dinner; tart and sweet with rich red fruit flavors
Moscato – Dessert; sweet and fruity!

We heard the Pacific Quarter went like crazy during cocktail hour. That would have been fun to see. We have just started serving this wine, made earlier in the year, and it seems quite pleasing. We also heard the Pomegranate/Black Currant and Moscato were both a hit after dinner. Ed’s friend (and ours now!) Amy said she indulged in multiple glasses of everything we sent over. Other reports about the white and red with dinner suggested people found good pairings and were happy. Wow!

Yesterday we brought the Pacific Quartet again and added in Cabernet Sauvignon and Concord Rosé. The Concord Rosé is one of our newest wines made with a batch of wild Concord grapes that a friend had on his property. It is light pink in color, dry with delicate and fleeting fruit flavors. It is very pleasing but doesn’t linger. I bet it will do well despite those observations. I was the only one drinking the Cab (from 2008) yesterday and the magnum was almost full when I left so it came home with me.

Tonight I’ll be drinking some of that Cabernet cooking stuffed squash for lunches this week. I’ll also be pondering what new holiday adventures I can get into in the next month.

Check out all four holiday posts from earlier in the week.
Holiday Entertaining - Final Post
Holiday Beer Talk - Post 3 of 4
Holiday Pies - Post 2 of 4
Holiday Wine Advice - Post 1 of 4



Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Entertaining

( This is just one of our families! )

Less is more. Less clutter and decorations creates spaces for guests to put plates and cups during the annual open house two weeks before Christmas. Less fussy foods take less time to prepare and are easier for guests to handle. Serving Thanksgiving dinner family style in one room and eating it in another room results in less stuff on the table

The holidays are supposed to be fun! All the parties, food and drinks are the gift to adults. When you are the one hosting you want to be able to make magic and pull it off. There are a couple of tips we have used over the last few years that have worked well:
  • Dress up the food table. Make a centerpiece or accent the table with garland and confetti. Draw people’s attention to it.
  • Small plates allow people to take just enough food and be able to be on the move.
  • Self service beverages really help with the flow of your event. You’ll see later we ignore this tip for cocktails, when used together...
Everything else you do is going to depend on who is coming and whether guests are bringing food.

( Several years ago I hand washed and dusted each of these pieces of fruit.
Settled together on a platter with a vanilla scented candle it made our table stand out! ) 

Holiday food! Can’t beat it and thankfully we all get to carry some of it into the next year with us. Our holiday spreads are always a team effort with our guests. Our family and friends love to bring all kinds of dishes to our house depending on what we need. My mother is one of the best people to take up on the offer to make food for a family gathering. Guests are happy to contribute and find foods they like on the table. The host doesn’t have to be responsible for everything and can enjoy something different as well.

( Clean forks lining up for dessert! )
If you want to pick a food theme, like Southern influences, you want to make sure guests are aware of the theme and you know whether they are participating. We used this theme for Thanksgiving dinner one year and had some incredible side dishes like macaroni & cheese, greens and sweet potatoes. We also wanted a wider vegetarian selection for Christmas two years ago and asked our families about what they could make to help out. When Anuarg & Dhepeka arrived they were pleasantly surprised at all the vegetable dishes, including the Indian gobi (cauliflower ) I had made. Additionally the beans, salad, potatoes, squash, Indian dal and rice all went amazingly well with a glazed ham. The variety and a very new combination of flavors were the talk of the meal.

Open house style events are common this time of year and we always have one. We find there is a bit more work on the social aspects of gatherings like this. We use different activities to help our guests get to know each other and interact. We now find some of our friends come for the holidays and are interested in seeing other friends of ours, and more than us!

Last year I led a mixology demo at our open house, making three different cocktails. An Old Fashioned, a Street Pharmacist and a Cool Runnings. (recipes at the end) Cocktails capture people’s imagination. Trying different flavors and textures is a lot of fun, especially with a group and several drinks to try! After demonstrating each drink and letting my guests try them I asked if anyone wanted to try it for themselves. Several takers stepped up and they went to work, asking a few questions along the way. The drinks were good and everyone had fun. I walked away and came back 30 minutes later and there were still people mixing up the different drinks and talking about them.

Several years ago we took family photos on our stair case at several events. The photos weren’t pro and the lighting sucked, but everyone had a good time and loved having the photo to print out or put on the computer. All the holiday smiles were nice to look through on Christmas day. We have even assembled a collection of photos for Christmas showing the different events over the years.

I wrote posts on wine and beer for the holidays earlier in the week. How you decide to pair foods and beverages out for different functions comes down to the people. In those two posts I covered both family dinner and open house settings with simple beverage ideas. Two solid tips are as simple as having diverse selections and the self-service option for busy gatherings. Read the linked articles for more stories and specific recommendations for holiday food pairing.

 Be ready to have fun. I have a playlist of Nu-Jazz, Downtempo and lounge music playing softly in the main room. For Christmas we put cartoons on rotation in another room for the younger kids. We otherwise turn the TV off and put a photo slideshow on the computer. Moving from room to room we get many opportunities to talk to our family and friends and celebrate all we have to be thankful and happy for.
( This isn't the entryway to my house. It is the entrance of the Lobby at the
Sandals Ocho Rios in Jamaica. We experienced Christmas in Jamaica in 2005.
That was a whole other kind of party and not one I had to cook or cleanup from! )

Cleaning up from these types of events is always a pain. People are going to be hanging out in your kitchen so it makes sense to move most everything you don’t need out of it. Put your reserve supplies in another location and go get them when needed. We have used three specific things to make cleaning up less of a disaster:
  • Start the day with an empty dishwasher and put stuff in it as you go
  • Have separate trash and recycling and keep an eye on them during the party
  • Use paper and plastic with large busy and more casual gatherings
Hopefully your holiday gatherings go off without a hitch this year. It’s about the people after all so don’t count out some twists and turns!

Check out the first three posts in this four-part series on holiday food, beverage and entertaining.

Holiday Beer Talk - Post 3 of 4
Holiday Pies - Post 2 of 4
Holiday Wine Advice - Post 1 of 4



Mixology Demo Cocktail Recipes

Old Fashioned

2 oz bourbon whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 splash water
1 tsp sugar syrup (make ahead, more if sweeter is desired)
1 maraschino cherry
1 orange wedge

Mix first four ingredients in a rocks glass. Add ice. Squeeze the orange slightly to add some juice to the drink. Place orange and cherry in glass and serve.

Street Pharmacist

2 oz Appleton 12 year old rum
2 oz Rum Cream
1 oz Amaretto

Mix and serve over ice.

Cool Runnings

Gold rum
Coconut rum
Blue Curacao
Pineapple juice
Simple syrup

You make this in a pitcher like punch. Use whatever quantities you like! Mix and serve over ice

Holiday Beer Talk

In my post earlier in this series on holiday wines I alluded to some potential guests that might not be interested in your finely crafted wine program for the holiday meal. Beer is as food friendly as wine in the general sense. Lighter beers are often less aggressive with food and heavier beers tend to present considerable flavors that must mesh with the food to work well. Acidity and carbonation work together to present different finishes on beers, also significant.

If you have beer explorers around during the holidays you will definitely want to check out some of the holiday beers that come out in November and December every year. I updated my mix this year and have the following items ready for a tasting:

Sierra Nevada Celebration
Rogue Yellow Snow
Rogue Santa’s Reserve Ale
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome

The easiest way to handle the need for beer at a holiday open house is to have a cooler containing a few different commercial lager/ale options for people to grab when they want one. You might have 3 or 4 rooms of different people doing different things and letting your guests decide when and what to grab makes things less stressful for you.

For dinner time pairings I have had great success with two styles of beer. Belgian/abbey ales and freshly hopped unfiltered pale American ales. I think both of these beers have different food pairing assets.

A Belgian white is creamy and has some spices to match with almost any food. A maltier Belgian beer with a thicker body can easily handle roasted meats, squash and stuffing. Some unique aromas from Belgian yeasts can liven up different pairings. The Brooklyn Local 1 is a food friendly Belgian-style from NY. Chimay makes several abbey and Trappist style beers that should be easy to find and great matches with an array of holiday dishes.

Freshly hopped pale ales have lots of citrus and pine that can work well with vegetable side dishes, stuffing and dishes with a lot of herbal flavors. Try this style with aged and flavored cheddar cheeses as well. They are very cleansing with each sip and stay lively for a long time. Sebago Brewing from Portland ME, makes a Local Harvest Ale in this style using freshly picked hops. It is aromatic, very flavorful and very refreshing. The Rogue Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale is a bit bigger, but still a hop monster just in a brown ale form. This will appeal to heavier beer drinkers, but still provide that sold pairing foundation.

If you are looking for an innovative way to get your beer drinkers involved in cocktail hour, consider making shandys. A shandy is a blend with ale that might contain lemonade, lemon/lime soda, ginger beer or other sweet and sparkling beverage. The results can vary. Generally it turns out to be a malty, bready drink with some more citrus and/or spice and a bit sweet. Your choice of beer should be something with a light body, unfiltered and some hop influence, but not too much. Try a 2/3 to 1/3 ratio for first timers. If they like the beer better this drink won’t be a huge shock.

The painting above was painted by a friend of ours Meredith Ingersoll. We were drinking homemade cider up in VT and she asked to take one of the bottles home. She turned that bottle into a beautful painting. We have another of hers depicting  a martini glass on its way.

Here are a couple of beers we tried recently that were fun with different foods:
  • Fruili - imported from Belgium. It is a Belgian strawberry beer made with light malts, orange peel and spices. It is a light, sweet, berry flavored sour beer that matched flavors with Brie and Dubliner cheeses.
  • Woodstock Inn & Brewery Wassail - I had to mention this beer because of my initial explanation of its flavors, bread pudding. We made pumpkin pies and that was similar in flavor to the beer, and enough to remember it! This beer would work with dessert even though it isn’t at all sweet; the spices should help integrate it a bit.
Check out the first two posts in a four-part series on holiday food, beverage and entertaining.

Holiday Pies - Post 2 of 4
Holiday Wine Advice - Post 1 of 4



Holiday Pies

( Apple pie makes the holidays for me! )

Every year I make apple and squash pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. About ten years ago I took an online course on pie-making. The course used a Cook’s Illustrated pie-making text and ran for 8 weeks, with a different type of pie for each. I know, tough homework! But I learned how to make a pie dough by hand that can’t be beat!

My absolute favorite is apple pie, but I will gladly eat most others; especially squash/pumpkin and pecan during the holidays. I like my apple pies spicy and I never hear any complaints from my guests with the ones I put out every year!

Double Pie Crust Recipe

2 ½ cups of all purpose flour, sifted
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
11 Tbsp unsalted butter, cool
7 Tbsp vegetable shortening, cool
Ice water

I use a 100% manual process with a pastry blender, wooden spoon and a spatula. Cut the butter into the premixed flour, sugar and salt with the pastry blender.

Don’t blend down too much. Cut in the shortening working to a consistency of coarse crumbs.

Adding 1 to 2 Tbsp at a time use a wooden spoon mix in the water and bring the dough together into a ball.

Remove the dough ball from the bowl to a lightly floured sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Prepare a surface to roll the dough on with all-purpose flour.

Cut the dough ball in half and form one half into a disk. Roll from the center outward flipping several times to reach a size that will fit a pie plate.

My apple filling is really simple and can be made in double sized batches if you have the bowl for it. Take six apples of two different kinds and wash them. The ratio of apples you use is up to you. I used 2:1 Cortland and Zestar this year. Peel, core and slice the apples. Add ¾ cup of white sugar, 1 tsp lemon zest and 1 tsp orange zest. Add two Tbsp of lemon/orange juice, 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp allspice, ½ tsp ginger and ¼ tsp nutmeg. Mix well. Pour into a prepared pie crust. Add 2 Tbsp butter before placing the top on the pie.

Fill and cover with a second crust rolled out the same as the first.

Crimp the edges, cut 4 slits in the top. . Place the pie in a 350 oven and cook for one hour or until crust begins to brown.

Pumpkin pies are made all over New England this time of year. We grow the vegetables so well around here and we eat them in many ways. I prefer to use a combination of butternut squash and pumpkin which can produce a more gold colored pie with a creamier texture.

Mix two cups of baked pumpkin and butternut squash in a bowl. Mash well. Add ¾ cup of dark brown sugar, 1 ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp cloves, ½ tsp nutmeg, ½ tsp of salt and one can of evaporated milk. Mix well. Beat two eggs and add to the squash mixture. Mix well. Pour into a refrigerated pie shell. Bake at 350 for 65-75 minutes, or until filling is set.

After my pies cool and I wrap them in plastic wrap and foil and immediately freeze them so that I can serve them as fresh as possible in a few week’s time. From here the possibilities go off in many directions. I also made two blueberry pies today using berries that were picked fresh back in August and frozen. These will make a nice addition to the Thanksgiving table this year.

Check out our first post in a four-part series on holiday food, beverage and entertaining.

Holiday Wine Advice - Post 1 of 4



Holiday Wine Advice

( Wine? Why yes I think I must! )

No doubt you have sorted through your share of holiday wine pairing and serving advice this time of year for many years. This year’s articles are making their rounds and there are a couple of things I look for that keep me reading. First, a personal story. Who are the people and how does your holiday table work when they all get together? Second, a range of choices for different foods from different places, different tastes as well as something local. And lastly, first hand feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
Why? Because I am looking for things to try at home where I get to be in the experience with my guests.

I make a wide variety of wines specifically to have different flavors around to pair with our meals. We also buy many different local wines that work well with regional dishes. We pull out all kinds of gems for holiday gatherings and often decide on making mulled wines, spiced wine punches or fruity sparklers that taste like holiday desserts as well.

When we get together with family for Thanksgiving we pick several white and several red wines to have with dinner. Margot, Celeste, Chris, David, Eloy and Gerry are all over the wine. Oh, and me too. We might warm up with snacks and cocktails and my brother’s-in-law are usually working on the beers. The larger the gathering the more likely it is to be a traditional turkey, stuffing, potato, bread meal which works with both red and white wine. Last year we opened Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet from Sterling Vineyards. Both were good tasters before dinner and were pleasing with dinner, but not blockbusters. I served Pinot Noir from my own collection and a Chambourcin from Connecticut Valley Winery in CT. The Pinot is fruity with some oak and worked very subtly with the food. The Chambourcin was the best pairing with dinner and sadly we only had one bottle. Something about the spiciness of it worked with turkey and gravy. We bridged dinner and dessert with Diamond from Candia Vineyards. By the time we got to dessert my tastes buds had been tweaked with some light white wine and were ready for more powerful flavors. For dessert I opened bottles of homemade Riesling and plum ice wine and served them with apple and squash pies. I don’t actually remember dessert. I was happy.
( Early 2010 vintage white wines being served )

Pairing with diverse meals is the ultimate challenge. This year we are going to try some fruitier white wines like a medium dry Riesling, and adding some dimension with a floral Viognier. I may bring some red wine to where we are going this year, but our hosts are not typically that interested. Easier pairing for me! I am planning on serving the sweet dessert wines with sharp cheeses early in the day as a surprise. Coffee with dessert this year, especially for the driver!

For our holiday open house I am making a mulled wine using the following recipe:

Ancient Fire Mulled Wine

1 bottle red wine, good but inexpensive
½ cup water
¼ cup superfine sugar
2 large cinnamon sticks
3 cloves
3 allspice berries
2 lemon slices
1 orange slice
3 dashes orange bitters

Boil the water, sugar, spices and citrus and then take it off heat and allow it to steep for ½ hour. Add the wine and slowly reheat to below boiling. Add bitters and mix. Strain and serve hot.

The aromas from the mulled wine begin to fill the house as soon as it warms up. The citrus and spices hang in the sweet air. It should be semi-sweet with a good sour tang and some heat from the spices.
When you get to choosing beverages for your next holiday meal make sure you keep it personal, explore the local choices and have a range of offerings to be served depending on how the event goes.

Here are several recommendations from recent tastings that can be used throughout the holidays:
  • Travessia Vidal Blanc – I felt I got some residual sugar off of this and it was just enough to round out the body and immediately made me think of food.
  • Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV – a good bottle of bubbly is a must for some. this was light and fruity with a clean finish
  • Si Soave – very light making it a great starter and a good match for lighter creamed dishes and seafood
  • Red Truck – Big House Red in a box. 3 L of a medium bodied red blend with fruit, wood and a clean finish. We had this at a party and it worked both socially and with the food. Great value!
Here are a couple of holiday wine links that have great stories, tasty options and things to try at home.



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Frank Cooked It Up And We Paired It Up!

( Kath and I enjoying the party. )

Kathy Nelson, the owner of Salon Outlooks in Manchester, definitely knows how to plan a fun event. Combine the talents of two of her clients and the energy of quite a few others and what do you get? A great Italian cooking demonstration and a few good food and wine pairings.
On Friday November 12th Frank Carpentino walked us through a selection of Italian dishes using his philosophy of “no recipes”. Margot and I were given a rough idea of the ingredients that would be in the dishes and were challenged to recommend wines to pair with them. Our challenge included making recommendations that would be available from the local liquor store as well as several from our own collection.
We kept with the Italian theme and recommended the following wines available locally:
  • Folonari Soave 2008 - very light body, subtle fruitiness, very dry & crisp
  • Ruffino Chianti Classico Aziano 2007 - ripe fruit, earth, very complex for a lighter red
  • Martini & Rossi Asti NV - sweet sparkler with great fruit flavors
We added the following wines from the Ancient Fire collection:
  • 2009 Pinot Grigio - medium bodied, dry, grilled pear/melon flavors
  • 2008 Amarone - full bodied, red fruit and oak, unique aromas
  • 2009 Riesling Ice Wine (we don’t have any homemade Italian dessert wine)
Frank has an impressive list of food accomplishments and he easily kept the attention of the audience as he prepared his meals.

( A solid base for a great dish! )

Some of his credits are:
  • The development and instruction of a Basic Cooking Program as part of the Derry Adult Education Program.
  • The development & instruction of a basic cooking program for school age children
  • Prior Head Cook for a Middle School with a population of over 1,000
  • Cook for Passaconaway Country Club & Hidden Creek Country Club
Frank started with a salad dressed with an oil and vinegar based dressing. I had hoped the Soave might work here but alas it was too light. The Pinot Grigio worked better, but the dressing did have some character and a good wine pairing would be tough.

Moving from salad to the main course Frank prepared pasta and fresh vegetables, which consisted of onions, peppers, mushrooms and broccoli in a light sauce of tomatoes, butter and white wine. Several of us found the Pinot Grigio worked better than the Chianti making my initial recommendation the winner. The score is all tied up!

The next dish was Frank’s North End Pasta, a tomato based sauce with sausage, onions, peppers and garlic over fettuccini. For this dish either of the red wines would work and which one exactly would be the best would depend on individual taste. The Amarone was the winner creating a nice bump for us coming from the homemade collection.

A shrimp scampi pasta dish came out next. My initial pairing advice was toward the white wines and the Soave primarily. It worked and people agreed. Score one more!

The last dish was chicken, vegetables in a rose (white and red wine) sauce. I didn’t actually eat this one because I was too busy serving wine. I think both of the whites and the Chianti were pairings people enjoyed, but I wouldn’t declare a win here since I didn’t work hard enough on it.

At this point everyone was feeling pretty full, but there was one last dish. Dessert. Cannoli to boot. Frank enlisted help from the audience to get these made and I prepared the ice wine and Asti for accompaniment. Both wines paired well with the lightly sweet dessert, but I think folks enjoyed the wines more on their own. Points for everyone.

This was a hugely rewarding experience for Margot and I. We got another chance to try our hand at food and wine pairing and in the process we created a bunch of smiles. Frank was commanding in the kitchen, with his passion and energy showing through.

Renee thanked us profusely for introducing her to Amarone, a style of wine she had yet to have enjoyed. We received other feedback which was truly humbling. We make wine at home for fun and always enjoy the fact that it brings others happiness when we share it.

Food and beverage pairing is a combination of art and science. I am always willing to to be wrong as long as I learn something in the process. Tonight I did OK, and learned that salad dressing can be a formidable adversary and that the the sauce of an Italian dish really makes the difference, almost without regard to whatever else is in the dish.

(The Outlooks crew with food and wine smiles! )



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beerfest! Twenty Five Beer Samples in Less Than Four Hours

Twenty Five Beer Samples in Less Than Four Hours!
Sounds easy right? There’s a couple of things that turn out to make it not so easy.
  • The beer is good. Craft and small batch beers with lots of character and higher alcohol content.
  • Evaluating each beer while enjoying them does take time.
  • Meeting other beer geeks really gets the conversation stories going!
My friend Richard and I attended the New Hampshire Brewers Festival in Manchester yesterday. Quite a few local and regional breweries were on hand pouring an incredible lineup of beers. Each attendee was given 12 beer tickets which taken literally meant you could try 12 beers. Richard and I took a more tactical approach and combined our tickets, splitting each sample allowing us to be able to try up to 24 beers. There were enough choices that this was a very good plan.

I’m not going to bore with tasting notes on the all the beers I ended up trying but I will list their brand and style so that folks can lookup them up if they like. I will provide notes and food pairing considerations on several of the highlights. Where noted the breweries are based in New Hampshire.
  1. White Birch Belgian Style Pale Ale (NH)
  2. Portsmouth Brewing Black Cat Stout (NH)
  3. Long Trail Blackberry Wheat
  4. Woodstock Brewery Wassail
  5. Sam Adams Holiday Porter
  6. Moat Mountain Cask Drawn Imperial Stout (NH)
  7. Milly’s Infamous Pumpkin Ale (NH)
  8. Gritty Christmas Ale (NH)
  9. White Birch Indulgence (NH)
  10. Long Trail Pale Ale
  11. Smuttynose IPA (NH)
  12. Sebago Local Harvest Ale
  13. Brooklyn Local 1
  14. Brooklyn Imperial Chocolate Stout
  15. Brooklyn Local 2
  16. Brooklyn Brown Ale
  17. Brooklyn EIPA
  18. White Birch Elysium (NH)
  19. Flying Goose IPA (NH)
  20. Milly’s Oatmeal Stout (NH)
  21. Shipyard Prelude
  22. Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA
  23. Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale
  24. Narragansett Lager
  25. Run of the Mill XPA
Best Beer of the Day – Brooklyn Local 1

Local 1 is a Belgian Pale Ale in the strong category due to the 9% alcohol content. This beer is bottle conditioned which means a bottle fermentation that introduces additional flavors and textures while carbonating the bottle. The aromas and flavors of this beer are distinctive against a lineup of typical American beers, but when cast in the shadow of its Belgian relatives is not unique. The flavors are of yeast, bread and malt with a nice fruity/hoppy finish and a bitter cleansing hit at the end. Some alcohols is noticeable.

This beer was used in the cheese pairing with Cabot Pepper Jack. It definitely worked quite well, but was not the best beer and cheese pairing we tried. I believe this is a very food friendly beer and would be the beverage end of many great pairings.

Best Stout – White Birch Indulgence / Elysium

Indulgence is a jet black stout (although not according to the WBB web site) with the best aroma of a stout that I have ever smelled. The coffee and chocolate flavors were so amazing that Richard said “it has a shot of espresso in it.” I called it coffee on steroids.

We didn’t get confirmation of this but we believe the Elysium was a barrel aged version of Indulgence. The aromas and flavors of coconut and vanilla were present something I suspect comes from the influence of the wood.

Both of these beers are excellent but not something you would drink a lot of in one sitting. I do believe both of these beers would be excellent with dark chocolate desserts.

Best IPA – Flying Goose IPA

This beer was recommended to us by Bert from Bert’s Better Beers and his friends. These guys know beer so it is no surprise that we found their tip a hit!

The aromas from the beer made me think of what it would be like to stand in a hop patch. The color is a beautiful orange/gold. Lots of pine and citrus flavors in each sip and a clean finish.

I could see pairing this beer with salad with a citrus-infused dressing or stuffed baked squash with savory herbs, nuts and dried fruit.

Best Seasonal Beer – Milly's Infamous Pumpkin Ale

This was another beer that was recommended to us. We got to talking about seasonal and flavored beers with a couple guys we were sharing a table with. Shipyard Pumpkinhead was bandied about as the best of the pumpkin beers but due to high demand they wouldn’t be serving this day. Milly’s Tavern was serving their pumpkin beer and with a sugar and spice rimmed glass it didn’t disappoint. It has a slightly sweet and malty aftertaste with plenty of pumpkin flavors, more so than I had recalled in any pumpkin beer I had ever had. The sugar and spice rimmed glass was a nice touch.

This to me is a steller drinker on its own, but paired with some squash pie and whipped cream might take both to another level.

( The line at White Birch began early and was ever present. )

Best Brewery – White Birch Brewing

I can never say enough the beers from White Birch. I started buying them in 2009 at Jasper’s Homebrew in Nashua and I have yet to have a bottle that I didn’t think was some of the best beer I had ever had. White Birch beers have big aromas and flavors and require attention to take them in. I like this in a beer, but truly understand that these types of beers are not for everyone.

Best Food Pairing – Cabot Horseradish Cheese with Sebago Local Harvest Ale

The cheese and beer pairing hosted by DrinkCraftBeer.com and Cabot Cheese was a lot of fun. With a lubricated audience the hosts had a tough time delivering their information, but they pressed on. Four pairings were offered and the best was the Cabot Horseradish cheese with Sebago Local Harvest Ale. The freshness of the well hopped beer was a great opposition to the spicy horseradish flavors in the cheese. The creamy cheese and a citrus finish from the beer created wonderful bite.

Biggest Surprise – Narragansett Lager

With a 120 year story in each can of Narragansett Lager I had no idea what to expect. I’m too young to have enjoyed any of the production prior the closure of the original incarnation of the brewery, and this event was the first time I had actually come across any from the new version of the brand. Pouring as a light golden colored lager I was unsure as to whether the same old Bud/Miller/Coors tastes were awaiting me. But not so! This beer is very bright and refreshing with flavors of grains and a nice clean finish. Very smooth and definitely drinkable. I would recommend this to folks who want to drink a little piece of New England beer history.

( Do I look like I'm having fun? )

About halfway through our adventure we checked out the BBQ and Sesame/Ginger chicken tenders from the Pattie Shack which is located on Elm. The Sesame/Ginger paired nice with the flavors in the Brooklyn Local 1. The Local 1 also helped temper the heat from the BBQ tenders. From the looks of it the Pattie Shack makes burgers, tenders and fries with flavor combinations and topping to satisfy everyone.

We also ran into Joan from The Drinkery, our new beer and wine store in Londonderry. She was on the hunt for new beers to stock. Doesn’t homework suck?

This event delivered on its advertised promises with lots of beer, decent food and entertainment. Richard and I both had a lot of fun and were exposed to quite a few new styles of locally made beer for future enjoyment. If you haven’t ever attended this type of event before and love great beer, keep an eye out in the Hippo Press for future activities.



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Slow Cooker Pork & Ethos Merlot

( Hungry? )

A few years back Margot and I both used the Weight Watchers program to lose weight and get to a manageable food lifestyle. Writing a food and wine blog makes that hard, but we are much more capable of intertwining healthy eating now so we no longer actively count points. During that time Margot picked up the “In Good Time - 123 Slow Cooker Recipes To Come Home To” Weight Watchers recipe book. We’ve used it so many times it has pages falling out of it! The recipes are really that good and when I work from home on Wednesdays I have plenty of time to have something going in the slow cooker.

This week I picked a recipe we hadn’t yet tried for Braised Pork Loin with Port and Prunes which can be found on page 47 of the book. We pick our weekly menus on Sunday to aid in the grocery shopping, but this also gives me time to think about beverage pairings. As I thought about what to drink with the pork I remembered we had a bottle of Ethos Merlot that we brought back from Chateau Ste. Michelle in May. We tasted it during the wonderful private tasting we had and it knocked both of our socks off! This is the best Merlot I have ever had, and one of the best bottles of red wine I have ever had the privilege to taste. We’ll get back to the wine in a minute.

A few weeks back Margot took advantage of a buy-one-get-one deal on pork loin roasts. It ended up being for the big ones so we have adapted this recipe for a roast 1/3 larger than the recipe called for. We also used two homemade wines instead of port. For the sweet component we used a wine we made in 2007 that we called Dark Magic made from grocery store grapes. Early on it was very funky, but it has mellowed now and the residual sugar makes for a great taste. We added some depth with some 2010 Chilean Malbec. This is from an early bottled 3 gallons that ended up being a bonus from the batch. It is young and not refined yet, but it is very drinkable with distinctive flavors and aromas. The color is very dark and I thought the richness would be fantastic in this dish.

Braised Pork Loin with Port and Prunes

1 (4½ lb) boneless pork loin
2 tsp ground black pepper

1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp ground mustard
1 ½ tsp dried sage
¾ tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 ½ cups sliced onion
2 leeks, sliced thin (white part only)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup dry red wine
1 cup sweet red wine
1 dry red wine
2/3 cup vegetable broth
20 pitted prunes
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp water

The process is pretty simple. The pepper, salt and spices are used to create a rub for the roast which should be cut in half crosswise. After applying the rub, heat the oil in a large pot. Once the oil is hot, brown the roast pieces on all sides. When browned move the roast to the slow cooker. I usually spray my slow cooker insert with some cooking spray to prevent sticking.

I added some additional oil to the pot used to brown the roast and then added the onion, leek and carrot, sautéing them for about 8 minutes. Add the wine and stock and scrape the bottom of the pot clean. Pour the wine and vegetable mixture over the pork in the slow cooker, add the prunes and bay leaves and cover. I cooked this on high for two hours and then low for another five hours. Make sure to remove the bay leaves before continuing.

( Ready to cook! )

When you are ready to serve it remove the pork to a heat-proof dish and keep warm. Transfer the contents of the slow cooker to a large pot and bring to a boil. Use the water and cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.

( This is what it looked like after I took it out of the cooker and it had sat in a warm oven for a few minutes. )

This dish was a jackpot. The pork was so tender that removing it from the slow cooker was a challenge. The combination of flavors was wonderful with the prunes and red wine providing a clear foundation of fruit and subtle sweetness. We served it alongside baked acorn squash that had been basted with olive oil and maple syrup. Incredible!

The wine didn’t fail us on our second taste. From the moment we smelled it we recalled our mutual agreement from the tasting. This bottle is from the 2005 vintage and my understanding is that it should be tough to find these days unless you are in Woodinville, WA! It has intense aromas of cherry and plum. You’d have to have the worst cold in the world not to be able catch the aromas. It is mouth-coating and silky, something I could sit and savor for far too long. The fruit flavors are what you notice first and there is slight gaminess to it that went really well with the pork. The wine is very balanced with noticeable tannins, but not in an overpowering way. The wine enhanced the perception of the spices and flavors in the food without losing itself. I don’t think I could easily have picked a better wine to pair with, although I am up for the challenge!



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sorority Sisters and Wine, The More things Change…

The more they stay the same. Only now rather than standing in a fraternity house basement and drinking Boones Farm we are in the wine tasting room at Chamard Vineyards. We still laughed and had a good time but the talk was more about careers, kids and husbands instead of dating and campus gossip (okay there was still some gossip). The wine had changed quite a bit too. Gone was the $1.99 bottle of Snow Creek Berry or Strawberry Hill Boones. Now we were enjoying our $10 tasting of Chardonnay and Merlot.

Located in Clinton Connecticut, Chamard Vineyards planted their first grapes in the spring of 1984. Their first wine, a Chardonnay, was released in 1988. Since then they have expanded to Cabernet, Merlot and some Pinot Noir, which is used primarily for blending. Our wine server explained that the non-estate grapes are sourced from Long Island. Currently the vineyard produces 6,000 cases annually. The vineyard was beautiful especially on a gorgeous fall day.

The tasting room was quite packed when we were there. We waited a bit to get to the bar, but the service was excellent and the atmosphere perfect. The $10 tasting consisted of five wines and we evaluated each. Those that are listed as “Estate” are from grapes grown on the premises. My primary co-taster was Julie, who along with her husband John, has become one of our wine buddies over the past few years.

2004 Chardonnay: With a fruity aroma that had a hint of honey this chardonnay has a “touch of oak”. That oak comes though as a slightly bitter vanilla taste. Julie was surprised that the finish reminded her of one that would be expected of a Shiraz as it was somewhat spicy and acidic.

2005 Estate Reserve Chardonnay – As advertised this has a very beautiful gold color. The aroma was of butter and dried apricots. The group agreed that this was a good “back deck” Chardonnay, meaning it is light and easy to drink. Though not overly memorable on its own, this is an example of a good delicate food pairing wine.

2006 Cabernet Franc – Both Julie and I were surprised by the brick red almost brown color of this wine. It had aromas of dark berries and chocolate and reminded me of a strong stout. This was very hot, almost to the point of overpowering the flavors. The body of the wine was quite thin. After our tasting many of us ordered a glass of the hot mulled wine which was delicious. We were surprised to find out that this was wine was the base for it. Everyone agreed that when used in that manner it was much better.

2006 Merlot – With a wonderful red color and strong aromas of licorice, leather and tobacco this wine appeared promising. The strong tannins and thicker body lived up to the aroma and color. This was a nice table red, but both Julie and I agreed that we would not have guessed it was a Merlot.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – With an aroma of dark cherries and a pleasant amount of spice this was the highlight of the tasting, to which everyone agreed. This would serve as an excellent pairing wine but also had the strength to stand on its own.

Overall this was a nice way to spend a fall day. We finished the outing sitting at a picnic table and talking. With a chill in the air, good friends and a warm glass of mulled wine we could not help but reflect how far we had come, and how much better this was then a fraternity basement and a bottle of Boones.



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Foodie Night In Dessert Party

I don’t make Foodie Night In (#FNIChat) every Monday but every occasion I do it is a great time. I took an early bus yesterday and was able to check in after I finished up some work stuff. The topic was desserts. I know a few things about dessert and can even attest to having lost quite a few pounds that were 100% dessert based!

I was following the tweets and answering some of the questions when one came by about the best gourmet dessert ever. It’s a hard question, but for me #1 is warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Always loved it, always will. The best part is that I make it so I know what to expect. I followed that up with two cheesecakes, both of which Margot is the master maker of, Triple Citrus with an Orange Liqueur Sauce and Peanut Butter Chocolate with a Fudge Sauce. That got the tweets going. Recipes were demanded! I promised I would dig them up when I got home and post them.

Both of these cheesecakes were first made years before we started our blog and Margot hasn’t revisited them since. Thus we don’t have any pictures. You will have to imagine them for now.

Triple Citrus Cheesecake with Orange Liqueur Sauce

1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs (crush with a rolling pin & crackers inside zip-top bag)
½ cup melted butter
3 packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp each of lemon, lime, orange juice (fresh)
1 Tbsp each lemon, lime, orange zest (try not to get white pith when zesting)
3 eggs

Mix the butter and cracker crumbs. Press into the bottom of a spring-form pan.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until very well blended. Mix in juice and zest. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing each until incorporated.

Pour filling over crust. Bake in a 350 oven for 45-50 minutes. Also place an oven safe bowl containing hot water in the oven with the cake. This will help keep the top from cracking. Cool completely.

Orange Liqueur Sauce

2 tbsp brown sugar
1 freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp Grand Marnier
1 tbsp Cointreau
1/2 tbsp brandy

Melt the sugar into the orange juice over medium-low heat. Add the liqueur’s and cook until thickened, only a few minutes. Drizzle over a slice of the cheesecake and serve!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake with Fudge Sauce

2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (we use Oreos)
½ cup melted butter
3 packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
3 eggs
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, warmed

Mix the butter and cracker crumbs. Press into the bottom of a spring-form pan.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until very well blended. Mix in chocolate. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing each until incorporated. Blend in the peanut butter.

Pour filling over crust. Bake in a 325 oven for 55-60 minutes. Also place an oven safe bowl containing hot water in the oven with the cake. This will help keep the top from cracking. Cool completely.

Fudge Sauce

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups of white sugar
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)

Melt the chocolate, butter and salt together as you normally would. Some people have a traditional double boiler, some people use the microwave and then a sauce pan. Add the sugar in six shifts, mixing it in completely each time. Slowly mix in the evaporated milk until the color and texture is consistent. Watch the heat during the whole process so you don’t burn the chocolate. Drizzle over a slice of the cheesecake and serve!

OK, we admit the two cheesecakes above are rich and decadent and the additions of the sauces makes eating them something to plan time for, but the question was best gourmet desserts, right?