Monday, January 31, 2011

Local Meads and New Cocktails

If you have followed me for only 1 minute you have likely seen a recipe for a cocktail around. I don't know what it is, but I love experimenting with flavors in the form of cocktails. I like a good drink too, so I bet that helps!

In the last post Margot and I sampled several local meads and shared our reviews. While I was sampling I of course I got to thinking about the cocktail possibilities and openly hoped I wouldn't have angry thoughts sent my way to the makers. Here is what I came up with.

The Yellowjacket

3 oz Moonlight Meadery Madagascar Mead
1 oz hand-infused vanilla vodka
1 oz hand-infused ginger liqueur
3/4 oz ginger/lemon syrup (Meyer lemons)

Combine, shake with ice, strain and serve.

The honey flavor comes through quite well and the rest of the flavors play nice with each other. I'll be making more of these!

Sweet Tooth Sidecar

5 oz Isaaks of Salem Sweet Tooth Mead
2 oz VSOP Brandy
1 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz ginger/lemon syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice

This is a twist on a classic Sidecar and it really does work. The mead adds complexity and sweetness that make the drink pop.



Saturday, January 29, 2011

Local Mead Tasting

Margot and I lined up three local meads to taste last night. We went simple with the pairings, aged sharp cheddar from Grafton Village Cheese Company and Double Stuff Golden Oreos. There is a story about the Oreos from our Rum TweetChat earlier in the week. You’ll find the story a bit farther down.

Mead is a fermented beverage traditionally made by fermenting honey and water. There are lots of variations on this basic construction like cysers, pyments, braggots, melomels, metheglins and many others. We mentioned Tej in our first post about the Discovery Series Brew Masters. Tej is an Ethiopian fermented beverage also classified as a type of mead. Wikiepedia has a list of all the types of mead and some history you might find interesting. The oldest record of mead productions from 7000 BC! I have made mead once, technically a combination melomel and metheglin, from blackberry puree, honey, water, nutmeg and yeast. I am planning on a making a vanilla/orange (think creamsicle) mead sometime this year.

When I say local I really mean it. Two of the selections are from Moonlight Meadery located in Londonderry, NH where we live. I could walk there in less than five minutes. I met Michael Fairbother, the owner and mead-maker, at the opening of the new space they moved into right before Christmas. Michael is very active with Brew Free Or Die a local homebrewers club to which I have yet to make my first meeting. The third selection is from Isaaks of Salem in Salem, MA. I heard about Isaaks of Salem through Twitter where Ian, the owner and mead-maker, is quite active.
We tasted them in two rounds, the first without food and to collect notes on the appearance, aromas and flavors. The second round was all taste and pairings with our cheese and cookies. We also paired the second round with the first new episode of season 2 of the FX series Archer, a huge laugh for rough around the edges types like us!

The first mead we tasted was the Moonlight Madagascar. It is made with honey, water, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans and yeast. This mead is light gold in color and brilliantly clear. Aromas of spice and candle wax were detected. I didn’t initially detect the vanilla aromas as I am used to them but as it breathed a little it came along. It is dry with a delicate texture. We found the honey flavor in the finish along with a bit of alcohol. If you thought candle wax (from the prior sentence) was weird get this, both of us agreed that the flavor of tamale or corn cake was predominant in the middle to the end. It was pleasing but definitely an interesting nuance. I quickly noted effervescence in the appearance during the first round and then again in a taste in the second round. It was subtle, but there.

The second tasting was of the Moonlight Desire. This mead is made with honey wine as well as slightly less than 10% each of black currant, cherry and blueberry wines. The color is of aged dark red bricks. Having made black currant and cherry wines before I noticed the parallel in the slight brown shift in the color. While this might be a sign of age in a traditional red wine, here it is something found in the young wines of those wine types. The blueberry and cherry aromas are wrapped in honey on the nose. This mead has incredible balance with noticeable tartness that transitions to a sweet finish. There are spiced flavors present but the fruit flavors a naked and accessible. The black currant comes through after a second and third taste with dried raisins being the most comparable description. Margot said it tasted like a berry blintz.

This past Wednesday Pam of @MyMansBelly organized a TweetChat with the topic of rum. I love rum and ended up posting three times leading up to it. I have posted lots of recipes for different rum drinks and if you are interested go find the post from the day of the event here. During the event Janis, Brian and I got to tweeting about Brian’s recipe base for Hot Buttered Rum. Janis mentioned that she was putting Southern Comfort in it to which Brian responded, and in his typically snarky way, “oh how delightfully trashy!” We all laughed quite a bit over the comment and Janis said that the acronym DT would now be a code word for all us. Not to let anyone down I used it on Friday when I asked jokingly how I could put a DT spin on my local mead tasting. And then came the recommendation to pair them with vanilla Oreos. It really isn’t a trashy idea and we have used cookies in wine tastings before so we were surely going to give it a go.

The final mead we tasted was the Sweet Tooth from Isaaks of Salem. I met Ian from Isaaks a few weeks back at the Boston Wine Exchange. He was in to share his meads with the shop owners and possibly get them to stock his available meads. Thankfully they did and I purchased both the Sweet Tooth, tasted here, and the Hopp Road Raspberry that will be tasted in a few weeks. This is a classic mead made form honey, water and yeast. Unfortunately the mead poured with a slight haze to it and an appearance of carbonation both visually and on the tongue. I don’t believe this is intentional and the question about the carbonation came up during my first tasting of it as well. Ian didn’t believe he could detect it and conjectured that not everybody might. He is quite right about that and I am sure is keeping track of how often this comes up for future reference. We picked up aromas of golden raisins white flowers, citrus blossoms and vanilla. I picked up the honey flavor in the middle of the sip and found a slight drying, almost like that you get from tannins, in the finish. Margot said it smelled like Sara Lee pound cake. I agreed and thought that might be something that would appeal to a lot of people.

( DT all the way! )

During the second round we didn’t find that the first and third meads were enhanced by or themselves enhanced the cheese or cookies. The Madagascar actually had its alcohol elongated by the cookie and it wasn’t pleasurable. The Moonlight Desire however, was excellent with both. With the cheese the Desire took on an elegance that held me in place for a bit. The cookie opposed the mead with just enough sweetness to match, and the tartness of the wine kept that sweetness in check. We both went back for both of more of those pairings.

I am a big believer that all food products (that aren't going to make you sick excepted) are owed respect and should be used. With that idea in mind I have plans to try some cocktail creations with the Moonlight Madagascar and the Isaaks Sweet Tooth meads. Nothing I am suggesting indicates that I didn’t like them, but I am taking a bet that I can find ways to increase my personal enjoyment of them through a little experimentation. Hopefully Michael and Ian aren’t going to hunt me down and kill me! The flavors of these two meads should make great anchors for drinks with traditionally neutral ingredients, think martinis, and might be accentuated with bitters and some hand infused spirits. This is sure to be a fun way to experiment with local products and who knows, we might even discover a new drink that everyone is going to want to have.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Relationship with Argentinean Malbec

I don’t recall the very first glass of Argentinean Malbec I ever had, but I am guessing it was in the early 2000’s. I likely picked it from a menu based on the description of it coming from a wine region on the rise and having been made from a well known French grape.

I do know that the empty bottle I pulled off a display shelf earlier today was one of the first ones I ever bought to enjoy at home. I vaguely recall pairing it with a steak covered in a red wine gorgonzola sauce that I was fascinated with at the time. I just took a photo of the label (above) to completely ferment this memory.

Recently I have ventured to make my own Malbec. Anytime I set off to make a new wine I am either inspired by a wine of the type and style I have already enjoyed, or I go out and find as many as I can to provide sensory cues that will be my guide. Argentinean Malbecs had not disappointed me up to that point so I set my sites on a few.

Early in April of 2010 we had dinner at Le Milsa, a Brazilian churrascaria, in downtown Montreal. I had read several very positive reviews of the Bodega Norton Malbec but found it was not available in NH where I live. My dinner partners approved of the selection when I requested it, and reiterated their approval upon tasting it. I found it to be subtle and focused, making a great match with the grilled meats I was enjoying.

Later in the month we opposed the Bodegas Escorihuela Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2008 and the Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Lunlunta 2007. The intensity of the Catena selection resulted in it being less talked about. I decided to shoot high and try for the Catena’s style fully knowing that my source of fruit and winemaking experience would be the reasons why I would or wouldn’t get there. The Gascon was a weird one, reallyonly being pleasurable with a lot of breathing time.

My homemade Malbec is coming along nicely, but it will need much more time before I can decide how well I have done.

My relationship with Argentinean Malbec goes back a few years and I hope it will extend for many more. The quality and selection of these wines is consistently increasing, providing all the fodder for continued adventures. If you haven’t yet embraced Malbec from Argentina, get to it!



Rum, Rum, I LOVE Rum!!!

( Appleton 12 Year - my favorite aged rum )

The history of the United States, and of much of the rest of the New World, has been written with a rum soaked pen. From the slave trade to an economic driver for the American Revolution to countless cocktail re-inventions in bars far and wide, this seemingly humble and mundane spirit has seen it all.

I don’t remember when I had m first taste of rum, it was likely on the sly and unlike my troublemaking companions at the time, I most likely loved it. I do recall rum balls, rum cakes and other rum soaked treats when I was young. They might not always have been closely guarded and I might have taken advantage of that as well. I do recall making rum soaked raisin ice cream and the killer buzz from punches containing rum and who knows what else during college. Light rums and spiced rums, it didn’t matter. Cruise to the Bahamas. Rum drinks. Pretty easy when the rest of the family is sea sick in their rooms and you are close enough to 18 for nobody to ask. Then I went to Jamaica.

( Ocho Rios, Jamaica - Christmas 2005 )

Appleton rum punch. It was everywhere. It was Spring Break after all. But I’m not kidding, it was everywhere. If you didn’t know what to order at the bar you might as well enjoy a rum punch while you made up your mind. Mixed up in big batches meant it could be poured like the Minutemen were ready to take up their arms. I met my wife on my Spring Break trip and she and I have been back to Jamaica three times since. On those trips you wouldn’t have caught me drinking anything but rum, on the rocks, juiced up or maybe a shot.

( Margot, on the right, drinking Dirty Bananas with new friends in Runaway Bay - 2009 )

Today from 4-6 PM PST will be a cocktail TweetChat (a recent exchange of Tweets determined that a TweetUp is an in person so TweetChat is the virtual meeting). The topic this month is rum! Use the hashtag #drinkup on Twitter to share your experiences and follow all the action. We will be celebrating rum cocktails, rum history, rum adventures, new products and stories about vacations planned in the search of rum! Check in with @MyMansBelly for @AncientFireWine for more information.

Music is a key partner for me and my beverage adventures. My best cocktail ideas and execution have come whilst groovy tunes have been emanating from the stereo in the room where I work, blog and hang out. I am partial to several styles of cocktail friendly music such as Downtempo, Trip-Hop, Nu-Jazz, Lounge and World-influence club tunes. Having the proper soundtrack to entertain, go out or just hang in is an essential for the mood. When done right the conversation flows, drinks go down at a reasonable pace and the rough spots of the day fade away. A perfect example is the sweet sound of Buena Vista Social Club in the air right now. This is my nod to Cuba and its rum traditions. Tonight during the TweetChat I’ll be tweeting what I am listening to as the music and the drinks pair up in all the right ways.

( Barbadian run, where it all started! )

A few years back I started looking around for information on rum, rum history and the different styles of rum. I’ve not nearly consumed all of what I found, but what I have read has pointed me in so many exciting directions that I can’t see wanting to stop the adventure.

If you are interested in those topics as well there are a few books I can recommend. They are all part of my library and since they generally include recipes for drinks or food made with rum, I’d call them reference books.
  • Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World", July 2005, Charles Coulombe
  • And a Bottle of Rum: A History Of The New World In Ten Cocktails, 2006, Wayne Curtis
  • Punch, 2010, David Wondrich
One book that isn’t about rum, although the historical context is inextricably related is:
  • Dark Tide, 2003, Stephen Puleo
If you want to set sail online in search of all things rum check out The Ministry of Rum.

In honor of our rum TweetChat I have pulled together a few more rum drinks to take with you on our voyage. There are two interesting things to note amongst all the recipes I have shared here and in my past rum posts linked below. First there are rums from several different locations including Barbados, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda and Puerto Rico. Secondly, the recipes include light rums, gold rums, dark rums, spiced rums, flavored rums and aged rums. I guess you could say I am equal opportunity.

Ancient Fire Rum Runner

2 oz Mount Gay Eclipse rum
1/4 oz Malibu rum
1/2 oz banana liqueur
1/2 oz blue curacao
1 oz lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
1 1/2 oz orange juice
1 dash grenadine
1 blood orange wedge & maraschino cherry for garnish

Mix in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish.

This drink is the color of a grasshopper but with a nice kick. It has the perfect balance of sweet, sour and alcohol. I can say that with authority because I am drinking one as I write this! The refreshment factor of this on a hot Caribbean day is off the charts.

 Meyer Lemon Aged Rum Sour
(adapted from Imbibe magazine Jan/Feb 2011, page 26)

2 oz Appleton 12 year old rum
1 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
¾ oz simple syrup
Orange twist
Shake, strain and serve.

This drink has amazing depth due to both the aged rum and the unique flavor of Meyer lemon juice. I am back in Ocho Rios on my second sip!

Ancient Fire Frozen Berry Daiquiri
(makes 2 drinks)

3 ounces Cruzan Aged Light rum
2 oz Ancient Fire Strawberry Wine
1 oz Chambord
6 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp Demerara sugar
8 oz fresh sliced strawberries

Dissolve the sugar into the liquid ingredients in the blender pitcher. Add ice and berries. Blend smooth. Serve in a tall glass with a straw. Garnish with a skewered slice of strawberry and maraschino cherry.

One drink that is worth a mention anytime you talk about rum is the Dark ‘N Stormy. It is made with 1 part Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and 3 parts ginger beer. This is an incredibly flavorful drink and is held up to be the national drink of Bermuda, where the rum originates. Check out the official recipe and lore at Gosling’s web site.

Leading up to the TweetChat I have posted several times with new rum drink recipes.

Last week was A Twist on Rum Punch.

Also last week I saw a tweet go by from @RumShopRyan who offered up a recipe for the Coconut Cruise Cocktail, a typical boat drink. Ryan can’t be with us tonight but said he hopes to send a picture from the beach in the Bahamas. I bet most of us will want to be with him!

Two weeks ago I posted recipe for Rum-based Hot Toddy. We sure as hell need this now with temps in the single digits in good ole New Hampshire!

I have written about rum many times, so much so I think it is more than other single styles of wine, beer or spirit. At the bottom of this post are links to my older rum-related articles.



Past Rum Related Posts

If You're Not Drinking Appleton, You're Just Not In Jamaica -

Rum Redux & Rumba -

Mixology & Getting Your Guests Involved -

Rum History & Boston -

Great Mojito Mint-Off, Guest Post from Kate at Kate Is Cooking -

Rum Treasure – Guest Post From the Spice Sherpa -

Ancient Fire Pirate Grog -

Boston: Wine, Food & a Molasses Flood -

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Many Flavors of Meyer Lemons – Act 1

The story of how I happened into Meyer Lemons appears to be developing into a legend. I saw excited tweets from Barbara at Vino Luci about Meyer Lemons on their way to her. I inquired about the source, and Kim from Rustic Garden Bistro and I were tweeting arrangements for some of my own not that long after. In a few days time I received a box of beautiful fruit for a very reasonable price (thank you Kim) and the ideas started flowing from there. I am going to do Meyer Lemons ten ways!!!

I have broken this adventure up into two parts. It would be too long as one, and this choice also allows me to finish up a few of the items that are derived from methods I will share here. You’ll see where the possibilities lie pretty quickly.

For anyone who follows my blog a bet on a cocktail would be an easy one. And I won’t disappoint, there will be two as well as a tincture (similar to bitters) using Meyer Lemon zest and 100 proof vodka that I’ll be using in drinks once it is ready.

Lemon butter sounded like a pretty cool way to capture the aroma and flavor of the beautiful fruit I received and postpone its enjoyment. This is a really simple process, it’s what you do with it where all the fun comes in. More on that in act two!

Lemon Butter

2 sticks of salted butter, slightly softened
1 & 1/2 Tbsp Meyer lemon zest

Mix butter and zest with a hand mixer. Seal in an air tight container and freeze or refrigerate. I froze mine until I divine a usage for it.

In the summer of 2010 I made sage infused lemonade more times than I can remember. The reception of it was always highlighted by an empty jug. Using Meyer Lemon juice was a great twist since its flavor is somewhere between and lemon and an orange and the sage works nicely in that in between space. This is again a very simple recipe.

Meyer & Sage Lemonade

1 cup fresh Meyer Lemon juice
1 cup sugar
Cold water to 2 quarts
8 sage leaves

Mix the first 3 ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Add the sage leaves and allow it to steep for 12-24 hours. Remove the sage leaves. Enjoy over ice.

As I was thinking about how to use as much of the components of the lemons as I could I got the idea to use peels and some thyme to create a bed to steam fish on. I don’t where the idea has its roots, but it seemed like it should work like a charm.

Lemon/Thyme Steamed Fish

I laid out slices of lemon peels, and juiced the lemons for the lemonade, topped them with sage and bay leaves. I then took a piece of Alaskan Code and laid it across the pile of peels and herbs. I lightly salted and peppered the fish and steamed it just until it flaked using my wok and bamboo steamer. The fish was very light in texture with hints of citrus and herbs in each bit. It was much more delicate than I had expected, I had never steamed fish before, and didn’t need tons of flavor to be immensely enjoyable. The wine pairing was a bottle of 2010 White Blend we made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier.

Another foundational component that I knew I needed to make was lemon sugar. I am guessing some of you already thought, to a rim a cocktail glass with! That is one usage and the other is a topper for lavender sugar cookies which I aim to make real soon. This is another recipe that couldn’t be simpler.

Lemon Sugar

1 cup of white sugar
Zest of 1 Meyer Lemon

Mix zest and sugar. Allow to dry in open container for an hour or so. If you don’t allow it to dry long enough it will clump. Seal in an airtight container and store in cool dry place.

Also along the cocktail lines is some ginger/lemon simple syrup. I love making my own simple syrups to add flavor and sweetness to cocktails. I can regulate the amount of sugar in my drinks and eliminate artificial flavors which really don’t measure up on taste.

Meyer Lemon/Ginger Syrup
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 - 2 inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
Peels from 2 Meyer Lemons

Bring the water to a boil and dissolve the sugar in it being careful not scorch it. Remove it from the heat. Add the ginger and lemon peels. Allow this to steep for 1 hour or until the flavors are strong enough for your tastes. Store in a airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month or so. I used this to make a drink I will share next time. For now I will leave you with a recipe for an Aged Rum Sour adapted from the most recent issue (Jan/Feb 2011, page 26) of Imbibe Magazine.

I am signing off with a rum drink as a reminder of the rum drink TweetUp going on tomorrow (January 26th) from 4-6 PM PST. The topic this month is rum! Use the hashtag #drinkup on Twitter to share your experiences and follow all the action. We will be celebrating rum cocktails, rum history, rum adventures, new products and stories about vacations planned in the search of rum! Check in with @MyMansBelly for @AncientFireWine for more information.

Meyer Lemon Aged Rum Sour
(adapted from Imbibe magazine Jan/Feb 2011, page 26)

2 oz Appleton 12 year old rum
1 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
¾ oz simple syrup
Orange twist

Shake, strain and serve.

This drink has amazing depth due to both the aged rum and the unique flavor of Meyer lemon juice. I am back in Ocho Rios on my second sip!

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of Meyer Lemons Ten Ways. Check back soon for the conclusion and more ideas how to use this exciting fruit.



Monday, January 24, 2011

Brew Masters Episode 3 & the 90 Minute IPA

Check out my introduction to the Discovery Channel series Brew Masters in my post from earlier in the month.

Episode 3 of BrewMasters has us thinking about the Dogfish Head (DFH) Punkin Ale, originally inspired by a competition winning beer Sam brewed before he went commercial. This beer is one of the brewery’s most popular and is brewed with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, brown sugar and of course pumpkin. I have never quested to try all the pumpkin beers I could get my hands on (yet, I will be doing so this year) so I have to regretfully admit I have never had this beer. It is only available in the Fall and sells out quick. This year I will be primed and ready to get it while I can! The twist in this story was a mixup with bottles that resulted in quite a few screwtop bottles being capped with traditional crown caps, a combination not used by Dogfish Head. The big concern was whether the bottles would leak and render the contents unworthy of distribution. The quality assurance team is called into action to run tests on the errant bottles over a short period of time to determine if they were experiencing any problems. In the end, although no problems were found, the beer was given to employees as part of the normal incentive program. The exuberant comments from several employees at being able to get this particular beer this way was a sure sign that they love where they work.

The second story of this episode was the newest “off-centered” idea from Sam, a beer brewed in partnership with Epic Beer of New Zealand. The brew is brewed using a porter base and smoked tamarillos, a tree tomato found in New Zealand. This beer hasn’t landed in the United States yet and I can’t say whether we would find it interesting or not. The competition it was entered in for Beervana, a New Zealand brewing trade event, did not net an award and it was clear some judges were not sure they could perceive the influence of the indigenous ingredient. At any rate the story did show us how beer fanatics from both sides of the planet can come together to do what they love.

Tasting the 90 Minute IPA

I have enjoyed the Dogfish 90 minute IPA many times. I haven’t had the 60 minute only because I really like this one. As for the 120 minute I just haven’t worked hard enough to get it when it is available. I will this year though.

This beer is a cloudy orange brown in color. The head dissipates quickly. The orange and floral aromas emanating from the glass turn on the enjoyment meter for me. The body has just enough sweetness to it to balance the sour citrus flavors. The malty flavors harmoniously hang with the citrus and pine components. The bitterness on the finish is just enough to be cleansing and the finish lasts. For me this is the best IPA I have ever had. In 2010 when I attended the NH Brewers Fest there was an IPA from Flying Goose which was incredibly pleasing and is on par for the hoppy components in this DFH beer. The Flying Goose version didn’t have as much body and sweetness so it couldn’t top this one, but it reminded me of the many times I have tipped back a DFH 90 Minute IPA. One word of caution. At 9% ABV the 90 Minute IPA creeps up fast. Drink them responsibly.

That wraps up installment two. Check back soon for reviews on Grain 2 Glass (ep. 4) and Ancient Ale (ep.) 5 and tasting notes on Midas Touch and Indian Brown Ale. Hopefully episode 6 will drop soon and I can sit down and try some new off-centered beers while watching the DFH crew create craft beer magic.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Twist on Rum Punch

( a Rum Punch and a Cool Runnings hanging out on the beach. )

One of my favorite drinks when on the island of Jamaica is rum punch. Memories of Jamaica are always very special for, because that’s where I met Margot. Technically I met her at Boston’s Logan airport on our way to Jamaica, but screw technicalities.

Rum punch is pretty much juice, sugar and rum, and is often mixed up in large batches to be consumed in kind. I’ve had it on every trip to the island and it packs a pretty mean punch (the play on words is totally intentional!) with sweetness, acid and a nice pleasing finish.

In chapter 5 of “And A Bottle Of Rum – A History Of The New World In Ten Cocktails”, written by Wayne Curtis, we find a whole section on Planter’s Punch, the origination of what we now know as rum punch. Rum fueled the history of the colonies and ultimately the United States, something many people don’t actually know. William Penn was said to have thought that rum punch consumption rivaled that of beer in the colony of Pennsylvania in the 1700’s. In this section of the book we also find a quote containing the four basic ingredients of early rum punch, “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.” Pretty simple.

( one of the drink signs at Sandals in Ocho Rios. I love their Rum Punch! )

On January 26th, 2011 from 4-6 PM PST there will be a cocktail TweetUp and the topic this month is rum! Use the hashtag #drinkup on Twitter to share your experiences and follow all the action. We will be celebrating rum cocktails, rum history, rum adventures, new products and stories about vacations planned in the search of rum! Check in with @MyMansBelly for @AncientFireWine for more information.

Here is my spin on rum punch to help guide you on your way to the TweetUp next week.

A Different Rum Punch
½ oz dark rum
1 oz lime syrup
2 oz gold rum
3 oz blood orange juice
4 oz Cabernet Franc dessert wine
Splash of Galliano
4 oz club soda

Mix all the ingredients, except the club soda, in a pint glass. Top off with the club soda. Add ice cubes.

( that's me killing a Rum Punch and a Yellow Bird in Ocho Rios. it was 10 AM! )

Earlier in the day @RumShopRyan asked on Twitter if anyone knew what today was. The answer was Boat Drink Day. I had to look that up because I am not really well versed in island and maritime drinking culture. Wednesday, was my answer. While correct and with sufficient wise-assery, I was wrong. I try.

Jimmy Buffett used the phrase boat drinks in the title for a 1979 song. The definition is of a strong drink, typically rum based, that can be easily made on a boat. Not to leave us hanging @RumShopRyan passed along the link to the recipe for the Coconut Cruise Cocktail, which can be found at I will surely be having one of these during our TweetUp next week!



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Granola Two Ways

( Martha Stewart granola, cooling )

Margot and I are constantly looking for recipes that can replace store bought prepared foods. While there are granolas you can buy from the store that are made with all natural ingredients and offer the high fiber and low fat that make granola a healthy breakfast or snack, not all granolas are created equal!

Making granola is very easy. Once you have tried it you will likely never want to buy granola again! For this this post we picked two different recipes with slightly different ingredients to make at home.

My mother made me a batch of granola as part of a Christmas gift. She used a recipe from Martha Stewart magazine. I thought we would start with that which harnesses maple, a friendly New England flavor.

We made a half batch of the original recipe with a slightly different mix of nuts.

1 ¾ cup rolled oats
1/8 cup chopped pecans
1/8 cup whole almonds
1/8 cup chopped walnuts
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla

The walnuts will burn if allowed to cook too long. Keep the mix agitated to avoid this.

The resulting granola was quite similar to the gift I received although I felt ours was a bit understated in comparison. I’ll have to ask my mom if she veered off the recipe somewhere. This granola is light in body. The sweet maple flavor intersects with enough salt to keep things balanced.

( ready for the mix! )

For our second recipe we pick the Easy Homemade Granola from the Amateur Gourmet blog. This recipe uses honey and brown sugar instead of maple syrup and adds dried fruit for some extra flavor and texture.

We made the full sized recipe. We used different nuts and fruits and altered the process just a bit.

2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Mix oats, cinnamon and salt together in one bowl. Whisk oil, honey, sugar and vanilla together in microwave safe bowl. Heat the wet mixture in microwave for 30 seconds. Pour wet over dry. Mix well.

Spread on a parchment covered baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. Mix after 15 minutes, add nuts and finish cooking. Allow to cool. Mix in fruit.

( how can you not want this? )

Margot and I both believe this is some of the best (Margot has said best ever several times) granola we have ever had. This is definitely a lot sweeter than the first recipe and the addition of the fruit definitely bumps of the texture. I am sure if we continue experimenting with granola we might find some additional secrets, but I would have a hard time not returning to this recipe as the basis for anything else I tried!

( ready to eat! )

I got a tweet, not long after I mentioned I was making granola, asking what the best wine pairing was with granola. I hadn’t thought about it but you can’t ask me such a question and not expect an experiment to happen! Cabernet Franc Ice Wine was my answer. The flavors between it and granola number two were in real harmony. It wouldn’t be something I would do often, but it sure was fun!



Sunday, January 16, 2011

Local Sips – Week of January 16, 2011

I only got out to one local beverage event this week, the Winter Beer Tasting at The Drinkery. In the week or so leading up to the event Joan sent out a note to her newsletter recipients with the list of winter beers she had on hand. She was asking us to vote on what would make the lineup on tasting night.

I had sampled several of the beers in the lineup at the NH Brewers Festival in 2010, and had included several others in the beer tasting at our holiday party. My votes were split between some I had had and some new selections.
  • Sam Smith Winter Welcome
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration
  • Woodstock Wassail
  • Shipyard Prelude
  • Rogue Mogul Madness
And the final lineup was:
( winter beers lined up and ready to sample! )

My tasting notes on the first four can be found in the holiday post linked above. The Woodstock Wassail was one I tasted at the NH Brewers Festival. The comment I made to my friend Richard then and that was backed up again this week, is that is smells like maple syrup covered French Toast. Several of the other tasters found that to be apt description.

The Otter Creek Black IPA was definitely interesting. Nice and hoppy like you would expect from an IPA with dark malt flavors reminiscent of a stout or a dark brown ale. This is definitely a winter warmer with some character.

( as you can see, the place was hopping! )

The beer I was most interested in trying was the Rogue Mogul Madness. I knew I was going to buy one even if I didn’t get to taste it, but Joan cracked one as soon as I asked about it. Thank you so much Joan!

The hoppy nose is nicely enveloped in malty aromas making for a pleasing warm smell. The malt flavors are reasonable and there is only a mild hit of acidity. This is a sweet spot of a hoppy/malty beer for apre-ski warming. I am hoping to visit Rogue later in the year. I might not want to leave!

( Rogue makes an interesting lineup of beers. )

Margot went with me to this event and of course got excited at the selection of beers to take home. She hadn’t had the Brooklyn Chocolate Stout yet so that was added to our mixed six pack. Also in the pack was one each of the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Midas Touch, Indian Brown Ale, Palo Santo Marron and Burton Baton. Reviews on these will show up down the line. We also grabbed a Rogue Mogul Madness and a Shipyard Prelude. I can’t wait to crack one of these after a snowshoe trek!

Some excitement for me came in the form of the case of Ballantine XXX Ale that I ordered being ready to take home. Ever since I read an article about this beer in the May/June 2010 Issue of Brew Your Own magazine I knew I both wanted to try this beer and to make a clone of it. Ballantine XXX is a unique beer and representing a slice of American brewing history. At the time it was first brewed (1850’s) it was more flavorful and had a bit more body that the lager beers typical for the time. It was dry-hopped imparting hop nose and flavor not found in the beers it competed with. It is the original American Pale Ale with a tasty hoppy character! I cracked one of them open when I got home and found exactly what I was looking for. A simple pale ale with a nice balance of grain and hop aromas/flavors. My version of this is going to be the perfect beer for summer parties. I expect to brew a batch of it in March or April.



*** Don’t forget that the Easter Seals Winter Wine Spectacular is coming up on January 27th. Tickets are sold out (or nearly so) but there are many other events going on during Wine Week. Check the event web site for more information.

Improving Your Wine Tasting Process & Skills

The enjoyment of wine (both everyday AND fine selections) can be markedly improved with changes in how your experience it. Most wine drinkers will at least have a sense that there is some sort of “process” to tasting wine. Maybe you swirl it around, smell it, take small sips, and consider what your senses are telling you. But what is really being sought here? To become truly accomplished at this you need two things, a good process from which to glean useful indicators and lots of experience. And I mean lots; think hundreds of hours.

I don’t have the hours or the breadth of varieties behind me to be an expert, and my process has been fairly simple to date. I aspire for more though. A few years ago I took several wine tasting and sensory evaluation classes that helped me develop an approach using the Four S’s, see, sniff, sip and summarize. Using this approach I am now confident to step up to a glass of wine looking for indicators of age, varietal, origin, oaking and other stylistic elements using my senses. I have used this process quite a bit and try to experience every glass of wine, beer and cider I come across in this way.

This past week I attended my first, and what will hopefully be a monthly occasion, tasting group with the Boston Sommelier Society. I plan to sit for the introductory class and exam in 2011 and I am sure I need to study the world’s wine regions more, but I also need to amp up my tasting skills. My goals for joining the group are to experience new wines, improve my tasting skills and network with a group of people who are also passionate about wine. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for me to determine that my goals would be accomplished with this choice. My comfort level rose immediately and I sat down to listen, learn and experience.
The tasting process they use in these sessions includes elements that are just what I need to take my skills to a next level. I thought I would share a few of the elements and my impressions of they will help me. Undoubtedly if you are also interested in improving your wine experiences there should be something here for you too.

Being an ”expert” always leaves room for new things to learn. My understanding from group members is that I am the only participant who makes their own wine. That perspective is a new element for the group with exciting potential. I shared a bottle of my Petit Verdot made in early 2010 with the group. It was recognized as a young, varietally correct example that likely had aging potential. The remarks about the fruitiness and clarity were delivered with enthusiasm. These ardent tasters with many more hours of experience than I, were genuinely excited to try something a little different than the usual. I couldn’t have been more joyful.

The tasting process is broken down into three sections, Appearance, Nose and Palate/Flavor/Structure. During the progression of the six wines we tasted there were also two final sections, Initial Conclusions and Final Conclusion. The wines are tasted blind so developing your senses in each of the first three categories above is essential. The conclusion sections are made fun by using a hangman concept where one taster in each round is not allowed to use anything but the information provided from the other tasters to try to hone in on the varietal and source of the wine. That taster has to provide conclusions without having looked at, smelled or tasted the wine. This really stretches your sensory muscles. Just what I needed! Coming to the wrong conclusions in this way as I gain experience will be so useful to help me navigate the aromas, flavors and breadth of styles I might encounter. Getting it right here and there will be a nice bump, but I need the hard lessons so I have to be realistic!

In the Appearance category the one item I wasn’t familiar with was Rim Variation. I asked for some help on what the process was and how what you see should be read. As an aside, one should be careful what they ask for with this group. The information can come at you like a fire hose! Ian was sitting to my right and showed me how to put a few ounces of wine in a clean glass and tip the glass forward (mouth away from you) to enough of an angle that you can see the variation in colors from the outer rim into the center. What you are seeing is the difference in the density of the wine from the center to the edge. You can glean a sense of age here, with older wines typically showing a graduation of hues between the center to the rim and younger wines being more consistent in color. The other metrics in the category are Clarity, Brightness, Color (both red and white), Gas or Sediment and Viscosity/Staining. Each of these has a scale which can be something like low/medium/high or in the case of Brightness, dull/hazy/bright/day bright/star bright/brilliant. Learning to perceive each of these degrees on the scale will take some time. (The value in being able to recognize these as these typically present in wines that are well made versus not or by style is quite clear.)

In the Nose category I found everything familiar except for Age Assessment. I had a sense of what might be sought after here but I didn’t think had ever considered assessing the age solely based on the aromas. As I listened to Marilyn, Roz, Jo-Ann, Ron and Ian discuss the nose of the wines in this way I realized I had thought about this more than I had realized. Your nose can give you a sense of the level of integration of the aromas. A wine that is developed should have a balance here and wines past their peak should give the sense that their aromas break down quickly. Obvious flaws can be picked up by your nose as well, but that is a different metric. A note that can’t be stressed enough. If you want to experience the aromas of a wine you have to get your nose in the glass. I have often seen people afraid to stick their nose into a glass of wine. What are you afraid of? You don’t look foolish. To the experienced you will look like someone who is trying to use their senses to learn something about the wine they are about to drink.

I’ll consider the last category and the fun of developing conclusions in a future post. For now I will summarize my experiences and share a few of the surprises during the tasting.

Overall I left feeling much less anxious than when I arrived. Flat out, I was sure what to expect. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know much about the potential backgrounds of the participants and I felt like it was likely I had a lot less experience than the folks I would be meeting. I met people who run wine shops, work at distributors, some who are primarily educators with many of them doing some of that only part time. Sound like me. I definitely am on the lower end of the spectrum of experience but when everyone shows up with a desire to learn that really doesn’t mean much.

One of the wines that befuddled all of us turned out to be the Beringer Private Reserve 2008 Chardonnay. None of us could really place it. It had flavors of cooked pear, it was off-dry and had aromas of spices. An oaked Chardonnay wasn’t out first guess. This selection will likely run you about $40. It was enjoyable but I would stop short of a recommendation. It didn’t blow me away.

The wine that did blow me away was also the one we all honed in on right away. A 2005 Spatlese Riesling from the Rheingau. The fruit, flower and spice aromas were bursting out of the glass. It was off-dry (as it should be) with flavors of fruit blossoms and honey. We all enjoyed tasting and considering this one!

I hope I have included tips here that will help you the next time you step up to a glass of wine to try. I truly believe you can increase your enjoyment taking the short time to consider the wine before you get back to your socializing, eating or whatever the wine is an accompaniment for.

As I attend future meetings I will share more tips, wines worthy of a taste and events that might be going on where you can flex your wine tasting skills.



Friday, January 14, 2011

Brew Masters – “Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People”

When I first heard that The Discovery Channel was going to be airing a series called Brew Masters and it would be about the Dogfish Head (DFH) brewery I was pretty psyched. I have enjoyed their off-centered brews for over 10 years and knew their story was one of passion, creativity and fun-loving people who worshiped beer. I was sure I didn’t know the whole story though.

The series was initially slated for a six episode run. I have watched the first four so far. The fifth episode aired when I was not at home, the DVR decided not to tape it and it is not yet available on demand. The sixth and final episode has been slow in coming amidst rumors that the show had been cancelled. The rumors are not true, and the word is the final show is in the works. What is still unclear is whether the show has a future and neither The Discovery Channel nor Dogfish Head is saying. After having enjoyed the first four episodes what I can say is that future or not, this show was very educational and entertaining. If you want to get the inside story on a small craft brewery started by a guy with crazy ideas and lots of energy, find Brew Masters.

It would only be fitting that I would be enjoying several styles of Dogfish beer as I recap the first two episodes of the show for you. The selections for this installment are the Raison D’être and Chicory Stout. I’ll get started with the first episode and get back to the beer tasting a little farther along.

Starting off the series we are introduced to Sam Calagione, the founder of the Dogfish Head brewery located in Milton, DE. He started home brewing in the 1980’s and ended up winning the annual food and beverage competition at Punkin’ Chunkin’ for his pumpkin beer. This is an event that Sam says got the ball rolling. In 1995 the brewery opened as a brew pub in Rehoboth Beach, DE. The brew pub is still there, very popular and the site of frequent product tasting and unveilings.

Dogfish Head is known for creating “extreme beers”, e.g. beers with unusual ingredients and/or unique processes. While some beer drinkers believe this to be a scourge, I appreciate the diversity and the story behind each of their beers.
The first episode is entitled “Bitches Brew”, a reference to the classic Mile Davis album from 1970.

Early in the episode Sam takes the camera crew to a wall in the brewery where there is the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Why so would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

 I myself am a Thoreau guy but I can appreciate the sensibility in the Emerson quote, living much this way myself. Clearly the reputation of Dogfish Head, Sam and his crew live up to this lofty idea.

Tasting the Raison D’être

According to the brewery web site and the packaging this beer is made with Belgian beet sugars and green raisins. The beer is a dark reddish-brown (the bottle says mahogany) with an ever so slightly sweet, malty aroma. The off-white head came up nicely and left a light lacing on the glass. The body is full with flavors of generously roasted malts and grains. We easily detected the influence of the raisins, comparing it to our wines made with the influence of black currants. I love a good brown ale and the sweet malt flavors of this one definitely did the trick. At 8% alcohol by volume (ABV) these could be dangerous!

Back to the show. What’s with the episode name? The primary story of this episode was that Sony approached Dogfish Head about creating a beer to debut with the re-launch of Bitches Brew. The beer they came up with was a blend of an Imperial Stout and the ingredients typically found in an Ethiopian fermented beverage named Tej. Sam clearly has immense creative vision to be able to consider the elements of his craft and how they can be blended in a tribute to the work of someone like Miles Davis. I haven’t had the beer yet so I can’t give you a first-hand review.

During the episode you are introduced to a number of interesting people including Floris, the DFH master brewer from Belgium, Sam’s wife Mariah who heads of DFH marketing, Katrinka their resident yeast expert and lab goddess, and Brian the right-hand-man brewer Sam relies on to handle R&D for his all crazy ideas.

The ultimate blend they come up with for Bitches Brew is ¾ Imperial Stout and ¼ Tej-based brew. While the genesis of the beer might seem crazy, Sam can really think big. His plan was to brew the beer and debut it a Savor, a high-profile industry event for craft beer and food pairings. We see Sam rolling in the fresh kegs, tapping them and serving them to his self-admitted very discerning audience. The feedback was positive overall and the little research I did suggests the beer was well received but hasn’t risen to the status of one of DFH’s best.

The hilarity of this episode is the rap Sam and Brian put together and their rap group The Pain Relievahs. They filmed themselves making a version of the song all decked out in 80’s era rapper gear and using locations in an around the brewery to provide phat visuals. Did I just write that?

You can check out clips of the show including the rap “Makin’ Bitches Brew” as the show’s web site at

Tasting the Chicory Stout

This is a very dark brown, almost black, ale with a strong coffee aroma. The bottle indicates that the beer is smoothed out with a touch of Chicory and Mexican coffee. The tan colored head dissipates quickly leaving minimal lacing on the glass. The classic stout flavors of chocolate and coffee are easily accessible. With a nice kick of acidity on the finish the flavors lingered just long enough to make me smile. I am not familiar with Chicory so I can’t say I know what the influence is in the beer. This beer is 5.2% ABV, making it a little easier to line up a couple to drink! Margot liked this one the best, and she doesn’t say that about dark beers very often.

The second episode is entitled “Chica” which refers to a Peruvian brew made from corn that has had its starch conversion aided using human saliva. Are you still reading? Beer nerds will know about the process at work here, but the application of saliva is a unique answer to the problem that is done in the modern era by cracking the grains and mashing (not like potatoes) them in hot water.

This episode takes Sam to Peru in search of the process and the local versions of Chicha. Watching a very experienced Peruvian woman working up a batch of Chicha was a lot of fun for a home brewer. I agree with Sam in his pursuit of appreciating the craft in its historical context.

Sam's hope for the trip was to gain insight into the process to build on an earlier experiment in making it at DFH. The humor involved in asking employees to chew corn on the job had me rolling! Interviews with members of the public who we on hand to sample the new brew were interesting. Despite the fact that the saliva is no longer present in the beer and any creepy crawlies had been long since boiled off didn't seem to sway some folks from passing on a taste. Can't please everyone!

You can check out clips of the show including at the show’s web site at

One of the historical tidbits I took away from the episode is where the traditional ingredients for beer derive their esteemed history from. Hops are a relatively new addition to beer brewing. Before the 1300’s spices like rosemary and thyme were used to flavor beers. Hops not only add bitterness and flavors, but they also have an antiseptic quality that helps preserve beer. In 1516 a German beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, established that that beer would have only four ingredients, malt, hops, water and yeast. That pretty much settled it and beer laws all around the world now levy this requirement on commercial brewers.

In the end Sam confirms that the research done in Peru definitely improved the second batch of Chicha which was only available at the brewpub and for as long as it lasted. The beer isn’t commercially viable made the way they made it, something that makes a trip to the brewpub a must do. You never know what you might be able to sample that you can’t get anywhere else!

While I was doing my research I came across another blogger’s post about Dogfish Head and a New Years Eve dinner they enjoyed in 2009. Clearly DFH knows how to make good beer AND have a good time!

*** After I first published this I realized I forgot to include a link to Renee's post on making Pork & Sauerkraut with DFH Indian Brown Ale. Renee publishes the Eat. Live. Blog. and is one of my Boston foodie friends. The pic with her taking a swig and tending to the pot on the stove pretty much sums it up!



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Inspiration for a Rum TweetUp!

On January 26th, 2011 from 4-6 PM PST there will be a cocktail TweetUp and the topic this month is rum! Use the hashtag #drinkup on Twitter to share your experiences and follow all the action. We will be celebrating rum cocktails, rum history, rum adventures, new products and stories about vacations planned in the search of rum! Check in with @MyMansBelly for @AncientFireWine for more information.

In preparation for our TweetUp I offer some inspiration in the form of a rum based hot toddy, the Hot Buttered Rum.

Ancient Fire Hot Buttered Rum
(Makes two drinks)

2 oz dark rum
2 oz gold rum
6 oz water
1 tsp spiced simple syrup (recipe below)
1 tsp dark brown sugar
6 drops vanilla
1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 Tbsp butter, cut in two pieces

Place the equal portions of cinnamon stick and vanilla in 2 heatproof mugs. Heat the rum, water, simple syrup and sugar in a saucepan until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and pour into the mugs. Put the pieces of butter on top of each and let it melt into the mixture.

Spiced Simple Syrup

2 cups water
4 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves
6 allspice berries

Heat water to boiling. Add spices. Remove from heat. Allow to steep for 1 hour. Return water to boiling. Add sugar. Mix over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

*** Bonus – I first made the spiced syrup (above) for a drink I entered into the Woodford Reserve Well

Crafted Manhattan competition. I didn’t win and the person who did made a ginger infused drink. The drink doesn't contain rum, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share the recipe with you!

The Applesauced!

2 oz Woodford Reserve
2 oz fresh sweet cider
1/2 oz spiced syrup
1/4 oz ginger liqueur
splash of lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine, stir and serve. Add a cinnamon stick and orange twist for garnish



Curried Pumpkin Soup

Curried Pumpkin Soup

2 cups baked pumpkin
2 cups water
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 shallots, diced
2 Tbsp garlic paste
1 Tbsp ginger paste
2 Tbsp green curry paste
2 tsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup non-fat coffee creamer
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp nutmeg

For this recipe I used fresh pumpkin that was baked in October and had been frozen. You can use canned pumpkin if you like.

Place the water and pumpkin in a blender and blend smooth.

In a large saucepan heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Sauté the shallots, garlic paste, ginger paste and curry paste for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Bring the soup to a simmer and reduce the heat. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve hot. This soup is spicy on account of the green curry paste we used. My wife added some sour cream to cut down the heat. Alternatively you could produce a less spicy soup using less of the paste and compensating with additional garlic, ginger, and spices of your choosing.



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Slow Cooked Venison with Butternut Squash & Parsnips

So I get this weird e-mail from a co-worker last week. “Want any venison?” He doesn’t hunt (that I knew of) so I wasn’t exactly sure whether there was a punch-line somewhere or it was a legitimate question. It turns out it was a valid question. A friend of his uses his house a base for hunting and had taken down a deer over the weekend. Payment for the friendly use of his place was some of the kill. I ended up with a three pound roast.

I’ve had venison several times before, but had never cooked it myself. Margot had seen a recipe for a Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash in a the Jan/Feb 2011issue of Cooking Light magazine (p. 80 or at the Cooking Light website). We had planned on making this recipe over the weekend with some local grass-fed beef. I used the recipe as a guide to develop a slow cooker meal around our newly acquired local venison roast.

Most of the slow cooker recipes I have made call for some amount of packaged stock (chicken or beef). I often use vegetable stock instead, but I felt like trying something different for this recipe. I also needed a bit more volume than the tagine recipe called for it to cook it all day. I used ½ of a bottle of Cote du Rhone wine, 1 cup of water and Vegemite. One of the recommended usages for Vegemite is to add flavor and salt to soups and stocks so I thought I might try it here.

Slow Cooked Venison with Butternut Squash & Parsnips
 1 3lb venison roast, trussed

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup red wine
5 garlic cloves, whole

Slow Cooker Preparation
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
5 shallots, sliced
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
½ bottle Cote du Rhone red wine
½ cup water
1 tsp Vegemite
24 oz fresh chopped tomatoes (mine were frozen from the summer) or 2 - 14 oz cans diced tomatoes
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 large butternut squash, 1 inch cubes
4 large parsnips, ½ inch slices
Salt & pepper

Place the roast in a zip top bag. Combine the next 9 ingredients and mix well. Pour the mixture over the venison and close up the bag with as little air within it as possible. Shake the bag to distribute the marinade. Double bag the marinating roast and refrigerate it overnight.

Assemble your slow cooker and coat the insert with non-stick spray. Turn it on to high setting and cover. Remove the roast from the marinade, patting it dry. Discard the marinade. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Apply salt and pepper to the roast. Brown the roast on all sides. Remove the roast and place it in the preheated slow cooker. Add the remaining oil to the pan used to brown the roast, increasing the heat to medium-high. Sauté the onions and shallots until just beginning to get brown. Add the paprika, cinnamon, ginger and crushed red pepper. Mix and allow to sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine, water and Vegemite. Mix the vegemite in. Scrape all the savory bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the tomatoes and garlic. Simmer for 5 minutes. A slight amount of thickening will occur. Remove it from the cook top.

Pour this mixture over the roast, add the bay leaves and place the cover on the slow cooker. Cook on high for 2 hours. Reduce the heat to low and cook for two more hours. After 4 hours of cooking, add the squash and parsnips, covering them in the hot cooking liquid. Add more wine or water if needed. Continue cooking for 4-5 more hours, until the meat has reached the desired consistency. We like ours to be soft and easily broken apart. Serve the meal in a bowl like a stew with crusty bread and red wine.

I let Margot dig in first. I love to gauge what I am in for from her reaction. She couldn’t stop saying how good it was. “Jay, seriously. This is really good.” I was busy pouring a glass of homemade Amarone to pair with the meal. I handed that to her and asked for a read on the pairing. Her immediate reaction was, “This works perfectly. The meat and vegetables are spicy and the wine complements that very well.” I sat down to dig in myself. Everything she had said was immediately confirmed. If somebody else served this to me and forgot to mention the type of meat, I would never have guessed venison. The wine is full bodied with a little sweetness and a bit of spice that stacked up well with the meat, sauce and vegetables.

The meat was soft and came apart with just a gentle action with a fork. Both the butternut and parsnips were soft but not falling apart. I did thicken (with cornstarch) some of the liquid from the slow cooker to pour over the meat and veggies. This choice really kicked up the flavors, something I would definitely recommend. There is indeed some spiciness from the crushed red pepper. If you have a low tolerance for heat I would recommend dropping the crushed red pepper from the second portion of the recipe.

I look forward to making this type of recipe again sometime. I am not a hunter, but the enjoyment of this meal made me think about how cool it would be to have my very own kill stored away in the freezer!



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Easy Baked Crab and Artichoke Dip

( you can see all sorts of stuff going on in here, and you can't wait to eat it! )

During the New Year’s sales at our local Shaws we bought two cans of fancy crab meat, which were on sale for almost 50% off. These are the ones that are packed fresh, must be refrigerated and don’t have a long shelf life. We used the first one at our New Year’s brunch and crab cakes the next week, but the second can’s time was counting down. What to make?

I know. A baked crab and artichoke dip! The recipe below is adapted from several past experiences, both versions we have made and those friends have shared with us. It is really easy and can be ready in a little over 30 minutes.

Easy Baked Crab & Artichoke Dip

1 - 16 oz can fancy crab meat
8 oz of artichoke hearts, chopped
1 package 1/3 reduced fat Philly cream cheese, softened at room temperature
½ cup regular mayonnaise
½ cup fat free mayonnaise
¾ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
4 green onions, sliced (white and light green part only)
1 tsp garlic paste
1/8 tsp smoked paprika

( these were screaming for a close up! )
Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whip the cream cheese, garlic paste and mayonnaises together. Add the rest of the ingredients and spread into a glass baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until bubbly.

Serve with pita chips, crusty bread or whole wheat crackers. This dip freezes and reheats very well.

We enjoyed the dip for lunch yesterday and with that meal happened upon a great pairing with one of our homemade wines. Margot made a wine from the Symphony grape in early 2010. The wine was tasting very well a few months later and we have shared it with friends several times. We opened a bottle this week and found the fruit was popping with intense flavors of peach. The wine is crisp with a shortish finish, a good all around drinker.

We added a small handful of oak chips to this wine for 3 days during its clarification phase. The effect was to create a slight smoky underpinning. Our initial impression was that it tasted like grilled peaches. This is still present, but has mellowed to just the right place. The creaminess and mix of flavors in the dip went together with the wine perfectly. I’m sure both of us could have eaten all the dip and drank all the wine in one sitting if we hadn’t had other things to go and do!



Crab Dip