Thursday, March 31, 2011

Super Sunshine Starter Strawberry Smoothie

Mornings typically end up being busy days for me. Cleaning up the kitchen, blog posting, making the coffee and possibly prepping for that evening’s dinner; sometimes I don’t end up with much time for breakfast.

Enter the smoothie. They are so easy to make. With the early morning spring sun showing its face, fruit smoothies taste even better.

They taste sort of like dessert, but generally don’t have excess sugar that is hard for the body to handle. My favorite combination is banana, strawberry, vanilla almond milk and orange juice. For this recipe I used strawberries I picked at Sunnycrest Farms in Londonderry, NH where I live. My wife and I picked them in June of 2010 and they are excess from what we picked to make our award winning strawberry wine. We froze them the day we picked them and take them out of the freezer in small amounts as we need them. Sunnycrest is only a few miles from my home. It is an understated farm with extraordinary produce. We buy a variety of fruits and vegetables in every season from them. We have used their berries and cherries in wine, cider, pies, desserts and of course, smoothies.

Super Sunshine Starter Strawberry Smoothie

1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen strawberries
6 oz vanilla almond milk
4 ounces orange juice

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve in a pint sized glass.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Talking Torrentes

I vaguely remember the first time I had Torrentes. I was at a small wine tasting put on by a local wine distributor and it was presented as something new they were carrying, but no information about it. I sipped it, didn’t think much about the wine and actually forget the name of the grape until the Second Glass Wine Riot in Boston last year.

At that event I came across the Yellow & Blue (Y+B) Torrentes 2009 and remembered what had been lost after my first experience. I actually went to find my wife and dragged her back to the table to try it. Huge aromas of flowers, peaches and melon get to you before you even get your nose all the way to the glass. It is light with lime that kicks in and stays with you through the finish. This is the signature of this style of wine.

We ran into the Y+B again this year at the Winter Wine Spectacular. I went to get a taste as soon as I saw it. I would call it my favorite of the ones I have had to date. It is also organic and comes in an eco-friendly container.

At that same event I also got to try the La Puerta Torrentes. Another hugely aromatic example of this type of wine. The La Puerta had a smooth finish and the citrus along for the ride.

My favorite Torrentes experience though was last Saturday. I picked up a bottle of the Alamos Torrentes 2009 to review and then share with some friends. I was pretty confident most of them would have never had it. As a wine educator these opportunities are a great way to connect people with new wines. Here’s what they said:

Cindy – “mmmmmm” and “crisp & refreshing.”

Chris – “Bright & lively. Would go great with shellfish or summer salad with ripe tomatoes.”

Wayne – “Lime sherbet. Crisp with a nice fruit quality.”

Missy – “Would be great with BBQ chicken!”

Everyone really enjoyed it and most people said they would look for it again. My job is done here.

I captured my review of the Alamos Torrentes in a short video embedded below.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thank You for Supporting the Relay For Life

( Margot, 2nd from right, and some of the ladies who supported us. Patty trying to coax Jeanette's daughter into the picture. )

In early Feburary with Foodies Giving Back I shared the story of my cancer fighting team of volunteers and fundraisers. We don’t rest on our laurels. No matter how successful we might have been we are always back in a new year with a new mission and goals at least as big.

We are underway with our fundraising and one this that is different this year from last, is that I will be using my blog an Twitter to solicit support from beyond my local area. The fight against cancer is important to everyone because cancer has or will affect everyone’s life directly or indirectly. That is a sad reality to grasp, but we are here, we are fighting, and we will win! We must have HOPE!

If you would like to support the fight against cancer with a 100% direct and tax-deductible donation please use the link below. (2012 link, updated just in case people wander through. Please donate!)

We (Margot and I) held a wine tasting at our home last weekend to raise funds and thank many of our long time donors for their continued support. It is a causal affair, wine, snacks, some drawings for prizes and good conversation. We raised $800 through invitations and attendance at the event. If you attended and/or donated we thank you so much. If you haven’t donated yet, we hope you will consider it. As I told the assembled guests, we know where the money goes. We have met people who have benefited from the programs and services of the American Cancer Society right here where we live. We can see how the money we (you, us and everyone involved) raise reduces suffering and saves lives.

This year we were lucky enough to stumble on prizes that we wouldn’t have easily secured on our own. The folks from Our Cook Quest arranged to the have prizes from their recipe contest that didn’t draw enough participation to complete. We added a bottle of our Strawberry wine into the mix and we were off!

I find myself at a low point with the availability of homemade red wine so it was also a stroke of luck that Dave & Robyn, new winemaking friends of ours, are primarily red drinkers and had 3 styles to share with us. I was so excited to showcase someone else’s wine at our event as well. And from the feedback and my own tastings the Shiraz and Dolcetto were excellent examples of their styles and very pleasing to drink. Thanks Dave & Robin!

We opened bottles of our Strawberry, Unoaked Chardonnay, Viognier, Dandelion, Jalapeno, Riesling Ice Wine and Pinot Grigio. We also had a bottle of our Amarone (red) to put out.

For snacks we went with primarily heat-and-serve, but I did make the Cheese Straws again. Grafton Village Cheese picked up the tweets and the recipe is making the rounds through their fans as we speak. We also put out veggies and cheese & crackers. Our friend Amy tackled the sweet angle with thumbprint Russian Teacakes with raspberry jam in the middle. They were so good!!

Drawing Winners

Fine Cooking Grill It! & Pasta Fresca – Missy G
Ancient Fire Strawberry Wine – Amy & Brian W
Fine Cooking Breakfast & Cuccina Rustica - @eatingwmeaning
Amanda Hesser NY Times Cookbook - Amy & Brian W
In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite – Cyndi M
Fine Cooking Soups and Sandwiches, Cuccina Fresca & 15 Minute Meals – Robyn D

Much thanks to Our Cook Quest and the supporting sponsors for the prizes. They definitely attracted some attention and were a nice spin for this year’s event.

Will the Survivors Rule! team eclipse $10,000 again this year? I don't know. I never do, and then something happens and we seemed to get there. I do know that to reach that goal takes support from lots of people, including you. Thank you for supporting us.

Sadly 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. I would like to say that the work we all do today will radically change that, but I can’t stop long enough to figure that out. This battle rages on and we need your help.



Monday, March 28, 2011

The Ancient Fire Wines Facebook Fan Page

On Saturday and Sunday I tweeted and posted about the cheese straws that I had made again. Wouldn't you know it, @GraftonCheese saw the tweets and asked if they could post the picture and recipe to their Facebook page. Of course you can! I'd love for more people to see and use the recipe.

That got me thinking. I setup a fan page for Ancient Fire Wines on Facebook last year but hadn't used it much. I am betting I should. How do you use your own Facebook fan page for your food blog? Do you just post links to your blog entries or do you post exclusive content only on Facebook? How much fan interaction do you get? Is is better or different than on the blog site?

If you use Facebook for you social media networking come find us to see what is going on at Ancient Fire Wines.

 Go ahead and Like us on Facebook. You know you want to!



Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Toast to Beer Week

I was bouncing around in a local Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago on a mission to buy a gift for a friend’s daughter. As I walked by a section of books of local interest a book with the title “Brewing In New Hampshire” caught my attention. The book is a collection of pictures and historical information about the craft of brewing and its roots in the state. How cool!

It seems fitting then that I would finish Beer Week with reflection on the history of brewing in NH and give a nod to some of the breweries who carry this tradition forward in the 21st century. To do that justice I also offer my review of a wonderful and unique beer from White Birch Brewing, a relative newcomer to the NH brewing scene.

Strawberry Banke (Portsmouth) was the most likely location of the brewing of the majority of beer consumed by early colonists to what would become the state of New Hampshire. It was there that Capt. John Mason maintained stores that sold provisions, including malt. This was around 1635.

According to the book it isn’t known for sure who the first person was to brew beer in the state that was not also operating a tavern, the source of most beer available into the 1700’s. The credit is given to William Pottle Jr. of Stratham who made his brews available to several taverns in operation at the time. This was just before the American Revolution.

Fast forward to the mid 1800’s, and then into the 20th century, with the Frank Jones Brewing Company. Frank Jones is described as a business savvy and enterprising guy who became the most successful single brewer in the history of the state. At its peak the brewery’s production topped out at 165,000 barrels.

Considering all that Frank Jones accomplished at the time that he did and adjusting for current value, those are ultimately some big shoes to fill.

In the ten years that I have lived in New Hampshire I have enjoyed beers from many of the breweries in operation in the state, and have been lucky enough to be an early drinker of some of the newer one to come online. While I haven’t visited the all (trust me I am working on it) I have found so many great beers produced right here in my proverbial backyard. Last year at the NH Brewers Festival I had my first tastes of a great IPA from Flying Goose Brewing and a cask aged Imperial Stout from Moat Mountain Brewery.

My favorite new brewery in the state is White Birch. I remember buying my first bottle of their Tripel at Jasper’s Homebrew & Retail shop in Nashua a few years ago. The yeasty aroma lifted off the white head in my tulip glass. The spiced and bready malt flavors were wonderful. With a higher ABV than many commercial beers one bomber was enough to bring a smile. I was hooked!

My Review of White Birch Indulgence

This beer pours pitch black with a dark brown head that dissipates at a moderate pace. Aromas of coffee, dark chocolate and coconut emanate from the glass. The sweet & roasty aroma is one of the most pungent I have ever experienced. The fine carbonation helps to circulate the dark roasted chocolate malt flavors around the mouth. The depth and intensity of those flavors really is amazing. This is more than a porter and more than a stout which is exactly how it is described at the White Birch Brewery web site. This is a truly delightful beer, and an indulgence, one that I would not drink every day but will surely miss when I want it and there is none to be found.

I made a version of my Cherry Bomb (cherry cider and stout) cocktail with the beer. I didnt use a lot of the beer since I mean no disrespect, but it is just that damn good that I had to. It is definitely the richest and most exquisite incarnation of the cocktail that I have ever made.

One brewpub that I haven’t gotten to and hear great things about is the Portsmouth Brewery. I am hoping to make a trip out there next weekend and try the beers and the pub food. With luck my plans will stick and I will share my food and drink review with you the week after.

Do you know your own local beers? What local styles do you enjoy and do you seek out local beers when you travel elsewhere in the world? Share your stories in a comment.



Four Star Cheese Straws

I made the cheese straws again. This time I used Grafton Village Cheese Four Star Cheddar which I bought as bulk ends at the factory store in Brattelboro. There is nothing like getting a great product at a fantastic price. It didn’t need to look pretty because I was going to cook with it!

I made both a rosemary and a red pepper version this time.

Four Star Cheese Straws

12 ounces chopped Grafton Village Four Star Cheddar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed rosemary (batch 1)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (batch 2)
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream

Set the oven to 350°F.

Place everything but the cream in food processor. Pulse until coarse crumbs appear. Add the cream by the tablespoon and process until the dough forms a ball.

Flour a rolling surface and a rolling pin. Separate the dough into two pieces and form each into a ball. Roll the first dough ball into a rectangle that is about 1/8-inch thick. Use a pizza cutter to cut 1/3 in strips along the short edge of the rectangle, making as many as can be. Carefully transfer the strips to a parchment lined cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them. Repeat with the second dough ball.

Bake the straws on the middle oven rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are golden brown. Remove them from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

We served these at our Relay For Life charity wine tasting and of course they were a huge hit again. I tried them with a couple different wines. The rosemary version was quite nice with my homemade un-oaked chardonnay. The red pepper version found a good partner with the Shiraz that our new winemaking friends Dave & Robin brought to share.



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Beer Week Is Ending, But Not Before These Five Beers

Beer Week is slowly coming to a close. I will post again tomorrow with a great beer from a newer local brewery and some facts and information about the history of brewing in New Hampshire.

Earlier in the week I shared six of the eleven beers that my brother-in-law Bob and tasted through last weekend. I’m back with notes on the last five and another good laugh from Bob.

Sierra Nevada Glissade
Style: Maibock
ABV: 5.6%
Location: Chico, CA
Pour: Minimal head, moderate carbonation
Color: Yellow / gold and clear
Aromas: Citrus, grass, lightly malty – overall subtle
Flavors: Little bit of malt and piney hops
Finish: Mild bitterness and acidity, clean finish
Review: I picked this one because the bottle described it as a golden bock. I figured it would have a little more character than the light ales and lagers we also were trying but not be a true on bock that would have been too rich for the audience. Bingo! I would drink this casually, especially during this transitional time in New England between cold and warm weather.

Estrella Damm
Style: American Adjunct Lager
ABV: 5.2%
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Pour: Fizzy white head, compresses quickly
Color: Light gold
Aromas: Grains, corn and hops
Flavors: Grainy with some hop character. Has that mass produced skunky flavor. Some honeyed sweetness and a body a bit bolder than the typical domestic adjunct lagers.
Finish: Lots of carbonation to wash away flavors
Review: Ehhh. Wasn’t really worth the time and money. I can spend the same on a sixer of something that I liked or is new and have better luck. The honey flavor brought back the “honey-brown” joke (see the first post) which was a hoot!

When picked up the Estrella I was offered the anecdote that it was the first beer specifically created to pair with food. It turns out that Damm S.A. (the brewer) does make Inedit, a witbier, and sells it under that premise, it just isn’t the one we tried. I offered that anecdote to Bob and his response was priceless. “People have been drinking beer for thousands of years. Spanish beer wasn’t the first beer people ate with food!” I’d have to agree then that it is a big presumption. I haven’t had the beer in question, and now that I know it exists I just might have to go get some.

Full Sail LTD #5
Style: American Amber Lager
ABV: 5.6%
Location: Hood River, OR
Pour: Light brown head, moderate retention
Color: Copper, clear
Aromas: Sweet malts, nut and floral hops
Flavors: I picked up light brown bread, ginger
Finish: Clean with a bit of sweetness
Review: This came right down the middle for me. It was good and I would drink it, but I don’t thnk I would reach for it. Bob didn’t have much to say.

Belfast Bay Lobster Ale
Style: Red Ale
ABV: 5%
Location: Belfast, ME
Pour: Off-white head that hangs on
Color: Red / light brown
Aromas: Very light, some grains and malt
Flavors: Sweet malts, grains and definitely disconnected from light aromas. Slightly sweet
Finish: Crisp from the carbonation, nothing lingers
Review: Another good beer that I wouldn’t likely nab again. Just not my thing, nothing at all wrong with it though.

Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbeer
Style: Kristalweizen
ABV: 5.4%
Location: Freising, Germany
Pour: Massive head, tons of lacing and substantial small-bubble carbonation
Color: Light brown/gold, clear
Aromas: Banana, spices (coriander, cloves), grains, sweetness, yeasty
Flavors: Fruity, floral, with mild sweetness
Finish: Clove comes back on the finish
Review: I really dug this beer. This is a filtered hefeweizen and has many characteristics also found in witbiers. I would drink this anytime. I could see using this at a beer dinner because of the near champage like carbonation and breadth of aromas and flavors. We made pancakes with the leftover the next day and they were some of the lightest I had made in recent history.

The Weihenstephaner brewery is the oldest continuously operating brewery in the world. They are also the partner for Sam Adams in the production and release of Infinium we review last year not long after it debuted.

When we were done Bob was excited to have tried so many different beers and was dreaming of picking up some “honey-brown” when he got home. I was also happy to have found several new beers that I would grab for everyday drinking and few others that I would use in specific food pairing situations like the Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbeer.



Friday, March 25, 2011

Beer Sorbet & Google Recipe Search

We continue with Beer Week today with Beer Sorbet and some tech talk for food bloggers about Google’s new Recipe Mode.

I made a beer sorbet earlier in the week, or at least I tried to. It didn’t set so we drank it like a frozen cocktail. It was OK, but not what I was going for. I am in the process of making it again with a slightly re-jiggered recipe and process that should overcome the issues. I am going to use this recipe for an example of Google’s new Recipe Mode. Here’s some background on that.

Last night I had a vibrant exchange with several food bloggers on Twitter about Google’s new recipe mode. It started because I saw a tweet that said it was unfair to small bloggers. I asked to have that clarified because I wasn’t sure what the angle was, even though I was fully aware of the open debate on this new service and recipe posting requirements. It boiled down to small bloggers not having the time or skills to reformat recipes, old and new, into this format in order to have high ranking in the search engine.

Here’s my problem. Google's search engine is free to use and they don't charge for rankings. There has been plenty of debate about companies that spend money on SEO and trickery trying to gain and keep the top spots. Fair enough. We do still live in a world where money talks and people who think community trumps that obviously don’t even know their own communities that well. Google looks for and punishes offenders so it is as “fair” as it can be. Ad banners and stats monitoring breeds competition, and it can be fierce. I hear a lot of people say they do it because they love it, but then fuss over traffic and comments. Get real!

For food bloggers though, not having the time or skill to use a new service that comes along ends up being a choice. The service is free (I am going to keep saying that) so people have to decide if they want to participate or not. Not participating because you feel as though your creativity and style is where you want to focus is a solid personal AND business oriented decision. This doesn’t mean what Google is doing is unfair. You can’t have something for nothing and this age old rule applies here.

The debate rages on, but there are also solid examples and “how-to” posts that are supportive of how to make the choice.

Google Recipe Search -
Food 52 -
Bon Appetit Hon (rebuttal to Food 52) -
Dianne Jacobs -
Meathead at -

That said, the issue of Google’s move being antithetical to food blog style and creativity is way overblown. And I know why. The format and examples of the new Recipe Mode are technical because it uses markup language (code for the non-techies) under the hood and it looks menacing. I agree that code can be a bear to deal with. I’m and IT guy and I live and die by being able to code for my customers. But that isn’t the end of the story. Guess what, some enterprising folks have already created helpers to ease some of the pain. And more will come. And then everybody will be doing it and taking it for granted! Oh, and did I mention this is all free and the format being put forth is almost entirely optional so the tags (code) you are required to use is a short list?

The missing piece is for someone to demonstrate that the examples you see are a guide not a literal interpretation of exactly what every recipe has to be formatted like. They aren’t saying that, and food bloggers need to stop and think for a second about why they have gotten that impression rather than investigating how the creative and tech worlds meld here. I don’t know why anybody has to say this to people who use blogging platforms, SEO, ad banners, search engines, Twitter, URL shorteners, smartphones, etc. We use so much technology to be creative already, what’s the difference here?

I am going to take the long hand approach. That is to format my recipe as would normally format it in my post and then switch to HTML mode and make some changes to the recipe tags so that when Google scans it for Recipe Mode that it works. Ultimately a helper that could generate the different pieces in code so that you could copy and paste where and how you wanted would be even better.

You do need to add the style definitions to your blog’s stylesheet, but that is a onetime change and something that is done regularly by bloggers who want a pretty site. A complete list of all the possible tags exists for convenience. And get this, there is a test tool to allow to see what the preview for a recipe would look like and whether you have all the required information. This would seem to be a clear example of breaking down the barriers to this process. It clearly is a choice and not one with a burden that is too high for tech-savvy bloggers to bear in my opinion.

Homemade Beer Sorbet
(take 1)

1 pint bottle of homemade Trappist Dubble Ale
2 cups simple syrup
1 Tbsp Meyer Lemon juice
 vanilla bean

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and combine with the first 3 ingredients.
Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Total time: 2 hours
Author: Jason Phelps
Published: March 25th, 2011
It didn’t set even after being in the freezer for a long time. Why? Maybe too much sugar. I make 2X simple syrup and sugar acts like antifreeze. The alcohol doesn’t help either, but that was much less of an influence due to volume.

Now, some of you might look at the recipe above and say “I style mine differently and that format is too rigid!” What format? The above is how I post my recipes all the time. I added some tags for a more complete recipe for the search engine, but they don't really affect how my post that contains the recipe looks! Google’s required code is in there and it didn’t require me to change my recipe at all. Furthermore you could stretch the ingredients out over a whole post, instead of in a list, and the instructions could be paragraphs of steps intertwined with greatest prose ever to exit your fingertips. Google doesn’t prevent this. You can still be creative and get ranked.

Here is the recipe and process I am using for my second attempt.

Guinness Sorbet
(take 2)

1 14.9 oz can of Guinness Draught
1 cups simple syrup
1 Tbsp Meyer Lemon juice
 vanilla bean

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and combine with the first 3 ingredients. Chill in the freezer for 1 hour, stirring twice. Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Total time: 2 hours
Author: Jason Phelps
Published: March 25th, 2011

The new recipe and process worked out much better. The amount of air that was trapped in the mixture as it froze is incredible. It is so light and creamy. I can’t wait to serve this to my wine tasting guests tomorrow! The taste is different between the Stout and The Trappist style beers. Both give me lots of ideas of other flavors to mix with different beer styles to create sorbets that could be used between courses and not just for dessert!

As I said above, a helper tool to facilitate some of the code generation and even plug-ins that hide all of that for you will go a long way to making this process seamless. And they will come. I am sure some enterprising IT foodie is out there right now improving on everything that has already been done overcoming the issues that remained. For now folks that don’t have the IT savvy to do this should keep an eye out for contributions from those who do and wait until it gets easier for them to participate. Don’t cry foul, this is a free service that is technology based. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Six New Beers for Beer Week!

Beer week continues today with a beer tasting I put together last weekend for one of my brothers-in-law and I.

Last weekend my sister-in-law Celeste and her husband Bob came to stay with us at the house in VT for the weekend. Bob tends towards lighter beers and his go-to is Bud Light. I think people should drink what they like so I am fine with that. I lean towards darker and hoppier beers and am not a big fan of the high-volume production light beers, so I don’t typically drink them.

Before I left for VT I stopped in at the Drinkery and picked up eleven beers that I hadn’t had (actually I realized I have had one of them) before. I went with blonde and pale ales, and lighter lagers specifically with Bob in mind. I picked selections from Germany, Spain, Quebec and from the East Coast, Central and West Coast in the US. They way I figured it, we could both sit down and drink slightly out of our comfort zone. We would each be coming from a different direction to beers that offer small production, light to medium body and flavors and something different. Margot and Celeste jumped in on the tasting as well and provided very positive feedback on a few of the beers. Here are the notes and stories from six of the them.

All of the pours were from 12 or 16 ounce bottles into small tasting glasses.

Cisco Brewers Whale’s Tale Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale
Location: Nantucket, MA
Pour: Thin white head that dissipates quickly, moderate carbonation
Color: Copper, almost clear
Aromas: Hops, honey
Flavors: Mild bread/yeast flavors with a hint of sweetness
Finish: Mild bitterness and citrus
Review: An easy drinker with moderate to low hop and malt influences. Refreshing but not overwhelming in any way. This was the first beer Bob mentioned a similarity to a “honey-brown” for. The full joke, which was on me, is a bit farther down.

Peak Organic Summer Session Ale
Style: Wheat Session Ale
Location: Portland, ME
Pour: Minimal head with quick exit, obvious carbonation in pour
Color: Golden with a slight orange tinge, clear
Aromas: Citrus, grains, greens
Flavors: Grains, mellow hops
Finish: Tart with a bit of a hop kick
Review: A great summer beer, and one that I am glad I picked up. I have only had Peak beers at tastings before, and not this particular one, so knowing it is out there will mean I will be picking some up once the weather warms. Bob, Celeste and Margot all agreed that this beer was a solid lighter drinking beer.

Anchor Brewing Anchor Steam Beer
Style: CA Steam Beer
Location: San Francisco, CA
Pour: Medium off-white head that sticks around, well carbonated
Color: Amber colored, and almost clear
Aromas: Bread, yeast, herbs/grass
Flavors: Slight sweetness wrapping malty/bready flavors and some citrus
Finish: Mild aftertaste, some hop aromas linger
Review: A well put together beer, but not one that jumps out and grabs me. Bob said “honey-brown” again!

So we got about half way into the tasting and I noticed Bob kept comparing the amber and sweeter beers to what I clarified was the JW Dundee Honey Brown beer we find in some stores out our way. I realized that while it was true for some, he was messing with me. OK, I finally got it and it is pretty funny. I got a good laugh from the joke when we took a break and he broke out a Bud Light. I asked if it tasted like a “honey-brown” and he said “no, and actually it tastes like shit!” Celeste joked that I may have broken the Bud Light monopoly in the house.

Boulder Brewing Sweaty Betty
Style: Blonde Wheat Ale
Location: Boulder, CO
Pour: White head that escapes slowly, average carbonation
Color: Straw/yellow and clear
Aromas: Citrus, clove, banana, yeast
Flavors: Wheat/grains, lemon, creamy with a little head in the sip
Finish: Citrus zip at the end lingers
Review: This was another favorite, and for Celeste especially. She said something about it being saucy like her. Or at least I think she said that… She also said she would buy it just for the label which strengthens Margot’s long help theory that women by alcohol based on the label. I would definitely drink this beer as a lighter option to my normal malty/hoppy selections.

Ballantine XXX Ale
Location: Woodridge, IL
Pour: Small amount of white head, passes quickly.
Color: Pale gold color
Aromas: Mild, a little hop and a little grain
Flavors: Again quite light, a little malt and a slight hop bit
Finish: Clean and simple
Review: This beer is better than many of the big commercial competitors that it can be run up against and for that I have some laying around and plan to make a clone of this beer in 2011. It really isn’t anything special, but Bob did agree that is a bit more flavorful than Bud or Coors. Margot had has this before and bagged on another taste.

Unibroue Blanche de Chambly
Location: Chambly, Quebec
Pour: Thick white head and plenty of carbonation
Color: Dry straw color
Aromas: Yeast, citrus, spices, mild hops, slight sweet
Flavors: Sweetness in the nose is not in the body. Tart with honey and orange flavors
Finish: Bitter orange and clove
Review: I love the Unibroue beers so when I spotted this one I knew it had to be included. Bob was “ehhh” on it and I was not at all surprised. It is a lighter style of beer, but with the yeast, citrus and spices it doesn’t lack character which can take some getting used to.

I had a lot of fun discovering some new beers and figuring out that much of the brewing world can be boiled down to “it taste like a honey-brown”. Bob and I definitely has fun with this and the best quote of the day has yet to be shared. Come back at the end of the week for the other five beers and more goo laughs.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kate the Great Day, Portsmouth NH

( Kate The Great, Russian Imperial Stout )

We continue Beer Week with a guest post from a local NH beer blogger. Take it away Brian!

Hey there! I'm Brian from Seacoast Beverage Lab (, a beer blog I write based in Portsmouth, NH. I come in peace and not to convert you all to beer drinkers but to cross interests and learn from you as well as you hopefully open your minds to trying some great beer. Jason and I have been talking back and forth and I asked him to write a post about wine to my beer drinking readers, introducing them (and me) to the world of wine. I hope you stop by for a good read. I am always open for comments and suggested. Below is post about one of the biggest days of the year involving beer and it happens in my town. Kate the Great Day. Enjoy!

( No, it's not the American Idol concert. It's for beer! )

One day a year, Portsmouth NH turns into a madhouse. Not it’s not the time the Tall Ships dock in town, or the first day the decks are open, it’s all about beer. I am of course talking about Kate the Great, a Russian Imperial Stout brewed by Tod Mott at the Portsmouth Brewery. Why would people go nuts over a beer on one day out of 365? Long story....

For starters and probably the most obvious, the beer is really good. I can attest that it is the best beer I have had. Now I haven’t been exposed to many of the world’s unique beers but I know a good beer when I taste one. Next is the hype. Beer Advocate, a magazine focused on reviewing and reporting on beer, in 2006 or 7 rated this beer as the #1 beer in the US and the 2nd most sought after in the world. This of course gets people to literally fly in when Kate is released. The beer is only brewed once a year for no reason other than the hype (I believe). There are so many other great beers that the Portsmouth Brewery has that they want to keep the taps rotating in and out with everything from their Milk Stout, Dirty Blonde, Wheat Wine, Saison, Winter Rye, Wild Thang and their ridiculously hoppy and good 5C’s IPA, and many many more.

( Ahh, the food & beverage bloggers workspace! )

I had the opportunity to be in the thick of it this year for Kate Day as their official live blogger. In previous years people would line up as early as 12am to have the chance at purchasing 1 or 2 of the 900 available bottles. This year the game changed as they released 10,000 scratch tickets at $2 a piece with a chance to win one of 900 bottles. The beer community was a little shaken up, but it didn’t stop the hype. 12am on the dot, 2 people were in line waiting to be the first to taste Kate the Great from the taps. By 9am there were about 200 people in line and when the doors opened at 1130, the lined wrapped around the street and into the public garage, a real sight to see.

Talking to people trying it for the first time, the response is identical, they love this beer. Some people take it more serious than others, but those willing to make the trip have a story to tell. It truly is a great beer and a beer event worth getting up crazy early to go to.

( Getting ready to pour the new batch. )

( A hopping bar in the middle of the day! )

As a wanna-be wine drinker, I wonder to myself what is the Kate the Great of the Wine community? Do you all take wine as seriously as beer drinkers? I am as far from a snob as possible but I take great pride and appreciation in the work that goes behind a great beer. What makes wine so “great”?

Check out my live coverage of this year’s Kate the Great day here:

Thanks for reading wine drinkers!!



Monday, March 21, 2011

Kicking off Beer Week at the Ancient Fire Wine Blog with Shipyard’s Prelude

I’ve decided this week is going to be beer week at the Ancient Fire Wine Blog. Why? Because it can be. Spring is on the way and I’ve already started thinking about grilling and backyard parties. And that of course makes me think of beer. So why not take a week in the early spring to celebrate transitioning out of the darker winter beers into the lighter spring and summer beers?

I’ve got a week full of beer posts on deck including a guest post from the Portsmouth NH area beer blogger with a great local beer story. I also have reviews for 10 beers from both domestic and foreign sources that have been recently tasted, a recipe for beer sorbet to try out and some NH brewing history to share. It should be an action packed week, and I hope if you like beer that it gets our imagination going about what you want to drink the next time you can sit outside in the sun to enjoy it!

I am going to kick-off beer week with full on winter beer, Prelude from The Shipyard Brewing Company. This richer, heavier beer will be my line in the sand for us to move into a new beer season from.

I had my first taste of Prelude at the NH Brewers Festival last fall. I enjoyed the richness and malty flavors a lot. As soon as I came across a bomber of it I snagged it and sat on for a bit. I cracked that bad boy open two weeks ago and was instantly reminded of why I liked this beer, the aroma.

The toasted malt aromas jump out of the glass with this beer. It has a nice medium brown color and pours with head, but not one that last that long. I picked up flavors of molasses and maple which are very round and supple due to the sweetness in the beer. This full bodied beer does in fact have some acidity that seemed transformative because the molasses flavor is only present on the back end and not before. There definitely is some nuttiness to this beer, and when it comes to hops you know they are there, but they are very restrained.

At 6.7% ABV this beer isn’t super strong, but it isn’t weak either. Brewed as a specialty winter beer since 1993 you can typically find the new batch in your local beer store starting in November each year.

I was very sad when the last sip went down, but I know for sure that I will be picking more of this up for next winter. I might even make it my winter warmer with which I will greet all visitors weary after winter travel!

I hope you will check in every day this week for something new in the world of beer. I sat down with a brother-in-law of mine on Saturday and we tasted 11 styles of beer from all sorts of places. The stories, quotes and tasting notes should end up being a laugh-out-loud read. Check for that later in the week. Tomorrow Brian from the Seacoast Beverage Lab, guest posting for the first time, will share the story of a special beer day in Portsmouth, NH.



Friday, March 18, 2011

#winechat is on!

Earlier in the week the topic for the montly Twitter #foodchat was wine. We used the #winechat hashtag in addition to #foodchat and I noticed a lot of cross topic posters join in that didn't know it was happening beforehand. Wine is infectious!

The overall feedback to the topic being wine was compelling to me as a wine blogger. So I have volunteered to start a monthly #winechat and host the first one on March 29th at 8PM EST. Future #winechats will be held on the last Tuesday of each month.

The chats will run three hours in length (allowing for folks on different schedules to join) and run through a series of questions on the topic being featured each month. The first half hour will be a networking time to allow folks to wander in, greet each other and get connected. Then the host will fire off questions for participants to share info for.

The Q&A process is pretty simple. The host might tweet "Q1. Where did you discover the most interesting wine you have ever had?" Participants should respond with something like "A1. On a trip to Australia I found a Rose Shiraz that blew me away. @hosttwitterhandle." Pretty easy!

Hosts will capture notable tweets, links, etc and produce a wrap-up blog post within a week following the event. The wrap-up should be tweeted using the #winechat hashtag so anyone can check out the event.

The first topic will be "Wine Stories" where we will ask different questions to get folks to share stories about their experience with wine. See you on March 29th at 8PM EST. There is a story behind the bottle of wine in the picture above. But you are going to have to wait until March 29th to find out what it is.

Please tell your wine-interested friends and followers to join us on Twitter for #winechat. Drinking wine during the event isn't required, but sharing tasting notes on some great wines might just add some flavor!

There is an open call for future hosts. Please leave a comment if you are interested and a topic you think would make for a good #winechat. I will fill the schedule as we go and will host as needed.



Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

St. Patrick’s Day can be a nightmare for people interested in food blogs. From the deluge of posts on corned beef & cabbage, soda bread, everything being green and all the other non-at-all Irish “traditions” you could easily have a heart attack trying to sort through all of it. What is a food blogger to do?

Do something different, and keep it simple.

What did I come up with? Put Irish whiskey in everything!

I have enjoyed Jameson Irish Whiskey many times in the past, but it had been quite a while since I had had it. So it made sense to use it in my dinner and enjoy a little as I worked.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Jameson’s pours with a light amber color. The aromas eluded classification for me which I found odd. In the taste I found sweetness with vanilla, caramel and other spice flavors. Honey showed up in the finish. It is as smooth and sweet as I remember and it went down too easy so I am now blogging under the influence!

We opened with a pairing of Kerry Gold Reduced Fat Aged Cheddar with the whiskey. We were both hungry and the creamy aged cheese really provided what we needed. Margot expressed the aged notes like good parmesan. That is definitely a vote of confidence. The whiskey & cheese combination created new savory flavors, with roasted fennel being the one we both picked out. Pretty cool!

For dinner we paired a brown sugar & whiskey broiled salmon with Colcannon, a mash of potatoes, leeks and cabbage.


5 large potatoes
1 head cabbage
3 leeks
1 cup skim milk
2 Tbsp light vegetable oil spread
2 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
Nutmeg, salt & pepper to taste

Peel, cut and cover the potatoes with water with large pot. Boil for mashing. Slice the leeks and cook them in the milk over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until soft. Slice the cabbage and boil in water for 15 minutes. Once all of the ingredients are cooked, mash the potatoes, stirring in the cabbage and leeks. Add the vegetable spread, whiskey, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Allow the vegetable spread to melt and stir to combine all the ingredients.

Broiled Whiskey Salmon

½ pound salmon filet
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp Jameson Irish Whiskey
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 shakes red pepper flakes

This recipe was adapted from the Irish Whiskey Brown Sugar Salmon recipe that fellow food blogger Megan from the Travel, Wine & Dine blog forwarded to me when I put out the call for recipes containing Irish whiskey.

Mix the last four ingredients to create the marinade for the fish. Pour the marinade over the fish and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Heat a cast iron grill pan under the broiler until hot. Lay the fish on the grill pan and return to the broiler. Broil for 3 minutes and pour the remaining marinade over the fish. Broil until cooked through. After tasting the cooked fish Margot and I both agreed that some additional acid is required in the marinade, with vinegar being the first thing we thought of.

( very simple, with no flair! )

The fish was sweet with a slight hint of heat from the red pepper. The smokiness from the whiskey was found in the molasses flavors produced by the caramelized sugar. The Colcannon was new for us and Margot was definitely unsure of it from my mere mention of it last week. She “hates” cabbage. Cabbage is definitely an acquired taste and one too many times of being around stinky boiled cabbage could create quite an impression. Thankfully the way it is prepared here retains only some of its aroma and flavor, but adds quite a bit of texture to the dish. The leeks add the onion flavor that really brings the whole dish together. I suspect I will be making this again!

For dessert I went simple and baked sliced apples with sugar and spices, topping them with vanilla frozen yogurt and a whiskey caramel sauce. I won’t bother with the instructions on this one, allowing you to use your imagination!

( I used large ramekins and then ended up having too much space, so they weren't pretty. tasty, though! )

Baked Apples with Vanilla Frozen Yogurt & Whiskey Caramel Sauce

2 Fuji apples
2 tsp Demerara sugar
1 tsp of a combo of Nutmeg, cinnamon & allspice
Vanilla frozen yogurt
¼ cup sugar
1/8 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp Jameson Irish Whiskey
Water to cover sugar in sauce pan
(Makes 2)

The sips of Irish whiskey as I worked definitely stacked up. With that I am definitely participating the familiar (from college) tradition of getting a buzz for St. Patrick’s Day!

No matter whether and how you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day we hope you enjoy it. Raise a glass of something and join in the fun!



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Rhone By Any Other Name

I am participating in Wine Blogging Wednesday for the first time this month, and having recently returned from a trip to the Southern Rhone valley, the topic for installment #71 of the event is fitting. “Rhones Not From The Rhône” is this month’s topic, offering a pretty broad space to work in. Wines made from any Rhone varietal, or several, but not made in France ‘s Rhone valley was the charge. The wine could be white, red, pink, a varietal bottling or a blend.

What’s the big deal with Rhône wines you say? If you don’t know the wines at all it might be hard for me to explain it in a meaningful way, but I’ll try. If you are hardcore Cabernet lover, don’t sway from your beloved Chardonnay or are currently on a Pinot kick you might likely be missing something. Nothing is wrong with those wines, I drink all of them, but wines from the Rhone Valley (and those made from the same grapes and in similar styles elsewhere in the world) offer different experiences. The wines from the Rhone I most enjoyed on my recent trip were the red blends. Their complexity and breadth of aromas and flavors was captivating. I found violets up next to licorice and powerful combinations of smoke, leather and pepper that were definitely unique for me. Some of the grapes used in the Rhone are minor players, or are unused, elsewhere in the world. But from the Rhone you can experience them at their finest. These truths are known in other wine producing countries, like Spain and Australia, but are still emerging in the United States, where varietal usages of grapes like Syrah and Viognier are the norm.

I have actually made blends in this style at home three times in the last few years. They have added a nice diversity to my collection and have been strong crowd pleasers. The first two I made were from a Southern Rhone style winemaking kit that was primarily Syrah with Mourvedre. The most recent occasion was a different kit with Syrah, Mourvedre and influence from Grenache and other grapes typically found in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends. While the last one wasn’t as good as the first two, it has been a solid drinker and is almost gone! Suffice it to say that I am quite fond of wines made from these grapes.

For my wine review for #WBW71 I planned to taste and share a domestic Rhone style red blend. Finding one in a pinch turned out to be harder than I had expected, but that reality is notable as I will describe below. I searched for a selection from California in several stores with no luck. Unfortunately, I didn’t give myself enough time to source one that would require shipping so I had to alter my search. I had recently enjoyed a taste of the Penfolds Bin 138 GMS (Grenach/Mourvedre/Shiraz) and after a quick search found it at a nearby store. I certainly could have picked a varietal like Viognier or Petit Sirah and had several domestic offerings to choose from, but picking a blend gave me the opportunity to think back to the Rhone wines I recently tasted and see how one made elsewhere stacks up.

Penfolds Bin 138 GMS 2007

66% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre, 13% Shiraz
Garnet colored with some variation from rim to center. Pink/orange on the rim to garnet in the center.
Powerful aromas of blackberry, licorice, wildflowers and earth.
Spicy & juicy red fruits with some mushrooms and almost meaty flavors.
Sleek, with velvety tannins and a moderate finish.
The total package is assertive, but not abusive.

I could have sat and smelled this wine forever. I did want to taste it so I had to switch gears eventually. The structure of the wine is really notable. It is very sleek and focused, but not weak. The moderate acidity plays the role it should in the balance of the wine and demonstrates the beauty of the blend. This is definitely a different wine from those we tasted in Provence. It is juicier and fruitier than all but the youngest Rhone wines we tasted. The trade-off is more fruit for less earth, between the Aussie and French styles, but that isn’t surprising.

Interest in wine is exploding in the US so it might not seem like any one wine or style of wine would need cheerleaders, but Rhone style wines have them. Enter the Rhone Rangers, a non-profit organization that promotes American Rhone varietal wines. Qualifying Rhone Ranger wines do have to contain 75% or more of one or more Rhone varietals, which opens up many possibilities. The group sponsors tastings and educational events with member wineries all over the country. The membership is diverse with producers in California and Washington as you would expect, but also producers from the Central and Eastern US. Members include producers, growers, distributors, wine shops and fans. I recently joined as a Sidekick (consumer) member and will definitely be looking to visit member wineries when I am in VA and OR later in the year!
I suspect my difficulty in finding the type of blend I was looking for can be explained pretty simply. When it comes to domestic wines we are very varietally focused. Even with awareness of Bordeaux, Burgundy and wines from the Rhone I am betting that the knowledge of domestic Rhone style blends is less on the East Coast, where they aren’t produced, and shops don’t carry them or stock them heavily as a result. Writing about them and requesting them from the area shops will certainly go a long way to changing that.

I can’t wait to take a stroll through the other posts from #WBW71 and discover some new wines to try.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Provencal Tapenade

Brian at @MyFoodThoughts did Silent Sunday and it totally worked. I am doing Tight-Lipped Tuesdays, or at least this week.

Enjoy! --Jason

Provencal Tapenade
3/4 cup imported black olives, drained
4 anchovy filets
1 large garlic clove (or more to taste
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp oil-packed tuna, drained
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp brandy
2 tsp Dijon mustard (see Dijon Mustards Rated)
1 tsp fresh thyme (see variations)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (best quality)

1.Combine all of the ingredients except olive oil in your food processor. Process until smooth.

2.With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a thin stream.

3.Taste and correct the seasoning. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the paste into a bowl and refrigerate, covered until you’re ready to serve.