Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eat your dirt.

Just two weeks ago my life was changed by the addition of our first child - a beautiful girl. This, plus recently beginning the book Animal Vegetable Miracle, has got me on a course to try to eat as close to the source as possible. Now there are many important reasons to eat locally produced food & your choices effect not only the local economy, but the environment and the flavor and quality of your food. By choosing local produce you help keep your money in your community and avoid all of the fossil fuel consumption it takes food to travel across the country. Most importantly though, food consumed as close to the time and place the food was uprooted or raised means that your food is fresher and tastier.

Now I don't know that I can commit to only eat local, but I can do my best to know where my food came from and understand how it was produced (hopefully by dirt, water and sun instead of some patented process). Anyway, its really just a point of trying to change my thinking about the choices I make regarding what my family & I eat.

I decided a good start would be a trip to the Dill Pickle - a recently opened co-op grocery store in my 'hood, to figure out dinner. While at the store I picked up some nice fresh goat cheese from Wisconsin (didn't note the producer), as well as locally grown basil and a baguette from Cook Au Vin - this joined some tomatoes (californian - still good though) for a tasty lunch of bruschetta. I also procured from the Pickle some locally grown carrots & thyme destined for a stew of sustainably grown beef, from Cedar Vally Farms. Lastly, for dinner I found a nice fillet of Trout, brought to the Pickle by Jake's Country Meats out of Cassopolis, MI.

So the actual dinner was pretty simple: The trout, pan seared over high heat with some butter, salt and pepper for about five minutes per side was paired with some basmati rice (also californian) and a salad of tomatoes and arugula (grown organically on my back porch) with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette.
(vinaigrette = 3 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part Dijon mustard, salt and pepper)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lenten Sacrifice?

Being Catholic, I have always made the sacrifice of not eating meat on Fridays. This past Friday in order to stay with our Catholic obligation we had a nice fish dinner at home. I procured some Pink Grouper from the Fish Guy as well as some large Sea Scallops - both were pan seared in a little olive oil and butter seasoned with just salt and pepper. Joining the sea dwellers on the plate was a little French Green Lentils and a Tomato Salad - comprised on olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a little Romain and a few slices of Tomme Crayeuse (a semi-soft raw cow milk cheese). Looking back, it doesn't really seem like much of a sacrifice at all.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Low Dive: Separated at Birth beer Dinner with Won Kim

Last night we got together with a talented young chef named Won Kim for a four course dinner paired with a couple of beers that had been brewed on my back porch.
The first steps were taken in early December of 2009; we got together and brewed a hop-forward dark ale. These beers were brewed as one 6 gallon batch, but once the wort had cooled, it was separated into two different fermenters. One batch (the 'America' version) was fermented with an American Ale yeast strain which displays slightly fruity characteristics while mostly staying in the background - allowing the other ingredients in the beer to step forward. In this case, those other flavors include a roastiness from the specialty malts that were used as well as a hop bitterness and citrus like herbal aroma and flavor (also contributed by the hops). This American Brown Bitter was also dryhopped for two weeks to allow even more hop flavor and aroma to take center stage.
The other fermenter was pitched with a Trappist yeast strain - from one of the seven breweries still ran by Trappist Monks. This yeast is a classic Belgian strain which, unlike the American strain, does not step to the back, instead presenting a very dramatic earthy flavor that is more dominant in the flavor profile than the American strain. This yeast also takes longer to ferment and sometime slows in the middle of its fermentation cycle. Because of this characteristic and to help put even more distance between these estranged siblings, I added a pound and a half of home made syrup to the 'Belgian' fermenter a few days into the fermentation. In the end we ended up with two very different ales - the American Brown Bitter came in at around 7% abv and displays a bitter roasty, yet hoppy profile, while the Strong Dark Belgian version weighs in at 9.5% and has a much more earthy complexity that overpowers the roastiness and hop flavors. This version also has a drier mouth feel due to the use of syrup during the fermentation - simple sugars like the syrup I used will increase the amount of alcohol but will ferment out completely leaving no residual sugars in the finished product.
Won's challenge was to create a meal to accompany these two beers. He presented a four course menu that paired the first two courses with the American Brown Bitter and the last two with the Strong Dark Belgian. The first coarse was a deconstructed Frisee salad, composed of Frisee in a light Lime Vinaigrette alongside a Pear poached in white wine with Cinnamon and Allspice as well as a nice crumble of a smoked Danablu (Danish Blue) cheese. The bitterness of the greens and the citrus quality of the vinaigrette emulated the hop flavors, while the pears flavors provided a counter point to the roasty bitterness. The cheese reinforced the roasted quality of the ale through its smoky flavor while providing a counter balancing creaminess.
Course two was a skin-on Chicken Thigh fried crispy in its own fat accompanied by home-made Peruvian Blue Potato Chips and a sauce made with the American Brown Bitter as well as orange juice and thyme. As Won said himself, you can't really put together a beer dinner with out something fried.
For coarse number three, we switched to the Strong Dark Belgian. Won provided Beef Short Ribs; smoked with wood from Bourbon County Stout Barrels and then braised in a red wine and orange juice mixture with herbs and mirepoix. This was served with a sauce made from the braising liquid and the Strong Dark Belgian as well as a few of the Carrots that were used in the braise. The earthy complexity of the beer paired well with the richness of the meat, while the almost creamy quality of the fat was cleansed from the pallet by the crisp dryness of this Belgian-style Ale.
To finish things off, Won presented a Chocolate Brownie with a Blackberry Sauce made with Orange Juice and Belgian Ale and Cashews Candied with Brown Sugar and Cayenne Pepper.
All in all it was quite a successful dinner and I look forward to having another beer-paired meal as well as another run at the Separated at Birth concept.