Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Night Food Porn

Homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

With today being Halloween, I knew I wanted to put up something on the sweet or dessert side. So here is an oatmeal raisin cookie that Kris baked a little while ago. They were light, chewy, and hot right from the oven. She doesn’t add too much sugar to these cookies because of the sweetness from the raisins. A giant glass of milk and 5 or 6 of these cookies is a great way to settle in to any night, Halloween or not.

Have a safe night.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Breaking News

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is here!!

'That's breaking news?' I can hear them now.

Yes, yes it is. In my world that's exactly what breaking news should be. As a matter of fact I think we should have an all beer television network and an all BBQ one too. They have about 20 news networks, 5 weather channels, 20 sport stations...they even have a golf channel!!! A whole network for watching golf! But not one BBQ or beer network. I'd be happy with BBQ and beer network. That would be cool; imagine a news report on that station.

"Our top story tonight: Sierra Nevada today released it's winter offering. It's bold, malty, and pleasantly hopped. Full review at eleven." Or: "In BBQ news today: New England teams rocked The Jack and a Jesus sighting at Sayville. More at the top of the hour."

To me, this stuff matters. Breaking news should be about the good things in life. Not hurricanes or the Dow Jones crashing. They have plenty of other outlets for that depressing stuff.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In With a Roar, Out With a Whimper...

That kind of sums up our 2008 BBQ season.

The year started off great this spring with back to back Reserve Grand Championships. One at Peter’s Pond and the other at the New Hampshire State Championship in Merrimac, NH. Momentum was great going into the Troy Pig Out which was a New York State Championship. We finished fourth overall but it was one of our best scores of the season. Even better than that we got a first place in chicken! That made us feel great. We had been working on our chicken for over two years and now we finally had a great call for it. Then I got an email that made my summer: we got into Harpoon!! A team backed out last minute and we were next on the list. This summer could not get any better. Harpoon was one of the most fun contests we had ever been to. Unfortunately, we bombed! We got one call for chicken (of all things) but that was it. We licked our wounds and looked forward to the Hudson Valley Ribfest in New Paltz, NY. We received a second place in chicken, and finished in third place overall. That felt great…but now comes the whimper… Off to the Harvard Fall Festival in September. No Calls! That was the first time in two and a half years we did not get a call. Everything finished just outside tenth place. That one hurt. Even though we bombed Harpoon, we still got a call to the stage and walked away with a ribbon. Next we went to Westport, CT. Fifth place brisket and sixth overall, not bad, not great. The last contest of the season for us was the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, NY. Second place ribs, but we tanked chicken. Chicken! Again, the chicken kills us. That dragged our overall score way down.

So, there it is: the good and the bad of our 2008 BBQ season. But, beyond the trophies, the BBQ, the prize money; the sunshine and the rain; I will have all winter to remember the good times with my friends. Years from now when all the trophies are in the attic, I’ll still have the memories of our times on the BBQ circuit…and for that I’m a happy man.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Night Food Porn

Pan Seared Haddock in a Roasted Tomato Broth
By Kris

A few months ago Mike and I were dining out and he ordered a seared sea bass in a clam broth. He loved it! Being Mike he decided to try and do a variation of that dish. What he created was wonderful. He spent an entire day simmering fresh vegetables into a stock which he used as a base for a roasted tomato broth. Next he pan seared pieces of panko crusted haddock. Then he filled a bowl just so with the tomato broth and nestled the haddock into the flavorful liquid. I have had reoccurring dreams of this dish and request it weekly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ready for Sayville

This weekend we'll be heading down to Sayville, NY to compete in the 2nd annual Battle of the BBQ Brethren. And we cannot wait! I have been looking forward to this comp all year long. It's kind of bitter sweet because it's a great contest, but it's also the last one of the year for us. We competed last year and had an amazing time. When people ask me what makes a contest great I will always start talking about Sayville 2007. The communication with the teams from the organizers before the contest was great. Getting on site was easy. Cooks dinner and breakfast, ice delivered to your site, trash pick up, calls up to 10th place, great prize money, and it was a charity event for breast cancer awareness. This year promises to be the same.

Kris and I will be getting up real early on Saturday morning and driving down to New London, CT to catch the ferry. The ferry will arrive at Orient Point, NY at the tip of Long Island one and a half hours later. Another one hour drive and we'll be in Sayville getting our site set up. This year we'll be competing against 45 other teams for a New York State Championship. Some are on the heels of a victory, some are overdue for a victory, some are veterans of the circuit, and for some it will be their first comp. But, like I always say 'any team, any Sunday.'

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Night Food Porn

Potato and Ham Soup

Fall in New England can be beautiful; I love everything about it. But for me the best part is the weather. I love cold nights and sunny, but brisk days. So far that's exactly what's been happening. This weather is perfect for making soup; around here fall is soup season. Nothing can warm up your night more than some homemade, soul satisfying soup.

I've added my own recipe for this soup. I've been working on it for a few years now, and I hope you will try it out yourself. I've used all different types of potatoes with this recipe and I still come back to the russet. In the soup pictured here I used Yukon Gold. Yukon's taste great in this soup but don't hold up as well as a good old russet potato. I think what makes this soup go from good to great is the homemade ham's worth it.

Making ham stock

1 ham bone
1 large onion quartered
2 celery stocks cut in half
2 carrot cut in half
1 bay leaf

Place all items in a large stock pot with enough cold water to cover the bone and gently bring to a soft boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for 4 hours. Strain well and set aside.

Making the soup

4 cups ham stock
1 cup chicken stock
3-4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed about ½" x ½"
2 cups of diced ham (trimmed from ham bone before making stock from it)
1 onion, fine dice
1 celery stock, fine dice
1 carrot, fine dice
4 cloves of garlic, fine dice
1 cup of heavy cream or half and half
Salt and pepper
Fresh chopped parsley

Sweat onions, celery, carrots, and garlic with 3 tablespoons of butter in medium stock pot for about 5-7 minutes. Add cubed uncooked potatoes for about 3-5 more minutes. Deglaze pot with chicken stock, cook for 5 minutes. Add the ham stock and bring to a soft boil. Cook until potatoes are fork tender about 30 minutes. Add diced ham and chopped parsley. Now split the batch in two halves. Use a hand or stick blender on one batch to puree. If you don’t have one you can use a stand blender, just be careful. Add the cream to the puréed halve. Then mix the two batches back together. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley or fresh chopped chives.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Maggie's Summer

One of the first questions we're asked when we get to a competition is "where's Maggie?" Or "are you bringing Maggie?" Most of the comps we did this year allowed dogs, but we only brought her to Peter's Pond. She spent most of her summer in Maine; swimming, sleeping, and playing with her cousin Roxy. We are very fortunate that Kris' parents have a place on Sebago Lake in Maine and love to take Maggie up there. When I'm getting stressed at a comp it's nice that I can think of my dog relaxing on her favorite chair. So, to Al and Phylis: thanks...oh, by the way, what are you doing next weekend?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Portsmouth Gas Light Co.

How Does A Restaurant Who Gets It So Right Get It So Wrong?
By Kris

On the way home from a delightful weekend away in Maine, we stopped off in Portsmouth, NH for lunch. We passed many restaurants, but the sweet smell of smoke from a wood fired grill drew us into Portsmouth Gas Light Co. We were greeted and asked what kind of fare we were interested in, upscale or pizza? Both! We were bewildered when we were told we had to pick one or the other. Upscale fare was upstairs, pizza downstairs. We started off upstairs with beer on tap and crabcakes, paid our bill, then continued the meal downstairs on a separate tab with more beer and pizza. I certainly needed the exercise, but I'm still baffled as to why the waitstaff are banned from carrying a tray of pizza up one set of stairs to satisfy a patron. However, the pizza was well worth the trip to Portsmouth, paying two separate tabs, and a jaunt down the stairs. Let me give you my take on The Gas Light.

Atmosphere. Upstairs was comfortable and slightly upscale pubish. Downstairs was a bar atmosphere. Dark with several large screen TV's showing several different sports games. The kind of place where you stop in for a drink on a Sunday afternoon, then stay for a few more and walk out into the sun like Punxsutawney Phil on groundhog day. The beer on tap was the same on both floors. Mike had one of his favorites, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. While I enjoyed a Long Trail Ale Hefeweizen with a lemon. Which brings me to my next subject.

Garnish. Upstairs the lemons were sliced, while downstairs they were cut into wedges. I find this a simple concept, you cannot squeeze a slice of lemon into your drink. Only the wedge can be grabbed just so as to get all the lovely juice into your drink.

Waitstaff. Upstairs the bartender was sweet, talkative, informative, and attentive. Downstairs the bartender was more interested in his Blackberry and hanging on his girlfriend than serving us.

Food. Upstairs we ordered crabcakes. They were sweet and tasty with pungent red peppers. The cakes were nice and firm with a perfect panko crust. They could have used a bit more crab and a little less filler. Downstairs we tried the wood fired pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, sausage, and pepperoni. This was one of the best pizza's I've ever had. The crust was thin with the perfect mix of crisp on the outside, warm soft dough on the inside, and a hint of sourdough flavor. The pepperoni was sweet and the sausage was caramelized on the outside and had just a slight kick of spice. The sauce was mild with a fresh tomato taste and just a hint of oregano. And the creamy ricotta topped it off with perfection. We ordered fries which are only served upstairs and I was just too full and tired for yet another trip.

All and all this place gets the thumbs up (stairs), but the concept gets the thumbs down (stairs).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Food Porn

By Kris

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet, but I must say that I consider myself a fortunate girl! My husband has many amazing qualities, one of them being that he is a great cook. He can whip up a gourmet dinner like it’s nobody’s business; he will research a dish for a week just to wow me for no particular occasion. He will search from one end of Mass to the other for just the right ingredients for a meal. But, cooking a good burger has eluded him for years. Until now! In his quest for wonderful dinners he sometimes has difficulty keeping it simple. But to me the perfect burger is exactly that – simple. He started with a good ground beef with just the right amount of fat for flavor, added just a pinch of salt and pepper; and then introduced the star of the show, a well seasoned cast iron skillet. After just 3 minutes per side these very palatable patties were perfectly rare on the inside and had a delicious crust surrounding the outside. He just touched the buttered buns on the skillet, and then served.

Finally, the perfect burger!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Try This Beer

Unibroue Quatre Centieme

Well, Unibroue does it again. Another great beer to add to their already impressive line up. To say I like all of the Unibroue beers is an understatement. I crave them, I have a need to drink them, I ponder each sip with curiosity...I know it's just beer...but it's damn good beer!

From the back of the bottle: This exclusively brewed beer honours all those who have made 'joie de vivre' synonymous with this amazing city! This beer is an homage to Quebec City's 400th year anniversary. A city that is on my radar for a beer/food destination!

Unibroue sometimes doesn't put their beer into a particular category. As the case with this one, the label only says ale on lees. That's just means that it's bottle conditioned and is 'on yeast.' So, after uncorking the aroma of yeast was instant. With the first pour I noticed a great spice nose with a little citrus. The color was of yellow wheat and the tiny bubbles sped to the top to produce a white effervescent head. The clove and coriander were dominant with the first sip, then I got a slight wheat flavor that lingered, and it finished with a touch of sweetness. The mouthfeel was slightly thin and crisp with a little more carbonation than most of their beers. With only 7.5% abv it's a very drinkable beer. I would put this beer between a Belgium triple and a Belgium wheat beer. But, more important than that, I would put this beer close to the top of my favorite beer list.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday Night Food Porn

Panko Crusted Scallops with Pancetta Risotto

Sometimes the simple recipes turn out the best. As someone who loves to cook it's sometimes hard to show some restraint. I always want to add a little this and a little of that, do a reduction of something, or do an emulsion, an infusion, or a fancy drizzle of sauce on the plate like the chefs do. Don't get me wrong, I do my fair share of that stuff too. But lately I'm noticing the less I fool with the food, the better it turns out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Beer Update

“Is the beer ready?” I hear that a lot.


“Well…how long does it take?”

That’s a tough question to answer. I usually tell them, “when it’s ready, we’ll drink it.” It’s kind of the same thing with BBQ, when it’s done it’s done. My friends and family have grown to love and sometimes hate my hobbies.

As some of you know I brewed a batch of beer on August 30th. Certainly one month is enough time to make beer, isn’t it? Yes, it is. Most pale ales can be ready in a couple of weeks. But, on the other hand, some strong lagers can take up to 9 months to fully age. I brewed a double bock once that was 10% alcohol and aged it for more than a year! This hobby takes patience. The beer I brewed in August was a strong ale; it had an original gravity of 1.072. That’s just a simple measurement of sugars in the wort pre fermentation. If fermentation goes well (it did) this beer should finish around 7.5% alcohol. So this beer needs some time to age. Can you drink it now? Sure. But, it will be better in a month, so why not wait? Knowing when to serve the beer is almost as important as the recipe itself. The similarities between BBQ and brewing are remarkable. You can have the best meat, injection, rub, wood, and sauce, but pull that brisket too early…and man does it suck! Well, not suck, but not as good as it could have been. So, yes, theoretically the beer is ready. Will I be serving it anytime soon? No.