Archive for November, 2009

Is it the beer—or the pour?

The Bestowal

The Bestowal

I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I just learned that Avril Maxwell of New Zealand won the 2009 Stella Artois World Draught Master competition, which was held in New York on October 29. She beat representatives from 25 other countries in what might be the most harrowing bartenders’ competition in the world. It’s a promotion for Stella Artois that fixates on the brand’s nine-step pouring ritual. If you want to practice at home, you’ll need a pressurized keg with a proper tap. The steps go like this:

1. “The Purification.” Clean and rinse the glass.
2. “The Sacrifice.” Open and close the tap quickly to clear the line.
3. “Liquid Alchemy.” Place the glass under (not against) the tap at a 45 degree angle and begin the pour.
4. The Head.” Lower the glass to allow the perfect head to form.
5. “The Removal.” Close the tap quickly and move the glass without letting any beer drip.
6. “The Beheading.” Smooth off excess foam with a head cutter.
7. “The Judgment.” The proper head should be about two fingers.
8. “The Cleansing.” Clean the bottom and sides of the glass.
9. “The Bestowal.” Present the beer on the proper coaster with the logo facing the drinker.

Inbev Brewery, Leuven, Belgium

Inbev Brewery, Leuven, Belgium

I had the pleasure of watching (and cheering) the 2008 competition held in Leuven, Belgium, where Stella is brewed. A pass to the competition requires an invitation, but anyone can visit the brewery Monday-Friday and taste the freshest Stella you’ll ever encounter. The beer is impeccable. I’m still trying to decide if the pouring ritual makes it even better. If nothing else, my thirst keeps building as the bartender pours. Despite the brand’s best efforts, though, it’s hard to find a proper Stella pour in most bars I frequent.

And, to be honest, I’m even fonder of a sister brewery in Inbev’s Belgian portfolio, Hoegaarden. Like Stella Artois, it is distributed in the U.S. by Anheuser-Busch (another Inbev line). While the Stella brewery is a large industrial complex, Hoegaarden’s ‘t Wit Gebrouw brewery is small and colorful—and has a great restaurant/pub attached: Brasserie Kouterhof.

28

11 2009

Cold turkey warms to the Hot Brown

Hot Brown sandwich

Hot Brown sandwich

The chefs at the Brown Hotel, which has been one of Louisville’s social centers since it opened in 1923, probably didn’t have Thanksgiving leftovers in mind when they created the Hot Brown Sandwich. But it’s one of our favorite ways to use up excess turkey.

Chef Fred Schmidt dreamed up the open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich in 1926 as a treat for up to 1,000 hungry dancers at the hotel’s swanky soirees. Schmidt’s solution to the light-night rush on the kitchen used ingredients readily at hand: toast, roast turkey, Mornay sauce, and bacon strips.

With the unbeatable combination of bacon and cheese sauce, it’s no surprise that the popularity of the Hot Brown has spread well beyond the hotel where it was born. Lots of Louisville restaurants offer a version, but we went to the source for the original. The hotel serves the Hot Brown in a small skillet-shaped ceramic casserole. And they also hand out the recipe, probably taking pity on those of us in misguided corners of America where turkey is considered a diet food. We substitute au gratin dishes for the nifty casseroles, but otherwise don’t mess with success.

Hot Brown Sandwich

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter (one stick)
6 tablespoons flour
3 1/4 cups milk
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 ounce whipped cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices toast, cut in half diagonally
1 pound roast turkey slices, divided into 4 even parts
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (for topping)
8 strips of fried bacon
Chopped parsley to garnish
1 large fresh tomato, divided into 8 wedges

Directions

Set oven to broil.

MORNAY SAUCE

1. In heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and continue stirring until it absorbs butter and stops foaming. Do not allow to brown.

2. Stir in milk, keeping flour mixture in suspension. Add 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Continue stirring while bringing almost to a boil. Quickly stir in egg, reducing heat to low. Stir until sauce thickens. Fold in optional whipped cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

ASSEMBLY

1. In four 9-inch gratin pans or other shallow, flameproof dishes, arrange toast points, four to a dish. Top with turkey slices. Cover each dish with one-quarter of Mornay sauce and sprinkle tops with remaining Parmesan. Broil until top is bubbling and speckled with brown.

2. On removing from broiler, cross two bacon strips on each dish. Sprinkle top with chopped parsley and stick two tomato wedges into edge of each plate. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

25

11 2009

Duran Central Pharmacy — a prescription for chile cuisine

Counter at Duran Central Pharmacy

Counter at Duran Central Pharmacy

The drugstore lunch counter is a dying breed all over the country, but it’s alive and well in Albuquerque, N.M., where Duran Central Pharmacy (1815 Central NW, Albuquerque, N.M., 505-247-4141) has been around for 45 years and in the same location since 1975. It’s close to the tourist-haunted Old Town, yet locals make up most of the clientele. The food isn’t fancy, but it’s definitely special, highly local, and because it’s full of chile peppers, it’s good for you. Not only does the red chile sauce here have no beans, it also eschews such adulterants as cumin. The green chile is likewise a straight-ahead stew of chopped green chile peppers with just a little sautéed onion and garlic.

Rolling tortillas.

Rolling tortillas.

Those sauces alone would keep me coming back, but I’m even more impressed with the freshly rolled and griddled flour tortillas. On Thursdays, the drugstore even serves carne adovada—the chile-laced New Mexican dish that’s a spicy cross between pork barbecue and roast pork. Arrive early to get a seat.

23

11 2009

Warming up with green chile chicken stew

Green chile chicken stew

Green chile chicken stew

El Pinto Restaurant (10500 4th Street NW, Albuquerque, NM, 505-898-1771, www.elpinto.com) may seat up to 1,000 people at a time, yet the quality of the handmade New Mexican food belies the size. Maybe that’s because it is a family restaurant run by the grandsons of Josephina Chavez-Griggs. Her daughter Katy opened La Posta de la Mesilla in 1939, and Katy’s nephews Jim and John Thomas Meek (“the salsa twins”) operate El Pinto. Many of their recipes, though, go back to Josephina. When I was there recently on a cold November night, the green chile chicken stew lifted both the chill and my mood. It’s a perfect winter warmer and simple to make at home once you have the green chile sauce (see the recipes page or the post of November 19). Here’s the recipe adapted from El Pinto:

Green chile chicken stew

Ingredients

1 tablespoon corn or canola oil
1/4 cup all-purpose white flour
1 quart homemade chicken stock
1 lb. boneless chicken thighs cut in 1/2″ pieces
3 cups (about 4 medium) red potatoes, scrubbed and cut in 1/2″ cubes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 recipe green chile sauce (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups whole kernel corn (fresh or frozen)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat oil in 1 gallon or larger Dutch oven. Blend in flour and make into a roux, heating and stirring until golden brown.

Whisk in chicken stock to make smooth sauce.

Add chicken. potatoes, garlic, and chile sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes until potatoes are tender and chicken is very tender.

Add corn and bring back to a boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with warm tortillas.

Serves 12.

21

11 2009

Going green (chile, that is)

Roasting green chiles at El Pinto

Roasting green chiles at El Pinto

After David and I spend much time in New Mexico, we develop chile withdrawal when we go home. It’s not our problem alone. We’ve met chile growers who admit to carrying small cans of green chile with them whenever they leave the region–just so they can get a fix each day. The science of chile addiction says our reaction comes from the capsaicin in chile peppers. The alkaloid not only makes chiles hot, it also stimulates endorphins that create the feeling of well-being.

Green chile sauce from El Pinto Restaurant, which has been an Albuquerque mainstay since 1962, is a good basic sauce to heat and put on scrambled eggs or enchiladas. Unfortunately, the nearest store that sells it is 100 miles west of us. Here’s an adaptation of the El Pinto recipe, using canned green chiles instead of fresh ones:

Green chile sauce

Ingredients

1 teaspoon corn or canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cans mild chopped green chile (3 oz each)
1 pickled jalapeño pepper, minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored, and diced fine
1/2 cup chicken broth

Directions

Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is soft. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.

Makes two cups.

19

11 2009

Raclette made simple

Raclette sandwich And speaking of cheesemongers…. We have fond memories of eating raclette–a big plateful of melted cheese with cornichons and boiled potatoes–after a tough day of winter snow hiking in Switzerland. It has always seemed too much trouble to make at home: Buy a big block of raclette cheese, find or build an open fire, etc., etc. But one day when we were in Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, Mass., we wandered into the Rubi’s Cafe for lunch and found the perfect solution to our raclette craving. Rubi’s piled shredded raclette cheese and sliced cornichons onto sourdough bread slathered with Dijon mustard and stuck the sandwiches into a panini press. Voila! Instant raclette in your hand. (And easily duplicated at home.)

16

11 2009

Cheeses that stand alone

Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, Mass.

Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, Mass.

Few foods so directly conjure up their origins as artisanal cheeses. Walking into Formaggio Kitchen in our home town is like taking a trip around the world. This is where we went for the Cabrales to serve with apples, and FK is our go-to vendor whenever we need something really special. Ishan Gurdal first opened a cheese monger’s shop here more than 30 years ago and built his own ripening caves in 1996. His cheeses are so special and so perfectly cared for that even Thomas Keller of the French Laundry orders from Ishan. Formaggio Kitchen has a second location in Boston’s South End, and also sells through its web site: Formaggio Kitchen.

14

11 2009

Cabrales – why it’s good to get the blues

CabralesWe saw many more cows than sheep or even goats as we drove the twisting mountain roads through the Picos de Europa mountain range last spring. Although the Principality of Asturias is the oldest of Iberia’s former kingdoms, the steep green mountains looked more like Switzerland than Spain.

Cows may have predominated, but milk from all three dairy animals goes into Cabrales, possibly the most pungent blue cheese in Europe. When we stopped for lunch in Las Arenas de Cabrales, we made sure we got the blues. The cheese is made by shepherds in the nearby hills, but Las Arenas (pop 797) is the market town. In Sidrería Calluenger (tel: 985-646-441), a hard-cider bar on Plaza Castaneu, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of stuffed red piquillo peppers simmered in a Cabrales cream sauce, along with a plate of fried apples, Cabrales, and walnuts drizzled with honey.

Fortunately, we can buy Cabrales at home, and the cheese pairs beautifully with New England heirloom apples. We tried making this dish with several varieties, finally settling on Golden Delicious as the most authentic, with Opalescent (a beautiful apple with skin like a red-and-gold starry night) a close second.

cabrales and apples
Cabrales and Apples

Serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 as a combined cheese/dessert course.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Golden Delicious apples, cored and cut into eighths (skin intact)
4 ounces Cabrales cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup lightly toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons honey

Directions

1. Melt butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add apples and gently saute until lightly speckled with brown spots. Turn over and lightly brown other side.

2. Arrange apples on plate, intermingling with crumbled Cabrales and walnut pieces. Drizzle with honey and serve.

12

11 2009

Making grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Before we bought a pressure cooker, asparagus risotto was one of the few risottos we would bother to make because it’s smoky, luscious, and deeply satisfying. It also pairs nicely with a crisp white wine like a Vermentino from Sardinia. It had become one of our go-to quick dishes, in part because every time we light up the backyard grill, we grill some asparagus, making sure we have enough for dinner and enough left over to chop into salads and to make grilled asparagus risotto. This 2-serving recipe evolved rather radically from the version of non-roasted, non-pressure-cooked asparagus risotto made by Fanny Singer that we found in a 2003 issue of Food & Wine. Cooking time is about 10 minutes—quick food, not fast food.


Ingredients

olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme finely minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups strong chicken stock
1/2 pound leftover grilled asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves (about 3 oz.)
2 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)
balsamic vinegar for drizzling


Directions
1. In medium-sized pressure cooker, heat oil and sauté onions and thyme until onions are soft. Add rice and stir well to coat.
2. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).
3. Add chicken stock and stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.
4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm. Add asparagus and spinach. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat 90 seconds-2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, blending well..
6. Divide risotto into two 16-20 ounce shallow bowls. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.

11

11 2009

Learning under pressure

With a gleaming Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker in hand, we were ready to try cooking risotto like a Venetian. There were just a couple of problems. Nobody grows baby artichokes on the Boston Harbor Islands (or anywhere else nearby), and Anna Maria Andreola had been, shall we say, extremely casual about measurements when she’d shown us the basic technique in Venice.

So we experimented, using the simplest Italian rice dish of all, risotto milanese. (Basic recipe for four servings: Saute a medium chopped onion in 1/4 cup of olive oil until translucent, while infusing 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock with 1/4 teaspoon of saffron. Add 2 cups arborio rice to the onion pan and toast rice until opaque. Add 1/2 cup white wine and stir over high heat until wine disappears. Ladle in the chicken stock, stirring all the while. When rice is cooked but al dente, stir in half a stick of butter and 1/2 cup of Parmagiano-Reggiano.)

Using the traditional proportions in the pressure cooker meant that we had saffron-flavored chicken-rice soup. Not a good start. Eventually we discovered the right proportions. Keep the wine at 1/2 cup, but cut the stock to 2 1/2 cups.

Good, but not perfect. The lower volume of stock reduced the concentration of flavor. Our solution was to make a very strong homemade stock from thighs and legs, leaving on some of the skin to infuse the extra collagen that gives a richer mouth-feel.

10

11 2009