Tag: food

Laissez le Bon temp rouler…a weekend in NOLA

 As many times as I’ve visited, as much as I love New Orleans, I’ve never been there for Mardi Gras. I’ve always been intrigued by the Krewe parades, but worried about my reaction to the crowds. A recent visit over Valentine’s weekend confirmed that fear – New Orleans had about as big of a crowd as I can handle.

One local guide provided by the hotel defined Mardi Gras as being from Epiphany (Jan 6th) until the day before Ash Wednesday, which is Wed. Mar 9th this year. However, that seems a bit of a stretch. The weekend I visited would have been part of Carnival, but was the week before the first Mardi Gras parade. Still the city was crowded, maybe the most crowded of anytime I’ve been there. The Rock-n-Roll marathon/half marathon was on Sunday, and the streets were filled with folks obviously in town for the race.

Mardi Gras decorations seemed to be just going up. Some balconies, homes and businesses were already fully adorned in purple, green and gold. Others were in the process of being decorated. Kinda like the first week or so of December and Christmas decorations. In fact, I saw evidence that just like the companies that will hang your outdoor Christmas lights, there were professional Mardi Gras decorating companies at work.

I love New Orleans for it’s mix of the beautiful and the decadent. From the balconies of the Quarter and the mansions of the Garden District to the drunks on Bourbon Street and the wonderful food (and drinks which of course lead to the drunks on Bourbon St). Only in New Orleans would someone give directions with a perfectly straight face that included “From Lafitte’s walk west on Bourbon St, turn right at the first street past the big dildo shop”.

Of course, we indulged in quite a bit of that food and drink. I knew we’d hit old stand-bys: Camellia Grill, Cafe du Monde, K-Paul’s, but I’d reached out to one of the MKE tweeps who seems to know not only a bit about food and restaurants but also New Orleans. @Im_X1 (Christin) strongly recommended we try Green Goddess (@greengoddessFQ or http://www.greengoddessnola.com/). So glad I listened to her advice!

One of the best and most memorable meals in a long, long time. Green Goddess has an eclectic menu, not to mention staff, that blends a variety of ethnic cuisines with ingredients from all over the world; including Wisconsin’s own Nueske’s bacon. Christin even tweeted ahead for us to tell the folks at Green goddess to treat us well, and gave me a little DM’d tip which lead to a yummy fig and blue cheese amuse-bouche described on the menu as Armagnac-Soaked Mission Figs: These boozy morsels are stuffed with Strathdon Blue Cheese,wrapped in Serrano Ham, quick-roasted, and finished with Leonardi Balsamico aged 20 years in Cherrywood Barrels. Oh. My.

 The restaurant is tiny, with maybe room for 25 diners inside, perhaps another 15 outside. We were seated along a bar/counter giving us a great view of all the action in the kitchen. Chef Chris DeBarre takes an active role in interacting with the guests, explaining courses as they are served, but it was the expediter at work directly in front of us that we found most fascinating (even if I did joke that he scared me just a bit). We ate far too much, beginning our meal with the chef’s choice cheese platter accompanied by a Pecan Nut Brown Ale from Lazy Magnolia Brewing, moving to an amazing caprese salad, followed by Shrimp in a grass skirt and Cochon de Lait/Lei pulled pork wrapped in banana leaves (you *must* try this entree). The wine list offered several options of great wines by the glass to pair with the dishes (my memory is a bit hazy on that part of the night).

But that’s not all…remember I mentioned Nueske’s bacon? We ended the meal with Vietnamese pressed chicory coffe and their  “Notorious” Bacon Sundae. Praline ice cream, caramel sauce, bacon, sea salt. Sweet, salty, rich goodness. I still dream about that sundae.

Other dining highlights were a dinner at K-Pauls (where somehow I took no pictures) and Camellia Grill – both of them – breakfast at the Camellia grill in the French Quarter, and lunch another day at the original one a street car ride away down St Charles Avenue at Riverbend.

We also did a bit of drink touring. A stop at the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone, Pimm’s Cups at Muriels by Jackson Square, Hurricanes at Evelyn’s. And of course, I had to have  blue Moon or two along the way.

We stayed at Wyndham Vacation Resorts’ La Belle Maison, located at the corner of Magazine and Gravier, a block and a half west of Canal. Great location, one of Wyndham’s timeshare resorts (we own points, acquired on eBay, in the Wyndham system). Stayed in a 1 bedroom “Presidential” Suite. Loved the room, the location. Would give rave reviews except for the incident where the valet lost our rental car. Could not find it for over 2 hours, long story involving a cab to the airport, the car finally recovered (they forgot which garage it was parked in among 5 or 6 options), returned to the agency by the hotel valet service. Something in all my traveling for business and personal I have never heard happen to anyone before.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with the traditional photos of the accomodations:

The 3 C’s….we’re not talking diamonds, we’re talking beer

Cut, Complement and Contrast. The 3 C’s which make beer so great with food. Heck you could make it four, Carbonation, no, make that 5, add Cleanse. But those last two are really components of Cut.

Cut and Cleanse are basically the same thing….as in cleanse your palate; cut or remove the fat and oils on your tongue so that each bite of food tastes as good as the first. Beer’s low alcohol content, and carbonation both help to accomplish this. It is one of the great advantages beer has over other beverages when enjoyed with a meal.

Complement and Contrast refer to the taste profiles in the beer and in the food it is paired with. In some combinations the beer helps bring out qualities of the food because of the complementary or similar flavors between the beer and the food. In the case of roasted meats and baked breads, beer has a distinct advantage over most drinks due to the Maillard browning reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical change to the sugars  and amino acids in meats and grains when heated. Beer due to the malt (basically roasted barley) contains a similar caramelized flavor – complementing or bringing out the same flavors in food. Contrast is the opposite, different tastes that enhance the other. Berry Weiss with chocolate. Mild lagers with spicy foods.

But the best part of beer and food pairings is that there are no firm guidelines. No societal standards like white wine with fish or any of the other “rules” the wine world has defined. Increasingly chefs are cooking with beer. Experimenting with food and beer parings.

Had another work-related opportunity to attend a beer and food dinner. Formal 6 course. At the Merkat Restaurant in Chicago’s Blackhorse Hotel. A collaboration between Merkat’s chef, Jose Garces, along with Ryan Johnson and Grant Holtackers, trade brewers for Tenth and Blake Beer Company. With each course, the Chef and one of the brewers explained both the food and the beer.

 This was the third beer and food dinner I’d attended this year (other two written up here). As with the others, the meal began with Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4% abv, 17 IBU) paired with the salad course. The coriander and citrus in the Blue Moon make it great with both salads and seafood. Also learned that night that Blue Moon differs from Belgian tradition by using Valencia oranges in the recipe versus curacao oranges.

Chef Garces had used some of the Blue Moon in the dressing. Spicy almonds added a nice touch to the Serrano ham and figs.

A seafood course followed Halibut con Chorizo paired with Batch 19 (5.5% ABV, 26IBU), a beer brewed with a recently discovered pre-prohibition recipe. Hoppy, with a caramelized color and taste.

Our table was split on this course. Half thought this was their favorite course, for me, my least favorite of the food courses. A nice pairing, beer was quite good, as was the fish. I just enjoyed the other courses more.

The next course listed on the menu was a mystery on first read. Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown paired with Tocino con Cidre. Huh? Translated a yummy house cured pork belly w/ a parsnip puree and black truffle, apple, cabbage slaw. The Nut Brown (4.9% ABV, 13IBU) has a complex malt character with hints of roasted coffee, chocolate and hazelnut. Not surprising from the lower IBU little noticeable hop flavor.

Next up was a Black Angus hanger steak paired with Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell.  Pilsner Urquell (4.4 ABV, 40IBU) is often considered one of the most influential if not one of the finest beers on the planet. It was the first golden beer, first pilsner style. Urquell means from the original source. Hoppy, bitter. Strong flavors to accompany this strong meat.

A cheese course followed, paired surprisingly with Guinness Stout. Not surprising from a food/beer pairing perspective, but because this is not a Tenth and Blake product. Guinness Stout is one of the world’s most respected beers. It was a nice treat to taste this beer once again. I don’t often drink beers from other brewers and companies (am making an effort to try other beers on a more regular basis, expand my beer palate so to speak) Each time I drink this beer I am fascinated by how the deep roast and malty-ness masks the high bitterness of the beer (40IBU). Great with the cheese. This and the pork belly course were my two favorites. More and more I love cheese courses with good artisan cheeses.

Last up was dessert. The classic chocolate and berry combination. Sheep’s cheese berry cheesecake with chocolate croquettes paired of course with Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Yummy finish.

Great dinner from the Merkat and Tenth and Blake folks. Thankfully after all that great food and great beer, all I needed to do was ride an elevator to my room. Far too stuffed and sated to do much else!

Thanksgiving, It’s all about the food….and the family…and friends…and……

Just back from a Thanksgiving trip to my brother’s in Nashville. Great city, great company. Love visiting them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my brother hit the jackpot when he met his wife, Gina. In fact I said exactly that last year, when I wrote about the Thanksgiving 2009 trip here. The confirmed bachelor is now married, and a father. Last year my nephew was a newborn, this year a new walker.
Adding to the enjoyment, Gina’s aunt is a great hostess – and from day one has welcomed us as extended family into her gatherings. For most of these gatherings, we are in charge of bringing the drinks – beer, wine, a bit of spirits. For the Thanksgiving feast, Jeff and Gina do prepare quite a bit of the food. Last year I did my part entertaining 2 week old Jack while his parents cooked, this year, kiddo had that duty….providing me an opportunity to help with the cooking.
Preparations began Wednesday evening and continued through Thursday morning with an eye on our 1 pm deadline. Thursday morning found four of us in the kitchen, and we quickly developed almost a dance…weaving between each other, passing ingredients, stirring while another measured, one manning the sink – washing the dishes. Lots of mumbling under our breaths, reading the recipe’s next steps, thinking about what we needed next. 
 
I’d suggested to Gina that we do the Roasted Brussel Sprouts with pomegranate I’d seen on the Thanksgiving edition of Throwdown when Bobby Flay took on one of my favorite bloggers, Pioneer Woman. Gina put me in charge of making this dish. Highly recommend. Very highly recommend this dish. Even folks who think they don’t like brussel sprouts will love it. As delicious as it is beautiful.
Also on the menu was a homemade version of the classic green bean casserole. Created without a single can or bit of processed food. the best green bean casserole I’ve ever tasted, and tons of fun to make. From sauteeing the fresh mushrooms to creating my own onion straws. So good, so worth the effort.
 
Gina and Jeff (with the help of her young cousin) made a fabulous pumpkin cheesecake- which had all of us licking the bowl. The bourbon laced sauce really, uh, topped the cake.
 
When the cooking was done, it took two cars to load up all the goodies and head to Gina’s aunt’s house for our feast. (Yep, plenty of my fav, Blue Moon)
We started with appetizers of artisan cheeses, homemade pumpkin hummus and babaganoush, spinach artichoke dip and lots of crackers and veggies to dip them with.
Then quickly moved onto the main course which even my little nephew loved!
After dinner, in a slight food coma, we all retired to the family room. Some watched the football game. Though electronics also came into play – folks in the same room texting each other, “Angry birds” being played simultaneously on the iPad, an iPod and an iPhone. Even the little ones got in on the fun.
 
Through it all, I was very impressed with kiddo and how good he did with his cousin. Makes me proud to be his mom.

Beer and Food, who knew………….

Actually, a lot of people know that beer is a great accompaniment to food. And not just the standard burgers, wings and ribs. The carbonation (cleanses your palate), lower alcohol level (no hot finish) and acidity of beer often makes it a better beverage with most foods than other alcohol choices (yes, wine, I’m looking at you). As 10th and Blake Trade Brewer, Ryan Johnson stated, “Beer is better with food than wine could ever hope to be…. Pairing food with wine is like hunting with a rifle and scope – you better be dead-on accurate or you go hungry. Pairing food with beer is like hunting with a shotgun – even if you miss perfection, it will still delight if you follow the basic rules.”

Over the years, I’ve been to countless wine & food dinners – even “hosted” or moderated a few. And, yes, I’ve had the occasional perfect pairing, but believe me, I’ve also had my share of misses. However, the wine industry has done a much better job of marketing and romancing the paring of food and wine. Beer lovers and brewers are beginning to understand and promote the same. In the last month, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy two such beer and food dinners. Both upscale with chefs fully engaged in both cooking with the beers and creating excellent matches of beer to food – across all courses of the meal.

The first was a four course meal. Appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. Created by the Executive Chef at the Grand Traverse Resort in Grand Traverse Michigan. Excuse the photo quality – at both dinners I only had my phone, which let’s just say lacks in photo quality.

Appetizer course: Meyer Lemon Encrusted Sea Sea Scallops with a pepper caper pipperade finished with a Peroni drizzle, accompanied by Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Peroni Nastro Azzurro is an Italian import Pilsner with a refreshing and dry taste, a crisp lager.

Salad Course (this was wow, I love Blue Moon, and didn’t realize how great it is with salads.) Heart of Romaine salad with toasted walnut crisp, orange supreme and Walnut Belgian white vinaigrette. Blue Moon Belgian White is a medium bodied, unfiltered Belgian-style wheat ale spiced with fresh coriander and orange peel.

3rd course – 5 Onion Strip Steak with classic Amber cipolini, grilled scallion mash, amber beer battered vidalia, shallot demi and asparagus braised with leeks. Leinenkugel’s Classic Amber was the paired beer. Leine’s Amber is a Vienna style lager brewed with a blend of three malts to provide a bright copper hue and intense malty aroma – four types of hops give it a floral and spicy aroma.

Finishing off the meal was Berry Weiss Bread Pudding with a raspberry white chocolate anglaise accompanied by Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. This fruit wheat beer is flavored with Wisconsin loganberries, elderberries, and blackberries this tasty fruit beer was a Bronze Medal Winner at the 2004 Great American Beer Festival, and a Gold Medal at the 2007 GABF.

A couple of weeks later, I was back in Michigan. This time Grand Rapids, where I attended the dinner for the Meijers Charity Classic (affiliated with the LPGA). This beer and food dinner was hosted by 5th generation brewing legend Jake Leinenkugel. Dinner was created by the Executive Chef for the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids (one of my very favorite hotels, BTW). Three courses this time, all featuring Leine’s beers.

First course: Crispy Kurobota Pork Belly, salted caramel, candied kumquat, arugula accompanied by Leinenkugel Honey Weiss. Honey Weiss is an American Wheat Lager with a delicately sweet, malty flavor with a nice balanced hint of bitterness and a teasing taste of pure Wisconsin honey.

Main course was a filet of beef. with olive oil whipped potatoes, spiced pears, peppered spinach and a sage glace. The beer was Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest, their fall seasonal beer (in your stores now, but hurry!). Oktoberfest is a traditional German beer brewed with Pale, Caramel and Munich malts, and a blend of cluster, Tettnang, Hallertau and Perle hops. This medium bodied beer has caramel malt flavors balanced with spicy hop overtones. Great with steak – and the sweetness of the pears and the pepper of the spinach. Yum.

Leine Berry Weiss once again was paired with the dessert. Double chocolate panna cotta, genoise, raspberry anglaise with hazelnut. And wow, the Berry with this chocolate, oh my. The stuff of dreams.

Bottom line – if you see a beer and food dinner in your town, run not walk and attend. Expand your culinary horizons just a bit. You won’t be disappointed.

Newborn, Natchez, Noshing, Nashville, November

Our family had a little something extra to be thankful for this year – my new nephew Jack Stephen. Jack is the first child of my brother. He’s named in memory of my Dad, Jack, and in honor of his maternal grandfather, Stephen. My brother was a confirmed bachelor who hit the jackpot in his mid-40’s when he met his wife, Gina. Smart, fun, beautiful with an incredible family to boot. Really none of us could have asked for more. So, this year for Thanksgiving, we loaded up the car, put the bikes on the rack and set out on the 10 hour drive to celebrate with Jeff and Gina’s family and new son down in Nashville. And celebrate we did.

Gina’s Aunt is a great hostess and great cook. As with many great cooks, they have friends who are equally good cooks adding to the fun. What a feast we had – a foodie’s heaven! Two turkeys, one oven roasted, one smoked, two kinds of stuffing – including Gina’s family recipe of an italian sausage and bread stuffing that was almost addicting.

More and more food kept appearing on the tables….a couple of different sweet potatoes, the most amazing layered jello salad, several versions of cranberries, I loved the cranberry ginger chutney. Wines of the day were Pine Ridge Chenin/Vognier, Edna Valley Chardonnay, and Ponzi Pinot Noir. Blue Moon Honey Moon was available for the beer lovers. A bottle of Woodford Reserve was around. (any guesses what hubby and I were responsible for bringing). I forgot to get a picture of the dessert table – but it was equally impressive – two kinds of pumpkin pie, pecan pies. All so yummy.

Thank goodness with all that eating, we’d brought the bikes. Got in several good rides. A couple around Nashville in the Oak Hill/Belmont areas. But the most memorable was a ride along the Natchez Trace. Beautiful and challenging with the continual rolling hills.

Discovered that I’m a bit of a wimp riding over this famous bridge over Hwy 96. Heading out I stayed a decent distance from the edge. Coming back, a crosswind had blown up, and I was scared to death. Rode at almost the center of the road. Even once we got across and I got off the bike to take these pictures I never was able to stand next to the rail. Just a bit too freaked out.

The nice weather also provided an opportunity for a walk around Radner Lake.

Ended the weekend with a celebration of Mom’s birthday. A great trip, wonderful meeting Jack and spending time with family. Enough to wear a guy out!

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