Monday, March 21, 2011

Bleary Eyed and Bushed

If there are any loyal followers of this blog, you might be wondering why the posts are so infrequent. I promise you it is not because of a lack of wanting to post every day. In fact, I long to write long notes to you and any other passers by. The problem is that I do not have as much control over my schedule as I would like to. I have so many clients that I work for that I end up writing so much for everyone else that I hardly have enough time to write what I want to write. When I do write something I feel guilty that I am losing money.

When you are looking at having to save up for Summer vacations and all of the other things that you want in your life, it can cause you to push yourself pretty hard. That is exactly what I have been doing here as of late. Burning the candle on both ends can lead to a lot of money, which it has, but it also leads to inactivity, weight gain and a serious lack of beer drinking. What a sob story right?

I stand before you tired and unashamed of it. I say to those who have come back again and again, thank you. I say to all those showing up for the first time, welcome and I hope to see you again really soon. This blog is a labor of love for me, but without much time for labor, I lay forlorn and in desperate need of about an extra ten hours for each day.

The lack of energy and time is not a harbinger of doom though. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I will make more time for this blog as well as my other personal writing projects. I will keep you guys posted as to the results. For those of you wondering about what happened with my work out routine, I will tell you that it has gone straight in the trash. I went around the lake about 8 times the other day and even ran a lap. I felt like I was gonna die.

Until the next time we cross paths... tomorrow, maybe.... I hope you have a great day and that you will be able to enjoy drinking all of the beer that I am missing out one. CHEERS!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Having Fun at the Winter Beer Carnival in Atlanta

This blog post is about a month late. I swear I have not been drinking beer ever since the carnival. Okay, but not every minute of the day at least. Nonetheless, here it is in all of its glory and splendor for your approval.
When planning for my wife’s birthday, I came across an advertisement for the Winter Beer Carnival in Atlanta. From what I understand, this was only the second year that the Carnival has been in existence and I gotta tell you, it was GREAT. One of the biggest problems with beer festivals is that you are too close to the rest of the hopheads around you. The first thing that I noticed was that there was plenty of space.
It was a good thing that we got the VIP tickets to the event because we got in an hour early. There was a container of free water bottles which disappeared within the first hour of the event and was never refilled. It was a good thing that I decided to grab a couple of bottles in between beer stands. That one bottle may have saved me from getting over the top drunk with no return to sanity.
On to the Beer
I tried so many great beers that day. It is one thing that the Winter Beer Carnival in Atlanta really had going for them. Not only did they have most all of the major beers represented, they even had smaller breweries and a whiskey station available. It was truly a sight to behold. I was very happy to see my old friends from the New Belgium Brewery out there with some great Fat Tire. I was disappointed that they did not have very many of their obscure labels and I would have thought that they would have brought something out just for the carnival, but they did not.
I was also happy to see the local favorite, Sweetwater, show up. I did not have any of their beer until much later in the event as they are local and I can get many of their more obscure labels any time that I want to. They did have a good beer that I tried in the VIP tent though I was pretty drunk at that point and I do not remember the name of it.
My stand out favorite was – this is going to shock you right out of your seat – Guinness. They had their Foreign Extra available and it was truly one of the best stouts I had at the Carnival. I liked it so much that I had to buy myself some beer from the liquor store after the carnival was over.
Another standout that I really liked was the Southampton Double White. It was rich and deep without being fruity like many white beers can be. I did go back for this one a few times. It was a treat to have such a great beer on a great day.
One more great beer that we tried that day was the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog. It was a good beer which was smooth and slightly bitter. It had a good clean finish which made you want to come back for more. I would have gone back for more, but once I was in the VIP area, I did not want to leave again.
Now for the Bad Stuff
The main problem with the Carnival was that the beer ran out too fast. This is not just me. Apparently a lot of people complained about this. Most beer festivals have enough to get at least close to the end. This one seemed to have enough beer for about half the crowd that actually showed up. One speculation was that there were too many beers which were given away to the event. One look at Yelp for the event and you will see how many people commented on the fact that they did not pay for their ticket. It made me feel like a chump for paying so much for the VIP tickets.
It is a good thing that I did not need to use the bathroom while I was there. There was only normal mass public port-a-potties to be had. Even in the VIP section there was an insane line to behold. I would have also have thought that there would have been some kind of food to purchase or water available in the VIP area. Instead, if you wanted something you had to leave the VIP area to go out with the rest of the crowd.
Overall Rating
I did thoroughly enjoy myself no matter what. I got to try a lot of great beers and I met some cool people. I will definitely get the VIP tickets again next year so that I will be able to try everything that I want without having to worry about the lines. Maybe next time I will make sure to buy some food straightaway so that I will not have to wait an hour in a line for corn dogs. Thank you Winter Beer Carnival. I will see you next year for your third season.

Sundays and Crawfish Etouffe

I may have missed Mardi Gras, but I sure did not miss out on the flavor. One of the greatest things about having worked in some great New Orleans style restaurants over the years is that I have learned the true art of great Cajun cuisine. This is not the overrated stuff which goes BAM. No, this is the stuff which has been made by mothers for their children growing up on the bayou and in the good old Crescent City.
The good news is that you do not have to live in a soup bowl to understand good food. The only thing you have to have is a willingness to try new things and to lose the fear associated with cooking. After all, if uneducated slaves in the south could elevate leftovers into some of the most sumptuous dishes ever to hail from the region, there is no reason why you should not be able to do the same thing. Here I will walk you through making a great crawfish etouffe.
All about the roux
The first thing that you will need to know about when making a good crawfish etouffe is how to make the right roux. If you are unfamiliar with this, first let me tell you that it is pronounced like “ROO”. The second thing you need to know is how to make it. This is nothing more than an amalgamation of butter and flour. Take equal parts of each and stir them together in a pot and you have roux. Let me break it down further.
Put your butter in the pot over medium heat. As soon as the butter melts, (you’ve been stirring, right?) add in the flour. This works best with a wooden spoon, but a whisk will work well also. Stir the two together quickly so that you will get a nice smooth blonde color. If you were looking for a blonde roux you would cook it about 1-2 minutes and you would be done.
What you need for this dish is a dark roux. This means that you are going to cut the heat to a low temperature. The roux is going to bubble as you stir it. If it starts to look clumpy, do not worry as this is normal. Just keep stirring. Eventually the roux will start to turn color and when you have something which looks like a good dark toffee, you have the right color. You will also note the strong, nutty aroma from the roux. This is the stuff dreams are made of kids. Turn off the heat and use your spoon to put all of the roux into a bowl. Keep to the side and start the rest of the dish.
Get to know trinity
If you are into cooking, you are probably just starting to learn about a mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery). In Cajun cooking, you tend to use trinity instead. This is onions, celery and green peppers. The right portion to have is 1 part of celery and green pepper and two parts of onions. Always I add to this mix about a head of garlic and green onions. This will provide a lot of the flavor you will be able to enjoy.
Choosing your crawfish
You do not have to use crawfish in the shells unless you really want to. Most cooks will simply use the frozen crawfish tails to get the meat that they need to cook up some delicious etouffe. Simply thaw out the crawfish overnight in the fridge when you are ready to make it. If you cannot wait a day, pop the crawfish bag in a bowl of running cold water and the crawfish will be thawed in about a half hour.
Getting started
When you are ready to get started, you should start off with butter in a medium pot. If you don’t want to use butter – far be it from me why – use canola oil instead. Add in the onions first. While stirring every once in a while, add in the garlic, celery and then the green peppers. Space out each addition by about 2-3 minutes. Get some good Cajun seasoning and add a dash (1-2 tablespoons) while the vegetables are cooking. When you are just about ready, add in two large bay leaves.
Next you will add in some chicken stock to the recipe. I generally use about one quart of chicken stock to the recipe. Also add in your crawfish at this point. As this is heating up, but before it comes to a simmer, add in the dark roux. How much to add in will depend on how thick you want to make your etouffe. For this recipe, you should use about ¾ cup of dark roux. Make sure to stir your etouffe as you add in the roux. Stir until all the roux has been incorporated. A note here: you can add cold roux to a cold stock or cold roux to hot stock or cold stock to hot roux. NEVER add hot roux to hot stock. You will get a clumpy disaster you will hate.
Finishing it off
After allowing the etouffe to simmer for about a half hour, it is a good time to add in the green onions to the mix. You should also taste everything at this point to see if you need to make any additions. You may want to add Tabasco at this point of more creole seasoning. It is up to your palate as what you want. At this point you should be able to taste the seasoning, the vegetables and the crawfish. Allow it to simmer about ten minutes more before plating. The mixtures should look a bit thicker than soup, but not thick enough to be gravy.
Plating your creation
The classic way to serve this dish is with the rice in the center of a shallow bowl. A good way to do this is to take a small espresso cup and fill it with steamed white rice. Make sure to mound the rice over the top so you can pack it in good. Turn the bowl over on top of the cup and invert the whole thing. Press down good on the cup and pull straight up. You should get a nice mound of rice in the center. Add in the etouffe around the rice and you are ready to eat. You may want to throw a few more green onions on top to get the full flavor of New Orleans.
Dig in and enjoy! I just made this for a great Sunday lunch and my family was over the moon happy about it. It is amazing how something so simple can make you feel so good. Trust me, when you try this you are going to be ready to put on some creole music and dance the night away.
If you really want to send this dish over the top, have a couple of cold Turbo Dogs from the Abita Brewing Company. The flavors go so well together that you might feel as if the might mississip’ is not too far away. Sorry, there will not be any beignets or chicory coffee to follow unless you feel up to the challenge.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Where the Buffalo Roam

Tonight for dinner I made up a delicious Buffalo top round roast. My wife and I have been talking about investing in buffalo as an income builder and decided so that we should eat more. We have been enjoying buffalo burgers and buffalo stew. I was scared about how the roast would turn out because buffalo is such a low fat meat. I will worry no more as the roast turned out perfect and there was hardly anything left at the end of the meal.
To prepare the meat, all I did was rub it with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), salt, pepper and garlic. I then roasted the roast at 350 degrees in a convection oven for one hour. There was one part of the roast which got a little dry, but the rest was moist and delicious. I served it with some red bliss potatoes with EVOO and herbs, haricot verts in some European butter and salt as well as some port-blue cheese sauce. The combination of flavors was perfect.
If this is what eating healthy is all about, then I am ready to eat more of this kind of food. After all, how can you beat a dinner complete with steak, potatoes and blue cheese? I guess the Newcastle beer that I had from my draught keg offset any of the good that I did, but how can you deny that good nutty flavor from one of the best beer imports available. Of course, add that to the Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout I had last night along with the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout I had last night and I am living good on beer, but bad on calories.
I also made up a delicious French Onion Soup from about ten onions, garlic, beef broth, salt, pepper, EVOO, Glace de Veau and bay leaves. All I am missing is some good crusty bread to make croutons and some sliced gruyere to finish the soup for a delicious dinner. I hope that the cold weather will last so that I will be able to enjoy the soup very soon. What suggestions do you guys have for these kinds of foods? Do you like them? Give me some feedback.