Saturday, July 9, 2011

Smoked Flemish Beef Stew

I've been really busy for the last few weeks with pretty much every aspect of my life. There's been a lot of work, and stress, and change; and yesterday, in the midst of a move, I decided to take some time to unwind while doing something I love: cooking with beer! What follows is the best recipe I've come up with for Carbonnades Flamandes yet. What makes this one really stand out is that I smoked the meat prior to continuing with the rest of the recipe. It gives it a great red color, and adds a ton of flavor that melds well with the rest of the dish.

For this recipe, I rounded up the following:

  • 2.5 pound cubed stew meat

  • 3 tablespoons flour

  • 1 teaspoon of salt

  • 1 teaspoon of course fresh ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder

  • 2 tablespoon peanut oil

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 3 large onions chopped

  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley

  • .5 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 750ml bottle of strong belgian dark ale

  • 1 container of beef stock

  • a splash of acidic flanders red or oud bruin

  • To start, mix the flour, salt, pepper, and onion powder in a dish. You're going to use this mixture to coat the beef before you cook it. If your meat chunks are large, this quantity should be sufficient to coat them, if you have smaller pieces at this weight, you may need to prepare some extra to deal with the extra surface area.

    Once you've got the meat coated, it's time to start warming up the grill. I used natural lump charcoal. For smoke, you can use chunks or chips for this recipe. If you use chips, soak them really well before you put them on the coals, you don't want a big explosion of acrid smoke all at once, you want a slow smolder. You can soak the chips with whatever you want. I soaked mine with beer!

    When the grill is good and ready, and the chips have just started to smoke, place a grill safe, non-stick performated grill pan on the grate, and arrange the meat chunks on top. Close the lid and let the smoke start penetrating the meat. After a few minutes, you'll need to start flipping the chunks. At first, as the fat begins to render out of the meat, the flour and spices will look a bit transparent and sticky, this is fine.

    You'll know you're done with the grill when the meat has taken on a deep red color from the smoke, with a bit of deep brown where the meat crisped a bit. When this happens, it's time to bring your smoked stew meat inside to throw in a large pan, heated to medium high heat with the 2 tablespoons of oil and butter. A lot of people use bacon in this recipe, but the first thing you'll notice when the meat hits the pan is that it already has a rich bacony aroma, so there's no need. Continue to cook in the pan until the meat takes on a deeper color. At this point, you're ready to add the onions, garlic, brown sugar, parsley, and thyme. Continue to stir the mixture until the onions have begun to soften.

    At this point, you're ready to pop open that beer. The first thing you want to do is pour half into a glass. That's for you!

    Next, take the remaining beer and pour it into the pan with your beef and onions.

    From here, open up the beef stock, and pour enough in to cover the meat completely.

    Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and let this simmer for an hour and a half. This is a good time to empty the glass of beer you poured.

    When the meat is tender, splash in the flanders red or oud bruin to taste. You're trying to give the stew a nice acidity and bite that cuts through the rich sauce.

    That's it, Bon appetit!

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Fred Fest 2011

    This past week Fred Eckhardt turned 85, and the annual traditional of helping him celebrate with a very special beer festival at Hair of the Dog took place once again at the brewery. Fred Fest is one of my favorite festivals of the year for so many reasons. The rarity of some of the beers, the intimate feel, the food, the raffle, the great crowd, and above all - the wonderful hospitality that Alan and the rest of the Hair of the Dog crew show make it a can't miss event on my calender.

    This year, when I arrived at the brewery I was about 60 or 70 people back in line, despite being half an hour early. By the time the event began, it looked like all 300 ticket holders had joined us in the wait for the doors to open. I thought it was a little silly to wait in line for an event that was only open to so many people, but it proved to have been worth it. After getting in and buying my raffle tickets, I immediately made my way to the keg of 1998 Boilermaker from full sail - a beer that ran out before the last ticket holders in the line made it through the door. Let me say this: 13 years later, this beer is fantastic, and I bet it will continue to age gracefully for many years to come; a fantastic example of how much time can do for the right beer.

    With all the chaos of opening the new location out the way this year, things at the fest ran a lot smoother than in the past. It was evident that a lot of time and energy was spent to make this year one of the best yet. The food was ready from the opening and there was plenty for everyone. Bottled water was available all over the brewery in plentiful quantities. The snacks were abundant and delicious. The taps were well manned, and the lines were always short-to-nonexistent, even for some most sought after beers.

    Once again, the entire building was open to the fest-goers, which offered a nice glimpse into the operations of the brewery, and some of the projects that were in the works. I always love checking out the barrel aging area to try to get a picture of some of the future beer releases. This year I spotted another batch of Michael, Fred Flanders, Matt, Adam from the wood, and Bourbon Fred from the wood, as well as many other barrels just marked with cryptic symbols I couldn't decipher. In addition to the aging beers, I noted that the brewery picked up brand new fresh oak barrels to work with. I've only previously seen used wine and spirit barrels in my visits to Hair of the Dog, so it will be interesting to see what comes out of the fresh oak barrels in the future.

    Once the crowd had all filtered it into the brewery, had a chance to eat, and quenched their thirsts, cupcakes were handed to each of the attendees, topped with chocolate mustaches reminiscent of Fred's famous whiskers. With cupcakes in hand, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Fred, which was followed by a couple rounds of "For he's a jolly-good fellow". If my 85th birthday is a tenth as festive and attended as Fred's, it would be an amazing thing.

    In addition to the Boilermaker, I made my way through the following beers over the course of the evening:
    • Bend Deconstructionater
    • Cascade Fredtastic
    • Deschutes Sour Saison
    • Double Mountain Fine Pimpin'
    • Hair of the Dog Peach Fred
    • Hopworks Kronan the Bourbarian
    • Laurelwood Mexican Mocha Ale
    • Lucky Lab Port aged Brown Ale
    • Midnight Sun Arctic Devil
    • New Old Lompoc Franc'ly Brewdolph
    • Prodigal Sun Neuer Morgan

    Of those, there were some "hits", some "mehs", and a "miss" or two. For the hits, the Deschutes Sour Saison was near the top for me. I had heard from several people that the original keg that was on for Deschutes turned out to be the wrong one. I feel sorry for those that tried that keg and didn't revisit the tap after things were corrected. Since the original release of Dissident, Deschutes hasn't been able to impress me with a sour offering until now, and I'd go as far as saying the version I tried this weekend was their best effort altogether. Looking over some of the reviews on ratebeer, it seems like not everyone agrees, but I'll stick by my statement. Hopefully their ratings are based on the right beer at least.

    Peach Fred really surprised me. I first tried it at the Matt release, and while it was better than Apricot Fred, it was still just... not that good then. With 6 more months of age on it, I'd say it's just starting to come around. Gone were the chunks from the first release. The sharp edges were rounded out, and the flavors were smoother and less hot then in the past. It was difficult for me to pick the "fred" notes out of it, but it was a delicious version none-the-less. I hope Alan has more of this stashed away somewhere to serve in another year or two.

    I don't have much to say about my other top picks, as I've had them all before: Hopworks Kronan the Bourbarian is a great bourbon barrel aged baltic porter that I can never pass up. Midnight Sun Arctic Devil is one of my favorite english style barley wines of all time.

    The biggest miss of the event for me was Cascade's Fredtastic. Yikes! "Aged in chardonnay barrels w/ dried Adriatic white figs and Spanish lemon peel", this one brought back unpleasant memories of Apricot Fred from six months ago... throat melting acetone. Oh well, you can't win them all, and there's no love lost between me and Cascade from this experiment.

    For the second year in a row, I was successful in the raffle. My first winning ticket yielded a bottle of the 2009 Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head collaboration, Life and Limb. My second ticket awarded me with a series of every Fred Fest tasting glass made - filling in some gaps from the years I've missed.

    Another year, another great event. I can't wait til celebrate Fred's 86th.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Jeff's Beer Can Chicken recipe.

    I've received a couple of complaints about my posting frequency lately. What follows is what happens when I post just for the sake of providing content, and not because I'm particularly inspired to write about something.

    In other words, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

    Today's entry is a recipe I just developed for cooking with beer that I found to be worth repeating and recommending. Basically, there's little to this recipe that's original or unique, other than maybe the combination in which the techniques were employed, but it's damn good chicken.

    Jeff's take on Beer Can Chicken:

    To do this right, you're going to need a charcoal grill. I like my old weber kettle, but any decent grill should work for this one. Also, for fuel you need to use natural lump charcoal. No one likes the chemical taste of briquettes man. I like to kick up the smoke on any grill recipe. If that's up your alley, grab a chunk or two of your favorite hardwood before you start too. Chunks, not chips.

    First, you need to mix up the dry rub. The recipe for the rub is way more than you'll need, so have a good airtight container ready to store the rest for future use. My recipe is based on Hugh's Dry Rub Recipe, with minimal additions or substitutions. Here's mine:

    1/2 cup paprika
    3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
    2 tablespoons ancho powder
    5 tablespoons ground black pepper
    6 tablespoons garlic powder
    3 tablespoons onion powder
    6 tablespoons salt
    5 tablespoons dried ground mexican oregano

    With the exception of maybe one or two things on this list, you could probably whip it up with stuff you already have laying around your spice cabinet. If you do need to buy anything, my advice is this: Don't cut corners on your paprika. Maybe it's the Hungarian in me, but the range in quality of the paprika out there is huge. Also, freshness matters a lot, so it's best not to just use that little red and white tin from the back of your pantry that only comes out once a year to garnish deviled eggs. This is the main ingredient of the rub, you don't want to start off on the wrong foot. Check out European specialty stores for the good stuff. I've had some luck at Edelweiss here in Portland. I also added ancho powder to the list, it's another ground dried chili (poblano) that has a flavor distinct from cayenne or paprika blends. It's tasty. I omitted thyme from Hugh's recipe, and doubled the oregano to make up for it. I also made sure to specify Mexican oregano. It tastes a lot different, and I think the difference works a lot better with grilled meats. Anyway, that's that. Just mix it all together real good and store it somewhere cool and dry.

    For the birds, there's really minimal prep other than the dry rub. Pull out the giblets, rinse em off in cool water, pat them dry with a towel (the chickens, I don't care what you do with the giblets). The only extra step I recommend before applying the rub is to peel a bunch of cloves of garlic, and insert them under the skin of the bird over all the best pieces of meat. I put a couple over each breast, as well as some in the thigh and drum areas. Once the chickens are looking nice and lumpy, apply a nice thin coating of peanut oil all over the inside and outside of the chicken. It will give it a delicious golden skin, and it lets the dry rub stick. Now that you've greased up your bird, you're going to want to apply the rub. Don't roll the chickens in it. It will be way too much. Apply a bit here and there and just rub it in, making sure not to miss any nooks or crannies. Do the inside surfaces of the bird too, if for no other reason, then because it's fun to wear your food like a puppet once in a while. After this step, wrap the chicken(s) in saran wrap or tightly seal in a ziplock with the air pushed out. Refrigerate for at least an hour or two to get the flavor to penetrate.

    Now the fun part, and the only reason this post is even remotely appropriate for a beer blog: you need one half empty can of beer for each chicken you're cooking. To be honest, it doesn't seem to matter too much what kind of beer you're using, so I suggest something that's good enough to drink, but not too expensive to waste half a can of inside a chicken's ass. I used Dales Pale ale from Oskar Blues. I don't think it's the best Pale Ale in a can, but it was on sale for a couple bucks less than Caldera. Now a lot of guys will tell you to slide the chicken down on the can and you're done. I like going a step further. Get a bullion cube, crush it up, and stick that in the can with the beer first. The idea is that the grill will get the temperature in the can hot enough to start boiling the liquid, which will steam the chicken from the inside, as well as flavor it a bit.

    Once the chicken is properly flavored by the rub, get your charcoal ready. Don't use lighter fluid, this isn't amateur hour. I like using a charcoal chimney. Once you use it a few times, it actually pays for itself in lighter fluid savings, it gets the coals evenly heated and ready to cook with fast, it wont make your food taste like ass, and (to date) we've never sent our troops overseas to secure charcoal chimneys. Once your coals are ready to cook with, lay them out for cooking with indirect heat. On the kettle, it's traditional to lay them all out on one side and place the meat on the other, but I do a little ring around the perimeter, it makes sure all the sides are getting exposed to similar heat.

    While you're doing all that, you're going to want to soak your hardwood chunks in water (or beer?) for about half an hour. You want them to smolder, not burn. After half an hour, let them dry just a bit. You don't want to extinguish the coals with a dripping chunk of wood, that would be stupid.

    You can prop the chickens up two ways. The tradition way is to make a tripod between the legs and the can. This works, and I did it with one of the chickens in the photo, but you have to be careful with birds cooked in this manner. If they fall over, beer spills all over, and it's a huge mess. The other option is a little stand that you can get at any place that sells BBQ equipment. It holds a beer can, and provides a wide base to support the chicken. You can see the stand under the other bird in the photo. I would have used the stand for both chickens, but I only have one, so I made do.

    Position the chicken in the center of the grill away from coals, take one or two chunks of soaked wood and lay them on the coals, and shut the lid. Don't peak for at least an hour unless either of the following happens: the smoke escaping from the grill is thick and white instead of thin and blue, OR there is no smoke coming out of the grill (assuming you're trying to get some smoke flavor in there). If there's too much smoke, it's not going to taste right, and it's indicative of the wood chunk igniting instead of smoldering. If that's the case, move it away from the coals, spritz a little water on it, and soak it better next time. If there's no smoke, you might have to add another wood chunk because your first one burnt out, or maybe it was too wet or had insufficient contact with the coals to start smoldering.

    A four pound chicken should probably take at least an hour and fifteen minutes. A bigger bird will take closer to an hour and a half or more. What you'll find though is that it's hard to overcook a chicken using this method, so it's safe to err on the side of "well done". To be sure it's done, stick a quick read thermometer in the breast (160 degrees), and the thigh (180 degrees). Once you hit those targets, you're good to go, regardless of how long it took you to get there.

    Let the chicken rest away from the heat for ten minutes, and dig in!

    PROTIP: This last time, I made an extra chicken. The next day, I pulled all the meat off, piled it in a pot with some more Dales Pale ale and some salsa, and simmered it up to serving temp. This is the stuff that the burritos of your dreams are made of.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Spring has sprung

    It seems like it's been months since the breweries started rolling our their spring seasonals, but the first signs of the season are only just popping up in my yard. I just noticed these new hop shoots protruding from one of my crowns. A close inspection of the rest showed things were beginning to happen for all them so far except my fuggles. This particular plant was the most prolific last year, and is showing way more activity so far this year as well.

    I'm not sure what I'm going to do about them this year. I'm probably not going to be living here for much more than another month or two. Should I leave them for the next owners? Should I dig the first few feet of each up and plant them somewhere else?

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Genever and fun with yahoo babel fish.

    With all this talk about Genever and kopstootje floating around on the blogs as of late, a new light was shone on this relic I found while packing up the beer cave today. With my curiosity piqued, I decided to record a few photos and decipher the label before it's lost in a sea of boxes indefinitely.

    For those too lazy to click on a link, genever is a Dutch infused liquor that is sometimes served with a beer back in a ritual called "kopstootje" (little head butt). While infused with botanicals similar to gin, what sets genever apart is the blend of distillates that replace a good portion of the neutral base spirits in gin.

    Anyway, this old bottle of J.H. Henkes Oude Genever in my possession has a bit of copy on its label, some of which I understand from my knowledge of beer, but most of which I don't. I thought it would be interesting to see how the company described their liquor, so I ran it through Yahoo! Babel Fish to see how it might be translated. It's not the smartest translator, and the results are always questionable, but hey, it's free!

    Here's what Yahoo! has to say, without any interpretation from me:

    Old Genever, from grains stoked double persuaded.

    Authenticity is possible... [hole in label] ...guaranteed if capsule is cork intact is and the fire mark stigmatising brandmerk henkes... [too faded to decipher].


    I was hoping for a beer recommendation for kopstootje or something.

    Anyway, it's a neat old bottle.

    The Man Cave Book.

    A little over a year ago, I got an email from a guy named Jeff Wilser who was writing a book about "man caves". He wanted to interview me about my beer cave, and asked for a few photos to use in the book. I answered a round of questions, and several follow-ups, submitted photos, took and submitted additional photos by request, and then ultimately forgot all about it until today.

    I vaguely recalled the planned release date to be sometime this month, so I looked into it, and sure enough, it's set to be released April 19th. I have no idea what, if anything, from the interviews and submissions of mine made it past the editors for inclusion into the final print version, but it would be neat to see it immortalized in a book.

    Anyway, for anyone who might be interested in seeing the lengths that some men go to create a comfortable place to retreat to with their buddies, this book should be pretty sweet. I know I take pride in the time I put into my place, and all the great old beer stuff I've collected, but it's amateur hour at my house compared to some of the stuff I've seen from my more financially-fortunate brother "cave men".

    Currently, the book is available for about 50% off if you pre-order it on Amazon.

    (Here's a photo of the cave I built.)

    Sadly, there's another part of this story. Circumstances have brought an end to the tenancy of my beer collection in the garage in which it currently resides. Over the next few days, everything is getting boxed up, and I'll be on the hunt for a new place to set up shop. It's the end of an era, but like the phoenix, I have faith that it will rise from the ashes bigger and better than ever before.

    EDIT: Jeff Wilser saw a tweet I made about this post, and retweeted it saying "Yep, your garage made it. Congrats." So there you have it!

    EDIT 2: Just received this:

    I could get into religion.

    For Lent, can man live by brew alone?

    "For the 46 days of Lent, J. Wilson is forgoing solid food and only drinking beer and water - just as Bavarian monks did hundreds of years ago."