Endless Pairings: European Beer Dinner

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Thankfully, beer pairing dinners are becoming increasingly popular in my area. And lucky for you, you get to hear about it. Now, we can all embrace the fact that beer pairs just as well with food as wine does! Sands Bethlehem and St. James Gate hosted a European Beer Dinner. The dinner paired imported European beers with four courses of fall flavored gourmet style meals. Similar to the wine pairing, representatives introduced each beer to discuss the characteristics of the beer and where it comes form. The chef also circulated during the event and was willing to answer questions.

The pairings were not what I expected for each meal, but each complemented the meal nicely. In speaking with the chef, he explained that he tasted each suggested beer first, then he decided what kind of meal to pair it with. Meanwhile, in our DIY pairing, we were thinking about what the beer would taste like, then finding something to complement the beer. For a true beer pairing, the beer should really complete each meal and bring out the flavors of the meal. We determined our favorite meal, favorite beer, and favorite pairing. Check it out.

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Endless Road Trip: Collingswood Pop Shop

There is more to South Jersey than the Real Housewives: there is food. We were recently visiting  to celebrate my future sister-in-law”s birthday and went to the Pop Shop in Collingswood, NJ. The name “pop shop” insinuates great ice cream floats, milk shakes, and fountain soda. However, I noticed that every waiter was wearing shirts touting their love for cheese. The shop was featured on Food Network”s Throwdown with Bobby Flay for their grilled cheese. The menu features the sandwiches from the show so some of us got that, while future sister-in-law ordered the trophy of dessert breakfasts – s”mores french toast. Then of course, we all gorged ourselves with desserts. Enough chit chat – on to the food.

S”mores French Toast:

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Under the heading of “Fantastic French Toast Dreams,” you will find cinnamon bun french toast, banana”s foster, and even ham and cheese. But then you see the s”mores french toast on the menu and by chance see a waiter flaunting a pile of french toast, graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallow on what has to be a silver platter. Clearly someone at the table is ordering the s”mores french toast. Sister-in-law ordered it with a small amount of persuasion from the table and offers to give up half of their sandwich for a bite of the gooey french toast.  Well I got my bite in a trade for some bacon and cheese fries. The bite included savory fresh french toast  soaked with chocolate sauce. Then the marshmallow sauce that glues the stack of french toast together hits you. Your bite must include a piece of the top of the stack, since that is where the crunch of the graham cracker comes from. While I would never be able to finish an entire dish of it, I would suggest someone at my table order it again.

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Bringing The Heat

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We’re always looking for new ways to play with our avocado, and here’s a take  that we haven’t seen yet, even in our extensive ES guac-a-wanderings.

At New York’s excellent Mexicue, they make a guacamole with grilled serrano peppers, bringing a slow, deep heat that plays perfectly off of a fresh avo. Here’s the not-at-all-complicated recipe.

Grilled Serrano Guacamole 

1 Serrano pepper, halved and seeded (use 2 for heavier heat)
4 ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice (plus more to taste)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more to taste)
½ teaspoon chipotle powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ cup finely chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1.     Place Serrano pepper over high heat either on a grill or gas stovetop. Flip with tongs until both sides are slightly charred and it is soft. Cool and roughly chop.

2.     In a large bowl add the pepper and remaining ingredients and use a potato masher to mash all ingredients together.

3.     Taste for additional salt and lime juice.

Ultimate Hangover Sandwich in Seattle

Food Porn of the Day: Ultimate Hangover Sandwich

Ultimate Hangover Breakfast Sandwich Seattle

On a recent visit back to my hometown of Seattle, my friends and I were in a dire hangover situation. We needed greasy goodness but after a night of questionable “dining” choices (midnight quesadillas and – dare I admit it? Domino’s pizza) we also wanted something that was actually well-made and worth our time. No ordinary diner breakfast would do.

Luckily pub/restaurant Lot No. 3 had us covered. This is their grilled cheese (made with Beecher’s – some of the best cheese ever, also Seattle-based) with three important additions: a runny fried egg, caramelized onions, and BACON. But not just any bacon. House candied bacon. Be still my heart (literally, I think I had a mini heart attack while devouring this, but it was worth it). Plus, it doesn’t come with some bullshit salad on the side or whatever. It comes with a miniature bowl of tomato soup. TOMATO SOUP! What else could you possibly need when you’re hungo and hangry?!

Endless Pairings: Emeril’s Chophouse

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While it’s clear we that love craft beer here at ES, we do not play favorites. Which is why we took advantage of an opportunity to attend a four-course wine pairing dinner at Emeril’s Chophouse at Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA.  The event was based on South American Wines (from Chile) and some fall-themed foods. My expectations for this event were pretty simple – learn more about wine (how it’s made, how to choose a wine for particular meals, what’s so special about Chilean wine?), have some great food that I couldn’t have otherwise, and taste wine that truly complements the food I’m eating with the wine. Rather than boring you with my oh-so-important and attention-worthy opinions of every course, I’ll give you the cliff notes version.

First, let’s talk about my educational expectations. Whenever I go to these kinds of events, I want to leave knowing more than I did when I first arrived. The woman in charge of the “educational” aspect of the event was a very well-versed representative from Southern Wine. She did a great job of explaining why she chose Chilean Wines for this event (it is under-represented and often under-rated) and giving a good run-down of the people that made the wine. Something that I appreciated was learning about what the winemakers intended for the wine, what kind of grapes they picked, and why they picked a particular region. For instance, when drinking my favorite wine of the night (Ritual Pinot Noir) I learned that the grapes are pressed with the berries still in a bunch. When this occurs, more pronounced tanin flavors come through in the wine (which is something that I look for in a dry red).  The one thing that was missing from the education aspect of the event was that she really did not discuss why she chose the particular wine for each course. Like I said – she gave great information about the wines, but not as much about why the wine was chosen for the courses.

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Endless Road Trip Marfa: Living It Up at Cochineal

Marfa Cochineal Menu Summer 2014

While Marfa is a small town, its identity as an artists enclave and hip Southwest tourist destination cultivates a demand for finer dining. I’m not talking stuffy, classic dining (I don’t think anything close to that really exists in these small South Texas towns) but creative, modern, upscale restaurants? There’s a couple in the area but Cochineal is the one I’d heard the most buzz about. So I figured hey, when’s the next time we’ll be in Marfa, let’s splurge a little bit.

A thirty seat dining room, forty odd seat courtyard, open kitchen, and a vegetable garden supplying the freshest baby greens and vegetables – all came into being by 2008 and the restaurant opened on May 22.

The food served at Cochineal is much as Ruth Reichl wrote about Restaurant Etats-Unis for theNY Times in 1993. We are still home cooks, still cooking simple food, still changing the menu daily, still paying attention to the inherent qualities of the raw ingredients. We are still in love with the wines of the world and maintain a list of some 250 bottles in a wide range of prices.

We have also have the continuing joy of watching a wonderful staff of very young and very native Marfans grow into an appreciation of what food can become and into an awareness of how skilled and competent they can become.

Love it!

Cochineal isn’t a big space, but it’s really stylish and sexy. They have a great, dusty little outdoor seating area in their front courtyard, or you can sit in the sleek yet rustic indoor space (where we enjoyed our meal). The menu at Cochineal is comprised of small plates, large plates, and a couple desserts. It changes daily, and once they run out of something, they are OUT. We got a 6:00pm reservation because, as Aerosmith would say, I don’t wanna miss a thing.

What does a multi-course dinner at one of the best restaurants in West Texas look like? Feast your eyes on this.

Marfa Cochineal Peking Quail

For course one, Rob and I split the peking style quail with a crispy and sticky skin stuffed with fermented carrots, pineapple, and fried rice. We also got the house-baked bread with Marfa yeasts to share between the table. Oh, and duh, I got a cocktail! A vodka gimlet which was ultra fresh and tasty.

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Endless Road Trip Marfa: Buns N’ Roses

Marfa Buns and Roses Chips Salsa

That photo might not seem like the fanciest, most stylistic presentation of chips & salsa in the world, and you know what, it’s not. But what it is is fresh, thick corn tortillas fried to order for our table, dusted with the perfect amount of salt and served with fresh, garlicky salsa. That’s how they DO it at Buns N’ Roses in Marfa.

But let’s rewind a bit. The second day of our West Texas roadtrip extravaganza, we moseyed from our teepees at El Cosmico to Buns N’ Roses, about a 40 minute walk in the hot desert sun. (We could have driven I guess, but we’d all imbibed quite a few mimosas back at our lodging. Duh, vacation.) I had heard good things about their breakfast from the peeps at El Cosmico and besides that, I couldn’t turn down a restaurant with a pun for a name.

It’s an accurate pun, too, because Buns and Roses is a 2-in-1 stop: both a bakery (buns) and florist (roses). I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

Upon approach, you feel like you might be entering an abandoned/haunted greenhouse…

Marfa Buns and Roses Driveway

Marfa Buns and Roses Building

But inside it’s quite cute and cozy! The kitchen is run by a mother-daughter team, which I love. There were only a couple other tables in for brunch around 11:30am on a Saturday, and service was super quick with plenty of coffee refills – always appreciated. The menu is full of your standard egg dishes, plus offerings from their bakery: honey wheat bread, beer bread, and of course their famous buns. Tragically they were sold out of all their donuts and pastries by the time we rolled in so we couldn’t try any of their eponymous buns! But the breads/toast were GOOD.

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