Monday, June 27, 2011

Beer of the Month - June

The beer of the month for June is Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's Summerfest {5.0% abv}. I've known Sierra Nevada as a quality beer for about a decade. I was first introduced to their popular Pale Ale many moons (and semesters) ago. I didn't think much about background on the companies that supplied my beers back then, just taste and percentages. That said, I was happy to get to know more about Sierra Nevada through researching for this months BOTM selection. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's (SNBC) Chico, California roots go back to the late 70's with it's home brew loving founder, Ken Grossman. Ken was like all of us at one point or another; young, enjoying beverages and with a dream. Unlike most people though, he followed through on his dream of wanting to setup his own brewery by going to college and studying Chemistry and Physics. Soon afterwards he went from helping others to setup their own home brewery systems, which he had become an expert at, to gaining a business partner that wanted to help fulfill the brewery creation dream. In 1980 Ken Grossman and co-founder Paul Camusi gathered second hand supplies, put in the legwork to get the best local ingredients available and created the now famous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Word of mouth spread, business grew, facilities grew and the rest is history. They apparently have a restaurant/music hall as well where you can see live music acts, eat great food and have access to every brew they offer. I think this may need to be a part of my next trip to California.

SNBC advertises this tasty seasonal, Summerfest, as a crisp lager; I think they're relatively accurate depending on the serving temperature at which you drink it. In my opinion a summer beer should be served around 40 degrees; a Summerfest lager from the back of the fridge does not disappoint. Upon the first sip, its complex choreography of ingredients become immediately apparent. This golden lager flaunts it's spices, hops and moderate malt profile, all while being easy to drink. While this beer is sold as a seasonal it would be good to have all year round. For food pairings, treat Summerfest like a white wine; matching up great with white meats. I went into a local beer store and picked this brew out on a whim, knowing how good the Sierra Nevada product was. Since getting this trial sixer at the beginning of the month, I've gotten more to split with friends. 2.5 stars (see below).

In honor of the one year anniversary of this blog (time flies), this will be the new rating 'key' post for future BOTM posts. For clarification, if a beer sucks I won't even bring it up. Every BOTM is worth trying and could possibly be your new favorite; that said, below you'll find my relative scale for beers worth drinking. 'Half-Star' designations mean both the referenced number it is as well as the next number up (e.g., 2.5 means both enjoyable and solid).

1 - Let a friend buy it.
2 - Solid choice.
3 - Enjoyable.
4 - Seek it out with great effort.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Food. #2

Al's grilled salmon:
-fresh salmon fillet
-kosher sea salt
-ground black pepper
-olive oil
-pre-made marinade of your choice

Cut fillets into single portions; make sure to remove the light scales that result. Oil a dinner plate (or equivalent) and add seasonings to taste, onto oil. Place salmon fillets flesh side down to coat them generously; they'll be going on the grill so being liberal here will go a long way. Flip and repeat on the skin side. Keeping the skin is necessary to cook salmon directly on the grill grates, however if you'd like to remove the skin or make the fillets easier to remove once done, you feel free to cook fish on top of oiled foil. For those of you looking for more flavor, oil the grill grates and after getting your grill temp to about 350*, place your fish on top of the grates skin side down. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fillets, but for these pictured cuts from a ~2.2lb fillet the total cooking time was about 25 minutes. Shuffle fish on the grill only to even heat distribution (if your lower-end grill has hot spots like mine), but cook on the skin side only. You'll know the fillet is cooked when you see juice bubbles appear on top and clean flaking is present. Brush on marinade a few times during the last 5 minutes for added flavor. If you have the time you can soak the fish in marinade for 6-10 hours prior to cooking and skip that last step. The result should be tender and succulent.

Beth's string beans:
-fresh string beans
-clove or two of garlic
-red onion
-white onion
-olive oil
-kosher sea salt
-ground black pepper

Prep the aromatics, chopping onions into 1/8ths and dicing your cloves of garlic. Chop the ends off the string beans, then wash them thoroughly. Get an appropriately sized pot for your string beans (I believe what you see is about one pound) and bring water to a boil. Season water lightly and add string beans. Beth cooks her beans al dente, so there's still some bite to them; once beans reach your desired firmness (eat one), pour into a strainer to cool and empty the pot. Put the pot back on the stove and liberally pour olive oil into it, reducing heat to about medium. Introduce your onions and garlic, seasoning them with salt, black pepper and your garlic as you sweat them. Once the onions become slightly translucent, reintroduce your string beans to the oniony goodness now melding flavor in the pot. At this point you're pretty much done; stir to mix seasonings and coat the string beans completely with the resulting broth. That's it.

When you take these two dishes and add the red potatoes from Food. #1, you get a plate that looks like this:

Beth and I ended up making a low sodium version of the string beans and bbq chicken for a pre-Father's Day lunch at my parents house this past Saturday. They both seriously watch what they eat, the two of them averaging ~70 years of age, and they enjoyed the meal thoroughly. Healthy and tasty...what a novel idea.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Green Thumb Season 2 - Ep. 2

After four weeks had passed from the initial planting, things started to take shape a bit. The start of dime sized cucumbers showed up on both plants along with yellow flowers, and there was a reasonably sized jalapeno pepper forming on our most mature pepper plant. The weather has gotten very hot in the Mid-Atlantic US. It feels like summer without it being the end of June and with the strong sun we've had to nearly double down on the watering that's done on a daily basis. Thankfully due to our very different schedules we're able to put two watering sessions in (morning and afternoon) on the cucumber plants during the rain free, 90+ degree days, that have been showing up lately. Another thing learned is what the cucumber plants look like when they're in need of water; their leaves slump over when they're running low and the more tacoed leaves visible the worse water is needed. Thankfully we only had one really close call on a day that hit 100*. I woke up at 1:30pm to see both cucumber plants in bad shape, then proceeded to pour about 2 litres of cool water on both. They bounced back within 30 minutes as they are quick drinkers as well. The peppers have been perky regardless of heat, and it makes sense as cucumbers have such a high water content. This worries me for when they get even bigger, as they're not even the size of baby carrots currently. We'll be gone for a good bit of July, give or take the hottest month of the year, so I'm trying to figure out some type of small irrigation system that can operate independently for several days; heavy rain and storms will be icing on the cake.

Week 4:

Week 5:

As you can see the cucumber plants have started growing in their own directions and not all of the peppers have started flowering. The cucumbers have these coil like tentacles that grow along with the stems/leaves which wrap themselves around whatever they touch. After about 4-5 days I have to readjust both plants so they don't grab onto the pepper plants or each other. It's becoming clear how they will look in another month of growth. According to the stats, Bush Crop cucumbers mature in around 90 days. It'll be about 70 days in when we return from overseas.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Food. #1

This series is a no-brainer, because I've wanted to do this since I started this blog; foods, cooking, recipes, etc. and more importantly shots of these activities and finished products. Last weekend I ended up picking up the spatula for the first time in over a year, I'm ashamed to say. In my defense, it's like riding a bike and I even got better at something I've been terrible at for a long time; cooking chicken on the bone outside of an oven. I think the issue is the fact that I love riffing; I can improvise with the best of em' and it's the backbone of my creativity. Sometimes I spread improvisation into things that could use a bit more precision. Time away helped with my grilling methodology as I went about it like I was using an oven (which a grill is), using a clock instead of eyeballing (which works for burgers and links great btw). So without further adieu:

Al's BBQ chicken:
- drumsticks thawed (thighs work too)
- olive oil (the better the better)
- garlic powder
- fresh ground black pepper
- kosher sea salt
- Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce (insert your favorite here)

Put chicken in a mixing bowl with a liberal amount of oil and seasonings added. Toss by hand til fully coated. Depending on your grill size and heat output, things may vary, but for the most part it's ~375* for 30 minutes, flipping half way. Mind the hot spots on cheaper grills, and shuffle accordingly. Sauce during the warming shelf phase or last 5 mins.

Beth's red potatoes:
- small red potatoes
- olive oil (see above)
- kosher sea salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- fresh garlic
- wood skewers

Boil potatoes to al dente in a pot of hot water. Quarter or half the potatoes to taste. Skewer said potatoes (you can soak them in water so they don't burn, but they rarely catch on fire under 400*). Brush the tots in oil and sprinkle seasonings. Grill to taste. Oh and watch your fingers when flipping them.

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