Craft Beer Defined (No, Your Other Six-Pack)

brewerymap-last-updatebig

US states by their biggest “craft” brewery

The elusive definition of craft beer is not exactly the meaning of life, but you’d think it was given all the attention it gets in craft beer forums (definition: an online symposium of slightly to highly intoxicated enthusiasts of commodified tastes). Guys with chat names like DuffMan23 and BeerPirateRockstar argue about yearly barrel output and shareholder standings.

Your basic Wikipedia definition of craft beer is that it’s created in small batches, which finally solves the mystery of what microbrew means. There is no USDA of craft brewing, and hence the definition remains in the hands of the defined. Realistically, anyone could slap craft on their label without legal repercussions, although the legions of drunk, self-righteous craft beer drinkers might give one pause before doing so. The Brewers Association (BA), a brewers’ trade organization, has a more in-depth definition, stating that craft breweries must be small, independent, and traditional.

Dogfish-Head-logoBy small, they mean producing six million barrels or less per year which, at 252 pints per barrel, comes to 1.512 billion servings. This is, like, a river of beer that makes my weekly consumption seem way more reasonable. It may be nothing to the big guys, but that’s a lot of beer! Sam Adams, who is frequently under fire for being “too big” to be craft, makes just 2.5 million barrels a year. Dogfish Head makes 175,000 barrels a year, which to me seems a more accurate limit, if we’re drawing arbitrary lines. Continue reading

Earliest Spring Vegetables: Let’s Get Excited

The first day of spring brought a few inches of snow to the Big Apple, and the real apples at the farmer’s market this weekend were looking a little tired. But take heart, ye well-wintered and weary-hearted: yesterday I noticed the first new buds on a tree. Spring is coming. Taking its own sweet time to get here, maybe, but it’s coming. So in celebration, let’s take a look at the first few superstar vegetables that should be hitting your local markets any day now, along with some ideas about how to use them. Those with green thumbs should also think about getting these same plants in the ground as soon as you think you’ve weathered the last frost. (And to inspire you gardeners, I’m using images from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a favorite of ours, as well as one from Everwilde Farms.)

hudson arugula Arugula: Honestly, it took me a while to warm to arugula. It still seems to me an adult taste, like sitting through an opera or reading a Henry James novel. But warm to it I did, and at no time is it better than in the early spring, when the leaves taste perky rather than too bitter or spicy. Try them in a salad with a nice mustardy dressing (olive oil, mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper), or use them in a sandwich to give it a little more kick than regular lettuce.

everwilde rhubarbRhubarb: I’m not sure I realized that you could make something with rhubarb and without strawberries until I was fully grown. But particularly if you like sour tastes like citrus (and I do), rhubarb is a natural choice. Stew it with some sugar and a little water, and you’ve got one heck of a topping for pancakes. And yes, strawberries or any other kind of berries you can get your hands on are great thrown in, as well. Continue reading

A Cauldron of Southwestern Black Bean & Mustard Squash Soup

I’ve been into beans this winter.  I like pouring something that could substitute for buckshot into a cauldron of water and ending up with soft, succulent morsels of food.  And I cannot overemphasize the appeal of the cauldron component; to make yummy beans from scratch, I have to take the biggest pot we have, a cast-iron thing of uncertain origin in the home, and fill it with all sorts of whatever’s-on-hand to make delicious what would otherwise be bland bean flesh.  I mean, eye of newt is surely not tasty to most palettes and Macbeth’s witches weren’t making dinner, so this is perhaps not the best comparison, but I like pouring and scraping and shaking whatever cool things I can find into a simmering pot and getting a little magic out of it when all is said and done.

Looking at this picture, I remember that we sprinkled some cheese on top, too.

Looking at this picture, I remember that we sprinkled some cheese on top, too.

So the other day I decided to riff on the rough idea of a Southwestern-themed bean soup I had burbling around in my brain.  We had a butternut squash on hand, not Shannon’s favorite vegetable, and I’m always trying to come up with ways to make yummy things folks don’t typically like.  Note that you don’t have to include all of these ingredients in your version.  You shouldn’t make a special trip to the store just for a lime or whatever, and the soup will be tasty even if you don’t get the mustard going.

Southwestern Black Bean & Mustard Squash Soup Continue reading

Taking a Page from the Wine Snob Playbook

Tools of the bookseller

What non-writers imagine writing to be

I’ve been drinking a lot of wine lately. As a bookstore manager, it is in my contract to provide several gallons of economically priced wine for every store event and occasional slow afternoon. We’ve had many events recently and it occurred to me that I’m probably drinking the wine equivalent of the High Life. It got me to thinking: as much as beer nerds may love to pick on wine snobs, there are many things we could learn from them. Examples:

1) Take time to taste your beer. There actually is a right way to taste a beer, and it doesn’t involve punching a key into aluminum. Much like wine, the appearance and smell have a lot to do with forming an educated opinion of the beer.

howtotastebeer

  • First, take in how it looks in all respects: color (natch), but also how the head appears (frothy, thin), the opacity (clear, hazy), and how it presents itself (bubbly, creamy, dull and a horrible conversationalist).
  • Secondly, stick your nose in there and take a big ol’ whiff. Beer comes in an astonishing array of scents. Each ingredient–malt, hops, and yeast–bring their own unique smell, as does the actual alcohol. Swirl the beer to better release the scents. Breathe in as you drink.
  • Lastly, take your time sipping. Let the beer sit in your mouth to note the mouthfeel (do you know what that really means?) before swallowing. (Don’t spit! That’ll get you tossed out of a bar, tout suite.)
Comfy bean bag chairs are like quantum physics, only occurring in theory

Like sober beer tastings, comfy bean bag chairs only exist in theory

2) Treat it like your mother. You wouldn’t invite your own mother to your place and then force her to sit in a dirty beanbag chair and eat SpaghettiOs out of a can, would you? Wine snobs know to treat their beloved beverage with the respect it deserves. Continue reading

Where Did I Put My Farro Salad Knick Knacks?: A Blue Apron Experiment

chilaquilesIf you’ve never heard of Blue Apron, you have either been living under a rock or you like cooking so much that it has never occurred to you to outsource your grocery shopping and meal planning to someone else. I was one (or possibly the other) until very recently, when my friend Monisha (note: she is infinitely hipper than me) hooked me up with a free trial. Here’s the way it works: subscribers get a weekly box of ingredients that they use to follow three prescribed recipes for two-person dinners. (There’s also a family plan that is for four people, two or four times per week.) And when I say they send you the ingredients, I mean ALL the ingredients, right down to itty-bitty bags of pre-measured spices and toppings that they label “knick knacks.”

knick knacksThe week of my free test run I chose the vegetarian box (obvs), which happened to be farro and sumac-roasted sweet potato salad, poblano chilaquiles topped with avocado and an egg, and roasted butternut squash with stewed white beans and gremolata. (I know, right? If you don’t have to look any of those words up, hats off to you.) I will admit that, in advance of the box’s arrival, I was a wee bit skeptical, mostly because it is in my nature to be skeptical.

But I am here to inform you that it was actually kind of awesome. First, there’s the oooh-and-ahhh Christmas present feel of opening a big box of interesting stuff. Second, it made me consider cooking recipes that were outside my typical repertoire. Third, there is a mindless pleasure in following a set of beautifully written directions, and Blue Apron must know this, because the recipe cards are like the supermodels of the recipe card population. Continue reading

For the Love of Ramen in South Dakota

buckeyes

An Ohioan would never search for how to make buckeyes, because it’s an inborn skill.

Okay, so things have been slow here on the blog lately, and I sat down today with a pure intention to write something serious, namely a rant about this article on school lunches that annoyed me greatly, blah, blah, blah. But when I went onto Huffington Post to find the article again, I stumbled upon this one, which is approximately eighty times funnier, and so I’m going to write about that instead and save the rant for some future day, possible a day when I have a school-aged child who eats lunch.

The second article was about what recipe, according to Google Trends, each state searches for the most frequently. It’s not very scientific, to be sure, but it does provide plenty of food for thought. What is Connecticut’s obsession with Moroccan chicken thighs, for instance? Are there really that many lobsters in Wyoming, or are Wyomans just so confused by them when they do show up that they have to Google what to do with them? Would Thomas Jefferson be proud that his fellow Virginians are searching for ways to make paneer above all else? I like to think so.

I was also a little surprised that cooks in my home state of Ohio are supposedly looking for recipes for spaghetti. You’ve got this, Ohio! Continue reading

How to Pretend to be Tamar Adler (Part II)

cauliflower pastaAnd so the saga continued. And this time, I was determined to step it up a notch.

Attempt 3: A Cabbage with a College Education
What’s not to love about a vegetable that looks like a brain? So I decided to cook up some cauliflower, Tamar-style. She’s an advocate for boiling vegetables rather than steaming them (crisper is not always better), so I sawed up about half a head and dropped it in a pot of salty boiling water. And since I hadn’t done so well at thinking ahead up to this point, I also put the rest of the cauliflower (with some whole cloves of garlic) and some sweet potatoes in a 425 degree oven to roast.

When the boiling cauliflower was nice and tender, I ladled it out with a slotted spoon, and then used the same pot of water to cook some penne pasta. Then I mashed up the cauliflower with a generous handful of Parmesan cheese, some freshly ground pepper and the roasted garlic from the oven.  I added some of the starchy pasta water to turn to all into a sauce right before I drained the pasta. I don’t like to brag, but I think I got some extra points for tapping into Tamar’s fresh herb enthusiasm and topping it all with a bunch of fresh dill before serving.

The results were pretty good, simple but tasty. The components of the sauce did not combine quite as smoothly as I wanted them to, but no one can really complain about a big clump of melted cheese.
Tamar Score: 7

Attempt 4: It’s Not Over ‘Til the Skinny Yam Sings Continue reading

The Russian Imperial Stout: A Beer with Authority

Peter the Great, clearly in need of a beer

Peter the Great, clearly in need of a beer

I always thought I’d make a good Russian: I love cold weather, I can ice skate (kinda), and I can appreciate a bleak and tragic love story with the best of them. I even enjoy the balalaika! Why would I fail the Russian citizenship test? Vodka.

I mean, how do they do it? Granted, my experience with the stuff is pretty much limited to the plastic jugs available to you when you’re 19 and have to take what you can get. (That and the spicy shot of horseradish infused vodka I diligently drained in a midtown Manhattan bar where I was the only customer not affiliated with the Russian mob.) Fortunately for me, there is an alternative: the Russian Imperial Stout (RIS).

Much like IPAs, the Russian Imperial’s beginnings are tied up in Britain’s colonial aspirations. After visiting England in the early 1700s, Peter the Great got a taste for dark beer and requested some be sent to him back home. The obsequious English did so immediately, but the beer spoiled before reaching St. Petersburg. On their second attempt they upped the alcohol and hops (as with IPAs on their way to colonial India) and thus was born this, the most appropriate beer to drink on a cold night, ever.

The specs on Russian Imperials vary pretty widely, with one characteristic remaining unchanged: they are BIG. They always have a high abv, at least 8%. The one I’m drinking right now, from Founders Brewing, is 10.5% and looked like motor oil when I poured it. Every one I’ve tried has been opaque and near-black, but the hop character ranges from barely there to whoa there. Founders is toasty, a little fruity, and fairly dry — a state I aim to achieve during winter, myself. Continue reading

How to Pretend to be Tamar Adler (Part I)

tamar sandwichFrequent readers of the blog already know about my obsession with Tamar Adler and her book. An Everlasting Meal is not a cookbook exactly; it’s more a string of philosophies about how to treat food. Now take whatever you’re imagining and make it not pretentious or insufferable, and you’ll pretty much have it. Anyway, I was so in the thrall of this book that I decided to try to be Tamar for a few days (we’re on a first name basis, obviously), focusing mostly on her chapter on vegetables, “How to Stride Ahead.” Here are the results:

Attempt 1: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Vegetable Retrieval
Tamar is a big proponent of buying a ton of vegetables on one day of the week and cooking them all at once. That way, you’re already a step ahead for the rest of the week’s cooking. This sounded lovely and elegant, and since we had a big ol’ shipment of CSA vegetables coming one Saturday, I thought I had this locked down.

Our winter CSA is a little different than the regular season. Instead of picking it up every week, you get a gigantic box of stored vegetables and fruit once a month. It’s great, except that Jason and I have somehow messed it up every single time: we’re out of town or we’re busy, and we have to impose upon friends and neighbors and bribe them with vegetables to make it happen. This time, though, we were ready. We went to visit some friends and their new baby, not too far from our place, with plans to pick up the box on the way home. But then the baby was supernaturally cute, and we were running late. And then, even though we’ve both lived in NYC for too long, we managed to get lost on the walk to the subway. And then the next train was delayed. And then Jason ran up the stairs to get in a cab and rescue the vegetables, but since I wasn’t sure if he would be successful, I stayed on the train and sprinted a dozen blocks in snow boots to try to get them, too. But there he was, vegetables saved in the nick of time.

I was so exhausted after this debacle that I decided not to cook the vegetables that day, and instead got drunk and ate nachos at 11 p.m. Jason says we should get a high score for effort, but I know the truth.
Tamar Score: 2 out of a possible 10

Attempt 2: No Sandwich is a Bad Sandwich Continue reading

Too Sexy for My Lettuce: Aphrodisiac Puzzle

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite’s lover Adonis is killed in a lettuce field, and thus lettuce became a symbol of mourning and impotence. Poor lettuce; it’s the anti-aphrodisiac.

But you can do better than lettuce this Valentine’s Day! Name the aphrodisiac described by each piece of historical lore listed below. And since this is a tough one, you’ll find each of the answers in the photo collage below, though not all the photos will be used.

collage

  1. The Kama Sutra suggested making this food into a drinkable paste to arouse desire, while the French advised that it be eaten three times the day before one’s wedding.
  2. Because of its shape and color, this food was a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
  3. Hippocrates recommended this food for sexual vigor, and couples were once advised to drink an alcohol made of it during the first month of their marriage.
  4. After being scorned by a woman, Zeus supposedly turned her into one of these, and because of its tough exterior, it is a natural symbol for playing hard to get.
  5. The Talmud suggests that married couples eat this food on Fridays in preparation for fulfilling their marital duties.
  6. The Aztec word for this food is same as their word for testicle, and it was believed to be such a strong aphrodisiac that virginal women were forbidden from being present while it was harvested.
  7. This food was once considered an aphrodisiac in Europe, but probably because it was still a rare import from the New World.
  8. This was believed to be Cleopatra’s favorite fruit, and in ancient Greece, its harvest also marked the time of a…erm, copulation ritual.
  9. Cassanova supposedly ate fifty of these for breakfast every morning, and Roman doctors prescribed them as a cure for impotence.
  10. Greek superstition holds that if a woman puts this food under her pillow, she’ll dream of her future husband, and giving it to someone in India is tantamount to making a pass.

Don’t scroll down or click Continue until you’re ready to see the Answers! Continue reading