Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wensleydale with Cranberries (Clawson)


     Overall, Wensleydale with Cranberries is one of our favorite cheeses and is one of the few (other than the obvious choices like Cotswold, etc, and some goat cheeses) varieties where we like additives mixed in with the cheese itself.  The slightly tangy, creamy, moist-yet-crumbly Wensleydale mixes quite nicely with the sweetened cranberries and lends itself to a number of applications.  Clawson's take on the style smells sweet, with just a hint of sour, funky undertones in the background.  On the palate, it's sweet (almost a bit too much so?) with a mild earthy, lactic flavor.  Crumbly, but not dry.  We picked this up at Schnuck's and, honestly, it's not bad, but it's not our favorite either?  It's rich and creamy, as Wensleydale should be, but there's not quite the tang necessary to balance the richness and the slight sweetness of the cranberries.  I'll have to give Coombe Castle's (our regular brand, at HyVee) another go to compare.  Nonetheless, not a bad cheese, if not stellar. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cold Night In--English Pub Fare

     I've been on a 'traditional English food' kick lately, so for my thirtieth birthday dinner I decided I'd try something I hadn't taken a shot at before: Steak and Ale Pie.  This dish is yet another example of how simple ingredients and a simple preparation, when done correctly, can yield something far more delicious than the sum of its parts.  I owe the inspiration for this recipe to the author of Eating for England, and all-around awesome food blog with recipes for some good, traditional English fare as well.  My recipe is based largely upon hers, albeit scaled down to work with the ingredients I had on hand and altered a bit to suit my tastes. 
     Well, it turns out that while Steak and Ale Pie is fairly easy to make, it does take awhile, and it was getting late, so I decided to throw something together to tide us over until dinner was ready.  Having already made up a batch of our favorite crust for Cornish Pasties and Meat Pies (Angharad suggested using store-bought puff pastry for the Steak and Ale Pie, but we love this crust too much to not use it), I decided I'd see what I could do with ingredients we already had on hand.  One of our favorite English cheeses is Wensleydale (a slightly tart, crumbly sheep's milk, and sometimes cow's milk, cheese from the north of England) and a version with sweetened cranberries is often available stateside.  Having some of this in the fridge, it seemed that adding a few Craisins (sweetened, dried cranberries) and some chopped pecans might not make for a bad combination.  These mini tartlets (I couldn't really come up with a better name) actually turned out quite nicely; the only thing I might do next time is to use a bit more cheese in the stuffing, as the buttery nature of the crust almost overwhelmed the mild cheese.

     For two tartlets:
       -Pasty crust, rolled to 1/8" thick and approximately 5-6" in diameter
       -2 TBSP sweetened, dried cranberries
       -2 TBSP finely chopped pecans
       -1 3/4 oz. Wensleydale with Cranberries

Gently mold the crust into two large muffin cups and layer the other ingredients, with the cranberries on the bottom, followed by the pecans and the Wensleydale.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350, or until the pastry is just starting to brown.  Serve immediately. 

Overall, these were quite good though, as I said, next time I'd use a bit more cheese, or try to get Wensleydale that was made from the slightly tangier sheep's milk, rather than the cow's-milk variety we had on hand.  

     On to the main attraction.  As I said, I owe the author of Eating for England a great deal for this recipe.  I'd come across other versions of Steak and Ale pie in several British cookbooks and online, but her description made it sound particularly delicious.  However, I did cut the recipe down, as well as up the amount of garlic the original called for.  I also added smoked bacon (which other recipes had used) and I'm quite glad that I did.  
     Steak and Ale Pie is basically a rich, flavorful beef stew baked under a buttery crust.  The ingredients, for a pie that feeds two comfortably, are as follows: 

    -5-6 oz. of thick-cut smoked bacon, fried, and roughly chopped
    -13 oz. stew meat, cut into 1"-2" pieces, dredged lightly in flour, salt, and pepper
    -1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
    -6 oz. button mushrooms, with stems removed, sliced
    -4 oz. carrots, chopped small
    -4 TBSP butter (2 for browning beef, 2 to finish the stew)
    -1 tsp. crushed garlic
    -1 bay leaf
    -3 good dashes of Worcestershire sauce
    -1 scant tsp. dried thyme
    -12 oz. English brown ale (4 oz. to deglaze pan, 8 for stew)
    -8 oz. beef broth
    -1/2 TBSP cornstarch dissolved in 4 oz. water (added to stew if you can't get it to thicken like me)
    -Crust from Pasties/Meat Pies, rolled to 1/4" thick and sized slightly larger than baking dish

This all takes awhile to make, but trust me, as far as rustic comfort food goes, it's about tops.  Begin by frying the bacon.  Remove strips to drain on paper towels, and reserve the grease.  Saute the sliced mushrooms in the bacon grease (hey, I never said this was healthy, it's comfort food after all) and deglaze the pan with 4 oz. of the ale when the bottom starts to brown.  Scrape up all the brown bits, as they hold a lot of flavor.  Simmer until the liquid has largely been absorbed or has evaporated.  Drain, and set aside.  
     Add 2 TBSP butter to a thick-bottomed skillet or Dutch Oven and melt over medium heat.  When melted, add the chunks of beef, dredged lightly in flour and salt/pepper, and fry until lightly brown on all sides.  Add the onion, carrots, mushrooms, bacon (roughly chopped into small pieces), garlic, bay leaf, thyme, the remaining 8 oz. of ale, and the beef broth.  Bring to a simmer, and simmer slowly, covered, for an hour to an hour and a half.  If the sauce has not thickened sufficiently at the end of this time (it hadn't for me), dissolve 1/2 TBSP cornstarch in 4 oz. of water, crank the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and the gravy thickens.  When almost finished, throw in an additional pat (1-2 TBSP) of butter for added richness, and 3 good dashes of Worcestershire sauce.  Remove and discard bay leaf. 
     When the stew is ready, load it into an oven-proof dish, cover with some of the Pasty Crust (rolled to 1/4" thick), being careful to seal around the edges with water and crimp below the lip.  Bake at 425 for approximately 25 minutes, or until the pastry is a golden brown.  For additional flash (though I didn't) you can brush the pastry with egg wash before baking.  

     I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out, but it was phenomenal.  Excellent on its own with a pint of English Bitter, Nut Brown Ale, or Strong Ale, with or without a bit of horseradish cream on the side.  Perfect as a winter warmer, and something I'll definitely look forward to again. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

(Almost) Classic English Fish 'n Chips


     For my thirtieth birthday, I'd planned to stay home, brew up a clone of Black Sheep's Special Ale (one of my favorites, that sadly I can no longer get fresh in the States), watch some Premier League football (that's soccer to all the rest of y'all) and take an afternoon off from filling out job applications.  Much to my chagrin, I got up this morning and my brewing yeast hadn't proofed.  What to do?  Well, it turns out that I like cooking almost as much as I like brewing, had nothing in particular planned for lunch, and I decided to attempt something I'd tried several times before, but never with much success. 
    Though Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding and Chicken Tikka Masala are generally touted as the national dish(es) of England, Fish and Chips is every bit as popular as the other two.  During my time in England, I had Fish 'n Chips three times: once at a trendy sort of 'sports bar' type venue, once at a seaside, street-food 'chip shop', and once at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby.  The results were so-so, poor, and excellent, respectfully.  From what I gathered on my travels, and what I've read since in a number of British cook books, truly excellent Fish 'n Chips is often as rare in England as a top-quality burger is in the US, and many examples are rather mediocre.  As a result of questionable recipes and my own lack of experience with deep-frying, I've never made anything better than 'meh' Fish 'n Chips. Until today. 
     Credit must largely go to Jessi's Grandma S., who hooked me up with an awesome British cook book, The Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast, which already seems well worth the money if you're into classic British cuisine.  Since I was only frying a half-pound of cod, I cut the recipe in half, and then followed it exactly, except that I added 1/8 of a teaspoon of Emeril's Essence seasoning.  For 8-14 oz. of whitefish, combine

   -1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
   -1/4 cup cornstarch                  
   -1/2 tsp. salt                             
   -1/2 tsp. black pepper
   -6 to 7 oz. ale (preferably English...I used my home-brewed West-End Bitter)
   -1/8 tsp. Emeril's Essence seasoning blend

and blend thoroughly with a whisk, until it has the consistency of pancake batter (i.e. it pours easily, but isn't too thin or runny).  Heat canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to approximately 375.  Dip fish pieces (3" by 3" or 3" by 4" pieces with a thickness of 1" to 1.5" work very nicely) in the batter, preferably with a slotted spoon or large fork, letting most of the excess drip off, and fry until golden brown, generally 5-7 minutes or so, turning several times if the oil doesn't cover the fillets.  Don't overload your kettle or skillet, and keep an eye on oil temperature, trying to keep it above 360.  If you need to fry in batches, it's easy to keep cooked fillets warm on a plate (with paper towels, to soak up a bit of additional grease) in the oven.  Serve this up with these awesome baked steak fries, (simply seasoned with just a touch of Emeril's Essence) chopped short and thick for that 'chip-shop' look and serve, in proper American fashion, with tartar sauce and ketchup (I never could get on board for the traditional malt-vinegar treatment).

     In the end, this was really quite good, though I'm not sure I'll ever make something quite as stunning as the plate I had at the Magpie Cafe.  Part of that, I'm sure, is that they buy their fish fresh off the docks down the street, while I'm lucky to get halfway decent frozen cod.  Nonetheless, this was one of the better examples of Fish 'n Chips that I've had, and paired perfectly with a half-pint of homebrewed West-End Bitter, a hoppy, floral, low-gravity session bitter.  Happy birthday to me!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tuscan-Style Spaghetti and Vegetables

     Inspiration for this dish came from the fact that a) we didn't have anything for dinner and it was getting late, and b) my sister had hooked Jessi up with this cool herbed olive oil from Wines 'n More for Christmas.  

This seemed like something cool to play around with, and so we just used what we had on hand to create a fast, simple, and really tasty Italian-influenced dinner! 

For two servings:
   -1 TBSP crushed garlic
   -1 small-medium yellow onion, finely chopped
   -1 small zucchini, sliced into 1/4" rounds
   -1 (14.5oz) can of HyVee petite diced tomatoes with sweet onion
   -1 small hand-full sundried tomatoes
   -salt/pepper (to taste)
   -8 oz. Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta (thin spaghetti, or similar)
   -1 1/2 TBSP Tuscan Herb Artisan Olive Oil
   -Grated Parmesan/Romano blend, for dusting

   Begin by cutting up all your vegetables to the appropriate size and set them aside.  Pre-cook your pasta (the full time called for 7-9 minutes, so I cooked these for 4) and remove from the heat.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add your vegetables.  Cook until almost tender, toss in the drained, cooked pasta, and cook a few minutes longer.  Plate immediately, dust with cheese, and enjoy.  The flavors here are light and fresh, and this works wonderfully as a vegetarian dish.  For those wanting a bit more, baby shrimp would probably make an excellent addition in place of the zucchini.  Good call, Sara, as this will be something we'll definitely visit again!

Belgian Witbier Vinaigrette


     To accompany the carbonnade flamande we made for Christmas Eve, we wanted to start out with something light and refreshing, but with a hint of Belgian flare.  Since both the carbonade and the dessert to follow were rather rich, we wanted something light, and settled on salad.  Below is the recipe for the homemade dressing we made, loosely based upon the recipe here, but with several twists of our own.  Overall, it worked out very nicely, and would be great over your basic spring mix (as we chose), or perhaps over some slightly bitter greens. 

   Belgian Witbier Vinaigrette   (serves 6-8)

     -4 oz. freshly-squeezed orange juice
     -4 TBSP high-quality white balsamic vinegar
     -1 TBSP dijon mustard (we used Emeril's 'kicked-up' horseradish variety)
     -1 heaping TBSP honey
     -2 oz. Belgian witbier (we used Boulevard's Zon, but it's seasonal; New Belgium's Mothership Wit
      or the imported Hoegaarden would work nicely as well, and they're readily available).
     -Salt and pepper, to taste. 

For a simple, refreshing salad, mix all ingredients together, shake well, and pour over greens topped with slivered almonds, or perhaps orange slices or some mellow goat cheese. 
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