Making Something Great Even Better
I ordered a new cookbook from Amazon called “Smitten Kitchen Every Day” by Deb Perelman. Here’s Amazon’s description:
“Deb Perelman, award-winning blogger and New York Times best-selling author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, understands that a happy discovery in the kitchen has the ability to completely change the course of your day. Whether we’re cooking for ourselves, for a date night in, for a Sunday supper with friends, or for family on a busy weeknight, we all want recipes that are unfussy to make with triumphant results.”
I love unfussy meals and triumphant results, so I readily flipped through the pages immediately after receiving the book. There were so many meals that sounded delicious and flavor packed. More than one recipe called for lemon to stand out as the star flavor. I love dishes with lemon highlighted. I began to ponder how I could make a lemon-centered meal even more lemon-y without the pucker.
Lemon preserves! Yes, the intense yet smooth taste of a preserve. The problem? I had no idea where to get them. The solution? Make them. How did I make them? Pinterest! I found a recipe on Serious Eats that seemed simple enough. I would just need three ingredients and a canning jar. (I will let you travel to their site for the recipe as I didn’t change it at all.)
The lemons were prepared quickly, needing only minor trimming and cutting. I then added sugar and salt and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight. The next day they looked so pretty! It was almost like they had been coated in a sweet glaze. The step that followed was to simply jam them into a jar with their liquid. Done, and done.
Finally, I had to wait two weeks. This was the hardest part as I am not patient in any way. Seriously, Derek can back me up on this.
Star of the Show
Those who are loyal readers will know I have problems with commiting to food and drink. I love experimenting. So, when I received a new cookbook days before my lemon preserves would be ready, and there was a delicious sounding recipe which included them, I had to run with it. It was a sign! (“The Smitten Kitchen” did provide other tasty meals over the two-week waiting period though.) The meal I picked was Pasta with Summer Squash, Sardines and Lemon Preserve. My new cookbook was “Back Pocket Pasta” by Colu Henry. Here’s Amazon’s description:
“As much a mindset as it is a cookbook, Back Pocket Pasta shows how a well-stocked kitchen and a few seasonal ingredients can be the driving force behind delicious, simply prepared meals. Pantry staples—a handful of items to help you up your dinner game—give you a head start come 6pm, so you can start cooking in your head on the way home from work.”
The recipe included a few simple ingredients that would, I hoped, highlight the extra pleasant flavor of lemon. My only holdup were the sardines. I remembered eating them from the tin when I was little. (My dad and I would try to gross out my mom with those and spray-can cheese…I know…ick.) At the time, the shock was way more important than whether I actually liked them. At 39, I couldn’t remember the actual flavor at all, so I was letting the tiny little fish creep me out a smidge.
Remembering adventure is worth it, even if it results in failure, I jumped into preparation with gusto. I also hid the tin from my family. They aren’t as adventurous as me all the time. I figured surprising them would be more than ok.
The lemon preserves themselves had turned into glossy lemons with a bit of a gelatinous texture. The peel and meat had melded into a yellow slice that could still be diced with a knife. I tasted a piece and it was lemon, salt, and sweet- a perfect balance on my palate with lemon that really lingered. I felt the first feelings of success.
The meal came together easily. The finished product was a light pasta dish perfect for springtime. The sardines added a saltiness, and the squash and lemon preserves were the stars of the show. I would make it again, and my family even encouraged it. (And this was after they were in on the “surprise”.)
The hubs and I decided to head out to Palmer to see what kind of fat bike trouble we could get into. The answer? A lot. A lot of actual trouble. We tried one area near a lake and I fell four times, had to get off and walk twice, and screamed on 3,000,000 occasions. So, due to my husband’s deep affection for me, he decided we’d visit Arkose and drink a couple beers instead of continuing the excursion.
It was werewolf kind of weather. Beautiful fog hung low and it was very cold. Derek and I had a bit of fun chanting “beware the Moors” in various cottage-living-British-people voices on the drive to Arkose.
Upon arrival, we were happy to find a lovely list of options on the brewery menu. First up, Pumpkin Spice Porter. (I’m so suburban!) The dark auburn brew was thick and spicy for only a 5% ABV. I would actually describe it as heavy, and while I enjoyed it, one was enough. This seasonal treat was plenty of pie without any of the whip.
Next up, Illuminate Black IPA at 5.6% ABV. So flippin’ good! It came to the table black as night (duh) and had little head. The sweet, almost spicy flavor was hop heavy but not tongue burning. The mouthfeel was fizzy and light. I could have enjoyed more, but Derek had already done me a solid by calling off the bike trip. It seemed wrong to punish him with an hour-long drive home with drunk Traci.
While the lobby is small, it is quite cozy. There is a lot to do while you try out their delicious offerings. This day I partook in drawing (you can see that I am extremely talented) and poetry. I am a bit better at poetry I think. If you’re looking to shop gear, you won’t be disappointed. They offer T-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. and I’m happy to say they are well made and soft. I may own one…
Our final tasting was Soul Stout. It was a stronger 7% AVB. This was a kicker for me. I’ve mentioned before, but I do not love barleywine. It’s just too thick and syrupy. Soul Stout was pretty- almost black and had a creamy nitro topper- yet it was also heavy and sweet.
When we got to the brewery, we had asked why there wasn’t music playing. We were informed there is one channel that comes in clearly and he had grown tired of it. Trying to be accommodating, he turned it on for us. We were not ready. The channel is very much like the one that comes in around Beluga Point, right before one gets to Girdwood. It’s not quite as eclectic, but it gives good effort. We were quick to sympathize and switch back to silence. I truly hope the brewery opts for a CD player or Pandora channel soon.
Purchase Options: Bottles & Growlers available on-site and in local retailers
No Time Like the First Time
We decided to go visit the new family in town: Girdwood Brewing Company. It’s got a great location, and a large parking lot. Views, of course, consist of Alaskan mountains, ski equipment, and dogs. Girdwood can always be counted on for a relaxed, welcoming vibe. The town has been a favorite destination for my family since the 90s. I really hadn’t thought about how it could improve until GBC opened its doors. In truth, the husband and I have been there three times now, but I’ll focus on our first visit within this blog.
I’m a sucker for extras. I’m someone who can spend hours on the internet reading about Easter eggs in movies. So, when a business takes the time to add unique elements to their space, I appreciate it. GBC has a mileage post in front with locations from Queenstown to Moab. It also took care to showcase the beautiful beer equipment with gigantic windows. Derek and I both took a moment to stare at the shiny metal, heaven-liquid producing, mashers and fermenters.
The entry is small, but the walls are lined with skis. Once through the main door the brewery space itself is quite open and comfortable. On this day, sun streamed through the windows and made us want to stay forever. Seats vary. Options run from high-tops with stools, to chairs at tables. It is also perfectly acceptable to meander about with your beer in hand.
Because of its open plan, it’s a bit loud and echoing. That said, the care taken with pops of color and ski-town detail makes it quite beautiful and the noise doesn’t bother. The other fabulous addition were all the locals- duh. Girdwoodians knows how to support new endeavors.
A Family’s Dream
We were greeted warmly and quickly offered a tour by Bret Marinco (an owner). He gave a brief, although pleasantly familiar backstory. He and his brother had worked for Conoco-Phillips and dreamt of opening a brewery together. They finally decided to take a very well planned jump. 29 meetings later (Girdwood had very interesting red tape) they were able to move forward to a dream realized. I love this. I could hear stories like this for the rest of my life and smile every time. Passion leads to wealth and happiness.
They have wisely considered the future, and there is room for expansion and a beer garden. The rest of the family was there, a little boy ran around the back, and a baby had arrived into the world not too long before. GBC will be around for generations, I’m sure.
Derek and I picked up a flight of everything. The beer list was limited, but it was another precise decision made by the brewers. They wanted to launch small and build up to making enough beer for the actual amount of visitors. The choices were very well done.
First we sipped the IP-AK, the house IPA. It was very foggy, had little to no head, and a smooth mouthfeel with a hoppy punch- sweet up front, bitter (not too) toward back of palate. Derek and I argued a bit about hops. In the end he said it was “Essence of Seattle IPA with Girdwood flair.”
“What’s Girdwood flair?” I asked.
Shrug “They just put some Girdwood in it.”
Fair enough. A lot of things in Girdwood can’t be explained.
Second up was the Down the Chute Kolsch. This brew was very clear and golden. It had a good milky head, sweet oat smell, and clean flavor. The smooth mouthfeel lead to very easy drinking.
Derek said “Clean, crisp and heavenly. One of my new favorites.” (Dare I say “high praise”? Can there be too much Nick Cage?)
Finally, the Hippy Speed Ball Stout had a lovely smell of coffee, and was the color of a sexy brunette. (I’d date her or at least have hair envy.) There was no head and there was a surprisingly light mouthfeel. It was a bit bitter on the tail end. For this one, Derek offered up a “random Legend quote”:
“Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch.” -Blix
We had our girls with us on this visit. They partook in the Kombucha and helped prove the brewery was family friendly. It was so nice of them to take that hit for us. Research is hard sometimes. Getting a teenage smile is a big “win” though, and I was glad we dragged them along.
We love it. We will be regulars. We will be adding more posts! This place shows what a perfect dream looks like. Congratulations to the family!
Yet again it’s Sunday before I’m ready to prepare for a new week. This particular Sunday I decided to rebel against my usual list of chores and squeeze in some “girl-time”. I like to include my husband in all major decisions so he approved my nail polish color. Thank goodness because what if I was to paint my nails a color that made him want to vomit? What kind of marriage would that be?
In addition to painting my nails, I wanted to try an arguably girly beer as well. My choice for this afternoon was Oskar Blues Brewery’s Death by Coconut.
This canned beer has a sweet coconut smell, but is a bit more chocolate flavored on the palate. Dark brown color is set off by a nice head that fades fast. (The head picture here was my second pour. Gosh. The things I endure for you dear reader.)
Death by Coconut reminds me of Maui Brewing’s coconut porter but a bit more bitter. The bitterness makes it more drinkable. It grounds the palate and helps control the sweetness. This is where my husband disagrees. He found the Blues’ brew to be reminiscent of suntan lotion- just what he says about Maui Brewing’s.
So not only is the house clean and laundry done, but my nails are happy red, and my tastebuds are enjoying sweet before savory. Pork Chops are baking, but desert first is a nice naughty choice on a Sunday of preparation.
I think this beer would be very tasty with desert. For instance, I kept picturing the cappuccino cake I made last week for my daughter’s 17th birthday. It was covered in ewy-gewy, homemade caramel and this beer would pair with it in a mind-blowing way.
Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery
Purchased At: Fred Meyers Dimond
Style: Irish Porter
Bonus: Cappuccino Cake
This beer was an impulse buy at Wine House. Derek doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, and while I’m a huge fan of the show, I wouldn’t necessarily equate it to great beer. That said, the good gents at WH had a flattering description of the beer and taunted us with tales of limited quantities.
We didn’t rush to drink it, but after my husband tried to kill me while fat biking with hills and ice, it was time for a treat. (It was SO fun.)
We poured more quickly than we should have and received the gift of chunky bits because of it. I recommend you follow directions and pour slowly. The head was fabulous and the color was complete golden honey.
The Ommegang Brewery beer is a Belgian-style tripel ale that weighs in at a whopping 9% ABV. It smelled lovely and went down smooth. It was much lighter than expected and not as malty as promised. I was happy about that. I’m not a huge malt lover.
Brewer: Ommegang Brewery
Purchased At: Wine House
OMG I did it. I made gnocchi.
I don’t make pasta from hand, and I don’t make things that look like pasta but aren’t from hand either. So what led to this unusual event? More like who: supermodel Chrissy Teigan. Ok, so it’s not as though she personally taught me how, but I feel like we’re sorta buds since she’s amazingly funny, smart, and gorgeous and I’m clearly the same just paid way less. (Hey, my husband is very flattering.)
Her book, Cravings, hasn’t let me down yet, but I had a lot of scepticism toward this recipe. Sweet potato gnocchi from scratch was a big ask, even though I really enjoy the delicacy of hand-made pasta and gnocchi. I can truly tell the difference between a dish made by hand and a dish boiled from a bag. I eat the later primarily, but wouldn’t it be cool if the former could be found in my house too?
What made this dish even scarier was its lack of complexity. Fresh, clean ingredients are used. Hands fold them together and roll them out. A small knife cuts them into tiny pillows. By the time I was done, I thought there was no way they would taste good. I was messy, but it was just too easy. I still wasn’t trusting Chrissy.
I had thought ahead and doubled the batch. (If the task was extremely hard, but worth it, I’d have another dinner ready.) One went into the freezer, and one went into a pot of boiling water. I nervously waited for the gnocchi to clump together like a popcorn ball, but no, it stayed separate and cooked nicely.
The sauce was a delicious brown butter, sage. It took minutes to prepare while the gnocchi cooked. Once drained, a quick toss was all it took to get the meal ready. At this point, having tasted success, I got a bit catty with Derek. He was gaming and didn’t jump up quite quick enough when I said dinner was ready. Apparently you don’t mess with me and gnocchi.
I loved it. Derek loved it. Most importantly, Chrissy isn’t a liar!
In hindsight, I’d cook the double batch. It’s that or have a big salad too. Derek is a meat and potatoes guy, so he was left wanting.
I wasn’t the least bit confident, and there were certainly cringe moments, but I survived and fed my family. (They were ready to order in if necessary.) It’s also worth noting that the moscato I was drinking while I cooked went exceptionally well with the sweet potato gnocchi.
Custard is one of my favorite things. I order it compulsively off menus regardless of remaining appetite. Despite my great affection, I have been too scared to make it myself. I blame my mother.
I know it’s cliché, but I grew up with a few cooking rules that may as well have been embroidered onto the pillows. One of these was “don’t burn the milk” another was “screw up custard and you’ll get a scramble”. Thank you mom.
Another reason I’ve satisfied myself with other people’s ability to cook and serve me custard is I’m terribly impatient. (My husband is saying “shocker!” in his head right now.) Come to think, that could also be a reason the above “rules” were said on repeat…
Fear, and childhood trauma, aside, I set forth to create my favorite dessert. To get started I grabbed my trusty New York Times Dessert Cookbook. If the NYT has tested this custard, it must be good. Next, I poured myself a beer. This recipe was going to take liquid courage.
The ingredients were very basic. Milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and nutmeg. I was sure I could still screw it up. Simple ingredients meant there was no flavor to hide behind. Either this would be custard, or NOT custard.
I had the eggs separated and the milk heating on the stove when my mom called. (coincidence?) I let her in on what I was attempting, and she responded with, “Don’t burn the milk, and when you poor in the eggs, don’t scramble them!”
“Don’t burn the milk, and when you poor in the eggs, don’t scramble them!”
Awesome. No pressure.
Usually my mom is game to chat on the phone for a while, but sensing the seriousness of the situation, she made quick goodbyes and returned my attention to he milk. It was supposed to be warm but not hot. Hmmmm. The only way to test that was with a finger. Very scientific. If I dipped my pointer in and screamed it was too hot. If it was more like a spa treatment, it was perfect. My finger came out relaxed and feeling pampered- perfect.
The eggs did not scramble when added (whew!) and my next step was to pour the mixture into the baking dish. This setup was fun for me too. The baking dish had to sit in a bigger baking dish and then boiling water was poured halfway up the side of the first dish. It was like a strange bath. It apparently helped the custard set evenly.
In the end, success. Light, sweet, eggy flavor. I loved the texture- cool and mushy. (Derek did not.) I think I’ll add more nutmeg and some cinnamon next time, but that’s just personal preference. Oh, and there will be a next time.
*I think it’s important to note my mother is amazing and I pick on her a lot. She is the best chef I know, and I credit all of my ability to her nagging.
I didn’t even get out of bed until 1 today. First, I’m recovering from surgery. Second, my husband’s dead sexy. Due to the late start I cooked a blueberry custard and called it brunch. Classes up lazy, doesn’t it? To put icing on the lazy-day cupcake we watched Deadpool…for the zillionth time.
The next step was to serve up an amazingly awesome blog post. The problem? No fancy beer. Thank goodness for the hubs. He had purchased a case of Red Hook Winterhook #31. (He’s sexy and smart.) I figured it was a great opportunity to review a beer-beer.
This is the 31st version of Winterhook and it’s quite good. It’s dry-hopped and caramel in color and flavor. Derek says, “it’s refreshingly drinkable and makes for great hangovers.” I don’t know about the authenticity of that last part. Derek hasn’t had a hangover as long as I’ve known him…
Bottom line: it’s what a beer should be, cold and wet. (Much like my puppy’s nose.)
Beer Style: Winter Warmer
Brewer: Red Hook
Alcohol Content: 6%
Price: $15 case
Purchased From: Wine House
It has snowed people! While the rest of the country has been getting the white stuff for weeks, Anchorage has been oddly barren. Thank goodness our prayers have been answered because winter is just a brown slab of depression without its accomplice.
The idea of hats, gloves, and winter sports were in my head as I headed out with my husband to run the usual errands last weekend.
- gas up the vehicle: check
- donate clothes: I’m going straight to heaven.
- stop by the ATM for girls’ allowances: do they really need to learn the value of money?
- grocery store: oh my gosh, kill me… now
- stop by La Bodega beer boutique: WooHoo. Grown-up reward!
At La Bodega I stumbled onto the adventure in a bottle I’m writing about today. Augsburger Christkindlmarkt is a spiced wine from Germany. Although after doing a bit of “research” (googling), I discovered it’s only available in the USA currently. I was a bit disturbed by this. Why, if it’s made in Germany, is it only available here?
I came up with three possible reasons:
- Germans are just sick of drinking the same thing every holiday season.
- Many Germans died slow, horrible deaths after drinking this wine.
- Only Americans would be cheesy enough on the holidays to buy a bottle of crazy looking spiced wine from Europe just because it snowed once.
It was the third reason that concerned me most.
Undeterred, I invited my husband, Derek, to join me in a taste-test toast. (Truth be told he had to try the warm, weird wine with me. It’s in the marital contract. Must partake in all crazy antics wife requests. Fine print is a bitch.) We diligently heated the wine up in mugs using the microwave. Very posh, I know.
We raised our cups to each other and my husband said, “go ahead blogger.” (I feel it’s important to note the way “blogger” was said. It sounded like something a bar of soap would be sucked on after uttering.) While I took offense to my hobby being used like a bad word, I did realize I’d have to step up to the challenge I had purchased and brought home. I took a quick sniff, nothing worrisome, and continued to the inevitable sip.
I didn’t really taste much more than warm grape juice. The spice was possibly cinnamon, and not abundant. With its high alcohol content, 9%, I likened it to moonshine- flavorless but impactful.
I was a bit disappointed, but happy I hadn’t tasted something so vile it would ruin all hot, scary, red wines for all winters to come.
Happy winter adventures!