Thursday, January 27, 2011

Boffo Brown Sweet Cheddar Bread Pudding with Apple Butter & Boffo Brown Caramel Sauce

I have a confession.  I have been holding out on you.  I made this bread pudding recipe almost three weeks ago, and I'm not sharing it with you until now.  I've been trying to figure out how I can convince you that you should make this now...seriously, right now.. but I’m having a hard time.  It’s still January, after all, the month of absolving (oneself of having eaten a lot sweets) and resolving (to stop eating so many sweets), and I suspect that the last thing people want to be taunted with is delicious homemade bread pudding -- say, one with a sweet, creamy beer custard base and a gooey, melty sharp cheddar center; both accompanied by a tart homemade apple butter, and then drizzled with a thick Boffo Brown caramel sauce.

All of those things are very “January” of me, and truthfully, I had intended to squeeze this recipe in right before New Years when my sister first presented me with the challenge of a beer bread pudding recipe.  But New Years was a blur, and a few days into January I realized I had a loaf of challah and a block of sharp cheddar on the decline in my kitchen. One should never let either go to waste.

So here is the list of ingredients you will need for this recipe:

1 loaf challah (brioche or any other soft, rich bread would work fine)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup Dark Horse Boffo Brown Ale
6 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (8 oz) grated sharp cheddar

Cut bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange slices in single layer on baking sheets or work surface and let dry for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Whisk together cream, milk, beer, eggs, sugar and vanilla until well combined.

Layer half of bread slices in prepared dish, cutting to fit if necessary. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Cover with layer of remaining bread slices.

Slowly pour cream mixture evenly over bread; let stand until absorbed.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until custard is set and top is golden brown. .

To serve, layer spoonfuls of warm pudding with Apple Butter and top with Boffo Brown Caramel Sauce (see recipes below).

Apple Butter:
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Cut apples into quarters. Combine in baking dish with butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until apples are tender.  Transfer to food processor and puree; set aside.

Boffo Brown Caramel Sauce:
1 bottle Dark Horse Boffo Brown Ale
1 cup granulated sugar

In nonreactive saucepan, boil beer until reduced by half.

In large clean skillet, heat sugar over medium heat without stirring until melted and beginning to color; continue to cook, swirling pan, until deeply golden.

Remove skillet from heat and carefully add beer (it will spatter -- trust me, I learned the hard way).  Return to heat and cook until caramel has dissolved. Transfer to bowl to cool.

Top bread pudding with the Apple Butter and Boffo Brown Caramel Sauce and serve warm or at room temperature!

The pudding can very easily be reheated in a warm oven (approximately 200°F) for 20 minutes, and stays good if stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bottled Michigan: Short's The Woodmaster

A few years ago, in a fit of insanity mixed with naivete, my wife and I attempted the Master Cleanse diet. I linked to it, but for the lazy, here's the rundown: you survive on nothing but a mixture of maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and water for a number of days. You also take a daily salt enema, where you drink a salt solution designed to scrub your insides and clean you out.  We lasted 4 days, and it was absolute hell. Additionally, it permanently moved the flavor of “maple syrup” into the unpleasant category, right next to old milk and the breath of a rabid dog. All that posed a problem for me as I look at Short's new brown ale. . .brewed with maple syrup.

Before we discuss how the beer tastes, I think it's prudent, after bringing The Wizard's kitsch goth theme to light, that we spend a minute talking about what is on the label for the Woodmaster. I understand that it takes a certain special type of person to make a living by screwing holes into maple trees and letting their lifeblood sap trickle out. But does he have have to be staring at me with those dark, cavernous eyes and grinning, toothy smile while pushing the screw deep into the flesh of the maple tree? Blond Vermont guy is creepy.

Luckily, this beer is anything but creepy. It pours like any brown would, with perhaps a bit less head than I'd like (about half a finger that dissipates quickly and leaves a nice lacing on the glass). It smells sweet – thick, cloying flavors of maple ride over a light nuttiness that really doesn't develop in the nose.

This beer really comes together once it's tasted. It has a velvety smoothness, unusual for a brown ale but not unexpected as this heavyweight brings 9.5% alcohol by volume to the table. The alcohol really mutes the sweetness of the maple syrup without masking it, and lets the roasted malt play with the toasted pecans in the foreground. Hops are all but nonexistent in this aggressive brown ale, letting the balance come from the juxtaposition of sweet maple syrup and hearty nut flavor from the pecans. This won't replace Good Humans for my favorite winter beer, but that could be because of my previous traumatic experience with maple syrup.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bottled Michigan: Short's The Wizard Barley Wine

I wanted to write this description of beer as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the 1989 movie where Fred Savage kidnaps his brother and gets him to win a Super Mario Brothers 3 competition. I wanted to pepper this with images of a pre teen Savage with questionably appropriate references to his later career as director of Daddy Day Care and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

It's in the contract.  Charlie blows DeVito, and I watch.

Unfortunately, the beer had other ideas, and without wailing 80s guitars and the power glove, I didn't stand a chance.

Far from being a fun riff on terrible 80 movies, Short's The Wizard is more of a fun riff on terrible occult movies. The label features what I can only describe as an African American Gandalf, pensively stroking a crystal ball with a skull and the numbers “666” on the base. I assume this is The Wizard, and this beer is Black Gandalf's beer. A black cat hovers on the Wizard's forearm, staring off into space and quite obviously displaying the visage of a cat who really enjoys her barlywine. Not sure how the artist for Short's knows how to draw a drunk cat, but my compliments to that person. Finishing the label is the name of the beer followed by the phrase “barley wine with raisins: boiled for 6 hours and 66 minutes.” I suspect this beer is less Fred Savage and more Alice Cooper. The kitsch occult is great.

This devil beer pours a deep, golden tan, with almost no head and minimal lacing. What little head existed (I poured it cold and let it warm up in a snifter) dissipated quickly. That said, something strange happens when the glass is held up to a light source; the beer turns a deep crimson, looking suspiciously like the liquid vampires tend to drink out of crystal goblets in movies like Underworld.

Vampire, or a Short's fan?

The first thing I noticed from the beer's aroma was raisin, front and center. It's like opening a box of Sun-Maid raisins and inhaling. Hiding behind that, there lurks flavors of dark cherry and bitter hops, which serve to keep the beer from getting too heavy.

The taste is intimidating. I can't be sure, but I have to assume from the alcohol overtones that the Wizard weighs in around 9-10% alcohol by volume. Raisins and fruit dance in front, but their sweetness is tempered by the same piney hops I mentioned earlier. The combination of bitter hops and sweet raisins blends into the malted barley to create a nutty tone, like eating raw walnuts or pecans. It's thinner than I expected for a barleywine, but it's still a hefty beer. Interestingly, The Wizard's evil concoction reminds me most of the Good Humans dry hopped brown ale; the flavors of sweet raisins and malt blend with the hops to create a wintery beer that retains a bit of lightness. Of course, the Wizard does it much more aggressively. The alcohol is high enough that I could almost compare this beer to a sweet bourbon.

Whether you think the occult is a subject worthy of gentle ribbing or not, I would suggest everyone give black Gandalf's The Wizard a try.

Maybe share one with Fred Savage, while you're at it. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pandemonium Pale Ale Cornbread

As promised yesterday, here is the recipe for the cornbread I made to go along with our Mole Ocho Chili last weekend.  Seth told me his mom used to make a pretty mean cornbread recipe when he was younger, so I knew the recipe I came up with was going to have to be pretty darn good.  With so much at stake, I felt I could not face this challenge alone, so I turned to The Wench for a little help.

The verdict?  He told me it's the best cornbread he's ever had.  I'd have to say I agree.  Although, I have to admit that I'm a little nervous saying that, because I know a lot of variations exist when it comes to cornbread (Northern style tends to be sweetened with sugar, while Southern style generally does not contain any sugar) and some people take those variations very seriously.  So, if you're a true Southerner, please do not shudder at the fact that this recipe contains sugar -- I promise it's not that sweet.  And give me a break, I am from Michigan, after all.

And just in case you needed further evidence that everything really is better with beer, throw some in your next batch of cornbread (even if it's not this recipe), and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.  Like the Celis Raspberry Pancakes I made back in July last year, the beer gives the cornbread a perfectly light, fluffy texture, while adding just a perfect amount of tang.

For this recipe, you will need:

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, drained (optional)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup Short's Pandemonium Pale Ale
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.

Combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and beer.

With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don’t overmix!  Add the corn, if desired.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares.

Serve with remaining beer and a batch of Mole Ocho Chili!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mole Ocho Chili

I'll be the first to admit that I’m not really much of a football fan, but all of this talk about the upcoming Super Bowl has been making me crave a big bowl of chili.  Since I almost always have ingredients on hand to throw together a quick pot of chili, it was very easy to satisfy my craving this past weekend.

Even though I usually prefer to to use as many fresh ingredients in my cooking as possible, I always have a variety of canned beans and canned tomatoes on hand.  Pair those two ingredients with some ground beef (or just skip the meat altogether), chopped fresh veggies, and some good quality chili powder and you’ve got an easy, healthy, hearty, and inexpensive meal that just about everyone loves.

For this batch of chili I used a combination of light kidney beans, dark kidney beans, and pinto beans because I think it’s fun to mix things up a bit.  But you can really use any kind of beans you like or whatever you find knocking around your own pantry.  You can think of this chili recipe as a guideline and then put your own twist on it.  You can use more meat, less meat, no meat or you can swap the beef for some ground turkey or a soy option.  If you want to leave the meat out, you could add an extra can of black beans instead.  You could also add more onions and pepper and maybe even throw in some chopped carrots for some more color.  It’s entirely up to you.

The end product was really great.  "Really great" as in from here on, my chili will forever be made with beer.  The sweet chocolate and toffee notes of the Mole Ocho really tempered the acidity of the tomatoes and the spiciness of the jalapeños in this recipe, while adding a wonderful depth of smoky, chipotle flavor that came out more and more as the chili simmered.  We ate this with some Pandemonium Cornbread on the side and it was a perfect meal.  And since it makes so much, you can keep a few servings in the freezer for a rainy day.  Pure joy.

Here's what you'll need for this recipe:

1-1.5 lbs ground beef
1 large onion, diced (I used red onion)
3-4 jalapeno peppers, deseeded and diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
28 oz can diced tomatoes
6 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cubes beef bouillon or paste
12 ounces New Holland Mole Ocho beer (or more, if desired)
3 tbsp cumin, ground
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cayenne, ground
salt to taste
1 can light kidney beans
1 can dark kidney beans
1 can pinto beans

Brown the beef over high heat, breaking up the clumps. Set aside. Heat vegetable oil in the pan intended for the chili, and sauté the garlic, onion, and peppers until onions are translucent. Add the beef, beef bouillon, and tomatoes. Stir and let simmer until tomatoes begin to break down. 

Pour in the Mole Ocho and simmer the chili covered for about 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, you can add the spices and simmer for 30 minutes and then add the beans (I like to include the liquid from the beans to thicken the sauce a bit) and simmer for another 30, or add the spices and beans at once and simmer for 30 minutes.  I find that simmering it longer really helps to bring out more flavors (it tastes even better the next day!), but if you're like me, the smell will become too much to handle and you won't be able to wait much more than an hour and 45 minutes!  Serve hot, and don't forget the Pandemonium Cornbread and extra Mole Ocho!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Michigan Beer Cellar

In the cloud covered malaise that is Michigan's winter, Sparta is not a pretty town. It's a good 25 minutes north of Grand Rapids, and it's not much to look at when the weather isn't cooperating. In fact, while this shot is in black and white, it's just about as dreary as it was in color.

image courtesy Eric Krause

Actually, I can prove it:

My complaints about the weather aside, this little town is where Dan Humphrey, owner of the Michigan Beer Cellar, decided to set up shop. Truth be told, I find myself most at home in bars that have just a hint of “VFW Building” lineage in them. Others may find the Michigan Beer Cellar slightly cavernous, with its wide open sitting area, single enormous flatscreen tv on the side of the bar opposite the taps, and high ceilings with low light. . .but this is the type of place where I feel comfortable. This is the place where there are no strangers, and it takes all of ten seconds to find something in common with the other people sitting around you. This is where the bartender treats you like an old friend even though it was our first time there. Somehow, the Michigan Beer Cellar takes dark cavernous spaces and echoing television noise and turns it into something intimate. 

Despite being one of the newer contributions to the craft beer scene (it opened March of 2010), the Beer Cellar comes bearing a double barreled shot of ambition to make its mark on the landscape. Not content to just offer a few carefully crafted tastes, Humphrey comes armed with twelve original beers on tap. With so many choices, there's really something for every palate.

The Black Magic, a black IPA made with rye, was surprisingly smooth without the sweet aftertaste that can haunt some black IPAs. The oatmeal stout was similarly delicious, with thick notes of coffee rustling over a sweet, dry bed of malt. One of their speciality beers, the Mocha Java Stout, was similar, although I wanted more “mocha” to balance the java flavor. A few of the beers did not sit perfectly well with me – the cream ale needed to have more flavor and and the Winter Sunshine ale ran too sweet. . .but for a place with less than a year under its belt, the selection was excellent and had something for everyone.

If that wasn't enough, Michigan Beer Cellars is also a winery and a distillery. This is new and interesting from the perspective of a brewpub, in that it allows the place to offer an entire liquor menu developed solely from its own stock. Using neutral grain spirits, the Cellar is able to craft several versions of popular drinks, including gin, scotch, and rum. The scotch was drinkable, although I was able to tell that it was not actually aged in white oak barrels for years before making the trip over the ocean and into my glass. The spirits seemed more designed for those who are not interested in drinking beer, and I applaud the owner for offering this choice to people. I'm excited to see how the spirits mature.

The food was pretty good, given that the kitchen wasn't much more than a panini maker. The bartender quickly and efficiently created a delicious California reuben served with tasty potato salad that matched well with the American IPA. Clearly this place wasn't offering culinary masterpieces, but it doesn't need to; it gets the job done.

It's interesting to see the different visions that brewers across the state of Michigan have. Hopcat brings a hip and urban feel to the business of brewing, while Mackinaw Brewing downplays the beer and lets it play second fiddle to the food. Odd Side ales doesn't even bother with food, letting the atmosphere compliment the artistic work of the head brewer. And the Michigan Beer Cellar brings a small town, patient feel to the brewing industry, and spikes it with some home grown spirits and wine. It's a good place to visit now, and I look forward to the evolution of the Michigan Beer Cellar.

(Note: due to a slight mishap with batteries, unless otherwise noted, the photography for this trip was taken on a Samsung Epic 4G.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bell's Porter Welsh Rarebit

Welsh What?? I know, the name tells you nothing about the dish, but it’s really just cheese fondue, simplified; a creamy cheese sauce, spiked with beer, rounded out with mustard, and poured over toast.  The dish, referred to as 'Welsh rabbit’ by some (don't worry, I'll explain later), gets its name quite literally from the words rare (meaning very lightly cooked) and bit (a small piece or portion).

No matter what you call it, it makes for an ideal savory snack. Try it for Sunday morning brunch with some freshly brewed coffee, then use the leftover Welsh rarebit  later on poached eggs, baked potatoes, cauliflower, or asparagus.

Here is what you will need for this recipe (my sister, Sarah, requested this one, so you have her to thank for this delicious culinary endeavor)..

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Bell's Porter
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 ounces (approximately 1 1/2 cups) shredded Cheddar
2 drops hot sauce
4 slices toasted rye bread

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour.

Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth.

Add beer and whisk to combine.

Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth.

Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Add hot sauce. 

Pour over toast and serve immediately.

Use the sharpest cheddar you can get.  If you can find a premium cheddar, that is even better--examples are Coastal (sold at Costco) or Tillamook. The Bell's Porter is essential for adding a nice tangy bite, while still allowing the dark, roasted malt flavor and just a hint of smokiness of the beer to come through.  I actually added quite a bit more than two drops of hot sauce, but figured two would be a good starting point for most people.  If you dont want it hot, this is optional--a plainer version without heat is great for kids or those that just don't like the heat. Similarly, light rye is awesome, but a nice thick slice of toasted french would work for those wanting a milder dish.

So, what's with calling it "Welsh rabbit" instead?  It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only wealthy people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese. The implication, of course, was that the Welsh could not obtain or afford real rabbit and had to make do with this cheesy substitute.  Both Welsh rabbit and Welsh rarebit are considered to be right, and it's still delicious either way, so I say just call it whatever you want.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Founders Breakfast Stout Pudding

Pudding: the ultimate kids' dessert.  I can't open a Snack Pack without having instant flashbacks of my childhood. (Yes, I do still eat Snack Packs from time to time.  Don't judge.)  There's just something about the cold, creamy texture and sweet, rich flavor that unfailingly makes kids (and me!) happy.

Something that is so deliciously comforting should not just be for kids.  They aren't the only ones that need comforting.  After all, when is the last time you saw a child worrying about job security?  Rising gas prices?  Their 401Ks tanking?

As delicious as pudding is, it probably won't be enough to assuage your concerns about your 401K, but beer will help with that. So I present today's cooking with beer recipe: Founders Breakfast Stout Pudding. This adult-only pudding is dense, rich, and creamy.  And, unlike a lot of desserts with beer, you can actually taste the stout in this pudding. It's subtle, but that distinctive coffee, malty, chocolate-y flavor is detectable, and it's incredible.

So, here's what you'll need for this recipe:

-8 large egg yolks
-1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar (divided)
-12 oz. bottle Founders Breakfast Stout
-3 cups heavy cream (I never said it was health food!)
-7 ounces high-quality bittersweet (I used 85%, but 70-72% would probably be fine) chocolate, finely chopped

In large nonreactive mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and 1 cup sugar.

Open the stout and slowly pour into 4-cup measuring cup, pouring down side of cup to reduce foaming. Pour a little more than half (just shy of 1 cup) into heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan. Add 2 1/4 cups cream and whisk to combine. Set over medium heat and heat, whisking occasionally, until bubbles just begin to form at edges. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Slowly pour hot chocolate mixture into eggs, whisking constantly to prevent curdling or cooking the eggs. Return mixture to saucepan and set over moderately low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and coats back of spoon, about 15 minutes.

Pour into blender and blend on high for 1 minute to make the pudding really smooth. Divide pudding among glasses, leaving at least 1/2 to 1 inch of space at top of each, depending on the size of your glasses. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and set.

Meanwhile, pour remaining stout into small saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 20 minutes. Pour syrup into small bowl and let cool.

The reduced syrup

Beat remaining cream until soft peaks form. Add Breakfast Stout syrup and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until combined.

Soft peaks
The cream with sugar and stout syrup

Divide cream among 6 glasses of pudding and serve.

The finished dessert mimics a frothy pint of stout.  Using a 70-85% dark chocolate will yield the nicest dark stout appearance.  If you find that your color isn't as dark as you'd like, you can add some dark cocoa powder for extra color.  Since I used 85% dark chocolate, my color and flavor turned out fine without it, but I had some on hand just in case.

The topping is definitely the most Breakfast Stout-like tasting portion of this dessert.  If you are serving this to little ones, you may want to make a plain vanilla topping and forgo the stout reduction completely.

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