Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Founders Pale Ale Battered Fried Macaroni and Cheese

Homemade macaroni and cheese is already a serious favorite of mine, but then deep fried (which naturally makes anything better), and in easy-to-handle bite-sized form?  I think I might just faint.  

I don't know about you, but for Seth and me, the best part of macaroni and cheese is the crunchy breaded topping, which is always scarce (and the first bit to go at the dinner table).  But by cutting frozen macaroni and cheese into cubes, dipping it in a combination of beer, flour, egg, and bread crumbs, and dropping it into a fryer, you multiply the surface area of the bread crumbs by six.  That's right, you get six times more of that crunchy, salty crust. Meanwhile, the cheese inside melts into a creamy mess that's just waiting to get out.

They are not the kind of thing one should indulge in very often, but man, these were a hit at the Super Bowl party we attended a couple weeks ago.

So, as promised when I posted my recipe for Founders Porter Macaroni and Cheese last week, here is what you'll need for this recipe:

Prepared Founders Macaroni and Cheese (about 1/3 to 1/4 of the leftovers)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup Founders Pale Ale
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 cups panko (Japanese style) bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

Cover and freeze prepared Founders Porter Macaroni and Cheese for about 8 hours.  Uncover and invert macaroni and cheese onto a cutting board (I just left about a three inch strip of my leftovers in the pan before freezing and it came out very easily with the assistance of a spatula). Using a sturdy chef's knife, cut the macaroni and cheese into 3/4-inch cubes.

To make the batter, in a medium bowl, whisk together egg, beer, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the flour and baking powder, mixing well.  Add flour mixture to the liquid mixture and mix until just combined (batter will be lumpy which is okay).

Fill a medium saucepan halfway (or a deep fryer, according to manufacturer's directions) with vegetable oil (do not fill pan more than halfway or oil will overflow when cooking).  Heat oil to 365°F (a candy/deep-fry thermometer works best to monitor this).  While oil is heating, line a baking sheet or tray with several layers of paper towel.  Have a fryer skimmer, heat-resistant slotted spoons, or metal tongs handy. Coat 4 to 5 frozen macaroni and cheese pieces with remaining 1/2 cup flour, dip into batter, and then roll in the bread crumbs, coating all sides evenly.

Flour, batter, bread crumbs.

Carefully place prepared cubes in the hot oil and deep-fry for 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove and drain fried macaroni bites on paper towels. Repeat with remaining macaroni and cheese pieces and batter (in batches of 4 to 5).

While I wouldn't recommend this for people with high cholesterol or heart disease, they'd at least die happy if they managed to sneak a bite!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Founders Porter Macaroni and Cheese

I’m sorry.  I know, this is totally cruel.  We’re just weeks from bathing suit season and this recipe here is no friend to Lycra.  But just when you thought macaroni and cheese couldn't get any better, I went and added beer to it. And it's incredible.  This recipe combines five -- yes, five -- kinds of cheese in a rich base enhanced with a cup of Founders Porter, which is then baked under a crust of panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to rich, crisp, golden perfection.

For this recipe, you will need:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup Founders Porter
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 pound (8 ounces) Brie
16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (16-ounce) box elbow macaroni pasta, cooked and drained
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium, heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a light roux. 

Slowly whisk in the beer and half and half.

Add the Brie and cream cheese to the sauce, stirring until the cheeses are melted and incorporated. Stir in the Gorgonzola, cheddar and 1 cup Parmesan cheese.

Stir in the pasta, taste and adjust the seasonings as desired with salt and pepper (some of the cheese will be salty and the mixture may need only a little salt, if any).  The mixture will seem very soupy, but a lot of the sauce will be absorbed during baking.  You can add up to another 8 ounces of pasta if desired, but I would recommend starting with a 16 ounce box.  Pour the mixture into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top the mixture by sprinkling over the remaining Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs. 

Place the dish in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the toppings are crisp and golden, about 1 hour.

Cool slightly before serving.  Trust me, it's really hot when it comes out of the oven.

Works great as a main dish or a side dish! Shown here with lamb loin chops topped with basil mint pesto.

Check back soon to see me deep fry this macaroni and cheese in a Founders Pale Ale batter!  Trust me, you won't want to miss it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Good Samaritan Bread Pudding

Here is the other bread pudding I made to compete with the Boffo Brown Bread Pudding recipe I posted last week.  Yes, I made two batches of bread pudding in one day, and no, 2011 hasn't been off to a healthy start here in the Porter house.  What can I say?  I'm no good.  I’m terrible news, a bad influence, and possibly everything that your nutritionists, cardiologists, and mothers warn you about.

But I just couldn't resist.  I mean, who doesn’t love bread pudding? It is warm, comforting, inexpensive, and incredibly easy to prepare. It also makes for a great last-minute or make-ahead brunch or dessert dish, as you can have the ingredients prepped in no time and either throw it together and pop it right into the oven, or let it sit in the refrigerator overnight and bake it off in the morning.

When I developed this recipe, I knew I wanted "bread pudding made with beer," but I didn't really know what direction I wanted to go with it, so I headed to Siciliano's for some inspiration.  They had just gotten their first shipment of The Good Samaritan in that day, and once I saw "brewed with apple cider" on the label, my mouth practically started watering over the idea of some sort of caramel apple flavored bread pudding.  When I brought some home to try before developing my recipe, I discovered that it wasn't as heavy on the apple cider flavor as I was expecting.  It's definitely there, along with some vanilla and toffee notes, but the most distinct flavor I noticed was banana, which was probably from the strain of (Belgian?) yeast that was used.  The banana flavor really intensified after baking, and while this wasn't the flavor combination I was originally going for, I really can't complain about a banana and caramel flavored bread pudding!

For this recipe you will need:

1 large loaf of challah, cut into 1-inch cubes (enough to mostly cover the bottom of the pan)
12 ounces Short's The Good Samaritan
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups plain soy milk

Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water

Cut the challah into cubes, and place on baking sheet in single layer and let dry for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place the challah cubes in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Pour the beer over the cubes and toss to coat. Let sit 15 minutes.

Place the eggs, sugar, vanilla and soy milk in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Pour or ladle over the beer soaked challah and bake for 50 minutes, or until the pudding is set and the edges browned.

Meanwhile, make the caramel sauce. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until all of the sugar has melted and you have a deep amber-colored syrup. Remove from the heat and carefully add the boiling water. The mixture will boil up and you will see some balls of caramel in the pot. Return the pan to medium heat and cook at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Stir often until all of the caramel pieces have melted and you have a smooth syrup. Let cool, cover with plastic, and store at room temperature.  The caramel sauce can be made up to three days in advance.

To serve, cut the pudding into squares, place on your serving plate and drizzle on the caramel sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature.  For an extra kick, serve with vanilla ice cream.  The pudding can be reheated in a warm oven (200°F) for 20 minutes.

Store covered in plastic in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brewery Vivant

Located in the historic East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids, Brewery Vivant brings a new and different vision of the craft beer market to West Michigan. The huge facility moved into the building left behind by an old funeral home, allowing for a full pub, on-site brewery, and (gasp!) a parking lot.

The pub -- parking lot to the left!

Brewery portion with beer garden in front (coming soon!)

A shot *from* the second floor
Inside, Brewery Vivant evokes feelings of ancient European meadhalls, with a cavernous pub buttressed by thick, yawning, old beams that lend to the feeling of a chapel – which, of course, was what it used to be in its prior life. It felt like I had entered a scene from Beowulf, and at any minute someone would tell me about all the sea monsters he fought while in full armor.  By the way -- Brewery Vivant has by far the coolest sinks in their washrooms I've seen in Grand Rapids.  No pictures for obvious reasons, but trust me.  Check them out.

A shot *of* the second floor

Jason and MBB
While I do not particularly believe in pedigree when it comes to making beer, if I did, Jason Spaulding, the owner of Brewery Vivant, would have it in spades. He cut his chops in the craft beer market back when there wasn't really a craft beer market: he's one of the founders of New Holland Brewing Company, and since 1996 has been a part of one of the pillars of the Michigan craft beer community. Spaulding remembers a time in craft beer history that I am thankful I was not around for. In 2011, it is uncommon for a bar not to have at least a few Michigan beers on tap, supplemented by other popular craft beers from other states. In 1996, it was difficult for Spaulding to even explain to Southwest Michiganders the types of beer he was offering, let alone convince an apprehensive beer market to distribute his wares. Luckily, those times are behind everyone, and in part due to his early nurturing, Spaulding has been able to open a brewery that focuses on exactly what he wants to focus on.

He took Laura and me around the actual brewing facility, which re uses space the old funeral home once used to park hearses (and before that, horse and carriages). Brewery Vivant is on track to hit a whopping 1200+ barrels of beer created in their first year of production, and Spaulding has baked in enough room for expansion to bring Vivant's maximum product capability up to 5,000 barrels. Readers with a sharp eye will notice that that's significantly less than some of the “big daddy” breweries in Michigan. New Holland, for example, produced over 10,000 barrels in 2009, and Bell's is sitting pretty at 124,000 barrels. Spaulding's goal, he said, is not to compete on that level, but focus on being as strong a community brewery as he can be.

Mash tun and boiler
Kludde aging in oak barrels.  Woo! 

Sgt Peppercorn Rye
To that end, he's doing well so far. His master brewer, Jacob Derylo, has a decade of brewing experience behind him and an eye for originality. Brewing Belgian beer is not easy; the price for using the yeast strains required is less predictability in your batches, so being consistent is difficult. That said, the selections available represent a very unique and original take on Belgian brewing. I won't go into all of their selections, but I did want to highlight what I considered the strongest in Vivant's stable:

The Sgt Peppercorn Rye has everything I love about spiced beer and nothing I dislike about rye beers. It's a smooth, malty taste with just a bit of kick on the back end, boosted by green peppercorns. The beer manages to mitigate the typical bitterness I associate with rye beers without boosting the alcohol content to staggering levels (it's a refreshing 6%).

Laura's favorite, the Vivant Brune, exhibited all the gentle characteristics of a traditional brown ale with a belgian twist. Expected flavors of coffee and chocolate are made more playful than one would expect with the belgian yeast, giving this beer more personality without being aggressive like some of the more recent hopped browns.
More Sgt Peppercorn.  Yeah, we liked it.
Vivant's Kludde strong ale, named after a huge, shapeshifting black dog that stalks the Belgian countryside, rounded out my favorites at Brewery Vivant. The Kludde is deep and complex, with a strong aroma of raisins bolstered by a slight licorice flavor, coming no doubt from the addition of star anise. It drinks thick and smooth and sweet and fruity, and at almost 10% alcohol, this is not a beer to be taken lightly or drunk vigorously.

Chef Turnipseed hard at work
Given all the advantages Brewery Vivant has to offer, I was surprised that the strongest merit of this brewery was the relationship between the wares of the head brewer and the food created by the head chef, Drew Turnipseed. I should warn you right now: Brewery Vivant does not offer typical bar food, and the prices reflect the fact that it has more in common with a five star restaurant offering French and Belgian cuisine than a burger joint. Don't get me wrong: I love Michigan Brewing Company's pulled pork sandwich, The Livery's Italian sub, and crack fries, but Brewery Vivant's 12 dollar burger and 12-19 dollar entrees are the exception to the standard rule -- and while the price makes some people on facebook pages embarrass themselves, I think the menu is unique, absolutely fantastic, and worth every penny.

Our meal began with grilled toast upon which we slathered duck butter and sea salt. The toasted baguette was crispy yet tender, the duck fat butter was rich and smooth, and the addition of sea salt was perfect. Don't let our government take this taste away. I paired the sweet Kludde beer with the salty and creamy appetizer, balancing the heavy fruit flavor with the light toasted duck flavor.

Laura ordered the hangar steak that came out french rare – cool and very red in the middle. Yes, Laura likes her steaks a few degrees above raw. It came dolloped with bĂ©arnaise sauce and served with marrow butter and frites (think thick cut fries that were fried in duck fat). The perfectly seasoned steak, dipped in marrow butter turned out to be one of the most delicate and lively piece of beef we've tried in a long time. (Lively is not a pun on how it was cooked).

My lobster mac and cheese did not disappoint, either; the house made noodles paired with a thick, peppery cheese sauce with a depth of flavor (the sous chef, CT, let slip that nutmeg and cayenne were part of the secret) I haven't experienced before. The dish was topped with an entire lobster tail and claw. A dish as thick and rich as I've ever had, it paired perfectly with the Triomphe IPA, a light, hoppy version of a pale ale that cut through the thickness and complimented the sweetness from the lobster.

Historically, a bar would not be the first thing someone might want to have as the new business in the neighborhood. They certainly don't generate controversy like strip clubs, casinos, or mosques, but conservative families probably don't get excited about a bar moving into the local community.

But what if that bar is a conscious community member, donating part of its profits to local charities? What if that bar was a responsible environmental ally, working on reducing its water waste, operating at a zero landfill capacity, getting an old building LEED certified and generating some of its own energy on site with sustainable methods? What if the bar brought French and Belgian inspired cuisine to a neighborhood that rivaled some of the fanciest, most well regarded restaurants in town? What if the bar offered a small but growing stable of delicate and complex beer inspired by the great Belgian beers?

I cannot imagine anyone not welcoming Brewery Vivant into their community with excitement.

More photos available on Facebook.

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