Thursday, April 21, 2011

Whitsun Ham with Cherry Sauce

(AKA the moistest ham you'll ever taste and the perfect recipe to grace your Easter dinner table.)

I just love making ham because it is extremely easy, looks beautiful, and the leftovers can be made into so many different things (ham salad, omelets, soup, sandwiches, etc). If you have been asked to host Easter this year and are intimidated by making a ham, please let me ease your mind.  It really is one of the simplest meats you can prepare!  The Whitsun makes the meat so tender and moist, and lends just a hint of citrus flavor that complements the cherry sauce perfectly.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as Seth and I do!

For this recipe you will need:

1 bone-in fully cooked ham, about 9 pounds
2 bottles Arcadia Whitsun Ale

2 tablespoons honey
2/3 cup cherry preserves
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup dried cherries

Cornstarch (about 1 tablespoon)
Water (about 2 tablespoons)

Remove ham from refrigerator 1 hour before baking. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place ham in a large roasting pan and pour beer over it. Cover and bake 1 hour.

Prepare glaze: While ham is baking, combine honey, cherry preserves and ground cloves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until preserves have melted and glaze is smooth. Stir in dried cherries.

Try to look at that little jar of honey and not say "Aww!".

After cooking the ham for a little more than an hour, baste with pan juices and spoon about half of the glaze over the ham, cover and continue cooking 20 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over the ham, and cook until necessary internal temperature is reached on a meat thermometer.*

Prepare sauce: Remove ham from the pan to a cutting board and cover with foil for 15 minutes. Bring the pan juices to a simmer over two burners. Dissolve cornstarch in cold water and slowly whisk into liquid and cook about 3 to 5 minutes to thicken. Transfer to a bowl and serve with the sliced ham.

*The internal temperature of a cooked ham that was vacuum-packed should read 140 degrees on a food thermometer.  If the cooked ham was not vacuum-packed, cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why I Don't Rate Beer

I don’t prefer a traditional review style of craft beers for a few reasons. There is too much inconsistency in the market, for one: one bottling of Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza will taste slightly different than a later bottling, for example, and one of the very best conversations one can have with a stranger over a pint of craft beer is the discussion about how the beer has evolved or changed from year to year. Not that this is a bad thing; this is what makes craft beer more similar to the fine wine market than to the macrobrewery experience. I know for a fact that the sun will rise tomorrow, that my dogs hate snow, and that the next can of PBR will taste just like the last can of PBR, which  will taste just like the last can of PBR I drink before I die. Consistency is the mainstay of the macro market, and I am forever glad that it is not the ultimate pursuit of the Michigan craft beer market.

My personal distrust of ratings systems comes in as a close second for why I don’t score beers.  A ratings scale can mean many different things to different people. A score of 5 out of 10, for example, may mean a decent, average beer to some, while many others would rank it as a failure of a beer. A score of C- would seem like a perfectly reasonable beer to try for many people, while the overachieving straight - A students would be turned off by such poor performance. Many people in the reviewing field try to temper this issue in several ways. I know of some who, recognizing that a “x out of 10” scale is unconsciously converted to grades (thus making 5/10 a 50%, or a failing grade), try to adjust by making the lowest score they give a 6. This just masks the issue, and doesn’t get to the root of the problem. I know of others who explain their scores with as much detail as possible, like a restaurant menu carefully explaining exactly what medium rare means. Again, the language leaves too much up to interpretation. One person’s “adequate session beer, worth buying if you can find it on sale” is another’s “pile of discount trash, don’t bother.”

Finally, my own distrust in my palate requires that I not rate beer on a scale. There are so many things that play into my enjoyment of beer that can change day to day that it’s simply an exercise in revisions ad infinitum to try to peg a craft beer to a scale. Drinking a Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout fresh off the tap during the Black Party hosted at Founder’s at 11:00 am on a rainy Saturday with three friends who also love dark beer is a hugely different experience than drinking a half cup of Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout under a crowded tent in a heavy snowfall during the Winter Beer Fest in February: and both are worlds different than sipping a KBS from a tulip in the warm and welcoming environment of one’s favorite bar, surrounded by friends. Even if one has an absolutely consistent craft beer (which as I already mentioned, would not be preferable), one cannot account for changes in mood or environment.

Obviously, beer ratings have their place. Beeradvocate and ratebeer are both favorites saved in my browser. I do base some of my purchases of beer based on aggregate ratings systems, although I always keep in mind that an aggregate ratings system is inherently flawed: ten people giving a beer an A+ rating balanced with ten people giving the beer an F rating does not mean the beer in question is a “C” beer, after all. Aggregate ratings can be used as blunt recommendation systems, not scalpels of alcoholic accuracy.

So what’s the solution? If I write about beer, I can’t just blather on a page, can I?

….why not?

I believe it’s more important to capture the experience of drinking a specific craft beer than it is to ascribe a rating to it. Compare a Dark Horse IPA against a Bell’s IPA against a Saugatuck Brewing IPA. Note the choices of the brewer: did (s)he opt for a combination of barley and hops that lends a fruit experience or a floral one? Is the beer you are drinking more active on the bitter part of the tongue? Did the brewer use the alcohol content to smooth out the bitterness or enhance it? All of these things can help people develop their own feelings toward a beer without locking it into a rating. They develop discussion without encouraging disagreement. Two people can have dichotomous views of a beer but still agree with its flavor profile. My goal is to describe a beer without limiting it to a number that few people – including my future self – would agree with.

I realize that people exist who need the comfort of a score. I know that there are even those who can make the internal leap to realize that a score from a reviewer would not necessarily reflect how others should feel about a beer…although that negates the importance of reviewing things in the first place. So consider the Bottled Michigan posts that you see here less like an objective review and more like Fox News: we report…you decide.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tres Blueberry Stout Ice Cream

Ice cream is a forbidden item on my grocery shopping list.  If I buy it, chances are it will be gone within a couple days.  Häagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s, even the cheap stuff from Meijer – it doesn’t matter.  It’s one of those few, special dessert items where I lack any semblance of self control.  So when my family came over for dinner a week ago, it was the perfect opportunity to try out this recipe and have someone else to help me polish off the leftovers.

The blueberry stout gives the ice cream a frothy texture, and the milk chocolate is smooth and sweet, but not so strong that you miss the slightly yeasty taste.  The most interesting thing about this recipe is the blueberry flavor is even more pronounced in the ice cream than in the beer itself, without even adding any addition blueberry flavoring to the recipe.  Don't ask me how this happened.  It just did and I am more than okay with that.

For this recipe, you will need:

7 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the chocolate pieces in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.  

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer over the milk chocolate, then stir until the chocolate is melted. 

Once the mixture is smooth, whisk in the cream, then the beer and vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

This recipe makes about one quart.

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