Friday, April 19, 2013

Aw Shucks Stewed Pork

Here's really all you need to know about this recipe: Seth took one bite, dropped his spoon, and fainted from awesomeness.  Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but he did say it's the best soup he's ever had. 

It's spicy, a little smokey, and the pork is so very tender -- the perfect dish for a snowy day in April when winter just feels like it's never going to end. (Seriously, Michigan.  Any day now.) 

And how can you resist a beer called "Aw Shucks"?

For this recipe, you will need:

3 pounds pork shoulder/pork butt
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 slices bacon chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 small cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
2 - 3 tablespoons puréed chipotle in adobo (for a medium to spicy heat level)
1 bottle (12-ounces) Atwater Aw Shucks Detroit Lager, at room temperature
1 quart chicken stock
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 large red pepper, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (28-ounces)
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Corn tortillas, charred

Bring meat to room temperature and pat dry. Cut meat into 2-inch pieces. Just before cooking, season with salt and pepper.

Pre-heat oven to 325°F.  Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven. Add bacon and stir until crisp; remove. Working in batches, caramelize meat on all sides. Remove to a plate and repeat, adding additional oil if necessary.

To meat drippings, add carrot, celery, onion, sliced garlic, bay, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick, oregano, salt and pepper.

Partially cover pot and cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in chipotle paste, cook 1 minute, stir in beer to deglaze and reduce liquid by half.

Add stock then slide meat and bacon back into the pot. Bring to a bubble then cover and transfer to oven. Roast 1 hour.

Stir in onion wedges, red bell pepper, and tomatoes. Roast stew 1 hour more. Stir in lime juice and the cilantro.

Serve in shallow bowls with tortillas alongside.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brewery Ferment

Exploring Traverse City never leaves one disappointed. The city -- prominently featured on a plethora of “Best Vacation Spots” lists -- offers something for everyone, from the craft beer aficionado to that jerk who thinks it’s fine for snow to be on the ground in the middle of April. Specific to that first person, however, Traverse City has just gotten started; when we started charting the development of Michigan craft beer in 2010, the vacation spot in northern Michigan had three lonely breweries. Now it’s doubled that number, and within a year will be knocking at the double digit mark of breweries. Not bad for a city with a population less than 10% that of Grand Rapids.

Our latest endeavor took us to one of the newest offerings the city provides: Brewery Ferment. Found in a tiny retail storefront within walking distance to the celebrated 7 Monks taproom, Brewery Ferment is the brainchild of brewer Dustin Jones and his sister Kirsten, the marketing/artistic/design guru. We visited on a cold April Friday afternoon just as they were opening and had the place to ourselves for a few minutes.

The space itself is a credit to Kirsten’s imagination and vision. Brewery Ferment boasts an open and inviting floor plan that maximizes space and natural light. The bar features standing room only (no stools) while the rest of the area gives customers spots to enjoy beer around furniture hand built by the owners themselves. The use of gentle blue and white paint, blended with the light colored wood floors and bar area lent a serene feeling to the place, and we immediately felt comfortable inside.

The beer is a testament to Dustin’s talent; like so many successful Michigan breweries, Dustin’s experience lies in the homebrew field. The sampler of five beers was reasonably priced and gave a great impression of the place.

As a fan of sours, the Mitten Wit stood out as a great contender for me. I also enjoyed the 45th Parrallale, which was a maltier than expected pale ale. With 8 beers on tap, I admit surprise that a few traditional mainstays – specifically an IPA – were missing from the lineup. The brown ale and ESB were fine examples of their style, but for those of you intent on keeping your horizons narrowed to hop bombs, you may be disappointed here.  My favorite, however, was a slightly sour Dunkelweizen with a distinct Christmas spice element.

The food selection was limited but appreciable. Brewery Ferment provided snacks more robust than popcorn and peanuts – notably an olive tray and a charcuterie platter – and for those with more aggressive appetites, the space encourages ordering in. Remember that this too is keeping in line with many breweries, including Right Brain located in the same town.

Like all brand new breweries, some of the beer could use some polish. The Bookstore Bitter, for example, while enjoyable, seemed too sweet for an English style bitter, and I would have preferred a bit more clarity in the brown ale. The owner/bartender was happy to walk us through our preferences, however, and more than accommodated our requests and questions. Kudos to both Kirsten and Dustin for creating a warm and welcome environment!

The downtown district of Traverse City is a jewel on a nationwide level, let alone statewide, but I’m not the first to point that out. Whether your preference is walking along the beaches, eating whitefish paté, or exploring the exploding growth of breweries in the area, one cannot go wrong with a trip to Traverse City. Brewery Ferment fills a niche alongside the other Traverse City microbreweries, giving its customers another choice to enjoy. When people speak of craft beer saturation, this is not the type of place a thoughtful mind considers when talking of hitting capacity for microbreweries. I’m hoping small neighborhood microbreweries continue to grow, and if the future of Traverse City – and Michigan generally – continues as is, I will easily see my hopes realized.

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