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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New Belgium Beer Pairing Dinner

I'm not sure if you got the memo, but beer is the new wine. Beer dinners abound as the craft brewing industry continues to grow every year and people are coming around to the idea that the wide range of flavors in beer offer a whole new world for pairing with food. I attend no less than twenty beer festivals, drinking marathons, dinners and events each year and it initially wasn't because I liked beer. The truth of the matter is that I was determined to win the Awesome Girlfriend Award by showing infallible support for the Beer Geek. Lo and behold, I have learned some things about myself (and beer) as I welcomed beer into my life and onto my palate.

If you consider that your palate can be re-wired, you would be amazed that the flavors of food can be accentuated or even reinvented when you add in a swig of beer. The thing is, pairing beer with food is not so easy and intuitive if you aren't familiar with the various styles of beer and flavors that different hops, barley and yeast impart to those styles. Lucky for me, I live with a beer expert who was bribed offered consulting expertise in exchange for a batch of my furikake somen salad.

Unfortunately, most beer dinners (and all that I've attended) are not vegetarian (in fact, they are downright meat-centric). I decided that I would attempt a 3-course vegetarian meal with successful beer pairings. When my Fort Collins friends recently raved about attending a vegetarian New Belgium Brewing Company Beer Dinner at Tasty Harmony, I knew I had found the right brewery for my dinner.

Truth be told, my all-time favorite beer is a Wild Ale called Love 34, which was a singular batch made by New Belgium Brewing Company ("NBB"). I was blessed with the graces of Love 34 several years ago at a NBB tasting night at Toronado. The Love series of beers were Wild Ales only put into kegs for a superspecialsacred limited release (note Morgan's futile efforts to find any bottles to hoarde). Love made an appearance via some reincarnations a couple of months ago and I inhaled three Love beers that had been aged in various whiskey barrels with peach, blackberry or apple whiskey remnants in the barrels. My tormented and unrequited love affair with super rare beers continues. New Belgium is sneaky like that.

First Course:
Spelt Galette with Carmelized Onions and Blue Cheese
Paired with NBB Trippel

Ok, I am admittedly no pastry chef, but I know this to be a solid truth: well-chilled butter makes for a fine, flaky pastry crust that is nothing short of indulgence. The Trippel has a bold character that balanced the sweetness of the onions and the fruity yeast strain complemented the rich buttery crust. The notes of coriander in the beer played well with the funky character of the blue cheese.


* 45 grams whole wheat spelt flour
* 45 grams all-purpose flour
* 1/2 T. sugar
* 1/4 tsp. salt
* 4 T. chilled butter (diced)
* 3 T. ice water
* 1 T. melted butter (for glazing crust)
* 1/4 tsp. black pepper (for glazing crust)
* 2 ounces of blue cheese (for filling)
* 2 medium onions (for filling)

The filling is comprised of carmelized onions and a small amount of crumbled blue cheese.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter (or two forks), smash the cold bits of butter into the flour mixture until it becomes crumbly. Don't be tempted to use your hands because the heat will melt the butter (note the secret about butter that is disclosed above). Add the water and mix well until you can shape the dough into ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and rest the dough in fridge for 1 hour or more. In the meantime you can whip up some carmnelized onions while you read a magazine or fold laundry.

When you're ready to bake the galette, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Roll out your dough into a rustic free-form circle. Scatter your carmelized onions onto the middle of the dough leaving about a one-inch margin around the edges. Fold the edges inward to overlap onto a tad bit of the onions and then keep folding small portions working your way around the circle. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Crumble some blue cheese onto the top and continue to bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the dough has cooked through.

Second Course:
Spring salad with fava beans, english peas, poached egg and brioche breadcrumbs
Paired with NBB Sunshine Wheat

The bright earthiness of the fava beans and peas were accented by the light, clean notes of the wheat beer. The orange peel flavor in the beer further brightened up the dish, while the slightly spicy yeast strain cut through the richness of the egg yolk. I thought this was the most successful beer pairing.

This spring salad is more of an assembly of farm fresh ingredients than a recipe. I blanched some shelled fava beans and english peas in salted boiling water (no more than a minute or two) that I had picked up from the farmers market. I piled them around a bed of fresh arugula and topped it with a poached egg. Then I toasted a slice of brioche bread and whizzed it up in the food processor to make bread crumbs and topped the egg with some brioche breadcrumbs and drizzled a nice olive oil over everything. Ta-da!

Third Course:
Vegan Coconut Panna Cotta with Grapefruit and Mint Sugar
Paired with NBB Ranger India Pale Ale (IPA)

Who knew that a hoppy beer and dessert could be such great bedfellows? The coconut milk base of the panna cotta provided a sweet foundation that offset the grapefruit and the slightly bitter, tropical fruit notes of the IPA. The mint sugar rounded out the dish, providing a sweet burst of freshness and crunchy texture that augmented the hoppy and citrus elements on the plate.

(Adapted from a recipe courtesy of Neil Davidson of Mission Gastroclub)

* 1 can (400ml) Coconut Milk
* 1 can (400ml) Coconut Cream
*2 T. Brown sugar
* 1 tsp. Vanilla bean paste (or vanilla scraped from one pod)
* 1 tsp. Salt
* 2 tsp. Agar agar flakes
* 1 T. Grapefruit zest
* 1 grapefruit (cut into supremes)
* 8-10 mint leaves
* 1 T. white sugar

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pot, combine coconut milk, coconut cream, brown sugar, vanilla paste, salt, and agar agar flakes. Bring up to a boil, stirring occasionally, making sure the sugar and agar agar flakes dissolve. Stir in grapefruit zest and pour into desired serving dishes (or aluminum foil muffin cups). Chill for at least four hours, or overnight. Invert the panna cotta onto a serving plate and garnish with grapefruit segments and a mint sprig. Using a mortar & pestle, mash th emint leaves into the tablespoon of sugar until well combined and sprinkle mint sugar around or over panna cotta.

Beer Dinner Success.

Note: This opportunity was made possible as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, which provided a stipend to cover the costs of food and beer. Thank you to NBB for the rewarding opportunity to explore the world of beer pairings!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Welcome to the World

People. Something very wonderful has happened. No, many wonderful things have happened.

It was Thursday night, and I was out with some friends testing some ramen at Saiwaii. The ramen odyssey in Japan last September pretty much ruined me for ramen, and I had been desperately trying to find a place to get my noodle fix. I was really enjoying my bowl of chicken broth ramen with a perfectly cooked soy sauce egg when I got a call from my mom announcing that my brother and his wife gave birth to Raidin Jack Woolley!

8 lbs. 2 oz. of pure cuteness. I skyped with them all weekend, in between feedings and naps.

On Friday, I bolted out of work to squeeze in an hour of kickboxing before spending dinner amongst friends. For the record, Elianna + Jesse + Jason + Doctor James + Chris + Eric + Neil+ Emily make for the very best dinner company. And a glaring sign that Doctor James and I are the only people left in the world who are not connected to Twitter accounts.

On Saturday, I went to the Berkeley Farmer's Market and discovered pretzel croissants made by the wonderful Bavarian joint called Oktoberfest Bakery in downtown Berkeley. It's pretzel-y aroma and salty twang made my mouth water as I sank my teeth through folds and folds of buttery croissant. I also purchased a cherimoya that was grown locally in Ventura County. You don't find these beauties often in the grocery store. This fruit has a tender creamy white flesh that tastes like a cross between a papaya, apple, and pear.

Then, I headed to Berkeley Bowl West and found some popped quinoa! Perfect to add to popped amaranth. I've been hooked on this breakfast for awhile now. Quinoa + Amaranth with some flaked coconut and a spoonful of nut butter and almond milk keeps me full for nearly 4 hours!

Sunday morning I woke up early and headed to the gym. I jogged for 3 miles on the elliptical and then swam laps for a solid 30 minutes. I am glad I got a nice workout in before I tested my chocolate limits at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon. Turns out, my limit is about forty pieces of chocolate, toffee and truffles. While there were some excellent highlights, notably some fantastic toffee from Toffee Talk, I am not sure it was worth the stomach ache and sugar daze that ensued.

I came home to rest my tummy and zone out watching Koyaanisqatsi.