Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcoming back a Big Easy icon

New Orleans has so many iconic elements, the word begins to lose its meaning. The architecture, people, culture, history, geography and, of course, food are the definative elements that make Crescent City the unique place that it is.
When I think about New Orleans, I think about the black iron balconies of the French Quarter and the street cars that have carried me up and down St. Charles. I think about Jackson Square and the Asian women who served me chicory-laced coffee and French doughnuts across the street.
I think of gumbo and Katrina.
If such thoughts fail to occur to you, then we’re talking about different places.
Hurricane Katrina did her very best to wash away New Orleans and its icons. And while she wasn’t completely successful, the thousands of displaced residents who may never return will agree the storm gave them all they could handle.
Although I grew up with a keen appreciation for New Orleans cuisine, it wasn’t until I reached legal drinking age (OK, that’s not quite true) that I got the chance to appreciate the local beverages as well.
One of the first was Dixie Blackened Voodoo.
Of all places, I tried it in God-forsaken Orlando. The details of the event – and the fact that I was underage at the time – are neither here nor there. I was having lunch with friends in a tiny restaurant run by a family that could cook Cajun. We washed down our bowls of spicy gumbo and jambalaya with cold bottles of Blackened Voodoo.
It’s a good beer (that afternoon, it was the greatest beer). A tasty black lager (Schwarzbier) with a spooky label, Blackened Voodoo was at one time sold up and down the East Coast. When I moved from Tampa to Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s, I never struggled to find a bottle or two.
On Aug. 28, 2005, Katrina changed that.
Like most every other building in New Orleans, Dixie Brewing Company’s downtown brewery was flooded and looted. The plant had 11 feet of water in it, which ruined 10,000 cases of beer.
Fortunately, brewery owners Joe and Kendra Bruno are beginning to brew again with the help of the Huber Brewery in Monroe, Wis.
I heard about this some time ago, but I wasn’t sure if it I’d ever have another Dixie beer. Faced with rebuilding their New Orleans facility, while brewing their line of beers thousands of miles north, it seemed like the Brunos faced too many obstacles to get their business back in order.
And then I found a sixer of Blackened Voodoo.
There it was, sitting on a shelf at the Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington, Va., next to a six pack of Dixie Lager. It was like running into an old friend, someone you weren’t sure you’d see again.
Dixie Blackened Voodoo is the same beer it was before, though it seems to taste better. But seeing it for the first time since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast was one more indication that New Orleans and its icons might just be alright.
(Want to help New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana get back on it's feet? Check out the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and consider making a donation. Hurricane Katrina might be a memory, but the damage she left behind is not.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Feedin' my cowboy mouth

I would like to thank the steer I ate last night.
Dude, you were awesome.
It's unseemly to tout your own successes, but I gotta say, I cook a mean steak. Last night, I cooked a giant mean steak.
There's a new trend in steaks. Nah, not the tiny flat iron steaks. It's the cowboy steak.
It defines the great American steak the way the t-bone once did. It's an enormous bone-in rib eye that gives you everything you want in a steak: a marbled cut that's as tender as a fillet and juicer than the strip. Basically, what the t-bone offers on either side of the bone, the cowboy steak gives you in one cut.
It's also a scary big piece of cow.
When you throw a couple cowboy steaks on the grill, people know you're not screwing around. Anyone willing to cook and eat that much beef is to be reckoned with.
What do you serve with a cowboy steak? Whisky.
(Well, whisky and a nice salad of cherry tomatoes and peach vinaigrette.)
As the missus and I cut into our prehistoric-sized steaks, the rib eye finally made sense to me. Before last night, it was my least favorite cut. While the fat of the cut helps the flavor of the rib eye, it also makes the soft piece of meat a bit stringy. I've always preferred the density of the strip and t-bone. But when presented with a bone-in rib eye that's nearly two-inchs thick, all that fat and soft tissue becomes so unctuous that butter knives can replace steak knives (in fact, if you ever need to use a steak knife, you have a poorly cooked steak.).
So pour that whisky and throw a couple cowboy steaks on the fire. You'll be happy you did ... provided you're still awake after eating all that beef.

Cowboy steaks

2 bone-in rib eye steaks (a.k.a. cowboy steaks)
1 head of garlic, minced
2 tbs. cumin
2.5 tbs. black pepper
1.5 tbs. salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
1 tbs. crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbs. of olive oil

The night before (or if you're like me and forget, the morning of) you plan to cook the steaks, throw the marinade together and put it on the steaks. You can combine the minced garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and olive oil in a bowl and brush it on the steaks. However, you can also add these ingredients right on the steaks, as I do. Either way, once the seasoning and oil are on both sides of the steaks, make sure you rub them into the meat. And if it seems like a lot of seasoning for two steaks, keep in mind that you're dealing with thick pieces of meat, which require a lot of seasoning. Besides, the seasoning will form a crust on the steaks, which contrasts perfectly with the tender meat inside the steaks.

When you're ready to get started, pull the steaks out of the fridge so they can lose some of their chill and light your grill. If you're using a gas grill, make sure you pull the steaks out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you fire up your grill.
When the coals are white hot, put the steaks on directly over the heat. (I also added a few chunks of oak to the coals to create some smoke to give the steaks a camp fire flavor.)

For rare to medium rare, grill the steaks for 7 minutes on each side. Afterward, move the steaks to the cooler side of the grill, put the lid on and cook for another 20 minutes. (If you want the steaks to be more than medium rare, leave them on the cooler side of the grill for 25 minutes. If you want it even more done, cook something else.)

Pull the steaks off and let them rest for about 7 minutes before serving.
Now eat 'em, cowboy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It don't get easier than ducks on the grill

Here's my latest column from today's Times-News:

Summertime grilling is easy — with duck

July 21, 2008

'Tis the season of burgers and brats, but I've got bird on my mind.
Not chicken. Oh no, I'm talking about duck.
You know duck, don't you? That incredibly delicious bird that pops up in Asian restaurants and white-tablecloth establishments. You'll typically find it in your grocer's freezer, buried under a frozen pile of turkeys and other meats deemed too exotic for public display.
Well, sort through that ice pack and grab yourself a couple ducks, because it will be the easiest meal you ever cooked on a grill.
Don't believe me? I can break down the process into three steps:
1. Puncture the skin;
2. Add seasoning;
3. Cook on the grill for two hours.
That's it. It's so easy that I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what else to write about in this column.
Somewhere along the line, duck got a reputation for being difficult to cook. For years, I heard tales that it could take up to two days to cook a duck. Two days! As a result of such misconceptions, people became intimidated and the bird was relegated to restaurants and freezer cases.
That's a shame, especially for those of us who are fans of dark meat. I say keep your chicken breasts, I want the thighs and legs where the flavor is. And when it comes to duck, the bird is all dark meat, all flavor.
Now, the one thing that boring old chicken breast does have on duck meat is it's leaner.
Duck meat is so delicious and unctuous because its meat is rich and its skin is fatty. According to the Web site Calorie-Count, www.calorie-count.com, a whole roasted duck averages 472 calories per serving, 357 of which comes from fat. A skin-on chicken breast has only 276 calories per serving, a measly 98 of which comes from fat.
So it's clear, chicken breasts - even with the skin on - are healthier to eat than ducks. Fine. But compare a whole duck to a whole chicken.
A whole roasted chicken has 468 calories per serving, 253 of which come from fat. Sure there's still a triple digit difference between chicken and duck when it comes to calories from fat, but do you realize what 104 calories amounts to?
Half a Moon Pie.
We're talking about some seriously succulent duck meat here, folks. I say that's easily worth half a Moon Pie.
Calories aside, duck is the perfect grill food. Even burgers and hot dogs need more attention. You have to baby-sit burgers and hot dogs or they'll burn. Once those birds go on, though, you don't have to touch the grill until they're done - two hours later.
Think of all the things you can accomplish in that two hours. Take a dip in the pool, read the newspaper, play some horseshoes, brew four or five batches of sweet tea.
When the time comes to finally open the grill, your eyes will rest upon the most beautifully browned, crispy skinned ducks you've ever seen.
As an added bonus, if you cook the birds for friends and family, they'll think you're a grilling genius, a culinary savant: You mastered the mighty duck with nary any effort.
Just don't let them know how easy it really was.

(Because grilling duck is so easy, I decided to offer a few ideas of how to fill the time.)

Read ...

... but pace yourself.

Play a game ...

... but know how to lose gracefully.

Anyway, it's your two hours. Use them as you like.

Grilled ducks and purple potatoes
(Makes 4 servings.)

I've yet to find a grocery store that doesn't stock frozen ducks. I always buy two because one duck yields about half the meat of a chicken. For this dish, I also picked up a few purple potatoes (because they look cool), some fennel, onions and cherry tomatoes. A side benefit of cooking ducks on a grill, you can roast vegetables underneath the birds, allowing the fat that drips off the ducks to flavor the vegetables. It's a smidge more involved than simply cooking the ducks, but not much. (Tip: Vegetables are much more dense than duck meat. As a result, they will need a bit of help to ensure they are fully cooked by the time the ducks are done. So once the vegetables are cut up and seasoned, roast them in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes before placing on the grill.)

2 frozen ducks (buy the birds a few days ahead so they have time to thaw)
1½ pounds of purple potatoes (or whatever potato you like) quartered
1 head of fennel, coarsely chopped
3 yellow onions quartered
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
3 tablespoons powdered ginger
2 tablespoons sea salt (or 1 tablespoon table salt)
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper (add another table spoon if you really like the taste of black pepper)

To get started, chop the vegetables and place everything but the tomatoes in a roasting pan you're comfortable sticking on the grill.
Season the vegetables with salt and pepper to taste. Pull the ducks out of the refrigerator and using a sharp paring knife, puncture the skin all over the ducks.
Just be careful not to puncture the meat too much. The puncture holes will allow the fat to drain off the ducks and onto your vegetables. If you skip the vegetables, you still need to puncture the skin in order for the ducks to cook properly. Just make sure to stick a drip pan underneath the birds or your grill will smell like duck fat for months.

Once the skin is thoroughly pricked, add the Chinese five-spice powder, powdered ginger, salt and pepper, rubbing the spices in thoroughly on all sides of the birds. (Tip: I like the Asian flavor ginger and five spice powder give to duck. However, I've also grilled duck with nothing more than salt and pepper. Both ways result in delicious duck.)

If you're using a gas grill, place the pan of vegetables underneath the grate where you plan to grill the duck (say, the left-handed grate). Put the grate back on and light the other side of the grill (say, the right-hand side) and leave the heat on medium. If you have a middle burner, keep it off.
If you're using a charcoal grill (as I do), build your fire and get the charcoal good and hot. When the coals are ready, move them over to one side of the grill, place the pan of vegetables on the other side of the grill and put the top grate on.

In both cases, you're going to cook the duck using the off-heat grilling method. Simply put, you're turning your grill into an oven. As the interior of the grill heats, the duck cooks and renders its fatty goodness all over the vegetables.

Normally, I oil the grill grate before cooking. Feel free to do so this time, but you don't need to. The ducks' own fat should take care of that.
When the vegetables are in and the grill is ready to go, stick the ducks on, close the grill and walk away. The birds don't need you and the less peeking the better. After about an hour and a half, open the grill and carefully remove the top grate, stir the vegetables and add the tomatoes. Put the top grate back on for a final 30 minutes.

Remove the ducks and vegetables, carve the birds (if you care to) and enjoy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Brooklyner-Schneider oder Schneider-Brooklyner

Collaboration is nothing new to the craft beer community, but the folks at Brooklyn Brewery and Schneider Brauerei came up with a pretty clever twist on the concept.
Brewers Garrett Oliver, of Brooklyn, and Hans-Peter Drexler, of Schneider, worked together to produced a hopfen-weisse ale (a hopped wheat beer). The twist is the brewers used different hops and released the beers under their own labels.
Clever, huh?
Using the same process to produce the wheat beer and then dry hopping with different varietals of hops gives drinkers the chance to better appreciate the various flavors different hops bring to beer. Whether intended or not, the wheat beer -- which traditionally doesn't have a pronounced hop flavor -- serves as foundation to show off the hops' unique characteristics.
Anyone who thinks that all hops are the same needs to do a side-by-side tasting of these beers. In an age when the hottest thing in craft brewing is super-hoppy India pale ales (HopSlam, Hopocalypse, HopDevil), it's helpful to take a step back and taste the subtle differences those little green flower buds bring to beer.
The Schneider version (Schneider-Brooklyner) is dry hopped using Hallertauer Saphir hops grown near the German brewery. Brooklyn's version (Brooklyner-Scheider) uses Amarillo and Palisade hops grown in the United States.
The result is a pair of sister beers that are ever-so-subtly different. The Schneider-Brooklyner is subtle and rich, but very much a wheat beer, which the brewery is famous for. The Brooklyner-Scheider is a shade darker and slightly more robust.
As this collaboration took place last year, this isn't exactly new news, but the idea is still pretty novel. Plenty of breweries work together, but to use a collaboration project to celebrate the hop -- and give both breweries a chance to release a beer -- is down right brilliant.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Big Easy Shrimp and Grits

You want to get to know a city, a state, a country? Travel there. Want to get to know it intimately? Live there.
Growing up, I had the great fortune to visit New Orleans many times. My mother loves the city and passed that affection on to me. I'd tell you it was the culture, the people, the exotic nature of the old city that has always intrigued me. Certainly that's all true, but it's the food that hooked me.
It's food that always hooks me.
I love all things Creole and Cajun. And being an outsider, I never had to pick sides. Gumbo, etouffee, poboys, dirty rice, I dig it all.
I've also been fortunate to spend a few years living in North Carolina. Like New Orleans, the state has its many charms, but it was the food that truly interested me.
That's the great thing about food. I'm not the first person to say it, but it bears repeating: if you want to understand a place and its people, eat the food.
Just as the Crescent City has its mudbugs and jambalaya, the Tar Heel state has its signature dishes. The first that comes to everyone's mind -- as it well should -- is pork barbecue. Literally and figuratively, North Carolina is the alpha and the omega of slow cooked pork. Once you get a taste for that soft, succulent swine sopping in vinegar sauce, you will yearn for it forever.
However, pork barbecue isn't the only dish done in Carolina. It was another favorite meal that led me to bring two of my favorite cuisines together: shrimp and grits.
The genius of shrimp and grits is its simplicity. The dish isn't composed of much more than than the ingedients in its name. As such, it's easy to play around with. So when the missus' folks were in town recently, I decided to put my own spin on it by combining it with the classic New Orleans dish barbecue shrimp.
I love barbecue shrimp, but it took me years to figure it out. Now, it's not that I wasn't exposed to it. It's one of my mother's favorites, so I had it growing up, whether in a restaurant or at home. The thing is, though, barbecue shrimp is not barbecued and doesn't involve any barbecue sauce.
Weird, right?
What it does involve is an incredibly rich and savory butter sauce that the shrimp swim in until plucked from the plate and popped in your mouth. Just about every restaurant in New Orleans -- and along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi for that matter -- serves this dish as an appetizer with plenty of bread to soak up the sauce (because if they didn't give you the bread, you'd drink the sauce right there at the table).
The sauce got me thinking: What if instead of bread, you spooned the barbecue shrimp over top a bowl of grits? I'm not the smartest guy, so I know someone else has thought of this. But I've not met that guy, so I'm taking credit.
Now, how is it that I've gotten this far in life and eaten in as many places as I've had and not seen this before? Barbecue shrimp atop a bowl of grits! People, this is genius. That's how I know that I can't be the first person to figure this out.
Anyway, until you or I hear differently, this is my moment. Let's enjoy it.
Laissez les bon ton roulez, Carolina!

Big Easy Shrimp and Grits

For the dish, I basically used Commander's Palace's recipe for barbecue shrimp, but made a few tweaks. I ladled it on to a bowl of grits I cooked with andouille sausage, yellow onion, minced garlic and a jalapeno. It's a simple dish, but man is it good.
(As a side note, I made this dish twice; once using fresh shrimp and fresh rosemary and once using frozen shrimp and dried rosemary. The differences were stark. I cannot encourage you enough to use fresh Gulf shrimp and fresh rosemary. If you don't, your meal won't be nearly as good as it could be. Trust me.)

Barbecue shrimp

2 lbs. large fresh Gulf shrimp, completely shelled (tails and all)
1 tbs. olive oil
1 large head of garlic, minced
2 large stems of fresh rosemary, left whole, but bruised with the back of your knife
3 tbs. of Worcestershire sauce
3 tbs. hot sauce or to taste
1 large lemon, juiced and quartered
1/3 cup of beer (an ale, like Big Boss' Bad Penny Brown, or a dark beer, like Abita Turbodog)
1 tsp. of dried basil
1 tsp. of dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. of paprika
8 tbs. of butter (one stick) at room temperature
Sea salt and pepper to taste

The grits

1 cup grits (I use instant, but use what you have or like)
1 yellow onion, minced
1 jalapeno, partially seeded and minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
2 andouille sausages, diced
2 tbs. butter at room temperature
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Although neither dish takes very long to cook, knock the grits out first. Allowing the grits to warm on the stove while you cook the barbecue shrimp won't hurt them in the least.
Over a medium high heat, melt one tablespoon of butter and toss in the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute the vegetables for a minute or two and add the andouille sausages. Saute for another couple minutes, or until the sausage begins to sweat some of it's porky goodness, and then add water and cook the grits according to the instructions on the box they came in. When the grits are cooked, add the remaining butter and taste the grits to make sure you've added enough salt and pepper. Cover the pot and set on low heat while you take care of the barbecued shrimp.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil begins to smoke, add the garlic and stir so the garlic browns, not burns. After a minute or so, add the shrimp, Worcestershire sauce, whole rosemary, oregano, thyme, paprika, cayenne, basil, hot sauce, lemon juice, lemon quarters, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a minute or two. Add the beer and deglaze the pan by scraping off any bits that are sticking to the bottom. Finish cooking the shrimp for another two to three minutes and then add the eight tablespoons of butter piece by piece, stirring them into the sauce. Once the butter is fully incorporated, taste the sauce to ensure it's seasoned to your liking. Remove the lemon quarters and rosemary stems.

When the shrimp are pink and begin to curl, pull the pan off the heat, fill a few bowls with grits and ladle the barbecue shrimp on top. I'd tell you to enjoy, but I think you'll do that all on your own.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Root, root, root for the hometown beer

I took in a Nationals game tonight. The game stunk, the Nats lost in 11 and the outfield scoreboard allowed me to watch my hometown Rays get slapped around by the Indians.
But I was drinking local beer (Hook & Ladder's Golden Ale and Backdraft Brown, to be specific) and eating Five Guys, so the night wasn't a complete loss. In fact, between the beer, the nice weather and the company of the missus, it was a pretty good evening.
Sure, there was Miller Lite, MGD and Bud at every turn. But the fact that I had a few local options, including Hook & Ladder, Fordham and Old Dominion, as well as a few other craft beers like Magic Hat, made it easier to ignore the bland big guys.
I really can't say enough about sports stadiums that allow local breweries through the turnstiles. I got spoiled living in North Carolina and catching Durham Bulls games every summer. The minor league stadium poured a selection of local beers and was across the street from one of the best beer bars I've even set foot in, Tyler's Taproom.
Unfortunately, that positive experience set me up for a huge disappointment: Raymond James Stadium. I love my Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I really, really do. I love to see them win and am often inconsolable when they lose (Seriously, I can't bring myself to watch Sportscenter for about a week.).
Last year, I finally went to my first home game at the relatively new stadium. At the time, I'd just moved from Chapel Hill back to D.C., so I was accustomed to having a few local beers while watching the local team. So when I discovered the only beers available in the Bucs' house were Budweiser, Bud Lite and other assorted Anheuser-Busch products, I was pissed.
No Ybor Gold? Nothing from the Dunedin Brewery? Not even Yuengling, which has a brewery in Tampa?
What the hell?!
I don't know, but I suspect Anheuser-Busch vetoed the inclusion of any competitors, big or small, in the stadium concessions. Rather than supporting a few local breweries, the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, acquiesced and turned over every tap to a mammoth brewery based in St. Louis, MO.
That experience was a one and done for me. The next game I went to a game, I tailgated in the shadow of Raymond James, and dined on lobster and Ybor Golds. That fantastic meal was all I needed for the next four hours. I spent nary a dollar once inside, saving myself at least $50, considering that stadium beers are running $8 and a burger can cost you nearly $10. Although the Bucs lost a meaningless contest, I left satisfied in the knowledge that I didn't reward the Glazers for barring local breweries from the game.
So raise a glass to the stadiums that pour local beers. They're worth rooting for as much as the teams on the field.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Viva la France! Viva la America!

It's easy to disdain the French. Too easy, really.
But let's face it, if it weren't for those cheese-eating surrender monkeys we'd still have an old British woman on our cash. Don't think so? Keep in mind that long after the sun set on the British empire, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, and Northern Ireland continue to pay homage to Her Majesty. So it's not entirely unreasonable to think we'd be in the same boat, 'lo these 232 years later.
Of course, if it weren't for us, German might be the national language of France.
So let's just say we've done well by each other.
Sure, the French have a well-deserved reputation of treating American tourists with complete disdain. But as a Floridian and long-time resident of Washington, D.C., I've lived among tourists long enough to appreciate where the French are coming from.
Besides, we treat the French just as warmly.
In honor of our rich, if complicated, histories, I decided to pay tribute to our French cousins on Independence Day. The frogs -- God bless them -- love to put fried eggs on top of all sorts of dishes: the Croque Madame (ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top), fried eggplant with a fried egg on top, and a fried egg atop greens and lardons all come to mind.
In this spirit, I anointed the most American of dishes with a fried egg: the bacon cheeseburger. As a last-minute touch, I added jalapeno mayonnaise.
Rich? Yup.
Delicious? Hell yah.
Jour de l'indépendance heureux!

The Independence Burger

1 lb. ground beef (Buy an 80/20 mixture of lean to fat. With burgers, you want a good bit of fat to hold the meat together and lend to that deliciously juicy texture. Yah, it's bad for you. But that's why you eat them on rare occasions.)
0.5 lb. of sharp white cheddar cheese
4 strips of thick cut or country bacon (I bought a pack of black pepper country bacon, but buy what you like.)
4 onion buns
4 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of mayonnaise
3 jalapenos, roasted
2 tbs. of garlic powder (You can also use a three cloves of fresh garlic. However, I threw the mayo together at the last minute, so I decided to take the easy road and use garlic powder. If you use fresh garlic, make sure you mince it very finely.)
2 tbs. cumin
2 tsp. black pepper

Throw the mayonnaise together before you do anything else. To get started, roast the peppers in the oven: toss them in an oven-safe pan, coat with olive oil and stick them under the broiler for 10 minutes. They should come out a bit blackened. Place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The heat will cause the peppers to steam, loosening the skin. After about 20 minutes, the peppers should be cool enough to handle. Peel the skin off, cut in half and remove most of the seeds. Dice the jalapenos finely and combine with the mayo, garlic powder, cumin and black pepper. Stir and stick in the fridge until you're ready to use it.
For the burgers, light the grill and divide the pound of ground beef into four patties. Add salt and pepper to both sides and set aside. Fry the four strips of bacon and set aside.

Oil the grates of the grill and put the burgers on. Like steak, you want to cook the first side of the burger a little longer than the second. Also, use the grill like an oven by cooking with the lid closed. Cook the first side of the burgers for about 7 minutes (for medium rare). Open the lid, flip the burgers and cook for another three minutes. Open the lid again, toss the buns on to toast and add the bacon and then cheese atop the burgers, cooking for another two minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Remove the burgers and buns.

In a preheated pan (preferably the pan you cooked the bacon in) fry the four eggs over easy, being careful not to break or over-cook the yolks. (Note to those who don't cook by The Force: you know the eggs are ready to turn over in the pan when they are solid white on the first side. Flip them over for ten seconds, and remove from the pan for delicious, runny yolks that would make your local health department scream.)

When the eggs are cooked, build the burger by slathering the jalapeno mayo on the buns and stick the eggs on top of the burgers. Although I cut the burger open for the photo, leave yours whole. The best part about this burger is biting into it and having that warm, rich yellow yolk run down your chin as your mouth fills with beef, bacon and cheese.
I paired the sandwich with a Castelain, a delicious French blonde ale from Brasserie Castelain à Bénifontaine. However, the burger would also pair well with any American ale or India pale ale, or a big red wine, like a cabernet sauvignon or malbec.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dirty little delicious secret

You know what? North Carolina produces some damn fine beer.
I know, who knew? Until I moved to North Carolina, I figured the only things going for the state were pork barbecue and NASCAR, and I don't really like NASCAR.
Oh, but I was wrong. Very wrong. And today, the biggest little secret in American craft beer is the Tar Heel state. Foothills Brewing, Big Boss Brewing, Carolina Brewing Company, Highland Brewing Company and on and on are producing some of the best beers on the Eastern seaboard, if not in the United States. It's simply astounding how many quality breweries are operating in that state.
But don't take my word for it. Instead, consider the results of my very unscientific poll.
Wanting to know how some of my favorite North Carolina beers would stand up against a few of the best craft beers from around the country, I decided to put them to a test. So I pulled together a few friends and cajoled them into undertaking a blind tasting (rough stuff, huh?).
Some of these folks were beer enthusiasts, some were indifferent about beer, one was a oenophile, one was a lobbyist and two worked for the Defense Department. These folks were from all parts of the country and world, and not a one had ever spent much time at all in North Carolina. (For the record, the missus and I did not participate in the taste test.)
The only thing they knew going into the tasting was that some of the nine beers were from North Carolina. I asked them to rank the beers from most favorite to least favorite.
Facing off against the North Carolina beers were two craft beers that were named by a Washington Post panel as two of the best in the country (Hook & Ladder's Backdraft Brown (1) and The Raven (2), as well as two of the most popular craft beers in America (Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1 and Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA).

Here were the beers:

(The others)

Here are the results (the North Carolina beers are in bold):

Taster 1:
1. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works' The Raven Special Lager
2. Carolina Brewing Company's Pale Ale
3. Highland Brewing Company's Gaelic Ale
4. Hook & Ladder Brewing Company's Backdraft Brown
5. Big Boss Bad Penny Brown
6. Duck Rabbit Amber
7. Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1
8. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA
9. Big Boss Holy Roller IPA

Taster 2:
1. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works' The Raven Special Lager
2. Carolina Brewing Company's Pale Ale
3. Highland Brewing Company's Gaelic Ale
4. Hook & Ladder Brewing Company's Backdraft Brown
5. Big Boss Bad Penny Brown
6. Duck Rabbit Amber
7. Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1
8. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA
9. Big Boss Holy Roller IPA

Taster 3:
1. Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1
2. Carolina Brewing Company's Pale Ale
3. Highland Brewing Company's Gaelic Ale
4. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA
5. Big Boss Holy Roller IPA
6. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works' The Raven Special Lager
7. Big Boss Bad Penny Brown
8. Duck Rabbit Amber
9. Hook & Ladder Brewing Company's Backdraft Brown

Taster 4:
1. Carolina Brewing Company's Pale Ale
2. Big Boss Bad Penny Brown
3. Hook & Ladder Brewing Company's Backdraft Brown
4. Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1
5. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA
6. Highland Brewing Company's Gaelic Ale
7. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works' The Raven Special Lager
8. Duck Rabbit Amber
9. Big Boss Holy Roller IPA

Taster 5:
1. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA
2. Carolina Brewing Company's Pale Ale
3. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works' The Raven Special Lager
4. Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1
5. Big Boss Bad Penny Brown
6. Highland Brewing Company's Gaelic Ale
7. Big Boss Holy Roller IPA
8. Hook & Ladder Brewing Company's Backdraft Brown
9. Duck Rabbit Amber

Taster 6:
1. Highland Brewing Company's Gaelic Ale
2. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA
3. Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1
4. Big Boss Holy Roller IPA
5. Duck Rabbit Amber
6. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works' The Raven Special Lager
7. Big Boss Bad Penny Brown
8. Carolina Brewing Company's Pale Ale
9. Hook & Ladder Brewing Company's Backdraft Brown

If you're keeping score, a North Carolina beer landed in every taster's top one or two. Not bad for a state better known for basketball than breweries.
I'd tell you to run out and discover for yourself how good these beers are, but you can't. Not if you don't live in North Carolina, anyway. But maybe, just maybe, if you demand that your local beer stores and your favorite bars start carrying some of North Carolina's finest, this great little secret won't be so secret any more.