Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beer of the Week: Boddingtons

I first really became intrigued by Boddingtons when a friend of mind who drank it religious showed me what I thought was blasphemy in beer circles. He shook an empty can of beer, and it made a clinking sound because there was something inside of it with the beer. Apparently, I learned that Boddingtons has a small metallic nitrogen doo-hicky (scientific term) at the bottom so that when poured from a can it gives a nice head. This is referred to as a nitro can, or nitrogen can. What kind of crazy technology will they come up with next, beer that doesn't make you have a gut? Wine that doesn't stain your teeth? Tequila that doesn't make you wake up in jail?

After this experience I of course had to try the beer, both from a can and on tap. Needless to say whether it is the nitrogen or the fact that it's British, the beer is lighter than expected. Boddingtons has a very interesting balance of the lighter smoothness you might find in an ale, but also the bitterness you expect in a darker beer from England or Ireland. The ale is also surprisingly creamy, and flows similar in your glass to when you pour a Guinness (it is poured the same way too, although the wait isn't as long). Some would say the taste is a little bland, and that the whole nitrogen thing is a bit gimmicky, but I find it a refreshing alternative to some the other "creamy" beers that taste great going down, but fill you up really quickly. One warning, if you get a keg that seems low on nitrogen, or is a bit old, the beer can taste really bad, and makes you regret ordering it the instant you taste it. This actually just happened to me at a bar called Wharf, so beware!

Number of Beers Drank in one Sitting: 3-4 (Depending on how much you like creamy beer)
Pair with Food: Personally, I think the creaminess of the beer takes away from any food, but I could see it going with fish and chips nicely.

Beer + Nitrogen = Deliciousness

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Restaurant: Cafecito

Usually when I venture down to Avenue C for food I head further downtown, but on a recent trip I was convinced to make a left instead of a right. Cafecito from the outside doesn't quite give you a sense of traditional Cuban anything. Once you step in the door and spread open the curtains, you are immediately aware of two distinct Cuban elements, the somewhat loud music (which I think was Cuban), and a great smell of garlic and delicious warming bread. Sadly, I wasn't that hungry when I went, and was a little sick, so I didn't get to try as many things as I would have liked. A small bar in the front lets you have some drinks and watch football if you don't feel like sitting in the back dining room. In the summer I believe you can sit outside on the sidewalk, but in the winter...well have fun with that.

Although I have never been to Cuba the food tasted and seemed extremely authentic. It's no frills good delicious cooking. I started with the simple Sopa De Pollo, or chicken soup. I have this secret love of chicken soup (maybe it's a Jewish thing?) and I really enjoy trying other cultures versions of it. This version was nice and rich, full of big chunks of chicken and some delicious fresh cilantro. The bread that came with it was great for sopping up the broth, but one major problem, I nearly choked to death on a small chicken bone. I know these can be missed, but I usually don't like the threat of choking to death with a meal.

The main dishes were much better and extremely well priced. I got the Masitas De Puerco which consisted of huge tender chunks of mojo marinated pork with tons of grilled onions and a roasted corn and sweet potato hash. A little bit of pork, a slice of grilled onion and some hash with a few drops of fresh lime was a delicious bite, although some the onions could have managed to be on the grill for a few minutes longer. While full of flavor, I was craving some sort of sauce to tie it all together, but instead relied upon the plentiful amount of limes provided. My dining companion had the Camarones Al Ajillo and I was pretty jealous from the start. The large shrimp were in a small bread stew with garlic, butter and lime. The bread absorbed all the flavor and was maybe the highlight of the dish, but then again, sweet plantains are an experience by themselves, and there were quite a few on the plate.

I will definitely be back, since the steaks I saw coming out of the kitchen when I walked in had a beautiful green Cuban chimcurri sauce which I have to try, and everything is so cheap. One very very important note. They don't take credit cards, so come prepared with cash so you don't get stuck like I did running to an ATM when they hand you back your credit card.

Visit Cuba without violating US Foreign Policy

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Condiment of the Week: Ketchup

Ketchup, or Catsup, or however you want to say it or pronounce it (I personally say Catch-Up, which is 100% wrong) is an American staple. Foreigners tend to associate American cooking with putting ketchup on something as witnessed by Micah on Top Chef this past season. A lot of association of ketchup with Americans is because of our fast food culture that has tried to spread throughout the world. When your known for burgers and fried food, ketchup isn't very far behind being put on the plate. So what is it about ketchup that we love so much? Well for one it's got a great sweet taste, and has a thick consistency that makes it perfect for dipping, but yet still can drip a little off a burger when you take an Eschelbacher bite. I still remember as a kid the only way my mom could get me to eat brussel sprouts was by giving me ketchup to dip them in, although eventually I "graduated" to spicy brown mustard. For many, this example is common, using ketchup as a way to disguise the taste of something for children that may not be popular, or even as a way to get a child excited about anything you serve. Heinz ketchup is almost synonymous with the condiment, and for good reason. Its flavor is probably stronger and sweeter than many other brands, has a better red color than others, and is so processed you are not even sure if tomatoes were involved in the creation of the french fry accompaniment.

As much as I love putting ketchup on the normal fries, burger, chicken fingers and other such healthy foods, ketchup really shines when you see how you can incorporate it into cooking, rather than as a sauce or dip. I like to use ketchup as a way to thicken and sweeten sauces for meats, and concentrate its flavor by reducing it with soy sauce and jalapeno.

Catsup Vs. Ketchup

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Dish: Pasta Bolognese

Many Americans when they think of Italian food think of the classic Italian-American dishes, and one of them is always pasta with meat sauce. In real Italian cooking this is usually referred to as a Bolognese sauce, because it originated and was perfected in Bologna. After spending a day in Bologna I actually managed to try the real deal, and while I have no idea if it's the best in Bologna it was pretty amazing. So far I have yet to have anything in New York close to this, but I find the biggest issue with American versions is that they are too afraid to cook it with the richness that it needs to be such a hearty meal. Plus, at least the one I had was with small cubed carrots, which actually added a nice sweet flavor to the meat, and very little tomato. Heck, what I had was so rich I wouldn't be surprised if there was butter or heavy cream in the sauce. The vast majority of Italian restaurants confuse a tomato meat sauce wit ha bolognese, and thus end up with something totally different. Most recently I had the bolognese with fusilli at Three of Cups, and a gnocchi bolognese at Lanza's. Even further back I have had a bolognese at Franks which is by far the best downtown that I have tried, and if memory serves me fat orange clog wearer has some form of a bolognese at Lupa, and I know I tried it but I can't remember much beyond being really really full and satisfied by that meal. Usually bolognese is served with Tagliatelle, and whenever I see this on a menu correctly I pretty much have to consider it as part of the game time decision.

When it comes down to it pasta bolognese is a great dish to order out, but in reality it probably the easiest and most fun and satisfying Italian dish to make at home. All you really need is some meat (usually beef), some tomato paste, and of course carrots. The rest varies, but many include heavy cream or milk and panchetta. It's a really easy dish, and when done correct can feed a lot of people in a delicious way.

The Real Meat Sauce

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Beer of the Week: Maudite

Maudite is maybe the only beer I can think of that could ever supplant my love affair with Newcastle. It is not a very common beer, and may be the best thing to come out of Canada since, uhm, well, I'll get back to that sentence later. I used to refer to Maudite as the devils brew because it has the devil on the bottle and it has such a high alcohol content that it can really hit you hard. For some people who claim it takes a lot of beers to get them buzzed, I submit Maudite to you, with it's 8% alcohol volume. For reference many beers have half that kind of alcohol. I know on a recent night I had 3 and was quite buzzed, but the really great thing about the beer isn't how easily it gets you drunk but rather the unique taste. Maudite is one of the few beers where you actually want to pour it with a delicious frosting on top. Instead of a standard pint glass Maudite should be poured in more of a decanter style glass. The beer is actually refermented in the bottle, so the older it gets the stronger the flavor. Usually what you can find in the US is about medium aged, and will be amber color but not see through, almost like a wheat beer. The taste has a sharp almost sour citrus bite to it, but it's not bitter like a darker ale. When a sip is savored a bit, you can almost taste some yeast and spices, but ultimately it's the finish that makes the beer worthwhile.

Ironically these crazy Canadians named this beer after a strange legend of a flying canoe that was steered by the devil himself.

Number of Beers Drank in one Sitting: 3 (and then I fell over)
Pair with Food: Absolutely, pasta stands up well to the strong flavor, as does a good steak or even food covered in hot sauce

The Best Thing From Canada Since...?