Nostalgia Beat: Tuna

15 Sep

Tuna is a crazy overfished…fish.  It’s enormous.  Way bigger than the little tin can or convenient foil pouch you scratch the flakes out of, this fish has dominated American life from cradle to grave.  As a kid, I loved eating the sandwiches on hikes with my Dad and at home for a change from PB&J (a life partner) with my mom.  High school provided the warm cat-food smelling tuna casserole that I actually adored and devoured.  At college, Middle Ground Café made a zesty refresher course of traditional mayo/celery/chicken of the sea by replacing mayo for vinaigrette and opting for ginger instead of celery.

Coming back from the whirlwind of graduation, I found myself sleeping for a week, watching Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion and listening to 90’s songs.  But I also was eating a lot of tuna.  Was it the protein I was so lacking at school for 4 years or a shameless wallowing in nostalgia for the good ol’ days?  Frankly I don’t care, and I can’t stop eating the stuff.  It’s become my on-the-go snack on my road trips to Chicago so I don’t have to kill myself with McDonald’s or the incredulity of the KFC Express/Pizza Hut.  I love it plain from the pouch with a fork, in salads, in lettuce wraps, on English Muffins, in a bowl with Miracle Whip and a hefty portion of mace or on a sandwich with my own arugula/radishes/blueberries and cheese.

Whichever way you cut it, the world and I are going to have a hard time if this great fish disappears and yellowfin isn’t going to be the answer.

Klimo’s

14 Sep

How cute are you little egg?!?!  Thanks to Klimo’s and my mother getting up early Saturday mornings — something I just can’t get on board with yet — I get to eat these little golden eggs.  With all the hubbub surrounding factory produced, salmonela soaked eggs coming out of Iowa factories, fresh cared-for eggs are extremely relevant right now.  They happen to have been relevant to me for a long time simply because they taste better.  That’s all there is to it.

Juggling

13 Sep

There is something kind of insane about being a college graduate, fresh off the campus.  I had two months of down-time while I looked for work, tried to catch up on the sleep I haven’t had for 22 years and figure out what to do with my life.  Now all of a sudden I’m juggling two internships, a night job and moving stuff out to my new apartment in Chicago when I find a free moment.  This is the long way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging so much.  But that’s not even the whole story.  In those two months of figuring out time, I wasn’t cooking and I’m still not cooking, nor do I have any interest in cooking right now.  I have not felt an ounce of inspiration for kooky jams or savory masterpieces.   Totally out of answers.

One project I’ve been working on is the visual conception or logo for A Hoppy Pipper thanks to a great friend, Kenyon alum and magician with spray paint.   His work outpaces others working in the medium: the concepts, the craftsmanship of his stencils and innovation with prints made him my number one pick.  Below are the first products of our collaboration to be updated when I get more material in.  I would love feedback from everyone!

Chinato

5 Aug

“Zack Bruell be my boyfriend, are you married?”

“I want to be best friends with lardo.”

These were the one-liners rolling off my tongue as I ate bite after bite of excruating beauty at Chinato, on E. 4th Street.  I’ve lived in Milan, my mother has lived in Bologna and Florence but an evening at Chinato brought us almost to tears.  Here was Italian food, dare I say, better than or on par with the pinnacle of Italian gastronomy in Italy.  The price point is well, on point!  I ate here again just tonight with a friend and with a crudo, an antipasto, an entree, a dessert, a cocktail and a glass of wine WITH tip and tax was $52.  Not to mention the service was outstanding (our waiter from a few weeks ago was our waiter again and remembered us), the wine choices impeccable, we were visited by the chef himself and treated to Damilano Chinato (a digestif) following our meal.

We started with a crudo, tuna with lardo and our hearts melted a little.  My mind was racing to figure out how I could make and eat lardo every day, even if that meant my body would take the name and shape of the delicious slivers that were melting in my mouth.

Next we shared the fresh sauteed sardines with parsley, olive oil and lemon — the nostalgia of eating fresh fried sardines in Genoa when I was 20 washed over me and pulled me, like the strong oceanic undertow, back to that fleeting moment.  After, an exquisite salad of julienned pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, arugula, goat cheese, roasted turnips and balsamic dressing.  I don’t even want to describe the dish because then it’ll just give away the ending.

Our entrees: for me, the fritto misto of sweetbreads with fried caper berries (our country is at least a trillion light years behind every country when it comes to our definition of bar food — because this would blow those pee covered pretzels and peanuts at the bar out of the water), for my mother the veal breast with polenta unlike any kind of polenta you’ve ever had and salsa verde (parsley, olive oil, anchovies).

Dessert was the best almond panna cotta I’ve tasted and also a lemon polenta cake with a scoop of cherry gelato.  This is Italian comfort food, the peasant food, the cheap cuts of meat or fish and making the most out of them by perfecting the cooking technique, letting ingredients speak for themselves and coaxing flavor out of tough cuts.  The result is something like magic.

I’ve taken to listening to TED podcasts in my car on the way to work, and they have a great catch phrase: “Ideas Worth Spreading”.  Recently I came across one that just spoke to me so clearly.  This time it was Chip Conley, who spoke about how we should re-evaluate what we value: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or GNH … Gross National Happiness.  Surely, a restaurant such as Chinato is a focused human lesson in what we should appreciate and what counts.  What is the logical outcome of people loving what they do and creating what they love for others’ enjoyment?  An intangible measurement, with a very tangible result.  I don’t think it folley to say the lessons in Chinato are ideas worth spreading.

Beer School: The Presentation

5 Aug

There are several things to keep in mind when you’re on the precipice of enjoying your well-deserved beer.  To name the essentials:

TEMPERATURE — don’t treat beer like it has to be as cold as the Rockies:  would you serve a Malbec at a freezing temperature?  No, so please respect your beer enough to let it breathe a little and warm up to cellar temperature (45-55°F) so it can properly display and perform its wonderful components.  You can tell the difference even in a terrible beer: if the mountains on the can turn blue, your beer will smell and taste like cold, like licking the freezer crust off a Stouffer’s mac ‘n’ cheese, but if it warms a little you get the actual aroma and flavor.  Think about it the next time you see those commercials about “drinkability” and “Cold as the Rockies” — what are they hiding behind all that cold?

GLASSWARE — proper glassware is another must.  Accelerated in the wine industry by the Riedel family was the idea of specific glasses for certain wines to enhance the experience of drinking the product and enjoying it to the fullest degree.  This has been a part of the good beer world since the beginning.  Beer steins, goblets, snifters, tulips, kolsch, pints…the list goes on.  I personally dread the presentation of a beer in the common, all-purpose shaker glass at most bars — the whole thing seems off if the beer isn’t showcased in the best light or in this case the best glass for its contents.

THE POUR — I can’t even get started on how many terrible pourers there are working in the bartending industry or just in casual settings.  There is no excuse not to pour a beer correctly, because it’s too ridiculously easy.  If you need video instruction, here’s your man.

One of my favorite parts about beer, besides the taste, are the different types of bottles they come in and their labels.  You can get growlers at most any microbrewery brewpub, where for a fixed charge you can buy a half gallon of beer on tap and then bring it back when you’re done with that beer for a lesser charge for a refill.  This is a great system and provides a solid link between the brewery and their customers.  There are also bombers, which are the 22 oz. bottles you can find now in most any good grocery store.  Some breweries only do bombers, like Buckeye Brewing but others do a mix of both bombers and the regular 12 oz. bottles.  When you venture into lambics, you get to experience the delight of the champagne style bottle with cork and cap.  Or if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on De Molen, you’ll have the treat of holding a sweet bomber with cork, champagne cage and wax top.

Alright I’m done geeking out on beer.  Contribute comments or questions — I’m happy to answer!

Beer School: The Results

4 Aug

When I joined Ratebeer.com over a year ago, one of the first things I learned was that many more styles of beer existed than I had previously reckoned.  There are in fact, 73 different styles of beer lovingly crafted for your enjoyment.  So far I’ve worked through 65 different styles, with sours ranking as my favorite for its unique complexities and delightful inconsistencies across this particular style.  However, belgian strong ales take the cake for the beer I seem to drink the most.  Anyways, here is the rundown of the Mighty 73.  Look them up on RateBeer for the deluge of descriptions.

Abbey Dubbel/Abbey Tripel

Abt/Quadrupel

Altbier

Amber Ale

American Dark Lager

American Pale Ale

American Strong Ale

Baltic Porter

Barley Wine

Belgian Ale

Belgian Strong Ale

Belgian White (Witbier)

Berliner Weisse

Bière de Garde

Bitter

Black IPA

Bohemian Pilsener

Brown Ale

California Common

Classic German Pilsener

Cream Ale

Doppelbock

Dortmunder/Helles

Dry Stout

Dunkel

Dunkelweizen

Dunkler Bock

Eisbock

English Pale Ale

English Strong Ale

Foreign Stout

Fruit Beer

German Hefeweizen

German Kristallweizen

Golden Ale/Blond Ale

Heller Bock

Imperial Pils/Strong Pale Lager

Imperial Stout

Imperial/Double IPA

Imperial/Strong Porter

India Pale Ale (IPA)

Irish Ale

Kölsch

Lambic – Faro

Lambic – Fruit

Lambic – Gueuze

Lambic – Unblended

Low alcohol

Malt Liquor — edward 40 hands is the only reason to drink this, and probably not even then.

Mild Ale

Oktoberfest/Märzen

Old Ale

Pale Lager

Pilsener

Porter

Premium Bitter/ESB

Premium Lager

Saison

Schwarzbier

Scotch Ale — if you value your life, don’t EVER call a Scottish person a Scotch…a person is not something you drink, unless you’re a vampire.

Scottish Ale

Smoked

Sour Ale

Specialty Grain

Spice/Herb/Vegetable

Stout

Sweet Stout

Traditional Ale

Vienna

Weizen Bock

Wheat Ale

Zwickel/Keller/Landbier

So what if all the rum’s gone….you’ve got 73 types of beer to choose from, so drink up me hearties, yo ho!

Beer School: The Brewing Process

20 Jul

Every brewer starts with 4 ingredients: water, hops, barley and yeast.  Yeast is weird, gross but also kind of magical — for some reason the image of the gross kid from middle school eating his scabs keeps popping up in my head … that’s what yeast is like in the trio of other noble ingredients.  But without that gross kid, middle school wouldn’t be the same and without yeast, beer could never exist.

But before yeast is added, the mash must happen.  Mashing is the part where you put your grains or extract in a large vessel and bring it to a boil for about an hour or sometimes longer.  Hops are added at different times during the boil to impart their particular characteristics in the bittering, flavoring and aroma aspects of the brew.

Next is the magic of fermentation, when the wort (the chilled result of the mashing process) gets to play with the yeast.  The sugars broken down from the starch of the grains or extract are eaten by the yeast to produce the all mighty alcohol and CO2 content.  There are three famous strains of yeast used in brewing: Saccharomyces cevisiae, this ale yeast is the variety that causes foaming on the top of the wort during fermentation while Saccharomyces uvarum is a lager yeast that is known as a bottom fermenter.  Brettanomyces is hands down my favorite yeast because it is responsible for the funky goodness that is lambic.  A brewer can choose between a dry yeast or a liquid yeast which has already been rehydrated as the yeast “starter” and offers the brewer more stability and fewer possibilities of infection in the brew.

Conditioning is another important step.  For homebrewers it means the addition of priming solution (cornstarch and water) or spiese (practice of using unfermented wort) into bottles before the beer is bottled.  This process is important to the development of carbonation in your bottles so your beer won’t be flat.  Most big breweries force carbonate their brews with specialized bottling equipment.  Conditioning can smooth out the flavors of the beer as well as provide carbonation.  It is vital that you keep an eye on the gravity (what determines or estimates the original and final alcohol content of the brew) during the whole process and before bottling.

Now go study …. which translates to, go drink a beer and think about it.

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