Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

Don’t be afraid Sam Winter Lager haters, there is something different about this (and last years) Winter Lager. I typically like the seasonal beers put out by Sam Adams. I reviewed earlier in year the Summer Ale as well as Latitude 48, and the East West Kolsch. However, I had always avoided the Sam Winter Lager mostly because there are so many winter beers that I typically don’t like, that I didn’t want to take a risk. Winter Lager has disappointed me in the past and I’ve run from it in past holiday seasons. However, when a free one is placed in front of you by a kind bartender, you can’t turn it down.

Winter Lager pours a humble brown with a gold tinge to it. The head arrived two fingers tall, but quickly subsided, leaving a small amount of lacing around the glass. Like many winter beers, there was a traditional spice aroma lifting from the glass accompanied by a mild malt flavor. My first sip was pretty bland, but the flavors eventually collided together and I understand what they were trying to get at. Although ginger is the prevalent spice taste, I believe there are elements of nutmeg or perhaps allspice that linger in the background to remind you that this is not a simple beer. Winter Lager has a mild bitterness that is similar to orange peel and contains a pleasant malt flavor. Simply, there is nothing overwhelming about this beer, yet at the same time, there is nothing underwhelming about it either.

I’m from New England and I love Sam Adams. I’m still questioning their status as a microbrew given their mass distribution and seemingly endless production of barrels, but I can get past that because this is yet another example of the kind of high quality beers that they put out year after year in mass quantity at an affordable price. This beer can be found everywhere in New England and most regional areas. I’ve found it at many of the liquor stores, supermarkets, and yes, even drug stores here in the Chicagoland area. You can pick up a 12 pack of Winter Lager for around $15 or a six pack for around $9. You can also find this buried inside the winter variety back alongside the Boston Lager, Sam Adams Light, and another seasonal beer. This is a solid offering from a solid brewery that serves as a pleasant post Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas lager.

Grade: B

At some point, I think we’ve all heard that what has commonly been regarded as “stuffing” should actually never be stuffed inside of anything. While pictures from the 1940s and 1950s showed an iconic turkey bursting with goodness, putting stuffing inside a turkey or chicken actually slows down the cooking process and leads to what I believe is a lesser quality flavor. So yes, for your geniuses out there that will inevitably critique my recipe, this should be called “dressing” and not stuffing, but I suppose if you really wanted to, you could easily stuff this inside a chicken or turkey after everything is cooked separately.

Ingredients

  • 16oz unseasoned croutons
  • 1 lb lean pork sausage (without casing)
  • 1/2 lb thick cut bacon
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 3c chicken stock
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 tsp sage, ground
  • 1/2 tsp oregano, dried
  • 1/2 tsp basil, dried

1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the bacon strips. You are probably going to have to do this in two batches. The goal is to achieve a beautiful crispiness that will not become soggy once inside the stuffing. Set aside to cool on some paper towels.

2. Remove all but two tablespoons of the bacon fat. Keep the heat on medium high and place the carrots, celery, onion, and apple in the pan. Saute for 5 minutes or until the carrot just begins to soften. Add the garlic, oregano, basil, and sage and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Add the white wine to deglaze. Continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Place the cooked vegetables inside a large mixing bowl.

3. In the same pan, add the sausage and cook through. You can choose to cut the sausage into small bits, or keep in large clumps. The choice is yours. Cook until you cannot see any pink. Add the sausage to the vegetables.

4. Chop the bacon and add to the mixing bowl with the croutons. Add the chicken stock 1/4 c at a time until the croutons begin to get soggy and fall apart slightly. Combine the vegetable and meat mixture to the bread crumbs. Add to a casserole dish.

5. Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until the top begins to get crispy. While cooking, the outside will get brown and crispy, the inside will remain moist and delicious. Serve piping hot.

The one thing my blog has suffered from is a complete lack of desserts over the past year. I’m not too much of a dessert guy and don’t think of myself as a baker at all. A Baker is someone who is disciplined enough to check a recipe and follow it without really changing it too much. They are usually detail oriented and popular at the office when they bring their baked treats to the break room. This defines most of my personality void.

Here are some delicious cookies extracted from the Baker’s Chocolate test kitchen. Baker’s has been around for more than 230 years and they are a pantry staple for not only desserts, but I’ve also used their products in mole sauces which have turned out pretty good. This batch disappeared in about 10 hours.

Ingredients (makes about 2.5 dozen cookies)

  • 2 8 oz packages Baker’s Semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 3/4c firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4c butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2c chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coarsely chop 1 package of backer chocolate. Set aside.

2. Microwave remaining chocolate in large microwaveable bowl on High for 1 minute. Stir and then heat again on high for an additional minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.

3. Add sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and stir until well blended. Add flour and baking powder. Mix well to combine.Stir in chopped chocolate pieces and walnuts.

Note: If omitting nuts, increase flour to 3/4c.

4. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until cookings are puffed and shiny. Allow to cool for 1 minute on pans and then place cookies on cooling rack. Serve warm with a glass of milk.

If you are like me, then you have been invited to a least one holiday party in which the host expects you to “Just bring your selves.” I wasn’t raised this way and I feel pretty uncomfortable showing up to even a  simple dinner party empty handed.

I think most people think to bring a bottle of wine, but I’ve noticed that whenever I do bring a bottle, it’s rarely opened. Wine is an acquired taste and you never know if your offering will be well appreciated and enjoyed or banished to the cooking wine shelf to collect dust. So in the spirit of the holidays, I offer you five new ideas that you can bring with you as gifts for your gracious hosts:

1) Champagne: I know what you’re saying. “Isn’t this the same as wine?” No, it’s not. Champagne is luxurious and bubbly and festive and I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy a glass of champagne at any point in the evening. If you are unsure of your hosts preferences, stick with a Brut which will be sweeter and not as dry. For the holidays, you can bring a Rose champagne which are pink in color just to give a little more festive vibe.

2) Gourmet Chocolate: Who doesn’t enjoy a nice bar of chocolate every now and then? For a special host gift, stay away from the big chocolate companies such as Lindt and Godiva and give an array of chocolate bars from a company your host may not have heard of such as Vosges-haut Chocolate. This company makes some pretty wild, yet delicious flavors such as their Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar and Black Salt Caramel bar. Wrap three or four of these bars together tied with some ribbon and you have a pretty memorable gift.

3) Dog Chew Toys: If the host has a dog, it’s never a bad idea to bring a new chew toy to keep their canine companion occupied while you enjoy your meal. If you don’t have a pet store near you, your local supermarket probably has some chew toys. But here’s a word of advice: don’t give them a squeaky toy. You may find yourself without an invitation the next time a party comes around.

4) Homemade Preserves: If you spent anytime during the summer or fall doing some canning, your host would love a jar or two complete with a homemade label and gift tag.

5) Small Gift Basket: Lastly, you can put together a small themed gift basket for very little cost. Grab a bag of colored pasta, a small bottle of good olive oil, and a jar of tomato sauce and you’ve given an instant dinner. Raid the sale racks and you’re bound to find a small collection of fun items your host might enjoy.

There are a bazillion ideas that you can give your hosts that would cost about the same as a bottle of wine. The question becomes whether you are willing to take a little extra time to think about your hosts and hostesses and what you might be able to give them for inviting you to their holiday party.

So readers, what host gifts are you giving your party hosts this year? What have you given in the past? Let me know. I’d love to get some fresh new ideas!

With the winter holidays fast approaching, I’m beginning to consider what I should add to the family’s holiday meal. Here is a recipe that was a mega-hit at Thanksgiving that I’m sure will appease even the most finicky eaters.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • zest of one orange

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Poke holes in sweet potatoes and place on rack. Cook for 1 hour until sugar oozes from holes and skin begins to wrinkle.

2. Remove potatoes from oven and set on counter. Place a towel over the potatoes and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Remove skin and mash flesh in a large mixing bowl.

3. Season with 1 tsp salt and pepper. Place remaining ingredients in the bowl and mix to combine. Adjust the seasonings to your liking, but do be careful with adding too much bourbon. For a deep orange flavor, you can add orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier in place of or in addition to the bourbon. You can also add 2 tbsp maple syrup for a sweeter side dish.

4. With a hand mixer, whip potatoes until desired consistency. Place in a oven safe contained and warm in oven for 20 minutes. Serve with orange garnish.