Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Chronicles of Carné-a

Chocolate and chili.  Just trust me.
I often cook with chocolate stout.  Sometimes I even put it in the food.

The Mesoamericans of Central America fermented cacao pods to make chicha, a drink analogous to beer.  However, a recent archaeological study suggests that chocolate was first produced as a by-product of beer.

Fermentation is necessary to produce the flavor compounds we know and love, such as theobromine.  A recent archaeological study found pot shards were found by in a ruined ancient village in the Ulúa Valley in Honduras dating from 200 BC to before 1100 BC.  Chocolate residues containing theobromine were extracted from the pores of these pot shards, suggesting the involvement of fermentation.  This led the investigators to speculate that cacao beer might have been the originating process.  The transition from beer to chocolate may have come when ground cacao seeds were added to the beer, making a thick unsweetened beverage.

While the subtle sweetness makes it easy to use in desserts, the rich chocolate malts are perfectly at home with dark meats and sauces.  You don’t need to follow a recipe if you know what flavors complement each other.  Pay attention to the balance of flavors.  Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy.

In this chili, the chipotle peppers are salty and spicy, with a hint of acidity from the lime to cut the heat.  Chocolate and stout add a complex bitterness that ties it all together.  I don’t think I’ve ever made chili the same way twice, but I may now make an exception.

Chocolate Stout Chili con Carne

Chili night!  With roasted garlic bread.
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, finely diced
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 lb (1.5 kg) lean ground beef
2 cans black beans, drained
2 cans kidney beans, drained
4 jalapeno peppers, finely diced
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3 Tbsp. chipotle puree
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp finely ground black pepper
2 fresh limes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 bottle (355 ml) stout
1-2 tsp liquid smoke
1 teaspoons salt, or to taste

  1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot.  Cook the onions and garlic cloves over moderate heat, stirring frequently until the onions are softened.
  2. Add the ground beef and cook the mixture, stirring and breaking up the lumps, until the meat is no longer pink.
  3. Finely chop unsweetened chocolate.  Add to pot along with beans, chipotle purée, and spices (cumin, chili powder, black pepper).  Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
  4. Grate lime zest and squeeze juice from lime.  Add to pot along with tomatoes (diced, crushed, and sauce), and stout.
  5. Add salt and liquid smoke to taste.  Cover pot and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  6. The chili may be frozen or kept chilled for up to 3 days.
Hecht, J (2007). Ancient beer pots point to origins of chocolate. New Scientist.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Smashing Pumpkins

I have lots to be thankful for.  Friends.  Family.  Beer.  Pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING.

A little lovin' from the oven.
There’s one thing I don’t understand. Why can we only have pumpkin-flavored things in late fall?  Sure seasonal availability might play a factor in society’s decision to ration the pumpkin goods, but most people make their pies, muffins, and cupcakes from the canned pureé anyway. From now on, I’m going to make pumpkin flavored baked goods whenever I like.  Try and stop me.

Personally, I prefer winter-spiced seasonal beers to the pumpkin varieties.  However, there is a certain appeal to a pint of spicy, squash-y goodness with the turkey dinner grand finale.

I am especially fond of  St. Ambroise Citrouille from the McAuslan Brewery.  The squash flavor definitely takes a back seat to the cinnamon and nutmeg character, but adds a detectable caramel sweetness to the brew.

This year Alley Kat also released a Pumpkin Pie spiced beer, but I have yet to locate a bottle.  I’ve heard several good reviews from fellow beer geeks, and I would be severely disappointed if I were to miss it.

The Howe Sound Brewing Company makes Pumpkin Eater, a strong ale flavored with this significant squash.  It also makes an excellent cheesecake, I might add.

I began my Thanksgiving weekend with a field trip to Prairie Gardens , a pumpkin patch and "adventure farm" in Bon Accord, AB.  There's a haunted house, a corn toss, a petting's great fun.  My partner-in-crime asked if I knew how to cook with fresh pumpkin.  I had never done so, but was unable to resist a new challenge.

We selected two pumpkins to bring home from our excursion: a large green specimen to carve into a monstrous “Pumpkinstein”, and a smaller one to roast.

I had no idea how easy it would be.

Easy as pie.  Pumpkin pie.

Step 1: Choose a pumpkin that is about the size of a cantaloupe.
Step 2: Remove the stem by wedging a knife underneath and using it as a lever.  A machete works well, but a butter knife will suffice.
Step 3: Cut your pumpkin in half lengthwise, through the hole left by the stem.  If you’re a lazy frail and helpless woman like me, get a big strong man to complete this step.
Step 4: Scoop out the pulp and seeds.  Sprinkle the seeds in salt and roast them to sustain you through the arduous cheesecake-making ordeal.
Step 5: Place pumpkin halves face down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Step 6: Roast at 375°F for 1-1/2 hours until the skin easily pulls away from the flesh.

My only warning is this: once you have tasted freshly roasted pumpkin, you will never go back to the canned pureé.  It will taste insipid and stale in comparison.

We used the fresh squash puree to create a scrumptious cheesecake with Howe Sound Pumpkin Eater strong ale.  This recipe is adapted from my favorite beer blog, The Beeroness.  Very often she posts recipes that I too thought beer would improve, while other times she conceives combinations that even I had never dared to devise.

Pumpkin Ale Cheesecake

9 large sized gingersnap cookies
¼ cup melted butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar
16 oz cream cheese (softened)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 ¼ cup pumpkin ale
¼ cup plus 2 tbs flour
¼ cup pecan halves, toasted
Maple syup to garnish

  1. In a food processor pulse ginger snap cookies, processing until they are fine crumbs.
  2. While the food processor is still running, add the melted butter and process until it resembles wet sand.
  3. Press buttered cookie crumbs into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan, or into several miniature foil pans.
  4. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar and cream cheese. Cream with an electric mixer until well combined.
  5. One at a time, add the eggs and vanilla, mixing until well combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula before adding each egg.
  6. Add the pumpkin puree, cinnamon nutmeg and salt. Mix until well blended.
  7. Add the beer and stir until combined.
  8. Sprinkle the flour over the bowl, stir on medium speed until an even consistency is reached.
  9. Pour cream cheese mixture over the crust.
  10. Bake at 350 for about one hour or until the centre is firm.
  11. Chill until set, about 3 hours.  Or 1 hour, if you’re impatient like me.
  12. Garnish with maple syrup and top with toasted pecans before serving.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Ribs for Her Pleasure

Earlier in the season I was recruited to produce a menu for a fraternity group meal or “Manwhich”.  I was originally told there would be 20-30 young men at the event.  Sometimes I question my own sanity.

Mac'n out.
I made a rule that each dish I made had to incorporate beer, bacon, or both.  The menu included two recipes from former posts, and a third I had recently devised:

Bacon n’ Beer Mac and Cheese
Chocolate Stout Ribs (see below)
Bacon Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

10 racks of ribs, 9 cups of BBQ sauce, 2 kg pasta, 1.6 kg cheese, 1 lb of butter, 2L of milk, 3 packs of bacon, 29 cupcakes, and a beer.  I bought this all two days before the “Manwhich”.  My biceps hurt for the rest of the week.  This was enough to double the recipe of BBQ sauce and quadruple the mac n’ cheese. I could only hope it would be enough.

Bacon chocolate cupcakes for dessert.
I had done a lot of prep ahead of time for the meal, and had shown up early to start cooking, but was still flustered.  There is a lot of pressure to have everything done on time at the SAME time.  Luckily I was rescued by a lovely helper, who was critical in keeping me organized, and giving me the necessary support when things went wrong.  Like when I spilled dry pasta all over the stove.  Or when we discovered the oven had been turned off by a phantom menace.

I dare not imagine the consequences of 20 hungry male university students who have been denied a promised feast.  I owe my life to the barbecue, which we used to speed up the cooking process.

Overall, it turned out to be a successful meal.  The ego boost and the compliments were pretty good fringe benefits, but the real reward is the time I get to spend with a bunch of great friends.

Grillaxing.  Not.

Chocolate Stout BBQ Sauce

2 tbsp olive or canola oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp Chipotle puree
1 cup ketchup
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon
1 cup stout
⅓ cup fancy molasses
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp prepared mustard
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, finely chopped
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. In a pot over medium heat, add the oil and allow to get hot but not smoking.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add chocolate and spices, stirring gently as chocolate melts.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.
  5. Allow to cook until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Chocolate Chili BBQ Rub

Grillmaster...there can only be one!
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Combine ingredients in a small container.
  2. Store until use.

Chocolate Stout Ribs

5 lb pork ribs, side or back
1 recipe chocolate chili BBQ rub
1 recipe chocolate stout BBQ sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. Prepare ribs by removing the translucent membrane on the inside of the rack.
  3. Apply 2 tbsps of chocolate chili BBQ rub to each rack of ribs.
  4. Place the ribs, meaty side up, on a pan in a single layer. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven.
  5. Cook for 1 to 2 hours, or until meat tears away from the bone..
  6. Remove foil and brush ribs generously with barbecue sauce. 
  7. Finish ribs in the oven by broiling for 3-5 minutes (if ribs are hot) or until sizzling and golden. Turn ribs over and repeat, basting with barbecue sauce.
  8. If someone turned off your oven, resist spanking them.  In the face.  With a chair.
  9. Instead, grill for 3-5 minutes over medium-high heat.
  10. Serve the ribs and leave before the marriage proposals begin.

Photography courtesty of Ryan Vermilion