Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fromage Magnifique!

During SXSW, the Cheeses of Europe held an event in downtown Austin to showcase an array of French cheeses and, of course, it was glorious.

Funky blue cheese type. Not for the faint of heart. 

Representatives from the Cheeses of France Marketing Council were also on-hand to talk to visitors about the various cheeses.

Recently, the European Union is trying to crack down on US cheese makers that are their cheese parmesan, asiago, etc. You can read more about that battle here

When I asked Laurent Damiens, communications director at CNIEL (the French Dairy Interbranch Organization) about the issue he indicated it was more of an issue for the Italians than the French. 

In my opinion, when you buy cheese, it says where your cheese was made so there's no false advertising there. I guess the cheese makers are trying to be more like Champagne and you can only call it that if it's made in said region. I don't know about all that, I just want good cheese!

At the event, we got to try a plethora of French cheeses. The usual Brie (so delish), Camembert and Emmental were there but there was a cheese I thoroughly enjoyed that I hadn't had before: Mimolette.

Mimolette looks like a pumpkin due to it's bright orange hue. The flavor is similar to gouda but I prefer it more than gouda. Apparently the FDA has some issues with Mimolette because of the natural microscopic mites that are found in the rind.

A guy who seems to be the voice of Mimolette, Benoit (pictured above with the "pumpkin" cheese and Laurent) was at the event and he was very passionate about fighting the FDA and keeping Mimolette in the U.S. 

I'm not scared of mites. Give me more of that cheese!

At the party, they were serving mac n' cheese made with mimolette and it was perfect. Sharp but not too sharp and still very gooey. 

There was also a fabulous grilled cheese with Emmental and Comte cheese being passed around. Everyone likes a grilled cheese sammich.

There was also this vat of Camembert dip. Laurent told me to eat with the celery sticks so that's what I did and it was the crunch and freshness of the celery cut the richness of the cheese dip.

There was even some creamy French butter to put on your bread. I obviously can't afford this butter on a regular basis, it would be great for a special dinner.

We also got to drink some fabulous Rhone Valley and Burgundy wines. 

Micah and I also chatted with a lovely couple where the wife has this blog: Red, White and Blueberries.

The people with the French Cheese Council were so lovely. Who said French folks are rude? I didn't experience any of that.

At the event they were selling the cheese at deeply discounted price but even when they didn't sell all the cheese, they donated the cheese to Keep Austin Fed. Those folks are going to be shocked when they get that delivery.

I think this cheese event was the perfect teaser for our Paris trip at the end of May! Can't wait to eat French cheese in France! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Austin's Craft Beer Scene Goes from Boom, to Bust, to Boom!

In the past few years, Austin's craft beer scene has grown tremendously, but it hasn't always been that way.

Currently, there are nearly 20 breweries/brewpubs in the Austin-area with more coming online every year.

 {there was a time when Craft Pride's business model wouldn't have worked. But now a bar serving nothing but Texas beers can actually make it!}

In a new documentary, Brewed In Austin, The Zymergence Of Craft Beer In Central Texas, created by Chris Erlon and Larry McIntosh, the filmmakers look at Austin's burgeoning craft beer scene and how it got to where it is now.

The story is told through brewers ranging from Christine Celis of Celis Brewery, Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing and Davis Tucker, owner of NxNW Brewery

On Sunday, Micah and I went to a showing of the film at Flix Brewhouse. While it wasn't a packed showing, there were definitely a lot of beer nerds in the crowd. 

I really enjoyed the insight on the breweries that started in the late 80s: Waterloo Brewing, Copper Tank and the Bitter End, to name a few. None of those breweries exist today. 

I thought the film was interesting and provided good information on the ebb and flow of breweries and the whole legislative battle Texas brewers have been fighting for decades. I know it wasn't a fancy movie, but I thought the interviews could've been shot and framed a little better. 

If you get a chance to see it, do so! 

After the showing, there was a Q&A with most of the brewers featured in the film. 

Here are some nuggets that might be new to you!
  • Celis said she hopes to start brewing her dad's famous Belgian White by the beginning of  next year. It sounds like Celis will pull a Mikeller and brew at various host facilities. 
  • Jeff Young, Black Star Co-Op's head brewer (but not for long), said beer lovers in South Austin won't have to drive all the way up to their North location to get their drink on. Not sure what the timeline is for their south location.
  • Live Oak's new location along the Colorado River in East Austin is still in the works as well. I can't wait to have a brewery right on the water! That'll be nice! McElroy mentioned they had an issue with the Texas bill that passed this summer that made it illegal for breweries to sell their distribution rights. Since Live Oak has been self-distributing for more than 15 years, they've built up a sizable distribution network. During the Q&A McElroy said he's been offered upwards to $3 million for those rights, but now with the new laws, he won't be able to sell those rights. That lost of potential capital is playing into their timeline on the new brewery. 
  • Jester King Brewery started carrying a couple of La Cruz de Comal wines on tap. This wasn't mentioned during the Q&A but I thought I'd mention it since a moviegoer asked whether or not breweries were working with wineries. Micah and I visited La Cruz de Comal a few weeks ago and it is absolutely wonderful. If you like Jester King, you'll definitely like Comal.
  • NxNW is opening a Circle C location. Impact News had a full write-up on here.   
  • While the beer bills passed this summer allowed breweries to sell their beers for consumption on-site, most breweries in Austin still can't do that due to zoning laws. I wrote about that a few weeks ago, here.
Some folks ask if Austin is already saturated with craft breweries, but most people don't believe that's the case. If you compare us to Portland, Denver, or San Diego, Austin still has room for growth. If it's good beer that's being made, we all benefit! 

Cheers to that!

Micah at Independence Brewing while wearing Funkwerks Brewery shirt. Beer overload.

Drink local! But it's ok if you like other beers too. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Pho For a Crowd: Dinner Party For Two Dozen People

Over the past few months, we've had half-a-dozen winter storms" in Austin. What city am I living in? I only like one ice storm every five years, please. When it's cold, it's only appropriate to warm up with a hot bowl of pho!

I had my annual pho party a few weeks ago and the only proof of said party is this one picture that a friend took of me!

In the midst of prepping noodles for my guests, I completely forgot to take pictures of the appetizers.

I made three dozen banh pate chaud and rolled nearly 60 tofu spring rolls! To give myself some time, I premade the pate chauds the week before, froze them and baked them the night of the party.

Banh pate chaud is basically puff pastry stuffed with a ground meat mixture. I'll post the recipe soon!

I'm still using the same electric fryer to make my broth. For this 5 gallon container, I used 13 pounds of beef bones and another 3 pounds of short rib bone. I got the short ribs from the Korean grocery store and it definitely made the broth richer and sweeter. I started the broth at 10 a.m. and dinner was served around 7 p.m.

My original pho recipe (on a smaller scale) can be found here.

What was my biggest hiccup of the night? Hungry people waiting for their bowl of pho! Even though I had plenty of appetizers and there were plenty of drinks to go around, most of the two dozen guests descended around the same time. I left the invite dinner time open-ended so I was hoping for staggered guests but hungry bellies prevailed.

I started an assembly line to cook the noodles and then the guests chose their cuts of meat and filled their own bowls with the broth. We had two tables set-up with pho accoutrements, chopsticks and soup spoons.

Even though it was a busy night, it all worked out great in the end and Micah and I had a fabulous time chatting, dining and drinking with friends.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sharing is Caring: Valentine's Day Cookies

I've said it before, but I'm not a big Valentine's Day person. But, who doesn't like heart-shaped cookies?
Since I haven't baked any goodies for work since my Christmas baking marathon, I figured today was a good day as any to bring some goodies into work. 

I know today is all about love and shiz but I do have a bone to pick. 

Have you noticed at your work that there are givers and takers? Like there is always a few people who always bring goodies (stuff they made or bought) and there are obvious takers (people who never bring anything, not even candy! to share). 

So, the people who usually bring stuff are then expected to bring stuff all.the.time. It drives me insane. Granted, I do enjoy cooking and baking but baking ingredients are not cheap. Sharing is caring, right? That's why I do it. 

Who are you at work? Giver or a taker? 

Back to hearts! These shortbread cookies are easy and delicious. Not too sweet and with a great texture. 

Oddly enough, I went looking for a recipe in one of my childhood cookie books and it had the same exact recipe as this one from the Land O Lakes website so that's the one I used for these cookies.

To finish the cookies I dipped them in some melted chocolate.

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Viet Staple: Nuoc Mam (Dipping Sauce)

Fish sauce (nuoc mam) is to Vietnamese people like ketchup is to Americans. It's our condiment of choice. Really, it's not even a condiment, it is a main ingredient!

While the bottle of fish sauce usually sits in a kitchen cabinet, what usually sits in the fridge? A diluted version that is sweet, spicy, salty, and sour. Some people call it "nuoc mam cham" but in my household growing up, we just call it "nuoc mam" -- I guess it's because we knew we wanted the diluted sauce depending on what we were eating, e.g. banh xeo, banh cuon.

My mom's fridge always has two jars of prepared fish sauce at the ready. I mean, we use the stuff A LOT. And when you're making it, it's just easier to make a huge batch since you don't want your house smelling like cooked fish sauce all the time.

So what do you usually this sauce for? Most Viet folks already know, but in case you don't, here are the normal uses:

Broken rice plate (com tam bi). This plate is from Vietnam and the nuoc mam is in the little plastic baggies. 

Banh cuon (rice rolls)!

Banh xeos also need a dipping sauce! Especially this jumbo one.

We also use it for vermicelli bowls and dips for spring rolls and eggrolls.

Every family has their recipe for the ubiquitous dipping sauce but I'm obviously partial to my mom's recipe. I think it's a good balance of salty, sweet and tangy. It's also a "cooked" version.

When you are making this, make sure your kitchen is well ventilated because it is PUNGENT! You've been warned.

Nuoc mam "cham"

1 cup fish sauce (I use the Squid brand to make this sauce)
2 cups water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 lime (cut into suprêmes - basically the meat of the lime)
5-10 garlic cloves minced (add or take away depending on your affinity to garlic)
2-5 thai bird chilis sliced(add or take away depending on how spicy you like it)


1. Place the fish sauce, water, sugar and vinegar into a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.

2. While the fish sauce is "cooking," put the lime segments, garlic and chilis into a mortar (if you have one). Use the pestle to smush it all up.

Lime before cutting it into supremes.


Lime supremes in... 

then tons of garlic...

Thai bird chilis from my garden. Make sure you wash your hands after handling these guys.

Everyone into the container...

I don't have a mortar and pestle, so I use a small bowl (in this case, my pyrex) and the end of a dowel to smush it. Fancy, I know.

3. Taste the sauce to see if the flavor profiles are to your liking. Add more water if you like it less salty, more sugar if you prefer a sweeter version, etc.
Note: I usually end up using 2 1/2 cups of water and 1-2 tablespoons extra of sugar.

4. Add the mixed lime/garlic/chili mixture to the fish sauce pot. Let it sit for 5 minutes over a low heat to mellow out the garlic flavor.

5. Taste the mixture again and adjust to your liking. 

6. Allow the sauce to cool before you put it up in the fridge. I put mine in a Lock-N-Lock! You don't want this stuff spilling/leaking in your fridge. It keeps indefinitely in the fridge.

Great amber color and tons of garlic, chilis and lime!

When you're ready to serve the sauce, just add a dollop of chili garlic sauce and you're ready to go!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dixie Cup Virgins!

If there's an excuse for me to go to Houston for the weekend, you know I'm all about it. If there's a homebrew competition AND a friend's bachelorette party in Houston the same exact weekend, well Micah and I are definitely there (Micah wasn't allowed to the bachelorette party though, even though he would wear a cop costume for free.).

Really, the only other homebrew competition we've ever been to is Alamo City Cerveza Fest in SA and that's because we were part of the Bexar Brewers when we were there. Micah doesn't actually enter homebrew competitions very often. If he enters, he usually only submits a couple of beers.

Since we hadn't been to the Dixie Cup, we thought we'd check out all the crazy shenanigans. The Houston homebrew club, The Foam Rangers, have been holding Dixie Cup for 30 years. Since this year was XXX, there were a lot of sexy things going on! Sexy costumes, sexy food and sexy beer.

We decided to get into Houston on Friday night to attend the event's potluck dinner as well as the Fred Dinner (beer/food tasting). We had never been to Dixie Cup before but everyone told us that Friday night is the night to go!

What can you expect at homebrew competitions? Lots of beer. They had a nice keg setup in the hospitality room with various craft beers as well as homebrew concoctions.

After the potluck dinner, the Fred Tasting got underway.

 You don't think it's a lot, but it ends being tons of beer!

 Pam kicking off the first round!

Truffle deviled eggs paired with Abbey Monk Wit out of New Mexico! Most of us at the table had never had this beer before and it was actually pretty good, especially with the egg!

Mangoes with lime and garam masala with Southern Star's Walloon Grisette. Interesting combo of spices but the garam masala worked! I think I might actually steal this. The beer is a saison farmhouse style beer. The clove notes in the beer paired nicely with the spices in the mango.

 Chicken wings tossed in spanish paprika and pepper sauce with Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. I love wangs, but this was probably my least favorite dish of the night. The spices weren't that great and the chicken was a little undercooked for my liking. The beer is a hop bomb so it goes well with spicy foods.

Fresh figs roasted in honey and butter served with goat cheese and arugala with Prairie 'Merica. Sorry for the shitty pictures, not sure what happened there. Figs and cheese, you can't go wrong with that.

You can, however, go wrong with the beer we had with it. Ours tasted like cat pee... really. It was funky in the nose and funky in the taste and it wasn't a good funky either. Micah said he's purchased other Prairie Artistan Ales several times recently and haven't had any problems with it.

Beef heart jerky with Schlenkerla Rauchbier! I've eaten beef heart before but not in jerky form. I thought the heart-shaped cheese was a nice touch.

 Yes, I'm enjoying my jerky as well as Micah's portion since he doesn't eat red meat. lame-o.

Kerry gnawing on the jerky.

I'm not a huge fan of smoke beers but the smokiness did pair nicely with the smokiness of the jerky. Micah loves smoked beers!

Sichuan peppercorn peanuts w/ Himalayn pink salt with Independence Bootlegger Brown Ale.
The nuts were perfect! I loved the spice and ease of the dish. We're not huge fans of Independence but if I had to pick one of their beers, I would pick the brown. Mellow and easy to drink.

Frosted cupcakes with cherries, topped with pop rocks with Wasatch Polygamy Porter. I mean, who doesn't like chocolate food with porters? You can't have just one bite or one sip!

 Micah obviously wanted all of the balls.

Last dish was a doozy. Hop and black malt powder coated dark chocolate truffles with Southern Star Buried Hatchet Imperial Stout. Truffles should never be coated in hop powder. It's offensive. The coating left a bitter residual coating in your mouth and every time you thought it was gone, you'd lick you lips and there was still some there. Had to drink a lot of beer afterwards to get the taste out. On the bright side, the imperial stout is always a winner.

Before the night ended, there was some of this! Making it rain pop rocks!

 John Palmer, beer writer and consultant, was also bombed! We actually met John back in SA during a ACCF that he spoke at a few years ago. Great fellow!

Stripper pinata, of course.

On Saturday morning, we got up and went back to the Dixie Cup hotel and sat in on Palmer's water presentation. He has a new book out titled "Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers." 
I was actually going to buy the book for Micah for Christmas but he already had it on pre-order from Amazon! I can't get him anything!!

After Palmer's presentation, the brewer of Alaskan Brewing was there to talk about how they got started and gave us samples of all their beers. 

Their winter ale is made with spruce tips instead of hops. It does the same duty but with a much more mild flavor. I actually really enjoy this beer!

While Micah didn't win any awards at Dixie, we both had a great time!

At least our homebrew club, Austin Zealots, won the Lone Star Circuit this year!