Review: Tcho x Reserva de la Familia Dark Chocolate Box Set

Chocolate and spirits frequently make for natural companions, but rarely does anyone put much thought into elevating this combination into something special. Tcho turned the tables on that idea with this wild pairing: Tcho dark chocolates plus Cuervo’s luxe Reserva de la Familia bottling. Specifically, Tcho soaks cacao nibs in Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia extra añejo tequila for three months, then folds the tequila-soaked nibs into dark chocolate, then packages them up as a 12-pack of single-serving squares.

It takes eating a few squares before you get a real sense of the tequila here, and even then it’s fleeting. There’s a hint of acidity, vanilla, and spice right as you bite into the chocolate, and on the finish a lingering echo of agave. It’s faint, but if you really work at it, you’ll catch the essence — and get what Tcho and Cuervo were going for. In between, it’s a beautiful dark chocolate with those crunchy cacao nibs to gnash on, which have a toasty, roasted almond character.

Delightful, and not really at all what I was expecting.

A- / $20 (twelve 8-gram squares) / tcho.com

Recipe: Homemade Beer Cheese

Belgian Abbey Ale Beer Cheese
Many of us had our first taste of beer cheese at the local brew-pub. But it’s easy to make your own at home!

We picked up this beer cheese recipe from HomeBrewChef and cooked up two variations. The beer we used for the first batch was Armstrong Stout from Fogbelt Brewing Company. We added bacon slices cut into small pieces and fried them up with red onions and butter. The cheese for this batch was a sharp cheddar. We also used a pepper grinder on the peppercorns instead of tossing them in whole.

Not everyone will like this version because the stout came through strongly, giving the cheese a smoky element. It also colored the beer cheese to a medium tan shade, which may turn off some folks. The bacon pieces added a nice pop, though. Other than dipping pretzels or smothering French fries, this beer cheese would be good atop a steak with some mushrooms added.

In the second variation, we replaced the onion with fresh garlic. Then we made our own bread from a basic soft pretzel recipe with rosemary added and served it up along with chicken strips. You could also throw dried tomato or chopped jalapeno peppers into the dough if you prefer. The beer used this time was Brother Thelonious Belgian style abbey ale from North Coast Brewing Company.

Although the abbey ale is still a darker beer, the cheese sauce does look and taste lighter. The garlic came through the cheddar cheese without overpowering the sauce. Again, we used cracked pepper from our pepper mill instead using whole peppercorns. We bet this one will be a favorite. Check the end of the recipe for other variation suggestions from the chef.

For both recipes, we added an extra 1/4 cup of cheese but that is a matter of individual taste.

Beer Cheese
4 tablespoons butter, unsalted preferably organic
1/2 cup onion, yellow, large, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf, preferably freshStout Beer Cheese with Bacon
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups beer
1 cup heavy cream
5 whole, black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated cheese

In a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat, add the butter and let it melt. Add the prepped onion, bay leaf, salt and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until the onion is transparent.

Dust the onions with the flour, stirring with a flat edge spatula, so you can scrape any flour from the bottom of the pan, to make a roux. Cook the roux for 3-4 minutes, stirring the whole time, to prevent the flour from burning. Take care not to have the heat too high.

Switching to a whisk, slowly pour in the beer, whisking to combine, getting any fond from the bottom of the pan, making sure all the lumps (if any) from the flour are dissolved. Add the cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer and adjust the heat to keep a gentle simmer. Add the peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg. Whisk the mixture occasionally over the next 30 minutes, as the flour flavor cooks out and the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove the bay leaf, cloves, and peppercorns from the sauce. Take the sauce off the heat. Slowly add the grated cheese while whisking to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed with more salt or cracked pepper.

Recipe Notes and Variants
This sauce can be made with many beer styles. You can pair the beer’s flavor with the type of cheese you use, or pair them both with a specific main course. The versatility is endless. Here are a few ideas:

Classic Cheddar Pale Ale Beer Cheese Sauce: Use a Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale and grate some Tillamook Medium Cheddar Cheese for this sauce. Try it on nachos, use a cheese fondue or pour over roasted broccoli.

South of the Border Chipotle Smoked Jack Beer Cheese Sauce: Use a Rogue Farms Chipotle Ale and use either a pepper or smoked Monterey Jack cheese. This is awesome over nachos, over enchiladas, as a dip for chips, vegetables (grilled and roasted), over a baked potato, or mixed in with cooked elbow macaroni, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, and topped with barbecue style potato chips.

German Beer Cheese Sauce: To make the perfect dip for your fresh baked pretzel, take a Märzen Oktoberfest beer and add some smoked gouda or räucherkäse cheese. Also perfect to pour some of this over a pretzel coated pork schnitzel served with some spaetzle.

Recipe: Whiskey Barbecue Meatballs

Whiskey Barbecue Meatballs

Super Bowl time is upon us! Don’t watch the game with just any old snack food. Make it something special with these original Whiskey Barbecue Meatballs. (We’re using frozen meatballs here because it’s really about the sauce, but you can also make your own easily.) You can cook up the spicy sauce a couple of days early for game day convenience. It will only get better with a day or two in the refrigerator.

Barbecue Sauce

Whiskey Barbecue Meatballs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 minced red onion
4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup whiskey
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups ketchup
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1/3 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ginger (freshly ground is best)
1 shot espresso
1 32-ounce package of frozen, cooked meatballs

In a blender or food processor combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, and whiskey. Puree the mixture and then pour the mixture into a large pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium; simmer for 10 minutes. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except for meatballs, and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to medium-low. Let it simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often.

Pour barbecue sauce into a large skillet and add meatballs. Bring to a boil again. Then reduce heat to medium-high and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Turn meatballs over after the 10 minute mark and spoon sauce over them every five minutes or so. The sauce will thicken. Serve with your favorite brew and enjoy.

Variations:

For the sample recipe, we used Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey was used to enhance the honey added. Substitute bourbon if you prefer.

In lieu of meatballs, try sliced kielbasa sausage.

Lastly, in place of the dried red pepper flakes, hot pepper sauce or ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper may be substituted.

Now Shipping: 2017 L.A. Burdick Robert Burns Chocolates

We all drink whisky on Robert Burns’ birthday (January 25), but if you really want to wow folks, get your hands on a box of L.A. Burdicks’ Robert Burns Chocolate collection, which is available only during this time of the year.

Each box of about 36 bonbons (1/2 a pound) includes multiples of seven different items, each made with a different whisky. Those include Lagavulin, Macallan, Talisker, Springbank, Highland Park, and Glenfarclas. A final chocolate is a whisky honey truffle made with an unspecified whisky.

These are some amazing chocolates and, even though mine got a little freezer burned during shipping thanks to some unseasonably cold weather, they are absolutely delightful and totally worth getting. Order now in time for Burns Night!

More specific reviews and ratings of the individual chocolates can be found here.

$42 / burdickchocolate.com

Recipe: Bourbon and Barrel Aged Imperial Stout Pecan Pie with Bourbon Crust and Malted Whipped Cream

This incredible pecan pie recipe comes from Homebrewchef.com, which adapted it from a recipe in Beer Advocate magazine. I made this with Jim Beam Double Oak Twice Barreled Bourbon. For the Russian Imperial Stout, I used So Happens It’s Tuesday from The Bruery (A / $20 per 750ml bottle), which is aged in bourbon barrels. I was surprised to find the stout had a sour side to it and initially worried it would negatively impact the pie. However, I also used dark corn syrup instead of the light listed in the recipe ingredients. The two balanced one another nicely. The pie filling came out sweet, but not syrupy sweet.

Traditionally, cooks use vodka instead of water in their pie crusts. The reason for this is because the alcohol evaporates, leaving a flaky crust. This recipe calls for bourbon instead of vodka and it worked well for the same reasons. I also loved the use of barley flour in the crust for something truly unique. I found the flour at our local community market.

This recipe also needs dry malt extract (DME), which is not something normally found in the supermarket. I did get mine from the local The Beverage People shop. They do have a website to order from here. It is interesting to note that DME is used in the center of candy malted milk balls. No wonder they are so good! I also recommend the use of real maple syrup and not the imitation kind; a pie this good deserves the real thing.

With the whipped cream, the malt extract adds a malty sweetness to the bourbon and cream flavors. The recipe called for powdered milk. This is an important ingredient as it gives the whipped cream body. I used real heavy cream for mine. The taste is heavenly.

Most of the alcohol, except for the bourbon in the whipped cream, cooks off so there is no real alcohol content to speak of…only the wonderful, warm flavor.

This pie is a bit expensive to make because of the unusual ingredients, not found normally at the grocery store, and the alcohol. However, this is the best pecan pie I have ever tasted. Some things, like fine foods and good beer and spirits, are worth the money spent on them, particularly when they are for a special occasion. This pecan pie is no exception and I highly recommend it.

Here is the recipe. I should also note the crust is for two pies, while the filling is for one. I simply doubled the filling ingredients and baked two pies, which serves twelve slices. Preparation time is about 20 minutes. Cooking time is 60 minutes.

Bourbon Barley Pie Crust
• 1 1/2 cups flour, unbleached all purpose
• 1/2 cup flour, barley
• 1/2 cup flour, pastry
• 3 tablespoons Dry Malt Extract (DME)
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 8 ounces unsalted butter
• 4 – 5 tablespoons Bourbon, ice cold

Stout Pecan Filling
• 3 each eggs, jumbo at room temperature
• 3 each eggs, jumbo, yolks only, at room temperature
• 1/2 cup Dry Malt Extract (DME)
• 1/2 cup sugar, organic
• 1/2 cup Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1/4 cup maple syrup
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 teaspoon salt, kosher
• 3 cups shelled pecan halves

Malted Whipping Cream
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 3 tablespoons Dry Malt Extract (DME)
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon milk powder
• 2 tablespoons Bourbon

Bourbon Barley Pie Crust Directions:
• In the bowl of a food processor, add the flours, DME, and salt. Pulse several times to mix the ingredients together. Add the cold butter cubes to the bowl and pulse a few times to cut the fat into the flour mixture.
• Keep pulsing until the mixture has small grain size chunks of fat evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
• With the motor running, quickly add the bourbon until the mixture just forms a ball. Since the alcohol mixed with flour cannot form gluten like water and flour can, over mixing isn’t as much of an issue with this crust. Plus the alcohol will evaporate (40% alcohol), resulting in a flaky crust. Form the dough into two equal size balls. Take plastic wrap and wrap each ball of dough, pressing down on each to create a disk. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to re-chill, while fully hydrating the flour, making it easier to work with and helping the crust from shrinking as it cooks.
• Preheat the oven to 350°F | 177°C. Take one dough ball and roll it out to ¼ of an inch thick round on a lightly floured surface. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a 22 oz bottle that is chilled will also work. Place it in your pie dish or tin. Crimp the edges of the crust and set aside. Use the second pie crust for another pie (try apple) or another application like turn overs.

Stout Pecan Filling Directions:
• In a large bowl, add the eggs and yolks (saving the whites for another recipe), whisking until light and frothy. Add the DME, sugar, Imperial Stout, corn syrup, maple syrup, melted butter, and salt; mix well. Add in the pecan halves and mix to coat. Pour this mixture into the prepared pie crust, smoothing out any pecans which are sticking out. Place into the center of the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the custard is set. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.

Malted Whipped Cream Directions:
• In a cold metal bowl, add the cold cream, DME, sugar, milk powder, and bourbon. Using a whisk, beat until soft peaks form. Top each slice of pie with a healthy dollop and serve.

Homebrewchef recommends pairing the pie with Parabola Russian Imperial Stout from Firestone Walker Brewing Company (A / $20 per 650ml bottle). This recommendation was spot on as the flavors of both the stout and the pie mingled well together on the tongue. I also recommend, for the wine folks reading, pairing this pie with a Kelley and Young Late Harvest Zinfandel, from Robert Young Vineyards (A+ / $36 per 375ml bottle).

Review: Vineyard Chocolates

vineyard-chocolates

Entrepreneur Joe Woerly has an idea: Chocolate bars, flavored with wine. It’s unclear where the flavors come from — actual wine, or just flavors inspired by wine — but the chocolate is from Venezuela and comes in a variety of cocoa levels.

In advance of Woerly’s Kickstarter campaign (see link below) to get the word out about his product, we tried all three flavors.

Vineyard Chocolates Cabernet Flavored Dark Chocolate – 73.5% cocoa. Nicely bittersweet, with notes of blackberry, coffee, and a hint of licorice. A little grainy, but fairly well balanced.

Vineyard Chocolates Merlot Flavored Dark Chocolate – 61% cocoa. Unlike the more fruit-focused cabernet flavor, this version tastes more clearly like merlot wine, with merlot’s iconic violet notes plus a touch of strawberry. Probably my favorite of the bunch.

Vineyard Chocolates Chardonnay Flavored White Chocolate – 34% cocoa. Gooey white chocolate, indistinctly flavored with some fig and orange character. The finish isn’t altogether on this one, but that might be a prejudice against white chocolate.

kickstarter.com

Highlights from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2016

Recently I had the good fortune to attend one of the most entertaining events in this business: Petaluma’s annual “California Cheesin'” event, part of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, now in its 10th year.

This highlight offers regional (northern California) restaurants plus purveyors of wine, beer, and cider — and let’s you go to town on dozens of cheese-inspired small bites. Some two dozen restaurants and cheesemakers were on hand this evening along with another 20 or so beverage companies. The idea: Taste through everything and pronounce a winner amongst the restaurants at the end of the night, following the visitors’ votes. (Beverage companies don’t get prizes, sadly.)

My favorite bites came from Carneros Bistro, whose Red Hawk arancini are perennial festival winners; The Girl and The Fig’s ricotta sorbet mini-cones; and Rustic at Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s asparagus and morel risotto. But the restaurant that got my vote was from a food truck outfit called Croques & Toques, whose truffled cheese croquette as a delightfully sharp and savory dish. (Though one other voter wondered whether it was cheating to use truffles!)

On the wine and beer side, a number of standouts: Estate 1856’s Petit Verdot was fragrant and lively; Goldschmidt Vineyards Fidelity Zinfandel was racy with green olive overtones; and the soft Pinot Noir from Fogline Vineyards was an easy sipper. Favorite wine, however, had to go to Pennyroyal Farm and its lightly earthy Pinot Noir — I’ve passed this place many times en route to Mendocino and never even knew they produced wine at all.

Best beer: Lagunitas Equinox, a pale oat ale, offering the best of two distinctly different worlds of brewing.

As always, it was a fantastic event on a beautiful evening in Petaluma. I look forward to checking it out again in 2017!

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