Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whole Foods Beer School

Last semester I taught a cooking class for low-income children through the non-profit organization Common Threads. It was a lot of work, but turned out to be a great experience. The kids were so excited about cooking and nutrition, and they soaked up the information they learned in class. The class was held at the Whole Foods in the South Loop, and I spent a lot of time in that store researching ingredients and shopping before each class.

I stumbled across the Chicago Whole Foods newsletter early on in the semester, and I couldn't help but notice a beer class being offered once a month at the Lakeview store. We had already taken note of the solid beer selection at the South Loop store, so we were intrigued by this opportunity. Conveniently, the Lakeview location is a lot closer to where we live, so Joe and I decided to check in out. We've now attended beer school for 4 of the last 5 months, so I guess you could say we liked it! The classes are $10 each, and they're run by a couple Whole Foods employees who are really passionate about good beer. The people who attend the classes are really nice, and they try to keep it more like a club than a class, where everyone is welcome to contribute. I've gotten a chance to taste a lot of beers that I would never choose to order on my own, and I've been pleasantly surprised by many of them.

This month I finally remembered to take an info sheet home with me, and I figured if I write about the beers right here then I'll have a resource to look back at. The January class was a chance for the new beer buyer to share some brews that he'd recently brought in, so it was a bit of a random mix. Here's what we tasted this time around:

First up was Mc Chouffe Brown Ale, from Brasserie d'Achouffe in Belgium. This was a pretty mild beer, without too much of a "brown" caramelized taste. It was sweet, with only a hint of hoppy flavor. It was mild and balanced. Not as good as La Chouffe, which is one of my all time favorites, but pretty decent. Joe and I rated it 7.5/10
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Next we tried the Double Dog Double IPA from Flying Dog Brewery in Denver/Maryland. I've had a few other brews from Flying Dog, but this one was new to me. It was STRONG! 11%, which is pretty crazy. It reminded us of Sierra Nevada Torpedo, which is intensely hoppy. This is a slow sipping beer, both from the alcohol content and the strong hoppy flavor. Our vote was 8/10
(Image from

After that we tried two brews from Hoppin' Frog brewery in Akron, Ohio. The first, Bodacious Black and Tan, was our least favorite of the night. It tasted like a pretty mild stout, with a nice roasted coffee flavor. When we compared it to the second brew, the BORIS Barrel-Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout, it seemed crazy to wreck the stout by making it into a black and tan. The stout was aged in whiskey barrels, but didn't taste too strongly of whiskey. It was full bodied and smooth, and I was really surprised at how much I liked it! I have always said I'm not a big fan of stouts and other dark beers, but this drink made me reconsider my stance. We gave the Black & Tan 6.5 out of 10, and the Imperial Oatmeal Stout was 9/10.

This edition of beer school concluded with a local stout from Half Acre, which is only about a mile away from our condo. The Big Hugs Imperial Stout was surprising and bursting with coffee flavor. It almost tasted more like coffee than beer! The coffee is roasted by a local guy here in Chicago, which is a nice touch. Tasting Table wrote all about it a few weeks ago. We still haven't been by their brewery, but it will happen SOON!

Anything we're missing out on? We always love recommendations!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beer Bread

When I got the idea for this blog, I knew right away that I would want to share some ideas for cooking with beer. One of the first ideas that came to mind was beer bread, which I've seen numerous references to online. I love baking bread, especially quick breads that don't need time to rise. The idea behind beer bread is that both beer and bread are created with yeast, so using beer to make bread takes a step out of the process (and adds great flavor!).

For Christmas, one of the many beer related gifts Joe received was the Brewpub Cookbook, by Daria Labinsky and Stan Hieronymus. I would refer you to the link on Amazon, but it looks like this book is no longer being published. It is a really fun book, though, especially for brewpub junkies like Joe and me! The book includes recipes from Wynkoop, my family's favorite place in Denver, and Goose Island, which I've already told you all about. There are also recipes from 75th Street Brewery in Kansas City, Schlafly Tap Room in St Louis, and from plenty of other breweries we have yet to visit.

This beer bread recipe is from Walnut Brewery in Boulder, CO. It is the original location for the Rock Bottom chain of brew pubs, which can be found around the country. The bread is dense and chewy, with a slightly sweet flavor. The cheese and scallions scattered throughout the dough are a tasty treat, especially when the bread is made into a turkey sandwich. Waaaay better than the 100 calorie sandwich rounds we usually make our sandwiches on! I made this loaf with some of our home brewed wheat beer, but love that the bread will change character depending on the type of beer you use. A spiced ale or dark stout beer would give this bread a totally different flavor, and I intend to play around with different combinations.

Walnut Brewery Beer Bread
from The Brewpub Cookbook, by D. Labinsky and S. Hieronymus

yield: 2 loaves (but if you only have one loaf pan, like me, halving the recipe works just fine)

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sliced green onions
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp salt
4 cups beer
8 cups flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
oil as needed

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray 2 loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray (or butter them with a paper towel).

Mix cheese, green onions, sugar, and salt together. In a separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder together. Add beer to cheese mixture, then add the flour mixture into the cheese mixture until thoroughly combined.

Place into loaf pans, and brush with oil. Bake for 1o to 15 minutes. Rotate bread and finish baking for 40 to 45 minutes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

All's Calm on the Home Front

This was a pretty low-key weekend around our house, since I was scheduled to work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Plus, Joe and I both came down with colds this week, so it seemed like we needed to just take it easy and enjoy some lazy weekend time. I didn't really mind working this weekend, though, because I'd been off work since Monday, and am so bad at relaxing around the house. I was so bored!! Friday night I worked a Cajun cooking class, and by the time I got home Joe had pretty much given up for the night. Saturday I worked all day, and Joe used his former Shakespeare's skills to make us pizza once i got home. We watched "Away we Go", and went to be kind of early, which was slightly boring but good for our battered immune systems. Winter is not so much fun here in Chicago!

This beer is like a trophy to him!

Sunday I had to work again, but it was so slow at the store because of the super cold weather. I ended up leaving early, and we decided to do some late afternoon snacks and drinks at Goose Island with our long lost friend Jess. Joe and I reached a major milestone today... 15 beers each on our MBA's, which means we each got to bring a growler home with us! You know it didn't take us too long to break into the first one...

Notice the Boulevard glasses... we won't forget our KC beer! Too bad we can't buy it here in IL.

Also, in the kitchen, I was busier than usual this past week. After an insanely busy semester this fall, I hardly knew what to do with myself when I had multiple days off in a row! I made Portabella mushroom pizzas, which you can read about on my other blog. I also made homemade pasta, which was so fun. The recipe I made with the pasta wasn't the greatest, but as soon as I find a good recipe I'll post it. For now, I'll just say that my pasta roller is my new favorite kitchen toy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Brew Day/A Chance to Redeem Myself

So I've been brewing my own beer for a few months now, and I guess that I'd have to say that I've gone a little bit off the rails. This has become my new obsession. I think about brewing, I read books about brewing, and I'm obsessed with an online brewing forum called (which I swear that I never look at on my work computer).

Erin and I have been on an IPA kick recently and we decided that it was time to try brewing our own. This batch was especially important because the last batch...well let's just say it didn't turn out well. What I was trying to brew was a dunkelweizen, which is a German style of wheat beer that's darker in color than your average wheat beer. What I actually brewed was a sour tasting mess that ended up getting poured down the drain. For those of you who have never had to pour out five gallons of beer before, let's just say that it's a heart breaking experience.

Enough of focusing on the past, let's get to brewing. Today's recipe is an Imperial Pale Ale from Sam Calagione who is the owner of the Dogfish Head Brewery. We start by steeping one pound of Crystal Malt in four gallons of water at 170 degrees.

We remove the malt and allow the pot to come to a boil. Once it boils we add 6.4 pounds of dry light malt extract followed by 1.5 ounces of centennial hops. This is one of my favorite parts about brewing, once the kettle comes to a boil, the smell of malt and hops that fills the house is completely intoxicating.

We let this boil for an hour, adding another ounce of Cascade hops ten minutes before the end of the boil for flavor and another half an ounce of Cascade hops right at the end for aroma. Then all that's left to do is chill the wort (unfermented beer) to room temperature and pitch the yeast.

This recipe is intended to produce a golden colored, floral smelling IPA, with an alcohol content of around 8.5%. Unfortunately it will be another three or four weeks before we actually get to taste the fruits of our labor so the results will have to follow in a separate post.

Celebrating 3 years of marriage!

December 29, 2009 marked our three year anniversary. It is hard to believe that Joe has already been my husband for three years! These past few years have been eventful, with a move to Chicago, the purchase of a condo, trips to Europe and Mexico, and traveling around the country to see family and friends. There have been some lean times, too, first as Joe was laid off, then when I decided to go back to school. Our marriage was easy right from the beginning, and things have only gotten better. The first year or two could have been attributed to a "honeymoon phase", but that time is long gone and things are still so easy and wonderful around our household!

We debated on how we would celebrate our anniversary this year. Our first anniversary we went all out, with an extravagant, amazing dinner at North Pond, and a stay at one of the nice hotels off of Michigan Avenue. Last year, Joe was laid off, so we made a nice dinner at home. This year we were hoping to strike a balance, and figured we would go somewhere for a nice dinner and a few drinks. At the last minute, the guilt of holiday spending caught up with us, and we decided to scale down a bit.

We ended up having dinner at Anteprima, an Italian restaurant in Andersonville. We lived in Andersonville during our first year in Chicago, and we had frequently talked about trying this restaurant that had received great reviews. But it was a bit too nice for an average dinner out, and less fancy then we wanted on our big nights out, so it always got the "maybe next time" treatment. That made it perfect for our anniversary, when we wanted to celebrate another wonderful year without blowing our budget.

We were quite pleased with our experience. The starters got the meal off to a grand start-- grilled octopus and sweet potato caponata both surpassed our expectations. We nursed a bottle of Colosi throughout the meal, and had pasta and duck breast for our main course. Nothing was excessively rich and heavy, so we had room left for some lemon panna cotta for dessert. It was a wonderful meal, and we enjoyed looking back at the last three years as we feasted. We left with satisfied stomachs and an intact wallet, and agreed that this was not our last visit to Anteprima.

Grilled Octopus for a starter

Pancetta Ragu with fresh pasta

Duck breast with wild mushrooms

Thanks to everyone who has supported us and been with us to experience the first few years of our marriage! We couldn't have done it without such wonderful family and friends!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Goal Worth Striving For

In August we were looking for a casual, fun restaurant where we would celebrate Joe's birthday, and we decided it was finally time to check out Goose Island, a local brewery and brewpub. Goose Island is the largest craft brewery in Chicago, and it's pretty easy to find their brews in restaurants and liquor stores. They have a commercial brewery where they brew and bottle the bulk of their line, but they also have two brewpub locations in the city. The brewpubs have smaller batches of beer, so there are always a lot of options to try. They also feature other local breweries, and the selection changes weekly.

Needless to say, we were hooked after one visit. Our downfall was the discovery of the MBA program that they offer. Friends of ours know that Joe is in finance, but this MBA is different from the types of grad school he might attend some day. This MBA is the Masters of Beer Appreciation, and we are now both on our way to earning this prestigious honor. Basically, every time you try a new beer, you get to mark it on your MBA tracking card, and after 15, 30 and 45 you earn a free growler. Also after you make it to 45 your name is immortalized on a plaque which hangs in the Goose Island lobby.

Although we both love and appreciate beer, the addition of having a goal to strive for has made Goose Island our new favorite doesn't hurt that their food is pretty good too. My favorite is the pulled pork. The pork is supplied from a local farmer who actually feeds the hogs with spent Goose Island grains; it's a beautiful cycle. Joe is a big fan of the frites which are served with truffle aioli...mmmm truffle aioli!

In closing, we still have about 32 beers to go and if any of our friends would like to join us on our mission, give us a holler.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Let the blog begin!

New year, new blog. That works, right? I'm going to start this one off slowly, because I still want to focus my effort on Cooking and Eating in the Windy City for the time being. But this blog is something I hope will evolve, into a food, beer, and life blog for Joe and I to share. So I'll be doing some posts that show up on both blogs, and also sharing a little more about what we're just up to in our everyday life here in Chicago. If you made your way here, I hope you enjoy & stop back again!

This New Year's Eve was one to remember. We did an impromptu Spanish tapas dinner with our friends Nasser and Christie. We had tortilla, goat cheese in spicy tomato sauce, a caramelized onion and mushroom tart with chorizo, and some (slightly Italian) white bean and rosemary dip. It was a delicious spread, and we had a great time hanging out at home before the night got a bit crazier!

Next on the agenda was Girl Talk, a DJ show at the Congress Theater. We had a group of about 15 people all meeting up there, and we rocked out and danced like fools. It was a blast! We had so much fun dancing, laughing, and catching up with friend who were in from out of town. Being on the older side of the crowd, we decided to stay towards the back, and we had a great view of the whole floor. Such a fun time!

We ended the night at a friend of a friend's house, with more dancing and catching up. As we walked through our door around 4:00 am, we decided it had been a successful night. We also agreed that we're getting to old for this, and next year we'll be hosting a small house party or dinner or sorts :) It was a NYE that I'll remember for a long time, though! Thanks friends for making it a great night!