Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shiner light on me

Today is National Bock Day, a day to celebrate bock beer. And, not to go all Texan on you but just to brag a little, Shiner Bock was, before microbrews took hold, the best beer to come out of that state.

It's still really good, and I still haven't tasted any other beer from the Spoetzl brewery that tastes as good.

According to Wikipedia,
Spoetzl was founded in 1909, and claims to be the oldest independent brewery in Texas. A group of businessmen incorporated Shiner Brewing Association and placed Herman Weiss in as the company's first brewmaster. In 1914 a German immigrant brewer named Kosmas (or Kosmos) Spoetzl co-leased with Oswald Petzold with an option to buy in 1915. Spoetzl had attended brewmaster's school and apprenticed for three years in Germany, worked for eight years at the Pyramids Brewery in Cairo, Egypt, and then worked in Canada. He moved to San Antonio in search of a better climate for his health, bringing with him a family recipe for a Bavarian beer made from malted barley and hops.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Cajun alternative

Cajuns didn't celebrate St. Patrick's Day traditionally, although there were enough Irish in New Orleans to celebrate that holiday from early on. But they did have a holiday where the rules of Lent were lifted for a day, and that was St. Joseph's Day, March 19.

March 19 always falls during Lent and, according to Roman Catholic canon law, if the feast day falls on a Friday, the obligation to abstain from meat or do penance is lifted.

Apparently, it's even a bigger deal in Italian homes, where elaborate altars are constructed and decked out with festive breads and desserts. Anyone can come by and eat, and offer their prayers and donations.

We always had pain perdu, literally "lost bread," which the English call French toast, on that day, and usually steak that evening. My mom always made it with old bread, the better to soak up the egg mixture, and then griddled it. This version is easier if you want your whole family to eat at once, and you can make it the night before, so it's ready to go in the morning.

Baked French Toast
(serves 12)

12 slices thick French bread (not sourdough)
3 cups 1 percent milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
Butter (for baking dish)
Cinnamon (for sprinkling)

Combine milk, eggs, vanilla, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar; mix well. Arrange bread in one layer in a pan and pour the mixture evenly over all the slices. Cover and put in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, set oven to 425 degrees with a rack in middle position. Butter a 13x9-baking dish and transfer the slices to it. If there is any remaining liquid, pour it on top.

Mix about a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon with the remaining tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle top evenly with it. Place baking dish on the middle rack and bake until center of each slice is set and top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve with Louisiana cane syrup, maple syrup, powdered sugar or fresh berries.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A cabbage dish sans aroma

Many people find vegetables in the cabbage family hard to choke down and even hard to digest. And if you've ever boiled cabbage a bit too long, you know the horrible smell that fills the air. To sum up, success in cooking cole vegetables depends on not overcooking them.

If I do eat cabbage as a side dish, I core the head and cut it into quarters, then steam it in a bag in the microwave until it is just tender. I salt and pepper it, and usually butter it lightly.

But my favorite way to eat cabbage is in colcannon, an Irish concoction usually served as a vegetarian main dish.

Colcannon: Fire when ready
(Lori K's way; serves 4)

3-4 medium potatoes, washed and quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped onions or green onions
2 cups chopped cabbage or kale
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Cook potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender.
As the potatoes cook, heat butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Sauté for a minute then add the cabbage or kale. Turn down to low, cover and cook while the potatoes boil.
When the potatoes are tender, drain and place in a large bowl. Mash. Add the onions and cabbage and blend. Add the milk, salt and pepper and beat until fluffy. Serve while hot.

A beef with corned beef

Having cooked corned beef year after year the same way, following the directions on the package on the stovetop or in the crockpot, I decided this year to see if there was some other method to cook it.

It's a brisket, right? So maybe a slow cook in the oven like a regular brisket would give the corned beef a little added flavor?

The good news it that it did have a marvelous flavor. The bad news is that it came out like a big hunk of beef jerky, impossible to slice.

So don't try to improve on perfection. Put the corned beef in the water, don't let it boil, and enjoy your St. Paddy's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sugar, sugar

Well, well, well... several well-known brands are trying an experiment, reformulating their products using sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Heinz Ketchup, Mountain Dew and Wheat Thins are among the reformulated offerings.

But these companies are just sticking their toes in the ocean, and don't expect them to go for a swim anytime soon, unless there's major money to be made by doing what's right. If more people demand sugar than are apathetic about what they ingest, a bigger change may come.

The obesity problem in the United States won't end by just replacing HFCS with sugar. Humans are hardwired to crave sweets.

The epidemic, however, seems to have started with the addition of HFCS, which is much cheaper than sugar, to many items that had no sugar in them before, such as crackers, popcorn and nuts, along with the cultural switch from drinking water or milk to consuming soft drinks with meals. Add to that the decline of health classes, where good eating habits such as consuming five fruits or vegetables each day are taught, and a lessened emphasis on physical education, and a generation of Americans have come to see overweight as the rule rather than the exception.

It's good that many people now recognize severe dieting practices as dangerous, but we as a culture still need to learn portion control and how to limit our sweet tooth, as well as get 30 minutes or so of exercise each day.