From the Bar and the Back Room: nostalgia on my part – Blennd and a new beer

Like most regions, humans come up with foods that are beloved locally but pretty much unknown outside of a day’s travel. I grew up in western PA which has this stuff called Reymer’s Blennd. This is a orange and lemon fruit based syrup that you mix with water to your taste.

It’s been around for a long time and now is made by Byrnes & Kiefer (B&K) Manufacturing, in Callery, PA, just north of Pittsburgh.   It is a bit hard to get a hold of, (horrors, amazon doesn’t carry it!) but one can still get it in various grocery stores in western PA. I have yet to find a place that you can order it from online, without paying a crazy amount for it or having to get an industrial sized quantity.

Blennd is a unique thing. Orange juice concentrate and lemon juice are its flavorings (it contains 15% actual juice, and it’ll give you quite a hit of vitamin C). Despite the acidity of these, Blennd doesn’t have a harsh aftertaste like a lot of juice based beverages, that are marketed as healthy or for kids. Something that is close to the taste, and is a wider distribution is Turkey Hill’s Haymaker Punch in the lemon flavor. If you’ve read the Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll recognize that punch as something Laura and Pa drank when working in the fields. Along the lines of these types of drinks are shrubs, which are vinegar and fruit syrups that one mixes with water. We also indulge in just vinegar to sip, and have tried a lot of infused ones.

just like this one!

Blennd has a very smooth consistency, thanks to some of the chemical thickeners in it (sodium hexametaphosphate, xanthan gum and propylene glycol) . And it has high-fructose corn syrup, which may frighten some people, but heck, if this is going to harm a human, I certainly should be feeling some effects thanks to the gallons of Blennd I’ve drank over the years. It was the go-to drink for any church picnic or family reunion, kool-aid was a distant second.   An aunt had a huge galvanized steel drink cooler that found its way everywhere from the barn when hay was being baled, to weddings. I probably got my zinc quotient for my entire life from that thing.

Since we hadn’t had it in a while, I asked my parents to bring some along when they visited recently. And since we have quite a full liquor cabinet, I decided to figure out what was the best mixer. I think anejo tequila is the best (I use Lunazul) since it works well with the citrus flavor.   Vodka is a close runner up, and Blennd really hides the alcohol, which can be a good or bad thing. Bourbon is okay, but reminiscent of a rather redneck blend of Mountain Dew soda and whatever kind of whiskey one might have. And rum makes what amounts to a very smoothly textured variant on a daquiri.

Blennd, along with chip chopped ham (a loaf of ham bits sliced raggedly and as thin as possible), are archetypical of the western tail end of Appalachia. For me, it’s comfort food. Indulging in a bit of nostalgia can be a remedy for how crazy the world is.

We also made a new beer kit. The kit was Northern Brewers White House Honey Porter kit (ours was a partial mash and it seems they only have the extract kit now). This was from a recipe from the White House during President Obama’s first term (I think) when it was nattered about having a beer with the president. It is a very good porter, but I honestly can’t tell that honey has anything to do with it. Ours is as dark and transparent as a cola soda.   A definite one to make again. And a reminder that there can be decent people as president and not that orange idiot that we have now.

I also bought NBs Don’t be Mean to People: A Golden Rule saison kit. They got together with a bunch of North Carolina breweries to make this to point out that North Carolina’s HB 2 was pure discrimination against the LGBT (and I’m sure I’m missing a few letters) community. NB is donating proceeds from the sales of this kit to the NC LGBT community, which I very much like. Not sure if I’ll brew that soon or if I’ll wait until this fall.

NB also has this nifty, and expensive, toy, a pico brewery!   Ah, to have won the lottery and play with this stuff.  🙂

That’s all. Eat and drink well!

(I don’t get any recompense from any of the companies mentioned.  I just like their stuff!)

From the Kitchen and from the bar – new beers, new food and a tattoo!

Well, we never made it to the March for Science.   I did watch it on CSPAN, and they had pretty good coverage of it.   Some of the signs were priceless. I did like the one that read something like “we knew it was going to rain because of science”. I find it terribly weird that some people are offended that anyone dare have fun making the signs and dressing up, seeming to indicate that we all must be the stereotypical scientists with no senses of humor and no lives outside the laboratory.

This is to catch up on some of our gustatory and other adventures over the last few weeks.

On a visit to the grocery store, I found a “prime” top round aka London Broil. Prime generally indicates a cut that has a lot of marbling in it, and that is just a weird thing to claim for top round which is very, very lean. But there are other ways to determine “prime”, so maybe that’s how it works.   In any case, my curiosity got the better of me and I bought it since it was on sale. I couldn’t tell it was any more tender than a regular top round (the south end of a north facing cow).

I found a marinade on Saveur’s website. Since I didn’t have fennel, I used some star anise that I’ve had lying around.   I generally don’t care for the flavor of anise/licorice but I do like it in combination with other things. Spouse made a very hot fire in the charcoal grill and we had flames licking up around the meat as we like, and grilled it to a nice medium rare. Cut on the bias, it was tolerably tender and had a great flavor. We had it with fried potatoes and onions.

During that same shopping, I also found a pair of small beef tenderloins for about half their usual price. They were netted, which indicated that they weren’t holding together well (being three separate muscles).   But they’ll make a treat for beef stroganoff, or just slices of it raw since I tend to like that kind of thing. Continue reading

From the Kitchen and From the Bar – a less than standard Thanksgiving: Thai pork roast

filled-bunsThis year we decided to part from the norm of having our usual chicken dinner and try a new recipe we found in my subscription to Food & Wine magazine. This new recipe was for Thai Pulled Pork Sandwiches by Chef Jamie Bissonnette. This where my new Thai ingredients came into play. The online store, importfood.com,  has great deals on boxes of darn near everything you might need to cook Thai.

It’s a pretty straightforward recipe, with a pork roast being covered in a spice paste, roasted for hours to become fork-tender and then having a sauce added to the shredded flesh. My departures from this were minimal. I used a far larger pork roast, a pork shoulder with the skin on that weighed nearly 10 pounds. My eyes are always far larger than my stomach when it comes to purchasing my favorite meat.

raw

the raw roast with the paste on it.

The size of the shoulder meant that I thought I needed more curry paste (the curry, sugar and fish sauce mixture in the recipe) to cover it. I doubled the recipe and found that it was not needed. When I put the paste on the pork, I did not put it on the skin side.

The skin side was scored and then shoulder was roasted skin side up in my faithful black speckled roaster. When it was a couple of hours in, I took a fork and lifted the skin off and painted more curry pasted on the fat layer. The recipe has that one can take off the meat juices, remove the fat and mix the juices back in with the fork. Since I roasted this so long (4.5 hours), I got 9/10 fat, which I deemed not worth the effort to get that 1/10 juice separated (though it did inspire me to order a fat separator).roast

The coconut based sauce was done as indicated in the recipe but I added about a tablespoon of lime juice at the end since the sauce tasted a little flat to me. I think this would have been balanced using the lime wedges indicated as condiments at the end of the recipe but I found it easier to just add.

Packet of spices that are charred for the sauce.

Packet of spices that are charred for the sauce.

My husband also requested bao (you can find the link for the recipe here) rather than the brioche buns indicated. I made the steamed buns without filling using Andrea Nguyen’s recipe from Asian Dumplings. It works just as always and they are so very tender and mild. I can see little kids loving these with a little jam.

unfilled bao

unfilled bao

As a condiment, we just used cilantro since my husband isn’t much of a veggie eater and I forgot to pick up the cucumber that I wanted. I wasn’t going near a store because people lose their minds here when it comes to Thanksgiving and then the curious American habit of Black Friday.

Definitely a keeper recipe. We had a couple of Great Lakes Brewing beers with it. Their Celebration Ale is a higher alcohol ale with honey and spices. It’s sweet but not as sweet as some, like our local Troegs Mad Elf which is more than I can handle. The other was their Ohio City Oatmeal Stout, a perhaps smoier than usual stout but still very nice. The sweetness of both beers was good with the slight sweetness of the pork.

Incidentally, I did try to make the removed pork skin into cracklings. It worked somewhat. I took my cast iron griddle, got it smoking hot and put the skin bits on it. They puffed up, but somewhat irregularly, so some were nice and crunchy, and some weren’t. It was enough for a small chef’s snack 🙂

That’s it. Eat and drink well!

(postscript: in case you are new, and don’t want to see my opinions on religion and politics, just choose to read the “from the” posts. These will be about food, drink and whatever the subject is.)

What the Boss Likes – something from the kitchen and a new winery/brewery

I’m currenbeertly hiding in our one air conditioned room on a 95+ degree (F) day.   I do love the varied seasons of PA but I could do without the really really hot days. At least I’m not still working as a field geologist out on a hazardous waste site in level C gear.

Though that did work wonders for losing weight….

A couple of weekends ago we went to a new brewery/winery that we didn’t know about and it’s within 7 miles of us (as the crow flies). It’s Spring Gate Vineyard and Winery and Spring Gate Brewery. They can share property but can’t share a building because PA liquor laws are peculiar at best.

Harrisburg is a rather strange little city. You go out a road just a few miles of city center and poof! You’re in farmland.   This allows for 60 acre old farmsteads to be a great location for a place to get wine and beer.

They have live music and they have caterers and food trucks come to offer food to go with the drinks.   These are usually themed events. We went on a lobster fest day and had a most excellent lobster roll. It went very well with the apple juice laced saison and the Sparkling Pink Peignoir wine.   They also have ciders, including a very good hopped one. There is a large bricked courtyard behind a large white barn where the wine is. There’s a decent amount of parking, though some of it is on old farm fields. If you are fussy about where you park your SUV, good, I’d keep the place to my self.  🙂

This past weekend we made a recipe I got from an email from the Penzeys Spices folks. They don’t currently have a link to the recipe on their website and I’ve asked for one. So I hope they forgive me when I post it here. It’s for seekh kebob, and was sent to them by Major Saleem Khan.   It’s absolutely delicious, as good or better than the seekh kebob from our local indian restaurant.

We grilled this on a very hot charcoal fire.

Seekh Kabobs

If you don’t feel like fussing with skewers, the mixture would also make great burgers.

1 1/4 lbs. fresh ground beef (80/20 is a good mix); frozen doesn’t work as well
2 tsp. CAYENNE PEPPER
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. GROUND CORIANDER
1 tsp. POWDERED GINGER
1/4 tsp. GROUND ALLSPICE
1/2 tsp. PENZEYS PEPPER
2 tsp. GROUND CUMIN
1/4 tsp. GROUND CLOVES
1/4 tsp. PENZEYS CINNAMON
1/2 tsp. GROUND CARDAMOM
2 1/2 TB. garlic paste
2 TB. ginger paste
2 TB. roasted chickpea powder (this is helpful for keeping the kabobs from falling apart; use 1 TB. all-purpose flour if you can’t find chickpea powder)

2 TB. lemon juice
1/2 Cup oil (see note)

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the oil. Mix well with your hands. Refrigerate for 21/2-3 hours. Add the oil and mix well. Roll the meat into small, round meatballs. Thread each meatball through a skewer. Dip your hands in water to prevent sticking, and flatten the meatballs in a thin layer around each skewer. Grill over low heat, turning the skewers at least once, after about 5 minutes, until the meat turns to brown on both sides. Don’t overcook or they will not be as deliciously tender.

NOTE: We used 73/27 ground beef and didn’t find we needed ¼ cup of the recommended oil. We also just made little patties, about the size of a golf ball, then flattened out. They flared like crazy on the grill but we like the seared bits.

tamarind fruit aka poop or little aliens about to get you

tamarind fruit aka poop or little aliens about to get you

We had these with the cilantro-mint chutney from this post. We also made tamarind chutney from real tamarinds. They are tasty little fruits, though they do look like poop. I cooked 8 oz or so of peeled tamarinds in a couple of cups of water, threw in a couple of star anises, boiled briefly, squished and strained what was made, then followed this recipe from one of my favorite food blog sites, seriouseats.com. Jaggery or palm sugar is worth getting for this. This was rounded out with some greek yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of grated fresh garlic and slices of sweet onion and shredded lettuce. Most excellent!

That’s it. Eat and drink well!

From the Bar – a few Belgian ales and a movie

beerI have now been on this planet for 50 years.   I really wish I had been on some other planet during this time but alas technology has not cooperated.

For my birthday, we went to have really good cheap french fries (cooked in beef fat) and expensive Belgian beers. This was an extra treat since we’ve also been on the South Beach Diet for the last 4 weeks and haven’t had much in the way of carbohydrates (I’m happy, I’ve lost 10 pounds).

I had two beers. One was a Rochefort 8. This is a trappist ale, not quite as sweet and complex as the Rochefort 10 (or as alcoholic 9.5% as opposed to 11.3%) but very much the dark beer that tastes of caramel, dried fruits and rich yeasts. My second was Bink Bloesem, another rich beer, not quite so dark or strong (7.1%) but wonderful with the tastes of fall fruit and spice. It has pear syrup in it.  I love that our local Belgian café, Café Bruges, uses all of the fancy glasses for the beers. I have a bit of a thing for fancy things to drink out of. My mom had a cordial set that she never used and kept at the top of a tall cabinet. My younger self risked life and limb climbing up to get a little glass to drink from when she wasn’t around.

My husband had Echt Kriekenbier and a Boon Kriek. The Echt was excellent, 6.8% alcohol, a touch sour with a strong cherry aroma. It is based on an ale, not a lambic   The Boon was wonderful, like cherry pie and it has cherries in it, and is a lambic.   It is a low alcohol beer, only 4%, eminently sessionable. The only kriek we’ve had that we like better is what we’ve had up at the Selin’s Grove Brewing.

We watched Jupiter Ascending this weekend. I really liked it. It was fun, fast and was pure space opera. I really have no idea what people are looking for in a movie like this. Movies don’t need deep plots, or world-moving emotional displays. I’m more than happy to have a strong female character who likes science, who doesn’t freak out more than necessary, and who can take care of herself along with her friends. The movie is just beautiful, btw. Watch this and John Carter to see the good guys win and the bad guys lose. That seems to happen so little anymore.

From the Kitchen and Bar – I have committed a culinary sin….and it was goooood

A week after Snowzilla and we still have about a foot of snow still on the ground. I’ve been tossing out old bread and stale snacks for the local crows, squirrels and little birdies since they have little to eat. Yesterday we had a huge number of crows in the neighborhood. There must have been a couple of hundred, which can make quite a racket. I guess we had a mass murder or a genocide, considering that a group of crows is called a “murder”.

We cooked and hid inside during the storm. One thing we had was a complete experiment thanks to the local event called the Pennsylvania State Farm Show (this isn’t the sin yet). It’s essentially a country fair in a building, a very large building, in January. There are displays of farm equipment, farm animals, arena events like horseback riding and animal judging, and food booths of all sorts of farm products. People are weird about the food booths. They are completely stunned with the milkshakes one can get there, insisting that they are so very wonderful. The reason that the milkshakes are so great is that they are made with whole milk and ice cream made with whole milk, not that nasty 2% or skim that many Americans insist on drinking. They are also in awe of fresh donuts made with potatoes. OF COURSE fresh donuts made with potato starch which makes them soft and moist will be good!   I mean, really people, just think for a moment.  🙂

lamb-breastThe farm animals brought to the show don’t always go back to the farm again. In many cases they are slaughtered soon after, especially the lambs and calves. A local grocery store had a great sale on lamb in many many more forms than what one can usually get here in the states. I got a lamb breast to try. This is the ribs and belly of the lamb, so it is mostly bone and fat. Out of about 2.5 pounds (around a kilo) of raw meat, we got about a pound of meat and some of the best crackling ever. It was really good, succulent and gamy, and ended up being essentially $10.00 a pound once cooked ($4.99/lb raw). I used a recipe that called for a spice rub and a long slow cook. The photo shows that my husband got to it before I could get my camera.

mushWe also made polenta, which I grew up calling “mush”.   This was made from a very fine whole kernel cornmeal called Indian Head. Usually I make it with a coarser meal, which allows the mush to firm up and become sliceable, which I then fry.   This never became firm, remaining a pudding consistency. Here, the photo has my bowl as I eat it with butter, salt and pepper. I also love to put maple syrup on it, grade B, which is far more flavorful than what you can usually get in stores around here. Of course, now the USDA has changed the grading of maple syrup, so what I have in a bottle as Grade B is now Grade A: dark color, robust taste or Grade A: very dark color, strong taste. Sigh.

And finally, I confess my sin. Actually, it’s our sin since my husband and I did it. We took Spam and we Shake n’ Baked it (the extra crispy version).   It was very, very good. I do recommend the less-sodium version. Yep, it’s an utter fest of sodium, sugar, preservatives and everything bad for you. I do see that we are not the only sinners in the universe. I guess if it can be done, it will be done and the internet has record of it. It’s definitely redneck tonkatsu.

We haven’t gone terribly far afield with the alcohol. Gran Gala is a very good orange liqueur. Don’t mix it with milk or cream, it will curdle.  Blue Moon has a good horchata (cinnamon) flavored beer that I may have mentioned before.

Well, that’s it. Eat and drink well!