Thursday, December 8, 2011

Insane choco mounds

These cookies smell so delicious that my neighbors even leave the building out of jealousy.

  1. 100g Cote D'Or culinary dark chocolate
  2. 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  3. 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 175C
  2. melt chocolate on stove
  3. pour melted chocolate into bowl filled with flour
  4. gently stir the chocolate until it becomes a matted clump
  5. mix in an egg
  6. place mounds evenly spaced on cookie sheet
  7. cook for 20 minutes

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crusty homebread for any occasion

Few items complement a pasta dish like a nice, thick slice of bread. My "crusty homebread" is so dense with flavor that you may not even want a pasta dish with it! The gritty texture is perfect sustenance for after a hearty trek through the woods. This bread is always a hit at parties: each slice is so fulfilling that we usually don't even finish the loaf by the end!

Crusty homebread is a snap and you'll be enjoying it for up to a week after baking.

  1. 4 cups whole wheat flour
  2. 1 cup lukewarm water
  3. 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Set the oven to 400F
  2. Proof the yeast in the water
  3. Add salt and mix well
  4. Gradually add flour until you have a solid brick of moist flour
  5. Knead for 3 minutes
  6. Let the dough rise for 8-10 minutes
  7. Place the dough in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the crust starts browning
  8. Serve and enjoy immediately!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Quintessence part deux

If I told you about a drink whose defining aromas and flavors included barnyard, horse sweat, astringency, and sourness, would you want a sip?

The answer to that is probably "no", but in the case of lambics, in particular those from the Cantillon brewery, it shouldn't be. And, to be fair, those defining aromas also include citrus, sour cherries, tropical fruit, raspberry, elderberry, muscat grape and many more.

We recently visited the Quintessence event by the Cantillon brewery, which was a day of pairings of lambic beers and artisanal cheeses. For novices, it was a day spent in a charming corner of Brussels' history with the opportunity to try challenging, but unique local flavors. For connoisseurs, it was nothing less than an essential experience.

Lambic Country

Let me give a brief background to the lambic. The lambic is technically a beer but has a vastly different creation method. Where most beers can be divided between ales and lagers (defined primarily by the type of yeast involved), lambics are truly a distinct style, as they are created by a combination of wild flora, including multiple forms of wild, non-brewing, yeasts and bacteria that happen to thrive in the Brussels region. Unlike ales and lagers, whose fermentation processes are largely under the control of the brewer, lambics have a complex development involving interplay among the various microorganisms across seasonal temperature variations, and much of the process is not fully scientifically understood. Where brewer's yeasts have been selected and adapted by brewers and scientists for qualities such as rapid fermentation, lambic flora remain stubborn and lazy. A lambic takes 3 years to reach bottling maturity, most of which is spent in oak barrels. By comparison, Budweiser has a time-to-market of 21 days, doing its "aging" on steel.

In practice, lambic is rarely served in its "native" state and is typically used as the primary "ingredient" in the styles gueuze and fruit lambic. Gueuze is the bottling of a blend of 3 years of lambics; the aged lambic provides a mature character, while the young lambic still has unfermented sugars which cause carbonation to develop in the bottle as the yeasts continue to consume sugars. The fruit lambic comes from the addition of fruit to the lambic (typically a 2 year old), which is then aged in oak barrels for some time before bottling. The fruits used are primarily cherries (kriek lambic) and rasberries (framboise lambic), although Cantillon has offerings with blueberry (Blabaer), peach (Fou' Foune), muscat grapes (Vigneronne), merlot grapes (St. Lamvinus), and elderberry (Zwanze).

Lambic breweries, existing primarily in the Senne Valley of Brussels, used to "infect" the wort (pre-fermented beer) by exposing it to the outside air (it is believed that the yeasts traveled from the nearby cherry orchards). Though this is still done, it is likely that much of the exposure to the microflora comes from colonies resident to the brewery. As such, nature is deeply respected within the brewery walls, to preserve the process. Spider webs are left intact to keep fruit flies at bay, and a house cat assists in pest control. Nothing is cleaned with harsh chemicals, and even clusters of mold are kept intact (for what beautiful flora might they contain?!)

For other brewers, it is quite difficult to force the process through explicit yeast inoculation, and replicating a seasoned brewery is nearly impossible. The daunting time-to-market keeps lambics from being price competitive. So, it is a sad but real problem that it is far more likely for a lambic brewery to close than for one to open, and there are few left (Cantillon has been around for over 100 years, with ownership passing primarily through the family).

In terms of depth and complexity, lambics are unmatched. Beyond matters of personal preference, this complexity has technical reasons. Much of the flavor of beer (especially Belgian varieties) comes from byproducts produced by the yeast as it consumes sugars. Notably, the yeasts in lambics spend 3 years (as opposed to 1-2 months) consuming sugars, and consume sugars that normal beer yeasts will not. The flavor potential for the yeast is vastly beyond what is available to most other styles.

The Visit

There were 16 tables throughout the brewery, each featuring one of the offerings of the day. Most tables included 2 related lambics and the cheeses with which they were paired. Others included strange but fun experiments with lambics in novel contexts, including jellies and sorbets. The lambics were mostly the typical offerings of Cantillon, but included some that are limited, including the faro, Zwanze, the delightful St-Gilloise, and a 2002 gueuze.

Interestingly, the laws about dairy allow unpasteurized milk, which itself allows greater flexibility and potential for the cheese maker. There were some cheeses that smelled unlike anything I've ever smelled before (and sometimes in ways that were not immediately appreciated). In that sense it is a fitting pairing to lambics, who also derive their distinctive qualities from more natural origins. I was most impressed and surprised by the degree to which the pairings enhanced the original flavors.

I took a lot of notes and won't bore you with them here (I'll keep them typed up and saved as a draft in case I run out of blog material in the future). But some of the flavors require mentioning:

Counter 1: A one-year and a three-year lambic (Grand Cru Bruocsella) were both offered. Both of these offering are unblended, which let you taste what the basic ingredient of the beers are. It was educational to see how the additional years shaped and improved upon the "young" lambic (although the fact that the Grand Cru is selected for its exceptional quality may be the culprit here). Where the one-year had a sharper sourness, the three-year was much more rounded with a lot of nice fruit flavors (in particular, apple).

Counter 2: We got to try a 2002 gueuze, what a treat! The gueuzes are alleged to be capable of aging for decades. This one clearly lost nothing over the years. Bitter orange and pineapple, with a protracted finish that felt like a thousand pleasant pokes at the tongue.

Counter 8: The Cuvée St-Gilloise is a limited offering. In typical lambic production, aged hops are used so that their antibacterial properties can be leveraged without having their flavors appear in the final product. Quite the opposite here: this beer embraces hops and dry hops (soaks hops in the beer) for 2 years in the barrel. The flavor is clearly affected: think grapefruit pith soaked in tea. An interesting and enjoyable experiment! Interestingly, the gentleman serving at this table, who was really nice and fun, turned out to be none other than Lorenzo Dabove, one of the premier experts on Belgian beer (and probably the most respected critic in Italy).


In their tasting guide, Cantillon lists their Grand Cru Bruocsella as "in a league of its own [...] it's unequalled and eternal". I find this comment interesting because, in most contexts, such a statement would be outward boasting or salesmanship. Visiting the brewery, you meet the sweet, friendly people who make it all happen, and see how deeply they believe in their work. It is clear that Cantillon does not consider the beauty of their lambic as a product of their superior craftsmanship. Rather, they are paying homage to a creative process of nature, to which they see themselves as humble servants.

The "slow foods" movement grows more fashionable every day, and we hope to see it restore a sense of appreciation for real cuisine. Cantillon embodies the spirit of the movement, and did so even a hundred years before the movement originated. When I take a sip, I think about the work done over the years by nature and brewer to make that flavor. It is always worth the wait.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BUOC this way

BUOC is the Belgian national ultimate championships. We had not planned to play (rather, we hadn't joined the team for the roster), but were asked to join the 3rd division Leuven team (called Zeppelins) because they were short on players.

The tournament was last weekend, the second round of two. It was a 2-day tournament in Gent, about an hour north of us by train. What a fun time! The weather was amazing; cloudless days, 70s, sunburning everyone.

The Zeppelins were quite short on players; only one male sub and two female subs, so I was playing most of the time all weekend. We had some really close games and some blowouts (not in our favor). The last game was definitely winnable, but we were really fatigued from playing short all weekend and just couldn't pull it off. We ended up 2/5, to finish in 20th/22 place. To put that in perspective, this was the second round, so some teams had already been removed, and this was, after all, the national championships :)

The tournament was really well organized. There was a tent serving subsidized (or suds-idized) beer and food all weekend. Our coach Eric (great guy) motivated the team by making us owe him a beer for every frisbee drop we were responsible for (though if the game was won, he would buy us all a beer instead). We were on a huge sports complex with fields and courts from every sport, a big beach on a lake (or was it a canal/bay?), and we stayed on the campgrounds overnight. There was a party organized in the club house, and BUOC customarily has an award for the person who parties hardest (i.e., is the last to leave). We have no interest playing ultimate all day on a lack of sleep and hydration, so we left the party at 1am for good.

It was fun to see Leuven's 1st-division team make and play the finals against Gent's 1st-division. They played a great game but Gent was really a solid team and won it. Nice to see the hometown guys who organized everything pull off the victory, even if I was rooting for Leuven.

I was really worried about my play since it has been a long time since I've played a tournament, but I was happy with how it turned out. The ultimate scene here has some nice advantages over the US's scene. For one, you can join a team at any level. Consider Leuven, which has 3 affiliated teams at 3 divisions, the lowest you can walk on to. In the US, in the triangle alone we had 10 teams, but only one (the 3rd division women's team) did not have competitive tryouts. Most of the players played in college. It was really tough to get on a team as a pickup player, and then, if you don't make it, it's really hard to catch up, since, without a team, you have no place to work on skills, drills, conditioning, and strategy (which are primarily what are evaluated at tryouts). In other words, you're really unlikely to ever get on a team unless you're just an especially talented athlete or work really hard.

Here, you can join the team, and go to trainings multiple times a week. I've already gained a lot, if not from the drills, then from scrimmages where you play against people who are playing really hard (as opposed to pickup in Carrboro). Since it matters how you play, you're less likely to be casual or nonchalant, and that's where you really pick up a lot.

I also thought the competitive spirit was better here. In the triangle, people are really aggressive on the field, and aren't usually that nice. Here, guys were very friendly on the field, congratulating players on the other team for good plays (I have never seen that in a US tournament), making conversation, and calling fouls on themselves. The Belgian championship game, a Leuven player called a foul on himself that ended up being significant and leading to a point for the other team. You wouldn't see that in a US league game, let alone national tournament.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I'm really excited about a tasting at Cantillon that Nilam and I are going to in late April. The tasting is called, "Quintessence" and features an afternoon of pairings among various lambics from Cantillon and artisanal cheeses by Jacquy Cange (I don't know his work, but French names and terms like "artisanal" add instant credibility to one's cheese). Cantillon is the greatest lambic maker in the world and run a charming brewery; I'd go just for the flights of lambic but the pairing of cheeses and speculoos (among others) make it too great to pass up.

Though it promises to be an amazing event, I cannot get over one of the hilarious cultural differences here. Namely, though a beer tasting, there is no attempt to make this event even slightly manly. The name of the event would be equally appropriate for a jar of jasmine-flavored aromatic bubblebath.

And as they quote:
The visitors will discover a Cantillon beer with the best daintiness in each of the 8 rooms of the brewery.
Bless their hearts for providing an English translation, but worser men might argue that the words "dainty" and "beer" should never share a sentence, unless that sentence is, "he broke a beer bottle over the dainty dude's head".

Beer review: Mort Subite Gueuze

There is a split between "oude gueuze", brewed to tradition, and "new" gueuze, a variant optimized for widespread palatability and time-to-market. This is a "new" gueuze that I purchased at the local grocer's (in Belgium) because I'm keen on trying every Lambic in Belgium (there aren't that many, so it is a practical goal).

Mort Subite pours a pleasant amber color with a nice frothy head. The beer is quite clear, which is essentially impossible to do with the traditional approach and hence sends off warning signals. The nose has a vinegar-like acidity, with a cider character, and only minimal symptoms of Brettonomyces (these are wild yeasts which give real lambics their characteristic and delightful barnyard aromas). Flavor has an apparent, though one-dimensional acidity, and, like most "new" gueuzes, is corrupted by the sweetness of sugar. But, unlike most "new" gueuzes, the sweetness does not lead to failure here; it actually adds a nice cider/apple character, with similarity to the Rodenbach Gran Cru and is pretty well balanced by the acidity. Ultimately this gives it a realistic and refreshing fruitiness. I don't hate this gueuze, but I will not drink it again.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Played some ultimate with the Zeppelins tonight. Fun times, a good squad. The practices are outside a cool old abbey in town, which we didn't know about until today.

As to practice: there are few things as intimidating as keeping up with 18 year olds for an hour. Afterwords, once you feel a sense of accomplishment, you see them all ripping cigarettes after the game. You then realize they were playing with a handicap all along.