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Thursday, June 30, 2011

In the Pursuit of Beer

For a refreshing Summer find, I present to you - Watermelon Wheat Beer!  A few weeks ago, Liz and I discovered the joys of this fine libation at the South Philly Tap Room at 15th and Mifflin on Hicks Street.  The bar/restaurant is a find in and of itself - extensive beer and cider selection, full bar, and an amazing brunch menu.  Fried pickles, three cheese grilled cheese sandwiches, vegan tomato ale soup and a killer South Philly Cheesesteak Omelet.  It was a hot day and we sat outside with Nate in his stroller. A cool refreshing beer and cider were what we needed to whet our whistles.  On tap were many choices but the one that piqued our interest most was this wheat style ale with hints of watermelon.  It wasn't sweet but it had a hint of watermelon essence.  Totally refreshing, the perfect summer sip for beer lovers.  A week later, while were were up at Staten Island I went to the beer store to find something good and lo and behold, I found the watermelon beer - in cans! 21st Amendment Brewing Company out of San Francisco.  Normally I eschew beer in a can, lest it remind me of piss-excuse lagers of deli's and cheap take-out locations, but this stuff tastes great. And, according to the package, it ships better, the packaging is lighter, recycles easier and there's no light filtering through to spoil the beer.  I haven't looked around Philadelphia beyond the SPTR to see if other bottle shops and bars are selling/serving it so I can't tell you where to go find it, but do keep your eyes and taste buds open for a can or pint of this stuff.  It's so worth trying. 

In other beer news, I have a friend, Colleen, who has founded a beer aficionados group called the West Chester Beer Ladies.  She lives in West Chester, PA and started a group for women out in that area to visit breweries and attend beer tastings and events.  They've been very successful and have been meeting on a regular basis for several months, mostly in and around Chester County and Delaware County.  The Beer Ladies have been invited to taste limited release brews at several area breweries and pubs; attended Beer Week Events and have received a fair amount of press coverage about their events and group.  
A week ago, the group met at Quotations Bar and Restaurant, in Media, PA (Delaware County),which is only 20 to 25 minutes outside of Philadelphia.  This is a far easier drive for us so we were able to attend - what with organizing a baby sitter and then driving out of the City to go have a beer.  

It was Quotations annual Hop Fest week - so Colleen organized the meet-up in honor of the event.  When she got to the bar, the owner wasn't quite ready for the group and hadn't yet received all of the special beers slated to be on tap.  No matter, they had an extensive selection from which to choose, many beers from breweries in and around the tri-state area; most were from Pennsylvania.    The bar has a good menu - decent pub grub with a few twists on the fried and true bar favorites: chicken and grouper bites and shrimp parmigiana sandwiches; good burgers and a decent quesadilla.   The main reason to head to the bar, for us though, was to see our friend and meet up with some of the other Beer Ladies.  Enjoying some good beer and food as well as receiving some free pint glasses and free appetizers were joyful and tasty bonuses!

The outing was a lot of fun, making me think that I should start a similar group in Philadelphia, though I understand there is one already in existence.  My group, should I choose to organize it, would be a variation of The West Chester Beer Ladies and the old, Beer by Bike group I met a year or two ago.  I'd like to open the event/group up to other cyclists, ride to some breweries or pubs and include men and women.  Anyone interested? Summer's the best time for me - so perhaps we can try a meet up in July.  Email me at denine.thebicyclechef@gmail.com  or of course, leave a comment here and check out The Bicycle Chef's Facebook page.  If I get enough interested folks - say more than two of us, I'll do a ride to a local pub. 

A variety of hoppy and local suds


In the background, West Chester Beer Lady Founder, Colleen, with friend Brooke, in the foreground.

Complimentary bruschettas with grilled chicken and balsamic tomatoes.

A twist on a parmigiana sandwich; Fried Shrimp in a zesty tomato sauce.






Another complimentary appetizer platter - chicken and grouper skewers.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kale Chips and Confetti

Our weekly farm share/CSA produce share has begun and this week's box held a nice assortment of seasonal greens, including kale.  The beginning of the season usually yields a lot of greens: kale, spinach, lettuces, sometimes collards.  A small amount for a few weeks is okay, I love the lettuce and spinach.  While I like greens, it's difficult to enjoy the stronger bitter greens week after week.  I may be changing my tune though, after finally making a batch of kale chips.  These are easy to make, low fat/low calorie, good for you and as additively tasty as potato chips.  


Kale chips will be my new go to recipe for each bunch of kale I find in my weekly CSA box.  Should you find you have any left-over, you can turn the chips into confetti and sprinkle it over any manner of starchy side dishes: steamed or mashed potatoes, rice, pasta; over chicken or shrimp; tossed over a salad for a bit of unexpected crunch.  The chips stay crisp for about a day, so eat or use within a day for best taste or rewarm/crisp in the oven for a few minutes to make them crunchy again.


Kale Chip Ingredients:
  • 1 Bunch of Kale - about a pound cleaned/rinsed and dried
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons Light Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher or Coarse Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
Equipment:
  • Oven - preheated to 375 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Sheet Tray
  • Tongs/Spatula
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 Degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Clean the kale and remove and discard the stem, leaving only the leaves.  
  3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cleaned and dried de-stemmed kale leaves with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Spread the seasoned kale onto a sheet tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes; rotate the tray once and toss the kale leaves to crisp on all sides.  Kale chips are done when they are crispy and dry.  Season with additional salt and pepper if desired and/or Parmesan cheese.  Makes 4 cups of chips, loosely packed.  Chips keep for about 1 day.  Left-overs can be crushed to make "confetti", which will keep for about 3 days in a tightly covered container.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Riding my bike in Staten Island

 We spent a mini-vacation in Staten Island last week, visiting family, enjoying the sights and taking in the offerings of New York's forgotten borough.  Over the course of 3 days and 4 nights, we traveled nearly the length of the Island, mostly by car, but I pedaled along the coastal byways too.  Staten Island gets a bad rap — think the ferry scene in the movie Working Girl, or in any one of TV's Reality shows such as,  Mob Wives, House Wives of New York/New Jersey, or even from an episode of Sex and the City.  It's unfair because the Island has a lot of great amenities to offer New Yorkers and northern New Jersey dwellers.  It's only an hour and a half drive from my house to the neighborhood of Great Kills, and in another hour I can be in Manhattan via the subway and ferry systems.  My first time biking through Staten Island was in 2008, during my first NY 5 Boro Bike Tour.  On that ride, after it was over but before I boarded the ferry back to the big island of NYC, we had to ride through Fort Wadsworth, along the river coast line and through the neighborhoods of the coast guard and naval bases.  I thought then that it was a neat little beachy town and I wanted to return someday to explore it further by bike.  My 2010 5 Boro Tour didn't afford me much of an opportunity to  explore the area.  Having a family member live in Staten Island has finally given me the chance to see first hand just how much of a sleepy beach town it is.

This is a photo of the beach, taken near or in the area of Great Kills, which is the South end of the island. The beach/shore line is in a National Park, filled with biking, jogging and roller blade lanes.  On one side is the beach along the river side, the other has the bay and marinas; in between are dunes, protected grasslands and a bit of woodsy area too.  I trekked down to the beach, which was mostly deserted and found an odd assortment of the remains of dead animals — large fish skeletons and a dead sea bird or duck.  This isn't to say that the beach is littered with carcases, though one never knows what will wash up on the shore - it is after all the great landfill area and dumping ground for TV mobster fantasies like the Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. A notable finds that I was happy to discover was the mother lode of sea glass all along this shoreline. I found huge pieces of well worn glass in a variety of colours, from the basic and run of the mill brown, green and clear, to rarer and large pieces of dark green, light green and coke bottle shaped and colour green.

About four or five miles away from where we stay is a board walk along the beach that has a great view of the Verrazanno Bridge.  During my first ride along the boardwalk, the bridge was nearly invisible due to severe haze.  The second day revealed the whole bridge before me.  The entire board walk is about 3 miles, though there is a mile or two more of walk way before the board walk begins.  The whole five mile stretch, along Father Capodanno Boulevard has places to park your car, bathrooms, water fountains, play ares for the kids, tennis, basketball and soccer courts and fields.  Plus there are cafes, ice cream stands and a number of food trucks.  In season, there's even a beach club with cabanas, chairs and decking laid out on the sand.
I biked an area that joins the boardwalk trail and winds through a wooded area and ends at Fort Wadsworth.  There are several forts along the coast of New York City, and in Staten Island, at the base of the Verrazanno Bridge are two or three forts, where the National and Coastal Guards are still on active duty.  While this door way may look old and abandoned, don't let its weathered facade and fall-out shelter sign fool you. Inside these doors is a bustling workplace.

A car-free unobstructed view of the magnificent Verrazanno Bridge 
- from the road along Fort Wadsworth. 

 The Guard raising the Fort's flags for the day.

This is the original Fort Wadsworth,
 used in 1776 by the Revolutionary Navy to protect NYC from the British Navy invasion.  
My vantage point is above the fort, several hundred yards (at least) away from the lower fort along the river.
New York City, as seen in the fog and haze, from Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island.



The Verrazanno Bridge view from Fort Wadsworth. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Street Art/Photo Finds: THE DARK PRINCE


I almost always carry my camera with me as I never know what cool street art, sight or people I might see as I wander around Center City.    About a week or so ago, I walked down Chestnut Street from 18th Street towards Macy's at 13th Street.  As I walked along this very busy commercial thoroughfare, my eyes were drawn to all the changes and interesting things there are on Chestnut street - new buildings, old architectural details, countless bits of street art, graffiti and stickers. As I approached Broad Street, I began to look at the Prince Music Theater, a former movie house and live musical theater venue.  I used to work for this company, in the mid to late 1990's.  In 1995,  when I worked for the theater, it was called The American Music Theater Festival (AMTF).  The company bought this building and renovated it from 1997 to 1998, when it opened.  It was never a successful company; some people feel that  it was too innovative and ahead of it's time.  Others, such as myself, know that it was run by a wildly inconsistent megalomaniac who couldn't and wouldn't listen to calm and rational voices and ideas.  I wanted to take some photos of the marque, as the theater is nearly dark now.  I think the place may be open now and then for movie screenings, but live musical theater and cabaret acts have stopped.  It's a shame because the space is great and there isn't a bad seat in the entire house.

I never imagined that I would find a street art installation by an artist known as Dash.  I've been documenting his work for a few years now.  I must have over 25 photos of his art; one piece was even done for me, though we've never officially met - we just "know" each other's work via our photo server on Flickr.  I wrote about the piece Dash did for me a year ago.  You can see that photo and post via this link.  

The more I think about this find, the photo I took, and the Prince Music Theater in the background, the more I realize how perfect the composition and title are. It saddens me to know that this movie house/theater has nearly closed and gone dark because of the mania and incompetence of the woman who ran the business, literally into the ground. It was a crazy company to work for - and I understand it got far worse as the years went by.  Since the theater is nearly "dark" now the name that I chose to call this photo fits on so many levels.  I caught the building, the artwork and the scene in the cross-hairs of Dash's work. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Smithwick Ale Brined Pork Loin and Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Want to eat the most flavorful, tender, moist and perfectly seasoned beef, chicken or pork dish? Try brining it for a few hours.  Brining meat makes it taste better because the meat becomes perfectly seasoned inside and out through osmosis.  The meats proteins are denatured, broken down and restructured while the salt and flavors in the brining solution get deep into the meat fibers.  I brined a boneless pork loin shoulder in beer, specifically Smithwick Ale, a darker Irish-style ale, with kosher salt and a zesty blend of Mexican/Barbecue seasonings.  It was the best pork shoulder/loin I ever grilled.  To compliment the pork, I made a home-made barbecue sauce using the same beer that I used for brining the pork and adding a mixture of other unconventional ingredients, such as Coke and Soy Sauce to the sauce.  This may become my signature summer barbecue sauce and grilled pork dish.

Beer Brined Pork Loin/Shoulder Ingredients:

  • 3 to 5 Pounds Boneless Pork Loin Shoulder - trimmed of excess fat and silver skin and butter-flied open
  • 1 - 12 ounce Bottle of a Darker-style Ale such as Smithwick Ale, Dock Street or your darker ale of choice
  • 1/4 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 Cup NO-Salt Mexican or Barbecue Seasoning - a combination of cumin, paprika (smoked or hot), garlic and onion powders, oregano, thyme, ground black pepper.  

Directions:

  1. Use a large container with a tight fitting lid for brining the pork.  Trim and clean the pork and fillet it open so that it's flat and about the same uniform thickness.  Filleting the pork loin open will make the brining process work better by getting into the meat better; it will also cook quicker on the grill.
  2. Put the pork loin into the container so that it lays in it flat and evenly.  Pour the beer, kosher salt and Mexican or Barbecue seasoning over the pork; put the lid on the container and gently shake the container to evenly distribute the beer, salt and seasoning over the pork.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to over-night. 
  3. Before you are ready to cook the pork, take the container from the refrigerator and remove the pork, draining the excess brining solution and discarding it.  Do not reuse it or use it to make a sauce.  It's had raw meat in it and it's excessively salty - a bad combination!
  4. Preheat your grill to medium high for 10 or 15 minutes.  Grill the pork for 15 minutes on the first side and for 5 to 8 minutes on the second side.  During the last 5 minutes of cooking, brush barbecue sauce over the pork loin.  Pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit , or there's not trace of pink remaining and the pork meat is totally white.
  5. Remove the pork loin from the grill and place on a plate; lightly cover the pork with tin foil and let rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing against the grain.  Serve hot, warm or cold with barbecue sauce.


Home-Made Barbecue Sauce with Ale and Cola Ingredients:

  • 1 - 8 ounce can of NO-Salt Tomato Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Smithwick Irish-Style Ale or Darker Ale of Choice
  • 1/2 Cup Coke or Cola of choice
  • 1/4 Cup Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Molasses or Sweet Indonesian Soy Sauce (such as Kecap)
  • 1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 or 3 Garlic Cloves - finely minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
  • 2 Teaspoons Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Oregano
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Thyme

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  Pour the mixture into a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot and bring the mixture to a boil then immediately reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the barbecue sauce is reduced by a quarter and the sauce thickens and tightens. 
  2. Barbecue sauce will hold for up to 1 month in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.  Makes 2 cups.