Friday, September 28, 2012

Bier Her! Bier Her! Oder Ich Fall Um!

"Das Leben is bezaubernd; man muß es nur durch die richtige Brille sehen."
~German toast

While most Americans think beer, beer, and more beer when they hear the word Oktoberfest, the tradition actually began with a wedding.

A big wedding.
On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (he would one day become King Ludwig I, grandfather of "Mad" King Ludwig II, who built Schloß Neuschwanstein) married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.  A fan of the Olympic games, Ludwig invited basically everyone (it helps to be the crown prince; budgeting isn't as much of an issue) to partake in the weeklong festivities in front of the city gates, including horse racing.  In honor of Princess Therese, the fields that held the festivities were renamed the Theresienwiese (eventually shortened to Wiesn).
The Fest was so popular that it became a yearly event, which evolved into what we know as Oktoberfest.
Of course, Bavaria is home to great beers, thanks in great part of the Reinheinsgebot of 1516 (you can read me wax poetic about the Gebot and other Bavarian Bier wonders here), so it's not a surprise that beer stands soon popped up on the Wiesn.
Today, Oktoberfest begins at the end of September and goes into October, and millions of people flock to Bavaria to join in the celebrations.
But if you can't afford a plane ticket to München, you can always celebrate at home.  Just remember to raise a glass to Ludwig and Therese.

Hopefully you've been celebrating our Beer Week festivities, which, yes, was totally scheduled to coincide with the first week of Oktoberfest.  You'll have to figure out your own festivities next week.  I'd recommend checking out the ponies.  Ludwig would like that.

In my homage to Ludwig and Therese, I opted to start at a favorite location that has its own long history in the Tempe area: Four Peaks Brewery.  The building that now houses the brewery was once a creamery, and the red brick stands out against the stucco that surrounds it today (check out the website for old and current photos - you'll love them).
If you live in the Valley, you are likely familiar with the two beers that Four Peaks bottles and has made available in stores: 8th Street Ale, an English brown ale, and Kilt Lifter, their best-selling Scottish style ale that is intended to be similar to those ales brewed in Edinburgh.  In fact, Kilt Lifter is so popular that the October issue of Phoenix Magazine allows readers a tour of the brewing process.
But while I adore Kilt Lifter - so much so that I managed to ship Megan an entire six-pack a few months ago - when I go to Four Peaks, there is only one beer for me: the Arizona Peach Ale.
I first experienced it when The Husband and I went to Teakwoods for lunch a few months ago.  Teakwoods is one of the local restaurants that serves Arizona Peach Ale on tap, and I was surprised that The Husband ordered it, as he doesn't tend to enjoy "fruity" beers.
"It's not really fruity," he said.  "Here.  Take a sip."
Fateful words.
I know, sexy pic.
Try not to be jealous.
Before you take a big, fat gulp like you see me doing here, you need to take a moment and bring the beer up to your nose to take in the aroma.  Immediately, you'll be transported from wherever you are to a peach orchard.  It's ridiculous, really.  Fresh Arizona peaches.  In your beer.  It's almost mesmerizing.  You get the flowery sweetness that is identical to the perfume of a freshly plucked peach.  But the beer is anything but sweet.  While you can taste the peach on the back end, the beer is a light, clean, and refreshing ale that is perfect for the Arizona heat.  The peach just finishes each sip off so smoothly, and perhaps the only aspect of "sweet" that there might be is that there is no bitterness from beginning to end.  There is no syrupy aftertaste or heaviness in the fruitiness of this Arizona Peach Ale.  It's just as perfectly accessorized as Coco Chanel.
So in the last few weeks, I have found almost every excuse possible to trek over to Tempe in order to have a dinner date or a "late lunch" at Four Peaks.
Because the beer is good, and so is the food.  Get the salmon BLT.  You're welcome.
While the brewery is in the heart of Tempe, right by ASU, you'd think that it would be a crowded, college hangout.  But in all actuality, there are only a handful of students that you might see; the regular crowd will include families and professionals, all competing for a parking spot close to the front door.  There is room for young kids, as long as they don't sit at the bar, so the atmosphere is welcoming for anyone who walks in.

I love the industrial-red brick combo on the inside.
Sorry, though, that all my patio snaps were too dark to use;
it's quite lovely out there.
Unfortunately, until The Husband catches on to my hints about the growler of Arizona Peach that I think should live in our fridge and/or the brewery decides that I need to have six-packs available to me at my local grocery store, I have to get my fix at Four Peaks (I know - first world problem right here).  In the meantime, I'll be buying that six-pack of Kilt Lifter.  And using it in All The Things.

Like a German-style spicy mustard.

And ale-soaked sweet potato oven fries.  Served with said spicy mustard and bratwurst.  Because Ludwig and Therese would have wanted it that way.

And, because no course of a meal should ever be without beer, a maple-ale frozen custard for dessert.

Let's look a little more closely, shall we?
Basically, when we planned Beer Week, I had originally only intended to rave about Four Peaks and their Arizona Peach ale, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to take the opportunity to play around with the beer, even if it wasn't the beer I go to Four Peaks to drink.
Having had great luck (and tons of positive feedback) with the Guinness mustard I made for St. Patrick's Day (a.k.a. The Great Brisket Freakout of 2012), I figured that using Kilt Lifter in a mustard would be a cinch, although I wanted something a little more spicy and closer to the mustards that I loved when I lived in Regensburg as a student.  Good thing I found this recipe from Serious Eats to play around with and tweak thus:

Spicy German-Style Kilt Lifter Ale Mustard
(adapted from Serious Eats)
  • 1/3 cup each yellow and brown mustard seeds (I've found that I prefer the 50-50 combo of the two different seeds over having a greater percent of the yellow seeds)
  • 1/2 cup organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (it should have "the mother" in it, although try not to use it in the mustard)
  • 1 cup Kilt Lifter, divided into 1/2-cup measurements
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric (this is what gives mustard its beautiful yellow color)
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
Drink any remaining Kilt Lifter once you've measured out the cup needed in the recipe.
Combine the mustard seeds, the vinegar, and 1/2 cup of the ale; refrigerate at least overnight (or, until you have a free second).
Combine the remaining 1/2 cup of the ale and all other ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until just boiling.  Remove from heat and cool slightly (I would recommend doing this about 30 minutes before you plan to mix everything together).
In a blender, combine the mustard seeds and their liquid with the liquid from the saucepan.  Puree until smooth, although the brown seeds will remain solid.  Transfer to a pretty jar and refrigerate until you are ready to slather it over a properly made bratwurst (read: not national chain) or dunk some pommes frites into it.

And speaking of pommes frites...
All you have to do here is cut up some sweet potatoes (or any potatoes, I guess), soak them in Kilt Lifter for 15-20 minutes (you may have to toss it a few times), drain them, toss them in olive oil and seasoning, and then cook on a VERY well-oiled cookie sheet, into a 425° oven for 30-40 minutes, tossing at least once.  If you are using sweet potatoes, make sure that, unlike me, you are careful not to let them burn.  Or stick to the cookie sheet (my definition of "very" well oiled sheet was insufficient).
As a note, since I was using sweet potatoes, I thought we'd need a salty, savory combo, so my seasoning of choice was Bacon Salt, and I'd recommend that you do the same.

The above, of course, are best served with bratwurst, freshly grilled and topped with the mustard, caramelized onions, sauerkraut, and leek relish, and eaten while worshipping at the shrine of college football.
Go, Devils!

But as much as I love College GameDay and cheering on my beloved Devils while horking down ridiculous amounts of pub grub and washing it down with a favorite local beer (I mean, HONESTLY, what compares to that), this week, the star was the dessert.
As you might have figured out, I love maple syrup.  If you hadn't, now you know.  So of course I needed to find an ice cream recipe that combined maple and beer.
It turns out that I am not the first person to think that this is The Best Idea For Ice Cream Ever.  Not like I was surprised.  At first, I found a gingerbread ice cream recipe that I figured I could use, swapping the maple syrup for the molasses and omitting ALL the spices, but then I stumbled across this fabulous recipe for Peak Organic Maple Oat Ale Walnut ice cream over at Drink Craft Beer (bookmarked) that I knew was Perfect.
Of course, I used Kilt Lifter instead of the Peak Organic, so at first, I was a little nervous.  A Scottish style ale is totally different than an ale made with oats and maple syrup, and who knew if it would work in the same way?
Well, it did.
The reduction of the Kilt Lifter made me even more nervous, as the beer has a smoky aspect to it, which really came out when it was reduced from 22 ounces to 1/2 cup.  I mean, wow.  But what also came out was an almost coffee-like bitterness that was fantastic, I mean FREAKING FANTASTIC when combined with the sweet creaminess of this recipe.
Which, I should point out, is actually a frozen custard recipe, due to the addition of the egg yolks and the higher percentage of fat (thanks to the cream and half-and-half called for in the recipe instead of cream and milk).
OK, so basically, what you need to know is this: the Kilt Lifter really made this recipe.  I'm sure it would have been really good without the beer.  But it was really, really, REALLY good WITH the beer.  Since it was a creamier custard, and the maple syrup so sweet, the coffee-like bitterness of the ale reduction made a wonderful finish to each bite.  I think that without the beer, it honestly would have been too cloying.  With the beer, it was incredible.
Since we had plans to go to a dinner party at the house of some friends, I opted to take the custard as part of the dessert offering.
Now, aside from the fact that I had to share with several other people, this was a fabulous idea, as the other half of the dessert was a homemade tiramisu.  And since tiramisu is made with espresso, it was a slam-bam knockout combination.

I'm just glad that there was leftover custard that I was able to bring home and continue to sneak by the spoonful straight from the freezer.
All right, Four Peaks.  You already serve your delicious stoutamisu, made with your Oatmeal Stout.  Now I have the perfect accompaniment for it.  You're welcome.
(Now, could you please sell Arizona Peach Ale in bottles or cans?  Pretty please?)

So now... in case you missed any of the wonderful Beer Week posts, please make sure you check them out.  Do it for Ludwig and Therese.
  • Kirsten (Comfortably Domestic) kicked off the week with an amazing biography of a friend of hers who just happens to be a home brewer taking that passion and turning it into a livelihood.  I'm making The Husband read this one carefully.
  • Jeanne (Inside NanaBread's Head) offered an incredible dark chocolate espresso stout cake topped with a caramel and Kahlua whipped cream (I KNOW, RIGHT?????)
  • Kat (Tenaciously Yours,), who also writes for Minnesota Beer Activists, made me want to move to Minnesota even more with her overview of Gasthof's Oktoberfest.  There's something for everyone here.
  • Madeline (Munching in the Mitten), my former student, made a pumpkin beer bread, perfect for those crisp autumn days that we don't get here in Arizona.
  • Anne (From My Sweet Heart) made beer pretzel caramels - can I get a yum yum?
  • Lauren (Climbing Grier Mountain) made a pale ale shrimp po' boy that may actually convince my husband to move to Denver in order to get closer to it.
  • Beka (Kvetchin' Kitchen), who is the newest addition to our reindeer games, jumped right in with a review of the Outlander brewery, which I MUST check out when I'm in Seattle next.
  • Megan (Wanne Be a Country Cleaver), who knows the sweet, sweet taste of Kilt Lifter already, made my German heart go pitter pat with her schnitzel and dumplings.
  • Mads (La Petite Pancake) whipped up some beer battered shrimp tacos that I am dying for right now.
  • Carrie (Bakeaholic Mama) is helping finish off Beer Week tomorrow by opting to focus on a cider (an early American staple) recipe with her Woodchuck sweet potato bisque.
  • Katie (The Hill Country Cook) joins up with us again to share her review of the Double Horn Brewery.  TOOT TOOT!
  • And Kirsten is back tomorrow too, wrapping up the week with a black and tan brownie that my own black and tan girl would kill to get her grubby paws on if chocolate weren't so deadly to dogs. 
And lastly, because we can't celebrate a wedding without music, fill your glass one last time and get down to my favorite German beer song (you can find the lyrics here if you want to sing along, which I know you do).

And one more thing - please don't forget the Life For Lily Virtual Run next Friday through Sunday.  Your steps (you don't have to run - don't worry!) can make the biggest difference for a little girl fighting something harder than any of us can ever imagine.  So find your favorite kicks, sign up, and make a donation.  Your heart will never regret any of it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night*

Coming on the heels of two fairly self-centered blog posts in a row, you may take pause at my sincerity, but various events of this week have served to re-focus me on what actually is important.
Hopefully, in your perusings of this little blog, you've read the Life for Lily Virtual Run page, and, even more hopefully, perhaps you'd decided to participate and make a donation to help Lily.  And I have to tell you that if Lily's story tore your heart out like it does mine, you need to read on.  If Lily's story didn't tear your heart out, that's OK, but you need to read on, too.
As I noted in my posting on that page, this is Lily's second battle with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS), and the family has chosen not to pursue traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments this time.
The thing is, there aren't other treatments out there.
And in fact, there aren't that many chemotherapy treatments for Lily, either, seeing as during her first round of it, she reached the lifetime limits on many of the drugs that are used to combat ARMS.
So what IS out there is "experimental," at best.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Alicia told me today that there are few, if any, alternative treatments for pediatric cancers.  Why, I don't really know; she told me something about how most of the medical community told her they didn't want to risk using kids as guinea pigs, but considering there are plenty of "clinical trials" for various chemotherapy drugs, I am tempted to scream "BS" in all its letters at the top of my lungs at anyone who  made that argument.
What's worse is that because of lifetime limits, etc., recurrence of more rare pediatric cancers such as ARMS, the prognosis overall is not good (I can't even tell you how mildly that's putting it - I have no words to actually articulate the negativity surrounding these prognoses).
Basically, during our conversation, Alicia said that there are members of the medical community who have told the family that they can try to treat Lily, but they should not expect any miracles.

And a miracle is what it's going to take.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Well, I'm sorry.  I am not really one to resign myself to the impossible, so here I am, looking for that miracle.
This is the part of the conversation in which we talk about accepting The Plan meant for us.  Knowing that Our Plan is often different from The Plan.  Which is rather a departure, as this realm isn't really something I have ever discussed here.
Here's the thing.  I KNOW that sometimes the answer to a prayer isn't the one that I'm looking for.  I can sit here and tell you with every ounce of rationality and logic that I have that despite my grief at losing my own dad, his death made me a better person and served to point me in the direction of fundraising for colon cancer and advocacy of blood donation.
But when Logos Allison comes up against Pathos Allison, there's nothing that can be done to satisfy Pathos Allison.  She's pissed off, and you're going to hear about it.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I can accept The Plan at some point, but that doesn't mean I accept it now.  If I accept The Plan right now, that means that I stop.
I just... stop.
What would be the point of continuing to ask, urge, beg, petition, entreat, and beseech you to sign up for and make a donation for the Life for Lily Virtual Run if I accepted The Plan right now?
I GET IT that there is a finality for all of us.  And that finality can might come suddenly, and it might be stretched out over time.  We might know it's coming, and we might never know until it happens.
But those final hours aren't here yet, and I will not stop seeking that miracle.  Giving in to The Plan doesn't mean giving up, and so HERE I AM, looking for a miracle

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Will you signing up for the Life for Lily Virtual Run make a difference?
Will it cure her cancer?
Probably not.
But it can help bring relief to the pain she is feeling.  It can allow the family to make better use of their time together.  And can ensure that the plans the family is making and will be making are able to be seen through.
And that's a big difference.
We never really do know what or when a miracle will occur.  We just have to keep working for one, looking for one, praying for one.  I will accept The Plan, but right now My Plan is to fight it.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Yes, I suppose you can tell me that I'm just in denial.  Maybe you might wonder if I'm not unintentionally hurting Alicia and her family in some way in refusing to accept Things As They Will Be.
Dear God, I pray that I'm not.
I pray that my actions may help reduce the suffering of others.  Somehow.
And of course, that miracle I've been mentioning would be good right about now, too.

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Photo: Dream Lenz Photography

*"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," Dylan Thomas (originally published 1951)

One Kitchen, Many Hearts - When Disaster Strikes

It was only a matter of time.  After all, six footloose and fancy-free woman scattered throughout the country seem to have only one objective for this bimonthly gift exchange: Send The Coolest Items Ever and Get Everything You Can Into the Box.

Mads, Kirsten, Megan
Jeanne, Me, Kat
Honestly, how the package that I sent to Megan a few months ago that had an entire six-pack of beer made it intact can only be called a miracle.
But luck, it seems, has run out.
However, we can make this a learning experience.  Please note the following important information:

  • Maple syrup can and will get into anything and everything, included items sealed (as in factory seal) in plastic.
  • The United States Postal Service will not, it seems, open a box once dropped even though it appears to be oozing sticky liquid everywhere.  Oh, no - instead, said package will be "contained" in plastic wrap so as not to contaminate other packages
  • There are several good reasons to move to the Twin Cities, and most of them have to do with candy.
So, let's start from the beginning, shall we?
Kat, bless her heart, put together a special package for me this month that not only offered me a seemingly endless supply of sugar products intended specifically for those moments of insatiable runger after a long weekend haul, but also some amazingly thoughtful goodies from her trip to our neighbors up north when she visited recently.  She said that she would be poking around looking for Fun Things to Source while there, so the second the mail truck sped off on the day that delivery was to happen, I was at the mailbox.
And there it was, a package that didn't resemble any other Priority Mail package I'd ever seen.
Or smell like one, for that matter.
It was absolutely covered in plastic, and I had to cut my way through it in order to get my mitts on the box itself.  The second the scissors finally cut through that last bit of plastic, I could tell something had gone terribly wrong in transit.
One corner of the box was smushed in.  It looked like it had been dropped almost exactly on the corner, judging from the "smush rings" radiating out from the now-more-circular-than-angular corner.
And the smell - it was sweet.  Almost cloying, but at the same time delicious.
I knew I had to act fast, and I ripped open the box and found what had once been a parcel sealed inside a seal inside a seal, now sticky and drooping sadly.  The second I picked it up, I knew.
Shattered glass.
Of course, curiosity got the better of me, and I gingerly cut a slit in the packaging to find shards of a once beautiful bottle of true liquid gold: maple syrup.
My heart broke, as maple is my favorite sweetener and flavoring.  You all can have your pumpkin spice lattes this fall.  As for me, if it's not maple, it's not happening.
But, there wasn't putting any toothpaste back in that tube, so, into the trash the bottle remnants went, and I dug around to see what other damage the syrup had done.
The candy bars were safe, but just to be sure, I tore into the box of Smarties the second I found it.
Fun fact: Smarties in Canada are chocolate and not the tart fruit candy we here in the States expect.  It was a delicious shock.  Yes, I COULD have read the label, but like I said, I was doing damage control and didn't have time to read the label before I ate the contents to make sure they weren't destroyed.
Oh, and the candy - remarkable.  Not living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and actually never having been closer than Chicago (not even remotely close, now that I look at a map), I had never heard of a Nut Goodie or a Salted Nut Roll, as these, according to Kat, are only distributed in the TC area.

Kind of like a Good Cluster, but no nougat instead of marshmallow.
Just as devourable.
I'm really not sure why their market isn't bigger.  The Salted Nut Roll has PayDays over a barrel.  I HATE PayDays, but I can tell you that earlier today I horked down a Salted Nut Roll like my life depended on it.

Missing, *presumably* eaten, from this group shot:
Two Salted Nut Rolls,
One Nut Goodies
One Smarties.
In the interest of harmony in marriage and all that, I did bestow on The Husband ONE of my precious Salted Nut Rolls, as he himself is a huge PayDay fan.  However, I can neither confirm nor deny that this act of benevolence is at all related to my sudden interest in moving to the Twin Cities.
Anyway, another casualty that I am working to restore is the beautifully embroidered towel, that was so lovingly placed into the box.  Since we are giving gifts, we all tend to use brightly colors tissue paper, and the syrup caused a bit of the green paper to bleed onto the towel.  Thankfully, I've got an entire book dedicated to the eradication of laundry stains, and green tissue paper has NOTHING on some of the laundry situations I've dealt with in my tenure as mom-of-cat-dog-and-child-at-once.  But rest assured that once the cleansing process is complete, pics will be snapped.
This brings us to the real star of the box.
The maple cookies.

As you can see, the box was emptied.
It's also now empty.
Sad face.
Oh, my word, where have these been all my life?
I can't even begin to describe how amazing these cookies are.  Maple cookies with maple filling.  Maple on maple.  A maple-stravaganza.  A maple-palooza.  A maple-mageddon.
The cookies barely lasted three days.
And quite frankly, I'm shocked at the willpower I showed there.
So, as I plan for my move to Minnesota, I'm also making sure that I pencil in monthly weekend getaways to Quebec to restock my shelves of this cookie in order that I have something to snack on as I sip my coffee on the patio.

Syrup-covered box or no, this was a great package, and if, in all the cross-country shipments we six have made and will continue to make, one bottle of maple syrup is sacrificed, I'm happy to take that one for the team.  There is always more maple syrup, certainly, but there is no replacement for the shrieks of excitement when The Perfect Package is opened.
Thanks, Kat - you did good!  Everything is awesome.
Or, rather, was... it was also delicious.
Even Zooey thought so.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go hide the rest of the Salted Nut Rolls.

Wanna see all the other goodies and sundries our crew sent one another?  Sure you do - it will help you brainstorm for your own package exchange with your besties!
This month, my package was sent up north to Kirsten.
Kirsten shipped her goods over to Kat.
Our newly hitched pal Megan sent a box to Jeanne.
Jeanne, who's busy celebrating 30 years of martial bliss with The Complete Package, shipped way out to Mads.
Mads, just married herself (what a year!), dispatched some lovely articles up to Megan.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Motivation: Show Me the Money

(Please make sure that before navigating away from this blog, you check out the Life For Lily Virtual Run page - wherever you are, you can help make a difference for a family whose daughter is fighting cancer for a second time.  Our steps can make a huge difference in this fight for her life)

Some days, getting up before the arse crack of dawn to go for a run that will end before said arse crack is hard.
And some days, when the front-room-slash-office-slash-home-gym-slash-game-room is completely trashed, with blocks, dolls, and other toys strewn about so that even Zooey can hardly manage to find her way across it to bark at a dog outside the window, getting a good yoga workout in is hard.
And some days, finding five minutes to pee without a feline, canine, or human audience much less fit in some upper body moves is hard.

It's easy to make excuses, especially at the end of a day wrought with impromptu meetings, crazy phone calls, emergency grocery store runs because we're out of milk AGAIN, and pre-bedtime tantrums.  In the seven point two minutes between the time my head hits the pillow and I fall asleep with the TV on, I get some quiet time to relax before my alarm jerks me awake for the next round in the morning.

So sometimes I have to look for new ways to motivate myself to get out of bed and get it done.

Regardless of the charitable events in which I participate, at the end of the day, I have to run for me.  I run for the quiet time; I run for a better night's sleep; I run for better health; I run for a smaller jeans size.  But overall, I run for me.  While I can dedicate my runs to others, as I do through my participation in important events, I can only run for me.  Not my husband, not my daughter.  Me.

Well, "Me" needs rewards and prizes sometimes (clearly "Me" isn't as altruistically driven as "Me" would like to think).  That smaller jeans size isn't here yet, and sometimes, regardless of how tired I am, Zooey is bound and determined to keep me from sleeping through the night as only a coonhound can do (I'm pretty sure she thinks "Are you f***ing kidding me?" actually means "Oh boy, Zooey, let's go potty right now!" since once she's woken me up and gotten that reaction, shes' really excited about things).

I need a reward that I can see accumulating more quickly than inches shed or a healthier digestive tract.

There's now more money in the jar, but I got tired of taking pictures.
Every day that I am active - by running, cross training, stretching and doing yoga, or even taking a long walk with the family - I put one dollar into the jar.  At some point, whenever I want, I'll take the money to get myself a reward.
Yes, if it's something I really want, I can probably scrounge up enough money to get myself that reward whenever.  But giving myself permission to earn it through moving my body makes the saving kind of fun, kind of like how some kids save up to buy The Perfect Toy.
I am being rather strict with what I'm "allowed" to buy with this reward money.  It can't be food.  It can't be running gear, although other clothes - ones that I'd wear out to dinner or lunch with The Husband, for example - are permissible.  It has to be for me and not for HRH, which is where the majority of my money goes.  It can't be combined with money in my wallet or on my debit card.  It has to stand alone to earn that reward.

Yes, the feeling I get when I get out for a run is a reward in itself, and I continue to revel in those daily rewards nearly every morning, especially now that it's once again cooling off at night, making for wonderful, fall-like morning jaunts.
But sometimes, a massage can feel even better than that.

What do you do to reward yourself for a job well done (or a race well run)?

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together - Anaheim Chiles with Blue Cheese and Bacon

Usually, when I envision a "recipe" in my head, it turns out to be less than thrilling on the plate - flavors don't mix well, the texture is icky, etc.
But this week, I had a stroke of genius.
Anaheim chiles have started making an appearance in our weekly CSA shares, and I knew we'd need to find some new, creative ways to use them this year, aside from the traditional chile rellenos (not my favorite ever).  So I started looking for some inspiration.
And I didn't have to look too hard - the recipe that was attached to this week's share was cheese stuffed anaheims - yum.
But the recipe was more of an appetizer feature - stuff, chill, slice, and serve on crackers.  And while that does sound quite tasty in its own right, crackers aren't really what I'm looking for during dinner time.  At least the recipe got the wheels turning, and once home, I examined the contents of our fridge, and I realized that I had something even better than I had imagined at first.  To say I was excited to make dinner is an understatement.

I slit and seeded those chiles.

And fried up some bacon (making a bit extra for HRH).

Then I mixed some cream cheese and blue cheese with a few green onions and tossed in the bacon, which I'd chopped finely.

I baked the whole concoction until it was done.

And then I ate the whole thing.

Oh, these chiles - they were gooey and creamy and tangy and salty all in one.
You want these.  Now.

Blue Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Anaheim Peppers

  • 4 large anaheim chiles
  • 4 oz cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 4 oz (or more) blue cheese
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2-4 slices bacon, cut into lardons 
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.
Set out cheeses to soften at room temperature.  Place lardons in cold fry pan and cook at medium-low heat until crispy.  Drain and cool on paper towel.
While bacon is cooling, mix together until smooth the cheeses and green onions, adding black pepper.  Chop cooled bacon into small pieces and add to the cheese mixture, mixing until evenly blended.  Taste and add more pepper, if necessary.
Slit each pepper, careful to only slice through one side.  Remove all the seeds and veins.  As a note, to ensure that all the seeds have been removed, I like to rinse out the interior of the chile and then pat dry.  If you like a bit of heat, leave some of the veins in - it depends on the chile, of course, as to how hot it might be.
Fill each chile with 1/4 of the cheese mixture.  Using toothpicks, seal up the chile as well as possible in order to keep as much of the mixture from oozing out during baking.
Place chiles on cooking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until chiles are slightly softened (you still want them firm enough to have some resistance when you bite into them).
***If you really wanted to, you could wrap each chile in a slice of bacon before baking.  I can't be sure, but it would probably be delicious.
I should also note that you'll want to have whatever balance you desire of the cream cheese and blue cheese, but remember that blue cheese can often be overwhelming, so I'd start with a 50-50 combination and go from there.  Additionally, the taste of the bacon mellowed during baking, so add a bit more (like one slice) than you think you'll want.

I highly recommend serving the chiles with a chopped salad of sorts, in case you get some that are a little warm or inadvertently miss one of the veins (or leave them in on purpose, if you like the heat).  I chopped up some cucumber, canary melon, green red onion, avocado, and yellow heirloom tomato, adding only a touch of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and pinch of salt.  The sweetness of the melon and crisp acidity of the salad overall made a nice counterpoint to the creaminess of the chiles.
Oh - and don't forget the local beer!  I've made a commitment to buying only Arizona brews for (at least) the remainder of the year, and ordering it whenever possible when we go out.  The Oak Creek Brewing Co. hefeweizen (Sedona) was an excellent choice.
This meal was a delicious taste of summer, and while we in Arizona are going to be sweltering for a while more, if you live somewhere that is seeing those summer nights starting to wane, you'll want to jump all over this.
Oh, and as for overall health of the meal, since I'd run 6 miles that morning, I felt like I needed something a bit heartier, and to be honest, I got about 4 ounces of the cheese-bacon mixture - everything else was veggies.  This is a great example of the vegetables remaining as the star while the protein, fat, etc., from the meat and dairy merely accompanied the greens.  Which, if I'm going to do meat, is really as it should be (as I type this, The Husband is smoking 6 pounds of pork butt and some sausages he's wrapped in hojas, so I'll just ignore the irony of that for now).

How hot do you like your chiles - just a bit of a kick or melt your mouth off?
What veggies do you like to throw together for a chopped salad?
Are you a stinky cheese or mild cheese person?
How do you satisfy "the runger"?