My Sweet New Lunchbox

I got mail! From Japan!

It’s my awesome new bento box.

Which means…I’m going to attempt to put together some pretty lunches.

This may have comical results, but I read so many bento blogs that I at least have to give it a try.

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Beer Lessons: Beer And Cheese Are Better Friends Than Wine And Cheese

Everyone knows that wine and cheese are best friends.

What everyone doesn’t know is that beer and cheese are pals. Yep. They go way back, too.

Beer and cheese is actually a more natural pairing than wine and cheese — many wines tend to wash out the subtle flavor notes found in cheeses, but beer allows the cheese flavor to cut through. Neither one is overpowering; they work together to enhance the flavor impact of the other.

I learned about this fabulous beer-cheese friendship from Marc Stroobandt, Master Beer Sommelier (Can we talk about how much I want his job?). He put together a cheese plate and poured some Stella Artois, and pretty much turned my preconceived ideas about beer upside-down.

It makes total sense, too: beer is made from grains and water. Cows eat and drink grains and water. This kind of link just doesn’t exist between wine and cheese. Your new beer and cheese mantra: if it grows together, it goes together. I’m interested to see how much this link is strengthened when beers are paired with cheeses made in the same region as the brewery.

Different beer-cheese combos are just like different sets of friends. Stella Artois likes to let the cheese be the star, and opens up some of the subtle undertones that aren’t always easy to taste. Leffe, which is normally a very sweet beer, steps back and lets the cheese temper some of its sweetness. The cheese transforms the beer, and the beer transforms the cheese. Kind of like how your friends complement your personality and bring out your best qualities.

Learn by doing — next time, instead of a wine & cheese night, try a beer & cheese night. Taste the cheese. Take a sip of beer. Taste the cheese again. I promise you’ll notice something new!

Hey, STELLA!

Okay, so I totally couldn’t resist a good “Stellaaaaa!” (go ahead, do your best Brando impression) when the opportunity called for it

On Monday, I had the extreme luck of discovering that St. Louis is, in fact, a foodie city. Longtime St. Louisians probably already knew this, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t initially disappointed about trading Chicago — and all of its gastronomic delights — for the hometown of slingers and Bud Light. Suffice it to say that I’ve been corrected, thanks to the lovely folks at Anheuser-Busch InBev and Sauce Magazine, and my pals at FoodBuzz.

This lucky girl got to attend the Belgian Beer & Food Pairing Dinner, hosted by Master Beer Sommelier Marc Stroobandt, at Luciano’s Trattoria in downtown Clayton. Big thanks to FoodBuzz for sending me to this event as a Foodie Correspondent. I got to chat with Marc before the dinner, and have a meet & greet/beer tutorial with fellow foodie Margaret.


I’m pretty sure Margaret and I were both thinking, “How do we get his job?”

The evening featured three Belgian beers — Hoegaarden, Stella Artois, and Leffe Blonde — and paired each with a course designed by chef Marc Del Pietro to highlight and complement the beer.


Beer and seafood? You bet. The scallops were to-die-for with the citrusy, light Hoegaarden. I was amazed at how much the coriander and orange came through — these flavors are used to spice Hoegaarden, and they noticeably enhance the beer without making it overly sweet.


The main event: veal and Stella. Stella Artois is a crisp, hoppy beer with just a bit of bitterness, and a sweet, malty aftertaste. This sweetness melts right into the veal, and every single flavor on the plate and in the glass just works.


And, of course, there was a sweet finish. Before the dinner, we sampled Leffe Blonde with chocolate and found it to be very enjoyable; paired with the creamy panna cotte and tart strawberries and rhubarb, it’s just plain marvelous.


Every detail, down to the whipped cream, either matches the beer or makes use of it.

Think that menu is fabulous? Here’s the best part: (chef) Marc & (sommelier) Marc met for the first time that morning. If that’s not a perfect case of being on the same gastronomic wavelength, I don’t know what is. How it happened: (sommelier) Marc called (chef) Marc, and simply instructed him to drink the beer. Not smell it, not pass it off to someone else to taste, not make guesses about flavor palettes and whatnot — just drink the beer, taste it, and build upon what’s already in the beer to create a dinner that matches perfectly. It worked, and dinner was absolutely delightful.


Master Beer Sommelier Marc Stroobandt


The other half of the Marc & Marc duo, Chef Marc Del Pietro

In addition to feasting on a beautifully selected menu, I learned quite a lot about beer.


The plastic spoon has a purpose. Taste the foam of your beer on the spoon first, then drink the beer through the foam. This is best done when others around you are also tasting foam from plastic spoons!

What I learned: In order to truly appreciate beer, you have to pay attention to it. It’s the details that make a great beer so delicious and refreshing. Pour it in the glass it was designed to be served in. Pour it the right way (more on that later!). Taste the foam. Pair it with foods that balance out its flavor — try to taste both the food and the beer. Take note of how the beer interacts with everything you’re eating, and experiment with different pairings to discover more about the beer and the food. Remember that there are no set rules about what beer can and cannot be paired with, and that creativity leads us to a little bit of magic. And, most importantly…enjoy your beer!

Compliments are owed to Marc & Marc, the team at FoodBuzz, Luciano’s Trattoria, Sauce Magazine*, and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Thanks again for a lovely evening!

* Which, by the way, is my guidebook to St. Louis. I could care less about the Arch…bring on the food!

Chocolate Mousse…Overachiever Style

This happened because I didn’t have any small dessert cups on hand, and a regular serving size of chocolate mousse just looked small in the cups I put it in. Strawberries and fresh whipped cream filled things in quite nicely, and fancied it up a bit!

Cashews. Caramel. Charming.

Martha Stewart wins. Again.

More on these later. They were Cookie of the Day on Thursday, and I can absolutely understand why.

Mine aren’t as pretty as Martha’s, but I enjoy caramel too much to just drizzle a little bit on top.

Butter and Shortening. Not The Same.

So, I learned some things yesterday.

(1) My parents have not done much baking since I moved out of their house.

(2) Shortening does, in fact, have an expiration date. Even if it’s not printed on the container.

(3) Rancid shortening is one of the most foul things on the planet.

(4) Butter is only a semi-acceptable substitute for shortening.

All that aside, it is possible to make choreg without using shortening. It just doesn’t have the same dough texture — the dough is sticky and less friendly to work with. Simple solution: instead of braiding the choreg, make little roll shapes.
So…if your shortening happens to have gone rancid, and you’ve already started mixing everything else (cough, cough…who checks their ingredients first?), you can switch out the 1/2 lb of shortening for 1/2 lb (2 sticks) of butter. To compensate, you’ll need to add some extra flour — I honestly can’t tell you how much because I was just adding a tbsp at a time until it worked, but it was enough to make the dough not stick to my hands. Best guess? Another cup of flour.

(5) My old camera is not nearly as good as the other one. Everything looks so blurry!

On the bright side: no matter how ugly and pointy the choreg might look before they go in the oven, they’ll smooth out and look better during the baking process. I was seriously concerned with the sticky factor, but it looks like it’s not that big of a deal after all.

Want that choreg recipe? It’s right here.

Resurfacing

I’m visiting the fam for my little brother’s graduation weekend (hooray, little bro!), and I’ve found…my old camera!

It’s only about 5 megapixels (I know, I know) but it works and I can document my cooking again. That means no more posting hiatus!

(I’ll still be happier if I can find my usual camera, but this is way better than nothing. It’s also better than my phone.)

Choregs are happening this afternoon, and probably some other treats as well.