Tuesday, February 19, 2013

DIY Beer Dinner!

For the last several years Sj and I have been going to beer dinners.  We started doing this with some of the first beer dinners in the Twin Cities, at Wyzata's North Coast Restaurant when the executive chef was the amazingly talented Ryan Aberle.  I remember having a Surly Dinner there that featured one of the first unveilings of Coffee Bender done on a one keg scale.  When Ryan left the restaurant, we were driftless until discovering the Happy Gnome.  I have posted several times about the beer dinners we have been to there, and will likely continue to do so.  Over about three or four years of these dinners we have made good friends of fellow Gnome dinner fans Chris, Hassan, Carol and Kevin.  I have talked big about doing my own beer dinner for years now and a few weeks ago I took the plunge and did it.  Of course when the day came, we had ice, sleet, snow and wind to make the trek out to my place all the more difficult.  Carol and Kevin were unable to make the treacherous drive, but luckily Matt and Anna were able to take their places as the table as last minute replacements!

Blood orange and hazelnut salad paired with Belgian Blonde ale

As a homebrewer I wanted to showcase some of my homebrews for this event.  I like to share the fruits of my labors and also have a lot of them taking up space in my basement and fridges.  There was one dish I wanted to prepare that I didn't have an appropriate beer for, so I used one commercial example for the dinner.  Having a theme is fun: All Belgians; all Brewery X's beers; etc.  If you want to involve your guests in the process, let them choose a couple of the beers and then you can attempt to pair dishes with them.  I have also heard of folks having the guests bring a dish and beer and doing this more family or pot-luck style, which might work better for people with less time and inclination to cook all day!  For me, I enjoyed the challenge and really wanted to duplicate the multiple course style that our group has grown accustomed to.  A nice touch is having a fancy tasting menu printed out for your guests to peruse.  It is always nice to have a meet and greet beer as well for people to sip on while everyone shows up and gets settled in.  You can use this time for last minute prep, or take advantage of the time to talk to your guests and relax a bit before the big dinner starts.  I did both!

Thai coconut, chicken, mushroom soup paired with Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold

There are a few ways of picking out your dishes.  One option is starting with the beer and working on a dish that you think will pair well based on complementary or contrasting flavors.  Since I had my beers already, this is the method I chose for most of the dishes I used.  I wanted to use my smoked Baltic porter, so I picked a strongly flavored dish of lamb stew and used the beer in a broth as well as pairing the beer with the dish.  Make sure the beer doesn't overwhelm the dish and vice versa.   I had an American barleywine and wanted to pair a cheese with it--I chose a strong blue cheese to stand up to the high alcohol and hops in the beer.  The alcohol and carbonation in the beer also cuts through the fat and clears the palate after a bite of the cheese.  I highly recommend checking out the Homebrew Chef website for recipes and ideas.

Cassoulet with truffle, paired with smoked Baltic porter

Another question is whether you plan on using the beers in the preparation of the food.  You don't have to do this at all, but I find that it marries the flavors a bit better and makes you take some risks in your cooking.  I used my Belgian pale ale in the vinaigrette for the intro salad and paired it with that beer.  I also added a bit of my Doppelbock to the cassoulet instead of the recipe's white wine to add some extra complexity.

Beer braised lamb over IPA mashed potatoes, with hazelnut citrus green beans.  Paired with Skeletor Doppelbock

Use dishes you have made before if possible.  You are trying to do a multi-coursed meal and time management is tough unless you know how long prep and firing is going to take on those dishes.  Don't mess around with untried recipes when all your friends are watching you crash and burn.  I have made all of these dishes before and been happy with them.  Also choose dishes in which most of the prep can be done earlier in the week or that morning, so you have less scrambling around in the kitchen.  You want a chance to sit down with your guests and eat with them!

RIS and maple gelato!

Much to Sj's chagrin I am not a big desert chef.  We were lucky enough to have Chris and Hassan in our group:  proprietors of the Paciugo Gelato shop in the Mall of America.  They masterfully combined a few bottles of my Imperial stout with a maple gelato, making a fantastic pairing with the same beer.  If you haven't checked out their shop yet, they have a ton of amazing flavors, and have done Surly and New Belgium beer gelato before!

Overall I think this was a great success and I am hoping to do another later this year with new victims (um, guests,) to test out my culinary skills.  My favorite dish of the night was the cassoulet (a dense stew made with white beans, chicken, bacon and sausage.)  The best pairing for me was probably the lamb with the smoked Baltic porter. 

With the rattle of sleet on the windowpanes and the howl of the wind on the eaves, six friends clustered around a table sharing beers, food and good stories.  By the end of the meal everyone was vociferously wishing they had worn elastic-waisted pants--the perfect sign of a cook's job well done!

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