Monday, December 16, 2013

What Happened to Food Network?

I know I'm not the first one to question the direction Food Network has been moving in, but something I saw recently on a replay of Chopped bugged me enough that I decided to put my thoughts out there on the topic.

Now, before I go and say my piece, let me give you a little bit of perspective as to what my history is with Food Network. I feel like I was an early adopter of the whole food TV thing. I can remember watching Bobby Flay cook before he was even part of the Food Network. Ready, Set, Cook (est. 1995) was an early favorite of mine during my teenage years. So, while I'm not an expert on food by any stretch of the imagination, I've been watching Food Network for close to two decades now and feel like I have spent enough time with the network to comment on where it was and where it's going.

Even though I never had any designs of cooking professionally, I always had an interest in food. However, were it not for my early obsession with Bobby Flay (and slight crush on Jacqui Malouf) I might never have started cooking on my own as early as I did and with the confidence I did. And while I was gaining the confidence to give cooking a shot for myself, I was also learning about a whole slew of new and exotic ingredients I would have never otherwise have heard of. A tomatillo --- in 1996 --- what the hell was that? Well, now I knew. And even if I didn't know what specific ingredients tasted like, I knew what kind of dishes I saw them being added into and that helped me come up with ideas for my own recipes later on in life. That's why I loved Food Network. That's what made it fun. I was gaining real knowledge that I could apply in my own kitchen.

Come to present day and Chopped is one of the few shows I still enjoy watching on Food Network. You get to see culinary creativity at it's finest while learning a little bit about all kinds of crazy ingredients. Do I care how someone makes a dish with leftover nachos? Not really, but the show as a whole is usually entertaining and semi-educational. For those of you not familiar, Chopped is a cooking contest in which 4 contestants are matched up against each other and they all must create a dish using the mystery ingredients found in a basket before each round. There are 3 rounds with one cook being "chopped" after each.

The other day one of the mystery ingredients they had was referred to as "sour beer". As a beer geek and a long time fan of Food Network this really bothered me. Sour beer is more of an umbrella term for a type of beers and not a specific beer style itself. The beer geek in me immediately thought "Cool. I wonder what type of sour beer?," but I never got an answer. Was the sour beer a  Lambic, Gueuze, Flanders Red Ale, Berliner Weiss, Gose? What was it?! I wanted to know, but more than that I would have liked the Food Network to tell us. I would have liked them to take the opportunity to educate their viewers about one of my favorite topics. Why would they even use such a broad term like that to describe an ingredient. When they have something like Blue Foot Chicken as an ingredient they don't refer to it as blue poultry and then fail to give any type of description. So, why do that with beer? Why not do what they used to do so well and educate us, even if it's just a brief sentence or two about "sour beer"? I used to be hopeful that Food Network would someday have a show that taught us about beer, but if this was any indication of what might be offered then forget it.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night by any means, but as far as food/beer and Food Network is concerned the complete lack of teaching that goes on these days is frustrating. Even Alton Brown, producer behind maybe the most educational show (Good Eats) in Food TV history is guilty of the continued bastardization of the channel. His newest show Cutthroat Kitchen is downright pitiful. In what is one of 50 billion cooking competitions now airing on the channel, the contestants on Cutthroat Kitchen have $25,000 that they can use to buy weird ingredients or implement weird rules for a fellow contestant to work with. One episode had someone cooking with oven mitts on. Another had someone forced to make tools out of aluminum foil. How is any of that applicable to the home cook? How does that help today's 15 year old version of me get an understanding of what cooking is and how it can be approached. It doesn't and it's a shame.

Food Network, once upon a time you were awesome. You brought me and plenty others into your world with simple shows about Food and free of gimmicks. Please, get back to that simple MO before you're so long gone there's no hope. And if nothing else, when beer is an ingredient on one of your shows it'd be nice if you could give it its' due. Sour beer is much more than simply sour.

Monday, December 9, 2013

An Poitin Still

I don't know why we were on that side of town, but on a cold rainy day a little while back Deana and I ventured into An Poitin Still. It was just at that point in the day between lunch and dinner where you're not full but you wouldn't turn down a tasty bite either and since we were passing the Still I decided I couldn't live with myself if I drove past once again without finally sampling some of what they had to offer. 

Right off the bat I knew I wanted to try the Irish Nachos. Thick slices of potato, liquid cheese, bacon, and scallions? How do you pass that up? The answer is "you don't". I'm not the biggest fan of liquid cheese, but every once in awhile I give myself permission to make an exception. In this case, I can see the exception occurring on a semi-regular basis. When the plate first arrived I was a little worried that the potatoes were either going be over or under done based on the thickness of the cut, but An Poitin Still came through with a perfectly cooked potato -- Crunchy and Creamy just like every good potato should be. They actually reminded me of the roasties I'm so fond of cooking at home -- just with all the additional toppings. 

To warm up from the rain we decided to go with the Irish Cobbler. I'm not sure why it's called Cobbler but this thick and creamy cheese soup was fantastic. I wish the Beer Cheese Soup I attempted to make a couple of weeks ago tasted half as good. There's not much in the way of texture but the Irish Cobbler packs a punch in the flavor department. I'm not sure what kind of cheese they used but there was definite smoke presence but was fairly mild otherwise (perhaps a smoked gouda). The fresh scallions were just the right amount of freshness and crunch to break up monotony of the cheese soup. I don't think the Irish Cobbler is part of the everyday menu, but if you see it on offer don't pass it up. It really hits home, especially on a cold day. It's the cheese soup I aim to mimic in my own culinary exploits at home. 

Lastly, I wanted to make special mention of the bar. I don't always make mention of the interior of restaurants in my reviews, but I think the bar area of An Poitin Still deserves special notice. It's one of the nicest looking bars in the area. In fact, it doesn't feel like a bar at all, but rather a friend's house that just so happens to have beer on tap and bartenders at the ready. Don't be a fool like me and drive past An Poitin Still. It's a great bar with tasty food. Make it happen!

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: Visit. One of the best looking Irish themed bars I've seen. 
What to Order: Irish Nachos

An Poitin Stil on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Session #82 - Beery Yarns

This months Session is hosted by Steve Lamond at Beers I've Known

I want to hear your beery tall tales, yarns, recollections(in a Grandpa Simpson stylee) or otherwise, delivered in the manner that you befits sitting around a log fire, favourite beer in hand. 

When Deana and I first booked a trip to Germany the first thing I did after securing the plane tickets was look for a brewery to visit. It took awhile, but eventually I found a brewery that was offering English speaking tours while we would be in the area. The brewery we choose to visit was that of Erdinger, makers of some of the best wheat beers in the world.

I knew I would have fun on the brewery tour, but of all the things I was going to get to see, I figured this part of our travels would be the least memorable. I saw castles, WWII concentration camps, hiked through Schwarzwald, and witnessed scenery that was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. How could a building that produces beer live up to that?

As this was my first time traveling outside of the country there was plenty of adjusting I had to go through. I'd never navigated a train or bus system, and I couldn't read or speak the language at all. I was pretty much getting by on danke, hallo, and sprechen sie english. So when it came time to figure out how to make it to the brewery there was a lot of trepidation on both of our parts. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost in a country where I could barely communicate. Deana was nice enough to look up directions to the brewery before we ever made it to Germany, but the directions weren't very descriptive. Without official directions on their website, we were left to depend on the words of some guy on a message board.

When the time came, we took a deep breath and boarded the S2 train that was headed for the town of Erding. It was roughly an hour outside of Munich and when we arrived it was cold and raining. The next step of our adventure required us to board a bus that would get us a little closer to the brewery but which bus? There was the one we had listed from the message board directions, but there was another listing that sounded almost the same. I hopped on a bus and tried to confirm we were getting on the correct vehicle, but the lady driving the bus only spoke German. Well, damn. Here I am, an hour away from my hotel and luggage and in a town I know nothing about. If I get on the wrong bus, where the hell am I going to end up? I didn't want to make a mistake, so I got off of the bus to give Deana and I an opportunity to collect our thoughts and figure out our next move.

Luckily, just as we were at most confused a new bus driver came by to take the place of the lady I was just speaking with. Either she mentioned that we were trying to ask her something or he noticed our deer in the headlights look and decided to see if he could help us. As luck would have it, he couldn't speak English either, but when I pointed to a map that I was trying to get to Erdinger's Brewery his face immediately lit up with a mix of happiness and pride. We might not have understood each others native tongue, but we both spoke the language of good beer. Not only did he confirm that I was on the right bus, but he drove us right to the brewery's front door. A special stop just for us! What a relief! And what a guy. He didn't have to do that for us. There aren't enough danke's in the world I could ever give that guy.

The tour we took was as good as any tour I've been on in America. They went through the brewing process, tell you a little about their beers, and show you all of the different rooms where mashing, brewing, fermentation, and bottling take place. It's cool, but nothing you can't get back home. What they gave us at Erdinger was a chance to make connections with people from all over the world. After the tour comes to an end you have the opportunity to reconvene in the tasting room where you sit down at a small table and they serve you weisswurst, pretzels, and all of the beer you can drink. None of that 2 ounce sample business. We got to drink beer -- delicious German beer. At our table we had the chance to talk with a couple from Newcastle, England and another couple from Berlin. We shared food, laughs, and talked about the beer we liked to drink. As interested as I was to learn about their favorite beers they were just as keen to hear about the Dogfish Head beer they noticed from the hat I was wearing. 

When I think back on my trip to Germany I have plenty of great memories to fall back on. But it was the bus driver, the small handful of people at our table in the tasting room, and our shared love for beer that made the adventure to Erdinger the best day we had all trip. Prost!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kali's Mezze

A little while back my Aunt was in Baltimore for a work seminar. As far as family is concerned, I pretty much live on an island out here in Baltimore so it's always nice to see a familiar face. I wasn't aware she was in town until she was actually in town, but when I found out I knew I wanted to meet up with her for dinner. But, because I didn't know she was in town until the last minute I didn't have a chance to think about where I wanted to take her, but I knew it had to be somewhere in Fells Point. The view, restaurants, and cobblestone streets can't be matched as far as I'm concerned. While we were walking the streets trying to decide on a good place to eat I remembered a restaurant from the pre-blog era that I always really liked. The restaurant was Kali's Mezze and it turned out to be a great place to visit.

Kali's is a Mediterranean Tapas restaurant. The small dishes served one after the other were a perfect choice to satisfy the three of us and provided a great topic for conversation. It also allowed me to be slightly more adventurous about what I was ordering because I knew if I wasn't a huge fan that something else delicious was going to be on the table shortly thereafter. And really, it's just plain fun to share food and be able to compare and contrast with a few other people. 

The one dish we are all excited for was the chilled beet salad. I love the earthiness and texture of beets. They were paired with mandarin oranges, a little feta cheese, and a simple vinaigrette. This dish burst with big bright flavors from all of the citrus and vinegar components, but it was cut very nicely by the creamy feta.

We followed up the beet salad with Shark Fritters. This is where the small plates allowed me to get a little adventurous. I would almost never order seafood for an entire dinner simply because it's so hit or miss with me. In this case, the shark was a hit that I probably wouldn't have gotten to know had it not been served tapas style. For those like me who are a bit leery of the seafood unknown, shark isn't "fishy" at all. You can tell it's fish, but the flavor is very mild and the texture is that of a thicker fish. 

Braised beef was next in line. Some time during the past two years I've become a huge fan of meat cooked over long periods of time. I love how tender and deep the flavors become and Kali's were exactly what I expected. The meat was tender and the sauce added that extra level of savory I've come to love so much. The only issue I had was the fact that only 3 pieces were served. It worked out well for us, but if you visit with a bigger party it may not have been enough for everybody so keep that in mind when ordering. 

Last in line, but certainly first in my heart is the dish I always associate with Kali's -- Goat Cheese Stuffed Roasted Peppers. Man, I love those things. The peppers are stuffed with the aforementioned goat cheese and a mix of mushrooms and herbs. So tender. So good. Such a great bite. Not everyone is a fan of roasted peppers, but if you are this is probably my favorite dish in which they play the starring role.

Of course, we didn't stop there. These are just a few of the highlights from our meal that night. The consensus was that the beer salad was the runaway winner of the evening, but the Roasted Peppers score high points with me due to their consistency at getting the job done year in and year out. Kali's Mezze is a great place to visit with a few friends. The food is excellent and the tapas thing is a great way to get conversation flowing. Give them a visit on your next group night out. 

Price: It can be cheap or expensive depending on how many plates your order.
Recommendation: A great place for group outings.
What to Order: Beet Salad and Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Kali's Mezze on Urbanspoon