Happy 4th Anniversary Hoosier Beer Geek!

Monday, August 30, 2010 - 
Hubs and I made our way to Sun King Brewing on Saturday evening to celebrate Hoosier Beer Geek's 4th anniversary.  We had previously attended HBG's bacon beer breakfast and were blown away with the friendly people, great beer and fantastic food.  So we knew that we would have a great time at the HBG4 event.
There were over 30 beers available, both by draft and bottle, at the event.  We were given our glass and started trying some of the brews while socializing with friends.  These included:

There were many more for sure.  Maybe my anticipation of fall and my favorite flavors were influencing me that evening, because I kept going back for Schlafly's Pumpkin Ale and New Albanian's Jenever.   The spiced flavors of the pumpkin ale were mouthwatering and the smell was intoxicating.  As for the Jenever, a juniper rye, was so smooth with the right amount of spice - I kept going back for more!  Another fave - Liz's (Rock Bottom - College Park) pilsner.  I couldn't help smile at the nod to the PBR taste.  Great job Liz!

Among all of the great beer tastes, there was also some fantastic food. Tamales from The Tamale Place were in abundance - featuring 8 or so different options to choose from.  I had this goal to try them all, but only made it to two (it was quite an ambitious goal - these tamales were huge!)  I devoured the spicy chicken in green sauce and then took a few bites from the hot & spicy pork.  I had really wanted to try the black bean & cheese, but just couldn't handle anymore.  Especially after eating the amazing guacamole and crisp chips that were also available.  That quac was reamy in taste and had the right level of cilantro and jalapeno flair.  I can't wait to get back to The Tamale Place (located on Rockville Rd - they cater too!)
It was a great evening with some fantastic brews, local food and new friends.  As always, Sun King Brewing was a fantastic host (see you on Thursday, we are in need of a kegerator fill!) and the Hoosier Beer Geek's delivered a memorable event.  Cheers - we look forward to celebrating the big 5 next year!

Wedding & 1st Birthday: Weekend Recap in Wisconsin

Thursday, August 26, 2010 - 
Hubs and I made our way to the home state of Wisconsin this past weekend for two celebrations: a wedding and birthday party.  I just adore celebrations, especially weddings and birthdays. Weddings are the celebration of a new life for two people, while birthdays celebrate an individual and their life.  What is there not to love?

First, Mr. & Mrs. C.Andrews were married at Heritage Hill - a historical museum that showcases the early years of Green Bay.  It reminds me of grade school and churning butter during field trips.  But the church was transformed for their ceremony, and both the building and couple were glowing.
The reception was at Rock Garden, which is now 1951 Conference Center or something similar as it is linked to a Comfort Suites I believe.  We have had a few wedding receptions already this year, but I will always remember my brother's as the first I went to at this establishment.  The service was great, food was good, but honestly, I have to mention their wedding cake.  Confession - I LOVE wedding cake (who doesn't?)  Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo as I probably consumed it way too quickly.  The server informed me that it was a raspberry chocolate and vanilla swirl.  However, when it was set in front of me, it looked more like a layered cake.  And to my surprise, it was cheesecake!  The bottom layer was a chocolate cheesecake, then a layer of of raspberry filling, topped with white cake.  It was oh so good - one of the best I've had yet!
The other event - our nephew's birthday party!  We are honored to be his godparents - any time we get to spend with this cute little mister is well worth any driving distance.  Happy first birthday to my darling nephew, Ahren!  The party was adorable, and I went 'bananas' over the monkey theme!
The guests enjoyed a chocolate and white layered cake, while Mr. Ahren got to have his very own banana cake (sans eggs.)  It was so funny, because he was protesting at first, but he got the hang of it eventually.  Too cute (& did I mention hilarious!)
Hubs and I started a college fund for him, but to make it fun right now, we also gave him an adorable stuffed Mickey.  I mean, who doesn't need a little Disney in their life?
He's going to love The Mouse whether he knows it or not...
Short and quick weekend due to the drive, but worth it to see family and friends!

Tim & I with our nieces & nephew!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Part III: The 'Other' Rides

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - 
I'm delayed, and I apologize.  I'm slowly catching up on the vacation recap.  After this post, only one more Wizarding World of Harry Potter post to describe the streets of Hogwarts.  However, the "other" rides definitely played a part of the experience.  There are two rides besides the Forbidden Journey to round out the ride amusement of this magical world.  They include:
  • Flight of the Hippogriff (formerly known as the Flight of the Unicorn I believe)
  • The Dragon Challenge (formerly known as the Dueling Dragons)
Flight of the Hippogriff is a child appropriate ride, but of course, we had to ride it.  The Hippogriff is a magical creature from Hagrid's (gamekeeper and Prof. of Magical Creatures.)  With the head of an eagle and body of a horse, Buckbeak (a specific Hippogriff from the books/movies) flies Harry and company through the skies, and in this ride, you get to ride the creature!  

The ride queue moved very quickly, we were maybe in line for 10 minutes.  And throughout the queue, you were able to see Hagrid's hut and surrounding area.  What would have made this that much more entertaining was if you got to walk through the hut rather than just looking at it.  But I understand it is a small area, and I was appreciative of all the pumpkins (my fave!)
The ride was definitely more thrill than I was anticipating.  But yes, still child appropriate.  No loops or anything, so your friends who do not like roller coasters will be fine.  It was very quick, less than one minute, ride.  But with a 10 minute wait, I wasn't complaining.

The Dragon Challenge was more of a thrill roller coaster.  The queue went by very quickly and was focused on the Triwizard Tournament.  As you were walking, you saw banners cheering for the students of choice from the particular school that you would cheer for, including Hogwarts, Beauxbatons (which is an all girls school) and Durmstrang (all male.)
Inside, it was SO dark. I managed to take a few photos with my phone - including the Triwizard Cup and Golden Egg. 
There was also the candlelight ceiling, like what you would expect in the Great Hall.  It looked amazing at candles seemed to float over you, but because of the darkness, photos just weren't turning out.  Here is a video, I know it isn't much, but at least you can see a flicker here and there and listen to some beautiful HP music!

Besides those items, there wasn't much to look at.  Seemed very much like a dungeon.  I was surprised, Universal could have done much more with jazzing up that queue - maybe they will in the future as it will need it.

When you arrived to the actually ride portion, you had to choose the Chinese Fireball or Hungarian Horntail.  We choose the shorter line, which happened to be the Chinese Fireball.  We opted to wait just a little longer so we could have front row seats of the excitement (there is a separate line to do so.)  Both tracks run at the same time as you twist and turn your way through the ride.  At one point, it looks like you are going to collide with the other dragon only to do a loop and continue to scream some more.  It was exciting, a great roller coaster that hasn't changed from the original form.
All in all, the two rides were great additions to keep everyone happy.  Of course, the Forbidden Journey was just so amazing that it is hard to compare these two - just so different. 

Next up - the rest of Hogsmeade!

A Tasting of Australia

Friday, August 20, 2010 - 
Tastings is easily becoming a Wednesday tradition for the hubs and I.  As you may have read, I can't say enough about how great the food, wine, company and staff are at this establishment. 

This Wednesday was no different when it came to great food and fantastic wine pairings.  We were invited to kick back and relax as we were whisked away on a tasteful journey to Australia.

We began with a sparkling red by NV Engine Room.  To say I was surprised by my first sparkling red would be an understatement.  Light on the palate as a sparkling, but with berry tones of a red, it got better with each sip.  Perfect sparkling to enjoy as we prepared for an evening of great food.

As we sipped on the aperitif, we were also poured a tasting of Torbreck's Woodcutter's Semillon.  This white had the creaminess of a chardonnay, alluding to a nutty flavor of almonds.  At the same time, the palate was covered with subtle exotic fruit flavors.  Brian's extensive wine knowledge shined through as he explained why it would work well with Chef Steven's Fish & Chips. 

My favorite of the evening - Turbot sashimi over a kiwi-lychee relish.  The citrus flavors burst in your mouth as the grapefruit aioli complimented the white fish and relish.  The "chips" were crisped lemon potatoes, giving the perfect amount of crunch and saltiness to the dish.  I loved the citrus flavors as they highlighted the fish.  And to hubs surprise, no "fishiness" was present - just delish.

Two Hand's shiraz, Angel's Share, led to an interesting learning experience of shiraz vs. syrah.  This educational moment from Tastings led to the understanding of regions and how they impact the names.  The conversation continued as we enjoyed the bold shiraz.  All of the rich flavors of licorice, coffee and pepper jumped out as they lingered on the tongue.  I love the flavors of shiraz, and it always makes me crave a meaty dish.  Steven came through with his version of a meat pie.

Barbecued chicken and braised fennel were served in a flaky pastry crust, served on top off a plum and quince chutney.  The earthy plum flavors complimented the hearty barbecue sauce of the dish.  My favorite was how the queso blanco on top cut the richness of the barbecue with its own smooth flavors.

After our great shiraz conversation, I was excited to be presented with Mr. Black's Concoction for our third course.  Another from Barossa, the deep red shiraz delivered on all the fantastic flavors.  It had a great intensity of being full and spicy, leaving me wanting more.  And the marketing! I absolutely loved the bottle and could see how when perusing the store shelves, I would easily pick this up. With a shiraz like this, another rich flavor like lamb was just what my taste buds craved.

The lamb was so flavorful and tender on it's own, but the red currant and shiraz reduction took it to a whole new level.  The sweet chili couscous was perfect as the buttery taste mixed with the sweet but spicy flavors.  The lamb and couscous were perfect as they melted together in your mouth.  I was extremely thankful for the extra portions on this dish!

For our finale, we were poured a tasting of Yalumba's Botrytis Viognier, part of their Hand-Picked series.  This 2008 vintage was sweet and flavorful as expected. Unfortunately, I did not try it by itself, as I had already dove into the dessert - lamingtons.  Creamy and rich pound cake, I could eat it alone.  But after it having soaked in the flavors of both Grand Marnier and Dumante, I may never have it solo again.  And then drizzled with a white chocolate ganache?  Incredible.  Both macademia nuts and cashews were chopped up and sprinkled on top of these pound cake popsicles before presented on a smear of mango preserves.  Heaven.  All the rich flavors were cut so perfectly with the Viognier, it was a sweet paradise and an amazing note to end on.

Trust me, you won't want to miss out on these upcoming events:

  • Winemaker Series: Charles Smith (Sept. 1)
  • Truly Progressive (Sept. 8)
  • Varietal Series: The Blends (Sept. 15)
  • Regional Series: Napa in Nap Town (Sept. 22)
  • Truly Progressive (Sept. 29)

Chef Steven will also be at DigINdiana (twitter: @digIndiana), so if you want to try some of his great creations, purchase your ticket for DigINdiana today.  This event will showcase local foods and restaurants with tastings, demonstrations and live music.  You don't want to miss it - August 29th at White River State Park.  Purchase your tickets on the website - I'll see you there (or you can follow me day of on twitter - @angieahrens.)

And don't forget to reserve your spot at one of the upcoming Tastings event - you won't want to miss out on another great night from Steven & Brian!

Marriott & Leinenkugel's Craft Beer Dinner

Thursday, August 19, 2010 - 
Friend and colleague, AB, has recently joined the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown property as a sales manager, and I was thrilled to hear from her last week.  She called not only to tell the news, but to also invite the hubs and I to an evening with the wonderful Marriott staff.  Little did I know that this "beer dinner" would feature my home state love, Leinies!

Yes, I know.  Miller (I'm sorry, MillerCoors, that will take a while to get used to) now owns the Leinenkugel Brewing Company and you can get their product from all over.  However, my love for these beverages is true to the Chippewa Falls, WI nature.  From my first HoneyBear (combo of the Honey Weiss & Berry Weiss) at the Bar East to my parents delivering me cases in Massachusetts when I was in college (because at that point, you couldn't get it anywhere outside of Wisco, Illinois and maybe Minnesota), I've always enjoyed it.  So yes, I was excited for this dinner and the wonderful pairing of Marriott food and liquid refreshments.

After a bit of mingling, we sat down and began a walk through on the creation of beer.  Basic lessons ranging from the four main ingredients (barley, hops, water and wheat) to the history of Leinies. We were all anxious to begin, and just like that, the first appetizer came out and the pouring began.

We began with the Summer Shandy, which is an American specialty lager.  Great summer beer because of the lemony flavor and carbonation.  This refreshing beverage is currently only available in the summer (love the seasonals) and goes great with a light pairing.  For instance, how about tuna? (*Excuse the lack of photo, I don't know how I missed it, but if you try hard, you can see it in the upper left hand corner of the menu photo.  But thank you Leinenkugel website for allowing me to utilize your photo.)
The paired food was tuna tsoi, served over thinly sliced cucumber and topped with herbs and crisp lotus root.  The dressing of soy and honey were also included to complete the Asian taste of the dish.  I love tuna, so I was ecstatic with this combo.  I had never had lotus root and was excited to try something new.  The slight crunch was great as it added something to the tuna's texture, which was of a ground consistency.

The second course began with a pouring of my go-to Leinie's beverage - Honey Weiss.  Also a palette pleaser, you can taste the honey through this wheat lager.  It is available all year (which I don't believe was the case always...) and is my favorite when mixed with the Berry Weiss, which we'll get to later.  I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of Leinie's biggest sellers, it really is a refreshing beer.

The words "quesadilla" and "cheese" explain why the second course was the hubs favorite.  A uniquely presented steak quesadilla served with tomato jalapeno pico set the tone for the Mexican dish.  There was a drizzle of cayenne oil, which didn't have much spice to it, and a dollop of avocado mayo. Lots of cheese, I didn't really taste too much of the other quesadilla fillings, but the pico was perfectly seasoned.  The coolness of the avocado mayo was a great accompaniment to the final bites. 

The third pairing was one of my favorites, the Sunset Wheat.  The herb and spice wheat was, once again, I believe only available as a seasonal American Wheat at one point, but now you can purchase it all year long.  It is a perfect beer to match with a light but earthy dish as it cleanses your mouth with a spicey finish.  I really do enjoy it sitting by the lake on a fine Wisconsin (or any state) evening.  You can see the sampling pictured with the paired salad.

To compliment the Sunset Wheat, the chefs presented us with our salad course.  There was a Mediterranean theme going on as we were presented with a crispy flatbread wrap, stuffed with Spring greens.  This was a drop of goat cheese (you know how much I love goat cheese?!) and accompanied by blueberries, mandarin oranges, beets and pecans.  There was also a basil oil with citrus accompaniments which worked well to bring out all the fruit flavors.  The fried flatbread wasn't heavy at all and gave a perfect crunch (with the pecans) to the salad.  And of course, the goat cheese's smooth creamy finish perfectly cut the citrus.  This was my favorite - it was a great combination.

For the entree, we were served the vienna style lager, Classic Amber.  I normally do not drink this, and after tasting it again, I found myself asking 'why not?'  Its name says it all - a classic red lager that you could easily drink more than one of, with or without your all American meal.  But in this case, we were served the all American meal, and this lager really shined through to compliment the dish..

We were served a glazed pork chop with broccolini and baby yukon potatoes.  The rustic apple compote was a lifesaver, because unfortunately, the pork chop was quite dry.  The apples offered a sweet bite to compliment the bourbon glaze, but it still fell a little short.  There was something about the broccolini that really stood out, a spice that gave it a slightly sweet but rustic taste which would have been a perfect match if all the components were brought together.

Duo was the theme for the final course - dessert!  To showcase how beer can really compliment any dish, we were encouraged to really play with two Leinie's beers.  First, the Creamy Dark - dark lager (and my father's favorite) is smooth and not too heavy.  It was the perfect beer to match with something heavy (like chocolate cake) as the two tastes match really well.  The second, which is my second favorite (after the Honey Weiss) and other half to my HoneyBear, the Berry Weiss.  This fruity wheat is that - fruity.  Made from trio of WI berries (logan, elder and blackberry) it is now available all year long (so you can enjoy HoneyBear's every day!)

The food accompaniment was a duo of chocolate terrine and vanilla bean cheesecake.  The wafer included wasn't necessary, and it didn't have too much flavor. If anything, it just broke up the creamy texture of the two desserts. The raspberry puree was fantastic with the terrine adding a fruit companion to the deep chocolate.  There was a sort of ganache on one side, and it was luscious (but once again, those two beers made it that much better!)  I wasn't a huge fan of the cheesecake, and I think it was because I was disappointed in the vanilla bean flavor that wasn't standing out.  But vanilla and berries - a great combo for sure!

It was a great evening to enjoy some of my favorite beers, great food and even more fantastic company.  Much thank you to Chef Jennifer, as this was her first event as a chef!  She did a great job with the menu, and I look forward to seeing all the great things she does at the Marriott. 

A great big thank you to AB for inviting us, I look forward to seeing you more in the future!

Calzones at Home

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - 
Every lazy Sunday afternoon, hubs and I create our menu for the week before heading to the market.  This helps each of us wrap our head around the upcoming week's events.  At the same time, I get to spend time with my best friend.  Those nights that we get to stay in and cook together are something I truly cherish - cooking with T is one of my favorite activities of all time.

Last Sunday afternoon, we decided to forgo the listed menu item and make calzones.  We actually had some items around the kitchen that would work, so no need to go back to the market.  The essentials needed to make this lovely mixture are yeast, warm water, flour and then he added in some oregano and basil.
For the filling, I sauteed chicken seasoned liberally with YaYa-B seasoning. *Side note - my friend's father makes this wonderful combination.  My jar was as a gift, and it is my favorite for a simple grilled piece of chicken (though it is fantastic on many things)*  I then chopped up some mushrooms and shredded leftover mozzarella.

The previous Friday, we had gone out with our friends M&S to The Capital Grille to celebrates hubs birthday, so I had some of the delish creamed spinach leftover.  I thought, why not throw that in as well - this was ending up to be a "whatever I find in the refrigerator" type of calzone anyway.

Once all the layers were put together, I sprinkled it with some red pepper flakes.  Hubs knows this is my go-to spice, so he wasn't surprised at all when he saw it happening.  Fold over and crimp, a light egg wash and there you have it.  Two calzone's ready for the oven.
End product -  a delicious Sunday evening meal (and Monday leftovers!) 

Tastings: A Progressive Dinners

Sunday, August 15, 2010 - 
One of my favorite places in Indy, Tastings: A Wine Experience, has continued to amaze me with each visit.  Located in the Conrad, I have been recommending this downtown hot spot to anyone that I can.  Why you may ask?  The relaxed but sophisticated environment lends to the perfect atmosphere to enjoy wine and divine food.  And that is why I can firmly say that if you have $20, you need to spend a Wednesday evening at Tastings.

This past Wednesday, hubs (T) and I joined our friends for another memorable wine dinner (missed out on our last dinner - read about it here.)  This week's theme - truly progressive dinner, vegetarian style.  T and I arrived early to have a few wine tastings before the dinner began (once again, love how you can try anything without purchasing a whole glass if you don't want to!) and instantly our stomach's began to growl as we watched the 6:00 seating wrap up. When you make your reservation (yes, I say when because I expect you to, you don't want to miss this!) you can either reserve space at 6:00 or 8:00.  Our friends then arrived, and we grabbed our seat (there are no bad seats in this arrangement!)

We began our evening with the aperitif - a white gazpacho mary.  I'm not normally a fan of bloody mary's (it's the pepper, don't ask) but this gazpacho was nothing like your normal mary.  Made from grapes, apples, horseradish and cream to name a few, it was full of so many tastes!  Heavy but light - creamy but fruity - tart but spicy - the spectrum was all over the place.  You take a sip and think, "Interesting," and then you continue to sip some more.  The many flavors had you guessing "What is that?"  Who would have ever thought - gazpacho in glass, without the bread and beans!
The first course came quickly, and I was anxious to dig into the tomatoes and french green bean salad.  The green beans were tossed in a whipped vinaigrette, which gave it a sweet element.  I was curious to how this worked, and the chef, Steven, was more than happy to take a minute to really explain the process of flavoring the whipped cream with a simple vinaigrette.  Another thing I love - you've got questions, they always have the time to answer.  Included in the salad was frisee and the heirloom tomato tartare, drizzled with chive oil.  My favorite part of this dish was the tomato tartare - I loved the sweetness of the tomatoes with the chive oil.  I could have grabbed some homemade tortialla chips and had a free for all with the tartare.  All the flavors complimented each other so well -  perfect first course on a hot evening.
The wine pairing was a rose - Le Domaniers Cotes De Provence Rose, 2008 - to be more exact.  After enjoying the fruity first sip, I found myself shocked.  I normally stay away from roses, but I found myself returning for another sip almost immediately.  Maybe it was the combination of the whipped vinagrette, but I found myself drawn to the light spice balanced with the taste of peaches.  It was, once again, perfect for the hot evening.
The second course, made with all local ingredients, featured an Indiana sweet corn tamale, braised kale, goat cheese and a tomato cream sauce that I could have ate all evening.  This is a sneak preview of Steven's dish for DigINdiana, which is a festival of local Indiana foods.  Am I happy to have seen and tasted this dish!  I don't know if I'll ever have a tamale with perfect texture as this, paired so well with roasted peppers and the sweet tomato cream sauce.  Everything about this dish was amazing - I wanted a full plate immediately.  I thought hubs (well, me too) were going to lick the plate it was so divine.  Mark your calendars, cause you too can try this luscious dish at DigIndiana (if you can't make it, follow me on twitter to get updates throughout the event!)
A delicious pairing, we were offered the Italian Barone di Valforte Montepulciano.  Walking us through the areas of Italy, this Italian wine from Montepulciano was the perfect compliment to the tamale dish.  Full of flavor, soft tannins and an intense fruit flavor.  Not overpowering in anyway, I could have sipped it all night.
Third course was for mushroom lovers, thus it was for me.  Balsamic-roasted portobello with shitake mushrooms were set upon a creamy base of risotto and yams.  The farro risotto was melt in your mouth creamy, textured with chanterelle mushrooms.  Complimented with the sweetness of the yam puree, it was a dream come true.  There is possibility no way that you would have missed the meat.  These full flavors could easily stand alone, but together, it was a full bite of fall.  I would easily demand this dish to be put on the menu for a fall menu (hint hint Tastings!)
The wine to compliment the mushroom dish was the best of the evening.  A deep red from Spain, Juan Gil Monastrell stood up to the flavors of the dish. The fruit flavor balanced with oak undertones and lasted long on your palate with a smooth finish.  It was amazing - you had to keep alternating sip with bite to get the full experience.
Final course of the evening, I felt as though chef Steven was speaking directly to me because of my cheese love.  I adore a great cheese platter, appetizer or dessert, and in this final course, I was not disappointed.  Three different types of goat cheese atop three different kinds of jam on some wonderful breads were the perfect ending to this meal.  You had your traditional goat, melt in your mouth creaminess with the texture of a brie rind atop a berry compote.  In the middle, a sharper goat with a texture similar to a cheddar paired with a combination of berry jam (maybe some blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.)  And finally, a creamy goat which you could spread so easily over the apricot jam.  Heaven - the perfect way to showcase a truly underappreciated cheese by many, each one stood on it's own while complementing the whole plate.
Do you see how beautiful this combination is?  I loved it so much that on Saturday's farmer's market (Carmel's Farmer's Market is fantastic - I recommend!) I bought some Scholar's Inn bread and local vanilla and fig jam from Circle City Sweets in preparation for some goat cheese...really, the combo is so phenomenal due to the simplicity of the fantastic flavors.
To pair, we were offered an ice wine from Canada.  I learned that most ice wines are produced from Canada, and this Jackson-Triggs Vidal did not disappoint.  Normally, ice wines are too sweet for my taste (as they are for many others.)  However, it matched so well with the cheese, I couldn't help but sip it between each bite.  The taste of the frozen grapes was complimented by the undertones of apricot, leaving a silky finish on your tongue.  It worked perfectly to cleanse your mouth of the creamy goat cheese, but not in a way that masked the flavors.  This had to be the first ice wine that I enjoyed, and the packaging wasn't too shabby either!
Once again, another successful and delicious evening at Tastings.  Every bite gets getter with each visit, and I was so in love with this meal, I already signed up for next Wednesday's dinner event (Wines of Australia.)  I know the overall focus of Tastings is wine, but really, the small plates that are offered with the wines for these dinners can't be beat in the city.

Hats off to these gentlemen for a phenomenal evening - looking forward to next week and the many more Wednesday's to come!