Zuppa Toscana - Inspired by The Olive Garden

OK I hate to admit it but you know we have all been there...yup that franchise of franchises. The one that many young men take their ladies to, or son's take their mothers too, or maybe its Sunday lunch...yup...you know it...The Olive Garden.  I have definitely been there my share of times over the years for all the above, plus a few more. The bottom line is that The Olive Garden is popular for a reason, it really isn't all that bad. The pasta, the wine selection, heck, in suburbs and not-so-cosmopolitan towns it is THE place to eat.  My favorite? I don't remember ANY other items EXCEPT the Soup and Salad combo which has been digested many Sundays after church (years ago of course).  I always order the Zuppa Toscana, and of course soaked it up with the never ending supply of bread-sticks and salad. Was the cheapest and frankly the best deal at the big O.

So, I figured I would to my best to try and re-create it. I have made it several times and have had rave reviews. I am sure there are other "copy cat" recipes out there, I promise I didn't use for research.  This is a legit recipe and although may not be exactly what you are used to after waiting in line for 90 minutes, I promise it is close...if not better.

Zuppa Toscana
(serves about 4-6)

1 lb Italian Sausage (sweet, probably not hot if you are trying to stay authentic)
4 slices of bacon, diced
4 cups of Water
4 cups of Chicken Stock/broth
2 large Russet Potatoes, diced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cups kale (swiss chard cool too)
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and Freshly Cracked Pepper
Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano (the king of cheeses) for grating

Remove sausage from casings and break apart. Brown with bacon and set aside.  Saute garlic and onion for about 3-5 minutes over medium heat. Add stock, water, and potatoes and let simmer at least 10 minutes or until potatoes are mostly tender.  Add meat and let simmer at least another 15 minutes.  Add kale and cream, let simmer for about 5 minutes (minimum) and season with salt and pepper.
Grate choice of cheese table side.

Don't Act Like you Weren't Curious - Sorting it out Between Ice Cream, Gelato, Frozen Custard, Sorbet and Sherbet

Aaahhh Ice cream, you scream we all scream for ice cream…errr…gelato…or is it frozen custard? Didn’t my grandma have sherbet or is it sorbet around the house when I was a kid? Wow…I guess I don’t really know.  Tell you what; let’s sort it out right here, right now.

ICE CREAM - Premium ice creams are made with fresh cream (not condensed or powdered milk), real eggs, and natural flavorings. Quality ingredients aside, lesser ice creams also have more air whipped in. As much as half the carton may be air, in fact. More air--or "overrun"--means softer ice cream that scoops more easily and melts more quickly. Premium ice creams have very little air added.

By (USDA) standards, a food labeled "ice cream" should have at least 20 percent milk solids and 10 percent milk fat by weight. Premium brands are fattier, typically 14 to 18 percent. Both milk and cream are used. Sweeteners account for another 15 percent or so. LOCAL FAVES: Parfait (Mobile), Molly Moon's (Mobile, Capitol Hill, Wallingford, Madrona, Downtown and now Queen Anne) and The Scoop (Spokane)

GELATO - Gelato and some premium ice creams are so dense that they require a slightly higher serving temperature, a perfect point where your scoop is firm but not hard and not so soft that it melts immediately. Gelato recipes usually include more egg yolks, more milk and less cream. It actually has less fat than regular ice cream, but gelato's low overrun makes for an extremely dense, rich and creamy treat.  Bottom line: GELATO = less fat + no air added = rich creamier taste. LOCAL FAVES: Tutta Bella (Seattle, Issaquah), Fainting Goat (Wallingford)

FROZEN CUSTARD - A touch of egg yolk is what distinguishes frozen custard from commercial ice cream. Legally, custard only has to contain 1.4 percent egg yolk by weight, but some brands have more. The lecithin in the yolk is a natural emulsifier, imparting a richer, creamier texture.  LOCAL FAVES: Old School (Bonney Lake, Capitol Hill)

SORBET - Sorbets are all about fruit. With no milk, cream or eggs, they depend only on sugar, lemon juice and fresh fruit for flavor. Elegantly simple and refreshingly tart, sorbets were the rage during Victorian years, when they were served as palate cleansers between rich, heavy courses. A sorbetto, the more intense Italian version, generally has more fruit and less water, resulting in a softer, less icy texture. The key is FRESH fruit, for sorbets made with cooked fruit will taste like cold jam rather than the best of summer frozen in a scoop.  LOCAL FAVES: No clue...I usually make it at home.

SHERBET - Like a sorbet this is a fruit based product, but milk is added for creaminess. But by law it can contain no more than 2% butterfat. LOCAL FAVES: Grandma's house on E. Sanson in Spokane - God rest her soul.

Insalate Napoli - Inspired by Tutta Bella

My sister has referred me to many great restaurants around Seattle, and going to Tutta Bella on Stone Way was one of the first. Immediately, I loved their authentic Neapolitan-Style pizza, their signature "italian" cocktails, and commitment to doing pie the old world way.  Their Insalate Napoli (Naples style Salad), is one of their very best items. More than just a dinner salad, this one is LOADED with good eating.  I have tried to duplicate this, as best as I can after eating so many times around King County.  Happy Eating!

Insalate Napoli
Serves 2

1 Romaine Lettuce Heart, cut into ribbons

Half handful of following:
Diced Chicken Breast
Gorgonzola Cheese
Thinly sliced Genoa Salami
Kalamata Olives
Grated Carrot
Halved Grape Tomatoes (mixed colors/tastes in mine)
Crispy Pancetta
Artichoke Hearts

Dressing: 1/2 White Balsamic Vinaigerette and half Caesar

The Ingredients

Rinse Romaine and lightly season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper (always season your greens!) Lightly toss with about 1/3 cup dressing. To make the dressing, I put in about 1/4 cup of the White Balsamic and Caesar into an old jar and shook it baby! You will have extra or you can have a heavier dressed salad.

Place into large serving bowl (a good pasta one works great if you don't have the deep dish bowls like the restaurant). Place remaining ingredients in the middle on top of the dressed romaine.

Set at the table, and toss.  Serve with your favorite bread immediately!

Ready to Toss and Serve!

Port Townsend Brewing Company - Strait Stout Review

Port Townsend Brewing Company - Port Townsend, WA
Courtesy of Foodbeat NW Contributor Bill Fishburn.
The Brewery
This month I am reviewing Port Townsend Brewing Company’s (Strait) Stout.  Port Townsend Brewing is one of approximately 13 microbreweries on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands. From their website’s About page, you’ll find they’ve been around since 1997 and they’ve grown their offering from just two beers to 11. With only a 15 barrel capacity (a barrel is 31 gallons, and it’s abbreviated “bbl”), they are a relatively small brewery, but don’t let that fool you.  They have some very big beers, and while they are self-distributed currently in only the Puget Sound region, they have plans to expand in the coming year and possibly seek distributorship.

The Brewer
I was fortunate enough to share emails with Carter Camp. Carter is Port Townsend’s Head Brewer, and his generosity of time was amazing.  If you decide to try this stout because of this review, please drop him a line and let him know what you think.  I had several questions for Carter, from a brewer, a brewing, and a beer perspective.  Read on or skip to my review.
Q: What first got you interested in brewing beer?
I discovered 'good' beer in college (UW) during my sophomore year.  This was 1995, and Red Hook, Pyramid, Hales and Thomas Kemper were kings in the NW.  These breweries, and especially my college haunt Big Time, opened up my palate and imagination.  From there, I became intrigued by the process, so naturally, I started to homebrew.  This was about 1996-7.  I believe it was at Hales brewery around this time when I became entranced by the smell of the boiling wort and thought to myself, "I want to make beer just so I can be around this smell!"
Q: What is your favorite Port Townsend brewing memory?
Well, one of my favorite brewing memories at PT is probably the first time I tasted the Luciferous Whisky Sour I made a while back. This beer was my first attempt at making a sour beer, so therefore a total experiment.  The story of how it was made is too long to tell here, but let's just say I was pleasantly surprised when I first tasted a sample from the barrel!  I still consider it beginner's luck, but I do believe luck has a lot to do with making a sour beer.  They are not called wild yeasts and bacteria for nothing!
Q: What is your favorite style to brew and why? To drink?
My favorite style to brew and drink is probably the imperial IPA simply because I love strong, hoppy beers.
Q: What is the single-most important variable to you in your brewery/process?
This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: cleanliness and sanitation.  Without a doubt, having sound cleaning and sanitation procedures is number one in my book to ensure a quality beer, especially one that may require long lengths of time to mature.  I have a saying that 'anyone can boil something' but it is the homebrewer who is detail oriented and quite frankly, likes to clean, that will succeed and make a great beer every time.
Q: Do you have any tips (process, OG, FG, special ingredients) for homebrewers wanting to clone Strait Stout?
The Strait Stout is made up of Pale 2 row, Crystal 40, Roasted barley, Dark Chocolate malt, Chocolate malt and flaked barley.  I think the key here is the Dark Chocolate which paired with the Roasted barley forms a hybrid bitter, dark chocolate character.  The addition of the flaked barley is akin to using oats, they provide body and mouth feel to round out that smooth character often associated with stouts which is further accentuated on draft as we condition this beer with nitrogen (it is CO2 conditioned for the bottle).
This is a single step mash at 153 with a target OG of 1.068 and TG of 1.016-1.018.  Our bittering hops vary due to availability but the time of addition, 25 min till end boil, is key here.  We are not looking for a ton of hop bitterness in this beer so shorter contact time in the boil is applied here (approx 25 BUs).  Our boil is 75 minutes in length.  For the finishing hop addition, we use Cascade at the end of boil (steep).  We use a house English ale yeast strain, so something along that yeast profile will come close.  Ferment at 68-70 degrees F.
Q: Brewer question of the month: What's the most unusual ingredient you've ever tried to brew with?
Besides the usual adjuncts like sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, the various spices associated with wits and pumpkin beers, and fruit, the bulk of my experimentation has been infusing single kegs with all kinds of things.  I like this approach because the risk factor is low.  If I m not happy with the outcome I ve only spared a keg.  Now, I understand that this is a luxury of a professional brewer making larger batches.  So to the homebrewer, I advise exercising caution, and when playing around with 'new' ingredients, be conservative.  You can always add more in the finished stages to compensate if necessary.
To answer your question though, I recently added dried lavender and dried orange peel to a keg of our Bitter End IPA, along with some dry hops.  The combination of the lavender and orange peel resulted in a subtle cinnamon like taste.  Who knew!
Q: What was the brewery's vision for Strait Stout when you began developing the recipe?
This beer was developed well before I arrived, so I cannot authentically answer this question.  But...I did tweak it some.  This was a beer I felt didn’t need much tampering with, but I wanted to be sure that it wasn't just a reproduction of our Porter.  The two styles sometimes are blurred I feel.  Make a stronger Porter and call it a Stout.  Well, that's the easy route.  I prefer my Porters to be on the chocolaty side and my Stouts to be on the more bitter roasty side.  In other words, go heavier on the lower Lovibond dark malts in a Porter recipe and the opposite in a Stout recipe.  I prefer a Stout to have a slightly higher finishing gravity to balance any roasted bitterness.  I also like to incorporate some finishing hops because we are in the northwest of the USA and we like hops!
Q: Is there anything you'd like to change about Strait Stout, or has the original vision been achieved?
I am pretty satisfied with the Strait Stout, although I wouldn’t mind a higher alcohol content (it currently weighs in at 6.5%).  Unfortunately, the current malt bill pretty much fills up the entire mash tun, so I would have to sacrifice run-off volume to do so, which we can't afford because of strong sales.  That's the beauty of homebrewing: business doesn't get in the way!
Q: Where can readers find your beers in WA, OR, and ID?
Our annual production stands at 2500 bbls, so we are relatively small.  Our size only allows us to self distribute our beer to the greater Olympic Peninsula region, Kitsap county and to the greater Seattle/Tacoma markets.  We are planning to double our capacity by expansion sometime in early 2012, at which point we will consider distributorship.  Even then, I m not sure we will produce enough beer to expand into other states.  We shall see...
The BJCP Style
WARNING!! The next few paragraphs are techno-beer-geek jargon.  If you don’t get into beer specifications and style guidelines and the disciplined approach to dissecting a beer, the next few paragraphs are not going to spin your plate. Trust me on this and skip straight to The Review. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the finer details of judging beer in a methodical and purposeful way, by all means, don’t stop now!
In the BJCP Guidelines, beers are judged on aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression.  When reading a style description, the components that contribute to these topics are listed in order of their prominence. These vectors determine the category a beer represents, and within a category, there can be several styles.
Stout is Category 13, and there are six styles of stout to choose from.  Based on Carter’s description above and this beer’s stats, I’d have to say it most closely resembles 13E, American Stout.
American Stout differs from the other styles of stout primarily in the areas of original gravity and final gravity—which are measurements of density of the beer before and after fermentation. Density, in turn, is an indicator of the amount of sugars in the beer.  They help to determine how much alcohol is in the final product, and provide some indication of one aspect of the “mouthfeel” a beer will present.
American Stouts typically present with a roast, coffee, and chocolate notes in the aroma, medium to low hop aroma, and esters that can be up to medium intensity. Some light alcohol aromas may be okay.
The guideline goes on to say that this style is generally jet black in color , although some may be very dark brown.  A large, persistent head of tan to light brown is noted, and this style is generally opaque.
The style’s flavors should present as moderate to high roasty malt characteristics, often tasting of coffee, roasted coffee beans, or dark or bitter chocolate.  There may be some malt sweetness with rich chocolate or caramel flavors.  Hop bitterness should be medium to high, and hop flavor should be low to high, with citrusy or resiny components.  Light esters may be present (this generally refers to fruit notes of some kind). They should finish medium to dry, and a light burnt quality is acceptable.
The mouthfeel is described as medium to full body, and somewhat creamy.  They can have minor roast-derived astringency and medium-high to high carbonation.  They can have a light to moderately strong alcohol warmth, but it should be smooth and not hot.
The Review
The style’s flavors should present as moderate to high roasty malt characteristics, often tasting of coffee, roasted coffee beans, or dark or bitter chocolate.  There may be some malt sweetness with rich chocolate or caramel flavors.  Hop bitterness should be medium to high, and hop flavor should be low to high, with citrusy or resiny components.  Light esters may be present (this generally refers to fruit notes of some kind). They should finish medium to dry, and a light burnt quality is acceptable.
The mouthfeel is described as medium to full body, and somewhat creamy.  They can have minor roast-derived astringency and medium-high to high carbonation.  They can have a light to moderately strong alcohol warmth, but it should be smooth and not hot.
I poured Port Townsend’s Strait Stout from the bottle at approximately 45 F, and let it warm slightly. It poured with a thick, finely bubbled head that was light tan in color, and persisted until the beer was half gone.  This beer pours a very dark brown, with beautiful ruby highlights, but it doesn’t quite make it to opaque. It is very clear, and light filters through in such a mesmerizing way I almost forgot I was supposed to be evaluating aroma next.
I was pleasantly surprised first by esters reminiscent of darker fruit like plums and raisins.  Holding a hand over the top of my glass to try to capture some of the potentially subtler notes, I was able to detect some wonderful roasty notes and hints of dark toffee, dark caramel, chocolate, a very subtle coffee, and a sweeter, almost molasses-like note. The complexity of these dark-ish aromas (yes, aromas associated with dark substances can be dark—don’t judge!) allowed just a hint of a mild earthy hop aroma to come through.
The flavors, relative to the aromas, were more characteristic of the style.  Definite roasted malt notes presented first with a hint of the same (low) earthy hop contribution detected in the aroma. There was a mild bitterness attributable to the roast malts, and an even milder bitterness present from the hops. At 25 bitterness units (BUs), it might be a little low for this style, but in concert with the combination of malts, the hop bitterness is more than made up for.  Behind the hop bitterness, coffee and dark toffee and chocolate flavors complement a slightly malty sweet finish. I detected just a hint of alcohol flavor in the swallow.
In terms of mouthfeel, this stout has a medium body with a slight starting dryness that is probably attributable to the roasted malts rather than coming from the finishing gravity. The carbonation is very fine, which combined with the flaked barley, definitely contributes to a smooth/creamy sensation—just like Carter says.  I detected a slight warming from the alcohol, but only very slight.
Overall, this is a very good, very drinkable beer. It could be more opaque, sure, but that’s a pretty minor aspect to consider.  And that aspect is more than accounted for with the jewel-like ruby highlights streaming through the beer. I really enjoyed the aromas present on first pour, and the chocolaty, coffee, malty flavors are equally enjoyable.  This beer goes down easy, and at 6.5% ABV, you might want to exercise caution when reaching for a second… or third.

The Holy Trinity - What They Didn't Teach me at Catholic School

THE HOLY TRINITY - The Base of All Great Food
Adapted from Wikipedia

While a "trinity" may refer to a generic representation of three cornerstone ingredients of a particular national cuisine, a trio of specific ingredients combined together to become essentially flavor bases, much like its original usage within Louisiana cuisine, are also called "trinities". This is often created by sautéing a combination of any three (or at least, the primary three ingredients in a more complex base) aromatic vegetables, condiments, seasonings, herbs, or spices.

Because these three ingredients are so common in the recipes of some cuisines, they are almost indivisible and often end up being treated as a single ingredient. They provide the distinctive flavoring of specific cuisines. Cooking these few base ingredients in butter or oil releases their flavor, which in turn is infused into other ingredients. This technique is most typically used when creating sauces, soups, stews, and stir-fries.

The most common trinities cuisines are:

Creole/Cajun Cuisine:  The holy trinity originally refers specifically to chopped onions, bell peppers, and celery, combined in a rough ratio of 1:1:1 and used as the staple base for much of the cooking in the Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine. The preparation of classic Cajun/Creole dishes such as étouffée, gumbo, and jambalaya all start from the base of this holy trinity.

Latin Cuisine (Cuban, Pilipino, etc.): This version of sofrito is based on the trinity of garlic, bell peppers and Spanish onion.


French Cuisine: The definitive trinity of French cuisine is widely accepted as a mirepoix is the trinity of celery, onion and carrots.

Italian Cuisine: The definitive trinity in Italian cuisine is soffritto, or a base of sauteed carrots, onion and celery, essentially the same ingredients as that of mirepoix.