Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Hampshire Beer Fest

Yeah, I know. Two Beer Fest blog entries in a row, but I guess it's Oktoberfest season, and a good reason to invite people to drink beers.

Last year's Beer Fest was great, although the weather was rainy. So rainy, in fact, that everybody huddled within the long beer tent to keep from getting soaked, making the place seem a hell of a lot more claustrophobic than it should have been.

This year's Beer Fest was better. The weather was cool but nice--typical NH autumnal weather when it's not raining. There were probably even more people than last year, but with people willing to be outside of the tents, it felt a lot more roomy!

I'm not sure if this was true last year, but this year, all the beer vendors were arranged in alphabetical order, with Alligash the first one as you entered, and Widmer Brothers bringing up the other end. All the microbrews in the region (with some exceptions) were represented (C'mon, Harpoon! You can have your Oktoberfest thingy some other week!). There were even some from out of state--California, Boulder Colorado, and even Kona in Hawaii.
Greg Oulette, of Martha's Exchange
My first visit was to Greg Oulette, the brewer for Martha's Exchange in Nashua, NH. I've known Greg since before he was at Martha's (he worked at Incredibrew and some of his recipes are still there). I had my first--and, arguably the best--beer from Greg's table, Dr. Hoppenstien's Double IPA that was spot on for taste and bitterness. My next taste was one that I had only a teasing sample from at the Nashua Beer Fest... Widmer's Drifter Pale Ale. This had a lot of flavors I don't normally associate with pale ales, but it works. I can't wait to find it at my local store.

One beer hit me as kind of special. It was Taint Town Pale Ale from Kennebunkport Brewing. They had it on draft and in cask. I had the cask version, and instead of the bold hoppiness I expect from Pale Ales, it had more floral overtones... like smelling a bale of hay that had been left out in the rain. The taste startled me at first, but by the time I finished it, I knew it wouldn't be my last taste of that cask full of nectar, and I had a refill.

Like last year, the Beer Fest had two sessions, from 1-4pm, and from 6-9pm. The first session, though, also had a special "VIP" session from 12-1pm (for an additional fee). It let you get into the Beer Fest an hour before the teeming hordes. I so enjoyed my first hour at the Fest that it wasn't until about five minutes before one o'clock that I noticed there was a bunch of people waiting outside the beer tent waiting to come in. And by a "bunch," I mean QUITE A LOT OF PEOPLE! When the hour chimed, the little plastic fences were taken down, and the cozy, comfortable "almost one on one with the brewers" feel of the place was replaced by long lines of people wanting to partake of the brewers' tasty wares.

Sandra enjoyed last year's Beer Fest because there were a lot of Oktoberfest beers, and a lot of "fruity ales" (pumpkins mostly, and her favorite, a Blackberry Wheat from Long Trail). This year, on the other hand, even Long Trail neglected their Blackberry Wheat. On the positive side, I knew that she liked lighter-tasting brews, and she enjoyed Kona's Longboard Lager, Kennebunkport's Light beer (forget the name--sorry!), and Widmer's Hefeiwizen. The special brew for her was Martha's Exchange "Prior's Passion," which tasted delightful not only to her, but to me--something very unusual being that our tastes for beer are so different. (Greg, we owe you another visit soon!)

I'm happy that Red Hook, Prescott Park Arts Festival, and WHEB have decided to revive the NH Beer Fest last year, and appear to be set in making this an annual event again. This used to be sponsored by the old (and, unfortunately, apparently no longer a beer-brewing company) Nutfield Brewing Company at their headquarters in Derry, NH (as well as one or two at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth). I miss the old event, but the new one is taking up the slack very nicely.

Next Saturday, Prescott Park Arts Festival is having a Chili Cook Off event at Strawbery Banke. Although the chili will be free with admission, Red Hook will be there selling a few of their beers to help quench the bowls of fire that will be on offer there. If you're in the neighborhood, I hope to see you there!

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nashua Beerfest

Last Saturday, the City of Nashua held its first Beer Fest from 4pm to 8pm. The venue was Holman Stadium, the former home of the Nashua Pride and the short-lived Nashua Defenders. There was a tent erected around the pitcher's mound, and vendors included InBev, Red Hook, Long Trail, Boston Beer Company, and Smuttynose. Each attendee was given ten tickets, each good for a single 3-oz. sample. There was an opportunity for each attendee to purchase an additional strip of six tickets for $5.

InBev was an eye-opener at the Fest. This is the company that purchase Anheuser Busch, and while they had their standard Bud, Bud Light, and Bud Light Lime, they also had Boddington's, Bass, Stella Artois, and Hoegaarden as well.

Red Hook was very well represented, and they augmented their own beers with those of their partners Widmer (which had a wonderful Drifer Pale Ale), and Kona Brewing.

While I'm not a fan of Sam Adams, the Boston Beer Company had their own tables that offered some of their beers (my favorite was Lattitude 48 IPA). They also had a "Beer A" and "Beer B" vote, which contained two nice beers. My favorite in the vote was something they called a Belgian IPA.

Green Mountain Beverage was at the Beer Fest with their hard ciders, which Sandra enjoyed. Sandra tried them all, and her favorite was a "dark and dry" cider, although she had good things to say about all of the ciders (another favorite was a Granny Smith cider).

A brewery I never heard about, Brewdog Brewery was there with interesting signage, although the beer they were featuring, Dogma, advertised enough foreign ingredients to turn be a bit off. The next day, however, I saw a bottle of one of their IPA's that I purchased and found to be quite decent. I believe Brewdog is an Scottish brewery, and it appears to have a very interesting marketing concept of wanting to create the world's strongest beers.

Tuckerman's Brewery had a couple of their beers available, as did Smuttynose and Woodstock Inn and Brewery. Long Trail was also there; I had their Pale Ale, and Sandra loves their Blackberry Wheat.

My biggest disappointment of the evening was the failure of Harpoon Brewery to show up, although the flyers indicated they would be there.

For a Beer Fest, I found Nashua's to be different than most--it had a children's play area, and even a singer that played kids' songs in between sets of the local rock and roll bands that played. This may be an interesting idea that might catch on. After all, there are a bunch of beer drinkers with small children that may not be able to addend such "adult oriented" festivals because there's usually nothing for kids to do, and I cannot think of anything more boring to kids than an event focused solely on adults.

A very handsome dude!I got my caricature drawn (for free!) at the event. The lady that drew it told me that this was her first time ever drawing a person with a full beard. I liked the picture so much that I'm at least temporarily using a modified version of it as my Twitter avatar, but I've been trying a bunch of them over the last few weeks...

All in all, I found the Nashua Beer Fest to be very entertaining. The rock bands were pretty good, the brews were very nice, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and the venue was large enough to be very roomy without being too large to get lost. If the City of Nashua delivers on their promise to have this as an annual event, I can see this becoming quite popular, as New England is the home to many, many fine breweries.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Throwing Five Chipotle Guys at Fast Food

Five Guys and Chipotle Logo*I have always loved fast food. It was a part of my childhood, and still remains a means to a quick meal. What's not to like about it? The food is predictable, if uninspirational. You know what you are going to get, even if what you get is mediocre. After all, few fast food places actually aspire to anything more.

McDonald's is a classic. To this day, I can order the same thing I ordered as a child--Hamburger, small fries, perhaps a soft drink--and I know that the taste memory from my childhood will come rushing back to me. Heck, I'm over fifty years old, and the food hasn't changed much!

Of course, back then, you could "feed a family of four for under a buck" (or whatever that slogan was back in the sixties). Today, a simple hamburger, small fries, and small soft drink cost considerably more than a buck, and a meal that size would seem as though it were just an appetizer to people today.

I enjoyed watching the documentary "Super Size Me!" which followed filmmaker Morgan Spurlock through his attempt to eat at McDonald's three times a day for a single month, while his doctors and associates watch on in abject horror as he gains significant weight and his health starts to deteriorate. In fact, that one documentary reduced my appetite for fast food from something that happened at least once a week to something that happens much less frequently.

Not all fast food is the same, of course. McDonald's has its signature taste, and I do occasionally seem to crave a Big Mac now and then--their French fries, even more often! I worked for Burger King as a programmer for five or six years, and was able to get free food when I visited some of the company-owned stores up here in New England. Free food is good--although one can have it too often. I started to develop a dislike for Burger King soon after they switched to Pepsi, and while I still love their chicken sandwich (probably the best chicken sandwich in the Fast Food Nation), I don't go there very often nowadays. There are the places that look for a niche outside the burgers and fries as well... Kentucky Fried Chicken for chicken, Long John Silver's for fish filets and (surprisingly!) chicken, and Taco Bell for... well, whatever they call what they serve (it isn't truly Mexican, although their recent and time-limited "Cantina Tacos" are certainly a step in the right direction) are all run from the same company (Yum! Brands).

There have been attempts to dress up fast food into something more than simply fast food, but not quite full-service. Fuddrucker's still serves better-than-average burgers (and rib-eye steaks), and you can put on all the toppings you want for free. With beer available, it's quite a step up from your local McDonald's. You can order your burgers done the way you like (medium, well, etc.), and when your burger is ready, they'll call you.

I've visited a Chipotle Mexican Grill only once, but it seems to do for burritos what Fudrucker's has done for burgers. The one I visited in North Andover, MA didn't (yet!) have a license to sell beer, but the burrito I had was actually quite good; I'll be taking Sandra there some day.

After hearing rave reviews about a new place from Harmony, and seeing that Zagat rated them as "best burger" in their survey of fast food, I've finally tried out Five Guys Burgers and Fries--I had lunch at the FGB&F in Marlborough, MA today, in fact. I ordered ahead, using their convenient web form. Being unprepared at what they call their various sandwiches (Hamburger, Little Hamburger), I simply ordered two (regular) burgers. This turned out to be a gastric mistake on my part; a regular burger consists of two patties, each of which was at least a quarter pound or perhaps a third pound. Ordering two of them meant a whopping pound or more of meat!

Well, while Morgan Spurlock had me worried about my health with regard to fast food, I can tell you that McDonald's has done a lot to offset this since the movie was released. For instance, I believe that Super Size is now a thing of the past (although Burger King seems to continue to offer something insanely large every once in a while). They've offered salads on their menu board, although their dressings are still pretty high in fat. Their new Angus line seems to be getting a half-sized "Angus Wrap" in a tortilla. Who knows where the future lies as far as McDonald's is concerned?

I definitely recommend Five Guys or Chipotle for people that are near either of these. The food is fresh, and a major step up from your typical fast food.

The important thing to remember is not to overdo it. Know what you're purchasing, and how much you should be eating.

Bon Appetit!

* Note: Although I have both logos at the top of my post, they are used without permission and should not be taken to imply that the two companies are related in any way.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


LobstersI know it's corny to write "lobstah," but apparently, there is some unwritten law that says that in New Hampshire... er, I mean, New Hampsha... important words that end in -er should be respelled with a final -ah.

Well, I'm not one to fully honor tradition, so I'll just use the word "lobster" from here on in, if only to soothe my poor spell checker.

My family had lobster infrequently when I was growing up. I guess that was because it was seen as a "luxury" item. I remember going crabbing during the early 1970s (I should write more about that in another entry) and during that time, I developed a fondness for crab meat, but I usually only saw lobster as some sort of shellfish that was just expensive.

I recall ordering lobster during one of my first dates with Sandra when I was in high school. Actually, I ordered the "surf and turf," which was steak and lobster. I truly believe that this was the first time I ever ate a lobster. It wasn't an entire lobster; it was a lobster tail, and I think it was already split for me. However, it was still served in its shell.

About halfway through the meal, Sandra asked me, "Where's the rest of your shell?"

I looked at her confused. "What are you talking about?"

"You're not supposed to eat the shell!"

From that inauspicious start, my attitude toward lobster has been and remains neutral. I really don't dislike it as a food, but I really prefer crab.

When I was living in South Florida, lobsters were plentiful, but they (usually) weren't the traditional "Maine" lobster, but rather the "Florida Lobster," which is also known as a "Spiny Lobster." This lobster doesn't have the notable large claws of the Maine variety, and I think the Spiny Lobster's meat tastes a bit more like crab to me. There were places where you could get Maine lobster, but they were expensive.

Living up here in New Hampshire, I am lucky (??) enough to be able to get lobster at better prices than anywhere else I have lived. I remember seeing twin lobsters being offered as low as $12.95, although I don't see twin lobsters being offered much at all nowadays, and when I do see them, they start at about $20 for the pair.

Cooking a lobster is easy. Simply fill a lobster pot with water, add salt, and wait for it to come to a boil. Insert the lobster, face down, and boil for 10-15 minutes, depending on the weight. Of course, just mentioning that much can get me into hot water myself: there is a long-running controversy as to whether or not lobsters can feel pain, and whether it is humane to throw a live animal into boiling water. I'll leave it to the moral ethicists, zoologists, scientists, and chefs to throw the arguments around; I haven't heard anything definitive on either side, although Wikipedia seems to have a pretty good rundown on the issue.

Over the last few years, I've noticed at least one grocer in town (Market Basket) tends to have the best prices for lobsters, with them usually available from $4.99/pound to $6.99. Usually, these are soft shell lobsters; lobsters tend to shed their skin, and when they have just replaced them, they start growing new, larger shells. Some people prefer the sweeter meat of the soft shell lobsters, while others dislike the relatively smaller proportion of meat to shell and prefer the hard shell lobsters instead.

I remember a visit to Gilford, NH, that Sandra, the kids, and I took. It was the Saturday at the start of Motorcycle week, and for some strange reason, we were not only able to get a reservation at a motel in the lakes region, we were also able to get a suite. With the restaurants in town catering to the motorcycle crowd, I decided to go to a local grocer to see what I could make in the kitchen in the suite. I found lobsters at a good price (about $5.99/pound, but my recollection could be off; it was relatively cheap, though). I purchased one each for Sandra and the kids, and then paid a bit more for a pound or so of Jonah claws (I mentioned that I preferred crab meat!). I then stopped at a nearby WalMart, and picked up a lobster pot. Even including the price of the pot, the meal we had was much less than going out to eat and having an equivalent meal at any restaurant!

I travel to Maine quite a lot, and have found some really wonderful lobster restaurants there. I remember visiting a place called the "Lobsterman's Coop" (now called "Boothbay Lobster Wharf"), in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. More often, we go to the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound in Cape Neddick, Maine, and the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier in Kittery Point, Maine. We prefer Cape Neddick because it's a more formal restaurant with a bar, lounge, and is open year round. However, Chauncey Creek offers a more informal setting with picnic tables and a "B.Y.O." policy so that you can bring in your own beer, although it's only open during the warmer months.

Here in New Hampshire, there are quite a few places to get lobster. One of Sandra's favorite places is Weathervane, which has a restaurant in Salem, NH, as well as many other places in New England. Unfortunately, unlike Maine, I haven't really seen as many places that are simply dedicated to lobster as the many lobster pounds in Maine. I think this is because New Hampshire only has about fourteen miles of shoreline...!

As I said, I don't really dislike lobster, but until I find a good enough excuse to actually start eating them and (hopefully) eventually start enjoying them, I think I'll stick with my crab meat and leave the lobsters to my wife and kids!

Bon Apetit!

Monday, May 3, 2010


Avocado, picture taken by user Xenia,
I guess Mexican was the first "ethnic" food that I learned to cook. When I was living in Miami, I was at a party where a co-worker named Nancy Kowalski made a quick and easy sheet of nachos by putting tortillas on a cookie sheet, added a can of Hormel Chili (without beans), some shredded cheese, onions, scallions, and after about five minutes in the oven, she brought out some delicious nachos. I had heard of nachos before that (Old El Paso had a box of tortilla chips called "Nachips" that had a recipe on the back), I never tasted it until that time at Nancy's.

I taught the recipe to Sandra (this was before we were married), and together we learned to love Mexican food. I believe that Mexican is still Sandra's favorite restaurant cuisine. To this day, the nachos inspired by Nancy's quick and dirty party meal make up a quick and easy meal. We've refined our style (sliced green onions and freshly chopped tomatoes make up the bulk of the "vegetable" ingredients), but it's still basically the same recipe.

When I was learning to appreciate Mexican cooking, I initially avoided guacamole. The pale green color and dip-like texture turned me off, as I was never really a fan of dips. In addition, I never tasted avocados before, and wasn't willing to give them a try.

One day at lunch, I saw a news segment on channel nine (WMUR, Manchester) where a local chef makes a recipe, and the recipe was for guacamole. I believe that the chef was from a Mexican restaurant in Nashua called "La Hacienda del Rio."

The chef wasn't too particular about quantities, saying pretty much that it was all a matter of taste. I watched as the chef quickly and professionally assembled guacamole from avocados, onions, and other ingredients.

A few days later, I needed to whip up something quickly for a company outing (everybody was supposed to bring something). I remembered seeing the chef on television, and decided to make the guacamole. I went to the store to pick up some avocados, tomatoes, red onion, and limes, and at home, my daughters and I did the preparation and combined everything in a food processor. The kids tasted it and loved it, and it was a pretty good hit at the party (there weren't any leftovers).

Since that time, I've read other people's recipes for guacamole, and made some tweaks to my recipe. My daughters have picked it up and made the recipe their own, and they are now my go-to people when I'm too busy to make it myself.

Occasionally, I add sour cream for a creamier texture, but just as often I'll omit it and leave the texture a bit more "rustic." It all just depends on how I feel whenever I make it (I don't think Harmony or Chardonnay ever use sour cream when they make it, but I may be wrong).

As for other people's recipes, a few Mexican restaurants in the area have decent guacamole, although I rarely order it myself. However, Loco Coco's, a Mexican restaurant in Kittery Point, Maine, has a "special" guacamole that Sandra and I both enjoy as part of their Salsa Trio on their Specials menu that is very, very good. Unfortunately, they also have a "regular" guacamole that is good, but not as great as the special one; the special is apparently only available as part of the trio...

The following is reproduced below from my recipe collection:

lar3ry's Guacamole

Source:From various locations
Yield:Serves 4.

I've seen recipes for guacamole online and on television, and I've finally settled on the following recipe, which is one that my family and I like very much. It's wonderful with Tostitos™ Scoops tortilla chips; the scoops are the right size and perfect for dipping.


2 ripe avocados

1 medium red or Vidalia onion, roughly chopped (see note)

1 small jalepeño, stems and seeds removed, chopped

1 fresh lime, juiced

4 tomatillos, halved (see note)

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped

Peel and seed avocados, and cut in half or quarters, and place into food processor bowl.

Add onion, jalapeño, most of the lime juice, and tomatillos, and cilantro and pulse until the mixture is thoroughly mixed—do not over-process.

Put in serving bowl, and top with remainder of lime juice (to keep the avocado from oxidizing). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, stir the dip to blend in the lime juice.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Tomatoes may be substituted for tomatillos, but will alter the color from bright green to light brown, which may be unappetizing. Consider dicing the tomatoes and mixing into dip right before stirring.

Sour cream may be added to extend the dip for larger quantities.

I prefer Vidalia onions over red onions, but they aren't available year round. Other sweet onions may be substituted.

Green onions, both green and white parts, sliced thin as well as extra chopped cilantro make good garnishes.

Bon Appetit!