Coconut & Herbal Mint Cupcakes with Honey and Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm taking a few days away from the blog to recuperate a bit after a chaotic week of work and school which left me a little sick. I'll be reposting some of my favorite restin' and relaxin' recipes and posts up for the next few days should you be in the same boat as me. ~Garrett

This cupcake certainly raised some eyebrows. I based it off this recipe after the idea of translating it into a cupcake wandered into my head. I've never had a cake that was so fragrant with the taste of herbal mint. It's refreshing; think a Eucalyptus sauna for your mouth. It leaves you feeling so "Ahhhhhhhhh..." The cake is unlike anything I've ever really tasted before; sweetened by honey and coconut milk the cake tastes light - an herbal infused pastry.

I actively went out of my way at work to make people try and taste them so I could get feedback, all of which was very positive. People described them as earthy and organic. Light and refreshing. Unique and relaxing. The perfect dessert after a spicy Thai meal, a hypothesis we tested and afterward declared successful.

The mint is the star ingredient. Be sure to use your favorite variety of fresh mint, peppermint or spearmint being choice options if you or someone you knows grows it. Cool and refreshing, and the coconut imbues it with a bit of a relaxed exoticism. The honey comes in at the end and sweetens the whole deal.

It's a simple recipe I based off of my previous coconut cupcake recipe. This cupcake could be served at parties, but I encourage you to eat one by your quiet lonesome with a good book in a shady spot outside.

Coconut Milk Cupcakes
Makes 16-20 cupcakes / 350 F oven

What You'll Need...
3/4 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 heaping cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of honey
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup of canned coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 - 3/4 cup of sweetened dessicated coconut
1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves

What You'll Do...
1) Simmer the coconut milk with the mint until bubbles form around the side. Take off the heat and let sit for 2-4 hours, the longer the better. Strain out the mint leaves and measure out one cup of the coconut milk. (Reheat the rest as tea for yourself, yum!)

2) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and cream till light and fluffy again, scraping down the sides halfway through to ensure even mixing. Add the honey and mix throughly.

3) Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds each to ensure mixing. (Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom every once in a while to get all the rogued butter escaping the mixer).

4) Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in one bowl. In another add 1 cup of a well shaken can of coconut milk and a teaspoon of vanilla. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix, then add 1/2 of the wet ingredients. Continue alternating with the wet and dry mixtures, ending with the dry. Turn off the mixer once ingredients are just combined.

5) Fold in the coconut. Scoop into cupcake papers and bake for 18-22 minutes, rotating the pan after the first 15 to ensure even baking. Be sure to check with a toothpick to see if the cupcakes are done. If the toothpick comes out of the cupcake clean, then they're ready.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
What You'll Need...
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz of Philly cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
1/2-1 cup of powdered
1/4 cup of sweetened dessicated coconut

What You'll Do...
1) Cream the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes. Scraped down the sides and bottom.
2) Slowly add the powdered sugar. Fold in the coconut.
3) Brush the cupcakes with a bit of cooled honey and let cool. This step is optional, but tasty. 4) Spread the frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Garnish with fresh mint or extra coconut if desired.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sometimes we only realize how easy we have it when we get to know the misfortune of others. This makes us sad, upset, even angry when we encounter it. We anticipate depression and awkward feelings in our future, but no feeling as awkward as the ones you feel when immediately confronted by the person or situation.

When my work asked if I would take on a special project, instructing a cooking class for foster, homeless, and at-trouble youth, I happily said yes. It was a chance to combine my love of teaching (yes, this is what all this MA hullabaloo is about the past few years) and cooking. Furthermore, it would give me a chance to better interact with the kids my company works with.

I've been shadowing the current teachers, a delightful retired couple who after five years are ready to hang up their apron strings, in order to learn about their process, see what works and what doesn't, and let the kids get to know me a bit better and me them. They've invaluable and hilarious and make the process all the better. I listen and learn the things I need to know (how to fix the tripped breakers), want to know (what dishes you should avoid teaching, like making pasta from scratch), and don't want to know (what kids have cutting problems).

Now, rounding up thirty-plus twelve to eighteen year olds (some with kids of their own) and trying to accurately instruct them on how to use a knife safely, use a skillet without burning the chicken, or seed chilies is a unique sort of chaos. You only let it reign so much in certain ways. It cannot ever be fully quelled. Rather, you find little problems and offer little solutions which give you and the child a sense of accomplishment. Total control and having them all listen is, I've learned, an impossibility, but some do listen and in that you find joy when one of them comes up to you the next week and excitedly tells you she made dinner for her new foster family and they couldn't have been happier. Then she thanks you, and you're glad you listened and realized how much those small things mean.

Yet, listening is my real problem. I hear too much. Things I'm not ready to hear because I cannot respond. Many of the kids attend the cooking class because it is simply a meal, and I turn a blind eye if they decide to make more than one mini-apple cake even though we're low on ingredients because they might not get to eat tomorrow. Something that terrifies me when I realize some of them aren't even old enough to drive. Or listening as one of them tells me how she slept in a tree the previous night to keep herself safe from drug dealers and other crazy people on the street. How she tied her shoelaces together around a branch as a means to keep herself from falling out and hurting herself. (It worked, surprisingly.) And all you can do is listen, because sometimes that's all they want at the moment, and, honestly, there's so little I can actually do except help her read the recipe and teach her to make an apple cake because someday, I hope, she'll have a kitchen to do this in and someone to make an apple cake for.

And all this listening makes me sad. One of the therapists on staff tell me not to worry, many programs, like the one I work for, do what they can. Many of these kids will be alright, and, at the same time, many won't. You do what you can and sometimes it works. When it does it keeps you going. It keeps the moral glitter of what you do shining.

The bad feelings only last so long. It makes me feel guilty or even ashamed to say that after an hour or so I soon feel overjoyed and thankful for just how bad I have it. I have school debt? I didn't get to the gym? I'm almost out of wine? Fuck my problems. I slept in a bed last night. Life is good and my problems aren't that epic. Comparison is at times one of the greatest lenses of perspective.

Next week I'll be there again. The class will work and stumble its way through making stir-fry and if we make it through without any injuries I'll call it a success. I'll teach one or two more how to properly use a knife and I'll listen to whoever wants to talk.

Flavors of Peru

Sunday, June 20, 2010

-Peruvian food at it's best involves deep frying.-

I know as much about Peruvian food as I do about the Large Haldron Collider, which is to say I know the general premise of it. Peruvian food involves smashing potatoes, the LHC smashes protons. They're similar in that they both demand smashing of things. That limited amount of knowledge on both subjects has served me well enough and there has been little need or desire to pursue either any further.

However, when my co-worker, Estrella, invited me to a Peruvian food festival I decided that this was a golden opportunity to learn about a foreign cuisine I knew little about. Looking through the flyer she gave me it listed all sorts of tasty sounding goodies which my limited Spanish was unable to translate. I saw the words arroz verde (green rice) and masa morro (red corn) but that didn't tell me much.

-Sweet potato doughnuts. Smother these with maple syrup and you're good to go.-

I knew through my thesis research was that Peruvian food's primary food source is potatoes. I'm not saying Russets or Yukons, but any number of varieties and all sizes and colors such as bright green Emerald potatoes, oblong pink and purple potatoes, and tiny, red potatoes the color of a matchhead. Other key ingredients are apples, red corn, rice, and just as famous as the potatoes, Guinea pigs. It's a strange mountain ritual using the familiar and unfamiliar in creative ways to make dishes that are both strange and comforting.

Take, for example, the sweet potato doughnuts. Each culture has a delicious fried dough recipe that they hold dear. Here a sweet potato dough was slowly poured out into boiling dough like a churro or funnel cake. They were served with a bit of maple syrup, a modern, new world ingredient for Peruvian communities in America; one they've happily adopted.

-Peruvian food is awesome.-

Right across from the sweet smell of doughnuts the hot sizzle of vinegar and oil in cast metal pans echoed outside. Here bits of skirt steak were tossed with onions and tomatoes in a blazing hot pan. A few quick turns in a pepper vinaigrette and the mix was laid atop of fries and rice with a small dollop of neon green chili sauce. The flavor was epic, sour and savory it burst with flavor while the chili provided a subtle heat that enhanced with pungency of the flash-cooked vinaigrette.

-Alfajores. A shortbread cookie sandwich filled with dulce de leche.-

Inside, away from the smoke and oil, other dishes bubbled away. Lamb layered with cilantro and culantro. Next to that piles of empanadas sat steaming; you could hear their crispy skins crunching underneath the weight of each other. The next table over had piles of roast Guinea Pig slathered in chili sauce. Potato dumplings in a molten aioli so spicy you were compelled to drink the morro fresca, a drink of boiled red corn and apples that's sweetened and strained, in order to cool your fiery tongue.

Potato dishes of every kind were readily available from smashed to mashed, boiled to fried, in desserts to drink and each was new and different.

-A sort of Peruvian stir-fry. Seasoned with vinegar and black pepper. Crazy tasty.-

Desserts were there in plenty, another red corn and apple pudding mixed with cinnamon was the most popular treat, but alfajores, bread and rice puddings, and even small Napoleon like desserts were available.

It was as educational as it was tasty. I, sadly, can't recall the names of most of these dishes. I wasn't writing it down and the Peruvian names to these dishes were for the most part so foreign to me that I won't even try to recreate them for you out of fear that I may simply butcher them so badly that I'll accidentally utter some strange and forgotten Lovecraftian curse. Furthermore it was one of those situation where I was so focused on the flavors and the eating that the details are all lost to me in the ether of deliciousness.

Regardless, I came away from the festival with this: Peruvian food is too unknown and under-appreciated. If you find the opportunity to go to a Peruvian restaurant, do so. You'll find a riveting new cuisine that's just bound to surprise you.

-Red corn and apple pudding. Incredibly rich. The red corn isn't so much a flavor, but rather makes the pudding thick and gives it the deep burgundy color.-

P.S. Vanilla Garlic has a new fan page on Facebook. Be sure to become a fan to show your Vanilla Garlic support and get updates. Thanks! ~Garrett

Breakfast Cereal Ice Cream

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

-Yes, this is what you think it is. Read on and trust me that it is awesome.-

This post will split my readership into two factions: those that think this recipe is vile, and those that will think that this is the best thing ever. Allow me to explain first why I did what I did in making this ice cream. You might better understand.

A few days ago BF and I went out to one of those trendy little yogurt places. You know, the kind where you pick a soft-serve flavor and then load it up with fruit, or candy, or whatnot. Feeling the need to break away from my usual two options; pistachio with granola and strawberries, or chocolate covered with broken up Reese's; I went with a simple vanilla ice cream.

In the corner of my eye I saw prismatic flare of Fruity Pebbles cereal. The epileptic, multi-color overload seemed so whimsical and fun, and so with a jaunty little smile I took a small scoop of of cereal and tossed them in the cup. I took a whiff and recalled that sweet, sugary smell of faux-fruit flavors and the few rare days I was allowed to eat such a treat as a child.

You see, as a kid we grew up with Cheerios and oatmeal and were happy to do so. Dad would cut up bananas, sprinkle on cinnamon, or toss in a handful of raisins and make these breakfasts special. It was how my brothers and I bonded with our dad every morning. We were never left wanting for sugary cereal as we were raised knowing that a box of Lucky Charms was a treat reserved only for visits to grandma's. Still, every so often, maybe on a vacation, we were afforded the luxury of a box of Captain Crunch or, perhaps, Fruity Pebbles which would be greedily eaten in ginormous bowls as my brother and I watched Power Rangers in the morning.

It was tasting my 10 year old life in eating that ice cream when suddenly it hit me: I could make Fruity Pebbles ice cream. The most special childhood Saturday mornings frozen in time and heavy cream. I had had something similar before; the Secret Breakfast ice cream at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco, a Corn Flake and Bourbon flavored ice cream which is stunning in its flavor and simplicity. It could be done again. I could do it.

-Looking at it too long may cause a stroke.-

So I did. I bought a box of Fruity Pebbles, soaked the cream and milk with it, and then churned that into a basic, Philadelphia-style ice cream (meaning no eggs). It tasted like the milk at the bottom of the bowl. And it was so good. SO good. It was toy commercials, waking up at 6 AM trying not to wake mom and dad, and not having to do homework on Saturdays.

You can do this with any cereal you want, whatever milk in the bowl you liked best, though I think the unhealthier the cereal the better. (BF wants me to try Cinnamon Toast Crunch.)

Yes, part of me should hate it. It's anti-Slow Food. Not sustainable. Certainly not healthy or responsible. But the memories are there. The recipe is fun and it makes me smile. That, sometimes, is reason enough.

-Garnish this ice cream with some of the cereal. It makes it all the better.-

Breakfast Cereal Ice Cream
2 cups of cream
1 1/2 cups of whole milk
3/4 cup of sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups of cereal (your choice)

Bring the cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer and stir over medium-high heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the cereal and milk, stir and let sit for two hours. Strain the mixture and discard the soggy cereal. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Place in a bowl in the freezer for 45 minutes to an hour to firm up. Serve immediately.

*Note: I made this, coincidentally, on a Saturday morning and wasn't feeling the desire to make a custard base ice cream. You very well could if you wanted. The flavoring method is simple enough.

Cheese Profile: Cotswold

Sunday, June 13, 2010

-The underappreciated Cotswold. Also, I love this picture. It looks so 1970.-

Cotswold gets the shaft a lot of the time. It's the red-headed stepchild of the cheese world, acknowledged but only begrudgingly so. And that kinda pisses me off.

None of the great cheese books out there will ever list Cotswold off as a cheese you have to try, or would even deign to group it with other, often considered more remarkable cheeses like Seastack or Vacherin. To do so would be to many a cheese-snob a travesty.

Still, this popular cheese is well known and quite renowned. Practically every child, foodie, and housewife has tried this cheese at one time or another. Perhaps at a potluck or some party or work function. Indeed, my first taste was at an art gallery opening where I instantly fell in love and nearly demolished the entire Cotswold spread in under a minute. Only public decorum and the total embarrassment I suffered when a friend told me to "Slow the fuck down on the cheese," loud enough so that people stared at me did I actually stop.

And, I think, that's why it has developed such a low sense of value in the food world. It's too well known. There's no mystery. It hasn't been banned from import or export. There's no great legend or history behind it (it is, however, a very old English cheese from Gloucestershire County). It's been served in English pubs for as long as anyone can remember. It's tried and true with nothing surprising about it.

The food world needs to come back to this cheese with fresh eyes. Really experience it one on one. Not on a plate next to the cold cuts and celery sticks. Go out, buy some - you can find it at any store - and put it on a plate. Bring it to room temperature and sit in a quite corner where you and Cotswold can have a heart to heart.

-Chives make cheese better.-

The look is somewhat debonair, proper in its well color coordinated body. Inviting, rustic, and simple. Notice its aroma, it smells green and fresh like childhood games played in the yard. It isn't like one expects cheese to be, especially one flavored with chives, pungent and harsh. Rather, Cotswold is sort of welcoming and invites you to have a good, light beer as you eat it.

The texture, similar to a young Cheddar, it quite creamy even for a semi-firm cheese. After a moment or two in your mouth it begins to break down to your body temperature and melt apart. Grassy, smooth, garlicky and green due to the chives it possesses a very twee brightness; but it's that innocent flavor that belies a more prurient quality. It instills a dairy-lust where you'll go back to the fridge to snack again and again on this delightful cheese that you had before cast aside.

I've been reacquainting myself with Cotswold (I even love the name! Cotswold; so refined!) in cooking. Layered in a grilled cheese with garlic rubbed rye or sourdough and layered with a bit of fresh basil. Melted with a bit of leftover skirt steak into a sandwich. Freshly grated over mashed turnips. Its herbaceous and soft qualities make it perfect for pub and cafe food.

Mistaken Prostitution

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Re-wrote this old restaurant review I originally posted back in 2006. The restaurant, 55 Degrees, closed about two years ago. The meal was forgettable, but what happened beforehand was anything but. ~Garrett

I had postponed getting together with my friend Kim and her hubby twice at this point for various reasons, so this time I was determined to not miss this dinner date. Unfortunately, I had come down with a bit of a cold, so after almost a bottle of cold medicine and a heroic amount of multivitamins I sluggishly tromped my way out to downtown. Luckily, even though I was sick, my taste buds had not been affected, so eating out was still an option. Kinda.

We had decided to meet up at 55 Degrees, one of the more contemporary restaurants that could be found on Capitol Street. Its steel and glass aquarium design created a chic, elite, sterile feel where politicos of every stripe came to dine and impress their guests. In a sea of suits and Prada loafers we were sorely out of place, but we heard the food was good and decided to wade through the business formal in a business casual manner.

Now, funny story on the side - I arrived about 20 minutes early so I paced around outside Capitol Street taking in the tall, abandoned scenery. It seemed I was the only person on the street which was both awesome and creepy in an Apocalyptic/Freddy Kruger movie sort of way.

After a while having exhausted any bits of garden or sculpture to examine I leaned back on a dimly lit lamppost and checked my test messages. "10 more minutes. - Kim." It seemed they would be late. I looked up to find my line of sight locked with an idling car a few meters away. The car then drove up, rolled down the window and a doughy, middle aged man poked his head down to look at me to, I assume, ask direction. This would be his loss as I was still relatively new to exploring Sacramento having rarely left the town of Davis. He looked at me, "How much?"

At this point my face contorted into I can only imagine what (probably something of a placid, white hot rage) as I stated in a dead tone, "I... am not a hooker!" His face went pale. He looked away and in an instant the car screeched off with a trail of smoke from his tires burning out trailing behind.

Great. This was worse than the time my I couldn't flag my mom down at the airport to take me home because I was wearing my dingy, old hunting coat. She thought I was a crazy homeless person. (Thanks, mom. And, yes, I still wear the coat.)

Stunned. I turned around and saw Kim and her husband and I ran up to them. "Hi! Sorry we're la-"

"Do I look like a hooker!?" I screamed in a slightly frantic manner.


I explained. Kim conferred that I did not look like a prostitute and we attributed the pervert's mistake was due to my pacing Capitol Street, leaning on the lamppost, and my hunting coat which, yes, I was wearing. Maybe it was the blush that my slight fever gave, possibly street light gave my sickly paleness an alluring street-walker look? She thought the whole damn thing was hilarious, and in retrospect, it is.

Either way, lesson learned: no more walking the street in dingy coats. That, or, ask how much first.

Some Thoughts While Making a Cake

Monday, June 7, 2010

-Inspiration for deep and shallow thought. This post is mostly the latter.-

I made myself a little birthday cake this weekend as I turned 27. I figured, why not? It wasn't that I was desiring cake, needed to make a wish for some yearning desire, or was to have a huge shindig to share it with others. The impetus just suddenly struck me, like a hand reached into my brain found the bakery string, and plucked it.

"I'm going to make a cake." So I did. It was cake for the sake of cake. Cake doesn't have to have a reason to exist and it does not question itself. Cake just is.

Still, I do have some thoughts and musing to share that occurred to me in the making of this cake. But that's all they are. Thoughts and musings.

To begin with, fuck Williams-Sonoma. Seriously, you guys. What the hell?

On a similar note, hooray for restaurant supply stores who sell the exact same brand of cake pans as Williams-Sonoma for $6.95 as opposed to $30.00. Honestly, I was so flabbergasted I actually used the word, and I'm not a fan of it. (It sounds silly, like serendipity, another word that should be aborted out of the English language.)

I am amazed at the total cost difference from wholesale supply stores sometimes. Honestly, it's shocking that every time I go to a high end store how people are willing to put down enough money to buy the same item at a fraction of the price elsewhere. But, then again, I suppose if you have thirty smackers for a cake pan then saving that thirty smackers isn't probably a concern for you. Then, by all means, spend as you will. I know I have a few fiscal habits I can't rightly justify except for the fact of "because," "I want to," and "shut up."

Now, as for the cake itself I used Dorie Greenspan's cocoa buttermilk birthday cake recipe. It's a good recipe. Reliable. Efficient. Easy. I didn't add the melted chocolate, an optional step, and I wish I had so that the resulting cake would have had a deeper chocolate flavor. Ah well, I was aiming for speed in the kitchen that Saturday morning. Still, it's a recipe I would use again.

Frosting-wise I used the leftover Swiss Buttercream I burned myself making in the Advanced pastry class in May. That stuff lasts forever. It's also richer than the wealthiest sheiks in the Middle East. Seriously, a spoonful of that stuff could give a racehorse a heart attack. Any time I have a slice of this cake five minutes later I become spontaneously diabetic with the desire to eat nothing but light salads for the rest of my life. Oh, but the taste. It tastes so frickin' good.

And yes, 27. In the movie Logan's Run your Lastday is age 21. That's six years a runner. I had the first actual fear of 30 the other day. I used to mock people of that fear saying that you should just get over it and deal with it. Now I get it. The time is going by too quickly. Crap. I still have yet to ever buy a lotto ticket, see the Northern lights, or go sky diving.

Better get on those lists people. Time is going by.

-I also muse about pie but it usually involves peyote and reruns of Xena.-

Green Thumb. Heavy Hand.

Friday, June 4, 2010

-These are all of my golden raspberries. Hopeful and kind of sad all at once.-

The garden is slowly coming along and showing signs of life and success. Somehow BF, Roommate, and I have successfully grown things. I have, with help, broken the black thumb curse that has hung around me like some dark, anti-Gaia fog.

The strawberries are obese with juice and the flavor is so rich it could buy a yacht (or more strawberries?). The Early Girl tomatoes are beginning to grow with vigor and rush. Paper lanterns adorn my tomatillo plants like some sort of Chinese New Year in green, celebrating the arrival of Spring. The sugar peas, though planted late, were abundant and plenty making for many tasty snacks and stir-fries. Now that they're done we've turned the vines into salads.

-Corn. And as you can see both the boy and girl parts are growing nicely. This means much corn for Garrett (and maybe BF and Roommate).-

Oh, yes, my golden raspberries are coming along as well as a first year berry plant can (three whole berries!). Yet, they are nothing compared to my blackberries and mint (chocolate and spearmint) who are quickly taking over their sectioned corner of the garden. I did plant them in the ground and expected as much. Why, you may ask, would I plant so many invasive plants? One word: rental. I only plan to be here a few years and then it's not my problem. (My god, I'm a green thumb apartment terrorist. And an ass. But, the way I see it, someone will be lucky to move into my apartment and find plenty of berries and mint for berry mojitos.)

-I love the festive look of tomatillos.-

The many basil plants, chili peppers, parsleys, and other herbs are prolific. The dwarf citrus are fine and dandy (though something is up with that yuzu and its curly leaves). Yes, success abounds here. I am garden man, hear me plant my corn!

However, part of bringing about life is bringing about death. In fact, the bounty of gardening seems to stem from death. Do you know how many aphids - red, black, and green - I have squished with my hands? My fingertips are stained red every morning with the blood of my enemies. The insectoid invading forces are backed up with colonies of ants who seem to be smart enough to avoid my poison traps and, I swear, I heard one of them say something homophobic.

Yes, I did buy a bunch of ladybugs. Yes, I released them out at night. And yes, after five days they all flew away leaving behind all the aphids. I bought their freedom from the gardening store and they ran. I wanted indentured servitude, damn it. I am not the underground railroad for entrapped ladybugs.

-Swollen strawberries.-

The snails and slugs are a whole other thing. I tried every organic method I could think of. I set out copper traps, eggshells, even little trays of beer which peeved me off because it felt like I was buying the damn slimeballs a drink. At one point I was even going out at night with a flashlight, picking them up, placing them on a flat rock and crushing them with a hand trowel in a sacrificial manner offering their tiny icky bodies to the gods of gardening.

Life and death here in this humble apartment garden. It's a balance. Green thumb with a heavy hand.

-Soon to be blackberries. This breed is apartment perfect. It only grows vertical, not outwards, has no thorns, and is immune to insects.-

Cheese N' Beer

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

-Clockwise from the top: Demon du Midi, Gres de Vosges, Maytag Blue, Fromage de Meaux, Lamb Chopper, Carmody.-

Normally, I'm not a beer person. That's not to say I hate beer, I'll throw a few back at a barbeque and certainly won't turn one down when offered, which, as I am to understand, is a sin. I even have a few favorite beers such as Blue Moon with a slice of orange, and Siamese Twin (a delicious beer with kaffir lime and lemongrass, only to be found in California) is a beer I hold dear to my heart, stomach, and liver. However, if you were to invite me to a beer tasting I would have to politely turn you down. It's just not my thing. Wine tasting, chocolate tasting, yes - but not beer.

Throw cheese into the mix and, well, how can I say no? When I heard about the cheese and beer pairing class to be taught by the Taylor's Market cheesemonger, Felicia Johnson, I immediately signed up. I was familiar with the epic duo of pairing cheese with wine and even cheese with chocolate, but cheese and beer, though known, was unfamiliar to me. It was a realm of dairy I had apparently overlooked like so much Budweiser and block cheddar.

-Beer, glorious beer.-

I arrived to find a stylish plate adorned with six cheeses and three glasses of beer, each competing for affection through their body and funk. We would be tasting 18 different pairings, some which would be striking, others revolting. The reason: to learn not just from the positive experiences, but the negatives. An odd though sensible approach to tasting as human beings, being the obstinate beings we are, tend to hold onto our more unpleasant experiences with a miserly grip.

The tasting was instructive and enlightening. The Fromage de Meaux - the closest to a real Brie we'll ever get in the U.S. due to pasteurization laws - matched perfectly with the Scrimshaw Pilsner. The faux-Brie's single cream, mushroomy richness danced well with the light beer. The Pilsner, being light in flavor like a Champagne (a classic cheese pairing for Brie and other rich, mellow cheeses) thus also enjoyed the presence of the Lamb Chopper, buttery Carmody, and oozy Demon du Midi.

The Dogfish Head 90min IPA, a beer with great malt backbone that can stand up to an extreme hopping rate, was made more for the rank and stinky cheeses. When it eclipsed the soft in flavor Brie and sheep's milk cheeses it was able to share my mouth with the Demon, but came to a calming armistice with the meaty, smells-like-feet Gres de Vosges (think of a mild Epoisses).

-Maytag Blue is made like a classic Roquefort, but to me tastes a little... off. I'm in the minority though.-

The Maytag Blue, the oldest American blue and one I'm not keen on to begin with, matched well with the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Stout (a beer made by Fritz Maytag no less). I say this from an indifferent point of view though. They did match well, but combining a cheese I don't care for with a espresso-esque beer I don't care for wasn't exactly a match made in heaven for me. But then again, taste is subjective as my tasting partner seemed to enjoy it.

The tasting was educational in introducing me to new cheeses and how to pair them with beers. It also enforced the main rule in learning about food. Use your senses. You can read about food all you want, but unless you're out there touching, smelling, seeing, and tasting food; the good and the bad; then you'll never really learn or know food. This golden rule of foodism couldn't be more true for cheese.

-How awesome of a name is Lamb Chopper? Seriously, it sounds like a serial killer or the codename for a secret military jet.-

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