by Dan Clarke
What a waste. A loss to humanity, one of us said as we sat at the bar watching all that foam going down the drain.
Of course, it's the nature of things that Guinness Stout must be poured slowly. It throws that wonderful, creamy head and must settle down a bit before the bartender tops it off with a second shot from the tap. Invariably some of the foam is lost as it's swept off the top to accelerate this process. But the foam is still beer, however oxygenated. And it seemed a shame to waste it.
At a neighborhood pub I used to frequent in Sacramento, they served respectable food, but without a proper kitchen their fare tended toward microwaved sausage plates, Cornish pastys and fish and chips brought over from next door. The place was known more for its beer and camaraderie than its cuisine. Surprisingly, the conversation at the bar ran to restaurants and recipes as often as to soccer, politics and more typical issues.
One of the regulars suggested that the foam could settle out and be used in cooking, but not a man—or woman—among us took home any of the dregs to our own kitchen. Over the course of two years occasional noises were heard about using some of that overpour in a cake batter or perhaps adding it to chili—after all, anything and everything can go into chili. Still, these were the musings of people passing time waiting for the next televised ball game or considering the virtues of a longer happy hour.
Once in a great while bar talk is actually translated into action. The “what could we do with all that foam” topc recurred often enough to beget some ideas—not totally recipes yet—that seemed to have some promise. At some point the gauntlet was thrown and a few of the regulars declared a cooking competition could whose ideas had merit. To separate the merely opinionated from the doers we required an entry fee. Ten dollars and check with entry, if you please. St. Patrick's Home for Children was deemed a worthy recipient of any moneys raised and we were off. The area Guinness rep was invited to participate and he donated a number of T-shirts and other merchandise to use as prizes. The quid pro quo was that we expand the key ingredients list to include two other products his company distributed; Harp Lager and Bass Ale. Being brewed in Dundalk, County Louth, Harp continued the Irish theme. Bass did not, it being English, but we acquiesced, not wanting to have to give back the T-shirts and other swag. Actually, the addition of the Bass gave us a full spectrum of flavors, from the lighter lager through the ale on the way to the full-flavored stout.
We sought the services of outside authorities. Having neutral, professional jurists would minimize any arguments and acknowledge the talent we thought might come to the fore. Three experts flattered us by accepting seats on the bench: Jean-Luc Chassereau, a genuine French chef; Mike Dunne, food & wine editor of the Sacramento Bee newspaper; and Michael Lewis, retired professor of brewing science from the University of California at Davis.
The competition was to be divided into five categories: appetizers and first courses, main dishes of fish or chicken, main dishes of red meats, vegetarian dishes, and desserts.
Giddy with our own creation, we mailed a few press releases. While still unsure of our own talent, we did feel we might break some new ground by cooking with beer, rather than wine, and thought the world might want to know. Also, more attention meant a better chance for us to do right by the St. Patrick's Home. A newspaper columnist gave us a plug and we were truly committed.
As would-be Gordon Ramseys and Paula Deans began seriously considering how to incorporate beer into a recipe, most thought of very full-flavored dishes. Chili was a recurring theme and some traditional pub foods were suggested, too. Perhaps the initial inspirations were ways to “bury” the beer in a recipe so that its unmistakable flavor (especially in the case of Guinness) wouldn't overpower a dish. The essence of this stout is complex. There is a wonderful creaminess at first, followed by a smoky/toasty flavor.
The day before our contest a late entrant arrives. My old friend, Big Ric Dunseth, drives over from the Napa Valley where he's the reigning barbecue champion. He's also a professional caterer and author of books on wine. We spend hours theorizing about the task at hand. We both feel that using lager or ale is taking the coward's way out and that stout offers an appropriately robust challenge. Ah, the egos of men who cook.
In the morning we set about proving our theories. Ric is preparing a rack of lamb which is to be marinated in cans of Pub Drought Guinness. I'm at work making a chicken in mole—a rich sauce featuring garlic, mushrooms, chili powders and minced pasilla chiles in a reduction of Guinness. Things seem to be coming together and we set off on a tangent.
Is not a draft Guinness with that dark powerful bottom, topped by its lovely, creamy head reminiscent of a root beer float? We pitch into a brain-storming session which yields the idea of sliced bananas and kiwi topped with a syrup made from a reduction of Guinness. We discover that after reducing the stout by about a third, it begins bitter. Uh, oh. What to do? Well, just as some wines go through a “dumb stage” prior to release and eventually come around, so does our Guinness. Curiously, further reductions seem to make it less, not more, bitter. Not wanting to take any chances, we add some powdered baker's chocolate and brown sugar to the syrup and a little orange zest.
Professionals they are, all our judges show up right on time and go over the ground rules. Each dish will be judged within its own category, with an overall winner to be chosen later as best of show. A 100-point scoring system is to be employed, with 20 percent for appearance, 30 percent for creative use of beer and balance (50%) for taste.
Cooking facilities are somewhat limited, but the competitors make the best of it. Most have some some prep work at home and do the finishing touches in the pub's back room. With appropriate ceremony, entrants are individually announced by the pub's owner and walk their offerings forward to the panel of judges. George Thompson comes out first, bearing his cheddar cheese with Bass Ale soup. Steve Tincher follows with calamari stir fried in Guinness. Sandy McCullough has prepared separate dishes of prawns and mussels steamed in Harp Lager and Bass Ale and Bob Martin offers bratwurst and onions boiled in beer. These and other dishes in the appetizer/first course category show that in the hands of good amateur chefs, beer can be a delightful ingredient.
Main dishes of fish and poultry are judged next. I'm proud of my chicken mole—it's rich and complex, the flavors of the Guinness are well-integrated and there seems to be just the right amount of spice and heat. However, I'm denied a blue ribbon by Ann Marie Gonzalez; who has also chosen to tempt the judges with a chicken mole. She's done nearly everything I have, but she's done it just a bit better.
Red meat dishes have attracted most of the entrants. There is formidable competition. Mike Eady has barbecued an excellent flank steak, Betty Madden has roasted a pork tenderloin with vegetables and Ric Dunseth's rack of lamb is beautifully presented and tastes great. Venison stew, pork spareribs and other dishes are also well received, but first place goes to a Yorkshireman, Russ Berriman, who dazzles the judges with a shepherd's pie (á la Bass).
Jim Eady produces a nice pot of beans with bacon and takes a first place in the vegetarian category. We're flexible.
My bananas and kiwi with toasted walnuts and whipped cream over Guinness syrup wins a blue ribbon as the one and only entry in the dessert category. Chef Chassereau smiles and declares it “a good concept.” The concept “damning with faint praise” comes to my mind.
Given the minimal kitchen facilities and waiting time between presentations, the overall food quality was startling. There wasn't a clinker in the bunch and some were truly outstanding. The entrants demonstrated that one rather small pub in California was home to a surprising number of competent cooks and that beers, especially strongly-flavored ones, can both complement good food and be an essential ingredient of a wide variety of dishes.
Those sons and daughters of Erin among us may have hoped for a special nod from the judges, given the mostly Irish theme of the exercise. Grand prize winner by a clear margin, however, was Dennis Fukimoto. His salmon was marinated in Bass Ale, smoked over Guinness-soaked oak chips, and accompanied by a decorative salad with Harp Lager dressing. That the colors of the salmon in a bed of white shaved horseradish with surrounding green lettuces were reminiscent of the Irish flag may not have hurt his chances either.
All involved seemed to have had an enjoyable Saturday afternoon. We turned over $265 to Monsignor Kavanaugh to help his work at the St. Patrick's Home and tended to validate the theory that reclaiming foam had a purpose.
We chefs-for-a-day basked in the afterglow at the pub for weeks. Our swagger increased. We talked of issuing a challenge to any other pub whose chefs wanted to take us on. Before fantasy faded to the inevitable reality, we had even thought of creating a home-and-home cooking series with some pub in Ireland. Now that would have been great fun.
Russ Berriman's Shepherd's Pie
1½ pounds ground (minced) lamb or beef (or mixture of the two)
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped or grated
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ cup peas (optional
1 pint of Guinness
8 oz. Can of peeled, chopped tomatoes
3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 tablespoons half and half or whipping cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
freshly chopped parsley to garnish
Marinate lamb in Guinness overnight in the refrigerator. Next day remove meat from marinade and place in saucepan (reserve marinade) with onion, celery,m garlic and carrots. Add approximately 4 tablespoons of marinade and cook gently for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently until meat is well-sealed and almost cooked.
Add tomatoes, oregano, rosemary, seasonings and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 15-20 minutes (You can add the rest of marinade and use a gravy thickener to make additional thicker sauce. This is optional).
Meanwhile, cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender (approximately 20 minutes). Mash potatoes until smooth or use a whip. Add butter and fold until potatoes are creamy.
Place potatoes in a pastry bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe evenly over meat mixture which is now in an oven dish: or, spread potatoes evenly with a spoon and fork up the potatoes for texture. Cook in oven for 30-40 minutes at 400 degrees until top is golden brown. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
Dan Clarke's Guinness Sundae
6 kiwi fruit, ripe but not too soft
2 cans Guinness “Pub Draft”
juice of 1 orange
2 rounded teaspoons fine orange zest
1-2 heaping tablespoons powdered chocolate (I used Ghirardelli sweet ground chocolate and cocoa)
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup hone
1 tablespoon butter
cinnamon to taste (optional)
8 heaping tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
Put the Guinness, maple syrup and honey in a saucepan over medium heat and reduce volume by about half.
While liquid is reducing, place walnut pieces (perhaps meat from eight medium-size walnuts) on cookie sheet and toast lightly. Be careful not to over-toast as they burn easily and turn bitter. Chop walnuts to yield medium-to-fine pieces.
Stir orange juice into the liquid and add the orange zest. Add powdered chocolate gradually, tasting several times. Stop short of using both tablespoons if you reach the point where you're happy with the flavor. Add the butter and a little cinnamon (to taste). Continue reducing mixture to desired thickness.
Slice banana into ½-inch thick pieces and, after peeling kiwis, slice them into ¼-inch pieces. Place mixture of equal parts kiwi and banana in small bowl, pour warm Guinness syrup over top and garnish with whipped cream and toasted walnuts.
Note: As prepared for the competition, both powdered chocolate and brown sugar were used (and in greater quantity), but no honey and no maple syrup. While the liquid reduced to a flavor that was attractive, desired thickness wasn't achieved. A professional chef has suggested this modification. I suggest you have fun and be prepared to taste frequently and adjust accordingly as you proceed.
(Editor's Note: This article also appears in the Home Cooking section of Taste California Travel.)
There's gold in Death Valley. White gold
It took prospectors Aaron and Rosie Winters to discover it in the late 1800s, a San Francisco businessman to develop it, a television and radio show to market it--and today’s environmental movement to give it its due. We’re talking about sodium borate, or borax, a common laundry product used for more than 100 years.
Borax is found primarily in two places on the planet – Turkey and the California desert. Visitors see evidence ofit throughout Death Valley National Park where there is a museum dedicated to the mineral located at the Ranch at Furnace Creek Resort in the park.
The Borax Museum is housed in a small building, the oldest structure in the park (circa 1883). It was first an office, then a bunk house, then an ore checking station for miners at the Monte Blanco Deposits. The little museum is crammed with artifacts from the borax mining era, and there are antique wagons, carriages and a steam locomotive out back.
Travel Web sites that post comments from visitors include many positive comments for the museum.
“This place was way cool,” wrote one visitor. “If you’re into mining history of any type, you’ll find the museum and surrounding exhibits quite interesting.”
The museum traces the history of borax mining in the park, including the Harmony Borax Works, and has numerous artifacts, newspaper clippings, photographs and other memorabilia. The museum also chronicles the history of Death Valley.
Because the mining area was so remote, teams of 20 mules were used to haul the heavy carts wagons to a processing location. Visitors of a certain age will recall the radio and later TV programs, “Death Valley Days,” featuring stories of the desert West, and sponsored by 20-Mule Team Borax. One of the pitchman for this series? None other than actor Ronald Reagan (pre-presidency, of course).
The non-toxic laundry product is making a comeback in the 21st century as an environmentally friendly cleaner. Shoppers can find it near the laundry detergent in most grocery stores. Adding one-half cup in the clothes washer is a proven cleaning booster, mixing one part borax and three parts water results in a great carpet stain-remover. One part borax with one quarter part lemon juice cleans porcelain or stainless steel.
Borax also is responsible for the presence of the Furnace Creek Resort. After the Pacific Coast Borax Company bought out Harmony in the 1920s, the new owners created a subsidiary, the Death Valley Hotel Company. In 1927, they opened the $30,000 Inn at Furnace Creek, with 12 guest rooms, a dining room and lobby. Morerooms and a natural spring pool were added later. The company teamed up with the Union Pacific Railroad to stop in Ryan, about 20 miles away, where guests were met by motorcars. Its remoteness appealed to the rich and famous and soon it became something of a legend.
Today, the Inn at Furnace Creek is an AAA four-diamond property, open from mid-October through mid-May. It still has fine dining and a spring-fed pool, plus tennis courts and a golf course, horseback riding and, naturally, the Borax Museum. The Ranch at Furnace Creek is open year-round.
Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Desert area lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.
When it comes to the arts, Los Angeles has raised the bar and has set the standard with the quality of art that it creates and presents. With more than 100 museums boasting priceless works of art, original sculptures, avant-garde objects and pop-culture icons, LA boasts the highest percentage of visitors who cross the thresholds of its many museums of any major U.S. city.
"We have an extraordinary collection of art museums, performing art venues, and galleries," says Michael McDowell, senior director of Cultural Tourism & Affinity Markets for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. "Cultural tourism ranks high among travelers, and LA has so much to offer visitors who want an art-filled experience. Whether it's to view paintings by some of the world's greatest artists or to enjoy a spectacular operatic performance, LA offers travelers a diverse and thought-provoking arts experience."
Visitors to Los Angeles often get their first glimpse of LA's vibrant art scene as they descend into Los Angeles International Airport, where a series of 100-foot-high, colorfully lit pylons and 32-foot-high letters spelling out "LAX" are visible to airline passengers from 3,000 feet high. These permanent public art installations have become symbolic and are a well-known example of the LA's public art. In addition, many of the airport's terminals feature permanent and rotating art exhibits.
Among the City's prized museums is the Getty Villa, an extraordinary full reproduction of a Roman pleasure palace filled with Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities with recently expanded galleries. The grounds also feature an outdoor theater, indoor auditorium, museum store, and café specializing in Mediterranean fare.Along Museum Row is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where the Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened in 2008, with the Resnick Pavilion following in 2010. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, these two buildings are among the nation's largest, column-free art spaces with loft-like galleries housing works from 1945 to the present. A sky-lit upper floor bathes the spaces in natural light. Other well-known museums include the Getty Center, Museum of Tolerance, Skirball Cultural Center, Hammer Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, just to name a few.
Space and science enthusiasts can head to the Griffith Observatory, California Science Center or Natural History Museum. Built in 1935 with commanding views from just beneath the famed Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory is one of the City's most iconic destinations and visited attractions. A recent, $94 million renovation added another 40,000 square feet of public space that includes a multi-level exhibit gallery, 200-seat theater, Wolfgang Puck café and gift shop. The California Science Center, located Downtown near the USC campus, features a new, permanent Ecosystems wing, which has doubled the museum's amount of exhibition space. Within the gallery are a blend of live plants and animals with hands-on science exhibits representing 11 immersive environments. A 188,000-gallon kelp tank teeming with 1,500 live fish serves as a centerpiece. The new, large-scale Dinosaur Hall at the neighboring Natural History Museum boasts the largest individual dinosaur fossil collection in the world, with major mounts, including the world's only T. Rex growth series, displaying skeletons from juvenile to adult.
Touted as the "entertainment capital of the world," it's not surprising that LA is home to several entertainment museums. There is the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE, celebrating outstanding accomplishments in music. The Hollywood Museum, housed in the historic Max Factor Building, pays homage to movie-making history with a vast display of memorabilia. Nearby, Madame Tussauds Hollywood offers a collection of life-like wax figures, featuring movie and sports celebrities from the past and present.
The City is also home to several significant historic structures that date back to the region's humble beginnings. The Avila Adobe and the San Fernando Mission are registered landmarks filled with priceless artifacts and artwork.
When it comes to performing arts, Los Angeles boasts more venues than any other metropolis, including New York City. The Kodak Theatre, home to the annual Academy Awards™ presentation at the famed crossroads of Hollywood and Highland, is now the permanent home to Cirque du Soleil's "IRIS: A Journey Through the World of Cinema". The Music Center, a performing arts complex in the heart of Downtown LA, includes the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, and Walt Disney Concert Hall. The complex is home to the LA Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, Center Theatre Group, LA Opera, and Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center. Historic venues, such as the Hollywood Bowl and The Greek Theatre, as well as the Pantages Theatre, also attract thousands of visitors annually.
LA Arts Month takes place in January, but in reality, the momentum for the City's rich cultural scene is non-stop. Upcoming cultural events include "Aphrodite and the Gods of Love" at the Getty Villa through July 9; "Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity" at the Getty Center through August 12; "La Boheme" at Los Angeles Opera, Music Center May 12-June 2; "War Horse" at the Ahmanson Theatre June 13-22; Bolshoi Ballet presents "Swan Lake" at the Music Center June 7-10; and the Los Angeles Film Festival at L.A. LIVE June 14-24.
Before the year concludes, Los Angeles will welcome an array of new cultural developments and attractions, including the arrival of the USS Iowa to the Port of Los Angeles. This World War II battleship will be permanently berthed at the San Pedro Waterfront as a museum and memorial. The California Science Center will be home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which embarked on its first mission in May 1992. In the midst of a seven-year, $135 million renovation is the Natural History Museum, which will open a new, permanent exhibit focusing on Southern California's environmental and cultural history. The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles is currently being built in Downtown's historic Italian Hall adjacent to Olvera Street.
Two new, multimillion-dollar arts projects are slated for completion in 2013. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts broke ground in March 2012 and will transform a Beverly Hills city block into a vibrant new cultural destination with two distinct buildings: the historic Beverly Hills Post Office and a new, 500-seat Goldsmith Theater.
The Broad, located across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown, will feature a 120,000-square-foot museum housing philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad's extensive collection of contemporary art.
(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)
Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Los Angeles lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.