Beer of the Month - May, 2008

May 1st, 2008
Magic Hat #9

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Blue Duck Tavern - Washington, D.C.

April 30th, 2008


The Blue Duck Tavern welcomes you with wholesome American fare prepared through simple, time-honored cooking methods such as roasting, braising, preserving and smoking. The new contemporary neighborhood tavern, designed by Tony Chi, evokes the warmth and convivial setting of a residential kitchen and gathering place.

Fresh produce and ingredients, arriving daily from regional purveyors and artisans, are an integral part of the seasonal menus featured at the Blue Duck Tavern.

Executive Chef Brian McBride and new Chef de Cuisine Michael Santoro prepare many dishes in the wood-burning oven, a focal point of the inviting open kitchen and the heart of this restaurant.

If the restaurant owners actually cared about this review, they couldn't be happier with the night I was there. It was an absolutely beautiful spring evening which allowed us to have dinner seated outside at Blue Duck.

Blue Duck features one of the more interesting menus that I've seen. You have appreciate the freshness that comes with the seasonal ingredients they feature, but I'm a little gunshy about a few items offered (e.g. "hot pigs trotter"). And I definitely was thankful for the plate of freshly sliced prosciutto that was given to us shortly after our basket of bread.

I'm not normally one to indulge in the seafood selections when I have other options, but I figured when I'm that close to Maryland I would do myself a disservice by not getting the Jumbo Lump Crabcakes. The crab cake entree was two substantially-sized crab cakes with plenty of crab meat in each. They were very good, but I must admit that they were nothing compared to the Wood Fired Diver Maine Scallops, which were easily the best scallops I've ever eaten. Consider that I've already stated I don't eat much seafood, but I love scallops.

For sides we went potato times two. The Roasted Fingerlings with bacon and onion were maybe a little under seasoned, but nothing that couldn't be addressed table-side. Or maybe they were very good but overshadowed by the Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries which were delicious, though I did wonder what might be a fun dipping sauce for them.

When you walk into Blue Duck, you are conveniently herded past the station where their popular apple pies are prepared. They recommend one to share, and it is plenty big enough for two people. "Would you like vanilla ice cream with that?" Of course I would. A small, nearly-personal pie with a delicious caramelized brown sugar top served with three big scoops of vanilla ice cream.

I guess I should mention the bottle of 2005 Montes "Alpha" Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile that we had. It, as well as everything served, knocked my socks off.

French Toast Casserole

November 24th, 2007

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
Butter, for pan
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch thick each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 45 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden.

Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Spread over bread as directed above.

(This is a Paula Dean recipe.)

This was a crowd-pleasing breakfast. It was delicious and I am so glad we made it earlier this week. The only things that we did differently from the recipe were to leave off the pecans and use a bigger dish. I was the only one who wanted pecans on it, so I lost this time. But I am definitely curious to try it with the pecans. And I accidentally used my 10x14 dish instead of 9x13 which I am sure changed the dish, but only slightly. There was more than enough to go around, and we would have had leftovers if we hadn't picked at it up until lunch time. It is even good cold.

This is something I will definitely make again.

Chicken Marsala

July 9th, 2007

2 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 halves)
2/3 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup all purpose flour for dredging
1/4 cup clarified butter
2 small garlic cloves, mashed
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup Florio Sweet Marsala wine
1/8 cup dry white wine
1 Tbls. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbls. whole butter

Step One: Prepare chicken breasts

Remove the tenders from the breasts if they are present, the long finger-like strips. Trim all fat and sinews and remove the thin membrane covering the breasts. Butterfly the breasts starting from the plump lobe side. Press firmly with the palm of your hand to achieve uniform thickness. Do not pound with mallet.

Step Two: Sauté chicken breasts

Place a 10", heavy bottomed sauté pan on high heat and add enough of the clarified butter to coat the bottom. When fat is hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle, immediately dredge the chicken breasts in the flour plate, shake off excess and place in the pan. Add the mushrooms at this point. Shake pan frequently to avoid sticking and continue until bottoms are golden brown. Turn breasts in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add mashed garlic and immediately deglaze the pan with chicken broth. Chicken broth should be at least 1/2 inch deep in the pan. Add the Marsala wine, dry white wine, and whole butter.

Step Three: The finish

Continue cooking until chicken is done. If all is perfect the pan sauce will form at the same time the chicken and mushrooms are done. If the pan sauce has not yet come together, remove chicken and mushrooms from sauté pan and place on warm plates, turn heat to high and quickly reduce pan sauce to the proper consistency.


This is the recipe that I modeled my chicken marsala after. It was a great guide which turned out some very tasty results. I varied only slightly.

My local grocer offers chicken breasts that have been pre-sliced to uniform size (offered by a big-name chicken producer), which I like because they save me a little extra work. They worked perfectly for my marsala dish.

I did as directed and dredged the chicken before tossing it into a pan with a light butter coating and lightly cooked it on both sides before adding mushrooms and my sauce (chicken broth, marsala, white cooking wine and garlic). The site from which I grabbed the recipe suggests porcini mushrooms, but I had a limited selection. I opted for shiitake mushrooms which I thought were really great with the dish.

I erred on the side of caution and had my burner over a lower temperature so I wouldn't burn my chicken or the butter which just meant that I had to remove the chicken and reduce my sauce, which was no problem at all. I got a little antsy and didn't reduce as much as I should have, but I know that for next time.

I prefer chicken marsala served over mashed potatoes to pasta, so that was how I served it. If this had been less of a last-minute dinner idea I would have liked to do a red-skin mashed instead of the instant mashed (scoff all you like, I LOVE instant mashed potatoes.) I also roasted some asparagus with olive oil, salt, pepper and a sesame seed finish which I think was more for garnish.

The meal went very well and there were no leftovers, which I took to mean my guests enjoyed the meal. Tips for next time: Reduce the sauce longer and make much more chicken; I was looking forward to those leftovers!

Roasted Garlic Bread

January 7th, 2007

This recipe was available at and was taken from an episode of Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello. I wanted to make my own garlic bread, even though the Texas toast available in the freezer aisle of my local grocer is so good. I looked online for a recipe I liked and found that for something as simple as garlic bread, there are an incredible amount of different recipes. Many suggested I use 4 cloves or 6 cloves of garlic. I chose this recipe because it says use 4 HEADS of garlic. I was sold.

4 heads garlic
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 sprigs thyme, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped
Grey salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 loaf of good, crusty bread, cut into slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut top from each head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Place heads of garlic (cut side up), on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Pour olive oil over them, and top with thyme springs. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap the foil tightly. Place in a small ovenproof pan, and bake until the cloves begin to pop out, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool.

To remove the cloves, open the foil and squeeze the lower part of the head of garlic. In a small bowl, mash the cloves to form a paste. (At this point the paste can be used or stored in the refrigerator or freezer.)

Add butter and chopped thyme to the bowl, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Toast both sides of the bread, using a hot grill, grill pan, or broiler. Spread the roasted garlic butter paste onto the toasted bread. Serve immediately.

The only small variation I opted for with this recipe (not including my inability to find grey salt) was to actually sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over each piece of bread once the garlic butter paste had been applied. This recipe was great using the loaf of Italian bread I picked up at my grocer's bakery section. I had slices of mozzarella that were about the size of a silver dollar and maybe 1/4-1/2" thick. Those went great on the pasta, but even better on the bread especially when it was topped with my friend's homemade sauce.

You can bet I will use this recipe again.

Parker's Beef Stew

November 8th, 2006

A Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) recipe.

2 1/2 pounds good quality chuck beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 (750-ml bottle) good red wine
2 whole garlic cloves, smashed
3 bay leaves
2 cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Good olive oil
2 yellow onions, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally in 1 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 pound white mushrooms, stems discarded and cut in 1/2
1 pound small potatoes, halved or quartered
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 cups or 1 (14 1/2-ounce can) chicken stock or broth
1 large (or 2 small) branch fresh rosemary
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas

Place the beef in a bowl with red wine, garlic, and bay leaves. Place in the refrigerator and marinate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper. Lift the beef out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and discard the bay leaves and garlic, saving the marinade. In batches, dredge the cubes of beef in the flour mixture and then shake off the excess. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and brown half the beef over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Place the beef in a large oven-proof Dutch oven and continue to brown the remaining beef, adding oil as necessary. (If the beef is very lean, you'll need more oil.) Place all the beef in the Dutch oven.

Heat another 2 tablespoons of oil to the large pot and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Place all the vegetables in the Dutch oven over the beef. Add 2 1/2 cups of the reserved marinade to the empty pot and cook over high heat to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the chicken stock, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer over medium heat on top of the stove. Cover the pot and place it in the oven to bake it for about 2 hours, until the meat and vegetables are all tender, stirring once during cooking. If the stew is boiling rather than simmering, lower the heat to 250 or 275 degrees F.

Before serving, stir in the frozen peas, season to taste, and serve hot.

This is a good stick-to-your-ribs recipe. It would really be good any time, but it has special magic on a cold night. We served the stew with dinner rolls, but to add to the experience I felt like we should have loaves of bread from which I may tear off a chunk and dunk in my stew. Who even needs silverware?!

I didn't make the stew, otherwise there would have been a few things omitted from the recipe. I am all for peas when first trying a recipe; in a dutch oven full of browned meats and vegetables, I am not necessarily opposed to a little color. Having tried the stew with the peas once, I no longer need them added to any subsequent stews. I also don't require the sun-dried tomatoes or the rosemary. They are unnecessary flavor as far as I am concerned.

My mom made the stew and she commented on how much she preferred browning the beef, vegetables and mushrooms before adding them to the dutch oven. It adds a little extra work in preparation of the meal, but it adds flavor.

I would not be concerned if you decide to make this last minute. I don't think the overnight marinating was essential to the meal. The red wine adds beautiful flavor, but the recipe could be made just as easily without it.

If you open your dutch oven and think the stew looks a little thin, stir it up. Moving the potatoes around should loosen up the starch and thicken the stew without you having to add anything.

Simple Lasagna

November 6th, 2006

Simple, though delicious.

1 large jar plain marinara sauce
3 C ricotta
1/2 C grated parmesan
2 eggs
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 Lb. grated mozzarella
1 box no-boil* noodles

Soften the no-boil noodles in hot water while you make your filling. For the filling mix the ricotta, parmesan, eggs, salt and pepper together. Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick spray. Begin to layer your pan with noodles on the bottom, 1/3 of your filling, 1/3 of your mozzarella cheese, then 1/3 of your sauce. Repeat until you are out. Sprinkle the top with any leftover mozzarella.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving so the lasagna is not soupy.

*If you use boilable noodles, use 9 of them boiled for 5-7 minutes.

Lola's - Detroit, MI

September 13th, 2006

Lola's is one of a few places in the Harmonie Park area of Downtown Detroit that features both dining and live jazz. Last night we went for the former, though I could easily see myself going back for the latter. We definitely had a positive experience at Lola's.

The menu does not fit well into any defined genre I know. It seemed to pull from a variety of influences and added depth and variety to the menu as a result. I had a rather difficult time picking what I wanted and I'll go through my thought process before I actually go into how anything tasted.

A few main courses that I considered were: Crawfish Etoufee, Fried Rice (yes, it was a main dish), Lobster B.L.T., Tempura Shrimp, and Lola's Fried Chicken. I was initially leaning most towards the fried chicken, but opted against because of the side dishes. I did not want the black beans or the corn succotash. So I didn't get the Fried Chicken. I was very curious for the fried rice, but couldn't justify getting that as an entree my first time at Lola's when there were so many other appealing menu items. I love lobster meat, though it did not take long for my eyes to gravitate away from the Lobster B.L.T.. The sandwich was listed at $16 and I rationalized that there would hardly be any actual lobster meat on it for that price. I opted against both the Tempura Shrimp and Crawfish Etoufee because of the appetizer menu. I wanted both the BBQ Shrimp and the Crab, Crawfish and Corn Fritters as appetizers for the table and did not want to have the same featured ingredient in both my appetizer and entree. By this point in my selection process the server will be back any minute and I need to make my decision since I have now talked myself out of each dish above. In an item description I see the words "Our famous" and my attention was grabbed enough to order accordingly. Those two words were the only way I could ever justify ordering the Bacon Cheeseburger on a menu like Lola's. And even with that description, I do feel that I kind of took the easy way out. But I'm ok with that.

Both of the appetizers were listed at $10 per. I feel that the Fritters was a better deal since there are more ingredients and at least you got 5 of them, which worked out well since we had 5 people in our party. The BBQ shrimp came as only three shrimp, which makes it hard for me to justify the price.

Both dishes were great. The Fritters were roughly the size of a chocolate truffle, so I would have liked more than one to fully appreciate the flavor. I expected a more New Orleans spin on the Shrimp (based upon some other things on the menu), meaning more spice. They didn't necessarily need the heat, but I think it would have been a nice addition.

My cheeseburger...oh my cheeseburger. It comes with your choice of cheese, I picked cheddar. My juicy cheeseburger came topped with the cheese and applewood smoked bacon on an onion roll. I guess I should also tell you that it came with lettuce, tomato and red onion, though I kept that all off of my burger. Served with a glorified french fry potato chip hybrid for $13, I thought the burger was a steal. Especially since it was one of the best cheeseburgers I have ever had.

I wanted dessert, but my company was too full. The dishes that were responsible were Thai Snapper (x2), Lobster B.L.T. and a Smoked Turkey Reuben. I never get dessert if I am the only one, but last night I was tempted to break that tradition. Lola's offers a Ginger Beer Float that really sounded particularly delicious after my burger. Though I'm still disappointed that one dinner mate opted against dessert after she mentioned that she was considering the Aphrodisiac in place of her meal before we ordered dinner. Two glasses of chocolate Port and Lola's chocolate lava cake (or whatever it was, you get the idea). I think that would have been a little over the top chocolate-wise, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't suffer through it if I had to.

The place was smaller than I would have expected going in. Sitting towards the rear of the restaurant may feel more "out to dinner," but up front the space was too open. I think it would be a great place to watch their live jazz, but I was hoping for a more intimate feeling from the restaurant, which I did not get at our table. I was also briefly disappointed when they did not have the flavored liquor one of my table mates tried to order for her cocktail. I would think they would keep their bar well stocked, but I am not sure lacking orange vodka can really be considered a strike against the place.

I would definitely go back to Lola's.

Lola's Restaurant, 1427 Randolph St Detroit, MI 48226-2213

"Frank's Chicken"

September 5th, 2006

Breaded and pan fried chicken breasts, garnished with lemon slices.

4 skinless, boneless breast halves, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
2 Tablespoons water
1 cup (or more) bread crumbs
1/4 cup peanut or canola oil
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
For garnish: thinly sliced lemon slices

1. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Beat the egg with the water and place in a flat dish.

2. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour, dip in the egg, then coat with the breadcrumbs, pressing them in your fingers.

3. Heat the oil and butter in one or two skillets and add the chicken. Cook about 3-5 minutes on each side or until golden. Turn and cook on the other side 3-5 minutes.

To serve:
Remove and serve hot, garnished with the lemon slices.

I normally will not take part in a lemon garnish. I like lemon flavor, but usually opt against lemon juice on my food (e.g. shrimp). This dish is an exception to that rule. The freshness of the lemon slices goes perfectly with the chicken. This dish deserves a healthy bed of mashed potatoes. No dipping sauce or gravy necessary.

Tao - New York, NY

August 25th, 2006

We had a lunch reservation at Tao in New York City last week. Our host and tour guide for the few days we were in town suggested Tao and took care of the reservation. We had an incredible lunch at Tao. www.taorestaurant.comThe theme was fantastic. The food, the table settings, the decorations and the layout of the restaurant were all very impressive.

My lunchmates split a sushi dish that I was clearly too afraid to branch out and try. I liked that they ordered one dish and the server actually recommended they try something else. He was very adament in his recommendation and said he stood by it without undermining their original choice. I would hate to speak for them, but they seemed very pleased with their decision to follow his suggestion. I am a big fan of a knowledgeable wait staff, especially when the servers interact with the table more than for just taking an order and refilling water glasses.

During the week Tao offers a prix fixe menu for lunch. Apparently it used to be under $20, but it is now $24.07. The menu (pdf) offers a variety of pan Asian dishes. I ordered the Peking Duck Spring Rolls with Hoisin Sauce, Kung Pao Chicken and the Chocolate & Raspberry Wontons with Vanilla Ice Cream.

I traded one of my duck spring rolls for a skewer of chicken satay from one of my lunchmates. I definitely made the right choice with the duck. The spring rolls were moist and delicious. The hoisin sauce added a nice light flavor if used, but I opted against for the most part.

I was expecting a spicier dish in the kung pao chicken. Believe me, I was not at all disappointed to find it was not spicy. I would have eaten and enjoyed it had it been spicy, but it was great mild. It was plated with very roughly chopped bell peppers and cantaloupe. I am a big rice fan, so I could have eaten more than the single scoop at the center of my plate, but there wasn't really any room in my stomach for more.

The chocolate and raspberry wontons were delicious. They were a little too big for one bite and a little too hard to cut to make into smaller bites, but that has never stopped me before and it didn't stop me at Tao. The ice cream was drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce. Any time ice cream is involved I am happy.

I was incredibly impressed with the amount of food we got and how much I enjoyed it for a $24.07 three-course lunch. I highly recommend Tao in New York City. I'm glad we were able to go while I was in town.

If you happen to be out west, Tao Las Vegas is located in the Venetian Hotel.