28 August 2010

The Skinny on Brewery Tours in Fort Collins, CO

The school year is starting to stare down at us oppressively and we soon won't be able to come up for air before Thanksgiving break.  Maybe that's too dramatic, but that's how it always feels in August.  So it seemed like a good time to enjoy our freedom and head to Fort Collins to sample some of the most recent beers.  While I have learned that I am cannot drink as much as I used to, it was a pretty pleasant day overall.

My husband and I started at New Belgium, at 500 Linden, who might have the cleverest marketing campaign ever. Modeling their beers after the founders’ great passion for ancient Belgian-style brews, they have created a niche market that is pretty unique in the industry. It yields some pretty weird stuff at times, but you can't say they aren't trying.  Their brewery is also completely wind- and solar-powered, and they hand out four generous 5-ounce glasses of the stuff for free to anyone who comes into the tasting room (over the age of 21, of course). Oh, and employees get free bikes and free trips to Belgium for their loyalty.

We tried the following samples at New Belgium Brewery:

From the Lips of Faith series:

Belgian Style Blonde: a clean, light lager with strong citrus notes.

Helle: A Southern German style lager with a hint of citrus and a strong taste of wheat.

Belgo: A Belgian style IPA that was bright and bitter, but missing the floral notes of a British IPA. The bitterness seemed rather unbalanced for the rest of the flavors to my taste.

1554: A dark stout with a hint of coffee and a chocolaty finish.  This is my favorite NB brew of all time.

Abbey: a Belgian “dubbel” with a strong scent of banana and flavors of banana, clove, and caramel. These are some pretty unique and powerful flavors to mix together, and it’s one of the more adventurous brews they make. In other words, this is one of those weird ones I warned you about.

Ranger IPA: a British style pale ale that is crisp, bitter, and hoppy. It’s not as hoppy as some of my favorite IPAs, but the bite is still there.

We also had Fat Tire shoved at us, which niether of us asked for, but it was free.  FT is fine, and as far as ubiquitous beers on tap go, I'd drink it over Coors, for sure. 

A short walk down the road took us to Odell Brewing Company at 800 East Lincoln. Rather than choosing from everything on tap, samples are organized into different coordinated “trays” of six or eight different beers. We chose the “Pilot Tray” from the menu of samplers. The $4 you pay is donated to charity.

Session D.O: this rather complex ale was hoppy and golden in color; it was my favorite of the day.

Snowriders Ale: a very light American wheat with a mild, clean flavor.

Town Pump Pail [sic] Ale: Odell’s British IPA is hoppy and far less bitter than New Belgium’s.

St. Lupulin: a seasonal “dry hopped ale” that didn’t seem very hoppy, but was rather bitter with a slight citrus aftertaste.

Nitro IPA: an American style IPA smoothed out by nitrogen gas, creating the texture of Guinness while retaining the flavor of a light, hoppy ale. This was a strange experience for me, and it certainly challenged my expectations of either an IPA or a nitro pull.

Nitro Cutthroat Porter: pure Guinness all the way.

Both New Belgium and Odell offer tours, but it’s perfectly acceptable to just belly up to the bar in the tasting room if you’re short on time (or attention span).

We intended to walk a couple of blocks down the street to visit Fort Collins Brewery, which boasts a new building slated to open this month on its website. However, said building is still under construction and shows no sign of opening anytime soon. When they do open, they will have a full restaurant, as well, so this is one to check on again in the near future.

At this point, we were hot, thirsty, and hungry. We needed to fill our stomachs with something besides strong beer. Just south of the breweries was Saigon Grill Vietnamese food at 755 S. Lemay. It’s in a shopping plaza and lacks some of the outward charm of those sidewalk cafes on the pedestrian mall, but the food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious.

Lunch specials range from $5.95 to $6.25, and include a cup of hot and sour soup (rather sweet, but also pleasantly spicy), a vegetable egg roll (swap it out for a jumbo-sized crystal roll for $1), and a generous plate of steamed rice and authentic Vietnamese food made with fresh ingredients and accompanied by versatile, flavorful sauces.  There is also a separate noodle bowl lunch menu within the same price range.  Get one of everything.
For us, no trip to Fort Collins would be complete without a stop for coffee. This is because we always drink beer when we visit, and then we have to drive home to Greeley.  Our favorite place is Bean Cycle, which shares space with the socially conscious Matter Bookstore. Located at 144 N. College, it’s on the way back up to Laramie and brews a strong, flavorful cup of coffee with in-house roasted beans. The staff is friendly and very serious about their craft, and the bookstore offers some pleasant browsing time while you sober up for the drive back home.


New Belgium Brewery:  500 Linden, (888) NBB-4044

Odell Brewing Company: 800 East Lincoln Avenue, (970) 498-9070

Saigon Grill: 755 S. Lemay Ave, Unit D-3, (970)416-9722
Bean Cycle and Matter Bookstore: 144 N. College Avenue, (970) 221-2964

21 August 2010

Summer Rice Salads

Too. Hot. To. Move.

If you are one of the lucky few who is not suffering from sweltering summer temperatures, I‘m happy for you. And hate you just a little. But for the rest of us, it’s time to find things to eat that don’t require cooking, am I right people?

Enter rice salads, yet another way to make use of leftovers and avoid turning on the oven. Cold rice can be pretty dry and clumpy right out of the refrigerator, but if you let it sit out on the counter for an hour or so, it will come up to room temperature and be just perfect. Or if you are impatient, slowly microwave it, bit by bit, while stirring it until it becomes softer and moist again. No need to make it hot, though!

So, the basic idea is cooked rice + veggies (+ meat substance) + dressing. Here are some of my favorite combinations:

Margherita Rice Salad:

2 cups white rice + 1 medium chopped tomato + crumbled feta or cubed fresh mozzarella + teaspoon capers + torn fresh basil (+ roasted chicken or prosciutto) + pine nuts + Italian vinaigrette*

French Bean and Rice Salad:

2 cups white or brown rice + 1 cup steamed green beans (+ leftover fish) + slivered almonds + French vinaigrette*

Asian Rice Salad:

2 cups Jasmine rice + 1 cup Asian-y veggies (edamame, red bell pepper, pea pods, carrots…go wild) ( + tofu, pork, beef, or chicken)+ cashews or almonds +Asian vinaigrette*

Get the idea? Measurements are just working ratios—make as much or as little as you want. Eyeball the dressing when you stir it in. Get crazy with nuts, cheeses, or olives, too. The beauty of this salad is that it works with most leftover you have in your fridge, as long as you stick to things that you know you like eating together.

*Vinaigrette dressings:

Italian: 4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, 8 Tbsp. olive oil, 2 tsp. fresh or dried chopped herbs (oregano, basil, parsley), 1 small minced garlic clove, salt and red peppers flakes to taste

French: 4 Tbsp. red or white wine vinegar, 8 Tbsp. olive oil, ½ tsp. prepared mustard (brown or Dijon), ½ tsp. dried tarragon, salt and black pepper to taste

Asian: I use my tofu marinade for this.

15 August 2010

Yolk. A review and a love story.

I was visiting Chicago recently and my impossibly hip Dad suggested a breakfast place in the midst of the touristy, downtown South Loop. We were also headed to the Field Museum, a place I hadn’t visited since my last field trip in grammar school. These are the kinds of things you don’t do when you live here, but when you’re back visiting with your spouse from another part of the country, and your parents have moved out to the ‘burbs and ride the Metra back in to town, playing tourist for the day seems like the only polite thing to do. I was skeptical that his would be a suitable replacement for slinking around my favorite dives in Rogers Park while visiting friends, but I suspend disbelief as dear old Dad led us into the centrally located, brightly lit Yolk.

I should not have been skeptical. And it seems that the rest of Chicago is with me on this one. Open since 2006, Yolk serves up classics with a fresh, modern twist, combining comforting hangover food with a hip, youthful setting and healthy ingredients. And if you like to enjoy your updated diner food in a posh, modern setting, then Yolk wins some more bonus points for atmosphere. Clientele ranged from heavily pierced and tattooed hipsters (on Michigan Avenue?! What were they doing here?!) to business stiffs, to senior citizens and fully stocked nuclear families.

Coffee comes rapidly and is as rich and smoky as what you’ll find in any coffee house in Chicago. The eggs Benedict has been voted the best in town, but I prefer the eggs Florentine. It utilizes the same poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, but swaps the bacon for freshly sautéed spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Both plates come with a generous helping of mixed fruit (in May, it was honeydew, watermelon, grapes, and pineapple) and their diced, fried red potatoes. The veggie skillet is a pile of fresh sautéed vegetables (squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, and spinach over red potatoes) with two eggs of your choice. And while they do really emphasize eggs (poached and soft boiled both executed beautifully, scrambled not too dry), their pancakes are also worth a try. The simple buttermilk pancakes were incredibly light and satisfying, and although it’s the multigrain pancakes that actually say they come with fruit, the folks at Yolk are very flexible about mixing and matching options. The fruit for that day was fresh, unsweetened strawberries, which the kitchen was happy to include with the buttermilk ‘cakes.

Breakfast is exceptionally fresh and modern at Yolk, and they bring this same aesthetic to their lunch items: wraps, salads, sandwiches and burgers also get the update treatment from their traditional selves. Fresh avocado seems to play heavily in what might be considered California-style sandwiches, in particular. Salads are diverse, inventive, and satisfying enough to really be worth ordering.

Finally, if you’ve just got too much to do in the morning to sit and linger over your sexy breakfast, you can still take in the hip, modern setting and enjoy some homemade pastries with your mug of coffee—just saunter up to the front counter and Yolk becomes your neighborhood coffee house.

Service was friendly, prompt, and knowledgeable. They have a South Loop location at 1120 South Michigan Ave, centrally located near the Art Institute and the museum mall. Their north side location is at 747 North Wells. 6a-3p M-F; 7a-3p on the weekends.

08 August 2010

Marinated Tofu Magic

I like seafood, but I try to avoid eating land animals on a regular basis. I mean, in the name of sampling new foods, sometimes I must, but I would also like to avoid the heart disease and obesity that can come with regular consumption. And so, for well over a decade, I have tried to find creative ways of getting enough protein into my diet without those constant stacks of chicken or beef littering my plate. Besides beans and rice, legumes, and fatty cheese-based meals (love those!), tofu seems like an obvious item on the grocery list, but it has taken me a long time to really like it. The texture is creepy, and that vague soy taste that seems to linger in the mouth is not my favorite. I have come up with some solutions: you can change the texture by freezing and thawing it (thank you Mark Bitman, for sharing your genius with the world), you can sear or fry it for a little crispness to add variety to that texture, and you can marinade the heck out of it so the flavor is not only palatable, but tasty. This is the preparation I return to again and again, it makes a great add-in wherever you would use meat in an Asian-inspired dish.

Spicy marinated tofu

Prep: When you come home with your little tub of extra-firm tofu, take it out, give it a good squeeze between your hands to remove some of the excess water, slice it lengthwise into two “steaks”, and place each piece in a sandwich-size Ziploc bag. Place baggies of tofu in freezer for at least two days. Then, you’ll need a good 1-2 days of thawing time in the refrigerator before you decide to use it. Fussy? Not any worse than thawing a roast!

So, for 1 container (2 “steaks”) tofu, thawed and pressed for an hour,


1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce

1/8 cup soy sauce

1/8 cup rice wine or apple vinegar

1 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

¼ cup water

Place pressed tofu in a container with an airtight lid. Stir marinade ingredients together and pour over tofu. Cover, then gently shake to coat and set aside for 30 minutes. *If you are going to grill or sear the tofu, leave it in steaks. Otherwise, for frying or baking in the oven, I cut it into cubes before placing it in the marinade.

Cook as desired. To grill, place on a well-oiled grill or grill pan over high heat. Cook 4-5minutes on each side or until sufficiently browned. Ditto for searing on the stove (frying pan, lightly coated with oil, medium-high heat).

To fry, heat 2-3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil (watch for the shimmer) in a frying pan and cook over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes on each side or until browned.

To bake, lay out on an oiled cookie sheet so that each cube of tofu is making contact with the pan. Bake at 400˚F for 20 minutes, turn each cube, and bake for another 15 minutes or until well-browned. This cooking method will produce the most shrinkage from your tofu, by the way.

In cubes, use as a meat substitute in stir fries, Thai curries, or soups. As steaks, serve with veggies of your choice. Cold or warm leftovers are great in salads, too.