Sunday, October 30, 2011

Southern Tier's Pumking

Halloween is tomorrow and therefore it's officially fall, even if the temperature here is still regularly in the 70s and 80s. Fall means pumpkin beer! Usually pumpkin beers are seasonal releases that hit the liquor stores in September and by the end of October many have sold out. This year I have a new favorite and it is Southern Tier Brewery's Imperial Pumking.

The 'imperial' on beer labels denotes that the beer is a stronger version of the style, usually with a higher percentage of alcohol. This beer is 8.6% alcohol by volume, which is definitely on the high side for a pumpkin ale.

Nerdy beer fact: the term 'imperial' came about because English brewers made stronger beers for Russia's imperial court. The original imperial was the imperial Russian stout brewed for Catherine the II of Russia in the 18th century.

Based on my rating scale, I have to give this beer a 5 because my husband and I sought more out after we drank the 1st one and then stockpiled about half a dozen more. It loses a few points because the head disappears almost immediately, leaving no lacing on the glass. Other than that it is sooooo good.

The beer smells like roasted buttery nuts and tastes like bready pumpkin. It's not overly sweet though and it has some background notes of vanilla and caramel.

The mouthfeel is medium, not very thin and not really thick and full either. The carbonation is pretty minimal and by the last few sips the beer is flat, which is not a bad thing, just different from most beers. Frankly the taste is so distinct that if the beer was highly carbonated I think it would just be overwhelming. Oh and the color! It's like clear pumpkin puree in a glass.

Southern Tier recommends you serve Pumking at 40 degrees in a goblet. I did like it better out of a snifter (top photo), but think that 40 degrees is too cold, you get the full pumpkiny flavor when it's a bit warmer. I would take it out of the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes before cracking it open.

As for flavor pairings, this beer tends toward the sweeter side so it makes a great dessert beer. I also think it would be good with baked goods, bread, cheese, custards (I'm thinking creme brulee here), fruit that's not too sweet, sweet potato, and sweeter squashes (pumpkin, acorn, etc.). We drank it the first time around with grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato jam, which was stellar.

After checking out the reviews on Beer Advocate, I will warn you people either love or hate this beer. Most people love it, but if you don't like beers that have flavors besides malts and hops, this is not the beer for you. The pumpkin definitely dominates this beer and frankly if you can't taste the pumpkin, what's the point of having it in there?!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage (Plus the Secret to Great Tomato Sauce Revealed!)

I don't make a ton of pasta dishes with tomato sauce, but when I do I always make my own sauce. Seriously, if all you've ever had is some nonsense out of a jar, you are missing out. Pasta sauce is ridiculously simple to make. The secret is letting it simmer for a loooooong time. Like 90 minutes or more.  I simmered this one for 2 hours. It's also pretty hard to screw up. The steps are basically 1) Throw a bunch of tomatoes or tomato product in a pot. 2) Add generous amounts of your favorite Italiany things and a big splash of good red wine. 3) Simmer. 4) Simmer some more, just don't let the bottom burn.

That's dried parsley, basil, red pepper flakes, and freshly ground pepper about to be stirred into the sauce. I used a good Californian Cabernet Sauvignon for the wine.

This particular sauce is thick, complex, and a bit spicy with the addition of red pepper flakes and hot Italian sausage. If you'd like it milder you could just sub sweet Italian or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The recipe makes a big batch too, 10 -14 servings and can easily be frozen and reheated. The original version that it's based on has almost 1000 5-star reviews on

Serve this over some al dente pasta with some crusty bread, and the rest of the wine, and you've got comfort food at its best. 

I just have one plea to make. Please, please, please don't overcook your pasta. Pasta should not be cooked until it's pale and mushy and falls apart when a fork gets anywhere near it. It should hold its shape and have some chewiness left in it. This is going to mean checking your pasta 4-6 minutes before the box says it's done and tasting it to find out. Or if you have access to fresh pasta it's going to mean the briefest of cooking times, like a few minutes max. I personally love fettuccine noodles, but you could also go with the more traditional spaghetti or maybe penne. Ok, I've said my piece about pasta.

Oh yeah, one more thing. You should add water based on how long you let this simmer. Mine was fine with 1 cup for a 2 hour simmer, but you may need more depending on how quickly your sauce reduces and the length of time you let it simmer for. Just give it a stir once and a while, and if you see its way too thick and sticking to the bottom like crazy, add a little more water.

Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage
Serves 10-14
Adapted from Sharlene W~s recipe


1 1/2 lbs hot Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15 ounce cans stewed tomatoes
2 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
salt, to taste (probably in the neighborhood of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon depending on how much added salt there is in your tomato product)
1/4 cup good red wine (Cabernet recommended)
parmesan, for topping


1. Remove the sausage from its casings and cook in a large pot. Break the sausage into smaller bite-size pieces as you cook.

2. Add the onions and saute until translucent.

3. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or until fragrant.

4. Add everything else and bring just to a boil. Simmer the sauce for a long time (if you have to get dinner on the table sooner, go for at least 30 minutes). Stir occasionally and add water as needed.

5. Enjoy over pasta with some parmesan!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pear Applesauce

I have never been crazy about store bought applesauce since it resembles baby food too closely for me. This pear applesauce is almost like a preserve with its large pieces of pear and apple. The flavor is fantastic, just a little cinnamon and ginger to complement the sweetness of the fruit. Bonus: this is another recipe that will make it smell like fall exploded in your kitchen.

This is super easy to make too. Just toss all the ingredients in a
crockpot and break them up a little as they cook down. About an hour before the cooking time was up I just used a potato masher to get it to the desired consistency and then gave it a stir. If you want to make a double batch, I also think this would can or freeze really well.

The original recipe called for some added sugar, but if your pears are ripe the sauce is plenty sweet without any. If your pears are rock hard you can throw them all together into a brown paper bag for a day or two to speed up the ripening process (this trick works great for all kinds of under ripe fruit, just make sure to check them at least daily because they can go from ripe to rotten quickly).

The recipe yields around 4 cups of sauce and if you don't eat it all immediately (I found myself stealing spoonfuls every time I passed the fridge) it's really good swirled with yogurt or oatmeal. I used some of mine to try out a baked oatmeal recipe.

I'll be honest,  although I liked the hearty texture of baked oatmeal it was fairly dry and ho-hum without the help of more applesauce and some sugared pecans on top. I love the idea of baking something like this for a few days worth of breakfast or in advance for guests since it reheats really well. But next time I will pump up the spices significantly and stir some soaked raisins and nuts into the batter. So for now, I'll just share the applesauce until I feel the oatmeal is up to par.

Pear Applesauce
Yields about 4 cups
Adapted slightly from Cookin' Canuck's recipe 


1 1/2 pounds Gala apples (about 5 medium), peeled, cored, and chopped
1 1/2 pounds Bartlett pears (about 5 medium), cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup water


1. Toss everything into a crockpot and give it a good stir to incorporate the cinnamon and ginger.

2. Cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8. An hour or two before the cooking time is up, mash the softened fruit with a potato masher to your preferred consistency.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jeremy + Tomato Jam

Today, I've been married for 2 years. Ideally I'd be telling you about the super fancy pants dinner I have planned for the occasion. But my dad has been in the hospital and we spent the weekend visiting him in Florida. (He's out now and he's going to be fine, but I had to see him in person to reassure myself.) So instead, I thought I'd dedicate this post to my husband Jeremy and share a new recipe that we both really love.

This is how most of the world views Jeremy. A coffee-inhaling software engineer with his iphone permanently attached to his hand:

If you get to know him better, the next picture shows what he's really like. A 5-year-old masquerading as an adult that thinks that robots and Morse code are super cool and that uni-cycling indoors is a great idea. (He also makes questionable fashion choices like wearing socks with Sperrys.)

Don't let all the nerd street cred fool you though, he is a great husband. He keeps me in the caffeine, walks the dogs, and fixes the html when I start screaming at Blogger because it's putting everything in italics.

And after two years, we've got some important stuff figured out: like coffee and watching our dogs play fixes a lot of things, when I'm mad I'm always right, and breakfast is always a good option.

When it comes to food, we like a lot of the same things. But I definitely have the sweet tooth, while Jeremy is all over the savory. Which is why this tomato jam recipe is so perfect: it's both.

This was my second canning experiment. And it was so good I promptly went out and bought an obscene amount of tomatoes to make another batch. I thought I might give them as Christmas presents, but the way we're eating through the jars maybe not.

The procedure is so ridiculously simple too. Basically chop a lot of tomatoes and reduce them with sugar and spices. Although I followed the recipe and did this on the stove top, you could probably do this in a big crock pot too.

The better your tomatoes, the better this is going to taste. Lucky I've got an organic tomato hookup.

Slicing and dicing is so much easier with a mandoline. 
A double batch worth of tomatoes:

A lot of sugar, plus cinnamon, cloves, ginger, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and salt.

After cooking down: 
 Served with toasted slices of baguette and cheese. We really liked it with goat cheese and bleu cheese.

The taste of this tomato jam is sooooo good. There isn't really anything store bought that I can compare this to. It's sweet like jam, but acidic from the tomatoes, and it has a little bite from the red pepper flakes. The cinnamon, ginger, and cloves are really pretty tiny amounts compared to the weight of the tomatoes and just enhance the tomato flavor. If you're a fan of pepper jellies, you should really try this. If your not going to can it you could easily scale the recipe down.

Tomato Jam
(adapted slightly from Food in Jars recipe)
Yields approx. 3 pints (about 6 cups)


5 pounds tomatoes finely chopped
3 1/2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes


1. Combine everything in a non-reactive stockpot and simmer over medium heat for 1 to 2 hours stirring occasionally. You'll know you've got the right consistency when you've got a large sticky mass on the bottom of the pot.

2. Refrigerate for immediate consumption or ladle into hot jars leaving a 1/4 inch headspace.

3. Wipe rims and apply lids finger tight. Process for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.

4. Cool jars, test seals, and store in a cool, dark pantry for up to one year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Bread

This past weekend was the first sweater weather of the season in Atlanta. My husband and I wasted no time and whipped out the chai and our slippers and pretended it was much colder than it was. I swear a few degrees cooler and I would have lit our tiny wood-burning fireplace. Needless to say, we're ready for fall to be here. The smell of this pumpkin bread wafting through your home will definitely help you get into the cooler weather.

Three things set this recipe apart from most pumpkin bread. 1) There is no added fat. 2) It includes more spices. 3) It has more pumpkin: a whole can for one loaf!

I actually baked this twice once with a little fat (1/4 cup oil) and once where I subbed more pumpkin for the oil. I like the taste of the no-fat one more, but it came out a little gummy in spots. (I may have under baked or there might be a little too much moisture in the recipe.) The flavor though, yum! It reminded me of the Dutch spice bread ontbijtkoek, but more moist and with stronger spice flavor rather than molasses flavor. I'll probably play around with the moisture content and baking time to try and perfect the texture.

Check out how orange the batter is from the pumpkin:
I like to eat this bread with a little butter, but you could also bake these as muffins, add a topping, or stir in some nuts. (Pecans and walnuts are both good options.) Toasted pumpkin seeds are also pretty as a topping.

Pumpkin Spice Bread
Yields 1 loaf (about 12 servings)


1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 15 ounce can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 eggs
1/3 cup water (I may omit or reduce the water next time since I think the loaf was a little too moist.)


1. In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.

2. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, pumpkin, and water. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

3. Pour into a well greased 9 by 5 inch loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for 80 to 90 minutes or until it tests done with a toothpick.  Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. This bread tastes better the day after its baked once the spices have mingled a bit.