thirsty thursday: crafting the perfect beer flight

We’re talking beer today, y’all! And being a typical lady {and lover of all things autumn}, I thought – why not share some ideas for creating the ideal beer flight? After all, the start of September means ALL.THINGS.PUMPKIN.

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I was doing my weekly grocery shop a few days ago and couldn’t help but notice all of the fall seasonal beers beginning to make their appearance on the shelves. From local brews, to popular craft breweries, and all the way up the chain to the national/international names that everyone knows, it seems that everyone is dedicating a vast majority of their brews to seasonal fall beverages. I am certainly not complaining, but the choices can be a little lot overwhelming! So naturally, I’ve brought in the hubs as my “professional” consultant on today’s post, and together we’re sharing how to kick off autumn with the perfect seasonal beer flight!

Question: What makes pumpkin beer so special? 

Answer: There is only a small window during the harvest year where pumpkin is accessible. You should NEVER use canned pumpkin puree – there is a substantial amount of flavor {and appreciation!} that comes with roasting fresh pumpkin for using in brewing. It’s also a great way to carry that pumpkin flavor out, and stretch it over a few months.

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Question: What are the main differences in the kinds of offerings? Shouldn’t they all taste the same if they’re all technically “pumpkin” beers?

Answer: That’s like saying “all chocolate cakes are the same!”. In all seriousness; the foundation of the beer, that is the pumpkin, is the same…but that is where the similarities end. Each brewer, whether on a large or small scale, has crafted their own recipes to suit their flavor profiles and taste preferences. Many on today’s market rely heavily on traditional pumpkin pie spices – this gives them a much sweeter taste than say, one that is brewed with roasted pumpkin and fewer ingredients. For a true experience, you want to ensure that your pick is made with 100% pure roasted pumpkin, and flavored according to your taste buds. Be on the lookout for labels that say only “pumpkin flavor” or “pumpkin pie spiced”, as these typically do not include fresh pumpkin in their batch.

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Question: How many varieties of beers {ales, IPAs, etc.} can we expect to see in our local stores?

Answer: The most common would be a pumpkin ale. Other ones worth looking out for {but may be harder to find} include: shandies, lagers, stouts, porters, and wheat beers. Truth be told, any type of beer can be crafted into a pumpkin beer – the style of the brew is what will make the biggest difference. My best advice is to pick a style that you like, and go from there!

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Question: What are some of your top suggestions?

Answer: In no particular order…Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, Southern Tier Pumpking, Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale, and New Belgium Pumpkick.

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And now….taking all this information and building it into your beer flight!

According to the hubs, here are some good things to keep in mind…

“Pour all four {or however many beers you’ve selected!} into separate glasses. At this point, order doesn’t matter – we are looking mainly for color and heaviness. Because we’re talking pumpkin beers today, the heaviness will all be pretty similar; so we’ll next look at the ABV {alcohol by volume}. **sidenote: if we were doing a more traditional flight, you would start with a lighter beer {like a lager}, then move on to ales and darker beers**  From this point, you’ll line up your beers from lightest color and lowest ABV, and gradually move up to darker colors and higher ABVs. Just like in any beer flight, you want to progress towards your strongest-flavored beer, so that the flavors build on each other as you go. Make sure to take an initial sip between glasses, before your second {longer} sip, so that you can clear your palette for each flavor. 

…and if all else fails, just drink them in the order where you finish with your favorite!”

Happy beer drinking, friends!

caramelized onion & rosemary focaccia bread

In my humble opinion, texture and flavor are paramount when it comes to bread. Maybe because I grew up in a household where homemade bread was the standard, but I have such a hard time really enjoying a sandwich if the bread is lackluster. Let’s look – you put in the time, effort and resources into what goes BETWEEN the bread; why should we not do the same with the bread? It is the foundation of the sandwich, after all!

This bread I’m sharing today, for example, is one of my absolute favorites. Thin, crispy, and overflowing with bold flavors…to me, it doesn’t get any better than focaccia bread. It’s a bit of a labor of love, if I’m being totally honest – this is not one of the breads where you can set a timer, leave for the day and expect to walk in the front door with a fresh loaf of bread awaiting you. This bread takes TIME and LOVE. Aside from a quick rise in the bread machine, the majority of the work is done with good old-fashioned elbow grease. But I daresay that this is what makes this focaccia so spectacular.

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A generous helping of caramelized onions prepared low and slow on the stovetop, with lots of seasoning and oil, is the crowning glory. The bread itself is studded with notes of dried rosemary; the use of whole wheat flour {in addition to the regular bread flour} adds a nutty bite and gives it that extra crunch. I’ve even been known to fold a bit of kalamata olives into the topping – wow! No matter how you serve this {sliced in half as a sandwich, toasted and topped with a fried egg and avocado}, you’ll be a convert. Focaccia, the one to rule them all.

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Caramelized Onion & Rosemary Focaccia Bread {bread recipe from “The Bread Machine Cookbook III}

Ingredients {for a medium-sized dough}:

1 cup water

1-1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1-1/2 tbsp. honey

1/3 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. dried rosemary

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cups bread flour

1-1/2 tsp. yeast

*optional: 1 heaping tbsp. vital wheat gluten

*for the baking pan, you will need cornmeal {this will prevent the dough from sticking}

Ingredients {for topping}:

2 medium white onions, finely sliced

2 tbsp. dried rosemary

salt & pepper, to taste

olive oil, for drizzling

To Prepare:

Assemble your list of dough ingredients into the basin of your bread machine, and use the dough cycle according to your manufacturer’s directions. My dough cycle usually runs for 1 hr. and 50 minutes, but machines will vary slightly.

Prepare your rimmed baking sheet by sprinkling with cornmeal.

Once the dough cycle has run its course, turn it onto the prepared baking sheet. Using the tips of your fingers, gently press out the dough so that it stretches out slightly and reaches into the corners of the dish. Make sure you leave divets from your fingers, as this is what will hold in the olive oil and toppings while it bakes. 

Cover with a clean dish towel and set in a warm, dry place to rise. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour.

With about 30 minutes before your dough is done rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a saute pan over medium heat, and drizzle with olive oil. Once the olive oil is nice and hot, add in your onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring very infrequently, for at least 10-15 minutes or until the onions begin to turn a caramelized brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Before placing the bread in the oven, cover with the caramelized onions and dried rosemary. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, and top with a dash of salt and pepper. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is starting to turn light brown and the edges are crisp. Cool completely, and store tightly covered. It will keep at room temperature for 3 days; any longer and it should be transferred to the refrigerator or frozen.

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**to reheat: place in the center of the oven and bake at 425 degrees until warmed through.

cinnamon-spiced apple chips

Not long ago, I was gifted from some friends a rather large bag of apples from a local orchard. They are in the process of planning their wedding, and are holding the reception at said location. They were in town visiting and working on wedding preparation and, in exchange for us hosting them, they returned from the reception site with armfuls of apple-y goodness for us. Needless to say, I was giddy with excitement.

But what is one to do with such a large amount of fresh apples? Honestly, my first thought was to make a pie or tart of sorts, but with the holidays right around the corner, I knew that my apple pie would be on constant rotation {I’ll be sharing it with you soon, I promise!}. So I pondered over it for a few days, hoping that inspiration would strike. And sure enough, it did!

A friend recently loaned me their food dehydrator to do some food preparations, and I knew that this would be the perfect vehicle. I ah-dore dried fruit, especially in the cooler months. The possibilities with dried fruits are endless! – stirred into oatmeal, baked into cookies, or tossed with greens for an easy and simple salad, it really doesn’t get much better. So I did a little research about the method and preparation, as this was a first time for me, and boy oh boy…is the end result amazing!

c/o improvisedlife.com

Here are the steps that I followed, with notes for both dehydrating and classic oven baking. Use whichever is easiest for you; it’s impossible to go wrong with these!

I had the thought to mix in a little bit of savory spices {chili powder, rosemary, etc.} on a few of the different layers, and it was a surefire success! 

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Cinnamon-Spiced Apple Chips {recipe adapted from Tasty Yummies}

An ideal way to use up an overload of apples – can we say apple-picking, anyone?? – apple chips are a great way to ensure your produce lasts long enough for you to enjoy! 

Ingredients:

4-5 {minimum} ripe apples, whatever variety you like best*

1-2 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. granulated sugar, optional

*I find that firmer-fleshed apples work really well 

To Prepare:

Slice off the top {stem side} of the apple, and the slice the apples into thin rounds, maintaining a thickness of 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. If you have a mandolin, this is a great way to utilize it! It will ensure even chips.

Remove the seeds and the entire core. The peel can be left on {this is what I like!} or removed, depending on your preference.

Toss the apples with the cinnamon and optional sugar, and arrange in a single layer in your dehydrator. Once arranged, set the temperature at 135 degrees. Allow the apples to go for 6-8 hours, or until they are dried out and as crispy as you prefer.

Don’t have a dehydrator? Use the oven! – simply preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and lay the apple slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hr., flip them over, and allow them to bake until desired level of crispness is reached and they are no longer moist. You may need to flip several times during this last section of time.

To preserve the quality of your apple chips, store in an airtight container.

Slice off the top, stem side, of the apple and then slice the apple into thin rounds, somewhere between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. A mandoline slicer works best so they are all the same thickness. Remove the seeds or the whole core. Peel can be left on or taken off.

Toss the sliced apples with cinnamon and sugar (optional) and arrange in a single layer in your dehydrator or onto a parchment paper-lined baking pan.

Dehydrator: Turn the dehydrator to 135ºF. Allow the apples to dehydrate for 6 to 8 hours or until they are dried and as crisp as you want them to be.

Oven: Preheat the oven to 200ºF. Bake the apples slices for 1 hour, then flip them and allow to bake for another 1 to 2 hours until the chips are no longer moist. Flipping occasionally.

Store your apple chips in an airtight container to maintain crispness.