Federal Jack’s Chowder

Chris Charland’s Chowder:

chris-charland-of-federal-jacksFederal Jack’s chef shares his recipe for a sure respite from the winter weather
A couple of years ago, in my infinite wisdom, I asked Kennebunkport Brewing Company if I could brew with them for a day in February. I had done this back in the 1990’s for an article I wrote about the experience. This time it was February, oh, did I mention that? And even lovely Kennebunkport in southern Maine was a frigid eight degrees. “Dress in layers” was head brewer Mike Haley’s email instruction to me. Well, my layers were feeble and I froze to death until the mashing-in got into full swing, the steam eventually warming the brewery a tad. I should have dressed in seven layers of thick down ski clothes, but I didn’t. Instead, I clutched my cup of coffee and hoped the steaming liquid would warm me. It didn’t. All I could think about while I loaded the grain into the auger, weighed out hops and watched Mike Haley clean out the mash tun (hey, my hands were frozen) was lunch, when I could repair upstairs to Federal Jack’s Brewpub and have a bowl of hot-as-Hades chowder.

We all have that in common in our cold Maine winters. And the one dish we can make and enjoy all winter long, for both body and soul, is a hot, buttery, creamy chowder, thought to come from the French word for cauldron, chaudiere. It’s quick to put together, and gets better if you let it “age” for a few hours or even up to a few days. But if you think you’re going to keel over dead if you endure one more snowstorm, or bombogenesis, as that horrific storm in 2015 was labeled, you are welcome to eat it as soon as you make it. You have my permission.

When the leaves came down this autumn, and the balmy days turned cold, I thought about Fed Jack’s chowder once more. I asked chef Chris Charland if he would share his recipe and he did. No precious Top Chef or Chopped secret-keeping here. Just a simple and easy-but-foolproof recipe from Federal Jack’s chef of over eighteen years, who began as a prep cook and worked his way through the ranks to become head chef.

I asked Chris to tell me something about himself and was delighted to hear that he grew up and still lives in his home town of Biddeford. His cooking background? He attended Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) and was mentored by chef Christian Gordon. But even earlier, as a boy, Chris credits his grandmother with teaching him how to make his way around the kitchen.

“My grandparents had a garden so they did a lot of pickling. My grandmother also taught me how to make a great Thanksgiving dinner, blueberry pies, her delicious southern no-bake cookies (my favorite recipe from her) and what I call “Memere soup,” which is her tomato soup with noodles.”

Of his favorite dishes to make at Federal Jack’s, Chris says, “I enjoy working with local farmers and purveyors. Our weekly special menu is dedicated to doing just that. I take their products and give them my twist by incorporating our beers (made right below the restaurant and the freshest beer possible) into them. I sometimes use the beer itself in a braising liquid, the malts used in beer- making to make crusts for fish and meat and hops to make sauces.”

What do you bring to holiday dinners? “I usually make most of the meal such as turkey or prime rib, ham and some sides like fresh herb and olive oil smashed potatoes, maple roasted butternut squash with sage, or desserts.”
When he has a day off, Chris loves spending time with his two boys, Caiden, age 6 and Carson, 2. “We play sports or build ninja warrior courses for Caiden and go for adventure walks with my youngest.”

20161101_132108CHRIS CHARLAND’S CLAM CHOWDER, from FEDERAL JACK’S BREWPUB
This is a recipe that doesn’t impose amounts for the ingredients. If you have never made chowder before, you can consult another recipe that does give them. I suggest you look at the list and decide what you like and just throw it in there. I prefer chunky chowders and add lots of rough chopped onions and potatoes. For clams, canned are fine. You might luck out if you live near a fish store, like Harbor Fish in Portland, that sells them by the quart. But the supermarket clams from Maine make a delicious “chaudiere.”

Here is our ingredient list
Whole unsalted butter
Small diced white onions
Small diced celery
Medium diced white Maine potatoes
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
Fresh thyme [Kate’s note: I use a few pinches of dried when I don’t have fresh]
Chopped clams and juice
Clam stock [Kate’s note: Julia Child used bottled clam juice!]
Heavy cream
Water
Cornstarch

Instructions:
Melt butter in a heavy pot or pan.
Add onions and celery and seasonings and cook until onions are translucent.
Add clam stock and bring to boil.
Add potatoes and cream. [Kate’s note: I leave the milk/cream out until everything else is done, just to avoid separating.]
Bring to boil and reduce to simmer.
Cook until potatoes are fork tender.
Add chopped clams and simmer until clams are cooked.
In a separate mixing bowl, mix water and cornstarch to make a slurry.
Bring chowder to boil and slowly whisk in slurry.
Bring to boil until desired thickness.
Serve with oyster cracker and a pint of Export Ale.

whats-brewing-cover-2016
kate-coneKate Cone is the author of What’s Brewing in New England, a guide to craft breweries and brewpubs. (Down East Books, 2016 and 1997). She loves to cook just about anything and chowder saves her life every winter. She lives in Waterville, Maine with her husband, Patrick Brancaccio.

Vivant – Can a Brewery have good beer and good food?

From David- Founder of Sommbeer:
I love my daughters.  They just aren’t’ too crazy about brew pubs.  When we announced we were going to Brewery Vivant after we saw the Museum in Grand Rapids, Emm’s response was “you’re going to drink beer while we eat warmed up frozen food”.  I bristled at her harsh response but knew it could be true.  Good breweries do not always measure up when it comes to food.IMG_3759
We walked into Vivant just a few minutes after they opened up for the day (no I wasn’t banging on the door).  We were immediately greeted by a hostess and seated in a booth.  I was already impressed as the interior was a beautifully renovated church.  She handed us all menu’s and I immediately panicked.  Nothing looked familiar. It was all “high end” French food, for the most part.  We coaxed Emm into trying some new stuff and then waited.
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Food: The waiter was super friendly and talked to my family as I researched the beer menu.  Along the conversation, he suggested to Emm, that when she grows up and goes to college she should always remember to go back and visit her parents (Dude! I thought to myself, you just earned yourself a nice tip).  We ordered our food, beers and pops.
The appetizer showed up – Duck Confit Nachos (a mountain of chips smothered in sauce and duck meat).  We couldn’t be happier.
My wife and youngest ordered a hamburger and grilled cheese, both outstanding.
Emm ordered a bowl of wild mushroom soup.  Something she never had, trust me. She loved it.
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I ordered deer sausage.  Fantastic earthy flavor, I even ate my brussel sprouts.   All the food is super high quality and unique.  In fact it was unique to the point that they took more than a few culinary risks – and succeeded.  Only issue was the cost $$$.  Our bill for two adults and two kids hit around $100.  That said, it was a great meal and we will be going back.
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Beer: Our hostess explained later that Vivant is all about the Belgian wild yeast style of beer.
Update 2017: My taste has evolved since I first wrote this article. Belgian style beers have become one of my favorite styles of beer. It’s not uncommon on many a beer night for my belgians to even edge out my previous favorites – stouts and scottish ales.
I ordered a glass of their Egoiste and followed it with one last glass of Dubelicious – I loved them both.  Here’s what I learned about this style of beer, to enjoy it to it’s fullest I have to prepare myself for it.  Belgian wild yeast style is kinda tangy like sour dough bread.  Doesn’t matter the variety they make it still has that tangy flavor.  If beer is like music (a post on this later) then this tanginess is a high pitched trumpet. My wife ordered their Fat Paczk beer that arrived in a tulip glass.  That beer was out of this world good!  It’s been a week since our visit and she still talks about that one beer.
When we walked out, our hostess greeted us again (the service here is unreal).  My family took this opportunity to start shopping at the gift shop.  I grabbed a souvenir glass and the hostess recommended I purchase some Vivant beer (Acidulated Trip) to pair with my glass!  What an up-sell.
Emm and I avoiding Paparazzi
Emm and I avoiding Paparazzi
Brewery Vivant surprised me.  I have been in search of a brewery that has both great beer and food.  What I found was great food, beer and service.  My daughters are the toughest critics believe me and they were happy.  We will be going back.
Sommbeer – John Fahner @fahrn13 also reviewed some beers from Brewery Vivant.
– David
Check out this beer review for Brewery Vivant –> Solitude

How to make better coffee

Look.  I’m not here to make sweeping judgments about you or the people you care about. But if you use a K-cup or automatic drip, you are a monster.

You know what? I’m sorry about that. Like I said I am not here to…actually who am I kidding? I gotta go back to that K-cup/automatic drip thing. Why are you doing this? Did coffee hurt you in some way? Did someone raise you to believe you should go for the least best way to enjoy life? Including the stimulating dark as night bringer of joy and wonderment, coffee?

And I know we’re all busy. And I know at times we just need caffeine and we don’t have the time to have it in its best form.  But I also think that most of the time, you probably do. And I think you are selling coffee short. Especially since raising your morning coffee experience is easier than you think. So come with me on a journey where we can learn and grow.

Just kidding.

But here is how to make better coffee. It’s not that hard. Grow up.

THE COFFEE MAKER

Stop being a baby and get yourself a French Press. Sorry, I’m just still mad thinking of all that stale pre ground stuff that used to be coffee you have crammed in those K-cups.

But seriously. French Press.

Not only is it a relatively simple system, it is so much better than what you’re using. It’s not even close. Now some will champion pour over or Aeropress. And those people are not wrong. Those methods are fantastic. But they are a lot more sensitive to variables to get it just right. And you don’t need that kind of hassle. You’re a busy man/woman with a winning smile who grabs the bull by the horns. Yes, I am resorting to cheap flattery. But this is serious.

French Press.  Any one from Target or Bed Bath and Beyond will do. Bodum is a good brand and not expensive.

THE COFFEE

If you take nothing else out of this discussion I just hope in the name of all that is decent and right on God’s great earth it’s this: only buy whole bean coffee.

Please. Heaven knows I don’t ask you for much.

Coffee is actually pretty volatile. It goes stale pretty quick. So get whole bean and grind it right before you brew it.

Also, Starbucks is terrible. Find a hipster coffee shop near you and get beans from them. Now, nobody would mistake me for a hipster. But they contribute great things to coffee. Getting fresh roasted, local coffee is best. But if that isn’t possible most non-Starbucks whole bean coffees will do.

Even if you plan to stick with automatic drip coffee this will make your experience so much better. And you can believe me. Because I am always right.

Which brings us to our next element…

THE GRINDER

Invest in a conical burr grinder. I use a Cuisinart I got from Bed Bath and Beyond for 45 bucks.

It’s this one.

Sure, there are better ones, but this is the one I can afford, okay Zuckerberg?

The conical burr grinder is way better than those hand held ones. Those are dangerous for a couple reasons. One, they tend to “burn” the beans. And two, the grind is inconsistent. I’ve seen it compare to randomly chopping a steak all different sizes then throwing it on a grill and expecting it to all cook the same.

The burr grinder produces a very even grind and doesn’t ruin the beans.

If you are using a French Press (did I mention you should?) grind the beans to a coarse grind. If still using auto drip go for medium.

As a side note,  I will say the hand held grinders are still better than pre ground coffee, you animals. If you must use one don’t hold it down. Pulse it twice. Then shake it. Then pulse it two more times. Keep checking the beans until you have a relatively even grind.

BREWING

The general idea is 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 oz. of coffee. I tend to do a little more than that cause I like stronger coffee. My suggestion is to experiment during the weekends and times where a cup isn’t imperative or there isn’t a time crunch to get to work. It took me a good two weeks to get it right when I got serious about my coffee.

So, get the ratio right.  Do not be afraid to figure it out. Use you K-cup or auto drip and then figure this out in your off hours. Now, here’s how to brew….

Bring a tea kettle to whistle. Remove it from heat. Then grind your beans. Boiling water will burn your coffee. But waiting 30 – 60 seconds will bring the water down to perfect brewing temp.

Pour the coffee into the French Press. Pour just enough water over the coffee and mix it. It should be like a coffee mud. Let that sit for thirty seconds. It’ll expand. That releases the flavor.

Now, at this point, famous Food Network guy Alton Brown says to add a pinch of salt to reduce acidity. He is right. Not like a tablespoon. Just a pinch.

After that pour the rest of the water, give a stir to mix it all together, and let sit for three minutes. Now über snobs will tell you to plunge it for 30 seconds. But come on. Who has that kind of time? Just do a slow, steady plunge.

RESULTS

You will have a cup of coffee that is worlds ahead of the normal one. Mathematically it’s an 80% better cup of coffee with 10% more effort. These numbers are not official.

If you follow these rules, however, you will make a great cup of coffee every day.

Snow Smoke

This post utilizes the marinade I made in my last article “Drunken Marinade“.
I love to smoke.  I use my smoker all year long even in the winter.  It is a common belief that it’s difficult to do this when it is snowing and frigid outside. Not true.  In fact I have been successful even with my electric smoker.

 

To accomplish this I insulated the outside. The next smoker will have a more professional wrap, but what I have works.

 

Tips for solid snow smoking
1. Marinate the meat at least over night.  Beef can marinade for days.  Chicken should only have a few hours.
2. Consider milder wood like pecan and fruit woods (apple, peach) that is more forgiving and allows you to smoke continuously.  The strong stuff like hickory is too easy to over do, plus it’s just so common. Shake things up and experiment.  I commonly mix my woods during the same smoke (apple and pecan for example).
3. Keep the water tray full.  It helps to prevent the meat from drying out. Just grab some (clean) snow.
4. Enjoy a beer. This is the best part about smoking outdoors in the winter. Bundle up grab a beer and chill.
5. Smoking takes time, throw in some appetizers to tide you over. We added cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped jalapenos.

Seems nobody hangs out, outside in my neighborhood. I’ve always thought this was weird but it does help my smoking by limiting distractions.  I can tend to the smoker for hours and not have any surprises.

Check out this action smoke video!

My Smoker Settings for beef and pork
1. Temperature: I run low at 200-210 degrees
2. Time: Minimum of 5 hours. Check the meat moisture for the last hour (tinfoil helps).  Internal temps need to be safe.

 

Have fun and Cheers!

David

 

Drunken Marinade

I’m not a chef and I’m not even the primary cook in my family.  Honestly, I think my family keeps me around just for the spare kidney and my grilling/smoking skills.  My primary cooking function is to take the workload off my wife.  So I do it for fun and I have a lot of freedom to mess around.   While my wife has to worry about making a balanced meal for the kids with vegetables, meat, fruit etc… I focus my energies on things like making a good marinade.
When John started this site, this was the first food item I thought of. Problem is I don’t really know how to make it.  My marinade is usually made the day before I smoke or grill.  Usually this occurs on a Friday evening when I’ve had a few beers and I’ve forgotten to make the marinade.  I have attempted to recreate this beer recipe inspired and created by beer.  There are no measurements and the ingredients change every time, because again – I’ve had a few beers.
Why use marinade?
Marinade infuses the meat with great flavor but also tenderizes the meat.  This is especially true for the rougher cuts that are prized for the ‘low & slow’ cooking method used while smoking.  The acids in the marinade make the meat tender, the salt pulls in the moisture and the spices add flavor.
Base ingredients
My base ingredients are apple cider vinegar, mustard and salt.  Everything else is added to make it unique or fun, or because I’ve had a few beers.
– Apple Cider Vinegar
– Mustard (nothing fancy required)
– Salt
Here’s how I have fun making my “Drunken Marinade”
  1. Grab a bowl and add the cider
2. Add the mustard and salt.  Easy chief, you’re tipsy so go heavy on that cheap mustard not so much on the salt.
Additional Additions – Beer is my Inspiration
This is the fun part.  Beer, wine, liquor removes inhibitions so I tend to explore and find new marinade flavors I otherwise would never consider.  One sobering word of caution: If it doesn’t taste good by itself it will not taste good as a marinade.  I used a bad beer once and the meat tasted like stale bad beer, not good.
I’m drinking a spicy IPA and I’m drawn to the label on a bottle in my fridge.  Turns out lemon juice tastes great in marinade and helps to tenderize the meat.
Uh, well now I’m drinking some fine wine but I’m immediately bored with it.  I’m a beer guy so this is going in.
This is where things can get stupid. I like sriracha sauce, it has a funky chicken on the bottle.  I add it but it’s a big gamble (turns out ok).  Soy sauce is added for flavor and salt and I’m drunk.
Marinade – it’s not pretty
Add the meat since that’s why I’m making this marinade.  Yes, I bought some “clearance meat”, leave me alone.
The bag of meat goes into my 30 degree winter garage over night.
Tomorrow we grill…..

 

The Sommeats Food Rules

Food is just like anything else in life, in order to really enjoy it there are rules. Granted, enjoying food isn’t really the most challenging task in the world, but these rules are designed to help you achieve a more in depth love of your culinary delicacies.

  1. First thing’s first, NO FAST FOOD!  I know I know, this is a view point that is controversial and many of us prefer our quick fix solution for a “meal” but this stuff is just gross. In fact many times I’m not even 100% sure that this food can really be considered food.  If you have to eat on the go try to hit somewhere with more local ties.  Not only will the food taste better but you’re also helping your community. Win win.

2. Easy on the condiments.  There’s a time and a place for condiments but in reality their use is massively over killed in our society.  Ranch on pizza…. GET OUT! In fact let’s just get rid of Ranch dressing all together.  Condiments are fine when used in moderation, but at no point should they be used to mask the flavor of the vessel they’re going on.  A sausage requires mustard, a chicken wing requires blue cheese (NOT RANCH) and there’s a wide variety of applications for hot sauce.  There’s no need to cover a perfectly good steak with some random goop found in the salad dressing aisle at Walmart.

3. Embrace the weird! When it comes to eating don’t be scared off by something that looks like it might be weird.  There’s no shortage of weird looking items in your produce aisle and all those bizarre fruits and veggies might open your eyes to a truly blissful food experience. Have a friend that is offering you durian encrusted fried chicken?  Fear not! Eat that bird right up, it might be amazing! Remember, when you eat it should be the food that’s afraid of you!

4. Food and Booze are friends! Whether you’re using a wine to deglaze a pan or marinating some chicken in a summer wheat ale the applications for booze in cooking are almost limitless.  Plus whatever you don’t use for cooking you can drink, a definite benefit!

5. Cook for yourself! You don’t have to cook every night, or even every day. But you should have a few, or a bunch, of dishes that you can whip up for yourself.  Maybe your forte is smoking meat in the middle of winter, or maybe it’s whipping up a pot of chili to graze on over the course of a weekend. Cooking for yourself will make you appreciate food in restaurants more and you’ll figure out little nuances that make each meal your own.  Sure, the cleaning up after part kind of sucks, but the end result of a well cooked meal is an extremely rewarding simple pleasure in life.

 

Cheers!

Welcome to Sommeats!

My name is John Fahrner, I’m the editor of the site Sommbeer. Over the last few years David (the founder of Sommbeer) and myself have been working to build a  community dedicated to sharing our love for craft beer.  Sommbeer isn’t going anywhere, but as we’ve continued to work on Sommbeer we’ve noticed one reoccurring subject that keeps coming up in our writings, travels, and social interactions.  Simply stated we love food.  Cooking food, smoking meats, ordering take out, or pairing food with a craft beer.  With this in mind we decided it was time to launch a new project, and thus Sommeats was born!

We’re planning to create a community based around food, just like we did with Sommbeer.  Also just like Sommbeer we will always be looking for writers to contribute and express their passion for food.  Recipes, techniques, reviews, recommendations, or even just food wisdom and debate is welcome on Sommeats.  If you’re interested in contributing please check out our writers page on Sommbeer and send us a note at info@sommbeer.com so we can get you set up.

Also just like Sommbeer let’s remember Sommeats is about fun.  Our motto on Sommbeer has always been that we don’t take serious beer too seriously. Like beer, food is meant to be enjoyed, not stressed out over or blown up into something bigger than it is.  Have fun, sit back, grab a beer and a taco and Welcome to Sommeats!

Make sure to check out and like our Facebook page for Sommeats, and if you haven’t already like our Facebook page for Sommbeer too!

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