Black-in-the-box Whiskey

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I’m pretty familiar with Black-Box wine. I might even say I’m something of a connoisseur. However, I’d never heard of Black-Box Whiskey before tonight. If it weren’t for a colleague giving me the heads-up, I’d still be ignorant. It’s been on the market in some places for nearly a year (based on a brief google search and cursory review of result descriptions.  In any case, within 20 minutes of catching wind of such a gloriously incongruous whiskey situation, I’d arranged for a box to be brought home. How could I not?

First, some stats:

  • Price: $31
  • Size: 1.75L
  • Alcohol content: 80pf
  • Aged: 6yrs

This is a generic american style whiskey. It’s a drier whiskey reminiscent of a bourbon, but without the strong sour-mash thing coming through, but it’s absolutely not like an Irish whiskey with their much sweeter qualities. It’s no-doubt a sour mash/corn situation, but it’s not a bourbon. Really, it’s more like a boutique or small-distiller american whiskey.

My first impression is that the nose is all spice, and the tiniest hint of caramel. It almost smelled like the bottle of 1971 Seagram’s Canadian whisky I came into ownership of last year. While I wasn’t sure what to expect with the first sip of black box, I’d rather expected it to have a lot in common with barrel-aged gasoline. This is one of those cases where I was pleasantly surprised. This stuff isn’t bad. Smooth enough to be taken neat, even. However, it’s a bit bland. Not that the spicy notes that call up thoughts of cinnamon aren’t strong, it’s just that overall, there’s not a lot going on. It’s not boring or tasteless though, just unremarkable. Fortunately, an ice cube improved the situation.

With a single ice cube rattling around my glass, the flavor really opened up. That apparent single-note of spice gave some ground to the vanilla and caramels that were somewhat hidden without. Mouth-feel also improved. It didn’t seem so thin on the lips, making it smoother and enhancing the caramel.

I paid just over $31 for this 1.75L box, which puts it at something like $13.30/750mL.  Alaska pricing and taxes aside, this is on-par with the cost of most bottom-shelf whisky, but it’s a much easier thing to drink.

My final word here is that black box is generally retaining expectations in crossing over from the boxed-wine realm. It’s good, drinkable, and solid value. While it’s somewhat unmemorable, I’d buy it again.

My rating comes in at a: ‘drink on the rocks’.

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Now what?

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This post is way over due. I actually wrote most of it, and several subsequent blogs, some months ago, but haven’t devoted the time to actually go over all of it and post. Plus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to post it. After all, when I started this blog, I’d imagined it’d be a place to share mishaps and minor victories with respect to feeding my family. Maybe even toss up a few impressions of booze. Not be a “holy shit I’m unhealthy” blog –if that’d been the case, I certainly wouldn’t have named it after two things that are supposed to be out of bounds for me now. However, this is my new reality, and it absolutely impacts my food-based misadventuring AND I can’t seem to find anyone else really taking this topic on outside of offering up gimmicky diet plans, which I’m not about to do. So, I’m changing course on this blog, at least for a few posts to share my experience and eventually whether or not it worked.

It all started in August right around the time I turned 40 or, as I tend to think of it, reached the top of the hill, planted a little flag and started my way back down. I’d started getting dizzy spells while eating. No amount of internet searching turned up anything helpful. The closest I got was something that happens to very old skinny people with low blood-pressure. Though, some kind of low-level inner-ear infection was also a possibility. Naturally, I scheduled an appointment with the doc, as you do. The doc looked in my ears and eyes and mouth and said I look fine, with directions to come back in a month to see if maybe it’d just go away on its own. A month later rolls around, and the dizzy spells had largely subsided, though not completely. At that point, he sent me in for bloodwork – just the usual old fat-guy bloodwork where you get cholesterol and all that shit checked.

The results came in the very next day while I was explaining to a colleague the dizzy situation. I knew I was going to have to do some work, but had no idea just how bad it’d gotten. My cholesterol and triglycerides were so terrible, it made me realize that I’m now at an age where I’m essentially a life-support system for a paycheck that’s showing signs of wear and very possibly becoming too expensive to maintain long-term.

To be clear, my numbers weren’t just high, they were so bad most websites I’ve been able to find offering information on the topic basically say that I should be on medication. My doc opted not to give me meds, rather directing me to do the following:

  • Lose weight,
  • reduce alcohol consumption,
  • exercise,
  • change to a low carbohydrate and low-fat diet,
  • follow-up in a year.

There were no further instructions, referrals, or information, just bad news and vague hand-waving gestures in the direction of things that might help. A bit. Maybe. Basically, he put me into the position of having to wander off into the digital wilderness for guidance. It’s not going super-great.

Rather than launch into a 25-page ranty-treatise on being old and fat, just this very second, I’ll leave this here. Over the next several weeks, as I try to breathe life into this blog again, I’ll take on this continuing adventure in bite-sized topics. Hopefully, someone will find this useful or at least have someone to commiserate with.

Fusion craziness – Coconut curry fettuccine

IMG_2450A few weeks ago, the kids and I were driving through the neighborhood after grocery shopping and a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver passed us. In typical dad-fashion, I said hey look it’s a Domingo’s Pizza! The kinds all said “Awww. dad, it’s Domino’s, there’s no such thing as Domingo’s Pizza.” I then suggested that WE could start a Domingo’s Pizza and make all sorts of crazy fusion food concoctions. It didn’t take long before this devolved into trying to mix up two of the weirdest foods into something plausibly edible. In any case. The attached recipe is the result of some of that.

What you need

  • 1 Can chicken broth
  • 1 Can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 Chicken breasts (diced)
  • 4 Tbsp Avacado oil
  • 1 lb peeled & cooked shrimp
  • Some powered garlic, maybe a tablespoon or two
  • 2-3 Tbsp Yellow curry powder
  • 1/2 Tsp garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp Cilantro
  • 1 lb Fettuccine noodles
  • 2 yellow or orange peppers (sliced)
  • 1 cup of sliced carrots

Cooking it:

Start by pouring the coconut milk and chicken broth into a large pot, I like using an enamel covered dutch oven, along with the carrots and spices, except the garlic. Saute the diced chicken breasts with 2Tbsp oil and the garlic so they’re just cooked on the outside. Drop this into the pot. Allow this to simmer for 20 minutes or so. You want to allow it to develop the flavors.

Boil the fettuccine in water with 2Tbsp oil and some salt until it’s still soft, but still pretty firm. I’m not talking a bit al dente, I’m talking not cooked. drain the noodles and add to the sauce along with the peppers and anything else I missed. Cover for another 15 or so minutes so that noodles can continue cooking. Add the shrimp & re-cover for another 5 minutes -basically until the shrimp is hot. If you stick it in too early, they’ll become tough.

That’s it. I did this totally off the cuff and so the measurements may be nowhere near correct with the spices, you’ll want to adjust to taste.

 

Wild Alaska Salmon Poke

Alaska Knit Nat

If you live in Southcentral Alaska then you’re probably keenly aware it is sockeye salmon season. My husband is getting his hipwaders and dipnets all ready for the coming week where he will camp out on the shores of the Kenai River and make the most of the everlasting daylight by fishing into the wee hours of the night.

We still have some vacuum-packed filets in the freezer from last year so to make way for this year’s bounty we are trying to find creative ways to use it up. Sure, there’s nothing better than simple grilled salmon with a drizzle of lemon, but my dad started preparing poke out of the frozen filets that tops any store bought ahi poke.

Poke is a Hawaiian salad made of cubed sashimi such as ahi tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil, onions and hot chili sauce. It’s a bit like spicy tuna sushi without…

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Everything from a can tacos

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In honor of taco Tuesday, I thought I’d to a taco themed post. That is, a post where I talk about how we make ‘tacos’. You’d think that since I have a moderate stock-pile of ground turkey, I’d just use that. Nope. That takes planning and shit, and during the week I don’t really have the attention span for planning. My solution? Everything from a can tacos. It’s easy and all you have to do is open a bunch of cans and heat them up. Plus add whatever taco shell tickles your fancy. I like this particular dinner because it requires virtually no effort, tastes okayish, and includes vegetables (fruit – actually, tomatoes are fruit). Anyhow, here it is so I can continue being lazy and cooking dinner that’s actually not everything from a can tacos (chicken in the oven, I’m just sitting here waiting for the thingy to ding and tell me it’s time to get off my ass, grab another beer and then point at the food and exclaim CHILDREN, YOU’VE BEEN FED BE THANKFUL YOU DON’T LIVE IN A CARDBOARD BOX YET!)

What you need:

  • 1-2 Cans of chicken breast
  • 1 can of diced green chilies (mild or hot to taste)
  • 1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 diced onion (I know this isn’t from a can, but this is essential so cope)
  • 1 small can of salsa verde
  • 1 can of black beans (drain)
  • 1 can sliced olives
  • 1 package of taco seasoning

Directions:

Mix it up in a deep pan and heat until heated. Do whatever it is you normally do with taco shells and serve.

Rising Creek – Bourbon Whiskey Review

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Lookey-loo! I finally got round to doing an actual bourbon review! And only a week late. So, just real quick, to make sure we’re all up to speed. What is Bourbon? To start, the mash (the fermentables in water) must be 51% corn. The rest of the grain is usually a mix of barley and rye. The other thing is that it’s got to be aged in new charred oak barrels – and quite frankly it’s not any sort of whisky unless it’s been aged on oak. Interestingly Bourbon does NOT have to be made in Kentucky, that’s just Kentucky straight bourbon, which has it’s own special marketing designations. Normally, when these are fermented (and this is generally true for the bulk of large modern distilling operations) a sour-mash is used to ferment the mash. In Beer, you’d mash by steeping the grains in water at a temperature of about 150F. Provided you have enough barley (natural source of amylase), the starches in your mash will convert to sugars that can be fermented. In a sour-mash, everything is just dumped into a fermentation vessel of some sort and allowed to slowly convert the starches to sugars and ferment at the same time. Lactic acid builds up in the process giving a distinct sour taste that comes through so strongly in american whiskeys & bourbons.

In any case, that’s enough about bourbon as a thing. On to reviewing this specific whisky. First off, it is smooth like a Canadian whisky, but without all of the heavy caramel flavors you usually get in one of those. Normally, Bourbons tend to be a bit more rough around the edges.

The nose here reminds me of apple, but it also smells ‘raw’, as if it’s just been brought out of the still and into the cup. It’s sort of hard to describe, but it’s like the grain flavor has been reduced into it’s essential grainy bits and fed to you. The flavor is kinda bland actually. A hint of caramel, a hint of oak, or toffee, a bit of something nutty and some spice, but that’s sort of it. The finish is not super long and a wee bit spicy. Really, it’s about as smooth as the taste itself. If I’m being honest, this bourbon reminded me of what would happen if an Irish Whiskey knocked up it’s Canadian Whiskey girlfriend.

On a scale of Mix to Neat. I’d actually put this as shots. (yes, below mix, it mixed plain and din’t add much to the drink). Anyhow, it was cheap, and I wouldn’t say don’t buy it, but meh, sometimes you need to take shots – like when arguing with someone politically diametrically opposed to you on Twitter. Nobody is going to win and you really just need something to bring you off the ledge of apoplectic rage.

Phoning it in – Plain noodles

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So far with this blog I’ve managed to write up some family favorites, but what I haven’t yet done is the misadventure part. I think I’d like to change that, largely because it’s a more significant part of my cooking-dad narrative than this blog might otherwise suggest.

Last week, I failed to write a blog post. There are a bunch terrible of reasons for this more akin to excuses. The largest of which is that I went to a writer’s retreat and didn’t feel like it. I worked on my book, which is a satirical take on the fairy tale of true love, not cooking. I could, of course, have just written and scheduled a post ahead of time like all other studious bloggers, but, well – lazy. In fact, I was lazy all week. My crowning achievement was folding the laundry. I spent most of the week phoning-it-in for dinner, and not the sort where somebody brings you food. Dinner was a product of condensed soup, McDonalds, and plain noodles.

One lament, heard far and wide, by working parents is that about cooking. I mean, after a 10 hour day of commuting, working and generally not sitting on the couch watching TV, the last damn thing any one of us wants to do is cook. Usually, this is where going out comes in, but when you’ve got kids that are starting to eat like teens, that becomes an outrageous expense the minute such a notion pops into your mind.

When I was a kid, about the age of our oldest now, the go-to was hamburger helper. If memory serves, it was the first thing I learned how to cook. The other go-to, for a time, was also TV-dinners. To be clear, this was NOT an every night occurrence, though if you eat enough hamburger helper, it may as well have been. In my family, the solution is plain noodles. No olive oil, or pesto basil with sliced olives, sun dried tomatoes, toasted almonds and mushrooms. None of that. Just plan damn noodles. It takes roughly 5 minutes dirties exactly 1 pot and exactly 1 strainer and it’s slightly more healthy than mac-and-cheese.

At this point, you may be saying, but Dave! You could also just empty a jar of sauce into a pot and have sauce too, then you’d have a veggie to go with. To this, all I have to say is: one pot, one strainer, why the hell would I dirty more dishes if I don’t have to.

What you need

  • Some damn noodles
  • A pot of water

Directions:

Boil the water, add noodles and boil until soft, but no so soft they’re basically mush. You want a bit of firmness in your noodles. And, if you insist on being one of those pinterest parents, you can add the basil pesto, a couple cans of sliced olives, sliced mushrooms, a handful of toasted almonds and half a jar of sliced up sun-dried tomatoes.

French Fry Crawl!

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They* tell you that when you have kids everything changes. The most notable change, in my opinion, is that all the money you didn’t have before to spend on things like food and rent and going out with friends from time to time is spent instead on diapers and a fully new wardrobe every four months as the little spud grows out of everything they own. Another thing that changes is going out. When they’re super little, like within a week or two, you can still go out with your partner, but it’s going to be a restaurant . The whole pub thing is out and was the minute somebody peed a little blue line on the stick. As your kids get older, the amount of going out gets better, then as they approach teenager, you can take ’em out, but it becomes just totally unaffordable. On the bright side, fast-food is usually ‘cheap’, so when you’re pre-teen with a cracking voice asks if he can have two #1 meals instead of the happy meal he was perfectly content with not, how long ago was that a year, two? holy crap, a kids meal, there’s an outside chance you can say yes.

As ‘going out,’ for a meal varies by age, there is one thing remains fixed. You will NOT be organizing a pub crawl with your friends**. Really though, if you’ve ever done a pub crawl, you know that hanging out with friends and jumping from place to place to order a single shot or beer or whatever only to crawl onto the next place until you run out of legs for the night, is an amazingly good time that will result in selfies that never die on the Internet, in spite of their seriously questionable content. While this sucks, I have a solution for you (sort of), that the kiddos will appreciate, provided you only do it once a year.

The Great American French-Fry Crawl!

*Insert crickets*

Okay, okay, it sounds dubious, but it’s a fun and relatively inexpensive night with the kiddos that is memorable, doesn’t involve any sort of real food, and forces the lot of you to sit in the car all night and talk. It’s like being at a restaurant only cheaper, someone is driving, someone is tweeting, and all of us are being as raucous as is possible in a confined space. We started our annual french-fry crawl after a heated kitchen-table debate over the bestest french-frys. Usually, the debate involves star wars or history, but not that day, and it was a great day. Anyhow, here is how to have your own french-fry crawl:

Date:

Last day of school, wherever you are.

Rules:

  • Get a pile of cash
  • Everyone gets in the tactical family transportation unit
  • Go from fast-food joint to fast food joint drive-thru and order 1 (yes just 1) small french-fry.
  • You may order other things – drinks, burgers etc… but save room for fries.
  • Each family member will rate each place according to ‘better than’ ‘worse than’ ratings, so at the end you have a ranking
  • Each stop will be tweeted/facebooked/instagramed (whatever) by the non-driver with the #frenchfrycrawl tag
  • When you have exhausted all of the nearby fast-food places, go for ice-cream. It is acceptable to take-home ice-cream in the event that you’ve got allergies.

If you DO go out for your french-fry crawl. Tag me early in the night @daveskoster, I want to check out your progress and I’d love to know what everyone’s favorite was.

Cheers!

-Dave


* They being everyone who’s ever had children before and some who haven’t, but think they’re providing sage advice.

** In the interest of being honest this is not strictly true, but it’s something you’re going to need to plan for weeks and will cost you 10x what it would have when you were 23.

 

Whisky review – Kilbeggan

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I picked up a bottle of Kilbeggan in honor of last week’s budget-meeting eve, which is sort of like Christmas eve, except on budget day, the only present I’m likely to get is enough funding to carry on through the end of the fiscal year, and if I’ve been a very good boy, a bit of carry-over that will not only help next year’s budget picture, but also give me a bit of breathing room in the deadline department. This budget-eve, I’m looking at tomorrow as a likely exercise in begging for more project work to keep everyone employed. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m writing this, before the meeting, but you’re not seeing it until later. My hope is that by having a dram of the stuff, and writing about it, I’ll be able to sleep and not keep myself up worrying about how to pay for things.

I know I promised to not get all snobby and shit about whisky, but Kilbeggan is an interesting one and deserves a bit of snobbery. At some point, I’ll wax poetic on the merits of pot-stills and stuff, but not today, what I will say right now though is that a good triple-run pot-stilled Irish Whisky is the way to go. Killbeggan boasts the oldest licensed pot still in Ireland and traditional methods, and I think that the product speaks well to the use of pot stills.

As you can probably tell from the photo, it has a pale gold color. The Nose is heavy with something like apricot accompanied by a hint of almond. There’s also a definite note of heavily toasted oak. The flavor continues that strong apricot-like fruitiness, with oak but adding a very long cinnamon-spice and honey finish. It’s got a really full mouth feel too, giving it a distinctly heavy quality compared to the last couple of whiskys I’ve tried. I think my first reaction to tasting was ‘holy crap, I just got punched in the mouth with flavor’. It’s smooth up front, but there is a distinct burn as you near the finish.

My rating on this one is: Drink neat. I’ve had it before and remember liking it, I still like it.

Lime Shrimp

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Today I’d rather planned on writing a lengthy treatise on  baked beans. Instead, I went to the Science march and then lunch and then we visited a friend for a bit. It was good, but I didn’t get the thing about baked beans done up, which is probably fine because 95% of that article was going to involve how important it is to make them in a smoker, while smoking something.

As it is, I do happen to have another recipe in my back pocket to use for just such a failure. Lime Shrimp. Not only is this easy, but it’s perfect for when you have to bring something to a get-together. Since it’s apparently, in some parts of the world not Alaska, spring, I feel like this one is pretty timely. So far as I can tell, this particular dish goes with basically everything, unless you’re going to a vegetarian BBQ. In that case, this isn’t going to do you a lot of good. Anyhow, enough blathering on, here’s the dish:

What you need:

  • 3 Tbsp Coconut oil (the stuff that tastes coconutty)
  • 1 Lb uncooked & peeled shrimp
  • 2-3 small limes, cubed. You can leave the skin on or remove it. I do a bit of both
  • A bit of cajun seasoning, like 1/2 Tsp.
  • 1/2 Tsp Garlic powder
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, and happen to have it to hand, 1/2 tsp mint leaves (chopped)

Just mix it all up and cook it in a wok or iron skillet. Easy Peasy, Right?