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Better with Beer; Brews will boost the flavor of a variety of dishes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Beer -- it isn't just for sipping, slurping, chugging and drinking.

It's great for cooking, too.

And not just for marinating ribs or adding to a barbecue sauce. There are many ways to cook with it and a variety of beers to experiment with.

Many places in the United States are brewing up some pretty tasty and refreshing microbrews these days. But how do you know which beer to splash into your recipes?

There really is only one true way to answer that, and that is by trial and error. For instance, when making a Blue Cheese and Beer Dressing, I poured a little of the dressing into a cup, added a tiny bit of beer and tasted it. That's how to do it -- just keep trying different combinations until you like what you have concocted. If it's a hearty dish, add a stronger-flavored, heartier beer; for a lighter dish, try a lighter, milder beer.

Beer has been used in many types of dishes from appetizers to desserts. It is mixed into batters for fish and chips, dough for pizza and rustic crusty breads. And it can be in the toppers and spreads that go on that crusty bread, such as Cheddar Ale Spread, a better appetite whetter than plain old crackers and cheese.

Beer can be used as the liquid medium in marinades for pot roasts instead of wine. It is a superb seasoning and flavor contributor, and it also tenderizes the meat. It is a wonderful substitute for the obligatory white wine with steamed clams. In Pale Ale Oven-Roasted Skillet Clams, it adds its yeastiness against the tomato, lemon and rosemary notes.

It is great to add to pancakes, soups and even cakes. For a simple indulgence to make at home, I have included a recipe for Chocolate Truffles. It's super-easy to make.

For other great cooking recipes with beer, check the Beer Institute Online at http://www.beerinst.org.

And for the best beer read, there's "Real Beer and Good Eats," by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly (Knopf; 1996).

Walnut Stout Bread

Makes 2 loaves

1/2 cup warm (110 degrees) water

1 package active dry yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups stout or other dark ale, at room temperature

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon anise, crushed or ground

1 tablespoon salt

4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour

3 cups medium rye flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

cornmeal for dusting

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

In very large bowl, whisk together warm water, yeast and sugar. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes until foamy. Stir in stout, olive oil, cocoa powder, coriander, anise and salt until combined.

Sift together the 2 flours and gradually beat into yeast mixture. When most of flour has been added, stir in walnuts. Turn dough out onto lightly floured board. Knead steadily until smooth and elastic, 10 to 15 minutes, slowly adding more flour if needed.

Clean bowl and oil it lightly. Place dough in bowl and turn it to coat lightly with oil. Drape clean, damp towel over bowl and place in warm place until doubled, 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down, turn out onto board and divide into 2 pieces. Shape each piece into an even round. Place on oiled baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal. Allow loaves to rise until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Brush loaves with egg-water mixture. Using razor blade or sharp knife, cut decorative slashes on loaves. Bake at 375 degrees until crusts are firm and loaves are hollow-sounding when tapped, 35 to 45 minutes.

This bread is great served with Cheddar Ale Spread (recipe below).

-- Adapted from recipe created by chef/owner Greg Higgins of Higgins restaurant in Portland, Ore., for "Pacific Northwest: The Beautiful Cookbook," Collins Publishers, San Francisco; 1993

Pale Ale Oven-Roasted Skillet Clams

Makes 4 appetizer servings or 2 light-meal servings

2 pounds small Manila clams in shells, rinsed

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, depending upon spiciness you like

2 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary

1/2 lemon, cut into 4 pieces

1/4 cup flavorful pale ale, such as Redhook India Pale Ale

2 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks, or olive oil

1 large rosemary sprig, optional

In large bowl, toss together clams, garlic, chili flakes, tomatoes and minced rosemary. Transfer to large, heavy or cast-iron skillet with oven-proof handle. Squeeze lemon pieces over clams and drop lemons into pan. Pour beer over clams. Sprinkle with butter pieces. Place rosemary sprig in center.

Bake in oven at 500 degrees 14 to 16 minutes until clams are all open and just done. Discard unopened clams. Remove from oven and stir around with large spoon.

Serve in skillet on hot pad or trivet, being sure to wrap handle with cloth napkin or potholder.

Black Stout Ice for Oysters

Makes 2 generous cups

12 fluid ounces Blackhook Stout Beer or other dark stout

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest

In 8-inch square glass casserole dish or stainless-steel bowl, combine beer, lemon juice, water and lemon zest and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer. Remove from freezer every 30 minutes and stir with fork. Mixture should start becoming slushy after 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When icy and completely raked into tiny pieces of ice crystals, stirring process can stop.

Let freeze overnight. Break up ice crystals with fork just before serving. Serve small spoonful (about 1/2 teaspoon) of ice atop each freshly shucked oyster.

Blue Cheese and Beer Dressing

Makes 4 cups

2 cups mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

1 cup (4 ounces) blue cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons very finely minced onion

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley, optional

3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup extra-special bitter beer, such as Redhook ESB

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until mixed and cheese chunks are slightly broken up but not pureed. Cover and refrigerate up to 10 days.

This dressing is great drizzled over romaine lettuce leaves topped with bay shrimp, chopped eggs and toasted hazelnuts or almonds.

Chocolate Truffles

Makes 2 1/2 dozen

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

2 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons porter beer

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, or as needed

Place chocolate in top of double boiler set over hot, but not boiling, water. Do not let top section of double boiler touch the water. Melt chocolate until smooth, stirring gently from time to time with clean, dry whisk. (Caution: Do not let chocolate get too hot.) Set aside.

Meanwhile, in small saucepan combine sugar, beer and cream. Bring to slow simmer, then remove from heat, making sure sugar is dissolved. Let cool slightly.

Set chocolate mixture over simmering water. Whisk cream mixture into chocolate mixture until well incorporated. Again, be sure chocolate does not get too hot. Pour chocolate mixture into 1 1/2-quart glass baking dish. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until solid.

Place cocoa powder in small bowl. When chocolate mixture is solid, use teaspoon to scoop up spoonfuls of mixture and lightly roll each in cocoa powder until thoroughly coated and shaped into a ball.

Place finished truffles in wax paper-lined tin, separating layers with wax paper. Cover with tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. Truffles will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 month.

When ready to serve, reroll truffles in a little more cocoa powder if necessary.

Cheddar Ale Spread

Makes 2 generous cups

8 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup flavorful beer

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions

Process cream cheese, mustard, Cheddar cheese, Tabasco sauce and salt in food processor about 30 seconds. Add beer and continue processing until very smooth. Pulse in parsley until just dispersed. Fold in green onions.

Spread can be kept, covered, in refrigerator up to 7 days. It is best if brought to room temperature before serving.

Pub Date: 02/24/99

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