Monday, July 23, 2018

Stuffed Mirlitons


It's one of those words, much like "maringouin" and "Tchoupitoulas", that if you cannot pronounce correctly, will announce your Yankee-ness to all your southern brethren and sisters (sistren?).

Now, if you live outside The South, you probably know this lil' guy as something entirely different:
Chayote, or, pear squash.  The latter coming from it's both visual and textural similarities to a pear. It's popular in Latin cuisine, where they originate from. In the mid-1700s, when the Spanish took over New Orleans from France after the 7 Years War, trade began to flow between the Caribbean and New Orleans, including the "vegetable pear".  In the late 1700's, there was a massive influx of immigrants to the area from Haiti, where the squash was known as a "mirliton".  And so, the name stuck.

Up until more recent history, they were a common backyard vegetable--the plants climb very well and so homeowners would use their chain-link fences as a trellis.  However, since wooden privacy fences have become more popular for curb appeal, this trend has declined considerably.

So, how are they used?  Well, raw they're crunchy and great in salads.  Cooked, they're very mild and take on the flavor of whatever they're cooked with.  The Creole-Acadians loved to put them in gumbos, or stuff them with a meat/seafood and breadcrumb mixture.  So that's what we went with here.

Now--let's be honest for a moment.  Stuffing a gourd is purely for aesthetics.  You can easily achieve the exact same flavor profile by making a delicious casserole or dressing. But it's just not as attractive.  (I've been food blogging for almost a decade and I can't figure out how to make casseroles photogenic. Please share any tips in the comments section.)

Ingredients: (makes 4 servings)
2 large mirlitons, salt & bay leaf
5 Tbsp unsalted butter or margarine, divided (2 for filling, 3 for topping)
1 4-ounce link Andouille sausage, diced
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 small bell pepper, finely diced
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 Tbsp minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/2 lb raw shrimp, diced
1.5 cups of bread crumbs, divided (1 cup for filling, 1/2 cup for topping)
2-3 green onions, thinly sliced
salt & pepper to taste
1/8 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

First, cut the mirlitons in half and remove the seeds.  Bring a pot of water to boil; once boiling, add about 1 Tsp of salt and a bay leaf.  Then add the mirlitons, drop the temp and simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender. Remove from the water and allow to cool. 

(Tip:  Because cooking the mirliton takes a while, if you're wanting a quick after-work meal, cook these the night before, then make the filling the day you're wanting to eat, then bake and BOOM, you're done!)

Once they've cooled, scrape out most of the pulp, leaving about 1/2 inch in the shell.  Dry the pulp and then chop.

Then, pre-heat your oven to 350F.

While the mirlitons are cooling, in a large cast iron pan, heat the 2 Tbsp of butter until melted over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and Cajun seasoning, and saute for 5 minutes, then add the diced andouille. Cook for 5 more minutes, then add the mirliton pulp that you scooped out, garlic, shrimp, and green onions, cooking until the shrimp turn pink.  Add 1/2 cup of water (or seafood stock if you have it) and 1 cup of breadcrumbs.  Stir until it all comes together--it should be moist, but somewhat thick and clump when you smoosh it together (so it doesn't get crumbly when you cook it later). Season to taste with additional salt, pepper, or hot sauce (if you like).

Place the 4 shells in a oven-safe pan (depending on the size of your mirlitons, a loaf pan or 8x8 square pan should work best), and then divide the stuffing mixture between them.  Then in a small bowl, combine the other 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, 3 Tbsp of butter (melted), Parmesan cheese, and salt to taste (if your breadcrumbs are seasoned, you may not need this).  Sprinkle over the top of the shells, and then bake until hot and the topping is golden (I turned my broiler on at the very end just for a couple minutes).

Serve with a vegetable side (I did garlic-sauteed kale, but a salad would also be great) and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

7th Wedding Anniversary: Copper

The Hubs & I just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary!  Still feels like hardly any time at all.  The grandparents took Lil' Man for the weekend so that we could have a romantic getaway to Missouri's Wine Country, Hermann, MO.   Hermann was colonized in the early 1800's by German settlers, who were drawn to the area because it reminded them of Bavaria and the Rhineland back home (so much so that the next town over is named Rhineland).  Early government encouraged settlers to grow their own grapes by giving landowners money for "grape lots", and thus spawned a massive wine boom in the area.  It's still home to some of the most well known Missouri wineries, like Stone Hill , Hermannof, and Adam Puchta.
We found a super-cute apartment right downtown via AirBNB, took some historic walking tours, did some wine tasting, tried some new beers, and ate some AMAZING food.  We even did a little geocaching!
Filet with Norton wine & rosemary sauce, over spaetzle with goat cheese. YUM.

And on our way home, we decided to stop in Jefferson City and knock something off our bucket list--visiting the now-abandoned Missouri State Penitentiary!   I know...super-romantic, right?  But it was really interesting--it's the oldest prison in the U.S. and was in use until 2004. I'd like to go back and to the night-time ghost tour in the future. 
As you may know, we like to do traditional wedding gifts.  And the traditional gifts for the 7th year are copper or wool.  Since we got married in July, the idea of anything wool right now makes me hot and itchy. But copper...we can run with that!

David gifted me with a copper-plated birch leaf necklace that I love and have worn nearly every day since I got it:
And then while we were in Hermann, The Hubs noticed that the railroad was really active:
Found one.

So he wanted to smash a penny on the tracks.  So we left one on the tracks, went to go try some wines, and then when we came back....ta-da!
Originally I thought about just framing it, but then I saw this photo album that had a frame in the front, so I decided to go with that instead!
I originally wanted to find a copper-themed beer, but didn't have much luck. But then I remembered that we have our very own Copper Run Distillery just a few miles down the road.  So I picked up a bottle of golden rum and a few other necessities for making us some tasty cocktails.
7-Up for Seven years of good luck! :)

To check out the previous years' gifts, use the links below!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Beer Traveling with Kids: A Gulf Coast Brewery Tour

We recently took a week long trip down to Gulf Shores, Alabama with our kiddo and some friends who also have a kiddo. I've already done the whole "traveling with a baby" and "traveling with a toddler" and "beach vacationing with a baby" post thing.  Those are all great resource posts (if I'm not being humble), so feel free to check them out.  So, there's no point in rehashing a bunch of travel tips here.

(Okay, maybe one:  if you are staying in the Gulf Shores/Pensacola area, and have a day where it's not good beach weather, go check out the Naval Air Museum on the Naval Air Base.  It's free admission and SUPER cool.  We spent 2 hours and still didn't see everything, and it's geared toward kids--there's planes they can sit in, there's a play land for burning off energy...I highly recommend it.)
So instead...I'd like to talk about all the breweries we visited, in respect to their kid/family friendliness.  Because the Hubs & I, we're Beer Travelers.  When we go someplace new, that's one of the first things we do a Google search for: local breweries.  And if we're going to have the kid with us, "kid-friendly brewery in *insert town name*".  Sometimes we get lucky, sometimes we have to dig.  So hopefully this post pops up in someone else's Google search so we can be helpful. :)

Stop 1: Southern Prohibition Brewing, Hattiesburg, MS
This was probably my favorite of all the places we stopped, both for beer diversity and kid-friendliness.  It's not in the best neighborhood, but don't be deterred--once you're inside, it's amazing. Half the interior is full of old arcade games, which our kiddo loves to play (even if it's actually just the demo screen). 
Outside (in a fenced-in patio area), they have a "soccer billiard table" which kept our kiddo entertained for about half an hour with minimal intervention.  Oh, and they're right by the train tracks, so if you have a kid who is obsessed with trains, he/she'll be super happy.   Also--they have a freezer full of free popsicles, for kids and adults alike.
They also have a pizza food truck onsite--we tried The Butcher (all the meats!) which was delicious, but I wish I'd been hungrier or lived closer, because there were so many other things I wanted to try, like the pecan praline cannoli or the blackberry dessert pizza.  And the beer selection was top notch--we tried 2 different flights and had trouble finding fault with anything.

Favorite beer(s): Tie between Usurper (Part of their Wild & Wood Series, a Brett ale with Blood Orange & Satsuma) and the Spoils of War Coconut Cream Pie Stout

Changing Table in the Bathroom: Yes!  Bonus Points!

Stop 2: Big Beach Brewing, Gulf Shores, AL

After a somewhat rainy day while Tropical Storm Alberto's western edge clipped the area, we headed over to Big Beach, where they host Geeks Who Drink pub quiz on Monday nights.  We were concerned that they wouldn't be open (or not having trivia) because of Memorial Day, but they responded right away when we messaged them on Facebook to say that yes they would be open and having trivia!  So we got a couple flights and one of the bartenders saw our kiddo and brought him the bean bags so he could play with the cornhole game.
The staff was super friendly and we got no flack about our kid, even though they were packed to the gills with customers playing trivia.  They're also dog-friendly, with a big outside fenced in area, so our son got to pet a few dogs.  But he was mostly interested in the giant mud puddle right next to the cornhole game...and was a giant muddy mess by the time we left. 
But he had a blast, and we got to play trivia and drink beer, so everyone wins! 
We even came back here later in our trip for a couple more pints and to catch a ride on the giant tree swing outside.

Favorite Beer: Amy Honey Basil Wheat for me, Czech It Out pilsner for The Hubs.

Changing Station in the Bathroom:  No, but their bathrooms are very clean and tidy, so we just laid a disposable changing mat on the floor and changed him there.  I asked and they said they'd suggest getting one to the management.

Stop #3: Luna's Eat & Drink, Orange Beach, AL

Luna's is not a brewery--they're a restaurant & tap room.  But they have one of the most impressive beer menu's I've seen.  Nearly all their taps are local or regional.
We got two flights here, which got us *close* to trying all the ones we haven't had before.  Service was great, and they also have an excellent outdoor space with games and such so bored kids can run around a bit.
They also have AMAZING food here.  We shared the pimento hushpuppies with blueberry pepper jelly (SO GOOD)  with our friends.  The Hubs got a fresh catch sandwich, and I got the stuffed grouper with brussel heaven.  I could eat those brussel sprouts EVERY. DAY.
(Note: it doesn't come with tomatoes.  Those are from my husband's sandwich.)

Favorite beer(s): it's hard to say.  Looking back at my Untappd check-ins, we gave a LOT of high scores to these beers.  But I'm gonna go with Charlie (sour ale) from Fairhope Brewing, and Old Fashioned Lemonade IPA from Evil Twin Brewing.

Changing Table in the Bathroom: Yup!  Bonus Points!

Luna's is located in a larger complex, that is also home to one of the best beer and wine shops in the area...

Stop #4: Maggie's Bottle & Tail, Orange Beach, AL  
They had a huge selection of local bottles & cans and you can build your own 6-pack (NOTE: the local Rouses also does mixed 6 packs with a good selection of local beers, so be sure to stop in there as well if you're looking for some local brews to take home.)
Our kind of Souvenirs. PS--stay hydrated, folks.

Stop #5: Flipdaddy's, Orange Beach, AL

We did a date-night exchange with our friends, so this is where The Hubs & I went for dinner on our date night. Since we were here sans-kiddo, I can't really review their kid-friendliness.  However, they did have great service, tasty burgers (I fell in love with The French Connection) and sweet potato tots, and a good selection of craft beers.  We got 2 flights here, sat at the bar, ate our burgers and chatted in relative peace.  It was a really nice date.

Favorite beer(s): for me, Summertrip from Braxton Brewing.  For the Hubs, Cheap Sunglasses (kolsch) from Fairhope Brewing.

Stop #6: Spahr Brewing, Pensacola, FL
So, I didn't actually get to go to this one.  I was at the Children's Museum with our kiddo.  The Hubs didn't feel like going so he went to Spahr while waiting for us, then came back to pick us up when the museum closed.  So, I'm gonna let him write this section. In the meantime, here's a pic of the kiddo playing at the Children's Museum.
The Hubs:  What can I tell you?  It's set up like an old German beer hall, with lots of German decor and long picnic tables inside.  There's an outdoor seating area in the back with some yard games where kids could run around.  They have darts and a pool table inside.  But I didn't see any board games or anything like that.  And the beers were pretty good.

Favorite Beer: Blueberry Wit (this is a big deal, because we are NOT witbier people.  We don't dig on the banana + clove vibe, like, at all.  But The Hubs says even the regular Wit from Spahr was probably the best he's ever had.)

Changing Table in Bathroom:  Nope.  Sorry.

Stop #7: Pensacola Bay Brewery, Pensacola, FL

This brewery is just a couple blocks from the Children's Museum, so we walked over there.  They have a nice outdoor space, part-covered and part open.  I didn't see any outdoor games, so probably not the kid-friendliest spot, but the beer was good!  (They are dog-friendly, FYI.)  We got one flight here. Also--there's a park right across the street, so if you can bribe your kid with snacks for a bit, you can take them over there afterward. Our kid was obsessed with the old-fashioned mail slot on the entry way door, and so he just kept opening the door for people so that he could go inside and peek out through the mail slot.  Weirdo.

Favorite Beer:  Me - DeSoto Berliner Weisse, The Hubs - Deluna kolsch.

Changing Table in Bathroom: Kinda. If you have a mat or disposable changing pad cover to lay down, they do have a large chest of drawers in there that can be used as a changing station.

Stop #8: Perfect Plain Brewing, Pensacola, FL

We headed here next during our day in Pensacola to grab some dinner and a flight.  They don't have much of an outdoor space since they're basically downtown along a major street, but they do have a few tables outside.  It was pretty hot while we were there so we didn't really want to sit outside anyway.  They had a great selection of board games and kid's toys, so we were able to keep our toddler entertained while we sampled beers and waited for our food.  
They had about 10 taps on while we were there, plus craft sodas and fresh pressed Florida juice for the minors/non-drinkers in your group.
Two Birds food truck was onsite while we were there, so we ordered a brisket & green chile Philly, and the crushed Doritos mac & cheese.  Both were AMAZING.

Favorite Beer: As far as standard beers, the Kolsch would probably be our go-to.... however, I have to give some props for the Neglected Garden, a saison featuring honey, turmeric, black peppercorns, and basil.  It's a little weird...but in a good way. I don't know that I could have more than one in an evening, but I'd definitely drink it again.

Changing Table:  Not at the time of our visit, but I was told they do have one on order so it could well be installed by now. 

Stop #9: Blue Canoe, Tupelo, MS

We stopped here on the way back home for lunch. They have a great selection of regional craft beers, and the staff was super friendly and not at all judgey about us bringing a tiny human into their bar/restaurant.  They have a fully fenced in back yard, and while it was too hot to eat outside while we were there, we did let the Lil' Man run around outside like a Tasmanian Devil for about 20 minutes to burn off energy from being trapped in a car for 6 hours.

The only downside of the big backyard is that it's also their smoking section, so if you have a kid who's obsessed with picking stuff up off the ground (like discarded cigarette butts), I'd suggest bringing some Purell with you.

Favorite Beer: ALT-ered State from Natchez Brewing.  

Changing Table: No dice.  We ended up changing him outside in the back yard, since we were the only ones back there.


Note: We would have really liked to have gone up to Fairhope Brewing and Haint Blue Brewing in Mobile, AL.  Unfortunately, Fairhope wasn't open when we were going through Mobile and Haint Blue doesn't have a tap room yet.  There's also several breweries in Pensacola that we didn't have time to make it to. Ah well--next time!