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Belgian beers demystified by Naptime Chef for Families in the Loop in time for Labor Day Picnics

   In time for the Labor Day weekend we are posting a story that just appeared on a great site for families in Chicago Families in the Loop by a guest blogger, Kelsey Banfield, who writes under the moniker The Naptime Chef. Kelsey and I collaborated on picnic dishes made with or enjoyed with our Belgian beers earlier in the summer. It was fun!  So grab a biere de table, saison, biere de garde, organic wit, abbey singel, lambrucha while you are doing the Labor Day shopping. The BBQ or picnic is guaranteed to be a special summer’s-end celebration.  You’ll find more picnic posts when you search “cooking with beer” on this blog.  If you are a young parent and a foodie you will want to follow Kelsey. If you are determined to get the most out of Chicago for you and your young family – Families in the Loop is your ticket.  Have a great Labor Day!

Belgian Beer is Oh So Fine

Years ago, I had a summer job most college students could only dream of, working at Vanberg & DeWulf, a Belgian beer importing business in Cooperstown, NY. During my few months there, I learned all about the beverage business from owners Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg. Amid the flurry of office activity, I also learned a lot about their beers. I was barely legal to drink at that point and had not yet developed any sort of palate for beer or wine, but I was intrigued by this new world that extended far beyond the tasteless dorm mainstay: Natty Light.

In Belgium, brewing beer is an art form; Belgians take their beer as seriously as the French do their wine. To drink a Belgian beer is to enjoy it sip by sip and pair it with delicious, farm-fresh foods.

Since that wonderful long ago summer, Wendy has since become a friend and mentor. She’s also become a professional partner because, as it turns out, Belgian beer can easily be paired with foods to enhance our dining experiences. And, in case you didn’t know, it’s absolutely fantastic to cook with! With Labor Day quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to learn about these decadent Belgian ales.

To kick things off, here are the perfect beers for end-of-summer/early fall sipping.

The first group of Belgian beers, known at Biere de Tables (Table Beers), are typically enjoyed during family meals. They have a low-alcohol content, come in a variety of flavors and have a fine bubbly mouth that feels akin to champagne. In many homes, children are often allowed to have small sips of Table Beers with their meals; it’s how elder Belgians teach the next generation about their fine beers and food.

Other beers are known as Saisons (beers brewed on the farm in the winter to quench the thirsts of farm hands); lemony light “Abbey Ales” (great accompaniment to mussels): or “Wheat Beers,” which are great with spicy foods. Strong “Golden Ales” are suited to grilled chops or burgers. To spice things up for our Families in the Loop readers, we’ve even added a “Wild” surprise beer to the mix below.

1) Lambrucha: This unique beer, the marriage of two fermented drinks, Kombucha and Lambic, was developed by Wendy and Don. Tasting Table Chicago recently stated, “Move over, Miller High Life: We’re declaring Lambrucha the new Champagne of Beers.” Strong words for such a new beverage! This tart bubbly drink is rose-colored with light, refreshing, citrus notes and pairs perfectly with summer veggies and seafood. Lambrucha is the mimosa of the beer world and the ultimate picnic brunch beer.

2) Avril Organic: This USDA-Certified Organic beer is touted as being one of the best Belgian beers ever. It has a very low alcohol content, along with crisp, grassy notes. Avril Organic is the perfect palate-cleansing summer beer.

3) Saison Dupont: Among the most food-friendly beers of all time, Saisons were the only type of beer Belgian farm workers would drink. Bottles were stashed in nearby rivulets to stay cool and farm hands would take sips as needed to stay refreshed. Saison Dupont is one of the ultimate picnic beers, since it has a light straw color and is full of citrus and spicy notes.

4) Hop-Ruiter: A new beer developed by Don & Wendy in conjunction with the Schelde Brewery (a rising star on the Belgian microbrewing scene), Hop Ruiter combines the Belgian appreciation for esters and the American love of hops. Unlike American beers, the hop character is not piney, and instead is more reminiscent of an oak-y white wine. This Strong Golden Ale is perfect for summer cookouts.

5) Witkap Abbey Single Style Ale: If the monks drink this for lunch, why can’t you? This light beer is indeed a summer refresher all over Belgium and is often served with salads and fish. Revered for its champagne-y, citrusy flavor, this beer is light sipping at its best.

6) Foret Blanche Organic: This brand new organic beer is a personal favorite of mine. I love the tart, yeasty flavor that pairs so well with fruity desserts. I’ll admit, I also love the pretty label. This beer comes from Brasserie Dupont, the makers of Saison Dupont and Avril, and they are known as being the champions of organic beers in Belgium. Foret Blanche Organic pairs especially well with seafood dishes.

For Sipping and for Cooking!

One of the best parts about Belgian beer is that it can be sipped, stirred and baked. If you’re looking to try it out with an easy and delicious recipe, this pork dish is the way to go. It can be served hot or cold and even taken on picnics or boat rides. Marinating the meat in beer tenderizes it and adds all sorts of spicy flavors. I like it, of course, because preparation is so incredibly naptime chef-friendly.

Wendy got the idea of marinating the pork from Top Chef Winner Richard Blais. When he was just starting out, he developed some terrific recipes for Vanberg & DeWulf to help them showcase their beers. On several occasions, he used Belgian beer as a marinade to tenderize the meat and infuse it with spicy flavors. Ruth Van Waerebeek, the modern godmother of Belgian cuisine, also champions marinating pork in beer in her cookbook, Everybody Eats Well in Belgium. She swears by using pork shoulder with the bone still in, but I prefer pork tenderloin without the bone because it is easier to find and less expensive.

When I made this for my family recently, I popped the tenderloin in to marinate while my daughter was at camp and baked it that evening for dinner. The dish was a huge hit and has already earned a place in our regular dinner rotation. The chutney I served it with was made by my friend Tanna, who owns her own chutney company called Chutney Unlimited. Any comparable chutney you can find will work just as well. The recipe is below for you to make at home!

Enjoy your delicious new Belgian beers this Labor Day weekend!

~By Kelsey Banfield, The Naptime Chef

Want to learn more about Vanberg & DeWulf, experts in Belgian Beer since 1982? Head over to their website!

Beer Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Garlic-Ginger Chutney

Ingredients
3 pounds boneless pork tenderloin
3 cups Moinette Brune or similar dark beer
1 ½ cups Garlic-Ginger chutney or similar strongly flavored chutney of choice, divided

Instructions

1. Place the tenderloin in a large Ziploc bag and pour in the beer and 1 cup of the chutney. Seal the bag and swish the beer and chutney around so that it completely covers the meat. Place it in the fridge and allow it to marinate for at least 3 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the pork and the marinade in a large baking dish. Bake it for about 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches…

3. Allow the pork to cool slightly, slice it into medallions and serve with dollops of the remaining chutney on the side.

© 2011 Families in the Loop. | Web Design by Blueprint Design Studio.

A Belgian Picnic Confab with The Naptime Chef

Introducing the wonderful Kelsey MacMillan Banfield

A shout out to someone we adore and admire!

We have known Kelsey, the Naptime Chef creator, since   she was a Cooperstown teenager.  Her parents own a  historic house (with the most enchantingly beautiful       walled garden imaginable) across the street from the         little River Street cottage that served as our HQ while Brewery Ommegang was being built. Kelsey first         babysat for our daughter Claire.  Later she became a favorite intern at Vanberg & DeWulf  and the brewery.

 

 

Ruth's Classic Book on Belgian cookingPost college, off she went to launch a career in the development and non-profit worlds. Kelsey married Duncan. Then baby Daphne arrived. Being a resourceful, enterprising, self-possessed Emma Willard grad…instead of returning to a corporate office, Kelsey launched a business from home – one that permits plenty of self-expression and time with her young daughter and husband. Naptime Chef is not only a popular syndicated blog (for foodies who don’t want to give up cooking and eating well with a baby in the house), it is about to be a book. Running Press intends to debut it in time for Mothers’ Day 2012.

Kelsey and I exchanged emails this morning as she sped her way on the Acela bound for Philadelphia. The photo shoot for the book is taking place there this week. On board with Kelsey… 3 jars of  her Dad’s pickles, 2 quarts of Blueberry Pie Filling and a giant jar of granola.  We can’t wait to see the book & really appreciate that she’s devoting posts this week to our Belgian beer and cooking with beer collaboration.

Our Belgian Bookshelf

We started talking about the Belgian cooking theme this spring. Naturally that sent me to our cookbook collection. (Nach Waxman at Kitchen Arts & Letters has said we have the largest collection of books on Belgian cooking in America). Not that we have a ton of competition in that category…..Anyway we decided to illustrate this week’s posts with a smattering of covers of these well- loved books. They have been our constant companions wherever we’ve lived. Here’s to Bemelmans,Chantraine, Colau, David, Elkon, Hazelton,  Gordon & Shirley, Morleghem, Blais & Plisnier whose recipes and approaches to the art of gastronomy have inspired  more Belgian beer dinners across America for nigh on thirty years than they could possibly imagine.

For a taste of Kelsey’s fluid writing style read on….

“In the two summers, and several school vacations, I worked at V&DeW I learned all about the fantastic world of mussels and frites, real waffles, Axel Vervoordt, artisanal cheeses and chocolates, Tin-Tin, and, of course, Belgian-style home cooking. In fact, my first day From Don & Wendy's Belgian bookcaseof work Wendy handed me a copy of Ruth’s book, Everybody Eats Well in Belgium, and my parent’s and I cooked from it, exclusively, for two months straight. The whole experience was a little strange for me at first, having listened to everyone wax poetic about France and it’s culinary treasures I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Belgium. I mean, why had I never heard much about this country? Did it want to be ignored? It turns out that the country of Belgium is just very small which is why people seem to have an easier job dismissing it then, say, Italy or Spain. But, I can attest, Belgium is packed with cultural treasures and talented people, it deserves it’s share of the spotlight. http://www.thenaptimechef.com/2009/06/napping-in-belgium-sunday-dinner-series_798/

What has Belgian beer got to do with The Naptime Chef, an all girls’ school Jane Fonda attended, and fair trade?  Permit us a digression

Kelsey (with a strong assist from her mom and dad) is directly responsible for making sure Claire went to Emma Willard, her alma mater, and a super-duper all girls’ school in upstate NY.  Our mutual commitment to Emma is what has kept us in touch in recent years. We have both served on the board. We have all (Claire taking the lead here) been active in sustainable issues at the school. Want to know what kind of  school this is? It recently became the first Fair Trade high school in the nation. We had absolutely nothing to do with this development. It was all the girls’ own efforts, but we are mighty proud of them and the school:  http://news.change.org/stories/introducing-the-first-fair-trade-high-school-in-america

Next up:   Kelsey’s picnic and some background our friend Ruth Van Waerebeek (author of Everybody Eats Well in Belgium) and yet one more Cooperstown connection. We’ll be reposting our exhaustive compendium of recipes on the blog soon. Promise!