Category Archives: Trial & Error


Nonalcoholic drinks are on the rise thanks in part to “sober curiosity” -  Vox
(Image Credit: Vox)

At 11:53 pm on December 31, 2020 I finished the last sip of my Manhattan. Turned and celebrated New Year’s Eve and swinging into 2021 with Priya who then proceeded to turn away from the start of Pixar’s Soul and call it a night.

I stepped into the kitchen and made another Manhattan just after midnight. But instead of using my Woodford Reserve, I turned to a Zero Proof Whiskey Alternative I’d discovered at the start of the pandemic, Ritual. It was sweeter. It was lighter.

It was a start.

Having that Woodford Reserve still there on the counter was going to be too tempting; so I packed it up, along with all of the other liquor and beer we had upstairs (wine stayed for Priya) and took them down to the basement.

It was truly a start. My goal was to do a dry January and depending on how it went, I had mentally prepared myself to take a crack at a dry February as well.

It’s Father’s Day (2:03 am, Sunday, June 20, 2021) and I’m proud to say that the sip I took at 11:53 pm on December 31, 2020, is the last sip of what anyone would qualify as an alcoholic drink I’ve taken since; though it’s not the last I’ll ever take by any means (that’s an important point to make as well).

This post is not to sell you on the merits or value of a dry sprint. Rather, this post is to share what I’ve fallen in love with along the way and in my active quest to find things to sip, to savor, to indulge in even, things that scratch the itch to drink when I have it (say, a Hazy IPA, a rich Stout), that offset any social pressures when I socialize (a Gin and Tonic, a Cocktail), and that give me alternatives to the more sugary options we feel stuck in when we do give up alcohol (is sweet the only baseline flavor available to me now?)

Finally, I’ll update this list as time, tastes, and new experiences require. My first step today was to get this down to make it easier for me to support the people who’ve reached out to me about my approach to this experience.

In Pursuit of the Ideal “Time-to-Sip” or Ready Made vs Mixed, vs Crafted

There are many ways to organize this post; I ended up settling on how I think about drinks as someone with a fairly busy schedule: time-to-sip. In other words, I’ve organized this post by the effort required and time needed to get from thirst craving to first sip.

  • Ready Made
    • The nonalcoholic, zero spirit industry is booming. The trend has some health driven catalysts, but as with all things, it’s also a byproduct of shifting generational tastes and the nature of generational reactionism (it doesn’t matter what you do when it comes to tastes and styles and indulgences, subsequent generations will naturally react and pivot more than copy). Nevertheless, the byproduct is an extraordinary assortment of now off-the-shelf, ready made alternatives to alcoholic beverages that I enjoy and even prefer.
  • Mixed
    • I’m separating “mixed” from “crafted” for a reason: stirring is a hell of a lot easier than measuring, weighing, calibrating, tasting, and presenting. Think of the difference between a Jack and Coke and a truly exceptional Whiskey Sour. Mixing the right zero spirit beverage requires a creative palate and knowledge of your audience; understanding that some people may be more forgiving because it’s nonalcoholic, and some people are more forgiving when it’s alcoholic. Let that sink in, and then laugh about it.
  • Crafted
    • There is one book and set of recipes that transformed my experience here. I’ve only had the chance to attempt two recipes from it, but, simply by reading through the recipes, I’ve also created and experimented with a third on my own that I’m extraordinarily happy with.

Ready Made

Non Alcoholic Beer or “Near Beer”

I’m not going to spend any time on Lagers / Pilsners. You can find these anywhere, and have been able to for decades.

What I was most surprised by, was the broad number of options available … that had depth and breadth of flavor. As someone with a well stocked beer selection, kicking back with a Heineken 0.0 wasn’t going to suffice.

Athletic Brewing CompanyRun Wild IPA, Free Wave Hazy IPA, and All Out Stout. First and foremost, all three taste good (IPA), to great (Stout) to virtually indistinguishable (Hazy IPA). These are good drinks and objectively good beers. What makes them additionally worth referencing is they are all available on Amazon, so add them to your next Prime order, get them on a recurring delivery, and you’ll never be wanting. The cans also have a great feel and texture to them, a high quality finish. If you are trying to mask your sobriety (short or long-term) than these are excellent options as well as without deep inspection and attention, nobody will know the difference — in can form, or if poured into a glass.

Bottom Line: ABC has the better stout. It’s richer and more complex.

How Athletic Brewing made nonalcoholic beer cool

Brewdog AF Series – Hazy AF IPA, Punk AF Robust IPA, Wakeup Call. These fit the same pattern as the Athletic Brewing Company. They tend to be deeply similar (Hazy AF), while also being lower calorically than Athletic Brewing (Punk AF is 37 calories vs 70-90 for ABC). Similarly available on Amazon and in a variety pack and at about the same price. The key reason I lean toward ABC is they have the Free Wave Hazy at my local liquor store otherwise, if I’d seen these first, I’m certain I’d have embraced Brewdog first and more often but if all things are even, I’d go with the Brewdog IPAs.

Bottom Line: Brewdog has the better IPAs. They’re bolder, more complex, and have fewer calories.

I also encourage you to connect with your local brewers to see who’s making great versions of local beers in low or non alcoholic options. There are some well reviewed stouts I can’t get my hands on in NJ but would do just about anything to find a way to get into my fridge. Wellbeing Brewing (great name) isn’t one I’ve had luck with as of yet

If it’s not clear, I objectively enjoy the taste of a great IPA and a smooth stout. It’s not the alcohol that makes them something I want to drink, it’s the flavor profile and how it complements times of day, foods, and moods. I’m thankful to the brewers who are bringing their profiles to the market in NA and LA forms.

Beer Alternatives

HopTea – I’ve been a fan of HopTea for a couple of years now. I stumbled across the brand at my local WholeFoods as I was looking for low calorie, low sugar alternatives to coffee, that I could enjoy on a hot day. HopTea are carbonated, hop-infused, teas (green, white, chamomile, and recently, hibiscus, with zero calories and solid doses of caffeine and hop-forward flavors to carry you through. You can find many “Hop Water” type clones but from my experience, HopTea is the runaway best for those looking for caffeine, hop notes, and brisk alternatives.

“Zero” Cocktails (aka Mocktails, but wow, I hate that label)

Beckett’s Nonalcoholic Tonics – These are an absolute runaway favorite on the taste side of things. We’ve tried them all, the Stone Daisy Lime Margarita, the Flying Mule Moscow Mule, the Mystic Dove Paloma, and the Juniper Sky Gin and Tonic. Each nailed the flavor of their alcoholic sibling without being overly sweet to compensate for their lack of “spirit”. The downside is that they tend to skew a bit more expensive unless you buy in bulk (about $4/bottle if you do buy in bulk and include shipping) and what they win you over with by being low in calories (~30 calories per can/bottle) they likely get you with longer-term by using Stevia as the sweetening agent. For me, I can never have enough of these on hand or in the fridge, which is doubly troubling given that they appear to no longer be distributing through Amazon.

Try Beckett's Amazing Line of Non-Alcoholic Spirits and Cocktails

Of the nonalcoholic cocktails, Beckett’s was the only one I truly enjoyed in Ready Made form. I tried Spirity for example, and was deeply unimpressed; not because of the flavor, but because of the expectations of the label (if Spirity would have called their Negroni a “botanical, nonalcoholic beverage” I may have managed it differently).

Elixirs and Botanicals

As mentioned above, if Spirity recategorizes themselves, I’ll put them here. For now I’ll focus on the creators of nonalcoholic beverages who aren’t trying to recreate a cocktail but rather are trying to explore objectively great and satisfying flavors for complex beverages that also happen to be nonalcoholic.

Kin – Kin was the first creative, deliberately nonalcoholic cocktail I purchased. I was one of the first to try the High Rhode and I loved it as a novelty. It was expensive, but it felt like an exceptional investment (from the packaging all the way through). Kin kicked off a category branded “euphorics”, more often referred to a “nootropics” but these are effectively botanicals that also claim to have some mind altering/state altering/mood altering/brain boosting capabilities. I never felt that with High Rhode, but I did feel like I had a unique and tasty spirit in my hand — and no hangover the morning after. Since Kin’s release, the market has flooded and I find some of the alternatives, particularly Curious, to be a preferred alternative for me. That being said, I’m excited to try their new Lightwave flavor, which is focused on “calming” and features vanilla, saffron, and reishi.

Curious Elixirs – I loved my Curious Elixirs subscription. The care they take to introduce you to their perspective and approach on each of their 5 elixirs is great for someone taking their first step into complex nonalcoholic beverages. If you don’t like the subscription you will, at the least, walk away with a point-of-view and a way to explore additional options as a result of the initial sampler. These are also on the more expensive side. That being said, my recommendation is to sign up for the sampler and buy the additional order of Curious No. 5 (not included in the Sampler). You’ll find a range of booze free cocktails that are made to be poured into glasses, shaken/stirred with ice, and served garnished. If you wanted to make these a true cockatil alternative though, I believe you’d want to move these to the “Mixed” category and since they’re all sugar free, explore creative ways to add a sweetening agent (think simple syrups, honeys, etc). Curious No. 5 is my favorite; some people think it tastes like balsamic vinegar.

Betera – Very similar to Curious, but with more of an emphasis on “bitterness” as an attribute. Where I found Curious to be spicier and bolder, I found Betera to be brighter and more bitter. The botanicals were more pronounced here and I enjoyed each flavor, drank them faster, but felt less satisfied after each. In the end, I felt like I was drinking an unsweetened fruit juice, and not necessarily in the best way. I see Betera as having a very distinct flavor profile and a very tight audience. That being said, as with all, I highly recommend getting an initial sampler to get you started and find out where on the spectrum of available nonalcoholic beverages you reside.


One thing I have learned is that nonalcoholic spirits I’ve tried do not work on their own. So though they may be positioned as spirits you can include in the Ready Made category above, it felt disingenuous to put them there. Actually, I’d even put Betera and some flavors of Curious in the Mixed Camp simply because making them enjoyable requires more than opening a can or a bottle and moving the container to your lips.

Time-to-sip in this category is a range, but it doesn’t require much foresight, much planning, a variety of utensils. It’s the difference between making cheese sauce for your macaroni and cheese the Kraft way, or the way that starts with “stir and whisk your choice of fat with the flour…” (the latter, is obviously, is Craft, and not Kraft).

Let’s start with assembling the spirits that change you from a person who serves non-alcoholic beverages to a person who has a non-alcoholic bar.

Nonalcoholic Spirits – Replicants

Ritual Zero Proof – Ritual makes a range of spirits. Their Rum is their best option, though I found their Whisky to be solid when mixed thoughtfully. I don’t use Gin in my cocktails so I saw no need to make that purchase. And as someone who tends to struggle mightily with Tequila (thanks again to the guys at my bachelor party), I’ve avoided Ritual’s Tequila. I use their Rum in fruit juices, I use their Rum in teas, I use their rum in seltzers and sodas. As nonalcoholic spirts go, it’s a top notch option, and if you’re getting the Rum for the first time … just go ahead and get their Sampler Pack (Whisky, Gin, Tequila). Thanks again to Amazon for equipping us all to live a healthier, more booze free life.

Ritual Zero Proof Whisky and Gin now served at Irish Nobleman Pub Chicago

Lyre’s – As a brand, Lyre’s is a pioneer. They create entire environments around the concept of the “sober bar”. It’s only recently that I found their Spiced Rum. It’s different than Ritual’s approach to rum and I believe the goal for Lyre’s is to substitute for Spiced Rum more literally than Ritual proclaims. Lyre’s is not a spirit I would have on its own on the rocks, but with a splash of anything that augments the flavor profile (ginger ales, pineapple juices, seltzers and sodas) it’s a great way to go. As the summer is upon us, I just refreshed my Lyre’s and if I’m using my own behavior as a signal of interest, I purchased Lyre’s Spiced Cane Rum instead of Rituals — though part of me believes it’s because I’ve had more Ritual than Lyre’s and I’m still formalizing my choices. Note: As the weather opens us up to in-person gatherings, I’m eager to attend Listen Bar.

Free Spirits – I have not tried these but I’m excited to. The way they describe the bourbon is what has me intrigued even though the reviews are challenging to get past.

The above represent the best options for spirits replicated in nonalcoholic forms. That being said, I am starting to believe that similar to excellent vegan and vegetarian food where focusing on “mock meats” (seitans, impossible and beyond burgers) is inevitably short-sighted and a limiting factor. What I’ve started finding true excitement in is with booze free, nonalcoholic beverages that are deliberately and unabashedly nonalcoholic. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it may not lead you to achieve your own greatest potential. In the end, the above are the best karaoke singers of the nonalcoholic world; sometimes though, you want to taste originals.

Non-alcoholic Spirits – True Alternatives

Seedlip – For many, Seedlip is where the bar starts and ends. I’ve found them to be solid, botanical mixers — but prohibitively expensive for the end result. I recommend a Seedlip sampler if for no other reason than the beautiful bottles and the universe of beverages crafted around the experience. They’re a great way to take your first step into a nonalcoholic bar. If you’re like me though, I think with some experimentation you’ll find that a better way to get the Seedlip type experience in a wider array of options and in a much more affordable investment, is through the next option on this list…

Bitters – Yup. Bitters. The assortment available on Bitters is truly incredible. And in a side-by-side comparison of Seedlip and Tonic vs Soda, Bitters, and Tonic, I was effectively able to recreate the general Seedlip taste without the cost. The proof is in the usage; my Seedlip Spice 94 is hovering near 1/2 used, while I’ve torn through several bottles of Bitters in the same amount of time (and to be clear, any usage of Seedlip has been forced and deliberate as opposed to instinctive and a default). Aztec Chocolate Bitters. Angostura Bitters. Orange Bitters. Branded Bitters. Smoked Herb Bitters. The best part about Bitters is that a 3-4 dashes (instead of 1-2 in spirited cocktails) can push the flavor profile far; and Bitters double as an excellent way to bring grilled fruits and vegetables to life (don’t sleep on cooking with Bitters folks).

Aromatic Cocktail Bitters Collection - Set of 5

In addition to the Ready Made items above, I see some assortment of Seedlip and Bitters as a necessary shelf in any truly well stocked nonalcoholic bar with any hope of providing your guests with exciting options that make them forget (or at least embrace skipping) the traditional boozy cocktail.

Many people push back on Bitters as a nonalcoholic alternative because at a standard “proof”, they are 35-45% alcohol. That being said, they have formally been declared as nonalcoholic because of the potable amount; said differently, if you were to attempt to drink enough bitters to “get drunk” you’d get sick before you got drunk. At the 2-3-4 dash ratio of Bitters to beverage, a Bitters inused beverage is going to be between Grape Juice and Orange Juice on the ABV (at a high-level, 41 dashes of Bitters equals 1 fluid ounce). There’s plenty to read on the subject that a simple Google search will get you. The best way to think of Bitters? True Vanilla Extract.


The list of items you can use to mix with the above is exhaustive; I’d say long and distinguished but that would take me down a Top Gun rabbit hole few of us have time for. That being said, there are a few core mixers I recommend having on hand that give you an excellent set of beverage aids to augment and extend the items above.

Sodastream – Simple. ‘Nuff said. Get a Sodastream. Carbonation brings nearly all of the above items to life and a near infinite stream of soda water means you never run short. The syrups are on you; go for it if you want. I’ve never used them. But the Sodastream is steady flowing in our household so much so that it owns a place on our counter, near our sink, second only to hand and dish soap. Also, if you’re looking for ROI, the Sodastream we have is about 18 years old. When I was 18 I dressed terribly, had ragged hair, rarely shaved, and wore crappy cologne — all this to say, Sodastream is in way better shape at 18 than I was.

Cherries – Get. Good. Cherries. I found these Fabbri Amarena Cherries at Whole Foods has a really great stock on hand which has been a game changer; but any liquor store worth its margarita salt will have at least a few for you to choose from, none of which will disappoint. The cherries and the syrup will put you in position to transform the look, texture, and taste of all the spirits above, but you’ll find their utility expand dramatically as you look to enhance the botanicals and elixirs without losing the essence and philosophy behind why they were made.

Cocktail Crate – There are tons of mixers, but I am set on Cocktail Crate as my go to. I love everything about them. The breadth of flavors and syrups is outstanding. They’re available at my local grocery stores. And the bottles have a shape and form that help them fit perfectly in a bar, or in a cabinet — not too tall, not too wide, not too deep (part of stocking a bar is being able to stock it, and it’s these mixers and aids we’ve outlined here that take spirits and give them range). I don’t have a strong, comparatively informed opinion here. If you find better mixers with the range, convenience, and stocking/storing function, comment back. My two favorites from Cocktail Crate are the Old Fashioned and the Ginger Bee but you can’t go wrong.

Simple Syrups – I can’t overstate the value of a rich selection of simple syrups. Cardamom is my knock ’em down, drag ’em out favorite, but it barely wins in a Fight Club battle with Rose. For many, the simple syrups will be the best way to make the botanicals sessionable vs simply sippable. They’re also something you can have a lot of fun with on your own (making homemade simple syrups and infusing vodkas are two simple, highly effective ways to personalize beverages — high ROI for little risk and investment.) Please, if you can, avoid Torani. And a second please, don’t hesitate to use that cardamom and/or rose syrup in your cold brew coffee.

Teas – Finally, don’t underestimate the power of Teas to color, to flavor, to augment the beverages you’re creating. Teas come packed with flavor, with aromatics, with caffeine, and with antioxidants, making them an excellent partner and aid to your bar. One that more bartenders, alcoholic or not, should incorporate into their arsenal.


I’m still learning here; but outside of experimenting on the above, if you’re interested in crafting nonalcoholic cocktails the single best and most comprehensive investment you can make will be this book from the team at Alinea, Zero: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Drinks (if you’re here, get the Reserve Edition, it’s stunning).

When you shift to Crafted, the list of ingredients is extraordinary. I spent $150 on utensils and ingredients just to make the breakfast stout. 90 minutes later, after realizing how much I’d messed up, I was left with … a really solid nonalcoholic beer and tons of lessons and inspirations on how to improve the recipe going forward. I simply can’t recommend the book enough as more than anything, it will transform your thinking around what’s possible in the non-alcoholic beverage arena.

Paying it Forward

I spent the past 6 months trying to avoid telling a sober story, and wanting to tell a story of creativity, exploration, and what to me still felt indulgent. I didn’t get there right away, but I’m right there today.

At 5:20pm ET on Father’s Day, the sun is blaring, the Suns / Clippers game is on in the background.

And I’ve got a bright, crisp, nonalcoholic espresso stout in my hands.

The Ready Made, nonalcoholic beers made me rethink what was possible in this category.

The Mixed, helped me understand how to bring flavors together.

The Crafted, equipped me with the materials and some of the technical know how to believe that I could make this one myself.

That’s right, the espresso stout I’m drinking right now is my own. Powered by Decaffeinated coffee, Barley, Cacao Nibs, and Hop Pellets … and some powerful carbonation from that Sodastream.

The past six months, I don’t miss the alcohol. I’ve found a universe of flavors where “missing” isn’t the feeling. I’m more in a position where I want those flavors at times too. And with a healthier foundation around what I consume, I do look forward to returning to the drinks I want. And to having less of a binary decision-making process when “What would you like to drink?” is the question coming my way.

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Shoutout to our neighbors who pulled off a COVID successful birthday party for their little one while also hosting a chili cook off.

The kids played. While the parents indulged in a wide array of chilis. And they were all good. Even the Wendy’s hijinx.

My contribution was a new recipe. I had to go dairy free and nut free (my vegetarian chili has dairy and sometimes, peanut butter for some earthiness) so that was off the table.

Constraints breed creativity (Jonah Lehrer got it right even though he lied to do it). And a new chili was born: Brunch, Punch Drunk.

It was a fairly standard base: Onion, Red Pepper, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Diced Tomatoes, Ground Beef, Stew Meat, Tomato Sauce, Cumin, Coriander, Cayenne, Beef Broth, Black Beans.

Then, the fun.

Brunch: Bacon, Honey, Ground Coffee, 100% Cacao Dark Cocoa, Cinnamon

Punch: Habanero, Jalapeño, El Yucateco, MSG, Chipotle Peppers in Adobo, Jalapeño Pickle Juice.

Drunk: 2 Shots or Bourbon, Red WineI ended up skimming and diluting it because I thought it was going to be too spicy. Should have left it. The end result was good but way tamer than I thought.

I miss cooking for people. It was fun to do. And it was tasty.

#iamgrateful and #iamthankful for the good times and company.

The chilis were so good I broke my vegan fast today (vegan for 2021 thus far) back on the wagon on Sunday for as long as I want to hold it.

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Late last week I saw a recipe for a falaffle (falafel waffle). I didn’t miss a beat and bought a waffle makerS

Today we made waffles for breakfast. Turned a munchkin into a waffle for a bite.

And then made these pakora waffles for Mom and Dad C to indulge in as they recover from dose 2 of the vaccine.

#iamgrateful and #iamthankful for the ideas Facebook surfaces. Awesome idea.

And playing with the sizes helps you adjust the crunch to pakora waffle ratio as well.

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“THE B-Line” or BREAKFAST: Priya KC Bhatt loves brunch and breakfast. To watch her eat is sometimes as satisfying as to eat yourself. She just enjoys it so much. A good brunch. I don’t know if I enjoy anything that much (maybe good standup?)

It’s a a full heart, body, mind, soul moment (stole that from my business partner, David Sudolsky).

For breakfast on Valentine’s Day I made a thing for her. I’ve always enjoyed turning dinners and leftovers and spare parts into an indulgent breakfast. Like taking samosa a and chutneys and turning them into a spicy frittata. Or using leftover pastries and making bread pudding.

In this case, I used the rich Sunday gravy I made for our parents anniversary as a way to tie this breakfast together.

Key thing? Outside of the sauce (which you can substitute any vegetarian or meat sauce with some success I’d gather) the breakfast took minutes. Which is all we have these days with two young’uns running around on a Sunday morning.

Two pans one saucepan and you can multitask and assemble this quickly. Stuff to do before the pans come out?

1) Cook the bacon.

2) Get the sauce warming.

Step 1: Cook the bacon. Before it stiffens create a nest. Use a circular plate helps. Substitute? Skip the bacon. Use roasted broccoli or kale that’s well seasoned (soy sauce, nutritional yeast, etc).

Step 2: Whole Foods Olive Loaf. Thick sliced. Slathered with butter, garlic, Italian herbs, sea salt. Pam fried on the grill. Plate it inside/atop the bacon nest. Substitute? Any thick bread that can hold the butter and all that’s about to follow without becoming a soggy mess.

Step 3: Fried egg in that same butter. Sunny side up but for Priya a quick flip to seal it while keeping the egg runny. Rest atop the olive slice. Substitute? Chickpeas. With black salt. Seriously.

Step 4: Place egg atop loaf. 1-2 eggs is dope.

Step 5: Cover with sauce. Make sure some of the egg is exposed so when you slice it you see the yoke drizzle through the loaf, next and sauce. Substitute? Any tomato sauce. Need something acidic as well as rich.

Step 6: Top this rich, spicy, acidic, buttery, unctuous stack with a bright, chilled, burrata and crack black pepper generously atop it. Substitute? Be careful. If you’re to this point maybe just leave it be.

Eat. It. Right. Away.

It’s called the B-Line because it’s a bee line straight to someone’s heart!

#iamgrateful and #iamthankful that little things like this fill her heart and tummy. I got a few pings about this so I figure I’d share the recipe in detail here.

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I have thought about making a true Sunday gravy for years. But I never had the time. To shop. To plan. To…eat meat.

When I saw a light at the end of this week’s tunnel I committed to it. And holy hell…it is beautiful. I browned every ingredient pre-crock pot. I layered flavors with an amazing wine but also, two beautiful balsamics (a white and a red.) And then I just let it cook.

From 10:30am until a few minutes ago. I couldn’t be happier with the results. It is so rich and decadent no pasta or carbohydrate base is even required. For an old tradition of slowing down how you cook, so you slow down how you live, I am humbled. And for the result… #Iamgrateful. #Iamthankful.

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Trial & Error | Beer and Cheese Pairing in Newtown

I’ve been told that the only thing I post about nearly as much as my daughter is beer. Why disappoint?

This past weekend we had a great get together with a bunch of my MBA classmates and their significant others. 15 adults. 9 kids. Times have changed. To make sure we had enough time to actually enjoy each other’s company, a genius weekend attendee suggested we hire a professional chef. And like that, brunch, dinner, and dessert on Saturday were fully covered.

To fill in the gap between lunch and dinner, I decided to pull together a beer and cheese tasting for the crew. I’ve always paired my beer pretty well with food, but I never thought of it in sequence and for such a wide array of palates. I was super happy with the results.

Pairing 1: Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie with a creamy brie and a wild truffle honey drizzled over top


Why? Don’t underestimate the cider and presume it to be sweet. What I love about this cider specifically is both the maturation as well as the oak barrel aging, both of which turn the cider into more of an oaky white wine than a pressed cider beer from apples. The complexity is still there and it makes for a great seasonal transition drink, between the crispness of Summer and the earthiness of Fall. In this case, you want a creamy cheese that doesn’t dominate your palate and that is complemented by the sharp bite of the cider. The truffle honey was added to complement the oak flavor imparted on the cider by the barrel aging process. The one thing I could have done was better manage expectations about the cider; as hard as I indicated it would taste more like a wine than a typical cider, it was hard for some to process. Regardless, the result was a great start to our tasting.

Also, I believe everything I just wrote above. If it sounds hokey, get off my blog. I wrote it after closing my eyes and reminiscing of the flavors. That pairing was legit!

Pairing 2: He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. with a 7-year Aged Canadian Cheddar

RIPAWhy? IPA – strong on the palate. DIPA – stronger and hotter on the palate. Rye DIPA – game changer. I wanted to blast their palates and take them to an extreme of flavor. I debated the 90 Minute, the Maharaja, and even going Alesmith, but this felt right. Plus, I was able to nod to Rosh Hashana and Lenny Bruce with one bottle.  It’s a radical beer (per Schmaltz Brewing) and the right move. I’ve read that the Rye should have pushed me to a more peppery cheese but I went with one of my favorite combinations of a rich cheddar paired with an IPA. To balance out the hops and malt in the beer, I went for a 7-year aged Canadian. The aging process as I understand it firms up the cheese, concentrates the flavors, and allows the cheese to hold up well to the power of the Rye DIPA. A good cheddar brings with it a buttery, sweet, sharpness which needs a strong beer to mellow it, and vice versa. As advertised. Some people didn’t like either the beer or the cheese alone, but enjoyed them in concert. (Note: I loved the look of this cheddar as well. Every cut of the brick would chip off a piece larger than expected because of the cheese’s density and texture.)

Pairing 3: The Bruery Autumn Maple with Pyrenees Brebis

Autumn MapleWhy? If you haven’t had the Autumn Maple, stop, and go get it now. I think it’s as good a beer as The Bruery makes and there’s not much more time left to get it. With the Autumn Maple you’re drinking Thanksgiving. Nut Brown Ale with yams and maple syrup. It’s a beautiful thing and I feel like something that is this sweet should not be drinkable in such large quantities. But it is. The sweetness hits you fast but vanishes behind all the remaining flavors and before you’re finished enjoying what passed you’re back to your glass for more. There are some cheeses, IMHO, that pair really well with sweetness. Some say Brie, but I believe in many cases Brie becomes a vehicle for the fruit, adding some texture but little flavor complexity against strong competition. So in this case, I had to go sheep’s milk and the Pyrenees Brebis. I wanted butterfat. It’s that simple. I wanted everyone to taste the butterfat and have that lingering fat and oil on their tongue as they enjoyed the nutty base of the ale, followed by all that additional flavor. It’s not an easy cheese to like, as well, so I had to pair it with the most forgiving of beers for newer palates.

Pairing 4: Olde Hickory The Event Horizon (2013) with Wild Boar Sausage

Event HorizonWhy? Few things stand up to a BBA Stout like this one, and the chocolate covered bacon I tried to make didn’t turn out right. The Event Horizon is up there. It’s the beer I’ve experimented the most with on the pairing side because of the way they release this beer in Charlotte, NC — a full on breakfast that incorporates The Event Horizon flavors. It’s sets the mind rushing. I was originally going to pair this with the other cheeses as well, so people could get contrast and understand what beers do to cheese, and vice versa. But when our chef brought out the big guns on the sausage side it was a no-brainer. The flavors that come from malt and roast pair beautifully with cured meats. The bourbon finish of the beer and lingering heat also pairs well with the fat and salt associated with the cured meat. I recommend it.

I was happy with the pairing. I was happier to have shared with the Fuqua crew. Can’t wait to do it again. Maybe a harder push on the Fall Seasonal? Who’s up for it?

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Trial & Error | Bacon Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed ‘Shrooms

I didn’t have a ton of time to make something worthwhile for a relatively impromptu BBQ with some friends today. Thanks to all of you readers for pointing out that the nature of an impromptu BBQ would imply little prep time. Nevertheless, it’s the least prepared I’ve found myself to be. And with a 6 month old daughter constantly in tow at this point, there’s not a lot of room to rejigger the schedule.

Folks were coming to the BBQ prepared. From salads and apps, to grilled veggies, steak, and ribs. What could I make that would fit the theme and make most in attendance happy without taking up my entire morning.

I’ve made stuffed mushrooms on the grill before. I usually go with Parmesan cheese to give the mushrooms a depth and sharpness you can’t get from cream cheese, ricotta, or even mozz. Today, however, I was inspired to try something different. The results are what you see below and I’d recommend this recipe to anyone.


  • Whole cremini mushrooms (baby bellas would work too)
  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Bacon
  • Toothpicks
  • Your favorite hot sauce (I’d go with something that mimics a buffalo wing sauce)


  • Soak the toothpicks in water. The longer the better.
  • Set oven to 350. Insert baking sheet, but go with one that has a sizable lip so the remnant oil from the bacon stays put.
  • Prep mushrooms. Brush the dirt off. De-stem. Stand in baking sheet.
  • Cut bacon in half. Take the strips out of the package and cut them in half. Traditional bacon strips cut in half should wrap 1x around a mushroom with some overlap.
  • Wrap mushrooms. Wrap each mushroom with bacon, then stick a toothpick in at the point of overlap to hold it. I recommend sticking the pick in at an angle.
  • Stuff mushrooms. Fill it with blue cheese crumbles. Be generous and don’t worry if it overflows the top a bit.
  • Bake mushrooms. I’d go for 20 minutes. If you’re going to finish them in the oven I’d go 20, then remove, clean the baking sheet of the residual oil, and bake again until all is crisp. If you’re finishing on a grill, I’d go finish them on indirect heat on a grill for another 10.
  • Remove and let sit. After a few minutes, remove the picks (I told folks to do that but some forgot or didn’t hear me — my bad.)
  • Douse with hot sauce. This is a difference maker and I highly recommend finishing it with hot sauce. It will add an acid to cut the fat and will brighten up the dish.

It’s not complicated, but it’s satisfying. See for yourself. 🙂

Bacon Start

Bacon Oven

Bacon Grill

Bacon Finish

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Trial & Error | Dessert | Chocolate Covered Strawberry Bread Pudding

I had a really special motivation for giving a sweet, bread pudding a shot. I’ve made savory ones. I was actually supposed to make a savory one to accompany this. But instead, I screwed up the recipe by going a little too rogue and a little too Colin Mochrie, and improvising my way from a bread pudding to a mini casserole. Tasty. But not a savory tomato, basil bread pudding.

Thankfully, this recipe isn’t about that recipe. It’s about my own take on a bringing a chocolate covered strawberry to life in the form of a bread pudding. I think with an iteration or too, this can improve. But from concept to dish, I’m pretty happy with it. I hope the beneficiary finds some comfort in the ultimate of comfort desserts, as well.

The key thing for me was making this taste like a chocolate covered strawberry–which means for all the decadent chocolate, there had to be an underlying fruitiness and tartness in contrast. How’d I achieve it? By making the custard, and then stirring in a blended, half-a-basket of fresh strawberries (with a touch of sugar and milk to keep the blades whirring.

Here’s the full recipe with some photos.


  • Bread. I can’t tell you how important the bread is. I had a whole wheat that I was going to work with but then I saw a chocolate cranberry at Whole Foods and went for it. Game. Changer. Get creative with your bread since it dominates the dish. (12 cups)
  • Eggs (6)
  • Milk (3 cups)
  • Chocolate Chips (1 Bag)
  • Strawberries (16 Large)
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Casserole Dishes (2, one that can fit inside of the other)


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Cut the bread. Most folks I’ve spoken to about bread pudding go with 1″ cubes. For dessert? I say go with 1/4″ to 1/2″ because you have more flexibility on the presentation (muffin tins, casserole dishes, etc.) Lay them flat on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees. The goal is to dry out the bread, not necessarily cook it.
  3. Prep your strawberries. Cut half of the bunch into odd size chunks that you can stir throughout the pudding. Take the other half and put them into a blender and whir like the Dickens. This should be straight puree; something you can fold into the custard base for your pudding. Taste it when whirred. If you like it, great. If you want more tart, add lemon. If you want more sweet, add sugar. You get the drift. If you want more of something, screw nature and make it taste the way you want it to.
  4. Get your base ready. There are so many ways to make bread pudding. The easiest way for me to remember how to go about it is to think ratios: 1 cup milk to 2 eggs (1 full egg, 1 yolk only) to 3 cups bread. For this recipe, you see the ratio in the Ingredients above. Put them in a bowl. I don’t think you need any other flavoring here but if you want to toss in some sugar, salt, lemon, vanilla, and even a shot or two of bourbon, have at it. Once these ingredients are together, froth it like your favorite barista — a hand or immersion blender is your bff at this point. Blend first without the strawberry puree, and then do a second blend after pouring in the puree. This is the genius of my recipe. Strawberry all up in this house now.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. That gets its own step so you can check it off quickly and feel like you’re really moving at this point. Kind of like driving through Delaware on a trip to Florida. (“Really, we just crushed one whole state?”)
  6. Grease a baking dish (9×12) to start. Put in the bread. Go one layer. Then add diced strawberries and chocolate chips. Then slowly pour your base over the bread (about half used), making sure you spread evenly. Add another layer of bread, and repeat. Once done, let this stuff sit and soak for about 40 minutes (stirring gently at 20 and then again, gently, at 40.) At this point, you’re ready to bake. If you want to take this mixture and spoon it into muffin tins, go nuts. Spoon like nobody’s watching.
  7. Bake it. But cuddle it a little. Take the larger casserole dish and fill it 1/4 with water. Then rest the stuff you’re cooking in that water bath. Ban Marie. Great for terrines and custards, though the truth is, I’ve never made a terrine so the web could completely be lying to me. You’ll want to go at it for about 50 minutes straight. Slide the Ban Marie out, stick a knife in the center of the pudding and see if it comes out clean of everything other than chocolate. If it does, it’s ready. If it doesn’t keep cooking until it does. I had to go for 75 minutes because I went with a deeper dish. Variables. They change things you know?
  8. Let it set. When done, take it out of the oven and let it cool for 20. Then eat it in the best way possible — your way. I prefer taking the pudding out in a square and crisping the base on a skillet. Super wild contrast in flavors and textures at that point. But I don’t need or expect you to get it.

That’s the good word. I think it was a good bread pudding. I’d probably flavor the custard a bit more, be prepared to soak up some more of the custard with some additional bread, and perhaps think of a legit topping (strawberry glaze? more chocolate? powdered sugar?) I’ll let you know if I do by editing this in the future but my guess is, I won’t.

Pictures below to follow along if you’re interested.




Bread Baked

Bread 2



Custard Base (with Strawberry Tint)

Custard Base with Strawberry Tint

First Layer Assembled


Layer Closeup

Layer close up

Final Product

(Note: I forgot to take a picture of this before I packed it for hand-off to a friend. It had to be storage ready so go ahead, hate me for crappy presentation. It will taste great and you’ll hate yourself for hating on me.)


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Trial & Error | Random Google Search – Ba’s Obituary

Of Somerdale NJ. Wife of the late Chandrakant C. Bhatt Collector of Bombay on Friday April 12 2002 at Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Stratford NJ.
Born in Chorwad INDIA. She was a US citizen and lived with her son Kitran’s family for over 30 years.
She is survived by her eldest brother Dr. Mahesh Bhatt of Amreli INDIA her younger sister Kaladben of Bhavnagar INDIA her son Kiran Bhatt of Somerdale of Somerdale NJ her daughter Dharshana Bhuta of Pleasanton CA her daughter-in-law Renu Bhatt of Somerdale NJ her granddaughter Anita Bhatt of Somerdale NJ her granddaughters Sapna & Anuja Bhuta of Davis CA and her grandson Suneet Bhatt of Jersey City NJ.
Memorial & Cremation Services will be held at the LeROY P. WOOSTER FUNERAL HOME & CREMATORY 441 White Horse Pike Atco NJ at 1:00pm on Sunday April 14 2002. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions can be made to the American Heart Association .
Happy 1st Great Grandmother’s Day, Ba. Miss you.

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Trial & Error | Spiral Slicer | 15 Minute Breakfast

Spiral 4 I threw out my back a few days ago. Why? Because I’m old. And my body is about 20 years older than I am. It’s a good feeling to be only 39 but have all the aches, pains, and physical ailments of someone approaching retirement.

What that means is for the past three days I’ve been pretty worthless as a Dad. Priya’s had to do most of the work for Anaiya; I can sit and feed her, maybe change her, but really, I’m worthless.

I woke up this morning feeling a little better but still worthless. Priya was scrambling to get ready for a family event and I could do so little to help. Except try and make her breakfast. In her scramble to get through the morning she wasn’t going to eat. She wasn’t going to have time for it. I had to do what I could to help on this front. I looked at the new veggie spiral slicer I bought, saw one remaining potato, was inspired.

In 15 minutes I whipped up a solid breakfast and actually redeemed myself a little bit. A tad. The moral of this story? Buy a veggie spiral slicer. It’s amazing.

Eggs Over Easy, on Nested Hashbrowns


  • Potato (1)
  • Egg (1)
  • Salty Cheese (Feta, Parmesan, Asiago)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  • Prep your potato. If you have a spiral slicer, you’re talking about a minute of screwing the potato into Spiral 2the slicer. If you have a grater, you’re talking a little more time. I rinsed and scrubbed the potato, left the skin on, and got after it. In a minute, I had a pile of beautifully spiral shredded potato.
  • Get ready to cook. Get your frying pan out and get it cooking. No oil. Just heat the pan. Medium/high. When you get the pan on the heat take the potato in your hand and squeeze the crap out of it. Remove excess water. Best done in a cheese cloth or a light kitchen towel; but for one potato, hands are fine. Do it over the sink. Squeeze. Check the pan as it should now be hot. Add a Tbsp of olive oil, maybe less (with a hot pan, you need less oil since it thins and spreads more evenly more quickly due to the heat.)
  • Cook the potato. Lay the potato around the pan evenly. Make sure everything’s interconnected, like a bird’s nest. Cover. Reduce to medium heat. Let cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the cover. Turn the potato (it should flip all together at this point.) Add a little oil if you want and then cook open on medium heat for another 5 minutes.
  • Remove the potato and cook the egg. Slide the potato onto a plate and crack a little salt and pepper on it. Layer on the cheese. It should be a crispy nest at this point and the cheese will lightly melt but maintain it’s shape. Maintain the heat on the pan; no need to further oil it since you did a good job of that with the potato. I like the egg sunny side up; Priya likes it over easy. I split the difference. 🙂
  • Prep the plate. The egg should cook in about 2-3 minutes. Slide it onto the potato nest, crack a little more sea salt and pepper on top, and serve. It’s beautiful. Healthy. Simple. Filling. And it made Priya happy. Win. Win.

Spiral 3 Spiral 1


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