Top Ten List | Fav Craft Brews of All Time

The weather is finally starting to heat up here in the Carolinas but what it is really doing is making me crave an ice cold craft brew on a picturesque patio. There, I said it. Of course there are tons of summer activities to plan like concerts, festivals and road trips…but nothing truly beats good company and the frothy, carbonated goodness of a delicious beer. So in honor of all the beer lovers out there, I have cultivated a list of my top ten favorite craft brews of all time. Some are year-round while others are seasonal – each bring something very special to the table.

Now, I will go ahead and give you my “fine print”: I am not a craft beer guru or connoisseur…nor do I claim to be. However, I would consider myself a craft beer advocate and I know what I like. So without further adieu, below is my go-to list of beers that I’ve experienced and loved. Maybe if you see one that you haven’t tried yet you can give it a go next time you’re out and about! { What are your favorite craft beers? What style of beer do you love? Share in the comment section as I’m always looking for something new to sip on! }

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 10.  Delirium Tremens from Huyghe Brewery – Belgium

{ deliriumbeer.com }

I remember the first time I picked one of these up at Common Market. I loved the bottle but wasn’t too sure what to expect regarding the beer itself. Delirium Tremens is a golden colored Belgian Strong Ale that is both fruity and hoppy with a slightly bitter finish.

 

9.  Maharaja Imperial IPA from Avery Brewing Company – Boulder, Colorado

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{ averybrewing.com }

This is a beer I have been drinking for a few years now – why mess with a good thing? Maharaja is an American Double/Imperial IPA with a very high alcohol content of 10.2%. This smooth, amber colored beer is fairly hoppy but truly encompasses the perfect blend of bitter and sweet. Maharaja definitely has some subtle notes of pine and citrus (perhaps some orange) and the aroma is divine.

 

8.  Anchor Steam from Anchor Brewing Company – San Francisco, California

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{ anchorbrewing.com }

This year-round brew is a solid go-to and I would even consider it a classic. I’m a big fan of San Francisco and as silly as it sounds, the taste of this beer reminds me of the city in every shape, way and form. It’s clean, refreshing and magical.

 

7.  Hazelnut Brown Nectar from Rogue – Newport, Oregon

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{ rogue.com }

If you’ve never experienced any Rogue beer before, stop what you are doing right now and find the closest store that carries them. I’ve been an advocate of Rogue for several years because they consistently put out a solid beer. Their Hazelnut Brown Nectar in particular is hands down one of my favorites although there probably isn’t a Rogue beer I haven’t loved. As you can probably infer from the name, this beer definitely tastes like rich, roasted hazelnuts. Sweet in flavor and copper in color, this beer is another good one to have in your arsenal.

 

6.  OMB Dunkel from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery – Charlotte, North Carolina

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{ oldemeckbrew.com }

Where do I begin with my love affair with OMB Dunkel? If it was a year-round beer, I would be in serious trouble. This seasonal brew is only around in the Winter but it will warm your soul on those frosty nights. Olde Meck’s Dunkel is a rich brown color, medium bodied with slightly sweet malts and an earthy flavor.

 

5.  Hop Drop N’ Roll from NoDa Brewing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina

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{ nodabrewing.com }

So, you need to take me seriously when I say that I swear I am not biased. I know the owners and employees of NoDa Brewing Company quite well. Not only does my husband work at the brewery part-time, but I’ve known many of the staff members for years. No words can explain my love for these people – Chad, the head brewer, knows what the heck he is doing…and the owners, Todd & Suzie? They are truly some of the best people I know. Now, to the beer. Hop Drop N’ Roll is beyond any other American-style IPA that I’ve had. It has an intricate and complex flavor profile – seriously incredible. I’m a big fan of all of NoDa’s beers but this one definitely stands out among the rest. In fact, it just took home the Gold Award at the 2014 World Beer Cup® for American-Style IPAs which is a huge deal. The best part about it all? You do not have to go the brewery to enjoy this beverage as this past year they started selling them in cans all around town. Convenience at its finest!

 

4.  Cottonwood Spiced Pumpkin Ale from Foothills Brewing Company in Winston Salem, North Carolina 

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{ foothillsbrewing.com }

If you know me, it is no secret that Autumn is my favorite season and that pumpkin flavored anything makes me the happiest girl in the world. So of course, I am pumpkin beer obsessed. However, when it comes to this type of seasonal beer, I am very particular about the taste. I’ve had some where you cannot taste pumpkin at all and some that are way too sweet…to the point of nausea. I remember first tasting Cottonwood Pumpkin when I was out having a post-work beverage with a coworker. I ordered it on a whim, not expecting to completely fall head over heels…which I absolutely did. WOW. Everyone will give you an opinion on the “best” pumpkin beer and I truly believe it’s all personal. Not everyone’s palettes are the same and what each individual is seeking is very different. But Cottonwood Pumpkin is the perfect balance of a pumpkin taste with hints of nutmeg and spices without being overly sweet.

 

3.  Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina

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{ highlandbrewing.com }

I cannot even begin to take credit for discovering this beer – it was truly all my husband. Shahin is a huge craft beer guy and has been in the scene for several years now. But when it’s Winter time, all that I hear him talk about is getting his hands on a Cold Mountain Winter Ale by Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC. It’s clear as day that Asheville is a major craft beer hub and there are so many incredible breweries up there, but Highland Brewing is most definitely one of my favorites as they always put out a quality product. Cold Mountain is a deep, copper color beer with a creamy texture and subtle, soul-warming flavors such as nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. This well-balanced beer is definitely a wise choice for cold, winter nights.

 

2.  Coco Loco from NoDa Brewing Company – Charlotte, North Carolina

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{ nodabrewing.com }

Without a doubt, this is my favorite NoDa Brewing Company beer and number two on my favorite craft brews of all time. This American Porter is a rich, dark brown color (almost black) with a creamy, light tan head. What I love about this beer is it encompasses two of my most beloved things: chocolate and coconut. Let me sum it up for you…taste bud explosion! The flavor profile is ridiculously enchanting: the marriage of the slightly bitter chocolate with the sweet notes of the organic coconut (toasted on-site at the brewery) is pure perfection. It was even awarded the Silver Medal in 2012 at The Great American Beer Festival. Go…go try it now.

 

1.  Hopslam Ale from Bell’s Brewery – Kalamazoo, Michigan

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{ bellsbeer.com }

There are no words to explain Hopslam except when you can actually find it…it’s like gold. You think I’m joking, but I’m totally not. Aside from this also being a Winter seasonal beer, only a certain amount is released to specific locations. That means…if I were you, I’d start researching now how to get it this Winter because those who know which bars or pubs receive shipments do not share with others. Would it be bold of me to even say that Hopslam almost has a cult-like following? Probably not…and I’m pretty darn guilty of being a part of it myself. But y’all, it’s really that good. This beer is a rich amber color and very easy to drink and goes down smoothly. As noted in the name of the beer, it is quite hoppy. But if you’re not a fan of hoppy beers, do not let that deter you from trying this because I too once felt that way and this beer changed my entire way of thinking. The aroma and flavors are so pungent: strong grapefruit, pineapple, honey and floral notes. I recommend this beer time and time again – it is worth all the hype.

Trying to better understand what kind of beers you enjoy or wish to discover something new? Check out beeradvocate.com

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Recipe Box | Have Your Pie + Eat it Too! (Healthy + Easy No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie)

Alright – so if you know me, you know that I have a serious (and I do mean serious) sweet tooth. However, I’ve been on a clean eating kick these last few weeks and I’ve been trying my hands at several different recipes that are both delicious and healthy!

Peanut butter and chocolate are two of my most beloved sweet treats and I’ve been on a mission to find a quick, easy and guilt-free dessert that satisfies these cravings of mine. After doing a little bit of research, I discovered a recipe that I switched up a bit to make my own. When I first stumbled upon it…I had one of those “it’s too good to be true” moments. Could there really be a dessert recipe that is this easy to make and will allow me to feel okay about eating? I just had to give it a try…and I am so glad I did! Goodbye Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and fattening peanut butter pie recipes that are made with cream cheese. Hello healthy, no-bake peanut butter pie!

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For the Crust:

Pre-made Nabisco Oreo Cookie Crust (can be purchased from almost any grocery store)

 

For the Filling:

32 oz. Honey Flavored Greek Yogurt (I purchased mine from Trader Joe’s)

3/4 cup of Natural Peanut Butter (I also purchased this from Trader Joe’s)

 

For the Topping – Homemade Whipped Cream (Optional):

1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract

1 cup of Heavy Whipping Cream

 

Directions for the Pie Filling:

  • Take out a large mixing bowl and whisk together the 32 oz. of Greek yogurt and the 3/4 cup of peanut butter.
  • Once the two ingredients are blended, pour the mixture into the pre-made Oreo pie crust (be sure to spread evenly).

 

Directions for the Whipped Cream Topping:

  • Combine the heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract in a medium size bowl.
  • Beat mixture with a whisk until stiff, firm peaks form. You’re going to need to practice some patience – it could take several minutes.

 

Use a spatula to smear the whipped cream topping on the peanut butter pie. Cover and chill for several hours (or overnight). That’s it, folks! This pie was so incredibly tasty and one would have no idea that it was made with just Greek yogurt and natural peanut butter! If you’re looking to satisfy your need for chocolate and peanut butter that is a little more guilt-free and no-fuss – I’m telling you, this is the answer. Looking to cut the calories even more? Just leave off the whipped topping! This could also be delicious with another pie crust such a graham cracker crust or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own! Enjoy! 

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Recipe Box | Fish with Mango-Avocado Salsa + Cauliflower Mash

So I’ve been really trying to eat on the lighter side and cooking with only fresh ingredients in an effort to eat clean. But I have to be honest, preparing some sort of lean protein and a random veggie just sounds…well, boring. My husband and I are both big foodies and love to take our palettes on an adventure. Not saying that all funky food is bad for you but what I am saying is that eating healthy takes a lot of thought and effort and you have to be careful with what you choose to consume.

After speaking with a couple of coworker girlfriends – I found a way to slightly reinvent the wheel. I was inspired by one of their suggestions which was doing a mashed cauliflower as a starch replacement. This is something I had seen on Pinterest before but had never heard of anyone actually trying it and let me just tell you, she raved about how good it was. As mentioned, I’m super valiant when it comes to food so I figured, why not give it a go?

I decided to accompany the cauliflower mash with fish as the main attraction. My husband and I both love seafood and knowing how good it is for you just makes it that much more satisfying. I had envisioned making a mango-avocado salsa to add on top of the fish so I wanted to find a tasty white fish. I went to the grocery store looking for something that was on special. To my surprise, I saw some beautiful swordfish filets that were relatively inexpensive. I love swordfish and it is not often that I come across it. I picked up the rest of my ingredients and managed to escape the store for around $30.

To make a long story short, dinner turned out just lovely and although Sean was a little skeptical about the cauliflower mash (he loves his potatoes), he was extremely impressed with how it turned out and tasted. Check out the recipe below – I would highly recommend it! Keep in mind, this delicious salsa mixture I created would be fantastic on chicken as well for those of you who don’t do fish. I baked the fish in the oven so you could do the same with the chicken although it would need a bit longer which will vary on the part of the chicken you decide to make.

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For the Fish:

I picked up two swordfish filets but you can use any white fish

For the Mango-Avocado Salsa:

2 medium-sized mangos

3 small-medium avocados

1/2 of a medium-large red onion

1/3 cup of fresh, chopped cilantro (you can add more if you like)

salt + pepper to taste

For the Cauliflower Mash:

1 medium head of cauliflower cut into florets

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

3/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion (garnish)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Heat a dutch oven on the stove with a water depth of 1/4 inch.
  • Prep the cauliflower head and chop into florets.
  • Put the florets into the dutch oven and cook covered for 7-10 minutes over medium-high heat.
  • While the oven is heating up and the cauliflower florets are cooking, prep all of the ingredients for the mango-avocado salsa. Chop everything up and combine it all in a medium bowl. You want everything to be mixed together so that it is all distributed evenly but not mashed (as we all know – avocado is very soft and delicate). Once this is complete, go ahead and cover the bowl and put it in the fridge to stay cold.
  • Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Once the oven is heated, lightly salt and pepper the fish (on both sides) and then put them on the baking sheet. Stick the baking sheet in the oven and let the fish cook for 15 minutes.
  • Once the 15 minutes is up, take out the fish and turn them over. Cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  • While the fish is baking, drain the water from the cauliflower florets and put them in a food processor along with the Greek yogurt, salt and pepper for about 1 minute or until smooth. You may need to stop the food processor to scrape the sides as needed.
  • Place the blended cauliflower into a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Put this to the side.
  • Once the fish has cooked for the additional 10 minutes, take it out of the oven to cool.
  • Put the bowl of cauliflower mash in the microwave to head up for about 1 1/2 minutes on high (stirring about halfway through).
  • Arrange fish on on a plate, spoon the mango-avocado salsa on top of it. Add a lime wedge to the plate for some extra flavor. Add the cauliflower mash and garnish with the chives or green onion (if desired). Serve immediately.

This is a very simple dinner that is both delicious and healthy! You could even take the cauliflower mash a step further and make some brown butter on the stove to pour over it – it’s something I’m definitely going to be trying next time! If you’ve never given cauliflower mash a try before, I would highly recommend doing so (even if you are a little scared to step out of your comfort zone). Enjoy!

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Recipe Box | A North Carolina Exclusive: Atlantic Beach Pie

Alright y’all (I had to say y’all because this recipe encompasses the lovely, southern state of North Carolina) – so I read about this recipe almost a year ago on NPR‘s website regarding the Atlantic Beach Pie and almost dieeed. I’m a girl who loves sweets and anything that is a. local and b. getting this much attention from a national organization is something that I just have to try! So the long and short of it is, I found an article on NPR about the famous Atlantic Beach Pie that is a staple of the South. The recipe is from Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Katie Workman, the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket, says it’s the best pie she’s ever had. She states “I think the only reaction I had was, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.’ For quite a while that was pretty much the only thing I could say.” {For more of this story, click here}. I am a Carolina girl (born and bred) and the fact that this was something I had been possibly missing out on all of my life kind of ached my soul. So of course, I had to get on this and make it ASAP.

First and foremost – thank you NPR for sharing this recipe with the world – what a gem! Let me just tell you how awesome this pie was…wowza. It is just as incredible as you would think it would be – it is the perfect blend of salty and sweet. The pie has a tangy, citrus and dense custard-like filling and is topped with light and fluffy homemade whipped cream…HEAVEN. ON. EARTH.

So without further adieu, below is the recipe. Enjoy!

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For the crust:

1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers

1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter

3 tablespoons sugar

 

For the filling:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two (I mixed the two)

Fresh whipped cream (recipe below) and coarse sea salt for garnish

 

For the fresh whipped cream:

2 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream

2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Directions for the whipped cream:

  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Beat mixture with a whisk until stiff, firm peaks form (if you’re unsure of what this looks like, please take a look here). You’re going to need to practice some patience here – it could take several minutes.
  • Cover and chill.

 

Directions for the pie:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Crush the crackers finely, but be careful not to crush them too fine or they will turn more into dust. (I used a food processor but you can use your hands.)
  • Add the sugar to the crushed crackers, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 inch pie pan.
  • Chill the crust in the pie pan for 15 minutes in the fridge.
  • Take it out and stick it in the oven. Bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.
  • While the crust is cooling, beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt on top.

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Restaurant Review: Bistro La Bon // Cozy + Hip

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{ Exterior of Bistro La Bon – Image from Yelp }

Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago (on a Friday) and the hubs and I wanted to celebrate it on Saturday night due to a. our schedules and b. to make an honest effort to avoid the insane foot traffic that restaurants would be receiving. Originally, we had wanted to make a reservation at The Melting Pot as it is one of our favorite restaurants to dine at for special occasions. Sean and I are both advocates of supporting local businesses, but it is still hands down one of our most beloved eateries – food chain or not (we literally salivate at the thought of the Mojo cooking oil – it’s really that incredible). But to our disappointment, The Melting Pot was all booked up…le sigh.

Sean wanted our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple to be special and we had both heard rave reviews about Bistro la Bon in Plaza Midwood. Being that we’re moving to that side of town soon and hearing how fantastic this place was – we needed to see firsthand what all the fuss was about. {Side note: please forgive some of these images not being my own – it was incredibly dark both inside and out and impossible for me to get good shots. }

Bistro la Bon is located on Central Avenue and resides in the same strip mall as Family Dollar and Elizabeth Billiards. Although this may seem odd to some, it really encompasses the Plaza Midwood area quite well in the sense that there is always more than what meets the eye. If you are familiar with this neighborhood in Charlotte, NC, you are probably aware of how funky and eclectic it is. For this restaurant to be placed here may be random, but then again, so is Plaza Midwood (which is what makes it so special).

We were fortunate enough to secure an 8:45 reservation for Saturday night. Now, let’s not get it twisted – Valentine’s Day is not just a day…it’s really more of a week-long celebration (so much for trying to be original by celebrating the day after). We walked into the restaurant and the first thing I noticed was the ambiance. From a lighting perspective, it was very dark inside – however, it was still incredibly lively, upbeat and boisterous. It had a hip, Portland, Oregon vibe with a casual yet sleek bar area surrounded by high top tables. The lobby area had velour couches with rich, gem-colored pillows for guests to sit on while they waited on their table. Once we were informed that there would be an additional wait tacked onto our reservation time, we decided to hit the bar for a couple of beverages. Sean ordered a craft beer (his fav) while I had one of Bistro la Bon’s signature cocktail – The Persophone (channeling my inner Greek goddess). It was prosecco, pomegranate liqueur and fresh lemon zest. I must say – it was delicious. Truthfully, I wanted to try all of the hand crafted cocktails on the menu because they all looked divine – it was difficult to choose just one. (At dinner I ended up having A Bee’s Vice and it was probably my favorite drink of the two).

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{ Interior of Bistro La Bon – Image from Yelp }

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{ Dining Area of Bistro La Bon – Image from Yelp }

We only waited an additional 15 minutes or so and were able to be seated. The menu mostly consisted of small plates or “tapas” and it looked amazing. There were also a few entrees and appetizers but the hubs and I wanted to get a few things to share. We decided on the Crispy Avocado and Asparagus, Brie Brulee, Grilled Spanish Octopus and the Lavender Chicken. We asked our server to choose the fifth small plate and to surprise us – we wanted whatever she recommended. Typically, Sean and I ask our servers what they like on the menu because who else would have better insight than the person working at that restaurant? I remember my days in the food industry (what seemed like eons ago) – we would typically sample almost everything on the menu to ensure that we were knowledgeable when a customer asked questions or our opinion on an item. Sean and I are both very adventurous when it comes to food so we were not at all fearful of what our server was going to choose for us. She ended up sending over the Crab Stuffed Peppadew with greens and lemon foam.

The Crispy Avocado and Asparagus was delicious – it was wrapped together in a light batter and then fried like a spring roll and served with a tangy sweet and sour sauce – NOMS. Both the asparagus and avocado worked together in perfect harmony – I would highly recommend this dish. The Brie Brulee was heaven – it literally tasted like a savory version of creme brulee (caramelized topping and all) and it was served with thin, crispy toast slices. The Lavender Chicken definitely had some prominent floral notes but it was balanced excellently with the chestnut gravy, savory cabbage and bits of bacon. If you are not one to like any remnants of floral undertones in your cuisine, this is not the dish for you. Although the lavender was not extraordinarily pungent, it is still present. I truly believe that you are either into that kind of thing or not – I personally love when flowers are mixed with cooking. We also really enjoyed the stuffed Peppadew peppers that our server chose for us – they had a delicate crabcake-esque filling and between that and the peppers – it was a sweet and spicy combination that worked very well together. There was only one dish I was a little disappointed about it and it was actually the one that I was the most excited to try – the octopus. It had nice flavor, however, it just was not as tasty as I wanted it to be. I think what really disappointed me the most about this dish was how chewy it was. If you have had and enjoy octopus, it has an elastic texture if not cooked properly which makes it difficult to chew and just not very enjoyable.

{ Crispy Avocado & Asaparagus }

I would say overall our experience was pleasant and enjoyable. We loved the rustic yet hip and cozy feel of this restaurant. I think many would assume that almost any restaurant in the Plaza Midwood area has to be a find and it most cases with this theory in mind, I’ve hardly ever been disappointed. On a side note – I would love to revisit Bistro la Bon for a Sunday brunch because I have heard nothing but excellent reviews. If you have not yet visited this adorable eatery – go…go now. It is a great place to dine with a group of friends or your significant other. Great drinks, delicious food, warm and trendy atmosphere and in a fun and eclectic side of town.

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