It takes a lot of…something…to subject your cooking skills to the palates and opinions of co-workers. These are people you see on a regular basis, people with whom you share a workspace, toner cartridges, 1% milk. Fortunately, here at Snooth we’ve got a few souls brave and/or reckless enough to try their hand at our seasonal office cook offs.
It being nearly St. Patrick’s Day, we went the way of Irish beer. Of our five competitors, only one had significant experience cooking with beer—no coincidence he’s also the guy who owns his own smoker and has an iPhone chock full of trophy fish pics. For the rest of us, the challenge was an interesting opportunity to experiment with, and aggressively taste test, a new ingredient.
Beer image via Shutterstock
As fate and Internet searches would have it, that new ingredient for all five of us was Guinness. Now before you totally dismiss the integrity of the cook off, just know we get it—there’s a lot more out there that’s both Irish and beer. But the Great Guinness Coincidence of 2013 isn’t entirely our fault. It’s due in part to some of the clichés and culinary oversimplifications of holiday cooking. Around St. Patrick’s Day, a lot of recipes call for Guinness, and it’s also the most readily available.
Our Irish-themed Snooth Cook Off also taught us about Guinness’s surprising culinary versatility. Case in point: our five entries make a full menu, from bar snack-style appetizer, to Old Country hearty stew, to liquor store aisle-straddling Guinness cake with bonus Bailey’s cream cheese frosting—which we absolutely accepted as judges’ bribery.
See below for ranking and descriptions of each dish, as well a few candid office reactions. There were clear winners in each category—Presentation, Taste, Creativity, Use of Beer, and the admittedly less quantifiable “Irish Spirit.” But as we all found out, when you’re cooking with beer, everybody wins.
Have any favorite beer recipes? Let us know about them in the comments section below!
Sliders. They’re like Raymond. Everybody loves them. So it’s no surprise these sliders, courtesy of “Jersey Joe” (the office fisherman and meat smoker) took home top ranking in both Presentation and Taste. And it’s earned, if only by the number of fresh pepper grinds (40), though we think the overnight spice marinade and beer-braising gave this dish a slight edge. According to Joe, the smell permeated his apartment, making it hard to sleep. Our sympathies?
Office reactions: “The beer cuts the sweetness of the pork.” “Like a sweet explosion of barbecue.” “Ah-mazing.” “Oh my god.”
A close second in both Taste and Presentation (by 1 point each, in fact) was this cake, adapted by Snoother Sara from a friend’s recipe for cupcakes. The shape might be different, but the culinary chemistry is the same: moist Guinness cake under a pillowy bed of Bailey’s cream cheese frosting. Chocolate and stout are always a happy pair, soul mates in depth of flavor, which here is cut by that subtly tangy, Bailey’s-enriched frosting. The cake did win for Creativity, and we assume Sara will share the victory with her friend. “She is my ginger Irish muse.”
Office reactions: “You taste the beer and the Bailey’s. It’s a really delicious cake.” “Tremendously boozy.” “The cake has an almost bread pudding-like texture.” “Would kiss the Blarney stone for another slice.”
Admittedly, onion rings are harder to pull of in a Snooth cook off. For one thing, we don’t have a working oven. And since no one in their right mind would willingly subject onion rings to the microwave, Snoother Michael had to make these Guinness beer-battered rings the night before and hope the crispness endured. It did, to an extent, but what really came across was the sweet meatiness of the onions (thick cut) and a savory depth in the batter. “I didn’t have a lot of time, and I knew it would be a fast food” (literally). Losing out on crispness might have lost him a few points, but Michael did win for Creativity—and we ate everything on the plate.
Office reactions: “The onion rings are delicious.” “Nice and sweet from the onion, good batter.” “Kudos for thinking outside the box!”
Snoother Kyle did not, in fact, bring this recipe straight from the Old Country. “I Googled ‘Guinness slow cooker’ and it was the first result.” But the results taste pretty close to authentic, a hearty stew that tied for 2nd in Taste, and tied with the Guinness Cake for 1st in Irish Spirit (we’re not sure how credible a ranking that is). The prep is pretty labor-intensive—lots of chopping and browning and sautéing—but then there’s the slow cooker pay off: dump the contents into the slow cooker and let it cook, and intensify, while you sleep. Or whatever. Guinness is called for specifically in this recipe, and it’s no surprise; browned chuck and rich beef broth stew flavors practically scream for a pour of stout. Added bonus: any leftovers in the bottle are yours.
Office reactions: “I almost don’t care there are mushrooms in here!” “The meat was super tender and the sauce was perfect for mopping up with a nice pillowy piece of bread.” “Mouthwatering—hearty meal, fun for the whole family any time of year.”
Easily the laziest entry in the cook off (and, no coincidence, mine), also not technically cooked. But it’s quick payoff for minimal prep. Despite what you believed as a child, the float isn’t the sole province of root beer. A quick web search unearths a world of beer and stout (especially Guinness) ice cream floats. Many call for coffee ice cream, which I used, but if you can find something like Crème Brulee or even Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide, those might make a good match. (And give the Guinness cake a run for its money?? No, there’s probably no hope of that…) Add whatever you like: chocolate syrup, whipped cream, crushed cookie rim. Or keep it simple, because what this is really about is what happens when beer meets ice cream. And it did win one category—Best Use of Beer—probably because we all enjoyed drinking Guinness as part of the work day.
Office reactions: “90% beer, 10% ice cream. No haterade on that.” “Would wear a ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ shirt for another scoop.” “Ice cream tastes weird with beer.”