Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hanger steak and why you should eat it.

1. It owns. Texture, appearance, all of it. It's just awesome. It's got little texturey stripes running across it, with the occasional stripe of fat. While fairly lean, the fat comes out nicely in it, so you aren't eating amorphous blobs of blubber in between bites. The whole thing seems to look fairly like a meat xylophone. The unique way the grains cleave lends this thing extremely well to things like a good Italian steak and arugula salad, and even a carne asada taco. It cut cut cuts into nice little strips.

2. It's a sensible portion. This is very important. Y'all are probably eating way, way more meat than is recommended in a portion. This leads to over-eating, valuing quantity over quality, props up immoral factory farming agro-empires, and also leads to you being broke when you chuck down ten bucks for a single massive slab of over-fattened, corn-fed, and antibiotics-injected Barry Bonds cow. Make a fist. Hold it in front of your face. This is roughly the size of a serving of meat. Fortunately, hanger steaks come in these nice little strips, which weigh in much more respectably than a sixteen-ounce beef stonehenge.

3. It is cheap. Let me break it down for you. We last made some steak au poivre using a pair of hanger steaks, giving enough food for two folks easily. The cost for the steaks? Five bucks, altogether. For the quality of cut, you can't find better value out there, especially since there's an entire cabal of picky boring people out there who can only pronounce sirloin, ribeye, and t-bone.

4. It's a cut made popular as the one that butchers would reserve for themselves when they took a carcass apart. If you need any better indicator that it's a good cut, that's a winner.

5. It's diaphragm. Eeeeeeewwwww!!! Impress/amaze/disgust your friends. Serve fava beans and chianti and go FTHFTHFTHP. It's not offal, but it's a good bridge between organs and meat, and I'm always a fan of whatever gateway drug gets people into eating livers, chitlins, sweetbreads, etc. They're awesome and nutritious, and not only do they taste great but you have fun eating them. Think about watching animal planet, and seeing lions on the serengeti take down a zebra. You think the lions go for the sirloin first? Hell no, they zip open that belly and get whatever is squishy. Connect with your inner predator today, and you might find new things you enjoy.

So I hope I've helped to sell you on your next red meat purchasing decision.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Yep, it's overdue. Badly. I realize this, and am genuinely sorry. I've been a bad blogger and will endeavor to keep up with the Joneses, so I'll start by recounting my very first Thanksgiving in My New Home.

It began and ended with a turkey, and why not? It's a thanksgiving story.

I started getting notions of turkey day grandeur when I found out that Grow Alabama was taking reservations for buying free range turkeys from them. Now, I'm at least some part vestigial country boy, and the sort of guy who appreciates what wild turkey has and what butterball does not. So when I had a shot at a decent turkey, I latched on. I told the wife, and the rest of the family. We eventually conspired to do the big grub at our new house. Fun!

Hol' up! I have to work on they day before Thanksgiving, and worst off, I work pretty late, getting off at 8:00. To make it more scary, due to other-family issues, we penciled in the meal for lunch. At 1:30 PM. Aaaagh. I had very little time to belt out a lot of food. Fortunately, we all chipped in and made different things. Mom made cornbread, my late-grandmother's famous ugly chocolate cake, green bean casserole, and brought a few little nibbles. My sister made my late grandmother's turkey dressing (hint yankee people, this is southern for stuffing) and a tasty southwestern corn dip thing.

That left me with just a few things. Pumpkin pie with a ginger snap crust & maple whipped cream, french baguettes, mustard greens, country potatoes*, and of course, the turkey, full of yankee stuffing*.

The asterisks denote parts of the process that I nearly drop-kicked my carpetbagging wife from my back deck. She insisted on mashed potatoes with the skins on. Now, in my vernacular, these are country potatoes, lumpy and crudely mashed taters with hunks of skin, and they suck. I was mad that I was making crappy potatoes. I made her crappy potatoes, only to find out that she was wanting something entirely different. She wanted milled, creamed, silky mashed potatoes that are all that is good and just in the free world, only with the skins incorporated into them. I still think it's goofy and that you should just go ahead and peel them, but it was a lot better after a clarification. After we sussed out our creative difference, the potatoes tasted wonderful.

Next came yankee stuffing. She insisted we had to make stuffing, yankee style. Every time I've had this, it's been hot garbage, dry and cakey with too much breadcrumbs and celery and too little anything else. I was mad at the world until she gave me her mom's recipe, which had a cornbread base. Okay, it's only slightly heathen-ey, but cornbread is good grub, so that's fine. It actually tasted good, so I'll admit I'm wrong on that.

This is a segueway from the main gist of the story. You see, I had a turkey to emergency thaw, and a bazillion other things to make, and on the day before thanksgiving, the only thing I'd already taken care of was the pumpkin pie. I proceeded to don my cook's coat, load myself with enough caffeine and alcohol to make Johnny Cash sweat in church, and essentially turned into Tom Berringer in Platoon. Remember, "the machine breaks down, we break down."

I may not have machine-gunned Vietnamese civilians in a rice farming village, but I did the culinary equivalent of a few war crimes, all the while becoming an avatar of pure piss and vinegar. I cat-napped long enough to get angry at the world, woke up, stuffed the shit outta that turkey, and got it in the pan with just enough time (I calculated like Dr. Strangelove) to get a proper roast & rest in before people were ready to eat. Snipped rosemary, because rosemary owns in poultry, and that went in the mix. While the bird cooked, I thawed pre-made baguette dough and began to proof for baking, then turned to the punishment task of trimming greens for the pot. This brings me to an important rule, and one I cannot stress enough. Profanity is the best seasoning for food. My wife disagrees but she does not understand. Food does not taste as good unless you goad it, yell at is, and say things you'll regret later to it. My late grandmother was a Picasso of the art, and my childhood is a rose tinted paradise of waking up to grandma's house, smelling of bacon and sage sausage, and filled with the sounds of "SHIT HELL FIRE DAMN SON OF A BITCH!!" Nobody believes me, but I swear it wouldn't have been as good if she was nice in the kitchen.

I practiced the inherited art, albeit not with such grace or power as she had. Somehow, despite all opportunities I had to fall into the weeds and totally screw the pooch, I actually got my portions done, just about as the rest of the family came over. I was exhausted, feeling a residual angry beer run's effects, and kind of sweaty, wearing a dirty cook's coat, but it was done.

And it was all worth it. I felt such unreal sense of pride and togetherness bringing my family together at our table. Even now, it boggles my mind that my wife and I were able to pull it off. She helped to clean up after my messy self, and kept her head on straight when I was prone to hyperbole and drama. It's one of those great firsts that we get to enjoy as a new family coming together, and even though we were a trio of couples, we were all one big family. Fitting for a day of thanks, because when we finally gathered around the table, I had a moment to come down from all of the hype and to appreciate everything. Appreciate what I was raised with, what I was given, and what I have now. With all the sleep deprivation, craziness, and chaos, it was absolutely, overwhelmingly worth it, and I can't wait to do it again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I recently had some company over at my new house for a crazy nerd gathering. One of my friends has traveled damn-near across the globe, but she's originally from South Africa, and we often talk about one of my favorite subjects, which is South African food. I've dabbled in a few things in the past, like old favorites Bobotie as well as my favorite drunk food Bunny Chow. We collaborated on a few of her favorites like Periperi Chicken too. Prior to her visit, I had been browsing over a South African cookbook I bought a while back, and thinking of anything hard to find over here that I could ask for.

The first was Elephant Biltong, which not surprisingly, is near-impossible to get. I did get Springbok Biltong, which was awesome though. It's similar to venison jerky, but imagine a little clove, allspice, or garam masala on it. No real reason for this other than sating a round of post-drinking munchies.

The second thing on my list was Waterblommetjies.

I like typing the word, I like saying the word. Afrikaans is a hilariously awesome language. It translates into "water flower" which is a polite way of saying that it's something that long ago some Voorstrekker (ie, Ted Nugent or Jeremiah Johnson or Bill Brasky) spotted growing in a stagnant ditch full of water and decided it would taste delicious with his freshly-killed Springbok. All it would take would be a little stewing, and it just so happens that the word for stew in Afrikaans is bredie. Hence, waterblommetjiebredie.

Stuff you'll want:
  • 2 1/2 pounds of roasting meat (ideally, lamb, mutton, or game, but I used beef short ribs to great effect too.
  • 2 pounds waxy potatoes (ie, don't go makin no damn mashed potatoes son), diced
  • 1 giganto onion (or, 2-3 smaller ones), diced
  • About 2 pounds of waterblommetjies (you can get em on Amazon if you can't hop on the dakadak to Pretoria)
  • 1 granny smith apple, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp periperi (african bird's eye chili powder, again, Amazon) or cayenne pepper (at minimum you weenie. You want to add more, I know you do)
  • 1 tsp black pepper

You'll want your dutch oven for this. Crank up the stovetop to about medium-high heat. While you're doing this, towel off your short ribs and rub them down with a bit of salt. Start to brown them on each side. All we want is the look and the smell really. They'll get cooked fully later.

Once each piece is browned all over, remove from heat.

In the juices left in the dutch oven, add your butter and then your onions & salt, and turn the heat down to low. Cover and sweat those for a good 20 minutes, then return your meat to the fray.

Add the water & wine. Put your lid on, preheat your oven to 350, slap it in there for 2 hours, and forget it exists till your time's up. Remove again to the stovetop. Your meat should be getting tender enough to come apart a bit, and you can shred it with your spatula or spoon as you go.

My picture of the stupid shredded apple survived, but not my picture of the waterblommetjies themselves. They look somewhere between swamp thing and a leopard, and smell like a wonderful cross between good olives and asparagus.

Thanks, Google image search! Mine looked pretty much like that, yeah!

Too bad I didn't get a snap, because after that, I tossed the apple, potato, and waterblommetjies into the melange.

To this hearty mash, I added my nutmeg, pepper, bay leaves, and periperi. I tasted it, and added more periperi still. When my particular heat affinity was reached, I simmered for another 30 minutes with the cover on, killed the heat, then tossed in my raw garlic at the end.

I topped the "stew" over another Afrikaner dish - funeral rice, which is basically a pot of rice fried into some butter, turmeric, cinnamon, onions, shredded carrot, and raisins.

What I love about South African food is that it's completely unsophisticated stuff that seems very familiar to any of us who have or had a grandmother who liked to cook. So much of it is old timey and homey, but it's also coupled with a few exotic flavors to remind you that you're eating something just a little different.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


So, I've procrastinated this long enough. Time to roll up my sleeves and get back to blogging. Yes, I'm still in the long process of settling after the move. No, I'm not done yet. I'm having camera issues in the interim, so if I do get some snaps off, they will be of dubious quality, be warned. I just can't neglect this any more, and I love sharing the work I'm doing, even if I don't have pictures at hand.

My mom, dad, and sis came out to the house this weekend, which was a treat. I got to cook for everyone, and mom helped out as my sous-chef fry lady. We rocked out a never-ending stack of ruffle-cut kettle chips & fried okra fingers (with homemade remoulade, because I love making it). We also had a bit of black-eyed peas, which mom also helped with, and some trout I bought from Grow Alabama.

This is where the story is funny. See, I knew my trout was whole, and I figured it would be a snap to fillet it out. Well, not quite. I'm not at that level of awesome quite yet unfortunately. Instead of fillets though, I decided to stuff the trout with herbs, squash, and shallots and pouch steam them with some brown butter. There was just one catch - I underestimated my sister's aversion to icky fish skin! Now, if you don't like the stuff you can easily peel it away so that's not a problem. Still, it got me thinking.

We're living in a boneless, skinless dystopia, and in a world where people put bacon on all sorts of inappropriate dishes, how are people still hesitant about eating fish skin and chicken skin? It's connective tissue, salt, and fat. It comes together to not only form a deliciously crunchy layer on pan-seared and roasted dishes, but it also holds in moisture. People opt for skinless meat, realize they're often eating dry meat, and overcompensate with sauces and marinades. I would shrug it off if so many of them weren't looking down their nose at skin and the added fat in it, when their sauce is often loaded with the stuff.

This isn't in any way a slight to my sister. She thought what I thought the first time I was confronted by skin on a fish. (1) Ew gross and (2) How do I get it off. All I'm hoping for is that more people give skin a chance, and pack their bags to Flavor Country.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I'm still alive, take two

Hi guys, sorry it's been damn-near a month without any updates. Moving's complete and we're just in that never-ending task of unpacking and getting things just right. The good news is that I've got my dining room set put in and I'll be expecting my pots and pans rack soon.

I've been very busy with other things too. Having a lot of company over to enjoy Dragon Con, plus hosting a lot of hungry nerds at my new abode. Everybody seemed to love tacos de lengua and hommous. Today, a friend of mine from Hawaii but originally South Africa will be schooling me on Afrikaner cuisine. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is going to be awesome. Expect Peri Peri chicken, Waterblommejiebredie, Bunny Chow, and other things shortly.

Bye for now!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm still alive

...just moving, is all. We closed on our house yesterday and this weekend is a mad and exhaustive dash toward getting things into and eventually out of boxes. I'm going to be a little beside myself for a while so bear with me.

I promise to resume your regularly scheduled programming (and with a bigger, nicer, gas-powered kitchen) in the very near future!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mandolines are the bees knees. Also, red bells!

I really don't have much going on right now, and I'm pretty hand-to-mouth with my cooking while we prepare to close on our house. I've had to divide my kitchen into sections that I can pack away and things that I will subsist on until we pack everything else.

That's beside the point though. I want to talk about my mandoline, and why it rules. I have about five hundred pounds of squash thanks to the CSA, my wife's friends, my grandpa, and anybody else who's given me very tasty and seasonal squash. I'm sort of at a loss on what to make with all of this great squash, and then I remembered I had a mandoline, so I set out to make gratin out of a few squashes.

For those who don't know, a mandoline is an inclined plane with a super sharp guillotine blade on it. You vary the thickness between one side of the plane and the blade side by fractions of an inch to get very thin slices of food very very very fast by just sliding your food item along the plane back and forth. I wasn't quite prepared for how awesome it was at slicing the hell out of squash, and I think I blacked out during the process because when I came to I was less three goose-neck squashes and there was a huge mound of potato chip thickness squash slices. Oops!

Of course, I used up every bit of it to make a gratin with asiago cheese, rosemary, and breadcrumbs. Tasted so nice I made it twice, even.

Now, what's that scorchy-lookin red bell pepper doing in this picture? Glad you asked (if you did!) Remember way back when I planted peppers? Well, my red bells matured last week, and I finally got to trim 'em and use 'em. I was excited because in my opinion its my first real bit of produce that I've grown. I don't really consider the hot peppers and herbs as the same because they're more of flavor additives. A big juicy sweet red bell is it's own zip code of importance. I wanted to have fun with it.

I made a risotto, using grease from cooking lardons to soften the onion. To that I added rosemary & mozzarella, then returned the lardons to the dish to stir. I carefully cut the tops off the peppers, de-seeded them and removed the inner ribbing, then filled them to the top with risotto. Put each pepper in a ramekin, and into a 500 degree oven for 12 minutes to get this:

The sweet bell was fantastic against both the pork and the rosemary. It was softer in parts and firmer in parts, but still all fork tender and I'd honestly put that against any bell I've bought at the store in terms of how potent the flavor was. It was very serious business.

I just wish I had more bell peppers now. I'll have to plant more later.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rosemary baked chicken, and I didn't make it.

So we decided to have a late dinner the other day of roasted chicken with rosemary and some beans with lardons and herbs. I handled the beans, and my wife took care of the chicken. She cleaned it, she stuffed it, she baked, basted, the works. I gotta say, after roasting a few birds of my own, she's a better touch at it. It was tasty beyond words. The breast meat was still tender and moist, the skin was perfectly crackly, and rich fragrant rosemary and aromatics just filled every bite. So just as a word of warning, the next poultry served up as a roast is probably not my handiwork!

She also made peanut butter cookies this weekend but, alas, that is another tale to be told!

One year anniversary...and a little something extra

Title says it all. My wife and I celebrated our first year of marriage tonight. Nothing big, nothing fancy. We didn't go out to eat or do a super-crazy multi-course meal. I told her I loved her, she told me she loved me, and we had a little meal. She, of course, got her lobster, which she insists on cooking herself. I made a meal of fresh figs, prosciutto di parma, spanish manchego cheese, and balsamic vinegar.

You might ask why the low key first anniversary? Well, we're both saving up like mad and getting ready to buy a house. In fact, we'll be closing on it within the next few weeks. That's one heck of an anniversary present to and from the both of us. I won't diverge from the scope of this blog though, and I'm sure you're already wondering what the kitchen is like. Here's an appetizer or two:

Oh yeah, the rest of the house is nice too ;-)

So, wish us luck. There's been a reason I haven't been blogging much lately after all! Hopefully the work will pay off and you'll be seeing pictures from a much larger, well-lit, and all around nicer venue in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Remember kids: sodium alginate + calcium chloride = "caviar"

So, as a really cool part of my chairman's award prize in the ICSA southern food contest, I got a baggie of a weird cream-colored powder called "sodium alginate" and another baggie of a grainy white stuff called "calcium chloride". Concerned that somebody maybe sent me drugs, a bomb, or terrible terrible poison, I mashed the internets for a minute or two, and suddenly realized what pure awesome I had received.

The two chemicals can be used to make foods with a texture almost exactly emulating caviar. I'm not a scientist, so don't grill me too hard on the science of it. You make a juice out of "something" and add a little of the sodium alginate to that to gel it up and make it a little thick. Then you put that in a syringe. In a water bath, you add calcium chlorate, then slowly drip in your juice mixture. The drops set immediately upon hitting water, and the reaction of the alginate and chloride start to create a skin that holds the liquid inside. You then let it sit for a good 30-60 seconds, fish out the pearls of caviar with a skimmer, and immerse in another water bath to stop the chemical reaction.

The power and potential for this stuff is huge. Vegan caviar with truffle oil would be pure evil, but I'm wanting to get a can of concentrate orange juice to make fruit caviar, top that on a cloud of whipped cream, and put that on a vanilla cookie or something to make a weird dreamsicle flavored thing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tacos de Lengua

I've got a thing for tacos, you see.

No, not Taco Bell. Mind you, it's a fantastic inebriation stop-gap or hangover cure, but it's marginally food. A giant curved yellow tortilla chip, loose hamburger meat mixed with MSG and "tomato flavor" with bland lettuce and plastic cheese. What can you expect for a few cents at a place that's considered bargain basement by the American Tex Mex industry, I guess.

No, not that sort of taco. Not even a good Tex Mex taco. You see, I just refuse to believe Tex Mex as a genre has any business making them. Burritos? Enchiladas? Tex Mex does these well, and I love em. Tacos are just one of those things that are best done with a more Mexican flair.

Tacos should be greasy, hotter than hell fire, and full of bracing flavors. Lettuce BAD. Cilantro GOOD. Cheese BAD. Guacamole GOOD. Refried beans BAD. Raw onions or radishes GOOD.

It's just a different style, and I realize people do like Tex Mex tacos. I'm just not that guy.

I left for work today, but before I went out the door, I switched my crock pot on and dropped in a big beef tongue, and cracked open a can of chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Set those to a low braise while I went off to work. There it remained for eight hours until my wife came home to baby-sit it. I came home with groceries a while later. The beef tongue has a membrane on the outside of it, so we removed that and shredded the meat. I then chopped a few cow-horn chilis from my garden to toss in there too. Took some corn tortillas, charred them slightly on the cast iron skillet, then ladled the meat and chipotle mixture onto each tortilla. Chopped cilantro, a little onion, and sliced up a lime, and food was created.

Beef tongue is really great stuff, if you're adventurous enough to try offal. It braises like pork, which is to say that you have beautifully delicate meat that shreds easily, but the flavor is still robust and beefy like a good roast. The smoke in the chipotle and adobo pairs to that very well, and even strong flavors like cilantro and raw onion don't crowd it out. The acid in the lime cuts the greasiness a bit, which is good.

I gotta admit that I was breathing fire during this. Nose running, big smile on my face, with adobo sauce dripping off my chin. The only thing I could've used was a cerveza, or maybe a glass of cool coconut water or agave juice. As it stands I had a big bottle of water, and I drank it all.

Definitely give this one a try, especially if all you have to define a taco is what you've seen on the Late Night menu.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beer reviews, round two

Hey guys, sorry its been a while. Was going to try and make the beer review thing a bi-weekly thing, but I just don't drink enough beer for that, lol. Still, figure we should have some beer reviews, whenever I get around to drinking some, that is!

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass

Appearance: Opaque Ebony with thick tan head over 1". Head recedes quickly with little to no lacing on the glass.

Smell: Dark chocolate, tea, small scent of tropical fruit.

Taste: deeply toasty malt, butterscotch, cola, and a little coffee. Finishes with acidity.

Mouthfeel: Medium-heavy, carbonation very weak.

Smells great, but the taste is kind of unremarkable. For the money, there are better Imperial Stouts available to be had. It would go well with something with dark chocolate. For some reason, I seemed to like this more at Brewfest, but when I settled down and took a whole glass slowly, it didn't really shine through :(

Sam Adams Blackberry Witbier:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass:

Appearance: Cloudy amber. Head a creamy white, 1". Receded with no lacing.

Smell: Blackberries all over the place. There's nothing else at all.

Taste: Berries immediately, melting into a nondescript malt, petering off after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Light weight, light carbonation. Pretty average Hefeweizen feel.

I really am not impressed by this. It comes on way too strong with blackberries, and there's nothing else expressed in the character. Even then, you'd think they'd be kind enough to finish astringent or with some acidity or both. Blackberries do that, so why not this beer? Instead, it sort of loses its flavor after the swallow, almost like the taste going out of a piece of gum. Avoid this beer, it's not good. If you're gung ho for a fruit essence beer, you can do a lot better.

Duvel Belgian Ale:

Poured from 11.2 ounce bottle into pint glass:

Appearance: Very pale blonde color and clear. Beautiful bubbles constantly rise throughout. Head is over 1.5", creamy and frothy white. The head recedes gently, leaving heavy lacing on the glass.

Smell: Champagne grapes and alcohol esters

Taste: Dry champagne immediately on hitting the tongue, then releases a bouquet of perfumed, but not obnoxious hops. Hints of apple and buttery malts upon swallowing, but cleaned up immediately by the hops, leaving a completely cleansed palate.

Mouthfeel: This is where Duvel leaves most beers in the dust. It completely transforms upon hitting your tongue, to the point where you're not sure which part is liquid and which part is foamy deliciousness. So much of the flavor develops in the rich carbonation that you really should drink it in a glass that's good at preserving those bubbles. Once they're depleted, the mouthfeel, and therefore, the taste change. The way that the liquid transmutes into airy foam also has a way of deceiving your tongue into thinking it's a vastly lighter beer than it is. One of the best mouthfeel experiences I've had.

It's a good clean, dry beer with outstanding carbonation and very light weight. I'd be partial to having this with some delicate seafood or anything with simple and seasonal vegetables. To give it a wine analog, I'd think that anything you could drink an Alsacian Riesling with, you could also drink with Duvel. Fantastic beer.

He'Brew Messiah Bold American Brown Ale:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass:

Appearance: Opaque dark chocolate body. Head about 1", almond colored. Recedes quickly with little lace.

Smell: A little cherry, vanilla, cola, and oak. Overall muted.

Taste: Deep toastiness, chestnuts, oak. Hops roll to the back of the tongue and it finishes bitter, with some lingering aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, light carbonation. Pretty average compared to other brown ales.

It's a bit earthier than average brown ales, and really doesn't express much caramel or malt, letting the hops at the end do the talking. If you're looking for a really well-made brown it's probably not it, but it's not disagreeable either, and is easily drinkable. I'd pair it with maybe some roast beef or sausage, something with a bit of heft to it. Would do alright with barbecue, and let the hops clean up any sweetness in the sauce.

Tommyknocker Imperial Nut Brown Ale:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass:

Appearance: Nearly opaque, deep chocolate body. Head over 1", well tanned. Heavy lacing retained on the glass as it slowly recedes.

Smell: Butter, a little woodsmoke, cherries, some esters

Taste: Starts toasty initially with good nutty flavor, then becomes incredibly rich, with butter and maple taste coming through and dominating the malt. No presence of hops, just persistent richness. Finishes as it begins on toasted malts, with a lingering crusty bread taste on the tongue. Doesn't fully get rid of the sweet maple, and it mingles and gets a little cloying, with a little acidity.

Mouthfeel: Gentle carbonation, milky weight. Sticks to the tongue after swallowing. Typical of the style to a large degree.

It's completely lacking in subtlety so it's probably not the brown ale you pick if you want a magic carpet ride. Still I can't help liking it. It's heavy handed, juvenile, boistrous, and delicious. I'd totally want this with dessert. A pecan pie ala mode or maybe ice cream with dulce de leche, see where I'm going? The coup de grace would be flapjacks, but that's obvious when you taste it and it feels like you're kissing Mrs. Butterworth. If you want a better crafted brown, Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan or Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar are better quality, but for some reason this is just as fun.

Anchor Breweries Old Foghorn Barleywine Ale:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass:

Appearance: Deep ruby, translucent body. Head over 1", creamy, off white. Receded gradually with very slight lace.

Smell: Fragrant hops, oak, alcohol esters, orange zest

Taste: Citrus fruits at first, scented with coriander and lavender. Hops are persistent from beginning to end, very fragrant, but never dominating. Doesn't quite end clean, acidity lingers a little after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Gentle carbonation, and a little more heft than the light flavors would suggest.

First barley wine I've had, and if this is typical of them, I hope I have more! Hops complement the citrus, which is tough for some beers to do. Hops either come up way too strong in most, or are dull and get washed out. There's no bumps on the road, so you get to enjoy both of them. I'd love to grill up some fish like maybe salmon and have it with this one. I bet a good baked chicken or turkey with some fresh green beans or spring veggies would be great.

Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock:

Poured from 11.2 ounce bottle into pint glass:

Appearance: Nearly opaque mahogany with a nearly 2" head of chestnut foam. Receded gradually with almost no lace.

Smell: Cocoa, cherries, tobacco

Taste: Very rich toasted malts, creamy chocolate sweetness. Finishes with a wash of smoky flavor and lingers a while on the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Rich and milky. Carbonation is very gentle and doesn't disrupt the comforting flavor.

Certainly the best bock I've tasted so far. It's a very rich and filling beer, but one that's easy to please. If you could make room for it, it would probably pair a bowl of chili or even gumbo and taste fantastic.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


We went to our little July 4 shindig this weekend, and among a few other things my wife and I brought was a big bowl of hommous. Everyone in attendance enjoyed it, and I'm glad they did. What kind of dismayed me is that there's a mystery to hommous at all. There really shouldn't be.

Hommous is just a blend of chicpeas and a liquid, with things added for salt, savory, acidity, etc to your liking. You can make it as simple or complicated as you want it to be, but the generic stuff is really simple. Making a batch to serve four hungry mouths is as easy as:

  • 1 14 ounce can of cooked chicpeas (with liquid*)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste, available in most grocery stores now)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 juiced lemon or lime
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for topping)
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika (for topping)
That's about it for generic hommous. You combine everything except the oil and paprika in a food processor, pulverize the hell out of it for about five minutes, pour into a bowl (and get to lick the food processor bowl!) and top with oil and paprika. Refrigeration is optional before serving, but I like mine cold.

That's it. Takes less than ten minutes, so it's one of the laziest food items you can crank out. It's perfect for when you're having company on short notice.

Now, I do take a few liberties with mine that you may or may not include. I add an extra garlic clove to satisfy my rapacious half-Sicilian counterpart, as well as a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper because I have a dependence on at least a little spiciness. Instead of generic kosher salt, I'll use smoked salts like a hickory salt, and instead of the lemon or lime juice, I'll use a half teaspoon of citric acid granules. Don't worry about either if you can't find them because they're not essential at all. Smoked salts do just what you'd imagine, they impart a little smoky flavor into your food. Citric acid is essentially the "sour salt" on some candies you find. It's the crystalized acidic stuff from citrus fruits. Great for when you want to pucker your food up, but don't want it to taste like a lemon or a lime, and don't want to add more liquid.

Some people have a huge problem using the "bean water" in a can of chicpeas or whatever. The old aspersion is that the stuff makes you fart. I've conducted rigorous scientific experiments involving wind tunnels and coal mine canaries and this is inconclusive. In my gastronomic opinion its not true, and using the bean water improves the flavor, but if you're fearful of becoming a fanny flute and don't have any beano handy, just rinse the chicpeas, return them to the can, and top the can off with water and use that.

Some people also like to cut their hommous with olive oil when in the food processor. I think it's completely unnecessary but if you want to enrich yours beyond the pale then try it a little at a time.

The paprika and olive oil on top are likewise just tradition. You can cut the oil out entirely and you'll still have a tasty dish, and the paprika can be substituted with all manner of things. Some of my favorite toppings are pine nuts, olives, roasted red peppers, dill, roasted pecans, pickles, pepperoncini, etc. The topping is a good opportunity to tie the hommous into whatever flavors you have going for the rest of your meal, so go wild with that.

I used to buy hommous from restaurants and grocery stores. I mean, the Sabra brand stuff that's ever-present these days IS really tasty hommous, but look at what you pay for the stuff. Now, turn around and look how cheap it is to make your own. A can of chicpeas is about 75 cents. You use scant garlic, oil, salt, etc. A lemon is a few cents. If you go the route of using citric acid, you can buy a jar for five dollars that will be more than enough to make hommous for the rest of your life. With tahini, you make a seven dollar investment for a jar that will make a dozen batches, if not many more.

So let's err on the high side and say your hommous costs $2.00 per batch. That feeds four people. A dish of Sabra costs about twice that, and feeds half the number of people. You're out a total of two bucks and ten minutes of your time.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

CSA delivery two and other veggie ramblings.

Thursday's back again, and I got a huge shipment of CSA produce from Grow Alabama once more. Loads of squash, pole beans, bell peppers, another titanic head of napa cabbage, some nice big tomatoes, a big bag of new potatoes, and a double batch of Chilton county peaches. On top of that, my wife's friends gave us a two bags filled with some pretty squashes and cucumbers. I came home with everything put away, and my better half asleep on the couch. She's an angel :-)

Along with my CSA shipment, I tacked on some extra chevre goat cheese and yellow polenta, Not sure where the chevre's from, but the polenta's from Wilsonville, just a hop skip and jump down the way.

My mission this week is to make egg rolls, and also to think of every possible way I can eat and enjoy squash.

On other news, figs should be coming into season any day now in Alabama. When they do, I gotta act fast. Like strawberries, they survive at their best for maybe a day. Fragile, but worth it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"Why don't you cook for a living???"

Invariably, I get asked this question by a lot of my friends and family. It's a completely understandable question to ask. In our modern age when being a cook is less about being the humble abode for rejects and society's dregs and more about some weird pseudo-art pseudo-celebrity thing that I don't quite understand, people generally see becoming a cook for a living as being a good pursuit to have. Fair to say, I'm sure it's great for people who choose it, but I never will.

This is the part where you're probably asking "why?" so here's the why:

Cooking is art. I'm standing behind that completely. Not in some snobby, exclusive haute cuisine way necessarily, but in a way where somebody makes an expression of themselves, whether it's their own history and roots, their own beliefs and ideals, and the broad canvas of imagination, and then sacrifice it on an altar that is somebody else's plate, vulnerable to praise and critique, or even indifference. It's the only art form that stimulates all five of your senses, and it's artwork that is fleeting, sometimes only able to exist in it's perfect state for minutes, maybe even seconds. Because it draws so heavily on creativity, it taps the muse, and it takes a lot of inspiration to continue to make something that you take enough pride in to present to another person.

With that said, cooking is also a service job. In a comical paradox you're taking something that is such an intimate medium of expression and also asking it to be a means of grinding out sustenance to whoever comes through your door and puts down folding cash. While I think there's some degree of give and take that must exist in any place that makes a living out of cooking, I don't think either side can adequately be satisfied. You truly can't serve two masters.

If somebody comes to a museum to see a painting, they're all viewing the same painting. If somebody comes into a restaurant and points to the same thing on the menu, they each get technically the same meal, just made dozens of times over, one of which just happens to get served to them. That's when people get all Catherine de Medici and start treating their cooks like a harried artisan.

Look, I've got no problem with respecting your weird food preferences if I like you. I've got lots of friends and family who all have some silly quirks about how they eat their food. Food is an expression of love, so why not pan fry plain pork tenderloin, or make those pancakes with peanut butter if I enjoy your company? I may not eat that crap, but maybe my wife does, or my dad, or my best friend. Come to my house and I'll feed you. I would hope that you'd take my roasted spanish pimiento hommous before eating a crustless PB&J, but if you're good people, you're good people.

It's when we're talking about a professional environment that I bristle. I don't know these people, I don't have any experience with them. I'm making items on a menu not to individual expressions of affection, but purely as an aesthetic representation of my own creativity. In that regard, it is caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware. If you're not not noshing at McDonalds or Applebees, or as Anthony Bourdain lovingly calls the collective mass of soulless slop-slingers "TGIMcFunster's", you know that you're going to eat something that isn't just portions of salt, fat, and sugar with other ingredients*.

So when I hear of people going to a decent restaurant, ordering something, then sending it back because "the vegetables are touching" or "I don't want any sauce on my mass of carbohydrates" or "I'm not a celiac but I'd better not have one molecule of wheat gluten in anything because Oprah told me that avoiding gluten would align my chakra points and I'd become a Super Saiyan" it makes me want to slap them in the face. It doesn't even have to be food that I made. If I hear somebody I'm with, or adjacent to doing this, it makes me furious. I may not say anything in public due to decorum, but you'd better believe that my inner monologue is calling you a jackass as hard as it possibly can.

You've got a menu in your hand. It says what the dish is. It says what's in the dish. If you read-ey no english-ey, maybe you speak-ey it, and your very knowledgable waiter can answer questions. "What is sous vide?" "Is Steak Tartare really raw hamburger meat??" "I'm allergic to rabbit turds, will this kill me?" Unless you're a cheap bastard you are tipping your wait staff, so here's a great way to let them earn their money. ASK QUESTIONS if you're such a picky ninny. If you don't like the answers? Eat somewhere else. You're not going to be happy if you do, and the cook won't be able to make something to at his or her best.

How could I expect to cook food that I can pridefully stand behind as a professional and yet suffer these indignations? Quite frankly, I can't, and I won't. That's precisely why I will never subject myself to playing that game. The only way I'd ever open a proprietorship to cook in is if I won the lottery and could afford to run a business that lost money hand over fist, just because it gave me an outlet to cook for fun. In that case, I'd hang a large banner inside in plain sight of the clientele:

"If our food does not meet with your discerning tastes, your own damn kitchen is thataway!"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Onion Soup

Sometimes, the simplest things to make taste the best. Onion soup, of the style made famous in the Les Halles market of 19th century France is one of those things. An onion, sweated for an hour or two until its a carmelized mush, deglazed with a dollop of sherry, then beef stock and a little pepper. Cut a thick chunk of good bread, dry it to make a crouton, shave some aged Grüyere on top, then rest the cheesy crouton in the soup bowl, and put the entire thing under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

It's cheap, takes little effort to make, and it's pure bliss.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ma La

It's a term in Chinese, meaning "numbing". In food terms, it's the effect on your tongue when you eat a food with enough Szechwan peppercorns in it.

I've been looking for the little guys for a while. It was one of my many food geek projects that I sort of bury into a little composition book that I tote around. An idea here, an idea there. I may not be thinking about anything in particular but I'll just put it on paper, and maybe it'll turn up when I least expect it. It's a great little part of my creative process, because otherwise I just couldn't be bothered to keep up.

At any rate, I finally crossed it off my list a week ago during an extended shopping trip to Whole Foods in Birmingham. Just happened to remember it and be looking in the right place at the right time. Boom, Szechwan peppercorns. What did I do when I bought them? Immediately tore open the little safety seal and popped about five in my mouth and chewed. At first, a little lemony taste. Then...

Numbing really isn't quite what I'd call it. More like buzzing. The closest analogy I can think of is if you take a nine volt battery, and touch your tongue to both tips. The little bit of electricity going into your tongue gives it a weird buzzy feeling. It's completely surreal.

At any rate, I knew I wanted to use the peppercorns (they're actually not peppercorns at all, but little dried flower things) in something, but wasn't exactly sure. When I got my recent CSA shipment, I figured out what I wanted to do. I wanted to make fried rice.

Now, I've blogged about fried rice before. It's damn frustrating stuff. Yes, you can make rice and fry it with things, but if you've ever had fried rice done correctly, you'll know that it's really hard to replicate the experience yourself. Japanese fried rice is just about as tricky as nuclear fusion, and I've kind of put my aspirations on hold of getting it down correctly. Then again, I don't know if what I put together would be considered Chinese, either. Suffice to say I will consider it Mutt-a-nese, or in the spirit of my great nation's storied history of cultural assimilation, "American".

Here's what I used for my fried rice:
  • 2 cups rice, uncooked (I like jasmine, any long grain white would be fine, save for maybe basmati)
  • 4 cups water
  • oil for pan frying
  • sesame seeds (black and white or whatever)
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • About 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha or similar hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (optional)
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp szechwan peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste, or minced ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
  • 2 cups broccoli, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups cabbage, chopped
  • 1 cup pole beans, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
Begin by heating a tablespoon of oil in a sauce pot. Bring the heat nearly to high. Add some sesame seeds, then your rice. Stir it around. You want to get the oil evenly coated on all the rice grains. As they heat, they'll go from translucent to fully opaque white. I stop when I smell a little bit of toastiness from the rice. You can either add your water, bring to a boil, drop to low and cover for about 20 minutes, or do what I do and transfer it to a rice cooker and do it in there. Once cooked, take off heat, uncover, and let cool a little, fluffing periodically to release heat.

With that going, combine your pork, honey, and 1/4 cup of soy sauce. Oil a fry pan a bit and turn to medium high. Pour your pork into the pan, and let it cook. You want to keep it on the heat and let the water cook out of it. The cooking liquid will reduce, thicken, then finally turn to a syrup and start binding to the pork pieces. When the pan is starting to get dry, add your red chili flakes and szechwan peppercorns. When the pork looks crispy and dry, take it off the heat and reserve.

Oil a non-stick fry pan lightly, just to cover, and scramble a pair of eggs. Rather than scrambling first and pouring into the pan, crack the eggs directly into the pan, let them start to set for about 30 seconds, then smash them up. When done, take off heat and reserve.

Whisk together sugar, remaining soy, ginger, fish sauce, sriracha and garlic. Set aside.

Get a wok or at least a five quart saute pan. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil, and get it to nearly high heat. Drop in your carrots, cook about 5 minutes, then cabbage. Cook five minutes longer, then add pole beans for another five minutes, and at last your broccoli and eggs. Stir constantly, then add your rice, and your sugar/soy/ginger/etc mixture. You've got to move like your butt is on fire, or else your rice will be! Well maybe not on fire, but you might burn the rice or veg or both if you don't keep the contents of the pan in motion.

When you're nearly done, add the pork, toss thoroughly then immediately remove from the heat.

It's not really that photogenic, but it's more than a meal, that's for sure. Be warned, the ma la sensation isn't really for everybody. I love it, but other people don't care for it. My wife ate it, but said that she'd like it without the peppercorns next time. Either way, it's something you should try once, and even if you think its not for you, this fried rice is pretty solid for a mutt concoction.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chill out


...the sound of summer. YAY SUMMER'S HERE! UGGGGGHHHHH!

Seriously it is hotter than Satan's jockstrap in deepest Alabama. We've been vacillating between mid 90's to nearly 100's for days, and our rain decided to stop working. I've watered my garden twice each day since thursday, and the plants still look like they're begging for mercy. I'm stewing in sweat if I even think about going outside.

Right now, I only want to think about doing whatever I can to stay cool. With the first official day of summer now on the books, you should probably do the same. Get an ice cold beer or three. Margarita, ice cream, sweet tea, whatever takes the heat off.

It's also a great time for watermelon. Even when it's not at its coldest, it just has a cooling effect on me. I couldn't take the horrible heat today so I remembered my mom had given me a nice looking seedless melon. I hacked into a chunk of it and served it up.

I also remembered I had my pink block of himalayan salt in the freezer, so I sliced the melon and laid it all around the block. The salt sort of cured the melon and the salty flavor wicked into it a little bit. The faintest sprinkle of cayenne pepper on each slice for a bit of something different, and it was perfect. Salt hit your tongue first, then melted into cooling sweetness, with just a little spice as you swallowed. Since the melon was refrigerated and the salt was out of the freezer, the whole thing stayed COLD COLD COLD, which helped me to beat the heat.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

First peppers being harvested

My wife's been after me to cut a few of our bigger peppers loose this week, and I can't wait any longer. Some of these have gotten pretty big. We've got a massive amount that are still growing and not quite there yet, including cowhorn chilis, red bells, and habaneros, as well as plenty of the rest.

Here's the ones we cut today!

Two jalapenos that are utterly massive. Seriously, they're almost poblano sized. The long peppers are cayennes. The short peppers are serrano chilis. One of them is VERY ANGRY, lol.

Stay tuned for more spicy shenanigans.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Grow Alabama: The Motherlode Begins

So, this is the week I am supposed to begin my CSA deliveries from Grow Alabama. The nice lady at the CSA told me that they would be able to deliver way out into my podunk neck of the woods, which was great. She wasn't sure whether that would come on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. That was fine by me, as long as they came period. Well Tuesday came and went, same for Wednesday. I was getting a little antsy coming home tonight, but I found a wonderful sight waiting for me in the kitchen:

What a haul! I'm glad I got this for bi-weekly because I'm not sure how the two of us would ever put away this many groceries in a single week. Some of the stuff we were looking for was in here, some wasn't. I was kind of sad to see they didn't have beets with the greens, but pleasantly surprised to have potatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. Here's the total haul:

  • HUGE head of Napa Cabbage
  • 2 green Tomatoes
  • 4 yellow onions
  • 3 purple onions
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 4 cucumbers
  • 5 yellow squash
  • Big pile of pole beans
  • 10 new potatoes
  • 3 massive heads of broccoli
  • 5 Chilton County peaches
In short, a titanic sum of fruit and veg. Now the really fun part begins, which is to figure out how to creatively turn this stuff into chow. A lot of the stuff in here are things I don't usually cook with (squash and pole beans for one), so I'm excited to think outside of the box and to make it happen.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Beer Reviews for June 13th

As I said in the BrewFest posting, I was going to try and review five or so beers a week and provide some perspective on them, with a focus on being able to plan on pairing a meal with beer. This week I'm starting this. I've got five beers up on the blocks for you. I would have seven, but two of them were high gravity selections I had at a bar, and I lost my crib notes for them! That just means I have to go try them again!

Here's what I've got this week:

  • Delirium Tremens
  • Delirium Nocturnum
  • Brooklyn Pilsner
  • Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan
  • Dominion Oak Barrel Stout

Delirium Tremens - Belgian Strong Pale Ale:

Poured from 11.2 ounce bottle into pint glass

Appearance: Pale gold, clear. Head was lofty at two inches, but recedes gradually. Lacing is

Smell: Champagne grapes, driftwood, alcohol esters

Taste: Crisp and sweet apple acidity with citrus zest immediately evaporating into oak finished with cinnamon. Finished with very subtle bitterness from hops.

Mouthfeel: Light in body. Carbonation is vigorous throughout, sharp on the tongue to keep with the crisp acid. Finishes mildly astringent, cleaning the palate completely.

It's such a light and inviting beer that it can deceive you, but it's very dynamic in flavors, switching from acid to bitter with the carbonation scrubbing your tongue. It's got a very similar taste to many Belgian ales of its type, but weighs a lot less and hits a little harder. I'd pair it with food that's a little rich and fattening to give the acid and carbonation room to shine. Maybe some seafood like clam chowder or diver scallops, but I'd also expect it with chicken & spring vegetables.

Delirium Nocturnum - Belgian Strong Dark Ale:

Poured from 11.2 ounce bottle into pint glass

Appearance: Ebony wood, opaque throughout. Head was cream colored, about an inch thick. Retreated relatively quickly with no lacing on the glass.

Smell: Strawberry up front, small amount of cocoa and oak

Taste: Berries up front, quickly ebbing into robust toasted bread. Some caramel and cola in the malt. Hops barely reveal themselves upon swallowing, and toast lingers on the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Carbonation is intense and persistent upon hitting the tongue, without being distracting from the flavor. Bubbles are small and gentle, but numerous. Weight is heavy without being too heavy. Finishes with an oiliness that accentuates the richness.

It's pretty stout with an 8.5% ABV, but not overbearing on the tongue at all. I would have this with any dish that I'd consider having with a brown ale, including beef dishes, stews, and deli sandwiches.

Brooklyn Breweries Pilsner - German Pilsner:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass

Appearance: Straw colored, translucent. Head an easy 1" tall, snow white. Lacing heavy.

Smell: Hops-forward, some lemon zest and alcohol esters.

Taste: Not much happening other than the hops in here. They're rolling and not too heavy, with a little lavender to them, but that's about all you get. There's a weird metallic character that comes and goes. Finishes sharp and clean.

Mouthfeel: Sharp carbonation without being violent. Light body. Astringent finish that helps to attribute to the crisp feel.

It's a pilsner alright, but not my favorite one. It went fine with a bagel and lox, but I'm not sure if I'd reach for it again. Brooklyn has a lot of really good beers out there, but I wouldn't count this as one of them. It's pretty average.

Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan
- American Brown Ale:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass

Appearance: Mahogany, clear. Head was 1/2", dissipating rapidly leaving no lace on the glass.

Smell: Woodsmoke, molasses, vanilla bean

Taste: Simple malts and nutty flavor initially, carrying into rich honey. Slightly unbalanced, without any expression of hops, which would help to curb the sweetness that lingers after swallowing.
Mouthfeel: Medium body, thin and weak carbonation. Stays on the tongue after swallowing a bit.

A beautiful brown to look at with a pleasant taste. It would be a lot better if more balanced, but it's still a really tasty brown ale. Would be very tasty with some hickory smoked barbecue ribs.

Dominion Oak Barrel Stout - American Stout:

Poured from 12 ounce bottle into pint glass

Appearance: Opaque obsidian. Head rises slowly at first, then quickly builds on itself, with a toffee color, leaving very little lacing

Smell: Woodsmoke, spice, tobacco.

Taste: Smoke dominates the flavor from beginning to end. Woodsmoke character complements
roasted nuts, then spicy pipe tobacco smoke comes with a strong vanilla character. Slight bitter end, but a little acidity lingers afterward.

Mouthful: Moderately thick, with very light, silky carbonation. Milk-like cling to the tongue after swallowing.

Guaranteed to make you exhale deeply after drinking. The smoke character is bracing and very
fun. Despite being a very smoky stout, it's not overbearing and would pair with food quite well. Obviously would be great with barbecue, for sure.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grow Alabama

My search for a community supported agriculture program is at long last ended.

It was quickly apparent that I would pretty much never get a spot on Snow's Bend's program. They are just too far exposed and too fought-over, and used by too many big name people. That, and the guy at the Tuscaloosa farmer's market pretty much told me in not so many words that it all boils down to nepotism. That's fine.

Thanks to a tip from my dental hygienist, who said her daughter also loves to cook and buys local fresh food, I was directed to Grow Alabama, which is another fantastic CSA operating in central Alabama. I signed up for their gold package, to get bi-weekly deliveries sent to my house. Here's a sample of what I'll be expecting:

Not bad at all, eh? I'm thrilled for this. Being able to eat and enjoy local fruits and veggies is exciting to me. I want to cook and eat not only the stuff I know I enjoy, but also that stuff that I'm not quite sure what to do with. Being compelled to use the box I'm given is exciting to me.

If that's not cool enough, they also have fresh local meats available if I decide to buy some. Right now its lamb, veal, and beef, but they also expect to carry chicken, turkey, rabbit, and other items as they grow. They also offer farm-raised eggs and honey as well.

I eagerly await my first delivery next week :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sea Bass, Fenugreek Risotto, and the Parmesan Lattice Theory

It's been a great day of having weird food ideas hit me, I'll say that much.

For one, I finally had an excuse to cook sea bass. I have a friend who used to chat on and on about making sea bass, and was wanting me to do it. I think he'd been enthralled about some piece of ridiculous food porn that Gordon Ramsay has on one of his five thousand TV shows. I'm not anywhere near up to that sort of snuff, but I do like me some sea bass.

It's also fortuitous that I also had chicken stock I'd just made on Sunday, chilling in the fridge. Any time you make your own stock from a used carcass, it's going to taste a thousand times better than whatever crap Rachel Ray is hawking in her gaudy oversized juice box. It's full of flavor, not just salt. Further, unlike the unholy Queen Bitch responsible for Evil Vixen's Overpriced Oils, (Don't you dare bring up that acronym to me in public I will punch you in your mouth and I will not be held responsible) your own stock costs nothing. You've already paid for the chicken, go ahead and make stock. I've already said this before with lobster, and I'll pretty much say it with any animal or piece of animal you have that you can render stock out of. MAKE. STOCK.

Rachel Ray declaring jihad on culinary decency and quality olive oil

And just to make sure it doesn't seem like I'm deriding you for using "stock'n a box", it's better than having no stock at all. If you can't make your own, go ahead and use the big juicebox. All I'm begging is that if you have the means to do it, please don't junk that chicken carcass or bowl of spent beef ribs or whatever. Think of the wonderful stock you can make instead.

Rambling, rambling! Back on track. I have chicken stock. Any time I have a delicious stock, the chances are high I'll make a risotto. Sure, I could make soup, but I keep coming back to my queen of starches. She's been very very good to me. I'd talked to Dino a while back about making a previous risotto using fenugreek seeds, but I think the wire's got crossed and he thought I meant the leaves. It's one of those trickster plants like cilantro/coriander in which the leaves and seeds from the same thing do completely different stuff. Fenugreek to me is one of the best smells in the food world, and I cannot turn away from it. It's mostly an Indian spice, but knowing that it's earthy and bitter, I thought I could make it work in risotto, especially with sweet sugar peas, which I raided from the freezer.

Whipped the risotto up like usual, and buttered a few ramekins I'd recently got from my mom, so I could put a plate on top and invert to make those fancy little hockey puck style presentations that people like. Then, inspiration struck me. I'd had a conversation with my mom earlier in the day, and she'd suggested using grated parmesan on parchment paper in the oven to make a semi-bendy lattice that you could then form into a muffin pan to make a cheesy basket to hold things like microgreens or crabmeat or something. It's a really great idea, and I took the gist of it and made it a little simple for this, to just wedge a "chip" of baked parmesan lattice into the risotto. I added a lot of pepper to the chip, baked it in my 400 degree oven for about five minutes, then let cool another five. Rather than finish the risotto as usual with extra parmesan and pepper, I just wedged it in as a chip for an awesome texture and presentation thing.

The sea bass got a simple rub of salt and pepper. I added enough olive oil to thinly coat my saute pan, got the pan screaming hot, and seared one side of fish for about two minutes. Deglazed with wine, flipped the fish, and brought the heat down on medium for about five more minutes.

I used oregano from my garden as part of the bouquet garni when I made the chicken stock, so I also garnished the sea bass with more oregano. Spread a few bitter cacao nibs on the fish to complement the bitter fenugreek as well.

This was an extremely fun dish to make. It didn't take too long to come together, and everything just turned out like I wanted. The smell and taste of the risotto was amazing, and definitely something that I'll look to add to my usual risotto lineup from now on. The sea bass had a nice sear on top, but was so delicate that it cleaved on the flat of my fork with almost no pressure at all.

The parmesan lattice idea got me thinking about a lot of little things to bring the height out in my food, and was a great little flourish. Thanks Mom!

Brewfest 2009!

This weekend was the third annual Magic City Brewfest, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend with friends and family alike. If you read my previous Free the Hops postings, you'll know this was especially momentous thanks to Governor Bob Riley repealing the puritanical 5.9% alcohol by volume restriction on beer, allowing us to have access to an unprecedented bounty of quality brews. As a sort of welcome to this brave new world, I decided to dive into the malty unknown. We were given fairly nice little glasses made of real glass, which had a two ounce fill line, which was more than enough for a few swallows of each sample. Given our massive selection and short tasting time of four hours, we had our work cut out for us. Fortunately, my wife and I tried something different each turn and then tried what the other had, so we could get more tastes. Here's roughly the list of liquid breads I dabbled in:

  • Boulevard IPA
  • Boulevard Single Wide IPA
  • Boulevard Pale Ale
  • Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat
  • Brooklyn Brown Ale
  • Brooklyn Lager
  • Highland Gaelic Ale
  • Highland Oatmeal Porter
  • Highland St. Terese's Pale Ale
  • Lazy Magnolia Indian Summer
  • Lazy Magnolia Jefferson Stout
  • Lazy Magnolia Southern Gold
  • Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan
  • Abita Andygator
  • Carlsberg Elephant
  • Duvel
  • Emerald Coast Amber Lager
  • Emerald Coast Pale Ale
  • Emerald Coast Pilsner
  • Good People Brown Ale
  • Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout
  • Good People IPA
  • Good People Mumbai Rye IPA
  • Good People Snake Handler DIPA
  • Mendoncino Eye of the Hawk
  • Mendoncino White Hawk IPA
  • Olde Towne Amber
  • Olde Towne Bock
  • Olde Towne Pale Ale
  • Olde Towne Pilsner
  • Rogue Brutal Bitter
  • Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar
  • Rogue XS Imperial Stout
  • Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout
  • Samuel Smith's Organic Lager
  • Saranac Pale Ale
  • Saranac Pomegranate Wheat
  • Sweetwater Road Trip
  • Hebrew Messiah Bold
  • Palma Louca
  • Tilburg Dutch Brown Ale
  • Bavik
  • Dominion Ale
  • Dominion Beach House Golden Pilsner
  • Dominion Lager
  • Dominion Oak Barrel Stout
  • Dominion Pale Ale
  • Durango Amber Ale
  • Durango Dark Lager
  • Durango Golden Ale
  • Durango Wheat Beer
  • Famosa Fordham Copperhead Ale
  • Fordham Helles Lager
  • Fordham Tavern Ale
  • Great Divide Denver Pale Ale
  • Great Divide Hercules Double IPA
  • Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout
  • Tommyknocker Alpine Glacier Lager
  • Tommyknocker Jack Whacker Wheat
  • Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale
  • Tommyknocker Ornery Amber Ale
  • Tommyknocker Imperial Nut Brown Ale
  • Witterkerke
  • Back Forty Naked Pig Ale
Bolded are roughly what I'd consider to be my fifteen favorites of what I tried. Keep in mind this is a slightly rushed and incomplete tasting, but I recall really enjoying these. A lot of stouts and brown ales in particular, as well as great IPA's. I am really excited about the selection we're starting to get. I've already gone on a few beer runs into Birmingham and have found plenty of selections that weren't even offered at the Brewfest, so I'm keen on trying them all.

In the spirit of giving each beer its own tasting in full, I'm going to try and do a weekly beer roundup posting from here on out. I've already had a few that I can't wait to talk about.

All in all, it was a really fun time at Brewfest. It's a really great time to be a beer fan in Alabama, that's for sure!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jamaican curry turnovers, Zion-sent from Ras Chuck!

Okay, so I'm not a Rasta. I'm not even Jamaican, of which Rastas are a minority group. My hair's too short for dreads, I don't smoke weed, and the only Reggae I own is a Finley Quaye album and whatever Marley I was able to steal from my sister. I'm a nerdy white guy from Alabama, but, Jah, I can at least eat like a Rasta.

I gotta give props in advance to Adventure Melaney for the concept. Mine is a riff off her excellent recipe. I went for a fully-vegan version, and used allspice, which is very prevalent in Jamaican style curries.

Here's what you use for the pastry crust:
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 cup shortening, cold
  • 1/4 cup canola oil, chilled
  • 1/2 black plantain, boiled for 10 minutes in a pot of water, cooled, then mashed
  • 1/2 cup cold water, or as needed
Here's the filling:
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp crushed allspice berries
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 red potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups black beans
  • 1/2 black plantain, diced
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid or 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste

Let's start on the pastry. Combine your flours, curry powder, and salt. Once combined thoroughly, start to work your wet ingredients in, in the order of plantain, shortening, then canola oil. Make sure with the drier plantain and shortening that you work those in first. Work the dough with your hands and make sure to fully combine everything. You should get a consistency approaching that of wet sand. Add the canola oil and continue to do this. Add water, little at a time, until the dough just barely holds together. Do not work this any more than is absolutely necessary. You don't want to knead this. Kneading makes for stretchy and chewy bread, and since we want flaky delicate pastry dough, it would ruin that effect if you pounded on it for a few minutes.

Once it's cohesive, cover it and put it in the fridge. Keeping the dough cold makes it easier to hold together and work with.

While that's chilling, let's start the filling. Heat up your oil in your skillet on medium. Add your onions, salt, and curry powder. Bring heat down to low and sweat the onions until soft, roughly 10 minutes

Add your diced onions and bring up the heat to medium again. Let it cook a good 10 minutes.

Add black beans, plantains, and garlic. Cook another five minutes

Drop the temp to low. Add your coconut milk, allspice, and cayenne. Let this cook, stirring every so often, until the sauce thickens up slightly. Take off the heat.

Now, we're ready to put it all together. Go ahead and pre-heat your oven to 350. Remove your dough from the fridge. Roll it out using a rolling pin or wine bottle or whatever. Use extra flour if needed to prevent dough from sticking. You want a good 1/8" thickness when its rolled out.

Once its thin, get a bowl or something about five or six inches wide, give or take. It helps to have a rim on it that can be pushed into the dough.

The pastry dough isn't springy so you should be able to cut a circle without any fuss. Reserve your scraps in the main dough ball and keep making circles. When they're ready. spoon your filling onto them. Fill half of each dough circle, making sure to leave about half an inch of space from the edge of the pastry, so you have enough room to seal it.

Carefully fold the pastry over so the edges are on top of each other and you make a semicircle. With the tines of a fork, press firmly into the dough to seal everything inside.

Arrange them on your baking sheet like so...

Bake for about 35 minutes and remove from the oven. Set the turnovers on a wire rack to cool. You can eat them now, but they're wonderful the next day too.

Mmmm delicious Jamaican pocket pie goodness! Thanks again to Adventure Melaney for the inspiration.