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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Farmer's market veggies

Thanks to a hot tip from a friend of ours, I found out that my little town has a farmer's market. Doubleplus fun, they meet each week on my off day! I had to investigate. It's a pretty small gig. They had probably about a dozen tables there if that, but the selection there was great. Somebody had live tomato plants for sale (I'll probably buy some next week if they've got heirloom varieties maybe?). Another booth was actually a neighbor of mine who keeps bees, and he sold his honey there. I bought a pound of his stuff. There was a Chilton county peach farmer, but they sold out of peaches by the time I got there. I bought some weird sour plums from them and they're kind of awesome. Another guy had a few nice things. I got a pound of his Texas Sweet onions that I'll make some Les Halles style French Onion soup later this week. He also had some red potatoes that looked good, and threw in some homemade pecan brittle for me.

Best news was that Snow's Bend Farms had a booth too. I've blogged about these guys, mainly sad that I can't get a spot in their CSA program :( but they seriously have some amazing produce. Their produce frequently ends up featured on the menus of a lot of really nice restaurants. There's a reason; it's amazing stuff. Their arugula is toothsome and thick. Their butternut squash is rich and sweet. I bought rainbow chard, broccoli, and green onion from them. Never cooked with chard before, so I wanted to try it. Decided to cook all three in a big catch-all asian noodle soup thingy.

The green onions, mind you, were enormous. I kind of wish I got pics of the veg before I chopped it all up, but I can do that later. The green onions might as well have been small leeks, they were that thick. The chard cooked tender with ease, and gave a nice slight bitterness to the soup. The broccoli however was the best part. I've never eaten broccoli that good before. I could eat pounds of it. Before the soup, I steamed some and had it with rice and edamame. I was picking the broccoli out and eating it before everything else. I normally hate steamed veg, but that stuff stood out so far on its own that it blew my mind.

Okay, enough praise singing about Snow's Bend. They've got great veggies. Such a love/hate thing, and I wish I could get on their CSA more than ever!

Also at the market, there was this really awesome family making authentic Mexican food. I've somehow gotten this far in life without eating a tamale before. Three down the hatch in short order with a Mexican coke, and I really hope they're at the market next week that's for sure!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Free the Hops part 2

Dear Governor Riley,

Thank you.



We're getting pretty close to picking peppers at my house!

Serrano chiles. These are probably my favorite general-use peppers. Much stronger than jalapeno but still versatile in anything.

Cayennes saying "sup" right next to my leeks. I've never had fresh cayenne. Figure they have to be awesome right?

Jalapenos on left, red cowhorn chilis on right. The jalapenos are just about ready, but the cowhorns have to mature (and turn red obviously) before they're ready.

For a milder take on things. Red bell pepper! Just a lil' baby! Not red yet, but I'll be keeping my eye on em! Probably my favorite pepper ever.