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.