Sunday, November 29, 2009

What to Do?

I didn't make a pie this year for Thanksgiving. For some reason it's the only time of year I ever get the itch to make one. Well, I guess I should have made one or used protection, 'cause this itch isn't going away and I need to take care of it before it festers.

On the way to work this morning I contemplated pie making and it's place in my near future. I have some ideas for pies that I want to do. Possibly gluten-free pie crusts (but she doesn't like pie?)? Just like the post in the link above, my mind has turned to savory pies. Meat pies. Yummy meat pies filled with goodies (offal). Maybe that deer heart my Pops brought me will go to use in a pie.

Right now I'm just thinking about it (a lot). I usually do an apple pie. "Fancy" apple pie, some might say, but really it is just simple, traditionally produced scratch pie. With my finger more or less on the pulse of glorious seasonal fruit, I find myself thinking about foregoing apples all together. Maybe persimmons would be better, more appropriate? Or kiwi? Or. . .

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nature of the Beast

Gourmets and gourmands share several defining characteristics, what sets them apart is that the gourmand's love of food is so intense that it often causes them to eat to excess. Today is our day, get to it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

No NaNo

It's November and that means that NaNoWriMo is in full swing. I can imagine the entire legion of the makeshift novelists click-clacking away on their laptops, looking broody, brows furrowed, hands unsteady from drinking way too much caffeine, while watching their word-count plummet as their blood-pressure skyrockets. That's how it works though. You type a lot of crap and you write a novel in a month. Or at least 50,000 words of a novel.

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but plan on being back in action by next year. Last year's trip to London pretty much killed my chances last time around, but I still know the taste of victory from crossing that fifty "K" mark back in ought seven and it is kind of like when you find a morsel of bacon in your teeth later in the day—nostalgic and delicious. This is a very challenging competition to impose upon yourself, yet I suggest everyone try it at some point just for the hell of it. You occasionally will write something that will impress you later, but for the most part it feels like you are writing crap and desperately trying to carry a narrative. Good fun!

I recently landed a cookbook reviewer gig for ChefTalk.com. Should be neat. You can read my first review here.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Things You Overhear in a Grocery Store

SON
Can we get some of these bananas?

FATHER
No. . .they're Dole.

SON
But I want bananas.

FATHER
NO. They're Dole bananas.

SON
But we always get those bananas.

FATHER
No we don't.

SON
Why can't we get them?

FATHER
Cause they keep South America down.



Saturday, October 17, 2009

From One Belly to Another

It's interesting how food trends seem to permeate all media at once in what seems to be a bizarre widespread synchronistic event. I've been waiting for a few weeks to cook this piece of pork belly and while I waited, everyone else was digging in. The Statesman ran a piece on pork belly and this week's Top Chef featured Pigs and Pinot, with two cheftestants doing belly.

Interesting. Of course, pork belly is nothing new, but it has been getting a lot of play over the past year or so. If you've ever enjoyed it then you understand why. This is one of things that lets you use the word unctuous in a positive way. Yum.

Slabbage.

Last week I ventured down to the North Buda Bungalow to feast with Shaddley & Co. I already had this nice piece of Niman Ranch pork belly so we were going to go about the evening in the usual fashion of multi-course Dionysian decadence. After a brief stop at a centrally-located market, it was off to the newly revamped kitchen of Shaddley and YogaMarketingBrownieGirl.

I was really excited about the pork belly and even the late start time couldn't deter me from braising it in the loving way it deserved. Yes, we had a late start, around eight or so, which made for an extended evening of dining and drinking.

There was much prep to do for all the other dishes, so I got the belly in the oven as quickly as possible, reserving a small amount for use in other dishes. The belly was the fourth course of this small plates feast. I had time to drink some wine and go about my business preparing the rest of the meal as the pork belly sat in the oven discovering itself.

There was a gap of time between the third course of lamb and tiny dutch potatoes, and the belly. A gap that was long enough, apparently, for one of the guests to suggest that they watch The Dark Knight. I think this time out of the eating and drinking pocket was the demise of two of our feast mates. Shaddley came back from the realms of dreamy floor land just in time to eat this dish. Of course, being that some of the inspiration for this plate was a play on bacon and eggs, it's almost appropriate to eat it after waking up. Then again it was one thirty a.m. and not noon.

Pork belly, I love you.

The braised belly was lightly fried, then coated in a sweet and sour Shochu glaze and served with rutabaga puree, egg white, an egg and apple emulsion and parsley puree. The pork was fun to eat, sticky and sweet with grounding, earthy flavors of pork, star anise and cinnamon. Like the best bacon you could eat. There was something reminiscent of sweet and sour pork as well, which is often made from this cut. The sticky Shochu glaze paired well with the pork belly's unctuous nature.

Bacon candy.

Unfortunately, only YogaMarketingBrownieGirl and I were able to feast on the desert of bacon toffee and panna cotta. I crisped some of the reserved belly for use in the toffee, which came out nicely, redeeming my last overdone batch. Shaddley was forced to enjoy the dessert after coffee the following morning.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Bold Moves

I've never even heard of Eater. Maybe that says something about me or how little I care for the foodienistas out there in the abyss, but I do find it to be a bold move to put a call out for bloggers to hang up their keyboards "in order to make way for stronger reporting of the food world."

Sure, not all blogs are created equal—I actually don't read more than a handful and haven't had the time to keep mine up and running over the past few months—but there is something disconcerting about a food related website asking bloggers to shut it down for a nominal fee. Poking around on this Eater website, I found the usual poorly written foodie crap that I personally don't care about or write about (who cares about Rocco DiSpirito's newest pitch on his long road to selling out?). So, this leaves me poised to ask why—why ask us to stop writing about our passion? Sounds wack.

I'll ramble about whatever mundane shit I want to motherfucker.

Food bloggers out there, don't do it. Resist the temptation of making a quick $25 bucks and don't stop writing about food. Food bloggers in Austin seem more apt to cover locally produced foods, locally owned restaurants and the scene than some shitty national website that thinks it has its finger on the pulse. This move is nothing new. Eater seems to have a lot of advertising dollars coming in from the Food Network and the like, folks who have turned eating into a sport and homogenized food trends and styles into neat little marketable packages with frosted blonde tips, like Guy Fieri. The idea that they will be releasing an 'Eater's Bill of Rights' today, and that it should be in any way taken serious, is a joke.

Keep writing and cooking and eating and loving food the way you want to, not the way the Big Foodie in the Sky tells you is cool. Fuck that shit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Night of the Michelada

Summer in Austin. Been there, done that. This has been one for the record books, too. So hot and dry that sometimes I think I live on Tatooine. About a month ago, Blackberry Shortcake and I left this arid wasteland in search of cooler, more moist climes. We ended up in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico.

I miss you PV.

When our plane touched down on the tarmac, the captain announced that it was 78º at our destination. It was about one in the afternoon. We ate before we crashed. I had tacos, she had nachos; we both had micheladas. The food was good, as were the micheladas.

Tacos and nachos. Just like at home.

A damn fine michelada from Costa Vida, I mean Playa del Sol.

The michelada. This version of the cerveza preparada seems to vary in composition nearly as much as the margarita—and becoming just as ubiquitous in Austin bars and eateries. Breaking it down to the fundamental ingredients, you have ice (helada), lime, hot sauce or some sort if spice, salt (if you like), Worcestershire sauce (no thanks), and beer (slang: chela)—preferably a Mexican lager, although any lager will do. I prefer Pacifico. In the end it is yours, or mine (mi). Thus, the michelada. My iced beer. Not a bad concept. Frankly, I don't mind adding ice to a beer that is already rather watery; I would never imagine doing this to a lovely IPA or Wisconsin Belgian Red.

Blackberry Shortcake and I have enjoyed many a michelada thus far this summer. We've even been making them at home—she contends that ours are better than most that we have had out in the world and I tend to agree with her. What's our secret? What makes ours better than the store-bought options? Trechas. Yes. You read right, trechas: the chile salt that little brown kids love to put on mangos and watermelons. I swear up and down that this is the key to a great michelada.

In Mexico, however, there was no trechas. Most of the micheladas that I had had some kind of hot sauce in them. A few had Worcestershire (salsa inglesia) and even fewer were served with tomato juice and no lime. A few times, our micheladas were served with some extra sauces for you to add to taste. Brown sauce, much like the Brit's HP sauce was served, as was hot sauce and Worcestershire. I can honestly say that I enjoyed them all, yet would have preferred to have one of our trechas jobs over any of them.

Worcestershire heavy at Vista Grill.

This is my favorite photo.

Lime heavy at Mariscos Tino.

Summer drinks are funny. Actually, seasonal drinks in general are funny. I used to get all bent out of shape listening to people talk about how they couldn't drink stouts or eat heavy food in the summer. I always got the point, yet out of shear irreverence adopted the attitude of: Fuck you, I'll drink and eat what I want, when I want, damn it—which in hindsight is as dumb as every other attitude or position that I've adopted out of irreverence or for the sake of being a contrarian.

Now, not only do I see the point, I chose to accept it and enjoy these seasonal treats when they come. Like stone-fruit—why the hell would I want to eat a peach in the dead of winter? I can ask that very question about the michelada or the mojito or Campari and orange. As I get older—and inevitably wiser—I'm coming to appreciate these types of things more and more. This doing of things when things should be done. Dare I say that I almost respect the appropriateness of it all. Coming from someone who has striven to be as inappropriate as possible as often as possible, I'd say I just added a +1 to my maturity rating. However, I find it rather ironic that thinking about an alcoholic beverage can cause one to contemplate how appropriate their behavior has become. Fuck it.

Things Done Changed

Fear not, dear reader. We're still keeping it bearded and weird over here, just felt the need for a minor name change. I realized at one of those blogger events as I said aloud the former title of this blog that it was rather long and clunky to say. "The Life and Times of a Bearded Weirdo" doesn't even imply that this is a food blog, right? We don't plan on changing the variety of the content that gets posted here though—"As if you post any content. . ." You joke.

Seriously though, folks, things have been crazy busy around here. Work and food and work and food and work and beer and wine and food and work. You see how this goes. There has been more reading of words than writing going on, as well. So are the way of things. The way of the Force. Anywho, there are good things a coming (which, after all, is what you get for waiting oh-so-patiently).

Bacon and potatoes, bakin' in the Sun! Besos.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Something Summery

This was the statement that Shaddley made as we g-chatted about cooking dinner a few Fridays back: 'something summery'. It had been a while since we had hung out and eaten and drank to excess. Annoying summer allergies had forced Blackberry Shortcake and I to cancel a barbeque the week prior and now, feeling better, it was on. 

I had some ideas for something summery. I sell produce for a living, so knowing what was in season was already covered. When I think about something summery, I think about grills. I think about fish. I think about fruit and booze. Unfortunately, whenever we get together for these multi-coursed Dionysian affairs it tends to be on a Friday, which happens to be my day off. This means that rather than going to Wheatsville, where I work, we go to a more centrally-located market down south. The selection is good, but it is never the same. At least for me, being mostly concerning the produce. 

Shaddley came by and scooped me up and we headed down to the grocery store. I had a few ideas, but wanted to see what kind of proteins they had to work with. I was thinking strictly seafood. I wanted to keep this thing light. I wanted to do several courses and have the ladies be able to keep up. This mostly means that I didn't want to bog them down in the first two or three courses as we have done a few times in the colder, distant past. 

We spent a good amount of time in the produce section, selecting seasonal varieties of squash, eggplant, stone-fruits, berries, rhubarb, figs and snap peas. After that it was off to the meat market. Unlike my place of employment, this centrally-located market offers seafood that is not sustainable. I try and eat seafood in good standing according to the list generated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium—I even keep one of the guides in my wallet—so Chilean sea bass was a big no, as were a few other delicious looking items. 

We sampled some wild caught sockeye and picked out some halibut, Gulf shrimp and Gulf red snapper (red snapper is on the avoid list, yet the piece was so small they gave it to us for free and I imagine it would have been thrown away otherwise—to me throwing away food is a greater atrocity then helping it go extinct). After our brief stint in the seafood section, we only had a few odds and ends to get from the rest of the maze-like cavernous expanse that is this southern, centrally-located market. This had Shaddley a bit freaked. "That's it? We don't need any _____ or _____ ?" Nope. 

As soon as we got to YogaMarketingBrownieGirl and Shaddley's house, I got to work on sauces for the meal and dessert. After all the veggie prep was done, it was time to get started on individual dishes. Since 'something summery' was the goal, a good portion of this meal would consist of cold dishes that could be made in advance. The grill was lit, wine was poured, gazpacho strained and chilled. We were on the track for a great meal. 


The ladies arrived, more wine was poured and I started to plate up the first course: cherry gazpacho. I really like gazpacho. I like it both ways that I've seen it served, strained with a velvety texture and chunky like salsa. I'd say the latter is the more commonly seen option around town. For this celebration of cherry season we went for the former. The result was a cooling, creamy, delicately-flavored soup that had a near bisque-like quality to it. It was very rich for a mix of vegetables, fruit and herbs. If I hadn't have made it myself I would have been certain there was some heavy cream in it. 

Soup shooters. 

Following the pallet-piquing gazpacho, we had a small portion of sockeye sashimi served with a sweet red miso-shozu sauce, toasted nori and a small slice of fresh Texas peach. I would have preferred the more subtle Coho salmon for this dish, but the option at the centrally- located market was farm raised and I don't play that either. The result was beautiful. I was a bit worried about the intensity of the red miso, yet didn't see the reasoning to purchase white miso when I knew that Scotts had the red on hand. All in all, it was good so I'll stop complaining about what-ifs and could-have-beens.

Sockeye it to me.

We had a small salad of snap peas, red onion and garlic dressed in a simple white wine vinaigrette. This was a delicious and crisp little salad, yet you can see from the photograph that I probably should have either cut back on the raw garlic or minced it. Some found it to be a bit too 'spicy'. I had one bite in particular that pretty much wiped out my palette for the rest of the dish. Fortunately, we had plenty of dry, salty Spanish white on hand to rinse out the overly acrid garlic sensation. If you see any of this Txacolina around while you are out and about you should get some. It has a refreshing saltiness about it like Gatorade without all the annoying colored-sweat laden commercials. 


Raw garlic all up in yo face.

Chaw-koe-leena

After the salad, it was on to some lovely red snapper and strawberry ceviche. This was a really fresh ceviche, tossed with valencia orange juice and a sploosh of extra vigin olive oil right before serving as to not tense up the snapper and allow for its taste to still stand out. I love the combination of fruit and fish. This may be the islander in me, but for some reason it just makes sense. We had moved on to the Albarino and it was delicious and complementary to the subtle acidity of the ceviche. This dish was a hit. 

Unsustainably delicious. 

Delicious. 

Just about the time that we finished up the ceviche, the paprika-rubbed halibut and summer veggies were ready to pull from the grill. Continuing with our theme of fruit and fish, the halibut was dressed with a spicy Texas peach relish and a grilled Gulf shrimp. The grilled eggplant and baby zucchini were dolled up with a little dollop of creme fraiche. This dish was a hit as well. 

"Just for the halibut." - Blackberry Shortcake

Well, it wouldn't be a meal with Shaddley without fromage. The funny thing about this course was that we ate the cheese we bought for it before we started our meal. Good thing he is such a cheese head that he had an extra wedge laying about in his fridge. Grilled figs and balsamic were served with this chunk of semi-hard cheese. I had drank some wine by then, so I have no clue what we were having. 

Figs et fromage.
Normally, I don't eat ice cream because it causes me to pass out in about thirty minutes, but I was feeling ballsy. After all, we live in Texas and nothing says 'something summery' like Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. This lovable treat was served along side some nice fried plantains with a strawberry-rhubarb compote. Shaddley had said he'd never had something with rhubarb that was done 'right', so I endeavored to do so. When he and YogaMarketingBrownieGirl went back for a larger bowl of seconds, I knew I had won. 

I also endeavor to take a photo of dessert that isn't blurry. 

As usual, we drank way too much wine. I don't have any fancy list this time to prove it, but trust me, we did a damn fine job. This meal was the gateway to a summer full of culinary promise and seasonal revelry. The company was great and the food spectacular. It was yet another great night at the North Buda bungaloo. I sat on the couch eating my ice cream as the sustained notes of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain put the finishing touch on a meal that fused Spain, Japan and Texas into a refined taste experience. Content, I went back for seconds too. I sat there on the couch amongst great friends, full from a fantastic meal and was able to stay awake to enjoy the rest of an evening that was a testament to everything I love about the life I am able to live. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tasting Notes: Too Hot To Handle

It is fucking hot! Here are some photos of beer. Maybe they will cool you down a bit. 


Deschutte Green Lake or some shit. 

Maharaja fucking rules!

Beer companion at the recently relocated Ginger Man.

Uncle Billy's Hefe and the Woo.

Michelada at Sazon. Summer is here, drink up. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Intervention

It's true, I know. I'm an addict. I can't help it anymore. I'm sick. Not a day goes by where I don't think about using. In the morning. At work. After work. In the evening. I just can't stop. It's gone to far. I'm lost. It was just a recreational thing before I met her. She was already an addict. Together we just feed our addictions. I set her up in the morning with just enough to get her by until mid-day. She was already an addict. She was.  

I started using when I was just a boy. It was like those shitty anti-drug ads from my youth. I learned it from watching my father. Sometimes I would use his stuff; sometimes he even gave it to me. Just enough to start my day. Then I started using with my friends. We would skip class and go down to a local spot known for being cool. They always had good shit there. Generous amounts for a good price.
 
Of course, everyone knew what we had been doing when we showed up late to school. But none of us ever cared, and no one ever said anything. It wasn't that our behavior was condoned, yet it was clear that it wasn't condemned either. We were on our own anyway by then. We didn't have any parents. We were free to make our own choices and mistakes. We knew we were lost when were waking up early and phoning it in — making sure they had what we wanted and knowing just when to get there for it. What times we had then. Good times.

I started working at a restaurant, the Iguana Grill. It was really easy to score there. The cooks would hook you up if the management wasn't around. Just a little pick-me-up to help me get through my shift. Those were desperate times. My habit was making me unhealthy. I knew it. Nothing could be done. Still, I wasn't an addict then. I may have had a problem, but I could stop at anytime.

Moving to town from the lake only made it easier to find the stuff. It was really easy in town. Damn near every neighborhood had a place you could score. Especially on the South and East sides of town. They were practically giving it way. I thought I knew where to get the best shit, but some other addict was always there to show me where better shit was. They pointed me to discrete businesses with odd hours. Street corners and shopping strips. Bodegas and hole-in-the-walls. Meanwhile, I was learning how to make the shit at home. I was getting good at it too. Ask anyone. It'll put you on cloud nine.

Yesterday, I knew I had a problem. Yesterday, it hit me. Yesterday, I knew something had to be done. I was invited to a party where they were giving the shit away! They even had a few different kinds of varying intensity, from mellow to really intense. I may have been a little greedy (I mean, it was free). After that, Blackberry and I went out and used some more. Each time was good, but not as good as the first time. It’s never as good as the first time. 

Today, it's all I can think about, though. Where am I going to get it, how am I going to do it, when am I going to get it, what type will I get? Who has the best shit around here.? I'm down South where there are so many options. I can't blame her though; she was already an addict when I met her. She even told me I feed her habit. Oh what joy to see her smile as I cook the stuff for her.

One of these days it may get the best of me. What if I don't like it anymore? What if just doesn't do it for me anymore? What if I can't feel anything?

If it does get the best of me, then so be it. I guess I knew what I was getting into the whole time.

I just can't quit you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eat with Your Eyes


Savor the season.

Smokin'.

Freebox fruit. Freebox cottage cheese. Summer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

No Such Thing

Working in a grocery store makes for an interesting story. I won't tell it today, but I assure you it is interesting. Fortunately, the grocery store I work in happens to sell really high-quality (this term apparently means nothing anymore), local, artisan, organic, craft, and specialty items. We also have receptacles that house items that are damaged, out of date, or otherwise unsell-able for what ever the reason. For the better part of a decade I have relied on the free-box to supplement my purchases and get me through the hard times. 


Vein-clogging goodness oozing into the abyss.

This sandwich was completely free-boxed. Fresh baked [day-old] baguette, meats [out-of-date], lettuce and tomato [wilted, soft — respectively], and Brazos Valley Local Brie [out-of-date]. This is the new frugality. This is recession eating. I am Dionysus.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lengua en Mejilla

It is no secret that I enjoy offal. I love it so much, I have even made the Hajj to the Mecca of all things offal, St. John. I. Love. Guts. They are good, and good for you. In our new hard times it makes sense to return to eating them. Frankly, if you are looking for flavor, heart and tongue and sweetbreads beat the hell out of a fillet, and they are far cheaper. Waste not, want not. 

Of course, the reality is that people are very turned off to the idea of eating what is politely seen as "left-overs". However, I've seen the same people have no problem eating a hot dog, which is really the "left-overs". There are two exceptions in the world of offal that are worth noting: the heart and the tongue. These are muscles. Most offal consumed, such as liver, sweetbreads, tripe, and kidneys are organs. They have that organ-y taste and texture that made you hate your Grandma for serving you liver and onions. That chalky taste. That bit of giblet that you missed picking out of your stuffing. Chances are you've never had well prepared liver or kidneys or giblets. They are delicate and should be cooked very little. Grandma probably cooked the shit out of that liver, which not only destroys the nutrient content, but also affects the flavor and texture. 

When Amenity invited me over to eat some tongue, I was stoked. I love tongue. And we're not talking some bullshit either. I mean, this was local grass-fed calves tongue. This is a delicacy. And again, this is a muscle, not an organ. The Butcher and I ventured over to Amenity and Adam's house over on the Eastside for what turned out to be quite the spread. A treat really. Homemade tortillas, awesome beans, tostones and sweet plantain, two salsas, and a whole slew of sides and accoutrements for our little lengua tacos. Cooking tongue is an undertaking, so I really appreciated that she wanted to try this for guests. 

Tongue has to be boiled for several hours, cooled, then all of the furry taste-buds must be peeled off before you can do much with it. Or you can simply allow it to cool and slice it and eat it fur and all. That's a pretty standard way to do it for the Brits — cold slices of tongue with mustard or piccalilly. We live close to the Mexican border so it is fitting to want to seek inspiration there in the form of tacos. When peeled, the tongue falls apart, resembling brisket. Amenity  then slow cooked this meaty goodness in a mix of spices and adobo. The flavor was delectable with notes of clove and cinnamon accentuating the delicate flavors of the beefy calves tongue. If I was James Brown, I'd say "Good Gawduh." 

Tortillas frescas.

Spread.

Those fuckers had some heat!

Big ol' bowl o'tongue!

This was one of my favorite recent meals. For one, I was a guest. I like this. The food was excellent and prepared with care. Adam made the tortillas with locally produced El Milagro masa as we arrived. That's freshness you just can't beat unless you've got toothless old Mexican women stashed around your house grinding corn and mixing it with manteca. Seriously, what a treat! Such a treat that I had to bring a New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red to commemorate the event. 

You've got the power and the glory!

These are hard times for some. I am a firm believer in using all parts of an animal. Indigenous cultures worldwide rely on this practice for survival. Why let it go to waste? You can't eat steak every night! Well, you can. I have done it. But it is at a premium. I digress. My point here is that these commonly discarded parts have utility and there is little reason to avoid consuming them. I don't want to seem pushy, and would never force someone to eat something they wouldn't enjoy, yet I would urge them to try new things and let old social stigmas fall by the wayside. After all, we are in a recession. . . 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tasting Notes: Little. Yellow. Different.


Despite conventional wisdom, not all pilsners are created equal. The problem—the real problem, is that in our post-prohibition America, pilsners have turned beer into a despicable four-letter word. When you think about an American Pilsner, what comes to mind? Budweiser? Coors? Miller Lite? I live in Texas, so naturally Lone Star pops up amongst those other yellow, fizzy, adjunct-laden concoctions that are being passed off poorly as beer.

Really though. Bud, Miller, Coors. These are poor examples of what a good pilsner can be. When it comes to beer, you can basically break it down to two categories: ales and lagers. This is dependent on yeast type. Top fermenting, warmer temp loving ale yeast—which produces off-flavors that complement the beer depending on the intended style, and bottom fermenting, cold temp capable lager yeast. The pilsner lager has been around since the 1840's, ever since some Bavarian started combining new lagering techniques (keeping beer cool in caves for long periods of time) and paler malts. The result was a clean tasting, clear, refreshing brew. Thanks Plzen.

Fast forward to today. Sure, you can go and get a Pilsner Urquell and experience what a green bottled, poorly handled pils tastes like, or you can have one of the big beer industry's little, yellow, canned darlings. If so, you're drinking an adjunct-grain-laden soda. Big industry beers are full of corn and rice. Despite their ability to make this shit the same every time, it is hardly beer and would definitely not fly under the Rheinheitsgebot. Beer is supposed to be water, yeast, hops, and barley malt. It is only a matter of time before beer starts having soy added to it, and then it's just a short wait for the vitamin fortification. Well, probably not. Healthy bums anyone? Not on Bud's watch.

Oskar Blues' Mama's Little Yella Pils takes a stab at the old, adjunct free style of brewing pilsner in this canned brew. This beer is refreshing and easy to drink, like most of this brewery's beers, and when poured out of its can, it resembles the many fine pilsners of the world: yellow, crystal clear, with a lacy white head. What isn't like the many fine pilsners of the world is the taste. I found it refreshing, sure, but far too sweet. Where was the hop bitterness that comes with a good Bavarian-style pilsner? Lost. Lost to the New World I suppose. This beer is good, but it kinda falls flat for me. I like the hoppy bite of the pilsner (think Live Oak Pilz). I'll buy this. I'll drink it. I'll have it on a hot day. But, realistically, I could just save a few bucks, buy a Lone Star sixer and be done with it. Truth be told, I'm an ale guy anyway. If I'm going to be shelling out ten bucks for a six pack in this economy, I may as well get my money's worth and buy the Dale's Pale Ale.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gilded Recession Pt. 5

Spring evokes a sense of light food fare in me. Maybe it's because the little lip of my gut has grown a bit more puffy over the winter months, as if it's gotten a few bad Botox treatments. Maybe it's because it's suddenly too warm to keep my oven on 300º for six hours. Maybe it's because there is external pressure to cook something light for the ones I love. Maybe it's because I'm tired of eating beef five nights a week.

Regardless of the reason, I feel the urge to eat lighter meals. I also feel the urge to dip into a different skill set of cooking, moving away from the New American cuisine and French-inspired foods of the cooler winter months. I used to be really into East Asian cuisine: Thai, Japanese, and a few different styles of Chinese.

It was many years ago that I first learned to appreciate the simple flavors used in these styles of cooking. It all began with a Thai restaurant – Lemongrass – that opened out by Lake Travis. I ate there several times a week, and eventually wasn't allowed to order dinner off the menu. The owner and chef, Ped (Bahn Pommavong), would make me elaborate meals, using his mad fusion skills. He was like the Herbie Hancock of Thai cuisine. He was a classically trained chef with a French background and was from Laos. This made for some interesting towers of food. He was doing things nine years ago that Uchi is doing now. This may account for my lackluster appreciation of Uchi's food. I felt that it was a rehash of some creativity I'd already seen; an expensive imitation.

Anyway, Ped spoiled my palate. Unfortunately, he decided to expand his business and opened up a second Lemongrass at Sixth and Nueces (the current home of Thai Tara). This dragged his business down and eventually led to the closing of both restaurants. The best thing about this was that my interest in the flavors, textures, and heat of Thai food had been piqued, and I was on the hunt to learn more about them. Then came Japanese food.

Actually, then came my Nipponophile period. I was hooked on anything and everything Japanese. I started studying Zen Bhuddism. Zatoichi and Kurosawa dvd's were strewn about. I cooked elaborate, multi-coursed meals that thoroughly annoyed and impressed my roommates. I cooked for them, and after a while they were like, "Dude. Really. What's with all these noodles and shit that tastes like seaweed?" Fuck it. I was on a roll. I carried a wooden miso bowl and chopsticks in my bag with me everyday. It was a bizarre period in my life.

I had all but forgotten the wondrous flavors of sesame and dashi and tamari over the past few years as I worked on Mother Sauces and foams and gelees. It was time to come home. Time to get back to those flavors that had made deep roots for my passion for cooking. Shaddley had invited Blackberry Shortcake and I to dinner down in North Buda. We seemed to all be on the same page about this meal and met at a centrally located South Austin grocery store that shall remain nameless.

This crew has been on the same high caloric kick over the winter months, and it was time to lighten it up a bit. In the maze-like aisles of this supermarket, wells of inspiration sprung up. There were some nice tatsoi greens and micro greens and baby bok choy lurking about in produce. The seafood case was stocked with fresh (never frozen) halibut. Wonton wrappers and bittersweet chocolate practically leapt into the cart as we passed. Scallops and eggplants and chicken - oh my! After a cleanup by the courtesy desk, it was off to Shaddley's kitchen.

To start, we had a nice, light, refreshing salad: daikon and carrot ribbons with scallions, tatsoi and micro greens tossed in a sesame-rice vinaigrette. Soaking the daikon and carrot ribbons in cold water makes them curl up and take on a more malleable consistency. This salad would also be nice with some soaked arame or wakame, if you're into that kind of thing. Paired with the Daedalus pinot gris, this was a crisp, and acidic starter; definitely not a belly filler.

Get your daikon.

After this wonderful salad, we moved on to the fish course. To celebrate the freshness of the newly in season halibut, we ate it raw. This course consisted of halibut sashimi and wild salmon and tangerine ceviche. Being a lover of raw meat, I found this course delectable. There is an amazing difference in the texture of a fish that has never been below 32º Fahrenheit. (I will be buying Shaddley and YogaMarketingBrownieGirl a whet stone or at the least a steel. Merry Christmas!) Everyone seemed to love the sashimi, and cutting it left a good bit of leftover fish scraps. In this economy, every little bit counts. Welcome to the new frugality.

Right before your very eyes you can't sashimi.

I hadn't accounted for any soups in this meal, yet I didn't think about all the fish scraps either. I found some shochu in the fridge, and this combined with water, scallions, fish scraps, ginger and garlic would be the base for a spicy fish broth that would segue to the seafood courses. After being strained and hit with a glug of soy, this broth was served in bowls and garnished with scallions and thai peppers (two things that look rather similar when sliced incredibly thin). YogaMarketingBrownieGirl, who declared herself a "Vata" had a hard time sipping this spicy broth. Most vatas I know have no problem with spicy food. ¿Ay, vata? ¡Odelay!

¡Ah, Vata, si, es muy caliente!

The next seafood course featured an oldie but goodie from my Nipponophile days: Asian eggplant with red miso. This recipe is as simple as brewing green tea. Saute or stir fry a couple of eggplants sliced on a bias until soft, mix three tablespoons of red miso, two tablespoons each of water and sugar together, and combine. The result will amaze you in its simplicity. Sharing the stage with this miso treat were seared scallops with a watermelon gastrique. The scallops were perfect, evoking the following quote from Shaddley: "Those scallops are like little balls of mouth orgasms!" Nuff said.

Mouthgasm.

Finally coming out of the blue depths of three back-to-back seafood courses, we moved on to the entree. Tangerine and miso glazed roast chicken with brown rice and steamed baby bok choy. The chicken was as moist and tender as my eyes were the first time I saw Old Yeller put down. The glaze was flavorful but didn't outshine the flavor of the yard bird. You can't go wrong with either brown rice or steamed baby bok choy. Really. You can't! I don't even know which wine we had with this course. We always drink so much wine, and unlike the other food bloggers I saw at the last happy hour–thanks parkside! you rule– I don't scribble notes in little books. Maybe I should? Then I'd be one of their ilk. I don't know how I feel about that. Until then I'll rely on catch-all parenthetical lists of wine to get my point across.

Bok choy and bok ba gok.

We rested a bit after the entree. We all needed a little break. Besides, the ginger-watermelon ice in the freezer needed a little bit more time before it was broken into. We killed another bottle of something, and ate the ice. I was tired. Nearing the realm of spent. I noticed people were looking at me weird. Then someone spoke up, "I thought you bought chocolate?" Shit. Busted. Didn't they know I was tired? Didn't they see the line of spent wine soldiers on the counter (Apolloni Pinot Grigio (Willamette Valley, OR), Carabella Pinot Gris (Willamette), Daedalus Pinot Gris (Willamette), Apolloni Pinot Noir (Willamette), W.H. Smith Pinot Noir, Maritime Vyd (Sonoma Coast), Kerpen 05 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese, Merkelbach 05 Urziger Wurzgarten Auslese)?!

I begrudgingly got up off the oh-so-comfortable couch and went back to the kitchen. I heated some oil. Made some ganache. I took the Nada Moo vegan-maple-pecan 'ice cream' out of the freezer. After cutting them in little thin strips, I fried the wonton wrappers. Fake ice cream, plus fried wontons, plus chocolate, equals crazy delicious. Everyone loved it even though it was made hesitantly on the fly. Nada Moo doesn't give me the nods like real ice cream. Dare I say that vegan ice cream may be an answer to one of my food issues? Not in public I won't.

I went back to the couch. Shit, I may have even closed my eyes. This meal was an excellent first step on the path to what has become a fruitful spring season of light eats. Shaddley, host extraordinaire, didn't even say "charcuterie" or "fromage" during the six hours of feasting that transpired. We still drank entirely too much wine, which in no way is a bad thing.

If there was lesson or moral to this story, it was certainly lost somewhere between sashimi and roast chicken. Maybe that is the moral of this story? Maybe adding an extra course of spicy fish broth so as not to waste some expensive seafood perfectly sums up the current state of the American citizen's recession-based mind. Maybe this new frugality will stay with us after the recession recedes. Maybe I'll find a way to straddle the line between excess and frugality that will fuel my passion to cook Bacchanalian feasts for minimal dollars per head. And maybe I'll be first the American President elected who was born outside of the States. Maybe.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dear Reader

This has been an exceptionally busy month and my ability to set aside time to write has been near non-existent. I'm currently sitting in a greasy spoon in Burlingame, California, where I've just devoured a plate of biscuits and gravy and eggs and homefries. As a Southern boy I have a fondness for this very plate of food and must say that I was not let down by this West Coast interpretation. 

Thank you for your patience and your continued support of my journey through this deepening culinary abyss here at the Life and Times of a Bearded Weirdo

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sacrificial Lamb

Sometimes it takes a while to pull a plan together. Ruby had been pestering me for months for one of my "home-cooked meals." I wasn't exactly playing coy, yet I wasn't rushing it either. Not that cooking meals for my friends isn't a priority; it was more that timing was going to be crucial for what she was asking me to do. I can't recall whether the pestering began before or after I went to London. Her shattering her jaw in a tragic bike accident set back our engagement a month or so as well. 

You see, some of my friends really, really, really like food; others would eat dog shit if it were deep fried and conveniently accessible. Ruby falls into the first category. She has been to France, learned to make cheese there, and lent me Nourishing Traditions. I knew that cooking a meal for her was going to be a production, a multi-course feast of Bacchanalian proportion. Good times. There was a leg of lamb involved in the pestering. She was sitting on it, and I knew that it would be a while before I was able to devote the right amount of time and attention to such a piece of meat. 

The leg came from a Christian family farm out by New Braunfels: the Lamb's lamb. I really didn't want to fuck this up so the pressure was on. When I was finally able to devote the time to the leg and its bearers, I was excited to get to host a meal at my house. It had been since before my trip to Hampton that I had folks at my table. She delivered the little leg to me, and I let it slack. The day of our feast, I salted the lamb limb and let it sit for about eight hours. I spent the day thinking about how to do the courses, and what would be seasonally appropriate. 

I decided on five courses. Salad, fish, lamb, fromage, and chocolate. This being springtime and all, I wanted the meal to be light - yet filling. I needed to use up some ganache that was laying low in my freezer like a member of the witness relocation program, so I thought that a mousse would be a nice way to utilize these decadent leftovers. With the garden being sparse, I got my produce from the co-op, as well as the mahi for the fish course and some other odd and ends. Citrus was still in season, and I wanted to work that into all of this as well. 

There were to be four of us in all: Ruby, her boyfriend, Kyle D, Blackberry Shortcake, and myself. Kyle and Ruby brought some wine, and I was stoked to see the familiar yellow label of Vueve Clicquot make an appearance, as well as the Becker Vineyards Prairie Rotie. There was also some Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and something else that I can't quite recall. I was excited to meet Kyle D and realized later that I had heard several stories about him from our mutual friend Clifford. Austin is a small town in that regard, big enough to be another face in the crowd, small enough to suffer the perils of ubiquity. 

Our salad was rather simple. Arugula, dried cranberries, pecans and shaved Parmigianno Regianno with a white wine vinaigrette. The acidity of the dressing was crisp and refreshing, pairing well with the dryness of the Vueve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. With a salad, I feel that simplicity is key. This is not to say that there can't be a multitude of ingredients or flavors, but rather a statement about the end result. Even when there are several levels of orchestration and harmonies going on, I'd rather the end result be more Sketches of Spain and less Concert for the Comet Kohoutek

Where's ya shava mate?

Continuing on with our small plate affair, we moved on to the mahi and sauvignon blanc. Mahi really is a wonderful fish, with one foot in the supple fish world and another in the dense, steaky red meat world. I wanted this course to be really simplistic in its flavors, evoking a real sense of the season. The mahi was rubbed with a little salt and pepper and paprika before being seared in clarified butter. Braised hearts of romaine complimented the little cuts of fish both in texture and flavor. The romaine hearts were braised in chicken stock, white wine with anchovies, garlic, shallot and thyme. To tie in the citrus, I made a grapefruit and jalapeño foam. Foams intrigue me. For such light, airy sauces, they can really pack a ton of flavor. This was a great example of this feat; subtle heat and intense grapefruit flavors complemented yet did not overpower the flavor of the fish.

Rabid mahi.

The lamb came out near perfect, medium-rare and full of flavor. I used some on-hand red wine to make a reduction with the pan jus which went really nicely with our heavenly meat. Some pan roasted fingerlings and snap peas tossed with garlic and chervil shared the stage with our unblemished lamb. The Professor had popped in and made short work of the leftover veg. Sometimes it is good to have vegetarians around. I am a big fan of lamb, and this was a rather fine specimen of its species. It was clear that this little guy hadn't had a hard life, which makes for a tastier mouthful. 

Still working on that new camera.

After the lamb, it was time for the fromage. Thanks to Shaddley, I'll probably never call a cheese course a "cheese course" ever again. We had three nice cheeses: Chaumes, Pure Luck's Sainte Maure (possibly one of the finest domestic goat cheeses), and some Stilton. To round out the plate there were some raw cashews, slice d'anjou pears and my homemade apple chutney. Yum. J'aime le fromage!

Who cut the cheese?

Well, it wasn't all flowers and unicorns. It was clear to me that despite our long evening of feasting, the mousse didn't have enough time to set up properly. Maybe I didn't beat the egg whites long enough? Either way it was delicious, albeit a bit fallen. To take decadent to the next level, I made banana scallops with a bacon caramel sauce. This is one way to use failed bacon toffee - melt it down with heavy cream. The combination was divine, and something I will do in the future for sure. Playful and delicious. 


Fallen mousse looks sad.

After our five course food extravaganza, we rested. Despite all of this food, everyone seemed to be comfortably full, which is nice on a warm night. I'm glad that we waited for this meal. I would have hated to rush the lamb. If I had, the meal would have been kept silent. Meals like this are very special, a time for new and old friends to rejoice in the simplicity of life; the little things. Bonds are formed over glasses of bubbly, and a good sauce can both capture and encapsulate the essence of a season. Life is beautiful and so are you.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hold the Mayo

After a perfect Saturday of tacos, walking around Lady Bird Lake, and hiking through the greenbelt, Blackberry Shortcake and I went to the Food Hole to get some provisions for a light meal. She had suggested artichokes, and being that artichokes are her favorite food, I was all for it. It feels good to serve someone their favorite food, and we had yet to have any artichokes in our meals together. 

I had a wild hare and decided to make mayonnaise from scratch. For the first time. I was using the recipe from Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast. It failed; I became frustrated. The instructions in the book–though whimsically written–just weren't that clear. I felt like the young kid in the obligatory scene in those old movies where he finds out that his hero, the Champ, or star quarterback was a fraud, or doper: "Say it ain't so, Champ, say it ain't so?"

I thought maybe it was the immersion blender generating too much heat, so I tried an ice bath and a whisk to cool down the oil. Nothing. Just a big messy bowl of olive oil and egg yolk snot. I gave up. We enjoyed the artichokes, cheese, and charcuterie nonetheless. Those things really are amazing, and I am intrigued about who first thought it was a good idea to eat the spiky things, and how many people suffered from the choke before figuring out to remove it. I mean, really? 

It was just the day before that by chance, on a lovely South Austin walk, that the Shortcake and I had stumbled upon two bolted artichoke plants. The plants were huge, unwieldy looking things. Having gone to bolt, the artichokes that remained on the plants shot skyward on long stalks, standing erect like proud phalluses in the afternoon shade.  The Shortcake was excited to see the very plant on which her favorite food grew (if we could just find that damned elusive taco tree, we'd be set), we had been talking about them shortly before coming across these fine specimens, which made the discovery somewhat surreal. Whoa. I love when things like that randomly happen. It feels like things are synching up; destiny unfolding. 

I slept on the failure of the mayonnaise. I woke up way later than I ever would on a Sunday. I ate, had some coffee. There was work to be done in the garden and I was intent on knocking it out. After finishing my greenthumbery, I sat and relaxed a bit. I started thinking about the failed mayo, just sitting in my fridge. It taunted me like a beating heart beneath the wood flooring. It was getting to me. I cleaned the whisk and bowl and set out to beat this shit into submission. Nothing. Still nothing. 

The information age is good for many things. I sought out a use for this spent mess. Perhaps there was a custard, or bread that needed over two cups of olive oil and three egg yolks. After a few videos I realized where the mayo failed in the first place. I never let the emulsion happen with just the egg and mustard. That is what suspends the fat. Ah ha! There it was. An answer, a hypothetical answer, but an answer all the same. Start over with one yolk, some mustard, and some salt, form the emulsion, then very slowly add the failure. The website said, "I heard if you... but I've never tried it." I've tried it. It worked. 

Miraculously, the one egg yolk held all of the failed mayo. Now I have over twenty ounces of mayonnaise and a sore forearm. Understanding the origins of my failure shed light on the recipe itself, and knowing now the technique needed, it makes sense in its whim. I also have the feeling of satisfaction that comes from the tenacity to overcome adversity through deliberate and dedicated action. 

Of course this was resuscitating mayonnaise, not climbing out of a canyon after cutting off my own arm, but I was really going to be bummed if I had to pour out all that spensive olive oil, and fancy egg yolks. After all, we are in a recession, right? Wasting that much food seems rather bourgeois to this ignorant pleb. And just like that kid in the old movie, I was vindicated; my hero, despite his transgressions, came through in the end. The curtains close, the lights come up, goodnight.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ahem...

The new addition to Wheatsville is open. Go. Play. Rejoice.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gilded Recession pt. 4

When laughing in the face of starving millions while eating and drinking like Bacchus, it's only a matter of time until you pay the piper. I thought it would be the food police. I figured they were on to me. There was no doubt in my mind. The sad reality was that my financial state had hit critical condition. I had been having cash woes since before I flew off into the sunrise to see Phish. That weekend only exacerbated the problem. Chicken and waffles and scotch be damned. 

Decadence and depravity are to blame. I was in the hole. Leonard Cohen, bard and sage he may be, is also to blame. As is my landlord, the entire Phish organization, butter, and the byproduct of yeast and sugar. And the Dali Lama. The conspiracy runs to the top. 

People came in town. We had some drinks. Put it on my tab. We go to the thing. Parking sucks, the free whiskey sucks; the music is good. We go to parkside. I eat marrow, and raw meat. Bearded weirdos come out to revel, feast. Cheese plates and bloody marys. I fall asleep on the couch, my guests go on without me.  

Fail. 

Echo and the Bunnymen


Deceit lies at every turn.

Rillette please.

What a fluke.

Tata.

See ya tamarrow.

To make up for the economic woes and fees, we go to UCHI. For some reason everyone has gift cards, making it near impossible to give away our spare. The food is good, but doesn't live up to the hype. This has more to do with the hype than the food. The food was really good. Very high quality fish. I feel like I can't go ten feet without hearing someone mentioning Mr. Cole. He deserves some accolades, yet he slowly approaching Bob Schneider-dom. This clouds judgements. 

Me so hungry.

Maters. Panko. Green. 

End over endo.

What angry villagers use to accost those who have transgressed upon them.

There is redemption, even solace in a plate of food that costs less than three fidy a person. Thanks to staff discounts, free boxes and pantries, you made the day. What better way to fill the gap of time between poetry reading identical twins and hillbillies with animatronic-animal-rock-band-fetishes than a home cooked meal wrought with care?

Seared butterfish and blood orange gastrique with kale and herbed quinoa.
$7 for a meal for two.

Back on top, I remember the view. I find the bar, order a drink. Oh, and I'll take a white for Tyson.

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