Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for April, 2006

Big Burger!

Posted by beer_chris on 23-April-2006

I thought I made some serious mashers, but these folks have me topped. This could be the inspiration to throw a 'biggest burger ever' party to go with our margarita machine rental.

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Tomato update and eggplant learnings

Posted by beer_chris on 23-April-2006

Tomatoes are setting fruit! I'm so excited. We had a good drenching rain in the morning on Thursday this week and I think the plants each grew 4 inches during the clear sunny afternoon. It's amazing what rain can do for a garden. We've had such a crazy drought this year, and with the early heat last week I'm somewhat concerned we're in for a blazer of an early summer – maybe as bad as 1999 – when we hit the hundreds by July 4'th.

In any case, it's still cool enough at night for my plants to set fruit, and now I've got tomatoes on the Old German, Early Girl, Golden Boy (the yellow ones) & Jolly (the cherry tomato). The Old German is an heirloom beefsteak tomato, and has a really wide interface with the stalk and is all wrinkly on the sides. It's pretty cool to see a miniature green version hanging off of the vine!

One of my Old German plants is a little stunted. My garden doesn't get nearly as much sun as I would like now that the two trees which bracket the garden corner (sweet gum in my yard and the willow in my neighbor's yard) have set all their leaves for the season. The light is strong in the mornings and mid-afternoon, but filtered the rest of the day. As the plants get larger I may get to a place where there isn't enough energy for them to set a lot of fruit. In any case, there's not much at all I can do about this, so I'm trying not to worry about it.

On top of the tomato growth, my yard is full of strange plants I've never seen before. Jaime and I have really let our backyard stay 'wild' since we moved in and focused our efforts on the patio gardens. One weekend this summer we're going to clean up the beds, but for now everything is pretty well as it was when the last residents lived here. The wife appeared to do the majority of the cooking – I make this well informed judgment based on meeting her for 10 minutes during our home inspection 15 months ago, and she was asian. The various beds around the house were scattered with some rather interesting plants. In the back was a thick patch of basil, as well as a thriving miniature pepper bush, chiles pequenitos, which are the little – usually ornamental – peppers that are fiery hot and tasty, especially in omelets. The basil has since died away, and the pepper bushes have spread all over the yard. Additionally, there was a really strange plant that has come up both last and this spring. It has wide lobed leaves, has grown into a 1-2 foot tall bush during both seasons, and is covered with spines. The spines/thorns grow out of the stems (like roses), but also grow from the leaves! Each leaf has a half inch spine spaced about every inch popping up out of the 'vein' of the leaf. Initially my mother and I thought this some type of okra, but last season it set no fruit and so I was never able to tell. This year, the little purple flowers are setting some tiny little green and white mottled fruits, and thanks to Google images I've been able to identify the thing as a 'Thai eggplant'. I was unaware of this before my search but apparently all eggplants have spines on the leaves, and this variety is primarily grown for making green Thai curries. The little fruits are still very small (see link below), but soon perhaps I'll have some eggplant to go with my tomatoes.

The garlic, onions and shallots are all doing OK. For the most part I've figured out that I planted much too late. Veggies in the onion family need to be planted when it is still cool, to allow them to establish a good root system ahead of the spring growth/bulb set. I may not get much out of these, but who knows. An interesting resource on growing garlics is here


Growth continues . . .

Cherry tomatoes!

Early Girl

Eggplant bush

Fruit growing

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Miguel Out?

Posted by beer_chris on 20-April-2006

Miguel got kicked off of Top Chef last night. Honestly, as much as I disliked Miguel for going apeshit crazy last week when Tiffani attacked him, he has been a giant mess, and I think he should have been the one gone with the whole confusing salt for sugar incident.

Even though I like Stephen (regardless of what the show producers want me to think), I think the weakness of the red room Spanish concept had nothing to do with the food, it was the service and the setup. Stephen couldn't even admit that his customers were unhappy – unable to reconcile that people might say something different to your face then on an anonymouse comment card? C'mon. He was responsible (entirely) for the front of the house, and that was the weakest link of the weakest rstaurant. He should have been gone. It wasn't fair in this case to find the guy who wasn't responsible for anything and kick him off – kick off the one who was most responsible for the problems.

Stephen should have been gone. At the end of every episode there is a little blurb about how the judges consult with the producers on elimination decisions. That's got to be the only reason this cat is still on – he's good TV.

Additionally, Dave freakin' went nuts again, jumping all over Tiffani's case and getting all personally offended when she tried to get herself to Cannes. I seriously cannot believe they picked his basket-case self to go.

In any case, it's getting down to the core of talented people now. I think Dave is next off.

Also, I find it extremely annoying that reality shows like this include in their intros all of the original contestants. Ken was eliminated in the week one pilot! Get him out of my face!

As an aside – I heard Stephen pronounce 'Rioja' the way I do (Ree-Oh-Hah), and not like my wine loving coworker in Scotland did (Ree-Ock-ah), which embarrassed me a bit at the dinner table at the time. It kinda made me look and feel like I was being pretentious about something I knew nothing about – pronouncing a varietal incorrectly. Admittedly, I don't know much about growing regions in Spain, but I was at least ordering based on my understanding of the key qualities and tastes of that type of grape.

Vindication feels good!

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A couple of interesting tomato links

Posted by beer_chris on 16-April-2006

My first tomato has set today (one of the 'tomato jolly' cherry tomatoes), and I've been surfing various tomato growing sites lately. A couple interesting ones piqued my interest today. One (not really a tomato site) is SeedSavers, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a seed inventory for all kinds of 'heirloom' varieties of all different types of plants. I linked to the 'About Us' page above. Basically, they collect seeds that have been handed down within families, most having been brought over to America by immigrants. Perusing the tomato catalog provides interesting insight on the history of these various varietals. Most of the descriptions (and names of the seed strains, for that matter), include the surname of the family that provided the line.

Additionally, I found the resource I really had been searching for in all of my initial angst over exactly how to setup my garden, and that's a quality Texas A&M extension service page aimed at home cultivation of tomatoes. In much previous searching the best I had found was the TAMU Harris County extension office Although discovering that there is an extension garden a few miles away from Sun Harbor that has a plant sale every spring, there isn't a lot of good data here. The Urban Harvest organization has a good website, but the primary guidance is organic in nature. That's a good goal, and I'm going to try, but I also wanted to understand what conventional remedies might be available for me – along with some better descriptions of the types of maladies I might encounter. Urban Harvest tended to identify things only by name, and didn't provide a description of the symptoms.

So, today I found a good Q&A site on the TAMU PLANTanswers page. The two Q&A links on tomatoes (1, 2) are an excellent resource. My favorite is number 44:

Q: How do you keep squirrels from eating tomatoes?
A: Trap and release (into the skillet) or kill. Or cover base of plants up about 3-4 feet with Grow-Web or surrounding bearing tomatoes with a wire barrier such as hardware cloth or small mesh chicken wire. Lead poisoning or number 8 shot (propelled out the barrel of a shotgun) works too but might damage the plants or fruit.

Is that an Aggie resource or what?

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Poop War!

Posted by beer_chris on 15-April-2006

Going through some old bookmarks today, and found a blog link I haven't visited in a while. This post (the beginning of it at least) speaks so deeply and truly to all of my snobbish tendencies when I get stupid email forwards. A snippet to provide insight:

The moral of the story? Send me a stupid forward and forget to bcc the recipients and I will respond with extreme prejudice, writing “fuck” to moms and co-workers. That’s just how I roll. You have been warned.

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19674

Posted by beer_chris on 9-April-2006

After 2 weekends of back breaking labor in cold January temps building the raised bed, some significant hand wringing as all but one of my seedlings kicked the bucket, and lastly a delay off of the best planting time due to a 2 week work trip to Scotland . . .

The garden is now IN!!!!!


(Note absolute key to a successful garden in lower right – a German stein with a lid keeps garden mix and bone meal out of beer while planting. I'd put that as rule 11 in the Urban Harvest list linked below)

I'm amazingly worried that this is the best it is going to look. I've been trying my best to follow the guidelines on Urban Harvest's site, but I've failed on the planting times – it may get too warm before my blooms set – but after all of this work (I estimate, at this point, probably 60 hours total work into this project) I can't turn back now.

Next weekend I'll build the Urban Harvest cheap cages (Rule 8 in the list) and buy a birdbath and feeder – to try and keep the squirrels and mockingbirds away without netting the whole thing.

Here's the map of the thing (note this is not the same perspective as the picture above):

Note that the perimeter is sown in marigold and chamomile seeds – an attempt at a 'guild' design. I don't honestly believe that the garlic and shallot will do much for me, as these need cold temperatures to set up and form bulbs, but I figured I'd give it a try – these are things I really would like to try and grow myself, as the grocery store stock are typically not that great – green and not as full of flavor as they could be – and these are ingredients I use a lot in the kitchen.

What follows is an inventory of my plants – linked to descriptions – almost everything was purchased as Houston Garden Center and came from the same nursery provider ('Chef Jeff'). I can't find anything online about 'Chef Jeff' starter plants, so I've searched for the varietals to get a better flavor of what these are:

All descriptions are transcribed from the reverse of the identification tags. Links are to pictures of the tags – for me in case I lose the tags

Amish Paste
An old Amish heirloom that dates back to the turn of the century! Generations have used this tomato in sauces and for canning. Full and rather unusual flavor. Said to taste the best of all paste tomatoes. Tasty, solid flesh used for stews, bottling, drying and sauces. 8-12 oz plum shaped fruit. Twice as big as the classic Roma tomato. Great in salsa, catsup or spaghetti sauce. Excellent for slicing. Bright red. Indeterminate. 74 days.

Rutger's Select
“Featured in gourmet restaurants across the country”. Large, rich red fruit is produced on the strong vines. Widely grown and considered ideal for home gardeners. Perfect for many cooked dishes and superb on sandwiches. Can also be used for salads, soups and sauces. Water well in warm weather and feed with a slow release or liquid fertilizer for best results. Determinate. 73 days.

Old German
'Old German' is medium large with yellow and red marbled flesh, fruity flavor and smooth texture. Gourmet restaurants across the country feature this tomato that has been grown since the 1800s in Virginia. Water well in warm weather and feed with a slow release liquid fertilizer for best results. Indeterminate. 80 days.

Jolly
All American Selection (AAS) winner for 2001.
Large, pink cherry tomato shaped with a distinctive point, like a teardrop! Masses of sweet, absolutely delicious clusters of tomatoes will delight all gardeners. High acid content. Indeterminate. 73 days to maturity.
Perfect for salads, sauces, hot dishes or eaten straight off the vine. Water well in warm weather and apply liquid ir slow release fertilizer for best results.

Golden Boy
Delightful golden tomato with 8-10 oz fruit with great flavor and good disease resistance. Perfect base for many cooked dishes and superb on sandwiches. Ideal for salads, soups, hot dishes and for pickling. Water well to prevent drying out in warm weather and fertilize with liquid or slow release plant food for best results. Indeterminate. 80 days.

Early Girl
One of the earliest slicing tomatoes available. Yields a prolific crop of 4 to 6 oz globular fruit all summer. Use in salads, sandwiches, hot dishes, soups and sauces.
Water well to prevent drying out in warm weather and fertilize with liquid or slow release plant food for best results. Indeterminate. 57 days.

Brandywine
Follow the link above for description info from the Burpee site. This is the only one of my seedlings to survive.

Caribbean Red (pepper)
You be the Judge!
This is the World's Hottest Pepper that you can cultivate at home! It is more than twice as hot as the standard Habanero Pepper. The fiercely hot, wrinkled fruit tapers to a blunt point and turns from green to red when ripe. The pungent hot aroma will explode like fireworks in your mouth when you take a bite! These 1 1/2 inch wide peppers create intense heat in salsas, marinades, salads, cooked dishes or when making your own hot sauces. This Caribbean Red Hot Pepper matures in 110 days.

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The Schwarzbier is even BETTER now!!

Posted by beer_chris on 6-April-2006

Wow.

I've for some time been meaning to outfit my beer fridge with a splitter so that I can tap two kegs at once. I've been putting this off, mainly because I just don't drink enough to really make it a necessity. I usually work my way through one keg of homebrew and then work on the other one – or if I switch between them I switch for a reasonable amount of time – like an evening.

Needless to say, I've had the keg of schwarzbier waiting patiently in the fridge for me to finish the whiskey porter. Since I blew that keg on Sunday, and had a hankering for a pint before bed tonight, I thought I would go to the trouble of switching out the tap this evening.

Oh my freaking goodness, the schwarzbier is simply fantastic. Lagers improve with age – according to brewing legend, that's the origin of the term 'lager'. Collective wisdom would hold that the term means 'to age', although I've really never seen that confirmed anywhere.

It was roasty, smooth and amazingly drinkable when it came out of the lagering fridge a few months ago. Today it seems to have concentrated those great qualities – it now is a combination of the best qualities of Guinness, Shiner and Dos XX lager – all in the same brew. It's roasty and smooth in your mouth like Guinness – but the burnt coffee and chocolate flavors are left out, and it is not at all heavy. It's amber hued and only slightly malty like Shiner, but without the strange 'edge' that Shiner often has when it is not served extra cold. Lastly, it's easy drinking and effervescent like Dos XX Lager, but it does not have the skunky green bottle import flavor.

It could be the perfect beer…

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So, is this gross?

Posted by beer_chris on 4-April-2006

Well, I've eaten and enjoyed worse then this (anchovy and cottage cheese sandwiches, anyone?), but as I looked at my plate tonight I though perhaps I'd topped even that.

Got home from volleyball and after my shower all I could think about was a fine meal of sardines packed in oil and sharp cheddar cheese. I went to the cabinet and realized I had a pack of kipper snacks** left. Put that on a plate with the cheddar, and then squirted some Plochman's mustard on the side. (interesting fact – Plochman's sponsors a mustard lovers club. Need I say more??)

I topped it off with one of the flour tortillas from Sunday night's Lupe meal, poured a tall glass of milk and had myself one hell of a tasty dinner. The smoky herring mixed with the sharp cheese, hot dog mustard and roasted flour-y flavor of the tortilla was simply great. Washed down with cold milk, ir was better then that – it was perfect – hit the spot.

Is this gross? It kinda' feels like it (but it's awfully yummy. If you haven't had a kipper snack and you at all enjoy fish, you should really try it out).

**Kipper snack (from my 'Food Lover's Companion') – herring which has been split and cured by salting, drying and cold smoking. Herring is an oily whitefish – young specimens are known as sardines.

As an additional side note, I've been further exploring the Plochman's website, and this page of 'mustard facts, history and myth' is hilarious and interesting all at once. A sample:

Which has a longer history, Plochman’s Mustard or a Van Gogh painting?

Answer: Plochman’s mustard. Van Gogh wasn’t born until 1853, one year after our company started.

The Premium Mustard Mills, which eventually became Plochman, Inc., started the year before Vincent was born. Although they began about the same time, there the similarities end. A Van Gogh costs millions now, and few people own them. A bottle of Plochman's costs little, but millions own them. You can look forward to a new jar of Plochman's as being authentic. Don't expect the same from a new Van Gogh.

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Updated chili recipe

Posted by beer_chris on 2-April-2006

I've had this update sitting in my 'to do' box on my desk for some time. This is an update to the Elk Chili recipe from last fall, but with beef instead of elk meat.

Per the usual process, changes in strikethrough, additions in bold

CHW Chili

5 cloves garlic
2 tbsp butter
16 oz 1.5 lbs ground elk meat beef
1 shallot
3 2 tbsp ground cumin
2 1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp 1 tbsp ground dried oregano
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp Northwoods seasoning
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 large (28 oz) can tomatoes plus juice
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp masa (corn)
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Mince the garlic and shallots. Melt the butter and brown the pair. Add the beef, cumin, thyme, onion powder, oregano, Northwoods, salt, peppers. Mix well and cook until combined over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, add tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook for 20 minutes, turn off heat and add masa. Stir and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and cayenne to taste. Serve over rice with saltines and grated cheese.

NOTE: The cloves were an exciting addition to the gamey elk, but overwhelm milder beef. Additionally, ground oregano just tastes like soap powder. I'm trying hard to avoid it as much as possible. I added chili powder to give some additional fullness of flavor – mainly from the anchos. Since I added it, I pulled back on the cumin.

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Clear Lake Crawfish Festival

Posted by beer_chris on 2-April-2006

The annual Clear Lake Crawfish festival was held at Clear Lake park (across from the lake on NASA road 1). Proceeds benefit the super cool July 4'th fireworks show put on by the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce. The chamber floats a barge out into the middle of the lake and does the show from there. Last year Rob took Jaime and I out on his boat and we watched the show from the water.

Hoping he's home around the same time again – I don't want to miss another chance to see it from that perspective.

In addition to the bugs, there was a gumbo competition going on. Most of the cooking teams were not really professional festival cookers (like I saw at the rodeo cookoff a few weeks ago), but are just local businesses or individuals who think they have the best gumbo recipe.

For 5 bucks festival goers were given a spoon and a small tasting cup, and we were given the chance to nominate our favorite among the 14 or 15 competitors. There was also a formal judging, so at the end of the event two champs would be crowned – a people's champion and a festival champion. Highlights/lowlights of the gumbo:

  • More then one of the teams had severely burned their roux. One of the guilty teams also smoked the majority of their meats in the gumbo – this made the overall effect something like eating charcoal.
  • Only three teams used okra. It's a good natural thickener, and the seeds can serve to hold in flavor.
  • For a festival in Texas, the offerings were really bland. Most everyone seemed to be using Cacherie's seasoning, which is good, but more salty then spicy. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part the gumbos were pretty pedestrian in terms of spiciness.
  • There were some really good ones that just loaded their gumbo up with crab meat. YUMMMMM!
  • Consistency ranged from downright watery to thick and gloppy. One especially insipid offering tasted like it had Froot Loops cereal in it.
  • The reigning people's champs (although not getting my vote) had a really complex gumbo – smoky, spicy, a little thick, and with notes of peanuts in the palate. I think they must have put peanut butter in it.
  • A few of the teams had a whole setup associated with serving us – a group called 'Toulouse Ladies and a Muffaletta' gave us mardi gras beads and had decorated their little tent with plastic alligators and crawfish. The team was, of course, made up of three womeon – 2 taller ladies and a shorter woman. The short woman said she was the muffaletta – short and round 🙂
  • My winner was the team from 'Visiting Angels', a home care outfit. Their gumbo was think and roux-y, with just enough spice to make the broth interesting without overwhelming the taste of the meat – chicken, shrimp and a really great smoky andouille sausage. By not falling into the trap of adding additional smoke flavor into the base (i.e. liquid smoke, as some of the teams obviously had done), they really created a gumbo that, in my opinion, was what gumbo should be. A bunch of individually good ingredients that meld and shine together.

Got a couple of neat pics as well. We walked over to the mudbug cooking area, only to see a guy with a HUGE colander filled with, by my guess, 100 lbs + of live crawfish. He was winching it up and into the even larger boiling pot.

The bugs themselves were good. I like them a little hotter, but they provided additional spice mix to add on yourself – I certainly did this. I had heard that the harvest this year was not netting the larger bugs, and I definitely found that to be true. The majority of the suckers were no longer then my index finger. This apparently is an outcome of the hurricanes in southern Louisiana.

Thinking maybe next year I'll start my own gumbo cooking team – I think it only costs 50 bucks or so to enter.

Pics:


So, how does one cook 100 lbs of mudbugs – ah yes, now I see.


Before . . .


After . . .


The Very Best Gumbo at CLCF06

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