Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homebrewing Update

Found this in the NY Times Food and Wine section today.

New Food Wednesday

Thought I'd share this for today:

Green worms?  Green Spaghetti? Alien Bivalves? Who knows...

Read the blog post below from FoodBlogga on this strange Italian food.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Note from an Interesting Conversation...

Occasionally for my day job I find myself reporting to the “Bureaucratic Mecca” of the known universe (aka Washington, D.C.).  Now as Huntsville only boasts a small to medium sized airport it’s often difficult to escape people from your childhood and minor local celebrities.  However, fate occasionally intercedes.
On this particular trip, I found myself sitting next to a truly remarkable individual for the 2 hour long plane ride.  Of the roughly 400 million residents in the U.S., only 100 of them can claim to be U.S. Senators.  And for a short plane ride I had a constituency of one! (sorry for the West Wing reference)
For 2 hours, this particular Senator and I discussed good food, experiences with French food, and of course great beer!  Politics never entered into the conversation.   
As the plane ride progressed, I thought that my idle conversations would begin to bore him.  How do we, as normal (run of mill) folks converse with people who are used to talking to presidents and prime ministers?  I couldn’t have been more wrong about my initial apprehension.  Either he was the pinnacle of good Southern manners, or truly interested.  The world may never know.  But the end result was a very interesting conversation.
It turns out that he was familiar with French Provence style cuisine. I couldn’t resist.  We shared a number of recipes ideas, food concepts, and tales of some of our favorite dishes.  It was in any event an eye opening experience.  And as a result we might have to step up our menu options at the Nook in the very near future (I’m thinking some kind of lamb!)  
And as the conversation progressed, I found myself wondering what it must be like to be in this man’s position.  Here was one of the most influential men in the country if not the world, and he was flying next to a 20-something wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt prattling on about beer and food.   But what was truly remarkable was his understanding and approachable demeanor.  Perhaps it comes naturally to politicians, but I would prefer to hope this isn’t the case.
In any event, it was food and beer and our mutual experiences with both that brought us together.  For 2 hours he wasn’t a U.S. Senator and I wasn’t a mindless government drone with an overzealous passion for the culinary arts.  We were just two people, sharing an interesting conversation. 
 Many thanks to my understanding flying companion. 
As always, eat good food.  Drink good beer. And above all, stay classy.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Recipes: Bitokes a lá Russe with Mornay Sauce (Frensh style hamburgers served with a cheese-cream sauce)

BY: Samuel Parks (June 2011)

Officially introduced to Americans by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle in 1961 with their work Mastering the Art of French Cooking, this burger (served sans buns) has all of the flavors of Provence, but with some uniquely Continental twists.  The introduction of corn meal to the recipe guarantees a well formed and crunchy exterior, while preserving the rich juices of the well seasoned meat.  Served hot and doused with a creative mornay sauce, this dish is guaranteed to please even the pickiest of eaters (just don’t tell them there is buffalo meat in the patty)

(serves approximately 6-8)


1 cup finely minced Vidalia onion (or about 1 large onion)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound ground chuck (preferably a ratio of 80:20)
1 pound ground buffalo or bison (preferably a ratio of 90:10 or higher)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (finely chopped)
3 tablespoons fresh Italian or flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
2 whole eggs
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt-to taste
Freshly ground black pepper-to taste
1 cup flour
½ cup yellow corn meal
1 tablespoon Butter
1 tablespoons Black truffle oil
1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces beef stock
Mornay sauce (recipe follows)


In a large non-stick skillet heat the 3 tbs. of butter over medium heat until melted and filmed over.  Add the minced onion to the pan and cook until tender (but not quite browned).  Removed from skillet and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl combine the ground chuck, buffalo, thyme, parsley, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and room temperature onions.  Using your hands, combine the ingredients until all of the spices and seasonings have been evenly distributed through the meat.  When properly combined with good bread crumbs the mound of meat should jiggle like a large blob of cow flavored Jell-O.

Form the meat into patties approximately 3-4 inches in diameter and approximately ¾ inch thick.  Make sure that the patties are formed well and evenly, as any variations in shape will greatly affect how the patty cooks. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour and corn meal.  Ensure that the corn meal is evenly distributed throughout the flour.  Drag the patties through the flour, making sure that each side is lightly coated. 

In a large non-stick or cast iron skillet combine the butter, black truffle oil, and olive oil.  Heat on medium-high to high until the oil is almost smoking.  Immediately add the patties to the oil in a single layer, it may be necessary to use two pans or to cook the meat in batches.  Cook for approximately 5-6 minutes per side.  Remove from skillet and cover with aluminum foil.

Return the skillet to the stove top, turn the temperature setting to high, and add the beef stock to the pan.  Making sure to scrap the sides and bottom of the pan, cook vigoursly for approximately 1-2 minutes, or until reduced by approximately ½.  Pour the reduced pan sauce (or demi-glaze) over the burger patties and let sit covered in aluminum foil for approximately 10 minutes.  This allows the flavors to more fully develop and for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

Serve hot and doused with a mornay sauce.

Mornay Sauce


(makes approximately 2 cups of finished sauce)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese
½ cup finely grated gruyere cheese

Salt-to taste
Pepper-to taste
Paprika-to taste
Cayenne-to taste
Fresh Nutmeg-to taste



In a large pot or sauce pan heat the milk and heavy cream with ¼ teaspoon salt until almost boiling (make sure to stir frequently)

While the milk is cooking, in a separate large sauce pan heat the butter on medium-high until fully melted and filmed over.  Immediately add the flour and cook for approximately 1-2 minutes.  Once combined, immediately remove from heat and add the hot milk mixture to the butter and flour, beating vigorously with a whisk.  Cook over medium-high heat for approximately 1 minute. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with a fork.  Drop by drop, mix 1 cup of the hot cream sauce into the eggs.  Once the full cup has been added, continue to add more and more of the cream sauce to the eggs, until the egg mixture has almost reached the same temperature as the sauce itself.  Add the egg mixture to the cream sauce and cook over high for approximately 1 minute, stirring constantly. 

Remove the sauce from the heat, and add the grated/ shaved cheese.  Stir constantly until the cheese has fully melted. 

Season with additional spices to taste.  Serve hot.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tales of a Beer-Centric Dinner: “the delirious bovine”

(Warning: this blog is not for the masses)

First, let me apologize for the delay in posting this commentary.  As a government worker drone, things tend to get pretty darn busy as we move into the 4th quarter of the fiscal year.  Hopefully, this won’t become a habit.


Last Saturday’s Beer Dinner at the Nook Tavern, in Huntsville, Ala., was a huge success!  Thank you to everyone who came to enjoy good food, great beer, and a classy environment. 

Other than some minor setbacks with the delivery of fresh asparagus to the area (which is odd given the vegetable is technically in season), the meal turned out beautifully and was only enhanced by the beer.

This week’s menu was actually based on the collective work of Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle, but don’t worry I think there were enough variations to please the cooking gods.  The dish was built around a reinterpretation of Bitokes a la Russe (or a traditional French-style hamburger doused with a maddeningly delicious, and dare I say delirious cheese and cream sauce.)  To contrast the richness of the burger, I relied on an old standby: citrus-butter asparagus with shallots.  And to round out the meal, we served baked potatoes to provide a starchy vehicle to carry the full flavor of the other items. 

Enter the beers...Each one was carefully chosen to compliment a different aspect of the meal. 

The slight spiciness and herbal qualities of La fin du Monde (by Unibroue) paired very well with the subtle spices of nutmeg in the mornay sauce while accentuating the flavors of fresh parsley and thyme in the hamburger steaks. 

To accentuate the rich roasted flavors of the cooked beef, we decided a malt-ier beverage was definitely needed...and for that we turned to one of the record holders for the maltiest beer in the world: The Celebrator Doppelbock (by Ayinger).  This beer conveys the subtle notes of caramel and molasses that tend to pair energetically with cooked meats (though more often with pork than beef).  However, I must confess that the Hazelnut Brown Nectar (by Rogue) would probably have elevated the flavor even more, by allowing the richness of the burger to shine through without accentuating the pepper, which was unfortunately a problem with the dopplebock. 

And as a good palate cleanser, we selected the Oktoberfest (by Paulaner).  The effervescent nature of the beer, scrubs the palate clean while not overwhelming one’s taste or making one feel full.  It does however, have a strong enough flavor that it is not an easily overwhelmed beer.  A true work horse!

(Recipes to follow...hopefully very soon)

Next week “the flushed friar” makes a comeback! (Saturday June 25, 2011, @ 5 pm)

-Hard Cider Brined Pork Chops with Tangy Mustard Sauce and Apple-Onion Chutney
-Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans
-Sweet Corn Muffins

Beer Recommendations:
Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock
Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen

Have something you want to eat? Suggestions for Beer-Centric Meals? Visit the Beer Dinner event page on facebook at:!/event.php?eid=202272106473231

I’ll let everyone know how it turns out!

As Always, Drink good spirits, eat good food, and above all stay classy. -sam

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Notes from a Beer Tasting (Beer 101)

Oasis in a Gastronomic Wasteland

Chapter Two: Notes from a Beer Tasting

(Warning: this blog is not for the masses)

Hopefully today’s entry will be slightly less pretentious than its predecessor...but I can’t promise anything.  Unfortunately, I am an overbearing, pretentious snob, who I’m sure some of my “good” friends would describe as a jack-ass.  And equally regrettable, is that this personality trait often finds its way into my writing...But I digress.

In labeling this edition, it suddenly occurred to me that I might have been overly hasty with my chapter designations.  Granted at the moment I feel a little like Winston Smith writing in his journal for the first time...Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?

And I digress again...Perhaps today wasn’t the best day to start writing this entry?

Here it is the real meat and potatoes.

For anyone who has only tasted beer from the American mega-brewers, you have not lived.  Good beer is like the Grand Canyon, it will never disappoint and it’s something that you have to experience in person!  Conversely, the carbonated horse piss flowing from such bastions of consumerism as Anheuser Busch and Miller/Coors is not entirely unlike filling the Grand Canyon with cement, and then building a Wal-Mart on top of it. 

The beer produced by these giants, is flavorless, odorless, and characterless; not unlike carbon monoxide, and you wouldn’t want that in your home.  Since completing my  transformation into a self-proclaimed beer snob, I have never understood how so many Americans can swear by such an un-American style of beer.  We are a loud, brassy people, full of ingenuity, invention, and gumption.  Shouldn’t our beer be the same?  Shouldn’t our beer scream “look at me!”  Shouldn’t it be able to compete head to head with those “silly” Belgian beers?  Shouldn’t it be able to beat up other beers as it walks down the street?

While the flavorless American-pilsner style reigns supreme at A-B and Miller/ Coors, a few craft breweries are reintroducing the American palate to what author and brewmaster Garrett Oliver calls “real beer.”  These real beers are full of life and dexterity.  They are brewed with care and skill.  They are in short, 12 oz. works of art and pint-sized masterpieces.  And this is what we tasted.

There are few things in life that go together better than sharing a good beer with a few friends on a hot summer evening in Alabama.  Except maybe pork rinds and chocolate pudding when you’re stoned out of your mind...on second thought it might be the best combination known to man. 

Everyone brought a different beer.  Some people brought summer ales (appropriately), some delivered India Pale Ales, there were one or two lagers, and even an enjoyable nut brown ale joined the fracas.  For a few short hours, my stereotypical two-bedroom apartment in modern suburbia was transformed into beer snob’s paradise. 

Like all wine and food tastings, beer tastings should be arranged so the most subtly flavored beers are consumed first, leaving those with a more pronounced essence and fuller body for last.  However, unlike the ubiquitous stuck-up winos, beer tasters actually get to swallow their beer!  This final act of "blasphemy," allows the full flavor of the beer’s bitterness to bloom across the palate.  Yes, bitterness can have a flavor...Try it sometime with a good selection of IPAs.  Does the bitterness taste like grapefruit or pine needles?  Does it have a peppery bite to it?  You’d be surprised what bitterness can taste like.

First up on our agenda, was the perennial classic Saison Dupont, which is a traditional Belgian farmhouse ale.  While this beer does have a certain peppery bite to it, I wanted the tasters to be able to experience the pure pleasure of a slightly funky, but well balanced beer.  This beer has certain vegetal flavors and a slightly tart character, which balances well with that oh-so-familiar Belgian sweetness.  A truly delicious beer that pairs well with almost any seafood.
Next we moved on to our selection of summer ales, including one of my favorites: Oberon by Bells.  Oberon is one of those special beers because its presence on grocery store shelves always means that summer is right around the corner.  There is nothing incredibly special about the’s a Belgian style wheat beer flavored with citrus and a blend of spices.  Where it differs from the mass marketed “Blue Moon” (an A-B beer) is it’s balance and its body.  Oberon is incredibly balanced, and has a full body.  Making it the perfect beer to enjoy with a succulent grilled bratwurst.

Our second summer ale the Yazoo Summer Ale, actually turned out to be "the underdog, come from behind favorite of the evening."  While I have never really been a fan of this brewery’s products, this beer has forced me to reassess my position.  Perhaps it helped that this beer was semi-local, but for whatever reason it was an enjoyable change from the typical uninspired creations flowing from their kegs.  The beer was light and fresh, with a pronounced citrusy component.  Its bitterness was well balanced, though I personally would have preferred it to be slightly more “hoppy.”  A beer worth revisiting.

Next up was the only dud of the night, Summer Whacko from Magic Hat.  While Magic Hat’s Number 9 is right up there on my list of good craft beers...something was missing from the genetic make-up of this beer.  It was slightly astringent, not unlike a red wine that has decanted for too long and is starting to produce vinegar.  It was dry and unpleasant on the palate.  This beer is a define retard. 

After a quick break, we decided it was time to start the real drinking...and drink we did, with the surprising lager Wild Blue from Blue Dog brewery.  This beer was surprising not only for its flavor, but also for its alcohol content coming in at more than 8% abv.  Most blueberry/ fruit flavored beers can be disappointingly “fruity” with little balance...almost like a fizzy, alcoholic sweet tart (which by any other name would be pronounced ‘for-low-ko’).  Fortunately for this beer its fruitiness is matched by the strong presence of alcohol, making the final experience of this beer almost akin to that of a barley wine, with a crispness that can rarely be experienced in ales.

Since it’s now lunch time and I still have five more beers to review, I think I’ll stop boring the readers.  Also tested were the Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan, the Ommegang Abbey Dubbel, the Sweet Water Road Trip, the Straight to Ale Monkeynaut, and the Rogue Shakespeare Stout.  And since some of these are my personal favorites I promise to pay they the appropriate respect in another posting.

Don’t forget this Saturday at the Nook Tavern we have our weekly beer menu.  This week we are featuring the following:

“Buzzed Beef Stew” (an homage to Ms. Julia Child)
-“Carbonnades a la Flamande” (Belgian-style beef stew made with beer and onions)
-Parsley Potatoes
-Garlic Toast

Recommended beers include:
Brother Joseph’s Abbey Dubbel (Straight to Ale)
Yellowhammer Altbier (Yellowhammer)
Hazelnut Brown Ale (Rouge)
Irish Stout (Murphy’s)

I’ll let everyone know how it turns out!

Drink good spirits, eat good food, and above all stay classy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In the Begining...

Oasis in a Gastronomic Wasteland

Chapter One: Introduction

Friday June 3, 2011

(Warning: this blog is not for the masses)

So here we are in the 21st century.  We still don’t have flying cars. The plumbing doesn’t always work.  Space tourism is for billionaires. The cure for the common cold still eludes our best scientists.  And the giants of news journalism pump out nothing more than “infotainment.” 

But fear not my fellow Earth dwellers, because the interweb is here to offer us salvation...NOT!

We (or at least anyone reading this) are in fact hyperconnected, “hyperpeople” as Mark Pesce defined the term in his Word Press article by the same title  We carry the internet with us in our purses and our pockets.  “To facebook” has become a commonly used verb.  We can buy anything, look up anything, and search for anything.  Any tidbit of information from the most trivial to the most profound is but a click away...But what is the point?

I know it must seem ridiculous, if not downright hypocritical, to publish this piece using the very thing I am lambasting; and many of you are probably wondering what this rant regarding the internet has to do with the crisis in modern I’ll do what all of my English teachers advised me to do, and GET TO THE POINT.

In short, the evils of the internet and the present gastronomic wasteland are symptoms of the same problem...human nature.

We as humans have been genetically selected, tested, and bred over the millennia to do that which gives us the most pleasure.  At its most basic level, this has enabled our survival.  Sweet things taste pleasing to us because of the presence of necessary and life sustaining carbohydrates.  Meats taste “savory” because of our need for a complex mixture of proteins.  And bitter things often taste that way because of the presence of certain toxic chemicals.  

Now, I must say that technically machines can “taste.”  Computers equipped with various sensors can detect the same particles and compounds as our taste buds.  But the inherent nature of human “taste” is the emotion associated with such experiences.   

We have allowed ourselves to become emotional automatons, doing that which causes us the most pleasure with the smallest amount of sacrifice and pain. 

Writing a research paper?  Don’t hit the library, just go to Wikipedia.  Feeling lonely?  Free sex is just a few quick clicks away!  Feeling hungry?  Don’t cook anything, just dash to the nearest McDonalds or phone in an order to Pizza Hut. 

Humans are not naturally lazy creatures.  We have simply outsmarted ourselves.  I’m not advocating that we should all go back to living in sod houses and using out houses, as I’m just as connected as anyone else in the Millennial Generation.  My Blackberry (sorry Apple fans) is my constant connection to the world.  The internet and the “le gastronomie moderne” are not inherently evil creations.  It is how we as humans use these creations to better ourselves and society that determines their morality.  WE ARE STILL IN CONTROL.

Bit by bit (pun intended) we are reclaiming our lost humanity from the confines of cyberspace.  Our initial love affair with the internet is at its end, and with this new stage of net-living we are experiencing a renaissance of human thought.  We can now think collectively, across continents and oceans.  Political borders are for the meek!

And so I will play my small part in this greater electronic revival to help support the culinary arts (no reference to Subway sandwich artists). 

I know that many of you may not see the modern gastronomic landscape as a devastating wasteland.  And granted we have come a long way from the fast-food paved highways and frozen TV dinners of the 1950s and 1960s.  The Food Network is one of the most watched cable channels, undoubtedly due to the apolitical nature of their programming.  And chefs are celebrated national celebrities.  But there is still room for improvement. 

My intention with this blog is to find those little nuggets and pearls of good food made from quality ingredients, and to tell the story of those dedicated foodies who seek to better the hearts, minds, and stomachs of their fellow man (and woman).

Stay tuned for future updates! 

Later this week: a beer tasting among friends and the weekly dinner at the Nook Tavern in Huntsville, AL.