Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Recipes - à la menthe au pesto (mint pesto)

à la menthe au pesto (mint pesto)
This is an easy, and shockingly refreshing, condiment that works well on almost anything (well maybe not ice cream, but I wouldn't rule it out).  Try it with grilled lamb chops, fettuccine, chicken tacos, lamb shwarmas (gyros), or in an orzo salad.  For a delicisouly quick orzo recipe see OGW's Spring Orzo Salad.  -Sam


-2 oz. fresh mint leaves (approximately 2 1/2 cups loosely packed)
-1 oz. fresh basil leaves (approximately 1 cup loosely packed)
-.5 oz fresh parsley (approximately 1/2 cup loosely packed)
-1 cup pine nuts
-8 cloves of garlic sliced in half
-1 cup grated parmesan cheese
-1 cup olive oil
-3 Tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
-Salt and pepper to taste (I've found about 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper work well)


Using a food processor fitted with the knife blade, add the mint, basil, parsley, pine nuts, and garlic.  Process until the ingredients resemble a fine paste.

Add the parmesan cheese.  Then with the processor running slowly drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream until the pesto is smooth and creamy.

Stir in the lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Chill until ready to serve.

(if the garlic seems a little pungent, try reducing to 5 cloves)

P.S. - Please pardon my French translation... The only French I've ever studied is in cookbooks.  

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

New Food Wednesday - IBD

Celebrate the 496th Anniversary of Reinheitsgebot
Ok, so today's posting isn't exactly food related, nor is it really "new."  But it does celebrate one of the most culturally significant beverages of mankind.

 While the "Coke" logo may be the most familiar icon in the world, beer is arguably more ubiquitous.  It is consumed (and produced) on every continent.  One might argue that coffee or tea warrant the same recognition, but beer has sustained mankind since the ancient Egyptians.

Until comparatively recently, water was not entirely "safe" to drink; but beer was almost always "safe." Until comparatively recently, grains could not be stored for extended period of times; but beer allowed farmers to save their grains for years without the risk of damage from insects, water, or fire.  Brewing beer with leftover grain solved both of these problems.  One might even say that modern society is a product of beer.  There's a reason that the importance of bars, taverns, pubs, public houses, and beir gartens is interwoven into our global society; beer was nectar from the gods.

It was on April 23, 1516, that brewing entered the modern-age when the state of Bavaria passed a small article of legislation limiting the various ingredients certain food producers could use in their products. Known by most English speakers simply as the "German Beer Purity Law," Reinheitsgebot (pronounced: rine-hights-ge-boot, or something like that), limited brewers to using only water, hops, and barley in their brews. Incidentally, it wasn't until the 19th century that anyone realized the importance of yeast in the brewing process.

Today, the strong brewing tradition created by this law has impacted the entire world. Variations of beer produced under its guidance appear all over the globe. In fact, what was once a minor piece of legislation is now the cornerstone for the international brewing standard.

So this April 23, take to the streets and celebrate the birth of the modern beer. Grab some friends and head to the nearest bar or pub, and enjoy a pitcher of your favorite brew. And thank those brave 16th century Germans that continue to touch our lives to this day.

For those in Huntsville, Alabama, the Nook Tavern will offer a special IBD dinner this Saturday starting at 5 pm.  Only 20 orders will be prepared, so make sure you're early!

(incidentally, a separate group has started "International Beer Day" for largely the same purposes, but only IBD celebrates the foundation of modern beer!)

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recipes - Spring Orzo Salad

Spring Orzo Salad
This is the perfect, and extremely easy, alternative to risotto for those rare occasions when you don't want to spend 40 minutes standing over the stove stirring.  Green peas add a fresh, sweet flavor, while providing a delightful variation in texture.

The vegetable combinations are virtually endless.  When I prepared this dish at the Nook Tavern last week for the Saturday beer dinner I included grilled asparagus; just look for fresh seasonal ingredients and let your imagination run wild.

For your next backyard, Italian-style get together try this fun and refreshing dish.  I guarantee it will be a hit!


P.S. this is probably, the easiest recipe I've ever posted, but that isn't a bad thing!


-2 cups orzo pasta, cooked until al dente (just use the package directions)
-2 Tbs. unsalted butter
-1/2 cup milk
-2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
-1 cup frozen peas, fully thawed and at room temperature
-salt and pepper to taste (approximately 1/2 tsp. of each)
(crumbled bacon may also be included)


While the orzo is still warm, add the butter, milk, and olive oil.  Gently fold the pasta (stir from the outside of the bowl/ pot) until the butter has fully melted.

Add the cheese and peas, lightly toss.  Taste.  Adjust the salt and pepper.  Enjoy! (see I told you it was easy!)

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Beer Review - Straight to Ale Unobtanium

Straight to Ale "Unobtanium"
Author's Note:
"Unobtanium" from Straight to Ale (Huntsville, AL)is quickly becoming a spring staple for local beer connoisseurs.  It's name is a playful twist on the aerospace engineering term used to define materials that are perfect for a given application, with the exception that they don't exist.  And like its counterpart in the engineering world, this beer is increasingly unobtainable due to its limited production and high demand.  It is Huntsville's home grown version of "Dark Lord" from Three Floyds.  If you're in the area, and the bar you're visiting is lucky enough to have received a keg, make sure you order a glass (just watch out for the ABV it's a whalloping 11%+).

Style: Barrel-aged old ale

Origin: Straight to Ale Brewery, Huntsville, AL

Appearance: Rich, dark mahogany, with a fleeting white head (expected for the style).  With surprisingly little sediment, this brew boasts an appearance that celebrates the epitome of its style.

Aroma: While the aroma of alcoholic esters are present throughout its profile, this beer's bouquet opens with the sweet smell of figs and raisins dancing blissfully across the nose, supported by notes of caramel with the slightest twinge of earthy leather, and finishing with the faintest odor of peaches or apricots.

Taste: Mellow caramel explodes across the palate, and quickly transitions to supporting notes of vanilla and sweet tobacco.  The final taste pleasingly transitions to very rich, earthy caramel (not entirely unlike a well toasted marshmallow).

Mouthfeel:  This beer possesses a big, bold body, but wields very mellow mouthfeel.  It is rich, jammy, and entirely enjoyable!

Great beer guys!  Keep up the great work!

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Restaurant Review - Hut's Hamburgers (Austin, TX)

For work, I recently had the unpleasant assignment of staying near the Market District in Austin, TX.  I instantly fell in love with this pleasingly hip, yet old fashioned town.  Perhaps it was the Southern hospitality mixed with a good dose tolerant modernism; but whatever the reason, it was the perfect blend.

On one of my evening walks to the neighborhood Fresh Market, a pleasing aroma filled my nostrils.  It was as if my nose was swimming in a pool of charred beef and bacon.  I couldn't pin it source, and so I wrote it off as a backyard cookout.

The next evening I was walking through the same neighborhood, and the smell hit again.  But unlike my previous encounter with this illusive redolence, I was lucky enough to pinpoint its origin.

It was coming from a classic art deco building festooned in neon lights, with a large sign proclaiming "Hut's Hamburgers."

Photo courtesy of Stephen Rushmore from

As I would soon find out, the joint opened in 1939 and has been a local hotspot ever since. The well-worn exterior is like something from a period flick and the interior buzzes with good conversations and laughter from the well served patrons.

For my meal I ordered "Tuby's Tickler," a flat top grilled beef patty, topped with chili, jalapenos, and shredded cheese, and served with fries ($5.75-burger, $2.50-fries).  I found the jalapenos to be a little overpowering, but I'm not from Texas.  The burger was cooked to perfection with a charred exterior and a medium-rare center.  The fries were crispy and deliciously seasoned.  I would have liked to try their one of their shakes, but unfortunately I was stuffed.

Tuby's Tickler

This isn't a fancy joint, and while lacks in sophistication has plenty of panache (irony intended).  If you're ever in Austin, have a few minutes, and feel like a burger, then head to Hut's.  It may not be the "Shake Shack," but for a "Hut" it's pretty darn tasty!

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Hut's Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 9, 2012

Recipes - Challah Beer Bread

Challah Beer Loaf

Perhaps it's carryover from the days of seasonal necessity in holiday menu planning, but Easter menus always seem comparatively exotic .  Lamb, asparagus, and the ubiquitous lemon cake, adorn every holiday table.

Unfortunately, this year our Easter menu turned into a "Seinfeld-esque" comedy of errors; and it all started with an innocent leg of lamb.

In our house lamb is traditionally verboden.  Mom loves it. Dad can't stand it. And in an on-going act of marital sacrifice Mom typically goes without.  But after reading a recipe for roasted leg of lamb in a recent edition of Southern Living Mom had to have some.

So she went to local supermarket a few days before Easter, and came home the proud owner of the second-to-last leg of lamb.

Photo courtesy of "The Butcher's Blog"

As an intrepid foody, I always enjoy cooking new foods and cuts of meat; but unfortunately I find it had to justify spending $50-$60 on a cut that only I will eat.  So I was more than happy to indulge my mother's flight of culinary fancy.

After spending 30 minutes grinding rosemary, chopping garlic, and blending herbs and spices with anchovy paste and olive oil, I took the lamb to the sink, sliced open the plastic bad, and began rinsing off my hands.  Then it started.  It wafted from the lamb like a slow motion, nasal, ballistic missile, lazily crescendoing into a violent tempest of offensive, malodorous carnage.  That lamb had turned, and not in a good way.

So now without lamb, our Easter dinner was built around a home-smoked ham in the freezer, spring risotto, roasted zucchini, and challah beer bread.  It was eclectic to say the least.

After dinner, and a few glasses of wine, we managed to laugh it off.  It was the best dinner and show I've ever attended!

Recipe: Challah Beer Bread
By Sam Parks (April 2012) 

Challah Beer Bread

Challah (pronounced ha-la) is a rich, yeast leavened bread, that is braided and typically served during Shabbat (Jewish sabbath).  As member of the goyim, I can't vouch for the Kosher-ness of this preparation...but I can tell you it tastes delicious!


(for the bread)
-1 bottle (12 oz) lightly-colored lager beer (I used the Alpine Lager from Sam Adams)
-3 Tbs. granulated sugar
-0.5 oz. bread machine yeast
-1 cup whole milk
-1/2 cup honey
-4 Tbs. vegetable oil
-1 Tbs. kosher salt
-2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten 
-9 cups all-purpose flour

(for the egg wash)
-2 egg yolks lightly beaten with 1 Tbs. cold water


-Heat the beer in the microwave for 50 seconds on high.  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the yeast, and allow the mixture to stand for 15 minutes.
-While the yeast is activating, heat the milk, honey, oil, and salt in a small pan on the stove top.  Allow the milk mixture to heat until the honey and salt are fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. 
-Pour the flour into a large bowl.  Add the yeast mixture and eggs to the flour.  Mix with your hands until everything is evenly distributed.  Pour the cooled milk into the flour, and continue mixing.
-Start kneading the bread, adding flour as necessary.  Knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the bread is smooth and no longer sticky.
-Oil the mixing bowl (I just used Pam), and place the kneaded dough into the bowl.  Place a damp towel over the dough, and allow it to rise until it has doubled in bulk (approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours).
-Punch down the risen dough, and divide in half.  Divide each half into thirds.
-Roll each of the thirds (really sixths) on a lightly floured board, until it resembles a long rope about 18 inches long.
-Working with three of the strings of dough, braid them into a single long rope.  As a man, this took some time to figure out.  But I can now confidently braid with the best of them.
-Place each of the braided loaves onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (it's helpful to braid these directly on the paper lined pan).
-Brush the loaves with ice-cold water, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk (approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours).
-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
-Bring some water in an all metal sauce pot (1-2 quarts) to a boil on the stove top.
-Brush the loaves liberally, but evenly, with the egg wash.
-When the oven is heated, place the small sauce pot on the bottom, and the two loaves on separate racks in the oven.
-Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating the loaves once.  The loaves will be done when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Food Wednesday - April 4, 2012

What could it be? Perhaps is one of those swanky oils with a corn cob...but then again maybe not.

Find out what it is after the jump.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Restaurant Review - Abita Brewpub

So as it turns out Abita Springs, LA, is almost exactly halfway between Houston, TX, and Huntsville, AL.  It is also the home of the aptly named and regionally popular Abita Springs Brewery and Brewpub. While the brewery wasn't open for tours when I arrived, the brewpub was; and like a medieval pilgrim journeying to the Holy Land, I had to stop and pay homage.

The building itself is exactly what you would expect to see on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain.  It has a pleasant covered courtyard festooned with the classical Louisianian vinelike foliage.  The inside is arranged in the classical American brewpub style; concrete floors, wood paneled walls, and wobbly well worn wooden tables.  The bar itself is on the small side, but for bar drinkers the main attraction is probably the tap room at the brewery less than 2 miles away.

Photo courtesy
For my beer/ drink order I had the "Premium Flight" which is collection of some of their more limited production releases including two seasonal selections (Andy Gator, Restoration Pale Ale, Jack-A-Mo IPA, Barley Wine, and Red Ale).  ($9.00 for five, 5 oz. pours)

Since I was only an hour north of New Orleans, I had to sample their jambalaya and an order of their sweet potato fries.

The jambo arrived well plated.  Unfortunately, I found it to be very underseasoned.  A quick shake of the salt shaker corrected this, but overall I have to rate it as a mediocre to descent (but not transcendent) preparation of a classic Creole dish.  The accompanying crawfish corn muffin was tasty, if a little dry, and the crayfish, though enjoyable, were a on the chewy side.  ($13.00)

Abita Brewpub Jambalay

Abita Brewpub Crayfish Corn Muffin
Unlike the jambalaya, the sweet potato fries were some of the best I have ever eaten!  They were light and crispy with a touch of starchy sweetness from the potatoes.  C'est Magnifique! If you're ever lucky enough to stop by this homey taverna, make sure to order a plate for everyone in your party, trust me you won't want to "share"!

Abita Brewpub Sweet Potato Fries- SO GOOD!
Unfortunately, it may have been my status as a single diner on a busy Sunday afternoon, but I found the service to be a little on the slow side.  My waitress was friendly, though not necessarily a beer expert.  The bar tender on the other hand was more than helpful with information regarding my selections.  If you are a beer geek, and unconcerned with the average diner experience, sit at the bar.

Overall, this brewpub is a pleasant hidden gem in a Faulkner-esque southern-burg.  And if you find the beer a little overpowering to continue driving, take some time to explore the square (complete with a museum) and the fruit stand across the street.

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Abita Brew Pub on Urbanspoon