Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Food Wednesday - October 10, 2012

Chocolate Covered Insects (in this case - Ants!)
There isn't really a jump-reveal in today's post; the picture above is pretty explicit.  For fans of the "jump," no worries it should return next week.  Apologies.

October 14 is national "Eat Chocolate Covered Insects Day" day!  Okay so it's not a new food per say, but I'm willing to bet most Americans have never (intentionally) eaten an insect, let alone one dipped in chocolate.  I know I never have.  So in a way, today's post is more about an unusual food for self-described members of Western society. 

Man has consumed insects, probably since man was man.  If it exists on planet Earth, I am 99.99% sure someone, somewhere, and at some time has attempted to eat it.  The problem with modern culture (and in this case particularly Western culture) regarding ingestables, rests squarely with the development of social mores.  As time goes on and society begins to flourish, it seems develop a sense of "group think" regarding its diet.  At times this is a direct result of a societal religious belief, but this isn't always the case.  For non-religious examples look no further than the American fast-food/ processed-food craze of the 20th century.  

One could make the case that Western society's aversion to insects developed as a result of Judeo-Christian influence, the teachings of which denounce the consumption of insects (and lobsters incidentally).  If this were the case, Western society should hold pigs (and lobsters) in equal regard with insects.  But we don't; in fact we love pigs soooo much that many experts are predicting a bacon shortage (gasp) next year.  Okay that may be an exaggeration, but we can expect pork prices to rise by as much as 100% during 2013 due to exploding demand.  

While our disdain for insects might be unclear, the nutritional value of these creepy crawlies is not.  High in protein and (mostly) low in fat, insects offer a wide and varied source of nutrition for large populations around the globe.  Heck we even eat regurgitated, partially-digested plant materials mixed with insect saliva; we call just call it honey.

Perhaps it's the fact that insects are so incredibly foreign.  Perhaps it's because they can spread disease and can be toxic to humans.  But so can a lot of things.  The alligator and rattlesnake are also pretty foreign to most Westerners and can be incredibly dangerous, but we are consuming their flesh in record amounts.

The lowly insect gets a bad rap.  So this Sunday, try to be an adventurous foody and buck the "Western diet."  After all, a chocolate covered ant can't be any worse for you than a Big Mac.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Random Food Photo - Straight to Ale Tap Room

On a recent Sunday, I found myself with some time to kill, and as luck would have it my friends at the Straight to Ale Tap Room were busy serving beer and showing football.  So I packed up my tiny Toyota, and raced (within the speed limit) to the brewery.

Straight to Ale Montesano Maibock (on top of an Old Towne Brewing Co. coaster)
I really can't say enough about the Huntsville brewery scene; it's exploding!  And our local brewers are producing some pretty high quality brews.  But we shouldn't forget the abandoned dreams that litter the highway to brewing-greatness. 

When STA took over the brewery space formerly held by Huntsville/ Alabama's first brewery since prohibition, the Old Towne Brewing Co., they also inherited a lot of the old paraphernalia. 

On my visit, the STA brew keeper was slinging beer and serving the frothy pint glasses on top of classic coasters from the now defunct brewery. 

While the Old Towne Brewery might not be with us today, its memory lives on... In this case from the bottom of a pint of the STA Montesano Maibock.

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

My First Solo Batch of Home Brew - Part 1

To even the most casual observer, my love for beer should be pretty apparent.  I love the way it tastes.  I savor how its carbonation dances across your palate and tickles your tongue.  I admire the craft and artistry used to produce a "good beer."  I even admire the odor that pours from every brewery in America, even though most would probably describe it as funky at best and downright disgusting at worst. 

I really like beer. 

In the past, I've assisted with the production of homemade beer but only as part of a large group.  The experience was fun and the end result was decent, but the beer was watery and could only muster a somewhat mild, underdeveloped flavor. 

The "first brewing experience" (note my 'hipster beard' on the left)
A few weeks ago I was watching a marathon of Alton Brown's mangnum opus, "Good Eats," while walking on the treadmill.  Now being a regular foody and frequent view of both the FoodNetwork and the Cooking Channel, I've seen almost every episode of "Good Eats."  But this particular evening, I was fortunate enough to catch a rerun of Alton's beer episode. 

Alton Brown, the host of "Good Eats"
It was in that moment that I had a culinary epiphany.  In the past, I brewed beer simply because that's what my friends were doing.  I didn't appreciate the sheer artistry of its creation, or the majesty of its perfection.  I was doing what the masses were doing without realizing why...  I had become a douchey hipster.

Fast forward a couple of years.  My growing appreciation for food and its cultural heritage, has also seeped over into my increasing admiration for beer and its history. 

I was ready to make my triumphant return to home brewing.  So after a quick trip to and dropping a few hundred dollars, I was ready to brew again.  A few days later, I arrived home to the contents of a small UPS truck piled in front of my apartment door.

My own personal UPS truck delivery
End, Part 1.

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

Recipes - Mole Chili

So good on a cold fall evening...
Author's Note:

I love mole (the sauce not the earth burrowing rodent).  I know that some people don't enjoy it, and others find it downright disgusting, but I can't get enough of its rich, smoky roasted flavor. 

Mole can be pretty potent.  The first time I ever sampled it in Guanajuato, Mexico, I was so surprised by its punch of flavor that I politely emptied my mouth into a nearby napkin.  But after a second attempt, I was addicted.

Traditionally, this complex Latin American sauce combines more ingredients than a BMW audio system, and then slowly cooks them until a rich earthy smokiness permeates every bite.  Classic ingredients include roasted almonds, chilies, cinnamon, tomatoes, onions, and a dash of chocolate, among other things.
Pollo con mole (photo courtesy of
Now that fall has descended across much of the US and football season is in full swing, it's the perfect time for tailgating.  And every good southerner knows, tailgating isn't complete without a big bowl of chili. 

Everyone has his or her favorite recipe; that perfect bowl of flavorful stew that warms you up on cold game nights.  Some like it without beans, others prefer a white chili made with chicken and green chilis, but I like mine to explode across my palate with big, brash flavor. 

I'll admit this chili recipe isn't for everyone.  But if you're looking for something different and more flavorful than that bland stuff they serve in Cincinnati, this may be the recipe you've been looking for!

By Samuel Parks (October 2012)

Mole Chili, as prepared at the Nook Tavern, in Huntsville, Ala. 


-2 dried ancho peppers (de-seeded)
-2 Tbs. dried oregano
-2 Tbs. smoked paprika
-1 Tbs. cumin seeds
-1 Tbs. chili powder
-1/2 lb. sliced almonds
-1 lb. bacon (diced and cooked)
-1 lb. stew beef (browned and drained)
-2 large white onions
-1-2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce (finely diced, with more adobo sauce for heat if desired)
-2 (large) cans whole tomatoes
-1 whole cinnamon stick (not ground cinnamon)
-12 oz. bottle dark, malty beer
-1 oz. dark chocolate pieces
-1 oz. semi sweet chocolate pieces
-2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
-2 oz. honey
-1/4 cup flour
-28 oz. red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
-15 oz. black beans (rinsed and drained)
-1 lb. ground buffalo (browned and drained)
-salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the ancho peppers, oregano, paprika, cumin, chili powder, and almonds on a cookie sheet.  Bake in the preheated oven, for approximately 3-5 minutes or until fragrant.  Allow the spices to cool to room temperature.

Using a food processor, grind the toasted spices and nuts into a fine powder (because of the leathery texture of the dried ancho peppers you may have to shake the bowl of the processor a few times).

Heat a large, non-stick pan over high heat.  When thoroughly heated, place the chopped bacon in the pan.  Cook until crispy.  When fully cooked and crispy, remove from the pan and place on a paper towel to collect any excess oil.  Remove all but 1-2 Tbs. of bacon fat from the pan. 

Using a paper towel, pat-dry the chunks of stew beef.  Reheat the large non-stick pan over high heat.  When heated, transfer the dried beef to the hot pan.  Depending on the size of your pan, it may be necessary to cook the beef in several batches.  There should be some space between the pieces of beef for it to brown (if the pan is overcrowded, the beef will steam-cook instead of searing; browning the meat will ensure it remains juicy and flavorful throughout the long cooking time).  While browning, liberally sprinkle the beef with kosher salt (adding the salt during this step helps to pull additional moisture from the meat).  When the beef is done cooking, allow it to drain in a colander suspended over a bowl.

While the beef is draining, cook the onion over medium heat until tender.

Transfer the cooked bacon, stew beef, onions, spices, chipotle in adobo, tomatoes, cinnamon, and beer to a large slow cooker.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours until the beef is fork tender.

When the beef is tender, discard the cinnamon stick, remove the tomatoes and puree the now well cooked, squishy fruits in a food processor (be very careful; the tomatoes should still be hot and the whirling food processor blades are notorious for flinging steamy red goo in wide arcs across a kitchen).

Return the tomatoes to the cooker, leaving approximately 2 cups in a small bowl.  Add the chocolate to the hot tomato puree.  Stir the chocolate and tomato puree until the chocolate pieces have completely melted.  When melted, return the entire mixture to the slow cooker.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, and flour until it creates a lump free paste.  Add the paste to the slow cooker.

Add the beans and buffalo to the slow cooker. Allow to cook for approximately 30 more minutes until it reaches the desired thickness.  Adjust taste with additional salt and pepper. 

Serve with sour cream, extra cheese, green onions, and avocados.

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Half a Skillet Short of a Full Pan - 3 Skillets

3Skillets on Urbanspoon

So, it's been a while, and by a while I mean almost 4 months.  To my regular readers I apologize; life can have a pesky habit of getting in the way sometimes.

But back to business...

In September, I found myself attending a conference in downtown Huntsville with an old friend from college.  Being adventurous eaters who appreciate local quality, we decided to check out the new downtown eatery, The 3 Skillets, during one of our lunch breaks.

Nestled between a popular pizza parlor and a swanky speakeasy style bar on the "north side" of courthouse square, the unassuming, glass-fronted, lunch counter style venue sits in promising location.  Unfortunately, the meal and service were utterly without promise.

We chose to sit at two of the many seats lining the long counter.  After a considerable wait, a member of the waitstaff finally acknowledged us and took our drink orders.  The quaint mason jars in which our drinks were delivered verged on cliche, but were appreciated for their considerable volume.

Like any good dinner, the 3 Skillets runs a rotating blue-plate entree  menu with an assortment of sides, ranging from German cucumber salad to roasted carrots to mashed potatoes and gravy... You know good dinner grub.

Now for anyone who has never eaten at lunch counter, patrons can see everything.  They can see how the food is prepared, how your kitchen staff is dressed, and even who washes their hands and who doesn't.  As someone who occasionally works as a guest chef, opening your kitchen to general public takes a great deal of courage and I sincerely admire the brave owners for attempting to do so in their restaurant.  However, in this particular environment preparations must be taken to ensure a successful dinning experience for your patrons.  And the failure of this establishment to do so is probably the precipitating factor for my dissatisfaction as a dinner.  

During our visit, the special of the day was euphemistically listed as "roast beef."  When the line cook removed the cover from the the large roasting pan sitting on flat top, what awaited us was nothing more than a dry-roasted slab of beef brisket.  In addition to lacking any seasoning, the beef was dry and poorly trimmed (it still contained the massive fat cap characteristic of the cut), resulting in an very gristly mouthfeel.

The sides with our orders were equally disappointing; bland cucumber salad (with the though skins still attached to the vegetable) and under-cooked carrots.  The only thing of any culinary significance, were the mashed potatoes, which were hearty, creamy, and packed with flavor (order them without gravy, trust me).

Back to the primary problem with a lunch counter-esque setting.  For the entire duration of my meal, I watched their cooks and waitstaff with both professional curiosity and admiration.  Their skill wasn't without merit, but was unfortunately lacking in cleanliness.  As I was walking out the door, I took a final look back toward the line, when I caught a glimpse of the line cook... while this wouldn't have been out of place, his hand certainly was.  It was elbow deep in a jar of pickles.  After emptying his hand full of pickles into a holding container on the line, and still dripping with pickle juice, he proceeded to prepare the next order.  While I'm sure this action didn't endanger the clientele, it made me question the hygenic nature of their preparation area.

Note:  The burgers and breakfast items do look terrific.  But the roast beef is definitely to be avoided.  Oh, and remember to order your burger sans pickles.

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