Thursday, March 29, 2012

Breaking News - Restaurant Impossible to Visit Huntsville, AL


So it turns out the popular Food Network show "Restaurant Impossible" has landed in our close-knit community.  The subject of this makeover is Meridianville's Main Dish BBQ.  For the full article, please click here to visit al.com.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Restaurant Review: Bob's Tacos (Rosenberg, TX)

Bob's Taco Station on Urbanspoon
Attentive service, kitshy ambiance, and a side order of atypical tacos, is the only way I can describe this unique Texas eatery.

Photo courtesy of http://waynetothemax.wordpress.com


On a recent trip to visit my grandmother in Houston, she insisted that we visit the little town of Rosenberg, TX.  Knowing that I appreciate a good episode of "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," she was rather pleased to have found a Guy Fieri approved joint, right around the corner from the small antique shop she frequents.  So we packed up the car for an afternoon of antiquing and tacos, and headed down the road. 

We arrived around 2 pm (well after what we were informed was a busy lunch hour) and the small dinning room was virtually empty.  The waitstaff was very attentive, almost approaching overly attentive.

Our food arrived in short order (approximately 10 minutes), but according to other reviews of the establishment wait time can be slightly excessive during busier hours.

Now being a self-proclaimed "courageous foody," I found their taco selection to be an exciting adventure!  It was filled with a wide range of what I will call atypical tacos; of course this is predicated upon the standard American definition of the product. 

I ordered the carne guisada (which translates as "stewed meat"), the lengua (tongue), the chorizo with potatoes, and a tamale.

Carne guisada taco
Lengua taco (note you can still see the taste buds)
Tamale

Of the three, I found the carne guisada to be slightly bland, the lengua verged on chewy, but the chorizo was exceptionally enjoyable.  Though I have to confess the best parts of the meal weren't the tacos, but the homemade tortillas and the roasted tomato salsa.

Now, for fans of Fieri's show you know the real show-stopper at Bob's Taco Station is actually the small snow-ball (just think of a sno-cone with finer ice crystals) stand right next door.  They have a wide variety of flavors, and will allow you to mix and match to your heart's content.

So if you're ever in Rosenberg and have a craving for tacos, Bob's offers a good selection at descent prices.  The tacos probably won't be the best you've ever enjoyed, but what they lack in flavorful well-prepared toppings the make up for with their tortillas!

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

Friday, March 16, 2012

Random Food Photo: "Paula Deen" Potatoes


I had to post this.  And despite what you may be thinking, on rare occasions something just bites you in the ass and you have to post it. 

Granted this is 100 servings of mashed potatoes, but until now I have only seen something this calorific on Paula Deen's cooking shows!  In the end it worked out to nearly 4 lbs of butter.

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recipes: Irish Car Bomb Cake (full version)

By: Sam Parks (March 2012)

Since starting this blog last year, my most popular post by far has been the "easy-ish Irish Car Bomb Cake."  So for this year's celebration I decided to ditch the store-bought cake mix in favor of a new recipe.  And while this updated recipe isn't quite as easy as the earlier edition, the extra work is well worth the effort.  Now I will caution any intrepid bakers out there that this recipe is not for the faint of the heart.  You will dirty every dish in the kitchen and spend considerable time decorating.  But when you tell your guests that this cake is made with beer and Irish cream liqueur they will have to try a slice.

Ok, I know it sounds crazy, but this cake actually tastes like an Irish Car Bomb (the drink not the actual thing...those are generally more painful than they are tasty).  Who would have thought that pouring beer into a cake could be so good.  Enjoy!

Irish Car Bomb Cake
 RECIPE: Irish Car Bomb Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:
-2 cups white sugar
-2 cups cake flour
-3/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa
-1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
-1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. kosher salt
-3 eggs (at room temperature)
-1 cup whole milk (at room temperature)
-1/2 cup vegetable oil
-2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 cup boiling stout beer (I used Guinness Foreign Extra)

For the chocolate ganache:
-8 oz. dark chocolate chips
-6 oz. whole milk
-2 oz. Baileys Irish Cream
-2 Tbs. white corn syrup

For the Baileys Irish cream cheese frosting:
-2 (8 oz.) bricks cream cheese at room temperature
-1 stick butter at room temperature
-2 lbs. powdered sugar
-5 Tbs. Baileys Irish Cream

Directions:

 For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease the inside of two, 8 inch metal cake pans (I use a spray-on no stick cooking spray for convenience).  Place a custom cut sheet of parchment paper inside each of the pans, right on top of the greased surface.  To cut the parchment paper, place a cake pan over the parchment paper, and trace the outline using a sharp utility knife.  Repeat for the second pan.
How to custom cut parchment paper for cake pans
 Then spray the entire pan with an additional layer of grease, so that the parchment paper is covered.

Sprinkle a liberal amount of cocoa into the inside of each pan, and shake vigorously until the entire inside of the pan is covered with a thin layer of cocoa.  This will significantly improve the odds of the cake separating easily from the pan after baking.

Mix the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer.

The dry ingredients
 Add the oil.  Mix until combined.  Add the eggs.  Mix until combined.  Add the milk.  Mix until combined.

Carefully add the salt to the beer.  Be cautious that adding the salt to the beer changes the surface tension and can cause a substantial amount of foaming.  Bring the beer to a rapid boil on the stove top.  Watch for signs of rapid over boiling, as heating beer can cause it expand.

When the beer is boiling, add it immediately to the rest of the batter.  Add the vanilla, and stir to combine.

Pour an even amount of batter into each pan.  Bake in the center of the over for 30-33 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake come out free of batter.

The baked cakes, resting on a wire rack
Cool the cakes on a wire baking rack for 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the pans.  To remove from the pans, quickly run a knife on the outside edge of the pan, trying not cut the cake.  Place a large plate upside down, on top of the cake.  Invert the cake pan and the plate, so that the cake pan is upside down and the plate is right side up.  The cake should easily fall out of the pan.

Allow the cake to cool to room temperature before proceeding.

When the cakes have cooled, cut off the domed portion of the cake top so that the top is level.  I find that long serrated knife (a.k.a a bread knife) works the best for this task.  Simply position the knife directly under the domed portion and carefully slice off the top.  Repeat with the second cake.

The cake with the top removed
Place a somewhat liberal amount of the Baileys Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows these instructions) in the center of one of the cakes.  Spread the frosting out from the center until it mostly covers the top of one of the cakes.

Cake with the frosting filling
Place the second cake squarely on top of the frosting layer, so the whole thing resembles a large Oreo cookie.


Next cover the assembled cakes with the chocolate ganache (recipe follows these instructions).  Don't worry too much about making this layer perfect, we're going to cover it with MORE frosting, mu-ha-ha-ha...

Cakes covered with the chocolate ganache
After the ganache has set, it should be fairly hard, decorate the cake with the remainder of the Baileys Irish cream cheese frosting.  Decorate with any additional items you see fit (since this posting is already fairly long, I'll cover decorating tips in a later posting)


Enjoy (I certainly did, see below)!


For the Baileys Irish cream cheese frosting:
Cream the the room temperature cream cheese and butter, until well combined.  Working in one-cup intervals add the powdered sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the Baileys Irish Cream and stir to combine.

For the chocolate ganache:
Place the chocolate chips and corn syrup into a glass bowl.  Heat the milk and Baileys to a mild simmer.  Pour the milks over the chocolate and syrup.  Allow the mixture to rest for 1 minute.  Using a whisk, stir the mixture until it smooth and the chocolate has melted.  Allow to rest for approximately 20 minutes, until it is smooth but still spreadable.  If the mixture becomes too hard, simply place it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.   

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


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Recipes: Bangers and Mash (version 2)

BY: Samuel Parks (March 2012)

Using beer to pre-cook these snappy sausages really enhances their flavors, and when reduced the liquid makes a great gravy for your mash (aka mashed potatoes state-side).  The dish (minus the gravy and green peas and gravy) will be featured at the Nook Tavern this St. Patrick's Day for the the annual party, don't get me started on using a British staple to celebrate SPD.  

The latest interpretation of Bangers 'n Mash

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


INGREDIENTS

For the bangers:
-10 Irish banger sausages (bratwurst sausages can be substituted, Johnsonville brand is fine)
-2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
-1 oz. fresh thyme
-1/2 oz. fresh sage
-3 oz. fresh parsley
-Olive Oil (for frying)
-24 oz. stout beer 

For the mash:
-5 lbs. russet potatoes
-1/4 cup kosher salt
-1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon sized chunks (use the guide on the label)
-1 cup sour cream
-5 oz. prepared horseradish
-1-2 cups whole milk (depending on final texture)
-salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

For the bangers:

The only place I could find "genuine bangers" in Huntsville, was at Fresh Market
Note the considerably "lighter" color of the sausages
 Combine the beer, onions, and herbs in a large pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil (watch the beer closely, as it has a tendency to boil-over quickly!)

The boiling ingredients
Add the bangers/ sausages to the beer and herb mixture.  Cook until the bangers float to the top (approximately 10 minutes).  Remove the sausages and allow them rest for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet/ pan until very hot.  Carefully add the pre-cooked sausages to the pan.  Cook until well seared on all sides, you will need to turn the bangers every 2-3 minutes.

Serve over mashed potatoes, with the reduced boiling ingredients*

Beer Braised Bangers with English Peas and Horsey Mash (as seen at the Nook Dec. 2011)
*to reduce the boiling ingredients, add 3 cups of chicken broth and boil the hell out of the entire concoction until it is substantially thicker.  Taste the gravy and add salt and pepper until you satisfied with the flavor..

For the mash:
(Since the whole purpose behind my blog is to introduce people new foods and cooking techniques, I thought this would be a good opportunity to demonstrate my tried-and-true method for making mashed potatoes.  The final flavorings are up to you; I've made them with horseradish, as in this recipe, white truffle oil, roasted garlic, the list of possibilities is virtually infinite. Just by changing a few things at the end you can elevate plain mashed potatoes into something extraordinary!)

Peel the potatoes to completely remove the skins.  Thoroughly rinse the potatoes with cold water to remove any dirt and accumulated starch.  Allow the potatoes to drain in a colander until they are fairly dry.

The peeled and washed potatoes

 ***MUY IMPORTANTE***
When cutting or cubing the potatoes, the most important thing to remember is that all of the pieces should be roughly equal in size.  The stated absolute size (1 inch x 1 inch) is more of an approximation.  Equally portioned potatoes will cook at the same time, resulting in an evenly mashed creation.  Un-equally portioned potatoes will cook at different times, resulting in lumpy potatoes.
 
 To cut or cube the potatoes, here are a few visual instructions:

First; cut the potatoes in half.

Step No. 1: cut the potatoes in half, lengthwise

Second; slice the potatoes into three or four equal parts lengthwise (the strips should be approximately 1/2 - 1 inch across


Step No. 2: slice the potatoes into equal strips, lengthwise

Third; slice the potato strips into equal parts widthwise.

Step No. 3: slice the potatoes strips into equal strips, widthwise

The finished "cubes" should resemble those seen in the bowl below.


The "cubed" potatoes
Place the cubed potatoes, into a very large pot (there should be at least 4 inches of free space above the potatoes once they have been placed into the pot).

Add cold water to the pot, use enough to entirely cover the potatoes by at least 2 inches.

Add the 1/4 cup kosher salt to the potato pot.  Place the entire pot onto the stove top, and turn the stove to "high."

Bring the water to boil and cook for approximately 15-20 minutes after the water has started to boil.  The potatoes are done when the edges have started to "smooth out" (they will kind of look like rocks that have been lightly tumbled in a rock tumbler) and a  fork easily passes entirely through the potato.



Immediately pour the potatoes into colander over the sink, and allow them to drain for 10 minutes.  (more water will mean a watery mash).

For my potatoes, I always use a potato ricer.  This device (pictured below) can be made of metal or plastic, and uses a plunger to push the cooked potatoes through a series of small holes on the bottom of the device.  The result is an uniform mash that does indeed resemble cooked rice (hence the name).  In addition to producing a uniform mash, the ricer also reduces the probability of over-mixing your potatoes.  Over mixed potatoes always have a gummy, unpleasant texture.  A hand mixer or a hand-held potato masher can be substituted.  Since these devices use a stirring motion to breakdown the potatoes, special care must be taken to ensure you don't over mix!

Riced potatoes = good
Over-mixed gummy potatoes = bad
Add the butter, and lightly stir until it has melted into the mash.  Add the sour cream and horseradish to the mash.  Add the milk to the mash in 1/2 cup incriments, lightly stirring after each addition.  Continue to add milk until the potatoes are light, fluffy, and creamy, or your preferred consistency.*
*For health conscious or lactose intolerant readers, the milk may be substituted for low-sodium, reduced fat chicken broth.
Add salt and pepper to the mash to your preferred taste.
Enjoy!

Just another quick visual reminder before you leave...
Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recipes: "Irish Car Bomb" Brownies

By: Sam Parks (March 2012)

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day!  This dessert combines Irish stout brownies with milk chocolate and Bailey's Irish Cream ganache for the perfect, baked re-interpretation of an "Irish Car Bomb" cocktail!

"Irish Car Bomb" Brownies
INGREDIENTS:

For the brownies:
-3/4 cup dark/ European cocoa
-1/2 tsp. baking soda
-2/3 cup butter, melted and divided in half
-1/2 cup boiling stout beer, for this recipe I used the "Foreign Extra" by Guinness (for a review of this beer check the following link to my review ( Guinness Foreign Extra Stout )
-2 cups sugar
-1/4 cup honey
-3 eggs
-1 1/2 cup AP flour
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the ganache:
-8 oz. dark chocolate chips
-4 oz. whole milk
-4 oz. Baileys Irish Cream
-2 Tbs. clear corn syrup

DIRECTIONS:

For the brownies:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, grease a rectangular, 13 x 9 inch cake pan


In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the cocoa and baking soda.  Add 1/2 of the melted butter.  Mix the butter and the cocoa just until combined.  Add the boiling beer to the cocoa-butter mixture and stir until it thickens (or looks like the photo below)


 Stir in the sugar, eggs, honey, and the remaining butter.  Stir the mixture until it is smooth and free of lumps. Add the vanilla and salt, mix lightly.

Divide the flour into three equal parts.  Working in intervals, add the flour, stirring until combined after each addition.  (Add the nuts when all of the flour has been combined)

Pour the brownie batter into the greased pan, leveling with a spatula if necessary.

Bake for 30-32 minutes for 'fudgey' brownies, 33-35 minutes for more cake-like creations.

Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

For the ganache:
Place the chocolate chips/ chunks in a heat-proof bowl (I always use glass), add the corn syrup.

Bring the milk and Irish cream to a mild simmer on the stove top.  Pour the heated milks into the bowl with the chocolate and corn syrup.  Wait one minute.  Whisk the mixture until it is smooth.  Allow the mixture to rest 10-15 minutes until it is no longer a liquid, but still easily spreadable.  Spread the ganache over the brownies; if is the appropriate consistency and temperature the ganache should pretty much spread itself over the entire pan.  (in the headline photo, my ganache set-up a little too much, hence the knife marks)

Allow the ganache to set for approximately 1-2 hours.  Cut and enjoy!

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


Beer Review: Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

Author's Note:

So it's been awhile since I've done a beer review; that's what happens when cooking gets in the way!  Anywho, St. Patrick's Day is this Saturday and I knew that I had to review an Irish stout.  Enter the Foreign Extra Stout by Guinness.  While Guinness may not be a "true" Irish brew anymore, it is ubiquitous with the American revelry that accompanies the holiday.  

On a personal note, this also happens to be my go-to-baking-stout, it work's great in bread and even chocolate cakes (be on the lookout for some of these recipes later this week!).  

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
Appearance: Pours almost pitch black with a light-nutty-brown head.  The head forms beautifully right out of the bottle; thick and dense, almost like well beaten egg whites.  It dissipates quickly, leaving a thin lacy head on the glass (a tell-tale sign of a well made brew).

Aroma: Notes of caramel-maltiness playfully dance across the nose, supported by notes of raisins with the faintest whiff of cocoa.

Taste: The flavor profile on this brew opens with a distinct cross between raisins and well ripened figs/ plums.  This quickly transitions to the pronounced taste of well roasted malt (read as slightly bitter coffee juxtaposed against chocolate).  This flavor profile lingers on your palate for second or two before combining with faintest taste of bitter hops to produce a crisp and flavorful finish that stays with you for a while.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, with just the right amount of body to fully carry the flavors of the beer, but not too "stout" to weigh down your palate/ gut.  Finishes with a crispness that is sometimes lost in this style of beer.

Overall: While this may not be the hands-down best stout on the face of the planet, it is an enjoyable and well balanced beer.  It's moderately complex flavor profile is carried nicely by the body of the beer without being overly debilitating.  Unlike some of its terrific American counterparts (the Yeti series from Great Divide), I could easily turn this into a session beer and consume several of them over the course of early spring afternoon.

For a complete review of this beer on BeerAdvocate.com, please see the following link:
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout)

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Random Food Photo: Tupelo Honey


The photo shoot for my recent posting on Meringue Berry Torte (gastronomic-wasteland.blogspot.com) yielded some terrific photos.  And because tupleo honey is quite frankly the kitchen equivalent of Chuck Norris, I had to put this image in a separate posting.  Hope you enjoy!

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

New Food Wednesday: March 7, 2012



It's a rock! It's a potato! It's a truflle; well sort of...

Find out what it is after the jump

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meringue Berry Torte

No, I didn't die... but between a hectic month at work, a gallbladder removal, and a sinus infection, I just haven't had the time or even felt like blogging.  I guess you could say I've had blogger-block.  But don't worry, we're back this week with a few good recipes and some interesting foodstuffs.

For those who have never experienced the pleasure of passing a gallstone, imagine being pummeled repeatedly in the abdomen with the pointy end of an angry villager's pitchfork; it's not entirely the most exciting physical sensation known to man.  But after two procedures early last week the damnable thing is gone and so are my pains.  Unfortunately, my ability to eat certain high fat foods, like steak, cheese, and birthday cake, has also temporarily abandoned me.

So when my mother requested a lite cake for her birthday, I was relieved.  If you'll forgive the pun, "I could have my cake and eat it too!"

It also gave me the opportunity to work on my meringue torte recipe.  The fruits of this labor can be found in the recipe below.

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

Meringue Berry Torte
RECIPE: Meringue Berry Torte
Sam Parks (March 2012)

So I typically hate baked meringues.  They are almost always dry, tasteless, and have the texture of warm Styrofoam.  A few years ago I noticed a recipe that included nuts in the meringue, and I thought "hey, there's an idea!"

Now my mother and I have a standing argument over the inclusion of vanilla extract in our meringues; she's in favor, I'm against.

My meringue features fresh lemon juice for a slight hint of citrus.  When combined with chopped walnuts and my secret ingredient (Tupelo honey from the Savannah Bee Company), this version of a classic dessert is elevated from boring and dull to quasi-orgasmic...ok maybe not, but it's still pretty tasty!

INGREDIENTS

For the meringue:
-6 egg whites
-2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
-1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
-1/4 tsp. kosher salt
-1 2/3 cup granulate sugar
-2 cups chopped walnuts
-1/4 cup Tupelo Honey*

For the filling:
-1  'large tub' of Lite Cool Whip, fully thawed
-1/2 of a four serving box INSTANT lemon pudding
-1/2 cup skim milk
-32 oz. sliced strawberries
-12 oz. cup fresh blueberries
-1/2 - 1 cup sugar

DIRECTIONS

For the meringue:

-Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.



-Using a pencil and a sheet of parchment paper long enough to cover the back of a 1/2 sheet pan, trace the outline of an 8 inch round baking pan onto one corner of the paper.  Repeat this process in the opposite corner of the paper.  THEN repeat this process on a second sheet of parchment paper, giving you a total of four circles. Squarely position each sheet onto an overturned 1/2 sheet pan.


-Separate the egg whites from the yolks, making sure none of the yolk finds it's way into the whites (the yolks can be saved for later use in a different recipes).



-Using a mixer, slowly begin to beat the egg whites.  Gently increase the speed until the mixer has reached a robust pace.

-When soft peaks have formed add the cream of tartar, lemon juice, and salt.  Immediately begin to slowly add the sugar.  Continue beating on high, until stiff peaks have formed.

Very soft peaks
Stiff Peaks
 -Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the chopped  walnuts and honey into the egg whites.



-Portion the egg white mixture into four equal amounts.  Spread one portion of the mixture into each of traced circles, making sure to stay within the lines and flattening the mixture into a disk with a slight depression in the center.

The meringue "disks"
-Bake for 30 minutes.  Quickly rotate the pans, and bake for another 30 minutes.  Turn off the oven, and open the door for 30 seconds.  Close the oven door, and allow the meringues to rest for at least 1 hour.

-While the meringues are resting, mix the instant lemon pudding according to the package directions.  You will only need half, so if you're hungry a few spoonfuls won't be missed.

-Slice the strawberries, and combine with the blueberries.  Add enough sugar (1/2 - 1 cup) to sweeten the berries.  Allow the berry mixture to "macerate" (rest in sugar) for at least 30 minutes.

The berries chilling with some sugar in "the really cool bowl"

-Right before assembling, mix 1/2 of the lemon pudding with the Cool Whip. (there may be leftovers!)

-To assemble, place one of the meringue disks on a serving plate.  Place enough of the berry mixture onto the disk to cover it in a single layer.  Spread some of the pudding mixture onto of the berries.  Place another disk on top of the pudding, and repeat layer in this fashion until all of the meringues/ berries have been used.

The folks at the office really, really liked the pudding-cool whip filling, and demanded more!

*Tupelo Honey, is a varietal honey made from the flowers of the Tupelo tree (it only grows in a small region of the Southeastern U.S. and blooms for an average of 2 weeks).  It has a pleasing floral flavor, almost like clover honey on steroids!  Once a drop of this liquid gold has touched your lips, off-brand, mass-produced honeys will never be the same.  I like to use it sparingly, as it is rather expensive, when I really want the flavor of the honey to come through.  Just use it like white truffle oil for your desserts and it will be a worthwhile investment.  (http://www.savannahbee.com)