Sunday, December 23, 2007

Double Back Simplicity Ale

This ale has been aging in secondary fermentation for a few weeks now, and I decided to keg it today. It's loosely based on Chimay Rouge, but I added dark Belgian Candi sugar instead of light, so it's a bit darker than Chimay. Also, due to the hop shortage, I was unable to get the appropriate hops. As a result, it tastes more like an American hopped lager crossed with the yeasty characteristics of a Belgian ale. I'm thinking about seeking out some better hops and dry hopping it in the keg. It's definitely a complex beer, but I'm just not happy with the hop character. All things aside, it is very lovely looking in the glass with a decent amount of head retention.

On Deck: Belgian Wit and Winter Warmer Specialty Ale

Over the last few weeks, I have been busy studying water chemistry, obtaining brewing equipment, refining my brewing methods, and basically trying to improve my mash efficiency. In order to effectively adjust my water, I need to know its composition. The water quality report from Illinois American Water assured me that the water is safe to drink, but gave me very little information about the cosmetic side of my water profile. I will need to send a sample to a lab to break it down. Does anybody know of a local lab that will perform this service for me? Otherwise, I will need to send my water to a lab in Minnesota a couple of times per year at $15 a pop. If there are any other all grain brewers in 61615, please let me know if you are interested in water chemistry. Perhaps we could share the lab fees. Here is a link to a chapter in "How to Brew" by John Palmer that discusses the importance of ph in mashing.

Even though this ale didn't turn out as nice as I would have liked, I can't help but to smile knowing that the government was unable to rape me with their outrageous alcohol tax. And all is well...


Edit: After dry hopping this beer with a half ounce of Cascade hops, it is much more palatable. Cascade is one of my favorite hops and I can't wait to see how the flavors develop.

Double Back Simplicity Ale
Belgian Dubbel - 7.02% ABV

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sandy the Dog

This picture of Sandy came out so nicely, I just had to share it. Hope you enjoy!


Celebrating the First Real Snowstorm!

Raspberries, Turbinado, and Snow...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mini Tamalada

After a trip to La Esquinita, Becka and I decided to make tamales. In Mexico, a tamalada is a tamale making party that's similar to an assembly line. Everyone pitches in. Although we were far short of an assembly line, we worked well together and produced some very nice tamales. The filling consisted of black beans, onions, achiote, habanero, and, of course, masa. We steamed them for about an hour and fifteen minutes before digging into this wholesome feast.

Achiote Black Bean Tamales

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Over The Line Stout

Well, this beer has been through some twists and turns, experienced a relatively sluggish fermentation, has aged for several weeks now, and finally matured into a quite respectable Russian Imperial Stout. I am proud to say that this beer has exceeded all expectations that I could have had for it. It has taught me a ton about fermenting big beers and properly pitching yeast. In any event, it has finally made it's way (at least half of it, anyway) into a cozy keg. The other half was bottled for Christmas gifts. I am excited to see what this beer tastes like in six months to a year after being bottle conditioned.

Ahhhh...Served on tap at a perfect 52ºF. This is the good life.

Over The Line Stout
Imperial Stout
9.2% ABV

Appearance: Deep brown to black in color with a dark tan creamy head. Good head retention.

Aroma: Caramely and malty with chocolate and hints of bananas.

Taste: Deep malt flavors. Not as toasty as I would have liked. Very little hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Very smooth. Alcohol bite is more prominent as the beer opens up. Medium carbonation.

Drinkability: Very drinkable. Rich and wholesome. Very clean flavor with subtle yeast complexities.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Schlafly's Oatmeal Stout

In the past, I have enjoyed many brews by Schlafly, all at a very reasonable price. And I have noticed a trend with this St. Louis brewery - when they do a flavored beer, it's often overkill (most notably, their pumpkin beer that I tried last year). But within their 80 some brews, many are truly delicious, e.g., their Coffee Stout. However, this was not the case with the Oatmeal Stout. I must say that this is the most disappointing beer I have tasted since Granite City tainted their delicious Dopple Bock with their deplorable Lite Lager.

So, here goes:

Schlafly Oatmeal Stout
5.7% ABV

Appearance: Dark brown to black in color, yet watery when poured into a glass. A good deal of carbonation yielded a nice, khaki colored, foam head that dissipated rather quickly.

Aroma: Light hop aromas, a bit floral. A very "closed" beer. Slightly caramely.

Taste: Moderately dry. A bit of chocolate, hint of caramel. Nothing outstanding. Very hoppy. Reminiscent of a dark lager.

Mouthfeel: Thin and watery. Very low final gravity. Very snappy. Loads of carbonation.

Drinkability: Not worth buying again. I would rather shell out the extra buck and grab a Goose Island Oatie Stout or a Breckenridge Oatie Stout - both much better small stouts in this price range. The main problem I have with the Schlafly beer is that the malt body doesn't stand up to the amount of hops in it. The original gravity of this beer is 14 plato, dead average for the style, but the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) are 40, which puts it at the top end for the style. Kind of a mismatch if you ask me. This beer just a bit of malt kick to balance out the intense hops.

Now, back to my Flying Dog - Gonzo Imperial Porter. mmmmmmmm.


After the Ice Storm...

Here are a couple of photos after the ice storm today. Buddy chewed ice until his mouth was bloody and I took him inside. Ahhhh, good times! As always, more pictures are available on my Flickr account.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Dark Lord Imperial Stout

Tonight while brewing, a friend of mine presented a bottle of Three Floyd's Dark Lord Imperial Stout. It's a seasonal brew that generally sells out hours after being released. My beer appreciating friend drove to the brewery and waited in line to purchase six bottles (maximum allowed) of this syrupy brew. Each twenty two ounce bottle will set you back $15.00, and it's worth every penny. I know it sounds like a lot, but people shell out money for fine wine without batting an eye. Dark Lord does indeed venture out of the realm of beer, borrowing characteristics from fine wine and spirits. But I'm not going to go on and on about it as there are many resources out there that can better put this beer into words. I certainly can't. This Russian Imperial is currently rated number two on Beer Advocate, so there are plenty of reviews there - most of which hit the nail on the head. I will tell you, however, that this beer poured from the bottle like used motor oil. It's been a while since I've seen a beer of this magnitude. I would recommend seeking this one out!

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Breakfast...

Lately I've been on a granola and yogurt kick. Trader Joe's sells a lot of granola for $2.00/lb., but I'm completely out. I really love their seasonal pumpkin spice granola as well as their maple and almond granola. Anyway, here is my peanut butter, vanilla, fig, walnut, almond, and chocolate granola. It should last me a while. I'm happy with the way it turned out. Now it's time to make my own yogurt!


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nihilist Stout Keg Tapping

Well, after a serious overhaul of my kegging equipment, I was able to keg my Nihilist Stout and force carbonate it with the paltry amount of CO2 I had left. It was a beautiful thing to see it pour out of the tap with just the proper amount of pressure. I love draught beer.

Nihilist Stout (Russian Imperial Stout)
7% ABV
Appearance: Jet Black with a deep tan head. No light passes through.
Aroma: Deep and roasty with slight banana esters. Medium head retention.
Taste: Caramel notes and coffee like flavors. Hints of banana. Very malty and slightly sweet.
Mouth Feel: Very thick and creamy.
Drinkability: Very Drinkable. It is the best Imperial Stout I have ever produced. It could benefit from a few weeks of aging - if it lasts that long!

See this post for pictures of the Nihilist brewing.

New Taste of Thai, In Peoria!

Yet another papaya salad! And this one came from Taste of Thai right here in Peoria. It's under new ownership and we were very apprehensive about going. We had heard negative things about the old place, but the new place ranks with some of the better Thai food I have eaten. As always, I requested that they cook my food as they would eat it. The papaya salad was very spicy, but not as spicy as some. The cook informed me that his wife likes it much spicier than he does. The egg rolls were delicious, but extremely greasy. They were served with a tangy dipping sauce. I also had a tofu Pad Thai that was very delicious. It was sauced perfectly and the tofu was seared properly. My buddy had a Red Thai Curry with Chicken that was very spicy, but a bit thin for my taste.

Papaya Salad with Tomatoes and Iceberg Lettuce

Pad Thai with Tofu

Thai Egg Rolls and Red Curry with Chicken

2.4 Miles on Gravel

Yesterday, I visited an Amish Bakery way out in the country. I really liked the atmosphere and their baked goods were delicious. The local community supports the new Amish population and I noticed several customers in the store. The bakery owners were kind enough to let me take photographs, but I didn't photograph any people. It just seemed intrusive. Among several other items, I purchased a jalapeño mustard which was fantastic. The cinnamon rolls were so fresh and the black raspberry turnovers were killer - very flaky with lots of filling. Their caramel candies are made with real cream and are super rich. The only problem is they are wrapped in wax paper that is very difficult to remove. Also, they don't bake the first three months of the year.

I also took a couple of pictures of the Amish Schoolhouse and a stray puppy. Behind the schoolhouse are portable restrooms and a stable. The children play in a nearby field. It was very nice.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Newest Member of the Family...

So here is the new kid on the block.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Little Trip to Mexico...

Tonight, Becca and I ate at the only authentic Mexican restaurant that I know of in Peoria, Mi Familia. If they only had margaritas it would be happening place. If you weren't looking for it, you would miss it. It's a true hole in the wall. It is linked physically and financially with La Esquinita, a Mexican grocery store.

I ordered two Chorizo and Avocado Sopes and two Lengua Tacos. They were served with the traditional red and green salsas. Sopes are little masa boats that have been fried and filled with various ingredients. In my research, sopes are often finger food served on the street in many areas of Mexico. Mi Familia tops them generously with the "works" so that you have to eat them with a fork. The sopes were delicious albeit a bit greasy from the chorizo. The lengua, cooked very simply, was very tender. Mexican food is often cooked with few spices and served with various condiments to allow the diner to control the heat. Our bill was $7.50. If you plan on using credit card, you will get a receipt that you take to the grocery store next door to pay.

Before I recommend running off to dine at Mi Familia, I should warn you that it is VERY authentic and their idea of sanitation is different from American restaurants (e.g. you will receive salsa that has been served to other guests - it is etiquette to use the spoons provided in the salsa rather than dipping things in it). I have become slightly ill after eating here a couple of times. Nothing serious, but just something to keep in mind. I go back, however, because it is truly the only authentic Mexican food in Peoria. If you like Carlos O' Kelly's, La Fiesta, or El Whatever Rancherito, you won't like this place. If you are brave at heart please go check this place out. It's the best thing you will find short of traveling to a place with a greater Mexican population.


PS. Also, it's been several hours and we feel fine!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Granite City Brewery

Yesterday, a few friends and I stopped by the new brewery in East Peoria called Granite City Brewery. I wasn't sure whether to expect more from them because they are a chain or less from them because they are a chain. I am partial to brewpubs that allow the brewmaster to have complete control over his craft. The better chains often require a certain variety of styles to keep on tap, but let the brewer devise his own recipes. Also, the brewmaster will create seasonal and specialty beers to keep a nice rotating tap.

I realize that this pub is very new and that things may not be in full swing. Apparently, there were four brews completed at this time. The waitress informed us that there would be a seasonal brew available shortly. I was satisfied.

As per usual, I ordered the sampler platter. They charged $3.50. Not bad. They offer two complimentary samples, but I opted for the full array. This was a complete impromptu trip, and I was terribly unprepared. This photo was taken with my phone, so please excuse the noise.

From the left, clockwise: Northern Light Lager, Brother's Benedict Bock, Broad Axe Stout, Duke IPA, and "Two Pull" Beer.

Northern Light Lager (American Light Lager):
Appearance: Light golden and very clear.
Aroma: Very light hop aroma.
Taste: Almost no bitterness. Crisp and light. Low head retention with almost zero taste - the perfect American Light Lager.
Mouthfeel: Very clean and crisp. Moderate amount of carbonation.
Drinkability: Personally, I would not drink it. Objectively it is slightly better than standard American Light Lagers, but I prefer a much hoppier beer.

Brother's Benedict Bock (Bock or possibly Dopple Bock):
A: Dark amber, almost a light brown. No head retention.
A: Very malty and slightly flora.
T: "A caramel kick in the face" was my first reaction. But in a good way. It is rich and thick - very, very malty. Less hops than I had smelled.
MF: Rich and smooth. Medium body.
D: This beer is pretty drinkable. I liked it. I wish it would have been poured correctly with a nice layer of head. It would have completed this beer.

Broad Axe Stout (Dry Irish Stout):
A: Deep black with a white creamy head - true to the style. Excellent head retention.
A: Very toasty with rich chocolatey notes.
T: Very much like it smells. Deep toasted flavors. Almost coffee like notes. Almost no alcohol bite.
MF: Very smooth and creamy. I suspect that it was nitrogenated.
D: This beer is pretty drinkable. I will admit, however, that I love stouts. Next to the IPA, this might be my favorite.

Duke IPA (India Pale Ale):
A: Light amber with a low head retention.
A: Very floral and hoppy. Couldn't pinpoint what hops were used, but I think they were listed in their beer guide.
T: Crispy and floral with a nice hop bite. Excellent finish.
MF: A light body with a good amount of carbonation.
D: This is my personal favorite of all the beers on the tray. It was well balanced and extremely drinkable. This IPA was a lacking a little body for my taste, but it is certainly not a flaw. This is a well crafted brew.

Two Pull Beer (A mix of the Light Lager and Bock):
A: Are you kidding me?
A: You can't be serious.
T: Tasted like what it is. A nice Bock beer ruined by a bland American Light Lager.
MF: Again, are you kidding me?
D: None. I guess if this was the only beer left on the planet, I might drink it.

Note: This was reported to have been a "customer favorite" that turned into a company standard. My opinion: They only had four beers ready to open up the pub, and wanted to fill up the tray. They try to pass it off as a "unique" beer blend. Sounds so upscale, right? If there story was true, my advice: Maybe your company R&D shouldn't come from a drunkard at the bar.

Bottom Line: It's a pretty good brewpub, and I'm glad to have it here in the Peoria area. This community needs places that offer a touch of class. We were too full to try any of their food, but the portions looked gigantic.

Now, I'm getting the urge to go back to Rhodell's. I haven't been there for a while and would like to see what they have brewing...


Monday, November 12, 2007

Two Buck Chuck

The words "two buck chuck" do not conjure up images of fine wine, unless it takes two golds at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition like Charles Shaw's 2005 Chardonnay. Trader Joe's sells Charles Shaw wines for $1.99 in California and up to $3.49 elsewhere. TJ's is packed full of great table wines as well as wines ideal for serving at a nice dinner party. It is refreshing to find table wines in a price range that tables wines should fall in. Most liquor stores or supermarkets will charge at least $6 for a decent bottle of table wine. And no, Wild Vines is not decent table wine.

The 2005 Chardonnay is very clean and crisp with well balanced fruity flavors. I generally get green apple and pear from it with absolutely NO biting tannins. It's a really great wine. It rivaled many wines that were MUCH more expensive. In the pretentious world of wines, it is exciting to see the underdog win.

If nothing else, it shows that the buyers at Trader Joe's really do their best to bring good values to the customer. Not only do they purchase quality, they purchase responsibly. I've been drinking Charles Shaw wines for years and have always appreciated these well crafted wines. Interestingly enough, when Channel 7 out of Chicago broadcast the results of the California competition, TJ's sold out in two hours!

Upon receiving this information, I pulled some culinary strings and caught one of the last cases in existence.



So, it seems I've been remiss in postisng a link to our band's website. We are called Warpharin - go check us out!! We are also on MySpace, so be our friend.

Edit: I've found a better picture that doesn't leave out our talented pianist, Ken.

Warpharin at Peoria Pizza Works

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nihilist Stout

Today was perfect. Fed Ex attempted to ruin my day by changing the delivery date of my grains, yeast, and hops, thus preventing me from brewing beer. Consequently, I found a very cool homebrew shop here in town that far exceeded my expectations - Harrington's on Sheridan. They were able to supply everything I needed to brew my Russian Imperial Stout at a very reasonable price. They also carry a complete selection of keg accessories, so I can refurbish old kegs as needed.

This particular beer called for a larger than usual lauter tun because of the vast amounts of grain used. It is particularily difficult of find a 10 gallon Rubbermaid style cooler that can be fashioned into a serviceable tun. Thankfully, I was able to locate one last night at GFS and convert it to be used today. I brewed five gallons of the beer, and plan to brew five gallons of IPA within two weeks.

Anyway, after a long day of brewing, I am very pleased with the results. The Nihilist's OG was 1.074, which is larger than I expected, but kinda light for the style. I'm estimating that my efficiency with this system is about 80%. This beer should be about 7.5% ABV and cost approximately $.57 per pint.

Mashing the grains for 90 minutes.


Siphoning the wort into a fermentation bucket. Mmmmmm Black Gold

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Korean BBQ

I have a Korean friend who has explained to me a traditional Korean meal, but I had never had the luxury of experiencing it for myself until we stopped by the Korean Restaurant in Schaumburg on the way to the Sear's Center. She had told me about the abundance of side dishes (banchan) in Korean meals - in this case there were nine! It was great fun to dive into so many unfamiliar taste sensations - all complimentary with the entree. I had never seen this sort of setup outside of Indian restaurants.

Conch was on the menu, so naturally I snatched it up. I was surprised when it arrived cold (as all the side dishes), but it was very attractive and delicious. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and the conch was not tough or chewy. And it was spicy! My only complaint is the overabundance of the ketchupy/sirachaey sauce (I know it doesn't look like it from the photo, but towards the bottom it was very intense).

Edit: I researched banchan and found the names of several dishes. Some of these things were much harder to identify than I had imagined.

Left to Right, Top Row: Simple Green Salad with Cucumber and a Gritty Unknown Vinaigrette, Steamed Squash, Kak Tu Gi - Daikon Radish with Red Chili Sauce, Kimchi - Fermented Cabbage and Seasoned Vegetables, Unknown Little Brown Sticks - possibly dried squid.

Left to Right, Bottom Row: Kong Na Mul - Cold Bean Sprouts with Sesame Oil, Seasoned Rice Noodles, Shi Geum Chi - Seasoned Spinach, Possibly flat egg noodles or fried tofu strips.

Conch Salad with Red Peppers, Onions, Green Onions, Zucchini, Sesame Seeds, tossed with a spicy chili sauce.

Notice the button at each table used to summon a waitperson.

Ground and Pound

Lightweight fighters are the scrappiest of the bunch and much more entertaining than the fat ones. The very first match was won with a jaw-shattering knock out. There were other knock outs as well, including Shane Ott who was choked out in an arm triangle. Later, we would be treated to an excellent heavyweight ground and pound. It was my first fight.

IFL is a relatively new league where fighters compete on teams and (supposedly) receive weekly paychecks, and are required to fight every few months. Here, the action manifests itself in a roped ring rather than the weapon cage of the UFC arena. This was the IFL World Grand Prix in Hoffman Estates, IL - a mixed martial arts event featuring fighters from Brazil to Chicago. Also, it was the first IFL event to be broadcast live. We had pretty decent seats about eight rows back on the second tier. Towards the end of the night a fight broke out in the crowd a few sections across from us. I was unable to capture a glimpse of this bonus fight.

Roy Nelson (w) vs. Bryan Vetell

Matt Horwich (w) vs. Brian Foster

Chris Horodecki (w) vs. Bart Palaszewski

Monday, October 29, 2007

And the Chili Fetish Continues...

Becka and I origionally purchased this chocolate bar as a novelty treat. It is a Swiss made bar from a company called Frey, and consists of 55% dark chocolate with generous chunks of chiles de árbol mixed in. As Becka noted, the combination of sweet and heat is underutilized in American culture. I concur.

Although the chiles were uniformly distributed throughout the bar, no single bite compared to my first. I was nearly overwhelmed by the fiery bite of capsaicin when the soothing chocolate came to the rescue. Obviously, this was no novelty bar. It just might be the best Swiss chocolate I've had the pleasure of consuming.

Normally, I'm a purist in the chocolate world. I don't think it should be adulterated with such things as citrus, mint, or (most commonly) dairy products. That said, I'm still curious about their lemon and black pepper chocolate...

This may appear to be a stock photograph. And I hope it does, because I've been practicing my chops at practical photography. Hopefully, I can sell some of my stock photographs and collect a few royalty checks (of course this one has logos and such, so it's of no use). But there are couple on my flickr site if anyone is interested. Also, this may have been the most challenging photograph I've ever taken due to the extremely reflective surface of the box and my lack of quality lighting equipment. I feel good about it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chilly Harvest and Get Your Vote On!

Today I harvested a nice crop of ripe jalapeños that were growing at my parent's house. It's possible that I'll submit one of these shots to National Geographic Magazine's "Your Shots" section. I'm having trouble deciding which one, so please participate in my poll and help me choose.

By the way, I can't believe they are still surviving this cold weather.


Photo 1 - Bowl of Jalapeños

Photo 2 - Hanging on a Ledge

Photo 3 - Hanging on a Ledge Plus Two

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mug Soap Going Extinct?

Gone are the days when you could walk in to your neighborhood drug store and purchase a puck of William's Mug Soap for under a dollar. When were these days? About six months ago, as far as I can tell. That's when I purchased my last supply. Now, I am forced to look elsewhere. Naturally Yours carries Urban Cowboy shaving soap, but it's priced ridiculously and smells like cheap cologne. I've called several mom and pop drug stores that don't carry shaving soap or brushes. I guess I will have to start a shaving revolution before things will get better. Until then, I guess disposable razors will continue to pile up in landfills.

Now, I'm off for a relaxing hot shave...

Buddy Portrait

So this photo of Buddy now adorns the wall of my kitchen.

I Have Heat! Thanks, Perry's

After paying an absurd amount of money for a furnace ignitor, I now have precious heat. I called every heating and cooling outfit in the phonebook and explained my problem to them. When I called Perry's Heating and Cooling, Ray (the owner) answered and accurately diagnosed my problem based upon the detailed information that I provided him. He quickly gave me an estimate which was much lower than any other company in the phonebook. I set up an appointment, and he gave me a two hour window of 1-3pm. He showed up just a few minutes after one (my house in notoriously difficult to find).

When he arrived, he was clean, friendly, and seemed knowledgeable. He quickly verified his previous diagnosis, and within fifteen minutes I had heat. But more importantly, he explained everything to me as he went along while giving me tips about furnace maintenance. I also had a question about some wiring issues, and he assured me that everything was wired correctly. Furthermore, he explained what was wrong with my central air conditioner, and showed me how to fix it. He stuck around for a few minutes afterward to make sure that it was operating properly. He also told me how to monitor the furnace for correct operation over the next few days. I now have a much better understanding of how my furnace works. The extra education made me feel better about the entire situation. His price was exactly the same as his estimate, which made me happy, and he had the correct parts, in stock, in his truck.

I would definitely recommend Perry's and will call them again as needed. Their number is (309) 694-9177. They operate primarily out of the East Peoria and Peoria area.

Note: I have absolutely no affiliation with Perry's Heating & Cooling. I simply wish to recognize their amazing customer service and lower prices.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Illinois Brewing Company

I happened into Illinois Brewing Company this afternoon and was quite amazed at how busy they were. A cancer research benefit was in full swing complete with food and live music. I did not participate in the buffet or raffles, but I did partake in a nice sample platter. Ultimately, I will have to say that they've went downhill since I visited last summer.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with brewpubs, they employee Brew Masters that brew their own beer on site, thus offering fresher brews. Often, they will offer standard bar drinks and corporate beer, but I always go for the house beer - especially the seasonals.

Without further ado (I'll try to keep this brief):
Note: Alcohol content is unknown for these beers.

(from right to left)

Kolsh Beer - A Special Brew
Appearance: Light in color and slightly hazy.
Aroma: Slight floral fragrance - small to medium hop notes.
Taste: Distinct bitter aftertaste. Almost like an Extra Special Bitter.
Mouth Feel: Light, perhaps slightly undercarbonated, but nice.
Drinkability: Drinkable, but not my favorite.

Colonel Harrington's IPA
A: A deep golden amber. Maybe slightly darker than the average IPA. Very clear.
A: Very flowery. Smells like a nice blend of various hops.
T: Prominent alcohol bite at first. Strong whiskey characteristic. I can't pinpoint the exact flavor, but it has definite oak notes. I've never tasted these flavors in an IPA. Could be hoppier.
MF: Light to medium body. Fair amount of carbonation. Alcohol aftertaste.
D: Not very drinkable for me. The "whiskeyness" takes away any pleasure that I expect from a traditional IPA. But, not a terrible beer.

O'Tinley's Lyte Lager
A: Very pale with small carbon dioxide bubbles.
A: Very subtle cherry candy scents. Intriguing.
T: Definite lager characteristics. Bitter, lingering aftertaste. Not very hoppy.
MF: Very light and low in carbonation.
D: Better than most supermarket American Light Lagers, but still my least favorite style of beer.

Big Beaver Brown Ale
A: Deep, deep amber, to moderate brown. Very clear. Moderate Head retention.
A: Malty, deep, almost sour notes. Very low alcohol vapor.
T: Prominent alcohol taste. A bit harsh, but smoothed out by the maltiness. Those same whiskey type flavors are appearing in this beer as well, but not as distracting as those in the IPA. Maybe a bit hoppy for a brown ale.
MF: Smooth and luxurious. Almost silky.
D: Moderately drinkable. The whiskey notes fade after the first few drinks.

Stumblin' Stout
A: Jet Black. Allows very little light to pass through. Moderate head retention.
A: Deep, roasty, malty aromas. Only a trace alcohol scent. Flowery hop aroma.
T: Rich but crisp coffee flavor. Dark maltieness that is also plagued by the whiskey flavors common to most of the beers here. Noticeable tannin bite to the back of the mouth.
MF: Smooth and rich. Medium amount of carbonation.
D: The most drinkable of all beers here. The dark maltiness properly balances the strong alcohol flavors common to these beers. It's almost reminiscent of barley wine. I ordered more of these.

I pondered what was wrong with the situation as I sipped my Stublin' Stout (an American style stout, I believe). Most patrons were drinking Budweiser, which made me very sad. And I kept dwelling on those odd whiskey flavors running wildly through the sample platter. I reasoned that perhaps this problem was external. Maybe dirty beer lines or poorly washed glassware was the culprit (my ice water tasted like Sprite). But I'm not going to make any assumptions here - it very well could have been the intent of the Brew Master.

In any event, I had a wonderful time and encourage you to support locally brewed beer. It eliminates recycling bottles, reduces energy used for transportation, and provides fresh and creative beer to the community.

More detailed images are available here.

Here is their website (which could use an overhaul):

Dark Chocolate Tofu Pie with Strawberries

This is one of the simplest dessert recipes I can think of. It's an Alton Brown gem - you can find it here. So, I know what you are thinking. Why the hell would you ruin fine chocolate with soy? Answer: it's low in fat, high in protein, smooth in texture, and mild in flavor. I'm sure many of you are skeptical, but here are at least a hundred people who gave it five stars on Food Network's site. Becka and I deviated from the recipe a bit here: We bought a frozen bake-your-own pie crust, omitted the honey, substituted Amaretto for Kahlùa, and added macerated strawberries. The almond flavor wasn't my personal favorite, but it was nice. Be sure to use a moderately good dark chocolate. I used Ghirardelli, because it's better than Hershey's (not real dark chocolate), but not as expensive as good chocolate. I paid about $2.00 for the 12oz by weight of chocolate you will need for the recipe. By the way, I'm not excited about this picture, but it gets the point across.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Papaya Salad Revisited or "Look Ma, I Finished All My Chilies"

The last time I had papaya salad was at my favorite Thai restaurant, Krung Tape Thai, in Romeoville. It was so hot that I didn't even finish it - and I am very fond of my capsaicin. Fast forward to today. Becka and I decided to try out the Thai House in Bloomington. Right away, the papaya salad jumped out at me. I decided to give it a go. I asked the very kind waitress if they could make mine "as they would eat it" - meaning unabashedly spicy. It soon arrived looking and smelling terrific. Fresh, multi colored chilies were generously scattered throughout the salad and provided a nice contrast to the rather plain papaya. The capsaicin locked into my tastebuds from the very first taste. It was remarkably like the salad I had experienced a few years earlier. At one point, the cook came to the table concerned that the salad might be too spicy for me, and offered to make me another one. I lied and said that it wasn't too spicy for me, but it was obviously more than I could handle. It was perfect.

I realized that a pile of chilies was forming at the side of my plate, and decided that I had better eat them to avoid appearing foolish. Then an amazing thing happened. After stuffing my mouth with three or four small chillies, I prepared for the ever so familiar burn that would push my already burnt tongue over the edge. But it never came. And I ate every last chile in that hellacious salad. I've never experienced this kind of tolerance when dealing with capsaicin - even after competing in chile eating contests with Mexicans, flirting with habaneros, eating fiery Indian curries, and tasting pure cap. It was a milestone in my culinary masochism.

We also had Pad See Eew, Su-mai, Crab Rangoon, and Thai Eggrolls. The Pad See Eew consisted of thick rice noodles, tofu, carrots, egg, and broccoli. The dish had a great stir fried flavor, but could have used a bit more sauce. The Su-mai (steamed shrimp dumplings) were delicious, but the dipping sauce was a bit fishy for our tastes. We discovered that the papaya dressing was much better suited. The crab rangoon had very little filling without the traditional cream cheese. However, they were filled with real crab meat and were quite tasty. The chili dipping sauce was a bit ketchupy for my liking. The Thai eggrolls were a simple filling of pork and rice noodles wrapped in an incredibly flaky and crispy shell. They were served with a tangy dipping sauce topped with crushed peanuts. All in all, the meal was excellent. It set me back $26 without tip.

Also, I was so hungry that I forgot to take pictures before the meal was half devoured.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Autumn Photos

Finally, some pictures that I am pretty proud of...

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Guilty Pleasure

General Tso's Chicken. Who doesn't love this bastardized, pseudo Chinese fried dish? I'll take mine extra spicy, please. At Ming Shee, this is $5.01 during lunch hours.

The "crab" rangoon features fake crab and tons of cream cheese goodness. It takes a lot of cream cheese to trick me into eating surimi (the hotdog of the sea). I like the fact the the broccoli is steamed perfectly and the egg roll has sort of a peanut butter flavor. It's odd, but nice.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Curled Up With A Good Beer or Stout Season Is Here

No offense to Chef Kevin, but if I'm going to drink a beer with Samuel in the name, it will be a Samuel Smith. That's not to say that Sam Adams hasn't ever put out a decent beer. So, bypassing my beloved Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewery, I opted for the classic Imperial Stout by Samuel Smith. My M.O. at Friar Tucks is to purchase a new and hopefully exciting beer, while also purchasing a familiar beer. The new beer during this trip was a Chocolate Stout by Fort Collin's Brewery.

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout - Samuel Smith's Old Brewery (Tadcaster) N. Yorks, England
Russian Imperial Stout - 355ml bottle, 7.0% ABV

Appearance: Completely black with a deep tan colored head. The head dissipated more quickly than I remembered, making me think that there might have been an imperfection in my pint glass.

Aroma: Deep chocolate scent, but only a medium trace of alcohol. Surprising for a beer that's 7%. Very malty, with little to no hop smell.

Taste: Deep roasted coffee and chocolate flavors. Ideal for the style. Alcohol is not as harsh as many Imperial Stouts. Noticeable metallic taste, followed by deep almost burnt finish. By the third drink I notice rich flavors of caramel.

Mouth Feel: Think whole milk. Thick, but not as heavy as some. Coats the palate for at least a full minute after drinking.

Drinkability: Highly drinkable. Probably not a good beer to introduce you to stouts, however, stout lovers will already be familiar with this classic. Would I buy it again? Certainly. It is a personal favorite.

Chocolate Stout - Fort Collin's Brewery - Fort Collin's, CO.
American Stout - 12 oz bottle, 5.3% ABV

Appearance: Very dark to black. I decanted aggressively to achieve a one finger width, deep brown head that dissipated rapidly. The disappearing head left very little residue on the side of the glass.

Aroma: Bold chocolate notes. The scent of coffee is reminiscent of a mom and pop diner. Alcohol vapors are almost non-existent.

Taste: Mostly deep malt flavors. I may be projecting here, but I swear that I can taste the Colorado water. Not some "mountain stream" flavor, but more of a municipal profile similar to Tommy Knocker brews. This beer never approaches burnt characteristics, and finishes very cleanly.

Mouthfeel: Lighter than most stouts. Sufficiently carbonated and crisp.

Drinkability: Very drinkable. A step up from typical light beer, but not as overwhelming as a full bodied stout. The body falls within the acceptable range for American Stouts. Alcohol content is on the low side of the spectrum for this style. Would I buy it again? Probably not. It's a very good beer, but there are a slew of American Stouts that I prefer. Head retention is a problem with this beer.

More Avocado Leftovers...

Two days after the sushi party, we still have ripe avocados and parmesan cheese. I thought a spicy black bean soup might bring everything together and provide some comfort during the cold snap. We dry toasted some guajillos, pasillas, anchos, and chilis de arbol before hydrating them with warm water. I sautéd some onions, garlic, and vegetable base, and deglazed with the chili water. I added the beans and the chilis, cooked until done, and puréed the soup. A simple garnish of avocado and parmesan cheese completed the dish.

Good Times

Friday night was a collection of good friends, food, and beer, which ultimately resulted in good times. We assembled at my house for an acoustic band practice and a roll-your-own sushi adventure. My friend Lori snapped some really great candids of the evening, some of which are posted here.

Becka and I rolling Maki

On Saturday morning, Becka and I decided to hit up Ming's Buffet. There were a few pleasant changes: Zucchini Shrimp, Honey Wings, and Brussels Sprouts. Some of the not so welcome changes: Grilled Salmon, Stuffed Eggs, Catfish Fillets, and the loss of Pepper Chicken. This was Becka's dessert plate, and yes, she ate the WHOLE thing. She was quite food drunk for the rest of the day.

Saturday night we decided to make a salad utilizing some of the leftovers from the sushi party. We assembled this salad of Red Leaf Lettuce with a simple Balsamic Vinaigrette, Raw Tuna, Avocado, Dried Cranberries, Domestic Parmesan, and A Dried Hibiscus Flower.