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.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Not Just For Sunburns Anymore or My New Addiction

After buying my first tiny bottle of Paldo brand Aloe Vera juice drink from Lin Hing Oriental Market in Peoria, I was hooked. Not fully realizing the rarity of this item, I ventured to Bloomington over the weekend failing to procure an ample amount of my lovely green heroin (well, technically only the bottle is green).

So began on Saturday, the Great Aloe Vera Hunt. Like any good junkie, I started asking around on the streets. No one seemed to know of any decent ethnic markets in Bloomington. Next I scoured the phone book for asian markets. Becka and I went to a cheap little oriental market near her house that dealt in everything from Mexican to South East Asian food. The store reeked of bleach and unknown chemicals, and the shelves were mostly empty as if they were going out of business. I was excited. But after making several rounds through the store, we came up empty-handed. Next stop was the World Gourmet Food Store. They had a lot of nice cheeses, olive oils, and vinegars (even kinda real balsamic), but no tasty Korean Aloe Beverages. Back to the phonebook. I came across a place called Shanghai Market that sounded promising. I called the guy. He informed me that he did carry the Aloe drink and that he had it in stock. I made the short trip only to find petite Japanese cans of a brand I had never heard of. I bought two cans. After they were chilled, I immediately consumed one. It was made with honey and tasted strongly of metal. I was not a fan, but it was a nice fix. I'm still not convinced that honey and aloe make a great combination.

After returning to Peoria on Sunday evening, Lin Hing was closed. They also were not open when I left Peoria on monday en route to Macomb. I was sure that the Oriental Market in Macomb would carry it. Apparently, they went out of business, and I was unable to find another ethnic market in town. I was really saddened by this. I would have expected more from a multi-cultural college town.

So finally, I was able to make it to Lin Hing tonight. I bought four of the big bottles. Alas, the search is over! There was another brand, but it was loaded with high fructose corn syrup so I avoided it. I will stick with Paldo even though it has a high sugar content. The ingredients are as follows: Water, Aloe Vera gel powder (24%), Aloe Vera Crush (8.1%), Sugar, Anhydrous Citric Acid, Calcium Lactate. I can live with that. I normally don't drink things this sweet, but I am terribly addicted. Also, I never drink soda.

Aloe Vera drink is thick and sweet with a mild aloe flavor reminiscent of sunburn gel, but in a good way. You end up kinda chewing the gelatinous aloe pulp that floats around in the drink (think snow globe), but never really falls out of suspension. It's definitely worth the $.60 to sample the little bottle. A large bottle will set you back $2.95.

The 1.5L Bottle

Aloe Vera Drink in a Pint Glass

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Roasted Vegetable Sandwich

Today for lunch, Becka and I made roasted vegetable sandwiches. They consisted of roasted beets (purchased at the farmer's market), zucchini, yellow squash, red onions, mozzarella cheese, romaine lettuce, and yogurt on ciabatta bread. It tasted as good as it looks.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Brilliant Morning...

Today, Becka and I attended the Farmer's Market in Bloomington where I bought, among other things, these habanero peppers for a dollar. Becka tells me that the market has died down considerably. We still had a great time taking the puppies out, even if there weren't any more giant zucchinis for 50¢.

Afterwards, we walked to a hippie store called Common Ground. They specialize in bulk foods sold by the pound. It's a chef's dream because you can purchase as much or as little as you desire. Their prices are more reasonable for their bulk goods than their other products. My picture reflects their new bins, as their web photos are outdated.

After the shopping, we went to the Coffeehouse, a nice little vegetarian deli and coffee shop. Becka had the French Toast (looked yummy, but not pictured) and I had the vegetarian burrito. It consisted of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cheddar cheese, and jasmine thai rice wrapped in a flour tortilla and griddled. It was accompanied by a side of very fresh but extremely mild salsa. The rice was bland. Everything else was fine. If I had a decent bottle of hot sauce it would have been a perfect breakfast. The Breakfast Burrito was $3.79, and the French Toast was $3.29. They also serve fair trade coffee. I had a cappuccino served in a mug that set me back $2.50. It was worth every penny.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Tomatillo Habanero Salsa

I found some pictures that I took about a month ago with my phone. I thought it might be nice to post them here. I am very passionate about Mexican food and would love to backpack the Chiapas Highlands, Jalisco, Oaxaca, and Mexico City. Oh, and the Yucatan. But that may not be for some time, so until then I will submit to creating my own private Mexico in my home where I can drink the water.

Incidentally, Mexican staples can be purchased here. You will always find limes, at most, 6/$100 as well as an assortment of fresh, dried, or smoked chilis. Avacados seldom cost more than a dollar, and are usually ready to eat.

Here are the husked tomatillos, habaneros, garlic, and chiles de arbol.

Next, the Tomatillos are halved and everything is "roasted" under the broiler.

Add some lime, cilantro, salt, and rinsed onion. Bash with a pestle. Notice the El Ranchero Chips. They are toothy, low sodium, and have a deep corn flavor.

Here are a couple of very simple sopes (little masa boats) with the salsa, queso chihuahua, and cilantro.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Puppy Extended Family

I have dedicated this space to photos of my friends dogs. If I've missed your pet, email me a photo and I will put it up. The quality varies here, but there are some gems. Also, there are some decent pics of Buddy and Bandit on my flickr page.

Max, Sadie, and Buddy (I had to put Buddy in at least one!)




Buddy, Kuma, Barley, and Nine (Well, I guess Buddy is in two)




Buddy II

No confidence vote, anybody?

This video from YouTube was brought to my attention today. This focuses on Texas Legislators, but these practices go on in other states as well. It's a great visual of State Representatives voting for their lazy colleagues that fail to show up for work. If I didn't show up for work and continually ignored the rules when I was there, I would be fired, not rewarded with an annual 10% raise. Got Ethics?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

New High Quality Pics

From now on I will be posting the highest quality pics available. I have updated the espresso pics, and also included a link to my Flickr account. I plan to keep posting photos to both sites. I will still be using my Krazr to post spontaneous and inconspicuous pics when I don't have my real camera. Enjoy!


Monday, October 1, 2007

Espresso Porn

Archer Farm's espresso was a pleasant surprise from a supermarket coffee. Does it rival a Trader Joe's Five Country Espresso Blend sealed with nitrogen to preserve freshness or a Kade's Espresso Blend that was locally roasted two days ago? No. But it is what it is. I would have liked it to be a bit more oily with brighter overtones, but I understand that this isn't a popular coffee that gets turned over on a weekly (or even monthly) basis.

This organic blend combines hand picked coffee from Asia and Latin America. The specific regions are not indicated. I first brewed an espresso shot that yielded a medium bodied, slighly fruity brew, with a dark red/cinnamon colored crema. The crema was not as thick as a freshly roasted bean, but did manage to stick around until the end of the shot. As I dialed in the grind, the shots became sweeter with richer crema.

I thought that perhaps this coffee was better suited to a latte, so I got out the milk and fired up my steamer. It made a pretty decent latte with absolutely no bitterness. However, I don't often drink milk drinks after noon, so I will stick to shots which are perfectly acceptable from this coffee. It would be interesting to taste this coffee freshly roasted, but I doubt many coffee connoisseurs purchase their coffee from Target to keep it freshly rotated. I might experiment with this coffee in a French Press later on this week, but right now I hesitate to disturb my precise grind setting.

Sorry if this is boring for the non-coffee geeks out there!


Fair Trade Coffee At Target

Well, I have to give credit to Target's Archer Farms for supporting fair trade coffee. Also, Seattle's Best is creeping on to the bandwagon. As many of you will come to know, I support fair trade coffee, teas, and chocolates as much as possible. However, these products can be difficult to come by, so I always take note when I see them on the shelves.

This is a good start for Seattle's Best. However, they still have a long way to go.

Here is a DeCaf and a Single Origin by Archer Farms.

Archer Farms Whole Bean Fair Trade Espresso Roast.

Starbucks "premium" coffee. NOT Fair Trade. Do NOT buy.

I am most excited to try the Archer Farm's Espresso roast coffee. Espresso is pretty much the only coffee that I consume. I am infatuated with my Gaggia "Coffee Deluxe" Espresso Machine and my Solis "Maestro" Burr Grinder. I will have some espresso shot photos up shortly.

So here is the price rundown:

Seattle's Best Fair Trade Ground: $6.89 for 12 oz
Archer Farms Fair Trade Ground and Whole Bean: $7.49 for 12 oz
Starbuck's Limited Reserve Ground: $9.29 for 10 oz
Starbuck's Regular Coffee (not pictured): $7.79 for 12 oz

My inquiries: Why is Starbuck's coffee (not fair trade) more expensive than both Archer Farms and Seattle's best Fair Trade Coffee? Where are the extra profit dollars going? Who is suffering because corporate big shots are strong arming developing nations out of a decent price from their primary cash crop? What coffee will you purchase next time?

Why are Fair Trade Products so important?

Here are a couple of links that explain things in detail:

Transfair USA

Oxfam America

I realize that neither of these companies deal exclusively in fair trade goods, and there is no coffee from Ethiopia on the shelves (which deeply saddens me). However, I have to commend them on taking steps toward supporting developing nations. Now it is up to us, the consumer, to send a message to coffee companies by purchasing fair trade beans. Most Americans don't know or care where the food they purchase originates (except when it comes from China).