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 jalapeƱo 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