Saturday, September 5, 2009

This Shit is Bananas

I don’t know what compelled me to pick up this beer, read the bottle, think it would taste good, walk to the register, pay for it, open it and drink the whole thing when it says right on the bottle that it’s flavored with bananas. Don’t get me wrong, I like bananas. I like to eat them on their own or in a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I like to eat them in banana bread and banana nut muffins. I like bananas foster. But as long as I can remember, I’ve hated banana flavored things.

Remember Runts? The Wonka candy where the lime flavored ones were shaped (kind of) like limes, the orange flavored ones were shaped (sort of) like oranges, the strawberry ones were shaped like hearts and the banana ones were shaped exactly like bananas? I always avoided the banana ones. They were bright yellow and long while the others were all pretty much small circles as if to say, “Which does not belong?” Overly sweet and vomit inducing, banana flavoring has an artificial, plastic taste to it that doesn’t come through in the actual fruit. Well’s Banana Bread Beer isn’t artificially flavored, it’s made with actual bananas, but the characteristics that make it a beer, rich malt flavors and bitterness are totally overshadowed by banana.

First of all, it’s in a clear bottle and any beer drinker worth his salt knows that clear bottles leave a brew vulnerable to ultraviolet light and if the bottle is left on the shelf long enough (which I suspect his one had), the damage can produce off flavors. I had seen this beer on the shelf before and not grabbed it thinking, “Who the hell is going to buy a banana flavored beer?” eventually, most likely buying the very same bottle.

Brits have been known to buck the trend of amber or green colored bottles, clinging stubbornly to their clear bottles and sacrificing flavor. It comes as no surprise that Wells and Young’s Brewing Company calls the UK home.

The aroma on this beer is completely dominated by bananas. It smells like fermented bananas. The head is weak and quickly deflated. The color is medium amber, like the bottle should be. The taste is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s. It’s not too often I come across a beer I don’t like. I wont’ be drinking this again.

Sam Adams Variety Pack

I’ve gone on record here about how I feel about Samuel Adams and the Boston Beer Company but I’ll say it again anyway.

They make good beer. Tim Koch has carved out a little niche between the humongous but bland MillerCoors/Anheuser-Busch empire and delicious regional craft beers made with care and respect for the beer drinker. Sam Adams makes kick ass brew that everybody across the entire country can enjoy. I always look forward to trying new Sam Adams flavors and jumped at the chance recently to sample three beers for the price of one sixer. The variety pack consists of Irish Red, Black Lager, and the 2008 Beer Lover’s Choice Blackberry Witbier.

The Irish Red is my least favorite but still a very respectable beer. Sweet and rich caramel and vanilla dominate the aroma and taste though the color, deep red, somewhere between ruby and amber, is the most remarkable thing about this beer. For being so sweet, the malt and hops are surprisingly balanced.

Most darker beers you’ll see are a porter or a stout (both British) which both come from the ale family and both have a very strong hop flavor. Sam Adams’ Black Lager uses bottom fermenting lager yeast that gives this beer a deep, roasted malty flavor while retaining a medium body, characteristics of the classic German Schwarzbier (meaning “black beer”).

The Blackberry Witbier was my favorite of the bunch and it’s easy to see why it was the Beer Lover’s Choice in 2008. The award is given to a beer that is selected by random taste tests from brewery patrons. When I visited the Sam Adams brewery in July there was a table set up outside where brewery workers were giving away even more free beer than what was inside. They made my friends and I sample two beers and tell them which one they liked the best. One was a classic Pilsner, refreshing and light on a hot summer day. The other was an IPA, strongly hopped and medium bodied. My guess for the Beer Lovers Choice of 2009 will be the IPA, simply because they are in fashion now.

Brewed with orange peel and coriander, not to mention sweet, tart Oregon blackberries, the Blackberry Witbier is fruity without being obnoxious. Not too sweet and not dominated by the blackberries, they back up the flavor of the beer instead of overshadow it. The malted barley and wheat give it a nice texture without being bready.

Sixpoint Sweet Action

Local breweries and beers are the hallmark of the American craft beer movement. Rejecting watered down conglomo-beers, microbreweries all over the country are serving their communities highly flavorful and delicately crafted crunk juice. New York is no exception. The most popular brewery in NYC, Brooklyn Brewery, has national distribution deals and overshadows smaller breweries even in it’s own neighborhood. Sixpoint Craft Ales, however, is a neighborhood brewery serving its neighborhood.

Located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Sixpoint logo is a six-pointed star. Not like a Star of David, but they look the similar. Brewers in the old days used to stamp their barrels with a six pointed star to represent the six pillars of good brewing: water, grain, malt, hops, yeast and the brewer himself. Sixpoint has taken this symbol, adopted and adapted it along with the nautical five-pointed star that appears all over it’s neighborhood of Red Hook and made it their logo as well as their mission.

I tried Sixpoint’s Sweet Action (one of the coolest names for a beer I’ve ever heard) at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden here in Queens, NY and it almost made me forget about the previous pitcher of Czech beer I had just downed. A fizzy head and light auburn color made this beer look like it was going to be sweet. Rich biscuity, grainy and grassy aromas gave way to one of the sweetest beers I’ve ever had. Vanilla and caramel are the dominant tastes and light carbonation gives some backbone to the light body. It finishes sweet and buttery and really makes you want to take another sip.

Krusovice Dark Lager and the Beer Garden

At one time there were over 800 beer gardens in New York City. Oh, what heaven those simpler times must have been. Now the only beer garden remaining in all the five boroughs is the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens, just a few blocks from my apartment. Known to some in the community as a place to protect, maintain, encourage and support Czech and Slovak customs by passing down traditions to the children of Czech and Slovak parents, in reality it’s an enormous outdoor drinking venue.

My girlfriend and I met an old friend of ours since it’s just about the only reason people come into Queens if they don’t live there. The inside of the joint is modest with just a few booths and a small bar. There’s a small stairway that leads down to a restaurant and some of the cleanest bar bathrooms I’ve ever been in but the outside is what makes this place special. Seating for hundreds, standing room for more, a stage and a satellite bar, this glorious place is the largest outdoor drinking venue in the city.

Keeping with the Czech theme, I ordered something I couldn’t pronounce and was served up a black pitcher of heady, deliciousness. Krusovice Black Lager is medium bodied with rich aromas of toffee and caramel. Yeasty and lightly carbonated, this Schwarzbier is nicely balanced and characteristic of other old world beers. I bought it for my girlfriend and I to share but ended up drinking the whole thing by myself.

Next to us were a group of people whose belt-loop ID cards made them look like they all worked at the same office and were blowing off some steam after a long day. The largest guy in the group was also the drunkest and he got up on stage in front of the Czech flag and started singing a song nobody knew in front of about a hundred people on a slower Tuesday night. I’m making this bar my home base for upcoming New York City Craft Beer Festival and the holiest of grails, Oktoberfest.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Raw Diet: Week 1

I suffered an unfortunate ankle accident over the Fourth of July this year and was on crutches for a good portion of the summer. I couldn't go outside and I couldn't exercise. For weeks I stayed insided, cooked, ate and when it was all said and done I gained about ten elbees.

Now it is fall and already the weather has cooled down. When I go to work early in the morning for my baker's shift at 5 am I wear a sweatshirt. My ankle is healed and I can exercise again but I need to change my diet if I really wanted to get some weight off. Enter the raw diet experiment.

I lost a lot of weight in college due to a dramatic change in diet because of a medication I was taking. I wasn't drinking and I was exercising a few times a week and the pounds melted away quicker than foie gras in a hot pan. Not being able to drink in college was brutal and my driver designation had me swearing I'd never give up the sauce again.

I had read a little bit about raw diets before and I always thought it was a cool idea. 'Eat only living foods' sounds like a pretty good mantra to me if that's your thing. I've been a carnivore my entire life and have known to kneel to the awesome power of bacon but I am committed to losing some more weight and this trial diet time of one month won't be so bad.

I had to outline some parameters if I wanted to do this right. Here's my mission:

a. If a meat loving, beer drinking, overweight chef who not only loves cooking but makes his livelihood from it can not only stick to but enjoy a raw diet for one month then anybody can.

b. What I hope to gain is an appreciation for raw ingredients: fruits and vegetables in their natural state, from the ground to my mouth. I think it will not only give me a greater appreciation for food but for nature and our closest connection to it in the way we eat.

c. I hope to lose weight consuming entirely raw vegetables and fruits through a radical change in diet. Most people don’t stick to diets because they cheat and do not deviate enough from their own food habits put in place from years of eating a certain way.

d. I hope to not only improve my physical health but my mental health as well by strengthening my resolve and testing every food choice I have ever made.

e. This diet will be a test of my culinary mettle as well to see if I can make raw ingredients edible simply by cutting and combining them. No heat allowed.

These are the rules:

a. Nothing cooked can be consumed for thirty (30) days beginning September 1, 2009 and ending September 30, 2009. No cooked meat, no cooked vegetables, fruit, or starch.

b. No bread or pastas. No cooked potatoes, rice or other grains. No cooked eggs, raw egg yolks in salad dressings are okay. No cooked packaged products. No sauces or condiments that have been cooked.

c. No sodas, packaged drinks, coffee or hot tea. No canned or frozen fruit or vegetables. No ice cream, though sorbet is allowed. No processed white or brown sugar. No cereal or oatmeal. No fast food.

d. Yes to (unsmoked) cheeses, milk, yogurt and other dairy. Yes to uncooked vegetables and meat (carpaccio or sashimi). Yes to cured and/or dried meats like charcuterie and jerky. Yes to raw vegetables and fruit. Yes to honey. Yes to raw nuts. Yes to oil, vinegar and fruit juices.

e. Because I will not be able to cook any of the food I will be eating I will seek out the best tasting ingredients and that means what is in season, what is fresh and what is probably locally sourced.

f. Each week I will document what I have eaten as well as how I feel about the diet and how it is affecting my body and life in general.

This week I ate:

Hazelnuts, prunes and strawberries. Mangoes, an avocados, some cantaloupe and watermelon at work. Salad with tomatoes, tomatillos, corn, Florida avocados and habanero goat cheese. Tomatillo, goat cheese and flax stuffed zucchini flowers on a salad. A banana and peanut butter smoothie. Stuffed peppers with spicy corn salad was the best meal all week but tonight I've got sliced fluke. My first taste of animal flesh in four days.

Shiner Smokehaus

As I’ve said before, I love barbecue. Smoke adds a depth of flavor and roundness to meat and vegetables that is unmatched and one of my favorites. Smoke is versatile and is used by many cultures for many different preparations. Earlier this summer I attended the Taste of Tribeca food festival where I saw Leah Cohen from last season’s Top Chef use smoked yogurt in a lamb recipe. I’ve tasted smoked cheeses, chocolates, candy, fruit, vegetables, nuts and now, even smoked beer.

The little brewery in Shiner, Texas has Shiner Smokehaus with Mesquite smoked pale malts. This Helles style beer is light bodied and pairs well with barbecue or any kind or anything grilled. The flavor of the beer is pure Texas. Smoky and refreshing, this beer is perfect to drink right after you’ve mowed the lawn while the barbecue is heating up for tonight’s dinner. The Spoetzl Brewery produces my favorite beer of all time, Shiner Bock and they know how to make beer for Texans.

The best comparison I can make to Shiner Smokehaus is that it is like sushi. I like it a lot, but I really don’t want to have it more than once or twice a month. The smoky flavor makes it one of the driest beers I’ve ever had and it sort of contradicts with the refreshment. I like drinking this beer but I immediately want to have a different one right afterward. Drink this beer with my barbecued pork shoulder recipe and have one last hurrah before summer slips away.

It's not delivery. It's not DiGiorno

Pizza is a food group for guys. It’s the stuff of gospel for people all across the nation from New York to California. Everybody has their neighborhood place and everybody, save for a few tasteless idiots who are beyond saving, loves it. I’m rabid for the stuff myself and living in NYC, I get no shortage of terrific pies. But the fact that most folk get their pizza from a Hut or from the freezer depresses the shit out of me. This is my plea. Make your own pizza. It’s not hard, it’s delicious and people will think you’re cool. This may not be the path to pizza pie perfection, but with enough tinkering you’ll find a method that works for you.

1 cup warm water

2 tablespoons yeast

3 1/2 cups flour

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons honey

pinch of salt

1/2 cup jarred tomato sauce

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thick

8 ounces pepperoni sliced thin

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water and yeast and let sit for five minutes to hydrate the yeast. Add the flour, 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, honey and salt and mix on low for twenty minutes until some gluten develops. This is what makes the pizza dough stretchy and the crusty chewy. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the bowl and toss the dough ball in it. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let sit in a warm place for up to two hours.

Preheat your oven to as high as it will go. Mine goes to 550 degrees so that’s what I set it at. In an ideal situation it would be more like 900. Put whatever pan/pizza stone you’re going to cook your pizza in/on in the oven to heat up with the oven. Whatever the dough goes onto has to be screaming hot to begin with. This produces the crisp crust that only comes with really, really good pizza. You could achieve closer to this jet engine heat on a gas or charcoal grill and you could very well cook your pizza on the grill instead of in the oven, but I live in New York City and don’t have the means for a grill…yet.

Divide the dough into two balls and wrap one of them in plastic and put it in the freezer. This way next time you make pizza you won’t have to make dough again. Punch down the other dough ball and roll out to a twelve by twelve circle. Pull the pan out of the oven and carefully lay the dough on it. Work quickly here because you don’t want the pan to lose heat. Spread the tomato sauce on the dough working in a thin, even spiral. Lay out the slices of mozzarella and pepperoni evenly. Put the pan back in the oven and bake for fifteen minutes or until the crust is brown around the edges and cheese is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for five minutes before slicing and devouring.

He'Brew Origin Pomegranate Ale

I confess to know nothing of Jewish Kosher dietary laws nor do I care to learn. I like cheese on my burgers, lobster, oysters, clams, mussels, bacon, pork chops and porchetta (recipe coming soon) too much to read or learn about the plight of the people who choose not to have them for whatever reason. Nevertheless, Kosher foods and beers are not to be overlooked. Companies that produce Kosher foods are no doubt at a disadvantage but that makes their accomplishments all the better; like the one girl a semester your fat friend sleeps with.

He’Brew, a Kosher derivative of Shmatlz Brewing Company born in San Francisco and based in New York, makes Kosher beers including a Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah beer commemorating their 13th anniversary with 13 different malts, 13 different hops and an alcohol content of, you guessed it, 13% abv. But we’ll save that for a more momentous occasion. The Chosen Beer’s Origin Pomegranate Ale struck my fancy at a recent shopping trip. Based on Torah passages touting the pomegranate as a symbol of origin and righteousness, Origin Pomegranate Ale is an Imperial Amber Ale brewed with pomegranate juice for a luscious, decadent beer.

The color is deep amber and obviously pomegranate. The beer’s aroma is strongly hopped like most imperial ales and the pomegranate is subtle like the fruit’s flavor. The taste of pomegranate presents itself as a slight sweetness and tang in the beer but the most distinct pomegranate aspect of the beer is in the body. Silky and rich, pomegranate juice lends heaviness and viscosity to the beer. Though the actual fruit juice is cloudy, this beer is well filtered and left the murkiness behind for a crystal ruby beer.

Even though those Hebrews may not eat the same swine and shellfish that I do, they sure know how to bring the true characteristic out of a fruit like a pomegranate and apply it well to beer. L’Chaim!

Hazed and Infused

The Boulder Beer Company turns 30 this year and what better way to celebrate the birthday of one of the oldest micro-breweries in America than to get thrashed on a few of its signature products. Started in 1979 by two physics professors at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Boulder Beer Company was the first of many micro-breweries to tap the Rockies and begin an American craft beer revolution. This cloudy, dry-hopped ale isn’t just a good beer; it’s the spirit of American craft brewing in a bottle. Unfiltered, full flavored, and so delicious you’ll drink all six in one sitting.

The “hazed” refers to the cloudiness of the beer, a result of an unfiltered brew, meaning there is still dissolved yeast in the brew you’re drinking. That yeast contains a B vitamin that alcohol depletes from your system when you are drunk, so drinking unfiltered beer (I’m looking at you, homebrewers) is technically better for you. The “infused” part of the name signifies the dry-hopping process. Hops are usually added to the “wort” or , not yet alcoholic beer, during boiling, before fermentation, and then strained off. During dry-hopping, hops are steeped in the wort during fermentation producing a strongly scented and flavored brew.

Citrusy and floral, this beer smells like fresh oranges and a field of hops. Hop heads will enjoy the restrained boldness and refreshingly high carbonation. A little malty and not too heavy on the tongue, this is a testament to the American craft beer.

With just one sip, you can taste the years of practice and history of brewing that this beer celebrates. The award winning signature brew in the Looking Glass Series that includes an IPA and two summer seasonals, Hazed & Infused is a beer deserving of its own category of delicious. Ordering it at the bar will never steer you wrong and if you pick up a six-pack you may just be liable to down them all in one night.

Guys Kill Bugs or How to Cook a Lobster

As men it is our duty to carry out tasks around the house that women are unable to do themselves. Change a flat, take out the trash, pick up dog shit and perhaps the most important, kill bugs dead. Protecting our homes from invasion of miniature six or eight legged predators is a duty passed down through generations of dads, rolled up newspaper in hand. But some bugs are too big to be killed with just a Sunday section of the Times, some bugs get boiled and eaten.

While walking past my local fish market the other day I noticed a sign reading “Today Only Live Lobsters $4.99/lb.” “Holy shit,” exclaimed and detoured inside inquiring the small man behind the counter about the origin of such a steal on the water bugs. He told me that he simply had a surplus of local lobster and lowered prices to sell more. I took two and put them in the fridge until my girlfriend came home and almost passed out when she opened the door to get some lemonade.

Some people (pussies) might be squeamish about killing live lobsters to eat them but they are just bugs. Like stomping out a cockroach or burning ants with a magnifying glass, boiling or steaming live lobsters is just the same. Here’s all you’ll need for a fancy lobster dinner.

.5 lb butter

2 live lobsters ranging in size from 1-1.5 lbs

.5 cup white wine

In a medium sized pot, melt the butter slowly and skim off all the white foam at the top. Now you have clarified butter. In a large pot (big enough to fit your two bugs), bring your white wine to a boil, insert the lobsters and lid it up for six minutes. The wine will impart a subtle flavor onto the lobsters that will really go well with the butter. Open the lid and check the color of your lobsters. Once the shells have turned bright red they’re ready. Be careful not to overcook your lobsters because the meat can get very dry and rubbery very quickly and the only thing worse than over cooked lobster is undercooked chicken and that shit is just gross.

Cut the rubber bands off the claws and detach the head from the tail and the claws from the body. To break the claws open, hit it gently with a rolling pin or a wine bottle until they are slightly cracked all the way around and just peel the shell away and shimmy the meat out careful not to tear it. To retrieve the tail meat press the tail in on both sides until you hear a snap. Then push the shell out on both sides until you hear another snap and pull out the whole tail. If you’re a real culinary whiz you could save the shells to make stock. Or you could just throw them away. Dip the lobster meat in the clarified butter and enjoy.

Cooking with Beer: Arrogant Bastard Ale Braised Lamb Shanks

Cooking with beer is not only fun and delicious, but it’ll make you look like a badass because beer is a badass ingredient up there with bacon and chocolate. I’ve brought you recipes and beer reviews but I hadn’t explained how they affect each other during cooking and focused on this symbiotic taste relationship resulting in a flavor orgasm for you. Beer provides richness and a depth of flavor to braised meats like this kick ass Flintstone-looking lamb shank I’m servin’ up today.

Lamb is such a flavorful meat and shanks are a cheap cut. The shank is near the hoof of the animal and contains locomotive muscles that can be tough if it isn’t cooked for a long time. The connective tissue in the shank breaks down and makes the sauce succulent and glossy.

Arrogant Bastard Ale, a dark and medium bodied with a stiff head, is a beer I’ve had many times and enjoy revisiting especially this week because it lends such a rich flavor to the lamb and it’s just a great beer. Its arrogance comes from its intense flavor and smiling demon on the cover touting, “You can’t handle it,” but the incredibly strong hops and sweet malt make this beer’s bite bigger than its bark.

I’m using the beer like wine here. This technique can be used with any tough cut of meat, an alcohol, vegetables and some stock and can be used on any type of rough, sinewy meat from locomotive muscles like osso bucco, a dish made with veal shank, and oxtails.

You will need:

2 lamb shanks


Black pepper

2 Tbsp canola oil

1 small onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup Arrogant Bastard Ale

2 cups beef stock

1 Tbsp dried thyme

1 tsp cornstarch

Season the lamb shanks heavily with salt and pepper. In a large, deep pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the canola oil and sear the lamb shanks on all sides. When brown and crusty all around, remove from the pan and add the onion, celery and carrot. Saute for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are brown and caramelized. Add in the tomato paste and saut├ę another five minutes. Add the beer, boil and reduce until almost dry, approximately seven minutes. When the beer and vegetables have thickened, add the stock and dried thyme. Add the lamb shanks back to the pot, cover and simmer for two hours.

While the lamb shanks are braising you could drink the rest of your Arrogant Bastard Ale and read my review of it. It’s going to smell awesome. You house perfumed with lamb and beer you’ll be counting down the minutes until you can tear into that meat. The thing I like best about this dish is that you can just pick it up by the exposed bone and munch like a Viking or caveman.

After the two hours, carefully take out the lamb shanks making sure they don’t fall apart. Whisk in a teaspoon of corn starch to the sauce and simmer for two minutes before blending to a smooth sauce.

Cider By Cider Comparison: Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider v. Doc’s Draft Hard Pear Cider

I’ve avoided reviewing ciders on these pages for the simple fact that I write beer reviews and they are not beer. Made from the juice of pressed apples instead of barley and hops, most ciders are fermented using champagne or wine yeast instead of beer yeast producing a cleaner, fruitier flavor. But after several cloying attempts from my girlfriend I finally broke down and bought something she liked to drink instead of an 11% Double Chocolate Stout. So we picked up two ciders from the Beer Wall at our local grocery and had ourselves a little Cider by Cider comparison over nachos pre-season Giants football.

The first we tried was Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider, an English cider made with organically grown apples. Cider has long standing traditions in both the UK and the US going all the way back to the 1800’s and that storied seed spreader Johnny Appleseed. This cider was clear, clean, sweet and dry like a good gew├╝rztraminer. The organic apples provided for a clean apple taste augmented by a slight yeasty flavor. A great brunch substitute for mimosas or bloody marys, drink it like you used to drink apple juice, just now it’s alcoholic.

The next one we tried was Doc’s Draft Hard Pear Cider from just outside New York City. New York has some of the best apples and pears in the United States and they’re in season practically year round. This pear cider was poured almost clear like a white grape juice and was subtle and sweet just like a good pear. Fermented with champagne yeast, it has less yeasty flavor which allowed the pear flavor to come out more.

The girl liked the pear cider better because it was sweeter and less yeasty. I liked the Samuel Smith’s Organic for the opposite reasons. The apple cider we tired had more layers and was a little more complex like a wine rather than an alcoholic carbonated Welch’s. The Cider by Cider comparison proved to be a success based on how drunk we both were by the fourth quarter. Ciders usually have an alcohol content that is no less than beer, about 3-5%, and I intend to repeat the process to save my masculinity when the job calls to review fruity lambics or late summer peach flavored beers.

Fritos + Homemade Chili = Texas Style Perfection

Chili, aka Chile con Carne, aka Texas Bowl of Red, is the Official Dish of Texas, and growing up in the capital of Austin, I consider myself an ambassador of the Lone Star State and as you can imagine, chili is something I take very seriously. It’s one of those dishes whose perfection is debatable. To some Texans, putting beans in your chili is akin to worshiping Satan or supporting gay marriage. Cowboys have gone boots up and buried with their chile and spice mixture recipes tucked in their back pocket. There are hundreds of ways to make a bowl of chili but any cook in Texas worth the salt in his dry rub knows there is only one way to make it and that’s his way.

What follows is my chili recipe. I think it’s damn good and I’m sure you’ll like it too. Normally, I’m a no bean kind of guy because I’m a guy and I like meat in my chili and no filler. However, this recipe is for everyone and can be easily augmented to fill the needs of vegetarians, meatheads, spice freaks, and even authentic Texas chili enthusiasts. It is also a very versatile recipe that can be eaten out of a bowl with crushed up Saltine crackers (Dad’s favorite), over spaghetti or macaroni (for you pussies), or over Frito’s corn chips with cheddar cheese for my favorite dish of all time, Frito Pie.

Frito Pie is the closest thing to street food Texans have. Originally, a can of Wolf brand no bean chili was heated and poured into a small bag of Frito’s, topped with cheese and served to Texas State Fair goers to munch on while their walked around and played carnival games or watched the rodeo. One of my personal maxims is “Meat comes from animals, not from cans,” so I make my chili and don’t open it. I still serve it over Frito’s with cheese though, and sometimes sour cream and guacamole join the party and that’s when things get really interesting.

You will need:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

4 jalapenos, deseeded if you’re a wimp and chopped

Half pound ground beef 80-20, lean to fat ratio

Half pound ground pork

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz. can pinto beans

1 tbsp each ground cumin, paprika, chile powder*, and dried Mexican oregano

2 of your favorite dark beers

Salt and pepper

Begin by opening one of the beers and starting to drink it. Melt the butter in a large stock pot or cast iron Dutch oven over medium heat. Whisk the flour into the melted butter to form what the French call a roux. This is the secret to thickening gravies and Cajun gumbos, but that’s another recipe. Cook the roux over medium heat for two minutes until it turns a slightly darker blonde color. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about five minutes stirring occasionally. Add the meat, season with salt and pepper, and cook until browned, about five more minutes still stirring. Add the tomatoes, beans, spices and the other beer. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for an hour. Taste and season to your liking.

*Chile powder with an ‘e’ is crushed dried chiles like jalapenos. Chili powder with an ‘i’ is a pre-mixed combination of spices with other fillers. Get chile powder with an ‘e.’

As I said this recipe is easily adaptable. Substitute meat for more beans or beans for more meat. Substitute different types of sausages for meat, a Mexican chorizo works very well. Add different spices like coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, or curry powder. Add different chiles like poblanos, anahiems, serranos, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, habaneros. You can also omit the flour in the beginning and add masa harina (Mexican corn flour) at the end to achieve a similar thickness with a little more authenticity.

Big Apple BBQ Block Party

Being a male chef from Texas, I am predisposed to liking barbecue. Not blood, but a sweet, tangy, hickory flavored sauce runs through my veins. The smell of beef or pork slowly melting with a secret blend of spices rubbed deep into its fibers caramelizing into a crisp, salty bark carries me to a state of humble bliss. As the resident expert on everything that goes on the plate, it is my job, no, duty to inform the masses on the intricacies of what good barbecue is, what different barbecue regions have to offer, what they share, and how to appreciate one of America’s only original contributions to the global palate.

Barbecuing, more than any other form of cooking, is a craft. A combination of art and skilled trade, the transformation of raw hunks of animal flesh into something that that people lust for, barbecuing takes a long time to master. It’s something that shouldn’t be tinkered with. Good barbecue rejects modernization in favor of doing it the way it’s been done for over a hundred years.

For the most part, you’ll find the best barbecue in the world in the least suspecting places. Buildings that have been around before a town was built around them, and even then it only has about 1100 people in it. Look at a map of any southern state and wherever there’s not a major highway, there’s probably good barbecue there. It’s something you have to seek out and the trip becomes part of the experience. Here’s a list of places to start looking:


Specializing in whole hog preparations, North and South Carolina are known for their vinegar based peppery sauces. Tar Heels dust up that whole animal with a dry rub, park him in the smoker for eight to thirteen hours over indirect heat from smoldering hickory, chop up everything from the rooter to the tooter and slap it between a bun with some of that tangy vinegar sauce. South Carolina is known more for its mustard based sauces, pulled pork shoulder and ribs.


Ribs are king in Memphis. You can get ‘em wet or dry. Wet ribs are basted with a sweet, molasses based sauce during cooking that caramelizes on the outside of the meat. Dry ribs have a dry rub heavily applied to them before smoking and are vacant of sauce of any kind. The rub forms a crust on the meat similar to what aficionados call, “burnt ends.”

Kansas City:

Known to some folks as the “barbecue capital of the world,” Kansas City boasts an impressive resume when it comes to ‘cue. Other regions have their specialties, but Kansas City does it all. Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage, poultry. Like Memphis, Kansas City is known for a sweet and tangy molasses and tomato barbecue sauce, a variety of which is sold in almost every grocery store from Maine to Maui, K.C. Masterpiece.


Texas is the only region that has sub-regions. The second largest state in land mass and population has southern, eastern and western styles of barbecue, but the best is right smack dab in the middle. Central Texas barbecue is beef brisket, smoked over post oak (sometimes with added pecan wood), served on butcher paper with a few slices of white bread, and eaten with your hands without sauce. Most of Texas Monthly’s Best Bar-B-Q joints are located only a short drive from the state capital. West Texas smokes primarily mesquite wood because it grows locally and direct heat is used as opposed indirect smoking.

This past weekend I attended the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party where my favorite place from my hometown of Austin (big ups to the Salt Lick) was present and I’m happy to report had the longest line out of any rolling rig. We waited almost an hour for our small portion of fatty brisket and juicy sausage, but it was worth it. All the big barbecue hot spots were well represented with baby backs and St. Louis Style ribs from Missouri, pulled pork shoulder and whole hog from North Carolina and Alabama, Texas brisket and sausage, and even a few local New York spots that surprisingly don’t slouch when it comes to smoked meat. Even though they all had different menus, wood, rigs and sauces, they were all serving up heaping portions of slow smoked meat the way it’s been done for a long time.

A Taste of the Old World

A few weeks ago I brought a bottle of Bordeaux to an after-dinner party at a friend’s apartment. She remarked how after drinking so many new world wines from South America, Australia and the Pacific Northwest, that she had forgotten how satisfying old world wines could be. This morning in the supermarket, I had a similar revelation.

As the only person in the store buying a six-pack at 9 am, I was already catching looks from the mostly non-English speaking patrons of my local grocery; my pajama pants and slippers didn’t help. The woman in front of me, buying a bottle of antioxidant rich pomegranate juice no doubt to go with her yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit for breakfast, twisted her face at me and said, “Is that beer?” I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet and was afraid she would be knocked unconscious by the green gas that would surely come out of my mouth if I responded so instead I gave her a look that would accompany a growl if I were a dog. I walked the long block home in the rain and locked the door and drank a beer in peace while I made breakfast. Then I drank another one with breakfast and another one after breakfast.

B.B. Burgerbrau from Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic is pretty much the original Budweiser. It served as the inspiration for many of the original American style lagers when the first American brewing revolution was taking place in the late 1800’s. This light golden beer has a malty, slightly metallic aroma. The taste is perfectly balanced. The malt complement the hops and vice versa to create an extremely refreshing beer that I literally could not put down.

Lately I’ve been focused on American craft beer, and small regional breweries that I forgot how good the classics can be. Like old world wines, these brewers have been making beer for centuries. And while these American upstarts are exciting and different with their funky names and fruity flavors, they are mere infants in the larger scope of beer history. Take some time to seek out some old world beers from Czech Republic, Germany and Holland (NOT Heineken), you won’t regret it.