Sunday, September 20, 2009

A day on the Mighty James River

I love the James River. It is one of the reasons I like living in Central Virginia so much. The River flows across the Commonwealth from the mountains to the Chesapeake bay. The two best things to do on the river are tubing and kayaking. I can walk down to the river from my house, with a tube slung over my shoulder and float to my hearts content. We do this three or four times a summer, tubing from the 'Z Dam' down to Reedy Creek. 4 or 5 hours (depending on the river levels) of hot summer fun. Kayaking is my favorite thing to do on the river. I can put in down at the Huguenot flats, only 3 miles from my house. Richmond is the only city in the country with class III and IV rapids in the city limits. To do a long float on the kayak you have to go upriver a bit. Yesterday I drove out to Powhatan and Goochland counties to do a long float with my good friend and neighbor. We decided to do a trip neither of us had done before and settled on the 'Westview to Maidens Landing' float.

We set off early in the morning, loading the boats on my Jeep and leaving before 8 AM.
We dropped a vehicle at the take out point Maidens Landing on the Powhatan side of the river, then drove the 20 minutes or so up to Westview on the Goochland County side. It's a great drive, with lots of farms and country houses along the way. I took this picture not long into the float, you can see how incredibly beautiful the James River is. As soon as we started out we saw Bald Eagles, we probably saw a dozen of them in the course of our float, more than I had ever seen. You can actually see a couple of eagles soaring in this picture spiraling up and up looking for prey.

We would stop every once in a while to stretch our legs, as we were on the river for over 6 hours. Here is a picture of the boats, mine is the blue one...a Perception Prodigy. It's a pretty nice kayak. Perfect for day trips. It has a 'water tight' compartment that is not actually water tight. I need to re-caulk the bulkhead, but have not quite gotten around to it yet.

Eagles were not the only wildlife we saw on the trip. We saw an Osprey and lots of fish, mostly Catfish, Bass, and even a couple of Longnose Gar. But the best wildlife sighting I have seen in a long time was the squirrel we saw. Yes, the common gray squirrel - Sciurus carolinensis. I see dozens of them every day, usually running around my back yard to and fro. What made this particular sighting so unusual? The location.

About halfway through the float my Neighbor saw something swimming in front of us, in the middle of the river. "Is that a muskrat or a beaver?" we wondered. When we got a little closer, we were amazed to see that it was a squirrel. I don't know what caused him to take a swim, but he sure was determined to get to the other side. We paddled over to him to cheer him on. He did not like this much as his eyes got wider and his tail even fluffier. He got safely to the other side and paused for about 45 seconds to catch his breath, then he scampered up the riverbank.

I will leave you with one last picture. The Bald Eagles had not been cooperating with me, keeping out of range for a good photograph. I keep my digital camera in a small dry bag, and it takes a couple of seconds to get the camera out and aimed in the general direction that they used to be.

Finally, not long from the take out point we managed to sneak up on one. We spooked him out of a tree and he flew 50 yards or so downstream. I got my camera out and held the strap between my teeth and paddled closer to shore building up steam. Then I drifted underneath the snag the eagle was perched on. This is the best of the pictures that I was able to snap before he got tired of us and flew away.

I would love to go out and do the same float next month, closer to 'Peak Leaf season' but don't think I will be able to. I guess I'll just have to wait until next year.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I was Kidsnapped*

My delightful and charming wife has been conspiring behind my back. Last week was was my birthday...what some would call a 'Milestone Birthday'. We did not go out to dinner to celebrate this happy day, so she told me that we were going to do something Sunday "From Noon to 5PM" and not to plan anything else for that time. All week I tried to weasel the plans out of her, to no avail. The only clue she would give me was 'wear long pants'. So at Noon we started to drive. I kept trying to guess where we were going with each turn. Exit on the Powhite expressway north...that means nothing south or east of the City. Exit on 64 west, this rules out Ashland and points north (and my best guess of Lewis Ginter for lunch). 45 minutes later we got off on 15N, and then I knew where we were going! My favorite Virginia Winery is Barboursville Vineyards. They have the best wine, and (in my humble opinion) the nicest tasting room in the area. I would put the vineyard up against any that I have been to (and I have been to a TON of them), here or in Napa. They also have a restaurant there called 'Palladio', and I have wanted to go there for years.

You can see here how excited I am, as the waiter handed us a menu. You see, at Palladio you order options of the menu and build a 4 course meal, each course matched with one of Barboursvilles excellent wines. I had been trying to think of a good excuse to come here for ages. Arbor Day? Boxing Day? International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Not big enough occasions. Apparently turning 40 is. And thank goodness, as it was an excellent meal and a great experience.

My first course - Antipasta.

~ Fantasia di Pomodori ~
Trio of Local Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomato Pizzette with House Made Mozzarella
Tomato Cloud wrapped in Speck
Tomato and Cucumber Sorbet with Sea Salt

Barboursville Vineyards Vintage Rosé 2007

The sorbet was fantastic, cucumber sorbet on a tomato and tomato sorbet on a cucumber.

Second Course - Primi Piatti

~ Risotto con Carciofi ~
Organic Risotto with Sautéed Artichokes,
Fresh Basil and Mozzarella Cheese

Barboursville Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2008

I have not had much exposure to Risotto, something that I have always wanted to try and make myself, but intimidating because of the preperation time and technique involved. I'll be sure to give it a shot now. The best bites were the ones with both artichokes and the cheese.

Third Course - Secondi Piatti

~ Scaloppine di Vitello ai Funghi Porcini ~
Prosciutto-Stuffed Limousin Veal Scaloppini with Braised Porcini Mushrooms,
Grilled Polenta and Young Watercress

Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006

This was amazing. The mushrooms were in a marsala style, and complimented the salty prosciutto and the creamy polenta. The Cab Franc was the best wine of the meal.

Fourth Course - Formaggi

I had the choice of a dolce (sweet) or cheese for dessert. No surprise to those that know and love me that I went for the cheese. Delicious. Made more so with the accompaniments, a jam, two kinds of local honey and two kinds of balsamic. Served with toast points.

Served with Barboursville Vineyards Malvaxia Passito 2005

The Malvaxia Passito was intensly sweet, with overtones of honey. It more than stood up to the strong cheeses. A lesser wine would have been overshadowed by the two stronger cheeses I had, both blues.

After lunch we did an abbreviated tasting in the winery, because we had just had five glasses of wine - did I mention the nice glass of prosecco we had while perusing the menu? No? My bad. It was a really elegant glass of dry sparkling wine.

Afterwards we took a stroll around the vineyard. This likely bunch of grapes will be harvested next month. Warm from the sun and a little sweet, soon to be transformed by the vintners art into ambrosia, fit for a King. Or for me anyway.

Seriously if you live or visit Central Virginia, and you have the time and the money (it is not cheap to eat and drink here) treat yourself to a meal here. You will not regret it. Thanks again to my sweetie for making this a very memorable day.

* Growing up in my family 'Kidsnapping' = Kidnapping a fate worse than death. "Don't wander or you'll get kidsnapped" - Mom 1978

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I made a field trip.

I have the good fortune to have swell in-laws. My wife hails from the town of Meadville PA, a short drive from Venango, PA the home of Sprague Farm & Brew Works.When visiting said in-laws last week, they took me on a field trip to one of my favorite breweries. This was my second trip to Sprague Farms, the first a year ago. The neat thing about Sprague Farms is the setting. The brewery is in a converted dairy barn. Last year we got the grand tour from the owner and brewmaster Brian Sprague.

The mash tuns and fermenters are in the main floor of the barn, the kegs are kept cool in the basement, in the old dairy. After my first visit I became a fan of the brewery on Facebook. I have been getting regular updates on the expansion of the brewery, and updates on the creation of 'Brewhalla' - the tap room that they built in part of the converted barn (and the best name ever for a beer hall).

And the beer? Did I mention the beer? It is top notch stuff. I had three pints while there. Notice the glass shaped like a pint of milk. Nice touch for a brewery in a converted dairy barn. This was the pale ale and it was pretty good. Better yet was the Scotchtoberfest beer. A nice malty and nicely balanced scotch ale (think Belhaven not McEwans). Best of all was the Effin' Beer - a Heffe Dunkel Weizen. I have enjoyed two growlers of the Effin' in the last two weeks, and I tell you it was excellent stuff. I got a Effin' Beer tshirt for my birthday from my aforementioned swell in-laws. A nice end cap to my Sprague Farm & Brew Works experience.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Life is good

I just returned from a business trip. I went to Erie PA to do some computer geek stuff and made a couple of pit stops along the way. I had a very nice visit yesterday with my In-Laws, who were very gracious hosts. Knowing of my abiding love for malted beverages, they took me to the North Country Brewing Company. It was a pretty cool place. The decor was looked like it was designed by an elf on drugs. The beer was quite good, especially their Scottish Ale. Food was good too.

The other pit stop I made this morning on my way home. 4 or so years ago we met up with my then future in-laws for a Fathers Day weekend in Pittsburgh PA. While touring the historic 'Strip District' I ducked into an Italian grocery \ deli. I wandered around in awe at the shelves that were bursting with dozens upon dozens of types of pasta, olive oils, and other sundry dry goods that made my mouth water. Then I came upon a sight that has stayed with me all these many years. A deli counter, the likes of which I had never seen. Cheeses as far as the eye could see...salami's and sausages by the hundreds...and the Olives - enough olives to satiate EVEN ME...the man who loves olives as much as life itself. The name of this wonderland? The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company. We were headed to a Pirates game that day, so I could not buy anything, but I vowed to return some day and bring a cooler. I did not think that it would take this long to get back there, but it did. Days turned to weeks, weeks to years. Attempts to return were foiled by major holidays (closed on Labor Day) and by the hours (closes at 2 PM on Sundays). But today I made it, and I brought a cooler. I made up for lost time by buying a passel of stuff, a veritable cornucopia of Mediterranean food.

My haul? Olives (three kinds), Giardiniera (the pickled veggies the Greeks call Toursi), 1 1\2 lbs of Greek Feta, 1 1\2 lbs Parmigiana Romano, 2 lbs of fresh mozzarella, flour for pasta, capers, white balsamic vinegar, a big bottle of very good Greek olive oil, two kinds of ruffled pasta - one of which looks like a dead ringer for trophie, a loaf of oh so crusty bread, and a handfull of what can only be called a 'salt loaf'...kind of a cross between a mini loaf of bread and a pretzel - with carroway seeds in it. Oh, did I mention that I scored a bottle of Truffle Oil? The secret ingredient to THE BEST SANDWICH IN THE ENTIRE WORLD?
I was in a great mood as I set my GPS and pointed the rental car towards home. This mood did not last, as every slowpoke, rubbernecker, and semi driver made it their mission to delay my voyage home at every opportunity. I did not stop for lunch, only for gas and soda. Thank goodness for the 'salt loaf' bread...the only thing that kept me from chewing on the steering wheel on the way home. After a quick stop at work to unload the car and turn in the rental, I scurried home as fast as my Jeep would take me.

What did I find waiting for me? Two tomatoes ripe on the vine. And I thought to myself, "What has two thumbs and 2 lbs of fresh mozzarella? THIS GUY!" So dinner tonight was a caprese salad, made with tomatoes still warm from the vine. With basil from the herb garden and fresh cheese from my trip to PA. Drizzled with my new olive oil and white balsamic. Heaven. Summer on the plate. Throw in the bread and olives to complete the meal.

Life is good.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Gourmands tour of Italy Part 3

On Friday May 22 in the Year of our Lord 2009, I had the BEST SANDWICH IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I do not make this claim lightly. I recognize fully the gravity and seriousness of the statement. I took one bite, looked up at my enchanting bride and said "This may be the best sandwich I have ever had in my life." Then I took another bite and exclaimed "This IS the best sandwich that I have ever had in my life."

We took a day trip to Orvieto on the way from Florence to Rome. After a very early alarm clock we jumped on the train and headed out. A couple of hours later, and a nice walk through town it was time for lunch. After our usual "Where should we eat" debate we decided on this fine establishment.

The main reason that I wanted to go to Orvieto was because of the wine. I have been a big fan of Orvieto wines for years. When I saw that it was on 'the way' to Rome I pretty much insisted we go. As soon as we sat down, we ordered a bottle of the local wine, and some olives. One of the more surprising things about Italy was the fact that we only saw olives on the menu once or twice, a big difference from Greece where olives are served with almost any meal. The olives we got with lunch were fantastic, big and just oh so slightly salty. They went great with the wine. If you have never had an Orvieto I suggest you run out right now and get a bottle at your local wine shop. Semi sweet and golden in color it is my favorite white wine.

But enough about the wine (as good as it was), lets get to the real reason for the post. The sandwich itself. I'm afraid the picture really does not do it justice. Here is how it was described on the menu "Roasted Wild Boar, with roasted eggplant, formaggio, and truffle oil." Any of these ingredients would be good on their own, but this culinary masterpiece was much more than a sum of it's parts. It was a masterpiece. A work of art. As worthy of a place in the Uffizi Gallery as any Botticelli.

The bread was crusty and fresh, the pork sliced thickly with the crackling still on. The eggplant had a tangy marinade that made it really pop. The cheese can only be described as 'a slab of parmigiana', and the best cheese I had in Italy. And truffle oil to top it off - this is what really made the sandwich truly stellar. I have never cooked with truffle oil, but am sure to in the future.

If anyone doubts my word in this manner, book your flight to Rome, take the train to Orvieto, look for the white umbrellas on the right hand side of the main plaza, just yards from the Duomo. Order this masterpiece, this work of art...and then we'll talk.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Gourmands tour of Italy Part 2

Eating our way through Cinque Terre was a tough job, but I feel I was up to it. Looking back on the trip with hindsight, some of the overall best meals I had were in this region. I already spun you a tale of the pesto. In reading my last post, I realize that I left out the pesto Focaccia I had for lunch on our third day. It was really worthy of a post in itself, but the subject of pesto is ground already covered, and I feel that I must press on to the next great meal I had.

On the day long hike we took from village to village in Cinque Terre my charming and delightful bride snapped this picture. Note a couple of things. 1) the majestic views of Corniglia, the least accessible of the towns.* 2) the town of Manarola in the distance behind Corniglia. It was another 2 hours of rugged trail before we got back to our home base of Vernazza that evening.

Why do I tell you all of this? So you can understand how hungry and thirsty I was at the end of the day. When we got back to Vernazza, I grabbed a 32 oz Peroni from the local market to wash the trail dust out of my throat. After a quick shower we walked down to the plaza for dinner.

My reward for my efforts this day? Spaghetti with muscles. A very simple dish, but quite tasty. The muscles were cooked perfectly. Then tossed with olive oil, lots of garlic, tomatoes, and parmigiana cheese. Add a bottle of the local white wine and a half a loaf of crusty bread and you get perfection. Well worth the effort of what we thought at the time would be our longest walk of the trip (Rome proved this fallacy wrong but that is for another post).

* Unlike the other towns in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is at the top of the hill. There is a long staircase from the bottom of the trail (also the train station) and the town proper - 382 of them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Gourmands tour of Italy Part 1

Sorry again for the long gaps in posting, but this time I had a fairly good excuse. My charming bride and I just returned from a 11 day vacation in Italy. I love Mediterranean food. Whether it is Lebanese, Greek, Italian, or whatever. So I was really looking forward to this trip. I thought I would share a couple of my favorite meals. We first traveled to the town of Vernazza. It's in the Cinque Terre region - 5 towns all within 6 or 7 miles of each other in the Italian riviera. It was pretty rugged and each town was nestled along the coastline. This is a picture I snapped on the long hike we took from village to village. Very picturesque.
The Liguria region of Italy (of which Vernazza is a part) is famous for 'inventing' pesto. I am a recent convert to the joys of a well put together pesto, becoming one last year in fact when my niece Emma made fresh pesto at the beach. The guidebooks we had all mentioned pesto from the area as the best in the world, so when we got there the first meal I had was pesto over trofie pasta - a regional hand made pasta that is perfect for capturing a bit of pesto with each bite.

How was it? To borrow a phrase from a friend - "It changed my life." I was a new man from the first bite. It was a revelation, and in the top two meals I had in Italy (a bit more on that later). Served with crusty bread and the local (and very good) local wine it was a good way to end a long day of traveling. We were pretty beat from the long flights and layovers so it was dinner and directly to bed.

I took this meal as a challenge. My goal? To master the art of pesto. If I can recreate one meal I had in Italy, it will be this one. I shall devote my summer and all my skills honed through the ages to eat a plate of pasta this good whenever I wish.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In springtime every young mans fancy turns to Mint Juleps

I am a seasonal whiskey drinker. As soon as a chill hits the air I open a bottle of Scotch and drink nothing but...perhaps I will have an occasional sip of Irish here and there too. But when the warm weather starts, and the flowers are in bloom I switch to Bourbon.

I have not been in years, but I used to go to the Virginia Gold Cup on the first Saturday in May. I went for 10 straight years, and it was F-U-N. The drink of choice for the day was Mint Juleps. Now you can't just go out and drink 5 or 6 Juleps in one afternoon cold, you have to work up to it. So a couple of weeks before Gold Cup, I would start training. A Julep or two each evening in the proceeding weeks, tapering off in the days before hand. You distance runners out there will recognize this training strategy as one similar to yours in preparation for a big race.

So in remembrances of Gold Cups past, I give you springtime's perennial favorite.

How to make a top notch Mint Julep:

1 heaping tsp confectioners sugar
3-4 mint leaves
1 splash of branch water

Muddle 3 ingredients in the bottom of your 1999 Gold Cup souvenir Julep cup.

Fill cup with crushed ice.
Top off with Kentucky Bourbon.

Stir vigorously until the sides of your cup frost.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring has Sprung

Hello Again, I'm back after almost a month of not posting. Bad Blogger! Bad! I really am going to try to post more often. In my own defense I have been a fairly busy man lately. You see here in Richmond-by-God Virginia it's Springtime. This is when Richmond really comes into it's own. Gone is the dreary winter, long cold early Spring. It rained down here for the entire month of March, or it felt like it anyway.

The best thing about Spring in Richmond is our yard. Piney Manor sits majestically on a nice little piece of property. Just up hill from the mighty James River on the South Side of town. I took some pictures today to start off my renewed dedication to blogging. I guess I will dedicate this photo blog entry to my Sister Sarah she of the quite excellent blog SpruceHill fame. I realize that a full 89.4% of the people who visit here are related to me and therefor SpruceHill readers as well, but if you have not you should drop by and read her blog. It is full of amazing photography. I encourage you to read some of her archives and see what a real fighter my 'Little Big Sister' is...she is a recent cancer survivor and an all around swell gal.

But enough of this drivel...time for some pictures of palatial Piney Manor.

This is a of the house from my back yard. Two things of note. 1) The hammock. I love me the hammock and sit out there on the early spring days and quite a bit in the late fall. Not so much in the middle of summer becuase of all of the mosquito's that infest our area. 2) The sunporch. We added this because of the merciless mosquitos that adore to feed upon my blood.* I spend most evenings from April to October on the porch, listening to music, reading, imbibing delicious adult malt beverages and yes - sometimes blogging.

Here is the side view of the porch, highlighting some of the many azalia bushes on the property. I love azalias for the month or so they bloom. When they are not in bloom they are kind of ugly and brittle...but are worth the pain when they are in season.

See the pretty flowers below? If I want to get the readers that Sister Sarah gets I need to put lots of close up pictures of pretty flowers!


Close up of Azalia blossoms.

My lovely bride and I had our reception in the back yard. We had two big tents, three smaller ones, lots of bocce, baggo, and croquet. A good time was had by all. One of the best gifts we got that week end was from my nieces. They gave us the stepping stones below. I have them in our herb garden, and I use them every time I'm out in the yard (they are in the high traffic area between our two sheds). I think of the girls every time I use them.**

*Can anyone tell that I loath mosquitos?
** A special shout out to anyone who can tell which of the stepping stones is my favorite and why.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Before and After

Usually when I cook, I am cooking for two. When you are the primary cook of the family, You are necessarily limited to what you can cook by the likes and dislikes of your audience. I happen to like several things that my bride does not. First and foremost is lamb. She views the ovine species as 'too cute to eat'. I view them as 'delicious'. So when the opportunity strikes I jump at the opportunity to eat something I don't get that often. So tonight in an attempt to battle a grey and dreary day I cooked up some Mediterranean goodness. Well I grilled some lamb and bought a ton of sides at the extensive olive bar at my local Kroger.

From Clockwise: Grilled garlic lamb chops, pickled veggies, stuffed pepper, dolmades, olives, and feta cheese.

The remains of a fine meal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patricks Day

It would be a sin if I did not post today of all days, so here you go. Taken during my second pilgrimage to the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. It's more fun to go if you take someone who does not like Guinness so you get their sample too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A quick post before I lose all 7 of my regular readers

OK, I realize that I have not posted in over a week. I meant to post. Honest... I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD.

OK, so I got lazy. And I had a little writers block. You see I wanted to post about my favorite bar. Ever. For those that know me, You know that this topic is a big deal. And it has been a trying experience to sum up what this place means to me. So I will postpone it until next post. Or next week. Or when my muse returns.

So consider this a thrown together post. And for the thrown together post, I give you a standard thrown together meal at the Stump house. I usually make this with whatever leftover veggies I have on hand. I tend to make it more in the summer when the veggies are in season, but what the heck it was 76+ degrees in town today in the fair city of Richmond, and I grew nostalgic for warm weather dishes.

Veggie pasta with lots o' garlic

Ingredients: garlic, onion, red pepper, zucchini, snow peas, salt, pepper, romano cheese (or parmigiano), lemon, penne pasta, olive oil.

  • Start water for pasta first. As soon as it comes to a boil put pasta on
  • In a large fry pan heat 2 or 3 tbsp of olive oil. Sautee two or three large cloves of garlic for a couple of minutes
  • Add onions and sautee for a couple of minutes.
  • Add rest of veggies. I usually throw whatever I have around in the garden or fridge.
  • Grate a salty cheese - about 1/2 cup.
  • Once the pasta is done, drain and toss into the pan. Mix in with veggies. Stir in Cheese, and squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon on top.
  • Serve with cheap red wine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nothing Rhymes with Frittata *

So I realize the sweet irony of this post. I lure you here with Bacon Explosion and a HUGE London Broil...then I change course to a vegetarian dish. To be fair it has potatoes and cheese - two of the manly food groups (the others being meat and booze). Also it is Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent. This means 40 days of meatless Friday night dinners for me and mine.

I took this opportunity to try something new. I have been meaning to make Frittatas for years now, but have never quite gotten around to it. Are they"too close to a omelet?" or is it "Too close to a quiche?"

So I did what I usually do when I want to try something new, I find two or three of the best looking recipes off of the interweb and then I mash them together. Sometimes this ends up in a spectacular dish and sometimes in grand failure. Today turned out pretty well.

I took the basic recipe from here. Then I tweaked it a bit. When I say tweak, I mean that I forgot to add the milk, and put mainly parmesan cheese instead of cheddar. Taking a cue from other recipes on the net I finished it off in the oven under the broiler for 3 minutes. This gave it a nice firm top and texture. If there is anything I would change for next time it would be for me to be better prepared.

The dish does not take all that long to make, but I had been lollygagging around the house until the desperate cries of hunger from my Bride drove me back into the kitchen. I did a rush job and got a little flustered towards the end when I realized that getting the eggs and cheese ready ahead of time may have been a good idea. In my defense I was lollygagging because I was tired, tired from also making rustic white bread, a recipe tweaked from the wonderful Smitten Kitchen. And when I say tweaked, I mean that I forgot half the salt and did not let it rise long enough, and forgot to set a timer for the bake time.

So will I make Fritattas again? You bet. I'll just give myself a little extra time to do it.

*I tried to think of a clever title for this post, but alas nothing rhymes with Frittata.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beef - It's whats for dinner

Let's me state something for the record. I love meat. It's a pretty safe bet that the man who starts a blog with a post about bacon is a carnivore. But as much as I love pork, and lamb, and chicken, I love beef best of all. I grew up on a beef farm. We raised Charolais cattle. We ate a ton of red meat, all of it raised on the farm. We two huge freezers in the basement, one filled with frozen vegetables from the garden the other with a full or half side of beef from a steer from our own pasture.

When I moved away from my ancestral home land (Harford County, Maryland) I made do with what I could pick up from the grocery store. In the 'lean years' of unemployment and low pay I ate beef infrequently and mostly in burger form. As my life has improved and I had the space for a couple of grills I have again become a devote of Steak. I like my local Kroger, and have had some very tasty meat from there, but sometimes wonder about where the meat comes from. Do the animals have plenty of room? Are they humanly raised? Are they shot up with hormones and steroids?

Luckily for me I have connections. Family connections. My Uncle and Cousins (the Sayre clan) and another local farmer I have known literally all my life, have a commercial beef operation. So when I head back up to Harford County, I pack a cooler and bring back a bunch of steaks from Deer Creek Beef. I can't recommend this enough. For evidence of the superior quality of home raised beef I proffer the following:

London Broil. Cooked at high heat for 6 minutes a side. Let sit for 10 minutes to let the juices settle. Slice thin at an angle. Serve with a roasted sweet potato, green salad, and a bottle of red wine (a Pinot Noir in the picture). Enjoy.

See the full Deer Creek Beef product list and prices here. Give my cousin Nancy Ann a call and put an order in. You won't regret it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

And at last there is Whisky

Finally. A post about Whiskey. Or rather Whisky. I love both. According to our good friends at Wikipedia:

Whisky or whiskey refers to a broad category of alcoholic beverages that are distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks (generally oak). Different grains are used for different varieties, including barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn).

With few exceptions, the spelling is always Scotch and Canadian whisky (plural: whiskies), and Irish and American whiskey (whiskeys).[1]

For Christmas I got a really nice bottle of Scotch, The Macallan Cask Strength Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky - thanks Chris! I had a quick taste of it when I got it, but never really delved too deeply into the bottle.

So when my lovely and charming wife went out dinner with some of her running friends, I took the opportunity to spend some time with a nice bottle of scotch. My good friend Bessom generously donated his time and efforts to help me explore the bottle. We. poured some into my brandy snifters, another recent Christmas gift - the perfect shape to drink fine liquors out of.

So how is it? In short - delicious. This is a cask strength (116.8 proof) whisky that has been aged in a sherry oak cask. The color is reddish gold and the initial smell is very alcohol-y and strong with a floral scent. The first sip is very strong due to the high proof and surprisingly fruity.

We quickly added a little water to the glass, and it became even more enjoyable. The whisky really opened up and without all of the alcohol taste we could pick out more individual flavors of flowers and especially honey. It was quite excellent. It's heady stuff and not something that I will drink every day. I plan to take a sip from time to time and savor it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Brief Lecture in Thermodynamics

Brewing beer is all about thermodynamics. Pour hot water over malted barley. Let sit in an insulated container. Drain off malty water. Hit grains with more hot water (called 'sparging'). Boil wort (the product of hot water and grains) with Hops for bitterness. Cool wort. Pitch yeast. That's it.

Last weekend I forgot all about what happens when you add a too hot liquid to a not as hot glass carboy. The carboy, the wort, and 3 and a half hours of work all shattered at the same time. If anyone heard the low sound of thunder in the distance last Sunday it was most likely me venting my frustrations through various oaths, both profane and scatological.

After a return trip to the homebrew supply store I was ready for a rematch. I brewed the same recipe - an Irish Red Ale (think Smithwicks not Killians).

This is my custom made Weber Sparge Master 2000 - the ultimate in hi tech brewing technology. Note the pint of homebrew. It's standard operating procedure to drink a pint of beer when brewing. It makes the process go faster.

This video demonstrates the advances in brewing technology that the Weber Sparge Master 2000 brings to the backyard brewer. Background music by Andrew Bird.

One week in the fermenter than a month of bottle conditioning and it'll be ready to drink. If I can wait that long.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We got some bacon going on around here

I figured I would start this thing out with an explosion. A BACON EXPLOSION!!! Apparently I found out about this the same week as the New York Times, the Today Show and USA today. As soon as I mentioned this at work, at the local pub, or online everyone had heard of it...but no one had actually tasted it. I take this kind of thing as a personal challange.

So basically you take a pound of bacon, weave it into a blanket then spread two pounds of Italian sausage on it. Top with more bacon some rub and bbq sauce then roll up into a log.

I cooked it off center heat in my charcoal grille at about 200 degrees, throwing hickory chips on the fire every so often for a nice smoky flavor.

The end result? Concentrated pork deliciousness. Not for the fainthearted. Possibly life shortening. Well worth it. I took it to a superbowl party and it was a big hit.

Will I make it again? Yes, but I'll give it a couple of years and make sure it's a special, special occasion.