Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Bitter Ale Part 2

If you remember the last time we met here, we were in stage one of our new project: homebrewing. It’s the essence of true Arcadia. Anyone crazy enough to move out to the country needs to pacify themselves somehow.

The last time we were here, we just finished up the wort for a bitter ale called “Tire Biter”, made with blonde malt syrup and blonde malt grains, seeped in a tea for a while, then all mixed together for an hour with noble hops, and then we cooled it off in our primary fermenter, primed the airlock with vodka and slid it into the hallway closet for the magical yeast to take it’s time to do what it do, baby. Next step: Bottling.

We always start with a little bit of hot water and some bleach. Not too much…just enough to kill stuff. Now, since this is our first time thru the beer making process, we were told to used diluted bleach. Since that time, we’ve met up with a couple different homebrew supply stores who think we are batshit crazy for using bleach. There’s some other stuff we are supposed to be using, so we’ll get some the next time we’re in. For now, it’s bleach.

All parts go in to the bleach soak:

We’ve got two cases of bottles washed and disinfected in the dishwasher. We’ve got a disinfecting cycle on our Bosch diswasher. Pretty damn handy for kids or beer.

The only ingredient we are using today is corn sugar. 3/4c is all we need to prime, which means we are going to add it to the wort to make the fizzy bubbles in the beer.

First thing, we have to take off the top of the primary bucket and prime the wort. I mixed up ¾c of corn sugar with enough water to make a pint. Then, I left it out for a bit to come up to room temp and swirled it into the wort, being careful not to upset the yeast on the side and bottom of the bucket.

Now, before we go any farther, let’s take a look at the wort so far:

I ran a little thru the bottle filler hose to flush out anything left from the rinsing stage. Gorgeous color, and the smell is divine. The yeast looks absolutely dreadful, but it smells like warm bread dough. We debated on uses for the left over gunk, but could only come up with “potential sourdough starter”.  In the end, we just washed it down the drain.

Gravity says we have to siphon from up above to down below, so we put the bucket up on the counter, attach the bottle filler, and open the valve. Since the top is open, we don’t have a problem with creating a vacuum.

The bottle filler is designed to go all the way to the bottom of the bottle and trigger to release the flow of beer into the bottles. When it gets to the top (maybe even overflowed a bit), then you pull it out and it’s ready to be capped. The extra space in the bottle helps age the beer, which it needs an additional 3 weeks still after this bottling to mellow the flavor and create the bubbles. The bubbles are made from the leftover yeast and the sugar we added to prime.  The yeast eats the sugar (which calms the flavor), and yeast expunges CO2 as its “waste” product.  That’s right, kids…beer is bubbled with yeast poop.

Our bottles are mottled this time around. We went heavy on the EZ-Cap style. I think we’ve decided to go with the EZ-Caps as much as possible in the future, but we also have about 50-60 regular bottles that require a metal cap. Since we are just starting out, we are just going to do both and see which one we like best.

With the bucket up on the counter and bottles in place, we are ready to go.

Top view before we start. The color is like a light orange honey.

This is about halfway thru with the bottling, but I wanted to show these two up next to each other for effect.

And of course, the bottom of the barrel

The bottom still sorta churns itself as the yeast are still somewhat active.

If you’ve ever had a bottle of Fischer’s Alsatian style beer or a Grolsch, then you know how easy the EZ-Caps are to open. They are just as easy to put on as they are to take off. When we ran out of EZ-caps we went to the old standard beer bottles and our analog bottlecapper.

We had some old unused bottlecaps that came from an old Sunkist bottling plant. We don’t give a shit what the caps say. All we care about is the beer. As long as they work, that’s all we care about. Plus, it will be a good conversation starter.

Another shot at the wort…maybe it is Sunkist afterall.

And when they are all finished, they go back into the hallway closet at 60deg F for another 3-4 weeks for bottle aging. We are a month away. Can’t wait.

Finale coming up shortly…

Caldo de Pollo

I recently spent a week with a stomach bug, which meant a lot of not eating. While my clothes were fitting better, it  wasn’t very fun. After a couple days of self-starvation I decided to go to an old faithful recipe to ease myself back into real food again. This is a favorite dish of mine that’s good for just about any occasion…cold Sunday mornings during the winter or hot summer days where a little fresh vege is all you need to relax.

Originally, this recipe came from someone I knew who grew up down in the south Texas valley. I have no idea if it’s authentic “Mexican” food or not, but it’s a damn good recipe and one that you’ll go back to when you get stuck for something to make in a pinch.

The mise:

-2 split chicken breasts

-four russet potatoes, peeled and rough chopped

-1 large yellow onion

-diced garlic, 3-4 cloves

-3 carrots, peeled and sliced

-3 chicken bouillon cubes

-a head of cabbage

-1 zucchini, halved and chopped

-chicken broth to fill in as needed

Start with a stock pot ½ full of water. Take it to a boil and throw in some salt. Not too much, but enough to soften the water.

Three bouillon cubes:

Concentrated flavor. Great for soups.

Take that up to a boil and make sure the cubes are dissolved.

Drop a couple of split chicken breasts in and let them cook. Should take 15min or so. No rush…all the fat from the skin and bone needs to melt off.

When they are good and cooked, drop them into an ice bath (makes them easier to handle).

Quarter an onion and chop the garlic.

Drop in the potatoes. Cut them big b/c they’ll cook down. You want bite sized chunks, and they will break up on their own in the soup.

Carrots go in, too. They bring an incredible sweetness to the soup.

Vege so far. Give it a taste to see if it needs some salt. I’d add a little pepper in as well, but not too much.

And drop in the zucchini.

At this point, you want to get the chicken out and start pulling it apart into shreds. Try to get as much meat and all that as possible. You can do this step at any point, really, but the chicken will be really hot and hard to pull apart when it’s really hot. I like to put the skin and fat back in to cook. You can remove it before you serve. Let it cook for 30min-hour or so on a low slow boil, covered.

Wash your cabbage down and then chop off the stem at the bottom.

Quarter that bad boy.

And then take out the bottom of the core on all the quarters. It’s tough to eat.

Do a rough chop on this….it will fall apart and go pretty limp, so no worries if you get some big slices in there.

Crumbled it on top of the soup (don’t stir it in). Sprinkle a pretty healthy amount of kosher salt on top of it, then cover for 10 minutes to let it wilt under the steam. This will preserve some of the green color in the leaves and the salt will push a lot of the water out of the cabbage. After it’s good and limp, stir it in.

This is what it should look like. Gorgeous color from the carrots, onion, chicken, and the cabbage. Give it a good taste and season it with more salt/pepper. If you want it hot, hit it with a couple shots of Cholula sauce or some clear pepper sauce. Not too much, though. I usually add just enough to give it a little spice and then serve it with the pepper sauce so people can adjust as they want.

Your potatoes should be reduced down to this:

Right before you serve, turn off the heat. Chop up a bunch of cilantro, and dump the cilantro on top.

Cover it for a couple minutes, then stir it in.

The cilantro adds such a big fresh taste to the soup, but you don’t want to add it until right before you serve. Plus, you don’t want to cook it or the leaves will lose their texture.

Garnish with some fresh lime a sprig of cilantro, and you’ve got a tasty afternoon soup. It’s a pretty good reheater for leftovers, but it’s best right out of the pot when the cilantro is still perfumey.

Caldo de Pollo. Get some.

Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Golden Bitter Ale Part 1

I am a serial hobbyist. Admittedly. One of the things I love to do is learn how something works and/or take an interest in something that most people talk about but never do. In my lifetime, I’ve:

-had saltwater aquariums

-owned beehives for extracting honey

-collected sports cards, mainly hockey

-had a substantial MAD Magazine collection

-played in an acoustic guitar duo in bars

-own a full set of Callaway golf clubs in a leather tour bag

-have the best damn greenhouse in town

Those are just a few off the top of my head. At one point, I owned my own bowling ball and even have a Lionel trainset in my garage. They are all fun hobbies that there are tons of individuals out there in the world who devote their entire lives to. Now, I’ve never gone that far…most of my hobbies will either go on the back burner after a couple years or I’ll just lose interest. HOWEVER…the one thing that I love to do and have done for the better part of 20 years is:

Drink beer.

Oh, man. I’m the best beer drinker I know. I love different types of beers, from the heavy stuff that tastes like thick soy sauce to cheap Texas O.P. beer. The one hobby that I’ve often thought about but never got into was homebrewing. I have friends who have done it and have even tried homebrews. One or two were passable but the rest were downright awful. Terrible.

One night recently, I was watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats on tv, and his homebrew episode came on. Ever fascinated, I watched the whole thing and then turned to my wife and said, “I could totally do that.”

Now, normally when I come up with a new hobby, she just rolls her eyes because she knows it will either be something I forget about or it’s going to end up being something I spent time/money on. This was different. When I said it, she lit up and said, “We can totally do that.”

Bingo.

My next call was to Runnin’ Buddy. I told him my wacky idea, and he told me that he grew up with his dad homebrewing, and it just so happened that his father- in-law was a homebrewer years ago and gave him an entire set of gear to homebrew including carboy, cooker, bottles…everything. All we needed to do was clean it up, buy the ingredients, and get going.

My newest hobby was born:

Off to the big city to a local homebrew store, and we got not only the ingredients, but also some expert advice and recipes to make beer. We chose two different brews…one that should take about a month and another that will take nearly 7 months to completely age. The ingredient list:

-2lbs of milled grains

-a bucket of malt syrup

-0.5oz of Fuggles hops

-0.5oz of Hallterau hops (that’s one of the noble hops…more on that later)

-a packet of dry ale yeast (ale yeast ferments from the top down vs. lager yeast that ferments from the bottom up, so we don’t have to stir it in)

-corn sugar…looks like powdered sugar but tastes different. It’s a disaccharide, which means that we can add it directly to the wort after the primary fermentation)

-bottled drinking water (cheap stuff..not distilled)

-cheesecloth socks for the hops

-whirlflac tablets

Immediately, you are going to be overwhelmed because we are talking about ingredients and stuff that you’ve never heard of (probably). I know I was. Stick with it, though…it’s not as bad as you think. Your homebrew store will be able to provide all of this for you and explain what it all is. If not, then go find another homebrew store.

The gear:

-4-gallon, stainless steel stock pot with a glass lid

-7-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot and a sealable lid

-digital probe thermometer

-assorted other stuff. What? Yeah, keep trusting me on this and read the whole thing before you start.

The very first thing you do after inventory assessment is to sterilize everything. Even if you’ve washed and cleaned everything with hot water and soap, there still may be some bacteria floating around, and even the smallest amount of bacteria can turn the beer bad fast. We mixed 2 tablespoons of regular bleach with hot water in the primary fermenting bucket and shoved everything in there that we could…corks, burper, probe thermometer, metal whisk…anything we thought we might use at any point after the boil phase, we sterilized.

From up above:

While all that sat for 30 minutes, we started up our “brew tea”, which is a gallon of water with the milled grains seeping.

That has to simmer at 153 degrees F for 20 minutes. Why so precise? The whole grains have a lot of sugars and resins deep inside their kernels that will be really bitter if they are extracted, so if you keep the heat down they will not seep out. In addition, you CANNOT squeeze the bag they are in AT ALL or you’ll squeeze them out.

The mesh grain bag with the grains inside:

Do this over the sink our you’ll have this to clean up:

While the brew tea is making, I boiled another pot of water, then put a towel in the bottom so that the malt syrup could get hot and be easier to pour out. I’ll explain more in a bit, but the malt syrup is an extracted blend of grain sugars already pre-made by the brew store. Serious homebrewers will extract their own, but since this is our first time and since it takes about a day to extract them, we are going to just use the premade stuff. I don’t expect that to change.

Shangri-La Dog is there to help lick up anything that hits the floor.

After the water boils, turn it off and put the uncovered syrup bucket in, making sure you don’t overflow the water.

The malt is so sugary sweet, you can barely stand it. It looks like super thick honey and kinda tastes like honey a little bit, but the aftertaste is really potent. Not bad, but definitely a shock to the system when you taste it. It’s beautiful, though.

In goes the bag of milled grains.

We kept the water boiling at 153® for five minutes to make sure we could maintain the heat. As well, we gently stirred the tea from time to time to equalize the temp and make sure there wasn’t a build up of heat in one spot under the bag.

After 5 minutes, you can see the wort begin to take shape as the water turns a pretty blonde color.

Meanwhile, we took 1.5 quarts of water and heated it up to 170 degrees. We’ll use that to pour thru the tea to make sure we get all the goodies out when we are draining it.

After 20 minutes, we pulled the bag and drained it. Then, we poured the extra hot water thru it.

Top off to 3 gallons of water for the boil. We’ll bring this up to a boil…

The pour in the malt syrup. It’s so thick that you have to immediately start stirring it up or it will stick to the bottom of the pot. Why do I know this? you might inquire? Later.

After we bring that back to a boil we are going to had the hops. Remember up top, I mentioned we are using two different types of hops. “Hops” are the petals of a flower from a plant that is the same family as marijuana (no lie). Brewers have used the petals straight in for years, however they now concentrate them into pellets for homebrewers. I’m sure real beer makers do the same, but we for sure are going to. There are four types of “noble hops”; those are the original hops that were first used:

-Hallertau Hallertauer Mittelfruh

-Tettnanger Tettnang

Spalter Spalt

-Saaz

They are all grown in central Europe and are the standard for Bavarian style beer. Other hops varieties are grown all over, but the noble hops are considered the grandfathers of beer flavoring/finishing. Today, we are using a British hops called “fuggles” (leave it up to the Brits to come up with a goofy name) and the noble hops, Hallertau. We’ll do this in two stages: flavoring & finishing/aroma. The fuggles will boil for 75 minutes and add a big robust flowery flavor. The Halltertau will only be in for two minutes because we just need the aroma and oils to give a bitter punch that this recipe calls for.

We’ll put those into a cheesecloth sock, darned at one end and tied off at the other end. The pellets will swell up and expand pretty big as they cook, so we need to give them plenty of room to grow.

The boiling wort (which is what you call beer before it’s finished):

When the rolling boil begins, we throw in the fuggles and let them cook.

Now, I wish I could explain to you how great this smells. The malted barley and Munich grains that are in the bag smell like Grape Nuts if you’ve ever had them cooked. The hops smell so good…it’s like perfume, but with an anise kick. It’s so strong when you first open the bag that it takes you back, but you immediately get right back in for another whiff.

After 60 minutes of boiling on the flavoring fuggles hops, we need to add whirlfloc. Whirlfloc is a synthetic additive that doesn’t affect the smell, taste, or flavor of the beer at all. What it does is grab on to all the suspended particles in the beer and make them heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the primary fermenting bucket. If we were making a dark beer, then this isn’t an issue. However, with a lighter golden beer then we are probably going to see particles in the beer if we don’t filter it. Since we don’t want to filter, we use whirlfloc. Purists will use Irish Moss, but we’ll just use whirlfloc for ease of use.

After 13 more minutes, it’s time for our finishing or “aroma” hops. The first hopping gives flavor. We go with a more potent hops to add the smells of the hops only. For this, we are using the Hallertau:

Two bags of hops.

Notice the line on the inside of the pot where the original level of the wort started. We’ve reduced down considerably, concentrating the smells, sugars, and flavors of the wort.

The finishing hops stay in for two minutes, then we turn off the heat and pull the bags.

The wort will continue to churn for a bit with the carry-over heat. If you taste this now, it tastes like sweet bread that you’ve liquefied. Big flowery taste with a bit of bitterness on the back of your tongue from the hops.

We let this cool down for 15 minutes in the pot. Then, we took 8lbs of ice and put it into the sterilized primary fermenting bucket with the spigot turned off so it doesn’t run all over the floor.

For reference, by the way, we cut the hops socks open to take a look at the hops after the cook. The flavoring fuggles hops are on the bottom and are a noticeable browner color, as we’ve cooked a lot of the chlorophyll out of the flower. The aroma hops are on top and are still bright green.

The grains that we seeped for the brew tea look like cattle feed, and frankly kinda smell like cattle feed, too. We’ll set those out in the fancy greenhouse to dry and will put in the birdfeeder.

Pouring the wort into the fermenter…look how beautiful that is.

Pouring it over the ice will help melt it.

Remember what I said about having to stir the syrup well or it would stick to the bottom and burn?

Damn, I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us down the road.

Topping off with another gallon of water to make five gallons total in the fermenter (

The wort in the bucket:

We have to let this cool off to somewhere between 65-75 degrees before we “pitch” the packet of dry yeast. If it’s too hot, then the yeast will immediately die. If it’s too cold, the yeast could die or just be arrested and not bloom.

The packet of yeast

“Pitching” the yeast into the top of the bucket:

Now, we do NOT stir this up. Because we are using ale yeast, it needs to sit right on top to work. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the wort and craps out air and alcohol as a natural process. We need the air to escape in this portion of the process, but want to keep all the alcohol. We do this by sealing the top of the bucket except for a small hole with a “burper” or an “airlock”. This will slowly let air out while not letting any back in. Air has bacteria, and we don’t want that.

Alton Brown tells us to add water into the airlock to make bubbles, but the gearheads go one step further. If you use vodka in the airlock instead of water, then it keeps it extra disinfected. It just so happens that I keep vodka laying around for just such an occasion.

Carefully pouring it into the airlock chamber.

Upright.

Knucks for a finished wort

Here comes the tricky part. We’ve got to let this ferment for 10-20 days in a dark cool place, no hotter than 70 degrees and preferably around 60 degrees. It just so happens that we have a coat closet that stays at 62-65 degrees at all times

That’s our first part. There are two more parts on the way, but you’ll have to wait for a couple of weeks for the wort to ferment.

To be continued…

Victual Files: Another Hole in the Wall

If you weren’t going to Newcastle, Texas, you probably wouldn’t have much of a reason to be there. It’s up on the tip of the rolling plains where the hill country turns into dusty west Texas. Around 1950, the town had about 1,500 people living in it, and was a thriving coal mining community. However, they long-ago closed the coal mine, and since there’s not a railroad anywhere close the town’s citizens are mainly those who either are from Newcastle or whose parents and grandparents are from Newcastle. They sit below 500 these days on total population, however something very magical happens in the Fall in that part of the world.

The deer hunters converge.

You see, along with sparse population comes wide open range, and it just so happens that the nearby Brazos River makes for some of the best deer hunting in all of north Texas. At one point in the last century, the area was also known for its incredible dove and quail hunting. However, due to environmental changes, the dove population tends to wain from year to year, and the Bobwhite quail population is close to 25% of what it was just 50 years ago.

Nonetheless, on weekends in the Fall (aside from some of the best 6-man football in the region), you’ll find the town almost doubled in size with four wheel drive trucks, ATV’s, feed corn, and camoflauge from head to toe. You can buy beer and liquor from the stores, and the gas at the gas station is some of the cheapest around. If you venture into Jerry’s Meat Market on the corner of 380 and 380, you can get incredible cuts of beef ribeye steaks, marbled to perfection and cut in the butcher room in the back.

However, across the road there sits a red building that locals know as the local eatin’ joint, and visitors know as the home of the best damn hamburger on Earth. This is: Another Hole in the Wall.

Oh, sure…there’s a drive thru if you are picking up groceries for the family after church on Sunday, but you’ll want to go in to experience what AHitW is all about. In addition to their hamburgers, they have a yearly Big Buck competition and a longest turkey beard competition. Adorning the walls are pictures from previous years; a “yearbook” of sorts showing trophys pre-mount of all the harvested deer and turkeys from the local hunts.

Understand that this isn’t the place to go for a prom date. It’s good food, good company, and all within the close confines of your friendly Newcastle neighbors.

You want coffee? Serve yourself. Cups are on the wall.

You want tea or cokes? The owner, Bob, offers that, too. He will refill your tea glass for you, but it’s all unsweet so you have to spice it up yourself. Cokes are charged by the can, and they have three or four different types of “cokes” here. (In Texas, any type of soda is a “coke”. We often ask, “What sorta coke you want? Dr. Pepper?” )

Bob will even sit with you to discuss OU football or the Cowboys, but if you don’t like cigarette smoke, I suggest you sit along the edges or even the front area. This is his restaurant, and by gawd he’s going to have a cigarette while he’s working.  You can always get your order to go if the smoke bothers you that much, but it’s worth the pain to have this food served right off the grill.

Another Hole in the Wall is named as such because it was the 2nd location of a restaurant in nearby Graham called Hole in the Wall. The owner opened this location in Newcastle, however the original Hole in the Wall is long gone and all that’s left is the sequel. The be frank, the Newcastle location was always the better of the two. When you walk in, you get a menu with an angry looking character on it. Now, AHitW is world famous for its Hog Burger. The Hog is the unofficial mascot, which you’ll find on both the menu and t-shirts available behind the counter.

There’s a daily special along with a list of different regular menu items. Breakfast is served early, and lunch and dinner menus are the same. You can even get a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, but as the menu warns, it’s $21.49 and takes up to 30 minutes to prepare. I’m sure it’s good.

Above the front desk, you’ll see Bob’s wedding photo and his prized Sooner gear. He lets Aggies, Raiders, and Longhorns eat there, but he’ll make sure you remember who won the most recent game.

Aside from the charm and décor, we are here for the food. I mentioned earlier that the burgers are the best on the planet. That’s no hyperbole…they are the best. They are all made to order per your specification, and aren’t stuck on the grill until you order them. In addition, you can get fries, but what you want are the “house chips”: thinly sliced potatoes, fried to a crisp. They are incredible. I think I could eat an entire bucket of these things before I gave up.

If you are hungry, get the mini-cheeseburger. If you are really hungry, get the regular cheeseburger. If you think you are a man, get the Piglet (which is what we are having today). You think you are a badass? Get the Hog. The Piglet is the mini version of the Hog, but you’ll feel your cholesterol and blood sugar spike after eating either one.

This is the Piglet with house chips:

It’s a regular hamburger with bacon, cheese, and a thick slice of grilled ham. A true “ham burger”. Those delicious chips:

I take my Piglet with mayo and all the vege.

This thing is massive, and it’s the smaller version of their famous burger. If you can get your hands around it, you may have to give it a squeeze to get it into your mouth.

I like to take some of the ketchup on the table and squirt it on to my chips, then dab a little of the ketchup onto the burger.

I’m telling you…this is the best burger you can find. There is no better burger than this thing.

For the little guy, he gets the mini with fries:

…and shows his appreciation with a hearty single Gigger. You’ll notice Bob in the background having a smoke and watching TV:

That, my friends and fellow Arcadians, is what small town is all about. Good food, good company, and an experience you won’t soon forget.

Another Hole in the Wall Café

510 Houston St

Newcastle, Texas

Remembering Aggie Bonfire

I met Tim and Janice Kerlee this spring.  They were the guest speakers at our annual Aggie Muster. Their presentation is remarkable…they explain the Bonfire Memorial in great detail with pictures and describe the meaning of the each of the symbols throughout the entire structure, which are quite numerous.

Losing Bonfire happened just a few weeks before I graduated, and hardly a week goes by without me thinking about that day in some way. It helps that my office is adorned predominantly in Aggie stuff, including a picture of the last Aggie Bonfire in 1998. In my sitting area I have a copy of the Texas Monthly issue about Aggie Bonfire. Nonetheless, it’s still something I keep fresh in my memory because from time to time something will trigger a memory of that day. I don’t remember eating or where I parked or any of the normal details of my day-to-day life.  Just the invisible mourning shared between my fellow Ags and the confusion that weighed heavily in all of our hearts.  We all waited patiently and rather quietly outside the perimeter fence watching rescue workers try to save my fellow Ags. RC Slocum’s football team assembled and were among the folks who were toting logs off the stack.

It was the first and last time I’d been a part of a national news item, much less one that was so near and dear to my heart. I don’t know that I even realized if was even a single camera at the Polo Fields when we were out there.  Obviously, there were.  There were helicopters in the sky and news vans everywhere, but I didn’t even think to notice them. I didn’t have a mobile phone back then so I was out of touch for most of the day. My mother was miserable, I’m sure, but she worries a lot.

Part of the Kerlees’ presentation was the picture that the Dallas Morning News ran on their front page of Tim’s decimated body. His hips were crushed, his legs were detached from his body and his arm was broken. He was in shock and wasn’t in pain, although very uncomfortable from having his body broken the way it was. People in the rescue crews said that he told them to go help the others before they helped him. His parents got to see him before he died in the hospital.

Tim Kerlee, Jr was Janice and Tim Sr’s only child, and they lost him twelve years ago today. It makes me think about my son quite a bit when I remember her talking about Tim Jr, and I wonder how I would respond if my only child died doing something he was so passionate about. I wonder how many Aggies still think about that picture of Tim Jr in the newspaper and get angry that the DMN ran it in the first place. I wonder if the next generation of Aggies or the leadership in place on campus can ever get close to comprehending the dedication and spirit that Aggies such as the twelve who died that early morning had, as well as the others who were there and injured or had to help dig their brothers and sisters out of fallen stack. We hear about Tim so much because he was the last one to fall, but there are 11 other Aggies that rarely get mentioned.

I can’t do anything other than wonder, but I still do and I do it regularly. I hope you do as well.

Here X 12. Fightin’ Texas Aggie Bonfire.

Miranda Adams, ’02
Christopher Breen, ’96
Michael Ebanks, ’03
Jeremy Frampton, FTA Class of ’99
Jamie Hand, ’03
Christopher Heard, ’03
Tim Kerlee, Jr, ’03
Lucas Kimmel, ’03
Bryan McClain, ’02
Chad Powell, ’03
Jerry Don Self, ’01
Scott West, ’02

French Onion Soup

I remember the first time I had French Onion Soup. Actually, I don’t, but if you allow me to totally make up a story, it goes like this: I was hitchhiking across provincial France one summer when I was in college. After stopping in a small town for some bread and cheese, I noticed a wafting smell emanating from a cottage close to the marketplace area of the town. It was heavenly. It smelled like perfume…the perfect blend of peasantry and precision in food that carried me through the air like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he gets the perfumed inner thigh smell of a carrot in his nostrils, which renders him helpless and catatonic as he slowly drifts thru the air towards the source of the smell.

I approached the cottage, knocked on the door, and was greeted by the most beautiful French woman you could imagine. She was fetching in the most humble ways…naturally beautiful, however she was reticent in seeing a stranger at her door who was sniffing the air like a bloodhound. In my broken French asked, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

Looking perplexed and glancing down at her feet, she said, “Ils sont mes chaussures.”

Actually, I think the first time I had French Onion Soup was at a Jason’s Deli or a La Madeleine or something like that. Either way, it left an impression on me.

Since I can’t recreate pastoral France nor is there a deli anywhere around me, I have to create my own FOS if I want some. Fortunately for me, my FOS is world’s beyond what you can normally find in a chain restaurant. Every young onion dreams of someday being the main ingredient in this powerhouse soup. So, without further adieu…he we goes.

Mise en place:

-two large yellow onion

-one large red onion

-one large white onion

-3/4c of cabernet sauvignon

-1/4c of port

-6 strips of bacon

-4-5 cloves of garlic

-carton of beef broth

-carton of beef stock

-provolone cheese

-a nice french loaf

Boil some water in a large pot and add a bit of salt to soften the water.

Add the onions:

Blanche them for 2-3 minutes.

Then dump into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

This will make the skins easier to remove. You want to remove the outside layers that are papery. They’ll be quite toothsome in the soup, and you don’t want that.

While they are cooling off, get your big stock pot out and render 6 strips of good bacon. Don’t cook on high…you need to be able to crisp the bacon up but not burn.

Remove the skins of the cooled onions.

Half the onions, then julienne into strips. You want nice bite-sized strips. If you cut them too thin, they’ll disappear in the cooking. Make them too big, and they aren’t very fun to eat.

Do this will all the onions.

The red onions make a beautiful addition to the soup. They’ll leach that red color out into the soup.

Once the bacon is crispy and the fat is all cooked out, remove the bacon. Save it for a BLT or something. Don’t throw away good bacon.

Add all of the onion to the bacon fat.

Stir them so they are good and coated with the fat. Add some salt to make them start to cook down to translucent.

Five cloves of garlic, smashed and diced. I like to leave the garlic in small chunks so it has some texture to it in the soup.

Curl your fingers in and let the blade of the knife hit your knuckles. That way, you don’t get cut.

Add the garlic. More salt if you need.

Fresh ground pepper.

While the onions and garlic are cooking, measure out ¾c of red wine. I like using a tasty table wine that is good enough to drink along with the meal. The combo of the wine plus the soup is a great complement.

Plus 1/4c of your favorite port. I had an open bottle of vintage in my bar and needed to use it.

After a few minutes, the onion will start to become translucent so that you can see thru the edges.

Gorgeous.

Add the wines to the onions. The wine will immediately lose its deep ruby color and turn kinda brown. We need it to mellow a bit before we add the stock/broth.

And a bit more salt. Taste this along the way. The salt helps drive the moisture out of the onion and make them soft.

After a bit, the wine will mix with the moisture rendered from the onion and turn all of the onion a nice pink color.

Now, since we are going to be serving red wine with this meal, I like to mix in beef stock and beef broth. Beef stock will have fat where the broth should be just about fat free. When you drink a red wine with big tannins, serve it with a fatty dish. The fat will coat the mouth and calm the tannins so that you can experience the fruit w/o drawing your mouth up.

Stock. In.

Broth. In.

Bring it up to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

That needs to simmer on low for an hour and a half. At this point, salt and pepper to taste, but be careful. Over the next hour, the flavor is going to change drastically as all the flavors meld together. Now, notice that all we’ve added so far is salt and pepper for flavor. No herbs, no spices. That’s by design. The beef stock should be prepared with a bouquet garni for flavor. The natural flavor of the wine, the bacon, and the onion/garlic is going to be complex enough for us.

Taste it along the way. You’ll use more salt than you’d think, but be careful not to oversalt it. It’s best to get it to the point where you think it still needs just a bit more, then after the rest you’ll find that it’s perfect.

After an hour (notice the fat glistening on top):

After the hour and a half long simmer, turn off the heat and let it rest uncovered. While it’s resting, cut a french loaf into 1″ slices.

Olive oil.

Brush the olive oil onto both sides of each slice of bread, then salt and pepper for each side.

Into a 425deg oven until nice and brown.

The crispy bread is integral to a FOS.

When the soup is finished, ladle portions into a high-sided bowl or a crock.

Put a crouton right in the middle of the bowl just on top of the soup. Don’t push it down…just float it right on top.

Take a slice or two of provolone cheese and lay it over the crouton.

Now, some people like to turn their broiler on, slide the crock into the oven, and melt the cheese under the searing heat of the broiler. That’s a great way to do it. However, I like to use my kitchen torch to do it. I can be a bit more precise and get the cheese cooked to the perfect sear up close.

Seared:

Served with a bit of that tasty wine, and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.

Here it is in its full glory. Bust thru the crouton that’s been soaking up that soup and spoon up the cheese with those onions.

And there you have it. French Onion Soup that will change your life.

Victual Files: La Taqueria Mexicana

If you like to visit different towns to take in and experience the local culture, there’s not a better way to do it than to test out the local food. A community is defined by what they eat and how they eat together. Especially in small towns, the available food is a large part of the definition of that community itself. Anytime we travel, we try to find out where the locals eat. You’ll usually get the best food, the best value, and the heart of what makes the community so much different than others.

The food culture in Texas follows no general rules, as each local town could best identify with BBQ or homestyle cuisine or even Mexican food. In the Old Town area of Graham is home to a non-so-hidden but probably mostly unknown treasure:  La Taqueria Mexicana.

Right on 4th street, residents have probably driven by it hundreds of times without much thought at all. Those who haven’t ventured in have really done themselves a disservice, though, because in the unassuming and relatively small taco shack you’ll find a delectable meal with “authentico” written all over it.

First of all, any Mexican food place that serves menudo on Sundays is as authentic as it gets. For those who aren’t familiar with menudo, it’s a stew that’s noted for its ability to help calm the aching head and rumbling gut of a late-night Saturday spent on the bottom side of a beer bottle. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Menudo is a spicy broth made with chilis, tons of herbs and spices, and glistens with fat that’s rendered from its main ingredient: tripas, or tripe. Specifically, menudo is made with the honeycomb reticulum tripas from a beef’s second stomach. That’s right…one of the best hangover cures in Texas and all points south is a spicy beef stomach stew. Sounds disgusting, right? It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you appreciate real Mexican cuisine and don’t pale at the sight of offal on your plate, then give menudo a try.

I’m not here today for the menudo at Taqueria Mexicana, though. It’s the tacos. If you like tacos (and every non-insane human loves tacos), then this is the place you need to head.

When you walk in the front door, you see the kitchen behind a front counter, and off to the right you have a small dining area.

Taqueria Mexicana has a solid reputation around town as a great place for breakfast burritos (which are more like the size of what we consider to be a taco). There’s nothing wrong at all with coming here for those, because they really are outstanding. Your choices for breakfast burritos include:

Pick either egg with meat or potato with meat. You can’t go wrong with these, although I’m a big fan of the potato with chorizo and egg. A closer look at the full menu:

This is the first page but you can see that you’ve got a pretty good choice of how you want your dish. I’m here for the taquitos, or little tacos. They are served on corn tortillas, which are made fresh back in the back. If you order the burrito, you get a flour tortilla, which is also made in the back. I love either one, and depending on my mood I’ll order either or both. Specifically, I’m here for the tacos al pastor.

Tacos al pastor are made with pork over a rotisserie. The meat is cooked similarly to the way that gyro meat in greek cuisine is made. The meat is cut into small bite-sized bits with just a perfect amount of chewiness and toothiness to make you want to take as many chews as possible to extract the most flavor.

Fresh onion and cilantro highlight the spicy flavors on the tacos al pastor.

While I was there, I went ahead and picked up a handful of the brisket tacos, too. It’s a different flavor profile completely, but it’s a formidable back up to the tacos al pastor on the menu

A close-up of the tacos al pastor:

Roll this over so you have a tight cigar, and you have a compact blast of nuclear Mexican flavor. The soft chewiness of the meat, the crunchy fresh onion, and the perfume of the fresh cilantro is unbeatable.

This is the part that I love…the mouth-coating grease from the pork falls right out the back. The seasonings, a mixture of chili, cumin, and oregano, make for a finger-licking cleanup.

Those brisket tacos I was talking about? They make a great mild compliment to the spicy pork.

Laying these out, you can see the perfect amount of meat, laid perfectly into the center of the taco.  No cheese, no sour cream, no ancillary or superfluous filling to take away or confuse the flavor.

Other menu items of note:

-The gorditas are incredible. They take the same meat as the tacos and put them in a purse of masa (like the texture of a tamale, but not steamed and round like a large ravioli).

-If you think you can handle it, try the chicharrones on your taco. Those are “pig rinds”, or pork skin cut into strips. The texture is like stiff gelatin.  Unless you’ve had them before and know you like them, go ahead and hold off on those until your third or fourth trip to TM.

-The salsa (labeled as “big container of hot sauce” on the menu) is superb. They serve a single serving with each taco/burrito, but you can also buy it in bulk. It’s fresh and delicious.

-You can buy the flour tortillas by the dozen. Homemade tortillas are unbeatable anyway, but the ones at Taqueria Mexicana really are tasty.

-During the week, they have lunch specials served with rice and beans.

Authentic. Homemade. Delicious. Taqueria Mexicana in Graham, Texas.