Thursday, May 31, 2012

Harvey Washbangers

Image source.  Because I forgot to take an exterior photo.

If you all haven't been to Harvey Washbangers, located on Texas Avenue near the College Station HEB, you should check them out.  They've got a whole new menu.  In addition they've changed their beer selections and will soon be carrying growlers.  So, they'll be the first place in the area where you can go and take home some darned good beer, including New Republic beers. Awesome.

New menus!  This is just the front side.

As I said above the entire menu has been reworked.  Gone are the release form wings and frozen foods.  Everything is better quality.  They still have wings and other pub food.  And they still have the Banger Burger, but now they also have it with cream cheese and jalapenos.  So The Lovely Spouse and I ordered one of each.

The Banger Burger with cheese. Nom!

The Banger Burger with cream cheese and jalapenos. Double Nom!

If you look at the bar you'll notice something "missing": the hard liquors.  That's because with Texas law you can't serve hard liquors and have growlers available.  Harvey's will be the first place in B/CS to have these available, in addition to carrying fantastic craft beer from around the state.

Last week was Craft Beer Week and it killed me to see the facebook status updates from both Harvey Washbangers and O'Bannon's Pub because I was home all week with The Sick. This just shows the new philosophy of the restaurant is dedication not just to improving the food but also dedication to providing top quality beer to the growing population of craft beer fans.  Their selections change week to week to reflect this. And as far as the growlers go, it's about time someone here offered them. Yay!

They also have a beer club.  Drink 8 drafts and 8 bottles (only 3 per visit, selections change regularly) and get a gift certificate, in addition to trying out some great Texas-made beer.

They also have wine available for the non-beer drinkers. And they have the basics, Bud, Bud Lite, etc, for beer drinkers who aren't into the whole craft beer thing.  And, of course, they have a full selection of soft drinks for those who don't imbibe.

The Lovely Spouse also ordered dessert:

This is a strawberry lemonade pie.  It's a light ice box pie that's very refreshing.  If I had more of an appetite after eating the burger I'd probably get a piece as well.

Will we return?  Of course!  The beer was good, the food was good, and the prices were very reasonable.  And every so often we have large laundry that needs to be washed that won't fit in our washing machine.  Oh yea!  Harvey Washbangers is also a laundromat with very reasonable rates.  They also have oversized washers and driers available.

Note: growlers are not yet available.  They've been given permission to sell and refill them, but the actual growlers have not yet arrived from the distributer.  They're expecting them any day. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Animation + Cakes = Wow!

Again, this is one of those things that, if I could do it, I'd be doing it instead of writing about it.  This artist creatively combines cake decorating with film-making.  Amazing.  And yes, I totally yoinked it all, except for the last one, from here. If you like what you see, check out the artist's website. It's all in French, so if you don't read French and just want to just see his other videos go to his youtube page.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Comicpalooza and Niko Niko's

This past weekend was Comicpalooza in Houston.  There was lots of geekery to be seen and had. We went with some lovely friends who didn't give me permission to blog about them.  So here are picts of other things we saw there.

Nice paint job.

Arc Attack!

I don't usually play games that use 20 sided dice, but if I did, I'd buy them from the (d)ice cream people.

So, of course, The Lovely Spouse and I went down with some friends to indulge in the fun. As far as food goes, we ate at the Lakehouse on Discovery Green for lunch.  The food was good but it was just salads and burgers.  Much cheaper than the convention center, but still...just your basic fair.

For dinner we headed over to Niko Niko on Montrose. They serve Greek food - something that is sorely missed in B/CS.  The lovely thing about the Montrose location is parking.  They also have indoor and outdoor seating. But it's the line out the door that tells the entire story. 

Walk in and find a menu.  It's extensive with American and Greek offerings, including Greek beers and wine.  Then head up to the bar and place your order.  You'll be given a pager for when your food is ready. 

Entrees came with salads that were meals in and of themselves.

We didn't know this so we ordered the cheese and hummus plate, which was also a meal in and of itself. A delicious meal. Most of the feta cheese I find in the States just isn't good.  This was the exception. It was mild, yet flavorful and I could easily enjoy a slab of it.

And then our entrees came.  Yea...I just tasted mine and took the rest home.  I got FOUR meals out of it. Four very delicious meals.

Mine was the pistichio and moussaka plate. The moussaka was as close to the stuff I had in Greece as anything I've ever had in the US.  The potatoes don't look like much but were simple, with good ingredients and flavor.

The Lovely Spouse got the stuffed peppers.  They were somewhat different from mine but nonetheless very delicious and still have that herby, minty flavor that my yemista have. So, yea, I'd order that again.  With the expectation that I'd take a lot of it The Lovely Spouse did.

And for completeness The Lovely Spouse ordered dessert.

This phylo dough was perfect. Absolutely perfect.  Stuffed with mild cheese and nuts.

And of course the rice pudding was yummy.  I have wonderful memories from undergrad of getting the rice pudding at the Marathon Deli in College Park.  This rice pudding reminded me of that.

But I couldn't finish all this food. We took the VAST majority of it home. And it was all just as good reheated.

Will we be back to Niko Niko's?  Gosh, I hope so.  There's no Greek food in B/CS and this was exceptional.  It might have been all casual fast food, but it was just as good as if not better than much of the fine dining I've had elsewhere. 

Entrees ranged up to about $20 for the most expensive sampler.  Sandwiches were around $10. There was a great dessert selection for about $4-5 each. And, as I said, there was enough food for four meals, all of it reheated well.

The decor was casual and as you can see the plates were all plastic.  The service was super fast and very friendly.  They were more than happy to provide us with to-go containers.  I'm going to guess they give out a lot of to-go containers with those huge portions.  And, given how delicious everything was, I'm going to guess that that line out the door is a nightly thing. Fantastic.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Yeastie Beasties on the job

It's been over a decade but I'm back to brewing you all!  In my undergrad major we all had to learn how to make beer.  The funny thing with me was that I didn't drink alcohol.  BUT it turns out you can make a beer just fine without consuming an entire serving of the stuff. There's no alcohol in it until it ferments.  Yeast converts the sugars into alcohol.  For those of us in microbiology it's like making growth media where the object is to make the most delicious version possible of the media, that just so happens to support growth and fermentation (separate steps) of just the right number of bugs.

I should note The Lovely Spouse helped out with this A LOT. This is all his equipment and I'm benefiting from him learning from his mistakes over the years. I'm the student here.

Step one of brewing is to heat a bunch of water. We use the spring water from the grocery store because the local tap water has too much iron and other minerals to make a tasty, delicious beer. Yes, we recyled all that plastic. We also used Burton salts because "electrolytes are what yeast crave".

We'll be making 5 gallons of beer, because that's the size of fermenters we have.  So I heated about 4 gallons to 160 F. 

Next I turned off the heat, put a grain bag in the water and dumped in my malted barley.  This recipe uses a malt extract so there's a relatively small amount of grains compared to an all grain recipe.  We purchased everything from Homebrew Headquarters in Richardson, TX and they were nice enough to pull together the correct mix of grains and mill them for us so that all I had to do was dump them in, straight from the bag.

After steeping for 30 minutes I pulled the grain bag (also called mash) out and drained it.  Then I heated the entire tea (actually, it's called a wort at this point, but it reminds me of a giant pot of tea) to a rolling boil.  Then I turned off the heat, poured in the malt extracts (this is the sugar the yeast will "eat" and turn into alcohol), mixed thoroughly, and returned the entire pot to a rolling boil. 

While waiting for things to boil I put my first batch of hops into a hop sock. We use pellets for convenience.  A lot of breweries use them to keep things consistent batch to batch.  If you use the flowers there will be variability between batches of beer and batches of hops purchased.  It all depends on the recipe you're using.

So next I added my first batch of hops.

[Yes, I burned myself on the clip.  Note to self: use only clothespins next time.]

At 50 and 55 minutes I added the next two batches of hops, because this is an IPA.

At the end of the 60 minutes, total, boil I removed the hops and the entire thing was poured into an ale pail, which had already been sanitized.

The entire thing had to cool before I could add the yeast so I "smacked" a smack pack of yeast (a yeast suspension in a preservation medium that releases an activator when it's "smacked") and went off to do other stuff for a few hours. Then we set up a system to let gas escape while the yeast do their thing for a day or so and left them to the business of multiplying.

Go yeast go! Go yeast go!

After a bit more than a day we transfered the brewing beer from the primary fermenter (the ale pail) to a sanitized secondary fermenter.  Because this is an IPA more hops were added at this step, and that's called dry hopping.  We do this transfer to separate the brewing beer from the gunk that settles to the bottom.  That gunk could add all kinds of nasty unwanted flavors to the final product.

Next step is to cap the fermenter with one of those locks you see on the bucket on the right and leave it alone for a few weeks.  After that we'll add in corn sugar (a source of fructose, another thing yeast craves) and put the beer in bottles. This last step will give the beer carbonation. 

So right now we wait.  At this point all I know is that what remained in the ale pail smelled absolutely delicious as I was cleaning up.

On a related note, I found a lovely recipe for the left-over malted barley: 

This batch was made with wet grains ground in the food processor because I couldn't wait to dry them out.  Instructions for doing so are linked to the recipe. I found I had to bake the crackers for 20 minutes to get nice and crispy, instead of the 10-12 listed on the recipe. I made them the next day with dried grains.  The texture was much crispier then and there were no loose barley hulls to chew.  I still had to bake around 20 minutes to get them crispy. This might be due to our humid environment.

I froze the remaining dried spent grains so I can make these and other recipes any time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Passive Activism

A friend of mine is doing an interesting series of blog posts on Passive Activism.  Simply put Passive Activism is an internet-ism that describes trying to change the world by doing something with very little effort. We see it every day on facebook with meme after meme of some picture of a child in a third world country or an animal at the pound with some caption about making the world a better place.  The people forwarding these memes fully believe they're making a difference in the world, albeit a small one, but they're not exaclty inconveniencing themselves. There's a lot of commentary online about this but I'll just leave it at that.  Just google the string what is passive activism and you'll find all kinds of opinion for or against it.

So daemonnoire's series starts with a meme (left), the passive part.  Then challenges it.  Turning passive activism into active activism. 

Anyways, it's a good read.

Here's the first post, introducing the meme: Eating Fresh.

Next she challenges the meme by attempting to reproduce their findings: Shopping Fresh.

In her third post she explores living within the confines of the meme: Breakfasting Fresh.

I imagine there will be more on the subject later this week, therefore I'll post the additional links as she publishes them. And I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

05/24/12, edited to add the next link.  Here she continues using the food purchased in the challenge to make meals for the week. [Note: her nickname is Squirrel] Crock pot fresh.

While we were at the Big Time Small Town Event (which even has its own webpage) today she confirmed there will be more in this series.

05/25/12, edited to add the final link in this particular series.  Here she presents an actual substitution that makes sense.  In other words, substituting fried chicken with a healthier alternative that will appeal to someone who wants to eat fried chicken for dinner.  It'll make sense when you read it. Chicken Good.

And Happy Towel Day everyone!

Monday, May 21, 2012

I'm back...sort of...well, getting there

I'm starting to think this virus went from my sinuses up into my brain.  I'm no longer actively sick, but just have this lingering funk going on.

So this weekend was interesting.  There was this:

As one friend wrote on facebook, "the dragon is eating the sun".
I took the photo through welding goggles.
I didn't see any more of the eclipse live because the sun set prior to the annularity.

In addition The Lovely Spouse and I brewed this up:

Microbes hard at work.
Left to right: orange wine, red ale and IPA.

The wine and red ale are 100% The Lovely Spouse projects. The IPA (or India Pale Ale) is mine with The Lovely Spouse lending A LOT of guidance and helping out tremendously.  What you see is also known as primary fermentation.  The little white bucket is filled with water and the tubes coming out of the brown bottle and Ale Pail are under the water. This prevents bacteria from going up the tubes as the brews bubble. During primary fermentation the force from the gasses escaping are too much for something as small as the vapor lock you see on the wine's pail.  When the bubbling slows down or stops we'll transfer the beer to secondary fermenters, add in some corn sugar to feed the yeastie beasties, and for the IPA we'll add in another bunch of hops (dry hopping is adding hops during secondary fermentation, in addition to the initial brewing/wort).  I'll add more details to a later post dedicated to this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thorry, I hath a thickg. I hath to bwowl my nothd.

Sorry for the hiatus.  I've been sick. Not slightly sniffly sick either. But, omg-did-I-just-cough-that-up sick. It's like a very bad impression of a cat horking up a furball.  Or something. 

Since this past weekend was Mother's Day, The Lovely Spouse had Dutiful Son duties up in Dallas.  But he returned with Tacos of The Gods. 

The pict's not the best. After all it was transported over the course of a 3 hour drive.

The place is called 24/7 Tacos and is located near the intersection of South Garland Road and Miller in Garland, TX.  It's near the house of one of his family members so it's super convenient when he's (or we're) up there. I don't have any interior picts as I didn't join him on this trip, for obvious reasons.

If you go, expect no ambiance. It's located next door to the day labor center, in a gas station.  Order at the front counter. $5 gets you three tacos of your choice, rice, beans, and condiments.  I like that they have grilled jalapenos in the condiments. Super hot, but delicous with the beans. They also have red and green salsa, cilantro, onions, limes and others condiments. I usually get the barbacoa (expect it to be greasy because it's face meat), chicken and beef.  As far as I remember all are served on corn tortillas. I don't remember if flour ones are available or not.

I probably won't be posting much for the rest of this week. This illness isn't easing up as I'd hoped it would so I haven't been much in the mood for eating anything special or eating out. Generally The Lovely Spouse has been bringing me soup. I love the potato cheese soup from Cotton Patch Cafe as well as the hot and sour soup from T. Jin's China Diner.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Waller County Line BBQ

There's a BBQ place that we pass every time we head from College Station to Houston.  And until recently we didn't bother to stop and eat there.  Mostly because we had plans in Houston and/or College Station.  Well recently we had the opportunity to stop.  And boy-howdy am I glad we did.

If you've driven along Highway 6/290 between Houston and College Station you've likely seen this sign. It's a combined gas station, BBQ place, and bar. It was lunchtime when we stopped in.

The decor is no-fuss casual. And, yes, those are tools in the background. The bakery features cakes. We didn't save room.  But we noticed there was a good selection.

I meant it when I said no-fuss.  I went for the spicy boudin.  Luckily I got there just in time to get the last one. The Lovely Spouse got BBQ beef.

 Wait. Does that say jalapeno stuffed bacon wrapped quail??? Yes, please!

This is The Lovely Spouse's lunch. Quail on the left and beef on the right. He said the beef was slightly overcooked and dry, as though it had been sitting too long. It's possible we just got there at the end of their lunch rush. Maybe it's better earlier?

Here's the inside of the jalapeno stuff bacon wrapped quail.  This was AWESOME. Exactly what you would imagine it would be.  And totally worth stopping here again.

The boudin was also good.  It was how I imagine someone's grandma would make it. The spicy version was quite filling and spicy enough to leave a nice warm burn on the lips. The Lovely Spouse said it tasted "like organ meats". I didn't get that flavor from it, but enjoyed it nontheless.

Will we be back? Absolutely.  Jalapeno stuff bacon wrapped quail.  'Nuf said. And it's available in platters of 5 or more. Total cost for two, with drinks (iced tea) was around $20. No muss, no fuss, just good food. I like it. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fried Pies

Yup, that's the actual name for a relatively new restaurant in College Station.  Located close to the intersection of University Drive and Highway 6.

This used to be a Sonic Express location at the gas station.

The menu is very straight-forward with a selection of sweet or savory pies.  Each is available prepped on site as you order and cooked up or, for a lower price, you can take a frozen one home and heat it yourself.  The service was very friendly.

The drink selection is interesting because the majority are sweetened with sugar instead of HFCS. Diet Coke, of course, is an exception as it's sweetened artificially. 

I ordered the apple pecan pie, aka The Peter Griffin, and took it home. It kind of looks like a giant empanada.

The crust was good. Nice blend of tender and flaky. And the filling was delicious.

Wah-wah.  The problem was that the pie just kind of sat in my stomach. I was ill for hours after. [Image is from Google Images]
Will we be back?  Most likely not.  A stomachache is not a great way to make an impression. The pie was good, tummy didn't like it one bit.  I know others have tried this place.  How was it for you?

Monday, May 7, 2012

New Republic Brewery, revisted with directions

About a year ago I wrote a post on New Republic Brewery. As to be expected things have changed in the last year.  Instead of featuring one awesome beer, they now feature two awesome beers, with a third on the way.  And just about every two weeks they now have brewery tours.  For $6 you get a tour of the brewery, tastings, and a souvenir pint glass. An excellent deal.  Go to the website or follow them on facebook and/or twitter to find out when tours will be. Best of all, bring the glass back for following tours and you'll get a discount at the door.

The most common complaint I have heard about the brewery is that it's kind of hard to find.  Yes it is.  So I'll give directions from the Texas A&M University campus. 
1. Take Welborn Road South, like you're driving towards Houston. 
2. Turn Right onto 2818, like you're driving towards the fire school. 
3. Turn Left onto Holloman Drive. It's a new extension added to that road after the new bridge was built.
4. Turn Right onto North Dowling Road. Stay on the road for awhile, even past the really sharp turn. Everything should look residential and rural by this point.
5. When you get to the stopsign for Hopes Creek Road, pictured below, look for a stock fence on the left that has a little tiny grouping of signs.

This is the intersection of Hopes Creek and North Dowling. Go through the stop sign and turn left at the sign here.  Below is a closer look at the sign.

If you see this, turn into the driveway for the industrial park.  This sign is not visible coming from the opposite direction. So if you arrive at the stop sign turn around and look for this sign.

 When you get to the end of the driveway this is what you'll see if you look to the right. Park in any spot, just don't block any door or fire hydrants. And please don't block in any other cars.

Walk up and show your IDs to the people under the tent. They'll give you your souvenir glass and tokens for tastings.


Designated drivers and non-drinkers are admitted free. There is filtered water available for those who don't drink or who want a break from it. Pint glasses are for sale without tastings/tour. And tee shirts are also available for sale. 

Texas laws have recently changed and brewers are now allowed to tell customers where their beer is sold (see list in background). Pretty soon Harvey Washbangers on Texas Ave will have growlers, so you'll be able to take New Republic beer home with you.  Texas law does not allow the brewery to sell beer directly to individual customers.  

As you can see above, New Republic also often has a guest beer.  Here it was Thirsty Goat Amber from Thirsty Planet Brewing Company in Austin.

So how do the beers taste?  Well, I'm still learning how to rate beers and such using a formal scale.  But from a layperson point of view I'd say Bellows Amber Ale has a mellow balance of caramel maltiness that's balanced out well with just the right amount of hops. Rate Beer gives them a 3.1 on a scale of 1-5, which I think is unfair because most of the tasters tried it at a beerfest, where conditions aren't exactly good for beer.  And most samples are too small to get an idea of what the entire glass would taste like.  Bellows doesn't taste like your typical Amber Ale but has that certain malty character that places it well within the scale of American Craft Ales.

Skylight is a German style dunkelweiss.  That means it's a wheat beer in which much of the malted barley (like you'd find in an amber ale) has been replaced with malted wheat.  Dunkel means dark, so dark wheat is used.  It was given a 3.95 out of 5 by Rate Beer.  Skylight is much lighter in flavor than Bellows, although the color is still dark.  It's extremely smooth and well balanced and appeals to many people who otherwise would never attempt to drink a glass of craft beer.  I prefer Bellows but understand why Skylight has a wider appeal to a larger audience.  They're both quite tasty. 

As always please drink responsibly! Designate a driver every time. 

Will we be back? Of course!  The beer is great and the people there are awesome.

Anyone who is interested in getting into homebrew should also contact the brewery and they'll get you in touch with a local homebrew club. These are people who love what they do. 

Note to those who were there on Saturday: the cake I brought was a margarita tres leches in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Here's the recipe with a few caveats. I added the vanilla at the same time I put the eggs, sugar and lime in the mixing bowl (it's not mentioned in the recipe). And I overcooked the cake portion by 15-20 min so that it would be sturdy enough to take up the tequila milk. I also don't have an 8" square pan so I used a 9" one, which is why mine looked flatter than the picts.  Also, I wasn't sure what was meant by "condensed milk" so I used sweetened condensed milk.