matthewarren

25Feb/113

Haute Cuisine: The 2010 Coastal Carolina Fair

So, the 2010 Coastal Carolina Fair rolled through town, and Katie and I made an appearance.  I used to be a huge fan of the rides, but as the years went on and the lines got longer, my attentions turned toward making fun of some of the art in the exhibit halls, watching people throw away small fortunes on chances to win enormous stuffed animals, and, of course, the fair food.  Last year's fair brought with it the introduction of fried butter.  Let that sink in for a minute, and then try to wrap your head around it.  A pat of butter, rolled in some kind of batter, and then deep fried.  Clearly, I had to try it - one of man's greatest accomplishments, to be sure.  I couldn't work up the nerve, however, and it haunted me for a year, hanging over my head like some kind of greasy, fat-laden ghost.

This year was going to be different.  I went to the fair with the express purpose of trying anything I could find that sounded like it could appear on ThisIsWhyYoureFat.  I had heard rumblings coming out of Columbia that Krispy Kreme burgers were seen in the wild, so I was optimistic.  I tested my selections by telling Katie that I was thinking about ordering something.  If she said "you're not really getting that, are you?" I knew that I was good to go.

First off, I had to confront my buttery nemesis.  Walking up to the stand, we discovered that we could get the Super Sampler Platter: cheesecake, cookie dough, carrot cake, and of course butter, all deep-fried.  How could we go wrong?  We ordered our platter, and as we waited, I told Katie that I wouldn't think any less of her as a person after we tried fried butter.  I was slightly disheartened when she didn't tell me the same, though I could certainly understand.

Super Sampler PlatterFrom left to right, we have cookie dough, carrot cake, and cheesecake.  The butter sat on top, as if to taunt me by its very existence.  We were delighted to find that cinnamon sugar had been sprinkled on the butter, the carrot cake glazed, and the cheesecake covered in cherries.  It really pounded home the fact that this was one of the most unhealthy things that either of us had ever tried to eat.

We decided to eat the butter first, since it was probably the worst of the set and we didn't want to have the taste hanging around for the rest of the fair.  I tried to take a picture, but it proved to be impossible - as soon as you bite into it, all of the melted butter floods into your mouth.  It's horrifying, but the saltiness is offset by the cinnamon sugar.  After the first bite, you're essentially left with a buttery shell.  Overall, it wasn't awful.  I didn't know what to expect, but that wasn't it.  I give it a 4/10.

Katie eating fried cookie dough

Next up was the cookie dough.  Imagine the most sickeningly sweet thing you can, and then add chocolate to it.  One bite into it, and I was finished.  The texture is somehow granular but fluid, like what I imagine lava or molten sand would taste like.  The cookie dough is just overpowering and, despite my best efforts, I couldn't bring myself to take another bite of it.  1/10.

Fried cookie doughThe fried carrot cake was completely uneventful.  There was little flavor, and it basically felt and tasted like biting into a fried sponge.   Unworthy of a full writeup.  3/10.

The cheesecake tastes exactly like what you would expect cheesecake dipped into a fryer to taste like: hot cheesecake.  Under normal circumstances, I absolutely love cheesecake.  Heated up and wrapped in batter, however, are not normal circumstances.  The texture was fine (like normal cheesecake, but runnier), but the temperature was completely wrong for the taste, and as a result I hated it.  2/10.

Fried cheesecake

What did I learn from the Super Sampler Platter?  That, against all odds, butter is a better candidate for being fried and eaten than a few other things.  Also, that people should mostly stick to meats and some veggies for frying.

Next up, I wanted to eat some actual food.  I couldn't break tradition, so I shopped around and found a Polish sausage stand.

Polish SausageI don't know why everybody always gets so grossed out about these.  They're delicious, and a total 10/10.  I took a break from eating at that point, partly because I wanted to walk around a little bit, and partly because I was entering a sugar coma from the fried cookie dough.  After the break, however, it was time to seek out and conquer the beast.

I found a tiny, unassuming stand outside the agriculture hall.  I would have kept walking, had it not been for the Krispy Kreme flags on top.  It was time.

Krispy Kreme BurgerTo top it all off, they serve it in a Krispy Kreme hat, which I thought was ingenious.  Going from top to bottom, the burger features:

  • A Krispy Kreme glazed donut
  • Bacon
  • Pickles
  • Cheese (Velteeta-like)
  • Hamburger patty
  • Another glazed donut

KKB Unleashed

For some reason, I was imagining that it was going to be very heavy and difficult to hold.  It wasn't at all, and so we dug in.

Me and the KKB

Katie and the KKB
It was...surprisingly good.  The donut was really well offset by the bacon and patty, and almost a little fruity.  The only complaint I had was that the cheese was too fake-tasting.  I feel like a better cheese would have really enhanced the whole burger, and I'm tempted to make one at home to see if I'm right.  Overall, I give it an 8/10.  I was going to get a second one, but I hesitated long enough for my stomach to tell my brain that one was enough.

Overall, I came away satisfied, if not fearful for the future of my stomach.  I think that the Krispy Kreme Burger has potential, and I plan to perfect it in the future.  I can't wait to see what kind of fried foods next year's fair holds.  Hopefully, some genius will fry up a Krispy Kreme Burger and sell it.

4Jan/112

Adventures in Homebrew: Part 1

Homebrew stuff

I've brewed beer once before, with Elliott and Johny, and it seemed to turn out pretty well - but only after letting our Double IPA sit in my parents' basement for a little over a year.   I wanted to try again, and so Katie gave me a homebrew setup for my birthday this year.  Tailgating season is fast approaching, and I wanted to try to brew something that would be ready for the first game.  Enter: Northern Brewer's American Wheat Extract Kit!  The original plan was to do an orange-infused Kolsch, but that kit takes six weeks to complete.  Football is only four weeks away, so we switched gears to an orangey American Wheat.  Hopefully, this'll turn out something along the lines of a more orangey Blue Moon.

I hadn't really messed with the kit beforehand, so we had to go through and mark gallon measurements on both of the carboys.  I'm sure there was a more efficient way to do this, but 11 gallons later, we were ready to go.

Katie marking a carboy

The full extract kit was almost disappointingly simple.  Basically, all we had to do was pour some stuff in a huge kettle and wait.  The kit came with a little half-gallon jug of what they called a "wheat and barley syrup."  Last time I brewed, I remember putting barley and malt in a pantyhose-looking bag and letting it steep, just like you would tea.  Next time, I think I'm going to go full grain.  We'll see how this one turns out, I guess.

Wort

After letting the Willamette hops boil in the wort for about 45 minutes, we added some Cascade hops and the zest of four oranges.  This boiled for another 15 minutes, and then it was cooldown time.  The kettle dominated the sink full of ice water that I had prepared, so we had to resort to the frozen beer pong cupholders that I had in the beer fridge.

Katie with Cascade hopsOrange zestIce bath

The wort had finally cooled down enough that it wouldn't melt a carboy, so it was time to bottle it up and add the yeast.  We added some water to bring the concoction back up to 5 gallons, poured in the fermentation fuel, added another 4 oranges' worth of zest, and capped the carboy up with a blowoff valve.  I hung a blanket over the window of the guest bedroom and stuck it in there so that it'd be dark and cool for a couple weeks.

Carboy with beerThe instructions said that after 24 hours, there would be a layer of foam on top and air bubbling out of the blowoff valve.  Anxious, I opened the door the next morning to find this:

Beer, after 24 hoursSo far, everything seems to be good.  If you put your nose right above the blowoff and inhale, you definitely get a strong orange smell.  I'm very optimistic at this point.  2 weeks from now, it'll be bottling time, and after a couple weeks of bottle conditioning, they'll be ready to (hopefully) enjoy.  The North Texas game will be exactly 4 weeks from initial brew, so I guess we'll see what happens.  Can't be worse than Shock Top.

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20Dec/102

2010: A Kitchen Odyssey

My kitchen was a total grandma kitchen.  Off-white cabinets, a single fluorescent light fixture down the middle of the ceiling, tiny little oven not located under the stove, white laminate countertops...not really what I want.  Katie and I decided that we'd tackle a remodeling job, and the kitchen seemed like the best candidate.  New countertops, new fridge, painted cabinets, new lighting...it could happen.  First up was cabinets, because that seemed easy enough.  Some new paint, new hardware, and they'd be good to go.  I numbered the doors with masking tape, drew up a little map to remind myself of which doors went where, and began to tear everything down.

Disassembly went well.  We emptied all the cabinets quickly enough.  The hinges and knobs came off in less than an hour, and since we were going to try for the nice European-style concealed hinges and some fancy new IKEA LANSA handles, clearly all of the holes had to be filled and sanded.  Massive quantities of wood filler were utilized.  Katie and I knocked out the painting of the frames in a weekend.  We even painted the door into the garage and the one kitchen window.  It looked great.  I bought a Bosch random orbital sander that was a ton of fun to play with, and I filled my eating area with cabinet doors.  For some reason, the amount of sheer area that the doors would take up never crossed my mind, but I now know that you could probably roof a house with the wood necessary to build 23 cabinet doors.

Cabinet doorsMany a night was spent putting coats of Bistro White paint on these boards.  The frustrating thing about painting white over pale yellow is that it never really looks any different, so it's difficult to see what the final product might look like.  After the paint dried, it was time to try the 5/8" overlay, face frame hinges that I had bought from Home Depot.  I had done my homework on concealed hinges, so I was pretty sure that I could handle it.

Cabinets pre-hanging

Ready for hanging.

Nope.  My cabinets had a 3/8" overlay.  I trucked the hinges back to Home Depot, looked around, and realized that they didn't sell the 3/8" variety.  Rockler to the rescue!  I bought 22 packs of these bad boys and waited a week with baited breath.  The night they came, I raced home from work and drilled out a sample cabinet.  After hanging it on the frame, I quickly realized that these were completely wrong.  Apparently, I needed these - and for $25 a pair, that wasn't happening.

Option #2 was semi-concealed hinges.  "Use on doors with 3/8 lip," it says.  What it doesn't say is that these hinges will move the door over 1/8" and shift the door out of the frame an equal amount, so it won't close all the way.  Box #2 was heading back to Rockler.  Home Depot had a few boxes of self-closing hinges that looked identical to the shiny gold numbers I removed, so I drove over in a huff, bought all that I could find, and came back to the house to discover that they too shifted the door out of the frame.

Cabinet gap

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Clearly, this wouldn't work.  The hinges went back in the bag and back to Home Depot where I was laughed at by the girl working the Returns counter.  "Next time, you should only buy one or two to see if they work."  Sage advice, to be sure.  I ended up buying the exact same hinges that were on the cabinets in the first place, but in a satin nickel finish this time.  All of the hole-puttying and sanding was for naught, at least in the hinge area.

Cabinets hung

Finally, it was time for hardware.  I made a delightful little template out of cardboard and a ruler that I taped to the store-bought template, which proved to be too small to accommodate the gigantic handles we had picked out.  After trying it out on some scrap wood, I nervously drilled through the first door, set up the handle, and...it actually fit.  It was straight, the holes were in the right place, and the planets aligned.  It couldn't have taken more than two hours to mark and drill the holes and attach the handles to the entire kitchen.A finished cabinetI'm currently working on screwing in all the little magnetic plates that hold the cabinet doors shut, since some moron didn't take the time to level them all when he hung them on the frames.

Cabinets with hardwareThe observant reader will note that two doors are not hung.  The cabinet door on the bottom is the one that I had experimented with concealed hinges on, and as a result had two enormous holes in the back that had to be reputtied.  The door on the top, for some reason, won't go back into its spot.  It's like the microwave has swollen on top, and so I'm not really sure what to do there.  I might fix it one day.

Cabinets with hardware, part deuxNext up: countertops.  Luckily for my sanity, I'm not even going to entertain the idea of installing those myself.  Hopefully, I'll be able to provide an update sooner rather than later.