Monday, June 30, 2008

Outer Banks Brewing Station

The Outer Banks Brewing Station
P.O. Box 2584; MilePost 8.5
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a family reunion in Nags Head, North Carolina on the Outer Banks. My dad's side of the family squeezed about 30 people into a beach house, and fun times were had by all.

I was extra excited because Karl tagged along for the first few days (and didn't break up with me after meeting the more temperamental and volatile half of my family). Since Karl was there, we of course had to explore the edible and drinkable possibilities brewing on the Outer Banks.

On recommendation from Gene (our favorite Church Brew Works bartender), we sought out the Outer Banks Brewing Station (on the sly, of course: my family is a bunch of teetotalers!), a brew pub at milepost 8.5 on the main highway (Croatan, or the Bypass, or "The Big Road"). When I asked my former missionary grandmother, who lives on the Outer Banks, for directions, she looked horrified, and said, "You're going there? But that's a joint!"

Oh well. We promised her we'd stay away from the bar, which seemed to satisfy her.

The Brewing Station resembles a church more than a pub (on the outside). It's a large white building with architectural aspects that suggest a nautical theme. The coolest part about the pub is that they have a windmill! I read on a blog somewhere (I'm sorry I lost the link!) that the windmill doesn't actually power the Brewing Station, but they sell the electricity it generates to the main grid and thereby receive a credit on their electricity bills. An ad we saw in one of the travel mags touted the Outer Banks Brewing Station as America's first wind-powered brew pub, which is a little misleading, but I think that this is a step in the right direction!

After being seated in the dining area (well away from the bar, Grandma!), Karl and I split a bowl of mediocre crab bisque ($5.99). Besides containing far too little crab meat, the bisque tasted cheesy. Crab bisque should have no cheese, or at least shouldn't taste like nacho sauce! It should be creamy and silky, with nice lumps of crab floating just below the surface. That bisque made me long for the she-crab soup at Soby's in Greenville, SC.

The fish (flounder) and chips ($8.99)were much more delightful, and there was plenty for Karl and me to split the lunch entrée and be stuffed. I am of the opinion that it is difficult to mess up fish and chips, but Karl has apparently had some bad experiences. The OBX Brewing Station pulled through well enough to satisfy Karl's tastes (and mine!). The batter wasn't too heavy, and we got about 5 good-sized pieces of flounder. The wedge fries were perfect: crispy and flavorful on the outside with pillows of soft potato on the inside. The fish also came with a delicious remoulade on the side.

Of course we tried the beer, too! Before ordering any pints, we ordered a tasting flight of four 5 oz. servings of their current selections ($6): Ölsch, Old Knucklehead Nut Brown Ale, Shipwreck Stout, and one that I cannot currently remember. I'll have to update when I do. The Ölsch was pretty plain. If you like light beers, go for the Ölsch. The Nut Brown Ale, on the other hand, was insane: I could appreciate what an interesting and well-crafted beer it was, but I still didn't like it. I took two or three sips and could not figure out why I didn't like it, but there it was! It is unlike any brown ale I have ever tasted. It has a strange roasted cereal taste that is juxtaposed by resiny hops. It makes a very, very strange and great beer that I, nevertheless, could not bring myself to enjoy.

The winner for me is the Shipwreck Stout. It definitely made the trip worthwhile: it's one of the tastiest and smoothest stouts I have ever had the pleasure of imbibing. The description on the menu is fairly apt: "Fat and chewy oatmeal stout with a sweet silky finish." I'm not sure that it's chewy, but it is a full-bodied beer that ends up feeling incredibly light and, yes, silky by the time you swallow. So well balanced! It's chocolate-y and slightly sweet, but not to the point of being a dessert beer. One of the things that often turns me off about stouts is that I have difficulty finishing even one pint because they are so heavy. The Shipwreck Stout is light enough that you can eat a meal and have your beer without risking explosion of the innards. It is absolutely worth the trip to the Outer Banks Brewing Station just to try the stout.

Karl also tried a pint of the Hefeweizen, which was alright. The waitress served it in a very tall hefeweizen glass with a slice of orange for garnish. Though the presentation was lovely, the beer had a little TOO strong of a banana flavor for my tastes. If you want the best brew pub hefeweizen, you should try the Church Brew Works' Heavenly Hefeweizen: I swear that it is like drinking a refreshing banana split (pineapple, strawberries, and nuts included) in a glass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rediscovering Rhubarb

Rhubarb pie in the summer,
Rhubarb pie made by my mother.
Nothing better in the winter
Than rhubarb pie after dinner.

~Five Iron Frenzy, "Rhubarb Pie"

I think that rhubarb is one of those fascinating roots that the common man has forgotten, unless his mama still makes it for him when he comes home to visit. Or maybe if he finds it at a random truck stop diner. Why, you ask? Because people don't make pie anymore, dang it! And I can't think of any other way people use rhubarb other than for pies, jams and jellies. I would like to change that. In the meantime, I'll stick to using it for pie, because rhubarb is the key ingredient in what might be my favorite pie!

For Father's day, I wanted to make my father a strawberry rhubarb pie. He loves rhubarb, but I don't remember my mother ever making rhubarb pie when were growing up. It was always apple pie. So this Father's Day, rhubarb pie was it!

I had made my first strawberry rhubarb pie last summer for my friend's birthday. I hadn't even ever tasted a strawberry rhubarb pie before that. If you have never tried strawberry rhubarb pie, please do yourself a favor and either make one, or, if you are not into baking pie, go find some in the store. I have seen some strawberry rhubarb pies in the Market District Giant Eagle grocery store. There is something so magical about the sweetness of the strawberries versus the tartness of the rhubarb.

If you have never tasted rhubarb, it tastes a lot like a very tart apple. The texture when baked is also similar to an apple. Before baking, rhubarb looks like a red stick of celery and has the same texture. I've never tasted it raw, but I might try it. Who knows? Maybe raw rhubarb is the next big item in salads!

Karl, who purchased the rhubarb from McGinnis Sisters Special Foods Store (because the local Giant Eagle did not have any rhubarb, which stoked the fires of my wrath), "accidentally" got too much for a single strawberry rhubarb pie (1.4 lbs at $2.69/lb)...he said the scale said .75 lbs, but I don't really believe him!), so I "had" to make a small rhubarb pie-loaf in addition to the strawberry rhubarb pie.

It was interesting to taste them side by side. I believe I prefer the marriage of sweet and tart with the rhubarb and strawberries. The rhubarb-only pie was tasty, but really just reminded me of apple pie. Something about adding strawberries to the mix brings out the subtleties of the rhubarb.

I think it is important to balance the quantities of strawberry and rhubarb, however. Go heavier on the rhubarb than on the strawberries or the rhubarb will just get lost in the shuffle. Also, most recipes tell you to dice the rhubarb, but I like to chop mine rather bigger. This helps the rhubarb to retain some firmness and not disintegrate into the mix.

Now go make some pie! It's summer! (Hopefully you have central air conditioning that will make baking more bearable in the hot months).

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

Your favorite double crust recipe
1 1/2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 1/2 to 2 cups rhubarb, sliced
1 cup light brown sugar, packed tightly
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 cup flour
3 TBSP corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 TBSP butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Roll out the bottom crust and place it in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate (TIP: in the heat of summer, it really helps to have refrigerated or frozen whatever fat you use in the crust, and to chill the dough before rolling it out. This helps to prevent the dough from being sticky and unmanageable from the heat. It also helps to roll out the dough on a cool surface if you have one, like stainless steel or, even better, marble).

Place the sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a medium sized bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, allspice, corn starch and salt. Sprinkle 1/4 of the mixture on the bottom of the crust. Mix the rest of the mixture into the fruit (but don't mash the fruit up! Gently stir in folding motions with a flat spoon). Mix in the lemon zest and the lemon juice.

Dump the mixture into the pie shell and dot with the cut up butter. Roll out the top crust. I like to make a lattice with my crust for strawberry rhubarb pie, but it always ends up being kind of messy because I am not good at keeping the strips intact while weaving them. The pie will taste pretty awesome if you just roll out a regular top crust.

Bake in a 425˚F oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350˚F. Bake 25-35 minutes longer, or until the juices are bubbling (you might not be able to see them if you don't do a lattice top crust, so just stick a knife in the middle to see if the fruit has softened up. It's also a good sign if the crust is starting to get to a nice golden brown).

Allow to cool before serving. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Summer Is For Lazies

So, I thought that once finals were over, I would become seriously dedicated to baking and cooking and, of course, shouting about my experimentations into the void of the blogosphere.

It turns out that summer is hot. And when it is hot and one does not have central air conditioning, one does not much want to bake or cook. It has been hovering around 90˚F in the Pittsburgh area for the last few days, and it is just torture when I turn the oven on. So, alas, there have been no new pies, no new breads...really nothing new.

Still, one can "cook" without the stove or the oven. Two of Karl's and my friends got together last week for a whirlwind cookout dinner before the final game of the Pens/Redwings hockey playoffs (boohoo, by the way!). Ariel and Dave had purchased ready-made kebobs from Whole Foods (which were really quite tasty) and we all worked together to make some veggie kebobs and potato salad. I brought over what has come to be one of my staples: roasted red pepper hummus. It is such a cinch to make if you have a food processor or blender and is a great twist on the usual hummus recipe. We had a great time grilling the kebobs and eating out on Ariel's deck while we admired her beautiful flower boxes.

(Aside: is it a sign of age/maturity when a person starts getting really into things like flowers and gardening? I have been seriously jonesing for a plot to call my own so I can grow some proper hyacinths and herbs and tomatoes and other delightful edibles!)

Anyway, here's my recipe for Roasted Red Pepper hummus. Add or subtract garlic depending on how much you like, and this tastes fine if you leave out the tahini (I know some people don't seem to like it!).

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Yields about 1 1/2 cups hummus

1 14.5 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
2 cloves garlic
2 TBSP tahini
2-3 strips of roasted red pepper (out of can or jar is easiest, but you could always roast some yourself)
1-2 TBSP lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika (optional)
olive oil

Put the garbanzo beans, garlic cloves, tahini, roasted red pepper, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and paprika (optional) in a food processor or blender and pulse until everything is chopped up and combined. (If you like chunkier hummus you can stop here and not add olive oil for a lower-fat delight). Stream in the olive oil while processing, just until it becomes smooth (about 1/4 cup).

Serve with toasted pita wedges, crispy vegetables like carrots, peppers, and celery, or tortilla chips. (Don't forget a frosty beverage!)