I’m Your Man, Leonard: Finding One’s Self and The Black Star Menu

When I agreed to write a piece about our Fall menu, I originally intended it be an overview about new items, but things have changed. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for the newsletter, so I wanted to do something a more than just a little listicle or something about menu items. I wanted to tell you a story about a trip I took to research pub-food; to find myself. 

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Finding Closure: Where Your Favorite Departed Menu Items are Now!

Menus change. At Black Star Co-op they change with the season. Some dishes last; perennial darlings that are always available to their doting fans. Some dishes do not last, living behind both the menu and a troop of hungry, adoring groupies. We know how hard it can be to part with something loved (really, we know, we got your emails, all of them), so this is an attempt to provide some closure. Here’s what your favorite dishes have been doing since their departure: read more

How to Take a Handsome Picture of your Handsome Food: A Brief Tutorial

The holidaze are fast approaching and there little time left to tighten up your photo chops before you have take a picture of mamma’s mean roast beast (amen). And so, it’s with an abundance of holiday spirit, that I’ve decided to share some tips for taking better food pics. 

1. Focus: please let your picture be in focus. Cameras and camera phones come standard with autofocus, but this is not always your friend. To correct an inaccurate autofocus learn how to adjust focus manually. Nobody’s getting excited about blurry food. 

2. Lighting: make sure the scene is well lit. Whether it’s with artificial or natural light, make sure the subject is covered in complex light (it’s not overly light or dark, but bathed in a balance of tones). One way to protect your photo from being under or over lit is by not positioning your light source behind your photograph. 

For example, this photo is blown out with white light overwhelming the subject: 

Whereas this photograph is too poorly lit, with the colors looking unremarkable and dark:

3. Compositon: I’ve got two things to address here. 

 A. Symmetry: center it, or don’t, but be beholden to some rule of symmetry. As far as rules go, the rule of thirds isn’t bad. 

 B. The correct angle: the a best angle is not the same for every subject, especially when it come to food. Juicy foods demand close-ups, colorful foods beg for some distance—so better to behold their magnificence in full. Think of what emotion you want your picture to convey. With a burger, maybe you’re shooting for total devastation, an empty plate. you’re so close to the burger in this picture, that you can easily imagine devouring the sandwich whole. 

Top-down aerial photographs, while perhaps apropriate for a complexly plated meal or an assortment of items, but it doesn’t work with sandwiches (it’s important to see what’s between the bread):

4. Proper editing. Please, don’t over filter your food photos. Food is something real and tangible, and you want your photographs to communicate that. Applying a hazy filter to the landscape you took on vacation to illicit a sense of nostalgia may make some sense (but not much), the same mode of thinking does not apply to food. For the most part you’ll, if the photograph is well lit, you’ll want to make miner adjustments to make the colors pop. 

Below is a photograph that follows the guidelines I’ve listed. The picture is in focus. Natural side light provides complex tones and textures to the subject.  The burger is not centered, but occupies the left 2/3 of the frame, with complementary room for the chips and the restaurant in the last 1/3. The framing is close-up, letting us examine and admire the sandwich’s toppings. So it looks pretty good overall, yeah? 

Hopefully this is of some help to you, our dear readers. Happy eating, and may the holidays look more delectable to those in your social network than they ever have before!

Worker Spotlight: Dustin

Dustin with his soon to be internet famous dogs.

What do you do at Black Star Co-op?

I’m a cook!

Where are you from? 

ATX, baby.

Which is your favorite house beer? 

Vulcan, because it get you there in a timely and efficient manner.

Favorite late night drunk snack?

Roast beef sandwiches: because I always got beef!

Are you as excited as the rest of the BSC Kitchen Team to see the next Star Wars film? 

I’m not nearly as excited as the Bounty Hunter, Travis (or as much of a scoundrel)! But sure! Solo vs. Fett!

What do you want for Christmas/Chanukah/Festivus/your next birthday?  

—New work shoes; slip resistant.

—Pressure cooker.

—One of those fancy electric smokers.

If you had a dog, and that dog was objectively the cutest dog in the world, would you campaign to make your dog internet famous? Keep in mind that this is pretty much just for your own profit, your dog is a dog and has no celebrity aspirations. 

If you mean: would I want my dogs to be internet famous? Absolutely. I would save up all the moneys for a trip to the Bahamas!

If you see pennies on the ground, do you pick them up? 

Ummm… If I find anything on the ground I’ll pick it up and take it home. No question. That’s what you learn from years of being a loan officer at Sambla AB (Sweden).

Where do you think is the best place in the world to eat a whole pizza by yourself? Think setting and surroundings, not necessarily a specific restaurant. 

As the sun set on Enchanted Rock during an Indian Summer. You can hear all the insects and the birds having one last hoo-rah before the winter sets in on the Hill Country.

Secrets From the Black Star Co-op Kitchen: Classic Southern Style Cornbread

This is a recipe straight from Grandma’s kitchen—the mythological southern grandma that we as Americans share (though some were lucky enough to have the real thing). It’s a simple, cheap, delicious recipe that will allow you to keep cornbread in the house pretty much forever. 

Southern Style Cornbread


2 cup Cornmeal
1.5 cup Buttermilk
1.5 tbsp of Baking Powder
.5 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2 Eggs
1 Serrano Pepper
.5 cup Sugar
.5 cup Canola Oil



0. Pre-heat the oven to 450°.

1. Combine all dry ingredients.

2. Combine all wet ingredients separately. 

3. Preheat the cast iron pan with butter. 

4. Combine both wet and dry ingredients until just together—you don’t want to overwork it.

5. Pour mixed ingredients into the hot cast iron pan and bake at 450°f for 20-25 minutes. 

And, voilà, the finished product: 

Worker Spotlight: Francis

What do you do at Black Star Co-op?

I work in the kitchen doing kitchen things—making awesome food with great people. It doesn’t get better than that. 

Where are you from? 

South, TX. More specifically Brownsville/South Padre.

What is your favorite dish on our menu? 

Cliche, but I don’t have a favorite. I love all of our food equally… Who am I kidding? Hands down our roast chicken. That crisp golden brown skin, those juicy sautéed seasonal veggies, and our grits!

Favorite late night drunk snack?

Drunk mac! A mid rare beef patty covered in delicious mac-n cheese, topped with fried onions and crispy bacon. What more could you want? 

If  you were MATT DAMON stranded alone on Mars, would you really want to come back to earth? 

Depends Really. If I was waiting on my impending doom while stranded, I would much rather come back. Otherwise, you can call me the Emperor of Mars. 

How do you feel about water privatization? 

It’s not cool. Water should be free. Duh. 

How well would the BSC kitchen perform in a local relay race?

Given the fact that we work harder than any other kitchen, I would say that we’re golden. I mean, the co-op already took the gold at GABF. Who knows what the kitchen can do!?

What are you going to be for Halloween? 

Still haven’t decided. Lots of options maybe something crazy, or I’ll just pair something up with my girlfriend. Who knows? 

Worker Spotlight: Alyssa

What do you do at Black Star?

I make the food and play with mah Black Star peeps.

Where are you from?

I am from a small town called Montgomery, New York which is part of the gorgeous Hudson Valley.

Your favorite beer on Tap?

My favorite beer on tap is Pneuma for a refreshing wind-down drink especially during the summer. But to feel EXCELLENT, Vulcan, without a doubt, does a wonderful job.

The part of working at a cooperative would be…?

Togetherness. Laugh, learn, grow and be merry.

Do you have any tips on how to not burn out in the Kitchen?

Excellent excellent question. I think the best trick is: lotsa coffee and some more coffee, make stupid jokes, and giddy laughters. No matter how tired you are, you gotta laugh even if your face muscles don’t want to work anymore to smile.

What’s your favorite late-late night snack?

Ramen, all the way!

Say a cave-in trapped the kitchen team underground during a spelunking/team building trip gone awry, what are the chances you all would make it out?

I never thought the kitchen team would be in a scenario like this. I can imagine we started a campfire in the cave and created some excellent, mouth-watering feast including ramen. And of course, we would wash down with some delicious Black Star Co-op brews. We’d die happy as we see the blurry rocks fall on our heads. Yeah, that sounds like a painful happily ever after. The end.

Have you ever seen an alien?

No, but that would be an horrifying dream of mine to accomplish one day.

Secrets from the Black Star Co-op Kitchen: Chili Pequin Sauce

Did you know that spicy foods can have a chilling effect on the body? It’s true, and it’s an especially useful effect to induce on a hot day. Spices on the palate can trigger sweat release—one of the body’s messier cooling mechanisms. That’s one of the reasons why equatorial cultures have produced some of the spiciest dishes throughout culinary history. 

So it’s with your temperature and health in mind that we share this crazy spicy and delicious wing sauce recipe. Just make sure when you serve the wings at you’re next backyard bbq that none of your friends wipe the sweat off their brow—it’s there for a reason. 

Chili Pequin Wing Sauce

Mise en Place:

1/2 C minced onion
2 seeded minced jalapenos
8 cloves of garlic
1/2 C dry chili pequins
1 C packed brown sugar  
1 C rice wine vinegar 
1/2 C water 
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce 
1 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 lb of butter (1 stick or 4oz)


1. In a sauce pan saute onion, jalapeno, and garlic in oil until the vegetables soften and start to caramelize.

2. Add brown sugar and dry peppers, simmer until it forms a thick syrup.

3. Next add the vinegar, water, worcestershire sauce and salt, stirring on a low simmer for about 5 minutes.

4. Let the spicy soup cool off heat for another 10 minutes.

5. In a blender, process until sauce is smooth and creamy.

6. Bring the sauce back to the sauce pan on low heat and start to incorporate cold butter, stir in one tsp at a time.

7. Let sauce cool for a few mins before you toss on grilled, smoked or deep fried chicken wings.

8. This recipe will coat about 50 wings and will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Range Life: A Look at 44 Farms

This past month I arranged a visit to 44 Farms, our primary beef provider, to take a first hand look at where our beef is sourced. Nestled in the sleepy Texas town of Cameron, 44 Farms operates like a sanctuary — for man and bovine alike. The land and farm belong to Bob McClarren, who carries on a tradition of cattle farming that has existed in his family since 1909.  

But while the farm is old, the business itself is relatively new.  During the 20th century the farm was split up and sold in pieces, and it wasn’t until the 90’s, nearly 80 years later, that Bob and his sister started to buy and reintegrate previously sold land. In 2003, the 44 Farms brand had its official beginning, with just 60 registered Angus cows. It has since grown to be the largest Angus operation in Texas. Which is no small feat, and one that was achieved with a careful integration of modern and old farming techniques. 


My tour guides on the farm were Bryan Carroll, the Genetics & Research Manager, and Amanda Overfield, Sales Representative and Social Media Manager. The two of which are perfect examples of how the Farm has successfully adopted contemporary business techniques to help them advance. As Bryan told me, “Customer service and marketing are two of the things we hang our hat on. But our bulls have the genetics to make any cowherd produce quality beef.” He was quick to note the equal importance of managing the cattle and keeping them happy and healthy, which is not something that can be bred.

On the farm you witness an efficient, and often times beautiful, merger of old ways and the new. Looking at a cowboy herding on the property, “you know, he’s out there being more old school and I spend a lot of my time on the computer.” The resultant scene is this: genetically exceptional cattle spending their happy days tended on a vast, plentiful land by cowboys who practice an ancient and established method. It’s a pretty picture. One that probably had no small influence in pulling so many people from across the country to work in the small town of Cameron.

“All the people on the ranch live in Cameron, but only two were born there. Bob pulled only the best people from across the country,” Bryan told me. This includes James, their general manager, who lacked a farming background, yet was imported to Cameron because of his tremendous managerial experience and his long held desire to manage a ranch.

Despite the Farm’s modest beginnings on just 250 acres, it’s not hard to see why Bob was able to persuade so many talented people to join his operation. Both the work and the environment are honest and imbued with a purpose which feels quintessentially american. In the brief time I was a guest on the farm, I felt a little bit of the pull, the urge to find a way to spend more time there. 44 Farms has assembled a dream team of employees to manage the land by offering a dream job in exchange. 

44 Farms follows the idea that dependance on the land also demands a care for the land. That’s a hell of a belief. And what’s even better, is the sense that this tenant will stand even as the farm grows more successful. I’m more than proud to be associated with the farm.