Tuesday, May 21, 2013
I have a random little bit of useless ground in my backyard that lies between my shed and the neighbors fence. Usually I just let the prickly vines and other weeds grow as they may but this summer Mr. Dave Jr. has become increasingly adventurous with his roaming. Not wanting him impaled by thorns or ridden with poison ivy I cleaned it up some weeks back leaving nearly bare earth. I will probably just put down gravel or something eventually... But until then I am playing plant Highlander!
I grew quite a few plants from seed this year and was left with scads of extras. Instead of doing the sensible thing and saving the seeds for next year, I have been strewing them all about behind the shed. All sorts of stuff -- flowers, peppers, assorted lettuces, carrots, etc... You see, in my twisted thinking I believe that only the strong will survive! As I intend to thoroughly neglect anything that should sprout back there, surely only the strongest and stoutest of plants should have a chance at life. Maybe I will breed a race of super-carrots or something... I don't know.
Probably everything will die. But maybe one giant pepper plant will grow from among this plant-ghetto that I have created and choke the life out of all of the other rival sproutlings. There can be only one!
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Bear with me here, I will get to the point after some blathering about the above pictured cheese...
Here we have a cheese that I make with some regularity. I don't really know what I should call it, I guess it is a "provolone style" cheese as I have heavily adapted the traditional sort of recipe to my own needs and purposes. To make this cheese I use 3 gallons whole milk + 1 quart of half and half (Meadow Brook Farms, Clarksville, NY). I use both mesophilic and thermophilic cultures, it is a pasta filata cheese of the Italian school, and is brine soaked.
The resulting cheese can be eaten at any point during its lifespan. Eaten young it is vaguely reminiscent of the standard low moisture mozzarella that you would find at any grocery store. After 4 months or so of aging it acquires some character. This cheese is great for snacking, melts well, and is fairly mellow in flavor (i.e. acceptable to children as it reminds them of string cheese). Due to the high quality dairy that Meadow Brook Farms churns out (and the fact that I don't use any adulterants) there is a freshness to this cheese that makes it thoroughly enjoyable.
So, why am I telling you all of this about the stupid cheese I make? It is because I would like to share a bit of my philosophy on the home production of "artisan" food stuffs (mostly charcuterie and cheese in my case).
You see, when many of us set off on the road to becoming budding salami makers, cheese makers, or kraut-meisters we tend to set our sights unrealistically high. A novice cheese maker decides that he/she might like to give Roquefort cheese a go, or an aspirant of the meaty art of charcuterie might go after a large diameter, cold smoked, dry cured number... There is always the urge to produce the rare, exotic, and exciting -- the sweaty, gooey, stinky, moldy cheese that will impress your friends and scare the neighbors.
During these lofty pursuits I think that many of us kitchen alchemists lose sight of what I believe to be the primary goal of home production -- taking quality ingredients and crafting them into foodstuffs that you and your family will actually consume with some regularity. Trying to recreate items that are made by veritable artists with hundreds of years of tradition behind them (not to mention a full compliment of facilities/equipment) is a foolish pursuit and will often result in miserable failure (and waste).
That is why I brought you through the example of my provolone-esque cheese. That cheese is a no nonsense, pedestrian affair that is not going to knock the socks off of your learned cheese aficionado. But guess what? As un-complex as it is, it is made from excellent local dairy products, isn't full of chemicals, and I actually enjoy eating it! I can produce a giant log of it relatively effortlessly and inexpensively and the stuff fulfills a good amount of my cheese eating needs.
That is the rub I think. Master the basics of your craft, start churning out agreeable results that you can integrate into your daily diet, and then maybe move on to a novel/difficult recipe or two to spice it up a bit. Forsake the urge to make fermented Nepalese raw yak milk cheddar for the novelty of the whole affair and just go ahead and do up a nice wheel of Monterey Jack (w/milk from your local dairy) instead.
All this being said, there really is nothing better than crafting then eating/sharing your own stuff. After many years of trial and error (and the construction of Franken Fridge, my meat curing chamber) I can finally consistently produce my own small diameter, dry cured, snacking salamis like these -
These lil' salamis pretty much satisfy my salami snacking needs so I no longer have to pay the exorbitant prices charged by many purveyors of this sort of thing. After about 10 years of meddling with salamis, I am only now moving on to fancier, large diameter sorts of stuff like this pork/beef jobber with walnuts -
I have high hopes that soon I will be providing for my own sandwich salami needs, we shall see...
Ever since buying my house I have been getting increasingly involved in kitchen gardening as well. I have two big giant raised beds filled and prepped for this growing season and I look forward to finding ways to deal with all of that produce (if everything doesn't die or get eaten by Delmar's hordes of cheeky deers).
So to sum it up -- make stuff at home, but maybe try to keep it simple.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
I have taken a sort of sojourn away from writing about the foods indigenous to our great Upstate New York homeland as of late. So I thought it might be nice to examine an item that is maybe not absolutely unique to Upstate NY, but is so ubiquitous here that it is worthy of mention.
Who likes butter hard rolls? I try to think of white carbohydrates as a treat to be enjoyed sparingly lately so my butter hard roll intake is pretty slight. But I have eaten more than a couple of these bad boys in my life. The borders of the area of butter hard roll availability seem to be pretty consistent with those of breakfast sandwich land, i.e. New York and New Jersey. Of course you see the butter hard roll elsewhere... but I would arge that New Jersey and Upstate New York are the true butter hard roll spiritual homelands.
A butter hard roll, very simply put -- is a hard roll... with butter... Not too overwhelmingly complex of a concept but the devil is always in the details. I am going to put this out there right out front -- A true Upstate NY butter hard roll is often a very disappointing experience. They have most likely been left at room temperature for indeterminate lengths of time which leads to a host of problems. A stale hard roll or rancid butter are two of the main issues and a pet peeve of mine is when the maker tries to spread cold butter on a soft roll and tears up the crumb. That is the move of a rank butter hard roll amateur.
In any event (and for better or worse) butter hard rolls are available at most gas stations, convenience stores, bakeries, and diners 'round these parts. The specimen we will examine here today was obtained at my beloved Stewart's (click for an unnecessary amount of posts that I have made about Stewart's). I forget how much they cost at Stewart's but I think they are around a buck.
Here you have your standard Stewart's hard roll, which are OK, but not my favorite. They are a bit soft crusted with a crumb that is a little denser than one would like. The roll is split, given a hearty smear of butter (Stewart's uses Cabot butter), rolled tightly in cellophane, adorned with a "BUTTER" sticker written in Stewart's trademarked font, and parked in a basket next to the register awaiting your grubby mitts.
There she is folks. Bland, buttery, and cheap sustenance.
Butter hard rolls of this ilk have their purpose. This purpose is mostly to settle your stomach after a night of heavy drinking and this is a purpose most worthy when you think about it. In fact, during my wife's first pregnancy she could stomach little and I remember buying these for her a time or two. So my two cents is that Stewart's should market its butter hard rolls towards pregnant ladies and drunks.
To sum it all up, butter hard rolls are widely available in Upstate NY, often bad, but sometimes good. Fiorello's over on Western Ave. does a pretty good version for a buck and I think the McCarroll's at the Delmar Market will make you one with a Prinzo's roll if you ask... A good hard roll with good butter actually really is a simple and splendid thing when done right.
I will not get into a discussion of hard rolls here as that is a topic all of its own, but I will tell you that I favor Prinzo's Bakery's hard rolls. I live off Delaware Ave. in Delmar so Prinzo's is pretty much right up the road from me. I can generally obtain their hard rolls at peek freshness which is most likely the reason I favor them over any of the other usual suspects in the local bakery world. Below is an example of their product-
This was glorious.
Monday, April 1, 2013
If you will remember, some time ago I posted about a charcuterie experiment that I had thrown into my curing chamber (Franken-fridge). I had whipped up a version of the Calabrian spreadable salami 'Nduja which I named "'Ndjutica" in honor of the Utica Grind Pepper that I used in the recipe. Here she is pre-curing-
I put this chub to cure in early January (I didn't get around to publishing the original post until late January) so this puts the total cure time at around 6 to 7 weeks. I had planned on letting the chub cure for several months -- but as expected -- curiosity got the better of me and I pulled it early. I was anxious to know whether my 'Ndjutica was a success or not (6-7 weeks is enough to get the jist) so I could get to making subsequent batches to satiate my meat-spread hunger...
I was immediately encouraged upon slicing off an end of the 'Ndjutica as it appeared to have dry cured pretty evenly throughout the entire chub. It pretty much looked just like the (overpriced...) Boccalone 'Nduja that I ordered and sampled quite some time ago.
I pulled a hunk out of the twisty end bit and warmed it up between my fingers. The texture was perfect! I.e., not sliceable like a traditional salami, but fatty and maleable like 'Nduja is supposed to be. I tasted a bit of the 'Ndjutica and thought it was delicious. The salami was salty, fiery (but not intolerably so), smoky, with a fair amount of fermented funkiness. I was just pleased as punch with my creation.
My mind immediately began racing with ideas for ways to utilize the fairly large amount of 'Ndjutica that I had on hand (aside from eating it straight). Generally you eat the stuff warmed and spread on bread, or you can throw it into a pasta sauce. I also recalled having seen a neat idea to make a sort of 'Nduja compound butter. I thought this would be a worthy purpose for a nice bit of my 'Ndjutica. I got to work post haste.
Using a rolling pin and some cellophane I fashioned two large rectangles (one of butter, one of 'Ndjutica). Just look how nicely the spicy stuff spread out -
Afterwards I carefully rolled the two fatty squares together into a sort of meat/butter jelly roll. I threw the beautiful cylinder of spicy charcuterie and butter into the fridge to chill down and meld flavors for the evening.
This morning I had the wife pick up a loaf of Prinzo's Bakery (Delaware Ave., Albany) bread. To me Prinzo's bread is the perfect "blank canvas" sort of thing when you really want to enjoy the accompaniment without another strong flavor getting in the way. Prinzo's bread is also my favorite vehicle upon which to enjoy my other treasured meat spread -- Rolf's Pork Store's Teewurst.
Ain't the below a pretty picture if there weren't ever one? Just look at that fatty red 'Ndjutica rolled within that yellow butter. I almost cried.
And here she is spread lightly on a thin slice of bread.
I spread the stuff cold which was not ideal, but I could not wait. A hunk of the 'Ndjutica butter at room temp. with an ice cold beer and a nice slice of fresh bread is going to be really very good. I am going to wait until the weather gets a bit better so I can enjoy this experience outside unsullied by the crap weather we have been receiving. I will let you know how that goes...
In any event, the 'Ndjutica was everything I could have hoped or dreamed for in a homemade meat creation. There are precious few times in my life where I would put up one of my own home-crafted food items against any commercially available version of the same -- this is one of them. I can't find too many flaws with this recipe and given a few minor tweaks I am going to put 'Ndjutica into regular home production. I can't restate how thoroughly satisfied I am with this project.
OK, my arms are sore from patting my own back. That is all.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
I seem to be in the midst of a lazy period so here is another pictorial post. Happy Easter!
|Today is not Sunday! It is Chicken Tender-day. Tomorrow|
is Mac & Beef-day.
|Bread... Donuts... Mix & Match them! Both equally|
valid for making sandwichs. Also, what the
frick is "malt-o-meal?"
|Fritter Friday. Those red lines symbolize post-fritter|
farts. From your butt.
|Graze with Flavor the Cow on processed meat and cheese.|
All. Day. Long!
|For your Easter viewing pleasure, a crappy|
photo of dear children's Stewarts-art!
Happy Annual Ham Festival (Easter)!
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A while ago a Montreal Poutine location opened up over in the Crossgates Mall food court. Most people were of the general agreement that the poutine was a bit subpar. I tried their stuff a couple of times as takeout (the wife goes to the mall occasionally, I seldom do). I will say that poutine is probably at its worst after steaming in a to-go box for 30 minutes, but even so...
...based on what I received I can easily see why those persons uninitiated into the wonders of poutine might not have been over enthused with the Montreal Poutine product. **Edit** Forgot to add that the place has since closed, thanks for reminding me Anonymous commentator.
The whole Montreal Poutine thing got the dish on my mind... As I have also been on a mad cheese making tear lately a concept that I am calling "Guerilla Poutine" has begun to take shape in my addled brain...
What is Guerilla Poutine you ask? Well basically, I am going to make my own fresh cheese curds, whip up a nice veloute, put it in a thermos, and then drive the short distance from my house to the Glenmont Five Guys Burgers and Fries location. I am going to obtain a large order of fries, find a secret corner, dump the fries out on the bag, sprinkle them with delightful curds, slather on the veloute, and then feast like a poutine mad dog! I am going to go out on a limb and predict that this will be absolutely glorious! (you can tell I am enthused because of all the exclamation points!).
We must start somewhere so here we are starting with the curd. I purchased a gallon of Ronnybrook Creamline Milk over at the Slingerlands Shop Rite. The Ronnybrook milk is pretty much the only easily available non-homogenized milk you can track down around these parts. It is a bit dear, but I have found that it is excellent for cheese making.
I made some cheddared cheese curds out of this fine milk. If you are interested in how to make cheese curds, click here.
I am always amazed at the texture of the curds after the cheddaring process. You hear the analogy - "about the texture of chicken breast" as a reference for the final product of cheddaring.
I like to dry the little bastards out a bit after salting. This right here is probably the finest time to eat a cheese curd. The trademark squeaking when you chew thing is at its apex when the curds are still this fresh. Although I enjoy a lot of the mass market curds (and even some of the smaller production brands) out there, many of these products are really more "small bits of cheddar" then the actual cheese curd experience. Until you have had curds that are truly fresh made you are missing out on something very good.
I now have this many delicious curds made from nothing but delicious milk, rennet, cheese culture, and salt!
Stage one of Operation Guerilla Poutine is now complete. Next phase of the operation is the veloute... Until then, Mr. Dave out.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Sunday, March 17, 2013
|Wasn't I waltzing through Niantic, CT when I spied|
this sign on the unassuming Family Pizza establishment...
(Note the use of "home to the..." in the stead of
"home of the..." Interesting grammar....)
|This hot dog made the front page of "The Day!"|
Where does the line start!?!
|Reasonable prices for a "Mega" version of the|
hot dog sausage.
|There she is folks! With bacon/onion/cheese.|
I shy away from hot dog "chili" outside of
Upstate NY. I am ever loyal to our particular sauce.
|A top view, that sucker is nigh 2' long.|
|The view from my mouth.|
|The remains of the day.|
Thursday, March 7, 2013
You Think You Are Better Than Me? (Table Hopping Post Got Me Thinking About All Good Bakers and The Cheese Traveler)
So a while ago ol' Steve Barnes at the Times Union Table Hopping blog put up a post entitled "Quality Restaurants where you don't fit in." This opened a flood gate of comments as locals -- seemingly delighted with the opportunity -- let fourth a stream of vitriol. Two establishments that caught a bit of (to me, unexpected) flack were All Good Bakers and The Cheese Traveller (adjacent each other, Delaware Ave, Albany). As over-positive as I usually am about our great Upstate NY homeland (and the Capital Region in particular), this whole kerfluffle gave me cause to examine a sort of unsavory aspect of the local culture.
Many of the comments concerning The Cheese Traveller were geared towards the staff being rude, condescending, or otherwise making people feel unwelcome in the shop. Before going further I should state that I have only had two direct experiences with the establishment. I bought a couple things from their stand at the Delmar Farmer's Market over the summer, and I swung into the actual shop a couple of weeks ago.
I got some salami,
and a bit of Limburger cheese.
I found both experiences to be pretty standard customer/proprietor interactions. During my in-shop visit the proprietor engaged me, offered me samples, and answered a question in quite an expected fashion. I am a bit shy and reticent, so if anything he probably found me rude and unwelcoming!
As for All good bakers, I have only been once (a week or two ago). I got a wonderful (and cheap) half-dozen bialy (that is plural right?) -
and a baguette.
This time I was being a little cheeky. I had already read all of the Table Hopping comments (they got a bit of flack too) and had had a twitter conversation with someone who had a bad "customer service" experience on several occasions at the bakery. So I came out of my shell a bit (I can be frightfully charming when motivated) and purposefully engaged the female staff member who took my order (seeing if I could illicit any sort of negative interaction). I asked a question that would be annoying to any tried and true baker (regarding gluten) and it was handled with nothing but grace and friendliness.
So here is where I am going to get kind of controversial. Luckily no one really comments on my hack blog or I expect there would be a torrent of self-righteous indignation and dander up-edness in response to this...
OK, so in the above I have highlighted the fact that at both AGB and CT I was treated with nothing but kindness. But guess what folks? I do not expect kindness. During my evaluation of a shop offering a commodity, the "customer service experience" does not enter into the equation in the slightest. I find the expectation of "friendly customer service" to be the most annoying aspect of American consumer culture. I think it reeks of self entitlement and I hate it. And you know what? I think we have an especially strong propensity towards over-expecting anyone in the service industry to fawn over us locally.
Why would you care if you felt "welcome" or not in a bakery or a cheese shop? Unless the staff were outright rude (threw things, insulted you outright, made fun of your shoes) why would you expect anything besides perhaps a hello? Maybe after you have frequented the establishment and cultivated some sort of personal relationship with the store workers you could come to expect a few extra social graces, but off the bat I don't think this is an entitlement...
I expect that the staff at any given shop to answer my basic questions concerning the products and to not make me wait unnecessarily to be served or to check out. Other than that, if their product is quality and their prices are sound, I expect nothing else. Heck, the staff at Rolf's could lambaste me with insults upon entry (they don't, they are likewise extremely courteous) and I would still go and spend money because I love their products.
If I walked into the Cheese Traveler and asked "What's good?" or "I am looking for something that my 2 year old will like, do you have anything purple?" or "I like cream cheese and Stilton, what would you recommend?" I would expect that the proprietor might be hard pressed to answer and perhaps give me a quizzical gaze as these are all very silly and hard to answer questions. It seems that a lot of the Table Hopping comments stemmed from situations like this.
But the issue here goes deeper into our character. We are, and have always been, a hardscrabble and working class folk around here. Many of us have made good, prospered, and moved to the suburbs but we all share the same roots. I think we tend to have a bit of a fragile sense of pride and any real or imagined slight to our ego, self-image, or intelligence gets taken hard. We seem to have a larger than average, "you think you are better than me?" bone.
I find it strange that many people seem to find the fact that the owner of a specialty cheese store might be in possession of more and preciser information concerning cheese threatening to their self image... I want to know that my cheese monger is "better than me" in terms of cheese and cheese knowledge. I don't even mind a little condescension, I grew up buying comic books and maybe I got acclimated to a bit of "area of expertise condescension" from various comic book store staffers. Reasonable condescension is the right and privilege of the true expert! I did not see any of this at either the Cheese Traveler or AGB, but I would not have gotten all bent out of shape if I had.
In short, one of the only things that make me bashful (and a bit ashamed) of my majestic homeland is this sentiment towards demanding slavish, fawning, "customer service." Be rude to me, scoff at my stupid questions, hurry me out the door to serve the rest of the line. But stay open. Keep offering your wonderful products. The cheese (and all other sorts of things) must flow. I implore others around me to not attempt to verify your self worth based on the treatment you illicit at establishments offering artisan food stuffs.
That is my two cents.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
In any event, I hold to the opinion that there is a general trend towards more assertive minty-ness in recent years. Way back when I remember the things just being sort of green with a pretty vanilla flavor profile. This year the Shamrock shake is of Creme de Menthe parfait like proportions. For the second year running there is no cherry included which pleases me (I hate cherries). I guess the only other thing of note this year was that there was a sort of pleasant green strata effect when viewing the shake from the side... You can kind of see it in the above pictures.
I have now documented 4 years of Shamrock Shakes... This sort of makes me examine what my life has become that I have wasted so many years documenting shitty novelty milk shakes on the internet. No matter, I regret nothing.