Wednesday, March 31, 2010
OK, I know the ol' blog has been a little video heavy lately, but you are going to have to trust me on this one. I found this video while watching something completely unrelated and felt I had to share. As you know, I spend quite a bit of time writing about hot dogs and hot dog related topics. This video is one of those classic, late '60s, anti-drug PSAs (this one specifically deals with LSD). LSD and one woman's terrifying encounter with a talking hot dog (with 7 kids). Fast forward to 1 minute to get to the good part. Mind = blown.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
Many of you will remember that Oscar's Smokehouse of Warrensburg, NY fell victim to a tragic fire several months ago. I don't exactly know when they got their operation back up and running, but I was very happy to see that several of their products (bacon, wieners, Candian bacon, andouille) were again for sale at the Delmar Marketplace. I had to purchase some "Oscar's Hickory House" bacon. What kind of man would I be not to support an old timey New York smoker of meat?
As the first hints of Spring are upon us, I bring you memories of winter. Far from the lush jungles of his home planet Kashyyyk, Chewbacca confronts the realities of life in the snow swept landscape of Upstate New York. Now, I don't speak Shyriiwook, but I can imagine what our friend is saying and I share his sentiments.
For other cheerful videos to enlighten your dreary Monday, scroll through these.
Check out this movie Lbs.. Lbs. is about an overweight man who has a heart attack right before his sister's wedding. He moves from Brooklyn to Upstate New York to lose the weight. Looks pretty good, but it is only in limited release. Maybe the Spectrum will get it at a later date.
(The video in this post is from ghouliemask, check out his other videos. There is a wookie on a trampoline, 'nuff said.)
Sunday, March 28, 2010
As is generally the case, my horrible diet cola addiction (manifests itself only in a craving for fountain soda) has led me to sample another new fast food item. This time we have McDonald's Sweet Chili Sauce.
Isn't it a strange commentary on American sauce/condiment/crap-you-put-on-other-crap obsession that McDonald's is marketing a main dish protein product (the McNugget) utilizing its dipping sauce? That seems as strange to me as marketing a steak through the steak sauce. But anyhow, I was mildly pleased by the Sweet Chili sauce. There seems to be an encouraging trend among fast food/packaged product vendors to make foods advertised as "spicy" actually spicy (anyone tried those 1st/2nd degree Doritos yet?). The Chili sauce has (for McDonald's) a fairly aggressive amount of heat. The stuff is, however, sweet as sugar.
Something else about the product that interested me was the interesting linguistic use of the word, which I always assumed was simply a noun, "McNugget." Here we have the question, "How do you Mcnugget?" on the sauce package and "I've been McNuggetized" on the nugget package. That is too many parts of speech for one fried extruded chicken globule. I kind of like it though. I am going to McNugget you across the face until you are McNuggetized. If you don't McNugget me I'm going to McNugget you in the McNuggets.
Breakfast pizza, Aaaahhhhhh....
Take some freakin' dough, throw on some godblessed paper thin slices of jowl bacons, maybe a little Grafton cheddar, Aaaahhhh.....
Par cook that doughy mother in your hot freakin' oven!
Crack on a few good and fresh eggs, and throw that son of a gun back in the oven, Aaaaaaahhhhhhh....
Take it out, maybe the crust is a little browner than you want, so freaking what!?! It's still good you jerk! Slice that bad boy up.
See those runny-ass eggs? Delicious! Don't worry about salmonella you pantywaist, be a man!!!! Aaaahhhhhh.....
(Didn't have much time, thought writing this post in the manner of someone yelling might be interesting. Sorry.)
Thursday, March 25, 2010
This is a topic that I am quite sure is going to cause a little controversy, people take our local mini-dogs, and all their accoutrement, very seriously. I discussed the Capital District Hot Dog Micro-region some time ago, and it has been a de rigueur topic on the local internets lately. If you are not familiar, the hot dog style we are discussing consists of a small hot dog sausage, on a correspondingly short bun, "meat sauce", mustard, and chopped (raw)onion. The 3 major Capital Region purveyors of this heavenly item that I believe best exemplify it are; Gus's Hotdogs in Watervliet, Famous Lunch in Troy, and Hot Dog Charlie's (various locations). For reference, here is a half dozen Hot Dog Charlie's bad boys that I recently purchased (read about this adventure across the river here).
In this post we will discuss the "meat sauce" or "chili sauce" which I believe to be the seminal item in this combination of flavors. The three establishments I mentioned above have variations on pretty much the same theme, they are all very different, but share some crucial similarities. The recipe I will share with you after the following short discussion is probably more akin to the Hot Dog Charlie's type sauce, but is not an attempt at imitation. It is simply my take on the recipe. A homage if you will.
The first thing I would do in attempting to understand hot dog "meat sauce" is to get the notion of "chili" out of your mind, even though the product may be referred to as "chili sauce". The stuff shares some superficial similarities to what most Americans will think of as "chili," it may contain chili powder, but it is in fact a very different animal. The most important of these differences is that there is no tomato product utilized. I repeat, no tomato. But you are thinking, "it is red, there must be tomato." No, no there isn't. The color comes from the spices. In flavor, the sauce should be primarily bitter and meaty, not sweet or sour. Spicy, but not overly so. There should not be a heavy "Mexican" type flavor.
OK, now here we go. Before we start, this may not be the exact way any of the restaurants actually make their meat sauces. This is how I do it, looking through the lens of what I think a meat sauce should be. I don't want to hear that I am doing something "wrong," save it for when you make your own version.
I guess the most important ingredient is probably the meat. I have seen a lot of "hot dog chili" recipes that call for lean meat. I don't think this is necessarily the right way to go. I think calling for lean meat comes from the tradition of some early sauces utilizing beef hearts, a lean item for sure (consult some recipes for Michigan Sauce). I believe a fattier cut of meat should be used, especially to produce the red grease common in the Hot Dog Charlie's version, that lends to the, ahem, laxative type effects of the dogs. I am using brisket this time.
I purchase a whole brisket early in cookout season because I use it as a component for my ground beef for burgers mix. I cut it into sections and freeze. I am using a little over a pound for my meat sauce.
Chunk it up a little. Look at that beautiful fat.
Now I do have a meat grinder, but I don't use it for this recipe. Texture is a very important part of the meat sauce. You don't want big pea-size chunks of beef going on, it should be smoother with a very fine texture. To achieve this I like to fairly obliterate the meat in a food processor. You end up with an almost emulsified blob of meat and fat.
The next step is to very finely chop a smallish onion. Set that to saute over fairly low heat in a small amount of vegetable oil. Throw in a teaspoon or so of garlic, I know it may sound weird, but I prefer the jarred, pre-chopped type stuff in this recipe. It adds a certain type of garlic punch that you won't necessarily get from fresh, don't ask me why I prefer this flavor.
You don't really want to caramelize or brown anything in this recipe, just saute until the onion and garlic are soft. At this point, add the beef. You want to keep almost constant going on here, chopping up the meat with a wooden spoon, until the meat is a fairly unappetizing grey color (not brown).
Now it is time for the spices.
Notice that I am not using anything fancy here. These are all cheap, normal, everyday items that any inexpensive restaurant would have on hand. Resist the urge to use fancy things. No exotic, dried chili peppers that you butt-smuggled across the border from Mexico should be used here. These hot dogs were meant to be sold for a nickel when these sauces were formulated, hence no frills.
To start we are going to go with (all these are estimates) a tablespoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of sweet paprika, a teaspoon of hot paprika, salt and pepper to taste (don't be stingy), and just the barest shake of cinnamon, maybe a 1/4 teaspoon. A couple notes, you could probably use standard "paprika" that you find in the spice aisle, but I like a little more heat in my version, so I include the hot. The addition of cinnamon might seem strange to you, but I think it is very necessary. It speaks to the Greek origin of some of our local hot dog pioneers (Strates Fentekes, I'm looking at you).
Cook the spice a little with the meat, you start to see the deep color that is indicative of a good meat sauce.
I use good old fashioned water as my cooking liquid, I guess you could use broth or stock. I don't think it is necessary. Barely cover the meat mixture and put in a 250 degree oven for 2-3 hours covered. You could simmer on the stove top, but I find it comes out better from the oven. At the end of this time you should be left with a murky and deeply colored sauce. Taste it and correct the seasoning.
I like to throw the lot into the fridge overnight and then skim off the thick, red, congealed layer of grease that forms on the top. The sauce thickens and the flavor deepens after a good nights chilling. There you have it, Mr. Dave's version of Capital Region style hot dog meat sauce.
I am not saying this is the right way to make the stuff, or the most "authentic," but I find that this comes out pretty close to how it should. I know that the Hot Dog Charlie's bottled stuff is like 5 bucks, so go ahead and impress your friends by making your own. To reiterate, it should be served on a good quality sausage (Rolf's and Hembold's are good examples), with some yellow mustard, and chopped raw onion. Delicious. Thoughts or tricks regarding your own version of meat sauce are welcomed
You know, I actually remember really liking TGIFridays when I was a kid. My parents would take me to the one in Stuyvesant Plaza on occasion. I think they used to prepare some decent bar type food, my favorite order was chicken fried steak and the peanut butter milkshake. That was probably in the late 80s or early 90s when they still had all the neat old crap on the walls. I rarely go there since the slick repackaging of the place, I just don't like it.
Anyhow, you have probably spotted their line of appetizers in the frozen section of your grocery store. The other day I spotted these "Anytime Sliders." They come in two flavors, "Caramelized Sweet Onion" and "Smokey BBQ." I went with the onion guys. The slider fad is definitely sweeping through the freezer section, even Hot Pocket has entered the market. However, no one has come close to approaching the supremacy of the White Castle frozen or fresh sliders, in either price or quality.
I paid 4.48$ for this box of 4 sliders. Opening it up we find large-ish slider pods.
I was a little surprised at the size, they are pretty big. Much bigger than a White Castle (the slider against which all others should be measured). Here it is in my hand for reference.
Buried underneath we have two wee packets of "caramelized sweet onion" sauce. Looks like Chinese food duck sauce to me. Notice there are only two packets for 4 burgers. Reading the microwave instructions got my panties in a bunch. They tell you to microwave 1 slider at time for 50 seconds, it is not recommended that you microwave more than 1 at a time. Nonsense! Am I supposed to live with this complicated process! If they are going to make these a one at a time product, my lazy ass damn well wants 4 sauce packets. So there.
I reluctantly followed the instructions and microwaved 1 slider for the requisite time. Here we have the cooked product.
I took a bite, no sauce at first to get a sense for general slider quality.
See the thickness of that burger patty! That ain't no slider, that is a freaking small burger. Why do people not understand that there is more to a slider than the small size? For all questions regarding this I recommend that TGIFriday's food scientists, go to freaking White Castle. Aaaargh! (I have been reduced to pirate noises)
After my little tantrum I squeezed on some of the sauce. It literally tasted like pure unadulterated corn syrup, with a little food dye. Actually very much like a less flavorful packet of Chinese takeout duck sauce. Lame. These sucked, very badly. Can't think of any redeeming qualities. They are over a buck each when you break it down. If you want a small burger for over a buck, just go to McDonald's or something.
To cleanse your mental palate, here is a picture of what a slider is meant to be.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I totally did not take the above picture, it is from the Nduja Wiki. Nduja is a Calabrian sausage that I recently became aware of. It has a soft, spreadable, pate-esque texture and a fiery spice from Calabrian Chiles. It is supposed to be simply divine spread on bread or mixed into several minimalist pasta dishes. I am addled with pork lust at the prospect of trying this, it seems to be a perfect marriage of flavors and textures. Unfortunately, I think our prudish American food regulators have barred it being imported . I have found one US producer that will ship, Boccalone, but it is 24 greenbacks for 6 ounces, with a minimum 21 dollar shipping charge.
So, I am having serious trouble convincing myself that it is worth 45 bucks to sate my interest in trying a new pork product. I feel like the bitter taste of guilt would sully my first succulent Nduja experience. That amount of money seems to me to be an unforgivable excess. I remember a comment in response to my purchase of some Cahill's Elderberry wine cheese that I didn't like-
The taste is your well-earned punishment for being decadent enough to cough up nine bucks for a tiny piece of pretty cheese.
I felt obligated to snarky-ly respond-
Mr. Dave said...
In communist New York, decadent cheese buys you. Really? Decadent? Are you perchance North Korean?
But the exchange did make me examine the limits of how my culinary curiosity should impact my wallet. The nigh 50 Nduja dollars could probably do more good in the world in some other fashion. Sigh...
Also, yes I have researched making it at home, but it seems the ingredients (especially the Calabrian peppers) are hard to find. Plus, I already have some other dry-cured salumi projects on the way for this summer. I guess my Nduja lust will have to wait until the Food Network latches on to the stuff and makes it widely available, double sigh...
One of my genius detective readers did some searching and hooked me up! Thanks Allison! See the following comment-
I was curious so I did a little digging and found that it is available in NYC.
Bottom of this recipe....
I looked up Murray's Cheese and they sell the Boccalone Njuda for 19.99 + shipping ($9 bucks)
That price would probably make it taste a little better!!
Monday, March 22, 2010
If you remember, I reviewed Cumberland Gap sliced jowl bacon (for a more informed review and description go look at the post on Dave's Cupboard, he has superior meat knowledge in this case) that became available at Price Chopper recently. I found that the formed than sliced jowl had less than perfect cooking properties, but appreciated its great potential as a seasoning bacon. Well, I happened upon the above pictured whole jowls a couple weeks ago and was pretty excited. The price is extremely reasonable at 2.89$ a pound.
Don't get me wrong here, this is not an artisan cured and smoked product. It is very much along the lines of your standard grocery store bacon with a somewhat higher quality smokiness, but the ability to hunk, chunk, or slice at my own whim sells me on the stuff. Another plus is that it is rind on! Remove that piece of skin with a little attached fat and throw it in your bean pot for some great gelatin and flavor.
The other day we were popping our grilling cherry for the season (uh, sorry that sounds horribly obscene, but I will leave it in). I cut a bunch of paper thin slices of the jowl, added it to a bunch of thin cut potatoes and onions, wrapped it all up in some aluminum foil and plopped it on the grill for a while. The jowl bacon kind of melted into everything and added some greasy goodness. I bought three packages and will probably be wedging it into everything short of my morning corn flakes.
I was scrolling through the past couple months of garbage on this blog when I noticed that I haven't shared a recipe/experiment type post in quite a while. I was thinking about the reasons for this. I almost blush at some of the gimmicky, fad type stuff I used to write about when I started this whole thing (Bacon Sausages, Bacon Rice Crispy Treats, Spam Candy, Prison Cuisine, etc...). I had vague notions that I could capitalize on certain trends, utilize various social networking sites, and all that kind of shameless self promotion to become a wildly popular blogger and buy my own island or something. Through a minimum of effort I did manage to generate significant buzz over certain posts, but I never really had the desire to become a polished operation (you know, take good photos, spell check posts, actually work, all that kind of nonsense).
In light of all this, it seemed some friends and family enjoyed my ramblings and I decided to concentrate on more normal and relevant things to my life. So I reorganized a couple times (any old timers remember the short lived Mr. Dave's Pantry era?) I decided to focus on recipes highlighting ingredients and products produced local to my beloved Upstate home, and to highlight some of the idiosyncratic and weird habits native to the area (Capital District Hot Dog Micro-region, Chicken Riggies, Utica Greens, Stewart's, Price Chopper, etc...), and to stop promoting my posts or even attempt to generate traffic. RFS became a labor of love (my wife thinks I write funny stuff sometimes, good enough for me).
I found this to be a comfortable niche. However, I have been very busy as of late with increasingly less time to blog. This and the fact that I kind of decided it was lame to invite people over for dinner, only to mince around and snap photos of their food. Plus, there is a great preponderance of other bloggers who have gotten the same notion about our glorious Captial Region and are writing about similar "local" themes (I don't want to become some insolent ninny, plodding through Rensselaer looking for the next hole in the wall to blog about). So I guess I kind of stopped documenting the process of my (often vile) kitchen chicanery. The blog has kind of become more about my fascination with the post-modern, industrial food complex of America in our time. While I say I am fascinated by it, I don't necessarily celebrate it (I often think that in light of the content of this blog, people think I am a bacon devouring, milkshake swilling, pig beast with the gout). This leads to all the posts about fast food, discount shopping, processed products, etc...
Jeez, that was a solid block of verbal diarrhea written for the approximately 3 people who care about the evolution of this crappy blog (and that is counting my cat). Anyhow, now on to something completely different.
I think I have posted about bread pudding before, but we shall go ahead with some tips I have for you for bread pudding. I won't call these my secrets as everything here is fairly common practice, but I have a certain way I like to go about making this wonderful dish. I love recipes that are born of frugality, bread pudding was meant to use up odd bits and ends of stale bread. I deviate from this slightly in that I will purpose buy "day old" bakery products specifically to make bread pudding. So when I saw 6 Kaiser rolls for 1 dollar at Able Bakery I had to purchase.
I like to dice the bread a little finer than most recipes will tell you to, down to about an 1/8th inch dice or so. I find this produces the solid, homogeneous, custard like texture that I prefer.
I like vanilla to be the star flavor in my bread pudding. I don't use any nonsense like raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc... I use the guts of a couple vanilla beans (I buy them bulk).
I don't use a fixed ration for my egg/milk mixture. Conventional wisdom dictates something like 4 or 5 eggs per 2 cups of milk for 3 cups of diced bread. I use this as a starting point and add or subtract as necessary. I think it depends on the texture/staleness of the bread. I add the milk (vanilla bean guts whisked in), eggs, and a pinch of salt to the bread and let it sit for a good 45 minutes. I find this to be an oft omitted step is essential to the final texture.
When the bread is good and sodden, I add a bunch of demerara sugar. Again, you probably want to eyeball this according to your taste. For this batch I would keep it over 1 cup and under 2. Also, a half cup of melted butter goes in. Mix well and pour the gloopy mess into a well buttered baking pan. About an hour in a 350 degree oven and it should be browned and well set.
My wife and I's favorite way to eat bread pudding is to refrigerate it over night, slice into hunks, and fry in a little butter.
It comes out like the best French toast that you have ever eaten.
Anyhow, I just thought I would throw up some cooking ideas to get back to my roots. Bread pudding is good, you should try it.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
To continue my culinary tour of Deleware Ave. of late, I stopped in at the newish Able Bakery (click for Steve Barnes' article). Pulling up I was kind of amused at the leatherette chairs they had set up outside, but I guess it is a nice touch.
Walking in, the space is fairly small and dominated by display cases. Here we have pastries-
Here is the quaint counter area-
Oh yeah, they had one of those rotating pie coolers. I am obsessed with the design of these for some unknown reason (I should write a post on my obsession with kitchen/restaurant equipment design one of these days). This was a fairly plain example, no flashy back mirrors or anything, but neat nonetheless.
OK, here we go. I am going to say it. Able Bakery's selection of pastries and cookies is the same kind of shoddy, pseudo-Italian selection that you can find at any number of local establishments. They don't even make the stuff on premises, it is all apparently (according to Steve Barnes) from the Rockland Bakery. I can take or leave this kind of stuff, but that is just my personal preference. I know a lot of people like these kinds of confetions. I bought a couple things on a lark.
Something I don't like about a lot of mid-quality Italian type pastries is the heavy hand used with the citrus. I like a delicate hint of lemon zest in a cannoli cream, but I don't want to be hit over the head with it. The taste of citrus was very strong in this selection of product (there was a chocolate thingy and a cannoli that didn't make this picture). All this said, the price is right. Able Bakery is significantly cheaper than other places wherein I have purchased a similar selection of goods.
There was also a small selection of breads and rolls. I purchased a whole wheat baguette which was actually very good, I munched a good quarter of it in the car on the way home. Also, I got 6 (only very slightly stale) Kaiser rolls for 1 dollar. When I see large amounts of discount bread product, I think excuse to make bread pudding. I really like bread pudding.
Able Bakery is good for grabbing some little, fancy looking things if you are swinging by a friend's house for dinner and don't want to show up empty handed. But I don't think it is an everyday sort of place. They didn't seem to have any "got to have" type products in my opinion. Check the place out though, these are just a couple uninformed opinions.
You all now my strange obsession with discount shopping establishments (see my Aldi and Wonder Bakery Thriftshop diatribes). I find a weird kind of beauty in the sterile, post-modern, industrial nature of the joints, don't ask me why. So when a Save-A-Lot opened on Deleware Ave. (Albany, kind of near Cardona's in the strip mall with the Mr. Subb), I was sort of excited. I have never been to a Save-A-Lot before.
Walking in I thought that the place looked very much like an Aldi. You know, minimal decor, stuff on palates, etc...
Strolling the aisles you find many not quite name brand products of the expected sort. The soda facsimiles always make me laugh. We have "Mountain Holler"-
Also, "Diet Bubba"-
To tell you the truth, Save-A-Lot is very much like Aldi but without the exciting little treasures among the generic hooey. I didn't find one thing that was worth purchasing, which is extremely rare behavior for me. Aside from the disproportionate amount of chitterlings offered,
and the fact that grits had its own line on an aisle description,
I found the place to be thoroughly disappointing. Don't think I will ever have occasion to go there again. Am I missing something at Save-A-Lot? Does anyone else shop there? Let me know if they have some hidden appeal that I missed. Thanks.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I was in Long Island the other week, driving among the desert of power lines and strip malls when I spotted an oasis in the distance. White Castle (cue angels singing). White Castle sliders are a subject we have discussed before, remember the White Castle and Bacon Breakfast bake I concocted? That post got picked up by the venerable This is Why You're Fat site and eventually led to the concept being included in their book. Needless to say, I was excited at the prospect of some fresh sliders.
My anticipation led me to extensively photograph the whole experience. Here I approach the drive through window.
This location also has a walk up window which is kind of neat.
It seems that White Castle is trying to branch out lately. It is my opinion that they should stick with traditional sliders and fries as opposed to all the other crap that they are pushing now. I don't like the whole turn everything into "sliders" phenomenon. Here we have fish sliders!
Also pulled pork sliders, "Get your oink on!"
I stick with what I know, I got the number 4 with cheese. That is to say, 20 sliders and 4 orders of fries. Piggish? Maybe, but I intended on saving a bunch for home. Here is my prize.
I wish every fast food restaurant would get on the crinkle cut fry bandwagon, it really is a superior fry shape. Look at these beautiful golden bastards and tell me you don't want to eat about a pound!
Now we have what I was really waiting for. A moist, onion-y pillow of heaven, fresh out of the bag. A honest to goodness, not frozen (as I usually have to get them), slider (with cheese, screw the traditionalists).
Here it is un-bunned to reveal the delightful insides.
We really need a White Castle. But maybe familiarity breeds contempt and I wouldn't crave them so much if we had a local spot. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed stuffing my face with these. Giblet devoured fries and even Mrs. Dave got in on some sliders. We stopped at her parents house and made them eat some too, they looked at me like I was crazy, but I feel ordained by the oily gods of fast food to spread the White Castle gospel.
By the way, remember those lame BK "Burger Shots" I reviewed? I bet they still suck.