Thursday, April 21, 2016

Found Recipe Card...

I'm always finding things. However, sometimes I think it is the things that are finding me...

On this weblog, I contain my ramblings about found things to grocery store lists (List #1 "The Blonoga List, List #2, List #3, List #4). But today I found something else applicable.

My lovely daughter and I were walking along Delaware Ave. in Delmar after some coloring book shopping. About halfway home I spied a recipe card right next to the sidewalk! My interest in vintage recipe cards is second only to my interest in vintage local church/organizational recipe collections. I believe the universe had decided to brighten my day.

Here we have Card 47 "Gold Coast Salad" from "My Great Recipes" (packet 22) published in Holland in 1984.

The recipe is fairly uninteresting. Just a simple blanched and dressed carrot salad. The food styling in the photograph is nice, it has a very 80s modern feel to it. I find the fact that I found a random recipe card on the side of the road more interesting than the card itself...

I had a mind to reunite this lonely card with its recipe card brethren. But a cursory search of eBay found that the complete sets go for 35-50 bucks. I am not 50 bucks worth of interested.

Anyhow, it was neat finding an old recipe card.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 1: Tomato Soup Cake ("Golden Anniversary," Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)

I have a thing for old, yellowing, comb-bound church (or sundry other civic associations) cookbooks. I have written of this love before. I have an especial interest in those that come from Upstate/Western/Central/Northern New York. These recipe collections often contain lost wisdom and lore from generations gone by. I snatch them up whenever I can.

You can find plenty of predictably bad vintage recipes in these collections, jello molds and things like that. But once in a while you come across something so strange it simply needs to be brought back to life and tested. So I figured I might do a series of posts where I try out an interesting recipe or two and see what happens. Just my small way of keeping our culinary history alive.

Today we have "Tomato Soup Cake." Yes, you heard me. "Tomato Soup Cake."

I will get to the recipe in a minute, first let me introduce you to the book.

Here we have, "Golden Anniversary Cookbook."

This no frills affair was published in Rochester in 1977.

So, "Tomato Soup Cake," eh? I have never heard of this before! It sounded so strange that I figured there must be something to it. If someone took the time to write the recipe down and submit it to "The Cook Book Committee and Volunteers of The Church of the Master" it must be pretty good, right? I had to know...

The recipe, except for the tomato soup, is a pretty standard spice cake. It is like carrot cake, but only instead of carrots -- tomato soup. I decided to follow the recipe religiously except I omitted raisins. Why? Because I hate raisins and they ruin everything.

"Add soda to soup" seemed to me that it might be of some importance. I started thinking things like -- "maybe the acid in the soup reacts with the baking soda and this neutralizes the tomato soup flavor and produces magical lift and other pleasurable cake characteristics." So I added the soda to the soup.

Stirring the baking soda in it did start to fizz and overflow a bit, so don't do this too far in advance.

The ingredients came together into a fairly benign looking batter.

And baked up into a fairly benign looking cake.

Now began the first hints of horror. The smell... Oh sweet lord baby Jesus, the smell... An otherworldly stench of tomato soup concentrate spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

I let the cake cool and whipped up the suggested cream cheese frosting. I slopped the frosting on top and it all looked entirely normal.

I cut myself a hearty slice. Apart from being a little orange in color (and having the above described stench) it looked like a perfectly normal slice of spice cake.

Then I took a bite. As you start to chew you get the tasty cream cheese frosting and sweet spice up front. For a moment you think, heck. This ain't half bad. But then you are punched in the mouth by the condensed tomato soup. Punched right in your poor unsuspecting mouth.

I will not sugar coat it. I'm sorry Mrs. Arline Copeland, but this is some horrific shit. No need to recreate this recipe in your home kitchen. Just go buy a slice of carrot cake and glob on some tomato soup concentrate and the effect will be similar. The tomato soup is not a background note, it is a front and center flavor. I don't know, maybe the cake needs the raisins? Somehow I don't think they would have made it any more bearable.

I am sitting here probably two hours after having a bite of the "Tomato Soup Cake" and I can still taste it in my mouth. I worry that a foul, spicy, tomato film has permanently coated my tongue.

I usually don't have this strong of a reaction to unpleasant food. I hate all those stupid Buzzfeed videos where people carry on about how much they hate Korean potato chips or something... I am not exaggerating for comic effect here. "Tomato Soup Cake" is horrid. I have been traumatized.

Has anyone out there heard of this recipe before? Does your family eat it? Do you like it? Is this part of some culinary tradition? I just don't understand it. What sort of deviant human thought that tomato soup concentrate might bring something good to the spice cake party? (*Edit: I googled it. This is a well attested Depression era recipe. All sorts of history out there if you are interested)

In any event, I had a grand old time whipping this up so expect future installments. I just eBayed (don't tell my wife) an especially grand volume from the mid-80s out of good ol' Albany. There is sure to be a recipe of note in there.

I'm off to brush my tongue.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

This is a Halfmoon; This is a Black and White Cookie.

Sometimes I can be quite a cranky pedant. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my facebook feed when I spied a link to one of those Buzzfeed quizzes. It was entitled -- "Can You Pass This Upstate New York Food Test?" I'm not one for these sorts of things but I had a minute so I gave it a go.

Scrolling through the quiz I came to the question, "What are these treats called?" There was a picture that was clearly of a Black and White Cookie. So I answered Black and White Cookie... I was told I was wrong and that this was a Halfmoon.

This is where the cranky pedant bit comes in. A black and white cookie is a black and white cookie, a halfmoon is a half-moon (you need only to consult the wiki). There is a difference. So I got angry. I am proud of Upstate/Central/Western/North Country/etc... food traditions (halfmoons are out of Central New York) and I have taken it upon myself to champion them. So I proceeded to harangue the author of the quiz...

Until he (@perpetua) replaced the offending picture of the black and white cookie with one of my own pictures of a proper Hemstrought's halfmoon.

I thought this a grand public service, but I think the matter warrants a little more discussion. I will do that below.

Whenever the halfmoon vs. black and white cookie debate comes up someone will invariably chime in with, "but lots of people use the terms interchangeably." I like to respond to this with a quote from one of my favorite Peep Show characters -- Super Hans.

So here is a side by side comparison of the two treats for clarity's sake.

I obtained my specimens at the Hannafords in Delaware Plaza in Delmar. Note that they sell both Hemstrought's half-moons and generic black and white cookies. Labeled correctly.

Black and White Cookies -

Half-Moons -

First we shall examine a black and white cookie. This is a creature of downstate/NYC/Long Island extraction. It is widely available throughout New York and has a few defining characteristics.

The vanilla/chocolate topping is a solid glaze or fondant sort of stuff. It is often almost crispy to the tooth.

The "cookie" part is a dense white/vanilla substance, often flavored with a bit of citrus.

I am not a fan of this particular cookie.

Now we have a glorious Hemstrought's Halfmoon. The vanilla/chocolate topping is composed of frosting. Note that the vanilla side is often higher than the chocolate at the center line.

The "cookie" part is not vanilla sponge. It is chocolate! A proper halfmoon has a chocolate base.

Take a bite of the halfmoon. It is delicious. Soft, yielding frosting and a cocoa punch from the cookie. No deviant crispy fondant and citrus scented garbage sponge.

This my friend is a halfmoon.

So maybe the terms aren't so "interchangeable," eh? In fact, my children (bless their hearts) reject black and white cookies outright. Halfmoons are one of their beloved treats. The cookies are two separate and distinct animals and I will point this out every single time it comes up.

I hope I have cleared this up for you.

Also, go home Hemstrough'ts. You are drunk. These particular halfmoons are weird.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fish Fry-day. Local Fish-Fry Round-Up: Middle of Lent Edition

As we are smack dab in the middle of Lent I thought it might be fun to show off some of the fish fry that I have eaten over the past month or so. I have been on a big fish fry kick. So here are some examples of our local brand of this Lenten standby. Glorious foot long fried fish. If it gets any better then that I don't want to know about it...

This one is from Hot Dog Charlie's! Pretty good fish fry all things considered. Nice cornmeal crust, but not too cornmeal-y if that makes any sense. A-plus hot dog joint fish fry. Would have again.

Here we have a Ralph's Tavern offering. This was fine. The batter/crust on this one was a little brittle and heavy for my tastes and the fry oil had seen better days I think. B-minus.

This beautiful specimen is from Ted's Fish Fry in Guilderland. If you are going out of your way for some fish fry, this is your best bet. Ted's is quickly becoming my favorite fish fry destination. A-plus-plus. Would eat three or four of the delicious bastards.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Checking in With Ralph's Tavern (Central Ave., Albany)

Last Friday the wife insisted I accompany her on a trip to Target over on Central Avenue. Target makes me twitch so as a conciliation I was allowed to pick our lunch destination. I hadn't been to Ralph's Tavern for a couple of years so I thought it might be nice to check in.

Red pleather, fake plant, patterned mirror. Ralph's encapsulated in a picture.

As a child I believe my parents must have taken me to Ralph's at least once a month. I have very fond memories of those meals. In my mind's eye Ralph's is forever crowded, dark, and smokey in a cozy sort of way.

Oddly enough, I think I used to order steak as a kid... Seems a weird thing to order at a red sauce Italian place. I was a weird kid with a thing for steak.

Ralph's is still well known for their mozzarella sticks. I think this is an echo of past glory. The mozzarella sticks I remember from 20 or 25 years ago were enormous, lightly breaded, triumphant rectangular bastards. Maybe (as usual) I am clouded by nostalgia, but I think they used to be better.

Here is my order from last Friday. Note the odd little nugget pieces. Perhaps this is a new tradition.

Also note the two sauces. My wife is not a Capital Regions native and despite my protestations is revolted by raspberry sauce w/mozzarella sticks.  Without affectation, I love the combination. Always have, always will.

I gave the menu a thorough once over for anything new or of note. This one dish made me laugh.

"Meatballs, Peppers and French Fries." Ha! Seems random at first, but I believe it is probably wonderful. I almost ordered it and then I didn't.

As it was Friday in the middle of lent I thought it fit and proper to order our traditional local solution for the lenten diet -- a fish fry.

The fish fry was fine. Not as good as Ted's (I've been on a fish fry jag lately) or Bob n' Ron's back in the day, but it was fine.

As I sat before this plate I thought to myself -- is there anything more stereotypically City of Albany-esque then eating a fish fry at Ralph's tavern on Friday in the middle of lent?

My kids had the soup du jour (chicken noodle) and split a wee cheese pizza. They seemed happy with their fare. I waxed a bit sad during this lunch. Perhaps it was seeing Ralph's in the unforgiving light of a clear, cold, winter's day, but I don't know... The place seemed worry-worn somehow.

I honestly don't know how my family deals with my frequent bouts of weltschmerz. For the entire ride back to Delmar I regaled my patient wife and bored children with tales of days gone by. Pointing out where Mike's NEBA used to be and proclaiming, "I never cared so much about their roast beef, but darn they made a good slushy." Maybe I told them the one about when I caught a line drive to the manhood during tee-ball at Westland Hills park one fine summer's day....

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mushroom Catsup: I Muddle About With a Historic Recipe

One of my diverse interests is in historical recipes and cooking methods. If you have any interest in this sort of thing I encourage you to browse through "Enquire Within Upon Everything." This is a Victorian era tome that is (among many, many other things) chock full of insights into the culinary practices of the day.

Reading through EWUE an item that comes up again and again is "Mushroom Catsup." It is used as both an ingredient and a condiment in a variety of applications. The mushroom catsup that would have been consumed at the time was not of the thickened tomato catsup type substance we have today. It would have been something more akin to Worcestershire sauce.

Having developed a healthy curiosity concerning mushroom catsup I remembered having seen a recipe for it on one of my other favorite sources for historical recipes -- the Jas. Townsend and Son youtube channel. Jas. Townsend and Son run a business selling all sorts of wonderful items for Revolutionary War era reenacting. They also do a lot of period recipe videos on the channel which my daughter and I are very fond of watching. Here is the Jas. Townsend recipe for mushroom catsup from their blog.

I made that catsup recipe and it is really very good, you should try it. However, I can never leave well enough alone. I have tinkered with it and come up with my own recipe that is a bit more mushroom-y and has a stronger umami punch. Giving credit where credit is due I will say that my recipe is adapted from the Jas. Townsend and Son method.

Here is what you need -

2lbs mushrooms chopped
2 tablespoons salt
2 bay leaves
4 or 5 black peppercorns 
3 or 4 cloves 
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Crushed red pepper (quantum sufficit)
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish 
1 to 2 teaspoons mushroom catsup powder *(I'll explain below)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 large onion chopped
Pinch MSG

Start by sprinkling the chopped mushrooms with the salt and sort of smashing it all with a wooden spoon. Leave it in a bowl overnight and you will see the delicious liquor of the mushroom leach out. Put the mushrooms with their liquid in a pot with all of the other ingredients.

Bring to a boil and let it simmer gently for about an hour stirring frequently. I pour the mess into a chinois and mush as much liquid as I can out of the solids. As recommended by the Townsend recipe I save the solids and dehydrate them. I spread on foil and put in the oven on the lowest setting until completely dry.

I run the dried mushroom mixture through a spice grinder to get the mushroom powder I mention in the recipe. This stuff is also great for dusting steaks, flavoring gravy, and adding some mushroom kick to soups or stews. It adds a rich depth of flavor to the mushroom catsup.

I should mention that I also include a little MSG which might be a bit controversial. MSG has been proven, to my satisfaction, as a safe ingredient. I think it is perfectly fine to use it under certain circumstances. Feel free to leave it out, but it really adds a little something to this recipe.

After straining the solids you are left with a pint or so of delicious liquid.

 I have replaced the cider vinegar in the original recipe with white vinegar as it lets more of the mushroom flavor come through. This catsup is a bit sharp at this point and would benefit from a little aging. I bottle the mushroom catsup and process in a water bath for a half of an hour or so.

This will go in the basement for a couple months to mellow out.

There you have it -- delicious mushroom catsup! Put it on your meat, put it on your rice, put it on your cornflakes. Get weird with it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sausage Cabinet: On At Home Dry-Curing

If you have followed my on and off internet ramblings over the course of the past decade or so (I really hope there aren't that many of you), then you will know that I have sort of an obsession with at home dry-curing. The idea of making homemade charcuterie out of our locally farmed meats has always delighted me.

When I bought my home 4 or 5 years ago I was delighted that it came with a dank, musky, creepy, fieldstone basement. I thought it might be perfect for home dry-curing. But as I experimented, I found that simply hanging things in the basement worked seasonally at best. There are a few months of the year when the temperature and humidity are right for some small diameter salamis. As for hams or large salamis the variance in temp and humidity are just too much. Another side effect of our Upstate New York weather.

So in a quest for a dependable all-year dry-curing chamber a monster was born. Literally. Meet "Franken-Fridge."

What a ridiculous person I am. I cobbled this thing together out of all sorts of bits and ends. It actually ended up working fairly well, but in the end it was too fussy. I was always having to fiddle with it and I had some catastrophic equipment failures that ended in the heartbreaking trashing of some lovely salamis.

So I cannibalized Franken-Fridge's guts for various other projects and his corpse lives in the corner of my basement awaiting transport to the dump.

Disheartened, I took a long break from the meaty wizardry of home charcuterie production. There are a few reasons for this hiatus I think. First, I am fickle in my interests. I flit between my various hobbies like a mad man. This very week I was researching how to make a small home kiln. I had a yen to start producing my own stoneware... I didn't even try to introduce that one to the wife.

Secondly, my philosophy on meat has changed in recent years. It takes quite a bit of meat to make a worthwhile batch of sopressatta or something. Lately I tend to purchase good quality meat in increasingly small quantities so it is hard to allocate the meaty assets for a charcuterie project.

The other week I decided to throw caution to the wind and get some pork to do a sopressatta. I had intended to do the salamis in standard hog casings and just hang them in the basement. The weather/humidity down there tends to be about right going into March. But then I had another idea. Salami cabinet.

I had some cabinetry lying around from a small kitchen remodel and it occurred to me that this one was just the right size for dry-curing some lengthy salamis. I drilled some holes in the top of the cabinet for air circulation and put a small bowl of salt water int he bottom for humidity.

I made the batch of sopressatta in hog middle sized collagen casings. It was a very simple recipe of salt, pink salt, black pepper, red pepper, and some bactoferm t-spx. I inoculated the surface of the salamis with some loukanika from the Cheese Traveler. Nobody recommends this method of surface mold inoculation but I have always had it work.

And there you have it. The drying sausages and the bowl of salt water keep the humidity about right and my basement stays at about 50-55 until June. The salamis are a few weeks in now and coming along perfectly. Almost covered in white mold and not a hint of any case hardening.

I won't be able to make salami all year long, but this is a great solution for the colder months.

Here is where I will wax philosophical about dry-curing salami and turn it into a metaphor for life...

For many years I have been trying to force the issue of dry-curing. I spent so much time, treasure, and thought constructing Fraken-Fridge. My creation ended up being a modest success, but in the end it was too complex and overthought. I had tried to play salami-god and have my own creation turn out salami year-round. I flew too close to the salami sun.

Now I have my solution. A simple wooden box that works for a portion of the year and does its job.

That is the rub. All things according to their own time and season. Don't overthink things. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Relax. Let time wash over you like waves at the beach. Leave your salami alone in the darkness and resist the urge to open the door. Let patience be rewarded. Enjoy the process as much as the result...

Friday, February 19, 2016

Port Wine and Portmanteau. Herkimer Cheese Co. (Chutter!)

 I have long had an affection for the Herkimer Cheese Co. (Ilion, NY). It simply would not be Christmas without their Port Wine cheese-balls. Those bright red nut be-speckled beauties have been a fixture of my holiday table for as long as I can remember.

Ever heard of cheese fudge (my post concerning the glorious subject)? Herkimer makes it and it is really pretty good. That is if you can wrap your mind around cheddar and chocolate mushed together into fudge...

But today I would like to take a look at Herkimer Cheese Co.'s Chutter. Let it roll off your tongue -- "Chutter." What a lovely portmanteau! Cheddar butter. That sounds delicious. I have been after the stuff for ages and I finally found some (on special no less) over at the Slingerlands Shoprite.

Reading the ingredients I was a little disappointed. I expected the list to read something like, "Cheese, butter." But alas, the Herkimer Chutter is made of cheddar cheese, cream cheese, whey, and sundry other ingredients. No matter. Despite my better judgement I tend to love even the most processed spread-cheeses.

 I let the Chutter come to room temperature. It softened much to the consistency of a cream cheese. I smeared a hearty glob onto the heel of a loaf of Prinzo's bread (Delaware Ave, Albany).

The Chutter was OK. A very mild cheddar/cream cheese-y taste. I perhaps would have went with a bit sharper flavor for consumption of Chutter as a spread. But it seems that Herkimer Cheese Co. is marketing the stuff more as an ingredient for composed dishes. Take a look over here. Herkimer provides you with about a hundred recipes that include Chutter.

The recipes include a somewhat disconcertingly long list of Desserts... The unfortunately named "Pumpkin Dump Cake" being my favorite. I was calling my wife, "my little pumpkin dump" for a week.

So, I am putting Chutter firmly in my "its OK" file. If you are really jonesing for actual cheese-butter, consult my recipe for sodium citrate cheese butter.

Chutter, pumpkin dumps, cheese fudge... Thank you, Herkimer Cheese Co., for bringing these concepts into my life.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

On Sandwiches... (Today's: Bauernschinken, Bread, Butter)

I had quite the nice day yesterday. First, I was over at the Home Despot (Depot) on Central Ave. in Albany poking about the garden department. A nice gentleman and I struck up a conversation about starting seedlings inside under grow-lights. Knowledge was shared, pictures were shown, tips were given... Boy do I love some good gardening banter.

To gild the day's lily I decided to swing by Rolf's Pork Store (Lexington Ave., Albany) under the auspices of "only picking up some bacon." Who am I kidding? I never walk out of the place without a large paper sack having spent at least 50 bucks.

Part of my haul was some good German bread and a pound of Bauernschinken (I splurged). As I was making my breakfast open-faced sandwich I decided to share some thoughts on bread and meat.

Eating bread and meat together is a lost art. Most everyone seems to have been conditioned from birth to pile half of a deli cold-cold case and the contents of a small kitchen garden on top of a bread-y vehicle at the very sound of the word "sandwich."

I blame both the Jewish deli tradition of meat-pile sandwiches and the ubiquitous fast food "sub" shops that abound in our horrid age. Not that I have anything against Jewish delis or sub shops (except Subway which smells bad). But they have warped our sense of "sandwich."

I am an enormous fan of sandwiches (often open-faced) made with scant ingredients on sturdy bread. A couple thin slices of flavorful cured meat, perhaps a smear of one dairy fat or the other, and a slice of bread. This is all you need. You have to resist the urge to overcomplicate things. No limp lettuce, no out of season 'maters, and definitely no foul goo of the demons (mayo) out of a jar.

I think I spent 20 dollars on the pound of Rolf's Bauernschinken (worth every penny) and it dishonors the quality of the ham to mask its flavor. By the way, Rolf's doesn't get enough credit for their meat slicing. Every slice of the ham is paper-thin and beautiful.

Here are some steps to get good bread and meats in your belly.

Step 1: Bread.

Step 2: A smear of something. Herb butter this time.

Step 3: Ogle meats for a bit. Sniff the meat. Smile at it some.

Step 4: Layer meats. A thin layer. If its good you don't need much.

Step 5: Eat sandwich standing up in kitchen while your dumb mutt stares at you (dumb mutt out of frame).

I could eat many, many of these. Today I ate 2. But I could eat many, many more.

Below linked are more ramblings on this theme. I have been posting for many years now, I'm getting repetitive in my themes. Food blogs are a flat circle. I trust you will forgive me this.

Salami and Butter Sandwiches
Grilled Headcheesus
Rolf's Teawurst/Prinzo's Bread

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