Friday, December 19, 2008

The Capital District's Hot Dog Micro-Region. Hembold's Bockwursts with Hot Dog Charlie's Meat Sauce! Woot!

In the Wikipedia entry for Hot Dog Variations, there is a section entitled "New York State (especially Upstate)" with a description of the various hot dog styles of the Empire State. Of special interest to myself is the passage that states-

"The Capital District area (Albany, Troy, Schenectady) is home to a small hot dog. At about 3 inches in length, these are usually served with mustard, onions, and a thin 'meat' sauce. The best known purveyors of these dogs are Gus' in Watervliet, Hot Dog Charlie's at multiple locations, and Famous Lunch in Troy. A local manufacturer is Hembold's in Troy, NY. In Buffalo, New York the hotdog of choice is Sahlen's made by Redlinski meats."

I guess that I never realized that this style of hot dog was unique to our own neck of the woods. I grew up on Hot Dog Charlie's little dogs with cheese sauce and I always took it for granted that this was a pretty standard hot dog configuration throughout the nation. So when a few of the necessary ingredients for the "Capital Region" style dog fell into my hands I immediately felt the need to evangelize about it on the internet.

I got some Hembold's 3 inch Bockwursts (unfortunately, the storied Hembold's company of Troy, NY was recently bought out by a larger meat conglomerate). This is somewhat of a departure from the standard 3 inch Frankfurter style dog that Charlie's would have used, but these Bockwursts are pretty much shortened Rochester Whites which are my undisputed favorite wieners (click for a certain meat fire I started last summer).

I did not have a nice, greasy hot dog roller handy so I decided to brown the Bockwursts up in a skillet. You don't really see too many poached/boiled hot dogs in this part of the state, mostly hot dogs are crisped up a little before meeting the bun.

The next hallowed ingredient is the Hot Dog Charlie's meat sauce.

This a simple but pungent meat/chili sauce that is my absolute favorite. The primary flavors in this stuff are vinegar, sugar, onion, and paprika. It is a tart/sweet/savory (just the slightest bit of chili spiciness) symphony that is simply unrivaled in the hot dog world. It is not so much a "chili" per se, as it is a sauce, a condiment if you will. It does not overwhelm the hot dog, rather it elevates it to an epic level. Even the unsettlingly colored grease that rises to the top of the warming chili does not bother me, it is nectar of the the hot dog gods which our forefathers worshiped in strange ceremonies behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, I could not lay my hands on any 3 inch buns so halved Freihofer's buns made do for the bready vehicle.

There you have it folks. These delicious morsels were for all intents and purposes locally produced (albeit, heavily processed) and enjoyed in their own terroir. One of the things we often forget while living in post-modern American society is that we really do have local food traditions. I know a 3 inch hot dog with runny meat sauce is not exactly on par with Cassoulet or some other French farm house dish, but it is something we grew up on, it is a tradition. As someone who has spent a lot of time away from his home, in far flung corners of the country (and world), I can tell you that it is things like this that you will miss the most. Simple things like a hot dog (I remember my mother buying them for me at Crossgates mall when I was small) can conjure such nostalgic waves from the bottom of my soul that I can hardly keep myself from bawling. I remember being able to polish off about 3 little dogs at Charlie's by the time I was three, with a large mountain dew. They were my reward for behaving while my mother (minus many a gray hair) shopped for pants suits...

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bacon Rice Krispies Treats

OK, so if you have been following lately you know that I have been on somewhat of a Bacon tear. I promised myself that I would get back to what I originally intended this blog to be, i.e. a humorous look at the food and culture of Upstate New York. Pursuant to this, I decided that I needed to finish with a bang. Before I could hang up my bacony spurs I needed to come up with a dish that was not only novel, but that people would actually wish to recreate. Something that might actually enter the pantheon of "normal" household recipes regardless of its unconventional use of Bacon. What I came up with was a very simple concept, Bacon Rice Krispies Treats.

I started with a package worth of delicious bacon.

I wanted to go for maximum crispospitude and crisposity so the bacon could stand up to the marshmallow mixture without getting soggy. I baked the bacon in the oven until relatively well done.

I set the bacon aside to cool and began the Rice Krispies recipe. I didn't veer from tradition here, I used exactly the directions that come on the box. I started by melting the marshmallows in the butter.

Next, I chopped up the bacon into small chunks, about the size of large bacon bits. I mixed these with the required Krispies prior to the addition of the marshmallow mixture. I felt that this would ensure an even distribution of bacon and would also help to maintain crispness.

After thoroughly mixing the whole mess together I spooned it into a greased baking pan, leveled it out and set it aside to cool. I thought the be-speckling of bacon was simply divine.

After an anticipation riddled hour I decided the treats were sufficiently cooled to cut into. I set in with my knife and extricated a nice sized hunk of the Bacon Rice Krispies treat.

Verdict: I was pleasantly surprised by how normal and good these tasted, not weird or nasty at all. The treats were simply delicious, it seemed like a time tested concoction instead of something that I thought up last night. The salty bits of bacon work very well with the sweet and gooey Rice Krispies treats. I am a big fan of sweet/salty combinations like salted caramels or peanut brittle and these guys are very much along those lines. To tell you the truth, I think that the recipe could actually stand significantly more bacon than what I used, I might even think about doubling the amount next time I make these. I highly recommend that you give these a shot, forget about the novelty value of using bacon in rice krispies treats, these are simply very good.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

White Castle and Bacon Breakfast Bake

I have seen a couple of recipes floating around for "Castle Casseroles" that piqued my interest into the idea of using White Castle sliders as a component of a dish. None of the recipes I saw really sounded too good, so I decided to try to think of something on my own. I envisioned a kind of savory bread pudding made out of sliders, what I ended up with was OK, it didn't meet my expectations but I thought the concept was sound and might inspire someone else to outdo me. Then I can steal their recipe.

Unfortunately, we do not have an actual White Castle franchise locally in the Capital Region so I had to resort to using frozen burgers.

I removed the tops and arranged the sliders in an oven proof dish, making sure that they were somewhat compactly arranged.

It just wouldn't be normal if I didn't find some way to wedge bacon into a dish, so I fried up a few slices.

I layered some cheese on top of the burgers and topped with the cooked bacon.

At this point I replace the tops of the buns and whipped up an egg mixture. I used 2 cups milk and 6 eggs seasoned with salt and pepper. This ended up being way too much, I think you could get away with 1 cup milk and 4 eggs.

I poured this over the sliders and kind of tamped them down so they would absorb as much of the liquid as possible. One of my secrets to good bread pudding is to let it sit for a while to allow the bread to really become sodden with the egg mixture, so I let the sliders soak for about 30 minutes and then topped with some more cheese.

I threw this into a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. It came out nice and brown and puffy. The sliders had coagulated into one contiguous mass and it smelled pretty good.

Verdict: This was pretty good, it kind of reminded me of the sausage, egg, cheese bake we all made at Farnsworth Middle School in home ec. back in 6th grade. It definitely had a kind of breakfast quiche feel. I think the bread absorbed a little too much egg mixture and became a little too omelet-esque. In fact, the whole thing was kind of like eating a weird, bready, slider omelet. This was not necessarily a bad thing, I think a little futzing with ratios of milk and eggs to improve the texture would elevate this to a sublime level. I also think the frozen buns were much drier than usual Castle sliders, I think had I used fresh 'uns this actually would have been much better. I think maybe even a Slider Gratin would be pretty good, layered fresh sliders with some heavy cream, baked in the oven without egg? Perhaps? But anyways, I chalk this one up to experience and implore anyone out there who has access to fresh White Castle to attempt to refine this idea.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Homage to Stewart's Shops. (Stewart's Egg Nog Pie Recipe too)

I have spoke of my love for Stewart's Shops before, but I thought that I would devote a little more time evangelizing about the deep feelings I have for these stores. If you do not know, Stewart's Shops are a chain of indigenous convenience markets of Upstate New York. I work in Troy, so I can drive easily to 3 different stores within about 5 minutes. My favorite is the one on Hoosick Street. You get a nice mix of construction workers getting eggwiches and meth addicts eating candy hangin' out around 0730 when I am usually there. Also, there will invariably be a cute old person eating a hard roll with coffee and reading the Times Union at one of the couple booths. This is the kind of old timey, upstate New York, river-town Americana that I eat up with a spoon. This is aside from the fact that the place is dirt cheap, locally owned and operated, and produces its own in-store brands. The signs and adverts are delightfully dated and campy looking which only adds to the general charm of the place.

I love the beginning of the holiday season, it is when you begin to see signs at Stewart's heralding the return of Nog!

I am eggnog mad and this stuff does not disappoint! Stewart's eggnog, simply stated, kicks some serious ass. It is thick, creamy, sweet, and deliciously eggy. The quality of Stewart's milk products is generally high and this stuff is no different. They use real cream and egg yolks and although the flavor is a little on the cloyingly sweet side, it somehow comforts me and makes me smile.

People watching their weights break out your shot glasses, because this stuff packs a caloric wallop and should be enjoyed in moderation. I suck down a whole bottle when I buy it without guilt, but each small bottle contains 960 delicious calories! There are other delicious, thick and creamy dairy treats available year round. My other favorite is the Vanilla Dairy Shake.

It cracks me up how all of their Stewart's brand drinks are called "Refreshers." I would not call the eggnog or dairy shake especially refreshing, it is more like eating a meal when you drink one of these bad boys. A new "refresher" that they came out with recently that is in fact very refreshing is the snazzily monikered Green Buzz.

This is Stewart's attempt to delve into the energy drink market and I find it endearing. No fancy packaging or slick marketing here. The same old packaging and label is used and I love it and have bought 2 every day for a week.

Stewart's prides itself in their milk. It is from actual New York dairies (New York is the best dairyland in the country, pipe down Wisconsin) and is renown for tastiness, as Stewart's is not afraid to remind you.

They also have a milk card wherein you get a free gallon after you purchase several other gallons of milk. You can't go wrong with bonus milk.

Are you a member of the Milk Club? Afraid of losing your milk card? No worries, Stewart's has thought of this already-

Keep your card right there, next to the condoms.

Now on to the eggwich. I eat at least 2 or 3 eggwiches every work week. I go for the hard roll with bacon, egg, and cheese. The bacon is that weird stuff they somehow form into a circle whilst maintaining the wrinkly nature of the bacon. I don't know what kind of mad bacon scientists Stewart's has, but they do it somehow. The hard rolls are soft inside and delightfully chewy outside and you can't beat the price with a stick.

If I am not eating an eggwich for my breakfast, I generally go for a hard roll with either butter or peanut butter. They come pre-made with a little sticker telling what is inside and the butter/peanut butter to bread ratio is usually perfect. Although, I will have to say that the recent addition of rolls with both peanut butter and butter at the same time are a little to decadent for my tastes, I simply can't live at that speed. The toasting station is another good option, various breakfast items are labeled "Toast Me" and you can help yourself to jelly, butter, cream cheese, etc...

Where else can you get all of these culinary delights and some prepaid airtime too?

One last thing that made me smile was their "Pay at the Pump" campaign. A couple months ago you started seeing signs wildly proclaiming that you could now pay at the pump (exclamation point, exclamation point) at Stewart's as if this was one of the latest innovations in gas dispensing science. They are probably the last gas pushers around to jump on this band wagon, but this is what I like about Stewart's. They cling to the old ways and refuse to change into some slick operation. This is why they maintain my (and countless others) fierce loyalty, I can't walk into one of these places without being punched in the stomach by a sense of nostalgia. Memories of childhood ice cream dishes (I loved the toppings bar, marshmallow sauce...mmm...) and visions of much younger versions of myself and my parents rush into my brain.

Ok, now for the recipe. This is a down and dirty, no frills recipe that is perfect for the fall season. First, rustle up a pie crust. I make my own (pate brisee), but a store bought crust will do perfectly fine in this case. The 'Nilla wafer ones they sell now might even be superior to the buttery crust I usually make by default for pie.

Next, take one bottle of Stewart's eggnog and whisk in 6 egg yolks. That is it folks, that is the filling. Simple, delicious and smacking of comforting holiday flavors.

If you are using a homemade crust you are going to want to blind bake it for a while before you pour in the filling. Then the whole thing goes in the oven at 350 for around 30-40 minute or until golden brown.

There you have it, a nice, simple Stewart's eggnog pie. This benefits from a night in the fridge before serving. If you want to gild the lily a little, throw some cool whip on top too.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Troy Farmer's Market Haul

OK, so apparently I am the last one in the entire area to jump on the whole Troy Farmer's Market bus. Growing up in the Capital Region (especially in the Suburban Council, go Dutchmen) you tend to cast some dispersions on the Collar City (Troylet). But since I started working not far from Hoosick street, I have really started to give Troy some credit. River Street, and Downtown Troy in general, really have some nice character. I am a born again Trojan.

But anyways, bright and early Saturday morning me and the wife decided to go check out the Farmer's Market for the first time despite the misty weather. We got there and were pretty surprised by the amount of vendors. I was only expecting a couple vegetable stands and maybe some stalls selling locally prepared cheese spread or something else random. I definitely did not expect the variety and quantity of available goods, especially the nice local meats and quality baked goods. I grabbed the wife a fresh bagel to munch on and we preceded to wander around and buy a bunch of stuff. It was a pretty good time actually.

Here is the entire haul of meat, cheese, and veg we brought home.

We got a lot of good stuff. I met the lady who runs the elk farm who supplies Eats where I got the ground elk to make those Chelo Kebabs a while ago. It is called the Creek's Edge Elk Farm located in Fort Plain. I bought a nice pound of elk stew meat. I also got a nice hunk of Grace cheese which I have never had. I was won over by a sample and had to get some. The veg quality was high at most of the stands and I got some of the nicest looking chili peppers that I have seen in a while. Here is an itemized list of what I brought home to give you an idea of the generally economical prices to be found.

3 x bunches of spring onions= 3.00$
1 x pound of purple tatties= 2.50$
1 x bunch fresh thyme= 1.00$
1 x bunch of carrots= 2.50$
1 x pound tomatoes= 3.50$
1 x pound mixed onions= 2.75$
1 x bunch parsley= 2.00$
10 x assorted chilis= 2.00$
1 x chunk Grace cheese= 3.52$
1 x pound Elk meat= 8.95$

The following items were consumed by my lovely (and hungry), baby incubating wife and the cats so hence, not pictured.

1 x apple cutie pie= 1.50$
1 x chocolate chip cookie= 1.00$
1 x fresh bagel=1.00$
1 x small bag organic kitty treats = 1.00$

For a grand total of 36.22$ which is not bad for the large amount of stuff we got. Now I am of the opinion that many people go to the farmers market for the experience and never really use a lot of the stuff they buy. I have an awful feeling that a lot of those heirloom tomatoes that are so trendy these days are moldering in crisper drawers around the Capital Region. This is a frankly a damn shame. So, I am going to do another series of posts (I am sure you are excited) about the stuff I did with what I bought. I am going to try to use as much of the goods as humanly possible and see what kind of dishes I can come up with.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Prison Cuisine: "Spread" and Frito Tamale

I randomly came across an intriguing article about inmates in prisons supplementing their diets with some pretty interesting MacGyver'esque recipes. With only junk food from prison canteens and without any cooking implements they manage to make some pretty interesting stuff. Two of the most common recipes I came across are "Spread" and the Frito Tamale. I limited myself to ingredients that your everyday prisoner would be able to obtain. I used Fritos, cheese curls, chicken Ramen, a slim-jim, and a Tiajuana Mama pickled sausage.

I am not a junk food kind of guy so I was a little nervous about all of this stuff. I am no fan of Ramen and the Tiajuana Mama pickled sausage was frankly obscene looking.

I decided to begin by preparing the "Spread". "Spread" is kind of a catch-all term for a variety of concoctions with Ramen noodles as their main ingredient. Prisoners pool all forms of ingredients and share the result as a communal meal. Another common thread is the cooking vessel, which is...

That's right folks! A trash bag, which is extra classy. All sorts of stuff can go into the spread with the Ramen- tuna, cheetos, potato chips, refried beans, canned jalapenos, etc...are all good options. I decided upon a classic recipe of chicken Ramen, crushed cheese curls, and the Tiajuana Mama. You want to crush up the Ramen and pulverize the cheese curls into almost a powder. The sausage gets chopped up.

This all gets thrown in the trash bag along with the Ramen spice package.

Bring a cup and a half of water to a boil. I used my favorite piece of kitchen machinery. I love this water heater which I picked up at an Asian market. It is really a must for any hardcore tea drinker.

The water goes into the bag with the other ingredients, give it a good swish, and then nestle it in a towel to insulate.

While this was cooking I started with the Frito Tamale. Now, fritos are kind of an interesting ingredient. Did you know that they are vegan and contain only 3 ingredients (corn, corn oil, and salt)? This is actually not too far from the actual ingredients of a real tamale. The recipe calls for crushing the fritos into a powder.

You then add enough hot water right to the bag to moisten the frito crumbs. You need to squish the paste into the bottom of the bag to form a cylinder, then roll it tightly and nestle it next to the spread and leave to cook for about 20 minutes.

I puttered around for a while and then cracked open the trash bag. This is what I saw.

It actually did not look or smell bad. The most interesting part was that the cheese curl crumbs kind of melted into a cheese sauce. I tentatively dug a fork in and tried a bite. I was shocked, it was good. The Ramen noodles were tender, the cheese factor was solid, even the Tiajuana Mama pickled sausage added a nice acid/spicy flavor to the mess. I had read that this was often served as a kind of burrito filling on tortillas, and I had some corn ones. I slapped a couple tablespoons on a warmed tortilla and dug in.

This was actually very good. Not good in any haute cuisine kind of way, but as an alternative to jail chow this would do nicely. It was starchy and filling. With my expectations slightly raised I moved onto the Frito Tamale. I was expecting a kind of loose, porridge like mess out of this one. I carefully sliced open the bag and rolled the contents onto a plate.

It was a steamy, solid mass that looked very much like an actual pseudo-authentic tamale! This too actually looked and smelled appetizing. After taking a bite I noted that the consistency was very, very similar to a real homemade tamale. The flavor was overwhelmingly of moist, salty fritos and this was not a bad thing. A little hot sauce made it even more palatable. If I had known that this was actually actually going to work then I would have stuck a slice of cheese or some of the slim-jim in as a filling.

Verdict: I was shocked. I expected both of these recipes to be nast' at best. Don't get me wrong, these are not going to be staples of my diet. But I was impressed with the ingenuity required to come up with this kind of stuff. I am almost moved to go and try to make the infamous prison wine, Pruno. However, I think the wife might get a little cranky about a trash bag full of fermenting fruit roll-ups, water, and ketchup hanging around the house.

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