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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