Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Grease Rorshach (I Got Some Famous Lunch Dogs)



I made one of my rare (before outdoor market season) jaunts across the mighty Hudson on an errand the other day. I know that it has become all the rage to carry on about the regional dinky dog (I have been participating shamelessly since I started this hack blog), but I thought I would share with you my visit to Famous Lunch anyhow.

Famous Lunch is a Troy, NY institution from way back. Along with Hot Dog Charlie's and Gus's Hotdogs in Watervliet, Famous lunch is a member of the classic dinky dog triumvirate of the Capital Region. I am a die hard Charlie's man myself, so my rare trip to Famous Lunch was a product of proximity combined with hot dog lust (Renssalaer was a little out of my way). You can see the wee dogs on a flattop through the windows. I didn't get a good shot (the place was packed), but there is also an iconic bean pot of their "zippy" sauce (you can see it on their website) bubbling away next to the dogs.



I was at Famous Lunch at almost exactly noon, so it was packed. The counter space and booths were full and there was a queue for takeout. You get a nice mix of working class lunch breakers, cheap college students, and dingleberries like me who come out of some sort of nostalgic obligation (I vividly remember my Ma buying me dogs at Charlie's when I was a kid). In front of me in line was an individual who I dubbed "weird backpack guy," who ordered two dogs with the works and paid with exact change (silver and pennies). I am always bemused by the local Trojans, and this was no exception. I ordered 6 with the works to go. They come in a bag with piece of wax paper to cover, much the same delivery vehicle as at Charlie's. Here is my prize after the twenty minute drive home.



Here are 6 Hot Dog Charlie's product with everything for visual comparison.



You will notice that Famous Lunch is a little more generous with sauce and onions, I think Charlie's uses a bit more mustard. I am not sure where Famous Lunch gets its dogs from now (Troy Pork store closed a while ago), I know Charlie's is using Sabrett's which is kind of a shame. In any event the actual sausages are fairly similar. The buns are different as well, Famous Lunch uses a slightly more toothsome bun which is dusted with a little corn meal.

Now, the important difference. The sauce. Capital District style Hot Dog Sauce is a subject to which I have devoted no small amount of thought and effort (click for my bare bones interpretation of the recipe). As I have stated before, the most interesting thing about our hot dog sauce is that the dominant flavor component is a sort of pleasant bitterness. I don't know why, but I find the mild bitterness of Charlie's sauce to be just a little more palatable then the Famous Lunch's "zippy" sauce. Famous Lunch sauce is a little more up front with that particular flavor, it is still very good, just not my favorite.

After consuming your dogs you are left with a Styrofoam tray stained with the singular red grease residue of the sauce (which I have referred to in the past as, "the nectar of the the hot dog gods which our forefathers worshiped in strange ceremonies behind closed doors.").



I decided that this was an interesting subject with which to examine my psyche, a little grease Rorschach test if you will. I see a horse running through some woods, see it? The horse head is the most striking part. What do you see?

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homemade Cultured Butter (With Stewart's Dairy!)



If you remember, I made some homemade butter quite awhile ago (and made a lil' bacon butter out of it too). This is kind of a de riguer thing to do as per the food internets lately, and if you have tried the popular recipes you might have found the results come out a little flat in flavor. Most of us like our butter with some tang. Simply beating the hell out of cream in a processor (consult original post) just doesn't do the trick. The idea of home cultured butter popped into my mind and I thought I was being all original. But alas, there are lots of others doing this out there in blogland (even Ruhlman). The process I used is similar to Ruhlman's, but I thought I would share anyhow in case you might not have caught that article.

I started with the above pictured dairy products care of Stewart's. The whole milk is there just because I needed whole milk, it is not involved in this recipe. Weren't we arguing about cream with added ingredients a while ago? I don't remember, but luckily Stewart's cream is just cream.



I threw the half pint of cream in a dish with a few tablespoons of buttermilk for about 12 hours at room temp, you could just as easily use plain yogurt. Anything with a live culture. The result will be slightly thickened and smell a little tangy/cheesy, I won't get into the chemistry as I am sure there are others who have explained the processes more eloquently elsewhere.




Dump this in your processor and hit it until you hear a wet splooshy sound. At which point it should look like this.



If you are going to salt the butter (I don't) this would be the time to do it. Remove the solids to a strainer with some cheese cloth and squeeze out the remaining liquid.



That is pretty much all she wrote. You are left with a glob of cultured butter of a sort. I store mine in the ol' butter bell.



This whole process produces a fresh and tasty product. Fancy, cultured butter is the new thing out there and being able to produce a fairly suitable facsimile is a good skill to have. The beauty is (as with a lot of home production) that the quality of the end result is only limited by the quality of the ingredients you start with. In any event, making your own butter gives a sense of accomplishment. You have mastered fat, you have become a butter fat master. Go forth and slather!

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Found Grocery List #2



Inspired by Grocerylists.org, I have been keeping an eye out for discarded shopping lists. I posted my first find (I dubbed this one the "Blonoga" list) some time ago. I found list #2 (pictured above) today at the Price Chopper in Slingerlands. This is a somewhat more mundane and health conscious list, but oddly enough, I am still fascinated. Here is the list transcribed-

dish gloves
hummus
onion
apples
yogurt- all kinds
- Stonyfields vanilla
little egg noodles
bisquick
carrots

What does this list have to say about the writer? Hummus, apples, yogurt... sounds like fairly lean and healthy fare. But then we have onion, carrots, egg noodles, and Bisquick. That sounds like the makings of a hearty stew, or perhaps a pot pie? A strange dichotomy. Maybe it is a health conscious young lass (the handwriting is sort of ambiguous, but I am leaning towards female) cooking dinner for her beefy in-laws. Ahhh, life's small mysteries.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Van Allen Farms in Glenmont



The Wife, the Giblet-meister General, and I stopped in at Van Allen Farms (Yelp link for all you weirdo Yelp people, they don't have a website of their own) the other day. Van Allen Farms has pretty good reputation as a butcher/market among the Bethlehem/Delmar set, so we decided to check it out. The small and unassuming store is on 9W in Glenmont. I like the above picture because the store is receiving a Freihofer's delivery. I know Freihofer's is not our local gem anymore (bought out by the Mexican bakery giant Bimbo), but I like to pretend.

The inside of the store is fairly small, one corner is dominated by some neat old farm machinery. A smattering of market dry goods is available, but I was more interested in the meats. I didn't get any good pictures of the inside because I always feel weird about snapping away in front of the proprietors, I feel rude. They had a good selection of fresh looking beef and pork at reasonable prices. I will probably fulfill many of my butchery needs here, as I find the slightly closer McCarrol's a bit expensive.

I ended up buying some of their bacon and Italian sausage. The products came nicely wrapped in proper butcher paper.



Here is the raw bacon.



Here it is cooked.



I indulged a deep bacon craving by making a giant bacon hoagie and split it with my wife.



The bacon is very good, not quite as smoky as Rolf's bacon, but very good. Sometimes you are in the mood for smoky bacon, and some times you are in the mood for less smoky bacon. It is good to have options. I am curing up some sweet honey bacon that I don't plan on smoking right now.

Here is the Italian sausage.



I am not a big Italian sausage fan, but my wife's parents swear that I make the best sausage and peppers, I am going down to see them this weekend and they requested a batch. Sausage and peppers is not my particular cup of chai, but they like it. My only real secrets are that I poach the sausage before browning, and that I cook everything separate. First I brown the (poached) sausage, then the peppers, than the onions. I add everything together at the very end, deglaze with more wine than most would use, spice/season, and add a couple hand crushed canned tomatoes. This only gets stewed for about 20 minutes. I don't really like the greasy, heavy tomato sauce that a lot of people make with this dish.

Anyhow, Van Allen Farms seems like a solid butcher. I am going to follow up and ask them about their sources next time I go, I will let you know what I find out as I can't track down too much info about them on the internets.

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Birthday Beer Boot at Wolff's



Although the main celebration of the end of my glorious 20s took place in Saratoga last weekend, I celebrated my actual B-day (inconveniently placed during the week this year) the other night at Wolff's Biergarten. Wolff's has a much publicized "free giant boot of beer on your birthday" promotion. You give the friendly bar keep your licence and 40 dollars as beer boot ransom (they give both back upon safe return of boot) and they give you the above pictured chalice of golden liquid. Than you slam down that bad boy like a man!



To accompany my boot I had an order of currywurst.



The quality of the wurst at Wolff's is impeccable, the poached links melt in your mouth. Last time I had this dish, the curry sauce was a bit thinner and had a little more of curry punch. This time it was heavier on the tomato, but was still very good. I am big on currywurst and I wish it would catch on in the States.

Anyways, I really like Wolff's on a weeknight. You can actually move and easily order and consume your food. It just gets too packed on weekends for me, maybe that is my new "old man" status talking.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Mr. Dave Does Saratoga



My wife, because she is awesome, organized a mini-trip to Saratoga for an evening to celebrate my annual age progression festival (b-day). We (along with a small gaggle of local ruffians and malcontents) decided to make the trek up the Northway and over the Thadeus Kosciuszko. Our plan was to stay a night, have dinner, some drinks, monkey shines, etc... Sometimes a little change of scenery from the normal haunts and hollows is good.

We didn't make any dinner reservations, so our choice was decided by walking from restaurant to restaurant asking which one could seat 10 with a minimal wait. We happened upon the Circuis Cafe on Broadway, and they seemed happy and willing to deal with our rabble. It looked like a solid family/burger joint, and I wasn't in the mood for any sort of fine dining. I was in more of a fortify my stomach with grease for impending oat soda-fest mood.

We ordered your standard panoply of bar food appetizers, including one of our own regional specials, mozzarella sticks with rasberry sauce (Melba Sauce at the Circuis Cafe). I like this combination, always have. These particular sticks do not outshine Ralph's, but I thought the sauce was delicious.



Apparently, the place is known for its burgers (or so it says on the menu),and almost all of us ordered one. I got mine with blue cheese and bacon. Solid burger, not much more to say about it.



Now, just bask in the glory of this next image.



If it is your birthday they bring you a giant mountain of blue cotton candy. I grinned like an idiot at 30, I am pretty sure if I was a kid I would have lost it with excitement. After snapping this photo, I immediately grabbed a hunk the size of a basketball and shoved it in my gob. I thought this was a nice gimmick for a family restaurant and I wished my trusty Giblet was there to devour some.

Another one of the Circus Cafe's gimmicks is old timey type drinks. I had a lime rickey.



Some of my friends ordered the 18 dollar "Scorpion Bowl."



The Scorpion Bowl tasted like your standard Chinese restaurant, pineapple-y thing. There was a volcano in the middle of the chalice in which it was served, but alas, no decorative fire.

Moving on with the evening, we drank at some bar on Caroline street for quite a while. I forget the name, but it was right across the street from a Hot Dog Charlie's.



Despite my pleading, I could not convince anyone else to go with me to satiate my beer induced hunger for mini dogs.

To cap off the evening we wandered back towards our hotel and stopped at the Parting Glass. Handily, the place was right across the street from where we were staying. The Parting Glass is your standard "Irish" type "pub." As we all decided you only live once, everyone had second dinner. I whined a little about nobody being hungry when I wanted hot dogs, but then began to peruse the menu. I saw a sandwich called "The Rasher" and decided that sounded pretty awesome. Here it is.



Maybe I didn't read the whole description of the sandwich, but due to the use of the word "Rasher" I was expecting a sandwich full of some sort of bacon (be it English, Irish, or American style). What I got was a sandwich with one slice of English/Irish style back or loin bacon, on top of a large pile of thick sliced, extruded, deli ham. I took all the ham off and ate a 1 bacon slice and cheese sandwich, then I dared my friend to eat up all the ham (like 6 fat slices). He did it for 20 bucks.

Aforementioned ham consuming friend had previously been working on an order of "Bangers and Mash."



This was a solid meal. I tasted both the bangers and the mash it wasn't a bad version Another friend got some sort of weird Irish quesadilla thing that I didn't take a picture of. It was mashed tatties, cheese, sauerkraut, and god knows what else. My wife said it smelled bad. I don't get all these weird, bastard "Irish" products floating around. Awhile ago, I saw Irish spring rolls on the menu at Swifty's in Delmar.

To attempt to recapture our wild youths we ordered some giant beer contraption to cap off the evening.



After passing into food/beer comas for a few hours, we arose and walked over to Gaffney's for brunch. I had some sort of "Italian Baked Eggs" kind of thing.



As you may notice in the upper corner are a couple poached eggs. Whenever I eat a place that is "known for breakfast/brunch," I always order poached eggs. I am firmly convinced you will be able to judge the quality of everything on the menu by how well they do poached eggs. I don't care if this doesn't make sense. I was unimpressed with the poaching in this case, the yolks were frightfully set. The baked egg dish's yolks were completely set as well which is not what I expect from baked eggs. Everyone else seemed satisfied with their choices, so maybe I was just hungover and moody.

After breakfast we ambled over to Betty's Cakes in the Market Place Mall.



I was excited to see some red velvet cupcakes in the case, this is my favorite (very faddish, I know, but I can't help it).



We got a dozen mini-cupcakes (for the wife, Giblet, and I) and a half dozen full size (as a present for the in-laws for watching the mighty Giblet overnight). The total was about 28 bucks, but whatever, they were very pretty and I was satisfied completely with the quality of the cake and frosting.



Well, that is pretty much it. Like I said before, it is fun to go hangout in another town once in a while. Even if it is not too far away. I was deeply appreciative of both my wife planning for the whole thing, and happy that so many friends took the time to come with. Lots of good food and beer were consumed, a perfect way to close out my third decade.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Johnny B's Glenmont Diner. The Canadian Bacon...It's Full of Stars.



The wife and I were out and about today and we decided to try out Johnny B's Glenmont Diner. I have a thing for prefab diners (we are blessed with several locally) and my wife was hungry for eggs so it seemed like a good idea. I wasn't expecting anything other than the standard egg breakfast, but I was pleasantly surprised by one particular menu item.

Johhny B's is a passable example of the metal prefab diner, not the best I've seen, but cool none the less.



The inside is plastered with "50s" type paraphernalia (James Dean pictures and crap like that) which I could do with out. The prevailing color is a soothing shade of turquoise.



Naturally, there were the obligatory diner place mats.



I ordered my standard 2 poached egg/wheat toast diner breakfast. Interestingly, I saw Canadian bacon as a meat option. This choice is not too horribly common on diner menus, so I decided to give it a whirl. The wife had an omelet.



Now the whole breakfast looked pretty good. The eggs were adequately poached and the wheat toast appeared to be of quality. But let us zero in on that pork right there.



Those are some big, thick slices of whole cured loin. No extruded, formed crap at Johnny B's. The cure was not anything out of the ordinary, but I still almost asked where they are getting the product as I don't think it is factory stuff. I could be wrong, the Canadian bacon could just be very high quality factory stuff. It was heads and shoulders above your standard version of this particular treatment of salty pig. I would go back again just for this.

A note on the title of the post. I am thoroughly annoying the wife lately by saying, "Oh my god... It's full of stars!" every time I find something even slightly good. I find this affectation to be hilarious, her not so much.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Piss Beers of Upstate New York: Part 2, Utica Club (Uncle Charlie)



I need to immediately preface this post (follow up to Part 1: Genny) with some disclaimers. By saying "piss beer" I mean no insult and I am not being a beer snob or puttin' on airs. I have a soft spot down deep in my heart for Utica Club (in the wiki, scroll down for info on UC), and I actually think it is one of the finer beers in its genre (American Lagers). I am saying this to avoid the torrent of hate mail that I would receive from proud Uticans if they actually thought I was insulting UC. I don't know what it is about Uticans, but they are a touchy folk. Two of my most trafficked posts are the Utica specialties Chicken Riggies and Utica Greens. I took a couple liberties with both of the recipes and the response, ahem, was a little venomous (someone told me to die). So anyways, I like Utica Club.

I like everything about Utica Club starting with the golden box. Just look at that proud design with "Utica Club" splashed across the front in crimson. Utica club is a beer with a storied history (you should really read the wiki). Brewed by the Matt Brewing Company (brewers of the venerable Saranac family of beers), "Uncle Charlie" has been around for quite a while. In fact, it was officially the first beer in the United States sold after prohibition. I'm not lying, just read the box.



Utica Club and I go way back. My dad has been a die hard Schultz and Dooley mug collector for as long as I can remember. I think he has all of them, plus a crap ton of the newer ones. Not that I blame him, Schultz and Dooley are pretty much the best brand mascots of all time. Come on folks, a German mug and an Irish mug who argue? That's good stuff. Here is one of their old commercials, there are more on youtube.

video

Behold UC in it's golden vessel.



I didn't do a pour shot, but Utica Club is a pale gold much in the vein of Genny, High Life, or any of the other usual suspects. In flavor it is slightly sweet, with only a hint of hops. This beer begs for a cooler full of half melted ice. Drunk ice cold, for my money Utica Club is one of the classics in American style lagers, meant to thoroughly refresh you on a balmy New York summer day.

You can criticize away, and drink whatever you choose, but don't tell me that Utica Club is crap. I have worked in a craft brewery, I brew my own beer, and I am a true lover of good beer and I will remain unconvinced. I just like the stuff, and as I said about Genny the other day, it has its place. They drink a lot of good wine in France, but on the other hand, a lot of the stuff they drink on a daily basis is plonk they buy in milk jugs at the market. You don't always need to drink the high test. There is a place for craft beer, and there is a place for affordable American Lager. We should not look down our noses.

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