Thursday, May 27, 2010

Meals That Define a Life




Really, when you get down to it, what is life? To me the main rub has always been; gather nourishment for yourself, have wee uns', nourish the wee uns'. Everything else, (culture, self enlightenment, blah, blah...) is all ancillary, a "side dish" if you will (I have been making bad puns all morning, you will have to excuse me). Food and eating is about as basic to life as you can get. So it seems to me that there will be meals in your life that obtain, through their placement during your stumbling journey down life's path, a certain significance.

Many, when asked, "what meal will you really always (and truly) remember?" will spout gobshite at you about some precious dish at The French Laundry in 2007, or maybe even a delicious papusa that they had to battle Salvadoran drug lords to obtain. They are probably lying, I bet you down in their hearts there is some remembered PB&J served just right my their mammies that means way more. Below I will list a couple of my own special meals in order.

3. The "Jimmy Dean" meal I was served as a scared and young (oh how young) Army private upon arriving at reception battalion in the middle of the night in a strange Southern state (Halloween eve no less!). If you don't know, a "Jimmy Dean" is a particular meal served by the Army in those times that don't quite require an MRE, but hot chow is not practical. Weirdly enough, they don't involve any sort of sausage product. I haven't reviewed one on this blog but you can go look at my MRE and Heater Meal reviews to get kind of an idea. I had no idea at the time how truly life changing that decision (joining the Army, not eating the Jimmy Dean) would be, I am still trying to sort out in my mind how deeply it has affected me...

2. A simple salad of herbs, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella that was served at my wedding after the absolutely ridiculous couple of hours of food preceding it. I remember thinking about how on this day of extreme emotions, chaos, and joy how comforting it was to have such a simple and delicious dish in front of me. As I am prone to assigning metaphors to almost anything I decided that this salad kind of represented my life's philosophy. My only real goal in life is to be a simple, and good man. I want no one to say, around the campfire, that Mr. Dave would not have ventured out to into the darkness to do battle with those things that go bump in the night to protect his kith and kin. This meal also makes me remember how lovely my wife looked in her dress.

1. The undisputed, most memorable food event in my life is pictured above. I must have known it was going to me forever etched in my brain, as I had the presence of mind to snap a photo. That right there is the first meal served to my wife after giving birth to my daughter. This was the first true family meal of our lives together. A simple affair of chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans, tea, soup, and milk, my still weak wife could not bear a bite. Always game for a meal, I happily munched through it whilst gazing at my wife and the wriggling munchkin who would become the mighty Giblet (now 16 months!).




Ahhhh, memories... What are yours? Tell me about your Madelines.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Four Corners Luncheonette (Delmar)



Went over to the Four Corners Luncheonette for a little breaky the other morn. This place is pretty much an institution among Delmar/Bethlehem folk (they celebrated their 30th anniversary with "Lunchapalooza" the other day), so as a recent immigrant to Delmar (from Guilderland), I felt the need to pay a visit. Going down for a meal has been on the back burner for several months because I am slightly agoraphobic, and this place gets packed during prime breakfast times. I ended up going on a Monday at about 10:30 and this seems to be about the perfect time to go if you don't want to be jostled or wait for a table.

The inside of the restaurant is homey and pleasant.



Me and the wife ordered fairly standard breakfasts. She had scrambled and bacon, and I had 4 poached with bacon. I attempted to get a picture of the poached eggs (if you have been reading you will know that egg poaching ability is my litmus test for a breakfast joint), but the glistening bastards reflected all of the light. You will just have to trust me on the fact that they were adequately poached.



The bacon and has hash browns were fairly run of the mill, but thoroughly satisfying.



I happened to notice that the wive's scrambled eggs were a shockingly vibrant shade of yellow. Didn't want to be all weird and ask the waitress where Four Corners gets their eggs, but I have a feeling they are of quality production.



I was inducted into the clean plate club at this breakfast and the usually peckish wife made a fair dent in her meal. I would definitely make a return visit, as there was some crazy breakfast club sandwich thing on the menu that I would like to try. It also looks like the place does a decent lunch/dinner besides breakfast. They even advertise some New York wines.



I really enjoyed the Four Corners Luncheonette, the food was solid and it was just an overall pleasant experience. I get a kick out of homey touches and personal kindness and you get plenty of this here. I especially liked the bean can flowers I spotted on the way out.



That is all, just another review of a quality and independent local business. Bless them with your patronage yon readers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grandma Brown's Baked Beans



Ever seen these old timey' yellow cans of Grandma Brown's Home Baked Beans at the store? They come in a couple of sizes, one of them being a gigantic, triumphant, "family size" can. I always pass by them and chuckle at the attractive ugliness of the label design.



Did you know that these bad boys are an Upstate New York product, straight out of scenic Mexico, New York (kind of by Oswego)? I have actually been to Mexico, it's god's country there.

I am a big bean fan (read my recent porky recipe here), but I find it fairly simple to make my own. I rarely find the need to buy a canned product, but when convenience calls I go for Grandma Brown's. Reading the list of ingredients you will find no chemicals/additives/preservatives. As you know, simplicity is my watchword and water, navy beans, brown sugar, salt, bacon and baking soda are all that's in the can.



These are wonderful baked beans, simple and tasty. On their own the beans are great as a side dish, but many people also use them as a starting point for whatever strange and wonderful bean recipes that have been passed down through the generations. I don't like to futz with them too much. My favorite is to thinly slice in some regular ol' hot dogs (Stewart's Deli Dogs in this case) to make a mess of what I have always referred to as Beanies and Weenies.



Into the oven for a few and you are all set. This kind of goes into the what do you eat that is kind of gross and you are a little ashamed of category of foods that I like. I also have been know to get a can of the bean soup with bacon-



and eat it cold with tortilla chips as a bean dip of sorts.

Anyhow, Grandma Brown's products are good, wholesome, and from small town New York. So eschew the Bush's and Campbell's and pick up that ugly yellow and brown can of Grandma's beans for your memorial day cookout (Price Chopper and the Delmar Marketplace have them). If you are an outlander than you can get them off of the wonderful Taste of CNY (Central New York) website that I discovered.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tastee Freez Chili Dog



I was down at Jim's Tastee Freez in Delmar getting my young one a junior cone (twist, rainbow jimmes) the other evening. As promised in my last Tastee Freez post, I decided to sample one of their Chili Dogs (I heard they were good). Here it is, a plain dog with chili-



The chili appeared a little thicker/pastier than I am accustomed to, kind of like if you get the tail end of the chili from the Chili Cauldron at Stewart's and most of the moisture has evaporated. I was undeterred and took a hearty bite.



This is a decent dog, the chili was a little over salted and under spiced, but not bad. One major departure from the tenants of my hot dog philosophy by Tastee Freez is that they toasted the bun, as opposed to my preference for a steamed bun. No matter, different strokes for different folks. It takes all kinds, it takes all kinds.

(For unending posts that involve me blathering about hot dogs, click here)

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Snappy Grillers are Back! Also, Mr. Dave Tries an Out of State Hot Dog Sauce



I love the beginning of summer. You begin to see all of the traditional "cookout" foods appearing in the grocery stores again after the long winter (like the Salt Potatoes I posted about yesterday).

I was excited to spy some Hofmann's Snappy Grillers at the local P-Chops yesterday. Snappy Grillers hail from Syracuse and are a cousin of the slightly more famous Rochester White Hots (Zwiegel's are the best). Both are veal/pork sausages with a characteristic mellow flavor and white hue. This style of hot dog is probably directly derived from the German Weisswurst, indicative of the strong German influence in Central/Western New York. Rolf's Pork Store in Albany does another variation known as Whitewurst, which is a little chubbier than the others.



Out of the pantheon of hot dog sausages that I feel very strongly about, whitewurst/snappy grillers/white hots are highly regarded, probably only being surpassed by our beloved local dinky dogs. The best way to serve the Snappy Grillers is grilled up till brown and crisped and than put on a steamed bun with a little good mustard. Doesn't get much better than that.



Now, it is usually foreign to me to sully as beautiful a sausage as a Snappy Griller with a condiment of an unknown provenance, but curiosity got the better of me. I keep seeing the Tallarico brand "Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce" at the grocery store between the Sabrett's onions in sauce and the Hot Dog Charlie's meat sauce (both venerable and time tested hot dog accompaniments). Initially, two things made me suspicious of this product. One, the stuff is from Pennsylvania and two, it says "great for tacos" on the label. How a hot dog sauce can double as a taco condiment is beyond me, but I will try anything once.

It was only after I got home that I read the ingredients and instructions. I was a little dismayed that the heating instructions included chopping up an onion and a pepper and cooking it in the sauce for 10 minutes. Onions (I digress, raw and maybe even grilled onions are acceptable in certain applications) and peppers, in my mind, have no place on a hot dog. Another upsetting fact about the Tallarico's product is that, alas, it is tomato based. I generally don't like anything tomato based touching my dogs (ketchup, I am looking at you). As loath as I was to desecrate a sublime sausage like the Snappy Griller, I threw caution to the wind and dumped a couple tablespoons of the stuff (heated) on one.



I just don't get this style of sauce, it tastes like slightly spicy "spaghetti" sauce. I would rather eat this on pasta than on a hot dog. With the onions and peppers thrown in maybe this would be good on a "sausage and peppers" type sandwich (utilizing hot Italian sausage), but I don't like it on the Snappy Griller and I don't think it would be any better on a Frankfurter. If you are going to do hot dog "chili" buy it from Charlie's, Gus', or Famous'. Alternately, do your own take on my Capital Region style hot dog chili recipe.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meals That Define A Life

Hinerwadel Salt Tatties



Chalk up Salt Potatoes as another indigenous Upstate New York (specifically, Central New York) food that, in my younger days, I thought every American enjoyed in the early summer. It never dawned on me that these were peculiar to the region. Read the above linked Wiki article for the history of salt potatoes.

Usually around early May you will start seeing the white Hinerwadel brand bags of Salt Potatoes at the grocery stores.



In the bag you get a bunch of young, white potatoes and a giant sachet of salt.



The directions are simple, dump the salt pack into about 4 quarts of water, bring to a boil, throw in the potatoes and let it go for twenty or twenty-five minutes. A hallmark of the salt potato cooking process are the white streaks you will get down the side of your pot from the bubbling salt water.



You are probably thinking, "Potatoes? and salt? This is considered some sort of special dish?" I can't explain it, and maybe there is some sort of chemistry involved, but these particular potatoes cooked in the saturated salt water somehow come out different than other boiled tatties. Throw some melted butter on top of the tatties and you have a dish worthy of a king.



The firm skins kind of snap between your teeth, yielding to the salty and tender insides. Salt potatoes are great with any sort of grilled meat, and do a more than middlin' job at soaking up 8 or 9 afternoon cookout beers. Try them, I have seen the Hinerwadel bad boys at P-Chops so far.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Delmar Market Now Has a Beer Aisle



The Delmar Marketplace has cleared out an aisle of overpriced dry goods and replaced it with an aisle of decent beer! I am thoroughly satisfied with this. I don't think that the Delmar Marketplace can compete with Walmart, Price Chopper, and Hannaford in terms of pricing on everyday goods (kind of a shame that the world has come to this). So I think they are (smartly) trying to appeal to the affluent tastes of the local populace with good beer and specialty products. I think this is probably wise and I would love to see the market offering even more local specialties. I pretty much go there just to get stuff from Oscar's and to find these little cookies that my wife loves, I can't remember the brand right now.

Anyhow, there is a decent selection of oat soda with a nice smattering of New York brands. They have all the Ommegangs (even though they are Belgian owned now), Saranac, Ithaca Brewing, Brooklyn, etc... I got a bottle of Sammy Smith IPA, which I love (I didn't see any Utica Club though).



Check it out if you are in the Delmar 'hood. I would say the prices are slightly (not much though) higher than at a distributor, but I don't mind forking the dough over at an independent business.


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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Low Bridge, Everybody Down



(image from HMdb.org)

Here we have a fact about New York that kind of blew my mind. I was learnt' this by the History Channel's "Story of Us" the other night (if you haven't already, watch it. Sundays). Did you know that 80% of Upstate New Yorkers live within 20 miles of the Eerie Canal? That is our history right there folks.

Low Bridge
By Thomas S. Allen

I've got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We've hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

Chorus:

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal

Here we have a version by Susan Vega.

video

Springsteen has a good version too, couldn't find a video.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Can You Pass By a Hunk of Smoked Pork Loin From Oscar's Without Buying? I Can't.



You will remember that Oscar's Smoke House recently became operational again after a tragic fire brought their practice of the meaty arts to a halt.

I was excited enough at the thought of once more being able to purchase their bacon and sausages over at the Delmar Marketplace . I don't know what kind of deal the Marketplace has with Oscar's, but it seems that their selection of product is pretty random at times. Sometimes they will have bacon, sometimes sausage, sometimes both. I was nearly thrown into a meat frenzy when I spied the triumphant porky bastard pictured above. That right there is a big ol' hunk of unsliced, smoked boneless pork loin. In my future are lovely thick slices, sautéed to a golden brown with poached eggs. Maybe a couple sandwiches with some good cheddar. The odd left over bits and ends will go into some form of pottage, be it split pea or beans.

I don't know why a smoky little piece of pig gets me so excited, but it does. I like being able to slice me own meat to whatever thickness suits my particular fancy at the time. I think the whole pre-sliced mania (cheese, meat, bread, etc...) is crappy, you sacrifice freshness when you increase the surface area of your food.
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