Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Cheese Balls...

I have always found Christmas to be the most personalized of all of the holidays. Every family has its own hodge-podge amalgam of strange and wonderful traditions/rituals gathered over the course of their lifetimes. You know what I am talking about, Ma' and Da' put on viking helmets and watch Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas at exactly 7:23 on X-mas eve... Stuff like that. It doesn't really matter if the tradition is particularly enjoyable or meaningful. You do it just because. Family rituals are not good or bad, they just kind of 'are'.

For me, a yearly solstice punishment that I inflict upon my gut is the hallowed tradition of the "cheese ball." I take mine in the "Port Wine" variety and always from the Herkimer Cheese Co. (makers of the NY Cheddar Cheese Fudge that I just reviewed). Their slogan regarding cheese balls/logs is, "Log on... and have a (cheese) ball," which is amusing. Among the various blessings of living in Upstate NY is the fact that we have the Herkimer Cheese Co. which produces what I consider to be the Platonic ideal of a cheese ball/log.

Just look at the thing. A marvelous wonder of food dye and processed cheese food, all rolled up in some limp soggy walnut bits. I don't know why, but the thing represents vivid taste memories to me and screams X-Mas like no other food product. Do I know that the cheese ball is a wonder of modern science and artificial food production and probably has as many chemical compounds as your work-a-day can of shoe polish? Yes, of course. Does this stop me from buying one every year? No, of course not.

I have a bad habit of eating only the parts with the nuts which inevitably leaves a sad, weird, orange and crimson blob of cheese ball on the plate.

It is probably fairly amusing for my wife to see me hacking at the cheese ball every year. I never take it out of the fridge early enough to get all nice, soft, and warm so the cheese always sticks to the knife and gets lifted off of the plate en masse. When I do finally separate a bit of nut be-speckled substance from the ball, I never fail to break my cracker in half attempting to spread the stuff. I culminate the experience by shoving the entire cracker and cheese mess into my gob, grinning widely, and chewing obnoxiously while cracker crumbs rain from my mouth.

Anyhow, different strokes for different folks I guess. I don't care what anyone thinks, if I am having pre-Christmas snacks, then I am having some Herkimer cheese ball. Don't judge me. Take your brie en croute and stick it right in your ear. Haha, joking. As you know, I celebrate cheese in all of its form (processed or otherwise...). Not like my friend who exiled the Herkimer Cheese Fudge from her cheese plate and left it all lonely like in the corner. I completely understand her motives though, as the idea of Cheddar cheese fudge is a little disconcerting the first time you are confronted by it. You don't want the stuff stinking up all your other stinky cheeses...

Merry Christmas Eve and Waes Hail! my fellow Upstate NY countrymen! I expect that as part of your festivities tonight you will pour libations to Father Winter and ask for wind, snow, and bluster as the weather today feels un-natural here in our homeland. Have the Upstate winter gods of old abandoned us? I don't know, but the situation has me vaguely unsettled... The lack of snow portends strange and witchy things to come with the new year, me thinks... We shall see.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Crisan Bakery B-Day Cake. I Was Impressed.

So I was going to bake my lovely wife, on the occasion of her birthday, a ridiculous construction that I planned on calling Cake-amemnon. The plan involved a brownie layer, red velvet layer, yellow cake layer, Devil Dog layer, and Swiss Roll layer (in the grand tradition of me making combo cakes like the Velvet Carrot and the Brownie/Cheese Cake/Cake Cake), but I got all crushingly lazy and decided to take the easy way out. I made a call to Crisan Bakery (Lark Street, Albany) and ordered up a b-day cake.

I had previously had very good experiences with Crisan's "Little Richards" and was very excited when they told me that I could get this in the form of a full-on cake.

Just look at the above picture. That beautiful specimen of a cake was prepared on short notice (I called the day before) and only cost around 25 bucks (maybe it was 30, I can't remember). To my sensibilities this is a true Albany bargain. You pay more than this for a shite sheet cake with franken-frosting at P-chops for Pete's sake.

I could not get over how impressed I was with Crisan's product and I paraded all of my friends past this square confection and demanded that they appreciate the quality, beauty, and value. Heck, when I beheld this cake in the store I ordered a Buche de Noel for the following week based on appearances alone. I will certainly let you know how that goes.

In any event, recognize that Crisan Bakery is a treasure that we Albanites are lucky to possess. During this holiday season I humbly demand that you bless them with your patronage. Make it so! I want to continue to gorge on Crisan's delicacies for years to come.

Herkimer Cheddar Cheese Fudge, Yeah You Heard Me...

So I was on a morning stroll through the Slingerlands Price Chopper today when I spied something strange peeking out at me from among the soft cheeses in the cheese case. On closer inspection of the small brown squares I saw that they said "fudge" on them. That's strange I thought, fudge in the cheese case? 

Picking up a hunk I almost immediately noticed something unexpected and wonderful... The second ingredient is "NY Cheddar Cheese." That is right folks, here we have Upstate New York (Herkimer, a bit south of Utica) Cheddar Cheese Fudge produced by the Herkimer County Cheese Co. What sorcery is this?

Haha, another ingredient is - "Sorbate to retard mold." I am
laughing childishly at the thought of retarded mold. 

In the past I have seen recipes around for "Velveeta Fudge," and after a cursory search of "Cheddar Fudge" on the googles I found that the concept is fairly well attested. I found several different recipes and began to wonder how I was left in the dark in terms of cheddar fudge for all of these years. Upstate New York makes some of the best cheddar in the nation and you would think a purveyor, such as myself, of the strange and wonderful delicacies of our fair homeland would have been let in on this secret...

A goodly sized hunk was only a little over 3 green bills at 5 dollars a pound.

There she is folks. If you showed me this and I didn't know, I would assume that this was a standard, run of the mill block of fudge.

With a bit of trepidation (cheddar cheese fudge?!?) I sliced off a chunk and gave it a gander. The fudge seemed to have a creamy kind of consistency and there were flecks of what I initially took to be little hunks of cheddar... This seemed a little gross but upon closer inspection I realized that the odd little bits were chopped up nuts.

Now I am a brave man as far as culinary matters go, but somehow the thought of a chocolate/cheddar combination was unsettling to my sensibilities. It took me a tick or two to build up the courage to take a big ol' bite. But as with most things that you are worried about eating, the Herkimer cheese fudge was utterly normal. It tasted like a nice, smooth, chocolatey fudge with crunchy bits of nuts in it. I think I was expecting some sort of "sharp/aged" flavor from the cheddar but this character was completely absent.

If you like fudge, which I really don't, I guess this is a fair to middlin' example. Much more interesting for its novelty then its inherent fudginess I think.

But anyhow, if there has ever been a food that is more emblematic of the title of this blog, then the Herkimer cheese fudge is it. I can't think of any more ridiculous Upstate New York foods then this example. If you are aware of something better, do let me know. Thanks.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The "Trojan" Omelette at Manory's

So I was across the river (downtown Troy) the other day looking for a bit of breakfast. On the recommendation of a trusted associate who knows Troy I decided to go to Manory's. This was actually my first visit to Manory's after years of hearing about the place and driving by it uncounted hundreds of times.

Moving inside, the place has the old timey river town ambiance of which I am so fond. Yellowed pictures on the wall,  grizzly old people, and all that. You know what I am talking about.

Something you should know about me is that I feel honor bound during my first visit to an establishment to order whatever is proffered as a house specialty, no matter what it is (take the Doodle Dumpster for example).  So when I saw the "Trojan Omelette" on the menu with the tag line "HUGE!" my decision was pretty much made for me. A 6 egg, 13 dollar omelette has to be something to behold, right?

There she is folks- 6 eggs, homefries, sausage, jalapenos, cheese, onions, all soused with some white sausage gravy. I am not usually a fan of diner/greasy spoon type omelets, but I made an exception for the Trojan.

For what it was, the Trojan was pretty well executed. The homefries were nicely browned, onions good and caramelized, crisp jalapenos, and sharp melty cheese. Not to mention the sausage, which was chopped up links. It was really good breakfast sausage, absolutely perfect texture. I wonder where they get their sausage, anybody know?

Here is the empty plate of my shame and self hate. I had skipped lunch and dinner the previous day which led to a perfect storm of piggishness that allowed me to demolish the Trojan. Probably the most that I have eaten in one sitting in years. I felt like a competitive eater.

Anyhow, I enjoyed Manory's and will definitely go back. They also had "Sugar Cookie Egg Nog French Toast" on the menu. As a seasoned Eggnogologist, I think I feel obligated to give this a whirl as well.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oh Midwest, Aren't You Quaint?

So I was out in Ohio the other week and I spied this at a hotel bar. Apparently, Yuengling is a "coming attraction" arriving in October, 2011 (I was there in November...).

But now that I think of it, Yuengling was rarely seen in our Upstate homeland before about 10 years ago. So maybe there it is considered some sort of strange and wonderful delicacy from faraway lands. But I also think I remember (in the late 90s) making runs across the border to Pennsylvania to stock up on fireworks, cut rate cigarettes (oh self destructive youth), and absurdly cheap cases of Yuengling. I am pretty sure that even back then I was aware that Yuengling was an American lager that was a bit of a cut above what I was drinking at the time (college days, don't judge me). So maybe I can't fault the Ohioans for looking forward to the arrival of the stuff.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse Nog (Zombies and Eggnog, How Can This Post Not Be Interesting?)

There are two things that I truly love in this world - zombies and eggnog (not necessarily in that order).  Actually, I am lying about this... But zombies and eggnog are definitely in the top 20 things that I love in this world. 

What an age we live in for lovers of eggnog and zombies. Has there ever been a better time for zombie fiction than now? You can play Left 4 Dead, read World War Z, or watch The Walking Dead to get nearly constant zombie fixes. As for eggnog, I have already shared a multitude of ways to enjoy the frothy golden nectar. Although in my opinion Stewart's is still the best. Suck it other Nog merchants. 

So what am I getting at with all of this? Well, I have something of a penchant for survivalism, Zombie Apocalypse readiness if you will. Along with this comes a healthy interest in shelf stable food stuffs. I have already shared my opinions on a couple other canned dairy products (Red Feather butter and cheese). I thought I would weigh in on the subject of canned eggnog. 

I am declaring Borden canned "Premium" eggnog my official Zombie Apocalypse preparedness canned eggnog. This is mostly because it is the only canned eggnog that I have ever seen. There is still the holidays during and after the ZA (Zombie Apocalypse) and after all, we must not live like savages during those trying times, right? I fully intend to belly up to the campfire, oil my shotgun, and indulge in hearty swills of Borden canned nog. 

One of the best things about the canned nog is that you get to open it thusly, like a man! 

Here is some random and obscure local (Albany) nostalgia bait. Look at the below picture. Does it give anyone else flashbacks to "Juice Time" at Albany Academy Day Camp circa 1989? That was the best dixie cup of Hawaiian punch in town I say.

Anyhow, the canned nog pours surprisingly thick. It coats the glass almost like, hrmm, nog out of a vessel other than a can...

It is a fairly pale yellow with no hint of the spicy flecks you get in some nogs. Not surprising as it is almost devoid of any nog spice flavor. You get just the faintest soup├žon of cinnamon/nutmeg essence. The nog has the appearance of thickness but it goes down surprisingly thin. The flavor is lightly eggy, not too sweet, and vaguely bland. Like it is missing salt or something, don't know what that is all about.

Anyhow, if you have a bunch of Zacks (cool guy Army slang for zombies, read World War Z) mucking about your encampment (and no fresh dairy or eggs) this will do the trick nicely. As with any form of nog it would be much improved by gobs of whiskey. I declare Borden Nog a fitting substitute for the real thing in nearly every end of the world scenario.

Anyhow folks, I promise that this is only my 2nd or 3rd to last post on eggnog this season (it is an obsession, but a sweet, delicious, velvety obsession). I have some opinions on the Byrne Dairy (Syracuse) offering on deck, as well as yen to track down some Ronnybrook Farm (Ancramdale) nog. The Ronnybrook got voted as the #1 nog of the nation in the HuffPost so I am not going to lie, I am a bit excited.

On another note, you still have time to gather ingredients and whip up a batch of boozy aged nog. Cheers!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gas Station Roller Thingy Cuisine

"Corn Dog Dough" roller thingy? Can you live at that speed? Indiana has obviously outpaced Upstate New York in terms of hot dog roller technology.

In Upstate America we do have the Cheeseburger Hot Dog, the Cheesy Buffalo Ranch Chicken Dog, and the Oatmeal Machine. But Corn Dough Dog? This is strange and wonderful territory. I think we need to devote a few more scientists to research and development, nano-tech be damned. We mustn't be shown up after all...
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