Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mr. Dave Does Mini-Dogs: Homemade Capital Region Style Hot Dogs (Part 1 in a Possible 3 Part Series)


Wouldn't you know it? Those Giants went done and made it to the big show again. What the hell? Can't they ever just suck, or be good, for the entire season? But I guess the fluky weirdness of the G-Mens' occasional success is what keeps being a Giants fan exciting.

Anyhow, I decided to attempt to please the gods of hot dogs and football (I posit that they are similar gods, or at least live in the same neighborhood) with something of a votive offering to ensure a Giants victory. I pledged to construct (from scratch) that hallowed Capital Region delicacy that is the mini-hot dog with meat sauce. I begin here with the formulation of the actual dinky dog, but I have plans to also make the buns, meat sauce (I have done this before), and the mustard.

For my meats, I began with about a pound of cubed and partially frozen pork belly.


To this I added a further 2 pounds of cubed pork shoulder and 1 pound of beef chuck (again, all partially frozen).


As you probably already know, keeping your meat and fat cold during the grinding process is probably one of the most important measures you can take to ensure a successful sausage. I picked up this grinder on sale off of Cabella's a while back for about 90 bucks. I have been thoroughly pleased with the purchase, you can grind meat that is just short of frozen without taxing the motor.


Here we have the meats after the first grind (coarse plate). Isn't there just something very pretty about freshly ground meat and fat? Maybe it is just me...


Below we have our sausage mix ground a second time through a fine plate after which it sort of looks like meat spaghetti.


This is a good time to throw your meat mixture back into the freezer for a bit while you prepare your seasonings.


For the actual flavorings I used (this is basically Len Poli's Frankfurter recipe with some omissions and additions):

     -1 tbs. Paprika (the cheap stuff)
     -1.5 tbs. Kosher salt
     -1 tbs. White pepper
     -1 tsp. Garlic powder
     -1 tsp. Mace
     -1 tsp. Prague #1
     -1 tsp. Liquid smoke (hickory)

I also use a number of things to ensure a good texture and juiciness, I can't let you in on all my secrets, but you probably want to use a bit short of a cup of non-fat dry milk powder. As this is an emulsified sausage some whey protein isolate will help too (about 2 tbs). My remaining secrets will remain secrets unless you want to become my apprentice.

To the thoroughly mixed dry ingredients I add enough ice cold water to make the seasoning mixture pourable. The ground meat goes in to Lur-lenore's (my stand mixer) bowl. I am using the method for sausage emulsification recommended in Ruhlman's Charcuterie book in this recipe. This is a departure from my usual food processor emulsification method a 'la Len Poli. In this case we slowly pour the spice mixture in as the meat goes at a fairly high speed (with a cake paddle) for about 4 minutes.
 

Here is the sticky hot dog paste after mixing. The texture of this batch seemed about the same as that which I have achieved using a food processer, maybe a little denser. I put the mix back in the freezer and prepared my stuffer and casings.


For my mini-dogs I am using 21mm smoked collagen casings (from LEM products, same company that makes my stuffer). These are the approximate size of sheep casings, and along the lines of what you would usually use for breakfast links or snack sticks. I have never used "smoked" collagen before, I wanted to give it a whirl here as I desired smoke flavor, but am not going to have time to actually put a natural smoke on the sausages.


Here we see my X-mas gift (5 pound, hand-cranked vertical stuffer thank you Mrs. Dave) working away. This thing has made the stuffing process as worrisome as a cloudy day. If you make sausage regularly, do yourself a favor and put out the 150 bucks for one of these bad boys. You will quickly make your money back in time saved and frustration avoided. Plus, especially in coarser sausages, utilizing a hand powered stuffer does wonders for the final texture.


Here is the resulting 7 or 8 feet of delicious looking hot dog rope ready to be linked.


I have found that collagen casings do not have the natural elasticity of gut and won't stay twisted on their own when you make your links. I made three inch double links and used a bit of twine to tie them off. Here is the beautiful result of my toil-


4 pounds of meat made 50 or 60 individual sausages. I think they look excellent -- just how I envisioned them! The color looks a bit weird, but that is because they are still raw. Once the cure takes and they are cooked a bit, I expect them to be pretty and pink.


As I stated, these dogs are still raw. I like to let hot dogs set up overnight in the refrigerator before I begin the cooking process. To cook, I will stick one with a probe thermometer, place the dogs on a rack inside of a hotel pan, throw in some water, seal the vessel with aluminum foil, and cook in a very slow oven until they reach 150 degrees. I have found that this method makes for a moist, slow-steamed dog and reduces shrinkage/case wrinkling. Before serving I will brown them in cast iron (I don't own a hot dog roller....yet.).

Anyhow, I will surely update with how these turn out (flavor and texture-wise). My next project will be manufacturing enough buns to enrobe all of these wee, beautiful sausages. I think this will actually be the hardest part of my whole endeavor.  Making a bun with the proper texture is no small feat, and I will have to think about it a bit. After that I will tackle the meat sauce and mustard. Hopefully everything comes together before Superbowl Sunday. We shall see.

P.S.

I would like to apologize for all of the "She-li Manning" jokes that I made all season.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Gas Station Hot Dog Roller Thingies: French Toast & Sauasage


The wonders of the world of gas station cuisine are mysterious and unending. In the past, together we have studied the Corn Dough Dog, the Oatmeal Machine (part 1 and part 2), the Buffalo Chicken Cheese Dog, and the Cheese Burger Tube (perhaps I am forgetting something? Don' know...).

Today I stumbled on another tubular wonder of modern hot dog roller food production, the "French Toast & Sausage Tornado." Oh the things my second life as a commentator on the ridiculous food of this sad, strange world does to my poor gullet and gastrointestinal tract. But I suffer grimly, and uncomplainingly, for Science!

Before we get to the slowly spinning cylinder of my self loathing, let us study another wonder of the modern gas station. I had not seen this before. We find this example at the Cumberland farms on Route 4 in Troy. They have a veritable wall of beverage dispensers (coffee, slushies, soda, etc...). Something on the fountain soda machine caught my eye. You can't see it very well, but betwixt the soda buttons are wee "flavor shot" buttons. You have vanilla, lemon, lime, and cherry to add to your soda. Ever thought, "hrm, I think a vanilla/cherry diet Mountain Dew would hit the spot..." Well, now you can make that a sweet, sweet (artificially so) reality. I will have to admit that I gave a vanilla diet Mountain Dew a whirl.


Here we have our main subject of study. The outer wrapping is something like a sweet maple tortilla and the middle is your standard (albeit, surprisingly spicy) fast food sausage gunk. The overall flavor is laced with the expected corn syrup/fake maple cloying sweety tones. Thoroughly disgusting, yet I can see the intended allure. Crisp/fatty/sweet/savory is a recipe calculated to inspire food lust in the human mind. Plus, there is just something hypnotic about watching the glisten-y things slowly turning on the hot dog roller.


Maybe one day I will stop inflicting my (many) strange culinary fascinations on the internet at large, but today will not be the day. I will continue to sacrifice my intestinal calm to bring to you the very latest on the technology of gas station pseudo-food, lest you have to do this important work on your own.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Verified Recipe: Len Poli's Breakfast Sausage


During my sausage making adventures I have come across a few very ill-conceived sausage recipes. This mostly occurred in the early days of my forays into the grand art of sausage-ology, i.e. before I knew enough to be able to figure out when I was being led astray by a bad recipe. You really do have a whole bunch of sausage/charcuterie formulations out there on the internets, that should you take them on without being armed with some foreknowledge of proper methods, will inevitably turn out disgusting.

So when I come across a recipe that actually turns out to be delicious, I like to share and pronounce it verified in my book. I had some extra meat lying around and was due to go to a brunch and wanted to whip up some stereotypical "breakfast" sausage.

I went to Len Poli's Homemade Sausage page which is my go to reference for most sausage related questions. For home sausage/charcuterie making I don't know if there is a better consolidated reference out there on the internet (don't let the dated page design put you off). Among his formulations I found a fairly simple "Jimmy Deen" type sausage recipe.  This is a humble affair spiced with coriander, thyme, sage, and pepper. The recipe also calls for MSG, which I omitted in this case (although, I really don't have a problem with MSG as an ingredient).

Anyhow, these particular sausages turned out as advertised. They had that very familiar "breakfast sausage" flavor that I was looking for. I cooked them by steaming to 150 and then crisping in cast iron. I had to use standard casings as I did not have any sheep or other small diameter casings, this didn't hurt the recipe, they were kind of good all big and juicy like.  Should you ever be in the mood for this sort of thing, the spice ratios in this recipe are perfectly balanced (in my humble opinion).




Another Stewart's Sign Spawns Another Story


A Gallery of Stewart's Signage: Part 1
A Gallery of Stewart's Signage: Part 2

I don't care if I am getting a bit droll with all of my posts on this subject as I feel like I am doing important work. One day Stewart's is going to change and everyone is going to thank me for the memories conjured up by the galleries (click the above links for parts 1 and 2) I have maintained for posterity.

I don't have enough pictures for a full gallery yet, so I thought I would share one new sign that inspired me  to provide a narrative for a possible event in Mr. Dave's family future (I went back and stole some pictures from the old galleries too). This is not the first time that I have gone on an incredibly long tangent based on thoughts conjured up by a Stewart's visit (read my first "Stewart's Story" here), so bear with me. I have an overactive imagination.

As you know, I now have a multi-month old manly heir now(Mr. Dave Jr.). So I am going to fast forward my life by 6 or 7 years to some far off sunny day. I am ambling down the some shady road with young Junior (Junior is be-garbed in the sporting uniform of the season) towards the Stewart's for an ice cream cone. I don't really care about the 50 cents off, but I remember that sort of deal thrilling me as a child. I am assuming Junior will share this sentiment.

We will get a couple of cones (I am partial to vanilla, don't know where Junior's tastes will go yet) and amble out the door at which time another sign catches our eyes.


Look there, in the bottom left corner, nightcrawlers! My boy's little face looks up at me and I will remember all of my childhood fishing jones' and the decision will be made for me. There is still much of the day left, so we head back towards the homestead for our poles and tackle. We will return to Stewart's for the wrigglers in a little bit, you don't want to get them too early, you want 'em to be fresh.

We will discuss what local creek to go to (he will pronounce it 'crick' just like I do) on the return trip to Stewart's for the worms. Yet another vision in brown and orange will appear upon pulling into our parking spot.


Deli Dog Sale? Fishing is hard work and requires provisions... I will introduce the boy to the steamy altar that is the beating heart of any Stewart's Shop.


We will get two to go (chili and mustard for me, I will allow the boy ketchup for now), one for each. We have already had our ice cream, so two hot dogs each would be piggish. Off we go for a day of catching sunnies and skipping rocks. Maybe we manage to get hold of a crawdaddy or two, maybe even a newt.

There you have it . Doesn't that sound like a heck of a day? I won't wax nostalgic for small town America with its Main Streets and General stores, those days are gone. I know that Stewart's is just a regional chain of convenience stores that I -- perhaps -- make a bit much of. However, I do believe that Stewart's Shops are an integral part of our hometown fabric -- fabric that my son will sew together to form his childhood memories. Heck, my wife is from downstate and used to spend summers with her Grandparents near Indian Lake. Even she has fond memories of going to the local Stewart's up there, she said it always felt like a special occasion.

Anyhow, if our chosen fishing hole was within walking distance then maybe there would also be a frosty can or two of these bad boys involved for the proud father.


This would probably get my hide tanned by Mrs. Dave, but it just might be worth the lickin'.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Wold Bistro Sunday Brunch

Wouldn't you know that today I made my first visit to Ric Orlando's New World Bistro on Delaware Ave.  It has become increasingly difficult to make a visit to all of the restaurants I would like to, what with all of the howling munchkins running about here at the Mr. Dave residence. I caught a movie at the Spectrum and than popped in at about 2:30, the place was still serving their brunch menu and was doing a brisk business. 

I started with Wasabi/Tobiko deviled egg. Ermmm, anyone else had this? To me it tasted like a fair to middlin' plain ol' deviled egg. I didn't really get any wasabi taste, or really anything other than plain egg taste. No heat or spice, although I will say that the tobiko added a bit of interesting texture. My associate and I who each sampled one agreed that we would probably pass on these next time. Sad, as I have a real thing for deviled eggs...


I got the Big Chief Omelette. This was a very solid omelette, chock full of tasty andouille, cheese, peppers, and slathered with a bit of tasty bearnaise.


My associate got Chuck's Breakfast Bowl. He said that as far as breakfasts in bowl form go, this one was top notch.


Anyhow,  I make a policy to never form opinions about a place based on any sort of breakfast or brunch service, because there are only so many directions you can go with morning fare. I do really want to go back for dinner now, lots of interesting things on that menu. Just have to wait a few more months until Mr. Dave Jr. gets on the solid consumables so I can get a sitter and bring the missus.

The Beefy Taste of Self-Loating: I Ate the 6 Dollar Thickburger at Hardee's (Milkshake Too)


So, when I was in Georgia last week I ended up getting stuck in the hotel for dinner while my associates went off with the rental car. Feeling a gurgle or two in the ol' belly, I noticed that across the road there was a Hardee's and decided to give her a whirl (any fastfood anthropologist worth his salt would have done the same).

The first thing that I noticed is they had "mello yello" soda. I have a vague childhood memory of this soda which reinforces my supposition that we used to have Hardee's around these parts (I remember someone singing the Mellow Yellow song at me).


First off, I like their advertising. Something that I have always wanted is for an ambiguous, Greek type god to summon me a hamburger from thin air. This cardboard standee gives me faith that this may or may not happen someday.


Perusing the menu, I decided to order the "6 Dollar Thickburger." I was a bit perplexed when it didn't actually end up costing six dollars... So I inquired of the young register lass as to why the "thickburger" didn't cost 6 bucks (this was in no small part due to the urge to work the term "thickburger" into conversation as many times as possible). The dutiful Hardee's employee replied with a seemingly canned response regarding the fact that the thickburger in question tastes like it should cost 6 bucks...

Anyhow, I don't know about the, "this bag doubles as an air freshener" claim of the bag. Most times bags of burgers sort of smell like farts.



I was, however, impressed by the height and heft of the burger container. The thing was like 4 inches tall.


Opening up the thickburger (that is supposedly worth the sum of 6 American dollars), I was a bit impressed by the appearance. It had that wax paper wrapping that I have been taught by numerous burger joints' marketing should imply quality.


But seriously folks, for a burger from an apparent "fast food" joint, this one is no joke. The vegetable toppings are fairly fresh looking (the pickles are especially nice) and the bun is a bit of a cut above the usual suspects.


The actual burger patty has a surprising amount of crustiness on it and the whole sandwich is a textural success. I am a vehement anti-mayonaise type, but the accompanying ketchup/mustard slather countered a bit of the mayonaise nastiness. All in all this burger is head and shoulders above a McD's/B-King's type offering (but falls well short of a Five Guy's or the like).

Have I mentioned the shakes? Hardee's has "hand dipped" shakes, i.e. it isn't some strange milkshake mix. They actually use an ingredient that approximates ice cream (it is, at the very least, scoopable). I had no problems with the milkshake, it was delicious.


Anyhow, I think I was a little bit impressed by Hardee's. I was expecting a standard fastfood experience but had something that hovered a bit above the norm. I guess if you absolutely have to have a drive thru meal, you could do a lot worse than Hardee's. In any event, I think that the experience made me a more well rounded fastfood anthropologist.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Purty White Stuff


I always forget how durn' purty' it is around here. The weather in Georgia (where I just was) is nice and all, but everything is bit brown and flat. During the descent to Albany INTERNATIONAL (I will believe the international part when I can get a direct flight anywhere) I am always struck by the natural beauty of the area. Even with the unending sprawl, the rivers, mountains, and general green-ness remind me of times (longer than a week) spent in other places and how I missed home.

I have spent long periods (both in the USA and abroad) living in flatlands, and when there, I am always afflicted with strange feeling of "reverse claustrophobia" as I like to call it. The big sky and 360 view of the horizon instills in me some sort of primal fear that I might be sucked up into space. I think you need the warm embrace of a valley and some big sturdy trees to keep you grounded.

If we could get some damn boiled peanuts in our gas stations, I might never have to leave our borders again. Boiled peanuts are superior snack technology to anything we currently have at our gas stations.


But alas, I guess the fact that I only get to eat them when I head south is part of why they always taste so good.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mr. Dave in Georgia: Meat, Guns, and a Stuffed Monkey


So, I have been down in Georgia for a few days (Atlanta area). Haven't had a lot of time to get out and about, but I managed to stop at a Llewallyn's "Old South" Bar-B-Q for lunch the other day. The one with the Max Bacon sign, if you will remember.


I got a 2 meat combo, pork and brisket. The pork was alright, a bit dry and not much smoke. It came chopped with a sweet barbecue sauce. I always feel bad saying something like this, but the brisket straight up sucked. It was over lean and just sort of tasted like well done steak. I expected more from you Georgia! I have eaten better bar-b-q back home in New York. Take that dixieland.


As I said in my last post, this sign amused me greatly and I wanted to steal it.


The thing I probably enjoyed most during the meal was that the soda came with those lil' ice nubbins that I love so much. Why isn't all ice those glorious little nubbly bastards? They are clearly a superior beverage chilling technology compared to ice in cube form.


After lunch we had some spare time. There was a giant gun store across the way, so we decided to take a gander at the wares.


Ummm.... Now you know that Mr. Dave is sort of an ol' boy at heart and is a confirmed firearm enthusiast, but what is this (those are real handguns, not toys)? Who is buying this crap? At first I thought it was some new hip-hop inspired fad, but then I saw this one... I will let my ellipsis express the astonishment I felt. I was speechless and that doesn't happen often.

Dixie-Gun

Also, there was a stuffed monkey (a baboon actually, me thinks). Stuffed monkey was wearing a hat. Stuffed monkeys in baseball caps never fail to make me smile.

Ol' Boy Monkey says "Aftirnoon Mam"
Well, that is about it. I didn't get to do a whole heck of a lot down here which is a bit of a shame. As a seasoned fast food anthropologist, I did manage to document a fast food encounter. I will follow up on that later.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mayor Max Bacon, You Have My Sword!


So I was passing through Smyrna, (this is pronounced Smurrnah) Georgia today and I stopped for a bit of barbecue.

I think I have finally found my homeland. Apparently, the Mayor of Smyrna's name is  "Max Bacon," a fact that the Smyrnartions are fond enough of to hang random signs on their restaurants (no apparent elections on-going). I am telling myself that this particular ol' boy's first name is short for "Maximum," and I am fashioning him into my own personal hero. I would follow Maximum Bacon into the gates of hell! Huzzah Master Bacon!

Anyhow, I took some pics of the food and I will prob do a follow up post, don't have the time right now. Tomorrow is shaping up to be a pretty full Thursday. Luckily, the BBQ joint did have some artwork concerning passing through Smyrna. Here it is.


I am sure I will have some more thoughts concerning Georgia, I am here for a couple more days. I will most definitely share if I am not too lazy.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Essential Component of Any Coffee Fixins' Station


I don't drink coffee, but if I did then I am pretty sure I would want some flippin' eggnog involved. As if I needed more reasons to like Stewart's.

Also, more on the below pictured later-


The best thing in Stewart's can design since Moutain Brew Ice...
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