Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meka-Punkin' Blossom... I Guess I Never Thought About Pumpkin Blossoms.

If you will remember, I posted about the small garden I started this year. One of the things I planted was a "Mega-Pumpkin (brand name)" over in the corner (I renamed it Meka-Pumpkin).

Well, my garden is rapidly turning into more of a pumpkin patch then anything else. My tomato plants have given fourth most of their bounty, my pepper plants are pepper laden and ready for harvest, and my cabbages are about ready too. I am going to give the space entirely over to Meka-Pumpkin in the next week or two. The thing has gone from a wee sproutling to massive conglomeration of leaves and tendrils already, so I have high hopes for getting a nice pumpkin for Giblet and Mr. Dave Jr. this fall.

Anyhow, after yearly trips to the pumpkin patch since childhood I don't know that I have ever seen a pumpkin blossom in full bloom. I was kind of struck by how pretty the things are when Mr. Dave Jr. and I were taking our daily amble about the yard and saw one of the yellow/orange guys at peak blossom.

I imagine a field full of the punkin' flowers would be something to see.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Indigenous New York Lump Charcoal (Mali's, East Amherst)

It seems that I don't have much to post about lately, not sure why. The summer is zipping merrily by and as always I feel that I have not made enough of the season... At least I have been sporadically firing up the charcoal grill for some meats and veg.

I had been hearing about Mali's lump charcoal (they don't have a website that I could find, here is Shoprite's description) for some time. Mali's is based out of East Amherst (a suburb of Buffalo) and their "Gourmet Lump Charcoal" is to be found fairly widely sprinkled among local grocers. I have seen it at P-Chops and Shoprite, don't know who else carries the product. It is peddled for the reasonable sum of 6 bucks and change and comes in ten pound bags. As always, I would love to make a habit of supporting an instate business so I thought I would test drive the stuff to see if I should adopt it as my go-to charcoal.

Dumping about half of a bag into my grill I found that the Mali's charcoal is pretty irregularly sized. Everything from fist sized lumps to pebble sized chunks. Not necessarily a huge issue, but an observation none the less.

I wasn't in the mood to frig about lighting the stuff so I liberally doused with lighter fluid and lit it ablaze in an eyebrow singing poof of glory. Pro-tip: let the lighter fluid soak into the charcoal for a minute or two or you might not get the stuff good and blazing.

Something you will notice as the Mali's charcoal is that soothing ting-ting sound peculiar to lump charcoal. I tried to capture a bit of that in the below video. I like to stand there dumbly and stare into the flames while listening to this charcoal music. I appreciate small moments of zen.


After a fair bit longer than you would expect (certainly much longer than with normal briquettes) you will achieve a blazing inferno of glowing red charcoal. Be forewarned, this stuff burns very hot.  Like, stand 6 feet away from you grill, sunburned feeling face hot. The Mali's seemed to burn even hotter than other lump charcoals that I have tried. You have to account for this in your cooking times and you probably need a couple runs with the stuff to get the feel of it. I think it is especially suited to quick cooking skewered thingies and veg.

Anyhow, I bought a few bags and I will use the stuff again. It is fairly inexpensive and imparts a good smokey char to your summer meats.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stone Turtles (Price Chopper Nostalgia)

I was strolling through Slingerlands Price Chopper location today when I spied something that gave me pangs of nostalgia. On top of one of the cold cases we have the above pictured, "Managers Special -- Mushroom Garden Set." Needless to say, I have to meet the man who will slap down the 80 bucks and walk home with this. That is aside the point though... Who remembers when P-Chops used to put all sorts of random crap on top of the aisles/cold cases? I mean they still kind of do, but back in the day the stuff was much more delightfully random. You had beer balls, lawn furniture, and whatever else the Golubs could get a truck full of at a cut rate thrown up there. It was glorious.

Those were the days. My childhood Price Chopper was the Madison Ave. location in Albany (mid 80s, when Chicken Tonight was the height of convenience food). This piece of P-Chopistan was in walking distance of my home and I spent countless hours (and incurred countless skinned knees) on the stone turtles that used to line the side walk out front of the store. I think a turtle or two is still in the area, but moved a bit.

If I haven't mentioned it before, I hate change. I become excessively comfortable with all of the drab and mundane facets of life and tend to be thrown into crisis when things (even very small things) are altered.

Take milk labels for instance...

Price Chopper has gone done and changed their milk labels. This will probably bother me for years. To help console myself I have included some "positive" change in the above picture. Apparently P-Chops is sourcing some local dairy and this is good. But why did you have to change your store brand labels? I was very comfortable with the old one.

Besides the milk label situation the Slingerlands-Chops is in the process of remodeling and has moved shit all over creation. I was looking for my favorite Wasa Crispbreads the other week and damned if it didn't take me the better part of a half hour to find them.

I understand that the ShopRite juggernaut may have the Price Chopper management running scared but they must not fall into a reactionary bonanza of change. Do you want to know why all of us folks around these parts are loyal to you Price Chopper? Do you? DO YOU? It is because we are a folk that appreciate our traditions and are willing to ignore warts in exchange for pleasant embrace of unchanging continuity.

Sigh, I am sounding more and more like a crotchety old codger aren't I? Can't help it and there are worse things than being a traditional Upstate New York cranky old man.

Now, get off my lawn!


I just discovered the whole "advertise products" thing in blogger. I think this is an opportunity for humor. Expect me to advertise silly things.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

First Harvest From My 3 Plant Tomato Plantation

I harvested the first 5 tomaters from my plants today. These aren't quite as ripe as I would like, but my meager garden is currently being ravaged by some manner of yard beasty -- most likely a dear. The first tomato that went red disappeared mysteriously the other night... I thought I would be safe and grab the rest of the ripening fruit off a bit early.

I also have about 8 hot pepper plants that are laden with some nice hot bastards. I hope whichever foul ungulate that is taking liberties with my produce takes a bite of one of those. I actually had the pleasure of watching a deer get into a pepper patch once (long story) and it is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Anyhow, maybe tonight I will sit out on my porch and admire the neat brown grass (mine is actually holding up, crabgrass excepted). Seriously though, rain Gods why have you forsaken us? I need to keep my insignificant patch of scrubby suburban lawn lush and green. This is very important I think...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mr. Dave's Homemade Charcuterie Selection

Now that I have a big ol' creepy and dank basement I have been continuing my adventures in home dry curing (along with my usual general sausage making and other meaty pursuits). I seem to be having a bit more success as of late (there have been assorted disasters in the past). So when some dear friends were having a little party that required some snacks I thought I would lay down a portion of my accumulating projects. 

As a side note, all of this stuff is made from your average supermarket meats. Although I think I have progressed from hack hobbyist to journeyman producer of dry-cured meat, I still am a bit wary of practicing my craft on high test meat. I would feel pretty bad if I had to bin a 5 pound batch of off salami made out of local, pastured, heritage pork. Once I have total confidence in my abilities I intend to move on to "happy" Upstate New York meat and distribute the fruits of my labor to friends and associates as a sort of public service. Wouldn't it be nice to have a little pocket of indigenous charcuterie production? I have a mind to develop a local salami variety as well. Upstate NY does excellent pork and beef. We also have excellent garlic but I am not sure what spices really express our homeland... Any suggestions? Maybe some Utica Grind red pepper...

In any event I thought I would give a bit of a run down here of the stuff I have been working on as I know everyone likes an occasional dosage of gratuitous charcuterie porn. 

First we have the all beef summer sausage that I previously posted about. Not a dry cured item, but still tasty and I thought I would throw it on the platter.

Here are some small soppressatas. These are all pork (shoulder and belly) seasoned with red pepper, garlic, peppercorns, and wine. I used Bactoferm F-LC for the culture in all the items here as it is a good general use sort of product.

I was very pleased with these little chubs. They had nice meat/fat definition, a good coloring, and just enough tang and heat. This is probably the sausage I am most pleased with.

Here we have a Polish type salami flavored with some mustard seeds and marjoram. This was probably my least favorite. The texture was a bit off. I attribute this to a relatively low fat to meat ratio. Also, this was made from the contents of my "trim bag," i.e. the bag i keep in my freezer to toss in all the odd bits and ends I hack from various meats on an ongoing basis. It wasn't bad, just not my favorite.

I really liked the below pictured guy. This is a mixed pork/beef small diameter salami flavored with fresh ground coriander and mace. I made about 5 foot and a half lengths of this stuff and I am excited to have so much. This is a quintessential "cheese and crackers" salami as well as being a good portable snacking sausage.

Next I have my all-beef (brisket) snack sticks that I call "Slim Davids." These are aggressively spiced with red pepper and cayenne and not much else (some garlic and wine too). The Slim Davids seemed to be a crowd favorite with my friends.

Very good meat/fat definition in these little guys too.

Nothing better than a giant platter of salami, is there? I was happy to be able to provide such a bounty of salty meat to my friends.

I always like to take a picture of the "meat table." You can also see a very attractive country pate that a friend brought. Also, Meatloafy the Whale is lurking in the background (right next to my friends sweet red 70s shorts).

Anyhow, I will continue to update with dispatches concerning my meaty experiments.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Meatloafy the Whale

So I have a friend who is a great aficionado of Carvel's "Fudgie the Whale" ice cream cakes. Upon his request this friend's wife is purchasing an F. Whale for his b-day soiree. Regrettably I will be unable to attend on the scheduled date. As these particular friends are very social and gracious hosts it just so happened that they were having a small gathering this very weekend. I decided to deliver a little whale shaped food product of my own to make up for missing the b-day festivities. Hence, "Meatloafy the Whale" was born.

I began with two baking pans full of my standard meatloaf mix. I used 4 lbs ground chuck, 1 loaf sandwich bread (crusts cut off, soaked in milk), 5 eggs, a hearty squirt of ketchup/mustard/bbq sauce, onion, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, and about a cup of store bought bread crumbs. I spread the meat into baking pans to about an inch and a half thickness and besmeared with ketchup and bbq sauce. Into the oven at 350 they went for an hour.

I made a couple "Fudgie the Whale" shaped cutouts out of some sturdy paper. I was quite impressed with my whale-cake shape sketching ability.

I cut around the edges of the cutout and removed the tasty meatloaf trimmings (for sammitches). I was left with two beautiful loaf-whales (I confess to giggling at my own food-wit like an idiot at this point).

I carefully flipped a whale half onto a sheet of greased aluminum. To simulate Carvel's trademark chocolate "crunchies" I used bacon bits (what else?) glued on with some of my homemade mustard bbq sauce.

I flipped the other half on top. I made sure the bottom was up so that I would have a flat surface to decorate. If you are wondering about the odd skin-like surface of the whale-loaf this is due to my anti-sticking measure of greasing the pan and coating with bread crumbs. You end up with a weird greasy bread layer but you usually have zero sticking.

Anyhow, I used mashed tatties as the frosting about the edges.

Next I piped on some mashed tattie florets.

Finally, I covered the top with some dark bbq sauce to simulate the "fudge" and then piped on a tater face. I crushed up some potato chips and pressed them into the sides to simulate the nuts on an F. Whale.

There you have it folks, "Meatloafy the Whale."

I think Meatloafy was a big hit. Everyone likes meat and whimsy and I think the idea of a meat-whale tickled the child-like fancies of many of those present at the gathering. I make pretty good meatloaf too so the loaf-whale was more then mere eye candy.

Here is Meatloafy the Whale after first blood was drawn from his blubbery midsection.

And here is the mighty meat-cetacean after my pack of shark-like friends had at him. Only Meatloafy's jaunty expression was left unscathed by the feeding frenzy.

Anyhow, I haven't posted one of my weirdo food experiments in quite some time so I hope you enjoyed this. If it is wrong for a 32 year old grown-ass man to be mucking about in his kitchen making meat-whales for his friends, well... then I just don't want to be right.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Another Indigenous Upstate NY Cookbook: "Applehood & Motherpie"

I have a thing for Upstate NY-centric cookbooks. So far I have two. If you will remember I posted about "The Albany Collection" some time ago (it was fairly strange and wonderful). Now I have obtained a copy of "Applehood & Motherpie" which is a collection of "handpicked recipes from Upstate New York" and was published by the Junior League of Rochester in 1981.

I immediately began to inspect every aspect of this tome with great interest. First of all I find the title extremely upsetting. "Motherpie?" Really?... I am not going to explore my feelings and suppositions concerning this term but needless to say, it makes me feel creepy.

A surprisingly ingenious feature of this book (binder) is that the cover sort of folds down to become a nifty little stand.

Here is the rearview. I was pretty excited about this feature and dragged the wife into the kitchen to marvel at it. For some reason, she was not as impressed as me. She tries not to encourage my strange fancies.

Here is something I should have known but never did from the book's introduction. New York is the country's largest producer of cabbage. You learn something new everyday.

I began to believe that "Applehood and Motherpie" may be controlled by some powerful Rochester cabbage cartel. Look at the middle names of the Recipe Chairman and Editor. Kapusta is a Slavic word for cabbage, and Kole (kohl is a German one. A hidden message?

Anyhow, as is always the case with these sorts of books they don't really highlight truly indigenous recipes of the region. In "Applehood and Motherpie" we have more of a collection of old family standbys and you kind of have to dig through this volume for the gems. If for nothing else I enjoyed reading these recipes for the terse little descriptions they include. Look at the one for the 3 ingredient "Pepperoni Dip."

"Men especially like this."
There were a couple of good ol' timey sausage making tips hidden within a couple of recipes. I already spoke about how I gleaned some good tips from this summer sausage recipe (kneading meat for 3 days, only cooking to 140).

Also, this is kind of a neat recipe for a stripped down Polish sausage. It as an all pork affair flavored with only garlic and pepper. The part I liked about the recipe is how it includes instructions on how to stuff the casings with a "sawed off top of an old beverage bottle." This seems a pretty good solution in the absence of a purpose build sausage stuffer. I always appreciate these pearls of wisdom from the Grandmas.

I think I am going to prepare the following recipe with some Genny. Possibly Genny Cream Ale, but I don't know if I can live at that speed. Hopefully this addition will not incite a thunderous bout of the Genny Screamers.

The strangest recipe I found so far is for "people seed." It is a mixture of seeds, nuts, popcorn, dried fruit, chinese noodles, chocolate chips, and pretzels. Why is it called "people seed?" Why?

Anyhow, I will keep digging through the book to see if there is any further wisdom buried among the pages. I will let you know if I find anything.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Is it a Sin to State That I Enjoy Soggy Fries?

The Mr. Dave family has a small and infrequent tradition of going to Five Guys to share one small order of fries. My darling daughter Giblet, whose darling little mitt is in the picture (she would ask that you note and appreciate the lady bug motif of her nail polish), is a great connoisseur of the French fried tattie. Even the intrepid 9 month old Mr. Dave Jr. gets in on the party and gnaws on a fry or two with his wee nubbin teefs. Mrs. Dave and I mostly just sit there and grin at the wondrous progeny that we have brought fourth into this world, but we have been known to enjoy a few Five Guys fries ourselves.

Here is the deal. I have a very strong childhood taste memory of French fries that is tied to Jack Diner in Albany (I have spoken of this before). My Dad would get me an order of fries to go from Jack's (this is in the late eighties). They came in a paper bag and I remember watching the grease stains grow on the brown paper bag just like what happens at Five Guys.

The fries from Jack's were crinkle cut and greasy in a sublime sort of way, I have really never found a good replacement. I haven't been to Jacks in at least 20 years so they could still be just as good for all I know (I doubt it). 

Here is the rub though. I like soggy fries. There is a glorious 2 to 3 minute window when freshly fried French fries that have steamed themselves inside of a brown paper bag have become one of the true culinary delights known to man, all unctuous and soft. Miss the window and the fries become horrible and limp, eat too early and they are all "crispy." I never understood the obsession with "crispy" French fries. There should be some crispy edges, to be sure, but I revel in the properly soggy bits.

Anyhow, this blathering was spurred by a review I read of the "best" restaurant French fries that annoyingly held "crispness" as the deciding factor for judging. I can't remember where I read it right now... 

Smokey Summer Sausage

Yesterday I posted about my sweet smoking set up. I got a request for delivery on some photos of the sausage I mentioned that I was smoking, I thought I would oblige.

I made some beef summer sausage according to a recipe I found in a cookbook of "selected Upstate New York recipes" published by the Junior League of Rochester some time ago (I am going to post about this book in the near future, it is full of gems). It is a fairly standard recipe as far as seasoning goes (mustard seed, allspice, coriander, cayenne, black pepper) but there are a couple solid pieces of methodology to be gleaned from the instructions.

First of all, it tells you to put the meat mixture into the fridge and knead once daily for three days. This is a tip that I have used in the past and it is essential for the final texture of the summer sausage. I am surprised at how many recipes out there do not contain this step.

A second deviation from the norm is that the recipe calls for a final internal temperature of only 140 degrees. Most more modern recipes call for 152-156 degrees. I find that taking all beef summer sausage up into the 150s makes for a somewhat drier end product. To tell you the truth, I find most "safe" cooking temps to be a bit too conservative. As long as you are dealing with a fresh whole muscle  (5 pounds of chuck steak in this case) from a reputable source, and you grind it yourself, I see no problem in only cooking into the 140s. I would never make sausage with store bought ground meat, but if you do for some strange and terrible reason then it is probably best to cook to a higher temp.

I stuffed the 5 pounds of meat into 2 and 3/8" collagen casings (I made 3 chubs) and hickory smoked at 125 for 4 hours, then increased the temp. to 165 and cooked to an internal temp. of 140 as advised in the recipe.

After hosing the stuff down to 120 I dried it off and put it into the fridge. I like to wrap the chubs in paper towels and keep them in the vegetable drawer in the fridge for about a week before eating. If you do this the sausages dry out a bit and assume a nicer, firmer texture. But curiosity got the better of me an I sliced into one of them this morning.

I think these summer sausages were perfectly cooked and seasoned. Just enough hickory flavor too. Just look! There is no better feeling than when something like this comes out just how you wanted. I feel like a craftsman.


I was thoroughly satisfied by this batch of sausage. I will be munching on it with Giblet (the kid who eats nothing inexplicably devours all types of salami in shocking quantities) for months to come.

I have another "charcuterie porn" post in the queue and will probably post it later in the week. I put up 5 different types of dry-cured salami ever since moving into my new house (with its creepy, musty basement) and they have all been fairly successful.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Smoking My Sausage

I have made no secret of my love for smokey meats. After years of consuming 3rd party smokey meats and begging friends to use their smokers for my projects, I decided to invest in my own smoking rig.

After a bit of research I purchased the Bradley Electric smoker. This is actually the smoker that Ruhlman recommends  in his Charcuterie book (which I am not absolutely in love with, but own and have used). The Bradley product is an electric smoker that utilizes little proprietary hockeypuck looking things to generate smoke. Each puck provides somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes of smoke and are a bit expensive but I appreciate the convenience.

Bradley offers "digital" models that supposedly give you accurate readings on the internal temperature of the smoker. I have heard their accuracy is dubious at best so I forwent the additional expense of the digital model and sunk my money into an Auber Instruments Dual Probe Temperature controller.

This beautiful little apparatus (I am in love with the thing) has one probe that goes into the smoker and controls the temperature (by shutting the heating element on and off) within 1 degree of accuracy. The second probe is for the meat and is likewise-ly accurate. The thing has six programmable steps by time or internal temp, i.e. you can do something like -- Step 1: hold at 120 degrees for four hours, Step 2: hold at 165 degrees until the internal temperature of the meat is 152. You can set the thing and walk away. You need not do any of the obsessive hovering that is necessary with more traditional smoking methods.

Auber Instruments also sells a similar unit that can control a jury rigged sous-vide rig and I am pretty sure it is this unit with a couple different probes. I think I might attempt to repurpose my model for this task in the future, we shall see if I get to that as I am getting increasingly busy (lazy) in my old age.

Also, the little box that the temperature controller is sitting on is a piece of the Bradley cold smoke adapter which I also purchased (my wife would hit me so hard if she knew how much all of this cost). As the heating element that creates the smoke makes it difficult to keep this smoker under 130-140 in warm weather, the cold smoke adapter moves the heating element out of the main box so you can do fish, cheese, stuff you are going to dry-cure, etc...

In my opinion, the rig I have assembled (electric smoker, cold smoke adapter, temperature controller) is pretty much the pinnacle of what a home smoking enthusiast (who is not a millionaire) can create for modest household production of smokey meats. I have had great success with this set up and would recommend it to anyone interested in the smokey arts.

At this moment I am waiting for 3 big chubs of all beef summer sausage to come up to temp. I am using an old recipe I found in an "Upstate New York" cookbook I found (published by a women's church group I think). It advises a final internal temp of 140 which is much less then the current 152-156 you see in most modern recipes. But humbug, I am going with it. We have become a bunch of sissies and worry-warts these days. I trust our grandmas. I will let you know how it turns out.
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