Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Brunch at Wolff's Biergarten. Unexpected Family Fun.

So, a friend of mine (who I don't see that much anymore) was in town for the weekend and had decided to go to Wolff's Biergarten to watch some soccer and make merry. The missus and I very much wanted to drop in, but we had to face the general decision process that any parents of small 'uns (we have a 5 month old and 3 year old) have to go through before going pretty much anywhere. Will there be drunken lunatics present who may or may not huck a beer stein in our general direction? Will an out of control Bro-fest break out into violence? You know, that kind of stuff... 

Anyhow, we saw the offer on the menu for free pancakes for children under 12 who wear soccer jerseys to Sunday Brunch and figured if we went early enough (11:30 AM) the crowd would be relatively mellow.

Upon arriving, the wife and I were happy to find 3 or 4 other families with babes in tow. The Sunday Brunch crowd seemed very mature and sedate and my father's danger-predicting Spidey sense did not tingle much at all. Very much relieved I ordered up a liter of Pilsner Urquell.

A friend of mine was already eating an order of Currywurst which is one of my favorites. He let me have a bite. The currywurst sauce at Wolff's is pretty good, I only feel that there should be a bit more. I would like the sausages to be swimming in the stuff and at least a few of the fries to be all sauce sodden and soaked. That is just a personal preference.

My 3 year old demanded french fries and I obliged.

I had the "Wolff's Wurst Breakfast Plate" with the Weisswurst. This comes with two sausages, 3 potato pancakes, and some scrambled eggs. I am a sucker for Weisswurst, these links were pretty good examples. The scrambled eggs had some tasty fines herbes going on in them and the texture was surprisingly creamy.

On the subject of the potato cakes, don't get me wrong I think they are OK. The only problem I have is that they have that sort fishy taste that comes from too high heat applied to certain cooking oils (probably Canola).

Anyhow, my biggest takeaway from Sunday brunch service at Wolff's is that it is surprisingly family friendly. It is so hard to find a place that isn't a lame "family style" eatery where you won't get looked at like you have two heads for bringing along the little ones. Having a place that is fairly casual where I can have a good beer and the daughter can stomp on a peanut or two without causing too much upset is  greatly appreciated. I will probably drag my herd of four in again for a beer and sausages for a Sunday brunch or two in the future.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fin, Your Fishmonger (We Have A Fishmonger and No One Told Me?)

So I was merrily driving up Delaware Ave. in Delmar this morning when what did I spy in the parking lot of Phillip's Hardware? A fishmonger that's what! I didn't know we had a fishmonger and this is truly exciting news. Here we have Fin (Your Fishmonger) who had set up a little kiosk of the sort you might see at any of our local farmer's markets right there in the parking lot.

From my brief conversation with the extremely friendly and informative proprietors I gathered that Fins is a fairly new operation based out of Altamont.  They obtain fresh, never frozen, (aside from some of the shellfish) sustainable seafood from the Boston pier on a weekly basis and sell it out of their wee tent in a couple of area locations (Phillip's Hardware in Delmar and Con-Rel Auto Electric in Guilderland). They put their hours and weekly price sheets up on their website. You can even add yourself to their mailing list to receive weekly updates.

I can not think of a business or a business model that I can more heartily endorse. I wanted to hug the people at Fin's and tell them that they are my hope for the future. I decided right there to make a point of supporting this concept with my greenbacks. I have been saying that I need to eat more seafood and there is nowhere else that I have found around these parts where I would rather get it. I even like their brown paper bags with the neat little logo sticker on 'em.

Oh yeah before I forget, here is this week's price sheet for your perusing pleasure.

On the recommendation of the lady and gent working the stand I decided to get a nice filet of golden tilefish. I also picked up a few shrimp and a quartet of shrimp cakes (for the Missus, she is a shrimp maniac). Along with each choice I got some helpful tips for preparation (the tilefish tends to have a bone or two, make sure the shrimp cakes are cold when you cook them or they might fall apart a bit) which I thought was a nice touch.

Anyhow, as I am now a naturalized Delmarvonian (I don't like the term "Delmartion") I am absolutely tickled pink to have Fin's right up the Ave. from me every weekend. I am going to make the place a stop on my regular weekend shopping rounds. It is truly exciting news to have a local, sustainable, knowledgeably staffed seafood vender.

Suffice it to say I think that Fin's will generate enough interest and buzz around the region without needing me to write posts about it on my hack blog. But in any event, I am beseeching you to help me keep this resource available (to me and to you). Head to Fin's next weekend with fist fulls of cash, buy many good and tasty things, and gorge your self on the fruits of the sea.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Checking in on Good Ol' Mr. Subb

Do you ever go to Mr. Subb? I am by no means a regular but I get a nostalgic urge to go about once every 6 months or so. Just to see how they are getting along. If you don't know, Mr. Subb is our indigenous Capital Region "subb" chain. It is the heir to the fabled Mike's NEBA (or NEBA-Mike's to some) dynasty that departed from our lands some time ago.

Both Mike's NEBA and Mr. Subb were fixtures of my childhood. During my early years in Albany I had many a summer's day Slushy at the Central and Colvin Mike's NEBA location. Later on in life the Mr. Subb on Western Ave. in Guilderland was on the way home from school/sports practices. My Ma would often grab me a sarny for dinner. I think I used to be a fan of ham and cheese and I remember that Mr. Subb used to do that weird thing where they would chop a wedge of bread out of the roll and pack the meat cheese in the slit. Anyhow, when I pop in now as a wizened 30 something I am often flooded with pleasant thoughts and images of simpler days and I think that is what keeps me as a sporadic customer.

I am of the opinion that Mr. Subb often gets lumped together in people's minds with Subway (or the like) and I do not think is necessarily a fair comparison. Given, Mr. Subb is a bit dowdy and plain (but aren't we all a bit dowdy and plain around these parts? Especially during February? In a charming sort of way?), but their product is a bit of a cut above what you would expect, me thinks.

In case you haven't noticed -- I am a man of honor and tradition. I order NEBAs and not much else. A NEBA is one of our local takes on the jus cooked roast beef/bread product theme. It consists of a roll, jus cooked roast beef, and horsey sauce (horseradish mayonaise). Fairly simple in concept but if done right the NEBA can be a wonderful amalgam of flavors and textures. Let us examine the elements of this particular sandwich.

First off, the bun is good. Probably the best part of the sandwich. It is your standard workaday split-top  white bun, but it has been pleasantly crispy-ed up all around. Both the cut surfaces and the domed top have a bit of crunch and color to them. The way that the crispy bottom bun gives into the absorbed jus is probably the most magical element of a NEBA. This is usually nicely done.

Next let us consider the horsey sauce.

I was pleasantly surprised with the sauce on this particular sandwich. There was a plentiful squirt on top of the beef and when I took a bite I was shocked. There was an aggressive, nostril clearing amount of horseradish going on in that sauce! I loved it. You are so used to the milquetoast, fatty blandness of most chain-shop sarnies. The fact that this NEBA had actual flavor made me very happy.

As for the beef, Mr. Subb starts out with a good product. They use NY State National brand roast beef made by Old World Provisions (the company that runs Helmbold's now). The thing is, they often do it a bit of an injustice. Most times the beef comes out fairly flavorful, but uniformly grey. I think you want a bit of rareness in the center of your sandwich, and I have actually had Mr. Subb NEBAs that have been about as good as they can be (all things considered), but I think it depends on the day/sandwich artiste. In any event, I never outright regret eating a NEBA. A bad NEBA is better than anything on the wretched Subway menu. That is for damn sure. What's more, if you are looking for a "beef n' cheddar" type sandwich, than the cheese NEBA absolutely beats the pants off of anything you would get at Arby's (the legend is actually that NEBA stands for "Never Ever Buy Arby's").

So if you have written off Mr. Subb as just another insipid downmarket sandwich joint, maybe give them a try. Go have a NEBA and see what you think. If you are a crusty old area local like myself it just may jog some pleasant childhood memories. If not, do it just to acquaint yourself with a shadow of what used to be. To tell you the truth, I am no business man, but I think if the Mr. Subb proprietors figured out a way to resurrect Mike's NEBA as it exists in my memory (both the restaurants and the eponymous sandwich), and if they did it just right... I think they would make a killing. At very least I would be there with bells on.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Annual Visit to the Minty Altar of Uncle O'Grimacey (Shamrock Shake)

Annum 2010
Annum 2011
Annum 2012

I had my annual Shamrock Shake from McDonald's today. It makes me feel sort of weird and old that this is the third consecutive shake that I have shared on the ol' blog. Hopefully I am not turning into weird, old, food-blog guy yet -- I am only closing in on 32.

Anyhow, apparently the big news this year is that the sweet nectar of Uncle O'Grimacey has gone "nationwide." I never even realized that the Shamrock Shake was not previously available everywhere. You learn something new everyday.

I have noticed that there tend to be small changes in the flavor/presentation of the shake from year to year so I thought I would begin to document them here.

As I stated in my 2011 post, I was a bit perturbed  when McD's made the switch to the clear plastic, dome lidded cup and they have stuck with that decision this year. I prefer to take my shakes out of waxed paper thank you very much. We still have the whipped cream, but no cherry this time(good, I hate cherries). The color seemed less aggressively green this annum, and I feel like the flavor was a bit minty-er and slightly less sweet. Maybe I am just imagining these changes, anyone else out there pay as much attention to the Shamrock Shake issue as do I? Can you confirm or refute

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hot Dog Dip

When you find yourself with a surplus of hot dogs, this is my suggestion for coping with the situation.

First, put a bit of color on your dogs (about a pack's worth, whatever that means to you). Nothing extreme, just a bit of brown. Throw some chopped garlic in towards the end to sweat a bit too.

Chop your dogs into manageable pieces and throw them into a blender with 1 cup cream cheese (I used Bruegger's Jalapeno), 1/3 cup mayo (usually puke in my mouth at the thought of mayo, but I find it necessary in "dips"), 1/4 cup Coleman's English, 1 cup aged NY Cheddar, some Paprika, and pepper.

Let that go until you have nigh a paste. The end product looks a bit like potted meat, doesn't it?

Top with additional shredded cheddar (Aged, NY. Best Cheddar in the Nation) and some fine slivers of a red Cherry pepper (from the jar).

Bake this at 350 until it is all bubbly like and heated through. Enjoy as you would any other "creamy dip," i.e. with chips, on crackers, or on top of other hot dogs. This recipe kind of "sounds gross," but if you do it right it is surprisingly good.

Anyhow, it has a sort of 1950's retro-kitsch if nothing else. You should try it. I will say that the quality of the hot dogs is the key player here, if you use shit hot dogs (Ballpark, etc...), your dip will suck too. Pony up for some quality tube steaks if you are going to attempt this recipe.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Meat Sauce

So this is where we are at with my from scratch Capital Region Style mini-Hot Dog with Meat Sauce Project-

Step 1:      3" Capital Region Style Hot Dog...... Check.
Step 2:      Little Hot Dog Buns....... Check.
Step 3:      Meat Sauce....  Check.

Yeah, so I made my meat sauce today. About 2.5 lbs. of ground sirloin, 3 medium onions, 2 tblspns. paprika, bit of chili powder/coriander/cumin/cayenne/thyme/cinnamon, garlic, salt/pepper, some brown sugar, and a new addition this time. A bit unorthodox, but what the hell, I used a hearty scoop of doubanjiang and a splash of black vinegar. I think this will add a little heat and flavor without making the meat sauce taste too "Asian." 


For technique, I like to fry the beef and onions together (in butter and oil) then dump in all the spices to cook a bit, throw in water to cover and let simmer for an hour or two. Guess what else? This time I threw a couple tablespoons of tomato paste in there (this is very un-traditional and not something I would usually stand for, but I am being experimental), not enough to add any discernable tomato-y flavors,  mostly just for body and color.

I am taking some departures from my usual recipe here, but I still think I ended up with a good result. I may have overdone the cinnamon a bit, the correct amount of cinnamon is the most elusive element of a Capital Region style hot dog meat sauce, I always screw it up. But I still really like this batch.

Tomorrow we shall assemble the final product and deal with the mustard situation. I have made missteps with every part of this process, but I still predict a decent end result. We shall see.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Feel My Buns

As you know, I have been on a mission to home-produce all components of a 3" mini-hot dog w/ meat sauce (from scratch). I had a few critiques of my hot dog recipe/method, you can read about that here

Anyhow, my next step was to make the buns. I took a few liberties with this recipe, i.e. this is probably not the type of bun you are going to get at any of the local joints. I used an egg and some butter in the dough to give just a hint of brioche-esque-ness (recipe is something like: 3 cup bread flour, 1/4 cup non-fat milk powder, 1/4 cup potato flakes, 2 tablespoons soft butter, 1 egg, salt, 1 cup, give or take, non-fat milk).

After the initial rise, I shaped the dough in sa couple of ways to form buns. I rolled some out flat and used a pizza cutter to make rectangles. I also rolled some little balls, flattened them, folded them in half, and shaped into little cigars (the rolls in the foreground). 

The little cigar shaped guys turned out the best I think. They were pillowy soft and the crumb was just right too. Letting the buns rise against each other is essential for height and flat, crustless sides.

I am pleased with these buns. I think that they will work well. As I said with the hot dogs, I am honing in on exactly how I want this project to turn out. I don't think this iteration is going to be perfect, but next time I attempt this process I think I will have it down to a science. I may have to open up my own hot dog restaurant for Pete's sake.

Tomorrow, the meat sauce!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Monday Morning Quarterbacking My Homemade Dinky Dogs

If you will remember my last post, I have embarked on a mission to home-produce the indigenous 3" hot dog of our beloved home region. I am not too small of a man to see when I make some small mistakes, so here I will sharp shoot my own sausage making skills. I thought I would share a bit of constructive self-criticism that I came up with after frying up a couple of the little bastards last night.

Fist of all, I experimented with 21mm smoked collagen casings in this batch. For hot dogs, I would not do this again. There is just something about a natural casing that is necessary with this type of hot dog, I will use sheep casings next time. Plus, I used a pseudo-steaming method to cook the dogs and I didn't like how the casings reacted. I will say that steaming was not my preferred method of cooking, I would have liked to have done them in a smoker, but circumstances would not allow that this time. I ended up removing the casings from most of the dogs, leaving me with what is in effect, a skinless hot dog. Not my ideal end result.

As far as flavor, I would have added just a touch more salt. 2 tablespoons instead of 1.5 for 4 pounds would do I think. I don't know why I was conservative with salt, maybe I just figured my ratios wrong... As far as texture goes, these were about right. I think I like the food processor emulsification better than the stand mixer method (which I used this time, it is recommended by Ruhlman). The food processor method makes for a lighter hot dog in my opinion.

All in all, I will chalk this up as a success. Although I did not achieve precisely what I wanted, I think that I honed in far enough to be able to achieve what I want in the next iteration. As always, sausage making is a learning process and trial and error is the best way to progress. Now my mind is turning to the second most important component, the meat sauce. I have a few new ideas and iterations that veer from my classic recipe, I think they will be successful.
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