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.

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.
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