Thursday, December 26, 2013

6 With the Works at Home (Capital Region Style Mini-Dogs)

So I bought a Kilcoyne Farms strip loin from Adventure in Food for a get together I am attending in a couple of days. I defrosted the beef and trimmed it down as I like to sort of "dry age" beef roasts in the fridge for a while before cooking. The cut of the strip loin was a bit funny... There was really no fat cap to speak of and there was a large-ish hunk of chain meat attached (if it was meant to be denuded it's funny that the chain was there). I like big presentation proteins to look sort of neat so I trimmed off the chain and some other bits and pieces. I was left with about 1 pound of fatty trim.

I took this as an opportunity to practice my Capital Region style mini-hot dog making. I have tried before with modest success but there is always room for improvement in the the sausage-y arts. I went all beef stuffed into lamb middles this time. I used the recipe for all beef skinless franks from Len Poli's site as a base (I made some additions and subtractions). 

If you are going to make the mini hot dogs, then why stop there? I took the further step of collecting the ingredients for a full-on batch of dogs with "the Works" (onions, meat sauce, mustard).

I ground the meat (prob. about a 65/35 meat to fat ration) through a fine plate twice. At the end of the second grind I sent through a handful of ice cubes for added moisture and to keep the paste cold. I mix it in my KitchenAide at high speed for a couple minutes to emulsify. 

I stuffed the paste into the lamb middles and tied into about 3" links.

After resting the hot dogs in the fridge overnight I poached them in 170 degree water until they were about 145-150 degrees internal temp. I wasn't going to drag the smoker out for just a pound of dogs... To compensate for the lack of smoking I added liquid smoke to the meat paste. A lot of people feel all guilty about doing this, but as long as you buy a quality brand of liquid smoke (ingredients should be something like "water and smoke") it is a completely viable way of adding smoke flavor. Heck, smoked salt is all the rage these days (I've been making it for years) and that ain't much different in concept.

Poaching lends a rather unattractive color to the surface of the hot dogs (grayish) but the insides were all nice and pink and hot dog-like!

I didn't have the time nor the inclination to attempt to bake my own buns so I picked up some mini-rolls (from Perotta's Bakery in Troy) at Hannafords.

I have repeatedly tried to refine my Capital Region style hot dog chili sauce with moderate to limited success. I am starting to think I am running into a sort of ketchup situation, i.e. making it at home is more expensive, time consuming, and will never turn out quite as good as just picking some up from Famous Lunch or buying the Hot Dog Charlie's stuff at the market. I think my main problem is not using enough celery salt and mustard powder. Getting the vinegar-y punch right has troubled me as well...

This time I just picked up a jar of Charlie's sauce.

I sautéed up some of my dogs along with a mess of white onion.

To assemble my 6 with the works -- I like to use a standard spicy brown mustard applied to the bun thusly.

Mini-dog comes next with a smattering of onion.

Then the red hued sauce bequeathed upon us by the gods of hot dogs is applied.

And here she is.

I'm pretty damn proud of my self. The actual hot dogs turned out very tasty. My hot dog making method is actually starting to result in an acceptable texture. These were light, fluffy, and snappy with a very good flavor. This mess of hot dogs with the works was probably about as good as it gets for homemade. Not quite as good as an order of Famous' or Charlies' but pretty damn close.

I am a hot dog wizard. Tremble in fear of my hot dog skills.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Albany Xmas Minor Miracle (A Repost)

For the past couple of years I have tried to come up with a sappy Christmas post concerning my memories of Albany Christmas' past... But this year I can't think of a good story. But isn't Christmas-time really a time for the retelling of old stories? So I thought I would re-share this minor miracle from my childhood in Albany. I originally posted this back in 2011 --

Have you been to Ragonese Imports over on New Scotland? Well I haven't, at least not in about 20 years. I hear it still has good food, but that is not where I am going with this post. This is a little holiday story from my family history that came to mind last night. I thought I would share. I don't feel I am too off topic here because it is the holidays, Ragonese has food, and the story takes place in Albany. I trust you won't mind this short little sentimental trip into my murky past.

Ragonese has always been one of my Albany childhood landmarks as it was right near my elementary school (School 19, I don't know what all they are calling the place now). That was also the neighborhood that I grew up in. As with most other children, I wasn't too interested in Italian specialties back then. My parents used to go in from time to time for a sandwich or cold cuts. My father has always enjoyed good food.

Do you remember the Cabbage Patch doll(many were produced in Upstate, NYdon't you know?) craze of the mid-eighties? Albany was hit every bit as hard as the rest of the nation and my older sister caught an itch for one in the worst way. My mother took upon the mission of obtaining one of the plastic-noggined things with a sort of grim determination.

I have a fairly vivid memory of being toted along to Toy"R"Us over on Wolf Road with my Ma and standing in a hectic line waiting. But alas, we were not among the lucky chosen. The dolls were all gone. Leaving the store, I am sure my mother felt a disappointment that I only now understand as I have a darling daughter of my own.

Some days later, as my mother tells it, she stopped into Ragonese for some cold cuts and as she came to the counter to pay do you know what she saw? Several true blue Cabbage Patch dolls sitting on a shelf in their boxes, for sale, right there in the middle of a local, independent Italian deli. This was at a time when you could absolutely not find the dolls anywhere. Of course she purchased one along with her salami and cappicola and it must have warmed her heart to know that she would not have to let my sister down on Christmas morning. Nobody has ever been able to explain to me how or why the Cabbage Patch dolls were at Ragonese Imports, maybe it is a question that shouldn't be asked.

So there you have it folks. A little ol' Albany Christmas miracle from my family history. So when you are muscling through the hordes of humanity at the mall and exiting into the bleakness of an Upstate winter day this year, when you are fighting traffic on a road lined with piles of dirty snow, always remember that there are still tiny miracles out there in the world. You just have to recognize them, put them in your pocket, and take them with you throughout your life.

By the way, I know it is horribly commercial of me, but I may or may not have bought an absurd amount of presents for my little ones this year. I know that these are tough times and I should be saving my money (or giving it to someone who needs it more), but there are tiny faces in my household that simply must have ear to ear smiles on them (at any price).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

'Nduja Butter Croissants. I Didn't Think It Would Work But It Did.

Some time ago I made a large chub of what I called "'Ndjutica." You can read all about that here. The 'Ndjutica was my take on the traditional Italian 'Nduja that substituted Utica grind red pepper for the Calabrian red pepper. I ate most of my 'nduja straight but some of it went into a rolled compound butter sort of thing.

I recently got a new fridge/freezer and when I was cleaning out my old one I found a nice size chunk of the 'nduja butter lurking in the back. The stuff was well wrapped but probably at the very very end of its usability time frame so I wanted to think of a way to use it up promptly in one shot.

I started thinking about croissants. 'Nduja has a very high fat content so I thought the compound butter might just work for croissants... I decided to proceed with the experiment. 

I won't burden you with the specific techniques of croissant making. I use a fairly standard recipe and should you be interested, that is what the googles are for

I started with the yeast dough.

Flattened the remaining 'Ndjutica butter into a rough square. I wasn't really too anal with shaping/squaring everything because I really didn't figure these would turn out too well.

Mmmm.... Doughy fat block.

Here she is after the first fold... Not very appetizing to the eye. Sort of looked like what I imagine a fresh zombie thigh would look like. Either that or a really horrible bruise after it has faded a bit.

Anyhow, after all of the requisite chillings and foldings I was surprised at how little the meaty paste affected the texture of the dough. I wouldn't have know there was anything but butter in there except for the color.

I cut the dough to make smallish croissants.

Rolled and proofed for 45 minutes in a cozy spot. I threw on an egg wash before baking.

Into a convection over for 15 at 400 degrees and then 350 for a further 15 minutes.

I was very surprised at the end result of my little experiment. The croissants looked perfectly normal. They were a nice crusty brown with nice definition between the layers. Except for the tiny red flecks you would not know that anything was outside of the norm. I expected the 'nduja butter to run out in a greasy mess or for the croissants to ugly little fat lumps. That didn't happen... Color me surprised.

Mmmm... Nice and crusty on the outside with an airy/buttery inside. The flavor was good and spicy with the delicious and funky undertones characteristic of my 'nduja. Absolutely delicious. I polished off two while they were still warm.

This is why I indulge myself in experimenting with my (often bizarre) culinary flights of fancy. Often my idears turn out horrid, but just as often they turn out good. Who would have thought that funky meat butter would make for a tasty croissant? I would actually make these again. Too bad I am out of 'ndjutica... Shucks. I will just have to make a fresh batch.

By the way, I hear that The Cheese Traveler has 'nduja made by La Quercia out of Iowa. I hear extremely good things about La Quercia so I am going to have to go over there and get some.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Never Look a Gift Fish in the Mouth (Cold-Smoked Wild Salmon)

So I have an incredibly generous neighbor. Not so long ago he gave me quite a bit of excellent venison and now he went and gifted me the above pictured fish! That there is quite the nice looking salmon and I was extremely grateful for the gift as I have zero time for practicing the outdoor arts lately. It is not every day that someone parts with such a nice fish.

Anyhow, the fish was caught that very morning so I got right to work on it. I immediately decided to do a cured/cold-smoked salmon so I filleted it out.

When I gutted the fish I found a couple nice fat sacks of roe! I preserved the eggs according to this recipe. Salmon roe is great for eatin' as well as for using as bait to catch further salmon.

Doesn't the stuff look pretty in its wee jars? I think so.

For brining fish for cold-smoking I take a cup of salt, a 1/2 cup light brown sugar plus an additional handful or so of white sugar, a tsp of pink salt (#1), some cracked black pepper, and some juniper berries (maybe about 6). This goes into the dish with enough water to cover the fillets and not overflow. 24 to 36 hours in this brine is sufficient me thinks. You do have to make sure you soak the fillets in some clean cold water (change it a few times) for 1 to 2 hours afterwards. Taste a bit of the fish (don' be a Mary, it won't hurt you none...) during this process to see when the fish has reached a level of saltiness that is pleasant to you.

I used my Bradley electric smoker with a cold smoke box and an Auber instruments temperature controller for the smoking. I smoke at about 70 degrees (colder than many recipes which call for 100 degrees) for 6 hours which lends a nice smoky flavor that does not hide the essential fish-ness of the fish. Alder or oak are traditional for woods but I have found that pretty much any hardwood works well. Even hickory (lot of salmon smokers turn up their noses) is fine if you go easy with it.

I hacked off a bit and tasted it. It was beautiful. Just right.

I cut the smoked fish up into manageable chunks, vac bagged it, and put in the freezer for a couple days to mitigate the chances of any little nasties remaining in the fish.

I am all sorts of excited to get at some of this fish. I am going to give a bunch of this to the neighbor who was so gracious as to provide the fish but the rest is going right down my maw. I might share a bit with select individuals. Maybe.

On a side note, whenever I clean and fillet a fish I manage to leave a good amount of flesh attached to the spine, back, etc... I cure and smoke that stuff up too.

You can pick all that good meat off of there and then blend it into some cream cheese for a delicious bagel spread. Salmon rillettes is another good option. I try not to waste in situations like this.

In any event, good neighbors are a blessing. Good fish is a blessing too. It is not too often that you can take a fish from swimming one day into a finished product over the course of 3 days so I am pretty psyched to have that opportunity...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Capital Region in Aspic. It Belongs in a Museum!

So, I have pretty much covered the whole "Upstate NY" indigenous food thing, I've done sausage/charcuterie making to death, and I honestly believe people would rather not here me blabber on about restaurants and fast food any more than I already have... So what is a mid-thirties, hack-blogging, overgrown man-child to post about these days on his little-viewed corner of the internet?...

Hot dogs suspended in beer-gelatin, that's what. My blog-title does have the words "ridiculous" and "food" in it. So I have decided to go full ridiculous with this post... As exemplified by my recent meatloafery, a personal interest in food products as objets d'art seems to be increasing. Someone also took the dangerous step of putting the concept of Jell-O molded foods into my head the other day on the tweeters. This is what happens when you put ideas into my low-functioning (I am using a lot of hyphens today. I am in a hyphen-y mood...) mind. 

Anyhow, here it is. My working title was "Albany in Aspic" but it occurred to me that the products used belong more to the Capital Region at large. So I am calling this "Capital Region in Aspic."

I needed to empty my can of v1.0 Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice so I could keep the can (a work of art in its own right) for posterity. I added a bit of water to the brew for clarity.

Then I took some gelatin and geltanized up that there Brew of the Mountains as per the gelatinizing instructions on the wee packages.

Then I took a single Hot Dog Charlie's dinky dog with the works (previously frozen)...

 ... and used the dark, meat-y, unspeakable magic of the true meat-warlock to suspend that little bad boy in the beer-gel!

Then I proceeded to take many, many pictures. Because it is beautiful. This was one of the rare times I wished that I hadn't committed to only utilizing my cellphone camera to take pictures for this hacky blog. This masterpiece deserves better. But we work with what we have.

I gingerly sliced my mold in half as to partake of the beauteous cross section.

The power, the glory.

I think I am going to use the photoshops to blank out the wall and hand and stuff and make t-shirts out of this image...

Anyhow, there you have it. I know I will have some people shaking heads as they become stupefied by this nonsense. But no matter! I believe in the beauty and wonder of a true Capital Region style mini-dog suspended in the most mountainy of brews.

What exemplifies us Capital Regioners more than one of our hot dogs suspended in one of the down and dirtiest of our beers! The products, the idea, the concept... This is us on a plate. I am in love with my own creation. I need to stop now.

I will leave you alone with this. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

To Mayor Jerry Jennings, A True Prince of Albany, I Offer a Tribute! I Have Immortalized You in Loaf! I Give You - Loafy Jennings.

As you may or may not know, I fancy myself something of a Meatloafartiste. That is to say, I take great pride in turning meatloaf and instant mashed potatoes into what I think are veritable works of art. Here are my past creations should you be interested --

Meatloafy the Whale
Meat Romney
Meatloafy Puss
Grumpy Loaf

Onto the matter at hand...

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has been synonymous in my mind with the city at large for the past 20 years. Alas, as all things eventually do, his run as the leader of the city in which I was born has come to an end. One of the dominate traits of my personality is that I do not handle change very well and that I am prone to fits of nostalgia. I am already nostalgic for the Jennings era and it hasn't even come to a close yet. So I was thinking of how, in my own small way, I might offer tribute to the man... Maybe even immortalize him!

Of course it didn't take too long to decided on a tribute in loaf form! And on what better day then Election Day to create what I believe is my truest meatloaf masterpiece to date.

I won't get too deep into the methodology of the meatloaf arts as you can read through the past posts for that. 

Needless to say, you start with meat.

You form it into loafs.

You make a big batch of instant mashed potatoes and in this case add two mashed sweet potatoes to add the wonderful tan hue of Albany Mayor Gerald Jenning's storied skin tone.

You sketch out some stencils to use on the loaf.

You trim those loafs down. I have said it before but I will say it again -- meatloaf trimmings are the best part of being a meatloaf artist.

Apply a thick layer of your mashed potatoes and there you have it! A blank canvas. The old masters worked in fresco, I work in taters!

Then you simply bring life to the loaf with the tools at your disposal. In this case a squirt bottle full of my homemade mushroom ketchup, some black pepper for shading, some mozzarella string cheese to imply Mayor Jenning's glorious hair, some sumac for a nice red tie, and a fresh fall flower to grace his honorable lapel.

There you have it. An honest (yes I know meatloaf portraiture may seem ridiculous, but I really do mean it honestly...) tribute a man who is passing into the long, long history of the fair City of Albany.

Again, this might smack of lampooning or making fun but I am really not going for that. Although I don't live in Albany anymore (I live in Delmar which is really pretty close if you think about it) it is where I was born and spent my childhood. I take the city's constants seriously and for the past 20 years Mayor Jennings certainly has been a constant.

I don't have much access to the city at large outside of this blog... So I offer this small homage to the Honorable Gerald Jennings. I wish him well in all of his future endeavors.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Grilled Headcheesus.

So I have a new favorite sandwich. I think it has even passed the salami n' butter as the favored member of my personal sandwich pantheon. It is pretty simple to boot.

You start with a lovely slice or two of Rolf's Pork Store's (Lexington Ave, Albany) spicy headcheese. If you aren't familiar, headcheese is made of all sorts of porky bits spiced and held together in a gelatinous suspension.

For the bread-y hand to mouth delivery vehicle you want to use something flavorful. I am a fan of Heidelberg's (Herkimer, NY) Jewish Rye.

 You need a little serious mustard too. I used some Lowensenf Extra which is also available at Rolf's.

You can stop there and have a delicious sandwich experience. But I thought it might be fun to do a bit of a play on the grilled cheese sandwich with headcheese. I am a man of limited imagination and a simple sense of humor so this thought amused me.

I fried the sandwich lightly in a bit of butter. As always, I was hoping to have a divine light shine onto my sandwich making activities resulting in a heavenly "Grilled Cheesus." A "Grilled Headcheesus" if you will. But I guess I would have to buy an actual Grilled Cheesus maker (yes, this is a thing) to have it happen with any sort of predictable probability.

Anyhow, the gelatin in the spicy headcheese melts into the bread leaving delicious and warm porky bits. The rye, spicy headcheese, and mustard are delightful together. This is a sandwich built to be eaten alongside a nice cold beer. The flavors may be a bit strong for your sandwich amateur... but any seasoned sandwich connoisseur will be tickled pink.

I thoroughly endorse both this sandwich and Rolf's spicy headcheese. It is only like 6 or 7 bucks a pound too.
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