Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Grandma Brown's Bean Can Cheese Mold


As I mentioned before, I am on sort of a cheese making tear lately. I used to make cheese quite a lot but then kind of dropped production as I began to take an increasing interest in the meaty art of dry-curing. Lately it seems that I am right back at cheese making full force. Don't ask what re-inculcated me with the desire to dabble in the dairy arts...

Recently I decided that I would like to make a rather large traditional, cloth-bound cheddar. If you don't know, to make cheddar you need some sort of cheese press to form your curds and press out excess whey. I used to have a small, dedicated press but somehow (I moved recently) some key pieces went missing. Not wanting to spend the princely sum that a new cheese press would cost, I have been improvising. 

First, I adapted my sausage stuffer to act as a cheese press and it works quite well. Only thing is that it can only accept a pretty small cheese mold. I wanted to make a larger wheel of cheddar so my tiny brain gears started turning as I tried to figure out what I could MacGyver together on the cheap...

Suddenly it came to me! A Grandma Brown's  large size bean can would be just the thing. You can read all about Grandma Brown's (made in Mexico, NY) awesome beans right here and more about the behemoth large sized can here

I was fully prepared for immediate action as I generally happen to have at least one of the giant bean cans on hand as an objet d'art (I love the label). I girded my loins for a couple of days of bean eating and cracked the can open. I took the two ends off of the bean can and drilled some drainage holes. I used one of the tops and some blocks of wood as a follower. For the weight I used a tool box and some of my cast iron pans.

Here is the setup at work pressing a cheddar made with 4 gallons of Meadow Brook Farms (Clarksville, NY) milk. I wouldn't reuse the can too many times but for an expedient cheese mold it seems to be working famously. 

Anyhow, I just realized that pressing a NY cheddar made with NY milk in a Grandma Brown's bean can is probably about the most stereotypically Upstate New York thing a man can do... 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nothing Says Valentine's Day Like A Meat Heart

I think I have actually joked about making meat hearts once or twice before... But guess what? ShopRite (Slingerlands) has went ahead and made my jesting a reality. In three different meats no less! Usually I have to find my strange and wonderful grocery store items over at P-Chopistan (Price Chopper) so I was glad to see a little slice of weirdness at ShopRite too.

Lamb, beef, and chicken breast hearts. The steak one in its own little heart shaped box is my favorite. My wife would wretch if I gave this to her, but you know what? Steaks are actually a pretty thoughtful gift to give to a guy like me... So I guess this concept isn't entirely strange and misguided. It is only partially strange and misguided.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Piss Beers of Upstate New York: Part 5, Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice

Piss Beers, Part 1 - Genny Lager
Piss Beers, Part 2 - Uncle Charley (Utica Club)
Piss Beers, Part 3 - Genny Bock
Piss Beers, Part 4 - 12 Horse Ale

OK, I have been holding off on this review for quite a while for various reasons. I gave Mountain Brew  Beer Ice (available at Stewart's Shops) a quick mention within the first installment of Piss Beers (linked above) and I meant to do a write up soon after. But the whole Mountain Brew phenomena kind of became a "thing" locally and everyone was writing about the stuff. I thought I would give the issue some time and breathing room until such time that the post-flurry died down and I could do an honest review removed from the spontaneous celebration of the brew's kitsch factor. So here it is.

If you are new to my blog (doubtful, this is the blog equivalent of a smelly, old man, day-drunk, dive bar. Most are regulars.) then I should warn you that I am something of a fan of Stewart's shops. You can browse through the innumerable posts that I have penned on the subject here. So when I first spied the silvery shimmer of a case of Mountain Brew Beer (Ice) I was as giddy as a school girl.

So much to love. Just look at that can? Has there ever been a more wonderful can? It was as if all of the wonderful design features of all of the signage that I have documented in my galleries had been distilled down into the form of the Mountain Brew can. The plain silver bad boy with its shoddy calligraphy, limited color palate, and inexplicable stylized sports figures, what is not to love? Gilding the lily is the glorious tag line, "A Very Cool Brew." You had me at the silver can Stewart's.

Mountain brew can be purchased by the can at the lordly price of 75 cents.

Or by the case (cardboard) for a pittance. 10.99$ for 24 cans of the Brew of the Mountains (Ice)? Can you live at that speed?

In any event, I think I am mostly in love with the Mountain Brew beer as an objet d'art rather than as an actual consumable beer... But I guess I should review the stuff in its own right.

There isn't really much to say about Mountain Brew Beer (Ice). A good analogy would be that Mountain Brew is to Genesee Lager as Busch is to Budweiser. It tastes like any other mass market "Ice" or other cut rate American lager. It is similar in flavor and body to Natty Ice, the Beast of Milwaukee or any of the other usual suspects. Mountain Brew pours a light amber with a decent head. It smells vaguely of socks and the flavor is a bit funky with virtually no hints of hops. Drank at any temperature other than ice cold and it is a thin and insipid brew. It isn't by any means awful, but I wouldn't be drinking it at room temperature unless you have more hair on your down-low then I do.

But guess what folks? Get those silver bad boys goddamn ice-ass cold and you can slam these suckers like water. You can't beat the price with a stick and several cases of Mountain Brew is the flippin' perfect thing for a hot-ass day in August when you feel like getting shitty drunk with the boy-os on the cheap. Strolling by the lake with a half drunk six pack of these hanging from your belt (the sixers come with a six pack ring) on a hot day with your sweety sounds to me to be about as good as it gets. Go ahead and see if I am wrong...

So the verdict is - I love the can, drunk ice-ass cold the stuff is not half bad, and you can't beat the price. Stewart's Shops Mountain Brew Beer (ice) is a success in my book and I will punch you in the eye if you say any different.

You  know what would be better than a can of Mountain Brew Beer? A tall boy can of Stewart's Mountain Brew, that is what. You can have that idea Stewart's, you can take it to the bank. Trust ol' Mr. Dave, he wouldn't steer you wrong. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Donut Stuffed With Brownie Batter? Is This What We Have Come To?

** Edit **

Apparently some people are reading this as a positive review or endorsement of this wretched little donut (Fussman, I am looking at you). In fact, I found it a disgusting example of food science and marketing, I though I conveyed that... I find things like the Brownie Batter Donut to be fascinating in the same way as a doctor would find a particularly nasty tumor fascinating.

Sorry, I guess I am over-subtle in my indictments sometimes....

** Edit **

It is no secret that I am absolutely fascinated by novelty fast food offerings. That is not to say that I enjoy eating the stuff or consume it on any sort of regular basis... But I am drawn, as a moth to a flame, towards all of the strange, terrible, and surreal forms into which our society has warped its food stuffs.

A mere burger or chicken sandwich interests me little, but when I see a bit of colorful advertising heralding something that makes me stop in my tracks and say, "No. No. It can't be. They can't be serious. Why does that have to exist?" I feel absolutely compelled to purchase the item and document it here on my hack blog. I fancy my self something of a fast food anthropologist and I am convinced that future generations will look back at my scribblings with bemused horror.

In the distant future, society will marvel over the strange milk shakes, rotating cylindrical horrors, and McDonald's pies that were happily shoved down maws during the present era. They will most likely suppose that these things were created by powerful shamans under the influence of mystical hallucinogens during strange rituals. Our far off descendants will wonder what purpose these strange cultures of the distant past would have for inflicting these colorful, terrible things upon their unsuspecting gullets...

Surely one of the most perplexing items to future peoples will be the mother flippin' BROWNIE BATTER DONUT. Yes, you heard me right. Dunkin Donuts is peddling a BROWNIE flippin' BATTER DONUT. As in, a heart shaped donut stuffed with "brownie batter." Take a second, let the concept of a brownie batter donut wash over your brain. It is a sweet breakfast confection with its guts composed of the uncooked batter of another sweet dessert.... It is a recursive dessert. Dessert inception. I see desserts within desserts... Careful when you gaze upon the below picture lest you descend into dessert² madness.

Don't get me wrong here folks, I will admit to having licked a brownie spoon or two in my day. But separating the singular experience of licking a brownie spoon from the actual act of making brownies is a sort of culinary heresy. Brownie batter is to be enjoyed on the very rare occasions when one is actually making brownies, I believe that that is a fundamental law of the universe. Brownie batter available at will is a world gone mad. Frankly, I am scared by this donut. Scared.

In any event, Dunkin Donuts frickin' nailed the "brownie batter" experience right down to the gritty bite of raw granulated sugar. This stuff tastes just like cheep Betty Crocker batter that your Momma might have made. So if you are looking to recreate the childhood experience of spoon licking this donut is for you (I guess...).

I don't really have much more to say, the whole Brownie Batter donut concept kind of threw me for a loop. I am usually a little more bemused by these sorts of confections, but this is sort of a bunker buster/"shock and awe"concept among the world of novelty fast food items. To take a bite is to look into the void.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Frozen Champion: 3 Little Pigs Mac Cheese from Valente's

So apparently the "Times Union/Table Hopping Mac-N-Cheese Bowl" is a pretty big deal around the Capital Region. Heck, I think I even submitted a recipe for the first one if I remember correctly (needless to say, my genius went unnoticed). I won't be attending as I have heard the event gets horrifyingly crowded. I am a bit agoraphobic and the thought of being jostled and rammed with baby carriages while waiting in giant lines for little cups of mac cheese sounds fairly abhorrent.

In any event, I was walking through the Glenmont P-Chopper the other day when I spied something interesting in the freezer case right next to the Stouffer's. Here we have a frozen portion of the 2 time winner of the aforementioned mac cheese bowl, Valente's (Watervliet) "Three Little Pigs" Macaroni and Cheese. I am always game to sample local packaged foods and I was a bit interested in giving this storied "bowl" champion a whirl (even if it is in a frozen form).

The Valente's product is penne with a pecorino-romano, mascarpone, and aged provolone sauce with pancetta, prosciutto, and sopressata mixed in. There is an explanation of each ingredient as well as a strange story about pigs on the back of the box.

I was a bit apprehensive about this dish because the inclusion of all of those cured meats shouted over-salty to me off the bat and nothing about the recipe really says "macaroni and cheese" to me. But I maintained an open mind. Into the microwave she went and several minutes later this is what we have.

You get some tiny penne noodles in a thick cheese sauce along with some nondescript pink ground up meats.

As expected the Three Little Pigs was way too salty for my tastes, almost inedibly so. The salty problem was compounded with a heavy umami back from the aged cheeses. The little meat boogers didn't really do anything for me either. They were just slightly chewier bits of saltiness to accompany the mushy noodles. I don't fault the Valente's item specifically for the mushy noodles as that is a problem common to most frozen pastas. This is all to say that I thought the stuff was gross. I ate two bites.

Let us also look at the nutritional impact of the stuff. The picture does not do the smallness of the portion justice as you really only have about a cup/cup and a half of the pasta. 920 calories and 25 grams of saturated fat right there folks. I would be fine with this if the product was some sort of delicious indulgence to be enjoyed infrequently. For this small dish of gook it seamed fairly unreasonable.

I can only imagine the in-restaurant portion is much larger, probably to the tune of 2 or 3 times the volume. I don't know how you would struggle through such a large portion of rich fare such as this but I am sure people do it. That is a lot of saturated fat right there, even for a glutton like myself.

Perhaps the Three Little Pigs is much tastier in its fresh, unfrozen state (I would bet it is), but I was left nonplussed. If this is the recipe that won the Mac Cheese Bowl two years running then I remain dubious concerning the event. Actually it almost made me want to pick up some tickets because I am a great appreciator of strange, weird, or terrible recipes. I bet there are some hilariously bad concoctions, mango salsa mac cheese or something like that...

Anyhow, I always hate to rip a local product. But I really didn't enjoy this one. I admit that I only had 2 bites, so this review is a two bite review.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mr. Dave Is No Longer a Chipotle Virgin

Somehow I made the journey into adulthood without having ever tried some fairly common food stuffs. In the past I have shared losing my bologna virginity (that is a strange turn of phrase...) as well as my Big Mac virginity. Even though Chipotle restaurants have not been around forever the place seems to have become a ubiquitous presence in the discussion of casual restaurant dining. I don't know if I have gone more than a couple of days without hearing someone squawk about the place. So today I was in the general area of StuyPlazistan in Guilderland and I decided to lose my Chipotle virginity.

I went at around 11:00 AM and the Stuyvesant Plaza location was empty. This surprised me as part of the reason I have avoided going to Chipotle is due to the enormous lines I have witnessed. Luckily the menu is not overly expansive as I am bad at decisions and these sorts of places where you have to pick everything on command often throw me into an indecisive crisis.

Having recently ended my severely carbohydrate restricted diet (mid-30's male vanity crisis induced) I decided to fall off the carb. wagon hard with one of the "bowls." I got brown rice, pinto beans, vegetables, pork (about which I have heard good things), hot salsa, sour cream, and cheese.

Digging in the pork looked all good and porky. "Fresh" is part of Chipotle's hip cache and I will admit that you could actually tell that most of the ingredients were minimally processed.

I can see why people like the place. That is not to say that I liked the place over much, but I can see why people do. The ingredients are leaps and bounds better than you find at pretty much any other mass market chain restaurant. The cheese tastes like real cheese, the sour cream tastes like real sour cream, etc... I am just not a huge fan of this particular brand of pseudo-Mexican with the oversized burritos and what not. If I am away from home and need a healthful meal then Chipotle would be a viable option, but it is not the sort of food that I would crave or go out of my way to obtain. I can take or leave Moe's, Hot Harry's, and the rest of the genre. As an aside, should one of them put a chile relleno burrito of the type I fell in love with while living in southern Arizona on their menu, I might change my tune.

In any event, there you have it. I have tried Chipotle. It was pretty good. I don't think I will ever have to go there again.
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