Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cheese Butter. I Love Sodium Citrate.

So I was futzing around on the website of the Herkimer Cheese Co. (they who make my beloved holiday port wine cheese balls/logs) when I came across their trademarked product called "Chutter." Let that roll off your tongue. Chutter. What a lovely portmanteau....  Chutter's tagline is "cheddar that spreads like butter."

Now commercial cheese spreads are not a new thing at all. There are various pub cheeses, crock cheeses, and what all else out there. They are often highly processed, awful tasting, and I generally avoid them (except for Herkimer port wine cheese balls, of course). But the idea of Chutter stuck in my craw. What if I could somehow marry the flavor of good ol' Upstate New York cheddar cheese with butter?

I immediately thought that sodium citrate would be useful in this endeavor. Remember when I made those "Amercian" cheese burger slices with Nine Pin Cider and cheddar?

Sodium citrate utilizes some sort of scienc-y warlock magic to turn cheese into a smooth melty substance that sort of reminds one of Velveeta. Wonderful in burger application where that smooth melty quality is just the thing you are after. In my pursuit for spreadable "cheese butter" I thought that rendering hard aged cheddar a bit softer and smoother would be a good step.

I used 200 grams of cheese, 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of water, and 7 grams of sodium citrate and followed the same method as in the Saveur recipe for burger slices.

I let the cheese goo cool at the same time as I let a single stick of butter come up to room temperature. Then I combined and let it all go in the food processor until whipped and creamy.

And there you have it. 4 Ingredients - cheddar, sodium citrate, water, and butter. What you are left with is a substance with the spreadable qualities (at room temperature of course) of butter and the delicious sharp flavor of a good New York cheddar. Perfect for any application where you might need a flavorful spread. On crackers for instance...

This method would work equally well for any hard cheese but I think the sharp character of the cheddar cuts the fat of the butter quite well. I am currently on one of my low carb kicks or else I would be slathering this on crusty bread with abandon. You could also fold any number of flavorful ingredients into the cheese butter to make Liptauer sorts of things.

In any event. If the great future state of New Amsterdam ever officially adopts an official spreadable food, then I believe it should be this cheddar butter.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Piss Beers of Upstate New York, Gone Wild Edition: Part 1. Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice Cream Float

(For reference in the title see my ongoing "The Piss Beers of Upstate New York" series)

So what do you do when you have a frost-bitten bottom of a pint of Philly Vanilla, a single Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice rattling around your beer drawer, as well as a love for the "Before and After" category from Wheel of Fortune? Well, you make a Mountain Brew Ice Cream Float. That's what.

I have a sort of habit of turning Stewart's Shops products into weird works of food performance art. You can look at my "Capital Region in Aspic" post for more of this sort of thing (involves hot dogs in Mountain Brew aspic...). I am going to chalk this up to more of that nonsense.

Look at that beauty. Bask in it's fizzy glory.

"So Mr. Dave. How did it taste?" I think you can guess how this tasted. Not even ol' Philly Vanilly, the "#1 Best in the World,"vanilla ice cream could elevate the Mountain Brew ice cream float into the realm of palatability. As I have stated before, Mountain Brew can be wonderful served ice cold out of the can on a summer's day. But in this application it is, as expected, weird and funky.

There you have it. I've thoroughly amused myself with this endeavor and am sitting here chortling at my own perceived wit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

O Tidings of Comfort and Port Wine Cheese

Port Wine cheese balls, egg nog, Advent calendars, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas... Ah, the traditions of a Mr. Dave family Christmas. This year I was a bit perturbed by the fact that I could locate neither a Herkimer port wine cheese ball, nor even a log. I had to purchase a port wine cheese slice... No matter. It is still good in its garishly colored way.

Don't have much time for a Christmas post this year. So maybe read about my Albany Christmas Miracle or Ghosts of My Albany Christmas' Past. I just wanted to check in and wish everyone a very merry Christmas with one of my traditional exhortations.

May ye eggnog be ever sweet inside your ample belly. May your turkey breasts be moist and your roast beefs triumphantly rare. May children's cheeks be ever rosy. May your wife be friendly and never yell no matter what volume of nog you quaff. May your mashed potatoes be lump free and full of butter. Merry Christmas I say! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

There Is Magic in this World. Advent Calendar Chocolate Is the Proof. Of this I Am Sure.

So it is the time of year when I wax philosophical about Christmas here on my hack food weblog. In the past I have rambled on about what I call the "Mr. Dave Family Cabbage Patch Albany Miracle" and I have gone on about some of the ghosts of my Albany Christmases past. This year I'm on about Advent calendars.

It is an undisputed fact of life that eating an Advent calendar chocolate when one is aged 5 or 6 is one of the ultimate taste experiences available to mankind. Those dinky little morsels of cheap chocolate from that flimsy ninety-nine cent calendar hidden behind their little cardboard doors just taste so goddamn good. Day after day through December those little candies gain in their delicious power and mystery.

You can try and tell me that is was my child's anticipation of Christmas that makes me remember those chocolates tasting so good. You are wrong. An Advent calendar is an object possessed of some strange, unexplainable, and fleeting magic.

Go ahead. Wait until the middle of the month, or worse, until after Christmas. Go down to your Dollar General or CVS. Buy yourself a couple twenty-five cent clearance Advents. Rip one open and gobble them up. You will taste only shame and sadness. An Advent calendar not started on the first of December has been stripped of its power.

I don't know a heck of a lot about this life. I am not particularly religious or superstitious. I don't believe in goblins, grumpkins, or other things that go bump in the night (I do admit a certain conviction that house Brownies might be a reality). But of one thing I am convinced. That some spirit of Christmas yearly breathes magic and good into every anemic Advent calendar located in every cut-rate 5 and dime in the land. That I take as fact. This is a good and simple truth that makes me smile whenever I think on it.

It is one of the purest joys of my life to watch my 5 year old daughter's (my son isn't quite old enough for the full experience) face light up every morning at the though of her impending Advent chocolate. It is a joy that every parent should experience. So in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season don't forget to grab a couple calendars for the wee 'uns. There is so little good magic left in the world. You really have to seize every opportunity to witness small miracles.

So yes. Advent calendars are the rub. Trust ol' Mr. Dave. He spends a lot of time pondering about this sort of thing.

Merry Christmas all. May ye bellies be ever full of nog and your cheeks warmed all pink and rosy by the spice therein.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Emergency Stewart's Advertising Alert: Talking Carton of Kaydeross Kreme. For the First Time I Can't Even.

Watch this. Watch this now. I feel as if all my work documenting Stewart's strange and wonderful advertising should be at an end. It simply cannot get any better than the above video. I love it. If there is anything more Upstate American than a talking anthropomorphic carton of Kaydeross Kreme than I don't know of it.

Thank you Stewart's for bringing this joy into my life.

Also, I remembered that I posted about all of the Stewart's ice creams with regional references in their names. We need more of these Stewart's. And more talking cartons. I need to know what Adirondack Bear Paw has to say.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Gallery Of Stewart's Signage: Part 5

Is the flavor in the cup or in the mustache?
Continuing my never ending mission to document the weird and wonderful advertising/signage of Stewart's Shops here is gallery #5. I have posted some of these on the twitter machine so I apologize for any repeats. See below for links to past collections.

Gallery 1
Gallery 2
Gallery 3
Gallery 4

So that is what you call those little containers you put the chili in...
All of them.
Tuna/egg/chicken not lettuce.
I wonder if they use fresh sliced Anywhole...
Eggwich porn.
Stewart's has cornered the local "spring gloves" market.
I like to call this the "Upstate New York Briefcase"
All hail the coming of the Nog!
Here is something I noticed last winter. I call it the "Beefwich Phenomena." I saw lots of Beefwich advertising but I have still yet to see an actual Beefwich anywhere. I think they only have them at that mega-Stewart's on Wade Road in Latham...

I did not know. Thanks.

Where's the Beefwich?

I want beef.
And here is a bonus. A rare not-in-New York Stewarts (Vermont).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cider Belly Donuts

So today I had to venture into downtown Albany to complete a very mundane errand on State Street. To wash the bad taste of bureaucracy out of my mouth I decided to pop by Cider Belly Donuts over on North Pearl as I have been vaguely curious about the joint since it opened. Also, it seems that lately we are all supposed to be super psyched about donuts. I am a sucker for fads...

I guess I should say that I don't really care about donuts other than cider donuts and cider donuts are inextricably linked with the experience of getting cider donuts in my mind. You go to the orchard/farm stand (Altamont Orchards or Indian Ladder for example), you poke about, you go stand in line, you get your sack of warm donuts. That is pretty much it. So I am vaguely suspicious of buying and eating a cider donut in the middle of a city. But I tried to forget all of that nonsense and just get a sack of donuts.

When you get close to Cider Belly you are greeted by the not altogether unpleasant stench of cooking donuts/donut grease. The decor is pleasant and the goods and donuts are attractively displayed. I ordered a 1/2 dozen sugared cider donuts to go and left with my prize for the reasonable sum of 5 dollars American.

I detected no warmth from the bag of donuts but I sort of expected that as I popped by at around 1100, well after the probable morning rush. I walked them back to my car which I had parked on the roof of the Sheridan Hollow garage. I had received a coupon for a free coffee at Cider Belly and as I don't drink that particular beverage I decided to leave it laying about for some lucky Albanite to discover. I put it on the emergency box in Stairway #2 on the roof level of the garage. For all I know it is still there.

Moving on to the business at hand. Here is one of the Cider Belly donuts.

Nothing like enjoying a cider donut on a rainy day inside a Toyota on the roof of a parking garage with a bleak view of urban decay and smoke stacks... 

Here be the crumb of the donut.

I thought the donut was OK. Sweet enough with a spicy sort of flavor and crusty with a cake-y texture. Very aggressively cider flavored in comparison to the other usual suspects in the area. 

If I was in proximity to Cider Belly again I would definitely pop back in to see what else they have going on. But I do not consider this to be a destination for "cider donuts." Separated from the traditional cider donut experience these are just pretty good donuts. If we are talking "cider donuts" give me the bag-mix beauties they churn out at Indian Ladder any day. 

All this said, Cider Belly is a charming joint with quality products and if you are down there you should give them a whirl.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vichy Pancakes. (Pancakes W/Stewart's Vichy)

I am very interested in what I like to call -- "the lore of our grandmothers." All of those strange and wonderful tidbits of advice that have been passed on through the generations... If you go in the woods keep a piece of bread in your pocket as a ward against fairies, throw salt over your shoulder into the devil's eyes, pour Dr. Pepper on your ham... I delight in all of this wisdom of the ages.

When I posted about Stewart's Shops "Vichy" soda a year or so ago I was advised via the tweeters that wise old Upstate New Yorkers have been using Vichy as an ingredient in pancakes! Haha! I live for this sort of stuff. I made a mental note to give this a go and have only this very morning gotten around to some experimentation.

In the original advice which I received it was stated that Vichy was used instead of buttermilk or milk. I suspect that this is not entirely true. Vichy contains Bicarbonate of Soda which will only act as a leavening agent in the presence of an acid. I suspect that wise ol' timey pancake wizards were supplementing their standard buttermilk (contains requisite acid) pancake recipes with a bit of the Vichy right before cooking to give the pancakes an extra bit of lift. At least this is my hypothesis... And I will be testing it in the future. But for starters I thought I might see if adding a bit of Vichy would do anything in and of itself when thrown into my standard workaday pancake recipe.

I don't like pale, flabby white flour pancakes. On the rare occasion that I want to eat a pancake I go with a whole wheat solution. My recipe is - 3/4 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 egg, 4 tablespoons melted butter, salt, and around 1 1/2 cups whole milk. This time I dialed back the milk by 1/4 cup and was a bit conservative with the salt as Vichy is very salty.

What I did was to prepare the pancake batter as per usual and let it rest for 5 minutes while I heated the pan and what not. Right before cooking I stirred 1/4 cup of Vichy into the batter.

I did notice that the pancakes looked like they were getting a bit more lift than usual during cooking.

Perhaps the bicarbonate of soda in the Vichy reacts with the acid in the baking powder for some additional bubbly action. I don't think it could be the small amount of CO2 in the carbonation, but what am I? Some sort of scientist?

The pancakes cooked up very nice and brown but this is probably just because of my next level pancake skills.

I apologize in advance for my shoddy pancake photography but I am adhering to my strictly unprofessional standards for all pictures included in my posts... I am attempting to show you in the following picture that these were in fact some light and fluffy-ass pancakes.

It occurred to me afterwards that I really should have done a control group of pancakes sans the Vichy for comparison's sake. But that really sounds like a lot of work... So I probably will just rely on the very un-scientific opinion that it was the Vichy that was responsible for the fluffy-ass qualities of these particular pancakes. 

I encourage everyone to conduct extensive at home research into this fascinating topic. I am tentatively going with the opinion that Stewart's Vichy adds strange and magical properties to pancake recipes. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pumpkin Spice-less Pumpkin Pie. All Glory to the Pumpkin! Down With the Spice!

So recently I have been rebelling against the "pumpkin spice" phenomena and advocating for use of the glorious orange fruit of the vine in ways that allow the pumpkiness to shine through. Pumpkin pie is one of the worst abusers of the meddlesome melange of spices. Most "pumpkin" pies should really be called "cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg flavored congealed paste pie." This is upsetting as the natural sweetness of punkin' fortified with a little more sugar (or some such other sweetener) doesn't really need much help... So I decided to come up with my own "pie spice"-less recipe.

I started with a head-sized specimen of my new favorite pumpkin. You can read all about the wonderful Long Island cheese pumpkin here. Mr. Pumpkin got seeded quartered, roasted at 350 for 2 or so hours, and finally skinned and ran through a food mill. This results in about 4 cups of punkin' flesh.

I find that one of the secrets to a good pumpkin pie is evaporated milk. It lends a certain richness and texture without the overbearing creaminess of actual cream. You can buy a tin, but for assuredly tasty dairy you can make it yourself. I reduced 2 pints of Battenkill Creamery whole milk until it became 1 pint. The whole mess goes in with the pumpkin flesh.

My next secret pumpkin pie weapon is some powder/paste made from roasted pumpkin seeds. This adds a roasty component as well as some fatty mouth feel to your pie. I grind up the seeds in my spice grinder with some salt. I add a third of a cup to the pie.

Aside from that - 2 jumbo eggs (from Stewart's of course), 1/2 cup white sugar (brown adds molasses notes that I find mask the punkin'), 1/3 cup honey, and a spare 1/4 teaspoon of good vanilla. I whisk it by hand. I don't mind a bit of a toothsome texture in my pies. 

Without the brown sugar and copious cinnamon of a standard recipe the orange color of the cheese pumpkin shows through in the batter.

A note on my choice of crust. I am very anal about certain things. Pumpkin pie is one of them. I believe it is one of those items that has a defined form that shouldn't be meddled with. Part of this ideal form is a shitty, processed, graham cracker crust. Trust me, I am no stranger to DIY kitchen projects. The things I have made by hand would flabbergast many an old kitchen hand. However, I have not yet gotten around to producing a wholesome version of the graham cracker crust. So as of now I leave pumpkin pie crust making to the fine elves of Keebler. You don't need to tell me about all of the heinous shit that processed pie crusts contain. I am fully aware. I make concessions for tradition's sake.

You should get two thinnish pies from this recipe. The custard of an ideal pumpkin pie should be somewhere between 3/4" and 1" thick. No thicker. Big 2-3 inch pumpkin pies look good on the pinterist but are shit for eating. 

Bake the pies for about an hour at 350 and there you have it.

Delicious orange pie. The sugar, honey, and hint of vanilla are all you need to support the flavor of the roasted pumpkin. If you don't like this pie, I'm sorry child, but you do not like pumpkin. You are allowed to continue purchasing PSLs and huffing pumpkin spice candles but what you are really a fan of is cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg (clove/allspice/mace too perhaps). I'm sorry if I have thrown you into crisis.

And that is that. I prefer my pie unadorned but some whipped cream would not be out of place. I am a pretty grim individual and even I can't help but smile at the site of a nice wedge of pie. 

Follow my example. Free your pie from the shackles of its spice. Not every pumpkin pie has to smell like the sachet of potpourri in your grandmother's underwear drawer. Let the flavors of the earthy orange globe shine through. This is all I have to say for the moment.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Anatomy of A Cheese Pumpkin

Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

I love pumpkins. This is good because I happen to live smack dab in the middle of some the world's best punkin'/squash growing country (Upstate NY). Come fall our local farms overflow with squash of every hue, size, and description. Funny thing is, most of them probably end up on people's porches for the ravenous local squirrels (a plague on their fuzzy house!) to feast upon. It seems as if many people in the modern world have forgotten that punkins' is good eatin'.

The most pumpkin/squash flesh that many of my Upstate countrymen manage to get in their stomachs is via a can, or perhaps some frou frou soup at a restaurant. This is not how it should be. Heck, I can eat roasted pumpkin or squash out of the oven with some butter on it in the manner of a baked potato! In my opinion the pumpkin/squash family is overrated as decorations and underrated as food.

I just so happened to be over at Indian Ladder Farms the other day with my lovely family when I spied a stand of "Long Island Cheese" pumpkins. The LI Cheese varietal really is a beautiful pumpkin. They just beg to be roasted and put to delicious purpose. I chose the above pictured lovely example. It was 4 bucks (I forget the weight, approximately the size of a squished soccerball).

A day or two later I hacked into my prize revealing the vibrant orange guts and plentiful seeds. A pet peeve of mine happens to be the fact that a majority of Jack-o-lantern artists chuck the seeds along with the guts. This is a travesty. There are few healthier, tastier foods out there than roasted punkin' seeds. Wash them off, throw on some neutral oil or butter, salt well, spread on parchment, and roast at 300 for about an hour. This one pumpkin provided a cup and a half of beautiful seeds!

Most pumpkin preparations are going to begin with roasting the flesh. I see a lot of recommendations for putting the pumpkin pieces skin side up with water in a pan so they sort of steam. I am not a fan of this method. I smear the hunks of pumpkin with butter and bake (350 for an hour or two) flesh side up until I can stick a fork in without resistance. I think the brown roasty bits add flavor to any intended dish.

Cooked thusly the flesh comes away from the skin with much ease. I had intended to do a pie and a soup with this pumpkin but I got lazy and decided to go with two pies. I like to run the flesh through my little hand cranked food mill. I ended up with something like 4 or 5 cups of purty orange flesh.

To one punkins' worth of flesh I add - 2 cans evaporated milk, 5 large eggs, 1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. You could probably get three pies out of this but I did 2 big ones this time (graham cracker crusts). The pies bake at 350 for an hour or so.

So, my opinion of the Long Island Cheese pumpkin you ask? It is a superb cooking pumpkin. Fleshy, substantial, and sweet. The pie was light and custardy with pumpkin flavor peaking through all of the sugar and pie spices. I think this pumpkin would be suitable in all applications from pie to soup to stew. I am in love with the cheese pumpkin. It is my new favorite pumpkin. 

The moral of this story is that pumpkins and squash are an important local agricultural asset. You should take advantage of this by finding ways to eat them instead of simply putting them on your porch. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

One Year Old Aged Spiced Egg Nog. You Heard Me.

Maybe you will remember that 2 days short of a year ago I posted about whipping up some spiced egg nog which I planned on aging for a bit. As you may remember I am a big fan of aged egg nog (here is some commentary and one of my recipes). Generally I start a batch every year around Halloween to be cracked open between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But last year I got it in my head to push the boundaries a bit and see if I could go without opening a jar of the frothy nectar for an entire year. I succeeded...

This down and dirty batch of nog started its life off a year ago as Johnny Drum bourbon and Stewart's milk/cream/eggs. Very classy. Like me.

Here it is all fresh like for comparison with the above aged nog picture-

Now drinking year old eggnog isn't all disgusting and scary as it might seem. There is enough Johnny Drum in there to gag a horse which should (emphasis on should) have kept the baddies at bay. Tonight I decided to crack the bad boy open and hope for the best.

Here is a video of the uncorking -

All that goop on the lid is just butter fat from the cream. I gave it a sniff and it was a rather benign noggy/boozy stench. I was undeterred and decided to persevere with my mission of getting some of the nog into my gut.

Here is the pour -

Something I noticed during the pour was that the nog seemed rather thin in consistency compared to how it was at the beginning. I could hazard some guesses as to why this might have happened but I am a hack barely literate writer of a blog that is sort of about food, not a scientist. I will say that I didn't note any putrid chunks or green bits. This left me slightly encouraged.

So Dave, how did it taste?

Well, as is usually the case with experiments like this, it was shockingly normal. It tasted like a decent nog made with cheap bourbon. Very much like the 2-3 month old aged nogs I usually make. I will say that the hooch flavor was noticeably smoother for the aging. The year seemed to have taken the edge off of the Johnny Drum. As mentioned before the nog was noticeably thinner. Almost as if the cream had been removed from the equation. 

There were really no off flavors or any sort of spoilage that I could detect by taste. Perhaps I will die tomorrow of some horrid nog incubated pestilence... But I actually think I am going to be OK.

So I think the year old nog experiment was sort of a bust. I don't think 12 months was much of an improvement over 1 or 2 months. Color me disappointed. I expected either a transcendent taste sensation or a gloriously disgusting failure. Such is life. I got mediocre. 

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