Sunday, June 14, 2015

Culinary Archaeology: I Uncovered a (Relatively) Ancient Weber One Touch Grill

So I was at my parents house rummaging through their shed attempting to clear a path to get their lawn mower out when I stumbled upon something wonderful. A mid-80s Weber One-Touch still in the box!

How do I know it was from the mid-80s? Because I very clearly remember my mother winning it. She won it from Miller Brewing by filling out one of those little contest cards at the Madison Ave Price Choppers (the one that used to have the stone turtles out front, those stone turtles loom large in my childhood memories). This was when we still lived on South Main in good old Albs.

I guess I always just thought that my parents used the grill and then retired it at some point in my family's past. But no. There it was. Lying in the shed still in its box...

I have been looking for a small kettle grill that would be a bit more expedient for a quick summer dinner then my other monstrosity of a grill. So this was sort of a mana from heaven situation. The Weber One-Touch grill is a damn good product and will still set you back about 130 American.

Also, I have a feeling that the mid-80s Weber standards of production were much higher then they currently are. I am indescribably pleased with this find.

Here she is assembled.

What a beauty! 

As a bonus, it came with a neat little cookbook with the typically grotesque sort of food photography that was all the rage in the 1980s.

That is all. I was plum tickled pink by finding this 30 year old piece of grilling hardware and I just thought I would share.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Bitter and Sweet: Some Things Just Work. (Hot Dog Charlie's Rice Pudding)

The food blog muse has not been visiting me often as of late. But today I found inspiration in a small plastic container of pudding. So out of hack-blog pseudo-retirement I come, like a lizard slithering from under a rock.

One of the best parts of fatherhood is passing down to your spawn a curated selection of the traditions that you enjoyed in your youth. Pursuant to this I have been taking my 3 year old son (Mr. Dave IV) to Hot Dog Charlie's for lunch on a semi-weekly basis. We journey across the river to the Rensselaer location and have a grand old time feasting on our region's beloved small hot dogs.

I've been trying to ease my young progeny into the wonders of "6 with the works" but he is still firmly in "4 with just ketchup" country and I guess that is just fine with me (for now). Here was our lunch order of this afternoon.

I actually pulled a wild card today and got meat sauce w/cheese. I do this instead of works about 1 out of every 10 times I eat at Hot Dog Charlie's. Don't ask me why. My default order and most favored combination is the holy trinity of onion/mustard/meat sauce and it is what I will discuss below.

This brings me to the point of this story. Have you ever tried Hot Dog Charlie's rice pudding? If not you are missing out and I will tell you why.

The distinctive flavor sensation of a Charlie's dinky dog with the works is its bitterness. The chopped onion, mustard, and raw-spice quality of the meat sauce come together in a pleasing note of bitterness. And you know what tastes delicious after gorging on 6 or 12 of those charming bitter little bastards?

Rice pudding, that's what.

The cool, cloying and soothing sweetness of the rice pudding is the perfect foil for the warm, spicy, and stimulating bitterness of the hot dog w/works. Before first experiencing the delight of rice pudding post hot dogs I always used to smirk at seeing it on Charlie's menu. Now I know that this is genius (calculated or not). Even the large sprinkling of cinnamon on the pudding recalls the cinnamon in the hot dog sauce. It is brilliant.

So go ahead and try it. See if I'm wrong. Life has precious few true pleasures (the rain on your face, your toes in a creek, the squeeze of your child's hand in your own, the taste of rice pudding after a dinky dog with the works... ) and you must grab all of them by their short n' curlies and hold on while the going is good.

Well, there she goes boys. Perhaps I have my seasonal surge of energy that leads to untold numbers of verbose blog posts concerning hot dogs. Part of my charm.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Found Grocery List #3

Some years ago I came across a collection of found grocery lists. I thought this was a swell idear. Ever since I've been keeping an eye out for discarded lists (Grocery List #1, Grocery List #2).

Today I found a forsaken list over at the Glenmont Walmart (shudder, I hate that place but necessity called). Usually I fancy coming up with a bit of a backstory for the lists but this one stands on its own. It has a sort of artistic quality, doesn't it? What with the mixed media composition, the bold flourish of the script, and the sturdy card stock canvass....


Almost a poem really.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pickled Stewart's Shops Deli Dog (In Homemade Beer Vinegar)

So some weeks ago I decided it might be fun to pickle some Stewart's Shops Deli Dogs. I have always (guiltily) sort of been a fan of pickled sausages (remember when I used one to execute some "Prison Cuisine?"). If any sausage/hot dog was going to take well to picklin', I was certain it would be the venerable Deli Dog.

For the pickling brine I used some homemade beer vinegar that I am quite proud of. I used very much the same ratios in this brine as I did with my beer vinegar pickled eggs (recipe in the post). The only adjustment I made was to up the ratio of red pepper.

I probably should have just fished one of the pickled dogs out of the brine and munched it cold... But tonight I thought it might be interesting to prepare one in the manner of your standard Stewart's bought Deli Dogs.

If you will remember, I hold it as truth that the only way to truly enjoy a Deli Dog is out of a Stewart's Shops hot dog steamer. This is the only way you are able to partake of the limp, custardy, moist glory of a classic Deli Dog. This is why I was horrified to see those steamers being replaced by hot dog rollers in many Stewart's locations.

Needless to say, I have come up with a decent solution for steaming Deli Dogs at home (sans hot dog steamer).

Get yourself some Stewart's rolls. By the way Stewart's, make New England style rolls also (maybe you already do, inform me of this if so...).

Throw one of the pickled dogs in about an inch of simmering water, place a steamer thingy over that, and throw in a roll.

Keep checking the roll for proper steamy squishiness. You will know when it is right.

And there you have it...

A proper (pickled) Deli Dog.

So how did it taste, Dave?

Ha! It was so good! Vinegar/mustard punch up front with nice heat that grew as I chewed. The texture of the Deli Dog was a bit firmer than the un-pickled form, but still pleasantly soft. For condiments this thing aches for just a bit of mustard. The pickled-ness of the Deli Dog might get lost under the onion/meat sauce/mustard combo that I usually favor.

Yes. That is the rub. Just a bit of mustard on ol' Mr. Dave's pickled Deli Dogs will transport you to Deli Dog heaven...

So what did you think? Out of the abyss -- a post! About pickled hot dogs! Who missed my ramblings?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ol' Timey Drankin' - "Scotchem." (applejack/mustard/boiling water)

Let us say that the Applejack Fairy has lately visited your home and bequeathed upon you a surfeit of traditional freeze distilled applejack. What to do with all of this heavenly apple-fluid? Well, you should drink it down by its lonesome as the good lord intended (mayhaps throwing back a stonefence or two for variety's sake)... But what then? If you delve into the history of applejack you will surely come across the old timey drink that was known as "Scotchem."

What is/was "scotchem" you ask? Twas a drank consisting of applejack, mustard, and boiling water, that's what... Fascinating. Simply fascinating. I was intrigued. What sort of hack, micro-regional, semi-literate, food blog guy would I be if I didn't give it a whirl?

As per usual with many historical beverages, there aren't a lot of measured recipes around for scotchem. I did find one abomination of a recipe entitled "Modernized Scotchem" that involved sweet cider and sprigs of rosemary... Needless to say I would like to punt the milk-drinking dilettante who came up with that drivel square in the beanbag. Instead, I interpolated what I thought was fitting for proportions utilizing the narrative of this passage that I had came across.

I didn't have any Coleman's English mustard powder lying around which was annoying as it is generally my preferred spicy mustard. I think that Coleman's would have most closely approximated the sort of stuff that barkeeps were using in scotchem way back when. Instead I went with normal "spice cabinet" type mustard powder.

The passage I sited earlier mentioned a "good dash" of mustard powder going into a glass of scotchem. The official verdict on a "dash" is 1/8th of a teaspoon. For a "good dash" I used closer to 1/4 of a teaspoon. This went into the glass (an old mustard jar, seemed fitting) first. On top of the dry mustard I added approximately 2 ounces of boiling water. I figured equal parts applejack and water made sense and as the drink is described as quaffable in one gulp, 4 total ounces seemed reasonable. I am going by my intuition for these proportions.

There she is folks. 2 ounces of room temperature applejack on top of the boiling water/mustard mixture.

Then she went down the hatch...

My thoughts? I thoroughly understand this drink. This is not a "cocktail" meant for exciting the palate. It reminds me of the Russian tradition of horseradish vodka (which I have made myself in the distant past). No one drinks horseradish vodka for the nuanced flavor. It is a ward against the cold. Scotchem is similarly a utilitarian belly-warmer. It is something that you take and not something that you savor.

Were I chilled to the bone on a wet October day and looking for a constitutional one hundred years ago? Well then, a glass of scotchem would have been just the thing. It burns a bit going down, hits the sinuses, and then lights a warm furnace beneath your ribcage. The blessed magic of alcohol combined with mustard pushes the chill right out of your body. Amazing really. People had an innate sense of the usefulness of tonics like scotchem in the past. We have lost this sort of wisdom.

In any event, I am harping on applejack lately. Drinking/producing applejack is one of America's (and the Northeast's especially) few truly indigenous traditions. There are craft movements behind no end of nonsense products, so why not applejack? Applejack reminds me of us Appleknockers. It is a rough around the edges beverage that creeps up behind you with its unsophisticated ways and gruffly makes you love it.

Sigh... Looks like the weather is about to break, but during the present cold snap you should come over to my humble abode and let me chase away your chills with a little scotchem...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Bowl Post: From the Ground Up Homemade French Onion Dip

Something I like to do is to take foodstuffs that are commonly consumed in processed nightmare form and break them down into their components. Then I reimagine them made with carefully selected/crafted ingredients. I've done this sort of thing with our indigenous small hot dogs, teawurst, and egg nog. This year in honor of the Super Bowl I trained my sights on that game time classic -- French onion dip.

I am not ashamed to say that I will greedily gobble up some Lipton F.O.D. made from powder. A tub of Heluva dip will soon fall before my double-dip chip scooping attacks. But I do this full well knowing there is all sorts of food science nonsense going on in them. So I thought it might be fun to build a F.O.D. with every component lovingly handmade at home.

I started with 1 large white onion (ignore the second, my wife put it in a soup) and 1 shallot.

I chopped the onion/shallot fine and cooked them to a nice, deep brown in some butter and oil. I added about half a clove of minced garlic for the last 4 or 5 minutes. This is the result.

I put the onion mixture into the fridge to chill overnight. 

Next step was to start the sour cream. Sour cream is really one of the easiest dairy ferments to accomplish. I simply put 2 cups of Meadow Brook Farms heavy cream and a quarter teaspoon of mesophilic culture in a jar. Place the jar, lightly covered, in a warm place overnight (minimum 12 hours) and you have some beautiful, thick sour cream.

Next I made some stick blender mayo. I use 1 cup neutral oil, 1 egg, 1 or 2 teaspoons lemon juice, pinch of salt, and about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. 

To put together the French onion dip I used --

1 3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayo
Onion mixture (1 large white onion and 1 shallot caramelized)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste (I feel salt brings out the flavor, be agressive)

I mix it all together in a jar and hit it with the stick blender a couple times to disperse the onions.

The dip really needs to sit in the fridge for 4 or 5 hours to let the onion flavor infuse throughout the creamy mixture. And that is all she wrote.

"So Mr. Dave, how did it taste?" Well, it tasted very French onion dip-y... Did it knock my socks off? No, probably not. But is dip really ever supposed to blow your mind? But it was delicious nonetheless. As good as anything I've had from a store. The satisfaction of putting better quality ingredients into your body elevates this dip into a worthwhile endeavor. 

Something I have found with homemade dairy products is that your palate has to adjust to the differing natural thickness of things like yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, etc... Most of us are so used to the artificially thickened (carageennan, gums, etc...) dairy products that we generally consume that the looser, richer mouth feel of handcrafted stuff can initially be sort of off putting. With this dip you don't have that oddly satisfying gelatin-y texture you get with processed dips. 

Anyhow, I am carting a bowl of this stuff to a friend's house as my Super Bowl offering. Hopefully people like it. Hopefully people don't mock me for spending the amount of time and treasure I did in crafting a version of the humble French onion dip... Sometimes these sorts of endeavors result in gold.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pickling Eggs With Homemade Beer Vinegar

Not so long ago I brewed the first batch of beer I've done in quite some time. Having neither the time nor the patience for all-grain brewing I made a simple hefeweizen recipe using DME supplemented with grain. On bottling day I was left with a random 9 or 10 ounces of beer that wasn't really worth capping in its own bottle. As I had apple cider vinegar going at the time I decided to do some experimental beer vinegar with the excess homebrew. 

After some weeks I was so pleased with the results that I doubled down and added an additional bottle of beer and some extra DME. So the recipe would be something like 20 ounces of hefeweizen (I did a sort of "double" hefe, 9% ABV or so), 1/3 of a cup of DME (wheat), and a nice gloopy bit of mother of vinegar. I let it go for about 6 weeks. The results were delicious. Mellower than store bought malt vinegar with the additional hint of hops. 

But what to do with all this delicious vinegar? Why, pickled eggs of course! If you have followed my ramblings for any amount of time you will know that my diet is very similar to what you would expect of an ol' timey jakey-bum bar fly. Pickled eggs are one of my favorite snacks. You can find my usual recipe for malt vinegar pickled eggs here. I've tweaked it somewhat in what follows.

I started with a couple dozen of the Cadillac of Upstate New York eggs. Stewart's jumbos.

Hard boil them. I know there are all these nonsense recipes for "easy to peel" hard boiled eggs out there (pressure cookers and who knows what all else) but I still do them the old fashioned way (bring to a boil in cold water, remove from heat, wait 10 minutes or so). I use a 2 quart ball jar for my pickled eggs. You can fit 15 or 16 jumbo eggs in there which is a goodly amount. 

As I stated before, my beer vinegar was a bit mellower than your usual malt vinegar.

So I used a bit higher ration of beer vinegar to white vinegar than I normally would. Into a 2 quart jar goes-

1.5 pint beer vinegar
1 pint white vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns.
However many eggs you can jam in.

That is all she wrote.

I like to enjoy pickled eggs at any point during their lifespan, but they really are best after a couple of weeks in the fridge. Mr. Dave's tip of the day is to not discard the vinegar when you have finished off your eggs. Pour in a pot, boil a minute or two, strain, cool and use it for your next batch (re-adding the spices). Pickled egg vinegar seems to get better with age.

Anyhow, I am really into this beer vinegar business. You don't really have to use homebrew either. It could be made with any available beer. I am thinking of making a vinegar out of some Genesee Bock. I think that would be nice and malty... Besides this pickled egg application I think the stuff would be lovely on fish and chips, fries, or any other crispy fried sort of thing.

Go fourth and vinegarize your beer. It is tasty.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cider in Our Veins. Also, A Theoretical Method for Making Traditional Applejack

I am a man of numerous hobbies. However, this year much of my energy has been directed towards the apple and its juice. This seems to reason as I am a proud resident of Upstate New York and live in the midst of some of the world's finest apple orchard country. So lately I have been quite the busy bee slopping gallons of apple cider between various buckets and jugs to satisfy my itch for creating new and wonderful intoxicating beverages. Heck, I even bought some mother of vinegar and did 5 gallons of homemade apple cider vinegar! I am a mad apple scientist.

I will admit this year I have mostly been purchasing cider/juice for my recipes from various local orchards and stores as I have gone lazy with my apple processing projects. I have a 90% finished hand cranked apple grinder in my shed and the bones of a planned cider press in my garage. Sigh. Perhaps I will get to cobbling all of that together this summer... Maybe they will even work.

As an aside before I get into some methodology I will share something that has become a minor obsession for me and will become next fall's endeavor (along with the apple grinder and press). I want to purchase a barrel for cider. I want to maintain a household cider barrel during the fall/winter. A couple of hundred years ago no household in this area would have been without a cider barrel. I have found 20 liter oak barrels around for about 100 bucks which seems reasonable so I'm going to do it.

Think about it. Back when you lived by or on an orchard. In the early fall you pressed your apples and put the cider in barrels. You added sugar or tree sap to spike the ABV to make it keep longer. Perhaps you threw in a handful of home dried raisins to start off the ferment. You put the barrel in your barn, shed, or even outside by your door. Everyone in the family began to partake of the cider.

For the first week or so you were drinking sweet cider with little or no alcohol content. A little longer down the line fermentation kicks in and you are drinking a mildly alcoholic beverage that took the edge off the coming chill.  Then around Christmas time you are imbibing a heady brew that has reached 8-12% alcohol depending on how much sugar you added. Finally, to warm your soul in the dead of deepest darkest winter you went out and were able to dip some applejack out of the partially frozen barrel.

Anyway, I want to experience the apple in that manner. So perhaps I will get all of the pieces in place before next fall. We shall see.

On to our next discussion. Ever heard of Applejack?

I'm sure you have. Perhaps you have even seen the Lairds stuff at the liquor store. Well, that ain't applejack. Not in the traditional sense anyhow. It is an apple brandy. Traditional applejack is made using fractional freezing, also called freeze-distilling. Due to the lower freezing temp of alcohol you can freeze hard cider, remove the resulting ice crystals, hence concentrating the cider into higher ABV applejack. There is all sorts of science relating to this on the internet. You need merely use your google machine if interested.

It is a fairly straight forward process. But here are some theoretical tips that one might use if you wanted to do some small scale Applejack experimentation at home. Freeze-distilling is still considered distilling by law and you should consult your local laws to see what is allowed.

To begin you are going to make a hard cider. Choose your apple fluid. Fresh filtered apple juice is ideal (less pectin), but may be hard to find. Normal pressed cider or store bought apple juice will work as long they do not contain preservatives (pretty much anything other than ascorbic acid is a no no).

You want a relatively high ABV in your hard cider. Between 12-14% is ideal. I really enjoy the flavor that brown sugar lends apple ferments so I use that to boost the fermentables. One of these days I am going to track down some fresh maple sap and try that.

5 gallons apple fluid
5 lbs brown sugar
Red Star Champagne yeast (cheap, dependable, and survives at a higher ABV)

Throw that all in your fermenter and let it go for a month. After the first month I rack it into a secondary fermenter but you could probably eliminate this step. Let it go another month and there you have it. I put the fermenter in my basement where the temp is 50-55 degrees. This is a good temp. You don't want to go over 60 degrees for cider in my opinion or weird stuff starts to happen.

I don't do gravities because I have a strange need to do things using only my senses. I know, I know, this is stupid and often results in disasters. But it is one of my charming quirks. I find that by tasting and smelling throughout you can learn to get a sense for how things are going. At 2 months this mixture will be in the alcohol range we are looking for. Not all of the sugar will have fermented out so a pleasant sweetness remains.

Drink a glass of that cider as it stands! As long as you aren't driving that is ... A nice pint of this heady, slightly effervescent, high ABV, live ferment is life affirming. It should be noted that the impact on your GI system of the living ferment can be, ahem ahem, a bit explosive...

Anyhow, this is where it gets theoretical. If you wanted to make applejack you would have to freeze the whole mess. In January and February you could leave it outside and hope for the best, or you could just use your freezer.

If you have a big chest freezer that is ideal. Just plop the whole bucket in there. But for the normal home kitchen this might not be reasonable. You could simply siphon your 5 gallons of cider into three of those giant 2 gallon freezer zipper bags and place those in the freezer overnight. Then all you would need to do is poke a punch of holes in the bottom of the bags and suspend them over a bucket until all the colored liquid drained out. Then you could repeat this process with the resulting liquid to concentrate it further.

Voila! You would probably end up with about a quarter of the volume of the original liquid at an ABV somewhere in the neighborhood of about 40-60%. That would be traditional freeze distilled applejack.

There are some concerns about methanol concentrations in applejack produced via fractional distilling. Here is a sciency article about all of that. Anecdotally, I can say that I know a guy who may or may not have drunk a bunch of this stuff to no ill effect. No 'apple palsy' whatsoever. But experiment at your own risk.

I currently have 3 batches of adulterated hard cider in fermenters. A black currant/apple, a blackberry/apple, and one flavored with yarrow. I should be sorted for cider all year. Perhaps I will stop now.

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