Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ted's Fish Fry: Guilderland Outpost. Some Fish Fry Rambling W/Bonus Lamenting on the State of the Local Mini-Dog Scene.

You know those "Capital Region Savings" coupon books that come in the mail all the time? I love them. Go ahead and flip through one. There is kitsch comedy gold in there from time to time. Some of our local independent eateries put delightfully bad examples of food photography in their ads. So I was looking for some of that in the one that arrived yesterday, but something else caught my eye.

Mini-dogs? At Ted's Fish Fry? I made haste to the new Guilderland location to see what is afoot.

I am beginning to see a local trend. Lot's of rando local food establishments (not dedicated hot dog joints) are suddenly throwing mini-dogs on the menu (Chester's for example). This seems to be a side affect of the "local" craze in modern marketing. As if throwing mini-dogs on the menu gives a restaurant a certain level of Capital Region street cred. I don't like this trend at all...

I may be overstating my influence, but I shudder to think that my years of evangelizing about our local mini dogs via this hack blog have contributed to this fad. When I started spewing my drivel mini-hot dogs were decidedly uncool. Now they seem to have achieved some sort of hip/ironic status.

This is awful and makes me want to puke. Our local hot dog joints (Charlie's, Gus's, Famous, Del'z , et al...) are very special indeed and should be protected at all costs. All this proliferation weakens the brand somehow I think. To keep from being too pessimistic I am telling myself that the product of the dedicated joints will shine when compared to the unstudied imitations... Sigh...

Anyhow, with some trepidation I got two of the little bastards with the works from Ted's.

You know what? They weren't actually awful. Pretty traditional, but sort of bland. The sauce was under salted and needed some pop. A little cayenne or something perhaps. I will say the dogs did lack the godawful "pie-spice" flavor that a lot of cut-rate hot dog purveyors seem to inflict on their hot dog sauces. For a fish-fry joint, this is really not a bad attempt at this hot dog style.

I broke my superstition concerning eating mini hot in even numbers because I also wanted to cram a fish-fry down my cake hole (I am turning into a horrible glutton). I figure that having eaten 3 things on buns I am in the clear as far as bad juju goes.

I don't think I have ever written about actual "fish-fry" (I did write a quick post about Bob n' Ron's). This is surprising as I have gone on about most other indigenous area foodstuffs... I was thinking about this the other day in concert with another regional food that I have never written about -- Brook's Chicken (and Cornell Chicken in general).

I think the explanation for this is that fish-fry and church chicken were so ubiquitous during my youth that I just never considered that I needed to post about them. My mom was an Irish Catholic who grew up with the Lenten fish tradition and carried it into adulthood. She used to get "fish-fry" all the time and it was just a normal part of life for me. Same thing with Brook's chicken. They would come to the church up the road from me all the time and we would have the chicken. Again, the chicken was just part of life.

So here I am posting about fish fry. I owe a post about Cornell chicken too, but that will have too wait.

Here is a Ted's fish-fry --

I always forget how much I like these ridiculous things! A piping hot, foot long, strangely skinny piece of fish jammed into a hot dog bun. They are so good. Although (the now defunct) Bob n' Ron's was the fish fry of my childhood, I declare that Ted's makes a goddamn beautiful example of a fish-fry.

I like to break the ends off and shove them into the sides of the bun. Then I slather on as much of the weird sweet chili sauce as the bun/fish can hold. I then eat the whole thing in about 5 bites. You have to eat a fish-fry quick as the sandwich really sings when it is at a temperature just below mouth burning.

I like Ted's Fish Fry and I think the Guilderland spot will do just fine. They have a nicely varied menu--

-- and seemed to be doing a brisk business for lunch. People like Ted's and they have a pretty good reputation locally. Nice people, good food, history... All of that stuff. I am actually pretty excited about having a Ted's relatively close. Fish-fry is a nice treat, and for some reason never fails to elevate my normally dismal mood.

Also, you get a bonus at the Guilderland Ted's. You can have flashbacks to when the building was a Wendy's with the weird Taco/Pasta/Salad bar thing. I used to make taco meat/nacho cheese spaghetti there when I was a kid...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Found Grocery List #4: Slingerlands Price Chopper

Inspired by The Grocery List Collection I have been documenting lists that I find at my local grocery stores (List #1: "The Blonoga List", List #2, List #3). Today I found a doozy at the Slingerlands Price Choppers.

Here we have a "Next 2 Weeks" list. That is planning ahead. I respect that. Also, it is a two stage shopping trip! The "P.C." and "S.R." clearly denote intended stops at Price Chopper and Shoprite. Can you live at that speed? I don't think I can.

From the list I imagine this is a very traditional, All-American, meat and potatoes sort of family. I am picturing a well kept lawn, handsome children, and a big tub of mayo poised and ready to slather that "deli meat." I see a stiff white collar against a freshly shaved neck (I think the second to last item is "starch.").

This is a family who would much like to eat vegetables with every meal, having heard that this is the very thing to do to maintain health and strong bones. But look at the items that are not scratched off -- Veggies, Parsley, and "Brocolli." Now I know that they went through the veggie department because "fresh garlic" was obtained. But somehow the good intentions to obtain other vegetable matter fell by the wayside. The best laid plans o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley. Such is life.

I found this to be an especially thrilling and thought provoking list. I am delighted by these small windows into the life of an alternate family reality.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Objet d’Art or Instrument of Profound Sadness: Table Talk Pies.

I was rambling about Table Talk Pies the other day, so I thought I would follow up with some more rambling.
It has long been my supposition that no mortal man has ever, in fact, consumed a Table Talk Pie. I am convinced that many markets (Stewart’s, I’m looking at you) purchase TTPs as some odd sort of decoration. Perhaps they are even a kind of convenience store talisman of good luck. A totem of convenience store good-juju.
At one of the Stewart’s shops I frequent there has long been two nomadic “Chocolate Eclair Pies” that wander amongst the various snack oases. They appear to spend their summers among the Hostess products and overwinter by the cash register. Considering the anachronistic packaging it has long been my suspicion that these two pies may be decades old. Never bought, never eaten. Have you ever eaten a TTP? Do you know anyone who has ever eaten a TTP? I haven’t. I don’t.
Tonight I decided that this personal mystery should no longer stand and I bought one of TTPs. Walking to my vehicle I was feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t purchased both of the pies. Thinking about that single TTP sitting on the maroon Stewart’s counter all by it’s lonesome was a bit depressing.
I have long associated pie with sadness. When I was a young fellow of about 15 years I was waiting to be seated at the local Denny’s (Western Ave., Guilderland). Seated alone on a stool at the front counter I observed a woman of middle age. She was eating a single slice of neon green key lime pie. It was a remarkably sad looking piece of pie adorned with a blob of aerosol whipped cream and bits of crust crumbled on the plate.
The woman was dutifully making her way through the dessert without any apparent joy or relish. Bathed in the harsh glow of Denny’s track lighting it appeared to me a powerfully sad scene. I believe I was thrown into a state of melancholia for upwards of a week. Ever since that day I have associated low quality pie, eaten under certain circumstances, with a sense of great weltschmerz.
This evening as I drove my TTP home I began to ruminate on the subject of the sadness of pie. What if there are people who buy and consume TTPs? The thought of someone forlornly munching away, standing alone in the kitchen, at night, on a Tuesday, was almost more then I could bear.
But that is really all a lot of nonsense. I learned long ago that my bizarre conception of the human experience isn’t really applicable to other human animals. So I cheered up and unboxed my TTP.
My first observation was that the guy at the Hostess factory who is in charge of putting the precise fondant swirls on top of their cupcakes would be thrown into a fit of OCD handwringing at the sight of this pie. Those are some bush league fondant swirls.
I will say that the thing had an appealing eggy vanilla sort of stench. Also, I found the tiny pie tin downright charming.
I took a triumphant bite.
I was a bit disappointed that the pie was relatively “fresh.” Obviously not the decades old relic that I had kind of wished it would be. Nope. It is apparent that Table Talk Pies have their fans and there is likely a fairly brisk turnover at my local Stewart’s. They aren’t necessarily that bad. As I child I am sure I would have been bonkers for these pies. As it stands now they are unpleasantly cloying.
As always I am a bit sad to have put to bed one of the odd fancies that I carry around in my head. I go to bed tonight in a world that has slightly less magic and mystery. Such is life I guess.

Del’z Dawgs, Castleton

My junior and I were across the river the other day for Hot Dog Charlie’s when I made a decision to punish my gastrointestinal tract. I thought that doing a little “bang bang” lunch might be fun…
We did our normal thing at Charlie’s…

…then headed up the road to Del’z Dawgs in Castleton (-on-Hudson).
I’d been hearing about/driving by Del’z for several years, but had never been in to partake. Having only been around for a decade Del’z is a relative newcomer on the local mini-dog scene. Some of the other players in the Capital Region are coming up on their hundredth birthdays.
I laughed as I pulled into Del’z because I parked my white pickup truck next to three other white pickup trucks. I think I may fit some sort of local mini-dog consumer stereotype that I haven’t quite figured out yet…
Entering the joint I was pleased to see that they keep it absolutely traditional. From the decor to the menu I felt right at home. My boy and I ordered one mini-dog each and went outside to eat them off the back of my truck so we could freely discuss their merits.

I really like these dogs. They have pluck. An assertive punch of mustard, great amount of pleasant bitterness from the sauce, and tons of chopped onion. None of that nasty, pie-spicey, rookie mistake flavor in the sauce that you get at some other places locally. You taste these dogs for a few minutes after they are gone, but in a good way... Went to visit the wife after Del’z and she greeted me with, “you stink like onions and grease.” That is just the sort of aroma you want after eating at a bonafide mini-dog joint.
I give Del’z a resounding two thumbs up and happily recommend you go. Del’z and Anton’s are the only two Capital Region places I now recommend for hot dogs (aside from Charlie’s and Famous, of course).
They also do fish fry and mozzarella with raspberry if you are into that sort of thing. Quite an expansive menu aside from the dogs but I can’t speak to any of it as of yet. I will report with further findings in the future.

Authentic Hot Dog Sauce Grease: A Historical Account of Hot Dog Charlie’s.

I used to write a lot on the subject of our particular Capital Region style hot dogs and their ubiquitous meat sauce. Hot Dog Charlie’s has been my personal favorite since childhood and I’ve been trying for years to recreate their sauce at home.
I’d penned a couple of posts where I experimented with various formulations with marginal success.
Sometime ago I received an email containing the following -
“I was born in Troy and my dad took us to Charlies all the time. I am 65 so I do miss that sauce. I can tell you just this.
I remember going in there one time when it just opened for the day. We were in the booth. We were the only ones there. I went to the counter and just watched. I was around 7. So think 1957. He put ground hamburger meat into a deep pan. He added some water to it. He talked to my dad and it just boiled. He came back and mashed it for about a minute. Then he added 3 things. I do not know what they were. I do think the original recipe has to be simple. The 50’s were not that complicated as some of the recipes I have seen. The red I saw could have been tomato paste. But I do not know.
Living now in Idaho hoping Charlies opens in heaven for me.”
I had the feeling that I had been getting too precious in my attempts. So I was overjoyed to receive this firsthand account of how it was done all those years ago.
Here is the rub. Do I really care about being able to recreate Hot Dog Charlie’s sauce at home? No, not really. It will probably never be as good as the real mccoy. I can easily partake in a couple with the works at any time I feel the urge. That is not the point. The technique of making this hot dog sauce deserves to be maintained in living memory.
Read that email. It is a 7 year old girl’s remembrance from over 50 years ago! Is the sauce that extraordinary in it’s red greasy power? Probably not. It is a memory linked to a memory. I guarantee the joy of sharing an experience with her father all those years ago is what allowed her to recall the sauce-making in such vivid detail.
I can attest to the power of eating hot dogs with family in early childhood. I can remember specific instances of Hot Dog Charlie’s consumption with my mother at around age 6 or 7. Now I take my own son (daughter is meat averse) about twice a month (went this very afternoon!).
I have a sinking feeling that the days of the traditional Capital Region hot dog restaurant are numbered. So I feel it is my duty to preserve this particular bit of knowledge.
In the small chance you may have read my past attempts on the (now defunct) ridiculousfoodsociety blog, forget all that garbage. I’ve used the knowledge contained in the above email to formulate what I think is a good and traditional answer for a Capital Region style hot dog recipe.
Below are passages from the email with my thoughts and interpretations.
He put ground hamburger meat into a deep pan. He added some water to it. He talked to my dad and it just boiled.”
That is about 2.5lbs. of 80/20 ground chuck submerged in 6–7 cups of water. You need to use a high fat beef to get that wonderful red grease (sweet nectar of the god of hot dogs) that floats on top of the Charlie’s cauldron of meat sauce. I let that come to a boil whilst mashing away with a sturdy whisk until the meat was particularly obliterated.
“Then he added 3 things. I do not know what they were….The red I saw could have been tomato paste.”
I gave no small thought to this observation. I don’t think the red she saw was tomato paste. I have a couple ideas about what those 3 things were, but I am going with the following: 1) “red stuff” = a spice blend composed of a relatively large amount of paprika, chili powder, powdered garlic, and cinnamon. 2) dehydrated onion. 3) salt+pepper.
I had been perplexed about what gave Charlie’s sauce its red hue and particular tang. In the past I had figured maybe vinegar or tomato past were involved. But wisened 35 year old Dave thinks this can all be attributed to paprika. Cheap, bright red, garden variety paprika. In shocking amounts. I used somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 cups in this recipe. You sort of have to just keep going until the color is right.
A note on the chili powder. There is a clue on the label of the jarred sauce that Charlie’s sells in local stores. It says “chili powder (ground chilis).” I am starting to think many of the “off” flavors in my past attempts were from the varying degrees of cumin/oregano/garlic in the various brands of “chili powder” I’ve used. This time I used straight cayenne. About 1/2 teaspoon.
A teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/8th teaspoon of cinnamon rounded out the “red stuff.”
I added 1/3 cup of dehydrated onion. This is crucial. Fresh onion is another false path I went down in the past. Dehydrated onion is a necessity. About 1/3 cup, and I think you could do with more. About 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt and dash of pepper and then let it all bubble away for an hour or so.
Then you taste it. Still not right. Let it cool overnight and then reheat it for about 4 or 5 hours in a crockpot. There you go. Then you have something you will recognize.
“I do think the original recipe has to be simple. The 50’s were not that complicated as some of the recipes I have seen.”
Simplicity was what I was missing. I would cook off the beef, saute the onions a bit, blah blah blah… Nope. Put all the stuff in a pot and boil it off and then hold it at temp all day. That is the secret. I actually think I may have used less “secret spices” in my version then Charlie’s does. But I think this is for the best.
“Living now in Idaho hoping Charlies opens in heaven for me.”
Sigh… What more can you say? I hope you find your Charlie’s in the sky JoAnn. Thank you.

I have a niche obsession with old-timey church-lady recipe collections

One of the things that sucks about the slow deaths of the various social clubs, societies, and organizations that used to be so prevalent in our society is the lack of recipe collections being published…
I have a small collection of “cookbooks” from Upstate New York Junior Leagues, church groups, ladies auxiliaries, etc… I find something charming in their yellowing pages and plastic binding combs. I stalk eBay, I dig through bargain book bins, I prowl local garage sales for these relics of the past. I am convinced there is lost wisdom hidden in the pages. The lore of our grandmothers.
Aside from all of that, some of the recipes make me laugh out loud… The picture below is of a doozy from one of the prized items in my collection. This is “Favorite Recipes” published in the ’70s (I think) by the fine ladies of the church up the road from my house, St. Thomas the Apostle in Delmar, NY.
“Orange Gelatin Powder,” eh? That means orange Jello… This is a recipe for baked chicken covered in orange Jello and pineapple juice…
One day I am going to have a party where I recreate all of these recipes that sound so ridiculous on paper. I would wager that for every one that is actually horrific, there is another one that works. You never know.
In any event, we should bring back clubs and societies. We should have meetings and publish cookbooks. We should dip into the cooking sherry and get a bit crazy over some crudités…

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Chester's Smokehouse, Albany

So I finally made it over to Chester's Smokehouse over on Watervliet Ave. in Albany. The impetus for my trip was the following tweet -

It turns out that Chester's has a serve yourself mini-hotdog bar!  As I was already curious enough about Chester's this gave me the inertia necessary to swing by whilst running errands in Albany this afternoon. 

Walking in I noticed that the establishment seemed to be doing quite a brisk lunch business with the clientele trending towards elderly. The space is quite large and a bit sparse. Chester's has a wonderful lengthy cold case to display their smokey wares. There is an odd smattering of Polish/Eastern European sundry goods that seem to be a bit of an afterthought.

I started by perusing the large refrigerator section. Chester's has a mammoth selection of smoked cheeses. Now here is the thing. Smoked cheese doesn't really flip my switch. Listening to the chatter concerning Chester's it seems that much of the buzz concerns their smoked cheese.

I have a cold-smoking rig at home and if I want smoked cheese I will go buy a block of cheese and smoke it (one day I will write a post on this subject). Smoke won't improve bad cheese, so I tend to like to select my own cheeses for smoking.

I did, however, make a purchase. Among your usual suspects (provolone, mozzarella, cheddar, etc...) I spied something funny. I stopped and went, "is that Huntsman?" What a weird thing to smoke! I had to buy it. I took a nibble and as I suspected, I think I would have rather just had the plain old huntsman...

I then turned my attention to the meats for offer in the cold case. I didn't really have a yen to purchase too much today, so I asked for simple pound of sliced bacon. If a smokehouse can't do good bacon this does not bode well for the rest of their selection. There were a few things in the cold case that piqued my interest for the future (stuffed bacon, ham bacon, pierogies, kabanos, jerky). 

Being a scatter brained dolt, I almost left before remembering the very purpose of my journey! The mini-hotdog bar. As I checked out I had the good gentlemen cashier throw three to go onto my bill. Here they are.

The hot dog bar consists of a wee combo bun/dog steamer and an array of condiments to include cheese, chili, sauerkraut, onions, etc... You can select normal mini-dogs or kielbasa. I took three dogs and dressed them with onion/mustard/sauce ("the works").

The onion dice was a bit large and the meat sauce is a bit off (more of a "chili," too thick), but they are thoroughly serviceable. As Chester's is not a hot dog joint per se I am cutting them a lot of slack in the traditional Capital Region style hot dog category...

So this is what I brought home from Chester's (aside from the hot dogs which I shoved down my food-hole in the car). I am a sucker for a good loaf of rye bread.

The bacon is good, I cooked some up. Gentle smoke flavor (they sell double smoked as well) and made from nice meaty bellies.

So, some final thoughts. Will Chester's tear me away from Rolf's Pork Store for any of my smokey meat needs? Just from my observations during this cursory experience -- no, probably not. There is bit of difference in selection, but also a lot of overlap. Where I in the meat business, I would not like to go toe to toe with Rolf's. They are a force of meat-nature. 

However, it seems that Chester's seems to be trying to make a run as more of a Deli then just a smokey-meat shop. They have an expansive menu of sandwiches and the like. I think I owe them a visit for lunch before I fully form my full opinion. They have this giant meatball sandwich thing that looks absolutely ridiculous and I have to try it!

In any event, I welcome Chester's to the area and I wish them nothing but success. Anyone who trades in the art of smokey-meats is OK in my book.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Homebrewing By the Gallon: Raisin Wine

So Dave, what is this gallon jug of raw sewage you are presenting us with all about? Well, that is actually raisin (or straw) wine happily fermenting away. Looks sort of nasty, I know. But it is actually a very simple recipe.

You take two pounds of raisins and run them through your meat grinder. Ever wanted to know what that looks like? Here you go…
To the two pounds of ground raisins you add 12 ounce of sugar and cover in sufficient enough boiling water to allow the mess to fit in a gallon jug. Let everything cool overnight and then pitch your yeast. I used Red Star champagne yeast because it tolerates high alcohol concentrations and it is what I had on hand in my junk drawer.

This whole mess should ferment a month or so and then I will strain out the solids, re-rack, let it clarify, and then bottle and cellar for a while. Should be good.

My main point is not to give you my (probably bad) improvised recipe for raisin wine, but to encourage you to embrace 1 gallon brewing. Do you homebrew? If you do you probably have the same 5 gallon carboys and buckets rattling around your basement.

The thing is, brewing 5 gallons of something is a commitment. It is like having a child. A heavy, effervescent, stinky child. You have to care for it and if it starts going bad you can’t feel very good about just pitching it out in the yard. You have just wasted a significant amount of your valuable time and effort.

Would I ever have brewed 5 gallons of raisin wine? No way. Firstly, that is a butt-ton of raisin wine (well not actually a ‘butt’ as that is 108 imperial gallons). Eventually I would be confronted with the reality that I actually have to drink 5 gallons of raisin wine… 1 gallon is a much less frightening prospect. Secondly, what if it does go bad? I just wasted 10 pounds of raisins and all the effort I put into grinding them into a disgusting looking paste…

Yes, yes. Better to do 1 gallon of experimental brews. It encourages daring. If I am brewing 5 gallons it will be a tried and true recipe that I know is going to turn out good. 1 Gallon brewing is freeing. I much more likely to do that gallon of unhopped gruit ale or heather beer I have been thinking about.
Go buy yourself a jug, a stopper, and an airlock and brew away. Hobbies help pass the time and turn the mind away from inevitable thoughts of the void.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Priceless Fluid: My Children, An Apple Tree, Winter.

This bottle contains homemade applejack (for a theoretical method of making applejack, see my post). My children picked the apples from a single tree at Indian Ladder, I made them into cider (then hard cider), and jacked a half gallon using the New York winter cold snap we just had. How is that for a small batch locally “distilled” spirit?
That bottle contains about 750 milliliters of condensed Upstate New York autumn. I don’t want to wax too philosophical about this, but I will. Everything is in there. The laughter of my children, the touch of their fingers, apples, orchards, cold. I hesitate to even drink it.
Several times I have held the bottle in my hand and smiled. It brings to my mind memories of a day at the orchard and of the calm and peace I find in the process of making cider. I think I should like to just have it around for a while. Maybe a special occasion will roll around that will seem suitable to take the bottle out.
Perhaps I will have a nip in the middle of bleakest February to chase away the frost and bring to my mind thoughts of a stroll through an October orchard…
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