Thursday, May 26, 2016

The "B.E.C.U.G." (Bacon, Egg, Cheese, Utica Greens) Sandwich. World, I Give to You This Gift. You Are Welcome

I have made it a tradition every year to grow enough escarole in my garden to prepare two large batches of Utica Greens. Consult this post on the subject of Utica Greens for more information concerning this Central New York delicacy. This year I got up to a few things with the greens. I altered my recipe a bit, and I made the "B.E.C.U.G." We will get to the "B.E.C.U.G." in a minute...

But first, the alterations to my recipe. I got a tip from this preparation to boil off the greens, sauté them with the garlic and cherry peppers, and then keep them overnight to infuse the escarole with the garlic/pickled pepper flavors. I wholeheartedly recommend this extra step. It really does add flavor to the Utica Greens party.

Another new addition to this year's Utica Greens -- homemade dry-cured pork!

I cured, pressed (with bricks), and then dry-cured a pork butt. It came out really very good. A nice sweet flavor reminiscent of prosciutto, but with much more fat. A hearty slice of this went into my Utica Greens.

Nothing beats the smell of a fresh batch of greens browning in the oven... Don't mind the dirty pan. That is flavor baked into the porcelain (it has become my traditional Utica Greens pan)...

Now don't get me wrong, Utica Greens are great by themselves. But one of my favorite things about the greens is that they can be wedged into other dishes to great effect. One of my favorite lunch items at one of my favorite restaurants in the world is the Chicken and Greens sandwich at Vescio's Franklin Hotel in Rome, NY. If ever you are near Rome, NY, go to the Franklin. A plate of their grilled long hots with a loaf of bread and a beer will change your life. I am not exaggerating. It will change your life...

Anyhow, I was thinking about Utica Greens in sandwiches when genius struck my noggin like a bolt of lightning! I footed it over to the Delmar Market and got me a Bacon/Egg/Cheese on a Prinzo's hard roll at McCarroll's.

I made haste home and broke out one of my Griswolds and began to sauté up... A UTICA GREENS PATTY!!!

I crisped up those Utica Greens and slapped them on top of the bacon/egg/cheese.

And thusly, the "B.E.C.U.G" (bacon, egg, cheese, Utica Greens) sandwich was born!

And it was good. I'm not joking. This should be on menus.

If ever my writing on this hack weblog has had a purpose, I hope it is that someone other than I consumes this sandwich. The B.E.C.U.G. approaches culinary perfection. I like to go big or go home in my Utica Greens preparation. I've been using increasingly large amounts of garlic, pork, and cherry peppers. The aggressively spicy/garlicky greens I make are the perfect addition to a breakfast sandwich.

I may have to stop posting. I consider this my magnum opus....

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York (Well, New Jersey This Time), Part 2.5: Steamed Chicken ("From Ridgewood Kitchens," West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1945)

Part 1:  The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 1: Tomato Soup Cake ("Golden Anniversary," Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)
Part 2:  The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 2: "Hot Damn" ("Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996)

I am calling this installment of church cookbook cooking "Part 2.5" as it is not from a New York recipe collection. It is from a Ridgewood, New Jersey collection.  I will continue with my exploration of the lore and wisdom of Upstate New York church ladies shortly.

Recently I purchased a small lot of mostly Central New York cookbooks. Included was "From Ridgewood Kitchens," sponsored by the Women's Guild of the West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey, 1945.

This is a thoroughly interesting recipe collection. It is a snapshot of late/post WWII home cooking in the North East. Many of the recipes seem almost modern. This period in American cooking is unlike the 50s/60s/70s with all of the kitsch horrors that those eras produced. In the mid-40s you had relatively simple preparations using spare amounts of wholesome ingredients.

This recipe especially piqued my interest --

What a nice, simple Asian influenced recipe! It is unlike the American recipes of the following decades where "Asian" or "Oriental" in the recipe name will mean, "this has soy sauce in it, maybe water chestnuts too."

So I purchased ingredients and followed the instructions religiously.

Although I did adhere to the recipe, the recommended amounts of peanuts and raisins felt a bit aggressive. Almost as if you were stuffing the chicken carcass with trail-mix... For the mushrooms I used rehydrated shitakes.

After steaming in a glass bowl propped on an overturned saucer in a stock pot for 2.5 hours, this is what we have --

It smelled really very good.

I flipped the stuffed chicken into a larger bowl as per the recipe --

It made for an interesting presentation I thought. A nice steamy dome of chicken carcass....

Final step, "Serve."

First thing I thought was, "hell, I don't eat enough steamed chicken." Steaming the whole bird results in tender juiciness (even in the white meat) that is difficult to achieve via other cooking methods.

Second thing I thought was that this might be some sort of spiritual grandmother recipe to modern American-Chinese "sweet and sour" chicken dishes. The sugar/salt/raisins/peanuts together had a sweet/salty/sour/crunchy feel that you find in the modern globby sauced and fried dishes. But this '45 recipe is stripped down and delicious.

I would prepare this again. I don't know that I have seen a similar recipe during my study of old timey church cookbooks, so I feel I have resurrected a treasure from the past... I think you could successfully tweak this recipe to your own particular tastes. I would like to see a source of heat and maybe a little more acid.

I apologize for the departure from my usual local subject matter. Increasingly I am using this weblog to record things for myself so I don't forget them.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Grandma Brown's Baked Bean Sandwich

My post concerning Grandma Brown's Baked Beans (Mexico, NY) has long been one of my most viewed. I am quite happy with this as I absolutely love Grandma Brown's beans. In fact, for years as a younger man I kept one of the 116 once mega-cans in my apartment as an objet d'art.

Aside from the beautiful label design, Grandma Brown makes some delicious no-nonsense bean products. Just peruse the comment section of my post and you will sense the intense loyalty felt towards these beans by my fellow Upstate New York countrymen.

Something that caught my eye while reading through those comments were the repeated reminiscences concerning Grandma Brown's baked bean sandwiches. Here is such a comment from "Jim" --

"I was born in Fulton NY not far from Mexico NY.
Grandma Browns was an "institution" for any baked bean fan in our area. In the early 50's the company had a booth at the NYS Fair, and sold bean sandwiches for .15 (fifteen cents !).
There was a one block line of people waiting for them. The next year ? No GB sandwiches. Rumor had it that the "hot dog and burger" guys threatened not to come back if GB was allowed ! I believe it was true.
Jim Mahern - "still a fan"!"

Baked bean sandwiches, eh? This is not a tradition that I am familiar with. Some cursory google research informed me that the baked bean sandwich seems to be a tradition out of New England. This makes sense to me. I have long said that Upstate New York (at least the eastern part) shares a common food culture with inland New England. 

My initial thought was that the baked bean sandwich would have been served warm. However, it appears that the baked bean sandwich is a dish traditionally served cold. I am not averse to consuming Grandma Brown's products cold. One of my guilty pleasures is tortilla chips with ersatz bean dip made from GB's bean soup straight out o' the can. So I decided to make a traditional baked bean sandwich.

I cracked open a can of GB's baked beans and spooned some right onto a slice of Freihofer's.

Don't that look beautiful?

Tucking in I found the bean sandwich to be thoroughly pleasant. It's one of those starch on starch concepts that scratches a very particular itch. I imagine that a bean sandwich made out of leftovers from a batch of doctored (I always add bacon and mustard) Grandma Brown's beans would be sublime.

You know what this sandwich was missing? I'll tell you my idear for the perfect GB's bean sandwich. Butter the heck out of that bread with some softened butter, squirt a little mustard onto that bread, and ensure there was some good smokey bacon involved in your bean preparation.

This is the first food project I've done in years that really made me swell with Upstate New York pride... After nearly a decade of writing this hack weblog I am still discovering new traditions from my beloved homeland!

Perhaps you should prepare some GB beans at your memorial day BBQ. Then perhaps you should make a sandwich out of the leavings. This is my advice to you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Church (Cornell) Chicken: Brooks BBQ

We don't have many true culinary traditions here in Upstate NY, but we do have some. Eating grilled "Cornell Chicken" at your local church barbecue is one of them.

I start salivating every time I drive by a church signboard advertising a chicken BBQ. I have since childhood. I nearly lose my mind when I drive by a church and see (smell) this...

If you aren't from around here I guess I should explain a couple of things before I go on...

First of all, a note on Cornell Chicken. This recipe was developed by the late Professor Robert C. Baker (also the inventor of the chicken nugget), Professor of Poultry Science and Food Science at Cornell University. The recipe is as follows.

Recipe for Barbeque Sauce (enough for 10 halves): 

1 cup cooking oil 
1 pint cider vinegar 
3 tablespoons salt 
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon pepper 
1 egg 

Beat the egg, then add the oil and beat again. Add other ingredients and stir. The recipe can be varied to suit individual tastes. 

Chicken halves marinated/basted in a variant of this sauce are fairly ubiquitous at church chicken barbecues. The outfits that cater these events generally have their own secret recipe for their particular sauce. But they are all basically variants of the above Cornell Chicken recipe. Brooks BBQ out of Oneonta is the most common caterer in the Capital Region (you might also see Giffy's).

Secondly, a note on the use of the term "BBQ" or "Barbecue." Folks, the term "BBQ/Barbecue" has been attested as meaning, "a social gathering with food cooked over an open heat source" since the 17th century... It's use is not solely limited to southern style BBQ. If you argue this point and get bunched up about Brooks' or Giffy's using the term then you are a pedant. A dirty, stinky, annoying pedant.

I would argue that Cornell chicken served at church/community barbecues and grilled on grates over charcoal is our own "Upstate New York vernacular BBQ." It has its own history, traditions, and recipes that have persisted over time. It is ours. We should embrace and be proud of it.

Moving on. I took the entire family over to the Methodist church in McKownville the other weekend for some Brooks' chicken.

I lived for most of my childhood in McKownville so this is my home base for church chicken.

Everyone should "Eat In" at least once in your life. This is where you will soak up the true experience of a chicken BBQ. The whole process makes me happy. It hasn't change much in my lifetime. The fact that they now accept debit cards seems a revolutionary development...

You start off by taking a looksy at the menu.

Then you buy your tickets.

Next you walk over to the seating area which will contain charmingly set clothed tables. You grab a tray and get your drinks. Water, apple juice, tomato juice, or coffee. It is always water, apple juice, tomato juice, or coffee... Then you choose some cake and go sit down. The nice folks at the church will bring you your chicken.

My son started his meal with an appetizer of cake...

You know what makes me smile more than almost anything? A church BBQ "relish tray," that's what. Just look at it. Look! There is nothing in the world more charming then a relish tray at a church chicken BBQ.

Then your chicken arrives. And your potato.

I love Brooks' chicken. Tender, flavorful, crisp... At least it is always crisp when you go to the actual Brooks' location in Oneonta. At church events we must make some allowances as sometimes the chicken has been held for a bit after coming off of the grill. But didn't I tell you folks? This is about the experience as much as it is about the chicken...

You sit there in that church with your family and your fellow countrymen and munch your chicken bones clean. There is something very peaceful and serene about the whole process. I can't explain it. It is a thing that must be experienced for one's self.

Something that troubled me during my visit was the average age of the fellow chicken enthusiasts seated around me. It was an aged crowd. Other than my own, I don't think there were any young families. This made me sad. I think the lugubrious pace of "eating in" at these events is too much for the frenetic members of my generation... The staid traditions may seem too "hokey" for many.

This is madness. If you drive by a sign in your community advertising a chicken BBQ, you better go. Don't grab a takeout chicken. You stay right there and "eat in." While eating tell your children, "someday you will bring your children here."

We cannot afford to let things like this fade from the world.  The world has already moved on from so many things...

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 2: "Hot Damn" ("Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996)

Part 1:  Tomato Soup Cake, "Golden Anniversary" - Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)

As folks seemed to like the concept of exploring recipes from my small (but growing) stash of vintage local Church/Community recipe collections, I thought I would follow up with a Part 2.

Today we have a selection from "Sharing Our Best" released in 1996 by the Chemung ARC out of Elmira, NY.

The recipes in this book were mostly fairly pedestrian takes on workaday family style dishes. However, something that stood out to me was the recipe titles. Many of the recipes for familiar dishes had these wonderfully strange monikers.

In there I found -- "Barbara's Cheese Moss Balls," "Even Pat Can Do It - Hamburgers and Tomatoes," "$250.00 Cookie Recipe," "White Trash (basically muddy buddies/puppy chow)," and the dish I ultimately decided to recreate -- "Hot Damn."

Here is the recipe for, "Hot Damn" by Ms. Aviva Tappan --

I'm on board to give any recipe containing Doritos and Velveeta a whirl...

A note on the ingredients. This recipe is not something I would feed my family regularly, or would ever consume myself. I decided that I would make an effort to tailor it to my families tastes so that it would not be an entire waste. I used Barilla protein plus rotini for the noodles and omitted the mushrooms/olives. No way I'm getting mushrooms/olives past my picky rugrats.

I haven't handled Velveeta in many years. I had forgotten how fascinating the stuff is. So bright and wiggly. I played with it for a minute or two.

The recipe for "Hot Damn" is pretty simple. Mix all the crap together, slop it in a baking dish, and bake at 350 for "20 or 30" minutes. And that is what I done did.

Here she is fresh and pipin' hot out of the oven. A gooey, bubbly, golden brown heap of "Hot Damn."

I served myself a small portion and tucked in... I had to laugh! This stuff tastes like Nacho Cheese Doritos in a noodley casserole form. The "Hot Damn's"  salsa/Velveeta/crushed Doritos had melded together into a perfect "Dorito Sauce."

Pretty amazing actually. If Ms. Aviva Tappan was going for the perfect expression of Doritos flavor in the form of a casserole she hit the nail right on the goddamn head. Kudos to her. I can't say that I exactly enjoyed this recipe, but I can definitely appreciate the cut of its jib.

So, did my kids like it? Nope. Mr. Dave Jr. wasn't having any of this "Hot Damn" nonsense. My intrepid daughter took a bite, shrugged her shoulders, and said -- "no thank you."

So here I am. Left with a giant dish of "Hot Damn" and a house redolent with the aroma of Doritos... No matter. A small price to pay for bringing New York's past back to life. I think I will be able to find some willing bellies to fill with gobs of "Hot Damn."

Stay tuned. This will not be the end of this series. I just acquired the following list of treasures --

There is sure to be solid gold contained on some of these pages...
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