Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ol' Dave's "Word of Honor" Seed Endorsements for Albany Co./Zone 5B: Pepper Edition

If you know me you know I don't go willy-nilly recommending things to people. I take it as part of my personal code of honor that people think well of my thoughts and opinions. So unless I am utterly convinced a thing is a superior sort of thing, I keep mum. But I'm gonna go ahead and let you in on a couple whizbanger pepper varieties that are Dave-garden tested and personally approved.

Now first, a word on my pepper patch and general pepper preferences. Central New York cuisine, and specifically the cuisine of the Utica/Rome area, has some of the most wonderful and unique concepts in the state. The backbone of many of the dishes particular to the area have as their backbone a couple varieties of pepper. You have the "long hots (or sweet)" frying peppers and the cherry pepper.

My "last meal before the chair" dish is probably a steaming plate of the hot pepper appetizer with some crusty bread from Vescio's Franklin Hotel in Rome. This is a simple dish of long hot peppers grilled in olive oil, usually with the peppers on a spectrum of green to red. Jon in Albany has a good picture of the dish over on his weblog.

I have tried a variety of peppers over the years to imitate this culinary masterpiece, but last year I stumbled upon this type.

These are sweet "Jimmy Nardello Italian Frying" peppers. I got them here. I have seen the name "Jimmy Nardello" attached to various brands (even Burpee sells them), but I can't speak to any of those. These ones I have used for two years now and they are wonderful. Prolific, great germination, healthy plants, no disease, no rotten peppers... Just seem to do great in my garden.

Look at how these bad-boys fry up!

I will say that "sweet" isn't the best word for these as they pack a good amount of heat while still being flavorful. A+ peppers. Don't know that I will ever grow another variety of frying peppers.

The next variety of pepper that is ubiquitous in Utica/Rome type Italian-American cuisine is the humble cherry pepper. Usually canned in vinegar, you find cherry pep-peps in Riggies, Utica Greens, and other places where you want a nice vinegar/pepper punch.

Again, I have tried numerous brands of seeds and starts for cherry peppers, but I've been sort of disappointed with a few. But this year I've been growing giant shiny suckers! Look at these monsters.

You want to have a laugh? The seed that I have found that does best in my garden is these humble guys -

That's right folks. The humble 50 cent seed pack that I've consistently found at Walmart seems to consistently do the best. I'll have enough to can and last me the whole year! Good flavor and nice and spicy. So don't judge a book by its cover with these guys. Give them a whirl.

I think my next mission is to find what pepper they use to do Utica Grind (or double cut) red pepper. Maybe dry some of my own and grind 'em up.

So happy gardening and god bless the greater Utica/Rome area.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Once and Future NEBA (Mr. B's Best Roast Beef, Queensbury, NY)

I don't know why no one told me, but it seems a new business operating under the name Mike's NEBA has opened in Schenectady! Pretty much every time I drive my family past the corner of Central and Colvin (Albany) I end up going on about the Mike's NEBA location that was located there when I was a kid. Slushies and roast beef sandwiches after tee-ball at Westland Hills park are a treasured memory of mine...

The history of NEBA roast beef and NEBA joints is pretty long and convoluted.This article does a decent job of summarizing. It's complicated, various owners are involved, Mr. Subb is involved, I won't get into it... Suffice it to say that thin sliced roast beef sandwiches, horsey sauce, and tater tots have been part of the fabric of Upstate NY for decades.

So I am cautiously excited about the Schenectady Mike's NEBA. I will have to check it out.

Anyhow, speaking of NEBA joints. I happened to be up Queensbury way and decided to visit one of the gems of the greater Lake George area - Mr. B's Best Roast Beef & Subs.

I love this place. If my kids want to go to Great Escape, well then, Daddy is gonna' get some roast beef in him. Lucky for them they like the cheese tots.

You must drink in the scenery at Mr. B's for a bit before ordering.

From the menu board...

To the condiment bar...

To the weird bun under the cheese dome...

It's all good, everything. Every detail. Even though Mr. B's is a pretty clean and shiny joint, it has just enough of that local patina you would expect from a 50 year old roast beef restaurant in Queensbury.

This time I went for a hot roast beef and cheese. Large.

Here she is. Beautiful.

I like to get a cheese NEBA and then put the horsey sauce (horseradish mayo here, must be old trademark issues...) in there too. It's my secret combo.

The food comes on a paper featuring all of the presidents of the U.S. of A, past and present. My little boy got upset at a certain someone eyeballing him while he was enjoying his tots...

I've pretty much been a functional vegetarian lately, but I have decided to ditch the principles temporarily. The very next day I swung through for a hot ham on my way back to Delmar. Nothing beats a nice hot hot ham.

Mr. B's is great. Who knows how long it will be there so you should probably go in and get some beef and tots. Like the elves departing from middle-earth, most of the elder NEBA joints have passed into myth and legend. Well, except for the fact that a Mike's NEBA just opened in Schenectady...

Perhaps I will share some other images that I captured around Lake George if you have a minute. I've captioned them with humorous quips.

"Pour that shit Billy. Pour that shit..."
From a Great Escape food plan ad... A funnel cake demon feasting on a bloody offering.
I won this thing. Apparently, nobody ever wins this. It seemed to throw the staff for a loop.
Won a 5 foot tall blue dragon for the boy scoring many dad-points.
That's about all she wrote. I'm resurrecting the weblog temporarily as I will be attending the NYS fair for pretty much the duration. I figure the world needs my dispatches from the fair. The world may not yet know that it needs my dispatches from the fair, but it does.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Piss Beers of Upstate New York: Part 7, Genesee (Brew House) Orange Honey Cream Ale

Piss Beers, Part 1 - Genny Lager
Piss Beers, Part 2 - Uncle Charlie (Utica Club)
Piss Beers, Part 3 - Genny Bock
Piss Beers, Part 4 - Genny 12 Horse Ale
Piss Beers, Part 5 - Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice v1.0
Piss Beers, Part 5 1/2 - Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice v2.0
Piss Beers, Part 6 -Genesee Ice 

There is one true Cream Ale and her name is Genny. She wears a green dress and is accompanied by lightning.

But when I heard that the Genesee Brew House was putting out a Cream Ale other than the OTCA (One True Cream Ale), I was insanely curious. It took me a little while but I finally got over to Oliver's Brew Crew on Colvin and scored a 6 pack o' cans.

It felt a little strange paying 10 bucks for a 6 pack of Genny in an unfamiliar can... But what the heck? I'm nothing if not loyal to my brands. Genesee could can dirty Genesee River water and I would probably buy at least one sixer of it.

So here she is poured. I have drunk approximately 99.9% of my previous Cream Ale from a can or a long neck. I giggled a little as I tipped the can into a pint glass.

This stuff is ridiculous. After I took the first sip my thought was -- "Those magnificent bastards made the Cream Ale taste like cream soda!" The first impression is definitely that they are intending a riff on cream soda which is pretty damn funny if you ask me. I love whimsy. But as you drink on it a bit more you can taste hints of orange and honey. The honey seems to hit you in the back of the throat as you swallow. 

Bottom line -- this stuff is fun as hell and full of flavor. I loved it. It made me smile.

I need to make a trip out to the Genny Brew House. They are making magic out there.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Make America Great Again: The American Chestnut (Bear With Me)

There is a thing that disappeared from this country in the 20th century whose loss impacted the way of life of a large swath of American folks. All the way from Maine, through Appalachia, to the Ohio Valley... A part of the landscape simply disappeared. The return of this thing might tangibly make America great again...

I am speaking of the American Chestnut tree (Castanea dentata). Watch this video, it tells the story of the tree, and the impact the loss had on a way of life, better than I could. It is also heartbreaking. To make a long story short, the American chestnut once made up 20-30% of all hardwood over most of the eastern part of this country. 3 to 4 billion trees. In the early 1900s a blight started in a NYC (that damn cursed metropolis...) botanical garden which quickly spread. Virtually all American chestnuts died. 

The trees were used for wood, the nuts were forage for livestock and wildlife, the leaves returned nutrients to the soil... All suddenly, in historical terms, gone.

There remain isolated stands of American chestnuts scattered across its original range. But the hopes for a widespread return of the tree to its original numbers are slim. The blight remains and most trees do not survive past 10 years.

There are various organizations out there fighting the good fight to save the American chestnut. Take a look (maybe donate a bit...) at The American Chestnut Foundation. Scientists are doing their science thing (backcrossing, genetics, etc...). In fact, for some New York pride you should know that Cornell and SUNY-ESF are leading the way on this.

I don't know why this issue has put its hooks in me, but it has. I went ahead and bought 4 tiny saplings.

All seem to have taken root and are breaking bud into tiny leaves! I'm excited.

I will try my best to raise these little tree-babies. When they are affected by the blight (seems to be inevitable) I will try to nurse them through. We will just have to wait a decade or so to see what happens.

The American chestnut flowers into long whispy catkins in late spring or early summer. There are descriptions of people standing in the Appalachian mountains watching the white catkins undulate with the wind across the entire landscape as far as the eye could see... It must have been beautiful. It must have been great. I will never see this in my lifetime. But maybe my children could, or my grandchildren...

Imagine chestnut fed, Appalachian-hog, country hams. Imagine handcrafted chestnut furniture. Imagine just sitting in the shade of one of those stately behemoths...

"A society grows when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in" is the old proverb, right? Cliche as it is, it is a great sentiment. I'm trying to do my small part to affect positive change. You have to try, right?

Maybe look into getting a couple of saplings. I don't know, it could be fun for you and make you feel good.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Church Cookbooks of New York: Part 5: 6# Fudge (Velveeta), "The Heart of Adirondack Cooking" First Presbyterian Church, Warrensburg, NY, 1988

Part 2:  "Hot Damn," "Sharing Our Best" - Chemung ARC, Elmira, 1996
Part 2.5: Steamed Chickent "From Ridgewood Kitchens," West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood, NJ, 1945

Here we have this lovely little number out of Warrensburg.

Something that makes me laugh about this book is how half of the recipes are attributed in the title to someone other than the person who is listed as the contributor. It's as if folks were afraid of being thought to have taken credit for a recipe that belonged to someone else... Thieving Grandma Branch's pickle recipe and accepting the undeserved laurels would be a hanging offense. How absolutely typical of my stodgy Upstate countrymen. 

Check the below recipe out. This is why I am in the church cookbook collecting business. The recipe isn't really a revelation. However, it speaks to the fact that once and a while you can turn up fragments of local cooking lore in these recipe collections. A no-name recipe that was found on a scrap of paper in a book...

Anyhow, the recipe I decided to experiment with is the below.

Here we have "6# Fudge." 

Now, I am no especial fan of fudge. I have barely any sweet tooth. But a fudge recipe wherein the very first ingredient is Velveeta? Where do I sign up.

I'm no stranger to fudge involving cheese. The Herkimer County Cheese Co. (maker of my beloved Xmas Cheese Balls) makes a cheddar cheese fudge which I have sampled. However, the dark arts involved in actually producing the stuff interested me enough to give it a go.

So I assembled my 6 pounds of stuff.

A pound of Velveeta.

A pound of margarine (shudder... I hate margarine).

Melted these two up together.

And then I had a little help from my junior mixing the molten "cheese"/margarine into the 4 pounds of powdered sugar and cocoa mixture.

We made a couple of batches. One with walnuts and one without (my fudge assistant doesn't fancy walnuts).

They went into some tins lined with buttered parchment. Don't you just love the phrase "buttered parchment?" It just rolls off of the tongue...

And here we have a chunk. Cooled and cut.

If you are into fudge, this is some pretty good fudge. The Velveeta adds a textural component and just a hint of flavor. The Velveeta in this recipe reminds me of the butyric acid in Hershey's chocolate. Just a little funk in the background to make things interesting.

I have made "process cheese" akin to Velveeta in the past utilizing sodium citrate (see here) along with quality New York cheddar. I think it might be fun to whip up a 6# Fudge batch utilizing a more assertive cheese just to see what happens. It would most likely be horrible, but you never know. It might be fun.

Anyhow, I told a bunch of friends that I was making the Velveeta fudge and everyone was all "gags" and "grosses." I even had to foot a bunch of it over to a misbelieving neighbor who thought the stuff would be vomitous.

Everyone who tasted the 6# Fudge (including my supremely picky children) declared it to be above average fudge and perfectly normal in taste. 

The only problem I have with this recipe is that it is 6 pounds of fudge. Remaining in my house at the time of this writing is approximately 5 pounds of fudge. I can't even feed the stuff to the dog...

Who wants fudge? I will arrange for the Velveeta Cheese Fudge Fairy to visit your abode.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Crap In Cans: Mrs. Fearnow's Brunswick Stew

Remember 2008-ish? That was the golden age of food-weblogs. Countless knuckleheads were out there doing corny write-ups on novelty canned goods (remember the whole chicken in a can craze?). In fact, one of my very first weblog posts was a canned haggis review (I can't find it, it's lost to history)... **Edit: Found it!**

I never thought I would find myself nostalgic for those days. But here I am less than a month away from my 37th birthday and I'm sitting here waxing nostalgic for those days... Here in the late twenty-teens most of the amateur food commentary goes down on short form social media. There are precious few truly amateurish hacks writing posts that you can sink your teeth into. Thumbing through the twitters or the instagrams just isn't the same. I find this a little sad.

So here I am being all hip and retro by resurrecting the genre. I didn't even find that interesting of a canned good...But I'm a-writin' about it and you can't stop me.

I should note before going on that I just had some minor oral surgery and am mildly zonked on pain killers... This may or may not have something to do with my whim of the evening.

Here we have "Mrs. Fearnow's Brunswick Stew with Chicken."

My first thought upon spying this can at Hannafords (Delmar) was, "Oh, god. It can't actually have squirrel in it... Isn't Brunswick Stew supposed to have squirrel in it?..."

Fear not, Mrs. Fearnow's is made with chicken.

Here she is cold and un-canned.

It has sort of a pre-digested look to it, doesn't it? I think it's the corn.

The little disks of potato struck me as weird.

But all in all, the stuff wasn't that bad... Tender veg, a pleasant tomato tang, some nice mouthfeel from the chicken fat... A cut above your average canned slop.

Anyhow, I hope you will join me in bringing back retro food-weblog topics. Go ahead, test some prison recipes. Maybe make a White Castle Casserole. Do some kitschy bacon recipes,,, Maybe make a bacon wrapped E.L. Fudge. Ensure you accompany your cheesy prose with equally badly lit cellphone pictures!

Party like it's 2009. Get weird with it.

Bacon Wrapped E.L. Fudge. Yup, I Went There. (From 2008)

I had one random slice of bacon and some double stuffed Keebler EL Fudges lying around, I think you can pretty much predict what happened.

Yup, "Elwood" (EL fudges have elf's names on them if you don't know)got wrapped in bacon. Am I becoming a parody of myself here with the whole bacon wrapped thing?

Into the oven we went Mr. Elwood the cookie at 350 for about 20 minutes.

When I took it out it appeared that there was some chocolatey filling seepage. I let the elf cool so things had a chance to firm up a little. I then sliced it on the bias to get a look at the insides.

Verdict: Upon biting into the bacon/cookie you are hit with an immediate pork flavor on the front end which morphs into a salty/chocolate flavor as you continue to chew. A little disconcerting at the incept but we finish with a fairly pleasant flavor. Not bad, not bad.

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Canned Haggis, Tatties and Neeps. Yum. (From 2008)

Here it is folks! As promised, one glorious can of yummy, meaty Lamb Haggis! Just delivered from the fine folks at the Caledonian Kitchen.

The first ingredients are in order: Water, Lamb, Hydrated Pinhead Oats, Beef Liver, and Refined Beef Suet. R-e-f-i-n-e-d spells delicious!!! In case you are watching your figure this one 14.5 ounce can contains 1320 calories and 212% of your daily saturated fat intake. Thats all that tasty beef suet working around in there.

Lets crack this bad boy open and see whats shaking. The odyssey begins.

OK, upon opening the can you are literally punched in the face by the smell. The smell of this crap is like concentrated corned beef hash stank mixed with that gamy smell particular to lamb. Some how I do not think the choice chops of lamb made it into this mess. I think I caught a sniff of mechanically separated lamb anus. My kitchen was completely hotboxed in like 6 seconds. My wife who is currently incubating my minion (pregnant) headed for the hills cursing me in some strange gypsy tongue.

Oh good god! After shaking it out of its can I was a little disappointed that the wee haggis was not ensconced in some thing's stomach. But disappointment quickly faded against the strength of the stench that shook even my Anglo-Scots soul to its foundation. How to prepare this jiggling column of lamb scrote and oatmeal? I decided upon the traditional treatment of Haggis, Tatties, and Neeps. I decided to substitute Parsnip for the, in my opinion, nasty Scottish Turnip (rutabaga) which represents the Neep part of the dish.

First I sliced a couple half inch rounds of the Haggis and browned them well in a generous amount of butter.

While this was working I set a large peeled Yukon gold potato and a peeled parsnip to boil in salted water. You are gonna want to boil these until tender but not mushy.

When these are done (about 20 minutes), dry, cool somewhat, chop into symmetrical
cubes, and saute until crisp on all sides.

Next, reduce a couple jiggers of single malt scotch until syrupy. Add a half cup of whipping cream and reduce further for a couple minutes. Season, and finish with some finely chopped parsley.

I served these two rounds of haggisy goodness with points of good German Schinkenbrot, the crisped tatties and neeps, a drizzle of the whiskey cream sauce, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Next step, Dig In!!! Yum!!! Immediately break out remaining single malt, fix a pint glass size whiskey and water, gargle, spit, repeat until rotting, fatty, nasty, gamy, lamby ass funky shit taste dissipates.

Seriously folks, this is slap your children gross. It is a food with which the ass smell is locked in mortal combat with the ass taste for supremacy.

Verdict: I fed this to my cats and then felt bad for them.

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