Sunday, December 31, 2017

What I'm Up To...


I have done away with the past 10 years or so worth of ramblings on the food and culture of Upstate New York. What do we get instead? A vanity weblog. I really only miss the diary function of my posts. I like to look back and see what I was up to.

So, here are some things I am up to on this frigid New Years Eve-day...

I'm very excited that many of the cuttings I took some months ago have taken root and are otherwise showing life. Here is a Chicago fig. This variety supposedly can survive our frigid winters, but I'm not so sure... I have one in a large container that I've wheeled into the shed. We shall see.


Here is a gooseberry. I've a couple gooseberries in the garden that I've been wrestling with for a couple years now. What a nasty, unruly, thorny sort of bush. I've not yet had much fruit from them, but have hopes for the coming season.


Here is a currant. I can't remember if it's red or black... I've got 6 nice big red currants (and 1 little black currant) along my fence. One of the few bushes the deer leave alone by the way. Last year was the first time I've had enough fruit to bother with. Hoping to do a jelly or a currant wine this coming year.


Besides the above, I've elderberry, hops, logan berry, and numerous other twigs and roots going that I have not labeled and have completely forgotten what they are... I have a disorganized mind.

I've got a nice half-ham curing in a bucket.


I hoped to smoke it this weekend but it is miserable cold out... Not sure what I'm going to do. Might just have to do a boiled sort of ham. The best laid ham-plans aft gang agley.

I've got a couple cheese wheels aging. This one is a Monterey Jack that I dried a little than vac-sealed. It's aging in my chilly basement for a month or two.


I'm honing my cheese skills as I've obtained a full sized fridge that I'm going to mod out into a cheese cave. Only problem is I've no idea how I'm going to get it from the garage to the basement... I will probably have to hire a moving company to get the damn thing through the Bilco doors and down the stairs.

I've got this "fruit cake" aging in a tin. It is a pecan/hazlenut/walnut/almond cake with a ton of chopped dates. None of the fluorescent candied fruits, I'm going for rustic. I've soaked in some apple brandy and wrapped in a brandy soaked cheese cloth. Going to try to age it until next year.


Think that is about it.

It is helpful to me to have somewhere to jot down the details of the various projects/experiments I am always up to. I often forget what I've done after I've done things. I made this one cheese a while back using my own recipe and it came out very good. But now I've forgotten the recipe... So I'm going to put that sort of thing here.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Big Mama's Steak, "Heart & Soul Cookbook" Northern Chautauqua Catholic School, 90s Era



Continuing my on-again-off-again Church/Community cookbooks of Upstate NY series with some "Big Mama's Steak."


I think it was the simplicity of Steak du Big Mama that piqued my interest while flipping through "Heart & Soul Cookbook" out of Northern Chautauqua. Only 4 ingredients? One of them being diet Coke? Exactly the sort of thing to get my culinary motor running. I have always been a fan of vintage recipes involving soda...

I gathered ingredients.


I decided to go with cube steak as it was mentioned specifically. Why the diet Coke? I don't know... I'm thinking it's because of the long cook time. The sugar/corn syrup in high-test Coke might have burned during Big Mama's experimentation with this recipe. This is just my hypothesis.

I decided that this was the perfect time to break out my "Merry Mushroom" pattern Corningware casserole dish.


I prepared the sauce.


Into the oven she went for the suggested 3 hours.


As I am a careless person, I failed to thoroughly read the 5 sentences of this concise recipe and missed the three hour cook time. So I put this in the oven rather late at night and had no energy to document the results. I threw it right in the fridge.

I will say that the braising meat smelled wonderful. I think that is half the reason for the addition of the onion soup packet. Onion soup mix smells wonderful when heated. Never underestimate the power of aroma.

Some orange fat congealed overnight.


The universal mantra of the Church Cookbook is "and serve over buttered noodles or rice," so in this case I decided to reheat by Big Mama's Steak on top of some rice.


Not bad. A little pungent. Very sauerbraten-y. I would not use the cubed steak if I ever went down the Big Mama path again. I think a piece of chuck would have been a better choice. The cubed steak was a little dry and off in texture. The chili sauce/Coke/onion soup mixture was surprisingly pleasant. 

Ingredients of the Big Mama meat aside, I really like these simple oven-braised meat recipes. This preparation is ubiquitous in Church cookbooks of days past, but the method seems to have fallen out of favor in recent times. There is something to be said for the simplicity of throwing a few things in the  oven for a few hours and filling the house with savory pre-dinner aromas. 

I'm giving Big Mama's Steak a solid B+. Don't know that I would make it again, but I do feel inspired to add a few covered casserole/oven braised dishes to my rotation.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Gradma Brown's Saucepan Beans



I am a big Grandma Brown's fan. Grandma Brown's beans (out of Mexico, NY) are a fixture on the shelves of local grocers. The iconic yellow/brown can is as unchanging as the hills and is one of the things I count on in life. I've written many times about Grandma Brown's and my 2010 post on the Home Baked Beans is consistently one of my most trafficked post.

Grandma Brown's products loom large in the collective memory of New York folk. Many were raised delighting in Grandma Brown's bean sandwiches at the Great New York State Fair. These beans were a fixture at any summer wienie roast. In fact, I was at a halloween party a couple of weeks ago and someone brought along a casserole of bacon swathed beans. "Did you make them yourself?"... "Nah, Grandma Brown's. I just put the bacon on..."

Not so long ago I was studying the beautiful label of a can of Home Baked Beans when it occurred to me that I had never sampled a couple of Grandma's offerings.


The home baked beans are absolutely ubiquitous around here. You are very likely to find whole shelves of the 3 can sizes (including my favorite, the mega-can) at any given grocer which is pretty wonderful. The Bean Soup (you can make next level bean dip out of this stuff) is a little rarer, but you'll stumble upon it once in a while.

The Saucepan Beans and the Split Pea Soup? Rarer than hen's teeth. I've never seen them on a shelf in Albany County. I decided to track down the Saucepan Beans first. Found them for 6 bucks on Amazon which is a bit dear for a can of beans... But insatiable curiosity is a cross I will always bear.


Notice I actually own the red enamel Dansk casserole dish that is featured in the Home Baked Beans label. Yes, I am that much of a bean-nerd.

Anyhow, I was delighted to get my hands on the Saucepan Beans. I began by inspecting the ingredients as compared to the baked beans.

Here we have Saucepan.


And here we have Home Baked.


A scant couple of differences. In the Saucepans -- no baking soda and the addition of ketchup and corn starch.

Here is the can cracked open.


Notice the overall looser consistency of the Saucepan beans. The Home Baked are fairly gelatinous. I'm fairly certain if you were careful, and shimmied the can just right, you could slop out the contents of the Home Baked uber-can and it would maintain the shape of the can and stand upright. A beautiful monolith of cold beans... The Saucepan Beans poured easily from the can into my, ahem, saucepan (a pretty little Descoware pan. I love Descoware).


The beans have a red hew and are liberally flecked with bacon chunks.


You can smell the tomato tang of the ketchup and just a whiff of smoke from the bacon.

Heated through they are wonderful. Need a bit of salt, but wonderful. So simple. Perfectly tender navy beans cooked down with water, ketchup, and bacon. Just a bit of brown sugar for sweetness. All Grandma Brown's products have a minimalist "wholesome" quality that you just don't see in the modern marketplace in this day and age.

The Saucepan beans aren't the beans of the summer picnic, Home Baked have that market locked. These are the beans of the campfire, beans of the just home from work and no time to cook. They are fine on their own and need no adulteration. God bless these beans.

I love Grandma Brown. I love Mexico, NY. I love Saucepan Beans. Split Pea Soup, you are next...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Adirondack Soda


Every time I see another droll "you know you're from Upstate NY when..." list, it occurs to me that the number one item should be -- You know you're from Upstate NY when you had that one cheap relative who only bought Adirondack soda.

My Uncle Dave was a bonafide Adirondack cola man. He grew up dirt poor and even though he was very prosperous in his later life he could never justify paying those extra few cents for Coke or Pepsi.

My family would spend summer weekends at Uncle Dave's camp on Saratoga lake and I have vivid memories of fishing a black cherry or an orange Adirondack out from among the ice and brewskies in his red Coleman cooler.

My Uncle would make the same joke about grilling up his famous tube-steaks (hot dogs) for lunch. There would be a thoroughly unsatisfying spread of supermarket mayo salads and off-brand potato chips enjoyed with not quite cold yet Adirondack soda. My father (also Dave) and my Uncle would drink too much beer and talk about their big dumb boats. Both of them are gone now...

I've blathered on about nostalgia and the foods of my childhood for almost a decade now and I don't know how I never got around to talking about Adirondack soda. Perhaps more than any other food or drink this stuff has the power to bring old memories rushing back.

To me it tastes like boats and sweat and fish guts and lake water. It reminds me of my Uncle Dave and being young.

Proust had his madeleines, I have an off-brand soda made in Scotia. Food memories are powerful. I think this may be the main point of all my years of rambling here...





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, 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.
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