Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Vacation

Planning for our two summer trips is in full swing. In a few weeks, we are going to pack up, fly to Tampa and go on a cruise. I've been on one cruise before. Much smaller boat and more adult oriented. It was a blast. I am hoping the kids like it too. If they don't, well they are stuck for a few more days because there's no turning back once we set sail. We spent a better part of the evening arranging plane tickets. All that's left is to pick a hotel for one night. That's tomorrow night's project.

On Friday, we head to Connecticut for the long weekend. If I can sneak out of my parents house, I think I want to try and make a Pepe's run. It has been years. They have opened a number of satellite restaurants and one is pretty close to my parents place.

The August trip is a week in Lake Winnipesaukee. We are sharing a house with 3 other families. There will be 8 adults and 9 kids (ranging in age from 1 to 10) in the house. At some point we got outnumbered. That might be more of an adventure than a vacation.

I missed the latest Albany Eats pot luck for a birthday party. Hard to believe she is 7 already. If for some reason you want to take 15 first graders bowling, I highly recommend having Jake at Spare Time bowling run your event. He's da man.

At some point, I'll have to make some hot dogs too.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Whole Foods Rap

Saw this and thought it was funny. Didn't see a way to embed it here.

Whole Foods Parking Lot Rap

My favorite verse:

Now I'm on this inside, looking at my list
Organic chicken, Kale Salad and a Lemon Twist.
Some girl in yoga pants is lookin at me funny
I'm just trying to find a decent Pinot Noir for under twenty!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #6 - Continued

I kind of feel like I am handing in a homework assignment three days late...maybe I'll just think of this as extra credit since the Italian Sausage was made on time.

I tried the chicken sausage out of Charcuterie with a few changes. I cut back on the pork fat since it seemed like too much. It is a 30% meat/fat ratio but I didn't think the chicken thighs needed that much help. I skipped adding the wine, olive oil and vinegar. I had tried something similar with the original Italian sausage recipe and didn't like it. I also skipped the remixing after the grind. I prefer the coarser grind in the final sausage. All that being said, here's what happened in the kitchen:

Got all the ingredients out. I was thankful for the mise en place routine earlier in the week when I realized I had no sun dried tomatoes.  Here the re-hydrated sun dried tomatoes and basil.

Chicken thighs and back fat. Would you believe I am actually starting to run low on back fat?

Diced, seeded tomatoes with minced garlic on the left and the salt/pepper on the right.

Mix it all up then grind.

Into the stuffer and out come sausage. The chicken stuffs easier than pork. I ran out of rinsed casings at the end. Just meant a larger late night snack for the cook.

One thing that is more noticeable with the chicken sausage is that the flavors change significantly as the sausage ages. I'd argue it improved with some time. I tasted a little bit before stuffing to see how the seasonings were. I thought it tasted pretty good, maybe a little heavy on the salt, and the sun dried tomato flavor was pretty strong. After the stuffing, I fried up the leftovers. The sun dried tomato flavor was not as strong and it seemed a little less salty. A definite improvement from the original taste. Tonight, I grilled up a bunch of the sausages and froze the rest.

The wife was surprised that this is what I had made the night before. Got her rating "best chicken sausage she's had." The older daughter liked them too. The younger daughter was not impressed. She's not that into dinner in general and the sausage was no competition for the diced cantaloupe that was also on the table. Two out of three ain't bad. This will have to be made again. I'd cut back even more on the pork fat and reduce the salt a bit, but definitely a very tasty sausage.

Next month's challenge is blending. I haven't had the best luck with emulsified sausage. I blame my lack of ice maker. I guess it could be operator error too. I thinking about trying hot dogs but I've got to go through a few books before I start cooking.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #6


This was actually a pretty timely challenge because Albany Jane had kindly invited me to a potluck get together for those that follow her blog and really enjoy food in the Albany area. Kind of fun way to kick off summer - meet people you have only virtually spoken to and eat. Everyone there was crazy-nice and the food was really good too. And since stuffing was the challenge of the month, I thought I'd bring some homemade grilled Italian sausage with roasted peppers and onions. Unfortunately, there will be some missing pictures to the story. While I was grilling sausages and at the potluck, the rest of the family was at my niece's baseball game with the camera.

I once tried the recipe for sweet Italian sausages as it is written in Charcuterie. I liked it, but I prefer a simpler version. I use the same meat/fat/salt proportions as the book, but I only season with salt, pepper and toasted fennel seeds. And here are the ingredients...

I toss everything together and make sure it is cold. In this case, there was still a partial freeze on the Boston Butt I was using. The combined ingredients go through the small die on the Kitchen Aid grinder.

The casings, which can be bought locally is small tubs at Price chopper and in smaller, but slightly more expensive packs at Roma in Latham and Pellegrino's on Central. I rinse the salt off and then soak in room temperature water for awhile (at least 30 minutes). I also flush the casings. Here's a shot of the casing filled with water.

Now waaaaaay back in the 2 or 3 years ago for me - longer for my wife's grandfather...people used to use this kind of sausage stuffer. It is a very simple design. Kind of a horn shape that narrows to a tube and a plunger connected to a lever arm forces the sausage through and into the casing. It would have worked better for me if the stuffer was bolted down to something. It used to be on a piece of wood the got c-clamped to a table. But that piece of wood is gone and the few times I made sausage with this stuffer, the balancing act would probably have been quite a sight. Now, the poor thing is stuck in the basement with an old parrot from my tailgating days looking over it.

And the way the stuffer sets up is pretty slick too. Two bolts with the little pins in them are the connection to the lever arm.

The drawbacks to this kind of stuffer: 1-You'd be surprised how hard you have to push on that lever. 2-It can't hold that much at once. 3-You are left with a good amount of bulk sausage when you are done. The plunger can't push everything into casing. With the vertical stuffer, all that is left is a nice "job well done" snack for the chef. The main pro, is that you can get it really cold. The stuffer is pretty heavy and all metal. A few hours in the freezer and that bad boy is chilled. The vertical stuffer is significantly faster. This batch was about 5 pounds. Once I was ready to start filling casings, I don't think it took 5 minutes. Clean-up is about the same for both.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the grilling or the pot-luck, which in case I forgot to mention was awesome. Albany Jane, DerryX, and Lillimonster posted pictures and descriptions of the gathering. There's another one coming up but my daughter is turning 7 that weekend so I will be missing it. I hope I can make the one after that. I already have an idea of what I'd like to bring - a little teaser so I get invited again :)

I was planning on making some chicken sausage tonight and writing all of this tomorrow to meet the 15th deadline. As I started to figure out the proportions of ingredients, I realized I had forgotten one of them. Probably tough to make chicken with basil and tomato sausage without the tomato. I'll pick some up tomorrow and try again tomorrow night.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What happens in Utica, stays in Utica...

I went to conference in Utica this week. I had a list of recommended places to try, but I only manged to get to one of them. The first night of the conference, there was a welcoming party at the F.X. Matt Brewery. I'm told Utica's version of Live at Five is in that area too. They close off the street and have a weekly block party. Sounds like a great time. The appetizers at the opening party were much better than the meal. There was a ton of tomato pie and various Stromboli.

 We also got to take a tour of the brewery. Pretty neat place with a lot of history. The rooms at the beginning of the tour looked like the rooms at the Tower of Terror ride in Florida. Very old time.

 Big copper kettles that can boil a lot of water in 15 minutes...

Random control panel that reminded me of Homer Simpson's work area

Room with lots of aging tanks. There are several rooms like this at the brewery.


These are barrels that once aged Jack Daniels. Not sure what they have aging inside them now, but they are working on a new beer.

The bottling area is just like the opening credits to Laverne and Shirley. It wasn't running while we were there. There was some maintenance going on.

They go through a lot of bottles.

One of the places recommended for Utica Greens was Georgio's. I went for lunch one afternoon. This huge portion of Utica greens was under $7 and they were pretty tasty. I haven't had many versions Utica greens. Three come to mind and they were all very different. I really enjoyed these. I ate the whole plate...and then didn't eat again until lunch the next day. I was stuffed.

Every night back at the hotel, there was a hospitality room. The one thing you can say about this conference with certainty: it is all you can drink. Every function was open bar and the hospitality room ran until 2. The last night of the conference, there was a formal reception at Mohawk Valley Community College. We had the idea of having a poker game in the hospitality room, but didn't have cards or chips. When we left Mohawk Valley, we looked up Walmart in the GPS and off we went. If you want every want people to do double takes and stare at you, I recommend walking in to the Utica Walmart at about 10 pm on a Thursday wearing a suit and tie. The greater was basically laughing when he saw us. It was fantastic. I am not typically a Walmart shopper - once every few years - but I think I will try to be wearing a suit whenever I go for now on. What's even better, it that I pretty much won enough money to cover the cost of the poker set.

I also brought home some conference swag. Got a Saranac travel cup, also got a Saranac pint glass(not in the picture), a Utica Club wall mount bottle opener, an umbrella, and a neat little 6-pack cooler for toting beer bottle around. Isn't that a cute little cooler?

Monday, June 6, 2011


As winter became spring, I began to notice the extra weight I put on over the winter. And that made me look at how much weight I had put on since 1998 when I moved from construction inspection to a desk. The pay was a lot better, but moving a few hundred 30 pound concrete cylinders daily had gotten me into a little bit of shape. I was always on the heavy side. My fascination with food hasn't helped.

My heaviest was in high school. I topped out around 260. I had a "Body by Bud" poster of a heavyset guy sitting on a keg drinking a beer. The bumper sticker on the keg read "No Pain, No Pain." They were words I lived by. In college, I had a co-op job that didn't really factor in any time for eating. I was pretty much only eating dinner. I lost sever inches around the waist there. Hated the job though. I was in Boston and took the T to South Station every morning. On my way out of the station I walked past a large bank of pay phones. This was 1991 - there were still pay phones. Every morning as I walked past those phones I thought, "There's still time to call in sick." Needless to say, I did not go into that business. I was miserable, but lost several pants sizes. Probably not the way 4 out of 5 doctors recommend doing it though.

Then there was more college and then the construction inspection job. I weighed about 200 pounds then. Which apparently was still too much according to the body mass index. From there I moved to a desk. When I started it was actually a desk. I have a cube now. Since taking a desk job in 1998, I have slowly and steadily put on 43 pounds. When I entered my 243, 6'1" numbers the output reads "Obese." Ouch.

In an effort to be able to chase my kids around, I decided to do something. Turning 40 later this year probably has something to do with it too. As luck would have it, while I was looking through the recently acquired cookbooks at the library (641s for those of you into the Dewey Decimal System), I saw a beginners guide to running. This guy was recommending a walk/run. Walk a bit, jog a bit, repeat until you've had enough exercise for the day. He got a little more into it that that. There were schedules and charts and enough repetition and words of encouragement to fill a book. About 3 weeks ago, I started exercising. And while a coinciding Rapture was predicted, the world didn't end.

Night is the only time I get a chance. Everyone goes to bed, I grab some shorts and running shoes and off I go. I've got a 2 mile loop around the neighborhood. It is kind of peaceful. I'm usually the only one out. I have heard a few couples arguing through open windows. I scared a raccoon too. Lately the night skies have been nice. Pretty cool crescent moon tonight. Yesterday, I was walking while my youngest rode her bike. She was quite surprised that I could keep up with her. She pedaled faster, I ran faster. We got to the end of the street at the same time. No way that could have happened in April. I would have passed out. I cut waaaayyy back on the booze too. I drank a lot this winter. And for some reason, I started eating salads for lunch.

This morning I weighed in at 237. Still obese. If I can manage to lose 3 more pounds, I'll step down to overweight on the index. Baby steps....