Friday, November 30, 2012

Polar Express

Took a ride on the Polar Express earlier in the evening. Cute ride, friendly people, overall a nice trip but it isn't worth the price. And the parking is a little crazy. If you are familiar with the story, you'll know the main character gets a bell that can only be heard by those that believe in Santa. On the train, every kid gets a bell handed out by Santa himself. Alas, if you look closely (as my extremely observent niece did), you'll notice the bell was not made at the North Pole. Santa's workshop has moved to China.

Monday, November 26, 2012

On Sale

I guess it was a Black Friday carryover but a handful of books were still on sale at Barnes and Noble until today. A co-worker told me the book I had been eying was one of them. I called the store up to see the price. The jacket price is $140 ($99 at Amazon) and today it was selling for $70 plus I got to take another 10% off because of some club we join when the elementary school has a book night at the store. $63. I'm weak. I bought it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 Post Game Wrap Up

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. The meal went off without a hitch with the exception that I forgot to buy some half and half for the coffee after dinner. My bad. I am afraid I am going to have to change my tune. For years I had thought that cooking the bird outside opened up the kitchen and made life easier. Turns out, it doesn't. This was the first time I cooked the turkey inside (been doing it annually since 2001) and the time I spent babysitting fires and watching oil heat up became free time.

And I need to go get some Jacques Pepin books. That steam/roast method from the Times worked out very well. I always knew that guy could cook, but damn that guy can cook. I butter basted the bird instead of using his glaze. I wasn't sure all the guests would go for the glaze. Pretty sure I'd like it but I wasn't just cooking for myself. I thought the turkey needed some salt but it was pretty moist and tasty. I was even asked, "How did you get it so moist?" Next time (if the bird is thawed), I'll salt it a day or two in advance and then cook it using this steam/roast method.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Prep Continues

Got the gluten free cheesecake cooling on the counter.

Turkey appears to be thawed. Not 100% sure though. At the very least, it is not soaking in water right now. The bird fits in the canner so I think steaming/roasting is the way I'm going. Don't think I am going to go with Jacques glaze. I'd like it but I'm not sure how it would play to the crowd. Think I'm going to sharpen knives while I waste time in front of the TV. Got a good game plan for tomorrow. I think it will just be a steady pace of things to do instead of a full-on panic attack. I'm still in the "not a big deal" mode. Hopefully that feeling will still be here this time tomorrow night.

Thanksgiving Indecision

I want to cook the bird inside this year and not worry about hot or cold spots in the smoker. I was torn between a combination braise/roast and salting followed by traditional roasting. Then the Times published Jacques Pepin's steam/roast technique. I've got to pick soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Needle in a haystack

This year, three of the Thanksgiving guests fall into the gluten sensitive category. One has celiac so there is no wiggle room there. The other two are restricting gluten as part of a separate medical issue. Not the end of the world if they eat gluten, but they are doing their best to avoid it. Throw in two vegetarians and 25% of the guests have dietary restrictions.

I've been careful with gluten in the past. And typically the only items served at the sit down meal with gluten are the stuffing and gravy. This year, I'm trying to go gluten free for the gravy and use sweet rice flour as the thickener. I'd like to make it on Wednesday, and then if it sucks, I have time to fall back to the old version. But to use sweet rice flour, I had to find it first. So I headed to the Asian Supermarket on Central. I hadn't been in awhile and it just isn't as nice as when it opened. The produce is definitely hit or miss. But there are certainly some gems in the store.

I roamed all the aisles looking for sweet rice flour and looked in the aisle with the "Flour" label and the rice section twice. Found sweet rice, but no sweet rice flour. Then I asked a man stocking shelves. Without missing a beat, or looking up, he told me to go to Aisle 5. I looked up the whole aisle twice, making 3 scans up the aisle. Here a shot of less than a quarter of one side of the aisle.

I didn't know if I was looking for a box or a bag or idea. I was about to bail and hope to find the flour in a health food store later in the week. As I turned to head toward the entrance, my eye caught the words "sweet rice." I couldn't believe it. There it was. It's those little white boxes which are ironically the size of a small box of rice.

If you need some sweet rice flour, I can help you out a bit. It's in aisle 5, on the left.

Et tu, Misty Knolls

I ordered the turkey from Misty Knolls this year. Picked it up this afternoon. While it certainly wasn't bowling ball frozen like a Butterball, it was frozen. So much for salting it tonight. Once again, I am glad I picked up the turkey early. At least there is something I can do about it. Picking it up like that on Wednesday afternoon would have sucked. At least when you buy a bowling bowl frozen turkey, you know you have a frozen turkey.

Just finished the 4th batch of stock in the pressure cooker. First up was chicken stock, then a turkey stock, then some vegetable stock and now some more chicken stock. All the stocks are pretty damn good. The vegetable stock is the best vegetable stock I have ever made.

House is mostly clean and I'm still in the blissful "this is no big deal" mode. I haven't updated my spreadsheet this year and I've been kind of winging the holiday prep/shopping. I've got to update the sheet. Without the order of my spreadsheets this is getting too close to anarchy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend in Boston

With the help of a very generous mother-in-law (she took the kids), my wife and I headed to Boston for a kind of college reunion weekend.  The people definitely attending were Dan, Joe & Adrienne and us. This is the core group of Toxic Friends. Everyone should have Toxic Friends. They are the friends who consistently enable you to eat too much, drink too much and generally over indulge. We were lucky and got to see everyone one the maybe list for the weekend too. We saw Chuck & Vic with their two sons, although the visit with Vic and the boys was short. Chuck's oldest is son is quite proud that he is taller than his father and that was fun to see. Jeanie also bused in for an afternoon and I haven't seen her since we ended up vacationing at the same lake two summers ago.

In an odd turn of events, it seemed to be a double play weekend. Ot of all of the places in the city, we went to two places twice. The weekend started with meeting Joe and Adrienne at the hotel, The Intercontinental - an insanely nice hotel. From there we wandered into the North End for lunch at Gennaro's, just a few doors up from the old Paul Revere House. Good food, good wine, good friends. What a great lunch. It is important to note that just before this lunch on Friday afternoon was the last time I felt any kind of hunger until lunchtime today. Not that it stopped me from eating...One of the lunch options were various kinds of meatballs. At the waiter's recommendation, I had the eggplant meatballs and was treated to what was probably the best eggplant parm I've ever had. We were looking at desserts and ordered a vanilla bread pudding with caramel sauce (insanely good) and I ordered a limoncello because I'd never had one and why not? It was ok, doubt I'd pick up a bottle anytime soon. The manager told us that they just got a delivery of a type of grappa that was better than limoncello. The bottle looks like this.

This stuff is good. Really good. I took the picture so I could find it somewhere. Joe and I each picked up a bottle of it at a North End liquor store. I couldn't find it online at Allstar or Empire. I'll chill it for Thanksgiving. After the lunch, we roamed, then napped and met Dan to go out for the evening. We went to a pub, had a few rounds and some finger foods (still wasn't hungry from lunch) and then we went to Meritage. This is an old school hotel bar. Very formal service, comfortable couches and chairs and they keep bringing out munchies. Non stop munchies. Warm tortilla chips, mixed nuts (real mixed nuts - cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts - like $7 a can nuts), and good pretzel/cheese puff snack mix. We ordered a few small pizzas off the menu and some onion rings. The pizzas weren't anything special but the rings were fantastic. And the guy next to us had an amazing looking fish and chips plate. Great little hideaway. Don't tell anyone.

The next morning, Joe walked over to Flour Bakery. I had read about it in Fine Cooking and they also beat Bobby Flay in a sticky bun Throwdown. Here's the bounty Joe returned with:

You've got the sticky buns on the left (very good), top right is a sugared brioche (I thought these stole the show) and then an almond croissant in the bottom right. Luckily we got these in our systems before we were hungry on Saturday morning.

The weather was very cooperative so we roamed and talked and settled on the Union Oyster House just outside of the Faneuil Hall area. Prior to being hungry, we ate some great oysters, drank Sam Adams Brick House Red which is apparently only on tap in Beantown, had kick ass clam rolls and Joe went to town on a lobster (his lobster has become a Boston Weekend tradition). Friendly waitress, many laughs, and another good time.

We went for another walk along the harbor, and ended up at a place called The Whiskey Priest. A lot of whiskeys to choose from, but the pours were a little light and the appetizer were weak. They had a corn fritter thing that was good, basically corn hush puppies, but the other food we had was pretty bad. It was still fun anyway. We regrouped back at the hotel for dinner and then headed back into the North End to return to Gennaro's.

Great dinner. It had some minor flaws, but overall a wonderful time. I had the osso bucco dinner. Instead of a risotto, it came with some (I dare you to read this without drooling a little) homemade short rib ravioli. They were special.

The next morning we returned to Flour Bakery for some breakfast. We weren't the only one's with the idea of heading here Sunday morning.

Coffee has to be good for me to drink it black. I drank it black here. We sampled a many more pastries. They were all picked over before I thought to get a picture. We had raspberry "pop tarts," sour cream coffee cake, egg sandwiches (with really good bacon), a cinnamon cream brioche and something else I can't remember. As with any bakery, some things were better than others, but nothing was bad. The couple at the table next to us had a very cute, loyal dog waiting patiently for them outside. Apparently they also bake dog treats so the pup knew what was coming when they returned.

From there, the weekend was coming to a close. We had requested a late checkout so we still had some time. We came down from our sugar high back in the room before driving back to Albany. I'm afraid to weigh myself.

I went to school in Boston for a few years, back when the Big Dig was just an idea. Now that most of it is done, Boston is a much better looking city. I'm looking forward to going back. Maybe we'll try more than just Gennaro's and Flour. The city has a lot to offer.

Happy 10th Anniversary Joe and Adrienne!

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Every so often a silly reality TV show catches my eye. Not sure how I stumbled onto a marathon of the first season of Moonshiner's, but I did. The new season started yesterday. The season premier has everything: Moonshine, cops vs. robbers and you find yourself rooting for the robbers, explosives, overalls, a guy with crazy sideburns, and the triumphant return of a permanently drunk guy named "Tickle."

Do you think the guys at Albany Distilling watch? They should have Wednesday night viewing parties. I'd go every week.

New episodes are on Wednesdays at 10. I'm sure they rerun them a bunch of times during the week.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

First Pressure Cooker Run

Tonight was a Girl Scouts night. So I did what every guy with a 90 minutes of tranquility in their own house would do: I made chicken stock in the new pressure cooker.

I followed the Modernist recipe that was part of the New York Times review of Modernist Cuisine. You boil a bunch of cut up chicken wings and then drain it. I think cutting the wings would be much easier with a big butcher's block and a cleaver. I used a pair of hand-me-down kitchen shears (Thanks Mom) and they kind of worked. The recipe also calls for ground chicken thighs. I added the bones from the thighs in with the wings. The rest is pretty straight forward. Onion, leek and carrot in the pot with some peppercorn and parsley. Mix everything together and cover with water. Pressure cook on high for 90 minutes.

Here's the leek, onion and carrot softening.

I boiled the bones in a different pot.  I also threw in some chicken skin. I think it was Chef Bob Del Grosso that talked about skin enhancing a stock.

Put everything into the pressure cooker.

Which is prettier: the pot or the tile backsplash? Two red bars bars on the pop-up thingy means there 15 psi inside. I didn't want to mess around with this thing so I read the book. Not sure if you can see it, but the dial for the pressure cooker burner is turned pretty low.

After 90 minutes at 15 psi plus the time it took the pressure to naturally drop, the vegetables and chicken look pretty spent. Hopefully it all went into the water.

Here it is after going through some cheese cloth. Looks like it needs to have some fat taken out of it. The fat should solidify overnight. Tastes pretty good. Needs some salt, but that will get added later.

A good first run. Not sure I'd follow the recipe to the letter again. I think it would be cheaper to buy a whole chicken, use the breasts for dinner, and put the rest of the bird in the pot. I'll have to try some variations as I gear up for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Under pressure

I shouldn't be this excited, but the UPS truck just dropped this off for me and I am that excited. What to make first....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pierogie Day 2012

The annual tradition continued and we all gathered at Aunt Carol and Uncle Lou's house this morning to make pierogies for Christmas Eve. Once a big bowl of filling is prepared, Aunt Carol makes the dough. I roll it out and cut it circles. Amy, Lisa and Amanda fill them. Eric boils them. And Lou enjoys supervising. The kids only had a partial interest in the process this year and instead played with every toy in the house. When the dust cleared, there were 127 pierogie made in about 90 minutes.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Goal Update

A few months ago I listed a some goals I wanted to accomplish. The hope was that writing them here would make me do them. I'd consider it so-so. Here's how I done so far:

1. Finish the damn kitchen. Grout, tape, molding, prime, paint, caulk.
This is mostly done. Grouting is done, taping is done, priming is done and the kitchen is fully operational. I still have to run one bead of caulk and paint the molding (it needs 5 minutes of sanding first). I was unhappy with one outlet, but I bought a new one I have it here in the house so that could actually get installed happen any day now. I even know which breaker I have to flip to do it. This will all be done prior to Thanksgiving. That is a hard deadline.

2. Weigh less than 200 pounds. I don't remember the last time the first number of my weight was a 1.
I don't think this is going to happen. I've kind of plateaued. Haven't gained any back, but haven't lost any either. I've been having some knee and shoulder problems so that has really impacted the amount I workout. A better measure of progress might actually be redoing the fit test I too back in August. I was planning to do that in January anyhow. Between the holidays and a few other things including two toxic friend weekends in the very near future...I might be closer to 200 than I am now, but I don't think the first number will be a 1 on January 1st. Someday, just not the 1st.

3. Run a 5k. Without slowing down to a walk.
This one is a toss up. I haven't done it in an actual race, but I can run (jog is probably a more appropriate word) 5k without slowing down to a walk. If I can make it, I'm going to try and run in the Last Run on December 15th. I should just register for it and then be obligated to go.

4. Make another batch of Modernist inspired bacon.
Done and it came out pretty good. The latest use is a bacon and cheese frittata. 

5. Participate in one of the local food swaps. I'm thinking of trading Italian style sausage or pancetta.
I had it all planned out. I was going to make a chicken, sundried tomato and basil sausage almost entirely sourced from Trader Joe's. I was going to go to the October 21st swap in Troy. While I was making sure I could go, a swap in Saratoga got cancelled, the October Troy swap moved to November 4 and promptly sold out. This pretty much happened over a weekend. So food swappers, you won't have Trader Joe's sourced chicken sausage this Sunday. If they have a December swap, maybe I can go. I consider this one a toss up too. I had every intention of going.

6. Cure something out of the new book Salumi which comes out at the end of August.
I'm not sure this is going to happen. There is still time, but in my defense, I made the goal before I saw the book. Not that the book's formulations are difficult, it's just the more I read the book, the less inclined I am to make something out of it. The book's recipes look OK, but I think I would follow similar formulations from other, more advanced/technical sources. Plus, there is now a monstrous dehumidifier in the basement. The old tarp chamber would be defenseless against this beast. If I hang something in the basement now, the cases would harden in less then a week. Not good. I either need to come up with a new system or convert an old freezer or fridge into a chamber.

7. Make pizza. I have sooo many recipes to try. Plus I've got to light up that Firedome.
Done. Also made the homemade pizza steel. I'm also watching the Firedome creator's tweaks to the original. Maybe I'll be able to update the one I have. But as the temperatures drop, I'll be able to keep warm playinig in the kitchen with the pizza steel.

8. Clean up the basement. It is currently a pit of despair. But just clean, not refinish.
I swear, you wouldn't recognize it now. New shelves, clean floor, stuff put away. It's like it is someone else's basement.

Not too bad. I've still got 2 months...