Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vacation and other randomness

The first of two summer vacations starts with an early morning with a flight to Tampa. Alarm clocks should not be able to go off at 5 AM. It's just wrong. Once we get to Tampa, we are getting on a boat (that is apparently as long as the street we live on and more than 12 stories tall) and hitting some spots in the western Caribbean. We have some snorkeling planned, a trip to a Mayan pyramid (really want to see that), and an island tour featuring big turtles. Try explaining to a 5 year old that we won't have a kitchen or fridge but can get food whenever we want. "Even after bedtime?" Her eyes lit up when I told her there was a 24 hour pizza place. "Even in the middle of the night?" I can be prone to answering questions with a questions, "Why are you worried about eating in your sleep?" Although according to the cruise brochure, calories consumed at late night buffets don't count. This morning I was down almost 20 pounds from my starting weight, hopefully the cruise won't set me back too far.

When we get back, I've got a pate or terrine to make for Charcutepalooza. Not sure which direction I'll go with this one. There is a recipe for a grilled vegetable terrine that sounds really good, but I have always been a sucker for pate. I need to get back to a farmer's market too. Haven't had a chance on weekends lately.

And since it is so hot this week, here's a temperature related kid quote from the same girl that wants to go on a 4 AM pizza bender. Whenever Casey's legs get hot, she says "my knee pits are sweaty."

I went to The Book Barn in Latham to pick up a few paperbacks for the trip. The clerk was very helpful and pointed out a few selections the wife and I might like. Sadly, I don't think I have read a book that isn't food or work related in a year or too. Got a few super spy espionage type books. I'd give you more details, but they are packed and I don't remember the names. The kids picked out a few books too. A few years ago, I picked up "Roasting" by Barbara Kafka for $5. This time around I spied "The Art of Charcuterie" by Jane Grigson published in 1968. It is interesting to flip through. The recipes would need a little updating (the cures often call for "A pinch of saltpeter.") I paid $5.95 for it. Back in 1968 when there was no, the list price was $7.95. If you find yourself in the area and like books, the shop is worth stopping by. I got this cookbook, two barely read paperbacks, and 5 kids books for just under $18. The address is 200 Troy-Schenectady Road, right across the street from the K-mart.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kipu Falls

Eleven years ago, almost to the day, I was enjoying my honeymoon on the island of Kauai. If you ever get the chance to go to Hawaii, take it. I was entrenched in the mindset "put it on the credit card and we'll deal with it later." The trip was awesome.

We were directed to a swimming hole by a guide book. I believe it was "The Insider's Guide to Kauai." The place sounded great. A freshwater waterfall and swimming hole. You have to find it and do a little bit of trespassing to find it. With the help of a man that barely spoke English, we found the gate we had to hop. You could pretty much walk around it. There was no actually attempt to secure the field on the other side of the gate. We followed a path and heard some voices and the waterfall. We followed the sound to a stream and a spot I would call paradise. It was beautiful. (the video in the yahoo report doesn't do it justice)

The water fall looked 25 to 30 feet high. People were jumping off and having the time of their lives. There was a rope that would take you off a cliff into the water below. Usually, I am not that adventurous. I had to jump. For some reason, I felt like not jumping would be something I regretted the rest of my life. I took the leap off of the rock making sure I pushed off to put some distance between me an the falls. The amount of time in free fall was long enough for you to think, "Hey, I've been falling awhile. I should probably be hitting the water soon. Where's the" SPLAAAASH. And then you go deep into the water. I never touched the bottom. I kicked my way up and swam to a rope hanging aver the water so you could hold it and catch your breath. It was exhilarating. My wife jumped too. We talked about it the rest of the trip. In 20/20 hindsight, we were glad it happened toward the end of the trip because everything else would have had to live up to Kipu Falls. The next day we bought a water color painting of the falls and had it framed in local koa wood. The picture is in our front hall. It was fantastic. A memory to last a lifetime.

I did a double take when I saw the headline "Popular Kauai Swimming Hole Gets Deadly Reputation" on Yahoo today. Could it be? Yes, it can.  Turns out that people get injured there regularly and 5 have died in the last 5 years. I guess I'll stop telling people planning a Hawaiian vacation to go there.

Monday, July 18, 2011

More Kickstarter

Here's one of the food related Kickstarter projects I am backing. I like the idea, the people look nicer than nice, and their creativity and love of what they do really shows in their pitch video.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Ever hear of Kickstarter? It is a very neat idea. Basically people pitch ideas that need a little starter money to get off the ground. If you like the idea you can help "kickstart" the project by pledging a donation. If the project's goal is not met, the money you have pledged does not get donated. If the project goal is met, you make the donation and usually receive something from the project. Typically, what you receive varies based on the amount of your donation. Hopefully, that makes sense.

I first heard about the website a few months ago when I read about a old school grain mill trying to get up and running. Since then, I've bumped into a few Kickstart projects here and there. My interests typically lie in the food category, but a friend of mine recently put up a project. He has created a magnetic gadget mount system. It looks pretty cool. And if there is a better way to set up my GPS in the car, I want it.

If you are interested in my buddy Geoff's invention, you can check it out here and make a pledge. He is trying to raise $7000 by August 1st.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza Project #7


For the blending project I thought I give hot dogs another chance. I tried a long time ago (pretty sure it was pre-blog) and it was a disappointment. I had bought casings just for hot dogs, used some of our own beef, tried to keep everything as cold as possible, put in a lot of effort and ended up with a mediocre hot dog at best. Time to try again.

The earlier editions of Charcuterie had a sightly different version than later editions. The two recipes are similar. The newer version calls for the meat and fat off of short ribs. The earlier version just calls for beef and beef fat. The seasonings are pretty much the same. To make my life simpler, I used our home grown ground beef. The first grind was already done and if I partially thawed the ground beef, if would stay cold during the next grind. I was good to go.

The first snag: I had all the spices and just needed to pick up some corn syrup. The only corn syrup I found had vanilla in it. Price Chopper, Hannafords, Fresh Market and 2 health food stores turned up only vanilla flavored corn syrup. I probably shouldn't knock it 'till I try it, vanilla seems wrong in hot dogs. I have no idea why the corn syrup is in there.  I decided to skip the corn syrup but I think I had 2 hours lost in the search.

The plan was to make the hot dogs on Monday, then smoke and poach them on Tuesday. I had pulled a package of ground beef to start thawing in the morning. It was still partially frozen, but I knew I could cut it with a knife. I had almost exactly 3 pounds of ground beef. The recipe was 2 pounds. Scaling up, I weighed the spices. Then it was time bed time for the kids. I put some sheep casings in some water and was off to read stories.

After storytime, I went back to work. Cut the the ground beef into cubes...

Weighed out the right amount of ice and fed it into the Magic Hostess Ice Crusher. I love this thing. Wish you could hear it hum...

Got the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl set in an ice bath...

Mixed the ice, salt and pink salt with the ground beef cubes and ground...

Dextrose, garlic, Coleman's ground mustard, paprika, coriander and white pepper got added to the mix. The grinder attachment came off and the paddle went on. [Grinding attachment note: if you take the little black screw thing that holds the grinder in place completely off the mixer, the grinder attachment comes off easily. Only loosening the screw doesn't work very well. Ask me how I know.] Once the spices were in, I held a flexible gel pack against the bowl for a little extra cold. The mixer went on and there was a blur or meat-in-motion.

Everything stayed cold...

This is where I hit the next snag. All the sheep casings in the bowl of water were tangled. So I hunched over the sink and untangled them. Then I go to flush them. No problem there. Then I go to put them on the stuffer. They won't open to get on the tube. When they finally do open, they tear. I cut it back. Won't open again. Then tears. This goes on for awhile. I finally get a length of casing on the stuffer and get going. Sheep casings are much smaller than hog casings. Think hot dog diameter vs. Italian sausage diameter. The casing fills up pretty quickly. I begin another 20 minute battle to get a casing on the stuffer. That one fills up but also burst in one spot. I finally devised a method to get the casings on the stuffer in under 5 minutes. If the casing is still full of water, it went on easier. Opened up without breaking and actually slid on. Lesson learned. This was the first time I had wished for the stuffer to be empty. Here's a picture of the casings going on. You can see where the previous casing had burst.

I had a few more mini bursts twisting the casings into links. The casing battle was ugly. In the middle of the fight my wife asked if she could help. I wasn't sure how she could help so I muttered, "No," while thinking "Yes, go back in time and talk me out of making hot dogs."After she went to bed, this is what I had to show for the effort.

At this point, I pounded that beer I mentioned in the last post. Took a break and then spent half an hour cleaning up my mess. Tuesday's work was easy in comparison. I cleaned out the grill and set up the cold smoker with about 2 hours worth of sawdust.

Got the sawdust lit and loaded the grill. I tried the Weber kettle this time. I think the vertical smoker worked a little better. Puts a little more distance between the meat and the smoldering sawdust.

After two hours, I had run out of sawdust.

I brought the hot dogs inside and put them in a 165 degree pot of water.

About 10 minutes later, the dogs were fully cooked and got dropped into an ice bath. The ice bath is in my new super-awesome huge stainless steel bowl I bout at that restaurant supply shop on Broadway in Schenectady.

Tah-dah...finished hot dogs.

I grilled a few tonight, the rest got frozen. A significant improvement over first try. I thought they came out pretty good. Nice flavor. Good snap. The next Charcutepalooza challenge has to be easier, right?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Homemade Hot Dogs

I spent the past 3 hours fighting sheep casings. I think they may have won. I just pounded a beer. I feel a little better.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July Pizza Pilgramage

I finally made the time to get to the Fairfield, Connecticut post of Pepe's. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana to be a little more formal. The original store in New Haven opened in the 20's. Relatively recently, they have opened a few more restaurants. The menu consists of pizza and a salad. That's it.

The restaurant walls are decorated with pictures showing off the restaurant's history.

Personally, I have very vivid memories of a white clam and bacon pizza and that's what I wanted. We ordered a large. We also got a medium cheese pizza for the kids and my parents got a tomato, onion and spinach pizza, hold the cheese. First out was the cheese pizza.

My daughter Casey ate more of this pizza than I have ever seen her eat. Ever. My wife said, "This could be the best cheese pizza I've ever had in my life." It is really good. My parents' veggie pie came out next. Still steaming from the oven.

I didn't get taste this one. I was too focused on the white clam and bacon pie that was the last to arrive at the table.

I thought it was delicious, but not quite as super-oh-my-god-fantastic as I remembered it. Don't get me wrong, this is delicious pizza. Maybe it is a little different in New Haven shop. A mystery I would not mid investigating. Still really, really good and I wish it was closer to Albany. Take a look at this slice. Look at the freakin' clams on this!

I ate so much pizza for lunch, I didn't really eat again on Saturday. On the way out, I came out of my pizza coma long enough to snap a picture of the oven. They were restocking the coal supply. Check out the handles on the pizza peels. Crazy long.

Depending on when you time your visit to Pepe's, you may have quite a wait. We got there at noon on Saturday and walked right in. We weren't alone in there though. I don't know if that's a good time or the Holiday weekend slowed business down. I think this might become a standard stop when we visit Connecticut.