Monday, February 25, 2013

Spice of Life

My favorite area health food store is Dean's Natural Foods in Westgate Plaza. Yes, Honest Weight has pretty much all of the same stuff and I've never really done a price comparison between the two stores. And I like Honest Weight too. I just don't see Honest Weight as a health food store. I still go to Honest Weight every so often but I just like Dean's.

Everyone there is very friendly. There is one woman that works there, I should find out her name, that greets you with a warm hello. When you say, "Hi, how are you?" back to her, the response is, "Reasonable." Wouldn't it be nice if we were all reasonable?

Dean's is where I get most of my spices. They might have a little less space dedicated to seasonings than Honest Weight, but I like the set up at Dean's better. It's more relaxed,  they have little bags with stickers already on them to label the spices, and I think the spice prices are quite fair. Need a tablespoon of allspice, buy just a tablespoon of allspice. It will be cheaper and better than anything you buy in a supermarket. Plus you won't have a spice you use once and throw the rest away in 6 or 7 years. I stopped in earlier today to pick up some spices. 

I picked up some oregano and granulated garlic just to have more of both in the house. The granulated garlic is great. I also picked up some bay leaves, yellow mustard seeds, allspice, and coriander (I already put the granualted garlic in a jar - it is potent stuff). Quick spice buying tip - put the date on the label so you know how old the spices are.

I mixed up some salt, cure#1, and brown sugar in the bowl on the left. Most of the spices I bought today are in the bowl on the right. I rubbed one of the last roasts I have in the freezer with the spices. Not exactly the traditional corned beef, but I think it will work.

It will get tucked away in the fridge for at least a week before it gets cooked. This is the first time I dry rubbed a corned beef. The few other times I've used a brine.

I loosely followed the Serious Eats recipe. Here's the Serious Eats write-up and recipe. We'll see how it goes. At the very least, I hope it comes out reasonable.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

First Pizzas

I recently joined the forum. The depth of information available there is astounding. I took some of the flour out of my 50 pound bag (a slight exaggeration - I broken the 50 pound bag down into lots of 4 to 5 pound vacuum sealed bags and one big jar) and made some dough on Monday night and put it in the fridge. The recipe was developed by a guy whose screen name is Glutenboy. How bad could the dough be? Tonight I put the homemade pizza steel in the oven and fired it up.

I don't know if it is the mixing technique (all the yeast and water and half the flour get mixed first) or the high protein flour or some combination of both, but this is the first time I felt like I was able to work with the dough and shape a pizza. I can't tell you how many video's I've watched only to tear the dough. No problems tonight. I even tried to flip the dough between my hands and kind of got the hang of that. I wouldn't have ever tried to do that before because the result would have been more like a donut once my hand went straight through. I used Scalifini crushed tomatoes for the sauce and Trader Joe's mozzarella for the cheese. Once again, the olive pizza is for the kids. I'll eat it, but doubt I would ever pick just a black olive pizza.

I've still got to work on how I use the oven. For the most part, these were baked for 3 minutes at 550 and then broiled for 1 minute. I'm probably more excited than I should be. Hopefully hanging around that website continues to assist in making improved pizza. Progress...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Summer in February

Winters can seem to drag on and seem endless. To get through it, we have an annual Summer in February picnic. It's a summer family barbecue in the middle of winter. Groundhog's Day has nothing on this. You ever have a Thanksgiving style food induced coma on Groundhog's Day? Didn't think so.

The tradition started a few years ago when we gathered at a camp on the Sacandaga for a pot-luck picnic and a bunch of outdoor winter fun. The food kept getting better and the event quickly picked up an alias, Pierogie and Rib Day.

Other than a little of the coordination, my contributions to the meal are the ribs and sausage. I've got a burn barrel for making charcoal. At some point in this barrels history, it was a 55 gallon drum of tomato paste. With a few modifications, this thing has been generating charcoal for barbecue for over 10 years. You cut a small door towards the bottom. This is where you shovel out the coals and control how much air the fire gets. You drill holes so you can make a grate of rebar above the door. My grate is by the lower barrel rib. The grate supports the burning logs and allows coal sized pieces to fall to the bottom. Once you're done cutting and drilling, you basically have a giant charcoal chimney.

Start a fire an you are off to the races. With the door at the bottom open, you can turn this into a jet engine. With is closed, you have a more controlled, slow burn. Although this year, I got smart and used a bunch of coals from the wood stove to heat the pit. Usually, I have to make two fires.

The pit is just a stack of old concrete blocks. In the summer, I just put the colas on the ground. You can't do that in the winter. The coals thaw the frozen ground then water comes out of the once frozen ground and puts out your fire. Ask me how I know. The work around is some bricks and an old cast iron grate just above the ground.

 I cooked two rack of ribs and a few pounds of sausage in there. Instead of the usual rub, I went with one recommended by Mr. Dave. Here's a link to the recipe. As to be expected from a Mr. Dave recommendation, the rub is great. My wife's uncle took the extra rub I had home with him.

Off to one side of the pit was a slope my father-in-law set up for the kids. They had fun with it. Here's my nephew on a sledding run.

Once the food started, it never seemed to stop. There was a big taco dip with chips. On paper, I shouldn't like taco dip, but I love it.

I threw together a Buffalo cheese dip. Not bad. It's one of those things that isn't fantastic but for some reason you can't stop eating it.

 Aunt Carol fried up a ton of pierogi. There are only 9 in the pan...she fried up a lot more than 9.

My mother-in-law makes some seriously good deviled eggs. Her potato salad is great too.

Now that's a lot of pierogi. The ribs came out tender and the combination of smoke with the rub wa delicious.

Here's Round 1 for me.

Hope you left room for dessert. In addition to ice cream, there were lots of cookies - some gluten free thin mints that really tasted a lot like the real thing, chocolate cherry cookies and kissing hands. Plus an apple square and a chocolate rum cake.

After the kids went to bed, there was a loud, highly contested six-handed pinochle game that went until 1 AM. Just like in the summer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Roaming The Restaurant Depot

I got a chance to wander around the new Restaurant Depot that recently opened on Warehouse Row in Colonie. Before you head over, you should know that the Restaurant Depot is not open to the public. You need a Tax ID number or the proper paperwork from a non-profit to get a free membership. Luckily, I know a few people that have already become members and was able to tag along.

From the outside, the place looks like any other really big wholesale store but there is a very nice covered area so rain and snow won’t get on your purchases while you load up. Since it is a store for restaurants, everything is bulk. Not just bulk, BULK. The refrigerated section is huge and filled with meats, cheeses and produce. Some meats were marked for sale by the piece (whole briskets, packs of pork butt, whole sirloins – like in BJs) but they were also sold by the case which makes sense if you are preparing several hundred portions of short ribs. Most of the cheeses looked to start in the 5 pound range. And it looks like a fresh seafood section is coming. Right now most of the seafood was frozen, but the empty holding tanks looked like they were almost ready to go.

When I was done in the cooler I wondered around the rest of the store. They had some nice looking kitchen equipment – stock pots, slicers, grinder, coffee equipment. Smaller stuff too – spatulas, whisks, peelers, knives. And plates, glassware, aprons, to-go containers, paper/plastic stuff, pizza boxes, the list is very long. Then you get into the dry goods. It is kind of like a supermarket except “gallon” is the smallest size. If they have what you want and you want a lot of it, the prices are good too. For example, the price of De Cecco spaghetti is $1.24 a pound. The catch is you need to buy twenty, 1-pound boxes.

Restaurant Depot is a lot of fun for a food nut to walk around. I went in hoping to find one, specific ingredient and I did. But it only came in 100 or 50 pounds bags.

Guess who has 50 pound sack of high protein pizza flour.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pizza on the Brain

Just joined another pizza forum. This one is at The amount of fantastic information on that site is overwhelming. I made another folder in the bookmarks pull down menu to hold the new links and threads I want to revisit. And the pictures...I have been staring at amazing pizzas for almost a week now.

I'm hoping to get out to buy some high protein flour tomorrow so I can make a dough I read about this weekend. The recipe calls for a minimum 3 day cold ferment and the dough apparently gets better with age. Challenge accepted.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Happy Birthday To Us

Once a year, my side of the family gets together to celebrate our collective birthdays in one shot and that's what we did over the weekend. This year, everyone met up at our house and it was the first time I was under the gun to pick the celebratory restaurant.

The event kicked off Saturday morning with the baking of the Grandma Cake. The recipe has been handed down from my Grandma Lilly (also of Grandma Cookie fame - what can I say, we didn't come up with very clever names). It is a tricky recipe and that is mostly because you have to cook by feel. and that is never good in baking. For example, the only measured amount in the frosting recipe is for the butter. Everything else is to taste plus you have to eyeball it to make sure you have enough to frost the whole cake. My oldest brother was in charge of baking the cake this year and I was his assistant along with 3 kids. I took a few photos along the way. Here's the batter during several milk additions to get the proper "ribbon" flowing off the spoon.

Two cake pans filled with batter ready to get baked.

The frosting gets mixed up while the cake bakes. You need to frost the cake while it is still warm. The frosting came out great. The leftover was mixed into some milk for some afternoon hot chocolate.

My brother's first time using an offset spatula to frost. A butter knife is the usual frosting tool.

We piled into two vehicles and headed off to Garden Bistro 24. I figured it was a casual enough restaurant to have a few kids with coloring books and the food was good enough to make the adults happy too. For the most part, I'd say it was a great restaurant pick. Three hiccups stood out to me, and I'll detail them, but above everything else I must say I really enjoy their mussel dishes, the steak that came to the table was delicious, the kids liked the chicken fingers (house made) and burger, I thought the Merabec Salad was fantastic, frites are awesome, the staff is very friendly and my mother was happy with the vegan meal they prepared for her. So even with the hiccups, we enjoyed the restaurant.

So the hiccups...I had called almost two weeks in advance to make the reservation and make special accommodations for my mother who basically eats a vegan diet with minimal fat. I was assured it wasn't a problem and to remind the server. We did and there were a few awkward moments there where it seemed like there was going to be a scramble to get her a dinner because there is nothing on their menu other than salad for her to eat. It was awkward enough for my wife to ask me if I had called in advance to set it up. In the end it worked out nicely and she got some very fresh, lightly sauteed vegetable over a bed quinoa. Lovely. Nothing major, just a minor bump.

Hiccup number 2: We ordered a bottle of wine with five glasses. The glasses were delivered to the table and a few moments later the bottle of wine was place on the table in front of me with a - and this is a quote - "Here you go." The bottle had a twist top which had been loosened and I poured wine for everyone. I understand there wasn't a cork to present, but something slightly more formal would have been nice. Instead, it was me saying, "Hey, pass me your glass."

The final hiccup: the appetizers were weak. They aren't bad, but they aren't good either. Certainly not in comparison to everything else. Maybe it was an off night, I don't know. I've never had any appetizers there before. My wife and I split a salad, then we each get a dinner, then maybe we'll split a dessert. We ordered the Crispy Calamari and Jumbo Lump Crab Cake. If a place can put that much attention to detail into their salads - seriously the Merabec salad with a maple/mustard vinaigrette was really delicious - they can make much better crab cakes and fried calamari. The skill in the kitchen is clearly there. There just needs to be some of that skill focused at the appetizers.

Hiccups and all, we enjoyed ourselves and the night. We skipped dessert at the restaurant and headed back to the house for Grandma Cake. After singing Happy Birthday to Us, we tore into the cake. It was a good time.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Make Cough Syrup

I said earlier how much I enjoyed watching the Moonshiners show on Discovery. I shouldn't. And yet I love the damn show. The first season was a little bit better than the second but I still enjoyed it and if there is a third season, I'll be setting the DVR up to watch it.

Ever since having the flu just before Christmas, I have a cough I just can't shake. Last night after a brief coughing fit I reached for the bottle of cough syrup I had been nursing all week. It was gone.

What would Tickle do? I'll tell you what Tickle would do.

Tickle would never have bought the CVS knockoff of Robitussin. He would have had himself a few belts of shine (probably a mason's jar worth) and gone to sleep it off. So, I reached for my bottle of Albany Distiller's New Make Whiskey. Technically speaking, alcohol from a corn mash that was aged in a barrel for as long as it took to fill the barrel and then empty it sounds pretty similar to the shine I've been watching these guys make for the past few weeks. I did about half a shot. Watched a rerun of 30 Rock. Did another shot and went to bed.

This morning I woke up well rested and felt the best I have since early December. Not all better, but on the mend. Definitely having another shot (or two or three) tonight. Strictly for medicinal purposes, of course.