Category Archives: food

Baked: Adventures in Soda Bread

Last year I was put squarely in my place when the soda bread I keep bragging about failed to place in the Irish American Heritage Museum’s baking contest.

Undeterred, I plunged back in this year armed not only with my family recipe, but with an entry in their traditional brown category.

Traditional? Yes.

You see, what passes for soda bread in America is a sweet, cakey bread that’s often filled with raisins, caraway seeds, and other fancy things. But real soda bread, the type served at every meal if you visit Ireland, has just four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda. It’s rustic and simple, but spread with a little butter there are few things more delicious.

So, Saturday March 8 was a grand day down on Broadway at the the storefront museum; the whole place was fragrant with soda bread, and as the judges ploughed through their tasting, the contestants and others were digging into huge piles of soda bread, from the diverse assortment of American style recipes to the rough loaves of traditional bread made with either wheat or white flour.

To my surprise and amazement, my brown soda bread caught the fancy of the judges and was awarded first prize. Dumbstruck, when asked for my secret, I blurted out that my grandparents came from County Cork and that I’d been working hard for years on my bread recipe. The first part was true, but the second? That might have been a bit of blarney.

Oh… the winning recipe: Continue reading

Diner

I like the drive south down River Road.

Glenmont, Selkirk, Coeymans, New Baltimore — keep going and you’ll go through Coxsackie and to Catskill. Route 144 gives way to Route 61 which leads to Route 385, but it’s all the same.

Roads like this were busier before the Thruway, and if you look closely you’ll see the remains of old gas stations and tourist cabins that dotted way — and places like the Bridge Diner.

It’s near two bridges in Coeymans, actually; the railroad bridge that carries freight across the river and the Thruway’s Castleton Bridge. The diner must have been a busy place when that Thruway bridge was being built in the late 1950s — ironic,  because it was the Thruway itself, not far behind the diner, which must have stolen a lot of the traffic away from Rt. 144.

Bridge Diner Coeymans

While the building looks vaguely like a railroad car, the only time it rolled anywhere was when it was shipped to its destination in four-foot segments and assembled on site. The diner was built by the Bixler Manufacturing Company of Norwalk, Ohio sometime between 1931 and 1937 when the firm went out of business. Back in the day, you could buy a pre-fab diner like this one on credit — and hope you got enough business to make your payment.

Bridge Diner Coeymans

I don’t know anything about how the Bridge Diner ended up as it is today. It’s too bad somebody couldn’t have put the building to use — or break it back down into four-foot sections and cart it off to where it could be live again, a place for a couple of fried eggs and some hash browns on a chilly morning.

Attack of the Food Bloggers

Bloggers get no love. Consider this headline from the Times Union:

Ex-blogger Arrested on Child Porn Charges

I like how they give blogger equal billing with child porn. “Child porn? That figures! Filthy blogger!”

So, when somebody treats local bloggers special, believe me, it’s a pretty big deal — like this week when Price Chopper invited a bunch of local food bloggers to the opening of their new Market Bistro store in Latham.

Price Chopper has smart PR people, so they know that if you schmooze a bunch of bloggers and feed them you’ll get results — like seven blog posts the next day. There may be more out there; these are just the ones I found in a two-minute search:

Tablehopping
The Angel Forever
Albany Eats
All Over Albany
Eat Local
Jon in Albany
CR Foodies

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s terrific that blogs are considered an important part of a media campaign — and it does seem to work. Now, if I can only get myself invited somewhere they have free food. I promise to write a blog post about it.

Makin’ Bacon

Mmmmm… bacon

In early January, I took a class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen that went over how to make your own sausage, bacon and pancetta. If I’d known how easy it is to make bacon, I might not have bothered with the class.

I’m of the opinion that anyone who can follow directions properly can be a pretty good cook; this more than applies to making bacon.

Belly

The bacon adventure started with a trip to Rolf’s Pork Store. A five-pound slab of pork belly is not something you’ll find at Price Chopper; your local butcher should be able to fix you up. Then — and be sure to follow very closely here — you combine four five ingredients*, rub them into the pork belly and refrigerate for one week.

Once the belly was cured, I smoked it for two hours using my gas grill and foil packages of hickory chips.

bacon

Finished product

The result was a sweet, smokey product that was and tastier and more mellow than the ubiquitous mass-produced bacon you find cin the store.  It even seemed healthier since it came from my own hand, which I suppose could be a dangerous attribute.

A visitor to our house asked if it wouldn’t just be easier to buy bacon at the store. Yes, of course! But it wouldn’t taste as good.

I can’t quantify how much of the deliciousness came from having done it myself, but it reminds me of when someone asked my wife why she would bother making her own jam. “Why make your own?  You can buy a jar for two bucks at the supermarket.” To me this seems like the classic case of knowing the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

Here’s a good recipe if you want to try it yourself.

*Sugar, molasses, kosher salt, curing salt, ground black pepper.

Turkey Flambé

YouTube is full of videos of turkey frying disasters, but these days most of them seem to be from volunteer fire departments demonstrating the worst case turkey frying scenario.

As a former volunteer firemen, I know how much these guys love burning things in training. Cars, piles of wood, houses — so igniting vats of oil to educate the public is a no brainer.

While I enjoy seeing those huge orange fireballs erupt from the turkey oil, there is no substitute for the real thing. Searching YouTube I found that there are fewer turkey inferno videos than in the past — this despite the proliferation of phones that shoot great video and the popularity of turkey frying.

Could it be that people are finally getting the point? Well. not entirely.

So, do be careful if you’re doing any turky frying. And for God’s sake, please keep a camera ready just in case.

Because Thanksgiving!

We can all agree on Thanksgiving.

Your religion — or lack thereof — doesn’t matter. Politics? Card carrying member of the John Birch Society or national health care lovin’ socialist, who cares? Yankees fan, Red Socks fan — you’re both insufferable, but on Thanksgiving we can all sit down at the same table.

DSC_0371And if you’re lucky, someone will have made Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch.

I’ve been sharing this recipe since 2006, so it’s become a tradition of sorts, to the point of sounding like Sam I Am, except evangelizing for sweet potatoes rather than green eggs and ham.

You do not like them. SO you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may I say.

One important note: never, never, never use canned sweet potatoes. If you do, that might be the one thing that could come between us on this most American of holidays.

What Is An Artist?

We had a lively discussion at home recently over Subway calling their counter people Sandwich Artists.

My son contends that they are artists. The best of them, he argued, assemble sandwiches in a way that expresses great skill and creativity — and the really good Sandwich Artists bring transcendent quality to their work. There are, of course, also some hacks.

I take the position that the Sandwich Artists might more accurately be described as sandwich technicians or sandwich engineers. After all, they are making the sandwich based on my set of specifications. I’m the one who decides that cucumbers and jalapenos would go well on my oven roasted chicken sub. It’s in Choosing these combinations of ingredients is the art, therefore I am the Sandwich Artist, not them.

If they were artists they’d decide what to do independently. You’d walk into Subway and instead of ordering,  just say, “Make me a sandwich!” The sandwich artist would then follow his muse and present me with something new and original, like in this funny piece from McSweeney’s.

So who is the artist? It’s well-known that Andy Warhol used assistants to create his art. These crews followed his instructions to churn out work that sells today for millions of dollars — and you’ll never see their name on it. It was his creative vision, not theirs. They were sandwich makers, not Sandwich Artists.

As always, thanks for visiting. And don’t spend too much time reading stuff like this at work, or you too could find yourself a Sandwich Artist.

Achilles’ Heel

Do you ever look at things and wonder how dirty they are? You shouldn’t, because it will make you nuts, but just for the heck of it, let’s talk about the supermarket checkout conveyor belt.

Everything goes on there — from leaky chicken to God knows what. Maybe that’s not such a big deal until you notice your bread peeking out from the end of its paper sleeve.

bread

Revolting

If you love a crusty baguette, there’s nothing better than the heel, which has more crust than any other slice. But when you see your heel rubbing shoulders with the filthy conveyor belt, it loses some of its delicious appeal. Ack!

So why can’t they make sure the bread isn’t longer than the bag? My theory is that they do it on purpose to give the illusion that you’re getting extra bread — or it may simply be for the eye appeal of your loaf jutting out of the bag. Either way, the unintended consequence is that I want to cut off the end and throw it outside for the crows.

So, local supermarkets, with apologies to Abe Lincoln, how long should these bags be? Long enough to reach the end of the bread.

Hamburger Paprikash

Australians are a lot like Americans, right? That’s what I thought until I read about them trying to block the Golden Arches from going up in the town of Tecoma, a suburb of Melbourne. Recently, town residents brought their beef (Ha!) to McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago. Americans would never try to stop a McDonald’s from being built.

And this brought to mind my most shameful travel experience.

So, what could be so awful it haunts me to this day? Desecrating a holy site? Insulting the locals? Paying peasants to carry me around on their shoulders? No. I ate at the Budapest McDonald’s.

Yes, there we were on a once in a lifetime trip to one of the world’s greatest cities, and like the stereotypical American tourists, we go to Mickey D’s.

Granted, we were in a huge hurry and very hungry (no pun intended) — and if we didn’t eat fast we’d miss our scenic boat tour on the Danube. You want to miss that?!

But if only we’d been a bit more patient we could probably have found a loaf of bread and some cheese, and maybe a sausage — then we’d imagine that we were eating like locals and not like the Amerikai. And we’d have a wonderful story to tell about our amazingly authentic experience.

Instead, we gulped down our food and did what every American does overseas when feeling uncomfortable: we pretended to be Canadians.