Category Archives: food

Ziti and Meatballs

The corruption trial of Cuomo confidant Joe Percoco grinds along this week. It’s hard not to feel bad for this guy, who seems to have gotten in over his head in every way possible — but you’ve got to admit, the “ziti” business is funny.

The feds claim that Percoco would refer to payments by the code word “ziti,” and they say they have emails with Percoco writing, “Keep the ziti flowing … Don’t tip over the ziti wagon.” And where did he come up with that? According to the prosecutor, from watching the Sopranos. In other news, Mario Cuomo is rolling over in his grave.

Meanwhile, in a federal courtroom in Allentown, something entirely different is on the menu. Prosecutors there claim that the word “meatballs” was used as code for illicit payments in the bribery case of mayor Ed Pawlowski.

This from the Allentown Morning Call is priceless:

“So, this is not code for a bribe? Did you actually go to Mike Fleck’s to pick up meatballs?” Morgan asked.

Strathearn replied yes.

“Did you actually get meatballs?” the prosecutor asked.

Strathearn replied that he had, but not as many as he was expecting.
“How many did you get?” Morgan asked.

“Four,” he replied.

On cross-examination, McMahon played several more recordings containing references to the meaty Italian cuisine and suggested “meatballs” was, in fact, code for a bribe.

“You want these people to believe it’s really meatballs?” McMahon yelled. “It’s a payoff, Mr. Strathearn. You know, I know and everybody knows.”

Yes, everybody knows meatballs mean money. And meatballs and ziti? Fuggetaboutit.

Core Values

When you live less than a mile from Indian Ladder Farms, fresh apples are just moments away — but why do that when you can pick them on your front lawn?

We were blessed with a bunch of apple trees at our new house, and recently we’ve made apple cake, apple bars, apple crunch, applesauce — all with fruit from our trees. The apples aren’t beautiful, but we’re using them. Next year? Cider — both sweet and hard.

There is some work to this. The trees need regular pruning, and Cooperative Extension has recommended a care plan that should remedy a bit of a fungus problem. Then there’s taking care of the dropped fruit, which has added up to hundreds and hundreds of pounds of apples.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be to Indian Ladder Farms. Warm donuts and fresh beer are just down the road. Those are things that don’t grow on trees.

Jumpin’ Jack’s Flash

I’ve made it very clear how much I hate the annual “Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive In is opening story” done by every local TV station and newspaper.

They will all show up today and do the exact same story as they did last year and the year before that, and the year before that. The theme: spring must be here, because Jumpin’Jack’s is open. They started early today:

How many times can you do the same %$#@ story? Oh, nevermind.

As a service to local newsrooms., here are a few new ideas to spark up your annual Jumpin’ Jack’s coverage:

  • Bring a nutritionist Jumpin’ Jack’s and do a calorie estimate for various combinations of food orders. Get lots of b-roll of fat people. Include cardiac disease stats.
  • Send some samples of Jumpin’ Jack’s food to a lab for bacteria counts. Follow up when results are in. Swab the doorknobs to the restrooms and condiment dispensers, too.
  • People who can stand on line at Jumpin’ Jack’s in the middle of the week are obviously unemployed. Find someone with a particularly bad hard luck story and hear how Jumpin’ Jack’s brings hope to their bleak lives.

See — if I could come up with three great ideas like that in two minutes, imagine what the incredibly smart and talented people in our local newsrooms could concoct? Right?!? Go for it producers and reporters — show us that your not followers, but leaders.

The Secret Ingredient

Someone asked about my soda bread .

“Rob, you must be holding out on us,” he said.  “Your recipe isn’t that much different than all of the others. How is it that the judges at the Irish Soda Bread Competition always seem to enjoy yours?”

I looked around and lowered my voice.

“Well, truth be told, there is a secret ingredient. I’ll tell you — but please don’t share this with anyone.”

He sat up and paid attention.

“Here’s the thing: take a big handful of Lucky Charms and put them in your food processor. Pulse them until they’re reduced to a fine powder. Then sift that in with your dry ingredients, and I think you’ll see a big difference.”

“Lucky Charms?”

“Lucky Charms. Your soda bread will be… magically delicious.”

He thanked me and shook my hand, and somewhere this morning there are people eating soda bread with a curiously different flavor. A certain tang that they can’t put their finger on, but one that seems seems oddly familiar.

A Taste of the Past

To an entire generation in Albany, say chicken teriyaki and they answer you back, “Quintessence.”

It’s two years since Quintessence was demolished, mowed down to make room for the ever-expanding Albany Med. But for years it seemed like an empty imitation of itself; Quintessence wasn’t really Quintessence since the Jimmy Scalzo days. And what days those were.

I’d been to Quintessence many times in the early 8os before I realized that it was not just a place for late night drinking, but a great place to eat — and the chicken teriyaki with spinach noodles were as close to legendary as any dish ever served in this sorry town.

But it’s gone forever — unless you were among those at a class given at Price Chopper’s Market Bistro, where chef Donnie Graham, shared the secrets of the teriyaki. Graham spent many hours in the open kitchen at Quintessence, and served up countless plates of their specialty.

Believe it or not, one of the big revelations was learning how to cut the chicken into a long strip and properly wrap it around a scallion and piece of carrot. It’s then held on with toothpicks until the chicken shrinks and grabs the veggies tightly. Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks. I swear I swallowed one once long ago.

What of the marinade and the dressing for the noodles? Ah, sorry — I’ll post a lot of things online, but I don’t think paying for the class gives me ownership of the recipes and secrets of Quintessence.  You’ll have to rely on your memories of those days, but if you’re like me, many of your Quintessence memories are — a tiny bit hazy.

When Black Friday Comes

I’m not a shopper, so the whole Black Friday thing makes me want to puke. But for deal hunters, Friday is the Super Bowl of buying and many wild-eyed shoppers will be clutching the gigantic Thursday Times Union.

Newspaper circulars remain an effective way to advertise, so Thursday’s five-pound edition must be a real money maker. The paper has taken to flogging the hell out of the Black Friday special edition, even heavily promoting its release as an “event.”

Marketing newspapers has never been harder, but I must say, five pounds of newspaper does sound attractive. That would get me through a lot of litter box changes.

By the way, if it’s Thanksgiving, that means it’s time for the best side dish ever invented, Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. I first shared the recipe in 2006, so this is an anniversary of sorts. And for those interested in history, it was posted just weeks before Albany Eye would crash and burn in a most spectacular manner. Good times!

Thanks for All the Fish

Lent means no meat on Friday, because… well, because God said so, that’s why.

Many Americans abstain and indulge at the same time, taking in the great tradition of the Friday fish fry. In a lot of communities, it’s the local fire department that serves up the fish dinners. When I was a member at Elsmere Fire Company, the Lenten fish frys were a big deal: hundreds of community members who would show up and it’s an important fund raiser for the fire company.

The menu varies from place to place, but you’ll always find cole slaw and fries, and at some, baked potatoes or clam rolls are offered. I’m biased, but for me, Elsmere has the best fish around. New Salem Fire Department, in the shadow of Thacher Park has great pies for desert for those with a sweet tooth — assuming you haven’t given it up for Lent! At my firehouse, we also served chicken nuggets, known in some circles as the “sinner dinner.”

Fish frys, church suppers and the like are part of the old-fashioned glue that holds us all together. It’s easy to find yourself a roast beef dinner or all-you-can-eat breakfast. You don’t need to be a regular; everyone is welcomed and it’s a great way to get a taste of a community. Literally.

Coffee Buzz

Let’s talk about this Death Wish Coffee. A large bag of the highly caffeinated brew showed up in my house recently, and in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t pay for it. Long story.

Death Wish hit the marketing jackpot recently they won Intuit’s  Small Business, Big Game  contest, and all of America saw their commercial in the Super Bowl. You remember the commercial,  the one with vikings rowing toward doom in a raging sea? Yeah, this one:

So, after a few days of drinking Death Wish, here are my observations.

Death Wish tastes good, at least as good as the premium store-bought ground coffee I usually brew. After two to three cups, my normal morning routine, there was definitely a noticeable and familiar effect: the feeling you get after having a little too much coffee — and I’m not sure I want that every morning.

If you were on your way to do some pillaging in your viking ship, a pot of Death Wish would be exactly the thing to put you in the mood.  Having said that, if I were on my way for a day of pillaging, I’d probably go light on the coffee so I wouldn’t have to stop at every rest area along the way to pee.

Maybe with hyper-caffeinated Death Wish you could drink less coffee and get the same boost. This way you won’t annoy your fellow rowers with constant requests for pee stops  — and also avoid a possible beheading.

At $20 per pound, I’ll stick with the coffee I usually drink at half the price — but I’ll save some of the Death Wish just in case. You never know when someone’s going to invite you for a day of pillaging.

In a Pickle

There’s magic happening inside two ceramic crocks at my house, where common cukes are turning into delicious garlic dill pickles. Well, it’s actually not magic, but lacto fermentation, the process where microbes turn vegetables into great things like pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.

Maybe you’ve made pickles before? You’ve never done it this easily, because five minutes and a handful of ingredients is all you need.

Seriously, if you like pickles you have to try this. There are thousands of recipes online, but this one from Alton Brown is a terrific place to start. My Polish fermenting crocks were a Christmas gift, but it’s not about fancy equipment, but a simple and ancient technique.

Electric Pickle

There have been a lot of interesting food exploits in my house in the last year: smoking meats, making bacon, brewing beer, stuffing sausage and now the pickles and kimchi. I need to have a party where all that stuff is served together.

An acquaitance once scoffed at my wife for making her own jam. Why do all that work, she said, when you can buy that stuff at the store. The poor woman. She’ll never understand what it’s like to create something special fro a pile of raw ingredients. You go buy some jam in the store. We’ll feast on our pickles.