Category Archives: food

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.

Talking Turkey

Ah, Thanksgiving, the most American holiday.

There’s so much to be thankful for this year, that I don’t know where to start. I could only be more thankful if Donald Trump were walking down the street and a safe fell on his head. Anyway, a few holiday observations:

Electric Turkey Fryers
Electric countertop turkey fryers are all the rage this year. No doubt these are considerably safer than the outdoor propane versions, but any time you’re around enough boiling oil to fry a turkey, there may be trouble. Please be careful. It is my sincere wish this Thanksgiving that you don’t burn your damn house down or suffer hideous grease burns.

Turkey Skin
According a story in the Times Union by food writer Deanna Fox, local strip club Night Moves will offer turkey and exotic dancing on Thanksgiving. Club owner Steven Dick Jr. tells the paper, “We offer a chance to get a nice, hot meal and enjoy the show.” Yes, his name is Steven Dick!

Early Black Friday
Are you one of those people who will be starting your Black Friday shopping early by heading out on Thanksgiving? Well, fu*k you, then. Yes, some stores should be open for part of the day, like supermarkets, but c’mon, do you really need to go shopping at Best Buy on Thanksgiving? If you do shop on Thanksgiving, you’re part of the problem. Give it a rest.

Finally, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if I didn’t share one of my favorite holiday recipes, Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since I first urged you to cook this extraordinary side dish that will guarantee you praise and adoration. Remember, don’t ever use canned sweet potatoes. That would be as bad as shopping on Thanksgiving.

Down on the Farm

It’s hard not to have that Green Acres fantasy when you stroll around the Troy Farmers Market.

“Hmm… I could give it all up and buy a farm! Maybe raise pigs, or something and sell my artisanal pork to fine restaurants and discerning consumers.”

Yes, that’s a fine dream — and it might even be achievable — but you may wake up when you see how much work it is.

We had a look at that over the weekend when we went for lunch at Dancing Ewe Farm in Granville.

Maybe you’ve seen them at the market with their delicious cheeses and Italian cured meats. The farm also hosts dinners and lunches that include a tour of the barn and cheesemaking operation.

So, let me get this straight: you have this big flock of sheep that have to be milked for part of the year, and then you make cheese and cure meat and sell your goods at various farmers markets and to New York restaurants. Oh, and on the weekend you host big meals and give tours of the farm. On top of that you’re fixing machinery, improving buildings, mending fences, chasing coyotes off the property, dealing with all the rules and regulations involved in producing food — it never ends.

Whew.

I’m not the first one to say this, but think about what it took to put that food on your table, especially the food that comes from independent farms and small producers. Life on the farm seems idyllic when you’re strolling by booths at the market — and it certainly is idyllic in many ways — but a lot of sweat went into those products.

Here are a few pictures from the farm.

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In Vino Veritas

We had dinner at Angelo’s 677 Prime on Friday. We are not high rollers, but thanks to couple of gift certificates to defray the expense, it ended up only costing us what we’d pay to go to a normal nice restaurant.

No, I would not describe 677 as normal. It’s grand in a way that comes very close to being over the top; in my Yelp review, I described it as the “Donald Trump of Albany restaurants.”

Certainly, it’s good, but it wouldn’t be my top Albany dining recommendation, even to someone who wouldn’t think twice about ordering a $62 steak.

But let’s talk about the wine list.

Let’s be clear: I know little about wine, and if you present me with a wine list that has more than seven-hundred items on it, that’s going to be confusing. The 700+ figure is not an exaggeration.

My approach to wine is to never buy the cheapest bottle, buy the second cheapest one. It’s probably reasonable that a place as special as 677 isn’t going to sell crappy wine, right?

Now that I look back on our grand meal, I wish I’d done one thing differently: have them send over the sommelier and ask them, “What’s the best bottle of cheap wine on your list?”

Bring it to me please. With two jelly glasses.