Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Attack of the Giant Killer Zucchini


They are out - in the thousands, possibly millions - in the supermarket, at the farmstands, perhaps hiding in your own garden. Your neighbors will place them on your doorstep in the middle of the night while you sleep. Parents will hide them in sauce. They could be riding next to you on the bus right now, and you are oblivious to the danger:  TOO MANY ZUCCHINI.

They are sleeping right now, but could jump up at any time

Tactic #1: Get 'em while they're young. They can get to be a meter in length and then they are not only extremely dangerous if they attack, but they don't taste as good - kind of pulpy and seedy and watery. Under 10 inches and I think you are safe.

Tactic #2: Look for smooth, bright shiny skins and good color. Aliens are also green and white and yellow, so look closely before you buy, as these could also attack you at night when you try to sneak something sweet from the fridge.

Tactic #3: Store them in breathable plastic bags (like the ones they have in the produce section) or in paper so they don't get slimy. A slimy zucchini is borderline zombie, so take care.

Tactic #4: Eat them. This is THE BEST WAY to control the population.  They are good cooked up with tomatoes and onions and some fresh herbs, in ratatouille, in breads or muffins, grilled with a bit of herb vinaigrette, or raw with dips or in salads. There are lots of recipes out in cyberspace where the zucchini hazard is less risky. When in doubt, chop and freeze with a "take that"!!!!  You win.

I like my Mom's casserole, which is more of a souffle - light but rich, a great main with a green side, and nice for breakfast too. There are lots of great recipes out there - what are yours???

Subdued and delicious


2 10" yellow and green zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced about 1/4" thick
4 large eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh green pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions

Steam the zucchini until just tender and set aside. Meanwhile whisk eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in mayo and parm and salt and pepper. Gently fold in zucchini, green pepper and scallions. Transfer to an 8" casserole dish sprayed first with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes or until top is a light golden brown.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Made in the Shade: The Iron Gate Cafe

The weather is lovely, and what better time to sit outside and enjoy your meal.
Gated courtyard

But Zena, Goddess of Fire, isn't all that impressed with what most places offer in terms of plein air dining around the Capital Region.

I do not want to sit in the blazing sun - I'm already too hot for that. I don't want there to be so much wind that paper goods and umbrellas go flying every which way. But I don't want bugs, either. And please, please, not on the sidewalk - too dirty and noisy plus you have to deal with the random zombie - you know the kind that lurch past and ask for handouts before puking on your shoes. Oh, and please, spare me the view of a parking lot.
Take out menu

The Iron Gate Cafe, a little breakfast and lunch spot, has indoor seating, and take away, but if you can, take your meal outside in the courtyard patio - it's shaded, set back from the road, intimate, quiet, and truly peaceful.
The courtyard for patio dining

The food is first rate - I enjoyed a Caesar Salad with Chicken ($9.50) - lots of fresh greens cut just the right size, a rich garlickly dressing, and a generous portion of warm meat. It was a little bit dry, and heavily spiced with oregano (making me think that they are prepping it for more than one dish), but nothing a bit of freshly squeezed lemon and extra dressing couldn't fix. Jaguar had a Turkey Terrific sandwich - a large ciabatta roll with sliced turkey, arugula, and bacon made extra wonderful with a horseradish sauce ($8.95). This is a big bite - half made a good lunch. Very nice.
Turkey Terrific sandwich. Good chips. 

Generous serving of Chicken Caesar Salad

Nothing fancy - wholesome food with daily specials, friendly service, nice setting. Iron Gate is a delight.

What are your favorite outdoor dining spots in the area???  I'd love to put a list together for our readers.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. They also do brunch Saturday and Sunday 9:00 to 3:00.  Lots of eggs also salads and alkeehawl.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Heaven is a Deli

Zena, Goddess of Fire wishes to report that heaven is actually located at 1197 Central Avenue, not far from the Moon and the Stars. Yes, heaven is a deli, known locally as Pellegrino's Importing.
Plenty of parking out front
The sandwiches are made by angels offering one on one service, and these sandwiches are divine. These are prepared to order while you wait, nice and fresh. Try the Italian Mix - spicy and rich. These guys will also save you time while they lift your soul by allowing you to order ahead. In addition to sandwiches Pellegrino's also offers sliced meats and cheeses by the pound. They do party platters, catering, and now have a dinner menu to go. Boars Head is their brand of choice - they know quality, and if it isn't, there's no place in Pellegrino's or heaven for it, and that includes sliced ham.

Boar's Head prevails. 
 The deli has lots of dry beans and lentils, bins of olives, prepared salads and lovely imported cheeses. The French and Greek feta cheeses are both creamy and zingy - the French is a bit less expensive - both are good in spinach pie. I always get my Parm there, grated, and they know to package up the rinds for me so I can use it in soups (they have extras under the counter if you want more). Their house made summer sausage is fabulous, and only available for a short time - loaded with garlic - try some on the grill! I bought a couple of pounds for the July 4th holiday and the whole neighborhood could smell my cooking - delicious straight up - no condiments required. Insert harp music here.
Bins of olives and dried beans, fresh salads, and home made sausage
The grocery section is well stocked with cured meats, frozen raviolis, canned tomatoes, pastas, coffee, anchovies, roasted red peppers, and other delights. There's a whole long shelf of just olive oil in small bottles and large cans. The Greek EVOO is a nice light green color, perfect for salads. Also fresh filo in the fridge (not the dried up stuff you find in the supermarkets). Yes, it may be heaven but they will help you cook like a demon if that's what you like.
Lots of tomato products and oils to choose from
Many types of dried pastas available. A sunny space to sit and eat with a few tables outside.
If you have questions about what you're buying, just ask one of the guys - they are knowledgeable and always happy to help. Those aren't aprons they're wearing, they're wings.

Hunks of cheese and cured meats in the fridges
xxx Zena

(Proscuitto!!!  Bless you...)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chain Travel

By day I'm a Librarian, and with approximately 17,000 other attendees I spent last weekend in Orlando where, you may have guessed, it was really hot. If I wasn't melting in the sun I was freezing cold in the Orlando County Convention Center. My powers were getting sapped quickly, so I started looking closely at the culinary opportunities nearby.

The OCCC is on International Drive, close to Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Seaworld, hotels and resorts, and lots of smaller attractions (I use that word loosely), such as the Orlando Eye and Ripley's Believe it Or Not and, for you shoppers out there, the Premium Outlets. The area is crawling with tourists and visitors - umpteen thousands of us - and every type of chain restaurant you could possibly imagine, all doing a booming business.

Chain travel.

I get it. The rents are sky high along the strip, downtown is far away, and heck, let's face it, America loves its chains. Outback, Carrabba's, Denny's, Sonic, Jimmy Buffets, Dave and Busters - burgers and fries and big breakfasts and noisy noisy noisy - good for families with hyper kids. And chains are not always cheap: think Benihana and Capital Grille and Texas de Brazil. The Pointe has dozens of better quality chains all snuggled together at 9101 International Drive - a busy place after dark, trust me, including lots of zombies and vampires and werewolves enjoying the lightening storms - but Zena was taking a break. Just another reminder to keep an eye on your kids.

Anyway, because daytime drinking is such a joy, we started with lunch at The Pub Orlando, in which the beer selection was very good. My Caesar Salad with Chicken and Red's Crispy Shrimp were both skimpy but tasty. The burgers looked good coming out of the kitchen. I suggest you stick to the stick to your ribs food that most pub crawlers crawl to pubs to enjoy.

The B-Line Diner, located in the Hyatt, was actually very good, also not cheap, but open 24 hours, which is cool. The Caesar Salad with Chicken (agin') was great - beautiful tender, seasoned chicken, a nice creamy dressing, not too garlicky. Colleagues both ordered the Mahi Mahi Sandwich served up on a toasted Hawaiian brioche - tasty, nicely prepared, too much bun. We liked this place a lot, and the service was terrific. If you have to live at a hotel for a week I might suggest the Hyatt just to eat at the B-Line.

Coopers Hawk has locations nationwide - they are a wine bar, serving only their own wines by the glass and a $$$ menu, each item listed with a recommended bin number. We had a table for 5 and everyone enjoyed their meal, and the wines were good, better than good maybe, and fairly priced ($7 up). The Soy Ginger Salmon was cooked through, as I'd asked, with a nice brown crust on one side, tender and slightly sweet, with a side of Asian slaw that was absolutely delicious. I like that the menu is varied - lots to choose from, from the smallest appetite on up.

The big blowout was at Copper Canyon Grill, currently with only four locations in Florida. The wine list was excellent (we enjoyed a couple of bottles of King Estate Pinot Gris from Oregon). There were a few steaks, fish options, pork ribs, even meatloaf - large servings, almost everything doused with their "signature spice blend" of mostly garlic and salt. My NY Strip was cooked exactly MR, and tender, but the sides weren't all that great. Dessert made up for it. Try the Key Lime Pie if ever you're in the area. One diner had some food allergies which they treated with great care and respect. I have to like that.

Chains have their place but they can't keep me down. We found some good meals, despite all, well deserved after a hard day at work, and at play.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Eating Well: Do the Numbers

So it wasn't Zombies this time, it was a trip to the doctor that started the fight.

I need more calcium in order to continue to kick ass, and I need to lower my blood sugar, apparently because I'm too sweet.

For the calcium - that's easy: take a pill. Oh, and cheese. Bonus points on eating more cheese.

This is what Heaven looks like. Really. 
But lowering the blood sugar is going to be a little bit harder. OK, a lot harder, so I put on my foodie nerd disguise and did some reading and surfing and soul searching. And I found the App of My Dreams, and it is NOT Angry Birds.

No, it's MyFitnessPal, a free online tool that can help you set goals, track what you eat and it's nutritional content (they have a huge database so you can load your daily food with some ease and accuracy), log your exercise routine, and your water by the glassful. There is a premium service, but the basic service is pretty flexible and easy to use.  I only wish I could take the data and graph it somehow - the printed reports are just pdfs by day, so it's hard to see what you did this week, or over the past month, in terms of making progress.

Yes, I had an 812 calorie breakfast. Back off. 
There's a social networking side of it too, but I'm not big on that - too friendly.

OK so they obviously need a librarian to re-set the data - Ken's Steakhouse Lite Northern Italian Salad Dressing is in there about 20 times scrambled up in a 20 different ways, including spellliing misteaks. So, even if you've added it in your Food Diary (the program will let you re-use the entry without having to search for it every time) it can be hard to find later. Salad Dressing, Italian, Northern Italian, Lite, Ken's Steakhouse, in that order. Yes, OK, my cover is blown: I'm a librarian by day - by the power of Zeus this organizing thing is a curse!!! But the nutritional content seems accurate - just watch for the "homemade" entries, which likely won't have much behind them except calories.
Basal? Really???
The exercise database is big, too, but does NOT include fighting crime, so I've replaced it with Elliptical, FYI. Here are the goals of a typical middle aged female superhero in upstate NY:

Yeah, well, maybe not.  (:
And low and behold, there was light - really bright light, and for a fire goddess and food nerd it just about burnt my eyeballs: too many simple carbs! So I've been cutting back on all those things that I thought made life worth fighting the forces of evil for: cookies and ice cream and pastries and white bread and white rice and potatoes and crackers and candy and chips and french bread and brownies and oh yeah, pie and cake.  And you know what??? I guess I found out that I really like oatmeal and brown rice and wheat pasta and winter squash, I'm eating more veggies and getting more fiber, and I actually feel better. I lost a few pounds, too. And while entering all that info about what you eat and do everyday can become as obsessive as a librarian cleaning up a database, I'm suggesting you won't need to do it forever, but long enough to see what you're doing right, and doing wrong, while you develop better habits.

OK so the wine is going to be a problem. I'm working on that.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. The database even had Mysore Dosa. Is that not amazing???

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The "Simplicity" of Milk

There is nothing better than dunking a cookie in a cold glass of milk. Simple, delicious, reminiscent of after school snacks, and even a little bit naughty if your Mom also told you it was bad manners.

But when you asked Mom "Mommy, where does milk come from?", she probably answered "Price Chopper", if just to shut you up.

I had a chance to meet with Mark Stanton, 5th generation owner of Stanton Farms, in Coeymans Hollow, with his friend and long-time colleague Tom Gallagher, now with the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, and along with his wife Kathy and my good friend Mistress of the Hounds, learned about milk production on the family farm.

Did you know that all of the milk production in NYS is family farms??? I think I'm right on that. Let me know if I'm not.

Anyway, first of all I learned that milk comes from COWS and that cows are big and smelly and inquisitive and that it takes a lot of cows and equipment and feed and workers and hard work and space to make enough milk to earn a living - so much goes into producing what finally leaves the farm. Some of the Stanton success is raising their own grass and alfalfa and corn for feed, with some soybeans and other from suppliers, and they do their own repairs and maintenance at several sites in the area. The feed bunkers are enormous.

Dairy milk is cheap and plentiful in this country, loaded with protein and calcium and potassium and natural sugars. It comes in whole and 1% or 2% and skim, organic, lactose-free, even chocolate. If you go to the farm you can get it raw, although all of the Stanton supplies are now pumped into a truck and delivered to Garelick for processing. Milk and milk products are part of a global market so supply and demand and pricing schemes and structures all come to bear.  Besides liquid milk and cream there's dry milk and powders, cheese and yogurt and butter and ice cream that can be shipped all over the world. The U.S. is the world's largest producer, and NY is the third most productive state with over 625,000 dairy cows. A big driver is our yogurt industry, which is cool.

Cows in NY are mostly Holstein's raised on regulated feed for maximum yield. Because Holsteins produce more milk than other breeds of dairy cow they generally have a higher yield of fat and protein in their milk, and better quality milk fetches better prices. But that means the cows aren't in the fields like beef cattle; here they live in airy, well-managed all season barns. So I don't know if they are happy cows or not, but of the 1600 at Stanton the half that aren't milking you'd think they could be outside, although it seems they don't seem to manage that well on the hillsides out in the open. I'm not criticizing - I'm a city chick so I'll shut up while I'm ahead.  Mom taught me that too.

Thanks and best to the Gallaghers and Mark for the informative tour, and the cookies. All that for a glass of milk. I think I'll appreciate it more from here on in. Much, much more.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, June 6, 2016

Cheese and Ciders!

Boy oh boy - knocking back delicious local cheese bites and washing them down with delightful local cider is something we New Yorkers should do much more often. It's good for the soul, good for the local economy and just plain tastes good. The Hudson Valley Cider & Cheese event in Hudson on June 4 gave us our most recent opportunity. Zena and I got the VIP tickets and cruised in early to an airy space with freshly set up tables arranged beautifully with some of the best stuff on earth. 

The cheeses were also a gorgeous part of the mix - great spring weather, great cheese, great cider and interesting people who choose to try these delicate and risky crafts!  I predict that you will see more cider tasting events that are akin to our blossoming craft beer tastings - get out there and try one this year.

Basilica Hudson is big, so it was nice not to have to push our way through crowds. Basilica is determined to promote lots of good foods and drinks that are gaining ground in the Valley.  All was very civilized and I can't think of a better way to cop a buzz on a warm spring afternoon. One of the delightful parts of this tasting is that it wasn't a mob scene.  Some beer tastings can get that way, but this was way laid back and there was plenty of time and space to talk with producers. I think the location had a lot to do with the vibe. It's apparent that a lot more people could take an interest in ciders and begin to understand them as the varied and subtle beverages that they are. Bravo to Basilica for taking on the promotion of these excellent ciders. We were treated to everything from quite heavy and sweet Angry Orchard fare to the citrus-y, bright and energetic Sundog Cider, to the light, dry, airy fairy wispy Stone Bridge pear.

I proudly carried home one of the growlers on the left filled to the brim with Stone Bridge pear cider. These folks use apples and pears from their orchard and produce dry, light, delicate ciders that I'm sure will go well with foods of many varieties.  I was so grateful for the choice the organizers made to match up cheeses with these beautiful fruit flavors.

I know...they don't look like mom and pop, but most, if not all of the producers in this carefully selected group are couples and families who are making their magnificent foods and drinks in small batches.  Most sell locally. Many cider producers are using local apples from stock that has been around the Hudson Valley for generations.  Some are fooling around with stock from Europe and taking advantage of the carefully cultivated varieties that the Europeans have been working on for centuries. Most of them have web sites and we happen to have a few discriminating shops like Cheese Traveler, Honest Weight Food Coop, Capital Wine & Spirits and more that sell the products locally.  

Our friends at Nine Pin Cider in Albany arrange tastings in their space on North Broadway, and I recommend that you hustle yourself over there every chance you get in order to keep on top of what New York State is producing.

It's time to stop saying "I don't like cider" because you tasted something you didn't like ten years ago.  It's a new day here in New York and there's a very good chance you'll find something you love.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to taste New York's finest, whether you go to tastings, or search for these amazing foods in our local shops.

Doc's Draft Cider table, where Doc and all the best Gods and Goddesses were hanging out on Saturday.

Cider Vendors
Aaron Burr Cider, Angry Orchard, Bad Seed Cider, Brooklyn Cider House, Doc’s Draft Cider, Gravity Ciders, Greenpoint Cidery, Hardscrabble Cider, Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider, Joe Daddy’s Hard Cider, Kettleborough Cider House, Naked Flock Cider, Nine Pin Ciderworks, Orchard Hill Cider Mill, Pennings Orchard/Cidery, Slyboro Ciderhouse, Stone Bridge Farm, Sundog Cider, Wayside Cider, Westwind Orchard, Yankee Folly. 
Cheese Vendors
Acorn Hill Farmstead Cheese, Chaseholm Farm Creamery, Five Spoke Creamery, Four Fat Fowl, Hawthorne Valley Farm, Nettle Meadow, Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., Sprout Creek Farm, Sugar House, Vulto Creamery.