Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sip and Stroll in Saratoga Springs

A fund raiser for Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the United Way, "The Sip" offered a view of Saratoga establishments that one might easily overlook. Since the town has so many little interesting places to eat and drink that it's difficult to merely see them all, let alone step inside. So my collaborator Zena, Goddess of Fire and I decided to take advantage of a programmed evening and at the same time make a donation to an organization that cares for animals who might otherwise be in vulnerable circumstances.

We picked up wristbands and maps at Gaffneys and proceeded to stroll around the downtown area and survey the scene.

The Bourbon Room offered a wheel of cheese and a peach and bourbon cocktail that was a perfect refreshing starter for an evening.

The Circus Cafe Crown Bar served up popcorn and wine.

The Swedish Hill Winery, in its new digs, was holding a tasting of a lightweight white.

Forno was offering canapes on one of their lovely patios

We skipped Mingle on the Avenue because they were a bit too crowded for our taste, but we both think it looks really gorgeous.

The Parting Glass had a jam session going and a lovely wheat beer.

Henry Street had an outdoor scene happening.

The Goddess had a little bit of evil to vanquish and we were nice and strolled-out by the time we got up to the Lake and Henry Street corner, so we called it a night.

My impression was that the establishments weren't organizing their evening around the event, and that they didn't expect much of anyone to come by.  Most didn't have extra staff and one bar even ran out of glasses (!) within the first hour.  There was no sense that planning had taken place for what would be on offer for the $25.00 wrist band fee on the part of the organizing group, so each establishment thought about and presented what they had for participants in a different way.

That aside, we had an interesting evening in Saratoga and a list of places we'd like to revisit.  You'll see more posts regarding our trips to the northern reaches of the Capital District coming up over the summer months.

Map/Guide to participating places.  Click on the map to get a larger image and see the full list of participating restaurants and bars.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

The On Ramp at Basilica Hudson

How many ways can  ramps be prepared?  This is an excellent question.  I know now that there are many more than 20.  This small local plant that is oniony and garlicky can inspire chefs to reach for the mild, the pungent, the bizarre and the downright floor-banging fantastic.

In the pre-event quiet the 19th century factory is clean and ready for 20 + chefs to unload and display what will be on offer for the fifth annual Ramp Fest. It's located very near the Hudson Amtrak station.

A couple dozen volunteers form the bulk of the staff, and this year I decided to join the crew to see all the action up close and personal.

The biggest crowd yet!

It wasn't all hard work being a volunteer.  There were plenty of opportunities to taste the delicious fare. Some of the beautifully crafted ramp treats were: 

Another Fork in the Road - Ramp and lamb kofta
Ca'Mea - Galatina di pollo with ramp aioli
The Crimson Sparrow - ramp tofu, pork cheek lemon grass, wasabi
The Farmer's Wife - spring chowder of mussels, bacon, ramps and asparagus w/cornbread croutons

and the list went on and on.  Everyone looked delighted as they went down the rows of serving tables and tried things no one had ever heard of before. In the hands of skilled chefs the ramp can be muted or  a highlight.

The one I broke the "one and done" rule for was Gaskins ramp arancini - little crisped balls of rice with the perfect rice texture on the inside and a little garnish of bright green ramp aioli on top, like a little cap.  This is the perfect food as far and I'm concerned and I returned to their table a few times for that scrumptious little bite.

The Fest had its first ever panel discussion, "Ramps and the Food Choices We Make" with Andreas Schneider of Hawthorne Valley, Sara Grady of Glynwood, Jori Emde and Zak Pelaccio of Fish and Game which used ramps as a "metaphor for the future of food."

As the festival wound down people lingered to enjoy the last of the offerings and the diffuse light in the old-fashioned  industrial surroundings.

LorreBob sez:  put the 6th annual Ramp Fest on your calendar and head down to Hudson in the spring next year. Everyone should try it at least once - to get the sense of what this little plant can inspire.

Below is the whole list if you are interested in the participating chefs and restaurants. Click on the image and you will get a size that is more reasonable.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Little Lambs and Chicken Yoga at Kinderhook Farm

Baaaaaaaa. Baaaaaa. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. The ewes and lambs were pretty noisy at Kinderhook Farm in Valatie, NY when I visited last Saturday for a tour. Being the sensible, conservative, thoughtful, and mature superhero that I am, I baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa'd right back. It was fun.

These one day old Dorper sheep triplets are just about the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
It's lambing season and the folks at the farm were busy - long days and nights tending to their animals. Laura, one of the hands and a wonderful guide, told us about the challenges of managing all these newborns. I was impressed with her attentiveness to, and respect for all the animals we met that day. A sense that everything was right and clean and happy and good just permeated the air.

After a day or two the lambs and their moms are moved to the field closest to the lambing shed.
Kinderhook Farm is a special place. Animal Welfare Approved in 2009, it has just been Certified Grassfed by AWA for their sheep and cattle. Better yet, it is the FIRST farm in the United States to be awarded this gold standard for their sheep.  This means that the animals are raised outdoors on pasture their entire lives, eat only grass or forage, and are cultivated and slaughtered according to the highest standards of welfare and care. I felt honored to share their good news so soon after it was announced. Oh, and there were little lambs everywhere doing cute little lamby things. I smiled so much my face hurt.

Freedom Ranger hens grow quickly. Kinderhook raises four rounds of babies to broilers each summer.
We then visited baby Freedom Ranger in the nearby coop, awaiting release to the apple orchards once their enclosures had tarps in place. There were also a couple dozen laying hen chicks - multiple species and colors - still penned and safe until they get a bit bigger. Oh, and fuzzy yellow goslings that move together in a gang, in and out of the enclosure, making high, sweet little honking noises. I prompted two little girls, ages 3 and 5, to mimic the sound, but they were better at baaaaaaaaaaaa-ing.

Above, laying hen chicks. Below, two little girls meet the goslings outside the coop. Inside the babies are protected and warmed with heat lamps early in the growing season.

From there the visitors walked back to fields where the laying hens had their mobile coops, but trust me, there were chickens EVERYWHERE, having dust baths, congregating, running around at top speed because they could, doing chicken yoga, preening, etc. They were, um, BEING CHICKENS, the way chickens were meant to be. Downside was they had a way of setting up nesting sites all over the farm, so Kinderhook wasn't getting the yield they should have from all those birds in terms of egg production, but they were working on it. Laura talked about the possibility of building new coops that would be more inviting to the various species and sizes of birds, all of whom seemed to get along well. We got to pet a couple that she picked up and cradled for us. Soft and friendly.  The "Peace Train" - two buildings on wheels, is moved around the farm to fresh pasture throughout the season.

Feed in the low trough, near the center, supplements the bugs and stuff to keep the birds healthy and well fed.

Chickens like to roll around in the dirt. It feels good. It makes them happy.
We didn't get a chance to visit the piglets - there was some construction at that site so we'll have to do that the next time we go to the farm. And we didn't get across to play with the cows, either, but we understand they, too, were busy calving somewhere in this 1000 acre paradise. Kinderhook Farm has an active Facebook site where you can watch 15-second videos and see all kinds of pics of what's happening almost each and every day. Being an office girl it's really nice to go and watch their dogs work the farm, to see the lambs learning to stand up, and to hear the chickens baaawk as they get released from their coop in the morning, instead of actually working. Much nicer than the sounds of traffic and telephones. Much, much nicer.  And I get to baaaaaaaaaaaaaa back, which feels good, whether I'm doing it because I'm happy or pissed off or just need to amuse myself so I can get through another day. Charming, but visit if you can if you really want to understand about sustainability and where food really comes from and the importance of caring for your land and beasts.

There's a farm store on the property that's open year-round, probably the best place in the area to buy their products, including all parts of the animal, ground meats, whole chickens, sausages, and eggs. Kinderhook also sells to chefs that handle whole animals. It may seem expensive, but the quality is amazing, and you will have the grace of knowing you are part of the solution.

Thanks to everyone at Kinderhook Farm who made us feel so welcome and who took the time out of their busiest season to share their story. It was a beautiful day.

Zena, Goddess of Fire 

Spring in Valatie at Kinderhook Farm

Monday, May 4, 2015

1st Friday and A Fork in the Road -- Food Trucks!!!!

Yeah, I'm into food trucks - having them lined up around a nice little park on 1st Friday with Albany Center Galleries nearby makes for a nice evening out. 

All Over Albany provided some very nice photos too: 

The weather was perfect and you couldn't ask for a nicer little park for a food truck gathering. There are plenty of sitting places and people can spread out while sampling the fare.  Someone commented that music was needed and I heartily disagree.  Why ruin a lovely quiet Friday evening with some over loud band?  I'm not into having to scream to my dining companions.

I'm not sure how much I can go on about food truck food. I don't know what the attraction is, but it's got something to do with being outside and having dishes I don't have very often and it brings back feelings of dairy bars at the beach and summer. It is what it is and there didn't seem to be much out of the normal fare of burgers and fries, but there were a few different things to try and I hope in future there will be more. I had chicken spiedies from the Chuck Wagon and tried to get the fabulous looking bacon wrapped mac and cheese balls, but they were gone after the first hour. The chicken spiedies were tasty.  

 I was consoled with an ice cream from Emack & Bolios after the bacon wrapped mac and cheese balls were erased from the menu.  I know...not too shabby. 

 I look forward to drifting downtown on future 1st Fridays to sample a few more food truck delights this summer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sunday Suppers at Fin

I love Sundays. I just spent the whole stupid week working like crazy and overdoing the working out early early in the day and worrying and doing yard work and chores and fixing things and paying bills and making lists and eating over the sink and making phone calls to BOA who screwed up again with my billing and they put me on hold forever, as did St. Peters, going to doctors and taking tests and being poked and prodded, then, late into the night, running around protecting the innocent from the forces of evil.

Boys oh boys, do I need something GOOD come Sunday.

So this past weekend I made reservations at Fin - Your Fishmonger, in Guilderland, NY, for Sunday Supper. This was only the second offering of their new once-a-month prix fixe with Executive Chef Gabriel Pollow. Chef put together a creative five courser focused on using sustainable fish, giving up to 12 lucky diners a chance to eat well, try new things, meet one another, relax, and feel special. And we did! We ate well, and we laughed and talked and talked about food with others at the table and sipped our BYO wines and enjoyed the bright afternoon sun streaming in the window for almost three full hours.

Our meal started with cold glasses of strawberry and basil soda - light, refreshing, not too sweet. I'm not big on bubbles but it was truly delicious. Warm garlic and sage scented rolls were passed with dishes of salted herby lemony compound butter. These yeasty rolls were really soft and slightly sweet and practically addictive they were so good.

Chef introduced himself and the meal to come. The first course was Gazpacho, not too spicy (Foodie Friend thought it slightly meh), fresh and cold with some crunch and a bit of finely chopped apple and red onion and not too much salt. Considering it isn't tomato season, this was a bit of an odd beginning in some ways, but it DID taste like the promise of summer in a cup. I loved the lime crema for both the added flavor and presentation.

Next was my favorite dish of the event - Shrimp Ceviche - with homemade blue corn tortillas that were super light and crunchy, even with a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. There was a perfect balance of flavors and textures: shrimp, avocado, and cucumber topped with a bit of olive oil and peppery microgreens. Bright and delightful.

Course three was a Quinoa Salad topped with pan seared grouper. Fin, determining that the original red snapper on the menu wasn't sustainable, substituted the grouper. The keen-wah had a lovely bit of finely chopped veg in there, some shallots and mustard and a bit of olive oil, with a good mound of perfectly cooked crispy string beans on top. This dish was beautiful but Cookie and I somehow didn't care much for the fish. It was a bit metallic tasting, a bit bland, too peppery maybe. I don't generally like grouper, sometimes finding it a bit fishy and a bit greasy, although the sauce did help. This was a generous serving and pretty good, but no "wow" "pow" "zip" "bang" superhero punch to it, if you know what I mean.

Then came a Risotto made with a saffron steelhead salmon stock and vegetables, finished with cream and parmesan. Sorry to say I didn't like it at all. It wasn't served nearly hot enough, I thought it was too salty, and it wasn't creamy like a classic risotto (and actually kinda greasy). OK, also, it was very fishy, and even tasted a bit weird, like plastic or something. No one else at the table really liked this dish very much either. It didn't help at this point we were already quite full and the dish was VERY rich, so we mostly pushed this one aside.

The last course was a wonderful Bizcocho, a dense almond cake with almond cream and berries. Simple and sweet and perfectly considered, it was a great way to wrap up. I wasn't going to eat the whole thing, but I did.

It was a real honor to enjoy such a lovely meal in this humble, neighborly, simple environment. I felt like a part of something, somehow, like family Sunday dinner away from home with new friends. The space was bright and light and and comfortable. I loved the slow, relaxed pace and I left feeling full and happy, ready to take on another night of protecting the innocent and another Monday and another workweek ahead. Chef did a great job. I look forward to returning in the future, but I'll give the rest of you a chance to try it first before I hog another spot.

Dinner was $50/person plus tax and tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Friday, April 17, 2015

Heavenly Tasting: Cheese and Beer at City Beer Hall

Upstairs at the City Beer Hall is a great place to put some tables and chairs so that people can hang out and taste beers and cheese.  The huge windows and the view into the room below add a sense of expansiveness that sets a lovely scene for some great flavors. On a recent non-frozen evening a group of avid tasters tasted to their hearts' content.

We each were given a program for the tasting so we didn't have to take extensive notes. The beers and cheese were these, which I would highly recommend for paired tastings you should do at home:
Grimm Color Field farmhouse ale wth Perail de Brebis
Brouwerij Bavik Petrus Red Ale with Tome Rebelais
Birrificio del Ducato Chrysopolis with Saulnois Reserve
Dirrificio Montegioco Fumigant with Alchese Blauwe

Eventually the assembled plates  of two cheeses were delivered upstairs and the two beers were poured for everyone.

Our hosts from The Cheese Traveler and City Beer Hall each gave some background and we proceeded to share our experiences as we cheerfully explored some of the delights of basic food and drink.

The beers and cheeeses held one surprise after another.

And oh my.  Flavor was the topic, the stuff and the conversation of the evening. Flavor profiles had been carefully analyzed and matched so that the unfolding of complementary complex flavors, although in really just a few bits of food, was mesmerizing through the evening.

The second pairing of two brought the tasting to the four beers and four cheeses, which is a really good amount if one is to get the gist of each without covering up anything, rushing or spacing out.  While truly a tasting and not a meal, it was a great way to satisfy the senses without ending up too full or bored.

There was plenty of time to regale each other over our subjective experiences both at this table and at many others in past years. The time was used to slowly try each tidbit, but also to wait to clear one combination of flavors in order to fully experience the next. The beers and cheese were paired, but there were also little condiments to allow everyone to mix up their own tastes expand the range of what was happening.

The low lighting allowed the darkness from outside to eventually envelop the room and as we savored the strongest and most mind blowing flavors of the evening the room grew quiet and people said their goodbyes.

It was a satisfying way to explore new and traditional flavors and to share insights and opinions with convivial fellow guests.  I hope this tasting series will be ongoing for a long time to come.

Lorre Bob sez check out both the beers and the cheese and if you can taste them together all the better.