Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chester's Smokehouse

After renovating the space over many months, Chester's is open and stocked with an impressive array of meats. 15 Watervliet Ave. is just off Central Ave. and very close to Honest Weight Coop.

They started with an old bar and converted the space into an open store with great light, shiny tiles, and a soon-to-be sandwish station, lined with coolers of different kinds to accommodate all the types of meats they process.

I bypassed the larger cuts and put my focus on the deli counter. While I was choosing from the wide variety of possibilities the place filled up and orders were quickly dispatched by the knowlegable staff. The list from their web site says it all: ring bologna, knockwurst, hot dogs, mini hot dogs, pastrami, ham bologna, ham kielbasa, bacon, Canadian bacon, stuffed bacon, smoked pork tenderloin, shinken speck, boiled ham, italian sausage, ring kielbasa, hunter kielbasa, cheddar kielbasa, double smoked kielbasa, link or country kielbasa, roast pork belly, roast pork, capicola, smoked beef loin, small hams, pepper loaf... and the list goes on.  Chances are they have your favorite smoked meat.

When my turn came I selected from one of their many kinds of kielbasa - I prefer just the generic ring kielbasa. I also couldn't resist the pancetta with black pepper and garlic and some smoked pork chops.

Everything looked tempting, especially their house made jerky - and I'm not even especially a fan of jerky! 

Now that I've tasted what I brought home I'll definitely be going back to sample more from those huge cases. I must definitely try the jerky and ham, and the hot dogs, and get more of that fabulous capicola... you get my drift.

LorreBob sez check it out!
Post what you try in the comments.

Chester's Smokehouse facebook page: //www.facebook.com/pages/Chesters-Smokehouse/

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Three Days in Napa

FINALLY I got my trip to Napa. No tights, no cape, no daring deeds to protect the innocent. I was on vacation, and it was good.

But I did challenge myself to do A LOT of drinking.  Zena, Goddess of Fire, is always up for a challenge.

Travel with me to Napa.............

DAY 1: Ran screaming from my last meeting in San Fran. Grabbed my friend Strawberry and checked out of the hotel. Got rental car. Drove out of the city over the Bay Bridge and drove the length of the Napa Valley to Sterling Vineyards (no reservations required). Took my chocolate out of the car and carried it with me because otherwise it would melt. Took the tram to the top of the hill and enjoyed a self guided tour ($29). Learned the basics of winemaking because they've done a really good job with their signage. Relaxed and let my soul expand with the spectacular view of the valley. Got really hot because the weather was shimmering in the 90s. Sipped on some wonderful wines; I would call them good/affordable without being cheap. I especially enjoyed the 2013 Pinot Gris - crisp, bright and fruity. A lovely start to our adventure!

A view looking south of Napa Valley from Sterling Vineyards

From there we scooted down to Chandon for bubbles. I did a tasting of pink bubbles and strolled around the gardens watching the giant blackbirds fart around in the trees (the inland equivalent of navel gazing at the beach). The "etoile Rose" was fabulous. Dinner was at Ristorante Allegria out on their patio overlooking the town park right in Napa proper. Shaded, laid back, good service and great food. The Wild Mushroom Ravioli was decadent - salty, creamy, rich, earthy and satisfying. Very nice.

Ran the treadmill because I ate and drank too much yesterday. Showered. Ate at Denny's because it was right there and one needs to eat before starting off on a day of drinking (their "Fit Fare" veggie skillet with real eggs [instead of what I suspect are packaged whites] was a passably tasty and healthy breakfast). Met the tour bus and driver at 10:00 a.m. and drove around Napa to get the rest of our party of 13. Connected with folks from all over and sat back and relaxed.

Drank. Our second breakfast was at Flora Springs - a family run winery with vines throughout the valley (9 vineyards in all) offering some amazing wines. My two favorite breakfast wines were their Oakville Sauvignon Blanc, and Trilogy, a blend of Cab Sav, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. The staff were knowledgeable (albeit a bit pushy with the wine club angle). The tour takes you into a wine cave that is cool cool as well as cool and delightful.

The caves at Flora Springs

From there it was off to Rutherford Ranch for a very special wine and chocolate tasting. The combination of flavors were well considered, especially the lemon-scented white chocolate with their Chardonnay. And I HATE white chocolate, or at least I thought I did. I guess I just needed some wine to wash it down. The wines were good - nice "Tuesday" wines. I especially enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc, comparing it favorably to some of the New Zealand choices out there. The space is very attractive, and our hostess was smart and friendly. We had a box lunch provided by our tour company in the gardens (with another glass of SB). It was time for a nap.

This is a cork tree. They grow by themselves. They are natural and sustainable. Just sayin.

The indoor tasting rooms at Rutherford Ranch

Lemon scented white chocolate with Chardonnay. An excellent snack before lunch.

BUT NO! Off to winery #3, Hopper Creek Vineyard and Winery.  This was probably the most laid back visit of the four we would make that day. Actually there was no tour, but it was SO hot out by this time we were all happy to sit inside the tasting room adjacent to the storage area and listen to our host talk about the wines with lots of local detail about how they are made. We enjoyed another lovely SB with a macadamia nut and a rich, velvety Merlot with a dark chocolate covered cherry. The estate grown Merlot Rose was the color of strawberries and watermelon and it was one of the most refreshing wines that I'd had in a long time, with just a slight pucker.

Hopper Creek was laid back and homey. That's our driver from Platypus Tours on the right.
Last but not least we headed over to St. Clair Brown Winery (they also make micro beers).  Their Pinot Grigio was good, the Estate Syrah maybe a bit astringent but spicy, the Cab Sav (2011) was big and wonderful, and the finish, their sweet Muscat, was just one more drink than I could handle at this point so I sipped a sip then enjoyed some of the lovely treats offered at the table, including citrus marinated olives and hummus served with crusty bread.

The entrance to St. Clair Brown's is a bit dismal but it felt very hip all the same

Once safely returned to our hotel and after a little lie down Strawberry and I wandered over to In-N-Out Burger because we couldn't drive. It was just OK . You can read my review on Yelp if you care to:  http://www.yelp.com/biz/in-n-out-burger-napa

DAY 3:  Slept in and skipped breakfast because I thought my head and belly were going to implode if I  did otherwise. Drank LOTS of water. Went out drinking again because I was still up for the challenge, this time for both the tasting and tour at Frog's Leap Winery. I Yelped them a five-star rating and they graciously thanked me:

Last week I had a few days in Napa with my good friend Strawberry. We started our day out right with a 1030 a.m. tour and tasting at Frog's Creek. The setting is quiet, lush with fruit trees and vegetable gardens, green grass out back, and acres and acres of vineyard all around. Their friendly dog greeted us when we arrived and followed us as we explored the grounds. Our hostess was lovely and very knowledgeable, easily answering questions about the care of the vines and the care they put into their farm. The wines - 4 generous pours (2 whites - a sauvignon blanc and their chardonnay, and 2 reds - cab sav [for which Napa is famous]) and their merlot) - were all amazing. I especially loved the sauvignon blanc, but maybe it's just that it seemed like a good choice for breakfast.
Frog's Leap is lush and lovely
Our last winery was Casa Nuestra Winery because they had goats in the yard. Small, homey and strewn with Elvis memorabilia - this spot was very comfortable and friendly. We enjoyed the Chenin Blanc and wandering the property. It really felt like a family farm, which it is. 

The tasting house at Casa Nuestra
Dinner out on the last night was at Napa Bistro. If you bring a local wine there is no corkage fee, so we brought a Chandon Rose and celebrated our visit and our friendship. Dinner was good, nothing really special, but the space was lovely and the service exceptional. 
Fish and chips with some forgettable coleslaw at Napa Bistro 

Chilled cucumber soup flavored with grapes and topped with an aioli squiggle
The next day we headed back to San Fran early in the morning, over the Golden Gate Bridge in fog, returned the rental and made a bee-line to the airport before the long journey back to our homes in New York and Nebraska. Traveling is great but getting home was wonderful.

I suffered a three day hangover on my return, and it was worth EVERY SIP. FYI, superhero cures usually include Gatorade and spaghetti, sweating it out at the gym, and sleeping late with a pillow over your head so that big yellow thing in the sky doesn't wake you up. I hope this is helpful. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Joyful Read: Apples of Uncommon Character

Apples of Uncommon Character by Rowan Jacobson is a delightful way to learn about a fruit that is very important to our Capital Region.

During recent years I’ve become more and more interested in the notion of terroir, or that there is a distinctive character in the food of any given region.  The soil, the water and the close environment of any food product all have an effect on its flavor and other characteristics.  So as I was thinking about our major food products, apples came to the top of a list of many.  I love apples and my goal has become to understand our apples and to try to learn everything I can about them.

Enter Apples of Uncommon Character, 125 Heirlooms, Modern Classics & Little Known Wonders, Plus 20 Sweet and Savory Recipes. I jumped at the good fortune of stumbling across this delightful book just as I had formed my desire to start learning about this fruit that’s familiar to almost everyone.

Jacobson takes time with each 125 varieties in a section that doesn’t have to be read from front to back, but can be accessed randomly as one comes across a variety and would like a description.  For each apple there are about two pages of description which include Name, Origin, Appearance, Flavor, Texture, Season, Use and Region. There's a photograph for each apple. Anecdotes abound and for the most part they are fun to read. The flavor descriptions are some of my favorite parts, for example: “like a pear wrapped in spruce bark” describes the Gray Pearman apple. And: “even as I raised one toward my mouth it was already giving off vibes of deliciousness”. This is no dry academic text. Jacobson has a deep background in food writing and it serves well in this small and sturdy volume.

Besides all the details to be learned about specific apples, there are bits of knowledge to be had about apples in general as well: “Most apples fall into two categories: the soft early-fall varieties which begin to go downhill almost as soon as you pick them, and the rock-hard keepers which are picked in late October or November but need several months of storage before those tight starches relax into sugars.”

The sections of the book also reveal important knowledge about the different varieties: Summer Apples, Dessert Apples, Bakers and Saucers, Keepers, Cider Fruit, Oddballs.   Photographs by Clare Barloza illustrate the beauties and eccentricities of the fruits and make me want to taste and touch all of them.

If you like apples at all and want to know a little more about what you’d like to try when you go to the farmer’s market or out to the orchards this fall, start with this book! With recipes like grilled apples with smoked trout, fennel and lemon zest you also may get some wonderful ideas about what to do with your harvest.

Buy this book and help a local business by getting it from The Book House or Market Block Books.  Both shops allow you to order or buy online and pick it up at the store or have it delivered.

LorreBob sez: go to your local bookstore and get it today!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is a ROUX???

FF and I dined on a lovely June evening on the patio at Roux, a new restaurant that opened early this spring located at the end of a strip mall just a hop off 85 onto Vista Boulevard in Slingerlands.  The dining room was dark and welcoming, clean and tastefully decorated, but the outdoors beckoned. Their patio dining area was nicely shaded and protected from the wind by the building. Along with sturdy tables there was an upholstered sectional that looked very cozy and comfortable, but it was occupied when we arrived so I didn't get a chance to try it.  There were already a few guests enjoying the ambiance when we arrived, just before 530 on a Thursday night. Over the next couple of hours it was clear that the outdoor seating area was very popular.

Roux, Rustic American Cuisine in Slingerlands, NY
A cozy bar may be worth a try in hotter or colder weather

A view of the back deck with a view of the parking lot and highway

Service was relaxed, not exactly slow.  FF started with one of their signature cocktails ($10 each), Albany's Manhattan, made with smokey (local!) Ironweed whiskey and topped with one of those bright red dye #2 high fructose corn syrup maraschino cherries which she wouldn't eat. Very nice - not too sweet - just the kind of drink that will make your cheeks pink even sitting in the shade. Especially if you have two, which FF did because I was driving my Zenamobile that night. Trying to stay local I ordered a glass of the Glenora Reisling ($9) from the Finger Lakes region. I have enjoyed this standby many a bottle before - ever so slightly sweet, kind of fruity, very refreshing and good with most anything. Bottles run $26 to $50 each with wines from California, Oregon, South America, NZ and Australia predominating. All were available by the glass except for the champagne, and there are some good choices. A basket of forgettable bread accompanied by a delicious herb butter with lemon zest and a roasted red pepper spread arrived a bit late, but we were happy and talkative and finally got around to ordering our meal. 

Forgettable bread with lovely herb butter and a roasted red pepper spread
We tried to select "Rustic American Cuisine" because that's what Roux advertises. However, I don't think that should include Bolognese, but you can comment on our blog if you think I'm wrong. 

We tried one small plate, the Pork Belly ($3), laced with sage and served with a bourbon syrup. Two bites but very tasty, with just a hint of sage.

A pork belly small plate - tender, greasy and delicious
Then we had a Mac & Cheese appetizer ($8).

Q:  What is a roux? You know, a ROUX, like in the name of the restaurant???

Is it: (one answer only)

A. An attitude
B. A small kangaroo
C. The way Scooby says "you",
D. A base for thickening a sauce, or 
E. Milk mixed with Velveeta cheese.

The correct answer is D, a base for thickening a sauce. You get 5 points. 

If you answered E. Milk mixed with Velveeta cheese, you would be incorrect (B and C are almost right, but no points - sorry). Anyway, believe it or not, THAT'S what Roux's "homemade M&C" was all about. White shells, milky squidgy flavorless liquid, not baked, no real cheese, and topped with panko flakes instead of what was supposed to be a Parmesan crust.  It was down to nothing the worst thing anyone has tried to serve me in a restaurant anywhere ever, and I'm a superhero and the forces of evil are ALWAYS trying to find ways to take me out, so slipping me awful food has been a popular choice over the years, but I digress. 


The Scallop dinner on their new spring menu was also disappointing, and again, not up to what they SAID they were serving. The saffron risotto was bitter and clumped and resembled pilaf more than a creamy risotto. Where did that bitter flavor come from??? The roasted broccoli was steamed and served cold, laced with the usual garlic and red pepper flakes. The scallops (4 medium size pieces) were good, flavored with a gentle citrus glaze, but it was a pretty chintzy serving. This was NOT a $28 entree, but we appreciated that they split the plate for no charge and that the plate was balanced (no need to order a la carte to get them greens).  The Green Goddess green beans ($3) that we ordered on the side were definitely a winner - perfectly cooked, laced with a mayonnaisey dressing and a touch of chili oil. The Green Goddess is a good goddess. 

A shared entree of sea scallops and some Green Goddess green beans
The dessert menu had a nice variety, including cookies and milk to which you could add bacon for $1 extra (rustic American or what!???) - but it was dominated by after dinner drinks. The desserts, we were informed, all are homemade, and the cheesecake is made from Grandmother's recipe. We didn't indulge but their rich temptations looked very good indeed.

Dinner for two (but really could have served one), with TWO cocktails, one glass of wine, one small plate, one side, one appetizer, and one entree, came to $76.68 plus tax and tip. We saved a little bit of money with a Local Flavor of Albany coupon ($15 for $30 worth of food), which is good. In sum, not great food all in all, perhaps a bit overpriced, kind of underwhelming. I think they need to work on what's coming out of the kitchen. Otherwise the space has a lot going for it and the staff were all very friendly and professional. 

And the patio is really a lovely place to hang.  

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, June 22, 2015

Muza in Troy: Old School European

Muza took over a corner on 15th St. in south Troy some years ago and step by step the owner is building a very interesting spot. The before and after photo in the dining room shows what everything looked like at the start and it has undergone quite a transformation and it looks like there may be more to come.  There are some very promising terraced spaces outside that I'm eager to see finished and in service. 

Once inside one can see a special dining room for a large party to the left, then the foyer, and dining room to the right.  To my mind it all seems very old style and I like it.  The dining room has two levels and has a golden amber ambiance.  There are nice large windows looking out over the street which add natural light, but they are heavily draped so that the sun can't become overwhelming. It's not exactly homey, but has few pretensions.

Service has always been polite, efficient and attentive.

But indeed the food is what has drawn me back. I come from the midwest where eastern/northern  European cuisine was very common due to 19th century immigration, although it is less so now. 

At Muza it's meat and potatoes cuisine, with noodles, cabbage, onion, carrots, mushrooms, a little this and a little that. These are very rich well-cooked flavors that end up blended in delightful ways.  But I'm rhapsodizing because this is what I grew up loving.  I'm genetically bonded to these flavors. Others may find them bland or unexciting, but for someone who needs expertly made stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, sauerkraut and potato pancakes every now and then, I think Muza will not disappoint.

I took this photo of the Muza Feast, which seems to me to have the most variety of their sampler dishes. However, most of the plates served here are going to look very much like this one. 

It's sturdy fare. The sauerkraut is tender and mild, with a good sour bent rather than sweetened with apple or sweet onions. I've seen fragments of dill and there are sprinkles of parsley for an herbed pungency. The golombki are right in my range for "perfect" with a great balance of rice and flavoring ingredients, cooked until the rice is completely tender but not mush (let me see….where are those leftovers again…).  And the tomato sauce is light and also slightly sour so that it adds the right level of brightness but doesn't take over. 

I'm not a pierogi specialist, so those of you who are should go and review them.  I simply woofed them and smiled a very big smile. There's not much to say about kielbasa and mashed potatoes - at Muza they are done expertly so that they are wonderful complements in a musical composition of well-balanced and mild herb and vegetable flavors.

It's hard to surprise with cuisine like this, and those like me who want it because it's just like it was back home don't want surprises. Because of my upbringing I have expectations for very common flavors and textures and Muza delivers on every item. I find myself swooning as I sit before a plate of rich beef and egg noodle goodness.

The crowd is mixed with all ages.  There are couples and families of all kinds.

The beer and wine lists are simple and I can't help but think that Muza could team up with some local breweries to pair beer with the cuisine and step up the game without getting outside the borders of what they are doing. Maybe that will be coming up since they are describing themselves as European-American Dining and Beer Garden.  I will keep hoping.

And while I wish that the sour cream and applesauce condiment dishes were crockery instead of plastic, I suppose I can't have everything I want.  I'll go back anyway.  At least until I've had every single thing on the menu and many dishes several times.

LorreBob sez: go and be happy that someone is still making this delicious food.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Albany Dish Goes on the Road to "Slow Living Summit: Food, Mindfully"

This week in Brattleboro the Strolling of the Heifers has given life to a Slow Living summit of a 175 or so people who are interested in many issues surrounding food.  The brief list below gives a sense of the talk contents.  The summit format was a chance to have an intense immersive couple of days talking with like-minded food producers, chefs, sustainability gurus and community/foodie activists.

Turning the Tide; Healthy Food for All?
Alisa Gravitz
CEO of Green America
Alisa, an economist and sustainability wonk, says the good news is that we can grow enough organic food to feed everyone.  Studies show again and again that organic farming yields are just as high as factory farming yields.

Food for Mind, Body and Soul
Dr. Michael Finkelstein

Think about what you're eating and feed yourself what you really need. You can unpack that for two hours.

Food Policy: Can We Talk?
Shouldn't we be discussing a food system revolution?
Rob Michalak

Global Director Social Mission, Ben & Jerry's

Well heck yeah.

Land, Legacy, and Leadership: A food entrepreneur's journey
Allison Hooper
Co-Founder, Vermont Creamery

The food business can be a great adventure and take  you places you never suspected you'd go.

The Emergent Agriculture: A new paradigm for the sustainable future of food
Gary Kleppel, Professor, Farmer and Author

Dr. Kleppel provided a close up look at basic techniques that build biodiversity and sequester carbon.

Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate
Laura Lengnick, Professor Environmental Studies and Sustainable Agriculture
[Organic Agriculture BABE]

Laura's talk title is the title of her latest book, which I highly recommend. She tells the stories of award-wining farmers who are developing techniques to spring back after disasters and mitigate weather extremes along with innovating for transformation.  I have a crush on her.

Seed Libraries and Other Seed Sharing Initiatives
Cindy Conner, extraordinary gardener, teacher and author

Cindy gave us all a very comprehensive overview of seed library services and how to get a seed library started. I want to start one!!! Anybody with me?

Brattleboro Coop - lunch!  The Coop was just across the river from our conference so we made the most of their convenient food bar - a fantastic spread of wholesome delicious foods.

Food as Medicine or An Herbalist's Approach to Food
Betzy Bancroft Celest Longacre, Cheryl Wilfong

"Start with your spice cabinet" was Betzy's advice to those who wish to discover useful everyday herbal remedies for common ailments.

The 2015 Summit was one of the most hopeful meetings I've attended where people acknowledged climate change but have refused to believe that there is no way to address the changes we face. With our food policy being affected by knowledgable professionals like these I am encouraged.  But there is still plenty to do in order to assure food justice, resilient agriculture and appropriate policy to make sure we have the best possible food systems in place for the coming century.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Attack of the Killer Ketchup Burger at SMASHBURGER

Zena, Goddess of Fire, and Pony, did a 20-napkin burger lunch at Smashburger last week. 

In preparation for taking on a Smashburger (known for their aggressiveness) we didn't eat any breakfast, so we arrived grumpy just before noon. We scouted out the enemy (a.k.a. Killer Calories) and placed our order at the counter.

Smashburger on Wolf Road in Colonie
Clearly there were problems at the register and the line grew quickly while we stood there and watched the staff stumble with changes in orders, mistakes in order entries, and making change. But the place was clean and bright and the staff were very friendly and helpful and everyone was working hard.

Zena and Pony scout the place out
I did a 2040 calorie superhero attack on a Classic Smashburger (the big one, since I got a FREE ENTREE from the manager at the Alliance for Women in Media luncheon last month and figured I could beat it), a side of sweet potato fries and a chocolate shake.  NOTE: I did a review for Yelp of Burger21 in Latham recently and the basic burger/shake/sweet potato fries combo is so I can do a little bit of comparing between restaurants. And because I like 'em.  (:

The shake was at least 12 ounces of awesome - an easy fight to put that one away. Made with Haagen Daz and milk and syrup (what's in the syrup I don't know - nothing online, either, as far as ingredients go). But simple and nice and smooth and rich. I liked that it was served in a frosted glass. Like the spoon and metal cup thing. I finished it before anything else in front of me. Irresistibly delicious.
Chocolate shake: 760 Killer Calories (and worth it!)
The sweet potato fries were nice and crispy and not at all greasy or salty - some of the best I've had. Needs no condiment, but I lost that fight. It was a generous serving and I only ate about half of what was in front of me. OK even superheroes are beaten sometimes. Delicious.

Classic Smashburger and sweet potato fries
But that burger (topped with ketchup and pickles and red onion and lettuce and tomato and secret sauce and cheese) wasn't what I expected, and I almost lost the fight.  Stuff was squirting out in all directions. The brioche bun got soggy and fell apart. Pickles plopped out creating panic.  And honestly, though tender, it just tasted like ketchup and onions and pickles. Lots of ketchup. WAY too much ketchup. But I finished it - yeah!!!  Next time I'll ask them NOT to put ketchup on my burger. I can do that at the table. 

Pony did 1540 calories in her good fight: Bacon Cheeseburger, fries, fried pickles, and a Sprite. The pickles were a really really salty but good - the coating was actually stuck to the pickle, which isn't something you see too often. 

Fried pickles with a side of icky bottled Ranch dressing
The fries were good, shoestrings, crispy, OK. But that burger???  It tasted like ketchup and onions. Yep, not like bacon (two little pieces) or cheese (Uh-merican and flavorless). Again, the toppings took over, sort of like the forces of evil if you let them. The beef may be better quality than "drive-thru" but you'd hardly know it.

Bacon Cheeseburger with a wee bit of bacon and a side of fries
I like the build your own option - I understand it's their most popular - and will try that next time. 

No onions.

No ketchup.

Love, Zena