Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Doing Dishes: Dining at the Diners - Mike's

short order
     noun
a dish or serving of food that is quickly 
prepared upon request at lunch counter

Mike's Diner, at the intersection of Old East State and Carmen Road in Schenectady, is hands-down my favorite diner in the Capital Region. I'm small and ruthless. Mike's, on the other hand, is small in the coziest way possible. The staff are all friendly and attentive, kitchen service is quick, and the homemade food is really delicious, including fabulous baked goods that I can quickly dispatch.  (:
Cute building on the corner

Old fashioned in a wonderful sort of way
Breakfast is always a winner, especially after a night of fighting zombies.  I love the Florentine Super Omelette ($9.50), and the Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberries ($8.95), though the Eggs Benedict ($9.25) is sort of like eggs in yellow gravy - skip that. Anyway there are lots of choices, including Belgian waffles (the "Dolly Parton" has two scoops of vanilla ice cream - should I laugh at that???), so you're sure to find something you like. Order off the lunch menu too, if you like, loaded with sandwiches, burgers, salads and wraps. Nothing fancy, but reliably good. 

Eggwich with fresh sliced tomatoes and a side of fruit
Peanut and Zena doing the diner
Last weekend Peanut enjoyed an Eggwich with Cheese ($3.50), asking for a tomato slice (no upcharge - nice!) - egg over easy, on a toasted English Muffin, Uhmerican cheese - all perfectly prepared. She asked for a bowl of fresh fruit - they had some choices though you could only order one kind (weird) - the cantaloupe was nice and ripe and sweet ($4.50) - a taste of summer. 

Like at so many of the other diners in the area, I ordered a Chicken Gyro ($9.50) - asking for extra tzatziki on the side (agin' no upcharge!) - lots of tender nicely marinated white meat chicken, lettuce and tomato, with just a hint of red onion in there (I would have liked more). I was told my fries would be coming - I think the oil wasn't quite hot, as I was probably the first of the day to order off the lunch menu - I appreciated that they waited until the temp was just right - these fries were hot, crispy and delicious. Not the best Gyro in the city, but I was content.
Great fries - you will have to fight the forces of evil trying to snitch off your plate
The gyro came first - it fell apart in my hands, but I have a way of doing that

Sometimes there's a line at the door (the smallish parking lot is a good indicator of how busy they are) but it's worth the wait. Once seated you will never feel rushed, and I like that.  Open 7 days a week, 700 a.m. to 300 p.m., FYI. 

Love, Zena Goddess of Fire

PS: Grab a Nut Horn on your way out the door. The cinnamon ones pack a lot of tasty in a little package.

short fire goddess
adjective
a short dish that is quickly 
dispatched to fight the forces of evil

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Blueberry Fairy

In the far away land of Colonie is a magick place we call the Shaker Shed - filled with luscious homemade pies, fresh soups and sandwiches, gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and healthy annuals and perennials galore. Wonderful enchanting staff are always on hand to assist.

And they have a Blueberry Fairy, and she is small and fat and purple.

This was not the first time the Fire Goddess was taken in by a food fairy - dark and tantalizing, glowing with goodness, calling my name - and yes, I came away with four quarts of local blueberries.

Time to make jam!!!

Follow the recipe, and here's some tips:

1. You will need every inch of counter space that ever was in heaven or on earth. Start with a clean kitchen, assemble your equipment, tools, and ingredients. Plan to measure everything except your weight and height.

2. Be prepared to wash every dish you ever owned in this life and your past life. In particular wash all those Ball jars in lots of warm, soapy water and rinse well unless you like the taste Palmolive.
3. After washing the berries and removing anything that looks like a killer (small and green, squidgy) as well as stems and twigs and leaves and bugs and stuff, dump them out carefully onto a large rimmed baking sheet so you can be absolutely sure that they are clean. Be picky or be icky.

4. Puree your berries in a food processor. This is a lot less work than peeling and pitting and hulling, making blueberry jam easier to prepare than other fruits. Of course if you have superpowers all that extra effort is never a problem.

5. Cook with sugar and spices and lemon to a rolling boil, then add your fruit pectin and in another minute you can start filling jars and processing them in the water bath. Use a timer. No really, use a timer. 

6. Plan on being in the kitchen for hours, including cleanup. NOTE: No tomatoes were injured as part of this recipe. Wine helps.


7. If you end up with 44 jars of jam remember your friends and fellow superheroes when the holidays approach. It'll be like summer in a jar. Oh, and make toast.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Courtesy of Taste of Home:  CANNED BLUEBERRY JAM

Ingredients
·        8 cups fresh blueberries
·        6 cups sugar
·        3 tablespoons lemon juice
·        2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
·        2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
·        1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·        2 pouches (3 ounces each) liquid fruit pectin

Directions
1.      Place blueberries in a food processor; cover and process until blended. Transfer to a stockpot. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, lemon peel and nutmeg. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2.      Remove from the heat; skim off foam. Ladle hot mixture into hot sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-in. headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Yield: 9 half-pints.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Delaware County, NY


 A nice article in the NY Times touting cool stuff happening in Delaware County got us curious. Where is this "Delaware County"? Is there shopping? What about lunch? You know, the usual important questions before setting out on a road trip. 

Zena and the Mistress of the Hounds, with Sophie Super Puppy, left Glenmont on Saturday morning ready to explore.
  • WHERE:  Delaware County is southwest of Albany, containing a good part of the Catskills, it is bordered by the Delaware River to the south (separating us from Pennsylvania), and is the fourth largest county in NYS. Also, it has the lowest population density outside the Adirondacks.  Thank you, Wikipedia. 
And it is really beautiful. Rural, hills and mountains, farms, small towns, lush with leafy trees and wildlife, quiet, and filled with easy going, gentle folks. We took 32 South to 23 West through the Catskills. Lovely. 

  • SHOPPING: Our first stop was in Windham, NY - still in Green County - and we found all kinds of lovely little shops along Main Street: antiques and art and crafts abound. This is a ski town in winter (if there's snow, ahem ahem) so it's quiet this time of year. Check out the CatskillMountain Artisans Guild for soaps, ceramics, jewelry and other locally made goods, The Gallery on Main, Garden of Stone, Twigs n Things (antiques/collectables), and Spread the Light (candles). 

Candle shop - not what you'd expect - go check them out

Garden of Stone. I bought a little cement piggy. 

Lovely layout of interesting and sometimes odd antiques

The Gallery on Main had beautiful paintings 
  •  LUNCH: We were getting hungry after all that poking around and decided to eat at the Catskill Mountain Country StoreMistress of the Hounds ordered the Emily salad - dried cherries, pecans, warm goats milk cheese and organic greens with a raspberry vinaigrette on the side - delicious, but could have used more greens for the price ($10.99). I had the Big Cheese ($6.99) - asking for both swiss and cheddar, on the server's recommended "pane paesano bread", adding tomato slices ($1.00). I got perfectly melted beautiful flavorful cheeses (no Uhmerican here!), deep red tomatoes, and amazingly crispy bread - a big sandwich, rich and tasty. The fresh pickle on the side was pretty salty, as were the corn chips, but the little cup of salsa, made with fresh jalapeno, onion and tomato was crazy good.

The warm cheese cinched this summer beauty

The sandwich was amazing. Sophie enjoyed the chips.
Sophie had bacon, a treat from the kitchen. Puppies get all the attention!

She was a very good puppy
After lunch, we checked out the adjacent General Store, full of jams and jellies (including a line of no sugar added) and local honey, maple syrup, candies, crafts, homemade fudge, fresh bread, some fresh dairy - rustic and fun.


Got fudge?

Fun to explore

More candy
After we hit Grand Gorge we were in Delaware County, continuing on 30 South and making our next stop Margaretville. Home Goods of Margaretville is a fun place to poke if you like to cook. Don't miss Catskill Candies and Confections - I bought three dark chocolate turtles that I decided not to share.  (:

We drove up 28 through Delhi (the county seat) and continued north on 10 because it was raining, pulling into the very small town of Hobart, known for their second hand book trade. I bought Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, and Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice - both at a good price and in excellent condition - at Blenheim Hill Books

Then home, about 8 hours to do the full circle, though we did take our time when we stopped. Don't hurry a trip like this - NYS has so much to offer, and the little hidden gems always feel special when you find them.  Go explore. Upstate is really beautiful this time of year.

Zena, Goddess of Fire


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Merci Buckets, Chez Mike!

In the desert there was a strip mall, with all the same stores they all have, and lo, a star shone brightly and there, tucked along the back, was a miracle, and it was Chez Mike. 

And we beheld our sandwiches and were grateful. 


Onion had the Burger ($10.99), which was cooked exactly right, served on a perfectly toasted bun that held up well to the filling - cheese AND bacon contrasting with those cold tomato slices and lettuce - he bowed his head and ate it all. The fries were amazing - seasoned with rosemary and sea salt but not with a heavy hand, these were crispy but not hard on the outside and perfectly squishy inside like a saved soul. 
Burger, an 8 oz Angus with Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Cheddar, Rosemary & Sea Salt Fries
Red enjoyed a Chicken Salad BLT ($11.99), commenting that she liked the dark toast, the tender meat, and a great taste of bacon. She also enjoyed those fries, much to my dismay, as it made it very very hard to steal them, but that would have been a sin, so I asked first. 

Chicken Salad BLT, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and those amazing fries on her side of the plate
Pony was graced by a Roast Turkey sandwich ($10.99) and loved her crunchy bread and moist turkey, wishing perhaps for a bit more red onion and cranberry mayo, or a little bit more taste to the rosemary bread, but it was excellent. Best part of her meal were the sweet potato fries on the side - dark, crispy on the outside, soft inside, not too sweet, lightly salted - she said these were the best she'd ever had. Reverently, we each tried them and heard the angels singing.

Roast Turkey with Cranberry Mayo, Red Onion, Lettuce on Toasted Rosemary Bread
Just to be difficult, which I do very well, thank you, so no, I'm not going to heaven, but that's another discussion, I ordered the Kale Caesar without the kale because I'm sick of kale ($11.99) - which they were happy to do, subbing Romaine instead (our server pointed out that they are asked to do this almost every day). It was topped with not enough smoked chicken, some crunchy little croutons, and a few roasted tomatoes (which I liked, but not with the salad). Still, it was a generous portion and the lettuce was fresh and crisp. However, the dressing needs salvation: it was very heavy and tasted like mayo - a few extra lemon wedges, salt, and pepper helped but it was pretty bland. But no worries, the angels are watching over you. 

This is not a Caesar Salad, in case you didn't notice. It is the cookies they comped us at the end. Tasty!
The dessert menu has a nice selection, all house made, and it changes daily, including homemade ice cream at $2/scoop (with flavors like pecan & cinnamon!). Some are VERY interesting, like the Ricotta Mousse with Fresh Strawberries and Black Pepper - but I was full and happy so I will have to wait to be reborn or return the next time to dig into those goodies.

Good food, comfortable booths, linen napkins, heavy tableware, fresh flowers, and cheerful service all made for a lovely meal. Truly we are blessed by their attention to detail. 

Merci buckets, Mike - lunch today was tres bon!!!

Low light, cheery setting, tin ceilings, Hudson River themed artwork

Bar area tucked away in back looking a little like a lost soul

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Attack of the Giant Killer Zucchini

BEWARE OF 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
ZENA'S DEFENSE STRATEGIES:

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

ZENA'S MOM'S ZUCCHINI CASSEROLE

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...)