Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bake for You

The DelSo neighborhood is one to be encouraged due to the number of really cool businesses that are opening there.  So I’ve been trying to alter my routine pathways through the city and swing by DelSo every couple weeks, especially for cheese and sausages and other delights from The Cheese Traveler.  So when I noticed that a baker moved next door at number 540 a while ago I was very happy.  Unfortunately that baker folded not too long afterwards.

But now there’s another baker next door:  Bake for You. It’s between The Cheese Traveler and Mingle restaurant.  It has five small tables and a fridge for cold drinks and a coffee service station. 

I don’t often go into bakeries, but when I do I expect cases filled with baked goods. I was suffering from a bit of shock due to the talent of the photographer who manages to make the items look dramatic and flamboyant when they are posted in Facebook.  This was a very modest display of the most unflamboyant and ordinary of baked items.  It sort of looked more like a bake sale table. I kept looking around, thinking, "This is it???" but it becomes clear quite quickly that yes, this is it. The room is small. It was on a Saturday morning and there were around a dozen kinds of goodies on display, and not a single one of them was one of the flamboyant items shown in their very good photography. There are no signs labeling anything, and so conversation with the staff is required to understand what is on offer. After negotiations I selected a strawberry scone, cinnamon bun, a baked doughnut and a croissant. There were no savory items that day.  

The prices are very reasonable at around $2-3 per item, give or take a few cents.

The coffee experience in my visit was a complete disaster. The main flavor seemed to be dirty socks.  Once I was at the table I thought perhaps  more sugar would disguise this flavor, but having mistaken the open jar of white crystals on the table for sugar, I completely destroyed the whole cup with a large dash of salt. Perhaps that was for the better anyway.  

There was a hum in the air as discussion of the upcoming opening of Whole Foods and the placement of Baked for You goods in the new store was explained to friends and family that dropped by.

The baked doughnut was first up and it came across as a tough muffin.  It has very little or no salt, and my tastes don’t run that way, so I managed to down a couple bites with no coffee and went on to the cinnamon “bun”.  It was made with extremely flakey pastry instead of a normal bun dough, so it shattered into large flakes with every attempt at a bite.  But, having salt and all the requisite sweet flavors the taste was delightful.  After that things took a distinctly upward turn when I bit into the strawberry scone.  Wow.  With large chunks of berry and biscuit-y scone dough with a very fine crumb it was a lovely morsel and one of the best scones I’ve had in the Capital Region. Too many bakers in the region have settled for something just slightly more tender than hard tack, and this scone was tender as well as full of genuine strawberry flavor.  I heated it a bit at home and it was doubly wonderful.  Finally I stuffed the croissant with a bit of ham at home and had another lovely treat.  The dough sort of missed the mark on flakey texture but made up for that with a beautiful sweet yeasty flavor that perfectly complemented the ham (well, actually it was fancy-schmancy capicola from next door).

On a return visit I selected a different flavor of scone and a cookie. There were even fewer items on display and it looked even more like a modest bake sale.  The cookie was another item with very little salt, and that sort of sweetness is not the kind I favor.  The scone was underdone to the point that it was gooey, and although I find it hard to tolerate hard or tough scones, gooey is not what I prefer as an alternative.  So, it's hit or miss for me at Bake for You.  Are people coming in before opening and carrying off the goods in large bags?  Is the catering service the mainstay of the business? I think this is possible.  And now much of what is baked will go to Whole Foods, so you will be able to try what they make at that location.

So since I’m going next door to the bakery to get cheese and sausage on a fairly regular basis I will soon find the items I like best among their selection as I try a few at a time.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Olive Tasting

Early last month Foodie Friend hosted a small Friday night gathering to stoop sit in downtown Albany amid lovely snicker snacks and a few drinks. In addition, Zena, Goddess of Fire, brought a selection of olives to taste and compare and talk about.

The olives came mostly from Cappiello's in Schenectady and from Pellegrino's on Central Ave. in Albany

Q: Is an olive a fruit or a vegetable???
bzzzzzzt TIMES UP
A: A fruit (of the Olea europea tree)

A serving of fruit that can be just terrific with gin!!!?? That's about as perfect as it gets. What more can we learn??????

By day I am a librarian, so let's approach this in alpha order.....

The only olive that we had that came out of a jar, purchased at The Berry Farm in Chatham, NY, were tiny Arbequina olives from Spain. These were very mild, kind of buttery, meaty, very firm, and being so little they made for wonderful nibbles between sips. These olives have one of the highest concentrations of oil and most of those grown in California are used for olive oil production. We had them first at Carmen's Cafe back in February, where they were offered gratis to the table. If you see them buy some and share them with friends. They, too, will be impressed. 

POP QUIZ!!!! (Again? - It's just like seeing another cop car as you zip to work in the morning, isn't it???)
Q: The oldest living olive trees are in Lebanon and are estimated to be 7,000 to 8,000 years old - true or false?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt TIMES UP
A: False! They are only 6,000 to 6,800 years old. But that's still pretty impressive. Called The Sisters these are, in fact, Plantae Superheros, helping to save the world from ourselves with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Ted Nugent, I hope you are paying attention.

Alfonso Olives

We loved the Alfonso olives from Chile. These are cured in wine, or wine vinegar, so they are nice and tart with that dark purpley color. These were actually sort of sour, and soft, and a bit winey for sure. The flavor really lingered and it was one of our favorites, although one taster wished they were a bit firmer. 

Next it was the Calabrese olives from Italy, which, according to a recent expert self-analysis I did yesterday, is the country that best matches my personality (apparently I am "complex" [as opposed to just generally confused]) - but I digress. These are small, firm olives that have been seasoned with hot peppers, garlic, and fennel. We found them tart and vinegary, very salty, spicy and strongly flavored. I found black Calabreses (as opposed to these small green ones) at Cappiello's. They were good, but we all complained about a bitter aftertaste. Save these for tapenade (which I did - recipe follows!!!).

I had three containers of Cerignola olives - also an Italian cultivar - natural green, cured black and red. These things are very large and very mild. The green ones tasted a lot like those Manzanilla's that are always getting lost in the back of the fridge just when you NEED a martini, but these were SOOOOO much better. Rich, lip-greasifying, and "satisfying like a savory plum" (to quote Foodie Friend), these had no bitterness and a perfect texture. We decided these were the best bet to serve to someone who says they don't like olives. The black ones were plain, soft, okay and forgetful.The Red Bella Cerignola tasted very very salty and were slightly bitter, and maybe even a touch musty at first, but a couple of folks really liked the aftertaste. I later discovered that the intense red color is from being dyed with Erythrosine, also known as Red Dye #3. Um, that's not something I wanted to know. Anyway, they are very pretty and may be a nice addition to a holiday platter if forces of evil are attending your party and you are looking for an easy way to take them out. 

Red Dye #3

POP QUIZ!!! (this is when you get pulled over, right?)
Q: The U.S. has strict import standards on olive oils and is considering adding "Extra Rancid" as one label suggestion - true or false?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt  TIMES UP
A: False, and False. It's NY Republicans that are fighting any kind of legislation because it would cost olive oil importers millions. Phooey on you, California. Again.

My favorite olives were the small brine-cured Gaeta (or Gyeta) olives imported from Italy. These were delicate, not overly salty, kind of nutty. Like me............

We also tasted Kalamata olives from Greece, something we had all had before - large, black olives that are always salty and tasty and meaty and very flavorful. The pits come out easy, too, which makes them great for spitting whilst sitting on the stoop. We also tried Mixed Greek olives from Pellegrino's - large, soft black olives laced with garlic, herbs and spices - really lovely, as well as their Oil Cured Greek olives.  These are all wrinkly and deeply flavorful, kind of concentrated, and not for the faint of heart - soft and very salty and pungent, but delicious for sure.

Kalamata Olives

Q: Are oil cured olives cured in oil?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt  TIMES UP
A: Nope, that would be too easy. They are cured in salt, which pulls out the moisture from the olive, taking away some of the bitterness. They are then coated with olive oil to keep them from becoming too dry.

Wrapping up, we tried the Real Green Sicilian olives from Cappiello's. These tasted nice and fresh, like olives, with a nice bite and not too much vinegar. These olives aren't fermented - they are washed in lye then water then marinated with herbs. So the color is bright, bright green and the flavor is almost sweet. The Sicilian Green Olives from Pellegrino's were meaty, with a big pit and a bitter finish, but we liked these for what they were. These aren't treated with lye, but rather are placed directly into a salt brine, which is changed out a few times to help remove the phenolic compounds, which is what makes olives bitter, and these were still a bit bitter, or was it just me, knowing it was time to go home soon and drink lots and lots and lots of water.

Tapenade: I had some olives left over that were taking over valuable real estate in my refrigerator, so I spent some time pitting them all except the Gaeta's and Arbequinas. I had about 4 cups of chopped olives, and held back one. Three went into the food processor, along with 6 anchovies, about a half-cup of capers (rinsed), a good squirt of lemon juice (1.5 tablespoons would be a good guess), and another 1/2 cup of EVOO. Puree. Then I added the last cup of olives and just went chop chop so there were still bits in the mix. Serve with plain crackers or warm pita, or atop some buttered pasta. Give extras away to your buddies. Make them smile.  

Zena, Goddess of Fire

I loved buying the olives as much as I did sharing them with others. The little lady at Cappiello's that helped me was a genuine sweetheart, as was the cool dude at Pellegrino's. Thank you!!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

DOING DISHES: Chicken Parm and the Superheroes at Canali's

UPDATE June 20, 2014: Canali's came in #3 in the Times Union's "Best of the Capital Region" for Italian restaurants! Congratulations!!! Next year we hope you make #1.  (:

Captain Underpants is a lifelong fan of Canali's Restaurant, located on Mariaville Road in Rotterdam, NY, and suggested I try their chicken parm and red sauce as part of a series I'm just starting here on Albany Dish. It had been a crummy couple of weeks for me and a night out was just what I needed. So we gathered up a couple more superhero buddies to check it out (incognito, of course).

I wound my way out there on Curry Road, only getting turned around once, and joined the Captain in the bar for a glass of wine while we waited for the others to arrive. The space was bright and clean, with a few booths in case you prefer to eat here instead of the dining room.The wine list wasn't much, with a few offerings by the glass, as well as a bunch of random house wines at $6.00/glass. Curious, I decided to try a glass of house red; the bartender recommended the Pinot Noir. I asked for a taste first - it was Rex-Goliath - and good thing I didn't order a whole glass because it really sucked, tasting like it had been open since Reagan was in office. I then tasted the Castello di Gabbiano Chianti and decided on a glass, even though it was barely passable.

Magnum this!
Cookie arrived right on time and settled on a glass of Kendall Jackson chardonnay, always reliable. After an email exchange and a missed phone call we were disappointed to find out that Wonder Woman got lost trying to find her way, and ended up doing the rounds of saving the world instead of eating dinner out. That's what happens when we rely too heavily on our superpowers instead of a trusty GPS. FYI if you're in trouble I suggest you shoot some flares so we can find you, especially if you're in Schenectady.

Yes, those are bags of Doritos on the bar....
We moved into the dining room about 15 minutes after our reservation without any problem - the staff were very friendly. The dining room was doing a pretty good business for a Wednesday evening, with a few tables of eight, some families, and a coupla couples enjoying a night out. Our waitress - very sweet - rolled off the specials for us, including Zuppa di Clams Casino, haddock with dill and honey, and an 8 ounce filet mignon with portobella mushrooms. She left us for a few minutes to go over the menu, which boasted all that we would expect in a classic Italian American restaurant - Veal Marsala, Shrimp Scampi, and Sausage and Peppers, as well as steaks and fish & chips. The atmosphere was relaxed if just a bit noisy.

While not listed online, the Captain ordered an Italian Specialty from the printed menu, a boneless pork loin in cream sauce with mushrooms ($18.99). All the mains come with a salad to start and either a side of ziti and red sauce, or roasted potatoes and greens. Cookie ordered the Brasciola ($17.99), which apparently I can't pronounce, with homemade cavatelli (made with ricotta cheese) instead of the ziti (accepting there would be an up-charge). Of course, I went for the Chicken Parmigiano ($16.99) and a side of homemade fettuccine.

The house Italian dressing was no surprise and neither was the salad, but it was cold and crispy and generous, including iceberg lettuce as well as radiccio and leaf lettuce and a token cherry tomato. The Captain had the sense to order the dressing on the side - mine was a bit overdressed - and OK but those canned black olives are a loser every time. UGH. Tastes like chemicals. The dressing choices were all the usual and I wondered if they (even just the "house") were homemade or not (most likely not). But it was a pretty nice start.

The bread was awesome - a big basket and we think it came from Perecca's, a local bakery with a great reputation and an even greater local following. It was fresh, soft, yeasty, with a nice char to the crust that was really dreamy. Served with those little butter packets - whipped salted butter from Wholesome Farms - but this time the butter was fresh and sweet. A taste of heaven for us that love to load up on carbs before a night of saving the planet from the forces of evil.

We shared a side of Menestra and Beans before our main course: escarole with garlic, onions, sausage and white beans. It was served nice and hot, and had lots of greens and a lovely, smokey flavor. I think the beans and greens from Ciao Italia was better, but this was still great, not too salty, not too garlickly, and a nice portion for splitting. Oh, and wine refills all around!!!

Dinner was served and none of us were disappointed. The Captain's dish included two thick cut pork slabs, salted heavily, nice and crusty, literally swimming in a very thick rich port wine cream sauce and smothered in mushrooms. The presentation had a bit to be desired (okay, alot!), but this was incredibly decadent and tasty. The greens were like the Menestra dish, sans beans, and nice and velvety, but the potatoes were a disappointment - heavily salted, dried out, not at all worth eating. The Captain said that he'd had better in the past, so we'll have to go back and try these again.

The Brasciola was as big as a guinea pig (no pun or offense meant by that, folks) - made with pork, not beef, and stuffed with sausage, cheese, greens and hard boiled egg. Our server said they run out almost every night! It was divine - tender, spicy, rich and flavorful, and the cavatelli was out of this world - tender, perfectly cooked. The red sauce was delicious, served over both the pasta and the meat: clingy, bright, not at all sweet, herbal but simple and for me, the best part of the meal. This is the red sauce I crave - hearty, with depth, to compliment instead of hide the flavors of what is below.

My chicken parmigiano was also a more than ample serving (it could have served three superpowers, so the next time I return I'm picking up Wonder Woman on the way and we're going splits because three days later I'M STILL EATING LEFTOVERS). The chicken was tender and cooked just right. The sauce was served over on the side of the plate (and not too much of that, either), with an even layer of gooey mozzerella overall. But the chicken, which tasted like chicken, which it should, because it was chicken, was pretty bland and left me wondering where the parm was, and it could have been a bit crispier for my liking. But still very good, as was the fettucini - perfectly cooked, tender, and quite sublime. The sauce didn't overwhelm it at all. Again, no one offered me grated parmesan for my dishes, which sort of surprised me.

Dinner was very good, and as the kitchen packed up our To Go containers we thought about our meal and talked about the decor, which is sort of old fashioned with fancy chairs and popcorn ceilings, a touch gaudy but almost elegant. Canali's has a separate banquet area next door and also caters, so I'm pretty sure besides the restaurant they are busy in the community. The feel was of a comfortable, neighborhood establishment with a loyal following and a welcoming, warm, charming staff. Even with a few shortcomings this place will make you want to go back for more.

Dinner, including an up-charge of $3.25 each for the fresh pasta sides (well worth it!), 3 glasses of wine, three mains and one starter, came to $92.57 plus tip. OH - and our waitress even asked if she could bag the bread to take home and I jumped up YES! I was so excited I almost gave away my secret identity!!! I hate to see it go to waste. I'm glad they asked.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Wonder Woman - I apologize for not bringing you a Superhero Bag.  Next time make a right. xxx