Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Dinner in Rome" with Chef Gio

Dear Chef Gio:

Thank you for your cooking school, Gio Culinary Studio in Voorheesville, NY.  You are offering lots of evening classes that appear to be aimed at us home cooks that want ideas and inspiration to make our Italian dishes rise above the ordinary. From the outside the building is quite plain, but inside it's simple and lovely; the layout is well considered.  The large open kitchen is brightly lit, clean and modern, and I appreciated the cameras and large screens positioned above the work area so participants can watch what you are doing without having to hover.
Small town Voorheesville has a surprise in store for you...

Chef Gio and his sidekick Robin - lovely space for workshops
That didn't keep us, I mean me, from asking lots of questions, but you are charming, answering easily with the "why" so it would be easier to remember, and you didn't give us recipes, just ingredients, and made us take notes, which is savvy teaching on your part. Anyway, I apologize for being so annoying, what with my flash going off, giggling over my wine, fooling with the KitchenAid even when you told me not to - honestly, there's one in every crowd, and I'm an effortless troublemaker in all respects. Your sidekick Robin was aware of my superhero status and I could sense her wanting to "POW!" "BLAM"! "BIF"! and "SOK!" me, but she was very nice. I've met other Robins in my day and they can kick butt, but I digress.
Bruschetta
In three hours you demonstrated how to make several relatively simple regional dishes from Rome. I loved the bruschetta, toast scraped with cut garlic and topped with sliced grape tomatoes laced with fresh basil and best quality olive oil. Messy and crunchy, like me. Strawberry liked it too!!!

Making pasta with the troublemaker (me, not Strawberry)
You made handmade pasta seem effortless, but I will likely continue to make mine in the food processor. Thanks for the hot tip about 50:50 semolina (for elasticity) and no-purpose flour (for workability) - I'll try that the next time. I have one of those analog hand crank kneader/cutters and they are a fine substitute for those of us that mess around with appliances or that don't have any counter space, or both. The Carbonara that you tossed with the spaghetti was unctous, rich, salty and amazing. Again, seemingly easy but you stressed the importance of good quality ingredients (and yes, everyone should know about the Cheese Traveler!).

Carbonara with a big hit of real Pecorino Romano
Next was the Saltimbocca al Forno - boned skin-on chicken thighs, prosciutto, sage - very traditional - braised in chicken stock and wine, topped with garlic, in a large pan making it easy to prepare for a crowd. Tender and dreamy. And the class was full, it was a good crowd, friendly and happy to gather and talk about food.

Chef Gio demonstrates boning chicken thighs - the finished dish is below
We finished up with a demo on Zeppole, a cooked pate chou with only eggs for leavening, these were light and just slightly sweet, topped with a bit of sugar and cinnamon. I had two.

Making Zeppole
Dinner in Rome was a lovely event, and I see that you are offering this again in July. I didn't understand that we weren't actually getting dinner for our $65, just sample tastes, and that made the class seem a bit expensive, so maybe you just need to make this all clear on your website so your students don't leave feeling disappointed.  I hate to complain because I really enjoyed the evening in your studio and I learned a lot, so thank you again for bringing your enterprise to the Capital Region.
Rightfully proud of their work!!! Thanks, Chef!
I'll probably sneak back into one of your pizza classes (if I promise to behave)!!!

Yours truly,
Zena, Goddess of Fire



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What's the BEST Restaurant in Albany??? Possibly Peck's...

Soft Serve is sweet, fun, familiar with the area but still new in her return, after many years away, to her Alma Mater city of Albany, where she belongs.

Excited and exploring, Soft Serve asked a bunch of us "What is the best restaurant in Albany?", to which I replied "What do you like?" - but that was not her question, the question was, what is the BEST??? Not your favorite, not your regular spot, not the recommended sushi joint or diner or happy hour specials or cheap eats or brunch joints or romantic or seasonal or perfect burgers or Italian or Greek or Thai or TexMex or BBQ or where you can eat outside with the flies or a pub where you can spill your beer and dance with abandon.

And I answered "Peck's".

Street parking only for Peck's Arcade in downtown Troy
It's not that big, we know that. The open kitchen is small, too. The space is kind of dark and the guts of the ventilation and heating and the structure itself are exposed like an inside-out umbrella, connecting to Lucas Confectionery (wine bar and small bites) and The Grocery, all windy like, and there's even a bar upstairs. I'll call it chic, trendy, divey, and very very cool. I felt cool, even though I'm not, I'm actually a Fire Goddess, not at all cool, especially since I hit 50, but I digress.
Open concept, noisy and it got noisier as it got busier, but very chic
We sat at the Chef's Counter so we could watch - three chefs/cooks, each with their specialties, whipped together small plates and mains with astonishing speed and grace. They made it look easy, but it's not, neither is fighting the forces of evil but we try not to sweat: each dish was graced with home prepared everything, thoughtful and seasonal additions, sauces and sides, all done well in advance of service. Not cheating: brilliant. OK they answered our questions but they had to focus on their cooking, so they didn't actually engage with those sitting close by (but then again, sometimes it's weirdos like me that won't shut up that's the problem).
Chef's Counter - be sure to make a reservation!
We started with the Mustard Green Salad ($10), baby leaves topped with a few thin strips of celery, a sprinkle of whole spicy sweet walnuts, and a few generous shaves of Pecorino Romano all tossed with a delicate egg vinaigrette that pulled everything together nicely, balancing the bitterness of the greens and giving the whole a lovely mouth feel. A generous serving, this was a great plate to share.
Mustard Green Salad was probably my favorite part of the meal - fresh and lively and seasonal
Charred Fava Beans ($8) were offered gratis (something they are known to do) - spicy and oily and salty. I was told that the entire fuzzy pod with the slippery beans inside are edible, so I took a bite.  Woof!!!  The flavorings were so heavy that what you get on your fingers is enough to satisfy as you suck out the beans. OK this dish was messy, both fingers and detritus, but delicious, a great snack. I do NOT recommend this one if it's a hot date. Oh, it's served at room temp, FYI.
Fuzzy, ugly little things can be conquered by sucking out the fava beans inside
Moving on to the Grilled Cauliflower ($14) - heavily charred, also just barely above RT, topped with nuts and seeds and a "salsa verde" of sorts (bitter), on a pile of whipped feta cheese (OMG!) and a large spoonful of heady tomato jam. I loved that jam with bits and bites of everything on the plate - great combos, very creative.
Grilled Cauliflower was pre-cooked then finished on the grill
Yes, Octopus ($17). Large thick pieces like serpents tongues, simply floured, deep fried, salted, these supertender temptations were served up with a thick oily emulsion laced with pickled peppers and paprika, a couple of slices of charred onion, and a few slices of creamy roasted and tender new potato. O is hard to do well - Peck's nailed it.
Large pieces of perfectly tender deep fried octopus 
And what is dinner without bread!??? The House Bread ($5) was light and airy, super crispy crust, a huge half a boule with a side of salted butter and garlic confit (roasted whole garlic cloves and pickled mustard seeds) finished with a sprinkle of rosemary. Were we stuffed by this point? Yes. This Soft Serve has real potential when it comes to eating ME under the table, and we enjoyed every single bite.

The bread was amazing!!!
Oh, yeah!!!  Softee enjoyed a "craft ale" - Alesmith (a California IPA, $5) - cold out of the can and into her glass. The Idlewild Wine "The Flower" rose ($13/glass/Sonoma CA, a bit steep) was bone dry, crisp and light and lovely and simple against those competing flavors of our feast. What??? Of course, I had two. And a free little chocolate chip cookie at the end, courtesy of the kitchen.

Great food, gracious service, chic but still laid back, Peck's Arcade is an adventure in eating. Don't miss it next time you go exploring.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS:  They forgot the bread and comped us on this with an apology, quickly I might add. Man, you can't beat that kind of hospitality and service.






Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What's the Buzz? Albany Craft Beer Festival 2017

A: The buzz is me and hundreds of other beer nerds on a recent Saturday afternoon at the Washington Avenue Armory attending the 2017 Albany Craft Beer Festival.
Once you're in you're in
So much beer, so little time. The Festival was only running from 100 to 400 pm on April 22, so CBM and I showed up on time ready to explore. And drink. She knows everything about beer, a real superhero in her own right, with almost 600 beers tasted on Untappd. I love my beer buddies, more with every beer, but I digress.
Not overcrowded, a casual hairy crowd of beer lovers
I wish we had planned ahead - I didn't know where to start - a few breweries we recognized but many we did not. A few ciders, lots of IPAs and double IPAs and bourbon aged beers, as well as sours, gose, scotch ales, and other delights, though not too many stouts. Many of the offerings are unavailable. Period. Except if you go to the festival or line up at the beverage store when there's a new release. And since there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the arrangement of the space it was hard to find anything anyway. Drinking beer didn't help.
DD's get to drink excellent coffee from Stacks
And the offerings were not only heady, profound, unusual and intoxicating, they were a made for mindful consumption because, in addition, they were mostly highly alcoholic. We started with the Gogo's Shiso from Nine Pin, a light, dry cider developed in collaboration with City Beer Hall, laced with Asian mandarin, fresh shiso, and Matcha Tea from Short and Stout. That was lunch.
Gogo Shiso translates into "delicious"
The names were a hoot. Of course, being on the dating shit list for too long now, I had to try the C.H. Evans Handsome GuyPA (7.4% alkeehall).  It was handsome, hoppy, and shiny like some frog I may have to kiss to get my prince. 
Someday my prince will come
Finback (Ridgewood, NY) had Between the Sheets Dead Stout (9.5%) - it was a revelation, like tasting something amazing for the very first time, aged in bourbon barrels, it made my eyes open up and my brain say howdy, like the walking dead anyway, and I'm usually busy taking those guys out so it was interesting to feel for a moment what they feel like for a change, but again, I digress. This was a beautiful American double/imperial stout. 
The music was loud so I didn't feel like the walking dead for long
Gun Hill (Bronx, NY) was in on the barrel-aged thing as well, and their Void of Light (8.1%) was a stout for the stout at heart - cocoa, coconut, marshmallows, thick, and a subtle smokiness that always makes me happy. 

My favorite: the Schmaltz Brewing Company's Jewbelation '13, aged four years, 17 hops, 17 malts, and 17% alcohol. That little 3-oz glass suddenly made me feel all silly inside. Time to quit.
Friendly, knowledgeable brewers abound
Wait one more. Red Ale from Artisinal Brew Works (Saratoga Springs, NY). Always wonderful.
Proud of their work!
OK yeah yeah it was a $65 ticket to get in, but worth every nickel and then some. It kept the crowd serious, and kept the cheap zombies and even cheaper vampires away. It was, bar none (pun intended) the BEST beer event I've ever attended.
CBM and her little beer glass
And Zena, Goddess of Fire, was in need of quenching.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Charmed, I'm Sure: Scarboroughs Restaurant

Yep, another Friday, another tavern. A long busy week at work, head down, in bed late, up early, everything's good until someone ticks you off, you put on your cape and tights and run around trying to save the world then it's back to the mundane of cat litter and deer eating your tulips and really, how long has it been 3:00 o'clock???????????  Grrrrrrrrrrrr.  Traffic isn't moving, then someone cuts me off. Why is it that spring brings out the worst in drivers???
Large front patio 
Finally I arrive and find me a nice hard bar stool to set my bony arse and it's time to hang and chill with my good friend Stretch. Scarborough's Restaurant and Tavern, located just off Route 7 in Latham on the north side of the Albany International Airport, is almost charming, a word I don't use very often because it can sound snarky, but honestly, it's charming. There's a large patio out front with a view of the parking lot but you are actually surrounded by trees - very nice. Half of this large, wood frame building is a renovated home with party rooms you can reserve for free, and just inside there's a small bar area with a modest sized dining room off to the right with lots of booths. Business picks up as evening approaches, so be warned. The decor is homey, woodsy, dark, intimate and relatively quiet. 
Party rooms available - very homey
But for now, it's happy hour (4-7 p.m., weekdays). I got me a Brown's Brewery Vienna Lager for just $3/pint - sweet, clean, not too bubbly, just like me. The house chardonnay ($4/happy hour), Nathanson Creek, was a bit off, so instead Stretch went for the Seaglass Sauvignon Blanc ($7). The wine menu isn't much to rave about but there are a few good beers on tap, nothing fancy, as well as a appetizer specials ($5/each) - very budget friendly.
Attractive bar 
And the food hardly needs to be described if you think "tavern": predictable, nothing terribly creative, dynamic, exotic, themed, experimental, or high-end, but there are a few tasty spins and reaches worth exploring, and the food is pretty darn good. Fried mozz sticks, spinach salad, tasty burgers, some specialty sandwiches, and a few dinners - something for everyone, including gluten free pasta on request. Last week we just ordered apps. I had the wings (half order $6) - these were very tender, not crispy at all, nice sauce - lightly spicy, rich blue cheese dipping sauce, fresh celery sticks and totally carrot free (harumph). 

Good wings, could be crispier, carrot free
Stretch had the Mango Pork Nachos ($11) - light crispy fresh corn chips buried in smoky pulled pork and topped with melted real cheddar, a few diced veg like corn and red onions, and chunks of cold mango. It was NOT attractive, but tasty, though impossible to eat and be dainty. The corn chips couldn't handle the load on top, they just broke off onto the plate off the fork and onto the counter and my lap and the floor. Shoveling it into my mouth worked. There was enough here to feed two hungry girls for sure, even with drinkie poos. 
The Mango Pork Nachos were not attractive, but it was very tasty and there was plenty to share
An older crowd with money to spend, I think Scarboroughs can up the ante as far as the menu is concerned, but I'm not complaining - reliable, affordable, properly prepared.  As always, the venue and good service go a long way toward ending the work week right. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire
Charmed, I'm sure

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Worthless Opinion: Wine and Chocolate Festival at the Desmond March 18, 2017

Jammed into the hallways, lining up before the first session opened at 1:00, $25 tickets plus fee in hand - ah, the smell of humanity. The waiting crowd snaked through the corridors for what seemed miles. We were a polite crowd so at least we didn't moo when it started to move.
Lovely venue
OK I'm not 29 again but they were checking everyone's IDs at the door as we burst into the central courtyards at the Desmond Hotel, not far from the airport on Albany Shaker Road. The area was very warm and sunny on one of our first mild days of the impending spring, with balloons and vendors all around. Of course we went right for the wine, all of which, I think, were from NYS. However, of the 80 plus vendors only about 25 were wineries, including a few that were, well, just OK. The chocolate tastings were few and far between, although the homemade chocolates from G&A Sweet Treats that I bought for my colleagues I ended up eating all by myself - try the peanut butter patties if you ever get a chance. Otherwise alot of jerky and scarves and jewelry and sauces and body tonics - not why I was there.

Friendly vendors

The best thing I had was a gingery Sundog Cider, but the Adirondack Wildfire cinnamon whisky from Lake George Distilling Company was also amazing. I guess I like that spikey stuff. East Hill Creamery Underhill Pass Reserve cheese was a revelation, tart, creamy, inspired.
Love the ginger cider from Sundog (Chatham, NY)
Adirondack Wildfire shots. Nuff said. 

Lovely cheese from East Hill Creamery (Perry NY)
After about an hour and a half of fighting crowds to get to the vendors to taste the wine and nibble on stuff we were hot and tired and buzzless. Time for a REAL glass of wine, so we went into The Tavern and loved a couple of cold glasses of sauvignon blanc, great service, laughter and conversation, and that we had a DD. I'd never been before but it was a wonderful bar, and only a few miles from home....

OK these things are always hit and miss - some are more crowded than others, the price can be high, the takeaway limited, some are a genuine hoot and I learn alot.  I liked trying the NY wines but none impressed - too bad. Mostly I hope that next year the organizers focus on WINE AND CHOCOLATE and maybe a few ciders and let the rest go - it dilutes the event, one with so much potential.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: I'd link you to the event but 2017 is down and 2018 is already up. Sheesh.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Pi Day!!! My Trip to "At Home"

I don't decorate. The cats are just too good at knocking things over for that to ever happen.

Still, I was curious about the new "At Home" store, located in Crossgates Commons. Wear your sneakers - it's big.
At least fake plants don't got bugs
Stretch and I set out to explore. Right now there are miles and miles of outdoor furniture with every color and pattern of polyester cushioning you can imagine. Man that would be a GREAT place to fight the forces of evil!!!
Bad Art
Chairs and stools and tables and mattresses and couches and bad art, lots of bad art, kitchenwares and towels and rugs and vases and "bowl fillers" (sheesh) and clocks and frames and a garden of fake plants. Maybe a bit pricey compared to Tuesday Morning or Walmart but a great place to get ideas if nothing else, like "I don't decorate" because I have no idea how to separate the good stuff from the crap.
Likin' the love seat
Anyway, naturally I spent most of my time pouring over kitchen stuff, because that's what I do. I came away with two 6" glass pie pans.

So now it's 3.14, Pi Day, and I'm "at home", watching a snowstorm bear down on the region. So what did I do???  OF COURSE!!!  I made pies!!!

A classic butter crust from Cook's Illustrated, using all butter because if you know me I don't eat anything with the word "short" in it (half the recipe).

Quiche (recipe follows) - made with beautiful farm eggs from Kruzinski Farm, whole organic milk, emmentaler cheese, coarse sea salt, fresh ground pepper, topped with roasted cherry tomatoes. Two perfect little pies just the right size for one goddess ignoring the fact that she isn't working out today except for shoveling snow.
That's my pepper grinder on the left, FYI...
Oh right, and with the leftover crust I made a little blueberry pie, just homemade blueberry jam mixed with a bunch of frozen ones, topped and buttered and sprinkled with sugar and baked until gooey. It better snow ALOT to burn this baby off. I ate the whole thing.


So with me everything in the end comes back to food. HAPPY PI DAY!!!

QUICHE
18 cherry tomatoes, pierced once with a fork, tossed with salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and baked in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

1 2" yellow onion (about 2/3 cup), chopped fine, sauteed in 1 T butter with 1 teaspoon of salt until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

Whisk together 4 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup whole milk.

Fill two 6" uncooked pie crusts with 1 cup each shredded emmetaler cheese (about 1/2 lb. total). Divide the onions on top and then add the egg mixture, divided. Top with cherry tomatoes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until set.

You can also do this in a 9" pan just don't divide anything.

Zena, Goddess of Fire
Lots of swiss

2" onion

Sauteed with salt to help them soften. Medium heat, please.


Gorgeous yellow yolk!

Roast those winter tomatoes if you have any sense whatsoever