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!