Monday, August 31, 2015

Harney's Tea Fest in Millerton

As part of their mission the Harney Family has dedicated themselves to educating people about tea, so their  third annual Tea Fest included many opportunities to taste, blend and see tea being processed for deliveries throughout the country.

There is a cafe and tasting room in the town of Millerton, but I headed straight to the processing factory just a couple miles outside town to see what goes on behind the scenes.

Tours, blending class, tastings and more! 

Tea, treats and accoutrements were in the large tents around the grounds of the factory.

Small groups were given the opportunity to use the natural and artificial flavors and blend an original tea for themselves. This  flavorings storage area has a delightful aroma along with a dizzying array of boxes, cannisters, jars, bottles and barrels of flavor elements.

Our Mr. Harney has been working in the company since he was seventeen, so he's had an opportunity to watch the facility grow from a garage to a 90,000 square foot facility.

310 packets every minute - this is the boxing end of a kind of  a fascinating Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory type machine. They all sort of look the same, however there are about 15 different production lines going all the time to fulfill orders not only from retail customers, but food service organizations of all stripes. I was especially glad to hear that the automation of many aspects of the production lines allows the Harneys to pay their workers fairly good wages and keep up with the competition.

The Tea Fest is something I'd recommend for anyone who likes Harney's Tea.  Millerton is just south of Hillsdale along rt. 22, so even if you miss Tea Fest, you can visit the tasting room in town.

The website has details of the festival and also the tasting rooms: Millerton and SoHo Tasting Rooms:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Impromptu Wine Dinner at Mezzanotte Ristorante

Sunday August 16, 2015: With the dining room fully reserved for a private party, the folks at MezzaNotte Ristorante decided to get a few more customers in for the evening by throwing a special prix fixe dinner out on their very private back patio. It was an undercover, secret agent kind of dinner and only super special wonderful insiders were on the know. I was not one of them.

But my friend Cookie got an email just 5 days earlier announcing the event - 6 courses and 5 wine pairings and asked me along - how could I resist! Because the event was all hush hush apparently (nothing on the web site, or Facebook, or Twitter, or g+, or Foursquare....) I promised to keep my stupid notepad and picture taking cool in case we were spotted as spies. I snuck this picture of the establishment, located near the corner of Route 155 on Western Avenue in Guilderland, off their FB page so I wouldn't get caught:

The restaurant's exterior - parking is to the left and in a small lot on the other side of Cornell Avenue
It was about 95 degrees with the humidity somewhere near 98%, and so was I, but I don't like others to see me sweat, so I wore as little as possible without giving away my secret identity (no tights, anyway). But they decided instead to seat us upstairs in a lovely private dining area where the AC was humming, and again, so was I. There were about 16 of us but the space could have held more. I might even suggest communal tables for events like this to meet some new people. There was lots of noise (even though I thought we were sequestered for some reason) - everyone was laughing and talking and looking forward to a great meal.

The upstairs dining room was laid out for parties of 2 or 4, all with advance reservations
The first course was Eggplant & Zucchini (home garden grown, thinly sliced, lightly sauteed, chilled and layered with minted vinaigrette) alongside Blue Corn Blini (Scottish smoked salmon, chive horseradish creme, capers & lemon). The plate was also dressed with a few olives, including buttery Castelvetranos, a spicy pickled red pepper, a fresh fig stuffed with goats milk cheese, and a bit of sweetened celery. Every bite was divine. The starters were served with a Sardinian "Costamolino" made from Vermentino grapes. A wine expert was with us to talk about the wines - his name was Joe and he was a delight - describing this one as "balanced and full", a bit piney but with no oak. It was a great choice against the strong flavors in those appetizers - bright and acidic.

The first course: the zucchini and eggplant was tender and savory
Our next course was Fried Oysters - crispy buttermilk fried Summerside oysters (Produit de PEI) atop a bit of foie gras butter, ponzu and creamed leeks. This was an amazing feat of culinary creativity - I closed my eyes when I ate the second of two - salty and crunchy and oniony and tender. Wow.

The shadows on this shot (and the others too if you really look at them) are pretty funny
Next came Tomatoes & Burrata topped with a bit of fresh basil and some EVOO. The tomatoes were bursting with flavor, the cheese was gooey and sublime, all delicious and at their peak - just the right temperature (room) and season for this classic.  These two dishes were served with Le Rose di Regaleali from Sicily, which I quite liked - dark pink and not at all sweet.

I didn't take any pictures of the wine because by this point in the evening I was already a bit tipsy
So these were NOT "tastes of wine" exactly - nice pours with a few topper offers, and maybe not as much food as I might have wanted, so by now Zena, Goddess of Fire was feeling a bit more like Zena, the Spin Dryer and I had to slow my pace (which was hard to do since the wines were all so wonderful and went so well with the menu). The half-empty/full glasses started to stack up. Anyway, the next was a pasta dish, Ricotta Ravioli - stuffed with ricotta and topped with a Grand Marnier sauce with a nice hit of orange zest. This was a bit on the sweet side, as you might imagine, and the pasta was a tad underdone, but I loved it. This course was complimented by a glass of Lugana, made with Trebbiano di Lugano grapes from the San Benedetto parcel in Veneto, Italy. This one was kind of citrusy and herby - a nice choice with the oranges.
Four little ravioli with a Grand Marnier sauce
Next was Chilean Sea Bass on a bed of mashed potatoes laced with leeks and topped with a port demi-glace with a few tender-crisp asparagus. The mashed was a bit salty and the fish was a bit sweet, but together it was a nice combination. The fish was white, thick, clean tasting, super fresh and perfectly cooked. A rich, lush red Mertitage from Stratton Lummis in Napa called "The Riddler" was served aside - slightly dry and smooth.

The sea bass was salty and sweet balanced with a touch of bitterness from the asparagus
Last was a trio of dark chocolate truffles with zabaglione and raspberries, with what Cookie and I thought was the best wine of the evening, Bera Brachetto from Piedmont, Italy. This was a sparkling wine made with a red grape using the charmat method like our good friend prosecco. Slightly sweet but with a nice bit of acidity, it was a perfect dessert wine.

I ate all three and almost licked the plate
It was a classy, stimulating event. The service was impeccable and the wine speeches were a nice surprise and very informative. I would do this again in a heartbeat. I felt special, well-fed, a bit loopy and happy to be part of this pop-up, and I would encourage MezzaNotte and other restaurants in the Capital Region to do more of this, and get the word out. This is such a wonderful opportunity for the chefs to be creative, off-menu, and in season, and for bringing people together. Thanks to all of you for making our dinner out such a wonderful experience.  Oh, right: $88 including tax and tip, a great deal if I may say, especially if you don't have to drive home afterwards.

Zena, the Spin Dryer
Zena, Goddess of Fire

The wine flows at MezzaNotte's Impromptu Wine Dinner
P.S. Just about when The Riddler showed up it dawned on me that it was all in my head this secrecy thing and that it was just a last minute idea to throw this little party and I was lucky to be there and that my arch-enemy wasn't around so we were not only well-fed and glowing but safe as well.  Love to all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

They're baaaaaack! Cafe Dali Mamma 41 State St.

Upon hearing that Dali Mamma is up and open again, I was delighted to get a chance to try them for breakfast recently.  Yum!  As I was ordering my delicious egg sandwich, I kept seeing deliveries from local farms and producers.  I like this. I was most pleased to see that they care about having reusable utensils and mugs.  But then I also discovered that they want us to compost our food scraps and recycle.  This is my kind of place.

One orders at the counter and the staff assembles everything at that point, so it's really fresh and you have many choices of breads, making your own custom plate.

My pals, being foodies, also wanted to try out the lunch fare, so we went together and had a sampling. Many of the offerings can be either a salad or a sandwich, so my friend Zena had the Beverwijck beef, which she said was interesting and good, with beet-infused horseradish and sweet potatoes. She said they could lose the cous cous, as it was virtually flavorless. And they could peel the beets too.

I had  the Happy Turkey Harvest Slaw as a salad and enjoyed the tender moist turkey and veggies.

Our third companion tried the curried chicken salad  with no fancy name, and was also pleased. The service was a bit breathless, and we couldn't explain why this sandwich was prepared for takeout, but such is the service in a new place at times.

I kept getting a sort of "throwback" feeling as I was hanging out in the space and then I almost screamed when I realized that it's decorated in earth colors.  Yes, this truly IS a reincarnation of the 70s, with that wholesome food and *don't be so blinking pretentious* air about it.

There's also an entrance from Broadway.

I felt the service was good - mostly from behind the counter, however we did wonder how they'd keep up with a big crowd. And I hope they get plenty of big crowds!

Check out the menu here:

LorreBob sez: When you are in the mood for good food and a nice space, go to Dali Mamma.  She will take care of you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fox Creek CSA: Sharing for One Week

This season I finally got up the courage to split a full CSA farm share from Fox Creek with my friend Cookie. Every week at our designated pick-up location we collect up whatever is being harvested - super fresh organic vegetables, herbs, garlic: it's been interesting, delicious, and sometimes really dirty, but for me it's also been overwhelming because (1) I like to eat out and this meant eating in so I could actually get through a half-share of kale and arugula and lettuce and spinach in one week, and (2) because I'd rather eat meat and bread with a side of veggies, not the other way around (I am not right about this, just being honest).

Fox Creek Farm is located in Schoharie, NY. CSA members get to pick from a PYO garden of stuff like herbs, cherry tomatoes and flowers 
But as Zena, Goddess of Fire, with strength and determination, I have taken on the CSA challenge and will battle the battle of not wasting any of what is given. So I'm wrestling again with this week's farm share - where is the Were-Rabbit when I need him???? Oh, right - I kicked his ass last summer. Anyway, I digress.

 A friendly lineup to pick up this week's CSA
Batavian lettuce and plum tomatoes
This week there was a pound of Chantenay carrots, a head of lettuce, two eggplants, cilantro, garlic, summer squash, cucumbers, one jalapeno pepper, plum tomatoes, green beans and scallions. Isn't it lovely? MY JOB: EAT THEM.

This is a full share delivered the first week in August. This week I have to use up half. 
My first meal was one of my favorites - stewed summer squash with pasta. In addition to the share I needed another large, fresh tomato from the Shaker Shed, one large onion, and some fresh green zucchini (which I wanted to use up) and thyme from my own garden. This is nothing unusual but it really is superhero heaven when you've got all those super fresh, delicious vegetables - savory and very satisfying.
These are my ingredients - very simple. That thing that looks like a wine bottle is actually my favorite pepper grinder. The actual glass of wine I was drinking at the time is not shown. 
Zena's Summer Squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 large summer squash (yellow or green or a combination of both), sliced in half lengthwise then cut into half moons about 1/2" thick
2 large ripe tomatoes (or 1 large and 6 small plums) cut into 1" dice (large chunks)
2 T fresh thyme
1 teaspoon  Herbes de Provence (I like the blend from Penzeys)
Freshly ground black pepper (1/4 teaspoon approx.)

Saute the onion and garlic clove in the olive oil with the sea salt over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the squash and the tomatoes, stir to combine, cover and simmer over low heat until everything is getting cooked down. Add your herbs and pepper and continue to cook until tender, about 30 minutes total.  NOTE: This stuff freezes well. The Goddess of Fire will appreciate it it so much more in December.  Serves 4-6.

Zena's Summer Squash
I love green beans and we've had some beauties these past few weeks. If you like the idea of veggies that are slightly sweet and rich, try charring them a bit and finishing the pan with a bit of hoisin sauce and ginger. Zena, Goddess of Fire, loves a bit of char.  These are good warm or at room temperature.

Zena's Green Beans with Hoisin and Ginger
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3/4 - 1 lb fresh green and/or yellow beans, trimmed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (some grated fresh ginger would have been nice but I didn't have any)
1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce

Heat the oils over medium-high heat in a large pan until almost smoking, add the beans and saute, stirring occasionally. You want them the keep contact with pan so they char. When they are just the right texture for you - not too tender please - toss in the ground ginger and hoisin sauce. Serves 2-4.

The ingredients are minimal so you probably have them in your kitchen
The finished dish takes all of about 15 minutes to make, including prep time
Like any regular superhero there is the occasional need for a massage, so getting home late I decided to skip dinner and make myself a drink instead. With my farm share??? Is gin a vegetable too? Anyway, this is what I did.

Cucumber Zenatini
1/4 cup finely chopped cucumber, seeded and peeled
2 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
A pinch of freshly ground pepper
2 shots of vodka
1 shot of dry vermouth
A squeeze of fresh lemon
Finishing salt

Run your lemon wedge around the rim of your martini glass and salt it. I used Aloha Spice Company Guava Lime Smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt because I am a food snob with a kid brother, but you can use any nice finishing salt.

Combine the cucumber, 1 spring of parsley and pepper is a small food processor and pulse a few times (or muddle it). Add it to your shaker along with the vodka and vermouth and fresh lemon. Shake at least 30 times with 4 or 5 ice cubes. Strain into your glass and garnish with a cuke slice and that second parsley sprig. Sleep deep. Let the bad guys take over the city for a change. You'll have time to go after them tomorrow.

I marinated some chicken legs in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oregano overnight then pre-cooked them at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes in their juices, lightly covered with foil, and let them cool a bit before transferring to medium heat on a gas grill. I cooked them for about 20 minutes longer, turning occasionally, until crisp.

On the other end of the barbie I stir fried a couple of pounds of mixed vegetables - yellow squash and eggplant from the CSA, green zucchini from my garden, a large onion, white mushrooms and most of a green pepper cut up into good size pieces and simply tossed with olive oil before cooking over high heat, about 30 minutes in a wok designed for the grill. They should be tender with a nice char before you take them off the grill - longer than it takes to cook the meat, as a rule. The mess gets tossed with a few tablespoons or more of your favorite simple vinaigrette before serving (don't kill it with too much dressing).

Sturdy vegetables simply laced with olive oil are charred Zena-style in a wok on a hot grill. 
Greek seasoned BBQ'd chicken and a big side of grilled vegetables. I'm learning. 

I've been making my own homemade sourdough pizza dough, but any store bought UNCOOKED ball of pizza dough will work (Organic Joe's, available at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op, is made by our friends at DeFazio's).

I took two cups approximately of those stewed veggies from Day 1 and cooked them down to remove some of the liquid. The addition of 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, a teaspoon of dried oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes gave it some kick so it was pizza worthy.  I topped my dough with the prepared sauce, thin slices of Genoa salami, some grated Romano and finished it with fresh basil from the garden and storemade mozzarella from U Mundu E Ca. It was baked on my pizza stone for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees F. Rustic, sweet and spicy.

The stewed vegetables from Day 1 were spiced up and cooked down to make a sweeter, lighter pizza treat

I'm looking at a head of CSA cabbage from three weeks ago (still fresh, FYI) and that bunch of carrots, so I decided to make coleslaw. Allow it to marinate at least an hour in the refrigerator before serving. Makes a lot. Plan accordingly.

Classic Zena Buttermilk Coleslaw
In a large bowl whisk to combine 1 cup real mayonnaise, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon celery seed.

Add 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper, 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, 6 cups finely sliced cabbage (the CSA was called "Tendersweet"), and 3-4 large shredded carrots (because I have carrots to eat - if you don't like it to edge towards the sweet side use fewer carrots). Toss the vegetables gently with the dressing, cover and refrigerate.

This will keep for a couple of days but past that I'm not so sure, so pack a lunch or plan for midnight snacking if you are out and about making trouble and keeping me busy.

A food processor makes light work of homemade slaw. Don't "shred" the cabbage - slice it using the thinnest slicing blade. 

I managed to use almost everything that came in this week's half-share of the Fox Farm CSA, although some stuff went into the freezer for winter, some I gave away, and there are still some leftovers to be eaten up.  But there was still that jalapeno and those two silly scallions that had me stumped on Day 7.

So I made corn muffins in my new jumbo muffin tins. These are savory with a touch of heat - just one is a meal in itself.

Corn Muffins with Ham, Cheese, Scallions and Jalapeno
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup of honey
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups yellow corn meal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped (2 large scallions - green and white parts)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (approximately 1/3 cup)
1 cup chopped deli ham
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat over to 325 degrees F (for jumbo muffins; 350 for mortal size)

Spray your muffin tins with cooking spray or line with muffin cups. Whisk butter, honey and eggs together in one bowl, and whisk together the flour, corn meal, baking soda and salt in a second, smaller bowl. Mix the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, then stir in the buttermilk. Fold in the scallions, jalapeno, ham and cheese. Allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes to allow the corn meal to absorb some of the liquid. You can add a bit more buttermilk if the mixture seems dry but don't overdo it.

Fill your muffin tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (less time if you are baking mortal size muffins, but you knew that!).

I hope you enjoyed my week battling with the farm share, but you should know you don't have to be a superhero to do it. Be grateful for the season's bounty, be healthy, and be happy.

Love, Zena

P.S. I want to thank Cookie for making me eat my vegetables, even if I have to hide them in muffins sometimes.

Zena preps for another round of CSA and no, she didn't hurt the big bunny.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Kuma Ani Has Arrived on New Scotland Ave.

New Scotland Ave. is blessed with a bounty of nice restaurants and this recent addition is no slouch.

The restaurant offers a sushi menu for a modest fixed price and you can order as much as you wish.  The menu has a few sections so that you can order appetizers and then several categories of sushi. My choices all proved to be nicely made and well-balanced in terms of proportion of rice to fish and nicely seasoned.  The pieces are small, which suits me.  I watched a party of five order platter after platter and wondered at how much young folks can put away in a meal.  My platter was small, but there was sufficient pleasure for me.

During a subsequent visit I wanted to be sure to make selections off the regular menu and noticed that the prices there are also quite reasonable. So I chose the miso soup, hamachi collar and the extravagant lobster mango salad.  My companion chose a salad, tempura shrimp and vegetables and the whitefish don   (rice bowl).

We both enjoyed the hamachi collar very much and I recommend it highly.  It's grilled and with both ponzu and lemon as condiments it's very easy to concoct a beautiful fish appetizer.  The tempura was  well prepared with a delightful light crispiness. The whitefish katsu don consisted of mellow rice with various vegetables on top including sautéed onions that added a beautiful sweetness and a subtle sauce topped with a perfectly fried filet of the delicious mild whitefish.  It's supreme comfort food.

The decadent lobster mango salad is not only presented in a lovely arrangement, but it is a very good balance of sweet, seafood, creamy mayonnaise and roe.  The varieties of texture and contrasts in flavors make it a great dinner salad.

There is much, much more on the menu to explore.  So my recommendation is that you go beyond the sushi if you can and see what else they have to offer, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

The decor is spare but comfortable with a good amount of blond wood and well-placed lighting. The service is polite and attentive and in my experience care is extended to make sure that orders are accurately taken and delivered.  As you can see in the photos, presentations are professional and aesthetically considered, which I always appreciate.

Review by Susie Davidson Powell in the times union: 

So Susie and LorreBob say:  check it out.