Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Death by Bad Chain Cheeseburger II - I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today

So I find myself in Crossgates, just after Christmas, dealing with the crowds and with a hungry 8 year old in tow. This kid is in love with Dave & Buster's. Playing the games there is one of her favorite treats. We don't take her often, mainly because of the expense. One can easily spend a small fortune in a very short time on the games there. Those guys have a racket going for sure. And they prey on suckers like me, who attempt to score points with his little girl from time to time by lavishing her with enough game time, to earn enough tickets to bring home a large-ish stuffed animal. An afternoon at Dave & Buster's will usually elicit a "You're the best Dad ever!" from the mouth of that beautiful little girl, and what Dad can resist that?

This is a ritual now that we've created. Little girl and I eat lunch at Dave & Buster's, then we hit the game room. But with most kids still on Christmas vacation, the joint was packed, and there was a long line of families waiting for tables. So off through the mall we head in search of a not-so-packed restaurant in hopes of eating lunch before it turns into dinner.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Death by Cheeseburger IV - Two Grass Fed Burgers and a Patty Melt Walk into a Bar

I'm not in love with grass fed beef. This is heresy in the foodie world. But I've yet to become fanatical about grass fed beef, while at the same time, not being ignorant of why it's preferable over grain fed.

As grass fed beef becomes more prevalent, and I eat it more, I'm starting to like it more. It has an earthier, deeper flavor than conventional beef, which has taken me time to appreciate. My opinion may change in the future, and likely it will, but for now, it still doesn't factor into my decisions when choosing what and where to eat. I'm still a bit apathetic toward grass fed beef. And me being frugal, its higher price sometimes causes my wallet to revolt.

Whole Foods has added burgers to the menu of their in-store restaurant. Being Whole Foods, the beef they use is grass fed, and they also claim it's humanely raised. The feel good is there. But is the taste good there? Only for the strict purposes of science mind you, I intended to find out.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bad Chain Restaurants IV - Texas Carnival

Bad line dancing by the servers. The din of too loud pop-country music ringing in your ears. Peanut shells all over the floor. A plethora of neon signs, searing your retinas at every turn.

Welcome to Texas Roadhouse.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Morocco by way of India, via Pakistan, with a stop in NYC

India, Pakistan, NYC, Morocco. That's quite a journey. But the journey doesn't end there. It ends in Schenectady.

Humble Schenectady of all places. And how blessed the Electric City is because of it.

I find it interesting that the small North African nation of Morocco (with a population of just 34 million) is ingrained into American culture. After all, one of the greatest films made, arguably, is Casablanca, set in the eponymous Moroccan coastal city.

"Here's looking at you kid." What American over the age of 30 doesn't know that line?

Then there's the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young hit Marrakesh Express. Love that tune. And according to Wikipedia, the song is based on an actual train ride Graham Nash took to the city of Marrakesh while vacationing in Morocco.

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Wife's Salad Dressing

Search my yelp reviews for the words gooey or gloppy and you'll find a few rants against bottled, factory made salad dressings. I can't stand them, and in my opinion, most of them are just terrible.

Most use soybean oil, which is flavorless, and they're loaded with thickeners, which gives them that gloppy consistency. Plus there's the artificial colors and flavors they're made with. And they're usually too sweet. Worse, they're sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which is just awful for you.

I really don't get why people like them. They just can't compare to a simple oil and vinegar based dressing. Not only because of the unpleasant gooey texture, or cloying sweetness, but they tend to be salty, and artificial tasting, and they cover up a great salad instead of complimenting it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pizza Pilgrimage

One morning, going through my email, and weeding through all the spam, I came across the email of promotions Living Social sends out to it's subscribers each day.

I saw a special for Tinney's Tavern. Tinney's is on the shore of Lake Desolation, about an hour northwest of Albany. Apparently Lake Desolation is a destination for snowmobilers in the winter, and Tinney's is a popular place to take a break, warm up, fill up your belly and have a couple of beers.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Dream Kitchen

Everyone that loves to cook, dreams of having the ultimate kitchen. And those who have the money build them. I used to work in construction, and I've worked on some homes with really nice kitchens.

Ask most home cooks what their dream kitchen would consist of and you'll pretty much get the same answers. A big 6 or 8 burner gas stove, with double ovens. A big island, granite counter tops, lots of counter space, and lots of cabinet space, and maybe they'll want a big fridge and freezer.

That's all well and good. But they're missing the point.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Death by Bad Chain Cheeseburger - Crapplebee's

I started doing a series of burger posts back in late August titled Death by Cheeseburger. I needed to take a break, because, as much as I love burgers, they are incredibly unhealthy and I don't want to die just yet.

I also have been doing a series of posts titled Bad Chains, where I eat at a bottom of the barrel chain restaurant and write down my thoughts about the experience.

Those especially are a lot of fun. As much as I want to keep the content on the blog positive, (excusing a rant or two) sometimes I really enjoy reveling in just how bad the food at some of these chains are. I know, it's weird, but I'm fascinated not only by food, but by food culture in general, both good and bad.

Applebee's has launched a new burger menu. I haven't seen any since, but during the summer, Applebee's flooded TV with commercials about their new burgers. Applebee's has been on my crap list for some time, as the food there is not good. They are ubiquitous though, and according to Wikipedia they have more than 2,000 restaurants in the US. So it's likely most everyone has eaten there at least once.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pumpkin Pushers

Here we go again.

Every year at this time, we get overloaded with pumpkin everything.

Pumpkin coffee drinks.
Pumpkin beer.
Pumpkin cake.
Pumpkin french toast.

It gets worse.

There's pumpkin spiced potato chips (yes, really).
Pumpkin flavored croutons.
Pumpkin flavored butter.
Pumpkin spiced nuts.

On and on it goes. I've barely scratched the surface. There's nothing off limits. If you can think of it, some company has pumpkinized it (to coin a phrase).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Onion Rings at Country Drive-In

At lunch time on Labor Day, we didn't have anything going on. The weather was beautiful and we decided to grab a bite somewhere that would be quick, and where we could eat outside. My wife mentioned that she's been wanting to check out Country Drive-In in Clifton Park. I quickly jumped on yelp to see what people were saying about it.

There's several reviews, all very positive, but Josh K.'s review stood out. At the very end, Josh makes an offhand comment without expounding further, that seems inconsequential:

"And the Onion Rings are the best I have ever had. Seriously."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Risotto is not Rice with Stuff in it

We recently vacationed on the Jersey shore. While there, I ordered a scallop dish at a wonderful little seafood restaurant that was served with risotto. This is a common combination. Perfectly caramelized, tender scallops, pair wonderfully with an al dente, and creamy risotto.

Then, when I got home, I saw the below photo of the scallops and risotto at Maestro's in Saratoga, from the Times Union review of the restaurant.
Maestro's - Saratoga, NY

Unfortunately, we only get a peek at the risotto, but that's all we need. See it there, on the left?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Death by Cheeseburger III - I Owe Lee

We're on vacation this week, and we're spending five days on the Jersey shore. I definitely wanted to take advantage of the trip south, and have a burger at a chain I'd not been to before. There are quite a few burger chains that haven't made it to Albany yet, that are in the NYC metro area.

I settled on 5 Napkin Burger.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sauce from the Garden

As everyone knows, there's just nothing better than fresh veggies and herbs picked from a backyard garden just moments before you eat them. Each year, for the last 3 years, my wife and I have planted a garden.

We don't have a lot of space, and our garden is small, so we have to be judicious about what, and how much we plant, and each year we've planted something different than the year before, with two exceptions; tomatoes, and basil.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Death by Cheeseburger II - Craving a Juicy Burger from Bun & Bean

In my last post I wrote down my preferences and biases of what I think makes a great burger. If you haven't read it, you should read it before reading this post, to put this post in better context.

Today, I want to share 3 local burger joints I've eaten at recently and share my thoughts about how they stack up against my ideal burger.

In order from what I liked least to what I liked best.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Death by Cheeseburger

Why do the tastiest things have to be so bad for us?

I just got back from my yearly physical, and it's good news. I'm healthy as an ox. And that means I'm free to eat bad things for another year. So far, my love of food hasn't caught up to me, and while I want to lose ten pounds (who doesn't?) my BMI number doesn't qualify me for my own show on TLC.

I realized I've not put my thoughts about burgers down on the blog yet. So the next few posts will be dedicated to those incredibly unhealthy, but also incredibly delicious, calorie bomb sandwiches made with ground beef patties.

I have very specific thoughts on what makes a great burger. It stems largely from a light bulb going off in my head after eating a few times at Five Guys, falling in love with it, and comparing their burger to others. Five Guys has nailed the perfect burger in my opinion, and I've dissected their burger down to it's components to come up with a burger style that I find to be the most satisfying and delicious.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Eat Corn Now

This time of year is special.

Mid to late August is special because local corn is at its peak. The ears of corn are flowing in abundance from local farms, and they're amazing. Local corn at this time of year is the best corn you'll ever eat. The ears are large, the kernels plump, and it's so sweet it tastes like candy.

I look forward to it every year, and I'm never disappointed. Now is the time to eat corn. Eat it every day. Pig out on it. Revel in it. Soon it will be gone, and we'll be stuck eating frozen corn, or worse, canned corn. Or even worse, bland, tasteless corn on the cob from South America or whatever other far flung places it's comes from.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Farmers Markets are Passé

If there's anything that the foodie cognoscenti love to love, it's the farmers market. There's nothing that quite gets their juices flowing like a trip to buy some locally grown veggies at a stand filled with produce, manned by a local farmer or his/her representatives. It's the thing to do. There's no doubt, the social elite do-gooders are in love with farmers markets as well, and they insist you should be too. Farmers markets are one of the sacred cow's of the socially conscience crowd.

Farmers markets have become the equivalent of buying girl scout cookies. It's something you do because you're helping the community. It's an obligation. It's no longer optional. If you are to be a good citizen, you must go to the local farmers market and support the local farms! That irks me. If there's one thing that gets under my skin, it's do-gooders telling me how I should think.

Farmers markets have exploded from small, farmer focussed events where one can buy directly from the farmer, to something more akin to a flea market, where anything and anyone are welcome.

It's time somebody stood up and announced farmers markets are totally overhyped, and are no longer what they were intended to be.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Druthers Flexes it's Mussels

My wife and I had been once to the original location of Druthers in Saratoga. To be frank, we weren't impressed. It was a couple of years ago, but I distinctly remember that the descriptions of the food on the menu sounded interesting, different, and delicious, but the execution left something to be desired, and the food left us disappointed.

Consequently, with Druthers opening a location in Albany I wasn't terribly excited, but the positive reviews on yelp convinced me to at least check it out.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rustic Buttermilk Biscuits

I adore comfort foods, and I'm lucky that I get to travel to Atlanta 3-4 times a year. I've had some great southern comfort food there. Fried chicken and waffles, great BBQ, shrimp and grits, and of course buttermilk biscuits.

My wife and daughter love biscuits too. Actually, let me rephrase that. They love my biscuits. I've been making them as long as I can remember, and I make a pretty good version of them. It's one of those dishes that's incredibly simple, but is easy to screw up, and takes a little experience to make well.

But when they're made well, they are delicious. Tender, moist, and flaky interior, with a slightly crunchy crust. And if all you've ever eaten are biscuits from a fast food joint, or from those tubes in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, you're missing out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hidden Gem

My wife and I had an evening without our little one. Usually we eat out when we don't have our daughter, it allows us to eat anywhere we want without worrying if the restaurant is kid friendly, and whether there's something she'll like on the menu.

We had a hard time trying to decide where to go. It was a beautiful evening, and my wife suggested we eat somewhere that has a patio. So the search began. I remembered All Over Albany has an outdoor dining map. Unfortunately, their list is getting out of date, and none of the restaurants on there appealed to us that night anyway.

What I really wanted, was to eat someplace a little unique, someplace small and out of the way. We racked our brains and bandied about some ideas, but came up with nothing. I turned to yelp.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Annoyed

When I'm out, I tend to be pretty easy going. I very rarely complain (though my wife might disagree with that), and generally I let wrongs slide. It's just not worth making a stink, and being the bad guy. I even get embarrassed when someone unduly complains. If there are serious issues with the food, or service, that's one thing, but for little offenses, especially when with a group, it's best to keep your mouth shut, smile, and let the good times roll.

I can be a perfectionist to a fault sometimes, and while that can be an asset, it also is a curse. When things aren't up to standards, I get annoyed. I recently had an experience at a food establishment that pushed a few of my buttons. It ended up being a cascade of annoyances. It got me thinking about things that annoy me, and common 'wrongs' I see perpetrated on the restaurant going, food eating public.

In no particular order, some things that annoy me:

Huge desserts. You go out, have a nice meal, and if you're like me, you crave something sweet after dinner. But you're full, you don't want another huge course. Sometimes a coffee or latte with sugar in it is all I need. But sometimes I want something more. Maybe a scoop of ice cream, or maybe a few bites of a rich, dense, dark chocolate cake. I don't want, and can't eat, a piece of cake, or pie, or dish ice cream the size of a football.

Birthday and Wedding cakes. Specifically I'm referring to those spongy, flavorless yellow cakes covered in thick, heavy frosting that's nothing more than shortening and sugar. Every birthday party, or wedding I go to it's the same. The cake itself is like eating your bath sponge. And the frosting is essentially sweetened Crisco. Oh, sometimes it has that thin sliver of strawberry jelly in it. That sucks too.

Lukewarm food. Yep, I'm like a broken record on this one. It's my number one pet peeve. And it annoys the hell out of me.

Carpets in restaurants. You ever watch those shows on HGTV where people are shopping for a house? And inevitably one of the bathrooms in one of the houses has carpet in it? And the reaction is always the same... "Who puts carpet in a bathroom?" I say, who puts a carpet in a restaurant? Restaurants serve food and drinks. Food and drinks do get spilled on the floor. Many times a day likely. Over time the carpet gets filthy. I don't care how much they clean it. When a restaurant has a carpet in the dining room it's unappetizing and detracts from the food and ambiance.

Waitstaff who, when picking up the check, say, "Do you want the change?" Why do they do this? Just bring back the change and leave it on the table! If I intend the change to be a tip, I'll leave it there. Do they think that if they return my change without asking, I'm going to change my mind and not tip them? I pay with a credit card as much as possible just so I can avoid this annoying question.

Menus the size of the bible. Ok, I'm a bit of a hypocrite on this. I dedicated an entire post to praising Cheesecake Factory, and they have a menu with over 300 items on it. But they are the exception and most restaurants cannot pull off a big menu and do it well. When a restaurant has a huge menu, it's guaranteed the food will be average at best.

People who don't order the specialty of the house. They order chicken at a steakhouse or steak at a seafood restaurant, then they wonder why their food wasn't that good. Sometimes you go with a group and you really don't like the specialty of the house, or you just don't eat beef, or are allergic to shellfish, or are a vegetarian. That's fine. I get it. But if you want a delicious meal, your best bet is always the specialty of the house. I went to a lobster restaurant in Maine years ago. I ordered the chicken parm. That was one of the stupidest things I've ever done. The chick parm was terrible. Everyone else loved their lobster. I will never do that again.

Italian reastaurants that serve crap "Italian" bread. The Capital Region has dozens of Italian American restaurants. They all serve Italian bread before the meal. 95% of them serve crap. It's soft and spongy. It lacks any flavor. This is not Italian bread. It's sunbeam or wonder bread masquerading as Italian bread. If there's anyone who should be serving good Italian bread it should be an Italian restaurant. Every time this happens I want to take the owner by the hand, put them in my car, and drive them down to Perreca's and force feed them real Italian bread. Maybe then they'll get it.

High prices. I'm not against high prices per se. If the food, ambiance, and service warrant it, I'll gladly pay for it. But there are too many restaurants that are overcharging for mediocre food and service. This is especially a problem in the Albany area. Recently, my wife and I went to Babbo in NYC. Mario Batali's famed Italian restaurant. The food and service were outstanding. Most of the pasta dishes are around $20-$23. There's restaurants in Albany that charge that much and more for pasta, that isn't half as good as Babbo. It's shameful. And I'm using pasta as an example, it's not just the pasta they're overcharging you for.

Buffets. It makes me sad that so many people don't dislike buffets. Food that was cooked in some cases hours ago. Anything crunchy or crispy becomes soggy. Vegetables become mushy. Sauces become gooey and gloppy. Nothing is hot, everything is lukewarm.

Potluck dinners. Potluck's are worse than buffets. At least at buffets the food is in a steam table and kept warm. At a potluck, people invariable make casserole dishes. I'm sure they're good steaming hot out of the oven, but by the time you eat it it's barely warm and usually cold, and generally whatever it is, it fuses into a spongy, gluey, sticky mass.

Picky eaters. This is interesting in that I used to be a picky eater, and I think that's worth an entire post of it's own. We had several dinner guests over once and I was making a pasta dish. One guest didn't like what was in the pasta, or anything else for that matter and I had to radically alter the menu. My 7 year old daughter is a picky eater, and it drives me nuts. She's picky to the point of madness. You'd think being a reformed picky eater I'd understand, but I don't. There's foods I don't like, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and I eat them. I expect others to, too.


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Fried Chicken Sandwich from God

Chicken sandwiches usually are my go to when I'm out, need to grab a quick lunch and I'm not in the mood for a burger or pizza. I've eaten a lot of them. And I especially love fried chicken sandwiches.

I've made no secret of my love of Chik-Fil-A, and their tender, juicy, delicious fried chicken. They make a good one. But it's fast food, and while it's tasty as hell, it's processed.

Speaking of processed, Wendy's also comes to mind. They make a decent fried chicken sandwich too. I like their Spicy Chicken sandwich, though it's just good, and not great.

A lot of restaurants cheat, and put chicken fingers on a roll and call it a sandwich. Those tend to suck. Chicken fingers have too much breading to meat ratio. A good chicken sandwich has crunchy, well seasoned breading, but it's also got to have plenty of actual chicken meat. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Blue Apron - A Pictorial

If you've never heard of Blue Apron, they are a fresh, uncooked, meal delivery service. Each week, they send you 3 meals, with all the ingredients you need to cook the meal and recipe cards with instructions. The only items you need to have on hand are olive oil, salt, and pepper.

We've fallen in love with it. I'm a decent home cook, and if you've visited my blog at all, you've probably seen some of the recipes I've posted. But I love variety. And as good as I consider my own recipes, I get bored with them sometimes, and crave something different.

Blue Apron is not the only meal service we use. We also use Plated. I like Plated a bit more than Blue Apron because the recipes tend to be more adventurous and there's more choice, but Plated is also more expensive than BA. We go back and forth depending on which meals appeal to us more that week.

Speaking of adventure, these recipes generally are not kid friendly, and if you are even a bit picky the meals might not appeal to you. Also, you have to love to cook. You will be doing a lot of cooking and prep work.

But I do love to cook, and I love the variety Blue Apron and Plated gives us. I've tried many ingredients and dishes I never would have otherwise, and many of them have become staples for us now. These meal services have expanded my food knowledge, and my cooking skills, and my palate too.

Blue Apron sends 6 meals, 2 servings each of 3 different recipes. You can skip any week you want, and order more servings per meal as well. They generally have one chicken, one pork or beef, and one fish, along with 3 vegetarian meals to choose from each week.

Additionally, there's no waste. They send you exactly the ingredients you need, in the exact amounts you need. There's no buying a spice or herb, using 1 teaspoon of it, and the rest sits in the pantry unused—forever.

They are quite healthy too, and run around 600-700 calories per serving. I feel good eating this stuff.

Our meals arrive on Tuesday, but you can choose other days of the week if they are more convenient for you.
Our meals have arrived!

Each meal comes with a recipe card, with a brief description of the meal, and detailed instructions on the back on how to prepare the meal.
The 3 dishes we'll be eating this week.
The boxes are packed with two or three large ice packs, and I've never had food arrive warm.
Veggies are always placed on top. Ice packs and meat/fish on the bottom.

 Most everything is sent raw, and unprocessed, with some exceptions like the steam buns here.
That's a lot of stuff! And I have to cook it all.

A closer look at the produce.

I'm making the cod dish tonight. I'm ready to prep!

Looks yummy.

Let's do this.


Prep work done. Time to cook!

There it is. Looks delicious no? Not a bad plating job if I do say so myself.
I didn't bother with photos of me cooking, because well, they are boring. The recipe cards claim it takes 25-35 minutes to make the meal. I don't know if I'm slow, but they generally take me 45-50 minutes. But like I said, I like to cook, so it's not an issue, plus the meals are wholesome and delicious, and that's the whole point of cooking at home isn't it?


Monday, June 1, 2015

Staycationaurant IV - Phoenix Part I - Best Pizza in America

Welcome to episode IV of my Staycationaurant series. I've got a lot to share about Phoenix, so I'm breaking this post up into two parts. Here's part one. I hope you enjoy it.

This past weekend, I attended the wedding of the son of a longtime friend in Chandler Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. And as I'm sure you've guessed, I was quite excited to check out the restaurant scene in "The Valley".

We were only in the Phoenix area for few days, and half of one day would be spent at the wedding. Time was not on my side. I did mange to squeeze in several interesting restaurants though, and overall I had some great food there.

We arrived late Friday, and after a long plane ride, and a 45 minute drive to the hotel, we were tired. To make matters worse, Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings time, which left us with a 3 hour jet lag. Nevertheless, troopers that we are, we checked in to the hotel, and after briefly decompressing, and meeting up with a friend, we headed to dinner.

By time we headed out for dinner it was 7pm local time (10pm eastern). We had not eaten since Noon eastern and we were starving. In my reasearch I had failed to find something close to the hotel that I really wanted to try. I was forced to exercise my backup plan for dinner.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Firebirds is a semi-upscale steakhouse chain, and I had been to one in New Jersey. It was close to the hotel, and I knew the food was good, so we ate there.

I ordered a chili rubbed sirloin that came with a side of "southwest" potatoes au gratin. My wife and friend both ordered a pecan crusted trout dish, and we shared a salad.

The food was all delicious, but pretty standard fare. If anything stood out it would have to have been the potatoes. They arrived so hot they were bubbling and sizzling, and I go crazy for very hot foods. The potatoes were so hot I burned the roof of my mouth, twice, (but I didn't mind one bit). They were really tasty. Mildly spicy, with tons of cheese and a great béchamel sauce. The potatoes were perfectly al dente. That dish is a winner.

The next day was the wedding, and fortunately it started at 5. That left me with enough time to hit someplace special for lunch, and still have enough time to get back to the hotel, get cleaned up, and dressed up for the wedding.

There was only one restaurant on my "must visit" list while in Phoenix.

Pizzeria Bianco                                          

Pizzeria Bianco, has been called one of the best pizzeria's in America, by the NY Times, and Food and Wine magazine, among others.

Reading the reviews on yelp, many reviewers complained that the wait was hours long, and Pizzeria Bianco doesn't take reservations. They opened at 11, and my plan was to arrive at 10:30, in hopes that I'd be early enough to be in the first seating. We arrived at 10:30, and had trouble finding parking. Pizzeria Bianco is near the Phoenix Conference Center, and there was a large event happening there Saturday. It was hot, about 100 degrees, and we ended up walking several blocks in the sweltering heat.

To my amazement, there was no line, so we found refuge under a tree for some shade and waited for the doors to open.

The Pizzeria is quite tiny, maybe 12 tables tops, which would explain the long waits people are complaining about. It has great ambiance though, and the restaurant is dominated by the wood fired oven. There's no doubt why you're there. You're there to indulge in great pizza.

Our waiter brought bread to the table that they make themselves, and it was quite good. It's a french baguette style, with crunchy, chewy crust, with a very open, moist interior. These guys know their dough.



We ordered a margarita pizza, and a pie with just red sauce, and sliced garlic, to which we added mushrooms.

Look at that crust. Full of flavor, crunchy, with just enough chew, and a good amount of char which held a little smokiness from the wood fire. What I loved most about the pizza is the lightness of the crust. Many pizzas are heavy. But this is just so incredibly light. You can eat slice after slice and not experience that bloated, stuffed feeling you get from eating too much bread. And with pizza this good, you'll not want to stop until every last crumb is in your belly.

The red sauce too is very good. It's simple and very fresh tasting. It's just sweet enough, with small chunks of tomatoes for a little texture.

Is Pizzaria Bianco the best pizza in America? I don't know. But I do know that it's damn good, and I have no idea how one would improve on it. It's near perfect in my mind.

If I lived in the area, I'd be here all the time. It was without a doubt the highlight of our visit. Phoenix is blessed to have such great pizza in their midst.

Stay tuned for Phoenix part two, which I hope to have up later in the week.

But in the mean time, here are a few more gratuitous photos of Pizzeria Bianco and that amazing pizza.

The front of the tiny building. I was pleased there was no line.

The oven, and the small seating area.

Light airy end crust.

Even the bottom crust has bubbles, and is light but still chewy


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some Chains I'd Like to See Come to Albany

Let's face it, chain restaurants are ubiquitous. And people that don't eat at chains are the exception rather than the rule. Chains get a bad rap. They're associated with poor quality, highly processed foods, with little nutritional value. I've even chronicled some of them in my Bad Chains series.

But good things are happening. Consumers are demanding better quality food, while still desiring the convenience and familiarity that chains deliver, and restaurants are responding. Just recently, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell announced they are removing artificial ingredients from their food. Panera has pledged to do the same. Even Chipotle—arguably the leader in the "better fast food" category—has announced it will no longer use ingredients that contain GMOs.

As someone who loves food, I'm fascinated by the restaurant industry. I like to stay informed of what's new and interesting, and I'm especially interested in the "fast casual" segment. Fast Casual are those that serve a better quality product than say McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's, (which are considered "QSRs" or quick service restaurants, in industry lingo) but are still very much fast food. Chipotle is the poster child of the fast casual genre. Others include names such as Smashburger and Burger 21, both recent additions to the Capital Region.

Here are some of the fast casual chains I'd like to see come to the Albany area. These are all restaurants that in some way are on the leading edge of the fast casual trend, or serve food that is just plain delicious.

Bareburger

Bareburger has taken the "better burger" concept to the next level. Much of the menu is organic and non-GMO. Their beef for example, is both grass fed and organic. For those items that are not organic, they are all natural and minimally processed. All of their meats are free-range, antibiotic and hormone free. The menu varies a bit from location to location, because they partner with local merchants for things such as the pickles, ice cream for the shakes, and cheese, among others. While they have the standards on the menu that we all love, like fries and onion rings, many of the the menu items are creative, different, and interesting. With things such as bison, pickled green tomatoes, manchego cheese, and duck bacon to name a few. These guys are on the cutting edge of the better burger trend.

Live Basil Pizza

Live Basil Pizza is founded by the same people that created Smashburger (another chain I like). The Live Basil name is no euphemism or marketing schtick. The restaurants all have live basil plants from which the leaves are picked fresh just before they are put on the pizza.

I'll let Live Basil speak for themselves, as I think they sum up the chain best. From the website:

Made right in front of you, in just a couple of minutes, for the freshest pizza you’ll ever eat. Our hand crafted, delicious pizza, made with only the finest ingredients - San Marzano organic tomatoes, locally sourced produce, all natural meats and cheese - is made to honor the heritage of Naples. Live Basil Pizza is the place for fast, fresh, great tasting, hearth-baked authentic Neapolitan pizza with an engaging experience for lunch or dinner.

Chick-fil-A

OK, Chik-fil-A is technically a QSR and not a fast casual chain, and they are on the cutting edge of nothing, except freaking delicious chicken.

I travel to Atlanta a few times a year for work, and when I arrive, I make a beeline for Chik-fil-A. Make no mistake about it. Chik-fil-A's sandwiches are super tasty. There are dozens of recipes on the internet that attempt to duplicate their chicken, but none come close. (The general belief is the chicken's yumminess is a result of a pickle juice brine).

The company is growing by leaps and bounds. And it's my hope the chain will be in Albany soon. They currently have a few locations in NJ, Mass, and just one location in NYC. But I've read they plan to expand in a big way in NYC. Albany can't be far behind.

Habit Burger Grill

Habit Burger has been voted the best burger chain in America, besting such greats as Five Guys and In-N-Out Burger. I don't know much about the chain, other than their burgers are very much in the style of In-N-Out and Five Guys. That is, thin patties cooked on a flat top. This is the burger style I enjoy most.

I'm attending a wedding in Phoenix next week (Chandler, Arizona to be exact—a suburb of Phoenix) and Habit Burger has a location there. YAY! I have many must try restaurants on my list, so I'm not sure if I'll make it to Habit Burger, but it's definitely on my radar. Maybe after the wife is asleep in the hotel one evening, I can sneak out and grab a Habit Burger! (Shh, don't tell her).

JJ's Red Hots

JJ's is a very small Hot Dog chain out of Charlotte NC. Currently they only have a couple of locations, but plan to expand. They are making waves because of attention to detail, quality and creativity. The Capital Region is of course home to it's own unique hot dog style, the mini-dog. But I'm not aware of any local hot dog places that are placing an emphasis on creativity and quality like JJ's is. (If there is, please correct me). On my recent trip to Chicago, I had a Chicago style dog and fell in love with it. JJ's makes a good one, and it'd be great to have someplace in the area to grab a really good Chicago dog once in awhile.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Quick and Easy Mashed Potatoes

Is there anyone on the planet that doesn't love mashed potatoes? If there is I haven't met them. Mashed potatoes are a crowd pleaser, and any self respecting home cook needs to be able to make a good version of it. They're incredibly easy to make to make well. Any home cook can make satisfying and delicious mashed potatoes.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have a repertoire of dishes that are delicious, easy to make, and everyone loves. Mashed potatoes are also on that list.

Making them over the years I've learned a couple of tricks to make them taste better. And I think my mashed, despite being simple, are quite good. I've even had a family member tell me once my mashed were the best they'd ever had. I say that not to boost my own ego, but to make the point that great mashed potatoes are easy to make. Anyone can do it.

Most recipes call for russet potatoes. I don't use them, for two reasons. One, you have to peel them, and two, they take longer to cook. I like to use red potatoes (sometimes called new potatoes). They cook quickly, and you don't have to peel them, saving time and effort. Plus the skins add texture, flavor, and nutrients.

The most important thing to remember when making mashed potatoes is to use lots of salt and butter. I very generously salt the water I cook them in. The potatoes taste better to me when the water is salted than when just salting them after the fact. And of course butter makes everything taste better. Butter and potatoes are a match made in heaven. I've coined a phrase: "If you think you've put enough butter in your potatoes, you haven't." The key to really good mashed potatoes is butter, butter, butter!

My Cutco potato masher. I've had it for 20 years.
I use an old fashioned potato masher. I like my mashed potatoes mashed. And I like them a bit rustic with lots of chunks. Of course you can use a hand mixer, or a potato ricer, but that adds time and additional clean up, and that's fine for special occasions, but our goal here is to make something incredibly delicious, quickly and easily.

Lastly, dairy. I like to use half and half. I always have some on hand and it makes for creamier potatoes, but most any diary works. Sometimes I'll use buttermilk which adds a nice tang. The key is to use just the right amount of dairy. You don't want the potatoes too dry, nor do you want them runny.

Quick and easy mashed potatoes:

4 large red potatoes, about 1 1/2 lbs
Dairy (milk, half and half, cream, or buttermilk)
3/4 to 1 stick of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the potatoes to be sure they're clean then rough chop them into large cubes
Add to a pot and add enough water to cover the potatoes
Add several generous pinches of kosher salt
Heat on high until boiling, once boiling check for doneness at about the 6 or 7 minute mark. They should be just al dente, you don't want to overcook them.
Drain off the water, add the butter, a few turns of ground pepper and a good splash of dairy, then mash. Once you're happy with the consistency, taste and add more dairy and salt as needed.

I realize my measurements are vague, but the amounts used do vary, and as always experience is your best friend. As I said, the key is to use plenty of salt and butter. Don't be afraid of them.

My recipe, not counting the time for the water to boil and the potatoes to cook, takes a total of 4 or 5 minutes.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Staycationaurant III - Chicago

Welcome to part 3 of what I've coined as a 'Staycationaraunt'. I've been chronicling my overeating-at-special-restuarants in Staycationaurant I and Staycationaurant II. Please check out those posts if you haven't already.

In my last post, Feeding Twenty Three Thousand, I recounted the horrible food served at the tech conference I attended. It wasn't all bad though, because I failed to mention the conference was held in Chicago.

I had never been to Chicago, so I was very excited to go, and obviously, I was most excited to find some great restaurants. That task is not as easy as it would seem. A big city like Chicago is loaded with great restaurants, but it's not just great food I like to seek out. I love places that are unique or special in some way, or at the very least, considered to be the best at what they do. Best pizza, best tacos, etc. And they have to be cheap. I just cannot afford high end dining.

Everyone has a different idea of what's good. And that's a problem. Finding places that I think are good takes time and lots of research, and then there's still a chance I'll manage to pick a dud or two. But I think I did pretty well. In total I ate at about 10 different restaurants while in Chicago. Here's four that stood out as extra special to me.

Big Star

Chicago has a vibrant taco scene, and if you're looking for tacos, there are dozens of joints that make good ones. Big Star is on a couple of "Best Tacos in America" lists, so it was a no brainer to eat there. I arrived on a Sunday, at 3pm. I figured it would be slow then. Boy was I wrong. The joint was mobbed. Big Star is in a hip neighborhood and the hipsters were out in force. Luckily, I managed to score the only open bar seat. I ordered tacos de panza (pork belly, left) and the al pastor. They were fantastic. Just look at the char on that al pastor. Only 3 bucks each to boot.

I really, really, wanted to get a couple more tacos, but just two doors down from Big Star is Dove's Luncheonette. And after taking one look at the chicken fried chicken, proudly displayed on their home page, I knew I had to eat that thing.

Dove's is a small, funky diner, with southwest inspired dishes. The interior is very cool, with a hip 70's vibe, wood paneling included. Thankfully, there were no crowds at Dove's, and I settled in at the counter and ordered the chicken fried chicken. WOW. This had to be the best dish I ate all week. I'd move to Chicago, just so I could eat that once a month. A large boneless breast, that was tender and super crunchy. With peas, pearl onions, and "salsa verde" gravy. The gravy makes the dish, with its complex flavors and subtle heat. This dish is comfort food genius. It is the very definition of comfort food. I will not soon forget it.

After two tacos and a beer, quickly followed up with a glass of wine and that heavenly chicken fried chicken, I was stuffed. It was now 4:30 in the afternoon and I had time to kill. Dove's is about 4 miles from my hotel, and I took the train out. But since I had nothing to do, and needed to shed some calories, I decided to walk back to the hotel. While on the way back, a couple of the guys I was at the conference with, started texting me asking about dinner. I had something truly special in mind for dinner that night...

Au Cheval

Au Cheval is another kicked up, funky take on a diner. They're famous for their burgers. (And I'm a sucker for a good burger). Au Cheval makes burgers in the style I love most. Thin patties, well crusted from contact with a searing hot flat top, cooked in their own fat, a la Five Guys. Oh this was going to be good.

It did not disappoint.

I dragged 3 other guys with me, and I think they were skeptical. But it was all expressions of gratitude and thank you's after they dug into those burgers. All 4 of us ordered—at the recommendation of the waitress—our burgers with egg and bacon. Thick cut heavily peppered bacon, and a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg.

We waited over an hour for a table. But it was worth it. The burgers are world class good. They put their homemade mayo on it, and it is one of those little touches that elevates and already fantastic burger to heavenly heights. It's worth a trip to Chicago, if just to go to Au Cheval. Two of my companions said it was the best burger they had ever had. The fries too are worthy of mention. Hand cut in house, they arrived to the table piping hot. So hot we could barely eat them. And crispy, ooh, they were crispy, and perfectly salted.


Lastly, I want to mention Little Goat Diner.

This one was completely off my radar, and in my research I hadn't discovered it. But my wife suggested I go here after she saw that Gwyneth Paltrow had blogged about it on her site. Again, it's a diner that's taking diner food to the next level, and the menu looked intriguing, so I decided to go for breakfast.

I ordered a funky asian inspired egg biscuit sandwich that came with blackberry sauce. It was good, I enjoyed it, but the star of the show had to be the hash browns.

Fate was shining down on me that morning. I had only ordered the sandwich, and a coffee. But as I was sitting at the counter, waiting for my food, I saw a server bring the hash browns to another table and my mouth dropped open. I then watched as the server returned them to the kitchen. Apparently, it was a mistake and the table hadn't ordered them. I quickly flagged down my waitress and asked if I could have the orphaned potatoes. She was happy to oblige.

This was one of the best takes on hash browns I've ever had. They're simple. Just potatoes and salt, nothing fancy going on here. But they are shredded very thinly and they are fall to your knees and thank God you're alive crispy. Potato heaven.




Thursday, May 14, 2015

Feeding Twenty Three Thousand

I'm an IT Professional, and as part of my job, I go to a technical conference every year. This year I had the pleasure of attending Ignite. Ignite is put on by Microsoft, and it's huge. There were 23,000 attendees this year. 23,000 IT sys admins, developers, engineers, and managers. It's fun and you learn a lot about upcoming products and technologies.

But I want to talk about the food of course. The conference fee includes breakfast and lunch. I can only imagine the logistics of trying to feed 23,000 people. It's got to be a massive undertaking. And as you can imagine, just getting that many people in line to get their food, and setting up tables is a job that requires a lot of staff. The hall where the food is served is gigantic. It's mind blowing how big it is.

The food is terrible. Anything hot has to be made hours in advance, where it sits in chafing dishes degrading. The hot food is really not worth eating. It makes prison food look good. The cold food is better, as they can keep it chilled until just an hour or so before it's served.

I ate the breakfast the first day, and swore it off for the rest of the conference. I ate the lunch twice. By the third day I just couldn't do it any more, and made the long walk outside the conference center to a local eatery.

Here's a few photos I took, with some commentary.




To the right is breakfast the first day.

You can see row and rows of tables with chafing dishes set up, stretching hundreds of feet.

This is just one row of tables. There is another long row on the other side of the hall.

To the far right is the line of attendees. The tables are opened one at a time. Everyone is sent to the end of the hall. Gradually working backward, new tables are opened as the current ones empty.

People are then sent to the other side of the hall where the menagerie continues. This goes on for at least an hour as people steadily stream in.














This is a lunch line. It's several people wide and hundreds of feet long. This line is headed all the way to the back of the hall. It moves at a leisurely pace. Notice the apprehension on peoples faces as they are about to be tortured with bad food.

















Another view of the food line. The gentleman in purple, in the middle of the shot is directing traffic.



















Here's Monday's lunch menu. Don't be fooled by the fancy descriptions, it ain't that fancy.


















This is the above lunch, ready to disappoint the thousands. Stacks and stacks of delicious sandwiches ready to be eaten thrown away.















Notice the devilish look on her face. She's eaten the food and knows what we're in for.









From bottom left clockwise:

The sandwich was ok. I threw out half the bread and mostly ate the fillings. The bread was dry and chewy.

The pasta salad was bland. Shoelaces have more flavor.

The cheddar and tomato pie was pretty tasty. It was the best thing I ate at the conference center all week.

The pound cake was disgusting. It had a very strange gummy texture. I almost threw up after eating it.


Tuesday was May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. So of course they did a Mexican theme for lunch.

From bottom left clockwise:

Jicama, orange, and basil salad. It was mushy and bland.

Some kind of cold corn salad. It was ok I guess, but then when your expectations are so low anything short of dog crap tastes good.

Salsa. Typical jarred crap.

The corn tamale was terrible. Dry, with a crumbly texture, and off flavor, and it was cold.

Mahi mahi with mango/red pepper salsa. Cook a piece of fish, then leave it in a hot pan for 6 hours and you can imagine how incredibly dry and chewy it was. The corn husk from the tamale was looking good after eating this.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ode to the BLT - Beautiful Luscious Tasty


The BLT. Bacon Lettuce and Tomato with mayo on toast. Simple, but complex. Five ordinary ingredients that come together to create something extraordinary. A sandwich of pure genius.

There are few foods which have so much going on, with so few ingredients. The BLT is a study in contrasting flavors, textures and temperature. A culinary juxtaposition if you will. What's more, each of the five ingredients of the classic BLT have multiple components of texture and flavor which together create a symphony of deliciousness. A sandwich so perfect it's awe inspiring.

Allow me to elucidate:

The bacon; salty, smokey, crunchy and (if you don't overcook it as you shouldn't) chewy and fatty too.

The lettuce; cool and crisp.

The tomato; juicy and sweet.

The mayo; creamy, acidic, and salty.

The toasted bread; crunchy, warm, and comforting.

Though there is overlap, and even with my limited ability to describe each of it's components you can see how many different flavors and textures a BLT has.

The sandwich's genius lies in it's simplicity, because that simplicity belies the myriad of flavors and textures it contains. Almost all of the various 'tastes' are represented. Savory, salty, sweet, and sour (acid) and according to Wikipedia, tomatoes have umami, so that's represented too. Then there's the contrasting textures of the crisp lettuce, crunchy/chewy bacon and toast, plus the creamy mayo and the juicy tomato. If that weren't enough, the sandwich has contrasting temperatures, warm bacon and toast, cool lettuce and tomato. Furthermore, I need to mention the bright colors. I think it's just beautiful to look at.

The BLT is amazing. And it's just so gosh darn tasty. It is definitely one of my favorite sandwiches, second only to a good burger.

There have been many attempts to improve on it. There's the BLAT. Which of course adds avocado. And the BELT, the E for egg. I've seen recipes that use herbed mayo, or that have you make the sandwich on a baguette, or recipes that sub arugula for the lettuce. You can also stir some hot sauce into the mayo, to add in the missing 'S' taste—spicy.

My advice; don't mess with perfection. The classic BLT, made with lettuce, tomato, bacon, and mayo, on plain, thinly sliced white toast needs no embellishment. And any attempt to improve it is gilding the lily. Additional items are superfluous. Resist the temptation to make the sandwich better. It is perfection is it's classic form. Gastronomic tinkerers need not apply.

I salute you Mr. BLT inventor! Thank you for bringing the pleasure of a simple, yet complex treat into our lives. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. I raise my sandwich to you in celebration. Here's to the BLT!


Monday, April 27, 2015

Soft Serve Sucks

I joined Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG and several other intrepid ice cream eaters for the Tour de Soft Serve 2.0. We toured five soft serve ice cream stands in Clifton Park, Ballston Spa, and Saratoga, getting a cup or cone at each location. With careful consideration, we recorded our thoughts about each one. Dipping spoons in cups and licking cones, we tasted and we tested. It was a lot of fun. It was a great group of people and I had a blast.

I've never been a big fan of soft serve ice cream. I eat it, but when I crave ice cream, I go for hard ice cream. Soft serve just doesn't compare to real ice cream. Yes, I said real ice cream. Soft ice cream, in my opinion, is just not that great.

Soft serve is a seasonal treat. It's inextricably linked to summer. It's wholly a part of summer. My childhood memories are filled with trips to soft serve stands, and included in those memories are swimming, swelteringly hot days, and cookouts. Just as no summer is complete without trips to the beach or pool, or cookouts and picnics, no summer would be complete without enjoying a cool, creamy, and crunchy, soft serve ice cream cone.

But does anyone ever crave soft serve in the winter? I eat ice cream year round. Hard ice cream. And I'm sure you do too, as do most. But once the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees, soft ice cream disappears from the mind. Because without all the experiences of summer, soft serve melts into a puddle of meaninglessness. Without summer there'd be no soft serve stands. Without summer there'd be no soft serve period.

We've all eaten something and afterward think to ourselves, "Man, I've got to have that again!" We've all eaten foods that leave an impression, dishes that are memorable. Maybe it was a great dessert that was so good you couldn't wait to talk about it and you were still thinking about it days or even weeks later. I've had memorable experiences while eating soft serve, but I've never had a memorable soft ice cream cone. They all fade into oblivion. All of them.

There are those who make ice cream that take their craft very seriously. Great ice cream, like anything, is both an art and a science. There's a ton of creativity, and innovation happening in hard ice cream and similar products like gelato and sorbet.

Daniel picked five of the best soft ice cream stands in Saratoga County. My hope was that going to five of the best, at least one would stand out as exceptionally good. There has to be at least one that's taking soft serve and elevating it, raising the bar through innovation, creativity, and dedication to craft.

Nope. None. Not even one.

Ask 10 different people in the Capital Region who makes the best soft serve and you're likely to get 10 different answers. It's fair to assume their opinion is based more on fond memories related to the experience than the ice cream itself. Because although there are differences between one stand and the next, and of course some are selling a better product than others, there's none that are raising the bar. There's not a single local place that stands out above the crowd. And the differences between them are for the most part subjective.

And that's fine. But that's my point. Soft serve is about the experience of eating ice cream at an ice cream stand on a hot summer day with friends and family. It's not about the ice cream. Just as no one eats a hamburger because of the bun, no one eats soft serve because of the ice cream. We eat soft serve because its a fun summer thing to do. That's great. There's nothing wrong with that in the least.

But take soft serve ice cream out of summer. Strip away the experience, and judge soft ice cream strictly on the merits of whether it's good ice cream or not, and I think you'll agree with me...

Soft serve sucks.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Bad Chain Restaurants III - Heartbroken

At the ripe old age of 15, I wanted a job. I needed more than the few dollars a week my parents gave me as an allowance. I wanted spending money. Ambition welled up in me, I needed to do something. My mother had previously worked at Dunkin' Donuts and she was friends with the owner. She got me a job there.

It was June 1982, I'll never forget it. I got hired as a porter. A porter was a part time job, about 3 hours a day, in the afternoon. Porters did odd jobs around the shop. We cleaned the kitchen. We mopped floors. We helped bring in stock when the truck would arrive. We filtered the fryers. I didn't love it, but I loved having a paycheck, and I loved being around all of the cute girls who worked the counter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Serious Business

Lurking about Facebook and Twitter the other day I came across this tweet from @Plated:

6 must-know tips for making the *perfect* meatball: plated.me/1GUkrpp

When I saw tip number 4, I knew I had to write about it and set the record straight. It's just wrong.

You're doing it wrong.

Meatballs are serious business in my house. I'm not of Italian decent. But my mother after divorcing my father when I was 6, remarried a first generation Italian. My wife is half Italian, her father a second generation Italian. So I'm no stranger to Italian culture, and while the meatball is not really an Italian creation, you'd never know that by my step-father's and father-in-law's devotion to them.

I'm a fan of just about any kind of ground meat dish. Burgers, gyros, bolognese, shepherd's pie. And of course meatballs are no exception. I started making my own about 10 years ago. And I think I make a good one. Perfect? Perhaps not. But darn good nonetheless. I've spent years perfecting them.

Most meatballs you get in restaurants, especially in old school red sauce joints are terrible. They're too big, and they're dense, heavy, and bland. A great meatball is light and tender and flavorful. It should almost melt in your mouth. My meatballs are so tender, sometimes they fall apart in the sauce if I stir it too vigorously. And who cares if they're perfectly round? I actually prefer them not to be. It's more rustic when they're oddly shaped.

Plated suggests you roll the meatballs in such a way as to not overwork the meat. I say, don't roll them at all! Rather, gently press the meat into a ball, just until it comes together. Rolling them makes them denser and heavier. Also, they shouldn't be too big. I make mine a little bigger than a golf ball. The bigger they are, the longer you have to cook them and overcooked meatballs are not good.

I also like to use meatloaf or meatball mix. I buy Catelli Bros., and it makes fantastic meatballs. See in the picture how loosely packed it is. That really helps to make the meatballs more tender. Meatloaf mix has a lighter flavor than using all beef and a lighter texture too. My recipe works for ground chicken or turkey too, but meatloaf mix works best.

I do like to cook my meatballs in tomato sauce. It flavors both the sauce and the meatballs. I also fry them for just a minute before finishing them in the sauce. Frying adds a little caramelization which adds flavor and it helps hold them together better. Because as I said, using my method they are very tender and can fall apart in the sauce if you're not careful.

Steve's Italian Style Meatballs:

1 1/3 lbs. meatloaf mix
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg beaten
1 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press or very finely minced
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
My meatballs. Take note of the texture.
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients into a bowl and using a light hand, mix just until incorporated.
To form the meatballs, take about a golf ball size of meat and press the meat into a ball just enough so it holds together.

Fry the meatballs in about a 1/2 inch vegetable oil over medium high heat until they just start to brown, about a minute or so per side. Do not over brown them. I flip them once, you don't need to turn them to cook all sides. Just fry two sides like you would a burger. They'll still be mostly raw.

Drain briefly on a paper towel and add to a lightly simmering, already finished tomato sauce. Let them cook in the sauce for 10 minutes then remove the sauce from the heat.

I'll put my meatballs up against almost anyone's. I'm that confident of how good they are. I don't take them lightly. Meatballs are serious business.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Hot Tooth

I had the pleasure of joining nine other yelpers recently for an excursion to Troy to enjoy pizza, beer and wings at the Notty Pine Tavern. It was a great time. Ten food lovers sitting around a table talking about—and eating—food. There's nothing quite like spending time with like minded souls. Those who 'get' what you 'get'. Those who enjoy what you enjoy.

Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG fame and Otis M. of Burnt My Fingers were discussing (I think) foods they like. Daniel made the observation that he had a 'fat tooth' and Otis an 'acid tooth'. Just as it's said that someone who loves sweets has a sweet tooth, Otis is fond of foods that have an acidic component, and Daniel those that contain fat.

That got me thinking.

What foods push my buttons? If one were to study what I like, what 'tooth' would I have? Discovering that is not as easy as it might seem.

Self reflection can be difficult. After all, we all have an image of ourselves, and setting that aside and being truly honest about who we are is not easy, even when it concerns something apparently trivial like one's taste in food. Nor, might I add, necessarily fun. Peeling back the covers, and disrupting one's self image can be a frightening experience. I think that's why so many people (myself included) have no problem looking at themselves in the mirror, but loathe looking at pictures or videos of themselves... "Do I really look like that?". Seeing yourself from the third person perspective is akin to being naked and pointed at by onlookers.

But I just needed a few minutes to sit down and ponder my preferences and it became as clear as day.

I have a hot tooth.

It's almost silly, it was right there in front of me. I'm shocked I never realized it before. My next to last post spelled it all out. I love hot foods. Foods that are hot enough to cause injury. Hot enough to sear the roof of your mouth, and (to steal a phrase) hot enough to burn your fingers.

I can't tell you how many times I've eaten something that I expected to be hot, but it came to the table lukewarm and I was utterly disappointed. It still tasted good (I guess), but my love of heat, prevented me from enjoying it because the heat component was missing.

I also crave spicy foods, and I think that's related to my love of hot temperatures. Spicy foods warm the mouth. It's that mouth warming feeling that does it for me. It is just so comforting. A good analogy would be coming in from the wintry cold and sitting down by a roaring fireplace. Ahhhh.

It's almost as if when I eat, I want to come in from the cold and sit down in front of the fire. And the more I reflect on this, the more I'm concerned it's not normal. As I said in that previous post, I'm constantly perplexed by those who don't care about the temperature of their food.

But what can I do about it?

"Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!" That's the key, knowledge is power. Admitting you have a problem is half way to solving the problem. Yet, I'm not so sure I want deal with my 'problem'. Yes, I love blazing hot foods. Why do I need to deal with that? I'm not ready just yet to enter food rehab. I'm an addict and am proud of it.

I'm curious to know if others that crave spicy foods also share my affinity for burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot temperatures. There may be something there, and my tastes might not be that unique after all.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Staycationaurant II - Man Plans and God Laughs

In episode one of Staycationaurant, I vowed that while on vacation I would try as many restaurants as I could. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to nearly as many as I'd like. Things came up. I got busy. My wife had other plans. Life has a way of throwing curveballs, as we all know.

That's not always bad though, because at the last minute, a Saturday afternoon freed up for me and I didn't hesitate to take advantage. Pondering my options, and since the weather wasn't too bad, I decided to head to downtown Troy and wander around the "New Brooklyn" as it's been called.

I'm ashamed to admit I had never been to DeFazio's Pizzeria. It's generally considered one of the best, if not the best pizzeria in the Capital Region. It's been on my list for a while though, and I decided it would be my first stop. The pizza of course was fantastic. I knew I'd be stopping at a couple of other places afterward, so I didn't want to eat too much pizza. That was tough. The few slices I didn't eat were staring at me, taunting me with their cheesy goodness, daring me to eat them. But I withstood the test, and only ate half the pizza. (DeFazio's does not sell slices).

In addition to making a great pizza, DeFazio's is so genuine and down to earth. If you've read any of my other posts you know I enjoy that. I also found it interesting that the red pepper they set on the table they get locally and it's ground fresh there. The "shaky cheese" as I call it, is shredded next door at their grocery store and is far better than the green can stuff most places have.

After the pizza a beer or two was in order. Rare Form Brewing came to mind. It's another Troy business I had not been to, and I arrived just as they were opening for the day. They don't have a kitchen (they do have a small meat and cheese plate you can order) but they encourage you to 'order in' and even have take out menus you can peruse. Dang. Had I known that I would've run right over with my pizza and ate it at Rare Form.

Rare Form is yet another small Troy business that is genuine and down to earth. The brewer was there while I was sipping my beer, and I loved—just loved—that he was sipping a beer too while going about his business. The ambiance I would describe as "brew tank chic". The tanks are front and center behind the bar, and there's quite a few of them, and I have to say, it's neat.

Next I was in the mood for a latte, so I headed over to Spilln' the Beans. I wasn't terribly impressed with it. My latte was good, but the space looks a bit run down, and where I sat near the window, there were newspapers scattered all over a couple of tables, and empty coffee cups that were not picked up. I enjoyed my time there though and before I knew it, they announced they were closing for the day—it was 4:00. That was perfect, because Peck's Arcade opens at 4.

The hype around Peck's Arcade has reached a fevered pitch recently, with more than a few on yelp raving about it. And I'd by lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to having dinner there.

I arrived a few minutes after 4 and took a seat at the downstairs bar. To say Peck's Arcade is cool, is an understatement, the place oozes coolness. The space is fantastic, it's modern, yet it still retains much of the character of the decades old original building. The bartender (I think his name was Bruce, but don't hold me to that) was great, and the entire time I was there he kept me company, and we chatted about many different subjects.

The food. Oh the food! It's good. No, it's really good. I swooned over the grilled mortadella, with red onion and pistachio. The grilled asparagus with fried egg, aioli, and citrus was divine. The 23 layer potato, heaven. Another dish, the chef's take on caesar salad was delicious and creative.

DeFazio's, Rare Form Brewing, Spillin' the Beans, and finally Peck's Arcade. Wow. What a day. And to think it almost didn't happen. But fate shined down on me that day, and it's a day I'll not soon forget. 



Monday, April 13, 2015

I Am About to Spit You Out of My Mouth

In the Bible, in the book of Revelation, Jesus rebukes the church of Laodicea:

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

Bet you didn't know Jesus was a foodie did ya?

Yes, I know He was rebuking them for their spirtual condition and their works, and not their Sunday post-church brunch. Yet, even more than 2,000 years ago, the writer of Revelation understood one of the most important, yet overlooked pieces of the puzzle to great food. 

Hot foods should be served hot, and cold foods, cold. But it's especially important when it concerns hot dishes.

I love hot foods. And there are those that I especially like to eat when they are burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot. Given the choice of a hot panini or sub with veggies and cold cuts for example, I'm likely to pick the panini. There's just something comforting about hot foods. And of course when the weather is cool, hot foods warm you up from the inside. 

Not that I don't enjoy cold foods, of course I do. I love a great salad; crisp cool greens, with crunchy veggies, lightly dressed in an barely sweet, brightly acidic dressing. Or an ice cold beer on a hot summer's day. But take that salad and put it in the warm sun for while, and then eat it. Not so appetizing is it? Or take that beer and let it sit on the counter till it reaches room temperature. Yuck.

Temperature matters, it effects the flavor of food dramatically, but it also effects the texture. Crisp greens become wilted when warm. Hot, crispy french fries become limp when cool. A crunchy piece of buttered toast becomes soggy. A silky smooth gravy becomes gloppy. I could go on and on.

What I find perplexing, and incredibly frustrating is that people will happily eat lukewarm food and not bat an eye. It's as if they're clueless. I know they are not. Yet, I see it happen again and again. 

I attended a function at a local local event venue, (which I won't name because I don't want to single them out), where dinner was served. There was a pre-dinner cocktail reception outside the main dining room. About 1/2 an hour before dinner, I went into the dinning room to put our place markers on our seats. The salads were already sitting on the tables. Ugh. Warm salad. Worse, when dinner was served it arrived lukewarm. Before I was halfway through my meal it was cold. It ruined my night. I was looking forward to a great meal, and I was forced to eat cold steak and potatoes.

But no one else seemed to notice. Not one person at our table of 10 said a word or appeared to even care. That drove me batty. Here's an institution that prides itself on being one of the better banquet houses in the area and it was serving cold food and nobody complained. This place isn't cheap either.

The same goes for buffets and potluck dinners. I can't tell you how many times I've had baked ziti at a potluck dinner and it was like eating pasta held together with cheese flavored glue. Do people really enjoy that? I loathe buffets for just that reason too. The food sits in a steam table and slowly degrades as it cools, and by the time you put it on your plate, and make your way back to the table it's usually cold. 

Then there are restaurants that serve lukewarm dishes. People pay them good money and the kitchen for whatever reason pre-cooks the food and puts what amounts to leftovers on their plate. Or home cooks who make dishes ahead of time, and keep the food warm, or worse, make no attempt to keep it warm and serve it cold.

The less time between the pot, the pan, or the oven, till when you eat it, the more delicious and enjoyable the food will be. Every time. And to refer back to the Bible, it's one of the 'Ten Commandments' of great food.