Category Archives: food

Head for the Mountain (Brew)

Click for larger image.

Good beer is a glorious thing — but there’s a place for cheap quaffable brews like Coors Light or Keystone on a hot Summer day, especially when served bone-chillingly cold. You don’t gaze at the head on a beer like this and contemplate its complex personality. No, you guzzle it down your burning throat to put out the fire and numb your brain.

That said, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Stewart’s Mountain Brew Beer Ice.

Stewart’s sells Mountain Brew for the stunningly low price of $2.99 a six pack, but you can pay a premium — as I did — for a single can at $.75. Who could resist the packaging, with its Olympics-style graphics of people engaged in various sports? Mountain Brew Beer Ice is presumably for after sports, not before or during.

Pouring the can, I was surprised by its golden color and hearty head. As for the taste, I found it unpleasantly sweet. I’m not an expert in writing about beer, just drinking it, so here’s what a few people said at Beer Advocate:

“Smell seems to be metallic, rice like and not too pleasing. You really need to stuff the sniffer in the glass in order to get a whiff. This may not be worth it though, as I said, scent is not very good at all.”
“It smells like a dirty sock and tastes like leftover bologna.”
“I’d rate the drinkability on this brew around average, due to an excellent price, and surprisingly easiness to put away a few when served at the proper temperature, ice cold.”

Examining the can a little more closely I found what I was looking for: “Genesee Brewing Company, Rochester, NY.”

Moutain Brew is Genny. That’s not as big a surprise as “Soylent Green is people” but what do you want for $.75? So… what’s your favorite cheap beer?

The Most Fun You Can Have for Five Cents

Photo by Rob Madeo. Gum by Bazooka.I popped into a little store downtown to buy a couple of Advil, but I found something much better: Bazooka Bubble Gum.

Bazooka! Talk about being transported back to your youth.

We used to go out from school during lunch and stop at Sam & Joe’s on Westbury Avenue. This was the kind of place where you could buy comic books and sit at the counter and have a hamburger or grilled cheese with an egg cream. An egg cream! And then you would leave with a pocket full of Bazooka Bubble Gum, which probably cost a penny each.

Now it’s more like a nickel each, but hey, inflation. I unwrapped a piece and popped it into my mouth. It was surprisingly supple and fresh. Then it was time to carefully open the comic. There they are, Bazooka Joe and Mort. Oh, Mort. You were always so hilarious with your turtleneck — what have you been up to all these years?

But what the hell? The type on the comic was unreadable. Squinting, I tried in vain to read the joke in the comic. Couldn’t read the fortune, either. Why is this so small? Are they writing such long jokes that they had to switch to tiny, little font? Or it could be my vision is going to hell?

I’d like to think that Bazooka’s for kids of all ages. Maybe not for their eyes, though.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy? Meh.

Excuse me if I’m a little skeptical of this whole Dinosaur Bar-B-Que thing. The Times Union reported yesterday that the long-awaited purveyor of slow cooked meats will open in Troy no earlier than September.

Dinosaur Bar-B-quein Syracuse is a great institution that’s managed to maintain its mojo even after selling 70 percent of the companyto billionaire investor George Soros.

The stuff on the walls is real, the dirt is real, the bikers are real, and the sassy waitresses have a certain charm one only gets from spending your life in Syracuse. It’s a noisy, crowded joint that’s fun as hell. The atmosphere is more than a little anarchic; you almost expect to walk back into the kitchen and find it looking like a cross between Breaking Bad and Hell’s Kitchen.

You don’t just go there for the food. And how is the food? It’s not bad.

The best bar-b-cue I’ve ever had was in a dark little storefront on the dusty main drag of Castroville, CA, “Artichoke Center of the World.” We walked into this place and were greeted by a couple of mildly scary Willie Nelson looking guys. We figured we were either about to have some genuine Q or end up in the smoker out back.  Willy #1  put a platter of sliced brisket and beans in front of us. We sat under a big Texas flag and pretty much licked our plates clean.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a review of a restaurant that hasn’t opened, let’s just call it a cautionary musing. Maybe they cantransplant Dinosaur’s outlaw biker vibe to Troy’s waterfront shrine to failed restaurants. Nail up a bunch of crap on the walls and nobody will know the difference. It works for Applebee’s. And if the food is good, who cares.

So what if it just makes you want to get in your car and drive to Syracuse for the real deal?

You can fabricate an experience, but that doesn’t make it authentic. Going to Morocco in Epcot doesn’t mean you’ve visited North Africa, and eating at the Rainforest Cafe doesn’t put you in the rainforest.

A Family Travels on Its Stomach

The problem at Budapest’s Great Market Hall is not finding something to eat, but deciding on what you’ll eat.

The whole place smells great, like an Italian import store, and up on the second floor above the produce racks and meat cases are vendors with all sorts of delicious stuff.

At breakfast time a woman was making crepes and nearby my son eyed some people tossing back shots of palinka, the local brandy. “They start early here.”

Not really. All this food didn’t magically appear at 7am. It’s well past the middle of the day for folks who’ve been working all night.

I watched as a young man in coveralls ordered véres hurka, a Hungarian version of black sausage made from made with rice, pig’s blood and pork. Two links were served up in a paper tray with a big dollop of mustard and a couple of slices of bread. “I’ll have what he’s having!”

I forked over 650 forints ($3.35) and dug into the succulent sausage that was as dark as night. With the bread it was just perfect.

We ate well  — and cheaply — everywhere in Romania and Hungary. Interestingly, the only meal that felt overpriced was the breakfast buffet at the Sibiu Hilton.

But the most special meal of the week was in Reghin, deep in the heart of Transylvania. We were visiting with my wife Ann’s relatives, who prepared lunch for us.

We started with a vegetable soup, brimming with potatoes from the cellar — but it was the main course that really knocked our socks off. He made stuffed cabbage baked crisp in a clay roasting dish with sauerkraut on the side. That may sound to you like a lot of cabbage, but it went together perfectly with a little sour cream drizzled over the top.

The goal of our trip was to meet up with Ann’s relatives. Sitting in their kitchen sharing a wonderful meal transformed our touristy jaunt through Romania into an experience that was deeply moving and profound.

World's Best Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Irish Soda BreadA lot of Irish soda bread has the consistency of a cinder block and half the flavor. It’s no wonder so many people fled the Emerald Isle.

Today I will share with you a family secret. I’ve been cleared by the keepers of this recipe to to divulge its contents in the interest of improving the state of Irish soda bread in America — and thus enhancing its reputation and standing in the world of baked goods.

This recipe came here with the Curtains of County Cork as they braved the cold Atlantic to seek a better life in America. I now present it to you as my gift. Some of you are saying, “That sounds like a lot of blarney.”

Please. Do you think I just make this stuff up?

This world is a random place full of twists and turns where things can go wrong in an instant. There are no guarantees — but I guarantee people will ask you for this recipe after they try it.


The Potato Chronicles

I’m not really an expert at anything except perhaps making mashed potatoes. In fact, I’m thinking of bringing a huge vat of mashed potatoes to Wednesday night’s blogging event at the College or St. Rose. If people don’t like me or my stupid blog, maybe some mashed potatoes will change their minds.

Anyway, there are roughly a billion recipes out there for mashed potatoes, but many people still can’t make them. Here are a few of my secrets.

The potatoes: I use un-peeled red potatoes. The peels add some color to the mix and they probably have lots of fiber in there. Slice them into quarters and cook until just tender. As soon as you get your potatoes in the water — that sounds a bit lewd, doesn’t it? — turn your attention to the garlic.

Garlic: Roasting whole cloves of garlic and squeezing them out into the potatoes is time consuming, messy, and generally a pain in the ass. Instead, I peel my garlic and throw it in a little pan with with olive oil. Brown it gently until soft and tender — which conveniently takes about the same amount of time as cooking the potatoes. Put the cloves in with your drained potatoes and mash them all together.

The Masher: I rescued mine from my Mom’s giant garage sale before selling her house. It needs to be bent back into shape after I use it, but I just like the way it feels in my hand. Don’t ever use a machine to mash your potatoes.

Milk, butter, cream, etc: This is the subject of intense debate in the mashed potato community. The answer? It depends. I tend to never use butter, instead going for the milk and cream. The amount of each depends on your situation. Use just milk if you’re counting calories — but counting calories and eating mashed potatoes don’t really go together, do they? Add equal amounts of each until it looks right. As for salt and pepper, just do it to taste. You can’t make mashed potatoes without tasting them.

There, now you know. Are you happy now? By the way, if you’re one of those people who would put instant mashed potatoes on the table, I have one question: are you nuts? Next time we learn to make gravy.

Never Fail Roast Beef (or, Pleased to Meat You)

An urgent email showed up from a woman I used to work with. Turns out she was fixing a special dinner for a male friend and wanted to make an impression. What she needed was the secret weapon of meat recipes: the 500 degree eye round.

The 500 degree eye round is a foolproof method for roasting a perfect piece of meat that will make you a hero in the kitchen. I don’t claim any ownership of this recipe. It comes from the Texas Beef Council, which means that it must be good. Those people in Texas know a thing or two about meat.

Anyway, this is guaranteed to yield a perfectly cooked and delicious roast worthy of a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. And it is ridiculously simple:

1 eye of round roast (2-3 pounds). Preheat oven to 500°F. Season roast as desired; place on rack in shallow roasting pan. Do not add water or cover. Place roast in the preheated oven and lower temperature to 475°F. Roast at 475°F for 7 minutes per pound. Turn oven off and let roast sit in oven 2-1/2 hours. DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR DURING THIS 2-1/2 HOUR TIME PERIOD. Remove roast and slice thinly.

Seasoning is also important. Lemon pepper is a great or use one of the spice mixes you find at the supermarket these days. You can’t really beat good old salt and pepper, but no matter what you do people will be fighting over the end pieces.

One downside: because you MAY NOT open the oven for two-and-a-half hours this recipe can put a little crimp in your cooking. If necessary you can let it rest under some foil while you throw other stuff in the stove. Be sure to make extra gravy and mashed potatoes; you can put together a killer shepherd pie with the leftovers.

Oh… and about that special dinner. I heard back later that the meal was a huge success, but it opened a can of worms. She wrote back:

I made the roast and now he actually thinks I can cook. This is a problem because… well… I can’t cook.

Home Fires Burn Bright on Thanksgiving

OK, I swear this is the last word on turkey fryers. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so:

Turkey Fryer Ignites, Spoiling Family’s Holiday
COLUMBUS, OH – A turkey fryer that probably had a worn propane hose caused a house fire on the East Side yesterday as the homeowner was preparing a Thanksgiving meal. The homeowner had just left to pick up supplies and left his brother in charge, said Battalion Chief David Whiting. “He started the fryer, went in to clean the turkey, and when he came back, everything was on fire,” Whiting said. Columbus Dispatch

Frying Turkey Ends in Dangerous House Fire in NY Suburb
NORTH BABYLON, NY – Fire officials say oil from a deep-fried Thanksgiving Day turkey sparked a house fire in suburban New York. There were no injuries reported in Wednesday’s fire at the North Babylon home. Firefighters were there for about two hours. The North Babylon fire chief says the family put the turkey in too fast and the oil boiled over, sparking flames. The home’s exterior and rear deck were damaged. AP

Turkey Fryer Causes Fargo Garage Fire
FARGO, ND – Flames from an overheated turkey fryer ignited a fire on the roof of a garage Thursday afternoon in a Thanksgiving mishap at a home in south Fargo. The owner of the home, Ken Schumacher, was heating up the cooker when it flared, Capt. John Speral of the Fargo Fire Department said. “He hasn’t even put his turkey in yet,” Speral said. “He went to turn it down, and it flashed.” The thermostat apparently was faulty. Although the cooker was outside the garage, the flames reached the overhanging soffit, Speral said. That was enough to ignite the roof. Fargo Inforum

Turkey Fryer Sparks Fire in Hummels Wharf
HUMMELS WHARF, PA – Twenty people were just about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner at the Rivera residence early Thursday evening when four fire trucks crashed the party. The garage area of the home of Robin Welch and Carlos Rivera at 99 Creek Road was ablaze when they rushed in. It was about 5 p.m. Rivera had been cooking one turkey upstairs in the regular oven and one in the garage by a propane-fueled deep fat fryer method. He said he checked on the turkey in the garage, and everything was fine, and he went back upstairs into the kitchen, which was directly above the garage. “It wasn’t 30 seconds later,” he said, “I saw smoke coming up by the window.” The Daily Item

Turkey Fryer Fire
NEGAUNEE, MI – A Negaunee family has reason to give thanks because of the generosity of a local grocery store. Their eventful day began Thursday afternoon when the Seppala family was deep frying a turkey. The oil overheated and caught fire. The Negaunee Fire Department was called to the backyard of the home on East Lincoln Street. There was no damage to the home, but their Thanksgiving dinner went up in flames. Jill Seppala and her son Brad went to Super One Foods in Negaunee to pick up some rotisserie chickens to make up for the turkey they lost. But the chickens had already been out too long and the grocery store could no longer sell them. When the Seppala’s explained what happened, Super One put together a Thanksgiving feast for the family including turkey and mashed potatoes… all for free. It was enough to feed ten people. WLUC-TV

The Pilgrim's Primer

There have been a million words written about turkey in the last week or so, but none ring truer than these from a classic piece by food writer Kim Severson:

“No one remembers the turkey unless it is bad.”

At this point it’s probably too late for your bird so you might as well have a couple glasses of wine and accept your fate.


Concerned about turkey day overindulgence? You can find some handy tips on slimming down in this story about the crazy stuff people on NBC’s The Biggest Loser did to drop weight. It helps if you have $250,000 in prize money to motivate you. One contestant recently admitted he’d, “Dropped some of the weight by fasting and dehydrating himself to the point that he was urinating blood.”  Yech!

A great debate rages today over whether green beans have a place on your holiday table. Slate associate editor and annoying vegetarian type, Juliet Lapidos, checks in with a damning condemnation of green beans in general and Campbell’s green bean casserole in particular.

Spuds Deluxe

OK, here it is, the Thanksgiving recipe that makes grown men weep, children scream out for seconds, and women regard you a culinary god: Albany Eye’s Sweet Potato Crunch.

When I first posted this recipe online in November 2006, I was shocked to learn that many people actually tried it. Several folks took the time to write to say that even though they still hated me, they loved the sweet potatoes.

Truth be told, recipes like this are a dime or dozen in the south, but it’s a dish that seems rare in these parts. When done right, it’s so creamy, fluffy, and delicious that you could just a well serve it with a big dollop of whipped cream as on the plate with your bird.

Do not make this with canned sweet potatoes. The only thing that should come out of a can on Thanksgiving are those onions you put on top of the green beans. As I noted in 2006: “You’re making dinner for your loved ones, not the inmates down at Coxsackie.”