An aioli is basically a Provençal mayonnaise. Rooted in coastal France, aioli and mayo share a lot of the same properties, namely egg and oil. It’s not a particularly healthy endeavor, though neither is mayonnaise when you come to think of it. And if you get skiddish about eating raw eggs, this is not likely for you either. But, if you can get over all that stuff, you will find a creamy, fatty, rich dressing that enhances the flavor of wherever it is applied. Just like mayonnaise. Read the rest of this entry
Every culture has a fish stew attached to it and, for the most part, they are the same. The most famous comes from France: bouillabaisse, a combination of fish filets and shellfish with its origins in Provençe. The bouillabaisse is typically made with fennel and/or a shot of pernod, and served with the fish on the side and its broth topped with rouille (a type of aioli). The Spanish come in with the zarzuela, a Catalan dish of seasonal seafood caught off the Spanish coast that is cooked with tomatoes, saffron and almonds, the latter of which is pulverized until it resembles breadcrumbs. Cioppino is actually a California invention, but brodetto and cacciucco are the authentic Italian fish stews loaded with clams and shrimp.
When The Wife announced that she wanted fish on Saturday evening, I thought this would be the way to go. I thought about doing two or three different styles of steamed mussels, and I’m glad I didn’t. Less than half of what I purchased opened up when cooked and half of those that did were bloody inside, which didn’t seem right. So, I went with a Mediterranean fish stew. Read the rest of this entry
NOTE: Al Dente Express is my answer for what to do when I want to talk about a place or places I visited, but it doesn’t warrant a full-on, exhaustive review. Here is a wrap of two Central New York retailers that I recently visited.
Friday night’s story from The Tampa Tribune was affirmation for everyone that bemoans Big Agriculture and our nation’s broken food supply:
The family of four, two of them elementary school-age children, had dinner on Monday night, a nice meal of bottom round steak.
Then they began hallucinating, so bad they called 911, then rushed to the hospital themselves.
On Friday, Tampa police announced why: The meat had been laced with LSD.
The family bought the meat from the Wal-Mart at 1501 N. North Dale Mabry Highway, just north of Interstate 275, but police said they don’t yet have any idea when or where the meat became tainted with the hallucinogen.
So, there are three possibilities here: 1) The meat was tainted at the processing plant, which is not good. 2) The meat was tainted at the store, which is really not good. 3) Someone at home tainted the meat, which is really, really not good.
This is an isolated case, but assuming that we are not dealing with option three, it’s another case to be made for local purveyors. Pink slime, GMOs, and poorly-sourced fish are just some of the phrases that haunt those of us concerned about the purity of our food. It costs a little bit more to guarantee the quality, but in the end it pays off.
Tucked behind Manlius’ venerable Sno-Top ice cream stand is a small plaza with a Subway, a national drug store chain, a European chocolatier and a cooperative owned by a handful of Madison County farmers. In July 2013, Side Hill Farmers opened its doors as a storefront for a handful of farmers to move their product. My visit a couple of weekends ago found a busy, rustic-looking meat market with a wide open area in the rear of the store where meat is butchered on an open-air stage. Beef, pork, chicken and homemade sausages pack the display cooler, while an open dairy chest is packed with cheeses and milks. A freezer carries homemade sauces and stocks.
Kevin McCann, the butcher-on-duty, gave me the nickel tour after convincing me to visit the store on Facebook. My introduction pulled him away from breaking down a dry-aged hunk of beef that had just emerged from the refrigerator. It was pretty glorious looking. Kevin said that the response to the store has been explosive, so much so that they are looking to expand to the open space next door, where they would have more room for produce and charcuterie. They already produce their own salami, filetto (cured pork tenderloin) and speck, but he was looking to get a space where he could expand the in-house production of cured meats.
McCann and the other staff butchers break down the meats that come in from the farms from Onondaga County’s eastern neighbor, using everything that comes in the door. Steaks, chops, roasts and offal go into the cooler or the CSA bundles available. Bones are cooked down for homemade stock. And what little else that is left gets flipped into dog treats. The cooler was slowly emptying on this particular Saturday afternoon, steak-by-steak. Kevin mentioned that their major issue surrounds supply. Unlike a grocer, Side Hill doesn’t have a warehouse or wholesaler that it can get more product from at the drop of a hat. “One cow in, one cow out,” he said.
All steaks and roasts are tenderized on the spot before being wrapped. Most of the staff has culinary training, so cooking tips and recipes are not lacking. The three Denver steaks (below) I procured were well-marbled and Kevin even trimmed some exposed fat from the edges for me. I pan-seared the steaks and finished them in the oven to medium/medium-rare, finding them to have a rich, almost creamy flavor. The steaks were not wet- or dry-aged. They were carved and left standing in a refrigerator case, so none of the tendons had the chance to break down. For a cheaper cut of meat from the flap, they were amazing.
While I’m pretty loyal to Bostrom Farms for pork, I think I’ve found a winner for local beef. And, to my knowledge it’s the only place in the area to buy Stoltzfus Family Dairy chocolate milk. It’s creamline milk, which means that it hasn’t been homogenized. Homogenous milk has gone through processing to break up the fat into dissolvable pieces. Creamline is like the old school milk with the cap of cream at the top. It’s amazing on its own, though The Wife reports that it is enhanced with a heavy-handed dose of Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Fins & Tails has been around for about 200 years now (okay, so 27 this summer). It’s the type of fish market that you would expect in a larger city or closer to the shore, not on Erie Boulevard East near Thompson Road.
It is just about the only place in town where you can count on sustainably fished products, served by people who know the fish they are selling. Wanting to make a fish stew over the weekend, I knew that I could probably find the shellfish I wanted and probably a mild filet of something to toss in. I was right. The cooler had a bucket of mussels that had arrived that morning, as well as Gulf shrimp, littleneck clams, salmon, cod, and bluefin. A second cooler had a host of homemade seafood salads and soups that one of the co-owners works in a kitchen area behind the counter for takeaway. I grabbed clams, mussels and cod, as well as their best kept secret: fish stock.
Kitchen Basics makes a decent fish stock, but homemade is always better. F&T uses fish bones and shrimp shells to make their stock, extracting the marrow and collagen to construct a rich broth. Parking isn’t the easiest and I’ve always thought the plaza was kind of dodgy, but there is no better place in town to buy fish. Its reputation precedes itself so much so that for a while, F&T provided and managed the seafood counter at local grocery Green Hills Farms.
Yes, they are more expensive than your average supermarket but if you want quality, you pay for it. When F&T says it has red snapper or sole, you don’t have to worry about DNA testing when you get home. That’s worth paying for.
Side Hill Farms is located at 315 Fayette St. (Rt. 92) in Manlius, just behind Sno-Top. It opens Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m. Fins & Tails is located at 3012 Erie Blvd. East in Syracuse, near the Thompson Road exit from I-690 in the former Liquor Square plaza. It is open Tuesday through Saturday.
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday here in Status Symbol Land. Sadly, it’s one of those Sundays where there is no coffee.
Yesterday, I ran a coffee pot cleaner through our KitchenAid Grind ‘N Brew. This was one of those powders that you push through the entire water system to descale and decalcify everything. The instructions say to run it until the outputted water is no longer blue. Two full pots of water later, we were fine. Or so I thought.
This morning I come downstairs and The Wife says, “Why does my coffee taste like soap?” Sigh.
So, the pot of coffee was dumped and I’m working without a net this morning. I had a cup of orange juice, but that doesn’t seem to do much more than fulfill my acid intake for the morning. No, before I enter a grocery store of any sort, I need coffee. A big one. An iced one.
Speaking of coffee, delicious coffee, I was out shopping for dinner ingredients on Saturday and dropped by Cafe Kubal’s Downtown Syracuse location for an iced pour-over. If you’ve never had this, it’s quite a thing. Think of it as a personal drip coffee. It was glorious. Not unlike a French press, all of the oils were released and I was left with a cup of coffee that was explosive with flavor from the dark roast.
Here’s a video of them putting it together:
So, a pistou is French pesto without the pine nuts. I didn’t know that. Frankly, I know nothing about French food. Check that…I don’t know much about France. I took two years of French in high school because it was either that or shop classes. After four years of Spanish (two in middle school, two in high school), I thought I would switch things up. In my junior year, I took an accelerated French class that put the first two years into one. This meant that during my senior year, I had to sit for the French Regents exam with a bunch of sophomores. By the time this test rolled around, I was so checked out of high school that I might have written the same answer for every multiple choice question. I distinctly remember finishing the test in about 45 minutes and having my French teacher wake me up because I was snoring. I got an 85.
I worked my ass off I showed inconsistent effort as a sophomore to get a B+/A- in my Spanish class, but sleepwalked to a B in French. But, don’t worry, I can ask you if you would like butter (Voulez vous le beurre?). Read the rest of this entry
Bisques are fun. They are creamy and thick, but are balanced by the ever so slight flavor of a wine and the dominant primary ingredient — typically mushroom or seafood.
This…was not a bisque. No, this was more like cream of spinach soup. This bothers me some as I actually cut as much extra liquid as I could, knowing that this would be too watery. In the end, it was a good soup but I felt like something didn’t work right.
Maybe the recipe developer didn’t take into account that the spinach would drop its water or that 4 cups of broth was far too much. You expect a bisque to cling to your spoon and warm you from inside, like a chowder. This was fine, but less than advertised. Read the rest of this entry
The Kid and I were making good time at Wegmans on Sunday when I was getting near frozen foods. I knew we were low on ice cream, but couldn’t figure out what I wanted next. What I really wanted was Byrne Dairy ice cream, a kick that I have been on for about three weeks now. As I was about to make the turn down the first frozen foods aisle, it occurred to me that I had an ice cream maker at home that has been dormant for a few weeks. I backtracked, grabbing a pint of heavy cream and mini chocolate chips. I didn’t know what flavor was on tap, but chocolate chips make everything better.
I was prowling around the pantry looking for what we had on hand — tuna, chicken broth, cocoa powder, black beans — and saw the answer: peanut butter. You really can’t go wrong there. Peanut butter cups and Butterfingers make for nice mix-ins, but mixing the peanut butter made for a thick but smooth ice cream.
And, like I said before, chocolate chips make everything better.
(The Kid, in all of her charming three-year-oldness, beings a lot of her sentences with a pensive “Well…” these days. It’s cute because it’s so out of context.)
Standing in the ice cream aisle at Wegmans Fairmount, this was not exactly the news I wanted to hear.
“Are you sure?,” I asked.
“Yes. I have to go to the bathroom.”
I sighed, spun the cart around and attempted to make my way through the extra-long cashier lines, through the congested produce section, and to the restroom alcove. Conversation on this trip revolved around how she was a girl, she had to to the girl’s room and that I was a boy and couldn’t go in. This thought had also crossed my mind, but I thought I had remembered a family restroom in the back of the men’s room. Apparently, I had mistaken the Fairmount store for another one.
The other men in the room were slightly startled by the little girl wandering from the stall to the sink to wash her hands. We got out of there and back to our other business.
I’m not going to spend the rest of this post ranting about how there should be a law passed that mandates family bathrooms in every grocery, discount, drug, and auto parts store in New York (Al Dente’s Law?). When I was single and/or childless, I would use the family bathrooms because they were always cleaner and closer to where I was standing. As a father of a daughter, I’ve come to embrace the forethought shown by companies like Target — which has a separate family bathroom — and Wegmans — which has tucked them in the rear of their gender-specific rooms in newly-renovated stores. So, thanks to them.
I would be remiss not to mention the increase in traffic to the blog, the result of my recent post the food that makes this area special. This was not (necessarily) about what was the best, but about what was important. The Syracuse area has a long, proud immigrant culture: the Irish on Tipperary Hill, the Polish on the Westside, the enclave of Tyrol in Solvay, the Italians on the Northside and Solvay. A renaissance of immigration has brought Asians and African refugees to the Northside and Ukrainians to the Western suburbs. These are important contributions to the fabric of the community.
Much like the staying that “retail follows rooftops,” bakeries, grocers and restaurants catering to these populations have followed. And, the vocal fans of places like Eva’s European Sweets and Bangkok Thai have shown that this diaspora of flavors has been embraced by the community.
I’m just happy to be involved with the discussion.