Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tour de Soft Serve 2.0

Well, I have pretty much abandoned this blog, mostly because there are already quite a few fantastic bloggers in the area, and also because I've have prioritized other things (like work, family, friends, binge watching Game of Thrones, etc., not necessarily in that order) However, today Matt and I had a fun time exploring some of Saratoga County's little soft serve stands. I couldn't resist posting some highlights, and a link to Matt's public photo album from today: Tour de Soft Serve 2015
He was our driver and photographer, while I helped to navigate and take notes. (Go team!)
The itinerary had 5 ice cream stops:
1. Devoe's Rainbow Delights (Rte 9 in Clifton Park)
2. JJ's Snack Bar (Rte 50 in Ballston Spa)
3. Humpty Dumpty (West Ave., in Saratoga Springs)
4. Dairy Haus (476 Maple Ave. in Wilton)
5. Farmer's Daughter Drive-In (882 NY-29, Saratoga Springs)
We also made two savory stops on the way (one planned, one spur-of-the-moment)
1. Kelly's Mini Hot Dogs (for mini-dogs, what else?)
2. 9 Miles East Farm (for pizza)

  • Although I prefer frozen custard and hard ice cream to soft serve, I realized that the addition of a topping significantly enhances a plain-jane dish of soft serve. We asked for 'Heath Bar' topping for all our dishes of chocolate-vanilla twist. (4 out of 5 places gave us 'toffee bits' instead of Heath bar candy, though.) Kids seem to understand this well, as nearly every kid I saw had sprinkles or a dipped cone. Soft serve is also a better vehicle for toppings than ice cream, since the softness allows more topping to stick.
  • There was no truly bad soft serve in the group we tested, although textures varied a little bit, and depth of chocolate flavor varied quite a lot. 
  • The biggest surprise to me was how much the size of a 'kiddie cup' varied. The one at Humpty Dumpty's was tiny and the ones at Dairy Haus and Rainbow Delight were huge! 

After the 2nd ice cream stop, we made an impromptu stop at Kelly's Mini Hot Dogs in Ballston Spa. At $1.10 a piece for 'works with cheese' it was quite possibly the best value of the day.
Seems like Kelly's is a local favorite, but it's a tiny place, kind of under the radar.
I'll wait for The Profussor to summarize and reveal the results of the comparative tasting of the ice creams. I definitely have my opinion, though.
After five servings of sweet sweet soft serve, we headed out to Nine Miles East, where they let us sit and enjoy some freshly baked pizzas (cheese, sausage and cheese, and the seasonal pizza with farm fresh garlic, basil, and onions.) These pizzas were excellent, especially when it came to flavorful sauce and toppings. Their crust is pretty unique, and it was tasty as long as the pizza was hot. Once it cooled down, it was much more dense and kind of lost it's appeal. Freshness counts, as usual.
The staff there were super friendly, allowed us to eat right at the farm and even introduced us to a beautiful flock of chickens. (Zero didn't get to meet them - that would not have gone well for the chickens!) Although the eggs aren't for sale, we did get to take some home with us!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saratoga Beer Festival

Back in January, a coworker alerted me to a groupon for 'some beer thing in Saratoga' that we might want to check out. It looked like a pretty good deal - $10 per person for a four hour session at the 'Beer Summit'. If the beers were at all good, it would be hard not to get our money's worth, we thought. So, we bought in, and then promised to remind each other six weeks later that we had tickets to beer tasting in Saratoga. Luckily, one of us set a reminder in her cell phone, and there we were at noon on a Saturday ready to do some drinking at the Saratoga City Center. The tasting was well-attended, and it seemed like people were having a pretty decent time, but there were definitely some highlights and lowlights.

First, the lowlights:
1. Our 'souvenir tasting glass' was one of those "5.5-oz" things that usually only get filled with 3-4 ounces of beer. I'd rather have had a more reasonable size 'taste', and it would be much better advertising if they gave us functional pint glass that we'd actually use.

2. Four beer tokens were included with admission, which would be great, except that the nicer beers from Ommegang, Brasserie Dupont, Chimay, and other 'special' beers required two tokens apiece. Considering the paltry quantity of beer in each taste, the double-charge seemed kind of lame. Those beers didn't seem to be selling very well, either. We ended up buying additional tokens for $2 per piece.
3. The price of admission at the door was $30 per person, and a lot of the beers were not very interesting. I would have been unhappy with paying $7.50 for 4 ounces of beers like Blue Moon, Yuengling, Sam Adams, and Shock Top. We happened to meet some friends who had paid the door price, and I felt kind of bad for them.
4. Most of the beers were being served by volunteers instead of reps from the breweries, which meant that we didn't really get any special background about the beers.
5. The tasting was scheduled to go until 4 pm, and last call was at 3:30pm, which was not communicated from the get-go. We had to scramble and beg the servers to exchange our last tokens for beer. Again, I felt kind of bad for the people who paid $30 for the event.
There were a few highlights:
1. The music was great -  the awesome guitar duo of Tequila Mockingbirds.
2. The Long Trail and Otter Creek reps did a great job of presenting their beers, and both brought some special brews that aren't widely available.
3. It seemed like the other events of the 'Beer Week' might have been more enjoyable. One of our friends went to a Sierra Nevada event at the Seven Horse Pub, which was free to enter, and got to try some unusual and delicious (according to him) brews.
4. After the 'summit' is over, w were in Saratoga, which isn't a bad place to be for good food and drink. We went to the Seven Horse Pub for some pretty good pizza (and more beer) and then up the Circus Cafe, which makes a damn fine cheeseburger (an actual medium-rare if you want it!).
All in all, I had fun, but I probably wouldn't be saying that if I'd paid the door price. Next year, if I go at all, I'll probably skip the 'summit' and go to the events specific to the particular breweries I'm interested in.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Breakfast Tour

Even though we've pretty much dropped out of blogging, the Profussor (who else?) has yet again managed to inspire us to eat and write about it.
Last Saturday, we joined Professor Fussy’s latest exploration of the capital district’s food-type treasures. Since the objects of our attention would be egg and cheese sandwiches, it seemed sensible (???) to start at the breakfasty hour of 7:30 in the morning. Slightly behind schedule, we were the last ones of the group to arrive at Jack’s Diner, on Central Ave. We ordered, and were cheerfully served this lovely sausage, egg and cheese sandwich.

For cheese, we ordered cheddar, but it looked kinda marbled like Colby-Jack. Overall, it was actually our favorite sandwich, getting lots of points for the a good amount of tasty cheese, nice natural-casing link sausage, and two eggs that were just lightly scrambled on the griddle, so you got some medium-cooked yolks mixed with the whites.  Where Jack’s Diner loses points is in the competition for value, since this was the priciest sandwich of the day, at $4.99 plus tax and tip. That seems a little high, but it was a pretty hearty sandwich  

Next up was McCarroll’s, in the Delmar Marketplace, which served up a foil-wrapped sandwich with a sausage patty instead of links. The poppy seed-dusted  roll on this sandwich was a little bit overly greasy from being toasted on the grill (and maybe also from the sausage), and the egg was a little bit overcooked to us. This sausage left a stronger, more persistent peppery taste behind, and dominated the flavor of the sandwich overall. McCarroll's is a grocery store, so the seating is pretty minimal, and allows you to be tempted by such things as cheesecake from the Nuns of New Skete

At this point, I started to wonder if it was a good idea to have our egg and cheese sandwiches with sausage. Both Jack’s Diner and McCarroll’s sell egg sandwiches with two eggs each, and a generous amount of sausage, and our hunger was pretty much gone after the second stop. We were a little worried about seeing this through with three more sandwiches!

Next stop: Stewarts.  Not surprisingly, this was our least-liked sandwich of the tour. There really was nothing to like about it, except the fact that it was ready for us before we even arrived, riding around a glass-case carousel, and we enjoyed the outdoor seating on this wierdly mild-weather day. The dog thoroughly enjoyed this sandwich, and other leftover bits (including some circle bacon!) from more than one other sandwich.

Latham's Bella Napoli served up a double-egg sandwich on griddled house-made rolls that were sweetly buttery. No cheddar available, and this sausage was more mild than the one at McCarrolls This was our second-favorite sandwich of the day, mostly because of the quality bun and nice egg cookery. We also picked up some delicious Italian almond cookies. 

Last but not least, we stopped in at Famous Lunch in Troy. Even though we’ve lived in the area for half a dozen years, we had not yet ever visited this popular place, famous for their mini-dogs. Despite the fact that we were no longer the slightest bit hungry, we dug in to four mini dogs (1 'works', 1 plain for each of us) before sampling the breakfast sandwich. Our piping hot sandwich, which arrived on our table approximately 2.5 seconds after leaving the griddle, had just a single egg, a sausage patty, and American cheese (no options here). Nothing fancy about it, but it was done right, served quickly, for not much money, and the place has a lot of character and an overall fun vibe.

Those were the ups and downs of our egg sandwich tour. I had kind of expected them to be served on hard rolls that were, well, more crackly hard, but all were pretty soft rolls. We may have had morethan one gram of cholesterol for each of us in just under 4.5 hours, but we also had of fun and checked out some places we'd never been. Thanks, Profussor!
P.S. Maybe we'll update this blog more than twice this year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tour de Fish Fry in Cross Section

Led by the unstoppable Professor Fussy, we tasted the following five 'Fish Fry' sandwiches with a group of other taster-raters on Saturday. We had never had a single such sandwich in our lives, and I can't say it has earned a place in our hearts, but we sure had a fun day getting to know this Capital District Specialty.
At Gene's Fish Fry, we were put off by the weird sauces (maybe we should have customized them), but we liked sitting outside, and the fish was tender and moist:
Off Shore Pier has a great deal of nautical decor, the fish fry is similarly tender and tasty, and the sauces were very conventional, in comparison to Gene's:
At Bob and Ron's Fish Fry, we appreciated the offering of malt vinegar and hot sauce as alternatives to the usual sauces, but the fish was underseasoned and a little watery. Also, someone came out to ask us directly how the food was before we even had a chance to taste it, which was somewhat poor form.
Ted's Fish Fry was the only one of the five to offer to sell us a t-shirt. It was clearly a neighborhood joint, as illustrated by the ladies who, after eating their meal happily, informed us that Harbor House in Clifton Park has the best fish fry (which implies they must have gone to Ted's for the sake of convenience). The staff are super friendly, the fish was good, the cocktail sauce had a delicious bite, but the chili sauce was too sweet.
At Matt's Fish Fry, the lacy curtains made us feel a little like like we were at Grandma's house, and the huge planks of haddock were a little on the dry side:
In the end, Off Shore won the overall rating competition, but it was very very close. If I went back to one of these places, it would probably not be for fish fry, but probably something else from the menu. As non-natives, perhaps it isn't surprising that neither of us fell in love with this local specialty enough to go out of our way for it, and in fact none of these places are convenient to either work or home. The tour was a fun time, though, and we got to try something new that we would never have known to try with the Prof. Fussy's fearless leadership.

Dinner at the American Hotel

To celebrate the fourth anniversary since we began our adventure in wedded bliss, we decided to get dressed up and go for dinner at the American Hotel, in Sharon Springs. We had been there a couple of times before, to take visiting relatives for Sunday brunch, and the food was amazing (in particular, the corn cake stack layered with sauteed apples and bacon, and topped with real maple syrup). They emphasize local and seasonal ingredients, and the atmosphere is slightly elegant and fit for a special occasion while still being friendly and homey.
Sharon Springs gets a boost during the summer from tourism to nearby Cooperstown and the Glimmerglass Festival, as well as the more local draw of the Fabulous Beekman Boys' farm. So, even though it's out in the middle of the countryside, the dining room was fairly full on the Saturday night of our anniversary. The prices are comparable to what you'd pay for an upscale restaurant in Albany, in the $30-$45 range for entrees, so we were hoping for a really special dinner.
We were greeted warmly and brought to our table right away, and given a few minutes to ponder the menu while nibbling on some warm sliced bread and a little dish of pickled carrots. We chose wines: an Argentinean Malbec for the gentleman, a NY Riesling for the lady, but we skipped the appetizers, even though we were seriously tempted by the beef poutine: prime sirloin served over homemade french fries and topped with horseradish cheese curds and gravy. (We're getting this next time.) Every entree comes with your choice of salad, and one of us went with the conventional mixed green salad, the other of us had one of the night's specials: a watermelon and feta salad with pickled red onions and jicama, over boston lettuce. The dressing was some sort of creamy vinaigrette - maybe sesame?
For entrees, we chose 1) filet mignon with a baked half-lobster and 2) scallops, shrimp and baked half-lobster.
The entrees were each served with appropriate, but unremarkable sides (rice pilaf or mashed potatoes, sauteed greens, a buttery sauce). The filet was cooked correctly, with a narrow border of sear and a deep pink interior, but in a perfect world it would have been just a bit more on the rare side. The scallops were cooked perfectly, but the shrimp, though tasty, was overcooked. Both baked lobsters were good, but not quite as moist and tender as we are used to from boiled lobsters at home. On the other hand, the lobsters here are always removed from the shell before serving, which is a lot more elegant than digging into a steamed lobster at home, with a garbage bucket to one side and a roll of paper towels to other.
While we were enjoying the meal, one of the owners visited each table in the dining room, making sure that we were happy, as in fact we were. Dessert made us even happier: creme brulee for one of us and goats milk cheesecake (courtesy of the local Beekman 1802 Farm's goats) for the other:
My only criticism about the cheesecake was that the cherries and sauce looked kind of tired and overcooked, even though they tasted great. Looking back on all my pictures, I'm surprised at how rustic the plating is. In a way, the plating reflects the whole unfussiness of the experience of being at the American Hotel. We wore more-or-less business casual, and we were probably the most dressed up people in the place. There was a family of 8 dining together nearby us, including several children, and it didn't faze anyone. We'll definitely be back when we're in the mood for a lovely restaurant experience without any superficial fuss. We love the welcoming atmosphere, the integration of local ingredients, and the fact that it's out in a peaceful rural setting. Next time, we're definitely getting the poutine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Brunch at Sheldon Farms


Today’s weather forecast wasn’t very promising for an outdoor brunch – overcast and sticky-humid, maybe even a thunderstorm – but our weather worries dissipated as soon as we arrived at Sheldon Farm in Salem, NY. That relief was partly due to a refreshing cool breeze, but mostly it came from our delight at the fantastic spread of food, prepared by Chef Chris Tanner. We were at an annual Brunch on the Farm, hosted by Slow Food Saratoga, an organization of food lovers, farmers and chefs who are interested in promoting good, clean, fair food. In particular, their aim is to connect eaters with the people who produce and prepare their food.

Chef Tanner, a chef, educator, and charcuterie specialist, made several dishes featuring local pork that he aged and cured himself. In the photo above, you can see cantaloupe with lardo and honeydew with a prosciutto-type ham. We were also treated to his home-made pancetta in a dish of perfectly pillowy gnocchi in a creamy sauce with bits of fresh tomato. To celebrate the first weeks of Sheldon Farm’s sweet corn harvest, we had some delicious fresh corn fritters, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with maple syrup on the side. I couldn’t get enough of these little cuties, despite the fact that there were also croissants and bread from Mrs. London’s and a succulent duck-confit potato hash.


Notice that omelet? It had squash blossoms and sausage in it, and needless to say, it was also great! But, man oh man, those potatoes deserve a close up:


The great thing about being with people who love food is that no one has any qualms about eating and enjoying great food with gusto, leaving many of us wishing we had more room in our stomachs.


The president of the local Slow Food chapter, Rocco Verrigni, said some words of thanks to the farmers and chefs, and plugged upcoming events, including a dinner at New World Bistro in August and a Labor Day potluck in support of real food in our public schools : the ‘Time For Lunch’ campaign

If you’re interested in supporting Slow Food through membership or a contribution, registration is available online. In any case, the events are open to all, with only a slightly higher price for nonmembers. You can read more about their philosophy online or request the book ‘Slow Food Nation’ from your favorite library or bookstore.

If you just want to enjoy food by the awesome chef who masterminded this brunch, he’s cooking at the SPAC Patrons Club (not just for patrons any more), Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 5-22.

P7261487Sheldon Farms products, and many more extra-special local and imported foods, are available every day from 10-6 , all summer long at their cute little market, and Saturdays at the Saratoga Farmers Market.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Alice Medrich’s Chocolate-Pomegranate Torte

To save up some money for the holidays, we’d been staying in and cooking at home recently, so I don’t have big restaurant meals to review lately. A couple interesting things have appeared in our kitchen, though, so these next few blog posts will be of the ‘at home’ sort.

This week, I, like many people, stepped onto the bathroom scale and sighed deeply. Holiday weight gain is one of those things that, despite every good intention, always manages to put a damper on the spirit, even as I’m already struggling to get back to work after time off. Fortunately, I have lots of happy and delicious holiday memories to recall as I slog to work next week.


One of them is this Chocolate-Pomegranate Torte pictured above from the cover of December’s Fine Cooking magazine. It’s a recipe by Alice Medrich, the so-called ‘first lady of chocolate,’ and her article is called “The Dark Side of Chocolate.” The glossy cover photo of this cake is so beautiful and tempting, I almost went over to the dark side and paid the cover price to buy a copy of the magazine. In the hopes of saving a tree (and a few bucks) I found the recipe online (for free!), and gave it a try. I would say that this PB220283is not a totally easy recipe, since it involves whipping egg whites and folding them in as well as controlling melted chocolate, but I managed to do it without screwing up too badly, and it was really delicious. 

One strange thing is that the recipe calls for 12 cranberries, which I thought might have been a misprint (does she mean 12 oz.?), but indeed 12 cranberries was just the right amount. I absolutely loved the sweet gel of pomegranate juice, pomegranate, apple and cranberries, underneath a smooth chocolate glaze. Tastes divine, and definitely suitable for other dessert applications.

As for the chocolate cake itself, I thought maybe it was just a little bit dry, but I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, which isn’t quite up to the 70% cocoa level that Alice recommends, and I didn’t have exactly the right pan size, so that could account for a variation in texture. And, of course, my technique with spreading chocolate is not tippy-top, so my cake was no cover model.  The sprinkling of ruby-like pomegranate seeds made up for the visual defects, but I didn’t really like their crunch alongside tender cake and gooey jam and glaze.

Now I ask myself, how many laps do I have to swim to burn off this indulgence? (and of course I didn’t eat just one piece!) And what about the Pom-tini’s we had with the leftover pomegranate juice? (Thanks, Martha!)