Friday, September 30, 2011

El Mariachi

There are so many things I love about El Mariachi. I've only been to the one on Hamilton Street. From the delicious drinks to the sizzling food and the bright decor it is just all in all a good time. We went there for my bachelorette party in June and it was a blast (as shown above). Did I eat lots of fried salty food two days before my wedding? Yes, yes I did, and I didn't feel bad about it. I first went to El Mariachi with my friend who has now left Albany, and I always associated it with a fun girls' night from that time on. What about chips and salsa and tequila doesn't set the stage for fun gossip? The fajitas actually make noise when they come out. Some dishes are things you would not routinely see at a Mexican restaurant. Also, there's Spanish food on the menu. Actually, our waitress one time came up to us and mentioned that Scott was her professor at Hunter when we lived in New York. Small world! And it turns out that her parents own the place and that one of her parents is from Spain and the other is from Mexico. While I haven't actually tried any of the Spanish section of the menu, I think this is a good indication it would actually be good.

Here are things I love from here (quoted from the menu):
  • "Flautas Mexicanas (3 corn tortillas rolled and stuffed with chicken, beef, or goat. Golden fried and topped with green sauce, sour cream and cheese)." This is what I had at my bachelorette party. Fun, crunchy, probably bad for you. I was living it up.
  • "Pozole Y Tostada (A traditional Mexican stew with pork, simmered in its own broth, chile ancho, herbs and hominy. Served with a chicken tostada - No rice and beans)" This stew I love. You might not normally try soups at Mexican restaurants, but I find the broth incredible. Actually last time I got it a woman yelled across the restaurant and asked me what I was having because she thought it looked so delicious. Sometimes I don't finish it and eat the rest for lunch the next day, and it really holds up as leftovers (maybe even improves, like a good chili or bolognese).
  • "Adovo Verde De Puerco (A pork chop cooked with cilantro and our green tomatillo sauce)" My husband does not care for pork or cilantro, but for me this dish is tangy, fresh tasting, and very satisfying. I love tomatillos.
  • "Bistec A La Mexicana (Tender pieces of beef sauteed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers)" I know this type of thing is very easily replicated at home, but it is really so delicious. Just the right amount of spice.
  • I am a huge fan of all of their Chile Rellenos, especially this one "Chile Relleno De Carne (A roasted poblano pepper stuffed with almonds, raisins, plantains and ground beef. Topped with a home made tomato sauce)" I had never quite had something like this before at a Mexican restaurant, and even though it is a huge portion I'd always finish it all off. In fact, there was a time period where I was fantasizing about this dish at random times during the week I was so obsessed with it. 
  • I love the sangria. A glass of the white enjoyed out on the patio during the summer couldn't be more sublime.
I also think the servers here are really nice. I wonder about selling Cheesecake Machismo since it is right next door, and they sell it for at least a couple bucks more. But I will admit that once I wanted to take Cheesecake Machismo slices to a dinner party and the shop was closed. I was a sucker and bought some from the restaurant with the upcharge. I did think that it went over really well at the person's house I went to though. 

Anyways, love this place. Love that they branch out from just tacos and the like. Love that things actually taste spicy and fresh. We always take people from out of town here, and they always have a good time.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plastic Bags

We seem to be having a food storage problem at our house. The thing about a CSA share is that you can end up with more food than you can possibly eat every week. Because of this I've made about 6 weeks worth of delicious soups for lunches. I've also filled up all the airtight containers we have. Getting your food straight from the farm also cuts down on the number of plastic shopping bags around the house. This is probably overall a good thing, but I have noticed that there are certain uses in which plastic shopping bags are useful - putting your scraps in them around the kitchen as you cook and putting your lunch in one on the drive to work so it doesn't leak on the car seat. Of course you could use a reusable lunch bag, but then you have to put that through the washing machine so is it really so much better for the environment? I mean I guess so, but I just think if you are using plastic bags for multiple uses they can't really be that horrible, right?  I always feel that way when I bring back bottles for recycling in 5 different reusable shopping bags. They are covered in soda drippings so I can't really use them to take home my chicken, and then I have to put them all in the washing machine which uses energy.  I wonder if plastic bags are really the evil they are made out to be.

Anyways, since I don't want to buy more airtight storage containers because I am sure I will eat the 30 portions of soup in the freezer and be left with an enormous amount of plastic containers, I've been using plastic sandwich baggies for things I might normally put in airtight containers.

Sandwich baggies are associated with a specific memory for me. When I was in college I was really into the New Yorker, the New York Times, "Sex and the City" (hate it now though), and Woody Allen movies. Because of all those reasons my boyfriend at the time and I decided to move to New York City. It must have been about 5 am on April 5, 2005. I was 23 years old, I had a college degree, not too horrible interactions with the opposite sex in relationships that lasted years, and about 8 years of working experience. I had probably proven in some reasonable way that I'd end up ok. Nevertheless, my mother was running around the house saying "There are so many things you need!!" and what she ended up finding was sandwich baggies. I would have to find my place living in one of the craziest cities in the world, would have to deal with how to pay for grad school, would end up living by myself for a couple of years, and face unexpected hurdles - but I would have a way to pack some Cheez-its for a trip to the park if I wanted. I'd be ok. I didn't really eat much, or take food from home much in those years and that same box of 300 sandwich baggies followed me from near Prospect Park in Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens, back to Brooklyn in Brooklyn Heights and then to Albany. At that time I actually did pack/make enough food to finish off the box.

It is similar to when I went home for Labor Day and I unexpectedly had to drive back on my own and my mom was afraid I wouldn't have enough snacks. She gave me way more than I could have eaten even in 10 hours - 3 apples, a container of Baba Ganouj, pita chips, wheat thins, pretzels, yogurt, and granola bars. Seemed a little crazy unless you think it is not really about snacks and more about "You are driving through multiple states, could face untold adversity, the world is a wild and crazy place - but at least you have snacks!" It almost stands in for something that is more difficult to articulate. I had to rely mostly on myself to find a satisfying career and a good relationship - but at least I had sandwich baggies! So every time I walk over to our new bag of 300 sandwich bags it weirdly puts a smile on my face. It makes me feel happy and grateful - like my mom wanted me to be ok, like you can teach your kid right and wrong, you can make them go to college and get work experience, you can make sure they aren't obese, but lastly make sure they have something to carry around pretzels in!

Similarly my dad's contribution to me starting my own life in a crazy city where I didn't know anyone with not very much money was buying me a box of nails. I can't remember why. I know that when we arrived in our apartment near the Brooklyn Museum that we were going to share with a Jamaican guy, Japanese girl, and girl who went to FIT from Sault St. Marie, MI he was hot and wanted to buy a fan. We went to a hardware store and he bought the fan and a box of nails and said "You always need nails in life." Funny enough I guess I didn't hang much in my various apartments in NYC, and that box made it all the way to Albany. I used the last nail from that box the other day to hang up this picture from our wedding in a mosaic frame I made . My dad and I danced to "Miss Independent" by Ne-Yo. That song and this picture will probably always make me laugh, in the same way that weirdly enough a box of sandwich bags can make me faintly smile.

 (Photo by Jacqueline Lynch Photography)


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Fritters

I've discussed before how Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home is pretty much the coolest cookbook ever. It has all kinds of great tips and the recipes are amazing every time. We've made chicken and dumplings soup, chicken stock, chocolate chip cookies, chicken breasts with tarragon, and a few other things. I've definitely spent quite a bit of time reading his tips at the beginning of the book, and browsing his sources in the back. Anyways, I love it. I love his approach to cooking. He treats it like a craft, and the way he advises to constantly strain and skim things creates foods that are luxurious in texture with less impurities, and the blanching of vegetables for sure creates crisper textures and brighter flavors than any other method.

Anyways, so our friends came over for a "Parenthood" premiere party, and I decided to make a dessert. We wanted to make something we didn't have to go get ingredients for. We had recently been to Indian Ladder Farms so we had quite a bit of apples. This recipe was super fun to make. Also the way my friend's husband said "This is so freaking good!!" I knew he wasn't just trying to be polite. There is "Thanks for cooking, these are nice" and then there is "Oh my god!!", and I have to say that the latter is quite satisfying.

So first you peel a few apples and cut them up like matchsticks.

Then mix together 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (seemed like a pancake batter to me). Beat 1 egg and 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk. Whisk the egg and milk into the dry ingredients.

Fold the apples into the batter.
Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil 325 degrees in a large wide pot.

Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet and line with paper towels. Using a couple of forks lift a glob of batter and apple pieces and add to the hot oil.

Don't crowd them. Turn them over after 5 minutes.
Then with a slotted spoon scoop them onto the cooling rack.
I sprinkled them with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. My friend's husband thought they tasted like apple cider doughnuts. Then I put them on this awesome cake stand I got at my bridal shower in Michigan.

Not just good - "so freaking good!!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Capital City Gastropub

The Capital City Gastropub (formerly Pasquale's) sounds really exciting.  What a great space! Can't wait to try it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Apple Pie from the Berry Patch, Stephentown, NY

Yesterday I was on my way home and I was thinking about getting a dessert since we had friends coming over. I thought about Bella Napoli and Cheesecake Machismo, but then I saw a big sign on the side of the road that said "Fresh Pie!" drawn in marker. Well, that was exactly what I was in the market for, fresh pie! So I pulled over to the Berry Patch in Stephentown, NY.

I thought this pie was fabulous! They had apple and peach. I whipped up some cream with vanilla and a little bit of pumpkin pie spice in it. You could tell the apples were super fresh, and the crust was much better than a supermarket pie. Delicious!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Local Spirits I Enjoy

  • I have tried a few of the spirits available from the Berkshire Mountain Distillers, and they are all very delicious.The rum, corn whiskey, and Greylock gin are all very good, but my personal favorite is the Ethereal gin. It is very complex in flavor. It is heavy on the botanicals, and has such a full, complex interesting smell you really want  to take in the bouquet before you drink it. I don't even mix it with anything usually - it is that delicious. They also make them in small batches, and the label color changes to let you know it is a new batch and may taste slightly different. Before discovering the Berkshire Mountain Distillers I was almost always a Hendrick's woman (I love cucumber), but this stuff is great and I love that I am supporting a local company. I hope one day they will offer distillery tours. 

  • Undergrads have taken over college campuses everywhere wearing tights as pants, and everyone is spending their weekends going doughnut picking - so that means something else too - the return of pumpkin beer. And by far the best one in my opinion is the Southern Tier pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale. People I know who don't even like pumpkin beer love this. It is amazing - like dessert in a glass. It has just the right amount of spice. It is as much a part of fall as butternut squash soup and roast chicken. 

  • Is anyone looking for Christmas ideas for me? Inniskillin Icewines are so delicious, but unfortunately usually too expensive for me. Ahh, but with a little cheese for dessert? Divine! Their icewines burst with concentrated flavor and demand your attention almost completely as you sip them. I would absolutely love to go on a tour at the time of the harvest in say December or January and see how it is done (the fact that it is surely completely freezing on the Niagara peninsula in the winter is a testament to how much I love the stuff).

  • I'll start out by noting that we don't drink a lot of vodka. But we do enjoy Penne alla Vodka, and I like a vodka gimlet, or some kind of a mudslide inspired coffee sort of thing once in a while. When I do buy vodka I often go for the Lake Placid Spirits offering. It tastes like nothing, which is the point of vodka in a cocktail, right? Clean crisp, nothing tasting - exactly as it should be. I will say that I gave a bottle to my friend as a thank you for putting on a bridal shower for me. She seems to be a connoisseur of vodka and seemed to like it, so there you have it.
Does anyone else have  any local spirit suggestions?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Southwestern Flavored Crackers

 We have a lot of cilantro from our CSA. I love it, but turns out some people (including my husband) hate it. So I decided to baked it all into some crackers. When I make things mostly for myself I go a little crazy. So along with the cilantro I chopped up some peppers and garlic and zested a couple limes.
 Our immersion blender we got as a wedding present also has a chopping attachment, which is so easy and chops things smaller than I ever could in like two seconds.
 Then put in the food processor 2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt.
 Process it and add 1/4 cup water, until it is a ball, adding more if necessary but not too much that it becomes sticky.
 I kneaded in my herb mixture. I got this great rollpat for the counter which makes everything much easier to clean up.
 I got this awesome pastry cutter as a wedding present, and after I rolled out the dough I cut the dough up in strips and scored squares so that they could be easily broken after they cooled. I also sprinkled some sea salt on them.
 I put them on the pizza stone at 400 degrees for 10 or 12 minutes depending on how thick you have rolled them out. The pizza stone rocks. There are so many things you can use it for - bread, pizza, crackers - and I could almost use another one. I put some cornmeal down so they wouldn't stick to the stone.
 Then I put them on cooling racks for a few minutes.
 They were tasty served with chili we made last night. Delicious! A great way to use up lots of herbs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Corn Tortillas

I never knew that making corn tortillas was so easy! We got a tortilla press as a wedding present, and it turns out to be totally worth it. So fresh and so delicious! First mix together some water and masa harina and let sit for 15 minutes.

Then cut the dough into smaller sections and roll it into into small, smooth balls. Cover all but one with plastic wrap.
Cover your tortilla press with baggies. I also used a piece of parchment paper. Flatten the dough ball a little with your fingers.
Press the tortilla press down and then peel the dough off of the parchment paper.Slip it into a medium heat skillet.
You can continue with the next one as the first one is heating up.
Turn it over, and turn it back over again. It is done when it is brown and speckled and when it puffs up like a pita bread.
Keep warm in a basket lined with towels.
Then we had andouille, cauliflower, onions, salsa, and cilantro Scott was sauteeing while I was making the tortillas. We could not believe how much better it was than store bought corn tortillas and quick and easy it was!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pasquale's in Royal Oak, MI

I visited Michigan over Labor Day weekend. There is something about places you've lived, and especially the place you are originally from, where it is reassuring when things don't change and very slightly sad or shocking when they do. It is as if that place existed only for your experience. It is as if every place you've been should remain the same forever like a museum of your life. And the fine folks at Pasquale's Restaurant seem happy to oblige.
I went with my lovely friend I met in London and her husband. Her husband always went there for his birthday as a child. They went there for their first date. My mother used to go there every Saturday night as a child, and then after cruising down Woodward Ave as a teenager. It is crazy how one restaurant can be a part of so many different moments in so many of my friends' and family members' lives.

About a year ago we rented out a banquet room there on the occasion of my grandmother's funeral. There was a birthday party in the banquet room this time with purple balloons overflowing into the main dining room. There was something surreal about being in the same restaurant a year later. I felt that it was hard to be sad because my grandma was so much fun. She was like a champagne cork popping, a firework suspended in the sky, and the sparkling tinsel on the tree. She always said everything was "like Christmas". Being late for somewhere and feeling rushed was "like Christmas". Thanksgiving was "like Christmas". Getting everything ready to leave somewhere and packing up was "like Christmas". The woman's life was "like Christmas". She was hilarious, and being at the place we ate for her funeral didn't make me sad, it almost made me laugh. It made me think of her advice for marriage ("Do whatever you want, and then tell him what he wants to hear to his face"), and the time I found a $50 bill in the Easter egg hunt as a 9 year old (no one believes me on this one). It made me think of her going out dancing every Saturday night for 45 years, and always trying to convince me to let her buy me bright red cowboy boots. It made me think of the matching fluorescent cropped mohair sweaters she bought my sister, my cousins and I, and how we thought they were kind of revealing. What grandmother buys things her granddaughters think are revealing? Hilarious! It made me think of the time she made more pies than there were people at her house. Of course, a restaurant that has good food and tons of it was a great place to have her funeral dinner.

My friend and her husband and I ordered a salad, the large antipasto salad, and it ended up taking up the entire table. The garlic bread was delicious and was cut in strips as long as our heads. The salad was great, but it probably ended up in about 3 take out containers. I ordered a small Hawaiian pizza (there was nothing small about it), my friend ordered Fettucini Alfredo, and her husband also ordered his own small cheese pizza. I think we ended up with about 10 take out containers. It was all amazing though, and the deep dish has a delicious thick crust and a very flavorful, slightly spicy sauce. Their approach is to put the sauce on top of the cheese, and it is very distinct. Anyone who has ever been there can recognize Pasquale's Pizza instantly.

The real test was when I went to my parents' house with my pile of take out containers, and they all disappeared within 5 minutes despite the fact that my family had just eaten birthday cake. My mother knew I had gone to Pasquale's without me telling her, and without there being any kind of label or logo on the bag or container. She was pretty excited about it.

On my drive back, I ran into a pretty bad rainstorm near Cleveland. I could still smell the campfire in my hair from the night before where I sat with my aunt and grandpa. I mentioned to them these metal devices we used to have that made pies in the campfire with white bread and pie filling. My grandpa didn't remember, instead he said "I had a wife once who did a lot of cooking". I couldn't figure out why he didn't say "your grandma" or "do you remember the time when she made more pies than there were people at the house?" Then I wished we had that pizza in Albany, but I knew that if we did it wouldn't be the same.