Category Archives: food

Bashakill Wineyard

Bashakill Vineyard

You get in a van with five or six other people at 9am. The van is brand new but the dashboard has an analog clock. As far as you know in your groggy, caffeine-deprived state, your destination is somewhere off Exit 17 of I-87. You’re not entirely sure because the website for Bashakill Wineyard still uses Mapquest.

IMG_6804

After a few inevitable stops you arrive around noon-thirty. Nobody else is there and your party has the choice of tables to spread out the food everyone has brought. Liberties are taken arranging them around woodstoves. You all participate in the $4 tasting, with bonus wineglass. If you stick around long enough you can even take home an overlooked wineglass or four.

Bashakill

You cross the narrow road and spend an hour or two on the trails along the Bashakill. You’re greeted on your return by the live music that starts every Saturday at two. At three there’s a tour of the wine cave which isn’t so much of a tour since the entire cave is about as big as a conference room. A conference room full of oak barrels with a knowledgeable, heavy-lidded man explaining the minutiae of wine production.

Bashakill Vineyard

Bashakill Vineyard

For no reason other than it seems entirely appropriate there are horses. Lots of them. You admire the horses. They are stalwart companions of their riders. You may have stepped in their shit on your hike. Several hours and bottles of wine later you and your friends have all shared your food — venison cheese dip and highly noisome cheese and salt & vinegar chips — and several bottles of wine stand empty. The mood is high. The wine was delicious. You pile back into the van, not necessarily taking the seat you had before, and someone pilots you toward home. The mood is high. The sun is setting. Maybe the weekend has just begun.

Almost Foodies Soup Swap 2011

Almost Foodies Soup Swap 2011

That is a lot of soup.

This is the fifth year that my friends at almost foodies have held a soup swap, and from the sound of it this was probably the most successful. An amazing 167 quarts of soup exchanged hands and everyone went home happy.

The concept is pretty simple: bring six quarts of soup, trade, and leave with a different six quarts of soup (actually I think last year I ended up with one of my own). The idea came when Knox Gardner started swapping soup with his friends in the late ’90s, and in 2006 decided to unleash the idea on the Internet. It went, as the kids say, “viral” and here we are five years later, with national soup swap day. You can read more of the story at the official soup swap website; yes, the official soup swap website is a thing.

Almost Foodies Soup Swap 2011

Having a freezer stocked with your personal soupsplosion is great, but it’s all about the gathering. Before the draft-style swapping, everyone presents their offering; there were multiple stories of soups inspired by restaurants, blogs, and family members (or soon-to-be family members), some good jokes, and plenty of delectable salesmanship. While it’s not a competition, everyone wants to bring their A game and nobody wants to have multiple containers of their soup standing at the end. If that happened to you, I feel your pain — last year I didn’t realize that half of the event is about selling your own soup and my butternut squash description failed to impress. No worries though; I guarantee someone will later tell you that they loved it, whether yours was the first picked or last.

I had planned to get a list of all soups present but that was too difficult a task for my sloppy handwriting. But here are the soups I went home with:
– Southwestern Pumpkin
– Meaty Minestrone
– Red Lentil with Coconut Milk (and lentils glued to the label)
– Black Eyed Pea and Collard Greens
– Golden Squash Bowl
– Vegetable Lentil
The golden squash bowl I went for first; I love squash soups and it had white miso and truffle powder — like I said, people brought their A game. I’d love to hear about the soups I missed; feel free to leave a comment about the soup you made or one you ate!

The capital region has an astounding density of bloggers and several showed up to talk soup. Of course my friends Sebastien (the red lentil soup was his) and Albany Eats were there, and I’m pretty sure I saw DelSo and Elizabeth Likes. If I missed you, let me know so I can add your link!

It’s a little hard to believe so much awesomeness can be contained in one small house, but it happened, and it was great. I enjoyed meeting some new people who share a love for soup and give a big shout out to our hosts for all their hard work, I know it was not easy to clean up after. My only complaint is that national soup swap day only comes once a year…

Almost Foodies Soup Swap 2011 Almost Foodies Soup Swap 2011

Related Posts:
Spicy Smoked Pork and Black Bean Soup
Almost Foodies Soup Swap 2010

Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup

Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup

Saturday, January 22 is National Soup Swap Day, and the kind and generous folks over at almost foodies have invited me to participate. This is the second year I’ll be soup swapping, and I’m looking to redeeming myself after previously failing to sell a very straightforward but tasty squash soup. Soup swap note: bring some marketing terms; try artisanal, slow cooked, sausagey, French, or fresh-ground pterodactyl.

Assuming you’re literate you’ve figured out that I made a Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup. I thought about calling it Spicy Smoked Pork and Black Bean Soup or maybe Spicy Black Bean Soup with Smoked Pork but you know, I want to be more direct here. So that fella up top is a little over one and a half pounds of smoked pork hock, from Locust Grove Farms in Argyle NY. I credit him with basically all of the deliciousness in my soup; thanks, little buddy.

Let’s run down a quick how-to. I don’t want to call this a recipe because I think it’s better if you’re a little loose with the rules. And I don’t claim this is the best spicy smoked pork black bean soup ever, but at the end I’ll tell you how to make it the best ever.

Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup

You’re going to start with chopped vegetables. Basically, whatever variation of mirepoix you like, just make sure you’ve got a liberal amount of fresh hot chiles in there. I added some green pepper for some extra non-carrot sweetness, and what you see above is for three pounds of dried beans. I could have gone heavier on the onions, in fact. You want to sauté all that for a couple minutes, add some chopped garlic, then sauté (or maybe sweat) until everything’s soft. The carrots are the hardest so I guess cook until those are soft. Then you have a choice: purée now or purée later. Doing it now will give you a smoother soup in the end with fewer obvious vegetable chunks, but that means puréeing twice, and also seeing what this would all look like, if you ate it, after two hours. I say if you have an immersion blender, add a few cups of water and go to town, otherwise you’ve got enough work later, don’t wear yourself out with all the puréeing.

Next comes that delectable hock. It will smell so good you’ll just want to bite a chunk off right now, and I won’t stop you. It’s good stuff, but if you can’t get your hands on it, I’ve been known to use any other smoked pork product or even salt pork. I’d bet even those smoked turkey parts you find near the tubs of chicken livers would work fine, if you try it, let me know. But the hock has just the right amount of connective tissue and tasty marrow to really bring a soup together. So, after that’s in there, add the beans you’ve been soaking — you did soak your beans, right? — and then add water to cover by about a half inch. Cover, simmer for about three hours, and try to keep your mind off of soup as the scent of slowly cooking pork fills your home.

Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup

Now you can take your pork out and let it cool a bit before yanking off all the meat you can. There’s going to be some skin and fat on there (I’ll look the other way as you eat that), but you want to get as much of that meat as possible, and then dice that to go back in the soup. This particular measuring device above indicates that I recovered a volume of pork equal to half that of the human brain. In universal terms, that’s 25,000 unicorn tears.

Before you reintroduce the pork, purée those beans. They’re going to be pleasantly soft by now, and all that gelatin is going to help make a nice thick soup. You don’t have to make it baby food smooth, in fact I like a few chunky beans here and there, but it’s up to you. I suppose you could even get out the potato masher or something and do a really coarse job of it, and get a bit of a workout. Screw Crossfit, all you need is souping.

Spicy Smoked Pork Black Bean Soup

When you’re done it should look something like this. Actually, it should look better because soup is hard to photograph. My serving suggestion is rice but try it over bread, your significant other, whatever. It’s good stuff, and with the right amount of chiles it has a building heat, not that searing full-frontal burn.

So I said I’d tell you how to make this even better. The key is to switch up the recipe however you want. I believe the best thing about cooking is flexibility; with a little knowledge you can pull together anything you want with your own personal touch. A soup like this is a great example because if you know how to sauté and simmer you have all the technical details down — if you can’t figure those two out, date someone who cooks. The rest is up to you, go ahead and use different beans, meat, vegetables, spices, herbs, whatever. Make it taste the way you want, and that will be the best food in the world.

I’m hoping this one goes over well at the swap, look for an update soon. In the meantime, here’s last year’s swap.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2010

Stayed in town to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. Had a small group, not big enough for a turkey, so I chose to roast my favorite bird: duck. That’s it there, just out of the oven. I keep it fairly simple; stuff with some onion, lemon, garlic, and celery greens, steam for 45 minutes, salt the skin and then roast. I think this was the best I’ve done yet, And I even managed to do a half decent job carving the breast.

I’d have a few more photos but I was much busier cooking than I was shooting.

Thanksgiving 2010

The final menu:
Roast duck
Tuna quiche
Mashed rutabaga
Pureed potatoes
Roasted carrots and parsnips with brown sugar glaze
Roasted squash with maple syrup glaze
Tequila lime cranberry sauce
Fresh greens & tomato salad
Stove Top Stuffing¹
Gravy (the real kind)
Pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream

It was a busy five hours in the kitchen but it all came together. Not listed: the pound of butter we used.

Thanksgiving 2010

Those are the potatoes ready to be pureed. I like to rice them, because it lets me convince other people to buy a bizarre kitchen tool. Also, you can make some pretty unappetizing comparisons during the process. Or you can call it the Potato Fun Factory, your choice.

I would have liked to source more of the food locally/sustainably/organic, but that just wasn’t happening on this scale this year. The rutabaga, salad greens, pumpkin, eggs (for the pie), and squash were local, and the squash was even grown in Center Square. The carrots came from Laura’s family near Syracuse, so that’s sort of local, and the tomatoes were organic. I guess with more lead time I could have gotten a local duck, but if anyone has any leads on that or cranberries I’d love to hear it. I make cranberry sauce almost weekly as long as they’re available, and my prostate loves me for it. Because of the antioxidants, you see.

Thanksgiving 2010 Thanksgiving 2010

We even went all the way and made duck stock from the carcass while playing with XBox Kinect. I do not advise cranking dat Soulja Boy after a full Thanksgiving dinner and several glasses of wine.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving too.

¹I like to cook as much from scratch as possible but no American Thanksgiving is complete without Stove Top.

Homemade Pasta

Homemade Linguine

After hearing about my attempt to make pumpkin ravioli — involving rolling dough with a wine bottle — Laura’s mom loaned her this for-real pasta roller. It’s so authentic, none of the instructions are in English. But it’s so basic no instructions are really needed (except DO NOT WASH which was very clearly marked on the box).

Homemade Linguine

Now, the ravioli worked fine, but this machine made my job much, much easier this time. I’ve watched enough Mario Batali to know to use the well method; I’m using 2/3rd cup flour per egg, the leftover is good as bench flour for the rolling and cutting. The roller has cutters for wide and thin noodles, so we just kept it simple this time and did a linguine. I’m pretty psyched to start stuffing whatever I want into filled pasta though: cheese, potatoes, egg yolks, sardines, green plastic army men.

Homemade Linguine

After making fresh pasta, it seems criminal to call the stuff in a box the same thing. It should be “dried wheat product” or something. There’s absolutely no comparison. I can’t deny the convenience of the store bought stuff, but really, if you have a few spare minutes to prep a meal, look up some pasta recipes. The aforementioned wine bottle works fine to roll it out, but machines like the above are in the $30 range. It will change your entire worldview — about pasta, at least. I know the foodie (hate that word) movement seems to be telling people that they can make tamales and beef Wellington as a quick dinner after work, but that’s not what this is. You really can make your own pasta, and it’s the kind of simple pleasure that cooking at home is all about.

Why put up with bad food when you can make the good stuff? I’m looking forward to a winter full of this:

Homemade Linguine

Related Posts:
How to Cut a Pie Pumpkin
Roasted Pumpkin Soup

How to Cut a Pie Pumpkin

Pie Pumpkin

Even the sharpest knife is going to have a problem with a pumpkin. And unless you have deadly aim, you’ll get mixed results with a strong thwack from a cleaver. A hacksaw is the best solution I’ve found — pull off the stem and they’re open in seconds.

These pumpkins turned into these:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

And this:

Pumpkin Pie

If you buy canned pumpkin you’re a chump. To make pumpkin pie, cut, scoop, and roast pie pumpkins. Combine .5 cup granulated sugar and .25 cup brown sugar with some powdered cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and salt (when people ask for your secret, it’s the nutmeg; add a little extra). Beat two eggs and add the dry stuff. Beat in 1.75 cup roasted pumpkin. Beat in a can of evaporated milk. Pour into shell and bake, 15 minutes at 425F and then 350F until done.

Traditionally pumpkin is boiled. But roasting brings out the pumpkinishness in a way you can’t get otherwise, and is actually a lot easier. The other secret here is that this is technically a custard, not a pie, so you don’t even need a pie shell, just bake in a water bath. And by the way, if you buy whipped cream, you’re also a chump. Make your own! The recipe is included in the name: whipped. cream.

Related posts:
Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

I really do promise this will not turn into a food blog.

I just cook a lot more when the weather gets cold. This weekend it’s a variation on the butternut squash soup I made for the Almost Foodies Soup Swap last year (check out the Almost Foodies blog too, if you want to get hungry). Pumpkin is a squash, and local pie pumpkins are cheap and plentiful right now, not to mention cheap.

Roasted Pumpkin SoupAny squash recipe will do, really, so I won’t get too specific here, just remember that butternuts have that huge meaty lobe and a small seed chamber, so pound for pound you’ll get less flesh from most other squash. You want to cut those bad boys in half, and right here is where some people give up altogether. Cutting pie pumpkins is not always easy; be careful. I’ve been known to use my favorite kitchen tool, the hacksaw. Once those are split, scoop out the seeds and save for roasting (the oven’s already going to be on so why not), and roast the pumpkin halves cut side down until they’re done. How do you know when they’re done? When they’re roasted. If you’re lucky, they do this:

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

If the skin comes off in one nice piece of shell, you’re golden. And for really impressive plating, clean and save those shells to get something like the leading photo above.

Roasted Pumpkin SoupCut the roots and leafy ends off some leeks (tip I picked up: save useful bits and freeze them to make stock from later), and clean those really, really well. I don’t know anybody who likes eating sand; if you do, then don’t clean them so well. Leeks are a bit of a French touch but you can use onions, shallots, scallions, celery, garlic scapes, green plastic army men, whatever you want. Chop the leeks — doesn’t have to be a fine chop, we’ll puree all this later — and mince some fresh ginger. How much? Come on, I don’t know, however much you want, just remember a little fresh ginger goes a long way. I think I used about a tablespoon. Sweat those in a big pot for a while in your preferred fat and add your pumpkin meat and several cups of stock. Probably not beef stock but you can try it. Not too much stock, we’ll round it out later.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

It should look something like that. Now, if you have an immersion blender, the next twenty minutes of your life are going to be a lot easier than mine. But puree this whole mess by whatever means possible, then put it back in a pot. Add more stock to bring it to your desired soupy consistency. This is where I like to add a little cream to round things out, and maybe some extra herbs to bring out or fight with the pumpkinosity. I go with nutmeg, but it’s up to you, cinnamon, more ginger, pepper, curry powder, go wild. Let that all simmer until the flavors play nicely with each other and serve nice and hot. The roasted seeds make a nice garnish, but croutons do in a pinch.

If you’re trying to seriously impress the average person with your kitchen skills, this is not the dish to make. It’s a subtle, satisfying bowl that belies the amount of time and effort that went into it. Few people will applaud a good squash soup — but they sure as hell will go back for seconds.