Via Fresca & The Ruck – A Day of Tasty Things


I met up with Daniel B. for lunch at Via Fresca the other day. I was having one of those days where I just could not get full and was perma-hungry, so I was all “DAAAAN! LUUUUNNNCCHH! PAAHHHLEEAASSEEE!”. He kindly obliged, and you can see him checking in on Yelp or AoA or somesuch like that.

We split a meatball sub and a broccoli rabe & provalone panini. He declared the meatballs the best he’s had in Albany. They were veal (ahh, love!) and very tender. Not the least bit dense. Slathered in a good amount of sauce and mozzarella cheese. Even the sub was nicely toasted.

The broccoli rabe panini was not my favorite out of all of their paninis, but Dan also declared a fondness for it as well. Don’t get me wrong, it was perfectly executed, but oh man how can a plain ol’ veggie panini compare to their meatier and heftier ones? (Geeze, can you tell I was in eat-like-a-monster mode?)

I love, love, love their breads. Always so fresh, with just the right amount of soft innard and crusty exterior. It kills me when people in Guilderland pass up Via Fresca for subs. Usually, they think it’s too “fancy”, but I try to convince them that it’s okay, yes, “fancy” if you mean “good ingredients, but price-wise, it’s not bad either. They’re around $7.50 for most sandwiches, and the size of my freaking arm.

Mini cannoli are $1.55 each. I had two and could have probably eaten an entire sleeve more. So creamy and good, and cannoli are filled to order. Love it.
Lunch would have been somewhere in the $20 range, but I had an Entertainment coupon to use up ($7 off, yeah!), so it was only around $13 total for us.

Monday and Wednesday nights at The Ruck are wing nights. And by golly, nothing follows a lunch at Via Fresca like wings at The Ruck for dinner. $0.40 wings, or $4 orders of 10 wings that usually cost $7. Almost half-price! And the drink prices aren’t bad either. Happy hour runs 5-7, and then Wing Night starts following happy hour.


It was busy when we went, because who can resist the call of cheap, delicious wings? An order each of BBQ and medium. The medium wings still have a good amount of kick to them, but I managed to make my way through a good amount of them.
I can definitely see the allure of medium AND BBQ sauce on a wing together.

And guess what? I think I came close to eating 10 whole wings! I love wings, but I tend to bitch out pretty early and get full when I order them out. But Albany John loves it because he knows that if I get wings, it means he gets wings, too.

I can’t put my tastebuds just on it, but their house-made blue cheese dressing has some non-traditional seasonings in it. Or maybe lots of mayo. At times it tastes vaguely like there’s a hint of Ranch dressing in there. I don’t know. I’m a ranch-hater, so whenver I think I taste ranch in it, I’ll just focus on the blue.

Apple Cake

Sometimes I can be a real jerk face. Like, I meant to go apple picking early in the season, with my buddy Mark Singelais, but due to my poor planning, I ended up bailing on him while driving around Altamont trying to find the farm before I had to get to another appointment. Man, what a douchey move, right?

But after I went apple picking, I felt badly about ditching out, so I made Mark a cake and dropped it off to him at the TU center. It got some decent props. Wanna know my secret? Tons of butter and sugar. It makes any cake better!

No, but it was really just an upside down cake with apples on top, and sponge cake underneath. Easy peasy. Make it, and you can give it to your friends and try to be less of a douche.

Canned Salmon Sushi

Canned salmon sushi. You heard that right. Canned salmon sushi. It’s a combination of cheap, lazy, inventive, and DELICIOUS.

I’d already gone to the store to get sushi rice and a cucumber, and figured Albany John and I would do vegetarian sushi for dinner. This would have been fine, except I hadn’t realized we didn’t have much in the way of vegetables for sushi aside from carrots and the aforementioned cucumber. And a few eggs. The hell? Yeah, I do that a lot. Plan on something, but kind of forget a key and crucial part of it. Like the fillings for sushi part. Jeeze.

So foraging around the house, I found a can of salmon.

Oh, we’re gonna make this work.

And it did. I pretty much just added some stuff to it so it came out like spicy tuna mix/dip stuff. Whatever you want to call it, it made an adequately bastardized sushi filling. Cooked spicy tuna roll.

Recipe? It’s barely one: Canned salmon, spoonful or two of cottage cheese, spicy condiment (to taste). Mix to combine and YOU’RE DONE! Ta Da! Cooked, cheap spicy salmon rolls. And no mayo!

And then there was everything else I made. Combinations of tamago, strips of cucumber and carrot, and some acorn squash. And tons of toasted black and white sesame seeds. Soooo good.

Tamago is super easy to make. And super tasty. Basically, you take 2-3 eggs, add in a shot (1.5 oz) each of mirin and soy sauce, and then cook it like this. I just make them in a large pan over low heat. It doesn’t come out in a perfect square, but no one will notice when you’re eating sushi rolls, or cut the ends off to make nigiri sushi.

And don’t forget to toast your nori! Just a leeettttell bit. It changes the flavor of the nori up so you don’t wanna stop shoving piece after piece in your mouth.

Here’s the last platter of sushi. I made about 9-10 rolls of sushi out of 1.5 C sushi rice (dry and then cooked) and 5 sheets of nori (cut in half). And it was way easy for two people to eat. Maybe too easy.

I made most of my rolls inside out, because they stick together better for me when I roll them. But I also rocked out a few traditionally shaped (but not filled) rolls. They held their shape better than the inside-out rolls. Actually, the tamago rolls are probably the closest thing to traditional there.

Making your own sushi is time consuming (I’m no Chef Saso (oh man, I miss those indulgence rolls)), but if you’ve done it a few times, it’s still fun and way cheaper than going out.

Pretzel Rolls

I just discovered Food Gawker this weekend, and man, my weekend was spent gawking at pages and pages of food and not much else. Addictive stuff. Well, assuming you like food. I found a beautiful looking picture on Preztel Rolls, and had to give them a whirl.

They came out quite nicely – a tight, dense crumb that was pleasingly chewy and moist.

Here’s the dough plops on their second rise. I did the mixing and shaping – you guys get the idea. Not too hard or anything. This recipe will yield 6 rolls.

And don’t worry about making perfect dough balls. Just pinch all the seams on one end, make that the bottom and you’re good. I mean, they’re pretzel rolls. If they look a little rustic, it’s okay. They’re pretzel rolls.

After they surived the first rising, shaping, then second rising, it’s time to add baking soda to some boiling water. Then plop those babies in. About 30 seconds on each side.

After both sides have gotten 30 seconds of exposure to the baking soda-water, take them out. Hello, ugly lookin’ dough ball!

Put them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and then mix up a whole egg. Spread the egg on top of each roll. This will make it golden brown and pretty.

If you’re anything like me, you have pretzel salt kicking around the kitchen from when you bought frozen soft pretzels one time several years ago and didn’t use all of the salt. See? It’s not hoarding if it gets used eventually.

Anywhoozle, sprinkle the salt over those eggy buns, and then slash through the tops once or twice, because they’re going to expand a bit when you bake them, and this will make them look precise and decorated instead of ugly and stupid.

Pop them in a 425 F oven for about 15 minutes, and tada! Holy shit, these actually look like pretzels in roll form!!

They tasted like a cross between a bagel and a soft pretzel. Personally, I’m down for anything that doesn’t require me to use lye (because I WILL burn myself. I jabbed myself in the finger with a fork doing dishes this weekend. There’s no way in hell I’m going near lye) and results in a delicious soft, warm food product that reminds me of pretzels.

I pared the Pretzel Roll recipe down some, so here’s what I used:
Dough:
3/4 C warm water
3-4 g instant yeast
1 t sugar

1 t melted butter
1 t salt
2 1/8 C Flour

Combine water, yeast, and sugar together first. Mix until blended (I don’t do the proofing thing with yeast). Then add in the flour, salt, and melted butter. Knead about 10 minutes, or until it’s elastic and soft. It might seem like it’s not going to get there, but it will.

Let it rise, covered, for about an hour, until doubled in size. Then punch down, and make rolls. This recipe will make about 6 rolls. Cover again and wait another hour.

Later On:
Water
1/4 C Baking Soda
1 egg
Pretzel Salt

Now prep that water and put it in a pan on the stove until it boils. Add in baking soda (it’ll be cool to watch), then toss in your dough balls.

30 seconds on each side, then take them out and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Beat the egg, brush it on the rolls. Sprinkle with pretzel salt, and slash the top with a knife once or twice.


Bake 15-20 min at 425 F.

Happy Sue Day!

Last Thursday the Mr and I headed out to Schenectady Bombers for Sue’s birthday. Here she is with Sexy Beast and her sexy cocktail glass with the free margarita in it.

Sexay!

It was trivia night, and Sue totally called my stars and stripes when she said she was glad it wasn’t karaoke! Haha (Oh, I really dislike karaoke). The trivia was way easier than the one time I went to the Albany Bombers on trivia, but oh man it sounded so loud! Then again I’m sensitive to loud noises, so yeah. Good people make for good times.

Albany John and I got an order of disco fries and rancho (ranchero?) wings. And some deliciously cheap beers. As you can see, Albany John hovered in on the wings, but I liked that they cooked them extra crispy. So crispy. So crunchy and good. I was curious about ranchero, and it is like garlic butter wings with loads of parsely in the sauce. Tasted good to me. But I have to tell you, it’s always hard to pass up the tequila wings. They are SO. Good.

The fries had extra crunchiness to them… More like Burger King, less like Mickey D’s in terms of texture. So yum! And gobs of cheese. Yum yum yum. I heart the disco fries.


And who couldn’t heart good meals with this loveable jerk (chicken taco), Sue? I would personally love a roll of stickers that say “Jerk”. No I wouldn’t. Because then I would get drunk and start labeling everyone.

Happy Birthday, Sue!!

Pizza Musings

The 2010 Tournament of Pizza has come to an end. All Over Albany’s fun match up of local pizzerias and their pies has been running strong for three years, and I have been lucky enough to be one of the judges each year. That I was even picked at all was pretty darned cool, since way back in 2008 I was even more reclusive than I am now, and didn’t have any contact info posted. But still, those AoA editors perservered, and here I am shoving pizza in my mouth for the third year in a row.

We’ve all seen changes and growth, like the addition of Daniel B. as a judge last year, and the switch up of the pie choices in some rounds.

But can I tell you? One of my favorite things that has changed over the years are the venues in which we eat pizzas. The first meeting in 2008 was in Saratoga, in the park. We ate pizzas in the cold and then a hobo came by as we were leaving and asked us for some food. Later years would see us moved indoors. It’s okay, we’re house trained.

None of us get sick of pizza. Seriously, it’s something to look forward to every week. A veritable buffet of pizzas. Sometimes everything is so good it’s hard to pick a winner. I mean, other times there’s a clear-cut funky pizza, but those are pretty sparse in comparison.

People take their pizza seriously. Like, crazy seriously. Personally, I’ll pretty much eat anything you call pizza. Now the one big thing about pizza is consistency. It’s hard to put out the exact same product every time you bake a pizza pie. There’s different oven temperatures, humidity, and a bunch of other factors to consider that will affect how a pie comes out.
Sometimes this means that pizzas can come out horribly wrong. Like the year we got pizza from Jimmy’s in Lansingburgh (Troy) and I was like “Whaaaat? This is Jimmy’s? No way!” because the pie was a total 180 from what I’d normally ordered, and we taste them blindly. Like, I’d never seen a pie like that from them before, and I still haven’t seen a pie like that since. So sometimes things happen, and favorites have one hell of an off day.

Or DeFazio’s having a pizza to take home that tastes like the pies in the store now! Whhaaat? I’ve always said that this is a pie that needs to be eaten moments after coming out of the oven, but their regular crust held up just fine. The whole wheat was really good, but not great, so I think that still suffers a little bit in the take-home ride. But seriously, the possibility of take-home DeFazio’s makes me over-the-top Pizza Happy. The charred crust. The impossibly light and airy crust… oh, it’s all just so good. And so what if they lost in the end?

So what kind of pizza do I like? Well, personally I like all pizza. If it tastes good, I like it.

I grew up with NY thin crust (what’s up F & J’s in Washingtonville?!) as the general rule, but never had the whole NYC pizza experience. So I can’t really relate with “Well, it’s good for , but it’s not as good as a slice from Brooklyn,”. After I moved to Texas, where chain pizza is king, any kind of real pizza was a far off memory. Once I moved back, I was excited to have a mom and pop pizza place around the corner from me in just about every neighborhood. It’s something we take for granted in New York, but imagine if you moved somewhere and those crappy cheap Chinese take-out places were gone. Surreal.

So when I moved back, I’d like to think my tastebuds were more open to a world of pizzas, all hand made. I can only really think of a handful of pizzerias in the area I’d avoid ordering from, and given the sheer amount of pizzerias in the area, I think that’s impressive.

I think I’m going to trail off here, because otherwise I’m going to go into a whole thing on slices vs. whole pies from pizzerias, and that’s totally another post and it’s Friday and you guys probably don’t want to burn your eyeballs out on the screen.

XOXO – Pizza-flavored kisses!

Cholula Hot Sauces


For someone who doesn’t have much of a heat tolerance, I have a surprising amount of spicy condiments in my fridge. Some get used quicker than others, but I love the searing kick of something hot and spicy. When I was offered the chance to try out four of Cholula‘s hot sauces, I jumped at it.


I pretty much said “OH HECK YES!! I LOOOOVE CHOLULA!” and then ran to Albany John to be like “Oh my gosh! I’m getting free Cholula to try!! They make flavors we’ve never had before!” and “I swear to God, if you open that package before I do and try them, I. Will. Cut. You.” So great is my love of Cholula.




I’ve had the original a bunch of times to know that it’s good stuff. It straddles the border between spicy and painful, adding flavor and heat to whatever you slather it on. The original is good stuff, and a nice combination of piquin and arbol chiles that add a warm heat to dishes. I’ve also gotta say it is wildly easy to eat in large batches. I’ve seen them at Hannaford for about $2.89 per bottle. Not bad, but the way I can go through it, yikes, that could add up quickly.



I’ve never seen the chili garlic Cholula hot sauce, and holy moly, if you love the original, get the chili garlic! I love it! Sadly it is unavailable at Hananford, so I’ll see if I can’t order it online. Just the right amount of garlic flavor. I think I like it better than the original.

If the original and chili garlic Cholulas are the warm flavors, I’d classify the chipole and chili lime Cholulas as the cooler/tarter flavors. They had more of a vinegar note than the originals. The chipotle was good, but oh man, it had nothing on that chili garlic. Hannaford also sells the Chipotle Cholula, which might be better than the Tabasco Chipotle. I will have to try them both to compare, since Tabasco Chipotle has been one of my fave hot sauces for the past few years now.

The chili lime had tons of lime flavor. I thought it would be more of a back note. Out of all of them, this was probably my least favorite, but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Albany John loved it, and we’ve pretty much found out that we have opposing heat preferences. I tend to like the heat that is slower to build up and lingers, while he loves the quick and punchy hot sauces. Lemme put it this way, if you like Sriracha, you’ll like the chipotle and chili lime Cholula hot sauces.

I sampled the Cholula hot sauces with some homemade fish tacos, but dudes, Cholula goes well on just about everything. They’re great with eggs, with meat, beans… I haven’t really found a savory dish I don’t like it with.

Don’t let the restaurants Cholula advertises as being at fool you (I’m looking at you, IHOP and TGI Friday’s), they’re the real deal when it comes to flavor and balance.

I hope you will love them too, and then you can hang out with me and we can eat foods slathered in Cholula, but you should probably BYOB of Cholula, because if you use the last of my Cholula I. Will. Cut. You.

Applesauce

AppleSAUCE!!! So after picking all of those apples, I made some apple sauce. I’ve never been much of a fan of the stuff, but Albany John can really hit the sauce when the mood strikes.

I might not be a fan of applesauce, but man do I like eating it! And after making my own, I might actually like it after all.

So start off with a lot of apples. There’s about a dozen or so in here. I didn’t use them all, so go with about a dozen or so for two quarts of apple sauce. A mix of mutsus, golden delicious, empires, and probably another kind of apple I don’t know about, too.

Give them a good wash, and then peel them.

This apple corer-peeler thing is nifty, although I don’t use it that often. It also makes stellar potato rings. And they are suuuuuper cute. But anyway, I got this one from the Pampered Chef for an ungodly overpriced sum (it’s sturdy and will last, though, so I don’t mind that much), though you can find them for $12-20 just about any where. The designs can be different, but I prefer the kind with a clamp base on it over the kind with the suction cup base.

It can make a bit of a mess with apples and juice, so putting a towel underneath the entire thing is also a good idea, and will protect your counter tops and table tops.

The peeler has a side tool to take the skins off, which I didn’t use. You make apple sauce with the skins on. Who knew? Well, obviously not me.

I like this peeler since it makes the slices so uniformly thin. Figured it would cut down on cooking time. It definitely did. I added a little bit of water to them (1/4 c max) in a pan to prevent burning or sticking and cooked them down for a bit.

This was the end of cooking. I think it took me about 30 minutes or so to cook them until they were soft and mushy, stirring every so often. The volume pretty much reduced by half over the cooking time, too.

And then I was wondering, “How in the hell am I going to make THAT into apple sauce?” I have a grinder, so that was a possiblity, although I was really not sure how I would avoid making a mess, burning myself, and getting applesauce eerrvvrrryywhheerrrr. And then I looked around my kitchen some more, and, HELLO, mother flippin’ stick blender!

Immersion blenders are awesome for stuff like this. Kept it all in one pot, and very minimal mess and minor hot apple goo flickage around the kitchen. It took about two minutes to go from pot of mushy apple slices to applesauce. Sa-Weet!

I didn’t add any sugar. Just apples and some water. I actually liked this applesauce. Kind of pinky, which is a major bonus, and just tasted like fresh apples. I canned a quart jar and a cup jar, so we’ll see how it holds. Either way, it was easy, and probably the easiest thing I’ve canned so far.

Meanwhile, I left the remaining 3/4 quart to Albany John, and it gets his seal of approval.

All Good Bakers Giveaway

Check out what the All Good Bakers are offering! I’m always happy to host a giveaway:

All Good Bakers is offering a
GIVEAWAY this week in anticipation of their Community Supported Bakery Winter Bread
sign-up deadline (October 24). Post your thoughts about or favorite items
from AGB and they’ll draw a winner randomly on Friday by 12 noon
(winner will be posted in comments by 1pm).


Winner will receive $10 worth (your choice) of bread and/or baked goods to be
picked up on Saturday at the Delmar Farmer’s Market from
9-1! If you’d like more information about their CSB, please email Britin
& Nick of All Good at allgoodbakers@gmail.com

Apple Picking

On Sunday, I went apple picking. In Warwick, NY.

Met up with Sistah and my Dad, and we went to Och’s Orchards in Warwick, NY. We picked some apples. It was $24 for a half-bushel. I think those are for NYC tourists. But maybe not. I priced some up here in Albany, and it’s about $14 per half-bushel at the places I called. I liked their apple varieties more than the ones up here – lots to choose from. They were picking Golden Delicious, Jon a Golds, Red Delicious, Mutsus, and a few others. I’ve already kind of forgotten what I picked, but it was a fun experience.



Pick-Your-Own apples is a time honored tradition for me. I did it as a kid, and you pick tons of apples and eat a lot of apples while you pick them. YOU CAN PICK THEM FROM A TREE! It is FUN! My Dad and Sistah were kind of skeptical about the hype about apple picking, but they had a fun day, too.

I don’t know – it cost more down there than it would have up here, but I’m fine with it because I was with my Dad, Sistah, and husbear. And I loved the selection. Plus this one kind of apple was so good. I ate at least six of them while I was there.

I climbed a low hanging branch (because I have stubby, short legs) and reached some high fruit. There’s my Dad and Albany John. My Dad was in charge of eating apples, and Albany John was in charge of not letting me pelt him with apples as I tossed them from the higher branches.

How meta? An Asian taking a picture of an Asian taking a picture of scenery, and scenery.

Here’s the view from their gazebo, sans Asians. It might have seemed sparse at first, but they were picking from different fields. The closer apples were winding down for the season.

Hello, yum yum apples!
We went back to the farm store. I heard someone upstate talking about how the apples were cheaper in the store than it was to Pick-Your-Own, and heh, it’s also $4 cheaper per half bushel to buy them here than to pick your own winesap apples. (I didn’t really like the winesaps for eating. The skins were tough and the flavor was just so-so. Although they’d be GREAT cider apples)

I didn’t see any Cameo outside (or maybe I did, but was too spastic to notice), but these were closer to the PYO bushel pricing at $23.50.

I just think PYO apples is a fun experience. You spend time outside with family, and you can stay there as long as you want. It can add up if you buy cider donuts, cider, and other extras, but PYO apples is also AYCE apples, hee hee. Albany John told me it was a good thing they didn’t weigh me before I went in and when I came out.

After apple picking, we went to Bellvale Farms. My Dad and his lovely lady really like this place – it’s also in Warwick, and my Dad says the outlook reminds him of Switzerland. It was chilly and windy, but there was a very long line! All of the way out the door and queuing up along the road!

Here were their flavors of the day. Neat little counter. Small/one scoops are $3, and 2/large scoops are $4.

I got a small Black Dirt Blast (choclate coffee ice cream with fudge and toffee pieces). It was good. I’m not even sure why I got it since I don’t really like chocolate, but it was really rich and good. More like gelato. Lots of fudgy chunks, although I didn’t really taste the toffee.

Nice scenic overlook on those beautiful Orange County hills and valleys.
My Dad got Green Tea ice cream. It was very tea-like. Tasted like they made it from brewed green tea, and not from matcha. Had lots of floral notes and was very light tasting for something so rich. See what I’m talking about with the gelato comparison, though? It was so stretchy and viscous in comparison to regular hard ice cream.

A good way to spend the day.