Culinary Institute Groundbreaking at MCCC

Last Friday I took a road trip down to Towamencin, PA for the groundbreaking of Chef Tanner’s newest endeavor – the Culinary Arts Institute at Montgomery County Community College.
Here is Chef Tanner giving a speech to the crowd on his plans for the future of MontCo’s Culinary Arts program and their new building.
Here is my hometown favorite breaking ground with gigantic forks. I’m super psyched for the program once this new building is up and running (2013). Chef Tanner is a major source of influence for the design of the building, and school curriculum. These students are lucky to have such a passionate teacher and a program that supports them!

Leftover snackies! A bunch of cheeses and passed apps. Nom.
We went to the Farmer’s Daughter for dinner with some friends from the Canada Cutlery Company (they are there MCCC & SCCC have sourced their knife sets from for students). The company & conversation were great – looking forward to the time we all meet again!
They started the table off with some cold sweet rolls & butter.
Riesling for the table! Yum! I forget the name of it, but it was really tasty. We decided to split a bunch of appetizers go from there.
Squid & Octopus (~$14) – perfectly charred on the grill, and I could have easily had a side of the grilled endive. So good.
Little Mason Jars ($12). Cute, but skippable.
Charcuterie tasting. Ok, but failed to impress Chef Tanner – the westphalian ham tasted like regular deli ham. I’ve never had it before, but Chef Tanner told me it’s supposed to be a very intensely savory affair – smoked, salted, kind of like prosciutto.
Darn you, blurry picture! Poached pear & endive salad. The endive were in three wedges with the core attached and entirely raw. It was ok, but kind of an awkward salad. Why were the greens mixed, but the endive on the side?
I have no idea what this berry-centric salad was, but we didn’t order it and they brought it out in place of a different salad we ordered. The food came out quickly after we ordered it, but our waiter kept disappearing.
Baked burrata cheese came out a lot differently than we had imagined it… I think we were all picturing burrata that had a crusty exterior and its signature creamy interior. This baked in a pot, so it most similarly resembled fondue and kind of killed the texture difference. It could have just been baked mozzarella for all I know. And was there truffle oil in there?

This was a filling enough dinner for five, and we still had room for dessert. Our waiter took a while to get back to us to take our order, came when one of our party had left the table for a moment, and didn’t know what was on the menus he handed out. Oh, and he slammed so hard on the French press of coffee at the table that it exploded and almost burned Mrs. Tanner (but she’s spry and managed to jump out of the way).

Salted caramel tart for moi for dessert. Probably one of my fave dishes of the night. Mmm, salted caramel.
Pecan pie. With bourbon ice cream. Nom. Really good.
Blackberry bread pudding didn’t disappoint either. Desserts seem to be a strong point for Farmer’s Daughter.

Overall, I would go back for drinks and snacks at the bar, but probably not a full meal.

The next day we went to Philly! Chef & Mrs Tanner were like “Dim sum or Ethiopian?” And I was all “ETHIOPIAN, COME ON!”. I’m so deprived! We went to Kaffa Crossing for lunch. It’s both a coffee shop & an Ethiopian restaurant – a great business model and may offer a bit more stability for either business. (AHEM, ALBANY! Thief this model & open up an Ethiopian resto up here, pleaseee!)
We got Yebeg Tibs (lamb ribs – center), Kitfo (raw beef, tyvm! in the bowl), and Shiro Wot (ground chickpeas – the two brown plops). It came with some collards, cottage cheese, yellow lentils, and curried potatoes & cabbage as sides. And plenty of injera.

So good! The lamb ribs probably could have cooked for a bit longer, but they were well flavored.

Chickpeas – how do you go wrong with them? So creamy and warm.
The Kitfo was mildly spicy, and they brought out some more spicy seasoning to add to it.

And this place was SO CHEAP. It was $35 for three people and drinks. And the most expensive dish was my lamb at $11. ELEVEN DOLLAR for all of that LAMB.

Then we were off to tour around Reading Terminal Market.
It was really packed with people. And vendors. Lots of Dutch/Amish vendors, a few seafood counters, and some bakery counters. It was fun for people watching, but I didn’t see anything to pull me back for a second visit.

Many congratulations to Chef Tanner in heading up the new Culinary Institute at MCCC! I can’t wait to come back for dinner once the college opens.

The Dark Dinner

Last week I was invited as a guest of the Wishing Well Restaurant in Saratoga Springs along with some of their other close friends to try a new dining concept – The Dark Dinner. Guests gathered ’round for beverages (including a great Cava + St Germain) and passed nibbles before donning blindfolds and eating entirely in the dark. Executive Chef Patrick Longton created a fun menu for adventurous guests to enjoy.

The music for the evening was also curated by Burners UK frontman Jay Yager (you can check it out here on itunes).
Pork belly wrapped kimchi was a great little snack to enjoy pre-blindfolding.
And the ceviche was also a stand out dish. Fresh, great textures. It was almost as good as their luxe & buttery pate. Oh man, was that ever good. I think I had about three of them before realizing I still had a multi-course menu ahead of me.

After this, the waiters led each diner into the sectioned off dining room. It was lit with a few candles, but you had to wear your mask in. It was definitely an exercise in trust to put your hand in someone’s arm and have them guide you around a room. The staff doing so were very patient, though (and didn’t mind my occasional peeking from under the mask en route to the chair).

Bob Lee, the owner of the Wishing Well, and his staff made sure each and every guest was comfortable and addressed everyone by name.

Cheese filled puff pastry breadsticks were a fun starter in the dark. Inside the cups were mustard.
Nomtacular first course – Lobster, corn, & basil risotto on the left, and crispy lobster tempura on the right. It’s really interesting to be without your vision when trying a dish. I thought the tempura was shrimp, and the risotto was something with scallops in it. I might have to rethink my stance on risotto, because I finished all of this.

There were drink pairings with each dish. If you think trying to identify food without vision is tough, try identifying drinks!

A 2010 Tramin Chardonnay was served with the risotto, and Ichishima Silk Deluxe Junmai was served with the tempura. I’m normally not a sake person, but the Ichishima was quite smooth, sweet, and creamy.
The second dish was chicken galantine and linguine with pesto. The chicken was moist, and I found myself enjoying the red pepper flavor (which I usually really dislike). I thought the tomato was more of a grape, though!
Drink pairings were Cap de Faugeres 2004 & Bastianich Friuliano 2010
Lamb slider! One of the biggest “complaints” people had was that there was only one slider on their plate. Seriously, that good. Meaty and lamby – this was a comforting treat. I don’t think my slider had the decorative rosemary sprig. Either that, or I am really not paying attention to what I eat when meat is present. It was so good, I’ve decided that I need to make the trek back to Saratoga Springs with Albany John to try out some dishes at the Wishing Well in the near future.
An Ique Malbec was served as a wine pairing with the slider – robust and big!
Israelei couscous was a cold side dish with this, which was a bit clumpy, but tart and a nice foil to the lamb burger.
Blue Heron Pale Ale was the accompanying beverage with the salad. When everyone was trying it, we all knew it was beer, but what kind? Even the beer enthusiasts were having trouble trying to find the *exact* beer it was. If you can’t tell, these dinners are quite open to conversation with your table mates. You can also blissfully opt out of conversations if you’re the introverted type, because no one can see you or attempt to chat you up. But really, I’d suggest chatting – it’s fun trying to guess what exactly is going in your mouth.

Palate refresher! Peach bellini sorbet, which we weren’t allowed to eat until… Zardetto Proseco di Conegliano was poured atop. I loved this – not only was it a nice change of pace, but when you leaned in you could hear the bubbles fizzing with the sorbet.
The main was a mini beef tenderloin with a cheese potato croquette, and baby spinach timbale. A timbale! That would explain the light flavor & texture! This one was a real stumper – it was custardy soft, so I was thinking it was a mini crust-less quiche, or something eggy. I wasn’t imagining something so green!
The beef wellington was quite savory, thanks to the generous amount of Hudson Valley Foie Gras. I thought it was boar tempura! Haha. Boy was I off on that one!
And that potato croquette? Oh man, so good – very full of deliciously funky cheese.
I was totally digging the 2008 Hall Cabernet that was paired with this dish. It wasn’t so bold, and I thought it was similar to a lot of the gentle qualities that tempranillos have.
Dessert! These were four different kinds of truffles – chocolate & hazelnut, bacon & brown sugar, white chocolate & peanut butter, and POPROCKS!

I was in love with pretty much all of them. The Bottex Bugey Cerdon “La Cueille” was a wine like a hug, and a great way to end a fun meal.

Beverage pairing remnants. Each pairing was a treat, and really complemented the dishes they were paired with. I am definitely going to try some more sakes after this event, and am thinking some blindfolded drink tastings might be a thing in my future.

This was the first Dark Dinner evening, and I certainly hope it won’t be their last.

Photos kindly provided courtesy of the Wishing Well & Toque Consulting.

Germania Hall

Last night Albany John and I were looking for something low-key, but out of the house to do. We went over to Germania Hall for their Friday Night Dinner. Germania Hall is a cozy community association centered on German heritage. It’s like going to your German grandmother’s house for dinner (the service is so sweet & caring!). They have some rotating specials on different weeks. This week was Meatloaf & Sauerbraten.

You get the soup & salad bar with your meals. Nothing to write home about, but the soup was Manhattan Clam Chowder, with a lot of clams. Not too shabby.
Soup! Salad! Salty! But tasty.
Albany John got the sauerbraten. Fork-tender piece of beef, that tasted like apple cider vinegar was its main marinade. It was a little on the sweet-&-sour side for me, but Albany John loves apple cider vinegar, so he was really happy with this.
I went for meatloaf & potato pancakes. You can choose between either potato pancakes or mashed potatoes for your carb. Crispy pan-fried potato pancakes were nice. Bigger than my fist, and not oily or gummy.

Meatloaf was pretty decent. Good meaty flavor overall. And how can you say no to gravy? Meatloaf is one of those foods that is generally foreign to me – I didn’t grow up eating it, and I’ve probably only had it a handful of times in my life. I definitely find it an interesting dish.

Oh yeah, it also comes with a veg, and we both chose brussels sprouts. Kinda cooked all the way through and mushy, but hey, I’m not gonna turn down a veggie.
Twenty five bucks & two puddings and some coffee later, we were outta there. They take MasterCard & Visa in addition to cash. Can’t beat that for a three-course meal.

The rice pudding tasted homemade. Vanilla was on the instant/gloppy side of things, but just made me think more of grandma-style home cooking (kinda like the filling my English Nana would use for a pie). Was this a culinary evening to rival any others? No, but sometimes it’s nice to go out for some food made simply & with love. I’ve got a soft spot for cultural community centers because they help preserve customs (and meals!) of yore.

There’s also a breakfast buffet going this Sunday from 9-12. $7 for adults, something like $4 for kids.

Sausage Making

Last Monday I went to take Christian Noe’s (of Nighthawks Kitchen) class on sausage making that the Arts Center in downtown Troy, NY. The next class is May 23rd, 2012, and you should totally sign up. It’s a really informative session for only $38! They’re in the evening, so if you’re a bit on the later side of things like me, it’s perfect!

We made three kinds of sausage – Italian, chorizo, and bratwurst.

Christian starts off with a quick intro into sausage making, and soon starts into chopping some lightly frozen bits of pork shoulder.
Then it’s placed into a grinder – two grinders are used. The big, sexy one; and the Kitchenaid attachment.
Everyone in the class jumps in to grind meat! Unsurprisingly, the Kitchenaid is a little slower than the big pro grinder, but gets the job done just as nicely.
However, now I want a big pro grinder for sausage. I wanted to take this class partially to see if I wanted to sink the dough into buying sausage making equipment, since I’ve also got a love of curing meats as well. And now it seems Christian’s class has given me a newfound sausage-making lust, too.
Christian’s class is really low-key and easy to understand. Very conversational, and you get a packet of the recipes you make and some handy tips & pointers, plus local shops to buy your sausage-making apparati.
The spices were already portioned out on plates, and easily mixed in with the meats.
I think this was the bratwurst.
And then the sausage-stuffing attachment goes on the Kitchenaid.
Meats are put into stuffers – there’s also a pro stuffer Nighthawks uses for their sausages that handles 5 lbs at a time. Want. WANT.
But you know what you need to stuff sausages?

Casings, my friend. You need lots of casings to stuff sausages with! These are quite hardy and easy to rinse out. Don’t fear tearing them.

You see that plate in the foreground?
This one here? It’s sausage patties! You can grill up some sausage meat to see how the flavors are and modify accordingly, if you so choose. You you can just make patties, but come on… who doesn’t love the snap of a naturally cased sausage?

Sausage stuffing is quite a breeze with the big pro stuffer. Tip: Watering your equipment and tables is a good idea. It helps keep everything lubricated and moving quickly.
You can poke holes with a pin or small poker to get air pockets out. Don’t use a fork – too big.
Don’t twist yet – just make one bit roll of sausage before you make links.
The Kitchenaid stuffer was more finicky than the pro-stuffer. It took a lot more force and time, but if you’ve already got a Kitchenaid at home, this will probably do you just fine. I don’t have a Kitchenaid at home, and don’t see myself buying it purely for sausage-making needs. Check out those beautiful chorizo & Italian links! It’s really easy to form links – just twist every other portion of them. The casings hold very quickly, so even when they’re cut, they hold their shape.
He’s got a knife!! Hehe, that’s just a part of the air pricker contraption.
Then it was time for… sampling! These bratwursts were simmered with lots of onions and beer. Loooove.
Linky love.
This might be some of the best chorizo I’ve ever had. Crazy to know it was made within 2 hours! So fresh, so good. I don’t know if I can go back to store-bought. Also, not crazy-greasy like a lot of other chorizo I’ve had in my day.
The night ends with us sampling all of the sausages, and taking some home as well. Albany John was quite a happy dude that night!

I’m also a happy gal – sausage making is easy and relatively frugal. I can’t wait to get my hands on hands on some gear and start making sausages!

Mezza Note – Guilderland Restaurant Week

Daniel B., Crunchy Chelle, and I went out to Mezza Note for their restaurant week menu. Yes, I’m again way late to the party since Guilderland Restaurant Week is so long gone. First off, Crunchy Chelle is so fun to meet in person! And her and Daniel B. are so nice to put up with my late-arriving self.

Bread + olive oil & vinegar. Nom. Really good. And olive tapenade! I want a bucket of it. So good.
I went with the Chestnut & Winter Squash Gnocchi with buttery sage sauce for my primi dish. It was ok, but a poor selection on my part. It was well executed, but I am just not a sweet appetizer kind of gal. The Profussor ordered the exact same dishes that I did. I’m assuming this was so one of my errant forks didn’t find its way onto his plate like it usually does (which, as you can imagine, he loves).

Our waiter, who really reminded me of a young Christopher Walken, noted my lightly-nibbled plate and apologized for me not liking it. It was nice, I suppose.

Albany John got the meatball soup. The meatballs were a little tough, but they were small, so it’s not too surprising. The flavors were great, though. Hearty and well-rounded.
And now my pictures sux0rz. Sorry. Chelle got the Saratoga chips with cheese crumbles.
For his salad course, Albany John got the mixed green salad. S’okay.
I got the Caesar salad, which was really well-dressed (light), and came with anchovies! Yum! So good!
Albany John’s main was the Siciliana. Rigatoni with spicy sausage and eggplant in pomodoro sauce. I thought this would be boring, but the flavors were fun and played off of each other well. Warm & hearty without being greasy & heavy.
Chelle got a rabbit pasta, although she thought it didn’t taste discernibly rabbity.
Profuss & I got the Trota Picatta atop lemon risotto. While I’m not a risotto fan, I do love trout. I actually enjoyed some of this risotto, and ate a good 1/3 of it! The trout was perfectly cooked.
Although, just being a teensy bit picky, the skin wasn’t crispy, and a textural difference would have been quite enjoyable. However, fish skin in any form is enjoyable by yours truly, so even soggy fish skin is quite welcome in my book.
Our waiter told us that the tiramisu was made in-house by the owner and was really worth trying. The creamy parts were light & tasty, but this was more of a tiramisu cake than a true tiramisu. The layers were fluffy cake-like layers (if they weren’t cake) and only lightly sprinkled with liqueur. It was kind of like angel food cake with tiramisu cream. Not something I’d get again if I were hankering for tiramisu.

The service was enjoyable, but I’m not sure if the food was enough to draw me back at non-restaurant week prices.

Daniel B. and I were still a bit hungry after we left, so we went to TCBY for fro-yo. I picked white chocolate, which was really chemically-tasting and artificial. My topping choices weren’t much better. Def stick with the original/unflavored yogurt flavor, or a sorbet.

Pecan Pie

I took a shitty picture, but this pie was fucking awesome. Pecan pie with tons of toasty-tasting pecans. Pillsbury crust was really good, too. Totally flaky and crisp throughout. I totally stole all of Albany John’s crust. So good. This pie was split between 10 food enthusiasts, and there were still leftovers.

One of my friends made it from her boyfriend’s mom’s (a Southern Lady) recipe. So good. So need to get this recipe.