Archive for February, 2007

“Don’t let me down”

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

This weekend, two hearty helpings of humble pie were served to me (Alex).  One of them was completely my fault:
1.  I had a bet with Cati that “autochthonous” was NOT a word in English.  She was anglicizing the word from Spanish: autotoctono, and I was sure we didn’t use it at all in English.  Autochthonous is indeed a word, and I suggest you learn it.  Both my wallet and ego have suffered a loss.  (note: She was wrong on spelling, and pronunciation, but won the spirit of our $50 wager all the same.  I had to pay.)

I like winning!

2.  Nicole’s Bistro at Quackenbush let me down.  I have had some terrific meals there, and I consider this place one of the top five restaurants in Albany, but Friday Fed 23 was not their best night.  Although you would never know it from their atavist website, this place is great.  It’s the real deal; small and quaint, and in no way prefab or cookie-cutter.  Nicole is often there hosting, the service is always second to none.  The food is always elegant, fresh, well-presented, and top-notch quality.  I was really expecting to impress our friends, who had never been there.  We were a party of seven; five from Saratoga.  I must mention that I am responsible for starting a rivalry of sorts between my Saratogian friends and me.  I am always cutting on Saratoga for being an Albany suburb that panders to the Northeast’s pseudo-couture.  I get the feeling that Saratoga eateries try too hard to be “classy, and authentic,” and the whole place comes off feeling like Orlando <shudder>…but with a track instead of a geodesic dome.  Naturally, my Saratoga friends hate it when I say stuff like this.  I was really looking forward to demonstrating Albany’s culinary superiority at Nicole’s.  That didn’t happen.  The Cajun shrimp bisque was excellent, we were off to a good start, the wine was nice too; we had a Napa valley merlot, but everything went down from there.  Then came the entrees; I had the beef filet special which was a filet of beef, topped with goat cheese and a tomato jam.  This came with garlic mashed potatoes and some green beans.  Cati had the gumbo from the special Mardi Gras prix fixe they were featuring that week.  For starters, my STEAK WAS OVERCOOKED; I said medium rare, and was presented with medium well.  Tom ordered medium, and got well-done.  The waitress offered to take them back, but the damage was done.  I am not going to send back an overcooked steak and wait while my fellow diners are finishing their meals.  I will send back an undercooked steak, but that takes ~5 min.  The chef was a little grill-happy, and overcooked our filets; how amateur.  The mashed potatoes were mealy, as though they had been frozen and thawed– not good.  Cati’s gumbo was insipid.  I wasn’t expecting Louisiana hot, but c’mon, it’s Cajun food; don’t be afraid to add a little spice.  It was gumbo from the Northeast for Northeasterners.  Sarah also ordered the gumbo and felt the same.  Gabe had the blackened catfish, he had no complaints.  Jen ordered some breaded fish plate, and she was not impressed.  I should have ordered and suggested the duck to my friends; it has always been fantastic.  The desserts were quite good; I split a banana praline pie with the wife.  There were nice pieces of banana in the pie, but I thought the caramel sauce was a bit too sweet. 

My Saratoga friends felt vindicated.  They were/are certain that all my harsh criticisms and proclamations, that Albany’s restaurants are better than Satatoga’s, are unfounded.  I stepped up to make a point and struck-out thanks to the milquetoasty meal at Nicole’s Bistro.  Maybe Nicole’s absence was a factor; maybe the chef was tired; maybe, maybe, maybe.  There is one thing that is certain, an opportunity to make a great first impression was blown that night.  Cati and I will likely go back to Nicole’s, because the food really is great most of the time, but they are going to have to rebuild the love we once had.  <–Hey, it’s my blog, I can be melodramatic if I want.

I hate to brag, but we have some cute friends, no?

The crew

 Mouse over the photo to see what Jen is thinking:

 Gabe, that better be the cheese I smell.

Pizza-ettes

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Cati and I enjoy pizza (yeah, I know, who doesn’t?).  A few months ago we found ourselves ordering pizza from our favorite pizzeria a little too often (about once a week for a while there).  Our favorite pizzeria is SoHo pizza on Lark St.  It’s fantastic; thin crust, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and never greasy.  There are plenty of lousy places around Albany, so we know what we are talking about.  We no longer order pizza if we are staying in.  We still go to SoHo when we are out on Lark, we just no longer order out for it.  We aren’t exactly watching our carbs, but cutting down on white flour is probably a good idea; especially since it works its way into our diets anyway.  Just like it’s probably a good idea to avoid trans-fat, like margarine.  Anyway, what we do now (about once a week) is make our own little pizzas at home.  We buy whole wheat pocketless pitas and dress ’em up with pizza and/or pesto sauce, and a littany of toppings like: anchovies, sausage, cheese, brocolli, capers, more cheese, etc.  Then we bake the pizzas @ 350F (correction: 425F works better) for 10-12 min, remove, let cool for 2 min, cut and devour.  Here are some photos from our most recent foray into the mini-pizza realm:

WIP

done

mmmm

whole wheat goodness

Adventures in Cooking- pork chops a l’orange (recipe in progress)

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

The recipe: 

    • 1 TBSP orange zest
    • 1/4 cup chopped green onion
    • 4-6 pork chops (1/2″ thick)
    • 1/4 tsp basil
    • 1/4 cup OJ
    • 1/2 cup orange liqueur
    • salt/Adobo for pork chops
    • 1 TBSP olive oil

Heat oil in skillet, add orange peel and chopped onion.  Sautee until onion is just tender.  Remove onion and orange peel and set aside.  Place chops in skillet and brown on each side. 
Add 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup orange liqueur, and 1/4 tsp of basil to pork chops; cover and simmer for 8-10 min.  Remove pork chops and set on serving platter, add the other 1/4 cup of orange liqueur to the skillet, bring sauce to a vigorous simmer, and light with a match (carefully).  Pour sauce over pork chops and add sautéed onion and orange zest on top. 
Well, that’s how it’s supposed to go anyway, and it is DELICIOUS.  I made it according to the recipe the first time I tried this about 2 months ago; we loved it.  The only problem was the sauce was too liquid, and we wished it were thicker so it would actually cover our pork chops and stick to the fork a little.  We wound up dabbing bread in it to sop it all up. 

So, this time instead of pouring the flambéed sauce onto the chops, I poured into a small sauce pan and added cornstarch to thicken it up; great idea right?  wrong.  The cornstarch would not go in homogeneously and made a clumpy slimy mess out of the sauce.  All the while, the pork chops got cold as I tried to work the cornstarch into the sauce while heating up in the small saucepan.  Ultimatley, it looked more like a glaze than a gravy (oops).  Maybe I should have used flour instead.  It tasted fantastic, not too sweet, just right.  We also made some white asparagus and Cati whipped up some aioli as a topper.  Ah well, the dish needs work, but I’ll get this recipe down.  Got any tips?

 step 1

keep going

more

cooking

tasty but ugly

 Until next time.

 

This is what is happening:

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

This:

 imgp1530.JPG

and this:

imgp1531.JPG

Means a weekend of this:

 Cati and the Nach

and of course, this:

Plato de la comida

..mmmm.  Try not to lick the screen.

Here is a handy key:

The key 

 

 

  1. Wasa sesame wheat crips
  2. Gouda cheese
  3. I forget (some french cheese a lot like queso manchego)
  4. Queso de Murcia (olé!!)
  5. Queso manchego
  6. Chorizo
  7. Marcona almonds
  8. Tortilla española
  9. Jamon Serrano
  10. Cabot habeñero sharp cheddar (yeah, Vermont)

 

Dry January

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

Cati and I have completed “Dry January 2007.”  We obstained from partaking alcohol for the entire month.  This meant no wine with steak, no beer with mexican, and no drinks after work to take the edge off a tough day.  Here are a few things we learned:

  • We like booze
  • Our energy levels are much higher in the evenings without having a drink (no big shock, I know).
  • A drink in the evening makes you wake up in the morning really thirsty.
  • Albany is really kinda boring if you rule out all the bars
  • There is no point eating at Albany Mexican restaurants if you can’t imbibe.
  • One tends to wake up earlier on the weekends without drinking
  • Drinking only hinders your boardgame performance (we kicked booty at a party where everyone else was drinking)

Welp, I’m off to have a beer.

 

Off the wagon