Archive for December, 2007

Tea Quiero Mucho

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

A few months back, I wrote about some of our favorite breakfast places in the area.  I excluded brunch venues because I wanted to cover The Whistling Kettle all by itself.  So here goes:

The Whistling Kettle Tea Lounge is in Ballston Spa, NY.  This place smacks of personality.  It’s not exceedingly romantic nor platonic, but it definitely has a feminine vibe to it.  From the warm-n-cozy decor to the meticulous food presentation, just about any woman will appreciate this place.  If you have been there, you know what I mean.  If you haven’t been there, just go; you’ll see.  

The character of the place is not heavy handed.  I’ve seen families there with parents and children of all ages.  

But… take heed boyfriends, suitors, and husbands: if you take your special-lady there for brunch, be prepared to watch your brownie-points soar.  We’ve been there several times for Sunday brunch to visit with our Saratoga/Saratoga-area friends (I stockpile brownie-points because you never know, y’know?  Yeah, you know.). 

If you’re a single guy, you likely don’t even know this place exists.  I wouldn’t know of this place if I were single (I didn’t).  Back in the B.C. days (ha ha, get it?), when I went out for breakfast (never brunch…pfft), I ordered my coffee black and asked for Tabasco when the food arrived.  Whatever panache I did have, was the bare minimum so as not to repel too many ladies upon introduction; and by the way, the ladies were never  seldom  sometimes  often repelled.  (Cati, my editor, keeps me honest [wink]). 

The place is a bit of a drive from Albany, but it is worth it; particularly if you enjoy a small road-trip.  The building is a large, red-brick, high-ceiling, single-room with many lounge chairs, small tables, and a tranquil fire in the fireplace during the winter.  There are also standard four-top tables, and that’s where we usually sit when meeting friends.  The Whistling Kettle also has outdoor seating on their patio for when the weather is nice (is that going to be soon? [looking at calendar]). 

If you’re like me, and don’t drink much tea, you’ll likely not know where to begin when you see a list of 100+ teas.  A card on each table contains a brief tutorial on the different classes of teas, but here’s the best part; there are small glass boxes of all the available teas, for patrons to smell.  It’s a great way to make up your mind.  Would-be tea drinkers are invited, encouraged even, to smell away.  There are some teas that smell like German chocolate cake, some that smell like camel-hide tanneries, and everything in-between. 

As for the food, we often order the “San Souci Tea” ($14/person), which comprises a soup or salad, sandwich, and scone or tea bread; along with your very own pot of tea.  Their entire menu is online here.

See some photos below and mouse-over for descriptions:

The tea bar.

Up close at the tea bar.

Short and stout.

Ham and cheese (no crust, of course), lobster bisque, and lemon-glazed tea bread.

A cup of asparagus brie soup on a cucumber coaster; classy, no?

Do not lick your screen.

Pret-TEA nice brunch, eh?

Brunch here is a unique, diverting, and somewhat-interactive experience.  Anomalously, on our last visit there, the service was annoyingly slow, inattentive, and forgetful.  The manager must have had the day off, because several times we noticed the four or five servers just hanging out behind the counter chatting while we waited for some attention.  Ah well, that’s what tipping is for, right?  On previous visits, we’ve had exemplary service. 

If you’re married, take the wife.  She’ll enjoy the meticulous feminine character of the place.  You can use the ride back to mention that you are thinking about buying a motorcycle, or that you want to convert the basement into a billiards/poker room.  There go the brownie-points. 

Given the season (and speaking of feminine character), enjoy this Xmas video from some of the 80’s most epicene popstars:

Maybe they oughtta call it Yuletube (har har). 

Happy Holidays to all (all four readers).


We are the Champagnes…

Monday, December 17th, 2007

A few weeks back, Cati and I went to the Champagne Dinner at The New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties NY.   We heard about this dinner from the announcement on Steve Barnes’s website.  When it comes to appreciating/pairing champagnes, neither Cati nor I know a whole lot.  It was quite a trek for us (especially the return trip after at least six champagne pours), so we got a ride there and back.   Champagne-sticklers should be rolling their eyes about the use of the word “Champagne,” since technically only sparkling wines from the Champagne region can be called Champagne.  But all the sparkling wines that were served that evening were either made from the “Champagne-method,” or were actually from Champagne, France. 

We arrived and were escorted through the bar and casual dining area in the front of the restaurant, to the back dining room which was elegantly and festively decorated.  Chef Orlando notified those of us who had arrived early/on-time that several people would be arriving late, and that things would be getting a late start.  That was fine; we’re easy. 

All the diners that evening were seated ten-to-a-table at tables covered in red linens.  I was expecting something a bit more intimate, but we were seated with a charming lot, so we didn’t mind at all.  There was an arsenal of champagne flutes at every place-setting.  We were also treated to wonderful music while we dined from Jay Ungar and Molly Mason of WAMC’s Dancing on the Air.  Their performances between courses were a really nice touch.  I paused to listen to them several times during the night and was impressed with their talent.  I took some pictures with the trusty spy camera, but they are all under-exposed and don’t represent our evening very well.  I’ll share the best of the bunch.

The place looked nice.

Dancing on the ear. :)

The night was kicked off with a greeting from Chef Orlando and his sommelier colleague Michael Weiss.  Orlando and Weiss seemed knowledgeable and warm, with an evident passion for food and wine.  They described the first three courses and told us about the pairings we were to expect.  I’ll run ’em down for you below:

We all listen.

Fix that, will ya?

Course one :  Burrata cheese, herbs, semolina toast, and olive oil paired with Gloria Ferrer Blanc De Blancs.   The Burrata cheese was a butterier, milkier mozzarella.  Cati and I don’t typically care for mozzarella, but this stuff was the champagne of mozzarella (coincidence?  Me thinks not), and it was chock-fulla creamy goodness.  The center of this cheese was particularly soft and creamy.  The Champagne was noteworthy for its fine bubbles and tannic finish.  According to the Gloria Ferrer website, it is made from the secondary fermentation of Chardonnay, and it showed.   

Course two: Duck broth with roasted ginger, Asian greens, and soft scrambled duck egg, paired with Langlois Estate Cremant de Loire.  The soup was broth-based.  It was dark and flavorful.  I’d never had duck broth prior to that evening and I was very impressed with how savory and meaty it was (or should I say umami-esque?).  The Asian greens imparted the crisp and citrusy flavor that characterize them, and the duck egg gave the soup even more body.  Aside from a smallclean-foodproblem in my soup, it was excellent.  The Champagne was light, like a finely carbonated sauvignon blanc (even though it is not made from sauvignon blanc grapes at all [shrug]). 

Course three:  Lobster tamale with corn smut crema paired with Iron Horse Vintage Brut 2002.  When I saw this dish on the announcement, I was intrigued.  I even discussed, with other foodies, what Chef Orlando might have in mind.  Was he going to serve tomalley with the tamale?  Did he mean tomalley all along?  Cati and I were both pretty curious about this one.  This dish was rocket-to-the-moon good.  Incredible.  It was briny, and the sauce that accompanied the dish did include the tomalley after-all.  The generous lobster chunks were served with huitlacoche infused cornmeal cakes wrapped in cornhusks.  Cati and I were dazzled.  We had never had corn smut before, and it was really rich and flavorful (not to mention fun-to-say, eh?).  Chef Orlando mentioned that some consider corn smut as the “American truffle”; I can see that.  The brut was as dry as you’d expect, and was very cava-esque.   It was an excellent palate cleanser between mildly spicy bites of the stellar dish.  Cati even shot me a dirty look for using my dessert spoon to get every last bit of sauce off my plate (she tries to class me up; still trying).  Bravo Chef Orlando.

Tomalley tomale caliente 

Course four: Hot smoked salmon trout and kaska <sic> filled savoy with salmon roe and beet vinaigrette paired with Taittinger brut la Francaise.  I really enjoyed this dish; moreso than Cati.  I think it touched my inner Ukrainian [wink].  The borschty-beet vinaigrette, plump fresh salmon roe, smetana-esque creme freche, the cabbage-wrapped kasha, and the sprig of dill all gave this dish a very slavic vibe.  This was my kind of food.  The flavors were more Moscow indulgent than Paris chic, and I can appreciate that.  Chef Orlando did a last minute substitution of the salmon for trout; fine with me.  The Taittinger was good, but we were about 5 glasses in at this point, so our palates were getting a little less discerning. 


At this point, Chef Orlando realized that he had forgotten to tell us about the rest of the courses after the third.  He and Prof. Weiss then briefed us on what we had just had and what was to come.  Read on for more:

Course five: Pheasant Kiev with game pate, sweet pea, pearl onion, and cob smoked bacon salad paired with Charles Heidseick <sic> brut reserve.  This dish was good, not great.  The presentation was nice.  The pheasant was rolled into a cigar shape but was a bit over-breaded for our taste.  The Kiev butter sauce was rich and flavorful and the peas went well.  The greatest problem however, was that the pheasant was dry.  It’s a delicate white meat that is easily over-cooked, and this was.  A dallop of butter-sauce accompanied the pheasant to replace what had drained out during the cooking step, which helped.  The brut was a Champagne-drinker’s Champage.  Classic and a little yeasty; we liked it.

The pheasant was pleasant.

Course six:  Poached beef filet with apple butter-marrow coating and porcini leek sauce paired with Veuve Clicquot rose.  This is the kind of dish (like the lobster course) that separates a great chef from a hack.  I had never had poached beef, and I wasn’t sure about what to expect.  Whenever I think of poached food I think of British food; well, this must be how the Royals eat.  It was incredible.  The fork-tender beef was perfectly cooked and the flavors were deep and savory, but not harsh.  The porcini leek sauce worked very well.  Cati commented on the fact that oftentimes, beef can be heavy and hard on the stomach; however this was much lighter at no expense to the flavor.  The beef course was at the other end of the spectrum from the lobster tamale, but equally impressive.  The rose was the perfect pairing for this relatively subtle beef dish.  I don’t know that I will make pink champagne a frequent libation, but I will think twice about my I-don’t-drink-pink mantra.  I guess I can’t help thinking of Lambrusco (aka: hangover juice) when I see pink fizzy stuff.

Course seven: Hot coco-cocoa and cookies.  This was a classy way to end the evening; warm coconut chocolate-milk with butter cookies. 

Well, that’s it.  We enjoyed a cozy and quiet ride home and reflected on all the great food we had just had.  I would certainly recommend making the drive to Saugerties for dinner here to my friends (and what the heck, my enemies too).  We’ll be back. 

Alternate names for this post:

  • “Duck and cava.” (<- except, no cava was served, darnit!).  Guess I’ll have to make that myself. 
  • “Champagne dishes and caviar cremes”

…Thai, Thai again.

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

I wasn’t pleased with the results from my first attempt at Thai food.  The sauce was too spicy, too thin, and the ingredients were not finely enough dispersed.  The flavors were all there, but there was a lot of room for improvement.  So, I have been working at it.  I have finally arrived at a panang curry recipe/method of which I can be proud. 

I used this recipe (sort of).  Here’s what I did/do:

  • 2 cups homemade (or 1 can) coconut milk (I buy the canned stuff now; too much work otherwise.)
  • 1 tablespoon shredded lime leaves (1 TBSP lime zest works fine if you can’t find the leaves.)
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar (I used regular ol’ white sugar; added at the end)
  • 1 tabelspoon fish sauce (added to taste at the end).
  • 2 cups pork or chicken sliced into ~0.5″ strips (thin-sliced beef works fine too.  I prefer pork; Cati, chicken.)
  • 1 red bell pepper cut into 1-2″ squares (angle-cut carrots could work too)

The Curry Paste:

  • 1/3 cup big dried chilies, soaked until soft with seeds removed.  (I used just 5-7 drops of Dave’s Total Insanity, added at the end.).
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons galangal, cut into matchsticks (don’t worry too much about fine-chopping, it’s going in the blender.)
  • 2 tablespoons lemongrass, cut into thin rounds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander root (I don’t bother with this, since I upped the amount of toasted coriander seeds below).
  • 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons garlic
  • 2 tablespoons shallots
  • 1 tablespoon roasted peanuts (I used all natural peanut butter, and a few peanuts for texture).   
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste

Prep notes:  In an early attempt at this dish, I used a mortar and pestle to grind all of the curry ingredients into a paste (as the recipe recommends), but that’s too much work.  I still pulverize the toasted cumin and coriander seeds using the mortar and pestle, then I add them, along with everything else listed under the “Curry Paste” heading above, to the blender.  I thin the mixture in the blender with a little coconut milk to get a smooth puree.  I fry the paste over high-heat and keep adding coconut milk ~1/4 cup at a time to prevent burning.  After adding all the coconut milk and thickening the sauce, I then add the pork and the peppers and allow them to cook and soften respectively.  The peppers add some color and a little bit of crispiness.  The recipe I keep referencing has some great preparation tips; give it a read if you plan to make this. 

See some action photos below of various iterations of this dish:

The fixins

Another set o’ fixin’s

Toasting the cumin

Toasting the coriander seed

Toasting & Grinding.  A stone mortar and pestle would be better.

All together now.

Don’t do this…

…do this.  Use the blender.  Technology good; fire bad.

Cooking the sauce on high-heat.  Make sure it sizzles.

Now, to make this dish spicy, I don’t use dried or fresh chilis anymore.  I find it too hard to control how spicy the dish comes out.  And since I am likely cooking this for at least one other person, I’d like her to actually be able to eat it.  Instead, I use Dave’s Gourmet Total Insanity Hot Sauce.  This stuff is useful in the kitchen as it is pretty much capsaicin with tomato paste added for consistency.  Slap a spray cap on this stuff and you have mace.  It has very little flavor (other than “tastes like burning“), but when added drop-wise, it can be useful to spice up a recipe.  Using milder sauces might impart too much of a vinegar flavor, and could change the taste of your dish; no risk of that with Dave’s Gourmet Total Insanity Hot Sauce; it just adds peppery hotness. 

Go easy with this stuff.  Wear a welder’s mask when adding.

If you can’t find lime leaves, use lime zest.

This is the chicken try.  Came out good.

Also, I tried a recipe that I stole-with-pride form Celinabean’s blog.  When I saw this dish on her website, I knew I’d be making it.  It was incredible.  I brought it (along with the panang curry) to an Asian food potluck along with some shrimp (sauteed with the heads on).  The party was hosted by my Asian-cooking guru Esti, so I knew I had to make a strong showing.  She actually buys and reads books and magazines on how to improve her cooking (weird, right?).  She always gives me excellent cooking advice too.  Esti hooked up some wonderful Korean dishes and our friends Ken and Lori (the salad-master) brought some flavorful Chinese dumplings.  I know Esti really liked the pesto; she had a one word reaction immediately after she tried it: “SHUT-UP!” (that’s a compliment).  Thanks Celinabean, I gave your blog all the credit.  Once all the food (and wine) really started coming out, I forgot I had a camera, but I snapped a few shots early in the evening:

The Asain pesto.

Shrimp for the pesto.

Esti’s creations:

Little plates of Korean food (4)

Little plates of Korean food (3)

Little plates of Korean food (2)

Little plates of Korean food (1)

The soup Esti served.

Much fun was had by all. 

Next, I plan to learn martial arts from this guy