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I used to lament the fact that I moved upstate and no longer had places like http://stinkybklyn.com/ to spend far too much money indulging my love of cheese and all its accoutrements. Sure we have supermarkets with large cheese selections and the odd fancy food store but there were few, if any, places where you can walk into the shop and be greeted by an owner who is unabashedly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about cheese. A place where you can feel comfortable saying that stinky cheeses overwhelm you and your tastes tend towards mild cheeses like cheddar, gouda, goat and brie and then have the owner, or perhaps his lovely and equally knowledgeable wife, suggest and offer generous tastes of cheeses that surprise and delight you and introduce you to new cheeses you likely would not have otherwise known existed. Luckily, so luckily, Albany now has one of those places, http://thecheesetraveler.com/ .

Eric Paul and his wife Alifair Skebe have created a lovely little shop where one can purchase not only beautiful, carefully selected cheeses but all the lovely little bits that go along with it and make eating cheese an experience. There is artisan bread from a local bakery, chocolates from Mast Brothers in Brooklyn, jams, chutneys and all manner of pickled items, Marcona almonds, a huge selection of crackers, including my all time favorite cracker, http://www.potterscrackers.com/wi/the-crackers/ (can one become addicted to a cracker? I’m afraid I may have a problem with the caramelized onion cracker) and pretty much anything you could think of that you’d like to enhance your cheese board.

But that’s not it! There are freezer cases full of local, organic meats, eggs, dairy products, charcuterie, natural sodas, artisan tonic water and a huge selection of bitters for all your cocktail mixing pleasures.

And the best part is you can go down there and have some of their fabulous cheese on the fantastic local bread they are sourcing spread with hand churned Normandy butter. I tried one of their sandwiches tonight and it was truly everything you could want in a grown up grilled cheese. Comte cheese, caramelized onions and chutney on good bread with sweet cream butter, what more could you ask for? Other than more grilled cheese, please…

Location: 540 Delaware Avenue in Albany, NY 12209. Click here for directions.

Contact: (518) 443-0440
thecheesetraveler@earthlink.net

Store hours: 11am-7pm Tuesday – Friday; 10-5pm Saturday & Sunday; closed Mondays

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The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark St. in Albany has long been our favorite capital region restaurant. We became fans of the restaurant while the kitchen was under the leadership of Chef Jason Baker and while we always talked about trying the tasting menu, we’re not really planners so we were content to pop in when the occasion presented itself to indulge in a delicious multi course dinner. That all changed when I read on Steve Barnes’ Table Hopping blog that Chef Baker was leaving the Wine Bar to pursue other opportunities and would be gone by the end of August. I immediately contacted the restaurant to make a reservation.

This past Friday was the big day and I was so excited for it. We left the house early but parking being what it is around Lark Street we had trouble finding a spot and called the restaurant to let them know we’d be five minutes late. When we arrived we were seated right away and I eagerly anticipated being led to my favorite spot in the restaurant, the make-out booth. Sadly, there was another party doing the tasting menu and they were seated first in the (my) booth.

Once I got over my disappointment, (45 seconds, tops) we settled into our window booth and looked at the menu.

While we were looking at the menu, the sommelier, Johnathan, came over with my first wine a Cava Brut Rose which was my second favorite wine of the evening. It’s crisp taste and fine effervescence paired beautifully with our amuse-bouche which was fresh corn kimchi, freeze dried corn and corn gelee in a light tomato broth with salty, chewy bits of fried prosciutto, bits of basil and topped with deep fried corn silks. Yes, corn silks. Apparently, they are edible. Although they didn’t add much to the taste of the dish, they were a fun and interesting textural element. I loved this dish so much I could have eaten a giant bowl of it, washed down with that delicious Cava. The Cava is a perfect summer wine and out of all of the wines I drank that evening, the Cava is the one I am most likely to seek out.

Our Amuse-Bouche

The first course was one of my favorite things to eat, Kurabota Pork Belly.

Kurabota Pork Belly

I absolutely loved the presentation of this dish and I wish I had a better picture to show of it. The pork belly was paired with a shaved strawberry, an orange segment, orange infused olive oil and garnished with an edible flower. The gentle acidity of the fruit cut through the richness of the fatty pork belly. Each bite made me close my eyes with happiness. The pork was paired with a German Scheurebe wine which is similar to a Riesling. I’m not at all familiar with Rieslings so I bow to Johnathan’s expertise here. It was lovely with the pork, tropical and tasting lightly of pineapples.

Our second course was a rabbit loin stuffed with foie gras and served with a sous vide crimini mushroom on a bed of leek ash with a horseradish cream. This dish was my surprising love of the evening. I can be a little fussy about meat. I don’t eat seafood and I don’t care for gamey meat. I would not typically order rabbit in a restaurant. I’m embarrassed to say I think it may be due to the cute factor. This dish made me into a rabbit fan. I ate this dish so quickly that when I thought to photograph it, my plate was empty. Completely. The rabbit was so tender and the foie gras so earthy. The leak ash gave the dish a smoky quality that was not at all unpleasant. It was quite delicious and I found myself searching out bits of the ash to taste alone. The rabbit was paired with an unoaked Lioco California Chardonnay.

Our third course was a Sous Vide Top Round with burnt cherry sauce, Napa cabbage and eggplant. Top Round is an inexpensive, tough, lean cut of beef but through cooking it sous vide, it’s transformed into a tender, rich piece of steak, almost like filet mignon. The sweet and tart cherries paired beautifully with the beef but the Napa cabbage seemed out of place in the dish. The steak was served with a lovely Carmenere from Chile. Spicy, smoky and rich, it was exactly what you’d want to eat with a tender steak.

Our fourth course was brought out by Chef Baker himself and this fangirl was thrilled to finally meet him. Chef Baker explained that his roasted quail with English peas and carrots was his interpretation of a classic roast chicken dish. The dish was topped with my second favorite element of the evening, pork fu . Pork fu is like pork cotton candy and is just plain fun to eat. The quail was partially deboned and there was a certain barbaric pleasure in eating it’s tiny drumsticks. The quail was paired with an Argiolas Costera from Italy. The rich Grenache was my second favorite wine of the evening, full bodied with a light spicy aroma.

Our fifth and final course was a sweet dessert. While we love our sweets, we’re not usually big dessert orderers. We typically opt to order a bit of cheese or a cheese plate to end our meals. The dessert was brought to our table by Chef Baker and this time we got to talk to him a little bit more about his future plans (will there be a possible pop up restaurant in his future???) and I was giddy as a school girl when Chef Baker said he knew of my blog. Luckily, I have a very understanding boyfriend who gets my chef crushes. The dessert was a lemon pound cake with whipped ricotta, fig molasses and a sugar cured egg yolk. That sugar cured egg yolk was my favorite interesting element of the evening. Basically the chef takes an egg yolk and lets it sit in sugar for a few hours and then carefully brulees the outside with a torch. It’s like the eggy essence of creme brulee. I may have quietly squealed a little when I broke that egg yolk with my fork and the warm yolk oozed all over the cake. The dessert was paired with a Moscato d’Asti that tasted of ripe peaches. The sweet ending to our meal was interesting and complex and was the perfect way to end our lovely dinner at The Wine Bar.

Chef Baker will be greatly missed but I am sure there is more to come from such a talented chef.

Small acts of kindness

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It’s become sort of a habit of ours to take a Sunday morning drive from Saratoga Springs to Cambridge, NY to pick up a box of freshly made King’s Donuts. The King’s are second generation bakers who have been selling their homemade donuts from a cart in front of their house since 1997. They start selling their donuts around 8am and by 11am, they are usually sold out.

We have, on more than one occasion, excitedly hopped out of the car only to be disappointed that they were sold out of our favorite donut, the Bismark. I usually pick out other donuts but I am a creature of habit and there’s nothing sadder than looking forward to a special treat and not being able to get it. (OK, there are a lot sadder things than running out of my favorite donuts but this is a food blog so let’s focus)

Luckily, if you call ahead, the King’s will kindly set aside the donuts you want, so you never have to face the heartbreaking devastation of a missing donut. Last Sunday, though we called ahead, they must have been really busy because no one answered the phone. Deciding to try anyway, we drove to Cambridge and pulled up just as the empty cart was being unloaded at the back if the house.
The boyfriend, sensing that there might be some sullen grumpiness (I never claimed to be a paragon of maturity) decided to call anyway and this time they picked up the phone when they saw it was us. I wasn’t expecting much but then the BF started smiling and put the phone on speaker so I could hear them say that they felt so bad that they ran out of our favorite donut and not wanting to see anyone disappointed they improvised a new kind of donut just for us!

They took six of their jelly donuts, scraped out the jelly and squirted Bismark cream inside. They called them special Jellymarks and said we could be their taste testers. I shoved money at the BF and pushed him out of the car and waited while he went to the back of the house. The BF came back to the car, money still in hand and said they wanted us to have the donuts for free since they were an experiment.

Well, I hate to be too jaded but 28 years of growing up in Brooklyn gave me some thick skin and little belief in the kindness of my fellow humans, but that morning, my two sizes too small Grinch like heart truly did grow three sizes larger.

And the donuts? Though I remain a Bismark Purist, they were fantastic!

Latkes!

I’m not even a tiny bit Jewish but for some reason, I grew up eating my Nana’s potato latkes. I don’t know where she got the recipe or why she was compelled to make them, all I know is they were delicious.
I rarely make latkes because I have a thing about frying in the house. I’m extremely sensitive to smells and despite enjoying the taste and texture of fried foods, the smell usually puts me off. But this New Year’s Eve, they found their way on to our dinner menu so I decided to bite the bullet, turn on the ceiling vent, open the kitchen door and fry up some latkes.

I searched the internet for recipes and since most latke recipes are pretty similar, I decided to improvise and luckily, it worked. The latkes were so delicious, we made them two nights in a row. Unheard of around here.

Potato Latkes, Two Ways

Serves 4

4-5 medium Russet potatoes
1 onion
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Either

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

OR

a couple of sprigs of finely minced rosemary

(Yes I know, none of these ingredients are strictly traditional but neither am I so there.)

With a box grater or food processor with a grater attachment, grate your scrubbed clean potatoes. There’s no need to peel but if it makes you happy and you don’t want the extra fiber…
Grate your onion as well. Toss both into a large bowl lined with a kitchen towel or double layer cheese cloth and squeeze the heck out of it.
Keep squeezing, you’re going to get a lot of liquid. Discard the liquid that you’ve squeezed out and dump the potatoes and onions back into the bowl. In another bowl, lightly whisk your eggs, salt and pepper and pour over the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle the flour over that and use your hands to mix everything in.

In a frying pan, heat enough oil to come 1/2″ deep. The oil should be hot and you should use an oil appropriate to frying at high temperatures. Peanut oil is ideal but I didn’t have any so I settled for canola.

Scoop up the potato mixture about a 1/4 cup at a time and shape into a patty. I like to set my patty onto my metal spatula and lower it into the oil. Mostly because I am a wuss. I slide my spatula out and use it to press down and flatten my latke. Cook the latkes (You already know not to crowd them in the pan, right? No more than 4 at a time, right?) until the bottom is golden brown all over and flip. Cook until that side is golden brown as well. Remove latkes from the oil, sprinkle with salt and eat immediately. Or, place the latkes on a paper towel lined cookie sheet into a 250 degree oven until all of the latkes are done.

Some people like to get all fancy and top their latkes with sour cream or even worse, sour cream and caviar. Some people like to eat their latkes with applesauce. Me, I like my fried potato patties as they are, starchy, salty and crunchy.

Makes dealing with the nauseating smell of hot oil almost worth it.

I love to make jam and I love all things porky so when I was searching for how to prepare baby back ribs for New Year’s Eve, I was delighted to find a recipe online that combined two of my loves Apricot and Rosemary Oven Ribs .

While Ms. Saretsky’s recipe couldn’t be easier. I took liberties with both ingredients and cooking method, using Ms. Saretsky’s recipe as a template as I often do.

I have to say, the ribs, cooked low and slow in the oven and then glazed and baked for a short while at a higher heat were phenomenal. Tangy, sweet, lightly sour, tender and delicious. Falling off the bone easily with a gentle tug between the teeth. We are going to love tucking into them as leftovers.

Apricot and Rosemary Oven Ribs

6 pounds pork baby back ribs cut into single ribs
2 cups apricot jam
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
4-5 sprigs of rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
10 cloves of smashed garlic
generous pinch of kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper

Mix all marinade ingredients and pour over ribs in a large, deep bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Spread ribs out on to one or two 9 x 13″ baking dishes. I used two to give my ribs room. Evenly distribute the remaining marinade, cover the ribs with foil, pop them in the oven and ignore them for the next 2 hours. At 2 hours check the ribs for tenderness. I let mine go 30 minutes more at which point I removed the ribs from the oven and poured off and discarded all of the accumulated juices. Trust me, it was mostly fat. A lot of fat.
Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Put the ribs back in the baking dishes and brush generously with an additional 1 cup of apricot jam.
Pop the ribs back in the oven, uncovered for 15-20 minutes more, just until the jam thickens up and the ribs start to get sticky.

I worried that all of the jam would make the ribs too sweet but since I was using homemade jam and I tend to make low sugar jams, it wasn’t a problem. The sweetness of the jam is balanced by the tang of the vinegar and the garlic.

So, so good.

Porky deliciousness

King’s Donuts

The driveway donut cart...

Upstate New York is not exactly a culinary mecca but in humble towns both large and small, there are gems to be found. The King’s Bakery at Double K Farms in Cambridge, NY is one of them.
Every Sunday and Monday morning, the King’s sell donuts from a cart in the driveway of their charming home on Main St. in Cambridge, NY. They sell their donuts for as long as they can push the cart down the driveway, pretty much as long as there is not snow on the ground.

I’ve never particularly cared for donuts but that’s likely because I grew up with Dunkin Donuts. The King’s donuts are nothing like the donuts that I knew growing up. The King’s make their donuts in the kitchen of their farmhouse. James King, often assisted by his mother Sally, produces donuts, fritters, pies and danish of such extraordinary character that we frequently make the 45 minute drive from Saratoga Springs to pick up a box of their prized treats, often waiting in lines 10 or 15 deep and 10 or 15 minutes long. They are worth every moment spent waiting.

The sumptuous selection

When you get to the front of the line, you are greeted by James’ wife, the lovely Jana King. She will patiently explain the offerings to you and box up your selections. I am always pleased by the reasonable prices for these hand made delights. I never manage to leave without a dozen.

My favorite donut the King’s make is the Bismark.

The Bismark

The Bismark is an almost impossibly light puff of fried dough that is sprinkled with the finest of superfine sugar, cut in half and filled with a cream that is something between a whipped cream and a Swiss meringue frosting. I’m dying to know what it’s made out of but in the mean time, I am content to eat far too many. Happily.

If you visit the donut cart, you can contact them on Facebook to be sure they’re open or call them at 518-677-3530. They’ll even have your order ready for you as we found out this weekend when I wanted to be sure I’d get my precious Bismarks.

King’s Donuts at Double K Farm
108 West Main Street
Cambridge, NY 12816

And in case you are wondering, no, you will not find a better donut anywhere upstate NY from Albany to Lake George…at least.

Polenta Pancakes

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Pancakes for breakfast are a special treat in our house. It’s hard to justify them as a healthy start to the day. I love them but there is nothing like a sweet plate of pancakes to make you feel like going right back to bed and sleeping off your carb coma.

In my quest to feel a little less guilty about feeding my family fried discs of flour and butter topped with sugar, I have tried tons of pancake recipes. They all have their charms. Whole wheat pancakes, oatmeal pancakes, I do love them and I feel slightly more virtuous eating them for breakfast. But my new favorite pancakes are made with polenta. I love polenta not for the fact that it’s packed with fiber and it’s minimally processed. No, I love polenta because it’s delicious. And versatile. Polenta lasagna… Red wine braised beef on a bed of Parmesan polenta…polenta served creamy and cheesy or chilled and cut in to wedges and fried in olive oil served as a side dish…polenta porridge for breakfast. You see where I’m going with this? There are so many ways to enjoy polenta but right now it’s breakfast time and I want to share with you my new favorite pancakes…

Polenta Pancakes

In a bowl, whisk together:
1 cup white wheat flour (King Arthur is commonly available in most supermarkets but you can also use AP flour)
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 T sugar

In another bowl, whisk
1 1/4 cups of buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together just until all dry ingredients are incorporated . I like to let the batter sit for 10 minutes to soften the polenta but I’ve also used the batter right away and the pancakes are fine.

We like our pancakes topped with jam or fruit compote but I think these would be wonderful with maple syrup or apples sauteed in butter and sugar.
The best part of them, aside from how delicious they are, is that you don’t feel overly full and sleepy after a breakfast because who wants to start the day on a sugar high?

*Note: These pancakes are wonderfully adaptable to a wide variety of alternative milks. I had them this morning with rice milk and they were fantastic. We frequently use coconut milk so I’m going to try them with that next.

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