Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 12: The Best Fried Chicken In Five Years!

On Thursday evening, after a success day of work, I owed myself a treat. I was in Saratoga Springs, and was determined to treat myself to a fancy meal. Or at least a passionate meal.

After spending time on Yelp and Urban Spoon - I decided it was an easy choice. Since 1938, a restaurant in Saratoga Springs has been serving southern fried chicken.

Really? In upstate New York.

Hattie's has been serving southern cooking in Saratoga Springs since 1938. Hattie herself has passed away, but a chef couple has taken over, and have earned the reputation as the best southern cooking on the East coast - as well as an aware from Food and Wine as the best fried chicken in America.

Really? In New York?

Hattie Gray was raised in Saint Francisville, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge somewhere around 1900.
Her life started as a caretaker for a wealthy family that would travel back and forth from Miami to Saratoga Springs. Hattie worked for them for many years before eventually settling on her own in Saratoga Springs to open up Hattie's Chicken shack in 1938.

In describing Saratoga in the late 30's and 40's, Hattie said "Saratoga was fast, man; it was real fast. It was up all night long." Hattie's was open 24 hours a day in those days of gambling, speakeasies, and smoky jazz clubs.

The restaurant serves each night from 5pm until 9pm. I arrived at 8:30 - and within minutes, had the entire restaurant to myself. It seems that "chicken eating people" are not late night owl people - at least on Thursday night.

I ordered the famous fried chicken plate. But first, I ordered a plate of fried okra.

My grandmother was a chicken farm. It was a tradition on Sunday's to always have fried chicken. Over the years, I have tried a lot of fried chicken. And in fact, a recipe of my own fried chicken, using the secret ingredient of cinnamon, has appeared in a newspaper.

And so, I had high expectations.

But I can tell you. This was the best fried chicken I have tasted in at least 5 years.

Hattie's fried chicken, with hand smashed potatoes and collard greens, spiked with maple syrup.

The manager of the restaurant told me the chicken is fried very simply. No buttermilk. Just a light breading, but "par-fried." The chicken is fried partially, and then left to sit for awhile before the second frying.

If you are ever in upstate New York - you have to try Hattie's and their wonderful chicken and food!

Fried Okra with a basil garlic aoli.
The okra was so prefectly cooked - with such a thin, yet crispy dusting of flour coating.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 11: New York Pub Food

I pulled into Saratoga Springs, NY after two plane rides and a car rental. By the time I arrived to the front desk of my hotel, it was about 10:20 pm. I asked this rather large Hilton hotel desk clerk what my best food options were.

She looked at her watch and said, "Whoa. Room service stopped at 10:00 pm. I am not sure what to tell you..."

I looked at her flabbergasted. I should have heeded my own advice, and stopped on the car ride from the airport to the hotel.

"Surely there is a place in town still serving food?"

She shook her head. But out of the corner behind me, the bellman - or night clerk - or perhaps even the night manager piped up. "Send him to Dango's."

I looked at him suspiciously. "They are still serving food until they close."

"And what time is that?" I asked him.

"Until 4:00 am. It is where everyone goes at the end of the night."

The front desk clerk looked down, careful not to make eye contact. Should I be worried, or simply assume she was not really a person who went out to pubs late at night.

The male bellman-clerk-manager person told me it was "right food."

I was hungry. And what the heck, I was ready for a small adventure for the night.

I headed out the hotel, and walked five blocks in the below freezingnight. I walked along a street called Caroline - and was surprised at the number of pubs that were indeed still open. But it looked to be mostly pizza. At the end of the block, I found a place called Dango Fitzgerald's. It claimed to be an Italian New York Restaurant

The restaurants claim to fame were the large flat screen TV's - both at bar area, but also in every booth. I was able to tune in and watch the last moments as KU annihilated Texas Tech.

It was definately a local bar. Within 2 minutes, a chap came out of the kitchen - walked by my booth - and then turned around and sat down. "Are you playing poker on your computer," he asked? I had opened up my laptop to do a bit of work as I worked on beer and food. I sort of shook my head.

"I am so damn pissed that they shut down online poker. They took $700 of mine. But you are cool. I a not drinking. I don't drink."

And then he staggered away. He might not be drinking - but they had something magical in that kitchen.

And so, in choosing what I was ordering for the night, I took into account my angry gambler non-drinking, but heavily influenced cook.

My waiter said they were famous for their "twenty-five cent" items. On Tuesday - it was the wings. "Too bad for you" she said. It was Thursday. But she told me, "It is steamer night." And so - I ended up with a plate of New England clam steamers (a dozen at only 25 cents each) plus a half dozen of Buffalo wings - and a pastrami sandwich.

If you are in upsate New York - you have to try the Buffalo wings, right? I ordered the extra spicy BBQ wings. It is what the waitress recommended. They were good - but who am I to know what New Yorker's think are great chicken wings. I am pretty sure these were not the best. But they offered a nice tang to my lips!

The steamers were good - and fresh. Definately the best of the night - especially since the entire dozen only cost me $4.

It was a nice slice of local life and an interesting night.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 10: Cornflakes on my sushi?

I am confused. Ok - so I get the idea that sushi rolls - all a riff on California Sushi rolls can be either a good respite for new sushi eater - or sushi eater that want to mix it up a little.

But at what point does it stop being sushi - an really become a fusion concoction that you wonder if you should be eating it.

I wanted to have sushi tonight. But I didn't have the time to go to a few favorite take away places for sushi. Instead, I opted for the local super market - who has obviously hired a person to come in an make sushi each day - in hopes to lure end of day shoppers to pick up a pack or two of sushi to go.

Fair enough. It was my choice.

But in the sushi shelf, there was a dish called the "chef's special." What the heck? Is that sushi with corn flakes on it? I always live to my mantra of "Try everything once." I had to purchase one - and taste it - to see what in the heck was going on. Was this like a box of cornflakes that the supermarket wanted to get rid of? And they said, "here sushi guy - let's see what you could make with this?"

 Cornflakes and tuna sushi roll?
It turns out that the flakes were not corn flakes - but onion flakes. Perhaps a little like a sushi chef who crumbles up "funyons" and puts them on sushi. 

But this makes me suspicious What is under those onion flakes? Fish you didn't want us to see? Something that needed to be covered up in taste?

I think we are going just a little too far in our pursuit to make sushi rolls that the "local joe" will like.
Having said that.... I did buy it. And it didn't taste awful.

Tomorrow, at the local supermarket, some local wanna be sushi maker, who happened to land a job at this supermarket, will come in to work, discover his "onion flake sushi" had been purchase, and think he had just made a great dish. I suspect there will be more of these rolls before I see salmon roll ikura.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 9: A Gastropub

It was a quiet Monday night -and time to catch up with those friends you didn't get to see over the holidays. I had a nice Monday night meal with my friend Karie. And what better place than a gem of a place in Redwood City called Martin's West Gastropub.

I am in love with Gastropubs these days. But who wouldn't like a place that emphasizes great bar food - often with large amounts of pig and wild animals - and great food - all in a casual setting.

Our meal a Martin's did not disappoint. We had the Charcuterie plate, including duck liver mousse, smoked rabbit, and  wild boar. The Brussels sprouts leaves were inline with the new fad of deep frying Brussels sprouts. But the oil was too hot - and so they were a bit charred.

Our favorites were the Scottish quail eggs and the bone marrow.

The Scottish eggs were true to the original form of a soft boiled egg, surrounded by sausage and then deep fried. But they were done with small quail eggs. Very delicious.

We also had the rare (although less rare these days as pubs and specialty restaurants are starting to do it) bone marrow. What was interesting is that instead of creating smaller cross sections of bone, they split a bone length ways.

For the newbies to bone marrow - the inside of the bone is a cross between a creamy custard, but rich with fat. You eat it on toast. It is so delicious.

It's good to have friends that you can go out with on a Monday night - and eat bone marrow, quail eggs, wild boar, rabbit - and still have a great conversation about family and 2012 goals!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 8: Brown Food

I had brown food tonight. It was a night to explore the pantry - and try to use up ingredients from the fridge, the spice drawer - and the far reaches of the cabinents.

What I ended up with was a dish that tasted ok. I started by slow cooking chicken breasts in a ginger, chicken broth and laksa broth from Singapore. With the broth from the slow cooking, I made a flavored rice. I then had a package of Indian black dal (lentils). The food wanted to be SE Asian meets South Asian. And while it was tasty - and a good way to use up ingredients, without having to go to the market - there was one problem.

It turned out to be brown. Really brown food.

I am not sure brown food is a very good thing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day 7: Beef Stroganoff

Beef and Mushrooms over noodles sounds like a typical weekday meal of any Midwestern household. I am sure that Campbell's soup or a noodle company spread it across America in the 70s with their versions of beef thicken with cream of mushroom soup and canned mushrooms.

But somewhere along the way, I tasted a real stroganoff, laden with fresh thick mushrooms, a rich beef flavor in the broth - and real congnac or sherry. My memory of that taste was tickled when I read the Food and Wine back page feature Top Chef Top 10: Jonathan Waxman. In the article, Waxman, asked about his 10 obsessions said, " Beef Stroganoff. In my quest to be a chef, I first attempted beef stroganoff at age 12, with a receipe from a cookbook. This version is more luxurious: I make it with beef tenderloin and creme fraiche."

Waxman also served his Stroganoff over rice. Mine memory however is strictly over flat egg noodles, since some form of noodle, potato or dumpling was the major staple of every Midwestern Russian German family.

I decided to see how Waxman's recipe stacked up against the recipe and taste in my memory. 

In researching Beef Stroganoff, it was interesting to see how roots perhaps started in Russia, but then as it traveled to Europe and America became adapted. It is easy to see how this could simply become creamed beef and mushrooms over noodles. Three things are key to distinguish it: 1). A bold beef taste 2). Fresh thick mushrooms and 3). soured cream.

In the end, I combined the recipe from Waxman with that of Tyler Florence. Waxman's recipe calls for a faster method of cooking. Instead of using a chuck roast, and slow cooking for hours, he uses tenderloin, which is very tender already.

The recipe is below.
And I have also added a set of notes after the recipe I would encourage you to look at (which also now go in my own recipe book for the next time I make the dish).


This is a meal that requires a little time to prepare in order to do it right. The recipe tasted very good, but mine ended up a little thin, and I realized my addition of extra beef broth was probably a mistake. The mushrooms were thick and delicious. I was satisfied with the taste. But there was still something nagging at me with each bite that I could not figured out. What was the taste that I seemed to be missing? 

I went to my Rombauer Becker "Joy of Cooking" cookbook, which was my bible as a young chef. The recipe for Stroganoff is short. But the recipe mentioned an ingredient that I likely used when I made it the first time was missing. Rombauer suggested splashing a touch of sherry and a sprinkling of nutmeg on top of the finished dish. It also called for quite a bit more cream as the finishing liquid as compared to beef broth. That would have thickened it up and made it the creamy memory from childhood. I will make a few adjustments (as noted below in my notes) the next time.

(Photo: My final version of Beef Stroganoff)

Beef Stroganoff with Buttered Noodles

Adapted with in put from Tyler Florence and Jonathon Waxman
Prep Time: 25 min. Cook Time: 3 hr if you do your own beef broth. Servings: 6


  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Meat:
    Long time available: 2 lbs beef chuck roast, 1/4 inch thick and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips
    Short time available: 2 lbs pounds beef tenderloin, sliced 1/4 inch thick and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch strips
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cognac
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced thick (I prefer a mix of white and darker button type mushrooms)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche or
    1/2  cup sour cream, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 (1-pound) package wide egg noodles

Heat the beef stock with the carrot, 3 thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.

  • Pat the beef dry and season it with salt and pepper.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over high heat.
  • Fry the meat in batches so that it is browned on all sides.
  • Lower the heat to medium and return all the meat to the pot.
  • Add the onions and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Pour in the cognac and cook until the alcohol has burned off, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the beef stock, discarding the carrot, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.
  • Cook, partially covered, over a very low flame for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

  • In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil.
  • Add the mushrooms, garlic, and remaining 3 thyme sprigs and cook until the mushrooms are browned and cooked through.
  • Remove from heat and set aside.

  • When the meat is done, remove it from the heat and fold in the mushrooms  crème fraîche or sour cream, mustard, and parsley.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  • Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender. Drain the noodles well, toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and season with salt and pepper. 
  • Serve the stroganoff over the noodles; garnish with more sour cream and chopped parsley. 
Rick Von Feldt notes on Beef Stroganoff
  • In my version, I opted for tenderloin, but followed the Tyler Florence two hour cooking suggestion using a chuck roast. I also followed one idea of cutting across the grain when cutting the meat into strips. What I ended up with was very tender pieces of meat that were nearly falling apart by the end of the two hours. Next time, if time, I will use the two hour cooking method, but use the tougher (and less expensive) chuck, and cut with the grain. If you don't have time, then I will also use tenderloin, cut with the grain, but cook for less time.
  • Waxman, as many others, call for  crème fraîche. I used sour creme, as  crème fraîche isn't available at the nearby market. Next time, I will purchase  crème fraîche to see how this extra creamy and more earthy European style sour cream (whipping cream cultured with buttermilk) adds to the flavor.
  • Homemade flat thick noodles would taste oh so much better. A reminder to myself though is that you want the noodles to be al dente - with enough "chew" to hold up to the sauce.
  • I was worried about having enough beef broth to cook the beef, and used 4 cups instead of the called for 3 cups. That creates a nice broth, but ends up being too thin as a sauce. I will trust the three cups of broth - and potentially add in cream to the final mixture if I need more broth.
  • Both Waxman and Florence added dijon mustard to their recipes, which were not present in older versions. Instead, older versions used Worcestershire sauce. Either way - it needs this "umami" flavor. I will stay with the dijon, but I think I will add a splace of worchestershire sauce next time.
  • Browning the meat is really critical. Not only because you want the sear on the meat, but it is the "flavorful bits" left in the pan that help bring much extra flavor. Be sure to give time to this part of the process.
  • Hmmm. Which is the best alcohol? My childhood versions used sherry (probably because most 70s home chefs had some sort of cooking sherry). I had brandy, which I used. But when you take brandy, and age it for two years in oak barrels, you get that taste you find in cognac. The recipes call for cognac. Next time, I want to try the cognac to see if it added some extra flavor from the oak, which I think I was missing. I will then decide if I still splash the sherry on top just before serving.
  • And lastly, in my leftover version currently in the fridge, I am going to use a sprinkling of nutmeg just before eating.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 6: The Umami Burger

Is is the best burger in America? Some would say so - ranging from GQ magazine (who describe it as "half beef and half beyond belief" to Food and Wine to many local and national burger aficionados. Up until several months ago, you could only get an Umami Burger in the Southern California area. But two months ago, Umami burger opened it's first branch outside of LA - in San Francisco.
Tonight, I had the chance to visit Umami, and try their famous burger.

The shop has many types of burgers. And I overheard the bartender say he thought the best burger was a burger not listed on the menu - something have to do with the word Texas in it. But it is a sort of code word. There are 2-3 burgers each night always available "off the menu" - but you have ask for them - a sort of "secret handshake!"

But tonight, I had to try the signature burger so many people have talked about. It is the "Umami" burger.

For the people new to the phrase "umami" - it means the fifth taste - or the taste of savory. Often, items with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or other "savory seasonings" can make a food taste Umami.

The online menu lists their unique salad as the "Japanese Caprese Salad." But since baby heirloom tomatoes are not in season, and instead, you can always find beets - they switched their special salad to the beet, ricotta and arugula truffle salad. Truffle oil on a salad, with crunch things and arugula is one of my favorite things. And this one did not disappoint me. The ricotta was flavored with white truffle oil. And truffle oil was used in the dressing. I really enjoyed the salad.

The Umami Burger, is described as follows:

In general - it was a good burger. And perhaps I had been anticipating this burger for over a year. But it wasn't the best burger I had ever tasted. But it was good.

The burger is a grilled burger. And there is quality in the burger - as tasted by the juicy meat. But it was interesting that if you barely touched the burger with a fork, it crumbled away. I am not sure what that means eactly. Instead of the seasonly sun dried tomatoes, there was a slightly grilled tomato. And when the description mentioned a plural of mushrooms, mine (as shown in the picture) had a dab of a mushroom not much larger than a quarter. I did like the parmesan chip.

Overall the general taste was good. But it didn't blow my socks off.

The "skinny fries" were basic - but delicious and fried just right.

They carried Racer 5 - one of the best beers I think in the USA. The waiters / bartenders were very nice and attentive.
It is a big order to claim you have the best burger in the US. It think the Umami burger is good - but others can give it a run for it's money.

If there is something I may very well go back for, it might be the truffled ricotta and beet salad.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Day 5: 2012 Pizza Challenge

Making the perfect home pizza is on my goal list for 2012. I love pizza. But to make a 10 out of 10 pizza - it is hard work.
Click on the photo to ready more...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 4: Food from the Ugly Duckling

My new food blog is a little bit about the tastes of today - the tastes of the future - and the tastes of yesterday. I will spend a few of these 365 days talking not only about dishes I have made, but also about memorable experiences with friends in my tastings over the year.
When I announced my new food blog to a group of friends, a very good friend, author and Swedish journalist insured that all of my friends heard about my new blog. Andy Ekstrom, now author of some very popular books in Sweden, blogger and big Twitter user told another Swedish friend of mine about the new food blog.

If there is any wonder if I indeed have a passion for food, you can look to my past for validation.

Twenty eight years ago, when I was working for a youth group, even then, my friends endearingly referred to me as "The Stomach" (Thanks Brad Bungum) for that label!)

And then yesterday, when another good friend of mine, Stefen Alfredsson, from Malmo, Sweden, heard of my blog, he send this note to me and a few friends. I was backpacking through Europe for six months in the Autumn of 1994, and had a chance to stop over in Copenhagen to visit my friend Stefen.

Yesterday, Stefen wrote:

About 15-16 years ago, on a rainy December day in Copenhagen, I met up with Rick for a catch-up dinner when he was in town between his flights. We ended up at a restaurant in the very city center called "The ugly duckling" after the fairy tale by H C Andersen.

They had a Christmas All-you-can-eat offer, which is very popular at that time of the year. We were a little later than the crowd, and at the serving table, many of the dishes were close to finished. Before we decided to go for it, Rick asked if they were going to put fresh food out for us, which they promised to.

We had a lot to discuss and in order to keep track of the multiple discussion threads that came up, Rick had a small book where we added topics to talk about during the evening.

Quite soon, it became clear that the staff thought that we were "restaurant-spies", writing for some restaurant guide, tourist guide book or similar. Throughout the meal, they took extremely well care of us and they made an extra effort ensure that all food was fresh:-)

During this dinner, Rick also shared that he one day would like to do something like that - to write about food in one way or the other. So thank you Andy for putting a smile on my lips, and CONGRATULATIONS Rick to reaching one of your goals!!!

Later that evening, Rick and I had to leave a bar as we were less than 6 ft away from a fight. (The photo above is Stefen standing at the bar - just before the fight broke out - wondering if we could get our beers before we ran out of the bar...) 

A few minutes later there were more than 5 police cars with their sirens on, right outside the bar. Those memories... Cheers to you all!!

That was indeed a memorable night. And to prove it - here are a few photos - including the menu from that night:

I don't think The Ugly Duckling is still open. Indeed, it might have even been one of the restaurants attached to Tivoli. I can't remember. Anyone want to fill in the details?

Copenhagen is one of my favorite food cities. When I arrive to Copenhagen, I go straight for one of my top favorite foods in the world, the famous Danish polser.

(Stefen eating a Polser, back on Dec 2, 1994. When I arrived, it was indeed the very first thing I asked that we go eat!)

I reminds me that I need to get back there this year. And create new food memories.

Who will join me - or host me?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 3: Grilled Chicken with Blueberry-Basil Salsa

It is that time of the year to think about being healthy. But do you have to sacrafice flavor?

A healthy diet need to have grilled chicken breasts now and then. But unless you fry them (fat) or grill them (carbon things), you may end up with a bland steamed chicken breast.

Not with this recipe. It is a "Bobby Flay" style recipe - with marinated chicken breast and a sweet, yet not over powering salsa

But blueberries. I thought the same thing. But I was surprised with the taste.

Key to this recipe is having at least 3 hours in advance (if not 24 hours) of the eating.This gives time for both marinating and brining of the chicken as well as the "marriaging" of the salasa flavors.

I will add more insight to this recipe. But for now, begin with this recipe, posted at Martha Steward:


Here is my result. It was very tasty. Key of course are the savories in the salsa, as well as a young enough chicken breast (not the $1.99 lb breasts on sale at your local supermarket) that are juicy and sweet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 2: Butterscotch Bread

Butterscotch Bread. More story and recipe coming. This is somethign I have been making for 20 years. One of my best - and favorite recipes! From the homeland.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 1: Caramel Apples

I am staring the year off with one of my favorite food - the Caramel Apple. This is what I give to myself for a celebrate. Or a way to kick off a new year.

This one is shipped from Amy's.