From the Bar and Kitchen – Strong drink, duck and a blue cheese tart

no flyIt’s always curious to see a “no fly” symbol on your newly purchased alcohol.  The alcohol in question is Stroh 80, a 160 proof (80%) rum from Austria, which is about as not Caribbean as you can get.  Having some Austrian ancestry, and an eternal curiosity about strange liquor, I had to get a bottle.  Happily, the Pennsylvania state owned liquor shops also have an online variation that has all sorts of cool and odd things to drink.  I’ve gotten crème de violette, Crème de Yvette, among other things from there.  It’s very nice to have a chance to do so and not be shackled to the mundane tastes of the average person, drowned in a sea of Captain Morgan, Jack Daniels and sicky sweet flavored vodkas.

The reason that you can’t take this stuff on airplanes is that it simply too flammable.  While somewhat dangerous, this is what you want when you make the classic flaming cocktails, including many of the tiki ones.  Bacardi 151 is something similar, though I find Stroh 80 to be much better tasting…. It still takes the top layer of your throat off when you drink it straight.  Stroh 80 has a slightly sweet taste with a strong vanilla taste plus sweet spices.

So far, I’ve made a classic Austrian cocktail called Jaegertee, which is basically hot strong black tea and various kinds of alcohol plus a little fruit juice.  The Austrian National Tourist board has what I’m assuming is an authentic recipe on their website here.   I did not have any plum brandy so I just added more spiced rum, e.g. Stroh.  The wine I used was Cabernet Sauvignon from a box.  The tea was Constant Comment from Bigelow, which had the added convenience of already being spiced.  A pour of orange juice, a squirt of fresh lemon and there you go.  And it will indeed make you feel warm and tipsy in short order. A spoonful of honey would also make a nice addition.

duckWhile sipping my jaegertee and since I had a couple of days off from work, I also decided to do a bit of cooking.  One of the small benefits of working in the meat department is that I can scoop up some more expensive meats when they are about to have their “sell by” date expire.  It’s not  much of a discount, but it does give us a chance to try a few new things.  Yesterday evening, I made a magret duck breast, which is a half duck breast taken off the bone.  You can order the same thing from D’Artagnan here.  They also have instructions on how to cook it.  Don’t be afraid to brown the skin well, until it is very dark brown.  This will render the copious fat from the duck; I got a half cup of duck fat from this one half breast.  We cooked it a little more than we probably should have but it was still delicious.  To us, it tastes like a very good beef steak with a lovely layer of crisp poultry skin on top,  the best of both worlds.  With this, I made a balsamic cherry reduction, recipe right here.  Most excellent!

the whole tart
the whole tart

We had this on its own, though we had planned on having asparagus with it.  Our appetite was curtailed by an appetizer of a baked tart of blue cheese in puff  pastry with hot pepper sauce drizzled over it.  We had come upon this on our vacation to the Finger Lakes, at The Snug Harbor in Hammondsport.  I recreated it with a sheet of frozen puff pastry and a slice of Danish blue cheese 5 inches on a side and a half inch thick (the original used gorgonzola dolce).  Fold the pastry sheet in half, placing the cheese on one side.  Moisten edges with milk and crimp with a fork to seal.  Brush with milk to get a golden brown crust. To bake, follow the directions on the puff pastry box, in this case 430 degrees until golden brown.  It took about cheese tart slice30 minutes.  The blue cheese melted very nicely to fill the entire tart. A drizzle of hot pepper sauce, Franks Hot Cayenne, make it a nice riff on the classic buffalo hot wings.

That’s it for now. Eat, and drink, well!

From the Kitchen and Bar – anniversary dinner and snacks

This weekend we celebrated being married over two decades, 22 years to be precise with a few years of shacking up before that.  Couldn’t do it on the day we got married, but we did a bit later with tasty foods, part of the problems and benefits from working in a retail meat department.   Oh, I got a new camera too so hopefully you’ll notice that the pictures are a bit better.

meatI came out of the grocery with quite a haul.  One half-pound beef tenderloin steak, a bag of sea scallops, a stick of dried Spanish chorizo, fresh asparagus and a chocolate cake.

scallopsThe appetizer was a recipe I swiped from Nigella Lawson, frizzling small 1/8” thick slices of the chorizo to render fat to fry the scallops.  A very nice tapas.  I would have thought the sausage to be too strong for the seafood but they work very well together.

The beef tenderloin was done as we usually do steak, in a cast iron skillet, to a nice medium rare.  I also made béarnaise sauce at the request of my husband who loves it.  A great recipe for this is from the Joy of Cooking.  It’s simple and made in a blender.

asparagusThe asparagus was roasted in the oven (recipe here).  They were also eaten with the béarnaise sauce.   You also can see them cooked, sharing the plate with the steak….and a cat hair.  plate

With this we had our second to last bottle of wine from the Finger Lakes vacation.  The McGregor Highland Red, a nice peppery red blend.

After being sated by all of this, the cake became breakfast for the next morning. 🙂

I’d also like to mention two snack foods here too.   Wegmans has a very tasty Buffalo Blue Cheese ruffled potato chip.  For those who aren’t from the states, we have a tendency to put fried chicken wings in a vinegar pepper sauce and then dunk them into blue cheese dressing.  The other snack is Utz’s cheese balls, a puff of deep fried batter with bright orange cheese powder on them.  They are utterly junk food, but are so tasty.  They are better than other cheese balls because they have butter (aka milkfat) in them.  Get them in the barrel, you’ll want that many.

That’s all.  Eat well!

From the Kitchen – Quiche, cookies and apple dumplings

quicheWith work, I don’t have as much time to cook as I’d like.   So, when I have a couple days in row off, I cook a lot.  This time, it was quiche, apple dumplings and two types of cookies. The chocolate chip/toffee cookies have been blogged about earlier here.    The other cookies are a result of me having the ideal of making platefuls of cookies for the holidays, though I’ve yet done so.

These are a slightly modified version of the Cinnamon Orange Coconut Cookies from “The Christmas Cookie Book” by Knipe and Marks.  These stay pleasantly soft even after a few days.  I think it’s because of the coconut. The odd amounts are from me halving the recipe.

1.25 cups AP flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 cup butter softened

1/8 cup vegetable shortening

½ c sugar

1 large egg

½ tsp orange extract

¾ cup flaked coconut( I use flaked sweetened since I use it in other things)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees celcius).  Line cookie sheets with parchment or grease.

Cream shortening, butter, sugar together.  Add egg and orange extract and beat until mixed.  Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl, mix and then add to creamed mixture.  Beat until smooth.  Mix in coconut.

Scoop into 1 inch balls.  Roll in cinnamon sugar.  Place on cookie sheets and flatten slightly.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Cookies will puff slightly and will be pale and soft when you remove them from oven.  They will firm as they cool.  They can be dipped in chocolate but I find that is just gilding the lily.

Apple Dumplings a la Betty

Apple dumplings are essentially apple galettes or crostadas, where pie dough is rolled out, filled with apples and then the sides of the pie dough are just brought up and over, not using a pie pan.   These ones are different in that the dumplings are placed in a 9” x 13” baking dish and hot sugar syrup is poured around them *before* baking.  This is my mother-in-law’s recipe and I was sure that it could not possibly work and that the dough would simply disintegrate.   But it doesn’t.

This is a bit more of a procedure than a recipe.  Preheat oven to 425 degree Fahrenheit (218 degrees celcius).  Take your favorite pie dough (my favorite here.  I haven’t tried it with refrigerated pie dough, but it should work).  Make rough circles of dough about 1/8” thick and around 10 inches in diameter.  Take sliced raw apples coated in a mix of sugar, cinnamon and a little flour and place them in the center of each circle, enough to be a small pile but that will allow a couple of inches of dough to wrap up and around them (I usually use about 6-8 baking apples.  I prefer Winesap apples but they are nearly impossible to get).  About six will fit in a 9” x 13” pan.  Then make a syrup of 1 cup sugar, one cup water and three tablespoons of butter, boiling for 3 minutes until slightly thickened.  Pour *hot* syrup around dumplings and place in oven for approximately 45 minutes.  Test doneness by poking apples with a knife to see if they are soft.

Quiche a la Velkyn

Finally, I made a quiche, aka a savory custard pie.  This is my take on the Quiche Lorraine from the “Joy of Cooking”.  It came out wonderfully, as light and silky as could be.  I used the above pie crust as the shell.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees celcius).

Prepare a 9 inch pie shell of your favorite pie crust. Prick it well and brush it with egg white which will seal it and keep the crust crisp.

Scald 2 cups of whole milk or cream (I use whole milk, since cream is way too rich in this for me).  Scald means bring just up to boiling and then removing from the heat. Let cool to just warm to the touch.

Fry ¼ pound of bacon until crisp and crumble.  Fry ½ cup of finely chopped onions in vegetable oil or butter until translucent and tender but not browned.  Grate ½ cup of swiss cheese.

Beat together cooled milk, 3 eggs plus the yolk left over from the egg white used to brush the crust, ¼ tsp of salt, 1/8 tsp of black pepper, a pinch of nutmeg (it really does make a difference).  Make sure this is very well mixed.

Sprinkle grated cheese, bacon crumbles and onions on bottom of pie crust and pour custard mixture over it gently.  Bake 35-40 minutes until top is golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  You just want this to be barely set in the center.  Overcook it and you will get a watery custard because the proteins in the eggs and milk constrict and force the water out.

The quiche was quite good with the JR Dill Jabber Waulkie semi-sweet Riesling from our peregrinations round the Finger Lakes.  Sorry no photos this time.  Maybe I’ll get a new camera for a present….

Eat well!

What the Boss Likes – finger lakes vacation, part 3 – distillers, wines and tasty tasty food

???????????????????????????????This is the final entry on our Finger Lakes vacation.   After touring the east shore of Keuka Lake and part of the west shore of Seneca Lake, we decided to go out of the immediate area on Sunday and visit the “holy of holies”, Genesee Brewing, in Rochester, NY.    We’ve been drinking Genesee beers for decades, mostly the Cream Ale, and decided to see where all of our hard-earned money has gone.

We made it to Rochester with no problem.  Had a bit of confusion when it came to finding Cataract Street.  The street sign is small and it looks as if you are going to be turning into the brewery itself.  The name of the street is appropriate considering it leads you to a lovely overlook of the falls in the Genesee River.???????????????????????????????

The pub has only been around for about a year now.  It consists of a museum, gift shop and small brewery on the first floor and a restaurant on the second.  The small brewery, the “pilot brewery”, makes a few special beers for consumption only on site (or for take away in a growler).  We tried a flight of these beers, including a fresh Cream Ale, and then headed upstairs for lunch.

???????????????????????????????The place was very busy, and rather loud thanks to various sports games being on.  We got a perfect table against a wall at a window.  Ordering two more cream ales (no, we’ve not got tired of them yet), we perused the menu.  A special was buffalo chicken egg rolls – chicken, hot sauce wrapped in an egg roll wrapper and deep fried.  These were very tasty and a good amount as an appetizer for two.  I then got a most excellent hot dog, the type that still has the casing, covered with well-drained sauerkraut and a pile of tasty potato chips.  My husband got a beef on weck, a famous sandwich from the western NY area that consists of thin sliced roast beef on a roll that is covered with caraway seeds and large grain salt.  (the pub’s website doesn’t have the entire menu up on it.)  I wanted a sign with Miss Jenny on it but I really had no place for it.  So we settled for getting a pint glass that had the logo of our beloved cream ale on it.

We got back to Hammondsport in the later afternoon. We made reservations at a local restaurant, the Snug Harbor for later in the evening, so we spent some time wandering around the town and relaxing in our room.

The Snug Harbor appears to be a large lakeside house that was converted into a restaurant.  There is parking across the road from it, against a rock wall and some down a very steep lane near the building.  It even has docks for lake traffic.  We were seated near a real fireplace with a fire in it, very nice on a cool evening.    A local jazz station played softly in the background, and once the arguing couple next to us left, it was a very pleasant evening.  My husband had the Bayou trio cakes which were mixed seafood cakes breaded and deep fried.  I had a evening special, a cracked peppercorn sirloin; both quite tasty.

After a breakfast of eggs benedict, we headed to the east shore of Seneca Lake.   There are some very nice falls along the road there but they have little parking to enjoy them.

???????????????????????????????Our first stop was Finger Lakes Distilling.  We got there a little before they opened so we looked over the lake as we waited.  You can see the tall copper still through the windows on the side.  Once they opened, we went into to be greeted by a sweet border collie.  He very much wanted to play but a room full of glass bottled isn’t the place to play fetch.  So he contented himself with having his ears rubbed by me.

Three dollars got a sampling of three of their products.  I tried the rye, the gewurtztraminer grappa and maplejack liqueur.  The grappa was 90 proof and left a nice warm line down my throat.   The maplejack was not terribly sweet and excellent for sipping, a apple brandy sweetened lightly with maple syrup.   I have a taste for rye, and this one was a very good version, spicy with the nutty notes from the sherry barrels coming through nicely.  The most notable thing my husband tried was the Glen Thunder, a classic American corn whiskey, aka moonshine.  We’ve had moonshines, but this one was probably the best we had.  It didn’t have the funky corn cob taste, and tasted more like caramel corn.  We came away with a bottle of rye, though I’d love to get more from here.  They also have a very nice selection of bitters from various sources. Continue reading “What the Boss Likes – finger lakes vacation, part 3 – distillers, wines and tasty tasty food”

What the Boss Likes – Finger Lakes vacation, part 2 – eating and drinking far too much

After leaving Watkins Glen, we headed for Hammondsport and our bed and breakfast.  Hammondsport is at the southern tip of Keuka Lake.  It was called “America’s coolest small town” by Budget Travel.  I will have to say it’s nice but as someone who grew up near small towns, it takes someone who rarely spent time in one to find the lack of amenities “charming”.  I suppose that internet shopping can take care of such things but I don’t find having to drive a half an hour to get to anything to be that much fun.

Blushing Rose
Blushing Rose

We stayed at the Blushing Rose B&B. (our room was the Twilight Room)  The room was very nice, having a large bed (it was quite high and had a set of steps to get into it).  We were also fed huge breakfasts (eggs benedict, hash brown nests with scrambled eggs, pastries, fruit, etc)   I’m not used to eating much in the morning and though tasty, it was pretty much a guarantee to an upset stomach.  We learned to be much less greedy after the first day.

From Bully Hill down toward lake
From Bully Hill down toward lake

After settling in, we headed to Bully Hill Vineyards and winery.   Be aware that you have to go a crazy steep road to get there and it definitely had me clutching the armrest (I don’t like heights). They have a restaurant there and we had reservations for the evening.  We had lucked into a nice spate of weather and were able to eat outside on their deck.  We both like their wines but the food was not that great.  I had the variety plate of smoked meats and my husband had the scallops.  The meat tasted good but was dry as smoked meats often are and the house made bbq sauces were a welcome relief; the scallops were very good on their bed of wilted spinach.   From the deck, you can probably see 20 miles over the rolling hills/low mountains of the area.

We have enjoyed Bully Hill wines for a number of years. They do tend to be on the sweeter side, though they do have drier wines available only at the facility (quite a few wineries do that, having limited bottlings only at the winery).  We bought a bottle of one limited variety called Seasons, a white .    I did want to try the Space Shuttle Red, but we thought we’d return to the winery to get it and ended up not doing so.    The Seasons got drank that evening on the porch of the B&B, while we watched the lake and the people returning from the local storytelling festivalContinue reading “What the Boss Likes – Finger Lakes vacation, part 2 – eating and drinking far too much”

What the Boss Likes – Finger Lakes vacation, part 1 – geology, food and drink

We’ve not taken a vacation for a couple of years due to various circumstances.  So this year, we decided to go somewhere relatively close to us here in central Pennsylvania but somewhere we’ve never been before.  We chose the Finger Lakes region of New York state, a place full of wineries, restaurants and interesting geology.

First thing I’ll tell you that in my opinion there are too many wineries up there.  The place started in wine production back in the 1800s, had a pause thanks to the utter ridiculous idea of Prohibition, and restarted in the 1970s.  There are some very good ones and then the rest?  Well, it’s far too many people making meh wine to cash in on the tourists.  And the meh wine can be dry or sweet, it’s just not anything special.

There are a few breweries springing up and distilleries. I’ll get into detail on some of them later.  The breweries will likely get too many also since hop production is returning to the Finger Lakes  and the state is offering tax incentives to use them.

The area is very much like where my husband and I grew up, though writ larger with the hills being twice as high and the valleys twice as wide. (nice satellite photo here, the lakes are at the bottom)  As the name indicates, there are lakes, long, narrow and some quite deep (the deepest, Seneca,  getting over 600’ or 188 meters). These are the result of glaciers and very soft rock, mostly shale, created from the erosion of the old mountains on the east coast.

We stayed on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport.  We also spent some time around Seneca Lake, the largest of the lakes.  My husband is having a great time postulating lake monsters, and with US Navy testing equipment in Seneca, it has all sorts of possibilities for stories on how the tests aren’t tests at all…..  🙂

These posts are going to combine stops along the road, reviews of food, wine, etc and of course my opinions.  I’m going to try to keep it vaguely chronological.

long down hill stretch.  Small white rectangle in right of photo is a tractor-trailer.
long down hill stretch. Small white rectangle in right of photo is a tractor-trailer.

We headed up US Route 15 which is pretty much a straight shot between Harrisburg PA and the lakes.  We stopped in Watkins Glen, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake.  It’s the location of the Watkins Glen state park, with great geology.  It also has the Watkins Glen NASCAR racetrack, an American pastime that seems to be nothing more than high-speed chariot racing, with the audience just as blood thirsty as the ancient Romans.    It supposedly had its origins in the bootleggers from Prohibition who had to get their illegal alcohol cargo in and out fast.  (incidentally, my husband’s grandmother, Effie, was one of those bootleggers, she was the hammer girl in the backseat  who would smash the glass bottles so the liquor could drain out the holes drilled in the floor of the car. Thus,  law enforcement would not catch them with the goods).  As you can see, the leaves are beginning to turn colors thanks to autumn in these latitudes.

wildflower café
wildflower café

We stopped for lunch at the Wildflower Café/Crooked Rooster Brew Pub (they stock Rooster Fish Brewing’s ales).   One reason we wanted to stop there is that they have deep fried jalepeno peppers.  Also got a blue cheese burger and a caprese Panini (tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil).  Beers were a good Hefeweizen for myself and a classic Mysterious amber ale for my husband.  Most of the small towns in the area are full of lovely Victorian mansions, results from the old wealth of timber, etc.

Fried jalapenos
Fried jalapenos


After lunch we headed to the state park, right on the edge of town.  The ad copy for the park says that it leaves visitors spellbound.  It also leaves them breathless, literally. The park is a chasm between 200 foot cliffs and has 800 plus steps on slippery rock paths that are all up from the town.  Sometimes they have a shuttle to bring you back down but they didn’t have that when we visited.   You want to be in shape for this and have good shoes.   Also, take water.  There’s plenty of it in the chasm but none to drink.

The park is very similar looking to the slot canyons in the US southwest and other parts of the world, although it’s wetter and darker.   The chasm is lined with walkways, all about one person wide.  They do have walls on them but the walls only go up to about mid-thigh.  If you have issues with heights, I would recommend giving this place a pass.   See photos in the gallery below.

Since my husband and I do like our sword and sorcery fiction, this all looks like where one would be meeting dwarves or elves.   One can imagine just how hard it would be to fight with sword and shield on such a small path.


Next post, more about the wine, mead, whiskey and food.