Saturday, December 16, 2006

Home Made Egg Nog and Food Porn

Lookee what I did!
It's food porn! Isn't that the most luscious thing you've ever seen?

I just finished making my annual batch of egg nog in time for the solstice/Hannukah. Making it was a sensual experience. I may be slightly tipsy right now. But I only had, like, maybe 1/3 cup of the stuff. I love making egg nog. First, there was shopping for the freshest organic ingredients at the Troy Farmer's market. It's important to get only fresh organic eggs, milk, and cream, because it has to last for a while. The ingredients get to sit and deepen for about a week.

Okay this is where I say that you are technically *NOT SUPPOSED* to use raw eggs. Legal disclaimer: Nosher and her dependents and household items and her future progeny DO NOT recommend you eat raw eggs! Don't! Okay?!? Click here for scary USDA warnings about it. They recommend pasteurized eggs when you have to use raw eggs in a recipe. And here it says that "According to a recent USFDA report, between 128,000 and 640,000 Salmonella infections are annually associated with the consumption of S. Enteritidis-contaminated eggs, and the CDC estimates that 75% of all Salmonella outbreaks are due to raw or inadequately cooked Grade A whole shell eggs." Almost 600 people die in America every year from Salmonella infections. So, consider this a major caveat.

I buy all my eggs from Cornell Farms. They are from free range chickens. Dale & Edna Cornell
Cornell Farms
292 Lower Pine Valley Rd.
Hoosick Falls, NY 12090

They carry: "Dried/fresh herbs, vegetables, berries, honey, maple syrup, eggs, cut flowers, crafts."

Then I whip up the eggs (I'm not disclosing my full recipe here, but there are plenty of great egg nog recipes floating around on the web, so you can experiment and put one together). Then I feel warm inside looking at the beautiful yellow color of the yolks.

It's the color of the returning sun. Now I have to go pack up the bottles and ship them off to all the good little girls and boys.

This has been a nog blog (yuk yuk).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Café Utopia in Mrs. London's

If I could have my way in the world without the restraints of reality, I would eat every day at Mrs. London's in Saratoga. In fact, I would live there. I can't think of enough good things to say about it. In every way it is the ideal café, with the highest quality European style pastries, cakes, espresso drinks and teas. Even their chinaware is of the best quality. And their almond croissants are as good as the best almond croissants in Paris (and I've tasted lots of them both in Paris, and here).

But that doesn't even begin to explain why I love Mrs. London's. Here is a photo of their famed chocolate nebula, a cake of chocolate mousse of such featherweight chocolate heaven and ethereal beauty it approximates the ideal afterlife in chocolate. I've been to Mrs. London's many times, and each time it seems to be even better than what I had remembered. Last week I went there after an incredible spa experience at esthetiques-- my birthday present to myself. I would recommend esthetiques, although they don't have the mineral waters of the Lincoln Baths or Crystal Spa nearby. Anyway, I was already on cloud nine, but eating at Mrs. London's was in itself a transformative healing experience.
I went hoping that they would have my favorite soup, a simple cream of tomato served with grated cheddar that is out of this world. They didn't have it, but they did have a white bean pureé soup that was so good I can't stop thinking about it. It was flavored with rosemary and had a blush of tomato coloring in it, and was just so simple yet so delicious that I became determined to learn how to cook it at home myself.

See how they drizzle top-quality olive oil on the top of the soup? Doing that really enhances the flavor, which was just sublime. I was lucky enough to be in the café at the same time as Mrs. London herself, who explained to me that the soup was actually quite easy, and she makes it with dry beans that need to be soaked, but in a pinch one can make it with canned. Although the dry really are so much better. Beans, some tomato-- a little, not too much-- rosemary, and sage were the ingredients, and some stock.

They have sandwiches and salads at Mrs. London's as well as those stupendous soups, and I am thrilled to announce that they are in the process of expanding to become more of a restaurant. Along with the soup, they serve toothsome fresh bread and a generous pat of butter that is always at the exact right temperature for spreading, and not at all salty or unctuous. I suspect it is European butter.

Here is my full meal, including a pot of jasmine tea and a dessert:

My dessert, called Night and Day, uses the same airy chocolate mousse as the Nebula, but is swirled with fine, light layers of white cake, and topped with dark chocolate. It is just not possible to enter Mrs. London's and go without ordering a dessert. They are works of art-- some of them small domes decorated with tiny sugary honeybees, some of them elegant swirls of chocolate, and yet others classic tarts with perfect berries perched on top.

I swear, when I enter Mrs. London's, my heart rate relaxes and I feel I can breathe again knowing that the world is civilized and there is time for beautiful pastries and real espresso drinks and tea. Their decor is so classy and warm and just right, too. I usually find myself having enlightened thoughts about the state of the world. It is really food satori. But I do not consider Mrs. London's to be 'above and beyond' or 'only for special occasions.' Foods that take time and love to create are essential to life. Granted, it would be pretty unrealistic to eat at Mrs. London's every day (who knows, though? Maybe someone exists out there who does! If you are out there, write me and tell me what it's like to be in heaven, okay?), especially considering that I don't even live in Saratoga. But when I need to be reminded of perfection, I know where I to go.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

EATS at Stuyvesant Plaza

This is going to be brief, but I want to recommend EATS Gourmet Marketplace in Stuyvesant Plaza. They're a small deli/catering outfit with excellent stuff: Tate's cookies, a dairy section with imported yogurts, spreads and the like, smoked salmon, a sandwich of the day, gourmet chocolates, and a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish deli foods like chopped liver (it looks really good!), egg and potato salads, knishes, and stuffed grape leaves.

And their web page has photos! It's a good thing, because I forgot my camera.

My favorite item there is the Brie de la Brie. It's the authentic stuff! I don't know anywhere else around here where you can find actual Brie from Brie. The Coop has some, but it's not quite as good as at EATS.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nicole's Italia in Guilderland and "family values" food

Last night (Sunday) I went to see a movie at Crossgates with a friend. Afterwards we wanted to get something to eat and didn't want to deal with Houlihan's or Uno's at the mall (noisy, food not great). So we tried Nicole's Italia, which is about a mile west of the mall on Western Ave (Rte 20) in what is known as the "20 mall." It's near the Guilderland public library.

Nicole's has a web page, but I can't get it to click on anything.

As my goal was to escape the whole mall feeling, I felt that all in all, we had really just traded one mall for another, since Nicole's is in a large strip mall wedged near Hollywood video. The food at Nicole's was *okay* but overall I don't think I'd go back there. Next time I'm near the mall I will try BFS restaurant, but unfortunately they are closed Sundays.

We shared the bruschetta for appetizer, and that was good in a grilled-cheesey kind of way; it was on the same warm fresh white bread that was set on our table when we arrived. (And doh! I forgot my camera so I couldn't take a picture of anything! Dammit!) Then I had a Caesar salad, which was good, but unremarkable. It was a salad of the dark outer leaves of Romaine, and a so-so dressing that didn't have any of that tangy-salty bite I love. (In the case of an actual Caesar salad, I would have tasted fresh garlic and anchovy paste).

Our waiter was helpful and the service was good. We didn't have to wait at all-- that's the good news. On the other hand, the atmosphere in Nicole's Italia is something between grandmother's living room circa 1975 and the foyer of a funeral home. Lots of mauve and pink and candles on the tables with a partition between the main dining room and the bar made of that cut-glass that was so popular in the 80s. Their bathroom was clean.

My main course was the Gamberi Ortolano, "Lightly battered shrimp, sauteed with broccoli, mushrooms, mozarella in a marinara cream sauce over fettuccini." Oy! Too too much. I should have known from the description, but your Nosher is ever-optimistic and hopeful that her culinary dreams will be realized. The cream sauce was okay but a little bit watery, and there was overall too much mozarella. DeFazio's in Troy does a much better marinara-cream sauce (they call it Rosario). And as usual my portion was way too big, with the signature “family restaurant” mozarella melted and draped over everything like smog in a developing country.

The shrimps were somewhat overcooked (or perhaps just not very fresh) and absolutely buried in layers of fried stuff then sauce then cheese, until it almost didn't matter that I had ordered shrimp at all. It might as well have been tofu or chicken nuggets or eyeballs in there.

Why, one wonders, is this food burial dining referred to as “family” style? I consider "family style" these days to be a euphemism, but for what? Is it perhaps a reference to the sedentary nature of most American families, who like to eat doughy bread and deep-fried everything? Or is it our repression-- we repress our shrimps as we repress our emotions in family life? Is there something politically conservative about people who have resisted the changes wrought by the gourmet movement (a la The United States of Arugula) that aligns them with the “family values” crowd? I do suspect that the people who bring you food unchanged from the 1970s are the same ones who resist changing definitions of family like gay marriage and women's rights. Repression, smothered shrimp, backwards politics-- it's all the same, man!

Albany, apparently, is one of those outposts that has resisted changes both political and culinary, where diners can still glut on major splooges of melted mozarella.

To you, dear reader, this may be a good or a bad thing. For me, it inspired a dream last night in which I had moved back to New York City.

My friend got chicken parmigiana, which looked quite good, and he enjoyed it. It came with a generous side of linguini.

Then came dessert: I asked the waiter what he would recommend-- the strawberry shortcake, or the tiramisu. His vote was for the tiramisu. It was okay, but I must remark that it was the first time I ever had a tiramisu that came with whipped cream (the kind from a can) and chocolate goop, like as in Hershey's from a squeeze bottle.


Usually tiramisu = lady fingers soaked in espresso with mascarpone and bittersweet chocolate. Click here for good normal recipes for tiramisu at Heavenly tiramisu!! I've eaten tiramisu all over the world, and it took good ole Albany to put doubt in my heart about it. Now whenever I want to order it, part of me will hesitate, wondering: are they going to serve the tiramisu with chocolate squeeze sauce and whipped cream?

My friend's pecan pie was pretty good, with a butterscotchy rich flavor, but I had only one bite-- it was really sweet, and more might have felled me right there to the mauve carpeted floor.