Father’s Day sausage: Rolf’s Pork Store vs. Chester’s Smokehouse

Rolf’s sausages, clockwise from upper left: teawurst, head cheese, tongue sausage, smoked liverwurst

Residents of New York’s Capital District are fortunate to have access to several eastern European-style delis. Two of the best-known are Rolf’s Pork Store in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood and Chester’s Smokehouse near Honest Weight. I generally stop at the latter because of my traffic patterns, but for a Father’s Day sausage treat I decided to put together a deli platter with meats from both. I also got comparative tubs of German Potato Salad to serve with the Vincent’s Cole Slaw and KFC Three-Bean Salad we were making at home.

German potato salads. Chester’s is at left.

A taste test of the potato salads gave a slight edge to Rolf’s because of the extra amount of gravy to slurp up. The flavors were very close and the main difference was the house-cured bacon used by each. That’s the only head-to-head comparison. At Rolf’s I got teawurst, smoked liverwurst, head cheese and tongue sausage; Chester contributed his veal loaf, Westphalian ham and a couple of cheeses. The flavor profile of Chester’s gravitates to warm pickling spices like mace, clove and bay leaves; at Rolf’s it’s paprika.

Dads Day Table

The Father’s Day table, ready for action.

The winner was definitely our stomachs, till the post meal lethargy set in. Fortunately it was a perfect day for a hike in Spa Park to work it off, followed by a swim. Summer is good in Saratoga, at least until the next deluge hits.

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SCCC fundraiser to honor late Chef Jackie Baldwin

I’ve previously written about the great things going on in Schenectady County Community College’s Culinary Arts program. You can support the program and score what looks to some outstanding cuisine by attending a fundraising gala honoring the late Chef Jackie Baldwin, an SCCC graduate, this Monday night  June 19, 2017 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m

It being the weekend I’m going to just quote the press release. But I hope you’ll read between the lines and see that among the many participants are chefs who rarely show up at charity events. They may be graduates of the program, or they may benefit from SCCC-trained staff who work in their kitchens. (Monday is “industry night” when a lot of restaurant folks are off, so you may see your favorite chefs tasting as well as serving.)

Honor Chef Baldwin, support SCCC, and have some good eats doing it. Tickets are available here. See you Monday night in Troy.

TROY, NY (5/31/17) — An inaugural gala fundraiser to establish a
scholarship in memory of one of the Capital Region’s premiere woman
chefs will be held this June. The evening will feature more than a dozen
exceptional Capital Region chef-sponsored food stations.

On March 18, 2016, the late Jackie Baldwin died shortly after being
diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in January. She was in her early 50s
and lived in Troy, where she had worked as executive chef of RPI for 14
years prior to her promotion in 2015 to area executive chef for Sodexo,
supervising food service at 32 college and university campuses in New
York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

A native-born Trojan and graduate of Troy Schools and Russell Sage
College, Jackie acquired a culinary degree from Schenectady County
Community College in 1983 becoming one of the few premier women chefs in
the Capital District. One of the highlights of her career included
hosting dinner at the James Beard Foundation in New York City in 2006
and 2007.

Friends say Baldwin dedicated her life to service, contribution, and
improvement and that her open heart, kindness and boundless energy was a
gift to all who knew her.

Local celebrity Chef Ric Orlando said Baldwin was “a testament to
professionalism and poise.”

Inaugural Fundraiser Jun 19, 2017 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

In her memory, the Chef Jackie Baldwin Memorial Scholarship is being
created at SCCC Culinary Arts Program. There will be an inaugural
fundraiser for the scholarship fund this Monday, June 19 at Franklin
Terrace Ballroom in Troy, N.Y. from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The evening will include more than a dozen exceptional Capital Region
chef-sponsored food stations, culinary student demonstrations, Jackie’s
favorite homemade pickles, cash bar, silent auction, music, memory table
of Jackie’s accolades, and a place to write your favorite memories of

Participating chefs and chef stations include:

Chef Michael Niccoli, CEA, CCA; Restaurant Navona
Chef Jamie Ortiz, Executive Chef; CEC; Mazzone Hospitality, Albany
Chef Robert Payne, CEC; Bears Steakhouse, Duanesburg
Chef David Campbell, CCC, CCE; SUNY Cobleskill
Chef Melissa Doney, CEC; Browns Brewing, Troy
ACF Capital District Central New York
Chef Chris Tanner, CEC; American Culinary Federation
Chef Larry Schepici, Jacks’ Oyster House, Albany & Chef Mark Graham,
Founder of Chef Mark Graham Cuisine
Chef’s Michael Cunningham, Rachel Bozzella and Ganna Fedorova, Provence,
Albany, Milano, Latham
Student Chef Table, Schenectady County Community College
Chef Darren Alvaro, RPI SODEXO
Chef Jude Jerome, UALBANY SODEXO
Chef Gillian Manna, Sage Colleges
Chef Yono Purnomo, Executive Chef; Yono’s, Albany
Chef Dale Miller, CMC, WGMC, AAC Consulting & Chef Jim Rhodes, Skidmore
Rocco DeFazio, DeFazio’s Pizza, Troy
The Shop, Troy


Tickets to the fundraiser are $60 for an individual, $100 for a couple.
Donations are also welcome.

For information, to purchase tickets or to make a donation, visit:

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Recipe: Cuban-Style Black Beans

Cuban Black Beans

Cuban-style black beans

Last time I made these I used the Instant Pot and they were ready in under an hour. Convenient, but I prefer to cook on the stovetop because I can regulate the amount of water. Depending on how much water you use, these Cuban-style black beans could be almost dry (not recommended), nice and saucy or even a black bean soup (for that, remove a good amount of beans at some point, purée, then return to soup). Serves 4.

1 c dried black beans
4 bay leaves
3 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ onion, peeled
½ t dried oregano
¼ c chopped green pepper
1 t salt

Cubano Sandwich

My Cuban prep was inspired by this Cubano sandwich recipe, which I found on ChefSteps.

Method: soak the beans overnight in a generous amount of water, or else bring them to the boil, then turn off and let set an hour or more. After soaking, add bay leaves, onion and garlic and 1 T olive oil and cook over low heat until very tender. Remove bay leaves, onion and garlic; add 2 T olive oil, salt and chopped green pepper and cook a little longer. Adjust seasoning and serve with/over white rice. Garnish with lemon slices, if you like.

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Dominic Colose and the restaurant alternative

Yawning Duck Paella

Chef Dominic Colose at work on paella

The other night I tried the new Mediterranean menu from Dominic and Jennifer Colose of Yawning Duck. Flavors were bright, complementary and perfect for summer. But Chef Colose, recently of Chez Nous in Schenectady and before that the Wine Bar in Saratoga, is not offering this meal in a restaurant setting. It’s only available through catering or one of Yawning Duck’s special projects.

Colose left the restaurant business for personal and family reasons, as he explained in his blog. But his timing may be fortuitous. Across the U.S., same-store restaurant sales were down 2.4% in 2016, even worse at “casual dining” places like Applebee’s. As usual, the slump was blamed on millennials, who may not have the time or inclination to pay for sit-down service when they can get a quality “fast casual” meal at Chipotle for a fraction of the price.

Yawning Duck Sardines

Sardines en escabeche

To me, paying to eat someone else’s cooking is a price/value decision. It’s been a while since I dined at Applebee’s (the one in my town closed some time ago) and I mainly went for the salad bar, which came with a budget lunch entrée (a hamburger as I recall). You’re not going to find me spending a good chunk of my evening eating a formulaic meal served by indifferent staff and paying an upcharge for the privilege.

Yawning Duck’s catering is a restaurant alternative. Chef Colose stressed to me that “personalization” will be the factor that sets him apart as a caterer. If you host an event, you will have the food you want and you will be happy and your guests will be satisfied. Not having an event? Then come to one of their biweekly wine dinners or a pop-up like this one, happening Saturday June 17 at Rare Form Brewing in Troy.

I also like the idea of the “fast fine” concept which Wall Street Journal reporter Jane Black wrote about the other day. The food is at a fine dining level, but you order at a counter and pick it up when it’s ready. This leads to lower prices because there are fewer staff. Her example was Made Nice in Manhattan, where the chefs are serving dishes developed at Eleven Madison. Jane, a millennial, liked it a lot. Her father resented the lack of service. I may check it out when I’m in NYC for the Fancy Food Show in a couple of weeks.

Yawning Duck Olive Oil Cake

Olive Oil Cake

Back to Yawning Duck, their tapas-style menu works really well for catering because most dishes can be enjoyed hot, at room temperature or slightly cooled. I tried roasted artichokes, sardines in a mild escabeche, potato and octopus salad as well as standbys like paella (with snails!) and gazpacho. My favorite items were a zucchini salad with mint and a hearty olive oil cake with dried cherries and pistachios. Definitely ask for these two if you engage the Duck. (The name came from a lazy quacker which joined them one day when Dominic and Jennifer were having a picnic in Congress Park, and seemed to embody an ideal attitude toward life.)

Serendipity Arts Studio

Yawning Duck will host wine dinners for 12 at this table in Serendipity Art Studio. Price per person estimated $75-$125 including wine pairings.

Serendipity Arts Studio, where the preview was held and where Yawning Duck will host biweekly wine dinners, provides hands-on cooking classes which are geared to your needs and interests—including children’s classes and special needs classes. Chef Colose will be teaching here among his other balls in the air. The kitchen and prep area is generous but contains mostly the same equipment you’d find in a home kitchen, which makes it easier to replicate your findings.

Soon it will be tourist season in Saratoga, and throngs will have a long wait for mediocre food served by temporary help. It’s a bubble; after Labor Day more than one of the new places is likely to close. I predict that Yawning Duck will endure.

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Recipe: Pollo Al Jerez

Pollo al Jerez

Pollo al Jerez (chicken cooked with sherry, Cuban-style)

This is my attempt at the Pollo al Jerez (chicken with sherry) served at the Colmao restaurant in the Pico district of Los Angeles. It’s pretty good, but a work in progress. The original version has a tartness which makes me think they actually use sherry vinegar, rather than sherry. Try that, or squirt some vinegar on at serving time, if you’re adventurous. Serves 4-6.

2 lbs chicken breast or thighs, or a combination
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into ½ moon slices, about 2 c
2 T olive oil, plus extra as needed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ c green olives, with pimentos if you have them, coarsely chopped
¼ c sherry, dry or sweet

Method: in a sauté pan, sweat the onions over very low heat until they are sweet and limp but not yet caramelized, about 30 minutes. Reserve. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, and dredge them in flour. Heat the oil remaining in the pan (add more if necessary) and sauté the pieces on both sides until they are crisp. Add garlic and sherry, cover and cook over low heat until chicken is cooked through, 20 minutes. Add green olives and serve over rice.

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Benton’s is the piggie that just keeps on giving

Benton Ham Scraps

“Skin and bones” from Benton Country Ham

In my post on Benton’s Country Hams, I noted that the “Aged Whole Country Ham Deboned & Trimmed” with product code AWCHDT promises to deliver a number of pre-sliced ham steaks plus the bone and skin wrapped separately. The latter doesn’t sound particularly interesting so the two wrapped parcels I received with my cryovac’d steaks had languished in my fridge for a couple of months. Well, the other day I took the butcher paper off.

This is totally unexpected bounty which will season half a dozen pots full of beans and ham, starting with the soup I made last night. Benton’s “trim” seems to include anything that can’t easily be sawed into a steak, so the package had quite a bit of accessible meat that could be left in, or sliced off as a treat for the cook.

I wish I had taken a picture when I first unwrapped the package because the pieces were covered with lots of spots of mold. I simply scraped them off with a paring knife, wiped it down with a moist paper towel, and the results were as you see here. All part of the aging process, so don’t be squeamish.

Speaking of which, a reader in a warm climate told me she ordered and got a package of ham that looked grey and had an off taste. I corresponded with Tommy at Benton’s and he confirmed that they ship worldwide without ice because the ham is, after all, cured. I put the two in touch and hopefully some resolution was reached to the satisfaction of this first time customer.

If you are concerned, take note of the tracking number in the email you’ll receive from Benton’s and make sure you are not out of town when it arrives, especially during the summer months here in the U.S.

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Food for Thought: Making of a Chef

Making of a Chef is not a new book; it was first published in 1997 and I only became aware of it because of author Michael Ruhlman’s latest, Grocery. But it’s not outdated at all, other than the numbers quoted for tuition at the Culinary Institute of America. I highly recommend it as a thorough and surprisingly passionate description of the student’s journey at “The Culinary” as it is known in the industry.

Similar to Bill Buford in Heat, Ruhlman goes into class planning simply to chronicle the process of culinary education but is soon swept into the vortex and finds himself abandoning his infant daughter (don’t worry, his wife is at home though she’s pissed) and driving through one of our wonderful upstate snowstorms to make a sauce. Instead of writing about being a cook, he decides to be a cook and seems to have succeeded.

I’ve spent some time in the kitchens of the CIA and have participated in many classes taught by professional chefs (and bakers, like Jeffrey Hamelman) who become teachers. His description of what goes on at the CIA is spot-on and will help you understand why they charge so much*. I am a proud non-graduate of the culinary training program at Trade Tech in Los Angeles, the oldest such program in America predating The Culinary by a few years. We worked in teams at this public institution so I can only imagine the precision and the challenge facing each student as he or she prepares a brown stock on an individual cooktop and then is judged one-on-one.

It is not surprising that chefs who become teachers are good at it; they are used to thinking on their feet and teaching every day. But chefs tend to have a more volatile personality than the average college professor and to be less tolerant of mistakes; Ruhlman captures this beautifully. I’m impressed that he was able to attend class and kitchen sessions, keep up with his classmates, and write about it in detail later.

Be warned: this book may make you want to quit your day job. Check it out.

*Here is a thoughtful article from Chowhound on the value of a culinary education.

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Recipe: Carrots with Thyme and Honey

Carrots Thyme Honey

Carrots with Thyme and Honey (I used red onion because that was what I had on hand)

This is my favorite way to cook carrots. It’s very easy, tastes great, and is a perfect accompaniment to roast pork or another meat. I found the original carrots with thyme and honey recipe in an Elizabeth David paperback I bought in the UK a very long time ago, but have been cooking from memory these last many years. Serves 4.

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices on the bias
1 T butter
1/4 c finely chopped onion
1 t fresh thyme, or 1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t salt
1/4 c water
1 t honey

Method: Sauté the onions in the butter just until they begin to wilt. Add carrots and toss to coat all surfaces with the melted butter. Add salt, water and thyme. Cover and cook over low heat until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in honey and let the carrots sit a minute until it dissipates. This is a cook-friendly dish you can serve immediately, but it will be just as good if you prepare in advance and then heat up at serving time.

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Using a cake pan to steam baguettes in a home oven

Baguette with Steam Crust

Nicely caramelized baguette crust thanks to my improvised Nordic Ware lid

I have previously written of my attempts to steam baguettes in a home oven. Steam produces nice “ears” and a glossy, caramelized crust similar to what you’d get from a professional bakery. You can closely replicate the effect for batards and rounds by baking in the controlled environment of a dutch oven, which traps the moisture in the dough until you remove the lid at 20 minutes or so. But it’s a challenge to do the same with baguettes.

Nordic Ware with Baguettes

Nordic Ware pan is about the same size a a half sheet

Recently I’ve made some progress, using an inexpensive hack purchased on Amazon. It’s a “Nordic Ware Commercial High-Sided Sheet Cake Pan” whose interior dimension at the widest point purports to be just a little bigger than the outside edge of my half sheet pans. As usual, dimensions are approximate on Amazon but it does provide a tiny bit of overlap giving you a steam seal if you manipulate carefully before closing the oven. (Don’t burn yourself! I preheat my sheet pan but definitely not this cover, which I will want to position with unguarded fingers.)

As a bonus, the pan has a lid (which you can see in Amazon’s washed out photo above) so you can use it for baking giant half-sheet cakes, decorating in the pan, and then bringing to a picnic or some such. At under $18, there’s really no reason not to check out one of these guys.

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Healthy mail order meat from ButcherBox

Butcherbox Ribeye

Nicely trimmed 10-oz ribeye from ButcherBox

I tried ButcherBox because of a special offer from ChefSteps (which may still be available… read on). I give them a thumbs up for shopping if you’re in an area where healthy meat (humanely raised and free from antibiotics and hormones) is not readily available. Prices are reasonable and they seemed to have learned from the experience of the many mail order meat companies that have preceded them.

ButcherBox box, ready for unboxing

There’s currently a choice of five boxes: Mixed Box, Beef & Pork Box, All Beef Box, Chicken & Pork Box and Beef & Chicken. Beef is grass fed/grass finished, pork is “heritage breed” (not further specified) and chicken is organic free range. I chose the Beef & Pork for $119 (a $10 savings with the offer) which included 2 10-oz. New York strips, 2 lb ground beef, 4 6-oz top sirloins, 4 8-oz pork chops and a 1-lb pork tenderloin. So that’s a total of about 7 pounds.

ButcherBox Tote

Nifty ButcherBox tote

What did I like? The product was delivered not in a Styrofoam chest, but a zip-up tote that had dry ice and cooling bags inside. Much more efficient use of packaging. ButcherBox doesn’t promise to deliver frozen meat which reduces the shipping requirement; it’s shipped flash-frozen to reach you nicely chilled. This allows ButcherBox to offer “free” (i.e. included) shipping vs the painful overnight delivery charges you often see. My package was shipped two-day UPS from the Midwest and then sat on the porch an extra day because I was out of town when it arrived. The meat was still cold when I opened the box.

ButcherBox innards (can’t see the meat, sorry)

I also liked the trim on my meats. Somebody really has a good hand with the trim knife. The steaks were nicely shaped with just enough fat to define the edges. The steaks were fine: they were lean without being chewy, my usual criticism of grass-feed beef. The pork program seems less successful. The chops were shoulder blade chops, a less-tender cut. And a 1-lb tenderloin turns out to be really tiny.

And I especially like the ButcherBox website which is just the right mix of advocacy and information, with a very robust FAQ. Some of the much bigger and more established mail order meat companies could learn from these guys.

About that special offer: use this link and if it works you can get $10 off plus two free 10-oz. ribeyes. Definitely worthwhile. You do have to sign up for regular deliveries to get the deal, but the ButcherBox customer service department advised me to choose “every three months” which allows plenty of time to cancel if you don’t like it.

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