Recipe: Amish Creamed Celery

Amish Creamed Celery

Amish Creamed Celery

Here’s a refreshingly different side dish to serve at Thanksgiving, when celery is on sale. I went ISO Amish Creamed Celery recipes because I missed out on the wedding feast* at Fisher’s Restaurant during my recent trip to Amish country. It’s essentially cooked celery in a sweet-and-sour béchamel**, and I like this version which uses butter and brown sugar. Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

1 bunch of celery, sliced into 1 inch pieces, about 4 c
chicken stock or water
2 t butter
2 t all purpose flour
½ c brown sugar
½ t salt
1 ½ t cider vinegar
¼ c cream, milk or half-and-half

Method: simmer the celery in stock or water until tender, about 20 minutes. Reserve the celery and the stock. In the same saucepan, melt butter then mix in flour to form a roux; stir and cook on low heat till flour is absorbed and the mix has a slightly nutty smell, about 1 minute. Add salt, brown sugar and vinegar, stirring constantly, then add chicken stock or water until the sauce is thick but still liquid (about ¼ c should do it). Remove from the heat and stir in cream or milk. Return the celery to the pan and stir to coat evenly. Serve hot.

*This web page presents a very detailed description of a typical Amish wedding in the Lancaster, PA. Creamed celery is served along with a main dish of “roast” which is what we would think of as Thanksgiving stuffing, but with chicken mixed in. Celery stalks in jars decorate the tables. I would like to find evidence that the sturdy, erect celery plant is a symbol of fertility, but so far have come up empty.

**I have been reading up on the green bean casserole where you mix canned green beans with mushroom soup and sprinkle fried onions on top. I think this béchamel would work much better as a sauce. But only serve one such dish at Thanksgiving, otherwise it gets monotonous.

Posted in Recipes, Sides | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Southern-style squash casserole for Thanksgiving

Squash Casserole

Squash Casserole on Choice Plate, with jalapeno muffin and fried chicken

Heads up, we are getting massive hits for our good ole Highland Park Cafeteria Squash Casserole recipe. Have the feeling a lot of folks are making this for Thanksgiving. If you are not familiar with this recipe, check it out!

Posted in Eating | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Stress-free Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house

Stress Free Thanksgiving

This turkey is giving you the stink eye. Photo by Vince Pakhala, licensed under Creative Commons.

We love Thanksgiving at Burnt My Fingers. What could be better than a holiday that’s all about food, and celebrating the “blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies” (in the words of President Lincoln, who initiated the holiday in 1863) that make that food possible?

Yet the headlines at this time of year seem to be about Thanksgiving stress… and how to have a stress-free Thanksgiving even if you hardly ever cook, and have upped the ante by inviting over a bunch of picky eaters. If this is you, maybe you should just order takeout. Lots of restaurants are now putting together complete Thanksgiving meals-to-go. One of our favorites, if you live in Upstate New York’s Capital District, is the groaning board at Chester’s Smokehouse.

These fine people will serve up a Thanksgiving feast including a 20 pound turkey (smoked or roasted), stuffing, mashed potatoes, 2 dozen handmade pierogi, cranberry chutney and gravy, green beans and four sides…all for $199. They say it will serve 8-10 people which requires each person to eat 2 pounds of turkey plus all the add-ons, so I think they’re being conservative.

It’s a great deal from some good cooks, though they’re asking for orders to be in by Friday, November 23. (But if you’re reading this at noon on Wednesday, don’t give up hope. They have put a few turkeys aside specifically for the procrastinators.) This deal doesn’t appear on their website, so I suggest you call Chester’s at (518) 650-6642.

Or, go for it. There’s nothing like the shared experienced of cooking together (this is key: your guests need to pitch in vs expecting to be waited on) and then eating yourselves into oblivion. When I was growing up in Texas, we would always have Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house. The women would mostly cook while the men and boys watched football (first the Texas-Texas A&M game, later the Cowboys vs the Lions). Only years later did we realize the women were having all the fun. We would eat an enormous passed meal of many dishes and then lie on the floor in the living room, attempt to watch more television and quickly fall asleep. It was a stress-free Thanksgiving for sure.

If that tableau appeals with you, start with our stress-free recipe for Foolproof Turkey. Make a stuffing that’s so easy a second-grader can do it (Mrs. Brooks’ class did). It’s a piece of cake to make your own cranberry sauce, but the storebought stuff isn’t bad. Add a few of your favorite sides—maybe green beans, sweet potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes—but don’t stress too much because nobody’s going to eat them. The next day will be even better, as you enjoy leftover turkey sandwiches made with Durkee’s Dressing.

Our best wishes for a happy, stress-free thanksgiving. We’ll see you on the other side.

Posted in Eating, Events | Tagged | 2 Comments

Recipe: Pickled Tongue, Basque-Style

Pickled Tongue

Pickled Tongue, Basque-Style

Central California and Northern Nevada are dotted with Basque hotels (formerly home to the shepherds when they would come down from the hills for the winter). You sit at a shared table and enjoy a family-style meal that always includes baked chicken, pasta and vegetable soup, sometimes beef or lamb…. And, if you are lucky, a prized dish of pickled tongue. It’s not really pickled but marinated and, once you acquire the main ingredient, Pickled Tongue Basque-Style is super easy to prepare at home. A 2-3 pound tongue, sliced without the connective muscle at the back, will serve 6-8 as an appetizer portion.

One beef tongue, or several lamb or pork tongues, 2-3 lbs total
Aromatics or pickling spices for cooking water
6-8 bay leaves for cooking water
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley or garden herbs (I used marjoram) for garnish

Method: cover tongue with water and bring to the boil. Lower heat to a simmer and add aromatics or pickling spices and bay leaves. Cover and cook one hour for each pound of tongue. Transfer tongue to a bowl and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, peel the tongue being careful not to tear the underlying meat. Slice on the bias into ¼ inch slices, starting at the tip*. You may want to stop before you get to the less-attractive connective muscle at the back, and use the remaining meat for sandwiches or a tongue hash.

Assemble the tongue pieces, salt and pepper, garlic, oil and vinegar and garnish in a bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Allow to marinate 2 hours or longer. Arrange the tongue slices on a platter and serve cold.

*If you want to preserve the tongue-y bumps on the surface, cut carefully with a sharp knife. I found I got better results when I pulled the knife toward me rather than pushing it, for some reason. This recipe, which has several other interesting features and comes from a well-known Basque restaurant, suggests it will be easier to slice if it’s cold.

Posted in Mains, Recipes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Recipe: Sauce Packet Salad Dressing

Sauce Packet Salad Dressing

Sauce Packet Salad Dressing

You hate to throw out that bag of leftover salad greens from your hotel, but your bottled salad dressing won’t make it through security at the airport. What to do? Grab some sauce packets from the food vendors* and make Sauce Packet Salad Dressing! Serves 1-2, depending.

3 mayonnaise packets
1 or more yellow mustard packets (this is an essential ingredient since prepared mustard is mostly vinegar)
1 ketchup packet (optional)
1 relish packet (optional)

Method: mix mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl, in a 3/1 ratio by volume (the packets are likely to have different weights). Adjust to taste by adding more mayo/mustard as needed. You now have something similar to ranch dressing. For Catalina French dressing, add a squirt of ketchup. For Thousand Island dressing, add part of a relish packet. Mix with salad greens, and enjoy.

*Maybe you should buy a drink so you don’t feel guilty snitching the packets.

Posted in Condiments, Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Whole Foods top trends (what Amazon wants to sell us in 2018)

Whole Foods MarketI don’t normally (actually never) print press releases verbatim, but this is interesting because it’s the first full-on screed since Amazon took over Whole Foods and everybody wants to know what they are going to do next. “Top trends” is of course a self fulfilling prophecy because if these predictions come true it means a lot of consumers will have taken them up on it.

I am “meh” on most of these but interested in #4 and #9. P.S. There were some specific product recommendations in the original Whole Foods top trends list which I’ve excised.

1.Floral Flavors
Foragers and culinary stars have embraced edible petals for years, but floral inspiration is finally in full bloom. From adding whole flowers and petals into dishes to infusing botanical flavors into drinks and snacks, this top trend makes for a subtly sweet taste and fresh aromatics. Look for flowers used like herbs in things like lavender lattés and rose-flavored everything. Bright pink hibiscus teas are a hot (and iced) part of the trend, while elderflower is the new MVP (most valuable petal) of cocktails and bubbly drinks.

2.Super Powders
Powders are serious power players. Because they’re so easy to incorporate, they’ve found their way into lattés, smoothies, nutrition bars, soups and baked goods. For an energy boost or an alternative to coffee, powders like matcha, maca root and cacao are showing up in mugs everywhere. Ground turmeric powder is still on the rise, the ever-popular spice used in Ayurvedic medicine. Smoothie fans are raising a glass to powders like spirulina, kale, herbs and roots for an oh-so-green vibrancy that needs no Instagram filter. Even protein powders have evolved beyond bodybuilders to pack in new nutrients like skin- and hair-enhancing collagen.

3.Functional Mushrooms
Shoppers are buzzing about functional mushrooms, which are traditionally used to support wellness as an ingredient in dietary supplements. Now, varieties like reishi, chaga, cordyceps and lion’s mane star in products across categories. Bottled drinks, coffees, smoothies and teas are leading the way. The rich flavors also lend themselves to mushroom broths, while the earthy, creamy notes pair well with cocoa, chocolate or coffee flavors. Body care is hot on this mushroom trend too, so look for a new crop of soaps, hair care and more.

4.Feast from the Middle East
Middle Eastern culinary influences have made their way west for years, and 2018 will bring these tasty traditions into the mainstream. Things like hummus, pita and falafel were tasty entry points, but now consumers are ready to explore the deep traditions, regional nuances and classic ingredients of Middle Eastern cultures, with Persian, Israeli, Moroccan, Syrian and Lebanese influences rising to the top. Spices like harissa, cardamom and za’atar are hitting more menus, as well as dishes like shakshuka, grilled halloumi and lamb. Other trending Middle Eastern ingredients include pomegranate, eggplant, cucumber, parsley, mint, tahini, tomato jam and dried fruits.

5.Transparency 2.0
More is more when it comes to product labeling. Consumers want to know the real story behind their food, and how that item made its way from the source to the store. GMO transparency is top-of-mind, but shoppers seek out other details, too, such as Fair Trade certification, responsible production and animal welfare standards. At Whole Foods Market, this plays out in several ways, starting with these three happening in 2018: 1) In January 2018, all canned tuna in our stores will come from sustainable one-by-one catch methods; 2) In September 2018, labels will provide GMO transparency on all items in stores; and 3) Dishes from Whole Foods Market food bars and venues are now labeled with calorie information. The FDA’s deadline for nutrition labeling is among the first regulatory steps for greater transparency, but expect consumers and brands to continue leading the way into a new era of product intel.

6.High-Tech Goes Plant-Forward
Plant-based diets and dishes continue to dominate the food world, and now the tech industry has a seat at the table, too. By using science to advance recipes and manipulate plant-based ingredients and proteins, these techniques are creating mind-bending alternatives like “bleeding” vegan burgers or sushi-grade “not-tuna” made from tomatoes. These new production techniques are also bringing some new varieties of nut milks and yogurts made from pili nuts, peas, bananas, macadamia nuts and pecans. Dairy-free indulgences like vegan frosting, brownies, ice cream, brioche and crème brûlée are getting so delicious, non-vegans won’t know the difference – or they might choose them anyway!

7.Puffed & Popped Snacks
Crunchy snacks are perennial favorites, but new technology is revolutionizing all things puffed, popped, dried and crisped. New extrusion methods (ways of processing and combining ingredients), have paved the way for popped cassava chips, puffed pasta bow ties, seaweed fava chips and puffed rice clusters. Good-old-fashioned chips also get an upgrade as part of the trend, with better-for-you bites like jicama, parsnip or Brussels sprout crisps.

8.Tacos Come Out of Their Shell
There’s no slowing down the craze for all things Latin American, but the taco trend has a life of its own. This street-food star is no longer limited to a tortilla, or to savory recipes: Tacos are showing up for breakfast, and trendy restaurants across the country have dessert variations. Most of all, tacos are shedding their shell for new kinds of wrappers and fillings too – think seaweed wrappers with poke filling. Classic tacos aren’t going anywhere, but greater attention to ingredients is upping their game. One end of the spectrum is hyper-authentic cooking with things like heirloom corn tortillas or classic barbacoa. And thanks to brands like Siete, there are grain-free options for paleo fans too. Taco ‘bout options!

Between nose-to-tail butchery and reducing food waste, a few forces are combining to inspire root-to-stem cooking, which makes use of the entire fruit or vegetable, including the stems or leaves that are less commonly eaten. Recipes like pickled watermelon rinds, beet-green pesto or broccoli-stem slaw have introduced consumers to new flavors and textures from old favorites.

10.Say Cheers to the Other Bubbly
LaCroix may have paved the way, but now there’s an entire booming category of sparkling beverages vying for consumer attention. Just don’t call them “soda.” These drinks are a far cry from their sugary predecessors. Flavored sparkling waters like plant-derived options from Sap! (made with maple and birch) and sparkling cold brew from Stumptown will are shaking up a fizzy fix. Shoppers are also toasting mocktail must-haves like Topo Chico and Whole Foods MarketTM Lime Mint Elderflower Italian Sparkling Mineral Water. Cheers to the other kind of bubbly!

About Whole Foods Market®

For 39 years, Whole Foods Market has been the world’s leading natural and organic foods retailer. As the first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market has over 470 stores in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health magazine and has been ranked one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by FORTUNE magazine for 20 consecutive years. To learn more about Whole Foods Market, please visit

Posted in Eating | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Have some Election Cake, and please be civil

Election Cake

Election Cake with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream

While most of America takes a year off from politics (just kidding), my quaint hamlet of Saratoga Springs, NY is winding up a particularly divisive election season. Till next Tuesday I’ll be out canvassing for the side I support, but in a happier time I’d invite my neighbors to sit on the porch and share a slice of Election Cake.

In the early years of our Republic, Election Cake was a way to celebrate democracy and the freedom to vote. You might get a slice as a thank you for participating, or just to commemorate a festive occasion. This was long before the invention of saleratus and other chemical rising agents, so the cake was sourdough. It’s hearty and not overly sweet and with a flacon of rum would probably constitute a complete meal.

Election Cake

My recipe made 2 cakes like this one. I used a double bundt pan designed to make a Halloween Pumpkin cake.

Last year, a number of professional bakers resuscitated the recipe in an effort to “Make America Cake Again”. I learned about it from Richard Miscovich at the Maine Grains Conference when he was still tinkering with the recipe and not yet ready to share it. The final, which appeared in the weeks leading up to the election, was from Susan Gebhart of OWL Bakery in North Carolina. I made a few tweaks to the recipe, and you should be confident in adding your own.

The complete recipe is here. Please note that, even if you use yeast as a substitute for sourdough, it’s still a two-day affair. So let’s get baking! (I will too. Writing this post has put me in a better mood and helped me rearrange my priorities.)

Posted in Cooking, Events | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Recipe: Best Sour Slaw

Best Sour Slaw

At last… the Best Sour Slaw, worthy of serving at your Texas barbecue.

Best Sour Slaw is just that, or at least much better than all the versions I struggled with in my long-ago obsessiveness. The proportions have been dramatically rejiggered, and we’ve added a new ingredient, dried mustard, to open up the taste buds. Serves 8-12.

1 medium head cabbage, shredded
2 T or so Kosher salt
¼ c cider vinegar
1 t dried mustard
1 generous T brown sugar
1 T vegetable oil
1 medium tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
½ bell pepper (any color), seeded and coarsely chopped
1 T celery, poppy or toasted sesame seeds or a mixture
½ t ground pepper (white preferred)

Method: add the cabbage then the salt to a bowl in layers then massage with your hands till all cabbage has had contact with salt. Cure 2 hours or more, until it throws off a good amount of liquid. Wash and drain in strainer or colander. (It does not need to be bone dry.) Mix the dry ingredients with the vinegar then add oil and mix thoroughly; pour over the cabbage along with the seeds and toss to mix. Allow to sit a little so flavors can develop.

THE BACKSTORY: I have long attempted to duplicate the sour slaw at Highland Park Cafeteria in Dallas, TX. I no longer travel there on a frequent basis, so must rely on memory as well as what tastes good. Some things I fretted about, like what kinds of seeds to sprinkle in, turn out not to be very important. The key is a good approach to curing the cabbage, and that light touch of oil to blend the ingredients.

Posted in Recipes, Sides | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Recipe: Maple Bacon Squash

Bacon Maple Squash

Bacon Maple Squash with marjoram leaves

I used delicata for my maple bacon squash, but butternut, acorn or kabocha would work as well. You could also cut the squash into cubes and drizzle the bacon grease/butter/maple syrup on top. A just-rich-enough accompaniment to grilled chicken or pork. Serves four.

2 delicata squash, halved lengthwise and with seeds and pith scooped out
Bacon grease
2 t butter
½ t Kosher salt
4 T maple syrup, Grade B preferred
2 strips bacon
Fresh herbs for garnish (optional): sage, marjoram, basil etc

Method: halve and core the squash, cleaning out pith and seeds. Rub interiors generously with bacon grease, salt, place on baking sheet. Add maple syrup and butter and bake in 350 degree oven till fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp. To serve, crumble half a strip of bacon into each squash half and garnish with finely chopped fresh herbs.

Posted in Recipes, Sides | Tagged , | Leave a comment

No reason not to eat at Burger 21

Burger 21 Entrance

Entrance to Burger 21 in Latham. Ordering is done at the kiosk at left. Not a grill or griddle in sight.

After posting the results of our Tour of Better Burgers, I was invited back to try the seasonal specialties at Burger 21 in Latham. This gave me a chance to learn more about the business model of this store that scored a surprising and resounding victory.

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson of Burger 21 in Latham

Franchisee Bruce Anderson told me the chain is run out of Tampa, FL by the same folks that own the Melting Pot, a fondue establishment with a local operation in Crossgates Mall, Albany. Bruce is a partner in that as well as a location in Syracuse. He chose to open Burger 21 in Latham in 2013 because it’s near his home.

The Burger 21 concept is “a burger with a chef behind it”. There are 21 different burger choices on the menu, including a seasonal special that changes every quarter. All but two veggie burger varieties are made from scratch in house as are 5 of the 10 sauces in the sauce bar, and lettuce and tomato are hand cut. They use Certified Angus beef, which as we know is good stuff.

You can choose patties made with chicken (Bruce praises the Monterey Chicken Burger in particular), turkey (a Cobb Salad Burger), seafood (ahi tuna and shrimp) and veggie as well as beef. The idea is to “cut out the no’s” when a family goes out for dinner because everybody can find something they like.

Burger 21 Shake Bar

The Shake Bar is a distinctive feature of each Burger 21 store.

The environment is the most distinctly different thing about Burger 21. There’s no food preparation in sight; the kitchen is inside a walled space with a shake bar in front of it. This divides the interior into appealing nooks and crannies instead of the big open room found in other burger places. You place your order at a kiosk as you enter and are given a number; a server brings your food to the table. The whole idea is to deliver “more than you expect in a fast casual place,” according to Bruce. About 15% of the orders are takeout (which seems quite low to me) and those waiting are invited to have a seat at the shake bar rather than standing around.

Gender split among customers is 50/50, compared to most burger chains that skew male. I think the design of the store has a lot to do with it. To throw a few stereotypes, guys like to think of themselves as burger mavens and are attracted by the sight of meat cooking on a grill or griddle; women, who might be the ones actually doing most of the cooking at home, maybe appreciate the quieter atmosphere (wth no noticeable smell of frying meat) and being waited on.

Southern Lucy Burger

The Southern Lucy at Burger 21

I was there on October 21, a changeover day, and tried both last quarter’s Southern Lucy (burger stuffed with two kinds of cheese, topped with onion strings and bacon aioli, on a bed of tomato jam) and the new Pizza Burger (pepperoni, tomato sauce and pesto—it really does taste like pizza sauce). Both the concepts were well executed with a harmonious flavor profile. My only quibble was that the heavy saucing causes the bottom half of the bun to get soggy, but Bruce says patrons have not complained.

Pizza Burger

Pizza Burger at Burger 21

As a single location in a big market, the Latham Burger 21 doesn’t do a lot of advertising but relies on outreach to the community to build business. One day each month (the 21st, of course) 10% of profits go to a local organization; this month it was the Shenendehowa High School Robotics Club. In addition, throughout October 21 cents from each milkshake sale goes to breast cancer research. (The shake also has a pink element to honor breast cancer awareness; this year it is pink whipped cream.)

“Fast casual” places nationally have peaked in popularity, according to industry sources, but this store seems to be doing just fine. It was busy on a Saturday afternoon, with mostly family groups. I’ll be back on the 21st of next month—but plan to explore the more basic burger (it’s called Burger 101) with LTO and my usual pickle and mustard and let the quality ingredients shine through. And this time I’ll get to eat the whole burger by myself, maybe with a side of sweet potato fries with toasted marshmallow topping from the sauce bar.

Posted in Eating | Tagged , | 2 Comments