Bday Party 1 Pig Roast Whole

I went to Toronto last month. Why? Well, that’s a great question with a long answer that starts with my dad. When my dad was a kid in Hong Kong, there were these families with kids the same age who he’d play with. After many decades, my dad reconnected with one friend, who immigrated to Toronto along with the rest of those families my dad knew as a child. This man and his siblings were throwing their dad a 100th birthday party, and, as my dad explained, he was practically family, so just consider him “Uncle”. And you know how Chinese parties are – BIG. You invite all of your family and close friends (and their families).

So I drove up to Toronto with Albany John and my little sister, for this “Uncle’s” birthday party. Hey, Toronto has one of the biggest Chinatowns, food’s gotta be good right? And I was also just a wee bit excited to meet these people my dad had known as a child. Everyone was so nice, and we got to sit with one of the “kids” in our generation at the table. And then I met her sister, and my dad goes “Wow, you two look alike!” and we both did a double take since we actually did look pretty similar in the face (I’m a little bigger than her since I’m only half Chinese). And her Chinese name is one letter off of mine. You know, I’m usually in the minority any where I go, and I guess it’s just something I’m used to. My siblings and I look a lot alike, but we don’t really even resemble our cousins on either parent’s side very much. So it was a very different feeling for me to see someone who looked like me. A new kind of fuzzy, if you will.

Okay, they do not mess around with 100th birthday parties in Toronto. The first course was crackling suckling pig. Each platter marched out on parade by a server, with sparkler and glowing LED maraschino cherry eyes.

Bday Party 1-2 Pig Roast SkinBday Party 1-2 Pig Roast Skin 2

The skin was so good. The exterior was crackly and delicate, yet substantial. The fat underneath melted away as you bit in. I haven’t had a suckling pig this good in years, if ever.

Bday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways pan broccoliBday Party 2 Shrimp 2 ways fried

Next up was shrimp two ways – fried in a sweet-and-sour style, and pan-fried with some broccoli and garlic. Plump, briny shrimp. The sweet-and-sour preparation wasn’t my favorite, but the vermicelli basket was novel.

Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 1Bday Party 3 Fish cakes stuffed with scallop, asparagus, and roe 2

This dish was a first for me, and one I quite took a liking to. It looks like a fish patty, but stuffed inside is a tender scallop. The briny roe made it pop with salinity, and man that asparagus was a great supporting character.

Bday Party 4 Birds Nest Soup

Bird’s Nest Soup – Yay! Not shark fin soup. Very progressive. Usually for a party like this shark’s fin soup would be on the menu.

Bday Party 5 Sea Cucumber

The womp womp dish of the night that wasn’t so much a dud, just a very… uh… traditional food that no one really seemed as interested in. If I’m trying to conserve stomach space, I’m going to give a little less to sea cucumber. Sorry, sea cucumber, but that’s just how it works. This was actually one of the better preparations – the sea cucumber was stuffed with fish paste, so it added a bit of flavor and a slightly firmer texture. I don’t think anyone at our table finished this one.

Bday Party 6 Crispy Garlic ChickenBday Party 6 Crispy Garlic Chicken 2

Crispy garlic chicken was a big hit at the table – succulent chicken with crisp skin – what’s not to like?

Bday Party 7 whole fishBday Party 7 whole fish piece

Whole steamed fish! One of my favorite dishes ever. This was great – the fish was cooked perfectly, and that salty sauce compliments the sweet flavor of the fish so well.

Bday Party 8 fried lobster

Ginger fried lobster – this is where most of the table started tapping out from all of the different courses. And where I ate 75% of the lobster our table was served. Oh my gosh, it was so good. Chopped into easy-to-eat chunks, covered in that delicious ginger-scallion sauce.

Bday Party 9 soup

And then I started tapping out once the wonton noodle soup came out. Fresh noodles, gai lan, and shrimp wontons. I had a wonton because, hello, seafood.

Bday Party 10 11 Fried Rice and Cake

Oh yeah, then fried rice, and then some of the birthday cake. Stuffed. Absolutely stuffed.

At some point in the night, my dad was talking with one of the Aunties, and it turns out that we were all related, and we were all cousins of some sort. Even more of a fuzzy! The connection requires a flow chart to explain, but the gist is that there’s a connection from 3 sisters from the same village. They’d previously thought that when the sisterhood was talked about, they used “sisters” meaning they were in Hong Kong from the same village on Mainland China. But nope, turns out they were sisters and most of us were related by blood at the party, and the birthday boy is actually my Uncle!


The lovely Ginny behind Dreampuff Sweet Shop held a pig roast this summer. It was a great day at Grafton Lakes State Park. I can’t believe summer is almost over. Boy do I have a lot of catching up to do!

I don’t even have the words for this pig. Other than delicious.

And drinks, too! Ginny was a peach and made two great cocktail punches. Somehow I forgot to take pictures of the rest of the potluck dishes, but they were all great. You know how sometimes someone brings that one dish that doesn’t work for the crowd? Not here. Everything was so good. More meats, beans, veggies, and dessert galore.

Until next year. What is summer good for, if not for spending it with friends, food, and drink?


Jon in Albany and his family have an annual beef slaughter. He has some great, informative posts on the whole process. You can see some here. He was generous enough to give me a rib roast in the winter, as the next slaughter was coming up and he didn’t see his family eating it before the next slaughter. I thankfully accepted, and hoarded it until now. It was a gorgeous 4-bone roast of well marbled beef. Man, I’m happy to be friends with Jon in Albany. I get pizza and rib roast delivered to my door.


Seriously – this is such a nice thing to give to someone. A rib roast from a cow your family raised and slaughtered. This is one of the best cuts of the cow to me, and I’m so lucky Jon thought of me.


I wanted to treat this roast with the respect it deserved. I generously rubbed it with some kosher salt, pepper, and dry mustard. That’s it.


Then I let it sit in the fridge for a few days to age just a bit and get some of that seasoning in the meat. And then I forgot to take any more pictures. But I roasted it at 200F (not on convection, just regular bake) for about 3 hours until it came to 120F, then let it keep at 100F on the warm function until it was time to eat it. It was so good – mainly rare to medium rare, with the end 1/4″ being a bit crusted over and seasoned. I was so happy I nailed it. I realized it had been a while since I cooked a beef rib roast and I was so happy to use the slower method. I just feel like slower cooking methods tend to work better for me. I’ll never be a chef, but I can on occasion be a pretty decent meal maker at home.

Shishito Pepper Comparison

Oh my gosh, I love, love, LOVE shishito peppers. I didn’t succeed in planting them this year but luckily shishito peppers are available at two local markets that I’ve found so far: Jang Tuh and Trader Joe’s.

What are shishito peppers? They’re mainly sweet little peppers that you can easily pop in your mouth and are delicious grilled or pan-seared. Every once and a while you’ll get a pepper with a little kick of heat, but for theĀ  most part they’re mild little peppers.

So, since there are two places to buy peppers from, I was wondering if there was any price difference for shishito peppers in Albany. It’s also nice to have Jang Tuh as a source since they ALWAYS have shishito peppers. Trader Joe’s on the other hand can run out of stock or quit carrying an item all together.

So: Is there any price difference?

Trader Joe's Shishito Peppers scale

Trader Joe’s sells 6 oz bags of shishito peppers for $2.29, or about $6.11 per pound. This particular bag as a little under weight, within a 1/10th of a pound.

Jang Tuh Shishito Pepper

Jang Tuh’s packaging is minimal/nonexistent. There’s no label save for the $3.99 sticker on the package. Turns out it’s 10 oz of shishito peppers, which is about $6.38 per pound. If you walk in the store, you’ll find them in the refrigerated case.

Jang Tuh’s peppers are $0.27/lb more than Trader Joe’s shishito peppers. There’s no noticeable difference in quality or taste between the two. Jang Tuh has always had a large stock of shishito peppers available, while Trader Joe’s quantities can be limited or temporarily out.
I haven’t found shishito peppers at the Asian Supermarket or Asian Food Market in Albany (they only have the REALLY spicy peppers), and haven’t been to Kim’s in a while to tell you.

Bella Terra Pepper

Now what have we here? These are Italian peppers from Bella Terra Farm at the Schenectady Greenmarket that look identical to shishito peppers! They were $2.00/lb. TWO DOLLARS PER POUND! What?! While they look similar in volume to the shishito peppers from Trader Joe’s and Jang Tuh, they were heavier. I excitedly talked to the folks at Bella Terra, telling them how they looked like shishito peppers (and rambling on about how good they are), when the mentioned that these were spicier and encouraged me to try one in case they were too spicy. I went for a sniff (they smelled exactly the same), and Albany John took a small pepper… and immediately started sneezing from the heat! Hee hee, so cute! (I mean manly. SO MANLY.). Any way, I thought it was incredibly sweet of them to urge me to buy less or none of their peppers. I settled on just over a pound. These are so good, and such a great deal at $2.00 per pound!

Lay's West Coast Truffle Fries BagI’m not much of a potato chip eater lately, but I a few of the new Lay’s flavors got me interested. I’m such a sucker for anything truffle, so I figured I’d give these West Coast Truffle fries a whirl. I always wonder how they really pick a winner. The way odds go, it’s likely multiple people submitted the same combination of flavors.Lay's West Coast Truffle Fries Potato ChipAny way, the chips were fine. They tasted more like sour cream and onion chips with less tang and a little extra something. Not really the earthy funk of truffle, but something a little more. Eh, what do you expect for $2.50?

BurgerFi Storefront Latham NY

BurgerFi opens tomorrow at 11 am on 860 New Loudon Rd (Rt 9), Latham, NY. I was invited to a menu preview this afternoon. Overall I think it’s a good new addition – they’re a chain that sources from Meyer Ranch, which provides antibiotic-free beef that was never given additional hormones, grass raised and grain finished (best of both worlds, IMO), and none of the beef is ever frozen. I think this is a great direction for a chain to head, and one I see other chains embracing as well. Ethics aside (which is a weird phrase), the food is competitively priced and enjoyable.

BurgerFi Latham interiorThe interior is set up casually – order at the counter, pay, grab a table and wait for your food. They also have beer and wine, and it looked like some MMA style fights were on the TV when we were there. It’s easy for me to imagine biking over for a burger, beer, and a match if they wind up broadcasting fights.

There were some other local members of the media at the tasting. BTW, it’s really a thing of beauty to see Angelo Mazzone and Bill Lia walk over and talk to Steve Barnes, who curates the Tablehopping blog for the Times Union. If you want coverage, his blog certainly has the most readership/exposure. Also, he’s a nice guy with good taste, and someone pretty much anyone would want to talk to. Any way, social peeping aside, let’s get down to the food!

BurgerFi Cry Fry

Up first was the Cry Fry ($5.47) – a combination of their fries and onion rings. This is a regular order. You definitely want to share this with 1-2 other people. The onion rings are massive and massively delicious! Theyre beer battered in Coors Light. The breading is very light and crisp, giving way to large rounds of onion underneath. The fries are fried in peanut oil, and get the perfect balance of fluffy/poofy/creamy interior and crisp exterior.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries 2

Up next were the Urban Style Fries, and I believe (hope) that these were the large portions. Because dear god, they were massive. There are two servings pictured above, and 3 people could barely put a dent in one of them. Urban style friesĀ  are their regular hand-cut french fries with parmesan cheese, herbs, and garlic aioli. I’m not normally a mayo/aioli fan, but these were delicious. Just the right amount of garlicky creaminess atop the fries (they weren’t swimming in it), and a nice sprinkling of parmesan that stuck to the fries.

BurgerFi Urban Style Fries

Seriously massive, right? But also seriously good.
BurgerFi CheeseburgerAnd then it was time to try the burgers! First up was the BurgerFi Cheeseburger, which is two patties, american cheese, lettuce, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce. This reminded me of a ShackBurger. Actually, when you first walk in, you’ll probably notice some similar vibes from Shake Shack and BurgerFi.

The meat was good – the patties are just under 4 oz (pre-cooked weight), and cooked all the way through. They maintain a good amount of moisture and flavor while being cooked all the way through. Texture-wise, the grind is a pleasant medium or small/medium (depending on how you look at it).

BurgerFi Breakfast All Day Burger

The Breakfast All Day burger is one patty, American cheese, hickory bacon, maple syrup, a fried egg, hashbrown patty, grilled onions, and ketchup. I love that runny egg. It’s really nice to see a chain restaurant not cooking an egg yolk all the way through before it goes on a burger so you get that golden goodness all over the burger.

This wasn’t my favorite type of burger, but if you’re a bacon-on-everything person you’ll like it. For some reason I just prefer my breakfast as breakfast and not on other stuff. Oh, and the maple syrup wasn’t too cloying. Very subtle.
BurgerFi The Twenty-Eight BurgerThe Twenty-Eight is the burger you want to order if you can only try one thing. Oh my gosh, so good. And I’m glad they saved this for last. It packs a mighty whollop of umami in the very best way. The burgers on the Twenty-Eight are from brisket dry aged for 28 days. The patties have a little more funk, just the right amount of blue cheese in between the burgers, and the pickles are add a great crunchiness.
BurgerFi VegeFi BurgerWe also tried the VegeFi Burger. It’s made of quinoa, lentils, and veggies, and topped with cheddar cheese, tomato, and BurgerFi sauce with a lettuce “bun”. The whole patty is fried, so it pretty much tastes like a big pakora/lentil fritter. The lettuce are squares of iceberg lettuce.

BurgerFi Chicago Style Wagyu Beef Hot DogChicago Style Wagyu Beef The hot dog itself has a nice little snap/pull to the case and a good beefy flavor. This is a little different than your typical Chicago style hot dog – the pickle and tomatoes are in slices instead of wedges, which makes for a different kind of chew/bite.
BurgerFi Red Velvet ConcreteDessert! We tried the Chocolate Shake (not pictured) which had a lot of dark chocolate flavor and wasn’t a complete sugar bomb. A very grown up shake.
We also tried Red Velvet Concretes, which are very thick vanilla custards with layers of red velvet cake. You’ll want to split your concrete with at least 1-2 other people. They are incredibly delicious and rich. The vanilla custard is really good. Lots of rich egg yolk flavor and vanilla. Frozen custard is more popular in the south – it’s nice to have a place nearby to grab some.

Overall, I think it’s a good addition to the fast food options in the area. It’s family friendly, cares more about animal welfare than other mainstream chains (change has to start somewhere), and has a tasty product. Hopefully the quality I tried today holds up to the test of time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go patronize another Lia-owned business and put some of this food to use!

2015-Logo NYS Fair New Your State Fair

It’s summer, which means that it’s time for the New York State Fair in Syracuse! The fair will be August 27th – September 7th. There’s a ton of stuff to do and see. Did you go to fairs as a kid? What was/is your favorite thing to do? When I was little I LOVED the rides. and the NYS Fair has discounted tickets for $20 for a day pass to ride all you want (available here), which is a pretty good deal if you plan on riding more than 3-4 rides.

And FOOD. Let’s talk food. There’s butter sculptures to see, a ton of food to eat, and cooking competitions.

Did you know there’s also a parade every day at 6 pm? I didn’t. That’ll be cool to check out.

There are also special fair days like :

8/28 Pride Day
8/31 Dairy Day
9/01 Beef Day
9/02 Women’s Day9/03 Armed Forces Day (free admission with ID for active duty and veterans)

Want a pair of tickets to attend the NYS Fair? The New York State Fair is giving me a pair plus a parking pass, and a pair of tickets and parking pass to you, too! Add a comment down below about what you’d like to do at the fair! Use a valid email address, and be comfortable sharing your address over email. Contest closes Thursday, 8/13.


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