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Went to Amherst for an early Thanksgving with the in laws. So much delicious food. Papa Amherst got this as a freebie turkey, and brined it into this delicious beauty. That man can make anything taste awesome.
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Looks like I was so excited for dinner, I forgot to take pics of the rest of dinner. But so good.
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And dessert! Blueberry pie, pecan pie, and white chocolate pie with quince drizzle.
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Papa Amherst makes such good pie crust. Crispy, flaky. So good.
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I brought a white chocolate tart with a bit of quince and rosewater jam. The white chocolate didn’t quite set up at room temp (too much cream), but the metered dose of quince + rose jam cut the richness a bit.
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Papa Amherst’s mom used to make quite the spread during the holidays, and it’s a trait he’s picked up. He also made pecan pie (!). So good!
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New fireplace
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And pensive pup photos.
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Queen of the blankets. All of them.
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We checked out Oriental Flavor in Amherst, the new Sichuan/Canto restaurant downtown. The name is super generic, but they’re legit Chinese food in Amherst.
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They had BEEF TENDON on the menu! $8 or $9 for a plate of spicy Sichuan-style beef tendon served cold and chewy. It would have been a bit much for one person to eat, so it’s a nice app to split for a group.
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They also had har gow and xiao long bao on the menu. I was skeptical, since it’s a pretty small restaurant (give or take a about a dozen tables) and it wasn’t super busy, but I asked and they said they made them both fresh daily. The har gow were very good! Pliant and supple-soft rice noodle exterior, and a fresh shrimp interior.
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The prices are a bit on the high side, but hey, it’s cheaper than a road trip to Flushing if you live in Western Mass. Soy bean wrapped pork is in the background. This was too sweet and I suggest skipping it if you’ve had it before. Turnip cakes were good and worth ordering – nice crispness to them. Siu mai in the front.
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Go for the har gow, skip the XLB. In some ways, the per-prepared ones may have been a better way to go than putting forth the effort of making these themselves. They seemed to be made with wonton skin type wrappers, which meant they all cracked and lost all soup, kind of defeating the purpose of ordering soup dumplings.XLB are the popular kids in dim sum now, so I get why they’re on the menu. The meat inside was a dense meatball, and a bit on the sweet/bland side. Though to be fair, they are taking on two very difficult dim sum dishes to make from different regions of China. Har Gow = Cantonese/Hong Kong style. Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings = Shanghai. I’d be more surprised if they did both very well. They could also probably scratch this from their menu, since they’re more disappointing if you’ve ever had a true soup dumpling.
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Seasonal veggies were also very nice. I wound up eating most of the garlic ^_^

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After that, the ladies split off and went shopping for horrific christmas gifts crafts.

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As opposed to the slutty earrings I’ve been wearing all these years. Just kidding, I hardly ever wear earrings, and even then it’s mostly stainless steel industrial/unbreakable stuff.
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They also had sweet straw/hay sculptures.
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Here’s a random picture of 5kg/11lb Callebaut chocolate bars I picked up at Restaurant Depot for ~$5/lb. They are kind of a bitch to break apart (the easiest way is to drop/slam them from a height.

How are your holidays going? This year, I am just so not feeling the holidays, or like being close to anyone. I’d just like to go hibernate from Thanksgiving through Christmas. No holiday decorations are up. No dozens upon dozens of different types of cookies. No cookie swaps, no excitement at all for any of what I’m missing/not doing either. I haven’t even bought gifts, which is now starting to fill me with moderate anxiety since I feel kind of like I should. It’s weird. I feel like I should be going through these motions, but I can’t really bring myself to do it. No wee ones to pass traditions off to, so I figure this is a good year to be all blahlidays about this time of year.

Any way, how are you holidays going?

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Beef Chow Fun! It isn’t dim sum with my family without an order of beef chow fun. However, I wasn’t with my blood relatives when I had this beef chow fun at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro for dim sum with some of my local “family”.
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I also hope you like cheong fan, because when left to my own devices, I will order literally all of the cheong fan options available. Hong Kong Bakery makes their cheong fan fresh, and it’s hard to resist that slippery-chewy, tender-stretchy quality freshly steamed rice noodles have.
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The shrimp and duck fillings are two of my favorites (favorite favorites?) – very well executed.
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The seaweed and octopus salad was on the specials menu for $9.99. The picture probably looks larger than it was, but these were baby octopus on a small plate. I wasn’t a fan of this one –  served iced cold out of the fridge, well – it didn’t do the octopus any flavors. The seaweed salad underneath was nice, though.

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December is here, and colder weather calls for rib-sticking, hearty meals. Kenji’s take on traditional cassoulet recipe is fantastic for a comforting, warm meal in cold weather. Read through his recipe – it’s really phenomenal writing and made me want to try this, despite not being much of a bean eater in my normal meals.  And now I have  a reason to add beans to my repertoire. It’s a really versatile recipe, too, so you could go traditional, or you could just go with what you have.
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The real revelation here is adding gelatin to boxed/canned broth or stock. It really beefs up the flavor and helps combine the liquid and beans into a creamy, rich dish. I should strive for homemade stock, but I go through more broth than chicken carcasses to make enough stock/broth, and it’s just never really worked out for this household like that. Ah well. One day. Either way, homemade stock or no, you’ll have delicious beany goodness after several hours.
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Great Northern beans, some mild italian sausage, chicken thighs, and lamb shoulder (there’s lamb nubbins in there, too) were a nice combo. The sausage was… eh, a little out of place, but it’s what was in the fridge, so it’s what went in the cassoulet. I tried this again with just lamb and chicken, and the flavor was a little lacking, so some sort of sausage or third meat is a good idea.
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As is, this makes a TON of food if you’re a 2-person household like mine. So be good at eating leftovers, or freezing. This was so good I happily ate it all week for lunch and a few dinners. Me. The lady who hates leftovers. Loved this and looked forward to it so much. It was that good.

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Happy 1-Year-in-Saratoga Birthday to TC Bakery-Paris! They turned one more than a few weeks ago, and invited a few folks up to celebrate the joyous occasion.
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Our fabulous hosts getting ready. I went with someone who is very particular about getting there on time, so we arrived right when the ball began.
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They put out a few trays of some of their popular treats.
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Like their delicious sandwiches, with baguettes made in-store. So delicious.
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They were also deputing their new Gateau de Reves (dream cake!). I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but this rich and decadent affair was hard not to like. TC describes it is “4 layers of Rich chocolate cake, 2 layers of dark chocolate mousse, and a layer of our whipped salted caramel. A second coat of whipped caramel on the outside of the cake, and glazed with our rich Valrhona Cristal Glaze“. I would also be one happy camper with a piping bag full of whipped salted caramel. Fantastic.
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The shop was also open, so I took the opportunity to buy one of the ispahan macaron ($6.95). A softball-sized macaron is filled with rose and lychee infused buttercream, and dotted with fresh raspberries along the border.
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The deliciousness ROI  is high with this confection.
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I’m also not quite sure what the portion size is on this, but I’m assuming it’s not an entire macaron. Still, I soldiered on.
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The fine folks at TC Bakery-Paris were also kind enough to send a few local food bloggers off with goodie bags. I get such warm fuzzies when I see goodie bags! They remind me of childhood. Except these are filling with artfully crafted treats (and a judicious amount, thankfully).
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Toffee pieces and olive sables! The olive sables straddle savory and sweet in a wonderful way. The dough itself is lightly sweet, and the olives hold up well to the slight sweetness of the dough. The size of the olives also gives just the right amount of salinity without being overpowering.

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I don’t really consider myself much of a cake decorator. R has some amazing cake decorating skills. Me? Well, I used to suck hard at baking cakes, but now, with practice, I am getting better with that feat. I’m still not a very fast, or precise cake decorator, but with practice, my limited skills are improving. I read NPR’s article, “Struggle for Smarts? How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning” and that really struck a chord for me lately. When I was a kid, my Dad would reiterate practicing over, and over, and over, and… but the rest of my influences were primarily western, promoting this idea of practicing a little bit, but of innate ability. The western influence won out, but the older I get, the more I see that practice will improve performance over time, regardless of ability. You may never be perfect at something, but if you keep trying, you may improve every so subtly over time (Though, Dad, just between us, going to have the coordination to excel at any sort to team sports). Sometimes you fail (miserably) despite following all the rules. Sometimes you don’t follow the rules and things turn out okay. Sometimes you don’t follow the traditional path society sets in front of you.
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I’ve never had much luck at white cakes, but of all things, the recipe on the back of the King Arthur pastry flour box worked wonders! It was so moist, and the crumb was quite tender. It was almost pudding-like. I sliced the two cake rounds in half, and spread them with some guava paste I watered down into a workable jam-like consistency, and a whole lot of buttercream.
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Much like I have a strong love for Hello Kitty, my friend has a strong love for anything Disney. So a few Mickeyrons were on the menu, as were a few regular macarons.
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Filled Mickeyrons with guava buttercream. These cracked a bit where the ears me the body in a few of the mickeyrons, but not all of them.
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Fin! I made the cakes a week or so ahead of time, wrapped them whole (not sliced) in saran wrap, and then stuck them in freezer bags (and in the freezer) until the night before I needed them. It made the whole process a lot easier for me, and less overwhelming than making and decorating a cake in 1-2 days. I had a cake carrier at one point, but lost it. So far I’ve had decent luck with putting the cake on a normal dinner plate, and then driving very carefully.

 

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What better of a way to celebrate one year of being in the house than smoking up a brisket for friends?
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I picked up a whole Naturewell beef brisket from Restaurant Depot for about $3.50/lb. This about about 13-15 lbs, as I recall.
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And barely fit on the meat cutting board.
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I measured it and realized it wouldn’t fit on the Weber grill, so I sliced it in half, trying to get the flat and the point separated. I did a pretty shitty job of it, but well, the cut was made.
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Just did a simple salt, pepper, sugar rub, maybe a bit of paprika and cumin. Rubbed it the night before, wrapped it, and let it sit before getting ready to smoke.
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Trimmed out the hunk of fat from the middle of the point section.
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Then also rubbed and wrapped.
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Cutting it in two made it a lot easier to store in the fridge, at least.
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And then, well, I woke up around 4/5 AM to start the coals, topped with apple wood chips, brushed every few hours with apple cider, and… I must have started it a bit hot because it hit temp around 10/11 AM! I was expecting a 12 hour smoke. I was pretty sure I’d effed it up, and hard, but I wrapped it in foil and held it at 190/200F in the oven until it was ready to serve.
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It didn’t turn out too bad. I’d realized I picked the most difficult type of beef to smoke for a large crowd with no experience in smoking it before. Not a great idea on my part, but it turned out okay. Not dry, and pretty smoky! I’m happy about that for a first try. It also went surprisingly fast, so it must have been pretty acceptable to my crowd, too.

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