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dessert

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Two new doughnut shops in just a few months. Nibble, Inc. opened in Troy recently, and Cider Belly Doughnuts opened in Albany. If you’re one of those “I don’t cross the river” type folks, well, then good – there are new doughnut shops on both sides of the river. The hype machine is going strong for these two new shops, with love for both doughnut shops throughout the blogger community. The Fuj has much love for Nibble, Inc. I wish I shared his enthusiasm for these doughnuts, but they don’t light me up. While Fuj finds them to have a crisp exterior and light/fluffy interior, I’ve found them to be on the dense and tough side. Nibble’s doughnuts are unlike any other doughnut in the area, in that they use potato in the mix. I suspect that Nibble is the doughnut shop for folks who don’t like traditional doughnuts, as one of the owners says she wasn’t a fan of doughnuts before trying this type of potato-dough doughnut in Portland, ME.

Nibble doughnuts don’t hold up well to time, getting denser and denser as the day goes on. Conversely, if you like dense doughnuts, then they hold up very well. The density is what really gets me with the Nibble doughnuts, and isn’t really my thing – my ideal doughnuts are light, ethereal things. Albany John picked up this mixed dozen (missing one, hee hee – couldn’t help myself), and they were a real jaw workout come nightfall and the next morning. They were very nicely fried and non-greasy, though, and I think they’d make a fine doughnut-based bread pudding. I’m looking forward to seeing what non-doughnut offerings Nibble has coming up in the future – they definitely have promise.

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Cider Belly Doughnuts is on South Pearl Street in Albany and is sadly only really open to walk-in traffic during M-F hours, with some Saturday morning hours open for pre-orders. I tried this doughnut during meatball fest one weekend in Albany, and OMG, it was love at first bite. They kind of reminded me of Krispy Kreme in that they had a nice crunchy shell, and the icing had a good crisp exterior, and the interior was very light and poofy. I went in a bought several more doughnuts – they even have “Belly Flops” pre-bagged on the counter, which are discounted frankendoughnuts that don’t quite make the cut (ie, imperfect in shape, but still perfectly tasty). The doughnuts I bought stayed light and crispy into the evening. I really like these doughnuts, especially with the different glazes (maple is really well executed).

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Saratoga isn’t so far for me, and yet I have a problem with getting to many local businesses during the hours they are open. I was happy I’ve made it to Saratoga at least once for TC Paris!
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Eclair & a Paris Brest. Their pate a choux is fantastic – it stays crisp even when filled with delicious custard and creme. The chocolate on the eclair had a judicious amount of sweetness, and was perfect with their vanilla bean pastry cream filling.
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And the Paris Brest. Oh. A pate a choux circle piped with a candied hazelnut buttercream. I don’t know if one of these circles is a serving, but I ate the whole thing in one go. It was just. So. Good.  It’s like an oversized doughnut, in terms of size. It’s probably meant for at least two. But just eat it until you feel sated. So good.
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Lily bulb with asparagus and ginko ($13) at Ala Shanghai. The ginkos were mild and soft, went well with the asparagus, which still retained some crunchiness.
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Yum – it’s a great dish for summer!

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Happy Birthday, D! D entered the very end of her twenties, and I wanted to bake her a cake. She’s not doing gluten lately and loves chocolate, so I thought hey, gluten-free chocolate cake made with coconut flour! This is an ultra-decadent and delicious cake. This was an especially special birthday to me, as D also shared it with my belated kitty, who turned 10 (everyone fed her as many treats as she wanted).
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She went out for a wine tasting and nibbles before cake time. Albany John and I had plans earlier in the evening, so we met at our place for cakey good times. I used this nut-free recipe for the cake.

Chocolate Coconut Flour Cake Recipe

2 C coconut flour
1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
0.5 t baking powder
2 sticks of butter (1 C) at room temp
1 3/4 C sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 3/4 C milk (or milk sub, I used buttermilk. Drop your baking soda to 1.5 t if you’re using regular milk)
1/4 C melted coconut oil
9 eggs

And here’s how I make every recipe so it’s only one dish that gets dirty:

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs (one at a time) and vanilla extract. Then add in the milk. Scoop in the coconut flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix the dry stuff on the top a bit to combine, then mix it all in with the wet ingredients on the bottom. Then add in the melted coconut oil. Stir until well combined. The coconut flour will absorb the liquid while you’re mixing and seem like it’s drying out.

Bake in two 8 or 9 inch buttered cake pans at 350F until a toothpick comes out clean. About 30+ minutes.

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Here’s what your batter looks like when it’s ready to be moved into the cake pans. Kind of looks like frosting, or maybe playdoh.

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You’ll have to pat the batter into the pan. Coconut flour batters are vastly different than their wheat flour brethren.

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Seriously. It doesn’t fall or anything. You just plop it in…
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And smooth it out.

This made a little more than two 9-inch cake pans for me (my pans were shallow, though) so I baked the remaining batter in a little pan. It was good out of the oven. Kind of like a cakey brownie texture.

So, after we bake it, we let them cool. You can cut them in half if you want and make a 4 layer cake, but I’m not that delicate and didn’t want to mess this up for the birthday girl.

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I made a whipped chocolate ganache frosting and frosted the cake the night before. You can see the holes in the cake where I put skewers to then wrap in plastic wrap. Or as Albany John called it “I thought you were creating a protective force field to keep me out of it,”.

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I wasn’t super jazzed with my frosting skills or how the ganache came out (it was more like buttercream).
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Then I slathered the frosted cake in more liquid chocolate ganache.

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More chocolate ganache fixes everything, right?

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Well, come cake time, we had a cozy little set up going (this is as close to decorating as I’ll ever get).
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Happy Birthday, to an awesome friend.

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Marshmallows! I’ve been making marshmallows lately using Butter’s basic marshmallow recipe.
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They’re great with a little cocoa, especially if you put in peppermint oil. Daniel B. loaned me his kitchenaid mixer before he hightailed it off to New Jersey. Instead of languishing in storage, it had been languishing on my shelf. So at least I know I don’t need a big ole Kitchenaid taking up space in my kitchen. But I figured that I should TRY to use the mixer while I have it. And what likes a big stand mixer more than marshmallows?

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Here’s what I started out with – sugar, gelatin, corn syrup, peppermint essential oil, and powdered sugar. I had Knox gelatine sitting in my pantry, but have since purchased Great Lakes Unflavored Beef Gelatin from Amazon. It’s cheaper per lb than the Knox packets, and unlike Knox, there is no SMELL. OMG, Knox smells like a freaking barn once you hydrate the powdered gelatin. So it’s better and cheaper than Knox. Sign me up. But if you’re not sure you’re going to do much with gelatin the Knox will be fine as an intro. The flavor thankfully doesn’t linger into the final product. But then again I made mine aggressively peppermint-y.

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Corn syrup, granulated sugar, water. Boil for a minute, then add it to your soaked gelatin in the kitchenaid mixer.

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Whirl around for about 10 minutes, add in peppermint oil (I used about 10 drops for a VERY aggressively pepperminty marshmallow), then whip for 2 more minutes.

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Parchment paper in a pan – plop in your marshmallow and even it out. You can put powdered sugar on top and press with more parchment paper for a more even look, but I wasn’t terribly concerned about that with my first batch.
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Let it sit for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Then sprinkle more powdered sugar on a piece of parchment paper (parchment paper is your friend, here).
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Gently pull off the parchment paper.
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Almost there…
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Sprinkle more powdered sugar on top. The sieve really helps reduce the amount of sugar you’d use than if you tried this by hand.
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Use your handy dandy bench scraper or sharp knife and start cutting away!
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Once you have some squares or shapes, roll them in more powdered sugar to keep them from sticking.

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Surprise your husbear with hot cocoa and fresh marshmallows in the morning when your project is complete!

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Spring is here, which means my winter of tarts will likely be coming to an end. Or maybe I’ll just start using seasonal stuff in my tarts.  I bought a few tart pans, and my favorite is this Fox Run 14″ x 5″ tart pan. The shape makes me happy.

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I’ve been using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for a sweet tart shell that doesn’t really shrink. It’s pretty awesome, and the best part is it’s all made in the food processor in a cinch. The recipe makes a bit more than you’ll need for the tart shell. By the way, Smitten Kitchen’s Whole Lemon Tart is also an awesome recipe. The filling is SUPER lemony and also made entirely in a blender (which I <3 for clean up). I made that recipe with a full tart shell recipe in a larger circular tart pan, and oh man was that ever a hit.

This particular pictured filling was cheesecake with some random bits of fresh strawberries (that were going south quickly). Cheesecake fillings are super easy – cream cheese + sugar + stuff (this can be cream, sour cream, milk, egg… something to thin it out a bit)
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The recipe makes more than this rectangular tart pan needs, so I flipped over a mini muffin/cupcake tray and wrapped some pieces with remaining dough. Filled with some whipped cream and aww, yeah. Yum! They are very tan because I forgot about them while par baking the tart shell in the background. Filled with cream, they just tasted like crunchy pie crust. Cream fixes everything, right?

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I’ve been playing with ganache lately. Red macaron shells with raspberry-flavored chocolate ganache seemed like a good idea. I used finely ground almond flour for the first time in a while. I usually opt for almond meal, which is coarser, but generally about half the price of finely ground almond flour. I also bought some piping bags, and man, with those two little changes, I was surprised at how much easier I made the process on myself.

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We all know the deal – (almond flour + powdered sugar) + (whipped eggs whites + coarse sugar + food coloring) = batter.  As long as you cut the tip of the bag in a straight line, you don’t even need to use a tip, you’ll get nicely rounded, even macaron shells.

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I had some extra raspberry-flavored ganache, so I made small balls and rolled them in some powdered sugar and shredded coconut (unsweetened).

 

 

Last weekend I drove down to Flushing to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It was our first year celebrating without Yeh-Yeh, our family’s patriarch. That didn’t really hit me until shortly before my drive down, but for me simply having these traditions with family keeps us together and that is what is important.

The drive down was a breeze (when I drive to Flushing from Albany I go: 90E > Taconic > 84E > 684S > 678SHutchinson River Pkwy> Whitestone Bridge. It’s about 15 minutes more than taking 87S down, but it saves on the tolls up until the Whitestone Bridge ($7.50) and breaks up the drive into smaller chunks so I don’t get bored. It also probably seems more complicated to hop off of the Taconic onto 84E, but it’s a much smoother drive with better drivers than taking the Taconic down all the way (you avoid where the road narrows, and all of the crappy drivers on it).
I got in shortly after 5, and figured I’d have to drive a while for parking, but found free street parking within 30 minutes! Woo hoo! I didn’t have to move the entire time I was there. I don’t know about you, but when I head down to NYC, I like to park and just leave my car until I’m ready to head back home.

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For dinner we went to Jin Cheng Restaurant, which I protested because last year we had a pretty craptacular experience at the kid’s table, and I thought we went there more for its close proximity to Yeh-Yeh’s condo than the quality of the food. I’ve since discovered they are better at lunch, or when they’re not busy, so they’re not a total lost cause, but I had prepped myself for a less-than-awesome Chinese New Year dinner because Chinese New Year Weekend in Flushing = every Chinese Restaurant is gonna be mobbed.

I was pleasantly surprised with how GOOD dinner was. Maybe it’s because we were a smaller group and not two big tables. (Maybe Yeh-Yeh was in the kitchen yelling at the chefs for me ;) ) It was my dad, his best gal, my uncle, Albany John, and me.

We started off with Beef and gai lan. Great wok hei on the beef, and super tender.
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Honey-walnut-mayo prawns with broccoli on the left. Plump and fat shrimp, no complaints there. Fresh crispy skin chicken at the top, and the same beef on the right (after initial decimation)

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Lobster Cantonese-style with ginger and scallions. We got two big lobsters. So perfectly cooked. I would say this is one of my favorite ways to eat lobster. This way, or just steamed.
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Whole steamed flounder. Mmm. It looks big, but it’s easy to eat a lot of. So light and good.

Albany John and I went for a little walk after dinner to digest. Naturally we wound up at Tous Les Jours, a French-Asian bakery.

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Like most Asian bakeries, there’s a bunch of goodies laid out for you to pick yourself, plus refrigerated things behind the counter.

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I wanted to keep walking, so we had a late-night (for Flushing, i.e. 9 PM) picnic on a bench near the police station (I know romance).

I usually love the stuff Tous Les Jours makes, but man this was mixed bag. The vanilla milkshake was really unpleasant – lots of large chunks of ice, and cheap vanilla ice cream. Bleh. And $4.50 to boot.
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Here was the statue we noshed at, right in between the hubbub of traffic.
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Macarons: skip. Red velvet on the left and Oreo on the right. Red velvet had no notable red velvet flavor, and used a pasty vanilla buttercream as the filling. The black “Oreo” macaron also bore no flavor of its namesake, and was equally pasty. Disappointing. I should have avoided from the start because while these were not cracked, they had some cracked macarons on display, and if they took pride in their macarons, the cracked ones would never be up for sale.
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Albany John got a cream cheese pastry. These are epically delicious in an it’s-so-bad-for-you kind of way. I’m pretty sure I could hear one of his arteries start to clog. They don’t skimp on the cream cheese.

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I had a backup pastry which was tasty – a soft and fluffy bun filled with sweet potato filling and covered in almond flour/meal. Yum. Stick with the baked goods you can pick yourself and you’ll be good.
The next day we kicked off the day eating (of course).

Joe’s Shanghai to start for breakfast. We got there right when they opened at 11 AM and had no wait.

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Bready, soft scallion pancakes.
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Big steamer full of 8 Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). If you go to Joe’s Shanghai, you absolutely must get xiao long bao. The tongs are kind of unnecessary, and the teeth on them can pierce the skin of the dumpling, and there goes all of your soupy goodness. Their skins were good (but Ala Shanghai’s are thinner!), but the broth is where these dumplings shine. Each soup dumpling contains a glorious broth. Each dumpling is a treat, and if I think just a bit, I can relive those flavors for just a moment. The broth is thick and rich, with hearty flavors from both the pork and crab, but neither standing out over the other and instead combining to make this magical soup that you can’t get enough of.
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Shanghai style rice cakes, with some veggies and meat. Nice softness and wok hei.

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Two big bowls of soup. I think their soups are a bit on the bland side, at least after eating the xiao long bao. Beef chuck on the left, pork and veggies on the right. Noodles are okay, but they need a little salt or something. I think the soups at Taiwan Noodle are better though (deeper broth flavors and better noodles).

Then Albany John and my uncle split off to do their own thing, and Dad and his gal and I were off to have more adventures. I was SUPER excited because I was planning on going to Sunrise Kitchen & Hardware Supplies (4205 Main St, Flushing, NY). This place is awesome for all of your Asian kitchen gadget needs.

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Sadly for me, they took the week off for Chinese New Year. No cheap and awesome kitchen supplies. Next time. Sigh.
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Saw some lions on the street.
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Went to Rose House for an English-style tea break. Overall, I’d say it’s a nice place if you want to get away from the loudness and crowds in a pretty atmosphere and comfy seats, but that’s about it. All of the teas seemed to taste the same, and they were on the expensive side – $9.00+ per small pot.

Service was weird. A server initially told us there was a 2 hr sitting limit because it was the weekend (which was fine and totally reasonable), but then after being there for a total of 40 minutes the same server took away our tea warmers and started checking the pots. There were no crowds waiting for a table, either.

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Their butter cookies were decent, and despite finding a hair in the rose hips jam after I spooned some on a cookie it was freaking DELICIOUS.

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I broke off to explore on my own and found Pho Hoang on Kissena Blvd.

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There are tables, but order here at the counter for to-go orders. It also shares space with a Chinese butcher further near the front of the store. It’s not the cleanest looking space, but $4.00 for a banh mi was calling my name.
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Hello gorgeous. A nice baguette tucked into a parchment sleeve.

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SO GOOD! Look at that bread. It’s deliciously perfect little baguettes with a crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, squishy interior. Great for banh mi and stuffing with julienned veggies, pate, meat, and cliantro. Yum, yum, yum.
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$4.00 for all of this, versus $6.50 (to start) for a small banh mi at Pho Yum in Albany that doesn’t even use the right bread.

I wound up going to a friend’s that night.

The next morning we went to Jade Restaurant for dim sum with one of my aunts and some cousins.

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More lions!

The wait wasn’t too bad, but my aunt saw a friend of hers who was a manager, and we got whisked off to a side room that I’ve never seen before (that was opened up to handle the Chinese New Year crowds). That was awesome – less loudness and craziness, all of the carted dim sum goodies.
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Food, food everywhere. So good.

We hung out for a bit, but soon it was time to hit the road.

But not before hitting up Pho Hoang one last time since Albany John was back.
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And there was a DRAGON group that came in!
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I got a regular banh mi ($4.00) & a duck banh mi ($6.00).
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They withstood the drive up pretty well – the bread stayed crisp and the interiors didn’t get soggy.
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Duck on the left, regular banh mi on the right.

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We both thought the regular/standard banh mi was better than the duck banh mi. Better flavor overall. The duck was good, but man, the veggies and meat are just SO good!

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