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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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Albany John picked me up a hard shell lobster meal from Sea Fish Market and Grill in Newton Plaza in Latham. It was $9.99 for a steamed lobster with two sides  – he went with waffle fries and grilled veggies. The waffle fries had some kind of extra coating on them to make them very crunchy. Love. So much love for the waffle fry. They traveled very well, too. Although everything in Latham is just 10 minutes away, max.

Lobster was great – it was a female and had some eggs inside. I love female lobsters and their egg sacs. Sea even sexed the lobster for Albany John. He’s a sweetie like that and will ask people at the fish counter for a female lobster because he know how much I like the roe. A lot of people will look at him funny, but he tells me Sea was very accommodating.

Albany John says everything was very clean inside. I’ll have to check it out myself in the near future. It’s nice to have a seafood place so close to home. Fin in Guilderland and Saratoga are awesome places, but for some reason I just don’t make it over to either location when they’re open. It takes me a bunch of schedule planning to get out there. Has anyone else been to Sea in Latham?

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Gluten, who eats it, right? While I don’t have a gluten issue, a bunch of my friends seem to have some sort of gluten sensitivity. I’ve personally been eating less gluteny things just because my body hasn’t been craving it, so when it was time to bring something to a Shabbat potluck (or Shabbatluck as I’ve dubbed it), I was scratching my head trying to come up with something gluten free and Kosher. Kosher is kind of difficult for me personally because I have to stop and think about what I’m combining in a dish (like, meat + dairy is a no-no, and pork is out of the question). But toss in gluten-free and Sherlock Jane is on the case! So I figured I’d take a page from the Paleo/Primal cookbook and use sweet potatoes as the crust. I kind of hate labeling foods as paleo, but it’s an easy tag to generally figure out something is crap-free in terms of ingredients. So this is paleoish. or Paleish.

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Start with a tart pan and a shredded sweet potato mixed with some eggs and whatever other seasonings you want to toss in there. I bought this Fox Run 10″ tart pan off of Amazon. It’s a pretty crappy tart pan – doesn’t conduct heat very well for baking, so make sure you’ve got a pizza stone underneath it for true tarts to have even levels of heat through the center. For stuff like this it doesn’t really matter, though. We’re not making anything temperamental here

Any way, press your shredded sweet potato into the pan and bake it at 350F until it looks like this:

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Something like 15-25 minutes, depending on your oven and the amount of sweet potato shreds you’ve got going on. I went pretty sparse, and that became evident when they dried out while cooking (which is good, we want to remove some of that moisture to make a crust. But whatever, because only a psycho flips over their quiche to inspect the crust during a pot luck.

Any way, get out your eggs and milk (or cream), whisk them together, then shred some cheese (see, this is where Albany Jane checks out from Paleo-ville) and pour all of that over the crust. If it looks low in the pan, mix up a little more. Then blop some pesto on top. I had some pesto in the freezer from the summer. Man, it was nice to get a little blast of summer in the pan.

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Cook it at 350F until it sets in the center, somewhere in the 35-45 minute range. If you’re worried about leakage, flip over a baking sheet to catch any drips.

This was a potluck HIT! I was happily surprised. Usually the healthier/gluten-free/paleo dishes at a potluck get picked over, but I heard people asking for slices of this at dinner, so it was neat to see the “healthyish” dish have to get cut into smaller slices not because people wanted to be polite and try it, but because everyone really wanted a bite and liked it.

I’m not such an egg-as-a-main/quiche person myself, so I’d like to play around with this sweet potato crust concept with other savory “pie” type dishes, and sweet dishes.

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Chinese New Year 2014, The Year of the Horse, has been one festive year so far! I began celebrations with friends at Ala Shanghai. After seeing their specials for Chinese New Year, I couldn’t wait to get in!
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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) were a must to start with. And these were perfect!
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The skins were so thin you could see through them!! See how it bulges a bit on the left? It’s because the skin is so thin! So much soupy goodness. Yum, yum, yum.

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Wine soaked cold duck appetizer.
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Scallion pancakes, always a treat.
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Wontons in a spicy peanut sauce. Good balance on the peanut/sweet/spicy.
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And now for the mains! Double Happiness special entree ($19.88) in the front – salt and pepper fish fillets and squid. LOVED this! The salt and pepper coating was perfect – crispy (not fluffy or beer-batter-y) and not the least bit greasy or oily.

Pork with fava beans in the back. Yum, yum, yum. Big fat fava beans with tender slices of pork.
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Squid and fish heaven!
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Hands down my favorite dish of the night was the Golden Duo ($23.88), which was soft shell crab & whole shrimp coated in a salted preserved egg batter and fried. Ala Shanghai has a soft shell crab-only version of dish on their normal menu, so thankfully this goodness is available year-round.

If you’ve never had an egg-yolk coated dish, you must try it. It’s so rich, salty, and good! The egg yolks are preserved in salt, then mashed up to be part of a batter coating. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor to a dish.
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Also had to add some veggies to the meal. Yum. Chinese broccoli is my favorite – nice and crunchy stalks and tender greens.
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Rice cake with pork and capsella as our starchy/rice/noodle dish (always gotta have one at a big meal). What’s not to love about chewy rice cakes?
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Crispy beef coated in a sweet-ish sauce. The beef still stays crispy! I thought I ordered this spicy, but it came out plain/non-spicy. Good, but I think I like the kick of heat to even out the sweetness.
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And (free) dessert because of Chinese New Year! What a pretty plate of fruit. Great way to end the meal.

There were 6 of us, and we wound up at about $20 per person before tip for all that food. There’s still time to grab a few friends together and try some awesome specials to ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung hey fat choy!

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Want fresh handmade dumplings? Northeast Dumpling House is your bet for freshly made squidgy dumplings. I think they still have some kinks to work out, but overall they’re a nice new addition to the Chinese food scene in Albany. Here are my experiences on two recent visits:

First visit:

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Woodear and cucumber on the left (aka cucumber & black fungus $5.99) and boiled dumplings on the right.

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I went with about 6 other people on this first trip – you want to bring a large group when you go to Northeast Dumpling House because there are 15 dumplings to each order. It’s kind of a crazy-large amount and it’s kind of weird that there isn’t a smaller amount available. Boiled dumplings are $7.99-8.99 and fried are $8.99-$9.99 per order. There’s beef, pork, and lamb options, and they are all pretty solid. I think my favorite so far are the pork and chive boiled dumplings.

 

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We got an order of the spiced potato and special pancakes on Jeff’s recommendation from All Over Albany’s Eat This article. They didn’t ask us how we wanted the potatoes done (hot or cold) and they came out hot. Eh, they were okay, but they tasted pretty bland to me, even with the occasional pepper slice in there to jazz things up.

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BAOS. BAOS. Get the baos when you go here. We got several orders (2 per order, $2.99) of beef baos and lamb baos. These buns were nice and squidgy (squidgy is very good when it comes to baos and dumplings), tender, fluffy soft baos, and there was a bit of juice inside each bao. They also weren’t stingy with the meat inside! I hate it when you get a big bao, and you’re all like “YEAH, bao!” and then it winds up being 90% bun with a dollop of meat inside.

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You also really, REALLY want to get the Spicy Sauce & Squid ($6.99). Most of their side dish items are cold, and this is no exception. Hot pepper slices, chili oil, chili flakes, and perfectly cooked squid.

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The fried beef dumplings were some of my favorite fried dumplings. I think the meat in the dumplings is a little smooth for my liking, but this is just my personal preference. I generally prefer coarse grinds of meat.

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2nd Visit:

Daniel B. came up for a weekend away from New Jersey and had Northeast Dumpling House on his list. Albany John, Jon in Albany, Chef Brian Bowden and his gal, and another pair of friends joined us on a Saturday night for a festival of eating.

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Daniel wanted to try the spicy potato & special pancake. I passed since it wasn’t my jam the first time around. The pancakes are cool, but I’m just not down with the potato.

We also got to try the pork & pickled veggie soup. That was really rockin’ soup, and I’m willing to bet the noodles are hand made since they’re making the dumplings to order. They were tender, but still had that delicate chew fresh noodles get. The broth was also solidly porky and balanced, although a jab of sriracha didn’t hurt.


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Cucumber & dried tofu ($5.99). This was sheet bean curd, and I think this should be easy to recreate at home. Basically just tofu sheet, cucumber, carrots, chili flakes, and a dash of chili oil and vinegar. Pretty refreshing to me, but meh to others.

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The beef omasum ($6.99) was another awesome dish from their cold side dishes menu. The tripe was very well prepared  with just enough heat to make it interesting (I wouldn’t really call it spicy. Yes, there was a little heat occasionally, but nothing that had me reaching for the tea). The texture was both tender and chewy, if that makes any sense. Sometimes tripe can be chewy almost to the point of being like chewing gum, but this was not like that. This had something more of a tendon amount of chew to it.

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The fry job on the dumplings was pretty heavy this time, lots of slick oil on the plates. We pretty much ordered one of each dumpling this time.

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More spicy squid!

Another new thing we tried was the shrimp and egg boiled dumpling, which I enjoyed. The egg was pretty muted, it was more like a shrimp and veggie dumpling.

NE Dumps (my nickname for them) is still in the “new” phase. Both times I went in they were pretty dead. Which is kind of crazy for a weekend.

Here’s some areas for improvement:
Customer service – both times we had to flag down the waiter to order, then to get the checks. Tea refill on the first visit was inattentive on the first visit, and nonexistent on the 2nd visit, even though I did the “move the lid” trick to signal that we were empty. This slowness in service is also mind boggling to me, because Chinese service is usually quick, quick, quick. The dishes came out quickly once we ordered, this seems to just be a FOH issue. I’m guessing they are new to owning a restaurant and still learning the ropes as service was a little better on the 2nd visit.

Some specials listed only in Chinese. I am a “bad Chinese” and can’t read most characters, so like many of their other non-Chinese customers, I have no idea what the specials are on the board.
Consistency. The fried dumplings on the first visit were much less greasy than on the 2nd visit. The baos on the 2nd visit weren’t quite as tender as the first visit, and there was no soupy goodness inside.

Dumpling orders in quantities of 15. Orders of 8-10 would be easier for smaller groups of people to try more variety. The “Bull Paddywack” aka beef tendon is already crossed off the menu.

Cool Stuff they have going on :
BYOB

No huge rush, which is different from the “turn-n-burn” style most other Chinese restaurants have, so you’ll be fine to linger at the moment.

Some really delicious dishes on the “Side Dishes” menu that aren’t on any other menu in the Captial Region. I’ve never been much of a tripe fan, but NE Dump’s take on tripe (omasum) will bring me back here to try it out.

Cheap. If you go with a group, you can order most of the menu and still walk out for under $20 per person with tip.

Hand made to order dumplings!

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I know it’s almost the end of January, but how was your new year?  Mine was spent up in a cabin at Dippikill, the campground SUNY owns up in Warrensburg, NY. Since NYE was on a weekday, we got the White Pine cabin at a steal – $270 for a night! We split it so it came out to something like $20 per person, which is a cheap way to spend New Year’s eve with all of the friends you like.

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But first, there was dim sum at Hong Kong Bakery & Bistro before we left with Amanda M. and her guy, plus another friend. We feasted well, and ended up getting out of HK Bakery for $12 per person with tip included!

Turnip cakes on the left, stuffed tofu-skin on the right.

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Veggie & shrimp-filled rice flour dumplings, I think that’s ribs on the right.

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Har Gow. These were massive. Not as good as Ala Shanghai or Taiwan Noodle, but freshly made. The skins were a bit thick and gummy.

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Endless plates of cheung fan with shrimp and duck, and steamed pork buns on the right. Such a good way to kick off a relaxing day. I am SO, so, so happy to have a place in the area that makes their own cheung fan! So quivery, tender, and good.

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Then it was time to hop on the road! White Pine is able to handle 25 people. What I didn’t realize about this cabin is that there is lodging attached for staff in the back. But they didn’t seem to mind our noise. This is also one of the few cabins with parking right on site. No hiking in!

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It was cold when we got in. We never got it to sauna-level like we did with the last cabins, despite loading the fire up with logs.

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I made some crostini – focaccia (made with this recipe by Julia Zeigler-Haynes on Vice) was awesome, then I topped it with some ricotta and sauteed gai lan (in place of broccoli raab). Gai lan is a bit lighter and not so bitter when cooked, and it shows in this application. Eh, okay, but broccoli raab would have been better.

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And lots of cookies, because who doesn’t like cookies. Cacao nib eggnoggy sables in front, green tea sables and coconut-lime cookies in the back.

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Fire. Lots.

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Pulled pork in banana leaves with pickled onions. So good!

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I foisted cooking a duck off on one of the guys, and yum!

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Just ducky.

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We hung by the fire most of the night, drinking and playing a few board games. I haven’t been drinking much lately, so two shots took their toll on me. Man, late 20s = even less of a tolerance than ever.

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Champers at midnight.

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Cheers!

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And then Twister until the wee hours of the morning. I’m sure you can guess which one of these three I am, hee hee.

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Is there really any better way to eat smelts other than fried? If so, please tell me, because as far as I know, deep frying smelts is THE best way to eat them.

I bought some smelts that were already cleaned and gutted. Most grocery stores will sell them in the frozen section cleaned and gutted or whole.

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Salty, fishy, crispy little fish are one of life’s delicious little pleasures. The bones and fins all fry up into these crisp, crunchy, salty bites of awesome.

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Smelts are one of those foods I don’t think I ever had growing up. I think they’ve become easier to purchase now. I can’t imagine Grand Union having these in stock when I was a kid.

I like to use cornstarch over flour when I fry foods that I want to stay crunchy. Cornstarch stays crisp after frying, but flour has a very short life before going from crisp to limp and soggy. I also like to add kosher salt, because it adds a buttery salinity. And boy, do I like my fish salty. Paprika also adds an extra buttery, rich depth.

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Fried Smelts

Raw smelts, gutted and beheaded.
Cornstarch
Paprika
Kosher Salt
Oil

Mix together cornstarch with paprika & kosher salt. You want a plateful of cornstarch, and enough paprika to add some color. Add in a few generous pinches of kosher salt, then mix it all up.

Roll a smelt around in the cornstarch mixture so all surfaces are covered. Cover all of your smelts at once, then fry in batches. They fry quickly, so having them all coated before you start frying makes it easier.

Fry them in some hot oil. You’ll know the right temperature. Somewhere in the medium-high range. Let a few smelts fry for 2-3 minutes for some nice and crispy smelts. And make sure you eat the fins and bones – they’ll be nice and crispy!

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The New Year is almost here and I’m ready for it. 2013 had a few ups, a whole lotta downs, and well, let’s just get on with it, right? But with all the downs, I firmly believe we must continue to believe in the power of positivity, and striving to better our own selves.

It was nice to be able to grab some Sushi Tei when I was out in Guilderland this month. One last fix before the year is out. Two roll lunch special ($8.50) for me with salmon + avocado as one roll, and spicy tuna as the other. Plus two orders of ika. I am loving salmon roe lately. The pop of the briny little bubbles. So satisfying and pungent.

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Albany John went with a 3-roll special ($11.50). Salmon, Eel + Avocado, and Yellowtail + Scallion. Both of the specials also come with a can of soda if you want it. I personally just pass on the soda.

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But that sushi is something else.

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Want to know a great place to go out for a meal with a group without breaking your budget? Parivar! Parivar the grocery store on Central Ave also has a kitchen/cafe in the back where you can order a bunch of Indian dishes made to order.

I went with a bunch of folks, and not only was it a breeze to order, but they even will break up the bill however you want and accept credit cards. It’s counter service, so no need to worry about tipping, and you pay at the register for the grocery store.

I got a pista falooda ($4.99) to enjoy with my dinner – it’s like dessert in a cup, or an Indian version of a milkshake. So good. It’s a rich milky drink with sweet noodles and nuts. So thick, and a great complement to the food.

Pictured above is Pani Puri ($3.99) which are super awesome and fun to eat if you’ve never had them – They’re crisp round shells that are stuffed with awesomeness and slathered in a mint sauce with tamarind sauce on the bottom of the plate. They are one-bite affairs and best eaten quickly.

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Next up was a fried bread dish. Fried bread stuffed with things, then fried, and mint and tamarind sauces for dipping!

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Closer shot

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DOSA TIME! $7 for a massive masala dosa, and the entire crepe was wonderfully crisp and tender. It’s filled with potatoes and served with masala sambar (the big cup on the right – seriously, so much sambar), and mint and ginger chutneys on the left. The ginger chutney was no shrinking daisy – that was SUPER hot. Woah.

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Onion Uttapam ($5.99, which reminded me of scallion pancakes, but way more tender because they are made of rice flour batter.

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And then we got a paneer paratha. Oh, so good (but really, what doesn’t paneer go with?).

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And then we tried Indian Chinese! Gobi Manchurian. It was like an Indian take on General Tso’s, haha! This was SUPER salty, which is saying a lot since I love salt. But I liked the crisp texture of the cauliflower, and how it wasn’t too cloying. This was a fun dish to try that I’ve only heard about and not seen in any restaurants locally. At dinner, one of our friends said that this is the only place to come for Indian home-style cooking, and most of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a more formal/heavy/banquet type restaurant.

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We ended dinner on a bit of a dud with gulab jamun. They tasted more like fried dough balls in syrup than milky gulab jamun. Could just be their recipe, but I’ll skip this in the future in favor of more savory dishes.

Our group wound up paying about $14 per person for all of this food. It was awesome to try so many dishes, and all of them were vegetarian. Man, this is vegetarian food done right – so much flavor and seasoning and awesome cooking that it enhances the veggies (and if you’re a carinvore like me, you don’t miss the meat one bit). Great for kids, great for groups, great flavors, great for the celiac/gf friends in your life – grab some friends and get over to Parivar!

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After my 24 hours in NJ, I headed to Flushing to see my Uncle. We hung out for a bit, and then headed to the food court at the New World Mall for a bite to eat. Flushing mall food courts are freaking awesome – they’re stalls for single businesses. Which means a huge selection of cheap eats! Mask is one of the newest restaurants in the food court, and they are running a special – $9.99 for your own personal hot pot (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or vegetable) plus a drink. That is so crazy cheap.

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Mask has their own special hot pot tables set up near their stall at the food court. Here’s what they look like before you get your hot pot set up.

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And here’s what they look like after. Woah food. I got the lamb slices on the left, and a huge basket of veggies on the right. The lamb slices were frozen. I’m wondering if they pre-portioned them out. The lamb flavor itself was a little on the gamey side, but added nice flavor to the weak bone broth my Uncle and I both got. They also had a spicy kim chee based broth and one other broth I forget at the moment. I didn’t feel like being all that adventurous with soup flavor with the drive home looming in front of me.

There were so many veggies in that basket – a bunch of crunchy green lettuce leaves, sweet potato slices, tofu, one weird wedge of tomato, sweet potato noodles, enoki mushrooms, and tons of bok choy quarters. It was a great way to cap a weekend of dietary indulgence.

There’s also a make your own sauce bar. My uncle made me his blend, which was way on the garlicky side and something my sister would have loved. I mean, if she ate meat or any of the other components of the sauce.

But this was an awesome find in Flushing. If you pay in cash they don’t charge sales tax. Cheap, super filling dinner for $10. This is especially good for the people who don’t like sharing food, germs, or both with traditional hot pot.

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Dessert time! This place had a bunch of mango desserts, and was definitely a younger type of place. They even had dine-in where you tipped inside. Interesting, and lots of young people on dates here.

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I got a mango pancake. It’s an eggy pancakey wrapper over whipped cream and mango. Super yum. Something like $4-5 for two big squares.

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My uncle got this mango soupy pudding thing for dessert. Something like $6 for a big bowl. This is probably one of the pricier places in the food court, if that tells you anything.

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Mango pancake interior. So full of yes.

What a good weekend filled with food, friends, and family. I really like solo road trips every now and then. Not every weekend, but once every month or two they’re great for clearing my head. The freedom of the open road, driving my very own car, blasting my favorite crappy tunes, going off to have edible adventures and seeing people I care about that bring me joy.

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