Opium Fettucini

Opium pasta. Sounds pretty cheeky, eh? I was feeling pretty cheeky when I gave this fettucini dish a little nickname. Sprinkle in some poppy seeds, and voila – opium pasta.

Actually, I got the idea to sprinkle in some poppy seeds because I am in flipping love with Penzey’s Salad Elegant sprinkle. I know “salad” is half of the name, but the mix also has some parmesan cheese in there, and it rocks a pasta like you wouldn’t believe. The stuff’s as addictive as opium (opium’s addictive, right? otherwise this wouldn’t make sense. even if it isn’t, let’s just pretend that opium is highly addictive, ’cause that’s how good this Salad Elegant is).

Unfortunately I ran out of my stash of Salad Elegant a while ago, and was jonesing for more. This wasn’t that close, but it made me think of it. Just used some ricotta and pasta water for the sauce, plus some dried garlic and onion power with poppy seeds and salt. I think I need to toast the poppy seeds next time to add a little depth and nuttiness.


A little bit of chicken doens’t hurt either. But plain is tasty. We just happened to have some chicken that day. So I ate it with the pasta.

Any who, I’m hoping I get the chance to re-up my stash while I’m in the City this weekend visiting my awesome bro&sis-inlaws Maka and CVS.

New Years Resolutions

I’m terrible about making New Year’s resolutions. They’re more of a sure-fire list of stuff for me to ignore or have completely backfire. But this year, I’d like to have a few New Year’s resolution projects. Just for fun. (Oh, and the picture above is Troy’s Atrium. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this post, but I like pictures).

Project 1: Monitor Soda Intake
I don’t drink a lot of soda by conventional standards. It’s usually diet if I do, but I’d suspect it’s far less than the average New Yorker, which this cool map (Made by an RPI student – what up Big Red!) puts at 61-70 gallons per year. I’d estimate my annual soda consumption somewhere around 20 gallons, being generous. This should be fairly easy to monitor, as I can take a mental note of what and how much I’ve consumed.
Project 2: Naturally Raised Pork Belly VS Supermarket Pork Belly
I’d like to give my Siu Yuk recipe a try with some “happier” sourced pork belly and compare flavor. My only reliable sources for pork bellies are Asian grocery stores, and c’mon – like they’re not factory farmed? So I will try to find someone who will sell me uncured pork bellies.

Project 3: Project Canada
Get my passport and head out to somewhere other than Montreal to explore our great Neighbor to the North.

Project 4: Expand Garden
Get a community garden plot and plant mo’ veggies!

Project 5: Indoor Garden
Hang up some flourescents somewhere in my place and try growing things inside. Try extra hard not to kill them. I’d like to try a lemon or orange tree.

Project 6: Picnic
Do some kind of picnic potluck type thing.

What resolutions do you have?

The Great Meat Debate


I’ve been on a bit of a mushroom kick lately. Buttons and portobellos aren’t cutting it, and I’ve been craving some denser, heavier, meatier mushrooms. I’ve been dabbling in dried shiitakes, fresh shiitakes, and oyster mushrooms, but my favorite so far have been King Oyster Mushrooms.

They don’t taste like oysters, but they do have that umami flavor, and the stalks have a kind of calamari-ish chew to them.

Y’see, sometimes I crave meat. Lately it’s been chicken. And most of the time I start to crave meat, it’s later at night. And the only store open is the local supermarket. And all they really sell are factory farmed chickens. But my god are their prices dirt cheap. But in an effort to curb my late night factory-farmed chicken cravings, I’ve been trying to stock up on mushrooms as a “meaty” substitution to avoid buying non-“happy” chicken.

Okay, so you guys know I have some neurotic tendencies. And basically whenever I see chicken in the grocery store, all I can think of is this:

All I can imagine are factorys crammed with chickens yelling at me (I would have drawn more chickens, but one was hard enough). This is a result of reading a bunch of different things about the ills of factory farming, plus whatever other random gossip I’ve heard along the years and misconstrued in my own head. I’m not saying it’s correct or incorrect, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

If I’m feeling like I’m craving beef I see:

Yeah. I’m weird. I know. Oddly enough, I have pretty much gotten rid of craving pork at most supermarkets after reading about Smithfield/Cook’s, and that’s pretty much where all of our pork comes from in Albany supermarkets. Maybe I should imagine stuff like that, only adding in cows and chickens with pigs.

So basically, I have two options.
Option 1: Buy the factory farmed meat from the grocery store. It’s convenient because I can shop there late at night because I am bad at planning ahead. And the meat is pretty freakin’ cheap. But it only tastes okay. And it’s probably lived a life of mostly torture. But it’s there.

Option two involves remembering to buy meat ahead of time from a market or farmer. I feel much less guilty about these meat purchases, since the animals purportedly live better lives. I imagine sunshine and happy animals when I buy this meat. Kind of like this:

A little more expensive, but they taste so much… meatier. Actually, depending on where you buy your “happier” meat from, it can be a lot more expensive. But if you do a little searching, you can find some pretty good options. Unfortunately, I either balk at the prices half of the time, or forget about this option entirely. I tend to do option two in spurts.

If you haven’t been able to tell, meat sourcing gives me all sorts of agita:

I tend to go back and forth with some inner dialogue about the pros and cons of the grocery store meat and the happier meat. I tend to waffle and feel guilty if I buy meat from the grocery store. But all I buy now are chickens, and they’re probably the stupidest animals out of the pigs and cows and chickens, so in some way, I feel like I should feel less bad. Then again I’d probably eat a dolphin if given the chance, and they’re one of the smartest animals on the planet, so I probably shouldn’t go on animal intelligence on this theory… (SEE WHAT I MEAN?! The agita!)

But any way, so yeah, sometimes I buy chicken meat from the grocery store. I try not to, but sometimes I just can’t resist.

And then when I think those thoughts above and put the meat in my cart all I can think of are:

A bunch of angry people yelling at me about how wrong it is and what a jerk I am for buying it. I think they’re a combo of my inner dialogue, my vegan sister, militant vegetarians, and some animal rights people. To be honest, I’m not sure why I keep buying chicken from the supermarket if this is what I put myself through each time, but I think the “I wanna eat it nooowww” part of me wins out every time.


So lately I think that maybe reducing my meat consumption even more might be good, and I don’t need to eat just vegetables. I can eat mushrooms! King Oyster Mushrooms to the rescue!


As far as I know, mushrooms don’t feel pain. And I’m pretty sure they’re cool with growing in close conditions. So I feel no guilt buying mushrooms. And you can eat a ton of mushrooms and not get fat (unless you drench them in butter), which is also a pretty big bonus. And they have that meaty texture. I don’t really count them as a vegetable. To me mushrooms are like vegetarian meat.


So I compromised last night. Or at least I did what felt like a compromise. I reeeallllyyy wanted chicken, so, okay, I bought some. I went through the whole rigamarole above, but in the end, Albany John and I split one breast in a chicken and mushroom stirfry with a crapton of shanghai bok choy. I mean, yeah, the meat wasn’t the super fluffy and wonderful “happy” meat I’d ideally like, but we both split a breast for a meal. I mean, that’s baby steps, right? Lower consumption of chicken because of oyster mushroom slices.

So hopefully I’ll avoid this conundrum in the future, ’cause I thought ahead and bought some meat from a “happier” place. Now I can at least thaw some meat out when the craving hits.
And then I can feel guilty and vaguely uneasy about other things!

Enchiladas Verdes


I’m totally digging this gardening thing. Although I learned that I’m not as big of a fan of tomatillos as my garden made. I still have some in my fridge! And they’re not rotten. At least I think so…

Any way, I had some salsa verde kicking around from the summer. I thinned it out with a little chicken broth and rolled up some chicken in flour tortillas and slapped that sauce on it.

Albany John poached the chicken before shredding it. Wow – poached chicken cooks so quickly. And then we had broth for soup!

He also made some chicken cracklins.


Rolled and slathered. I popped some tin foil over the top of the container and baked them for about 20-30 minutes.


They sure swelled up during cooking time!

Mmm, soft, tender enchiladas. A good way to use up those tomatillos. Although next year I might opt to grow something else. The tomatillos really took over my garden.

Christmas 2010

Buckle your seatbelts – this is a long pic heavy post. Christmas weekend 2010!

My dad came in to town a little before Christmas, and we spent it touring around Albs. Ended up introducing him to my buddy Daniel B. and his kiddos. We met up for snacks at Ruby Asian Bistro (875 Madison Ave, Albany, NY). I got a taro milkshake ($3.50) and my dad got a hot tea ($1). You know it’s an Asian “bistro” if they’re charging for tea, lol!

The taro milkshake was pretty good. Tasted more like vanilla and pandan than taro – I’d be surprised if it came from anything but a powder. Still – good portion for the price.

Daniel B. got the beef chow fun and it came with… veggie soup. Ookkaayy… kind of odd. He said it was veggie soup. Y’know, no biggie.

The FUSSYlittleCHILDREN got a strawberry milkshake to share, and were disappointed in how little progress I’d made about five minutes into receiving it. Here you can see the comparison.

Guess what Ruby Asian Bistro has? Xiao Long Bao! 6 soup dumplings for $4. These were… Well, not as good as the ones at Ala Shanghai, but they are soup dumplings, so looking on the positive side, Albany now has 2 places to get soup dumplings from?

The skins were oddly gummy – like they’d been made more out of rice flour than wheat flour or were overcooked and had too much water in them. The soup inside was fine and meaty, but the skins made the whole thing a little … the texture did not win me over.

The second dish we got was the beef chow fun. We were the only people in here, and had only planned on meeting up for some quick food and chatting, but. It. Took. For. Ev. Er. to get our food. And if it’s going to take that long, the food needs to be impressive.

I’m not really sure why it took so long for this dish to come out, because it didn’t taste like it was prepared freshly. The noodles were mostly broken into bits and clumping to each other, making me think that they were sitting in fridge pre-cooked, and pulled out and plopped in a wok or whatever. The beef could have had more of a sear to it, but it was tender.

I’ve still heard plenty of raves from Ruby, so I’m suspecting we need to order some different things from the menu. I’ll be back to give them another try eventually.
At any rate, my Dad and I were saving our appetites up for…

SHRIMPFEST 2010.

Seven pounds of shrimp, two contenders. This was four pounds of black tiger shrimp. Something like $24 at the Asian Food Market on Colvin. They give you a 10% discount if you buy the shrimp frozen in whole boxes instead of just picking them from the counter. Hell yeah – I totally prefer that. Better quality (it hasn’t been thawed out already), and cheaper!


Albany John had a great idea – bring out the electric griddle to the living room so we could have a DIY hibachi. We blew a fuse the first time, but then we plugged it into a different outlet, and it was smooth sailing from there on out.

Shrimp.

And more shrimp. Glorious shrimp.

Sizzling and searing little shrimpy beauties.

Eventually, it progressed to Albany John playing hibachi chef for us. Christmas hats for all!

I’m sad to say that the three of us were only able to eat about three pounds of shrimp. We didn’t even get to the other shrimp. We had 21 left over that we just couldn’t eat. I’m also betting that Albany John didn’t eat nearly as many as my Dad and I. We are seafood demolishers. We’ll have to prepare ourselves for Shrimpfest 2011.

The next day my sister insisted Dad check out X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery (97 4th Street, Troy, NY). I was jonesing for a Soynog cupcake after reading a tweet of theirs and my dad got a Brownie. I’m not really much of a breakfast person, but I’ll make an exception for desserts.

The funny thing is, my sister hasn’t eaten sugar in over a year, and yet she wanted us to try sweets from here because they were vegan. Whatever, as long as she’s not yelling at me, I’m happy.

Yum. This soy nog cupcake was a total success. Tender, moist crumb, and the perfect icing ratio – lots!

Then I had to get Dad to Ala Shanghai (468 Troy-Schenectady Rd, Latham, NY) to try their soup dumplings. We got some freebie snackytizers – aster salad in the foreground and cabbage in the background. Yummy.

SOUP DUMPLINGS!!! DAD, YOU HAVE TO TRY THE SOUP DUMPLINGS!! We got an order each of the crab & pork ($6), and pork ($4) soup dumplings. My dad said they were pretty good – thick on the skin, but good overall.

Pork babies!!! YUM! I was super psyched because both orders of XLB had gobs of soup in them!

Scallion pancakes ($3) – crunchy, scallion-y, and goooooood.

Turnip pastry. I think there was some kind of meat in them too, which was a nice texture, but the dough was a little soft and not that flaky. More like a soft bun in terms of texture.

Fish bellies in chili sauce! Albany John said he saw some kind of spicy fish on their website deal of the week, but the waiter wasn’t aware of it and suggested this dish instead.
Wow, spicy! Albany John said that if he ever wanted to be sure he got seafood at a table with my family, he’d order this dish. Heh heh. If you’re looking for some heat, this has it. My dad and I had a few bites, but couldn’t handle much of the heat.

Still, I liked the flavor – if you like fish, you will like this dish. It tastes like a deeper fish flavor. I think this was either salmon or trout. There were lots of bones, and if I weren’t such a spice wuss, I would have eaten much more of it.

Oh baby – this was my favorite dish. The salty veggies with bean curd skin. Yes. SO yes and full of win and deliciousness. My dad was getting over a cold and thought it was great, and I just love bean curd skin and edamamae and the salted veggies and… yeah, I loved every component of this dish, and the combination together was even better than the sum of its parts. Order this.

The bean curd skins were nice and chewy – kind of like noodles. And oh, all of that saltiness was so good.

My sister is eating some cooked foods (she likes mostly raw food), and got steamed mixed vegetables. She wolfed down most of this plate after saying “Oh, I’m not hungry” all morning when we tried to get her to eat something. I swear, you’d think she was an anorexic since she only eats steamed vegetables, but no, she’s just mostly a raw food vegan who banks on “safe” cooked foods being steamed.

I think my dad might have gotten a bok choy, but I left this one to my sis.

We got a free dessert, too – red bean pastry. It was red bean paste wrapped in dough. Kind of like a Shanghaiese quesadilla. I was surprised Albany John ate some, because he usually doesn’t like red bean paste.

Haha – it sure sounds like my little sister and I were competing for my dad’s food attention: “Dad, come here.” “Okay Dad, now we have to go HERE.”, right?

My dad took off a little after that to head down to spend Christmas with his fabulous girlfriend. I’m glad he made the trip all the way up here. He had a lot of driving to do. And him coming early meant I didn’t have to worry about holiday drama with my mama since they’re divorced and all.

On Christmas, my fab in-laws trekked over from Amherst to spend the holiday with us at my Mom’s place. I made some peppermint/ candy cane macarons with a white chocolate ganache.


Papa Amherst brought over a slew of cookies (i.e. the perfect amount), and Mama Amherst made a sheet cake. Hee hee.

My mom’s got a bunch of Indian friends, and they do not play around when it comes to good food. Fried tandoori chicken strips. Oh hell yes. I had to pace myself on these babies.

The first roasted beast – Prime Rib with a decent fat cap on it.

Hammy ham ham.

Carved roast beast. Not overcooked- hooray!

Dessert table. My mom also made these really good cookies with ground walnuts in them. Really melt in your mouth. I thought they were Mexican Wedding Cookies, but she said they were something else, and I can’t really remember what they were other than “good” at the moment.

Sheet cake! Hazelnutty frosting = mega win.

And then after Christmas, I was like “Need eggnog” so I whipped some up (literally). Tasty. And really creamy and vanilla-y for something with absolutely Zero vanilla.

Shrimp chowdah. Albany John made stock during Shrimpfest 2010 with all of the shells, and I cooked it down and plopped in some potato, onion, sausage and a can of evaporated milk. Worked out pretty well.

And also made some pretzel rolls to go with the soup. Good way to recover from the holidays. And maybe a little walking in the snow.

Hope your holidays were equally epic and delicious.

XO,
AJ

Chico’s BBQ

Went out to Chico’s BBQ (2490 Western Ave, Albany, NY) with some friends who told me that Chico’s had some awesome wings.

They are some pretty awesome wings. Smoked, and then either fried or served “Chico Style”. I got Chico style wings, which are smoked, tossed with hot sauce, and finished on the grill. Oh yas pls!

They skins had a very nice char to the outsides, and a pink coating of smoky proof on the meat inside. These were delicious. Oddly enough, they only do hot sauce though, so if you want Chico style wings, you’ll have to be okay with hot sauce. But the hot wasn’t really that hot. I got through them okay, and you guys know what a spice wuss I am.


The meat was very tender and moist – almost like breast meat, but in a really good way. The skins picked up a little crisping from the grill, and also had a nice chewiness from being smoked.

Either way, quite nice. The wings were quite sizeable as well, and I got a bunch of the wing portions in my order. I like the wing part with two bones over the drumette. I think it might be because there’s more skin, or maybe it’s just a tad moister. Either way, I was happy to see a large population of them. Orders of 10 are $7.99, quite fair for these smoky bad boys. I think they will be included in my “favorite wings in Albany” mental categorization from here on out.

The blue cheese sauce was fine, but paled in comparison to the glory of the smoky chicken wings. It had chunks of blue cheese, but really – we’re talking two competing flavors, so I tended to skip blue cheese dip and just savored the smoked chicken wings.

Now I need to give the fried variety a try, because there was audible crackling coming from those chicken wings with each bite. That’s definitely a good sound.

In true chicken wing lemming form, I ate 5 wings before asking for a to-go box. Hey, it was half of an order, okay? And I’m recovering from a stomach bug. Le sigh. I don’t get why I have such trouble eating wings when I order them out, but at least Albany John will get to sample some of their tastiness.

DeFazio’s Kalamata & Artichoke Pizza

Ordered a DeFazio’s pizza last night – Kalamata & Artichoke. It was around $16. It survived the drive home just fine (plus a pit stop to pick up some beer), although I reheated a few slices in the oven so they were toasty warm on the bottom and gooey on top.

I hadn’t been able to get DeFazio’s kalamatas out of my head after the 2010 Tournament of Pizza. The kalamatas were so awesome, and they’re hand pitted for each order. Hard not to love that.

The top picture is with flash, and this picture is without flash. Either way, a ton of cheese (melted to perfection), and a generous scattering of artichoke hearts and hand-pitted kalamata olives.

I love that browning cheese gets on a pizza, especially when there is a ton more cheese underneath. Yummy. This was a good combo. Man, those kalamatas (they might call them calamatis) just pop with the perfect amount of salinity.

I think they were also selling $25 gift cards for $20 for Christmas – not too bad of a present to get someone for the holidays.

Sugar Cookies. Good Ones.


I’m a sugar cookie hater. They’re usually too bland, too flavorless, too … meh. But guess what? I made some un-meh sugar cookies. The secret? Add a ton of nutmeg (I’m a nutmeg ho), cinnamon, allspice, and ginger powders! Instant yum and the ground powders completely disappear into the dough and the cookies come out incognito, like regular sugar cookies, except they taste good.
Royal icing is also insanely easy to make and really easy. Give it a try. I was a little hesitant on the whole raw egg in icing thing, but the stuff dries almost instantly (well a few hours, but we’re talking Rock. Hard. Icing.) and tastes really good, too. The white stuff is royal icing, and the colored icing is just frosting, milk, and flavoring. Plus color.
Trust me – use Ziploc baggies to pipe out your icing if you go that route, every other non-brand bag I’ve used has split almost instantly or eventually. The Zipliocs last.
I got in a cookie frenzy and while I usually hate doing cut out cookies, I had fun making these. Just used a straw to poke holes in some of them to make into christmas tree decorations. Actually, I think I ended up eating most of them since they tasted good. A few angels (my fave cause they held the most icing!), sugar cookie men and women (and one sad Pitpat looking guy), snowmen, trees, bells, stars, “waving santas” (I’m kind of dubious about that one), and sleighs that looked like doves.
Okay, and maybe I broke out the penis cookie cutters and made a few sugar cookie penises. I would apologize, but I have no shame to begin with.

Raspberry Macarons, Ginger-Lime Buttercream

Before I got sick, I made macarons. Raspberry flavored shells, and a Ginger-Lime buttercream. The buttercream was an excellent idea by Elizabeth. All together, it tastes kind of tutti-frutti, in a good way.

The shells were the same easy, basic macaron recipe I always use. 90g/ 3 egg whites, + 50 g of granulated sugar whipped together, with 200 g powdered sugar + 110 G almond flour.

I tossed in 4 drops of raspberry flavoring oil with that, and plopped them on some parchment paper, let dry for about an hour, and cooked for a few minutes on low heat. Y’know, like 350 or something. Once the feet start popping up, you’re good.

And we’re good! I made some regular sized macarons, but many more miniature macarons. The mini-er ones didn’t flatten out/loose their plopped shapes as much as the big ones did. Oh well. They all tasted the same.

I like how this came out. The nice stark color contrasts and everything. Makes me want to get a tattoo or something. Ginger-lime buttercream in a squeezy tube. (that was easy to make too. the buttercream, not the squeezy tube) Butter + powdered sugar + lime juice + lime zest + grated/microplaned ginger. Yum.


And my favorite part of macaron-making, noshing on all of the rejectarons with cracks in them. With gobs of buttercream, of course.

I am not dead yet.

This weekend Albany John and I went to a friend’s wedding down in Bedford, NY. It was a really great ceremony and I wish we could have stayed through the ceremony, but I had some terrible stomach thing, and when I say terrible I am not exaggerating.

But this was a friend we hadn’t seen in years, and another friend we haven’t seen in years was also there, so it was worth trooping through. I also really, really, really hate bailing out of something very important like this at the last minute when I’ve RSVP’ed months in advance. I would have had to have been in the E.R. to have missed this wedding.

But Albany John was super sweet and drove me over to my Dad’s after the very lovely ceremony, since it was only about an hour away from the reception and not about three hours like Albany was. I still feel bad about the wasted money spent on our presence at the reception, in addition to missing it entirely, but I was far enough away from people during the ceremony, but didn’t want anyone to catch what I had if it was contagious. I spent the afternoon/night alternately passing out and sweating while watching TV and denying most liquids. Imagine the WORST hangover you’ve ever had, and then not wanting to consume anything because you don’t want it coming back out of anywhere. Gross, sorry, but it was even worse to experience. I am so not used to stomach pain and headaches, and that was pretty much all this was, with doses of fever and chills tossed in for good measure. Oh, and being vertical was a challenge, too.

So while I was passed out Albany John ran into town to Chumley’s BBQ (56 North Main, Florida, NY) and got The Festival, which was actually $10.99 and not $6.99 because my dad had an old menu. Don’t ask me why Albany John took a picture of the old menu. Albany John thought $10.99 was a little on the pricey end for the platter, but said that the pulled pork was pretty good, and that the brisket was very good until it cooled off. He also said that one of the BBQ sauces was really awesome, too. I don’t know – like I said, I was kind of passed out and all “OMG, don’t give me food”-y so I have no idea. Maybe he’ll do a guest post for you guys.

And now since I can stomach the look of food, I will post some stuff I wasn’t able to get up last week. Just a disgusting little update from yours truly.

XO,
AJ