Ala Shanghai for Dim Sum

I should just call this “Albany Jane eats at Ala Shanghai for the 84598230985 millionth time” because Ala Shanghai has now totally become my de-facto Chinese spot.

Actually, I met a new friend a few months ago at a beach in Vermont. Random, right? Turns out he lives in the area, and is also Chinese. We sent a few e-mails about meeting up for food at some point, ’cause like all Chinese, we like to socialize while we get our eat on. Then he sent me an email about finding out about XLB on Yelp. I swear, XLB are like a siren call for Albany. XLB = must go.

So we decided to meet up Saturday to grab some dim sum together. He brought his adorable little girl, I brough Albany John, and R came along too! Yeeaahhh! Started off with two orders of regular XLB (just pork). Sooo good. These were nice and soupy.

Fried wontons! 10 for $5, and two orders of scallion pancakes ($3 each). Man, those crispy fried wontons were soooo good.

Spicy wontons ($5). They’re not that spicy, but have a bit of a kick to them. It’s a peanutty kind of sauce for them, so if you’re looking for a sweet-spicy-nutty combo, this’ll work for you.

Sticky rice dumplings! These are like dumpling versions of lotus leaf rice (joong). Way more manageable, IMO. I think the big orders of lotus leaf rice is a little much – sometimes a little heavy and perfumed from the leaves. This was a nice change of pace, although one was more than enough for me. As you can tell from the picture, these are very LARGE dumplings! Albany John is a big joong lover – he really liked these, and I’m sure he’ll order them again the next time we go.

Har gow! These are the only Cantonese dim sum dishes on the menu. I think more of a nod since they’re such a staple dim sum dish. Either way, I was happy with them! We got two orders, and I could have easily eaten them both myself. Best har gow in Albany, straight up. Nice soft & chewy skin all over, and good portion of shrimp. Who would have thought a Shanghaiese place would have the best har gow? I would have sworn they were made in-house, but they’re brought in from NYC. I wish all of the other places in the area would get them from the same place, because we have a lot of tough/gummy har gow running around the area!

Every other dim sum dish is made in-house though. Wow!

Ended with a dish of salt and pepper squid ($14). This was kind of on the pricey side, but the squid was very lightly cooked (perfectly soft – not at all chewy or overcooked). The Shanghaiese take on this dish is different than I’ve had it before – it’s covered in a soft batter. Kind of like a cross between tempura and beer batter. I’m more used to Cantonese-style where it’s just got a light coating of cornstarch on it. But it had a good kick of pepper and salt in the batter, more pepper than I’ve been able to taste before in Cantonese preparations. I’m still mulling this dish over, haha. (But don’t get me wrong, I liked it! It’s just a lil bit different)

This was a nice, leisurely dim sum. No rush, just a nice way to spend a weekend meal. And man, we can eat, haha! Ala’s dim sum menu may be shorter than others in the area, but it’s a different style well worth checking out, and every single item on there is quality. Also pretty cool that every dim sum item aside from the har gow are made in-house.

Salted Vegetable with Soy Bean Skin & Edamame

I love the salted veggie with soy bean skin dish at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. It’s a comforting dish that really adds a bit of greenery to colder months. I also like to think it’d got some cold-curing properties, too.

I found this recipe for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Skin Ribbons off of Food Mayhem’s site, and it’s super-duper easy and awesome.

You only need three ingredients. Seriously, that’s it. No extra sauces or condiments. Some mustard greens (or whatever kinda-bitter greens), edamame, and soy bean skin. (I got the soy bean skin at the Asian Supermarket – $2.99 for 8 oz). I’ve also used the dried thin sheets of tofu skin, too. Either way, soy goodness.

Okay, so there’s some prep work involved. You could half-ass it and use the salted preserved veggie packets/jars/cans, but c’mon. This tastes so much better, and so much fresher. It’s worth the extra time investment.

Wash and separate the leaves from your bunches of mustard greens.

Then give them a fine dice, or a rough mince and sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of kosher salt.

The dicing takes me the longest. But it’s so worthwhile.

Then after you salt it, you start mixing it up. Really work that salt in there. Give ’em a squeeze. We want to drain out excess water so it’s more like a pickle.

After letting it sit for about an hour, there’s extra liquid on the bottom. After this, I transferred the greens to a towel and squeezed it out to really wring out excess moisture. No need to be gentle with these greens!

Then it’s time to slice up your soy bean skin. Easiest part of the recipe. Open packet. Slice into ribbons. Done. One 8 oz packet of soy bean skin lasted me for two large recipes.

Then it’s time to get cookin! Add a few teaspoons of oil into your pan and let them heat up. Toss in some of the salted veggies. Sautee for a few minutes, just to lightly cook them.

After that, add in your tofu skin with some water or broth. You can keep it vegetarian, or add animal broth. I like chicken, but beef is fine too.This is mainly so the soy bean skin gets warmed up, and doesn’t stick to the pans. Just a few splashes is all you need. We’re not making soup here. Go lightly at first – you can always add more later.

Once that’s heated through, toss in the frozen edamame. Once they’re heated through your dish is done. That’s it!

Mmmm, gigantic plate of salted veggies and soy bean skin. I went a little heavy on the edamame in this dish, as you can tell. Whatever, still good!

Eat with some dumplings. Or don’t whatever. Sometimes I just like eating a big bowl of this stuff. So freaking good! Best of all, tons of protein! (for some reason, I never seem to eat enough protein)

AoA’s 3rd Birthday Party

All Over Albany‘s 3rd year of existing was celebrated at The Point (1100 Madison Ave, Albany, NY) this week. It’s an awesome local website, and I get to contribute a few articles every now and then.

Met up with some cool folks, and got to meet people IRL, too.

BIG ASS PAN OF PAELLA! Albany John was dreaming up a home design that would allow for such a pan. It was good paella, too. The rice was well cooked, and the seafood was cooked just enough. Yum. Behind that is a ton of cheeses, and some of the best prosciutto ever. Melted in your mouth good.

It’s always a good crowd, and I didn’t get to chat with everyone, but those that I did get to talk with were super fun. Good times, guys! Best of all, the AoA scene is creeper-free.

Then I stayed up way past my bed time drinking two whole beers at Mahar’s with Mrs. Greg, Albany John, Ed, and Dan. Yay, beer for dinner!

I never get served by one of the people at Mahar’s – the owner guy, I think. But the younger guys always serve me. And I swear that I’ve had more than the 3 beers that were on my count, but they never get added to the tally. I’ve never had the shitty service people talk about there, so I guess I’m lucky?

Capital District Community Gardens’ 24th Annual Spring Brunch

One of my fave local organizations, the Capital District Community Gardens, is having their 24th annual spring brunch. It’s a nice fundraiser for them, and seeing as how I plan on getting a plot with them this year, I think it sounds like a fun event to attend. Check out the info below:

More than 100 local restaurants will prepare and donate dishes for Capital District Community Gardens’ 24th Annual Spring Brunch, which attracts more than 500 attendees and raises more than $50,000.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to bid on more than 200 items donated by local companies and individuals through a silent auction that includes overnight getaways, dining certificates, handcrafted gifts, gardening items and art.

Advance tickets to the brunch are $20.00 for adults and $5.00 for children less than 10 years old; tickets purchased at the door will be $25.00. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.cdcg.org or call 518-274-8685.

WHEN:
Sunday, May 1, 2011
10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

WHERE:
Hudson Valley Community College’s Siek Campus Center
Troy, N.Y.

BACKGROUND:
Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG) is a local nonprofit community service organization with more than 35 years of experience helping residents improve neighborhoods, foster self sufficiency, grow food through community gardening and beautify urban neighborhoods through street tree programs. CDCG manages 47 cooperative neighborhood food gardens that serve more than 3,800 Capital Region residents. CDCG also operates the Veggie Mobile, which brings fresh produce at an affordable price into low-income, inner-city neighborhoods throughout the region, as well as The Produce Project, an entrepreneurial urban agriculture training program for at-risk youth. Other CDCG programs include Squash Hunger, Taste Good Series and Urban Greening. Visit www.cdcg.org.

Home Cured Corned Beef

I think I want to corn every piece of meat in my house. I used Ruhlman’s corning brine recipe on some beef short ribs, and had them cure for only 4 days. Ruhlman recommends 5-7, and naturally, I started my cure late. But after some encouraging from Ruhlman himself, I cooked it at day 4.

I also owe gigantic props to my buddy Jon in Albany for the pink curing salt – look at what a lovely deep pink shade this beef turned after curing.


I also owe major props to the students at SCCC’s culinary program for the Irish soda bread recipe. I scaled it down to a large loaf measurement. So freaking good.

My Dad came to town on St Patrick’s Day for a last minute visit, so he got to share the meal with the husbear and me. It was a lot of food, so that was good. I’d had the beef cooking on the stove for a few hours before I picked him up, and then tossed in the veggies while Albany John and I ran out to pick him up.


Corned beeeeef! So good. With potatoes, tons of cabbage, and some carrots. Corned short ribs taste exactly like corned beef, which is usually a brisket cut. Either way, a tougher cut of the cow. The dish was pretty salty, but I guess that’s what happens when you cure something in a largely saline brine for several days.

My dad’s complimentary any way, but when I was like “So, Dad. I made the corned beef myself.”

He was like “I know, Albany Jane. Yes, it’s good. I just saw you making it.” I’m pretty sure he resisted tossing in a “No duh, kid”, but then Albany John explained that I didn’t just open a package of pre-corned beef, but had cured it myself from short ribs.
The short ribs plumped up while cooking, too. This was the smaller rib.

Here is what remains of the large rib. Those slices of beef above? There was another layer of beef above this that came off easily. This is what remains.
There was a nice layer of tendon between short rib layers. And the entire cut of beef was very lean, too. Hardly any fat in the broth when cooled off. Just a few bits here and there to skim off. Very lean and very flavorful overall. I was impressed. I’m used to these cuts being fat nuggets.

This was the best piece of the night. The super tendon-y bottom layer of the beef around the bone. If you thought corned beef was good, holy moly, corned beef tendon is on the next level. Made me wish I’d had extra tendon to throw in the pot. So good.

Alumni Weekend

It was Alumni Weekend for Albany John’s fraternity, and yep – there were many references to the Kegs & Eggs fiasco. Thankfully none of his fraternity was involved with that mess. Any who, they’re all a good lot of dudes, and one of his fellow alumni joined us for lunch at Aashiana on Central Ave. Can’t go wrong with a $7.50 (tax included) lunch buffet and tons of nan.

Aashiana is one of my favorite cheapie hole-in-the-wall kind of places in Albany. You can walk in with $10, and walk out with a full meal and some change.

Yum, buffet! I had about three plates, but the other two were smaller than this one. Chicken dishes and vegetarian dishes – a very manageable buffet. Oh, and there’s chai tea on the buffet, too! If you’re a tea drinker like I am, that’s a nice free perk.

After that we had some time to kill, so we went to the NYS museum after taking a walk around Lark St.

It was some kind of child oriented day, so there were little kids running around screaming everywhere.

I think this thing depicts a first idea of Albany, or New York, or something like that. The subtext says “The Eagle attacks the Unicorn, while the Elk meets his mate and the Beaver threatens the hooved fox.”

I think it looks like a Moose chowing down on a lamb or sheep, fending off an angry Unicorn, and an angry beaver V. muskrat fight on the right. Eh. Yeah, that about sums us New Yorkers up.


I was starting to fade, so we headed over to Caffe Vero on Lark Street for some caffeine. Here is the menu board for Caffe Vero. Prices max out at $4.

I got a medium latte ($3.50) with cute design on it. The guy at the counter making it thought it was only so-so. Pa-shhh. That was pretty sweet to me. And it tasted creamy without being heavy ’cause they used milk instead of cream. Yum.

And then I went home while the guys did guy stuff. Man, I remember when I was hanging out with people in college or college alumnis and I was the youngin’ (underage). Now I’m the old lady. Although I’d still like to think fairly irresponsible.

Tea-Smoked Chicken

CHICKEN! I’ve been really into eating chicken lately. So I marinated two legs, and just rubbed some salt on the others. Oh, and then I smoked it with some tea and rice and whatevs. After that, it was a quick pop in the broiler to crisp things up. Not too shabby.

I used my smoker, but you could just as easily line a wok or large pan with foil and do the same thing. I used one of these baggies of “Spice for Spiced Food” plus about 10 tea bags of Oolong tea, brown rice, and sugar. Not sure how necessary the sugar was, but every recipe I looked at called for it. The oolong was shitty and super finely ground and bitter. Next time I’ll use green tea or jasmine. Preferably better leaves, too.

Chicken two ways. On the left in a baggie are legs that have been marinating in a mixture of maltose, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, black vinegar (chiangking), and rice wine vinegar. You could easily use sugar or honey in place of maltose. I’m just trying to use up the maltose I have.

On the right are chicken legs rubbed with kosher salt, a dash of sugar, and crushed white pepper & Sichuan peppercorns. They sat in the fridge for about an hour before I smoked them.

Smoked, broiled, and purdy. Overall, it wasn’t too bad. But next time I’d try different leaves since they didn’t really taste like tea (but they did taste smoked).

My throat is a little scratchy now. Blah. But the chicken was pretty worth it.

Vegan Pizza

You know those fish that you can stick in a tank and will eat pretty much anything, like the algae off the sides of the tank? Those sucker fish? I’ve got to be the sucker fish of my family. If no one wants it, I’ll probably take it and do something with it. My sister bought a ton of Daiya cheese a few months ago when she took a break from her raw food diet. I think she had to, or something like that. She made some gluten-free, vegan pizza, and since then there have been several baggies of shredded cheeze sitting in my mom’s freezer. The cheeze bags got the boot from Mom’s freezer into mine recently.

I figured I’d give vegan pizza a go. Why not? Daiya’s got great reviews online for vegan cheese. And hey, if I can have pizza and call it healthy and good for me, well, sign me right the hell up.

The Daiya mozzarella style shreds vegan cheese looks like shreds of parmesan cheese, and has a kind of cheesey smell. It would be hard to tell it apart from regular shreds of mozzarella (the cheapie bagged kind), or parmesan.

Made a crust primarily of bread flour. Chewy thin crust on a pizza stone. Albany John whipped together a chunky sauce out of canned tomatoes. 550F pizza stone for 6 minutes.

Holy moly – it really melted! It looks pretty much like mozzarella cheese. Flavor-wise… um. It was okay. I think a little goes a long way. It didn’t really taste like mozzarella. The first bite I was like “Woah. This is melty and kinda cheesey. Maybe it’s kind of like mozza-oh no. It’s different.”.
There’s a coconutty-sweet end to it, and it tastes more like a melty/warm sweet cream cheese with extra tang, yet has the pull and meltiness of mozzarella. It was kind of a mind freak for someone who’s used to eating the real stuff. After reading the ingredients label, coconut oil is one of the ingredients, so at least my brain’s not making that flavor up out of no where.

I think Daiya vegan “mozzarella” cheese is really close to mozzarella for people that can’t eat mozzarella and don’t know/remember what it tastes like. If you eat mozzarella, you’ll be able to spot the difference in flavor. If you don’t eat mozzarella for whatever dietary reason but really want to, you’ll be like “Oh, shit! It’s mozzarella! Halleluja, Daiya!”.

I’m still gonna keep it in my freezer, just ’cause I think pizza might not be the best application for me because the sweet flavor is so blatantly obvious (which makes me mildly disconcerted the entire time I’m eating it since I’m like “Hmm. It’s just a little off,”). Truthfully, I hope my sister will be like “I’m not eating raw food on XYZ day,” and then I can be all like “I’m making you vegan, gluten-free pizza, biatch!” in the near future and then I can feed her something that she likes. Okay, and I might have a problem with hoarding things in my freezer, but it’s edible, so how is that really a problem?

Still, I’m really impressed with its melting properties. I think I will try to find a sweeter application to use it with. Have you tried this stuff before? Any suggestions?

DIY Sushi

I made some half-assed sushi for dinner last night. Brown rice sushi – even prepared the rice with vinegar and mirin. But the seaweed was being kind of a bitch and not sticking, so after being in the kitchen for a while, I was like “Oh, F this,” and just plated everything for DIY sushi (or conversely, chirashi bowls).

The half-ass rolls look kind of like weird hot dogs. I picked up some trout from the store and cut it into sushi roll cuts and lightly seared the outside just to take off any potential fishiness. Tastiness.
Some slivers of cucumber, too. And tobiko. And toasted black sesame seeds.

I am kind of digging brown short grain rice. It’s got a nice nuttiness and chewiness to it. More interesting than white rice, and not as dry, either.

Oh, and the stuff in the center was a salty veggie and soy bean skin dish. I loved it when I had it at Ala Shanghai and wanted to recreate it since they make their salted veggies in-house and it tastes so fresh. I found a recipe on Food Mayhem for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Ribbons that looked like a perfect match. Except I didn’t have edamame. And my bean curd sheets were more like shattered bits. It still came out pretty well, though. Definitely hit the craving for a deeply vegetal and comforting dish. Give it a try – very easy and very rewarding.

The Cure

As some of you may know, Jon in Albany is participating in Charcutepalooza. He’s got some awesome stuff up about making his own cured meats. I sought out some of his expertise, and he even swung by my house and dropped off some curing salt! A big bag of it!

How awesome is Jon? Seriously – very awesome.

I finally pulled it out of storage and was like “Jane, if Jon is going to be awesome and up and give you some pink salt, it’s time to put it to use!” so now I’ve got some beef curing in my fridge after making up a corning brine. But I didn’t use brisket. I used a different cut of beef.

And check out Jon’s page – he’s corning beef, too! However, unlike Jon, I totally forgot to toast my seeds before tossing in my powder seasonings, so I’ll just have to hope it turns out okay. Ah, I have so much to learn from the master of curing arts!

I also forgot to start this a few days earlier, so I’ll be eating corned beef on Friday or Saturday instead of on St Pat’s day this Thursday. But I will be making an awesome Irish Soda Bread recipe that I got from some students at SCCC.