Pizza Central

LinkSorry, Profussor. I cheated on you by bringing Albany John to our pizza spot. And I didn’t even tell you. I’m sorry you had to find out like this. (No, I’m not.)

$1.25 for any slice. The prices on their menu board aren’t right (lower than what they actually charge), and they don’t care if you mention it.

But wash down two slices with a Coke Zero and gaze at Central Ave… and somehow all is right with the world. Thin crust underneath, thin but pillow-y crust at the end. I even like their Chicken Bacon Ranch slices (I just pretend the ranch isn’t there, ‘coz it doesn’t have much flavor). But Buffalo Chicken is also sweet.

Find Pizza Central at 1123 Central Ave, Colonie, NY (the Albany/Colonie boarder).

The Greek House

Albany John was raving about The Greek House (27 3rd Street, Troy, NY) to me, and took me out for dinner. He’s in Troy quite a bit for lunch and has enjoyed a few lunches at The Greek house.
Inside is cute – clean, blue colors and some pylons.

A sort-of-open kitchen. Food comes out on the counter from the kitchen. The guys working the line wear gloves, and they seemed pretty about cleanliness on the whole.

Started out with a taramosalata appetizer. I love that fish egg dip! The pita bread was oiled up and grilled/toasted a bit. Think fluffier pita bread vs. 2-layer pita bread.

Beet salad! I was excited to try this, since they said it was marinated beets. It tasted like sliced beets out of a can with some olive oil and salt/pepper. Ho-hum. Not very exciting, and if they weren’t out of a can I’d be very surprised. I was hoping for some fresh beets that had been roasted & marinated.

I got an avgolemeno soup. It was a big bowl, but could use a little reworking. Tasted a little too semi-homemade for me, and more like it had been reheated in a microwave and not fresh out of a pot. Broth tasted like it was from a box/can, orzo tasted gummy and overcooked (like it was good when it was fresh, but had been microwaved). I don’t like my own leftovers, and I’m not a super huge fan of getting served (and charged) food that tastes like leftovers at a restaurant.

Albany John got a pork souvlaki. The meat was really tough. I normally love food that is described with the words “gristle” and “chew”, but whatever cut this was needed to be sliced/chopped up more, because it was really difficult to eat. It was either Eat-a-HUGE-piece or try-to-gnaw-off-a-piece style of eating. The pita also could have been greased/oiled up a little less.

Okay, so this might seem silly, but I thought their ice cubes were really cute. Like little Pac Man ghosts.

Service was beyond friendly. While my meal wasn’t that great, I’ll give them a few weeks/months to work the kinks out and try again, just because their service was so nice and I want to see them succeed. At one point, I was telling our waitress (who I think was also an owner) that she could take her time with us, and not to worry about the little things or hurrying things up. Her response was “Well, no, no. Because you should have good service, and I want you to have a great meal, and I really want you to enjoy your time here.”

Chinese Meatballs

Chinese Meatballs! I’ve been craving meatballs lately. I don’t have much luck with Italian-style meatballs, so I thought I’d give the Chinese style a try. They are awesome. I also made friends with Albany John’s food processor during this cooking adventure.

So you guys know my deal with meat. I try to buy some meat that tastes… meaty. Usually that is meat that is of the “happier/natural/organic/wahtevs label” variety and not just whatever plastic-sealed package you get in the grocery store.

I picked up a pork shoulder roast at Roma in Latham. Sometimes they run specials, and I found this in their refrigerator case already wrapped up for $3.99 per lb! Not bad!

I’ve also become rather picky about my grind of meat, and find that many pre-ground meats are ground too fine for my liking, and take on an unpleasant grainy/mealy texture when cooked. Eff Tee Ess.

I cut up wee nubbins of pork meat and let them freeze for about 10 minutes before giving them a whir in the food processor until they were at my preferred texture (nice and chunky).

The Food Processor and I do not usually get along. Mr. Cuisinart likes Albany John, but I… have issues. But today, he was very nice to me and cut some foods up. Minced ginger and garlic together (lots o’ ginger) with lots of minced up water chestnuts (I love the texture – stays a little crunchy while cooking).
Crap, this picture of the grind is blurry, but I promise it has texture and doesn’t look like cat food pate. Toss some seasonings on top, ADD A BUNCH OF CHICKEN BROTH (this is the secret to make them so juicy and moist) mix it up, and then let it sit in the freezer for 20 minutes. Just in the bowl is fine.

Then take it out of the freezer, roll in some flour of your choice, and pan fry to brown them.

“Lion’s head meatballs” are a popular Chinese meatball. So in that way, I tried to make these meatballs quite large.
And then I made smaller meatballs.

Wedged them in a pan.

Made a sauce to cook them in (recipe below).
Covered said partially-cooked meatballs in sauce, covered the pan with tin foil, and let bake for 30 minutes at 350F.
While those were baking, I made a tray of meatballs to freeze and eat later. If you freeze them, you can just add them in a sauce later. No need to pan-fry.

I also put some scraps in a pan and cooked them up. Tasty like this, too! Are crisped meaty things ever bad?
All done! As you can see, there are some scallions and wood ear fungus/mushrooms in the sauce as well.

Recipe inspiration was from Use Real Butter. Totally read her post, especially the funny part about Jen’s dad and mom’s debating the size of Lion’s head meatballs, hehe. The sauce is all her

Actual recipe I cobbled up for Chinese Meatballs:
3/4 can of sliced water chestnuts, minced
5 cloves garlic
3″ ginger
1# 10 oz of pork shoulder, cubed, frozen, the processed to a coarse grind/dice
Soy sauce, sesame oil, vermouth
hoisin sauce
chicken broth (about 2 cups)
White pepper
Flour (for rolling)

Plus Jen’s sauce recipe. Click on the link to get her sauce recipe. You’ll wanna pour it over everything.

AWESOME. Pork was so moist and tender. Not grainy or too lean, but not uber fatty either.

Tai Pan in Clifton Park for Dim Sum

It’s rather unfortunate that some of my clearest pictures in a while were taken at one of the most ‘meh’ meals I’ve had in a while. Daniel B. and I met up for lunch one day at Tai Pan (1519 Route 9, Clifton Park, NY). I’ve had food at Tai Pan before. Never been very impressed with it – usually long waits for so-so food, but The Profussor was all about Cheryl Clark’s upbeat review in the TU. Eventually, he wore me down enough to go over there and try out their dim sum menu for a weekday lunch.

We sat in a front/sunny area. The seats/tables looked like outdoor patio kind of furniture, and a lot of the backs of the wicker chairs were broken. :/

One positive thing about Tai Pan’s weekday dim sum menu – they don’t have everything on the sheet, and they tell you that. More like, circle it and see what your server says they have.

We got some of my dim sum mainstays – har gow & har cheung. Shrimp rice rolls & Shrimp rice noodle dumplings. These were really bad. There’s no mincing words about it. I’d just basically suggest avoiding the dim sum dishes that involve rice noodles.
The har gow were better than the har cheung, but… they were still kind of gloppy/granular. And what’s up with the bed of shredded iceberg lettuce underneath instead of a leaf of napa cabbage?

These may have been some of the worst shrimp rice noodle rolls I’ve ever had. See how thick the noodle is? It was crazy-thick. And tough. And tasted kind of stale. And there was only One. Small. Shrimp. in the roll. It was way overcooked and gummy. WTF, you always get two whole shrimp in har cheung. Not one or one half. And they should pop with shrimpy goodness, not mushiness.

The sauce was really weird too – VERY oily and greasy.

The shrimp eggplant were one of the better dishes. New take on it – I’m used to seeing the eggplant stuffed with shrimp and the entire thing deep fried. This dish was more like they fried slices of eggplant, and then put slices of fried shrimp discs on top that were battered in panko. Nice texture, and not too oily for something fried.

At first I was like “WTF is this?! This isn’t traditional!” But then the texture won me over, so I ended up really liking it at the end. But if you’re used to the more traditional stuffed eggplant dim sum dish, the first time you eat this will be way different.

Taro dumplings with some meat in them. These were also good. Too oily/greasy, but still passable. You know how you get some fried foods, and you’re like “Oh, these are good, but there is a lot of oil coming out of these.”, and you still eat it? Yeah, that’s what these were like. Nothing so horrible we couldn’t eat ’em, but enough of a distraction to make us double check where our napkins were.

Beef chow fun. It was okay. But suffered from way too much oil. Good wok hei on the meat and some noodles, though. These rice noodles were much better than the rice noodles in the dim sum dishes.
I liked the cold beef tendon dish. We got the whitey warning from our server about it being a “very traditional Chinese dish” and asked if we really were sure we wanted it. *sigh* I guess I’m not looking too Chinese lately, eh? Maybe if I did they wouldn’t have given me a heads up on the cheung fun situation, lol. Give me tendon bits and lemme put them in my mouf, pls!

These were spicy-style and served on a bed of cucumbers. This was probably one of the best-executed dishes of the meal. Pleasantly chewy tendon slices – if you like beef tendon, this will suit you just fine. Beef tendon is more about texture than it is about flavor.

Here’s another shot of the chow fun. Look at all the oil pooling on the bottom! Way too much oil.

If I go back, I’d ask them to go really light on the oil. I think this was about $7-8. I’m not really sure how much everything else was because when we got the bill it just had one price on it. Maybe some of the other Chinese dishes are more authentic than the ones we got. Beef tendon isn’t too popular ’round these parts, so I would go back just to get that again.

Canadian Bacon

Canadian Bacon! I’m a woman on a curing kick and I just can’t help myself. Picked up a pork loin at Roma for $3.99 per pound and mixed up a cure from Ruhlman’s blog.

30 g pink salt

70 g kosher salt
125 g sugar
2 bay leaves
some sage
5 crushed garlics
1/2 lemon

Add the above ingredients to 2 quarts of boiling water. Cook until the sugar & salts have dissolved, then let it cool down for a while.
2 lbs, 2 oz of pork loin. All mine for the curing!
And now the loin is combined with the brine in a Ziploc baggie (freezer, gallon sized).
It gets to sit for a few days to cure, then it gets a trip in the hot smoker.

It came out SO awesome!! Smoked it with maple wood chips for a few hours.

I’d say this is the best “value” smoking-wise. It ended up gaining weight from the liquid brine, and didn’t lose much during the smoking. Fattier cuts shed a LOT of weight while smoking, but it seems like hot smoking a leaner cut with a wet brine = way less weight loss.

Saratoga Wine, Food, & Ferrari Festival 2011

Yesterday I went to the Saratoga Wine, Food, & Ferrari Festival. I attended last year as part of a live blogging to do. This year was a lovely day to attend – great weather.
Albany John was wonderful enough to accompany me to take all of these great photos.

Albany John got a kick out of seeing a little red set of luggage come out of the boot of one of the vintage cars.

This was my favorite table – truffle cheese! So good, even Albany John liked it! And it turns out that Daniel B. sort of had a connection with the owners!
Hudson Valley Whiskey. Here’s one of the very nice owners adding a touch of water to my single malt whiskey.
Putnam’s chef making sure everything was all set with their dish before the masses came. ‘Twas a lovely pork loin seared right there, with a side of baked beans and a lovely reduction.
Oh, there was also wine. Lots and lots of wine. You pick up a glass when you first walk in, and then refill it and rinse it out throughout the day.
One of the chefs at Prime’s table. Their presentation was one of the best, if not the best, of the whole event. They are really into their details, and it shows.
Salad toppings mise. I believe this was at Maestro’s table. This was Jacob & Anthony’s American Grille, part of Marrello Restaurants & Catering.
Salads – all done! Great combo – roasted golden beets are always a win for me.

Back to Putnam’s table for dessert. An apple tart with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Both toppings made by them. That caramel was so rich and moreish. Mmm.

Ducky, duck, duck, duck! Duck with apple shreds, and it looks like a bit of brie. These tasted great, but the bread was a little tough/oily by the time it reached my mouth. I think a little bowl of the other ingredients sans bread would have been even more spectacular.

Smoked salmon cakes from Sperry’s table. Lots of shmoozing going on at this table. SWFF2011 was a great time for people watching.

Marche had shrimp and grits. I loved the grits. Shrimp were a little gummy.
Dessert cups from Jacob & Anthony’s table. Loved the presentation. The long sticks in the cups are actually spoons.
Albany John came up to me at one point and says:
“The artichokes at Chianti’s are THE BEST thing I’ve eaten here. Have you tried them?”

They were awesome. Not too oily, and quite fresh. Mmm, grilled artichokes.

Veal shortrib over celeriac puree at the Prime table.
But their shell pasta with arugula pesto was the real standout. SO refreshing and filling and tasty! I was lucky enough to meet Doc Sconz in the flesh, and I think this would fit the Slow Food movement’s “cheap & good” category quite well.
And then we saw this. Porchetta. It looked kind of like a gigantic porky empanada. It was being slow roasted by the folks from Chianti for the after party.
I was so happy to be going to the after party. Evidently such porky wonderfulness is stuffed with herbs and let to sit and have the flavors mingle for a few days. Then they cover it with skin and bake or roast it on a spit.
By 4:30 it was time to bid my porky love a goodbye and kick it around Saratoga for a few hours before the after party Aperitivo at 7 pm.
When we came back, we were greeted with quite the array of food. Meat cup. MEAT CUP! The prosciutto was great.
Grilled veggies – asparagus was so good!
Grilled chicken – so moist & juicy!
They were roasting potatoes on the grill. Albany John says he does not like the color composition of this picture, but really liked getting the salt sprinkling action.
SHRIMP. Grilled and large. YAS PLZ.

Okay, so I know it was a wine festival, but the most favorite and delicious thing I tried all night was Cabin Fever maple whiskey. I’m usually not a whiskey gal (I lean more on the bourbon side), but oh, this was like a deliciously maple-y nectar of yum.

And they gave some samples to the people crowded around the pork. Such a thing of glory.
I love you, oh crispy, crackly pork skin. So perfect and good.

Red Front & Cotton Candy Ice Cream

Hallo! Would you like a taste of my cotton candy ice cream? (just look at the smile on my chubby cheeks – of course you do!) Strap in, because we’re on a whirlwind trip around Troy.

It all started when Daniel B and the FUSSYlittleCHILDREN (not at all fussy, btw) were gonna meet up at Pig Pit in Cohoes, but then it turned out the Pig Pit was closed for vaycay the one week we ended up going (I have very good timing like that – they’re open now) so we had to come up with another place to eat.

Wait, let’s check out Red Front. Bastion of Troy dining. This place is a hidden gem of old skool Troy dining. I love their pizza and have only ever gotten take out. Why not check out what dining in is like?

They have a TON of off street parking. It’s in the section of Troy downtown that’s all one-way streets, so make sure you map this out before you go. You can sit in the bar area, or go in the dining area.

Albany John was teaching Young Master Fussy how to gamble on the video lottery numbers games (sorry, Mrs. Fussy…). Pick 10, or something like that. He always wins when he gambles, so… I can’t really bitch about that. Well, I can, but I’m not that horrible of a wife. Yet.

The Profussor ordered an 8 slice Cheese On Bottom pizza. I still think that style is kind of gross, but whatever. ANY WHO. Lemme tell you about what you want to order:

Regular square-slice pizza! Look at that bottom crust. I thought the take out pizza from Red Front was good, but it’s even better when you dine in! Crispy crunchy edges and pillowy soft dough. Mmmm.

Lookie all that nommy pizza! 10 slices O’ Cheese, please! The only downside is that this type of pizza has a VERY short half-life, so you should eat it within 45 minutes, or else the dough will get gummy.

I’d been craving eggplant parm, so we got an order of that, too. It came with pasta (okay, but nothing crazy) on the side. $10-11 for this order. Very manageable and tasty portion for the price. The thin slices of eggplant were fried to a nice crispy-crunchy texture, not at all bitter, and not really greasy for something that’s fried.

Totally hit the parm spot.

We ordered a ton of food and it was just a little over $40 for the lot of us.

Then we went to Snowman for ice cream. The Profussor needs to learn that whatever ice cream he orders for the kiddos is going to be secondary to whatever ice cream I order. As a bonus, I always have someone to finish the ice cream I can’t when the Fussy Little Children are around.

Cotton Candy hard ice cream for the win! This was a small – $2.15 – crazy! It’s got tons of rainbow sprinkles mixed in the ice cream. 2 out of 2 fussy little children agree it is awesome!

Ala Shanghai – My fave local restaurant

It’s nice to get a break from the weather sometimes. But if you’re given to sickliness like yours truly, sometimes your immune system doesn’t appreciate the sharp humidity drops and you get a summer cold.

Enter Ala Shanghai. My kitchen away from home. I like going here (especially when I’m sick) because it feels like I pulled a seat up to a relative’s table and they’re taking care of me. Very familial here.

I was so craving some jelly fish, and Lanny must have been reading my mind because some free appetizers came my way. Jelly fish and cabbage. Mmm. Crunchy and so good. Ala Shanghai has the best jelly fish I’ve ever had – nice and crunchy, tastes briny like the sea, and just a touch of sesame oil. Mmm.

Albany John ordered some turnip pastries. I think these are really good for kids – flaky and pastry like, but not too vegetal.

I decided to try the pan-fried steamed dumplings. Basically, steamed baos, with one side fried in oil.

Inside of turnip pastry. So many flaky layers.

Fried baos from above.

Bao innards. Nommy pork with lots of juices.

Oh, and of couse some xiao4 long2 bao. There were a few breaks in the XLB (no soup :<), but…

The few that did have soup were just ay-may-zing. Look at all that soup! The skins also tasted thinner than they usually have. Mmm. Still kind of thick by NYC XLB standards, but quite thin for Ala Shanghai standards.

Albany John also wanted the sticky rice dumplings. You guys know how much I like rice, so this dish was all him. Coin purses of seasoned sticky rice.

And here is the real reason I went to Ala Shanghai. SOUP. They have the best soup in the area. Wonderfully seasoned broth (not too salty, rich meaty flavor). Sure to cure what ails me. Now THIS is my kind of Chinese Medicine. When I get sick, my first thought is “I gotta get to Ala Shanghai for some soup.”

I just got the pickle and shredded pork noodle soup. Nothing overly fancy, just what you’d think your Chinese grandma would make you if you were sick. Good home cooking, and very rich in flavor while being very low in oil. I don’t like a lot of other soups in the area ‘coz of all the grease in them. If I’m eating soup, I don’t want a 1/4″ of oil floating on top! I want to taste the broth!

Mmm, soft, pillowy homemade noodles. Super tender pork. Lots of curative, flavorful broth. Oh, and at $5, yes FIVE DOLLARS you get like a huge quart of soup. It’s insane how cheap and awesome their soups are.