Kim Chee

Oh David Chang, you are a genius. Project Kim Chee all started with this 2nd Edition of Lucky Peach magazine (brought to you by Chang & my other food crush, Anthony Bourdain).

Chang’s got a crazy-easy recipe for kim chee contained within this tome, and he made it seem so… accessible. Like even I couldn’t screw it up. It’s a two day process, but really not all that time-consuming.
Start out with a big ass head of napa cabbage. They’re $.50/lb or less at the asian grocery stores in Albany. This particular head was exactly four pounds. Yes, I tared the bowl.

The next step is quartering each head and removing the tough cores. But don’t throw them out! Just cut them into little slices. We waste nothing with this kim chee.

Chang’s recipe says to cut the quarters of napa into 2″ sections. That’s the size you get (or larger) in kim chee you can buy in stores. I don’t like those size leaves – too big and difficult to cram in my mouth (I know, hard to believe).

I sliced these into 1″ sections instead. I’m so badass!

Then you throw them in a bowl and dump a TON of kosher salt and granulated sugar on them. I’m serious. It’s a lot of both. Cover it with saran wrap and let it hang out in your fridge overnight.
Wow, that really shrunk overnight, hunh? There’s a lot of water at the bottom of that bowl, so you want to drain out as much as you can, but there’s no need to go crazy with it.

Then I busted out my handy dandy mandoline to matchstick-ify some carrots (please, like I have the dexterity to even think of trying that with a knife), and roughly sliced up some scallions. Just one bunch of scallions is fine.
Next, we prepare our chili paste in a blender. About a cup of chili flakes, 3/4 cup soy sauce. 5 T fish sauce. About a dozen dried shrimp (I think that dried scallops would also make a great dried fish ingredient). Close to a whole head of garlic, 2-3″ of ginger (peeled), some sugar syrup, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Any who, whir that into a paste.

Plop the paste onto all of the other ingredients.
ATTACK! If you wear contacts, I highly recommend wearing a glove when touching spicy items. Otherwise you will scream later.

Mix, mix, mix. Work it girl – you really wanna work that hot & spicy paste into every bit of your veggies. I think that some daikon probably wouldn’t have been a bad addition to the napa cabbage with salt & sugar the night before now, come to think of it.

Then pack it in some jars. I had a few ball jars, and a few leftover other glass jars (miraculously with tops, even).

Let it sit in the back of your fridge for at least a week before you even think of trying it.

Then have your husbear make kim chee fried rice! Holy moly, I have no clue what kind of kitchen chicanery her worked on this, but this was good! And that’s coming from a rice-hater.

The kim chee wasn’t that fermented after a week, but had a good kick to it and was quite velvety. Sweeter than I’m used to, that’s for sure. I’ll give it another try in a week and see how it’s fermented, but it’s definitely tasty stuff.

Forno Bistro

Forno Bistro is an Italian-American restaurant in Saratoga Springs, NY. Don’t go there hungry. The bar is nice, though. I’d go back for drinks at the bar.

They’re a step up from Olive Garden and chain restaurants, but after my dinner tonight, I don’t really see myself wanting to go back again. I went with a few other folks. The pleasant was that they split our checks without us asking. They added in an auto grat. The service wasn’t terrible, but our server actively stayed away from our table and took a while to refill drinks – seemed more interested in padding the bill. One of our dining companions also had a food allergy, mentioned it to the server, and the dish came out with the problem food still on it. Who’s expo-ing? They gave the diner a little bit of sorbet while waiting for the requested dish to come out, but our server pretty much disappeared after that. I’d just rather have a server interested in my dining experience instead of how much their 18% auto grat is going to be.
The server also pushed signing up for their free dining club card and mentioned we’d get 10% off of all of our bills that night. We didn’t see anything off of our receipts when we paid, and when we asked out of curiosity the server mentioned that it was money that would go back on the dining card to be used as dining points at Forno at a later date. This was kind of annoying because being told we’d receive 10% off of our meals is way different than “10% of your meal is going to be added to this card that you can use eventually when you dine here and spend enough money”. It’s just a matter of goodwill – if your servers are telling diners one thing to get bonuses because they had people sign up for the dining card (I’m not sure if that’s the case at Forno, but in many other models, this is commonplace), and diners find out what they were told wasn’t exactly correct, it doesn’t exactly leave a stellar impression of your business. Do you want people to leave thinking “Wow, that was a great night!” or “That was nice, but…”

Ok, so, on to food:
Bread – there was one slice of bread per diner. They have olive oil and vinegar at the table, which was tasty, but I could have used more bread. Further requests for bread were ignored.Which was kind of a bummer, because my main would have benefitted with some bread. The bread itself wasn’t too bad. One of those par-cooked loaves that the kitchen finishes. In my FOH days, I quite enjoyed snacking on those types of bread.

I got an eggplant parm ($15). I like eggplant parmesan when I dine out because it is a royal pain to make at home – so much frying and THEN baking. The eggplant came in a rectangular dish (Il Forno has a fire oven they bake a lot of their food stuffs in). It was okay, but the eggplant parm I make at home is better. The eggplant slices were unbreaded and the whole dish was uniformly smooth and one texture. Mozzarella cheese, eggplant… it was all one mushy texture. I went to dinner hungry, and left not really full.

Albany John got a fra diavolo dish which was not at all spicy. It was okay as a pasta dish, but a few flakes of chili would have been nice. Something to add some heat to a diavolo dish.

Oh, so I liked the bartenders because they had a pretty humorous personality. I saw a liquor I liked and asked for them for a cocktail using it. That was met with the equivalent of a “Hunh, wuh? Um, okay…”, so I pretty much just looked at their bar and was like “Okay, add this, this, this, this, this, and this” because if I’m going to pay for a drink, I want it to be a tasty one and not a science experiment. But the bartender played it off well and was like “Hey, special drink I just came up with for you.” when he gave it to me. It made me smile. I’m glad I could think up a tasty drink on the fly, but my mixologist days are over. Sometimes it’s nice to just stop in a bar and be like “I like XYZ. Work your magic and do something with that.”

So. Overall, not a bad night, but just a “Meh Saratoga Yuppie” dining experience. I think I’mma have to check out some of Phairhead’s rockin’ Italian joints in Schenectady.

Taiwan Noodle for CNY Eve Lunch

I remember CelinaBean called me when I was waiting to cross the boarder back to the US from Montreal when she told me about a new soup place on Central Ave – Taiwan Noodle. Their menu is small, simple, and cheap.

I had planned on heading down to NYC this past weekend to spend Chinese New Year with my family. But the snow storm put a kibosh on that. I was bummed I was going to miss them. I hadn’t finished making soup for Renee’s soup swap, but was happy when Celina mentioned she’s be back in town to order as much off of the menu as possible. She brought the whole family with her, and we were able to sample quite a few different dishes.

These spicy wontons ($3.95) were great – slippery skins, and a hearty dose of heat.

Two orders of scallion pancakes were a big hit with the kids. This is a crispier version than I am used to, but not at all oily.

Wood Ear ($3.95) was a cold dish of wood ear, carrots, and celery in a slightly sweet sauce. Not cloying, and really quite refreshing.

The shop itself is in the old Saso’s space on Central Ave (218 Central Ave, Albany, NY). The interior is clean and simply decorated – it appeared to be the owner and maybe his son or another young adult relative doing FOH service.

I heard an order of “Har Gow” getting shouted at the kitchen when we sat down, which means I was all like “TWO ORDERS OF HAR GOW, PLEASE!” when it was order time. They’re on the menu in English as Shrimp Dumplings ($3.95). You can skip these and get more spicy wontons, though – they were just frozen pre-fab ones. The shrimp inside was kinda mealy.

Pork and leek dumplings – $2.95 for four hefty dumplings. Not too shabby.

Xiao Long Bao ($2.95)! I can probably tell you what brand of frozen XLB these are, coz I think I have these exact same dumpling sitting in my freezer right now. Not bad, but… you know. Frozen and premade. It’ll scratch your XLB cravings.

So. The dumplings might be a little hit-and-miss, but what you really want to come here for are the noodle soups.

Chicken wing soup – the kids really liked this one.
Pig foot soup. OMG, love. Celina and I were raving about how good the broths were – so clean, light, but still rich and flavorful. They surprised us and told us that ALL of their broths were vegetable based (made in house)! WHAT?! Veggie based broths at an Asian restaurant?

These were so good, and I don’t think these pictures do justice to the sheer size of these dishes – huge! You get SO much food for $5! They were bigger than my head! I can’t wait to go back and try more soups, and more mains-over-rice types of dishes. Great flavors, and the soup broth was so clean.

Pan fried dumplings – another big hit with the kiddos. Not too greasy even though the bottoms were fried into tasty crispiness.

We also got to try another vegetarian broth chock full of onions and tomatoes. This one, he said, was for beef noodle soups. As-is, you wouldn’t peg it as an Asian broth. But it was very richly flavored and I can’t wait to try out a beef soup now.

A meal for 8 people was $57! That’s less than $10 per person, even with tax and tip! What a steal!

Then Albany John and I went for a hike at Grafton Lakes State Park. We hit up a trail with only two other sets of footprints on it!

Gung Hey Fat Choy

HAM! (or maybe Canadian bacon)

Every time I cure some meat, I think of Jon in Albany. Because he gave me 8 oz of curing pink death salt. When you only use 1/4 tsp at a time, that is a LOT of curing salt.

I cured some pork loin I picked up at Roma Importing in Latham. Let it go for at least 5 days in a brine from Ruhlman, and it’s good to go! The gist of it is 1 gallon of water, 1/4 tsp pink curing salt, 1 1/2 c kosher salt, 1/2 c sugar (uh, don’t quote me on those salt & sugar measurements… it’s probably wrong). And then you can toss in whatever seasonings you want. I tossed in a half a head of garlic cloves and that was about it. Maybe some onion powder. Next time I’ll add in more… stuff.

But smoked over some maple wood chip bits and you get yourself a fine piece of cured, meaty goodness. This was a pork loin, so it was a fairly lean cut of meat to begin with. And I may have over smoked it a tad in the heat, so it’s drier than I’d like it to be, but Albany John keeps telling me that it’s really not as dry as I think it is.

Either way, great way to use up some meat (I picked this up for $3.99/lb on sale at Roma’s – their sale meats are still better quality than the grocery store any day of the week). For some reason I find cured meats more satisfying in smaller quantities, so it’s a good way to keep meat consumption down. I had some bread leftover and made a pretty bangin’ grilled cheese and ham sandwich (it takes me, like, 30 minutes because I keep the pan over low heat, otherwise I burn the bread, but it is so golden and delicious it is worth the wait). And Albany John’s been using some bits in omelettes.

Oh, I’ve also been back on a dessert kick at nights lately. Toasted pecans and cacao nibs were the dessert de nuit.

The Merry Monk

Albany John and I popped in for supper at The Merry Monk (90 North Pearl St, Albany, NY), one of Albany’s newest eateries on Pearl Street. Save your groans, The Merry Monk is worth a trip to Pearl Street.

Albany John suggested we check out either The Merry Monk for mussles, or Pho Yum for pho. Clearly, mussles > pho for me on this night.

Rince Cochon beer on the left. I liked the name and the tap (a big pink elephant!), and they were out of the Ephemere I wanted, but Albany John wisely urged me toward the Palm beer sitting on the right since the Rince Cochon had a 9-10% abv!

I liked the Palm beer. Both were drafts, but boy did that little piggy have an alcoholic kick! The Palm was caramelized and nice for a chilly winter night.
Mussels are buy-one-get-one-free on Wednesday nights. Oh mama. They offer a little over a half dozen types of sauced mussels, and orders are 1 or 2 lbs. We were dainty and went with 1# orders.

Albany John got the chipotle lime mussels. These were my first pick, but he beat me to them, and I’m glad he did – they were thoroughly enjoyable and well prepared (don’t let the blurry picture fool you), but I don’t think I could have eaten an entire bowl of them by myself. Spice wuss that I am. But I happily stole some off of his plate. The sauce was kicky and had a good degree of heat, but wasn’t just a one-note “spicy” thing going on.

Blue Cheese & Bacon mussels! I’ve never seen such a combo before with mussels, so I had to try it. Curiosity got the better of me, and I’m glad it did – these were delicious! As a salt-fiend I loved the flavors going on – salty, strong (from the blue cheese), but still balanced and rich. If you’re watching your sodium levels, you could probably choose a different preparation. Albany John and I can’t wait to go back to try the meuniere and Thai coconut sauces.

The mussels were all well cooked – plump and juicy, and not an overcooked or shriveled mussel among the log. Albany, we’ve got our mussels joint! And prices are great too – $10.99 for 1 lb, and about $16 for 2 lbs. I’m getting 2 lbs.

We also tacked on some fries for an extra $2 with two dipping sauces. I pretended they weren’t mayo-based, hehe. The pesto was really good (again, balanced), and the horseradish had some heat to it.

Here’s where the Merry Monk really stood out for me, though. We’d also ordered one of their app specials – boar short ribs in a cherry sauce. It was $9.99 for the appetizer portion. It didn’t come out before or while we were eating our mussels. When we mentioned it to our waiter, he was really that it didn’t come out at all. He put the order in, told us it was on the house, and asked if we wanted any other drinks on the house. Wow! All over a missed appetizer. Our server apologized a few more times and mentioned the error was on his part. We didn’t order any more drinks, so he took our more expensive beer off of our tab. Dude! This kind of proactive service is in Albany now? I love it!

These were worth the wait – falling off of the bone tender. They were generously covered in pepper. Something I normally wouldn’t like, but it worked really well with the whole cherry sauce thing they had going on. I wonder if they got it from Adventure in Food?

I can’t wait to go back. On a week night, the space wasn’t crowded and was pleasantly different from other Pearl Street bars and restaurants. I really liked their service – not only did they own up to a mistake and go above and beyond to correct the problem, but it was laid back and when I was in there it felt like I was just in a nice, relaxing bar/resto, away from any urgent pressure.

The fact that they went above and beyond to correct something I saw as a minor mistake is something I am just blown away by. It’s a great sign of Albany’s restaurant service evolution. I’ve been to restaurants where the exact same thing has happened, and they just shrug it off (worst-case scenario was they left an item on the bill and then give you stink eyes when you point out you never received an item). Maybe if I were more into having my meal arrive in any sort of order other than as-soon-as-it’s-ready this would be more of a deal to me, but as long as it comes out shortly after it’s made, I don’t care if my appetizer, salad, and entree all come out at the same time (actually, I kind of might prefer it that way, grazer that I am).

Any way, great job Merry Monk – I look forward to many more pounds of your deliciously economical mussels in a relaxed atmosphere.

Troy Wings

Troy Wing tour! Wednesdays are $0.40 wing nights at the Ruck, which means if you drag your husbear & eating partner in crime there, you can split a 10 set of wings for $4!

One order fo BBQ hot for us, thanks! Unlike the last time I dragged Daniel B. there, our order didn’t sit on the counter cooling and getting soggy. I must have looked cute or something, because the guy working the line actually came out from behind the counter and searched for me around the bar.

This kind of service happens occasionally, but not usually on busy nights. You should expect to have your name shouted once and then go up to the line to pick up your food yourself. I’ve had folks bring my my food before, but it’s usually when it’s not very busy.

Oh, I also had a tasty beer – I think it was Bombardier? I used my time-honored method of choosing a cool-looking tap. It works more often than you’d thing.

After polishing off wings at The Ruck, we made our exit just before they started playing live music. Sorry, I’ll never be much of a live music or concert kind of gal.

We headed to The Ale House for the next stop on our mini tour of Troy wings.$7.99 for 10. It’s been a while since I’ve been out at night, and the Ale House is a place I’ve been meaning to hang out. It’s pretty much everything I want in a bar. Low lighting but not too dark, $5 beers from the tap, and low/no music so you can actually talk with people next to you without shouting.

The exteriors were very crispy. Nom. There wasn’t much sauce on the wings, and not much buffalo flavor going on. But really, as long as the wings are crispy, that’s all I really care about.
And in yet another probably not-so-healthy lifestyle choice, we also ordered a large basket of fries ($3) with sides of gravy made in-house. Turkey and beef. The beef is AWESOME. The turkey is too, but the beef is so savory and tasty. $0.50 per cup. They were a lot bigger cups the last time I went. Sign of the inflated times. To be fair, prob shouldn’t be guzzling much more gravy than this with deep fried potatoes.

I also was a lush and had two whole pints of woodchuck cider – it was SO good and refreshing. These were some really clean taps.


I am so bad at remembering to take pictures of these things. Albany John cheffed it up like crazy this weekend. We had the FUSSYlittleFAMILY over, another one of my fave chosen couples, and Artsy Designer Friend.

The picture looks like a hot mess, but the food was banging:
Spinach dip
kosher mashed potatoes shaped like a pancake
pork & beans

smoked dark meat turkey
roasted turkey breast
veggie stir fry
sweet potato slices with onions, honey, and butter (nom)
spinach salad
lemon-soaked onions
roasted carrots & onions

Nom! So good. And Daniel B. brought over an orb of Burrata. Mmmmm.
I made raspberry macarons with vanilla buttercream. So tasty. Maybe I’ll do another post proper on them, but short and dirty: Add 20-25g of freeze fried raspberries to your blender with the 200g of powdered sugar & 110g almond flour. Pulse until the dry stuff is pink-hued.

Phoenicians Restaurant

Where do bloggers go when they’re near Wolf Road but looking for some place local? I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear that Albany John and I were hanging with Daniel B. one night. We got peckish, and I looked at Daniel and asked “So, where are we going for dinner?” When you have a fussy friend, it takes a lot of decision making out of the equation.

We went to Phoenicians – we’d never been and had heard some tasty things. Short story – it was okay, but I’m not sure I’d go back for dinner.

When we were seated, they had this non-alcoholic beer in a few different flavors on the menu – raspberry, apple… I asked our waitress about it, and she said she had no idea what it was. She showed me a display bottle, but it would have been nice to know things like what the beer tasted like, or if it was popular… Not just “Well, you can’t buy it at the grocery store,”
We left the ordering up to Daniel B. We got a bunch of plates to share. These are the tiniest dolmas I’ve ever had. At over $1 each, I was surprised by how tiny and exploded they were. They were about the size of a knuckle. I’ve never seen dolma so tiny before!

They were warm and quite lemony. There was a white sauce with them, but the lemon flavor overpowered it for me.
Daniel B said the baba ghanouj came highly recommended to him by a friend. It was okay – pleasantly smooth, smoky, and creamy; but the pita they served us was stale. The price tag was a little high for the portion, too – $7.99 for an app plate’s worth.
The spicy potatoes were a surprise. The menu listed them as potatoes with garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. What came out were some excellently fried squares doused in Frank’s red hot sauce. The fry job was commendable, but dude – what’s up with that description vs reality? This seemed more like diner food than a Phoenician side dish.

Wraps! With some pretty decent rice on the side. Falafel wrap is on the left, Kafta is on the right. They were kind of skinny.
Again, falafel left, kafta right. The falafel didn’t have much taste. I was kind of like “Hey guys, what did we order for the one that wasn’t meat? I didn’t taste much of anything besides the veggies.”

The kafta was savory, and the better of the two. The pita wraps were, like our earlier pita, stale. Pita delivery in this area isn’t a daily thing, but I wish there was a way to have non-stale pita bread when it’s not a delivery day.

The service was okay throughout the meal – a bit unpolished and kind of awkward. When our server was clearing our plates at the end, she started bussing up bits of rice with her finger tips. That kind of thing can wait for after a table leaves, and is easier to do with a rag/sponge than it is with your fingers.

I’d prefer to go to Beiruit in Troy for similar fare with better service (friendlier, knowledgeable), lower prices, and better food (flavor & portions). The three of us ended up leaving a bit peckish and underwhelmed.

Like any good narcissistic blogger, I pride myself on my own fancy pants pizza dough (that I gleaned from the Daring Bakers). Hannaford‘s frozen pizza a bit of alright, though. For $4.49, it’s not too bad for a quickie night time dinner/snack. The calorie count on the margherita pizza isn’t too bad, either – realistic (i.e., the pie doesn’t serve “32”), and doesn’t have 80g of fat. Didn’t taste too heavy, but still sated the pizza scratch.

I was surprised by how bright the tomatoes tasted, and how much I liked the pizza overall. The thin crust was pretty crispy/flaky. Albany John’s got a guilty pleasure for crappy frozen pizzas (sorry Johnny, cat’s outta the bag now). I picked this up on a whim for him, and I ended up eating at least half of it.

Serve it up with a big bowl o’ veggies and it’s a fast dinner.