Chocolate Truffle Cake

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One of my girlfriends turned 30. She wanted to have a big blowout, but her hectic schedule made planning her actual birthday difficult, so some friends and I threw her a surprise party the weekend before her actual birthday.

I made the cake – Chocolate Truffle Cake, because she is a chocoholic and loves rich foods like this. Bonus – it’s also gluten-free!

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The party itself was a hit – our ruse was that we were going to have a girls’ night at The Speakeasy, meeting at one of the gals’ house for pre-game cocktails before hitting The Speakeasy. about 15 people managed to cram into the corner of a kitchen, and boy was the birthday girl ever surprised!

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I also made a wee personal chocolate truffle cake with some excess batter. Purely for sampling purposes.

Chocolate Truffle Cake

8 large eggs
1 lb bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 sticks butter (1/2 lb)

1/4 C espresso or kahlua
Melt chocolate with butter. I use the microwave mixing in 30 second intervals until the butter and chocolate are combined into a warm puddle. Toss in the espresso/kahlua.

Whip eggs about 5 minutes, or until doubled in volume, in a separate bowl.

Add the whipped eggs to the chocolate mixture in thirds, folding until well combined each time (few streaks of yellow egg foam remain).

Pour batter into a parchment-lined springform pan. I used an 8″ round springform, and this could very easily fit a 9″ springform pan as there was about 3/4 of a cup left over.

Bake at 325F with a water bath underneath until cake center reads 140F – for about 25 minutes (depending on your oven). I usually just fill a pan with water and put it on my oven floor. It’s easier than putting the springform pan directly in a water bath, and keeps everything moist all the same.

Chicken Nuggets from Flying Chicken

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Husbear and I were kicking around Troy one afternoon when fried chicken sounded like a good snack. $7 for 10 boneless wings (AKA chunks of chicken breast) with honey BBQ sauce at the Flying Chicken. Great fry job on the chicken breast – moist and juicy breast meat, and a crispy (non-greasy) fry job on the exterior.

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The honey BBQ sauce came on the side and must have been sitting a while – all of the honey had settled to the bottom.

A nice little snack for two and place to sit while roaming around downtown Troy. They’ve got Square

Lovely Lemon Loaf

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Albany John loves, loves, loves lemon loaf. One of his RSS feeds was going crazy with some Starbucks Lemon Loaf recipe, so he was all “Hey… I wouldn’t mind a lemon loaf… I mean, it sounds like a good idea.” with cute puppy dog eyes. Okay, twist my arm good husbear. I will look at these recipes.

Most of the recipes involved boxed cake mix, which we just don’t have in our panty. Let’s make a recipe ourselves!

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I also added a lot more lemon oil, lemon zest and juice to my recipe for a super-lemony cake, just the way my husbear likes it. Greek yogurt also helps add tart tanginess.

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And don’t forget the lemon icing/glaze, which is basically like basting your cake with concentrated lemonade.

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Lemon Loaf Recipe:

Cake:
3/4 C sugar
2 T butter, softened
1T Lemon Essential Oil (I use NOW brand from Amazon)
3 eggs
1/2 C Lemon Juice
1/2 C greek yogurt (higher fat will add more moisture)
Zest from 1 lemon
1 1/2 Cups AP flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder

Mix together the sugar, butter, lemon oil, and eggs until blended. Add 1/2 C lemon juice, zest and yogurt (don’t worry, it won’t curdle). Add in flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix to combine, then pour into an oiled loaf pan. Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, depending on pan size. Once a toothpick comes out clean, you’re done. Let it cool in the pan 5 minutes, then cool on a rack until completely cool.

Glaze:
1/3 C sugar
1/4 C lemon juice
Zest of 1-2 lemons

If you wanna gild the lily with the glaze, combine everything the night before so the zest of the lemons is slightly candied. Once the cake is cooled, brush it all over with the glaze. And of course, adjust to your desired tastes and tartness levels.

Celebrating A New Milestone at Ala Shanghai. Twice.

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Husbear and I just closed on a house, and the only way I could think of celebrating was enjoying a meal at Ala Shanghai the very night we closed. Seafood Siu Mai (shrimp & scallops $6). A little spongy, but nice bits of scallops in the mix.

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Albany John got the spiciest dish he’s tried yet at Ala Shanghai – M14 Sliced Pork in Spicy Broth ($14). Slices of pork and napa cabbage on top of vermicelli noodles, swimming in a flavorful and very spicy broth. I could only manage a few bites! I like the flavor, but I could only tolerate a little bit!

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It’s such a gigantic bowl, we were relieved that there was a pile of vermicelli noodles underneath. They were also great for sopping up the spicy broth.

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Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli, $11) for a veggie. This was amazing! So fresh and gently cooked. If you are craving something green, this is the dish to get. The stalks are my favorite part, and these were cooked perfectly for me: lightly cooked through so they still retained a bit of a crunch, but were also just a little bit of fresh sweetness. This is the way I wish I could cook them at home.The flavor was pure gai lan and garlic, nothing else. Simplicity. Perfect veggies.

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I thought a whole fish would be a good dish to get to celebrate this big, new step in our lives. One steamed whole flounder ($24) with ginger, scallions, and light soy sauce It came out whole.

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…And the bones were removed table-side with lightning speed. This both fillets the fish efficiently, maximizing the amount of fish available, while leaving the whole fish intact.

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The flounder was soft, tender, and cooked just enough. It had a clean salinity to it, which was complemented by the light soy sauce. I want to stress that this was a light soy sauce, and not too salty or overpowering for this delightfully delicate fish. The meat was downright buttery, especially with some of the soy sauce.

And don’t forget to nibble on the tail, head, and all of the fins! There is tons of flavor in those sections, you just have to spit out some small bones. Trust me, it’s worth it.

So that was the first night we bought the house. For me it was a nice, hearty yet healthy celebration dinner. I mean, I had mostly the dumplings, flounder, and veggies.

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A few days later, my home repair instructor (Dad) came up to teach me some new skills. He’s pretty cheap as far as a teacher and plumber go – meals and a lodging. He even bought me a few tools. The night he came up we went to Ala Shanghai again for a quick dinner when he heard how close our new house is to Ala Shanghai. Yes, Albany John and I are now Living La Vida Latham. Spicy 8 Jewels as a freebie appetizer.

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Crab Xiao Long Bao ($8). Very soupy, and very thin skins. Joe’s Shanghai – eat your heart out.

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My dad has enjoyed all of Ala Shanghai’s dishes, but he has an especially fond place in his heart for their soups. He got the smoked fish soup ($8), which serves up a really hearty portion of smoked, bony fish. The smoked fish is quite the Shanghaiese dish. It’s very smoky and sweet for Cantonese palates, which are used to… some may say “blander”, but I will say “simpler” flavors, hee hee. Dad wasn’t a fan of all of the bones in the fish, and thought it was a lot of flavors going on. But those noodles and that soup broth – just perfect.

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Bok choy for dad’s veggie choice of the night! Again, like the gai lan above, just perfectly cooked. Little bit of crunch, little bit of fresh sweetness, and very refreshing.

Saratoga Wine & Food Festival 2013

Here are some photos from this year’s Grand Tasting at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival. This year there were more non-Ferrari sports cars, still pleasing to the eye.

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And a whole tent of Big Green Eggs from Adirondack Appliance. They had a few sales going on, but said there would be more sales available to the public around December.

Like Ashley Dingeman over at Saratoga Food Fanatic, I also thought the number of vendors seemed lower than in years past, especially food vendors. There were three connected tents (yay, shade!) and the center table seemed pretty empty in the center, with food and wine vendors along the edges, and 1/3 of the front for the silent raffle. I emailed SPAC’s PR to see what was up with that (did some vendors bail? Less turnout than expected? Was it intentionally left empty so people would have more indoor room?) but I haven’t heard anything back yet. Updates as/if they occur.
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Gideon Putnam made some cheesecakes on cookies. Tasty little nibbles.
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Albany John got a kick out of Pavan liqueur, which is kind of like a citrus version of St. Germain. I thought it was like drinking honeysuckle, which was rather pleasant with some sparkling water.

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677 Prime’s display. They were the only vendors that seemed to do an actual display this year.

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Beauty, in porcine form.

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My photographer, Albany John, loved Druther’s food offerings, which were pulled pork sandwiches and ribs. They were the most substantial of the foods offered at the event and very popular.

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The Crimson Sparrow had, hands down, my favorite bite of the day. Restaurant-made nori chip with togarashi, uni, and … oh sugar… I think it was <some kind of delicious fat> with a shiso microgreen. So much umami and textures going on all in one bite. Just great.

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I also caught Zak Pelaccio‘s demo on butchering a whole heritage pig. Check out Burnt My Fingers for some great pics and additional details. Zak was a great presenter – easy to understand, good speaking pace, and fun, informative vibe. Really need to get myself to FattyCue one of these days.

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I also checked out Kevin Zraly’s private wine tasting, which was okay, but not as fun as last year. Perhaps the very real danger of a tornado touching down upped the excitement factor last year. Kevin Zraly was about 15 minutes late (darn, could have caught more of Zak’s butchering demo) and the wines we tasted were wines that were better for buying, storing and tasting in a few years. Kevin mentioned a few times about how some weren’t great now, but would be in a few years. Or maybe that’s just how I interpreted what he was saying and I’m completely off. However, the proceeds from the registration went to supporting the arts and creating grants for children to attend SPAC and (hopefully) continue the appreciation of the arts and music.

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The people watching at these events are always great. You see all different kinds of faces of humanity. Most of the wine vendors aren’t from the vineyard(s) they represent. They’re usually either hired to represent the brand, or are purchasers trying to promote their wines. Some are really good at it. One rep was really overwhelmed by the crowd and it seemed like it may have hurt the brand she was selling. Another rep was so jovial and excited to promote his brand, he was handing out his card in case people saw the wine priced higher than $X amount in a retail setting. There was one woman who stepped in front of me as I was asking a vendor more about the product (no lines) and blurts “Are any of these sweet?” and when the vendor replied that most weren’t super-sweet and began trying to ask her what her tastes were, she made a huge frowning face and goes “Eugh. Eugh. No. No sweet wine. Eugh.” There was the sweet couple I met at the Wine Tasting with Kevin Zraly who knew what cotton mouth was because they “…were children of the 60s. C’mon.”

This year the Grand Tasting sold out, as did the Connoisseur’s private tasting tent, and Kevin Zraly’s wine tasting seminar. This was a great fundraising event for SPAC and the programs they support.

Druthers

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It’s nice to find a restaurant in Saratoga that keeps their prices sane during track season (i.e. the racing of the horsies). While I didn’t make it up to the track this year, I went up to catch the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC one night. It was late evening after the show was over, and the group I went with was looking for a snack/meal. Druthers was our first thought, and it was nice to see that they kept their prices Saratoga-reasonable during track season (i.e. they didn’t change them to jack them up during the busy season).

Albany John went with a sampler of beers ($14) and I went with a light pint.

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Thai chicken wings for me ($11). They weren’t crispy, but the skin was a pleasantly succulent-soft without being soggy and flaccid. What was initially a bummer wound up being really pleasant for a crispy-skin lover like myself. The peanut flavor was on the mild side, and there was just a little kick of heat. It was served with homemade quick kimchee, which had red bell peppers in it (ruining an otherwise pleasant side slaw coz you guys know I dislike bell peppers).

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Albany John got a Druthers burger ($13) with greens on the side. Ordered rare, and received rare. So beefy and juicy. I had to exercise what little self control I have to not eat my good husbear’s burger, too.

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Our friend got the Mac & Cheese ($13), which I’ve seen other people order before, but never had anyone at my table order. It looks big, but once you get it in front of you… woah. It’s gigantic. And comfortingly cheesy, too. Stretchy, creamy cheese with crunchy crumbs on top.

Leisurely dinner for two during Saratoga’s high season with drinks in the $50 range? Not too shabby.

Apricot & Raspberry Pavlova

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Pavlovas are perfect for summer. For surprise birthday partys, well… they are okay as long as you like them soft. Summer in Albany is so humid, the crisp exterior soon surrenders to the moisture in the air. If you like creamy pillows, then you’re in luck!

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I started out with red raspberries and apricots.

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So pretty. Then I macerated them with a bit of sugar, orange liqueur, and lemon juice for a few hours. I didn’t peel the apricot skins.

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I used minimally processed sugar, so the pav patties were a bit golden. For a 3-layer pavlova, I used 9 egg whites and 2/3 of a cup of sugar with just a wee bit of corn starch (like a Tablespoon) to keep it all together.

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The larges pavlova layer really puffed up in the oven and got stuck to the side. No matter, that is what berries & whipped cream are for.

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I packed my cream & macerated fruits in a cooler bag and headed off to a surprise party. Whipping cream at a party will turn some heads.

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Pavlova – ASSEMBLE! Three layers of pavlova, whipped cream, and macerated fruit. I was bummed about the lack of crispness, but no one else at the party had ever had a pavlova before, so they didn’t know what they were missing. That was a bit of luck for me, and everyone really enjoyed this for what it was.

Pints for Paws at The Ruck

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Consider the recent Pints for Paws yet another reason to love the Ruck. One Saturday afternoon the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society set up a table in the alley behind the ruck, the Ruck set up two kegs of delicious beer for $4 a pint. Laguintas IPA & Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale (both 6%+ beers).

Donate to the shelter and/or buy some of the shelter stuff for sale. Pet lots of well-behaved dogs. Count me in.

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The staff were in and out of the crowd both gathering old cups/plates and petting pooches along the way.

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Dogs of all shapes and sizes were present, eager to sniff all of the smells.

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Probably the smallest, adorable little mop of a dog.

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To a dog that wouldn’t need much to dress as a cow for halloween (seriously, that was one big, shy dog).

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There were treats out for the dogs, so that probably helped with the friendly nature. “Does that person have a treat? Do you? Treat??”. Albany John joked that since our cat is a rescue, we should have brought her to Pints for Paws, too.

Summer Snackin’

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I’ve been trying to use up foods in my pantry for the past month. It’s been a varying degree of success, but when Daniel B. and family left town, I inherited a bunch of foods they could not bring with them. Hee hee, okay, twist my arm (seriously, if you’re in NJ when he leaves, call dibs on his pantry scraps. They have good taste). One of the things I inherited were Parmesan cheese rinds. I toasted some over a flame until they softened a bit. There’s still a fairly narrow window for edibility – they will re-harden and be tough to chew after about 20 minutes.

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And while I’m trying to use up the foods in my pantry, I’m also trying to enjoy the bounty of summer in Upstate New York. I picked up some orange tomatoes, minced a fist-sized tomato and added salt and pepper. Let that sit for 10 minutes, and toss in some chiff’d basil. Maybe toss in some olive oil. Or not. Just enjoy those fresh tomatoes.

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I toasted some leftover rye-ish bread, rubbed it with a raw garlic clove, then topped with the minced, seasoned tomatoes. Bright and summery treat to eat while Albany John grilled me meats.