Ala Shanghai & Sweet Temptations

Guess where I went for lunch again? Ala Shanghai! Their driveway is getting full with all of the popularity they are gaining!

This time I was joined by Dear Daniel (you might know him as The Profussor) and Little Miss Fussy! Dan hadn’t been to Ala yet but wanted to try it, so I figured it was a good spot to grab lunch and catch up. Hello, XLB!

After we were warmly greeted and seated, we got some free samples of the egg drop soup.
Uh oh, I think someone’s on to me and my not-so-secret identity!
There was a recipe change after I mentioned I thought it was a little gloppy the last time I was there. I read about the change earlier on their facebook page, and it knocked my socks off to know that something I mentioned was worth changing their recipe for.
It’s a great change, too. The soup is much lighter and tastes freshly of egg and corn. Now if you get one of their lunch specials, you’re really getting a deal! I think soup can be so-so sometimes when it’s included with a meal, but when included soup is good, oh man – that just makes it all the better.

And how can I go to Ala Shanghai without ordering the scallion pancakes? I can’t. We got two orders ($2 each). So crispy, flaky, and chewy all at once! Little Miss Fussy really liked them and kept clamoring for “More, please!”

Dan wanted to try the wontons in spicy sauce. 10 to an order, and covered in what seemed like three sauces in one. One dark and soy sauce-y, peanut, and a chili oil. They weren’t super-spicy (I ate them with no pain), just had a nice kick of heat to them. The sauce was a different one to me, but man oh man am I in love with how incredibly tender and thin those wonton wrappers are. You could easily see through them!
The meat inside was moist, and had a pleasing texture to it. It was a coarse grind/chop of meat which contrasted beautifully with the silky wonton skins.

Then the stars of the meal arrived! Two steamer baskets of pork soup dumplings ($4 each)! Xiao Long Bao, yaaaayy!

I first noticed how delicate these looked – more detail in the pleats, and skins that were a bit thinner than on previous visits. And the dumplings looked quite juicy and full of liquid.
These soup dumplings were juicy and are getting to the level of soup dumplings you may be accustomed to in New York City. They were full of hot, soupy goodness (plus meaty goodness, too).
Gotta eat XLB with more scallion pancakes.
Before it’s time for round two. More pork soup dumplings! Don’t forget your vinegar and special soy sauce and ginger slices, either – even juicer!

When I went to pay, I had to compliment Ala Shanghai on the progression of their soup dumplings, and the owner explained to me that they had made them intentionally non-very-soupy in the first place. Why? Liability! So people up here would get used to what they were and not burn themselves! So they’ve gradually increased the amount of soup in each dumpling the longer they have been open. Ah ha – mystery explained.

Also cool to know – he brought all of the staff up here from NYC. Everyone knows what they’re doing in the front and back of house, chefs and servers alike. He said he wanted to do it right up here, and I think they’re off to a great start.

We ordered the Shanghai lo mein noodles ($8). It had pork, chicken, and beef in it, plus some veggies.

The noodles were made in house! Ala makes their noodles from scratch about twice a week. The noodles were soft, and picked up a good amount of charred flavor. In Chinese cooking the char in stir fries is a good thing – it adds a little smoky flavor. If you don’t taste the char, the wok wasn’t hot enough to sear the ingredients!

Dan was asking if they made hand pulled noodles (he’s all spoiled from living in Cali). It turns out that you need a special chef who specifically knows how to pull noodles, and they’re very hard to find right now, even in NYC. I suppose the current noodle craze in the City doesn’t help either.

Still, these noodles were quite tasty.

Little Miss Fussy was head over heels in love with the noodles. She is not enjoying things that are green, so I helped with some of the veggies.

Heads up – if you’ve got an Entertainment book, Ala Shanghai has a 20% off coupon you can print out once a month. Our total for this visit was a very affordable $22 after that coupon!

They brought some heart shaped jelly bean candies before we left. I tried the green one, but we had other places to head to:

Like Sweet Temptations (496 Albany Shaker Rd, Colonie, NY). Dan misread his blog reader and thought the cake sample giveaway was today, but it turns out it was yesterday. Whoopsie.

SOME SWEETS! HAHAHA. Little Miss Fussy and I saw some other things that caught our eye.

Even though we were mistaken, they were still sweet as pie (or would that be cupcakes?) and gave us a free original cupcake to try. Killer!

And holy moly. I know the whole point of the free sample was over how you don’t need transfat based ingredients to make a good buttercream icing, but the cake is what stood out most to me. The icing didn’t really taste buttery to me but was plenty smooth, fluffy, and light. But the cake. Oh mama. It was SO incredibly moist. It was like a pudding cupcake. I usually think of the cake part of cupcakes as being vehicles for icing, but man, this vanilla cupcake alone made me think “Hmm, maybe cupcakes don’t need icing,”


Ok, so I have to say, Sweet Temptations has the best vanilla cake I’ve ever tasted. I will definitely be back for one. Maybe one without icing, even (but probably not. Hello, icing!).

And since I felt kind of guilty/odd that they gave us a free whole cupcake because we walked in and pretty much admitted we missed free sample day, I felt like I should buy something.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt this urge if both Little Miss Fussy and I had not immediately set eyes upon these Hello Kitty decorated cookies upon walking in. At least I was slightly more reserved and didn’t yell “KITTY!” when we saw them. Well, that loudly…

At $2.75, it was a bit on the higher end, but hello, Hello Kitty. And it was probably more icing than cookie, so it wins out in the Albany Jane frosting : item frosted ratio of things. The sugar cookie underneath all of that frosting was moist and just a bit chewy in the best of ways.

Man, I feel like their goods don’t even need icing. When’s the last time you ran across a baked good like that? My head’s ready to explode at the very idea: doesn’t need icing. Pshh, since when?!

And Little Miss Fussy even backed off the cookie when I was all OCD and like “Hey, no! I need to get a picture first! And smile for the camera!”

We managed to polish off about a third of the cookie (and cover ourselves in frosting). Dan also got a red velvet cupcake for $2.50. He liked the vanilla more, but I thought the red velvet was good, too. Solid cream cheese frosting (not too sweet or gloppy). I’d eat it again.

And get this – they also don’t bake JUST CUPCAKES. A good amount of their display case was cupcakes, but as you can see we also managed to sample a cookie, and they had some danishes for sale, too. And probably other things, but at this point I am off the walls filled with a sugar and XLB happiness high!

Cupcake Bouquets

Cupcake bouquets! Bouquets made out of cupcakes! I’ve ever found my favored gift basket, bouquets of food are it. If you’ve got some extra time on your hands (or just want to have a decent reason for procrastinating), these are worth a go.

My decorating skills end here. I didn’t have any green tissue paper to stuff between the cakes to cover up the empty spaces, but if someone has an issue with that, I’d snatch the sparse looking bouquet out of their hands. Dude, they are cupcakes in the form of a bouquet, and inherently awesome.

Now, I have a pretty bad track record at cake baking. My cakes are usually on the denser side, and while I haven’t been making bricks lately, they’re generally so-so.

I’ve stumbled on a real winner of a recipe for a good all-purpose cupcake/cake. Grace‘s Cinnamon Cake from her Just How Much Cinnamon Can One Mouth Handle? cake fit the bill quite nicely for a light and fluffy crumb. I couldn’t resist after seeing the texture of the cakey innards she posted. SO tender looking. What I liked the most about it was that such properties came out of a recipe that used all purpose flour.

I left out the cinnamon (I hope you’ll forgive me, Grace) and just used vanilla extact since I wanted to pair it with some raspberry icing.
I recently picked up Royal Raspberry extract at the Confectionary House in Troy. It was like $5.99 for a large bottle, and hoo-boy is it ever strong and worth the price. It’s made for candies, so that’s probably why. A little will last you a long way.

I also found out that I was completely out of big cup cake liners. Whoops. Luckily I had some small cupcake liners laying around and I used them all up. Like I said, cakes and cupcakes aren’t what I usually make when I opt for desserts.

I also finally used this mini icing piper thing. I think the aspect of icing is why I don’t do cakey desserts more often. I try to make pretty icing designs, but I am really terrible at it. It usually squirts out of the bag I put it in, and I end up covered in it and wasting a ton of icing. I don’t mind the slatherings of frosting, but the waste is annoying.
The mini thing is like a contained accordion squeezy tube. It’s small and I couldn’t figure out how to get icing in at first. Turns out it’s just a slow process, but overall now that I have figured it out I like it. I have never iced cupcakes with such ease before!

And yup, those are pixie sticks in the background. They’re Albany John’s. He likes to mainline his sugar in as pure a form as possible, while I like to add as much fat as possible to my sweets.

I used a hair too much raspberry extract (they weren’t kidding – that stuff IS strong), so I added some peach juice and ended up in fruity-frosting heaven. It was quite a tasty mistake to have made. Just your basic buttercream – butter, powdered sugar, extract, milk, juice, pink food coloring.

I loved how I could pipe little cartoonish rosettes onto the mini cupcakes with the piping accordion. And you would not believe how easy it is to shoot a line of frosting in your mouth with those things (hint: very).

Check it – I wasn’t kidding about the crumb. If you’re a cake doofus like me, give Grace’s recipe a whirl. Those whipped eggs and sugar help build one fluffy base.

I had some leftover frosting, so I built a mini cupcake iced to my preference. Y’know, a nice 1:1 ratio of icing to cupcake. Okay, this might be closer to a 1.5:1 ratio.

And now I have 3 cupcake bouquets laying around. I’m bringing one to Albany John’s and his crew tonight. They’re a bit dry at this point, but I really doubt any one will mind that much. And seriously, the icing rocks.

Cupcake Eating Contest at X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery

Albany John and I rolled up to the cupcake eating contest at X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery on Saturday. They had a benefit for Out Of The Pits that featured a pitbull kissing booth (pitbull doggies, not this Pitbull (although I would have been first in line for that booth)).

Albany John shot a bunch of sweet pictures and formatted them from raw to JPEG, but I’m lazy and forgot to take them off his computer. Check out an awesome set ehere, by Lesya Zaichenko – super cute picures of puppies, people, and sweets.

X’s to O’s like whaaaat? Turns out I rolled up riiight in time to catch the start of the cupcake eating contest. 5 minutes to eat as many cupcakes as possible… And GO!

Eat those cupcakes!

Do it, do it, do it! Get pumped!

The winnar on the left in the Yellow shirt got 9.5 cupcakes down in 5 minutes. Girlie in the yellow hat did a kick ass job of shoving cupcakes in her face. For real – we’re talking icing smeared all over her face – totally working hard to get those cupcakes in!

Most competitors didn’t finish eating all of their cupcakes, so some people handed them out to the crowd. Hell yea, scavengers! I got this cute pink cupcake.

When all of a sudden… Nic-attack!!!! HOLY MOTHER – guard them cupcakes, food bloggers in the midst! Nic came with girlie from Eat in Albany. Sa-weet. Always good to meet the other people in the area IRL (especially food bloggers. I may be biased).

I’ll leave you to decide who chomped this cupcake (give up? okay, it was me). I was expecting a semi-dry cupcake, but these cupcakes were incredibly moist, with a little bit of crunch on the outside (in a good way – that little bit of textural difference from buttery crust and soft, fluffy innard). I don’t usually like fruit + anything else, but the strawberry icing was really light and easy to eat, and tasted oh-so fresh. Not your mama’s vegan cupcakes by any stretch of the imagination. Your carnivore friends wouldn’t be able to tell the difference with these.
If the line wasn’t outta sight I would have hopped in and grabbed some more sweets. But next time I’m there, I am picking up about a half dozen. My sister, the vegan-raw, etc. one, is also a nutrition student and told me I’d get a “nutrition pass” for eating at X’s to O’s. SWEET.

Other than that, I went home wishing I’d signed up in time to participate. And lemme tell you, those pitbulls were way more into kissing after people had crammed their faces with cupcakes.

Cupcake Eating Contest Benefit at X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery

Picture from X’s to O’s facebook page
(lemme know if you want me to take this pic down, I know I just kinda yanked it w/o asking)

Just how much do I love X’s to O’s Vegan Bakery in Troy, NY? Oodles – they are holding a cupcake eating contest on Saturday, March 27th at 12 pm to benefit Out Of The Pits pitbull dog rescue.

You can find out more here on their facebook page for the event.

But basically, $10 to enter, or it’s waived if you get $10 or more of pledges. You are totally welcome to pledge moolah, enter, donate… Or sponsor an eater. Either way, this is a great idea for sponsoring a great program!

White Velvet Cupcakes

I’m not really on the cupcake fetish wagon, but I’m no cupcake hater, either. They’re really easy to whip up a small batch. You know, a dozen.

I made these kind-of White Velvet cupcakes, and I’m really happy with how they turned out. They were very soft and tender, with a fluffy crumb. When I mixed everything up, it smelled nostalgically like a Pillsbury mix (my de facto baking mix as a kid). Only the end result tasted *way* better – not processed and full of preservatives (well, besides sugar).

I just used a basic buttercream icing recipe. Powdered sugar, butter, dash of moo juice, some vanilla extract. I don’t know why it looks chunky and gritty. It was really smooth. And I don’t know about you, but that was a conservative amount of icing. Yummmm. Just call me the icing monster.

I also made a sugar syrup for the cupcakes – just boiled down some water and sugar, let it cool, and then mixed in a toffee flavored extract. Totally good stuff that kept the cupcakes moist for days.
The little munchkin above had a wide pair of eyes when I walked over with a cupcake, and went at it icing-first. A baby after my own heart. Or stomach. You know, maybe kids aren’t so bad after all. From what I hear it sounds like a fairly steady diet of cookies, fruit cups, and juice boxes.

White Velvet Cupcakes

1.5 sticks butter
3/4 c white sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1 t vanilla
1/2 c milk
1/2 t lemon juice
1/2 t white vinegar
1 c cake flour (definitely use cake flour over AP flour – you’ll get a softer cake)
1 egg
dash salt

Cream together butter and sugar, add whole egg and mix well.

Add vanilla, baking soda, lemon juice, 1/2 of the milk (1/4 C) and 1/2 c flour. Mix.

Add remaining flour and milk, mix lightly until just combined.

Bake 325 F for about 20 minutes.

Makes 12 cupcakes

AoA 2 Year Party!

Let there be cupcakes! A big HAPPY FREAKING BIRTHDAY to All Over Albany, who is now two years old. In internet years, we’re talking at least tweens. But I bet they’re reading at a college level.

Mary and Greg do a great job running Albany’s best news source. You can find out about all of the newest goings on in the area in the blink of an eye. And they’re always adding more cool features because they are chained to their computers work so hard.

Greg’s gorgeous wife Chris made the cupcakes above with the help of a friend. Chris, I need that recipe. Seriously moist, but still incredibly light. They were AWESOME and everyone loved them.

Here was a table of snacky things. The party was held at the Midtown Tap & Tea Room on New Scotland Ave. I have no idea what the things on the left were (maybe literal egg rolls?), but they were awesome. Like a thin, omelet outside and shrimp, ground pork, and veggie filling with a peanut sauce. FREAKING GOOD.

I got there a little on the later side…

But just in time for Mary’s time honored standing-on-a-chair-AoA-rocks speech. Go Mary – two years in a row, now it’s a tradition!

I like how friendly everyone is at these AOA celebrations. I think the thing is, we’re all just a bunch of dorks from the internet (I mean that in a good way, promise), so it’s not like anyone’s got a super huge ego or anthing. Unless you’re the former Lt. Governor of NY, of course. Other than that, the usual fabulous cast of characters you’d expect to be present at such a fete were there and also in jovial spirits.

Poor R & M got there way late because of all of the crappy plow jobs on the highway up here. Can we give R an award for most miles travelled? Cause girlie came all the way up from down state for this!

Cupcake close up. For real, these were great. Light, fluffy, moist crumb (how do you do it?!) and not one browned edge. The icing was also deliciously buttery. Yum!

Sadly, Ellsbells wasn’t there, but Ed pointed out the Battle Star Galactica lookin’ vase:

Happy Birthday to Phairhead!

Phairhead graciously invited Albany John and me to Wolff’s to celebrate her birthday!

Up front and center is the most important thing – the birthday girl! There’s knockwurst in the back, a box full of cupcake goodness, and you can also kind of see the three liter boot just behind her head.

Unfortunately, I had to jet before Ms. P got past the calf. She had a good pace going with the boot. I hope you finished all of it missy!

Oh, and I was a total touch-hole and didn’t bring any birthday gift, and I got a cupcake! I don’t know if that’s a good idea for the future – it’s akin to feeding a stray cat. Just wait, P – now I’m going to be knocking on the back door of your new house at all hours of the night mewling for cupcakes.

In the front are chocolate chip and in the back are carrot cake. I went for the carrot cake and mowed the hell out of it. Mmm, delicious – the cream cheese frosting was just perfect, and I squinted and said “Don’t you even think about it,” when Albany John was going for the very last nibble. It was more a “mmppphh mmooo eeemmeenn ffffinnng mmrrmmow dddiiid” since my cheeks were full of tasty cupcake, but he saw my eyes squint into slits and said “What? Uh, I was just going to feed you the last bit. Sheesh.”

Look, I get really greedy when I eat something tasty, kay?

Her and Sexy Beast are awesome people! I can’t wait to hang out with them again. She mentioned pasta, gruyere, and brie. Oh hell yeah! We are gonna get along juuuuust fine 😉

Xs and Os and puppy dog toes my delicious plops of icing!

The Good Leaf

Creme brulee bubble tea + cupcake. The Good Leaf’s been open on Lark Street for a bit now, and it is rocking! It’s got a cozy Asian vibe going on – very relaxing, but you don’t feel the need to keep your conversation levels to whispers.

Wow – I was just reading the Good Leaf’s About Us section, and it turns out owner Michelle Marks is also a psychologist and opened The Good Leaf to help people relax via tea (in a nutshell, go read the blog – it’s written much better than my nutshell). They also have a nifty blog.

Head on over to the Good Leaf if you’re on Lark Street and check out their latest location. They also have a location At The Warehouse, but now you don’t have to wait for the weekends to get your tea fix!

The Good Leaf is such a boon to me because I’m not a big coffee drinker. With tea, there are so many little nuances in the flavor, and really, that crème brulee bubble tea was spot on in flavor. Not like flavored coffee, which to me tastes like coffee with a little teensy bit of flavor. Best of all, this time I asked if milk could be used in place of cream, and Michelle also offered me sugar free flavoring – awesome! This bubble tea was so light and much easier to drink than the bubble teas made with cream. I had it down in about an hour, but it was really hard not to drink it all in the first 10 minutes!

They also have the tapioca pearls, but I stuck with the coconut gel squares, and they went so well with the crème brulee. Get the crème brulee bubble tea.

Troy Night Out and Festivites Galore

Troy Night Out happened to occur on February 29th. I love leap days, and I love it when quirky days or fun holidays land on Fridays. When you were a kid, didn’t you always love it when Halloween landed on a Friday?
First we stopped off for coffee, otherwise I never would have been able to trudge through the snow. I got a latte at Spill’n The Beans.

One of the locations (I forget, sorry, correct me if you remember) also had… cupcakes!

There were some awesome galleries and showings, but one of my favorites was at Kismet. They had affordable, zombie-tastic works of art by David P. Geurin, plus nice music going on.

After Kismet, a stop at Brown’s Brewing Co was in order. Brown’s is a local brew pub in Troy, NY specializing in their own microbrews. The art of this is lost on me. Beer is kind of like soda to me – it’ll quench a thirst, but that’s about it. Beer, however, has the upper hand in the beverage hierarchy because it will afford me a nice buzz (or more), whereas I usually get hyper and annoying after a few sodas. Albany John enjoys their beer, especially a smoked beer that tastes like mozzarella cheese.

There’s more than beer to appreciate at Brown’s, thankfully. It turns out that this past Friday was also their 15 year anniversary, so they had specials running like crazy. Celebration Ale was $1.50 a pint. They are normally around $4. I actually kind of liked Celebration Ale too, and at $1.50 a pop, well; we had more than our fair share.
We got mussels, a burger, and a pulled pork sandwich, each of which were $5.15! Holy cheap-eats, Batman!

Mussels – great, great, great! The cream sauce was also terrific. Not too heavy, which means I probably drank about a cup of it. Thank god they didn’t leave straws on the table. The size was also amazing. I figured for $5.15 we’d get a small plate, or maybe a dozen – nope, we got a huge order of them.

Burger – I ordered it rare, and it actually came out rare! My initial reaction was kind of disappointed, because it looked like a pre-formed burger patty, and my tongue was re-living eating a burger at Sutter’s. Once I bit in, I was pleasantly surprised – pretty good flavor. The burger also didn’t have any added condiments on it (ew, like mayo), but some lettuce, onions and tomato. It also came with a little cup of coleslaw and a pickle.

Pulled Pork – Wow, I am glad I didn’t order this. No, no, it wasn’t bad at all! It was so rich and porky – I wouldn’t have been able to eat much of it, especially after the mussels. There was also cheese on it, which I wasn’t crazy about, but the pork flavor was intense – Really moist, too.

We’d also gone to Brown’s before for a beer and nibbles one afternoon on a lark. I got their fries with all the crap on ‘em (cheese and bacon, mmm baaaacon) and Albany John got French onion soup.

The French onion soup had a lot of… I forget, but there was one spice in there that was kicking at our taste buds. It was mildly distracting. Albany John liked it, but I thought it was a weird combo with how French onion soup normally tastes.

The fries were great. They were crunchy, crisp, and stayed hot the entire time. The cheese melted well, and the bacon slivers were each incredibly crisp and flavorful. I really liked these fries and will most likely order them again.

After Brown’s we went over to Daisy Baker’s for the Official Unofficial after party for Troy Night Out, by Good Ship.
Free entrance, 18+, drinks specials (like $2 Mike’s Hard Lemonades!), amazing music, RPI geekery, eye pleasing visuals, beautiful area, and all over feel-good and dance vibe.

Go to the next one if you have never been!
Seriously, I haven’t had so much fun in such a while. If you’re like me and don’t like the downtown Albany/Pearl St scene; Goodship puts on a great event. I can’t wait to go to the next one.

Oh, and Saturday was party @ CDFI. Yea, party peeepal! CDFI also was awesome. DJ Kellan Scott was spinning some great tunes and everyone was awesome as always.

(Man, this post actually makes me look like I have a life. In reality, I hardly ever go out this often. If it helps, I spent most of Sunday sleeping on my couch watching Netflix)