Chinese New Year at Ala Shanghai

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Chinese New Year 2014, The Year of the Horse, has been one festive year so far! I began celebrations with friends at Ala Shanghai. After seeing their specials for Chinese New Year, I couldn’t wait to get in!
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Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) were a must to start with. And these were perfect!
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The skins were so thin you could see through them!! See how it bulges a bit on the left? It’s because the skin is so thin! So much soupy goodness. Yum, yum, yum.

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Wine soaked cold duck appetizer.
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Scallion pancakes, always a treat.
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Wontons in a spicy peanut sauce. Good balance on the peanut/sweet/spicy.
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And now for the mains! Double Happiness special entree ($19.88) in the front – salt and pepper fish fillets and squid. LOVED this! The salt and pepper coating was perfect – crispy (not fluffy or beer-batter-y) and not the least bit greasy or oily.

Pork with fava beans in the back. Yum, yum, yum. Big fat fava beans with tender slices of pork.
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Squid and fish heaven!
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Hands down my favorite dish of the night was the Golden Duo ($23.88), which was soft shell crab & whole shrimp coated in a salted preserved egg batter and fried. Ala Shanghai has a soft shell crab-only version of dish on their normal menu, so thankfully this goodness is available year-round.

If you’ve never had an egg-yolk coated dish, you must try it. It’s so rich, salty, and good! The egg yolks are preserved in salt, then mashed up to be part of a batter coating. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor to a dish.
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Also had to add some veggies to the meal. Yum. Chinese broccoli is my favorite – nice and crunchy stalks and tender greens.
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Rice cake with pork and capsella as our starchy/rice/noodle dish (always gotta have one at a big meal). What’s not to love about chewy rice cakes?
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Crispy beef coated in a sweet-ish sauce. The beef still stays crispy! I thought I ordered this spicy, but it came out plain/non-spicy. Good, but I think I like the kick of heat to even out the sweetness.
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And (free) dessert because of Chinese New Year! What a pretty plate of fruit. Great way to end the meal.

There were 6 of us, and we wound up at about $20 per person before tip for all that food. There’s still time to grab a few friends together and try some awesome specials to ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung hey fat choy!

Mangoes!

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I love the internet! One of my favorite bloggers, Wide Lawns, traded some of my young apples for some of her mangoes from her tree in Florida!

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First of all, I could smellthe fresh mangoes when they arrived and I opened the box. I can never seem to smell mangoes when they’re from the grocery store.

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These were so juicy and delicate. Very pronounced mango flavor, with a delicate floral finish (just a teensy hint).

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That was a good week for dessert and breakfast. Mmm. Fresh mangoes.

Apple Butter Season

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Apples, apples everywhere. No, really. They’re everywhere. My new house has a big old apple tree in one corner of the lawn and there are apples everywhere. At first I thought this was great, but now I’m trying to find ways to use apples, picking up fallow apples, and trying not to knock my head on errant tree branches when I stand up from picking up fallow apples.

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Any way, filled up a gigantic bowl of apples. They’re not grocery store looking, all pretty and perfect. They’re on the smaller side, likely because the previous owner didn’t tend to the tree much over the past few years, so branches grew longer than they should have, and the end result is many tiny apples.

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So many apples. But toss them in a crock pot with some sugar and you’re good. I just core them, leaving the skin on. Once they’ve cooked on low overnight I just puree them with an immersion blender.

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Voila – apple butter. I made apple butter meringue bars with some of the apple butter, which was a big hit.

Farmer Jon’s Peaches

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I love being friends with farmers. One of my very good friends married Farmer Jon, and one night they stopped by with peaches! Donut peaches and regular peaches. Donut peaches are my absolute favorite kind of peach, and these were so good!

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It’s a tough call – which fruit is more summery to me? Raspberries or peaches? I think peaches must be. They’re tart, sweet, and all sorts of satisfyingly sticky.

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They are also selling the peaches at local markets and at their farm stand. I keep meaning to get to the farm stand. Mainly to hang out and chat with my friend, but also to pick up some produce, hee hee.

White Vinegar & Water Pesticide Remover Soak

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I tried soaking some cherries & a cucumber in white vinegar and water for 15 minutes to remove pesticides and other gunk on the outside. These were just some fruits I picked up at the grocery store, not local, conventional, or organic by any means. But it was late, and I was hungry for something somewhat healthy.

I’d read online about how the vinegar soak leaves your fruit sparkling clean and without any sort of coatings, and how there would be SO much gunk removed from the fruit your soaking water would be several shades darker…

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Well, after 15 minutes, I didn’t see much difference. Am I doing something wrong?

Strawberry Picking at Indian Ladder Farms

This weekend I celebrated my mom’s birthday by taking her to Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont for their Pick Your Own Strawberries. My sister mentioned she wanted to go, so we planned on Saturday. Except it rained and poured and almost all morning long Saturday, and all of the farms were closed. I got confused since I was up at the ass-crack of dawn (I.E. before 10 am) and thought Indian Ladder was closed when it was actually Altamont Orchard that was closed. Either way, my mom and sister called them up and they were open.

And we. were. going.

In the rain?? But it’s raining.

Yes, in the rain.

Ok, mom.
Here’s a picture of my sister hopping in the fields. It wasn’t raining when we got in. You buy the quart containers at the farm shop ($2.95 for this season) and go out to the strawberry picking area and… pick strawberries. And presumably gorge yourself on nibbling strawberries while picking them, too.

Goodness, you would have thought my mom and sister were professional strawberry pickers because they were out there like it was their job, and it was busy season, and they had a quota to meet. I was a total wuss and hopped in the car after pouring rain poured harder and soaked through my raincoat and all over my clothes. BBrrrrr… cold wet Albany Jane!

Here is what the strawberry plants look like. They are a lot smaller than strawberries you get at the grocery store. I’ve never picked strawberries before, and only really seen them decoratively in other peoples’ gardens. They’re about the size of a cotton ball. But they’re rather sweet and delicious. And when you get one that’s redder than a ruby it’s perfectly sweet, floral, and tart all at once. How have I gone my whole life not eating strawberries like this ALL OF THE TIME?

Strawberries were my favorite fruit growing up. There’s a VHS somewhere of me at my 2nd or 3rd birthday party. My mom made some kind of cake and this massive strawberry that was bigger than my toddler-sized fist was slapped on top of the frosting in the front (as a centerpiece I suppose). I wanted that strawberry. I NEEDED that strawberry. You KNOW I threw a fit until I got that strawberry. To be honest, I can’t say I wouldn’t behave similarly now.

So twee! So perfectly cute and warm and summery. If my body were made out of food, I think my heart would be made of a strawberry. I implore you to go out and pick some strawberries if you get a chance this season. I think some orchards (Altamont?) are going to be open some weeknight evenings, and they’re all open on the weekends. Some charge by the pound, and some charge by container. Usually around $2-3 per pound or quart. It’s totally fun and DELICIOUS! It’s also mom-approved.

Cherries are next!

Oh, and HAAPPYYY BIRTHDAY, MA! (She hate it when I call her Ma, ha ha)

Jade Asian Restaurant for CNY 2011

I’m a firm believer that all whirlwind trips need a jolt of caffeine. When you score free bus tickets on MegaBus with their WIN200K seats code for a 2:30 departure in Albany and a 7 am departure in NYC the next day, yeah. I think caffeine just about does it.

We stopped off at a McDonald’s just past Woodbury Commons and I picked up some coffee. Say what you want about the golden arches, but when your only other option is Lavazza, Mickey D’s is top shelf by comparison.

Our bus driver was a hilarious Ralph-alike from the Honeymooners. It made for an enjoyable trip.

We made it over the river and through the woods to Flushing. Otherwise known as uptown on the 1, and all the way to the end on the 7 line on the subway.

We made it to Jade Asian Restaurant by about 7 pm. Not too shabby for a weekend. We had reservations for 7:30 and they seated us no problem. It got fairly full. Not 100% full, but almost. Jade Asian Restaurant is located just around the corner from the subway stop at 13628 39th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354.

I think Yeh-Yeh wanted to go back to his spot (Mellie’s), but my dad wanted to try some place new. I’m glad he did, because I did too. The inside of Jade Asian Restaurant was really nice – definitely a banquet hall. And we weren’t sat next to the bathrooms in a corner like we were at Mellie’s last year.

Red tablecloths, and cute chop sticks!

They had a limited menu they strongly recommended ordering off of. Which I thought was kind of different for a Chinese restaurant (because you can just be like “Okay, make me XYZ this style” and they will even if it’s not on the menu), and evidently so did the rest of my family because I think we just ordered a few dishes that weren’t on the limited set menus. I’m still a loser who can’t read or understand any Chinese, so I have no idea if we got some dishes from the set menu, or if we just ordered stuff that wasn’t at all on the menus.

My sister is back on the raw food diet again, and had like, 2-3 of these fruit plates. Believe it or not, being on a raw fruit/veggie diet is not very easy to accomodate at a Chinese restaurant. I know, you’re shocked, right?
My dad asked a bunch of times for a fruit platter, but they were really busy and kept saying they wouldn’t be able to do it, but then would manage to bring an occasional plate out. Weird, because we were willing to pay for a large fruit platter so my sister could eat with us. It was like when your Mom is like “No, you can’t go to camp. We don’t have enough money.”, and then wakes you up two weeks later going “Get up, you have to leave for camp. Now.”. Definitely pleasant surprises.

They ended up not charging us for any of the fruit plates, so that was really nice of ’em. It was just an interesting experience.

Appetizers! Cold jellyfish and Chinese ham. I usually don’t fall in love Chinese ham because it tastes like gelatinized rubber, but this was fucking awesome. Super hammy and smoky. Not fatty or gel-y. We ordered a 2nd one of these. That good.
The jelly fish was also good, but the ham was the star here.

WHOLE CRISPY FLOUNDER BEING BONED OMG, YEEESSSS!!!

This is not a dish for dieters, but one just about all of us at the table loved. Yeh-Yeh grabbed the head and relished it. All of those crunchy bone bits. My Dad’s awesome lady also enjoyed the heck out of it. So fishy. So fried. So crunchy. So gooood! How could I not like a dish that is a)FRIED, b)Seafood, and c)fried so that you can eat more parts of the seafood than if it were cooked any other way?
Seriously, the only part you can’t eat is the spine. The bones on top are like crunchy fish chip rinds.

In the foreground is gingery beef with Chinese broccoli. Lots of gingery flavor – really bright and light flavors going on.

In the background is a dish I need to figure out how to make at home – dried scallop covered snow pea tips. Dried scallops cooked until they’re mush with some other saucy kind of liquids. Plopped on top of lightly cooked pea tips. Yummy.

And in the foreground is crispy chicken. Very moist. Nice and crispy. Yeh-Yeh giggled and told Albany John and me “Mmmm. So good. So many chicken getting killed today. For New Year. Heeeh heeh heeh. Don’t tell your sister. Heeeh heeh heeh.”

And of course my sister looked over and was like “What?” and we were all “Oh, nothing. Yeh-Yeh really likes dinner.” And Yeh-Yeh was all smiley and “Yeeaaahhh. Really good. Heeh heeh heeh.” And then I think he told her about all the chickens getting freshly killed for CNY.

DUDE! I’ve never had this. It was veal short ribs. Like galbi short ribs, but made with VEAL. And cooked medium rare to medium.

SO FREAKING GOOD AND TENDER. They were lightly seasoned, but it wasn’t a soy-fest. They really let the tender flavor of the veal shine through. CVS and Maka were able to join us, and Maka loves a good serving of veal.

Pork chops. The fried and saucy kind. Kind of like what we had at Ala Shanghai for Chinese New Year dinner with the Upstate crew, but… not as good. The meat was a little chewy for the large pieces, and the batter quickly became soggy underneath the sauce. Didn’t stay crisp like Ala’s.

In a way, though, this dish made me happy. Albany John and I looked at each other while eating it, and I was like “It’s good… but it’s not like Ala Shanghai’s pork chops.” and Albany John agreed. I was happy because it means that Albany’s Chinese food scene is not only getting diverse, but isn’t playing second fiddle to NYC Chinese cuisine. Not every dish at every restaurant in NYC or Albany is going to be perfect, but it seems like the rates of dish success are on par.

Resto-made noodles and fried rice. The noodles were good to accompany other dishes and absorb their flavors/sauces. The noodles were nice and tender, and there were plenty of them. At first I thought they were kind of bland, but they were really good eaten with other foods.

I thought the fried rice was okay. A little dry for me, and there were cranberries in it. Plus some shrimp and scallop bits. It was okay, but I’m not a big fan of rice any way, so it kind of takes a lot to make me flip over rice dishes.

Then it was time for dessert! Red bean tapioca dessert with a mochi dumpling.
Dinner was about $200 for 8 people. My cousin was also supposed to come, but sadly she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it. Next year! haha
Yeh-Yeh and my Dad were nice enough to give Albany John and me some laisee (lucky money envelopes). Technically we aren’t supposed to get it because we’re married. But we’re still younger, so I guess that’s why. I didn’t run in to any other little kids, so I just gave my sister one of mine.

We ended up spending the night at my Yeh-Yeh’s place. My dad brought an air mattress that he let the Mr and me use, my sister slept on a fold-out couch, and my dad took a little mattress. We were all having a sleep over in the living room. It was fun. We used Albany John’s iThing to skype with my bro. Yeh-Yeh loves seeing his great grandson.


The next morning we woke up early to leave from Flushing to the lower west side of Manhattan. I am normally a neurotic planner, but I let my sister do a little bit of the time management and… well… I might still be a little neurotic about planning. We left later than I wanted to and took the 6 am train out of Flushing. If you know the city, you know that there is no way to make it to the lower west side from Flushing on a Sunday schedule in 45 minutes. So we used my trick from the last time I almost missed a bus back to Albany – get out somewhere in Manhattan and beg taxis to take you a short distance because you need to be somewhere NOW. Definitely works. But there aren’t that many taxis on the road at 6:30 AM, and everyone that drives one wants to take someone to the airport, not 12 blocks south west. I managed to pull puppy dog eyes and begging hands on an off duty cabbie who was nice enough to give us a ride.
We made it back to Albany safe and sound, and many an espresso was had once I got in the house. Gung hey fat choy!


Apple Cake

Sometimes I can be a real jerk face. Like, I meant to go apple picking early in the season, with my buddy Mark Singelais, but due to my poor planning, I ended up bailing on him while driving around Altamont trying to find the farm before I had to get to another appointment. Man, what a douchey move, right?

But after I went apple picking, I felt badly about ditching out, so I made Mark a cake and dropped it off to him at the TU center. It got some decent props. Wanna know my secret? Tons of butter and sugar. It makes any cake better!

No, but it was really just an upside down cake with apples on top, and sponge cake underneath. Easy peasy. Make it, and you can give it to your friends and try to be less of a douche.

Applesauce

AppleSAUCE!!! So after picking all of those apples, I made some apple sauce. I’ve never been much of a fan of the stuff, but Albany John can really hit the sauce when the mood strikes.

I might not be a fan of applesauce, but man do I like eating it! And after making my own, I might actually like it after all.

So start off with a lot of apples. There’s about a dozen or so in here. I didn’t use them all, so go with about a dozen or so for two quarts of apple sauce. A mix of mutsus, golden delicious, empires, and probably another kind of apple I don’t know about, too.

Give them a good wash, and then peel them.

This apple corer-peeler thing is nifty, although I don’t use it that often. It also makes stellar potato rings. And they are suuuuuper cute. But anyway, I got this one from the Pampered Chef for an ungodly overpriced sum (it’s sturdy and will last, though, so I don’t mind that much), though you can find them for $12-20 just about any where. The designs can be different, but I prefer the kind with a clamp base on it over the kind with the suction cup base.

It can make a bit of a mess with apples and juice, so putting a towel underneath the entire thing is also a good idea, and will protect your counter tops and table tops.

The peeler has a side tool to take the skins off, which I didn’t use. You make apple sauce with the skins on. Who knew? Well, obviously not me.

I like this peeler since it makes the slices so uniformly thin. Figured it would cut down on cooking time. It definitely did. I added a little bit of water to them (1/4 c max) in a pan to prevent burning or sticking and cooked them down for a bit.

This was the end of cooking. I think it took me about 30 minutes or so to cook them until they were soft and mushy, stirring every so often. The volume pretty much reduced by half over the cooking time, too.

And then I was wondering, “How in the hell am I going to make THAT into apple sauce?” I have a grinder, so that was a possiblity, although I was really not sure how I would avoid making a mess, burning myself, and getting applesauce eerrvvrrryywhheerrrr. And then I looked around my kitchen some more, and, HELLO, mother flippin’ stick blender!

Immersion blenders are awesome for stuff like this. Kept it all in one pot, and very minimal mess and minor hot apple goo flickage around the kitchen. It took about two minutes to go from pot of mushy apple slices to applesauce. Sa-Weet!

I didn’t add any sugar. Just apples and some water. I actually liked this applesauce. Kind of pinky, which is a major bonus, and just tasted like fresh apples. I canned a quart jar and a cup jar, so we’ll see how it holds. Either way, it was easy, and probably the easiest thing I’ve canned so far.

Meanwhile, I left the remaining 3/4 quart to Albany John, and it gets his seal of approval.

Apple Picking

On Sunday, I went apple picking. In Warwick, NY.

Met up with Sistah and my Dad, and we went to Och’s Orchards in Warwick, NY. We picked some apples. It was $24 for a half-bushel. I think those are for NYC tourists. But maybe not. I priced some up here in Albany, and it’s about $14 per half-bushel at the places I called. I liked their apple varieties more than the ones up here – lots to choose from. They were picking Golden Delicious, Jon a Golds, Red Delicious, Mutsus, and a few others. I’ve already kind of forgotten what I picked, but it was a fun experience.



Pick-Your-Own apples is a time honored tradition for me. I did it as a kid, and you pick tons of apples and eat a lot of apples while you pick them. YOU CAN PICK THEM FROM A TREE! It is FUN! My Dad and Sistah were kind of skeptical about the hype about apple picking, but they had a fun day, too.

I don’t know – it cost more down there than it would have up here, but I’m fine with it because I was with my Dad, Sistah, and husbear. And I loved the selection. Plus this one kind of apple was so good. I ate at least six of them while I was there.

I climbed a low hanging branch (because I have stubby, short legs) and reached some high fruit. There’s my Dad and Albany John. My Dad was in charge of eating apples, and Albany John was in charge of not letting me pelt him with apples as I tossed them from the higher branches.

How meta? An Asian taking a picture of an Asian taking a picture of scenery, and scenery.

Here’s the view from their gazebo, sans Asians. It might have seemed sparse at first, but they were picking from different fields. The closer apples were winding down for the season.

Hello, yum yum apples!
We went back to the farm store. I heard someone upstate talking about how the apples were cheaper in the store than it was to Pick-Your-Own, and heh, it’s also $4 cheaper per half bushel to buy them here than to pick your own winesap apples. (I didn’t really like the winesaps for eating. The skins were tough and the flavor was just so-so. Although they’d be GREAT cider apples)

I didn’t see any Cameo outside (or maybe I did, but was too spastic to notice), but these were closer to the PYO bushel pricing at $23.50.

I just think PYO apples is a fun experience. You spend time outside with family, and you can stay there as long as you want. It can add up if you buy cider donuts, cider, and other extras, but PYO apples is also AYCE apples, hee hee. Albany John told me it was a good thing they didn’t weigh me before I went in and when I came out.

After apple picking, we went to Bellvale Farms. My Dad and his lovely lady really like this place – it’s also in Warwick, and my Dad says the outlook reminds him of Switzerland. It was chilly and windy, but there was a very long line! All of the way out the door and queuing up along the road!

Here were their flavors of the day. Neat little counter. Small/one scoops are $3, and 2/large scoops are $4.

I got a small Black Dirt Blast (choclate coffee ice cream with fudge and toffee pieces). It was good. I’m not even sure why I got it since I don’t really like chocolate, but it was really rich and good. More like gelato. Lots of fudgy chunks, although I didn’t really taste the toffee.

Nice scenic overlook on those beautiful Orange County hills and valleys.
My Dad got Green Tea ice cream. It was very tea-like. Tasted like they made it from brewed green tea, and not from matcha. Had lots of floral notes and was very light tasting for something so rich. See what I’m talking about with the gelato comparison, though? It was so stretchy and viscous in comparison to regular hard ice cream.

A good way to spend the day.