Van’s Vietnamese – Albany, NY

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It’s been a while since I’ve been to Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant. Seems like every time I’m on that stretch of Central Ave, I inevitably wind up going to Taiwan Noodle, but this time I managed to resist that siren call as my sister called for a dinner at Van’s Vietnamese on account of their menu having a good selection of vegan and low gluten/maybe gluten-free dishes (I’m not really sure about the gluten-free part, but the sister unit says they are and I don’t have a gluten issue so if she’ll eat at a restaurant with lots of dishes like Van’s then I’m not going to argue).

For some reason I don’t remember the portions being as large as they are! Holy cow, these crappy camera phone pics don’t do the size justice. These dinner plates were like hubcaps.

Above is Banh Xeo Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crispy Pancake) – $17.99 which has tofu that is textured like meat! I seriously thought that we accidentally got a chicken or duck one, but nope – just tofu. The yellow pancake is crispy, true to its name. This is kind of like a Vietnamese dosa in that you’ll be breaking bits off to eat with the filling. Seriously, it’s a massive size portion and comes as a dinner, though we split it as an appetizer for our table.  0

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Another vegetarian/vegan-approved meal we ordered as an appetizer was Bun Cha Gio Chay (Fried Vegetarian Spring Rolls over Vermicelli) – $12.99, which seems like a much more reasonable price to me. Also, it’s freaking DELICIOUS. Great texture contrast between the soft and pliant rice noodles and the crispy, crunchy vegetarian spring rolls covered in nuoc mam chay, mint, peanuts, scallions, and carrots. I’ve gotta get more mint on in my savory dishes.

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Canh Ga Tom Chien (Fried Stuffed Chicken Wings) – $8.99 for the meat eaters at the table, because how can you resist trying deboned chicken wings stuffed with crab meat? Overall, okay, but I think I prefer regular chicken wings. Kind of overwhelmed the crab flavor, IMO. Still, gotta admire those skills. No way in heck can I debone a chicken wing and leave the skin intact like that.

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Okay – one meaty main for me! Ca Hoi Nuong (Grilled Salmon with Ginger) – $15.99. How is this less than the banh xeo  chay? Our waiter laughingly told me how he’d ordered this dish for a month straight because it was so good.
This dish worked for me – light tasting but satisfying, and tons of veggies! Even a few spears of asparagus in the winter. The veggies all were lightly steamed and still had a firm texture, which I liked. I wound up bringing half of this home because it was so much food and I’d gorged on the above mentioned appetizers.

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One of my friends also got the duck, Com Vit Quay Dzon (Van’s Own Crispy Roasted Half Duck) – $19.99, which was quite tasty, though not very crisp. More taught and roasted but still quite enjoyable.

Any way, sorry to be vague about the gluten-free and vegan attributes of this restaurant. I get that it’s a concern if those are your dietary needs, though they’re not a need for me. Food has always been an issue with me and my sister, so I’m always happy when we can go out to a place where we’re both happy eating (and if you ever find out that the above definitely-vegetarian dishes aren’t vegan please don’t tell me so I can keep going here with my vegan sister, hahaha!).

All Good Bakers Opening Day

Had to hit up opening day (Friday) of the All Good Bakers storefront (160A Quail Street, Albany, NY) to check out Nick & Britin’s hard work. It’s right next door to Mr. Pio Pio!

I dragged the Profussor and the Fussy Little Children down to peep what was available in the afternoon. We snagged the last baguette ($3) and split it. Albany John remarked that it’s really nice to have a friend that you can split a loaf of bread with.

Also, Albany John was out of town, leaving me to cook bachelorette style. And if I hadn’t had a friend to split the loaf with, I would have totally housed that loaf on my own (absolutely slathered in butter). There is no doubt about it, because I housed that half a loaf of bread as soon as I got home. Nice fermented tang to the dough, and thin/crackly exterior with an awesome crumb in the center. So good I didn’t even have time to snap a picture. Didn’t even need butter (but not like that stopped me)!

While there I got a maple pecan scone ($2.50). SO AWESOME. Crumbly and moist in the center, crisp on the outside. I’ve had a cold so I haven’t been able to taste all that much lately, but the texture was a real delight.

Oh, and btw, they sell croissants on Sundays! I was out of town this weekend, otherwise I so would have been there.

Salted Vegetable with Soy Bean Skin & Edamame

I love the salted veggie with soy bean skin dish at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. It’s a comforting dish that really adds a bit of greenery to colder months. I also like to think it’d got some cold-curing properties, too.

I found this recipe for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Skin Ribbons off of Food Mayhem’s site, and it’s super-duper easy and awesome.

You only need three ingredients. Seriously, that’s it. No extra sauces or condiments. Some mustard greens (or whatever kinda-bitter greens), edamame, and soy bean skin. (I got the soy bean skin at the Asian Supermarket – $2.99 for 8 oz). I’ve also used the dried thin sheets of tofu skin, too. Either way, soy goodness.

Okay, so there’s some prep work involved. You could half-ass it and use the salted preserved veggie packets/jars/cans, but c’mon. This tastes so much better, and so much fresher. It’s worth the extra time investment.

Wash and separate the leaves from your bunches of mustard greens.

Then give them a fine dice, or a rough mince and sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of kosher salt.

The dicing takes me the longest. But it’s so worthwhile.

Then after you salt it, you start mixing it up. Really work that salt in there. Give ’em a squeeze. We want to drain out excess water so it’s more like a pickle.

After letting it sit for about an hour, there’s extra liquid on the bottom. After this, I transferred the greens to a towel and squeezed it out to really wring out excess moisture. No need to be gentle with these greens!

Then it’s time to slice up your soy bean skin. Easiest part of the recipe. Open packet. Slice into ribbons. Done. One 8 oz packet of soy bean skin lasted me for two large recipes.

Then it’s time to get cookin! Add a few teaspoons of oil into your pan and let them heat up. Toss in some of the salted veggies. Sautee for a few minutes, just to lightly cook them.

After that, add in your tofu skin with some water or broth. You can keep it vegetarian, or add animal broth. I like chicken, but beef is fine too.This is mainly so the soy bean skin gets warmed up, and doesn’t stick to the pans. Just a few splashes is all you need. We’re not making soup here. Go lightly at first – you can always add more later.

Once that’s heated through, toss in the frozen edamame. Once they’re heated through your dish is done. That’s it!

Mmmm, gigantic plate of salted veggies and soy bean skin. I went a little heavy on the edamame in this dish, as you can tell. Whatever, still good!

Eat with some dumplings. Or don’t whatever. Sometimes I just like eating a big bowl of this stuff. So freaking good! Best of all, tons of protein! (for some reason, I never seem to eat enough protein)

Vegan Pizza

You know those fish that you can stick in a tank and will eat pretty much anything, like the algae off the sides of the tank? Those sucker fish? I’ve got to be the sucker fish of my family. If no one wants it, I’ll probably take it and do something with it. My sister bought a ton of Daiya cheese a few months ago when she took a break from her raw food diet. I think she had to, or something like that. She made some gluten-free, vegan pizza, and since then there have been several baggies of shredded cheeze sitting in my mom’s freezer. The cheeze bags got the boot from Mom’s freezer into mine recently.

I figured I’d give vegan pizza a go. Why not? Daiya’s got great reviews online for vegan cheese. And hey, if I can have pizza and call it healthy and good for me, well, sign me right the hell up.

The Daiya mozzarella style shreds vegan cheese looks like shreds of parmesan cheese, and has a kind of cheesey smell. It would be hard to tell it apart from regular shreds of mozzarella (the cheapie bagged kind), or parmesan.

Made a crust primarily of bread flour. Chewy thin crust on a pizza stone. Albany John whipped together a chunky sauce out of canned tomatoes. 550F pizza stone for 6 minutes.

Holy moly – it really melted! It looks pretty much like mozzarella cheese. Flavor-wise… um. It was okay. I think a little goes a long way. It didn’t really taste like mozzarella. The first bite I was like “Woah. This is melty and kinda cheesey. Maybe it’s kind of like mozza-oh no. It’s different.”.
There’s a coconutty-sweet end to it, and it tastes more like a melty/warm sweet cream cheese with extra tang, yet has the pull and meltiness of mozzarella. It was kind of a mind freak for someone who’s used to eating the real stuff. After reading the ingredients label, coconut oil is one of the ingredients, so at least my brain’s not making that flavor up out of no where.

I think Daiya vegan “mozzarella” cheese is really close to mozzarella for people that can’t eat mozzarella and don’t know/remember what it tastes like. If you eat mozzarella, you’ll be able to spot the difference in flavor. If you don’t eat mozzarella for whatever dietary reason but really want to, you’ll be like “Oh, shit! It’s mozzarella! Halleluja, Daiya!”.

I’m still gonna keep it in my freezer, just ’cause I think pizza might not be the best application for me because the sweet flavor is so blatantly obvious (which makes me mildly disconcerted the entire time I’m eating it since I’m like “Hmm. It’s just a little off,”). Truthfully, I hope my sister will be like “I’m not eating raw food on XYZ day,” and then I can be all like “I’m making you vegan, gluten-free pizza, biatch!” in the near future and then I can feed her something that she likes. Okay, and I might have a problem with hoarding things in my freezer, but it’s edible, so how is that really a problem?

Still, I’m really impressed with its melting properties. I think I will try to find a sweeter application to use it with. Have you tried this stuff before? Any suggestions?

DIY Sushi

I made some half-assed sushi for dinner last night. Brown rice sushi – even prepared the rice with vinegar and mirin. But the seaweed was being kind of a bitch and not sticking, so after being in the kitchen for a while, I was like “Oh, F this,” and just plated everything for DIY sushi (or conversely, chirashi bowls).

The half-ass rolls look kind of like weird hot dogs. I picked up some trout from the store and cut it into sushi roll cuts and lightly seared the outside just to take off any potential fishiness. Tastiness.
Some slivers of cucumber, too. And tobiko. And toasted black sesame seeds.

I am kind of digging brown short grain rice. It’s got a nice nuttiness and chewiness to it. More interesting than white rice, and not as dry, either.

Oh, and the stuff in the center was a salty veggie and soy bean skin dish. I loved it when I had it at Ala Shanghai and wanted to recreate it since they make their salted veggies in-house and it tastes so fresh. I found a recipe on Food Mayhem for Soy Beans, Snow Cabbage, & Tofu Ribbons that looked like a perfect match. Except I didn’t have edamame. And my bean curd sheets were more like shattered bits. It still came out pretty well, though. Definitely hit the craving for a deeply vegetal and comforting dish. Give it a try – very easy and very rewarding.

The Secret Cafe

I never win raffles. I’ll toss in a buck or two and hope for the best. Partly because I never really have more than a few dollars in cash on me at any given time, and partly because whenever I’ve entered raffles in the past, there’s always someone else that will end up beating me.
This has been going on since at least the third grade. When I was in Chinese school Danny Liu’s parents would buy armloads of $20 5 foot reams of raffle tickets, and Danny would be left swaddled in raffle tickets. Whenever numbers were called and no winner surfaced in 30 seconds, everyone sighed and sat back, waiting for Danny to check all of the tickets. This kind of slowed things down, but I’ll be damned if the Liu familiy didn’t win just about everything they entered.

But this time, I won a great raffle. It was for dinner! It was from The Furnace Collective. I entered on a First Friday and figured I might win since there weren’t many other people in yet (until one of my buddies up and bought five tickets). But I did win!! This is probably the best raffle I’ve ever one! It translated directly into FOOD! It was only $15 per person any way, but hooray, I won!

So on that auspicious night, I showed up with my Artsy Designer Friend. It was in a random house in Albany that was just freaking gorgeous on the inside and unassuming on the outside.

First up was a generous appetizer plate. Oh, and by the way, most of these pictures are yellowy, but whatever, they are pictures and not too blurry. You get the idea. It’s something to break up the monotony of my words.

I think everything that night was vegan. Artsy Designer Friend is a celiac, so he can’t eat wheat. He popped a mushroom after thinking they were safe, but evidently they used some kind of vegan thing with wheat in it. He is super chill and was like “Well, whatever. I tried some place new and knew it was a risk. I’m gonna enjoy the rest of my meal.” Now there’s a trooper. Oh, and the Furnace folks were super apologetic about the whole thing and couldn’t have been nicer. (But for what it’s worth, those mushrooms were totally worth it)

His super-triple-checked-free-of-gluten mushroom risotto. It was creamy and risotto-y. I took a nibble because it’swhatido. I’m still not a risotto fan, but still, it was nice.

I got beet ravioli! Red, beety skins! Stuffed with a celery/celeraic filling. Glazed with… SOMETHING!

But you know what was the best part? Those veggie sides!! The brussels sprouts were perfectly seared and charred on the cut sides, and still had plenty of crunch throughout.

And those kale greens and white beans? Scrumptious! However they cooked it, it was awesome. Tender soft beans, and lightly cooked kale that didn’t taste too bitterly of kale. Like Kale-Light.

Here’s an innard of a ravioli. Raviolo? White insides, red outsides.

Artsy Designer Friend knew the dessert chef, who whipped him up an off-menu gluten-free dessert. Some apple slices, caramel sauce, whipped cream, and pomegranate seeds. And lotsa cocoa powder. He was really happy.
I couldn’t say no to the pumpkin pie with WHITE CHOCOLATE. It was awesome, and a great way to end the meal.

It was such a great night, free to boot, and then the icing on the free-raffle-winning cake is that someone comes up to me and asks if I know someone. From Washingtonville! It turns out we went to middle school together. How crazy is that?!

Parivar Chat

I think I can breathe now. Daniel B. and I went to Parivar (1275 Central Ave, Albany, NY) to peruse the new Indian grocery store, and also to get a peep of the hot bar area in the back, known as Parivar Chat.

Their menu is comprised of some different kinds of chat, as well as South Indian dishes, and a bunch of desserts.

One of the guys there is from Cali, and had a business there before moving to the East Coast. Daniel B, Mr. California, was quite pleased with the selection.

We started off with some pre-made drinks from the fridge. A Pista Falooda (pistachio drink) for me, and mango lassi for Dan and the kiddo. Both were $3.99. Kind of on the expensive side, but man were they good. The lassi was so fresh and really tasted like fresh mango, not like mango pulp and sugar. The pista? Dude, it was like a shake. There was green vermicelli noodle bits in there, and tons of crushed pistachios. Really thick, and REALLY good. $3.99 is totally fair for that drink.

Papdi chat for $4.99. Chickpeas, diced red onions, crunchy strips that are kind of like toasted pita chips, and other crunchy fluffy bits on top. All slathered with some hot and sweet and salty yogurty sauce. Yum! There was a bit of kick to this, but it was really on the mild side, and addictive to eat. And pretty filling for two people.


Masala Dosa ($5.99). Hello gigantic pancake thing filled with potatoes! It was a little on the thick and tough side, but so enjoyable to eat. There was the hot red sauce, and the less hot but still pretty hot nutty coconut sauce to dip in to, plus lentil soup.

SAMOSA!! $1.50, and came with the tamarind and green sauces.
Not too oily, plenty crisp, and a good dose of heat and spice in the filling! I was reaching for the water at this point.

Chole Bhature ($5.99) came out to round out lunch. It was all vegetarian, but so filling. Also, it looks like they don’t open officially until 3 pm per their signage, but they were very accomodating to our orders and others who came by to pick up sweets and stuff for home.

Chole is poofy fried dough with bean things on the side! And a really hot red paste for slathering (note: slather lightly – this is oil based and REALLY packs a kick). How could I not love this?!

Dan demonstrates how to attack a chole. With yo hands!! The chickpea side of beans was well flavored – just tons of… flavor! Dan and I managed to finish just about everything, but barely. Just barely. It might not look like a lot, but we probably would have been fine with one drink and two dishes. It was just… so filling. And so good. And so hard to stop eating.

Ok, I just wanted to let you guys know that. Now I’mma go off to Astoria and drink my weight in Czech beer.

Kisses!

Raw Zucchini & Carrot Salad. Kind of.

Summer time seems like a good time to venture into the world of raw foods. My sister’s a raw food vegan who doesn’t eat tomatoes and waffles on nuts, which means ‘cooking’ a meal for her can be a pain in the ass sometimes. I say that with love. More power to you if you love the raw food diet, but I don’t like restricting what I eat. TASTY FOODS ARE MY DIET. Raw, cooked, whatever, it’s all good to me.

Some things I find to be a bit silly with raw food, like not cooking your food, but some recipes say it’s okay to heat things as long as they don’t reach past 110 or so degrees. Either cook it or don’t right? Oh, and dehydrators are okay, too? I mean, I get where they’re going with it, but it seems like an awful lot of wasted energy for food that doesn’t change all that much… m foray into raw food (beside sashimi) is going to not be 100% raw. I have way too short of an attention span.

I mean, I also love using my microwave and will never stop using butter, so it’s not like I’m perfect to raw food peeps either. OH MY GOSH, and COOKIES. WHAT ABOUT COOKIES?! I JUST REALIZED COOKIES ARE BAKED!!! Raw foodies, I will fail you at every turn. Look, agree to disagree, ‘kay? JUST BE HAPPY WITH MY BABY STEPS.

I made a raw zucchini and carrot salad. Those components were raw. I just used my vegetable peeler to make the long ribbons. Very little waste. And my sister would be happy to know I used zucchini from the co-op, so I won’t turn my brain into stupid-goo with pesticides. I’m kind of convinced she thinks it’s gonna happen.

Any way, so carrots and zucchini. Then a sauce. I called up the co-op to see if their tahini was raw. It’s not. They always sound so apologetic when they have to say no. “I’m sorry, none of our tahini is raw. We can’t find any. I’m sorry.

Whatever! I just want this to taste good, so I did tahini, sugar, soy sauce, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, shiro miso, and some water. So I pretty much covered it in a ton of non-raw things. I think this is okay because they were in my pantry, so I’m not running out buying new, expensive things that I’m not gonna use that often. I bought some raw almond butter to use in a recipe for my sister, and GOOD LORD that stuff is expensive. And not that tasty. Not much flavor at all. It was like $6+ for half a pint.

Then I tossed it with some sunflower seeds for a texture contrast, and pulled some fresh cilantro out of a window container.

Raw zucchini noodles are tasty. I thought it would have a dry, bitter mouthfeel like eggplant, but cut up into thin strips, it was vegetally refreshing. However, if they were just plain raw zucchini “noodles”, it would get boring quickly. Sauce was definitely necessary, and I really recommend the cilantro to brighten things up if you have it. Just add the sauce ingredients to taste – it added some zip to everything and made it feel more like a dish. I wouldn’t say a meal… I used 2 zucchinis, and it was like a really big but unfilling appetizer for Albany John and me.

I’d bring this for a summer side dish to a picnic or something. It’s not like you’d have to worry much about it since it’s uncooked and all.

Mackerel, Miso, Eggplant + Tofu, and Shanghai Bok Choy

I love having a small dining table. I got this table pretty recently, and I am just loving having it in the living/dining room. It sure beats TV trays.

I don’t know how you do it in your house, but I enjoy setting the table now. And by “setting the table” I mean come out of the kitchen with a dish in each hand while going “HEY! Can you clear off some of this crap so I can get some SPACE?!” to Albany John while he plays video games. I find this to be a very effective way to clear the table.

This is pretty-crap less. Let me detail it out for you. On the top left there’s a half-empty soda jar that’s from the day before (still good) and a pen. His & Her PBR cans next to some flowers I picked from my garden (really sparse, but pretty, damnit!), and an XBOX game cover behind that, followed by a glass of bourbon I’ve had out for, like, two days (I have no excuse for not finishing it other than laziness), and a bottle of chipotle tabasco sauce that’s a permanent table fixture.

Food-wise, we’re looking (left to right) at Eggplant & Tofu, Shanghai bok choy, vegetarian miso soup, and broiled mackerel.

I went unnecessarily grocery shopping at the Asian Food Market earlier in the day (I went to the Asian Supermarket first, but didn’t like what they had), and picked up some thai eggplant for $1.39/lb. I’ve been jonesing for eggplant, and at this price – hooray!

I made a dish with fresh tofu, kind of like my friend N made for me a while back.

Tofu & Eggplant
2 bricks fresh tofu, pressed for an hour or two
Char ~6 thai eggplant, peel skin off when cool (hint: fondue fork + eggplant + gas stovetop). Chop and set aside.
1/2” ginger, peeled and minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T oyster sauce
1 T soy sauce
1-2 T sesame oil
Dash of oil for cooking

Heat up a pan, add a dash of oil and sauté garlic & ginger until fragrant. Add eggplant. (If the eggplants are still a little firm, add some water to cover the bottom of the pan, cover, and let it cook for a few minutes until the eggplant soften up).

Crumble tofu into pan

Add soy sauce and oyster sauce

Stir well; let it cook a minute to combine flavors.Take off heat and add sesame oil.

It was creamy goodness – boxed tofu just can’t beat fresh sometimes. And that toasty sesame oil just brings it up a notch. Toasted sesame seeds on top wouldn’t hurt either. This is one of those dishes that makes me wonder why I don’t make it more often, especially when it’s a frugal but satisfying dish to make. I got four bricks of tofu for $1.80 (so only $0.90 for the dish), and didn’t use very much eggplant at all. I’d give this a very generous estimate of $1.75 for a total cost of ingredients.

I got mackerel for $1.99 per pound. These two fishes were only $2.09! And the guy at the fish counter was shockingly nice. The Asian Food Market wasn’t the place I’d associate with great customer service( or a staff that spoke much English) but they’re really changing it up lately.
I practically had to promise the young man at the fish counter that I’d be rushing home right after shopping here and didn’t really need ice in a separate bag. And that was after he insisted on getting some freshly killed mackerel out of the back because he didn’t want me to get the older ones up front. Okie dokie with me! The first time I got fish here (years ago), the guys behind the fish counter didn’t speak a word of English, were really rude, and didn’t scale or gut the fish for me. So yeah, this was kind of a shock, but in a good way.

I hear that mackerel aren’t overfished or anything, so I can enjoy them guilt-free.

I let this sit for an hour or so in equal parts soy sauce and dry vermouth, plus some ginger and a dash of sugar. I really wanted to grill them over charcoal, but I cook slowly as hellll, so I popped them in the fish grilling thing that usually sits and collects dust and hair, and popped it in the broiler for a few minutes on each side. Worked like a charm.


They had Shanghai bok choy on sale for $0.69/lb at the AFM. SIXTY NINE CENTS PER POUND!!! There was even a lady stocking the veggies trying to get me to buy the smaller baby bok choy for $1.29/lb, but I was all “No, I’m cheap” “No thanks, I’m good with these”. I probably could have tried my Chinese, since I know “no” and “thank you”.


Think of them like baby bok choy on steriods. They’ve got a similar leaf structure, but they’re the size of a small football. I just peeled the leaves off and cooked them with garlic, ginger, and a bit of water (to soften). I used to seriously mess up Chinese greens and cook them into mush, but now I think I’ve got it down on how to keep them firm, but cooked. Maybe I’ll do a tutorial later on, would you like that? It’s one of those easy, but hard to first grasp concepts. Or at least it was for me.

So yeah, that was dinner. Oh, the miso soup was just seaweed broth and miso – no bonito in our house, so we left it out. I think Albany John would mainline miso soup if he could.

Garden Salad

Garden Salad usually evokes the pre-fab wrapped trays of garden salad I could order for lunch in elementary school. I’d try to order the chef salad every now and then because I was generally the biggest girl in my class, and salads were healthy. I was not a big fan of vegetables in general, and every time I’d order it, I’d pick over the hard boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, and whatever other greenery they may have put in there, and ended up eating the strips of ham and turkey cold cuts. Not pretty, not tasty, not filling, and not good.
Eventually I gave up. How could I resist hot turkey sandwich, the fancy Chicken A La King, or spaghetti and sauce?

This salad came from my garden. The lettuce leaves are doing well. The French Breakfast radishes I planted seem to want to pop out of the ground. So I grabbed one, just one, and sliced it up into a small salad for two. Hell, it was a small salad for one, but you know. It was refreshing to eat last night, that’s for sure!

Albany John is awaiting a small but bountiful harvest of radishes. I hope they grow bigger! The French breakfast radish we had last night was a small sphere.

It’s funny – When I was growing up I’d never even think of touching the radish. But now that I’ve tried it, it doesn’t really taste like anything.