Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dumpling Hounds - This One is For You

Don't let these restaurants disappear!

Northeast Chinese Restaurant, a dumpling house, has taken over the old CCK space on Central Ave and they have fabulous dumplings. After reading the Profusser's blog post regarding the ones that got away I want to encourage you to go see for yourself how lovely these dumplings are and make sure this establishment doesn't disappear.

Also, as soon as you feel like an evening out, go over to Renselaerville and enjoy The Palmer House Cafe. They are one of the very early adopters of farm to table dining in our area and they do it ever so well.  Check out their facebook page and keep up with their various specials and their wonderful stammtisch evenings.

Don't wait until they're gone!  They need your support!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Soup Inspiration

After my affair with the pho on the upper west side of New York City I returned to Albany determined to see what our little city has to offer.  My first stop post Saiguette was at Kim's Vietnamese on Madison Ave. near Quail.  It's been open since last summer and I've been there several times now and haven't moved on from the pho.



I persuaded Zena, Goddess of Fire to go with me for one of the visits and she thought it was pretty cool, although salty and maybe a little heavy on the five spice powder. She also noted the fat in the chilled leftovers. I think this may be a Vietnamese positive thing. I've innocently just absorbed it every time with huge delight because I like it so much. After the initial inhale of that anise top note it all becomes blended for me in a delicious heady pleasure. Although that pile of noodles on the bottom is a big slow-down. Zena says it's great with beer.

At Kim's one gets an abbreviated version of the build-your-own, with broth already in the bowl along with the meat, noodles and paper-thin onion slices. Fresh sprouts, jalapenos, lime and fresh basil are on a plate and the sriracha and hoisin are in the little side dish. Their pho specialties all are in the $8 - $9 range. I asked the most recent time about how the sriracha and hoisin are generally used in Vietnam, and our kind waiter explained that you just add as much as you like in the soup.  I had sort of been dipping things into them, so I slowly added each to the soup til I reached an optimal level of the sweet/savory and hot chili. I vowed to get myself a stash of each type of sauce for future soup exploration.

I'm very glad to say that my soup exploration came today after my shop at the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave. I made a dumpling soup with napa cabbage, yellow onion, and baby bok choi for the veggies.  I added a small green Thai chili [firy and delicioso], two teaspoons of minced fresh ginger, a clove of garlic, two dashes of five spice powder and a cube of pho soup base. I plopped in a few dumplings, which I had cooked separately, and fixed the little dish of hoisin and sriracha sauces. I put Thai basil leaves in the bottom of my serving bowl and ladled the soup on top, then slowly added the sauces to taste.

I reached a fairly good balance of sweet, salty, spicy and fragrant but it's not yet perfection incarnate. Fresh lime juice would probably be good for a little sour flavor.  

I'll have to try again.  


Sunday, January 12, 2014

DOING DISHES: Part V of V - The Mussels Series

For all those home chefs and cheapskates out there, we finally brought mussels home and, after teasing the cats with them for a few minutes, tried our hand at cooking them ourselves. Toot toot they were wonderful. We certainly learned a few things, despite alcohol consumption because Zena didn't have to drive, that we want to share with you.

1. Plan your dinner party the night before garbage pick up. After a few days the shells stink worse than the Y on a busy Saturday after the holidays.
2. Check out options for purchasing the freshest mussels possible. I spoke to the folks and Price Chopper on Western Avenue in Guilderland and got their delivery schedule. Despite 16" of snow, delaying our repast by one night, they were dated as harvested one week earlier. They smelled briney, not fishy. A two-pound bag was $3.99. They were from Rhode Island, not P.E.I., so that's a bit more local than our area restaurants can boast. (:
3. Keep your mussels cold until you cook them. I was driving home wishing I had crushed ice since my refrigerator was full, NOT the refrigerator of a single superhero, as Cookie cleverly pointed out. Then my personal idiot light went off. When I got home I shoveled snow into a bucket, put my mussels in their mesh bags on top and covered everything with a damp towel and kept them in my garage for the day. Since it was minus 0 degrees outside I figured the little buggers would keep well. Otherwise keep them in a bowl, covered with that damp towel, in the fridge until it's time to cook.
4. Set the table, make sure you have a discard bowl for the empty shells, and plan to serve a nice crusty bread and salad to round out the meal. I bought tiny forks at The Cook's Resource in Stuyvesant Plaza for the event because I'm a cooking nerd. I think these are actually "strawberry forks" - not as small as the little ones you usually get in a decent restaurant, but adorable just the same.
5. Scrub the mussels WELL with a hard brush. I had a few that were a bit sandy, and even though superheroes are not undone by such things, eating sand is not good eats. Don't be lazy. Hum a tune, scrub each one well, and look forward to dinner. NOTE: I found only had one mussel with a broken shell. Discard!!!!!!!
6. Drink. Eat appetizers. Remember to make dinner.

The September/October issue of Cook's Illustrated (No. 124) had a recipe for making mussels that suggested cooking in a 500 degree F oven instead of on the stove top that promised good results. I decided to try it, but I added 3 chopped shallots, which were not part of their Oven Steamed Mussels concoction, and a bit of fresh tomato to copy the bits in the dish we had a Provence. This was so that we (Foodie Friend, Lexus [formerly Subaru - she wanted an upgrade], and I) could compare our experience to the classic Moules Mariniere that we had been enjoying in area restaurants. Also I made the cooking liquid in a saucepan instead of the roasting pan because I have a ceramic top stove, and wanted better control than Cook's' method (the sauce starting in the roasting pan). GRIPE: Cook's won't let you see the recipe online without a membership, which I think totally sucks. I can't get them either, even though I subscribe to the print copy. Pisses me off. But I digress....

Here's the recipe (Cook's with amendments): Serves three generously

2 T minced garlic
1/4 C chopped shallots
pinch red pepper flakes
1 C dry white wine (I used Sauvignon blanc)
1/2 C chopped fresh tomato
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
4 pounds mussels
2 T salted butter
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 500 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan heat oil until shimmering. Add garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until vegetables are just tender, about 1 minute. Do not brown. Add chopped tomato, wine, thyme, and bay leaves, bring to a boil and cook one more minute. Remove from heat.

Place mussels into a large roasting pan. Pour sauce overall. Cover tightly with foil and and transfer to oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Push mussels to the side and whisk in butter. Add parsley, toss, and transfer mussels to a serving dish.


Bubbly with apps to start on January 3 was a lovely way to start the new year. Foodie Friend contributed a colorful salad tossed with a simple vinaigrette. Lexus brought us a cheeseball and a nice crusty loaf of bread.  For dessert: poached pears by FF topped with marscapone mixed with maple syrup liqueur. My guests headed home and I proceeded to then drink everything left in our glasses before loading the dishwasher and passing out. Then I spent time saving the world and working off the EtOH at the Y the next morning.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

FYI: All the mussels opened, tender and delicious. We were quiet for several minutes as we first Zena'ed/Zenned into our meal. You know what? Making mussels at home was EASY, inexpensive, and absolutely delicious. Even though we had to do the dishes afterwards. It was a wonderful meal. 

This is a very sexy mussel....