Category Archives: soup

Schooled in cheese.

DSC_0006Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about cheese.  My earliest cheese memories center around my regular lunch order – Muenster on white with mayo.  Simple, a bit tangy and the perfect balance to my other standard sandwich option, liverwurst.  What can I say?  I was raised by a German mother.

As I aged, I expanded my cheese horizons…there was cheddar and provolone, an array of blue-veined beauties, soft delights like Brie, preferably served warm and oozing.  Cheese would most certainly prevent me from being a vegan.  Ever.

While most of my cheesy memories are positive ones, there is one incident which will forever stand out in my memory for both the icky taste and the laughter it ultimately inspired. Many years ago, while visiting Alsace, we lost track of time and missed our opportunity to catch lunch service in the small French town we found ourselves in.  Using my best parlez vous Francais, I asked if perhaps we might have some fruit, cheese and bread to tide us over until dinner could be had.

We were graciously indulged with a lovely plate of local specialties, including a couple of new to us cheeses.  As we dug in, we shared our impressions of the fromage.  One sample stumped my husband and as he struggled to find the words to describe it, I impatiently grabbed a (blessedly) small piece and shoved it into my mouth.  What followed next was a comical series of sputtering, spitting and cursing as I exclaimed “You couldn’t simply say it tastes the way I imagine dog shit might taste?!?”  Bad cheese, but great story.
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Locally, the cheese universe has evolved tremendously over the years.  From Cowen and Lobel to Old Chatham to the Honest Weight, cheese has grown into a specialized niche with plenty of devotees.  When The Cheese Traveler moved into the DelSo bringing his enthusiasm and knowledge with him, I knew I would never again inadvertently place a crappy tasting cheese in my mouth again.

I have to confess, that I find myself gravitating to creamiest of Gorgonzola more often than not, but it is so good to know that I can surrender myself to Eric’s wisdom and explore other cheesy delights.  Last week’s Soup and Grilled Cheese Tasting party was a fun way to sample some flavors which were new to me, including the killer combination of Flying Pigs ham, Fourme d’Ambert and Mingle’s kimchi – an explosion of tastes that I’m still thinking about days later.  Here are a couple of terrific write ups from the event (or shop, in general) which go into far more detail about the grilled cheese offerings.  There are a few upcoming Cheese Traveler events which look both delicious and educational, including Cheese School which begins in April and the fundraiser advertised below which is tonight.  Follow him on Twitter to keep up with how to be your cheesiest best.

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TONIGHT!!!

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Filed under Albany, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Eating, Events, favorites, Food, Local, soup

Saratoga bites

A few months back I bought a Living Social deal for Javier’s in Saratoga. My motivation was to enjoy a night out and sample some of Brian Bowden’s food. Well, you know how that worked out. Nonetheless, Thursday night we hit the Northway and arrived promptly for our 6:45 reservation.

While the downstairs bar was completely empty, the upstairs dining room was close to full. We were shown to a nice table and looked over the recently updated menu. Eventually we decided to start with fried oysters and a pear salad, followed by the duck breast and monkfish entrees. I settled back contentedly with my glass of bubbles and my favorite fellow, prepared for an indulgent meal.

Our meal service began with dense and cheesy “muffins,” accompanied by softened butter garnished with roasted garlic. Nice. Our first course was served and I don’t know which one of us was more crestfallen by the size of the portion. You see, we’re good eaters and the salad, particularly, was shockingly paltry. Seriously – it was about a third of a pear. Maybe. The oysters appetizer was four morsels – a bit of a disappointment if you’re coming from the Rick Weber school of fried oysters, which is more than likely where this rendition originated.* The oysters were tasty but definitely would have benefitted from a touch of salt and a multiplication of two.

The entrees were far more impressive. Both of the portions were reasonable and the plates were nicely presented. The duck was perfectly medium rare, with a touch of sweetness to the sauce and nicely crisped skin. I don’t often eat monkfish, but I certainly would order it more frequently if I was assured it would be cooked as masterfully as the piece I enjoyed at Javier’s. My “poor man’s lobster” was mild, and moist and the accompaniments were a nice foil to the fish. Well done.  I didn’t take any photos of our meals, but you can see the salad and monkfish on this blog.

We had a dessert, some sort of something leche which was simply not my thing, but my dining companion made short work of it. Dinner, before discount, came to just over a $100, pre-tip. Service was capable, but not particularly personable. I’ve met Javier before (and his wife, following dinner) and they are both warm and social. It would be pleasing if the service reflected some of that.

Two days later, I was back in Saratoga to shoot some photos for the Times Union. The occasion? Chowderfest 2014. This was my first time attending this event and it is a huge deal. I believe there were 86 restaurants participating and, from what I understand, this annual celebration of chowder is second in popularity only to Travers Day. Props to Saratoga for hosting an event, in January, which literally fills their streets and sidewalks with folks willing to wait in line to sample minuscule “cups” of chowder. The crowd was enthusiastic, patient and seemingly appreciative of the offerings, as well as the relatively mild temperature.

My tight schedule prevented me from being able to invest time waiting on the sometimes formidable lines, but I would definitely consider participating in this fun event in the future. Truth be told, finding a reason to visit Saratoga, and a place to have a bite, is never a struggle.

*Brian Bowden worked with Andrew Plummer who worked with Rick Weber and those oysters had Rick Weber’s name all over them.

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Filed under Dinner, Eating, Events, Food, Restaurants, Saratoga, SEEN, soup, upstate New York

Duck, duck, soup

We like lots of noodles in our soup!

We like lots of noodles in our soup!

Recently, the boys and I had a hankering for Chinese food.  We were looking for takeout, which eliminated our usual spot, Emperor’s Palace, but I remembered Steve Barnes doing a review a couple of months ago for a spot on Central Avenue.  After a quick check on their menu and confirmation that they offered Peking Duck, I placed an order.  You remember how the Lilly boys like their Peking Duck, don’t you?  It’s kind of their go-to dish when ordering Chinese and at this point, they’ve sampled it in 4 states in 3 countries, which is pretty cool if you ask me. Despite all that experience, what we got from the new incarnation of Ocean Palace was a first…

When I arrived to pick up our meal, things weren’t quite ready.  As I waited for our order to be complete, I was asked a question I had never before been asked – “Would you like the bones from the duck?”  Hell, yes, I would!  I’m all about making stock and I immediately knew exactly what I would do with the carcass from our bird – duck noodle soup!  I tossed the bones in a pot and covered them with water and set them on a low temperature on the stove.  I usually put onions and carrots in my stock, but for this, I really wanted to extract as much pure duck flavor as possible, so I left it unadulterated.  After about 14 hours, I strained the stock and refrigerated it for another day.

On soup day I heated up the stock which, surprisingly enough, had very little visible fat and got busy slicing and chopping vegetables.  My veggie share this week contained some gorgeous shiitaki mushrooms and baby bok choy which were the perfect additions to my soup, along with a package of rice noodles.  I seasoned with soy sauce and, when my son demanded meat for the soup (as if the love I put in wasn’t enough?!) , I stir fried some thin slices of beef  in sesame oil to add to the pot.  I was a little nervous about how my half-assed version of hot-pot would be received, but the guys went gangbusters on it and I was rewarded for my efforts with a “it’s not bad, Mom” as they slurped it up.  Success!

As for the rest of the original meal, the food was terrific.  Looks like we have a new takeout spot.

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Filed under Albany, Boys, Cooking, Eating, Local, Recipes, Recommendations, Restaurants, soup

Behold the mighty shrimp

I’ve got a question for you – what do you do with your shrimp shells?  Please don’t tell me you toss them in the trash because that would make me sad.  You know that tossing the uncooked shells into the freezer could eventually give you something gorgeous like this, right?DSC_0003Since it is so simple, and basically free, why don’t you promise to begin saving those shells beginning with your next shrimp-centric meal?  After peeling your uncooked shrimp place shells (and heads, if available) into a zip top bag and throw in freezer.  Once you have a decent amount – think enough to fill a stock pot 2/3 or so, remove from freezer and place in a roasting pan with a little oil and cook at about 400 degrees for maybe 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so.  Remove shells from oven and place in a stock pot with whatever random vegetable peelings/herbs you have on hand and cover with water.  DSC_0001

Cook on low to medium for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.  Strain and use in soups, risottos and pasta dishes as desired.  Believe me, you will never throw these babies away again.  Nothing shrimpy about it.

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Filed under Cooking, Food, ideas, Recipes, soup

12 days of Christmas ~ Dining DelSo

DSC_0004On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a kick ass bialy from All Good Bakers.  Ok, people, you must know about our DelSo Farm to Bakery restaurant, right?  Britin does a great job promoting their efforts and if there is a discussion about locally sourced produce or dairy, you can be sure she’ll chime in.  She and Nick happily brought their business to the neighborhood where they also reside and have  inspired others to follow them, be it literally, as in the case of their former Farmer’s Market neighbors who have taken the space to their right, or more philosophically, as evidenced by some thoughtful changes to the menu at their neighbors on the other side.  Make no mistake about AGB being exclusively a spot for baked goods – their menu is much more comprehensive than mere carbs!  So, go for breakfast or lunch and take some of Nick’s baked goods home for later.  And seriously, if one of Nick’s bialys inspires words of love, wouldn’t a holiday gift of a share of All Good Baker’s Community Supported Bakery Program prompt something along the lines of flat out adoration?  Yep, that’s what I’m talking about.

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Filed under Albany, baking, breakfast, Brunch, Christmas, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Eating, favorites, ideas, Local, Recommendations, soup

I don’t know Pho, but Yum!

More rolls, please!

Early in the summer I had a craving for an inexpensive, light lunch and remembered that Linh Diep from My Linh, had opened a place right in the area I happened to be.  I am a huge fan of the simple fresh flavors of Vietnamese food, although I can’t claim a wealth of experience or knowledge of the cuisine.  One of my favorite quick meals is a fresh summer roll from Kinnaree.  I love the soft rice paper roll filled with chilled shrimp, basil and crunchy sprouts – especially when I dredge through some of that delicious peanut sauce.  Oh, yes, good stuff!

That day in June I found a couple of things I really like at Pho Yum, one being a friend whose familiarity with Asian food far exceeds my own enjoying lunch, and the other being a terrific example of a fresh summer roll.  Perfectly fresh, beautifully presented and exactly what I was looking for in a quick lunch.  I knew I needed to get back there to sample more of the menu.  The opportunity presented itself as summer, sadly enough, drew to a close when three of us, post-pedicures, stopped in for a tasty lunch.

A sandwich I feel good eating

Linh was on premises, as I imagine she often is, and she came to our assistance as we perused the menu.  We ultimately went with a couple of summer rolls, (because I can’t imagine not ordering those) two versions of pho and a banh mi, all washed down with beautiful rich and creamy iced Vietnamese coffee.  Everything we ate was balanced and perfectly seasoned.  The food was hot, temperature-wise,  and able to be spiced to individual preference.  And fresh, remarkably fresh, as a matter of fact.  Our server was sweet as she struggled with English, but still served us with grace and competence.  There were no complaints, only happy sighs at our table and I very much look forward to getting back there as the season turns .  I imagine pho must be one of the great comfort foods of a cold winter and I hope to warm up with the version that Pho Yum offers.

Addictive coffee

A note about complaints: it seems as if some of the Yelp reviews take issue with the pricing of what it essentially “street food.”  I found our lunch for three to be very reasonably priced for the quality and quantity of food we were served.  It is naive to think that “street food,” when served in a storefront, sit-down restaurant, complete with utility bills, dishwashers, servers and linens can compete pricewise with a menu served from a truck or cart.  Come on, people, you know that.

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Filed under Albany, birthdays, Eating, favorites, Food, friends, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, soup

Cella Bistro lunch

One of my favorite parts of a week off from school is the opportunity to sample dining options at other times left unexplored.  There are so many places that I’m interested in trying, all within 25 or 30 miles, that I could probably schedule a Dining Staycation quarterly without exhausting anything other than my American Express card. The recent February break provided the perfect chance to try something new – and talk about perfect timing, Cella Bistro is now serving lunch.  Next stop: Schenectady! 
I’ve been to Cella Bistro once before, back in December when they were doing a limited Sunday service for the holidays.  We got in on their Italian night which was fantastic, as well as a great value. If this place was a bit closer, believe me, I’d  definitely be here with greater frequency.  The lunch menu hadn’t been available to peruse prior to our visit because the chef-owner, Michael Cella hadn’t made his “final” decisions until that very morning.  No worries – when you’re dealing with a chef as inspired and creative as Michael Cella, the hardest choice was making a choice.  Here’s what we went with: 
Roasted Red Pepper soup – bursting with color and flavor – piping hot, light and satisfying.
Bibb lettuce salad with lemon vinaigrette – tender and crisp simultaneously

An order of delicious fries dunked in aioli naturally

A sliced duck sandwich with aioli, sauteed mushrooms,  cheese,  caramelized onions
Reuben of housemade pastrami, cole slaw, cheese, 1000 island dressing on grilled rye bread. 
Bonus: A housemade pickle!!

Check out this mound of pastrami!!  Housemade Corned Beef was also available

Housemade Apricot cello
A couple of additional items worth mentioning; they have a very pleasing selection of beverages.  In addition to their homemade cellos, there was a nice variety of beers from which to choose.  We went with the Ommegang Rare Vos and couldn’t have been happier.  Desserts were kind of weak, particularly for their first day’s service, but we had a delicious bowl of Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream which was perfect with my glass of cello.  Lunch was somewhere in the $70 range, but you could certainly be more than satisfied for less than we spent.  It was vacation, though and Cella Bistro was the perfect spot to get away without really going away. 

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Filed under drinking, Eating, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Schenectady, soup, vacation