Friday, September 30, 2011

Upstate Adventures, Part III: The Final Leg, An NYC-Style Chocolate Shop in Upstate New York

Ah, our final leg of our Upstate Adventure, yaay!! Another great place introduced to us by Mav, The Chocolate Mill, in Glens Falls, NY (also known as "Hometown U.S.A.", by Look Magazine in 1944). 

Now, a chocolate shop like this, in New York City, probably, well, most likely out of my league. But the owners, Frank and Jessica Vollkommer, both pastry chefs, decided to stay in Upstate New York, rather than open their shop in a more metropolitan area.  

Mr. Vollkommer is a Certified Master Pastry Chef, only one of a few, along with being an instructor at The Culinary Institute of America. He also won the French government medal for Grand Prize of the Salon at the New York Food Show. Mr. Volkommer easily could compete in a larger city, but wanted to allow greater accessibility to such high end chocolates for more people, like me, and probably you.  

 It was an incredible experience indeed, for the eyes and the tummy. The Fisherman, myself, Mav and Mav’s mom had dinner here, and of course I had to gawk at the beautiful (and delicious) chocolate. 

After Mav’s description of her encounter with the quiche, I had to give it a try. The dressing on the salad was killer, but I also prefer a dressing with more acid to oil. The quiche was delicious, another example of eating less of something good, rather than more of something less good. I will admit I was hungry later, but I should have just gotten more chocolate :)

The Fisherman had a pulled pork sandwich, I think he was happy with it (since I only got one bite :)).

Now of course this is a chocolate shop, so the star here is the chocolate. Not only beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, but delicious as well. After gawking and going back and forth, The Fisherman and I chose a plain truffle, a tiramisu truffle, and a passionfruit one. They were all amazing, but I’ll give an extra point for the passionfruit for creativity. The tartness worked amazingly well with the rich creamy chocolate. I was surprised, pleasantly. 

 It was an amazing experience. I don't think I'd be able to experience this back home. I had to travel to get chocolate like this. And I didn't even have to go to Paris either!

 For next time, perhaps a review of my second visit to Dumpling Fest 2011 on the Lower East Side.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Upstate Adventures, Part II: They Will Smoke Your Hand- Fun Times in Albany and Oscar's Smokehouse

Onto the second leg of our journey. This place definitely needs it's own post, not only because my friend Mav has been waiting for this post all month. Not only because out of the many pictures The Fisherman and I took, I could only whittle it down to more than twenty pictures. Not even because it is beloved by Rachel Ray. Seriously, watch an episode that requires bacon, you'll see the blue and white package. Yep, that there is Oscar's Smokehouse's famed bacon. That's why they need their own post, they are that awesome!!

Anyway, I dedicate this to my friend, sister in The Great White North, and unofficial possessor of New Yawk City Ass Kicking Street cred, Mav. Thanks for being such an awesome friend all these years (sheeesh, 8 years I believe), and for taking me and the Fisherman on a tour of the lovely Saratoga region. 

Enough mushiness, onto meatier matters, ha!


Our destination!! The pigs, they speak to me!

Where all the magic happens, the smoke house!

Smoked cheeses. I love smoked foods, I lurve cheese. Smoked cheese, AWWWWWW YEAAAH!

List of delights. The Fisherman and I got the elk sausage, we haven't tried it yet. We shall keep you posted.

More deliciousness!

Praying at the altar...I mean, placing their orders...

Refrigerator of glory!

Cheeses save!! Preferably those with bacon.

Spread 'em! I didn't get any cheese spreads because I'd forgo the crackers anyway...

This semi-Polish girl loves her kielbasa (as does The Fisherman)

Petite ham (means a lady can carry it in her purse, since it's petite)

Chocolate piggies *squee*

Peppermint pigsy dust, delightful

Why the peppermint pig stuff, a primer here

Chocolate covered bacon (I hate to admit this, but I think there should have been more bacon rather than more chocolate. Blasphemous I know!)

The famous bacon!

Tapping my inner Paula Deen. Hey y'all!

When pigs fly indeed!

Our cooler with our booty

Our spoils, spread out (we even got treats for my doggies!!)

All in all, Oscar's is one of those scenarios where you ask yourself, "Is it worth it to pay more for something that is better quality, but I get less of it?" For some people, quality isn't an issue, or it's outside of their price range. 

While I'm hardly at the level to go CSA, farmers market and snub my nose at the sub-par quality of most grocery store items, I do think it's a good idea to work towards the "less is more" attitude, where you spend the money on good quality ingredients and food, you just buy and eat less of it. Especially when it comes to the calorie and energy needed foods like meat and dairy. Eat less but better stuff. And you waste less too! No letting food spoil!! As a wise relative and blogger once wrote "you spend one year in Purgatory for every crumb of bread you waste."

Next, the last leg of our Upstate adventure, a lovely trip to a chocolate shop I couldn't walk past if it were located in New York City

Monday, September 26, 2011

Upstate Adventures, Part I: The Drive, Wegmans, and Down Memory Lane with Friends

A couple of weeks ago The Fisherman and I took a little trip to Upstate New York. This all started out as a wedding invitation from my former supervisor and currently one of my closest friends and mentor, known here as Bosslady. It then turned into an epic adventure to an area I haven't been to since I left college five years ago. 

Not having a license made things difficult (The Fisherman has a license, I do not, but I am working on it again, perhaps the seventh time is the charm!) Adjusting to being so far away, in such a different place, and not really being able to drive to somewhere else also made it very hard. I mean, I referred to it as Hell With Snow, but I was a bit spiky and feisty back then. I think I've mellowed a bit and the emotional scarring has healed since then. The Fisherman, on the other hand loved college. He attended a school about an hour away from where I did and was thus very excited about the trip. 

Our adventure, for the purposes on Full Belly Alchemist, are detailed in three parts (because it is that epic). The first part is the trip up there (about six hours worth of driving), what I do love about Upstate, and taking a trip down memory lane with some buddies from college. The second part is dedicated to another close friend and college buddy. Adventures with her will be written in two posts because on adventure really deserves it's own post! So the second post is dedicated to a great smokehouse near Albany, and the final part is dedicated to this amazing chocolate shop near Albany that, if it were in New York City, I couldn't even afford to walk past, it's that amazing!

Anyway, onto the adventure! After a few days of rain, it continued on the day of our departure. However, as we made our way out of the Bronx to White Plains, a good omen appeared.

Taste the rainbow! Getting out of NYC is always a trip and a half, I think it took us easily an hour or more just to make it this far. And onward we drove...

Disclosure, being New Yorkers who lived upstate/outside of the city, we have a special place in our heart for restaurants/stores not yet found in New York City. One of those places is Denny's, so when the opportunity arose to dine at one, we had to.

So bad, but so good...

I'll spare you the many, many photos I took of the Great White North (which, at the moment, isn't white, but will be soon enough!). Much traveling through Jersey, Pennsylvania, then finally Binghamton, and the rest of Upstate New York. After about six hours we finally make it to the Finger Lakes region, huzzah!!

After hanging out in our hotel for a bit and relaxing, we meet up with some friends of mine from college. They meet us at this really cool gastropub in Geneva, NY called the Red Dove Tavern.

Sadly we didn't take pictures (sometimes this comes off as weird to people, and the lighting was very dim), but the food was quite nice.
This wasn't around when I went to school, but I'm glad I got to see old friends, return to my alma mater, and didn't burst into flames or break out into a really bad rash :)

While on campus, my friends' dog George ran around, having a great time, chatting up the ladies, and making friends.

Now, one of the few reasons why I do miss Upstate New York (yes, I do miss my friends, but that goes without saying) is this A-MAZING supermarket called Wegmans. If you haven't gone to Wegmans before, you don't know what you're missing.The closest one for us is in Woodbridge, NJ, where we have made special trips. 

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Those who are first acquainted with Wegmans are initially skeptical, but are soon schooled in the greatness that is Wegmans. For one, it's a nice supermarket. Two, it's not crazy expensive, even for college kids. And finally, the Wegmans family does great things for the community, and is one of the 100 Best Companies to work for in America.

Anyway, some photos to show the awesomeness that is Wegmans!

I saw the sign!! Yaaay, and it's walking distance from our hotel! w00t! And it's open 24 hours!!


The famed Wegman's sub. My fav, the Danny's favorite (Genoa salami, capicola, spicy ham). FTW!



 Our haul on one of our late night Weggies crawl.

So cute, beer named after my kitteh!! Sadly, I don't like the taste :(

And finally, I dedicate this post to the lovely lady who started this whole road trip, Bosslady. Congratulations to her marriage to Mr. Bosslady. Thanks to her getting hitched, I made my way back to where I spent four years of my life,and made many lifetime friendships! May the couple have many happy years together! Salud, and mangia!!
 Yay to the happy couple!!

The beautiful bride and me.

The Fisherman and I all sassy.

Up next, our trip to Albany and the famed Oscar's Smokehouse with another BFF, Mav! Get your smoke on!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Take Me to The Moon Baby! Mooncake Festival

I remember the first time I heard about the Mooncake Festival (technically the Mid-Autumn Festival). The Fisherman was telling me how it usually falls around his birthday, so his birthday tends to get combined with this holiday, much like my sister’s birthday being smack dab in between Christmas and New Years. 

This festival is pretty important, and we see signs of mooncake selling all over the place, like here in our local Fay Da.

I was most intrigued by the name, “Moon Cake.” It sounds really cool, doesn’t it? I had to wait almost a whole year to experience my first mooncake, and maybe that was for the best. Essentially a moon cake has a thin pastry skin and a really, really dense filling. It’s traditionally lotus seed paste, but there are some variations, such as pineapple, five kernel (5 types of nuts and seeds), jujube (dates), sweet bean. 

Most important, each cake contains one or more whole salted egg yolks in its center to symbolize the full moon. More expensive ones contain more egg yolks. This box (with a really pretty tin, WANT!) comes from The Fisherman's brother.

Notice how the one on the lower left is cut into six pieces, for The Fisherman's mom and dad, brother and sister-in-law, The Fisherman and I. Sadly The Fisherman's nephew is still a little too little for mooncake.  While those pieces look small, this little bugger is SO rich you only need a bite (as in 800-1200 calories in a whole cake. Yeah, Paula Deen eat your heart out). 

This was the traditional one with lotus seed paste. For someone who never had these before, it was like a really rich peanut butter bite. My one piece was plenty for me!

Did I mention how crazy expensive these things are?? Between the egg yolk itself as well as the number of them per cake, the labor intensive nature of the cakes, and consumer demand, these can get pricey. They're given and shared among family members, clients, The Fisherman even gets a box from work. His are the variety pack, with pineapple, nuts, jujubee, and red bean.

The pineapple is my favorite, but it's still an intense bite of richness.

Now since this is a festival, of course there’s other things to eat besides mooncake. The Fisherman’s mom pulls out all the stops, and she is not shy about portions. This is why I think the Chinese-Italian affinity is so high, both like food, lots of it, and talking loudly (usually in Cantonese). I can get behind that!

Onto the food: The Fisherman makes her boiled chicken with DELICIOUS ginger scallion sauce (you could put it on a bald tire and I would eat it, you would too), fried fish, green beans, roasted pork (char siu), mushroomy thing that looked like jelly something, lobster, and HOLY HELL THOSE ARE HUGE mushrooms. Good thing we have an expert on the scene...

Say hi to the chicken...

Actually, that doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the skin. Chicken skin is best crispy, whether fried, or roasted, to me that's what makes chicken skin awesome. I can accept everything else about this chicken except for it's skin. I'm sorry Fisherman, but that's where I stand. We'll have this debate until we're old and wrinkly (I hope!), but it just means he can have my skin. And when there's something with raisins or something he doesn't like, I'll be there for him too :)

And that's the story of carmel cod...I mean, Halloween. I mean, mooncakes. If any of my readers get that reference, they are AWESOME! Next, The Fisherman and I take our adventure up north, to the great wilderness that is Upstate New York, for friends, a wedding, and a fantastic supermarket that has yet to make it's way here, boo. Until next time, mangia!