Meat Cake

I did it. I made meat cake.

There is a lot of meat comin’ atcha.

I remember cruising the interwebs and finding a picture of meat cake. It looks like a cake, but it turns out to be layers of meat covered in mashed potatoes. Kind of like a reverse fake-bake. Boo YA, Son!

So I decided that this weekend, I would tackle the meat cake.

I’m surprised I didn’t injure myself while making this meat cake. It was a long undertaking and took me nearly all day from start to finish. I burned my forearm against a baking rack in the oven making that lemon poppy seed cake. I also have poor knife skills. Albany John can’t stand being in the same room with me when there’s a knife nearby. Usually because I keep using the dull ones (my argument is that I’m used to the knife). I sliced the palm of my hand with a knife making wedding invitations this weekend, too. Albany John when on his usual ‘Why do you do these things?!’ spiel after I started asking if we had any band aids.
Me: Heyyyyy, um, do we have any band aids in the house?
Albany John: If you don’t see them, then no. … Hey, what do you need band aids for?
Me: Um, I’m bleeding…
Albany John: Did you cut yourself?
Me: … … … … … yyyyeeeesssss. Now, are you sure there aren’t any band aids?
Albany John: How bad is it? Are you ok? Oh, Christ, that’s a lot of blood! Why did you do that? You should have used the new (sharp) knife, then you wouldn’t get hurt like this.
Me: I used the new knife. The really sharp one.
Albany John: Oooohhhhhhh.
If you’re wondering, I didn’t find any band aids, but I did duct tape a non-stick bandage to my palm. Slick.

So yea, the meat cake. I was certain I was going to end up hacking off a limb. Thankfully, I went to Hannaford, and they had some all natural, antibiotic and hormone-free ground beef on clearance, so it wound up being only a little more expensive per pound than the GMO’ed beef. I like the “All Natural” kind of beef mainly because I think it just tastes beefier. So yay, flavorful not-so expensive beef. At least if I was going to maim myself I wasn’t going to pay top dollar.

I got a little over 3-4 pounds. I am completely fine with clearanced meats as long as it still looks fine and you plan on using it that day or the next. It certainly saved me some money, that’s for sure. $4.50 to be exact! If it’s grey… I’ll pass kthx!

Right, but then I came home and got to work:

Step 1: Wash off your potatoes. I used 7 large cooking potatoes from the Co-Op for $0.39/lb I wasn’t sure I would need them all, and probably could have done with one less. It was still good to have enough, though.

Step 2: Make your mise. I diced up 2 carrots and a whole onion. I tried doing the quirky cuts to make dicing easier. This is normally the step I would slice my finger on, but I didn’t!

Step 3: Peel and quarter potatoes. Have hands become icky and realize you hardly ever peel your potatoes when you mash them. Hurry as quickly as possible. Chuck in water and cook about 15-25 minutes until they are tender.

Step 4: Soak bread in milk. I grabbed a slice of whole wheat bread Albany John made in his bread machine. I figured it would be pretty dense and heavy. Wow, was it ever.

Step 5: Drain potatoes. Grab your handy dandy food ricer that you got at Mr. Stuff on St Patrick’s Day for $1 and rice all quarters. (I can’t find Mr. Stuff online, but it’s on the side street Pauly’s is on adjacent to Central Ave. It’s only open Fri and Sat.) This step might take a while, because this ricer doesn’t do volume, but it worked quickly. I’m sure a full sized ricer would go quickly, but hey, I bought it for a dollar and it doesn’t take up much space. I also decided to try the ricer so the potatoes wouldn’t get overworked and gluey. I didn’t want plaster on my meat cake.

Step 6: Rice those babies! This is gonna take you about 20 minutes. That’s a LOT of potatoes, after all. Then add milk and butter and mix them up so they’re mashed potatoes. Let them cool.

Step 7: Cook your onions and carrots. Let cool.

Step 8: Empty beef in big mixing bowl and use a meat loaf recipe. No, really. I decided to make meat loaf because I thought that with all the cooking time and handling I would have to do, it would need to be moist and not crumbly. Ground beef can get awfully crumbly and stiff if it is cooked a while.
I used 4 eggs, 3 teaspoons of paprika, 1/2 t dried oregano, 2 cloves of garlic, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and crumbled in the milky bread. Mix everything really well, and then dump in your cooled carrots and onions.

Step 9: Think, jeeze louise, this is taking a LOT longer than I thought. Shape meat into cake-like form into pans. I used two pans. Bake for ~40 min in 350 oven.

Step 10: Remove from pans. Let cool.

Step 11: Slice each giant patty in half.

Step 12: Put first layer on plate, cover with mashed potatoes

Step 13: Put second layer on top, cover with mashed potatoes

Step 14: Put on third layer. Fill in cracks and empty spaces around edges to increase support. Make sure to take very blurry photo with mashed potato fingers.

Step 15: Put fourth layer on. Wonder at how it looks like a beefy crown.

Step 16: Get your hands covered in mashed potatoes while also covering the rest of the cake. Make sure you are clumsy and fling bits of mashed potatoes all over the kitchen, too. Be very thankful it would have been impossible to do a crumb coating. Move to other part of house for semi-artsy picture.

Step 17: Draw ketchup flowers.

Step 18: Slice open and serve. Disregard lighting at this point, because, dude, you have meat cake.

And there you have it – a photo-tastic meat cake!

This was also a lot less “Woah, meat” than I thought it would be. It’s essentially a large meat loaf covered in mashed potatoes. This would have fed about 12 people easily for a large family supper of sorts. I also like meat loaf. Yum. Tasty. Moist. Mmm.

I gave about 1/5th of this to my friend, because thankfully, she likes meat loaf, and also seemed excited about meat cake. I am so happy she took some, because I don’t think I should be able to go through 3+ pounds of beef in under a week. That can’t be healthy.

I am quite pleased with how the whole thing came out. It took forever, but it might be fun for a surprise. Especially if they like meat. I had about 4-5 cups of extra mashed potatoes, but I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t have enough.
It was really labor-intensive, and kind of landed in the middle of happiness-inducing foods, taste-wise. The next time I spend that much time in the kitchen, I would really like something a little more … I’m not sure. Impressive? I’d like to try something a little more adventuresome next time. Yes, adventuresome!

Dinner on my own, plus sushi from Saso’s

Albany John has been out of town for a few days, which means I tend to eat like a college frat boy. I will scavenge leftovers and mush them together, then douse them with hot sauce (lately I’m in love with buffalo chicken wing hot sauce).

If Albany John leaves (uh, Albany John, if you’re reading this, you can just skip this paragraph) and there’s not much in the fridge, I am apt to snack on things all day, kind of like an unhealthy tapas. Mmm, potato chips with fakey cheese dip! Mmmm, onion rings. Mmm, bagels. Mmmm, mashed potatoes. Mmm, ice cream. Basically, if it’s got more than 7 grams of fat per serving it is going in my mouth. A huge amount of carbohydrates is also best.
Albany John contends our fridge is always stocked, but again, I am really not creative, so unless ingredients slap me in the face, I tend not to know what to do with them. I know. I KNOW. Pathetic, Albany Jane! PATHETIC!

Thankfully, some chicken breasts slapped me in the face, along with some lettuce that had one foot in the grave.
We got the lettuce from the veggie truck. Their produce is dirt cheap, but usually doesn’t last very long before it starts to go bad.I covered the chicken breasts with cornstarch, paprika, pepper and kosher salt, then chucked them in the oven to cook with some chopped onions. “Go me,” I thought.

Then I ripped off the crappy leaves on the head of lettuce and tore off bite-sized bits to make a salad. I diced some red onion and threw in chickpeas. Salad. Done. At this point, I was thinking “I am IRON CHEF Albany Jane, bee-yotch!” Mainly because normally I would have looked at the lettuce and given myself points for at least thinking about it. Having had the veggie share with Fox Creek Farms over the summer made me think more about reducing food waste and eating things in a First-In First-Out method.

After the salad, I forked a potato, covered it in a plastic bag and chucked it in the microwave for 7 minutes. I love microwaving potatoes. They come out so well, and they’re done very quickly, too. Don’t tell Albany John, but I slathered the hell out of that mother with butter. Shh, it’s our little secret.
Then the chicken came out and it wasn’t over done. So I plopped my butt on the couch, turned on the cartoons, and munched away. I also was working on a grocery store food list on my adorable Hello Kitty note pad with my Hello Kitty flower pen.

The next day, I wasn’t so adventurous when it came to lunch, so I treated myself to some Saso’s for lunch. I got the sushi deluxe for lunch. Yum. YUM!
Tuna roll was ok, but the salmon. Oh, that salmon. The sushi all just melts in your mouth. I would jump through a ring of fire for anything salmon made by chef Saso.
The Sushi Deluxe costs $21. Ouch, I know. But it has been so long since I have been to my beloved Saso’s. It also works out to being just a bit cheaper than buying everything a la carte.
I really wish there were other sushi places on the same level as Saso’s. Sushi House has been way too inconsistent for me. They’ve gotten a little better, but I still prefer consistent quality. Sushi Tei was also a big favorite of mine (especially for their cheap roll combos), but I found a super-duper long hair in my ginger one day, and it just put me off of them. I know it wasn’t from anyone there because the hair was super-duper long. And not mine. I figured it was somehow in a ginger bottle. I don’t know why I was not more skeeved out, as I would normally freak out over something like that. But they are really nice and careful at Sushi Tei and it was more perplexing to get mid-way through my ginger and see a strand wedged in there. But still, I have had a hair in my ginger and I don’t want to worry about it happening again. Ichiban’s sushi has been downright pathetic when I ordered from them. A lot of people like Yoshi Sushi in Latham, NY, but I haven’t found them to be that great, plus their rolls fell apart. Maybe I am just unlucky in sushi (Oh, why, ye sushi gods?!) and I keep getting the one order that is messed up from local sushi places’ normal repartee around here. If only I could get that luck to rub off on playing the lottery, eh? I’d be a millionaire!
All I know is Saso’s has been consistently well made and the quality has been the same after going there for a few years. Lately this just means I eat sushi about once every two months or so from Saso’s. I really wish I were kidding about that one, but Albany Jane’s got a wedding to plan and has been on a ridiculously tight budget this year. However, should my plans to convince Albany John to just say “Screw it, let’s just go to city hall”, I am going to eat a veritable buffet of sushi at Saso’s. No, no. Forget that. I am going to buy a platter or two of sushi (Call up and talk with Kathy Saso – they are around $100-150, I think, it’s a wonderful price) and have a party.

And if you’re battling Central Ave lunch traffic, your sushi might get a little jostled too.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

From the start, Albany John has been the one who cooks. The boy cooks so well, so very, very well. When we first started dating (I’m sure I’ve already mentioned this, but bear with me, I’m repetitive) he made chicken a l’orange with wild rice. I wasn’t a fan of citrus and meats combined. I’m still really not OK with it, but woah, way to show off, Albany John.

I have made a few cooking attempts, but for the most part, stovetop cooking is really not my forte. Albany John’s stomach also agrees.

Thankfully, I tend to redeem myself in the baked goods department. I think Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is Albany John’s version of Kryptonite.

I played around with a recipe from recipezaar:

I didn’t separate my eggs, but I sifted my flour.
I also added ½ cup of poppy seeds, not the 1/3rd in the recipe, because the boy likes his cakes poppy-y. Another thing I did was add just a teaspoon of lemon juice. I think it gave it a little more lemony kick.
I also used powdered buttermilk, and it worked out just fine. I’ve found there isn’t much difference in using powdered milks or the real deal when it comes to baked recipes.
Also, no icing. It’s easier to seal and save without it.

Albany John loved the cake. He said it was super-lemony and it tasted better than any other one he’d had before. And this is the guy who’ll offer unasked for criticism when someone’s cooking (or just take over your kitchen while you’re cooking), so that was an amazing compliment.
I didn’t actually try any. I think it is my citrus+anything-other-than-citrus avoidance kicking in. Albany John gets really perplexed by this. I’m pretty sure I got that trait from my mom. She has the capability to make lots of foods that she won’t go near on the table. Mainly chicken and broccoli, lasagna, non-velveeta based cheese dishes… It’s weird, but hey, I’m not knocking anything that makes tasty foods.

Frugal foods, cheap eats

I have to confess a love of eating on the cheap. Heck, just reading this blog could tell you that.

Cutting out meat is a big way to make your food dollars go farther if you’re strapped for cash. You don’t have to cut meats out of your diet entirely, though. I find a good way to still eat meat while keeping my food budget down is to use it sparingly, or to switch its use with veggies in a recipe so it’s more of a seasoning than it is central to the meal itself.

In no particular order, here are a few dishes that are fairly economical for anyone on a budget:

Dumplings, Gyoza, Dim Sum – whatever you call these buggers they are great. Little packages with a flavorful surprise inside – they are very easy to change to your tastes.

Lentils – I prefer lentil salad, but lentil soups can also be quite flavorful.

Chili – meatless, of course. The hard part is soaking the beans. For extra protein, toss in half a package of tempeh.

Stir-Fry – Huge amount of variation of ingredients. Let’s start with noodles – chow fun, rice vermicelli, lo-mein, even spaghetti in a pinch. Then toss in a ton of thinly sliced veggies, some protein, and you’re set. Season with sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar… I actually like using spaghetti when I want the crappy Chinese food that you get from the mall. Thankfully this craving only happens about once every two to three years. The last time it used up almost all of our whole wheat spaghetti that I hated, which was also a plus.

Pierogies – (Also spelled pirogies). These doughy dumplings may be high in simple, refined carbohydrates but I think mixing in cooked cabbage and onions with mashed potato helps make it a bit healthier and adds some punch to the flavor.
I initially tried those Mrs. T’s pirogies from the grocery freezer section. At the time, it was great – 100% carby-goodness. Making them at home tastes better, but is moderately labor intensive. Also, those boxes are around $3 a box now.

Veggies – lots and lots of fresh veggies. Gai lan, broccoli, choy sum, mustard greens, collards, spinach, carrots, cabbage, onions. Veggies are usually really cheap and under $1 per pound.
Some veggie may seem expensive, sometimes reaching over $3 per pound, but they really go a long way. A pound of Chinese broccoli ($2.39/lb, last I checked) easily feeds 3-5 people as a side, more if you roughly chop it up and add it to a stir-fry.
Frozen vegetables also work really well, but remember they’re already cooked. Just stick them in the microwave covered and add them to your dish.

What I like most about all of these dishes is the versatility. One night you can have an all veggie stir-fry with some rice on the side (also, buy a rice cooker. If you’re making rice more than 2-3 times per week you will see a difference in your utility bill. Or maybe I’ve just lived in inefficient apartments).
The next night, you can make fried rice. Maybe even splurge with some lop chong (Chinese sausage, around $3.89 for 12 oz. Don’t forget to peel the micro-thin paper from each sausage – pleh).

Pasta – tomato sauce + box o’pasta = cheap eats. Toss some veggies in there, and you’ve got a pretty healthy, filling meal. Of course, if you play ‘parmesan snow angels’ with your pasta like I do, healthfulness tends to take a back seat.

Tacos/enchiladas – Tacos are great for using up leftovers. Corn tortillas are also ridiculously cheap for the amount you get. I usually find them 10-20 for $1 (it really varies around Albany, NY. I’d imagine it’s more stable in Dallas, TX). With the extra tortillas, wrap up any leftovers and freeze them for later.

One of the most important aspects of eating cheaply is seasonings and spices. A lot of these foods can be incredibly bland and not-so-appetizing without some flavoring. French lentils by themselves? Bland City.
I can’t imagine eating fried rice without soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil, or having chili without dried chilies spicing up the mix.

But where can I score some spices and sauces without paying $56 per pound? First, stop buying them in the supermarket. Have you checked out the price per pound on some of those babies by McCormick?
Next, stop off at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op or Sabah Market (280 Central Ave. Albany, NY 12206) for dry spices. Sabah’s prices will make you cry with happiness.
Then go to any Asian food place and load up on all your Asian sauces and sundries. They’ve got great prices on sesame seeds, peppercorns, and aisles of sauces.
Get small amounts of all these spices. They will last you forever. When you just buy a few tablespoons you will be paying pennies. The last time I bought a ½ cup of paprika I paid – thirty-five cents. CENTS!

I really hope I’m not restating the obvious. I’ve been getting so bored reading all of these websites giving frugal ‘tips and tricks’, which end up being nothing more than: buy in bulk, use dried beans, and bring your lunch in to work. They’re a good start, but not all that helpful if you’ve been at it a while.

Have any frugal meals you like to make? I’ll try to come up with some more inventive things later. I’m starting to get bored with the above dishes, as we do them fairly often. I’m not terribly creative, so this could take a while.
Some local bloggers have great recipes that can be quite frugal. Here are a few recipes I am totally going to steal:
Renee’s Empanadas
Celina Bean’s Bibimbap
Alex and Cati’s Turkey-Meatball Pitas

St Patrick’s Day! It’s a-comin’

This year St Patrick’s Day is on the parade day, Saturday March 15th. This is like having leap day or Halloween on a Friday – Only with beer and whiskey.

The parade starts at 2 pm on Central Ave where it intersects with Quail St.

You can check the parade route here, or just do like I do every year and congregate around Central and Quail a little before 2 pm.

Troy Night Out and Festivites Galore

Troy Night Out happened to occur on February 29th. I love leap days, and I love it when quirky days or fun holidays land on Fridays. When you were a kid, didn’t you always love it when Halloween landed on a Friday?
First we stopped off for coffee, otherwise I never would have been able to trudge through the snow. I got a latte at Spill’n The Beans.

One of the locations (I forget, sorry, correct me if you remember) also had… cupcakes!

There were some awesome galleries and showings, but one of my favorites was at Kismet. They had affordable, zombie-tastic works of art by David P. Geurin, plus nice music going on.

After Kismet, a stop at Brown’s Brewing Co was in order. Brown’s is a local brew pub in Troy, NY specializing in their own microbrews. The art of this is lost on me. Beer is kind of like soda to me – it’ll quench a thirst, but that’s about it. Beer, however, has the upper hand in the beverage hierarchy because it will afford me a nice buzz (or more), whereas I usually get hyper and annoying after a few sodas. Albany John enjoys their beer, especially a smoked beer that tastes like mozzarella cheese.

There’s more than beer to appreciate at Brown’s, thankfully. It turns out that this past Friday was also their 15 year anniversary, so they had specials running like crazy. Celebration Ale was $1.50 a pint. They are normally around $4. I actually kind of liked Celebration Ale too, and at $1.50 a pop, well; we had more than our fair share.
We got mussels, a burger, and a pulled pork sandwich, each of which were $5.15! Holy cheap-eats, Batman!

Mussels – great, great, great! The cream sauce was also terrific. Not too heavy, which means I probably drank about a cup of it. Thank god they didn’t leave straws on the table. The size was also amazing. I figured for $5.15 we’d get a small plate, or maybe a dozen – nope, we got a huge order of them.

Burger – I ordered it rare, and it actually came out rare! My initial reaction was kind of disappointed, because it looked like a pre-formed burger patty, and my tongue was re-living eating a burger at Sutter’s. Once I bit in, I was pleasantly surprised – pretty good flavor. The burger also didn’t have any added condiments on it (ew, like mayo), but some lettuce, onions and tomato. It also came with a little cup of coleslaw and a pickle.

Pulled Pork – Wow, I am glad I didn’t order this. No, no, it wasn’t bad at all! It was so rich and porky – I wouldn’t have been able to eat much of it, especially after the mussels. There was also cheese on it, which I wasn’t crazy about, but the pork flavor was intense – Really moist, too.

We’d also gone to Brown’s before for a beer and nibbles one afternoon on a lark. I got their fries with all the crap on ‘em (cheese and bacon, mmm baaaacon) and Albany John got French onion soup.

The French onion soup had a lot of… I forget, but there was one spice in there that was kicking at our taste buds. It was mildly distracting. Albany John liked it, but I thought it was a weird combo with how French onion soup normally tastes.

The fries were great. They were crunchy, crisp, and stayed hot the entire time. The cheese melted well, and the bacon slivers were each incredibly crisp and flavorful. I really liked these fries and will most likely order them again.

After Brown’s we went over to Daisy Baker’s for the Official Unofficial after party for Troy Night Out, by Good Ship.
Free entrance, 18+, drinks specials (like $2 Mike’s Hard Lemonades!), amazing music, RPI geekery, eye pleasing visuals, beautiful area, and all over feel-good and dance vibe.

Go to the next one if you have never been!
Seriously, I haven’t had so much fun in such a while. If you’re like me and don’t like the downtown Albany/Pearl St scene; Goodship puts on a great event. I can’t wait to go to the next one.

Oh, and Saturday was party @ CDFI. Yea, party peeepal! CDFI also was awesome. DJ Kellan Scott was spinning some great tunes and everyone was awesome as always.

(Man, this post actually makes me look like I have a life. In reality, I hardly ever go out this often. If it helps, I spent most of Sunday sleeping on my couch watching Netflix)

Sherry Lynn’s Gluten Free

Albany John and I went for an impromptu afternoon somewhere past Grafton one weekend. What in the hell was I doing out near Grafton? Well, out past Grafton, actually.
When we went to Mass MoCA on Route 2, we noticed a small sign for a Peace Pagoda. We’d went to one before in Western Mass, so it was cool to see one with a little sign close-ish to us.

Anyway, we checked it out, I walked around it a few times, and that was about it. So on our way back, I figured it couldn’t hurt to keep driving around. After all, it’s not like I come out by Grafton all that often so why not? Instead of heading towards Troy on Route 7, I swung a right and we soon passed Sherry Lynn’s Gluten Free. I’d read a review somewhere of it, and I was really intrigued by a gluten-free restaurant ‘round these parts. This isn’t it, but here is a review I found on Google. Very informative!

I know it’s a big deal to my gluten-free brethren to be able to eat things that would normally make them ill (and possibly kill them later on). But, I have to admit; I went seeking it out because I heard they made great gluten-free cookies, cakes, breads… basically carbohydrates. Hey, and a new, diverse range of baked goods made out of flours I haven’t even thought of? Awesome!

However, it was later in the afternoon when we’d walked in, and there wasn’t much left. As an aside – Sherry Lynn’s Gluten Free is painted bright red and looks like a converted barn (or really big house). When you walk inside, it feels like it could have been the ‘General Store’ in a small town, circa Laura Ingalls Wilder. There were plenty of people sitting in the small area with tables with coffee and papers.

I decided to try out a blueberry fritter. It was $1.25 for the fritter, which was about the size of a swollen golf ball. It wasn’t cheap, and the blueberry was more of an afterthought. The price is also a lot higher than you might expect because of all the different non-wheat flours. I just got a bare hint of blueberry as an aftertaste. Texturally, it was amazing. The outside was crispy, crunchy and airy. The inside was as soft as a donut (kind of like Krispy Kremes, may their former Latham location RIP).

The insides also puffed back up – amazing! You know how if you eat a donut, and once you bite down, your lips and teeth tend to mush it all down a bit? Well, when you bit into these, they just sprung right back. After I finished it, I was wondering why I only bought one. $1.25 may have been steep, but those fritters were so much fun to eat!

And then, I kid you not – one of our friends came over later that day with some of each of the goodies!

I tried an iced cookie – really impressive. They were soft and almost cake-like, and the flavors were amazing. They had a very delicate crumb as well – the different flour used in there was so awesome. I was really full from stuffing my face when we got home, though, so I didn’t try the other bar-thing he got that is pictured bottom left. To the right are more of those fritters.
Awesome, awesome, awesome, just be prepared to pay more because non-wheat flours can be more expensive, ergo, more expensive foods.

As a note: I could have sworn this was just called “Sherri’s Gluten Free” but it is “Sherry Lynn’s Gluten Free”

Location: 1691 State Highway 7, Troy NY 12180

(if you need another hint, go on Route 7 like you’re going to Grafton Lakes State Park, then keep going when you’d normally bear right onto Route 2. It’s right past that)