Full Mi Belly



Full Mi Belly is a new Jamaican restaurant in the Albany, NY area. They have some of the best oxtails in the area. Their prices are fair, and their portions are generous.

And believe it or not – it’s located in the mall. In the food court. Woah!

Still there? I know, I felt pretty mind-blown upon eating some of the best Caribbean food I’ve ever had, and having it come from a vendor in Crossgates Mall’s food court.

I’m gonna blow your mind again – their prices aren’t over the top either. They’re very affordable.



This is the large platter – their menu board says it’s good for two, or a very hungry person. It cost $9.99. This beautiful behemoth of beef is probably good for two hungry people, or three people who are just a little hungry.

There is a smaller serving available for $7.99, and in all honesty, that will feed two people. That’s the size Albany John first got and we split that one. And you know how we eat.
It’s got collards (the green upper left hand corner), plantains (bottom left golden blobs) as sides. All along the right hand side are the beautiful wee oxtails. And providing a tasty bed for them all are the rice and beans (they also offer white rice, but why would you order white rice when you can have delicious rice and beans????) topped with extra sauce.


First off, I love the girl behind the counter for offering extra sauce. I didn’t even think of it, but when offered optional extra sauce, I take it. Especially when it’s as good as theirs.

Ok, confession: I haven’t taken a bite out of this platter yet. Not even an eensy nibble or a finger lick of sauce. I had to temper myself on the wonderful aroma (consequently, I think that’s why one or two of these pictures looks a little more faded than others – these were steaming hot) of the oxtails.

I have no idea how good the collards are. I don’t normally like collards, but these look mouthwatering to me. They hold a lot of promise. I can tell you, though, that the oxtails are fall-off-the-bone good. The sauce is just sticky enough, almost like a stew. And the cartilage is also melt-y and unctuous. UNCTUOUS OXTAILS!!

Actually, it makes sense that Jamaican/Caribbean food would do so well in a food court. Most of their dishes are stewed or slow cooked, and they’re really not harmed (heck, even helped) by being on steamtables.

I know. I know. You’re looking at these pictures and thinking “Ok Albany Jane. You’ve really gone off the deep end this time.”

But no. I’ve not gone off the deep end. I am steadily anchored on the bow of the S.S. Consideration and I bought these especially for my father. He came up a bit ago and Albany John and I hyped the hell out of this place, and when we got there, Full Mi Belly was all sold out of them so we settled for their chicken (it was also insanely delicious, but they were no oxtails).
This weekend I will be visiting him en route to a wedding downstate, so I’m bringing the oxtails down to him. I haven’t told him yet, so they will be a surprise, but I know they will be a hit. I don’t think he’s ever had Caribbean style oxtails before, and the last time I brought them down for him, I bought a large (which was closer to a medium compared to here) meal from First Choice in Troy, NY for $12 and there were a whopping 3 medium-sized oxtails in it and it was mostly rice. But I was hoping it would taste well enough to merit the price, since they do season their meat plentifully there. Right, but price-size aside, I trekked to NYC with them, managed not to spill anything, and then my Yeh-Yeh ate it. And you can’t fault your Yeh-Yeh (especially when they gave me that sushi feast when I went down there).
So this time, the oxtails are going directly to pop’s place.

Now all I have to do is protect them from getting eaten the entire car ride down from Albany John and his friend.

I think I’m going to need a lock for the cooler.

The Good Leaf

Creme brulee bubble tea + cupcake. The Good Leaf’s been open on Lark Street for a bit now, and it is rocking! It’s got a cozy Asian vibe going on – very relaxing, but you don’t feel the need to keep your conversation levels to whispers.

Wow – I was just reading the Good Leaf’s About Us section, and it turns out owner Michelle Marks is also a psychologist and opened The Good Leaf to help people relax via tea (in a nutshell, go read the blog – it’s written much better than my nutshell). They also have a nifty blog.

Head on over to the Good Leaf if you’re on Lark Street and check out their latest location. They also have a location At The Warehouse, but now you don’t have to wait for the weekends to get your tea fix!

The Good Leaf is such a boon to me because I’m not a big coffee drinker. With tea, there are so many little nuances in the flavor, and really, that crème brulee bubble tea was spot on in flavor. Not like flavored coffee, which to me tastes like coffee with a little teensy bit of flavor. Best of all, this time I asked if milk could be used in place of cream, and Michelle also offered me sugar free flavoring – awesome! This bubble tea was so light and much easier to drink than the bubble teas made with cream. I had it down in about an hour, but it was really hard not to drink it all in the first 10 minutes!

They also have the tapioca pearls, but I stuck with the coconut gel squares, and they went so well with the crème brulee. Get the crème brulee bubble tea.

Super Happy New Camera Celebration Time!!!

Woo hoo, woo hoo, woo hoo! I got a new camera! I think it is super-cute. It is everything I wanted in a camera – small, obnoxiously pigmented, and easy to use. Goodbye white balance adjust! Hello point-and-shoot! (I think I just heard Albany John and his entire family cringe)

Man, I was really hurting without any camera, and the one we generously received from our neighbors was really a camcorder, and my hands couldn’t keep it still enough to get a clean photo out of it.

I was so excited to get a working camera, and the first photo I took was of that pear, reading a Vietnamese cookbook while sitting outside. Oh pear, you were so tasty, and you came out so prettily in my picture!

I really wanted to celebrate my camera, though. How else could I celebrate, but to make…


Sushi! Really, really crappy sushi!

I tried making gunkan maki (the boats/battleship ones) out of the brown sushi rice we had, but it wasn’t sticky enough. Foo. Next time I’ll do a 50-50 mix of brown and white, or just stick to the white rice. I made the few crappy ones you can see, but they had a hard time standing up and having the seaweed stay stuck on them.


I also decided to make tamago, which is commonly seen as the yellow rectangle topping for sushi. I found some recipes online and went with what sounded good. I also don’t have a square pan for making tamago, but I really didn’t have any issues with making it in a round pan. It wasn’t perfect, but hey, it was my first time and not too shabby. I think it was just fine for making for at-home cooks.


See? It got rolled just fine, and I kept the heat on low, so nothing browned and it remained nice and yellow. It probably could have been rolled tighter, but that is for next time. I was just happy it didn’t break mid-flip at any point!
I really liked my tamago recipe – it was warm, just sweet enough, and had a light, creamy flavor.
Actually, I’m not sure you really need to roll and layer your tamago. I was watching an old episode of Iron Chef, where it was a sushi battle between Masaharu Morimoto and an old school Edo-style chef. The Edo version of tamago was mixed together and placed in a pan over low heat, so it developed little bubbles and browned on the sides. That also looked really good, and it would probably hold shape better for first time tamago makers.
Either way, I am a tamago convert. It’s simple, very easy and cheap to make, and needless to say, delicious.
But, with the way the rice turned out, there was no way I was going to make the tamago nigiri I was originally planning on.

“Well, crap,” I thought. (I know, I have really deep thoughts)

I decided to turn the meal around, though. I just put some rice in a bowl, topped it with tobiko (flying fish roe), slices of tamago, and slivers of toasted seaweed. I chucked in a tobiko topped gunkan maki of the two that decided to actually hold shape. They were so good, it made me wish I could have made more of them.

After dinner, I had the last bar of the insanely good bar dessert thing. My friend gave me some because she made a ton of them. They’re like dulche de leche blondies. So heavy, but so good. And there’s no chocolate in it either – SO GOOD. Albany John has been calling them my “Caramel Energy Bars”.

Like in the morning:
“Hey, you should have your caramel energy bar to get your started for your big day”
or in the afternoon:
“Did you have your caramel energy bar to keep your energy up until dinner?”
or after dinner, or whenever he opens the fridge and sees them there.

Oh, and here’s the recipe I used to make tamago

Tamago:

3 eggs, beaten
1-1.5 T sugar
1/3 t soy sauce
3 T dashi stock (I just put some bonito flakes in hot water and let it sit for a few minutes until the smelled moderately fishy)

Mix sugar into the beaten eggs, stirring well.

Add soy sauce and dashi stock.

Heat a pan over low heat. Grease.

Pour ¼ of your mixture in the pan (enough to have a thin coating) and let cook until set.

Once set, start at one end and flip it over on itself until it is all rolled up.

Grease again, add another ¼ of the mixture until set and start at the large side, roll up.

Repeat until finished with egg mixture and set aside to cool and set up. Pour off any liquids.

Tex-Mex Cooking

Albany John made a delicious shredded beef out of the super-lean round roast of beef we got. It really made it much more flavorful and moist. Mmm. So good.

Then I made tortillas. Yum. I love the homemade corn tortillas – so easy, so incredibly good.

Albany John also made this potato dish. Basically, it is diced potatoes cooked in a pan with some sausage and onions so they’re all crispy. We didn’t have any chorizo or anything remotely resembling Mexican or tex-mex-y sausage, so he used spicy lop chong that’s been hanging out in the freezer for a while. It was really, really good. I like crispy potatoes.

Douse liberally with hot sauce and you’re all set.

What’s Your Monthly Food Budget?

I normally pride myself on how frugal I can be. Or how you don’t ‘need’ to spend on anything.

But man, I have to say…

It’s been hard keeping our food budget down these past few months.

Normally, I keep the budget for Albany John and myself to $300. Or Ideally, $300. But I realized I’ve been taking out $20 every week or so to go to the farmers markets or the veggie truck. Wow, that adds up quickly to $380!

So this month I really decided to monitor food spending, and keep track of how much cash we spend on food. We’ve got a credit card we use solely for grocery stores and food – I have been pretty lax on actual cash money expenditures on food.

This shouldn’t include our eating out budget. That one doesn’t really exist, but if it did, it would also be pretty small.

Right. So. We’ve got one month, $300 to spend for all of our meals. Right now we’ve spent $238 of our total monthly budget. Not too shabby, and I end the fiscal month when the credit card ends; this month it is the 27th of August. Exactly one week of eating left for this month.

Now, in months past, at this point I’m checking the status of the credit card to see how much we’ve spent and say “WOAH! NO MORE FOOD. WE HAVE $20 FOR THE REST OF THE MONTH!!” And that was pre-cash monitoring.

We haven’t been eating instant Ramen noodles and peanut butter (lord, not if I have any thoughts of fitting into that wedding dress, we’re not) for the month either. We’ve had some beef, and even shrimp! You don’t need to spend a fortune to eat well.

First of all, the Veggie Mobile is an immense budget-saver. Their produce quality is improving every week and the amount of food they have in one truck is amazing. I typically spend $15-20 for a week of fresh fruit and vegetables. Some foods are even local, but most are not. The prices are much, much, much lower than the grocery store, and it lasts all week. The Veggie Truck is a wonderful new service in the capital district.

Next up – BJ’s. I bought a BJ’s membership mainly for the wedding. I don’t think the $45 membership will really help save much in our 2-person household, so I kind of ate the membership price as a fun expense because I am in deep, mad love with grocery shopping. But we’ll see. I spent $49 at the beginning of the month on a gigantic round roast of beef (basically the cheapest, leanest cut), carrots and flour (plus a few other things). The beef roast was not organic, free range or anything like that. Next time maybe I’ll look for that. They did have country pork ribs for $1.99/lb and they were ‘happy meat’ and very tasty. But back to the beef roast – it was a cheap lean cut of beef. I made chicken fried steak, some beef wonton dumplings, and stuck another roast in the freezer. The chicken fried steak rocked, and the beef wonton dumplings were ok, but too lean and ‘meh’ and will need to be fried in order to be properly tasty. The remaining 2 lb roast is still sitting in my freezer. The flour I got was King Arthur brand flour, and as a net weight was $0.799/lb – about a $0.20/lb savings versus the grocery store. They also had non-King Arthur flour for much less. At 10 lbs, it should last a while.

Don’t have a veggie truck or BJ’s membership? Well, you can come to BJ’s with me, just send me a comment with your email (I’ve been REALLY bad about checking my email lately… sorry.) or something like that. Or, you can eat beans. Lots and lots of beans. So many beans. I’ve been eating tons of beans and all of their ilk. In all honesty, I really don’t want to see another French Lentil (the green ones/de Puy lentils) for quite some time. You might want to invest in some Bean-o for people around you, ‘cause lordy, trust me, beans are really the magical, gassy fruit.
Beans are still very worthwhile – you can get many different varieties of beans at low prices. Dry beans are the cheapest, but canned beans are much quicker. We normally buy dry black, kidney, red, navy, and lima beans, but tend to buy chickpeas in the can. Great northern beans are the 50-50 can-dry. It might be Poot City for a while, but you will fill your tummy with delicious foods on the cheap. Make your own refried beans, French lentil salad, veggie burgers, fool medemes, white beans and pasta, tacos, split pea soup… your possibilities are endless with beans.

After a while, the basics can get boring. Boy do I know that. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and eat those leftovers for 3 days in a row. Do it for your wallet, and don’t waste anything. While you’re going through the boring stuff, look around and find yourself a new, cheap challenge to try. Try making your own wontons or dumplings, gnocchi, focaccia, poached eggs… give yourself something to get excited over.

Overall, I’m very pleased to be back to where we should be, budget-wise. We’re just under the USDA’s Thrifty plan for monthly food spending, and well below their Low-Cost plan. Where does your budget put you? Do you have a budget?

Chicken Lollipops


Albany John found a small cookbook of Indian recipes at one of the Indian grocery stores in the area. Naturally, he couldn’t wait to try out some of the recipes.

He made chicken lollipops! Although we learned it’s really hard to make the meat say lollipop-ified. But, oh baby. It was good. He bought all the spices and mixed them as per the recipe, and we really thought it added more depth to the flavor than just the boxed spice mixtures (I know, I thought they were good before this, now I’m all like ‘whatever boxes, I don’t need you’).

Of course, I found them a little hot, spice-wise, but they were irresistable and just plain ol’ good. We ate them with pickled onions, some cucumber slices and pickled turnips in beet juice (another find at an Indian grocery store) – that’s those red blobbies in the front right part of the plate.. Albany John used his kitchen chicanery to conjure up the pickled onions, and lordy, how I love them. The pickled turnips were miniature salt licks. Woah. Seriously. And this is coming from the person who puts salt over everything.

I’ll see if I can’t manage to pry that recipe book out of Albany John’s hands at one point to write out the recipe. It’s definitely a keeper.

Moussaka

You know what you want to eat when your teef hurt? Nothing crunchy, that’s for damn sure.

And when you’ve got one wisdom tooth that’s decided to resurface that you’ve dismissed previously as ‘not that big a deal’, but has decided that this time, oh no, it is going to be a ‘big deal’; you really don’t want anything remotely crunchy, because it will end up over by that painful toof-nub area.

Aside from doing shots of Anbesol, there’s not a whole lot to eat that won’t cause me excessive pain. And that Anbesol causes a whole other set of problems. Yesterday when I broke down and finally bought some (cause lordy, that pain ain’t goin nowhere any time soon) I was happily swabbing myself with the stuff. And realized after the 3rd or so application that since I was also numbing my lips a little in the process, I may or may not have been drooling from the left side of my mouth since noon. I know, I know. I am effortlessly chic.

Albany John brought me some really good Caribbean food from that new place in Crossgates mall. You know – those oxtails I was supposed to safeguard. Well, they were plenty good and mushy. Thank god peas and rice and oxtails are easy on the toof.

When I got home, I realized that some foods needed to be cooked soon, and by golly, I was going to try moussaka, that tasty Greek eggplant casserole.

After perusing some recipes online and getting thoroughly confused, I figured I’d just whip something up. And Albany John wasn’t home to watch my awful knife skills, so I was free to mess up the kitchen as much as I wanted to.

I settled on French lentils / green lentils because they were the only lentils we had in the house. They normally have a tougher chew to them, kind of a pop, if you will, which meant they would need a longer cooking time to get them anywhere near “soft”. I also didn’t want to use meat, since I wanted to keep this kind of healthy. So the lentils are in place of lamb/beef/meat in moussaka.

I used red skinned potatoes. They were so creamy in the end – I was a bit worried they wouldn’t work, but as long as they are par cooked, it will be fabulous.

I’ve been having some great luck with white/cream sauces lately. I was originally going to omit the béchamel, to keep it diary free, gluten free, and vegan, but no. No no no. The béchamel is necessary. It adds just the right amount of cheesiness and the flavor really ties the dish together. I’ve heard some vegans just place vegan ‘cheese’ over it. If it works, call me, let’s talk.
But oh. Oh oh oh. The unctuousness added by this béchamel. Yum. And I used 1% milk, so really, it’s not all that ‘bad’ for you. I’m not sure how much the egg added, so feel free to omit it.

Holy crap.

I made a ‘healthy’ version of a dish.

Dude. Weird.
Albany Jane’s Moussaka

3-4 small aubergines (eggplants)
4-5 potatoes
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
28 oz can of diced tomatoes
.75 C dry, uncooked green lentils (French lentils)
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
2T Olive Oil
4-5 button mushrooms
.5 t cumin
1 t cinnamon
Parmesan Cheese

Bechamel cream sauce
3 T butter
½ C flour
3.5 C milk
Salt
Pepper
Mustard
1 egg

Slice aubergines into rounds. Salt them and let them sit about 30-50 minutes, pat dry, and roast in oven at 350 degrees until they become soft and mushy. Around 20 minutes.

Cover green lentils with water, bring to a simmer and cook 45-60 minutes, until soft.

Slice potatoes into ¼” slices. Par cook in water about 10-15 minutes

Dice onions and mushrooms, mince garlic.

Put olive oil in pan. Toss in garlic, mushrooms and onions, cook until tender and fragrant.

Add cans of tomatoes, green lentils, cumin and cinnamon.

Cook over medium heat 10-15 minutes. Stir it every so often.

Layer eggplant on a buttered 9×13 dish.

Put down a layer of sauce

Cover with a layer of potatoes

Cover with remaining sauce

Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the dish.

Set dish aside, heat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a pan, pour in flour. This is your roux. Cook it a little over medium heat for a few minutes until it just changes color. Turn off heat.

Heat up 1 c of milk to temper your roux.

Pour in milk, whisk milk and roux vigorously until combined.

Turn heat back on to medium/medium-low.

Add remaining milk, and whisk like the dickens for several minutes.

Add salt, pepper, and mustard. Let cool off for a few minutes, then vigorously whisk in egg (careful not to cook it!).

Pour béchamel over the dish.

Put in oven to cook for… a while. We’re talking at least 80 minutes to 2 hours. Once your top has become browned and skin-like, you’re all done.

I recommend a cookie sheet under the baking pan – this will be full to the brim and apt to bubble over during the cooking process.

Albany Jane makes a terrible food sitter

FYI – Don’t leave me to watch over your tasty leftovers.
You might have exerted control and not eaten them all, but once I smell Carribbean stewed oxtails, well, consider them gone.

They were really good though.


On the bright side, you’ve got really good taste if I was piggy enough to eat all the food I was supposed to be safeguarding.

Trust me, it’s Gnocchi

So yea, I’m not doing so well in the ‘focus’ department on my new/old camera. But just trust me that I got a rockin’ recipe from Elise, and then added shrimp, tomato sauce and a weeeee bit of butter and basil to the mix.

It’s frickin’ fantabulous, and Elise’s recipe is easy and yields delicious results.