Filet Mignon and Beer Bread

It’s a funny thing; we don’t eat much beef because it’s not in the house. Now I find myself eating beef once a week. I’ll be honest, a lot of it is out of laziness – it’s easy to toss a package of beef into the refrigerator to thaw and then eat as a meal at some point in the week.

I also like beer bread, and c’mon – like a buttery slab of moist beer bread doesn’t go well with… anything?

Blessedly, the vacuum sealed portions of beef are generally under one lb. This package of three little fillet mignon pieces (not trimmed or anything) was .6 lbs and tasted like beef used to. Beefy, clean – just overall fantastic. And it was nicely marbled. We cooked it closer to medium/med-rare in the pics above. Some pieces were wonderfully rare – trust me, it’s how you want to eat this cut. Overcooked, well it was hard to tell the difference between it and a rougher cut. Rare, it hardly required chewing.

Mmm, beer bread. It counts as dessert if you slather it with jam after dinner.

P.S – with the beef price at $4/lb, this filet cost us $2.40 – pretty sweet, hunh?

Ragu Bolognese

What do you do when you have a lot of ground beef in your freezer?

You get creative! It just so happens that this colder weather we’ve been having has made me crave Italian food – the warm, comforting kind that could put you to sleep after a bowl (or two). Beef ragu it is.

Traditional ragu/bolognese makers: I know – usually there is ground pork and/or veal. I would love to use that, but I have a ton of ground beef in my freezer, so we are going to go for an Americanized version here.

I looked up a few recipes, and just kind of made an amalgam of them. A lot of people recomment Marcella Hazan’s bolognese sauce, but I wanted something a bit easier (ingredient-wise).
I added lots of onions (ok, I used up onion halves I had in the fridge – economical!) and once they were soft, I added diced carrots. In retrospect, I would dice these carrots up more, as they were still in chunk form (albeit soft chunks) in the final sauce.

Albany John recommended cooking the ground beef in a separate pan (since our ground beef looks especially fatty and marbled – didn’t want an overly greasy sauce), but it didn’t actually give off a lot of fat, so I just plunked it in with the rest of the onions, carrots and garlic after browning a few minutes. Cook it fully.
Once it’s all fully cooked, add a cup of milk. Then let it cook off until it’s absorbed completely by the meat. I picked up that bit of advice from Ms. Hazan’s recipe. It called for cream/half-and-half, or whole milk, but all I had was skim. Trust me, you’d never know it by the final result. Deeee-lish.
I was skeptical about the meat absorbing the milk, but it did! Do the same thing with wine. I had Big Foot Cabernet Sauvignon on hand, which I thought was a bit harsh. Then again, I don’t know red wine at all and prefer Lake Country red (which tastes like red wine with a ton of sugar), sangrias, Arbor Mist, and Riunite. I think they taste phenomenal, but after the first time I slug over with a box, I don’t get a lot of repeat requests to bring the vino. I tend to think all other reds taste like they were brewed with an old tire, but Albany John tells me that it’s how reds normally taste and I’m weird.
Actually, this might taste nicely with a white instead. I also prefer my sweet white wines, but can tolerate less sweet ones and have a slightly more diverse selection when it comes to those. That is to say, I buy some whites in bottle-form, although I found a nice dry Riesling at Empire Wine in a box, and it was not too shabby!

After you babble on about wines you know nothing about, dump in a ton of diced/crushed tomatoes. Lots. Wait until you see it bubble a bit, and then…

Put your splatter guard on top of the dish. Lower the heat so the flame is barely on, and the sauce bubbles every few seconds, and very lightly at that.

After 2 to 2.5 (or more) hours, you’ll have a nicely reduced ragu.

Top some pasta with your ragu, and liberally slather with parmesan cheese. You can totally slather cheese, and it’s more than fine if you prefer those canned versions of dry parmesan/romano 😉 I tend to call those versions “Par-meeeeesan” since it’s much more different than the real deal seen above, but oh-so-good and salty (with a hint of cheese).

Although this “only” uses one pound of beef, be prepared for a lot of ragu. We froze some and saved it for eating later in the month. Albany John also mentioned something about how people probably shouldn’t eat ragu more than once a day, but since it was so good, it was worth eating for lunch and dinner. This has lasted our two-family home for many meals, so it is well worth making. The approximate cost of this sauce was around $8.50-9, not too shabby for something that lasted us so many meals. This ragu definitely stretches one lb of meat over many meals and is worth making over and over again.

P.S. – Our meat is from Eagle Bridge Farms. I think this might be their website, but I’m not really sure… it seems like it probably is.

Albany Jane’s Ragu

.5 yellow onion, diced
.5 red onion, diced
1-2 med carrots, diced finely
~ 1 lb ground beef
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
2-4 cloves garlic
oregano, parsley, thyme, etc seasonings
2/3 c wine (cabernet sauvignon)
1 c milk

Cook diced onions until barely translucent, add garlic and carrots. Cook a few minutes more, until onions are all translucent.
Add ground beef, cook well until browned and cooked. Sprinkle w/kosher salt.
Add milk, mix until milk is completely absorbed by beef and none left in pan.
Add wine, mix until completely absorbed by beef.
Pour in cans of tomato
Season with herbs

Cook 2+ hours on a lazy simmer, stirring every 20 minutes.

Monthly Food Spending

I decided to try and get a handle on my monthly food spending, so this month / billing cycle I tried to take pictures of just about everything that our household bought, either cash or with the food credit card.

After typing up all of the non-pictures, I realized that, oops, I didn’t do such a great job of picture-taking. I included the prices of those items and brief descriptions to give you an idea.

My goal food budget is $300 per month for two people, for the last few months I have raised it to $350. Rising food prices have become a bit of a pickle for me, and the $300/month budget has been in effect since 2004, so I will admit it might be a bit outdated/unrealistic if I continue the purchasing trends I keep exhibiting. But, like any good number cruncher, I psychotically want to keep that budget as close to $300 per month as possible, so we shall see what we can do to bring this number down in the next few months.

I also purchased 50 lbs of beef, bulk (for $200), at the end of October in the hopes of keeping food costs down. This worked out to $4/lb (cut weight), but I have not yet included this in my calculations. I’ll work on amortizing my beef next month.

Should I tell you how much I spent? Do you want to guess? Ok, here’s the deal. I’ll tell you at the end of the post, so you can look and estimate on your way down. Feel free to judge me for my love of that fake buttery syrup spread too. I snuck it in the cart when Albany John wasn’t looking.

Not pictured – Asian Food Market $27 (sauces, pork, wonton skins, veggies)

Veggie Cart – 11/8 – $15 (strawberries, canteloupe, pears, grapefruit, orange, onions, red onions)

Hannaford – cash – Light Orange drink, $1.47 after tax

BJ’s – 3 gal Peanut Oil, $35.99
Hannaford – $9, turkey, one box pasta, yogurt

Hannaford – $19.51, Land O Lakes Butter, .5 gal milk, eggs, one Fund a Feast box
BJ’s – $17.89, King Arthur Flour and Walnuts
Hoosick St Wine – $29.14 – Rum and Wine
Bed Bath and Beyond – $16.18 – kitchen shelving
Beef – rough estimate, $20-30
Upcoming veggie cart trip – $15
Total Spent: $370-380 (including beef estimate and one more veggie cart purchase)
I am a bit surprised (but maybe not SO very surprised) at the amount I am [over] spending. This was definitely an educational experience for me, and hopefully it will help me curb any impulse spending in the future.
The idea of having set meals planned out for the week makes me kind of depressed, since I like changing things up at the last minute. Albany John had a good idea to make a general guideline of available meals out of items in our pantry, for maybe a week or something like that. This would help all of the last minute trips to the grocery store for a few extra items we don’t have, and also contribute less waste overall (although I think we’ve been pretty good about not wasting as much this month).
So, how does your actual vs. budgeted food spending look like? It looks like I am way over my goal budget of $300 per month. Have you cut back on spending, or increased your spending amounts for groceries?
Over the next few months I am going to see if I can wrangle this budget back down to $300, or see if $350 is going to be my new monthly food budget.

Bread & Jam

One lazy weekend morning I decided to check out Bread & Jam in Cohoes, NY. They have a little ad in the Metroland, which mentions live music. I like bread, so I thought a café with bread being half of their name was a good sign.

Cohoes, NY is a pretty small town (or village? Or Hamlet? Personally I think it looks like a wee hamlet. Very cute), but it has a lot of older buildings and signage, which I really liked.
They are located on 130 Remsen St, Cohoes, NY and are easy to find, as was parking. If you take 787 North, at your third light (112th St) take a left. Remsen St is pretty soon after that (maybe 3 streets?), then take a left, and soon you shall see Bread and Jam Café.

Albany John was in the car, ready and raring to go once I said ‘free wifi’. We walked in, and the music was loud, but not just loud for loudness sake. It filled the space nicely, I had to yell to give my order (but I am a pretty quiet talker to begin with), but it had a great jam band quality sound. If you had a hangover, this wouldn’t bother your headache and you could get that oh-so-necessary life blood that is coffee.

I ordered a Café Au Lait for $2.49 + tax for a small. I thought this was pretty big for a small, so I was quite happy with what I paid. It was quite tasty, especially with a pump of cane sugar.

Albany John and I both enjoyed the plentiful bookshelves – tons of books to read, and if you buy one it benefits the Cohoes Public Library.

The space itself it quite large and spacious. There is a retro feel to the décor (tables, chairs) and the couches are all quite comfy. You can seat yourself in a nook and be cozied away, or sit at a table against the window for people watching.
This is a coffee shop that feels like you are welcome to sit and lounge for hours on end. It certainly has enough space for it, and Bread and Jam’s staff is friendly and accommodating.

Bread and Jam Café also has an unlimited coffee, priced at $2.25. Not too shabby if you need to get some work done. Albany John has already used it a few times.


I had a hankering for Calzones the other day. I used a simple recipe for the dough (and it yielded tasty results):

3 C AP Flour

2 1/4 t active dry yeast

1 t salt

1/2 t sugar

1 T olive oil

I like to put all my dry ingredients in a bowl first, mix them well to combine, and then add in the liquid in the center (like a volcano). Mix them well, then start kneading for 8-10 minutes.

I usually don’t knead my doughs on a floured surface – I just keep kneading it in the bowl. This has worked wonderfully for me in that I don’t over-flour the dough and dry it out. It maintains a nice elastic quality, and doesn’t dirty up anything else.

Let it rise in an oiled, covered bowl for about an hour, or until doubled in size. (I use spray oil and cover with saran wrap)

I also halved this recipe – it still made quite a lot.

Once the dough was ready to go, I tore it in half and rolled the dough for two calzones. I probably should have made 4 calzones, because these were behemoth calzones.

I filled Albany John’s calzone with ricotta, mushrooms, pepperoni, and mozzarella.

Mine, I filled with ricotta, fresh garlic, parsely, and mozzarella. Albany John’s was definitely better – yum!

I brushed just a bit of olive oil over the tops of these so they would brown nicely, and plopped them on a cornmeal covered pizza stone, and popped it in my gas oven the highest it would go – around 550 degreed Farenheit. Cook for 10-15 minutes, and then wait while they take forever to cool. Or at least it seemed like forever because we were hungry!

Tasty Fried Things

Ask me what I think the best way of using up veggies is, and 9 times out of 10 I’ll answer “Fried”.
Albany John has perfected his tempura skills, and fried up some of the sad leftovers of veggie bits we hadn’t eaten.

He fried up some cauliflower, green beans, and white button mushrooms. Mmm – mmm! They were crispy bits of tempura, all eaten quickly.

Townsend Park Bakery

You know what I love?

Drive by breadings.

“Hey, what’s up? You’re back? Oooh, what have you got there? BREAD!! OH SWEET!! SCORE!!!”

This time I really lucked out and it was bread from the newest place in town – Townsend Park Bakery. It’s on the same strip of Washington as Golden Choice and Iffy’s bar. (238 Washington Ave, Albany, NY 12232)

Albany John got a half loaf of the stuffed bread (with Kalamata olives). He said it was something like $4.
How was it? Is magical a good word? The crust on the outside was crunchy and crisp, shielding a soft, chewy inside. There was a punch of salty olive at first bite, then a wonderful flavor of buttery/floral olive oil (really good olive oil flavor), and then a finish of kalamata again. I’ve never had bread so complex!
It also wasn’t tear-the-roof-of-your-mouth crunchy – it was a thinner outer shell than ciabatta, which is good, but I’ll be the first to admit that it can rip up your mouth if you take gigantic bites of it.

We also went at another point and got a pizza from their wood fired oven. This was at night, and they’d said they sell out of bread normally around 2 pm. Phoo. Need more bread! But the pizza was good – we got a basic one for $9.95 which included fresh mozzarella, olive oil, and sea salt. It was tasty. A little skimpy on the cheese, I thought, but oh that sourdough bread. Totally great, and we even ate on the couch in the back!
If you’re hungry like we were, I’d recommend following the pizza either with copious amounts of libations at the Lark Tavern like we did, or ordering two pizzas. Most people we saw ordered 1 pizza per person. Or maybe they just went to Iffy’s, heh heh.

Townsend Park Bakery is cash only, and rush in around noon to get your lunch. … I mean bread that you wouldn’t eat the entirety of for lunch. But if you did, it would be so worth it. They also sell sandwiches in the afternoon (unless they run out of bread for that, too) and then pizzas once they really sell out of everything. They aren’t the cheapest bakery in town, but oh they are worth a try if you absolutely love bread. They are tied for my favorite bakery with Mrs. London’s.

All Over Albany had one of the first peeks.

Senor Barnes enjoyed the place as well.

Central Bid was maybe the first to write up a blurb about them.

The Epicurean

The Epicurean has stolen my heart. Albany John and I went there for brunch one recent Sunday with two of our friends.They were our officiant-wife team, and they are also excellent dining partners. We like going out to eat with them because they’ll try just about anything, and aren’t afraid of spices and heat.

I originally booked the weekend before we went, but due to scheduling conflicts between our wee group, we had to change for the week after. When we walked in they weren’t busy and had mis-booked us for the week after, but it was no problem since they weren’t busy. Phew! I think they’re probably going to remember me as “The Lady Who Can’t Stick With Her Original Reservation” there. Hee hee. But I looked back in my calendar to make sure I had things right, and I did, so I suppose it must have been just an extra page flip or click or whatever in the booking thingy. Or lord knows what comes out of my mouth versus what I was thinking. Right. Ok, sorry! Babbling. They handled everything super-well and apologized for the mix up.

We looked at the place while they set up our seats and perused the goods on their walls. They had lots of little neat things – tins of this and that. I’d buy them more for lavish gifts since I’m not sure I should get used to an $8.00 tin of coconut sugar. But is sure sounded good!

We were seated and presented with the brunch menus as well as breakfast menu. We all chose the 4-course brunch ($25 each). Mimosas are included and came out – yum! They were chock full of pulpy goodness.

I opted for a photo-less meal. Sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy your company, which I certainly did.

Here’s the 4 courses I ordered and brief descriptions:

Charcuterie plate – two slices of prosciutto, 1.5”x2.5-3” slice of brie, small wedge of veiny bleu cheese, baguette. This was so tasty. I barely touched the bleu cheese. It was a lot for me. I got about 1/3rd of the way through the brie slice. There was also a little pile of lightly dressed greens, which helped cut the heaviness of the meat and cheeses. The prosciutto was nice, but hard to bite against the grain. It tasted almost floral, not salty or pungent.
Albany John – basket of carbs – he loved this so much. It came with butter and jam and a variety of carby goodness. He grudgingly gave me the corner piece of one scone, which was flaky and delicious. This was so big; it could easily have been for two people.

Salad with 12-year aged balsamic vinaigrette – it was ok, but tasted exactly like the greens on the charcuterie plate. I probably wouldn’t get this again. I didn’t taste any balsamic, but the greens were fresh.
Everyone else got soup – A potato leek that day, I think. It was peppery with a bit of a kick to it, and pureed.

Eggs Arctic – Smoked salmon topped-poached eggs over toast with mustard hollandaise sauce. Oh, baby, was this ever good. It’s also on their normal menu. The eggs were perfectly poached – not the slightest bit of cooked yolk. There was probably a 6”x7” blanked of smoked salmon atop them, completely covering the eggs and most of the toast (just the tips poked out). Talk about a ton of salmon! The hollandaise had lots of mustard in it, which I really enjoyed.
Albany John got something similar with prosciutto on top instead of smoked salmon. He thought they were maybe a bit too generous with the prosciutto, as it overwhelmed his eggs just a tad. He also thought it was tough and hard to bite into, he kind of had to go with what ripped off.

Dessert – Key lime pie. About a half-inch of key lime custard/filling and the remaining 1.5-2 inches were fresh whipped cream. Oh, heavenly. I could only eat half of it. Crust was a bit soggy, but well flavored.
One of our friends got the last crème brulee, which originally most of us ordered. It was near-burnt on the top, and generously sized, too. It came with fresh fruit in it (blueberries). Holy cow, that was also really good!

Dessert was also supposed to come with coffee or tea, which we didn’t get/weren’t asked about.

I think next time I will have to go here on a Saturday to try regular food. It also seemed like on Sunday they were open for brunch, or lunch/breakfast – no reservations needed. I’ll have to – for the pictures.
Everything we had was so good, and the pacing was phenomenal. We were probably there for about 2 hours and if it had been a shorter time, we might have popped. Instead, we left very full, but also very content.

Maguro and Saba Nigiri

I like making things. I like getting my hands semi-dirty, and feeling like I’m really doing something. Of course, this has led to a few (tons) crafts being half completed and cluttering up our household.
Sushi, though, is very easy to make at home. The hardest/longest task is making the sushi rice, which really isn’t all that bad.
Step One – go to Kim’s on Central Ave in Albany. They stock sushi grade fish. Saturday seems to be a good day to go shopping at Asian markets in the area – they are very well stocked. Wednesdays seem to be the worst (so, naturally the day I always seem to go).
The mackerel was pre-cured, so all I had to do was thaw it out and slice it. It cost $4.99 and made, as you can see, lots of nigiri. When you consider that you pay $2.25+ per piece of nigiri at most sushi restaurants in the area, this is quite a steal.
The tuna was $17.99 per pound, and we got a .8 lb portion, costing approximately $14.40. It was the smallest portion of tuna available, most were a bit larger. They also had salmon for the same price, but it was wrapped only in saran wrap, and not a lot of it. The tuna was vacuum sealed. I do love my salmon, but I wasn’t ready to risk it being off for that price.
Okay, so my nigiri shaping leaves something to be desired, but on the whole, not too shabby!

Albany John and I really preferred the mackerel to the tuna. The tuna was ok, I thought, but not as flavorful as I would have liked. It was very lean, but the texture was very, very good. Nice and thick/meaty, but gave easily when bitten. I much preferred this tuna in the one roll I made to the nigiri pieces. (but hey, douse anything in enough soy sauce and I’m game) I think this would make excellent roll sushi (spicy tuna, anyone?), but I’m not quite sold on it for nigiri/sashimi tuna. But hey – that one piece of tuna could easily make 6-8 rolls of sushi, depending on how you cut it. And 6 rolls of tuna for $14?
The mackerel, though, oh, we will be back for that. It was just fishy (in a good way) enough, and way too easy to eat lots of. The texture was exactly like what you’d get when you order out – a bit of chew on the skin, and a nice meaty, flaky bite throughout the flesh.

You can’t forget the miso soup either. I was on a food-creation bend and made pork dumplings and miso soup, and cooked some of the dumplings in the miso (hence the fatty globs glistening on the top). Normally my miso doesn’t have any grease in it at all.