Spinach & Sausage Ravioli

Whenever I hear “Handmade pasta dough” I get these visions of lovingly made noodles, using only the finest ingredients in the dish it makes. I recently made ravioli dough by hand, and used some seriously budget filling ingredients. Turned out pretty tasty. My budget filling ingredients? Canned spinach and a tube of pork “sausage”.

Here are some uncooked shaped ravioli. I tried using the ravioli maker on the pasta roller, but there was a bit of a learning curve to it and it was late and I was hungry, so I made them by hand with bigger blops of filling.

So yeah. It was late. I made the pasta dough. Kneaded it and let it sit, then ran over to Aldi to shop for a few groceries because the pantry was getting a little sparse. Also tossed some cans of tomatoes on top of some onions and garlic and let that simmer for a while.

Wandered around Aldi getting this and that, looking for ravioli filling ingredients. Wanted to do spinach, but they didn’t have any frozen or fresh. So I went with the can. It was $0.55, and was going to be mixed with some other stuff, so why not give it a try? I’d never had canned spinach before, and… it was okay, but I’d still go for frozen in a pinch.
Also picked up some “sausage” in a tube for $0.99 because it was that point in the night where my brain goes completely dead and is like “Yeah. That sounds good. Meat in a tube. That’ll go really well with ravioli.”
I mixed them both with some garlic and ricotta. BTW, Aldi’s got some pretty good ricotta for the price. $1.69 for 15 oz, I think. I like it over other grocery store brands, and way better than Sorrento (too sweet). Polly-O is still my fave of the mass made ricotta, though.

Anywayzzz, it worked out pretty well as a late night, last minute filling. I also lazied out after making a few dozen ravioli and just sliced up the remaining dough into noodles. Man, I’m like an idiot zombie when I get hungry late at night. “Mmm… food sound gooooood. Want foooooOOooood.”

Oh yeah, and I just used regular AP flour for ravioli dough. No semolina required. They were nice and tender. For the Ravioli Dough I did:
2 C AP Flour
dash of salt
3 Eggs, whole
1/8 C olive oil
Water to bind

It’s a really easy dough to make. Combine everything EXCEPT the water. Then if you need a little extra water to hold everything together, toss in a tablespoon or so and knead until it comes together. It’s not a perfect science, but it’s forgiving and then you let it sit there for 30 or so minutes.

Roll ’em out to your desired thickness, and boil away.

Sauce, ravioli, noodles. Works for me! Next time I want to try a bit of ricotta and crab meat for the filling. The sausage was fine, but overall unnecessary. Eh, that’s what I get for being a zombie shopper! Whatever.

I think I’d also like to give mushroom fillings a try, and maybe some cheese-less fillings, too. I can’t really do the sweet-savory thing like squashes like some of my awesome tweeple suggested (a personal flaw that is surely keeping me from enjoying some tasty dishes).

Do you think a zombie would be a vegetarian if they didn’t eat brains but ate pork sausage? Zombetarian?

Vanilla Beans

Oh thank flippy, I found some pictures I’d loaded previously and hadn’t posted yet. Any way, here are some more pictures of the vanilla beans I purchased off of eBay from Vanilla Products USA. The photo above is 1 lb of Grade B Tahitian vanilla beans.


I also bought half of a pound of Madagascar Grade B vanilla beans (the kind of beans usually used in vanilla extract), and then they tossed in a 1/4 lb of Grade A Tahitian beans for free.

The Tahitian vanilla beans are much different from Madagascar vanilla beans. They are a little more delicate. Floral is a term I’ve heard used to describe them, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. I also keep thinking Play-Doh – something reminds me a little bit of that combo of flour, salt, and water. That’s probably wildly inaccurate, but I just can’t get it out of my head.


Madagascar beans are also known as Bourbon vanilla beans, and they’re richer, smelly buttery-er, and are the vanilla I think of when I think of vanilla.
Quality-wise, they are all quite nice, and I haven’t been able to really discern the difference between A and B grade Tahitian beans. And the Grade B Madagascar beans are nice, too. I’ve had other beans that were a little moister/plumper, but I can only imagine how awesome Vanilla Products USA’s Grade A Madagascar beans are. Their Grade B Madagascars are on par with or better than some beans I’ve bought in stores.

Can you guess which beans are which? There is one of each bean here.

I would have a very hard time telling the Tahitians apart if they weren’t kept in separate baggies. The Madagascar is easy to tell because of its smell, but if I had two kinds I’d be hard pressed to pick out the grades, I bet.

Just imagine the top image tilted to the right a quarter turn to straighten things out.
The beans, from left to right, are: Grade B Tahitian, Madagascar, and Grade A Tahitian.

Wasn’t that hard? Did you get it right? If you did, you are a Super Vanilla Beanie! Way to go!

The Madagascar might look a little small, which might be why it is a Grade B. Sure, it is shorter, but still plenty flavorful. I don’t mind the little guys. And these beans are purchased by weight and not size/quantity, so it doesn’t really matter.

I have to say, the hardest thing I’ve come across with these beans is that I seem to have run out of recipes to use them in! I have vanilla bean usage-block. HALP!

On Service

Industry/tipping/Albany Jane rambling time! I’ve heard some stories and experiences of some folks in the industry lately. Here’s what’s been on my mind:

One story was about a table that requested separate checks. Later on it came out that the checks were requested after the bill came out, which is understandably annoying. But it’s still a hazard of the job and not completely unexpected. What I found most interesting were the different opinions – the story teller was pretty much just venting post-shift, but others were more, um, passionate about the story.
Some non-service members were more of “Um, how is this bad?”, and other service veterans commisserated with the experience.

One industry veteran to pulled a fairly condescending tone with people who were either unaware or offering alternative suggestions. You guys know what I’m talking about – the whole “You’re not going to get it because you’re not a server.”. I hate it when people in the restaurant industry pull this card – it’s like trying to trump someone by saying that what they’re doing is so hard, no one else will even be able to relate.

Most people have had a stint or two in the service industry, yours truly included. It’s no where near brain surgery. Sure, some upscale places may require a little more of a learning curve, but at the end of the day, the closest thing you’ve got to worrying about killing someone is knowing about food allergies. It’s not like a customer comes in gasping for air and you’ve gotta intubate them RIGHTNOW. I just dislike the whole notion that being a server is a huge burden, or that it’s incredibly trying.There are moments, but hey, every job has its tough moments.

Another person offering an opinion on the subject was that maybe instead of being frustrated with the table for requesting separate checks at the last minute, that maybe they should be more upset with their employer for not having something stated on the menu about requesting separate checks upon seating. An interesting position – and I think a few restaurants in the area have that policy. Personally, I think prior/early notification is the best option any way, that way you don’t need to worry about who ordered what or had this and just leave it to the server to keep track of who’s ordered what as it’s happened.

I also wonder how much tipping percentages will increase as I get older. I keep seeing things to the extent of “Tip 20%” or “20% is the minimum” from some in the industry. When I was in the biz, I was quite happy with doubled tax, which is about 16% in New York State. Nothing to sneeze at, and easy for the customer to calculate. Right now 20% is where we socially put great/excellent service. I kind of look at it like the “A+” of serving. 15% is like a “B+”, 10% a “C” and anything less needs some serious improvement. If you get 0 tips, that’s pretty much failing at serving.
I didn’t like it when people tipped me 20% when I know I goofed up. I mean, it’s great to get more money, but maybe it’s because I’m kind of neurotic, but I want to know I deserve it. I don’t want a pity 20%, or because they think I’ll be pissed if they tip anything less. Hell, I had one table that I spilled water on (thankfully none on the customers), and the owner wouldn’t let me reseat them to a dry table during empty service. It was one of my first tables, and I felt SO badly about it. They tipped much better than I thought they should have, and if saw them before they left I’d have asked them to keep some of their money.

What were you taught about tipping when you were growing up? I remember being in Mrs. Groves class in the second grade, and her doing a lesson on going to a restaurant and tipping. We had these cute sheets with tipping tables. 10% was the average and 15% was for excellent, above-and-beyond service. By the time I was in high school, it was 15%-18% as the high average, and now, well, it seems like 20% is the average. 10% used to be the high percentage tip for my Nana and Grampy. I wonder if I will see 25%, 30%, or even more. This could also be a result of living in New York, and other states may have slightly lower highs or averages.

Is tipping even taught in schools any more?

Thank you for continuing to follow this long and rambling post.

You know, when I first moved to Albany the service was pretty terrible. At least at most of the places I’d go to. Servers who’d do the bare minimum and give surly service and give you the stink eye for leaving less than 20%.

But lately service in Albany has been very good. Owners of small businesses who really care about their food and service, and want to leave customers happy on all accounts. Servers who listen to a problem and actively try to fix it, instead of ignoring complaints. Servers who won’t sigh or mutter if you ask for something on the side. Servers who encourage you to try something, and place it on the side. Servers who genuinely apologize for a delay or an error. It’s like I’m at the beginning of a new dining scene in Albany.

Blah, No Memory

For some reason I can’t get memory cards to read lately. Ah well. One was really chipped and bitten. I can’t figure out what’s up with the other one, though.

Any way, I’ve still had some tasty food. Like, I found out that the garlic parmesan wings at The Ruck are hot wings with parmesan on them. Cracktacularly good. And I ate half of my wings! Bwahahaha! Albany John and I went there for wing night recently (Mon & Weds, 7 pm – close) for their $0.40 wings and I have no idea how we got out of there for so cheap.
We got two orders of wings ($8) and had three pints of beer and our total was just under $18. Say what? Either the beers were, like, $3 each, or I think we got one for free. I was wearing something hoochielicious and boobtacular very classy like I ususally wear and doing the ordering, so I’m not sure if that scored us a freebie some how or what. Albany John is just hoping that Double Bags are now $3 a pint. Either way, I love that I can wear pretty much anything to the ruck (from fancy-dancy to hobo chic) and mow on wings.


I also found out that it’s really easy and cheap to make roasted peanuts at home in the oven. They’re like $1.39/lb at the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave, and they barely need any oil and toast up all tasty-like in under half an hour. Also, they are a good way to check the hot and colder spots in your oven if you don’t turn them. Whoops.

I got the thing I’m going to review, but damnit, I want to put up pictures. Also, it requires assembly, and Albany John and I haven’t put it together yet.

Gulf Shrimp

My dad brought some gulf shrimp he got at Stew Leonard’s when he came up for Christmas. I didn’t get to eat them until recently. Two pounds of gulf shrimp were sitting in my freezer, and I didn’t eat them. They were so good. Fresh and sweet. So sweet and fresh. So much fresh shrimp flavor. I liked them best boiled, peel, dip in a little butter maybe, consume. They pop a little and taste very minimally processed.

I also tried making some low-fat-ish coconut shrimp. More out of laziness and not wanting to fry them than trying to save calories. They were okay. Used whipped egg white as the coating, and dipped them in some dried coconut. Meh. Needed more fat, heheh.

Just reinforces the idea that I should stick with the tried and true method – a short boil or steam to shrimp heaven. Yum. Thanks, Dad.

Mustang BBQ

Barbeque places are really starting to pop up around here. We’ve gt Pig Pit, Capital Q, Dinosaur BBQ, and Chico’s BBQ to name a few (okay, and the sorely missed Mo’s BBQ). One of the newest ‘que joints is Mustang BBQ up in the Lansingburgh area of North Troy (478 5th Ave, Troy, NY 12182).

Just look at that sign! It looks like a horse running through fire, ready to take you to BBQ and fried chicken land! Hell yeah, horsey. I’ll get on that ride!

Here is a more detailed view of the exterior. It’s located on a corner and used to be an old bank, I think. They took their time converting it into a restaurant over the summer, and it seems like Troy was waiting in anticipation. It was packed opening week. Albany John went in (without me, ahem) one day and they had run out of printed menus. Although he came back with a picture on his iThing two things to say.

1) “It is delicious. So good. See? There are the bones.” and:

“IT HAS A DRIVE THROUGH! A BBQ PLACE WITH A DRIVE THROUGH.” Albany John was beyond thrilled at the idea of not having to leave his car for BBQ. I’ve only encountered it in chain-ish BBQ restaurants in Texas, so I can see why this was exciting for him. Meanwhile, I am excited for wintery weather that has my husbear out and bringing me home BBQ. Please put the BBQ in my mouth, thanks!

When he went again and included me in his ordering I wanted some fried chicken. Just to try it. These wings are $0.89 each. Tasty fry-job, too. Like what you’d get at a Pizza-N-Fried-Chicken joint, except here you get BBQ-N-Fried-Chicken. Lightly coated batter on the skin with lots of herbs and spices.

Golden wings of fried deliciousness. They also have that crackalicious Yip Chinese-y hot sauce in packets that all non-Asian fried chicken places seem to have.

Oh, and then we got ribs. Their prices are really cheap for ribs. And their ribs are really good. $10.99 for a half rack and $18.99 for a whole rack of ribs, either beef or pork. We were going to get a half of beef and pork, but they’d run out of beef by the time Albany John ordered. So we had to “settle” for a full rack of pork ribs. Poor babies, I know.

LOOK AT THAT LAQUER OF DELICIOUSNESS. There was SO much delicious smoke in those ribs. The interior was very pink. I was trying to figure out what kind of wood they smoked with. Apple with hickory perhaps? Hell, I don’t care if they smoke them with meth, old tires, or something they found under the floor, because I am all sorts of into them.

Okay, I will share a bit of personal info with you. I feel like 2011 might be a year of sharing things with you guys. Any way:

I have an old cat. He is a huge carnivore and this meat-love has not mellowed with age. It’s not exactly prison-style eating during meal times that involve meat, but I’ve learned not to leave a plate of shrimp out unattended. He was all over Albany John and me when we had these BBQ ribs out, and there weren’t enough swats or nudges in the world to keep him from jumping on our laps. Or next to us. Or sitting nearby and edging closer… closer… closer… justlookoverthereand OH, HI MY MOUTH IS ALMOST ON YOUR RIB!

I can’t say I blame him, though. These ribs are totally worth human-stalking for. So meaty. So smoky. So rib-y and good.

Bulalo

BULALO! I love saying that name. It’s so fun. Bulalo. BuLAlo. BULALOOOOOO! All I know is I love this Filipino beef soup. Albany John cooked up some beef shanks, and I think he used this recipe from Home Cooking Rocks! as a jumping point.

I think the coolest part of it was that is was a clear-ish broth. Usually the beef shank/bone soups that we eat around here are dark and browner in color. This was quite fresh tasting – not too heavy. Just the right amount of food for a chilly day to warm up the bones.

I even arranged all of the food in a bowl for the first bowl of soup before topping it with broth and cilantro. Carrot rounds, napa cabbage, potatoes, and some delicious beef shank pieces. They even had some tendon on them! Yummy, yummy soup.

Pizza! And Cheese Sticks!

Man, I love that Daring Bakers pizza dough. It’s super easy to make, pliable, and really thin. The only minor down side is that it takes a few hours in the fridge (like 8). I usually halve the recipe, and it still makes a lot for two people. But I’m a piggy and tend to eat myself sick on it. That’s how good it is – hey, can’t waste good dough, right?

Here are two of my three dough balls from half of the recipe on Rosa’s page (boy is that a mouthful [thatswhatshesaid]) after resting in the fridge overnight. But they are not ready now, either. No. They must sit out at room temp for about two hours.

YOU SIT THERE AND STAY, DOUGH BALLS!

Don’t worry. I covered them so they wouldn’t get chilly.

And then I rolled it out and made ‘zza! Actually, I’ve been using more of a pushing motion with the dough. You don’t know how many years I rolled a crust onto the edge of a pie and wound up with poofy looking monstrosities.

I like to toss them on my ghetto-ass broken pizza stone (it’s like a craggly semi-circle now) in a 450-550 F oven. Nice and toasty, and done in under 10 minutes.

I’d say the best part of making your own pizzas is toppings! And I don’t have to use sauce! I don’t mind sauce, but I love, love, love white pizza. So good. I like to rub the surface of the pie with olive oil before topping it. That way the crusty ends stay a little moist without getting too crunchy. Even my crust-hatin’ husbear likes the crust on these homemade pies.

And then I had one more dough ball left, so I made four mozzarella sticks. Some broke and spurted cheese onto the pizza stone, but I just scraped it off when they were done and put it on top. Crunchy cheese!

I totally ate myself sick on this. I think Albany John may have had, like, half a pie. And yet, I still want more. Haha! Pizza!

If I had a bunch of pizza stones, I’d try to make a full-sized pie. Right now it’s not possible, but I wonder if you could trick your family into believing you had pizza delivered, or something like that. And not in a Digiorno way, but in a good way. Like Paesan’s.

btw, I’m sure my sister will deny it, but she used to love Digiorno pizza when we lived in Texas, especially the sauce stuffed crust, which my Bro & I thought were especially gross. Then we’d doctor it up adding extra cheese. And sadly, when I lived in Texas, Digiorno pizza was pretty much some of the best pizza you could get.

Kinnaree

Kinnaree is one of Lark Street’s newest restaurants, specializing in Thai & Korean fare. It’s in the same space as A Taste of Greece used to be (193 Lark St, Albany, NY), and I think they’ve changed the space nicely. Warmer tones, different tables and chairs. They’ve still kept the wrap around wall seating. Overall, it’s simple, but nice.

Any way, after getting a sneak peek of the menu on Steve’s Tablehopping blog, I was pretty excited to check it out. I’m usually not a fan of a lot of Thai food in the area because there’s too much sweet going on in the flavors, but Steve’s comments & the recs from other commenters had my hopes set high. I wasn’t disappointed.

There was so much menu to order from, so The Profussor and his Fussy little Children joined the husbear & me to try a wider amount than we’d normally be able to. First up were fried tofu. $4.95.

Fluffy pillows of fried tofu. Nom. Not greasy at all. There was a sweet & sour kind of sauce with crushed peanuts on the left, and our server also brought out some kind of spicy chili powder for the guys (heat hounds). Overall, good flavors, good portion for the price.

Crab salad. $7.95. I am a sucker for soft shell crab and when I saw it on the menu the night before, I had to have it. It was moist, succulent, and deliciously crabby. Not at all greasy. A pretty large soft shell crab, too. I was quite happy with this salad, especially for $7.95. Very good price.

It came on a bed of mixed greens, apple matchsticks, and tomatoes. Dressing was served on the side (see it in the back?). A green kind of tart and garlicky dressing with a bit of kick to it. Quite nice. I’ll definitely get this again.

Som Tum (green papaya salad, $6.95). A softball sized (or perhaps a bit larger) portion of green papaya salad with green beans and peanuts in it. Good amount of heat, and the sweet/tart/hot flavors were well balanced. I liked it, although the center of my tongue went numb into my first spoonful. I left it to the heat hounds.

Tteokbokki ($12) is a Korean dish, made of sliced rice cakes and beef with a spicy chili sauce. This wasn’t as spicy as the papaya salad, and I quite enjoyed the flavors. I’ve never had tteok before, but have heard wonderful things about it. I once tried cooking it myself from dried tteok cakes, but didn’t know you had to soak them for a day before hand, so… my efforts did not turn out well.

Any way, these rice cake tteok things are super chewy! Like the first few chews of gum. Lots of resistance. Densely thick rice cakes. An added bonus was that this tteokbokki came with some ban chan! Sweetly soaked potatoes, kim chi, sweet black beans, and bean sprouts. Nice surprise.

Rad Nah ($6.95) was a tasty dish as well. Made of rice noodles, Thai broccoli (tasted like gai lan to me) and a choice of meat, it was quite a tasty dish. It was a cornstarch based gravy, but not gloppy. Tons of savory flavor. We chose more of that tasty tofu as the ‘meat’ for the dish. You can also add chicken for no extra charge, but if you want pork, beef, shrimp, or other seafood it’s an additional charge.

I loved the noodles! The rice noodles had a TON of delicious char to them from the pan. When you see rice noodles that have brown or black on them, THAT IS A GOOD SIGN! It says “WELCOME TO DELICIOUSTOWN!”

Sorry. Rice noodles are one of my favorite starches when they are prepared well, and they were so well prepared here. I get so excited when they come out all seared and delicious like this. They were kind of in a clump underneath the tofu and broccoli, not really long individual ribbons. But they were So. Good.

We finished off with dessert. Some ice cream for the kiddos, and a dessert roti for the adults. $3 for both desserts. Kinnaree was even nice enough to split the ice cream into two bowls for each child.

The dessert roti was nice. Kind of small. Like a very small crepe. But it certainly gave me new and fattily dangerous ideas of how to eat my roti. Rolled up with jam and drizzled with condensed milk. And here I’ve just been eating it plain. Oh dear.

Kinnaree charges for tea. About $2. It’s weird for me to go to Asian places that charge for tea, but I guess times are a-changing. I’m used to it being for free. But they have a pretty wide selection at Kinnaree, and Albany John had a very gingery one he was happy with.

We ended up getting out of Kinnaree for about $52 (before tip). Not too shabby! Obvs it’ll cost more for dinner, but lunch prices are quite nice. hee hee. Get the crab salad. Seriously.

Then we meandered over to the new coffee shop on Lark, Caffe Vero Coffee Roasters. Daniel B. got something with a heart on it.

Albany John got something I’ve never heard of before. And now I forget it’s name. But it’s the one you read and you’re like “Woah, what the heck is that?!”. It was good, too. Half-and-half, some espresso, some cocoa. It was nicely bitter without being acidic and had just a touch of sweetness. Albany John isn’t much of a sweet tooth and really enjoyed it.

The wee one got a hot chocolate and oh my gosh, I’ve never seen a baby toddler house a hot cocoa like that before. It bodes well for her future eating career.