Beef Chuck Roast

I got Albany John sick. I spent most of the months from late fall through early spring in various states of sickness because my immune system sucks, so I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But Albany John comes from hearty stock, so when he gets sick, he gets SICK.

Funny thing about Albany John – he doesn’t really like making roasts. He thinks they are unhealthy, and just too much meat for our small household to have. I usually cook roasts, but from now on I am demanding he make roasts, because this chuck roast he made was AWESOME. He picked it up from Roma, and he happily related that the butcher had to go back and custom-cut the roast from their side of beef for his order.

We just went back this morning to Roma, and the butcher remembered him and we told him how delicious the roast he cut us was. It was under $4 per pound for a chuck roast. Nom. So fall-apart tender and beefy. Chuck is one of my fave beef cuts.

We refrigerated the stew overnight. This morning Albany John was out exercising (the roast made him feel that much better – geesh!). I woke up at the crack of Noon and made myself some hash with leftover baked potatoes cooked in the fat I skimmed off of the roast. Waste not want not. Nom. I also tossed in some carrots and shreds of chuck near the end of potato crisping.

And a sunny side egg to boot. A brekkie Nana might have gotten down with.

Home Cured Corned Beef

I think I want to corn every piece of meat in my house. I used Ruhlman’s corning brine recipe on some beef short ribs, and had them cure for only 4 days. Ruhlman recommends 5-7, and naturally, I started my cure late. But after some encouraging from Ruhlman himself, I cooked it at day 4.

I also owe gigantic props to my buddy Jon in Albany for the pink curing salt – look at what a lovely deep pink shade this beef turned after curing.

I also owe major props to the students at SCCC’s culinary program for the Irish soda bread recipe. I scaled it down to a large loaf measurement. So freaking good.

My Dad came to town on St Patrick’s Day for a last minute visit, so he got to share the meal with the husbear and me. It was a lot of food, so that was good. I’d had the beef cooking on the stove for a few hours before I picked him up, and then tossed in the veggies while Albany John and I ran out to pick him up.

Corned beeeeef! So good. With potatoes, tons of cabbage, and some carrots. Corned short ribs taste exactly like corned beef, which is usually a brisket cut. Either way, a tougher cut of the cow. The dish was pretty salty, but I guess that’s what happens when you cure something in a largely saline brine for several days.

My dad’s complimentary any way, but when I was like “So, Dad. I made the corned beef myself.”

He was like “I know, Albany Jane. Yes, it’s good. I just saw you making it.” I’m pretty sure he resisted tossing in a “No duh, kid”, but then Albany John explained that I didn’t just open a package of pre-corned beef, but had cured it myself from short ribs.
The short ribs plumped up while cooking, too. This was the smaller rib.

Here is what remains of the large rib. Those slices of beef above? There was another layer of beef above this that came off easily. This is what remains.
There was a nice layer of tendon between short rib layers. And the entire cut of beef was very lean, too. Hardly any fat in the broth when cooled off. Just a few bits here and there to skim off. Very lean and very flavorful overall. I was impressed. I’m used to these cuts being fat nuggets.

This was the best piece of the night. The super tendon-y bottom layer of the beef around the bone. If you thought corned beef was good, holy moly, corned beef tendon is on the next level. Made me wish I’d had extra tendon to throw in the pot. So good.

The Christening

We’re on day three in Miiihsuuhsiippahh (you can read up on Day One and Day Two, if ya want). The main focus of day three in Mississippi was the baby. Jeeezzzeee, can you believe it.

Lil Dubs got christened in a Catholic ceremony. It was surprisingly quick, and really only required some nodding and “yes”ing on the part of the godparents (Margarita’s brother and me). I’m not going to get into religion and stuff, but it was pretty funny that every time they were going to perform a rite, Lil Dubs tried fussing and screaming. Or maybe that was just me.

After the quick church ceremony we headed over to Margarita’s parents for a little party with all of the family. These kind of housing developments always remind me of when I first moved to Texas.
Bro was on grilling duty and made hot dogs and hamburgers. Bro insisted on Hebrew Nationals, which were a win in my book. Margarita and her family make burgers by adding in some ground turkey. I was skeptical, but it made a yummy burger. Probably about 1/4 to 1/3 turkey. I’ll keep it in mind for future burger makings.

Yaaaaay, cake time. The cake came from Kroger, but was really nice for a grocery store cake. There was tons of whipped creamy icing.

The cake itself actually tasted like… like cake. It was fluffy, and moist, and soft, and the icing was supposedly fat-free. It reminded me kind of like Chinese bakery cakes, except without the fruit salad in between layers.

If this is what grocery store cake is like in the south, sign me right up. Our Yankee cakes up North of the Mason-Dixson line are dense, dry, and have icing like shellac.

After all that, we headed over to Cups: An Espresso Cafe (165 Moore St, Ridgeland, MS) to recharge our batteries. With jolts of caffeine. The interior feels like it used to be a Starbucks, but maybe they just have a similar design. They had tons of teas (yay), and a variety of coffees and espressos.

My dad’s beautiful and wonderful lady treated us all for coffee. She is just too nice. Her flight was delayed the day before and she was only in town for the weekend. A long trip for such a short amount of time. Great woman.

We sat at a cute Alice in Wonderland themed table. Or was that Through the Looking Glass? Either way, nicely painted table, plus the walls were adorned with some local art.

I got a Soy Latte ($4). I thought $4 was a little high for it, and they didn’t have any prices listed, just descriptions of their drinks. It’s a minor peeve of mine – I just want to see how much your goods cost, not be surprised by it, or have to ask for every. single. item. on the menu.

However, it came in a good sized cup and was well made. I really like the chalky texture/flavor of soy milk with my coffee drinks.

Check out how stiff they got that soy milk! I thought it was pretty awesome. It stayed stiff as a board the entire time I drank it. That stirrer isn’t resting on anything. Just propped sideways in the foam. Impressive!

The drink wasn’t too bitter either, and didn’t need much sugar at all. That was a good thing, because it was hard to get down into the liquidy parts of the drink with all of that stiff foam there. I probably just ended up sweetening the foam. Either way, it got the job done.

Then Margarita and I went out shopping and I saw Ridgeland Discount Wine & Spirits (6804 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, MS). This was possibly one of the biggest misnomers I’ve ever encountered. While the signage makes it look wide, only one side is open, so it’s a normal strip-mall sized store that was lightly filled with some dusty bottles, all of which were priced higher than I’m used to. In NEW YORK.
Well, it was becoming pretty obvious at this point that New York isn’t as overpriced as I thought it was and that things in the south wouldn’t be dirt cheap.

After that we went to a beer store, and holy crap that was also bad. It was like a poorly stocked tobacco shop that also had a few cheap beers in the back.

For dinner we headed to Sal & Phil’s (6600 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, MS) for New Orleans style food. We attempted ordering some mudbugs again, but were told they were out of season. Darn, we’d missed them by just a few weeks!

Here is a picture of Sal & Phil’s menu. The prices weren’t too bad here. I was a bit skeptical since they had a coupon in the Entertainment book (some restos in there can be hit-or-miss), but let me just say, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Jackson, MS area. Actually, Old Canton Road seemed to be quite a hot spot of tasty eats. Given more time, I’d have explored the road even more.

They had a few beers on tap, and a two-for-one special on whiskey sours. Sign me up! Tart and sour with a hint of sweetness, this was a really tasty beverage. I was expecting it to be syrupy and weak, but nope – quite good! The whiskey surprisingly got to me later on in the drink and I had to ask Albany John to drink my second one for me. It sure didn’t taste too booze-y or anything, just refreshing.

If you are at Sal & Phil’s and love shrimp as much as I do (tons), you NEED to get the Royal Red Shrimp ($12.95 for 3/4 lb).
It came with some butter (I think the “butter” was more like melted fake butter), and their salad bar or corn and potatoes. The salad bar is pretty anemic (iceberg lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, onions, etc., and some coleslaw, potato salad, and tartar sauce). But you are not there for the salad bar or other such sides. You are there for the Royal Red Shrimp. They said it tasted like lobster, and weren’t far off.

These shrimp were so good – plump and very large, and had a wonderfully deep flavors of shrimp and lobster. Albany John and Dad’s beautiful and lovely lady got an order of these.
The rest of us got 30 shrimp (came with salad bar) for around $12 (I might be +/- a dollar). These shrimp were cooked in a zesty boil. They were of the peel and eat variety, and also great. Didn’t taste like they were frozen with preservatives or anything. They had a great snap to them and were also of a good size.

But man, once I had a bite of the Royal Red Shrimp (I’m guessing Gulf shrimp) I was hooked and kept begging off from Albany John. Thank goodness I can play the wife card. You know, make puppy dog eyes and jiggle the goods a little bit.

We also got an order of crawfish etoufee. This was the larger bowl serving, for something like $6.95. I think. It was a nice side for the rest of the table. I liked it. Not too greasy, but still thick and dense.

That royal red shrimp looks gigantic even in Albany John’s big ol’ man hands! There were probably about 15 shrimp per order.

The lighting was low, and I suck at picture repair, but here’s a gist of what the Royal Red Shrimp looks like peeled. Large and quite meaty, the skin also turns a darker pink to light red than most shrimp I am used to eating.

The only down side to eating these shrimp is now knowing that such delicious shrimp exist. And that I cannot get them (very easily) New York-side. Oh, sadness, thy name is Royal Red Shrimp.

Oh, and I finally picked up a satisfying drink from a store. A local beer made by the Lazy Magnolia brewing company. They were $7.99 for a six-pack at Kroger (also after using Margarita’s shopper club card, otherwise it was a little over $9).
These Southern Pecan beers were really nice. I could taste the pecan flavoring. It was a darker brown ale, and had a smooth, sweet flavor. I could have done with a touch less carbonation, but it was a great post-meal beer. It was dark, but not as stick-to-your-ribs as Guinness can be (sorry I have this bad habit of comparing every beer darker than a lager to Guinness. Albany John looks at me sideways whenever I do it, which is all the time).
Also a nice beer to try if you’re ever in the area. Albany John also surmises it would be a great beer to use in a marinade or brine. That got me thinking about how awesome it would be used as a marinade for lamb or beef and then smoked. Mmm, smokey pecan beer lamb…

The Mighty Mississippi

Well hello thar, Albany! Fancy seeing you again! Albany John and I are back from our journey into one of the southernmost states in our great nation – Mississippi! Jackson, MS to be specific.

We flew out of Albany International Airport at the crack of dawn. The Interfaith Community room in Albany International Airport is a great place to hole up if you’ve got a wait for your flight. We arrived the standard 90 minutes before check in and were waiting at our gate within 10 minutes. We spent about an hour in the Interfaith room. Very peaceful and quiet. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a few minutes of quiet time in a loud place.

Our flights to Jackson Evers International Airport landed us there on time and it turns out my Dad’s flight landed at the same time. Neato. My awesome sister in law, Margarita, picked Albany John and me up and we all headed over to her apartment to relax a bit after the flights.

Oh yeah, they have a kid now. He was the whole reason for our trip. Psshhh, way to go baby. Our newly minted Yeh-Yeh (aka, my dad) couldn’t wait to hold the little bugger. Lil Dubs (the baby) is the spitting image of his parents.

After that Margarita took me over to Kroger to shop for groceries for dinner, and I got to peep the heck out of a new supermarket I’d never stepped foot in.

Kroger reminds me of a cross between Price Chopper and Albertson’s, except the employees are all really happy with their jobs (they have a union) and the stores are very clean. They had the Kroger card that was necessary at all check outs, otherwise you’d be paying a LOT more for some items. I bought a bag of chips that were $2.19 without the Kroger card, and $1.59 with the card – That’s over 30% more!

Kroger is also one of the most predominant stores in the Jackson, MS area. They were all over the place, and I didn’t see a Wal-Mart once. So far Jackson, MS is heads above Clarksville, TN, land of a thousand Wal-Marts.

Jackson, MS itself reminded me a lot of the Albany area – Jackson was the central city, but there were many little off shoots within a few miles of each other like Ridgeland (I’d liken to to Troy,NY in terms of close location) and Brandon.

Geographics aside, Kroger was a nice grocery store to visit. They had an impressive cheese section for a chain supermarket. Their prices were on the more expensive side, but they seemed to be selling it all. And the samples were quite nice, too. Mmmm, cheese samples.

The hot bar of the grocery store. In the south, the hot food sections aren’t that bad. While the ‘fried chicken’ at northern grocery stores may be of the ‘rubbery’ and ‘yuck’ categories, the fried chicken here is generally crispy-skinned and juicy.
We didn’t get any, but Albany John and my Dad were mulling over the possibility of a few pieces.

Sushi in a grocery store. WITH SAMPLES. Eh, it was better than our grocery store sushi in Albany, but still… it was grocery store sushi. They really like their cream cheese and imitation crab meat.

We walked over to the seafood counter. They had some very pretty displays, with some “coocked” (tee hee) crawfish at the center. At $5.49/lb they were more expensive than I thought they’d be. My brother explained that the prices on crawfish jumped a lot after the BP oil leak.

I found prices overall to be on par or more than grocery store prices here. I thought prices would be lower in the south. I was most surprised about beer prices in the grocery store – they were as high or higher than prices here in New York! I mean, we’re NYers and taxed up the wazoo. What gives with expensive beer in Mississippi grocery stores?

HELLO, ANDOUILLE! Margarita picked up some andoille sausage to make gumbo for dinner. Boy, did it have some kick to it!
We made dinner together, which was lots of fun. I miss hanging out with Margarita and Bro and cooking something up for the boys while they hang out and do Man Stuff (video games). And oh man, their new apartment is really awesome.

Mmm, gumbo! It was so awesome. Shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage! Margarita found this kick-ass roux in a jar. It made making gumbo MUCH easier. I know, I know, scratch is awesome, but it would have taken forever to make enough roux, or get it to the right color.

I also wanted something to drink with dinner, so we popped off to a local liquor store. Bro has been regaling me with tales of insanely cheap booze in Mississippi. So naturally I had pictured a magical land of liquor stores with $5 stickers on them, cashiers dispensing jello shots, and a fountain of wine in every store.
Totally not the case. The liquor prices in MS were higher than in New York.
I peeped around one of their local package stores and found a bottle of Mississippi wine. It seemed fitting to serve a local wine with a local dish for dinner. It was $7.95 for a bottle of Old South brand Sweet Magnolia wine, a Sweet Muscadine Table Wine.
It was not good. I don’t know if the store doesn’t sell too many of these bottles and it was starting to go bad, or if the wine itself just isn’t good to begin with, but… Eugh. It tasted like it was turning into sherry. Cloyingly sweet and not good with anything.
That was the end of Day One in Mississippi.
Please read here for Part 2
Or here for Part 3
Or here for Part 4

SCCC’s Casola Dining Room

Schenectady County Community College has a culinary program. Part of the students’ culinary training is running a dining room. Some of the students are in the back of the house cooking and such, while others take over the front of the house as wait staff and such. I first heard about this on Steve Barnes’ Table Hopping blog. It sounded like a great way to experience a 3-course meal, and on the cheap.

They serve lunch and dinner. Lunch is $16 and has two seating times – 12 pm and 12:30 pm. Dinner is $22 and also has two seating times – 7 pm and 7:30 pm. The prices include everything – no tip required. If you’d like to bring wine, it is $3 per bottle corkage. The meals are held in the Casola Dining Room, as you can see above. Here are the menus and scheduled dates for the menus.

The dining room is quite posh, so I can see why reservations need to be made 2 weeks in advance, and shortly after the 10 am time they start taking reservations. I scored a reservation for six people: Albany John, Bro, Margarita, Benny, Panda, and Me.
The hardest part of the night was finding SCCC. The Google was not working in our favor. For those of you not familiar with Schenectady, once you take exit 4C, take a left on State (at the light), and then you’ll see a turn-in sign for SCCC shortly afterward. SCCC itself was well lit, and had signs clearly showing where Elston Hall was (the building the Casola Dining Room is in).

The place settings were beautiful. Not a smudge on any of the silverware or glasses. The water glasses had some ice and lemon in them when we were seated. Even the menu books are beautiful.
We went to eat the Puerto Rican dinner night. It was basically the only menu I saw and thought, “I want to try every single dish on this menu”. Trust me, you’ll see what I’m talking about in a few moments. Since we were a group of six, we ordered everything off of the menu and got to try a little bit of everything. Hooray!
Also included with dinner are drinks. I got a refreshing sparkling water, Albany John got coffee, Benny got tea, Panda got diet coke, Bro got iced tea (unsweetened), and Margarita stuck with water.

Albany John and Panda began their meals with Sanchoco. It is a stew with yucca, yam, cassava, plantains, corn, beef short ribs, and ham. I couldn’t differentiate the individual starches, but they really made for a creamy stew. This was a very generous amount, and I think I need to learn how to make it. It would be wonderful as a main dish during the colder times of the year.

Bro and I got the Ensalada de Pulpo. Grilled octopus salad – chilled octopus, diced tomato, onion slices, romaine lettuce, light olive oil-vinegar dressing, some lemon. It also says garlic, but I didn’t taste much of it. Again, a generous portion. I wasn’t expecting so much. The octopus bits were chopped up and overcooked. They were chewy and under seasoned. I think a little more salt while cooking and lemon to finish would have really punched up the flavor of the octopus. I didn’t taste anything that would make me think the octopus was grilled, though. It could have just been boiled for all I know.

If you can’t tell, the lighting is very nice, but a little low. The pictures are grainy because I don’t like to use flash when I’m dining out.

Benny and Margarita ordered La Raiz del Taro Fragmenta con Bacalao una Salsa de Ali-oli. These were taro fritters; and cold salt cod mixed with avocado, olive oil, and lemon. The salt cod is what looks like mashed potatoes in the background. These were the first dishes to come out, and at first I was thinking “Oh, that’s it? So tiny.”

We all got some bites of the salt cod stuff. I preferred Margarita’s to Benny’s oddly enough. I didn’t think there would be much of a difference. Hers was a little more creamy and well blended, while his was watery and chunky in comparison. Margarita loved the ali-oli sauce that was slathered over her fritter. She said it was “Just so creamy and good!”.

I picked up some wine, and for the appetizers, we all had a glass of Marques de Riscal 2006 Tempranillo (red wine). I picked it up at Empire Wine for $5.95. It was delicious! A little on the sweet side, and I think it went well with the heavy appetizers.

Dinner time! I should also mention that I loved the service. Our server had a pleasant attitude. And she kept pouring me more vino and playfully teased me about it. What can I say? I’m a lush. The dinner bottle of wine was just some Beringer white zin. I was the only one that really enjoyed it; everyone else thought it was too sweet. But that’s okay – it just meant there were leftovers to take home (they let you take home leftover wine!).

I was the only person who ordered the fish dish – El pargo de cacerola-quemo con Salsa de Criollo. I practiced for days trying to say it, but I just ended up ordering “The snapper dish”. I guess just listening to Pitbull doesn’t qualify me as a native Spanish speaker, eh? At any rate, this was a hefty fillet of red snapper topped with avocado slices and tangerine bits. There was a creamy pumpkin fritter on the side, as well as smoky rice and beans.

The fish was absolutely delicious. I didn’t even need any extra salt! It was very moist and well seared. Smoky goodness. Yum. I made sure to give everyone a bite. I even enjoyed the avocado and tangerines. I usually don’t like citrus with my fish, but this was only a little bit at the center of the fish, so it changed it up and made it interesting so as not to be monotonous.

Bro and Margarita ordered the Pollo Asado Rellano con Mofongo. These were little game hens that had been stuffed with mofongo (mashed plantains) and split in half. They also came with the smoky rice and beans. We’re thinking there was some sausage in the rice and peas to add the smokiness.

They both had some difficulty eating the little bird. Despite that, Margarita generously gave me a bite. It was juicy and moist. They both agreed that the skin was also delightfully crisp. Margarita also gave me some of her mofongo because she knows how to share. *coughcoughBROcoughcough* Kidding. The mofongo was deliciously creamy, garlicky, and salty. Oh, I am so trying to make this dish again.

Albany John, Benny, and Panda all ordered Pernil de Cerdo en Salsa de Tamarindo. This was a rich grilled pork loin slathered with tamarind sauce, and served with a roasted tomato and rice and peas. Rich barely describes the pork loin – it was juicy, deliciously fatty, and wonderfully porky. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better pork dish when out in a restaurant. Most places cook it too much. There were about three slices.
Albany John loves tamarind, and he absolutely loved the sweet and tangy tamarind sauce. Panda and Benny thought it was a little sweet, and I have to agree with them. I thought it was a bit syrupy and sickly-sweet. But then again I don’t normally like sweet-and-sour sauce combinations, and I really, really dislike tamarind. Albany John practically licked his plate clean. I just preferred the pork in its pure porky form.

For dessert Bro, Albany John, and I ordered the Mango Sorbet, which also came with two coconut meringues. The sorbet was a little melted, but so delicious – it was like pure mango puree. The coconut meringues were light as air – the outsides were perfectly crunchy, crisp, and perfectly white. The insides were fluffy and a touch moist, but not too chewy, with just enough coconut flavor. Just delightful. The green stuff is mint, which went nicely with the cookies. Albany John thought the mango sorbet and coconut cookies went well together. I didn’t find them as complimentary, but they were both highly enjoyable on their own.

Panda and Margarita ordered the Chocolate Tres Leches. I snagged a bit of Margaritas. It was a very moist and milky sponge cake. They both enjoyed it. I enjoyed the moisture – it didn’t make the cake crumbly or mushy. It was topped with more chocolate.

Benny ordered the absolutely beautiful Banana Torte. Two layers of creamy cakey goodness. I’m not a banana fan, but I had myself second-guessing my dessert over this one. It was so moist and creamy. I’d barely call it a cake. It was both rich and ephemeral. I liked the caramel decoration. Benny was more “What am I supposed to do with this?” and when we told him to eat it, he looked at us all funny. Bro helped him out with that one.

The bread was irresistible! It had a delightful chew and we could not get enough of it. They make it there at the school, too! Bro and Benny found half a loaf left in a basket as we were leaving and ate it walking out. I suppose it was a fitting way to end since Bro and Albany John both grabbed a loaf out of the basket and started tearing away at the beginning. As in, loaf completely out of the basket. Yipes. Okay, thanks for overlooking our terrible table manners, SCCC. Margarita and I will have to work on these boys some more.

Overall, I cannot recommend this experience enough. It was such a delightful evening for all of us and the service was spectacular. They accept credit cards. We all just brought cash. With the bill, our table also got a service review paper to fill out to evaluate the night. Needless to say, we relayed how great of a time we had. In all honesty we kept forgetting we were in a school – it was just like being out for dinner.

Paradise Taste

Albany John and I found a new-to-use Caribbean restaurant. It is called Paradise Taste and located at 99 Main St, Cohoes, NY.

We initially tried a jerk chicken patty. Yum. Total love. I think all of their patties are hand made. They are super flaky and not too dense and chewy like commercially made patties. The jerk chicken patty was excellent, and only $2.35 (before tax).

The patties were so good, we went back a few days later to try out the rest of their dishes.

Here is a large order of oxtails. $10.50. We had to order oxtails. It’s like one of our favorite dishes. The oxtails at Paradise Taste were a little on the tough side. They could have been cooked longer, as they were still very chewy and difficult to bite off of the bone. There was a lot of cartilage left on the bones (and not melted into stew-y goodness). They also tasted a bit sweet, as if there were sugar added in it. The sweetness and toughness detracted from what could have been an excellent dish. I will probably try this dish again, just to see if this was a one-time thing. I do love oxtails.

The amount of oxtails were very plentiful and ranged in sized from small to large.

This is a small order of Brown Stew Chicken ($9.50). The small and larges are served in the same containers, it looks like. I loved the stew chicken. It was bursting with warm, delicious Caribbean flavors that made me forget it is turning into winter. This wasn’t spicy in the least, and was very comforting. The chicken was tender, but not mushy or greasy or anything like that – just tender and moist, swaddled in a bath of delicious gravy.

The rice and peas – I have to say, I was skeptical of. They looked dry. I mean, some of the beans were split and fluffy looking. But nope – this was delicious. I really liked them the best out of all of the other instances of rice and beans in the area that I’ve tried. The rice was cooked into individual grains and light and fluffy, but not dry. It soaked up the gravies very well. The beans were also cooked into a light fluffiness, but in a good way. Sometimes the rice and peas can be dense and thick. I wonder if the rice here was steamed?

We also got a side order of jerk chicken ($5). They have side orders of jerk chicken, how awesome is that?! This is in a small Styrofoam container, and we were wondering how full it would be when we opened it. Very full! This was packed with chicken. The jerk spices were – whooo! Spicy! Albany John loves jerk chicken, and this version pleased him very well. He still added pickapeppa sauce to kick things up a bit. I don’t think he’ll ever eat something too spicy for him served as-is. Meanwhile, I really liked it too, but I could only eat a small portion of breast. The flavors were well rounded, not just “HEATHEATHOT”, and we received a lot of chicken, both white and dark pieces.

Birthday Lunch at Wolff’s

After dragging myself up off of Ellsbells’ floor and putzing around her house after her birthday party, Albany John and I gussied ourselves up (ever so slightly) so we could meet her parents. It’s weird, being ‘adults’. You don’t meet parents all that much usually, but it also seemed odd not having met her parents since she is so close with her family. And y’know. She’s family to us, so it’s like not having met the rest of your family.

At any rate, we went to Wolff’s for her birthday boot. Her dad was so proud of her for finishing it. It was very cute and touching. “My little girl just finished three liters of beer. That’s my girl!”

Her papa also bought Albany John and me a round of brews. Noice. I got an order of currywurst ($10). It’s got a bit of kick, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I wasn’t super hungry, so I only managed to eat one pork and veal sausage and some fries. The fries were seasoned with a smoky paprika. I love paprika, so this was nice. The sausage casing had a nice snap to it, and the sausage meat was super tender and good.

Too bad my appetite wasn’t all there. I also blame the pound or two of peanuts I ate before ordering. Man, they’re so good and salty! And free! And right on the tables when you walk in! Which means I can’t resist them.

Albany John got the smoky goulash for $12.95. He liked it, but there were green bell peppers in it, so he picked them out. I think green bell peppers are a Capital District phenomenon. They’re in just about everything and they usually aren’t mentioned as being in a dish. Chinese food veggies, soups, stews… It’s too bad we don’t like them. Albany John liked it just fine after he picked out the green pepper bits, but when I tasted it all I could taste was green bell pepper. The schnitzel were really good, though. Fresh and tender.

Albany John couldn’t even finish this – wow, that’s a lot of food!

And then later that night the World’s Largest Reese’s Cups got busted out. They’re $10 for the package (one pound. Each cup is 8 ounces!) when I found them at CVS, so maybe a little much, but dude. Gigantic Reese’s!
I think there’s still an entire cup left. Hmm…

Chicken and Dumplings

I’ve definitely been more into cooking lately, and not just eating. I’d say the results have been fairly successful on the whole, which is what makes me want to try out more new dishes.
There’s one dish I’ve generally been able to make with a varying degree of success for the past decade or so: Chicken and Dumplings.

Oddly enough, though I can cook it, I don’t do it very often. I think the last time I made it was a few years ago. It always comes out just fine – it’s a solidly respectable dish. But it’s always been a bit ho-hum to me. I think it’s mainly the chicken – the star ingredient – the put me off of cooking it more often. The chickens from the supermarket (what I’d use) don’t have much flavor, so the end result would be a decent stew/soup, but with little real body to the soup. In a word, flat. Lackluster. Even when using broth or stock for the liquid. I’ve found a chicken brand/type that I find more flavorful, and I think it really helps the dish overall. I really enjoyed the latest incarnation of the Chicken and Dumplings I made recently.

Here’s a pile of chicken pieces that have been browned in the pan. I even butchered the chicken myself! I’m pretty proud of that one. Albany John had to leave the kitchen a few times while watching me hack through chicken joints with a cleaver, but I ended up with cleanly cut sections of individual breasts, backbone, wings, thighs, and drumsticks.

I love onions, so I slivered two large yellow onions and let them cook over low heat to caramelize slowly after browning and removing the chicken. My main problem with this was that I was using a large roasting pan to cook this in, so I had the pan over two burners. The result was some wildly uneven heating, but I didn’t end up scorching anything, so I didn’t screw up too badly there.

While the onions were caramelizing, I diced up some of the last carrots Albany John dug up from his garden. After I diced them, I added them to the hotter section of the pan to cook for a few minutes.

Once those were cooked, I made a roux in the pan out of flour and butter so it would thicken up a little more while cooking.

I added the chicken pieces back to the pan and covered it with some chicken stock/broth that was kicking around in the fridge and then about 2-3 times as much with water until all of the chicken was covered. Brought it up to a boil and then turned it down to a simmer to cook covered for about 30-40 minutes. The chicken stock was helpful in adding flavor since I wasn’t planning on cooking this for hours on end.

After the 30-40 minutes of cooking time, I removed the chicken from the pan and cut it into bite-sized pieces to return to the pan. This is partially because I didn’t want to cook the chicken into fall-off-the-bone tenderness/mush/slivers and wanted to eat it quickly, and partially because I wanted it to feed a lot of people. It was fully cooked at this point, so it was more for convenience and frugality than anything else. This was, admittedly, kind of a pain in the ass, but in the end it worked out well since it did serve a lot of people and it was easy to just ladle out of the pot.
While I was doing this, I turned up the heat on the burners beneath the pot and left the cover off of the pan so the Chicken and Dumplings broth could reduce more. I returned it to a simmer after re-adding the chicken bites.

After that I made the dumpling dough/batter and plopped them in by the spoonful. It’s like a really wet biscuit batter in terms of consistency. It’s easy to do by using two spoons – one to scoop out a bit of dough, and one to scrape it off of that spoon and into the broth.

After covering the freshly plopped dumplings and letting them steam for 15 minutes, it was dumpling time! I served these atop egg noodles (which you can see in the first picture).

Oh, regarding seasonings, I just did a little salt, sage, and paprika when I added my liquids. Add whatever you like.

Cost-wise, this was an affordable meat dish to feed people. It had a lot of leftovers. My chicken was a little over 4 pounds, and cost around $6. With the cost of all the ingredients used, I would say this meal cost $9-10, including the egg noodles and flour for dumplings (although next time I will see if AP flour is much of a difference). I think that’s pretty good for a meat dish that contained many servings, and used a chicken that seemed to have been raised in decent conditions.

Chicken and Dumplings
1 Whole Chicken
2 large onions, cut into thin slivers
3-4 cloves of garlic
chicken broth
Carrots, diced
Olive oil

Butcher chicken. I cut it into: breasts, drumsticks, thighs, wings, and the back.
Heat pan to medium heat. Add olive oil and lightly brown the skin of the chicken.
Add more oil if necessary, and over low heat add onions. Cook 10-15 minutes until nicely caramelized.
Add carrots. Cook 5-10 more minutes until slightly softened.
Add 2-3 T butter to pan and melt it. Add flour to absorb the butter (around 1/3 a cup) to make a roux and cook lightly for 2-3 minutes.
Add chicken back to pan.
Pour in chicken stock/broth and water to cover chicken. (I did about 30% broth 70% water)
Add whatever seasonings you want.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered ~30 minutes.
Remove chicken from stew and let the liquid cook down more.
While liquid is cooking down, cut chicken into bite sized pieces.
Return to liquid, and lower heat to a simmer.


2 C cake flour (AP is okay)
2 t baking powder
¾ t salt
2 T melted butter
¾ C milk

Mix all dry ingredients together well. Add liquid ingredients and mix lightly (don’t overwork it). It will look like a shaggy/wet dough.

Make dumplings by the spoonful and drop into pan. Cook covered 15 minutes.

Sushi Tei

Y’all – I think I may have gotten Benny on the sushi bandwagon! We met up for lunch at Sushi Tei recently. He had tried a piece of one of my leftovers a few weeks ago and was intrigued enough by it to try more sushi. Hooray!

He got the 3 roll combo (~$11)– spicy tuna roll, salmon avocado, and shrimp tempura. I think the tuna was a little ‘meh’ that day. It was a little too mushy and not that great. It’s probably the worst I’ve ever had there texture-wise. Flavor-wise it was a little bland and not helped out a lot by the spiciness of the roll. I’ll still order it again though – I am pretty confident this was just a one-time thing.
The salmon avocado roll was good. I recommended that one since, seriously – it doesn’t disappoint. Buttery salmon, rich avocado = flavor win!
The shrimp tempura was… uh, shrimp tempura in a roll with eel sauce over top. Not bad, but nothing that knocked my socks off or anything. This was Benny’s favorite roll, I think.

But still – very adventurous of him to just order a bunch of raw fish! I remember when Albany John tried to get me to eat sushi and sashimi. The first few times I looked at him like he was crazy! But once he finally convinced me into trying it, I really enjoyed it. I’m glad my current eating crew aren’t as much of a pain in the ass to dine with like when I first met Albany John! Hell, I probably wouldn’t be able to eat with myself from 6 years ago. I’d be like “Bitch, SERIOUSLY! It’s not gonna kill you! Just freaking TRY it!” In that vein, I have to commend my Dad for never saying something like that while my sibs and I were growing up. We were very picky eaters.
Oddly enough, I got the pork katsu curry. No sushi. I know, here I go extolling the virtues of sushi, and I order something cooked and smothered in gravy. It’s a monthly special for $8.95 and comes with soup or salad. I really like their specials, and wanted to give an authentic Japanese curry a try.

It was a LOT of curry. I really enjoyed the pork cutlet – coated in panko, it was a grease-less fry job and the insides of the cutlet were nice and juicy. I’ve gotten pork katsu from Sushi Tei before where it was a little dry. The fry person was on their A-game this day! The parts of the cutlet that were in the curry were moist, but not soggy. Well, it wasn’t crunchy, but it tasted very good, not like you were eating a soggy curry coated cutlet.

The curry itself was on the spicier end. I don’t know if you can see very well, but there are some yellow bits in the top part of the picture. They were yellow (daikon, I think) pickles. They definitely worked on cutting some spice and heaviness of the katsu curry. There were mushrooms and carrots in the curry. I enjoyed the mushrooms. Overall, it still reminded me of the boxed mixes of curry you can get at just about any grocery store (Asian or not, you’ll just pay more in supermarkets) and make at home. Sweet, and the curry flavor was mainly from turmeric. I’m not a fan of turmeric being the main flavoring of curry, so while this was nice to try, I don’t think I’m going to jump on Japanese curry again any time soon.

Benny was a peach and picked up the bill. Thank ya, thank ya, what a nice surprise!

The Epicurean for 1 Year Anniversary

Holy Crap. We’ve actually been married for a whole freaking year. So I know some folks go crazy for their wedding anniversaries (well, let’s be honest, it’s usually just the wives). In all honesty, we’re terrible with dates, and had we not had relatives and friends all remembering our wedding date and asking us how we were going to spend it, we probably would have just forgotten it and been fine doing something later. We’re just not that into that sentimental shit, and that’s how I like it.

The day before our anniversary I was feeling restless, so we drove out to Grafton Lakes State Park for a hike at one of their trails. Here’s Albany John looking at some grassland with a birdhouse in the background.

And here I am doing something… uh, classically me. Yelling at nature. HALLO WERLD!

While we’re not flush with cash, I still saved up so we could go ‘all out’ on our anniversary in our own way. I don’t think everyone quite believed my response to “What are you two doing for your anniversary?” was “Eating. A lot.”. Or at least the degree of a lot-ness.

On another day we went to The Epicurean for lunch in Troy, NY. It is very far and technically Troy, NY, but is closer to Grafton Lakes State Park and Grafton, NY than Troy (at least that’s how it seems to me). This is our favorite restaurant, hands down. We don’t go out to eat all that often, and it’s usually just for something simple like an appetizer when we do (or to-go). The Epicurean is always an enjoyable experience for us, with amazing service and outstanding meals. It’s the only place I actually insist on spending the time to eat in and refuse to get a take out meal. This of course means we don’t go very often, maybe once or twice a year given our finances.

We didn’t have reservations and they were busy when we went in, but they still fit us in. They say you need reservations from 11 am – 2 pm on Sundays for brunch, but I don’t know about lunch. It’s kind of confusing, and the other time we went for brunch they weren’t busy and just sat people as they came in. But it seems like you should do reservations on Sunday just in case. It didn’t really matter to us. We would have waited until 2 pm if they were that full, but thankfully we didn’t have to. Hooray!

Albany John started with a cup of tea. It was a 3-leaf blend and was very interesting! The flavors changed with the temperature of the water. A very complex tea indeed.

The Epicurean is hard for me to describe. Part deli, part bakery, part restaurant, it’s just an amazingly unique setting with French influence (the chef and one of the proprietors are French) and upstate/country influence as well.

I ordered a café au lait to enjoy (dark roast) and was surprised with how delicious it was. The dark roast wasn’t bitter, just pleasantly heavy, and the foam was… so foamy and creamy, and it stayed that way the entire time I drank it. It didn’t just fall flat and blend into the drink. I barely needed sugar, which is saying a lot since my coffee-type drinks are normally 30% sugar. $2.25 and worth every penny.

The Epicurean has lunch specials in addition to their normal menu offering. Albany John ordered off of that menu and received a delicious veal stew ($12.99). There was a generous amount of veal in the stew, and the meat was so tender you could shred it with your tongue. The carrots and potatoes retained a nice firmness though, so the texture of the stew was also intriguing and exciting. This stew was very sweet, which went well with the veal.

One of our waitresses asked Albany John how he liked it, and explained that this was one of her favorite dishes that they make. She had asked the kitchen the day before about why it was so sweet, and they said it was from caramelizing onions and letting them cook down. We didn’t see any onions in the dish, so yum (!) – part of that creamy stew was comprised of onions cooked into caramelized oblivion.

The mister had trouble finishing this dish, so I helped him with some bites. At The Epicurean, I can eat everything.

I ordered off of the regular lunch menu – grilled basa entrée. $13.99. Perfectly seasoned. Perfectly. Perfectly grilled. Perfectly. This was a white fish (basa) fillet that was seasoned and grilled. Did I mention it was perfect? The fish was moist and tender, and was seasoned with some lemon (I think… something tart) and herbs to just enhance the flavor of the delicate fish. The fillet was long and thin, and just enough to satisfy me, portion-wise. I didn’t even need salt! The Epicurean is the only place I’ve ever eaten where I don’t even think of adding extra salt to my food. Everything is so well prepared, I feel like adding additional salt would screw up the dish.

Also included in the meal was a side. We ordered grilled vegetables as a side to our meals. The other option was a field green salad. Some greens came on my plate. Albany John took a bite of mushroom and opened his eyes wide as he said, “This is the best mushroom I have ever eaten. Try it.” And I had to agree with him. Charred and smoky, but still moist – it was a delicious mushroom. All of the veggies were delicious. I still don’t like bell peppers, but Albany John ate this red one with abandon.

We finished out meal off with a chocolate bread pudding. I’m still not a chocolate fan, but the chocolate sauce on here was inoffensive, and the bread was custardy-creamy. A delicious way to end a meal, and just enough dessert for us to split. We left pleasantly full, but not stuffed. I like that I don’t leave here with leftovers.

Our service was excellent, with two waitresses tending to us. Two! They were both very nice and accommodating. They also had a large party to deal with, a group of French-speaking folks who loved the food and were talking to one of the proprietors about the chef. My French is at least decent enough to decipher that they highly enjoyed the food and were enquiring about where the chef had gone to school, etc. Eventually chef Dominique Brialy came out to talk with them as well, discussing his education, etc. Then there was a flurry of French spoken, at which point I stopped being nosy, happy that at least my ever-dwindling French language comprehension is not completely lost.

Both Albany John and I feel like time both stops and flies when eating at The Epicurean. Food comes, you enjoy it, never rushed, and soon it is time to go after you are sated and happy. Our meal was a little under $37 after tax. More than we’d normally spend at lunch, but worth every penny at The Epicurean.

I next would like to save up for dinner at The Epicurean again, but I know I will want to try everything and need to save up around $150 for the two of us since I can’t help but order everything that looks good.

And then I came home to freshly made apple bread / cake from my neighbor and a pretty “Happy Anniversary” card. I ate two big slices with some milk (and one white russian. Oh, now there’s a good cake combo).
I’ll show you more of what Albany John and I ate in the next post.