Friday, January 29, 2010

Pho What? Vietnamese Filet Mignon Is Where It's At

Last week, The Affordable Foodie visited So Ba, a new Vietnamese restaurant that opened last month in East Atlanta. So Ba took over the building that was most recently home to La Casita Cantina, where owner Nhan Le has replaced cacti and sombreros with minimalist Asian decor and dim lighting. While most Atlantans seem obsessed with finding the most authentic pho in town, we were eager to sample So Ba's bun (Vietnamese rice noodles) and com (broken jasmine rice) dishes.

Let's be clear - we're not dissing pho by any means. We appreciate quality Asian noodle soup as much as the next gal. However, we're glad we stuck to our guns and ordered some of the other traditional Vietnamese fare So Ba offers. By following that path, we discovered the holy grail of AF dishes: Com Bo Luc Lac, a.k.a. Vietnamese broken fried rice with marinated cubed filet mignon.

At the extremely reasonable price of $11, this dish completely blew us away. So Ba's version of what's called "shaken beef" at other Vietnamese restaurants reminds us of an entree you'd get at a Japanese steakhouse, but it's about a third of the price. The filet was super tender and flavored with a marinade of onion, garlic, soy and rice vinegar. The plentiful portion of meat is served with an even larger portion of fried rice laced with egg.

We also ordered one of the five bun dishes on the menu, choosing chicken as our grilled meat and requesting an addition of pieces of fried egg roll to adorn our room temperature rice noodles. The interplay of silky noodles with crisp lettuce, bean sprouts, crunchy cucumbers, pickled carrots, chopped peanuts, fresh herbs and perfectly grilled chicken is just the right blend of flavors and textures. Our favorite part is letting the fried spring roll soak up the sweet and tangy fish sauce that collects at the bottom of the bowl.

Until the liquor license arrives at some point in February, So Ba is BYOB, so take advantage while you can. AF is planning to head back to this little Vietnamese jewel soon. If we can take our minds off the bun and com, we might just try the pho next time.

p.s. We brought our camera and tried to take some photos, but due to the dim lighting, they didn't turn out. Sorry, we'll try again in the future.

So Ba
East Atlanta Village
560 Gresham Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30316

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dekalb Farmers Market Rediscovered

Last Sunday, I went with my friend, Preston, to the Dekalb Farmers Market. I hadn't been there in quite some time and boy, I've been missing out! From now on, a trip to DFM will most definitely become part of the Affordable Foodie routine. The produce is fresh, they have everything and anything you can imagine and the prices will blow you away! I got caught up in the seafood section where everything is fresh, and by fresh, I mean alive. You literally point to the fish you want, and the fishmongers catch it, pull it out of its tank and fillet it right there in front of you. Although I didn't buy any fish, I made it out of DFM with fresh produce for the week, cheeses (I can't resist them), the makings for fresh brushetta and other miscellaneous goodies for just $31. The goods are mostly organic from “small farms that employ humane, environmentally responsible and sustainable production methods.” My only complaint is that they were out of Brussels sprouts that day, and I LOVE Brussels sprouts.

After about an hour and half of perusing the aisles, we were on our way. I could go on and on about this place and all it has to offer, but words cannot do it justice. My advice is to check it out for yourself. I'm sure some of you have already been there, but for those of you who haven’t, it's well worth the trip!

Below is the recipe of the Bruschetta I made with Preston, along with a pic. The dish got rave reviews from everyone who tasted it.


Bruschetta (serves 8 -10)


9 roma tomatoes, diced (they must be ripe, so buy them at DFM!)
1 1/2 large shallots, minced
2 Tbsp good olive oil
1-2 Tbsp balsalmic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 package fresh mozzarella
8 basil leaves, chopped (the more herbs, the merrier - 1 bunch is only 89 cents at DFM)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice or just a good squeeze
1 loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch slices


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place slices of bread on sheet pan. Brush side facing up with olive oil. Toast for about 5 minutes, watch closely to avoid burning. While bread is in oven, cut mozzarella into 1/4 inch slices. Remove bread from oven when toasted and rub with garlic clove. Flip the sliced bread over, cover each slice with cheese and toast in oven until cheese bubbles. Meanwhile, combine diced tomatoes, minced shallots, chopped basil, lemon, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When cheese is melted, cover each slice with tomato mixture and serve immediately.

*This dish can be served as a hearty app or a main course. I recommend substituting the mozzarella cheese with Montrachet herbed goat cheese - it's just as delicious and doesn't take as long to melt (only about 2 minutes) The Montrachet is more like a spread when heated, so a little goes a long way.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We're in an Empire State of Mind

When I moved back to Atlanta after graduating from UGA, I decided to check out a cooking class at The Cook's Warehouse one evening. The featured chef that night was none other than Hugh Acheson, an Athens restauranteur and culinary god in my mind. As the class progressed, I lovingly watched as he prepared cauliflower soup garnished with hazelnuts, celery and chive cream, penne alla carbonara with panchetta, swiss chard, fresh basil and parmesan, skillet fried catfish with tomato chutney and lemon sauce (a Five & Ten signature dish) and chocolate pot de creme with cardamom cream. Yes, I'm a total nerd so nearly six years later, I still have copies of the recipes he prepared. I thought that night was the closest I'd ever come to enjoying Chef Acheson's brilliant work in the ATL, but I'm happy to report that the man is about three months away from proving me wrong.

This Spring, Midtown Atlanta will be graced with the presence of an Acheson original restaurant dubbed Empire State South. Located on the ground floor of an office tower at 10th and Peachtree (only a two minute walk from my office, thank god), the vision for the restaurant is described on its Web site:

"A community restaurant focusing on the food of the South, Empire State South will be a meat and three restaurant with coffee shop, bar, bocce court and a selection of great Bourbons. From oyster pie to collard greens and hominy grits, Acheson crafts tradition food with a contemporary sensibility."

Bring on your best eats and booze, Hugh. As two of your biggest fans in Atlanta, AF will be there on opening day! And since you're installing a bocce court, you'll probably have a hard time convincing us to leave.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Bachelor, Beef & Brussels

It's official, Monday is becoming my favorite day of the week! Not only do I get to enjoy a delicious meal and great company (this week with Margaret, Molly and Kara), but The Bachelor is becoming more ridiculous with each episode...and by "ridiculous," I mean amazing!

This week's Bachelor feast consisted of my mother's "elegant" beef tenderloin, and Kara's mother's Brussels sprouts and twice baked potatoes. The sauce in which the tenderloin roasts gives the meat a flavor and tenderness that is beyond compare; each bite literally melts in your mouth! On top of that, the dish is suprisingly easy to prepare.

I know you're thinking that tenderloin isn't exactly Affordable Foodie material, but at the right price, it actually fits the bill. We purchased our tenderloin on sale, cleaned and ready to roast, at our neighborhood location of The Fresh Market (Peachtree Rd. location) for just $9.99/lb. A total steal! Since we were only making this dish for four, we were able to save and freeze half of the tenderloin for another night. If you'd like to receive a weekly e-newsletter from The Fresh Market alerting you to specials and sales, you can sign up at

Kara's Brussels sprouts were what we like to call "special," and the twice baked potatoes were a concoction of creamy, cheesy goodness. Both dishes perfectly compliment the beef. If you want the perfect bite, combine the trio and voila! Crisp bacon is mixed into the potatoes, along with a generous portion of gruyere cheese and a touch of Ranch dressing - the Ranch being Kara's last-minute idea - to create side dish perfection. The trick on the Brussels lies in sauteeing them in the remaining bacon fat.

All of these dishes come highly recommended by the whole group. Wine and good food were enjoyed by all...maybe most of all by my miniature dachshund, Lula!

p.s. Lula has been begging me to let her blog! Enjoy the recipes below.

Elegant Beef Tenderloin


1 1 and 1/2 lb. beef tenderloin, cleaned (as we mentioned above, you can buy a 3 lb. tenderloin, cut it in half and reserve one half for another meal)
1 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt (or until meat is well seasoned)
1 cup Burgundy wine (does not have to be French, pinot noir works as well)
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning


Place meat on a lightly greased or non-stick shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle generously with garlic salt. It is important to massage the salt into the meat. Roast at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes.

While meat is roasting combine wine, soy sauce, butter and lemon pepper in sauce pan. Cook on low heat until mixture is heated through.

After 10 minutes, remove meat from oven and pour prepared sauce over the tenderloin. Bake an additional 30-40 minutes at 425 degrees F or until a thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the meat, reads 140 degrees (for rare) or 150 degrees (for medium rare) or 160 degreees (for medium).

**** Baste the meat often with the pan drippings! **** This is the trick to making the meat so tender. The more you baste, the better the meat. I try to baste every 5-7 minutes. It's a laborious process but well worth it!

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts


4 slices bacon, chopped
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, small spouts left whole, larger sprouts halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Clean and trim the Brussels sprouts, removing any discolored leaves. Brown bacon in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate and reserve for twice baked potatoes. Add Brussels sprouts and coat in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook 30 minutes or until tender. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Twice Baked Potatoes with Bacon & Gruyere


4 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons Ranch dressing
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese, divided
4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped (reserved from the Brussels sprouts recipe)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chives or green onions, chopped


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pierce each potato in a couple of spots with a fork. Place the potatoes directly on the rack in the center of the oven and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Remove potatoes from the oven and turn the heat down to 375 degrees F.

Holding each potato with an oven-mit or towel, create an oval and trim off the top to make a canoe-like shape. Reserve the tops. Carefully scoop out most of the potato into a bowl. Take care to leave enough potato in the skin so the shells stay together. Mash the potato lightly with fork along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the butter and sour cream. Stir in the milk, Ranch dressing, 1 cup of cheese and the bacon. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add more milk or sour cream if the mixture seems dry. Season the skins with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a thin layer of cheese on the bottom of each shell and then refill them with the potato mixture, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the potato filling. Brush the reserved tops with the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper.

Set the potatoes and lids on a baking sheet, and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cook's Illustrated Winter Cookbook Clearance!

Here at the Affordable Foodie, Cook's Illustrated is one of the many foodie sources that falls under our "Obsessed" category. Kingsley is a subscriber and receives regular e-mail updates from the Web site. Currently, Cook's is having a Winter clearance sale on all cookbooks, which feature their delicious, tried and true recipes. We promise to keep you posted on other special offers and great deals from Cook's as we hear of them. Here's the link to the sale - all books are 50 percent off, so check it out!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday Night Veggie Soup

I've been under the weather this week and made the impressively mature decision to stay home on Saturday night, hoping upon all hopes to get rid of my lingering cold. Instead of the usual bar-hopping, I entertained myself by cooking something warm, soothing and healthy. Kingsley and I both received "Bon Appetit, Y'all" by Virginia Willis as a Christmas gift this year. It's a beautiful Southern cookbook that honors Willis' native Georgia and her family. Willis called her maternal grandmother "Meme." Like most Southern grandmothers, Meme apparently cooked a mean vegetable soup. Willis swears by it, and now, so do I.

Aside from the tomatoes and butter beans, all of the ingredients are fresh. In her book, Willis says that her family always used to eat this soup in the winter, using the vegetables they had canned or frozen that summer. She calls for a ham bone (seriously Southern) to create the base of the soup. I had a hard time finding one, so I substituted with a smoked turkey wing, which worked well.

This soup was really easy to put together, had major flavor payoff and made me feel better. Plus, I purchased everything I needed for just $25 and ended up with about 10 substantial servings - an Affordable Foodie dish for sure! Check out the recipe below and don't forget to serve it with biscuits or corn muffins.

Meme's Southern-style Vegetable Soup


1 smoked turkey wing or 1 ham bone, with some meat on it
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 sprig of thyme
6 cups of water
1 (15-ounce) can tomato puree
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can whole tomatoes, with juices
2 cups frozen butter beans, thawed
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Scraped kernels from 4 ears fresh sweet corn (about 2 cups)
1/4 pound fresh okra, stems trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)


1. In the largest pot you have, place the turkey wing (or ham bone), bay leaves, thyme and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low and simmer until the broth is flavorful and fragrant, about 1 hour.

2. Add the tomato puree, whole tomatoes with the juices, butter beans and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking on low heat until the butter beans are just tender, about 30 minutes.

3. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, green beans, corn and okra. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 30 additional minutes. Remove the bay leaves and thyme. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

NOTE: I ended up with way more veggies than broth. No problem - I simply added some leftover beef broth that I had in the fridge toward the end of the cooking process until I was satisfied with the consistency of the soup. Chicken or vegetable broth would work just as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thai Chili Goodness

So, I ventured into the world of Asian cooking for the first time last week. Preparing Asian food in the home seems daunting, but it can be conquered easily if you follow a recipe from a trusted source. Taking some help from the mad scientists/super chefs at Cook's Illustrated, I explored their version of a Thai classic, Thai Chicken with Basil. Thanks to favorite Aunt Alva for giving me a subscription to the ultimate foodie mag as a Christmas gift this year!

In the interest of full disclosure, this dish can be a bit pricey the first time you make it, assuming your fridge is devoid of white wine vinegar, oyster, fish and soy sauces, as well as Thai chilies. Buying these items, along with the additional ingredients needed for the dish, will cost you in the neighborhood of $60 the first time you make the recipe. However, after the initial purchase of the various sauces and the chilies, you can make this tasty meal for 4 time and time again for under $30, guaranteed. The results are well worth the upfront costs. Along with satisfying your Thai craving, this recipe teaches you a new way to stir fry, concentrated on low heat without the use of a wok.

On Monday night, I invited Kara, Margaret and Molly over to watch the season premiere of The Bachelor and made the dish for the second time. I served it with steamed broccoli and brown rice - a perfect pairing. The meal got rave reviews, and I’m planning to invite friends to my place every Monday to cook and make fun of the newest bachelor, Jake (the crier from last season's Bachelorette). This season, dubbed "On the Wings of Love," is TV entertainment at its finest. I mean is this guy serious?? I highly suggest playing a fun drinking game while watching. Every time Jake says something cheesy like, "I had a storybook childhood," or "I’m ready to find my first captain" or "My future wife is in this room, and I'm so excited!" take a sip. Needless to say we went through a bottle of red wine each :)

Here’s the recipe, listed below with a few Affordable Foodie modifications that make the dish even better...enjoy!

Thai Chicken with Basil


2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed (more is better)
6 dried red Thai chilies (if unavailable, substitute 2 serrano peppers
or 1 jalapeno pepper)
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 lb of skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Red pepper flakes, for serving


1. Rehydrate the dried Thai chilies in a cup of warm water - about 10 minutes.

2. Once hydrated, process 1 cup basil leaves, chilies and garlic in food processor. Pulse 8-10 times until finely chopped, scraping down bowl with spatula once during processing.

3. Transfer one tablespoon of the basil mixture to a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and vinegar. Whisk together and set aside. Transfer remaining basil mixture to 12-inch nonstick skillet. Do not wash food processor bowl.

4. Pulse chicken and 1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce in food processor until meat is chopped into approximate 1/4-inch pieces, 6-8 one second pulses. Transfer to bowl and refrigerate 15 minutes.

5. Stir shallots and oil into basil mixture in skillet. Heat over medium-low heat (mixture should start to sizzle after about 1 1/2 minutes; if it doesn't, adjust heat accordingly), stirring constantly, until garlic and shallots are cooked, 5 to 8 minutes.

6. Add chicken, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring and breaking up chicken with a spatula, until only traces of pink remain, 2 to 4 minutes. Add reserved basil-fish sauce mixture adn continue to cook, stirring constantly until chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.

7. Stir in remaining cup of basil leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until basil is wilted. Serve immediately.

* Delicious when garnished with a bit of soy sauce on top. If you want to pump up the heat, srpinkle with red pepper flakes to taste before serving. As an alternative to serving with steamed rice, use cabbage leaves to make carb-free lettuce wraps. Mmmmmmm!

Big Pizza Pies and Half Price Wine at Varasano's

There's nothing like taking advantage of a great deal, especially when it involves gourmet pizza and half-priced bottles of wine. Intrigued? If so, The Affordable Foodie recommends hitting up Varasano's Pizzeria in South Buckhead on Tuesday nights.

We spent two Tuesday nights during the month of December at the pizza joint devouring pies and downing bottles of Montepulciano. We're happy to report that the pizza was delicious, the wine warmed our bellies and the owner, who chatted us up at the bar, provided laughs with accounts of his past victories in Rubik's Cube competitions.

After trying five out of the 11 pizzas on the menu, we agreed that the Nana's (The House Specialty) is our favorite. We're obsessed with the combination of the herb-laced tomato sauce and the silky mozzarella cheese. The pie reaches an ethereal level when you add Varasano's house-made fennel sausage. If you're not into the traditional red sauce, try the Caramelized Onion pizza. The blend of sweet onions and Emmenthaler cheese will leave you begging for more. The best news is that no matter what toppings you choose, they will adorn a heavenly crust that is simultaneously charred and crunchy on the outside and chewy and squishy in the center.

We've heard complaints about Varasano's wine list, mainly having to do with the lack of variety. In response to these criticisms, we ask: if a bottle of wine is half price, does anyone really care what it tastes like? We're just sayin'...

As of Tuesday, Jan. 5, Varasano's was honoring the Tuesday night wine special.

Varasano's Pizzeria
2171 Peachtree Rd. NE
Atlanta, GA 30309