Cooking Lobsters On Vacation

Fried seafood is good, but it’s not my favorite. That distinction goes to the water spiders known as lobsters. Actually, I probably like the taste of crab a little better, but tearing into a lobster is just too much fun not to do whenever possible. Considering they’re expensive and I live in New York, it’s not a possibility most of the time, but when you’re spending a week in Ipswich, Massachusetts and the lobsters are all around, take advantage!

Last Friday wound up being lobster day and I was pretty darn excited. We swung by a local place and got two lobsters because apparently I’m the only one in the family who likes them. I believe they were soft shell, but I was in the car with the baby when they were purchased so I’m not sure. When we got back to the house, I helped get the cooking set up ready.

Basically you put a bunch of stuff in the bottom of a pot with water, put a grate down, and toss the lobsters in once it’s steaming until they turn red. Make sure, though, that the lobsters don’t touch the water. That’s what I was told. I helped get the stuff ready, but can’t remember everything that went in. My mother in law cooks off the top of her head and instructed me as I went, so this won’t be an exact recount. She did tell me to throw a few limes in that I had squeezed most of the juice out of already, I think a lemon, a bunch of herbs (stems included), salt, pepper and seaweed. Seaweed?! Yes, seaweed. That’s a tip my mother in law told me, you should always ask the fishmonger for it because it adds another layer between the lobsters and the water.

I can’t remember what else went into the pot. I think we vetoed a few suggestions like grapes and apples (or maybe we did put the apple in). Once the steam got going with the lid slightly ajar, it was time to drop the sea bugs into the pot. My mother in law handled this. I know it’s cowardly, but I still have trouble looking my food in the eye before it dies.

Gotta say, it was great. I have a method that was taught to me by my father in law years ago when I first gave lobster a go in New England (I had been offered it a few times before that by my folks, but it wasn’t my thing at the time), popping all the legs off and sucking the meat out. I then move on to the big arms, working my way up the arm to the claw. From there it’s a struggle to get the back shell off. I’ve actually still got a little nick on my thumb from prying that sucker open. It was worth the pain and bloodshed though. Still, gotta say, it can get pretty gross when you crack the back open and all that goop plops out. Totally worth it though. I love me some lobster. I think if I lived in New England near the water I’d spend most of my days writing on outdoor porches and checking my lobster trap. That seems like a good life to me.

A Man Of The Cloth, Wipes That Is

You’ve read my epic, three part “A Man Of The Cloth, Diapers That Is” series (if not you can catch up here, here and here), so now it’s time to talk about diaper wipes. Exciting, I know. Much like our decision to go with cloth diapers, using reusable cloth wipes was based on cost, chemicals and waste production. The cost was pretty low considering my wife and my mom made the wipes using a similar pattern to the one I found on Cloth Diapers Made Easy. They’re basically to pieces of 8-inch flannel sewn together. As far as chemicals, they’re minimal in this case because we make up our own wipe solution. And, since we’re using reusables, there’s no landfill. Again, the water usage to clean them counts against the green-ness I guess, but them’s the breaks.Also like the diapers, we’re not morally opposed to using disposables. When we go on trips, it’s far easier to take a packet of moist wipes to take care of diapers. When we were on vacation last week, that’s what we did. It wouldn’t have made any more laundry than normal because we wash the wipes with the diapers, but it would have meant bringing the diaper warmer, the stuff to make the solution and putting all that together when we’re trying to relax and have fun.

Speaking of the warmer, we went with Prince Lionheart’s Wipes Warmer 9002. It’s your basic wipes warmer that’s meant for regular wipes, but we use it for our reusables. There’s a pad in the bottom of the warmer that we wet and ring out. Then we fold the cloth wipes in half and, like making a lasagna, spray some of the solution on top. Repeat until you’re full, squeeze a little extra around the sides, close the lid and you’re good to go. You can’t pull the wipes out the top like you would a disposable, but other than that, it’s business as usual.

As you can see in the picture of the wipes on the changing table, we also have a package of cloth wipes that we either bought or someone gave us, can’t remember. If you look closely at the pic, you can see that the home made ones are holding up a lot better than the store bought ones and are also smaller by far. If you’re going cloth just to be green and to avoid chemicals, it’s pretty much a draw between making your own and buying cloth, but from the looks of it, the pre-made ones will wind up wearing out a lot sooner and therefore cost you more in the long run.

After a laundry, you can get about three days out of a fresh set of wipes as well as a bottle of solution. We fill an old Nalgene with 24 ounces of water and then three tablespoons each of olive oil and baby soap. Give that a good shake and then we transfer as much as will fit into a smaller squeeze container that we keep right next to the warmer on our changing table. As you can probably imagine, using cloth wipes is a bit more work overall than using disposables, but we think it’s worth it to keep a few more chemicals away from our baby’s butt, help out the environment in a small way and especially save a little cash.

Vacation Restaurant Review: Clams & Scallops From The Clam Box

The Clam Box
246 High Street
Ipswich, MA 01938
(978) 356-9707

I’ve gone to Ipswich, Massachusetts to visit my wife’s family for the last six or seven years. My wife’s grandmother grew up in the area and the high point of her year is renting a place for a month after summer ends and we usually go down to visit for a weekend. This year, though, we wound up renting the house for a week ourselves along with my wife’s parents to celebrate my mother in law’s birthday. It was a great vacation that I’ve documented over on The Monkee Diaries, but I saved the food posts for Monkeying Around The Kitchen, of course!Every year we go to Ipswich we wind up at the Clam Box, which any New Englander will tell you is world famous. They say that about a lot of things I’ve never heard of, but what are you gonna do? The Box is renowned for their fried seafood. If you’re only in town on the weekend, you’ll usually have to wait outside in a long line, so we thankfully went on a week day. I wound up getting the 2 Way Combo Plate which came with fried scallops, clams and onion rings as well as coleslaw. I honestly can’t remember what I’ve had there before because, since I’m nowhere near a seafood expert, one fried thing tends to look like the others, though I do believe their scallops are a recurring theme in my ordering. Like I said, I’m no fried seafood expert, but I like what I’ve had at the Box. The batter isn’t ultra distracting from the flavor or whatever you’re eating. The food is all local so you know it’s fresh and they actually close in the middle of the day to change out the oil, so it’s not one of those situations where the frying process makes things a little fishy. I even liked the slaw, which is a food I always want to like but tend to get disappointed by. It’s not too watery yet still has a nice tang to it.

Overall, I’d recommend heading over to the Clam Box if you’re in the area, but I’d honestly like to check out a few other places to compare and contrast. Just try to head over on a weekday so you can actually get a seat inside or outside, depending on the water.

Back In Action

I was really, really looking forward to last week’s vacation (see pics over on The Monkee Diaries). Between work and watching Lucy, I was feeling pretty run down and a whole week spent with my wife and her parents seemed like the perfect break. I’ve mentioned this occasionally, but I think what has surprised me most about watching Lucy on my own is how exhausting it can be. Even on her best days, the basic act of vigilantly watching a child who can’t do anything for herself takes its toll. Add some creative writing/journalism on top of that and it makes for one tired poppa.

All those extra pairs of eyes to watch and arms to hold were great. I didn’t even have to change the majority of the diapers which was a nice change of pace. But, as they say, that was then. Today was now and boy was it a doozey. I think after not only having so many people to see and interact with–including various family members that came along to see her–not to mention the amazing scenery to check out, Lucy is now bored with our modest condo.

I’m really hoping this is just a phase or possibly a step towards learning to sit up or crawl, but she just seemed bored or nervous all day. She didn’t want to stand, so I stood her up. She’d smile for a bit, but like a light switch flip, she’d start crying. Most of the day, she didn’t want to sit, so I walked around with her which worked a little. Heck, she didn’t even seem that hungry and trust me, I tried giving her a bottle to soothe her as much as possible.

Our friend Adrienne had her first child before ours and she gave us the most profound and accurate pearl of wisdom: just when you feel like you’ve got everything figured out and are a great parent, the kid goes and screws it up. Obviously, she meant it as a joke, but there’s a definite slab of truth in the statement. Before heading off on vacation I was tired, but I felt like I had a pretty good handle on Lucy and her habits. A week later I feel like I’m back at square one. I know part of it is just readjusting to being home along with each other, but she’s also getting stronger and probably more used to this place and wants to see more of the world. I’m going to have to get a little more creative with how we spend our days!

Food TV: The Great Food Truck Race Season 2 Finale

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I was on a fantastic vacation that you can check out over on my photo diary blog The Monkee Diaries and am working on some posts about the great food we cooked and ate on that trip. In the meantime, we got home in the early afternoon today, which meant we had plenty of time to watch The Great Good Truck Race‘s second season finale. In reality, I wound up missing the first 10-15 minutes because my wife was putting our daughter to bed while I was caught up in the Steelers/Colts game.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who read my previous post about this show, but I was rooting pretty hard for Hodge Podge. Not only are they from Cleveland–my mom’s home town and where my grandmother still lives–but the Lime Truck really didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. They just seemed so full of themselves, superior and looked down at every town they were in because it wasn’t sophisticated like California. I hate that shit. Did anyone else notice that the interview scenes shifted away from the really cocky kid–the hype man of the group–and shined the spotlight on the dudes who were actually the cooks? I wonder if that was a result of fan feedback or the fact that they wound up winning and Food Network didn’t want their winner to come off as total D-bags. By the end, I actually wound up liking the two chefs a lot more, but still had trouble with that guy.

Anyway, as I said, I missed the beginning of the episode. I think there was something about their trucks getting towed away, right? I do know that they had to get to a certain amount of money before running to meet host Tyler Florence and getting the prize money. By the time I tuned in, they were getting shut down for the first night and had to go fishing. They had to turn whatever they caught into a meal that would win them a substantial prize. Lime won that one, but Hodge wound up getting a pretty good spot, so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The next day’s task was to serve only dessert, which worked out fine for both trucks it seemed. They did some plucky editing to make it look like both trucks got to the money marker at the same time and then Florence did a whole schtick with the Lime guys who got their first about how, if they open this brief case and it has money in it, they won. As it turned out, Lime Truck did win and they only got there about five minutes before Hodge Podge, which was a bummer.I don’t remember a lot about the first season of The Great Food Truck Race other than that I did watch it and think I liked it, but I have a feeling I’ll remember this batch a lot more. We started off with the cute vegan girls and the upstart dudes from Boston who wound up coming in third. Lime Truck played the villain of the piece, being dubbed the Slime Truck by some of the other teams. Hodge was the boisterous guy who seemed to get by on sheer willpower and of course you’ve got the Korilla truck who cheated and got sent home. I’m still surprised that there was no footage of them cheating or interview explanation of why they did what they did. I mentioned something like this on Twitter the day that episode aired and someone responded back that they thought they weren’t going to win, so they put extra money in. Don’t you just love when people explain what was just explained on television? But, nope, we were left with something being said as they drove away and that was it. Wild stuff.

Much as I did like this season, I think there’s a helluva lot more interesting show going on behind the scenes here that would work on a different network. You’re sending a group of young, heady people out all over the country, making them wear goofy uniforms and putting them against each other in increasingly odd challenges. The real show should be what these guys and gals do at the hotel between stops. Let’s see that show.

Wife Lessons: Coffee Cubes

This is another one of those things that my lovely wife told me about and then I mentioned to her a week or so later after reading about online somewhere and she glared at me. It’s okay, I can be dense that way. Anyway, the idea here is that, when you brew coffee you don’t want to put water in it and thin it out. So what’s the solution? Iced coffee cubes!

As far as Wife Lessons go, this one’s super simple. Just brew about a cup and a half to two cups of coffee, let it cool and then pour it into an ice cube tray. Freeze that tray and then you’ve got an easy way to cool down your coffee without lessening the caffeine intake too much. My wife also tipped me off to the fact that places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Home Goods have great deals on coffee. Just go back to where all that funky old olive oil and weird chocolates are and you’ll probably see a few interesting coffees you want to try out. I’ve had pretty good luck getting my buzz out of those bags and think you will too!

Pop Poppa TV Review: Up All Night Series Premiere

I was equal parts interested and wary of NBC’s Up All Night (Wednesdays at 8:00PM). On one hand, I love Will Arnett (even though Running Wilde lacked any real basis in reality and therefore gave me no foundation to stand on while laughing at hijinks) and like Christina Applegate. Plus, I dug the idea of a sitcom based on a shared experience that I now have with the characters. They’re both new parents with the wife working and the dad staying home to watch the baby. My worry was that it would be all corny “Oh man, we NEVER get any sleep anymore,” jokes which seem so obvious and tired (PUN!) that they don’t sound appealing to me right now. Maybe that’s just because Lucy’s been waking up to feed a lot more lately and it hits a little close to home at the moment. Oddly enough, the season premiere didn’t live up to either expectation, but wound up going in a completely different direction.

I caught the first episode last night with my inlaws. We’re on a family vacation in Massachusetts this week, hence the lack of blogging, though I do have some good ideas read to rock once we’re back at home base. Anyway, while I liked Applegate and Arnett together, they came off as pretty one-dimensional in this first episode as it solely revolved around them trying to impress their cool-looking new neighbors and Applegate’s boss, the Oprah-like Maya Rudolph assuming that the baby hated her. The point of all this was for them to reconcile their switch over from hip married couple to boring parents, which was very plainly expressed throughout the episode without much subtext or real emotion. Again, maybe it’s because I’m dealing with things like this now (not that I was ever super cool, but you get what I mean) and it’s very real to me. I can tell you how it all feels and it doesn’t come off as cartoony and jokey, it hits you in the gut. Actually, maybe I will tell you what it feels like in a later post…

Another complaint I had was that all of the secondary characters came off as very one dimensional. I think there’s a lot of potential in Rudolph’s, but there was no depth there this time. The baby wallet stuff was pretty funny though. Then you’ve got the sycophantic assistant, the lame neighbors who don’t actually say anything the whole episode and the super-great nice guy played by Nick Cannon, who was definitely charming, but too nice (who agrees to come over at midnight to watch a baby so you can go over to your neighbor’s party and act like you didn’t call the cops on them?). Oddly enough, the cool new neighbors came off as the most interesting to me because they looked cool, but didn’t seem obsessed with it like Applegate and Arnett. They were just living it, you know? I wouldn’t mind watching THEIR show, actually.

Overall, this first episode felt like a misstep. I think they should have focused more on the parents as real people dealing with their child instead of aging cool kids dealing with age, because at the end of the episode I don’t really care about anyone in the show. And why should I? What was I given to really grab a hold of? With that being said, each character still had a line or two that made me laugh and some interesting moments here and there, just as a whole it felt imbalanced. Maybe if this was the third or fourth episode and I knew these characters a little better, it’d be interesting, but opening your series with a showcase of how vapid and status-conscious your leads are doesn’t seem like a great idea to me. At the end of the day, I’ve only got so much time to watch TV in the evening (we are DVR-less in our house) and I will most likely be jumping over to ABC’s line-up from 8-10PM on Wednesdays because the combination of The Middle, Suburgatory (love the concept, hate the title), Modern Family and Happy Endings is a lot more compelling for me as both a fan of comedy and a parent. But, I’m still rooting for Up All Night. Hopefully it’ll be like Parks & Rec which started of dismally and has since turned into a great series. Fingers crossed.

My Four Month Old & I Discuss Grant Morrison Comics

So, technically, this video was taken when Lucy was three months old–exactly one month ago, actually–but it’s just way too funny not to share with you guys. If you’re not a comic fan, Grant Morrison is a comic book writer. Many of his comics have been linked by story and thematic elements. None of that’s really important, but it should make the comic fans chuckle a little more than you regular folks. Enjoy!

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Napoleon Pizza & Pizza Rustica Balls

Mama Theresa’s Pizzeria & Italian Eatery
Big V Towncenter (in the Kmart plaza)
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 561-6262

One of the great things about living in Orange County is that we’re never lacking a great place to pick up some pizza. Just off the top of my head I can think of three amazing place, two pretty good ones and one that I’d get if driving by and pretty hungry. The down side is that this embarassement of pizza riches has ruined me for ‘za in pretty much any other place, with few nostalgic exceptions. I don’t want to be a pizza snob, but I think I might be one.

Anyway, Mama Theresa’s is about five minutes from our house in a Kmart strip mall. It’s pretty unassuming, but it’s got some of the best pizza around. It’s our usual go to when we want to eat a few slices in the house (we head to Cornwall if we want to eat out). A week or two back, we tried a few new things from them.

The pizza is the Eggplant Napoleon and is described on the menu as “Mama Theresa’s fried eggplant, fresh mozzarella, fire red roasted peppers and our own balsamic vinegar glaze.” The combination of flavors was fantastic and the balsamic glaze was tangy, sweet and even creamy, I’ve never had anything like it. We also tried the Pizza Rustica Balls: “Ricotta, mozzarella, Roman cheese, salami, prosciutto, ham, cappicola cover with Mama Theresa’s bread crumbs. Fried golden brown. Served with Mama Theresa’s tomato sauce.” I don’t remember a lot about this tasty little morcels aside from the fact that they were full of salty, Italian goodness.

I wish I had taken notes and given a better review, but hopefully if you’re in the area, you’ll give these tasty treats a shot next time you’re looking for pizza!

My Brand New Knife

I feel kind of bad that I can’t remember when I got my first real knife. I can’t remember if it was when I first learned to cook in college or if it was around the wedding. I believe it was the former and a gift from my parents, but I know we got a few more when my wife and I got hitched. And, frankly, we’ve got some damn good knives. We’ve got a serrated, Santoku and paring knife from Wusthof along with a few others you can see in the picture below. They’re all housed in this great knife block we got from Bed, Bath & Beyond called the Kapoosh Universal Cutlery Block that allows for a wide variety of different knives, which, as you can tell, is great for us. Instead of having designated slots, the body of the block is made up of tightly packed bristles that allow for whatever arrangement that works best for you. You can either pull it out and wash it, which I clearly need to do in the near future.

Even with a good variety of knives, though, I’ve been thinking about picking a new one up. In the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, he sets aside a mini-chapter about knife care and selection. He says it doesn’t really matter how big or expensive the knife is, but that it feels comfortable in your hand. You don’t want something so big and unwieldy that you’ll be lopping off a finger or two. He also said you should wash them when you’re done, dry immediately and not put them through the dishwasher. Also, sharpen before every use.Like a lot of things I’ve read from Bourdain, I took this to heart and realized that I haven’t been treating my knives well. They still work, though they’re definitely looking worse for wear. There’s also maybe some dullness that I only recently realized. With that in mind, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled every time we go to a Marshall’s, TJ Maxx or Home Goods for an affordable knife that will work for me. Some of those nice Wusthof knives I mentioned before were actually purchased at those places for short money.Two weekends back, we were at a mega TJ Maxx/Home Goods in Poughkeepsie and I saw a 7-inch Santoku that I liked. There was also a chef’s knife, but it was even bigger, I think 8-inches or so. I walked away to look for a food mill in that gigantic place (no luck there) and then caught up with Em and Lu. The knife had lodged itself into my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. And, hey, it was around $15, so I wound up buying it.

Cut eggplant

Of course, the next week (last week) wound up not involving any cooking because of scheduling problems, so I didn’t really get to put it to use until a few days back when I made pasta sauce and botched some eggplant, but at least I got to use it! Every time I do the dishes, I scrub the knife down with soap and water, wipe it down with a towel and after I know it’s all the way dry, I sharpen it and then return it to the block. I’m not taking any chances with this one!

A Man Of The Cloth Part 3: The Modern Age

I’ve already gone over how and why we decided to use reusable diapers and also the newborn versions we used for a few months, so now it’s time to talk about the ones we’re using right now. I honestly don’t remember all the options my wife gave me when deciding which diapers to go with, but we basically have two different kinds: Bum Genius and Flips. The Bum Genius diapers come in two parts. There’s an outside part which looks like a regular diaper as well as an insert the slides inside. Both the diapers and the inserts are adjustable in size thanks to a series of snaps. Basically, they grow with your kid, which means you theoretically won’t have to buy more until they’re potty trained. We’ve got two different kinds of Bum Genius diapers: ones that close with velcro and ones that close with snaps. Personally, I prefer the velcro because they’re more adjustable and you don’t have to count how many buttons you’re going for. This might not seem like much of a task, but that just means you either haven’t changed a squirmy baby or haven’t done so in a while. The downside to the velcro ones, though, is that you have to make sure to afix the tab to an inside tab when you throw the used diaper in the bin, otherwise they’ll all get stuck together in the laundry.The idea behind the Flips is that you buy a few covers and then a bunch of inserts and rotate the covers. Unlike the Bum Genius diapers, the inserts don’t get tucked inside the cloth diaper, but sit against the baby’s skin. These are also adjustable with varying snaps on the cover and fold lines on the liners. Flips work pretty good as long as you don’t have a poo-splosion. We’ve got four covers which I rotate through and even have a pretty solid system for going through, but if they have a big poop, that’ll definitely take out one of the covers, leaving you a man down. The plus side for these, though, is that the laundry process isn’t as much of hassle. Which brings me to the topic of laundry. If you use cloth diapers you will be doing it all the damn time. We do a diaper wash every other day, almost without fail. My wife usually gets the wash started by doing a spin cycle to get any solids off and give everything a good soaking. After that one of us–usually her–puts the detergent in and sets the washer to Whitest Whites. It’s a special brand called Ecos that doens’t have any chemicals and is supposed to be good for their skin. After that, we have to separate the inserts from the covers. The inserts go in the dryer while the covers get hung around our house to dry. We don’t have a yard, so we wind up using the shower curtain in our bathroom and the railing leading down to our front door. I’ll be honest, I hate separating and hanging diapers. I don’t know what it is, it just bugs me. I think because it’s not simple. I’m always worried that I’ll accidentally put a cover in the dryer or wind up with an insert I’ll have to go back and throw in the dryer. Really, I’m just lazy. Anyway, the basic idea is that cloth diapers wind up being a lot of work because even after everything’s dry, you’ve still got to stuff the inserts back into the Bum Genius covers. It’s making me tired just thinking about it, but on the plus side, you’re not dousing your kid in chemicals and it creates less landfill than disposables. If you’ve got the resources and the time, I do recommend it. I think it probably winds up being better in the long run AND they say that kids who use reusable diapers potty train earlier because they can feel and don’t like being in their own waste. I’m in full favor of that as it will mean less diaper laundry. Logic!

Cooking Tacos

While at the farm stand down the road on Monday I saw that they had tomatillos for about a buck a pound. That got the wheels turning. A while back I saved the link for Alton Brown’s Taco Potion #19, a homemade version of that packets you buy at the store. I wanted to give that a try, so when I saw the tomatillos I immediately thought to make tacos along with an altered version of Tyler Florence’s Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I’ve made the full enchilada recipe that this sauce accompanied, but have been wanting to try it with just regular tacos and will also be taking the extra along with me next week when I make those awesome fish tacos for everyone on vacation next week.

This meal wound up taking a while because there were so many steps. I started off making the Taco Potion which was super easy. The “hardest” part was blending the coriander in the Magic Bullet and the only trouble there was reaching for the Bullet. You literally just throw everything in a jar and mix it up, so there’s no real work there. I didn’t even have to buy anything because we had all the ingredients in house.

After that I put together the altered Tomatillo Chile Salsa. I skipped the jalapenos and cilantro because I’m not a fan of heat and my wife despises cilantro. I also didn’t have any actual limes in the house, so I went with some of that stuff that comes in the lime-shaped bottle. Also, since our oven doesn’t work, I just cooked the tomatillos, onion and garlic in a large pan with olive oil. To keep the heat in, I put the lid on and let them go on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. When they got blackish, I took them off the heat and eventually blended them up in the Cuisinart along with the other ingredients. I honestly didn’t notice a difference in taste with the different cooking method.

While the sauce cooled, I started cooking the ground beef for tacos in an iron skillet. I’ve made tacos enough using the directions on the taco kit box to know the basics. You brown the meat, drain the fat, add the taco spices and water, cook down and you’re done! When we have it, I throw some salsa or V8 juice in there which adds even more flavor. As the meat cooked I got the other elements of the taco bar together. I cut up some green onions from the cup with kitchen scissors, chopped lettuce, put out the tomatillo sauce, sour cream and hot sauce (my wife likes red while I like green) and shredded the cheese. Once the tacos were done cooking (ie most of the liquid had cooked off or been absorbed), I put that on a plate and started lightly toasting the tortillas on the stove with some tongs.

I’m always a fan of taco bar night going back to when I was a kid and mom made them, so this meal was great for me. However, the taco potion was a little off. I don’t think I’m a huge fan of the smoked paprika in there. The taco meat wound up tasting almost like sausage with it’s smokey flavor. It was an interesting taste, but didn’t exactly scream “tacos!” The tomatillo sauce was a great mix of tangy and sour, which is what makes it such a good taco companion. I highly recommend giving either recipe a shot next time you feel like heading south of the border. On a personal note, I like that I’m getting to a place where I’ve cooked enough recipes to know which pieces of them might make sense with other flavors and how to switch up some methods and come out with something pretty similar. I’m starting to feel like an actual cook!

Haha

The other day Lucy made a few sounds that sounded an awful lot like “ha ha.” Since then I’ve been trying to get her to say it again with varying degrees of success. This video has the best example so far. I know it’s not really a word, but I think it’s important to start a kind of call and response with her. She might not be able to say words or actually communicated, but being able to replicate and repeat sounds is a big part of the process. It might just be my imagination, but I also noticed that she tends to smile when I say “ha ha” to her, almost like she knows what it means. Just saying…

Cooking Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter and Breaded Eggplant

I had come up with a pretty lofty group of recipes to try out last week, but after not making it to the farmer’s market OR the grocery store, we wound up eating Spaghetti-Os. This week, I decided to take it a little easier on myself and go with a few recipes I’ve done before. In fact, I’ve written about making Smitten Kitchen‘s wonderful recipe for Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter previously, but this time I had a few more things going on and took more pictures, so I figured I could double dip a bit. Note that I double the sauce recipe completely when I make it, hence the extra canned tomatoes, butter and onions (I went with one and a half instead of two full ones, actually). Earlier that day I had also gone to the farm stand right down the street from us and came across these awesome eggplant specimens. I think. Honestly, I don’t know how to tell if I got good ones or not yet. How do you know if an eggplant is good? Since our oven still isn’t working, I took Ingrid Croce’s recipe from FoodNetwork.com for Breaded Eggplant and tried cooking them on the stove. You’ll just have to wait and see how that turned out.

As you can see in that first picture above, I really had to utilize my dinky kitchen and also my time management skills. The eggplant was supposed to be cut, salted and left to drain/sweat for an hour, so I did that first. I laid the slices on a plate, put another plate on top, did the same and then used another plate with the tomato cans on top to add pressure. After that I got the onion and butter ready for the sauce and put them aside. Then I trimmed the fat off the chicken (an addition I made to the recipe for some added protein) and tossed them in a small baking dish I have with some olive oil, salt and pepper to marinate in the refrigerator for a while.

Once the prep stuff was done, I poured the two 28 oz cans of peeled plum tomatoes into the pot and got the heat going. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe calls for one can, but I double it to get even more of that saucy goodness. That simmered for 45 minutes or so, with occasional stirring and tomato squishing. With that in the works, I grilled the chicken on my George Foreman, chopped it up and tossed it in with the sauce as it simmered. Around this time, I also got the pasta water boiling. I went with wheat which doesn’t always taste great in recipes but I think works pretty well with the bold flavor of the sauce.

While the chicken cooked, I got the eggplant ready, dabbing it dry with a paper towel and transferring them to just one plate. I then got the egg mixture together and a bowl of panko crumbs. Instead of using the oven, I heated a pan with some olive oil up and got to cooking them after the chicken was in the sauce. This is where I realized things weren’t working out so well. The eggplant didn’t take the egg wash very well, the panko didn’t stick, the eggplant soaked up the olive oil in the pan and the panko crumbs started to burn in the pan. Overall they just weren’t looking right. I’ve seen really good breaded eggplant from my mom and this was not it.

The pasta finished cooking and I added that all to the sauce because I’ve heard all over the place that you’re supposed to finish cooking the pasta in with the sauce. My only goof with the sauce was not taking the onion out before adding the pasta, but that’s not so bad. The onion bits I didn’t pick out actually tasted alright. At least one of the problems I had with the eggplant was that I forgot to salt the pieces during the sweating process. Salting draws the water out and I don’t think much of that got done in the hour I left them to drain. I’m sure the wetness factor screwed with the already-altered cooking method. It’s too bad because I really do love some great breaded eggplant. The pasta itself was just as great as always. I love the buttery tone under the familiar red sauce. I make this recipe about once every month or two and it’s a real favorite.

Food Book News From Anthony Bourdain & Michael Ruhlman

Apologies to anyone who reads both this and my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee because I’m about to double dip a bit. As I mentioned over there in my link-blog post Casting Internets, there were a few bits of chef book news that I found pretty interesting. First up, Anthony Bourdain will be getting his own imprint through Ecco which itself is part of HarperCollins. I read about this over on The New York Observer who had the following quote from Bourdain:

We look forward to publishing an unusual mix of new authors, existing works, neglected or under-appreciated masterworks, and translations of people from elsewhere who we think are just too damned brilliant not to be available in English. We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists.

I’ve read and seen enough of Bourdain to understand that the man has a lot of influences both in and out of the cooking world that he will hopefully bring to better light. I’m curious to see what the three to five books per year he’ll have his name grace, at least as a logo. Meanwhile, in the world of books that are actually available at the moment comes Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty. I first experienced Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of Bourdain’s No Reservations, which instantly endured him to me (I have a kinship for that city because it’s where my mom was born). He’s been on a few other episodes and even popped up as a judge on Iron Chef America. I don’t know a lot about him other than he’s really into cooking, smoking, curing and preparing meat, which I appreciate. I just started checking out his website, just in time to see him writing about this new book that posits there are only 20 techniques you need to know to cook anything. He explains himself better in a post on his site. I like the sound of this book because it’s part recipes and part text book. I think I can use a few textbooks on the cooking class that is life (ooh, that was deep…).

Belle Of The Ball

I’ll get back to the epic diaper posts tomorrow. Today, I want to talk about a subject I’ve already mentioned over on The Monkee Diaries and Monkeying Around The Kitchen, but with a new spin. Last weekend, the missus, Lucy and I went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for the wedding of my longtime friend Shannon to all around cool guy Matt. The wedding itself was beautiful and the hotel we stayed at–The Eden Resort–was probably the best non-Disney hotel and grounds I’ve ever been to, but I was most impressed with how Lucy handled everything from the drive down (which she mostly slept through) to the wedding itself.

Our original plan for the weekend was to have my parents come down from Ohio to watch Lucy during part of the wedding and reception. Lucy was invited to the event–even got her name on the invitation AND table card–but we knew she would get tired long before the reception was over and my parents offered to watch her so we could hang out with our friends. It was a long way for them to come for a short time, but they have no problem making trips like that and were pretty excited about their first solo babysitting experience. Friday night, when we got to the hotel there was a very nice welcome bag waiting for us that informed us that Shannon’s mom–who was also my fifth grade teacher, by the way–was having a gathering in her room, which was actually like a small version of a town house. We went over to grab a drink or two–the strongest and therefore best hurricane I’ve ever had–and kibitz. We expected to chat a little bit, but Lucy wound up being quite the conversation magnet. People I’d never met were coming up to us and striking up conversations, it was kind of nice.

I’m a shy person by nature, but I’ve noticed that, since having Lucy around, I’ve gotten to be a little more social. Maybe it’s because more people just come right up and talk to you, but I also think that a baby is kind of a natural conversation starter. “How old is she?” usually kicks these talks off and they either die out right there or move on in a nice natural progression. Anyway, Lucy did really well at that party considering we went 20 minutes after she usually goes to bed. It was kind of hot and she was tired, so she got a little fussy and we went back to our room. Before we left the party, Shannon asked why we had gotten two rooms and I told her about my parents. She told us that they had had a couple cancel at the last minute and would love it if my folks came (we’ve known each other since grade school, through high school and college till now, to give you an idea). I called them as soon as we got back to the room to let them know so they could bring proper clothes. Our plan changed to having everyone come to the wedding and the reception and then having my folks take Lucy back when she started getting sleepy.  The next day at the wedding was very similar, with many of the same people from the previous night and a few new ones coming up and talking to us about Lu. During the wedding itself, she got a little loud, but my wife picked her up and stood in the shade with her and she settled right down. I held her as we made our way to the reception and she wound up sleeping for a half hour or so on my shoulder which was super adorable. We were all really proud of how well she did. We’d been to a few gatherings, but those were with people she had met for the most part and none of them had the loud noise or theatrics that come from a wedding. Generally speaking, she doesn’t seem to get scared, so it was nice to see that carried over into a much larger and louder setting. You can file this one under the “brag” category (which you can see I actually created after writing this post). Thanks to Shanon and Matt for the invite, my parents for coming down, our friends Geof and Eileen who we hung out with most of Saturday and Sunday and all the people we talked to whose names I never caught. It was a great weekend!

Restaurant Review: Lititz Family Cupboard

Lititz Family Cupboard

Lititz Family Cupboard
12 West Newport Road
Lititz, PA 17543-8019
(717) 626-9102

As I chronicled over in my photo diary (here and here), we went down to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for our friends’ wedding this past weekend. We got in Friday night, hung out with some friends and then went to bed. On Saturday, we had some time before more friends and my parents got in town so we looked around on Urban Spoon for a place that might serve country/Amish food and came across Lititz Family Cupboard.

Beef Cubes & Gravy

Family Cupboard had a pretty sizable buffet that I scoped out, but because we were going to a wedding and reception later that day, I went with just one meal. I can get a little crazy when it comes to buffets. My wife doesn’t have the same problem, so she went for it and enjoyed everything she had, especially their homemade pies which she really dug. I went with Beef Cubes and Gravy because it sounded good, hearty and it came on mashed potatoes which I order whenever I can.

Mac & Cheese side

For my side, I kept things light by ordering macaroni and cheese, another food that I order pretty much every opportunity I get. So, how was everything? Pretty darn good. The mashed potatoes and gravy were top notch. Not as good as my mom’s, but that’s how it goes with such things. The beef was a little bland, but I added some salt and the world was good. The mac and cheese was great with the perfect amount of cheese. After eating a few bites of each, I decided to combine the mac and cheese with the potatoes and beef cubes. It was one of my better decisions as the cheese and gravy mixed together to make something pretty special.

I’d definitely recommend checking out Lititz Family Cupboard if you’re in the Lancaster, PA area. The people there were really nice, the buffet would have been my jam were we not going to a wedding and the overall atmosphere was pleasant. They also have a separate bakery where you can buy cookies, pies, cakes and the like. My wife got a whoopie pie that she really liked and I had a coffee that was rock solid. My only regret is not trying the pig stomach from the buffet as I’m trying to broaden by organ meet horizons.

Cooking Spaghetti-Os

As I mentioned in the post about the herb garden, I’ve been cooking a lot out of cans we bought for Hurricane Irene. On Monday night, my wife suggested we just eat the big can of Spaghetti-Os with Meatballs for dinner the next night. Considering this would cover a meal before theoretically heading to the farmer’s market, I agreed. I never did wind up making it to the farmer’s market–or the grocery store for that matter–partly because Lucy was having kind of a funky week and partly because we’re leaving for a wedding later today and didn’t want a lot of food sitting in the fridge while we weren’t here. You could probably sprinkle a little laziness and overwhelmedness into that stew of blame as well.

To be fair, the Spaghetti-Os weren’t terrible. I’m by no means a food snob and actually grew up on this stuff. Cracking open a can of food or soup or making Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were the extent of my food preparation as a kid spending summers home alone. It might not sound like the healthiest thing in the world, but I can’t tell you how liberating that felt. I could make my own food (kinda). I didn’t have to wait for dinner or my folks to take me somewhere, I could make Mac & Cheese and be good to go (I still love those blue boxes of awesomeness, by the way)! At the time, that’s where my interest in food ended. I only needed to keep gas in the tank and didn’t really care what it was, but the ability to metaphorically buy my own gas was a big step in my oncoming adulthood.

So, yeah, this post is kind of a joke. I laughed as I took the pictures and my wife asked me nicely not to broadcast our dinner of choice, but since it’s got a historic place in my food history, I figured it would make for a good post. What were some of the first foods you guys realized you could make on your own?

A Man Of The Cloth, Diapers That Is Part 2: The Early Days

After deciding to use cloth diapers, the next step was to actually choose which ones to buy. When it came to newborn diapers my wife decided on OsoCozy’s unbleached prefolds that go inside Proraps Classics and Bummis Super Whisper Wrap diaper covers. The idea is that the prefolds get folded or rolled-up and put around the baby then the covers go around that to help prevent leaks and wind up looking like normal diapers. After the kid goes to the bathroom, you drop the insert into your diaper pail and put the cover aside (unless it got dirty too, then that goes in the pail as well). We had four or five covers that we rotated out.

But, before that, we used disposables. I don’t remember the exact time frame, but I think we only used one package of newborn diapers. We did this because, as parents know and nonparents will be appalled to discover, newborn baby poop can be incredibly sticky, stain-y and comes in a variety of colors and consistencies. I don’t want to get into super detail because I myself can be quite squeamish and don’t want to gross anyone out. Basically, we didn’t want that early poop–called meconium if you’re curious, I warn you though, that will result in some funky search results–to stain the reusable diapers right out of the gate. Once the packet ran out we moved on to the cloth.We started off just folding the inserts and putting them in the diaper covers, but that wasn’t giving us enough coverage so we rolled from both sides towards the center, left the front section like that and then unfolded the back to make a kind of “Y.” For a while we just folded the inserts and used the cover to keep things in place, but eventually got these little guys called Snappi which used cloth claws and elastic to keep things in place.All in all these diapers served us well, but were only meant to be used while Lucy was small, the next batch are meant to be used until the kid is potty trained. We used the prefolds while on a long, 10 hour, car trip out to Michigan and that worked out pretty well. It took me a little while to wrap my head around these diapers but once I saw them in person and actually put one on Lucy, it wound up being pretty simple. So, if you’re worried that cloth diapers are too complicated or are thinking about the old day of pins and whatnot, those are pretty much non-issues. The next round of diapers is actually even easier to use, but I’ll get to that soon.

Condo Herb Garden

Sorry about the lack of posts this week. I haven’t been cooking much and have been either eating out at places not exactly worth writing home about or the cans of soup we bought for Hurricane Irene prep. Anyway, I can talk about our tiny herb garden a bit. Since we live in a condo, we don’t have any ground or yard to plant anything in, but our neighbors don’t seem to mind that we’ve created this potted herb garden and placed it on our shared front porch area. I think my wife got the idea for the set-up from a Martha Stewart magazine. Even though you can see three pots, there’s actually five involved. You get a big one and then one that’s about half the size, flip the smaller one upside down and put it inside the big pot, then fill around with dirt, soil or what have you. This gives your next visible pot (the same size as the buried one) a flat spot to rest on without wobbling. Plant your herbs in the dirt as you go and you’re good! It’s basically a planting pot pyramid.

My wife handled all the herb acquisition. I think she got them either from her mom or a store like Home Depot or Lowes (that’s where we got them last year). She planted this year’s crop with her parents while I was doing something else one weekend soon after the baby was born. We’ve got basil, dill, Thai basil, Italian parsley, thyme, tarragon and mint growing. I’ve used everything a number of times in cooking, either as a recipe calls for or while riffing on something like a hamburger recipe. It’s just about time to use up what we’ve got or pick what’s left and dry it for the winter. I’ll probably grab all or most of that basil and make a bunch of pesto and maybe a few rounds of mojitos with the mint. We also have a separate pot with catnip that you can’t see, but our kitty Milo is head over heels for the stuff.

This is a good way to have fresh herbs during the warm months. I’ve also seen those inside ones you can buy, but haven’t really experienced them. Have you guys? Yet another reason I’m excited about eventually getting a house (in addition to having a bigger shower, a bigger kitchen and even the smallest office possible) is have a little garden out back to grow some veggies and herbs. That takes the whole buying local thing to a whole different level!

Wife Lessons: The Green Onion Trick

As I mentioned in the first Wife Lessons post, my lovely wife knows all kinds of food tricks and tips. She gets them from talking to her mom and watching food shows and then passes them along to me. I believe this one came from one of those Top Chef or Next Food Network Star between-commercial clips where the contestants give you a good cooking idea. I didn’t get it from them, though, I got it from my wife.

Anyway, the idea is that, when you buy green onions, you probably don’t use all of them, right? So, you can put them in a cup with water and they’ll keep growing. Simple as that. When the ends get a little brown, I just give them a trim and we’re good for another few days. It works great.

I’ve had the onions in this picture for a few weeks now. Usually, I forget to water them and they die, but only after I’ve gotten more than a good use out of them. I’ve been watering this batch a lot more because…our cat Milo will not stop drinking from the cup. Instead of becoming just another thing on the shelf, we notice it more while laughing at our goofy cat.

Bonus Food Pics: Texas Burrito & Mojito

Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to spell the name of the Mexican place my wife and I went to last week, so I can’t sufficiently plug them. It’s an alright place we’ve been to a few times that’s generally quick and has solid food. Not mindblowing by any means, but a good place to go if you just want some simple Mexican food. I got the above Texas Burrito which was good and a mojito that lacked a certain amount of sweetness which made it kind of bland. Even so, it was nice to get out of the house after all the Hurricane Irene nonsense. Also, don’t their tables look like they have monster faces burned into them?!