Bonus Food Pics: Oktoberfest Eats

A few weekends back, the missus, the baby and I met up with a group of friends at the Bear Mountain Oktoberfest. My wife and I had gone about five years before with my parents on a visit and it was a pretty small-potatoes operations. We hadn’t been back since, so we were pretty surprised to discover it was a much better attended event nowadays. I’m sure that’s good for the parks system or whoever puts this thing on, but it’s not so good for attendees. See, the problem I had was that we wound up spending most of our time in line for beer and then food. The lines all snake through this large stone pavilion which is really nice, but not conducive to smooth line progression. But, hey, this is a food blog, who cares about lines, right? Well, the beer was absolutely worth waiting for. I went with a Wiesse beer, because that’s one of my all time favorites. I also decided to purchase the big ass mug, which I will admit taxed my arm and wrist as I carried it around, but on the plus side, it was a lot of beer without having to wait in a lot of lines and you can use them year after year. The food was another story. It’s not like they have legit German food vendors come in (as far as I can tell). I believe they just order in a bunch of bratwurste, knackwurste, pierogi and other dishes, heat them up and serve. The wurstes were good (can’t remember which I had and which my wife did, but I think I went with the knack), but the pierogis were clearly frozen, thawed out and then fried. I’ve had and actually made better, so I wasn’t super impressed with that.

So, next year, I think we’ll take our steins to get filled, but maybe bring our own food and a grill (or get one of the ones at the park) and make our own food. I bet I could scrounge up some better German sausage and other food around here and take them with us. But, I’m always down for some of that awesome German beer on tap!


Baby’s First Hallowe–Snow Storm?

I fully intended for today’s post to be about Lucy’s first Halloween party, but nature had other plans. See way, way back–before the baby was even born, I think–my wife and I were talking to my parents about how we were bummed we’d miss our friends’ annual Halloween party because of the baby (or at least not stay as long). For a different kind of event, we would ask friends to babysit, but all our friends would be at the party or doing their own thing, so we’d probably just stop in with the kid, have a drink or two and bounce when she got tired. My parents immediately offered to make the 9 hour drive from Toledo to New York to watch little Lu, so we figured we were all set.

We even came up with a pretty great family costume idea for the party’s “wildly inappropriate” theme. My wife worked on the baby’s costume and we each figured out our own looks that we got ready towards the end of last week. On Friday afternoon, my parents came in, but by then we started hearing about an unexpected event for the end of October: a snow storm. I usually don’t take things like this too seriously as the meteorologists/stations around here tend to blow things way out of proportion, but considering how early in the year this one was, I had a feeling it was going to be as bad as they were saying (which was 4-6 inches during Saturday with an accumulation of 10-12 over night). There was also the threat of power outages and fallen trees because they all still had so many leaves. As the snow or ice fell, the leaves would freeze and add a ton of weight to the branches, making them crack.

So, while my parents were out running an errand before coming over on Saturday and the snow seemed to get heavier and bigger every time I looked at the window, I figured it would be a good time to get some pizza, a few things out of storage and gas in my wife’s car. It wasn’t too harrowing, but I will say that people in this area have a tendency to become even worse drivers when the weather turns. I know it’s a cliche to complain about the drivers of any place you’re not from, but I consider myself a pretty good driver–one used to the snow thanks to living in Ohio and learning how to drive from my dad–and most other drivers, regardless of origin, don’t meet my expectations.

I didn’t have any problems while out and neither did my folks, but after we were all back at our place and full of delicious pizza, we got word that the party was cancelled because one of the hosts got called into work. It wasn’t looking too good by that point anyway, so we weren’t surprised. We were a little more surprised at around 5:00PM when the power flickered and then went out. We’re not unaccustomed to losing power here–our record was about 72 hours a few winters back–but this was the first extended period of time where it happened and we had the baby.Thankfully, since we’ve got a healthy supply of candles, flashlights and warm baby clothes, she didn’t seem to notice. Because we have a gas stove, we were able to still cook, which was good because I had bought a lot of ingredients for a soup I’ll write about over on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. After dinner and some more conversation, my parents took off for home–they’ve started driving through the night to get home at a decent time on Sundays lately–and we did our best to entertain ourselves, but were all pretty tired and wound up going to bed early.

Sunday morning we didn’t have any plans, so I got up and dug our cars out of the snow. It was odd because the sun was out and the snow was already melting off the trees–or what was left of them–so the snow and cold weren’t much of a threat, but we were still powerless. My wife bundled up the baby and we went for a drive. We had talked to a neighbor who suggested we head in one direction so we did. It was hard to tell who had power and who didn’t, but after about an hour of driving we wound up in nearby Washingtonville at a breakfast place that was pretty swamped with people who looked like they’d all spent the night without power. On the way home we heard on the radio that half of the people serviced by our power company were without power, making it one of the three worst outages of all time.Since we live in a pretty big condo/apartment/town house complex and, I believe, are on a fairly large grid, I was hoping we’d get it back on during the day. I admit that a big part of that was because I wanted to see the Steelers/Patriots game. That’s always an interesting one in our house because I’m a Steelers fan and my wife likes the Pats. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, though my dad did keep me up to date via text messages (our phones weren’t working great, but would occasionally send and receive texts).

However, just around 8:20PM or so, things kicked back on! I had given up hope for the night and figured I’d spend the rest of the evening hanging out with the wife and reading Joe Hill’s ultra creepy Heart-Shaped Box, but the return of power meant we could watch part of The Amazing Race and the premiere of The Next Iron Chef, which was pretty awesome. The funniest thing about the whole experience was how used to routine I’ve become. Even if I walked into the bathroom and used the touch light to see what I was doing, I would still automatically put my hand to the light switch as I left the room. My wife did the same thing. I even tried putting a credit card application into the shredder while the room was lit by candlelight.Luckily, Lucy’s not used to things like that for the most part. She seemed a little confused why we were in the dark and maybe just a little out of sorts about the whole thing, but since she was warm and fed, I think it wasn’t so bad for her overall. Besides, the snow gave us a chance to try out Lu’s snow suit and introduce her to the white cold stuff. She seemed to like it, especially eating it, but got sick of having a cold butt after a while. Can’t blame her for that, no one likes a cold butt.

I Kind Of Love The Idea Of Dance Cooking

For some reason, the only version of this Bounty commercial I could find online is in Spanish. I think you can get the idea as it plays here, though. Basically, these kids are dancing while cooking and make a huge mess. One of the aspects of cooking that I like so much is how fluid you can make it. I like to get myself well prepped ahead of time, so I know where everything is and can make the whole operation flow well. I’ve never been a line cook or anything, but I’ve read enough Anthony Bourdain to understand that a really good line of cooks and chefs and become as synchronized as a dance troupe. I’m sure they don’t make this big of a mess, though sometimes I do.

Pop Poppa Toy Review: Kid O Stack & Nest Cups

Even with all the bells and whistles available to kids today (my daughter Lucy is obsessed with trying to get her hands on my iPhone), sometimes it’s the most simple toys that wind up capturing kids’ imaginations. Like many baby toys, the Kid O Stack & Nest Cups (warm colors), were a gift from a friend. The great thing about having awesome friends is that they all offer different and new sets of eyes and points of view when it comes to what might make for a fun kid’s toy. Had I seen these stacking and nesting blocks I don’t know if I would have given them a second look, but they’ve turned out to be a favorite of our daughter’s.Lucy’s still too young to be able to stack or nest the blocks herself, but that doesn’t mean she’s not interested. My wife or I will stack them up in front of her and she has a tendency to grab the middle block in an attempt to pull the whole tower towards her. As you’d expect, this doesn’t work out and the blocks all fall down in front of her, but she really seems to like winding up with just the one block. I like this toy for several reasons. First and foremost, the kid likes it, so that makes it aces in my book. I think the bright colors will help her eventually learn those names and the versatility of blocks as toys in general will allow them to be played with other similar toys. Versatility’s big for this pop poppa. But, probably my favorite aspect of the toy is that it can all be contained within itself at a smaller size. Nearly every other toy she has is as big as it is and doesn’t get any smaller, but this one can be nested and therefore fit in her overflowing living room toy basket better. As the one who does a lot of the picking up and cleaning, I appreciate that. Hey, there’s nothing that says that toys can’t be fun and practical (I hope not, at least).

Inventing Beef & Black Bean Chili Omelets

One of my go-to ideas when it comes to leftovers is to turn whatever it is into an omelet. I love omelets and I think they’re super versatile and that’s without even getting into crepe territory, which I’m mostly unfamiliar with. Well, after making Bobby Flay’s Beef and Black Bean Chili last week, freezing some and eating some for lunch, I was looking for something new to do with it.

So, I ladled a few scoops of chili into a small pan just to heat it up. At the same time I heated some olive oil in a larger pan and cooked one clove of diced garlic. While both of those warmed, I whipped three eggs together and poured just a tiny bit of milk in there (I’m still figuring out these ratios, but the less the better). By this point, the chili was bubbling a little, so I took it off the heat. I then poured the eggs into the larger pan and let them cook for a minute or two.

Then I poured the warmed chili in there. I should have strained out more of the juice. All that liquid in there made things a little tricky. While the eggs cooked and the chili heated, I shredded some cheddar over it all. I let that cook for a few minutes, tried folding it over, but didn’t have luck until I put it on the plot. I topped it with a dollop of sour cream and was good to go! I gotta say, this was a pretty good little mash-up. I could see this working with pretty much any kind of chili and will hopefully used them when I start my restaurant/food truck called Nachos & Omelets (the two most versatile foods).

Cutting Teeth

Teething is one of those developmental things that everyone dreads. We’ve all heard the horror stories about babies screaming through the night as their first tooth ever so slowly makes its way through the gums, pierces the surface makes that grand appearance out in the world. I’ve heard somewhere that, if adults had to go through this, they wouldn’t be able to stand the pain. I don’t know about all that. I do know that, over the past month and a half or so, Lucy’s had more difficult days than normal. She wasn’t napping very well and has been waking up crying more often. Her sleep patterns also changed at night. We figured pretty early on that it was teething. My wife told me that babies can wake up angry or crying because, when they’re awake, the pain can be blocked out, but when they’re sleeping they’re more focused on it.

Thinking about all this is kind of a bummer. These poor little tykes have to go through all this pain and there’s not really much you can do. We do have these things called Humphrey’s Teething Pellets, which seemed to help the few times we used them, though they made her a little loopy.

After a while, it seemed like Lucy got back to normal or at least settled into a new routine. Then, one day while I was out putting oil in my car or something, my wife came out with the baby. She actually startled me because I wasn’t expecting them to be standing there, but the big smile on her face calmed me down instantly. My wife showed me a tooth peeking out of Lucy’s gums. That was almost a full month ago (it was on her five month birthday, actually) and she now has a second one popping through.

Overall, I think the kid might have my wife’s high threshold for pain because the second one didn’t seem to bother her too much. I think it’s cool to see her starting to really grow up, though I wish it didn’t hurt her so much. The only real difference, the one that we can’t explain to her just yet, is that she can’t suck on our fingers like she used to because it hurts like a muther. Thankfully, we’ve got plenty of toys and teethers for her gnaw on to hopefully make up for it though.

Cooking Beef and Black Bean Chili with Avocado Relish

I felt like chili last week because it’s been cold and rainy lately. So, I looked through the folder I have on my desktop filled with recipes, most of which are from the Food Network site. I stopped on the first one, which is Bobby Flay’s Beef and Black Bean Chili with Avocado Relish (the recipe also tells you how to make Toasted Cumin Crema, but I skipped that in favor of good, old fashioned sour cream). I’d made this recipe once before and, if memory serves, it turned out really spicy, though I didn’t remember that until much later. It called for pasilla chili which I didn’t have and didn’t buy, so I just went with ancho chili powder, cumin and a shake or two of cayenne. The only other change I made was not including the ancho chili paste because I don’t know what that is and therefore did not have any.

Before really getting started, I got all the spices together in a small bowl. I like to get as many things like this done ahead of time. I also chopped up the onion and garlic before getting to the beef. I made short work of two pounds of London broil, quickly turning it into cubes and popping them into a bowl. With everything ready, I put a stock pot–wasn’t sure if it would have fit in a Dutch oven, but it probably would have–got the oil warming and then dropped the cubes in.

Once the beef was browned and I sprinkled some salt and pepper in there (I should have done this earlier in the process, but it slipped my mind). I then drained out all of the grease and poured about three tablespoons back into the pot using a two cup measuring pourer. The onions and garlic went in next along with all the spices, which turned into a kind of roux. After the designated two minutes, I poured in the dark beer (we had a Saranac sampler pack in the house so I chose the Black Forest type) and continued the recipe as it’s written.

While the chili cooked, I put the Avocado Relish together which was super easy. You basically chop up some avocado (I had three, instead of the recommended two), red onion and the tiniest Jalapeno I could find and throw that into a bowl. Then I squeezed one and a half limes into the bowl, sprinkled some salt and pepper in, mixed and was done! My wife hates cilantro, so I skipped that.

I forgot to snap a picture of the bowl, but I also shredded some cheddar cheese and put out the sour cream. I’m not sure if people normally put sour cream on their chili, but I started doing it after going over to a party at my friend Jimmy’s parents’ house when I was a kid. They had a crock pot of chili going, cheese and some sour cream out along with all the other food, so I put it on top. I mentioned it to my parents and they’d never heard of it, so maybe I accidentally invented something, but I doubt it. This chili turned out to be pretty darn spicy, though not as bad as last time. The avocado relish and sour cream really cut down on the heat, which was nice. There was still a kick, but it wasn’t too overwhelming.

By the way, does anyone know about pasilla chili? Is it super-hot? I haven’t encountered other recipes with it, but I’m curious what flavors it adds. Thanks!

Baby’s First Comic Con

As I wrote about yesterday, my wife and I went down to the New York Comic Con last Sunday and took our darling daughter with us. Em’s been down twice before, but the first time she was pretty sick and the second time she was pregnant, but overall, I think she got the gist of the event: lots of lookeeloos wandering around aimlessly, sometimes dangerously so, who are just as likely to smell your hair (actually happened to her) as they are to bonk into you with their giant hammer (happened to me). Knowing the general vibe of the area, plus the huge numbers that had already been there that weekend (the above picture is from Saturday) and the high noise level that comes from all those people, I was pretty worried about taking Lucy down with us. Like ready to call the whole thing off, nervous. I had seen people with babies at the show, but most of them were obnoxiously pushing their kids in strollers, but my wife thought it would be fine because she just got an Ergo Baby Carrier. Plus, she had made plans with a friend for lunch and I had been telling everyone that Lu was coming down, so we went with it. The trip started off with her first train ride, which she mostly slept through, even when we had to unexpectedly transfer trains. She then went on her first cab ride, which my wife did some research on because we weren’t sure about car seat laws in cabs. In New York City, it’s legal to be in a cab with your baby not in a car seat. Em still had Lucy in the carrier and kept her hand firmly on the strap. It helped that we didn’t wind up going more than 20 MPH at any time on our trip from Grand Central to the Javits center. Getting into the show itself wasn’t so bad. One of the benefits of a press pass is that you can mostly go where you need to and don’t have to wait in lines to get into the show. It also helped that the awesome CBR Tiki Room was up and away from everything else, so we could go up there, change the baby in one of the hallways and get ready before heading on to the show floor to introduce Lu to some of my friends. I should explain that I used to work with a lot of amazing people at Wizard, many of whom have moved to other states to continue working in comics or just to get away completely (or move back home in some cases). So, this show can be like a reunion for us and this is the first time most of them have been around to meet the baby.

Walking the show floor was pretty bad. I mean, it was cramped and crowded and vaguely foot-smelling the day before, but the day before I didn’t have a baby and a wife to watch out for. My poppa bear levels were up to eleven and I almost tore a kid’s head off for stopping right in front of my wife and daughter so he could take a picture of someone in a costume. I used to be the kind of guy that would say “I almost tore his head off” but being a dad changes things. My wife calmed me down and we moved on to show off our little bundle of joy. I had to go cover a panel for about an hour (longer if you count waiting in line, I’m not super impressed with how they handle press at these things, but more about that over on UnitedMonkee) so Em and Lu were on their own. After the panel we met back up, tried to find a few more people, said a few hellos and then bolted for lunch. All in all it was a fine experience, but one that definitely had me overly hyped up. I mean, that’s my job, right? To protect my family? I know I’m not fighting off a dinosaur with a bone or anything, but I did see a few people in dino costumes that I didn’t want bumping into me, my wife or my kid. I’m sure that feeling with chillax a little bit over time, but it’s still in my head a lot and will be for a while (probably forever, really).

I really wish I had taken a picture or two of her on the show floor or even up in the CBR booth, but I just forgot. It was way too crazy on the floor and I really didn’t want to be one of those people who are constantly stopping to take pictures. So, that’s why you have one of the back of her head on an elevator with a guy’s butt in the background. On the other hand, I absolutely love the untrustworthy glance she’s throwing at the cab driver. Always be wary kid, especially in the city!

Bonus Food Pic: Chicken Schnitzel Applewood Smoked Bacon & Melted Brie

Olive’s Sour Kraut
118 Main Street
Nyack, NY 10960
(845) 358-3122

I remember three things about our meal from a few weekends back at Olive’s Sour Kraut, which is owned by the same woman who owns my favorite bar in Nyack, Olive’s. One, I got the sandwich with the longest name on the menu: Chicken Schnitzel Applewood Smoked Bacon & Melted Brie. Two, the beer was fantastic. And three, the sandwich made me wish I lived closer to Nyack so I could eat at this excellent, new German restaurant on a regular basis. The friends we ate with are no stranger to German food and really liked what they got, so there you go. If you’re in the area, check out Sour Kraut.

Poppa’s First Comic Con

To be clear, I’ve been to every New York Comic Con that’s ever happened, but this year was the first time I went as a dad, which definitely changed how I experienced the event. For those of you not of the geek persuasion, the New York Comic Con kicked off in 2006 and has grown to become (I believe) the second largest gathering of comic book, video game, anime, movie and toy fans and professionals in the country. The event is held in the enormous Javits Center, with the con taking up nearly every inch of the place. This year it went from last Thursday through Sunday.

As I mentioned, I’ve gone to the show every year it’s been around in various capacities. The first year, Wizard actually had a booth that some of us manned. It was a big, disorganized show then and it’s only gotten more of both counts since. In the following years, I’ve gone as a researcher, a magazine writer and just to look around. This was my first year covering the show for CBR, a comic book website that I write for on a regular basis and thus it was a different experience. But, the biggest change was leaving Lucy for three days with my wife (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and then worrying about her and my wife at the show on Sunday.

As regular readers know and new ones will learn just now, I work from home and watch our daughter during the week while my wife goes to work. It’s a good situation because it allows me to keep up my freelance and also removes the cost of daycare for the foreseeable future. But, sometimes, you need a break and NYCC gave me that. It was really nice to feel like a normal, working person, albeit one surrounded by giant robots and scantily clad people in costumes of both sexes in increasingly smelly rooms waiting to hear people talk about comic books. Most of my work involved sitting in on panels (those talks I mentioned), taking notes and writing them up for the website. News is often saved for conventions, so they can be a pretty big deal. While it did feel good to be out in the real world again (I even missed hoofing in through New York City a little), I did miss that cute little face all day. On Thursday, when I left, I had an empty feeling when I realized I wouldn’t see her the rest of the day (she was up when I left, but was asleep every night when I got home). It was that same thing you see on every sitcom when the mom goes back to work or goes out without the kid for the first time. I’m learning that nearly everything said about parenthood on television is true in one way or another.I told my wife this and she said she feels that all the time when she goes to work.

One thing that helped was being surrounded by other fathers away from their kids. A few guys on the CBR staff traveled away from their homes and were also missing their kids. Meanwhile, other friends of mine who have children but live up near where I do were actually staying in hotels over the weekend so they wouldn’t have to train back home every night like I did. People said I should do the same thing next year, but I’m not so sure. Even seeing Lucy for a few minutes in the morning and getting to hold her was enough for me to take that 90 minute trip home. Stay tuned for the tale of Lucy’s first NYCC!

Cooking Salsa A Pomodoro (Pomodoro Sauce)

Sorry about the delays in posting recently. As my main source of income is writing about comic books and toys, I was down in the city for the New York Comic Con Thursday through Sunday, coming back only to sleep. Since the most interesting thing I ate was a burrito from a place in grand central station, I didn’t come away with much in the way of material for Monkeying Around The Kitchen. However, a few days before the convention, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now: making one of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking sauce recipes from scratch. After swinging by a farm stand last week, I had a mix of red and yellow tomatoes and got cooking!

This old fashioned recipe called for four pounds of tomatoes to start off with. I discovered that that basically evened out to eight tomatoes, though I threw a few more in to use them up (I had about twice that number). I started off by boiling a big pot of water and dunking the tomatoes in there for a dozen seconds or so. Basically, the boiling splits the skin, which you need to take off for the sauce. This was hot work and a crying baby didn’t help matters, but I finished quick enough, got her back to sleep and went back to work.

Once the tomatoes were peeled, I quartered the tomatoes, squeezed out the seeds, juice and water, tossed them in a pair of colanders, salted and let dry out. I let them sit for the recommended 20 minutes, sometimes moving them around and squeezing a bit more to get some of the water out. I don’t know the science or intent behind all this, but I went with it. Anyone know?

Anyway, while those dried I chopped up prosciutto and onions (I was surprised that this recipe didn’t call for garlic). I had also measured out and set aside the thyme, bay leaf and flour called for. The onions, prosciutto, thyme and bay leaf went into a Dutch over with olive oil and I browned the onions. After those cooked, I stirred in some flour. At some point in the process, I went back and chopped the tomatoes bits up into even smaller chunks, put them in a strainer and let drain even more. After the flour was stirred in, the tomatoes went in and I cooked again with pepper and sugar. That cooked for 30 minutes.

As that cooked, I added some more water back to my stock pot, tossed in some salt and got the water boiling for pasta. I had gotten a veggie-infused short, ridgy pasta that wound up being a good choice because it really grabbed the sauce. After the 30 minute cook, I stirred in a tablespoon of butter, waited for the sauce to cook down and then poured into the Cuisinart. The sauce was kind of chunk and looked pretty orange, which reminded me of pumpkin, but tasted really fresh and good with nice salty and buttery notes.

It wasn’t even really that much work. I feel like this is the kind thing that takes less and less time the more and more you do it. I’ll hopefully be able to get my hands on some more tomatoes before the weather really turns. I’d like to get some of this, and maybe a few other recipes from the book, made and stored for those cold winter months.

Bonus Food Pic: Another Great Fiddlestix Sandwich

A couple Fridays back, my lovely wife had a flex day which meant she got home around 1. So, as the managing board of Dietsch Industries, we decided to head over to Fiddlestix to get some lunch. I can’t remember what this sandwich I got was called or what exactly was on it because it was one of their specials. It was a fantastic meal, as usual, but the real spotlight fell on the onion rings. Those were some great onion rings. Not sure what they used for batter, but it was different and really tasted awesome.

Blog Lag

Sorry about the lack of posts lately. I’ve been finding it kind of difficult to come up with topics to write about even though Lucy’s developing all kinds of skills lately. She’s been using her hands a lot more and to greater effect, holding toys and sometimes picking them up after dropping them. She’s even working her legs in her new bouncer seat that she seems to love until she’s had too much and then she screams bloody murder. She also popped her first tooth through (bottom front right) and seems to be working on another. The rest of this week will still be pretty slow as I’ve got a lot of work to get done and then I’m heading down to cover the New York Comic Con Thursday through Saturday and probably going down again on Sunday with the family. So, I’ve decided that, next week will be when I really sit down and figure out what I want to do with this blog, what I’ll be writing about and get some solid posts and hopefully a few recurring ideas in the works to help things move forward. Wish me luck!

Bonus Food Pic: Woody’s Italian Burger

Woody’s All Natural
30 Quaker Ave
Cornwall, NY
(845) 534-1111

A few weekends back we hit up Woody’s, one of our favorite local burger joints, and I wound up trying their brand new Italian burger. If memory serves it was one of their regular burgers with homemade mozzarella, basil and tomato on it. Maybe roasted red peppers, too? I can’t quite remember. It was good, but the addition of some pesto mayo would have really brought the whole thing together!

Cooking MacGyver Meat Sauce

As I’ve mentioned this week and over on my photo diary blog The Monkee Diaries, my car’s been on the fritz lately. I finally got it to the mechanic, but it’s been rough getting meals together. I had some ingredients to work with throughout the week, but wound up with a pound of ground beef, pasta, an onion, garlic and a few other things around the house. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these things, but then the idea hit me to whip up a meat sauce thanks to some V8 juice in the fridge!

That first picture has a few more things than I actually used while making the pasta. I wound up skipping the cumin and Chinese Five Spice that you can see in the background of the picture. I grabbed more than I needed before I really know what I was going to make. Anyway, I started off getting the water on the boil and then cooking the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil in a pan. Once those looked translucent, I dropped the ground beef in there and browned it. While the beef cooked, I added some Worcestershire  sauce. I’m not sure if that did anything, but it was in there! I also added salt, pepper and garlic powder.

After the meat was browned, I drained the grease into a cup into the sink. I got the pan back on the heat and poured a good deal of V8 juice in, probably a cup or two. I didn’t measure it up, but poured until there was a pretty good deal in there, enough to see. I wanted the sauce to be a little saucy and not turn into taco meat. I also mixed in a few liberal shakes of dried basil, parsley and oregano to add some more Italian elements. While that was heating up, I looked over and saw the bottle of Pinot Noir I had on my counter and poured a tablespoon or two of that in. This really helped bring the sauce together. It tasted pretty good before, but with that in there it reminded me of the meat sauce my mom used to make before she became a vegetarian. It definitely classed things up a bit.

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of myself for cobbling this meal together. I’ve been following recipes for a while now, so it was nice to know that I’ve got some good instincts when it came to flavor and seasoning. Plus, it tasted pretty dang good!

Restaurant Review: San Vito Pizzeria & Restaurant

San Vito Pizzeria & Restaurant
359 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 561-5211

When my wife and I first moved to New Windsor, NY we didn’t know much about the restaurants in the area, but soon found a favorite Italian place called Napoli’s. The folks who owned Napoli’s owned a diner-type place down the road called Gloria’s, but around a year or so ago, they combined and are doing great. Where Napoli’s used to be another Italian restaurant called San Vito moved in. We’ve only been there a couple times, but after our trip there last Sunday, I think we’ll be going back on a more regular basis.

The restaurant itself is a nice, big open room that’s separated by a small half-wall with a warm feeling. I think only two people were working that night and we were one of five or six tables, but everyone there seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Neither of us were feeling like pizza, which we had last time we ate there, so we went with pasta dishes. I decided on the Potato Gnocchi Vodka because I’ve had and liked gnocchi before and am also a big fan of Penne Alla Vodka, which my wife wound up getting.

It was the best gnocchi I’ve ever had and one of the top vodka sauces around. It was so buttery and creamy and had that essence of vodka. I tried explaining it to my wife the next day when I had the leftovers, I didn’t taste the liquor part of vodka, but whatever’s left over after that’s gone. By the way, the leftovers were even a little better. The flavors had time to mature and really tasted amazing.

So, I highly recommend checking out San Vito if you’re in the area. I still love Napoli’s and we’re still going to go there as well as all the other pizza places we frequent that have great pies, pasta and sandwiches, but it’s nice to have another option with such great eats.

Cooking Lemon-Pistachio Chicken & Broccoli

Unlike the Vegetable Stir-Fry I made the day before, I LOVED how the Lemon-Pistachio Chicken turned out from the same healthy Betty Crocker cookbook. The recipe was really basic (and can be found on page 242 of that book), but also turned out really tasty if you like lemon chicken. I started off shelling the pistachios. I probably should have gotten unsalted ones, but didn’t think about it. Besides, I really like salted pistachios, so I got to eat the rest of the bag. I gave the shelled nuts a chop, but wish I would have gone finer with it before toasting them. I’m slowly figuring out how to toast nuts and have realized an important step is removing whatever you’re toasting from the pan immediately so they don’t burn. I took them out and gave them another chop.

While the pistachios toasted, I zested two lemons and then squeezed the juice of both into the same bowl. The recipes suggested pounding the chicken out and then just cooking them right away in the pan, but I marinated them in the lemon juice, olive oil and lemon pepper (which we picked up from Marshall’s a while back). After that was in the fridge, I cut the broccoli off the stems and got the pot ready for steaming.

I got all this done ahead of time. With the chicken being pounded, I knew that it would cook pretty quickly, so I waited for a while to start actually cooking. When my wife was close to home, I fired up the burner, got my pan heated up, poured a bit of olive oil in there and then cooked those bad boys. It wound up being only a few minutes on either side. The recipe called for serving the juice from the marinade that also boiled in the pan along with the chicken, which I did, but only after letting it cook a little longer in the pan at a boil.

Serving was pretty simple. Basically you just put some of the juice–which wound up being a little too olive oily thanks to the extra I put in the marinade–on the chicken and then place the toasted pistachio bits on top. Good to go! I am a huge, huge fan of sour flavors, always have been, so this meal was completely in my wheel house. I didn’t measure how much lemon zest or juice I put in, but using two lemons wound up being just the right amount. The pistachios added a nice crunch, that sweet/salty flavor and a toasty flavor to the sourness, making for a nice balance. I will absolutely be cooking this meal again.

Parenthood Poppas

NBC’s Parenthood is an impressive comedic drama (I refuse to call anything a dramedy). The show follows the members of the Braverman family as they navigate life, love and, as you’d expect, parenthood. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) are the parents of Adam (Peter Krause), Sarah (Lauren Graham), Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Julia (Erika Christensen). Adam and his wife Kristina (Monica Potter) have two kids with one on the way, Sarah is divorced with two teenagers, Crosby discovered in the first season that he has a son with a woman he’s been on and off with since then named Jasmine (Joy Bryant) and Julia has a daughter with her husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) but wants another. Having just finished watching tonight’s episode of the series which airs on Tuesdays at 10:00PM, I figured taking a look at the various dads on the show would make for an interesting post. A lot goes on in this show and I haven’t seen every episode, so I’m sure I’m missing a few things that have been said or revealed about the characters. This is more of a broad overview of these men and their roles as fathers as I’ve seen it on the show.

I like Zeek a lot. He reminds me of my paternal grandfather, a kind of man’s man who knows how to have a good time, gets things done and doesn’t always let on everything that’s going on inside of him. Unlike my grandpa, though, Zeek’s never been able to focus on a career for too long (Grandpa has been a barber since his 20s). I think that reflects his Vietnam veteran side that morphed into some hippiness. Deep down Zeek’s a dreamer and, like Camille explained on tonight’s episode, he goes after whatever he wants, which happens to be an acting career at the moment. Zeek’s also got some ego to him and keeps a few too many things to himself, like his failing business early in the series, but overall, I think he’s a pretty damn good patriarch. He does what he can to help keep his family together, offering advice when needed and even when not asked for. He also knows how to encourage his kids and grandkids to follow their dreams, maybe hoping they can succeed where he hasn’t. I can relate to Zeek wanting to chase his dreams and also keep a stiff upper lip. I’ve got a lot of that in me, the desire to shoulder the brunt on my own and not always open up. I don’t come from a big family, but I appreciate how he can keep his ever growing family in check.

Zeek’s oldest is a direct result of his dad’s free wheeling nature. While Adam saw his dad kind of taking it easy and not always worrying about everything, he has become something of a control freak and married one of the same in Kristina. His is the kind of personality that’s always perplexed me. I’m more of an artistic person I guess, but he’s all business and numbers and checklists and those kinds of things. He reminds me of those guys I went to college with who had the next ten years all figured out. The problem for those kinds of people, though, is that life can throw some pretty huge wrenches into your plans. For Adam, one of the wrenches has been the discovery in the first season that their son Max has Asbergers. At first Adam wanted to just fix it and had trouble with the idea that you couldn’t just fix this problem, you had to learn and teach entirely new ways of behaving and responding to the kid. Even though I’m not as rigid as Adam, I can absolutely relate to that idea of “Let’s just fix this.” It’s been nice seeing Adam relax a little over the past few seasons, though he still has trouble dealing with things like his daughter Haddie losing her virginity and dating a former drug addict who also happens to be a black dude. I think even the most open-minded of people would have difficulty with just that transition from little girl to woman. Okay, this is making me worry, on to the next one!

Joel’s my favorite character on the show. He’s just such a nice, good guy, but there’s also a lot to relate to for me personally. My wife’s extended family is pretty big, so I can understand how it can be intimidating for him to head into the big family dinners (and I’m sure the same is true for my wife going into our large family experiences). I can also relate to the fact that his wife is the one that really brings home the bacon while he tries to do what he loves (being a carpenter) and also takes care of their daughter Sydney. I can easily see myself having tea parties with Lucy and being the one dude in the Mommy & Me group or the PTA, though I’m not sure if the PTA will be able to handle some of my views on education, nutrition or macaroni art, which are pretty out there. Joel doesn’t get nearly enough screen time as far as my wife and I are concerned.

Crosby’s the clown of the family. He’s the screw up. He’s Zeek to the extreme. As a result, he’s the one that’s always learning the most obvious lessons on the show. Actually, like everyone else on the series, he’s done his share of growing into the current third season, but it seems like he keeps making the same goof-ups. On tonight’s episode, he was supposed to talk to Adam about something regarding their sons who are now going to the same school. Instead, Crosby just spoke to his boy Jabbar and the whole thing wound up blowing up in his face. Now, I get it, he’s trying to take the easy way out. I do that myself, but watching him screw things up on a weekly basis actually lives in my head a bit and reminds me to be a little more honest with myself and others when it comes to things like this.

Basically, the fathers on Parenthood represent a wide spectrum of styles and attitudes towards raising kids. Heck, even Sarah’s ex-husband represents the kind of jack ass, loser who constantly disappoints his kids. I think you’d be hard pressed to tune into the series or check it out on DVD and not come away relating to one of these guys. I like that it shows so many different angles to something that I’m going through right now because it shows the positives and negatives all around, which is something you don’t always see on TV and movies don’t really have the time to get across in the same detail. So, basically, check out Parenthood, it’s full of goodness.

Cook Book Nook: Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices

I asked my wife if she remembered where our copy of Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices came from and she says she bought it. That’s the problem with having a crummy memory and also not paying much attention to cooking for so long, I have no idea where most of our cookbooks came from. I believe her though, she’s pretty darn smart. Anyway, after a week eating fried seafood, subs, ice cream, pizza and whatnot on vacation, I figured it would be a good idea to try a few healthy recipes out for last week.

Overall my endeavors–which I’ll be writing about the next few days–turned out pretty good, though I did notice that the recipes tend to be a little light on flavor and maybe not all the ratios have been perfected. Just because you’re keeping things light doesn’t mean you can’t throw in a few extra herbs or spices to take things to the next level, you know? Luckily, I’ve learned a few things here and there that helped, but I also took some notes that will hopefully help out next time I give them a whirl. Moving forward, I’d probably double some of the more flavorful elements of the dishes to make my mouth happier.

Cooking Vegetable Stir-Fry

After stuffing my face with seafood, Italian, subs, ice cream and my fair share of beer while on vacation, I figured it would make sense to eat a little lighter last week. With that in mind, I decided to give the recipe for Vegetarian Stir-Fry (page 184) a shot from my Betty Crocker Healthy New Choices cookbook. The recipe was pretty simple, so after I got my groceries dropped off from the store, I was all over this one.

Basically you chop a bunch of vegetables up (I went with onion, asparagus, cauliflower and zucchini), cook them on the stove top in a mixture of soy sauce, corn starch and apple juice until everything’s tender. Toss in some garbanzo beans and you’re good to go.

When I mixed the soy sauce/apple juice mix together I tasted it and it was great. I love soy sauce and the addition of apple juice was an interesting touch that tasted exactly like you would think those two flavors would taste together, if you’ve ever thought about that.

The problem, I think, was that it wasn’t enough sauce and the flavor didn’t really incorporate as well. If I make this one again, I’ll remember that. Like I said in the post I linked to above about this Betty Crocker book, sometimes the flavors don’t come out very strongly, which can be a bummer. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t awesome either and I think it could have been. It could be as simple as adding more apple juice or soy sauce or going a little heavier on the sauce, but something can be done to really knock this one out of the park.

Lucy’s First Tooth

Earlier this week, I noticed that Lucy seemed a little out of sorts (for more info on this, check out The Monkee Diaries). The idea of teething has always been in the back of our minds. In fact, about a month ago we were certain she’d be cutting her first tooth. My wife told me the signs tend to be general irritability as well as a change in PH in their urine which results in a rash. She had all those, but didn’t wind up popping a tooth out. Until today that is.

As it happened, on her five month birthday, we discovered Lucy had cut her first tooth. It’s on the lower right part of her mouth and it didn’t seem to bother her much today. Last night she woke up every hour or so, my wife said. We thought she might have been cold (she’s not used to the cold weather we’ve been getting), but now we’re thinking it might have had something to do with that.

I don’t have any pics because we can’t get her to open her mouth and move her tongue while also snapping a picture all at the same time. Besides, it’s not like it’s all the way out of her gums, it’s just peeking out from before the surface. Still, when my wife came out while I was checking out my ailing car carrying the baby, my brain first went to a negative place. Then she told me about the tooth and I was not only relieved, but pretty stoked. Now I just have to remember to cover my hand with something when I offer her a finger to gum!

Buying Food On The Internet

After getting back from vacation, I went to start my car and it shook something fierce. Not wanting to get stuck on the side of the road with the baby, I decided to try something new: ordering groceries on the internet. Usually I buy my groceries from Hannaford, the farm stand or the farmer’s maket, but between the questionable car and the baby, I figured my time to get groceries was limited and went with Shop Rite‘s online purchasing option. Basically, they have their entire stock online, you can search for anything from very specific kinds of cereal to generalities like “broccoli.” Everything I wanted was on there which was pretty great.

You can either go in and pick up your order or have it delivered. I went with the latter which wound up costing an extra $20 or so. That might seem like a lot and frankly it kind of is but I won’t be using this service every week or anything. I also figured that eating out all week would add up to $20 pretty quickly, so it seemed like a viable option this time around. They give you a two or three hour window for delivery and the guy who dropped them off was nice and everything was in good shape, so kudos there.

Overall, I have no complaints about either the web or delivery service. It’s a little pricey, but what do you expect for groceries delivered right to your door step. Now I just need to get my car fixed and hopefully have enough money in the bank to keep cooking…

Bonus Vacation Food Pics: Lobster Bisque & Putanesca At Cafe Zabaglione

Cafe Zabaglione
1 Market Street
Ipswich, MA
(978) 356-6484

While on vacation in Ipswich, Massachusetts when not eating gloriously fresh seafood or other home cooked meals, we went into town and wound up at a place called Cafe Zabaglione. We hadn’t planned on much of anything, but when we saw it, it seemed like a good place to stop in and get some pasta. As it turned out, it was a GREAT place to stop and get some pasta. It’s not just Zagat rated, but apparently in the top thousand Italian restaurants in the country or some such. As you can see in the hazy picture above, it was a nice little place with a few waitresses working and a few other people behind the counter. When I saw Lobster Bisque on the menu I just had to try it and it was great. I love how creamy and tangy lobster bisque can be and they nailed it.

I went with putanesca because the menu said it had anchovies in it and I wanted to give it a shot. I’m trying new things, but I think the anchovies were in the sauce or maybe just a juice was used because I didn’t see any of those tiny, salty fish in there. Still, the olives and capers mixed with the sauce was a really nice treat. My wife and her dad got desserts from the huge case of cakes and pies and they both really enjoyed them. Plus, they’ve got a pictures of Robert De Niro in the bathroom which I could not resist taking a picture of.

So, if you’re looking for reasonably priced Italian food and a huge, killer dessert when not eating lobster or fried seafood, I highly recommend heading over to Cafe Zabaglione. Great stuff!