This Little Girl Sees The Coporate Gender Matrix

I know this video of a young woman berating corporate gender stereotypes has been making the rounds, but I just had to post it myself. I first saw it thanks to a posting on Facebook that my wife showed me and then peeped it over on Topless Robot, the Village Voice’s pop culture blog that I sometimes write for and my pal Rob Bricken runs.

As the father of a little girl corporate sponsored gender stereotypes and preconceived notions of what boys and girls should be weigh on me. I grew up without too much of that stuff and, while I mostly played with action figures of the Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man variety, I also had a My Little Pony. I don’t remember where it came from, if I asked for it or was given it, but it was there in all it’s purple glory. It wasn’t one of my favorite toys, but I do remember playing with it. Maybe I would have played with it more if I hadn’t been programmed to like “boy stuff” instead of “girl stuff” by my beloved television.

I personally don’t believe that one kind of toy is for one kind of person. I like action figures, but I had friends who were more into trucks and cars or building toys like Legos. I had a few of those toys, but you wind up knowing what you like. If my daughter wants to play with action figures–which will not be in short supply considering daddy’s many boxes of them in storage–that’s fine by me. Same if she wants dolls. Now she plays with a series of toys that don’t really have much gender identification, most of which are brightly colored animals and the like. My wife and I have even done a pretty good job of mixing up the sexes of her toys so some have boy names and others girl names.

The only problem I see with keeping things open for our daughter is potential backlash from other kids and parents. You can be as forward thinking and try to give your kids the best example possible, but sometimes they just want to be “normal” and fit in. The power of peer pressure can be intense and I understand that, but I also think that, if you can give your kid a good foundation of open-mindedness then they will be better equipped to handle an increasingly crazy world.

Pizza Party: Domino’s

When it comes to pizza, we live in a pretty fantastic area. I’ve had the best pizza of my life out here in New York, no doubt about it and that’s just in counties like Orange and Rockland, I’ve never even really jumped into the whole NYC pizza scene. But, sometimes you just want something familiar. That was the case a week or two back when the wife and I both had a taste of a very simple pizza. That’s how it started at least. I suggested getting a pie or two from Domino’s since we both had the taste for pepperoni because there’s one nearby.

With that, I hopped on the Domino’s website on my phone and I’ll tell you what, they make it really fun to order a pizza. You not only order by size and toppings, but you can chose which half of the pie you want particular toppings on. Since I was jonesing for pineapple and my wife wanted pepperoni, but we both wanted bacon, this worked out perfectly. We both got a kick out of the whole left/right decision, but it made sense. After ordering online, you can keep track of exactly where the pizza is at in the process from “firing up” to “ready.”

So, how’d it taste? Pretty good. The reason you go to big chains like Domino’s is because it’s familiar (or because it’s cheap). I’ll tell you what, it tasted just like the pizza I used to get back home which was always a chain of some sort (Dominio’s, Pizza Hut, the slightly more local Little Caesar’s). Plus, pineapple isn’t a very popular topping round these parts, so I’ll take it where I can get it.

At the end of the day, I love how many options we have when it comes to pizza. We know where to go for slices, for pies, for a nicer dinner. The possibilities are endless and that’s the best as far as I’m concerned.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Shepherd’s Pie

After making pierogies a few weeks back, I found myself with extra dough and potato filling. I figured I could just freeze the dough for a later attempt, but needed to come up with something to do with the potatoes I had lying around. My wife suggested whipping up some Shepherd’s Pie and since I already had most of the ingredients lying around the house I got to work. As I tend to do in situations like this, I headed over to the Food Network’s website and wound up going with Alton Brown’s recipe. Since I already had the potatoes, I ignored that part of his recipe and also went with ground beef instead of lamb because my wife doens’t like lamb so much. I left out the rosemary for the same reason, but aside from those few things, I followed the recipe as it’s written.

Thawing out my homemade chicken stock was one of the first steps. I just popped a few cubes out, put them in my smallest pan and got that on some heat. While that warmed, I got the chopping and prepping. The onions and carrots were next, then I also got the flour in a small bowl and mixed the other ingredients you see in the picture to take up as little space on my small counter as possible.

The cooking itself was pretty straightforwards. The vegetables went in first, then add the meat, brown and add the liquid and boil for ten minutes. Drop the contents into a baking dish, add some frozen peas and corn (it’s winter here, so I couldn’t get my hands on fresh) and put the potatoes on top. Since I had a bunch of smaller potato balls in a container, I simply smashed them together with my hand and then scooped them out onto the meat and vegetables.

That went into a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes and we were good to go. Shepherd’s Pie isn’t a dish that I grew up with, but the wonderful cook at the fraternity house I lived in for three of my four years at Ohio Wesleyan University made it on a regular basis and I was a fan. I really enjoyed the dish and can see adding it to my regular winter rotation. As much as I like experimenting with new dishes, sometimes it’s nice to have a series of good, hearty fall-back recipes for these upcoming cold months.

The Best Pickles In The World

Oh man, you guys, I love pickles. I always have, but my tastes are pretty specific. Sweet pickles hold no cache for me and all decorum goes out the window if one happens to make it’s way into the dill section of any relish tray in my general vicinity. In other words, sour picks are where it’s at for me. Vlassics were a favorite growing up. I dig their Kosher dills and their hamburgers have a surprising kick, but they’re not the best I’ve ever had. When I worked at a bagel place back home, it was common place for me to sneak a deli pickle for a snack or on my lunch break and they were good, but nothing compared to the pickle above.

I thought I’d find some competition when I moved out to New York. I have no reason for that, it was just a feeling I had. A few years back I went to the Rosendale Pickle Festival. Being such a fan of the medium, I was excited, hoping to find something that would blow my mind. Nope. Everything was pretty weaksauce. I guess New York doesn’t really know how to bring it. I’ve had some pretty good pickles from places called things like Pickle Man from flea markets, but I’ve also had some of the worst from places like that. It’s a crap shoot.

But you know which pickles are never a crap shoot? The ones that taste awesome and sour and make me salivate just thinking about them? The ones that, when I eat them, the event verges on inappropriate? Well, those are the pickles from Rau’s Country Store in Frankenmuth, Michigan (656 S. Main, Ste. 2, Frankenmuth, MI 48734). I’ve been going to Rau’s since I was a kid and my dad got a job working for a company that was headquartered near Frankenmuth. The town itself, as you might be able to tell from the name, is modeled after German villages and is basically a full main street done up in a Little Bavaria style. There’s a place called Bronner’s nearby that is the largest Christmas store in the world, so we would tend to go in the winter time, go to Bronners, see all the Christmas decorations, walk through the town and get some of the world famous fried chicken at Zinder’s.

But the real food highlight of the trip every year was the pickles from Rau’s. Since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve only made it to Frankenmuth once and that was with my wife and parents. But, because my parents are awesome and did some research, I have had plenty of pickles in the meantime. See, Rau’s–which is designed like an old general store with chotchkies all over the place and a baskets of what used to be called penny candy for purchase–has stepped into the modern age and sells their pickles online. I will say that the vacuum sealing they use to ship the delicious delights sucks some of the juices out, but even an ever so slightly juiced Rau’s pickle packs more of a punch than anything this side of a gherkin (which I just discovered recently and will be experimenting with more in the new year).

Cooking Pierogies

Toledo has a pretty big Polish population, yet I didn’t even hear about pierogies until high school when we switched churches to St. Hyacinth’s which was a predominately Polish church. To raise money, they would sell the delightful potato-filled dumplings and we bout a few different kinds. They were very tasty, though I don’t think I had them until the last year or two. I can’t remember which came first, but some time last year, I both made pierogies from this recipe I found by Googling around and also had them at a place in New Paltz called The Moonlight Cafe (53 Main St., Cornwall, NY). They were tasty both times, so much so that a week or two back, I thought it’d be nice to have them again!

This time around, I ran into a few problems like losing interest the Sunday I intended to make them and cutting my thumb on the Monday I actually did make them (it was alright and I finished making them). Anyway, a few Saturdays back I decided to make the dough which was really simple, which is saying something because I never make dough. I busted out the wife’s Kitchenaide mixer and got all that going with no problem, then wrapped the ball in plastic and popped it in the fridge over night.

Like I said, I was going to continue the next day, but was beat, so I put it off. The second part is a lot more work intensive because you have to make mashed potatoes, roll the dough, cut out circles, stuff them with the potato filling, boil each pierogie and then cook them in a pan. Since, it’s a long process and I had a slow Monday on my hands, I got to work. Peeling the potatoes was first on the list, which was no problem. I put those in the Dutch oven, covered with water and started boiling. My intention was to do sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon in the mashed potatoes, so I got to work shredding the cheese. While reaching for a scale to see how much cheese I had, I wound up cutting the tip of my thumb and nail. For more on that, come back for an upcoming post, or read this account I wrote over on Pop Poppa, my dad blog.

After getting myself patched up, I finished mashing the potatoes with cheese and chives, but skipped the bacon. At that point I took a break, not sure if I had it in me to finish up. But, I rallied later on and got back to work. First, I rolled the potato mix into balls for stuffing. Then I rolled out the dough and used a clean jar top for cutting circles. I think I used a bar glass last time, but this was a little bigger. I had the same problem I did before, though, about not getting the dough big enough to fit the large-ish potato balls. After cutting out the smaller circles, I would roll those again and then insert the filling and clamped the dough down with a fork. Since my hand was feeling funky and I was doing a lot of this with my right hand raised up, I didn’t make all the pierogies I could, but instead made enough for dinner that night.

The next step is boiling. You toss the dumplings in boiling water and wait for them to rise to the top, rinse in cold water and repeat. At this point, you also cooking a chopped onion in a buttered pan that you will then cook the pierogies. I wasn’t sure from the recipe if you’re supposed to keep the onions in when you cook the dumplings, but since there were so many onions, I took them out and put them on their own plate for serving. Then it was a matter of browning the pierogies on both sides and serving with the onions and sour cream.

I’m honestly not sure if these guys were as good as last time. The dough felt a little dry and tough. Plus, the very first time I cooked them, I just decided one weekend to do it. I went out, got the stuff, started the long process and came out with tasty food on the other end. This time I had to fight the blahs and muscle through another dumb injury. I was glad that I used hand shredded cheese this time instead of store-bought stuff, but then again, that lead directly to my cut, so maybe it wasn’t such a great thing? I’ll give ’em another shot soon and will have a post up shortly about what I did with all those extra potato balls.

Pop Poppa Product Review: Balboa Baby Shopping Cart & High Chair Cover

Back before Lucy was born, I was cleaning up her room, opening some of the gifts we had received and trying to find places for them. The Balboa Baby Shopping Cart & High Chair Cover was one of the more confusing of the bunch. See, it’s kind of like a Popple in that the cover actually folds up into itself into a kind of oblong football. At the time, I got frustrated in about one minute and tossed the thing aside.But now, it’s a huge part of pretty much any trip my wife and/or I take with the baby. See, the idea is that you unfold the Popple and place it inside a shopping cart or high chair so that the baby not only has more support but also isn’t touching the same thing that hundreds of other kids have touched. Once Lu started sitting up pretty well on her own, we were able to start using it and it has been a wonderful addition to our trips to the grocery store and restaurants. I’ve got a variation on the Balboa that I keep in my car (the Balboa stays in my wife’s) and it’s good, but not nearly as simple or compact. The only problem? They’re pretty expensive at $45.83 on Amazon with the one I got from Target running about $20 0r so. Is the Balboa worth the extra $30? Hmm, probably not if it’s coming out of your own pocket. However, I highly recommend putting one on your baby registry and hope that someone with bucks hooks you up!

Bonus Food Pic: Numero Uno Deep Dish From Uno

Uno Chicago Grill
20 Centre Drive
Central Valley, NY 10917
(845) 783-6560

You might think that, because I’m from a place that’s not too far away from Chicago, that I would have had more access to deep dish pizza. In fact, that was not the case. Aside from a few local places that did their own thing, we only had access to chains like Little Caesar’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and the like. Later we’d get a place called Cottage Inn that’s pretty good too, but I digress.

I don’t think I had deep dish pizza until I went to my first Uno’s which was either in college or after moving out to New York, I can’t quite be certain. It’s a style and flavor I quite enjoy and would like to try from a non-chain restaurant if possible, but since I live in a pretty intolerant place for alternate pizza styles, Uno’s is the best I’ve got. Thankfully, it seems to be a pretty good source. I’m sure it’s not as good as sitting in a Chicago pizza house, but it tasted pretty good to these untested taste buds.

About a month back, the wife and I felt like Uno’s so we headed down and decided to split a Numero Uno which boasts sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms and chunky tomato sauce with mozzarella and grated Romano on top. As I am a fan of all of those things, having them all together in one place wrapped in that cornbread-like crust was not a disappointment. The only problem? I definitely got some mild indigestion after eating. I’m guessing it was the onions and peppers, but it could have been the whole package. Don’t worry, it won’t put me off of trying more kinds of deep dish in the future!

Stocking Up: Beef

Alright, folks, this post has been a long time coming. After making my own chicken stock, I decided to give beef stock a whirl as well and it went really well, except when I burned my hand. The key to making beef stock is finding a place to buy beef bones, which I hear can be difficult, but I happened to be at my local Hannaford one day and they had big ones for sale. With those in hand, I busted out The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 32) and got to work.

I’m not sure how much of a difference it made, but the cow bones I got were not chopped up and I half-heartedly tried with my knife and failed, so I just put three of those big boys in a high-sided pan in the over at 450 degrees and got to chopping. Like most stocks, the recipe called for carrots, celery and onion, but also tomatoes. I got those and the herbs (parsley and thyme) as well as crushed black peppercorns and a bay leaf ready while the bones roasted for a half hour.

After the half hour mark, I added in the vegetables and roasted for another 25 minutes or so. At that point, I dumped the contents of the pan in the stock pot and boiled some water like the recipe suggested. While the water boiled I started doing something else–can’t remember what exactly–and accidentally reached for the handle of the pan…that was in the 450 degree oven…without a glove or a cover on the handle and burned the heck out of my hand.

I immediately got my hand under cold running water and soon transferred to a bowl of ice water (more on injury treatment in another post along with a few other dumb injuries I’ve sustained in the past month or so). While I kept a nasty burn and possibly blisters at bay on my right hand, I kept going with the stock-making. I poured the boiling water from the pan into the pot followed by about 18-inches of water and set it to boil along with the herbs and spices.

I simmered for six hours (I read in a Bourdain book that the longer, the better), then strained and let the stock cool. This time, I knew about how much liquid I would have, so after it cooled, I placed the stock in a big plastic bowl and popped it in the refrigerator. I left it there over night and when I went back to strain the fat, I was happy to find that it had solidified into a disk that I could easily remove, which is a heckuva lot easier than skimming, I’ll tell you that.

Instead of freezing ice cubes of stock this time around, I used my mother-in-law’s idea and instead measured out one and two cup amounts, poured that into marked bags and froze those bags in larger freezer bags. As I mentioned in the post about making Alton Brown’s recipe for Swedish Meatballs, I’ve already used the stock and it’s pretty great. The only problem with this method is that you wind up wasting the tiny bags when you tear them apart to get the stock out. The perfect solution would be ice cube trays with one and/or two cup sized holes. Do they make those? That’d be awesome.

Passing On Some Christmas Traditions

I could have sworn I’ve written about the Santa Mouse calendar before, but a quick search of the Chistmas Stories posts on my blog UnitedMonkee has come up with nothing. Ah well, no big deal, I’ll explain here. When I was a kid, I got this very simple, but very nice calendar counting down the days until Christmas. You move a tiny, semi-stuffed mouse from pocket to pocket until you finally reach Christmas Eve. I’ve had this thing so long, I don’t actually remember a December without it. I even brought it out for my very first Christmas in New York and had it hung in my room. As the calendar was preparing to flip from November to December, I made a trip with Lucy to the storage unit and dug out the calendar. As usual, it was the very first piece of Christmas decorations to go up and was just about the only thing for awhile until the missus and I got really focused and knocked the rest out of the park. Lucy seemed to get a kick out of the Santa Mouse and, like pretty much everything, she popped him right in her mouth. Snatched from her jaws, SM has been helping me keep track of the date and how many shopping days I have left.It’s fun having little traditions like that to pass on to my daughter. I know she doesn’t get it yet, but assuming our storage unit stays sound, it’ll be around when she is old enough to. I hope she’ll get as much of a kick out of it then as I did.

Pop Poppa Recommended Watching: Louie

I’ve known about Louis C.K. for a while now. I used to be a big watcher of Comedy Central way back in the day when they would show all kinds of clip shows consisting of clips from various stand-up performances. He’s also been on Conan O’Brien’s various shows and has been around for a while. Even so, it took me awhile to actually sit and watch his new series on FX called Louie. For some reason I thought it was going to be kind of gross. And it probably is depending on your views, but there’s a lot more going on than a few gross or inappropriate bits and that’s truth.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The series it self follows Louie, a divorced stand-up comedian living in New York City and taking care of his two daughters when they’re not with his wife. Episodes revolve around everything from comedy club hecklers and trying to get a date with the woman who works at his local pharmacy to his awful mother and trying to recapture his youth. These issues are not dealt with with anything nearing kid gloves. In fact, what makes Louie such an amazing show is how gut-wrenchingly honest it is, while still being really damn funny.

I can’t necessarily relate to all of the trials and tribulations that Louie goes through in the first season (which is on Netflix Instant, though not two just yet), but things like balancing fatherhood with non traditional careers and the things that being a dad does to your brain are pretty universal as far as my thinking goes. It’s not really an easy series to explain and I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (especially if you use phrases like “cup of tea”) but if you don’t mind feeling a little uncomfortable while laughing (and not in a Michael Scott kind of way where he fuels awkwardness) I highly recommend giving the series a shot.

Bonus Food Pic: Take Out From Chapala Grill

Chapala Grill
335 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553
845-391-3133

With the baby, I’ve found that, when I’m not cooking on weekdays, my wife and I tend to lean towards quick pick up, drive through or carry out options. A week or two back I didn’t feel like cooking or hadn’t gone to the grocery store (I don’t remember specifically, but either is highly likely) and we both thought Mexican food sounded good. I wasn’t sure, but I hoped that nearby Chapala Grill did carry out and we discovered that not only do they, but they also have their full menu online (that link up above).

As I mentioned in an earlier BFP, Chapala has really solid Mexican food. It’s not slap-you-in-the-tastebuds, blow-your-mind amazing, but it’s really good. And I can say the same for their carry out now too. The pic above is from the first time we used their services, but once again last night and it was still great. They not only give you rice and beans with your meal, but also chips and salsa which is a great bonus.

If you’re in the area and you want darn good Mexican, head on over to Chapala!

Pop Poppa Of The Week: George Kirk From Star Trek (2009)

As part of my gig writing up news stories for the movie blog Spinoff Online, I wind up writing about a lot of the same movies over and over again. One such recent example is the sequel to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 sci-fi epic Star Trek that did the unthinkable in not only making Star Trek awesome to non-geeks but also deftly balanced old school continuity with a solid reboot. I was a fan of the first movie so much so that I own the DVD. With all this talk of the follow-up, I figured it would be a good time to watch the first flick again.

I had forgotten about the opening of the movie which features Captain Kirk’s dad George getting upgraded to Captain for a very short period of time. We discover as he does his best to keep the ship together and execute a mass evacuation that his pregnant wife is on board. George intends to escape with them, but discovers the auto pilot systems have been destroyed and need him to do it himself. George keeps his head together and, while his tenure as Captain is short, he saved hundreds of people, ultimately giving his life for them.

Man, I hope I don’t ever have to make a decision like that, but what an awesome man and dad George Kirk tunred out to be. Noble, honorable, strong, brave, what more can you want in a role model. Sure, his kid turned out to be kind of a hot head, but I think that he’s got potential.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Swedish Meatballs

When my wife suggested I make Swedish Meatballs, I was all for the idea. As I mentioned when I made Beef Stroganoff, I’m a big fan of the meat/gravy/sour cream combination in any and all forms. All I needed to do then was find a recipe. I didn’t realize my wife had her mom’s in the big black binder she uses as a cookbook, so I gave FoodNetwork.com a search and settled on Alton Brown’s because, well, dude knows his stuff, right?

First off, I’ll note the changes I made by going down the ingredients list. I used a few hot dog buns instead of bread, regular butter instead of clarified and sour cream instead of heavy cream because I always wind up buying and using just a portion of the stuff and throwing the rest out. I probably should have just followed that part of the recipe, but I’ll get there.

I’m still working on the post I did about making beef stock, but since I made this recipe after I made the stock, one of the first things I did was grab three cups worth of it, put it on a flame and started defrosting. Meanwhile, I got my water set up for the egg noodles (oh yeah, we like to eat our Swedish Meatballs on egg noodles) and then got to work on the meatballs. I didn’t weigh each one like the recipe suggests and just eyed them. Weighing each and every one would have been a pain!

At this point, I fired up the heat for the noodle water and got to cooking the meatballs. I did about 10 at a time and would add them to a baking sheet when they were good and brown. I’ve cooked meatballs in the past and wound up chopping them up testing to see if they were done, but putting them in the oven finished off any pink spots and help hold the balls’ structural integrity.

Once all the balls are cooked and in the oven you basically make a roux and then a gravy. Toss some flour in the pan, stir until clumpy and then add the broth, sour cream and whisk until thickened. I’m not sure what the scientific difference between sour cream and heavy cream is, but I saw it in my pan as it took forever to thicken and even after 20 minutes or so wasn’t super thick. I pulled it and poured it over the noodles and meatballs, though it was thinner than I would have normally liked.

Even though the gravy wasn’t as good as it could have been, I don’t know if I’ve ever made a better non-Italian meatball. The nutmeg and allspice were a great combination with the beef and pork and came out super tasty. I also made the mistake of using olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking to one another which really threw the flavors off (it took me a few bites to figure out what the heck I was tasting that was a little funny). Even with all that, I still liked the meal. Next time, I think I’ll follow Alton’s recipe more closely or try and decipher my mother-in-law’s, but the important thing (aside from enjoying the meal and the leftovers) is that I learned from the process.

Cooking Herb & Beef Soup with Yogurt & Naan

As I’ve said a few times here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen, I’m a big fan of soups and The Ultimate Soup Bible has become, well, my soup bible. If I’m looking for a soup recipe, I’m looking in there. I was flipping through a week or two back and landed on this one called Beef & Herb Soup With Yogurt (page 458). It sounded pretty interesting with what I thought was Indian origins–it’s actually Iranian I just saw) especially because it’s kind of a Middle Eastern version of Italian Wedding soup, which the bagel shop I used to work at back in Toledo used to serve.

As usual, I got as much prep done ahead of time. I combined five cups of water with a half cup of yellow split peas and one tablespoon of turmeric in a big container. I also combined a cup of brown basmanti rice and about three tablespoons of parsley and chives in a smaller bowl. Then I chopped an onion up and cooked that in olive oil in a Dutch oven. Once that turned brown, I added the water, peas and turmeric and simmered for 20 minutes.

While that was simmering, I made the meatballs which were made with about 8 ounces of ground beef, a chopped onion and some salt and pepper. As you can see in the photo, I kept them pretty tiny, thought not nearly as small as the ones I remember from my old Italian Wedding days at Barry’s.

I dropped the meatballs in after the 20 minute simmer and let simmer again for 10 minutes. Then I added the rice, parsley and chives (the recipe called for cilantro, but my wife hates that particular herb, so I skipped it) and simmered again for 30 minutes. In a smaller pan, I melted one tablespoon of butter and fried a chopped clove of garlic before then adding a handful of chopped mint. That got added to the soup before serving and then I laid out some more freshly chopped mint, Greek yogurt (that’s the only non fruity kind I could find at the store) and naan. I will not get the garlic naan next time because it was very overpowering, but all in all the soup was pretty good. I think next time I will add some acid, either lemon or lime juice, and maybe some curry powder to really round out the flavors because it did wind up tasting a bit flat.

Single Handedly Taking Care Of A Baby, Or: How To Take Care Of A Kid After You Stupidly Cut Your Thumb

You get the joke in the title right? I added the secondary title to make sure people understand that I’m not the only person taking care of my daughter, but that I am quite literally doing it with one hand after injuring myself. Now that I’ve explained away every last drop of humor, I’ll explain myself a little better.

Last weekend I planned on making perogies (delicious Polish potato dumplings) but after making the dough on Saturday night I lost my steam. To make it up to my wife who was looking forward to the delish dish, I decided to get the filling together during the day and then serve them when she got home (you’ve got to basically make mashed potatoes then put that in little dough cutouts, boil them and then cook them in butter). It’s a long and labor-intensive process, but the results are usually pretty tasty.

So, the other day I was working on mashing the potatoes. I had already peeled them and they were boiling away in water pre-mashing. I was shredding cheese for the filling and wanted to see how much I had so I went to grab the tiny kitchen scale on the counter. Turns out, one of the legs was stuck under the knife block, so when I pulled on the scale the block tipped over. I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but I tried uprighting the block, my hand slipped and I felt my right thumb hit something. I looked down and blood was starting to come out of my newly sliced thumbnail.

I really don’t want to get too graphic because I myself  am quite squeamish. I actually used to pass out at the sight of my own blood, but haven’t had that problem lately, thank goodness. Oh, did I mention that Lucy was playing right outside the kitchen when this went down? I tried keeping my calm, but I had to quickly grab and wet some paper towels to stop the bleeding. She started crying pretty soon after I cut myself–or maybe even before, she tends to cry and want attention when I’m cooking–and wouldn’t stop. So, it would not be an understatement to say that this was a fairly intense situation.

Trying to keep myself calm (my head felt light and my stomach twisty, but I held on okay) while also trying to patch myself up and verbally soothe the baby was no small task. I called my mom because she’s a nurse and I wanted to make sure it was okay to put gauze on the wound and then wrap it up with medical tape. I have this gut-wrenching fear of the sticky parts of bandaids or tape actually getting stuck on cuts as well as further pain from absentmindedly bumping cuts. Mom suggested putting some Neosporin on there which I did.

At some point, I grabbed Lu and put her on the bad while I wrapped the finger and talked to my mom on speaker. I wound up being okay, though I did smash the thumb into a table that night trying to cut a piece of salami for a snack, not a good feeling. I even went on to finish a batch of perogies for that night’s dinner. I’ve been airing it out occasionally, but mostly keep the cut wrapped up in a simple bandaid. I bump it every now and then which smarts (the nail is cut, but still all attached), but I get really nervous every time I got to pick Lu up. I know she wouldn’t do it on purpose, but she kicks her legs like crazy and I’d rather not have that sting of pain surge up my arm into my brain if I can avoid it.

It’s been a bit of a challenge and I’ve had to get out of that paranoid-about-pain part of my brain to take care of her day, but I think I’m doing pretty good. If ever there was an obvious, slap-me-in-the-face example of how being a dad can change you and how you think about yourself, I guess this is it. So worried about getting hurt am I that I was literally shaking when my wife wanted to look at the cut the other night. It’s a deep, possibly inborn part of myself that I’m doing my best to ignore/evolve while taking care of Lucy. At the end of the day I will try to avoid my injury getting hurt, but I won’t let that worry get in the way of feeding, dressing or taking care of my baby. I guess that’s a sign of maturity, though I’d rather have learned this one without bloodshed, I think.

Stocking Up: Chicken

One of the common things I’ve read in most of the cookbooks and books about food is that making your own stock is important. Not only do you know exactly what goes into it, but you’re also creating something very basic that you can use in many, many things. I’d been wanting to try my hand at stocks for along time now, but only actually got around to it in the past month. Why the delay? I was a little worried about the time commitment, plus I wasn’t quite needing stock yet. Now that it’s getting cold and I’m making more soup, I figured it would be a good time.

I started with a chicken stock recipe that I got out of The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 30) because it was an actual recipe. Anthony Bourdain had a much less specific one in  The Les Halles Cook Book, but I wanted to do it by the book and have my hand held for a bit before eying everything.

The recipe called for bone-in chicken pieces that included wings, back and necks, but I couldn’t find that at the grocery store and the butcher wasn’t around, so I went with a pair of bone-in breasts. Not sure how much difference that made, but otherwise, I followed the recipe.

I tossed the chicken, two unpeeled onions and some oil in a stock pot and started cooking until everything was brown. While that cooked, I chopped up two carrots and two celery stalks, grabbed some parsley and thyme stems, a bay leaf and ground about a dozen black peppercorns. I put all that in a container and waited until they were needed.

Once everything was browned, I filled the pot with 16 cups of water and waited for a boil. Once I got there, I dumped the container of veggies and herbs and simmered for three hours. After that, I strained out all the solids and let the stock sit. I tried scraping out fat and did my best, but came up with a much better method that I’ll talk about when I write about making beef stock.

Anyway, I had read in many places that making stock ice cubes is the way to go, so after everything cooled, I got to work on that. It was a multi-part project because we only had two extra ice cube trays and not a lot of space in our freezer anyway. I now have two bags filled with chicken stock cubes ready to go. I took about 10 or 12 back home for Thanksgiving intending to use them instead of turkey stock to make the gravy, but wound up making my own turkey stock. It didn’t go to waste though, because my mom used them in the stuffing.

I’m really glad I did this, not just because I feel like I’ve done something that not a lot of people do, but also because I finally just did it. Sometimes things seem like big hurdles, but once you finally do them, they turn out to be pretty easy. Sure, you’ve got to be home to keep an eye on the stock as it simmers, but aside from that it’s really easy and worth doing. I hope to make some killer winter soups now!

Trying Wendy’s W Burger

As I said when I wrote about my first experience with the McRib, I’m not a food snob. I’ve come to the realization in the past few years that, for the most part, I’d rather eat fresher food, but that doesn’t mean I have anything against sinking my teeth into a nice mass produced burger.I get especially intrigued when a new burger comes out as does my wife, so last week we decided to give the brand new W burger from Wendy’s. As you can see in the first picture, it comes wrapped in paper as if it’s a burger you’re buying from a stand somewhere but also safely tucked away in an open-top cardboard box letting everyone know where you bought your cheeseburger.So, how was it? Not bad. Considering it’s got two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun, I figured this would be, essentially a Big Mac without the extra piece of bread. And it kind of is, but whatever the special sauce actually is, it’s got a sweet taste to it that I can’t really nail down. Overall, it’s pretty good and has a good flavor. As these things go, though, it’s kind of a crap shoot when it comes to fast food quality. If you’re curious, I’d say give it a shot.

Pop Poppa Of The Week: Sam Woods From The Wizard (1989)

Welcome to the inaugural and hopefully weekly presentation of the Pop Poppa Of The Week award. This will be given to men both real and fictional who display qualities in their fatherhood that I admire. Considering the idea just popped into my head and I watched The Wizard earlier this week, guess the source of my first pick. That’s right, Beau Bridges played Sam Woods in the movie about a pair of brothers, Jimmy and Corey (Fred Savage) and their new friend hustling their way across the western part of the country to get the boy genius Jimmy (who seems a bit autistic, though I don’t think that’s ever directly stated) to Vegas so he can play in a Nintendo video game championship. At the same time, Bridges and his older son, played by the always wonderful Christian Slater, are about a day behind them as they try to figure out where the kids are going.

At first, Bridges’ Woods doesn’t even resemble a good father. He’s perfectly fine with letting Jimmy be sent to a home by his mother (who he’s living with) and doesn’t seem capable of relating to any of his sons. But as he and Slater go on their journey he not only gets to help defend his son by giving the jerky kid hunter (like a bounty hunter for runaways) a hard time, but eventually realizes how distant he’s been and that he needs to start living with and for his family again. We find out towards the end of the movie–SPOILER–that Beau and his wife also had a daughter who passed away, which explains the rifts in the family. By the end of the movie, Beau not only realizes the appeal of the NES, but also that he needs to start mending the broken fences of his life.

Oh, plus, he lets his boy play in a video game tournament even though he ran away from home like five days prior. I think that’s the kid in me appreciating him more than the dad in me though. By the way, as I noted on Twitter, I feel bad for you if you didn’t have that moment as a kid where you came downstairs intending to play video games and saw your mom or dad bleary eyed in front of the system. When we got our NES my folks got pretty into Super Mario Bros. and the same thing happened a few years later when I got my Game Boy and Tetris was a big thing. Good times.

Cooking Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Nuoc Cham

This post is an example of not judging a book by it’s cover. I got the recipe for Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Nuoc Cham, a Vietnamese dish, out of a free magazine I got from the grocery store two years ago! I frequent Hannaford and have since we moved to this part of New York several years ago. From what I’ve seen, their prices are good, their produce seems fresh and everyone I’ve dealt with there has been nice. When you buy a certain amount of groceries they give you this magazine called Fresh. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered looking, but a few months back I was organizing the magazines that were cluttering up the cookbook shelf and came across a series of them. I went through and ripped out recipes that looked good, but this entire issue from May/June 2009 looked so solid that I kept the whole thing. I’ve never cooked Vietnamese food before, but my wife actually made some excellent Summer Rolls a few years ago from this very issue. Plus, it was relatively easy to make, so all the better.

The first step is concocting a marinade which involves tossing 1/4 cup of minced lemongrass, one large shallot and three garlic cloves in a food processor and pulsing. You then add two tablespoons of brown sugar, two tablespoons of soy sauce, two tablespoons of canola oil, one tablespoon of fish sauce and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper and pulse some more. I poured this mixture over four chicken breasts that I cut in half and trimmed the fat from. The recipe calls for letting these rest for 4 to 6 hours in the refrigerator. I can’t remember how long I went for, but it was around there.

The next step is basically grilling the chicken, which is no problem. While I had the chicken in the cast iron grill pan, I put together the super easy and tasty Nuoc Cham sauce which is just a combination of a garlic clove, two tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup of hot water, lime juice and a tablespoon each of fish sauce and rice vinegar. Put all that in a jar or container and mix and you’ve got a light sweet/salty/sour sauce that I could dip just about anything in.

I had a great time cooking and eating this meal. I love when trying something new doesn’t blow up in your face. Like I said, I don’t really know much about Vietnamese cooking, but these flavors worked really well together. I’m kind of fascinated by lemongrass and am not even sure if I’m using it correctly, but the sweet and sour taste of the grilled chicken hints that I got it at least partially right.

Cooking Turkey Stock & Gravy

I know I promised you guys this post about making gravy from home made turkey stock in my post about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey this year and here it is. A little late, but exactly one week after Thanksgiving seems to have nice timing, no? Anyway, this one was pretty simple. The one thing I was tasked with before heading to Ohio was making the gravy. I had just seen Michael Ruhlman post his recipe online and figure he was a good guy to work off of. I didn’t know anything about turkey stock, but I had just finished making a ton of chicken and beef and figured that poultry is poultry so I took about a dozen or so frozen cubes with me.

But then, I got tasked with cooking the turkey and saw that, next to the recipe for the bird in my mom’s Martha Stewart cookbook was a recipe for making turkey stock that only took about 45 minutes. It fit in with my turkey timeline, so I whipped it up! Like with the turkey post, I don’t have the recipe in front of me, but it was pretty simple. I cooked a leek, stalk of celery and onion in some butter. Once that was done, I added about 7 cups of water (I think) and all the giblets but the liver. I got that boiling and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done, I decided not to chop up the remaining giblets for the gravy thinking it might freak people out and discarded all the solids.

In the meantime, while not doing my other turkey duties, I trimmed the fat off the liver and gave it a good chop. Once that was done, I cooked the pieces in butter and set aside for later. Those pieces went back into the stock and eventually into the gravy. When it came time to make the gravy, the process was pretty simple. I had exactly the amount of turkey stock thanks to Martha’s recipe and didn’t have to deviate from Ruhlman’s recipe at all. My wife helped me figure out the seasoning at the very end with salt and lemon juice and then we were good to go!

I didn’t tell the family until afterwards that the chunks int he gravy happened to be liver and no one seemed to mind when I informed them after the fact. All in all, it turned out to not only be tasty food, but it was gratifying to know I was able to use pieces of the bird that a lot of people just throw away. I hope they added deeper flavors, but even if not, it’s cool to use all the buffalo sometime, you know?