Pizza Party: Painter’s Wild Mushroom Ricotta Focaccia

I’ve been trying to cook a lot more, so you probably won’t be seeing as many Bonus Food Pics on here, but we do tend to get around on the weekend to a few places. At around 3:00PM last Saturday, we headed over to the wonderful Painter’s in Cornwall. Thanks to the hour, we got there before the lunch menu turned into the dinner menu and were able to nosh on a smaller portion of their epic nachos and then a few of their focaccia pizzas. I went with the Wild Mushroom Ricotta one which also included caramelized onions, spinach, truffle oil and smoked Gouda. This was a darn good pizza (I almost said pie, but I guess that’s not really appropriate). I don’t think I’ve ever had Gouda on a pizza, but it was a wonderful addition I’d like to experiment with in my own pizza making. The flavor combinations were great and tasted as good the next day when I ate it for breakfast.

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Drawing Inspiration From A Ten Month Old

I spend a lot of time watching Lucy and a lot of that time is spent in our living room. Like most living rooms, we have a coffee table–higher than most and fairly large, but stable–right in front of the couch. This is where I do most of my work during the day and really spend most of my day when not crawling around on the floor with her. This table has been one of Lu’s main cruising locales ever sense she could pull herself up.

She now zips around the table with relative ease, but every now and then she comes across a discarded blanket or sweatshirt that gets in her way. What really impresses me about this kid is how resilient she is. Some kids would hit these roadblocks and go play with another toy or just sit and cry. But Lu’s no quitter. She’ll shove, crawl and force her way to whatever she’s trying to get it no matter what. Sure, she gets frustrated and cries sometimes, but only after trying really hard to surpass her obstacle.

It’s pretty inspiring, actually. It’s like she doens’t know or understand the concept of “can’t.” To her mind, she can do anything, she just needs to figure out the best way to do it. I hope to become more like that as I continue to grow up, at the same time, I hope it’s the kind of thing she doesn’t grow out of. Stay strongheaded, Lu, just don’t remind me of this post when you’re 16 and trying to convince me to borrow the car.

Wok This Way: Velvet Chicken With Asparagus

One Monday I found myself in a bit of a cooking jam. I hadn’t gotten to the store for some reason, but knew that I had chicken breasts in the freezer and asparagus in the fridge, so I looked to Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and came across the recipe for Velvet Chicken With Asparagus (page 128). It was a match made in stir-fry heaven!

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts, most of the real work when it comes to woking out is getting all the prep work done in advance. I chopped up the chicken I had into squares and then mixed it in a bowl with cornstarch, dry sherry, and salt. I set that aside and then split and boiled the asparagus. Instead of chopping, I just used the green’s natural breaking points and snapped them with my hands. After that, I boiled the chicken, which is something I’m still getting used to, but seems to work out pretty well.

With all that out of the way, I finally figured out that I could set up the ingredients in order of their introduction to the wok and that would make things more efficient. Nothing in this recipe cooks for more than a minute before introducing the next, so this is a good way to set things up, I hope I remember it in the future. The garlic and ginger went in first followed quickly by asparagus and then the chicken. That was followed by another mixture I forgot to mention which included broth, pepper, dry sherry and cornstarch. All that got stir-fried and was served on rice, which I started at the beginning of the process.

Like everything else I’ve made with the wok and from that cookbook, this was another winner. The flavors weren’t huge, but it was a nice meal on a warm day that didn’t get me too sweaty in the kitchen. Those are both things I’m very appreciative for.

Bonus Food Pic: Mama Theresa’s Napolitano Sub

In addition to making killer pizza, Mama Theresa’s also knows how to make a mean sub. Every now and then, when I don’t feel like cooking and we don’t want anything too complicated, but still want to avoid fast feed, we break out the Mama Theresa’s menu and each pick out a sandwich. This here is the Napolitano which includes prosciutto, sopressata, ham, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing. It’s a tasty combination and since I’ve been to their other store, I know that this stuff is legit.

Life Immitating Art: Picking Up After Baby & 50 First Dates

Have you guys seen 50 First Dates? It stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, who both live in Hawaii. Sandler meets Barrymore in a restaurant and really likes her, but doesn’t know that she has a head injury that makes her think that every day is the same day. To help facilitate her malady and keep her from freaking out, her dad and brother reset the day every single day after she goes to bed, putting out a fake newspaper, refilling the shampoo and covering over her painting so she thinks she’s starting from scratch again.

I feel like that every night after Lucy goes to bad. No, I’m not trying to trick her, but she has a few baskets of toys as well as a small stack of books kept out in the living along with larger toys and games that she rips through like a tornado. At some point every evening after she goes to bed I walk around the room and put all the shapes back in their sorters, the collections of toys in their containers and just about everything else into that pink basket you see in the above picture. The other day I remembered that scene from 50 First Dates and I figured I’d make the connection in a post so fellow parents could get a chuckle out of it. Hope it worked.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce

With the weather much nicer last week, I thought it would be nice to eat some lighter food. I went looking around FoodNetwork.com and came across Giada De Laurentiis’ Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce. It was a great decision. I only went with a very few changes because I wanted to make sure I got it right. Instead of normal couscous, I used the Israeli variety which I’d never worked with before. I think I might have also used vegetable broth instead of chicken, but it’s been a few days and I can’t tell from the shot I took measuring it out. Ah well, not a big deal.

I first set the oven to 400, got the couscous going, boiling the broth with cumin and then adding in the couscous. I wasn’t really sure how that that was going, so I wound up letting it cook longer than normal with results I wound up liking. Anyway, while that went on, I threw together the sauce (whose ingredients aren’t pictured) and then got the filling ready which was pretty simple. Once the couscous was done I added that in with the rest of the filling. At some point, I cut the tops off the peppers and then cleaned them out.

With everything ready, I put the peppers in a baking dish, added the water to the bottom and then distributed the filling amongst the edible containers. That went into the oven for almost an hour and dinner was served! By cooking the couscous longer, some of it got a little burnt and it actually tasted really great. It reminded me of an episode of No Reservations I saw where Tony was in a Middle Eastern country (I think) and one of the guys he was talking to cooked in a giant pot and said that burning parts of the food is actually important to their cooking process. That seemed to really benefit this meal and made an interesting counterpart to the feta and spinach.

I’ve made traditional stuffed peppers with ground beef, but I actually think this recipe might be more prominent in the rotation!

Cooking A Potage Of Yellow Split Peas

This recipe is based on the Potage of Lentils recipe from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 208), which I didn’t intend to put a spin on, but I mistakenly thought I had lentils in my pantry when instead I had yellow split peas. After I realized I goofed up a bit, I figured I’d give the whole thing a shot with the yellow split peas and you know what? It turned out pretty good.

Like a lot of soups, this one was mostly prep followed by putting things in the pot in the right order. I started off chopping up celery carrots, garlic and potato even though chopped onions were the first thing that actually went into the hot olive oil in the pot. After all that cooked for a few minutes, I added in the yellow split peas and vegetable broth and simmered for 30 minutes.

At that point, I tossed in two bay leaves, a halved lemon and more garlic. This cooked for ten minutes before removing the lemons and bay leaves, squeezing the juice from another lemon in and giving the whole thing a stir. I let it cool down a bit and then transferred all the soup into the food processor and gave it whirl (heh). Once that was all set, I returned it to the pot and added cumin, some green Tobasco, salt and pepper. Boom, done.

This turned out to be a great little soup that worked well with my unintended tampering. It kind of reminded me of a soupier hummus, but with more citrus zing. We had this back when we were getting a pretty brutal cold snap a few weeks back, but I think I’ll definitely give it another shot when the weather turns cold again. I don’t know about you guys, but I just can’t wrap my head around soup in the summer.

The Force Is Not So Strong With These Cubes

If you’re only familiar with me from reading this blog and not UnitedMonkee, The Monkee Diaries or Pop Poppa, you probably don’t know that I’m a pretty big geek. Have been since as long as I can remember. Part of that is loving Star Wars. So, when I saw the above R2-D2 ice cube tray show up on a comic book discount site called Thwipster for a pretty low price, I jumped at the chance.

When I got them in, I immediately poured the water in and excitedly waited for it to freeze. After I while I cracked them out and…my icey Artoo had no feet. While the details on these guys are great, the feet on both the larger and smaller versions are so deep that every time I tried cracking these guys out, they always lost their feet. ALWAYS.

Even so, it’s a fun little thing to have. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if the ice version of the droid I’m using to cool down my whiskey and coke has feet. Actually, the reminds me, I’ve got to fill the tray back up, it’s the weekend!

The Day I Thought I Deleted Every Picture Of My Daughter

Last February there were about two hours where I thought I accidentally deleted every single picture of my daughter Lucy since she was born back in May. I can’t even really explained what happened, but I was trying to back my iPhoto up to our external hard drive. This used to be a much easier task than it is now, but I clicked a few things, realized it looked like all the photos from the hard drive were being brought back onto my laptop and stopped that process. See, the whole reason I needed to back things up was because I was way low on memory. Cancelling that action made it look like every single picture taken in 2011 or possibly even earlier had been deleted. Not trashed, because I could have pulled them out, but vanished.

I felt like I was going to throw up. I freaked out, looking everywhere I could think to find the images and came up with nothing. I even emailed a friend from college I haven’t spoken to in forever to see if he could help. I felt like a tool for doing that, but I needed to find these pictures. I searched around online to find a few possible things that could help me out and then, I’m not sure why, I decided to right click on the iPhoto library icon. That’s when I saw that it has an option in the drop down menu that says “Show Package Contents.” If you select that, then you can see the files organized by year and month with all your pictures in them. This is how things used to be organized before an update or new operating system or something. Maybe they did it like that so you couldn’t accidentally delete photos, but it literally drove me insane for two hours.

Those were very honestly two of the worst hours of my life. I’ve felt so sad or mad that I’m actually sick to my stomach, but it has never lasted that long. The whole thing started while Lu was taking a nap, but she woke up and that made it even harder. I can not tell you how glad I am that I figured out what happened, but I’m still not completely comfortable. I know external hard drives can be tricky at best. I want to get an external DVD burner (my built in one doesn’t work anymore for some reason) to make physical copies and maybe get some kind of cloud back-up system to be extra sure. I used to laugh at people who would do all that, but now I’ve actually got important things I want to keep.

By the way, the next time I opened iPhoto after that? Everything was back to normal like nothing ever happened. Times like this make me wish I had been even more interested in computers and really got to understand how the work. It’s a bit unsettling trusting so much of my life to something I can’t really fix.

Cooking Homesick Texan Carnitas With Avocado Salad & Grilled Onions & Peppers

A few weeks ago my wife sent me Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Homesick Texan Carnitas. It sounded both simple and tasty, so I decided to give it a whirl. I decided to add some grilled onions and peppers because I had both lying around and also an avocado salad that’s basically just chopped avocado, tomato, onion, basil and garlic. I also served them on small tortillas, but made the mistake of heating them up on a baking sheet instead of wrapping them up in foil. The problem with doing it the way I went was that you wind up with mostly crispy tortillas.

But, like I said, the actual carnitas recipe  was easy, so I didn’t mind adding a few more things to the process. The night before we had this for dinner, I made the orange juice/lime juice/cumin/garlic/salt sauce and butchered the butt. The recipe calls for a boneless pork butt, which I recommend because trying to get the meat off those curvy bones was not easy. Prepping this stuff ahead of time was a great way to go because it meant I could easily plop the meat into my Dutch oven, pour the liquid over and then add water to start the two hour simmer period.

While that simmered for the two hours, I went back to work, returning to the kitchen when the period was over. During the 45 minute higher heat portion of the cooking time, I got the rest of my stuff done. The peppers and onions were very simple. I just sliced them up and tossed them in a cast iron grill pan until they showed the familiar grill marks I’ve seen when I order fajitas in restaurants. I’d never done this before, but winging it worked pretty well. I also got the oven ready to heat the tortillas, but like I said, it makes more sense to wrap them in tin foil to stop them from getting crispy.

I also put the avocado salad together. As you can see from the picture, all you do is chop up some basil leaves (rolling them up and then using kitchen scissors is really the way to go), two plum tomatoes, an onion and two avocados, put them in a boll and stir in the juice from a pair of squeezed limes. You could easily throw this in a food processor and you’d have guacamole, but I wanted to try it this way and see how it worked out. I actually liked the larger chunks of onions and ate some of the leftovers with chips, chips made from the toasty tortillas, actually. As my wife mentioned to me, the basil in the mix really brought something new and interesting to the table.

With all that done, I shredded up some cheddar, took the kitchen scissors to some green onions and set laid everything out on the table. It looks pretty formidable when it’s all together, but it wasn’t really that big of a deal. I’ve made tacos a lot of times using different methods, but usually stick to the basic ingredients. It was nice to try something different and mostly succeed. Also, I’ve only had carnitas a time or two, but this mixture was fantastic and citrus-y, a wonderful combination that makes me want to make carnitas over and over again.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli

I’m noticing a pretty strong pattern when it comes to making dishes from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge. There’s chopped meat usually mixed with some kind of cornstarch mixture as well as vegetables. Most of the of time involved with the cooking process comes from prepping and cooking the rice to serve things on. It’s a really simple, wonderful way to cook that would be ideal for people who have to cook after work. You could even prep the night before and it’d only take a short time to have a full meal by the time you got home, though you might have to go with egg noodles instead of rice (or get a rice cooker, those are fast, right? I’ve never used one.)

Anyway, Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli (page 89) was another simple recipe. You cut up 12 ounces of flank steak and put it in a bowl with ginger, soy sauce, rice win/dry sherry, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Then mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and more sherry/rice wine in another bowl. The recipe wanted me to boil water and cook the broccoli like that, but instead I steamed it while I was getting everything else ready and think that was a good way to go. You keep more vitamins and minerals that way, right?

With all that ready, it was stir-fry time! First went in some garlic and black bean sauce (it called for actual black beans, but I could only find the sauce) into some peanut oil. That cooked for 10 seconds before pushing it to the side and adding the beef in one layer to the wok. That goes undisturbed for one week  before stir-frying for another. Once that’s done, you put that aside on a plate for a bit.

Add more peanut oil and cook the broccoli for 15 seconds with the onions (I realized after already cutting up green ones, that the recipe called for regular onions, it didn’t matter too much). You then put the beef back in with the oyster sauce mix, stir-fry for 30 more seconds and you’re done. I had gotten my rice going ahead of time and the timing once again worked out well. You’ve probably had beef and broccoli before and it’s just as good at home as it is from a store!

Cooking Tortellini Soup

I’ll be honest, I have no idea where the basis of this recipe came from. It’s one I copied from somewhere online and pasted before printing off and putting in a binder years ago. So, I’m sorry if I’m ripping someone off. I did change and add a few things this time around and guess that’s probably enough to make a difference. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 10 oz. cans of chicken broth, low sodium
8 oz. package of tortellini (I went with cheese, possibly quadruple cheese)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bunch spinach
6 leaves of basil
1 roaster chicken

First up, separate the chicken from the roaster. You could also grill and chop chicken, but I wanted bones for some stock and went this route.

Meanwhile, heat the oik in your pot and saute the garlic for 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tortellini and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Mix in Parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper. Simmer until tortellini are just tender. Stir in tomatoes, spinach basil and chicken. Simmer for 2 more minutes.

That’s it. I vaguely remember making this year and years ago, but without the chicken and really enjoying it. I wanted to get some protein in there, hence the chopped up bird. I wasn’t sure if the stewed tomatoes should go in with or without being drained, I decided not to and I think it helped. The only problem I had is that the noodles and meat soaked up a lot of the broth, turning this into more of a pasta dish with a chicken broth sauce, really. I’d probably add even more chicken stock next time and would be even happier with the results.

This is a really easy meal to throw together, especially if you have a few things like spinach and basil lying around from an earlier recipe. It also has the fortunate bonus of being tasty, especially if you’re  fan of tortellini.

A Modest Proposal Was A Joke, Wasn’t It?

If this blog post title doesn’t make sense to you, allow me to explain. Back in 1729 a writer named Jonathan Swift wrote a pamphlet called A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (read it here if you want to). The idea is that the poor people in Ireland should think about eating their babies in order to make up for the famine they were going through. It was a satire that some people took far too seriously, but there’s an interesting note of truth in there that I’ve only discovered since becoming a dad: people want to eat babies.

Don’t believe me? My daughter has big cheeks, you can see them in the above picture. You know what the number one comment I get when I take her out in public is? “I want to eat those cheeks.” It’s true. People we know, family members, friends and strangers all say the same thing. We were out at a restaurant on Sunday and no less than three people said something along those lines.

It’s kind of strange, right? And it’s not just cheek comments. What do people say when they see something really cute? “I could just eat you right up.” What is going on?! It’s an epidemic. Are we pre-disposed to eat children like Swift suggested but don’t because 1) it’s socially unacceptable and 2) then we wouldn’t have anything cute to look at?

Parents take note and be wary. Think about it, listen to the people looking at your baby. What kind of terminology are they using? How do they look at him or her? And most importantly, do they look hungry? You can never be too careful. I recommend possibly carrying around a spare sandwich or two to distract them with so you can make a quick getaway. Stay safe!

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Food Pics

In the past, I’ve had less than great luck with corn beef and food on St. Patrick’s Day. For a while there, it seems like gnarly corn beef was attracted to me like a magnet and bad metal. It’s okay, though, I’ve gotten past it and actually had some amazing CB in my life, especially this week. I didn’t bother making anything St. Patrick’s themed because it landed on the weekend and I tend to take those off for cooking. We wound up heading to a few of our favorite restaurants this weekend, all of which had wonderful Irish-themed food. You know you want to see the pictures, so scroll on down! On Friday, we headed over to King’s Pommes Frites in Cornwall and got their corn beef specials. These weren’t Reubens because they didn’t have sauerkraut and the bread was a sesame roll, but they were still quite tasty. Obviously, Reubens aren’t Irish, but they do utilize corn beef, so there’s the connection. But who cares! I went to Ireland about 12 years back and the food wasn’t all that great. In fact, this was one of two German dishes I had last weekend. Oh, my wife and I got the same thing, but we also tried a pair of new sauces: Horseradish and Basil, both were fantastic and highly recommended.

On actual St. Patrick’s Day, we headed to Fiddlestix, also in Cornwall, for breakfast or lunch, whichever you please. I went with lunch because they had something called The St. Patrick’s Day Sneak Peek or soemthing along those lines. This was all Irish (as far as I know). The corn beef was tender and juicy, some of the best I’ve ever had and those mashed potatoes actually had horseradish in them and were super tasty (I’m gonna have to remember than one in the future). The cabbage was a little bland, but with all those other flavors going on, that wasn’t such a terrible thing. Lastly, but in no way least, you can see a thick piece of Irish Soda Bread. I haven’t had a lot of this in my life, but this piece was MAGIC. It actually tasted a bit like French toast and I’m a little surprised that wasn’t on the menu. Maybe next year! Billy Joe’s Ribworks also had a series of Irish themed meals on Sunday, which was nice. We decided to go on a whim and weren’t even expecting that, so it was a nice surprise. I thought about getting some more corn beef, but instead I went with kielbasa which came with some amazing sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as well as two sides–I went with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes because I love both of those things in my mouth. We also got out first and only…green beer! It’s Bud Light which probably explains why they were able to get such an electric green. Everything was super tasty. Again, I know I was eating German food while celebrating and Irish-themed holiday, but I do not care. Any time I can get quality kielbasa next to mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, I am golden.

Pop Poppa Product Review: BosoBuddies

I’ve talked about our travel system before and it’s still doing well by us, though Lucy’s getting bigger and we have to switch out car seats soon. However, before moving on to our next car seats, I wanted to bestow the virtues of a little product called BosoBuddies that you can buy on etsy. If you’re like me, you go out with your kid a lot alone and it can be a pain in the butt keeping the car seat straps out from under them when you’re situating them. I tried sliding the metal clip part under a plastic thing on the side of the seat, but that only worked about a quarter of the time on one–never both–straps.

Enter the BosoBuddies. It’s a simple design, but it has made all of our car trips that much easier just by it’s very existence. See, the button part you see in the above picture is attached to a stretchy cord that you loop through to attach onto your car seat handle. The other other end of the cord has the ribbon as well as it’s own loop. So, what you do, is, when you undo the car seat, you wrap the ribbon end around the strap and put the loop over the button so it stays. Simple as that. Pull the tab and you’re undone and ready to pop the kid back in the seat. It sounds a little complicated and when my wife first explained it to me, I told her not to bother, but after weeks of frustration with the straps, I asked her to pick some up the next time they appeared on one of her deal sites (a post about those is coming soon). If you’re wonder, we have the Orange Flower w/ MultiColor Stripe Ribbon version.

Much like the Itzbeen, I assumed I wouldn’t need something that performs such a simple task, but was proven wrong by the day to day experience of watching and raising a child. However, you can learn from my initial lack of interest, pick up your own set of BosoBuddies and avoid all kinds of frustration! I would even recommend paying the full $15 if they don’t show up on deal sites, they’re worth that and more.

Cooking Tex Mex Chicken Taco Soup

For some reason while I was making this Food Network recipe for Tex Mex Chicken Taco Soup, I was under the impression that I was making chili. I should have known that it wasn’t when the recipe said it only takes 45 minutes to make…and by actually reading the title.

Anyway, I followed the recipe as it’s written with a few changes. I used low fat cream cheese to cut down on some of the calories. I also grilled the chicken on the George Foreman instead of boiling it. For what it’s worth, I used Old El Paso Mild Taco Seasoning and half a jar each of Pace Salsa Verde and Pace Black Bean & Roasted Corn Salsa that I had left over from various recipes and snack-fests.

I almost didn’t add the cream cheese mixture into the soup because I didn’t want it to get to thick or possibly screw up the good thing I had going, so I asked my wife. She said to pour it in and see how it came out. Good thing I listened to her because we wound up with a nice creamy, spicy soup with nice corn and hominy accents. You can really have fun with this recipe by playing around with different beans, meats and salsa.

Bonus Food Pic: Grilled Cheese With Ham & Fries From King’s Pommes Frites

King’s Pommes Frites
255 Main Street
Cornwall, NY 12518
(845) 534-1500

I’ve been sitting on this picture for a while and I’m not sure why. Just look at how delicious the above plate of food looks. I’ve talked about King’s before, and we’ve gone there a number of times. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they are a fry place in Cornwall that has 30 or sauces for dipping as well as daily and weekly specials that are served either on top of or on the side of fries. In this pic from a few months back, you can see that I got a ham and cheddar grilled cheese and, I believe, some ranch dipping sauce, though it might be olive. I’ve tried and very much like both. If you’re anywhere near Cornwall, do yourself a favor and check out King’s.

Frozen Food Section

Bagged Frozen Cubes

I fully intended to write this post last week, but life and babies got in the way of that. I’ve talked before about how we feed Lucy and most of that remains the same. Instead of using the ceramic pink dish, I’ve been heating the food up in the microwave to get it warmer, then smoothing it out and checking for hot pockets, but mostly, it’s the same.

But, I also wanted to do a post more about working with frozen food. We’ve never purchased baby food. Instead, my wife and her mom have made food, sometimes using Lisa Barnes’ Cooking For Baby. She handles all the actually food cooking, but we’ve currently got several large freezer bags in our freezer with pumpkin, pear, apple, pea, black bean and other cubes. After making whatever food she’s working on and blending or pureeing it, they go in these covered ice cube trays we have from a company called Fresh Baby. We also use normal ice cube trays when we need to freeze a lot of food in a fairly short period of time. I’ve found that the best way to get the food out of the trays is to spray the bottom with hot water using the sink sprayer. Sometimes you need to loosen things up a bit before the usual bending will free the food.

Defrosted Baby Food!

From there, it’s just like I wrote before: defrost and serve. With Lucy getting older and hungrier, I tend to defrost three cubes per meal and store anything she doesn’t eat, though that hasn’t happened in a while, now that I think of it. I like to mix up the food and try to get a fruit cube in along with the veggies to mix things up. So far, she still gives new food a bit of a stink face, but we haven’t fed her anything that she refuses. Peas didn’t go over so well at first, but now they seem like one of her favorite foods. And, yes, I do mix them up and give her spoonfuls with more than one food on them. I’m all about mixing things up and seeing what the outcome will be!

Cooking The Neelys’ Mama’s Lasagna

Yesterday, I wrote about making Cauliflower With Tomatoes. I figured that would make a fitting pair with lasagna, even though you don’t really need a veggie side with all the tomatoes. Anyway, I’ve made lasagna before and not just the Pumpkin one from last fall. I’ve made the basic Betty Crocker one and a few others, but I think I found a real winner when I came across The Neelys’ Mama’s Lasagna on FoodNetwork.com. I think this is the first of their recipes I’ve ever made, but I will definitely be giving them another look on the site.

The only thing I changed from their recipe is that I used meatloaf/meatball mix from my grocery instead of ground turkey or beef, but I followed everything else to a T. I like to get things ready ahead of time not just because I like to be prepared, but it also makes space on my very limited counter space. So, I first got to work on the cottage cheese mixture. With that done and in the fridge, I got to making the meat sauce. Once I got that to a place where I had some free time, I started shredding the various cheeses and that was pretty much it until construction.

Oh, the only other thing I changed was, I didn’t use oil in the pan. I learned a trick from another recipe where you just rub meat sauce around on the pan and you’re good to go. I got that in the oven and waited until everything was done. And, as I mentioned above, I think this might be my new go-to lasagna recipe. My wife and I both really liked it. I think the cottage cheese really brought something great to the table. It also tasted great with the cauliflower and possibly even better when we reheated it for lunches throughout the rest of the week.

Cooking Cauliflower With Tomatoes

As I said when talking about making Marinated Cucumbers I’m always on the lookout for new ways to cook veggies and still keep them healthy. So, I got pretty excited when I stumbled across this recipe for Cauliflower With Tomatoes on Food Network.com. Cauliflower’s one of the vegetables that I don’t have much of a history with. It’s been at just about every party I’ve been at with a veggie platter, but aside from that, it hasn’t had much of a role in my culinary life, but that doens’t mean I have anything against it.

As you can see by following the link, this is a very easy recipe. Combine a head of chopped cauliflower in a bowl with three chopped plum tomatoes, olive oil, two minced cloves of garlic, cumin seeds, turmeric, salt and pepper (I skipped the cayenne), mix thoroughly and pop in the oven at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

There were a few days between when I bought ingredients and actually got around to making this side, so two of my tomatoes went bad, which was a bummer, but I don’t think it effected the flavor too much. The real punch comes from the turmeric and cumin coming together. Cauliflower’s kind of bland, so it works well as a vehicle for flavors. By cooking it in the oven, some of those flavors really get sealed in. I’m becoming a big fan of turmeric, a spice I don’t remember having until the last few years.

I will definitely be adding this recipe to my veggie side rotation moving forward. Simple and tasty? You can’t go wrong with that.

Wok This Way: Hoisin Explosion Chicken

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Ways, I like how much of the wok cooking I’ve done involves prep and then a fairly short cooking time. That was the case with the Hoisin Explosion Chicken Recipe from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 114). Also like the other recipes, it was super easy to follow, didn’t require a lot of strange ingredients and resulted in some really tasty food.

Since I already had dry sherry in place of rice wine, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and ginger the only ingredients I had to pick up were chicken, a green pepper and an 8 ounce can of bamboo shoots which weren’t that expensive. I always worry that some of the more unusual ingredients will prove cost prohibitive, but that, thankfully, hasn’t been the case just yet.

So, here’s the deal. Ahead of timeI got the rice boiling and then mixed 12 ounces of chopped chicken breast in a bowl with cornstarch, an egg white, dry sherry/rice wine, salt, cold water and let marinate uncovered in the fridge for 30 minutes. While that was in the works, I also mixed soy sauce, hoisin sauce and more dry sherry for prep. I followed that up by cutting the green pepper into strips, draining the can of bamboo shoots and combining minced garlic, minced ginger and some red pepper flakes in another prep bowl. Once all that was done, I was good to go.

After about 25 minutes, I got another sauce pan of water boiling, this one to do the first cook on the chicken. You drop the pieces in, stir them up so the don’t clump and let cook in the boiling water for about a minute. I think drained it out in a colander and was ready for the actual stir-fry portion of the proceedings.

Like with the other recipes, this part is a constant jumping between the wok and the cook book to remember what the next step is. The ginger, garlic and pepper flakes went into some peanut oil first, followed by the bell pepper and some salt. Those cooked for 30 second before adding in the chicken, bamboo shoots and sauce which stir-fried for a minute or two (probably longer, actually).

I got lucky and timed everything so that the cooking would be done just as the rice was ready. Like with all the other dishes I’ve tried so far in the wok, the flavors were really fresh and vibrant. I’m a big fan of soy sauce and that salty taste, so these meals are great on my pallet. Luckily, my wife also seems to be digging these experiments. I’m looking to move on to some more complicated recipes in the near future, so keep an eye out for those soon. Basically, what I’m saying is that my wok-fu is getting stronger by the meal.

Fathers & Sons Rocking Out

Last Thursday my dad and I went down to the city to see Van Halen play Madison Square Garden. We have a long history of seeing concerts together (Kiss, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, The Who and more) and it was a lot of fun continuing that. We had a great time riding the train down, grabbing some dinner at a place called The Stage Coach right across the street from MSG and the concert was amazing. But, there were a lot of dad-related things going on in my head in addition to enjoying the music.By the way, he took all these photos. First off, this was the first time I ever left Lucy with someone during the day to go do something fun. My mom watched her while we went to the show. My wife and I have left her with both sets of grandparents before, but this was the first time I went on my own. It was pretty hard. I obviously trust my mom as much as you can trust another human being, heck, she raised me, so I know she knows what she’s doing. It’s just that feeling of leaving that’s difficult when you’re so used to being around the kid all day, every day. Of course, she was fine and had a great time with Grandma, so that was all good. It’s one of those things where every time you do it, it gets a little easier.

While my mom took care of my daughter, I got to hang out with my dad one on one for a longer time than we’ve spent together just the two of us in a while now. It was a lot of fun. We had a great time riding down on the train talking about everything from football to marriage. Plus, I just can’t say how much I appreciated him and my mom setting this whole thing up to continue a longstanding concert-going tradition. My dad introduced me to Van Halen, so watching these guys rock out together standing next to him felt right. I think it’s important to keep those kinds of things going. Lastly, I thought it was super cool that Eddie Van Halen plays in a huge band like this with his son Wolfgang (that’s him on the left) as well as his brother Alex (drummer). I know it sounds crazy, but it’s almost like Wolfie was bred to take Michael Anthony’s place in the band. But more than that, how cool would it be to not only share a passion like playing music with your kid or parent and then take that a million steps further and actually perform with them? My dad and I have that passion for music and I think Lucy has it in her too. It’s cool how those kinds of things get passed on.

So, yeah, the concert was awesome and inspirational for reasons I’ll get to over on UnitedMonkee and maybe Monkey Diaries, but it was also an all around and multifaceted parent/child experience. Such a great time.

Pizza Party: Tarantella’s

Tarantella’s
128 Main St.
Nyack,New york 10960
(845)358-3583

Sometimes you love something because it’s the best and sometimes it’s because you have a sentimental attachment to it. I’d like to say that I love Tarantella’s in Nyack for both, but who can tell after a while? When I was an intern working for Wizard, we would spend many nights in Nyack. Several of my fellow interns lived in the Hudson River town along with some of the actual employees and just about everyone lived nearby. So, on Fridays, you would be hard pressed to not find a Wizard employee in one of the town’s many bars. Our usual hang out was Olive’s, though we also frequented Bruxelles and stopped in plenty of other places, but Olive’s was usually the final destination. This continued to be the case when I got an actual job at Wizard several months later. As it happens, Tarantella’s is a mere block away from Olive’s and is open very late, so it was a frequent stop during our walkabouts.

But, I’m glad to say that the food is good even when you don’t have a buzz on as I was reminded of a few weeks back when a group of friends–some of whom I met at Wizard–returned there for food after a joint birthday party my wife and I planned. Unlike our usual outings, we actually sat in the place’s big back room and had a waitress waiting on us instead of ordering slices and sitting at one of the tables up front or just cramming it down our gullets while walking around. As such, I actually looked at the menu instead of pointing at slices and asking for those. I wound up with a meat slice and a chicken parm one, both of which were fantastic. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food which makes me think it actually is good and not just the remnants of drunken memories. For my money, it’s the best place around, I just wish there was one closer.

Cooking Spaghetti With Creamy Spinach Sauce & Chicken

I love white sauce. Of course, the problem with the delicious pasta covering is that it’s not always the healthiest thing in the world. I don’t believe I’ve ever made a full-on cream sauce because of the poor health implications, but I have tried a few healthier workaround recipes that have been alright. A few weeks back, I stumbled upon one that’s milk instead of cream based in a cookbook I almost never look in called Monday To Friday Pasta by Michael Urvater. I think I assumed this book was something that someone gave us at some point before I got into cooking or something and just never perused it. I’ve since made a few things from it and have to say it’s definitely worth checking out.

Anyway, the recipe for Spaghetti with Creamy Spinach Sauce (page 229) sounded tasty and simple, so I grabbed the ingredients and got to work. In addition to being good, it was also pretty easy to put together. I wanted to get some more protein in there, so in addition to making the recipe as it stands, I also grilled up some chicken breasts on the George Foreman and threw those in at the end. Otherwise, I followed the recipe as it’s written.

As always, I got the salted water for the pasta on the heat first. I also threw the spinach in my strainer because I had just gone to the grocery store and it was still frozen. There was no way it was going to thaw in time naturally, so I kept spraying it with hot water, which eventually worked. After it was all apart, I squeezed out the water and was good to go.

Meanwhile, I worked on the sauce. You melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pan and then whisk in two tablespoons of flour. After a few seconds, add two cups of milk and whisk some more. Simmer that and whisk for a bit and then add the spinach and simmer this new combination for about a minute. You then add two tablespoons of grated Parmesan, add salt and pepper and combine with the pasta. I also added the chicken in at this point and was done.

The white sauce might not be as creamy as the best one you’ve ever had in a restaurant, but I’ve got to say, it was pretty great for a quickly put together home meal. I’m not obsessed with calories or anything, but I do try to make smart cooking choices and I think this is a pretty good one.