Photo Diary: Sunday, April 29th, 2012

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Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms

I don’t want to sound like I’ve gotten a big head, but I think I’ve really gotten the hang of cooking with a wok. I’ve made a series of recipes, each of which has turned out pretty well and they’ve all formed something of a pattern. Cut up meat, sprinkle with cornstarch and soy sauce, get some veggies ready, lay out your ingredients and get ready for some fast cooking. Aromatics go in first with peanut oil, then meat, which sears for a minute before getting the stir-fry treatment. After that, include the vegetables, maybe a sauce involving soy sauce or fish sauce you’re already prepared and sometimes add in some sugar and salt at the end. Oh and make sure to get your rice or noodles going when you start prepping, otherwise you’re timing’s going to be way off.

That’s pretty much the deal with the recipe for Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms that I got from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 134). The only real difficulty here was julienning the carrots, but that was just slightly more labor intensive than usual. I used a mandolin first and then cut them into smaller matchstick like pieces. In the book, author Grace Young mentions a tool called a Kinpira peeler that I might have to look into if carrots became a regular player in our wok cooking. Overall, this was another good recipe, though I would like to find a few with a bit of a different flavor profile. The meats and vegetables really make the flavors, but the base of garlic or ginger and soy sauce tends to make these things blend together in my memory. Still, those are flavors I enjoy, so it’s not really a bad thing.

Bonus Food Pics: Kalamata Olive Oil From Scarborough Fare In New Paltz

Last weekend my wife and I decided to take our daughter and walk around the nearby town of New Paltz. It’s a great little town that’s equal parts old hippie and young hippie college student that makes a great environment for food. It’s the first place I ever had Soppressata, where I found Northern Italian Cooking by Francesco Ghedini and the home of restaurants like The Main Course, The Taco Shack and the Japanese place I can’t quite remember the name of.

As I discovered that weekend, it’s also the home of a place called Scarborough Fare (8 North Front Street, New Paltz, NY 12561; 845-255-0061) that has specialty olive oils and vinaigrettes on tap. You can go through and taste each one and walk away with whatever size bottle you want filled with your preferred flavor. One of the women who worked there also told us that you can bring in any bottle that has how many ounces it holds on the bottle, so you could theoretically go in there with a Mason jar and walk out with it filled to the lid with Jalapeno olive oil. I went simple with a smaller bottle of kalamata olive oil imported from Greece. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if my palette is quite refined enough to taste all the differences in the flavored versions, but I liked this one and even used it to pan fry some chicken which I’ll post about next week.

Cooking French Fries & Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

After watching so many food travel shows, I’ve become a bit fascinated with how different places prepare hot dogs. Back home, hot dogs were always a pretty simple affair: throw some Oscar Meyers’ on the grill, put in a bun and decide if you want ketchup, mustard or relish (I do not like relish, normally). While flipping around the All Recipes app, I came across one for Chicago-Style Hot Dogs and decided to pair them up with Oven French Fries also found on AR.com.

The fries actually took a lot more time to put together than I expected and suffered a bit for my poor time management. You’re supposed to soak the cut potatoes in cornstarch, water and soy sauce for an hour, but I only went about 45 minutes with them because I wanted to get eating. The results were pretty uneven, with some fries being very good and others a bit too crunchy. Next time, I’ll try to follow the recipe a lot closer. I almost didn’t write about them because they didn’t turn out well, but figured my goof might help you guys out. I’ll give them another shot probably sooner rather than later as it’s summer and fries go with everything.

The hot dogs themselves were mostly prep work. We have a stock pot that comes with several steamers. One goes much further down into the pan, that’s the one I used for steaming vegetables. There’s one that only goes four or five inches down from the top that I’d never used before, but it worked out perfectly for steaming the buns. See, put three or four inches of water in the pot and got that boiling. When it was ready I cooked the all-beef dogs for about five minutes and then put the smaller steamer tray in to do the dogs without turning the heat off. I also chopped up the onion, tomatoes and banana peppers. The recipe called for sport peppers, but I have no idea what those are and I already have the best banana peppers around from Toledo’s own Tony Packos, so I was good to go.

I made my first dog to the specifications of the recipe (I love that it’s written out for one dog at a time), except for the poppyseed buns which I could not find in either the bakery section or the bread aisle. I will say this, Chicagoans do not mess around with their hot dogs. These is a strong bit of food to eat. The pickles plus the relish with onion, mustard and celery salt join forces to kick your tastebuds in the face and it’s a pretty great thing, but I decided to cut a few of the ingredients out for my second dog. Overall, though, I hope this is but the first in a series of good hot dog experiences. Got any suggestions for what I should try next time?

Bonus Food Pic: Sesame Chicken Bento Box

Well, this is a bit embarassing. My wife, daughter and I had a wonderful lunch at a brand new Japanese fusion place in New Paltz, NY, but I can’t seem to find out what it’s called. I do know that it’s located at 215 Main St, New Paltz, NY 12561 because it’s in the same complex as the Moxie Cupcake we stopped at afterwards. Anyway, this is the second Bento Box I’ve ever had, but this is definitely the best of the pair. The California roll was pretty much as good as any other California roll and the rice was nice, light and sticky. The shrimp shu mai were also very tasty and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had those.

I am much more well versed in Sesame Chicken, however and this was a very good example of the stuff. Sometimes the sauce is too thick and can wind up tasting like candy, other times the chicken isn’t well trimmed and turns out fatty and gross, but this was both a great cut of chicken and a well balanced sauce. When I figured out the name of the place, I’ll write another post, I promise!

Dad Doc Double Feature: Candyman (2010) & My Father The Genius (2002)

Anyone who reads my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee will know that I’m a big movie fan. I used to watch a lot more on a daily basis, but with Lucy, I don’t want to have the TV on constantly. It’s probably better for me in the long run too. Some days, though, I’ll watch a few things while taking care of her and getting work done. Today, I happened to watch a pair of documentaries that wound up being about mostly different things, but shared one interesting connection: they’re both about visionary men who don’t sound like they were very good fathers.

First I watched Candyman: The David Klein Story. All I knew about this one going in was that it was about the guy that invented Jelly Belly jellybeans. What I did not realize, however, is that the focus, David Klein, made some terrible business decisions and wound up selling the company for a ridiculously low price because he didn’t really understand the business side of things. You aren’t really told this until about half way through the movie, so, if you’re like me and don’t know any of the history, comes as quite a shock. Klein has spent the rest of his life trying to match that success and ultimately failing.

One of the stars of the documentary is Klein’s son Bert who also a producer on the film and did some narration. David lost the business when Bert was still a kid, but after he did, he started treating Bert differently, which caused a bit of a rift between them. It sounds like David might have taken a lot of his anger out on Bert for ultimately failing at realizing his dream and trading it away for a measly compensation that ran out years ago. It seems like they’ve got a better relationship now, but you can tell that there’s still a lot of hurt in there.

Speaking of hurt, architect and the subject of his own daughter’s documentary My Father The Genius, Glen Howard Small has created his own fair share, but you don’t quite get that until part of the way through the film as well. We’re first told that director Luicia Small is making this film essentially at her father’s request. She then explains to us that he’s a visionary who came up with all these interesting ideas about how to create new buildings and spaces that not only took the environment into account, but also beauty and nature. Then we get a bit of a bomb dropped: Glen’s kind of an ass.

He’s had three different marriages, comes off as a misogynist, has several kids all of whom he has essentially abandoned — both physically and emotionally — and he just doesn’t understand how to be a nice person and work within the system. Now, I understand that some people thing that true change can only come when you tear down the establishment and good luck with that, but I think the way society is built has shown us that change is far more likely to come from the inside. It’s very possible that Klein actually does have ideas that could change the landscape of the world, but no one wants to deal with an asshole.

In addition to life lessons about how to run a business and work within the system of life, it was also interesting seeing examples of men who sacrificed their families in various ways to try and fulfill their dreams. As someone with some pretty wild dreams himself, it’s a good thing to see in order to keep myself grounded and look out for a few warning signs. I don’t think it will really be a problem though. Klein is just generally sad, I think, while Small seems completely incapable of looking at himself from the outside or see how his actions might hurt other people. Hopefully I don’t have either of those traits, but if I do, I’ll head back to Netflix Instant and watch this double feature again.

Cooking Pea Pesto

It was unseasonably hot last week, which made menu planning relatively difficult. I didn’t want to make things that would heat up the house too much, but didn’t really succeed. The first thing I decided to make required not one, but two pans of boiling water. We wound up turning the AC on because it was so hot by the time my wife got home, but I think it was overall a good dinner.

I should tell you what I made, it was Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, which I’ve actually made and enjoyed several times before. Like I said, the recipe revolves around two pots of water, one big for the pasta — I went with rotini instead of the linguine the recipe suggests — and one smaller one to cook the peas. I also prepared a bowl of cold water to shock the peas once they were done cooking.

While the peas boiled, I worked on the rest of the pesto ingredients. I followed the recipe, but also threw in the last few usable leaves of basil I had from an earlier meal. After shocking the peas, they went into the food processor and that component was all set. Once the pasta was done cooking, everything went into a bowl and got mixed up together.

I would love to make this with fresh peas, but my grocery store never seems to have them. As it is, the end result hinges on how good the peas are. This batch wasn’t quite as sweet as some previous ones, so I was missing a bit of that sweetness, but I really do love how simple and very good this recipe is. It works just as well cold as hot and you could also cook up some chicken and include that in the bowl if you so please.

Cooking Korean Barbecue Beef (Pul-Kogi)

The first All Recipes meal I tried making was actually Korean BBQ Beef, also apparently known as Pul-Kogi. I really like trying out new things and was spurred on by both a desire to try what I’ve seen on TV and also the luck I’ve had cooking various foods in my wok.

This one needs to marinate for a few hours, so I got to work on it earlier in the afternoon than I usually do when cooking, but that gave me more time to hang out with my daughter after finishing work around 5. First I cut up the meat, which didn’t take too long. Then it was just a matter of getting the rest of the marinade together. I cut up the pear, onion and garlic, then grated some ginger. I then tossed in the sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, dry sherry for rice wine and sesame seeds. The meat marinated for three hours.

In that time, I also got a salad together and cooked rice for the allotted 45 minutes. Once the marinade time was over, I spread everything out on a pan and broiled for between six and ten minutes. I liked what I tasted, but I think I was hoping for a bit of a richer flavor. Next time, I think I’ll go with a whole pear, I liked the spot of sweetness I tasted, but would like to have a bit more. Anyone else have suggestions for kicking it up a few notches?

Cooking Cheeseburgers & Corn

I was going to make meat loaf this week until I looked at the weather for the week and saw that it was going to be in the 70s almost every day. Not only did meat loaf not sound all that appealing anymore, but I love the idea of eating burgers and corn when the weather gets nice. It reminds me of weekends back home either at my parents’ house or the cottage we spent many s summer weekend. I think at this point it’s in my DNA.

I started experimenting with burgers last summer after my wife opened my eyes to the fact that you can put all kinds of stuff in the burgers, from different herbs and spices to chopped onion and garlic. This time around, I worked with a pound of 85% lean ground beef and included half of a cut onion I had in my refrigerator, some chopped up parsley and taragon, an egg and a few dashes each of dill wed, steak seasoning, Tastefully Simple Seasoned Salt and garlic powder. All that went into a bowl where I mixed it up by hand and then formed into four patties. I tend to wind up making very small burgers, but this time I made sure to go big. I then simply cooked them in a pair of flat cast iron skillets flipping a few times in about 10 or 12 minutes. Once they were done, I topped two with cheddar cheese and two with Muenster.

For the corn, I just shucked it and steamed it for about 15, maybe 20 minutes in the stock pot we have that has a steamer basket for just such things. I used to slather my corn cob with butter and salt, but another thing my wife turned me onto was just letting the corn flavors do their thing and that was another good call on her part.

To go with the burgers I put out ketchup, yellow mustard, brown mustard, honey mustard (we have way too many kinds of mustard), sweet pickles for my wife, pickle spears for myself and the mayo I made and posted about yesterday. I also chopped up some lettuce, tomatoes and onion to decorate the burgers and even toasted a few of the buns. Oh, we also finished things off with a cut up pineapple I picked up at the store this week.

I really liked this spread because I just kind of came up with it on my own and I thought the burgers, corn and mayo that I prepared all tasted really good on their own and together. It’s fun playing around and having success. More so, I’m just glad that they didn’t turn out terrible, I would have felt really bad about that.

Pop Poppa Product Review: BooginHead’s SplatMat

As our little Lu continues to get more interested in getting directly involved in the feeding process, the messier things can get. Her lunch tends to consist of black beans and then another frozen thing like pears or sweet potatoes. She likes the beans because she can pick them up and pop them in her mouth. She’s also getting more interested in using her own spoon, though she doesn’t always hit her mouth.

My wife saw the potential for food to start flying and purchased a SplatMat from BooginHead. This is essentially a 52-inch round piece of Phthalate and BPA-free plastic that you just lay down under the kid’s eating area to catch anything the little darlings drop. It’s easy to fold up and you just need to spray it down and let dry if you have a particularly messy meal.

My comic book loving brain wishes the thing was cool, like it automatically folds and unfolds itself with the touch of a button, but if that did exist, it’d probably be a lot more expensive than the SplatMat’s $20 price tag. I don’t know if my wife bought this from the site itself (follow the above link to buy directly from BooginHead) or from one of her baby deal sites, but I’d say it’s a smart purchase especially if you have carpeted floors in the eating area.

Making Mayonnaise

Condiments are the kinds of things you just assume you have to buy. Or, possibly more accurately, you never even think about making. That’s what I’ve always thought of mayonnaise. Well, until I read a post written by Michael Ruhlman on the subject last week. The thing that most surprised me was how few ingredients go into the making of mayo, if you’ve got water, salt, an egg yolk, a lemon, vegetable oil, a whisk and a fair amount of arm strength, you can make your own too!

You can see Ruhlman’s much more interesting ideas on the subject by clicking the above link, but I figured I’d explain my personal experience with something I’ve never tasted: homemade mayo. I combined the salt, water, lemon juice and egg yolk in a sturdy bowl and gave them a mixing with the whisk. I then followed Ruhlman’s advice and started adding small amounts of oil from my measuring cup via a spoon.

The key to all this is to make sure your emulsion doesn’t break (turn liquid-y). I really didn’t want that to happen and have to start the process all over again — and wasn’t sure if my arm could have taken it again, to be honest — so I just went very slowly when adding the oil. It wound up going really well, but like I mentioned, my arm was pretty tired by the end of the process.

We had the mayo with some cheeseburgers and corn I made the other night — post coming tomorrow — and it was pretty tasty. After all that work, I feel like I need to figure more things to put mayonnaise on.

Cooking Almond-Crusted Cod

Last week, my wife requested I make some kind of fish for dinner. I don’t cook a lot of fish, but it sounded like a good idea, even more so when I found a recipe on All Recipes for Almost-Crusted Halibut. I intended to make the recipe as its written — I’m not comfortable improvising with fish at this point because I’m mostly unfamiliar with it — but then I saw how much halibut cost. I asked the lady at the Hannaford fish counter and she said that cod would make for a good substitute and, as she pointed out, what I paid for two big cod filets was the same as I would have for one frozen halibut steak.

As I tend to do, I did as much work ahead of time as possible, so I tossed the almonds into the Magic Bullet and then combined the results with the bread crumbs and set that aside. I then prepped the first part of the sauce which included chopping up two shallots and combining them with the wine, vinegar, bay leaf and thyme and got that working together in a saucepan. I then combined the lemon juice and chives that went into the sauce after it was done cooking.

The sauce itself seemed more complicated than it really was, it was just a matter of adding the butter correctly. I think I was actually a little light on butter, because I only used one stick, but it wound up turning out really tasty, a great mix of lemondy acid and buttery goodness once combined with the chives and lemon juice after it was done cooking. I then put the sauce in a bowl in another bowl with warm water.

With all that out of the way, it was time to cook the actual fish. I chopped it into more manageable filets and then sprinkled with salt and pepper before cooking for a few minutes on either side in butter and oil. I did this in two shifts because the cod filets were pretty large. When one batch was done cooking, I put it on a tin foil-covered oven pan.

One all the fish was done, I brushed a beaten egg on top of the fish and then put the almond/bread crumb/butter mix on top of the fish which then went into the oven on broil. I think I should have turned it to low or moved the rack down a setting because — as you can see in the picture — my almond crust actually caught on fire a little bit. That wasn’t a big problem because I was able to brush the burnt ends off.

As I said, I don’t have a lot of experience with fish, but I do like it and I liked this as well. The cod itself was tasty and fresh on its own, but adding that creamy sauce to it really made for a fun, relatively simple and rich dish that I enjoyed not only the night I made it but the next day as well.

Revisiting Raffi

I like to say that my first concert was in grade school when my dad and I went to see KISS, but the truth is that my real first concert was actually Raffi. If you’re unfamiliar with him, Raffi was a performer, writer and singer of children’s songs who was wildly popular in the early 80s. For Easter, my parents sent us a box filled mostly with candy, but also a present for Lucy. It turned out to be a DVD called A Young Children’s Concert With Raffi and was recorded in 1984.

My wife and I watched the disc with Lucy and she seemed to really dig it. I was surprised with how many of the songs I remembered like “The More We Get Together,” “Down By The Bay” and “Baby Beluga.” I might not be able to remember words off of the last dozen or so records I’ve purchased, but I can remember a good deal of “Shake My Sillies Out.” The same was true for my wife.

The other thing I found really interesting is how normal Raffi is. He’s just a dude in a Hawaiian shirt on stage singing and playing an acoustic guitar for a bunch of kids. (By the way, yes, anyone who’s about 30 now looked exactly like the kids in this audience when we were younger.) Anyway, my point is that, today it seems like everything aimed at kids is crazy, cartoony and over the top. I’m nowhere near an expert in that field because I still get to watch Mike & Mike in the morning instead of the Disney Channel, but it seems like from the Wiggles to the Imagination Movers, musical acts aimed at children all have to be color-coordinated goofballs who don’t seem the least bit human thanks to their over-embellishment.

I’m sure it’s not damaging, but it does seem odd that we can’t treat children like they’re intelligent, normal people. Raffi didn’t talk to the kids like they couldn’t possibly understand things, in fact he had fun with them and not in a way that comes off as fake to adults. Maybe my perspective is too skewed on this one, maybe I’m too old and I’m judging things that aren’t aimed at me, which is truly pointless (“I’m a grown man who dislikes the bright colors in children’s shows!”), but its’ just something that came to mind recently.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Buffalo Chicken Pizza

I’ve talked about how much I like Mama Theresea’s pizza before, but here we are again. The other night, the missus and I found ourselves hungry and lacking leftovers so we decided on a pizza. We didn’t do the usual back and forth trying to decide because my parents got us a gift certificate a few weeks back and we put that to good use with the above Buffalo Chicken pizza accompanied by an order of Fried Mozzarella (which was awesome, though I forgot to take a photo).

When it comes to buffalo sauce, I have a bit of a strange relationship. I actually really like the beginning of the flavor, but not the heat that tends to follow it up. I also did a wing eating contest in college where I ate 40-something of the little buggers, so that kind of put me off for a while. But, my wife loves the sauce and I was feeling a bit adventurous, so we gave it a shot. And it was great. They’ve got a solid buffalo sauce that had that trademark flavor without getting too, too hot. Kudos to them.

Cooking Chicken Milano

A few weeks back, my lovely wife got me a Kindle Fire as a combined birthday and upcoming Father’s Day present. I’ve been having a great time with it, including downloading the All Recipes app and using that to figure last week’s menu. One such recipe was Chicken Milano and it was an interesting one.

You can check out the recipe yourself and see it’s not that difficult, but it gets a little trickier when you accidentally skip a few steps. The main goof I made was that I didn’t chop up the dried sun-dried tomatoes, I just put them in all at once. I think chopping them would have maybe taken a bit of the intensity out of that sun-dried tomato flavor or possibly even juiced the tomatoes up a bit more. I’m not sure, I’ve never worked with the dried variety, but the sauce wound up giving me a little trouble.

Since I didn’t chop the tomatoes up before hand, I decided to throw the whole pan into our smaller food processor. That helped a bit, but I also threw in a little bit more chicken broth, olive oil and some tomato paste I had sitting in the fridge. I’m not sure how much all that helped, but it took some of the edge off.

The rest of the process went along well. I cooked the salted and peppered chicken in the oil like the recipe says and it turned out fantastically. After making more pasta than I should have when I cooked Broccoli Pesto, I figured I’d follow the recipe this time and only use half a box of fettuccine. I could have made more, but I wound up using the leftover pasta to whip up a quick lunch on Saturday, so it worked out well.

Aside from the chicken, I didn’t love this recipe, but I also skipped a step or two, so I would definitely give it another shot or possibly even use the sun-dried tomatoes that come in oil even though the recipe says to use the dried kind. If and when I do give it another shot, I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Greek Tacos

As anyone who read my early posts about Next Food Network Star, I was pulling for Jeff to win. I liked him as a person, he seemed to make good food and I didn’t want Penny to win. However, I’ve only seen a few episodes of his show and haven’t made any of his recipes just yet. Why’s that? Well, the show’s on at an odd time and I tend not to make sandwich type things for dinner. I worked in a sandwich shop for years and don’t find putting them together as relaxing as cooking more traditional meals. However, when I stumbled upon his recipe for Greek Tacos, I figured that was far enough away¬†from my job and enough in my wheelhouse to give it a try.

As you can see from following the link, he breaks the meal down into three parts. You’ve got to cook the lamb and then also make the Feta Mint Tzatziki and the Cucumber Tomato Relish. In an effort to pace myself well, I decided to do them in reverse order of that, starting with the easiest part: making the relish. You’re basically just chopping up vegetables, putting them in a bowl and mixing with olive oil, red wine vinegar and pepper, so I got that done and put it in the fridge.

Next up, I tackled the tzatziki sauce which was a bit more labor intensive, but not by much. I’ve never grated cucumbers before, but that’s what the recipe said and that’s what I did. Once finished, those went into my pasta strainer and sat for the designated amount of time. While that dripped, I chopped the mint and garlic and put those in a bowl with the yogurt and feta. Once the cukes were a little more dry, then went in. Mixy mixy and you’re done.

Lastly, I went after the ground lamb. You cook it in a pan, then, once it’s brown, take it out and cook onions in the juices for five minutes before adding oregano and garlic. Follow that up with some tomato paste, let things caramelize and then put the meat back in the pan. Deglaze with red wine and you’re good to go.

I set the table up the same way I would for regular taco night which meant lots of bowls filled with lots of things. I also toasted the small non-pocket pitas on the fire and we had a really tasty meal. I think this might be a fun way to get kids who might be skeptical about trying new foods to try something new. It’s familiar (if taco night is a staple in your house like it has been in mine since I was a kid) but with some fun new elements. I’d never cooked ground lamb before but I thought it turned out well and my wife–who generally doesn’t like ground lamb–even like it, so there’s that.

Cooking Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli

Last week I asked my wife what she wanted for dinner that week. She got out her binder filled with printed and handwritten recipes and pulled out one for Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli which she printed off back in 2008 from 101 Cookbooks. It sounded simple and tasty, plus I always love trying pesto-based dishes. You can click the link to follow the recipe as it’s written, I changed a few things as I went. First off, I nixed the walnuts because they’re not baby friendly right now. I also decided to steam my broccoli instead of blanching like the recipe suggests.

So, I started off by getting a pot of water on the fire for the pasta and then set up my steamer tray in my other pot for the broccoli florets. While the heat worked on those, I got the rest of the pesto ingredients ready by introducing Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and salt to the food processor. While that appliance waited for the broccoli to finish up–which took about 10 or 12 minutes–I chopped up the suggested handfuls of spinach and also combined that with the drained can of sliced black olives I picked up from the story. The recipe says to add those last, but I figured tossing it all together would be fine.

Once the broccoli was done steaming, I transferred them to the processor and zoomed the pesto together, dripping olive oil in from the top. Once the pasta was done cooking, I drained it and dumped it wholesale into the bowl with the spinach and olives for mixing. After those elements got to know each other, I then poured the pesto in and dinner was ready to be served.

I really liked how this recipe turned out. If I had had some basil lying around, I probably would have thrown some in when making the pesto. The only blunder I made was cooking the whole box of pasta instead of the recommended 8 ounces. The coverage was pretty good the way I made it, but I think the whole thing would have balanced better with less pasta (or more sauce, I guess). All in all, you get the elements of pesto with the addition of broccoli, so this one’s a winner in my book. You could also grill up some chicken, chop it up and add that if you wanted more protein.

The Force Is Strong With This Young One

I really don’t want to be one of those crazy geek dads who imposes my love of certain things on my kids. Sure, I’ll show Lucy all the movies I loved as a kid when she gets a little older and can decide if she enjoys them or not, but I’m not going to make her learn Klingon or whatever. I will give her my awesome, extendable lightsaber with lights and sounds to play with though.

A word of warning to parents letting their kids play with this spring loaded batch of awesomeness, though, extend it for them before handing it to the kid. My wife said it would probably hurt if you hit the button and it hit someone in the head. I was skeptical. So…we tried it. I got hit in the head so hard that I flew back and had tears in my eyes. Do not recommend. But, I’d test even a real lightsaber before letting her potentially get hurt by one.

I Might Have To Start Doing More Laundry

A few weeks back, my wife discovered that Lucy enjoys watching the washer and dryer go. Seeing as how they are both located at the very end of our galley kitchen, I plan on using this to my advantage. As some of you either have kids of your own or who have read my food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen, trying to cook with a little one is not always the easiest thing in the world.

I’ve had our darling daughter pitch screaming tantrums while I’m frying fish, cutting raw chicken and even after I cut my thumbnail halfway off one day. That last one was the worst, but you get the idea. It can be a difficult thing to get food cooked with a baby. Sometimes she takes a nap which means I can chop up all the meat, but that doesn’t always happen.

Solution? Well, I found last week that doing the laundry while cooking gives the baby something to look at while also keeping her in eyeshot, which makes us both more comfortable. Depending on how well the next week’s cooking sessions goes, I might be scouring the house for things to wash!

Sweet Spot: Malley’s Chocolate Covered Fritos

Our Easter was relatively candy free. The baby can’t have any of that yet and my in-laws kept it pretty simple with just a few things. However, when we got home, a package was waiting for us from my parents filled with chocolaty treats from Cleveland area chocolatiers Malley’s. I’m not the biggest chocolate fan in the word, I’d rather eat more dinner than desert 99 times out of a hundred, but every now and then I see something interesting I want to try. This box was packed with interesting things that I’ll cover over the week.

But, the foremost thing that caught my attention was a box marked Chocolate Covered Fritos. Now, this was something new. Junk food and chips are right up my alley, so this was curious and interesting. And it’s a great idea because, if you like chocolate covered pretzels with that excellent mixture of salty crunch and milk chocolatey sweetness, then these treats will also be in your wheelhouse. It doesn’t look like they have an online store, but if you’re in the northeast Ohio area, you should do yourself a favor and stop in. If you go to the one near where my Grandma lives, you can even eat chocolate or ice cream on a (slow moving) carousel of sorts. That’s a fond memory from childhood.

Cooking Breakfast For Dinner

I am a big breakfast fan. I don’t mean cereal, which I occasionally eat these days, but a full-on spread with bacon, eggs, sausage, toast and the like. I was also looking to keep last week’s menu simple without producing a ton of food because we went to New Hampshire for Easter that weekend. Usually, we eat off leftovers for lunches and occasional weekend meals, but I didn’t want all that to go to waste.

So? Breakfast for dinner! I went fairly simple with the whole deal. I bought a pound of bacon, a package of Jimmy Dean sausage (patties are preferred) and some eggs. To save the house from getting super greasy from the bacon, I decided to give baking bacon another shot. Last time, I used a smaller jelly roll pan, but the bacon was frozen and it didn’t work out so well. This time, I followed a recipe I found on About.com which wisely suggested crumpling up tin foil and then opening it back up to give the bacon grease somewhere to go. I flattened it back out a little too much and still wound up with grease on the pan, but this was a much better way to go. I wound up cooking for about 17 or 18 minutes. I noticed that, since I was using two jellyroll pans right on very

While that was in the oven, I got to work on the sausage, which basically consisted of cutting them into patties and then cooking them in a pan, flipping constantly. There was no trick to this, I just followed the directions on the packaging. They wound up looking a little charred, but they tasted great.

I siphoned off some of the sausage grease and then cooked a pair of sunny-side-up eggs which turned out nice and brown, but tasted great. You’ll notice that I also cut up some cheese, that was for my wife who had a sausage and cheese sandwich. My only complaint about the meal as a whole is that it was very salty between the bacon and the sausage. I think next time I’ll try making my own sausage so I can have more control over those levels. When I ate the sausage for lunch the next day, I poured a little maple syrup on there and that was a solid choice!

Cooking Warm Chicken-Orzo Salad

Have I talked about the mysterious Good Housekeeping subscription I’ve been receiving for a few months now? I thought it might have been a mix up when I bought a sub through Em’s cousin’s magazine drive thing last summer, but I’m still getting the magazine I actually wanted, so I’m not really sure. I’ve also asked around and neither my parents nor my inlaws mentioned anything about it. I usually flip right to the recipes, tear out anything that looks interesting and then recycle the rest of it. Recently I was flipping through my recipe binder and found one page with Warm Chicken-Orzo Salad on it and decided to give it a try.

This is a really simple recipe that had great results. Here’s what I did. First, get the water going for the orzo and turn on the oven to 450 degrees. As regular readers probably expect from me by now, I chopped up all the vegetables first. I then mixed the tomatoes, orange pepper, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl and then placed it on half of a new jellyroll pan. I think cut up the chicken and just used the same bowl to combine lemon peel, chicken and the same mix of spices and herbs. I’m not sure why you’re supposed to keep the tomato and chicken separate and then put it on the pan, but it worked out just fine.

If you time it right, the orzo will be done at the same time the pan comes out of the oven and you’ll be good to go. Put both in a big bowl, add in the celery as well as the lemon juice and give it a mix. Much like the Pasta Primavera I made a few days ago, this was a tasty recipe that let the veggies do their thing. I especially liked how the celery stood out. It’s not usually a vegetable that gets to star in anything, but I thought it was well showcased here. This would be a great dish to bring to a party or put out for a cookout. I actually might do that this summer, now that I think about it!

Building Boundaries

This might look like a random picture of a cluttered corner of our place, but it’s actually a well-designed defense structure. You can’t quite see it because one of her bibs is in the way, but up against that wall in the background of the photo sits our cat’s food and water. Ever since she could crawl, this area has been of the utmost fascination to our daughter. I used to be able to hear her clomping her way over there and have enough time to put a stop to it, but now she’s got a quickness that puts her knuckle deep in cat food in a few seconds.

So, we devised a blockade. To the left you can see the stool to a chair from the living room, in the middle is a step stool we used to keep in the kitchen and then a pair of chairs staggered to theoretically block her passage. Now, I know I said last week that I’m impressed by the kid’s determination, but even she will find something else that interests her if faced with enough literal roadblocks.

Most of the time that is. Every now and then we’ll shift one of the chairs to feed her or I’ll need the foot stool for something and not put it back in just the right place. A few minutes later, I hear that familiar rustling of tiny hands through dry food. Thankfully, she seems more interested in playing with the food than eating it, so we’ve at least got that going for us…for now.

Bonus Food Pic: Taco Salad

I don’t know about you guys, but we never finish off a taco kit. Last week I made the usual spread with ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese and some sour cream, but was left with all of the above. For lunch the next day, I warmed up the taco meat with a few broken-up taco shells and then dumped in all the sides with some added cheddar and a little sour cream. Were I making something like this from scratch, I wouldn’t bother with the shells, but I hate wasting them and figured it’d add some crunch to these leftovers.