The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 2: More At Hand

As I mentioned last week, there’s a lot of things I’d like to change about my kitchen to make it a little more user friendly. So, in addition to make the main work space you saw in that post more cooking-oriented, I did the same with the counter directly across of it and to the side of my sink (what was also seen previously in the second picture in this post). This one was basically just more of a clean-up and organization project. See that truffle dish back there? That used to be filled with miscellaneous drink things like tea and hot chocolate that we rarely use. So, those went into the pantry which had more space in it since I moved the spice rack to the other counter.

It’s a good thing I had that space there because I also moved the blender into the pantry. I rarely blend anything and it’s just as easy to grab it from the pantry when I do need it, so why waste the space? I then filled the truffle bowl with the miscellaneous spices that don’t fit into the spice rack and the blender’s old spot with a variety of vinegarettes and other sauces and oils that I use on a regular basis.

You’ll also notice the hot pot and probably think that’s extraneous, but I actually make coffee with it every single morning (there’s the French press on the far left on top of the coffee). Oh, and the backwards-facing green M&M cookie jar actually holds tea bags. Of course, there’s your basic vitamins, baby teething drops and dishes needing to be washed also in this area, so it’s not completely free of clutter, but at least it gets some essentials out of the pantry and where I can easily get at them while cooking.

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Cooking Gnocchi

Hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend. I helped plan for, cook for and throw a birthday party for our one-year-old, took a bit of relaxing time and then helped friends dig mud out of their pool after some flooding last year. I could probably use a three day weekend for my three day weekend, but what are you gonna do?

I would have thought making gnocchi would have been as complicated as my weekend, but it was actually relatively simple (sorry for the clunky transition, it’s been a looooong week followed by a longer weekend). Anyway, a week or two back I was flipping through my copy of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking and came across his recipe for Gnocchi (page 70). I’ll be honest, I’ve been skipping this book in my rotation lately because so much of it involves making sauces and not only is that time consuming, but winter’ s not a good time to make tomato sauce. It turns out, gnocchi only calls for seven ingredients: potatoes, butter, Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, flour, salt and boiling water. If you have those things and some kind of sauce, you’re good to go.

You start off by boiling three quarts of aqua and then dropping five or so medium potatoes in there for 30 minutes. While those were bubbling, I decided to whip up a basic pesto sauce without pine nuts (those things are way too expensive). I basically just tossed some basil, garlic, Parm and olive oil in our smaller food processor and was good to go. I also placed six table spoons of butter in a pan on the stove near the boiling water pot, but didn’t not put heat under it. I didn’t want to burn the butter, but figured this would be a good way to melt it without having to worry and I turned out to be right!

Once the potatoes are done in the water, you pull them out and mash them in a pan that’s on the fire to help get rid of excess water. I personally didn’t bother peeling the potatoes at any point, figuring the skin has good nutrients we could use. Once everything was good and mashed, I threw the potatoes in a mixing bowl for my wife’s KitcheAide, used the dough hook and added in the egg yolks and flour. I probably could have done that by hand, but if you’ve got a good tool, use it.

Left with a nice dough ball, I got out my dough cutter which I usually just use to scrape up chopped veggies. I quartered the dough and froze half of it and worked with the other two quarters. I rolled them out on the counter and chopped them into little nuggets with the cutter. There was something in the recipe about rolling the nuggets down a fork to get that ribbed look we all know and love, but I wasn’t quite understanding it until I found the following video on YouTube, which clarified things for me.

So, once I had my nuggets of gnocchi properly forked, it was time to get them in another pot of boiling water. Much like pierogies, you drop these potato concoctions into the boiling water and they’re ready when they float to the top. I must admit, it’s a little hard to tell when something is actually on the top under it’s own powers and not the roiling boil, but I think I got the hang of it. Once they were done, I combined the gnocchi in a bowl with the melted butter and some grated Parmesan.

I thought the gnocchi turned out really good, but the mistake I made was using the amount of butter and cheese for the full recipe when I had actually only made half of the gnocchi. I didn’t realize this until well after I ate a plateful in pesto sauce and came away with the kind of stomach ache that comes from eating overly rich food. That’s when I remembered I essentially doubled the butter. Wah, wah.

This will definitely be a recipe I come back to down the line. As I mentioned over in one of my photo diary posts on The Monkee Diaries, I tried thawing out the frozen dough and making them again but they turned out really watery and gross. Adding in more flour didn’t seem to do anything and the whole thing wound up being a bust. I think what I might do next time is actually make all the gnocchi and then freeze half. Would that work?

Bonus Food Pic: Ribs & Meat At Billy Joe’s

I know I post a lot of Bonus Food Pics from Billy Joe’s Ribworks in Newburgh, New York, but that’s because the food is just so dang good! When my inlaws visited for Mother’s Day weekend, I was able to convince everyone to head down to the waterfront for some nice barbecue. And by “convince” I mean that I floated the idea out there and everyone was game. I was a hungry boy that day so I decided on the Ribs and Meat, opting for ribs (can’t remember which kind) and pulled pork with a baked potato and broccoli and cheese as a side (you know, to be healthy). I’ve had the pork and ribs before and they were great — I know it’s a little barbaric, but I do like digging my hands into my food on occasion — but the sides were a new venture for me. My father in law said he liked the broccoli and cheese, so I figured I’d give that a shot and I went with the baked and smoked potato instead of mashed to mix things up a bit. As you’d expect, everything was delicious. After devouring the ribs and most of the pork, I smashed the potato myself, mixed in the butter and sour cream and then swirled everything left on the plate together. I highly recommend this unless you’re one of those people who don’t like your food to touch in which case I’m sure the previous sentence made your stomach churn just a little bit.

The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 1: A Better Prep Area

We’ve been having a few issues with our condo which make me want to move more than ever. But given the state of the economy and the amount of foreclosed and therefore very cheap units in our complex that are currently for sale, that will not be happening any time soon unless some company decides to give me big bucks to write about food, being a dad or pop culture. Wanting to make some kind of a change, I decided to do what I could without knocking anything down or ripping anything out and decided to rearrange my work space in the kitchen.

It was nothing major — you can see what it used to look like in this post I did last year — but I think it’s a lot more useful now. The main thing I wanted to do was put things away that I don’t use very often and try to get the things I do use within hand’s reach. I think I succeeded pretty well. I put away a few extra bowls that had been sitting out for as long as I can remember and put the toaster and tiny kitchen scale in the cupboard directly below this space. I also ate those bagel chips on the far left, you know, to help clean up.

Moving those few things out of the way gave me space to put the one thing I really wanted on the counter in a central spot and that’s my spice rack. It used to live in the pantry, which isn’t super inconvenient, but when you’re cooking and the meal just needs a little something extra, it’s nice to just reach over and grab it instead of going all the way to the pantry. Also, since our darling daughter seems to be getting more mobile and curious every day, leaving the pantry door casually open is no longer an option.

I’ve got other plans and ideas both big and small. I think I’m going to clear out some space directly behind where this photo was taken (where the computer is if you look at the pictures using the above link) and put out some of the loose spices and other things I used on a regular basis like vinegar and what not. I use those way more than the blender that’s sitting there anyway. I’d also like to box up some of the extraneous dishes we never use like the one dozen tiny coffee cups that have been used maybe twice since we moved in (they’re nowhere near big enough for my He-Man sized caffeine addiction). I’m not sure what I’ll put in there, but it would be nice to have some more space. The big project I want to eventually tackle, though, is putting down a new floor in there. We bought these black and white tiles like three years ago at a discount sale and while I didn’t care about the kitchen back then, I would love a new floor. The one we’re dealing with now is strangely porous and therefore ridiculously difficult to keep clean as even the mop or sponge water seems to settle in there.  I hate it and want to destroy it, but will probably just cover it up with a nicer, newer version. That’s just a matter of setting aside time and deciding to get it done. I’ll keep you posted on the changes as I’m sure you’re glued to your screens at the mention of my spice rack getting some counter space.

Pregnant In Heels Is Not Easy To Watch

I’d like to say I try really hard to not judge other parents and how they decide to raise their kids. I personally hate when people look down at the way my wife and I have decided to do things, especially because we’ve done a lot of looking around and research to come up with many of our methods. But, at the end of the day, I do admit that I feel like we’re doing it the right way and that some people with vastly different methods are just wrong. I guess that’s human nature, or at least mine.

The last year of parenthood has made me immensely more sensitive to the subject of children, their habitats and how the kids can be negatively effected. I think there’s a lot of problems right now with how society looks at parenting and children, but that’s a much bigger issue. That’s what makes watching Bravo’s Pregnant In Heels so difficult for me to watch. The series follows a woman named Rosie Pope who sells her baby and pregnancy expertise to rich folks in New York City. I don’t find anything particularly offensive about the job itself, but it’s the type of people generally featured on the show that get to me.

My wife and I watched most of the first season while she was pregnant and found ourselves chuckling at some of the people hiring Pope to work her magic, but now that I’ve got a kid and have thought about the whole idea of parenting far more than I ever did before, I find it difficult to watch. The one episode of the new season I saw split focus between one mom whose oldest daughter was a real terror and another mother who wanted to raise her kid in the Tiger Mom style (essentially, do what I say and shut up). The first mom treated her kid like her friend for years and found herself dealing with the negative aspect of that when her second child was born, with a third on the way, she needed help. Pope basically played Super Nanny and fixed things, so no real problem there though I did think it was strange that you could change a child’s entire outlook in like one week.

The potential Tiger Mom was more worrisome. She was born in China and raised that way herself, so she figured it would be best for her child because it worked for her. This is a general parenting argument that drives me insane because it assumes that children are these complete blank slates that you can fill in as you see fit. I fully believe that we are who we are based on circumstances of both our nature and how we’re nurtured and therefore feel that this can not be the case. Just because you reacted one way to a style of parenting, does not mean your child are. Maybe your child isn’t as emotionally flexible as you were. Maybe, as a woman said on the show, stuffing things down your kid will break them instead of making them stronger. This mom was super controlling, though her husband was more of a free spirit. I think their relationship might actually be as awful as it was portrayed on screen, but it definitely hit buttons for me when she kept saying she was in charge. No one should be in charge of a relationship.

When watching this show I often think, “If this person wanted to hire me, I’d tell them to kick rocks,” but what Pope winds up doing (speaking generally from the episodes I’ve seen) is actually get in there and attempt to change opinions. The first mom thought she’d never get her oldest to sleep in her own bed, but coming at it from a different way fixed the problem. The second mom didn’t seem to ever evaluate her choice to be a Tiger Mom, she just assumed it would work but talked to Pope and a few other people wound up helping her actually look at the potential problems behind that parenting style.

So, at the end of the day, I think Pope — who is very enjoyable to watch, I must add — takes on these difficult clients because she thinks she can help sway them towards a way of thinking that I happen to be more in line with, but also because it makes for good television. I don’t know if I’ll continue watching on a regular basis or even catch up on one of Bravo’s ubiquitous marathons, but the series has shown me that through communication, people can change some of their opinions which is a nice thing to see on television. I really hope Pope can talk some sense into the mom I saw on a preview who doesn’t want to get her kid vaccinated because she doesn’t know anyone with Polio. Sigh.

Bonus Food Pics: Chicken & Rice

This is a little embarrassing, but I can not remember where I got the recipe for the dinner these pictures were taken of. All our cookbooks are kept on a short metal shelf right outside the kitchen. I usually use small sticky notes to mark pages for recipes I’m working on, but since our one year old has gotten even more curious, she has run ripshot through the books as well as the markers. If I come across it again, I’ll let you know. I think I remember enough to explain, though.

The rice that gets mixed in with the chicken portion of the dish later on is actually made with chicken broth instead of water and also includes some lemon zest and juice along with some grated ginger. I got that going first because it took the longest. I then got to work on the rest of the prep which included cutting chicken breasts into chunks and also chopping up the onion, green pepper and garlic. I also used our box grater to take care of the carrots, which went really smoothly.

The vegetables went into the pan with the vegetable oil and cooked for a bit. Then the coconut milk was added, followed soon after by the chicken which went for a while until everything was nice and cooked through. Lime juice also went in at some point along with some basil. The rice was originally set to act as a side dish, but since the chicken portion turned out to be wetter than expected and I didn’t want to wait much longer before eating, I added the rice in at my wife’s suggestion and it worked out quite well.

The flavors in this batch were a little weak. I should have added some curry powder or maybe more lime. It actually tasted better as a leftover after the flavors got to hang out and mingle together, so maybe this is the kind of dish that works better if you make it much further ahead of time.

The Great Work/Dad Balance

My wife and I have a unique set up. She works a regular job every day while I stay home with Lucy and also do freelance writing about comics and toys on the internet. I understand that a lot of people stay home with kids, but I wonder how many of them try to work as well. Honestly? It’s really difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I love staying home with Lu and being able to watch her literally grow up from day to day. But, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to be completely honest.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining too much. I understand how lucky I am to actually be doing what I went to school to do and also something that’s very much a dream job (things my wife reminds me of when I worry about not bringing in more money), but, as any stay-at-home parent will understand, raising kids is a full time job. So, adding consistent emails, phone interviews, writing multiple page stories, researching lists and transcribing can be difficult.

I ran into a problem of sorts today while trying to do both. I like to do my interviews via email because it’s easier to just copy and past the words from the email to a document and work from there and it’s just a lot more flexible. The downside is that you don’t get as real or fun of an interview some times. Today, though, I had scheduled an interview via Skype that wound up going very well and will make for a good story. The downside is that I thought it was set for an hour later than it was, which meant I had not properly planned for Lu’s nap schedule. As such, I realized the interview was 15 minutes away and I had to think on my feet. Lu was pretty fussy, so I put her in her crib with a bunch of toys and her juice and then stationed myself at the bottom of our stairwell and did the interview.

Like I said, the interview went well, but the Lucy solution did not. She screamed pretty much the entire time which made me feel terrible. I have no idea if my interviewee could hear them, he didn’t say anything at the very least. But, I felt really crummy about the whole thing. I know you’ve got to make some sacrifices when it comes to work and family, but having that sacrifice clearly cause your kid torment while you’re still in ear shot is just the worst. Is my interview more important than her happiness? Am I a bad dad for doing this to her? It feels like it, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do, right?

At the end of the day, like most of life, it’s a hard road to travel and a difficult balance to strike. Most days, I’m all hers aside from some email time and my regular morning writing. She doesn’t seem to mind as she usually plays with her toys or watches TV. It seems like a few times ever few months of being upset isn’t so bad. I wonder if she’s catching on that I’m extra nice after these episodes? Today she spent an hour napping on my lap while I desperately had to pee. Gotta watch out for those kids, they can be tricky.

Pizza Party: Pizza Mia’s Pesto Chicken & Sicilian Slices

I know these aren’t the prettiest looking slices of pizza in the world, but it just goes to show how good pizza in our area is. Those look a little limp (and had most likely been sitting for a while), but they tasted awesome! On the left you have Pizza Mia’s pesto chicken slice which had a really great pesto sauce and their Sicilian. I’m in awe of Pizza Mia’s sauce which is just so sweet and zingy that I want to eat it every day.

Wok This Way: Beef Chow Fun (Sorta)

You’ll notice in the title that I don’t really commit to the idea that I cooked Beef Chow Fun. That’s because the recipe I used — from page 269 of Grace Young’s Str-Frying To The Sky’s Edge — called for broad rice noodles and bean sprouts, but I could only find thin rice noodles and broccoli sprouts, so I’m not sure if what I actually made is technically Beef Chow Fun.

Aside from those few changes, this recipe went pretty smoothly, though I think I might have used too many noodles. I don’t know if the mixture was really solid along with the sauce and beef. Anyway, this was made the same way as everything else I’ve made in the wok, so there’s not a lot to tell on that end.

I don’t usually like sprouts, but I still enjoyed this meal, it was tasty and reheated well. I must admit, I’m kind of bored writing about wok recipes as it’s pretty much the exact same thing every single time. On the other hand, I like making them because they involve lots of prep and a very short cook time. Even though these things might not be thrilling, I now know enough of the basics to figure out a recipe based on a few things I might have in the fridge or freezer now that I have a pretty good stock of wok-oriented ingredients. Pretty much any combination of meat and vegetables can be done easily and well in the wok, so that’s rad.

Cooking Southern American Succotash Soup With Chicken

Being from Toledo, Ohio from parents who were both from Ohio, I had pretty limited exposure to southern food. We didn’t have a lot of barbecue places around from what I remember, though there are a number of ones in town now. And, as far as I knew, succotash was something only preceded by “sufferin'” in cartoon character exclamations. When I was flipping through the Chicken and Duck Soups chapter of The Ultimate Soup Bible, I stumbled upon a recipe for something called American Southern Succotash Soup With Chicken (page 296) that sounded pretty amazing. Anything with corn, bacon and chicken is aces in my book, so I decided to give it a whirl.

And it turned out pretty fantastic, plus the recipe isn’t all the difficult. You start off boiling some chicken breasts in chicken broth for bout 15 minutes. While those were going, I got to work on prep, chopping up a few strips of bacon, two onions and some parsley. When that was good to go, I started making the base of the soup which involved cooking the onions in butter for a handful of minutes. To that I added the bacon. My wife doesn’t really like squishy bacon in soups, so I tried to get it a little crispier. You then add in some flour to thicken, the hot stock from the chicken (which had been removed after it was done cooking and set aside for chopping) and some corn.

My grocery store didn’t have fresh corn, which was weird because they did a few weeks ago, so I went with frozen. You also add some milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes. Then you add in the cut up chicken, the lima beans and the rest of the milk and you are ready to go. I’m sure it would have been even better with fresh corn, but I think it turned out really well. It was thick and creamy without using cream, which I appreciated, but did have bacon and beans and chicken which all mingled together in a very satisfying and filling meal. Bonus points for being equally good if not better when reheated. Definitely give this one a try when you’ve got a colder day on your hands this summer.

Pop Poppa Recommended Reading: Be Prepared A Practical Handbook For New Dads By Garry Greenberg & Jeannie Hayden

I don’t really read parenting books. That’s more my wife’s area of study. She’ll read and learn things, come up ideas that we’ll both talk about and then we team up to implement them. In my head it’s like that Will Smith song “He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper” though I don’t think it’s a very good metaphor.

Anyway, for Christmas two years ago when Em was still pregnant, her parents gave me this book called Be Prepared A Practical Handbook For New Dads By Garry Greenberg & Jeannie Hayden. The book won me over with the first two pages. The first page features a nice drawing of baby that looks cute and lovely with a huge title across the top that says “What Your Newborn WON’T Look Like.” You then flip the page to see what a newborn baby really looks like, albeit a drawing of one and that sold me because it was just honest. From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of bullshit out there when it comes to parenting advice, so it was refreshing to see something that just laid it all out there right off the bat.

I read the first 90 or so pages that Christmas right there in the living room and I never went back to the book. I honestly forgot about it after the baby was born, but the part I read was definitely helpful (by the time I remembered the book, which had fallen behind the bed and was only recently rediscovered, I kind of figured I had a pretty good handle on things).

The beauty of the book is how simple and easy it is to read and that it also doesn’t get too preachy or try to sway you to a particular style of parenting. The book honestly tackles the subjects of breastfeeding, changing diapers and even sex after the baby’s born. Heck, there’s even a section about what to do at your desk to help you keep awake after returning to work, which has been helpful, even though I don’t work in an office or even at a desk. I’ve also tried the methods in the book about how to get a kid to fall asleep or get rid of hiccups and even the part that says that kids like reggae, though I haven’t found that to be true for Lu (she seems partial to disco, punk and country).

So, yes, I do highly recommend Be Prepared for any dude on his way towards fatherhood. It’s informative, honest, clever and helpful to the point where I actually still remember bits and pieces that I haven’t actually looked at or read in a year and a half. Go out and get yourself a copy or you can borrow my half-read one if you want.

Bonus Food Pic: Tacos!

We have a lot of tacos in our house. Sometimes I try fancy ones like baja fish or carnitas or interesting ones that are Greek themed, but mostly I just whip up some good ol’ fashioned normal tacos with a kit, pound of ground beef, shredded cheese, sour cream and some veggies. I’ve posted about my methods before and did pretty much the same thing, but this time I used ground turkey, store-bought taco seasoning and hard shells. I also happened to have some verde salsa on hand. I thought they looked pretty colorful and figured sharing the picture wouldn’t hurt.

Cooking Pasta Estiva

Finding recipes that make sense when it gets really hot out can be super difficult. Technically, cooking anything will heat up your house — especially if you’re working in a smaller kitchen like I am — but I’m also not a big fan of cold food. So, one day last week I decided to bite the bullet and makes something that might heat things up in the house, but come out a little cooler on the other end. I decided on Pasta Estiva from Monday To Friday Pasta by Michele Urvater (page 180) because it involved a lot of nice vegetables like cucumbers, yellow squad, zucchini and tomatoes.

Basically, you get the past going at the beginning and then start chopping veggies. By the way, I forgot to get radishes, so those weren’t involved, but I would be intrigued to try them next time. Once you’ve got everything chopped, you heat a cup of water until boiling and toss in the veggies for a few minutes.

And that’s all folks! There’s a little olive oil and some salt — my wife suggested adding a little more salt when messing around with that many vegetables and no solid sauce just to keep the flavors level — but I really enjoyed the simple, fresh flavors. I imagine you could pretty much toy with this one until you found a veggie combination that works for you, but I thought this particular mix made for a good meal. Anyone ever try it with the radishes? My concern is that they’d make things a little too bitter.

Bonus Food Pic: Fiddlestix Special Sandwich

Months ago, I had the greatest sandwich of my life at Fiddlestix. I didn’t take a picture of it and it was one of the daily or weekly specials, so I have no idea what it was. I think it was steak, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and maybe a few other things. A few weeks ago, when I saw this roast beef sandwich on the specials list, I got really excited. And, it was good, but it wasn’t the same thing I remembered. All in all, though, it was a very tasty sandwich in its own right. Man, I really love that place.

Initial Reactions To The Season Eight Premiere Of The Next Food Network Star

So, last night the new season of Next Food Network Star premiered. This eighth season of the popular competition series flipped the script by changing up the format of the series. This time around, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis have each chosen five contestants to be part of their team. The teams do some kind of challenge and then the two teams that don’t win send one person into the Pitch Room along with the coach and they have to defend themselves. I’ll admit, I didn’t see all of the episode because Mad Men was on. I also wasn’t very impressed with how obvious they edited this overly long two hour episode to very clearly let you know that Cristie and Josh were going to be in the bottom. With so much run time, you’d think they’d do a little more to throw you off base, but they really laid it on heavy.

Anyway, I just wanted to run through the teams quickly and offer up my first impressions. I’ll be honest, looking at the list on Wikipedia, I don’t remember roughly half of them and only find myself wanting to watch a small handful teach me how to cook. I probably should not be writing this post based on only seeing half an episode, but isn’t the internet designed for sharing half-formed opinions?

Let’s start with Alton’s team. Cristie got sent home which was no surprise. The few times I flipped over after 9:00PM she was struggling with just about everything. That was more of a mercy elimination than anything. You keep people like this around too long and it gets painful to watch. Emily really wants you to know she likes the 50s, but you know what? I do not care about that schtick. Her theme is supposed to be cooking 50s style meals today which is somewhat interesting, but she’s just too much for now. Judson likes bow ties, seems okay, that’s all I got. I really liked Justin and he’s my current favorite. A young guy who likes really messing around with food? That’s right in my wheelhouse. Martie was entertaining enough, but I’m not sure if I want to watch her talk about cooking.

Team Giada came close to losing Josh which would have been amazing because that dude is just grating. Who says, “Rock and roll!” in a group of people? I bet his band sucks and do not care about what he has to say about anything. I don’t remember anything about Linkie aside from her name. Martita also got on my nerves with a quickness. How many ay dios mios can you throw in, editors? I’m also sick of people playing off the “fiery latino” thing. We get it already. Ippy’s my other favorite right now. I like his attitude, but also the fact that he’s Hawaiian and that’s an area of cooking I’m very unfamiliar with. Yvan was alright and could easily become a favorite or one of the over the top kind of people that just gets annoying.

We end with Team Bobby, which was an interesting group. I really like Eric’s point of view of making everything by hand and think the editors will as well, especially if he keeps pushing things to the very edge of time in order to make his food. I remember next to nothing about Kara and Malcom, but did find myself enjoying Michelle. The question here, though, is whether they’d pick someone who so clearly looks like the love child of Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine. Finally, Nikki feels like the Penny of this cast, she’s too conniving and too bitchy which makes her an interesting reality show contestant, but not the kind of person you’ll want teaching you to cook something.

What’d you guys think? Did I miss anything huge in the second hour? It seemed like they were really dragging out that tasting of the restaurant wars-style challenge, but I guess that make sense considering it’s the first episode. Hopefully next week, there won’t be such a big conflict.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic

I’ve said a few times before that, so far, my experience with wok cooking has been a lot of the same thing. Lots of prep of vegetables and meat followed by very quick cooking of each element. That was pretty much the case when I made Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 73). The only real difference this time was that I fried some garlic in peanut oil making what the book calls Golden Garlic. I forgot that our candy thermometer broke a while back, so I wound up using the electronic meat thermometer that we have. It didn’t work out super well, but good enough to get the job done.

And, really, that’s it. I cut the cucumber on a mandolin and just followed the recipe as stated. The meal itself turned out well with the Golden Garlic offering a nice bit of crunch amidst the chewiness of the meat and the slickness of the cucumbers. It was nice and fresh and I’ve got no complaints, but I want to really test myself coming up, so be on the look out for that!

She’s Got Rhythm, Yes She Do

The video kind of speaks for itself. Amidst plenty of sleep problems and busy days of work, I smile every time I put on music and Lu starts bobbing her head and kind of dancing in place. If you’re wondering, the song is by The Cardigans and Lu really seemed to dig it.

Bonus Food Pic: Sushi From QQ Asian Bistro

I forgot to post this lovely image of sushi we got from the nearby QQ Asian Bistro last week because the food just looks so tasty. From left you right you’ve got a Yellowtail Scallion Roll, Philadelphia Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Japanese Volcano Roll and Snow Crab Naruto Roll. I had the Yellowtail, Philly and Naruto ones and my wife had the other two. The Yellowtail was really simple and tasty, the Philly is pretty much like every Philly roll I’ve ever had and therefor quite good (I like cream cheese, what can I say?) and then the Naruto one was really interesting. It’s described as “Snow crab, mango, avocado, masago rolled in our hand sliced thin cucumber wrap served with creamy sauce.” I’d never had anything quite like that, but the sweetness bouncing off the avocado was really interesting. The crab got a bit buried, but it was still a good thing to put in my face.

Cooking Brats

When I think of summer, I think of eating cheeseburgers and bratwurst cooked on the grill by my dad. That’s a staple meal we would have growing up either at home or up at the cottage we spent many a weekend at. So, with the weather getting nice every now and then, I decided to do a quick meal of brats last week.

I decided to prepare them in a way that my wife taught me. You basically pour a few beers into a pot, add some butter and a chopped onion. Let them boil until their white and then grill them. That’s what I attempted to do, but apparently I do not have the same success with brats that I did with steak and they wound up a little pink on the inside. I think I just needed to go 15 minutes instead of 12 in the boiling beer and I would have been fine. I just ate mine, but my wife nuked hers and was good.

Aside from that, I warmed up the Tuscan Rice I made to go along with the aforementioned steak which made for a very horesradish-y side. I also set out a series of mustards (we have a bunch in our fridge) and ketchup. I forgot that you can add the onions from the beer and eat those as well until my wife reminded me.

Midnight Gymnastics

So, I’ve talked about how Lucy doesn’t go down easy for naps a few times. She’s just so interested in everything that’s going on (which is usually me trying to get some work done) that I have to bounce her around until sleeps wins the battle. I think I’ve also written about how my wife put her down in her crib at night and then, when she wakes up around 1 or 2AM, I’ll grab her and bring her into our room so she can eat and sleep the rest of the night with us. It’s worked out for us pretty well, with a few exceptions or bad nights here and there. But recently, things changed.

The kid has started doing flips when she’s supposed to be sleeping. I woke up several times last night with baby feet in my ribs, her head resting on my chest (admittedly cute) and her completely upside down. And that’s just what I can remember. This is karmic payback of sorts because my dad has stories of me doing much the same thing when I was older and we went on a camping trip.

My wife says this is the kind of thing she goes through as a development thing and I’m hoping it’s a pretty quick phase because I’m obviously tired, but also finding tiny, baby appendage-sized bruises about my legs, arms and torso. Kid’s tough and stronger than she looks.

Bonus Food Pic: The New Ketchup Packet

Two years ago, I included designs for a brand new ketchup packet over on my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee. Last Saturday, we stopped by a Wendys before heading to the drive-in to see The Avengers and, much to my surprise, there it was! The genius thing about this new condiment storage system is that you can pop the top off and squeeze it out on your burger or hot dog, or pull the entire top off for dipping! Also, as you can see from the package, it has three times more ketchup. I realize this probably isn’t worth a post, but I thought it was just ginchy.

Cooking Grilled Porterhouse With Garlic Butter & Tuscan Rice

I’ve found the two most satisfying meals are the simple ones done really well and the complex ones also done really well. When I made my first batch of pierogies, they took forever but tasted really amazing (didn’t have nearly the same amount of luck the second time around). I experienced the former last week when I tried a pair of recipes in a cookbook we got when we got married called The William-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook. I set out to make Grilled T-Bones With Garlic Butter (page 97) and Tuscan Farro (page 190), but wound up making a porterhouse because that’s what I could find at my grocery store and Tuscan Rice because I have no idea what farro is and looking it up on Wikipedia did not help find it at my local grocery store. It didn’t matter much, this turned out to be a wonderful meal.

The only thing I didn’t prep in enough time was the garlic butter, which I didn’t have down to room temperature when I started. I made up for this by putting the butter on a plate on the stove while I made the other ingredients and had a pretty good amount of luck with that. To the mushy butter, I added four chopped cloves of garlic, some thyme and then a few dashes of Worcestershire and green Tobasco sauce. The recipe says to roll it up in a piece of plastic wrap, but I had zero luck with that and just kind of morphed it as best I could. Didn’t matter, it was still nice and herby.

For the Tuscan Rice, I started off by getting the rice going and then cleaning the broccoli rabe, tossing it with some salt and olive oil and then grilling them on a pair of cast iron grill pans. I’m sure grilling on an actual grill would have gotten better results, but I still thought it went pretty well. Once those were done, I moved the rabe to a bowl and let it cool before chopping. To that I added some more olive oil and red wine vinegar and the rice once it was done cooking.

Between taking the rabe off the grill and the rice being done, I grilled the porterhouse. I actually bought two pretty good sized steaks, but after pulling out the larger one and applying some olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, I realized that it would probably be enough for my wife and I. I froze the other one for a later date. Anyway, I warmed the larger cast iron to near screaming and then put the steak on. I cooked it for four minutes on one side and five on the other. I tested it with my fingers to make sure it came in at medium.

Boom, it worked out great. The steaks were cooked perfectly, the garlic butter was nice and garlic buttery and the Tuscan Rice was interesting. I’d never had broccoli rabe before and was surprised with the sharp horseradish-like flavor it had. I even warmed it up the next day for another side and it worked well that way too.

Cooking Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes were a pretty consistent part of our family menu growing up if memory serves, but I don’t think I ever made them myself. The idea popped into my head and I used the All Recipes app to find this one called Sloppy Joes II. They weren’t exactly like Mom used to make, but the recipe was both simple and good (two of my favorite things), so I was happy with the results.

The recipe literally has two steps. The first is to brown ground beef in a pan with chopped onion and green peppers. Once that’s done you stir in garlic powder, mustard, ketchup and brown sugar and let that simmer for 30 minutes. Bingo bango, you’re done. I served them on buns I got from the bakery section of my local Hannaford and then warmed up the Balsamic-Glazed Pearl Onions & Green Beans from the previous meal. There’s something very comforting and fulfilling about making something so traditional and good that reminded me of home. That being said, I would be interested in trying some fun alternatives to this traditional presentation. Let me know if you’ve got any ideas or recipes!