Photo Diary: Monday, August 27th, 2012

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Cooking Fruity Curry Chicken Salad

Chicken salad’s one of those great meals that doesn’t usually take too long to make and also has an incredibly amount of versatility. Earlier this summer I tried making an Asian Chicken Salad that turned out pretty well, but I’ve got to give a major shout out to Fruity Curry Chicken Salad I found on All Recipes. Like most chicken salad recipes I’ve seen, the only real cooking you have to do is the chicken, which I just cooked in olive oil, salt and pepper in a pan.

The rest of it is just cutting stuff up and mixing things in a bowl including grapes, golden raisins, a green apple, curry powder and toasted almonds. I’d never had golden raisins before, but I liked their taste because they were less bitter than the traditional purple ones. Also, the curry we have is straight out of Sri Lanka from when my wife went to visit our friend from college there, so it’s top notch stuff (I assume, I really have no idea, but it’s tasty).

I really liked how all these flavors came together. The curry is a chicken one, of course, and worked so well with the grapes, apple, nuts and mayo. There’s also a lot of interesting textures going on in there too, from the crisp apples to the chewy raisins. As far as I’m concerned, this recipe takes the cake and will definitely make it into my regular rotation, assuming I actually start having a regular rotation.

Cooking Emeril Lagasse’s Deep Fried Eggplant

This might sound a bit weird, but I found it important to cook some really good meals around the time I heard of my grandma’s passing last week, both in her honor and to fortify my wife, daughter and I. That week I had decided to cook one of my favorite recipes, Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Butter & Onions and had also picked up an eggplant at a farm stand. I knew I had posted about the sauce before, but I figured it would be worth writing about my attempt at making Emeril Lagasse’s Fried Eggplant to go along with it, instead of the breaded variety I made last time I wrote about this recipe.

Right off the bat, I realized this would be a tricky one because — after staring — I discovered I didn’t have a thermometer. That meant, I had no idea when I got the oil to the recommended 375 degrees. At that point I decided to move forward and wing it. Like any recipe that involves deep frying, you’re working with several parts. In this case, it’s the sliced eggplant (which I didn’t quarter), the egg wash, the corn starch and the bread crumbs mixed with spices (I just put it together for this one recipe instead of making a full batch of Emeril’s Essence mixture).

Because I didn’t know how hot my oil was, I really just had to guess. The earlier pieces I dropped in didn’t seem to fry enough, but I think I got to a good place towards the end of the process. I’ve got to pick up another thermometer.

The chicken, pasta and sauce all went off without a hitch. The only regret I had with it this time around was not reserving some of the sauce specifically for the eggplant. My mom used to cook eggplant along with a very time consuming pasta recipe that’s also one of the best I’ve ever head. I kept tasting memories of that eggplant while eating this one, but it never quite got there. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a new thermometer and bang this one out a little more efficiently next time.

Honoring Gramma With A Malley’s Tin Roof Sundae

The reason posts have been so spotty lately is because my grandmother passed away last week. Even though she’d been sick for a while and we knew it was coming, it was still a tough blow and one that made me not want to write about food so much. This past weekend, my wife, daughter and I traveled to Cleveland to say goodbye and pay our respects along with my mom and dad, aunt and uncle, cousins, their kids and lots of other people whose lives she touched. I have plans to write more extensively about her, but for right now, I thought it would be appropriate to show a picture of her favorite sundae.

Gramma’s preferred place to get ice cream and chocolate was a local place in Fairview Park called Malley’s. I didn’t get a great shot of the inside, but they actually have a carousel inside with a group of tables that you can sit on. It slowly rotates around, giving you a great look at all the chocolates and other treats they sell while you’re waiting for and then devouring your ice cream. I used to spend a week or two every summer with her and we would always wind up heading over to Malley’s and, if memory serves, we always ate on the carousel.

But this wasn’t just a tradition with me, she did this with my two older cousins as well as their children, so it became a family tradition. As a way to pay our respects, we rented out the carousel after her funeral on Saturday and all got together for another sundae. I’m not the biggest dessert fan in the world, but I thought it would be appropriate to get her favorite, a tin roof sundae.

As it turned out, we filled all the seats on the carousel except for one, which I think wound up being pretty appropriate.

Cooking Burrito Pie

I’ve become a pretty big fan of AllRecipes.com, especially their app for the iPhone which has a spinner option that allows you to put in what kind of meal/dish you’re working on, the main ingredient and how long you want to cook it. I’ve come up with some really interesting recipes thanks to that like this one for Burrito Pie. It’s a really simple recipe that had pretty tasty results and most of the ingredients are canned which means the utensil you’ll be using the most is your can opener.

The recipe says to start the oven at 350 first, but I waited until I was further along with cooking the beef, onions and all the other canned stuff before getting to that step. No sense in wasting gas, right? So, I got to work on the beef and onions, then mixed in all the canned goods. While doing this I actually got my finger pretty bad on one of the lids, so watch out for that. That’s never happened to me, but I’ve also never had a toddler pushing me around while trying to cook, so it might not be as much of a problem for everyone else.

Anyway, as you can see in the pics, I used my high-sided pan, but I would probably ditch that in favor of my Dutch oven next time because it was hard to mix everything together without it spilling all over the place. While that was simmering for the allotted 20 minutes, I got the oven heating, shredded the cheddar cheese and got everything else ready for assembling. This is pretty much the same thing as putting a lasagna together where you’re layering the ingredients over and over. The recipe suggests using a high baking dish, but I decided to split it in half and use pie plates which I thought worked out well. Those went into the oven and boom, you’ve got a filling dinner that doesn’t take as much work as, say, enchiladas, which I like to eat out, but don’t like making.

I would imagine you could freeze a whole pie if you made this recipe the same way I did, though I’m not sure how long it would keep. We had a few tricky days after I made this, so we wound up eating both and it tasted great fresh and re-heated. All those classic Mexican ingredients mingled well together and didn’t get too spicy, so this will definitely be a keeper, especially for days when things are getting a little crazy and you don’t have time to do a ton of prep work.

Cooking Rachel Ray’s Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne

Pesto, pesto, pesto, I love me some pesto. You can tell because it has its own category on the righthand side there. I’ve actually made Rachel Rays Spinach Artichoke Whole-Wheat Penne before, but that was before the blog, so I figured it made for not only a good recipe to revisit, but also post-worthy. I’m still not sure how I feel about Rachel Ray, but she does have some good recipes that can be made with fresh (or mostly fresh) ingredients.

Anyway, this was another recipe I went with because it’s not super hot to make. You basically get the pot of water boiling for the pasta first, then get the pesto together in the food processor and cook the artichokes, mixing the various elements together at different times.

After getting the water going, I also put some of my homemade frozen stock in a pot to defrost and toasted some almonds. By the way, I love replacing the very expensive pine nuts, which I always skip, with toasted almonds, this is a good substitution. Anyway, after those things were moving along, I put the stock, toasted almonds, spinach, basil, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in the bowl of the FP and gave it a few whirls.

At the same time, I started cooking the artichoke hearts in some olive oil in the Dutch oven. Once the sauce was done, that went into the pan with the hearts. Once the pasta was done cooking, it also went into the DO along with a bunch of shredded parm. All that got cooked together for a few minutes and you’ve got dinner.

I thought this was a pretty good alternative pesto. I wouldn’t completely replace traditional pesto with this version, but it’s nice to have an easier — and let’s face it, cheaper — version that can be easily put together. Adding in artichokes hearts makes everything better in my book, so that’s an added bonus as well. You could also grill up some chicken and include that to add some protein, something I might do next time.

Bonus Food Pics: Geeky Chocolate At Krause’s

I am not a chocolate fan. I do like the occasional truffle, but it’s not the kind of thing I normally jones for. When we were walking around New Paltz this past Saturday, we stopped in a place I never noticed before called Krause’s Chocolates. We walked around a little bit, but didn’t want to get anything, but I did see a few things I just had to snap pictures of and write about. Above you can see chocolate pops based on Spider-Man (come on with the hyphen guys) and Batman. But the most impressive geek treats I saw were…

Star Wars chocolate! The picture isn’t great, but you’ve got C-3PO on the far left, then Chewbacca, R2-D2 and Darth Vader! They were about 6-8 inches tall and probably look tasty if you’re into chocolate. Anyone every been there and sampled these geeky delicacies? How do they compare to norm candy?

Cooking Food Network’s Asian Chicken Salad

I’m fairly convinced that there’s no good meals to prepare when it’s beastly hot out. Maybe something you can just throw out on a grill and check occasionally, but considering we’re in a place where that’s not an option, I’m sure it’s impossible for me. Unless you just want to eat salad all summer. I thought Food Network’s Asian Chicken Salad would have made for a nice, cool meal to put together and eat, but was definitely wrong on the first half of that idea.

This is actually a super easy meal to put together. You make a dressing, marinate some chicken, grill it, chop up some veggies and you’ve got yourself a meal with plenty of protein and veggies that also happens to be tasty. You can see how the recipe is prepared and that’s basically what I did. I got the dressing together first which was just whisking a bunch of stuff together. Part of that went over the chicken for ten minutes.

While that was going on, it was time to chop up the veggies. You’re working with carrots, cabbage and snow peas here, so it’s nothing too complicated. I tried to get all that done in the ten minutes it took to marinate, but am honestly not sure if I accomplished that. One thing I have to deal with on the regular is a very needy one year old wanting to be held while cooking. I do remember having to chop the cabbage one handed, no small task.

I grilled the chicken on a cast iron grill pan until they were done, then chopped them up, put it in the bowl with the veggies and added the rest of the dressing and the chow mein noodles. Boom, you’re done. I will say that, since I’ve made some Thai and other Asian dishes here and there, I felt the flavors were a little lacking. When I ate this as leftovers the next day, I warmed up some peanut butter and poured that in as well. I would also add some lime next time. And there will be another next time because it is so easy, I’ll just make a few tweaks to make it even better.

Making Pancakes For The Family Reunion

Two weeks back, my family and I traveled to Michigan for a family reunion hosted by my parents. Aside from some playing sous chef to my mom who was handling 99% of the cooking for the three day event, I had a break from cooking. My wife and I were however asked to handle the blueberry pancakes one morning. I don’t know exactly what recipe we were using, but you can see most of the ingredients above. Mom is a great planner, so she actually had all of the dry ingredients measured out and packaged ahead of time (you can see one of them on the table, it’s the black-topped container). We doubled the recipe and took the batter outside to the grill where a cast iron griddle was on the heating gas grill.

My wife wound up doing most of the actual cooking while I watched the baby and ran done blueberry pancakes into the house to keep warm in the oven or later for eating. She did about three at a time and just dropped some blueberries in right after. They went really quickly, so I guess they were a pretty big hit.

Commercial Commentary: Dads Help Get Athletes To The Olympics Too, P&G

If you’ve been watching the Olympics nearly non-stop like we have or even just tuned in for the big events here and there, you’ve probably seen one of the “Thank You, Mom” commercials from Procter & Gamble, a giant corporation that makes everything from Tide to Tampax. I actually like the above spot because I’m a big softie with a baby and I’ll probably always see her that way. But, why does it have to be only “Thank You, Mom?” Would it have been so difficult to either alternate some of the ads between “Thank You, Mom” and “Thank You, Dad” or just “Thank You, Parents?”

I’m of two minds when it comes to these ads and neither of them are happy. First off, I understand that market research says that women do most of the grocery shopping and are thus the ones that ads should be aimed at. Still, it gets under my skin. I’m overly sensitive to these things, of course, because I am basically the antithesis of the big corporate idea of what a parent should be. As such, I find myself cringing or getting peeved while watching commercials in a way that I didn’t before.

On the other hand, it’s just ridiculous that men don’t play into the sports lives of their children (assuming dad’s around, of course). Heck, I heard of a few athletes who were still coached by their dads. I’m not saying that men should be more associated with sports than women , but that both are important. The way I see it, Olympians have parents who did some combination of the following: encouraged their kid to play the sport, taught them how to play, got them the help they needed to play and bankrolled the whole thing. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding a coach and sometimes the coach is in the family. The particulars of who does what aren’t really all that important.

So, what’s the point of this post? I’m not calling for a P&G ban or anything like that, I’d just like to see some of these corporations pull their heads out of the 50s and try to catch up with an ever-changing parental landscape. It would probably be a good idea considering I am the one who does all the shopping.

Bonus Food Pic: Steak Teriyaki Sandwich In New Hampshire

One of the great things about traveling to different parts of the world is getting a chance to check out local foods. We go to New Hampshire roughly once every two months to visit my wife’s parents and there’s an aspect of the local food scenes that I’m a huge fan of. No, it’s not seafood (though I do like that), it’s local sandwich shops.

Where we live in New York, we have some sandwich shops, but they’re more delis than anything and they ALL feature Boar’s Head lunch meat exclusively. I’m not sure what the deal is there, but since I worked in a sandwich place in high school and college that used some really great meats not sold by BH, I’m not as big of a fan as everyone else.

Aside from that, though, you’re SOL. What NH has in spades is steak sandwich places. The favorite one of my inlaws is called All American Subs, I believe. The above picture was taken at a newer place that opened in the last year inside an old Taco Bell that I stopped in on one of my few solo outings in the past 15 months of fatherhood. It’s so simple to cook a bunch of steak or chicken, throw some cheese on and grill that I don’t know why more places around here don’t do that. Roast beef sandwiches along the lines of an Arbys are also very popular there. I hope to pick up some of those sandwiches in the next trip or two to the Hampsh.

Cooking Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes & Cream

As you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of Italian food. Garlic, tomatoes, basil and pasta are pretty much perfect foods as far as I’m concerned and go with almost everything. I also really like sausage, so when I came across this recipe for Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream on AllRecipes, I was in from the jump. I made two small changes when making this, I ditched the red pepper flakes and substituted the heavy cream for whole milk we had in the fridge. Aside from that, I went by the book.

The problem with my love of pasta? It makes for a very hot kitchen in the summer. Still, I persevere. You get the water boiling and then start working on the sauce which kicks off with browning the sausage. I went with the Dutch oven for this because it’s better for mixing in the pasta later on, things tend to get messy for me when I do this with a regular high sided pan. Anyway, you then mix in the garlic and onion, cook some more and then stir in the tomatoes, cream (or in my case milk). Because I used milk, I cooked it a little longer to thicken up. Once that’s done and the pasta is drained, mic in the Dutch oven and cook like you’re supposed to do with pasta dishes.

By the way, to go along with the pasta, I also made some asparagus. I cleaned them, put them on a baking sheet, sprinkled with olive oil and some ground lemon pepper. I just get the oven going at 375 and cook them for about 10 minutes, or until you can stick easily with a fork.

You can probably guess that I liked this recipe, which I did. The fam, including the baby, also seemed to like it. When coming up with a menu every week, sometimes I get a little tired of the usual ground beef/chicken breast/pork chop triumvirate, so it’s nice to mix a few things like sausage in there. Will definitely return to this recipe again in the future.

Cooking Salsa Chicken

When I first saw the title for this Salsa Chicken recipe on All Recipes, I cringed just a bit. It doesn’t sound like it will be the greatest thing in the world, but you know what? It turned out to be pretty great, with potential to really knock it out of the park. Better yet, it’s amazingly simple to put together and only involves five ingredients. I also picked up a Goya Chicken Flavor Mexican Rice and made that to go along with it.

All you really need is chicken breasts, a jar of salsa, taco seasoning, cheese and sour cream. You get the oven going at 375, put the chicken in a baking dish and then mix in the seasoning and salsa. Pop that in the oven for 25-35 minutes, pull out to add cheese and then place back in the oven for a few more minutes. Pull out and serve with sour cream. Bingo bango.

The flavors really worked well together, didn’t take too much actual work and didn’t require me to stand in a hot kitchen during the summer heat. What I like even better is that you can really have some fun with this and make it even more homemade. I haven’t landed on a taco seasoning recipe I like just yet, but once I do, I’m going to switch over to that instead of buying stuff. I’m also looking to make my own salsa, which is another way to really mix up the flavors. In addition to just eating this as is, you could also shred it up and serve with tacos! I like that kind of versatility and intend to come back to this after finding a good salsa recipe.

A Man Of The Cloth Goes Disposable…Temporarily

I’ve discussed our motivations for using cloth diapers with our baby. It basically comes down to baby benefits, long term cost and environmental concerns. However, we have used disposables here and there and utilized them exclusively on our recent trip to Michigan, which I chronicled here. I’ve got to say, as nice as it was to just toss a diaper in a bag and not have to worry about doing laundry every other day, the experience reinforced my desire to keep using the cloth variety.

My first and foremost problem with the disposable diapers was difficulty telling when Lu was wet. These things are so absorbent that the usual feel test was useless as was the sniff test. How are you supposed to know when your kid’s wet? I’ve got a pretty good idea of how often she goes to the bathroom, so it wasn’t too hard to figure things out, but it was definitely more difficult.

From there you’ve got to wonder how a kid is supposed to learn how to potty train when they barely feel wet. It would be like having someone come at you telling you you’ve got a nasty cut that needs tending when you have no idea it’s there. There’s an idea out there that children actually don’t want to sit in their own filth, but we essentially train them to by using diapers of any variety. I think one of the reasons kids have such a hard time learning to use the toilet is because they’re either used to the feeling or don’t even realize they need a change. Taking into account the communication gap between adults and children, they’re probably wondering what the heck you’re talking about with the whole potty thing when they don’t even realize there’s a problem because they can’t feel anything. If you can feel it and aren’t used to the wetness, you’ll want to get out of it and hopefully avoid it altogether.

For her part, I don’t think Lu seemed to mind too much. I was worried that they’d irritate her either just because they were different from what she was used to or because of those chemicals that absorb the excrement. It’s nice to know that disposables work for traveling, but aside from that, I want to get her used to using the toilet as soon as possible because, frankly, spraying out poopie diapers SUCKS.

Pop Poppa Recommended Watching: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

When it comes to cartoons aimed at babies/infants/children, some can be absolutely dreadful. However, I’ve found a few good ones while channel surfing with Lu. One of the better examples happens to be Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse which follows the usual gang of Disney characters as they come together to solve problems. Lu’s a big fan of the series too, which is fun because I loved the Disney Channel as a kid (back when it was a pay channel!) and my wife and dad are both big Disney fans overall, so she comes by it honestly.

And, for the most part, Clubhouse is actually pretty entertaining. I used to watch all the old shorts and whatnot on Disney Channel — some of which are still shown between modern shows, which is pretty cool — so it’s fun to hear the voices and see the characters done up in CGI. The episodes revolve around the gang solving a problem in or around Mickey’s awesome clubhouse with the help of the audience (not really) and Toodles, a floating Mickey-shaped device from the future that teleports one of four per-designated items (three shown and one a mystery) to help in the exploits.

My one problem with the show is that, I wonder if it might actually decrease a child’s resourcefulness. When they get to a particular sticking point, Mickey’s like, “Toodles, what tools can we use to do this job?” and he presents the options. Once one is used, it can’t be used again, but that’s not usually a problem because they’re very specific anyway. As it is, the show presents something of a logic matching game puzzle, this thing solves that problem, basically. But, there’s lots of different ways to solve problems and we don’t have floating teleporters in our lives (yet).

But that’s probably just me overthinking things. I can always be like, “Hey Lu, what OTHER ways can you think of to get an elephant out of a tree?” and we can make a game out of it, help her spread those critical thinking wings as early as possible. Now I just need to remember to do that…

The Kid Travels Well

As you might have read in my recent photo diary posts, Em, Lu and I went to Michigan last week for a big family reunion on my mom’s side. Since we had just gone out to Ohio/Michigan a few weeks ago and vacation days are at a premium, my folks were kind enough to fly us from our local airport in to Detroit for the event. Being that this was Lu’s first time flying, I was understandably nervous about the endeavor. Would she freak out in the airport? How would she do on the plane? Would her ears pop? Would she sit still for the hour and a half long plane ride? The answers wound up being yes, good, no and yes.

We got to the airport early and the flight was delayed just a bit which wasn’t much of a problem. Lu entertained herself by walking around the terminal and babbling at anyone who would look at her. But, after we wouldn’t let her play with a lady’s phone that was charging near us, she had a bit of a meltdown. My stomach dropped and I worried that the entire plane ride would be like this. My wife was able to settle her down in time for boarding and we were good to go. She nursed Lu on take off to help with her ears popping and Lu even fell asleep fora few minutes, but wound up being awake for most of the flight. And she was great on the plane, busying herself with crayons and a few other toys. As an added bonus, Stephen Baldwin was sitting right in front of us and even gave Lu a big smile when he came back from talking to someone in a further back row. The trip home was a bit more complicated. We got to the airport a few hours early and had heard there was going to be a half hour delay, then an hour. While I was talking to the gate guy about getting our seats put together (they were separated for some reason on both flights), I saw the time of departure change from 5 to 6. Plenty of people asked him what the deal was and he had no idea. Then the gate changed, so we had to move. No one knew anything at the new gate either, but it did have one of those moving walkways which Lu really dug. I wound up getting super stressed out at the nearby Fuddruckers but while I was getting crappy expensive food, Em got Lu to fall asleep. While we were sitting there, someone said the flight was delayed again until 7. People were not happy, especially the ones who were on the last leg of a trip that had lasted all day. The worst part? The plane was just sitting there. I heard one lady call whoever was supposed to pick her up on the other end of the trip say that there might have been a mechanical problem and someone else said that there just simply wasn’t a crew. No crew? So Delta just forgot about us and that’s why we had to wait? That seems to be the case because when they boarded — at a little after 6 — the captain said he had no idea why we were so delayed and that the crew had only just heard about this flight. Awesome. Once on the plane, we got in line to take off and were all very excited to get out of there when everything stopped again. Apparently there was a VIP taking off or landing in the airport which means no one could take off or land. Finally we got in the air and they gave us complimentary drinks. That won me back a bit, but I think that was the captain’s call, not Delta’s. Lu was good on this flight too which was great and soon enough it was over. At our local airport, though, we had to wait once again for our bags and not like a normal wait, but an overly long one which didn’t sit well with all the people who had been traveling all day. It’s a small airport and this has happened every time we flew there, but it still stinks.

So there you have it. Lu’s first airplane rides actually turned out pretty well and I didn’t have to worry too much. Now that I know that she can handle it, I won’t have to so much next time. Parenting lesson achieved!