Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Baby Update: 16 Months And Counting

One of these days, I’ll get the hang of coming up with posts on a regular basis for Pop Poppa. One of the problems I have in coming up with topics is that parenting a child who’s not even two yet is both the same every day and always changing, which means while a topic might sound interesting one day, it’s changed a few days later or I’ve become so used to it, it doesn’t seem worth writing about. Anyway, I figured now was as good a time as any to update readers on where Lu’s at with a few things here and there, many of the topics I’ve written about previously or talked about in various Photo Diary posts.

We’re still working with the cloth diapers and wipes and my wife does that laundry every other day. As I mentioned in a somewhat recent post, we’ve been trying elimination communication which is still a little tricky. Lu doesn’t mind using her potty and sometimes we can get into a good rhythm where I get her on the potty every hour or so and she holds it until then, but sometimes my timing’s off. She’s also not really doing the sign to let us know when she has to use the bathroom which makes the whole process more difficult. Still, she’s doing well and I think she’ll catch on to the sign soon.

Speaking of signs, we’ve actually had some pretty impressive leaps in that department lately. Lu’s had the ones for “eat” and “all done” down for a while and we do our best to accomodate her when she uses them so she knows that we’re listening. She’s also got “hot,” “cold” and a few others down. The biggest surprise was when she started using the sign for “cat.” She’s been able to actually say “kitty” for a while now, so we figured there wasn’t much point continuing to use the sign, but out of the blue a few weeks back she started using her version of “cat” and does it while saying “kitty” which is pretty neat. She’s also talking pretty well and learning new words all the time, my personal favorite so far is “touchdown” which she says while raising both arms straight up in the air.

The kid walks like a champ. She’s getting pretty good at going up and down hills and is even learning how to use steps while either holding a railing or our hands. For a while, she had no interest in hand holding and would yank hers away if we tried, but she’s getting better at that too. She still gets a little antsy when we’re out running errands or at the grocery store, but even that’s getting a little better, though I’m also getting faster at the latter.

Lu still breastfeeds, but only in the morning, to go to bed and when she wakes up in the early morning. Though our freezer is packed with homemade baby food, these days Lu either eats what we’re eating or gets her own meal when we eat out. I’m been surprised to find that she’s more interested in spicy foods than my wife or I would have thought and only seems sensitive to temperature (which is why we taught her the signs for “hot” and “cold”). She tries just about everything, but isn’t the biggest fan of leafy greens and some other vegetables, but I think she makes up for it nutrition-wise thanks to her intense fruit addiction, I can barely keep the stuff in the house and even had to move our fruit bowl up high because she was taking bites out of everything from plums to oranges.

Naps have never been an exact science with us, though I have gotten her into a pretty regular schedule of going down for about an hour between 10 and 11AM. If I’m lucky, I get some work done and a shower in in that time. If I’m even luckier, when she wakes up crying, I can pick her back up and get her to fall back asleep. She usually wakes up crying if I try to put her back in her crib, so I’ve been placing her on a blanket on the floor in the living room and going about my business. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. At night, she’s going down between 8 and 9PM and sleeps through to about 5:30AM. At that point I bring her into bed and she nurses until she falls back asleep. Just when I think she’s starting to sleep in more or switch things up, it turns out to be a fluke, but I still hope to get to the day where she’ll let her fall asleep for naps and the like on her own instead of fighting like crazy to stay awake.

One of my favorite things Lu seems to be learning is an appreciation of music. When it’s on she dances around and really seems to enjoy herself. She likes when I play guitar and is even starting to learn the rhythms to the songs a few of her toys play. My wife even signed up for a weekly class that the two of them are going to take that revolves around different music and instruments. It’s becoming pretty evident that the kid has good timing.

I try to limit the amount of TV watching in a day and have been doing an okay job of it, though some days are better than others. Our morning TV routine includes Sesame Street, The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Jake And The Neverland Pirates and Doc McStuffins. None of those shows are too annoying, though I am starting to notice reruns, something I’m not too happy with considering we’ve only been watching these shows for a few months. After that I get her down for a nap and then have the TV off for most of the middle of the day while I get work done. In the afternoon, I usually turn it back on to distract her a bit while I cook, but it rarely works. Maybe I need to just start blasting tunes!

So that’s a pretty general idea of where we’re at. If you have any more specific questions, drop me a comment and I’ll either respond there, or do another post answering them.

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Salmon & Risotto At Lobsta Land

Well, gang, this is the last picture I snapped of food while on vacation. The nicest restaurant we went to was a place called Lobsta Land and I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I ordered. It was salmon and risotto as you can see with, I want to say, some kind of lemony sauce and artichokes involved in there somewhere. I just remembered that it was supposed to have crab meat somewhere in the mix too and I’m not sure if it did. Anyway, I remember liking the dish, but can’t quite remember the details.

I Can’t Get Bayou Billy’s Soda Pop Out Of My Head

A few weekends back, my wife, daughter and I headed to the nearby town of New Paltz to check out a craft fair. It wasn’t all knitted cozies and whatnot, but actually some really impressive artisan craftwork. Anyway, there’s also an indoor food section and outside, next to the local vineyard winetasting tents there was an old school looking Bayou Billy soda cart with barrels of old timey pop (that’s what we call it where I’m from, though I’ve adapted to the eastern practice of “soda”). My wife and I weren’t sure about it because it was something like $7 per metal mug, but then $1 refills for the rest of your life (or theirs, I guess). We decided to start off with ginger beer which is a favorite of my wife’s and then tried sarsparilla (the actual correct spelling) which was kind of a cross between cream soda, ginger beer and root beer, an amazing experience that I want to have all the time.

Turns out after checking out the Bayou Billy website that it’s actually a franchise you can buy into and sell your own soda from a cart. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the event I went to on their events page and you also apparently can’t buy the soda online. So, I’m bummed out. It’s like this time I had an amazing sandwich in Columbus, but don’t remember where I got it or what the name of the place was and now I know I’ll never eat it again. But, there’s hope, I’ll have to search around, I bet I can find those guys. I hope…

Making Polpa Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pulp)

A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.

I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.

With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.

Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Supreme Roast Beef

One of the greatest points of food contention between my wife and I revolves around roast beef sandwiches. See, I come from Toledo, Ohio where you can only really get roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s, one of my all time favorite fast food restaurants. For years she’d tell me how gross Arby’s was and how great these little roast beef sandwich joints in New England were. I’ve had a few of these sandwiches and while they’re good, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the fast food version — heck, I might literally have a soft spot BECAUSE of said love.

Anyway, while on vacation last week, my wife had a hankering for a roast beef sandwich so I did some searching and found a place in nearby Gloucester, MA called Supreme Roast Beef. As I usually do when ordering such things, I just put a “X2” behind my wife’s order and wound up with a large roast beef with pepper sauce (basically the same thing as Arby’s sauce), mayo and pickles. And you know what? It was a damn tasty sandwich, no doubt about it. I guarantee I’d hit up a place like this here at home if there was one. So, Supreme Roast Beef, any interest in expanding to New York?

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef With Vegetables

I got a little burned out on cooking with the wok a while back and it’s been sitting in a cabinet since then. I recently got it back out, re-seasoned it and got back to working with it. It might not be a super challenging cooking method, but I do like how quickly the meals come together with not a ton of work. So, I got my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and settled on Sit-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (page 72), though I did have to alter a few things. First off, I went with some stew beef instead of flank steak because of the $6-8 price difference. I also didn’t fry the beef like the recipe says because our candy/frier thermometer broke and I hadn’t replaced it just yet. I also left out the red pepper flakes because I still haven’t figured out how to not burn my face off with them at random bites (something the baby isn’t a fan of).

The prep for this one was pretty simple. The beef was already chopped, so that went right into a bowl with the cornstarch, soy sauce and cooking sherry. I then cut the cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green onions for later use. Instead of frying the beef, I cooked it like I’ve done several other times with the wok, by spreading it out into one layer on the wok and letting sit for a minute or so before stir-frying.

Once the beef was cooked, I removed it and got cooking first the garlic, then the vegetables in some peanut oil. The cumin went on followed soon after by the beef and green onions. I decided to serve this one on egg noodles instead of rice, so I had the water going the whole time and had them both done around the same time.

The recipe was pretty tasty and actually reminded me of the Cauliflower with Tomatoes side I’ve made and really enjoyed several times. You add beef to that along with soy sauce and the other trappings of wok cooking and you’ve got a nice little meal for yourself. Some day I’ll return to this recipe and actually fry the beef and see how that goes.

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Willow’s Rest Sandwich

One of my favorite things about going someplace new is stumbling across really great restaurants. That’s what happened with a place near the house we rented in Gloucester, Mass last week called Willow Rest. Technically my mother in law had been there before so we already knew it was good, which was great because otherwise we might not have gone into this place that just looked like a gas station. In fact, it’s a full restaurant with baked good and also a pretty good sized market inside.

We stopped by for lunch and I got the above sandwich, which is called the Riverdale and featured sliced black forest ham with swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard. It was a really solid sandwich with a really strong and awesome honey mustard that had a goodly amount of horseradish to my palette. Everything we got was great and I highly recommend hitting them  up if you can find a space either in the always-packed parking lot or the tiny dining room. It’ll be worth it.

Cooking Marinated Flank Steak, Baked Potatoes & Green Beans With Carmelized Onions And Almonds

A couple weeks ago, I found this recipe for marinated flank steak on, so I got everything I’d need for that at the grocery store. I had also picked up some green beans, but didn’t really know what I was going to do with them until I came across Tyler Florence’s recipe for Green Beans with Carmelized Onions and Almonds on I happened to have all the ingredients, so that worked out well. I also had some potatoes on hand and was able to put together Alton Brown’s super simple baked potato recipe. The pictures are far more organized than the actual cooking process. I got the steak marinade together first and put that in the fridge. Then I got the potatoes in the oven because they took an hour followed by the green beans which also took a while with the onion carmelization. Anyway, here’s a more specific rundown.

Like I said, the marinade was very easy to put together, so I got that done first and put the steak in it while I worked on the rest. I only had the three potatoes, so I did as Alton said, covered them in some oil and salt and tossed them right into the oven. The most work-intensive dish was the green beans and even those weren’t very hard to put together.

The first step was getting a pot of water boiling and blanching the green beans. I didn’t have quite the full three pounds the recipe calls for, but it didn’t turn into a problem. Anyway, in the same Dutch oven, I toasted the sliced almonds. I’m always leery about toasting nuts, so I go a little light on them, not wanting to burn anything. I think I did alright this time. Once those were done and removed, in went the olive oil, butter and onions and carmelization started, or something like it. Once that was done, the almonds and beans got put back in and all mixed up.

With 10-15 minutes left on the beans, I got the steak out, cut it in half and got them cooking on my cast iron grill pans (can’t wait to have an actual grill some day). Everything finished cooking around the same time, I nailed the done-ness of the steaks and we feasted on goodness. It’s been a while since I made this one, so I honestly can’t remember how good the marinade was, though I do remember loving this meal as a whole. It’s hard to compare because my mom always made me flank steak for my birthday using a different marinade, so that’s kind of ingrained in me. I do remember that the potatoes were great, basic, but spot-on. The green beans were fantastic, the saltiness of the onions mixed with the sweetness of the almonds and the crisp of the beans made for a wonderful combination, one that I will return to for sure.

Vacation Bonus Food Pics: The Lobster Pool

The Lobster Pool

My wife, daughter and I just got back from a nice week away in Gloucester, MA with her folks, hence the recent lack of posts. But, I did eat a lot and snap a lot of pics, in hopes of making up for it. The first place we ate at after driving to the house and unloading all our stuff was actually a place I’d been to with a bunch of friends years earlier called The Lobster Pool. I snapped these pictures of the outside and inside of the restaurant, but completely blanked on getting a picture of the food. My wife and I split some muscles and fried haddock bits. I dug them both as did our 16 month old daughter which I thought was impressive.

The Actual Lobster Pool

Here’s the thing I’ve realized about seafood, though, I don’t really know it well enough to judge it. Either I’ve been really lucky and always had good muscles, clams, scallops, lobster, crab and the like, or I just like it all. I do know that I prefer the non-fried variety because I feel like you get the flavor of the thing you’re paying a fairly good amount of money for better than when it’s fried. I also know that I’m not sure if the high cost — even at a place like Gloucester where they’re literally pulling the stuff out of the water that day — is worth it as far as I’m concerned, but it is something I like to partake in about once a year when we take these trips.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-Style Chicken

I’m a big fan of the fall for many reasons, but food-wise, I like being able to make heartier food that won’t make me sweat my face off while cooking in our tiny kitchen. Even though I came across Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-style Chicken on and made it during the summer, I think it’d be a good one to bring into the colder months.

I didn’t realize this while making it, but after tasting the dish, I realized it’s kind of a chicken-based puttanesca which regular readers will remember I’m a big fan of. In addition to being a very tasty dish, it’s pretty easy to put together. I followed the recipe as written, though I accidentally bought pancetta instead of prosciutto and didn’t have fresh thyme on hand, so I went with dried. Oh, I also just used boneless chicken breasts because that’s what I had in the freezer.

As usual, I got all my prep done first, cutting up the red and yellow peppers and the garlic, then opening the can of tomatoes, and combining the herbs with the wine because those all get added in at the same time. I like doing things like that because it might intensify the flavor, but it definitely gives me more counter space.

I cooked the chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper, then removed that and cooked the peppers and pancetta in the same pan. You add in the tomatoes, wine and herbs after first getting the garlic in there and then return the chicken, letting the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes. When that’s all set you stir in the parsley and capers and serve.

I served the dish this time just by itself assuming the tangy tomatoes and peppers would be great as a veggie, but I think next time I’d like to serve it on top of some pasta with the vegetables acting as a nice little sauce.

Snack Attack: Cadbury Screme Eggs

Hi gang, sorry for the intense lack of posts lately. In addition to various personal and professional things going on the past month, I also just got back from a vacation with my wife, daughter and in-laws. So, while posts were mostly non-existent, I did eat a lot of New England food and took plenty of pictures. Plus, I’ve got a big backlog of recipes to talk about, so hopefully I can keep up a little better in the coming days and weeks.

Anyway, this is by no means a normal post for me, but I just had to share my recent experience with something I saw at the grocery store recently: Cadbury Screme Eggs. I’m not much of a sweets guy, but I’ve long been a fan of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and always wondered why they didn’t sell them year round, it just seems like they’re missing out on a lot of potential money there. Well, I guess someone at Cadbury thought the same thing and decided to bring the Easter-themed candy into fall with Halloween-themed treats.

My wife and I weren’t quite sure how they would taste, but I’m here to tell you that, even with a green streak inside, the candy tastes exactly the same. So, if that’s your thing, give them a whirl, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The Locavore’s Dilema

That title’s been used before right? It’s not humanly possible that someone far more clever and far more tapped into the food world than I has written that before. Even so, I’m going to role with it and hope I can make sense out of it. Anyway, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, a locavore is someone who eats food exclusively from the area they live in. It’s a way of living that doesn’t tax the land as much while also utilizing it and people who work in the are you live. It’s a great idea, but it’s got some problems, at least for me.

I happen to be lucky enough to live in a very rural area that also has all the conveniences of a city. That means I can run to the grocery store or a Target in 10 to 15 minutes no problem, but I can also hit up the local farmer’s market or a farm stand. As it is, my current grocery shopping routine includes going through cookbooks and websites during the day on Monday to get a list together and then hit up the grocery store later that day. I also go to the Cornwall farmer’s market on Wednesdays which means I try to limit the amount of produce I buy at the store in favor of the market. So, that’s kind of a pain.

But, I do like supporting local farmers — my great grandfather on my dad’s side was a farmer, so I feel some connection there even though I never met him — the produce is super fresh and might even taste better (hard for me to say, I don’t have the best palette in the world) and, at least at the one stand I frequent, pretty darn cheap. But it’s not all positive. My biggest problem with the produce I get from the market is that it doesn’t last nearly as long. Of course, I know that’s because it’s fresher and doesn’t contain preservatives, but it can also make for a lot more waste than I personally like. That brings up the question of whether it’s better to buy produce you’ll use that might have come from a different state, but you’ll use it all OR wind up wasting some that you buy locally. These are the things I think about.

Additionally, the market ends in the fall. So, what’s a guy supposed to do? Can or freeze everything? I do some of that, but we don’t have much space and I would get bored of such things very quickly. I happen to live in New York, about an hour or so north of NYC, so it can get pretty intense here in the winter. What do you do then? I’m sure there’s some websites dedicated that very thing, but I’m just brainstorming here, let me know if you know of any good resources.

Vegetables and fruit aside, I’ve had trouble getting things in sync when it comes to meat. There’s a few local meat vendors at these things, but by the time Wednesday roles around, I usually have a fridge or freezer full of meet — I usually buy more than I need at the store so I can make that meal and freeze more for later which winds up being more economical.

One last problem I have with the whole locavore thing is that I’ve got a baby who loves bananas and grapes and all kinds of fruit. If I fully subscribed to the locavore idea, I’d probably have to find alternatives and, honestly, I don’t feel like doing that. Yes, it’s a laziness thing, I freely admit to that, but it’s also because she likes those things so darn much, I don’t have the heart to take them away from her. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s lots of wineries around here, so there should be grapes. I have no idea about bananas though.

So, at the end of the day, I really like the idea of being a locavore, but I just can’t fully commit to it right now and don’t know if I ever will. I think it’s important to utilize the technology we have to get as much food to as many people as possible, but it’s equally important to buy local when you can and when it makes sense. I think the problem for a lot of people is a lack of access or knowledge when it comes to this idea. Many people just assume heading to the grocery store is where it’s at, I was one of them too until I really started getting into cooking and food. Anyway, I’ll do my best.

Every Daddy & Daughter Should See Brave (If You Haven’t Already)

I have a weird relationship with Pixar movies. I know they’re good. I know how much time the animators, directors, writers and storyboard artists put in to making some of the best movies around. However, every single time one of them comes out and my wife gets all excited about them, I’m like, “Eh, okay, we’ll see it when we see it.” Then, when we see them, I’m blown away. Seriously, Toy Story 3 is amazing and Ratatouille changed how I thought about food.

And yet, when Brave came out earlier this year, I was not super enthused. Even after hearing great things, I figured we’d see it eventually. My wife kept an eye out for it and saw that it was playing along with Avengers at one of our local drive-ins, so we got all packed up and went out on a nice warm Labor Day weekend.

And, man, that is a fantastic movie, one that every daughter should see from here to eternity. On one hand, it’s just a great movie. The lead character Merida is a young, impetuous adventurer with no time for formalities and just wants to run around and shoot things with arrows. She makes mistakes with her family and her choices and winds up needing to fix both. The flick is filled with great emotional moments and also some incredibly dynamic action scenes that would not look out of place in a live action fantasy epic.

A lot has been said and written about how great Merida is as a character and that her goal in this film is not finding a prince to marry and I completely agree. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know there are some questionable messages in Disney movies, but I don’t think kids pick up on those things and there are definitely other good female role models in those features. But, this one just really wowed me for being both awesome and more socially responsible. Take note, Lu and I will definitely watch this movie in the coming years. It’s a new classic.

There’s No Sesame Street On Sesame Street

In the past few weeks, I realized that Sesame Street is on at 7:00AM in our area. Seeing as how I’m usually up at that point with the baby and football season hadn’t started yet, I’ve been putting that on for Lucy before switching over to another favorite of hers, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The show is filled with short cartoons, letters and numbers doing their song and dance routine and regular segments starring Abby Cadabby, Super Grover and Elmo, but you know what’s missing? The actual Sesame Street set.

Instead of bouncing back to that main drag of the street where humans and Muppets alike gathered to learn about life and relationships, the segments are introduced by a Muppet-on-the-street complete with microphone. It’s like VH1’s weekly video countdown but aimed at children….and more entertaining. The only time I’ve seen the actual street since we started watching was when they cut to a song about the number 1 that was clearly filmed in the 90s.

I did a little reading on Wikipedia about the show and saw that they did a pretty big overhaul about ten years ago to appeal to the younger viewers who were watching. I’m still not quite sure how this translates into ditching the part of the show that it’s actually named after, but different strokes I guess.

All that combined with the fact that my favorites — Oscar, Big Bird, Snuffleupagus, The Count, Burt and Ernie — have little-to-no screen time and it’s actually been a little bittersweet tuning into the show that shaped me as a kid. But, I understand that things must move on and evolve, especially kids programs that have been around since 1969. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good show, just not the one I remember. Of course, none of this matters to my daughter who doesn’t know any different. Still, I’d like to look into getting one of these Sesame Street: Old School volumes with classic episodes. Anyone have these? Worth a buy?