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Photo Diary: Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

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Pretzels, Pretzels Everywhere

Guys, I love pretzels. Hard, soft, full of cheese, covered in eggs, I’m all-in for all the options. As you’ve probably noticed if you watch even the slightest amount of television, we’re in a kind of pretzel renaissance these days. Sure, you can still get all shapes, sizes and flavors in the snack aisle of your grocery story, but the concept of pretzel dough and bread is moving out of carnivals and sporting events to a good deal of fast food joints.

My wife and I first encountered the widespread nature of pretzel bread while on a trip to Michigan from New York. We love stopping at Sheetz and they have a full line-up of pretzel bread sandwiches, which I indulged in on both the way there and back. They were great, with that hint of pretzel flavor without being overly salty. I didn’t snap a picture because I was driving and eating already, but they were great.

wendys pretzel bread burger

When we got home, we started seeing pretzel bread everywhere, specifically at Wendy’s which is another big chain making a similar push. Last week we both got these burgers and I’ve got to say, I wasn’t very impressed. I thought Sheetz did a much better job of capturing the pretzel bread flavor while Wendy’s was overall pretty bland (it didn’t help that the burger was overcooked and a little cold).

homemade pretzelsThe biggest pretzel revelation in recent memory, though, came when my wife decided to MAKE OUR OWN SOFT PRETZELS. I was super excited, thinking back to my childhood and wondering what Young Me would have done had I presented him with something like Alton Brown’s recipe for  soft pretzels. Would I have jumped in the kitchen immediately and started making one of my favorite snacks by hand or would I have said “Cool,” and continued eating frozen ones because they’re easier?

Seeing as how I haven’t mastered time travel (yet) that’s neither here nor there. What is here AND there is that fact that these pretzels were fantastic. She made something like eight and then also made herself a bagel dog using Brown Eyed Baker’s take on Brown’s recipe. I regret not asking for one myself. Still, I’ve been enjoying the light, buttery, salty goodness of these tasty snacks for the first half of this week and am already thinking of ways to incorporate this delightful food into our regular rotation.

Cooking Chicken Gyro Salad

I recently started one food related project that spawned another. We’ve got stacks of magazine laying around that are chock full of useful recipes. I decided to clear some space and also add to my Big Blue Binder, so I started cutting out pages. That lead me to restructuring said binder because it was just a big hodge podge with no order. I’ve since re-organized and even gotten dividers. I feel so efficient!

Anyway, one of the recipes I came across during this process was Good Housekeeping’s Chicken Gyro Salad which fit in well with my criteria for meals these days: try not to make too much heat. This one only required the cooking of the chicken and some peppers which wasn’t too bad and a good deal of chopping.

Aside from the pita chips, I followed the recipe pretty strictly. Instead of using an outdoor grill, though, I went with an iron skillet on our stove. I got the dressing together first and marinated the chicken for the prescribed 15 minutes. While chicken absorbed that goodness, I got the peppers and other vegetables cut up. The peppers met the heat first followed by the chicken. The rest was pretty simple.

I enjoyed this recipe because there was a lot of flavors I already enjoy going in. Since it’s not lamb, it’s not a real gyro, but it’s a pretty good alternative that captures many of the flavors.

I do want to mention one idea I had while chopping olives, though. We have this egg slicer thing that you can see in the pictures. I rarely use it because I don’t really like hard boiled eggs. But, while chopping tiny olives, I realized we had this thing in our drawer of miscellany and made good use of it! So, if you’ve got a spare egg chopper and need to cut whole olives into sliced ones, think outside the box!

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 21

pop poppa nap cast logo

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast’s 21st episode is trying to stay more positive. I talk about some of the great stuff Lucy has been up to, one difficult incident last week while I was trying to work and some plusses and minuses when it comes to Disney and their Blu-rays.

To read the actual interview I talk about in the episode, head on over to CBR.

If you think your kid might fall asleep while you play video games, give Skate 3 a try. I briefly reviewed the game on United Monkee last year and still play that game more than any other.

merida

You can get your own Merida 20-inch plush doll, check it out at the Disney Store.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Pop Poppa Of The Week recipient Brian K. Vaughan’s comic book work, check out the official Image Comics site and The Private Eye on Panel Syndicate.

For more of me check out UnitedMonkee.com, MonkeyingAroundTheKitchen.com, Comic Book Resources and @PoppaDietsch on Twitter.

Bonus Food Pic: Deep Fried Oreos

fried oreo

Last week the Cornwall firefighters held their annual fair. It’s been going on for decades, but this is the first year we went. It was a nice little fair with plenty of rides, over-priced games (I remember when you got three darts for $1 instead of one for $2) and, of course, the kinds of food you can only buy from people who travel from town to town under cover of darkness. While thoughts of corn dogs danced in my head (they turned out to come from a box), I was actually won over by the six deep fried Oreos my wife requested. I actually saw the woman in the cart/thing dipping the cookies into the batter and tossing them into the frier, so I know they were fresh (or, you know, as fresh as fresh can be). The results were a super sweet combination of dough and softened cookie that was delightful.

Making Smitten Kitchen’s Caesar Salad With Tyler Florence’s Croutons

As I said in a few posts this week, it’s been hot in New York for a while, or at least it was for a while there. I tried coming up with salads and other meals that wouldn’t overheat the house or myself during prep. As I usually do when I have a vague cooking idea, I went over to SmittenKitchen.com and looked around for various salads. Her recipe for Caesar Salad sounded really interesting, especially because of the brined boneless chicken breasts used. I’m a big fan of Caesar when it comes to the salad family, that dressing is just so in line with what my taste buds love being slathered in, so I decided to give it a shot. Smitten’s recipe for the actual dressing can be found here. I didn’t see anything specific about the croutons, so I did a search on FoodNetwork.com and decided to go with Tyler Florence’s take.

This meal wound up taking more time to get together than I anticipated, but it wound up being well worth the time and energy. The first thing I got together was the brine for the chicken breasts. I’ve brined pork chops and our Thanksgiving turkey, so I was intrigued with the idea of going that route for simple chicken breasts.

Those stayed in the fridge for 15 minutes which gave me time to get the croutons and dressing together. The croutons were pretty simple. After setting your oven for 350 degrees, you rip up half your loaf of bread — I got a focaccia from the grocery store — and mix that up with some olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper. Then spread that mixture on a (foil-covered) baking sheet and let the oven do its thing for 15 minutes. These guys came out so cheesey and crunchy that I could have eaten them as snacks. In fact, I did while waiting for everything to come together.

The dressing was a pretty simple measure-and-whisk operation. I took the easy way out going the mayonnaise and no anchovy route. For some reason, this version didn’t taste right to me in the beginning, but I ran it by my wife — a fellow fan of the Caesar salad — and she was happy with it, so I let it hang out in the fridge as I took out the chicken and got to work with that.

I cooked the breasts for about 7 minutes per side in one of our non-stick pans. I added some salt and pepper, the former of which was silly considering I had just brined them in salt water. Anyway, while those cooked, I cut up the lettuce and got that in the serving bowl along with the croutons. Once the breasts were done, I chopped them up, tossed them in the bowl and was ready to serve.

I’ve said this before in regards to making tomato sauce and perogies, but there’s just something far more satisfying about eating a complicated and/or time-consuming dish that you make with your own hands. Now, Caesar Salad is nowhere near as complex as those other two, but when you consider the fact that you can drive to pretty much any sandwich shop, diner or fast food place and get this meal in about 10 minutes, it does give a bit of a different perspective and far more appreciation for your food. So, yes, this was a good Caesar salad. The brined chicken had so much more flavor that I’m thinking about using this preparation whenever I have the extra time for dinner. Also, as I’ve mentioned several times already, Tyler Florence’s croutons were to die for. All mixed together, this was a dish that I will definitely be making again, hopefully with some farm fresh ingredients in the not too distant future.

Cooking Homesick Texan’s Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes

While poking around trying to find meals to make that wouldn’t give the air conditioner even more heat-related problems, I stumbled upon a meal that fit in with my hankering for a fairly simple Mexican meal that wouldn’t require too, too much exposure to fire. As such, I decided to give Homesick Texan’s versions of Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes and Guacamole a try and was super happy with the results.

Thanks to lacking a few of the ingredients, I didn’t quite follow either recipe to the letter, but think I came out with some pretty good food. For the guacamole, I simple skipped the pepper, added onion and substituted parsley for cilantro. Aside from that, though, it’s the same basic prep: chop everything up and mix with a fork. I got this done in the early afternoon because I like when my guac has a chance to fraternize with itself.

For the sloppy joes the only change I made was skipping over the beer because I’d already drank all the ones I had. Plus, the last pack I bought was fairly bitter and I don’t think would have worked well with these flavors. Instead, I just added some water to make sure the beef didn’t brown too fast.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I went with a London broil steak that I froze for a few hours and then ground myself. After that I blended together the sauce as instructed. With everything prepped and ready to go, it was just a matter of cooking everything. The meat went in first soon joined by onion and bell pepper. Once that was nice and browned, you add the sauce and cook like you would taco meat. I tried adding some Thai Sweet Chili Sauce to see how that would play, but don’t think there was enough to really pop. I wound up having a little more liquid than I intended, so I just watched it as a it cooked down. Once I had it where I wanted, I moved the meat to a dish and set it out with some buns, guacamole and shredded cheddar cheese.

This recipe might sound like you’re basically putting taco meat on a burger and it is kind of along those lines, but I really liked how this particular batch of spices came together and worked with the meat. It was like a new take on an old idea that worked together very well, mixing a bit of heat and smokiness with the tomato-based acidity. You combine that with the sharp cheddar and sour-ish guac and you’ve got a party on your plate.

Bonus Food Pic: King’s Meatloaf Sandwich

king's meatloaf sandwichThis photo’s from about a month ago, but I’ve far from forgotten about this wonderful Meatloaf Sandwich from King’s Pommes Frites. After writing about the burger I’d had there, I actually went out that day with my daughter, hit up the farmer’s market and decided to stop in at King’s and see what they had for the special. The idea of a meatloaf sandwich was super intriguing so I went with it and some olive sauce for the fries (my favorite one there).

I’ve had meatloaf sandwiches before, but the stroke of genius with this one was actually the condiment. Instead of going with the more obvious ketchup, they put mayonnaise on the sandwich which added a creamy, tang that made the juicy meat loaf jam really well with the cheese. Another excellent pairing from King’s!

 

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 20

pop poppa nap cast logo

“Frustrating” is the word of the day when it comes to The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 20 thanks to a disinterest in swim class, even less in potty training and a strong desire to wake up at 7AM every morning.

The swimmie thing I mentioned is actually the Stearns Deluxe Puddle Jumper 30-50 lbs. Unlike the one pictured in that link, Lu’s has a zebra on it.

Get your own copy of the Wreck-It Ralph (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) and/or Meet the Robinsons [Blu-ray] by following that links.

Before I started watching it several times a week, I reviewed Toy Story 3 on UnitedMonkee.com.

Mommy's Helper Contoured Cushie Step Up

Lu’s potty seat is more known as the Mommy’s Helper Contoured Cushie Step Up.

copco bag cap

The recipient of this week’s Pop Poppa Seal Of Approval is more specifically called the Copco 0-62009 Medium Bag Cap – Orange.

idris elba pacific rim

The Pop Poppa Of The Week is Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentacost from Pacific Rim pictured above. To read my full review of the film, head on over to UnitedMonkee.com.

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 20

For more of me check out UnitedMonkee.com, MonkeyingAroundTheKitchen.com, Comic Book Resources and @PoppaDietsch on Twitter.

Forgotten Food: Asparagus, Artichoke & Shiitake Risotto

It bums me out that I can’t remember much about making Smitten Kitchen’s Asparagus, Artichoke & Shiitake Risotto. I remember liking the dish a lot, but the details have escaped into the ether. I did want to throw up this post though for a couple reasons. First and foremost, it was good enough to try again and I wanted to at least put that out into the world. Second, I have no idea how to prepare artichokes. I don’t have a link to the method I tried, though I think it was a YouTube video. I screwed them up pretty sufficiently and had to toss them. And third, after watching all these shows about food, risotto sounds like a super hard thing to make, but that’s not the case. It can take a while to swirl the chicken broth in the way you’re supposed to, but it ain’t no thang, really. I can see how it’d be tough to do in a short period of time, surrounded by other cooks and in front of cameras, though.

Making Smitten Kitchen’s Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad

I don’t know about you guys, but it was hot as heck here in New York the past few weeks. It was so hot, in fact, that I didn’t want to sit under my computer a second longer than necessary, hence the lack of posting. Luckily it’s cooling down here (saying that the mid 80s is cool is odd) so I don’t mind hanging out with my old friend the laptop some more. I did my best to plan meals that wouldn’t take a lot of cooking to actually make. While looking around SmittenKitchen.com I came across her recipe for Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad which involved just a bit of fire and heat!

Another bonus for this recipe is that I had everything on hand either in the pantry (tuna, Tony Packos banana peppers instead of pepperoncini, etc.) or the herb garden (dill). As you can see from the above images, there’s not a lot to this recipe. I opened the cans of tuna and dumped them in the bowl. I also got a small pan on the stove to toast some slivered almonds. Once those were done, they were dropped in too. Aside from that, the most work this recipe requires is chopping up the peppers and pouring liquid in the container. Mix it up and you’ve got a meal.

In the leftover phase, I ate this right out of the dish, but for dinner the first time, I went with a sandwich. The tuna salad had a great tartness thanks to the balsamic/mustard combination that includes a little sweetness and crunch thanks to the almonds. You add some sharp cheddar cheese into the mix on some toast and blammo, you’re good. I don’t usually like sandwiches for dinner because I had sandwiches every day throughout grade school and high school and made thousands of them while working at a bagel place back home, but when it’s hot as a mother out and I can whip something together with little work, I’m all for them.

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 19

pop poppa nap cast logo The much anticipated 19th episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast is finally here! Sorry about the delay, but now you can not only hear about the trip out to Michigan, but also our recent foray into realty open houses and the ridiculously hot weather.

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 19

The portable DVD player holder my wife picked up is called Case Logic PDVD-9 7-9-Inch Dual Screen DVD Player Case, Black. The player itself is an Insignia model that’s probably five or six years old at this point but still works well.

I reviewed Patricia Cornwell’s Port Mortuary audiobook here.

circo feed and sleep

Lucy’s new doll is the Feed & Sleep model from Circo, available at Target. She also enjoys the Baby Doll Care Kit.

Just for fun, here’s a clip of Talking Tina form The Twilight Zone.

red forman that 70s show

And, of course, here’s the inimitable Red Forman, this week’s Pop Poppa Of The Week from That 70s Show.

For more of me check out UnitedMonkee.com, MonkeyingAroundTheKitchen.com, Comic Book Resources and @PoppaDietsch on Twitter.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto

fresh pea pesto

A few weeks back, my wife convinced me to go with her and our daughter to a nearby farm so we could pick strawberries — one of our daughter’s favorite foods — and anything else we might come across. It was luckily not too hot when we got there, but I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of doing my own picking. I don’t mind paying a little bit more to buy local goods that have been picked by other folks. In fact, after actually going out and doing this, I’m even more okay with it. Anyway, the other thing my wife decided to get from the farm was a big basket of sugar snap peas. For some reason, I can never find them fresh at our grocery store which has a pretty solid and impressive selection most of the time. So, she wanted a pea-centric recipe and I searched by blog went with Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, a recipe that’s super easy and super tasty, two of the biggest things I look for when making food.

My wife was adamant that the fresh peas would taste far better than the frozen ones I usually wind up using. I joked with her, saying I forgot to use the fresh and went with the frozen instead and that I couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen, but that was just for giggles. In fact, the fresh peas made for such a big difference that I fully support her going out and picking more…just leave me and the kid at home.

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 19 Will Be Late *UPDATED*

*UPDATE* Hi folks, sorry for the double post on this one, but as it turns out I won’t be able to get The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 19 together in time today. I’m going to take my time and post it at the regular time, next Tuesday at 1:00 PM EST. Sorry about the delay!

We wound up staying an extra day in Michigan after my cousin’s wedding, so I won’t be able to get The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 19 up at the regular time. Let’s say I’ll get it up no later than Thursday at the regular 1:00 PM EST time. Thanks again and sorry about the delay.

Cooking Chic Sausage & Peppers Over Pasta

It’s fairly unusual that I repeat recipes several times in a fairly short period of time. It’s even more unusual that I should do this without writing about it here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Well, I guess that makes the recipe for Chic Chorizo & Peppers Over Pasta from page 147 of Michele Urvater’s Monday To Friday Pasta fairly unusual then because I’ve made this thing four, maybe five times and it’s evolved to the point where I’ve changed enough elements that I feel comfortable writing it up as my own recipe, but you’ll have to wait until next week to see that! First, I’m going to write about my earlier experiences with this recipe, which I changed right off the bat by using sweet Italian sausage instead of Chorizo. I want to say I tried finding the original, but couldn’t and went with what I thought my family would enjoy. It wound up being a good decision.

I skipped taking photos of some of the more obvious steps like getting the salty pasta water going and cooking the sausage in a pan. Once that’s done, you remove it and place chopped red peppers, mushrooms and onions in the same pan. Cook that mixture for a few minutes and once it looks tender, you put the sausage back in along with two tablespoons of water (which I took directly from the boiling pasta water) and a teaspoon of caraway seeds (which is probably a bit redundant considering you’re using Italian sausage). You cover that for 5-7 minutes and let cook. If you’re timing’s good, your pasta will be done about this time, so you can drain that in the time and return to the pot. When the sausage and veggie mixture is done, drop it into the pan and mix with a half a cup of sour cream. I usually go with low fat sour cream most of the time and did once for this, but I would recommend going with the regular because it holds up better.

You mix all that together and have yourself a dinner that only created a few dirty dishes (a nice little bonus if you cook and clean). This recipe which balances the sweet tanginess of the sausage with the coolness of the sour cream turned out to be a really well balanced meal. Add in my favorite vegetable — mushrooms — and red peppers which have their own unique sweetness and crispness and you have a dish that’s pretty darn delightful.