Brew Review: Goodwood Ale, Stout & Honey Ale

When someone asks if I want a beer, I usually say yes. So, when the fine folks over at Goodwood Brewing Company asked if I wanted to try out a few of their offerings, you know I was all over it. As you can imagine, I was incredibly excited when the box featuring two each of the Ale, Stout and Honey Ale showed up on my doorstep.

The cool thing about all three of these beers is that, in addition to the usual brewing process, they also spend some time in a barrel. In the case of the Ale, it hangs out in a bourbon barrel. As you can kind of see in my less-than-stellar photo here, this one pours out golden and beautiful. It’s got a nice, sweet smell, but then also includes a nice kick. You can definitely taste the woody notes from the barrel plus slight notes of the bourbon itself without that very distinct flavor overtaking the drink. At 6.0% alcohol by volume, this is the lowest of the bunch, but would definitely make for a nice drink, especially on a nice day outside hanging with friends.

I then moved over to the Stout, which is also aged in a bourbon barrel. Like the ale, this one had a nice sweet smell to it with a nice nuttiness. Some companies go super thick when it comes to a stout, but this one was more manageable and looked beautifully dark and luxurious. The sweetness from the smell definitely comes through in the taste, as do the bourbon notes which were stronger to me in this than the ale.

The taste comes in with a flash, but then mellows out leaving me wanting more. As I drank this smooth stout, I sensed more of the vanilla flavors floating around in there. I’m not the biggest stout fan in the world, but I definitely enjoyed this one and would love to grab a few to drink on a cold night next to the fire.

Finally, I sampled the Honey Ale Aged in a Brandy Barrel. I’m not exactly a seasoned brandy drinker, but I enjoyed the toasty, semi-sweet scents and flavors that came through. It comes out as a beautiful orange color and pops on the tongue before offering an easy finish. With all of the flavors at play, this one feels like a more sophisticated, grown-up beverage. I loved drinking the woody, boozy tinged beer, but can also imagine it adding some mega flavor to a barbecue sauce or even tacos.

I can easily recommend each and every one of these beers for you to try and will be keeping an eye out for these and other kinds like the Goose Aged On Hemp, India Pale Ale On Spruce Tips, Lager Aged On White Ash and Saison Ale Aged In A Red Wine Barrell.

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Cooking Anne Burrell’s Pasta Fagioloi

anne-burrells-pasta-fagioliHey, look, a food post! For those of you who might not know, I used to have yet another blog called Monkeying Around The Kitchen where I chronicled my journeys with food. After a while — and a lack of posts — I realized two things: one, I just didn’t have time to keep it up and two, I cook for my family, so those posts could easily be shifted over here to Pop Poppa. Hence, the MATK archives can now be found here on PP. Continue reading

Celebrate Father’s Day With Speyburn

speyburnWhen I get an email asking if I’d like to sample alcohol for review purposes, I respond with a hearty, “Yes please!” In other ways, I was ecstatic when I got an email asking if I wanted to check out a pair of Scottish whiskies from a company called Speyburn. I actually came home from a trip to Disney World — from the sun of Florida to the grayness of New York — to find the package waiting on my doorstep welcoming me back. It was a nice way to ease back in to regular life!

For a bit of Speyburn history, the company takes its name from the River Spey nearby. When the distillery was built back in 1897, the stones came directly from the river. To find out the closest distributor, head to the official site and pop in your zip code.

Above you can see both bottles with a shot poured of each, but for my first taste of each I actually poured about two fingers in a glass over my whisky stones. Now, I’m far from an expert on tasting spirits and explaining what makes each of them wildly unique, but I know what I like and I like both of these for a a few reasons.

Speyburn-10YO-LOW-res_2_0Let’s start with the Speyburn 10 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky. According to the information I was given, this $29 bottle is described as having a “fresh, clean and aromatic with a rich lemony fruitiness” smell to it. The flavor is also described as having notes of toffee and butterscotch. I’ll be honest, the specific sweet notes didn’t light up the toffee and butterscotch sections of my tongue, but this one definitely has a cleaner, easier taste to it. There is a sweetness to it as well, but I can’t quite place what the sweetness reminds me of (maybe like a sweet coffee, but only just barely).

SPEYBURN-ARRANTA-PACK--LOWresUp next I tasted the $40-a-bottle Speyburn Arranta Casks Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Only available in the U.S., this spirit is created by using “first fill ex-bourbon casks” and comes with a more complex flavor. I personally don’t pick up on the citrus or honey notes in the description, but it is one of the more robust, fiery scotchs I’ve ever had. I’ll admit, at first it was a bit much for me, but the more I’ve sipped, the more I’ve come to really enjoy this one.

So, if you’re looking for a Father’s Day gift — or gift for any Scotch drinker — you’ve got two solid choices here. I’d say the 10 Year Old works better as a smooth, clean sipping Scotch while the Arranta would be perfect for someone who’s a bit more adventurous and wants a wilder drinking experience.

This Week’s Menu: Quinoa, Ribs, Grilled Meat & More!

this weeks menu 7-6-15 I miss writing about food, you guys. I took all this time around Christmas to import my old food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen over here and really haven’t taken advantage of the new digs. So, in an effort to get back on the horse, I figured I’d tip everyone off to the week’s upcoming menu on Monday and return to it either at the end of this week or early next. I also started writing the menu on this old chalkboard-painted pizza pan my mother-in-law gave me so we’ve got a nice visual.

A few weeks back I got all the ingredients for One Pan Mexican Quinoa from Damn Delicious. I’ve made this a few times before and it’s not just easy, but a great dinner that works well for a Meatless Monday if you’re down with that. I also appreciate how this one comes mostly from canned or boxed products meaning you can swing back around to it if you don’t get to it when planned. I will also be returning to the excellent Chicken Asiago Pasta from Chef Mickey.

Another pick-up for this week will be The Crockin’ Girls’ My Crock of Ribs using the St. Louis variety which were on sale last week. I’ll be doing this one on Thursday when I’m home along with the kids (if I remember to get them in the Crock Pot on time).

After I get everything ready for the quinoa dish tonight, I’m also going to work on the brine for Grilled Pork Chops with Corn, Tomatoes and Basil from Cooking Channel and grill that up tomorrow. Finally, as you can see, we will have some grilled beef. along with a vegetable. What kind? Not sure yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 96

pop poppa nap cast logoThe Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 96 covers my new job writing for Geek.com, my better mood thanks to the weather and how I hope that leads to better times with my kids this summer!

october country basement

If you’re in the Orange County area and like comics, do yourself a favor and check out October Country in New Paltz.

I wrote about fried-egg-coverd BLTs in this post, which you should absolutely check out. Fried eggs also played into Feed Me Phoebe’s excellent Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Black Beans and Spinach and Smitten Kitchen’s fantastic Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Eggs.

cinci chili dog

Finally, the two StaceyMakesCents posts I mentioned about Cincinnati Chili and magnesium lotion can be found here and here. Also, feast your eyes on this rad-looking dog.

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

Pop Poppa Original Recipes: Kielbasa & Cauliflower Soup

kielbasa soupAs I mentioned a few weeks back, I found myself in a dilly of a pickle one night when my slow cooker failed to cook slowly and I needed something to feed my family. I looked in my fridge, saw a packaged kielbasa sausage, some chicken stock, half of a head of cauliflower and figured I could make something work.

My initial idea to make a soup with the kielbasa was partly influenced by a slow cooker recipe I’ve made from Good Housekeeping called Kielbasa Stew. I had an idea that these basic flavors would work together. The red wine vinegar and ground mustard just came to me and wound up working really well to add some tang to the recipe.

Kielbasa & Cauliflower Soup Ingredients:

1 lbs. kielbasa sausage, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves diced or grated on a rasp (my new preferred method)
2 carrots, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, cleaned & diced
Half a head of cauliflower, diced
2 cups of orzo
Enough chicken stock to cover (about 4 cups)
2 Tsp. ground mustard
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Sauerkraut to serve

As always, I did all of my prep first which meant chopping up the vegetables and then the meat. I got the veggies cooking in a few tablespoons of olive oil as well as the red wine vinegar until tender in a Dutch oven which took about five minutes.

Then I added the sausage and cooked that for another five minutes, until it browned. After that, I covered with chicken stock, added the ground mustard and brought to a boil.

Once the liquid started boiling, I added in the orzo, gave the mixture a few stirs and then popped the lid on for 10-15 minutes until the orzo was cooked through. Once it is cooked, you’re good to go. I happened to have some canned Sauerkraut in the pantry, so that seemed like a natural accompaniment.

Under Construction!

Hello loyal readers and newcomers alike! I wanted to let you know that the site might look a little different these days. I’ve decided to not only change the look of things, but also import all of the posts from my food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen over to Pop Poppa.

I thought this would be a fairly simple process, but was surprised to discover the galleries I created over there didn’t quite transfer over correctly. I’m working on fixing those, but it will take some time because we’re talking about 400 posts. I also need to get in there and change all the links back to MATK. Like I said, it’s a big job.

Still, I’m hoping to get things together and also move forward with existing content like the Pop Poppa Nap Cast and the Photo Diaries. I also have plans to expand the content on this page which is why I decided to bring the food content over. All parents like food and could use a few ideas about recipes, right?

I appreciate your patience as I get everything together. If you happen to spot a missed photo or something along those lines, drop me a comment and I’ll fix it when I can. Thanks!

Cooking Bobby Flay’s Mole-Rubbed Steak and Eggs with Chocolate Stout Beurre Blanc

One of the many nice things about the new house is our far more robust cable package. With it comes Food Network subsidiary The Cooking Channel, which, as the name implies, features far more actual cooking shows. In addition to buying a new house, my mom also moved out to New York to join my dad who’s been here for a few months. She’s been coming over and watching the kids during the day which allows me to get my work done more efficiently and also start cooking dinner without as many interruptions. But, if we get lucky and both kids fall asleep at the same time, we like to watch food shows.

Last week we happened upon an episode of Brunch At Bobby’s that revolved around chocolate. I didn’t care for the most part, but then he got to his recipe for Mole-Rubbed Steak and Eggs with Chocolate Stout Beurre Blanc and I was all ears. It made it onto my menu the next week and turned out pretty swell.

Instead of using the variety of chili powders mentioned in the recipe, I used my mother-in-law’s chili powder concoction which is always on point. Aside from that, I followed the rub recipe and covered the steak, but I did forget to put the canola oil on first, so instead I cooked the steak in some (maybe a little too much, actually) oil after letting it sit for the 30 minutes.

In the meantime I got everything together for the sauce. Since I used a bit too much oil while cooking the steak, the sauce was a bit oilier than I think it should have been, but still turned out to have a really interesting flavor profile. Part of that came through because I used Shocktop’s Shockolate Wheat instead of a straight-ahead chocolate stout. While the citrus and wheat elements did come through, I don’t think the resulting sauce was as thick in consistency or flavor as the recipe as written. Next time I’ll try it Bobby’s way.

The New Digs

the new kitchen

Sorry about the complete lack of posts lately, but between a hugely busy October work-wise and the purchase of a new house, things have been jam-packed.

But, even with everything going on, I did want to take a moment to show off part of the new kitchen. The brick around the stove is actually paneling — the people who built this place LOVED paneling, you guys, like big time — but it looks pretty great. I like the alcove, but the electric heat is taking some getting used to.

At this point, it actually feels like there’s less usable counter space for prep and whatnot, but we still need to get everything organized. Still, I have my spices to the right (alphabetized, of course), more spices on the left, my knife block and cooking tools. It’s a pretty solid set-up so far, but I’d like to get a small island on wheels that I can move a few feet from the stove so everything’s closer.

It’s a work-in-progress, but I’m cool with that and now that I’ve got the building blocks in place, I’m hoping to cook more meals and write more posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen!

Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot Sausage Pasta

dd one pot pasta 1

This post might look a little different because of the lack of photos, but I just had to write about Damn Delicious’ One Pot Pasta. Usually, wen I forget to fully document my food photographically, I’ll wait until the next time I make it to write a post, but this one, which turned out to not go quite as planned, was just too good to hold off on.

When I first came upon this recipe, it popped right off the page because of its seemingly simple nature. Throw several tasty things into a pot with some water and come out with dinner AND a limited number of dishes to clean? Yeah, I’m down with that.

Ingredient-wise, I followed the directions as written. For the sausage I went with Smithfield Hickory Smoked Sausage, Ronzoni Garden Delight Fettucini pasta and a mix of red and orange cherry tomatoes. With everything, I got to chopping and throwing into the pot, following the recipe as written. It was after everything was in the vessel that I mixed things up a bit. The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of water, but that didn’t come close to covering the pasta. I wasn’t clear if it should or not, but I went with the former and about doubled the amount of water.dd one pot pasta 2

All that extra water upped the amount of time I boiled it all. I’m not sure what the final amount of time wound up being, but it must have been around an hour because my wife and I went to our lawyer’s office to sign the contracts on the house we’re buying. By the time we got back it had finally thickened but was looking for like soup than pasta. Still, I wasn’t sure how the pasta would hold up, so I pulled it off the stove and we ate it with spoons instead of forks.

I’m not sure if the meal would have turned out this way anyway, but the first thing I thought when I took my first bite was, “This tastes like fancy Spaghetti-Os with hot dogs!” I used to eat Spaghetti-Os all the time as a kid and this reminded me of that, but much fresher and better. The cherry tomatoes and basil joined together to make a surprisingly sweet sauce that mixed well with the smoked sausage and everything else. I will definitely be trying this one again, but follow the recipe more directly to see how it turns out.

Cooking Disney’s Chicken Asiago Pasta

On our last trip to Disney World, I picked up the Chef Mickey cookbook by Pam Brandon and the Disney Chefs. Not long after getting back from that trip, I made a variety of recipes from the book, but that was when I wasn’t posting much here on MATK.  I returned to it recently and made this recipe for Chicken Asiago Pasta (page 124) for the second time and it was just as delicious this time around. The only change I made was using just parmesan instead of a mix of that and asiago.

This is a fairly simple one to put together, though it does involve dredging chunks of chicken and cooking them in some olive oil. But, that’s pretty much the hardest part. Right off the bat, I got the spinach in a bowl and combined the chopped sun dried tomatoes with the garlic and a combination of fresh olive oil and some of the stuff that the tomatoes came packed in. I also got the salted water going for the pasta at this point.

After that I cubed the chicken, got the flour mixed with salt and pepper and started the dredging/cooking process which didn’t take too long. I worked in batches to get the chicken done, but by the time I was finished, the pasta was all set to go too, so I got to mixing everything together in a big bowl.

That’s it, there’s your dinner. The flavors for this dish — which comes from the Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort — are just so amazing together. The noodles add some texture to bounce off of the bitterness of the spinach which is tempered by the tangy sun dried tomato flavors throughout. The cheese also helps bring everything together and add a salty note that connects a lot of the dots. I sometimes shy away from recipes that involve dredging and if our infant was having a really mad day, I probably would have skipped it, but this worked really well this time around.

Revisiting Alton Brown’s Homemade Peanut Butter

Not long ago I tried making Alton Brown’s recipe for homemade chunky peanut butter in the wok. The big problem I had making it that way was getting a lot of burnt nuts thanks to the circular shape of the wok. I made more the other week and decided to use a high-sided pan and I was able to get a much more even brown on them.

This time around I also added a bit more peanut oil during the food processor portion of the procedure and got a peanut butter that’s still super thick and chunky, but spreads a bit better. I don’t eat it nearly as much as my wife who has it on an English muffin just about every day, but I like the flavor this time around a lot better without those overly-roasted notes.

Oh, one other thing I changed this time around was that I cracked the peanuts out of the shells while watching TV the night before. I was feeling a little restless, but not very energized, so this was the perfect mindless thing to do while sitting on the couch.

Cooking Smoky Vegetable Mac & Cheese And Grilled Marinated London Broil

Last week I came across Soup Addict’s Smoky Vegetable Mac and Cheese and just had to try it. While looking through the Hannaford circular I saw that London broil was on sale, so I decided to try Food Network’s Grilled Marinated London Broil and serve the two together along with some steamed corn on the cob.

Since the beef marinates for a few hours, I got that together around 1 or 2 PM, but it can sit for up to 24 hours if you don’t work from home. Later, when I focused on the main part of dinner, I popped the peppers — I went with a red bell and a poblano — on my gas stovetop and let them char. Once I got some good darkness on there, I put them in a bowl and covered to help sweat off the skin.

As is my custom, I cubed my cheese and tossed it in the food processor. The only other major change I made was including about half a cup of sour cream after enjoying the flavor it brought to the last mac and cheese I made to replace some of the milk. Aside from that, i followed the recipe.

While the mac and cheese cooked in the oven, I put my room temperature London broil on the cast iron skillet and cooked it to a nice medium rare (it was out for about 30 minutes before going in the pan).

To serve, I simply sliced the meat across the grain and served with the mac and cheese and ears of corn. The meal worked really well together, the meat was nice and tender with a nice flavor from the marinade.

I was surprised to see how much our three-year-old daughter liked the beef. I figured she’d be all over the cheesy mac, but instead the corn (which she calls a corn stick) and beef were the stars for her which is fine by me. Unfortunately, grilled meat tends to be one of the leftovers that winds up getting tossed, but in this case, she ate it all up within a few days while I finished off the mac and cheese.

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara

You know a recipe must be good if I not only make it twice in the span of 30 days, but also prepare it for a parent visit. That was the case with Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara. I saw this recipe while trying to figure out my menu a few weeks back and it jumped right off the page. I love bacon. I love carbonara. I loved mushrooms and I’m pretty alright with asparagus. It also doesn’t use a full package of bacon, which is kind of nice, especially when you’re looking to make that particular protein work for a few different meals.

The prep for this dish is also super simple. You wash, then cut the mushrooms and asparagus, mix them with some olive oil, salt and pepper before putting them in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Since I chopped my veggies into smaller bits than suggested, I kept them in the oven for a bit less time than recommended. With that doing it’s thing, I got my pasta going and cut up the garlic followed by the bacon. While the pork sizzled, I shredded the cheese and combined it with the two beaten eggs plus salt and pepper. Once the bacon is done, you toss in the garlic (I did this instead of removing the bacon as suggested in the main recipe), cook for 30 seconds and then mix with the cooked pasta, roasted veggies and cheese-egg mix.

When I made this the first time, I used boxed pasta, but last night I went full-out and made my own. The only other change I made was throwing in some chopped shallot I had lying around. Either way, you’ve got this great mix of fresh vegetables, smoky bacon and that salty carbonara goodness that solidifies as you mix. Making this meal even better is that fact that it tastes just as good reheated as it did the first day.

Cooking Good Housekeepings Kielbasa Stew

I know what you’re thinking: what kind of fool makes a stew in the middle of one of the hottest New York summers he’s ever experienced? This one, apparently. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past few weeks, we’re working off of a budget lately, so I’ve been a lot more conscious about using up everything I have on hand as far as ingredients go. Last week I happened upon Good Housekeeping’s recipe for Kielbasa Stew in my Big Blue Binder, realized I had almost everything already on hand — I only had to buy the sauerkraut and kielbasa, which was on sale — so I decided to give it a shot.

As far as preparation goes, this is a pretty simple recipe, but you’ve obviously got to have the time to get it together in the middle of the day (or morning depending on if you’re cooking on high or low). I cooked the celery, onion and caraway seeds in a pan and then threw it in the bowl with the cubed potatoes and all the other ingredients. The only change I made was using a pour of apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider because, you know, it’s the middle of summer. With all that together, I put the slow cooker on high and went back about my day.

I’ve got to say, even though I made this on a hot day and it’s a stew, this wound up being a really wonderful meal. The potatoes and chicken stock turned into this creaminess that worked so well with the kielbasa and the added sauerkraut. It all came together for a very German dish that made me think of a soup version of the kind of dog sausage you’d get while walking around NYC. My wife had the genius idea of putting some deli mustard on top, taking up another level of greatness. I will one hundred percent serve this again, though I might wait around until the temperature takes a bit of a dive. I will say, though, that a slow cooker is a great way to keep your kitchen from heating up too much.

I will also add that this was a great dish to make with my three year old helping out. She loves to stir things, so I had her do that and add in the new ingredients as I was done cutting them up. It gets an extra thumbs up for that!

Wok This Way: Damn Delicious’ Pineapple Fried Rice

I continue to have a lot of luck when it comes to making recipes posted over on Damn Delicious. A few weeks back I saw her post this one for Pineapple Fried Rice and wanted to give it a shot. It not only looked tasty with that mix of salty pork and sweet-sour pineapple, but also utilized a few ingredients that were on sale at the grocery store that week: pineapple and pre-cooked ham (the same stuff I used in yesterday’s post). The only change I made to the recipe was skipping the corn and peas because I didn’t happen to have any on hand and must have missed that slug in the recipe when making up my grocery list. I also threw in a red pepper because I did have one hanging out in the fridge.

As you can probably imagine, this was not a very difficult dish to put together. It mimicked many of the previous wok recipes I’ve done and could have also been done in a high-sided pan. This actually reminded me of a bit of Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork but much easier to put together. The sweet, tangy, saltiness of the dish was just what I was looking for.

One quick warning, though. If you do use the pre-sliced ham like I did, you might get some funky leftovers. My wife noticed it first at work and said the ham got kind of crumbly when heated up a day or two later. It’s almost like it disintegrated, so I’d probably change the kind of ham I use next time or make just as much as I need.

Cooking Aaron Sanchez’s Cemita Sandwiches With Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa

Earlier this year I picked up Aaron Sanchez’s Simple Food, Big Flavor cookbook. I love how it’s organized because he starts off with a kind of sauce and then gives readers a variety of dishes that incorporate that very ingredient. I decided to try out Cemita Sandwiches (page 64) which was a part of his recipe for Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa (page 52). Since there were so many working parts, I’ll break them down here.

First off I got to work on the salsa, which is a really simple and easy process. I used two chipotle peppers in adobo which was a huge mistake because it made this condiment way too hot for us. I tried mixing some honey in which helped a bit, but there’s still an underlying smokey hotness that I don’t know if I’ll be able to use this much.

From there I got to work on the sandwiches. First, my changes. I went with regular sandwich bread and skipped the papalo leaves. Basically, this just involved a lot of cutting. You’ve got tomato, avocado and mozzarella. The ham was a bit more work intensive, but I took a pretty big shortcut by buying some pre-sliced smoked ham at the grocery store. I still mixed the spices as suggested in the recipe, but instead of pounding out pork loin, I just spread it on the ham and cooked it in the pan. I’m sure the flavors didn’t go nearly as deep thanks to my modified way, but I’d also wager it cut off a good deal of time.

With all the meat cooked, I was basically in assembly line mode, just like when I made Bangin’ BLTs not long ago. The bread went in the toaster and when it popped, I went back to my sandwich making roots, adding the veggies, cheese and passing it off to the fam.

All in all, this might have been a truncated version of Sanchez’s meal, but I thought it still came out really tasty. There was definitely some heat coming off of the meat, but that was quelled a bit thanks to the mozzarella and avocado. The mozz also brought in a nice creamy tanginess that I appreciated. We even tried some of the super hot salsa on the bread as the recipe suggests which worked out pretty well. If I make this one again, I’ll have to go wimpier on the salsa and maybe actually try that whole pork loin thing.

Making Sunny’s Homemade Ketchup

A few weeks back I caught an episode of Food Network’s multi-host culinary talk show The Kitchen that was all about burgers. There were some tasty looking variations on there, but the real star for me was Sunny Anderson’s Homemade Ketchup.

In the mood for another homemade challenge, I decided to give it a try to go along with some homemade burgers, buns and mayo on Fourth of July. As you do, I went to FN.com, searched around and found the recipe linked above. But, like many of the commentors, I was surprised to find that it differed from the one presented on the show. Two major ingredients — a cinnamon stick ans a star anise — were nowhere to be found and I want to say the cooking process was a little different than on the show, but I couldn’t fully recall.

So, I decided to follow the recipe as posted while adding the star and the stick, but cutting the sugar to a heaping half cup. The rest of the process is pretty simple but does take some time. I’ve heard that homemade ketchup winds up tasting pretty different from the store-bought stuff and that’s definitely the case with this recipe, especially if you use the anise. After I took the handblender to the cooked tomato mixture I was surprised to find that, not only was it too sweet, but also nearly overpowered by that rich licorice flavor from the star. From there I stirred in a combination of salt, apple cider vinegar and regular vinegar to subdue some of that sweetness. Eventually I had to move on to other things so it went into the fridge to cool.

The next day I tasted the ketchup and, while it’s still pretty far from Heinz, I’ve got to say that it’s mighty intriguing. It’s basically ketchup’s sassier cousin with the crispness of the tomatoes along with the acid notes from the vinegar and that overarching unique sweetness from the star anise. It might not be what I’m used to, but it worked really well with the burgers and has served us well since. When I try this next time, I might leave the anise out just to see what the results are like.

I did all this a day or two before I was going to use it so it would have enough time to cool. I also wound up dividing the condiment into three parts, one going in a squeeze bottle I picked up at the grocery store and the other two in individual freezer bags.

Baking Homemade Hamburger Buns

When I started thinking about preparing a Fourth of July meal for my folks, I figured I’d try my hand at making my own ketchup (post coming soon). While the wheels turned about that one I had a thought pop into my head wondering, “Hey, how do you make burger buns?” I went to Google and found one on Taste Of Home called 40-Minute Hamburger Buns. I don’t do a lot of baking, but since I started making most of the pasta I use, I’ve gotten more and more okay working with dough, so it wasn’t too scary.

This particular recipe appealed to me because it’s so simple. You’ve got seven ingredients, most of which I already had on hand, so I decided to try it out a few days in advance. The process itself wasn’t hard at all, but I will say that the 12 buns I got that time would have worked for sliders, but not full-sized burgers. With that new knowledge, plus the idea that you’ve really got to pat down the dough so you don’t get those crazy outgrowths, I gave them another shot, this time breaking the dough into 6 buns, which you can see in that last photo. Still, if you’re looking for rolls or slider buns, go with the dozen.

I should also note that I made these two different ways. The first time was with the mixer and the second was just by hand in a big bowl. Both worked really well. I’d probably go with the bowl just because it makes fewer dishes, really. Anyway, these buns turned out so good in both forms that I had trouble keeping everyone away from them so we could have burgers on them. They’re just so light and airy with a bit of sweetness that makes for awesome rolls or buns. In fact, as you can see in the following images, they also make great rolls for mini breakfast sandwiches if you’ve got some spare eggs, cheese and ham/bacon/sausage around! IMG_7192

Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta

I’m all about Damn Delicious these days. I’m pulling a recipe or two a week for my menus these days including this one last week for One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta. I was a little leery about this one, not because of the recipe itself, but because I sometimes have trouble getting into a dish if I associate it with one style of food. I had this problem when I made Taco Stuffed Shells a while back. Stuffed shells are just an Italian dish that should have ricotta or cottage cheese as far as my taste buds are concerned. Would I have the same problem with this barbecue sauce-infused pasta dish? Luckily, no!

I’m a big fan of the one pot method for cooking this dish. You cook the bacon in the pan (I skipped the olive oil because of the bacon fat) and then toss in the diced chicken breast. From there you add the garlic and onion followed by the rest of the ingredients, including the pasta which actually cooks in the tomatoes, chicken stock and milk. Cover that up and let it cook for about 15 minutes, mix in the cheese and bbq sauce — we had Sweet Baby Ray’s on hand — and you’ve got dinner!

I wasn’t sure if the the sweetness of the sauce would throw my tongue for a loop, but this whole dish worked so well together that I didn’t even think about Italian food. In fact, the sweetness really popped and worked well with the saltiness of the bacon and the tomatoes. It all worked really well together and you can’t complain about making a whole meal in one pot!

Cooking Steak With Chickpeas, Tomatoes & Feta

As I mentioned last week, we’re trying to stick to a budget, so I’m paying a lot more attention to grocery store sales when coming up with our weekly menus. Last week, Hannaford had Flat Iron steak on sale, so I looked around in my Big Blue Binder for something and came across Real Simple’s Steak With Chickpeas, Tomatoes & Feta.

Recipe-wise, I used this as more of a guideline as you can see if you click through to the link. I mixed it up with the type of beef, went with hot house tomatoes instead of plums and swapped out cilantro for some thyme from our mini herb garden. Oh and I went with lime instead of lemon juice because that’s what I had on hand.

For the steak, I did my usual: rub down with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and throw in a very hot cast iron pan. I’m moving away from using the grill type pans and have just been working with the flat ones lately. Once I got the steak to the temp I wanted, I pulled it out and put the tongs underneath to help get the air all around it.

Then you make the salad, which is also super simple. Toss the chickpeas in the pan you just grilled the meat in and cook for 3-5 minutes before mixing in the tomatoes, lime juice and herbs. Once that was done, I put the mixture in a bowl and stirred the feta in.

I think this was probably the first time I cooked Flat Iron steak and I’ve got to say it was really tasty. I read in various places that that’s because it’s got good marbling. I have trouble remembering all the ins and outs of meat, but this one will hopefully stick out in my mind as a solid piece of meat for a simple grill session. Meanwhile, the tomato and chickpea salad was a really nice side dish that has room for all kinds of new flavors and additional veggies. I’d like to try this with some corn and see how that plays with the feta.

Cooking Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad

I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting to a place with my cooking where I don’t mind using a recipe as a spring board instead of a by-the-numbers rule book. Part of that comes from being a lot more comfortable in the kitchen and part comes from not reading recipes all the way through before adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get to that day’s recipe read it through and realize there’s a major part I missed. In the case of this recipe for Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad from Hannaford’s Fresh magazine, I didn’t see that a major part of the process involved roasting vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees. I don’t know about where you guys are, but it’s been in the 80s for weeks now here and there’s no way I’m adding to that heat if I can avoid it. So, I decided to sauté my veggies. I also completely forgot the green beans and made homemade pasta for my version.

Aside from making the pasta which is always a time consuming, but rewarding process, this is a super simple recipe to put together that just involves the cutting up of some vegetables, some sauté time and a bit of food processing. To make room in my small kitchen, I made the pesto first. I followed the recipe as written, but wound up with a really bitter pesto from all that arugula. To balance it out, I added about 1/4 more parmesan and the juice of half a large lemon which helped balance everything out.

With that out of the way, it was veggie cutting time. I took my knife to the red pepper, squash, onion and tomatoes before tossing them in a bowl with oil and then popping them in my high-sided pan for sauté time. At this point I also had the water going for the pasta so everything would get done at about the same time for mixing. My timing wasn’t perfect, but everything came together nicely for a solid alternate version of pesto packed with vitamins and nutrients that my family really enjoyed.

Cookbook Nook: My Big Blue Binder

I realized while writing yesterday’s post about the Ginger-Sesame Marinated Pork Loin that I’ve talked a lot about my Big Blue Binder without actually saying much about it. I stole this idea from my wife completely and I’m glad I did because it’s been a great way to integrate a variety of recipe sources into one place. Basically, this thing’s packed with recipes and ideas ripped out of magazines with a few printed off the internet or passed my way from family members, all of which are in plastic pockets so they don’t get too messed up in the binder or in the kitchen.

The main sources for these recipes are a series of magazines my wife and I have gotten over the years. I always pick up the Hannaford magazine when there’s a new one. That’s usually good for a few ideas. There was also a mysterious Good Housekeeping subscription that came in my name for a year even though I never paid for it and no one said they gifted it to us. But my wife’s subscriptions to Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living probably make up the majority of the book. When I get the okay from her, I basically go through a big stack of magazines and rip out what looks interesting and then put them into the BBB. This clears up space in your house and also gives you a piece of paper you can write on or toss if it doesn’t work out for you.

Originally, this thing was just a mess with all the recipes mixed up together, but then one day I figured it would make the most sense to actually get organized. I picked up a pack of those tabs and got to work breaking them down into subjects like Soup, Salads, Beef and the like. Of course, I soon ran into a problem when I realized a large number of pages don’t easily fit into one category. You know what I mean, those magazine spreads with a full meal laid out. So, I went with the easiest solution and just put them under a Misc. tab and moved right along.

While it did take a while to get things organized, I’m so glad I did. It’s great having books and websites that are relatively easy to search, but it’s nowhere near as easy when you’re dealing with a hodge-podge like this so even this level of organization can really streamline the process.

Cooking Ginger-Sesame Marinated Pork Loin With Sugar Snap Peas

My wife and I are hoping to get into a house in the relatively near future, so to get prepared for that added expense in our lives, we’re implementing a budget. This has altered how I tackle meals and groceries to an extent. I used to go to my sources first (cookbooks, websites, blogs, The Big Blue Binder, etc.), write out my list and go shopping. Now, I check the grocery store circular first to see what’s on sale, specifically in the meat section, and then create the menu around that.

That’s what lead me to pick up pork loin last week. From there I went through my recently organized Big Blue Binder and came across a recipe for Ginger-Sesame Marinade from Real Simple that would work well with that particular cut of meat. About four or five hours before dinner, I got the meat in a sealable bag and then mixed together 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 scallions cut with kitchen scissors and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Combine those things, put the bag in the refrigerator and make sure to shift it about every now and then.

Since the actual Real Simple recipe just featured the marinade instructions, I went to my trust Betty Crocker Cookbook and looked around for some guidance. On page 255 I found the recipe for Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin. I didn’t completely follow this, but it was certainly helpful. I got the oven going to 450 degrees and then got a cast iron pan super hot before putting the pork loin and some of the marinade in there. I seared the meat in the pan and then put it in the oven with my new electric thermometer aiming for 155 degrees. At that point I took it out and let sit on a rack — a trick I learned from watching David Chang and Anthony Bourdain’s excellent The Mind Of A Chef — which allows the air to hit all sides of the meat. After about 10 minutes, I sliced it up and served with some sugar snap peas my wife picked when she went strawberry picking with my daughter.

Unfortunately, we had some more refrigerator trouble after I made this so the majority of the leftovers had to get tossed, but before that we were treated to a salty, tangy bit of pork that was just delightful. My wife made herself a cuban with the meat for lunch the next day which gave me an idea to do a more Asian themed version of the cuban with kimchi, which I’ve never actually tried, so who knows if it would work? Maybe I’ll give that a shot next time I make this ridiculously simple, very tasty meal.

Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Wok This Way: Alton Brown’s Wok-Fried Peanut Butter

Just last week I wrote about how much I enjoy Alton Brown’s various online outlets for food information. One of his most recent YouTube videos really captured my imagination and it was about making your own thick, chunky peanut butter using a wok. I watched it from beginning to end, even though he spoke with a mouthful of his own product through the whole thing which is like nails on a chalk board for me and soon enough tracked down the written recipe over on Brown’s website.

This is a wildly simple recipe that can take a lot of time if you wind up getting peanuts in the shell like I did. No kidding, it probably took me about an hour to get a full pound of shelled peanuts. I would have gone with the non-bagged kind, but that’s all my grocery store had, so I just dove in and got them done in two different sessions. My hands were pretty beat up by the end, but not too bad.

With that done — or if you get shelled peanuts right off the bat — you’re good to go with the actual cooking process. Heat the wok, toss in the peanut oil and then get the peanuts in the pan. I wish I had stirred them more than I did because I wound up getting some pretty burnt nuts in the process. I did my best to pull the worst ones out, but the final product does have a hint of that burned flavor depending on the bite.

After the salting and cooling process, you toss 1/3 in the food processor and remove. The rest go in processor with some honey and salt and get, well, processed for much longer. The resulting butter was quite thick and got even more so when the first third was added back in.

When Brown says in the video that this is chunky PB, he’s not kidding. This stuff has an almost doughlike consistency. When I first saw that I was worried that it might not spread very well, but my wife and daughter, who eat most of the peanut butter in our house, don’t seem to mind and have enjoyed it pretty much every day since. I use it when I make my morning smoothies, and really enjoy the nutty, salty component it adds.

I also really enjoy being able to make something else that sits in our pantry or refrigerator. Peanut butter might actually be one of my favorites because you don’t need to acquire a lot of materials to make it (like stock, say, or tomato pulp) and it doesn’t go bad really quickly like mayo or vinaigrettes. Now I just gotta find a place that sells shelled peanuts that aren’t too expensive!

Rocking In The Kitchen With Wusic

I don’t know about you guys, but I love listening to music or podcasts while I cook. Since I work in a galley kitchen and usually have my laptop on a stool next to the sink and across from the stove. It usually works out where I can just hit play and be entertained. But sometimes cooking is a loud endeavor and my laptop volume only goes up so high, not nearly loud enough to triumph over the sound of the meat grinder or the hood fan. For my iPod we have a speaker dock that works great, but I’ve been looking for something to use when listening to podcasts. After doing a lot of looking around on Amazon, I decided to try out the Wusic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker.blue waterproof wusic

My family got it for me for Father’s Day and I’ve been using it just about every day since either through my computer or my phone. The beauty of this particular speaker is that it’s also waterproof. It’s meant to hang out in the shower with you or near a pool, but that also makes it more resilient in a kitchen where liquids tend to splash and splatter around. This also means you can use the unit’s controls (pause, play, forward, backward, on, off and volume control) with less than clean fingers if need be. wusic in kitchen

As you can see, the unit also comes with a large suction cup on the bottom. This works very well in the shower, but not as well in the kitchen. I tried sticking it to the cabinets which didn’t hold up very well. I had more success placing it on the oven hood, but I don’t want to put it up there if I’m using the oven much. For the most part, I just place it on the counter near where I’m working or in an open cabinet.wusic kitchen set up

Overall, I’ve been really happy with the speaker. It gives me that extra bit of volume in the kitchen and has made my overall cooking experience that much better.

Cooking Feed Me Phoebe’s Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad

It’s hot as heck here in New York, so you know what that means: time to look for new chicken salad recipes! Feed Me Phoebe has become a new favorite food blog with lots of interesting dishes. Since I hadn’t exploited the site for chicken salad recipes, it was the first to pop into my mind. My mom actually makes a tarragon chicken salad that I really like, which is why I chose this one for Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad.

I fully intended to follow the recipe and pick up a rotisserie chicken like the recipe suggests, but my daughter and I ran to the grocery store early and there weren’t any available yet. So, I grabbed some chicken breasts and gave them the ol’ olive oil-salt-pepper treatment and cooked them up on the cast iron.

While the chicken cooked I made the dressing which was super simple. Earlier that week I had made some mayonnaise to go along with the Bangin’ BLTs and used that when putting this meal together. This was all part of my menu master plan for the week. I love homemade mayo because it’s so awesomely rich, but it doesn’t last a super long time, so if you’re not a sandwich fiend, it might make sense to have a chicken salad recipe or something that will use up a good portion of the delightful condiment in line for that same week. In other words, don’t waste all that goodness!

With the dressing made, I got to chopping up the herbs and veggies. For the tarragon, I turned to our mini herb garden — look for a mini-post on this down the line  —  golly that’s a unique, bright and bite-y flavor. I also threw in a few diced pieces of celery because I’m used to that in chicken salads and had a few sitting around.

I went with a really small, cube-y dice for the chicken on this. My wife noted that it didn’t stay on the bun very well, so you might want to go with a larger chop. I wasn’t quite sure how far the two chicken breasts I had allotted for this meal would go, hence the smaller cut.

For serving purposes, I didn’t go with the lettuce leaves as mentioned. I intended to, but while walking through the grocery store, I stumbled across some pretzel buns and thought they’d go really well with this cool, tangy dish. I topped the chicken salad with some fresh, clean spinach and was good to go.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Chicken Shawarma with Tomato Cucumber Relish and Tahini Sauce

This was another dish I saw prepared in the limited time during the weekend when Food Network actually shows cooking programs that  I mentioned in yesterday’s post. In that one hour I saw four recipes I want to try and have already made two of them.

Like a lot of people, I first heard of Shawarma thanks to that post-credit sequence in The Avengers. Oh, I’d probably heard of it before in passing, but never really thought about it. Within the next year, I wound up at Chickpea and tried some with my wife. It was quite good, so why wouldn’t I want to try and make some in the comfort of my own galley kitchen?

Before making this meal, understand one thing: tahini’s kind of expensive. The 16 oz jar of the sesame paste I got was about $8, but you only use a quarter of a cup, so hopefully I won’t have to buy it again for a while. Aside from that, though, you’re dealing with pretty standard ingredients though you might need to add a few spices to your rack.

Speaking of which, that’s the best place to start with this recipe. I usually like to chop up all my veggies first, but since you need to marinate the sliced chicken thighs for a half hour, I cut up the thighs after I put the shawarma spice mixture together. This is the first time I’ve worked with boneless chicken thighs, but I tried to get a good deal of the fat off.

With the meat doing it’s thing in the refrigerator, I got to work on the Tomato Cucumber Relish (more of a salad really) and the Tahini Sauce, neither of which were difficult but did take a bit of time (well, at least for the former). For the relish, you just chop, measure, mix and you’re good to go. The sauce is even simpler.

Now, Jeff put the marinated meat on skewers and grilled them on the episode. He said it was because he wanted to recreate the spit roaster he saw at the restaurant he visited. That seemed like a lot of extra work, so I just tossed the contents into a cast iron pan and got cooking.

I also tried to cook the pitas the way he did in the episode: by putting olive oil on one side and heating it on the girl. It didn’t work out so well for me so I stopped. When I served myself a plate, I tried putting all the ingredients on top of the pita as you can see in the picture, taco-style. But, the problem there was that there’s a lot of liquid going on here and everything fell apart. I was a little upset until I remembered that a lot of Middle Easter food is eaten with the hands, scooping whatever’s on your plate into the pita or naan and then into your mouth. With that in mind I dug in and had a good, old time.

The chicken had some nice heat and spice to it without going over the top. Even if it was, the tang and crispness of the relish would have cut through it, aided by the thick, substantial tahini sauce. Mixed all together and scooped into pitas, this was a killer meal that I will definitely make again.

I don’t have any pictures of this, but that same week I also made Real Simple’s Spiced Mini Burgers With Couscous Salad. This not only added a bit of continuity to the menu that week, but allowed me to use  up the leftover relish and tahini sauce for this dish. I ground up the beef and made the burgers as advised, but for the couscous salad, I used the leftover relish and just added a few more cucumbers, tomatoes and some couscous I cooked in homemade chicken stock. The tahini sauce then got used to make Alton Brown’s Hummus For Real recipe, though one that used canned chickpeas instead of slow cooked ones. I really enjoyed the spice mix used for these burgers and could imagine going either way size-wise with them: smaller for appetizers or finger food or larger for full on burgers. Both of these recipes get the thumbs up from me!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Thai Curry

Food Network has really changed over the years. It used to be packed with people making interesting foods and teaching us how. Now, even though they act like that’s still the main focus on shows like Next Food Network Star (which should probably be retitled The Next Food Network Game Show Host), you’ve got to search around more to see cooks telling you how to cook interesting and amazing food. While flipping around a few weekends back, we happened to stumble upon one of those wonderful times. That’s where I got the recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’s Thai Curry and figured I’d give it a shot.

I do want to say a few things right off the bat. I had trouble finding yellow curry paste at my grocery store. I bought curry sauce and just kind of eyed it. I couldn’t find a simple conversion chart for curry paste to curry sauce, so I basically poured in a little under 1/4 of a cup after giving it a taste. I think that’s the key to making sure you’ve got the right.

I will also note that shrimp can be a bit expensive. I dropped about $12 on deveined, deshelled ones, just to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. It’s not a bank-breaker, but definitely something to take into account when planning out your meals.

I also completely dropped the chili, swapped out unfindable Thai lime leaves for actual lime juice and throwing the limes in (I realize I should have zested them) and skipped the step where you fry the noodles in canola oil which not only made this dish a bit healthier and cooled down the kitchen on a hot day but also took out a fairly involved step. Aside from those alterations, though, I followed the recipe as written.

Especially without the fried noodle portion, this is a super easy soup to put together. Open a few cans, pour a few things in a pot or Dutch oven and get those veggies in once it’s simmering. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then throw in the noodles and shrimp and let cook. That’s pretty simple.

And the results were pretty good, but I think some of my changes weren’t for the best. The dish lacked heat, which is a key element in Thai cooking. This wound up being good for my kid, because she’s not a fan of the hotness, but made the dish a bit bland. It also could have used more salt. Whenever I’m eating Asian food, I tend to skip the regular salt and go with soy sauce because it feels more in line with the flavors. Adding that to my bowl and then the larger dish when I put it away in the fridge definitely helped.

This is the first time I’ve ever cooked shrimp in what I consider my modern cooking timeframe. My mom taught me how to devein and shell them a long, long time ago, but I decided to cut that step out and just go with ones that had already been cleaned. Towards the end of the cooking process I realized I didn’t know what cooked shrimp was supposed to look like, so I brought one out to my wife, showed it to her and got the thumbs up. They turned out nice, plump and flavorful. I don’t generally cook shellfish, but this positive experience definitely gave me more confidence to do so in the future.

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

I’ve recently discovered a new food blog I love. It’s called Damn Delicious and the name says it all. While looking around for potential dinners last month (in other words, before the 80+ degree days started) I came across her recipe for Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. I’ve been hearing about replacing some of the noodles in pasta dishes with cauliflower and thought it would be worth checking out. This way, you cut out some of the carbs of the pasta, but also get the added nutritional value of the vegetable in there.

Recipe-wise, I followed this one for the most part both times I made yet. (See the next paragraph for the biggest departure I made.) The first time I might have been a bit light on the sour cream and the second time I might have put a little more than half cup. I will say that I recommend going lighter on this one because the sharpness of the sour cream can cut through a little too much if you go over. I also used my favorite method for getting cheese ready for mac & cheese: I cubed it and pulsed it in the food processor.

I made one big addition to this recipe that I think made the dish even tastier, but less “skinny.” I grabbed two packets of the pancetta available in my grocery store and cooked that up in a small pan, just to get it nice and crispy. Pretty simple, right? Definitely. But, after removing the pancetta and draining off just a bit of the fat, I cooked the breadcrumbs in there. So, you get that great, salty pancetta taste in the dish which I stirred in along with the cauliflower and other ingredientse but also these pancetta-infused bread crumbs on top that carry those flavors throughout. When I made this recipe the second time I used bacon and it was still good, but I think I’ll stick to pancetta when making this in the future.

I’m sure this is a great recipe the way it’s written, but I’ve got to say, the added pancetta flavor mixed so well with all that cheese and the nicely cooked, soft cauliflower to the point where this is now my favorite mac and cheese recipe (and I’ve tried a lot of them). This mix of dairy products is also super tasty together, that strong cheddar mixes well with the right amount of sour cream and the bit of parm in there to balance things out. I could see some Swiss or Gruyere working really well in there too. All in all, this balance of flavors proved so delightful, that I’ve made this my new base recipe for all things mac and cheese. As an added bonus, you could easily use this and add in other favorite takes on the genre. I’m pretty excited to try the Ruben mac with this base.

One last nice thing about this recipe is that, in addition to it being delicious, it can also either use up pasta in your pantry or leave around just enough for another round of mac and cheese. As I mentioned above, I made this twice in two weeks because I already had the panko, sour cream and a few other ingredients around from the first time, so all I had to do was pick up some cauliflower and go from there.

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

handsome devil hot messA few months back my in-laws discovered a new barbecue place near us called Handsome Devil that happens to be inside the local ice rink. This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day by heading back over there to get some food on Saturday. As we have in the past, we had a great time with wonderful food and a nice selection of beers on tap. We all started off with some fried pickles (forgot to photograph because I got so excited for one of my all-time favorite apps). The pickles themselves were nice and briny, but they also came with some sriracha mayo dipping sauce that was fiery and fun. I’m just recently discovered the wonder of sriracha, so this was auspicious timing.

Better than the appetizer, though, was the meal I got. I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle my usual barbecue meal of “as much meat as I can stuff into my face,” so when I saw the Hot Mess on the menu, I was sold. The dish has a layer of beef brisket topped with mac and cheese which has pulled pork on the very top. This was a great choice because you not only get the best side of all time — mac and cheese — but also a sampling of their brisket and pulled pork. Considering their food is so great, this is an easy sell for anyone looking to try a few different elements all in one big pile.

My wife also had the Three Little Pigs smoked ham sliders which were just bonkers good. I was lucky enough to get one half of those little sandwiches and could have eaten about 10. The salty, smokey ham worked so well on the sweet bun and covered in Gruyere cheese.

As an added bonus, Lu got to watch some hockey because there was a kids game going on and you can walk into the stands right from the rink. I bet they do a pretty great appetizer/beer business during those games.

Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 2

lu, anna and elsaLet’s get right back into the Disney World goodness! (If you missed part 1, click here.) On February 5th we spent three hours waiting in line at Epcot to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen. In that time, my dad and I ran over to the cafe in Paris called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie and had sandwiches which were awesome. I was too perturbed from the line to snap a picture, but I did last time. Still, it was worth every minute because she still talks about meeting her favorite charactera and having them sign her Frozen book which we read at night sometimes. wave

That night we headed back to The Wave…Of American Flavors inside the Contemporary. Wave has easily become our favorite sit down restaurant at Walt Disney World thanks to its nice, quiet dining room and wonderful selection of entrees. I can’t quite remember what I ordered, but it looks like a steak from this picture (did I mention, it’s nice and dark in the restaurant?). The menu there changes with the seasons, so it’s probably different by now. If you’re looking for a nice sit down dinner that’s outside the parks, but still on the Monorail system, this is one of the best. disney jr character breakfast

The 6th was my 31st birthday, so we celebrated by going to Hollywood Studios and doing the Disney Junior breakfast buffet at Hollywood & Vine. Breakfast is one of the hardest meals to keep consistent and tasty in the buffet style, but this one was pretty darn great. It had all the basics which were all super tasty. Even the eggs were good and that almost never happens. However, the real delight here was seeing my kid’s eyes light up as she got to meet Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Jake. She had no idea who Handy Manny was and kind of looked at him like you might someone dressed the exact same way on the subway. spirit of aloha

For dinner we went to the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian. I’ve wanted to do ever since I first heard about it a few years back. Even though the weather got a little dicey, the show was still pretty great, filled with a variety of different dances from all over the world. My daughter and dad even got in on the dancing action. See if you can find them in the picture above. The food itself was served in an all you can eat, family style manner with platters. I remember the bone-in chicken being particularly good as were ribs. As a birthday bonus, I had a large drunk in a coconut shaped to look like a monkey which I was able to bring home with me. pinocchio italian sub

On our last full day, the 7th, we went back to Magic Kingdom. We’re big fans of starting and ending these kinds of trips there. The weather was a little difficult as it was misting rain and chillier than the other days, but we still had some great food. For lunch we stopped in at Pinocchio Village Haus which actually had my favorite single piece of food of the whole trip, the Italian Flatbread Sub which includes Italian Meats, Cheese, Dressing, and Balsamic Glaze on a warm Toasted Flatbread. There was just something so balanced, with the smooth tanginess of the balsamic glaze and salty meats with the melty cheese that hit a lot of my moutbuttons. I also think this might have been my first flatbread sandwich. I’ve got to get more of those in my life. As an added bonus, you can eat over by a window that looks down on the It’s A Small World ride.

from from pinocchio's

For our last dinner we went to Be Our Guest which was…interesting. We had to wait out in the rain for our table along with everyone else which wasn’t the most fun thing in the world. And then, partway through, Lu got scared about the idea of seeing The Beast there. Now she’s seen Beauty and the Beast plenty of times and doesn’t get scared, but she got very adamant about not seeing him. It wound up not really mattering because she fell asleep on me before he even showed up. I can’t say for sure because I ate around a toddler the whole time, but I think I had the Braised Pork (Coq au Vin Style), described as Eight Hour Slow-cooked Pork with Mushrooms, Onions, Carrots and Bacon served with Puréed Cauliflower and Seasonal Vegetables.

I know we also had a lunch poolside at our hotel The Grand Floridian and my wife grabbed a cronut in Epcot, but I think that about covers our food adventures earlier this year in Disney World.

Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 1

magic kingdom main streetAt this point, I think we all know that I’m way behind when it comes to posting about recipes and bonus food pics. Case in point? Here’s a whole bunch of pictures from early February when my parents, wife, daughter and I spent a delightful week in Disney World. I had a good time going through our meals day-by-day when we went last spring, but since we’re so far out, I figured a pair of recap posts about all the delicious food we had while in the Happiest Place On Earth would still be fun and hopefully helpful if you’re on your way to Orlando. One quick note before jumping in, on this trip we didn’t opt in for the Disney Dining Plan like last time. While it worked pretty well that time around, we realized that we were eating way more dessert than we would have normally just because it was there. I’m not much of a sweet fan, so I was glad to have more options.

chef mickeys

We all got into Disney World on February 1st and went right to the Magic Kingdom as is our custom, but I didn’t take any photos, so I can’t remember what we ate. On the 2nd, we went back and I did a better job of documenting meals. For lunch we had seafood at The Columbia Harbor House. Again, no pics, but I remember the fried food being nice and crisp without being too heavy. For dinner we hopped on the Monorail to have dinner at Chef Mickey’s, a buffet style place inside the Contemporary that features characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto (sorry Daisy fans) walking around taking pictures with the kids. Lu loved the place and I’ve got to say that we were all pretty impressed with the food. You might think something like that would offer the lowest common denominator because you’re already there and it’s aimed at kids, but it was one of the better buffets I’ve had in recent memory. tutto italia

Again, I don’t have documentation of what we ate for lunch on the 3rd, but we did spend most of the day at Epcot. For dinner we went to Italy in the World Showacse where we had reservations for Tutto Italia Ristorante. There I had the Gnocchetti which is described as Cavatelli pasta, sweet sausage ragu, tomato and Pecorino. This was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in a long time. It might seem simple — and it was — both it tasted like each of those simple ingredients was the best it could be and combined for an excellent, rich dish. 1900 park fare cinderella dinner

Finally (for this post, come back tomorrow for the rest!), on the 4th we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom where we had Pizzafari for lunch. I have a picture of the tiny, tasty pepperoni pizza I had along with the Cesar salad, but I compared photos and it’s almost the exact same as the one I took several months earlier. That night we headed back to our hotel, The Grand Floridian, where we went to the Cinderalla-themed character dinner at 1900 Park Fare. I don’t remember this meal, another buffet, for the food nearly as much as I do for watching our daughter show zero interest in Cinderlla’s stepmother, warm up to the very funny stepsisters and glow when Cinderella came around. I gotta give it to those step sisters, they were pretty funny, tossing tame insults and one-liners across the room at one another and convincing the kids (and me to a lesser extent) that they were the evil, mean, awful creatures seen in the Disney classic.

I Hope You’re Following Alton Brown On The Internets

alton brown twitter

If you are up to date on Alton Brown’s many online offerings these days, digital high fives all around. If not, here’s a few places you can check him out and enjoy the Mr. Wizard Of Food when he’s not hosting Food Network shows.

First and foremost, Brown’s a pretty big deal on Twitter @AltonBrown. In addition to giving fans the occasional bit of cooking advice he also flipped the script on the social media system by posting photos of hand-written Post It notes with messages and drawings (see above). These are especially entertaining when he livetweets shows like Food Network Star air.

the Alton Browncast logo

Brown also started a podcast over on the Nerdist Network called The Alton Browncast. You can head over there to check out episodes, or download them via iTunes (my preferred method for procuring podcasts). The show has gone through a few different iterations since it debuted. It used to be broken up into segments where Brown would split time between answering listener questions and talking to celebrities of all kinds. I’m not all the way caught up right now, but for the most part, the show has focused mainly on the interviews, though from the looks of it the latest episode is all Q&A. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but Brown is a great interviewer, which is a skill he doesn’t necessarily show off in his other outlets, so it’s cool to hear him use those skills to chat up everyone from fellow Food Network stars and cooks to former Good Eats co-workers and clothiers. If you just want more Alton Brown in your life, this is a great way, though it won’t always be about food, which is fine in my book.

For more straight-up, Alton Brown cooking goodness, you’ve got to check out his YouTube Channel. He’s only posted 10 videos as I write this, but in each one he offers up the kind of great thinking that made Good Eats such a fun show to watch. One video shows him using an old egg carton to organize his mustards while the one above features a better way to hard cook eggs using an oven. I also got a kick out of the below video which has him cooking skirt streak directly on top of charcoal. I’ve never wanted a charcoal grill more in my life!

This is one I have to remind myself to check out every week or so, but each time I see something new on there, I see a new technique I want to use at some point in the near future.

Smoothies For Breakfast

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get myself on track to tackle the next phase of adulthood. I turned 31 earlier this year and have definitely started feeling it when I don’t eat well or drink a bit too much. So, while I’m watching those things, I’m also trying to give myself the proper fuel to watch two kids. If you don’t follow my dad blog over at PopPoppa, we had our second child about seven weeks early two months ago. With my wife’s maternity leave coming to an end in the relatively near future, I know I need to not only be really organized, but also equip myself with food that will help fuel me throughout the day. I do my best to cook healthy, homemade meals most nights that make for great lunch leftovers, but I tend to skip or overlook breakfast.

In an attempt to remedy that and also get a lot of fruits and vegetables in early in the day, I’ve started making smoothies in the morning. The process is super simple, but does take a bit of grocery store planning. I’ve added frozen strawberries, store brand vanilla Greek yogurt and kale to my weekly grocery list and also increased the number of apples, carrots and bananas I usually get, but I wouldn’t say that’s much of a hardship.

So, here’s my basic recipe:

1 banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries*
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup kale leaves
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, chopped
1 tablespoon peanut butter

* = you can definitely use fresh, but if you’re like me and your kid adores strawberries, you give them the fresh ones and use what you can get

Basically, you just throw all this stuff into your blender or food processor. I’ve never used a juicer, so I’m not sure what the deal is there. For instance, I don’t know if you’d put the dairy products in there or mix later. Anyway, with our blender, since we’re dealing with a pretty full bowl, it takes a walk down the settings to get everything properly decimated. Even so, I still wind up with leafy bits and the occasional chunk of carrot or apple. That doesn’t bother me at all, but my wife can barely look at the finished product.

The beauty of the smoothie is that you can put pretty much anything in there and come out with an easy to consume breakfast. When I first started making smoothies years ago, I would put whey protein in there. I’ve swapped out the peanut butter for actual nuts like peanuts, walnuts and almonds, but you could also put in all kinds of nut butters. Same with the berries. This is also a good way to get rid of mushy bananas if you don’t feel like making bread of muffins. Last week I used up some leftover fruit salad instead of going with the berries which gave the smoothie a much different taste. Kale can be swapped out for spinach, endive or whatever other non-lettuce greens you might have. I’ve even tossed in extra mint and basil. Lastly, sometimes I’ll throw in a few tablespoons of orange juice or freshly squeezed lemon or lime to give it some nice tang.

I find cooking very relaxing and am quite fond of prep stuff like measuring and chopping, so an added bonus of making this smoothie in the morning — something I do after getting up with the kids, drinking my coffee and getting my morning work done — is that it gives me a bit of that zen kitchen experience early in the day which can be as good for me mentally as the nutrients in the drink are physically.

MATK Originals: Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

As you’ve probably noticed from reading this blog, I do most of my cooking based on other peoples’ recipes. Every now and then I’ll MacGuyver something or change out a few ingredients here and there, but I usually just go by the book. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with a few of my own creations. This particular one is based on Soup Addict’s Ramen Noodle Stir Fry but I changed a few key things to suit our tastes better and figured I’d share them with the group.

Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

Sauce
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hoisin sauce

Stir-Fry
3 packages of ramen
Half package bacon, diced
Head of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz mushrooms – I used baby bellas
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet or wok. Remove from pan when done to your liking. We like ours pretty crunchy. Remove some bacon fat if desired.

3. Cook mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and ginger in bacon fat for about a minute.

4. Cook ramen. You can either boil water like you would for pasta in which case you should get this set earlier in the process. Going back to my college days, though, I’ve always just soaked my ramen in boiling water for three minutes or so. I filled up our hot pot, turned it on and then poured that hot water over the three packages of noodles in our soup pot, covered and let sit for several minutes until cooked.

5. Mix egg into vegetable mixture. Stir until cooked.

6. Add bacon back in. Combine with cooked noodles and sauce.

As usual, I like to get all my chopping done ahead of time, so I worked on the broccoli, mushrooms and pepper first. I also grated my garlic and ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer and grate on a rasp as needed which not only keeps the ginger for a longer period of time, but also gives a more solid grate when needed. Since I’m already using that particular kitchen tool, I started using it on the garlic as well which works great, just watch your fingers.

I only just realized that the original recipe calls for a scrambled egg to be put in the dish instead of a beaten one. I like the way I did it better because it distributes the egg throughout the dish in a different way while still getting that additional protein in. However, if you wanted to continue the obvious breakfast theme you could go with the scrambled.

Next time I make this, I think I might add in some watercress and/or snow peas to bring in even more veggies. All in all, though, I think this recipe will be a good addition to the rotation, especially as things (hopefully) start warming up soon and I won’t want to sweat my face off in the kitchen. There’s also the potential to use a variety of other types of noodles or rice here. I like the simplicity of using ramen packets, but they’re probably not the healthiest things in the world. Maybe I can try making my own someday.

Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

Sometimes I want to just forget about everything else going on around me and spend a few hours in the kitchen making something I know my family will love. That’s what I’ve done the last few times I’ve made Michele Urvater’s Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta.

Now that I’m grinding my own meat and making my own pasta, dishes like this one, which are already time intensive, can become multi-hour projects, but sometimes I need that time in the kitchen. In this case there are a lot of moving parts, but if you have some time during the day, it’s not too hard to make this dinner happen.

First and foremost, you need to throw your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes grinding a lot easier. While that’s hardening, it makes sense to get the ingredients for the bolognese sauce ready by chopping up the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. The only alteration I made to this recipe was mixing 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with 1/4 cup of chicken stock to replace the white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. After grinding the meat and cooking the veggies, you’ve got about 2 hours of simmer time.

With about an hour of simmer left, I start working on the pasta. I’ve tried a bunch of different basic recipes, but the one I’ve come to know and love is the one I found in my 1981 copy of The New James Beard (p. 276) which calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and four eggs with some water on hand just in case. Mix all that up in the mixing bowl, knead for a few minutes then let sit for 20 minutes. Everything I’ve read says break the main ball down into four parts, but I’ve had much better luck going down to eight smaller sections. Then run it through the rollers and whichever pasta cutter you want to use. I’ve found that it works best to start boiling water after running all the pieces through the roller the first time. By the time you’re done cutting, your water should be boiling or close to it.

Once your done with your epic cooking session, you’ve got yourself one ass kicking meal. This bolognese is just fantastic, mixing the pancetta’s saltiness with your beef and the vegetables into something truly wonderful. One of these days I’ll actually try it with homemade tomato pasta and fresh plum tomatoes.

One note I do want to make about this recipe in general is that I want to include olives in it next time. I’ve made this particular version twice and both times I found my tongue telling me that there should have been some green olives in there to bring in a sour note. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember that for next time.

Bonus Food Pics From Yummy Taco, Handsome Devil & Fiddlestix

yummy taco chicken and beef burrito

One of the more frustrating things about where we live is that there’s not a great taco place that we can run into when we have that hankering. There’s a nice Mexican place, but it’s sit-down and sometimes I want to just call in a bag of tacos and have my wife pick them up on her way home from work. So, we got pretty excited when we were leaving Target one day and saw a new place called Yummy Taco opening up soon. Well, the other weekend it was actually in business, we gave it a shot and all had pretty delightful food. Above you can see the chicken and beef burrito I had which was more of a giant taco, but who’s counting? I will say that this is a rather interesting establishment because everything about it screams “Chinese food place” from the decorations and staff to the picture menu above the ordering station. But, none of that matters when you realize they’re making their own tortillas on the spot and making killer food. It’s still not super close, but it’s nice to know there’s a solid taco joint nearby we can hit up while running errands.

handsome devil bbq

About a month ago, my inlaws came into town and watched our daughter while my wife and I went out for a nice Italian dinner around Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, they discovered a new barbecue joint we didn’t even know about called Handsome Devil that’s actually above an ice skating rink (that we also didn’t know about). We’ve actually got a lot of solid BBQ joints nearby, but I think this one will be tops on our list. Brothers has been so-so and Johnny D’s is a bit far away for more of a casual dinner, so Handsome Devil takes the top spot. I had the ribs and pulled pork along with some mac and cheese and onion rings, all of which were delightful. Plus, they’ve got a variety of local beers on tap which I always appreciate.

fiddlestix bangers and mash

And finally, I have to sing the praises of Fiddlestix once again. The above photo comes from their St. Patrick’s Day menu which, as always, was some of the best Irish food I’ve ever had. This is the bangers and mash which was so good I wish I could have it every day. The mashed potatoes had a healthy, but not overpowering dose of horseradish which made for a delightful side. Looking at this picture is actually making me hungry.

Making Pasta

For Christmas, my folks got me some pretty awesome pasta-related cooking implements. In addition to the standard KitchenAid attachments (the roller and then the linguine and spaghetti cutters) as well as a ravioli maker. Since then I’ve made pasta four or five times to varying degrees of success. The pictures above — taken by my lovely and awesome wife — are from the very first attempt, though you will definitely see more homemade pasta on the blog than boxed.

The first time I created pasta, I used the simple white flour and egg-based recipe that came in the book with the attachments. It’s a pretty straightforward process that hopefully won’t take too much time to master. Basically, you make the dough using the mixer and then let the dough sit for a bit. After that, you cut the main ball into smaller pieces and then run it through the roller. I did each piece on the 2 setting, set it aside and then went through and did it on the 3 then 4 settings. Once that’s done, you get the cutter out and wind up with your pasta.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Kind of, but not always. The main problem I’ve had in my various attempts is getting the dough recipe down. Pasta dough is supposed to stick to itself, but that’s it. I’ve had dough that’s too dry that I added water to and super sticky dough that I added more flour too. I’m still getting the feel for things, but hope I’ll get to a place soon where I can see what it needs just from looking. I’ve also played with different dough recipes including the one found in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.

The dough consistency can be problematic when going through the rolling phase. If it’s too sticky, it gets caught up and won’t go through. If it’s too think, it also won’t go through smoothly and if it’s too dry you’re in the same place. I’ve found that using a ton of flour on my workspace can help with the sticky problem. I also recommend breaking the large ball up into much smaller pieces that you can flatten out either by hand or using a rolling pin.

Since I work in a small, galley kitchen, I found myself struggling to figure out the best way to set up. In these pictures, you can see my kid hanging out on her step stool watching me. Since then, I’ve started putting a TV tray there with either a cutting board or wax paper covering it. I douse that in flour to help keep everything from sticking together. kitchenade pasta makers

Once the pasta is actually cut, I toss it in a pile on whichever floured surface I have at my disposable that’s not already filled. At this point, you want to have your water boiling so you can toss it in. The rule I go by is that, if it floats, it’s done. This was something that took some getting used to for me because I wasn’t sure what fresh pasta was supposed to taste like and therefore wasn’t sure when it was done. But, after tasting the floating noodles, I got the idea, drained and then mixed in with my sauce.

I also want to say that I tried my hand at making semolina pasta just once and it didn’t go so well. I made the dough as the recipe said but found that my dough was way too thick to go through the roller. Fearing I was running out of time to have dinner ready by the time my wife got home from work, I decided to just flatten it out with a rolling pin and cut with a knife and a dough scraper thingie. As you can probably imagine, the noodles were pretty thick, but I think they still turned out pretty well. While things didn’t go as planned, I’m kind of glad this happened because it showed me that I can also do this without a machine if need be. Still, the roller and cutters work WAY faster than going by hand.

As I’ve said when it comes to grinding my own meat (I haven’t bought ground meat in over a year) or making my own sauce (which I regret not being able to do last fall), I know these extra steps take more time and can add a lot more headaches to the meal-making process, but I personally love knowing that I’ve really built the meal from the ground up as much as makes sense.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

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I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

Wife Lessons: Mac & Cheese Tips

P1080907I’m not sure about where you live, but it’s been super cold in New York this winter. Like, super-duper-crazy cold. We’ve been lucky enough to miss out on more snow on top of the mountains and mounds already covering all the previously green spaces, but it’s far from comfortable outside. As such, I’ve been looking to comfort foods to help warm us up and keep us going as this winter continues to drag on.

As I’ve said plenty of times, all three of us are big fans of mac and cheese. One of our favorite versions is Rachael Ray’s Reuben take on the format so I naturally gravitated towards that recipe when coming up with a menu for this week.

Since I’ve already written about that recipe, I’ll skip most of the walkthrough this time around, but I did want to mention a few aspects of making mac and cheese that my wife clued me into, one that comes into play during grocery shopping, the other during the actual cooking process.

First, buy cheese ends. My wife gave me this tip after her mom told her about it. If your grocery store has a deli counter where they sell sliced meat and cheese, they probably sell cheese ends (what’s left over after you slice down that huge block). I headed over there when I went to the store, asked about it and the lady went back in the cooler and gave me a pound of cheddar and swiss chunks for under $5. I chunked the cheese, tasting a little bite of each of course, and then tossed it in the food processor and was good to go.

Second, you can substitute half the milk for water or chicken stock. For some people, the two cups of milk plus all the cheese can cause some stomach uncomfortableness. So, I try to cut it down by about half. I’ve used water before which works alright, but does cut the flavor a bit. This time around, I added in chicken stock instead and think it worked out well when making the sauce.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Chicken Pho

In a strange twist of fortune, I made one of my favorite meals in ages on a day I didn’t feel like taking pictures. A few weeks back, I saw Smitten Kitchen’s new recipe for Chicken Pho and was instantly interested in giving it a shot. I remembered seeing something on this Vietnamese soup on a travel food show, most likely an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and have been interested in trying it ever since.

At first, I was a bit skeptical because I have an aversion to working with full chickens. They just seem like so much work. But my intrigue trumped my laziness and I spent one day a few weekends back following this recipe very closely. The only ingredients I didn’t include were sprouts and black cardamoms because I couldn’t find them at my grocery store. I even bought some star anise and used about five of them for my broth. I can’t quite remember the exact measurements I used for cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or ground cloves, but I think I was in the teaspoon-per arena.

With those few variables in place, I followed the recipe by charring the onion and ginger on my gas stovetop, let the stock cook for several hours and got as much chicken off the bones as possible. I wish I was a better food writer to properly explain to you how good this broth turned out. It had so much depth of flavor thanks to the combination of sweet, salty, tangy and even a bit of sour that I wanted to eat it all day. You throw in some well cooked chicken, rice noodles, crispy fried shallots (which I should have cooked a bit longer as mine didn’t get too crispy) and the rest of the garnishes and you’ve got one of the best, most unique meals I’ve made in a very long time.

Recipe Roundup: Smitten Kitchen

baked-pasta-with-broccoli-rabe-and-sausage2As I said in a recent post compiling various recently attempted recipes from the site Closet Cooking, I’ve tried a lot of recipes in the past several months and done very little posting, so it’s time to go through the images, write down my spotty memories and get these things out there into the internet where they will hopefully jog my memory later on and encourage other people to give them a try. This batch of three all come from the cooking site I’ve been following the longest: Smitten Kitchen!

Chicken Tacos

I’m always interested in checking out a new recipe for tacos and this certainly fit the bill. I don’t think I’d ever made chicken ones before and the flavor on these were pretty solid if memory serves. I especially like the way you cook the chicken which is fairly hands-off and super easy. Combine all ingredients in a pan and boil for a half hour. This gives you plenty of time to chop up the rest of your taco fixins. I don’t quite remember why I didn’t make the salsa fresca that’s also mentioned in the post. Instead I whipped up a crema (sour cream combined with avocado, salt, oil, onion and some green Tabasco). One of these days I’d like to give this one a shot with bone-in chicken because I understand there’s more flavor there.

Baked Pasta With Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

baked-pasta-with-broccoli-rabe-and-sausage1

Apparently I only snapped a few pictures when I tried out this recipe. I remember this being a pretty easy thing to put together and the results being a kind of sausage-y, rabe-y mac and cheese and there’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, seeing this recipe again makes me want to give it another try in the next few weeks.

Pasta With White Beans

While I only snapped two pictures of the previous meal, I can’t seem to find a single image from either of the two times I made Pasta with White Beans (I skipped the rosemary oil because my wife is not a fan of that particular herb). Another easy meal to put together thanks to all the food processing, I really enjoyed the flavors combined for this recipe, but will note that all those beans can lead to some evenings punctuated by the most musical of fruits.