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.

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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.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Cooking Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork

I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.

Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.

When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.

After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?

The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.

Cooking Tacos Al Pastor With Grilled Pineapple Salsa

I don’t quite remember how I came across the recipe for Tacos A Pastor With Grilled Pineapple Salsa on My Recipes, but I did. I think I was looking for something to make out of pork tenderloin because it was on sale at the grocery store. Anyway, the only change I made to the directions involved cooking the pork on a cast iron skillet instead of a grill because, well, I don’t have a grill. I also cut out the cilantro and the chipotle chili because they run a bit too hot for my liking.

The prep for this is pretty simple. Create a rub, cover the pork chops and throw them on the grill pan. Meanwhile, there’s the salsa. I grilled the pineapple before the meat so I’d be able to work on that while the meat cooked. Again, this was a super simple process. I also cut up some limes and shredded some cheddar cheese. With all that done, it was time to eat!

I enjoyed the tanginess of the pineapple salsa which bounced well off of the spicy-ish pork. Everything played well together, making this a pretty solid choice if you’re looking to mix things up with the taco portion of your menu.

Pizza Party: Luigi’s Deluxe & Hawaiian Pies

luigi's deluxe pizza

For the second half of last week and part of this week, my wife, daughter and I spent some nice time in Michigan hanging out with my parents at their cottage. We ate a lot of food on the grill which I forgot to snap pictures of, but there was one meal I absolutely, positively needed to let the world know about and that’s the pizza from Devil’s Lake’s Luigi’s Pizza. I almost wrote that it’s the one and only pizza joint up there, but it’s been a long time since I was a regular and don’t know that for sure. I do know that for a long time as a kid, it was one of the few food options that offered carry out food you could run up and get in your bathing suit and not get funny looks. It also happens that it was my favorite pizza before I moved out to New York.

Above you can see my favorite pie from them, the Deluxe which includes pepperoni, ham, sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives and, before moving to New York. I feel like it used to include green olives at one point, but memories get fuzzy. The beauty of this pie is just how much they cram on there. You can get deluxe-type pizzas a lot of places and this one probably isn’t super special as far as toppings go, but the key to Luigi’s greatness is the crust. The crusts on these pies have a garlucy, salty quality that made this the only crust I bothered eating for a long, long time.

luigi's hawaiian pizza

We also got a Hawaiian pie which featured pineapple, ham, green peppers and extra cheese which we tried to get with bacon instead of ham (highly recommended), but they were swamped leading into Fourth of July and didn’t get the custom portion of the order. Still, this is a solid, delightful Hawaiian pizza, which is something you can’t always get easily in my area. The extra cheese really makes this pop. Man, it would have been rad with bacon.

Anyway, if you’re in the Manitou Beach, Michigan area and haven’t tried Luigi’s go do it. If you’re somehow driving through (it’s not exactly close to any highways, which is by design as you might imagine) get over there and try some of this goodness.

Drinking Breakfast Has Never Been So Colorful

morning shake I hate writing this every few months or so, but sorry about the lack of posts lately. If you read my Photo Diary posts over on Pop Poppa, you’ll know that I’ve been swamped with work this week and then just didn’t get my head around writing about food again until today. Since it’s morning, I figured it would make thematic sense to talk about what I’ve been having for breakfast the past week or so: breakfast shakes!

My parents visit the week before my birthday and my mom was making herself shakes with frozen strawberries and a few other ingredients. It reminded me of the time I did much the same thing for myself for breakfast. I’ve been wanting to make sure to get the proper amount of fruits and vegetables back in my diet these days and I’m terrible at remembering breakfast, so I started a new routine that will kill two birds with one stone.

Like with the burgers you’ll see later today, I like to mix things up when I make them. I think I’d go a little crazy making the same shake every morning, so each day offers a different combination of the following basic ingredients: Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, fresh fruit, milk and sometimes a vegetable or two.

Hannaford just started carrying their own bran of Greek yogurt which is cheaper than the major brand name stuff. I also use the store’s frozen berry mix for that portion of the beverage. For fresh fruit, I always use a banana and then whatever else we have around like mango or Lu’s half cut pears or apples from the day before. Vegetable-wise, I just started adding a carrot to the proceedings. Everything goes into the blender along with some milk which helps give the frozen stuff a medium to get all chopped up in.

Here’s a note for those of you who made and froze food for your babies: you can use leftovers in breakfast shakes! Now that Lu’s on to eating whatever we eat for lunch and dinner we’ve got a few bags of frozen concoctions still hanging out in our freezer. I went through the strawberries and banana first and just finished up an apple/blueberry combination that went into the shake pictured above. I actually want to figure out that recipe because it made for some really good liquid breakfast!

I’ve thought about adding some protein powder or maybe another kind of dietary supplement to the shakes, but still haven’t decided if I want to take that next step. I already take a multivitamin and fish oil capsules, so I don’t know if that would serve me well, but I might give it a shot, even if that means I’ll have a chalkier drink in the mornings.

Wok This Way: Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey

I’ve made peace with the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of challenge in wok cooking (at least that I’ve come across in my limited experience) and have embraced the simplicity and general high quality of the finished meal. Because the recipes tend to be very similar, they also offer plenty of room to change things up when it comes to cooking. Take this recipe for Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 124). I actually didn’t have chicken thawed out, but did have some turkey breasts, so I cut those bad boys up and used them instead. I thought it wound up a pretty good combination. I also had a half box of orzo in the pantry from when I made Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant & Mozzarella, so instead of rice, I cooked that up and threw it in at the end to finish cooking.

I’m not great and knowing when some fruits are ripe or not. When it came to the mango in this one, I decided to buy two just in case which turned out to be a good call. The first one I tried to cut up came out super smooshy, but the second offered up better slices. I still used the mush, but wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much yield had I only bought the squishier one.

I don’t make a lot of dinners that incorporate fruit like this, but I thought the subtle flavor of the mango worked well with the crunch of the green peppers and the velvet chicken, which you soak in a mixture and then throw in a boiling pot to cook for a few minutes. I wound up using that same pot to cook the orzo, so it worked out pretty well and I only dirtied a few dishes.

Cooking Fruity Curry Chicken Salad

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

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

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

Making Pancakes For The Family Reunion

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

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

Cooking Grilled Pork Chops N Peaches

Thanks to the mysterious Good Housekeeping subscription I have (no idea where it came from), I’ve got a numb of torn out recipes I want to try that I keep in a big blue binder. The most recent one I tried was called Grilled Pork Chops N Peaches and it turned out pretty darn good. The only changes I made to the recipe were skipping the cilantro because my wife hates it and using cast iron grill pans on the stove instead of an outdoor grill.

Whipping up the marinade and peach sauce were both as easy as throwing a bunch of stuff into a food processor. That was followed by first grilling the peaches and then the chops on the pans, neither of which was particularly difficult, though I will say that I’m still not quite used to grilling fruit just yet. Some of the pieces turned out great while others less so. Anyway, at the end of the day, we wound up with some tangy, tasty chops made all the better by the sauce. I’d recommend giving this one a shot, even if, like me, you’re not a grill master.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with Grilled Pineapple Relish

As I said back during the last season finale of Food Network Star, I was pretty happy that Jeff Mauro won. I dug his Sandwich King idea of taking regional sandwiches and giving them a spotlight while also turning recipes you wouldn’t usually put between bread and doing so. I even watch his show when I stumble upon it, which is something I can’t say about most Food Network shows. I happened to see an episode he did about making a few different kinds of barbecue and decided to give his recipe for Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with Grilled Pineapple Relish.

This one was actually pretty simple, though you need time to get it done. The first step was making a dry rub out of brown sugar, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper and cinnamon. I rubbed the rub on the pork butt and then wrapped it up in plastic wrap for a few hours in the fridge. Two hours later, I popped it in my Dutch over and then put it, covered, in the oven for three hours.

With about an hour left in the oven cooking, I moved back into the kitchen and put the pineapple relish together. That involved slicing a pineapple and grilling it, chopping up some onions and ginger. I had already used my limes on another recipe, so instead I used orange juice which seemed to work out well. Oh, I also skipped the cilantro and the jalapeno for this because my wife hates the former and I’m not a huge fan of super heat.

After that, it was time to put the chili sauce together. Again, this one was pretty simple. The only changes I made were not crushing the red pepper flakes because I just couldn’t get them to grind with my mortar and pestle. What I did instead was actually strain the sauce as I poured it onto the pulled pork.

And it’s really that simple. I think not replacing the ingredients I left out of the relish might have negatively effected that flavor which wound up being a little more acidic than I think it was supposed to be. I also completely forgot to make or get red cabbage which bummed me out because I think the red cabbage I’ve made before and love would have been the perfect compliment to these flavors. I think that’s what seemed like it was missing from the flavors as they combined with this sandwich. That’s something to remember for next time.

Bonus Food Pic: Sushi From QQ Asian Bistro

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

Baking Peanut Butter Banana Bread

I don’t do a lot of baking. For one thing, my wife is a killer baker, so I don’t feel the need, but I’m also not that big on sweets. Never have been. But, we had a trio of rotting bananas sitting in our fruit bowl and I figured I’d give banana bread whirl. I don’t believe I’d ever cooked it before, but I know it’s a pretty basic baking thing, so I said I’d try. My wife suggested using a recipe she had for peanut butter banana bread. I have no idea where this recipe came from, it’s just printed out in her cooking binder, but it was pretty simple and I got to work.

First I greased the loaf pan with Crisco, set the oven to 325, got my 1/2 cup of butter softening and started measuring things. I got a cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of peanut butter, 1 3/4 cup of all purpose and 1 teaspoon of baking soda (combining those last two in one bowl). After smashing up the bananas, I broke out the mixer and mixed the butter and sugar–which is apparently called “creaming”–then added a pair of eggs, beat that, then mixed in the peanut butter, bananas, flour and baking soda until it was all mixed together.

That went into the greased loaf pan which went into the oven for 70 minutes and we had some tasty bread. I was worried that it hadn’t cooked long enough because the center was kind of mushy, but it turns out that I like banana bread with some mushiness in the middle. Overall, this was really simple and I like how baking is more of a science with exact measurements and the like. You don’t have to think as much when making simple things like this, which was perfect at the time.

The Mystery Of The Santa Claus Melon

Thanks to a mild earthquake on Tuesday, I got to hit the grocery store and got everything for this week’s menu. While I didn’t feel the quake where we live, it did rattle my wife’s office, so she wound up coming home a few hours early. I took advantage of the situation and ran over to the store to facilitate the menu and am pretty excited about cooking this week. I’ll post my pics from the Maiale Ubriaco later today which might be the best pork chops I’ve ever had (or at least in quite a while).Anyway, while strolling through the produce section I came across this mystery melon. I honestly had no idea what it is and even though I’m about 50/50 when it comes to liking melons (I love watermelon, but can not get behind honeydew or cantaloupe), but what the heck, right? I’m always up for trying new things. I wasn’t sure if “Santa Claus” was actually the name of the melon or the company, but after looking it up on Wikipedia, I discovered that it’s actually the name!As it turns out, Santa Claus tastes a lot like honeydew, but it doesn’t have the HD aftertaste that makes that melon intolerable to me. I guess Santa Claus is a little milder. I cut up some peaches and a plum and made a little fruit salad which turned out pretty good. I don’t think I’d get another SC melon, but I’m always down for trying something new!

Cooking Maiale Ubriaco & Applesauce

My first foray into Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking was a success! As I mentioned the other day when discussing this week’s menu, I went with a recipe that didn’t involve any tomato sauces because I want to actually make those from scratch and haven’t had the time yet (maybe this weekend). So, I decided on Maiale Ubriaco (“drunken pig”) which is a pork chop dish with red wine sauce. I’m not sure what the deal with typing out someone else’s recipes, so I’ll just give you the basics. You cover both sides of some pork chops with salt and pepper, then brown both sides in a pan of olive oil, cover and cook on low for 30 minutes, flipping occasionally. Then remove the meat and most of the oil, cook some garlic and parsley, then pour in some red wine (I got a $10 bottle of Pinot Noir) to make a sauce. Once it’s reduced, serve the sauce on top of the chops. Blammo. The only thing I goofed up was combining the garlic and parsley with the wine ahead of time. You’re supposed to cook the garlic first before adding the wine, so I scooped as much as I could out, but there was still a lot on the bottom. Still tasted good though.

When I wrote up the post about the menu, I asked about a possible side to go with the pork chops and my mom suggested apple sauce. I remembered this as I was walking into the grocery store, so I looked up a quick recipe that I can’t even find, but it basically involved peeling, coring and chopping up four apples and boiling them in water, cinnamon and white sugar, then smashing them up. I went with Fuji apples because I like them, but the end result was a little too sweet. My wife suggested going with Macintosh next time. I tasted it as I went, but I’m not very good with sweet flavors and don’t have a lot of applesauce experience, so I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Maybe they’ll taste a little better after sitting over night?

Overall, I really dug this recipe. The sauce reduced a lot, but packed quite a punch and it just looked really cool on the plate. How can you not like purple colored food? I also liked how simple the recipe was. Both involved covering pots and cooking for somewhat extended periods of time which allowed me to chop things up and make sure my daughter was doing well. What more can you ask for?