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.

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Philly Bonus Food Pics: Pastrami Cheesesteak, Sushi & Dinic’s Roast Pork

pastrami cheesesteak Well gang, I think we’re pretty far past apologies for a lack of posting. A lot of things went down in the past few months that prevented me from posting here on MATK, but I’m really hoping to make a big push for more posts. I’m even circling around to recipes I made months ago that I never posted about so they can be refreshed in my brain. Anyway. I’m kicking this week off with a series of food pictures I took while hanging out with some college friends in Philadelphia a few weekends back (for more details on the weekend, check out the 35th episode of my podcast over on PopPoppa.com). kinish Above you can see the lunch we had at a place called The Famous 4th Street Delicatessen which had wonderful service and gigantic portions. My wife and I split a pastrami cheesesteak which was certainly filling. I also got myself a   blintz. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what a blintz was, but I enjoyed the sweet cheesy insides as well as the fried crust.

While looking for a place that could serve a fairly large dinner party, we stumbled upon Kabuki Sushi. The positives were that they took reservations and weren’t too far from out hotel. Oh, that and the food. I can’t quite remember what rolls I got, but both of them were super tasty. I also tried our friend Heather’s fried tofu which reminded me of fancy carnival food. As you can see, Lucy also had a roll which she seemed to like, though she basically just took the chicken out and ate that. dinic's roast pork Finally, before heading to the Please Touch Museum and heading back home, we went over to the awesome Reading Terminal Market and got Dinic’s roast pork sandwiches for breakfast. My wife remembered seeing these sandwiches on a food show and we were familiar with the market from previous comic convention-related visits to Philly, so we each had one. I’m not sure if I prefer these to cheesesteaks, but I will say that, while I’ve had plenty of crummy cheesesteaks, I’ve only had one awesome roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe, so that’s something!

Making Smitten Kitchen’s Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad

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

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

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

Cooking Ingrid Hoffmann’s Crackling Fish Tacos With Chipotle Tartar Sauce

I know a lot of people like to stick with a particular recipe when they realize how much they like it. I’m not of that school. Yes, I’ll take note of that particular recipe, but I’m always looking for new and different ways to prepare food. That can be a little disappointing when you’ve found a really solid way of making a dish and then only seem to come across lesser ones. I went into Ingrid Hoffman’s Food Network recipe for Crackling Fish Tacos with Chipotle Tartar Sauce which was fairly similar to the delightful Baja Fish Tacos I’ve made and enjoyed several times. And while I didn’t like this new recipe better than the old one, it was still a good dish that would have been all the better had I remembered to pick up a few tomatoes and cheese to serve along with the other sides.

Aside from those gaffs, I followed the recipe pretty closely. I forget what kind of white fish I used, but I want to say tilapia. As you can see I got the chipotle tartar sauce together first and then worked on cutting, dredging and frying the fish chunks. While the actual prep for cooking the fish wasn’t all that different between the two recipes, I’d say the garnishes were. I really like that this one uses cucumbers which have a really nice crunch, but also bring in some moisture. However, my wife and I both found the chipotle tartar sauce to be way too hot. It’s those canned chipotles in adobo sauce that always get me. I’ve got to come up with a good alterative for those guys because they’re way too hot.

Overall, this was a good recipe, but it didn’t knock the Baja Fish Tacos out of the top spot, but it did bring a few new add-ons into play that I think will work well in the future. One of the great things about trying all these different recipes and them turning out pretty well is that it’s creating a kind of knowledge repository in my brain (greatly aided by this blog which is essentially me external hard drive for food) that allows me to mix and match elements from different dishes. Heck, maybe I’ll be coming up with my own before too long!

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: New York Strip & Shrimp Combo At Big River Grille

Hi folks, it seems I’m apologizing more and more for my lack of posting these days. I apologize for that. Things were crazy work-wise two weeks ago as I was doing my best to get all my work done before heading on vacation and then spent last week computer-less at Walt Disney World with my wife, daughter and parents. I’m back in action now, though and have plenty of food pictures to show off from our vacation! My dad and wife did a fantastic job figuring out the whole trip while also mapping out the restaurants. We went with the Disney Dining Plan, which gives each person in your party one snack, one counter service meal (basically any place where you’re not being served by a waiter) and one sit down meal per day. It worked out really well for us and I recommend giving the plan a look if you’re even remotely interested. In addition to having a lot of different options, we really enjoyed the break that a sit down meal gave us from all the park hopping.

steak and shrimp at big river grille

Our first meal was at a place called Big River Grille & Brewing Works on the Disney BoardWalk which was right across from our hotel room at the Beach Club. As it turned out, our flight from New York was right on time and without complication, but my parents wound up having to sit on the runway pre-takeoff for 90 minutes. As you can imagine, they were looking forward to getting some food and a drink, so Big River — which had been planned out months in advance — became an even better choice thanks to its proximity to our hotel and availability of beers brewed in house and a healthy list of cocktails.

The beauty of the Dining Plan is that you can choose anything on the menu from the cheapest to the most expensive offering and it all costs the same (though it doesn’t include alcoholic beverages, just FYI). With a healthy appetite, most of us ordered the New York Strip & Shrimp Combo which is described on the menu as “Grilled 8oz. New York strip with large scampi-style shrimp, served with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables.” I also went with a couple of the Steamboat Pale Ales which had that bitterness that all pale ales are known for, but didn’t pack that real soul-punch that some of the more intense ones feature.

I’m not the biggest fan of shrimp, in fact I tend to avoid the tiny sea bugs most of the time, but figured I’d give them a shot and they were pretty good. I’m just not a big fan of that flavor/texture combination though I guess as I’m still not won over. The steak was also great, but not the best I’ve had. I think what I actually liked best about the meal was the garlic mashed potatoes, but then again, I’m a sucker for mashed taters. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with a nice steak and some beers on a warm Florida day after doing some hefty traveling.

Stay tuned here for more Disney food posts. If you’re more interested in our trip, keep an eye on Pop Poppa where I’ll be catching up on Photo Diary posts and also posting the latest episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast which will be all Disney!

Bonus Food Pic: Piece Of Fish

piece of fish

There’s a place around the corner from our house. It’s a tiny one room operation that’s served as several different kind of carry out food places since we moved to the area back in 2006. Its specific location is in kind of a dead zone as far as our travels go. It’s on a stretch of road that we often use, but take various other routes to get to meaning the place isn’t always on our radar. When we first got here it was a hot dog place, but we didn’t make it over there before they shut down. I think it was empty for a while and then a nice little wrap place opened up called Wrap and Roll. My wife and I loved that place because, not only were they not your average deli — and I’d say most of the delis around us are pretty average — but they also had this killer southwest pasta salad that I should have asked for the recipe for. After that it was a Philly cheesesteak place called Billy’s Phillies (or something). They were okay, but inconsistent.

Now there’s a new place in there called Piece of Fish which, as you might be able to guess, serves fish. I stopped in a few weeks back for lunch. The menu is pretty limited at this point, but I think that’s a smart movie. Start off with some items you can really knock out of the park and if they do well, start bringing in specials and other new menu items as you grow. And that’s what POF seems to be doing. I went with an order each of Whiting and Tilapia with regular fries and sweet potato ones and my wife and I were pretty happy with both results.

My main worry with fried sea food is that it will be super heavy and greasy, but that wasn’t the case here at all. Both fish has a really nice, light breading and fry to them that didn’t take away from the taste of the fish. I had never had Whiting before, but it was my favorite out of the bunch. We haven’t had the opportunity to get back there, but I’m definitely adding Piece of Fish to my mental liste of worthwhile, quick, in and out restaurants in the area to hit up.

I Had One Of The Best Meals Of My Life At Barnaby’s In New Paltz

barnabys

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is a wonderful event held in and around the area I live in in New York where all participating restaurants offer a set menu for lunch and/or dinner with three or four options for a three course meal. While looking around for things to do last weekend while my parents visited and coming up with zero events, I stumbled upon the fact that we were right in the middle of Restaurant Week again. I did some looking around and saw that  a place in New Paltz called Barnaby’s Steakhouse was on the list and happened to be offering a pretty impressive line-up of appetizers, entrees and desserts for the $20.95 price tag. I scoped out a few other places, but decided on Barnaby’s not only because we’d never been there before, but also because it seemed like the most bang for the bucks. We headed up there on Saturday for a late lunch and man, was it a wonderful experience.

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I started off with the the Lobster Bisque partially because it sounded like the most intriguing of the appetizers on the list, but also because I figured it was the best value. The bisque itself had that wonderful richness that you get from the best bisques, but it also had a cream swirled throughout as a sweet corn and tarragon relish that really added a depth of flavor that made me want to dive into a vat of this and eat my way out.

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We all wound up going for the Grilled Petit Filet Mignon Steak for our entrees that came topped with “a crust of Gorgonzola cheese & herbed horseradish” that also came with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. The steak came perfectly cooked to medium and I probably could have cut through it with a fork. The gorgonzola and horseradish topping was a nice touch that didn’t overwhelm the solid flavors of the steak. The potatoes were good, clearly made in house and creamy, though I always compare these things with the ones my mom makes and they don’t hold up. I wasn’t into the creamed spinach, but that’s okay, I was already pretty full at this point. Of course, it wasn’t over yet. 

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I went with the Creme Brulee for desert and kind of regret it, not because it wasn’t good, but because I wound up being uncomfortably full the rest of the day. Also, even though I figured I wouldn’t worry about calories after eating such rich food, I did add everything up as best I could and was shocked at how many calories this dish added to the meal. If my rough calculations are correct it’s actually more calories than the steak! Anyway, the caramelized sugar was perfectly done and the creme was super nice and creamy.

I’m not that best at comparing meals in my head. If I like one, I remember liking it, but it doesn’t enter a ranking system or anything like that. But, I can tell when a meal really rockets past all the other ones and this was definitely one of those experiences. Aside from the one time I went to Peter Luger’s, I think this might be the best steak I’ve ever had in New York. It’s probably up there with the best steak experiences ever. Plus, it was all the better because I was with my family AND it was my mom’s first time eating a steak after years and years of being a vegetarian. There’s a lot of reasons she’s moving away from that, but I think the high quality of the food at Barnaby’s helped kickstart the process even more!

A Few Forgotten Recipes: Giada’s Orzo Stuffed Peppers & Jeff Mauro’s Meatloaf Sandwhiches

giada's orzo stuffed peppersOne of the problems I have with this blog is that, even when circumstances come up that delay me from posting, I’m usually still cooking. That means, when I do get the chance to sit down and write about what I’ve cooked, I’m often left with several pictures of food that looks good that I vaguely remember making and don’t really remember eating. But, I hate just deleting all these pictures and hope that some day I might have a spontaneous memory that pops up. By posting about these forgotten meals here, I hope to give my future self a record of what I cooked.

Anyway, above you can see the finished product of my attempt at making Giada De Laurentiis’ Orzo Stuffed Peppers. I want to say that we enjoyed this meal and from looking at the recipe, it doesn’t look too difficult to put together. I like that she mixed it up with this one and included mint and orzo, which I’ve also used when making food in my wok instead of rice. This isn’t the first of De Laurentiis’ stuffed pepper recipes I’ve tried, I’m a big fan of her Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce, which I’ve made a few times now. jeff mauro's meatball sandwichesHere you can see my attempt at making Jeff Mauro’s All-American Down-Home Patriotic Meatloaf Sandwich which, again, I want to say turned out well. You basically make a meatloaf and a sauce and combine the two on bread with cheese and pickles (I went with dills because bread & butter pickles gross me out). I also tossed on some mayo because it’s not really a sammich without mayo.

I want to reiterate that I haven’t forgotten about these dishes because they were bad, I would have definitely remembered something bad, it’s just that my memory — especially my taste memory — fades more the longer away I get from something unless it was mind-blowingly amazing.

Bonus Food Pic: Great Wall Chinese Food

Even though I make a lot of recipes in my wok, there’s just something awesome about getting Chinese food carry out. Maybe it’s because I mostly try recipes of dishes I’m not familiar with or maybe it’s because I lived behind a Chinese food restaurant growing up, but I feel a connection to this food, even if I only ate white rice with soy sauce for YEARS.

We ordered House Lo Mein, Sesame Chicken, Crab Rangoon and Pork Egg Foo Young with some pretty spectacular gravy. The food came from a place literally two minutes down the street called Great Wall, but I’ll be honest, all the Chinese food I’ve had around here has been pretty darn solid with the exception of a now-closed buffet place that was truly awful.

Bonus Food Pics: Ruby Tuesday’s Black & Blue, Fish Tacos

As I snapped a picture of my food at Ruby Tuesday’s a week ago, my wife asked why I was bothering. I thought about it for a second and said that I should give chain restaurants the same opportunities on MATK as local ones. I’m actually a big fan of Ruby Tuesday’s and have been since one opened in Toledo as a kid. I’m a sucker for a good salad bar and think they’ve got a pretty good one.

Anyway, I started our meal off with a Black and Blue, which is a combination of Guinness and Blue Moon. I don’t think I’d ever had even a black and tan, but the combination was fun. I’m a big fan of combos, so this was up my alley, especially because they gave me the can of Guinness, so it was like getting two beers.

For dinner I went with the fish tacos which were alright. I’ve definitely had better, but I’ve also had worse. They were a bit spicy, but not too bad. Overall it was a good dinner with good service and the quality salad bar, so I left happy.

Vacation Bonus Food Pics: The Lobster Pool

The Lobster Pool

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

The Actual Lobster Pool

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

Cooking Broiled Tilapia Parmesan

Hello faithful readers and sorry again about the lack of posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Between an avalanche of work and a trip back home for a family reunion this weekend, blogging just wasn’t in the picture. However, I did cook and have plenty of pictures to post and recipes to write about. Take this one for Broiled Tilapia Parmesan from All Recipes. I whipped this one up a week or two back and was surprised with how easy and tasty it was.

Fish is one of those ingredient types that I don’t necessarily have a ton of experience with and said experience is hit and miss. But, I’ve had pretty good luck with fish recently. This was one of those cases. All you really need to do for this recipe is buy fish, toss a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, pour the sauce on the fish and broil. Said sauce includes mayo, lemon juice, butter, Parmesan cheese, basil, pepper, onion powder and celery salt.

As you can see in the picture, I busted out the Magic Bullet to grind up the Parm. I haven’t tried this before, but it wound up working pretty well. I really like using fresh grated cheese, but when you’re dealing with a huge amount of it, the ol’ arm can feel like it’s gonna fall off which is no good.

Anyway, cheesy fish is apparently good, though I wasn’t so sure it would be. I could have even gotten a few more filets than I did because my wife and I dug it and so did the baby. I’ll definitely give this one another try.

Cooking Baked Haddock & Vegetables

Hey gang, sorry about the incredibly long delay in posts. Two weeks back we headed back home for a wedding and vacation with my folks. I set up a few posts to go live then, but not a ton. We got back last week, but I was swamped with work, meaning the blogs fell to the wayside a bit. But I missed it and you dear readers, so here I am, back in action. I’m hoping to make up for lost time this week with a few extra pieces.

Anyway, I was looking for a fish recipe and came across one for Baked Fish & Vegetables in Best of the Best Recipe Hall of Fame Fresh From The Market Cookbook on page 150 in the book. It was hot and I didn’t want to do a lot of work, so this recipe was pretty perfect. For the fish, I went with haddock and got to work.

The majority of the work on this one is spent cutting up carrots, green onions and celery, cleaning mushrooms and then mixing up a combination of pepper, paprika, oregano and thyme. After getting everything ready, you clean off the fish, put it in a baking dish, mix in the herbs and vegetables and pop in a 450 degree oven. What 45 minutes and you’re ready to eat.

I’m a big fan of mushrooms and soups, so I loved how this fish smelled when it came out of the oven. I was a really delightful smell. I think when I mixed the herbs in, I had put the veggies in first and it didn’t quite get to the fish which was a little bit of a bummer. However, the vegetables were flavorful and partially made up for it. I think if I make this again, I’ll use some more fresh herbs and maybe a few other spices, but it’s a great base for a simple fish dinner.

Making Rachel Ray’s Tuna Puttanesca

Puttanesca is a sauce that I am really growing to like. Between having it on vacation last year and then making my own last month, I’ve come to really enjoy that salty, briny flavor you get by combining tomatoes, capers and olives. So, when I was looking around Food Network’s website for easy to make, cool-ish dinners and came across Rachel Ray’s recipe for Tuna Puttanesca, I figured I’d give it a shot.

On the heat side of things, it’s not exactly the coolest because you’re making pasta and making a pretty simple sauce, but if you get them going at the same time you’re only dealing with a 15 minutes of heat and then you’re good to go. So, I wouldn’t save this for the hottest day of the year, but it definitely does the trick when things are starting to heat up outside.

It’s also very simple to make because you’re dealing with mostly canned or jarred ingredients. I took it easy on myself and got both black and kalamata olives pre-sliced to save myself some time. On that same note, I went with crushed jarred tomatoes instead of whole. When it’s hot out, you don’t want to be messing around trying to hold down slippery tomatoes or olives to cut.

So, some olive oil goes into the pan with garlic and then the tuna. You throw in the capers and olives, then some wine to cook down before adding the tomatoes and you’re pretty much there. Drain the pasta and put that in the pan to finish (I wished I had used the Dutch oven at this point because, as you can see, my pan got awfully full) and you’ve got yourself a nice easy dinner. I should say that the flavors in this dish got nowhere near close to the more intense ones I mentioned above. Instead of smelling a flower in all its glory, you’re smelling it while you’ve got a cold. All the elements are there, just not as full-forced. Still, quick, easy and pretty good are what I’m looking for with meals like this.

Sixth Anniversary Dinner At Cotton In Manchester, NH

To celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary (which was actually yesterday, but we went out on Saturday), my lovely wife did a bunch of research about nice restaurants around her parents’ house in New Hampshire. We decided on a place called Cotton in Manchester which was a wonderful restaurant and got big huge thumbs up from both of us. We decided to skip appetizers, but did go with some drinks. I had a couple Cherry Old Fashioneds which had Red Stag by Jim Beam Black Cherry Bourbon with muddled, sugar, orange slice, cherry and a dash of bitters. Man, that was a tasty drink that I would love to have again and again.

For dinner, I went with Wood Grilled Native All-Natural Jumbo Sea Scallops. I’m a big fan of scallops and usually only get them when we go somewhere in the summer near the ocean in New England and those are always fried. Don’t get me wrong, I dig fried scallops, but it’s such an awesome food that sometimes you just want to eat the thing and not the breading. Cotton’s jump scallops were super tasty and wonderful. When I saw there were only five on the plate, I was a little bummed, but then I started cutting them up and realized this was the perfect amount of food, especially when included with the applewood smoked bacon, sweet potato corn hash and honey chipotle aioli. Man, that hash was fantastic. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes bounced perfectly off the saltiness of the bacon, the slight heat of the aioli and the crispness of the corn.

I can not recommend this place enough. We dropped a good amount of money because it was our anniversary. Had this just been a regular date, though, there were plenty of other options that still looked awesome and probably tasted the same. I would love to eat at Cotton again. And again. And again. By the way, sorry about the bad picture, I felt weird snapping even this one and just did it on the quick.

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.

Bonus Food Pic: Sesame Chicken Bento Box

Well, this is a bit embarassing. My wife, daughter and I had a wonderful lunch at a brand new Japanese fusion place in New Paltz, NY, but I can’t seem to find out what it’s called. I do know that it’s located at 215 Main St, New Paltz, NY 12561 because it’s in the same complex as the Moxie Cupcake we stopped at afterwards. Anyway, this is the second Bento Box I’ve ever had, but this is definitely the best of the pair. The California roll was pretty much as good as any other California roll and the rice was nice, light and sticky. The shrimp shu mai were also very tasty and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had those.

I am much more well versed in Sesame Chicken, however and this was a very good example of the stuff. Sometimes the sauce is too thick and can wind up tasting like candy, other times the chicken isn’t well trimmed and turns out fatty and gross, but this was both a great cut of chicken and a well balanced sauce. When I figured out the name of the place, I’ll write another post, I promise!

Cooking Almond-Crusted Cod

Last week, my wife requested I make some kind of fish for dinner. I don’t cook a lot of fish, but it sounded like a good idea, even more so when I found a recipe on All Recipes for Almost-Crusted Halibut. I intended to make the recipe as its written — I’m not comfortable improvising with fish at this point because I’m mostly unfamiliar with it — but then I saw how much halibut cost. I asked the lady at the Hannaford fish counter and she said that cod would make for a good substitute and, as she pointed out, what I paid for two big cod filets was the same as I would have for one frozen halibut steak.

As I tend to do, I did as much work ahead of time as possible, so I tossed the almonds into the Magic Bullet and then combined the results with the bread crumbs and set that aside. I then prepped the first part of the sauce which included chopping up two shallots and combining them with the wine, vinegar, bay leaf and thyme and got that working together in a saucepan. I then combined the lemon juice and chives that went into the sauce after it was done cooking.

The sauce itself seemed more complicated than it really was, it was just a matter of adding the butter correctly. I think I was actually a little light on butter, because I only used one stick, but it wound up turning out really tasty, a great mix of lemondy acid and buttery goodness once combined with the chives and lemon juice after it was done cooking. I then put the sauce in a bowl in another bowl with warm water.

With all that out of the way, it was time to cook the actual fish. I chopped it into more manageable filets and then sprinkled with salt and pepper before cooking for a few minutes on either side in butter and oil. I did this in two shifts because the cod filets were pretty large. When one batch was done cooking, I put it on a tin foil-covered oven pan.

One all the fish was done, I brushed a beaten egg on top of the fish and then put the almond/bread crumb/butter mix on top of the fish which then went into the oven on broil. I think I should have turned it to low or moved the rack down a setting because — as you can see in the picture — my almond crust actually caught on fire a little bit. That wasn’t a big problem because I was able to brush the burnt ends off.

As I said, I don’t have a lot of experience with fish, but I do like it and I liked this as well. The cod itself was tasty and fresh on its own, but adding that creamy sauce to it really made for a fun, relatively simple and rich dish that I enjoyed not only the night I made it but the next day as well.

Restaurant Review: Torches On The Hudson

If you’re like me, you were unaware that the past two weeks were actually Restaurant Week in the Hudson River area. I found out on Thursday and was tasked with setting up a dinner for us and a few other couples. I did some looking around and decided on Torches On The Hudson, a place down on the Newburgh waterfront. The Restaurant Week menu looked interesting and everyone else was down, so I made reservations for Friday night.

The way Restaurant Week works is, there’s a set menu with a few choices for an appetizer, entree and desert. You pay a certain amount of money and get one of each. I decided to get the Fish Tacos, Country Bacon Rigatoni and the New York Cheese Cake as well as a few whiskey drinks called Honey Slams whose make-up I don’t quite remember, but were good. These are the Fish Tacos, which the menu describes as “Grilled Basa, Quick Sofrito, 3 Sauces (Salsa Roja, Lime infused sour cream and Avocado emulsion).” I’ve never had Basa before, but it was actually pretty tasty. It kind of looked like tuna when it’s shredded up. The fish itself was a bit spicy, but nothing compared to the Salsa Roja or the Avocado emulsion. I’m not the biggest fan of spice, so I mostly went with the sour cream. Even so, the tacos were tasty and juicy and I would get them again. The Country Bacon Rigatoni (“Crisp Hickory Smoked Bacon, Scallion, Cracked Pepper Cream and
Toasted Four Cheeses.”) was super tasty, but also very salty. The combination of the bacon and the four cheeses made the dish heavier than I realized when I ordered it. I guess I didn’t read the whole thing very well, just got excited when I saw bacon. Had this been the only thing I ordered, it would have been just fine, I believe, but between the Fish Tacos and the Cheese Cake, it was far too much. What I should have done was have my wife, who didn’t get food off the RW menu, pick a desert that she wanted and then I could have just passed it to her. Oh well.

Overall, the ambiance of the restaurant was great. It’s actually split between a bar/club and a restaurant that’ fairly well separated by a huge fish tank filled with some pretty gigantic fish. Lucy love that part. My only complaint is that, if you split the check between more than two parties, there’s an automatic 20% gratuity added to the check. Now, I don’t have any problem with this in theory, but the practice wound up not being so great for us. We got the definite impression that our waiter decided not to do his best with our table after he discovered this. Sure, we were asked if we wanted a second round of drinks, but our waters were never refilled and we were there for about an hour and a half. Overall, his service was very slow, which could have been because the place was busy, which it was, or he could have been putting his time in on other tables that weren’t automatic. Or, he might just be a crappy waiter. Had the tip been based on our experience, I defintely would not have gone with my usual 20%.

So, if and when we go to Torches again–like I said, it was a great place with tasty food and you really can’t beat eating with a view of the Hudson River–I will make sure not to have this particular person as a waiter. Otherwise, it was a good time.

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Fish & Meat!

My actual birthday was back on February 6th, but things have been bonkers busy lately, so I’m only getting around to posting these pics now. I had some excellent food between a visit from my parents the weekend before my birthday and then an outing my wife, daughter and I went on on the actual day. My parents took us out to a place we’d never been to in Cornwall called The Trestle (2 Idlewild Avenue, Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY 12520). The place had a great vibe and some interesting specials. I’m actually having trouble remembering exactly what kind of fish I had, but it was covered in sesame seeds and this excellent sauce. It was sandwiched between some tasty spinach on top and fingerling potatoes underneath. The pic kind of yellowed out the whole thing, but it was a tasty fish. I don’t think I’ve ever had sesame crusted fish, but I liked how it tasted all together.  On my actual birthday, the wife, kid and I headed to the wonderful Billy Joe’s Ribworks in Newburgh. I got the ribs and meat combo with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. The ribs were St. Louis variety I believe and the meat was pulled pork. The great thing about Billy Joe’s–and barbecue in general–is that it’s not only great food but also fun to eat!

I should also mention that my wife and mom both made some excellent desserts, though I don’t think I snapped a picture of them. My wife made Smitten Kitchen’s Monkey Bread recipe which I’ve had before while Mom made carrot cake bars that I liked when I was a kid. I’m not much of a dessert guy, but these are two that I really dig. Thanks to Mom and Em both for that!

Bonus Vacation Food Pics: Lobster Bisque & Putanesca At Cafe Zabaglione

Cafe Zabaglione
1 Market Street
Ipswich, MA
(978) 356-6484

While on vacation in Ipswich, Massachusetts when not eating gloriously fresh seafood or other home cooked meals, we went into town and wound up at a place called Cafe Zabaglione. We hadn’t planned on much of anything, but when we saw it, it seemed like a good place to stop in and get some pasta. As it turned out, it was a GREAT place to stop and get some pasta. It’s not just Zagat rated, but apparently in the top thousand Italian restaurants in the country or some such. As you can see in the hazy picture above, it was a nice little place with a few waitresses working and a few other people behind the counter. When I saw Lobster Bisque on the menu I just had to try it and it was great. I love how creamy and tangy lobster bisque can be and they nailed it.

I went with putanesca because the menu said it had anchovies in it and I wanted to give it a shot. I’m trying new things, but I think the anchovies were in the sauce or maybe just a juice was used because I didn’t see any of those tiny, salty fish in there. Still, the olives and capers mixed with the sauce was a really nice treat. My wife and her dad got desserts from the huge case of cakes and pies and they both really enjoyed them. Plus, they’ve got a pictures of Robert De Niro in the bathroom which I could not resist taking a picture of.

So, if you’re looking for reasonably priced Italian food and a huge, killer dessert when not eating lobster or fried seafood, I highly recommend heading over to Cafe Zabaglione. Great stuff!

Cooking Lobsters On Vacation

Fried seafood is good, but it’s not my favorite. That distinction goes to the water spiders known as lobsters. Actually, I probably like the taste of crab a little better, but tearing into a lobster is just too much fun not to do whenever possible. Considering they’re expensive and I live in New York, it’s not a possibility most of the time, but when you’re spending a week in Ipswich, Massachusetts and the lobsters are all around, take advantage!

Last Friday wound up being lobster day and I was pretty darn excited. We swung by a local place and got two lobsters because apparently I’m the only one in the family who likes them. I believe they were soft shell, but I was in the car with the baby when they were purchased so I’m not sure. When we got back to the house, I helped get the cooking set up ready.

Basically you put a bunch of stuff in the bottom of a pot with water, put a grate down, and toss the lobsters in once it’s steaming until they turn red. Make sure, though, that the lobsters don’t touch the water. That’s what I was told. I helped get the stuff ready, but can’t remember everything that went in. My mother in law cooks off the top of her head and instructed me as I went, so this won’t be an exact recount. She did tell me to throw a few limes in that I had squeezed most of the juice out of already, I think a lemon, a bunch of herbs (stems included), salt, pepper and seaweed. Seaweed?! Yes, seaweed. That’s a tip my mother in law told me, you should always ask the fishmonger for it because it adds another layer between the lobsters and the water.

I can’t remember what else went into the pot. I think we vetoed a few suggestions like grapes and apples (or maybe we did put the apple in). Once the steam got going with the lid slightly ajar, it was time to drop the sea bugs into the pot. My mother in law handled this. I know it’s cowardly, but I still have trouble looking my food in the eye before it dies.

Gotta say, it was great. I have a method that was taught to me by my father in law years ago when I first gave lobster a go in New England (I had been offered it a few times before that by my folks, but it wasn’t my thing at the time), popping all the legs off and sucking the meat out. I then move on to the big arms, working my way up the arm to the claw. From there it’s a struggle to get the back shell off. I’ve actually still got a little nick on my thumb from prying that sucker open. It was worth the pain and bloodshed though. Still, gotta say, it can get pretty gross when you crack the back open and all that goop plops out. Totally worth it though. I love me some lobster. I think if I lived in New England near the water I’d spend most of my days writing on outdoor porches and checking my lobster trap. That seems like a good life to me.

Vacation Restaurant Review: Clams & Scallops From The Clam Box

The Clam Box
246 High Street
Ipswich, MA 01938
(978) 356-9707

I’ve gone to Ipswich, Massachusetts to visit my wife’s family for the last six or seven years. My wife’s grandmother grew up in the area and the high point of her year is renting a place for a month after summer ends and we usually go down to visit for a weekend. This year, though, we wound up renting the house for a week ourselves along with my wife’s parents to celebrate my mother in law’s birthday. It was a great vacation that I’ve documented over on The Monkee Diaries, but I saved the food posts for Monkeying Around The Kitchen, of course!Every year we go to Ipswich we wind up at the Clam Box, which any New Englander will tell you is world famous. They say that about a lot of things I’ve never heard of, but what are you gonna do? The Box is renowned for their fried seafood. If you’re only in town on the weekend, you’ll usually have to wait outside in a long line, so we thankfully went on a week day. I wound up getting the 2 Way Combo Plate which came with fried scallops, clams and onion rings as well as coleslaw. I honestly can’t remember what I’ve had there before because, since I’m nowhere near a seafood expert, one fried thing tends to look like the others, though I do believe their scallops are a recurring theme in my ordering. Like I said, I’m no fried seafood expert, but I like what I’ve had at the Box. The batter isn’t ultra distracting from the flavor or whatever you’re eating. The food is all local so you know it’s fresh and they actually close in the middle of the day to change out the oil, so it’s not one of those situations where the frying process makes things a little fishy. I even liked the slaw, which is a food I always want to like but tend to get disappointed by. It’s not too watery yet still has a nice tang to it.

Overall, I’d recommend heading over to the Clam Box if you’re in the area, but I’d honestly like to check out a few other places to compare and contrast. Just try to head over on a weekday so you can actually get a seat inside or outside, depending on the water.

Making Baja Fish Taco Salad

A few days back, I made some awesome Baja Fish Tacos using this recipe posted on Food Network. As much as we dug the meal, we didn’t finish all of the fried fish, white sauce or use up all the chopped up cabbage. The next day I was trying to figure out what to do with all that and decided to go with a salad. So, that day, at the farmer’s market, I picked up some lettuce and a few ears of corn. I chopped up the lettuce and tossed it in a bowl with the cabbage. Then I shaved some carrots I had in the fridge (from the farmer’s market the previous week), mixed those in with the salad and cut up a lime into wedges. I had two small tortillas leftover and we almost never wind up eating those, so I cut them into strips and cooked them in a pan with some oil. I’m getting pretty good at that thing where you shove the pan forward in the air and flip its contents without using a utensil. I’m sure there’s a cool cooking term for it, but I’m not up on the lingo.

In the same pan, I dropped the remaining pieces of fried fish I had just to heat them through. Once they were nice and warm, I put them in a dish with some tin foil covering until my wife came home from work. Meanwhile, I steamed three ears of corn. When they were done, I plated two of the ears for the table and then cut the kernels off of one as a garnish for the salad. I added everything to the table and also got the white sauce out of the refrigerator to act as a kind of dressing and we were good to go.

I’m not really a recipe creator at this point in my cooking odyssey. I can follow a recipe and maybe toss a few things in here and there to add a little oomph, but I don’t create anything from scratch and I always use a recipe when cooking. I feel like this was a good step in the right direction though because I did it all in my head without writing anything down. Sure, I had done the hard part the previous day, but it was kind of fun to use that base and build something different. Now I just need to add a few things to make a killer salad to get rid of the rest of that lettuce!

Cooking Baja Fish Tacos

Last night I made Baja Fish Tacos using the Fisherman’s Market and Grill recipe posted on Food Network. I took step by step pictures as you can see above, but also wanted to add my two cents. Ingredients wise, I stuck to the recipe. For beer I used a Coors Light, I picked up some purple cabbage and went with cod for the fish. As always, I got all my non perishable ingredients together ahead of time. As I’m working in a pretty small kitchen, I scattered the ingredients around after taking that first picture. First up, I cut up the cabbage. I wound up using probably a third of the head, then gave it a spray and a whirl in the salad spinner. With that done, I moved on to put together the white sauce. I used what was left of the mayo in our refrigerator which might not have been a full cup and just whisked it all together. My wife said it tasted too much like mayonnaise, but I dug the tanginess brought out by the lemon. I popped that in the fridge and then moved on to the tempura batter. As the recipe says, I took one package and made it with water and beer in a baking dish, then poured the other one in another baking dish along with the salt and garlic powder. I moved those two containers to the side, started heating up some canola oil in a sauce pan with a candy thermometer to watch the temp. Meanwhile, I cut up the cod into small pieces. Of course, in the middle of all this, my daughter started hollering so I had to take a break to give her a bottle.

She fell asleep pretty soon and I got back to cutting. I wound up getting 1.75 pounds of fish which made a pretty big pile of cod bits. Once the oil got up to the right temp–I aimed for about 375 degrees–I started the process of dipping fish chunks in the wet dredge then into the dry tempura and dropping some in the pan with the oil letting it fry for a few minutes before moving it to a plate. I used a slotted claw spoon to fish the pieces out which worked out well. When she got home, my wife suggested I put it on a rack over an oven pan to keep the excess oil off the bottom pieces of fish. That’s a good call. This was the first time I ever fried anything. I was surprised at how easy it was. I would have used more oil and maybe a bigger pan, but I didn’t have a ton of oil and worked with what I had. Even though my fish-dunking hand turned into a huge clump of drying tempura, it all turned out great. I put the fish, white sauce, tortillas, lime slices, cabbage and some diced tommato (because I had one lying around left over from the other day) all on the table and it made a wonderfully colorful spread. My wife went down to our herb garden and grabbed some Thai basil which was a good addition.

Overall, I LOVED this dish. Man oh man, was the fried fish tasty. That batter is money. All the ingredients worked great together with the sourness of lime bouncing off the tangy white sauce and the ultra flavorful, kinda salty fried fish. We also had some hot sauce around and even though the recipe didn’t call for tomatoes, they were a great addition. I think I wound up eating five of these fantastic tacos. There were a few negatives though. All that frying stunk the house up pretty bad. Also, I wound up with a mountain of dishes I then had to clean. Ah well, I figured it was worth it because the dinner was just so damn good. This recipe will definitely become a regular fixture on my family menu!