Last Week’s Menu: Beer Cheese Soup, Bacon Brussels Sprouts & More!

In an effort to not only catalog previously attempted recipes, but also give a few hints, tips and anecdotes, here’s last week’s menu revisited!

beer cheese soup Continue reading

Advertisements

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 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!

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.

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.

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!

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Mushrooms & Steak Plus A Leftover Sandwich

Like anyone who tries a lot of different recipes, I’ve had a good deal of hits and misses lately. But, one of the absolute best hits I’ve come across in recent memory is actually a side dish: Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms. As it happens, this is also one of the easiest things to put together. The only change I made was cutting out the capers because I forgot to buy them at the store. I also used some garlic butter because I had it around, if you do too, give that  shot. You basically get all the ingredients together in a baking dish and throw them into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I figured that man can not live on mushrooms alone, so I also grilled up some steaks that happened to be on sale that week and steamed some asparagus. The dinner itself was pretty rad. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with a well cooked steak (I just spread some extra virgin olive oil on and sprinkle with salt and pepper before cooking on the cast iron grill pan). The real star, though, were the mushrooms. They’re just so perfectly earthy, rich and buttery with just a bit of acid from the lemon to tone the whole dish of goodness down just a bit.

Better than the dinner was the sandwich I made the next day. I had a red bell pepper in the fridge, so first off I sliced that and cooked it in some olive oil. After that, I sliced some of the steak and warmed that up in a pan with some of the mushrooms and the juice. When that was all warmed up, I placed it on some bread (that I spread some of the mushroom juice on too) with some rasped cheese and put all that on a foil covered pan under the broiler to melt the cheese. Once that was all done — I took it out when I saw the cheese getting melty — and then put some arugula on there and had myself a lunch I could eat four times a week given the resources. Man, I’m actually getting hungry thinking about this. Maybe it’s time to cut to the chase and make these sandwiches for dinner next week.

Bonus Food Pics: Gyro & The Mack Trucker Melt From P&G

gyroLast weekend, my wife, daughter and I went to the New Windsor Community Day event which was packed with various food vendors. If I’m in the vicinity of a good looking gyro (pronounced yee-ro), I’ve got to have one. I forgot to note the name of the place selling them, but I think they just do events like this and weren’t representing a restaurant. Anyway, this was a solid pita with meat carved from the spit and dosed with a good deal of tzatziki sauce and got the thumbs up. Even Lu dug the lamb, which was a bit of a surprise. p & g mack truck burger melt

The next day, we went to New Paltz to do some walking around. Before that, though, we stopped at P&G’s because I was jonesing for a beer or two with my meal. I decided on The Mack Truck Burger Melt which was described as, “8 oz. of freshly ground Black Angus beef charbroiled and topped with homemade macaroni and cheese, nestled in a grilled cheese sandwich.” This seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn’t mix well with the press of coffee I’d had that morning, the two beers during lunch and the coffee I had afterwards. Also, I’ve got to say, the sandwich was a tiny bit bland, which I wasn’t expecting. Still, I not only want to try this again, but also want to make one of my own. Finally, the onion rings were killer!

 

Cooking Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken

My parents’ house is directly behind a Chinese restaurant that we ordered from with some frequency. You might think with such easy access that I would have been well-versed in the country’s delicacies by an early age, but that wasn’t the case. Why? Because I only wanted to eat white rice with soy sauce. I don’t remember exactly how long this went on for, but definitely longer than someone who writes about food with some regularity would like to admit. Sometime in college or maybe high school I was turned on to the tastiness of Chinese carry food and have been hooked ever since.

Like a lot of people, I’m a big Sesame Chicken fan. I’ve even done some research into making the dish at home, especially with my growing wok experience. But, it’s a fairly complicated dish, if memory serves and, sometimes you just want to save a dish for nights when you’re not cooking, you know? But, I was intrigued when I saw the recipe for Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken in my now-expired free Good Housekeeping subscription.

One of the best parts of this recipe is that, if you cook anything vaugley Asian on a semi-regular basis, you probably have the majority of the ingredients on hand. The only thing I bought for this was the cabbage. Everything else was in the pantry, fridge or freezer. It’s also pretty easy to put together.

The recipe says to get the chicken and oven ready first, but I didn’t go that way. I don’t have a lot of space to work with, so I try to tackle sides and condiments first. That meant that I whipped up the cabbage salad first. The main effort here comes from cutting up a cabbage. Once that’s done, throw it in a bow with green onion, sugar, vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, salt and pepper. I got that in the fridge to let everything mingle and then whipped up the simple ketchup serving sauce minus the cayenne. With those out of the way — literally — it was time for the chicken. First step: oven to 450 degrees.

Again, this isn’t a difficult process, but it did take some space. I like to use pie dishes for my egg wash/crumb chicken dishes. They’ve got the right surface area and higher sides so I don’t have to worry about spilling grossness all over my counter. Dip the fat-trimmed chicken breasts in the egg/garlic powder/dry mustard/ginger/pepper mix then into the panko/sesame seed crumblies before placing on a baking sheet (I went foil-covered as usual). Those go into the 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes and get nice and crunchy. That’s enough time to get your slaw and sauce together if you were so inclined, but I’d rather do my work up front and have a little relaxation time while the oven does its job.

The chicken doesn’t have that sugary, stickiness I’ve come to know and love from Sesame Chicken, but it does remind my tongue and brain enough to hit some of the right buttons, maybe not as hard as the real deal, but enough for a tasty dish. The slaw was nice and tangy, the kind of thing you could slow together for any Asian main dish (man, it’d be good on tacos!). The ketchup also added a really nice tangy element to the party. Altogether I’d say this is a good way to go for a solid meal that might open up the door to more Asian-inspired entrees in the future. I bet even my younger self would have passed up the white rice/soy sauce combo to give this a shot.

Bonus Food Pic: King’s Pommes Frites’ Cheese Burger & Fries

king's palm frites burger

If you live in the Cornwall/New Windsor/Vail’s Gate area and like to check out local food places, you were probably a fan of Woody’s, an all natural burger place in a yellow house in Cornwall. They had a solid staple of offerings, but would also branch out into limited-time specials based on whatever was good and fresh at that time. Well, Woody’s closed down in the past year and we’ve been left wanting for places to get a good burger that doesn’t come from a clown’s mouth.

Thankfully, my wife and I didn’t have to look around too long before realizing that King’s Pommes Frites — also in Cornwall — is killing it with their burgers. In fact, as far as I’m concerned their burgers are actually better than Woody’s were. They’re big and juicy and perfectly cooked, plus they come with King’s always-fresh fries and their signature variety of sauces.

As far as I’m concerned, King’s is doing it right. They started off with a simple idea: the fries with sauces, plus a special or two every week or so. Now they’ve expanded to a full menu PLUS unique offerings every week that you can keep tabs on by way of their Facebook page (linked above). From what I hear, they’ve also got shakes now, which is wonderful because no one else seems to be doing that in the ‘Wall.

This picture’s actually from a month or so ago and we haven’t been back in that span, but writing this post and looking at that picture make me want to head there right now. Now that I think about it, I was planning on running to Cornwall around lunch time…

Bonus Food Pics: Cranky Carol’s Fries & Cheesesteak From Slack’s Hoagies

slacks hoagies cranky fries A few weekends back my wife, daughter and I made our way to Pennsylvania to meet up with some friends and visit the Sesame Street theme park Sesame Place (hear more about it on my most recent podcast if you’re interested). The first night we got Qdoba for dinner, but after two full days in the park and being relatively close to Philadelphia, we were hoping to get cheesesteaks. Of course, the problem with traveling is that you have no idea how good anything around you is or where to even look. Fortuitously, when we got back to our hotel that evening, there was a menu waiting from a place called Slack’s Hoagies. Not only did they have cheesesteaks, but also delivered. Perfect!

slacks hoagies cheesesteak

My wife and I each went with a cheesesteak as well as the Cranky Carol Fries where had a good deal of pepper and maybe a few other spices to bring the heat. Everything tasted great, though I will say that this was not the best Philly Cheesesteak I’ve ever had. Still, after a long day of walking around, waiting in lines and dodging excited kids, it was nice to sit down with a hot, cheesy sandwich, some fries and enjoy a meal I didn’t have to make myself.

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: French Breakfast & Moroccan Dinner

french breakfast You know what I love in pretty much any combination? Ham and cheese. You really can’t go wrong there, you guys. One morning we decided to hit Epcot and to start our day we headed over to the World Showcase to get breakfast in France at a place called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie. When you add ham and cheese to a buttery piece of bread you’re really onto something. Good on the French for figuring that out.

moracco salad

For lunch we went to a place in Epcot where I not only had a bad experience but also didn’t enjoy my food, so we’ll just skip right past that. That night, my wife and I had planned on going out for a date just the two of us. We wanted to try something new and interesting so we decided on going to Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco back in Epcot in the World Showcase. We both went with the Taste of Morocco – Royal Feast which included (*deep breath*) “Jasmina Salad: Lettuce, Tomato, Olives, and Feta Cheese in Mustard Vinaigrette, Seafood Bastilla: Layers of thin Pastry filled with Grouper, Shrimp, and Mushrooms, Lemon Chicken: Braised Chicken seasoned with Green Olives and preserved Lemon, Roast Lamb Meshoui (A Moroccan tradition – Roasted Lamb Shank in Natural Juices),  Couscous with Seven Vegetables and Assorted Moroccan Pastries.”

moracco entree

As you can imagine, it was quite a meal. First off, everything was fantastic and interesting. I was a big fan of that salad, which is kind of a strange thing to single out when talking about so many different kind of food. The lamb fell of the bone and I don’t have much experience with that particular protein, but I enjoyed it. The lemon chicken was also nice and tangy. I even dug the desserts which is something I don’t always say. So, if you’re looking for something unique and packed with variety, do yourself a favor and hit up Restaurant Marrakesh.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: BBQ At Whispering Canyon Cafe & Pork Belly From Waves

bbq On Monday my wife, dad and I went on the Disney Backstage Magic tour which takes you on an all-day tour of the park behind the scenes. Since it really does last all day they stop at a place called Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge hotel that’s got a real country western theme. They’ve got a regular menu, but also a family style barbecue thing where they bring big plates of food to your table and you all just dig in. As it turned out, there were the perfect number of people on the tour to fill three big tables and then one with just three people. We were that table of three which was great because I don’t like the idea of other people accidentally touching my food.

Anyway, the food itself was pretty great. The menu describes the Family Platter as including “Kansas City-style Smoked Pork Ribs, Herb-baked Chicken, Hand-carved Oak-roasted Beef Strip Loin, Citrus-crusted Market Fish, Western-style Sausage Sides fro Sharing: Seasonal Farm Fresh Vegetables, Herb-crushed Yukon Gold Potatoes, Cowboy-style Baked Beans, Corn on the Cob.” I’m pretty sure we didn’t have fish or beef stip loin, but the ribs were fall-off-the-bone cooked and super tasty but the real star of the show was that sausage which I could have eaten a whole plate of. I’m not sure if a huge heavy barbecue lunch is the best idea when doing a Backstage Tour, but it was tasty.

waves pork belly and tenderloin For dinner we ate at a restaurant called The Wave…Of American Flavors in the Contemporary Resort. I feel like I kind of screwed up while eating at The Wave. While my family went with some fancy steaks, I decided to try the “Thompson Farms Naturally Raised Pork Belly and Tenderloin with White Bean Cassoulet and Locally-sourced Vegetables.” What drew me to this dish is the fact that so many chefs and food personalities that I like and appreciate say that pork belly is supposed to be one of the best foods around. Unfortunately it didn’t do a whole lot for me and just kinda tasted like fatty bacon. It wasn’t bad and I didn’t really know what I was expecting, but it didn’t exactly send fireworks through my brain like in Ratatouille. However the tenderloin — small as it was — was fantastic as was the cassoulet, though I wound up passing that to my daughter who really loved it.

waves sherbert dessert

Since the Disney Dining Plan comes with dessert (I’d personally rather have an appetizer, but I’m a team player) I had a lot more dessert during that vacation than I normally would. The desserts at The Wave are pretty neat because they all come in little tiny dishes and you get three of them. I went with “Our Spring Gelato Trio: Mandarin Orange Gelato, Chocolate Malt Gelato, and Toasted Marshmallow Gelato” because I didn’t want to pile it on too heavy. And it was actually really tasty. My favorite was the marshmallow gelato because it really did taste like toasted marshmallows which are one of the desserts I really enjoy.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: Studio Catering Co. & Sci-Fi Dine-In At Hollywood Studios

studio catering company We spent the second day of our Walt Disney World vacation walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place that had great food at both the counter service and sit down levels. For lunch we hit up Studio Catering Co. which is supposed to be set up like the commissary of a studio, but, you know, right around the corner from Star Tours and butting up against the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground (which is a childhood favorite of mine).

The way places like this work is that there’s a menu posted up high where everyone can see it (those yellow signs in the above picture). When you know what you want, you approach one of many very nice people standing at a computerized register. Once your food is ordered, you move up and pick it up from the people working in the kitchen and prep area, so it’s a little nicer and more organized than your average cafeteria, which you’d expect from Disney.

studio catering turkey panini For lunch I went with the Pressed Turkey Club which includes “Turkey, Applewood-smoked Bacon, Swiss, Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, Multigrain Ciabatta Bread.” It was a really solid, tasty sandwich that didn’t feel like something slapped together. It seemed well thought out and well balanced. I also got the cole slaw which was better than average and think I even had a little cheesecake dessert, though the for-a-limited-time-only Worms & Dirt Cupcakes you see in the background were enjoyed by my family.

sci fi dine in reuben That day we had dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater which is a fun place where you actually sit in tables that look and feel like old school convertibles. Those car-tables are “parked” in an area that’s set up like a drive-in theater complete with a movie screen running film clips, cartoons and trailers of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

We weren’t sure if the atmosphere — which was fantastic — would outshine the food, but I really enjoyed the Reuben I had. You might think that a sandwich with such basic ingredients (corn beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and rye bread) would be difficult to screw up, but that’s not been the case in my experience. For one thing, you can find a wide spectrum of quality in just those five things, but the way a place treats their corn beef is also really important. The Sci-Fi Dine-In seems to treat its beef really well because the meat was nice and juicy and not dried out at all. In fact, all the ingredients felt top notch and tasty. I’ve probably had better Reubens in my life, but not while sitting in a fake car watching trailers for Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Oh, the cucumber salad was actually super tasty as well, it was a kind of sour, pickle-y alternative to fries if that’s something you’re looking for.

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.

IMG_2727

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.

IMG_2728

 

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. 

IMG_2729

 

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!

Cooking Homesick Texan Carnitas With Avocado Dressing & Asian Carrot Slaw

It seems like I just can’t recreate the success I had the first time I made Smitten Kitchen’s Homesick Texas Carnitas. It’s a super simple recipe that involves a few ingredients and a bunch of time, but the last time I did it I accidentally bought beef instead of pork and then this time I didn’t chop it up ahead of time. Both times the results were pretty good, I just want to nail the procedure again, you know?

Anyway, I’ve already talked about making that dish, so I want to write about a few of the accouterments I made to go along with it. For whatever reason I had a brain fart when planning the menu that week and didn’t plan on serving the carnitas with anything other than a tortilla. Scrambling, I used what I had at hand to make Paula Deen’s Avocado Dressing and Martha Stewart’s Asian Carrot Slaw. The latter might seem like kind of a strange choice, but the only veggies I had in the house were carrots and I thought the Asian flavorings would bring something interesting to the table.

The Avocado Dressing was alright, but it being a Paula Deen recipe, there’s a good deal of mayo in there which I thought threw the flavor off a little. Since then I’ve made an Avocado Crema that I’ll write about eventually that actually had no dairy or condiments involved and tasted a lot more avocado-y which is what I wanted. Still, it was an okay addition that worked well with everything else on the plate.

The Asian Carrot Slaw actually wound up working really well with the carnitas. I kind of figured this would be the case when I saw that lime was a main ingredient, which is also in the carnitas, of course. I liked the tang that the sesame seeds and vinegar brought to the table and think I might be onto a cool flavor combination here. Anyone want to start a food truck?

Bonus Food Pics: Pre-Birthday Dinner & Dessert

short ribs horseradish potatoes - gilded otter

As some of you may know, today is my 30th birthday. I’m going back and forth between not thinking about this new decade and trying to figure out how I’m going to not trust anyone over 30 if I’m now included in that bracket. Last weekend, my parents came in for a visit to celebrate a little early. As I mentioned in a recent Photo Diary, we went to New Paltz on Saturday and while I originally thought we might come back closer to home for a mid-day dinner, I changed my mind and decided to head over to New Paltz’s Gilded Otter. Both a restaurant and a brewery, I decided to start off with their beer sample which not surprisingly lead me to order their India Pale Ale to go along with my meal of Stout Braised Boneless Short Ribs. I haven’t had shortribs too often, but have always liked their juicy tenderness. The meal was served with veggies and some super fluffy, bite-y Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. I scarfed this all done pretty quickly, so it must have been good.

pre birthday cheesecakeFor dessert, my lovely wife Emily made Michael Ruhlman’s Classic New York Cheesecake from Ruhlman’s Twenty (page 113). She wasn’t super thrilled with some of the vagueness in the recipe, but I thought the results were a real treat. More lemony than I would have expected, the mixture of acid and creamy cheese with the best graham cracker crust I’ve ever had made this aces in my book. I should say, I’m not much of a dessert fan, but I do love cheesecake and even had two pieces of this on Saturday.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.

One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!

From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.

The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.

My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Sushi From QQ & Brothers Barbecue

qq sushu1One of these days I’m going to remember to write down what I order from our favorite nearby sushi place, QQ Asian Bistro. I want to say that these are pictures of the 007 Roll (above) which consists of “Spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado,lightly deep fried, eel, spicy mayo sauce, topped with scallion, masago” and the Spider Roll, but I can’t quite be sure. qq sushu2

Anyway, when my parents were in town for Second Christmas and New Year’s we decided to celebrate another holiday: my wife’s birthday. Instead of going out for a big meal, we instead ordered the big meal and ate it at home. It was a great experience and as usual, the QQ food was wicked good. IMG_2474But that’s not all the food goodness we enjoyed to celebrate my lovely wife’s birth. On her actual birthday I made her a cake and we also went and got dinner at Brothers Barbecue. Brothers actually opened a while back, but they had a fire and shut down for around two years or so. Well, they’re back open and we had some awesome food there. Above you can see the corn bread which was super thick and sweet and yummy. IMG_2478And then there’s the entree. I had the two meat plate with two sides and decided on Kansas City ribs and pulled pork with mac & cheese and collard greens with bacon. The ribs were delicious and fell right off the bone, the pulled pork was perfectly tender. Both were complimented very well by their barbecue sauce which reminded me of a homemade version of Arbys Sauce. The collard greens were really tasty too, I don’t think I’d ever had them before, but they had a very cabbage-y flavor to them. The mac and cheese was alright. Having made several versions of that as a main course and as a side, I know how hard it can be to keep in good shape. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not mind blowingly awesome like everything else. Welcome back, Brothers!

Bonus Food Pic: The P&G Dip

p and g dipA few days after Thanksgiving this year, my wife, daughter, parents and I went to New Paltz to walk around and do some shopping. I was personally thankful for this trip because it gave me the opportunity to eat something aside from turkey. Don’t get me wrong, I liked how my turkey turned out, but I can only take so much of the same thing. We went to a place in town called P&G’s that we’ve been to a few times and always enjoyed.

I went with the P&Gs Dip and a side order of mac and cheese. The sandwich is described thusly on the menu: “Thin sliced roast beef with melted Provolone cheese on a garlic hard roll, served with dipping jus.” And it was just that! Beef, glorious beef with melty cheese dipped in beef juice? Yes, I’ll take that all day long. The mac and cheese was good too, but the real star of the side dishes we ordered were the eggplant fries served with marinara sauce. Holy crap, what a great idea that is and a great alternative to regular fries, especially when you’ve got a kid like ours who loves herself some fries. Gotta figure out how to make those at home now!

Turkey Day Remembered: Everything Else!

Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without the sides and desserts. I’ve already talked about brining and cooking the turkey, making breakfast and preparing the stuffing, but that’s not all we had. My mom made her famous mashed potatoes that I just can’t go through a Thanksgiving without. Em also made a recipe that we got from FoodNetwork.com called Brussels Sprouts Gratin that was super good and will probably find its way into my regular vegetable side rotation.

Em also tackled the pies, but took care of them the night before, so they were good and done and ready to go when we were done eating. She made Smitten Kitchen’s Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie which was a pretty fun twist on the traditional pie (it includes canned candied yams) and a family recipe for Pecan Pie.  She also made cranberry sauce as well, something that I’m still not sure how I feel about (not a big cranberry fan).

Lastly, I made some gravy using the Betty Crocker Cookbook (page 442) that allowed us to utilize our brand new gravy separator. I’d never used one of these things before, but they’re pretty handy. Not sure if I’ll use it for anything other than Thanksgiving, but it’s not like it takes up that much space.

And there you have it, that’s how our Thanksgiving went down. I’ve said this before, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of turkey. Still, I thought the brine made for a very moist and flavorful turkey. I love those mashed potatoes, as always, and was pleasantly surprised with how interesting and good the stuffing tasted. Even the side dish we found at the last minute wound up being a real winner, so all in all I’d say we hit Thanksgiving out of the park. Thanks to Em for being an awesome cooking partner and my folks for coming and enjoying themselves and our food!

Turkey Day Remembered: Betty Crocker Bread Stuffing

Much like the recipe I initially chose for pumpkin pancakes, the one I chose for stuffing wound up being all kinds of wrong for what we were eating. It didn’t help that I somehow missed several ingredients on that original recipe. Worried, I turned to my Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and came across the very simple and easy-to-make recipe for Bread Stuffing (page 280).

As you can see from the pictures, the recipe is pretty simple and luckily fit in our bird with some left over that I set aside in a separate container for my mom who is a vegetarian. The only deviation I made from the recipe here was using Pepperidge Farm Honey Oat bread instead of white bread (which we never have in the house anyway). I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but that added sweetness really brought out some great flavors with this stuffing and I’d recommend giving it a try next time you’re looking for something to stuff your bird with.

I’m Thankful For Fiddlestix

 

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this Turkey Day. My folks have come in from Toledo to share a meal with Em, Lu and I so that’s great. But, since this is a food blog and there’s no way I’ll be able to turn around photos of our Thanksgiving prep until next week, I figured I would keep things on topic.

Regular readers will know that I love Fiddlestix. I’ve never had a bad meal there and love the variety of specials they present every week. Here you can see a collection of photos I’ve taken in the past few months. I can’t quite remember all the details. Up top is some kind of breakfast quesadilla. Then you’ve got a roast beef wrap above this paragraph followed by a double whammy of a sausage omelet and what I believe are raspberry and something pancakes.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever talked about this, but even the sides at ‘Stix are something to talk about. At a lot of other places, breakfast potatoes feel like an add on, but theirs are always crisp and paprika-y. Better than that are the lunch sides which consist of homemade potato chips and what seems like a different pasta salad every time.

I hope you’ve found a great place like Fiddlestix and go there on a regular basis. It’s important to support local restaurants, especially when they’re awesome.

Bonus Food Pic: Shawarma, Pesto Hummus & Sides From Chickpea

 

Last week my wife and I were in the city and found ourselves eating at a place called Chickpea. If you’ve never been, it’s kind of a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern version of Chipotle. You walk in, decide what kind of delivery system you want for your food (platter, salad, pita, etc), what kind of meat or main dish you want, a special kind of hummus and three side salads. As you can see above, I went with the platter, got the chicken shawarma, some basil and pine nut hummus and a trio of sides I can’t quite remember. Since I’m not super familiar with this kind of food, the place was loud and I couldn’t fully understand the guy scooping the sides, I didn’t really know what I ordered, but it was good.

Actually, it was all good. I chose shawarma right away for one simple reason: they talked about it in The Avengers and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I have no idea how authentic this was, but it was actually super good. I can’t quite place or remember the flavors at this point, but I ate this all up with a quickness and it’s not just because we had to get to an appointment. Also, pesto hummus was kind of an awesome revelation, I’m going to make some of my own once basil is back in season (or I have some leftover from another recipe).

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Emeril Lagasse’s Deep Fried Eggplant

This might sound a bit weird, but I found it important to cook some really good meals around the time I heard of my grandma’s passing last week, both in her honor and to fortify my wife, daughter and I. That week I had decided to cook one of my favorite recipes, Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Butter & Onions and had also picked up an eggplant at a farm stand. I knew I had posted about the sauce before, but I figured it would be worth writing about my attempt at making Emeril Lagasse’s Fried Eggplant to go along with it, instead of the breaded variety I made last time I wrote about this recipe.

Right off the bat, I realized this would be a tricky one because — after staring — I discovered I didn’t have a thermometer. That meant, I had no idea when I got the oil to the recommended 375 degrees. At that point I decided to move forward and wing it. Like any recipe that involves deep frying, you’re working with several parts. In this case, it’s the sliced eggplant (which I didn’t quarter), the egg wash, the corn starch and the bread crumbs mixed with spices (I just put it together for this one recipe instead of making a full batch of Emeril’s Essence mixture).

Because I didn’t know how hot my oil was, I really just had to guess. The earlier pieces I dropped in didn’t seem to fry enough, but I think I got to a good place towards the end of the process. I’ve got to pick up another thermometer.

The chicken, pasta and sauce all went off without a hitch. The only regret I had with it this time around was not reserving some of the sauce specifically for the eggplant. My mom used to cook eggplant along with a very time consuming pasta recipe that’s also one of the best I’ve ever head. I kept tasting memories of that eggplant while eating this one, but it never quite got there. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a new thermometer and bang this one out a little more efficiently next time.

Cooking Chicken Salad Veronique & Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

Like I said before, it was over 90 degrees last week and I was desperately looking for dinners that would not blast heat throughout the house. I came across a pair of Ina Garten recipes for Chicken Salad Veronique and Tomato Feta Pasta Salad that looked cool and both featured elements I could make earlier in the day and use during dinner. It was supposed to be an easy, relaxed dinner spread out over the whole day, but I wound up needing to make mayonnaise, so things got a little hotter than expected.

It started out well, though. I tossed four chicken breasts covered in olive oil, salt and pepper in to the oven and let cook for 40 minutes like the recipe suggests. When that was done, I let the chicken cool and then put it in the refrigerator until I needed it later. When it got closer to dinner time, I got to work on the rest of the salad which only really needed some cut up grapes and celery tossed in a bowl with the chopped chicken and mixed with mayo and tarragon from the herb garden.

Then I realized I didn’t have any mayo, but did have all the things I needed to make it again and decided to do that. I started out trying to make a half batch because we don’t really eat that much mayonnaise in our house, but I think I screwed up the ratios and had to then make closer to a full batch. This was a bit of a mess and I had to do it twice and busted out the electric whisk, something I’ve never used before, but it got the job done. In went the homemade mayo, out came chicken salad.

While I was sweating bullets mixing this at first by hand, a pot of water was boiling on the stove for the Tomato Feta Pasta Salad. This helped add an extra side to the menu, but also use up some of the pasta we got for Lu’s birthday party after my wife and the inlaws went shopping at BJ’s. Anyway, aside from the boiling pasta water, this was easy peasy to put together. Make pasta, throw a bunch of stuff for the dressing in a food processor, cut up some veggies and you’re done. I accidentally put some of the cheese into the processor, so the dressing came out kind of chunky instead of smooth, so I had to really mix it more, but it turned out really tasty.

I enjoyed both of these dishes and will definitely make them again. The chicken salad reminded me of the kind my mom used to make, especially with the grapes and celery, so it not only tasted good but also had a nice memory to it. Definitely give these recipes a shot if you don’t want to heat your house up too much this summer or want to take an easy dish to a cook out with friends.

Cooking Grilled Porterhouse With Garlic Butter & Tuscan Rice

I’ve found the two most satisfying meals are the simple ones done really well and the complex ones also done really well. When I made my first batch of pierogies, they took forever but tasted really amazing (didn’t have nearly the same amount of luck the second time around). I experienced the former last week when I tried a pair of recipes in a cookbook we got when we got married called The William-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook. I set out to make Grilled T-Bones With Garlic Butter (page 97) and Tuscan Farro (page 190), but wound up making a porterhouse because that’s what I could find at my grocery store and Tuscan Rice because I have no idea what farro is and looking it up on Wikipedia did not help find it at my local grocery store. It didn’t matter much, this turned out to be a wonderful meal.

The only thing I didn’t prep in enough time was the garlic butter, which I didn’t have down to room temperature when I started. I made up for this by putting the butter on a plate on the stove while I made the other ingredients and had a pretty good amount of luck with that. To the mushy butter, I added four chopped cloves of garlic, some thyme and then a few dashes of Worcestershire and green Tobasco sauce. The recipe says to roll it up in a piece of plastic wrap, but I had zero luck with that and just kind of morphed it as best I could. Didn’t matter, it was still nice and herby.

For the Tuscan Rice, I started off by getting the rice going and then cleaning the broccoli rabe, tossing it with some salt and olive oil and then grilling them on a pair of cast iron grill pans. I’m sure grilling on an actual grill would have gotten better results, but I still thought it went pretty well. Once those were done, I moved the rabe to a bowl and let it cool before chopping. To that I added some more olive oil and red wine vinegar and the rice once it was done cooking.

Between taking the rabe off the grill and the rice being done, I grilled the porterhouse. I actually bought two pretty good sized steaks, but after pulling out the larger one and applying some olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, I realized that it would probably be enough for my wife and I. I froze the other one for a later date. Anyway, I warmed the larger cast iron to near screaming and then put the steak on. I cooked it for four minutes on one side and five on the other. I tested it with my fingers to make sure it came in at medium.

Boom, it worked out great. The steaks were cooked perfectly, the garlic butter was nice and garlic buttery and the Tuscan Rice was interesting. I’d never had broccoli rabe before and was surprised with the sharp horseradish-like flavor it had. I even warmed it up the next day for another side and it worked well that way too.

Cooking Pan Fried Chicken & Balsamic-Glazed Pearl Onions & Green Beans

I originally planned on giving another Rachel Ray entree recipe a try last week, but the timing wound up not working out and I had to toss the turkey because I waited too long. I hate doing that, but I’m glad that it’s been a long, long time since it happened. Anyway, I still had the ingredients to make the side dish of Balsamic-Glazed Pearl Onions & Green Beans (2, 4, 6, 7 Great Meals For Couples or Crowds, page 157) and some frozen chicken and that was enough for a meal.

For the chicken, I basically cooked it the same way I did the poultry in the Chicken Milano recipe I made recently. I simply sprinkled it with salt and pepper and then cooked in a little bit of olive oil in a pan. Since I had the nice kalamata olive oil I got from Scarborough Fare, I used that and the chicken got a a really nice, crispy screen on it and tasted great. Sometimes it’s the simplest treatments of meat that accentuate their natural flavors and stay with you.

The Balsamic-Glazed Pearl Onions & Green Beans were a little bit more complicated, but not much. You get some water boiling in a pan. Once that’s done, you drop in the cleaned and trimmed green beans. Those go for a few minutes before draining. The same pan then gets some olive oil and the pearl onions (I forgot to defrost the ahead of time, so I ran them under hot water before cooking and then cooked a little longer than the recipe suggests). After those cook for a few, you add in some red wine vinegar, chicken stock, salt and pepper and reduce the liquid by half. Put the beans back in the pan along with some butter and you’re good to go.

I’m always looking for ways to prepare vegetables as sides that are more interesting than simply steaming them, which is what I usually do with green beans. This is a great alternative to that without adding too many extraneous or fatty ingredients aside from the butter. I also like the presence of the pearl onions, which I’m not sure if I’ve had before. I’ll definitely keep this in my repertoire for veggie sides because it’s pretty simple and reheats well for the next day’s meal.

Bonus Food Pic: Smoked Prime Rib At Billy Joe’s Ribworks

I will most likely never stop writing about the excellent food I have at Billy Joe’s Ribworks on the Newburgh water front. A few weeks back a group of friends all got together there to hang out and enjoy the food and sites. My wife, daughter and I actually got there early and happened to spot a guy kite boarding on the Hudson river for a good ten minutes. It was a pretty amazing sight.

An equally amazing visual for me happened to be a new menu item: Smoked Prime Rib. I think I’ve only had prime rib a handful of times, maybe only once. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t ready for that particular cut of meat with it’s ring of fat or if I just didn’t have a very well prepared kind, but I didn’t have a great impression in my mind. This, however, changed that impression. According to the menu, the prime rib is “Dry-Rubbed and Smoked Low and Slow to Tender Perfection. Served Thick and Juicy with Natural Au Jus and Horseradish Cream Sauce.

A big, smoked delicious hunk of meat can only be improved on by macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes in my personal opinion, so those are the sides I chose. I also got the 12 ounce cut for what that’s worth. I think my tastes have changed a lot over the years and I’m more interested in checking out new things. I used to get freaked out by fat, I couldn’t handle that rubbery, chewy texture, but I’m getting more accustomed to it and now know that that’s where  a lot of flavor comes from. As an added bonus, after I finished my meat, I combined the remaining au jus with some of the horseradish sauce and the potatoes which was a tasty treat. I personally would rather finish a meal with more of my entree than a desert, so that was a good way to end things.

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Food Pics

In the past, I’ve had less than great luck with corn beef and food on St. Patrick’s Day. For a while there, it seems like gnarly corn beef was attracted to me like a magnet and bad metal. It’s okay, though, I’ve gotten past it and actually had some amazing CB in my life, especially this week. I didn’t bother making anything St. Patrick’s themed because it landed on the weekend and I tend to take those off for cooking. We wound up heading to a few of our favorite restaurants this weekend, all of which had wonderful Irish-themed food. You know you want to see the pictures, so scroll on down! On Friday, we headed over to King’s Pommes Frites in Cornwall and got their corn beef specials. These weren’t Reubens because they didn’t have sauerkraut and the bread was a sesame roll, but they were still quite tasty. Obviously, Reubens aren’t Irish, but they do utilize corn beef, so there’s the connection. But who cares! I went to Ireland about 12 years back and the food wasn’t all that great. In fact, this was one of two German dishes I had last weekend. Oh, my wife and I got the same thing, but we also tried a pair of new sauces: Horseradish and Basil, both were fantastic and highly recommended.

On actual St. Patrick’s Day, we headed to Fiddlestix, also in Cornwall, for breakfast or lunch, whichever you please. I went with lunch because they had something called The St. Patrick’s Day Sneak Peek or soemthing along those lines. This was all Irish (as far as I know). The corn beef was tender and juicy, some of the best I’ve ever had and those mashed potatoes actually had horseradish in them and were super tasty (I’m gonna have to remember than one in the future). The cabbage was a little bland, but with all those other flavors going on, that wasn’t such a terrible thing. Lastly, but in no way least, you can see a thick piece of Irish Soda Bread. I haven’t had a lot of this in my life, but this piece was MAGIC. It actually tasted a bit like French toast and I’m a little surprised that wasn’t on the menu. Maybe next year! Billy Joe’s Ribworks also had a series of Irish themed meals on Sunday, which was nice. We decided to go on a whim and weren’t even expecting that, so it was a nice surprise. I thought about getting some more corn beef, but instead I went with kielbasa which came with some amazing sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as well as two sides–I went with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes because I love both of those things in my mouth. We also got out first and only…green beer! It’s Bud Light which probably explains why they were able to get such an electric green. Everything was super tasty. Again, I know I was eating German food while celebrating and Irish-themed holiday, but I do not care. Any time I can get quality kielbasa next to mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, I am golden.

Bonus Food Pic: Grilled Cheese With Ham & Fries From King’s Pommes Frites

King’s Pommes Frites
255 Main Street
Cornwall, NY 12518
(845) 534-1500

I’ve been sitting on this picture for a while and I’m not sure why. Just look at how delicious the above plate of food looks. I’ve talked about King’s before, and we’ve gone there a number of times. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they are a fry place in Cornwall that has 30 or sauces for dipping as well as daily and weekly specials that are served either on top of or on the side of fries. In this pic from a few months back, you can see that I got a ham and cheddar grilled cheese and, I believe, some ranch dipping sauce, though it might be olive. I’ve tried and very much like both. If you’re anywhere near Cornwall, do yourself a favor and check out King’s.

Cooking Cauliflower With Tomatoes

As I said when talking about making Marinated Cucumbers I’m always on the lookout for new ways to cook veggies and still keep them healthy. So, I got pretty excited when I stumbled across this recipe for Cauliflower With Tomatoes on Food Network.com. Cauliflower’s one of the vegetables that I don’t have much of a history with. It’s been at just about every party I’ve been at with a veggie platter, but aside from that, it hasn’t had much of a role in my culinary life, but that doens’t mean I have anything against it.

As you can see by following the link, this is a very easy recipe. Combine a head of chopped cauliflower in a bowl with three chopped plum tomatoes, olive oil, two minced cloves of garlic, cumin seeds, turmeric, salt and pepper (I skipped the cayenne), mix thoroughly and pop in the oven at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

There were a few days between when I bought ingredients and actually got around to making this side, so two of my tomatoes went bad, which was a bummer, but I don’t think it effected the flavor too much. The real punch comes from the turmeric and cumin coming together. Cauliflower’s kind of bland, so it works well as a vehicle for flavors. By cooking it in the oven, some of those flavors really get sealed in. I’m becoming a big fan of turmeric, a spice I don’t remember having until the last few years.

I will definitely be adding this recipe to my veggie side rotation moving forward. Simple and tasty? You can’t go wrong with that.

Making Marinated Cucumbers

I don’t know about you guys, but I always try to have a vegetable on the plate when I make dinner. The problem I’ve come across is that, when a dish doesn’t have veggies built into it, my repertoire is pretty weak. I can steam broccoli, cook asparagus in the open with some olive oil, salt and pepper, but aside from that and a few other things, my veggie kung fu is not strong.

So, I keep an eye out in my cookbooks to find something that might make a good addition to my nightly meals. When I saw something called Marinated Cucumbers in my copy of Best Of The Best From New York Cookbook: Selected Recipes From New York’s Favorite Cookbooks (page 104), I figured I’d give it a shot. It wound up being super easy. All you do is combine two chopped up cucumbers and an onion in a mixture of 3 teaspoons salt, 5 tablespoons sugar, 1.5 teaspoons celery salt, 1/3 cup water and 2/3 cup vinegar, mix and leave in the fridge.

I left mine in there for about 24 hours and they wound up really tasty. But, they’re basically pickles. You could tweak the recipe to your liking and come out with some pretty good refrigerator pickles. The problem with this is that they don’t really go with the winter/heavy food I’ve been making to match the cold season. However, I’ll definitely look this recipe up again when the weather turns nice. In fact, I think they’d make a good addition to any cookout or barbecue.