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.

Cooking Pumpkin Seeds

I know we’re well past Halloween at this point, but I wanted to get this great and simple recipe for making pumpkin seeds up before I completely forgot. I’ve been enjoying salty pumpkin seeds around Halloween as long as I can remember. My mom would make them for me as a kid and I took over once I moved out on my own. I used her recipe for a while and then one that a friend of hers gave her that works out really well.

We had two average sized pumpkins — check their size and our daughter’s designs here — which yielded a good amount of seeds. I soaked them over night and then dried them out using a strainer. When I was ready to cook them, I put the oven on to 325 degrees and spread them out on a baking sheet (I probably should have used two so they’d have more room to cook) and then covered them with melted butter. I then sprinkled salt on all of them and garlic powder on half before putting them in the oven for around 30 minutes total. I only did half with garlic powder because once they’re done, they all get mixed together and didn’t want the garlic to be overpowering.

The end result was a solid batch of crunchy, salty seeds that were a big hit around the house. In fact, our two year old liked them so much, she wound up eating the last of the bunch while I made dinner, the tricky little monkey.

Making Ham Salad

ham salad When I was a kid there was a grocery store near our house called Bischoffs (I might be off on the spelling, I’m pretty sure it was a local operation). I don’t remember too much about the place, but I do remember that they had ham salad for sale there and I loved it every time we’d get a container of it. You could either lather it on bread for a sandwich or just eat it straight. But, Bischoffs closed and we wound up going to Kroger and Food Town and a few other places and I kind of forgot about ham salad. Then, in the last few years, I was walking through the deli section of my local Hannaford and saw that they had pre-made ham salad sandwiches which I have partaken in here and there. Aside from that, though, I haven’t really thought about it that much.

That is until a few weeks ago when we came home with a pound or two of the ham my mother in law served for Easter. I’m a fan of heating it up in a pan and eating ham with some eggs, but my wife had mentioned being curious about ham salad, so I looked around for a recipe and decided to try the one called Ham Salad II over on All Recipes. I actually cut the recipe in half and then cut the amount of mayo in half again because a cup of mayonaise sounded a bit much and we’re still watching our calories with the Lost It app. I also skipped the green pepper because I didn’t have one on hand, but that wound up being okay because this version — which I was surprised to find actually went through the meat grinder — tasted exactly how I remember ham salad tasting. Most times when you try to recreate a childhood taste, the new version doesn’t hold up, but that wasn’t the case here. The pickled relish really adds some nice brininess to the ham and then you’ve got the mayo and crispness of the celery which helps bring it all together.

I actually kind of want to get a whole ham just to make more ham salad, which is a little bit crazy. When I first moved to New York and was living with my buddy Rickey, my aunt sent me a really nice Honeybaked Hams spread. We did our best to eat all the ham we could and wound up freezing a bunch of it, but I look back now and my mind races with all the uses I would have had for that protein. I was so young and culinarily ignorant back then!

Belated Bonus Food Pic: Fiddlestix’s Irish Lunch

fiddlestix st patricks day

I can’t believe this picture is almost a month old at this point. Sorry about the lack of posts the past few weeks, hoping to get back on the horse. Anyway, even though I had this fantastic plate of Fiddlestix food on St. Patrick’s Day, I can still remember how fantastic it was. If memory serves you’ve got corned beef, braised cabbage, mashed potatoes (possibly with horseradish?) and Irish soda bread that was quickly cooked or warmed on the stove. I can’t remember exactly how it was prepared, but there was something special about the corn beef. Maybe it had Guinness involved? I think that might have been it. Anyway, this is what I think of when I think of amazing corned beef. I’d love to see this meal on the regular menu which is made all the better by that delightfully crisp soda bread!

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.

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Mac & Cheese With Soubise

As I explained yesterday, I made what turned out to be a pretty great Second Christmas dinner for my family all from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ruhlman’s Twenty. In addition to the Leeks Vinaigrette, I also made his recipe for Mac & Cheese With Soubise (page 87). As regular readers — and anyone who knows me — will remember, I’m a huge fan of macaroni and cheese and have been since my Kraft’s Blue Box days. But, I also like trying new recipes and seeing how they compare to one another. I don’t know if I’m ever going to find one that will become the default version, but if so, this one might be up for the spot.

This particular recipe has four kinds of cheese involved including basic Swiss, sharp cheddar, Emmenthaler (which I’d never had before, but is another kind of Swiss) and Parmesan for the top. If you look closely at the picuture, you’ll see that there’s Asiago on top there, but I just grabbed the wrong block for the picture.

The major difference between this recipe and other ones that I’ve made is that you not only carmelize the onions, but also put the entire pre-cheese sauce in a food processor to whir it all together. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a recipe that’s similar to other ones I’ve tried. As always, I got all my ingredients as prepared ahead of time as I could, separating out spices and whatnot that would be added together. This all made the process a lot easier. Also aiding the process was the fact that I used the food processor to cut the cheese up, a trick I always use for mac & cheese and also got this whole thing ready in the morning. You can get 95% of the mac & cheese ready, refrigerate it and then pull it out when you’re ready to go. The only thing you don’t add before the cooling process is the buttered breadcrumbs. When we were ready, I got those together, put them on top of the dish and in it went into the oven.

The finished product had a very creamy, very cheesy feel to it. My wife heard somewhere that you can actually replace milk in a mac and cheese recipe with water. I’m going to try that next time I make this or any other similar dish. I just didn’t want to try it like that the first time as I was making food for a larger group than just the three of us. That is a lot of dairy as the recipe is written, so if that’s something that bother’s your system, watch out.

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Leeks Vinaigrette

I know it’s well past Christmas and even our Second Christmas (celebrated with my parents a few days before New Year’s Eve), but I made a pretty great series of dishes for that meal and wanted to both share them with everyone and post so I remember how well they turned out. I don’t usually cook for more people than my wife and daughter, an experience that’s almost always super casual, but it’s fun cooking for more people every now and than. Actually, when we move into a house I’m looking forward to having people over and actually doing dinner for larger groups, but that’s not really the point of this post, is it?

Anyway, as I mentioned in another post, my wife got my Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty so I put my new book to good use and came up with three dishes that not only complimented each other well but allowed me to prepare them throughout the day so as to not put too much pressure on me at any one point. While I worked on all three dishes concurrently, I”m going to break them up by dish and try to remember which parts I did ahead of time.

We started off with Leeks Vinaigrette (page 211) which was incredibly easy to prepare. The first thing I did was prepare the four hard boiled eggs the night before. On the day, it was all about the leeks and dressing. You actually prepare the leeks ahead of time by cutting off the green parts and then slicing them in half, but not cutting through the very end, so they stay together when steaming. The steaming only takes about 10 minutes and then you put the leeks in the fridge until you need them.

I also prepared the ingredients for the dressing ahead of time too. For the dressing, I put the vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl and also got the shallots in the Magic Bullet container and then popped them in the fridge as well. When it came time to actually get the salad ready right before dinner, I moved the stuff from the bowl into the food processor, added the remaining ingredients, whirred the shallots in the Magic Bullet, chopped up the hard boiled eggs (white and yellow parts separately) and then prepared the salad. You cut the leeks at this point, put one half on a plate, add the vinaigrette and then put both kinds of egg and green onions on top.

I’m not usually a big fan of hard boiled eggs, but I thought they added an interesting texture to this first course. With the dressing and the faintly onion-y flavor of the squishy leek, it was a really solid, simple and interesting salad to kick our dinner off with.

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!

Baking Birthday Cake For My Lady

Sunday was my wonderful wife’s birthday. The one thing she asked for was for me to make her favorite cake with her favorite icing. That happens to be the batter recipe for Betty Crocker’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes with Martha Stewart’s Fluffy Vanilla Frosting (Cupcakes page 302). As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a baker because I don’t like sweets or deserts too much, but of course I’m going to do my best to make her birthday a happy one.

I got the cakes going in the morning which was as simple as popping all the ingredients into the mixer in the proper order (everything up to and including the baking powder). The only changes I made (as noted in my wife’s printed out copy of the recipe) were using hot water and vegetable oil instead of shortening. Then I mixed in the eggs and popped the baker’s chocolate into the microwave for 2 minutes and then into the mixer. Done. Those went into heart-shaped pans with Crisco and some flour and then into the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Later on in the day, I made the icing, which also was pretty simple. Again, it’s a lot of putting things into the mixing bowl, but my wife did suggest I sift the powdered sugar which took the most time. To add a little pizzazz I used some pink food coloring and as you can see, it came out a nice shade of neon pink.

The last part was icing the cake and that’s where I ran into some trouble. I’m more of a “it needs to taste good, not always look good” kind of people, so the first draft of the icing looked pretty crummy. Em came in and finished it up, which is good because otherwise it would have looked like an anatomical heart cake and no one really wants that in that shade. As far as I know, it turned out pretty good. Of course, it only mattered if Em liked it and she did, so there you go. Happy birthday!

A Very Cook-y Christmas

Hi folks, sorry about the lack of posting lately, but I was busy with Christmas, Second Christmas and New Year’s. We went to New Hampshire to visit my wife’s parents for Christmas, then had my parents at our house for what we like to call Second Christmas (it doens’t really matter when you spend the holidays, after all) and then New Year’s Eve and Day. In addition to spending quality time with family, I also got a good deal of cooking related Christmas gifts that I’m excited to use.

I actually asked for Michael Ruhlman’s latest book Ruhlman’s Twenty last year, but it was sold out everywhere. My wonderful wife didn’t have the same problem this year, getting me that along with his other book Ratio. I chose these books not only because I like Ruhlman in general (he’s a fellow Ohioan), but also because he’s trying to get readers to understand how food works and why it does with these books. I’ve already made three things from Twenty and hope to get through Ratio by the spring. alton brown good eats early years

On that same token, I also wanted to get my hands on Alton Brown’s first Good Eats book. I’m a big fan of his show and how he explains the science behind cooking. I use plenty of his recipes as posted on FoodNetwork.com, but I also like to have the book on hand for deeper explanations. The cool thing about these books is that, while they might be a little busy, they act as cookbook, scrapbook and source of extra information which I like. I’ve got a few things from this book marked for cooking in the near future. kitchenaid meat grinder

My parents, who got me Brown’s book, also got me a meat grinder that attaches to our Ktichenaid mixer. I’m pretty excited about this because it means I won’t have to continue rolling the dice on ground meat at the grocery store. The more I read about things like pink slime, the less I want to even deal with Big Meat. I’m hoping to find a local butcher this summer and really get hooked into that world.

My inlaws also got in on the food-related giving season. My mother-in-law picked out a nice apron/pot holder/hot pad set that will be nice as I current work apron-less and have gotten sauce and splatter on more than one shirt. She also snagged a wooden, covered salt bowl for me. I’ve been using a large white one that’s got a large front opening for a while now. I love the easy access, but it’s hard to clean and a little unwieldy. With this new one, it’s just as convenient, but easier to protect from flying debris by simply swinging the latch shut. nigella kitchen
This one’s more of a gift for myself. While perusing Barnes & Noble for a wall calendar yesterday, I stumbled upon Nigella Kitchen. I’m not super familiar with Nigella Lawson, but what I’ve heard has all been good. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good deal and this $35 book was marked down to $10, so I figured it would be worth checking out after an in-store flip through.

Now it’s time to get cooking!