The New Digs

the new kitchen

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

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

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

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

Rocking In The Kitchen With Wusic

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

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

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

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

My Little Kitchen Helper

tiny helperAnyone with babies or toddlers knows that cooking with them can be challenging. If you’re really lucky, you can schedule their naps for cook time, but for me that’s usually around 5 PM which doesn’t work with her bedtime. When she was a tiny baby, I’d put her on her play mat right outside the kitchen or in her bouncer. That gave way to giving her toys and hoping she’d just hang out and putting her in her eating seat so I could cut meat. But, she’s not always super excited about me focusing on something that’s not her. I’ve been halfway through trimming a chicken breast when she’s wedged herself between myself and the counter and forced me away from it. What I’m saying is that it can be tricky.

I had a kind of kitchen epiphany a few weeks back after changing the battery in the smoke detector. We’ve got this three step ladder that I used to perform the task and then leaned near the kitchen. That’s when it hit me that it would be perfect height for Lu to climb and “help” me in the kitchen. I give her a big bowl, a small measuring spoon and the masher and she’s usually good. Sure, I’ve got to be a lot more careful about where I put my knives and ingredients, but she seems to get a kick out of it.

When that doesn’t work, I put Sesame Street or Disney on in the living room and hope that soothes the savage beast long enough for me to finish making dinner!

Bonus Food Pics: Grinding Meat For Chili

As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I got a meat grinder that attaches to the Kitchenaid mixer. I finally gave it a run through the other day in an attempt to make Pat Neely’s Famous Beef And Pork Chili again, which involves both ground beef and pork butt (I think the beef was tenderloin, I wound up grinding two different kinds of beef for two different recipes).

Anyway, the process I read about for grinding in Ruhlman’s Twenty suggested throwing them in the freezer for a while to get them cold and tight. Then you cut it into cubes and put it through the grinder and bingo-bango, you’ve got ground meat. One thing I noted, though, was that I should have trimmed some of the fat off the pork because it got pretty stringy in there towards the end. That made the cleaning process a bit difficult, but otherwise, it was super simple.

The recipe itself turned out okay. I know I praised this recipe before and I don’t think the fault lies in there, but instead in my lack of seasoning. I ran out of cumin and don’t think I properly replaced it. I also added some chicken stock for reasons I can’t quite remember forgetting that this recipe turned out a little bit watery the first time I made it. Ah well, it’s still super good and even though I didn’t get that strong bacon flavor as much this time around, it felt good knowing I ground everything myself.

The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 2: More At Hand

As I mentioned last week, there’s a lot of things I’d like to change about my kitchen to make it a little more user friendly. So, in addition to make the main work space you saw in that post more cooking-oriented, I did the same with the counter directly across of it and to the side of my sink (what was also seen previously in the second picture in this post). This one was basically just more of a clean-up and organization project. See that truffle dish back there? That used to be filled with miscellaneous drink things like tea and hot chocolate that we rarely use. So, those went into the pantry which had more space in it since I moved the spice rack to the other counter.

It’s a good thing I had that space there because I also moved the blender into the pantry. I rarely blend anything and it’s just as easy to grab it from the pantry when I do need it, so why waste the space? I then filled the truffle bowl with the miscellaneous spices that don’t fit into the spice rack and the blender’s old spot with a variety of vinegarettes and other sauces and oils that I use on a regular basis.

You’ll also notice the hot pot and probably think that’s extraneous, but I actually make coffee with it every single morning (there’s the French press on the far left on top of the coffee). Oh, and the backwards-facing green M&M cookie jar actually holds tea bags. Of course, there’s your basic vitamins, baby teething drops and dishes needing to be washed also in this area, so it’s not completely free of clutter, but at least it gets some essentials out of the pantry and where I can easily get at them while cooking.

The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 1: A Better Prep Area

We’ve been having a few issues with our condo which make me want to move more than ever. But given the state of the economy and the amount of foreclosed and therefore very cheap units in our complex that are currently for sale, that will not be happening any time soon unless some company decides to give me big bucks to write about food, being a dad or pop culture. Wanting to make some kind of a change, I decided to do what I could without knocking anything down or ripping anything out and decided to rearrange my work space in the kitchen.

It was nothing major — you can see what it used to look like in this post I did last year — but I think it’s a lot more useful now. The main thing I wanted to do was put things away that I don’t use very often and try to get the things I do use within hand’s reach. I think I succeeded pretty well. I put away a few extra bowls that had been sitting out for as long as I can remember and put the toaster and tiny kitchen scale in the cupboard directly below this space. I also ate those bagel chips on the far left, you know, to help clean up.

Moving those few things out of the way gave me space to put the one thing I really wanted on the counter in a central spot and that’s my spice rack. It used to live in the pantry, which isn’t super inconvenient, but when you’re cooking and the meal just needs a little something extra, it’s nice to just reach over and grab it instead of going all the way to the pantry. Also, since our darling daughter seems to be getting more mobile and curious every day, leaving the pantry door casually open is no longer an option.

I’ve got other plans and ideas both big and small. I think I’m going to clear out some space directly behind where this photo was taken (where the computer is if you look at the pictures using the above link) and put out some of the loose spices and other things I used on a regular basis like vinegar and what not. I use those way more than the blender that’s sitting there anyway. I’d also like to box up some of the extraneous dishes we never use like the one dozen tiny coffee cups that have been used maybe twice since we moved in (they’re nowhere near big enough for my He-Man sized caffeine addiction). I’m not sure what I’ll put in there, but it would be nice to have some more space. The big project I want to eventually tackle, though, is putting down a new floor in there. We bought these black and white tiles like three years ago at a discount sale and while I didn’t care about the kitchen back then, I would love a new floor. The one we’re dealing with now is strangely porous and therefore ridiculously difficult to keep clean as even the mop or sponge water seems to settle in there.  I hate it and want to destroy it, but will probably just cover it up with a nicer, newer version. That’s just a matter of setting aside time and deciding to get it done. I’ll keep you posted on the changes as I’m sure you’re glued to your screens at the mention of my spice rack getting some counter space.

The Force Is Not So Strong With These Cubes

If you’re only familiar with me from reading this blog and not UnitedMonkee, The Monkee Diaries or Pop Poppa, you probably don’t know that I’m a pretty big geek. Have been since as long as I can remember. Part of that is loving Star Wars. So, when I saw the above R2-D2 ice cube tray show up on a comic book discount site called Thwipster for a pretty low price, I jumped at the chance.

When I got them in, I immediately poured the water in and excitedly waited for it to freeze. After I while I cracked them out and…my icey Artoo had no feet. While the details on these guys are great, the feet on both the larger and smaller versions are so deep that every time I tried cracking these guys out, they always lost their feet. ALWAYS.

Even so, it’s a fun little thing to have. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if the ice version of the droid I’m using to cool down my whiskey and coke has feet. Actually, the reminds me, I’ve got to fill the tray back up, it’s the weekend!

Ever Wondered How Much A Smidge Is?

Have you ever seen a really old cookbook or maybe a recipe written down by a grandparent? They can be difficult to decipher with old-style measurements you’ve never heard of or even measured amounts not in teaspoons or ounces, but “handful,” “smidgen” or “dash.” Well, thanks to this set of measuring spoons, I now know exactly what constitutes a smidgen, pinch, dash and tad. These spoons came in a pack that included traditional measuring spoons and cups that my wife wound up with after her family’s Yankee Swap last year. So, let me know if you need to borrow a smidgen of salt, I’ll hook you up.

My Kitchen Setup

My wife, daughter and I live in a condo in Orange County, New York. We moved in about four years ago and have been updating the place as our desire and finances have allowed. Since we had to move in in a hurry, we couldn’t do any of it ahead of time, so it was a lot of “work as we go.” As of now, we’ve got every room but the kitchen painted, though we have replaced all the appliances by now thanks to parental help and a Lowes sale last year that wound up being partly disastrous and partly awesome. Anyway, we’re pretty well set up in our tiny galley kitchen. You can see the latest addition to the kitchen–the oven–pretty prominently in the shot above. You can also see that I don’t have a ton of counter space to work with, so I do a lot of prep and if I’m working on something with a lot of steps or small bowls, you’ll find them spread all over the kitchen and out onto the table. This is my main work station with all the cast iron and small appliances in those counters between the stove and refrigerator. This is the direct opposite of the previous photo. The drying rack next to the sink is almost always filled and I toss everything from used measuring spoons and ladles to bowls and sometimes scraps into the sink. You can see my laptop–the very one I’m typing this post on–propped up on a step stool there. I cook almost exclusive from recipes I find online, so this is the best way to go. I use the stool to keep the computer away from the water. I’ve usually got a podcast or music playing while I cook, so this winds up being a pretty good setup. And finally, here’s the boss who watches over me while I make dinner (please excuse our clean yet unfolded laundry in the background, like I said, we don’t have a ton of space and the washer and dryer are located at the very end of the kitchen). I’ve only returned to cooking in the past few weeks after my wife went back to work and I started watching our daughter during the day while also trying to get freelance writing done. Jumping in the kitchen and dealing with hot pans and sharp knives can be a little intimidating, especially when our darling daughter starts screaming her head off. I can’t tell you the number of times in those few weeks I’ve had to stop what I’m doing to pick her up, change a diaper or give her a bottle. She’s been falling asleep after these interventions which has been a very welcome addition to our routine.

So that’s my kitchen setup. It’s not much, but I’m pretty comfortable in there. Since I do the dishes and put them away, I know where everything is at most times, so I don’t have to fumble blindly. Still, I can’t wait for the days when I have more space to work in. Some day!