Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Five Unconventional Tips from my Kitchen Remodeling Experience

During this past Spring, I embarked on the epic journey of talking, walking, and sleeping remodeling, of waking up in the middle of the night with cabinetry cold sweats, and of becoming hyper-vigilant of trim and back-splash selections at local restaurants.

We're all taught the basics of kitchen remodeling - "Hire someone you trust." "Work within your budget." "Don't take the first quote." But what else could one learn from past experiences? From this endeavor, I picked up five unconventional nuggets of information that I'm hoping people may find useful during their remodeling process.

Tip 1. Relocate your shit purposefully. And neatly
I cannot emphasize this enough, especially if you're living in a one-bedroom condo. I can tell you from experience that having a bedroom, a closet, a side closet, and the floor absolutely littered with kitchen and bar articles gets old very, very quickly.  You forget that you're actually going to need to get to your clothing. Half of my room was nicely packed and orderly, the other half...terrible. And as a result, I found myself tripping over my wok handle on a daily basis.

A messy room just breaks the flow of your general well-being. Life will feel chaotic. Retreating into your bedroom won't provide you with any solace if it looks like a set from Hoarders. I had trouble sleeping admist the chaos.

So channel your 7th grade Tetris skills, steal computer boxes from work, and take time to carefully relocate your kitchen. With purpose. 

Tip 2. Used technology to your advantage
Compare two different ideas: Mood boards and color palettes are mainstays for a seasoned interior decorator. Swatches of fabric, strokes of paint, and samples of material are carefully constructed to provide holistic glimpses of the future. However, in the words of our friend Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time for that." (Jump to the 0:30 mark to hear the original quote and 0:52 for the sweet sweet remix).

Therefore, do something that every kid with an Instagram account is doing right now. Download Diptic, take photos with your phone, and use this handy app as a replacement to the hot glue gun burns, the embarrassing trip to Michael's, and an evening lost to making interior decorator-quality color swatches.
This Diptic was pretty aggressive. The granite hadn't come yet and the floor wasn't in, but I impatiently wanted to test color samples
Get fancy with Microsoft Paint to convey ideas:
Pictures are better than words. Enough said.





Tip 3. Take Pictures...lots of them
I took pictures throughout the whole kitchen process. Pictures for memories. Pictures to show friends. Pictures because well, pictures. But lots of pictures means that if you need to revisit a possible issue you may have unwittingly and accidentally documented your issue during your paparazzi frenzy.

We used a series of pictures similar to this one in order to "remember" where we placed the electrical junction boxes

Tip 4. Ask for opinions but trust your gut
Definitely ask for opinions; however, make sure you ask a follow-up question to their response. Ask why they answered the way they did. 

I couldn't decide on the granite for my kitchen. And knowing me, if I have trouble deciding on a small purchases, I'd be screwed with the granite selection. You can't fuck up granite. You can't say that you want to return hundreds of dollars of heavy rock. It's a gigantic piece of stone. Once it's in, it's in. (No pressure)


I posted the above photo on Facebook and these were the responses that I received: 

  • "Left reminds me of Swedish west coast. Red granite."
  •  "Left might pick up tone in floor"
  •  "Right is more manly.....are u....manly?/ So the question is, do you want your granite to say "oops I missed a spill", OR.... "Welcome to my kingdom, I have sex here....a lot".
  •  "Manly schmanly - the darker it is the harder to clean."
Even though I'm may be missing out on the whole sex-kingdom thing, I took some of my friends' advice, used Diptic, and chose the lighter color. 

HOWEVER, think hard about buying that easy-to-clean, ceramic counter top stove. Even though it's been a few months since the remodeling, I'm still bitter about my decision here. Everyone said "it'll be so much easier to clean" however, I didn't ask myself a critical question. "Will this decision kill my cooking style?"

I should've gone with my gut (I could careless about how easy something is to clean!)

For me, the cast-iron skillet was the mainstay of the kitchen. Besides moonlighting as body armor, my cast-iron skillet made the greatest steaks ever. And now...after the range had been ordered......and installed.....I read the warning pamphlet:

Seriously...is there anything that you can actually cook on this?


Tip 5. Immerse yourself for easier decision making
House Porn. Really.
Houzz.com really is house porn. Download the app. Visit the website. Stare at thousands of photos. Favorite some. Make Ideabooks. Stare at more photos. Eventually, you'll find yourself subscribed to their newsletter, idealizing designer photos, and holding up the iPhone app to compare cabinetry pulls at Home Depot. But don't fret at your temporary domestication, you've rifled through what feels like 10,000 photos, so snap decisions should become second nature.

For example, my contractor called me one morning at 7:30 AM to ask me what kind of grout I wanted for my tile backsplash. (At 7:30 AM I can't even find the "on" button to the coffee maker).  Actual decisions?!? Fuck...

In my groggy state, I blurted something along the lines of:

"Hmmmm....um...grshabsd.....not really white...zzzzzz.....black would be....grbsh bashws....contrasty?..zzzz..lets do gray?"

That decision ended up hitting the mark and I can only think that my snap judgement and instinctual response was based on the hundreds of photos I had seen on Houzz.

***

If you have any other remodeling questions, definitely let me know. I posted a few photos below. 



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seared Tuna with Sauteed Green Beans


Yes I know this looks very close to my Tuna Tataki recipe but its slightly different (plus its just another example of how easy it is to cook tuna). The tuna was cooked a few minutes longer and unlike the Tuna Tataki recipe, it wasn't marinated ahead of time.

Seared Tuna Ingredients
  • 1 lb tuna
  • Cajun/Blackening Seasoning
  • A little olive oil
  • Salt, Pepper
Cooking tuna may be the easiest thing to cook ever. Easier than improvising Mac n Cheese. Easier than cooking popcorn. And easier than Washington sports team winning in the post-season (too soon?).

Recipe Guidance
  • Coat the tuna with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and any seasoning of your choice
  • Turn a skillet (cast-iron or teflon) on High
  • Sear each side of the tuna for 1.5 minutes
  • Remove from heat
  • Serve

Sauteed Green Beans
  • A few handfuls of fresh green bean
  • 1 Sweet Onion
  • Sesame seeds
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
Don't buy canned green beans. They're terrible.  Canned green beans will not get you anywhere in life (don't even buy them for the canned food drives). Buy fresh green beans. Spend the 5 minutes painfully cutting off the edges - fresh crunchy green beans are awesome, trust me.

Recipe Guidance
  • Rough chop the onion
  • Heat the skillet at Medium-High
  • Add a dash of olive oil, throw in the onions, and cook until soft-ish
  • Add a little soy sauce and the green beans
  • Toss in some sesame seeds for kicks
  • Saute until green beans are warm but still crunchy (5 min or so)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Lost Art of Chicken Thighs


"They're cheaper than chicken breasts so they're probably not as good."

"I dunno...they look pretty fatty to me."

"I'm a breast guy, not a thigh man."

I'm not sure why chicken thighs have gotten such a bad rap these days, but for someone that's just starting out in the kitchen, they're one of the easier meats to cook.

Reason 1: They're forgiving - I'm about 15% scared shitless of cooking chicken for other people. Red meat you can undercook. Fish you can undercook. Chicken? Nope. And as a result, I tend to cook the shit out of it (which usually means it's dry).  It's an irrational fear (and I know I'm being too self-critical); however, if I'm scared, then a young 24-year-old, trying to impress a girl, will be scared (well...or oblivious). Chicken thighs are forgiving, you can overcook them a little and they won't dry out. 

Reason 2: They're sneaky - That dark thigh meat is naturally flavorful and the small, intertwined pieces of fat just add to that flavor. Everyone knows that a dry-aged ribeye steak has more natural flavor than a New York strip. Why? The beautiful beautiful fat marbling of course...

Bone-in chicken thighs? Even better.

With just salt, pepper, and olive oil you can rock a pretty solid meal. You don't have to go all la cuisine de fran├žais on her (spending a whole paycheck on random spices and aromatics that you'll use just once while the rest becomes a 4th-grade science project in your fridge). So the question is, why wouldn't you pick a food ingredient that's already helping you out?

Trim the fat!
Reason 3: They're cheaper - Between the $10 shots of Petron and the $15 Bear Fights, food have become marginalized by our alcohol habits. I get it and I know, I'm in the same boat. So get happy, chicken thighs are typically $2-$3 per lb cheaper than their counterparts.

Reason 4: They're healthy - I don't buy the "it's too fatty argument." 75% of us ingest pounds of sugar and fake sugar, devour fried balls of dough, and pretend pork belly isn't just a gloried stack of fifteen glued-together slices of bacon. If you're conscientious (read: hypersensitive) trim the fat and/or buy skinless. And for this "Age of Nutritionalism" (cue Michael Pollan) that we live in, settle down, they're as nutritionally equivalent as their chicken breast counterpart.


Chicken Thigh Ideas:
If you're reading this far, I'm hoping I've "inceptioned" you into buying chicken thighs.  To help you out, here's a list of various meals that I've thrown together with a package of chicken thighs. In most cases, I've used what I already had in my pantry. Salt, pepper, and olive oil should always be staples. Red and white onions, garlic...maybe some ancho powder or Slap Ya Mama seasoning. BBQ sauce or soy sauce. An electric grill, a cast-iron skillet, or a just a motherfuckin' pot.

(Recipe links in the coming days)

Grilled BBQ chicken thigh w/ avocado, grilled onions, scallions on an onion bun. No pots, all on grill

My ultimate lazy man's, one pot, fake Southwestern chicken dish

Again, a one pot meal. Braised chicken in cast-iron skillet then roasted in the oven

Simmering chicken thighs in a reducing a white wine, red pepper & onion sauce

Simmered chicken thighs w/ caramelized red pepper and onions, wild grain rice, and yellow squash

Grilled chicken thighs with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Ancho seasoning

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tip of the Day: Clean your damn place

Back in the day whenever I had to stay late for work, every-so-often our company would pay for dinner. Our project manager's view was that the standard cornucopia of vending machine goodies - Fritos, Smartfood white cheddar popcorn, and Cheetos - did more to stain fingers and keyboards than provide sustenance for tired brains. We would order delivery. Nearly always Thai. And nearly always from the same restaurant.

In retrospect, the black, ballistic-quality, circular plastic containers packed densely with thick wavy rice noodles, chinese brocooli, and sliced chicken provided more of a "coma-effect" than a "work-effect," but we ate it. It was damn tasty, and it was my only way of rationalizing the extra billable hours without overtime.

** Fast forward 7 years **

One of the worst things you can ever do for yourself is to read a county health code inspection list of failed local restaurants. Naturally, all your favorite places are on that list and it becomes an executioner's song for all of your perennial late night jaunts. It's almost as bad as this story (before I learned that it was just an urban legend).

So OF COURSE, my favorite, extended-work Thai restaurant was on it. Bugs. Roaches. Dirtiness.

...Fuck.

My mind was racing. "Was the number of consumed minced Pad See Ew bugs larger than the number of spiders that I've swallowed in my sleep?!?"

...Fuck.

Naturally I've stopped eating there.

(And before I get emails from the pundits out there, yes I understand that no one cooks in a sterile environment. Yes, I know that when I'm camping and grilling outdoors, a dropped steak on the ground just adds "protein"...so I know... I'm not advocating super-bug creating, antibiotic hand sanitizer land - I understand that, but it's still gross)

So how does this relate to cooking for a girl at your house, you ask?


CLEAN YOUR KITCHEN.


AND YOUR BATHROOM.


You may have spent days mustering up the nerve to ask her out, hours rifling through food ideas on recipes.com, and 5 minutes tending the microwave but that means nothing, NOTHING, if you don't clean your place.

You may be used to the post-shave scruff lining your sink, the hair on the bathroom tile, and the grease stains on the kitchen counter, but she's not. Its a new environment to her. Its like she's visiting your restaurant. You would never take her to a restaurant that had dirty bathrooms, used a single cutting board to cut both chicken and vegetables, and looked like a 3rd year college house. So why start now?

Clean your shit up.  You've invested hours into this date, why ruin it with something so trivial?



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simple Cooking: Pan Fried Baby Artichokes Recipe


Lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.

None of this fancy sauce reduction bullshit. No cream. No whisks. No elaborate spices.

Pan-fried baby artichokes are legit. They'll make you look like a professional and they're balls easy to cook.  Three steps: Prep. Boil. Fry. The biggest difficulty you'll have is finding them at the grocery story and then convincing yourself to buy them.

Although, they do look like scary little mother fuckers.... Don't feed them after midnight
Ingredients
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Lemon (cut in half)
  • 10-12 Baby Artichokes (Baby artichokes NOT the bigger, "regular" ones)
Like most things on this site you can modify this recipe and improvise. Add heat (cayenne) Or Mint. Instead of "Prep, boil, fry," try "Prep, grill" or "Prep, fry." Add small pieces of bacon. Top it with Parmesan cheese. Do whatever.

Recipe
1. Prep: Clean, shuck, and slice
The first time I tried baby artichokes, I didn't listen to the instructions about peeling off *all* of the dark, thick leaves. I was greedy. I thought that leaving more leaves meant more of the artichoke to eat.

Nope. Mistake. Tough spiky leaves aren't that tasty... And instead of having more to eat, I had less, like, um, zero.
  1. Peel off the outer green leaves until you get to the softer yellow leaves inside
  2. Take a serrated knife and cut off a half inch from the top and trim the bottom stalk so it doesn't look like a dead Christmas tree trunk
  3. Slice them in half lengthwise

I peeled the center one too much, the right one was perfect
Capped and sliced. Ready for boiling

2. Boil
The goal here is to cook the artichokes just enough and therefore allowing you to easily crisp them in a frying pan.
  1. Fill a small pot with water, salt the water, and squeeze half a lemon into the pot
  2. Bring to a boil, throw in the artichokes, and reduce the heat to a light boil
  3. Cook for about 3-4 minutes (until just tender but have some resistance against a knife)
  4. Once tender, remove from the liquid and place on a plate. Lightly pat with a paper towel (not necessary but it helps fry them better)
Um...disregard the breaded smelts
3. Fry
  1. Heat a few splashes of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high.
  2. If you want, you can throw in a few pieces of finely chopped garlic, let the garlic cook for about a minute (until you can start smelling the garlic) (not a required step)
  3. Add the artichokes to the skillet and fry them until they get crispy. (Roughly 3-4 minutes or until they're nicely browned)
  4. Once crispy, remove, add some salt and pepper, and serve with the other lemon half

Getting crispy. As you guessed, its not an exact science
These were much better than my breaded and fried smelts*....
*I have a habit of buying new shit at the grocery store and trying to cook it. That night, it was smelts. It was my first time buying smelts. I've since decided that I don't like smelts.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Breaking out of the monotony of cooking (and dating)

As guys, we have no problem buying the same pair of brown shoes over and over again. Our closet is lined with dark blue, light blue, royal blue, navy blue, and dark blue (again) of the same shirt in the same brand that we’ve been wearing since we graduated from college. We go with what works, what is comfortable, so why change a good thing?

We do the same thing with dating. The same go-to first date restaurant, the same go-to second date bar, and the same third-date, home-cooked meal. We're creatures of comfort, creatures of habit.

Different girl? Same restaurant.

Another girl? Same restaurant.

Third girl? Same restaurant.

I mean, if there was a frequent flyer program for our "first date" restaurant, we'd be nearing George-Clooney-Up-In-The-Air flight status (sans Vera Farmiga's sultry company).

But something happens when you keep going to the same place - You fall into a groove. And not necessarily a good one. The edge is gone. The excitement is gone. It just becomes another standard first date. And your energy reflects that.

There’s an easy fix though. Just go to another restaurant. Try something new. They all serve beer and wine. They all serve edible food. Looking for some new spots to check out? My girls over at Doing the District have an entire section dedicated to dating locales in and around D.C.

Things get a little more complicated when it comes to cooking, though. Let me explain.

***

A while ago, a girl playfully quipped, "You can cook for me but you can't cook me anything that I've read about on your blog."

She was 98% serious.

Well...balls.

I'm not an executive chef with years of "some" training de Fran├žais. I want to cook in my comfort zone. I need to cook in my comfort zone. However, I understand where she's coming from - It’s not that I've cooked that same meal before, it's that I've cooked that same meal before with somebody else.

The fix?

(Don't write a food blog?)

If it's the first time that you're cooking for her, don't worry about it. You're gonna be nervous (that's good, it implies that you care) and recipe/food exploration probably isn't the best idea. Rest on your laurels and cook within your comfort zone. The adrenaline of your first home-cooked date will provide enough energy. But mix things up a bit. She knows that you’ve blogged about cooking fresh salmon in that Asian soy marinade? Use the same marinade (because its fucking awesome) but use a different type of protein.

And then if you’re lucky enough to cook for her again (now that you're more relaxed), here are a few tips:

  • Follow concepts not recipes - You know that salmon takes 7 minutes to cook. Grill, bake, or saute it. Add lemon and butter or a Cajun dry rub. And then choose 1-2 vegetables from your arsenal of sides.
  • Try something where you have absolutely no fucking clue how to make (but tell her that and do it together) - Donning leather work gloves, I shucked live oysters with a cheese knife right after reading Google search results from "How not to impale oneself when shucking oysters." Some ideas include:

But more importantly (and in both of these scenarios) don't try to re-create memories. Our memories have a funny way of skewing themselves after the fact (positively or negatively). Chances are, if you go to the same place over and over, or cook the same meal time and time again, you're just going to end up disappointed. Don't try to re-live memories. Instead, create new ones in new places and with fresh ideas.