Dads Helping Dads Figure Out Being a Dad

Baby-friendly dining

We’ve all experienced it.  You are sitting in a restaurant, enjoying a nice quiet dinner, and a the next table a baby starts screaming.  Or, maybe it’s an older child that is speaking a bit loudly.

At some places we are more forgiving of kids than others.  Really, no one wants to listen to a crying baby at a $100 a plate steakhouse on Valentines day.  There are other places where the noise of a young family is not only more acceptable, but expected.  Generally, these places have kids menus and crayons.

My parents used to take me to Casa Del Rey in San Dimas, which still seems like a good choice for kids.  Apparently I was easy to take out because I slept under the table and didn’t make much noise.  However, for those louder children, I am hoping my readers could cue me in to some of the better baby-friendly places — particularly those that are a bit off the beaten path.  I mean, Chile’s and Red Robin are obvious choices, but what about places for Sushi, Indian, Thai, Chinese, etc.  What have you found are the best places to eat with kids?

 

Organizing the kitchen

Who organized your kitchen?

If you are a new stay-at-home-dad who has not been primarily responsible for cooking, it was probably your wife.  While there is nothing wrong with that, men and women tend or organize… differently.  If the person responsible for cooking has changed, it may be time to reorganize the kitchen so that you are not constantly trying to determine where your significant other put something!  It may be helpful to put some labeled post-it notes on the drawers and doors to help everyone adjust to the new organization.

When I organized our kitchen (I have always been primarily responsible for cooking), I had some challenges that others may also have experienced.  Our house was built in the 50′s, and while the kitchen has been updated to get rid of those metal cabinets, there is still a lack of storage space.  I cook very seriously, and have many kitchen gadgets, so this problem is compounded.  I have utilized some unique storage options — many of which are not my ideas — that I would like to share to help you find more space.

General

In general, I try to put similar things together.  For example, I have a cupboard that houses white sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar and powdered sugar.  I also try to keep ‘back stock’ separate from open containers to prevent having 2 or 3 open containers of the same item.  If you have a standard unfinished garage, the fire breaks (the horizontal boards nailed between the studs) can be used to store unopened pantry items (if you can, put them along the wall that is shared with the house, as this wall will stay cooler than external walls).  A simple shelving system could also be installed using 1×4 stock, if your garage is finished.  If you have a bedroom that is used as an office, you could consider converting the closet into additional shelving space by removing the shelf and hanging rod and installing wall-mounted shelving or a free-standing shelving unit.

Spices

I use small metal tins to store my spice inside of a cupboard.  I attached a metal strip using command adhesive and stick the tins to the strip.  This can also be done with velcro, if you prefer.  This way the cans are accessible, visible, and they stay out of the way and off the counter.  I keep more than 40 spices on hand at any given time, so it is probably a bit more of an issue for me than for most, but it has proven to be a great way to store those little things that always seem to be in the way.  I have found that I can fit about six canisters on each metal strip.

Pans

You know those pans that are always in the way?  You know, pie tins, loaf pans, bundt pans, and cupcake pans?  Try attaching the same strips above and hang them upside down inside the cupboard, or if you have room, to the doors of the cupboard.  You will need to use a couple of magnets to attach them.

Knives

I am a fan of knife blocks.  The wooden blocks help to wick moisture away from knives that are often made from carbon steel (carbon=rust, but also holds a sharper edge for longer) and helps to protect the blades.  It also prevents the “Drawer of Doom” which upon opening looks like something from a horror flick.  If you hate blocks, and some people do, look for one of these.  They take an entire drawer, but hold a variety of knives and help to prevent rust.

Pantry

I don’t have a good answer for this one, as it depends on your particular situation.  In our house we don’t have a typical 6-ft high deep cupboard.  We do have two counter-height corner units that house a 3/4 round (a circle with a 25% pie-slice removed) lazy suzan.  One of these houses our pots and pans, and the other is used as a pantry.  I organized it with tall items in the middle and shorter items towards the outsides to allow for easier access.  If your cupboards are deep, I would recommend considering a lazy suzan.  You lose a bit of space in the corners, but it makes the space much more usable.

Also, get some containers.  The link has the ones that we use.  In spite of a nasty ant-infestation that has been going on for the last couple of weeks, they have not managed to find any of the sugar that those containers hold.  Sure, you could use plastic bags — but they make for a mighty messy cupboard!  I label my containers with a labeler to prevent someone else from mistaking flour for powdered sugar.  I also keep cake flour, rice flour, all purpose flour, whole wheat flour and bread flour on hand, so labeling is necessary.  If you have a bunch of containers of the same size, it can also be convenient to adjust your shelves so that the containers fit somewhat tightly.  This can provide quite a bit of extra height on the other shelves for taller items.

Countertop Space

If you have very many kitchen electrics (toaster oven, food processor, stand mixer, vacuum sealer, microwave, blender, etc.), they are going to end up on the counter because they take up SO MUCH cupboard space.  If you are fortunate enough to have an appliance garage, get as many inside as you can!  Otherwise, try to have a couple of work stations (at least two) where there is nothing on the counter, and keep the appliances against the back-splash one deep.  This provides space to put down groceries when putting them away while providing depth that you need not to feel claustrophobic when performing tasks like cutting.  I have a nice thick butcher block that I keep permanently in one of those spaces, right next to my knife block.  I have also found it necessary to hang a lot of my kitchen tools to get them out of the drawers — this also makes grabbing them very convenient.  Think of it like pegboard in the garage.  I used these, although there are more attractive options if these don’t pass the WAT (wife approval test).

There are an infinite number of ways that additional storage can be ‘found’ in the kitchen.  I hope that these ideas stimulate some thought and help you to make the kitchen your own!

Tools — for the kitchen!


Most of us guys have tools.  Even if our tool inventory only consists of a pocket knife, a couple of screwdrivers and a drill, we have tools.

As stay at home dads, we have a new range of responsibilities.  These responsibilities require an appropriate tool set, both in terms of skills and physical tools. Cooking for the family, if one has not been primarily responsible for that task, is a challenge.  If you are cooking from recipes, there are new terms that must be learned and tools that one must become acquainted with, new methods learned and the locations of everything in the kitchen learned.

In this post, I am going to outline what tools are absolutely essential for the kitchen.

Knives — you simply must have a good set of kitchen knives.  You should have 1-2 knives that are serrated and the remainder should be straight blades.  Avoid anything that claims to never need sharpening.  I would strongly recommend a set of Wustof Classics or something similar, but these are not within everyone’s budget.  You will want to have a chef’s knife (top), a paring knife (bottom), a serrated knife (second from bottom), and a slicing/carving knife (second from top).  The chef’s knife is used for many of the same tasks that you would a food processor for, slicers are for cutting meats, pairing knives are for fruits and vegetables and serrated knives are used for tomatoes and bread.

Blender or food processor — If you have to make a choice between a food processor and a blender, get a good quality blender.  While this is an essential tool for margarita-making, it also has a variety of other uses in the kitchen.  If you can afford it, a Vita Mix is the way to go.  Otherwise, take a look at a higher end Oster, which can be had for about $100 and may include a food processor attachment.  A square blender jar is preferable.  If you plan to make your own baby food, skip the all-in-one steamer and food processor products and get a Vita Mix instead.  These can be used for a variety of tasks in the kitchen, including making — and heating — soups!

Pots and pans — Ideally, get a clad set of pans.  Clad refers to the manufacturing method, and involves an aluminum core ‘clad’ with stainless steel.  Try to get pans that are magnetic, in case you need to utilize an induction burner at some point in the future.  All-Clad are fantastic, but I use Calphalon, which are much cheaper and perform very well.  Also, get at least one cast iron pan in a 12-inch or larger size.  Lodge is a great brand, they are made in the US, are inexpensive and very versatile.

Cutting board — I like these.  They are dishwasher-safe, can withstand high temperatures (they are great for setting down hot pans and cookie sheets), and are a quick cutting surface.  They are also inexpensive.  Just make sure to get one that is at least 20% longer diagonally than your longest knife.

Wooden spoonsThese are essential, especially if you have any non-stick pans.

Microplane — These originated as woodworking tools and have been adapted for the kitchen.  They are amazing for grating just about anything, including fingers, so be careful.  I would recommend against the ‘home’ line, which has the grater molded into plastic, but is prone to chipping.  The classic line is narrow, but not prone to chipping.  Alternatively, look for the professional (my preference) or gourmet lines (available on amazon).

Immersion blender — An immersion blender is essentially a food processor or blender on a stick.  These are fantastic when making Indian food.  Many of these sauces are made using vegetables, and need to be processed until they are smooth.  These can also be used in making homemade baby food.  These can be done in a blender or a food processor, but immersion blenders are cheap and very convenient!

Steamer basket — if you plan to make your own baby food, you will need a steamer basket.  These come in a variety of designs and are inexpensive.  Homemade baby food is cheaper than store bought and doesn’t include preservatives.  Baby food can be frozen or canned for storage

You will find that there are any number of kitchen tools that you will want to have as your cooking develops.  Avoid tools that have only one purpose, like those bars that remove garlic scent (any stainless steel item will do the same thing).  If you have questions or need a recommendation, feel free to post and I will get back to you!

Optimized with InboundWriter

Why should I make a sauce when I can buy one in a can or jar?

Sauces are fantastic.  Few things can sufficiently change the main protein part of the meal sufficiently to make the same protein palatable day after day.  For example, if you make chicken every day for a week, but use a completely different sauce every day, it won’t seem like you are eating the same meal.

There is a very practical reason to make sauces, though.

Have you ever noticed the bits stuck in the pan after cooking?  These bits are called fond, from the french word meaning foundation.  As in, the foundation for sauce.  These bits are what are formed by the Maillard Reactions, which are a series of chemical reactions that occur when high heat is applied during cooking. Those bits left in the pan are LOADED with flavor.  And they are very, very difficult to clean from the pan.  Unless you make a sauce!

When you make a sauce, the first step is generally to deglaze the pan.  Deglazing the pan is very simple — pour a small amount of liquid (preferably a room temperature or slightly warm and not a cold liquid) into the hot pan.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, and those little stubborn bits will come right off.

I generally find that I prefer a cream sauce.  Here are a couple of cream sauces that you can try.  These are both based on the bechamel sauce, one of the french ‘mother sauces,’ and the basis for nearly every cream sauce.  Cream alone or cream with milk should be used.  They derive their flavor from the cream scalding when it hits the hot pan.

Once the meat is removed from the pan, follow the instructions below.

‘Sawmill’ Gravy

If there is already a fair amount of fat in the pan, add a heaping tablespoon of flour to the pan.  Otherwise, add a tablespoon of butter and wait to add the flour until the butter melts (med-low heat).  Turn the heat up and stir with the wooden spoon.  When the mixture changes states (it will start to look different and lose some of the bread-like scent), add some cream and milk and turn the heat up to high.  stir with the spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the stuck-on-bits removed.  Add a little chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Once the liquid is boiling, the sauce will not thicken any further.  If it is too thick, add some more stock and stir to integrate.  In about 5 minutes, you have a fresh from scratch cream sauce!

Alfredo

(Notice the beginning part of this sauce is the same as the gravy)  If there is already a fair amount of fat in the pan, add a heaping tablespoon of flour to the pan.  Otherwise, add a tablespoon of butter and wait to add the flour until the butter melts (med-low heat).  Turn the heat up and stir with the wooden spoon.  When the mixture changes states (it will start to look different and lose some of the bread-like scent), add some cream and milk(totaling about a cup) and turn the heat up to high.  stir with the spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the stuck-on-bits removed.  Add some herbs (parsley or an Italian herb blend), a crushed garlic clove and some (1.5 cups) parmesan cheese.  I also like to put in about a tablespoon of dijon mustard.  In about 5 minutes, you have a fresh from scratch cream sauce!

These are two sauces that I frequently use.  The total time to make these is less than 10 minutes.

If you find that the cream sauce is hard to clean from the pan, I find this method helpful.  Once your pan has cooled (you should avoid quickly cooling a pan using water), put in some soap and fill the pan with water.  Put it over high heat and bring to a boil.  Kill the heat and let it cool.  Dump the water and wash the pan.  It should come clean very easily.  If you still have a some stubborn stuff stuck, use Barkeepers Friend (I prefer the powdered form) with a bar towel or soft sponge.  Barkeepers Friend is approved for use on most fine cookware.

 

Optimized with InboundWriter

The Grocery Market

As a stay at home dad, you may find that there are some new skills that you need to develop.  As the person primarily responsible for cooking, cleaning, and caring for the child, you may also find yourself responsible for the shopping duties.  If this is new to you, read on for some help!

While we are still waiting for our child to arrive, I have been responsible for planning trips to the grocery market for some time and have picked up a few tricks.

Efficiency

Knowing what to buy is always a problem.  Unless you have planned your meals in advance, you may find that mid-week trips to the market are necessary.  This can be non-trivial with a child and stroller in tow (or so I imagine!).  Keeping inventory of what is in the fridge is also necessary.  I have found a great program for my phone that helps with this quandary.  The program is available in the Android market for free, and is called Grocery IQ.  This program allows you to set up favorites, indicate their typical price, and specify the store where you usually buy them.  This can also help with budgeting, as you can check the price and if something is on sale, stock up.

Of course, at the market with a (hopefully) sleeping baby, you want to get out as quickly as possible.  Grocery IQ automatically groups the items for purchase by department — bakery, dairy, etc.   This can help to more quickly locate and select the items, reducing the time spent in the store.

How do you know what store to shop at?  

Obviously, every region will be different due to the different regional markets.

Beef

In Southern California, Stater Bros. generally has the best prices on beef.  With a full butcher department, the selection is generally good and of high quality.

Chicken

I am a bit picky about chicken, as lately it seems that much of the chicken has a strange texture.  Although I am not a organic-disciple, I suspect that this has to do with hormones given to the chickens.  Costco has Foster Farms chicken, prepackaged into six 2-breast bubble-wrapped packs (it is also available with chicken tenderloins, which I generally prefer).  The price is generally about $3 per pound.  If you watch the sales, you can sometimes find chicken for cheaper, but I find that these packs are especially good quality.

Dairy

This is a tough one as a balance between volume consumed, price and storage space must be reached.  Costco has great prices on milk, but you generally must purchase two gallons at a time.  If you drink a lot of milk, or can stick a gallon in the freezer, this is the way to go.  Costco also has the best prices on butter and cheese.  Look especially for gourmet cheeses that you use frequently.  For example, I buy parmesean at costco in a large wedge.  It lasts months and does not mold easily if it is kept tightly wrapped.  It is FAR cheaper (by pound) than the $5 wedges that you get at the market.

Bread and Grains

Albertsons has a very good bread selection, but Costco carries many of the same brands (La Brea Bakery, for example) at cheaper prices.  Costco is the place to get cereal, unless you find a screaming sale at the market.  Also, look for rice, beans, etc..  Costco generally carries bags that are around 15 pounds and much cheaper per pound than what you will find at the market.

Produce

This is another tough one.  Some markets have good quality produce and high prices.  Other have little selection and good prices.  The trick is finding the place that has good selection and good prices.  I find that most of the time Costco’s prices are good, but a lot goes to waste.  If you plan to fresh squeeze lemonade or orange juice, check Costco.  If you can find a produce market (generally these cater to a specific ethnic group such as Middle Eastern or Mexican), they will have the best prices and generally have a very good selection.  The place where I go has bell peppers 3/$1 — far better than the $2 a piece that the market generally charges.  If I don’t go to Costco or the produce market, I find that Vons and Albertsons have the best selections for produce.

Toiletries

We generally go to Costco, but are switching to Amazon for the convenience.  Check out Amazon Mom (I know, Amazon has not gotten the memo that some of us who are responsible for the kids are Men!).  Amazon’s prices are fantastic, shipping is free, and they will let you ‘subscribe,’ so that the toilet paper, diapers, and other consumables come directly to your front door!

Additional info

If your stroller has a basket underneath, my friends with kids tell me that you can use the basket rather than a cart.  This is especially helpful if you are shopping alone.  Apparently the basket on their stroller (Uppababy Vista) can hold about 5-6 bags worth of groceries.

 

Kids and food

You ever notice how kids don’t want to eat their veggies?  Not that I should talk — I don’t like to eat mine either.  So, how do you get the essential nutrients into the kids diet if they don’t want to eat the things that provide those nutrients?

Vegetables make an excellent base for soups and sauces.  Many of the sauces in Indian food are made from nutrient-rich foods such as butternut squash, onion and garlic.  Italian food uses tomatoes as a base for marinara, and many sauces for mexican food use peppers as a base.

Chicken tortilla soup, a filling and ever-popular dish, can be made with chicken stock, chicken, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, leek, and garlic — and anything else you want to stick in!  The trick is that the veggies need to be processed into a liquid stock.

Roasted butternut squash along with some yogurt, garam marsala (a spice blend), garlic and onions makes a delicious sauce when processed smooth.  Add some chicken and it’s a fantastic dinner.

Keep an eye on our recipe section for ideas and step-by-step instructions!