Monthly Archives: January 2013

Dinners by Dad – Quick Tips – What the heck is zest of lemon?

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Last week I made a Shrimp Lemon Pepper Linguini from a recipe on and along with the fresh squeezed lemon juice, the recipe called for “1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest”.  The first time I ran into this was with a risotto recipe a few weeks ago and I had to Google it since I literally had no idea what zesting a lemon was.  Those of you who have been cooking for years may take this knowledge for granted but if it was new to me I figure there may be other people (especially fellow take-out techies) who’d probably need to look it up.

So here it is…  your simple answer..  Zest = grated lemon rind

Essentially you use a small plane, small grater, or worst case a large cheese grater to grate just the yellow part of the lemon skin.  You don’t want the white part underneath the outer layer of yellow so you will need to keep turning the lemon to hit all of the outside skin for the best zest.

Another tip I found, if the recipe calls for juicing the lemon also, make sure you zest it first.  Once you juice it, the lemon will not be firm enough to make zesting an easy task.  So zest the lemon while it’s still whole, then cut it in half and juice it.

We have a small grater that I believe is for parmesan that seems to work well for the lemon zest.

More info..

Oh yeah, the Shrimp Lemon Pepper Fettucini was great also!

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Dinners by Dad – 2013 Week 3 – Maple Salmon

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Okay, I know I’m technically skipping Weeks 1 and 2 but I figured I’d use calendar weeks and I started writing about this project several weeks after the project itself started…  oh well.

So tonight my work meetings finished up late and I didn’t get to the store until 5:30pm.  2013 week 2.1 ingredientsToday I actually attempted to find some recipes that used produce and/or meats we already have in the house.  This made it a little more difficult to settle on something that sounded inspired.  We had some potatoes, carrots, and shallots on hand and I’ve been dying to use shallots in something.  Seafood sounded good so I searched around for something with shellfish but didn’t find anything that sounded awesome and then I ran across a Maple glazed Salmon recipe that seemed easy and tasty.

Maple Salmon on

Asparagus seems to be the thing to make when we grill Salmon in the summer so I started searching for an asparagus dish and most of them are pretty basic.  For some reason when I was at the store I walked up and down the produce section about 5 times and never found asparagus.  So I quickly googled for “potato carrot shallot recipe” and found a roasted vegetable dish that sounded tasty.  Of course as soon as I found that recipe, I also found the asparagus so I decided to do both.

Roasted Potatoes, Carrots, and Shallots on

For the asparagus, I improvised on an onion and asparagus recipe I found that called for sliced onions and onion salt.

Pan Fried Asparagus with Onions on

I chopped the onions for this instead of slicing because I thought it would fry up a bit better and I think it turned out really good.  The recipe also calls for “onion salt” which confused me.  I’ve heard of onion powder and garlic salt, but onion salt was a new one.  And I didn’t see any onion salt in the seasonings aisle at the store.  A quick google and I found multiple sites that essentially said it was 3 parts salt to 1 part garlic powder.  So fear not, it’s super simple to make.

On another note, peeling Shallots (which is needed for the roasted potatoes, etc dish) is a pain, a little more difficult than peeling garlic cloves and onions.  This tip seemed to help but I skipped the boiling water part.  Cutting the ends off and making a very shallow slit down one side with a sharp knife made a difference.

One of the other reasons I chose this potato dish over a couple others I found was that the oven temperature it called for was the same (400F) as the Maple Salmon so I was able to put both of them in the oven at the same time.  I started the veggies (which take about 10 minutes to prep and just under an hour to cook) and then worked on the Salmon next.  The Salmon dish calls for marinating for 20 minutes or so then baking for 20 minutes.  So I made the glaze, brushed it on, then put in the fridge.  About 20 minutes before the veggies were supposed to be done I put the Salmon in the oven.  In the meantime I had prepped the asparagus and onions (to which I added parsley and garlic as well) and in the last 10 minutes of baking I fried up the asparagus.  2013 week 2.1 dinnerEverything was done at about the same time and it was all pretty tasty.

A couple final comments..

I really liked the maple glaze for the Salmon, it was great.  I used dried Rosemary in the vegetables but I’m sure chopped fresh rosemary would be better.  From the time I started chopping veggies to putting the finished meal on the plate was an hour and 15 minutes.  There was enough downtime in between tasks that I was able to clean up most of the dishes also.  The roasted shallots were awesome too!

Dinners by Dad – The Basics

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Over the past several weeks of cooking dinner I’ve really started to like it.  There’s something very technical about it that feeds my engineering mind.  It’s sort of cathartic actually, in part because it’s different from what I normally do each day.  It’s similar to sailing in that way as well since sailing requires you devote your mind to managing the sails, getting your mind off your day job while still working your brain.

Okay, let’s get started.

Recipe Ideas:

Since I’m not very creative when it comes to meal time I’ve resorted to Google for recipe ideas.  Most of the stuff I’ve found has been coming from the same couple web sites with Epicurious and being the most common. has a cool recipe spinner app for iPhone that I’m using now where you select a type of meal (side, main course, salad, etc), then one primary ingredient (eggs, pork, pasta, etc), and a prep time (20 minutes, over an hour, etc) and it gives you a list of matching recipes.  Since it’s on the phone it makes shopping for the ingredients pretty handy.

Planning Time:

On my dinner nights I have set a calendar appointment for 3pm to remind me to start at least planning dinner.  Because my work schedule allows for it, I usually make a stop at the nearby grocery store at around 4:00 or 4:30pm to pick up anything I need and most days I’m browsing for recipes on my phone while I’m in the store.  This isn’t necessarily a good idea, it just happens to be the way it has worked out lately.  Ideally I would plan the day or night before, check the house for ingredients on the morning of, and make a shopping list for the stop on the way home.  Since I plan just a few hours before dinner and go straight from work to the store, I tend to buy things we already have.

Basic Tools:

A tablet, an iPad 2 in my case, is super handy for checking the recipes while you cook.  And since the web browsers typically support tabbed browsing you can have multiple recipes up in different tabs and switch back and forth while you cook.  Also, after I search for recipes on my phone’s browser and use that to shop, I then open the same recipe pages very easily on my iPad once in the kitchen because Safari and Chrome sync the open tabs between devices automatically.  If you use the Dinner Spinner app I mentioned above you can save favorites and create shopping lists that are accessible on your iPad and iPhone.

Since cooking is messy, you may want to find a way to protect your tablet from that mess.  There are a variety of cases you can use.  I haven’t personally addressed this issue yet, but I really want this Belkin Chefs Stand and Stylus which unfortunately seems hard to find.

You also need a set of good knives, pots, pans, and a pasta pot or pasta insert for another pot.  If you don’t use a pasta insert, your pasta will sometimes stick to the bottom and burn.  The insert keeps that from happening making pasta cooking almost hands free.

A word about knives:

If you don’t have a really good, sharp, knife you will get frustrated.  I happen to have a couple large sharp knives now and it’s made things much easier.  My favorite new knife is a chefs knife with a curved blade edge so you can rock it over vegetables.  It makes chopping small things (think cilantro, parsley, etc) remarkably easy while saving your fingers.

A word about Garlic:

photo (4)Buy a ton of it! You can put garlic in pretty much anything and it’s good for you.  The easiest way to buy and use it is in the minced form.  You can get this super large container of minced garlic at Costco or many grocery stores and it lasts a long time.  1/2 teaspoon is equal to 1 clove of garlic.  Most recipes call for minced garlic anyway so this saves some time.  If I need full cloves for a recipe I usually just buy them the day of.

Remember the basic tenet of garlic is there is no such thing as too much garlic, so you really don’t have to measure it accurately.

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Dinners by Dad – An Engineer dad learning to make healthy and delicious dinners

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So my wife and I both work full time and we have two small children.  As you might imagine, life is pretty busy.  For the last couple years my wife has gotten more and more into cooking and preparation, even to the point of forming a “Freezer Cooking” Meetup for women to create make-ahead meals.  As a result I’ve been lucky in some ways that I’ve not had to spend much time in the kitchen for the past couple years.  Anyway, my second daughter was born 4 months ago and just after Thanksgiving my wife started back at work.  Work, home, and kids were already enough and then she decided to expand her law practice into California which requires several months of studying and prep for the California Bar.  Clearly something had to give so we made an agreement that it would be up to me to make sure there was dinner on Mondays and Wednesdays.  We picked these days more or less arbitrarily, it simply made sense to have it on a schedule of some kind since we both rely heavily on our calendars for work and home management.

Having been a bachelor for quite a few years before getting married, I am not the biggest chef.  When I cook, you can generally expect top ramen or if you are lucky, a pot of pasta and a jar of Classico sauce (which, by the way, is one of the best tasting and healthiest pre-made sauces around).  For several years, I actually ate dinner at a dive bar every night.  Accordingly, expectations for my meals are not high.


The rules were simple for my dinner nights, actually only one real rule:  The meal must include some sort of veggie or salad to help make the meal somewhat healthy.  On the first night of my dinner reign, I stopped by my local Safeway and picked up a filet of Alaskan Salmon, combined it with some potatoes we had and pulled out some leftover apple salad that my wife had made for a party.  During the last few weeks of 2012 and into 2013, I’ve been experimenting with different meals and yes, I’ve been perfecting my spaghetti sauce, something I’ll post about later.

As inspiration and influence, earlier last year we spent two weeks on an amazing vacation in Italy and one of our takeaways was that the food we eat at home is too processed.  The quality of every meal in Italy was extraordinary, in part because the ingredients are all fresh and local at every restaurant.  Ever since that trip we’ve been making an extra effort to cook from fresh ingredients whenever possible.  We’ve started getting fresh produce delivered from a CSA and the neat thing about it is that it forces you to be creative with your meals, in order to use whatever fruits and veggies that you happen to get that week from the CSA.fresh-veggies

I’ve got to be honest, the veggie-with-every-meal requirement is actually much harder than I thought.  It’s easy to throw together a simple side salad but you can’t have the same old side salad every night so I have to find alternative ways to get veggies into the meal.  I’m not super creative when it comes to cooking but I’ve been getting better at this.

So now that I’ve set the stage, stay tuned as I write about my continuing journey from take-out techie to an engineer of extraordinary edibles!

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