Sep 16

3 Healthy Chinese Food Entrees You Can Make At Home

Chinese food is sure tasty, but can be super unhealthy. There are ways to satisfy your Chinese food cravings at home with healthier alternatives, some of which we will highlight here.
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Jul 16

Make a Healthy Steak BBQ

flank steak
Summer BBQ cookouts are fun, but can be super unhealthy with all the burgers and hot dogs. Believe it or not, there are healthy alternatives when it comes to BBQs and they are just as delicious. You can still have fun this grilling season by cooking grilled flank steak or steak fajita skewers.
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Jul 16

Make Your Own Iced Coffee Drinks At Home

It is very easy to make refreshing & delicious iced coffee drinks at home. Here are a few drink recipes you can try at home.
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Jun 16

Three Types Of Sushi You Can Make On Your Own

homemade sushi
Making your own sushi at home can be a great dish to serve family and friends. Although making sushi on your own can seem daunting at first, it’s nothing some practice can’t fix. Before beginning, it is important you consider getting a rice cooker. The delivery of consistent cooked rice is essential to sushi making. Also grade A knives will help a lot when slicing vegetables and fish needed to make sushi. Here are three different types of sushi you can make at home.
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May 16

5 Ways to Enjoy Fresh Fish on the Barbecue


Throughout the spring and summer, many people enjoy spending time outdoors barbecuing. Fresh fish when barbecued, whether you caught it yourself or went out to the grocery store, can be really enjoyed. Here are the five ways that allow you to enjoy your catch of the day out on the grill.

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Feb 16

Great Restaurants for Foodies

The Grey

If you’re really into food, then exploring great restaurants around the U.S. is a must.

There are now great restaurants fit for foodies popping up outside of the traditional food centers. These establishments constantly push the envelope with ingredients and methods of preparation.

Here are some foodie haves that we love.

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Sep 14

Will the Hal 9000 Soon Be “Manning” the Grill?

It is not yet SkyNet from the Terminator Movies, but a new machine from Momentum Machines (the link goes to their site), will soon be giving the low-skilled, professional burger flippers a run for their money, if it performs as advertized..

Diagram of Momentum Machines Machine (Courtesy of Momentum Machines)

Diagram of Momentum Machines Machine (Courtesy of Momentum Machines)

It is interesting to watch history in the making. While we see demonstrations for an increased minimum wage on TV, there is not very much coverage of a product which will benefit hugely from increased labor costs in the restaurant kitchen. If we were the demonstrators, we would be going back to school, even to Smart Kitchen, to bone up on some new skills in the kitchen or the office.

It appears to us, and we have not sampled a robo-burger, that if it succeeds there will be two jobs in a future fast food restaurant: Manager and Loader / Cleaner. As bleak and un-inspiring as the current entry level, food jobs appear, “Loader” sounds worse and will probably be even more of a dead end. Just keeping a hopper full of Tomatoes won’t provide much entertainment or any opporunities for learning and advancement. At least today, enterprising employees can work their way up the ladder. The “only constant is change” and with this development in automation, there will have to be some adaptation in the kitchen.

As Much as we Hate to Say It, the Robo-Burger Doesn't Look All That Bad.

As Much as we Hate to Say It, the Robo-Burger Doesn’t Look All That Bad.


As of this writing, we don’t know what the company’s specific plans will be. While the path of least resistance would seem to be starting a bidding war between Burger King®, McDonalds®, Wendy’s®, etc., the company is actually talking about developing a chain of gourmet fast-food burger joints. This is a technology we will be watching, as we continue to help the public improve their kitchen skills, so that they can continue to run rings around a machine.

P Chef

Smart Kitchen

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May 14

Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend

Little Cleo's Restaurant Week Cropped


We must have been too busy this spring, because Arizona Restaurant Week just sprang up on us this year. We had to scramble to get a reservation and to get Mrs. P Chef on board. At the last minute, we were able to get a table at Little Cleo’s, which has been written up and raved about all year.

Truth be told, I have not been a big fan, personally, of many of the Sam Fox Restaurants’ concepts. I know that they are popular and do a booming business, but to me they all (Sauce, Olive & Ivy, Blanco, North, etc.) somehow just miss. If forced to put a finger on the problem with the group, it seems like a lack of authenticity and/or too much passion for lucre.

Sam Fox never killed my baby seal, insulted my Prius or fought with my Honor Student (if we were so lucky), so I don’t know what I have against the group, except that maybe it just isn’t for me. If doing Pizza, I prefer Le Gran Orange, Pomo, Pizzaria Bianco, etc. There are places that have something vibrant and real about them.

Restaurant Week

That being said, AZ Restaurant Week felt like a perfect opportunity to see if there was anything to the plaudits being heaped on Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend. That fact that the seafood choices in this desert town are slim pickings, argued for a new addition to the roster, which mostly tended towards homecooking, and sushi places like Roka Akur, Sushi Roku, Hana Japanese Eatery, Yazu Sushi, etc. Most of the other very good choices, many served by refrigerated delivery from Santa Monica Seafoods out of LA, were painfully overpriced. It took a modicum of self-reflection, and a few phone calls before everything fell into place.

The Restaurant Week Menu was broken down into 3 sections: Small Plates & Veggies, Large Plates, and Desserts. The small plates choices were Clam Chowder, Crispy Frog Legs, Grilled Octopus and Black Kale Salad. We opted for the Octopus and the Kale Salad. A half dozen oysters also made the cut, as did the house made “bacon & eggs,” made with house made sturgeon. The octopus was well cooked, a plus, but skimpy on the protein (3-4 small cephalopods) and heavy on the distracting cheaper clutter (fried masa, hush puppies, watercress, charred serrano). At $10 on the normal menu, I see the economics but the purist in me balks at the misdirection.

The kale salad was all it could be and Mrs. P Chef put it away quickly. The oysters at MP, were a dissappointment to someone hoping to rave about seafood. The Pacific Northwest or Maine was on my mind as I pictured the oysters on the half shell as I heard that they were actually serving Luna Oysters from Carlsbad Aqua Farm in the lavish iced presentation. Carlsbad is nice but not something to write home about. It was the same with the near-local oysters. They were a nice change but not worthy of a ton of ink.

Cleo Blog

Little Cleo’s “Bacon & Eggs” with house made Sturgeon Bacon. Yay!

The house made sturgeon bacon was novel and a great item that I could get behind, if only it were not cut so wafer thin and saddled with the bread, egg and creme fraiche as filler and distractions. See it above under the egg and topping the bread. I would have preferred, at $12, the pure experience.  And so went the meal.

Grilled Ahi Tuna, for Mrs. P Chef was nice. As Jon Favreau’s character, Chef Carl Casper puts in Chef, and I am paraphrasing, “how do you go wrong with Ahi Tuna? Its safe. It sells.”

little cleo bouillabaissev2

Little Cleo’s Bouillabaisse (with apologies for the Android camera photo and dark restaurant)

Honoring the large plate item that was pushing the norms, a bit, I could only choose the “bouillabaisse.” Overall, I liked the direction of the dish, but I was also very glad that I did not pay the regular $24 price for the privilege. The ONE scallop was good. Did you notice it there on top, prominently displayed, hinting at a few more friendly scallops below? If I were cynical, I would suspect that the lone scallop was placed there with precision, even though the menu clearly states “scallops.” But who needs cynicism? I choose to chalk it up to the vaguaries of the ladle.

The substantial pieces of bread, imitating large pieces of grilled fish, were also very crunchy and flavorful, but NOT ACTUALLY FISH. A Bouillabaisse is a fisherman’s fish stew from Marseilles which was developed as a way to avoid wasting the bony rock fish they hauled in. What the trash fish lacked in quality, was made up for with quantity. It would not be unreasonable to have .75 pounds to 1 pound of fish per person served in a Bouillabaisse recipe. The seafood in the dish was principally the shrimp (which was overcooked and, in my opinion, of less than stellar quality) and the mussels (which were servicable). Though it wasn’t listed on the menu description, I believe that there were also some nubs of Salmon in the mix.

The lack of abundance of seafood also was one of the reasons that I imagine that the broth was thinner than expected. The other was likely the absense of Olive Oil, Thyme and Bay (stalwarts of Provençal cooking) in the soup base. The menu lists Saffron & Fennel, but not Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Thyme or Bay. For the life of me, I swear that I tasted Garlic but not the complexity, richness and depth of flavor I was seeking, so I must attribute this to missing ingredients. The good news, if there is any, is that on the Restaurant Week budget, I was only disappointed, not totally out of sorts.

If I were to go back to Little Cleo’s, I’d stay away from the, in my opinion, value engineered menu and order a fresh fish special which may be pricier but will also be more dificult game.

P Chef

Smart Kitchen

“The Smartest Way to Learn to Cook™”

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Little Cleo's Seafood Legend on Urbanspoon

May 13

Summer Food Drive 2013 W-E: Smok Shak Ingersoll, OK


Smok Shak BBQ in Ingersoll, OK is a bit of a trip to reach because it is between Alva, OK and Cherokee, OK in the “Ghost Town” of Ingersoll, OK.

According to TravelOklahoma.com, “Ingersoll began when Native American reservation land was opened to public settlement. The town gained momentum after the Choctaw Railroad opened a line in 1901. Within one month, Ingersoll’s population boomed to more than 1,500 people, and it was officially incorporated the next year. The flourishing city quickly became known as a sinful town because it was home to seven licensed saloons and two pool halls. In 1909, Ingersoll was considered for the location of the county seat, but lost out to Cherokee. Following its defeat, Ingersoll’s population gradually declined.” The post office was finally discontinued in December of 1942.


Telephoto Shot of a "Ghost" farm house.

Telephoto Shot of a “Ghost” farm house.

The Ingersoll tiled grain elevator, made of hollow red clay tiles, is on the National Register of Historic places (bonus!). By the way, I think the “Washout” on the elevator is an ad for a livestock wash or a truck wash and has nothing to do with the structure.

Historic Tile Elevator in Ingersoll, OK

Historic Tile Elevator in Ingersoll, OK

Amid the historic, but abandoned backdrop, an old pizza hut building was dragged out to Ingersoll in 1985. The oil bust of the 1980’s had left Debra Engle with the former restaurant building and a vacant lot off of Highway 64 in unpopulated Ingersoll, OK. Like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials, it turns out she had two great bit that went great together. She relocated the building to Ingersoll and opened the Smok Shak BBQ joint.

When I arrived on Memorial Day Weekend (7 PM on Friday), Ingersoll was a ghost town, except for the parking lot full of cars at the Smok Shak. Exiting the Smartkitchen-mobile, there was a great smell wafting over town. The clean earthy smell of the high prairie was on the wind, punctuated by the hickory smoke of BBQ from the Smok Shak.

There Were more Cars Around the Other Side

There Were more Cars Around the Other Side

When I went in the joint was half full with locals and oil field workers (the colorful Boot&Coots, or Schlumberger coveralls gave it away). By the time I was finishing up the Smok Shak’s small dining room was full. A party of 18 had walked in and took over the place.  They were not closing until 10, so presumably more of the living would stop by. Perhaps the ghost service starts at midnight? To make sure I beat that rush, I ordered a sampler plate (4 items for $14.99) and an iced tea.



For my sampler, I wanted to taste ribs, the sausage, the pulled pork and the smoked ham. I got two “wows” on this plate, one yawn and a thumbs up for decent work. I have not had a lot of smoked ham, or spent much time with it but I have an opinion. Thinner cuts of smoked ham seem to display more flavor characteristics. This thick cut of ham was pleasant enough but a snooze in the overall scheme of things because the flavor did not carry over through the whole thick bite.

The Smoked Ham

The Smoked Ham

Sampling, my way down the plate, nibbling and taking photos, the ribs came next. They elicited a “Wow” or was it a “WOW?”

The Beautiful Crust on the Amazing Ribs at Smok Shak

The Beautiful Crust on the Amazing Ribs at Smok Shak

The crust was flavorful and a good bite. The fat was perfectly rendered and flavored the meat wonderfully. I did go back and work on those rib bones once the photos were finished. Next shot was of the pulled pork and the sausage.

The Pulled Pork and Sausage at Smok Shak

The Pulled Pork and Sausage at Smok Shak


The sausage was another “WOW,” like a smoky, cheddar, jalapeno jaeger brat. The pulled pork may have suffered by comparison with the sausage or the ribs. In reality it was competent and pleasant. In fact, it was a great platform for enjoying the Smok Shak’s very good mild BBQ sauce.

Overall opinion? I would put some hundreds of miles on the odometer to return. The location, the history and most importantly the food is very compelling. I guess you have to excel to survive in the restaurant business in a ghost town for 30 years.

If you want to Facebook Smok Shak they are up there. Also if you plan to visit and have trouble with your GPS, try it on coordinates. The lat/long I got from mine is N 36° 47′ 840″  W 098° 23′ 527″ 


Smok-Shak Incorporated on Urbanspoon

May 13

Summer Food Drive 2013 W-E, Sid’s Diner El Reno, OK



You know those times where you have been fixated on something on so long, expecting it to be great, and then you get there, meet the person, or achieve the goal and its only “OK.” Well that is the feeling I have after visiting this OK Oklahoma landmark, even though the burgers sort of charmed me over the course of the meal.
Sid's is Pretty Small

Sid’s is Pretty Small

I had wanted to come to Sid’s Diner since reading about Sid’s in Saveur Magazine’s Burger Issue back in 2009. It was always on my short list for the Summer Food Drive, but then every time the weight of the northern route (Kansas, Missouri, etc.) or the southern route drew me away from the more central route, which would have included Sid’s Diner. Sid’s (along with Feltner’s What-a-Burger) was always the toughest to cross-off. A fried onion burger fired my imagination and this year I was on the central route.
Sid's is Much Smaller than it had Looked on the Internet.

Sid’s is Much Smaller than it had Looked on the Internet.

Finally getting here, I am not bitter after my first bite, but instead feel deflated, like the air coming out of a balloon full of hype. I should not be surprised that a cost savings measure (adding cheap onions to expensive beef in the 1920’s) isn’t a first-bite flavor revelation.
Sid's "King Deluxe" Fried Onion Burger

Sid’s “King Deluxe” Fried Onion Burger

One bite in, if I want to be magnanimous, I’d say “I’m into juicier burgers,” or I’d say “I am not that into charring,” something to shift from pure blame to an impartial matter of opinion. I know that fairer is the right course and factually correct, but at the outset I am feeling a smidgen of petulance about my visit. Let’s just say this, at this point, for me, the corner and the short, windy walk around Sid’s  neighborhood are the best part of the visit. El Reno’s shades of Norman Rockwell ride easy on the nostalgic tourist.
An interesting looking doughnut place is across the street.

An interesting looking doughnut place is across the street.

From the Doughnut Stand Parking Lot to the North East

From the Doughnut Stand Parking Lot to the North East

Sid's Neighbors to the South

Sid’s Neighbors to the South

So, on to the world famous, tv-hyped, fried onion burgers. Mine arrived as a thin, dry burger (you can almost see it desiccating on the plate in the video) with some charred onions in it. I like Martinis dry, but not burgers. The second bite was also dry, but with some flavor of fat and char together, followed by an after taste of soft bun. Hmm was it bad or good?
The dryness is probably a result of Sid’s vaunted “smashing the burger flat with the Spatula.” We teach the exact opposite at Smart Kitchen. We say not to squeeze or smash the Hamburger with the spatula or the moisture will come out. Here at Sid’s Diner it was smashed and the moisture came out.  Maybe they should spring for the $9.99? I doubt that they will though, because they are doing alright with plenty of folks; and smashed fried onion burger is something of a regional cultural item, a part of the local cuisine of this bit of central Oklahoma. Not everything is for everybody.
As I was thinking all this, the visual appeal of the burger kicked in and I went in for bite three. The burger was growing on me. It was a more historic taste, with some complexity because of the burnt onions and some contrast due to the terrific, moist produce (Tomato & Lettuce). I was slowly converting from a Negative Nelly to a Neutral Nancy and then to a nice Nodding Nick. My plan to eat only half the burger was modified, on-the-fly, to eating three quarters. After all that travel, I am glad I had those next few bites.
I went from “No, not coming back” to “Coming Back” from 50 miles, but really likely further since to my knowledge they are sort of short on burger Meccas in Central OK.
You can visit Sid’s in El Reno or even try your hand at making a Sid’s-style burger by following the Sid’s Diner Fried Onion Burger Recipe, which was published in Saveur in 2009. The link goes to their site.

Sid's Diner on Urbanspoon