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

Last week I made a Shrimp Lemon Pepper Linguini from a recipe on Allrecipes.com 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!

Dinners by Dad – 2013 Week 3 – Maple Salmon

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 Allrecipes.com

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 Epicurious.com

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 Allrecipes.com

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

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 Allrecipes.com being the most common.  Allrecipes.com 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 Allrecipes.com 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.

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

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!

Toaster Oven Recipes – Breakfast Sandwich

After being frustrated with our normal toaster to the point that we tossed it, I received a new Breville Convection Toaster Oven for Christmas and it has proven to be really useful.  I’ve been trying it out on various meals that would normally use the oven, range, or microwave and so far the results have been very good. Today I experimented with a home made breakfast sandwich using some ingredients I found in the fridge.  Since it was tasty and took less than 10 minutes to make I thought I’d share.  This *may* be the first in a continuing series of Toaster Oven Recipes.  Okay, lets begin..


  • 1 Slice – Deli Sliced Honey Roasted/Smoked Turkey Breast
  • 1/4 Cup – 4-Cheese Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese
  • 1 – Fresh AA Large Egg
  • 1 Roll – Whole Wheat Sandwich Thins
  • 1 Tblsp – Butter (Optional) (or some other type of spread you like)

I just happened to have these flavors and brands in the fridge, you can adjust based on what you have in your fridge or to your preferred tastes.


First, separate the two halves of the Sandwich Thin Roll and place face up.  Spread butter on the inside faces of the rolls if desired. Tear one slice of Turkey in half and cover one half of the roll overlapping the two turkey pieces to fit the roll.

Sprinkle the shredded cheese to cover the second roll half evenly.


Place both roll halves on the middle rack of the toaster oven, set to Bake, 350 deg, 5 minutes.  (My Breville Oven preheats first, then starts the countdown timer once preheating is complete.  This actually works out well as I’ll describe in a moment.)

Next, crack the egg into a small pan (I happen to have a really small pan that is about the same diameter as the Sandwich Thins) on on the stove and break the yolk.  Allow the egg to cook on medium heat.

Meanwhile, the oven will beep when preheating is complete and start the 5 minute countdown.  Remove the cheese covered half from the oven and allow the meat side to continue cooking.

When the egg is nearly cooked you may want to flip it one time to finish the top, then remove it from the stove and place it on top of the cheese covered roll.  The egg will be done just about the same time as the 5 minute oven timer.  Remove the roll from the toaster oven and put the two halves together to make the full egg, cheese, turkey sandwich.

Nutrition Information: (I am not making any health claims, I am simply providing this for informational purposes)

1 Egg, 1 Slice Turkey, Sandwich Thin, Cheese

  • 300 calories
  • 14.5g fat
  • 24.4g carbs
  • 23.3g protein

Optional butter adds 102 calories and 11g fat. (Other spreads or skipping the butter may be a good idea if your are trying to keep your calories and/or fat intake down.)

2011 Memorial Day Camping – Trip and Camping Gear reviews…

For the past 13 years, I’ve organized a group camping trip on Memorial Day weekend.  For the most recent 5 years or so we’ve also made the camping trip into a celebration and fundraiser for the charity that my wife and I founded (www.ctyl.org).  Every year I look at the available Washington State Parks on the east side of the Cascades for a group site that can accommodate up to 40 people, has a body of water nearby, and generally looks nice.  We go back to sites we like periodically as well.  Prior to 2011, we had camped at the following locations, some of them several times:

  • Alta Lake State Park
  • Lake Wenatchee State Park
  • 25-Mile Creek Campground (on Lake Chelan)
  • Perrygin Lake State Park
  • Lincoln Rock State Park (on Lake Entiat)

This year I decided to try Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park near Coulee City and aside from some variable weather that is always a bit of a challenge on Memorial Day Weekend, this location delivered a lot.

Dry Falls

First, the scenery is amazing and the group site, which is on a little hill between the main campground and the RV sites, is situated perfectly to take in the scenery right from your tent or picnic table.  Within walking distance of the campsite, there are miles of trails, a swimming beach, kids play area with climbing toys, a 9-hole golf course (Vic Meyers Golf Course), an 18-hole mini golf course, water balloon battle facility, water skiing, fishing, and paddle boating.  With a short drive (5-30 minutes depending) you can visit Lake Lenore Caves, Dry Falls Visitor Center, Grand Coulee Dam, and several different lakes for more fishing and boating opportunities.  For the 2011 Memorial Day weekend, the weather held to around 65-75 degrees during the day, two short rain periods (30 minutes each) came through, and on Sunday morning from about Midnight till 9am we experience very strong winds (30-40+ MPH) which toppled a tent and a screened shelter, and flattened several other tents.  The rest of the time it was sunny and nice.  At night it was pretty cold so heavy blankets/sleeping bags are a must.  Weather at Sun Lakes is typically very nice during the main part of summer (July/Aug/Sep) with average temps of 85 degrees during the day.

Speaking of winds and tents, I took some pictures of various tents that we had this year and how they were faring during the wind storm.  Most interesting was the two versions of REI Hobitat 6 tents that were next to each other.

Old REI Hobitat 6 in front, new version of Hobitat 6 behind

The older version (closest to camera) could not handle the wind even with all of the guy wires staked out for support.  The newer version held up just fine without any support lines.  Our screened shelter started to fall apart because we hadn’t properly secured it but once we staked down the support wires it stood its ground.  Our new, huge, tent held up great in the wind, except for the ground stakes that were included.  We had to switch to different ground stakes which worked much better.

Coleman WeatherMaster 10 16x8 3-Room Tent (Model # 2000008678)

This Coleman WeatherMaster 10 is a special Costco Only version based on the WeatherMaster 6 I believe.  The 6 has a screened porch while this Costco model had solid nylon to close the screens making the porch into a 3rd room.  It’s 16×10 feet in size and has near vertical walls on all 4 sides.  The hinged door is way more handy than you’d think it would be and it barely moved in the strong winds.  It’s huge inside with room for porta-crib, dog bed, bags and 2 queen air mattresses without trying very hard.  There were no rain leaks and it was easy to set up.  However it’s quite heavy to pack (about 50lbs) and it takes 20 minutes to assemble.  If you think you will see any wind, scrap the included tent stakes and buy the Coleman 9 inch ABS plastic stakes which are about $3 for 6.  You’ll need 22 ground stakes for this tent with the rain fly.  Make sure to bring a hammer or mallet and sink the ground stakes as far down into the ground as possible and at a slight angle (top of stake pointing away from the tent).

Coleman Tent Stakes ABS 9" (Model # 2000003425)

One thing to note… this WeatherMaster 10 tent is not the same one that Coleman lists on their website or that you’d find if you Google’d for it and based on the reviews I’ve read of that tent it’s a good thing.  The normal WM10 has angled walls on the ends that make it hard to stand up near the ends; the Costco version has much more standing room.  Costco sells this tent for $143 right now which is a screamin deal.

Several years ago I picked up a Coleman Tent Light which mounts to the inside wall or ceiling of the tent using a magnet with a metal plate on the outside.  It has been really handy and works with pretty much any tent.

Coleman Tent Light (Model# 2000000032)

Last year, we also replaced our leaking air bed with the queen sized Coleman Quickbed.  There are several versions of this with varying thicknesses and some with built-in speakers for MP3 players, others with attached carrying bags.  Regardless of which one you choose, the primary reason thing you need to look for is the built-in battery powered air pump.  You might think that you can use any pump to blow up your air mattress, and you’d be right, but having one built-in to the mattress provides several benefits.

  1. You don’t need to remember where you put your pump when you want to use the air mattress.
  2. You have a valid excuse for not letting other people borrow your air pump.
  3. In the middle of the night, when the air temperature has dropped and the air mattress pressure has dropped as a result of the denser air, you can reach over your pillow, turn a knob on the mattress, and pump it right back up without leaving your sleeping bag.

This air bed is one of the best things we’ve ever purchased for camping in my opinion.

Coleman Quickbed with MP3 Speakers and Built-In 4D Pump Queen

This year my wife has been experimenting and blogging about make-ahead cooking and she decided to apply it to camping.  So instead of bringing raw ingredients and preparing everything at the campsite, all of our meals were prepared ahead of time in various ways, some cooked and frozen, others chopped and ready for cooking, etc.  This made meal time quicker, easier, and tastier and also made clean up easier.  To cook the food we brought the usual two-burner propane stove (mine is an Edmund Hillary brand I’ve had for many years) and a griddle that fits perfectly on the stove.  For cookware we brought our Magma Nestable Non-Stick Stainless Steel set.  We originally bought this set for our boat and realized its size makes it perfect for these types of camping trips.  The set is definitely not light enough to pack in a backpack, but otherwise it’s awesome.  It cleans up easy and has pretty much every type of stove top pot/pan you need.  You can get this set at many marine supply stores or online at Amazon which has it for just about $200.

Magma Nestable Non-Stick Stainless Steel Cookware (10 piece)

While picking up our tent at Costco, we also noticed the Coleman All-in-One Cooking system and decided to buy it.  It’s a stove that can also be made into a grill or griddle and it comes with a stock pot that acts like a slow cooker.  It’s actually a pretty nice setup and Costco’s price can’t be beat.  We used all the modes and it worked quite well with one exception.  The slow cooker was a tad too hot even when the burner was on low so our chili kept boiling a little when we wanted it to just stay warm.  Other than that, a pretty sweet kit.  The kit includes the Coleman Insta-Start stove plus accessories that are normally optional but the kit’s price is lower.  It appears that it is only available as a complete kit at Costco, Sams Club, and Camping World and Costco’s price was $99.

Coleman All-In-One Cooking System (Model # 2000003609)

Another Costco purchase was the pack of three LED Flashlights.  They are TechLite Lumen Master flashlights with 150 lumens of output and run on 3 AAA batteries.  Online the price seems to be about $30 for the set of 3 but Costco had them for $19.99.  These are the brightest flashlights I’ve used, LED or not, period.  Totally worth the money and they are rugged aluminum and fit in your pocket.

TechLite Lumen Master CREE LED

Well, that wraps up this post.  I hope this is helpful to anyone looking for some camping ideas.

For Sale…

Well, we’ve decided to sell our boat.  Not because we don’t like it, but because we don’t have the time to use it right now.  I expect we’ll revisit being sailboat owners in a couple years..  Let me know if you are interested..


This is a wonderful sailing boat, very fast upwind and comfortable cruising.

The Cal 2-29 is a Bill Lapworth design and is a cruiser/racer class sloop. Bred from the same cloth as the famous Cal 40.


  • LOA – 29.34 ft
  • LWL – 24 ft
  • Beam – 9.25 ft
  • Draft – 4.5 ft (fin keel)
  • Displacement – 8000 lbs
  • Ballast (lead keel) – 3350lbs
  • Sail Area – 434 sq ft

Farymann A30M Diesel Inboard w/Nanni 2:1 Reduction transmission (12HP 1-Cyl)
Overhauled in August 2010


  • Farymann A30M Diesel Inboard w/Nanni 2:1 Reduction transmission (12HP 1-Cyl) — Overhauled in August 2010
  • Wheel Steering with Ritchie Compass and Auto Helm
  • Galley and Vanity Sinks, pressurized water
  • Raritan Head with holding tank
  • Sails: Main, 135 Genoa, 150 Genoa, Spinnaker
  • Harken Roller Furling on head sail
  • New Harken Mainsheet traveler
  • 3 Burner Propane Stove/Oven
  • Propane Cabin Heater
  • Xantrex Heart Inverter/Charger
  • Trojan AGM Batteries
  • Icom ICM422 VHF
  • Pioneer Stereo/CD Player with iPod Cable
  • Garmin NMEA2000 Display with Depth/Speed/Temp transducer
  • 2 year old West Marine Inflatable Dinghy
  • Magma Propane BarBQ
  • Gory Solid Brass Folding propeller

More Pics at http://gallery.me.com/tech_savvy#100144