Thursday, April 28, 2011

At Home Falafel

Let me start off by saying that at first taste, Trader Joe's frozen falafel is not very good. It's dry and fairly tasteless. But it's also frozen, microwavable, and ready to be consumed with next to no effort in just a few minutes. And it can be improved. Deliciously improved. Here's what you need:

1) Pita
2) Tzatziki
3) Mediterranean hummus (accept no substitutions; this is the best one TJ's sells)
4) Tabouli (which I also find somewhat disgusting on its own)

When these five combine, it's one tasty party in your mouth! Is this the best falafel ever? No. Is it quick, cheap, easy, and capable of feeding a decent number of people? Yes. Plus all ingredients are found at Trader Joe's, and who doesn't like one stop shopping?

All you have to do is heat the falafel in the microwave (or toaster oven, or what-have-you), stuff a couple into a pita pocket, slap on some hummus, tabouli, and top with tzatziki. Voila! Lunch. Or, if you run out of pita like I did, combine the other ingredients in a bowl and you have what I have dubbed falafel salad due to its similarity to a taco salad.

Tabouli is a little salad dish all on its own, but I just can't get behind it that way, even with combined with romaine. Tzatziki, however, is one of the greatest condiments known to man, and I often drizzle it on omelets. It took me a long time to like hummus, but that was because, like sushi before it, I was eating really crappy hummus. Now I love hummus, but I am picky about where it comes from and what goes into it.

Now for a little history. Falafel is a dish so old that its origins are in dispute, sometimes leading to political rivalry. It is so popular now that in some countries, McDonald's offers a McFalafel (which makes Trader Joe's frozen falafel seem not so bad in comparison). 

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It

Kimmy mourns the loss of her TARDIS.
Growing up, if decorated Easter eggs weren't outright eaten, they usually ended up in egg salad, but occasionally as deviled eggs, as they did this year. It was a sad moment arriving home after an Easter Egg Hunt in the park to find our beautiful eggs sliced open and stuffed on the dining room table. But I am glad it happened while we were away. Poor TARDIS egg! It was so pretty.

According to the Food Network show "The Secret Life Of..." the dish deviled eggs dates back to the ancient Romans, and the term "deviled" refers to the use of spices in the yolk mixture. Other names for deviled eggs are "salad eggs" and "dressed eggs" presumably to avoid the scandalous traditional name (like how Better Than Sex Cake is often changed to Better Than Anything But Sex Cake to avoid corrupting children's fragile minds). 

Wikipedia also says that deviled eggs are sometimes called eggs mimosa, but when I Googled "eggs mimosa," I came up with both traditional deviled eggs and something similar to deviled eggs, but decidedly different. Since this recipe comes from the Telegraph, I wonder if eggs mimosa of this latter sort isn't a British thing. It looks delicious and I'd love to try it sometime! Preferably before next Easter, but it would certainly be something fun and new for a holiday that has become somewhat fixed and routine.

I had deviled eggs at two events this year: the Easter Eggs Hunt in the park, and then with Easter dinner at my mother's house. The basic ingredients for both were mayonnaise and usually mustard, but my mother confessed that she forgot the mustard in hers. Both also had paprika sprinkled on top. My mother added pickle relish (a common variation) to hers, but it was sweet, so I didn't like it that much. I've never added relish to my deviled eggs, but I think dill relish might be pretty tasty. 

Another interesting variant that I came across online was, instead of paprika for garnish, little bits of chopped green onion. Apparently, the French version sometimes includes parsley, which I will definitely have to try. I love parsley and keep including it in almost every vegetable dish I've made over the past month. Also according to Wikipedia, "[i]n the Hungarian cuisine the yolks are mashed and mixed with white bread soaked in milk, mustard and parsley, often served as an appetizer in mayonnaise or as a main course baked in the oven with Hungarian sour cream topping and served with French fries." That sounds worth trying. I love fries!

It has been suggested by my friend John that I look into French Canadian cooking next. I make no promises yet, so you'll just have to stay tuned!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Needs More Flare

Only 8 survived...
Two of my favorite things in the world are carving pumpkins and decorating Easter eggs. My assignment for Easter dinner was to decorate eggs and bring them to my mother's to be turned into deviled eggs. Mission accepted! So off Kimmy and I went to Meijer to pick up a coloring kit. 

People nowadays go nuts for these festive decoration opportunities (because I am convinced most people are boring and don't allow themselves nearly enough occasions to be creative), so Meijer offered many and varied colorful and stickerful egg kits. But the one that really stuck out to us was stained glass. It was only $3, which is nothing when one has recently moved from Land of Big Money, aka California.

This kit turned out to be much messier than anticipated, and the black tube ended up breaking open, so we painted it on with mini paintbrushes from a paintbrush kit that Kimmy had bought the previous day or so. On the plus side, painting on the colors meant my fingers didn't get dyed every shade of the rainbow, and the eggs dried quickly.

For my first masterpiece, I created a green vampire bunny egg with purple ears and glowing yellow eyes. Kimmy made the Rebel Insignia, then the Batman symbol, the Flash symbol, and a TARDIS. My second egg was a zombie pirate with a dagger in his teeth (which was really hard to convey, sadly). Then I had to run into work, so I had to stop there with two eggs. Silly job! It always interrupts creativity time. Someone really needs to start paying me to just be creative. Someday!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thin the Herd

So hard not to make a Bambi reference.
Some friends of mine were incredibly generous upon my return to Michigan and gave Kimmy and me some ground venison from a deer the husband got last season. I've only had venison a few times in my life, first in the form of venison stew bread bowl (amazingly delicious) and then from the same friends who made spaghetti with venison tomato sauce. It was wonderful! I don't like ground beef because it's usually too greasy for me (I have the same complaint for many pig products). Venison does not have that problem.

I still had some lasagna noodles in the cupboard from the box of gluten products that LaRissa gave me when we made the gluten free paczki, so that just left picking up a tub of ricotta and mozzarella from the store. (I also had some pasta sauce and eggs hanging around in the fridge, as well as parsley flakes in my spice cabinet.)

I followed the directions on the back of the noodle box, but unfortunately, the top layer of noodles ended up a tad crunchy. (Huge sigh.) The lasagna also ended up a little dry. I wonder if it may have been left in the oven too long. One thing is for sure, there is plenty leftover! I think this may feed us for a good chunk of the rest of the week. 

To help round out the meal, I made those awesome green beans from this made up recipe, but I totally forgot to add the cumin this time. (Doh!) It was still quite tasty, but next time, I really need to remember the cumin. I have so few occasions to add it to things! But that was the last of the frozen green beans, so for the leftover lasagna, I will have to come up with a new vegetable.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beef. Bacon.

Ever since Trader Joe's got in beef bacon, I've been wanting to try it. I have never been a real fan of pig bacon, preferring turkey bacon because it is less greasy than pig and also I don't really like pork because it tastes like pig. 

So anyway, in celebration of my new roommate Kimmy's arrival, I decided to buy this mysterious new bacon product, and after we finally had everything mostly put together and started just lounging around like bums, I decided to make a real breakfast in my SHINY NEW KITCHEN. The pots and pans were still in a bag on the floor, but they were clean, and almost everything else I needed had already been put away by Kimmy because she is a good little housewife (for the most part). 

Anyhoo, what goes well with bacon? Eggs, of course! So I made scrambled eggs with cheese for Kimmy and fried eggs for myself. The fried eggs didn't go over so well. Literally. I tried flipping them for over-easy and they went neither over nor easily. I ended up with a tri-fold omelet with a runny interior. Oh well. I prefer my eggs on the lesser side of cooked.

The beef bacon with eggs ended up tasting remarkably like steak and eggs, only less filling and less work. Like the other types of bacon that I have purchased from Trader Joe's, the beef bacon was basically just slabs of meat that didn't crisp up much at all. I don't really mind this, though, because I rather prefer slabs of meat to crispy paper. 

Kimmy and I agreed beef bacon would make an amazing BLT (only without the T in her case), which I intend to try possibly in the near future. I'm really not used to eating red meat, so I don't want to overload myself by going crazy and eating an entire package of beef bacon. (I really like saying "beef bacon." It sounds so funny. I think it's the alliteration.) So next time, I am sure I will be writing about a nice pasta or chicken or something. Or maybe dessert. I have a brand new kitchen that is nearly twice the size of the last one. It's a whole new world.

Adventure on!

Friday, April 15, 2011

It's All Biscuits & Gravy

I was surprised and delighted that every hotel we stopped at along the way from California to Michigan along I-70 offered a complementary continental breakfasts to their guests. Maybe it's all those years of attending anime conventions in sometimes fancier hotels that has taught me not to expect free food to be provided to me.

Our first hotel-provided breakfast was pretty fancy at a Holiday Inn Express. There were eggs, pancakes from a weirdo pancake machine that I had never seen before, fresh fruit, biscuits and gravy (something I had always associated with the South, but a common combo in Middle America, as it turns out), and of course a few danishes. I tried to keep it simple and healthy with some eggs, milk, juice, a biscuit an gravy. (What? I see biscuits and gravy as a novelty. And this was a vacation, of sorts, so I wanted to treat myself).

I left the Holiday Inn Express feeling energized and enthused about the beautiful Utah mountain scenery. Our breakfasts, as well as the landscape, was to go downhill from there. (Minus the 10,603 foot high pass through the heart of the Rockies. That was up, up, and up, and almost murder on our car.)

The second hotel breakfast had waffle mix and a waffle iron, so I had my first waffle that was not premade and from a box. It was pretty tasty! If only the syrup had been real. (Sigh.) There was, however, no protein. Over the past few months, I've been starting my days with some form of protein – eggs, turkey bacon, peanut butter – so although the meal was acceptable to the taste buds and was chased down with some milk in my protein obtaining attempt, my stomach was not exactly feeling fulfilled when we hit the road that morning.

The third hotel also provided waffles for breakfast. In the form of some Eggos laid out with the bagels and English muffins to be put in the toaster. This hotel also offered biscuits and gravy, and I figured at least the sausage in the gravy had some protein, and I still view this dish as a novelty, so I partook, microwaving the biscuit to soften it up. I also toasted a bagel and smeared it with cream cheese because I figured the cheese also offered some protein. Probably. I have yet to confirm this hypothesis with research.

The fourth morning found us back in my hometown, Portage, MI, with my mother, and my once and future roommate Kimmy and I met some friends for breakfast at one of our favorite spots in Kalamazoo, the Crow's Nest, upstairs from Fourth Coast on Westnedge. Kimmy ordered apple cinnamon waffles, which honestly looked pretty amazing, even to me (I prefer pancakes to waffles). I got an interesting concoction of two eggs over-easy placed atop a bed of hashbrowns and gravy. In place of toast, I ordered a biscuit. (Stop giving me those looks. I have no idea when I will have biscuits and gravy again. Every opportunity could be my last!)

And here we are again in Ann Arbor in the new apartment where so far I have only eaten a bowl of bran flakes and milk and a few handfuls of knock-off Pirates Booty. I am very excited about cooking in my new kitchen! But that will have to wait a few more days until more things get put together. What on earth will I write about on Monday?? Guess you'll have to wait a few days to find out.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From the Road

Upon arriving in California, the first stop we made was to the nearest In-N-Out Burger. I don't worship In-N-Out as many others seem to, but they make a good burger, have excellent milkshakes, and I do have a fondness for their unique “animal style” burgers, though not the fries (too much onion). In-N-Out is unique because they still hand-make their burgers and do not use preservatives. They also have a Bible passage stamped to the bottom of their drink cups, but I can't remember which one.

I had hoped to eat at unique local places, but after setting out on our voyage, we snacked in the car on items I brought with me from Michigan, and for dinner we grabbed Arby's because it was the only place near out hotel in Richfield, Utah. Richfield turned out to be gorgeous, though somewhat remote.

The next day we stopped at a place called Pablo's Pizza in Fruita, Colorado. This was much more local! And the menu was interesting, to say the least, with offerings such as Panther's at the Circus!, Dracula's Nemesis (loaded with garlic and onions), Mean Mr. Mustard, and Noah's Ark, which was, of course, full of meat. They also had a PB&J pizza by the slice, and for dessert, S'More Pizza Please! with chocolate hazelnut sauce.

Our pizza was called What the Cluck! And its toppings were lemon olive oil sauce, mozarella, fresh spinach, homemade basil pesto, marinated chicken, fresh garlic, and roasted tomatoes. It normally came with tender artichokes, but Kimmy doesn't like artichokes (because she is clearly insane) and requested they be left off. The pizza tasted divine! If you are ever in the Fruita or Grand Junction region, I highly recommend Pablo's pizza, named for Pablo Picasso and his famous experimentation of art styles. I guess they are trying to say they boldly experiment with pizza styles, and quite successfully if What the Cluck! is anything to judge by.

For dinner, we popped by another convenient fast food place, Popeye's Chicken, which is a national chain, but not found in many areas, so I didn't feel too bad eating there. The nearest one to me in Michigan is maybe twenty minutes down the highway. Not really worth it just for a fried chicken craving (which I honestly get often; I loves me some fried chicken).

We're a little behind schedule, so tomorrow we are booking it through the rest of Colorado, Kansas, and stopping in Missouri if all goes well. Signing off in Denver!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scrumptious Scrounging

I woke up this morning to a beautiful April shower. (I don't think we'll need to wait until May for the flowers, though!) And since my phone died during the night and my alarm didn't go off, I felt wonderfully rested. The perfect way to start the day and think about cooking!

There was an open bag of California style mixed vegetables in my fridge that I thought should probably be cooked since I failed to put anything on the bag to keep it closed and safe from freezer burn – oops! So I pulled out the bag and my brand new liter of olive oil then decided on spices. I kept it simple with garlic powder and dried parsley flakes. (Dried parsley flakes are awesome. I add them to vegetables and pasta all the time now.)

As I was about to grab the bag of pasta on the counter, I remembered that I had left some chicken breasts drowning in barbecue sauce in my fridge overnight. My mother had given me the chicken months ago because she said that she wouldn't eat it and was going to throw it away, so I rescued it from her freezer. Unfortunately, that meant they got to languish in my freezer, and I decided yesterday that they were starting to look a little too frozen and needed to be eaten pronto.

While the chicken was baking and the vegetables simmering away in their herbaceous olive oil bath, I thought that even with the chicken, I probably needed more saturated fat in this meal, so I added a tablespoon of butter. I discovered on a previous recipe, though I completely forget which one, that butter and olive oil are an awesome combination, especially in a ménage à trois with parsley.

Before you get all huffy about adding saturated fat, I've been seeing and reading a lot of convincing studies about how the cutting of fat from our diet the past hundred-ish years has actually caused us to get fatter. You can easily research this yourself, but here is an article to get you started. And this one over here, Dangers of Vegetarian & Vegan Diets Long-Term, stresses the importance of eating butter in order to replace the vital nutrients we can only obtain from eating animals in order to stay healthy. Since chicken is naturally low in saturated fat, I added a little butter.

I've decided that my new diet is going to consist of almost entirely natural foods. Obviously I don't have as much control over the food I eat outside of my own kitchen, and I do occasionally get massive cravings for pizza rolls, though I want to try to make them myself from scratch. I might look into canning my own vegetables so that I can buy them fresh from the farmers market and still have good veggies over the winter. And of course, since my next apartment will have a private patio, I want to have a little flower pot garden so I can grow my own tomatoes and probably parsley!

I wonder how Ann Arbor feels about backyard chickens. I don't recall anything against them in my lease.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Beet It

In keeping with my “foods I've never eaten before” theme, I picked up a can of beets from Meijer a few weeks ago because they were on sale. I knew very little about beets beyond that they are a root vegetable, they can turn your pee red (hence why it is a natural dye used in many health foods), and that the bag of sugar in my cupboard came from Michigan-grown sugar beets (hooray for supporting the local economy).

After Googling “how to eat beets,” and failing to find any one recipe that I could follow without a trip the grocery store (I'm moving in about week, so I want to empty my cupboards, not restock them), I decided to take some tips from multiple recipes and make up my own thing. Following the pattern put down by the green beans, I set some olive oil to simmering and dumped in my drained can of sliced beets. I can't cook something in olive oil without adding garlic, so I liberally shook garlic powder over the beets, soon followed by a dash of ginger powder, some parsley flakes, and a sprinkling of lemon pepper because I have yet to use it in a recipe after pillaging it from my mother's spice cupboard.

Meanwhile, boiling a pan next to the beets was a pot of penne (courtesy of the awesome LaRissa, made famous by the gluten free paczki). I was going to use something like linguine or spaghetti, but I didn't have any on hand, and macaroni was definitely the wrong size for this concoction. I'm actually very pleased that I went with the penne. Its larger, almost springy nature was a great complement to the tougher, distinctly vegetable texture of the beets.

The pot I boiled the pasta in was too small to add the beets, so I pulled down an old casserole dish and dumped everything together in there, stirring and chopping up the beets so they weren't overtaken by the penne. And we can't have pasta without Parmesan, so over top I sprinkled a healthy serving of cheese. Voila! Lunch.

I really wasn't sure what the beets would taste like – I worried they'd be too sweet – or what their texture would be like. As I said before, though, the textures went extraordinarily well together. This is definitely a dish that I would try again. I ate nearly the whole thing in one sitting!

I am really glad that I tried beets. I seem to recall The 10 Things You Need to Eat listing beets as high in antioxidants and as a cancer-fighter. To read more about the fantastic health benefits of this nifty little root veggie, click here.

I feel a little bad about not picking a country to make dishes from this month (last month was Brazil, but other events got in the way, so I ended up with only 3 recipes, though together they made a complete meal), but I do seem to have a theme going that I am rather enjoying: what can I make with random things I have lying around the kitchen?

This theme will continue on Thursday, then on Friday I fly out to California and will be roadtripping back to Michigan, so no time to make anything for about a week. If I can get some free wifi spots along the way, I will try to blog about the food I try at the various stops on my trip. Because every adventure is a food adventure!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Green Beans + Cumin

I have slowly been going through the free bags of frozen vegetables my mother gave me. There are three bags left: green beans, mixed veggies, and corn. Since I already failed at making corn pudding, I decided to see what I could come up with for the green beans.

The other day at work, I had cheese drizzled in honey with cumin, and it was so fantastic, I have been looking for ways to incorporate cumin into a dish since I still have so much left over from when I did Indian cuisine this last January. Green beans + cumin = ? We're about to find out!

First, I poured enough olive oil in my large skillet to just about cover the bottom. Then, I shook in some dried onion and garlic powder, turned the burner to medium, and let it sit until the onions were browned. The green beans were looking pretty frosty inside their bag, but I resisted to urge to cook the entirety, so instead I dumped maybe ¼ of the green beans into the skillet and let them cook with the olive oil, onions, and garlic powder.

For seasoning, I added 5 or 6 pinches of cumin, a heavy dash of cinnamon to sweeten it up, and a sprinkling of curry powder. For added texture and protein, I put in a handful of walnut baking pieces a couple minutes before turning off the burner.

The resulting taste? Magnifique! A most excellent side dish for any meal, and all from odds and ends I had lying around the kitchen. I think it's safe to say that these are the most delicious green beans I have ever had in my life, and this recipe is totally going into my personal recipe book. Far from overpowering the dish, the cumin and curry are a nice accent to the earthiness of the green beans and walnuts. And olive oil is always amazing when vegetables and a frying pan are involved. (No, that was not a challenge. You know who you are.)

Yet another nod to the wonders of spices that Indian cuisine has taught me. With this little success, I am totally fearless! Yarr! Can't wait to experiment with the bag of mixed vegetables now. But that's another blog.