Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Strawberries and blueberries
Smell them on the summer breeze
Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs
Whole wheat crackers and cheese logs
Ketchup, mustard, and pickles
Cotton candy that tickles
Corn on the cob with butter
Bean salad made by Mother
Candy thrown from parade floats
Children piping random notes
Of some forgotten ballad
German potato salad
Thus we wave goodbye to May
And greet sweet June, bright and gay

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Perfect Greek Summer Salad

Today at the demo station at work, they were handing out a new salad-sans-lettuce concoction comprised of herbed feta cheese, grape tomatoes, cucumber, and onion. It was delicious! I continuously went out of my way to walk by so I could snatch another little cup. 

For whatever reason, I have really been craving veggies lately (I brought carrots and hummus to a gathering on Sunday and the carrots tasted heavenly to me), and I thought this was probably one of those urges I should give into. Never before have I bought all of the ingredients to recreate a demo dish, but tonight, I just had to make that salad! I did, however, add one new ingredient, chickpeas, because the taste rather reminded me of a previous salad I made last fall that involved chickpeas and Italian dressing. (I think that salad also had peppers in it, a food of which I am not terribly fond.) 

Once the cucumber was sliced, the onions chopped, the grape tomatoes sliced in half, and everything was thrown into a bowl, I realized I underestimated just how much salad this was all going to make. I think I have enough for lunch the rest of the week! (Here's hoping I don't get over that veggie craving any time soon.) Next time I have to bring a dish to pass, this salad is a prime candidate.

I also bought a can of tuna that I almost added to the mixture, but then I thought perhaps there was enough protein with the cheese and feta in there, so I decided to save the can of tuna for tuna mac or maybe tuna melts later. Being on a limited budget, I try not to put all my eggs in one basket. (Har har.)

Now for some fun facts about chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) from Wikipedia!
  • "The name "chickpea" traces back through the French chiche to Latin cicer (from which the Roman cognomen Cicero was taken)."
  • "Chickpeas are high in protein and one of the earliest cultivated vegetables; 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East."
  • There are two main kinds of chickpea: desi and kabuli. (Hindi for "local" and "from Kabul" respectively.)
  • "Some varieties of chickpeas popped and eaten like popcorn."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Load of Bologna

Yesterday for lunch I had a nice sandwich comprised of a brioche roll, all natural mayonnaise, whole grain Dijon mustard, a thin layer of lettuce, slices of tomatoes, a bit of colby jack cheese, and turkey bologna. Yes, bologna made out of turkey, brought to us by Applegate Farms, "changing the meat we eat." Uncured, humanely raised, and gluten, casein, added nitrite and nitrate free, this no preservative deli meat tastes a lot like, well, bologna. Similar to how turkey ham tastes very similar to real ham, though admittedly turkey bacon tastes nothing like pig bacon (thank God).

This sandwich got me thinking: What exactly is bologna? Where does it come from? Why would someone want a turkey alternative? Is bologna that beloved? And so, my search began.

It turns out that one can make bologna out of any kind of meat (bologna is often mixed-meat, like hot dogs), even venison, but the most common is pork with lard as a key ingredient. Also, bologna is a kind of sausage unique to the United States that bears no small similarity to the Italian pork sausage mortadella, which originated in Bologna and can be traced back to Roman times, when the pork was ground to a paste with a mortar and pestle and seasoned. 

Sadly, no one seems to know why most people pronounce bologna as "baloney" (which, when spelled this way, means nonsense or hogwash). One story is that the word was simply corrupted from the Italian "boh-loh-nyuh," while another claims that "buh-lawg-na" didn't sound appetizing to American consumers (who generally insist on pronouncing everything the way it looks rather than how it actually sounds), so manufacturers changed it to "buh-loh-nee." 

In my reading, I discovered why turkey bologna would be useful: it's kosher! (Or it can be.) It also, of course, cuts down on the fat, 5.5g per 2oz serving of Applegate turkey bologna, though to be perfectly honest, slices of bologna are so slight that the difference is almost negligible. (Compare the fat content of different balognas here.)

So there you have it, another unique food that stumbled into my path. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to update. I've been working a lot of day shifts lately rather than night shifts, and last night after work, I had a very important date to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides. This week is going to be busy, but I promise I will try hard to be more on time with the next update!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Better Than An Omelette

The first time I ever tried a frittata was in Germany. We had stopped for breakfast at a little Italian place near the Dom in Cologne (Köln), and a frittata was described to me as an Italian omelette. It turned out to be not what I myself would exactly call an omelette, but it was still pretty tasty, and ever since I have wondered how one is made. Since my chiropractor suggested that I start the day with more protein (eggs, specifically) and I ran out of cereal, I decided I needed to try something different. Thus I got online and Googled "frittata." At the top of the page was this recipe from Alton Brown, my own personal god of cookery. 
I did not have asparagus on hand, nor, strangely, grated Parmesan, but I did have some leftover six cheese Italian blend from when I did the stuffed shells the other night. A frittata is like an omelette, or quiche, for that matter, in that pretty much anything can be added to it, so I was not worried about substituting frozen broccoli and adding more kinds of cheese to the mix than the recipe called for. 

Now, I will admit that I am a terrible omelette maker. But this frittata thing? Amazing! So light and fluffy and loads easier than quiche, even a crustless quiche. Though I think I will take some tips from my previous quiche excursions and add some nutmeg and probably mushrooms next time. I like broccoli, but I feel like the six eggs just needed a little more help. 
Wikipedia informs me that there is an Iranian dish similar to the frittata that is called kookoo. Since I have now made quiche and frittata, I feel that the next natural step is to try my hand at kookoo. I've never made Iranian food, to my recollection, so it will be exciting to delve into a new cuisine! Also, I'm pretty sure kookoo sabzi is what Dr. Suess was talking about when he wrote Green Eggs and Ham. (I can make green eggs and turkey?)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stuffed Shells

Among the many gluteny things that LaRissa gave me was a box of pasta shells. Usually I would use ricotta or cottage cheese to stuff shells, but we had neither of those, but we did have Meijer Italian six cheese blend of low moisture mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, Asiago, fontina, and Romano. I dumped roughly half the bag into a mixing bowl and added one egg, dashes of dried parsley flakes, basil leaves, garlic powder and stirred while Kimmy put some water on to bowl for the pasta and chopped a bowl of microwaves broccoli, because we decided broccoli and cheese stuffed pasta shells sounded pretty delicious. 

With the broccoli and cheese mixture stuffed into the cooked pasta shells, I laid them all out in a baking dish, then covered them in marinara sauce, and popped the dish in the oven for thirty minutes of baking. After taking it out upon completion, I sprinkled more cheese blend on top because I don't think I have ever had too much cheese in my life. Then, with the oven freed up, I put in some garlic bread to bake for fifteen minutes just to round out the Italian theme to dinner. 

Naturally, the shells weren't as poofy as if I had used ricotta or cottage cheese, but they were still delicious! And I got to make another full meal using only things lying around the kitchen. Victory! (Though I probably should have made a vegetable side dish...)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beet Generation

Meijer sells canned vegetables for as little as 49 cents a can. Thus, on my last trip to the store, I picked up a few, including a couple of cans of beets (no salt added because sodium is "the silent killer"). If you recall my previous entry on beets, they are a new food to me, and one that I find quite tasty! So I thought I would waste little time in revisiting them and seek out new quick and easy recipes for this little wonder food.

Since I am short on time between catching up on email and getting ready for work, I sought out a recipe with very few ingredients. On Spark Recipes, I came up with this guy: Sweet Beets. It took very nearly every drop of cider vinegar I had remaining in the cupboard, but I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

I started by melting the butter in a little sauce pot, then added the vinegar, corn starch (which delightfully melted in the vinegar), a few dashes of salt, and finally the sugar. I let it just barely simmer for a few minutes while I heated a can of sliced beets in the microwave, then poured the syrupy concoction over the bowl of steaming beets. Super quick and so easy!

There was a little too much syrup for my little bowl of beets, but that's not too troublesome since it just pools at the bottom anyway. The smell is distinctly vinegary as is the taste. I think perhaps if I did this again, I would use less vinegar and perhaps add some garlic powder for added flavor. All in all, not a bad little side dish, but I believe beets on their own are a decent side dish and don't really need anything added.

Of the two beet dishes I have made, I prefer the first. But if you really don't like beets on their own, or if you really like vinegar, this isn't a terrible low fat side. It reminds me of the beet salad that I tried from Trader Joe's, which I also found to be too vinegary. I guess vinegar is just an acquired taste.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Impromptu Chicken Strips

I am once again at that point where I need to clean out what's in my cupboards before I go grocery shopping. Still leftover from the box of gluten products that LaRissa gave me are two canisters of Italian bread crumbs. I really wasn't sure what to do with them until my friend Rachel made a brilliant suggestion: chicken strips!

I had never made chicken strips before, but I do have a recipe for battered portobello mushrooms that I thought would lend itself to battering and pan-frying anything else, so I pulled it out and looked it over. After cracking an egg in one bowl and whisking it, in another bowl, I combined half a cup of bread crumbs with one quarter cup of  grated Parmesan cheese, then threw in dashes of salt and pepper and as much dried onion bits as I could before I got bored fighting with them (not long).

Unfortunately, I had to thaw the chicken in the microwave before I could slice it into strips, which made it a bit rubbery around the edges. (Anyone who says they can cook chicken in a microwave is wrong.) But after smothering them in egg, then the breadcrumb mixture, and frying them in a pan of olive oil, they were quite juicy and delicious! 

Since I cooked the chicken in olive oil, I didn't want to do the same to the vegetables, so for a side, I made steamed broccoli (also in the microwave because I needed it to be quick). A couple nights later, I made chicken strips again, though I forgot the Parmesan cheese, which I think we're out of anyway, and Kimmy made Zatarain's dirty rice with cheese and added broccoli as the side. The spice from the rice complemented the chicken all right, but the cheese was a bit too obviously from a powder and not nearly creamy enough. If we make that again, I'd add milk in hopes of softening it.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures this time. I guess I was just too distracted by dancing around to the Marc Anthony CD that was playing in the DVD player. (I really need a real stereo.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flax For Eggs?

That looks like an egg, right?
Last week I was all set to make the last of my pumpkin pancake mix when I discovered we were out of eggs. I posted about this on my Facebook, and got some interesting responses. Two friends suggested using ground flax as a substitute. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try today. Ground flax isn't something people generally have on hand, I find, however, in my case, I do have some in my cupboard from way back when I made Swedish Meatless Balls, and have been looking for another use for it. (Ground flax doesn't go bad, right?)

I used this site as my guide, but chose to ignore its warning against using flax as an egg substitute in pancakes. Like the Japanese proverb states: if you believe everything you read, better not read. The flax and water mixture didn't get to what I would call a gummy consistency, but after letting it sit and soak for a while, it stopped separating when I whisked it with a spoon, and decided to go ahead and add it to my bowl of milk and melted butter. 
Dry on the right, wet on the left.
When I opened the spice cupboard above the stove to retrieve the cooking spray, a bunch of ants scattered. Yes, we have ants AGAIN. But this time, they are big black ones that make a loud crunching noise when you crush them. Which I did because when I saw them scatter, I noticed they had been working on a pile what appeared to be brown sugar. So I checked my bag of brown sugar only to find a bunch of black bodies digging through the bag like it was their own personal sugar palace. They had chewed a hole on the bag and set up shop, the little bastards! I threw them and their sweet, sticky prison into the trash. That was a practically new bag of brown sugar, so I am pretty pissed about losing it. It's war, ants! (Again.)

But back to the pancakes. I stirred together all of the ingredients, and poured some batter into the pre-heated pan, then covered the pan because I find things cook faster when I do so. The pancake fluffed up like normal and when I flipped it over, it wasn't burned. When I dumped it onto a plate, it looked like a completely normal pancake. Poking at it with a fork revealed a completely cooked-through center. In fact, my first taste test contained quite a bit of fluffiness! Perhaps even fluffier than normal. Of course, that could be a fluke, but I think this at least shows that substituting ground flax soaked in water for eggs does not ruin the consistency of the resulting pancake. 

With some real maple syrup, the taste of the pancakes was perfect! I didn't notice a change in texture due to the flax, and since it was ground - making it more easily digested - I got a nice dose of omega 3s with my breakfast. 
Now here's some trivia for you: flaxseed has been cultivated since ancient Babylon, and Charlamagne required his subjects to eat it because he was so convinced of its health benefits. (Courtesy of WebMD The Benefits of Flaxseed.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

They're Venison Burgers and I Helped

Eeew... raw meat...
Man, I'm getting spoiled. First, I had the beautiful and talented LaRissa assisting me with gluten free paczki, now I have the slightly less talented, but still beautiful and ready to help Kimmy making me venison burgers! (Because I have never made burgers in my life since I don't eat red meat, generally speaking, and prepare it never.) When Chris and Crystal gave us the venison, they made us promise to use some to make venison burgers (I made the venison lasagna with the first stick they gave us). 

I took the frozen venison out of the freezer, forgot about it for a few days, then remembered on Sunday and declared venison burgers for lunch! Strangely, the stick was still partially frozen, so Kimmy froze her poor fingers while mixing the meat with dried onion bits, parsley, salt, pepper, and a dash of celery salt (which I sprinkled on since her fingers were all covered in dead deer, thus I helped).

We ended up with 7 patties because we forgot that meat shrinks when its cooked, and also leftovers will feed us for days. 

This is also the first time my free Foreman grill (courtesy of Nate and LaRissa's generosity) has been used, and I think this was a worthy first run. Just before they were finished, I sprinkled shredded cheddar cheese on top of a few burgers because cheese is amazing. (Sadly, I could not taste it on the finished product, but I knew it was there.) 

This apartment is sadly lacking in condiments, so on mine, I squeezed ketchup from the bizarre ketchup packet herd hanging out in the built-in egg tray in the fridge. (I do have a bottle of organic ketchup, but I figured I should use up the packets first which I think came from the Greek restaurant downtown when we got gyros and fries to-go.) There is no mustard, a state which puzzles me, but I have yet to remember to rectify, and I forwent the mayo because it just didn't sound right at the time. I did layer on some lettuce since I didn't think I'd eat any more vegetables that day (and I was right). Kimmy topped her deer patties with ketchup, mayo, cheese, and Caesar dressing. 

Prior to this, I have only had venison in two forms: stew and lasagna. The burgers were pretty darn tasty! The main reason I don't like cow burgers is because they are more often than not greasy and disgusting. Turkey burgers run the risk of being too dry, and I don't even want to think about chicken burgers (ground chicken is disgusting!). So the venison was pretty awesome for me, being the right combination of meaty flavor and no grease. 

If anyone wants to give me any more venison, preferably not ground this time, I'd like to try my hand at my own venison stew! In bread bowls. Mmm...