Thursday, June 30, 2011

Struck Gold

Working at a grocery store, I get to hear about a lot of different recipes. I also enjoy finding people's lost shopping lists and imagining the kinds of dishes they could make with the items listed, and sometimes a complete recipe. In this case, I found an abandoned recipe for something called "Corn Casserole," and it sounded delicious.

We didn't carry all of the ingredients I needed at our store, so I headed over to Meijer to pick up the rest. All together, the recipe called for:

1 can of corn (I used a bag of frozen corn instead because it was all iced over in my freezer)
1 can of creamed corn
1 box of Jiffy cornbread mix
1 cup of sour cream
1 stick of butter
Shredded cheddar cheese

My roommate Kimmy is actually familiar with corn casserole, and assured me that it is delicious. So one evening when she was making shredded chicken tacos (which were amazing by themselves), I made the corn casserole as a side dish/dessert. 

The first complication was the frozen corn was frozen as hell! (The Buddhist kind of hell. The one that's frozen.) I've had complications in the past with frozen corn freezing the milk product to which I was adding it, so I was a little worried about getting ice chunks in the sour cream, but constant stirring seemed to prevent it. And maybe sour cream doesn't freeze as easily as milk does, in which case, yay!

After that, it was pretty smooth sailing. I dumped a crap ton of shredded cheese on top for the final 15 minutes of baking (an hour all together at 350 degrees in a 9x9 casserole dish), and it was delicious! It didn't seem entirely cooked to me - a little pudding-like - but Kimmy assured me that was fine and tasted great. 

So is this a recipe that I would try again? In a heart beat! Mystery recipes found at work for the win.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Northern Michigan Tasties Part III: Ice Cream

When I told my coworker who is from Traverse City that I was headed up that way for a weekend, she insisted I had to go to Moomers for some local homemade ice cream. But not only people from the TC area love Moomers ice cream, so does America. Moomers was voted best ice cream store in the country in a Good Morning America poll in 2008. 

Two things struck as delightfully unique about Moomers. The first, you can sit out on the patio and look out over the farm and cows that produce the cream that goes into Moomers ice cream. Second, the flavors. I had, for the first and possibly only time ever in my life, had rice pudding ice cream. Yes, there were chunks of rice, and yes, it was delicious. (Though I kind of wanted to sprinkle more cinnamon on top out of habit.) Of course they have more traditional flavors, as well, but why do that when you can have something original?

If you are planning a trip up north, definitely make Moomers Ice Cream one of your stops at 7263 N. Long Lake Rd. If you enjoy ice cream, you will not be disappointed.

Another uniquely Michigan ice cream that is all over my neck of the mitten is Stroh's, started by the Stroh Brewery Company in Detroit, Michigan as a result of American Prohibition in 1920. (I wonder if they ever made beer-flavored ice cream...) Wikipedia reports: "At the end of prohibition in America in 1933, the ice cream operation proved to be popular and profitable enough to continue alongside the brewing operation." 

Incidentally, Prohibition also gave us NASCAR, which you can eat ice cream while watching and celebrate History!

A local ice cream that I grew up with in Kalamazoo was Hudsonville, a creamery started as a co-op in 1895 in (surprise) Hudsonville, Michigan. TRIVIA: Hudsonville also gave us the sickest abs that should never be found on any minor ever, aka, Taylor Lautner, made famous as Jacob Black in the Twilight movies. Also, Hudsonville claims to have invented Blue Moon ice cream, but so do a lot of people and every recipe is different, so take that as you will.

The other major local ice cream to be commonly found in ice cream shops around Kzoo is Sherman's, out of South Haven, Michigan, also home to one of my favorite beaches. (They also make Blue Moon.) Some friends of mine claim to be able to tell the difference between Hudsonville and Sherman's and to not be able to stand one or the other, but I have never tried them side by side, and thus cannot really tell the difference. (Blue Moon tasting competition anyone?) I am sure there are differences, however, they're both ice cream and I love them both.

That being said, if you are in the Southwest Michigan area, most especially anywhere near Plainwell, Michigan, you must must must make a stop at Plainwell Ice Cream Co. on E Bridge St. Open only during the summer, this little shop makes some of the best ice cream I have ever had in my life. (And hey, they also serve Blue Moon. Who'd've thunk?) In fact, I think I need to be planning a trip there very soon. Time's a 'wastin'!

So there you have it. A brief tour of Michigan based on one of my favorite foods: ice cream. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Northern Michigan Tasties Part II: Root Beer

Top of the second dune.
Not far from the western shore of Little Glen Lake is what is known as the dune climb. It is precisely how it sounds: you can climb a fairly steep and rather tall sand dune. And when you're done with that one, you can climb another. And another. I was told there are five all together before you reach Lake Michigan, but we stopped after two since it was warm, sunny, and we hadn't brought any water, an essential part of any dune trek. Climbing is thirsty work!

So after skidding back down the dune and grabbing a few sips of water, my mother and I headed over to the little village of Empire where I was told we would find "the best root beer" at a place called Joe's Friendly Tavern. I was skeptical since I had already had the world's best root beer in Kalamazoo, brewed by Olde Peninsula, also home to some of the best stout outside of Ireland, according to a good beer-drinking friend of mine of Irish descent. I have also been burned by fresh brewed root beer before on Mackinac Island. The root beer was brewed in Kentucky, then shipped to the Island and tasted like a root beer barrel candy.

But I went in with an open mind and gave Joe's root beer a fair chance. It was, indeed, very good! But Olde P still wins in my book, mostly because it is sweeter and almost syrupy and comes in a chilled glass with no ice. The root beer from Joe's has a strong sassafras flavor that hugs the tongue rather than bites at it and is far from overpowering. Sort of like a root beer barrel candy, but sweet in a natural kind of way, not in a refined sugar kind of way.

I tend to compare homebrewed root beer to one of three commercial varieties: A&W, Mug, and Barg's (in order of preference). Old P's root beer is closest to A&W, so on the sweetest end of the spectrum. Barq's is on the nasty bitey end and is my least favorite. I would put Joe's root beer in the Mug arena, but with a definitely more satisfying taste.

Thus, I have to say that the root beer from Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire, MI is the Second Best Root Beer that I have ever tried. Though  really, the difference in flavor betwen Joe's and Olde P is enough that they are more or less on par with each other, just different branches on the same root beer family tree.

So if you ever find yourself in the Sleeping Bear Dunes region and find a hankering for some good root beer, stop by Joe's in Empire. (I also recommend the sweet potato fries.) Maybe if you can get it to go, you may then head over to the nearby Village Park where parking is free and you can enjoy beautiful Lake Michigan and a fantastic view of Sleeping Bear Dunes while sipping your tasty and unique brew.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Northern Michigan Tasties Part I: Wine

For the first time ever I missed an update! I'm so sorry! But I was staying at a cabin in Glen Arbor, MI, with barely a trickle of internet. I know it's not the best excuse, but it's all I have. And now I get to tell you about all the tasty treats to be found Up North!

Glen Arbor is a little township located in Leelenau county, a place that is mostly known for its beautiful lakes, cherries, wine, and Sleeping Bear Dunes. According to Wikipedia, Glen Lake “is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.” (It really is very pretty; the water is so clean and blue!)

The first thing we did after I joined my mother at the cabin was drive out to Old Mission Peninsula and go wine tasting. The two wineries we chose were Chateau Chantal and Chateau Grand Traverse, both gorgeous. Michigan wines are, due to the nature of the soil, far less dry than California wines. I am not terribly fond of California wines, though Paso Robles has some nice offerings, because of this, and I very nearly despise French wines, which I liken to licking sand.

But I digress. The two wine grapes that are most plentiful in Michigan are chardonnay (ick) and riesling (yum!). (Read more about Michigan grapes here.) At Chateau Chantal, I skipped right over the dry whites, dry reds, and fresh reds, diving right into the semi-dry wines, beginning my journey with a sparkling wine called Celebrate! (exclamation point included in the name). I would compare Celebrate! to Italy's Prosecco, though it is semi-dry rather than brut, extra dry, or dry, the labels for Prosecco.

I also tried a semi-dry red called Twilight that was delightful and somewhat fruity, the Select Harvest Gewurztraminer, another common Michigan wine that never disappoints, and the Late Harvest Riesling. The latter two are described as “sweet” and “luscious” on my tasting sheet, and I have to agree, though “luscious” is not a word I would apply to wine myself. Definitely sweet, and both would make excellent dessert wines.

This being Northern Michigan, I had to try their cherry wine, and enjoyed it so much that I purchased a bottle. The Traverse Bay region is known the world over for its tart cherries, but this wine was neither tart nor too sweet. It honestly tasted like biting into a fresh cherry.

Over at Chateau Grand Traverse, I mostly stuck to the plentiful rieslings and gewurz, but I did start off with the Pinot Noir Vin Gris because it intrigued me. It also did not disappoint. Naturally, I had to try one of their cherry wines, as well, and I chose the Cherry Wine Sangria, again for the intrigue factor. The spiciness was a bit concentrated, thus the girl at the counter recommended cutting it with something like club soda and adding many large chunks of fruit, which I hope we will be doing next weekend as I talked my mother into buying a bottle.

I realize this isn't the most comprehensive review of Northern Michigan wines, but hopefully I have piqued someone's interest, or at the very least alerted you to the existence of delicious Michigan wines. Wines that are, sadly, largely unavailable outside their growing regions. But if you should find yourself in Michigan, and you enjoy inexpensive, often free, wine tastings, I suggest you head up to Mission Point! I believe you will not be disappointed.

Upcoming blog topics: the best root beers I've ever tried, and local ice cream comparisons.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Essentials for Any Pirate's Larder

I often find myself struggling to find a well-balanced meal, as the phrase goes. Too often, a dinner is made up of entirely one food group, usually all carb or all meat, and more so the latter in my younger days. I find meat to be a bit too expensive right now to make a meal out of it. Pasta, on the other hand, is only 99 cents a bag, or, in the case of Meijer brand spirals and cheese, 99 cents a box.

But human cannot live on mac and cheese alone. Because I don’t deem the dinky powdered cheese packet to contain enough protein to really amount to anything, nor the tablespoons of milk, I started adding a can of tuna at the recommendation of a friend who used to make tuna mac all the time. (We tended to add hot dogs when I was a kid, which I also made not that long ago.) Besides, fish is good for the brain!

Protein isn’t the only thing required for a proper human diet, however, so I also add one cup of frozen vegetables. I prefer the Meijer frozen veggies because, unlike everyone else, Meijer does not include lima beans in their mix. (Huzzah!)

The first thing I do when I prepare this particular dish is after the water has started to boil, I add the vegetables followed by the noodles. I find this adds a little more vegetables flavor to the resulting mac and cheese, as well as keeping the vegetables and pasta well mixed. Once the noodles are softened and al dente (if you can manage that), I drain the pot of water, then add the milk, butter, and cheese. Once that is all blended and the cheese chunks have been dispersed, I add the drained can of tuna and stir that in.
Et voila! Tuna mac with veggies: a decently nutritionally balanced meal for cheap. Just add an apple on the side, or drink a cup of juice, and I think we’ve covered all the basic food groups. 

What other fun things can we add to mac and cheese? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Quick and the Easy

As I have mentioned before, I go to a game night every Sunday where people bring dishes to pass, etc. This last Sunday, since my boyfriend was doing roasted garlic and pasta, I decided to buy a Parmesan and garlic  baguette and a jar of bruschetta sauce. The baguette I sliced into thin pieces, then laid them out on a cookie sheet and toasted them in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Once they were cool, I threw them in a bag and took them to the gathering for dipping in bruschetta sauce. Quick, easy, inexpensive, and kind of fancy sounding.

Once again I am in that stage of eating everything in my cupboards before buying new groceries. I still have a good amount of pasta, so I boiled some the rest of my cappellini (aka angel hair pasta). Meanwhile, in a neighboring skillet, I poured in a bunch of olive oil, then, once it was heated, added some frozen mixed vegetables as well as a handful of frozen broccoli florets. When all was cooked, I tossed them together along with a thimble full of Italian cheese blend because that was, sadly, all I had. This dish would have benefited immeasurably form some Parmesan cheese, but alas! There is none in my fridge. (I'm a bad Sicilian.) 

I guess the bruschetta was the appetizer and the pasta veggies was the entree, so next up is dessert! Today I was craving cake, or something very like it, so I took the leftover Irish cream frosting out of the freezer (yes, I still had it), and spread it on a plate of graham crackers. Ta da! A complete meal when assembled together, which it more or less was for my lunch today.

Another thing you can do with the graham crackers is cover them in peanut butter for a slightly healthier snack. Instead of bruschetta sauce, you could dip the Parmesan and garlic little toasts in gazpacho, or an artichoke or cheese dip. And pasta, you can do pretty much anything to. 

That is this week's lesson in how to be a lazy, yet clever cook.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Taste of Ann Arbor 2011
Yesterday was the Taste of Ann Arbor festival along lovely Main Street from 11am to 5pm, complete with free parking! I've only once before been to a "Taste of..." festival, and that was when we stumbled upon the Taste of Chicago a few years ago during a trip to the windy city for a friend's job interview. We weren't prepared for the traffic or the food ticket prices, so after wandering for a bit, we left with empty bellies.

Not this time! Kimmy and I were prepared for Taste of Ann Arbor and forwent breakfast in preparation of the feast ahead.

Our first stop after obtaining a sheet of tickets each was Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub and Restaurant for some chicken on a stick. This was beaten flat and fried, so not at all what I get from Chinese buffets, but it was at least as delicious. I've walked by Conor O'Neill's many times and wondered how it was, though I've never stopped in. I will definitely have to do so now! I'm not a big beer drinker, so I'll have to bring my boyfriend along for that assessment. (Something tells me he won't mind one bit.)

Next up was a chicken taquito for Kimmy from a place I can't recall the name of, and a samosa for me that was packed with flavor from Shalimar. I actually bipassed the Japanese stands in favor of more Indian food - some cholle tikki - from, I believe, Mahek Indian Cuisine, which impressed me with its plethora of delicious spices that did not singe my tongue. (I like spice; I don't like hot.) 

When I spotted "cheese pie" on the menu for Parthenon, the Greek divey looking place on Main at Liberty where Kimmy had her first gyro, I insisted we get some. I freaking love cheese pie! It's like spanakopita (spinach pie) but without the spinach and stuffed with tasty, tasty cheese instead. Do yourself a favor and eat some today!

From there it was time for dessert, so we headed over to the Cupcake Station and got a couple of mini cupcakes that were absolutely fabulous. That was when I noticed that Cherry Republic had opened, a place my parents have often shopped at up in Traverse City, and I had to go inside. There were samples galore! Dried cherries covered in four kinds of chocolate, cherry salsa, cherry jams and preserves, cocktail weenies cooked in cherry barbecue sauce, mini meatballs soaked in cherry pasta sauce... I anticipate visiting that store often in the future. 

After that we completed our dessert tour with ice cream (Superman for me and butter pecan for Kimmy) and some fluffy tiramisu. We actually ate the tiramisu first because the ice cream was so solidly frozen that it took quite some time for it to soften enough for me to even scrape off a taste with my plastic spoon. 

Since Kimmy and I are still new to the city, attending the Taste of Ann Arbor was a terrific way to familiarize ourselves with more of the offerings downtown, where Kimmy spends much of her time already for her work. One of these nights I think I will have to join her for a drink or some snackings. Downtown Ann Arbor is loads of fun! And oh-so tasty.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Of Blueberries and Blenders

I recently took stock of my cupboards and refrigerator, including freezer, to see what kinds of dishes I can make and what ingredients I should think about buying on my next trip to the grocery store. Two things caught my attention: the frozen tub of chicken chili that my mother gave us probably a month ago, and two bags of frozen blueberries, also given to me by my mother, but sometime last fall. Those blueberries really needed to get eaten.

With the help of Google, I found, and settled on the blueberry coffee cake recipe that was voted the best. Of course, I had to make some changes, though. (I don't keep grated citrus peels in my kitchen, for example.)

The flour and sugar gave me no problems, but I still don't have baking powder, so I had to substitute using the baking soda substitution I discovered when mixing the batter for Irish cream cupcakes. To blend the butter, I used the electric mixer that my mother recently gave me, which is older than she is. No, really. My grandfather gave it to my grandmother as a present on my mother's birth. I'm not going to say how long ago that was, but I will declare that people really knew how to build back then! Though it might not be as powerful as the electric mixers of today, and struggled a bit due to having the incorrect size beaters in it (they kept spinning themselves out and falling in the batter), it works just fine for my purposes, and my hand was thankful for the break.

Rather than layer the blueberries, I just mixed them into the batter, then, after pouring everything into the shiny never-before-used baking pan, I sprinkled some cinnamon on top. Ordinarily, I would have done a crumble on top with butter and brown sugar, but I threw out the brown sugar when some ants decided to make a colony out of it.

I ended up not doing the icing for two reasons. 1) I don't believe I have ever had coffee cake with icing before, and it sounded kind of strange to me. 2) There is enough sugar in the cake and I am trying to cut back on my sugar intake.

The cake turned out to be not at all like my mother makes (smoother and less crumbly than hers), but it was still quite tasty and went well with the fruit blend ice tea that I made, though I think the added cinnamon is what gave it so much flavor. (Maybe the lemon does it for the original recipe.) Still, it wasn't a bad recipe and I think I would make again, just next time with the delicious crumble topping!