Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies and Cyber-seeds

Long ago, I remember making sugar cookies from Bisquick. I don't have Bisquick now, but I did have Trader Joe's pumpkin pancake and waffle mix which is kind of like Bisquick, but pumpkin flavored. So I decided to give it a go and looked up Bisquick sugar cookie recipes online. 

I chose this one to follow, but substituted butter for shortening because I don't believe in using shortening so never keep it around. I also used half & half instead of milk because I need to use it up before it goes bad. Of course, I used the pumpkin mix rather than Bisquick, and I left out the nuts because that sounds disgusting to me. I didn't have time to chill the dough, so I also ended up adding an additional 1.5 to 2 cups of flour at the very end to thicken it up. I don't think this affected the flavor at all, though it did lighten the orange tint to the dough a bit. 

The bones of the skull and crossbones didn't want to come out, so I ended up making a lot more cauldrons and beakers/turkey legs than skulls. The first batch ended up a little burned because the recipe's recommendation on baking time was about 3 times too long. I decided I'll just save those cookies for my grandfather when I see him next week. This is what my mother and I always did when I was little because my grandfather prefers his food to be burned (unless it's beef, in which case he likes it still mooing). We speculate this is because his mother had a woodburning stove and blackened everything, thus he was raised on well-done food. 

While the cookies were cooling, waiting to be decorated, I separated out the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin mush of the Cyberkin that I had carved for the jack-o-lantern contest at work. (I had wanted to do something geeky, but a dalek pumpkin seemed too complicated in the few hours I had to carve it, and I rather prefer cybermen anyway, so I made a cyberman pumpkin instead. For the non-geek, both daleks and cybermen are from the BBC series Doctor Who.) 

I usually prefer to let my pumpkin seeds dry overnight, or at least give them a few hours, but again, I was short on time, so I laid them out on paper towels to soak up as much moisture as possible after washing off the remaining pumpkin guts. Then I spread them out on the cleaned cookie sheet, set the oven to 350 degrees, sprinkled salt over the cyberkin seeds and put them in to bake for a little over 10 minutes. My oven is not the greatest, so the seeds on the outside turned brown and crispy and the inner seeds stayed a little on the mushy side. Still a pretty tasty snack, though, and packed with protein

I hope everyone has a glorious Halloween! Happy haunting from CK and the Cyberkin!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dinner's Ready!

Since I haven't been feeling very well, my appetite has been almost nil, and I am still not doing a lot of cooking. There is an acorn sitting on my counter (still) that I don't think is ripe yet, but it's hard to tell.

Friday was my day off, so after getting cider and donuts, picking out two pumpkins to carve on Sunday, and a bit of shopping, Kimmy and I returned home, put on my VHS of Legend and she made baked lemon pepper chicken strips while I made Zatarain's red beans and rice. We decided we needed an actual vegetable instead of just a starchy side dish, so I also microwaved some broccoli sprinkled with garlic salt. And then I thought I might add some shredded cheddar cheese for extra flavor.

I was pretty happy with this meal when Kimmy made a brilliant suggestion: sprinkle cheddar cheese on the red beans and rice. She also put cheese on her lemon pepper chicken, but I decided to leave that dish uncheesed.

Since Legend was over at that point, we next turned on Labyrinth while we feasted. And for dessert, we had Valu Time fudge swirl vanilla ice cream – I'm sorry, I mean “frozen dairy dessert” – which we bought earlier at Meijer for $1.99. It tasted like those little individual ice cream cups we got as ids at various school functions.

I also had some sweetened condensed milk in a squeeze bottle that I bought from Trader Joe's. When I was in Japan, I often had ice cream sundaes and parfaits with sweetened condensed milk drizzled over-top, and it was delicious! I've only ever seen it in little cans before, which is mostly useless since all recipes I've ever used that called for sweetened condensed milk only asked for a few tablespoons. So not only can I use this on ice cream (probably its main purpose), but should I come across (or seek out) recipes that require condensed milk, I'll have just the right amount!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mix It Up

Candy apple red!
As I said before, Thursday last was my birthday, and one of my presents was a shiny new Kitchen Aid 9 speed digital mixer from my generous friend Robin! It has 4 attachments for mixing, kneading, and whisking purposes, and a little bag in which to keep them all together. Ohh yeeaah!

Robin is somewhat infamous for her baking, including her yearly pumpkin bread that she sends out every year around Thanksgiving. (And I am always thankful for pumpkin bread.) One day, I may try my hand at making pumpkin bread from scratch myself, but for now I will make do with the boxed mix that finds its way to the shelves at Trader Joe's every autumn. It isn't as good as Robin's, but it's still pretty darn tasty, and I happened to have had a box in my cupboard when I unwrapped my birthday present.

Thus, waking up on Sunday morning, exhausted from my busy weekend, was a little like Christmas. I had already unwrapped the present and gleefully taken all of the items out of the box, but on Sunday I got to use it.

What I like about the box mixes from Trader Joe's is that they are super easy, requiring only a few simple ingredients (and also not filled with chemicals that I can't identify). After blending it all together with the mixer, I was delighted to find the runny batter was smooth, free of lumps, and I could just tell these muffins were going to bake up so much fluffier than they had when I beat the ingredients together with a spoon. I was not disappointed.

While they were baking, Kimmy kept an eye on them and I ran out to the store to pick up some frosting. I had wanted to get a cream cheese frosting and some tubes of colored frosting to decorate the muffins with, but I had trouble finding what I wanted, and I was very limited on funds. I ended up picking up just one tub of vanilla frosting, spooning some into a plastic baggy with a tiny bit of the corner snipped off, and doodling on the muffins. I made jack-o-lantern faces, ghosts, a bat, and attempted to make a werewolf that looked somewhat ambiguous in its animal features.

They were all pretty delicious. I am now wondering if I can use this pumpkin bread mix to make pumpkin whoopie pies. It never hurts to try! (Or it hasn't yet.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Meat on a Spit

Thursday the 20th was my birthday, and I didn't do a bit of cooking. To give myself a break and to indulge in a recurring craving, I headed over to Haifa Falafel on Washtenaw east of M-23 and spent some birthday money on a chicken shawarma and french fries. I also got a can of pop called Sun Drop, which I am unfamiliar with, but the can informed me was bottled by Dr Pepper, one of my favorite beverages (Japan suffers severely from the unavailability of Dr Pepper), so I figured it was worth a try. And it turned out to be delicious! But back to the shawarma.

I was first introduced to shawarma via Shawarma King near Western Michigan University's campus in Kalamazoo, MI. (I highly recommend the lentil soup. My mouth waters at the memory.) California is sadly lacking in shawarma, but the east side of Michigan is swimming in it! And I greatly rejoice in its easy access. Haifa Falafel was recommended to me by a friend shortly after I moved to Ann Arbor, and I was not disappointed. It has become my local go-to restaurant for this simple yet amazing Middle Eastern fast food. 

Shawarma is very similar to another of my favorite foods that I sorely missed while living in California: gyros (pronounced "yeer-ohs" in case you aren't familiar). They are both made with special rotisserie meat that is shaved, then wrapped in a flat bread with vegetables and special sauces. In Germany, they are called döners, and I ate an awful lot of them while I was there. All of these words - shawarma, gyro, döner - are variations on words in different languages that all mean "turn," a reference to the way the meat is roasted on a rotating spit, and each has specific sauces unique to their originating cultures. They are also all tasty as hell!

Mediterranean food is definitely dueling with Japanese as my favorite cuisine. If you ever have a chance to try a shawarma or a gyros, I doubt you will be anything short of in love.

Monday, October 17, 2011

One of the Most Horrible Things I Can Imagine

A customer came in tonight and bought three packages of bacon ends and pieces. When asked what she was going to do with them, she answered that she was making bacon jelly, which she further stated she intended to spread on hamburgers. (A manager also suggested spreading it on grilled cheese sandwiches.) I was, well, horrified. Bacon jelly!? We speculated later that it must be similar in preparation to the pepper jelly that we sell. Simmer the bacon pieces down to a fatty goo, then make jelly out of it, I suppose. 

After a good amount of searching on the internet, I came across a blog post about bacon jam, which is close, but not quite the same thing as jelly. The primary difference between the two is that jam is made from the whole of the edible bits of usually fruit, but I guess in this case, the entire slice of bacon. Jelly is made from the juice, or greasy fat juice from cooing down the bacon. I cannot find a recipe for bacon jelly, only bacon jam. Perhaps the customer meant jam and not jelly, or she is knowledgeable enough about jellies or has a recipe that has yet to find its way onto the internet. 

I guess I can see the appeal of a bacon spread for a cheeseburger or hamburger, but other than that, I am somewhat horrified by the thought. I think I prefer my bacon whole and unsugared. Also in turkey form as I have trouble eating pig products. 

I realize this wasn't me making anything, but this is a food and word blog, so I am allowed to just write about random things that come my way as well. If anyone has a bacon jelly recipe, please post it in the comments. I am intensely curious how this works.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Revenge of the Soup

I recently discovered the tomato and roasted red pepper soup at Trader Joe's. I don't usually go for peppers, even roasted red peppers, but not only is this soup delicious, but it is incredibly versatile. As this is soup season, I thought I would further share some of my discoveries.

Since this is at heart a tomato soup, it can, of course, be enjoyed alone or with simple garnishes such as a dollop of sour cream or shredded cheddar or Parmesan cheese. To lend some heartiness, a can of corn is quite tasty, or a cup or two of mixed vegetables.

Tortellini is also a wonderful addition! If you cook the tortellini in the soup rather than add it before serving, it ends up with a consistency much like Chef Boyardee, but tastier and probably healthier if you use fresh tortellini without preservatives and such. Ravioli, or any stuffed pasta, would also work well.

I heard that a coworker uses this soup as a base for sauces, adding a can of tomato paste as a thickener. It never would have occurred to me to use a soup like this to make my own pasta sauce, but in the future, I may have to give it a try. The roasted red pepper gives it a natural sweetness and cuts down on some of the acidity I find in the tomatoes.

I think meatballs would be great, too. Perhaps a big crock pot of meatballs simmering in tomato and roasted red pepper soup for a Halloween party or Thanksgiving. Oh, the endless soupy possibilities!

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Rogue Cookery

At this point I am pretty sure that I can make food out of the most disparate ingredients hanging around a kitchen. Recently, I took a trip to my mother's house in Kalamazoo, which took about an hour and forty minutes due to traffic, and by the time I arrived, I was hungry. 

If there is one thing I can always count on finding in my mother's kitchen, it is pasta! Lasagna, spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, macaroni, and egg noodles were all present. I picked fettuccine. Sure, there was half a jar of pasta sauce in the fridge, but there was also mayonnaise and an open bag of frozen peas in the freezer. I found a can of tuna in the cupboard, but decided against it. I also left the unopened bag of frozen corn alone, since that would just be so much more starch.
I learned from reading the bag of peas that peas are high in vitamin C. Wha? The internet confirmed it. Peas are also high in fiber, iron, and a dozen other nutrients. Sweet! (They're that, too.) So I tossed the frozen peas into the pot of water, then added fettuccine when the water finally started to boil. (What do you know, a stove that takes longer than mine!) 

To the completed pasta, I added a scoop of mayonnaise for both flavor and as some moisture. But wait! You may be saying. Isn't mayonnaise really bad for you? Not really, no. For one, it's not chemical soup that is going to make your insides rot and lead to an early death. Second, it's a good source of vitamin E, which has been linked to a lower risk of stroke.

After that was all stirred together, I drown it all in a grated Parm-Romano blizzard for deliciousness and some added protein. The cheese melted once it was mixed into the warm pasta, and the mayo helped keep it from clumping.

And there you have it, another thrown together dish that was yummy, short on ingredients, and easy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Brussels Sprouts... with Cheese!

I discovered a few years ago while living in California that I actually like Brussels sprouts! When smothered in cheese. Otherwise, I find them actually a bit too peppery for my taste. Still, I generally like them, and sometimes buy a pound to keep in the freezer.

Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family that date back possibly as far as ancient Rome. They contain high amounts of vitamins A and C, folic acid, and fiber. At this time of year, yay for vitamin C! Brussels sprouts also fight cancer, and I am always about that battle.

For whatever reason, my body has been craving vegetables lately, so I decided when I got home from work the other night that I would finally cook up that frozen bag of sprouts that had been hanging around for more than a couple of months. (Right next to the spinach.) 

I found a few recipes online for Brussels sprouts in cheese sauce, some I could have even cooked with what I had on hand, but each required nearly an hour of cooking, which my tummy was not willing to wait for. So I decided to throw the whole one pound bag of frozen whole sprouts into a large frying pan with some olive oil and let them thaw/cook. When they were about halfway done, I sprinkled on garlic powder, salt, and a little bit of black pepper, then let them finish cooking. Turning off the burner, I took three squares of sliced Muenster cheese - my favorite! - and lay them over the sprouts in the pan. Once the cheese was melted, I stirred it all together so the sprouts were thoroughly covered, then scooped them into a bowl and chowed down. 

I think the sprouts cooked for a hair too long as they were just a bit too soft, but this is the first time I've cooked them in a pan (I usually steam them in the microwave), and I wasn't quite sure how to tell they were finished. Well, other than repeated poking, which is more or less what I did. 

Hopefully I can make Brussels sprouts in cheese sauce sometime, but it will probably have to wait a while. So many recipes to conquer! And there's an acorn squash sitting on my counter that is asking to be next.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Garlicky Spinach with Almonds and Polenta

My roommate Kimmy has recently had an interest in Brazilian food, which I did back in March. I don't have the money to do a full grocery shopping trip yet, so I am still in the process of using what I find in my kitchen, which includes a pound of frozen spinach. This brought to mind the garlicky collard greens that I made, so I thought that I would make a variation of that. 

First I set 2 tablespoons of butter to melt in the large skillet with some olive oil drizzled around it, because butter and olive oil is freaking delicious. Then I added a generous sprinkling of garlic powder, followed by the remainder of my dried onion pieces, and splashes of salt and pepper. After the onion bits browned, I added a handful or so of slivered almonds that I totally forgot that I had!

Apparently slivered almonds brown quickly when simmered in butter and olive oil, and they sadly became a little too done. But everything mixed together with the spinach (and let to simmer more while the spinach thawed and cooked) was otherwise quite lovely. If/when I make this again, I'll have to keep a closer eye on everything as it cooks. Fresh spinach would probably also be a better choice since frozen spinach tends to turn out on the mushy side.

A few weeks ago, I bought a thing of polenta on sale at World Market because it was super cheap and I had never had polenta before (that I could think of). I didn't want to get too fancy with it for my first try, so I ended up slicing it and frying it in olive oil to go with the spinach and almonds mixture. Ended up being a llittle bland, but not too bad.

Not the best lunch I've ever had, but I did succeed in using the odds and ends of my kitchen once again to make two interesting dishes. I think the polenta would be a wonderful ingredient in a dessert, and intend to look that up later.