Monday, January 30, 2012

Eating Out in Ferndale

This past Sunday, Kimmy, Greg, and I met up for brunch (or blunch, according to the menu) at The Fly Trap, a "finer diner" located near the corner of 9 Mile and Woodward in Ferndale. I had checked out their site the night before, and was quite impressed with their menu. With offerings like "Eggs a la Boring" and "The Slacker Especial," it was obvious these people had a sense of humor.

Greg warned us ahead of time that there was always a wait to be seated, and it was cold, so luckily for most of the wait there was room for us to stand inside. Our wait actually wouldn't have been so long since pairs of people regularly departed the counter, but since there were three of us, we had to wait for a table to empty, which took a bit longer. I honestly didn't pay attention to how long we waited, so it must not have been too frustrating.

We all ordered coffee to drink, then Kimmy and I also requested small glasses of tangerine juice after I was delighted to discover it on the menu board above the counter. Tangerine juice is superior to orange juice in every way and tends to be seasonal up here (and probably elsewhere, as well), therefor a little difficult to find. The coffee tasted like diner coffee. It was drinkable and did not repel me like the coffee served at IHOP, for example .

I ended up getting the french onion soup omelette, which was freakin' amazing! Kimmy ordered the Slaker Especial, which I took a bite of and also enjoyed, while Greg got the Cowboy Curtis. Since that involved ribeye steak, I only tried a bit of the sauce on a piece of potato, and the sauce I thought was very tasty. Sweet followed by just enough bite to get your attention. 

Speaking of the potatoes, they were cooked. Very cooked. I was so happy! Usually when I go to breakfast places and order potatoes (hasbrowns, "American" fries, etc), I'm lucky if they're warm, let alone cooked through. These suckers were browned and they were delicious! 

In addition to a soup of the day, there seems to be a jam of the day (or some such period of time). When we received our toast (two plates of sourdough and one of whole wheat), we were also given a dish of spiced berry jam. I don't know what kind of berry it was, but it at least reminded me of red currant, and this, coupled with the spices, made the jam taste like Christmas. Kimmy agreed with me; we now know what Christmas tastes like. 

If you are ever in the Ferndale area, I suggest stopping for a bite at The Fly Trap. Just know that there will probably be a wait, though I think the food makes it worth it. You will be especially delighted if you are vegetarian or vegan.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Soupa Avgolemono (Egg & Lemon Soup)

One of the things that I have always enjoyed at Greek restaurants is the egg and lemon soup (though I didn't know there was egg involved until I came across this recipe). So when I came across Soupa Avgolemono in the Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbook "Cooking the Greek Way" (best cookbook series ever; check your local library), I knew that I had to make it. The best part of all? I had all the ingredients already sitting around my kitchen!

First, I had to bring 4 cups of chicken broth to boil in my large saucepan. This should have been easy, but I discovered that I only had enough condensed chicken broth packets to make one cup of chicken broth (or two because this stuff is pretty strong). I went ahead and boiled the four cups of water with the one packet of broth anyway because at that point I didn't have much choice in the matter. I had spent the entire day driving around in a car and that last thing I wanted to do was venture out for some chicken broth.

Once the broth was bubbling, I added 1/3 cup of uncooked rice. I used the brown basmati rice from Trader Joe's, which is about the only brown rice I will eat because it actually has a good flavor. Generally, I far more enjoy white rice, preferably short grain, which is not easily come by for some stupid reason, however, I was trying to give brown rice a chance because it supposed to be healthier. (I am unconvinced.)

While the rice was cooking in the chicken broth, pan mostly covered since I don't actually have a lid large enough to completely cover that pan, I turned to the rest of the recipe. Into a tiny casserole dish (it's what I had available), I cracked two eggs and beat them together with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice using a wire whisk.

When the rice was cooked, I turned off the heat under the broth and slowly ladled some broth into the lemony egg mixture while constantly whisking so the hot broth wouldn't curdle the eggs. The recipe calls to add two cups of broth, but it was easier for me to just ladle until the mixture seemed very thoroughly blended, the pan of broth had cooled, and the stuff in the casserole dish had warmed to almost room temperature.

I then poured the eggy-lemony-broth mixture to the pan of broth and rice, adding it slowly and whisking it all the while. When I was satisfied that it was properly blended, I turned the burner back on to medium-low and stirred the soup constantly while it reheated so as to not end up with chunks of egg floating around inside.

The first taste test was a bit thin. It probably would have benefited from more chicken broth, but it was too late for that, and I still wasn't running to the store, so I added a few dashes of celery salt and garlic salt, which added more flavor than I thought, though if I hadn't known I had added them, I never would have guessed by tasting the soup alone.

For a main dish, I ended up cooking a couple of chicken breasts on the stove sprinkled with garlic powder, celery salt, and lemon pepper blend. They went very well with the soup, I thought, though Kimmy was unprepared for the soup's lemonyness.

One thing I forgot to do when serving the soup was sprinkle parsley on top, and I am very disappointed in myself for this. I love parsley!! Ah, well. I'll remember when I eat the leftovers. I hope you enjoyed this installment of Greek appetizers. See you next week!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Greek Good Morning

Like much of Europe (I've gone over Sweden already last year), the Greek people do not seem particularly interested in breakfast. In fact, they eat very similar items to the Swedes, bread and cheese (feta for the Greeks, of course) among them. A traditional Greek morning meal may also include boiled eggs, olives, and tea or milk, but usually coffee is the beverage of choice. 

Since my stomach has been very unhappy lately, the Greek breakfast suits me just fine! I often start my days with a mug of chai latte, but lately it has been straight tea, herbal or black. Simple bread, occasionally with butter, has been easy on the stomach, or a cup of yogurt, then a few hours later around 11 or so, I follow it with a snack to keep me going, which, as it turns out, is a pretty Greek, too. No cheese or spinach pie for me, though, sadly. I've been relying on high protein bars either mint cookie or cookies and cream. (I have a sweet tooth.) 

The Greek breakfast grew up in the country where people had to get out in the fields to tend crops or animals, so it was mostly quick, light, and portable, which is exactly what I've been needing for work lately. And I'll probably be following this routine for a while, until my stomach settles down anyway.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Arakas me Aginares

I was recently delighted to discover a popular Greek vegetarian main dish called arakas me aginares (peas with artichokes). It can be difficult to find a hearty and satisfying vegetarian dish to act as main course. I admit my own bias that my natural assumption was that this was a side dish and I'd have to once again haul out the Foreman grill to make chicken, but according to Wikipedia, this is a dish often made during fasting periods when eating meat is somewhat frowned upon. 

Here is the recipe that I mostly followed. I ended up using 4 green onions instead of 3 because I have so many of them and I am not really sure what to do with them! I also used the dried dill for the same reason. (I can't even remember what recipe I bought the dill for, it was so long ago.) 
And! To chop the two tomatoes, I used the electric chopper that Greg's family got me for Christmas. *love* I had considered just using canned tomatoes, but I am glad that I went with fresh. I also just bought one 1lb package of frozen peas and another 1lb package of frozen artichoke hearts because I wasn't about to let 1/4 lbs of either go to waste. I am really glad I went with only 1lb of peas. 1 3/4 never would have fit in my large sauce pan!

After combining everything into the pan (I was really worried the water would overflow, but it didn't), I cooked it for a good amount of time on medium heat. I didn't keep track of the time because I couldn't find the lid for my pan, so I just cleaned up the kitchen and occasionally poked at the simmering pot on the stove until the artichokes seemed properly cooked through. Then it was just a matter of getting the excess water to boil off. 

Since I didn't have fresh lemons (Greece's favorite ingredient), I just sprinkled lemon juice over everything and let it sit without a cover because I still couldn't find the damn lid even after cleaning the kitchen. 

Delicious on its own, I did eat it with two slices of bread that were not vegan, but that is easily remedied for anyone who wishes to make this a perfectly vegan meal. I've never given much thought to dill beyond dill pickles, so I was a little intrigued, though pleased with the taste of the dish. It was also nice to have artichokes in something that wasn't garlic mayonnaise, though I am by no means saying that is not also quite tasty. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mac 'N Cheese Night

Last week, my boyfriend came up with an idea for a very tasty Game Night theme: macaroni and cheese! He decided to make a four cheese baked mac 'n cheese while I found this the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe that I've been wanting to make for a while now, Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac 'n Cheese from scratch, no box.

I did have to tweak the recipe a bit. For starters, I doubled it. I also left out the hot sauce, because I can't stand hot sauce, and the dry mustard because on my tight budget I couldn't justify paying $3.50 for less than a teaspoon of something that I also couldn't think of another use for. And it turned out I didn't have enough evaporated milk, used leftover heavy whipping cream from the baked mac 'n cheese to make up what I lacked. Also, I did not salt and pepper it, though I was sorely tempted to use garlic salt. I prefer to leave things like salt and pepper up to the individual diners. I don't particularly like either substance, so in my own food, I like to leave them out. The cheese I chose was a sharp Vermont cheddar.

The end result was really tasty! Of the three mac 'n cheese main courses that were present, four cheese, stove top, and chili mac, my roommate Kimmy declared the stove top was her favorite. (I really liked the chili mac.) Everyone had a favorite, which I think means Mac 'N Cheese Night was a success! 
Side note: I was really hoping someone would try for a mac 'n cheese dessert, and I was not disappointed. (I would have tried myself if I'd had more time.) The dish was sort of like a vanilla custard with cooked macaroni inside and cheese. Most people did not like the texture, but it did not bother me. Ryan also made a blueberry sauce to go with it, which the dish definitely needed. It would have been too bland otherwise. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Greek Chicken and Lemon Couscous

Okay, I can't say this meal is "authentically Greek," but it does seem to me that the Greeks are overly fond of lemon since I have found lemon juice in nearly every recipe I have come across, and a key ingredient to this one is lemon. And happily so! I've never really cooked with lemon or lemon juice, so I am indebted to the Greeks for this pleasant introduction. This is the recipe that I followed: Greek Chicken with Lemon Couscous. And when I say followed, I really mean used as a basic guide.
For starters, rather than use chicken breasts, I finished off my bag of frozen chicken thighs, and rather than broil them, I used my George Foreman electric grill. I did coat both sides of the thighs with generous amounts of dried oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper. And they were delicious! I am delighted to have found something quick, easy, and tasty to do with chicken. (Since I don't generally eat, and even more rarely prepare, red meat, it is important to have a lot of ways of preparing chicken in my repertoire.)

When preparing the couscous, I had to make a few alterations because I was making this meal with only items that I had on hand. Thus, I did not use lemon rind, lemon slices, nor oregano sprigs. I did use three tablespoons of lemon juice stirred in with the 1 1/4 cups of chicken broth in which I boiled the couscous, but it came from a bottle in the fridge. I skipped the margarine all together (not even substituting butter), and used pretty much the rest of my parsley flakes. (I use a ton of parsley in my cooking.)

The lemon juice made the couscous delicious! I don't usually enjoy couscous without oodles of chunked cucumbers, tomato, and other things, so this was a surprise for me. I did find that I wanted something more to the texture (couscous is so tiny), but the flavor was great.

I was quite pleased with how quickly and easily this meal came together! I probably should have included a vegetable of some kind, but it was only lunch, so I wanted something healthy and light, yet with enough energy to get me through the afternoon. I'll try to pack dinner with veggies. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Horta Vrasta

I've been looking into simple Greek vegetable dishes that I can make quickly and easily. In my search I immediately came across "horta vrasta," basically boiled greens with olive oil and lemon juice. I didn't have any of the greens they suggested easily at hand (curly endive, chard, chicory), so I decided to go back to an ingredient that I haven't had a lot of ideas for: kale. (Up to now, I've only used kale to make kale chips, which are pretty darn tasty.) 

First, I dumped the 10oz bag of raw kale into my large spaghetti pot, and it barely fit. Then I sprinkled salt overtop and filled the pot roughly 2/3 of the way full with tap water. I knew this was going to take a while to boil, so I set the stove to its highest setting. I didn't time how long it took, but I kept an eye on it and turned the stove off when the stems were tender. 

With the water drained away, I added a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkled on a little more salt. I didn't have a fresh lemon, but I did have a bottle of lemon juice in the fridge, so I added some dashes of that, as well, and tossed it all together.

The taste was all right, but I thought it still needed a little something, so I added a bit of garlic salt. The second taste was delicious! And thus a new side dish was born. Well, at least it was new to me. And I gained another thing to do with kale! Next time, I will try to make something a little more complicated. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Greek Vegetables

With all the rich, sugary foods that the holidays brought, I've been striving to make healthier food in my kitchen that are heavy in vegetables. In my hunt for new recipes on how to make plain vegetables more appetizing, I found this really simple concoction called simply Greek Vegetables. I don't know how authentically Greek it is, but it sure sounded tasty to me, so I copied down the ingredients list and carried it with me to the store.

Unfortunately, I did my shopping near the end of the night, so a lot of stuff was already gone. I ended up with baby red potatoes and baby zucchini. The smaller potatoes were definitely the right way to go, as it turns out, but the baby zucchini ended a teensy bit overdone. I seem to have miscalculated on the cooking time required for the smaller bite-sized vegetables.

I also didn't use real garlic, relying instead, as I so often do, on garlic powder. Though the recipe doesn't call fr it specifically, I feel like I should have used Greek olive oil, but I didn't. I don't have the kind of money buying Greek olive oil requires, and the store was out of it anyway. (Actually, I don't think Trader Joe's carries it anymore.)

Rather than measure everything out, I just used the whole packages. There were so many potatoes that I ended up putting the sliced zucchini into another pan to also simmer in olive oil, oregano, and garlic powder. Once the zucchini was finished (well, a little past that point, as I already said), I dumped the zucchini into a bowl and put the mushrooms in its place in the pan of olive oil. The potatoes took quite a bit longer. In fact, they finished cooking about the time same time I deemed the mushrooms finished. 
With everything finished cooking, I combined them all in a big mixing bowl because that was the only thing I had large enough to contain it all, drained off a lot of the oil, and gently stirred it all together. I dished some out into a small bowl, but even that little bit took a very long to cool enough to be comfortably eaten. 

I think this was a very tasty combination, though less mushy zucchini would certainly help the texture if not exactly the flavor. Perhaps next time I will also make less potatoes, or cut them into smaller chunks, or just make more zucchini. The ratio definitely seemed off. (That may be what I get for not measuring.) The number of mushrooms, however, was spot on! Honestly, I don't think there can ever be too many mushrooms. Such delicious little crimini om nom nom...

Ahem. Anyway. This obviously works as a side dish, though it can work as a main entree, too, especially if you add more things to it. What those other things are, I leave up to you to decide. Me, I'm happy with mushrooms.

I think I may have stumbled on a new monthly theme, though. I intend to investigate more vegetable dishes, so why not start with Greek vegetable dishes? I've eaten plenty of Greek food in my days, but I've never attempted to make it. This should be fun! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ending the Year Right

Casseroles are beautiful things. Rather like preparing for Lent, you take whatever you have in your cupboards, combine them in a pan and bake it for thirty minutes. In this instance, I decided to make a chicken and rice casserole because those are the two principle things I had in my larder besides spaghetti and meatballs.

With any rice dish, it is important to start with the rice. While it is cooking, you are free to put everything else together. Since Kimmy got me a rice cooker for Christmas, this freed up my stove to cook the chicken. I decided on boiling it because I thought I might save the broth for something later. I also set the oven to preheating.

I then unpacked the Christmas present from Greg's family, a food processor, which I used to chop the chicken. I did not turn it into chicken goo like my mother did when she went a little chop happy with her first food processor. Learn from others' mistakes, children.

Since the rice was still cooking, I combined the chicken with a really old can of cream of mushroom soup that has been sitting in my cupboard since who knows when, and a can of green beans, which had not been sitting there half as long as the soup. Once the rice finished, I added that, too, and stirred it all together with a giant spoon. 

I then went back to the cupboard to see what else I could throw in and settled on a few handfuls of slivered almonds that have also been sitting there a while, but not from lack of use. Seriously, it's like the never ending bag of slivered almonds! (If only. Those things are going up in price.) I also sprinkled some Italian bread crumbs over-top, finally finishing off one of the canisters. There's one more to go, so expect to see more of these crumbs in the future.
With the oven heated to 350F, I popped the casserole in and set the timer for 30 minutes. When it was finally finished, I eagerly dug in and ended up devouring about a third of the casserole in that first sitting. I wasn't really sure how adding the green beans would turn out, but they were delicious! And definitely added some much needed variety to the dish. I think the softer texture of the canned beans worked better than frozen or fresh would have. 

Sadly, the casserole did not last long. It was just too tasty. But it was a great way to end 2011! I've got some ideas going for 2012, but they may take some time to implement. Be sure to check out my newest endeavor Haiku A Day every now and again while relaxing with some fine food or a beverage of your choice. I will always be writing! I hope you keep reading. 

Happy New Year!