Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Can You Do With Cookie Butter?

1) Eat it with a spoon.
2) Spread it on graham crackers.
3) Use it instead of peanut butter in "ants on a log."
4) Melt it and use it as an ice cream topping.
5) Make a Nutella and cookie butter sandwich.
6) Spread it on toast.
7) Wrap it in a crepe.
8) Make fudge out of it.
9) Make cookie butter and Nutella milkshakes.
10) Spread it between two Oreos and indulge.
11) Layer it with other delights in a cookie bar.
12) Dip pretzels in it.
13) Put it on pancakes or waffles.
14) Eat it with a spoon.

Monday, March 26, 2012

More Fun With Frozen Mixed Veggies

A frequent theme of this blog is what to do with vegetables to make them more appetizing. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a loss for what to bring with me to game night on Sunday, and since "side dish" was open, I decided to see what I could do with the bag of frozen mixed vegetables in my freezer. 

The first thing I did was turn on my computer and do a search for "what to do with frozen mixed vegetables." Lots of stuff came up, but I had only a few hours to prepare whatever the dish ended up being, and I didn't want to run to the store to buy ingredients. I was delighted to find this site in my search results from Weight Watchers of Australia and New Zealand. It lists 10 things to do with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.

The one I chose is #6, couscous. I had a half empty box of couscous in my cupboard since I made a couscous salad a few months back. Here was the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! I didn't have enough couscous to follow the recipe exactly, and boy am I glad I didn't. 

The first of my changes came with the first instruction. I didn't have any vegetable stock, or any kind of stock, so I just put 2 cups of frozen mixed veggies into a large pot with 2 cups of salted water, dried thyme and oregano, and let it come to a boil over medium-high heat. (I didn't want it to boil over as my stove has a tendency of doing lately.) 

I then poured in one cup of whole wheat couscous, covered the pot, turned off the burner and let it all sit for a good while. Once it was all blended together, I actually ended up letting it cool and served it cold rather than hot. The one cup of couscous was just right. If it had been doubled, the vegetables would have been lost! 

The concoction ran a little on the bland side in my opinion, but it turned out pretty well for a side dish I was taking to what is essentially a potluck, plus a few people told me that it tasted good. I'm trying to think of ways to improve it should I make it again. Maybe some balsamic vinegar? Tomatoes? I'm not sure.

Sorry there is no picture this time. It looked a lot like fried rice, only without the egg, and couscous in place of rice. That's something I should make again - fried rice! Maybe once I am settled in my new apartment with my bigger kitchen. (Ooh, I can't wait!)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chili Cheese Dogs or Coneys With Cheese

While living in California, I didn't realize that state doesn't have Coney Islands. Growing up on the west side of Michigan, they weren't a big part of my growing up either, but now that I live on the east side, coneys are everywhere, sometimes even across the street from each other, and I would be sad to again live without them.

If you are scratching your head and don't feel like clicking the links, I'll break it down for you. Coney Island is the name for both the type of hot dog, also known as a coney, and the restaurant that serves them. More than likely this diner style restaurant is Greek, and coneys are usually on the menu alongside the also very tasty gyros (pronounced, more or less to the American tongue, "yeer-ohs," and yes, with the sibilant s attached). Traditionally, coneys are hot dogs in a bun with chili, chopped onions, and mustard on top. One common variation popular in Ohio is to also top this with cheese (sometimes called a Cincinnati coney dog), which is my favorite way of doing things.

When I was reading about coneys on Wikipedia, I came across something called the Michigan, which seems to be what people in New York call a coney dog because coneys originated in Michigan. (In Jackson, actually, about a twenty minute drive from my apartment in Ann Arbor.) I have never heard of a hot dog called the Michigan, but I am delighted that we have one named after us. 

Coney dogs are easy to make at home. I made some the other day when I had a bunch of hot dogs (Meijer sells turkey dogs in packages of 8 for $1.50), but was kind of sick of hot dogs. I had a can of chicken chili from Trader Joe's - the best one they sell - in my cupboard and a bunch of shredded cheese in the fridge. I didn't have any onions to dice, but unless they are sweet onions, they bother my stomach anyway. All you do is cook the hot dog, put it on a bun, squeeze on a line or two of mustard, and spoon on the chili! 

If you want onion to make it "traditional," this is when you also spoon on the diced onion, and if you love cheese like I do, you finish by covering the dog in shredded cheese, usually cheddar, but it's really up to you since this is your coney. I used a blend of cheeses. Don't wait for the cheese to melt or try to force it to melt. Just serve fresh and eat as is, a hot and delicious mess.

And there you have a traditional Midwestern style of hot dog. I apologize to the rest of the world for not having Coney Islands. It is truly their loss.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Portland and the Day of Food

As I said previously, while vacationing in Seattle, my boyfriend Greg, our friend Amanda, and I took a day trip down to Portland. We learned ahead of time of a vegan mini mall and made that our first stop.

Since we arrived in Portland around lunch time, we made Sweatpea Baking Co., a completey vegan bakery that also serves soups and sandwiches, our choice for lunch. And since the weather was so beautiful, we took our food to the park across the street. Which actually turned out to be a bit awkward because the park was filled with homeless people. I feel bad eating in front of people who can't as easily buy their meals. The men in the park ignored us and continued on about their business, and we all enjoyed the sunshine and new spring flowers.

When lunch was finished, we explored the other vegan businesses. First up was Herbivore which specializes in cruelty free clothing, much of which is, sadly, a cotton and polyester blend. I try to stick to only 100% natural fibers (and food, thus I got a hummus sandwich from Sweatpea rather than a fake meat one). I had been looking forward to getting a T-shirt that said "eat like you give a damn," but they were out of 100% cotton ones, so I had to settle for a button instead. When I asked the girl about it, she said they had to redesign them and would have more in a few weeks, but since I obviously won't be in Portland, I will have to keep checking their website.

Next to Herbivore is Food Fight, a little vegan grocery store, where I bought some delicious blueberry licorice. Also, I was so amused by the wording on the front door giving the store's hours, that I had to take a picture of it.

And the last store in the little strip of shops is Scapegoat Tattoo where Amanda thought she'd try to get a vegan tattoo, but the cost was too much in question and she wasn't certain what she wanted to get.

From the vegan mini mall, we headed to the infamous Voodoo Doughnut on 3rd Ave, the original location. The entire brick building is covered in glitter, which is pretty fun, and the decorations are, as you can imagine, whimsical and fun. The frosting on the doughnuts is very sticky and the raised yeast doughnuts are chewy. The doughnuts are as kooky as the decor. Some of the flavors we ordered were voodoo dolls with raspberry filling, bacon maple (Greg assured us it was delicious and "tasted like breakfast"), Fruit Loops, and Butterfinger, among others. The cake doughnut that I ordered was possibly more delicious than the raised yeast.

Voodoo Doughnut has a wide array of tasty vegan doughnuts, which made Amanda very happy. She was even having cravings well after we departed Portland.

Our food tour of Portland continued at Old Town Pizza, a famously haunted pizza parlor located in the lobby of a beautiful old hotel. The atmosphere was both awesome and creepy, and the food was fantastic. According to legend, the ghost who haunts the restaurant is named Nina and used to be a "working girl" in the hotel who was killed in or near the elevator. The elevator has since been removed and the old shaft has been converted to a cozy little eating nook. Be sure to look for her name carved into a brick.

Though we still had plenty of doughnuts still for dessert, we had one more stop to make before returning to Seattle. Thus we headed over to Rimsky-Korsakoffee House located in a converted Victorian home, and where I had the best cafe mocha I have ever had. What is so noteworthy about Rimsky's isn't just the coffee, however. The table next to us slowly - almost imperceptibly - raised and lowered itself. Another table disappears into the wall while another slowly rotates. There is also a surprise in the bathroom upstairs, but I won't spoil it.

Many of the places I have mentioned don't take credit cards, so be sure to carry cash with you should decide to visit.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seattle Day Three: Snoqualmie and Downtown Seattle

Our third day is Seattle actually took us outside of Seattle to the nearby city of Snoqualmie, famous for the beautiful Snoqualmie Falls. We didn't actually make it to downtown Snoqualmie, instead stopping off twice in a cute little four corners area off the road to the falls that was obviously a very modern construction with restaurants, shops, and a grocery store. (And two coffee shops. This is still in the Seattle region.) The main street was called Center. 

First we stopped for coffee at the SnoValley Coffee Co. I ordered a white chocolate mocha and a poppy seed muffin. Both were delicious! Later, on our way back from the falls, we had lunch at Spicoli Sub Shop. If you visit Snoqualmie, pay Spicoli a visit! The woman who runs it is friendly and makes everything herself, including the bread and roasting the turkey. The menu is varied and very affordable. A 6 inch sandwich is only $5 and packed with flavor. 

The most delightful thing about Spicoli, though, at least in my opinion, is the walls which resemble chalkboards. All of the walls, including the walls in the bathroom, are covered in quotations, many from movies, and some, I'm pretty sure, from books. Many I didn't recognize, but those I did made me smile, like the one from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a movie that my family and I watch every year while decorating our Christmas tree. 

Another nifty thing about Spicoli is that they donate meals to children in need. With your meal you are given a slip of paper upon which you may write the name of a local school of your choice or, if you know of one, a child in need to whom Spicoli will deliver free sandwiches for school lunch. I'm not sure if this is a drawing that she does every week and it's a new school or a new child every week, or even a one time deal (though I wasn't given that impression), but any which way, it's a commendable program. 

Kitty corner from Spicoli and SnoValley Coffee Co. is an adorable little shop called My Cakes, which we had to check out. We ended up not actually ordering anything, but I did get a free sample of a strawberry churro that was delicious. I didn't know they came in strawberry! They also come in chocolate. I wish I had tried that sample, too. 

Back in Seattle that night, we decided on Ethiopian food since it's a cuisine that Greg has been wanting to try for a while, which has in turn piqued my interest, as well. We ended up at Pan Africa, a small restaurant attached to Pike Place Market that is also allegedly haunted by the ghost of someone who was supposed to have been murdered in the area behind the shop. (To read more about hauntings at Pike Place Market, check out my other blog here.) 

I don't know about ghosts, but the food was superb! (Though the lamb was a bit tough.) This was a fantastic introduction to African food for me, and I fully intend on going to the place here in Ann Arbor, the Blue Nile, for another round. We did not all share a plate at Pan Africa as it seems you do at the Blue Nile, so I was able to try some of Greg's food, as well, which included injera, a spongy flatbread that is used as a utensil to eat the vegetables and meat placed upon it, rather like a flattened out breadbowl. You may think this sounds like a strange way to eat one's food; I thought it was awesome. The curry that I ordered was some of the most flavorful curry that I have ever had, though, sadly, it did not come with injera

For dessert, we headed to Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream Shop, which actually has several locations in Seattle. We went to the downtown shop at 108 Pine St. I have seen Molly Moon's many times on television, and they are known for their wacky and unusual concoctions, such as balsamic strawberry and honey lavender. They were out of the balsamic strawberry when I went, so I ordered earl grey instead. It was fantastic! At least as good as the earl grecrème brûlée that I had at Tea Haus in Ann Arbor. I wish I could have it all the time.

In addition to the ice cream, there were also a bunch of specialty chocolates for sale, including salted caramels that has President Obama's face stamped onto them, hence the picture. 

And with dessert comes the end of this entry, and probably also the end this little adventure into Seattle's delicious eateries. I hope you enjoyed it! Monday's will be about our day trip to Portland, which pretty much turned into a food trip. We ate so much awesome stuff! If you are vegan and headed to Portland, you should definitely pay attention. Until then, have a good St. Patrick's Day, everybody!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seattle Day Two: Fremont and El Chupacabra

Our second day in Seattle was mostly spent in the neighborhood known as Fremont, home to the center of the universe sign post, a statue of Lenin, and the Fremont Rocket. Originally, Fremont was a separate city from Seattle, and was annexed by the latter all the way back in 1891. Today it is known for its offbeat, counterculture vibe. Or at least it was. I read in a guide book that Fremont is not nearly as kooky as it once was since Adobe moved into the neighborhood and made it more Serious Business. 

Anyway, Fremont definitely has some kick-ass places to eat. Chief among them, in my opinion, is Blue C Sushi, the only kaiten (=conveyor belt) sushi restaurant I have been to outside of Japan. How it works is simple. The sushi chefs are in the middle of an oval shaped half-wall. Along the outside of the wall are booths and counters where customers sit. Along the top of the wall is a conveyor belt that is constantly running at a sluggish pace. The chefs in the middle make the sushi, put it on plates, and set the plates on the conveyor belt. The customers then peruse the passing tasty offerings and take the ones they want. 

Each plate has a different color band painted on it signifying what the price of that particular plate is. A green plate is $1.50, for example, because they are simple rolls with not a lot of ingredients, while an orange plate is $3.25 with more complicated sushi creations. Eat as many plates as you want. At the end, the prices are totaled together by your server (who mostly just brings you drinks and makes sure you understand what is going on and are happy) thus assessing the cost of your meal. I usually eat a bunch of cheaper plates because I'm poor. My friends and I did this a lot in Japan. 

This is not only great for people who don't have much money, but also for people on the go, like businesspeople! California has something similar that I experienced during my time there that was, in true California fashion, like a Disney boat ride for sushi. Rather than a conveyor belt carrying the plates of sushi around to the waiting customers, the sushi floats by on little boats down a guided waterway. I do not know if this exists in Japan; it might. But given its similarities to the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Small World rides, I would totally accept it being a California special.
For dessert, Greg and I stopped at a place recommended to us by the walking tour I found online. It was so freaking amazingly delicious that I must also recommend it to anyone visiting Seattle: Simply Desserts. I ordered a slice of Red Velvet cake that was divine, and Greg got the strawberry white chocolate cake, also quite tasty. Be warned, though, that they don't take credit cards. Bring cash. Eat cake. Perhaps enjoy a hot chocolate as I did. Done. There is a reason this place has been voted one of the best bakeries in the Pacific Northwest for 20 years. They're that amazing.

From there we walked (and possibly should have driven) up Fremont to a bookstore called Book Larder that only deals in cookbooks. They also offer tastings, classes, and demonstrations in their kitchen which is right in the middle of the sales floor. Greg ended up picking up a copy of Mosh Potatoes: Recipes, Anecdotes, and Mayhem from the Heavyweights of Heavy Metal. (You may find some of those recipes on this blog one day. Just a warning.) There were a number of books I would have loved to have poured through, but I prefer to get my books from the library if possible. One day when I have a better kitchen and no debts hanging over me, I will invest in a small personal library of recipe books. But that day was certainly not while I was on vacation in Seattle.

The friend that Greg and I were staying with, Amanda, is vegan, so when she accompanied us to dinner, we liked to find places that were Amanda friendly. And with the help of the internet, I found the ultimate vegan and nonvegan alike food hangout. In a neighborhood called Phinny Ridge sits El Chupacabra, the most awesome Mexican bar in the world (that any of us has been to so far). The prices are more than reasonable, the selection for meat eaters and non meat eaters is commendable, and the atmosphere is beyond compare. The wait staff is friendly and helpful, the jukebox is free during the quite lengthy happy hour (and stocked with tons of goth favorites), and the bar is well stocked, as well. Plus there is a patio, delivery options, and wi-fi.

I ordered one of the chickens (I can't remember what it is called), Greg got pork, and Amanda had I think the vegan version of the chicken that I ordered, all three in burrito form. They offer both dry and wet burritos, and I appreciate the option. (I prefer dry.) You can also choose between small and big. I kind of wish I had ordered the large one simply because I never wanted the deliciousness to end. Seriously one of the best burritos I have ever eaten, and I lived in San Francisco.

If you are vegan, go to this place. If you are not vegan, go to this place. I'll admit, the appearance may initially turn off some people, but please don't let a bunch of Dia de los Muertos memorabilia deter you from an amazing meal.

And that, my friends, concludes our second day in Seattle.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Seattle Day One: Beth's Cafe and Veraci Pizza

Our first day in Seattle required a hearty breakfast. Greg suggested we hunt down Beth's Cafe, a close-by location he had seen on the Travel Channel's show Man vs. Food. (Beth's has also been featured on many other Travel and Food Network programs. For a full list, see their website.) With the aid of my trust GPS, we quickly found the cafe, and, happily, parking was also easy to obtain (a trend that would continue through most of Seattle, surprising both of us). 

My first impression of Beth's was that it was small, but obviously a fun place. The walls are covered in crayon drawings created by patrons as they dined. Our waitress was on break for the moment, so another guy who doesn't usually wait tables took over for her. He was goofy and apologetic for being so inept, but he had nothing to be sorry for. When the regular waitress took over, she asked if we wanted to color while we waited for out order, and we both chimed "yes!" You've got to love a place that gives you crayons and paper when you are over the age of 6.

What Beth's is most known for, however, is the 12 egg omelette and "neverending" hashbrowns. Neither of us took advantage of the hashbrown deal, but Greg did order a 6 egg omelette that proved to be too much for him. I managed to eat my two eggs, plate full of hashbrowns, and English muffin which I loaded with delicious strawberry jam from a pot placed on the table.

I give Beth's Cafe an A++ for breakfasts! If you are in the Seattle area, definitely stop by. You can search the walls for Greg's 11th Doctor and TARDIS drawing or my less interesting "hi from Ann Arbor" scribble. 

Much later that day, after the sun had set and many adventures that will be chronicles in my Life From A2 blog, Greg and I stopped for dinner at another restaurant that was acknowledged by the land of television, Veraci Pizza, though we didn't know they had won best pizza in North America according to Eat St, a show on the Cooking Channel. 

I don't know about the best (I'm a little partial to Chicago style myself), but Veraci Pizza definitely has a good thing going and serves the most authentic Italian style pizza that I have had outside of Rome, Italy. The blend of spices is perfetto; no one taste overpowers any other. The service is quick, too. For dessert, Greg got a scoop of vanilla custard gelato while I ordered burnt sugar, which tasted like the crusty top of my favorite dessert crème brûlée. When I took a bite of both of our desserts together, it tasted just like crème brûlée, too. I don't think I'd order burnt sugar again, but gelato was certainly the best end to a wonderful dinner. And a good cap to our first day in Seattle!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hi, from the Pacific Northwest!

I don't usually leave vacation messages, but I figured I may as well be thorough and let everyone know that I'm gone and won't be updating again until Thursday. Since I am on vacation, I'll update everyone about the yummy foods Seattle and Portland have to offer me after I get back (I return to Michigan on Wednesday). 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cookies! Cookies, Everybody!

Now that I have all this cornmeal, I really should use it, right? Right. While I was looking up more Native American recipes, I came across this cookie recipe, and since I had all of the ingredients on hand - even the optional raisins (whoa) - I decided I had to give it a try.

I followed the recipe pretty much as is, but of course I didn't have any baking powder, so I used my usual substitution of baking soda and cream of tartar. The dough was very sticky, but had just enough sweet, and was just a little bit gritty from the cornmeal, rather like oatmeal cookies, but not as chunky because the cornmeal is obviously much finer than oatmeal. 

Kimmy and I agreed that there were not enough raisins, so we ended up adding more like a cup of raisins rather than the half cup called for in the recipe. The finished product was fantastic! I would definitely make these cookies again. I bet they'd be really good with chocolate chips or dried cherries, as well. Maybe even chopped nuts, though I'm not big on nuts in my desserts.

If you have cornmeal in your kitchen, and you are looking for another use for it, I highly suggest you try these cookies. Or if you just want a new cookie to eat!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the title is reference to this hilarious Skyrim video