Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pizza: Detroit Style

Once upon a time, when I was still living in California, my roommate at the time, Sherelle, and I were discussing the various types of pizza. Not entirely sure what defined Chicago style versus New York style, we went to a definitive source: Wikipedia. It was there that we found a style of pizza neither one of us had ever encountered before, Detroit style. Being in California, neither Sherelle nor myself could really investigate this further, so I put it in the back of my mind to seek out this mysterious Detroit style pizza when I was back in Michigan.

Now that I've moved to the edge of Detroit, I've discovered almost no one has heard of Detroit style pizza either, even my friends who grew up there. My boyfriend Greg could only imagine that Detroit style must mean Buddy's Restaurant Pizzaria, a native pizzeria chain that isn't found outside of the metro area.

(Fun fact: Numerous pizza chains have their headquarters in the Detroit metro area, including Little Caesar's and Hungry Howie's. Cottage Inn and Domino's Pizza are headquartered in Ann Arbor specifically.)

Once again, Wikipedia was turned to, and this time, instead of looking up pizza in general, as Sherelle and I had, Greg looked up Detroit style specifically, and we found a modest entry that did name Buddy's as specializing in the Detroit style. (It also mentioned Cottage Inn, based out of Ann Arbor, and one of my favorite local pizza places.) Since Greg lives not far from a Buddy's, we headed over for dinner one night after running some errands.

It turns out that Detroit style is similar to Chicago style, but still distinct. Detroit style is square, often has a twice-baked crust, giving it a really yummy, almost fried texture, and has the sauce on top of the cheese. Greg and I ordered the Detroiter (we didn't think it could get more specific than that), which also had pepperoni. (We also ordered an appetizer of fried mushrooms, cauliflower, and zucchini that I highly recommend.)

When I posted about our trip to Buddy's on Facebook, a friend who grew up just outside of Detroit found a more in-depth description of Detroit style pizza at DetroitStylePizza.com. This site includes a lengthy description of both the style and the history of Detroit style pizza. In short, Detroit style pizza was created when World War II ended, and returning soldiers had broadened their horizons and palates, by Gus Guerra and his wife, Anna, who used her Sicilian mother's dough recipe. The original Detroit pizza was layered with pepperoni, then cheese, then sauce (hence the above mentioned "Detroiter"). 

Wikipedia says that Detroit style pizza can be found outside if Michigan, but the locations are few and very far apart. Go figure Austin, TX is one of them, though. The city's slogan is "keep Austin weird," after all. If you are one of the lucky people who can try Detroit style pizza, I recommend that you do so. It's a part of history that is sure to tantelize your tastebuds.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mild Japanese Vegetarian Curry

For a while now, I've had half a package of Japanese curry roux in my cupboard. It's something I usually keep around the house because it's easy to make and quite tasty, but it also makes a lot of food and I can't eat it all by myself. When I made the first half of the package over a year ago, I froze half in Tupperware for later use, then ended up throwing it away when I moved because it looked incredibly freezer-burned.

Since we were hosting game night at our apartment last weekend, I came upon the curry roux when I went rooting around in my cupboard for ideas. Easy and makes a lot of food. Perfect for a dinner party!

The first step was deciding which kind of curry to make. There is a recipe to follow on the back of the box that basically involves potatoes, carrots, onions, and a meat of your choosing (or not, if you prefer vegetarian, which is what I usually do). I also have two recipes in my homemade recipe book, one for vegetarian curry, the other is chicken. I decided on the veggie one, which requires one eggplant, one yellow pepper (again, I change this to orange since I think it is sweeter and more flavorful), and an onion. Since they're in season, I picked up a Vidalia onion, which are just plain awesome. Sweet and don't bother my stomach. Win!

First, I chopped up the eggplant into little cubes the size of croutons and put them into my wok with a bit of oil to cook down in over medium heat. Next, I chopped the pepper into bite-sized pieces and threw them in with the already simmering eggplant. Last went the chopped up onion – the whole thing, a rare occurrence for me. And since curry isn't any good without some garlic, I cut up three cloves of fresh garlic and stirred it all together to simmer for a bit.

After a few minutes, I added 3 cups of water with some dashes of salt and pepper. The vegetables needed to simmer for quite a while in the water. I think I had them on there for nearly 30 minutes. I also ended up adding another cup of water because the mixture seemed too thick.

Once the vegetables were mushy enough to my taste (it's really up to you how much you want to cook the vegetables), I broke up the chunks of Japanese curry roux and plunked them into the wok, stirring as the roux melts quickly and immediately begins to thicken the sauce. Once it was thoroughly stirred in, I let it sit a couple of minutes before turning off the heat.

While the curry was cooking, I had my rice cooker going. I ended up doing two batches of rice. Since it was Japanese curry, I chose short grain white rice, the same used to make sushi and onigiri, or really anything Japanese. I serve the curry over the rice in a bowl with no extras. Some friends were kind enough to make homemade delicious egg drop soup (my favorite!) to go with it. Even without any meat, everyone agreed dinner was quite tasty!

Now that I'm out of curry roux, I need to find a Japanese market so I can buy more. Oh darn!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chicken, Salsa, and Cheese

This is another recipe that I used to make a lot and for some reason don't anymore. That is changing, though, because it is really easy to make a big batch, then pack the rest away for lunches. I learned this recipe from my mother. It requires three ingredients: chicken, salsa, and shredded cheese. Sounds tasty, right?

Really, you can use whatever chicken you want, but I tend to just use whole chicken breasts. Chicken thighs would also be tasty, I think. Put the raw chicken in a baking dish, then pour salsa over the top. You can use any kind of salsa. I'm boring and cheap, so I usually buy mild thick and chunky Meijer brand salsa, though my favorite is Pace. I don't like spice (it bothers my stomach), but really any kind works. It doesn't even have to be chunky, though I think that may help keep the dish from getting too watery.

Next, you bake the chicken. I usually set the oven to 350F, but I noticed last time that my current oven cooks chicken better at 400F, and, of course, every oven varies. It took almost an hour for the chicken to cook thoroughly through from frozen. If you use non-frozen chicken, obviously it won't take as long to cook.

Once the chicken is cooked, dump the shredded cheese over-top. It doesn't matter how much cheese you use. I use a lot because cheese is awesome and I love it. It's up to you. There is also quite a bit of choice as to which cheese you choose. There's basic cheddar, in which case, I recommend the sharp variety, to you can use a Mexican blend, or pepper jack for that extra bite. That's the wonderful thing about this recipe - lots of choices!

With the cheese in place, put the chicken back in the oven long enough for the cheese to melt. I usually turn the oven off at this point so I don't forget later, and because it doesn't actually have to be on, just warm enough to melt the cheese. Once the cheese is melted, you're done! 

As for sides, this last time, I cooked up some sliced beets in olive oil in a frying pan. Other times, I've made mixed veggies. What's really pretty tasty, though, is mashed potatoes. You can ladle the extra chicken and salsa juice onto the potatoes and cover those in cheese, too! You could probably also do this with rice or noodles. 

Another quick, easy, and pretty healthy dinner courtesy of my limited cupboard.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie in One Hour

I'm not sure if I have included this on my blog yet; I know I have not made it in quite some time, though I used to make it a lot during college! What I am talking about is quick and easy chicken pot pie. I think I got the recipe years ago off the back of a Bisquick box, but I tend to use Jiffy mix instead since it is both cheaper and manufactured just down the road in Chelsea, MI, so by purchasing Jiffy mix over Bisquick, I am supporting the Michigan economy.

And boy, does our economy ever need the support! I encourage you all to also buy Jiffy mix. Also beet sugar rather than cane sugar, if you can find it. I used to encourage people to shop at Borders, too, since its HQ was located in Ann Arbor, MI, but since I can't do that anymore, please support your own local bookstore. B&N doesn't need the help. Nor does Amazon.

Back to the cooking! Chicken pot pie is very easy and very quick to put together. The longest part for me is cooking the chicken, which I tend to just throw in a pot and boil, then slice when it's cooked through. This is a great recipe to use with leftover chicken for that reason.

While the two chicken breasts are boiling (two is a nice number, and a lot of chicken shrinks in the cooking process, so one is rarely enough), I gather my other ingredients. In a glass pie dish, I put just under two cups of frozen mixed vegetables. This time, I mixed the veggies myself because I didn't exactly have of frozen mixed vegetables. You can do whatever you want. To this I added one can of cream of chicken soup and stirred.

In a mixing bowl, I put one cup of Jiffy mix, a half cup of milk, and one egg. It's kind of nice to do this early because while I am finishing mixing the chicken with the soup and veggie mixture, the Jiffy mixture rises a bit and becomes almost fluffy.

Once the filling of the pie (cut up chicken, cream of chicken soup, and mixed veggies) is thoroughly blended in the pie pan, I scoop the Jiffy mixture over top and spread it out as evenly as I can. Then into the oven it goes to bake for 30 minutes at 400F. Since the chicken is precooked, and frozen veggies cook in minutes, you are looking for the crust of the pie to become golden brown.

Et voila! Homemade chicken pot pie in under an hour.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Well-Balanced Meal (Mostly)

When I came home from work on Saturday, I was really, really hungry, and I had a zucchini rotting on my counter. Well, that had to be cooked.

I needed protein, though, so I dumped the rest of my bag of frozen chicken chunks into the large fry pan, cooked the chicken in its own juices, then added a can of low sodium (because that's all Meijer sells now apparently) cream of mushroom soup and a handful of frozen mixed veggies.

While that was cooking, I sliced up the zucchini (throwing away the rotten bits), put them in my smaller fry pan, drizzled on some canola oil, added dashes of dried parsley flakes, garlic saly, and a little pepper, covered it, and put on the stove over medium heat.

Then, with all that sizzling away, I put a pot of water on to boil for some cappelini, or angel hair pasta for those who don't speak Italian. I've been trying to avoid carbs for a while, but when I was sick a couple weeks ago, I really just wanted some buttered pasta with grated Parm, and I didn't have it on hand, so I decided I needed to keep at least a little bit of pasta around the house for emergency purposes.

Once the chicken and mushroom soup combination and pasta were done cooking, I scooped some pasta onto a plate, then poured the combo over top as a sauce. The sauteed zucchini was served alongside as my main source of vegetable. Turns out it wasn't a bad combination. All I needed was some fruit, and this would have been a completely balanced meal. (Well, mostly.) But I did get my much-needed protein, some satisfying carb action, and probably two servings of vegetables. Not bad for being so damn hungry I would almost have eaten my own shoe.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cornbread From Scratch

A while ago, I bought some cornmeal, and I really haven't had anything to do with it, until one day last week when I was craving white chicken chili. White chicken chili really goes best with cornbread, and since I had this cornmeal, I decided to make cornbread from scratch for the first time. Luckily, the side of the bag of cornmeal has a recipe.

The first step of pretty much every baking recipe is to preheat the oven. I no longer do that with my gas oven because the thing heats up so fast, and it is really freaking hot this summer. Instead, I combined 1 ¼ cups of cornmeal, 1 cup of whole wheat flour, no baking powder because I still didn't have any, ½ cup of sugar, and a dash of salt in my large mixing bowl. Then I added one egg, ¼ cup of melted butter (salted, because I think it tastes better), a cup of 2% milk, and mixed it all together with a wooden spoon.

The recipe says not to over mix, but I really didn't get what they meant by that, so I just mixed until it seemed blended. About this time I turned the oven on and set it to 400F. I took out my glass 8x8 pan, sprayed it with cooking spray, then poured in the batter. The oven seemed right, so I popped in the pan and set my timer to 20 minutes. As usual, it took longer than 20 minutes to bake. I was waiting until it turned golden on the top, but it never really did, so I just took it out, poked at it, and deemed it finished.

The bread was a little heavy and dense, but still pretty tasty. I do wish it was fluffier, but I'm sure that was my fault for not adding the baking powder and over mixing or whatever. I made the white chicken chili while the cornbread was baking, and served the two together. Kimmy had already eaten, so she just smeared butter on the warm cornbread and indulged.

I declare cornbread from scratch a success! And once again I remind myself that I should really buy some baking powder.   

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Old Town Tavern in A2

Old Town Tavern in Ann Arbor is tucked away on the corner of Liberty and Ashley, and was quite overlooked by me until I was walking back to my car one night and realized there were a number of restaurants located in that small bit of Liberty between Main and Ashley. Old Town Tavern is certainly the most reasonably priced and offers fare that is quite befitting a place that calls itself a tavern.

The building is over 100 years old and has housed a number of businesses, including a saloon at the turn of the previous century. The list of drinks is delightfully varied and includes some favorites like Tom Collins, my order (though I am not generally fond of gin), and something called a side car, which Greg ordered. (A side car is comprised of brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon juice.)

Due to a kitchen disaster that resulted in charred food flying out of the kitchen door near our table, and apparently some unflattering language on the part of the staff, Greg and I ended up receiving our drinks for free. I honestly don't remember anyone saying anything, let alone that I would have found offensive, and it wasn't our food that ended up charred on the floor. I also completely understood that it delayed us getting our food a bit while they put the kitchen back in order. (And really, I didn't notice the delay.) They didn't have to give us our drinks for free, but I thought it was very classy of them to do so, and certainly gives me a great impression of them. I'd like to return and bring friends with me as a result. I might have done so even without the free drinks, but what they say about good customer service is true: it's memorable and brings many happy returns.

Since they ran out of pulled barbecue pork, Greg had to go with his second usual, a burger, which he ended up thoroughly enjoying. I ordered a chicken burrito because I'd been craving burritos for some reason. It came with house salsa that was, truly, utterly fabulous. I would go back and just order a dish of chips and salsa, seriously. The chips, I believe, were also house-made. I do look forward to trying more foods from their expansive menu, however.

And definitely more drinks!