Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chicken Thighs and Peas

First off, let me apologize for the quality of the pictures. My phone decided to drown itself in a gutter, taking with it all my pictures, and I activated my old phone as a replacement. The old phone seems to really, really like the color yellow, and the pictures are blurrier, despite having a higher pixel count. Sigh. Moving right along...

I bought a bag of frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joe's last week both because dark meat is a whole 50 cents cheaper than white meat, and because, unlike Meijer, Trader Joe's doesn't plump its chicken with salt water "to ensure juiciness." For this, Trader Joe's has earned my chicken loyalty. 

I wasn't sure what to do with the chicken, but I wanted to make a good amount of it so I could have packed lunches for later in the week. (My work week starts on Tuesday and ends on Saturday.) I ended up thawing the chicken first in the fridge all day, then the microwave for a bit because it takes sooo long to thaw chicken completely in the fridge. 

While the microwave was going, I put my larger frying pan on the stove over medium heat, and poured in some olive oil, sea salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and dried parsley flakes. I let this simmer for a few minutes before adding the three chicken thighs - three because I couldn't fit more than that.

The cooking process was simple. I let the chicken cook halfway through on one side, flipped it over, and let it continue cooking thoroughly on the other. I don't have a meat thermometer, so I rely on the old fashioned sharp knife to cut into the middle and make sure that the chicken is no longer pink. When it wasn't pink, I turned off the heat and there was dinner!

Since I do strive to make a "complete" meal, I grabbed an open bag of frozen peas from the freezer that was more ice than peas, and cooked them in the microwave with garlic powder. While that was going, I decided I wanted more for the peas than just garlic powder, so I scooped about one teaspoon of flour into a little cup, then added a bit of chicken juice from the frying pan, blended, added more chicken juice, stirred, etc until I had a nice, loose paste that I added back to the chicken to make sauce that I then poured over the peas once they were cooked. 

Maybe it was that the chicken came from Trader Joe's and not Meijer, or maybe it's simply that dark meat is fattier than light, but whatever it was, this chicken was quite juicy and delicious! Also, it didn't take long to prepare or cook, one of my favorite features of a meal. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Pizza Tradition

While my boyfriend Greg and I were set to run errands yesterday, it occurred to me that pizza sounded really good. Ann Arbor is overflowing with pizza places (it is the birthplace of Cottage Inn), and though I have sampled a good deal of local fare, I thought I'd look for some place that I hadn't tried yet - some place that was also along the route of our planned errands. 

Turning to the internet, especially to Yelp, I found a place I couldn't recall ever seeing before, though I know I have driven past it dozens of times. It's called Pizza Bob's, and it comes highly rated. Kalamazoo has a small local fast food taco chain called Taco Bob's, so I was immediately curious about this pizza counterpart. 

The restaurant is quite small. There are two booths, a high table with a few stools around it, and a counter, much like a diner. It really does have quite the diner feel to it, which I enjoy. There is a television, as well, which is sometimes on, and sometimes muted. While we were there, we listened to big band music over the store stereo until one of the two employees decided to turn on Family Feud, a show I used to watch a lot growing up. 

They offer two kinds of pizza crust, white and wheat, and the list of toppings is more than adequate. Their mushrooms are thick, meaty slices, which made me very happy. They also offer subs, salads, shakes, and something called a Chipati that was invented at Pizza Bob's and seems to be a signature dish "often imitated, but never duplicated."

If I had to compare the pizza crust to anyone else, I'd say the crust consistency is like Papa John's, but the bottom is thin, rather like I remember Domino's being. The flavor of the wheat reminds me of Bilbo's Pizza In A Pan in Kalamazoo. What does all that mean? That Pizza Bob's is unique! (At least I thought so. Greg was less impressed, but I don't think he's as big a pizza connoisseur as I am.) 

I gathered from my time sitting at the counter, and later from the website itself, that Pizza Bob's has quite the history in Ann Arbor. The man himself was well known in his day and quite the established city figure. The restaurant has won numerous awards over the past few decades, including 3rd best pizza in the Detroit area. Pizza Bob's also runs daily specials, so you may want to check them out before deciding on what to order.

I don't think anyone could really be disappointed with Pizza Bob's. The prices are reasonable, the food is good, and the atmosphere is pleasant. The rich history adds a little smile while you eat.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Paprikas VS Goulash

When my new roommate moved in, she brought with her a tub of paprikas. I'd never heard of paprikas before, so I was very happy to give it a try. Basically, it reminded me of chicken and dumplings - only chicken and dumplings. No vegetables. The sauce was delicious, and the dumplings were good (much like my own mother's homemade), but cut a little too big for my personal tastes (also often like my mother's homemade). 

Naturally, after enjoying a few nice lunches of leftover paprikas, I looked it up in the internet. My first stop was Wikipedia, which redirected me to "goulash." Interesting. The paprikas in my fridge was nothing like the goulash my mother made as I was growing up. So I kept digging. 

It turns out that goulash is one of those terms that actually doesn't mean anything terribly specific, like stew or ramen. Goulash started in Hungary, then spread, obviously, to the rest of the world. Consequently, it also changed, hence a million different kinds of goulash. The basic ingredients, however, are meat, noodles, vegetables - particularly potatoes - and paprika. The original word gulyás means "herdsman," and I'm guessing these ingredients are something that herdsmen would have have had handy while they were, you know, herding. If you want to see the dozens of varieties, just scroll down Wikipedia's entry. I want to try every single one.

Goulash is not typically made with chicken, nor is it thickened. That's all paprikas, or chicken paprikas, to be most specific. The recipe on Recipes Wiki that I found includes tomatoes, something I am used to from my mother's goulash, but was distinctly lacking from the paprikas in my fridge. I can only conclude both goulash and paprikas are whatever you want to make them, like soup or stew. Take the basic ingredients and make it your own. My favorite way of cooking!

Incidentally, my mother's goulash recipe is something along these lines: cooked macaroni, ground beef or turkey, canned tomatoes, and a bit of brown sugar to sweeten it up. There may be more involved in the sauce than tomatoes. Maybe she just used the spiced canned tomatoes. It has been many years since I had it. I once had some while I was sick with the flu, which was a terrible mistake. I haven't eaten goulash since.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Food Carts in Ann Arbor

The nice thing about working in downtown Ann Arbor is that I get to learn about all the cool stuff that's there. This includes some cute little shops, but mostly is means food. And believe me, people are more than happy to share their favorite food finds. This is how I found about Mark's Carts, a gathering of food trucks in a little courtyard on Washington between Ashley and 1st St, maybe a block and a half west of Main. At night, there is live music, so it's a groovy place to hang out for a quick and easy dinner. (Hours vary by individual cart.)

There are  eight carts to choose from, and range from ethnic deliciousness to simple things like pizza and grilled cheese. Yes, there is an entire food truck devoted to grilled cheese. Most of the food is locally sourced, and there is a kitchen on-site where they can prepare their dishes. The pizza cart actually has an outdoor wood-burning oven where they cook their pizzas in two minutes. (You can watch them cook. It's neat.) Many will offer free samples to help you make the difficult decision of where to eat. 

This last Saturday was Mark's Carts 2nd Annual Cook-Off. Customers were invited in to try free samples of dishes from all eight carts and then to vote for their favorite. Last year the winner was Hut-K Chaats. I tried a sample of the winning dish, and it was very delicious! I was sad not to be able to participate in this year's event, but I look forward to eating the winner.

On my first trip to Mark's Carts, I was with my boyfriend Greg, and we settled on sharing a pizza Margherita  with ice cream for dessert. Both were very tasty. Greg wants to go back and try the grilled cheese truck, Cheese Dream, and I want to try the mysteriously named duck fries from Debajo del Sol, which Greg tried when he found their cart before at another location.

In case you adhere to a specific diet, like veganism or vegetarianism, there are also plenty of options for you. In fact, I think every cart has at least a vegetarian option, and some, like the Lunch Room, are completely vegan. 

So if you're in Ann Arbor, and you're looking for a different kind of place that is more than reasonably priced, totally check out Mark's Carts. If you park in the neighborhoods just two blocks to the west, you don't even have to pay for parking. It's totally worth the walk. In fact, it's probably closer than the parking garages that cost $1.10 per hour. Just keep an eye on the time of day and which side of the street you need to park on when - signs are posted.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Original Coney Island Hotdog(s)


Way back in history, in Detroit, Michigan, the coney island hotdog was born. The restaurant that served it was American Coney Island, and you can eat there today. You can also eat next door at Lafayette Coney Island, which was started by one of the brothers of American Coney Island when they had an argument over the best way to make a coney island hotdog.

While Greg and I were in Detroit last week, we decided to stop by and give one of them a try. I chose American because it was bigger and flashier and technically there first, though I peeked into Lafayette right next door. It looked smaller, but fuller with customers. One day I would like to eat at Lafayette to compare styles. Maybe when I am really hungry and can order one from each location to see them side-by-side.

You may have heard of American and Lafayette from the many food and travel shows that have featured it (there are pictures of people posing with the TV show hosts taped to the walls of American), and if you should ever vacation near Detroit, you may want to stop by for lunch. The prices are low, the menu is simple, the staff is friendly, and service is quick. We even managed to park right out front at one of the meters. Next door is a lovely community garden, so you may take your coneys to go if you like and enjoy a pleasant walk, weather providing.

And if you are familiar with coneys, you may be wondering how a coney can be taken to go (they are often quite messy). The coneys at American are actually on the dry side, and though they provide forks, I had no trouble picking mine up and eating it like a regular hotdog.

Back in March, I was on a coney kick and made coneys with cheese quite often at home. You can read about that here! Well, that's all there is this week. That's two restaurant reviews in a row. I guess I should re-acquaint myself with my kitchen this weekend. If I have time!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bison, Poutine, and Wojapi - Oh My!


Just a few miles west down I-94 from my apartment is a bar and grill that I've had my eye on for most of the year called Spirits Restaurant and Lounge. It first caught my eye when my roommate Kimmy and I were driving by on our apartment hunt last winter because it has a large pretty feather design as part of their logo. We gathered that Spirits had a Native American theme, a subject quite close to Kimmy's heart. We never made it there, however, as we both tend to be very low on funds.

This is where my wonderful and loving boyfriend Greg comes in. He and I like to explore and try new places, so much of our time together is spent prowling all over Southeast Michigan looking for new thrift stores we haven't visited before, sights we haven't seen, and restaurants where we have yet to eat. So one night, we decided to visits Spirits. Unfortunately it was closed, probably because it was a federal holiday, and we ended up at Johnny's on the Lake instead.

A couple weeks ago, however, we decided to try again and not only found Spirits open and ready for our business, there was a band setting up to play live that night. The restaurant wasn't very full that night, but it was a midweek night, so it didn't raise any red flags for me, as they say. We sat a little close to the band, so as they started up, it became a little difficult to hold a conversation, but the music was good, and I found the songstress/violinist to be quite talented.

Next to our table was an interesting little room partitioned off by thick curtains, rather like you find in a theater, with a couch and blank white screen up on the wall. Greg and I wondered if the room could be rented out for parties. We never asked, though, as we had no parties to query after.

Now for the most important part: the food! I decided immediately that I liked Spirits menu because right at the top of the appetizers listing was poutine, a poster child dish for Canada comprised of french fries, cheese, and gravy. I think it sounds delicious; Greg disagrees. The dessert menu also included a rare find, wojapi, a native fruit pudding that I attempted earlier this year. (There are still a few frozen jars of it in my freezer because it made so much. I need to make corn biscuits or something to go with it so we can finally eat it up!) Mine was made with strawberries. I don't know what Spirits used.

Sadly, we did not order the poutine nor the wojapi, but we did build our own bison burgers. I love restaurants that let me build my own sandwich. I don't remember what Greg had on his, but I got mushrooms and cheese with garlic mayonnaise, and it was phenomenal. In addition to bison, you may also choose ground beef, chicken, possibly turkey, and I'm pretty sure there was at least one vegetarian option. (They don't have their menu online, and my memory isn't that great.) You also get to choose what type of bun you want! There truly some excellent selections when you want your burger done your way.

Spirits is, admittedly, a little out of the way being located way out on Rawsonville Rd. Really, though, it isn't such a far drive from Ypsilanti or the surrounding cities if you want to give a unique bar and grill with some different menu items a try. Oh, and don't forget the live music. You may want to check for that before you go, though since their website isn't fully up yet, it will probably just be a surprise. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sorry It's Been A While

I just realized today that I haven't updated this blog in over a week. I've been pretty good about updating the haiku blog, though some have to be back-dated because I couldn't get to the internet that day, and I had to change my Life From A2 blog to Sunday updates because it was just too hard to update two blogs one right after the other without easy access to the internet. 

We should be getting internet at out apartment this weekend, but I've just been informed that although we have all of the pieces of equipment, the modem came without a power cord. That might explain why it was such a good deal, but really, the seller should put that in the description when he puts it up for sale. 

I'm sorry this update is a bit rambling, I am on my lunch break at my job, so I only have so much time. Hoping to be able to return next week with a more substantial entry. This week, I will report on my new diet.  

I'm not sure if I mentioned it here (I'm pretty sure that I did at my other blog), but for the last month or so, I've been drinking lots and lots of tea. I find tea much easier to drink than water because water tastes boring and tea usually tastes pretty awesome. (I've made some bad blends lately, though, I admit. Chocolate tea is just a bad idea. It tastes like coffee.) Drinking the tea alone helped me lose 3 lbs in one week. 

I was pretty happy with these results, but I figured I should probably address what I was eating, as well, so I dug out my old Weight Watchers kit from 7 or so years ago, and I started using the point system and daily food journal. I've lost another 5 lbs since then. 

My problem is sort of the opposite of what Weight Watchers and other diet plans are meant to address - eating too many calories. I eat too few calories, which puts my body into starvation/hoarding mode. When I force myself to eat more, though, I just get nauseated. The food journal and point system help me plan meals that include fruit, vegetables, protein, and carbs, and allow me to eat more when I think I've eaten too much. 

The last time I was ordered to eat more calories (by a dietitian in college; I was eating 600 a day when the human body needs at least 1200 to properly function), I started eating at McDonald's because that was the only way I could get the right amount of calories into my stomach without vomiting. This way is much better balanced and better for me. (Even if I did instantly drop 10 lbs on the McDonald's diet.)

So that is my progress so far, 8 lbs and counting. I highly recommend drinking tea to everyone. It doesn't have nearly as much caffeine as people seem to think it does, and actually helps me sleep better as opposed to being interrupting. My favorite is sakurambo by Lupicia, which, sadly, does not exist near me. Lipton has a vanilla caramel that is pretty good, too, and helps curb a sweet tooth. As I said before, the chocolate tea was a bust. Yuck!