Monday, April 30, 2012

Broccoli and Cheese Soup


Looks like Monday is Soup Day again! Today I will tell you how to make quick and easy cheesy broccoli soup. All you need is one can of cream of broccoli soup, a can's worth of milk or water, and shredded cheese. If you shred the cheese yourself, it melts much better into the soup, but the preshredded kind in a bag also works. I also like to add some frozen broccoli florets for added substance. I leave that up to you since it all depends on what you have on hand and what you prefer.

On this particular occasion, I did not have enough milk to add to the condensed soup, so I used water instead, though I prefer milk for a couple of reasons. Milk makes the soup creamier and I find that the condensed soup doesn't want to mix as well with water, so I spent a fair amount of time stirring the soup on a medium heat (so it wouldn't boil) in order to get it all to blend. This is when I added a small handful of broccoli florets, as well, because they need time to thaw and cook.

Once that has simmered for a few minutes, add in a few handfuls of shredded cheese. How much is really up to you. Obviously, the more you add, the cheesier the soup will be, and since I like mine really cheesy, I add a lot of handfuls. Also, the flavor is going to depend on which kind of cheese you use. Sharp cheddar is going to give you a stronger flavor than mild, etc. I've probably said this before, but I'll do so again. Cheddar works best for these kinds of soups. I've tried Mexican blend and some of the cheese just got gummy and stuck to the bottom of the pan. Mozzarella is especially good at melting into goo. I never use it for soup.

I suggest stirring constantly until the cheese is melted. Then you're done! Sometimes I sprinkle a little more cheese on top once it's in the bowl for garnish. I am of the opinion that you can't really have too much cheese. At least not in soup.

Itadakimasu!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Caramel Glazed Cookies

I am a sucker for books, especially when they are on sale or clearance. Thus I picked up a book entitled 1 Dough, 100 Cookies for half its usual price. (It's part of a series. I saw another one called 1 Mix, 100 Cakes that I opted not to buy because I thought cookies would be more useful to me.) The idea is that the book gives you one very basic cookie recipe, then 100 recipes that add different ingredients to create 100 different cookies to make using that 1 basic dough. I immediately bookmarked a bunch of recipes that required only ingredients I had on hand in my kitchen.
The first one I tried is called Caramel Glaze Cookies. I started by softening 1 cup of butter in the microwave. (About 60 seconds without adjusting the temperature.) Then I added ¾ cup of sugar (the recipe calls for superfine sugar, but I don't know what that is so I used my regular Michigan-grown beet sugar), and beat the sugar together with the butter. Once that was blended, I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (fake), and 1 egg yolk. I don't have an egg separator, so I did it the old fashioned way by pouring the yolk back and forth between the two halves of the broken shell and letting the whites fall into a waiting bowl. The yolk and vanilla were them beaten in with the butter and sugar mixture.
About this time, I wondered, “Who invented the cookie?” Who first wondered what they could make with butter, sugar, and flour all baked together? I often wonder these things about various foods. I'd look this one up, but I lack internet at home. It will have to wait for another day.

The final ingredient for the dough was 2 ½ cups of all purpose flour with a little salt mixed in. By this time, my hands were getting mighty tired from beating the dough with a wooden spoon, as the recipe called for, so I had to take a little break.

Once the dough was thoroughly mixed together, I divided it into two large balls and put them in the fridge to chill for half an hour. I rested a few more minutes before continuing onto the next phase of these caramel glazed cookies – the caramel glaze!
The instructions said to first have a bowl of cold water standing at the ready. Then I put ¼ cup of sugar into a sauce pan, and was supposed to combine it with ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice and 1 ½ tablespoons of water. When I looked in the fridge for the lemon juice, I discovered that it was gone. We'd used the last of it on dying the Easter eggs.

In a bind, I looked up lemon juice substitutes on the internet via my phone and found that if the lemon juice is only required in small doses, then vinegar may be used as a substitute. (If you are making a cocktail, for instance, don't substitute vinegar! That would be disgusting.) I don't have white vinegar, only apple cider vinegar, so I used ½ teaspoon of that instead of the lemon juice.

I stirred the pan over low heat constantly until the sugar was dissolved. Then I turned the heat up and let the mixture boil without stirring until it turned a “rich caramel color.” The book instructed me to plunge the hot sauce pan into the waiting bowl of water and stir in another 3 tablespoons of cold water. This did not work for me the way it was supposed to, I'm pretty sure. The caramel hardened and did not absorb the water, so I put it back on the stove over a low-medium heat so that the caramel would dissolve and I kept stirring until it was all blended.
About the time the caramel glaze was done and cooling, the dough was ready to be taken out of the fridge. Perhaps I didn't use a large enough egg yolk because the dough was crumbly and had to be worked with before I could successfully roll it out for the cookie cutter.

With that finally accomplished and the oven preheated, I beat another egg yolk in with the caramel. I was only supposed to use 1 tablespoon of the caramel, but I didn't know what to with the rest, so it all went in the bowl with the yolk. I also don't own a pastry brush, so instead of brushing the glaze over the cookies, I drizzled it on with a form and smoothed it out. No fancy designs for me!
The recipe was supposed to make 30 cookies, but I made 35. Could have made more, but I didn't have room on the cookie sheet, so I just ate the dough raw. It might have made an additional 3 to 5 cookies. I was worried that the caramel would taste too burned, but they tasted fine once they were done cooling. I couldn't detect any apple cider vinegar flavor either, so it did its job well.

All in all, not a terrible recipe. The caramel sauce was a bit of a pain to make, and there was quite a bit of clean up to do between the stickiness and the crumbles of dough that scattered all over the counter. Still, I feel rather accomplished. I also feel better armed to tackle the book's next recipe, whichever that shall be.

 

Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Bayou

When my roommate Kimmy and I were exploring our new home, Belleville, Michigan, we were surprised to find in the little downtown a Cajun restaurant called the Bayou Grill. The place is hard to miss as their is a giant alligator on the roof above the door. 

My boyfriend Greg and I decided to check it out for lunch one day. The Grill has a pleasing, casual atmosphere and two happy hours. The first is from 4pm to 7pm; the second is from 11pm to close. They seem to be involved with the community as we saw an advertisement for a murder mystery dinner theater for May 5th that I think supported the library. (I can't find anything online to confirm this; just the little blurb on the Grill's website.)

I wanted to try the Alligator Voodoo, "marinated pieces of alligator deep fried with our special Cajun breading and served with our remoulade sauce," which is found on the appetizers list, but Greg said no. Which just means I will have to go again with Kimmy who is a bit more adventurous about these kinds of things. I've never had alligator, so I am very intrigued.

I ended up ordering the Gambas al Fideus, which was comprised of angel hair pasta (my favorite kind), shrimp (also a favorite), and what I think is a mushroom sauce. There were other tasty things, but those were the highlights for me, personally. The waitress offered me fresh shaved Parmesan, and was foolish enough to leave the bowl with me. I nearly emptied it over the pasta. There are few better things in life than pasta with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese. 

I believe Greg got the BBQ Pork Po-Boy and fries. I tried the fries and they were pretty tasty. I stayed away from the pork, instead taking Greg's word for it that it was also good. The menu also offers fried catfish po-boys and fried shrimp po-boys. I would like to try the shrimp one, but only if it comes sans tails. My gambas did not, so I had to remove the tails, which was a little messy with all that delicious creamy sauce soaking everything.

The Bayou Grill isn't just for omnivores. They also have a decent variety of vegetarian selections, such as Penne a la Jardinierre, Eggplant Parmesan (one of my favorite dishes), as well as the classic red beans and rice.

Their website boasts that their food is worth the trip to Belleville, and they're probably right. Located maybe a mile or two from I-94, the Bayou Grill is an easy 15 to 20 minute drive from Ann Arbor, not bad at all for some damn fine dining and a fun, festive atmosphere. (I enjoyed the musical selections, as well.)

I can't wait to check this place out on a Friday night!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick and Easy Cheesy Potato Soup

I was at Meijer buying more than I intended (as always happens with Meijer) when I came upon the realization that I have not made cheesy potato soup in a long, long time. I once made it from scratch, and it was totally amazing, but it also took all day to fully cook, and I just don't have that kind of time anymore. 

Instead, I start with a can of cream of potato soup in my medium sauce pan on the stove, add one can full of milk (you may also use water, but I prefer the milk because it adds creaminess and also protein, however little), then add a few handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables. Keep the heat at medium and stir the contents often enough that they don't boil.

Here is where I either stop and simply enjoy my creamy potato soup, or continue and add a few handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. I've tried other cheeses, but cheddar is the only one that I have found that will fully melt into the soup and not end up a gooey mess on the bottom of the pan. You must stir this constantly until it has fully immersed itself. 

I changed up my usual recipe this time by adding a few sprinkles of parsley. If I had chives, I might have added those, as well. I never add salt to canned soups because they already have a stupidly high sodium content.

I think the parsley made all the difference. It was a tasty soup before, but with parsley, it was just that much better. I can't wait to experiment with the can of cream of celery next!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Now Presenting... The Beets!

Sadly, I haven't been doing a lot of cooking in my new kitchen yet. I also lack a good number of ingredients to make anything with. I've been eating a lot of bean and cheese burritos lately, thus, tired of the same-old-same-old, I went digging in my cupboards for something different. There I found a can of sliced beets that I had mostly forgotten.

My favorite way of eating beets (that I have discovered so far) is with pasta and grated Parmesan cheese. I did not have pasta (shock!), and I wasn't feeling all that hungry, so I decided to do just beets.

First, I drizzled some olive oil in my large frying pan. I've heard that this is a terrible use of olive oil, but I love the taste of olive oil too much to stop. Also, the alternatives are a bit pricey for me. You may use whichever oil suits your fancy.

Next, I poured in a healthy amount of garlic salt, swirling the pan to mix it in a little bit with the olive oil. I set the stove to medium heat, and the pan quickly heated up. I know because when I added the beets right after, I got splashed with hot oil.

Over the beets I sprinkled dried parsley flakes, a tiny bit of dried oregano, and a few dashes of pepper. I let all of that saute for a few minutes until the beets were a darker shade of red and all seemed thoroughly cooked through.

As I said before, this dish would go great with some pasta – some penne, perhaps – and grated Parm. The natural sweetness of the beets contrast beautifully with the sharp flavor of the cheese. You could probably just sprinkle the Parm right over the beets; I forgot to try this time. I don't really know what else to serve beets with. I'm sure they'd go well with chicken, maybe fish. I am not a red meat expert by any stretch, so I couldn't say what would go well with it. I know a lot of people eat beets on salads, but I don't think I have actually tried this. I think I prefer beets warm rather than cold.

So there you have it. Another quick side dish that is super healthy for you!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chicken Legs

I realized one day that Trader Joe's sells 6 chicken legs for under $3. That's two meals for two people! Well, for me and my roommate, anyway. So I picked up a package last week with no idea what to do with them, but I knew I'd come up with something.

After squeezing all six drumsticks into my square glass baking dish (I should have used a larger one, but I didn't realize this until after I'd dirtied the small one, and I didn't want to dirty a second one), I grated on some Himalayan pink salt (it costs the same at Trader Joe's as the regular sea salt), followed by a ton a of garlic powder, curry powder, grated ginger, turmeric, the tiniest bit of lemon pepper because we were actually out of it (but the container was still in the cupboard), and possibly some other things that I can't quite recall. 

I turned the oven to 350 degrees F and set the timer for half an hour. That was not nearly enough. I think the chicken ended up baking for an hour total, and I kept upping the oven temp every time I checked it. It probably ended up at 500 degrees, maybe higher. While it was cooking, Kimmy boiled some pasta and broccoli, buttered it, and then we sprinkled grated Parmesan cheese over-top. 

The chicken turned out delicious! There was a bit of a bite to it from either the garlic or the ginger - maybe both - that wasn't overpowering and really quite nice. For being completely thrown together with no real plan in mind, I'd say our first meal at our new table in our new apartment was a delicious success. I fully intend to buy more drumsticks in the future and experiment further with the spice cabinet. Fun-fun!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Let the Feast of Spring Begin!

I apologize for not updating on Thursday. We don't really have internet in our new apartment yet, so I am updating from my mother's house while we visit for the Easter holiday. Speaking of...

It's that time again! Time to decorate eggs. Last year, Kimmy and I did "stained glass" eggs. This year, we kept it simple and used a more traditional, no frills decorating kit. We had six colors and eight eggs. We couldn't find any crayons, so we just tried to get creative with the dying process. I remember mixing white vinegar with the water for the dye tablets when I was a kid, but we don't have any vinegar. The package suggested using lemon juice with water, so we ended up doing that, though we never did figure out exactly what the lemon juice was supposed to do.

Kimmy started with a University of Southern California themed egg, half yellow and half red. I countered with a blue and maize colored egg for the University of Michigan. The maize resulted from dips in orange followed by yellow to intensify the color. I also made a red and green egg because it was pretty. 

But half and half is easy and ordinary. We started further experimenting with layering colors and ended up with an egg that we dubbed the dinosaur egg. It was mostly reddish purple with speckles all over it. I had a hard time getting the purple to be as purple as I wanted, and after a few baths in purple, blue, and red, my purple egg also ended up a little dinosaur egg-looking, as well.

With a lot of diligence, I did end up with an intense blue egg. I think I had to let it dry three times and dunk it for a few minutes in between. The blue egg was the first to become breakfast the next day. It was delicious. 

Last year, our eggs ended up being deviled. This year, they will probably just be cracked open and eaten for breakfasts before heading into work. It was a busy weekend, so there was no time to spend on turning the eggs into anything special. But we had fun and worked hard on them, so that makes them special enough for my stomach. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Moving!

This past weekend was spent moving. As of now, our kitchen is still in shambles. There are boxes covering the counters and all over the floor. The good news is this new kitchen is about twice the size of the old one! I can't wait to cook in there. 

I guess technically I already have made something. I didn't really feel like having leftover Chinese for breakfast (again), and I had forgotten about the leftover mac 'n cheese from Twisted Rooster, so I dug out the toaster and made peanut butter toast with the last of my bread. Win! Though the toaster did shoot one piece of toast into the air and down to the floor. (Boo.)

Speaking of Twisted Rooster, that place is awesome. There are three locations, Belleville (where I now live), Chesterfield (no idea where that is), and Grand Rapids (I know where that is, and apparently some friends of my friend occasionally play live music there). Not only is the food unique and delightfully flavorful, they use Michigan sources as much as possible. Anything that boosts the local economy makes me happy. 

I had the Twisted Mac 'n Cheese, which I was told is one of their specialties. I understand why, and I highly recommend it to others. We also got the hot crab and artichoke dip. Even my roommate Kimmy liked it, and she has often claimed that she doesn't like crab. I personally believe she has just been eating the wrong crab. Probably West Coast crab, which is inferior to East Coast crab, especially crabs from the New England region. Mmm, so sweet and tasty... If you ever get the chance to eat blue crab, do so.

Oh, another fun thing about Twisted Rooster is they serve Faygo. Yeah, Michigan native pop! I got a bottle of grape. The really nifty thing was that when I was done with my drink, she offered me one from the fountain at no additional charge. I chose Cherry Coke which is what I was going to order before she mentioned the Faygo. 

I think next time I need to get a Rock 'N Rye. I foresee spending many evenings at Twisted Rooster. There is a full bar, too!