Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Bar With A View

In our further efforts to explore my new town, my boyfriend Greg and I ended up over at Johnny's Grill in downtown Belleville. We were both very impressed!

For starters, the interior is very clean and has a fantastic view of Belleville Lake. In fact, being right on the water, you can get to Johnny's via your boat. Just tie up at their back dock and hop out for a snack or some drinks. I observed a number of people coming and going this way. There were also a number of geese and ducks (with babies in tow!) hanging around the docks. We also saw some really big fish skim the surface of the water now and again. Really big fish. The fish were even chasing the ducks, and were probably big enough to eat the ducks, had they chosen to do so.

Anyway. As some people on Yelp noted, there was no one manning the host station, so Greg and I just started to seat ourselves, which garnered the attention of the hostess/waitress who came over to greet us and invite us to sit anywhere. We picked a table by the giant window so we could overlook the lake, of course. Greg later commented that he might have wanted the waitress to stop by more to check on us, though we didn't actually have any problems that we needed her to resolve. 

Although I didn't order any alcohol (Greg got a Bell's Two Hearted Ale, which they had on tap, and I a grenadine Coke), I was delighted by their cocktail menu. The next time I want a mojito or a mai tai, I know where to go! There were a few drinks that I didn't recognize, and the descriptions didn't help as they were comprised of alcohol that I equally didn't recognize. Which, I feel, calls for a return trip with the express purpose of taste-testing. 

For dinner, I ordered the Southwest Chicken which came with a cup of soup (well, I chose the soup, anyway) and a baked potato. The soup I picked was chicken tortilla, and it was delicious!! I really could have eaten more than just the tiny cup. It had a very homemade feel to it, and was packed with flavor while not being very spicy, a plus for me. The main entree defeated me. I managed to eat half the baked potato and one of the two large chicken breasts. The waitress thought that I didn't like it, but I assured here that I did, it was just too much food for one sitting. Greg ordered the turkey sandwich on a pretzel roll that he quite enjoyed. He also loved the fries, which I agreed were pretty tasty, but I don't like coatings on my fries, so that was a minus for me.

I've been somewhat disappointed by a lot of restaurants lately because their menus don't offer me, a person who eats very little red meat, many tempting options. Not so with Johnny's Grill. They had plenty of awesome-sounding chicken dishes as well as some vegetarian options that I wouldn't mind trying, and the prices were quite reasonable, especially considering the portions sizes. Greg and I agreed that Johhny's is definitely worth going back to, probably on a week night again as I gathered that the weekends are much, shall I say, livelier. Of course, if that is the kind of atmosphere you are looking for, then this could be the place for you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nacho Fries


I have a problem with restaurants that serve crispy and delicious french fries – they give me too many! I hate heating up leftover french fries at home, but even more I hate throwing away perfectly good fries, so I bring them home with me anyway. Often my roommate will eat them for me, so all is well. However, over the last few weeks a total of three leftover fries boxes accumulated in our fridge. Since I was loathe to throw them away, I decided I had better find a way of making them tolerable again so I could contentedly eat them

This is when the idea of nacho fries entered my head. They serve something similar as an appetizer at Twisted Rooster, though they use waffle fries (and they are superb). To reconstitute the saggy, white fries, I sprayed canola oil into a frying pan and set it on a medium flame on the stove. My brother taught me long ago that the secret of getting fried potatoes crispy is to cover them while they're cooking, so I put a lid on the pan while I dug through the fridge to see what I could come up with for toppings.

We were very unfortunately out of sour cream, though there was salsa, the main ingredient, and, of course, shredded cheese; Mexican blend in this case. I considered frying some mushrooms, too, but that didn't quite seem to go with my theme.

So once the french fries were suitable crispy again, I dumped them onto a plate, emptied the rest of the salsa jar (a meager amount) on top, then sprinkled on a generous amount of shredded cheese. I probably should have done the cheese first, as it didn't melt, and I felt the need to zap the nacho fries in the microwave for 20 or so seconds to melt the cheese and bring everything to a more even temperature.

I ate them with a fork since I was working on projects at the time, and it was such a mess. A delicious, delicious mess. I think next time I should add grilled chicken and sour cream and really make a meal out of it rather than just a snack.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Favorite Summer...


...Foods

1) Strawberries
2) Muskmelon
3) Shaved ice
4) Grilled (turkey) hot dogs
5) Pasta salad with fresh veggies

...Activities

1) Beach parties
2) Backyard cook-outs
3) Picnics in the park
4) Dining on the sidewalks in front of restaurants
5) Blueberry picking

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not the Cheesy Potatoes You're Thinking Of

Since I couldn't resist buying the 10lb bag of potatoes from Meijer for $3, I needed to find something to do with potatoes. (Besides make hashbrowns for breakfast, which is the reason I sought to buy potatoes in the first place.) Game Night is the perfect time to try out new recipes in bulk, so I searched on the internet for potato casseroles, casseroles being the easiest thing to make for a group of people, at least in my opinion. Here is the recipe I decided upon, cheddar potato casserole, and immediately devised ways to alter it.

This involved a quick trip to the store (I needed to pick up fabric glue anyway), so while I headed back to Meijer for a can of cheese soup and green onions, Kimmy set about chopping up enough russet potatoes to half fill a spaghetti pot. I asked her not to peel them first because 1) she refused, 2) it's easier not to, and 3) the most nutritional value found in a potato is actually in the skin. If you remove a potato's skin, you take away the biggest point in eating the potato, from a nutritional standpoint. 

It took a very long time for the potatoes to boil, then even longer to cook. With potatoes finally bubbling away on the stove, I sliced up 2 good-sized green onions. Once the potatoes were mashed, I added the sliced onions, can of cheese soup, and the remainder of my tub of sour cream. I didn't measure it, but I judged it to be roughly 1/3 of a cup. With a large spoon, I carefully blended all of these ingredients together in the pot, then scooped them into my largest baking dish, smoothing the top with the spoon. 

Here is where I deviated most from the original recipe. Overtop the potato mixture, I sprinkled Italian bread crumb (these should be somewhat infamous on this blog since I've had them for roughly two years in my cupboard - they last forever!), then over the breadcrumbs, I added a handful of shredded Mexican blend cheese. 
Once the oven was preheated to 350 degrees F, I put in the baking dish o' stuff and set my egg timer to 30 minutes. That was enough to get the cheese melted and the bread crumbs less crumbly. Everyone at Game Night seemed to enjoy it. We decided it tasted like pierogi filling, thus was nicknamed the pierogi casserole.  Which kind of makes me want to try making pierogi now.

So if you are ever suckered in by an amazing deal on potatoes, or are looking for something new to do with potatoes, try this casserole! I am sure there are many variations you could try, too, like adding different vegetables, or putting crumbled potato chips on top instead of bread crumbs. Or even try the original recipe without my variations. Have fun! The world is your oyster. Or potato. Whatever.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pizza Toast

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to use the stove or oven, but the microwave was free game. My brother and I often made English muffin pizzas by spreading Ragu sauce on an English muffin, sprinkling on some shredded mozzarella cheese and, in my case anyway, some canned mushrooms, then nuking them for about 30 seconds each. 

Later, I modified this recipe by using tortillas rather than English muffins. I would spread the sauce on the tortilla, sprinkle on cheese, make a line of mushrooms down the center, microwave for 30 to 60 seconds, then roll up the tortilla into a tube for easier consumption. 

Right at the moment, I lack both English muffins and tortillas, so instead, I think I will have to make pizza toast! I'm pretty sure this is the reason I have a toaster oven. Spread some leftover spaghetti sauce that's been sitting in my fridge for far too long, yet remains mysteriously un-moldy, on a piece of regular old sliced bread, then sprinkle on some shredded Mexican blend cheese because it's the cheapest I could find at the store, followed by some fresh mushrooms that I bought for lunch-salads this next week (I really like mushrooms), then put the creation in the toaster oven until the cheese is melted. Et voila! Pizza toast. 

It's cheap! It's easy! It doesn't involve many ingredients! I've often been forced to leave off the mushrooms due to a lack of mushrooms in my cupboard. (Sigh.) I think my brother used to use sausage, too, and I know my friends have used pepperoni. When I made pizza tortillas, I would sometimes put vegetables on, too, in order to make them slightly more nutritious, or at least to add vegetables to my slim and limited diet.

I think I've made a few too many burritos and quesadillas lately, so pizza toast may be my new go-to quick and dirty meal item. Time will tell.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Boxed Lunches

Since I've started commuting to work rather than walking, I have been bringing my lunch with me rather than walking home like I used to. And since I am also poor, I am limited on what to bring with me. For a little while, I was simply packing up leftovers into little square Tupperwares, or odds and ends in the fridge like a tub of yogurt. I have this Tupperware that is divided into three sections, so I try to pick a main dish with two sides, or one side and one dessert.

Lately, I have been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Italian loaf as the main entree. Sometimes I pick strawberry jam, but more usually it's grape jelly because, for some unknown to me reason, grape jelly is much cheaper than any other kind. A few weeks ago, Kimmy made a big salad for Game Night, and there were plenty of leftovers, so I've been trying to be somewhat healthy and put a little salad in one of the side slots of my Tupperware.

On the other side of the Tupperware, I was putting orange Jell-o until that was gone, then one day while I was searching in the fridge for something, anything to add to my meager meal, I found some old celery that was starting to bruise. An idea struck me: ants on a log! I'd been talking about ants on a log with friends and substituting cookie butter for peanut butter. I wasn't sure I wanted to go that far, so I made three ants on a log with peanut butter, then decided to go for it and make one with cookie butter.

It was okay. Surprisingly, I found the cookie butter ants on a log to be less flavorful than the ones made with traditional peanut butter. Even so, it didn't taste bad. It's definitely a snack I wouldn't tell people to avoid making. Kids would probably like it. Of course, the lack of protein (peanut butter) and increase in sugar makes the snack significantly less healthy. 

I'm now out of Kimmy's salad, and I liked it so much that I thought I'd make one myself, keep it in a large Tupperware bowl in the fridge, and dish out small bits like I did with the last one. Maybe with some cooked chicken this time, or sliced eggs.

Speaking of eggs, I boiled four of them to keep in the fridge for future snacking. I figure they'l be convenient sources of protein for the days I am sick of peanut butter and jelly. (Though I have always found PB&J a difficult sandwich to become sick of.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ricotta Beignets?

The past couple of days, I have been watching a ton of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain via Netflix on our annoyingly spotty free internet connection. Two episodes have been making me jones cannoli like nobody's business, the one on New Jersey and the one on Sicily, where 1/4 of my roots come from. (Cannoli, by the way, are 100% Sicilian, originating in Palermo, Sicily's capital.)

I have never made cannoli from scratch, and I don't really plan on starting now. I did have some leftover ricotta in the fridge from when Greg and I made that baked penne dish, so I looked up what other Sicilian dessert I could make without running to the store.

Technically, the answer is non
e, but I found something close, ricotta fritters. All I was lacking was the zest, and though I am sure that is a key ingredient, I had no choice but to leave it out.

Here is the recipe that I followed because it was the first one I found with requirements small enough for my meager stores. I actually followed the instruction that tells me to prepare the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients in two separate bowls, though I did not heat up the oil in the skillet (not as much as was called for) until the dough was prepared and I was ready to actually fry everything.
I never really understood how ricotta, a cheese, could be made into a dessert, despite all the cannoli I woofed down in Italy, until I whipped it together with eggs and sugar. As I see it, ricotta is less a cheese than a thick, almost chunky cream. It's even sweet like cream. Perhaps to the discerning tongue, the ricotta can be tasted in the resulting dish, but not to me. It was just tasty.

Anyway. I don't own anything fancy like a thermometer, so I had to guess on where to set my burner for the oil. I guessed wrong. The first batch almost instantly burned and set off the smoke alarm, which, thankfully, only beeped a few times before giving up. (Perhaps because I had the window already open to the warm spring weather.) I turned the burner down a few notches and kept a closer eye on the little puffs of sweet, creamy dough.

Though the process is virtually identical to when I make beignets or gluten free paczki, the ricotta fritters puffed up much more than the previous two ever have for me, bobbing around quite contentedly in the hot canola oil. Flipping them took a few tries to get right, but none of them fell apart or burned after that first batch. When they looked done, I fished them out and plopped them onto a plate covered in a couple layers of paper towel. 

Since I haven't actually found a picture of ricotta fritters on the internet, I don't know what they are supposed to look like. Since they were so much like beignets, and I was instructed by the recipe to dust the fritters in powdered sugar, I decided to fill a bowl with powdered sugar and completely coat the little guys, just like I do with beignets. 

And let me tell you, they were delicious. I don't know if it was because I didn't actually measure out the ricotta to make sure all was in proportion or not, but the fritters did seem to have a rather eggy flavor, sort of like French toast. They were very poofy, thicker than beignets, and satisfying to sink my teeth into. They were also a very quick and easy to make snack! 

It was suggested by some web pages that ricotta fritters are often enjoyed at the Sicilian equivalent of tea time (which I didn't even know they had), so I made a cup of chai latte with the very last bits of powder I had left in my cupboard. That may have been too much sugar between the chai and the fritters, so my tummy is not terribly happy with me, but I'll live.

In the future, I would like to try my hand at making cannoli. In the short term, though, I find these fritters to be a perfectly acceptable use of ricotta in dessert form.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's in Season?

I had a conversation with a customer the other day about our local farmer's market. I haven't been yet this year, and to be honest neglected it horribly last year, only going a handful of times. Michigan is a fantastic place for fresh produce! Our unique peninsular state nestled between so many large bodies of fresh water, and being riddled with countless rivers (Michigan's surface area is 41.5% water) all make up for some very fertile land! Even our allegedly harsh winters contribute to good farming. 

But back to the customer. She told me that the farmer's market was woefully under-staffed. Only the winter goods (yes, ours is open year round) were available, things like handsewn bags, knitted caps and scarves, and freshly baked bread. Where were the fresh green and spring vegetables? the customer wondered. It occurred to me at that moment that I really didn't know what produce was even normally available at this time of year. So I decided to look it up.

It turns out that we should start seeing arugula and its fellow leafy green, chard. Both are high in vitamin C, which surprised me to learn. I guess I have been brainwashed by the citrus industry to accept that orange juice is the best source of this essential nutrient. I'm glad to hear I don't need to rely on citrus. I'd much rather munch on chard chips than choke down an acidic glass of OJ. And arugula makes for a great pizza topping!

Strawberry rhubarb pie is
quite popular.
(This pic is clipart.)
Also available in May in Michigan are carrots, certain varieties of lettuce, radishes, spinach, rhubarb (which I still have yet to try, despite growing up with it in our family garden), different herbs, and parsnip should have come up last month. 

Parsnip is another Michigan favorite that I don't think I have ever tasted. I didn't know until I researched them how much in common the parsnip has with carrots, only that it was a root vegetable. I believe I have some recipes for roasted parsnips, which I should give a try since I already know I very much enjoy roasted carrots. Parsnip also turns out to be a close relative of parsley, and I've touted the wonders of parsley numerous times in this blog. Wikipedia did include this warning, however: 
While the root of the parsnip is edible, the handling of its shoots and leaves require protective clothing. ...[T]the parsnip contains furanocoumarin, a photosensitive chemical that causes a condition known as phytophotodermatitis. The condition is a type of chemical burn rather than an allergic reaction and should be treated as such.
So if you grow parsnip, be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves when handling it. 

Remember, eating local foods means fresher, healthier produce on your plate, plus less environmental impact. With less steps between farm and kitchen, there is less opportunity for your food to be contaminated. Buying local also helps support your community and preserve green spaces in your area. 

Hopefully soon I can get to a local farmers market, maybe even one of the other local markets, like Ypsi's, which is located at the old train station in Depot Town. (I just think that is an awesome location.) The Detroit Eastern Market is also a huge goal of mine, but I am usually working on the days that it is open. Boo!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More Cookbook Recipes

Lately, I've been having a great deal of trouble with my neck and shoulders. I thought I was recovered from my injury a couple weeks ago, but apparently I was mistaken because yesterday I woke up and my left trapezius muscle was again inflamed, rendering me mostly useless for much of the day. (I can never enjoy my days off anymore. Boo.)

I've also been rather brief with food supplies, so when my boyfriend came over and suggested we cook dinner together, it required a trip to Meijer for ingredients. We ended up making a penne bake that he found in one of his cookbooks found on a discount book mission. What we picked up from the store are as follows:
  • one pound of penne pasta
  • one tub of ricotta cheese
  • a thing of sliced fresh white mushrooms
  • 8oz of heavy whipping cream
  • a triangle of fontina cheese because we couldn't find it pre-shredded
  • a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
I think that was it. I'm very sorry, but I did not take notes. Anyway, while Greg shredded the fontina and combined it with the crushed tomatoes, whipping cream, and mushrooms, I cooked the penne to al dente. (I told you I was limited in my capabilities right now.) 

In a 9x13 baking pan, Greg poured in the liquidy mixture, then on top of that, I spread the pasta. The recipe then said to dollop the ricotta on top of that, and not to worry about spreading it out, which we did. Next time, I'd probably try to spread it out some, or just put on smaller and more widespread dollops. Since ricotta is such a dry, bland cheese, I don't require large bites of it when consuming it in a dish.

I believe we baked it for 15 minutes on 350 degrees, but it might have been 375. Since nothing in the dish is in dire need of being cooked, as meat would be, I don't think it really matters. The end result was rather soupy, but still delicious. I think the heavy whipping cream made all the difference. 

I think if I made this again on my own, I would mix the pasta in with the sauce before baking it, though it all came out mixed together, so perhaps it doesn't matter. Mixing it in with the sauce would case the pasta to absorb more of the liquid, which might make it mushy. I have only half an idea how that works from my few times making lasagna. Mushy pasta is a travesty, so I wouldn't want that. 

In conclusion, I guess this recipe merits further experimentation. Oh darn. (My Sicilian blood tingles.)