Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holiday Rush

Once again I've been too busy to make anything fun for report in my blog. No holiday cookies again! Which I find especially disheartening because baking sugar cookies is what started this blog back on December 6th, 2010

Wow, I can't believe I've been writing this blog for three years! It was a lot easier to update twice a week when it was just me and my kitty Memphis. He still likes to hang out in the kitchen with me, but it's much harder to fit into the cupboard now that he is a full grown cat of around 15 lbs. There are also many more obstacles on the counter to get in his way.

It would be nice to be able to go back to two updates a week rather than the current tenuous once a week. Now that the holiday season is winding down, my work schedule is loosening up considerably. I will continue to work late, however, and since Greg usually gets home before I do, he is now the one who does the majority of the cooking in our household. Maybe he should start a food blog. He is a very clever cook!

Speaking of Greg, his family has continued in the tradition of giving me cooking implements for Christmas. In 2011, I received a food processor, then the next year it was a large slow cooker, which Greg and I use quite a bit! It is so nice to come home to a hot meal all ready to be eaten. If you don't have a slow cooker (or Crock Pot, if you prefer), I highly recommend them. Check out the first thing I made here, slow cooked spinach casserole

This year, I got a four egg poacher pan so I can make poached eggs on the stove rather than in the microwave. While I was still living in California, I'd purchased a four egg plastic container to poach eggs in the microwave, which worked ok and was definitely quick! Only the eggs sometimes ended up a bit rubbery and often exploded. Thankfully, the thing had a lid. A week or so ago, Greg and I picked up some everything bagels from Trader Joe's. I am very much looking forward to having time enough in the morning to make poached eggs and spreading them on the everything bagels. So delicious! Maybe on Monday, my next day off. I also have Wednesday off, so I hope to make my first entry of the new year on time.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tamaki Custom Sushi and Wraps Arrives in Ann Arbor

East Liberty Street is a pretty bustling stretch of fun shops, restaurants, and bars in Ann Arbor. It used to be the home and headquarters of Borders Inc, a still greatly mourned loss to the city because Borders was such an anchor for the Liberty & State district. Since Borders has dissolved, a lot of surrounding businesses have come and gone after losing the crowd of customers that once flocked to the giant bookstore on a regular basis. Well, though modest in size, East Liberty has a new draw, and I think it's a fine one: make your own sushi.

Tamaki Custom Sushi and Wraps has taken over Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory's spot at 521 E Liberty, right next to one of my favorite shawarma places, Hommus Express, and across from the Dawn Treader Book Shop. Their first location is in Lansing at 310 N. Clippert, and another location has been added at 1381 E. Grand River in East Lansing.
You might be asking yourself, "What is custom sushi?" Well, it's a lot like how Chipotle is a custom burrito, or Subway is a custom sandwich. There are some set recipes you may choose from, such as Tamaki's Double Cheeseburger, comprised of ribeye steak, pickle, cheese, tomato, and red onion, or the more classic Claifornia rolls and spicy tuna rolls. But coolest thing is that they will make a custom wrap for you, just like Chipotle makes burritos and Subway makes sandwiches.

You walk up the long counter with a sneeze guard and first pick whether you'd like a roll, wrap, rice bowl, or noodle soup. Next, choose a protein, which can be either raw or cooked. I picked raw tuna. The man making my roll warned me about the tuna being raw, and I assured him that was perfect. I think he assumed that because I had taken so long looking over their menu that I was hesitant about their offerings, when really I was feeling a but overwhelmed. Also, they don't have all your choices listed right up front, so it took me a while to figure out what my 20 choices of ingredient were.

After you've picked your protein (they recommend no more than 1 or 2 because the wraps are a limited size), you decide on vegetables and other fillings. He told me no more than 4, and I chose cucumber, pickled radish, shiitake (which they misspell as shiitaki for some reason), and shaved carrots. Once again I was questioned on my choice of topping when I asked for carrots. I told him that I have used carrots in making my own sushi at home before, and that they add a nice sweetness. He answered that some people order carrots because they think they're being healthy and don't end up liking the taste. 

The final step to making your own sushi is to pick a sauce, which at first I declined because most of the choices are spicy and I don't like spicy. I didn't know what "white sauce" was, and when I inquired about it, the woman behind the register got me a sample. It's a slightly sweet mayonnaise, as it turns out, and I liked it a lot, so I had her add that to my roll. 

Without asking, the man had put sesame seeds on my roll, which is fine because I used to that with uramaki, or the inside-out roll with the rice on the outside rather than the seaweed. I did not realize until later that in this, too, I had choices. Your topping options include the usual sesame seeds and tempura flakes, but also the astounding Doritos and Flaming Cheetos. Bwuh?? I admit, I am intrigued by both of these choices. I don't like Flaming Cheetos because they are too spicy, but Doritos? I would like to try that. I just don't know what would go with them. Probably not my tuna and veggie roll, but maybe the cheeseburger roll, which I absolutely try. 

To go with your sushi, you may also order miso soup, gyoza, and more. There is also a drink bar that includes, I kid you not, a large metal drink jug with a spigot devoted to soy sauce. Brilliant! If only they had one for hot tea. 

Tamaki offers lunch, dinner, and late night specials. They also, my favorite part, deliver! Whoo-hoo! I can get fresh sushi delivered to my workplace! Or walk the few blocks to Liberty and pick it up on my way between jobs. Any way I look at it, I have a new terrific place for lunch when I am downtown, and I could not be happier.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Verde Chicken Enchilada from Kraft Recipe Makers

When I was shopping in the fresh meat section at Meijer a little while ago, I discovered the family size chicken breasts all had little coupons stuck to them for $1 off the chicken in question with the purchase of something called a "Recipe Maker." Greg and I use a few dinner kits, mostly pre-made sauce packets that we combine with fresh ingredients like chicken or beef and vegetables. This was a new one for me, though, and I thought I'd check it out. 

It actually took me a while to find since every Meijer sorts its shelves differently. I first checked where they keep the Hamburger Helper, Zatarain's, etc, and did not see it. Given that the store was essentially passing out coupons for it, I was frustrated and almost gave up. Turns out it was put next to the sauce and gravy section, which includes powdered seasoning packets, and is not to be confused with the bouillon and soup mix section, or the sauce and dressing section. (Honestly, Meijer, wtf?)

So I found the Kraft Recipe Makers at last! and discovered they were very cheap even without the coupon. The ingredients aren't horrible, either (meaning the product is mostly comprised of food and not a ton of difficult to identify chemicals). There are about 10 different boxes to choose from, divided into skillet, oven, and slow cooker mixes. I chose Verde Chicken Enchilada (oven) because it only required buying more cheese, something I'd been debating about anyway, and a bag of tortillas, which are cheap. I was already buying the chicken; that's where the coupon came from. 

The recipe first calls for shredded cooked chicken, so I boiled a couple of large chicken breasts, then sliced it rather than shredding it, because I am terrible at shredding chicken, as it turns out. There is a packet for filling sauce, which I mixed with the chicken in a large bowl. I warmed the 12 small tortillas in the microwave to make them more pliable, then scooped some of the chicken mixture into the tortillas one at a time, rolled them, and placed them in a 13x9 glass baking dish. There was another packet of finishing sauce that got poured over the top, followed by shredded cheese. 

20 minutes in the oven at 350F and dinner was done! Well, mostly done. While it was baking, I dumped some frozen peas and carrots into another glass dish and heated it up in the microwave with some garlic salt and parsley flakes. Yummy! 

I would absolutely try Kraft Recipe Makers again. These enchiladas were super delicious! Not too spicy and a little bit creamy. You could easily up the heat factor by sprinkling on some red pepper flakes before popping it in the oven, or shake on some hot sauce before or after baking.

Greg recently returned from Meijer with another package of family-size fresh chicken breasts with another coupon on it. Now I can't decide if I want those enchiladas again, which I have been thinking a lot about because they were so tasty, or something new. I do plan on being by Meijer later today... I think I will wait for Greg and we can decide together. Probably. Maybe.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Another Thanksgiving Poem

Last year, I wrote a poem for Thanksgiving. With all the flurry of activity this week, I have decided to make this a tradition and write another one! The style I chose is "recipe poem" for, I think, obvious reasons. I studied this form in school. A recipe poem can be either an actual recipe made poetic (with or without rhyming, though rhymes help to distinguish it from a regular old recipe), or, more often, a recipe for something that isn't concrete, like a good relationship, following one's dreams, or a...

Recipe For A West Michigan Thanksgiving

    1 chill wind coming off the Lake
    A handful of bright, puffy clouds
    Flurries of snow

    1 long, cold trek down the highway
    (Feel free to add more if needed)
    1 warm hearth's glow

    Don't forget to preheat the home
    With laughter, love, and old stories
    To help it shine

    Then, blending the ingredients
    Around the table we gather
    At last we dine

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Alternative Thanksgiving Dishes

Thanksgiving is practically a week late this year, which means there is plenty of time to make plans for the big meal. Are you tired of the same old dishes? Or maybe this year you have special dietary needs, like dairy or gluten free or vegan. Here are some of the unique Thanksgiving-esque dishes I have made over the past few years.

  • Herb Butter I've always enjoyed herb butter at restaurants, but never thought to make it at home until last Thanksgiving. Greg and I had dinner with his family and helped out in the kitchen, which is how I learned this delicious and terribly easy recipe.
  • Dairy Free Green Bean Casserole This is one of the most visited entries I have ever done! I guess there is a high need for a dairy free Thanksgiving. Making green bean casserole from scratch is really not as difficult as it sounds, and it allows you to make it dairy free by using soy creamer instead of half and half. By substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth, this dish becomes vegetarian and vegan, too!
  • Peas With Artichokes This is known as "arakas me aginares" in Greek, and is a wonderful vegetable side dish. On its own, this is a vegan dish. It is traditionally served with bread, so in order to maintain its vegan status, just choose vegan bread.
  • Spinach and Cheese Who doesn't love a cheesy gooey side dish of deliciousness? Spinach is really, really, good for you, and cheese is its own reward.
  • Swedish Meat-less Balls There is a trick I learned since making these. When adding liquid to cornstarch, start with the required amount of cornstarch in a bowl, then drop by drop add the liquid, creaming it together. That way, there are no icky starchy lumps! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sauteed Chicken and Mushroom Casserole

Somehow, at some point, a group of recipe cards showed up with my recipe books. I don't know where they came from, but they looked pretty easy and, for the most part, tasty, so I shuffle them in with my recipe stuff, and there they sat for over a year. Finally, not long ago, I pulled one out, made a shopping list and made Sauteed Chicken and Mushroom Casserole for dinner one night. Here is how it was done.

First, I cut up two chicken breasts and cooked them in a pan on the stove. While the chicken was cooking, I set up my rice cooker to prepare three servings of rice, which comes out to six when cooked (the instructions are optimistic about the amount of rice I can eat), the maximum it can make. 

Next, I took the chicken out of the pan and put it on a plate to wait for a bit. An 8 oz package of fresh sliced mushrooms went into the pan with some butter. I ground on some garlic salt and added some fresh parsley from the balcony garden. 

After that cooked down so the mushrooms were mostly cooked through, I added the chicken back to the pan along with a can of cream of mushroom soup and 3/4 cup of turkey broth (the recipe calls for chicken broth, but Greg is allergic, so we substitute with turkey).

I let this mixture cook together for about five minutes on low. During that time, I scooped the rice from my rice cooker into my largest rectangular glass dish and spread it evenly with a wooden spoon. Then, I carefully poured the chicken and mushroom deliciousness over the rice in the glass dish. This baked in the oven at 350F for half an hour. 

Done! This was really easy, involved only four ingredients, minus the butter and seasonings. Of course, you could just prepare the chicken and mushrooms and serve that alongside rice or pasta rather than bake it over rice as a casserole. To round out the meal, a vegetable side is recommended. I usually just go with something simple like frozen mixed veggies. Corn also goes well with this dish, but it's technically a grain, like rice.

The best part about making casseroles is all the leftover lunches! Ya~ay!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Homemade Powdered Pumpkin Pie Spice Chai Latte Mix

I am picky about my tea. I prefer it to be free of any dairy and non-dairy additives and to be un-sugared, as God intended. I do, however, enjoy some (not all) chai lattes. Mostly the ones that have little to nothing to do with tea. (I've had actual masala chai made in the style of India that I do not like because it involves putting milk in my tea. Blech.) I enjoy coffee the same way. (Let's be honest. How many true coffee aficionados are going to argue a frappuccino is coffee?)

My favorite kind of chai latte is, really and truly, made from the powdered mix sold by Trader Joe's. Though I won't purchase it from a store, I have grown used to the Oregon Chai that is offered at Crazy Wisdom. (There is also a house-made option, but it takes longer to put together, and I feel bad taking up too much of the tea room's time with my free-while-working beverage (omg I get free tea while I'm working! it's the best job ever!)) I believe Oregon relies on honey as its main sweetener, and I am not a big fan of honey, oddly enough. Trader Joe's uses cane sugar, which I do enjoy immensely.

Even with my love/addiction to Trader Joe's powdered chai latte mix, I have been increasingly frustrated with the small package size. Only 10 cups of chai per container? What's with that crap, Trader Joe's? That's barely enough to keep me going for a week! So I decided to turn to my favorite new resource Pinterest and see if I could find a homemade version that would last longer. It didn't have to be perfect, and I figured if nothing else, it was something for the blog. (And lo, it was so.)

The recipe I decided to follow comes from DIY Natural. Of course, I tweaked it. Simplified, really, but if you want to go as natural as possible, just click that link. I also made it seasonally appropriate. Here are the ingredients I used:

1 3/4 cups powdered non-dairy creamer (because it's all I could find at Meijer)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (imitation)
2 1/2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

First things first, make that sugar vanilla-flavored! This is achieved by thoroughly mixing the 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 1 1/2 cups of sugar together in a bowl until the sugar is thoroughly moistened. Pour the sugar onto a cookie sheet and wait for it to dry. Or pop that cookie sheet into the oven at 150F for about 10 minutes to speed the drying process because we've got chai to make! The dry sugar will be crunchy and blocky, but brittle, so go ahead and smash it back into granules with a spoon or by hand.

While you are waiting for the yummy vanilla sugar to cool, heat up some water and make yourself a nice hot cuppa tea, preferably black, though if you are into green chai lattes, by all means, make yourself some green tea. (I admit, Starbuck's maccha lattes are pretty tasty, but they are experts and use syrups and other fancy items I don't have in my kitchen.)

In a large mixing bowl, add the spices to the sugar and stir. This will help break up the sugar chunks, too. Then go ahead and pour everything together in the bowl and stir, stir, stir. When it is thoroughly blended, measure two tablespoons of your new masala powdered latte blend into your cup of tea. Stir, and enjoy.

It isn't exactly the creamy goodness I crave from Trader Joe's, but it comes in at around the same cost, and makes almost double the cups of tea. It also didn't taste much like pumpkin pie or pumpkin pie spice, but like vanilla from the vanilla-flavored sugar. The reason I chose to use pumpkin pie spice is mostly because it is a pre-made blend of pretty much the exact same spices that are often added to make masala chai, and not because it would make it taste like pumpkin. I am sure there is a way to add ground dried pumpkin (or something) to make it taste pumpkiny. I may need to investigate this possibility at a later date. In the meantime, I have a good base masala blend to work from.

*If you are confused about my use of the term "masala" because you are picturing a stew-like gravy often served with rice, click here to read about the difference between the terms "curry" and "masala."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pumpkin Spiced Nutella Puppy Chow

This update comes a day late because yesterday I worked from 10am to 10:30pm and, because it was Halloween, went out after work with Greg for a bit to enjoy the holiday. (The Irish pub had a great Alice Cooper!)

I got the idea for Pumpkin Spiced Nutella Puppy Chow from Pinterest. It should be noted that many of the recipes I come across there do not call this type of snack "puppy chow," instead referring to it as "muddy buddies." I asked friends from all over the U.S., and they all call it puppy chow, which is what I, too, grew up calling it. As far as I can tell, they are the same thing. (I want to add that I am currently typing this blog one-handed because I can't stop eating this stuff!) 

Traditional puppy chow (or muddy buddies) is made with peanut butter and chocolate. Substituting Nutella for peanut butter makes the flavor much richer! Something else I'd like to try substituting for peanut butter is cookie butter, which Greg and I have bought a few times from Trader Joe's and used for milkshakes, pancakes, and other tasty things. Cookie butter is the Trader Joe's name for Speculoos spread, also known commercially as Biscoff. Since it also behaves much like peanut butter, here is another idea for what you can do with cookie butter. 

Here is the basic puppy show recipe:

9 cups of Chex cereal
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

I used milk chocolate chips because I prefer them to semisweet, though to cut some of the richness, especially when substituting Nutella for peanut butter, semisweet chips are probably the better choice. One recipe I found for making this pumpkin spiced was to substitute Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses for the chocolate chips. I couldn't find any when I made the recipe, though, so instead, I added some generous dashes of pumpkin pie spice to the butter, chocolate, and Nutella mixture as it melted on the stove. I have since found the Pumpkin Spice Kisses at Target and Meijer, and they are pretty delicious. 

As I said, melt the butter, chocolate, and Nutella in a pan on your stove on low or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Stir in the vanilla and pumpkin pie spice, if you are using the spice. To coat the Chex cereal, you can either pour the cereal in a large resealable plastic bag with the chocolate mixture and shake, or, to make less mess, attempt to stir the chocolate mixture with the cereal in a large bowl until it is coated. I chose the former method; mess be damned. (The bag was not salvageable.)

Once the cereal is coated, you want to carefully pour the powdered sugar into the bag with the chocolatey coated cereal pieces. (Or pour the cereal into a large plastic resealable bag followed by the powdered sugar.) Here, you could also add a few dashes of pumpkin pie spice with the powdered sugar. Shake, shake, shake! Then pour the contents of the bag onto a cookie sheet, spread it out, and allow it to cool before moving to whichever storage contained you have chosen to serve it in. Your kitchen will probably be a mess at this point. A tasty, tasty mess.

Et voila! Pumpkin Spiced Nutella Puppy Chow.

I think for December, I will attempt Cookie Butter Puppy Chow, mayhaps with some kind of holiday spice like cinnamon or nutmeg. I think that would be pretty good. There is no end to the possibilities. Trader Joe's (and probably other stores) sells a cocoa almond spread that has quite a different taste to Nutella, but is of the same consistency. World Market offers a wide array of sweet spreads, like cappuccino flavored, which would also be an interesting attempt. I think Cappuccino Puppy Chow sounds very grown up and decadent. 

Since it isn't Halloween anymore, I will instead wish you a happy Fall, and offer a happy birthday to the Mighty Mackinac Bridge, which opened on November 1st, 1957.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Frita Batidos in Downtown Ann Arbor

Although I still have plenty of recipes to post, I wanted to share with you a terrific restaurant Greg and I tried out, Frita Batidos, serving "Cuban inspired street food." It's located right around the corner from Crazy Wisdom at 117 W. Washington, so I have been by there many times before actually stopping in. Am I ever glad we finally gave this place a try!

Ordering is simple. It's kind of like fast food. You walk up to the counter just inside the door and choose which kind of frita you would like: chorizo, black bean, chicken, fish, or beef. Fritas are traditional Cuban burgers made from chorizo, a kind of pork sausage. According to the menu, they also have "shoestring fries on top on a soft egg bun." Since I can't eat most pork, I am very glad for the expanded meat options. I believe I ordered chicken.
Toppings you may choose for an additional fee to make your frita even more spectacular include Muenster, a sunny side up egg, cilantro-lime salsa, tropical slaw, avocado spread, bacon. I highly recommend getting the egg on the frita of your choice. You may also choose to do away with the bun and have it served on romaine lettuce instead. There are a number of sides to choose from, as well, from different seasoned fries and plantain chips to rice or beans. You may also order soup, salad, delicious-sounding desserts (including churros - YUM!), or a pulled pork sandwich rather than a frita if you decide that's not your thing. There is also a kids menu. 

As for drinks, there various fancy coffees available for you to try, beer, tropical sodas, cocktails, and, of course, batidos! Batidos have been described to me as Cuban milkshakes. Greg ordered some kind of coffee one. I thought it was pretty tasty! I was happy with water since we had just come from Bill's Beer Garden. Which brings me to this conclusion: 

Fritas are the best damn after-bar food ever!  

They're greasy. They're juicy. They're full of flavor. OM NOM NOM NOM. Obviously, you don't need to be drinking to enjoy Frita Batidos, but if you are or have been recently, eat at this restaurant. It's awesome. There are no tables, instead a bunch of long picnic tables and a counter with stools, making this a terrific spot to eat, drink, and be social. Each table also includes a set of dominoes, and while waiting for our food to arrive, Greg and I played the first game of dominoes I have ever played. It was fun! And lovely by candlelight. 
Frita Batidos does all it can to source its food locally, which I love. And all the food is wonderful. The idea of "Cuban street food" may be a turn-off, but when you realize the the name Frita Batidos basically translates to "burger and shakes," you'll find this foreign-sounding fare is a lot more familiar than it at first seemed. 

Since it is located right by one of my jobs, I am already making plans to return for lunch.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More Stuffed Pasta Shells

Back in May of 2011, I made broccoli and cheese stuffed pasta shells. I didn't use all of the shells then, though, and the remainder have been sitting in my cupboard since then. Until a couple weeks ago! Greg and I put together some stuffed shells on the fly with ingredients we had on hand, my favorite way to make things. (And yes, the shells were just fine. No bugs had gotten in there to nibble them.)

Greg had some leftover ricotta cheese and spinach from another dish he'd made for us. I did not use ricotta the last time I made stuffed shells because Kimmy (my co-conspirator at the time) does not like ricotta. I mixed the ricotta, spinach, and one egg, while Greg chopped up some chicken sausages into tiny pieces. There was also a pot of the pasta shelves bubbling on the stove because they have to be precooked before you bake them.
Chopping the sausage took a bit of time, but when it was done, I blended it in with my cheese and spinach mixture, then stuffed the cooked and drained shells with it. The box for the shells said to line the bottom of the baking dish with a little bit of pasta sauce, which I did before placing the stuffed shells inside. Once the shells were stuffed and placed, I poured more sauce over the top. I recommend also sprinkling shredded Parmesan cheese or mozzarella over the top before popping the shells into the oven, but we didn't have any, so I didn't do this part.

I can't remember precisely, but I think we baked them for about 20 to 30 minutes at 350F. Since all of the ingredients were pre-cooked (even the sausage), it was mostly a matter of letting it cook long enough to transform a bunch of disparate ingredients thrown together into one cohesive whole. It also evaporated some water, making it a more solid dish.

There were about a dozen shells, making plenty for dinner and leftovers the next day. Yay, leftovers! Not bad for a bunch of leftovers thrown together then into the oven. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Apple Cake

I've been on quite an apple kick since our trip to the apple orchard. Some recipes have worked out and some have not (like apple nachos). This apple cake received positive reviews when I brought it with me to Game Night, but I think there are things I could have done better. I feel I should have used my electric mixer rather than stir the batter by hand, for example. 
I had some DVDs of Dark Shadows from the library that I wanted to watch (this is October, and a spooky old soap opera about ghosts and vampires is pretty much required viewing), so I set up peeling and slicing the apples in the living room at the coffee table. Sawyer was extremely upset by this. He has decided that the coffee table is his personal sleep spot, despite the two cat beds on the floor, two chairs, and couch. He also wants to eat whatever the people are eating, so he kept circling me, hoping to steal a bite of apple. He was not lucky that day.

Here is the recipe that I was trying to follow: Dutch Apple Cake. I feel like three apples was a bit much, but I also changed how I put the apples into the batter. Here is what I did.

Since the apples were a little soft, I cut them into rather small pieces that were not really crispy at all. I did manage to coat them in 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, rather like I remember doing when I was younger to make apple pies. Putting that aside, I got out another mixing bowl and mashed together 2/3 cup of butter, 1 cup of sugar, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. When that was thoroughly blended, I mixed in 2 cups of flour and a dash of salt. 

Here is where I deviated. The recipe says to pout the batter into a greased 9x5 loaf pan, then "push apple slices vertically into the batter." That was not going to work for me since my apple slices were so tiny and flimsy. Instead, I put a thin layer of batter in the pan, a layer of apples on top of that, another layer of batter, then more apples, then more batter, ending with a later of apples and put it in the over for about an hour and a half at 300 degrees F. 
I had at least an apples worth of slices that didn't fit, so I just ate them with a fork. Delicious! I love apples with sugar and cinnamon. 

As I said above, the apple cake was positively received. It was thick for a cake (the electric mixer would have made it fluffier, I think), but not like a banana bread either. The flavor was good. I had leftover slices warmed with melted butter for breakfast over the next couple of days, though it was also good cooled. This is an easy recipe that doesn't require many ingredients you wouldn't have already stocked in your cupboard if you ever bake at all. And this being apple season, you should have no trouble obtaining any variety of your choosing. My apples were Macintosh because they are one of my favorite apples. (My absolute favorite is the Pink Lady. Mmm... Like eating candy.) 

So I was recently unpacking more boxes from our move and came across my old digital camera. I am betting it takes better pictures than my phone, so hopefully starting in November I will have better photos for this blog. I actually have my updating schedule for October complete, so all of those pictures have already been taken with my phone. It's not usual that I am this organized, but with half a bushel of apples to work with on top of regular cooking for dinner and such, I have been very busy! 

October is always a very busy month for me, too, between spooky Halloween festivities, Fall exclusive activities, and my birthday (which I share with my niece, so double the fun). October is also a difficult month since the anniversary of my father's death is the day after my birthday. (We like to die on or around holidays in my family. I'm hoping for Halloween myself. Or American Thanksgiving. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are already taken.) Luckily, I have a lot of friends who also share my birthday month, so we tend to keep it upbeat and festive.

Anyway, I hope between this cake and last week's nachos, I have inspired someone out there to go apple picking and have fun experimenting. Baked apples and homemade applesauce are great - especially with cinnamon! - but there is so much more you can do with fresh apples. Have fun and happy Fall!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Apple Nachos (Kind Of)

After Greg and I went apple picking a few weeks ago, we had a lot of apples to make stuff with! So I immediately set about trying to find things to use the apples for besides the obvious homemade applesauce. One of the things I came across sounded easy and really tasty: apple nachos. Just slice up the apples, spread them on a plate and throw stuff on top! What could be easier? Well, turns out I did run into some complications.
First, while Greg sliced up the apples, I set about melting marshmallows. It seemed like such an easy thing, throw marshmallows into an appropriate container and apply heat, if only I had better investigated it. The recipe I followed said to melt 1/4 cup of butter in a pan on the stove with a bunch of marshmallows until they turned to cream. They did not turn to cream. The butter never melted together with the marshmallows. 
What happened instead was the marshmallows absorbed some of the butter while the oily part separated out and pooled at the bottom of the pan. Rather than turning into marshmallow cream, the sticky mess turned into caramel, and not caramel sauce. I basically had a pot full of toffee in its early stages. Delicious, but not at all what I was going for. 
I was supposed to arrange the apple slices on a platter (I chose a glass pie pan), then drizzle melted marshmallow cream, melted caramel cream (we picked up caramel sauce from the store instead, thank goodness), and chocolate sauce over-top the apples, sprinkling mini chocolate chips as a finishing touch. Rather than buy mini chocolate chips, I chose crumbled Heath bar, which I think was a pretty great substitution myself. (I used the leftover candy pieces in brownies later, which was also fabulous). 

The caramel sauce and chocolate syrup gave us no trouble, nor did the Heath bar, but the marshmallow/toffee mass was quickly solidifying and refused to pour, so I just dumped it on and tried to spread it with a spoon. This resulted in an absolute mess. The taste was fine, and if the marshmallow cream had worked out, I am sure it would have been super great, but I am never melting marshmallows in a pan ever again. I'll use marshmallow fluff or some other pre-made marshmallow cream instead. 
I think this would still be a tasty snack with just caramel and chocolate sauce drizzled over the top and crumbled Heath bar, or chocolate chips, and maybe some mini marshmallows unmelted.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Eggplant Zucchini and Cheese Casserole

After Greg and I visited Budd's Produce, I assembled the ingredients to make an Eggplant Zucchini and Cheese casserole. I am a big fan of casseroles. They are easy to make it and usually leave me with days of leftovers to bring to work with me for lunches. Leftovers are always my friends. 

The longest part of all this was cutting up all those giant vegetables. I sliced up one giant eggplant (also called aubergine), 2 large zucchinis (also known as summer squash), a shallot in place of onion, and 1/2 of a large tomato (feel free to use the whole thing, I was just tired of dicing). I was supposed to saute the vegetables in a frying pan before assembling the casserole. Since there were so many vegetables, I had to so this part in batches. I used the garlic sea salt grinder from Trader Joe's as a seasoning. This is probably my favorite seasoning mix right now. I put on just about everything.
While the veggies were sauteing, I prepared a box of corn stuffing mix on a neighboring burner. The oven was preheated to 350 degrees F, and I sprayed my largest glass baking dish with cooking spray. 

With the stuffing made and the vegetables sauteed for a few minutes, I was ready to layer the casserole. First went a layer of vegetables followed by a layer of stuffing. Then I sprinkled on some shredded Colby cheese, layered on more veggies and stuffing, then ended with a final layer of cheese. The casserole baked for half an hour at 350F.
I thought that I had made this casserole before, but if I did, it turned out entirely differently. This was delicious! And very filling, making it a great entree for even non-vegetarians like Greg and me. (Though I doubt the cheese I used was vegetarian, vegetarian cheese could easily be used in place of conventional animal rennet cheese.) The spices from the cornbread stuffing mix coupled with the garlic grinder made this quite flavorful, and the fresh vegetables were superb. And, being a casserole, it was easy to partition up into lunches. I loved it! This is definitely one I'd make again, especially with a fresh vegetables market being located right down the road. I love Fall!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fresh Produce & My First Visit to Babo

See that eggplant up there? That was about as big as my head. And the tomato was like two of my fists! After picking apples at the Wasem Fruit Farm last Wednesday, Greg and I returned home to drop off the apples and on the way decided to stop at Budd's Produce, located just down the road from our apartment. Despite having lived along this stretch of road for a year and a half, I've never been there. Before, it wasn't along my usual driving path, but now it is, so I think of it more often, and now that I have been, I think I am more likely to return. 

There was a lot of produce for such a little stand. And the prices were great! That giant eggplant was, I think, $1 and the tomato was 50 cents. We also got 2 zucchinis and two ears of corn and only paid $4 for all of it. There were also fresh green beans, which I like, but Greg does not. I was hoping for some pattypan squash, but alas! only yellow squash and zucchini. I decided the last time I made yellow squash that I do not like the texture of the rind when it is cooked. Too tough and chewy! So I just went with the zucchini this time.

After I got home and was looking through recipe books, I discovered that I have a recipe that calls for one large eggplant, two zucchinis, and a tomato! How perfect was that? You'll have to stay tuned to read about how that turned out, though.

Later that evening, Greg and I were wandering Ann Arbor when we remembered a store we'd been past a few times but never stopped into, Babo: a Market by Sava, located at 403 E Washington (Division is the cross street). I was never sure by just looking at the outside if it was a market or a restaurant. Turns out, it is a bit of both.

Babo is a terrific place to buy fresh meat, cheese, and an array of deli delights. And you can try everything in the deli before you buy it! You can aso buy lunch or dinner as the deli counter includes things like mac and cheese (absolutely wonderful; so creamy), pulled pork in a sauce that changes every day depending on what fruit is on hand (it was raspberry when we went), bean salad, seaweed salad, seafood salad, and so much more. I got two wedges of steak quesadilla, the best quesadilla I have ever had. It was so full of steak, I couldn't believe it!

There are a few aisles of grocery items, as well, and beer and wine. The most interesting part about Babo's grocery side, I thought, was that you buy milk in glass jugs. Pay a deposit on the bottle, then bring it back when the milk is empty and get another one. Wonderful! 

There is also a little coffee counter where you can get in such interesting offerings as cafe du miel (coffee with honey), which is what I ordered and I loved it. Greg got something called a Lumberjack, which was sweetened with maple syrup and tasted like breakfast. There is a counter in the deli/coffee area where you can sit and enjoy your food and beverages (also tables outside) and a fun wall of giant magnetic poetry! I didn't play with it that night, which only means I will have to go back.

So if you are near Ann Arbor, or even passing through, check out Babo. I'm willing to go on record as saying Babo is better than Zingerman's. That's right, I just said something was better than His Holiness Zingerman's. They aren't exactly the same kind of place, but pretty darn close, and Babo doesn't have the ridiculous wait that Zingerman's deli does. The prices are also more reasonable and the portions much bigger. Don't believe me? Try it and decide for yourself. 

Next time: what I made with the produce I bought.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Vinsetta Garage: Custom Detroit Eats

Recently, my boyfriend Greg and I had visitors from out of town, so Greg decided it would be a great time to introduce people to Vinsetta Garage in Berkley, MI. He had been once before (after the remodel), but this was my first trip. Greg calls it the kind of place he'd bring guests to give them a good taste of Detroit (Metro Detroit), though not a place he would eat at all the time (the seating wait is kind of ridiculous). So we did!

Seriously, the wait time is a little bit nuts. When we arrived late because the traffic was absurd, the joint (it calls itself a joint on the website) was still packed. We were told it would be an hour before we were seated. Since it had been such an ordeal getting there, and we had nowhere else in mind, we decided to stay. Also, the plentiful seating out front is not for dining, so we got drinks at the bar, then commandeered a table outside and looked through a menu so we'd be ready when we got a table.

The decor is absolutely fabulous. Lots of metal, lots of interesting lighting that I would love in my own home, and the restroom floors are tiled with pennies. It's a very cool affect that must be seen if you ever go there for a meal. There must be some kind of restroom competition in the restaurant industry because I seem to always be including something about weird bathrooms in my restaurant reviews, like the "welcome" sign inside the stall at Bone Head's BBQ in Willis

Onto the food. Once we were seated, we ordered some Disco Fries, one of their signature appetizers comprised of house-cut fries, cheese curds, mustard gravy, chili flakes, and scallions. It reminded Greg and me of poutine, and I think the whole table enjoyed it. 

In keeping with the Detroit theme, I got two coneys with mac and cheese as my side. The waitress actually suggested the mac and cheese as my side rather than, say, fries, so they must be known for the mac and cheese or something. It was pretty tasty, I'll admit. Very rich and creamy. One of our guests ordered the tuna casserole, which had tempted me, and reported it was similar to the mac and cheese in nature. I didn't try any, but that also looked good.  

Other specialties on the menu include pizza and various noodle dishes, both of which can be built-to-suit, and, of course, burgers. There is even a duck burger! Is duck the new meat of choice? Because I also recently had duck sliders at Ann Arbor's HomeGrown Festival, and there was that duck bacon Greg and I bought a couple months ago.

For dessert, Greg and I had to order the Faygo Rock & Rye ice cream with pop rocks topping. It was amazing. It tasted like Rock & Rye! The texture was different than I am used to, but not bad. I had never had liquid nitrogen churned ice cream before, so maybe that accounts for it. Also, the pop rocks were a little flat, probably because they were drowning in frozen Faygo. (Mmm...) The banoffee (banana + toffee) pudding also looked tasty to me. 

All in all, I think liked Vinsetta Garage. Depending on what you got, the prices weren't too bad, and I seem to recall the beers being all or mostly from Michigan. I think they change them up, too. The dessert offerings were unique and fun. It's quite the drive for me for dinner, but if we have more out of town guests, maybe I'll back.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Spinach and Arugula Salad with Gorgonzola

**The update of this blog has been delayed a week due to technical errors and entire posts being deleted.**

Of all the things lying around in my fridge, I didn't think the ingredients for a spinach and arugula salad with crumbled Gorgonzola and dried pomegranates on top were hiding in there. Lo! It was so.

Greg had leftover fresh spinach and arugula from when we did grilled cheese sandwiches at Game Night a couple weeks ago. The Gorgonzola and dried pomegranates were from before we moved in together, making them, in my mind, a priority to use in something, anything. I also chopped up some carrots which were left from a crockpot recipe of I don't remember when (carrots stay for a very long time in the fridge, as it turns out), and clipped some fresh basil leaves and parsley from out garden. Voila! Salad.

As for dressing, I wasn't sure what to go with. I am not big on dressing that isn't ranch, but I have learned that balsamic vinegar and olive oil are pretty tasty together, so I went with that. I kept running across a red wine vinegar, olive oil, and honey concoction as I was looking up spinach salad recipes on Pinterest. I didn't have red wine vinegar, so I decided against that pretty quickly, though I may have to give it a try in the future. I'm just not sure about the addition of honey.

At first, I had everything in my largest mixing bowl. Even hand-tossing it ended up with the heavier things on the bottom, though, so I took out a large plastic Tupperware container, dumped everything into that, secured the lid, and shook. It worked out very nicely!

I left the salad in the Tupperware and took it with me to a Labor Day pool party where it was enjoyed by many. If I had bought the ingredients, I would have chosen feta over Gorgonzola, but it turns out it was good that I didn't because someone at the party was avoiding feta. I still have some crumbled Gorgonzola leftover, but I used up all of the spinach. There is also half a tub of arugula I need to find something to do with, as well. Homemade pizza?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Peas the Norwegian Way

You may not remember this, but back in February of 2011, I devoted the entire month to Scandinavian cuisine. I started with what became one of my most favorite desserts to make because it is so freaking delicious, rommegr√łt, or "sour cream porridge." Trust me, it is anything but sour. This past weekend, I decided to revisit that region of the world by once again checking the book Cooking the Norwegian Way by Sylvia Munsen out of the library. 

I chose a simple recipe that I miraculously had all the ingredients for, right down to the fresh parsley growing on my balcony! Here is an image of the ingredient list. I'm sorry the quality isn't better; my new phone isn't as good at taking photos as my old one was.
Note: "erter" meas "peas" in Norwegian.

As of Sunday, when I made this, I had worked 11 days in a row and was feeling extremely burned out. I dropped the bag of frozen peas on the floor, luckily losing only about 1/4 cup worth to the garbage, then later spilled my dinner all over the table and my laptop. A little landed in my lap, too, but not real damage done. Anyway, on to the making of the peas.

After cleaning up the spilled frozen peas on the floor, I boiled 1 tablespoon of butter in 1/2 cup of water in my large sauce pan. I like to err on the side of too large, and in this case, I really could have used my smaller pan, maybe even a frying pan. 
Meanwhile, I shredded 1 cup of lettuce to be added to my bowl of 2 cups of frozen peas. This was harder than I thought it would be. I had the last vestiges of a head of lettuce in my fridge I thought would be perfect, but I think I didn't have the proper shredding tool, because I ended up with a pile of mush that did not come close to 1 cup. Oh well, I thought, and added it to the bowl anyhow. Then went in the onion, leftover from Greg's baked mac 'n cheese. Next, I went out to my garden to snip some fresh parsley. I particularly enjoyed this part because I usually end up using dried parsley. But since Greg planted us a garden, I have been able to use fresh-from-the-plant, which is super flavorful and smells divine. 

So the peas, lettuce, onions, and parsley all went into the pot of water and melted butter, which I had turned down to medium. I did a few grates of freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Recipes always say "to taste," but how am I supposed to know until it's cooked? I am not a big fan of either salt or pepper, so sometimes I just skip this part entirely. Not tonight, though.

I let it all cook for 10 minutes, which is precisely how long it took for the water to evaporate and the onions to begin sticking to the bottom of the pan. 

The flavor turned out to be pretty good. I credit the peas and onion combination for this. I am not really sure what the lettuce was for, though I suppose if I had used packaged pre-shredded lettuce, or chopped it thinly rather than shredding it, and used the actual recommended 1 cup, I might have understood better. I'm not going to tell you to leave out the lettuce. I will say I don't feel it added much to the dish. I would probably make this again, as I am always on the lookout for new ways to make vegetables more interesting, and the flavor was really pretty good. (The Danish creamed vegetables are still my favorite discovery in this vein.)

Man, these pictures are really terrible! I came across my digital camera the other day. I will have to give that a try for next time. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Grilled Mac 'N Cheese

All right, I may have been a little misleading with the title on this one. I was trying to combine grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese into one subject. Since I picked up a number of shifts at both jobs that past couple of weeks, I haven't done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen. I am gearing up for it, though! I went to the library today and picked up a small stack of children's cookbooks. What? Children's cookbooks are my favorite kind because they are simple, easy to follow, and require few ingredients. Seriously! Check them out. Especially if you want to experiment with foreign cuisines.

It was also recently my boyfriend Greg's birthday. I picked him up a new cookbook called Grilled Cheese Please!: 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes by Laura Werlin. Greg has spearheaded a few Game Night dinners that have been dubbed "Fancy Grilled Cheese Night," and there enough recipes in this book that piqued my interest while I glanced through, that I thought we could have some fun making them at home. Our "Fancy Grilled Cheese Nights" were pretty fancy, but this book will kick it up a notch!

There was another book I was debating whether or not to get for Greg by Laura Werlin, Mac & Cheese, Please!: 50 Super Cheesy Recipes. I find this amusing because two nights ago, I came home to Greg having made baked mac and cheese for dinner. He said he took a recipe from Alton Brown, then modified it with the things he wanted, onions and turkey bacon. It was quite delicious! And another use was finally found for those panko (Japanese bread crumbs) that have been in my cupboard for over a year. (Yaaaay!!) I think this shows that Greg doesn't need a book's help to make awesome mac and cheese, so I am glad I didn't go with that one, as tasty as the recipes do look. 

If you are a fan of these two cheese dishes, definitely check your local library or book store and see if you can track these books down. The pictures are big and colorful, and the recipes are pretty straight forward. The ebooks run abut $7.69 and the physical books are $16.99. 

Cheese on, my fellow cheese-lovers!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Onigiri: Japanese Rice Balls

Ever since I learned how to make onigiri (also known as omusubi) after my study abroad stint in Japan back in 2003, onigiri (balls of rice with some kind of filling generally, but not always, wrapped in nori, dried seaweed) have been one of my favorite snacks. I love tuna salad onigiri combination so much that I often skipped the rolling process all together and just mixed tuna with mayonnaise and spread it over white rice, eating it with a spoon. 

As much as I love the tuna (or "sea chicken mayonnaise" as it was called when I bought it from the Lawson convenience stores), it is far from the only kind of onigiri out there. When a friend told me that he hates onigiri because  he doesn't like tuna, I was stunned. That's like saying you don't like pizza because you hate pepperoni. Pepperoni is a very popular pizza topping, but certainly not the only choice. I happen to dislike ham and pineapple, and pizza is still one of my favorite foods. To help him overcome his prejudice, another friend and I decided to make an onigiri buffet for our New Year's party that year. We had tuna and mayonnaise, of course, because it is very popular, but also teriyaki salmon, baby corn, carrot, shrimp, and even Spam filled onigiri! Everyone had a good time trying them, and we had even more fun making them.
Years later, I ran into another crazy onigiri story. My boyfriend Greg had never had savory onigiri, only onigiri filled with red bean paste and other desserts. WHAT?? Not only had I never heard of filling onigiri with anko (sweet red bean paste), the internet agrees that this is a very strange choice for filling. Personally, I think it sounds terrible, and I love anko. One of my favorite ice creams is red bean! The only people I have seen online putting red beans into rice balls are gaijin (foreigners), so I wouldn't put any faith in it. Onigiri is supposed to be a little bit salty, not sweet. The site I just linked to explains that before refrigeration, the people of Japan discovered that they could make rice last longer by packing it around salty things, like pickled plums (a very traditional rice ball filling). 

Anyway, I decided to show Greg what real onigiri is, though since he hates seafood, I was at a loss as to what a good example would be for him. My immediate thoughts were tuna and salmon, which wouldn't work (they are my two favorites). I didn't think he'd be too keen on the Spam onigiri either. We grow cucumbers in the garden, but they aren't the most interesting (or flavorful) filling on their own. Greg looked up on the internet for some good ideas and came across Korean barbecued beef. Perfect! So yesterday, Greg set up the slow cooker to cook the Korean barbecue while I took care of slicing cucumbers, cooking two batches of rice in my rice cooker, and mixing the tuna and mayonnaise for myself. I also carefully ripped up the nori sheets into strips. We had the big square kind made for sushi rolls, making them much too big for wrapping onigiri.

Two things to keep in mind when making onigiri: 1) always use short grain white rice - they don't call it sticky rice for nothing! 2) always wet your hands between forming balls - they don't call it sticky rice for nothing! The general steps are as follows:
  • Be careful to let the rice cool before you pick it up. I have actually burned my palm making onigiri before because I didn't give it enough time. I honestly put my rice in the fridge or freezer once it is done in the rice cooker and keep occasionally stirring until it is cool enough to hold in my hands. You don't want the rice cold, but you don't want to burn yourself either. Trust me.
  • Wet your palms. I mean it, this rice is sticky! Also sprinkle salt into your palm. I am told this helps with the sticking, but it also helps bring out the proper flavor. If you burn your palm from rice that is too hot, the salt doesn't help the pain. 
  • Take a little bit of cooled, cooked rice and flatten it in your damp, salted palm.
  • Put a bit of your filling on the middle of the flattened rice in your palm. I had chunks of cucumber (julienned is also great), canned tuna with mayo, and shredded Korean barbecued beef. The beef was the hardest because it was so long. A small dollop is easier.
  • Put more rice over the top of your filling. 
  • Squish. Okay, not squish exactly, but use your free hand (which I also suggest wetting down) to squeeze the rice together rather like you are making a snowball. If you've never made a snowball, this part might be harder for you. The idea is to get the rice to stick around the filling. This is why using short grain white rice is key. It will stick to anything, most especially itself.
Nori, or dried seaweed, is traditional, but not a requirement. Greg thought it tasted funny with the barbecued beef (I didn't mind it, but I am also more used to it), and didn't wrap his with seaweed after that first one. Toasted sesame seeds are another common onigiri wrapping, and also pretty tasty. I like to save wrapping with seaweed until right before I am about to eat them, especially if the onigiri are still warm, because the seaweed will absorb the moisture and get limp instead of crispy. 

Sometimes onigiri is also grilled or toasted. I have never had it grilled, but I bet it would be very tasty with the barbecued beef filling! I have toasted them in a toaster oven before. I used to stockpile onigiri from the convenience store in my mini fridge in my apartment in Japan and vivify them by sprinkling water over-top, then popping them in the toaster oven for a minute or two. They were still good! 

So, in conclusion, just as sushi is not always made with fish, onigiri can also be made with land animals. Or vegetables. Or nothing if you really just want to eat a chunk of rice. (I'm not judging.) But red bean paste? I'm not so sure.