Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sashimi Haiku

Li'l swimming fishes,
You're tastier than you know.
Get into my mouth.

A rainbow of fish
So happily assembled
Look so delicious.

So satisfying,
Veggies and fish rolled in rice.
And sake to drink!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hommus Express on Liberty in Ann Arbor

In this part of Michigan, there are plenty of choices for Mediterranean food. My favorite is Haifa Falafel located on Washtenaw just east of 23. Their portions are generous and their prices are great. I think they serve the best chicken shawarma in these parts.

If you go to downtown Ann Arbor, most people will recommend Jerusalem Garden near the corner of Liberty and 5th Ave. I am not one of them. When Greg and I went there, we found the food to be terribly dry and their chicken shawarma was more like an American-style wrap than anything remotely authentic. Where were the sauces? The lentil soup was tasty, but that was about all I found satisfying. I don't understand why the place is always so crowded, another minus.

So I found a new place to go to for shawarma when I am downtown, Hommus Express at 529 E. Liberty. The term "express" might be stretching it just a tad since there only ever seems to be one person working, and he has to go make your food after taking your order and ringing you up at the register, but I don't really see that as a bad thing. I know the food is made fresh! The price is right, too. They offer daily specials on both their food and their smoothies. I'm not really into the whole smoothie thing right now, but they seem to have quite a selection! 

I ordered a 6" chicken shawarma on flat bread with a side of chicken lemon rice soup and a fountain Vernors (which I don't think I've ever seen at a soda fountain before) for $8.21 after tax, and that was more than enough to fill me up. In place of soup, one can order french fries or rice. I really love chicken lemon rice soup, though, as well as lentil. (Click here for when I made soupa avgolemono, Greek egg lemon and rice soup.)

The soup turned out to be not very lemony in flavor, but that was really all right with me. It was plenty flavorful otherwise and contained lots of chicken. The shawarma was not the least bit dry and was packed with flavor. It was different from Haifa Falafel's and also Shawarma King, my favorite place to go in Kalamazoo for Mediterranean food. This didn't make it inferior. I enjoy variation when it still tastes good. 

There are three large, flat-screen TVs in Hommus Express, and while I was there, the inauguration was on with the sound turned very low while delightfully cheery Mediterranean music was piped in on the overhead stereo. The restaurant is sleek and clean, brightly painted, with fun chandeliers overhead. I particularly liked the beaded one by the front counter. There is free wi-fi, and they don't seem to care if you stay for hours at a time. (I was there at least two hours reading my book and taking notes for my book discussion this Friday.)

Hommus Express also delivers, so I grabbed their menu for nights when I am working at Crazy Wisdom and jonesing some shawarma. Mmm... Shawarma...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Slow Cooked Spinach Casserole

My boyfriend Greg's family bought me a slow cooker for Christmas. I've never owned a slow cooker or even a crock pot before, though my mother had one growing up that she'd occasionally use to make tasty things like barbecued mini chicken wings that would just fall off the bone. Mmm... Now there's a thought for a later blog post!

But that is not what I started with. Just as Akane did in Like Water For Ranma, I began with boiling water. I actually read the instruction manual this time, and after washing the removable stoneware liner (which was explained pages later, which is stupid; I hate page flipping, just give me the stupid instructions in number order thank-you-very-much), I was instructed to cook 2 cups of water on high for 30 minutes. Okay... When that was done, I had to unplug the slow cooker and let the water cool for 30 minutes. I started to think that this might just take all day, and the dish I had planned on preparing would get finished about the same time I got home at midnight from work.

Once the slow cooker was all prepped and ready to go, I looked at my recipe, which is contained in a book that Greg lent me called "Fix-It and Forget-It" to get me started with my present. Since this is me, I obviously didn't follow it very well. 

First, the 2 packages of frozen spinach were still half frozen, not thawed and in need of draining as the recipe said. But whatever. I was also supposed to mix everything together in the cooker, but I decided a mixing bowl would be a better idea since I'd never used the cooker before. I also wasn't sure I needed to, but I sprayed canola oil spray into the cooker as well. 

So I pulled out my largest mixing bowl and dumped in the 2 bags of spinach, scooping a 16oz container of cottage cheese on top. I didn't have any butter, so I skipped the step that told me to cube 1/4 cup of butter and add it to the mix. The next step called for 1 1/4 cups of cubed American cheese. Cubed cheese, eh? Sounds like cheese curds to me. And these cheese curds came to me straight from Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is in America. Cheese curds were substituted for the ill-named American cheese. Add 2 mostly beaten eggs and a generous sprinkling of garlic salt, and the mixture was all set!

I scooped the entirety of the bowl into the stoneware liner, popped on the lid, plugged in the cooker and set it to high for 1 hour. I also set my egg timer for 1 hour because I didn't notice the cooker beeping when I was cooking the water. Then I sat on the couch and watched an episode and then some of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (I've forgotten my first Doctor, but I will never forget my first Captain. <3 Sisko <3)

When the hour was up, I stirred up the mixture, giving the cheese a chance to blend in with the rest, then set the slow cooker to low and set the timer for 5 hours. This means it would finish cooking a little before halfway through my work shift. My roommate Kimmy was going to be home, and she said she'd make sure nothing caught on fire. (I may be paraphrasing.)

While at work, I was a little cheered by the thought of coming home to warm food freshly cooked rather than something from Tupperware a day or more old reheated in the microwave. I was definitely warming to the possibilities of this slow cooking, and when I arrived home, I was not disappointed. The edges were a bit done, but seeing as this was spinach, it wasn't really what I'd call crunchy. There was a lot of excess water, however, so I probably should have finished thawing the spinach in the microwave and draining it before embarking on the rest. Whatever, it was still tasty.

Strangely, this spinach and cheese casserole strongly reminded me of a crustless quiche (wow, does that take me back). It is obviously largely comprised of spinach, but there is a little egg in there, and some cheese, so basically the same ingredients as my spinach and cheese quiche, just in different amounts. 

I am really excited to use my new slow cooker for new recipes! Also, I am very pleased to have a vegetable dish that I can put into Tupperware and bring with me to work, though I'm not sure if I have full microwave access. I don't mind eating cold quiche, though, so maybe cold casserole won't be so bad?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ends and Pieces

Given my busy schedule, food has mostly amounted to odds and ends and a lot of scrounging. Take breakfast today for example: a small bowl of cereal, three slices of turkey bacon, and a half cup of canned peas and carrots. The cereal was for something resembling substance and I only had a tiny bit left plus crumbs, so I felt I needed to build on it with protein in the form of turkey bacon. The peas and carrots, well...

Trader Joe's has this new product that I forgot to buy the last time I was there because I was distracted by actually sticking to my list. It's a grinder of sea salt with garlic, dried onion, and parsley flakes. I also figured I could more or less recreate this at home using my own sea salt grinder, some garlic powder, flakes of parsley, and a shaker of dried onion, though, admittedly, ground dried onion would probably release more flavor, and certainly more evenly spread it, than a shake of dried onion bits.

I was rooting around in my fridge for something to add to my meager breakfast when I came across the leftover canned peas and carrots, and, remembering the shaker I had neglected to buy at Trader Joe's, I thought I'd experiment.

First I transferred the peas and carrots from their Tupperware container to a little microwave-friendlier bowl.  Then, before heating, I ground on some sea salt, sprinkled on some dried onions and parsley flakes, then shook on the garlic salt. After heating in the microwave for about 30 seconds, I took out the bowl, thoroughly mixed everything, and returned it to the microwave for another 30 seconds. Since the veggies were canned, they fell apart a little, but that didn't affect the flavor, just texture. 

I think the next time I am at Trader Joe's, I will go ahead pick up the new garlic salt grinder. Not that this wasn't tasty, it was just just difficult to obtain a uniform flavor that wasn't overpowering on so little surface area.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stay Healthy This Winter With Foods Rich in Vitamin C

**Note: Due to my busy schedule, I've had to change my updating schedule to once a week on Thursdays.**

Working up to 8 days in a row during December seemed like a recipe for illness, yet I managed to slip through all the germ-ridden, hacking, sneezing, sniffling populace unscathed. I'm pretty well convinced this is greatly in part due to the 2+ cups of tea I drink every day (tea is extremely high in antioxidants) and the 1000 I.U. vitamin D pill that I take every morning with breakfast, which has been found to fight influenza.

Two other crud-fighting supplements that we are advised to consume are vitamin C, another terrific antioxidant, and zinc, though I was told by a pharmacist not to take them both at the same time as they will cancel out each other's benefits. Predictably, zinc has a very metallic taste and aftertaste, and vitamin C is perhaps easier to incorporate into a whole foods diet, the most effective way to ingest vitamins and minerals, not through pills. The recommended daily allowance is 90 mg for adult men and 75 mg for adult women.

I took it as a sign when I came across The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden. It's an easy to follow guide to which foods are high in what, the best ways to prepare them to get the most nutrition value, and if they've been shown to fight or prevent certain diseases and conditions. I looked up vitamin C because the back cover implied oranges are not the best source, something that makes me happy considering I don't really like oranges. This, in turn, prompted this blog update. I thought I would share my findings here.

#1 Guava
One half cup of guava, a tropical fruit, provides 188 mg of vitamin C, over double the daily recommended levels for both men and women. Guava is often eaten cut up and raw with various toppings, like soy sauce and vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, or cayenne powder, or it may be mixed into smoothies or other drinks. 

#2 Red Bell Pepper
142 mg of vitamin C are contained in one half cup of raw red bell peppers, 116 mg when cooked. Bell peppers are also a good source of beta-carotene, which is good for the heart and eyes. I like red bell peppers because they are sweeter than yellow and green peppers, which I often find taste bitter. Red peppers are great sliced up and dipped in hummus, or put into stir fry. You could probably also put them into a smoothie, but I don't know how that would taste. Incidentally, green bell peppers have 60 mg of vitamin C.

#3 Kiwi
One medium-sized kiwi offers roughly 70 mg of vitamin C, and kiwis are great in smoothies. They're also delicious raw, if a bit juicy. When I was a kid, I much preferred kiwis in my packed lunches than apples! Chopped up kiwis make a nice topping for cakes, too, making a nice boost to your dessert.

#4 Orange Juice
Because a glass of orange juice generally includes the juice of more than one orange, it is a better source of vitamin C than the fruit itself. A 3/4 cup of orange juice contains 60 to 90 mg of vitamin C. A medium-sized orange has about 70 mg, the same as a kiwi. Grapefruit juice is another good source of vitamin C for the same reason. 

#5 Cooked Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
Sick of all these fruits? Try broccoli. Seriously. A half cup of cooked broccoli not only gives you one serving of vegetable, but around 50 mg of vitamin C. Brussels sprouts offer the same. There are so many different ways of cooking vegetables! I like them with cheese, personally, but roasted in the oven is another phenomenal way to go. Shredded and sauteed is also a great route to take.