Friday, May 31, 2013

Patio Gardens Make Awesome Salads

One of the things I've been wanting to do since moving back to Michigan was have my own garden. My first apartment didn't offer any outdoor space, so I thought perhaps a window herb garden. Until I got a kitten who mercilessly chewed my two houseplants to death. 

The next apartment had a very cute, and small, outdoor patio. It was mostly shaded and taken over by some nearby flora, so my roommate at the time, Kimmy, and I never sat out there (we also lacked furniture), but rather enjoyed the squirrels, chipmunks, and birds that frequented our bird feeder. The cats also immensely enjoyed it. The next apartment we shared had a patio that was open, but there we were bombarded by an army of ducks and occasionally geese, which the cats also enjoyed. I wanted to get patio furniture at least, but I just never had the money.

That brings me to my current apartment that I share with my boyfriend Greg and our two cats. Being on the top floor this time, we have a deck, not a patio, but it's more or less the same thing when it comes to urban gardening. (Hah, "urban." They call it urban gardening because we live in an apartment. Belleville, however, is not urban. It's not even really suburban.) 

Greg works for a gardening store, so he knows a thing or two about plants. He also wanted a garden, and we set up three pots (made out of fabric; it's a modern thing (also free samples)), one with endives, spinach, dill, and parsley, another with strawberries, and the third with potatoes and garlic. My father used to give my brother and I potatoes to grow when we were kids. They often sprouted, but usually died quickly. I suspect we over-watered them. These potatoes, though, are all too happy to grow! 

We've already been able to pick strawberries twice, a modest harvest, sure, but I assure you, it was delicious. Sweet in just the way that strawberries are supposed to be. Not tart like they too often are when purchased at the grocery store. 

The spinach is more than ready to be harvested, as is the dill. The spinach especially is overshadowing the other plants. The dill is just very tall and using our railing to prop itself up. Just a few days ago, we've also added tomatoes and snack cucumbers to the mix which are also almsot ready for picking. This means that before long, I am going to have one damn tasty salad!

Patio gardens are ridiculously easy to put together and maintain. (Even easier if you have a boyfriend who takes care of it for you.) Anyone who lives in an apartment should try one. You can enjoy the beauty and bounty of the outdoors without paying the extra for a house and yard. Even if you do have a house and yard, patio gardening still makes sense because of how low maintenance it is. And maybe you don't have a big yard.

I'll have to post again when I assemble my salad. I think the spinach needs to be harvested today with the way its growing. I can't wait!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Nutella Creamsicles

My favorite place for fun new recipes is Pinterest, but to find this recipe, I didn't start out there. First, I was at the Catching Fireflies Blog, which is often full of fun crafts and cute recipes. The pictures and links to recipe and craft blogs made me think of Pinterest, so once I had exhausted Catching Fireflies, I sent my browser right over. 

I was looking for refreshing summer recipes - lemonades, cocktails, popsicles - when a picture labeled "Creamy Nutella Popsicles" popped up. How could I resist that? The blog with the recipe is located here where the recipe is called "Nutella Cool Whip Popsicles." It sounded great to me, except for one thing. 

Cool Whip, though beloved by many, is a white and fluffy chemical soup. There's a reason they don't call it whipped cream. Unless you get the creamy version, I'm pretty sure there isn't a drop of dairy to be found. Anything with the words "partially hydrogenated" printed on it makes my skin crawl and my arteries shrink in terror.

So I decided to make my own whipped cream by buying heavy whipping cream and looking up "how to make whipped cream" on Bing. (This is why I am changing the name to "Nutella Creamsicles" since they are made with real cream.) Here is the recipe that I chose: How To Make Whipped Cream on wikiHow. I like this one because there are lots of tips and even a video in addition to the step-by-step instructions.

The first step to making whipped cream is to have a metal bowl. I do not. Nor do I have plastic, which the tips section warns against, so I put a ceramic bowl that I inherited from my mother (possibly grandmother) into the freezer along with my metal whisk, then sat down to watch Doctor Who: the Stones of Blood Part Two which is about twenty minutes long.

Taking out the chilled bowl, I put in 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Lastly, I poured in the 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and whisked it quite briskly by hand with the chilled wire whisk. It was hard. 

A good tip is to "spin the handle between your palms" which mimics an electric beater. I wonder if I should have just chilled the whisk attachment to my electric beater and used that instead of my hands. But considering my arms kept getting sore and tired from attempting to Dutch braid my hair this morning, I guess my arm muscles could use the work out!

Once it was as whisked as it was going to get, I put the bowl in the fridge to chill for another episode of Doctor Who. (I know the recipe says 10 minutes, but it's really hot right now, and I wanted to be thorough.) I gave it a quick stir again before measuring out 1 cup and putting it into the ancient blender my boyfriend Greg's mother gave us. I had never tried this blender before and really hoped it would both work and not catch on fire. It succeeded in both of these goals. 

Blended with the 1 cup of whipped cream were a half cup of milk and 3-ish tablespoons of Nutella. If I went over, I don't think it mattered. There is only one speed on this blender - high - and it did it's job in about 15 seconds. I started to do a second blend, then stopped because I smelled burning. 

The recipe says this makes 3 popsicles, but it made 3.5 in my Jelly Belly brand (it was the only one they had at Meijer) popsicle mold. So I went ahead and made a second batch since I still have about a cup of whipping cream, and I had nothing else to put it with, filled all four molds and put them in the freezer. The rest of the mix went into the fridge for later use.

I left the mold in the freezer for a few hours, but when I tried to pull one out, the stick came out without any tasty Nutella-ness. I filled the molds to the point it told me to, but I think it may have been too low. I also think it's best to let them sit over night, as another recipe I got from Pinterest for strawberry puree popsicles recommended. The flavor is pretty phenomenal, I can attest to that. 

For winter, I'll continue to brew up hot Nutellas, and now, happily, I have a Nutella sumer-time treat, too! (Not that eating Nutella on pancakes or even right off the spoon isn't delicious enough.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Moo Cluck Moo: a new kind of fast food

A few weeks ago, Greg came home with a pamphlet for a new fast food restaurant near his job in Dearborn Heights called Moo Cluck Moo. Their menu is pretty simple, basically comprised of hamburgers for $3 (called Moos), specially seasoned buttermilk battered chicken sandwiches for $6 (called Notorious Clucks), fries with sea salt or garlic for $2 (mmm, garlic...), Calder Dairy milkshakes for $3, and natural soft drinks made without refined sugars for $1.50. If you get a Moo Combo, comprised of a burger, fries, and a pop, it's only $6 before tax.

Moo Cluck Moo's promise is, according to the flyer Greg grabbed, as follows:
Our products, ingredients are carefully chosen – we hold everything and everyone to a high standard. This means our food is served 100% natural – NEVER antibiotics or growth hormones EVER – never frozen. We deliver consistency, freshness, quality and health. Period.

This was enough to pique my interest. The pamphlet also promised “Sweet Protein” buns baked only at their restaurant. Wasn't really sure what to make of that, but it didn't seem too shady. So not long ago, when Greg and I were in the area, we decided to give Moo Cluck Moo a try.

To begin with, the location is very difficult to find at 8606 N. Telegraph Rd in Dearborn Heights, MI. It's in a tiny strip of of a building with a auto garage on one side and a tattoo parlor on the other. The sign is easy to overlook because it's white, though it does have the cute cows and chicken logo. It's one block south of Joy Rd on the east side of Telegraph if that helps. Parking is a bit confusing. We parked in the lot that seemed to be part of the garage. There is also neighborhood parking if that turns out to be an incorrect assumption. Their hours are 11ish to 8ish (sic).

Greg ordered a Moo shake combo with garlic fries and I decided to get the Cluck shake combo so we could try both sandwiches. My shake was cherry flavored, which I thought was a great option over the usual vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. (Greg had vanilla.)

The fries were great and the shakes were great. That “Sweet Protein” bun, however, was a little odd. Spongy, I guess. Discounting the bun, the taste of the burger reminded me of In-N-Out, which makes sense considering 100% natural, fresh ground beef that's never been frozen is basically their bag, too. As for the chicken, I thought it was too spicy. It did remind me of a poboy with a serving of “Picnic Slaw” layered on top of the chicken patty. I liked the chicken without the bun and slaw better than with. And there's a reason the chicken costs twice as much as the moo burger: it's twice the size.  

Though Greg works in the area, we don't live terribly close, so I don't know when I'll be able to stop by again, but I would definitely go back and try a burger for myself. If you should find yourself in the Dearborn Heights area and you wish to try something new, or you want to support a fast food restaurant that serves fresh, real food, try Moo Cluck Moo for yourself. I wish them the best of luck!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chicken and Mushroom Donburi

When Greg and I moved in together, I realized just how much partially empty bags of rice we have. So I decided to look through my Japanese recipes and see what I could serve over steamed rice. One of my favorite foods in the world is the mushroom, preferably slightly cooked in butter. And bingo! Chicken and mushroom donburi!

Donburi is a Japanese dish that is essentially comprised of rice and stuff on rice in a bowl. Oyakodon (made Sept 15, 2011) is chicken and eggs cooked in soup stock, mirin (sweet sake), and soy sauce over rice. Gyudon is comprised of thinly sliced beef and onions simmered in soy sauce and mirin served over rice. Katsudon is breaded pork cutlet over rice. And the list goes on.

This recipe for chicken and mushrooms donburi is strangely ridiculously easy. It also doesn't strike me as being terribly Japanese since the main thing is to stir-fry the mushrooms in butter over low heat. I didn't really need the chicken at this point, I was happy with the mushrooms, but I went ahead and cut it into chunks and also cooked it in the pan after the mushrooms so they'd be coated in yummy buttery mushroom flavor.

Once the chicken turned white, I turned the heat up to medium high, stir-frying the chicken and mushrooms together so the chicken cooked thoroughly. In retrospect, this step might have been improved by adding some soy sauce, oyster sauce, or other small flavoring since mushrooms and chicken are, admittedly, a bit bland. The recipe actually calls for the chicken and mushrooms to be served over rice with soy sauce, the soy sauce being added last and shaken over-top. I find that soy sauce tastes better when it's cooked in the dish rather than added later.  

Using my rice cooker to make a batch of rice, the meal was complete. It's nothing fancy, but it was pretty tasty to me, and even Greg said he liked it. I've made this in the past with the intention of packing it for lunches. It really does make a great packed lunch since the rice and chicken with mushrooms can all be put into the same Tupperware container. A minute or so in the microwave and you have a warm, decently nutritionally balanced meal for cheap. (I find it preferable to PB&J anyway.) Add your choice of fruit on the side for added nutrients. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sausage, Spinach, and Couscous

I collect a lot of recipes in my notebooks and on my computer that don't get made. (Or, as in this case, aren't looked at for a long, long time.) When my boyfriend Greg told me that he had a box of couscous that he didn't know what to do with, I knew I had a few tasty-sounding possibilities on hand. Since we had a few ingredients on hand already, this recipe I had for Sausage Spinach and Couscous Salad seemed the logical choice. (Actually, it called for arugula rather than spinach; Aldi just didn't carry arugula, and I prefer spinach anyway.)

The first step was to cook the couscous. It's a larger grain than I am used to cooking with - I've only ever cooked the tiny couscous - so that was a bit of a challenge. It had to cook longer and I had to add some water to it while it was cooking. 
While that was going on, I sliced up two chicken sausages and browned them in my large frying pan. I also chopped up a bag of fresh spinach, cut a handful of grape tomatoes in half, and sliced some mushrooms. Once the sausages were browned, all of the above was to be added to the frying pan. Just one catch: even my large frying pan was much too small. So out came the wok!

I basically stir-fried everything in the wok over medium heat until the spinach had cooked down a bit and the mushrooms were starting to shrink. The recipe says this salad can be served both hot and cold, but having eaten it at both temperatures, I think I prefer hot mostly because the cold sausage slices just felt weird in my mouth. Almost rubbery. A different sausage may solve that issue, or perhaps I simply cooked it too long.

Would I make this recipe again? I don't know. I dug the spinach with mushrooms and grape tomatoes, but I'm not sure how I feel about the larger sized couscous. Still, it was an all-in-one kind of meal with the meat, veggies, and grain all blended together, and it didn't taste bad. I might try it again with the smaller grained couscous, or perhaps quinoa.