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.