Thursday, July 25, 2013

Spanish Okra Over Rice

My only experience cooking with okra was when I made shrimp and okra gumbo for Brazil month back in March of 2011. Since Greg brought a bag of frozen sliced okra with him when we moved in together, I figured it was time to give okra another try. I also had a recipe lying around from who knows where entitled "Spanish Okra." It's a little like Spanish Rice with okra, since the suggested serving is over rice. 

The first thing you do is make the rice. It takes about 20 minutes for rice to cook in my rice cooker, then another ten to absorb enough moisture that it won't stick to the sides and make a gooey mess that sucks to clean up, so I always start the rice before anything else. By the time its ready, the rest of the food should be, as well. It never hurts to let rice sit, so no worries if the accompanying entree is not yet ready. 

Next, dump one 1lb frozen bag of sliced okra into a pot of water to boil for about 3 minutes. The recipe also calls for 1/2 cup of chopped onion to be put in, but our onion was (unbeknownst to me, I swear) used on other things, so I shook in a very generous amount of onion powder in with the okra as it boiled. I figured this would add to the flavor, and it turns out I was right.

Once the okra is thawed and such after boiling, drain the okra and add it to a frying pan along with 3 tablespoons of butter and one can of diced tomatoes (undrained, and I recommend the kind with chilies). Things you could add that I did not: a tablespoon of chili powder and hot sauce to taste. I am very un-American as I detest hot sauce in all its forms. I might have added a dash of chili powder because Greg had it on hand (I never do), but I honestly don't remember. I am not a fan of that either. I added a couple dashes of lemon juice in hopes of breaking up the mucilage, or the gooey slime secreted by the okra when cooked. Greg doesn't mind it; I think it's disgusting.

Cover the pan and cook all of this stuff together for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. At this point, the rice should be done. Scoop some rice in a bowl, spoon the okra and tomato mixture over-top, and dinner is served. I had originally considered this a side dish, but it worked perfectly well as a light dinner. Greg and I tend to get home late, so a huge meal is rarely in the cards, nor really desired (on my end anyway). 

This is a very tasty, quick, and easy meal. It also made great leftovers that I reheated in the microwave at work the next day. I would make this recipe again. Okra is pretty tasty and high in fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, and is full of antioxidants. (Antioxidants are all the rage with the kids these days.) Click here for a full breakdown of okra's nutrition content.

I hope you enjoy cooking with okra, too!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fair Food at the Wyandotte Street Art Fair

I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in Michigan, it's art fair season! Wednesday the 17th marked the first day of the infamous Ann Arbor Street Art Fair which I will working quite a bit during this week. (I pray I find parking.) Last week, Greg and I headed downriver to Wyandotte to check out the Wyandotte Street Art Fair. Neither one of us had been to Wyandotte before, but a couple of friends live there and we were delighted to run into them!

Since I worked until 6pm, we didn't get to Wyandotte until nearly 8pm. I had barely eaten that day and was extremely hungry! Luckily, the fair and the surrounding downtown offered many choices. Since we only had about an hour left to wander before the tents closed, Greg and I decided to get some quick fair food, settling on a gyro truck (God bless Michigan for having gyros as fair food) that also offered an entire plastic bucket of fries.

I do love fries, and I was sorely tempted. However, our friends insisted we try the butterfly chips located on the other side of the fair. And I am so glad they did. Butterfly chips are awesome! (You may know them as butterfly fries.) First, they used a power drill to thinly slice potatoes through a slit in a board. You can find videos of this on YouTube. Once they had two potatoes sliced, they were thrown into a fryer and turned into chips. Out of the fryer, drained, and into a bowl as big as your head, they added toppings of your choice. We got the works: nacho cheese, sour cream, chives, and bacon bits. DELICIOUS! It was a lot of food, though, and we had to save about half for later consumption.
In addition to all the cool art we saw (I recognized a few artists from previous shows as well as from my job at Catching Fireflies where we carry a lot of art from local artists and crafters), there were street musicians, possibly my favorite kind of musician. The first group we came across very much reminded me of musicians I might see in San Francisco, specifically in the Haight. Maybe it was the flower crown and bare feet. They were pretty rockin', and Greg and I both enjoyed them. They had a sizable crowd gathered around, as well. Later we saw a few lone players, and in another section was a bandstand. 
After the sun started to set and the tents were closing up, Greg and I decided we needed ice cream. We had earlier passed two shops of locally famous ice cream brands, Sanders, also known for their fine chocolates and candies, and Stroh's, originally a brewery that switched to making ice cream and soft drinks during Prohibition. Though Stroh's is very tasty, we usually buy it in box form from Meijer, and Greg often tells me how Sander's ice cream parlours were quite the thing back in the day, so we decided on Sander's.

Random: Along the way to the ice cream, I spotted something shiny hanging from a tree. It turned out to be a black and silver rosary, much like the kind we sell at Crazy Wisdom. Very strange! So I took a picture. 

Now here's something much of the rest of the country is probably missing out on, and I feel sad for you if you are one of those people: Superman ice cream. Superman ice cream, purportedly invented by Stroh's, is a tri-colored swirl ice cream that is usually considered a children's flavor, like bubble gum or blue moon. Oh, right. That's another thing non-Great Lakes America is missing out on, blue moon, my favorite ice cream flavor ever. What exactly the flavor of blue moon is is in question since everyone who makes it keeps it a secret, but the general consensus is almond. 

Superman's three colors are blue, red, and yellow, like the old comics, hence the name. Superman ice cream, like blue moon, also varies by creamery, as I discovered after ordering it from Sander's. The blue is blue moon regardless of who makes it, but the yellow and red change. On the west side of Michigan, yellow is typically vanilla and the red is cherry, which is the combination that I grew up with in Kalamazoo. (Examples: Hudsonville's Superman and Meijer's Scooperman.) It turns out that on this side of the state, the yellow is lemon and the red is Red Pop. 

Okay, another thing most of America is missing: Red Pop. Red Pop is not the same is strawberry soda. Close, though. Think of it as a strawberry creme soda, though in Faygo's case, more strawberry, less creme. (Other Red Pops are a blend of fruit flavors and creme.) I am totally down with Red Pop ice cream. I would even eat it on its own if I ever saw it somewhere. The lemon, however, was both unexpected and overwhelming. It overpowered the other flavors and I felt like I was eating straight lemon ice cream. Not terrible, just a little disappointing. I did learn something new that I didn't know before about ice cream, one of my favorite foods, so that was fun. Greg got a cone of Bumpy Cake ice cream, a Sander's original, and also tasty.

We walked around the block eating ice cream, listening to live music blaring from a bar nearby, then settled by the nice water fountain halfway to car. (I like water and fountains, though only in a region that isn't under permanent drought conditions (California) and in a region that is water plentiful (Michigan).) Greg and I decided that downtown Wyandotte might be worth another visit when there is not a festival going on. People keep telling me about the Boston Tea Room, which had a tent at the art fair, and how I must visit. There are also a good amount of restaurants and other stores to wander through. I found a couch I wanted to take home with me, and it was more than reasonably priced, but alas! It was not meant to be. Maybe we'll find something similar if we go back. If only we can find the time.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Duck Bacon

As I mentioned in my Bacon Street Fair and Taste of Ann Arbor 2013 entry, my boyfriend Greg and I discovered duck bacon at Sparrow Meat Market in Kerrytown. Later, Greg went back and picked up a pound so we could try it out. 

Greg did the cooking, making us a breakfast of pancakes and duck bacon. The first thing I noticed was the smell. Duck bacon does not smell good. I've never cooked duck before, only had it at restaurants and sandwich counters, so maybe if you are used to cooking duck, you won't notice this part. 

We didn't know how long to cook it for, so I feel it was a little overdone, but Greg likes really crispy bacon, a state you can't quite achieve with turkey bacon in the same way you can with pig bacon. So if you really like crispy bacon and for some reason can't, or won't, eat pig bacon, this is a very close alternative. 

Turkey meat in general is known for being dry, and in bacon form, it does not produce a lot of juice. Not so with duck bacon! Duck is a notoriously greasy meat, which lends itself well to baconation. In fact, there was so much grease that for dinner, I used the grease to cook up some ground turkey, spinach (from our garden), and gravy that I served over noodles, rather like a quick and easy turkey and duck stroganoff. Granted, I knew it was there, but I do believe the flavor of the duck shown through in the dish. 

Duck is not like chicken, and even less like turkey in terms of flavor. I can understand why a lot of people may not like it. However, I have now eaten bacon from four animals - pig, turkey, cow, and now duck - and this makes me extremely happy. And really, I thought the duck bacon was quite good! It's just the smell that was unfortunate. If you should come across it, give it a try! If nothing else, you get bragging rights out of the deal. And if you like duck already, you'll probably love it as bacon.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Camping Special: Tin Foil Dinners

I always find cooking while camping to be a fun and unique challenge. I've always camped in a tent, and though I usually have access to a grill, and occasionally an electric griddle we can plug into an extension cord and set up on a picnic table, making something like a trusty casserole is out. Hot dogs and hamburgers are obvious dinner choices, as are steaks and grilled chicken. Here's one that's easy, tasty, and a little bit different.

First, you need two sheets of tin foil, one to contain the food, and a second as insurance in case the first one tears or develops holes. My boyfriend Greg and I made tin foil packets of only vegetables because we were also grilling steaks as our main course. The others in the group, who initially invited us to join in and help them use up their copious amounts of chunked and sliced carrots, potatoes, onions, and celery, also put in ground hamburger. Some added butter, salt, pepper, or other seasonings. It's like making a personal pan pizza, add the toppings of your choice. 

One recipe I found online suggested adding cream of mushroom soup, and another used tomato sauce. I would eat both of those things. You cold, of course, use ground turkey burger instead of beef, or chicken strips, drumsticks, or a round steak. As for vegetables, corn, beans, peas, or zucchini could be added. (I think zucchini would go especially well with tomato sauce.) Pretty much anything, and all can be easily packed into a cooler, or picked up fresh once you arrive. The all-vegetarian dinner packet was very fine, in my opinion, and if used as the main course, could easily be doctored up with tempeh or seitan, or any number of things.

Next, you wrap up your meal into a tight packet, rolling in the ends securely. Do two layers just to make sure your food doesn't escape to a quick death in the fire. This is something you can easily grill at home on your deck or patio, too, if you don't have a campfire handy, or even in your kitchen's oven, though that isn't as fun. Allow at least 45 minutes for the meat to cook thoroughly, flipping the packet over halfway through to ensure a more evenly cooked meal. It will be very hot when you take it out, so be careful and give it time to cool down before enjoying.

Last, the clean up is simple: toss the tin foil into the campfire. Or trash if you lack fire.

Another night, Greg and I wrapped fresh corn on the cob in tin foil and cooked that on the grill for a few minutes. It was delicious with just a hint of smokey flavor. It's a real shame our apartment complex doesn't allow us to have grills. I guess I'll just have to be lame and use the oven in the future.

...Or, I wonder if a George Foreman grill would work. But that's an entry for another time.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Independence Month!

I realize that I have been taking a lot of breaks from my blog the past couple of months, and I am feeling a bit frustrated by that, but here is another one. I will be camping from July 3rd to July 5th, thus away from my computer. I will try to update on Saturday after I get back (and after working a long day on my feet at my job) with camping food adventures. I hope that my brain has not turned to scrambled eggs by then. 

In the meantime, enjoy this brief list of nations that also celebrate their independence days in July:

Abkhazia
Algeria
Argentina
Bahamas
Belarus
Belgium
Burundi
Cape Verde
Colombia
Comoros
Laos
Liberia
Malawi
Maldives
Peru
Rwanda
Sao Tome and Principe
Sarawak
Slovakia
Solomon Islands
Somalia
South Sudan
United States
Vanuatu
Venezuela