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.