Saturday, March 29, 2014

Baytna - Mediterranean As You Like It

Late last year, I wrote about a new custom sushi restaurant, Tamaki, that opened in Ann Arbor. It works like a Subway or Chipotle where you pick your wrapping, then the fillings and toppings to customize your meal just the way you want it. I love this place! I also am learning to love this ordering system.

While in Virginia last week, I met up with an awesome friend from high school and met her adorable family. We all went to dinner at a place called Baytna. Why I haven't seen a place like this in Michigan, I don't know! It works like the above-mentioned choose-your-own restaurants, but it's Mediterranean, and you can make things like shawarma, kabobs, and falafel. 

You start with your choice of pita, rice, or salad, then select your protein, chicken or beef shawarma, chicken or beef kabob, or falafel (chickpeas, onion, and spices "fried to golden brown"). Last comes a generous selection of add-ons and sauces. I had chicken shawarma on rice with sliced tomatoes, pickles, pickled turnips, and garlic sauce. It was delicious! And I finally learned what those pink pickled things are in shawarma: pickled turnips. I can't recall eating turnips, though I am sure I have, probably in a stew, so I can't really say if I like them or not. I do love them in shawarma, though! In fact, they are one of my favorite parts. 

Baytna is only located in Alexandria, Virginia, so unfortunately there is a very limited audience to whom I can say "Go check them out." If you are in the area, though, and are in the mood for some quick Mediterranean street food made to order, definitely stop by. They make all of the food there and it's fresh. We had to wait a few minutes for the chicken to finish roasting! I also got to watch as they made the falafel for my friend's daughter. It was neat! 

I have been inspired to try this at home. Obviously, as much as I want to because it would be awesome, I can't set up the rotating meat spit in my kitchen. But our friends at Game Night did manage to find a make-at-home shawarma-tasting chicken kit that I could probably find again somewhere. They had set up a table like a taco bar, but for shawarma, and it was fantastic. I love Mediterranean food. I might like it more than Japanese food. (Wow, that's a really tough call.) 

Hm, there's a thought for a wedding banquet: a custom sushi table and a custom shawarma table. Yes, please!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Good Morning From Virginia

Since I am away from home at the moment and my computer won't hook up to the wifi here at the hotel, this will be a brief and not very interesting image-wise. (Plenty of photos when I return home.) 

With our room, we got a continental breakfast package. It's a decent spread, and I have been trying to eat something different every day. First, it was fried potatoes with onion and peppers, a croissant, two pork sausage (for much-needed protein; I don't ordinarily eat pork because it too often makes me ill), and some cubes of melon with coffee to drink. 

The next day, I decided to change it up by trying out the oatmeal bar. To the oatmeal I added brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon. It was not enough to make this oatmeal palatable. It was just too runny! And watery. Blech! However, there was also a new chef's special. The chef's specials aren't labeled, which I find a bit strange since I am pretty sure this one should have come with an allergy warning: biscuits and crab gravy. OMG IT WAS DELICIOUS!! I went back for a second helping after the oatmeal didn't pan out.

Today, I gave the yogurt bar a whirl. That went over far better than the oatmeal had. In fact, I think I could start every morning with this! The yogurt was labeled "Plain Greek", but it was also pink in color, so I doubt the sign was accurate. It tasted like strawberry to me. I loaded it up with fresh blueberries, sliced almonds, homemade granola, dried cranberries, and a few bits of dried banana. Wonderful! Together with my glass of apple juice, I think I surpassed my daily fruit recommendation. And happily so.

Now we are packing up for Boston. There we are staying with friends, so no hotel breakfast buffet. I am a little sorry to leave the yogurt behind. I think when I get home, I need to run to Meijer and get me some yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit. Mmm...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Zatarain's Creole Corn Casserole

  • 1 package of Zatarain's (original calls for Fire Roasted Vegetables and Rice mix; I used Red Beans & Rice because the former is impossible to find) 
  • 1 can cream-style corn
  • 1 can Mexican style corn (or Fiesta, which is all I found), drained
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 2 cups of shredded cheddar/monterey jack cheese (or Mexican blend)
  1. Cook the package of Zatarain's according to package directions.
  2. Combine all ingredients except 1/2 cup of cheese and mix well. Place in casserole dish.
  3. Top with remainder 1/2 cup of cheese.
  4. Bake uncovered at 350F for 25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
I found this recipe years ago on the back of a box of Zatarain's. When I made it before, I only followed the stovetop part and didn't bake it into a casserole. It made an excellent dip with tortilla chips! I haven't been able to find the Fire Roasted Vegetables and Rice mix for quite some time, and rather doubt that it is still being made. Probably any Zatarain's rice mix could be substituted. I used Red Beans & Rice this time around. I also substituted Mexican blend cheese for the cheddar/monterey jack because I couldn't find the latter mix either. 

What makes this dish "creole" I have no idea. That was the name printed on the box, though, so I am just going with it. "Cheesy Corn Casserole" is probably a better name. There should be a pretty good amount of protein in this dish between the cheese and the beans and rice creating a whole protein together, but you could add ground beef or maybe diced chicken, too. I've never tried it myself, it just sounds like it would work.

As I mentioned above, this does make a wonderful dip for tortilla chips and can be eaten by scooping it into your mouth with the chips. You can also just serve it on a plate and eat it with a fork. (Or spoon. It ended up a bit soupy. I should maybe let it cook longer next time.) Both are perfectly acceptable options. Since blue corn tortilla chips were on sale at Meijer, I chose to serve those along with the casserole. 

By the way, this made A LOT OF FOOD. Great for parties or if you want a ton of leftovers.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Garlic Green Beans

In my continuing quest to eat more vegetables, I looked up green bean recipes to spice up the can of green beans we had n the cupboard to go with one of the casseroles I made last week. This one turned out to be the easiest, and was really quite delicious: Garlic Green Beans at AllRecipes

All you do is saute some fresh garlic (I had Greg do that for me since I never work with fresh garlic, and most of his recipes start with it), then add a can of green beans (the recipe calls for two, but I only had one), salt and pepper to taste, and when the beans are all warmed up, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over the top. Voila! Tastiness. 

I do think that fresh or frozen green beans would work better than canned. The canned beans were just... sort of... soggy. If the beans had been crisper, I think it would have worked better. Still, it was pretty tasty and went well with my casserole. And really, it's so easy! If you don't feel like sauteing garlic, you could use garlic powder or salt, but I make no guarantees. Of course, if you leave out the cheese, and saute using only olive oil and not butter, this dish would be vegan, too.

I never would have thought to put grated Parmesan cheese over vegetables, but I like it. I bet it would work with just about any vegetable. I am always on the look-out for ways to improve plain vegetables, and judging by how many hits this blog gets from that very Google search, so are a lot of other people. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

For the Love of Casseroles

One of my favorite things to make is a casserole. There's just something truly satisfying about throwing a bunch of ingredients together and baking them into a meal. It's like making cookies, but as dinner and not dessert.

I know I've written about casseroles a few times on this blog. Here, I'd like to share with you my two favorite casseroles (and some ideas to tweak them) that I have in my recipe arsenal.
1) Chicken Cheese Casserole

  • Cover the bottom of a glass casserole dish with cooked chunks of chicken (1.5 to 2 cups). Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Then sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. 
  • In a saucepan, heat cream of chicken soup (condensed) and 1/2 can of chicken broth. Add a 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Warm and stir until cheese melts. Pour over chicken in the casserole dish. Cover with breadcrumbs and drizzle with 1/4 cup melted butter. 
  • Bake 1 hour at 350F.

This is the traditional way that I make this casserole, which was taught to me by my mother. (I believe she got it from a coworker.) The actual recipe calls for a can of green beans to be put over the chicken, but we have never made it this way. Not a bad way to get some veggies into this dish, though! I was thinking broccoli florets would also be quite tasty with the cheese and all. Some day, I may try this. Or a broccoli-cauliflower blend. Or brociflower! (Wow, I haven't had that in years. Was possibly my favorite vegetable as a kid.) It occurs to me crumbles of bacon might also be good to try, but since I don't eat pig bacon, I will leave that up to someone else to experiment with.

When I made this last week, I had to tweak the recipe because of Greg's chicken broth allergy. I used turkey broth for the chicken broth and cream of celery soup for cream of chicken. It made the flavor even richer.
2) Almond Chicken Casserole

  • Cook 2 servings of rice. Cook 3 cups of chicken, chopped.
  • While the rice and chicken are cooking, melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet. Saute 4 tablespoons of chopped onion and 2 cups of diced celery until soft. 
  • In a large glass casserole dish, combine chicken, rice, onion, and celery. Then stir in 1 cup of mayonnaise and 1 can of cream of chicken soup, followed by 1/2 cup of slivered almonds. Top with breadcrumbs. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of melted butter over breadcrumbs.
  • Bake for 45 minutes at 350F.
Again, I now substitute cream of celery soup for the cream of chicken. Since there is already celery sauteed in butter in this dish, the cream of celery soup just enhances that flavor. Incidentally, this is another recipe that I got from my mother. (I don't remember if this one came from a coworker or not.)

I was thinking about ways to play with this recipe while eating leftovers at work on Sunday (this casserole always feeds me for days). I think that adding a sprinkling of shredded or grated cheese with the breadcrumbs would have positive results. Maybe adding more vegetables, though I can't point to any in particular. 

So there you have it, my two favorite casseroles. If you have any casserole recipes you'd like to share, please comment below!