Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cute Bird Nest Cookies for Spring

I first saw these cute cookies on Catching Fireflies' Blog "Sweet Treats For Easter." The recipe she links to is over at "Unoriginal Mom: Chocolate Peanut Butter Nests." If you are familiar with no-bake haystack cookies, then you know what these cookies are already. Only instead of piling them in whatever amorphous blob shape they fall into when you plop them on the cookie sheet to cool, you shape them into flattened amorphous blobs then place Chocolate Mini Eggs (my favorite Easter candy) on top. You could also use miniature Robins Eggs, or M&Ms, but why do that when you can have Mini Eggs? 

All you need to make these little darlings are a bag of mini marshmallows, 1/4 cup of butter, 1 cup of chocolate chips (the linked recipe calls for 1/2 cup, but I needed more in order to get everything covered, so I doubled it), 1/2 cup of creamy peanut butter (see note behind chocolate chips), and a bag of chow mein noodles. 

When I have made haystack cookie in the past, I don't think I used marshmallows, and although they helped bind everything firmly together, I feel like it might have been more trouble than it was worth. Melting the marshmallows in the microwave, then trying to stir in melted chocolate, peanut butter, and butter resulted in a HUGE, GOOEY MESS that was then difficult to mix in order to fully coat the chow mein noodles. (Don't worry about the noodles breaking as you stir. It makes them easier to manage.)

I feel like the recipe I am used to for haystack cookies requires melting some butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips all together, mixing thoroughly, then coating the chow mein noodles. I feel pretty confident that this recipe could be used to make bird nests, too. 

Whatever recipe you use, spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray, or spread out some wax paper (I never use wax paper) and scoop up some "batter" with a large spoon and drop it onto the cookie sheet. I had to sort of shape them into nests and make room for the mini eggs. I fit two eggs per nest. Be sure to add the eggs while the goo is still wet so that as it dries, the eggs stick and don't roll all over the place. Though we did have some eggs escape their nests, most stayed in place until devoured. 
These bird nest cookies were quite the hit at our family Easter celebration. Some people had never seen haystack cookies before and reacted with a "What the heck are those!?" but they liked them in the end. I love making themed food, and I rarely get the chance, so this recipe was perfect in its simplicity and tastiness. Now I'm trying to think how I can alter it for other holidays. Halloween is easy (add candy corn), but the rest I am not so sure. It sounds like a fun challenge anyway.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Irish Nachos

Yes, I made these "Irish nachos" for a late dinner on St. Patrick's Day. I'm not sure how I feel about the name because the only thing Irish about the dish is the use of potatoes rather than tortilla chips, but even my friends of Irish heritage joke about the strong bond between Ireland and potatoes, so I guess I withhold judgement. (For St. Patrick's Day a few years ago, I made Irish Cream Cupcakes With Irish Cream Buttercream Frosting. That's pretty Irish, and so, so delicious. I didn't have time to make them again this year, sadly.)

Let's get one thing straight, I love potatoes, sour cream, and green onions. I also have noticed a growing fondness for fresh red tomatoes, and this dish combines all of these fabulous elements. There was no way I could not make this dish, Irish Awareness Day or no. I'm not sure where I first got the recipe, but I suspect it was Pinterest. I did a Bing search to see if I could find the one I used as reference and came up with so many results I gave up trying to find that one. It seems to be a popular recipe that one can acquire from anywhere. Here is my contribution! Because, of course, I changed it.

  1. Wash, then slice up a bunch of potatoes. I think I used 2, 1 for each of us, but you can use more depending on how many you are trying to feed. 
  2. I fried the potato slices in olive oil in my largest frying pan. You can also bake them to avoid the grease absorption. The idea is to get crisp potato slices that will hold their own. Be careful if you fry. Grease splattered on my arm and I still have discolored spots on my arm where the drops landed.
  3. While the potatoes were going (I had to cook them in batches), I chunked up a tomato and chopped some green onions.
  4. When the potatoes were golden brown, crisp, drained, and cooled a bit, I pulled out my glass pie dish and put down inside one layer of potatoes. Then I sprinkled a handful of shredded cheese and a handful of the chopped green onion. Other recipes will tell you to sprinkle on some sliced jalapenos, as well, but I don't like jalapenos, so I didn't use them. You could also put on bits of bacon. I know a lot of people like bacon.
  5. Repeat the layers of potatoes followed by cheese and onion (and whatever else you choose) until you are out of ingredients. I think I might have stretched to 3 layers. 
  6. I then placed my loaded down glass dish into the oven to bake. Some recipes call for the oven to be set at broil and to set the timer for 10 - 15 minutes. That may require putting the potatoes into a skillet rather than a glass pie dish. I think I baked mine at 450F for 20 - 30 minutes. Everything in the dish is already cooked, so you are looking to melt the cheese, cook the veggies a bit, and further brown the potatoes.
  7. After you've taken them out of the oven, let them cool just a bit before tossing on top the tomatoes and sour cream, which will melt quickly. My boyfriend Greg doesn't like sour cream, so I only put it on mine. 
And there you have it, Irish Nachos. So tasty! I would totally make these again. I found one recipe that suggested using waffle fries instead of slicing and browning potatoes from scratch. Not a bad time saver. Twisted Rooster, a nearby restaurant, makes these really awesome chicken nachos on waffle fries that Greg and I almost always get whenever we dine there, so I endorse this substitution. Maybe I'll give it a try when I make this again. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Salem's Gula-Gula Cafe

This is going to be another blog post about a restaurant nowhere near Ann Arbor. But I know I have readers from all over, and I really want to highlight this place, so here it is!

Should you ever find yourself in Salem, Massachusetts as my boyfriend Greg and I did a few weeks ago, stop by Gulu-Gulu Cafe. It's the kind of place where I would hang out regularly with friends if I lived in the area. Open every day from 8am to 1am, Gulu-Gulu isn't just about the crepes and beer. (Yes, you read that right - crepes and beer.) Every month they feature the work of a different local artist, and regularly host live music. 

The menu combines draft beer, bottled and canned beer from all over the world, international wine, cocktails, coffees, and fantastic sweet and savory crepes, as well as other noshables such as breakfast sandwiches, gluten-free pies, salads, panini, and so much more! I ordered a crepe with portobello mushrooms, spinach, and basil. It was one of the best savory crepes I have ever eaten. For dessert, Greg and I shared a sweet crepe with blueberries and strawberries drizzled with yogurt and honey called the Berry Nice. 

This may sound like weird advice, but be sure to go to the rest rooms while you're there and check out the cool robot artwork on the walls of that hallway. Greg and I were also delighted by the pictures next to the rest rooms denoting for men and women. (There are two each, which I thought was kind of funny, but convenient.)

You may have gathered from reading my blogs that food is a significant feature of my travels, and that is absolutely true! If I didn't have a special affinity for edibles, I wouldn't write a food blog. Greg shares my joy of eating tasty delights, so he makes for a wonderful traveling companion. Next week, I hope to update with a new recipe that I tried before our vacation.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ted's Bulletin of Washington, D.C.

Greg and I had a busy first day in Washington, D.C. The last item we had scheduled was a ghost tour of Capitol Hill, and before that, we needed to refuel. Greg had originally scouted out Ambar, which promised us Balkan cuisine, a food and culture we were not familiar with, thus it sounded exciting. Unfortunately, that turned out to be one of the places to go around Capitol Hill, and the wait was too long for us to eat before the ghost tour.

On our way to Ambar, however, we passed Ted's Bulletin, another restaurant Greg had come across in his search for tasty foods. There was a wait in the dining room, but up front in the bar/bakery section (you read that right), seating was first come, first served. There was an available table for two, so we sat down. I can only describe this place as a bar/soda fountain. In the bakery case there were home-made pop tarts, which we learned were somewhat famous, and I now wished I'd gotten one. We did partake of the adult milkshakes, which were fantastic!! Greg ordered a Bailey's Caramel Macchiato and I got a Nutty Professor, made with hazelnut liqueur. Mmmm....

Dinner was also fantastic. Greg could not pass up peanut butter on a burger (which we actually ended up seeing again on a menu in Massachusetts), so he had Drew's Peanut Butter Bacon Burger, which came with a side of tomato jelly. He insists it was all delicious. I went with the Popeye on a ground turkey patty with spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and homemade Boursin cheese. It was sooo gooooood. I don't think I have ever eaten such a delicious turkey burger in all my life. 

Our server was great, too. When we told him we were from Michigan, he held up his hand, palm out, and said, "I just learned this today! Where in Michigan are you from?" We held up our own hands and pointed to the general location of Belleville, explaining that it is between Detroit and Ann Arbor, two cities he was familiar with. I love it when you can make a connection like that with strangers. It made our meal more enjoyable, too. 

Thanks to Ted's, I am inspired to make my own "adult milkshakes" at home. I only with there were a Ted's around here. There are multiple locations, they are just all in D.C. So if you are in, near, or visiting D.C., check one out! It was great fun! And so delicious.