Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tex-Mex Black Bean Cornbread Supper with Gluten-Free Option

Years ago, I worked at a little pharmacy gift shop at Texas Corners outside Kalamazoo Michigan. Gift shops are always interesting little places because they are constantly playing this game of "what do people want?" thus are wonderful and unique hodgepodges of all manner of stuff. Every now and again, this gift shop would get in funky little recipe books that sometimes sold well and other times were total flops. 

One book that I picked up for myself is called Mom's Best One-Dish Suppers: 101 easy homemade favorites as comforting now as they were then by Andrea Chesman. I don't think this book is in print any longer, but you can get the eBook for $8.49. (Kobo is the cheapest version I found online.) The book has some really good recipes with chapters covering soups and stews, skillet and other stovetop suppers, oven-baked suppers, and salad suppers, all designed to be a complete meal (protein plus veggies, etc) in one dish. 

I am not actually sure how much I have ended up using this book over the years because the recipes call for a lot of things I could not always afford to buy, like meat, spices, fresh vegetables, and wine. I am in a much better position now to splurge on such things, though the phenomenally delicious recipe I am sharing today is vegetarian and can also very easily be made gluten-free. It's called Tex-Mex Black Bean Cornbread Supper and it is found in the skillet chapter, but I had to make it into a casserole because I don't have an "ovenproof skillet." I will show you how I made it, which did involve a little tweaking.


To make the beans, you need:
  • 2 T canola or olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped (the recipe suggests 1/2 green and 1/2 red; to avoid being wasteful, I used 1 orange)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 15oz can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (do not drain)
  • 1 15oz can black beans
  • Salt & pepper to taste
The recipe actually calls for 1 to 3 fresh hot chiles, finely diced, and one can of regular diced tomatoes. I don't like chiles and I am frugal, so I bought the can of Meijer all-natural diced tomatoes with green chiles for the same price, saving myself about $3 and really getting the same effect in the dish. (Actually, it did end up with a little bite to it, so next time I may scratch the green chiles entirely.)

This recipe also has you make the cornbread topping from scratch. I used Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix because at 99 cents a box, it saved so much time and money. The internet tells me that Jiffy Mix is not gluten-free, however. For the gluten-free easy-breezy option, I recommend Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread Mix, which can also be bought from Meijer, or probably any decent-sized grocery store (Kroger, Safeway, Harding's, Whole Foods, and so forth). Both of these mixes can be made with milk substitutions (soy, almond, hemp, etc) and egg substitutions (like this flax egg substitute I made one time) making this casserole a pretty darn tasty option for people with food allergies.

The assembly:
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and cumin. Saute until the onion is soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cans of tomatoes and beans and cook a few minutes more. Remove from heat and salt and pepper to taste. Carefully pour the beans mixture into an appropriately sized casserole dish. 
  3. Make the cornbread according to box (or recipe) instructions. Evenly spread the cornbread batter over the beans mixture in the casserole dish to make a top crust. 
  4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cornbread topping is golden brown and firm. Serves 4 or 5.

Et voila. This was so delicious that I want to eat it again right now. It sure did heat up my kitchen, though, so maybe not the best thing to bake when the weather is hot and humid and your kitchen is incapable of getting any sort of breeze. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Baked Breaded Basil Chicken

Here is a really simple and tasty chicken recipe that took very little time to prepare and bake. I don't recall where the recipe came from, but it's a relatively new one for me. 

Ingredients:
  • two chicken breasts thawed (or more, if you prefer)
  • olive oil
  • dried basil flakes
  • garlic salt
  • breadcrumbs (try Italian seasoned for extra flavor)
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Pour some olive oil into a dish large enough to dip chicken breasts in. Add some garlic salt and basil. Measurements are not exact, so just do what you think you can handle. "To taste," as they say. Stir the mixture and let it sit for a couple of minutes to blend flavors.
  3. Pour about 1 cup of breadcrumbs into another dish large enough to dip chicken breasts in. 
  4. Coat the chicken the breasts in the olive oil, basil, and garlic mixture, then in breadcrumbs. 
  5. After placing the breaded chicken breasts into a baking dish, sprinkle some more basil flakes over the top.
  6. Bake uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes.
Et voila. Add a veggie side, maybe some pasta or potatoes, and dinner is served. 

Before when breading chicken, I have always used an egg. I find the olive oil creates much less of a mess, and the breadcrumbs seemed to stick more evenly. I think I will use this technique from now on. 

I was thinking this would also be very tasty using parsley rather than basil since parsley is my favorite herb. You could probably use any herb, really, or a combination. I don't particularly enjoy rosemary, but I can see it working very well in this type of dish. Maybe a dash of grated Parmesan, too, before baking. The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grand Rapids: the Green Well & Brewery Vivant

After spending most of the day at the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park a few weeks ago, Greg and I headed over to Brewery Vivant. A coworker had highly recommended it to me before we took off on our West Michigan adventure, and Greg thought he had heard of it before, as well. Unfortunately, they do not open until 3pm, another hour away, and we were hungry.

So we headed across the street to the Green Well Gastro Pub for lunch. Since the weather was nice, we ate outside on the patio. We started with the Breads and Spreads, "an array of spreads that rotate daily served with toasted breads from Field & Fire Bakery & Green Well flatbreads." At least we tried to. Our wait forgot about our appetizer order, and we didn't get it until the end of the meal. Not a bad dessert, I guess. The four spreads were interesting, and I like the idea that it changes. It adds re-play value, though I don't now when I will ever be in that neighborhood, or any part of Grand Rapids, again.

For lunch, I ordered the Kind Wet Burrito, a pretty involved burrito with all kinds of tasty things in it! I assume it's "kind" because it is normally vegetarian. I added chicken for $4, making it a less kind burrito? Whatever, it was delicious! It would have been just as tasty without the chicken, but I needed the added protein. To drink, I tried the Michigan Strawberry tea on ice. I don't think it tasted much like strawberries, but the flavor was pleasant. 

Greg ordered some kind of funky spritzer that he liked more than I did and Otto's Family Farm Chicken & Waffles. (He pretty much orders chicken and waffles whenever it is available on a menu.) He was disappointed with this his smaller portion size, while I was nearly overwhelmed with the size of mine. We paid roughly the same for both dishes.

When lunch was over, Brewery Vivant was open, so we went back across the street for liquid dessert. I am not a big fan of beer, and though there was at least one hard cider offering, I opted for the house-brewed root beer instead. It always pleases me when breweries offer their own root beer. I think Brewery Vivant's sticky brew shot up to my favorite micro-brewed root beer. (Olde Peninsula of Kalamazoo will probably forever hold the number one spot. The former #2, current #3 place is held by Joe's Friendly Tavern located in the village of Empire, MI up north.) Greg ordered a flight so as to sample a few of the brewery's signature brews, and he enjoyed every one.


What makes Brewery Vivant unique isn't just the beer. It's located in an old church, and the main seating area was once the chapel. It's only a little bit eerie. The shape of the bar mirrors the shape of the stained glass window behind it. The bathrooms were also fun, or the sink was anyway. There are no basins, only the counter, tilted imperceptibly until the water is turned on and all runs to the back. I was intrigued and a little puzzled, so I can only imagine how a drunk person would feel when confronted with this. (Bravo, Vivant.)


Brewery Vivant also strives to be a sustainable company with a small carbon footprint, and "[i]n 2012, [was] awarded the first ever LEED certification (LEED Silver) for a brewery in the United States." Cool beans!

While we were at the Green Well, we learned a lot of people did as we had, taking lunch at the Green Well before heading over to Brewery Vivant for drinks. You don't have to as Vivant has a full menu, including snacks for kids, but it isn't a bad deal if you arrive too early. That wet burrito was pretty amazing. If you like beer and are in Grand Rapids, definitely check out Brewery Vivant. It can't believe it would disappoint.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blank Slate Creamery: New Homemade Ice Cream in Ann Arbor!

A couple of months ago, I was excited to try locally made and totally stellar gelato from Hello! Ice Cream.There's another local ice cream I was happy to try out not long ago from the newly opened Blank Slate Creamery in downtown Ann Arbor at the corner of Liberty and Ashley. (I can't recall exactly what was in that location before, but Greg and I think it was a hydroponics store.) There is a small parking lot, a rarity for downtown, making it even more convenient to get to!

There are a lot of flavors at Blank Slate ranging from the totally normal chocolate and vanilla, to the more unusual-but-not-unheard-of strawberry balsamic and creme de menthe and flavors I've never encountered, such as the malted chocolate stout, which is what Greg ordered. (For a complete list of flavors, click here.) I got creme de menthe and it was delicious. The waffle cones are also made fresh and sometimes arrive in your hand still warm. There is enough seating for plenty of people to sit inside, chairs and tables on the sidewalk outside, and, of course, all of downtown to explore.

Possibly the most entertaining part about sticking around inside is that the tables and walls are covered in chalkboard paint, so you can doodle to your heart's content! Just don't get so absorbed in your temporary masterpiece that your ice cream drips all over you (a very real hazard). 

Since I work downtown, I am often asked for recommendations on where to eat, drink, or get ice cream. Until now, I've always sent people to Kilwin's (also located on Liberty) because it was the only place I could think of. I love Kilwin's - the fudge, the caramels, the ice cream, the goofy post cards of naked hippies - and I will still mention them when people ask about ice cream. But I will also be sure to tell them about Blank Slate. It offers very different flavors from Kilwin's and seems like it can handle larger crowds. When it comes to ice cream, I am not prohibitive. 

So let's all welcome Blank Slate to the downtown community! Banzai!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Roasted Mushroom Quinoa

Since the last few posts have been about local restaurants I have visited, and the next few will probably be about my mini vacation to West Michigan this past week, I thought I would throw up another recipe. I found this one, Roasted Mushroom Quinoa (pronounce "keen-wah"), in an old issue of Clean Eating Magazine. I guess it's too old be posted on their website, so I will - more or less - reproduce it for you below and tell you how my batch went. (Clean Eating is a great resource for recipes using fresh ingredients packed with vitamins and all that other healthful stuff.) 

Ingredients
16 oz sliced fresh mushrooms (I used steak cut) 
2 cloves of sliced garlic
1 thinly sliced large shallot
1 T olive oil (I used considerably more)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup quinoa any color
1 loosely packed cup of fresh parsley


Instructions
1) Preheat oven to 425F. (My oven runs hot, so I did 400F.)

2) Spread the mushrooms, garlic, and shallot out on a large baking sheet. Salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil. This is why I used more than one tablespoon. Maybe there is some secret technique I am missing, or maybe my baking sheet was too big, but just one tablespoon is never enough. Pop this tray in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, tossing the mushrooms around every now and again and flipping them if you can to ensure an even roast. I think I overcooked mine a little as the garlic and shallots were less crisp and more blackened.

3) While that is baking, prepare the quinoa according to box instructions Tip: Don't use your littlest pan. It will about double in size as it cooks. The box says you can use a rice cooker. I have not tried this.

4) Once everything is all cooked and happy, combine the roasted mushrooms, garlic, and shallots, in a large mixing bowl with the quinoa, then sprinkle on the parsley and gently mix. I served mine immediately, though the magazine also recommends chilling it and serving it cold.

I love mushrooms, and these were certainly tasty despite the blackened garlic and shallot. (Stupid oven.) The quinoa, however, distinctly lacked flavor. I think it would have helped had I added the garlic and shallots to the quinoa rather than the mushrooms, or cooked the quinoa in a broth instead of just plain water. Parsley is my go-to herb because I am in love with the flavor - and this was from our own garden, too! - but it was not enough to flavor the dish in this case. 

I have the other half of the box of quinoa left in my cupboard and a wealth of other quinoa dishes to make, so I think I may combine a few and make this again. I think some balsamic vinegar would not go wrong here, and maybe some sun-dried tomatoes. Neither should impact the healthfulness of the dish, and would add some fun color and more taste. This is definitely a dish you could bring as a side to a picnic or a potluck, though we had it as the main course with broccoli on the side.