Friday, December 25, 2015

A Traditional Polish Christmas (in the US)

Though I've been working a lot less this December than probably any other December since I started working at the age of 16, I have spent basically the entire time since Thanksgiving being sick, so updating my blogs has been difficult. (Come to think of it, I spent most of the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving being sick, too.) So, since I haven't had a lot of kitchen time (our kitchen still isn't together, by the way, and dishes continue to be washed in the bathroom), I decided to share a Christmas tradition that has become a part of my life since I started dating Greg: a Polish Christmas!

Greg's maternal family is of recent Polish descent and maintains many Polish traditions, like celebrating Christmas on the evening before. Parents, aunts, uncles, children, and grandchildren all gather for a special Christmas Eve dinner, in our case at Greg's aunt's house which used to be his grandparents' house and is the house in which his mother, aunt and uncles grew up in. 

Poland is largely Catholic and Christmas Eve is considered a fast day, which basically means no meat. Except for fish and other water creatures like shrimp. (When I was very young, I asked my Italian-by-marriage Catholic grandmother if, since fish are not meat (by Catholic standards), and meat is the flesh of animals, are they not animals? She said she wasn't sure, but she didn't think so, or something to that affect. I was then confused on this point for years.)

So our Christmas Eve dinner is "vegetarian" and always predominantly consists of shrimp cocktail, which I love and Greg hates because he doesn't like water creatures and finds them creepy (it is a testament to his love for me that he fixed my old fish tank one year as a present, and together we stocked it with little fishes, and we have visited two public aquariums together), a platter of baked macaroni and cheese, and pierogi usually filled with farmers cheese and occasionally potatoes (Greg doesn't like the potato ones either). There is also a salad and a vegetable side dish, like this year's cranberry green beans.

But the meal starts with a prayer, a toast, and oplatki, a flat "Christmas wafer" with a texture and taste very much like styrofoam. Most oplatki (plural) are white, but one is pink and is intended to be given to the household animals (farm animals in the rural old country). I read about the purpose of the pink wafer earlier this month. Greg's family had never known, minus one aunt who read about it last year. Everyone takes a piece of oplatek (singular), then goes around to everyone else at the table, wishing them a "Merry Christmas!" and breaking off a piece of each other's oplatek. Some then dip the oplatek in wine (or juice) before eating it, some eat it plain, and some quietly set it aside uneaten. Me, I'm a wine dipper.

After dinner, presents are passed out and opened, desserts like cookies, brownies, pie and chrusciki are laid out, and the evening is hectic and informal and everyone chats and jokes and teases about Santa coming. (In my own family, coffee would be served after dinner, which turns out is an Italian tradition I rather enjoy and big family dinners don't feel complete without it, despite my preference for tea over coffee. Greg made us coffee after Thanksgiving dinner with his family this year, but I declined Christmas Eve since we had hot chocolate.)

The "fast" is broken Christmas morning with a Christmas ham and/or kielbasa for breakfast, neither of which I can readily eat because I can't digest most pig products. Growing up, we always had cinnamon rolls for breakfast, followed by presents. I insist on continuing the cinnamon roll tradition with Greg because mmm... cinnamon rolls... We do not exchange presents on Christmas unless we are spending it with my family.

Today, we made another batch of those Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cookies mentioned in my last entry, then got Chinese take-out. It was a very relaxing day! And that, in itself, is a great present.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Holiday Cookies!

My first ever entry in this blog was December 6th, 2010 and it was about holiday baking. I probably love baking more than any other kind of cooking. I grew up baking cookies with my mother every year after Thanksgiving as a way of kicking off the Christmas season. As an adult, I've tried carrying on the baking tradition (a manager in California once called me a "traditionalist"), but working in retail doesn't allow for free time in December. 

The last few years I worked 60 hours and 7 days a week. It is by sheer stubbornness and luck that I have a fairly normal work load this year, minus a few 12 hour days here and there. Normally, I work on Wednesdays, but I somehow got today off, so I decided to devote it to cookie baking! Rather than detail each cookie, I will instead post links to the recipes I used and a few pictures.

First up is a new cookie I have never made before that is super easy and delicious, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies. You know those cookies with the Hershey Kiss in the middle? They are like that, just with a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup rather than a Kiss. It's sort of a cheat because it involves a package of peanut butter cookie mix, but that is why it is so quick and easy.

Second, I started on Chocolate Crinkles, which I have never made from scratch before. (A friend once gave me a mix, though.) I somehow failed to notice the part about chilling the dough for a minimum of four hours, so I should have started with this one! It's ok, though. They still got made.

Third, the amazingly tasty, and also never tried before, Red Velvet Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies. These are awesome!! Greg doesn't like traditional thumbprint, or as I know them, thimble cookies, filled with jam, but he said he could get behind these. These were really quite easy to make, and I will be keeping this recipe.

Fourth up are Greg's favorite cookies, Snickerdoodles, which I have made many times. My mother also loves snickerdoodles, as did an old friend's boss, so whenever I made treats for his office (I told you I like to bake), I included snickerdoodles in the mix.

I also want to try another new cookie, Italian Christmas Cookies, but they will have to wait for another day.

While I worked, I watched episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation and a Christmas film on Hulu called The Christmas Dragon which is a fantastic movie!!! It's a high fantasy about orphaned children saving Father Christmas with Tolkein-style elves shooting arrows and goblins shooting flaming arrows. Never mind that Christmas is the mass of Christ and no such person or religion seem to exist in this fantasy world. There are dragons! And a dragon helps save Christmas! Go watch it now!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving (NaNoWriMo) Tanka

(Technically, it's not a tanka, but I'm borrowing the syllable format.)

We gather around
The table that's filled with food.
I've been working on
A NaNoWriMo novel.
I have so little free time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I am Thankful for Grocery Stores

We just had our new kitchen  countertops installed yesterday, which means no longer any difficulties cooking in the  kitchen! Whooo! Well, mostly. The sink is in, but the faucet isn't hooked up yet. 

Speaking of the sink, since the installers had to cut a hole in the countertop for the sink, they used that spare piece to make us two cutting boards. They also said that if they need to make repairs to the counter surface, they can use the cutting boards rather than order a new piece (do not ask me how this works). Neat!

Tonight will be my first night cooking with countertops, but since I am also writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, I can't devote a lot of time to cooking, so I grabbed some quick and easy dishes from Trader Joe's, coq au vin and corn pudding, which I think is new for Thanksgiving. Which brings me to the title of this post...

I am so grateful that grocery stores make a big deal out of Thanksgiving. Especially places like Trader Joe's because they come up with crazy things like turkey stuffing flavored potato chips, which I bought but have yet to try. A few years ago they came out with a seasonal sandwich wrap that is basically Thanksgiving dinner in a tortilla that I absolutely love. Chunks of turkey breast, stuffing, and I think it's a cranberry cream cheese. I had one for lunch today and grabbed another for lunch on Saturday (or sooner). I have mixed feelings about Trader Joe's as a company, but I do love their food and innovation. Even when it's godawful like the salmon jerky. (Vomit.)

There are a few Christmas and Yule treats in the store already, but it is very much Thanksgiving, not Christmas that rules. At my gift store job, it became Christmas on October 26th when they made me pack up Halloween. (And boy, did I hear about it from the customers. A customer today stopped in their tracks upon entering and said, "Whoa! It is Christmas!" And not in a happy kind of way.) At the bookstore job, we have some ornaments and some cards, but one of the front window displays is dressed for Hanukkah. Also, the ornaments aren't really Christian (the Virgin of Guadalupe is technically Christian, but Ganesh is definitely not, nor is a menorah). 

So thank you, grocery stores for keeping the spirit of Thanksgiving alive! Christmas is one day, people, not two months, thank you very much.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Samhain Blessings! In Our New Home

It only seemed natural for Greg and me to have our house-warming on Halloween. I've been working 8 days a week (no, that is not a Beatles joke) at my hourly jobs and all off-hours on my Journal columns. Greg has mostly been on 6 day weeks in preparation for the Christian Holy-Money-Day that kicks off (officially for his job) today. But we were determined to have guests for Samhain, so we worked hard the last few weeks to clear the living room and make the kitchen usable enough to prepare a feast!

Since Halloween fell on a Saturday this year and I work a full shift on Saturdays, it was blessed luck that gave me the day before off. After sleeping a full 12 hours, I got to work in the kitchen. I usually suffer from insomnia, so this shows just how exhausted I've been, but this is my all-time favorite holiday, and our first gathering in our home. I wanted to make it a good one!

The menu:

  • deviled eggs (flavored with African smoke spices from Trader Joe's and garlic)
  • white chicken chili
  • vegetarian chili (I highly recommend this recipe)
  • pumpkin bread (Trader Joe's boxed mix)
  • pumpkin bars with chocolate chips (also from Trader Joe's mix)
  • mini corn muffins
  • party mix
  • sliced apples
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
And that was just what I made (Greg helped on the chili). We also had pumpkin biscotti (Trader Joe's), chips and dips brought by friends, BBQ beef smokies also brought by friends, a vegetable tray with hummus, pop, beer, cider, a sangria that Greg made from an apple mead he also made, and pretzel monster fingers made by our first overnight houseguest Robin! (She was our first overnight houseguest at our last apartment, too, because she drives all the way across the state to see us.)

Did I miss anything? 

We had treats for trick-or-treaters, too, and passed out almost all of them. This year, I participated in the Teal Pumpkin Project, so I had skull erasers and mini Play-Doh containers in addition to little bags of mini Oreos, Swedish fish, and Sour Patch Kids, which are also largely allergy-friendly, depending on the allergy. The Play-Doh was a big hit! I'm definitely doing that again next year!

We ended up with a lot of leftovers, as expected, so we're hosting Game Night tonight, as well. I hope I am not jinxing anything when I say this was a great Samhain weekend. We even (mostly accidentally) left out a Crock-Pot of cider by the new fire pit that Greg bought, so the fairies are probably pretty happy with us, too.

Have a blessed season, everyone!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Loading Kitchen... 50%

So we don't have a fully functioning kitchen yet. Or even partial since there is no sink, the stove is unhooked and across the room, and the new cabinets don't have countertops. I put together a table from Ikea so we'd have a surface to work on. 

I also found the George Foreman grill and tried to cook chicken on it last night, but it went nowhere fast so we ended up eating out again. (We've eaten out almost every day since moving in over a week ago.) Tonight Greg succeeded in using the Foreman to grill flat turkey meatballs. He also heated up some frozen mixed vegetables in the microwave I unearthed a couple days ago, and opened a bottle of red wine called Cave Canem (Latin for "beware of dog") that I brought home on Monday. It went well with the food.

So that was our first homecooked meal made in our new house! It feels a little like camping, except we're better prepared when camping. 

Sorry I have no pictures. We don't even have WiFi. I'm updating this on our Verizon tablet, which has really annoying autocorrect. ATT will be out the 15th to see about internet, so updates may be sporadic until then.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Moving Week

We are in the process of moving. Assuming I have a kitchen by then, I will update next weekend.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Where to Get a Cafe Miel in Ann Arbor

The cafe miel, or honey latte as it is sometimes billed, is my latest coffee obsession. I have mentioned it at least twice in the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal. I don't usually have coffee obsessions, so it's pretty unique. My former go-to coffee drink was the caramel latte, which lately has been bothering my stomach. Perhaps it is the more natural sweetness of the honey that makes it more palatable to me now. I couldn't say. But I can tell you all the places I've had one, in order of encounter, so that you may also try one.

1) Babo: a Market By Sava The place of Discovery.
2) Argus Farm Stop Made with Row's Roast coffee. Mmm!
3) Lab Cafe I mention their cafe con miel in the current issue of the CW Journal. They add something a little extra. I think it's cinnamon?
4) Crazy Wisdom Tea Room Yes, yes, I know it's a tea room - it's in the name. (Also I work downstairs.) But they also serve Mighty Good coffee (that is the name of the roaster, by the way, not a personal comment on the quality of the coffee). So if tea is not your bag, you can still enjoy the ambiance of the tea room with your preferred bitter - or sweet - beverage. 

And the quest continues...

Monday, September 14, 2015

Homemade Soup on the Fly

One of our baked chicken with herbs dinners one night ended up leaving behind a lot of juice, so I saved it in a jar and used it to make homemade soup a few days later. This is a nice trick if you're like me and don't like wasting things. The juice was rich in flavor from both the chicken and the herbs. (Sorry that I can't recall which herbs were used on the chicken. Doesn't matter too much, though, as this work with any baked chicken dish that left a lot of juice behind.)

Another handy trick for soups is mirepoix, or chopped celery, onions, and carrots. You can buy pre-chopped blends in stores, which saves time. I had all three on hand, so I chopped them myself, then added them to the boiling leftover broth.

Some chunks of chicken would have been a nice addition, but I didn't want to take the time to thaw and cook it. This was supposed to be a quick, light lunch, and I succeeded there. I've spent a good amount of this summer sick, so I've made a fair amount of soup. This was the simplest and still really quite tasty. And the best part, I didn't have to run to the store for special ingredients.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Homemade Hummus

When I lived in California, one of my (many) roommates would get hooked on a certain food for weeks at a time, eating - seemingly - nothing but that food until he found a new obsession, and the process would repeat. One of these was homemade hummus. He would pull out the blender every morning and mix up a unique, original recipe of hummus that he then consumed throughout the day with such gusto, it was gone by evening. So when Greg and I ended up with a mostly full jar of tahini after Greg made us some chicken shawarma for dinner one night, I immediately thought of my blender and a can of chickpeas (aka, garbanzo beans). 

Hummus is really, truly, ridiculously easy to make on your own. So easy, in fact, you may never buy commercial hummus again. I looked at a lot of different recipes, chief among them Alton Brown's, but in the end, I decided to mostly wing it like my old roommate. Here are the basic ingredients you need:
  • chickpeas
  • tahini
  • oil
Of course, this makes for some pretty bland hummus, so lemon juice and salt are usually also added. Garlic, too! In my experience, you can never go wrong with garlic. Since I did not have fresh garlic on hand when I mixed up my first batch, I used a generous amount of garlic powder. I also used lemon juice from a bottle rather than freshly squeezed, and canola oil because we were out of the ideal olive oil.

I feel I must caution that a lot of recipes call for two cans of chickpeas. This will make a lot of hummus. I only used 1 can and ended up with almost 2 cups of hummus. I divided it into two plastic containers designed to contain liquid, then kept one in the fridge and put the other in the freezer, which has worked out very well.

I sprinkled a little ground cumin on top of my hummus for some extra flavor. It was a tasty addition. I have also seen turmeric sprinkled on top and paprika and nutmeg. Though I cannot verify the tastiness of any of these things, they seem pretty solid. Other toppings include freshly minced garlic, red pepper or olive tapenade. You can add pretty much whatever you want to hummus. One of my favorite "flavors" of hummus is roasted garlic and chives. I recently tried a hummus with artichokes and spinach that was also delightful! 

And don't limit yourself to just pita chips. I spread hummus on a romaine lettuce leaf, add a slice of turkey and eat it like a sandwich. I also enjoy tortilla chips and fresh vegetables dipped in hummus. Water it down a salad dressing!

With an almost endless combination of ingredients to mix in with the hummus and things to put the hummus on, I totally understand how my former roommate was able to stay so entertained by it for so long.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Break Week

Taking a break this week. I'm actually too busy to even think up a poem. Be back this weekend with a new recipe!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vegetable Casserole

Casseroles are easy to make from nearly nothing. I like to prepare them when I am running low on ingredients. This recipe was created off the cuff and is vegetarian with cheese and mayo, assuming you use vegetarian cheese. (Surprise! Most cheese is made with rennet from the stomachs of baby cows, a byproduct of the veal industry.)

First, I sliced up three stalks of celery. I already had roughly half a cup of chopped onions and chopped red bell pepper. I put all three of these into a casserole dish and scooped on a few hefty spoonfuls of mayonnaise, mixing thoroughly. Over top I shook out a couple handfuls of Italian breadcrumbs followed by a sprinkling of shredded cheese.

I baked this in the oven at 350F for about half an hour. This could be a main dish with more ingredients. I served it with chicken tenders cooked in a pan with herbs.

There you have it. A simple vegetable casserole. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

What To Do With Leftover Rice and Vegetables

There are a lot of things you can do with leftover plain white rice that don't involve just heating it up and eating it. You can use it to make homemade fried rice, rice pudding, or, what I made with mine most recently, create a yummy egg scramble. Here is what I did!

First, I had about half a cup of leftover rice, so about a single serving, though this could have fed two if other foods were involved (like turkey bacon and muffins, for example). After putting the rice in my 10" greased frying pan, I added 3 whole eggs and blended the two with a spatula. This is more or less how you make fried rice, by the way.

Next, I added about 1/4 cup of leftover mixed vegetables, 1 mushroom from our oyster mushroom growing kit, and a few splashes of soy sauce for flavor. It is best to cook this on a low or low-medium heat unless you prefer your eggs browned. You also need to keep a close eye on it and keep moving the mash around with a spatula to ensure even cooking in addition to no burning.

That was it. I considered adding this to a tortilla and making a breakfast burrito, but as I said before, I am cutting down on carbs and rice is carby enough.

So I got rid of a few leftovers with this concoction, the rice and the vegetables! I often mix these two leftovers together just on their own, heating them up in the microwave. This was a delicious - and simple! - upgrade. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Homemade Chicken Salad

I've been actively cutting down on carbs lately because traditionally many of my meals have been carb-based, leaving out other important foods like vegetables and protein. Over the last few years I've been pretty good about eating protein and vegetables for dinner. Not so much for my other meals. I did a sugar-free challenge a little while back (which included no dairy - no cheese! - making it extremely hard for me) and lost almost 10 pounds in 5 days. It was incredible! And opened me up to a great number of new foods and ways to eat. 

My favorite thing to eat as a result of my sugar-free challenge is the lettuce wrap. I scoffed at lettuce wraps pretty much since I learned that they were a thing. I grew up being bribed to eat ice burg lettuce which is pretty much the worst thing ever (can't decide if it's above or below lima beans), so building an entire sandwich that would otherwise be delicious around lettuce sounded awful to me. It turns out romaine lettuce is not only a thing, it's actually pretty good, so I decided to give lettuce wraps a try for this challenge. Now I bring them to work almost every day with me for lunch. And bonus - they're gluten free! If you're in need of that.

I was doing the simple deli turkey and hummus wrap, which I still really enjoy. Then I stumbled upon the idea of putting chicken salad (or tuna salad or egg salad) on a piece of lettuce and making a sandwich out of that. The recipe for this chicken salad is my own design. Here you go:

  • 1 can of chunked chicken (or equivalent size of cooked and chunked chicken)
  • a small handful of thinly sliced fresh celery
  • mayonnaise (use as much or as little as you want)
  • a small handful of golden raisins
  • a small handful of walnut baking pieces
  • a dab of mustard of your choice
Stir, stir, stir, et voila. You could, of course, put this on bread, or in a pita pocket, or simply eat it with a fork. I think I both wrapped dollops in lettuce and ate it plain with a fork. It was delicious! The celery and walnuts gave it a nice bit of crunch and the raisins sweetened things up for my sweet tooth. (Yes, raisins have sugar. So if you're doing a no sugar challenge, cut out the raisins.) 

I have used variations of this combination in the past, but this one here I think is the winner. It's too bad I used up the rest of many of these ingredients while making this. I want to eat it again now. I guess it's time to make a shopping list and send Greg back to the store.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Wolverine Grill in Downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan

I don't know if it's out of some vague cultural nostalgia or what, but I have always loved diners. They feature a lot in American culture. Lots of adventures begin and take hiatus in diners, whether real, in art, film, or literature. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper has got to be one of the most recognized paintings in the country (even if you can't name it). 

My friend has been recommending the Wolverine Grill located on Michigan Ave in downtown Ypsilanti for a while now. She goes there every weekend with her husband for breakfast (which I think is adorable, by the way). It's only open for breakfast and lunch, not when I am often free for eating out. My own husband-to-be and I finally managed to find the time last Sunday! Greg and I rarely have days off together, so it was beyond a treat to be able to sleep in together then lazily get breakfast out before getting on with house stuff and packing for Greg's camping trip to Pennsic (without me - I can't afford the time off). 

The Wolverine Grill is truly fantastic. Greg ordered the Giant French Toast which comes with a meat of your choice and 2 eggs ("no toast or potatoes"). I think he enjoyed it. I was a little distracted by the Special that I ordered in honor of the Summer Beer Festival, the "Beer-Fest Inspired Patty Sausage Gravy Bowl: 2 Patty Sausage with Beer-Infused Sausage Gravy Piled on Top of Wolverine Potatoes. 2 Eggs Over Medium AND More Gravy. All in The Bowl. Multi-Grain Toast." It. Was. Glorious. And I totally missed the part about specials being accompanied by a little cup of yogurt and fresh fruit and a shooter of "Apple OR Orange OR V-8 OR Cranberry Juice OR Strawberry Basil and Jalapeno Lemonade OR Cold-Press Coffee." And a mini cupcake.


Lest you think that I have jumped on the Red Velvet OMG bandwagon, allow me to correct you. I have liked red velvet since before it was called red velvet and I was a small child. My grandmother, who called it Waldorf Astoria cake, used to make it on special occasions. It was the best part of family reunions, in my ever so humble opinion. I don't know why it has become a sudden fad (and traded names), but I really don't mind. My grandmother has been gone for about ten years now, and having memories of her surface every time I walk into a bakery, donut shop, or the frozen food aisle is wonderful. I don't remember Grandma cooking very much (she stopped when my grandfather retired because she had done her time as homemaker) so my memory of the cake she made is that much sweeter.

As for the juice shooter, I went with the strawberry basil lemonade, which I found quite refreshing. The yogurt fruit cup was also a great way to end a rather heavy meal (yes, I saved it for last). The cupcake was almost too much. Almost. The toast definitely was. Greg ate one, so that it wasn't a total waste. I hate throwing away perfectly good food.

I have to mention the music, too. Classic motown! My parents listened to a lot of motown while I was growing up (because Michigan), so I knew almost every song that played. Loved it! The staff was also friendly and attentive. Overall, the Wolverine Grill just has a great atmosphere.

Oh, and one more thing before I close this entry. Most of the way through our meal, I noticed three people enter, a young woman and two young men wearing fairy wings. Greg was not facing the door, so amidst our conversation I said, "Two fairies just walked in." And because this was Ypsilanti, close neighbor of Ann Arbor, where fairies abound, he didn't bother to turn and look. Later, when he saw them himself as they frolicked down the street, he realized what I had meant and was amused.

Such a great welcome to our new home! The Wolverine Grill and fairies. Such is my life. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chicken and Green Beans Skillet

I actually followed this recipe for Chicken Green Bean and Rice Skillet Dinner from Moms Who Think pretty accurately! I did substitute actual rice for instant rice because my rice cooker easily cooked the rice I needed while everything else was cooking on the stove. (Two cups of rice takes about 20 minutes.)

Also, as you can see when comparing my photo with the above linked page's photo, my chicken pieces were smaller (we had bought tenders rather than full-sized breasts), which made it more of a bowl dinner than a plate dinner. And I skipped the French-fried onions because meh, nor did I serve with rolls and corn. I don't think we had any veggies (yeah, yeah, corn is a grain) with this other than the green beans that are part of the dish, which is really what attracted me to this recipe in the first place. I like meals that are all-in-one. Quick, easy, healthy, and compact. I love casseroles.

I highly recommend both this skillet dish and the website from whence it came. I've pulled a few recipes from their list of Quick and Easy 30 Minute Chicken Meals. There is also a section for slow cookers, casserolesfreezer meals, and more! I am not sure how I came across this site. Pinterest might be to blame. (Or thank. I think thank in this case.)

So this hasn't been a very involved update. I hope I have passed on a great resource, though. I like sharing resources as much as my kitchen follies, which have become less frequent lately. I must be improving!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Almond Chicken in the Slow Cooker

Funny thing about this dish. It's called "Almond Chicken" and we totally forgot to put the almonds on it! Oops! Obviously, it didn't need them, though I would like to make it again and include them to see what it is supposed to taste like. (We still have the almonds; they're unopened in the cupboard.) Anyway... This is another easy recipe from 200 Slow Cooker Creations (the same book as last week's Creamy Black Bean Salsa Chicken). 


1 14oz can of chicken broth (or turkey if you're me)
2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (again, turkey if you're me)
2 T butter
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup dried minced onions
1 4oz can sliced mushrooms, drained
2 T soy sauce
1/2 tspn salt
1 1/2 cups diagonally sliced celery (optional)
Cooked rice
1 cup toasted slivered almonds (or not - oops!)


"Combine all ingredients except the rice and almonds in a greased 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours. Serve over hot cooked rice and sprinkle with the almonds."

Easy, right? And very flavorful, even without the almonds! Of course, our version with the turkey broth (Greg is allergic) and turkey bacon (I can't digest most pig products) is automatically going to taste different than the original recipe. I really don't think this detracted from the end result. The almonds would give it a nice crunch. Slow cookers aren't really known for adding crunch to things, unless it overcooks and things burns. We opted for the celery, which I enjoyed, but was definitely not crunchy after cooking for so long in broth. 

As I said, I'd make this again. 3 to 4 hours is really not very long in terms of slow cookers, so I don't even need a lot of time to plan for it. I'll have to check 200 Slow Cooker Creations and see what other goodies it has for me.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Creamy Black Bean Salsa Chicken

Between my two hourly jobs in a bookstore and a gift shop, I am surrounded by all manner of fun and interesting cookbooks. Also between said jobs and writing for the Journal, this blog, my fiction, and working on the house, I'm kept pretty busy. And until recently, Greg has been on mandatory 6 days a week, so neither one of us has a lot of time, and one of the things that can suffer as a result is dinner. This is why we make frequent use of our slowcooker! This recipe comes from the book 200 Slow Cooker Creations which I found at Catching Fireflies.

Creamy Black Bean Salsa Chicken (makes 3-5 servings)

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup chicken broth*
1 cup salsa
1 15oz can corn, drained
1 15oz can black beans, drained
1 envelope taco seasoning (or use homemade)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

*As usual, we substituted turkey broth for chicken because Greg is allergic to chicken broth. 

This is the first recipe I have seen that has advised me to grease my slowcooker before adding ingredients. Right on! Next, you put in the chicken breasts and "pour the broth, salsa, corn, beans, and taco seasoning all over the chicken." Put on the lid and cook on low for about 6 to 8 hours or 3 to 4 hours on high.

Once cooked, "remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and place on a serving dish. Add the sour cream and cheese to the sauce in the slow cooker and then pour over the chicken." Greg ended up just putting the chicken with sauce onto plates, then putting on the cheese and sour cream there (or just cheese in his case because he doesn't like sour cream). If it were me, I'd do what the recipe instructs and mix the sour cream and cheese into a creamy sauce, which is more or less what ended up happening on the plate as we ate anyway.

Super simple, this recipe was full of flavor. We dipped tortilla chips in the leftover sauce, which is when it occurred to us that if we made this again and shredded the chicken, it would make an excellent dip! We may make this again soon, even with Greg off 6 days, because the slowcooker doesn't heat up the kitchen nearly as much as the oven or stove do, and we avoid using the air conditioning as much as possible (haven't turned it on once yet this summer).

It will be nice to be in the house where there is a window in the kitchen to let built up heat escape through (what a novelty!). We also want to install a ceiling fan to help circulate air as the house does not have air conditioning at all. I can't wait to cook our first meal in the house! There will probably be lots of pictures. Wait for it.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Breakfast Shake

I have no idea where this recipe comes from. I wish I did because I'd like to find more! I was going through random scrap papers one day - old receipts, notes to myself, lists of books to read - and found this recipe scribbled on one of them, which means it probably came from one of the many books we carry at one of my two hourly jobs. Which does not narrow the source down. 

Here is a picture of the recipe:

I use 1 small banana or 1/2 of a large one because bananas can have a really strong flavor sometimes, especially when very ripe. I also use peanut butter because I like it, and it is cheap. Obviously, sun butter or another kind of butter can be substituted, as well as non-dairy milk alternatives (almond would be nice) to make this shake more allergy friendly. I also use medjool dates 1) because that is all the Meijer in Belleville carries and 2) they are stupid delicious. I eat them on their own now when I am feeling a sugar craving. Nature's candy? I think so. 

There is one other ingredient I have started adding that is not listed: chia seeds. Yes, like a chia pet. Like flax seeds, chia seeds are high in omega-3s and fiber. Unlike flax seeds, they are not obnoxiously crunchy and kind of disgusting. (I tried flax. I stopped.) Chia seeds actually turn into teeny tapioca-like globules, kind of like the pearls that I don't like in bubble tea. (Do people still drink bubble tea?) In a smoothie like this, the chia seeds turn into gummy pellets, thickening the shake, and go largely unnoticed.

I layer the ingredients in my blender in the order listed in the recipe (unlisted chia seeds last) because there is no real reason not to. I have learned starting with the milk, at the very least, is best since my blender has cup markings on it and if I add the banana first, as has happened, I screw up my measuring of the milk. My blender is old (from before grounded electrical outlets), but it works amazingly well. Better than a modern smoothie maker that my mother gave me when she didn't need it anymore. (It smoothed nothing.) 

If I measure correctly, I can get two servings out of this. What I end up doing a lot of the time is pour what will fit into a 12 oz glass container that, in a former life, was home to Nantucket Nectars Grapeade. The rest I put into a cup and drink on the spot. I find the glass bottle very useful for storing the shake in the fridge for later use, or, more often, taking with me to work since I often don't eat breakfast before heading in as I am not usually hungry first thing in the morning. (Probably because we don't eat dinner until very late most nights.) I once made a double batch, enough to ensure I had breakfast for that day and the next two. The blender did not explode chocolate everywhere. (Lucky!)

I really like this shake, and I drink it for more than breakfast now. To avoid buying things like Caramel Ice Dragons and Pringles from Sweetwaters while at work, I bring this shake with me. It helps! I just need more glass bottles to store them in. Maybe it's time to wash out some old mason jars and start matching up lids. Which means it also might be time to make some refrigerator oatmeal, a delightful summer breakfast that I discovered last year. (This is also where I got the idea to add chia seeds to this shake.) It's good to vary up a routine, right? 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

First of the Season Food Truck Rally at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown

About a week and a half ago, my awesome boss and friend Kerstin alerted me to a food truck rally at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown. My fiance Greg is a huge fan of food trucks, and honestly, I am becoming one myself. (We're talking of having our wedding reception catered by a food truck.) And this was only the first of a summer-long, monthly food truck rallies at the Wednesday Evening Farmers Market in Kerrytown! The next is July 15th, then August 19th and September 16th after that. (Courtesy of this article on MLive.)

The June meet-up turned out to be a bit of a rainy night, but the Farmers Market is well equipped to handle such weather and is mostly covered (thought not all of the trucks were). There was the usual market activity, tons of food options, and face painting! Sadly, I did not get my face painted (at this event...). But Greg and I did get something from almost all of the trucks, plus a bag of delicious, all natural garlic parsley linguine from the Pasta Shop (find them in the market). 

First up was the Pita Post where I got a chicken shawarma pita and Greg ordered the buffalo blue cheese sausage. We also split an order of sweet potato fries. The shawarma was a little dryer than I like (because I can't get enough of garlic tahini sauce!!), but still delicious and satisfying. Greg enjoyed his sandwich, though I think he said it had some bite to it. The fries were nice and crispy. And because that wasn't enough, we also stopped by the Hero or Villain Van to split a Frieza, comprised of "mozzarella, spinach, blueberries mascarpone on sourdough." As Greg said, it was a "dessert sammich!" And wonderful.

I'd really wanted to try the Shimmy Shack with its all vegan and gluten-free menu, but the line was pretty long, and at that point, I think we were just ready for dessert (not in sammich form), so we picked up some wonderful-as-always gelato from Hello Ice Cream and donuts from Petey's Donuts

It was so much fun! Maybe next time I can gather a group together and we can all go hang out, with perhaps a little drinking after. (I haven't gone out with people in sooo looong!) Even with the weather, the June event was well-attended. It's nice to see this foodie fad getting so much support. I think food trucks are a great idea! I know a number of the newer restaurants around Ann Arbor got their starts as food carts at Mark's Carts on Washington. It's a great way to test the waters and either build on a good thing or take it once step further to a brick-and-mortar location. Any which way, I get to eat tasty and innovative dishes. Eat on!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Harvest Round Venison Steak

I told you I'd post more wild game recipes! This one comes to us from GroupRecipes' Harvest Round Steak. Except instead of beef steaks, Greg used our venison round steaks. Twas a delicious substitution.

I reiterate that venison is a much leaner meat than the beef. Deer run around the forest, leap away from predators (and into traffic), and just overall get a lot more exercise than do cows. This is generally true for all wild game versus domesticated. Hence a lot of venison is cut with beef when ground - added fat. But there is no added fat to round steaks. (Not that I can tell, anyway.) So you must be mindful when looking at substituting venison for beef in recipes. You don't want the meat to dry out.

This particular recipe had moisture added from the other ingredients - onions and apples, for example - which helped. (One of the ingredients is also water.) I really liked it! Very "harvesty." (Maybe we should have saved it for the Fall?) I would make it again with beef. Apples, onions, and sweet potatoes may sound like an odd combination, but I really quite liked it! And they well complemented the gamier flavor of venison.
Side track: What does "gamey" even mean? 
Before I had venison, people always told me that it tastes like beef, but gamier. Wha? That means nothing to a person who has never had "game." A lot of dictionary definitions (here are some) say that "gamey" is basically the stronger flavor of slightly tainted meat. Yummy! The best I can say is that wild game - gamey meat - has a more pungent flavor. I realize that the word pungent is usually used to describe smell, but the way that a pungent odor smells is basically how gamey meat tastes. It is stronger, sometimes with more of a tang to it. There can also, at times, be a pungent odor (maybe because it has become "tainted").
That is the last of the wild game meat in the freezer that needs to be cooked. There is still, I believe, a roll of venison salami. Greg seems to be saving it for something, but what I do not know. I think it would be great with cheese and crackers! Maybe a little wine, though red or white I cannot decide. It's summer now, so maybe a pitcher of sangria is in order. Perhaps this is something that should be served at our housewarming party! (Whenever that will be...) If this happens, rest assured, I will post pictures and give a fill report. I've never eaten venison salami before! It sounds tasty!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Food Haiku

In the calm after
Raging storms and flash floods,
We find empty cupboards.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lemon Pepper Brussels Sprouts with Raisins and Walnuts

We have a lot of spices in our cupboards. So when I looked through for something to pair with my bag of shredded Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe's, I had a lot to choose from. I eventually settled on an old standby, lemon pepper, which I used to sprinkle (liberally) on chicken breasts. I didn't follow any particular recipe for this because I have made Brussels sprouts so many times, it's really just a matter of throwing together new combos at this point.

  • 1 bag of shredded Brussels sprouts
  • lemon pepper seasoning 
  • about 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • about 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
To start, you want to heat your Brussels sprouts in a good-sized frying pan. You don't want the sprouts to fall over the edge and out of the pan while you stir them to be sure they are evenly cooked. You are also going to want some kind of non-sticking agent. I tend to use olive oil (regular - not extra virgin), but cooking spray, coconut oil, or even butter or bacon grease should work just as well. Just know that whatever oil or fat that you use will affect the taste of the dish. 

I sprinkle my seasoning in right after adding the sprouts to the pan and and stir to coat. So it goes oil (or fat), sprouts, then seasoning. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes, remembering to check to make sure nothing is browning or burning.

Brussel sprouts are finished cooking when they turn a deep, bright green. As the tips are just starting to turn, add the raisins, which will absorb the excess liquid and oil and plump up. Turn the sprouts over often and blend thoroughly to ensure even cooking and no burning. I save the walnut pieces for right at the very end when I am about ready to turn off the heat. 

Over moderate heat, this only takes a few minutes. This is why I like shredded Brussels sprouts. They are a quick and easy sidedish! 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Chicken and Zucchini in a Pan

I really like zucchini. I don't think I liked it all that much as a kid, but as an adult, it's awesome. For some reason, I was craving it lately, so when Greg and I were at Lucky's, I picked one up. (Incidentally, they were called "Italian squash" so Greg missed them when he looked. I have never heard zucchini referred to in this way, but it makes sense.) Being a little low on time, I did not do anything fancy with the zucchini. The whole dinner was really very simple and quick.

First, I poured some olive oil in my larger skillet. Over medium heat, I heated some fresh parsley with powdered onion and garlic salt. To this, I added chunks of raw chicken (chunks of meat cook so much faster than whole cuts). That's it! 

While it was cooking, I sliced the zucchini. Then, when the chicken was done, I put it into a bowl to make room for the zucchini in the pan. I drizzled more olive oil over the zucchini, then ground on some sea salt and black pepper. When it had cooked for a few minutes, I used a fork to flip the slices of zucchini over so both sides softened as they cooked, but not to the point of total mushiness. I like my zucchini like I like my pasta: al dente.

And that was dinner. Quick, super easy, and tasty. Hopefully next year I can grow my own zucchini in our future garden. I don't think the new neighbors will let us at their chickens, though.

For more involved zucchini recipes, click the zucchini tag below!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ann Arbor's New Lucky's Market

Do you remember where the Kroger's was near the corner of S Industrial and Packard? I had no idea they'd left until a friend alerted me to Lucky's Market moving in. I worked in the grocery business for something like 8 years, and I don't recall ever hearing of them either, though it turns out they have stores in 11 states. (Lucky's was started in Boulder, CO in 2003.) Ann Arbor's was the first in Michigan. (Another will be opening in Traverse City, soon.)

Lucky's is a fun shopping experience that has become one of our favorites. On our first trip, Greg was overjoyed to find Zapp's Potato Chips, a product he missed from his college days in New Orleans. I was impressed with the large bins of bulk candy, though I refrained from indulging. I also like that in addition to labeling certain products as gluten-free as other stores do, Lucky's labels locally made products! From their website:
We seek the freshest local, organic, sustainable and traditionally crafted foods made with purpose and pride to sell in our stores. We also passionately support local farmers and organic foods with a garden to table belief that celebrates our neighbors in the community.
And there are plenty of local brands to choose from. I loved Ferndale-based Garden Fresh's garlic and chive hummus, especially wrapped in romaine lettuce leaves with a slice of turkey. I also love their tortilla chips and fresh salsa. This was the first I'd seen the garlic and chive hummus, and I haven't found it at other stores that carry the Garden Fresh brand, either. 

Another thing that impressed me about Lucky's is their bring-your-own-bag policy. Like many stores these days, if use your own bags, you can save a few dimes. Or you can accept tokens instead and place them into one of the donation slots on your way out. Donate your 10 cents reward and Lucky's will match that donation to the charity of your choice. There were 3 when we were there, and we put a token in each to be fair. I like it when a business - especially one not based in-town - makes the extra effort to not only make itself a part of its new community, but help that community. Girls on the Run is a wonderful program that I was glad to see receiving such support. 

Greg and I will definitely continue shopping at Lucky's. It's bigger than Aldi and Trader Joe's (and less crowded), but not as big - or as annoying to try to park at - as Whole Foods (nor as expensive). As the story says, it's just right. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not Exactly Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas

So here is the recipe I was attempting to follow, Smoky Roasted Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Chickpeas from TasteFood.

I ran into a few problems with this one. Most notably, my pan was too small. And instead of being all juicy like you see in TasteFood's picture, my chickpeas hardened into a veritable chickpea brittle. Though delicious, not what I was going for. I don't think Greg was impressed with this dish, so I don't know if I will make again (though I'd like to try to figure out what went awry). 

The chickpea brittle, as I have decided to call it, was really quite tasty! I'd do that on purpose again, forget the chicken, if I could work it out. It made for a lovely snack. What happened was (I forgot to take pictures, so I can't show you) the chickpea and yogurt goo mixture became so dried out and thick that I could tear off pieces and munch on them like melon bread or something. The spice blend was tantalizing to the taste buds and the chickpeas were chewy in a fun and not at all disgusting kind of way. I really didn't need the chicken here, though that was to be the main attraction of the dish.

I'm not sure Greg is as into chickpeas as I am, so this idea of mine, chickpea brittle on purpose, may never actually come to fruition. Or I can wait until he is on a vacation without me and do whatever I want. If it happens, rest assured, I will record every detail here.