Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Kebabs, May 26, 2015

When I asked my wife yesterday, as she prepared to leave work, what was for dinner, she responded that she'd know after she went to the store. I am the opposite kind of cook, requiring a menu and shopping list before I hit the store. She's great at just coming up with something yummy. Yesterday, it was pork and chicken kebabs, bought already prepared from the butcher counter (chicken with either garlic & herb marinade or Jack Daniels BBQ and pork with teriyaki) & just needing a grill, green beans with toasted almonds (she used garlic salt in the toasting, which made the almonds extra-delicious), broccoli slaw from a bag, and tater tots, one of my favorite foods in the world (as long as they're baked and not fried---I always find fried tots disappointing, probably because I grew up with the baked version). For dessert, she brought home the first watermelon of the season. We were expecting it to be a bit pasty and flavorless, still, but it was actually sweet, juicy, and perfecto delicious! Yay! Summer is coming!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Memorial Day Dinner on the Grill: Steak, May 25, 2015

Usually, Jeannene is the one who buys steaks. I like them just fine, but they are really her thing. When she cooks, it's very frequently steak or pasta. So, she was terribly surprised when I came home with two beautiful porterhouse steaks the other day. She was nosing through the grocery bags and spied them, then pulled them out and said, in amazement, "When did you get so good at picking steaks? Wow, you got a really good deal on these!"

Yesterday evening, she reveled in the lovely weather as she grilled the steaks, rubbed with garlic salt, Maldon salt, and pepper, to perfection on our patio. I stayed inside, making white bean mash and a corn casserole that Jeannene loved. She said, "Now, this is Def Corn Five!" I was glad I'd made something that made up for her disappointment at the previous night's casserole. The recipe came from the Deen Brothers and can be found here.  Personally, I'd've liked it better if I'd mixed the corn all the way into the cream cheese before baking and maybe added some garlic salt to it, but it was pretty good. The mash is a nice alternative to mashed potatoes. All you do is cook some minced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped fresh rosemary in a bit of olive oil until fragrant. Then, add a drained can of cannellini beans and heat through, mixing well. Finally, mash the beans with a wooden spoon or potato masher.

Sunday Dinner: Burgers on the Grill, May 24, 2015

Due to various schedule conflicts, illness, and vacation, we haven't had Sunday dinner with the kids in quite awhile. Jeannene loves feeding people and especially loves holidays that include grilling. While, of course, Memorial Day isn't about grilling at all, it is still the first time we usually fire up the grill. I know better than to try to usurp Jeannene's menu-planning for holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. She was so excited about cooking that she got out a bunch of cookbooks early in the week and started to plan. She also decreed that bingo would be played and went shopping for bingo prizes, coming home and showing me her dollar store loot with a great deal of glee.

She also exhibited a great deal of glee as we went grocery shopping for the event. I love seeing her so excited---and I certainly don't mind the occasional meal where I'm not responsible for a thing. Jeannene grilled burgers (specialty ones from Whole Foods---salmon burgers for Pie, beef & cheddar for Bubbles, Boca burgers for their vegetarian friend, a garden turkey burger for her, and a really stellar buffalo chicken burger for me) and cheddar brats for our first grill usage of the year.

For the (many) side dishes, she served her special sweet & spicy baked beans (she doctors Bush's using her dad's technique), a corn & rice casserole called "Connie's Death Corn Five" from The Sweet Potato Queens' Big Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) (I liked it, the kids loved it, she was disappointed with it---the name made her think it would be more fabulous), dill potato salad from Kroger (I have got to get my aunt's recipe), a bagged iceberg salad with taco dressing and corn chip pieces, and grilled pineapple & maraschino cherry kebabs similar to the ones she had growing up.

If you want the Death Corn Five recipe, I recommend you buy the book. Jill Conner Browne is absolutely hilarious, her recipes are yummy, and the way she writes them is just great, like having her on the phone with you, telling you what to do in between sips of a Big Ass Margarita. If you can't find the book, though, or need the recipe ASAP, you can find it here.

To make the fruit kebabs, pick up a pineapple (she likes to buy them pre-peeled & cored) and cut it into chunks. Soak some wooden skewers for at least half an hour. Meanwhile, mix together 3 tbsp. melted butter, a couple good squeezes of honey (about 2 tsp), and 4 or so dashes of hot sauce. Brush the pineapple with the mixture before threading it on the skewers, alternating with extra-large maraschino cherries. Grill for a couple minutes per side. Me, I would probably add some brown sugar to the mix, but it was delicious as it was.

For dessert, we took the girls to Eva's, a little ice cream joint nearby, for our first visit of the year. Pie didn't want any ice cream, so he napped on the couch until we came home. Jeannene's favorite is a peanut butter sundae---peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter topping and chopped peanuts. Bubbles had, very characteristically, a vanilla soft serve cone with rainbow sprinkles (she claims she is a giant 2-year-old), while their friend picked a strawberry smoothie and praised the freshness of the flavor. I had a simple small vanilla soft serve cone. It was all I could ever have wanted. Eva's is always packed and, once you taste their product, you'll know why. It's also tremendous fun to sit at a picnic table, savoring your ice cream, and watch all the people and dogs there for treats, too.

Bagger Dave's, May 23, 2015

When it's Jeannene's choice night, we often dine out. This is even more likely to be the case if we're already out and about. I was on a wild goose chase quest for a particular book and was trying to chase it down at a Barnes & Noble we'd never been to before. Our local store said they thought this location had a copy, but warned me to call beforehand. Well, I didn't and they didn't have it, so I was out of luck there.

Jeannene had not eaten breakfast and was getting pretty peckish. It was a bit late for lunch and a bit early for dinner, but we decided to find someplace close by, have a bite to eat, and then go see "Avengers: Age of Ultron" at the nearest movie theater. When Jeannene saw Bagger Dave's Burger Tavern, she decided that would be fun to try. I'd heard good things about it and was definitely game, although I did not want a burger.

We started with a shared plate of nachos. We couldn't decide between the BBQ or the grilled chicken to top them, so we asked our waitress to surprise us. She picked the BBQ, a sloppy joe-ish ground turkey concoction that was completely delicious and decided me on my main course. The chips were perfectly crunchy and the toppings were generous, but not so overloaded as to make the chips superfluous. It also wasn't a gigantic portion, so we actually had room for sandwiches.

Jeannene built her own burger with I don't know what all on it. It was incredibly sloppy, included avocados, and made her very happy. I had the Sloppy Dave's BBQ sandwich, basically a turkey sloppy joe on a toasted hoagie bun. I adore sloppy joes. Jeannene thinks it's both cute and weird, as she cannot abide them. This was a great version. I had them omit the Santa Fe chipotle sauce, as it was a smidge hot for me on the nachos, and subbed cheddar for the gouda. The hand-cut fries were great, too, reminding me of the ones I used to get at Rivertown Potato Works as a a kid going to King's Island Amusement Park. They came with sauce, whatever kind you wanted, but I was really happy with just the malt vinegar they supplied on the table.

The service was competent and the atmosphere fine, just the usual screens, bar, and high-top tables. Luckily, we were seated at the only low-top in our section, which made my short legs happy. There was a train running around the top of the room, which was fun.

G's Pizzeria, May 23, 2015

We were out running errands Friday night, so it seemed wise to stop somewhere for dinner. When I asked Jeannene what she was in the mood to eat, she promptly said she wanted more of the boneless chicken wings we had the other night at G's. I laughed and then took her there. I tasted her wings and they didn't seem as good as the first night, more heavily breaded and a little burnt. Definitely hotter, as well. She still loved them and my Italian sub was terrific, even though they don't put much of a range of meats on it (just ham and salami). Their bread is very, very good and the subs are nice and crispy, just the way I like them.

I also had a mango strawberry tequila sunrise and was astounded to see how huge it was. It came in a little plastic bucket. I tried my best, but simply couldn't finish it. Had I skipped dinner, I might have been able to fit it in my belly. It was delicious, though. I wonder if I can order a mini, next time.

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches, May 21, 2015

I'd purchased a rotisserie chicken and only used the breast meat, so the rest of the meat was shredded, reheated, and used for some yummy chicken Caesar sandwiches the next night. I also made a wonderful, tangy, garlicky white bean dip and served pita chips and raw veggies (sugar snap peas, carrot sticks, and strips of yellow and red bell pepper not used for the previous night's dinner). I woke up the next morning and immediately felt very sad because I'd forgotten to put the rest of the bean dip in the fridge overnight. My dear wife was even more sad, so I have promised to make it again before long.

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches
2 tbsp. olive oil
Leftover chicken (about 2 cups)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2-2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash hot sauce
Handful grated parmesan
2 hamburger buns (I like the sesame seed ones)
Romaine lettuce

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add chicken and stir to heat through. Add everything but buns and lettuce and cook another 5 or 10 minutes. Serve on buns, with lettuce. Serves 2 (with some meat left over for the next day's lunch).

White Bean Dip with Lemon, Garlic, & Dill
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
3 scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 c. walnuts
2-3 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

Puree everything together. Serve with pita & veggies. Serves 6-8. 

Chicken with Peanut Sauce, May 20, 2015

Last summer, after years of experimentation, I finally hit upon the perfect recipe for Indonesian-style peanut sauce, which we love with chicken, beef, and pork. Last week, I made it for some rotisserie chicken I picked up at the grocery. I sliced off the breast meat and served it with the peanut sauce, reserving the rest of the meat for the next night's dinner. I made some basmati rice and a colorful Thai-inspired salad to go along with it. The recipe for the salad came from Too Many Cooks by Emily Franklin (which is a really fun book), although I made omissions and substitutions to suit our tastes.

Bomb-Diggity Peanut Sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, sliced (white and light green parts only)
1/4 c. chicken broth
1 tbsp. soy sauce 
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 c. coconut milk (unsweetened)
1/3 c. smooth peanut butter
3/4 tsp. powdered ginger

Cook garlic & scallions in broth, covered, for a couple minutes. Add soy sauce, lemon, chili, brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add coconut milk, peanut butter, and ginger and heat through. Makes enough for 4-6 people.

Thai Rainbow Salad
2 tbsp. key lime juice (fresh juice from regular limes is also fine)
2 tbsp. good quality olive oil
1 tbsp. sesame oil
3 tbsp. coconut milk
1 tsp. honey
A few shakes of hot sauce (Thai chili sauce is recommended, but we didn't have any on hand & this worked fine)
7 leaves romaine, torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 head napa cabbage, sliced thinly
1/2 red cabbage, sliced thinly
A handful of basil leaves
1 bunch scallions, light green and white only, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced thinly
Salt & pepper

Mix everything up to romaine. Mix vegetables. Toss with dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with pepitas. Serves 6-8. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

G's Pizzeria, May 19, 2015

I'd planned to make Thai peanut chicken last night, but when Jeannene called before leaving work, she said we'd need to go to an office supply store to get some posters made for work. I suggested just grabbing dinner out, since we were going to be out and about. As we left the copy shop, I asked where she might like to eat. A coney island? Andiamo's? Union Woodshop? Someplace cool-looking we spotted along the way?

Jeannene surprised me by responding that we should go to the third restaurant we saw, not counting fast food or pizza chains. The third restaurant we saw was Union Woodshop, but we didn't actually pass any of those three, so we decided it would be the third restaurant we actually passed. There are very few restaurants along the path we took home! We finally got to 3 and it was G's Pizzeria in Lake Orion.

We'd been to G's once, shortly after moving to Michigan. We took Boot there when he was in town for Winter Break. We had never returned, having be unimpressed with that first visit. I had wondered if we should give it another chance, but had no compelling reason to do so. I'm glad, then, that it was our "third restaurant's a charm" choice.

We couldn't remember if it was mediocre food or bad service that kept us away. I suspect, after last night, that it was slow service. I can almost remember Boot getting irate at how long everything took. G's is basically a sports bar and the service seems to reflect the fact that many of the folks going there are mostly interested in watching the game and drinking a few beers. Our waitress, while perfectly pleasant, didn't seem overly enthusiastic about her job. Our drinks were never refilled, for example.  There were also large lags between courses. Large.

The atmosphere isn't terribly inviting, either. The ceilings are entirely too high for coziness, but the space feels too cramped for such high ceilings. Tall brown curtains sort of divide the dining area from the bar area, but don't succeed at making it feel any less like a bar. The decor is a kind of haphazard mishmash of local sports memorabilia and well-worn inspirational sayings from Christian scripture. The extra-long booth in which we sat wasn't terribly comfortable and I couldn't decide if the table was sticky or just oddly textured. The main point of decoration is screens everywhere, which is to be expected in a sports bar. It seemed like kind of an odd cross between a sports bar and somebody's (really high-ceilinged) basement rec room.

All that said, I was quite happy with our (completely junk food-y) dining experience. The boneless "wings" (very tender chicken chunks) we shared for a first course were delicious. We chose the mild Buffalo sauce, which was perfectly balanced, neither boringly bland or so hot we couldn't actually taste the flavor. They were also sparingly breaded, so I could actually taste the chicken itself. What a nice change of pace from the "boneless wings" you find so many other places.

For our main courses, I chose a (huge) meatball sub with the house-made chips and Jeannene had a (quite generous) half-rack of ribs with fries. The portions are great for those of us who like to have the next day's lunch all taken care of at dinner.

My sub was terrific, aside from one side of it becoming a bit soggy from heavy saucing. That happens. I simply peeled off the soggy bread and ate it like an open-faced sandwich. The meatballs themselves were dainty in size and delicate in texture, but substantial enough to stand up to the red sauce. The melted mozzarella was just the right amount, too. The chips were fine, but nothing to write home about---I ate a couple and left the rest.

Jeannene loved her ribs. They were well-sauced and fall-off-the-bone tender. I doubt that rib snobs would approve of them, but for sports bar ribs, they were pretty great. The fries were nice and potato-y, too.

We certainly didn't need dessert, but they had a cherry turnover on the menu and I simply couldn't resist. I was all excited about the delicately flaky pastry, the warm cherry filling, the vanilla icing that would form a drizzled zigzag across the top. Well, I didn't read the menu very carefully and it turns out that their version of a cherry turnover is much more akin to a cherry calzone! It was ridiculously enormous, a fat pie of pizza dough filled with abundant amounts of cherry pie filling, baked until gorgeously browned, and served in a pool of nearly translucent glaze. We split half of it and gave up, but what we had was yummy. It wasn't what I'd hoped for, but I would order it again---if I had a couple-few more people to help eat it!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Empanadas, May 18, 2015

We picked up 4 empanadas at the Casavana Cafe in the Ft. Lauderdale airport just before we flew home Sunday. They reheated beautifully for our supper last night. We decided to try 1 of each kind they had, so we had a chicken empanada, a ham and cheese one, a spinach one, and a picadillo one. My favorites were the chicken and the picadillo. Jeannene liked the spinach a lot, so I traded her my spinach half for her picadillo half, which I loved. I always keep a can of Goya Cuban-style black bean soup on hand, so we had that over jasmine rice for a side. I also discovered a new bagged salad that we both thought was terrific: Taylor Farms Garden Vegetable chopped salad. It's basically a broccoli slaw with dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and bacon.

If you want empanadas, but don't have a good Cuban cafe or bakery nearby, you might try this recipe from the Three Guys From Miami. I've not made it, but they usually have good, reliable recipes. They give basic dough instructions and a bunch of different fillings! I am going to try the guava & cheese ones before long!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Casavana Cafe, May 17, 2015

After a week of mostly just okay all-inclusive food (well, the fruit, bread, & chorizo were terrific) in the Dominican Republic, I was really pleased to be able to sit down to a Cuban meal at the Casavana Cafe in the Ft. Lauderdale airport. While it really lacked atmosphere and our waiter was pretty awful (my wife actually saw him put the credit card belonging to the guy next to us in his shirt pocket and then act like it was a mistake when the guy said, "Hey!"---perhaps it truly was, but we wondered---and he was terribly slow even taking our order, as well as trying to tell me that I wanted the congrí instead of the black beans and white rice), the food was quite good for airport food. It didn't measure up to the restaurants I love in Miami, but it was a heck of a lot better than most airport food I've come across.

I chose the masitas de puerco, my favorite Cuban main course, with a side of black beans and a side of white rice. Jeannene went for the Cuban-style hamburger with Swiss cheese and potato sticks. We shared a side of maduros (fried ripe plantains). The maduros were fabulous, but the amount (4) seemed pretty skimpy, given that it was a purchased side and not something that came with one of our meals. My masitas, pieces of pork marinated in mojo before being fried and served with onions and lime wedges, were incredibly generously portioned, however. They were yummy, too, although I needed to ask for more limes, as the wedge I got was terribly dry. The beans were a little bland, with no pieces of green pepper or onion in them, as I tend to expect of Cuban black beans, but overall, they were pretty good, too. Jeannene's burger was terrific.

Sadly, their espresso machine was out of order, so we couldn't have cafe con leche with our dinner. Luckily, there was a quick service version of the cafe just a little further down. So, after dinner, we stopped there for coffee. I was hopeful that they might also have pastelitos (little pastries) with guava paste and queso blanco. They did and, boy, were they fabulous! We also picked up some empanadas to bring home for tonight's dinner. I was disappointed in the Cuban coffee and the cafe con leche I had. They were good, just not as good as what I find in Miami proper.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Fettuccine with Chicken and Asparagus, May 6, 2015

We love asparagus around here and I will only make it in season. Poor Jeannene implores me to bend a bit on this, but to no avail. I will consent to eat it, if she makes it out of season, of course. This dish I made last night, with a green salad and some roasted garlic bread Jeannene picked up on her way home from work, is a great way to throw together a delicious and spring-y dinner with very little effort.

Fettuccine with Chicken and Asparagus
1/2 lb. fettuccine, cooked al dente
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and broken into bite-size pieces
1-2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, sliced (white and light green parts only)
15 oz. can diced tomatoes with garlic & onion (plain is fine, too)
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
Salt & pepper
Cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (optional; you could also use any other meat you like)
Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add asparagus and sauté until crisp-tender. Add garlic, scallions, tomatoes, and seasonings, mixing well. Add pasta and chicken, if using, and cook until heated through. Serve with parmesan. Without the meat and parmesan, this is a great vegan dinner, provided you make sure your pasta is vegan. Serves 4. 

Tostadas, May 5, 2015

I am not a huge fan of the way Cinco de Mayo is often celebrated in the United States. For one thing, most of the people who are celebrating have no idea what it is they're celebrating. They tend to assume they're celebrating Mexican Independence Day. 

Well, that isn't actually until September. Cinco de Mayo is in remembrance and celebration of the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It wasn't the battle that finally threw off the French occupiers, but it gave the Mexican troops a huge morale boost. Anyway, in Mexico, it tends to be celebrated mostly in Puebla. 

It's unfortunate that this holiday seems to have devolved, in the U.S. at least, into an excuse to go get wasted on margaritas and Mexican beer. Mind you, I have nothing against either margaritas or Mexican beer, but it's a shame to "celebrate" a cultural holiday this way when you could be learning about Mexican history, reading Mexican novels, listening to music by Mexican artists, going to an exhibit of Mexican art (Yo, Detroiters! Get thee to the Frida & Diego exhibit!), learning about issues around immigration justice, preparing authentic Mexican dishes. 

I celebrated this year by making tostadas, Frida Kahlo's potatoes in green sauce, and a Southwest salad I picked up pre-prepped at the grocery. I had guacamole (mash an avocado with some lime juice and garlic salt) & chips waiting for Jeannene when she came home from work. The potatoes come from a cookbook called Frida's Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo, which I got at the Detroit Institute of Art's special, temporary Frida & Diego gift shop. It's by Frida's stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera, and Marie-Pierre Colle. This collection of Frida's recipes and Lupe's stories is a delight to read for any Kahlo aficionado, even non-cooks. For us cooks, it's great fun to try our hands at food Frida loved.

I am a lazy cook, for sure, and I am also a bit of a squeamish eater, in that I tend to shy away from things like offal and feet. Thus, while I took inspiration from Frida's tostadas, I did not use the pig's feet called for in the recipe and I took a number of shortcuts and liberties I suspect most Mexican chefs would disdain. They were, however, very good.

Tostadas Perezosos (Lazy Tostadas)
Tostadas, pre-made from the grocery
Refried beans, from a can
Green sauce, from a jar or from the potatoes, if you're making those
Shredded romaine
Cooked, shredded, sliced, or chunked chicken breast
Chorizo, crumbled and browned
Sliced tomato
Sliced avocado
Sour cream
Crumbled queso fresco
Pickled or fresh sliced jalapeños, if you like them

Top tostadas with the rest of the ingredients & eat. I like mine either chicken or chorizo. My wife likes both at once. If you put the beans on first, they help to hold everything else on the tostadas. 

My food squeamishness extends to hot peppers and cilantro and my laziness means I'd just as soon sub olive oil for lard in most recipes. So, this potato recipe is not really authentically Frida's, but it is tasty. The potatoes themselves turned out to be a lot sweeter than I'd expected, which made for some interesting taste contrast, but I definitely recommend giving this recipe a whirl. 

Papas en Salsa Verde (Potatoes in Green Sauce)
1 lb. baby new potatoes, peeled
1 lb. tomatillos, peeled
1/2 c. water
1 serrano chile, minced (I remove the membranes & seeds to reduce the heat; leave them & add more chiles, if you like it hot)
Salt and pepper
3/4 c. ch. cilantro (if you like it; sub parsley or omit, if not)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely chopped

Parboil the potatoes for a couple minutes. Drain and set aside. Simmer tomatillos, water, chile, salt, and pepper until tomatillos are tender. Cool slightly, then add cilantro and puree. I actually used an immersion blender, to good effect. Heat the oil and sauté the onion until translucent. Add to tomatillos and cook another 10 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until tender, 15-20 minutes. Serves 4.