Thursday, January 31, 2013

Make-Your-Own Oat Bars

I've been struggling for awhile with finding a way to make my own protein/oat/granola/breakfast bars. 
I know at this day in age, it's easy to go to the store and buy a box from any number of major brands, but I'm more of a DIY kind of girl when it comes to food. 
I started experimenting with different ideas, looking through other blogger's and chef's recipes for staple ingredients. Cut out the fancy stuff, look for the bare essentials, and develop a formula for making any kind of simple oat-based bars quickly and easily, with room for your own customization.
I think I've got it.

The key here, like I said, is customization, so my recipe is less of a recipe and more of guidelines to develop your own uniquely flavored bars.

Step 1: Pick 2 1/2 cups of any basic grain. I went with oatmeal, easy and reliable.

Step 2: Pick 1 cup of your favorite dried fruit. Dried cranberrys, craisins, apricots, blueberries, cherrys, whatever you feel. You can also combine 1/2 cup berries with 1/2 cup of your favorite nuts if you're looking for more protein. Peanuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and almonds all work well with this recipe.

I went with dried cranberries

Step 3: Get a can of low-fat sweetened condensed milk. This is your binding agent.

Start by placing your grains onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cook at 350 degrees F for 12 minutes until golden and crispy, stirring around halfway through baking time.

Meanwhile, heat 14 oz of sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan over medium heat, constantly stirring. When the mixture is thin, it's ready.

Grab two corners of the parchment paper and funnel your oats into the saucepan. Add your 8 oz dried berries and/or nuts. Stir to combine.

Place the parchment paper back on the baking sheet. Pour your mixture onto the parchment paper and flatten it out into a rectangle. Lower the heat to 300 degrees F and cook for 20-30 minutes.

Allow to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting into bars. When you're done, you have your sweet and crunchy homemade creation.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Whew, this post has been a long time coming.
Last week, my friends and I booked a table at a new restaurant in town - Isalita. Owned by the same man who started Mani Osteria, Adam Baru, the restaurant features unique Mexican tapas developed by Mani's original chef, Brendan McCall.

In the spirit of restaurant week, the chef had prepared a special 3-course menu for $28 per person. Eager to sample the spicy goodies that this new restaurant had to offer, my friends and I began pouring over the menu. 
While we waited, we munched on creamy guacamole, fresh pico de gallo, and unlimited homemade chips. 

Needless to say, giving us unlimited chips was a mistake. I easily could have filled up just on those, and almost did, to be completely honest. I have a tortilla and guacamole problem. If it's in front of me, I eat it!

Fortunately for my chip problem, our entrees came out soon. Joanna and I both started with the salad, a crispy, tangy, and fresh dish that took me by surprise due to its taste and size.

Since Isalita is a tapas style restaurant, most of their dishes are quite small portions meant for sharing with the table. This salad easily could have filled me up on its own, though, and Joanna and I both ended up only eating half of ours so we could save room for our second and third courses.

Mallory got adorable little chorizo sopes. So cute and pretty!

For the second round, Joanna and I each went for enchiladas. Hers was a traditional chicken and cheese, topped with sour cream and radishes. 

I took a leap of faith and went for the enchilada verdea - a delicious and melty tortilla filled with lump crab meat, shrimp, cheese, and salsa verde.

I didn't take any pictures of the filling, because it was honestly a gooey mess, but I can say it was delicious and very unique. As a seafood lover, I'm fond of any shellfish, crab, or shrimp dish, but I'm used to them being prepared in a simpler European style. The salsa verde and jalapeno spices took these flavors to a whole new level, and I would come back again just to get these.

Mallory, who seems to have a knack for picking the most attractive food on the menu, got these fresh and colorful fish tacos for her second course. Crispy battered white fish in a small tortilla topped with a sprinkling of radishes and delicately draping avocado - yum!

I'm a sucker for avocado, so these are another dish I'd definitely come back for.

Finally, the dessert, which we were all completely too full to eat but finished anyway (of course).

This tres leches cake was a synthesis of unique but complimenting flavors, including spongey cake, coconut, three different milks, mango, and kiwi. I'm usually a chocolate desserts-only kind of girl, but even I bought into this cake due to its delicate preparation.

All in all, Isalita is the most unique Mexican restaurant in the area. Be aware that portions are small and meant for sharing, so don't come here looking for a quick, enormous, and cheap mexican meal. Also, appearances can be deceiving. Despite the size of the dishes my friends and I were served, we ended up not being able to finish 5 out of the 6 entrees we ordered due to their richness. Don't be afraid to start small, because many of these (like my enchilada) are incredibly creamy and filling. Definitely a good place to head to if you and your friends want to enjoy some drinks and tacos at the bar.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Attention U of M students and Ann Arbor residents:
I've found your new lunch spot.
Today, Mallory and I kicked off Restaurant Week in AA by going to a place we've passed hundreds of times, but never mustered up the courage to go in. Mercy's, the restaurant sitting underneath the Bell Tower Hotel across the street from the MLB and Hill Auditorium.
Literally directly behind the numerous State St restaurants, but ten times classier and ten times tastier.
While we expected the inside to be as antique and ornate as the hotel, the interior was surprisingly modern and cozy.

The restaurant week special offers a sampling of large lunch plates for just $7.50 each. 
Let me repeat: $7.50 each.
(Also, if you come for lunch not during restaurant week, most plates are around  $7-$12, so comparable to most nearby eateries)
We scanned the menu and both decided on the same thing: fish and chips with garlic aoli.

Thick and juicy cod fillets in crispy batter with an enormous side of sweet potato chips. This meal is the definition of a bargain.

We ended the meal with smiles and plans to come back next week to try another lunch special - fried chicken on a waffle with a maple/sherry reduction. YUM!
And, of course, we had to take a Starbucks break for some afternoon coffee to warm up by the fireplace while all the delicious food we ate digested.

If you have class near North Quad, the MLB, or even the buildings on the North edge of the Diag, I IMPLORE you to try Mercy's for lunch this week and take advantage of this great deal!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off

On Friday, I was chilling at my boyfriend's house, browsing the internet, and decided to search downtown Kalamazoo's website to see if there were any events going on that weekend.
And boy did I hit the jackpot. That Saturday was the ending of Kalamazoo Beer Week, the beginning of Kalamazoo Restaurant Week, and the day of the annual Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off.

Can you say YES PLEASE??
What intrigued me most out of all three was the Chili Cook-Off. I'd never been to one before, and Kalamazoo's is massive. From 11:30-1:30, 35 locations downtown, some retail and some restaurants, would be serving up 2 oz servings of their most decadent and delicious chili and vying for first prize.
If you do the math, that's 70 oz of chili.
And according to my calculations, that was where I needed to be on Saturday.
So my boyfriend and I headed downtown and started our trek through the city.
The coordinators were nice enough to hand out these Chili Passports so that participants could find their way to all participating locations.

We started out on Kalamazoo Mall at Sticks and Stones.

The chili was mild and beefy. Good, but I was hungry for more.
So we moved across the street to Baird, whose lengthy line evidenced a tasty sample.

Their white bean and turkey chili was creamy, flavorful, and topped with cheese. What's not to love?
Next, we walked down aways and happened upon Taco Bob's. I was eager to see what kinds of spicy robust flavors a mexican restaurant would put in their chili, so we got in line.

After the first bite, I knew I'd underestimated Taco Bob's. This was easily the spiciest chili I've ever eaten. I found a few jalapeno seeds floating in my cup, so I think I know why....
While some more adventurous eaters gobbled up the chili, the trash can next to Taco Bob's was full of uneaten chili cups, so I'm assuming that most people found it too spicy to finish.
Next door, Garden Gate Cafe had a lengthy line, so we popped in to see what all the fuss was about.

I tried the veggie chili, which was naturally sweetened by corn and a lighter alternative to heavy meat chili.
At that point, I went on a hunt to find Nature Connection, the retail store that had dominated the cook-off by placing nearly every year. I wanted to see what made their recipe so special.

This place definitely had the most options, featuring a turkey chili, a beef chili, and a vegan chili (with vegan cheese as a topping).



I can say this much for Nature Connection, it was certainly a flavor I'd never tasted before in chili. Sweet, but not sugary-sweet. And when I got down to the end of the tasting table, I snuck a peak at their recipe card to see what the secret ingredient was.
An entire bottle of Cherry Republic Michigan Cherry Salsa.
Yup, that'll give it an interesting flavor.
Before I left, however, I walked across the arcade to a restaurant that was serving chili with barely any line.

Ahem, did you say wild boar? As in, a new and exotic flavor?
I'm in.

Needless to say, this chili packed a punch of flavor. Tons of spices, and the boar was the texture of ground beef, but with a much gamey-er flavor.
Out of all the ones I tried, this chili was my personal favorite. 

However, it was not the winner, nor did it place overall (which I believe is a testament to the fact that people need to get over their fears and try new things every once in awhile).
Instead, the winners were as follows:

People's Choice: Nature Connection
Retail:1. Nature Connection2. Tempo Vino Winery
3. Baird
1. Mangia Mangia
2. Zazios
3. The Union Cabaret & Grille

After the event, when I was looking for the winners, I was pleased to discover that the city of Kalamazoo puts together a giant PDF of (most of) the recipes featured during the cook-off.
Literally a foodie's DREAM. Particularly if you've been feeling the chill of this winter weather and been craving some hearty chili, as I have.
If any of these sounded good to you, check out the booklet online here.
I have plans to make Baird's white turkey chili later this week!

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