Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Upside-Down Pizza Casserole

This morning before leaving for work, I moved a package of ground turkey from the freezer to the fridge with hopes of making something with it for dinner.  The apartment didn't see me again until 6 pm, when I walked in the door with no good ideas as to what to make for dinner and certainly no ingredients to help.

Now what?

Consult with the trusty Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, of course!  I opened the checkered wonder to the section on ground meat and found a recipe for an Upside-Down Pizza Casserole, perfect.  Bryce and I ran to the store for the rest of the ingredients: 
  • 15 oz can of tomato sauce - splurging 20 cents for the organic kind
  • 4 oz can of sliced mushrooms - which I've never, ever bought before!
  • Sliced, pitted ripe olives - I used a small can full, the recipe called for 1/4 cup
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 package of refrigerated biscuits - our store only had the JUMBOs, score!
We used the ground turkey instead of ground beef and, since I can't leave well enough alone, I added a few other ingredients to my liking:
  • 1/3 of an onion, chopped 
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 egg white - for the egg wash

Our oven heats up pretty quickly so I started in the pan with a bit of EVOO (that's not trademarked by Rachel Ray, is it!?), the garlic, and onion and softened those for a few minutes while I opened all of the cans and drained the 'shrooms and olives.  Next I added the ground turkey, salt, and pepper and cooked it until it was perfectly browned.  There wasn't any fat to drain since the turkey was lean so I skipped that step, but does that mean the meat is from skinny turkeys?!  Anyways...  It's about time to turn that oven to 400 to preheat, isn't it?

I added the sauce...and the mushrooms...and the olives!   

Once that was well combined and heated through it was transferred to a 2 quart baking dish and topped with mozzarella cheese.

The fun part was flattening, stretching, and pulling the dough for topping the upside-down pizza!  The leftover dough couldn't be thrown away, so I filled all the nooks and crannies.  I'm not too familiar with the biscuits, but I think those yellow specs are butter flavor - gross and delicious.  Finally, I brushed the egg wash on top of the "crust" and put 'er in the oven.  

The timer was set for 15 minutes, although I took the casserole out early because the smaller pieces of dough were turning golden brown quickly!  This made the biscuits turn out wonderfully.  If I had only one word to describe them, it would be BUTTERY.  The tops were flaky but the bottom was still slightly doughy and gooey and so perfect!  

The cheese stuck to the dough and the hot "pizza toppings" were saucy and very good.  The combination of the sauce, meat, mushrooms, and olives with a large piece of biscuit and stringy cheese all around the fork made for a perfect bite.  My favorite right-side-up pizza toppings are mushrooms and black olives, anyway!

My first instinct told me to add pepperoni to this recipe and I wish that I had, it needed a little added kick.  This recipe is really easy and would be perfect for a week night dinner for a family with young kids... or a bunch of 20-somethings after a long night out :)  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Passport to Luxury

On Friday night I was lucky enough to be invited to "Passport to Luxury", an event at Ala Moana Mall  as part of its Shop-a-Le`a celebration.  

Let's back up and talk about that sentence: 
  • Ala Moana is a fabulous, gigantic (4 level), open-air mall here in Honolulu.  Here's how their website describes it:  "Ala Moana Center is a premier international and local shopping destination with over 290 shops and restaurants. From beachwear to high fashion, casual dining to fine dining, you'll find everything at Ala Moana Center, all in a beautiful open-air setting filled with lush tropical landscaping and koi ponds".  This is a shopping playground, you can easily shop, entertain yourself, eat and drink the day away,  while simultaneously draining your wallet and not realizing the damage you've done until weeks later when the credit card bills arrive, or so I've heard :)  
Here's a photo of one of the koi ponds and some shops

Friday, March 25, 2011

Favorite: Buff Chix Dip

Buffalo chicken dip and I began our red-hot romance back in 2007.  I distinctly remember the first time we met, it was at a Saint Patrick's Day party at my cousin's friends house.  It was love at first, fiery bite.  

Bryce is also a big fan of this dip and enjoys binging on the good stuff every time he's around my Mom, since she cooks to order!  No lie, as soon as plane tickets are purchased Carol asks "Are you craving anything?"  Italian Mothers show their love through food :)  Back to the dip... on Bryce's first visit to Pittsburgh he ate Buff Chix Dip, and only that, for dinner.  My parents recently visited us here in Hawaii and my Mom left a batch in our fridge.  

On one particular night Bryce stumbled into our apartment after having a bit too much fun out on the town.  I could hear the fridge opening and closing, the microwave beeping, drawers slamming, utensils clanking, and Bryce causing a general ruckus.  I woke up and had to come into the kitchen to see what he was up to.  He was scooping the dip out of the large pot in the fridge and into a small tupperware, then reheating that in the microwave, and finally, violently shoveling the dip into his mouth with tortilla chips.  I watched him drunkely put a tupperware full of chips (just chips) into the fridge and call it a night on the couch.  Ahh... the joys of college life!  The next morning I was watching TV from the living room floor while he slept on the couch.  He woke up in a cheerful mood and started chatting immediately, telling me that he was starving and hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before!  Before I could even open my mouth to tell him about his drunken feast - I saw it... the buffalo chicken dip on his foot!  It was all the proof he needed to believe my story, although we opened the fridge to see the chilled chips in the tupperware container and also found a spoon dropped into the pot of dip!  We then spent the rest of the morning laughing, and probably eating more dip... 

So when Bryce's birthday rolled around just this week, BCD was a must on the party food list.  Believe it or not I actually didn't have a recipe for the stuff.  I found one here, then combined it with my Mom's recipe, and doubled the quantity.

Drain 4 (10 oz) cans of chicken and put into a large pan over medium heat.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Potato Fries for Beer Drinkers

Monday is back again.  How does it creep up so quickly week after week?  Friday afternoon rolls around, work ends, I blink, and it's Monday morning again.   Today I packed my lunch and ate it at my desk, but still needed to get out of the office for a bit.  With Macy's and Ross right across the street, I can do some major retail damage on "just a break from the office", but today I needed a few things at Long's, our local drug store.  That's when this unique treat caught my eye!  They're potato fries - ever heard of them?  Not I!

As the label proudly professes, they're selected specifically for a beer drinkers enjoyment.  So I grabbed a six pack and went back to work... just kidding!  

The packaging sure is fun!  Is that Big Bird chasing a detective, who's chasing a teenager, who's chasing a man in a tie wearing tennis shoes?!

They're tomato ketchup flavored, which is good with me.  Have you ever tried ketchup on your chips?  I highly recommend it.

Here they are...

Before we dive right into the description, let me tell you that I gave up french fries for Lent.  Of course, this thought didn't cross my mind until I was ready to take a bite.  My office roomie is also Catholic so I traded her a Potato Fry for her opinion on the matter.  We agreed that they are not actually "french fries" since they're dried, crunchy, and sold in a bag in the drug store, they're more like chips.  God won't be mad at me unless I break my promise of not eating potatoes that have been properly cut, fried in greasy fat, and highly salted.  

That being said, these odd little "fries" are good!  They're not hollow, as I expected them to be, but solid through.  They have a crinkle cut-like exterior, does that make sense?  The flavoring does indeed taste like ketchup in a very good way.  They're not too messy on your fingers, like Cheetos or Doritos.  
As we must do in Hawaii, I asked myself "Where in the world (literally) are Potato Fries from"?  My guess was Japan... (annoying buzzer sound) wrong!  They're from the Philippines.  After a little online research I've learned that there are other flavors: Plain Salted and Cheese Flavor.  The brand, Oishi, even has a facebook page!  None of which is in English :)

Let me know if you've heard of, or tried, these lovely little snacks, provided that you haven't given them up for Lent :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Brookie's Cookies

When I met Bryce, John was his wing man.  Those two guys are best buds.  A few months after I joined the group, it was brought to my attention that John had a "special lady friend" who was coming to visit him for a week or so.  That was all the explanation I got.  

So this "special lady friend" showed up and cooked dinner for any and everyone who lived or pretended to live at the boys apartment.  Any hesitation one may have had about this "special lady friend" immediately went out the window when she introduced us to the most insane dessert known to man, banana boats.  (Mean girl translation = I thought I wasn't going to like her at all, but I ate my words along with the banana boat and immediately developed feelings of love toward said "special lady friend"!)  If you haven't experienced a banana boat make one immediately: take a banana, slice down the top lengthwise, then fill that space with peanut butter and chocolate chips.  Place it on a grill, or in the oven, until melted to perfection, DEVOUR the gooey, chocolatey peanut-buttery, yummy insides with a spoon. 

John's "special lady friend" is indeed Brooke, his high school sweetheart and a major foodie.  She is a GREAT cook and and even better baker with a serious love for real butter and bacon.  Just a few months after her visit she moved to Hawaii to be with John, but ended up with Bryce and I, too!  The four of us began spending every day together and soon became a love square, you know and hate these people: two couples who spend entirely too much time together and are extremely annoying to any outsider!  

John and Brooke are two of the greatest people I know and my very, very good friends, Bryce will surely say the same about them.  They later got the dumb idea to leave Hawaii to go to grad school... in Wisconsin!  We miss them dearly and our life hasn't been the same since they left.  Although I have to admit, I did lose several pounds once Brooke stopped cooking my dinners!

Last year those crazy love birds got engaged!  It was around that same time that I discovered that having a "cookie table" is NOT a universal tradition.  My coworkers here in Hawaii, who are from all over the United States, had no idea what a cookie table was.  Do you know what happens if you google "wedding cookie table"?  You get a New York Times article about the Pittsburgh tradition.  HELLOOOOOOO!

"What is a cookie table?"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

Back in January, I turned 25.  One quarter of a century.  I consider this the first "big" adult birthday.  21 is, of course, a milestone, but everyone's too drunk to remember!  Four years later 25 comes along.  I was ready for it and I'm quite happy with my situation at 25!  I made a promise to myself to finally take a trip to Italy in celebration of the big 2-5 and Bryce and I are planning to go in November :)

I'm still getting used to warm weather birthdays, which is a great improvement from shoveling snow and wearing long John's on your birthday!  This year, I was lucky enough to have my parents and my cousin Dana in Hawaii to celebrate with me.  January is also "birthday month" for my Mom and for Dana, so we all celebrated together!  (Don't ask me what it is about March that makes the magic happen in our family!?!?!)  Anyway...  we threw a big party and I decided to make our cake.
I found this recipe for Heavenly Candy Bar Cake and it looked great!  Since baking typically ends up in disaster and tears for me, I followed the recipe closely.  I did, however, cut back on the amount of candy bars used, only because we didn't buy enough!

Heavenly Candy Bar Cake:

Melt 9 fun-size or 21 mini candy bars (I used Snickers) and 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan for 5 minutes, stirring until smooth, then set aside.

Beat 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of butter (the recipe called for shortening, but I used butter) with your fancy new mixer for 3 minutes, or until well blended.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, until blended.

Combine 2.5 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt.  Stir together buttermilk and baking soda.  Gradually add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  (These are the kind of rules I find annoying and unnecessary while baking, what if I DON'T end with flour mixture?! HUH?)  

Finally, stir in melted candy bar & butter mixture and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, then pour batter into cake pan.  I used 2 square pans which ended up not being the same size!  I had to trim one cake down, who wouldn't like their rough edges trimmed off,  plus I got to have cake for breakfast since there were little pieces leftover.

Into the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Time to make the frosting:  Chocolate-Marshmallow Frosting.  I won't go into detail here because I majorly, seriously, severely screwed up this frosting!  It ended up being a clumpy mess in a water bath.  Bryce was running to the store for ice and got some Duncan-Hines chocolate icing, and it was, literally, the icing on the cake!

This cake was true to it's name, Heavenly!  The taste was pure bliss and it was so heavy and dense I'm sure a few slices and you'd be meeting your maker after the ticker stopped tickin'!  The website says the recipe is from Southern Living and I believe it.  Paula Deen would love this cake, y'all!  

The little pieces of candy bar on top make it adorable!

I was turning 25, Dana 35, and my Mom "45" but we cut corners to fit all the candles = 2,345!

A week later, on my actual birthday, my parents and Bryce surprised me with this Steelers cake!  It was perfect since we had, and won, a big playoff game that day!  I think it's safe to say that it's my favorite birthday cake ever :)

Our happy crew after the Steelers WIN!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami Food

As you may have heard, Hawaii was under a tsunami warning from about 8 pm last night until 7:30 am today.  Thankfully, we don't live in an area that needed to be evacuated.  Everyone was instructed to stay off of the roads unless they NEEDED to evacuate, stock up on food or emergency supplies. 

Bryce wasn't home so I did a scan of the apartment.  We had: candles and lighters, plus 2 flash lights, in case the power went out; plenty of water; and food, although it needed to be cooked!  I certainly didn't need to go anywhere. 

Since we Italians believe that food makes everything better, I did what I could to prepare for the worst, while Praying for the best:
  • Loaded up on ice cubes and homemade ice packs (tupperware containers filled with water and frozen) and cleaned out the cooler, in case the power went out to ensure we'd have some food that wouldn't spoil.   
  • Filled the brita, water bottles, and a thermos with water so we wouldn't have to sustain ourselves on wine and vodka cranberries alone!  
  • Cooked a whole box of whole wheat spaghetti.
  • Hard boiled some eggs.
  • Made a batch of brown rice.
  • Baked potato wedges with seasoning salt and paprika (yum!) in the oven.
  • Brewed a whole pot of coffee - YES, Bryce, it's totally necessary in an emergency!
I was up until about midnight doing all these things, then finally went to bed.  I woke up again at 3 am when all the commotion was supposed to happen.  After watching the news, and the water slowly creep up the beach then fall back beyond the reef, for an hour I'd had enough "excitement" and hit the hay once more.  When I woke up this morning I'd learned that there was minimal damage here on Oahu and that I was to report to work at 8:30, as always! 

Needless to say, I packed my lunch today!  I won't have to cook for the rest of the weekend :) 

Surely, my "prepare for the tsunami" plan could have been better, but it made me feel OK!  I think it's still smarter than waiting in line for an hour to fuel up my car on an island.  If something would happen, we'd have no place to drive to anyway, but we would get hungry!

Have a fantastic day - stay away from the ocean!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cupid's Holiday Feast

Either you love Valentine's Day or you HATE it, there is no in-between.  I love Valentine's Day!  Believe it or not, we didn't eat chocolate covered strawberries for dinner this year.  We had a grand feast!

Once we decided to have dinner at home, my first suggestion was crab legs and Bryce's was steak.  Totally typical of us - I want something indulgent, expensive, and a tad over the top and he wants MEAT, so we had both!  We didn't use any recipes, although I did manage to burn my arm on our oven!  Honestly, who designs a house with the oven in the corner of the room backed up against another appliance?  I have to open the oven and stand next to the open door to remove the food...

I made the crab legs in the oven with garlic-rosemary butter.  Bryce used one of our favorite rubs from Williams Sonoma on the steaks and grilled them on the stove.  We also had champagne, asparagus, and white cheddar mashed potatoes!

Our table was decorated quite nicely.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Movie Food

No, I'm not talking about popcorn and Junior Mints!  I just discovered this awesome website "Movie Recipes: What you watch is what we cook".  Like they say, they cook all those beautiful on-screen foods and put them on their website, with the recipe, by movie.  It's pretty cool!  Of course, my favorite so far is the Godfather spaghetti sauce.  Because you  never know, you could have to cook for 20, 30 guys some day!


I'll definitely have to try this recipe, while watching the Godfather - my favorite movie.  (I own the box set of the trilogy but recently bought parts I and II on blu-ray!)  My only question to movie recipes is this "Where's the cannoli?"!