Friday, August 30, 2013

Pizza Sandwiches

I love pizza, and by that I mainly mean that I love cheese and bread.  Well, for a sandwich version, take the classics of mozzarella and pepperoni and add a few extras.  Rye bread is one of my favorites, so that's what I use here, but you could substitute whole wheat, white or you favorite Italian bread.  If you want to cut down on grease, you can also use turkey versions of the meat, and it'll taste just as good.  For the perfect side dish, I suggest a simple salad.

Pizza Sandwiches

Servings: 2 (makes 2 Sandwiches, or 4 half-sandwiches)


4 slices rye bread
4 slices salami
32 slices pepperoni
2 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
24 peperoncini slices
Pam butter flavor spray
spray butter (or butter)


Heat griddle or frying pan to medium and cook the salami until it's browned on each side.

Meanwhile, begin to assemble the sandwiches.  Spray one side of each slice of bread with spray butter (or spread lightly with regular butter).  The buttered sides will be the outside of the sandwiches.  Arrange 8 slices of pepperoni on a non-buttered side of 2 of the slices of bread (buttered side facing down).  Once the salami is browned, put 2 slices of salami on top of the pepperoni on each sandwich and then layer each sandwich as follows: 1/2 ounce cheese, 12 peperoncini slices, 1/2 ounce cheese, 8 slices pepperoni, and top with the remaining bread (butter side facing up, the outside of the sandwich).

Heat the griddle or frying pan back to medium, spray with Pam, and cook the sandwiches until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted.  Be careful when flipping the sandwiches over so that no pepperoni or peperoncinis slip out of the bread.

Cut each sandwich diagonally and plate.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Until recently, I didn't like sweet potatoes.  I was the person who passed on the sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving.  They always seemed too sweet to me.  I think it was this past Thanksgiving that I decided to give sweet potatoes one more chance, and I found that if I thought of them more like dessert than potatoes, I actually did like them.  I just had to get my mind to file them under the category I used for pumpkin pie.

Now I love sweet potato fries.  I don't know that I prefer them to regular fries, but they're just as good in their own dessert-like sweet way.  They're also just as easy to make.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries 


1 and 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slice sweet potatoes into 1/4 inch long strips.  You can peel them, but it's not necessary.  Put the sweet potato strips in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil to coat.  Sprinkle with TexJoy and toss again.

Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and spread the fries in a single layer on top of the parchment paper.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the fries from the oven and flip them over so that they cook evenly.  Sprinkle with more TexJoy and return them to the oven for 10 more minutes.

Happy eating!

Gaucho Grill

Our New Year's Resolution for the year was to eat at a restaurant in the L.A. area that we'd never eaten at before at least once a month.  This sounds easier than it really least for us.  So far we're on track, but we usually don't get around to trying somewhere new until the end of the month.  Once again, we had reached the last week of the month and hadn't tried a new restaurant yet, so last night we decided to correct that.

We found a Groupon for Gaucho Grill in Woodland Hills.  The menu looked varied, and the reviews were okay, so we decided to give it a try.

We arrived around 7pm, and the restaurant only had half a dozen or so tables filled.  We were told we could sit wherever we wanted.  We chose a table near the windows.  Actually, they're doors, but they looked like windows.  We looked over the menu.  My husband was considering one of the sandwiches, and I was torn between a couple salads, but in the end we decided to order the Parrillada, which was intended to be shared by 2 people.  It comes with skirt steak, New York strip, half a chicken on the bone, chorizo, and sweetbreads which are all served on a hot grill.  It also comes with two sides, mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini.  Our waiter said we could substitute any other sides for the included sides if we wanted, but we decided to stick to the potatoes and zucchini.

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, we were given a bread basket and chimichurri sauce.  There were slices of both white and wheat bread in the bread basket.  I chose a slice of wheat and spread it with the chimichurri sauce.  The bread was fine.  It was soft and fluffy.  I think I was expecting something more along the lines of flatbread or pita bread, but it was good.  The chimichurri sauce just tasted like olive oil to me.  I like a lot of flavor, and I didn't taste much.  I like the chimichurri sauce my husband and I make much better.  It's a pretty simple but incredibly flavorful recipe I found in Sunset magazine.  (Click here for our chimichurri recipe.)

The interior of the restaurant seems a little confused.  It's pretty dimly lit and leaning towards the rustic and romantic side, except that there are several TVs at one end, and the ceiling are really high with exposed ventilation, which gives it an industrial feel.  It was also really cold inside.  I usually bring a jacket with me in case there's strong air conditioning, but even with my jacket on, I was cold.

My husband noticed plates of food being brought outside, so we asked if we could move to a table outside.  There were plenty of empty tables, so our request was accommodated without a problem.  I liked it out there better.  It's too bad their location is right next to the entrance of a shopping center, but there were palm trees and flowers along the edge of the patio which improved the view.  The music was piped outside.  It sounded a little like elevator music, but it was better than no music at all.  Between that and the traffic, it was kind of hard to hold a conversation.

Once our food arrived, we were too busy eating to talk anyway.  I tasted everything before adding any extra seasoning to it, and I thought it all tasted really bland.  A little salt and pepper helped immensely.  I liked the skirt steak and the New York strip the best.  We ordered them cooked medium, and they were perfect, no pink but perfectly tender.  The chicken was okay, but a little bland.  I didn't like the chorizo or the sweetbreads.  They were way too greasy.  The mashed potatoes were cold by the time I got around to tasting them.  They were okay, but once again, bland.  My favorite part of the meal was the grilled zucchini.  It was served on the grill under all the meat, so it had a nice flavor.  It makes me think I need to start grilling zucchini at home.

In short, everything is fine, and the meat is cooked well, but I didn't find anything exceptionally great.  I don't think we'll return.  I'd prefer just to make chimichurri at home with grilled zucchini and skirt steak.

Happy eating!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Miguel's - Just Can't Get Enough!

My husband and I bookended our trip to Coronado, CA by eating at Miguel's.  It was the only restaurant where we ate while we were there.  It's just that good!  To read about the visit to Miguel's when we first arrived, you can click here.

Of course the chips and jalapeno white sauce were incredible.  We tried not to overdo it on those since we wanted to be hungry enough for our food.  We had considered going there and just ordering drinks and dessert.  We figured that along with the chips and white sauce, that'd be all we need.  However, once we got there, we wanted to order entrees.

We started with our drink order.  My husband ordered Miguel's Mango-Mint Tea.  It was iced tea with mango syrup and fresh mint.  It had a light mango flavor, but we both decided that we liked the Passion Fruit Iced Tea (which my husband had ordered last time) better.

I decided to try the Pacific Breeze Cooler which contained raspberry vodka, lemonade, a splash of soda and raspberry garnish.  I was worried that it was going to be too sweet or too strong, but I really liked it.  Some people would probably call it watered down (it came in a glass with a lot of ice), but I thought it was refreshing and a nice light drink for a summer lunch.  I liked it better than the Sangria (which I had last time), and I would definitely order it again.

On to our entrees.  My husband ordered Combo #4 which comes with a chicken burrito and your choice of either a chicken, beef or fish taco.  He went with the fish taco.  It usually comes with a corn tortilla, but he requested a flour tortilla instead, and they granted that request no problem.  We both prefer flour tortillas unless the tortilla is fried.  The fish was fried.  I didn't taste it, but it looked really good.  The burrito looked like a large enchilada, so it was smaller than if you just ordered a burrito.  It was covered with cheese and ranchero sauce.  The meal also came with rice and beans.  One thing I particularly like about the burritos at Miguel's is that they only contain meat.  Some restaurants use rice and beans for filler and hardly include any meat.  My husband's only comment for improvement was that he'd like cheese inside the burrito instead of just on top of it.

I ordered the Fiesta Salad.  If you read my post about eating at Miguel's earlier in the week (which you can read by clicking here), you know how much I liked the Seafood Fiesta Salad.  That special was no longer available this time, so I went with the regular Fiesta Salad with carne asada.  I also requested to have the chipotle ranch dressing on the side.  The salad came in a huge tostada shell, which I hardly touched.  I prefer the salty chips to the greasy shell, but the shell is nice for presentation.  It was loaded with mixed greens, black beans, and roasted corn.  It was topped with carne asada, salsa fresca and guacamole.  I gave most of the guac to my husband.  I think guac's okay.  He thinks it's great.  I loved how the juice from the meat added flavor to the entire salad.  I didn't even use the dressing.  I tasted it, and it's good, but the salad didn't need any additional flavor.  It tasted so fresh and delicious.  I think this salad is going to be my new usual.  You can call it getting stuck in a rut if you want to, but once I find something I love at a restaurant, I tend to stick with it.

We were too full for dessert.  The Mini Chimis will have to wait until the next time we visit Coronado, which will be in about a month.  I can't wait!

Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


My favorite place to visit within driving distance of L.A. is San Diego, or more specifically, Coronado Island.  My husband and I come down here at least once a year.  Thanks to my husband's Reserve status in the Air Force, we always stay on the North Island Naval Base.

On our first trip down here (many years ago), we didn't know where to go for dinner, so we ended up driving down the main drag towards the Hotel Del Coronado.  We found a parking spot a couple blocks away and started looking at restaurant menus as we walked.  We ended up at Miguel's, and our tradition ever since is that we eat at Miguel's the day we arrive on Coronado Island.

I love Miguel's.  They have indoor seating, but we always sit on the patio, no matter what time of year it is.  Gotta love Southern California's weather.  If it's chilly, they turn on the heat lamps.  We've been there many times for dinner on a weekend and had to wait for a table, but they have chips and salsa for you to snack on while you wait for your table.  We also enjoy peeking in the gift shops while we wait.

Today, we arrived on Coronado Island around 1pm, and we couldn't check into our room until 3pm.  It was perfect timing to have lunch at Miguel's!  A car was leaving a parking spot right next to the restaurant at just the right time for us to take their spot.  What luck!  I fed the meter a quarter, which gave us an hour.  Cheapest meter ever!  We gave it another 10 cents, which gave us 20some more minutes.  There wasn't a wait.  We were seated right away on the patio.

It had been a long car ride, so I headed over to the Ladies' room before looking at the menu.  I had never been inside their Ladies' room before, and it was nice and clean.  The sinks and faucets were pretty cool.  I don't have a picture, but I'd never seen a faucet like those before.  The door also opens out, which I always like.  Then you don't need to use a paper towel to keep your hands clean when exiting; just push it open with your foot.

By the time I returned to the table, chips and salsa were waiting for us, and the jalapeno white sauce arrived shortly thereafter.  I really can't say enough about this jalapeno white sauce.  It's the reason my husband and I love Miguel's so much.  I've never had anything like it anywhere else.  I'm sure it's filled with cream and butter, but it's so delicious.

While we looked over the menu, the waiter took our drink order.  My husband had Passion Fruit Iced Tea.  Ever since Maui, we've been a little obsessed with passion fruit.  The tea came in a glass with the passion fruit on the bottom and the tea on top.  There was a spoon inside to stir it together.  My husband drank his first glass without stirring.  He stirred the refill and announced that it was even better.  I tasted both.  It was really good.  I don't like tea.  I usually only drink tea when I'm sick, but I could drink this.  In fact, I actually liked it.  That's saying a lot.

I ordered Miguel's White Peach Sangria which consisted of white zinfandel with peach brandy, pineapple juice and a splash of soda.  It had a really nice, light peach flavor.  I'd order it again.  Miguel's had 3 types of sangria on their menu, and they all sounded really good.  I tend to like white wine more than red wine, and the other two sangrias contained red wine.  That's why I chose the white peach sangria.  I may have to try the others sometime soon.

Usually, my husband and I share a meal when we eat at Miguel's because we get pretty full from eating chips and white sauce, but today, we decided to order two meals.  Our hotel has a kitchen, so we could totally handle leftovers.

One of the specials caught my eye, the Seafood Fiesta Salad.  It's shrimp, swordfish and scallops sauteed with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes over Miguel's classic fiesta salad, which consists of mixed greens, black beans and roasted corn.  It's served in a crispy flour tortilla shell and topped with salsa fresca and guacamole.  It came with chipotle ranch dressing, which I requested on the side.

I loved the salad.  When visiting San Digeo, I usually want to eat seafood and Mexican food.  This meal accomplished both.  The seafood had a wonderful smokey flavor.  I tried eating it with the dressing, and I tried eating it with the white sauce, but in the end, I ate it without either one.  It's rare to find a salad that's so good it actually tastes better without dressing, and if you don't eat the dressing or the tortilla shell, it's actually healthy.  I didn't think I'd be able to finish it, but it was good to the last piece of lettuce.  I only ate one small piece of the shell and decided that I actually like the tortilla chips better.  The shell was pretty greasy, but if you like greasy shells, this is for you.  If not (like me), it's still worth ordering this salad.  It's so delicious! Unfortunately, it's not on their main menu (it was just a special), but I wish it were!  I'm sure their classic Fiesta Salad (which is on the menu) is really good as well.  It's topped with grilled pollo asada instead of seafood.  That's probably what I'll order when the seafood version isn't available.

My husband ordered the Carne Asada Burrito which consisted of grilled marinated steak sauteed with salsa fresca and rolled into a flour tortilla.  It was topped with enchilada sauce, cheese and guacamole.  It was served with rice and beans.  He ordered the burrito "chimi-style," which basically means the burrito is fried and crispy.  There's a chimichanga on the menu, so I asked my husband what the difference was between ordering the chimichanga or ordering the burrito chimi-style.  Basically, it has to do with fillings.  This burrito was filled with steak, but the chimichanga is filled with either shredded beef or chicken.  My husband didn't think it was the best burrito he'd ever had, but he did enjoy it and would order it again.  All I know is that I was only half-way finished eating my salad, my my husband's plate with practically licked clean.  I think he liked it.  Then he moved back to eating chips and white sauce.

We asked to see a dessert menu just to know what was available.  We were too full to be able to handle dessert.  If we did order dessert, I thought the Dulce Del Leche Mini Chimis sounded the most unique.  The menu description was: a crispy flour tortilla filled with ripe bananas and caramel sauce, rolled in cinnamon and sugar and topped with vanilla ice-cream.  Yum!  No picture, because, like I said, we weren't hungry enough to order dessert.  We may stop back and try it in the next couple days though.

When we were driving down to Coronado Island, I asked my husband what he wanted to do while we were here, and he said, "eat at Miguel's at least once."  I'm glad we ate their this afternoon, as is tradition.  It's been awhile since I had such an amazing meal at a restaurant.  I usually don't like to order things at restaurants that I think I can make (better/cheaper) at home.  Oh, the negative side of knowing how to cook.  Well, everything we had to eat (and drink) today was something we've never made at home, and it was all delicious.

Happy eating!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Multi-Grain Waffles

Updated 11/21/13

2 waffle quarters with a sliced banana topped with cinnamon & syrup
One of my first posts was about multi-grain waffles.  You can view the original post here:

I still love this waffle recipe, which I got from Eating Well:

Since my first batch of waffles, I've kicked them up with the addition of a few of my favorite extracts.  I make the Eating Well recipe as described, but I add 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon almond extract and 1 teaspoon coconut extract.  My husband's not a fan of coconut flakes, but he likes the flavor of these waffles.  I think they taste like doughnuts.  The little bit of extra extract adds so much!  I'm always amazed that they contain oatmeal and cornmeal.  I can't even taste it.  What I can taste is a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, and my trio of extracts (vanilla, almond, and coconut).  The waffles have a nice fluffy texture, and they're easy to reheat in the toaster.

Here's my modified version of the Eating Well recipe (extra extracts included):

Multi-Grain Waffles

2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Mix buttermilk and oats in a medium bowl; let stand for 15 minutes.

Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.

Stir eggs, sugar, oil and extracts into the oat mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix with a rubber spatula just until moistened.

Preheat your waffle iron.  If you're using a non-stick waffle iron, you don't need to add any cooking spray; otherwise, spray with Pam Butter Flavor spray. Spoon in enough batter to cover three-fourths of the surface. Cook until waffles are crisp and golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.

When I make these waffles, I usually make a double batch in my Belgium Waffle maker, let them cool, cut them into 4ths and fill freezer bags with them.  The Eating Well recipe says to wrap leftover waffles individually in plastic wrap, but stacking them on top of each other in freezer bags is quicker, easier and keeps them just as fresh.

I just finished making a double batch, which made 11 and a half full Belgian Waffles or 46 waffle quarters.   That makes breakfast for the next few weeks super easy (or the next few days if you have a big family).  One waffle (a 4th of a full Belgium Waffle) fits perfectly in the toaster.

These waffles taste better and are healthier than store bought frozen waffles.  If you're into counting calories, each full waffle only contains 260 calories, or 65 calories per quarter.

For all you busy moms out there, this would make a great quick breakfast for your kids before they head off to school.  You could top the waffles with maple syrup and butter, fresh fruit, or for added protein, you could spread them with peanut butter.  This morning, my husband and I topped our waffles with peaches which we chopped up and heated in the mircowave.

One tip, don't fill your waffle iron all the way with batter.  The batter will spread out a little as it cooks.  Here's a picture to show you about how much I fill my waffle iron.  The results are perfect every time!

It's also easier to get the waffles out of the waffle iron if you have a waffle spatula.  I picked mine up while on vacation in New Orleans last year, but I'm sure you can find them online.  The side with the three prongs makes prying the waffle from the waffle iron super easy.  

Happy eating!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Until a couple years ago, I'd never had Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  Maybe that's odd, but I just never had the opportunity to try it.  No one I knew had ever made it, and I'd never had it at a restaurant.  I love pineapple though, so a couple years ago, when my mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday, I requested Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Is it odd to have your mom make you a birthday cake when you're an adult?  I feel lucky to have a mom you loves to cook and bake...and who takes requests.  She used a recipe she found in a cookbook, and I remember she was worried that the pan was too big which made the cake shorter than expected.  I remember loving the taste though.  Really, that's what it's all about.

Last year my husband and I threw our first luau party.  We always love to cook for our parties, and we love to practice recipes ahead of time to make sure they're party-worthy.  Of course our menu included Kalua Pork and Coconut Rice.  For dessert, I decided to make a Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  I took the easy way out and used the following box mix recipe.

I made the cake exactly as directed, except I melted the butter for the topping in the microwave instead of in a pan, and I baked the cake in a star-shaped cake pan instead of a cast-iron skillet.  I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of the finished cake, but I can't find pictures of it anywhere.  It was really a nice looking cake, and it tasted amazing.  I don't think there could be a better pineapple upside down cake.

I made the "practice" cake right before my birthday, just to make sure it was luau-party-worthy.  It definitely was.  My husband and I went out of town for my birthday last year, and we brought the pineapple upside down cake with us.  One of the highlights was having a big piece of cake for breakfast on my birthday.  Yes, cake for breakfast.  Hey, it was my birthday!  The only picture I have of that cake is the piece I ate on my birthday.  Breakfast doesn't get better than that!

One of the things I love the most about pineapple upside down cake is that you don't have to refrigerate it.  It stays great on the counter and even tastes a little better after it's a couple days old.  Time seems to help all the flavors meld together.  Of course, you can refrigerate it.  I usually prefer my cake cold.  It's just nice to be able to leave the cake setting out during a party without worrying about it spoiling.

Speaking of parties, the cake was a huge hit at our luau party.  We got a lot of compliments on it and requests for the recipe.  It was so easy to make too.  I really love how great the cake turns out with this easy Duncan Hines recipe.

So, a couple days ago, I decided that I was really in the mood for Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  It had been almost a year since I first made it with the recipe indicated above.  Maybe there's something about August that makes me crave pineapple.  Anyway, I was debating about whether to try making it from scratch or to make it the same way I did last year.  Knowing I'd be writing about it in this blog, I was tempted to try to make it from scratch.  It seemed like it'd be more impressive to tell you that that's what I did.  However, I remembered my mom's pineapple upside down cake and how she didn't seem to think that it was very easy to make from scratch.  I decided to take the easy way out.

If you look at the Duncan Hines recipe, it calls for Duncan Hines® Moist Deluxe® Pineapple Supreme Cake Mix.  My husband is in the Air Force reserves, and I'm 99% sure that I found this cake mix at the Commissary at the Air Force base in El Segundo last year.  It was so easy.  It was just there saying "buy me."  We don't live close to the Air Force base, and I didn't have a chance to drive down there yet.  I didn't think I'd need to.  I thought I could just find the cake mix at any 'ol grocery store.  I checked Target.  I checked Ralphs.  I checked Vons.  I checked Food4Less.  No one had it.  It wasn't that they were sold out.  They just didn't carry it.  I decided to check another Target.  No luck.

I read some of the comments on the recipe page, and some people said they used a yellow cake mix instead of the pineapple cake mix.  I decided that I had no other choice.  I bought a yellow cake mix.

Then I went home and did one more search to see if I could buy the pineapple cake mix online.  Yes, you can order it from several different websites, but I also saw that you can buy it at Walmart.  Why hadn't I thought of Walmart?  According to, the pineapple cake mix was in stock at my local store.  I jumped in the car and drove over.  I found the cake mix section and saw where the pineapple cake mix should be, but they didn't have any in stock.  At least they sell it there, but for now, I'm still stuck using a yellow cake mix.

So, I finally decided on a plan.  I'd use the yellow cake mix and substitute pineapple juice for the water called for in the recipe.  I'd melt the butter in the microwave like I did last year, and I'd bake it in my star-shaped cake pan like I did last year.  I think the star-shape is a fun shape for this cake.  Have I mentioned how much I love fun baking pans?  Because I really do love fun baking pans!

Here is my slightly modified version of the Duncan Hines recipe:

Pineapple Upside Down Cake


1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup packed brown sugar (light brown sugar or dark brown sugar will work)
1 20oz can pineapple slices (10 slices)
10 Marachino cherries (one to put inside each pineapple ring...or as many as you want for decoration)

1 box yellow cake mix (any brand) or (if you can find it) Duncan Hines® Moist Deluxe® Pineapple Supreme Cake Mix
1 box (3.4oz) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling (Jello brand)
4 eggs
1 cup pineapple juice (the leftover juice from the can of pineapple slices should work perfectly)
1/2 cup vegetable oil


Preheat your oven to 350.

For the topping, melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl.  Stir in the brown sugar.  Pour into the bottom of a cake pan.  Arrange pineapple slices and Marachino cherries.
For the cake, mix all ingredients with an electric mixer.  Pour slowly and evenly over the fruit in the cake pan.

Bake for 40-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The bigger your cake pan, the quicker the cake will bake.

Invert the cake immediately onto a serving plate, platter, or cookie sheet.  If a pineapple slice or Marachino cherry falls off, just stick it back on the cake.

Let the cake cool completely and then cover it loosely.  You can keep the cake on the counter for a few days or up to a week in the refrigerator.

One thing I particularly love about Pineapple Upside Down Cake is that it doesn't need frosting since the topping (which goes in the bottom of the pan) is basically like frosting (butter and brown sugar).  I love the way the cake tastes with this topping baked into it.  I also love that I don't have to wait for the cake to cool and then attempt to decorate it perfectly with frosting.  I love that basically the first thing you do is decorate the cake by arranging the pineapple and Marachino cherries on top of the butter and brown sugar mixture.

You can arrange the pineapple slices and Marachino cherries however you like.  I tend to think, the more Marachino cherries the better.  I only had a few whole cherries, which I put in the middle of the pineapple slices in the center of the cake.  I had a whole bunch of Marachino cherry halves though (I use them in fruit salads), so I used those everywhere else.  I put them cut-side facing up so that once the cake was baked, they would look like whole cherries.  I think I may actually prefer the cherry halves.

After arranging the pineapple slices in the cake pan, I had just enough pineapple juice left over (1 cup) to mix into the cake instead of water.  I whipped up the yellow cake mix, pineapple juice, pudding, eggs and oil in my stand mixer.  Then I poured it a little at a time evenly over the pineapple/Marachino cherry decoration.  I loved that I could see the topping (butter and brown sugar) oozing up the sides of the pan.  My thought: this is gonna be good!

I put the cake in a preheated 350 degree oven.  My oven tends to cook a little fast, so I set the timer for 50 minutes.  While it was baking, I tasted the little bit of batter that was still stuck to the sides of the mixing bowl.  It tasted good.  I didn't necessarily taste the pineapple juice, but after baking it, the flavors should meld together and taste even better.

I checked the cake at about 30 minutes, and it was already pretty brown.  I stuck a toothpick in to check, and it seemed like it could probably use a few more minutes.  10 minutes later, I took the cake out of the oven.

The hardest part about using a star-shaped cake pan is finding a cake plate big enough to invert the cake onto.  I guess you could use a cookie sheet, but I like to be a little more decorative if possible.  Last year, I discovered that the cake fit perfectly on a deep-dish serving tray that I have.  I have another serving tray that's slightly smaller that I use as a lid/cover once the cake is completely cool.

Inverting the cake always scares me more than anything else.  That's the moment of truth.  I had my husband invert it for me both times I made this cake last year.  This time, my husband wasn't home when the cake came out of the oven, so I got out my trusty deep-dish serving tray and inverted the cake myself.  Be sure to wear oven mitts when you do this step.  You don't want to forget that the cake just came out of the oven.

The cake inverted beautifully.  When I pulled off the cake pan, one pineapple ring was still clinging to the inside of the pan, but I just placed it gently back on top of the cake.  Perfect.  Now the cake is cooling on the counter.

See that little bit of juice at the top of the photo on the right?  That's melted butter and brown sugar. You could wipe it up for better presentation, but I'll end up wiping it up with a piece of cake!  My husband and I are making Kalua Pork and Coconut Rice for dinner, and this cake is dessert. 

This Pineapple Upside Down Cake is super easy to make and is perfect for a luau-themed party or any summer celebration.  If you find a star-shaped cake pan and copy my design, it'd be perfect for any patriotic celebration like Memorial Day or the 4th of July.

For a Spring or Summertime celebration, you can also easily make this cake into a butterfly shape.  Check out this link to my other blog (Pretty Creative Stuff) for directions on how to make this cake shape.  All you need is a round cake pan.

Happy eating!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

IKEA - Meatballs and More...

IKEA Part 1

I know there's been controversy recently regarding the meat in the IKEA meatballs.  I've always loved the meatballs at IKEA, and it is reassuring when you see the following sign posted in their cafe:
My husband and I drove over to the IKEA in Burbank a few days ago mainly to eat meatballs.  We ended up shopping afterwards and spending more than we planned, but that's not the point of this post.

There are several items on the IKEA menu that I find tempting, such as the crepes, the ribs, and the new Spinach Salmon Lasagna, but we always order meatballs.  It's the classic Swedish flavor that keeps us coming back.  The price doesn't hurt either.  For only $5 you get 15 meatballs, a scoop of potatoes, lingonberries and cream sauce.  For only $1 you can add 5 meatballs to any entree.  My husband likes the meatballs so much that he added 5 to his meatball entree.

I'd never expect to like any sort of berries with potatoes and meatballs.  I usually don't like sweet fruit flavor with meat, but this is an exception.   The flavor works so well that I make a point of having lingonberries, potatoes and a meatball in every bite.  I like the lingonberries so much that I buy jars of it at the marketplace so that I can eat it at home.  It's great as a topping on pancakes made from IKEA's pancake mix too (also sold in the cafe).

My husband also got a piece of Almond Cake for dessert.  It had an almond and graham crackerish crust topped with some sort of sweet cream or whipped cream and chocolate.  It's really sweet but not too sweet.  He wasn't disappointed with it, but he said he'd probably try something else next time.








IKEA Part 2

BBQ Baby Back Ribs
Yesterday my husband and I returned in IKEA to pick up some more home decor that we decided we needed.  Of course, we stopped by the cafe again.  Since we had been to IKEA only a few days earlier, we decided to branch out and try something besides the meatballs.  We were feeling adventurous (and hungry) so we ordered 3 meals (one each and one to share) and 2 desserts.

My husband got the BBQ Baby Back Ribs which came with fries and cornbread.  He really, really liked them.  He said that if we were trying to decide where to go for ribs and if the decision were between IKEA and Stonefire Grill, he'd definitely pick IKEA.  (Click here to view my review of Stonefire Grill.)  He said on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being great, Stonefire Grill's ribs were about a 4, and IKEA's ribs were about an 8.  Wow.  He was just rating the ribs based on taste, but for the price (only $7.99), you can't go wrong.  He said that if we were trying to decide where to go to eat to get ribs, and if the choice were between IKEA and Woodranch, it would be a tough choice (based on taste), but based on price, IKEA would probably win.  I have to say that I was surprised just how much he loved the ribs.  He didn't leave a bite for me to taste, so I can't really give my opinion.  My husband's from Texas, so he knows good ribs when he tastes them.  IKEA, I'm impressed.

Organic Mushroom and Cheese Crepes
Saithe Herb Crusted Fish
I got the Organic Mushroom and Cheese Crepes.  The crepes tasted just like they do when I make them from the pancake mix you can buy in the IKEA market.  They were stuffed with mushrooms in a cream sauce.  I didn't really taste cheese.  It tasted kind of like cream of mushroom soup inside crepes.  It wasn't bad.  I'd never think of putting those flavors together, but it was enjoyable.  I'd get them again.  They're only $2.99.  It's a nice light lunch.

We wanted to share the Salmon Lasagna, but they were all out, so we shared the Saithe Herb Crusted Fish, which came with mashed potatoes and carrots.  I don't like carrots, so I didn't taste those, but the potatoes were good; they're the same ones you get with the meatballs.  It was actually kind of weird eating them without the accompanying lingonberry sauce that comes without the meatballs.  The fish was really good.  I don't know that it's better than frozen fish you get at the grocery store and reheat, but I'd get it again.  It was a lightly battered flaky whitefish. 
Chocolate Overload Cake
Swedish Apple Cake with Vanilla Sauce

We shared two desserts.  My favorite was the Chocolate Overload Cake.  I've had it before, and it's amazing.  It has a layer of chocolate cake topped with a layer of chocolate mousse, topped with a layer of chocolate cake, topped with a layer of chocolate mousse, topped with chocolate ganache and chocolate swirls.  It's very rich and definitely satisfies a sweet tooth.  I don't know that I could handle eating more than half of it at a time because it's so sweet.  It's great to share.

We also tried the Swedish Apple Cake with Vanilla Sauce.  It kind of tasted like a cold version of McDonald's apple pie.  I really love apple pie and apple cake, but this wasn't my favorite.  I probably would've liked it more if it had been warm or contained more cinnamon.  It was okay, but if I were going to get dessert next time, I'd stick with the Chocolate Overload Cake.

In short, don't miss eating at Sweden's best international furniture store.  If I lived in Burbank, I'd eat at IKEA a lot more.

Happy eating!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Rye Bread

Today's kitchen experiment: Rye Bread

I love rye bread.  When I was in high school, I was addicted to marbled rye.  I'd eat it without anything on it, not even butter.

As an adult, my husband and I buy rye bread for sandwiches once in awhile.  I used to make tuna melts and Italian deli sandwiches on rye for dinner. 

Last October, my husband and I visited New York City for a couple days, and we still talk about the food.  One of our favorite food memories was a pastrami and swiss on rye sandwich we shared late one night.  It was from one of those all-night delis.  I can really see why New Yorkers have trouble adjusting when they move to L.A.  We don't have anything that comes close here, especially nowhere you can just walk to in the middle of the night and order a hot deli sandwich (at least not in my neighborhood).

Now that I've mastered whole wheat bread, I've been looking for a rye bread recipe to try.  A lot of them looked pretty complicated to me since I'm fairly new to making yeast bread.  My husband sent me a couple recipes.  He found the recipe I used for whole wheat bread, and he was successful in finding a rye bread recipe that looked doable.  He actually sent me two recipes.  I chose the one that looked easier.

I pretty much just followed the recipe as written, but I omitted caraway seeds.  I'm sure they'd be good, but there were already so many new ingredients I needed to buy.  I didn't have rye flour, milk powder, bread flour or vital wheat gluten (in fact, I'd never heard of that before).  The baking aisle at the grocery store was my friend.  These ingredients weren't cheap, so once they run out, I'll probably go back to buying rye bread once in awhile instead of making it myself, but we'll see how good the bread turns out before I completely rule out making it myself in the future.

rye bread going into the oven
The recipe was pretty easy.  I used vegetable oil instead of butter, and I didn't warm the honey, but since I mixed it with warm water, I assumed that would be okay.  I needed it in the Kitchenaid mixer instead of by hand, and I used a trick from my whole wheat bread recipe for rising.  I let it rise right in the Kitchenaid mixer bowl instead of transferring it to another bowl.  Why dirty more bowls than necessary?  I just put a dishcloth over the bowl and left it on the counter.  I checked the dough after about 20 minutes, and it wasn't rising as much as I hoped.  We keep our house at about 73 degrees, so maybe it wasn't warm enough.  I took the bowl outside and set it on a table in our screened it patio.  The outside temperature was in the low 80s.  I let it rise about 45 minutes it order to get it to double in size.

The recipe said not to punch down the dough when transferring it to the bread pan, so I tried to handle it as little as possible.  I shaped it a little so it would fit in the pan, but I didn't smooth it as much as I do when making whole wheat bread.  I'm slightly worried that the final product isn't going to look as perfect as it could since I didn't smooth the dough out, but as long as it tastes good, that's all that matters.

freshly baked rye bread
It's in the oven right now.  My husband said it looks and smells good.  I always love the smell of baking bread.  It smells like Subway.

Update: I took the bread out of the oven after letting it bake for 35 minutes, and I let it cool for about an hour.  It was still warm when I cut it.  My new electric bread knife had a little trouble getting through the bread.  I'm not sure if it's a problem with the knife (it was the first time I'd used it) or the bread (which was very dense).  My husband and I tasted an end.  The consensus: It's okay, but we like my whole wheat bread better.  This rye bread is very dense, takes a lot of ingredients I wouldn't otherwise have on hand, and doesn't taste as good as what I get at the grocery store.  I have leftover rye flour, so I'll probably try a different rye bread recipe to use it up.

grilling up pastrami and onions
pastrami and swiss on rye
I made pastrami and swiss sandwiches on the rye bread for dinner.   I started by grilling some onions and then added the sliced pastrami to the griddle to crisp it up.  Meanwhile, I prepared the bread with spray butter on the outside (so it'll get golden brown).  I used one ounce of sliced swiss cheese on each sandwich, and my husband loves mustard, so he add a little mustard.  Then I piled on the pastrami and grilled onions, closed the sandwiches, and put them on the griddle for a couple minutes on each side to toast the bread and melt the cheese.

pastrami and swiss on whole wheat
The sandwiches weren't as good as the pastrami and swiss sandwich I had in New York, but they were better than the pastrami sandwiches I've had at delis in L.A. The bread makes a huge difference.  I made pastrami and swiss sandwiches on my whole wheat bread a few weeks ago, and I liked those better because I like that bread better. 

Happy eating!