Pizza Panini/Sandwich Made With My Sweet Sandwich Maker

Question of the Day: do you have to use a panini maker to make a panini? See, I’ve got this sweet grilled cheese sandwich maker, which I usually use to make grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s been serving me well ever since I yanked it out of the trash whilst dumpster diving at the University of Richmond many moons ago (the end of the Spring semester is prime time to find such treasures, incidentally). Anyhow, it’s fun to make grilled cheese plus [insert ingredient here] sandwiches in it. For example, a delightful concoction such as this:

pizza panini - uncooked

We’ve got two slices of wheat bread to start. On the left are two large slices of pepperoni, salsa, and feta cheese. The right has two slices of provolone, plus spinach. On a related note, don’t buy those weeny packages of pre-sliced little pepperonis that are usually sitting near the pizza crusts in the grocery store. Get your pepperoni from the deli instead – tastes so much better and, per pound at least, is often cheaper. Extras live just fine in the freezer as well!

Anyhow, you put this together and it makes a rather fat sandwich. Meaning I had to squish my sandwich maker down super hard to get it to click shut, and even then I still had to wipe up a wee bit of salsa juice that peed out of it.

cooked pizza panini sandwich

OK, so the sandwich was definitely too big. It didn’t matter once this thing made it into my mouth, though. Freaking amazing! Pizza panini is a win!

Oh, and I looked up “panini.” Apparently, by the US definition at least, it’s any sort of pressed sandwich. Meaning that every grilled cheese sandwich I make is a panini as well, being made in my sandwich maker with hot sandwich pressing action. Yum!

Cracovia Polish Restaurant in Westminster, CO: Adventures in Deliciousness

So out of all of my random restaurant finds in the Denver area, my favorite might possibly be Cracovia, located in Westminster, CO. Cracovia is this awesome Polish restaurant tucked away in a half dead strip mall, and I would love to slowly work my way through everything on the menu.

At some point in the last several years I went from hating beer to being ambivalent towards beer to liking beer, so that now whenever I try a new place, I’m all like “Do they have any intriguing beers?” And indeed Cracovia does.

Polish beers

Drew and I each got a Polish beer, and they were tasty. Alas, I am still too much of a novice to the beer-drinking world to be in any way capable of talking about hops or foam or fizzies or whatever it is that makes one beer superior to another.

Pasztet/pate with bread

The “bread appetizer that comes with the meal” was an assortment of breads with…pate? I think it was pate. I’m really not sure, though. It’s not listed on the menu anywhere. So I did a Google image search for Polish pate, and found something that looked really similar to what we had, and it was indeed pate, called pasztet in Polish if I am correct.

On a completely unrelated note, it was rather dark in the restaurant. Dimly lit, as it were. Which makes for awesome ambience (with bonus ambiance on Friday and Saturday evenings, when they have live music as well), but not the best of pictures when you are me and have apparently decided that there is nothing better for taking professional pictures then my phone. A super bright one, I am. Alas, I did the best I could, but the photos are still kinda grainy and teenier than they could be, due to excessive zooming in causing The Granulation From Hell. No really, Jesus got As in photography and Photoshop class while Satan sat in the back flicking spitballs.

And speaking of bad photography, this is an unfortunately grainy photo of one of the best soups I’ve ever had in my life:

Pickle Soup/Zupa Ogorkowa

Pickle soup, AKA Zupa Ogorkowa. I didn’t expect it to be as delicious as it was. Incredibly flavorful broth, with potatoes and vegetables. My entree came with soup, and I was unsure what to get until a woman eavesdropping at the table beside me recommended the pickle soup. Apparently when she’d been ordering earlier, a guest at another table recommended it to her. I was extremely glad I took her suggestion, and I will continue the Circle of (soup)Life by recommending it to anyone reading this post. Simply amazing.

Drew, not feeling up to soup, opted for a salad, which was…a salad. Nothing too special. I didn’t even bother to include the picture, due to it’s resembling pretty much every other generic house salad. So, order the soup instead of salad.

Mielony

For his entree, Drew opted for the mielony, which is breaded snytzel (made with ground pork meat). This was delightful, and I kept picking at that, along with the cute little mounds of potatoes it came with. Eventually he had to resort to stabbing me in the hand to keep me off his delicious meats and starches – lucky for me I always carry a spare hand for instances like this. Anyhow, delish. His meal also came with peas and carrots in butter.

Due to this involving peas and carrots, two of my least favorite vegetables, I was rather ambivalent about the dish. Drew, who has a much higher regard for these vegetables, was quite content in eating it, so it still gets a thumbs up, even if they’re not my thumbs.

As for my entree, I got the golabkis.

Golablis

I ate something strikingly similar to this dish growing up. We called it glomkis, which is a strikingly similar name to golabki. Both were conceptually similar as well – ground pork stuffed into cabbage, covered in a tomato sauce – though the one I ate growing up involved ground beef and rice, and this one involved ground pork and no rice. I’ve never had a high opinion of cabbage, and used to choke down the cabbage wrapped around the ground beef from the glomkis of my youth. The golabkis at Cracovia have given cabbage a whole new meaning for me, though. It’s good. Cabbage that is actually delicious. A baffling concept, indeed! Cabbage that I actively want to eat! A beautiful thing, really. Also, these things are massive, so you can totally look forward to eating the still delicious leftovers for lunch the next day.

Golabki sliced

So I wish I could talk about the awesome dessert there, but I’ve never made it that far. One of these days, however. One of these days. In any case, go to Cracovia, for it is delicious.

Flat-tastic Macaroon Cookies

So, macaroons are freaking awesome. I found this fabulous recipe for macaroons on allrecipes.com, and decided to give them a whirl.

macaroon cookies

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then dump 4 egg whites, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar into a bowl. Beat until fluffy. Then beat some more. Don’t beat by hand unless you like muscle spasms.

Whipped meringue action

I’ve never actually made anything meringue-like before, so this was kinda exciting. Usually when I beat things with an electric mixer, I stick to the lower speeds, lest cake batter or similar things I usually beat go flying into my eyeballs. However, mixing these ingredients worked best by cranking up the mixer pretty high. X-treme mixing action!

So once small peaks start forming, gradually beat in 1 1/4 cups white sugar until nice and stiff (huh huh…). In another bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of flour, 1/4 tsp salt, and about 3 cups of flaked coconut. Or more flaked coconut if you really like macaroons. The more, the better! Dump this into the egg whites and mix until…mixed.

Moist coconut action!

Next, grab two cookie pans. You can either use cooking spray, or you can use wax paper. I ended up using both methods, one for each pan. Drop by globs onto the pan, and bake 18 to 20 minutes.

macaroon cookies

Two things about these macaroons. First, you’ll notice that the ones on the pan on the right are a bit crisper than on the left, which is because the right had the cooking spray and the left had the wax paper. Second, you’ll notice that these look nothing like macaroon. Oh altitude, how you always elude me. Being a mile high has it’s disadvantages when it comes to baking. These guys totally went flat on me. Oops! However, once decorated, I could simply pretend that I intended for these macaroons to be cookies all along!

I melted some chocolate chips in the microwave, poured the resulting goo into a ziplock bag with a corner cut off, and squirted it all over the cookies. Here’s a mildly fuzzy closeup of the result:

cookie closeup

Despite falling completely flat, these were really good! Light, fluffy, and full of sugar. Not necessary macaroon like, but they certainly were macaroon cookie-like, and were tasty enough that I might make these again the next time the urge for fluffy macaroon-like things strikes me.

Cheap “Too Lazy To Cook” Food: Big Daddy’s Pizza And Ralibertos

Someday soon, I suspect that I will have sampled every single restaurant on the right side of Wadsworth between 6th Street and I-70. Every single restaurant that does take-out, that is. I, like many others, often get out of work and want nothing more than to shove something hot and delicious in my mouth as soon as possible. Then I think about the lack of anything prepared in my fridge and how, despite being hungry, I’m not quite hungry enough to gnaw on raw potatoes and frozen meat. Then I stop and grab something that I’ll hope is hot and delicious. And cheap, because that’s how I roll.

My default is Subway, where I forego “hot” and just stick to “delicious.” I have a soft spot in my heart for the Seafood Sensation sub. And, say what you will about them being lower quality then some other places, but I don’t know where else you can more or less get a giant salad’s worth of toppings dumped on your sandwich for so cheap. Jared knows where it’s at, yo.

Sometimes, however, I get adventurous.

Big Daddy's Pizza

No matter what the weather, during weekday afternoon rush hour there’s generally at least two people near Wadsworth and 6th waving around giant signs advertizing for Big Daddy’s Pizza. Specifically, for their $5 pizzas ready as soon as you walk in the door. In terms of company names, “Big Daddy’s” is a bit horrifying, and that alone kept me from going there. At some point, however, I decided I wanted to go there *because* of the name. And so I did.

And the pizza… was hot. And ready. And that’s about it. Albeit, did I really expect anything more from a $5 pizza? Truth is, I might pick Little Caesar’s over Big Daddy’s. And if you’ve eaten Little Caesar’s pizza as of late, you know that’s not saying much. It’s like at some point companies decided it was OK for products to be really crappy as long as they were cheap enough. This seems to work OK for some things – I’ll admit to sucking down delicious greasy items from the Burger King dollar menu from time to time – but I just don’t think it works all that well for pizza. Either that, or I’m just a bit of a pizza snob. Which is entirely possible.

A little further up the road is a teeny little Mexican place called Raliberto’s. It’s a bit pricier, at around $7 for a combo meal. But oh, the volume of food.

Ralibertos food

That’s a burrito (filled with delightful steak, green peppers, and onions) on the right, and the left is rolled tacos (pretty much taquitos) with guacamole. Raliberto’s is magical. OK, not gourmet or anything, but the food is fabulous for the price. Drew and I will totally get one entree and split it and be completely satiated. Or, y’know, also get some taquitos and be completely bloated afterwards. Bloated in a very good way.

Once upon I time I used to really like Taco Bell. I can barely touch the stuff any more, and places like Raliberto’s are the reason. It’s around the same price volumewise, but infinitely more delicious. Infinitely!

Apple Pi! AKA 3.14159265 of deliciousness

I am a sucker for fruity pie, but unfortunately pie crusts are a giant pain in the patootey. A homemade flaky pie crust is delightful, but is a giant pain to make if you are lazy like I am. I’ve never used a pie crust mix before, so I picked up a Jiffy pie crust mix from Ye Ole Grocery Store and that seemed to work out well.

Dough balls

So I rolled out the dough using wax paper and some flour. Which always feels kinda gross to me for some reason, that weird feeling of powdered flour all over your hands, when you have to rub it all over your surface and the rolling pin. It’s kinda the same feeling as drawing with dry pastels, just something tactile and icky about it for me. But, these things are a necessity if delicious pie is to be created.

pie crust

So I grabbed the recipe for the apple pie from *gasp* an actual cookbook. I do own a range of cookbooks, and should really try to make more recipes from them rather than doing my default of being all like, “Google! Find me a recipe!” While I’m a sucker for online recipes for their reviews, I figured I’d be safe with a paper recipe from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, as it’s pretty much guaranteed to be delicious.

So get a giant pile of apples, where “giant pile” apparently means 6-8 large apples, or around 10 cups. Peel and chop into pieces. Tart apples always work well for bonus flavor!

Grab a bowl and dump in a cup of sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and 1.5 tbsp flour, and mix all kinds of together. Dump apples into this, squish around until well coated, then dump the contents of your bowl into the pie shell.

So you’ll probably want a layer of shell on top of the pie as well, and you can just roll out a circle and lay that on top, and cut slits in it or something. But what fun is that? If I’m going to all the effort to make this sweet pie, it’s latticework all the way! You still roll out your giant circle, but then cut it into strips and try to weave the strips together as carefully as possible on the pie without the strips up and tearing on you. Or at least they kept tearing on me, oops!

apple pi pie

Yeah, that’s totally a pi on that pie. That’s 3.14159265 of delicious right there! So next I globbed a few chunks of butter into the little holes between the crust. Technically this step was supposed to happen before said crust went on the pie, but I totally didn’t read that step until after the crust went on. Oops?

Anyhow, it bakes for 10 min at 425 degrees, and then 30-40 min more at 350 degrees, and when it’s done it should look vaguely like this:

cooked pi

I realized that the pi was totally blending in to the latticework, so I grabbed me a brush and painted it with the semi-molten pie goo oozing out of the crust, and then sprinkled some cinnamon on it. Super yum! This pie was seriously awesome, especially when heated up. My only regret was that I didn’t have any vanilla ice cream to dump on top of it! Will totally make again.

Japanese Cravings + Fridge Remnants = Veggie Sushi

Lately, all the sushi I’ve been making has been frou frou fancy sushi with bacon and strange objects wrapped around the rolls and whatnot. Not that these haven’t been fabulously delicious, but the cleanup time (and prep time, for that matter) can be a bit of a pain. Which is why it’s nice to make some regular old veggie sushi from time to time. At any given moment, I’ll likely have both eggs as well as cucumber sitting in the fridge. At that point, all I need is a single avocado for delicious sushi magic!

One nice thing about not using crazy ingredients is that the rolls don’t fall apart on me. Cucumber? Not likely to squish all over the place.

Sushi tubes

For some reason, the pre-cut sushi tubes fascinate me. They’re like Japanese taquitos or something. I have to wonder, if nori was easier to cut (and, consequently, to bite into), would sushi as we know it even be sliced into the bite-sized pieces? You know, form follows function and all that. Maybe if tortillas were any tougher, taquitos would be served in teeny bite-sized pieces?

veggie sushi tray

One of these days I’ll invest in some actual sushi serving dishes, rather than having all my sushi get served on cookie and/or pizza pans? Awhile back I found a super-sweet deal of a bunch of used sushi plates from a restaurant, for $40, offa Craigslist. So I drive up to meet this lady in Boulder, which is about a 40 minute drive for me, only to have her not show. Then two days later I hear from her asking if I want to buy some sake cups as well, completely oblivious to her rather rude no-show. Hah!

Closeup 1

Single-ingredient rolls are particularly joyous to roll. I can use half the sheet of nori without worrying it won’t wrap fully around the ingredients. Also, the roll will definitely be bite sized – something I’m not too concerned with, but Drew finds ginormous rolls particularly traumatic. Well, assuming we define “traumatic” as “complains it’s too big to fit in his mouth.” (that’s what she said!)

Closeup 2

Tamago (egg omelet) is so awesome. The secret for those of us without access to (and/or too cheap to buy) a Japanese omelet-making pan is to use a bread pan instead. Guarantees a nice rectangular shape!

Closeup 3

Bonus closeup! I wish those tamago nigiri were like a foot long, and I could use one as a pillow. And then I’d wake up and eat it for breakfast. Or be really whiny that my entire head smells like seaweed and egg. Yum!

Chicken & Dumplings for Easter!

So yeah, Happy Easter/Passover/Pagan Renewal/Zombie Jesus/Etc. day! As for exciting holidays, I’m pretty stoked about Discount Chocolate Monday, and am looking forward to claiming many Reeses eggs as my own. We didn’t hit up any relatives today, so I totally made what is essentially the laziest possible meal that one could make that still looks like you put a bunch of effort into it. Hooray for chicken and dumplings.

Chicken and dumplings

So you take a pot and pour water in it, and drop a chicken in it. Dump in whatever seasonings sound good (I went for a range of Italian seasonings, salt, pepper, and garlic), and let simmer on medium and/or forget about until an hour or two later when your entire home starts to reek of delicious chicken. I actually went for two and a half hours for my chicken – rather unnecessary, except that I set the chicken out to thaw yesterday and totally forgot to stick it back in the fridge before going to bed last night. Wake up in the morning to find a rather lukewarm chicken. Oh crap! So I figured boiling it twice as long as was really necessary would combat whatever botulism or whatever it might have picked up while lying on that counter overnight. It was still sealed, though! And given the fact that I’m writing rather than puking my guts out at the moment, I’m gonna wager a guess that the chicken turned out safe.

Anyhow, next comes the bisquick. Dump some bisquick in a bowl, dump in milk and mix until biscuitlike. Remove chicken from pot, plop bisquick in ball form into broth, let cook for 10 minutes or so with the lid on. Voila, chicken and biscuits! I also like the fact that the bisquick residue turns the chicken broth into gravy. I’m pretty bad at making gravy, so this is a serious bonus for me. I also microwaved some frozen broccoli for the veggie side. Easiest Easter dinner ever!

I think that a big hindrance against people eating home-cooked meals is just a matter of time. Because I spent relatively little time in the kitchen during this dinner-making process, but I nonetheless had to have several hours to be present from start to finish, and the patience to smell all the tasty chicken smells without gnawing my elbows off from hunger. Which I suppose is the benefit of slow cookers – dump it all in before heading off to work, and then come home and stuff your face with delicious.

One Breakfast Sandwich To Rule Them All

I haven’t posted in an embarrassingly long time. I blame the attack of the entirely too short vacation. Time to celebrate vacation’s end, and 4/20 apparently, with a breakfast sandwich!

To clear matters up, I am not traditionally a consumer of breakfast sandwiches. This is because I am extraordinarily picky about eggs. Eating egg in a sandwich is mildly repulsive to me. However, I can acknowledge that others appreciate such things, and sometimes I’ll feel saucy and make such things for Drew.

eggs plus cheese

Being partial to egg whites, I tend to save them for myself and leave the icky yolks for Drew. I’ve got about three such egg yolks there, along with salt, pepper, and some half melted cheddar cheese.

biscuits

As far as I’m concerned, the only real use for English muffins is to make miniature pizzas, and those suckers have no business being used to make sandwiches of any sort. I stick to the far superior Bisquick biscuits for breakfast sandwiches.

I decided to spruce up the sandwich a bit by adding some turkey, along with plants – specifically, spinach and salsa. I’ve been on a bit of a salsa kick lately. This is due to tomato prices getting ricockulous (like ridiculous, only more offensive!). Salsa prices, however, seem pretty stable. Also, less cutting of the tomatoes and less washing of the knives! It’s a win-win-win situation!

Breakfast sandwich

This sucker ended up being ginormous, and if I remember correctly also served as Drew’s lunch. He rather liked it, possibly to the point of following it into the fires of Mordor!

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Pie…Of Joy!

So this past Christmas I received, amongst other things, a Nestle Toll House cookbook. This was yet another cookbook to add to the growing pile of cookbooks I’ve either received as gift, won, or bought on impulse, yet rarely made anything from. So, I’m trying to be better about actually using said cookbooks, rather than being all like “Yay, free recipe from the Internets!” all the time.

Anyhow, I like pie. So I made a chocolate chip pie (that was more like a cookie in pie form) from a recipe from the aforementioned cookbook.

Chocolate chip pie batter

So here’s the ingredients this recipe entails:

2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter (or 1.5 sticks) (because nothing rocks harder then decimals and sticks)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup nuts (I recommend walnuts or pecans for this sucker)
pie crust

So you preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Then beat the eggs, and mix in the flour and sugar, then butter. This is the point where I generally curse myself for my lack of foresight, as my butter lives in the fridge and, bizarrely enough, there are few recipes that call for “1 hard stick of butter.” So, I pretend that “softened butter” actually means “cold hard butter that was zapped in the microwave for 40 seconds or so”, which usually works out just fine. Anyhow, you mix all that up, then mix in the chocolate chips and nuts (I went with pecans), then add to your pie shell, and bake for 55 minutes or so.

Chocolate chip pie unbaked

A flake crust would have worked best with this recipe. However, I totally impulse buy graham cracker crusts whenever I see them at 50% off, and they are so much less effort then figuring out where the heck I’m gonna get a flaky crust when I’m already feeling lightheaded from lack of pie in my mouth. So I used the graham cracker crust. We all have to make sacrifices sometimes.

baked chocolate chip pie

Mmm, giant deep-dish cookie. Chicago-style chocolate chip cookie, oh yeah. And much like most batches of chocolate chip cookies I make, this was awesome hot and then got a little too hard around the edges after cooling. Heating up the leftovers helped with this, though.

chocolate chip pie slice

This is an awful awful closeup shot that still hopefully conveys the magical chocolateyness (chocolatiness?) of this pie. I really wish I’d had some decent vanilla ice cream around to plop on top of this bad boy. Alas, the only ice cream I’ve had for the past month at least is this blueberry pomegranate ice cream that I just can’t bring myself to throw out. Fruity ice creams are tricky like that – they seem like such a good idea at the time, but when you find yourself with a hot chocolatey dessert item, all you really want is some vanilla/and or chocolate ice cream to top it off with. D’oh!

I’d really like to try adding some peanut butter chips to this whenever I get around to trying this recipe again. Hot chocolate peanut butter pie sounds pretty awesome right about now! I’d also be curious to try a variation involving marshmallows, for a s’mores pie. Though, I’m not sure that the 55 minutes of baking wouldn’t leave the marshmallows as charred husks. Could be worth a try, though!

And on a final note, here’s a super sweet hookup: Denver’s got a new coupon website of the Groupon and LivingSocial ilk called Dealpop. And if, like me, you are a sucker for paying less for things than you are supposed to, you can totally use the coupon code DENVERROCKS for 20% off any deal until April 30th, 2011. Yum!