Thursday, October 29, 2009

$3 "Dead" Pizza at Punch

I love a good deal. No...really....I LOVE a good deal. I also love Punch Pizza, which is why tonight found me standing in line in the cold, drizzly rain with my roommate for a $3 "dead" pizza.
I saw the promotion earlier this week on The Heavy Table blog, which linked to the promotional flyer. In honor of zombie season, Punch was offering $3 dead pizzas (read: pizzas no longer appearing on the menu) tonight only.

A little after 8 p.m., we scurried on over to the Calhoun Village location off Lake Street in Minneapolis. Naturally, the line went out the door.
Thankfully, it moved along pretty swiftly. Here, the oven and staff hard at work.
We ordered the Cappricciosa off the dead menu, along with a small Punch Salad. Plenty for two, and quite delightful. The pizza featured roasted red pepper, mushroom, picholine olive and basil, each bringing a distinct flavor to the mix, and the salad was made with mixed greens, pine nuts, parmesan, prosciutto and a heavenly balsamic vinaigrette.

Well worth waiting in line.

Now, off to finish preparing my 'near-famous' deviled eggs for tomorrow's Halloween potluck at work. I say 'near famous' because I bring them to 'nearly' every name has become synonymous with deviled eggs.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TNDAH: Crescent Chicken Squares and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Tonight's Tuesday Night Dinner at Home paired together Crescent Chicken Squares (a recipe I got from my grandma) and garlic mashed potatoes (a basic recipe I found here).

I've made the chicken recipe before and enjoyed it each time. Tonight, I was looking for a good starch complement and decided to give the garlic mashed potatoes a try.

Preparing the chicken.
Chicken filling mixture.
Mixture placed on crescent squares.
Ready to bake!Chunks of red potatoes and slices of garlic ready to be boiled.
Boiled potatoes and garlic pre-mashing.
Mashed potatoes sprinkled with fresh parsley (ever noticed that one bunch of fresh parsley is never-ending? Seriously, I've been working on this same bunch for more than two weeks!).
And, finally, the finished product.

No surprises to report from the kitchen tonight. Unless you count the mistake-free preparation as a surprise. The Crescent Chicken Squares were moist and flavorful, with the pimento and cream cheese perfectly balanced. The potatoes were also yummy, offering the perfect mashed-by-hand-peel-still-on texture.

While tonight's cooking experience was a success, I did have a near-disastrous baking adventure on Saturday. I went home for the weekend and was charged with bringing dessert to a gathering. Handy iPhone in hand, I browsed Epicurious for the perfect cake and settled on spiced pumpkin layer cake with cream cheese frosting.

Long story short, I didn't allow enough time for the cake to cool before frosting. During transport the top layer slid and split in half and a chunk of the bottom layer broke off. Needless to say, we had spiced pumpkin crumble with cream cheese frosting for dessert. Thankfully, there were no pictures, and everyone still seemed to enjoy it. Until next time...

Crescent Chicken Squares Recipe
3 oz. package soft cream cheese
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups cooked cubed chicken
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped pimento
8 oz. can Pillsbury crescent rolls
3/4 cup seasoned crushed croutons

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, blend cream cheese and two tablespoons butter until smooth. Add next six ingredients, mix well. Separate crescent roll into four rectangles, seal perforations. Spoon 1/2 cup chicken mix into each rectangle. Pull four corners of dough to top of chicken mix. Pinch edges shut. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with crushed croutons. Bake on cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Olives at the Bellagio

During my nearly four-day stay in Las Vegas last week, I had some amazing food. From Mexican to Chinese to an outdoor barbecue. But by far my favorite was Italian at Olives in the Bellagio (a Todd English restaurant).

Olives offers a beautiful view of the water show (which you can just barely make out in the background from our table in the shot below). Despite every table being full, the dim lighting and layout kept the restaurant from feeling overwhelming.
For drinks, I ordered the Slingback, AKA the BEST martini of my life. Frothy and simply divine, I don't even remember what it was made of other than grapefruit vodka. But it was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S.

I will say that if you're looking for cheap food in Las Vegas, Olives probably isn't the place for you. With that said, however, I thought several of the items on the menu were very reasonably priced for an upscale restaurant. For starters, we ordered the Alla Napoletana flatbread pictured below and mussels. The flatbread was wonderful with thick slices of tomato, arugula, basil and a tasty blend of cheeses. I gave the mussels a go even though I hadn't had them before. Needless to say, I only ate one....a little too squishy for my liking.

I was in for a special treat with the entree. I couldn't decide between two pastas, so my server suggested I try half and half. Now that's service! Of course now, as I try to remember what each was, I can't...and the picture below doesn't make either fully distinguishable. But, the one on the left had delicious beef and peas and asparagus. The one on the right featured fantastic shrimp and broccoli. I scarfed down both without a moment's hesitation.

Overall, I found Olives to be simply exquisite and enjoyed every aspect of my meal. My only slight gripe would be the speed of service. I really liked our server, but think that all of his tables and the requested picture-taking from other patrons, might have slowed him down a bit. Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind, but we had places to be...we were in Vegas after all.

Even with its leisurely pace, I'd still give Olives an A on the rating scale. Maybe someday I'll make it to the New York or Boston location.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the Road Again: Hittin' the Strip

Last week marked my first trip to Sin City. I had always wanted to visit, but knew as soon as we landed that Vegas probably wasn't quite my scene. I think a 22-year-old me would have been in heaven, but this slightly older me has mellowed a bit.

As we looked out at the Strip from the plane, I was struck by how much smaller it looked than what I had imagined. That impression quickly dissipated, however, when we actually stepped foot on the Strip.

As a lover of all things flashy, I was giddy with excitement when we began looking at all of the lit up hotels. Even the "snappers" with their cards couldn't get me down (although, I was admittedly nervous that one of the cards scattered across the sidewalk was going to attach itself to my shoe).

My favorite part of the Strip was...of course...New York, New York. It made me long for a return visit to the wondrous Big Apple.
Taking it all in...

Another highlight was watching the water show outside the Bellagio. Even if it was choreographed to Celine Dion. Thankfully, it wasn't "My Heart Will Go On."

We stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton, apparently the largest Hilton in the world. Here's a view from my room.
And here's a shot of Barry Manilow at night.
I found Las Vegas to be a city of extremes: both good and bad. What suprised me was how upscale parts of the city are. The hotels were the largest I had ever seen and most were filled with designer stores and swanky restaurants.

We enjoyed some delightfully delicious meals and amazing cocktails. More to come from my favorite restaurant during the trip.

By the way, no Tuesday Night Dinner at Home entry this week. My darling roommate had Italian sausage and spaghetti waiting for me when I got home tonight.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday Night Dinner at Home: Pasta and Its Accessories

Tonight's dinner was mostly about the accessories. I knew I was going to have spaghetti as the main dish, and while I'm certainly not adventurous enough to try making it from scratch, I've pretty much perfected the sauce-in-a-jar standard. Sure I infuse my own style: tri-colored rotini in place of traditional spaghetti noodles; garlic, onion and fresh mushrooms mixed in with ground beef; a sprinkle of cheese - but at the end of the day, it's still just your typical jar of red sauce (in this case: Newman's Own Five Cheese, which I love).

I decided the creativity would lie in the sides: garlic bread and dessert. Despite the simplicity of this Tuesday Night Dinner at Home, I still managed a couple of gaffes. This photo shows everything cooking at once: dessert prep on back left burner, noodles on front left burner, garlic bread prep on back right burner, spaghetti sauce prep on front right burner.
I grabbed the garlic bread recipe on my way out the door this morning from Rachael Ray on Here's the garlic, butter and olive oil melting together in a small saucepan.
And here's the finished product with the garlic oil brushed on the bread my roommate made from scratch yesterday and topped with fresh parsley and Romano cheese. I know it doesn't take a rocket scientist to discern that it was a bit overdone. In fact, I needed help scraping off the blackened parts. Let's just say I haven't quite figured out how to use the broiler yet.
The good news is that you couldn't really even taste the burnt parts. The bad news is that it wasn't quite delicious. There was too much garlic...a strange comment coming from me because I love the stuff. I also wasn't all that impressed with the Romano cheese, but that could be because I didn't have the opportunity to put it back in the oven to fully melt (since I'd already started to burn it after all).

The picture below illustrates the finished product, complete with a side salad prepared by my roommate: baby greens, crumbled bleu cheese, salt and pepper. I used both French and Parmesan Romano dressing, because I wanted it extra fattening and delicious.
The real fun tonight came with dessert. I'd been craving "puppy chow" ever since I tried Chex Mix Select - Chocolate Peanut Butter.

Melting the chocolate and peanut butter.
Placing chocolate/peanut butter/cereal mixture into large plastic bag with powdered sugar for coating.
Letting the scrumptious treat cool.
The best part about puppy chow is that it's incredibly easy to make yet tastes like perfection.

Puppy Chow Recipe
1 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
12 cups Crispix
desired amount of powdered sugar

Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter in large saucepan. Stir in Crispix. In large baggie, combine cereal mixture and powdered sugar; shake to coat cereal with sugar. Fan out on cookie sheet to cool.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eating Out Sunday: Grandview Grill and The Malt Shop

It's been a while since I've allowed myself to do this, but today I ate out twice. Yup, both brunch and dinner. Brunch was at the Grandview Grill, a popular Grand Avenue breakfast spot in Saint Paul. Not surprisingly, it was packed full of college students and the after-church crowd (I no longer fall into the first category unfortunately).
I ordered the "Everything Omelet," which comes with hash browns and toast. As you can see below, the serving was enormous as most Grandview meals are. The omelet was filled with bacon, sausage, cheese, broccoli, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and probably a few things I'm forgetting. Although I barely ate more than a third of it, the omelet was decent, with the wide variety of ingredients keeping it interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn't big on the hash browns. Both stringy and crunchy, neither of which I like. I will say this though, if you're in the mood for a no-nonsense, quick service, greasy spoon breakfast, Grandview is the place for you.
Next up for dinner: The Malt Shop on 50th and Bryant in Minneapolis.
The moment we walked in, I fell in love with the decor. A little bit over the top - just the way I like it. Twinkly lights, Halloween decorations and stained glass galore.
Adding to my childlike eagerness, there was a live pianist. She barely took a break the entire time we were there with tunes running the spectrum from "Piano Man" to "We Are the Champions."
The service at The Malt Shop was great: quick, friendly and efficient. And while the dinner crowd wasn't huge, there was a steady stream of diners during our time there. When it came time to order, I knew immediately I wanted a chocolate malt. I'm happy to report that it didn't disappoint. Then again, I've never had a malt I didn't like.
For the main course, I went with the interestingly titled "Mergatroid" sandwich and fries. Baked on an open-faced white hoagie, the Mergatroid features turkey, smoked bacon, tomato, mayo and cheddar cheese. Altogether pretty tasty. The fries were your standard - nothing to write home about but not bad either.
I definitely enjoyed my first trip to The Malt Shop, and I'm sure I'll be back again. And, undoubtedly, the Grandview will come through the breakfast rotation again. Best of all, I brought home leftovers from both restaurants, stretching two meals into four.

Another interesting tidbit from this fine Sunday: I spent approximately two hours at the Mall of America this afternoon and didn't spend a dime. Can't say that happens very often.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vikings Mania: Billy's on Grand

Confession: I'm not really a professional football fan. In fact, I haven't really thought much of football since high school (when you're from a small town, everyone is a high school football fan - it's your entire Friday night social calendar through fall). I'm much more into professional basketball...although even that has fallen to the wayside since KG left Minnesota.

So, while I'm not really into football, I am into hanging out with friends - which means Monday night found me at Billy's in Saint Paul partaking in the Vikings vs. Packers festivities.
The few times I've actually eaten at Billy's over the years, I've always been impressed by the menu. A good range of options, reasonable prices and rather tasty. Last night I went straight for your stereotypical bar food ordering the Billy the Kid 1/4-pound burger with cheddar and substituting waffle fries in place of the chips (if you're going with the burger, why not go all the way?!).
It may have been my first-ever burger without lettuce and tomato. I sometimes forget that lettuce and tomato aren't standard accoutrement at all dining establishments. Needless to say, I greatly missed both. Otherwise, the burger itself was pretty good. So were the fries, although they too would have been better with the seasoned sour cream sometimes offered at other restaurants. Overall, I'd say Billy's is just like I remembered it: tasty but missing a few pieces of flair.

Here's proof positive that I actually watched a few plays of the game (props to the NFL for all the pink on the field in support of breast cancer). Oh, and since you're not likely to find me rambling on about sports again in the near future, congrats to the Twins.
P.S. Did you know waffle fries have their own Facebook fan page? It's true: 46,357 fans and counting.

A First-Timer's Guide to Making Chili

This weekend - when the weather outside was cold and dreary - I decided I needed chili. The perfect fall-time comfort food. Now, I'm fairly certain that if I would have driven home, either my mother or grandmother would have happily made chili for me, but I decided to give it a go on my own. Relying on advice from both of them, I gathered up my ingredients and brought the Crock-Pot down from the shelf.

Step 1: Browning the hamburger.
Step 2: Combining with all of the other ingredients in the Crock-Pot.
Step 3: Simmering to perfection.
Ta-dah! Homemade chili with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Honestly, I was expecting it to be a bit harder. But once you have it all in the Crock-Pot, it's just a matter of waiting until it's ready. The grilled cheese sandwich wasn't anything fancy but just the way my mom made it when we were kids: butter two sides of one slice of bread, put it in the frying pan, add a slice or two of American cheese, butter one side of a second slice of bread, place bread butter side up on top of cheese, fry until golden brown and deliciously gooey.

And the chili was still fantastic on day two for lunch with sour cream and shredded colby-jack cheese.
Still up this week: chili cheese dogs :) I'm looking forward to more opportunities to perfect my chili recipe this winter - with garlic at the top of the list of ingredients to add. Feel free to pass along any other recommendations.

Chili Recipe
2 lbs. hamburger
chopped red onion (approx. 1/4 cup)
salt and pepper (to taste)
2 large cans whole or crushed tomatoes
2 large cans tomato sauce
2 or 3 cans dark red kidney beans
chili powder (to taste)

Brown hamburger and onion with salt and pepper in large frying pan. Scoop hamburger into Crock-Pot. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes (if using whole tomatoes, cut to desired size) and kidney beans. Add 1-2 tablespoons of chili powder. Cook on medium/low heat for one to two hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional chili powder to taste. Depending on time constraints, try simmering for several hours for added flavor.