yo quiero calzone

You won’t often catch me eating fast food; I have it maybe once or twice a year, and only in dire circumstances (e.g. it’s the only thing open at 2 a.m. and I only have $1). I wasn’t always this way — which you may have gathered from my healthy chicken nugget post wherein I vilify my parents for taking me to McDonald’s every Saturday of my elementary school life — and after I graduated from college, I went on a serious Taco Bell kick. My friends occasionally bring up how desperately I tried to get someone to take me to/bring me some of that faux Mexican cuisine after one of my birthday celebrations. Screaming. Whining. Tears in my eyes. It was a sad, sad sight.

Fortunately, I weaned myself off Taco Bell, and I am even more grateful for it after the recent lawsuit surrounding the fast-food chain’s taco filling, claiming it contains only 35 percent beef and therefore cannot be considered “beef.” Not that I believed what I was eating back then contained anything that could be construed as healthy, but thinking about what makes up that other 65 percent makes my stomach a little queasier than it was when I ate that crap twice a week.

If you’re looking to avoid that questionable meat filling and/or want to try a spin on regular old tacos, make this taco calzone (from Healthy Food for Living). “But calzones are Italian, and tacos are Mexican!!” Is it blasphemy? Who cares? It’s good.

Sadly, I didn't have my camera when I made these, so here's a weak, low-quality webcam photo.

While beef would definitely work here, I opted for leaner turkey meat. I was worried I’d be sacrificing taste (turkey meat tends to be bland), but I was pleased with the outcome. And the avocado-cream spread is a must as it add a coolness to the bold Mexican flavors.

♦1-1/2 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. oregano

Combine spices in small bowl.

pizza dough
1/2 lb. ground turkey
homemade taco seasoning blend (can use store-bought)
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. diced white onions
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 diced green bell pepper
1/4 c. salsa
1/2 c. shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend)

Divide dough into four portions. Roll each out onto a lightly floured surface (about 7 inches in diameter) and place on a lined baking sheet. Heat EVOO over medium-high heat. Cook onions for two to three minutes, then add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add ground turkey and cook for three minutes. Stir in green peppers and seasoning mix, and cook for three more minutes. Remove from heat and add salsa. Divide filling onto half of each dough round, leaving 1/2 inch border, then top with cheese. Fold the other half over the filling, press edges together and seal with a fork. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 450 degrees.

1/2 avocado
1/4 c.  plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp. salt
ground black pepper

Mash together avocado, yogurt, salt and pepper in small bowl. Serve with finished calzones.

Total time? 30 minutes prep, 15 minutes bake.
Cost? $3 ground turkey, 1.67 avocado, $1.25 Greek yogurt, $1.25 pre-made dough, $1.74 shredded cheese. $1 total for onion and green pepper.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out of 10. Preparing the taco calzone was a relatively big production, but only because I’m terrible at working with dough. I forgot to add cheese into the first calzone before sealing it, too, so I had to unwrap it and throw that in, which — as you can imagine — got a little messy. I also neglected to make the Mexican spice mix before cooking the meat, so I was haphazardly dumping in undetermined amounts of spices to avoid overcooking the meat. The melding of Mexican and Italian cuisines may sound strange, but the flavors are great, and these turned out to be one of my favorite things I’ve made to date.


easy, cheesy, doable

I ate a lot of frozen dinners when I was little; that’s just what happens when you have two older brothers who’d rather be sneaking cigarettes and macking it with the ladies than preparing meals for their precious baby sister. Aside from salivating over the thought of that nuked Kid Cuisine brownie (seriously, how awesome were Kid Cuisines?), one of the most distinct microwaveable meal memories I have is heating up a Swanson chicken pot pie and picking out the repugnant peas to make it edible.

I’ve since said goodbye to my old friend Swanson, but moving on from microwaved meals doesn’t mean you can’t take shortcuts, and that’s why I love this cheesy chicken pot pie from Kitchen Simplicity. 

(I might also mention that I couldn’t make or talk about this dish without thinking of this — a little shout to “Preston and Steve,” for those who live in the Philadelphia market.)

I employed a bag of Pictsweet Steam’ables for the filling (okay, so I guess I’m not totally rid of that microwaving habit); I used the peppercorn-seasoned variety, which includes asparagus, carrots, celery, onion, zucchini and squash — and no peas! The topping is comprised of Bisquick. I know this may seem obvious, but make sure you use the boxed baking mix variety, and not the buttermilk pancake easy-shake bottle. Don’t ask me how I neglected to read the label before purchasing the latter; thankfully, I realized my error before it was irreparable, and made a mid-cooking trip to the grocery store, but I am embarrassed nonetheless. Pancake pot pie? Bleck.

notice the difference, please.

♦2 c. cooked chicken, shredded
2 c. mixed vegetables of your choosing

Place chicken and veggies in a glass baking sheet.

2 tbl. butter
2 tbl. flour
1 c. chicken broth
salt and pepper
1 c. shredded cheese

Melt butter over medium heat, add flour and cook for one minute. Slowly add chicken broth, whisking constantly to remove lumps. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste and stir in cheese until melted. Pour sauce over chicken and vegetables, and mix well.

1 c. Bisquick mix
1/2 c. shredded cheddar
1/3 c. milk

Stir ingredients together with a fork until moistened. Spread thinly over contents of baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees, or until top is golden.

Total time? 35 minutes prep (includes trip to store), 25 minutes bake.
Cost? $3 box Bisquick ($2 wasted on pancake mix bottle), $2 frozen veggies,$1.74 cheese, $1 chicken broth.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out of 10. A+ shortcuts on this one, too. When I finished eating my single serving, I put out an APB to my friends that I had leftover chicken pot pie available for pickup, and 30 minutes later, I was nearly cleaned out. Next time, I’ll try to make the filling a little thicker (more cheese? flour?), but overall, this was great for a cold day, visitors and a little bit of leftovers.

for the lovers

I’m not really sure what constitutes a “romantic” food, but I’m going to guess the easiest way to pick a Valentine’s Day-appropriate dessert is to go by color; thus, today’s holiday recipe is for red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

I know today is for the lovers, but I’m going to spit a bit of hate for a minute: People go flipping crazy for red velvet — especially cupcakes — and I. Don’t. Get. It. They’re tasty and all, but I don’t find them to be so head-and-shoulders above the rest to warrant the long lines at the bakery and extreme animosity toward whomever walks out of there with the day’s last RV. (Yes, I was once harangued at a Hoboken cupcake shop for purchasing the last red velvet mini in an effort to understand what everyone was making such a big deal about.) To me, it’s just a muted — albeit prettier — version of a chocolate cupcake.

Nevertheless, these cupcakes are easy to make, and fit perfectly into the Valentine’s Day’s color scheme. I even added a smidgen of red food coloring in the frosting to give it a soft pink tint.

♦1-1/2 c. sugar
♦1 stick butter
♦2 eggs
♦2 1/3 c. flour
♦2 tbl. unsweetened cocoa powder
♦1 tsp. baking powder
♦1 tsp. baking soda
♦1/2 tsp. salt
♦1 c. milk
♦1 tbl. red food coloring
♦1 tsp. vanilla extract
♦1 tsp. white vinegar

Beat butter and sugar on medium until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and beat until incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a different bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla, vinegar, and food coloring. Slowly add about a third of the dry mixture to the butter and sugar, then half the wet. Add another third of dry, then the rest of the wet and the rest of the dry — mixing in between each addition. Scoop into cupcake liners, and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

♦1 stick butter
♦8 oz. cream cheese (non-fat works well)
♦3 c. powdered sugar
♦1 tsp. vanilla extract
♦1 drop of red food coloring (for pink frosting)

Cream butter and cream cheese together, then add vanilla extract. Slowly add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency and flavor. Frost cupcakes once they are completely cooled.

Total time? 25 minutes prep, 20 minutes bake.
Cost? $3 food coloring, $1 cream cheese
Overall success relative to expectations? 5 out of 10. I made these cupcakes for a co-workers [not-so-recent] birthday, and they were pretty popular at the office, but I wasn’t satisfied. I thought the cake was slightly dry, and the cream cheese frosting was a little cream cheesy for my taste (I’d recommend using the full 3 cups of powdered sugar, so long as it doesn’t get too sweet). As long as this red velvet craze continues, though, you’ll get plenty of props. And this recipe makes about 30 sizable cupcakes, so your stash might not run out as fast as that ‘Boken bakery’s.

horsing around

I love Panera, but when I think about how much money I’ve spent there over the years, it makes me wince a little. Is it me, or does everything there seem to cost about twice as much as it should? Keeping that in mind, I decided to create my own affordable, café-like sandwich that tastes just as good: horseradish and apple panini.

♦1 hard sandwich roll or loaf of bread
1 Golden Delicious apple
3 slices of horseradish cheddar cheese
1 tbl. spicy mustard

A beautiful Wegmans loaf was donated to my cause (thanks, Beck!), so I started off with a quality Italian bread base, but any hard roll or bread will do. I’m a big fan of cheese and apples together, so I picked up a Golden Delicious to act as the “meat” of my sandwich; this also had me inadvertently throwing Matt Damon’s quotable quip, “Do you like apples?” in my roommate’s direction.

To spice up the sandwich, I tried out Dietz & Watson’s horseradish cheddar cheese. Best. Decision. Ever. (Thank God I only got a quarter-pound or I would have eaten myself sick.) To top it all off, I added a little bit of spicy mustard. I then basted the tiniest bit of butter on the outsides (use your discretion), fired up my Foreman Grill and melted that bad boy into a panini on par with Panera’s finest.

Total time? 7 minutes.
Cost? $2 for quarter-pound of horseradish cheddar, 50¢ apple, $2 bread (sorry, mine was free!)
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. The cheese was melty, the bread was crispy and the flavors melded wonderfully. More importantly, I spent less on three sandwiches than I would have on one at Panera. Only drawback? No broccoli cheddar soup!

❤ = a loving loaf of bread


are they made from real Girl Scouts?

I’m going to guess you’ve had at least one box of Girl Scout Cookies in the last month, and if not, you’ve got some commendable self control. They’re everywhere — in the office, at the front door, accosting me in the supermarket. I can’t get away, and I can’t say no, so I ended up with three boxes of Samoas that I synchronously did and did not want to eat. The solution? Turn it into a treat for my friends: the Samoa cupcake.

Inside the cake is a layer of crushed Samoa cookies (the best of the Girl Scout variety, in my opinion). The icing is infused with coconut, and topped with half a Samoa and cookie crumbs, but you can nix the half-cookie if you’re looking to save a few for your own indulgence.

I took a shortcut on this one, and used Duncan Hines Super Moist vanilla cake mix, and it was well worth it. (And props to DH for delivering on that moist promise; the consistency was perfect and fluffy.)

While these are relatively easy to make, I ran into a little bit of trouble; condensing the coconut milk on the stove took 30 minutes and really threw a wrench in my party planning. While that was pretty vexing, the frosting was the biggest pain in the sash (– get it? Like Girl Scout sash? Ehh?). I attempted to add more coconut flavor by adding an extra tablespoon of the milk, but the frosting was too sweet to add any more powdered sugar and level out, so it ended up way too liquescent — almost like a glaze. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time (or supplies) to make another batch of frosting, so I loaded the liquid into my piping gun and went to town. I ended up with puddles, but they somehow managed to sit still on top of the cupcake, so I rolled with it.

a look inside...

♦1 box Duncan Hines Extra Moist vanilla cake mix

2 eggs
1/3 c. canola oil
2 boxes Samoa Girl Scout Cookies (Caramel Delites)

Pulse one box of Samoa cookies in blender, and set aside. Prepare vanilla cake mix as per instructions on box. Fill 1/3 of each baking cup with batter. Add a layer of Samoa crumbs (making sure to leave enough for second dozen). Add batter to 3/4 full. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes 24 cupcakes.

♦1 can coconut milk
♦4 oz. cream cheese
♦4 tbl. butter
♦1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
♦1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

Reduce can of coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat, about 75 percent. After cooled, spoon four tablespoons (no more!) of the mixture into a  bowl with remaining ingredients. Beat until desired consistency.

Total time? 45 minutes prep (includes condensing), 15 minutes baking.
Cost? A little pricey — $7 for cookies ($3.50/each), $1.29 can of coconut milk, $1 cake mix, $1 cream cheese
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out of 10. As far as taste goes, these were good, but I could have used more cookie crumbs inside the cake to add a little bit more Samoa-ness. I’d also like to try making a coconut-base cupcake next time to really ramp up the flavor. Oh, and that whole not having my frosting look like a sloppy puddle would be good, too.

sporty liners for my Super Bowl party


pop off

Big food “holiday” coming up this weekend, and I’ve got a great little appetizer for you to whip up for any Super Bowl party. (Does that ‘not-allowed-to-say-Super-Bowl’ thing apply to blogs, too? Sure hope not.)

I made these cream cheese and bacon-stuffed jalapeño poppers for my Christmas party (adapted from Gonna Want Seconds), and they required very little effort for something so tasty; they’re also ideal because they don’t lose their appeal after sitting out over the course of the party.

In case you’re overlooking the “jalapeño” in the description, let me remind you that these can be pretty freaking spicy. This might also be a good time to [strongly] encourage the donning of gloves before deveining your jalapeños; I didn’t. My fingers were aflame the entire night — like, visibly crimsoned from my fingertips to my knuckles. Never felt anything like it. Some of my guests exclaimed, “How did you not know that?!” Uhh, because no told me it would be that bad? I didn’t think my hand would catch fire? Is that really common knowledge? Either way, you know I’m looking out for you and the thermal reading of your appendages.

♦10 fresh jalapeños
♦8 oz. of cream cheese
♦5-8 slices of bacon
♦1/2 c. plain panko bread crumbs

Cook bacon, drain on paper towel and crumble when slightly cooled. Combine bacon crumbs and cream cheese in bowl. In a separate bowl, pour out panko. Cut jalapeños in half lengthwise, remove seeds and veins (wearing gloves). Scoop bacon mixture into each jalapeño, then dip cream cheese side into panko. Bake on a lined sheet for 15 minutes at 375 degrees.

Total time? 10 minutes for bacon, 7 minutes prep, 15 minutes bake
Cost? $2 for jalapeños, $1 cream cheese, $2 bacon, $2 panko bread crumbs
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out of 10. My spiteful fingers wanted to take off points for the pain they endured during this, but I broke out some pretty nail polish to distract them. I skimped a little on the cream cheese mixture to make sure I had enough for all 20 poppers, and had too much left over in the end; next time, I’ll be sure to load ’em up — to not only avoid waste, but give guests more of a buffer from the crazy jalapeño kick.