Friday, October 26, 2012

Red Hot Cinnamon Apple Poke Cake

Last weekend, I was going to a Halloween Party and asked to bring a dish.  I decided to make something that involved the apples I had laying on the counter.  I made Red Hot Cinnamon Apple Poke Cake.
What is a poke cake, you may ask?  A Poke Cake is a baked cake that you poke holes in and poor ingredients over the top.  What is seen the most for this kind of cake is probably Jello.

5 Small to Medium Apples Peeled and Cut Up (I used 5 Gala Apples)
2 .9oz Boxes of Red Hots (These actually came from Scotty's Brewhouse. They give them to you when you eat there.)
1 Tbs Cinnamon Sugar Mix
1 Pinch Salt
1-2 tsp Splenda/Sweentener
1-2 Cups Water
For the Cake:
1 Yellow Cake Mix (Follow the Recipe on the Box)
1 Tbs Flour
Cooking Spray
1 Tbs Cinnamon Sugar
*Preheat oven to whatever the instructions say on the Cake Mix box.  Mine said 350 degrees.

Start by peeling, coring, and cutting up my apples.  Then, put all of the ingredients for the apples into a sauce pan.  Bring them up to a boil.  Turn the heat down once they reach a boil to a low heat.  Cook the apples on low for about an hour. Stir occasionally.
While the apples are simmering, start preparing your cake.  Follow the recipe on the cake mix box.  Then, add a Tbs or more of Cinnamon Sugar mix.  (You can buy this at the store usually, or you can make your own.)  
Spray and dust an 9"X13" Cake pan.  Pour in the cake mixture, and bake the time instructed on the cake mix box.
Cooked Apples
While the cake is baking, the apples should be getting closer to done.  The apples should be easy to cut in half with your spoon. 
Cake After Baking
This is what the cake looks like after it is baked. Let it cool completely. 
Spoon for Poking
After the cake has cooled, use a handle of a spoon, to poke holes. 
Holes Poked in Cake
The cake should look something close to this after the holes have been poked in it.  I try to make them even distances in the cake.  It doesn't have too be that perfect. 
After the holes are poked in the cake and the apples have cooled, pour the Red Hot Apples mixture on top of the cake, letting the juices get into the holes. 
Red Hot Apple Cinnamon Poke Cake
This is what the cake will look like when it's finished.  I had a few people ask me if those were tomatoes on top of the cake.  The thing with apples is, they take on the colors of the Red Hot Candies.  I probably should have made a little sign to put in front of it that explained what it was.  I thought the apples looked pretty with the bright red coloring.  This cake turned out really good!  The cinnamon added to the yellow cake, gives the cake a little bit of a kick. The apples on top, tasted awesome!  If you love a good Fall apple recipe, I would go for this one!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

BD's Mongolian Grill

BD's Mongolian Grill is a restaurant that has been around for quite a few years.  The general idea of a Mongolian Grill is that, you go to a buffet style table with raw ingredients, and pick out what you want.  Then, you pick out your sauce or seasoning.  After that, you take it up to a counter, where a staff member cooks it for you.
I'll state this up front: I am not a fan.  But I'll get to explaining that later.
In the beginning, when Ian and I first started going there, I would do the whole bowl thing, and wait for the person to cook my food.  I don't do that anymore. It never turned out tasting the way I thought it should.  Friends recommended I started using the recipe cards, but I may as well cook at home if I'm going to use a recipe!
The Huge Line
There always tends to be a huge, long line to get the food cooked.  This night, there were about 30 people in line waiting to get their food cooked by a staff member.  For me, I would be in tears by the time my food was ready to eat, because of the time it took to stand in line and how far past hungry I would be.  One time, we went with Ian's friends.  By the time I sat down at the table, it had taken so long to get my food, I was holding back tears!  I'm sure this group of friends thought I was just being a witch with a capital B for not talking to them, but I'm sure my blood sugar was so low, I couldn't function.  I wasn't prepared for that to happen, since it was my first time ever experiencing BD's Mongolian Grill.  Now I know, if I want to stand in line and wait for my food to get cooked, I have to eat a snack before I go.  My current choice in this situation is to get appetizers.  Then, I can happily sit and drink my Coke while the food is being made for me!
The Rice Bowl
The first thing the server will ask is, do you want brown, white, or fried rice to go with your stir fry.  You can also ask for tortillas. 
Brown Rice
Ian ordered brown rice to go with his stir fry. The rice is usually of a really good quality.  If you order the fried rice, it costs extra.
Ian's Stir Fry
Ian made his own mix for his stir fry and didn't follow one of the recipe cards. He said, this night, the stir fry wasn't that great.  When you get your food, there are all sorts of things you can add to your stir fry.  There are all sorts of vegetables, a few pastas, and you can even add an egg to it. There's also a salad bar and soups to choose from.
My Order of Egg Rolls
When I go, instead of the stir fry, I order appetizers as my meal. I usually order the egg rolls and the chicken tenders.  They have other items like, Wham Bam Shrimp, Pot Stickers, Nachos, and Wings.  I really like egg rolls in general, and the ones at BD's are pretty good.  They are deep fried, and they come with a really flavorful soy sauce with some other things in it. These are some of the better egg rolls I've gotten out at a restaurant.
Chicken Tender Appetizer
I order the chicken tender appetizer as my meal when I go.  I usually stick with the Ranch Dressing as my dipping sauce. This way, I'm getting some protein, all be it fried protein, but it's protein!  The chicken tenders are a really good white meat.  They have a nice breading, with a little bit of seasoning.  They are really good!
If you are a person that cares about nutrition, this would be a hard place to judge!  You get your own ingredients. Unless you are really good at eyeballing how much of something you have or take a little scale with you, you won't know how much of something you have.  Here's the BD's Nutrition Guide. 
(I looked at the Nutrition Guide for over 15 minutes, and still never found the appetizers listed on it!)
I know people love BD's Mongolian Grill and other Mongolian BBQ's, but I'm not really a fan.  Remember the old Steak 'n Shake commercials that call some restaurants "Workaraunts?"  This is definitely what I would call BD's.  If you don't mind that about this restaurant, then, you'll enjoy BD's.
The big thing for me is THE NOISE LEVEL!  It is WAY TOO LOUD!  The Master Grillers are banging their knives on the grill constantly and yelling things at each other.  Then, on top of that, they play music!  They also bang on a gong to announce things, like Birthdays.  The noise level is way too overwhelming for me!  This may mean I'm turning into an old lady, but I hate it!  By the time I've stood in line to get my food cooked for me, that I had to pick out, I'm starving to death, and the noise level is that loud, I usually end up in tears and hangry!
BD's does do nice things, like fundraisers for community groups.  Even my choir has done one there before. The manager was very kind and helpful that day.
I would give BD's Mongolian Grill one pizza pie out of four.  I don't like the loud atmosphere.  I don't like waiting in line for my food to be cooked.  I hate having to feel like I have to work for my food. It all stresses me out!  My food never ends up tasting like I think it should.  I would prefer a regular Chinese buffet that the food is already cooked, or making my own food at home.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Applebee's: Is this your neighborhood grill?

I have this long relationship with Applebee's.  In college, we would go there all time!  If you go at certain hours of the day, your appetizers are half price.  As a college student, this made it a lot easier and slightly cheaper to go out.  Applebee's has a full bar, and yet, you don't have to be 21 years of age to get in.  This attracts a lot of college students, especially that want to gather with different ages of friends. Since I was a music major, a lot of times, after evening concerts, students would all congregate at the Applebee's down the street from our school, and many of the professors would join us. 
Since I finished college, I haven't really been as interested with Applebee's.  I don't know if it was the advertising or if the food wasn't as good as it used to be. Something just turned me off from eating there.  They've changed their menu to include healthier items, which even have the Weight Watchers Point totals on them.  I've tried to eat a few of those meals, and have not been impressed.  I tried to get one a couple months ago that was a steak and a gigantic Portobello mushroom.  I was still hungry when the meal was gone. I've decided to go ahead and get whatever I want as my main course at Applebee's, or I'm not going to be satisfied when my dinner is done.
One of the deals that Applebee's has running right now, and it has been running for a while is, get one appetizer and two main courses for $20.  This is a pretty good price for two people to go out and eat on a budget. This is what Ian and I did.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
There are only a few appetizers to choose from on the deal for $20.  We started with the Spinach Artichoke Dip appetizer. This comes with the Spinach Artichoke Dip, Salsa, and Tortilla Chips.  The dip has  a good creamy texture.  The creaminess adds to the taste. There's quite a bit of spinach in it, but I would love some more artichoke to balance it out.  I really prefer my own Spinach Artichoke Dip to eating the dip out, but this appetizer is probably one of the best choices from the few on the $20 menu.

Ian and his Cajun Shrimp Pasta
Ian got the Cajun Shrimp Pasta for his meal.  Since the menu update last month, this may not be available any more.  Ian said it tasted really good.  It had a good amount of spiciness to it.  It comes with a fair amount of shrimp on the dish.  It comes with a bread stick, which was pretty soft and chewy.  The bread stick had a good garlic glaze on it. 

Oriental Chicken Salad
For my main course, I ordered the Oriental Chicken Salad. I love this salad!  It's also one of the worse things you can get on the Applbee's menu! It's an O.K. dish if you, A. Skip the dressing, and B. get grilled chicken.  My favorite things about this salad are the dressing and the fried chicken.  This is the whole, I told myself I can get whatever I want at Applebee's issue I wrote about earlier.  This dish is a day's worth of calories for me all at once, and that's before the appetizer that comes with it.  It's just so tasty though. It's hard for me to resist.  I should learn how to make this dish at home, and make it a much healthier version.
The server that evening was nice and kept are drinks filled.  I had gotten the Strawberry tea, and she even offered to let me try a different flavor if I wanted at no extra cost. She did a nice job.
Applebee's does try to bring a home town atmosphere into it's locations by including jerseys of local athletic teams and high school teams. While we were there, a Notre Dame football game was on. When it ended, people were cheering all over the restaurant.  That made the atmosphere a little more fun! Applebee's is a chain.  You can go to almost any one of their restaurants and order the same dish, and it will come out looking and tasting the same.
The commercials and advertising they have right now, saying that their food is made by real Chefs are starting to annoy me a little bit.  I can tell they are trying to jab at their competition, like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.
I'm giving Applebee's two and a half pizza pies out of four.  I'll probably end up going there again, but it's not usually the first place on my mind when trying to pick a restaurant for dinner.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Making Pizza at Home vs. Eating Pizza Out

Have you had the debate with yourself?  Eating at home versus eating out somewhere?  I've been trying to cook more at home instead of eating out.  Here are some of the things I've decided about the two options.
Eating Pizza Out:
Someone makes your food for you.
You don' t have to wash the dishes afterward.
It takes less time in most cases. 
You can just chat with your dinner guest, family, friends, spouse, significant other, etc. while waiting on your food.
It turns out exactly the same every time you go to that specific restaurant.
A Pizza Hut Pan Pizza is going to look pretty much the same every time you go!
When you go to local restaurants, like Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza or Arni's, you are supporting local businesses.
You don't have to do all of the food preparation. 
The service may not be great.  
Your food is prepared by someone else, someone you don't know. 
You don't know what ingredients or the quality of the ingredients that may be in your food.
It costs money, and money adds up after a while!


Making Pizza at Home:
You know what ingredients you are using in your food.  Even if you use a canned crust, you can read the label and decide if you want to use those ingredients. You know if the ingredients are quality ones that are fresh.
The enjoyment of cooking at home, at least I enjoy it. 
Quality time in your own home.
It costs less, in most cases.  Plus, you don't have too leave a tip, unless you're going to tip yourself.
You can invent your own kind of pizza!
You can spend quality time with your significant other, spouse, friends, ect. in the kitchen if you let them help you.
You know how clean your kitchen is and the person preparing the food. (Hopefully, you or the person preparing the food is clean!)
Washing the dirty dishes!
Sometimes the Prep-time is a little longer than you expect.
The pizza creation you make may not taste as good as you hoped!  This doesn't happen often!
Kitchen clean up after the pizza is made.
If people aren't helping you in the kitchen, it's hard to spend quality time with them.

I thoroughly enjoy both eating pizza out and making it at home!  If you've been following this pizza blog, you've probably figured that out by now!
I have this memory of a child of making pizza at home with my family.  My mom would buy the Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit and provide other ingredients: more cheese, pepperoni, sausage, onions, etc. for us to make a pizza together as a family.  I've learned as I got older, I don't even like those pizza kits.  I think the crust and the graded Parmesan that comes with them tastes awful! It's the awesome memories of doing something together as a family, helping my mom in the kitchen, and eating together that I love!
I need to learn to make my own pizza dough, but that would be an even more complicated and time consuming process for making pizza at home.  I really think Pillsbury does it right with their canned pizza doughs. There are also other brands out there, like Boboli that are really good and easy to use. 
You can make memories both by eating out and making the pizza at home!  Has your family ever tried to make a pizza at home, or do you only go out for pizza?  (Or I guess the third option would be strictly frozen pizza!  I do that every once in a while too!)  
What do you and your family prefer?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Home Made Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza

I decided to experiment and make a Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza.  It actually turned out really good, and I even ate the left overs.  I rarely do that!

2 Medium Chicken Breasts, Cooked and Chopped
1 1/2 Sliced Onion
2-3 Roma Tomatoes Sliced
1 Cup Ranch Dressing (I personally prefer Kraft.)
4 Bacon Strips Cooked and Chopped
1 Can Pillsbury Artisan Wheat Crust
3 Cloves Garlic
3 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Bag (2 Cups) Mozzarella (Or more if you like cheese!)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, or whatever the Pillsbury can says. 
   Microwaved Chicken Breast
To start, I put four frozen chicken breasts into my Deep Covered Baker, and microwaved them.  I through a little bit of garlic powder and Italian seasoning on them.  Four was too many!  I only ended up using about two of them for the pizza. 
Why that was cooking, I did the Crust Trick, and then, put my pizza dough on the pan.  I stuck it in the oven and cooked it for about eight minutes. 
After the chicken was done cooking, I put microwaved the bacon in the Deep Ridge Baker. 
Sliced Tomatoes and Onions
While the other stuff is cooking, I sliced up the tomatoes and onions. I used three whole Roma tomatoes and about half of the medium onion on the pizza. 
Mozzarella Cheese and Kraft Ranch Dressing
My favorite bottle Ranch dressing is Kraft!  (And they didn't pay me to say that!)  My niece, E. came and stayed with me for a while, and insisted I buy Kraft dressing. I have never gone back!  I'm not picky on brand of cheese, though. The bag pictured is store brand. 
Precooked Pizza with Toppings
After the crust is precooked, the bacon and chicken breasts are fully cooked and chopped up, and the tomatoes and onions are sliced. I started putting toppings on the pizza. First, I put a hefty amount of Ranch dressing on the crust. I didn't measure exactly how much, but it was probably close to half of the bottle or more.  We like a saucy pizza!  Then, I put on the tomatoes and onions.  After that, the bacon and chicken went on.  Then, I finished with A LOT of cheese.  I used about three cups.  
When all of the toppings were on the crust, I stuck the pizza in the oven and cooked it for 8-10 more minutes, making sure the cheese was completely melted. 
Fully Cooked Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza
After the pizza was cooked, I let it rest on the table for a couple minutes.  Then, I sliced it.  
Pizza Served
I served this pizza with salad.  The pizza turned out really good!  I usually don't go for white sauce pizzas, but the Ranch Dressing gave it a really good kick!  My sister asked if the dressing got greasy or gross.  I didn't. It cooked quite well. I don't know if that's because I use name brand dressing or not.  The chicken and bacon with the Ranch was a great flavor combination!  With the tomatoes and onions, it worked out perfect!  I would recommend this to anyone out there who wants to try to make "Gourmet" pizza at home.  They only thing was, cooking the chicken and bacon were easy, but a little time consuming.  The prep time for this pizza is around 30-45 minutes, which is a little on the long side for prep-time for me, but it really didn't feel like it took that long.  I was just really hungry while I was making it, which made the prep feel longer!