Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vegas, Baby!

The Wednesday through Friday before Memorial Day, we decided to head to Las Vegas for no reason other than it was silly cheap. Round trip airfare was $75 per person after fees & taxes, and I got two nights at Paris Las Vegas using credit card points. With all those savings, we decided to really splurge on food while there.

The first night, we ate at Mon Ami Gabi which was convenient since it was at our hotel, and I had heard good things about the good quality for reasonable prices, as well as a great view. I loved my meal, but my husband ordered something that wasn't his style and was not a fan of the food, but he enjoyed the view and the service. 2 steak dinners with drinks was $80 including tip, so it was a very reasonable meal for Vegas. Here are a couple pictures of the view:

Later that evening, we went to the VooDoo Lounge at the Rio. We had been told that this was a must see location, and we loved it. We had a book of coupons that got us free entry into the club and two free drinks, which made it even better. We checked out the view for a bit, then went inside to order dessert and dessert drinks. This was so good, and it met my husband's requirement that we must enjoy a great dessert on this trip. See below for pictures of the view, the drinks, and the dessert:

The next day was a nondescript breakfast at the hotel cafe' and then off to lunch at the Burger Bar, which is one place that I loved from our trip last year. I didn't take a picture of my Kobe beef burger with cheddar & carmelized onion, but it was fantastic. If you haven't had a Kobe beef burger before, it is an unusual experience. The Kobe beef isn't special because it is more tender, but just more flavorful and beefy than regular beef. Burger Bar is a place where you can design your own burger with simple to fancy ingredients. I love it. Here are some pictures of our walk to Mandalay Bay from the monorail stop at MGM (we loved the monorail), as well as some pictures from the top of the Eiffel tower, which was nice, but not worth the $10 they normally charge (we got it free with our coupons):

That night, we enjoyed dinner & a show. After much deliberation, I decided on dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. I haven't always been a huge fan of Bobby Flay's Food Network shows, but he's grown on me since becoming an Iron Chef and especially, since starting the show "Throwdown" where he challenges a local expert into a food challenge based on their expertise. I got the Mango & Spice Crusted Tuna (with pine nut couscous) and the husband got Ancho Honey Glazed Salmon, and we shared an Anaheim Chile Relleno stuffed with black beans, white cheddar and rice. The spice combinations and spices were fantastic. My husband said that the salmon would have been just okay, but that the sauces made things more interesting and made the dish. The Chile Relleno was to die for. Unfortunately, I realized at the end of the meal, that I didn't take any pictures. Actually, my husband reminded me: "Hey, foodie, you forgot the pictures!" So here's all you are going to get:

After dinner, we headed over to our Cirque show, Love. When we picked up our tickets, we were given two for one drink tickets to the Mirage's Beatle themed lounge, Revolution. We headed over and enjoyed a couple of mai tai's before the show. I am a huge Beatles fan, so the lounge just got me more pumped up for the show. The show was like the Disney movie "Fantasia" for Beatles songs, except way trippy and with incredible acrobats/dancers. I really loved it. Here are a couple pictures in the lounge, no pictures allowed in the theater:

The last day, we had a buffet breakfast at "Le Village Buffet" at Paris, which is known as one of the better buffets in town. I loved the made to order crepe station, where I got a strawberry chocolate crepe. We aren't buffet people, and we realize this, but we had more coupons for this and so it ended up being less expensive than our breakfast the day before, and it filled us up until dinner, so it worked well. It was a great couple of date nights in Vegas, and we loved the view from our room:

Book #34 and a meal to go with it - Moloka'i

I'm jumping way ahead in the book reviews to talk about my 34th book of the year, Moloka'i. One of the challenges for the Spring Book Challenge on the Nest is to read a book and then cook a meal inspired by the book. I chose the book "Moloka'i" and made a Hawaiian inspired meal to go with it. The book, written by Alan Brennert, is fantastic, and deals with two periods of American History that have always fascinated me because there is so little attention paid: The banishment of Hanson's Disease/Leprosy patients to Moloka'i in Hawaii, and a part of WWII history that is rarely talked about (I'm not going to spoil this part for anyone who wants to read this). This was one of the more effective historical fiction novels I've read, combining a heart breaking story with accurate history in a way that more people can be educated on our past. The characters were very real and the author, though not a Hawaii resident, seemed to honor Hawaii's history with respect. Very well done.

For the meal that went along with this book, I made Ahi Poke as an appetizer, mirroring the Ahi Poke that we had on our 5 year anniversary trip to Hawaii in November. I seriously dream about that dish, and I think I did it honor by buying very high quality ahi and marinating in a prepared Poke marinade. If I didn't have the marinade, I would have made my own using soy, ginger and sesame oil, but the prepared marinade was tasty and I think I presented it well in martini glasses:

For the main course, I made macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi. I have tried making this before and couldn't quite get the nuts crushed enough, plus I didn't know to mix the nuts with other breading. With the help of my Magic Bullet and some panko bread crumbs, I think I got it just right this time:

Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi
2 6 oz Mahi Mahi filets
2 oz Roasted Macadamia nuts, chopped in a processor until chopped very fine
3 oz plain panko bread crumbs, added to processer and pulsed until mixed with nuts
1 Tbs olive oil or butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place nut and crumb mixture on a shallow dish. Press fish into crumbs and pat until both sides are well coated with crumbs. Heat oil in an oven safe pan. Add fish and brown the outsides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to oven and cook until fish is flaky and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve with hot rice.

Slow Cooker Ranch Pork Chops

I have mentioned before that my husband has an aversion to pork. He does enjoy pork in shredded pork tacos, and as long as the pork is cooked to done, but not too tough, he seems to do okay. So I thought that this recipe from Erica's Cooking Adventures would be great, since most everything cooked in the slow cooker comes out tender and cooked through just fine. I was so shocked when these chops came out pink after 8 hours of cooking. I ate them and thought they were tasty, but I don't mind pork that is a little pink. The husband was freaking out just watching me eat these. He ate the mashed potatoes and gravy. No pork. I might try these again and cook for 10 hours, or maybe try with chicken breast, but in the meantime, I'll continue to look for a good slow cooker recipe for pork.

Slow Cooker Ranch Pork Chops
4-5 pork chops (I used 4 medium thick boneless chops)
4-8 ou cream cheese (I used 4 oz low fat)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 packet Ranch dressing mix
4 T butter (I used 2 T butter, 2 T I can't Believe It's Not Butter Stick)
Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl and microwave for 1-2 minutes, until butter is melted and cream cheese is softened.Remove from microwave and mix in the cream of chicken and Ranch packet. Place the pork chops in the crockpot and pour the cream cheese mixture over top. Cook on high 5-6 or low 7-8 hours

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Taco Bake

I love Southwestern flavors and casseroles that don't involve cream of xxx soup, so when I saw this recipe on Loves Deliciousness, I knew that I had to try it. Ironically, it reminded me a lot of the Mexican Stuffed Shells I made quite a while ago, and only when I was siting this post did I realize that Loves Deliciousness was the source for both recipes! I did some tweaking (low fat cheeses, ground turkey and whole wheat macaroni), but stayed pretty true to the original recipe. This one was a keeper. I think we will probably adjust the cream cheese to sour cream ratio a bit (we are bigger sour cream than cream cheese fans), and I might use a blend of low fat and regular cheese for the top next time, since the low fat was a little less gooey than I would have liked. Otherwise, it is yet another great recipe that I have come across due to the food blogging world.

Taco Bake (from Loves Deliciousness)
1 lb ground beef (I used Ground Turkey)
1 packet taco seasoning (I used low sodium)
15 oz. tomato sauce
8 oz. seashell pasta (I used whole wheat macaroni)
8 oz. package cream cheese, softened in microwave (I used low fat, will probably use 4-6 oz next time)
1/2 cup sour cream (I will probably use 3/4 to 1 cup low fat sour cream next time)
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I used 8 oz low fat Mexican blend, will probably use 1/2 & 1/2 fat to low fat mixture next time)
Brown ground meat, drain. Add taco seasoning and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. In the meantime, cook pasta according to directions & drain. Mix softened cream cheese and sour cream in small bowl. Spray bottom of 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Put pasta in bottom of pan & top with cream cheese mixture. Spoon ground meat mixture over this. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Bake @ 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving. Makes 6-8 servings
Nutrition Info for 1/8 of casserole: Calories: 271.7, Fat: 14.1g (7.7 Sat, .4 Poly, 2 Mono), Carbs: 13.1g, Fiber: 1.4g

Fire Drill Food Day 2 - Cajun Grilled Fish

As I said in the last post, I had to make quick stovetop meals last week due to the heat, threat of lost electricity and need to be plastered to the TV for news on the Jesusita fire. One of my favorite easy meals as a kid was fish sticks and macaroni & cheese (the blue box, baby!). I decided to make grilled fish and the blue box to achieve a slightly more mature level to the dinner. Because I didn't have time to go to my usual fresh fish market, I ended up getting orange roughy from the regular store, which is really tasty, but unfortunately, not a sustainable fish. I really try and eat sustainable fish most of the time (fish that is caught in ways that do not deplete the seafood supply), but this was a special circumstance. I coated the fish in cajun seasoning and grilled it up. The fish was very good. Oddly enough, the Kraft Mac & Cheese tasted a little off. Maybe that was the world's way of telling me that I need to be making that from scratch these days, I have the skills and shouldn't be using the shortcut. Maybe next time when it isn't so hot! This is another one that doesn't have nutrition info. Just use a light textured white fish coated in cajun spices and grill until fish is done.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fire Drill Food - Day 1

My lack of posts lately has been caused by two things: I have been sick, and the Jesusita Fire that has been devastating my home town has put a damper on cooking. For those of you who don't live in California, you might not know how much a fire like the Jesusita Fire can halt all productivity. Not only were we concerned about our fellow Santa Barbarians, but it was over 100 degrees here, and very few of us have air conditioning. On Thursday night, the fire could be seen spreading wildly westward from our kitchen window:

On top of all the fear, the power kept flickering and threatening to shut down as it has in fires past. A power outage pretty much kills all cooking for me, since I have all electric appliances and no outdoor grill to speak of. So all meals that I did manage to cook were very quick stovetop concoctions that wouldn't heat up the house and would hopefully be done before any power outages (which thankfully, never came to fruition out where we live).
The first of the two days that I cooked during the Jesusita Fire, I made what has been known in my family as simply "Teriyaki." The recipe is from one of my grandfather's Hawaiian girlfriends, and it uses flank steak. The teriyaki marinade used with the steak is not your standard from a jar teriyaki and can only be classified as "Hawaiian-style Teriyaki." My family has tried this on chicken before and it just isn't as good. The steak is where its at! I'm leaving the measurements as they are on the family recipe card, but I'll show how much I used, too. I just think family measurements are funny.

Teriyaki (from a girlfriend of Granddaddy)
1 large bottle of soy sauce (I used Kikoman 20 oz low sodium)
4 or 5 cloves garlic, crushed (I used 4)
6 or 7 slices ginger, minced (I used about 3 tsp jarred fresh ginger)
4 or 5 tsp sesame oil (I used 4 tsp)
6+ scoops sugar to taste (I think this measures out to about 3 cups or so)
2-3 lbs flank steak, sliced into thin strips against the grain
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well until sugar dissolves. Add steak strips and marinate for 1/2 an hour. Grill steak strips until done, just a couple minutes per side.
I don't have nutrition info. for this one because the ingredient measurements are so crazy, but flank steak is one of the healthiest cuts of meat there is. Just be careful if you are watching your salt intake, this is really salty even with the low sodium soy!