Saturday, January 21, 2012

Las Vegas Part II: Mandalay Bay

For our first day in Las Vegas, we decided we would just stay in Mandalay Bay.  There is so much to do and see, and we had no problem finding something that would keep us occupied for the day.  We decided to have breakfast at Bayside Buffet.  It was incredible, and one of my regrets is that we never made it to the supper buffet.  For a person who has always lived in small towns with small buffets, this was a little overwhelming.  Add to all the choices that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and it was a little difficult to know what to take.  First thing I noticed were carafes of coffee already on the table, which I thought was a nice touch.  I decided to walk around and look at everything before I got a plate.  It was magical.  There was a dessert station with pastries, mini pies and cheesecakes, muffins, and donuts. The next stations held just about any typical breakfast food imaginable: fresh fruit, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, french toast, warm pecan syrup, breakfast tacos, steel-cut oats, regular oats with all the toppings available, bagels, smoked salmon with capers, smoked trout, cream cheese, eggs benedict,  an omelet station.  They even had a few breakfast pizzas, panko crusted salmon, and a carving station with turkey and ham.  I absolutely love smoked salmon, and it's not something you can get very often in small town in the Midwest, so I ate a lot of it here.  I miss the land of smoked salmon.

We also had breakfast on our last day at Raffles Cafe.  It's a 24 hour restaurant in the hotel.  I had the Norwegian Benedict which had (surprise) smoked salmon, potato pancakes, capers, poached eggs, and was covered in hollandaise.  Jason had the huevos rancheros, which was also very delicious.  I'm so glad we came here.  The portions were very generous, the restaurant was nicely decorated, and the service was great.  Once again, when you ordered coffee they put a carafe on the table.

On our first night we ate at Hussong's Cantina.  It was a Mexican sport's bar.  The food we had was great, but it wasn't extremely memorable.  It was a fun atmosphere, but I would stop at Burger Bar (I wrote about this in the previous post) if I wanted something reasonably quick in a bar atmosphere.

Below are pictures from the buffet.  For my last Vegas post I will discuss an excellent place off the strip.
Jason's first plate: French toast, bacon, and cheese blintzes with strawberry sauce.

 My first plate: sausage, eggs benedict (not too bad for being on a buffet), panko crusted salmon, breakfast egg roll, smoked salmon, capers, red onions, cream cheese.
 Jason's second plate: breakfast taco, lox pizza (so good!), beef with mushrooms
 My second plate: bean salad, olives, smoked trout, smoked salmon, panko salmon, capers, red onions.  
 Chocolate pastry and if you look on the plate you'll see a mini coconut cream pie.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Las Vegas Part I

About 3 weeks ago my wonderful husband took me to Las Vegas for an early 30th birthday present.  I had never been before, and it was exciting to see all the lights and shows, but honestly, I was there for the food.  I'm splitting this post into a few different parts, and I plan on talking about different restaurants in each part.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of food pictures while we were there.  Sometimes I forgot to take pictures, or I would start to eat before I remembered I should be talking a picture.  Many times I felt uncomfortable taking a picture because we were in a high end restaurant, and I never know if it's okay to snap a photo of my meal. This post will be an overview of my trip and cover some of the places where I didn't get pictures.

One thing people have asked/told me since my return is "The food must be really cheap" or "Isn't the food really inexpensive."  The quick answer is no.  It's not like Vegas when my parents went in the 1980's.  My dad told me one of the dinner buffets was $2.99.  If you go now, expect to pay a lot more.  That being said, I wasn't impressed by the variety of restaurants in Mandalay Bay, where we stayed, and every hotel we walked through.  Mandalay Bay boasts such restaurants as RM Seafood and Woolfgang Puck's Lupo it also has two Starbucks and a yogurt and crepe shop.  I thought the variety was nice.  We ate mostly high end and middle while we were there.  Jason really wanted crepes and yogurt, but we ran out of time and stomach room.  We found a lot of the restaurants had very reasonable happy hour specials, and if you wanted to eat an earlier supper (in some cases happy hours ran until 7, but most were 3 to 5), this could be the way to go.  

Part of the reason we stayed at Mandalay Bay was RM Seafood.  Jason and I are both big fans of Rick Moonen, and I love seafood.  We were expecting to eat upstairs, which has a little nicer menu and a 7-course tasting menu.  I was excited for the tasting event, but that morning when our reservations were confirmed, we found out the upstairs was closed for a staff holiday.  I was a little upset, but I knew we'd have a good meal anyway.  We ended up having the small raw sampler as an appetizer.  It had mussels, oysters, clams, shrimp, half a lobster, and escebeche.  The oysters were the best I had ever tasted.  It was my first time with raw clams, and while I enjoyed the oysters most, the clams were excellent.  They were a little chewier and brinier than the clams.  For my entree, I had Arctic Char, which is very similar to salmon, and Jason had the scallops with pork belly.  My Arctic Char was great, but the oysters were the standout of the meal.

One afternoon we decided to go to Burger Bar, which is one of Hubert Keller's restaurant.  They had an extensive draft beer selection and high end burgers, fries, and milkshakes.  I had the Hubert Keller burger, which was buffalo, spinach, blue cheese, and caramelized onions.  It was wonderful.  I'd never had cooked spinach on a burger before, and I know I will be cooking my spinach before it tops my burger from now on.  We sat at the bar, and the bartender was very friendly and entertaining.  The best part of the meal was actually seeing Hubert Keller.  I really wanted to take his picture, and the bartender said I could, but I just never know if it's welcome or not, so I chickened out.  

This post is getting long, so I'll stop now.  I'll be back with pictures of food next time.
The view from outside Mandalay Bay
On the strip

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Not-Really-Taco Ramekins

My husband, Jason, loves tacos.  Every week when I'm figuring out the menu, and I ask him what he wants, he always says "tacos."  When I got a new cookbook for my birthday, and he thumbed through he immediately stopped on a recipe called "Taco Ramekins" saying "I like tacos, and we have ramekins."  I made them up, and I was a little concerned.  It seemed like a strange mix of items and not at all taco-like.  It had ground beef, green bell peppers, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, green onions, chili powder and biscuit mix.    When I mentioned this to Jason he said "Oh, I didn't read the recipe, I just liked the name."  To my surprise, the taco ramekins tasted really good, but they didn't taste anything like tacos.  I'm not even sure why they are called taco ramekins (yes, I get the ramekin part).  I will be making these up again, but this time we know not to expect any taco flavor, and Jason has learned to actually read the recipe before requesting the item.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Smoky Chicken Sandwich: Laugh When it Goes Wrong

I call this chicken sandwich smokey as a joke.  It was chicken breast marinated in lime juice, honey, and chili powder.  It was then cooked on a cast iron grill pan.  Everything was going well with the cooking of the chicken until it started to smoke.  I thought I would be able to eliminate the smoke from the kitchen by turning on the oven fan.  This worked for about 3 seconds, but then the smoke started billowing from the pan and filled up the adjoining living room.  My husband, who was in the living/dining room setting the table began opening windows.  4 windows were opened, ceiling fans were turned on, and the house was a smoky mess.  I started coughing, but I continued to cook that chicken.  Finally, when the chicken appeared to be blackened I cut it in slices to reveal pink chicken.  "Really?" I yelled "After all that it's still not cooked?".  I just stuck the chicken in the microwave, as my husband made jokes about my serving him raw chicken strips about 6 months prior (I still have problems frying anything on this electric stove).  When we finally sat down to eat I piled the now cooked chicken slices onto rolls with avocado, tomato, lettuce, and salsa.  "What kind of chicken is this?"  my husband asked?  "Smoked" I said.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Weeknight Kitchen: Ancho Glazed Cornish Hens with Roasted Winter Vegetables and Cornbread

I haven't done a Weeknight Kitchen post in awhile, but one of my New Year's goals is to try more new recipes, and the Weeknight Kitchen newsletter from is a great place to start.  I had never made Cornish hens before, but my husband really likes them, so I thought I would give them a try.  They were really fun, and felt more special than a baked chicken.  I might use this recipe again, and I think I did something wrong because the skin wasn't as crispy as I wanted it to be.  The roasted winter vegetable were amazing.  If you've never roasted brussel sprouts, you should try it.  I've been roasting them for awhile, and my husband, who used to hate brussel sprouts now requests them often.  The addition in this recipe of grapes and carrots was really good.  I will add some balsamic vinegar next time because I thought it needed a little more acidity.  Below are the pictures of the meal.  I used the leftover hens for Cornish hen salad.

Vegetable before going into the oven
After roasting
Hens ready for the oven.  
The finished plate.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Food from New Year's Eve and a Spinach Artichoke Dip Recipe

I have been such a slacker with blogging lately.  I thought that once the semester ended and I was on break, I'd have lots of time to cook and post about it.  Well, I have been cooking, but I've also been reading, watching movies, going to Las Vegas, and enjoying time with family.  I have a lot of food pictures, and I will try to post more regularly from now on, but no promises.  

Last year my husband and I had plans for New Year's Eve.  These plans were unexpectedly canceled at the last minute, and I was feeling very down about it.  We decided we would just stay home, watch movies, and each appetizers.  We ended up having so much fun that we've decided to make it a tradition.  I varied the food a little for this year, and the movies changed (last year it was a Police Academy marathon, and this year we went with Die Hard).  Below are some pictures, and at the end of the post is my really easy recipe for Spinach Artichoke Dip.  Enjoy, and I hope to see you soon.
 The table with crackers, stuffed peppers, dill dip, cheese, veggies, hot spinach artichoke dip, goat cheese, and a bottle of Proseco.

 We got this appetizer tower as a wedding gift.  It was very useful, and cute for the evening.
 Close-up of stuffed peppers.  These were sweet peppers, but I added red pepper flakes to the filling.  You can find the recipe here.  They were great both hot and at room temperature.

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 to 2 cups raw spinach, torn into pieces (may omit for an artichoke dip)

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix together until well blended (a potato masher works really well).  You can not either heat this in a crock pot, place in a 375 F. oven for 15 minutes, and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each time until the dip is warmed.  This doubles and quadruples beautifully.  Serve with crackers, pita, or veggies.  I've also had this on baked potatoes, and it was excellent.