Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

Happy Leap Day!

Visit A Life's Design to see her beautiful Leap Day post.  The photos brought a big smile to my face today!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Happens in Vegas...

"...gets posted on Facebook"

At least that's what the flight attendant announced when I landed the weekend before last in Las Vegas.

I survived my first trip to Sin City, and I am slightly surprised to say I totally loved it.

Six girls came from all over a couple weekends ago to celebrate my good friend's Bachelorette weekend and upcoming wedding.  We fit a lot into two days, and I am already excited to go back to Adult Disneyland as soon as possible.

Not only did the airport terminal have some nice hippy San Francisco touches, like a Yoga Room, but I was thoroughly impressed with the flight experience--my first trip on Virgin America.  I had heard good things about the airline, but I was especially pleased with the new planes and personal TV screens with video game controllers.  And I could even order Philz coffee from my seat.  Jackpot.

A welcoming arrival:

I arrived early on Saturday, and we spent the morning enjoying a long brunch at the Paris (read: bottomless mimosas) and walking around the casinos.  I loved the Paris and now want to visit the real city even more. 

Inside the Paris casino.  So charming!

The weather outside was sunny and pretty warm so we opted to walk-off brunch along the strip and take in the sites, music, and people.  People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes, and Vegas did NOT disappoint!
I forced the poor Bachelorette to pose with this nearly nude street performer.
Don't be fooled by her huge grin: she was NOT pleased with me :)  
Canals inside the casino at the Venetian

That evening the six of us girls enjoyed a delicious Thai dinner before making our way to Club Haze at the Aria.  After having a few recruiters from the various clubs add our names to their respective guests lists earlier in the day, we arrived at Haze and were whisked into a VIP line, then escorted to the front of another line, when we finally found ourselves right up in front of the club near the stage.  A bachelor party group of guys invited us into their private party area, where more drinks than words were exchanged between our parties: they were South American and hard to understand.  (And they sure didn't teach that type of conversational vocab in Spanish class!)

We were promised a performance by Cee Lo, which I was beyond excited for.  However, as the hours ticked by that night and the DJs kept fist-pumping stalling, we settled for an impressive opening act of cirque-du-soleil-like acrobatics before calling it a night well after midnight.  (We later learned Cee Lo didn't come on stage until a few more hours later!)  

The MGM Grand, where I was dying to see the lions that are kept in the casino.  
Unfortunately, their exhibit was closed due to some remodeling!
New York, New York

On Sunday afternoon our group of girls went to tea at the Mandarin Oriental.  We had a private room with an incredible view, and we enjoyed the quiet opportunity to celebrate with the bachelorette in this fancy setting.  We each had our pick of tea, accompanied by tea sandwiches, scones, and an entire plate covered in bite-sized desserts.  Everything tasted incredible.  

3 Course Tea
The Venetian
After an outfit change back at the hotel, we enjoyed a bit of gambling (and gambling lessons) before the night's main event: Cirque du Soleil Mystere.  

I don't even have words. 

Except: Ridiculously Amazing.

To top it all off, we had yet to enjoy dinner.  One of the weekend activities I had most anticipated was dinner at Bouchon.  I've been a fan of Chef Thomas Keller after seeing him several times on Top Chef and other programs, and several of his recipes we've tried in our own kitchen have been outstanding.  

After ordering wine at the bar, we shared a few hors d'oeuvres, and my main course was Poulet Roti: roasted chicken with caramelized Savoy cabbage, forest mushrooms, and whole grain mustard jus.   It was incredible: I knew they'd have a well-executed spin on a classic.  
We also shared dessert of "Bouchons," which were soft brownie bites with espresso ice cream and caramel.  I could have eaten 3 of the desserts myself, but the goal was to be polite...

Monday morning, I had just enough time before my flight departed to walk around the Strip a bit more, checking out the casinos and grabbing an edible souvenir from Bouchon Bakery to take back to my Sous Chef.  (Even though it arrived a bit crushed, it was quite a hit.)  It was warm, sunny, and not very crowded.   

This is a Chihuly glass exhibit in the ceiling of the Bellagio.  Much cooler in person than this picture captures.  (Shout out to my brother- and sister-in-law: I know how they appreciate this artist :)

Caesar's Palace: inside the Forum Shops

The last morning, after being disappointed that the MGM's lions were not on display, I was determined to see the dolphins I had heard about at the Mirage.  Sadly, their exhibit were not open yet that morning, and I had to catch my flight before I had the chance to take the tour.  Next time!

For now, the closest I saw to real dolphins:

Again, NEXT TIME!  I can't wait for my next trip, whenever that may be.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cross Country Travels

While this was making its way East for our favorite little 6-month old Duke fan....

A little Blue Devil enhancement

These guys was making their way West for a fun weekend in San Francisco!

Too bad this little one couldn't come too:

I am so happy to have my buddies here in town.  We have a really fun weekend ahead.

Happy Friday!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Seeds with Belts


The first thing you have to do is figure out how to pronounce it and not look like a dummy.
It's keen-wah.
Kwin-o-uh will get you some odd stares--especially if you are in Whole Foods or another pretentious foodie environment--maybe even a finger-wag.  I was in the break room of my old job a couple years ago, and the nicest but most odd man was heating up his keen-wah while educating me about this mystery seed and all its nutritional perks.  I figured it was just another one of his amusing quirks, but not too long after, I saw a bag of the stuff at Trader Joe's and decided to give it a try.  Hey--I love couscous, this probably isn't too different?

Well, it is different.  And it's way better for you that couscous.  I've read over and over about its "superfood" status, and I enjoy sharing my little random trivia that quinoa's a seed rather than a grain (though it is often still called a "whole grain").  I also find it amusing that once it has fully cooked, each seed loosens its little yellow belt, as if implying, "I feel so bloated today too."

Which reminds me of one of my favorite jokes...

Quinoa is full of protein, fiber, iron, and calcium.  It can be purchased in bulk bins in the red or yellow varieties, and Trader Joe's sells a tri-color blend.  Or you can pull out the big guns and buy the 5lb bag from Costco.  My mom buys about 4 of those bags at once (even though I noticed she has additional back-up bags in the downstairs's important always to be prepared for an emergency.)  My parents' favorite method of preparation is to cook up a couple pounds at a time and later mix in a variety of veggies, beans, herbs, or other toppings, such as feta cheese, salsa, lemon juice and zest, to give it either a Mediterranean or Mexican flavor.  I think my Dad could probably be satisfied eating a quinoa bowl for every meal for the rest of the year.  Just throw in a beer at dinner.

But I have started to see some other interesting and creative uses for quinoa pop up online, and I thought I'd share, even if only two certain people see this and opt to venture out!

Breakfast Quinoa

Two versions of quinoa burgers:

I'm a sucker for a soft egg

Curried Quinoa Wrap:

Southwestern Wrap:

Which looks best?  I am especially intrigued by the quinoa burgers with the soft egg on top.

So, besides my Mom, who else has jumped on the keen-wah band wagon?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shrimp and Veggie Spring Rolls

Continuing with the rolling theme, one recipe that has been on my list of dishes to try recently was the healthy-ish Spring Roll, seen here.

After scouring several regular grocery stores, I was finally able to find the rice sticks and Spring Roll wrappers at Lucky grocery store in San Francisco.

Instead of tofu (which is not the biggest hit in our house), I cooked some shrimp in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, then sliced them into small pieces to wrap into the rolls.

As for dipping sauces, Trader Joe's sells a sweet chili sauce, but I didn't love the flavor.  Next time I will try making my own (possibly this recipe) or trying another brand.  I did make my own peanut sauce, which turned out pretty well.  Overall, these were pretty tasty, and definitely filling.

Back to the Pinterest boards to search for something else I can cram into a roll for dinner!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rollin' Sushi

As a teenager I was a state lifeguard, working on the beaches during the summers.  Our group of guards was really fun, and we occasionally threw themed parties, one of which involved making and rolling our own sushi.  At the time, I was not a fan of fish (though I am now), and I had requested a non-fish variety of sushi for our cooking experiment.  Way to be the difficult person in the crowd!
What we came up with was chicken cooked in teriyaki sauce with avocado, mango, and cucumber.  It might sound weird, but it's quite the winning combo!  So much so, that even as my tastes changed and I learned to really appreciate fish and "normal" sushi, this chicken variety still makes its way into the recipe rotation for home rolling.  

As for the marinated chicken, I prefer Soyaki sauce that Trader Joe's sells.  I cut slices of chicken and let them marinate in about a half cup of Soyaki for 10-20 minutes, then dump the chicken and marinade into the skillet and cook the chicken and liquid all the way down.  The marinade boils and then caramelizes a bit, creating a sticky, densely flavored strip of chicken.  

The rest of the ingredients are sliced thinly.  Mango. Avocado. Cucumber.

One nice thing about having a Chinatown neighborhood in the city is cheap and easy-to-find Asian food ingredients.  I found a 3-pack of nori/seaweed wrappers (30 sheets) in a Chinatown market for far less that one package often costs.  Nori can now be purchased for a decent price at most regular grocery stores, though.

I add a tiny bit of sugar and rice vinegar to the rice and let it cool.  The bamboo roller is not required but makes things a bit easier.  The key to assembly is to have a little water dish near your rolling station.  To make successful sushi, nothing should stick to your hands, so I use the water to wet the nori and to keep my hands wet enough so the rice does not stick.

And I have perfected the cutting method, so that the sushi logs are perfectly sliced and do not fall apart.
1) knife: use a sharp, serrated knife
2) water: run the knife under water every few cuts
3) wrap: the nori wrapper must be damp enough to seal to the roll closed completely, so that when you go to cut it, the nori does not unroll and cause your filling to spill out.

Over New Year's Eve, our friends invited us to a sushi-rolling party, and we experimented with several new fillings.  Our host had purchased sashimi-grade tuna (maguro) at Whole Foods, so that we could try maguro and spicy tuna rolls.  (It's sustainable, too, Mom!)

Oh, and if you're a wasabi-lover like me, I highly recommend the little green tube, sold at most grocery stores.  Do not mess with the powder that you have to mix with water.  The powder does not taste great after being stored....

Homemade sushi is fun to make and actually makes for a fun dinner party activity, but I recommend having extra rolls ready so that you keep up with how quickly the sushi is being consumed!
Next time we'll have to try some fresh fish, especially since we're so close to the ocean again.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valentine's Day Inspiration

With Valentine's Day coming up, I figured it would be fun to pull together some of the fun Pinterest finds I have collected lately.  

Some of the projects tug at my more crafty side...

Dishtowels I could sew:

Doily envelopes:

I Heart U cards:

Moustache Valentines:

A paper garland made from craft paper:

This pretty heart wreath:

But most Valentine's Day finds have been of the edible variety.

Sprinkle Pretzels (a fun snack!):

And these gorgeous cookies.  Who knows if I have the skills to make them, but they sure are pretty!

Delicate Icing

Frosted Hearts

Swirls and Sprinkles

Valentine's Day Tea bags:

Ice cream sandwiches:

Heart Cheesecake!

Valentine's Day is a week away...plenty of time to try a thing or two from this list.

What are some favorite ideas you've seen?