Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pan-Roasted Ponzu Chicken

Burnished mahogany brown with ponzu sauce, this crispy, tasty, chicken full of the flavors of soy sauce and lemon is a guaranteed hit. It's super easy too.

Japanese ponzu sauce (a lemon-soy sauce)
Chicken thighs

Marinate chicken in Japanese ponzu sauce overnight or for a few hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove from marinade, pat dry. In a hot skillet over medium heat, sear chicken 5 minutes skin side, 3 minutes on other side until it's nicely browned.

If your skillet is oven proof, put directly in oven. If not, put browned chicken on a cookie sheet or roasting pan in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until cooked through (175 degrees internal temperature.)

COOK'S NOTE: I normally use organic chicken, and after pan frying, can put the skillet straight into the oven, because there's not so much oil. Recently, I bought regular chicken thighs and when pan frying, the chicken exuded about a 1/2 cup of oil. If that happens to you, I would recommend taking as much oil out of the skillet with a spoon as you can (no need to remove the chicken if you plan to put the skillet in the oven) before putting the chicken in the oven.

Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Parsley-Lemon Sauce

Who said parsley is just a garnish? I made a quick parsley-lemon sauce to accompany brined chicken breasts which I pan seared and then put in an oven to finish cooking (the roasted potatoes were in there anyway). I also served the chicken with sauteed mushrooms.

A trick to keep the lean boneless, skinless chicken breasts moist is to brine the chicken beforehand. If you do it the night before or the morning of, it will be ready to put on the stove when it's time from dinner.

This meal couldn't have been simpler, and it was delicious.

3 chicken breasts (1 pack)

Little less than 1/4 kosher cup of salt
2 cups water

Mixed seasoning of your choice optional (I used Penzey's Mural of Flavor on the chicken, but it's not necessary)

Parsley lemon sauce
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic, crushed
1 tbs. oil
2 tbs. butter
1/2 cup parsley, loosely packed and then chopped
Salt and pepper
Juice from 1/2 a lemon

In the morning, mix brine in a Pyrex measuring cup or bowl and let salt dissolve. Put chicken in a Ziploc bag, add chicken and put it in the fridge in a bowl (in case the bag leaks). If you're going to cook more chicken breasts, you could probably still fit more chicken in the same bag without making more brine. You just need enough brine to cover the chicken.

When you're ready to cook the chicken, turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Take the chicken out of the Ziploc, rinse it well, pat it dry and brush the top-sides with a little olive oil. Add pepper and/or no-salt seasoning mix if you're using it (no need to add salt here because the chicken is brined).

Hopefully you have an oven-safe skillet so you can cook on the stove and then transfer the pan to the oven. If not, you'll need to have a baking sheet out too.

Heat a skillet or an indoor grill over medium-high heat until it's almost smoking. Put chicken topside down and cook for five minutes. While it's cooking, brush the tops of the chicken breast with a little oil and sprinkle meat with pepper and/or seasoning mix. Flip chicken and cook another 5 minutes.

Put in the oven for another 10-15 minutes (or less if you have thin chicken breasts). Since I don't pound the chicken to even thinness, I usually use an instant read thermometer and take out whatever pieces of chicken are ready when they hit 165 degrees. Let them rest a few minutes before cutting, so the internal juices can distribute themselves.

While the chicken is cooking, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add oil and garlic. Push garlic around in the oil to flavor it. Add shallot and cook for one minute. Add butter, letting it foam and brown a little, another minute. Remove garlic pieces and add parsley, lemon, salt and pepper. Turn off and take off heat. Put chicken on a platter and pour parsley lemon sauce over the chicken. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jammin' Jerk Pork

My Jamaican friend Coleen Porcher was over for the weekend. I am attracted to her big personality like a moth to a flame. She loves to laugh and live life to the fullest.

Coleen was on her way home on Sunday, but before she left, I told her I was going to make some jerk pork out of some boneless center cut pork chops for Monday night dinner. She gave me some general tips regarding the jerking of the pork, which followed Coleen's general approach to Jamaican cooking, whether it's Sunday Brown Stew chicken, Jamaican curry chicken posted here, or jerk chicken or pork.

Coleen heavily seasons the meat with spices and lets it sit overnight in the fridge with cut onion, scallions, garlic, and scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. To the jerked pork, she recommended I do a wet marinade by adding some oil, as well as a little bit of Pickapeppa sauce, a common condiment and flavoring agent in Jamaica. The prep took less than ten minutes.

A day later, I pulled the marinated pork out of the fridge and grilled them on a searing hot indoor griddle for about ten minutes. The aromas of allspice, onions, and jalapeno wafted through the house, accompanying the happy sizzles and pops of the grill. Juicy, flavorful, and with a little spiciness to excite the palate, these pork chops disappeared in a manner of minutes.

Serve with fried plantains, rice and beans, and a side of reggae music to be swept to Jamaica on a weeknight.

Before putting the pork in a Ziploc bag with some oil, onions, scallions, garlic, and chili peppers (jalapeno pictured here but scotch bonnets or habeneros are usually used), I rubbed each pork chop with a generous amount of jerk seasoning on each side (like one does when making a Cajun blackened pork), salt and pepper. Jamaican friend Coleen told me to put a little Pickapeppa sauce, so I did.

4 boneless center cut porkchops (add more if you like)
Penzeys jerk seasoning (or some other jerk seasoning; or you can mix a combination of equal portions thyme, all spice, and brown sugar)
Salt and pepper
1/2 large onion, cut into slices
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced without seeds (scotch bonnet or habanero peppers are more traditional and the more, the better; but my kids are still building up their heat tolerance, so I just used 1 jalapeno. You can of course use no or as much chili peppers as you want.)
2 scallions, sliced
Canola oil

Brown sugar
Soy sauce (optional)
Lime (optional)

Generously season the pork chops on both sides with jerk seasoning, salt, and pepper (as much as if you were going to blacken the pork chops). Put pork, onions, scallion, garlic, and jalapeno in a Ziploc bag, throw in a few squirts of Pickapeppa sauce, and oil enough to lightly coat the meat. Marinate overnight.

Heat an indoor grill pan (or teflon skillet) over medium-high heat. Take out pork, leaving excess marinade and vegetables in the bag for now. Sprinkle a little brown sugar (like you were sprinking a little salt) on the top of each pork chop, and using tongs, spread the brown sugar around (this is so the pork can caramelize a little). When the grill is heated until just smoking, place the pork chops, sugar side down and let sear for three minutes.

Turn over the pork chops, turn down heat to medium, and let cook 5-10 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 135 degrees. When you've turned over the pork chops, add the onions and jalapenos from the marinade and cook those until tender and browned (they should be cooked around the same time that the pork is done; remove earlier if cooked and cook longer than the pork if necessary). When done, remove the pork and veggies to a plate. Take 2 tsp. of soy sauce and drizzle over the pork chops, letting the soy sauce go over the pork chops and settle in with the rest of the pan juices.

Let pork rest for ten minutes. Temperature should go up to 145 to 150 degrees during the resting phase.

Serve with fried plantains and rice and beans. You can squirt lime juice on your pork if you like a little tanginess.

Beef Un-Kebabs with Sauted Asparagus

I had some leftover thick-cut sirloin from when my friends Venetia, Gary, and their son Aaron came into town. Venetia has been one of my BFFs since I was fourteen -- almost thirty years! -- and it was great to see her. For their dinner, I made beef kebabs marinated in a vinaigrette with thyme and oregano and served it with pan-seared garlicky shrimp, Greek tzaziki sauce (refreshing cucumber sauce), green salad with feta cheese, and white rice.

Tonight, it was just the four of us, so I cut up the remaining sirloin, seasoned it generously with Penzey's Chicago Steak seasoning, salt and pepper, and marinated it for a few hours in a Ziploc bag with a little oil, a sliced onion, a couple cloves of garlic, and a squirt of Amore sundried tomato paste which I always have in my fridge.

Since it was raining outside, I didn't bother to skewer the beef, but cooked it inside on a teflon skillet on high heat. Halfway through, I added the marinated onions and cut asparagus to one side of the pan and finished cooking everything together. If you can't fit everything in the pan, cook the asparagus after the meat is done in the nice brown bits left in the pan from the beef.

These little sirloin cubes, crusty on the outside and juicy pink on the inside, flew off the plate, as did the beefy asparagus. I like to squirt a little lemon juice on my beef after it's done.

1 1/2 lbs. or more of thick-cut sirloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
Penzey's Chicago Steak Seasoning (or other seasoning; this is optional)
Salt and pepper
Amore sundried tomato paste
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
Olive oil

Bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
Lemon (optional)

Sprinkle sirloin generously with steak seasoning, salt, and pepper. Put the meat in a Ziploc bag with a couple tbs. of oil and a good squirt of Amore sundried tomato paste, onion, and garlic. Squish the marinade around the meat. Refrigerate for a few hours.

Prepare the asparagus by rinsing, snapping of the bottoms, and cutting into 2 in. pieces. Set aside a plate.

When ready to cook the meat, heat a large teflon skillet on medium-high to high heat until it's nice and hot. Take out the meat with tongs and place it on the skillet, leaving the excess marinade and onions in the bag. The meat can be close to each other, but not touching as air flow is needed between the pieces so they can brown properly. Cook for 4 minutes without turning over.

At four minutes, turn the meat over and add the onions and asparagus, so they can cook until tender-crisp (if they fit comfortably; if they don't, don't add them yet). Cook the meat another four-six minutes, depending on whether you want the meat medium rare or medium. When the meat is finished cooking, put it on a plate and let it rest for a few minutes.

With the asparagus and onion, cook them in the brown bits, adding a little more oil if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until tender-crisp, which should take about the same time as when you've flipped the meat. Squirt meat and/or asparagus with lemon if desired. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good Luck to Lina Penne Primavera

I've been friends with Lina for as long as I can remember. We were even born two weeks apart in the same hospital. She is beautiful inside and out -- bubbly, bright, loving, and engaging. Tomorrow Lina is running a 10K and then a half marathon next week, and I've been following her training regime on Facebook. I'm a big fan! While I can't run like she can, I can honor her by making this lean and carb-rich pasta on the eve of her race day.

2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup each of the following vegetables:
Red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
Mushrooms, sliced
Asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-2 inch pieces
Yellow zucchini, cut into matchsticks
Grape tomatoes, cut in half

3/4 lb. penne pasta

1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (or more)
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper


Fresh parsley, minced
Grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

Mise en place

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add penne and cook according to the directions and until just al dente and even a tad underdone. This should take about 11-12 minutes. Ideally, you want your pasta to finish cooking in the sauce.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add 2 tbs. of oil. Add and cook onions until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add minced shallot and garlic cloves, cooking for another minute, watching carefully that they don't burn (turn down or add veggies if this happens). Add salt, pepper, and italian seasoning to the onions, garlic and shallots. Add all vegetables except grape tomatoes and bring up to medium high heat, adding a little more olive oil if you need it to saute the vegetables. Saute veggies for two minutes and then add white wine and let white wine reduce for a minute. Add salt and pepper to the veggies.

Take a couple spoonfuls of flour and sprinkle over veggie mixture. Add chicken broth and mix together, letting the sauce thicken. The veggies at this point should still be crisp-tender.

The pasta should be about done when your sauce is completed. Strain pasta (don't rinse it) and add the pasta directly to the sauce, stirring to combine the pasta and sauce together. Let the pasta cook another minute or so in the sauce so it absorbs the flavors and finishes cooking. Add a little more broth if needed. Add grated parmesan cheese to taste, as well as fresh parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings. Enjoy.

Roasted Red Pepper Dipping Sauce

Trying to serve more healthy and calorie-conscious food after a week of overindulgence in Las Vegas, I decided to make oven-fried, panko crusted chicken for dinner, and with it, a roasted red pepper dipping sauce instead of the regular ketchup.

I love red bell peppers. Sweet, crunchy, and oh so sassy with their shapely and glossy red exteriors! I have a preference for wearing red myself, so I totally get it. In addition to being delicious and beautiful, red bell peppers are superfoods, chock full of antioxidants Vitamins A and C and disease-preventing phytonutrients.

While there is a little bit of sweet and sour here (and a little spicy from cayenne pepper), what shines through is the vibrant taste of red bell pepper. Good for you and tasty too.

2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 medium red or yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar (12 ounces) roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbs. sundried tomato paste (Amore brand)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 tsp. cayenne
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup chicken broth or more as needed
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar

Heat a pot over medium heat. Add 2 tsp. of olive oil and onion. Sweat onions five minutes or until translucent. Add garlic and cook for one minute.

Add red peppers and wine and let simmer for a few minutes, so that the alcohol burns off. Add the rest of ingredients, taking care with the cayenne if you don't like things spicy.

Transfer ingredients to a blender and puree. Add more chicken broth if you would like it to be a thinner consistency.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm.

Oven-Fried Panko-Crusted Chicken

We love our Delonghi deep fryer, truly we do. Frying is one of those perfect cooking vehicles, delivering crisp and moist food in the fraction of the time it would take to bake it in the oven.

For tonight's dinner, however, I chose the oven to envelop my Panko-crusted chicken strips in its dry heat and crisp them up without the use of calorie-laden oil.

To keep the chicken strips moist, I marinated them in a salty buttermilk marinade for an hour. If you're going to marinate them longer, I would recommend reducing the salt to 1 1/2 tsp.

I did a full bound breading in this recipe, but an alternate method is to brush the chicken with mayonnaise or mustard and coat the chicken with the breadcumbs. You can also add parmesan cheese, parsley, and/or a little melted butter to the Panko breadcrumbs for more flavor.

Instead of ketchup, I served the chicken with a flavorful roasted red pepper dip. These can easily be turned into appetizers by cutting the chicken into little nuggets. Enjoy!

For 4-6 servings

3 lbs. chicken breast
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbs. kosher salt
Mrs. Dash
Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
3 eggs
Panko bread crumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs found in the Asian section of the grocery store)


In a Ziploc bag, mix the buttermilk and salt.

Cut chicken into longish pieces and add it to the marinade. Put the marinated chicken in the fridge for one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Assemble your breading station by having three shallow bowls of the following:

1) flour with salt, pepper and Mrs. Dash
2) 3 eggs beaten, with a little milk
3) Panko bread crumbs

Take chicken out of the buttermilk marinade and put them on a rack with a cookie sheet underneath. Season each chicken strip with salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash and a little Italian seasoning.

Bread each chicken strip by coating it in the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, and finally in the Panko bread crumb mixture. Lay the breaded chicken strips to set on two baking sheets covered with easy-release aluminum foil or Silpats if you have them (it makes clean up easier). When all the chicken has been assembled, spray the top side with Pam.

Cook for 20 minutes, more or less, depending on the thickness of your strips (no need to turn the strips over). If you're not sure, pull out the thickest strip when you think it's close to getting done, cut it into and check for any signs of pinkness.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eating through Las Vegas

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Isn’t that the phrase? Well, I didn’t do anything salacious enough to bury in Mandalay Bay’s sandy beach or cleanse in the purifying white light of Nevada’s desert sun. Unless you count gluttony, that is.

Since my husband’s business was exhibiting at the GlobalShop trade show, the kids and I hitched onto my husband’s coattails to land with him in Las Vegas for the week. My in-laws and brother-in-law and his wife came too, making it a great combination of business and pleasure. If you’re in the retail store or brand marketing business, you can find anything at GlobalShop, from lighting to display shelving, bejeweled Christmas trees to life-size moving dragons, cool carpeting to upscale retail paper shopping bags (my husband’s product).

Mark's booth at the GlobalShop 2009 trade show

Foodie Heaven

When I was not volunteering at the trade show booth, I was busy eating. This is foodie heaven, as many talented chefs, celebrity or otherwise, feature their signature cuisines in the lavish hotels that glitter and preen on the strip. Las Vegas is all about showmanship, and the food is no exception.

This year, our big food splurge was at B&B’s in the Venetian, where we enjoyed the traditional tasting menu of seven courses with selected wines over a three-hour, leisurely dinner. My first time to one of Mario Batali’s restaurants, I was interested to experience the master chef’s delicate and refined touch on Italian cuisine as well as benefit from his partner Joe Bastianich’s wine expertise.

Of the lovely dishes we enjoyed that night, I will remember three in particular. The tortellini in brodo was intensely flavored with the rinds of parmigianno reggiano which infused the broth and perfectly complemented the little pillows of fresh pasta filled with beef, pork, and veal. Glazed with an orange, caramelized onion, and campari reduction and served with a refreshing orange and raddicchio salad, the main course of braised Sicilian pork belly with campari sang its siren song, luscious, full in the mouth, and melting on the tongue. The chocolate pecan budino with American honey gelato, served with Recioto della Valpolicella, Begali 2004, defined the word "synergy." Each component magnified the other in a perfectly harmonized symphony of flavors.

Across from B&B's is Delmonico's, one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. TV Food Network buffoonery aside, Emeril possesses a sophisticated palate and a deep expertise in food that shine through in his beautifully appointed restaurants. I wasn't with the crew that went to Delmonico's, but they raved about the lobster bisque and the perfect 20 oz. bone-in rib-eye, the restaurant's specialty. Two years ago, I did have a chance to enjoy a fabulous tasting menu with wine at Emeril's Fish House in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel. Time and generous servings of wine that night have fuzzed my memory banks about the specifics, but I do remember being blown away by the food. I would go there again in a hearbeat.

Since we stayed in the Venetian, I had other Italian fare -- a nicely done goat cheese and pancetta pizza, rolled thin and crisped in a wood-burning oven at the casual Enoteca San Marco, another Batali-Bastianich restaurant, and a disappointingly dry chicken and mushroom canelloni at Caneletto, the most clumsily executed food I experienced during the week.

Asian Fare

When not eating Italian, I went back to my roots, preferring to eat Asian food. At Noodle Asia in the heart of the Venetian casino, we ate miso soup with enoki mushrooms, beef chow fun, sesame shrimp rolls, and crab rangoon. At Noodles in the Bellagio, another Hong Kong-style eatery, we had roti prata (fried bread) with curry sauce, agedashi dofu (fried tofu), steamed shrimp siumai, pan-fried pork dumplings, an array of glistening Chinese-roasted duck, barbecued pork, and soya chicken, and sesame chicken. The food was not exceptional at either place, but it was serviceable.

At the Grand Lux, I had some Asian-inspired cuisine -- duck potstickers with hoisin dipping sauce, Philly cheesesteak spring rolls with cheese and spicy relish dipping sauces, and potato scallion spring rolls. The Philly cheesesteak spring rolls in particular would be great appetizers for a party, a crowd pleaser for sure.

One night, we hit Las Vegas' Chinatown to go to a Korean restaurant recommended to us as the best Korean food in Las Vegas. Two of our compatriots who had flown in from Korea for the show had eaten there a couple nights before, so we were in their able hands. We knew it was good by the clientele -- all Koreans. Above the formica-covered tables and black-lacquered metal chairs, the Korea-Japan championship baseball game played, with intermittent cheers and groans from the dining room, including from our boisterous table of thirteen (Korea ended up losing). The Hite beer and soju (a clear distilled beverage which tastes like a light vodka) flowed freely through the meal, along with an errant bottle of cabernet. By the end of dinner, bottles and more bottles lined the windowsills of the strip mall storefront, looking like lonely castaways with nowhere to go.

We consumed an astonishing array of grilled meats, egged on by Mr. Moon, who enthusiastically ordered more and more food since he was inspired by my ravenous 10-year old (or maybe the alcohol). Anshim-gui (beef tenderloin), bulgogi (marinated beef), deungshim-gui (beef sirloin), kalbi (marinated beef short ribs), and samgyeopsal-gui (pork belly) filled the table braziers, parading in one after the other. I had never had the pork before, which was like thick slabs of bacon. Definitely addictive when dipped in the hot chili and light soy marinade dipping sauces and wrapped in lettuce. If that weren't enough, Mr. Moon ordered kimchi pajun (savory pancake with kimchi), an egg souffle of sorts, a thick soup made out of tofu curds, and to finish off the meal, bibimbap (hot mixed rice dish) and cold noodle soup.

When asked how this food, the "best Korean food in Las Vegas," compared to the food back home, Mr. Moon and Mr. Kwon said it was average. We definitely enjoyed ourselves, however.

Sweet Somethings

Of all the things to do in Vegas, the top of the list for my ten-year old gourmand, Christina, was to visit the 27 ft. chocolate fountain, the tallest in the world at the Jean Philippe Patisserie in the Bellagio Hotel. In her youthful mind, unencumbered by trivial details such as the health code, I'm sure she imagined wading in, dipping, and drinking the chocolate liquid in true Willy-Wonka style. To her disappointment, she found the fountain encased in glass, dainty drizzles of different color chocolate streams lightly cascading their way down oyster-shaped disks of wavy glass. Beautiful, yes, but the fulfillment of a chocoholic's fantasy? Not exactly.

That said, the pastries were gorgeous, the gelati vibrant, and the chocolate pure. On the candy bar we purchased, a milk chocolate confection studded with whole hazelnuts, the ingredients read simply: pure cane sugar, full cream milk, cocoa butter, cocoa bean, soya lecithin, vanilla bean, hazelnut. We also shared a berry gelato that had hidden among its silky folds frozen jewels of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Delicious.

There was more gelati to be had during the week. In the middle of the facsimile San Marco piazza in the Venetian Grand Canal shopping mall, Cocolini showed off a rainbow array of fruit gelatis and sorbets, as well as the luscious browns, creams, and light nut colors of flavors like chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut.

The fruit gelati and sorbets at Cocolini in the Venetian Grand Canale shopping mall

Reminiscing about the gelati I had one hot summer day in Perugia, famous for its Baci chocolates, I had to have the Baci gelato, bursting with deep chocolate and hazelnut tones. My daughters had tart and sweet watermelon and lemon sorbets, while my parents-in-law sampled the chocolate and cappuccino gelati.

Other desserts we enjoyed during the week were the creme brulee, apple crisp, and a massive chocolate fudge cake collision at the Grand Lux Cafe, a dinery with ridiculously large portions from the creators of the Cheesecake Factory. My sister-in-law's deceptively sweet apple pear martini probably counts as dessert too. Christina also had a $10 caramel, chocolate, and pecan-covered apple from one of apple stands found throughout the hotel.

Favorite of All Favorites: Bouchon

My favorite, hands down and without exception, was Bouchon in the Venetian Tower. The essence of France encased in four walls, the airy, spacious restaurant with its carrera marble bar, mahogany panels, and white linen-covered tables formed a respite from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. Looking out the ceiling-high windows into the verdant gardens, one could imagine that the casino and the click-clicking of the roulette wheels, the whirring of the slot machines, and the tumbling of the dice were miles away.

Bouchon is known for its breakfast, so we went there not once, but twice, to enjoy the relaxing and soothing environment, the robust coffee, incredible croissants, and soul-stirring breakfast fare. My first breakfast was a white boudin sausage with scrambled eggs and a browned butter noisette. I nearly swooned. Who knew browned butter could taste so good, wrapping itself in the nooks and crannies of the soft eggs and coating the delicate sausage in its smooth saltiness? My breakfast also came with a croissant, the best I've ever had.

A Bouchon croissant with layers and layers of crisp, flaky goodness on the outside; tender and airy on the inside.

OMG, the butter is to die for, along with the homemade jam. I'm now addicted to fancy butter, when I didn't even know there was a difference before. Good or bad, I don't know, but I'm off to Balducci's to look for French butter.

My second breakfast swayed toward the sweet, a sourdough waffle, crisp and light, with bananas, candied pecans, and vanilla-scented maple syrup. Love on a plate.

The Venetian

Since this is a food blog, I won't spend too much time on the hotel, but then again, staying at the Venetian was truly a delight. The rooms are all suites, with a living room and bedroom areas, multiple tvs, and large bathrooms. The hotel itself is lovely, Italianate in design with acres of shiny marble floors, ornate molding and pillars, patina-ed walls, and painted ceilings. The Venetian staff are helpful and polite. My only criticisms are that they charge for internet access and use of the gym, but I expect that the other luxury hotels do the same.

Like the other Las Vegas hotels, you could technically spend your whole vacation indoors, as all is provided within the hotel compound -- pools, spas, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and of course, gambling.

Living room area of a Venetian suite (this is not my picture; click on the picture to go to its source)

Bedroom area of a Venetian suite (this is not my picture; click on the picture to go to its source)

Other G-Rated Things To Do in Vegas

There are plenty of things to do in Las Vegas, and we found in this first trip with the kids, that that they weren't wanting for things to do either. Each of the hotels has free or low-cost entertainment of which they took advantage, including:

  • Lions, Tigers, and Dolphins at the Mirage
  • Shark reef at Mandalay Bay
  • Monorail connecting the Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay Hotels
  • Adventure Dome arcade and roller coaster, and free performances, at Circus-Circus
  • Living statues at Caesar's Palace
  • Living garden at the Palazzo
  • Water show at the Bellagio
  • Conservancy and Botanical Garden at the Bellagio

    • Pictures from the Bellagio's Conservancy and Botanical Gardens

      And of course, the gorgeous pools and Nevada's sunny climate provide hours of entertainment in and of themselves.

      On this trip we went to "O," Cirque du Soleil's water show. I've seen three different Cirque du Soleil shows, connected by their pageantry, artistry, haunting music, and surreal sensibility, but this one is my favorite so far. It's a must see. We had orchestra seats -- five rows from the front. All seats seem to be fairly good, but I'd recommend spending a few extra dollars to sit closer to the stage.

      =That's my wrap up of our Las Vegas trip. In future blogs, I'll recreate some of the food we ate; for now, I am happy to eat rice cakes and carrot sticks for the next few days. :)

      We found out that GlobalShop 2010 will be in Las Vegas again next year. What shall we try next?

      Wednesday, March 18, 2009

      God Strengthens at Wendy's

      It's amazing how a stranger can make your day. A kind word. A helping hand. Even a funny joke in a frustrating situation can uplift your spirits and bring a smile to your face. This is what Ezekiel did for me today.

      After we got our hair cuts, my kids and I went to Wendy's to get Frostys and fries. I love Frostys. They remind me of being a kid and going to Wendy's with my dad to get chili and the frosty, soft confection.

      We walked in, chattering and laughing, and I was scanning the crowded menu to find what we wanted to order. My eyes saw "Frosty" in the center of the backlit menu board, so I said to the cashier, "3 Frosty Shakes, 2 vanilla, 1 chocolate, please, and the biggest fries you've got." The cashier cheerily took my order and went to get the Frostys. As I was waiting, I thought to myself, "Hmm, they gave the Frosty a new name." When he was mixing up the Frostys on a shake machine, I thought, "Hmm, I don't remember that. I guess they changed their process." When he started putting the whipped cream on, I realized I wasn't in proverbial Kansas anymore.

      Ezekiel, whose name means "God Strengthens"

      "Wait," I said, "Are these Frostys? What happened to the regular Frostys?" By this time, the cashier, whose name was Ezekiel, had already made three lovely Frosty Shakes and had put them on the brown tray next to a *giant* box of fries. His co-worker, an equally friendly lady, pointed in the direction of the Frosty machine. That's when I saw the regular old Frostys on the menu, in the lower right hand side, slightly obscured by the, you guessed it, Frosty machine.

      This is when the magic happened. Instead of rolling his eyes, sighing, or harumphing -- what, can't this lady even order at a fast food restaurant? -- Ezekiel smiled at me and said, no problem. He voided the order, and his co-worker showed up and gave me a Frosty, the old regular kind. For free.

      In my 40+ years, that has never happened at a fast food restaurant. NEVER.

      No one asked them to go out of their way. I didn't even expect them to cover for my incapability of reading a fast food menu that had the audacity to change since I was last there. They were just gracious, kind people who made the most of their jobs.

      I was blown away.

      Certainly, this wasn't the treatment I had received at the DMV earlier in the day. Admittedly, I was at the DMV to figure out whether or not our car's registration was expired (one would think I would know this) and I was more than befuddled to find the car was indeed registered but at another address in a town where we have never lived. Now the lady with the pink-lacquered nails on her stool behind the high walls of the DMV counter was not impolite to me. She was not inefficient. Yet her voice was tainted with a practiced tone of condescension, honed from days, weeks, or years of dealing with line-weary customers. If only the DMV had people like Ezekiel and his co-worker

      Thank you, Ezekiel, and for everyone who engages in random acts of kindness.

      This is what happens when you eat fast food. Sugar high!

      Grandma Rocha's Filipino Garlic Fried Rice (Sinangag)

      To go with my Filipino corned beef hash, I made Filipino garlic fried rice. My Grandma Rocha used to make this for breakfast, along with some pan-fried cured meat like Spam, Tocino, or Longanisa sausage, and fried eggs. With some garlic-vinegar (put a little vinegar in a bowl with crushed garlic and serve tableside) to sprinkle on your rice and meat, you're all set for a great meal.

      I remember when my then boyfriend, now husband Mark, a Boston Irish guy (or as my mother calls him, "an Irish,") came over to my house for the first time. He sat down at the kitchen table, and Grandma Rocha plopped down a plate of Spam and eggs and a bowl of garlic fried rice. I could see he was a little taken aback. Where were the English muffins, bacon, and eggs? Plus, Spam? Who ate that mystery meat? Being the well-mannered boy he was (and still is), he fixed himself a plate. Under the discerning eye of my grandmother, he took a bite and smiled. She smiled too.

      Grandma Rocha has passed, but I hope she looks down on us occasionally. She was probably 4'11" on a good day, but she was ten feet tall in personality. Strong and determined, she must have been a fireball in her heyday. I would put her on my team anytime and hide behind her if things got dicey. When she talked, she talked with her hands as well, gently pushing you on the arm at first and then hitting your arm when she was making a point. By the time she got into her story full-swing, you'd wonder if you'd get out without any bruises. The memories still make me laugh out loud. We love you, Grandma Rocha.

      Grandma Rocha's Garlic Fried Rice

      3 cups day-old and refrigerated rice
      3 cloves garlic, minced
      2 tbs. oil
      Salt and pepper

      Heat a skillet large enough to hold the rice over medium heat. When it's hot, add oil and swirl it around. Add garlic and saute in oil until it becomes fragrant (under 20 seconds). Be careful that the garlic doesn't burn -- if it starts to color at all, add the rice right away (it'll stop the garlic from burning). Cook for 5-7 minutes until rice is nicely toasted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

      Grandma Rocha

      Filipino Corned Beef Hash

      Since I've been walking down memory lane and March seems to be "Filipino month" around here, it was fitting to take the leftover corned beef from St. Patrick's Day and turn it into Filipino corned beef hash, served with a heaping mound of garlic fried rice.

      In Annie's entry on corned beef at her fantastic blog, House of Annie, she reminisced about corned beef and how as a child she had only seen it come out of a can. Same with me. We kids would take the corned beef hash out of the can, mix it with white rice, and throw it in the microwave for a quick meal. Sometimes soy sauce would end up in there too (as if there wasn't enough sodium already). My dad would take it up a notch, frying onions and garlic in a skillet and then adding the canned corned beef with a little water. He didn't add tomatoes, a usual addition to Filipino corned beef hash, as we couldn't stand tomatoes. I was always grateful that he cut the onions in long strips, so I could squeamishly pick them out and push them to the far edge of my plate. I'm still not that fond of the texture of onions and I will turn my nose up at tomatoes unless they're at their peak. Some habits die hard.

      Corned beef hash and rice is a fantastic breakfast too, served with a fried egg. Delish!

      The recipe below reflects the amount of leftover corned beef I had. If you have more corned beef, you can follow the general proportions in this recipe.

      1 mounded cup corned beef, shredded
      1/3 cup diced cooked potatoes
      1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
      1 garlic clove, minced
      1/2 tomato, seeded and thinly sliced
      Salt and pepper
      1 1/2 tbs. oil

      Heat skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add oil and swirl the oil around. Add onion and cooked potato cubes. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are cooked through and the potatoes have crisped a little. Salt and pepper the onions and potatoes as desired. If you don't want any color on the onions or the potatoes and/or you like them soft, then turn down the heat a little.

      When the onions are cooked, add the corned beef and garlic. Saute corned beef for a couple minutes until heated through. Add tomato slices and saute for a minute or until slightly soft (but not so soft that they dissolve, unless that's the way you want it). If it's looking a little dry, add a couple spoonfuls of water. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if necessary.

      NOTE IF YOU'RE USING UNCOOKED POTATOES: If your potato cubes are not cooked, proceed with recipe as written until you add the corned beef. When you add the corned beef and garlic, saute the corned beef and garlic for a minute and then add enough water so that the potatoes can cook. Turn to a low simmer and let potatoes cook through (5-8minutes). If the water evaporates before the potatoes are cooked, add more water. If the potatoes are cooked and you want less water in the pan, simmer it a little longer until it's to your liking. Add the tomatoes in at the end, sauteing for a minute or until soft but not so soft that they dissolve.

      Monday, March 16, 2009

      Filipino Pork Adobo, "Barbecue" Style

      In an earlier entry, I waxed eloquent about chicken adobo. If I had to pick a last dinner, chicken adobo and white rice would be it (no veggies, thank you very much) with molten chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream for dessert. However, pork adobo is up there in the Filipino food pantheon, so when I was at the grocery store, I picked up some country style ribs and made adobo #2 this week.

      As with my chicken adobo, I used my special technique of brushing the pork with ketchup and pan frying the pork after it has stewed to tenderness in its soy-vinegar-chicken broth marinade. The technique is unusual, but the ketchup caramelizes in the browning process and adds another level of flavor to the dish.

      Since I was cooking pork and we're slowly inching into BBQ season, I used cider vinegar instead of rice vinegar, added paprika to the pork, and mixed the ketchup with a little bit of honey to add a touch of sweetness to the adobo. So perhaps this is a yet another iteration of the ever-changing adobo ... Southern barbecue style, anyone?

      2 lbs. country style ribs
      1/2 cup soy sauce*
      1/2 cup cider or rice vinegar*
      3 cloves garlic, smashed
      3 bay leaves
      12 peppercorns (I will put them in a tea ball; you can use ground pepper instead if you like)
      Onion powder
      Garlic powder
      Salt and pepper
      1 1/2 cups chicken broth
      Ketchup mixed with a little honey or agave nectar

      Splatter guard to cover the skillet when pan-frying (optional)

      *If you're not sure how tangy or salty this dish should be to suit your palate, decrease these amounts to 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 rice vinegar. You can always add more later. Or go ahead with the recipe, and if you find it's too salty or vinegary later on, add more chicken broth and thicken the sauce with a little cornstarch mixed with water.

      Cut pork in bite-size pieces and dust with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Marinate meat in soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns for 30 minutes or overnight. If you don't have time to marinate, that's fine. Proceed with the recipe.

      Put meat and marinade in pressure cooker or dutch oven/pot. Add chicken broth to cover meat, adding more than in the recipe if needed to cover the meat (you can use water instead if you don't have more chicken broth). Cook covered for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker, 1 hour in dutch oven/pot or until tender. The pork should cook at a low-medium simmer, similar to when you cook a stew. You don't really want it to be at a rolling boil.

      Take out meat and put on a platter covered with paper towels.

      Strain sauce of garlic and peppercorns and defat (I use a gravy separator, but you can also skim off the fat with a spoon as the fat floats on top of the broth). Boil and reduce by half. As the sauce reduces, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. For example, if it's getting too tangy for your taste, don't reduce it as much. Or if it needs more salt, add more soy sauce or salt.

      While sauce is reducing, pat pork dry on top and on bottom (the paper towels on the platter should have absorbed most of the liquid on the bottom). Brush both sides with a little ketchup mixed with a little honey.

      Heat non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add a couple tbs. of oil when it's hot. Put as many pork pieces in the pan but not so many that they're touching each other, as they need air flow to fry (if you have more pork than can fit in the skillet, cook the pork in batches). If you have a splatter guard, cover the skillet after you've added the pork. Leave if for a minute or two, using your tongs to check it to see if it's browning and getting crispy. Adjust heat as necessary if the pork is either browning too quickly or not browning at all. When it's brown on one side, turn the pork over and continue browning it on all sides.

      Place browned pork in bowl or casserole dish when done.

      Pour reduced sauce over pork and serve with white rice.

      Bayou-Style Mixed Rice

      I love mixed rices. Every culture has them, from Chinese fried rice, Japanese mazu-gohan, Italian risotto, to Cajun dirty rice. This mixed rice recipe hails from the bayou, although it uses convenience items and is an easy weeknight supper, particularly if you have a rice cooker. I have been making this for almost 20 years and still love the luscious smells, medley of colors, and blending of flavors in this dish. This is comfort food at its best, particularly with some dashes of Frank's hot sauce and a spoonful of fresh diced tomatoes.

      This recipe originally came from the cookbook, The New Basics, the 1990s bible for cooking. It was one of the early additions to what has become my sizable cookbook collection. I have cookbooks upstairs, downstairs, in cabinets, and even in my bedroom closet. I suppose it's my version of stuffed animals, which also inhabit our house in large numbers, courtesy of my daughter Christina.

      6 slices bacon (turkey bacon okay), diced
      8 oz. hot or sweet Italian sausage or ground pork (if in casings, remove casings)
      3 /4 chopped onion
      1/2 cup chopped celery
      1/2 cup each green and red pepper
      1 tbs. minced garlic
      1 tsp. of cayenne pepper (or a dash if using hot sausage)
      1 tsp. salt
      1 tsp. cumin
      1/2 tsp. oregano
      1 cup Uncle Ben's rice
      2 cups chicken broth
      Chopped parsley or chopped chives
      Diced fresh tomatoes with salt

      In a large skillet, saute bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove onto paper towels.

      Add pork and saute until cooked. Remove pork onto paper towels and take out most of the oil, leaving a little for the vegetables.

      Add onion, celery, bell peppers and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes over low heat. Then add cayenne (optional), salt and pepper, cumin, and oregano. Cook additional 3 minutes.

      Stir in rice and cook another 5 minutes.

      If you're using a rice cooker, transfer mix to the rice cooker and add stock and meat. Turn on the rice cooker and let it go through its standard cook time.

      If you're using a pot, transfer mix to pot and add stock and meat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes or until rice is done.

      While rice is cooking, dice a couple fresh tomatoes and salt them.

      When rice is ready, add a few chopped chives or chopped parsley for color. Serve with tomatoes and Frank's hot sauce.

      Scallion Pancakes

      My daughter Christina has been making scallion pancakes for years. It's her signature dish -- at the ripe old age of ten.

      With just flour, warm water, salt, and oil that you knead into a smooth dough, it's a tactile experience perfect for children and moms/dads in the kitchen. Rolling the dough out into a pancake, brushing it with sesame oil and sprinking it with minced scallions, rolling it up like a cigar and then again like a snake, and finally into a new, layered pancake adds another level of excitement.

      When you slide the pancake into the hot oil, it bubbles happily and browns to perfection. Served with a simple sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar, it's the perfect snack.

      2 cups flour
      3/4-1 cup hot water
      1/4 tsp. salt
      Sesame oil
      Scallions, finely chopped
      Vegetable oil for pan-frying

      Place flour in bowl. Add water and stir with fork until the dough starts to stick together. On a lightly floured board, knead the dough for five minutes or until satiny smooth. If the dough won’t stay together, add water in small increments. If dough is too wet, slowly add flour. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. If you're not ready to make the pancakes yet, you can put the dough in the fridge for up to a day or so.

      Take rested dough and form it out into a cylinder on a floured cutting board. Cut into 6 portions.

      Take one piece and keep the rest of the dough covered with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel so it doesn’t dry out.

      Flatten out into a disk with the palm of your hand and roll out dough until it’s about 1/8 inch thick and 8 inches in diameter (if it’s smaller, don’t worry about it; if it’s bigger, consider if it will fit into your skillet). Brush top of pancake with sesame oil and distribute green onions. Roll dough into a cylinder and roll again into a coil (kind of like a cinnamon bun). Tuck end of dough underneath. Flatten out into a disk with the palm of your hand and roll out again to make an 8 inch circle, 1/8 inches thick.

      Heat 10-inch skillet over medium/medium-high heat. Add 2 tbs. oil minimum and swirl it around; you can put a little more oil too if you're not oil-adverse, enough so that the pancake will float a little and the oil will go slightly over the sides of the pancake, like pictured below. Add a pancake and cook until golden brown and dry on the edges, about 2-3 minutes, and flip over to cook the other side. When done, drain pancake on paper towels and repeat process with remaining dough.

      Cut pancakes into wedges and serve with dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil:

      General Dipping Sauce for Japanese Gyoza, Scallion Pancakes or Anything
      2 parts soy sauce
      1 part vinegar
      ½ part sesame oil or chili sesame oil
      1 part sugar (optional)

      Combine ingredients and serve.

      Saturday, March 14, 2009

      Filipino Pilipit (Filipino Donut Twists) for Marichelle

      My sister, Marichelle, facebooked me today, asking if I had a pilipit recipe. Instantly, memories came back to me of my mother pan-frying the cute, little braided twists made of rice flour in our 1970s avocado green kitchen. We would dust them with confectioner's sugar, and quickly eat them while they were still warm. Depending on the cook, these can be light and crispy, like the ones pictured here, or be chewy and have a hard crust.

      Pilipit usually have grated coconut in them, but I didn't have grated coconut in the pantry, so I used coconut milk instead of water to bring the dough together. It worked great.

      Instead of confectioner's sugar, you can also make a brown sugar syrup and toss them in the syrup after they are fried. To make the syrup, take 1 cup of brown sugar, add about 1/2 cup of water and boil together, stirring, for a few minutes until it's syrupy. Or you can just serve them with honey or agave nectar, which is untraditional but does the job.

      2 cups rice flour (Mochiko Brand is probably the most widely available rice flour here)
      1 cup dry coconut flakes or fresh shredded coconut (optional)
      1/2 tsp. baking powder
      1/4 tsp. salt
      1 egg, beaten

      Can of coconut milk (not sweetened - shake well before you open the can)
      Confectioner's sugar

      Oil for frying

      Put rice flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Mix together. Add egg and enough coconut milk to bring the dough together, adding 3/4 cup first and then little by little until the dough can be kneaded into a ball. You may not need the whole can of coconut milk. If for some reason you need more liquid, add water.

      On a rice-dusted surface, roll the dough ball into a rope. Dust your hands first with rice flour. Use the palms of your hand and light pressure, rolling the dough back and forth and starting from the middle and the going outward toward the edges to lengthen the rope.

      When the rope gets as long as you can handle, start breaking it into smaller pieces that you're comfortable working with. Ultimately, you want ropes of 1/3-1/2 inch diameter and about 6 inches long. Take each 6-inch piece and twist it. Dust the dough with rice flour if it starts sticking to your hand.

      Breaking off a piece from the larger roll of dough to make the pilipit-sized roll. Here is a piece that will make 2 6-inch twists.

      Depending on how much flour you use in the dough, making the twists can be easy or a little difficult, with the dough falling apart a little in the case of a more moist dough. The more moist dough will be lighter in the end. It might take you a couple tries to get the dough the right thickness and length, with the right twist. Practice makes perfect.

      In process of making the twists...

      Heat oil in a skillet or wok to 360 degrees over medium-high heat. Another way to test the oil is to throw a piece of bread into the oil, because it will mimic how the pilipit will brown. If it browns very quickly, the oil is too hot; if it takes a long time to brown, then it's not hot enough. Adjust the temperature as necessary.

      Add pilipit one by one into the oil, making sure they're separate from each other as they'll stick together. Cook until evenly browned, turning as necessary. This takes just a few minutes.

      Drain and powder with confectioner's sugar. Eat when warm.

      Sunday, March 8, 2009

      Filipino Flip Steak (Bistek)

      Tonight I made flip steak for the first time in about 25 years. Flip steak was the first dinner dish I learned to cook on the stove as a child. When my sister, who was usually responsible for cooking since my parents both worked, wasn't home to cook dinner for the family, I remember standing in front of the stove cooking thin slices of beef in a skillet and dousing them with soy sauce. I was probably in the fourth grade. Every time I was responsible for dinner, I cooked flip steak.

      Perhaps it was called "flip steak" in the Ohio supermarkets, and that's why we called it flip steak. Here, I can find it as "braciole" thin-sliced top round.

      Bistek is simple (simple enough for a child to cook), fast and delicious with white rice. Feel free to add green peppers, mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes as variations. Add a final squirt of fresh lemon or calamansi to make it perfect.

      Top round, sliced thin ("braciole" style)

      Garlic, minced or garlic powder

      Onion powder

      Scallions, chopped


      Soy sauce

      Lemon or calamansi

      Take top round slices and lay them on cutting board. If you feel a slice is not cut evenly, use a meat mallet and pound thinner any thick sections. Or you can just leave it alone.

      Lightly salt and pepper the slices on one side. Light sprinkle with onion powder and garlic powder (if not using fresh garlic). If using fresh garlic, mince a couple cloves of garlic (for 1 lb. meat). Put garlic and white part of scallion in a bowl or container large enough to hold the meat and add a little oil. Add the meat, mixing so that the oil and garlic lightly coats the meat. Set aside.

      Cut an onion in half and then cut off the root. Cut into slices (I cut it root-end to other end, not across the grain for this application).

      Heat skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a little oil and heat about 30 seconds. Add onions. Cook onions until translucent yet still a little crisp (about 5 minutes). While cooking, add salt and pepper to the onions. Take out onions.

      Add beef, as pictured below, and cook 30-40 seconds on side or until edges are cooked; flip and cook another 30-40 seconds. If you have more meat to cook, take these out and set aside; cook meat in batches until done. When last batch of meat has been cooked on both sides, add back onions and any reserved meat. Splash with soy sauce and sprinkle with green part of scallions. Mix meat, onions, and soy sauce together, squirt with lemon, and serve immediately.