January 30, 2009

Squash confusion

I hate it when I'm absent-minded. Earlier this week, I put together my grocery list, on it was butternut squash. I've never prepared it myself, but I love butternut squash ravioli. I have a recipe that calls for it, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.

Tuesday I did my grocery shopping and picked up "butternut squash" and crossed it off my list. It wasn't until last night I realized I bought acorn squash, not butternut. What a dope I am. I have no clue what to do with this acorn squash. I'm not even sure I like it. I recall my grandma making it when I was a child, but I didn't like any veggies she made - it was all mush.

The directions on the sticker say to bake it with butter and brown sugar. That seems to be the most popular preparation, I've searched recipes and the majority are some variation of that. Since we're watching fat and calories. I don't really want to go the soaked in butter route. Plus, I generally prefer savory to sweet so I'm not sure I'd dig the brown sugar and/or cinnamon, nutmeg combo.

I did find two possible recipes from cooking light: Winter Vegetable Soup and Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash. So, it's likely I'll go with one of those. Unless someone has another suggestion...

January 29, 2009

Staycation - MGM Bungalow Suite

We were slow to rise Monday morning. There’s nothing better than lying in bed with no rush to be anywhere or do anything. Hunger eventually struck so we showered, dressed and headed out. We considered breakfast at Verandah inside the Four Seasons (I’ve heard it’s quite good), but Frank had a craving for a ham & Gouda omelet. A stop at valet, and we were on our way to The Original House of Pancakes. Who eats a few blocks from their house on staycation? We do. I ordered pancakes and Frank got his omelet. We share, it works well for us. Food was great as usual, although, we did have a taste of reality while there. Frank had to take a couple calls from work. Luckily, he was able to wrap up the issues while we ate, so once we left it was back to vacation mode.

We returned to MGM, dropped the car at valet and went to the lobby to check-in. Our second night was booked in Frank’s name, with his MGM/Mirage Visa. He was more persistent than me and he was able to score the upgrade, we received keys for a bungalow suite on the 16th floor and we were on our way. The room was being cleaned and it would be ready in an hour. No troubles because we still had the Grand Tower Room for a couple more hours. Why did we make two reservations? Because I wanted two dining credits and four free drinks. Yeah, I’m frugal like that. It worked beautifully. We returned to the room, I packed and Frank snoozed. More than an hour passed so we left the room and headed to our suite.

The bungalow suites are large; the sitting area and bed are divided by a huge armoire. The tv inside is on a lazy susan and can be viewed from either side. The bath has a tub and shower combo, and a walk-in shower. Kinda odd. We later decided the walk-in shower was made for Oompa-Loompas, I’m 5’3” and I looked down at the shower head. Frank was sparkly clean from his belly button down, but he had to work to clean the rest of him. Anyway, back to the room, it hasn’t been updated since the Wizard of Oz days, but like the Grand Tower Room, linens were replaced not too long ago. We got settled and then I went down to the lobby to check out. I paid for the first night’s charges with our reward certificates.

Minutes later I was back in our suite. I joined Frank in bed. We lounged all afternoon. We watched the planes at McCarran come and go. We rented Ghost Town, it was one of the few movies listed we hadn’t seen. Eventually 6 o’clock rolled around and it was time to head to Fiamma for dinner.

We were seated in the main dining room. We selected to dine from the winter tasting menu although Frank was tempted by the scallop special. I asked our waiter if they still offered the complimentary wine pairing for locals, he had to check, but it was available.

We were started with Pinot Grigio and ciabatta bread served with oil and vinegar. Perfect beginning. Then, we each ordered calamari. It was delicious, and a treat not having to share. The wine for the main course was going to be Chianti; we asked to have another glass of Pinot Grigio instead. It wasn’t a problem. Frank selected Spaghetti with Kobe Meatballs. The sauce was good – not too acidic. The meatballs were tender and tasted like they were braised in red wine. He enjoyed the dish. I chose Linguine with Prawns, because I loved the dish last time. Once again, it was excellent. As much as I enjoy it, I’ll never finish it because it’s simply too rich. Moscato was paired with dessert; Frank again opted for another glass of Pinot Grigio. The first dessert was a trio of Sorbet: blood orange, pomegranate, and exotic. Frank didn’t like any of them, but I enjoyed the pomegranate. And the second was Cioccolato, a triple chocolate cake, with white chocolate gelato. They never give enough gelato, which is a shame because it’s so good.

We were stuffed. Service was great. Bill was $71 after the dining credit. It was a wonderful meal.

We planned to get some drinks and gamble, but we decided to go back to the suite to digest. Turns out my own dish of calamari and rich roasted garlic butter wasn’t the best idea. My stomach was in knots. We watched the planes to kill time, after a couple Rolaids I was feeling human again. So, we headed down to the casino. First stop was the West Wing Bar. We each ordered a beer. Happy hour was over, but earlier in the day Frank texted MGM for promotional offers. The offer he received was good for 2-for-1 drinks. It couldn’t have worked out better. We took a couple beers for the road and we were off to the casino. We played video poker and a few slots. We weren’t having any luck. We walked the pits, but minimums were $10. We didn’t have much to spend. We found ourselves at the latest Price is Right video slot. It’s nickels, max bet is .25 cents. There are two bonuses: spin the wheel and cliffhanger. We played there for a long time, long enough to get a couple drinks from the cocktail waitress. We cashed out about $10 ahead between the two of us and scoped out more games. We were down to the nitty-gritty. Frank stopped at the $1 slot that was his personal ATM back in December when we stayed at the Signature. Sure enough, he hit $100! We had more money to spend. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck and we returned to the suite not long after that.

The planes weren’t too active. But the city still twinkled and I love watching the world go by from way up in the sky. We were as happy as can be, just sitting in the green glow enjoying the view together. We watched a little tv and eventually crashed.

We slept in Tuesday morning. Another slow start to the day - Lovely. Reluctantly we had to get moving around 11 o’clock. We couldn’t stay for a late check out because Frank had an interview for City Center. Kinda ironic. We checked out, used the remaining reward credits to cover the second night’s charges, we grabbed the car from valet, and headed home, with a brief stop at In-N-Out for a couple double doubles.

We pulled into the garage and heard piercing beeping coming from the house. Every smoke alarm in the house was going off. Luckily, there was no fire or smoke. Turns out one battery had died and sent them all into frenzy. It took a good ten minutes to find the culprit. What a rude awakening back to reality! Once again we were wishing to rewind. Remind me again, why isn’t there TiVo for life?

Frank went to his interview, he made it past panel; he’ll be called back for another interview in a couple months. Jobs will offered in September, for Aria’s opening in December. I want him to explore all opportunities but I’m not sure I’d like giving up our play and stays at MGM/Mirage properties (assuming the have similar rules to Harrahs).

January 28, 2009

Staycation - MGM Grand Tower

Sunday afternoon I drove over to MGM Grand, pulled up to valet and headed to the lobby to check-in. Two days of rest and relaxation with my husband were ahead. Perfection. The first night I booked in my name with our MGM/Mirage Visa. I tried for a complimentary suite upgrade, but had no luck. I did, however, get late check-out, we could stay put until 2 o’clock. The $49 promotion I booked included 2 drinks at the West Wing Bar and $25 dining credit. I was instructed to charge purchases to my room and the credits would be automatically deducted. Easy enough, I was handed my keys and I was off to our Grand Tower Room on the 10th floor. Just as I approached the elevators Frank came up behind me, he had just gotten off work and took the monorail over.

The room was fairly large, the bed is comfortable, the décor is outdated, but linens were updated semi-recently. The armoire held an old tv with a fuzzy picture and it hummed on half the channels. I was a bit surprised they haven’t upgraded to flat-panel tv’s. Doubtful they be doing it anytime soon, either. How many people watch tv anyway?

Well, besides us. We stripped and relaxed all afternoon. We each dozed off and woke up shortly before our 6pm reservation at Shibuya. We dressed and headed down for dinner. We were seated in the main restaurant; there is also counter seating and Teppanyaki dining. We each ordered the winter tasting menu, selecting different dishes but sharing everything. Edamame got us started, this was our first encounter with the delicious soybean. Not familiar with the proper way to eat it, we likely made fools of ourselves by launching them across the table in Frank’s case and eating them with chopsticks in mine. We had fun, Frank apologized to the poor guy who had to come and sweep his mess. Our foolishness didn’t end there, next up was soup, Udon for me and Kyoto Miso for Frank. I could not catch the thick noodles, I tried the spoon and chopsticks, but there was no chance of me catching the slippery suckers. Our waitress noticed I was having trouble, she asked, if I’d like emergency tools? Yes! Please. It smelled so delicious I wanted to fully enjoy it, instead of just sipping the broth. She brought over a fork and knife and I was able to manage the noodles with far greater ease. My soup was very good, Frank only saved me broth of his; it was too salty for my liking.

Next course included Rock Shrimp Tempura with a spicy aioli and Yellowtail Jalapeño Roll. Both were good, but we preferred the roll. Once we added wasabi to increase the heat it was superb. We could’ve eaten two or three more – they were that tasty. Entrees followed, Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Japanese Mushrooms and Black Truffle Ponzu, and Duo of Miso Pineapple Miso Salmon and Shiro Miso Black Cod. I liked the cod better than the salmon, Frank thought the flavor of the Salmon was a bit better. Frank doesn’t care for mushrooms so I had those to myself, they were very good. The tenderloin was cooked to perfection. It was flavorful, juicy and exceptionally tender. Overall, we felt it was a great sampling. We finished up with dessert, a strawberry parfait, a chocolate lychee cake, and mango & crème marshmallow. I’ve had lychee before so I knew what to expect, I enjoyed the cake, Frank liked it, too. Our favorite was the marshmallow bite. It was vanilla ice cream wrapped in a mango flavored marshmallow type coating, when bitten into, it tasted like a Dreamsicle – but with mango instead of orange. Yum! Service was great throughout. Our bill was $118 after the dining credit. We enjoyed the meal, but we’d only return for sushi.

We left the restaurant and headed to the West Wing Bar. Our plans for the night were to get wasted and see the Comedy Show at the Tropicana. Classy, huh? Frank ordered a long island iced tea and I opted for a beer. They were 2-for-1 happy hour is until 8pm so I had another beer coming. We watched the Winter X-Games and enjoyed our drinks. We took the other beer for the road, we walked over to Tropicana.

We bought tickets for the 10:30 show. I had a 2-for-1 coupon from the Entertainment Book, so the total cost was $20 and a few cents. You can’t beat that. We bellied up to a bar near the lounge. We played video poker and told the bartender to keep the beers coming, which he did but he also took this as an opportunity to talk our ears off. He made himself out be Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. He told us how he’s quitting and moving back to his hometown to scare off the gangs that have moved in. Would’ve been fine if he left it at that, but no he went on… and on… Two beers later we couldn’t take it anymore. We left. We walked around looking for another bar, it was getting later and crowds were slim we weren’t ready to return to the same bar. Frank tried his luck at blackjack, unfortunately there was no good luck to be had. His buy in lasted only minutes.

We ended up sitting in the deli near the high limit slots, trying to waste time. We got bored, I was spinning in the chairs. It didn’t work all that well on the carpet, so I rolled over to the tile outside the high limit slots. Still didn’t work well, the casters got stuck on the grout. By that time, we said screw it, let’s go back to the bar. We sat on the opposite side out of sight from Gran Torino’s area. We opened a tab and ordered a couple draft tall boys. We amused ourselves and we were entertained by a cute couple that could swing dance really well. There was a live band in the lounge, they were more noise than anything, but the dancing couple livened up the place. Bar snacks caught my attention, I asked Frank about the Kibble looking stuff. The bartender noticed, and poured us a little bowl. It’s dispensed so no one is digging their grubby hands in there but you. The snack mix had peanuts and spicy sticks, those were our favorite! We each sucked down another tall boy and then it was time for the show. We closed out our tab and walked over to the showroom.

We were surprised to see we practically had front row seats despite walking in minutes before the show started. The audience was pretty small, maybe 20, tops! Laughlin’s River Palm’s drew a bigger crowd. Kinda of sad, but I suppose it gave the comics some material. Tickets include one drink, but it was bud-light in a can – blech. But classy was the theme, afterall. Luckily I drank quite a bit already, so I managed to suck it down alright. Frank said it sobered him up, I was anything but sober. The show got started; three comics, all funny! The audience although small was hyped up and ready to participate. We had a good time. We had our fill of the Trop, so we headed back to MGM. We were broke so we retired to the room.

Free dinner & gaming

We had a wonderful stay at MGM Grand, but before I get to those details I wanted to share what we did Friday night. Planet Hollywood mailed each of us a coupon good for a free buffet, $25 free slot play and other goodies. We decided to take advantage of it, I called to confirm the coupon was good at any time, and it was. Perfect.

We stopped by the player’s club booth to get our freebies. Comped buffet coupons in hand we jetted over to the buffet. It was prime dinner time so there was a good crowd, it’s always better to dine while a buffet is busy. When the cashier ran our receipt I noticed dinner would’ve been $60.32 for the two of us. Ouch! But for free, score! We’ve eaten at the Spice Market Buffet twice before, once for breakfast and another time for brunch. I was much more pleased by the dinner selection.

The seafood station had tempura and peeled shrimp, crab legs, served cold but they were heating them upon request and several fish based dishes. Near the salad, there was cheese and sushi. There were pizzas and Stromboli and typical Italian buffet fare, along with the usual Chinese dishes. The Mexican and American mainstays were available, as well; they also had a baked potato bar. The Mediterranean station is what sets this buffet apart from others; they have grilled vegetables, skewered meats, grape leaves and other traditional dishes. The dessert counter offers a wide variety of pastries, pies, and cookies; they have ice cream and a crepe station, as well.

Service was attentive and prompt. My favorite selections were peeled shrimp, sushi rolls, cheese and shrimp tacos. Frank really liked the shrimp tacos, as well. We each tried a crepe for dessert, bananas foster for him and apple for me – they were terrible, just awful, nothing like what you get at Paris’ buffet. I actually didn’t like any of the desserts we tried – mousse, tiramisu, chocolate chip cookies. They did me a favor and saved me calories. We topped off the meal with a cup of coffee. It was really good. I enjoy a strong black coffee, it was just the way I like it – a rarity for me.

Bellies full we went up to the casino and set our sights on 50 cent Jacks or Better. We used our free play, we played for a bit, no major wins, but Frank made $20 and I walked away with $26. They paid us to eat, gotta love that. We took the money and ran, well, walked over to Bellagio to see the Chinese New Year Display; it was very similar to last year's display. It’s definitely not one of their impressive displays. We were going to watch a few fountain shows, but the rain was coming down pretty hard. We opted to go home, instead. All in all, it was a nice night. I hope Planet Hollywood bribes us again.

January 23, 2009

Plans are always changing

It never fails. I was supposed to fly to Chicago over Valentine’s weekend, and my mom was going to go, too, the first week of March. Now, my brother, sister and nephew will be coming here instead. I didn’t want to fight frigid temps so I’m not disappointed. I’ll get a food fix some other time this year, I’m sure. After weeks of freezing and below zero temps they’re ready to escape the arctic air. Nicky’s been cooped up for a few months, there is no doubt he’ll love swimming at my house and playing with the animals at my mom’s house. This will be Mike’s first visit since turning 21. He’ll get to experience Vegas in a whole new way. They’ll be here in less than two weeks. I can’t wait!

January 22, 2009

Tasty and healthy

Last night I made grilled asparagus and the following recipe for dinner. I liked it a lot, Frank didn't like the hint of orange. He really doesn't like citrus in his dishes. I knew that so I decreased the amount of zest I used, but I'll have to omit it next time. Also, just a note, if using salted pecans I'd skip the salt.

Pecan Crusted Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1-1 1/4 pounds), trimmed
1/2 cup pecan halves or pieces (I used unsalted)
1/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon canola oil, divided

1. Working with one piece of chicken at a time, place between sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or heavy skillet until flattened to an even 1/4-inch thickness.
2. Place pecans, breadcrumbs, orange zest, salt and ground chipotle in a food processor and pulse until the pecans are finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish. Whisk egg white and water in a shallow dish until combined. Dip each chicken breast in the egg-white mixture, then dredge both sides in the pecan mixture.
3. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add half the chicken and cook until browned on the outside and no longer pink in the middle, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm. Carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel and add the remaining oil. Cook the remaining chicken, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent scorching. Serve immediately.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 281 calories; 15 g fat (2 g sat, 8 g mono); 66 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 29 g protein; 2 g fiber; 430 mg sodium; 376 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Selenium (34% daily value), good source of omega-3s.
1/2 Carbohydrate Serving
Exchanges: 1/2 starch, 4 lean meat, 1/2 fat

Last Minute Staycation

Yesterday I came across $49 room rates at MGM. The promotion also includes $25 dining credit and 2 free drinks. I shared this with Frank and it took seconds for him to say book it.

Saw it was good Sunday and Monday. My request for days off were approved. We have gift certificates that we planned to use at Brand on Feb 8. See, that would be the first day Frank and I had off together since December when his brother visited - we were going to celebrate. As you might imagine our plans changed. We'll now use those certificates toward our stay, and we'll eat at Fiamma. They, along with other MGM restaurants, have winter tasting menus available until March 31, 2009.

I have a nice long weekend coming up and two full days off with Frank. Yeah, I am pretty excited.

January 21, 2009

Review: Anthony Cools

Last night, we saw Anthony Cools. He performs at Paris, his theater is behind the sportsbook. General Admission tickets are $52.75, VIP seating is available for 23 bucks more. The theater is small enough that there's no reason to bother upgrading from general admission. You can also find tickets at most of the half-price ticket outlets. The show is nightly at 9pm except Wednesdays.

The Cools Experience theater reminded me of a board room, I felt like I was attending a meeting and I was just waiting for the PowerPoint presentation to begin. But once the show got started, and the volunteers were hypnotized it was a lot of fun. Each of the volunteers were encouraged to do some bizarre act. It begins harmless and gets more risque as the show goes on. The dirtier it got, the funnier it was. The auditions for porn were my personal favorite.

The show would be great for a group. Convincing a friend to be a volunteer would make the show even more entertaining. Supposedly, material changes each night so every show is different. Plus, the quality of the show hinges on the volunteers and audience participation. The audience last night wasn't too hyped up, but we still had a great time.

January 20, 2009

Note to self

John Curtas' Eating Las Vegas is one of the blogs I read daily. Today's post included his list of recommendations for the top places in town to dine. I've copied his list below and I bolded those that I've experienced. Someday, hopefully, sooner than later, we'll be able to afford a return to the dining scene. I thought by keeping this list handy some of the greats will be less likely to be forgotten.

There's a few on his list (Mon Ami Gabi, Lotus of Siam, Charlie Palmer Steak, Carnevino, Capital Grille) that we thought were overhyped or lackluster, but overall I'd agree that they're worthy to check out and see for yourself.

The Best of the Best – when price is no object:
1) Joel Robuchon
2) Guy Savoy
3) Restaurant Charlie
4) Michael Mina
5) Picasso
7) Le Cirque
8) RM Seafood
9) Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare
10) Valentino
11) Spago
12) CUT Steakhouse
13) Bradley Ogden
14) Shibuya
15) Wing Lei
16) Nobu

Great eats at (sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly) lower prices:
Lotus of Siam
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Daniel Boulud Brasserie

Fleur de Lys
Cafe at Spago
Cafe at RM Seafood
NobHill Tavern
Shanghai Lilly

Border Grill
Cafe Giorgio
Payard Bistro and Patisserie
Enoteca San Marco
Mon Ami Gabi
Mesa Grill
Emeril’s Fish House
B & B Ristorante

Top Local/Off-Strip Restaurants:
Lotus of Siam
Vintner Grill

Todd’s Unique Dining
Sen of Japan
Nora’s Wine Bar
Marche Bacchus
Mimmo Ferraro’s
The Fat Greek

Best Beef Eatin’:
SW Steakhouse

Country Club Grill
Charlie Palmer Steak
Strip House
Capital Grille
Smith and Wollensky

Good and cheap and mostly Asian:
Dong Ting Spring
Yunnan Garden
China MaMa
Emperor’s Garden Szechuan
Nhu Lan
Hue Thai’s Famous French Sandwiches (That are neither Thai nor French, nor all that famous)
Pho Saigon #8
Tofu Hut
Mother’s Korean Grill
Los Molcajetes
El Sombrero
Los Tacos
Samosa Factory
India Oven
Kan’s Hong Kong Kitchen
Korean Garden Barbecue
Ping Pang Pong
Noodle Palace
Capital Seafood
Penang Malaysian

Not unless they pry my knife and fork from my cold, dead fingers (A short list of the most overrated places in town):
Andre’s at Monte Carlo
Eiffel Tower Restaurant
David Burke
Cafe Martorano

Rotisserie Chicken

It's my latest and greatest find. I have no idea why it took me so long to try these. They're cheap, less than $5 at Walmart and Sam's Club, moist, flavorful and super convenient. I get about 5 meals out of each bird. Seriously, they're the greatest things since sliced bread.

As soon as I get one home, I shred it and divide it into two bags, one for the fridge and the other for the freezer. I've hardly made a dent in the possibilities, but here's what I've done with the chicken so far.

I make chicken garden salads throughout the week for lunch.

Chicken sandwiches are tasty for lunch or dinner.

Chunky Chicken Vegetable Soup, is also great to make over the weekend and have leftovers for lunch throughout the week. Serve with crusty bread for a filling meal.

One Pot Noodles with Chicken and Broccoli is easier than ever to prepare.

And last night, I made the following recipe. It was good, although, a bit dry, next time I'll add some chicken stock at the end to deglaze the pan and moisten the chicken and potatoes. I made Sauteed Broccolini with Garlic to complete the meal.

Herbed Chicken and Potato Skillet Dinner

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice (I left the skins on)
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 1/2 c diced cooked skinless chicken breast
6 tbsp FF sour cream
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp crumbled dried sage
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes, onion, salt and pepper, tossing to coat. With a spatula press down gently on mixture. Cover and cook until the potatoes are nearly soft and lightly browned on the bottom, about 8 minutes; check every few minutes to make sure that the potatoes aren't sticking (if they are, give them a light stir).

Stir chicken, sour cream, mustard, thyme, and sage. Press the mixture down again with the spatula, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking, occasionally scraping up the mixture to prevent burning, until the potatoes are soft and nicely browned on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.

1 cup serving: 275 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 463 mg sodium, 35 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 20 g protein, 64 mg calcium. 5 WW points.

January 19, 2009

What's Cooking?

Pork Tenderloin studded with Rosemary and Garlic, easy as can be to whip up. It smelled wonderful while it was cooking. My mom really enjoyed it, but Frank and I were less thrilled by it.

Baked Creamed Corn, I used skim milk and reduced the butter. It was a bit runny. Next time, I could add more flour, but I think I'll sub one can of creamed corn with one can of whole kernels. Could probably reduce the milk and omit the butter, too.

Fried Rice, I reduced the recipe to two servings, skipped the oil and used cooking spray instead. It was terrible. I tossed it and made grilled cheese.

Ham, Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Broccoli Quiche
, I subbed the broccoli for spinach since Frank isn't a fan, and used reduced fat products. It was good, but would it would have been better with better quality/tasting ham.

Halibut and Artichokes with onion and garlic, inspired by this recipe. I set out to follow the recipe, but I liked what I had and decided at that point not to fuss with it. Too often, I follow every step and ruin something that was tasty. I used small canned artichoke hearts, and added a little chicken broth to create a sauce.

Low Fat Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, we haven't found a ranch dressing from a bottle that we really like. I'm tired of trying one terrible one after another. So, I've decided I'll try making my own. As is, this one has way too much dill for my liking.

Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts, I love Brussels sprouts, but I have yet to perfect them. These didn't have the best flavor, but I did like the cooking method. Frank didn't like them caramelized, though, he thought they were burnt. The search continues...

Well, I'll be, The Palms did something right

Just the sight of the awful Palms towers are reminder enough, but every time I go to the Palms I'm reminded of all the reasons I hate the place. Our visit on Saturday for Lisa's show was no different, but I gotta admit they did a great job with The Pearl. It's an awesome venue. Easy in and out, comfortable seating, great views from all over. Well done. I'd like to see a concert there.

Lisa Lampanelli did not disappoint. She has an HBO special coming up on January 31. I'll be watching. She's also working on a HBO comedy series based on her life. I hope it comes to fruition, I'd love to check that out.

Speaking of comedy series, we watched United States of Tara on Showtime, last night. We loved it. It's fast paced, quirky and totally different than anything else on tv. Can't wait to watch the season unfold.

Frank was able to get free tickets for Anthony Cools at Paris. The show will be tomorrow night. We've never seen a hypnotist, it should be interesting and hopefully fun. In any case, it's an excuse to get out of the house.

January 16, 2009

Working for the weekend

It's almost here, at last!

I got spoiled by all the short work weeks around the holidays. These full work weeks have been exhausting. Well, I'm exhausted anyway. Not sure why I've been so tired, but no matter how much sleep I get, it's never enough.

The gym at work is finally done, they finished it back in December. They've added new equipment, now, there is a treadmill, elliptical, recumbent bike, spinning bike, and a weight bench with a slew of weights. They installed a tv and it has cable. I watch Food Network and exercise on my lunch break. So, with that, and the elliptical and recumbent bike at home, I've been working out almost everyday. I've skipped three days since December 27. I've lost 3 pounds since then.

Not sure if it's all the exercising that has wiped me out. I always heard it was supposed to boost your energy, but I can't say it's had that effect on me. Not now, and not in 2007 when I exercised regularly.

At the beginning of the year, Frank told me he wanted to lose 50 pounds by his 30th birthday in December. I told him that I support him wholeheartedly and I would take steps to see that he reaches his goal. Dinners these days have been low cal, low fat or both. So, any recipes I post will likely be of that nature. My diet is better than it's been in months, I'm working hard to keep portions under control, yet, I'm still beat.

Hopefully, it'll pass soon.

Weather has been quite a bit warmer lately, we've been in the 60's the last few days. I think I'll work in the yard this weekend, in addition to running the usual errands and cleaning house.

I've been looking forward to Saturday night for the last few months. We have tickets to see Lisa Lampanelli over at the Pearl inside the Palms. We saw her last year at the House of Blues. She was hysterical. We were in tears throughout most of the show. My cheeks hurt terribly after the show. I hope this show is no different.

January 14, 2009

Puff Pastry

From baking

Looks like a butterfly doesn't it?

I bought a box of puff pastry and I did a few things with it. First I made the above cookies. Simple as can be, just smear fruit preserves over a sheet of pastry, roll in the sides, and cut into 1/4" slices bake at 400F for 20 minutes. They were best slightly cooled. The next day they were soggy.

Then, I loosely followed this recipe for a Tuscan-style Grilled Chicken Sandwich. I used a portion of puff pastry sheet for my bread, leftover rotisserie chicken and less cheese, pesto and mayo. It was really good. The pastry was a bit too flaky, but still good. I never thought to put artichokes on a sandwich before. They were so good. As was the pesto. They livened up an ordinary chicken sandwich.

With the remaining sheet, I made Pesto Twists. They were best hot from the oven. I made them after lunch and reheated them for dinner. They weren't as crispy.

January 12, 2009

I've had enough...

this no common day off business is for the birds. Frank's been working Sundays, our only shared day off, I miss having our one day together. February 8th can't come soon enough. That'll be our next day off together, after Super Bowl, he goes back to his regular schedule.

The weekend was quiet. I grocery shopped, cleaned house and did laundry, fun times. We're trying not to spend, and in turn, we're working on paying down our credit card debt. To free up some funds, we've decided to cancel Sirius and Vonage. We've been pleased by both, but they're just extra expenses that we can do without.

Saturday, I also hung the privacy film on the sidelight. I failed to note that I was supposed to spray the window in addition to the film so my end result has far more blisters than there should be. I figure I'll let it cure this week, if it doesn't fix itself, I'll redo it next weekend.

The peacock's final moments
From House photos

Look there's a window
From House photos

Now, with privacy film
From House photos

The front doors and the fireplace have the last remnants of gold (downstairs, anyway, I haven't begun to tackle upstairs). I'm not replacing the door hardware, because I want to replace the doors someday. Just need the money.

The fireplace, I was able to remove one band of gold. The other is more permanent and I haven't figured out a solution yet. I tried to replace the hardware, but lowes and home depot don't carry the size I need.

From House photos

And now
From House photos

I thought, I posted these before, but I guess not.

Kitchen window fruit before
From House photos

And after
From House photos

January 8, 2009

Winter Blues

Who knew it was possible to have the winter blues while living in the desert? I know it could be a lot worse. I've experience a lot worse, but I miss the warmth and sunshine. We've had quite a few cold and dreary days in the last month. I've had enough. Summer can't come soon enough. At least, it looks like the latest cold & cloudy spell is on it's way out.

Gosh, I have no idea how I survived Chicago winters. There's no way I could tolerate them today. I think back on my winter horror stories and my whining over 40 degree temperatures seems silly.

One year, it must have been December 1999, Frank and I headed up to Minnesota a few days before Christmas. We were under 21, but we already had sights set on gaming, we had been to Vegas a few times at that point. During, our underage days, we made trips to Indian Casinos nearby. Our favorite was Treasure Island in Red Wing, MN. We also frequented Ho Chunk and Casino Windsor.

That December, we thought a getaway to Treasure Island and Christmas shopping at the Mall of America would be fun. The drive to Wisconsin was trouble-free, it started to rain once we crossed the border. Roads were a little sloppy, the further we drove the colder it got, Frank was driving through sleet and then snow before we knew it. As we approached the MN border, it was blizzard like conditions. Traffic slowed, and a few cars and trucks had accidents and slid off the road. Considering everything, we made fairly decent time, we got to the hotel, stepped out of the car and we were greeted by a frigid blast of cold. The actual temperature was zero with a wind chill of 30 below or something insane like that. My car was covered in ice, it didn't melt the entire time we were there. I'll never forget the crunch the deeply frozen ground made.

The hotel's pool was indoor and they had a hot tub. The pool area had huge floor to ceiling windows looking outside. I remember sitting in the hot tub staring out at giant icicles and snow covered ground, thinking how nice it was to be inside. Heat is a marvelous thing!

We had a lot of fun that trip, despite the frigid cold, it only got colder during our stay. The one night the actual temperature was -16F. I don't recall what the wind chill was, all I know is that I have never experienced cold like that. It was brutal! Shopping at the Mall of America days before Christmas wasn't bad at all, I suspect the cold had something to do with that. We left Red Wing, December 23, temps had begun to warm, if I recall right the high was 10F. Almost 20 degrees warmer than what we experienced a day before.

Wouldn't you know it, it started to snow as soon as we got on the road. Again, we encountered blizzard conditions, but this time was far worse. I remember counting 16 vehicles in a ditch, we saw at least another dozen cars flipped over or in accidents. Our max speed was 30mph. It took us nearly 8 hours to get to the Wisconsin Dells. That is normally a 3 hour drive. By then, Frank was exhausted, we found a hotel in the Dells and stayed the night. We paid $80 for a room that goes for $300 in high season. I don't recall the hotel, but it had very nice accommodations.

We left the following day, roads were plowed and traffic moved. We made good time back home. We arrived just before we had to leave to our families Christmas celebrations.

I don't know how Minnesotans do it. I thought Chicago was cold, and we sure had our fair share of brutal winter storms, but I never remember it being that bad.

On the flip side, the hottest temperature I've encountered was in Bullhead City, AZ. We had 126F on our thermometer. When you stepped outside it felt like you were stepping into an oven. The heat absorbs your body's moisture in seconds. It felt like my eyelids melted to my eyeballs. Not the most comfortable feeling in the world, but I'll take it. I can do hot, but cold is whole other story.

January 6, 2009

Spinach & Artichoke Chicken

I love spinach and artichoke dip, so I was excited when I came across this recipe. It was right up my alley. It's not as good as the dip, but that's to be expected. However, it has the same flavors and I enjoyed it. Frank didn't like it as much, he's not a big fan of spinach, but he said it's worth repeating.

Spinach & Artichoke Chicken

1 cup thawed, chopped frozen spinach
1 1/2 cups thawed, chopped frozen artichoke hearts
6 ounces low fat cream cheese
1/4 cup low fat sour cream
1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Breadcrumb Topping:
1/4 panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Boil spinach and artichokes in 1 cup of water until tender and drain. Discard liquid.
Heat cream cheese in microwave for 1 minute or until hot and soft.
Stir in rest of ingredients and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350.
On a baking sheet, place chicken and season with salt & pepper to taste.
Top each chicken breast with the spinach & artichoke mixture.
Combine the ingredients for the breadcrumb topping and sprinkle over the spinach & artichoke mixture.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until juices run clear.

January 5, 2009

New feature...

to my blog, anyway. I've changed settings to allow comments. When I first set up the blog years ago, I got spammed regularly and received messages asking if I wanted to hook up. My dating days ended many moons ago, even then, lame messages wouldn't of wooed me. Needless to say, I had no interest in junk comments so I turned them off. Last year, I learned I could moderate comments, but I decided to wait until the New Year to activate it. So, here we are. Feel free to leave your thoughts or just say hi.

First post of 2009

Back to work, after a fabulous four day weekend. It would've only been better if Frank were off with me. I was productive, I managed to get quite a bit done, I didn't even feel rushed to do it. Very nice!

New Year's Eve, Frank got off work around 5 o'clock. My mom and I spent much of the day at car dealers, she was interested in buying a truck. We walked away empty handed - she couldn't get enough for her trade to make payments affordable. We had dinner at The Creek, a video poker bar, not far from the house. Bellies full, we returned home and watched the jumps at Paris and Rio on TV. Robbie Madison is awesome! Afterwards, we played cards and drank beer. At eleven, we hopped in the Jimmy and made our way up the mountainside near Summerlin. We had a spectacular view of the strip, we watched the glittery lights, and gazed at the stars while we waited to ring in the New Year. We happened to catch a shooting star, so we all made a wish. Not long after the countdown began, Happy New Year!! Kisses & hugs all around followed by a toast. The firework display was underway. This year, the fireworks were launched from the parking garages instead of the roofs because of the Monte Carlo fire. It made for a weak show. The fireworks didn't make it higher than the hotels. It was disappointing. Years past, the shows have been fantastic! We recorded the local live broadcasts, we watched the firework footage when we got home. Turns out we had one of the best views around. The perspective from the strip was just terrible. If this is the way the show must be done, they mine as well cancel it, as-is the show is a waste of money. We topped off the night in the hot tub. It was a quiet way to celebrate the New Year.

New Year's day I spent with my mom, the following three days, I worked around the house, ran errands and shopped. Frank and I had breakfast at the Original Pancake House. The gouda & ham omelet was huge and delicious, the pancakes were tasty, too. I also met Frank for dinner at the Victorian room for Chinese. Shrimp fried rice, yum!

I powerwashed my windows, the patio and pool deck. Amazing how much better the stuff looks without layers of dirt. I also bought new bedding. We have a california king, finding sheets is a chore, but finding comforters, etc. had been near impossible... Well, at a affordable price. JC Penney is running their white sale, I picked up an oversized king down comforter that fits our bed, and I also bought a duvet set. Then, at Bed Bath and Beyond, I was able to find coordinating bed skirt and pillowcases. I was amazed to see it all fit when I got it all home and on the bed. We've never had an adult looking bed. It's a nice change.

My last task was to scrape the peacock off the window next to the front door. That was the last of the painted windows. I plan to put up frosted privacy film on the window. We attempted it last night, but noticed that it recommend applying the film at temperatures between 45-90. It was barely 40 at the time. We hit the hot tub instead with a bottle of champagne. Can't say I was disappointed.