Sunbasket: Italian Sausage, Red Pepper, Broccoli and Celery Root Mash

August 3, 2017

I was really excited to try this Sunbasket meal. To cut back on carbs it called for Celery Root. I was intrigued. First of all, I've never even tried celery root let alone prepared it. Second, I'm always looking for new ways to reduce carbs. While I love them truly. madly. deeply. I simply cannot carb load like I could in my younger years. I try to practice restraint, tasty alternatives help the cause.

Furthermore, this recipe also included a note from Sunbasket, it stated they had to substitute the Italian sausage links for ground sausage per quality control and they provided alternate cooking instructions. Fortunately, Italian sausage is a staple in our house. So, I instead defrosted a couple links from the freezer and opted to use the provided sausage at a later date (which ultimately was used for meat sauce over rigatoni - proving it's hard for me to resist carbs).

I placed the sausages, bell pepper and broccoli onto a sheet pan and roasted them in the oven until the sausage was cooked through and the veggies were tender (and later tossed them with sherry vinegar). Meanwhile, I prepared the celery root mash. It was easier to work with than I imagined, had I seen it in the grocery store I'd be intimidated. I trimmed the skin and cut the flesh into quarters and then 1/4" thick slices. I heated butter in a sauce pan and then added thinly sliced shallots and the sliced celery root, cooking it until tender. Once softened, I added vegetable broth and brought it to a boil, and then let it simmer until I was able to use the masher. It came together very much like mashed potatoes. The depth and richness was a pleasant surprise. Frank and I both liked the mash and combined with the peppers and broccoli was a fun twist on the sausage and peppers we typically enjoy. I could make this again and again, I don't think I'd hear any complaints.

Wordless Wednesday: Wheeler's Pass

August 2, 2017

Breaking 30 Badly

August 1, 2017
Amy and I threw, our brother Mike, a surprise 30th birthday party with a Breaking Bad theme. The cake was killer, it was a definite center piece. It came out even better than we expected, complete with Los Pollos Hermanos chickens, a bacon 30, Heisenberg, and a cartoon Jesse and Walt in hazmat suits, and, of course, blue meth. The theme was carried throughout our menu, we served roof pizza, Los Pollos Hermanos Chicken Wings, Heisenbergers (cheeseburger sliders), madrigal sauces, awkward guacamole, funyuns and blue rock candy. You could wash it down with Shraderbrau or blue barrel juice for the kids.

Decorations were a bit sparse, we were smack dab in the middle of our painting project. Time already wasn't on my side, I was further delayed when the guest of honor showed up unannounced about two hours before his party. I scrambled to keep him out of the fridge and party details out of sight while I came up with an excuse to send him to my sisters until the big reveal. We had nods to the show scattered inside and out. In hindsight, I could've done a better job capturing the details. However, we pulled off the surprise and had a fun celebration. I can't ask for better than that.

Wordless Wednesday: 4th of July

July 26, 2017

Summer Madness

July 24, 2017
I didn't plan on taking a hiatus in July, but here we are three weeks into July. It's not like there were trips that occupied the gap. I haven't traveled a bit since April - I'm suffering from wanderlust, BIG time! We have a weekend planned in San Diego next month, but that's all that's on my calendar. Frank, on the other hand, just returned from Laughlin, Tahoe and Reno. His travels were for work so it wasn't all fun & games. He's been swamped. He could use a breather. We plan to cross over to Tijuana on our San Diego trip. I'm super excited to see what it's like just over the border. I hear the food scene is amazing! I have no doubt we'll be in for a treat.

I've kept busy with projects around the house. We've added shutters, painted several rooms and we've been shopping for floors. Even when it's not fully DIY it's still rather time consuming researching options, setting appointments, and scheduling work to be done. I think we've chosen our floors. We've gone round and round, but I'm pretty certain we will go with wood like tile planks. It is going to be a huge project, there is over 1100 sq ft of tile on the lower level alone. I'm ready to pull the trigger, but scheduling it will be tricky. Here's hoping we can sort it out sooner than later. I'll be sharing before and afters so stay tuned for those.

When I haven't been searching home improvement stuff, I've been shopping for a new car. Ugh, is there anything worse?! My Elantra is only a 2013, I had plans of keeping it for the long haul, but its turned out to be a bit of a lemon. The engine was replaced at 24,000 miles and it seems I'm well on my way to my third as I approach 48,000. I've gotten mailers for extended warranties on airbags, etc for parts that are faulty. No recall, just extended warranties. I'm so cheap, I have complete sticker shock going to the dealer. Frank is a master negotiator - I'm so grateful - still, we haven't found a dealer motivated enough to sell me a car. With any luck, as 2017 ticks by, I'll finally be able to snag a deal that I can live with. The prices I've seen so far are simply ridiculous, it's a pill I just can't swallow. I feel alone in this, though; as I drive around town I see nothing, but new rides that cost $40k+. I cringe when thinking of spending half that. I cannot even imagine. I suspect a car bubble is coming soon.

I've been thoroughly enjoying summer thus far - the recent humidity from the monsoonal moisture, less so. I've lost count of how many times I've been in the pool this year. The sunny days and warm temps have allowed the water to hang right around 90 degrees which is just right, if you ask me. Frank has been killing it as pool boy, the water has been crystal clear and there hasn't been a single algae bloom which is pretty remarkable given the high temps. The kids love the pool. Addy's confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. She can hold her breath under water like a pro and she's learning motions to swim. Lex is a wild child. Completely fearless. She had tubes put in her ears this spring and that is the only thing holding her back. She insists she's the next Michael Phelps. She thinks she can swim and jump in with no supervision necessary. When you hover, she just pushes away and snaps "stop it!" She can teeter on every last nerve, but I adore that sassy pants wild child. We had a great low-key 4th of July with just the family. Frank, Jeff and Mike recruited Nick to assist with this year's firework show. It went off without a hitch, a few neighbors had quite the spread too, so it was a nice display. Addy cheered for more, and preferred the purple ones. Meanwhile, Lex was downright scared of the booms and wanted no part of earplugs so she stayed inside (Amy and I rotated between the girls).

We celebrated my brother's 30th birthday with a surprise party. Our theme was Breaking 30 Badly, he's the biggest fan of the show so it seemed like a natural fit. It's always fun to get an idea and run with it. I really enjoy themed parties (at any age). I can't believe my little brother is 30, though. There is only a couple more years until my sister crosses that milestone. Then, I'll really be in denial. Old age is one sneaky SOB.

My dad visited for a couple months so he was able to join us for our summer adventures. He was a big help to Frank and I during our painting project. The doggy door repair took much longer than expected so he spent a week by our place watching paint dry. He kept an eye on the painters so Frank and I didn't miss any work. He returned home last week. Addy desperately wanted to go on the airplane with him. No matter how much I explained we didn't have tickets she insisted we follow him. Amy and Jeff booked a trip back to Chicago with the kids in January (the first since they moved two years ago). Addy will be thrilled to finally fly in the airplane and visit "her family". It's all she talks about since she learned of the news.

That's the gist of happenings lately. I hope summer is treating you well in your neck of the woods.

Restaurant Week: Sugarcane

June 30, 2017
Honestly, I had not even heard of Sugarcane until we walked passed it on our way to Chica. Apparently, it's been open since November. I completely glossed over the menu on Three Square's page too. Had I seen it, I definitely would've been intrigued. It turns out, Sugarcane is a miami-based restaurant by the same group that runs SushiSamba at the Grand Canal Shoppes. Menu items come from the raw bar, the grill or the kitchen. We received a sampling with the $40 Restaurant Week Menu. When our group of six arrived after having just walked out of Chica, Sugarcane's hostesses were friendly and accommodating despite having no reservations. We were seated at large table just off the grill. Our server was fantastic, she catered to our every need.

We began with dishes from the raw bar. First was the Snapper Ceviche. The flavors were clean and fresh, the sweet potato provided a bit of sweetness and the crispy maiz gave the dish a crunchy bite. Second was the Salmon Poke which was my favorite. It was light, citrusy and just the right amount of salty. I loved the texture of the puffed rice. The Hokkaido Scallop Crudo was a tasty bite with apple and hint of black truffle.

The kitchen prepared Brussels Sprouts that were positively addictive. So, much so we ordered an extra for the table to share. The Bacon Wrapped Date with linguca sausage was also a crowd pleaser. We enjoyed the meaty bite with the hint of sweetness. The Goat Cheese Croquettes were fried with a crispy exterior and a smooth creamy center. I have an aversion to goat cheese, but it looked so good I dug in to give it a try. However, I do no like goat cheese; no matter how well it's prepared or how often I try.

Next up were items from the grill. We sampled the Korean Short Ribs, Spanish Octopus and Chicken Breast with Yakitori sauce. I love octopus when it's done well. Unfortunately, the sauce was too assertive for such a delicate protein. The short ribs had good flavor, but it made me miss neighborhood Korean eateries. The chicken breast was the highlight. Great flavor, juicy and nice grill marks. It's quite rare when chicken is my favorite. They nailed it, though.

We had quite the spread already and dessert was yet to come. I was most excited for the Nutella Sundae, but it was the Torrejas that won me over. It is dulce de leche soaked french toast with carmelized apples and cinnamon ice cream. The french toast is truly outstanding. It's buttery rich and perfectly toasted with a soft center. It was a brioche to top all brioches. They soak it overnight and creme brulee the slices. A definite labor of love.

Sugarcane was such a delightful surprise. I'm happy we stumbled upon it. Restaurant Week ends today, but Sugarcane and a select Venetian restaurants will be honoring the menu until July 7, there's still time to check out this amazing deal.

Restaurant Week: Del Frisco's

June 28, 2017
Typically, I shy away from chains. However, there are a handful that deliver on quality food and top notch service. Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab and CUT come to mind. Technically, Cleo, too, since it has locations in LA and Miami. It might be too early to lump Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse in that group with only one meal under our belt, but our group agreed that our expectations were exceeded when we dined for Three Square's Restaurant Week. The $50 menu showcased several of the restaurant's most popular dishes. Around the table we had the Filet Medallions, Crab Cakes, the 16oz Prime NY Strip and the 8oz Filet Mignon.

[photo: Del Frisco's]

Our jovial table became silent once the food arrived, because we were chowing on the delicious spread. Everything was cooked to perfection and well seasoned. The side of green beans were fresh and garlicky and the potatoes were served mashed with skins with heaps of green onion.

[Photo: Yelp/Mitch W]

Just as we thought we had done all damage we could muster, we remembered dessert was on the way. This strawberry cheesecake was stellar. There were no artificial flavors, only a punch of fresh ripened strawberries drizzled on top on the creamy whipped cheesecake. It was so light you'd think it came from the heavens. The pecan graham cracker crust might have been my favorite part. It was gone before I could truly decide.

It's worth noting how comfortable the dining accommodations were, it has been a while since I wasn't restless by the end of the meal. I welcomed the practical in place of the stylish trends and the not too close tables, that allowed for easy conversation while we broke bread. This place drips mahogany from floor to ceiling, it's accented by white linen table cloths and leather dining chairs. Classic and clean, it'll make you yearn for the good ol' days. The dining room is made of several private dining areas, the main hall and bar. We were seated in the former smoking room equipped with a small humidor in the corner. Those that enjoy a good stick can still smoke on the outdoor patio.

Time is nearly up on restaurant week, but Del Frisco's is currently running a three course meal on Sundays for $59. I may have to check it out.

Sunbasket: Lemongrass Coriander Pork Chops & Greens

Sunbasket provides all the ingredients to prepare a meal. Occasionally, they will throw together a premade marinade, sauce or spice blend to season a dish in order to provide a particular flavor profile. Their lemongrass mix is positively scrumptious. It's a simple blend with lemongrass, olive oil and coriander seeds; but oh, so good! We first tried it with these pork chops, but now, whenever I see a recipe that calls for it, I quickly add it to my order.

As you can see from the small collection of items below, this meal came together easily. The shallots and scallions are a breeze to chop. I use a small hand grater for garlic and ginger, since my knife skills are lacking. This was my first time wilting greens and I probably rushed them. They could have used more time, the thicker leafy greens weren't very tender. Lesson learned. Those pork chops, though, I'm eager to see those again in the weekly line up. Tender, juicky and amazing flavor. Yum.

Restaurant Week: Chica

June 23, 2017

[Photo: Eater/Amelinda B Lee]

I hadn't heard of Chica until Three Square released the menus for Restaurant Week. It opened in the space that was formerly Daniel Boulud Brasserie about six weeks ago. It's a partnership between Lorena Garcia, of Top Chef Masters fame, and 50 Eggs that operates the neighboring Yardbird. The $40 dinner menu sounded fantastic. I was easily sold when our friend made the suggestion, I quickly booked a reservation for six. That was a couple weeks ago.

Last night, our group arrived promptly, I checked us in. The hostesses fiddled with their system for a few minutes before telling me that they'll grab us when a table is ready. About five minutes later, we were led to a large bar height table shared with another group. Bar height dining is terrible for short people. Our friend requested another table since the dining room was far from capacity. One large table was free, but the hostess said it was reserved for a group at the bar and nothing else was available. We reluctantly took our seats. We gazed at the menu and took notice the restaurant week menu wasn't provided. No waiter or waitress appeared for us, or the group at the other end of the table. We were left to graze on that line of how much time is acceptable to be greeted after being seated.

Then, the manager approached the table, he confirmed that we preferred to relocate and said they were preparing a table for us. Perfect! Or, so, we thought. We waited and waited. We had nothing but time to study the fairly empty dining room that really didn't fit the expectation of a lively Latin American restaurant. The atmosphere was subdued with music that was a little too loud and a giant television at the entrance that increased the noise of the room that felt simply unnecessary. It felt cold and industrial with many grey walls and, stone and iron work. We were sandwiched between the bar and unattended ceviche counter. The only pops of color noted were the yellow chairs and purple napkins. Enough time had passed that we were setting odds on what would happen next... We'd be moved, a waiter would appear or we'd walk out? Smart money was on our departure.

With our patience depleted, we left. There are too many options literally steps away to continue to waste our time. The food could be delicious. I may never know.

In Case You Missed It

We had record heat in Las Vegas this week. 117, baby! With the rising temperatures you might not consider it sweater weather, but given all the news this week with the Vegas Golden Knights it is indeed. Not only were the team uniforms unveiled this week, but our team grew from three to forty thanks to the expansion draft. The entry draft happens tonight. The season schedule was also released days ago. People instantly flocked to the interwebs to book trips to see their favorite team face the newest team in the NHL. The puck will officially drop in the T-Mobile Arena on October 10 when our Golden Knights vs. the Arizona Coyotes.

Restaurant Week: Allegro

June 22, 2017
We met friends at Allegro inside Wynn for our second Restaurant Week meal. We had dinner reservations at 5 o'clock. We've dined at Allegro before a few years ago, and several times before that when it was Stratta. Last visit, I missed Alex Stratta at the helm, but this meal was a pleasant surprise. It exceeded my expectations. Service was attentive, cocktails and each of the three courses were expertly prepared and quite tasty.

Allegro's Restaurant Week menu was $50 and we sampled most of the dishes. It was only the clams casino we did not try. The real standouts were the breads that got us started, the housemade burrata and eggplant parmesan. Those alone were a meal in itself. The burrata was perfectly creamy and the eggplant parm was flawless. I thought the lasagna to be the weakest link as it was a bit too acidic for my liking, but it only a matter of preference. Truly everything was delicious.

It had been ages since I've been to Wynn, I had forgotten just how beautiful all the little details are throughout the casino. If you prefer not to wander, Allegro is located right off the parking garage corridor and very easily accessible. No parking fees until August, too. A definite perk.

Restaurant Week: Cleo

June 21, 2017

My favorite time of the year is upon us. Yes, I am referring to Restaurant Week which benefits the Three Square Food Bank. This year the event runs June 19-30. We have several meals planned with friends and family. I always like to try new places and old favorites. We kicked off our gluttonous frenzy at Cleo, it remains my favorite restaurant in all of Las Vegas. Rumor has it that it will close after SLS sale is complete. It is devastating if it's true. Please don't make me #savecleo.

We had friends join us on Monday evening, it was their first time and they enjoyed the spread. They sampled everything listed on the $40 Restaurant Week menu. I had the hummus, brussel sprouts, greek salad and garlic shrimp. Followed by the sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Frank strayed and ordered from the regular menu. He wanted spicy cigars, lamb shawarma and preferred to skip dessert. The meal was fantastic as always. I simply cannot say enough good about Cleo. If you have the opportunity do check it out.

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