31 August 2012

Buttered Garlic-Mushroom Pasta

This is my re-creation of the meal that saved my life in Vegas (OK, I'm probably being a bit dramatic): I was broke and hadn't eaten for over 12 hours when the delivery man of my dreams brought me a huge, greasy pile of noodles before a very long and painful concert.  I haven't taken any liberties except to add the parsley for a bit of freshness--after all, it doesn't have to sit in your 1990 Honda Civic for 30 minutes before being eaten.

Buttered Garlic Mushroom Pasta

Serves 4

1 lb. fettuccine
2 tablespoons butter
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
12 oz. mushrooms (whatever you like), washed and cut into thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Handful Italian parsley, chopped

Bring heavily salted water to boil in a medium pot; cook fettuccine according package directions.

Meanwhile, place cold butter in a medium frying pan.  Heat over medium heat.  When butter is completely melted, add mushrooms and salt to taste.  Sauté until mushrooms are fully cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Drain pasta and place in a serving bowl.  Pour mushroom sauce on top and add freshly ground black pepper to taste; toss to coat.  Sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve.

27 August 2012

Chinese noodles with egg and tomato

This was probably the most satisfying, comforting, and affordable meal I had at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas earlier this month.  It was also definitely the simplest, yet I keep craving it.  The dish I ate at Beijing Noodle No. 9 was made with homemade noodles, but one of the following suggestions works just fine.  Just make sure they're fat and sloppy!

Chinese noodles with egg and tomato

Serves 4

1 lb. fat, round spaghetti, like Longevity Noodles, bucatini, or wide Chinese egg noodles
2 rounded tablespoons miso paste
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, mashed or finely minced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon peanut oil
3 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
Bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Handful crushed peanuts (optional)

Place enough water to cook the pasta in a medium saucepan with miso.  Cover and bring to a boil, then cook pasta according to directions on box.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, about 2 tablespoons of water, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  In a small frying pan, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat.  When it shimmers, add the egg and cook a scramble, allowing it to get a bit dried out.  Push the egg to one side in the pan and cook the tomatoes in the empty side a bit, just to release the juices and warm them up. Remove from heat and set aside.

When noodles are done, drain (you can catch the cooking liquid for future use in soups) until just slightly soupy, then stir in the garlic, ginger, and vinegar.  Place equal amounts of noodles in four large pasta bowls, then top with equal amounts of egg, chopped tomato, peanuts, and cilantro. Serve with more vinegar and soy sauce on the side.

24 August 2012

Lobster-like Bisque

As promised, here is the first of three Vegas-inspired recipes from my recent trip.  This is nearly as good as the Lobster Bisque I had at Caesar's Palace, and a whole lot cheaper. A special thanks to Tyler Florence for help on some of the particulars.

Lobster-like Bisque

Serves 4

1 - 2 cups cooked lobster meat (you can now find lobster meat frozen or canned in most supermarkets)
½ cup dry sherry or dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup onion, diced
¼ cup celery, diced
¼ cup carrot, diced
Salt and white pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning, or to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half
1 cup chicken stock 

Combine the lobster meat with the sherry. Cover and refrigerate.

In a hot pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once it stops sputtering, add the onion, celery, carrot, salt and pepper and Old Bay. Stir and let cook until the vegetables are translucent and are getting soft.

Add the tomato paste and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the flour and cook for two to three minutes, stirring all the time. While whisking, add the cold milk, half and half and stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, still whisking constantly. Turn the heat down and let simmer until slightly reduced.

Option 1: using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.


Option 2: Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids.

Taste, and add more salt, pepper or Old Bay, if you think it needs it. Add the reserved lobster and sherry to the pot and simmer for just a couple of minutes, so the lobster is heated through.

Suggestions: Serve with crusty bread and maybe a little sour cream on the top. If you want to be really fancy, sprinkle on a little chopped tarragon as garnish.

22 August 2012

Review: Lingering in Denver

The Highlands neighborhood in Denver has that newly gentrified, post-industrial gleam to it that causes people to roll their eyes. (Well, me.  It causes me to roll my eyes.)  But there is something to be said for repurposed warehouses serving chic small plates and offering up hipster haircuts.  When you need a little break from Lo-Do but don't want to stray too far, it makes for a pleasant half-day of strolling.

On a recent visit to the 'hood, I dined on an artist's rendition of Asian street food at Linger, then headed over to their sister restaurant, Root Down (more on that later).

Linger's menus offer up creative cocktails and small plates of an almost haute cuisine version of traditional street food from around the world (but really focusing on Asia and the Middle East).  Bland, comforting Chinese pork buns become racy, fusion-esque chicken buns with kimchi and maple syrup.  A simple tamale gets stuffed with goat cheese and Swiss chard.

We stuck with water--that's right, I declined to drink in the middle of the day.  What can I say, I'm maturing. You have your choice of a large bottle of still or sparkling water on the house, which is a nice touch.  We started with some small plates to share: the aforementioned chicken bun, chili paneer, and the seasonal ceviche, which was  Hawaiin-style white fish with fresh corn and tomato in lime juice.  That ceviche was really amazing, as was the chicken bun; the fried white meat was extra-crispy and drizzled with a celery root ranch, a tiny bit of maple syrup, and a lovely little clump of tart, spicy kimchi on top.  The bun itself was the usual slightly sweet white bread with a nice glaze on the outside and some sesame seeds sprinkled on the edge, but it was served more like a puffy flatbread folded in half over the fillings, rather than the usual pale dome with hidden treats inside.  I have dreamed of these chicken buns since leaving Linger, I really have.

chicken bun

For me, the chili paneer was so close to being a star, but the sauce just wasn't interesting enough.  There was a generous portion of paneer, but the sauce was sweet and not much else.  More salt, more spice, and a lot more tang were needed.

Dessert was a trio: a corn "puff" (a sweet pate a choux with a sweet corn cream filling and a tender, moist corn-based dough), a chocolate-peanut butter bar (fine, but not adventurous--it was merely a rich little bar of almost-cheesecake, without the extra tang), and a butterscotch pudding.  I was not excited about the butterscotch pudding, but I was certainly going to eat it once it was placed in front  of me.  But here's the thing, and it's a glimmer of the creativity that could be happening all the time in the kitchen: it was the most interesting dessert on the table.  It was a cold, soft, mild blob of pudding, but topped with sugared sesame seeds, a ginger cream, and a house-made lemongrass cotton candy.  The flavors worked perfectly, the textures created a wonderful layering effect, and I loved every bite.  I still don't know how the three desserts fit together, and that's a minor sticking point, but it was certainly fun to eat.

The inside of the restaurant is absolutely beautiful--stunning, minimalist-industrialist decor with small touches of wry humor and a scenic rooftop patio.  Our server, Katherine (I hope I'm spelling your name right if you're out there), was personable, mellow, and very knowledgeable about the menu.  She also really seemed proud of the kitchen and happy to be working there, which is always nice to see.

Expect to pay for your little plates--we left $54 poorer, and that was with no booze.  But the kitchen is generally making true art come alive on the plate, and the adventure of these diverse bites, shared with friends, is a special occasion.  The atmosphere is painfully hip while being totally inviting to an under-dressed 38-year-old with dirty hair (was that too much information?), and that's a pretty good test of their friendliness.

I would have stayed longer, but I was stuffed. I really was.

20 August 2012

I went to Las Vegas, and all I got was...broke.

Travelling back in time to Ancient Rome would have been way cheaper.

Eleven years ago, when I last visited Vegas, there were cheap rooms, free entertainment walking along the strip, and breakfast buffets that cost $3.99.  When I went to Vegas last week, there were discounted rooms in overpriced hotels who nickeled and dimed you for everything, 20-minute walks just to cross the street, and $14 breakfasts of scrambled eggs and coffee.  It's not totally fair for me to say this: I was staying at in-love-with-itself Caesar's Palace.  I suspect that, on the outskirts of The Strip, things are still more reasonable.  I have also heard that the downtown area (Fremont Street was recommended, but I never made it that far) yields some great restaurants at much better prices.  I cannot speak to this experience because I was dutifully trying to attend the convention I was supposed to be dutifully attending; all I can say is, if you stay on the strip, expect to get gouged (or at least inconvenienced if you search for alternatives).

Caesar's Palace, by the way, has given up trying to keep customers happy.  There is no uniform policy on anything--check-in time, what's included in the hotel room price, and even the hotel room price itself is all negotiable, depending on who you talk to and how good your social skills are.  I happened to have hitched my wagon to a very sociable star while I was there, but otherwise, I would have been screwed, as I possess no amount of social finesse whatsoever.

So, blah blah blah, the food was too expensive.  But I did manage to find a couple of little gems in the midst of the cigarette smoke and sad gambling people who didn't know what day of the week it was or whether it was night or day.

I think this guy made my noodles!
Beijing Noodle No. 9 

You can pay a lot to eat to eat some pretty mundane Chinese food, of you can stick to the first page of the menu and have one of their noodle dishes with homemade, hand stretched, traditional noodles.  I paid $12 for a big bowl of carb-o-riffic magic that got me through the night and allowed me to skip breakfast the next morning.

Warnings: the service is slow and bitchy.  Bitchy as hell, actually.  The restaurant is loud and all a blindingly bright white, so just go ahead and wear your sunglasses indoors.  It's not the weirdest looking thing they'll see.


This place is a bit more expensive but also offers a much more varied menu in terms of consistent acceptability.  Execution is fine, the bread they bring to the table is actually amazing, and the wine list is quite good.  At dinner (but be forewarned, not at lunch), the lobster bisque suffices as a fine meal, and the quiche and side salad is a satisfying, safe choice.  Portions are large.

Warnings: the service is just as shitty as Beijing Noodle No. 9.  I asked if they could split the check for lunch, and I was actually told, "well, you shouldn't do that if you're not planning on paying separately" with quite a bit of attitude.  So, shitty and incredibly stupid is a more accurate way to describe the service that day.

I occasionally buy their jarred sauce as a jump start for a quickie lasagne at home.  The prices were too steep to justify a plate of pasta and tomatoes, but their wine list was not any more expensive than the cheaper in-house restaurants, and they had some real gems.  The cheapest red on the menu, the Primitivo, was quite good--full-bodied yet fruity--and the Prosecco was just right.

Warnings: no complaints about service--they were perfectly lovely.

Flamingo Pizza

When you get sick of the terrible service and overpriced food, it's time to get some carry-out.  Be forewarned, you will have to walk out to the far lane of shuttles and taxi service and meet some sketchy dude in an unmarked, 1990 red Honda Civic and sneak it back up to your room while no one is looking, but it will be worth it.  The pasta with garlic butter and mushrooms is ridiculously simple and good.

Warnings: I think they might be getting stoned at work here.  You will wait a loooong time to get your food, and then it will not come with utensils.  Ask ahead for forks or whatever the obvious choice for eating is, because it will not be obvious to them.

Now that I've recovered from the cigarette smoke and low self-esteem I developed in these restaurants, I've come up with some pretty convincing replications of these dishes (which are all pretty basic, anyway); stay tuned in my next posts for recipes for Chinese noodles with eggs and tomato, Lobster-like bisque, and fettuccine with garlic, butter, and mushrooms.

17 August 2012

Rose water + gin = delicious.

I don't know why, but I've really been getting into rose water lately--perhaps because I snagged a bottle at TJ Maxx for $1.99 a couple of months ago?  Yeah, I'm classy.  And here's a drink that's even classier!

Rosey Gin

Makes 2 drinks

1 scant teaspoon ground cardamom
4 oz. gin
½ oz. lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon rose water
Few dashes bitters

Shake all ingredients in cocktail shaker with plenty of ice.  Serve in short tumblers neat or on the rocks.

10 August 2012

Mustardy Lentils and Greens

Now that my travels are done (almost) for the summer, I spend most of my mornings in the garden harvesting the beginning of what looks to be a great crop.  This is an easy and tasty way to start using those greens coming up in the garden; the recipe calls for bok choy, but any greens in any combination you like--beet tops, Swiss chard, spinach, kale--will work.  If you use spinach or anything else that shrinks a lot, just be sure to increase the amount.

Mustardy lentils and greens

Serves 4-5

1 cup brown lentils
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium head bok choy, thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, sliced
2 cups broccoli florets and stems
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 small jalapeno, diced (remove seeds for less heat)
2 cups cooked brown rice for serving
2 tablespoons prepared mustard, divided
1/3 cup lemon juice
½  up vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, place lentils and 1 ½ cups water.  Salt generously and stir in 1 tablespoon mustard.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and allow to simmer until lentils are soft, about 18 minutes.  When they are tender, set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven.  When the oil shimmers, add the onion and cook, stirring often,  until it is very soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the broccoli and cook until it begins to brown, stirring only occasionally, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and jalapeno and stir frequently until just fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Lower to medium-low heat and stir in the bok choy and broth.  Cover and allow to wilt, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining tablespoon of mustard and lemon juice. Add the lentils to the pot (drain off some of the liquid if you don’t want it all), stir to combine, and season with salt and black pepper to taste.  Serve over cooked brown rice.

03 August 2012

Minty Snap Peas

Sugar makes everything better...even picky little eaters will gobble up their veggies if you make them almost dessert-like.  This recipe will make the pea-haters happy, but they still taste delish if you like your veggies, too.

Minty Snap Peas

Serves 4 as a side

1 pound snap peas, trimmed
½ teaspoon butter
The juice and zest of ½ lemon
2-3 shallots, sliced into rings
¼ teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large basil leaves, thinly sliced
4 large mint leaves, thinly sliced

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the shallots and sauté until they are soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the snap peas and sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until peas are bright green, about 3 more minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice and zest and remove from heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and scrape into a serving bowl.  Sprinkle fresh herbs on top and serve hot or at room temperature.