Monday, November 30, 2009

Anatomy of a Surprise

1) Invent a distraction.
- To keep Thatboy from noticing that the dog was boarded and there was a bag packed in the back seat of the car, I unwittingly enlisted the help of H and her husband. H and Thatboy share a birthday, so I suggested we all go out to dinner on the Friday before their birthday. She readily agreed. AND even suggested carpooling to dinner with Thatboy since they work together. Which means I just had to meet them at the restaurant.

2) Make a dramatic presentation.
- After dinner, (and a few drinks on his part) I led Thatboy to the car where there was an envelope with his name on it taped to the passenger seat. It took him a while to read the destination on our boarding passes, but the look on his face when he finally got it was priceless. We were off to Vegas, baby.

3) Create the right atmosphere.
- Thatboy is a sucker for bright colors and modern design, so he was head over heels upon checking in to our suite at Mandalay Bay.




He loved it so much, he decided we wouldn't leave the room at all our first night. Instead we cuddled on the bed and watched trashy tv.



Until we found the television in the bathroom - which meant we could watch trashy tv from the sunken tub!

4) Keep the food coming!
- Thatboy decided he just wanted to grab a quick bite at the hotel the next morning, and I'm not one to argue. So we headed to Red, White, and Blue for breakfast.


My egg, ham, and cheese croissant. The fresh croissant was the best part of this meal, followed by the strawberries.


Thatboy's french toast with creme anglaise.


5) Indulge in fantasies.


Thatboy drooling over his dream car.

6) Enlist accomplices. One of Thatboy's best friends lives in Vegas. We'll call her...Vegas! Vegas and Thatboy have been friends since high school. Actually, Vegas, her husband, and Thatboy have all been friends since high school. And Thatboy hasn't seen Vegas in....2 years? As soon as I started planning the trip, I contacted Vegas to see if she was free to meet up. She was. We planned a fabulous dinner to celebrate Thatboy's birthday. Reservations were secured at Mesa Grill - since of Bobby Flay is Thatboy's favorite celebrity chef.



We all ordered a round of fancy margaritas. I had the white peach, and Thatboy had their version of the cadillac.


Thatboy's coffee rubbed filet mignon. He love love loved this. He was concerned that the restaurant wouldn't live up to his expectations, but they exceeded his every dream.


My southwestern spiced duck breast with carrot habanero sauce and a delicious chorizo goat cheese tamale. Know why I love Vegas? She KNOWS that goat cheese is a magic word.


Mr. and Mrs. Vegas with us.



The Vegases know everything about Vegas, and they took us to a special balcony at Margaritaville that had been closed for the night, giving us a prime view of the strip. And all the margaritas we could handle. Which was about one each. Mr. Vegas filled us in on all the hotel secrets, including the fact that our hotel was literally sinking since it was built over a river. Mrs. Vegas told us about all the recent shootings done by local police - including the one she eye witnessed. This was brought on by the ridiculous number of bike cops on the strip below us, seemingly running laps.
7) Do things you can't record on film.
- EWWWW. Get your mind out of the gutter! My mom reads this blog! I happened to read that our hotel had something called an "ice lounge" but I wasn't sure what that was. It sounded cool though (har har har). Turns out Minus 5 Ice Lounge is a bar made entirely of ice. And they don't let you bring your cameras inside. Mostly so they can charge you a million dollars for their own photos. Thatboy and I wrapped ourselves up in the jackets and gloves they provided and headed in. We drank vodka from glasses made of ice. We sat on fur blankets atop benches made of ice. We rested our glasses on tables made of ice as we looked out windows made of ice. I stopped Thatboy from licking the ice sculptures, but he couldn't resist smashing our empty glasses.

8) Don't forget you may be surprised yourself.


When we finally made our way back to the room, there was a present waiting for us. Tequila shots and chocolate from Thatmom, Thatbrother, and UDubb.

9) Take in the sights



10) Did I mention to keep the food coming?



On our whirlwind trip to New York last year we didn't have time to get to Serendipity - the famous ice cream shop known for their frozen hot chocolate. I didn't see it as much of a loss since the line there usually wraps around the block and they have a minimum per person order requirement. But since they just opened an outpost in Vegas I thought we should drop in. No insanely long line. No minimum purchase.


Thatboy had the ABC burger with avocado, brie, and chile. And some pretty awesome waffle fries.


I'm not usually a nacho person. Nachoes are UDubbs favorite food. For some reason I really felt like ordering the nachoes, and I remembered why I'm not usually a nacho person. They were generally blah. Thatboy won the ordering game.



And of course, we ended the trip with a frozen hot chocolate. And a couple beers. And some slots........

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pies and More

Thanksgiving is a huge holiday in Thatfamily. Preparation starts weeks in advance. Everyone had their jobs. Thatmom did most of the cooking. Thatdad made all the "weird" dishes - like a turducken, or a specialty turkey, or a new and unique stuffing. I was in charge of all the desserts save three - Thatdad's ice cream and Thatmom's twenty pound cake and apple crisp. Several days before Thanksgiving, Thatdad would start making the ice cream. He had to work in advance, because once the oven got cooking, it would be too hot for the ice cream to set. Two days before Thanksgiving Thatmom got to work on her twenty pound cake and apple crisp. The day before Thanksgiving all the sides got made, leaving the day of for stuffing, turkey, and gravy. Repro and his family brought the green veggie and mashed potatoes and we'd all feast along with whatever Thanksgiving stragglers we had picked up that year - from Thatparents' students, to friends, to new additions to our family.

This year things were going to be a little different, and Thatmom, Thatboy, and I were all a little concerned as to how Thanksgiving was going to play out. Thatmom is naturally distracted more than usual, which means we had the same conversation 7-8 times about who was making what and when. Even the carefully written out list with the guests, who was bringing what, and when we each had to make each dish didn't prevent a phone call about every three days asking what "so and so" was bringing.

Taking Thatboy away for his birthday weekend, and continuing celebration on his actual birthday gave me 1.5 days to prepare before we headed to Thatmom's house to start the holiday preparation there. I had made the pie dough the week before and froze it to give myself a head start. This year I took over Thatdad's role as ice cream maker and made his specialty - fudge swirl with chocolate chunks and wet walnuts. I made that Monday night along with baking the won ton cups. Tuesday night was all about pie as I made the pumpkin apple and pumpkin pie. And of course some pumpkin ice cream, for those who don't love chocolate. (Along with some pecan muffins for our coworkers) Wednesday Thatboy and I took a half day at work and headed up to Thatmom's house where I made the polenta and biscuit dough. And Thursday I just made myself useful - and finished up the other appetizers.


For ease of reference, we'll divide the meal into three courses. Each course took up an entire table of food.

Course 1: Appetizers. Knits and I were in charge of these, but since it's my blog I just have pictures of what I made.


Salad in won ton cups

Polenta squares with goat cheese - these were good as is, but even better when I repurposed the leftovers for breakfast:
goat cheese polenta squares topped with black beans, sunny side up eggs, and salsa

The hit of my appetizers was the baked brie with cranberries and apple. This went over so well, that I'll probably make it again for Christmas with the inlaws.

Course 2: Turkey Dinner


How gorgeous does Thatmom's turkey look? After Thatboy raved about my turkey last year, Thatmom let me brine this 24 lb bad boy. We're not normally briners, but we will be from now on. Everyone agreed this was the moistest turkey they've had. The turkey is stuffed with Thatmom's famous chestnut stuffing. Then I used the turkey drippings to make the gravy - which Repro described as "strong." I'm also now the official gravy maker of the family, which is fine, because I think it's the easiest part of Thanksgiving.

My not to be missed biscuits. I call them cream biscuits because they have 1 cup of cream in them. I actually ran out of cream after the ice cream and almost made them with half and half. Thatboy decided we shouldn't mess with perfection.


The spread and the crowd. We turn the kitchen island into a buffet of good foods. Two tables, and 14 people from across the county gather to enjoy. This is also the best vantage to see Toxicesq's cranberry relish and Repro's famous mashed potatoes (both the guilt-free and guilty versions), and broccoli.

Multiple plates of turkey and stuffing so no one has to wait too long to fill their plate. My favorite - candied yams, and Thatmom's favorite - cranberry relish. Because you can never have too much, we require two of every dish.


Course 3: Dessert - not pictured are Thatmom's twenty pound cake and apple crisp. And the baklava that my mom's sister sent from New Jersey.

Nissan brought pumpkin cheesecake from the Urth Caffe.

My pumpkin apple pie. Thatbrother, Thatboy, and Thatmom were very skeptical of this pie, but it ended up being a hit.

My take on Thatdad's fudge swirl ice cream with chocolate chunks and wet walnuts. Mine ended up having a lot more chocolate in it. Who would've guessed?

Bass LOVES pumpkin pie. (I'd like to say he loves my pumpkin pie, but I'm fairly sure he'd eat just about anybody's). He made a special request this year that I make a graham cracker crust instead of my usual pie crust. GOOD SUGGESTION! The pumpkin pie with graham cracker crust was a hit. Everyone loved it. Even Thatmom loved it and ate it two days in a row - and she doesn't like pumpkin pie! She declared it the best pumpkin pie ever.

This pumpkin pie ice cream from Foodnetwork.com also raised some eyebrows. Then Petman tried some and declared it "awesome" and soon the rest of the family followed suit. I heard murmurs of "did you try the pumpkin ice cream yet" from everyone. And each person who tried it fell in love.




Pie recipes:


Pumpkin Apple Pie
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 Tbsp flour
3 granny smith apples
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin
5 oz of evaporated milk

1. Preheat oven to 425. Line a 9 inch pie pan with unbaked dough. Mix 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and flour in bowl.
2. Peel, core, and slice the apples and toss them in the sugar/cinnamon mixture, coating well.
3. Heat 1/4 cup sugar in a small pan on medium heat with 1/16 cup of water, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool.
4. Combining remaining sugar, salt, and pumpkin pie spice in medium bowl.
5. Add egg and beat with a whisk.
6. Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, and cooled sugar water and mix well.
7. Spoon apple mixture into pie pan. Pour pumpkin mixture over apple mixture. Bake 15 minutes.
8. Reduce temperature to 350 and bake 40 more minutes.


Pumpkin Pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 15 oz can pumpkin
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 425. Mix the graham crackers with sugar and melted butter and press into bottom and sides of 9 inch pie pan. Chill while preparing filling.
2. Whisk pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt in bowl.
3. Pour pumpkin mixture into graham cracker crust and bake 15 minutes.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Birthdaying Begins



One of the things Thatboy and I have in common is terrible birthdays. Both because of timing. My birthday happens to fall during finals, or summer vacation. There was even a year when my entire family was on vacation without me. For Thatboy the problem is Thanksgiving. His family never really celebrated his birthday because they were too busy celebrating his brother's birthday 2 weeks earlier, or Thankgiving itself. During our dating years, I never got to celebrate his birthday with him because he went home to his family. My family would throw him a little party when he returned - but it wasn't the same. As soon as we were married, Thatboy began spending Thanksgiving with my family and the birthday celebrations began.

I've done everything in my power to make a big deal out of Thatboy's birthday, and this year is no exception. The celebration starts tonight when we'll head out to celebrate with Thatboy's birthday twin, H. And then I'm whisking him away for a surprise weekend - shhhh he doesn't know. The celebration will continue alll the way till DH's actual birthday next week. So stay tuned for lots of birthday fun.


Pound (cup)Cakes with Strawberry Filling

12 oz strawberries, hulled
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water
1/2 lbs butter
1 2/3 cup sugar
5 eggs
2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Combine the strawberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves.
  2. Stir in cornstarch until smooth. Boil 3 minutes or until thick.
  3. Preheat oven to 325. Cream the butter, slowly add sugar and beat until light.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each in well.
  5. Stir in the flour, salt, and vanilla and combine well.
  6. Spoon into cupcake liners in muffin pan and bake for 25 - 35 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before moving onto a rack.
  8. When cupcakes are cool, cut a cone shape out of the top, being careful not to create a hole clean through the bottom of the cupcake.
  9. Fill this cone shaped hole with strawberry sauce and replace the cake cone you cut out. (You may need to trim the bottom of the cone so it doesn't force out all your filling. This is a good time to call your husband into the kitchen to eat all the cone cuttings. He will love you forever)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Just a bit late


As usual, my blogging is a bit backed up, so these recipes are actually back from Halloween-ish. I already wrote about our experience going out and finding the perfect pumpkins, but we held off on carving until right before Halloween.

Pumpkin carving is a HUGE deal in Thathouse. We make an entire evening out of it and it's the one time of year I let Thatboy rent whatever gorey scary movie he wants without complaint. I hate scary movies. I get nightmares. My dreams are usually strange and vivid to begin with, but after a scary movie I can't sleep at all. We each sketch out our pumpkin designs on paper before getting to serious work.

For dinner, I like to make something that can cook as we work, so I don't have to be in the kitchen. Besides, carving works up quite the appetite. This year I went with enchiladas. And Thatboy has decided this is his new favorite enchilada recipe. Know how I know? He told me that it reminded him of Taco Bell - which is only his all time favorite fast food ever. He loves my girls night outs because it means Taco Bell for dinner for him.

But since Taco Bell isn't my idea of good Mexican food, I harken back to my days at El Torito Grill and the sweet corn cake that came with all the meals. I thought AVM's corn pudding would serve as a nice substitute. And the corn pudding was good - although Thatboy didn't think it went as well with the enchiladas as I did. I liked it smothered in the enchilada sauce.


Corn Pudding a 9 year old can make (recipe available at animalvegetablemiracle.com)


Chicken Enchiladas
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup Picante Sauce
2 tsp chili powder
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1/2 cup monterey jack cheese, shredded
4 whole wheat tortillas
1 tomato, chopped
1 green onion, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350. Mix together sour cream, picante sauce and chili powder.
2. Take one cup of this mixture and combine with chicken and cheese. Reserve the rest of the sour cream mixture.
3. Divide the chicken mixture between tortillas. Roll up tortillas and place seam side up in baking dish. Pour reserved sour cream mixture over the filled tortillas.
4. Cover dish and make for 40 minutes.
5. Top with chopped tomatoes and green onion.


Frieda Kahlo's Pan de Muerto (recipe available at animalvegetablemiracle.com)
November 1 is traditionally Dia de los Muertos, which is celebrated in many areas of San Diego. Not surprising given that we're a mere moments from Mexico. It's a celebration of ancestors and frequently characterized by those crazy skeletons. Whether they're dancing, or playing in a mariachi band. My "pan de muerto" came out looking a little Edward Munch-ian but they were delicious. So delicous in fact, that Thatdog ate almost this entire basket you're looking at right now. Yeah....he can be sneaky.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nobody Walks in LA

Every year around this time the fabulous Weezermonkey hosts her kareokefest. Normally, I drive up, stopping on the way to pick up K1 on the way. This year with the amount of weekend driving Thatboy and I have been doing, I decided it was going to be WAY too much to drive up to LA and back in a single evening. Instead Thatboy and I decided to make a weekend of it and act like real LA tourists.

First things first, we pricelined a hotel and got a dirt cheap deal at the Marriott. The location was fabulous since it put us within walking distance to one of our destinations, more on that later. And Thatboy and I have a tendency to stumble upon celebrity - which would impress probably anyone but us. Some rockstar was staying at the hotel with us, be we only knew because some guy ran up to him with a stack of records (kids - this is what people listened to before cds) and had him sign them all. Then I got to ride up the elevator with one of his band mates. I don't think I was in reverent awe enough for whoever it was because he made a big show of pushing the penthouse button by walking across the elevator and in front of me, instead of the panel in front of him.

The second plan of events was to figure out where we were going to eat. And of course, I contacted my LA food expert - Weemo again. Even though Thatboy and I lived in LA for a combined total of 6 years, we rarely ventured to the downtown area. That's the scary part of LA! But it's Weemo's playground and no one knows it better. With her help we were able to plan a weekend of culinary delights.

Saturday morning we dropped Thatdog off at "camp" and headed up to Los Angeles. The original plan was to arrive before noon so we could have a nice leisurely lunch at Bottega Louie.





Unfortunately, Thatboy and I had a late Friday night which became Saturday morning before we knew it. So we slept in a bit later than we were planning. We didn't get up to LA until 1, and that gave us only a little over an hour before the reason we came up so early. Luckily, Weemo is a genius and her suggestion of Bottega Louie was perfect. In addition to a sit down restaurant, Bottega Louie also houses a gourmet market!







Thatboy and I grabbed some fresh sandwiches, sodas, and macarons and headed to the hotel to check in. We had a picnic in the room, before heading out. Thatboy and I had big LA plans for this weekend. This summer, I had noticed that one of my all time favorite shows was coming to LA - Parade! And it was starring T.R. Knight! (Yes friends, George is NOT dead...although he does die every night...and twice a day on weekends.) I didn't expect to make it up to LA to be able to see it, but once we decided to make a weekend of it, I booked us tickets immediately. And was able to get them for over 50% off - because I hate paying full price.

Parking (and driving) in LA is such a pain, I've actually gotten panic attacks on the freeway. So Thatboy and I decided, since we were less than a mile from the show, we would hoof it. As we left the hotel they tried to get the car for us, and when we told them we were walking, every head turned to stare at us.

But after a couple of blocks, we reached our destination:




Parade is a musical with the book written by Alfred Uhry (of Driving Miss Daisy fame) and Jason Robert Brown (who is my all time favorite composer). It opened on Broadway in 1998 and won the Tony award in 1999 - just a few months after it closed. I never got a chance to see it on Broadway, but fell in love with it during the award show and ran out to buy the cd which I listened to over and over and over again. It's based on the true story of Leo Frank - a superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta who was tried and convicted of the murder of a 13 year old girl because he was a northerner and a Jew. It's not a warm and fuzzy musical, but it is beautiful and poignant. This version of the show was reworked by Uhry and Brown. The venue was perfectly intimate and the cast was phenomenal. I was definitely impressed by the fact that T.R. Knight can sing - something I was not expecting.

After the show we headed to dinner - another one of Weemo's recommendations: Rivera.



As usual, Thatboy and I made friends with the bartender (or as Weemo says "mixologist" and she's usually right). When they didn't have his usual brand of scotch, the bartender/mixologist made him a little taster menu of their scotches so he could try them all and pick his favorite. After that we were in her hands as she made him fascinating drink after fascinating drink.



We began with the tortillas - corn tortillas baked with the restaurant's signature edible flowers. These things were on everything.


The tortillas are served with Indian butter, which we decided must just be avocado. Thatboy said he hoped it wasn't butter because he put so much on his tortillas he would guarantee himself a heart attack.



Next came a chile relleno stuffed with burrata. Did you see the magic word there? Yup. Burrata. I'm a sucker for it. That beautiful design at the top of the plate? Spices and completely edible.


There were too many interesting choices on the menu, so Thatboy and I decided to order two and split them so we each got half.




I preferred this duck confit with goat cheese and blue corn tortilla - kind of a deconstructed enchilada. It has 4 magic words! "duck confit" and "goat cheese."



Thatboy liked to go back and forth between this pork which he deemed delicious and rich. Somehow he came up with the theory that the goat cheese and duck cut the richness of this dish...yeahhhhhhh - he'd had a lot to drink by this point in the night. Meanwhile, how fabulous is the presentation at Rivera?



For dessert, it was recommened we try the olive oil cake - even though it wasn't on the menu. This is why it always pays to be sweet to your server. After raving about how it was her favorite dessert, she went and checked with the kitchen to see if they had any, even though it wasn't on the menu and soon enough, a plate of it showed up in front of us.


After dinner I dropped Thatboy off at the hotel and headed to Kareokefest - and I'll let Weemo cover that since she will do a much better job that I could. Around 1pm I stumbled back to the hotel and crashed.

We slept in till 9 - which is a HUGE deal for Thatboy and I. After leisurely getting ready and packing up the room, we headed to our last Weemo rec- the Nickle Diner.





The gourmet doughnut phase has not hit San Diego yet, but apparently it's hit Los Angeles. Shortly after we sat down, an amuse bouche of doughnut holes were brought to us.




I LOVED the strawberry crumb doughnut on the left, and Thatboy was impressed with the "Clockwork Orange" on the right.


Weemo sent me a warning earlier this week telling me to stay away from the Huevos Rancheros - so I did. She recommended the scramble and I listen to experts.



Mine had the goat cheese, bacon, and spinach. And I had the polenta with it - OH MY this is fabulous polenta. Some of the best I've ever had.


Weemo had mentioned that next time she went to the Nickel Diner, she wanted to try the pork hash, so Thatboy figured he'd try it for her. He liked my breakfast better. He didn't think there was enough egg, and wanted a saltier pork instead of a carnitas style pork they used in the hash.

Once we were all good and full, we headed back home to San Diego so Thatboy could get some weekend surf. It was fun to have a weekend away - even just going someplace close. Even when that someplace is LA.




We brought a little treat home with us - a red velvet doughnut and maple glazed bacon doughnut. Thatboy thought the maple glazed bacon doughnut was much better than he thought, but I wasn't all that impressed. I did like the red velvet though - mmmmmmmm.