What Happens in Vegas…

On this first installment of TCL Goes West, we’re heading to the wild, wild west- Las Vegas.

Day 1

First things first, check out the view from our room:

34th Floor of the Marriott Grand Chateau

34th Floor of the Marriott Grand Chateau

Pretty sweet.

The first night, we went to a rehearsal dinner at the Italian American Club. Turns out the bride’s father, a transplant from NY, is the president.

That night, we had the best Italian Food I’ve ever had outside of the Northeast. In true Italian fashion, first came the antipasto.

Plate of Christmas

Plate of Christmas

This is what we at The Cheese Log like to call Christmas on a Plate. Salami, Capicola, Sopressata, Mortadella along with Provolone, Mozzarella, Fontina and olives. I can hear the Hallelujia Chorus. Hark those herald angels. Amen.

 

I had a bunch of fun explaining the names to my new Uncle John. He’s always a good sport about everything, and tried his best to pronounce them all. And, of course, after 6 Christmases on my side, James knew what to do.

Italian American Billboard Hits

Italian American Billboard Hits

This was the main course. Buffet. Holy goodness.

 

Day 2

The next day, we had several hours to kill before the wedding, so we took off to Red Rock Canyon for some desert hiking. It was gorgeous! And sandy, and hot, and… dry. Very dry.

Red Rock Canyon

 

After all that hiking (which, really, was mostly done from our car. Not sure what that’s called. Let’s call it hiking.) it was time for lunch. Finally, I got to experience the Holy Grail of the American West. The true relic Indiana Jones was searching for in the desert.

The In-N-Out Cheeseburger, Animal Style.

Animal Style

May I just say, WOW? I mean, like Five Guys out here, except better, toasted bun, crispy lettuce, special sauce, and…. WAY cheaper. 2 burgers, fries and a shake and it’s under $10. WHAT?! So, so sad that they are probably never coming to the East Coast.

In-N-Out Menu

In-N-Out Menu

Seriously, did we go back in time? Where did those prices come from? And those hats…

The wedding that night was fun, and the food was good, but not as good as the rehearsal. So, skipping ahead to our last day in Vegas.

 

Day 3

After Mass on Sunday, we went to brunch at the bride’s parents’ house, then headed to the Hoover Dam. Which was like, Damn.

Dam. Just, Dam.

Dam. Just, Dam.

We were really hungry that night, so we went right next door to the buffet at the Planet Hollywood Casino: Spice Market.

This was the entrance to the escalator leading down to the buffet.

This was the entrance to the escalator leading down to the buffet.

They had everything. And to be honest, the food was just kind of OK. It reminded me of… dare I say… college. (Oh no she di-int!)

If I’m ever back in Vegas, we would probably go somewhere else. But the dessert selection, now THAT was pretty impressive.

DESSERT

And that’s only about 1/4 of it. It was way bigger. Plus the soft serve ice cream. And there were some pretty creative items.

Chocolate and Marshmallow

Chocolate and Marshmallow

Cannoli Cupcake

Cannoli Cupcake

Creme Brulee- best thing here

Creme Brulee- best thing here

 

 

 

James was happy.

Pizza, Pasta and Ice Cream, Oh My!

 

After dinner, we saw this:

Bellagio Fountains

 

 

And so concludes the Vegas edition of TCL. Stay tuned for our trip to Flagstaff, Arizona where we almost got killed by an elk. And almost froze to death. And, well, ate stuff. Good stuff. Trust me, you’ll love it.

 

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S’mores Party!!!

Over the weekend, James and I threw a s’mores party- just for the fun of it. We got the idea from my bachelorette party, and decided to make it boys-allowed this time. We had so much fun putting things together, together.

I found some gorgeous lanterns at Michaels. We put some in the gazebo, and lining the steps so no one would trip in the dark. Also, we decorated the party area with these beautiful lights:

Pergola at Night

 

Along with your typical graham crackers and marshmallows, homemade chocolate chip cookies we an added bonus for s’mores making.

Lazy susan with graham crackers, marshmallows, and cookies. Extra bowls of marshmallows at either end of the table. 2 sterno-fuel fires, one at each end. An extra platter of s’mores ingredients. Fondue forks-a-plenty. Hershey bars scattered around the table, at least one per person.

S'mores

We ended up moving the appetizers to the same table. I had made bacon-wrapped smokies, which turned out to be the perfect savory alternative for roasting over the little fires. Taco dip was also present, along with strawberry shortcake brought by one of my awesome cousins, and this fabulous cheese plate:

New Zealander, Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Gouda, and Bruschetta Jack

New Zealander, Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Gouda, and Bruschetta Jack

We also had melted Brie. I love Brie.

Drinks included Corona, 2 flavors of Mike’s, and Smirnoff Ice, along with Lemonade, Tea, Water and Sodas.

It was a complete success! I can’t wait to do this again sometime!

S'mores Party Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Celebrating Family

We have so much to be thankful for this year. We’re finally married, we’re finally together in our perfect little house, and we’re finally living the life we’ve always dreamed of. I never thought life would be this beautiful.

November morning at home

November morning at our home in Maryland

One of the biggest things we are thankful for this November is our enormously huge family. Each of us brought roughly 30 first cousins with us into this marriage, along with dozens of aunts and uncles. We love our new family more than anything. We’re looking forward to celebrating this with our second annual Day-After-Thanksgiving Christmas Movie Night.

Last year, we rounded up the cousins/aunts/uncles. Everyone brought their leftover desserts from Thanksgiving (which was a LOT of food).  I made my mom’s apple cider and my Italian grandmother’s Pastorelli cookies, both of which were a big hit with James’s family. The movie list? We went with family favorites: Charlie Brown’s Christmas and Elf.

It was the most fun I have ever had at a party that I was hosting. It was simple to put together and tons of fun for all involved. We can’t wait to do it again this year!

Cake Decorating 101

Last night was my first cake decorating class.

Our instructor is a wonderful Greek lady named Mata. She’s a professional European pastry chef. One of the first things she said was that this class is not meant to be stressful. “You’re supposed to come here to relax.” Sweet.

The first  thing we learned was the proper technique for using the star tip.  We practiced on some sugar cookies.

It was pretty fun! I’ve never taking a culinary class before, and I’ve always wanted to. Working with icing and cookies, it wasn’t long before all my work stress evaporated.

My mom and I are taking it together. I’m a baker and she’s an artist, so perhaps together we could make some spectacular cakes. That is the goal, anyways. It was my mom’s idea for us to take the class, and I’m very glad she pushed for it. I would never have done it otherwise. I can’t wait to do my homework!

Cupcakes Revisited

For years, I have had a serious beef with cupcakes. Especially cupcakes at weddings. What started out as a cute idea to make an economical replacement for a wedding cake quickly became a ridiculous fad that was equaly expensive as a tiered masterpiece.

As a bride on a serious budget, I understand why someone would want to go cheaper, especially if they never had any desire for a cake in the first place. But cupcakes? They can be even more labor intensive than an actual cake, and when you eat one, it’s all crust! I’ve always hated making cupcakes, for that reason. Still, I have to admit, they’re cute. Just not when they pretend to be a wedding cake and end up costing the bride more money.

This was my background going into this week’s cupcake experiment.

I decided to make mini stawberry cupcakes with fluffy vanilla buttercream, and actually enjoy making them. And, I’m happy to say that the trial run was a success! The secret? DO NOT use a knife.

I made a delicious vanilla buttercream replacing milk with whipping cream, and putting the icing into a ziploc freezer bag, cutting the corner, and piping it onto the cupcakes. Real simple. Real easy. Real Quick.

I think I’ll do it again once Lent is over. 🙂

Olney’s Mexican Escape

Last night, my mom and I went to Sol Azteca in Olney, MD. While the restaurant is not new, the shopping center was newly renovated and we had never noticed the place before.

We were greeted with white table cloths and dim lighting, something that added a little feeling of formality that is not commonly found in Mexican restaurants. People don’t usually picture white table cloths when they’re in the mood for tacos, enchiladas, carne asada and guacamole. Still, it was nice.

The chips and salsa were perfect.  The salsa was fresh and simple, the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I could have eated ten more servings of it.

The menu was impressive. Not only did they have a wide selection of Mexican favorites (priced generally between $11-14), but also a list of “House Specialties” that were primarily Peruvian and Seafood selections ($15-20). There were so many options, I’ll have to go back to get a better idea of what to recommend to people.

We ordered chicken enchiladas, vegetable fajitas, and a cheese chile relleno. All were delicious. The chicken enchiladas were made with corn tortillas, which though not my favorite, are more authentic than the flour variety for enchiladas. My mom really enjoyed her vegetable fajitas, though she did say that the vegetables could have been cut a tad smaller to make it easier to eat. The cheese chile relleno was fabulous. In case you’ve never had one, “chile relleno” means “stuffed chile”. It’s a big green poblano pepper that has been stuffed (usually with cheese and meat), fried in a batter, and smothered in more cheese. Of course, any vehicle for cheese and ranchero sauce is welcome to me.

For dessert, we had the flan: perfectly smooth, creamy texture coupled with a sweet cinnamon flavor. It came to us decorated on a plate decorated with raspberry sauce squiggles, which added the perfect fruity tang to the mix. A+

For 2 entrées, an extra side (that was the size of a meal in itself), and dessert, we got out of there for $35. Pretty sweet in this part of Maryland. The portions were so huge we both had lunch for the next day as well.

Sol Azteca was a great Mexican escape after a long day at work, with an awesome selection of entrees with generous portions. While not the best Mexican I’ve ever had (El Azteca in Clarksville is my favorite), it was very enjoyable, and I’ll certainly be going back. A-

Sol Azteca on Urbanspoon

Smith Island Cake -A.K.A. Why I love Maryland

Not many people outside of Maryland have ever had it. In fact, with the exception of people on the Eastern Shore, not many Marylanders have had it. Smith Island Cake (also known, along with crabs, as God’s Gift to Maryland) looks like this:

Smith Island Cake, as pictured in National Geographic

8-15 layers of yellow cake, with fudgey chocolate icing in between. Seriously, this is the richest cake you’ll ever taste. It’s AMAZING!

They actually make it by cooking each layer separately in its own cake pan, like 8-10 round cake pans with a tablespoon or two of batter in them. Named in 2008 as the official dessert of the State of Maryland, It comes from Smith Island (go figure), a remote island in the Chesapeake Bay that is only accessible by boat. The remoteness and inaccessibility of the island have made the place somewhat of a time capsule. Discovered by John Smith in the 1600s, the people of Smith Island still retain a sort of Elizabethan dialect, as well as an accent that separates them from the rest of Maryland.

Surprisingly, right in the middle of Maryland where most Marylanders live (between DC and Baltimore), Smith Island Cake is almost impossible to find. Luckily for the rest of the world, you can order it online at www.smithislandbakingco.com and have it shipped to your door in 2 days or less. I think I know what I want for my birthday…