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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Our First Spaghetti Squash

About a week ago, James and I started working out together to Shaun T’s Rockin’ Body. It’s really intense and definitely takes a lot of effort, so I’ve been trying to cook a little healthier so we don’t sabotage our exercise. We don’t have a particular diet, really. Just trying to go whole grain with lots of veggies.

Saturday Morning, I sautéed some peppers, red onion, and thyme from my herb garden, sliced up a little sausage, then mixed in an egg and added a little cheese on top. It was really good!

Breakfast Done Right

Breakfast Done Right

 

After breakfast, I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of fruits, veggies, quinoa, Ezekiel Bread, and chicken. It’s hard to eat poorly when your house is full of healthy stuff, right?

The rest of the weekend was nice. Sunday after church we took a walk to the library. I picked up a few random history things- one about medieval female rulers of England and one about little known snippets in American history. Then we went to our local farmers market and bought crab dip mix, a soy candle, pizza for lunch, and wine for dinner.

Sunday afternoon I cooked my first spaghetti squash. It was really good! We both enjoyed it. All you do it cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, brush with olive oil, and roast face-down in a 450°F oven for 30 minutes. Let it cool, then scoop out the flesh with a fork. So easy! We ate ours with sausage and peppers.

Dinner

 

We got so much done this weekend, but still had time to eat healthy, take walks, read books, go to Mass, and visit family. I love our beautiful life.

Hazelnut French Toast

I love going out for breakfast, but now that I have my very own house and my very own kitchen, my restaurant budget shrank a bit. No worries though! The greatest creativity comes when you’re forced to change your ways of doing things.

This Sunday after church, James and I had brunch at our house before getting to work on the subfloors (we’re turning into serious D-I-Y homeowners). French toast is James’s favorite of the breakfast trifecta (waffles and pancakes are 2nd and 3rd, respectively). So while he got to work with the drill, I set out to make breakfast. While getting my ingredients together, I remembered that I had neglected to buy vanilla extract. So, for a substitute, what else but a little Frangelico! I know, I’m out of vanilla but I have imported hazelnut liqueur laying around…

Ingredients:

5 slices of bread (I used Nature’s Own Honey Wheat)

3 eggs

small handful of sugar (about 2-3 tbsp)

2-3 tsp Frangelico hazelnut liqueur

cinnamon and nutmeg (about 1/2 tsp of each, eyeball it)

strawberries, sliced and mixed with a bit of sugar

Wisk eggs, sugar, Frangelico, and spices. Heat frying pan to medium and melt a little butter in the pan. Dip bread slices in egg mixture and fry about 1 or 2 minutes on each side. Serve with strawberries and maple syrup.

Italian Market Adventure

This weekend, my fiancé and I went to Philadelphia. We both love it. He’s a huge fan of the Philadelphia Soul (Arena Football), I love colonial history, and we both love cheesesteaks. So of course, Philadelphia has a special place in our hearts.

This weekend, our excuse to drive 3 hours to Philly was a Soul game on Friday night. Saturday, we spent the better part of the day roaming around South Philly and the 9th Street Italian Market.

Di Bruno Brothers, 9th Steet

May I just say that for the first time in my life, I was sad I had eaten a huge hotel breakfast? This place smelled AMAZING. So much cheese, meat, pasta, olives, sausage, you name it. After about 5 seconds, I was fantasizing about moving to Philly and shopping here every morning, then going home to our cute historic row house and making dinner for James.

South Philly Row House

In one of the shops, I ran into the longest spaghetti I’ve ever seen. It was about 2 feet long in the package, but it had been folded before it was dried, so each strand was about 4 feet long. Then, for the first time in my life, I came across Candelone pasta- tubular pasta about 1 inch in diameter, and (again) 2 feet long.

I was starstruck. Right away I picked it up and said “I’m buying this.” James laughed at me and said “How are you going to cook it?” “I don’t care, I’ll find a way,” I said. “Even if i have to boil water in the bathtub.”

my souvenir

Luckily, I didn’t have to use the bathtub. In a pot of water with a serious, rolling boil, the spaghetti softened up and shrunk down in about 20 seconds.

It was delicious. I love Philly. Next time I’m going to bring a cooler, a lot of ice, and come home with a serious supply of cheese and sausage as well. We actually did have a cooler with us this trip, but we were planning on spending the rest of the day out around town and didnt want to chance losing the meat. It’s ok though. There will definitely be a next time!

Cute Italian Restaurant in Maryland

Friday night I had dinner with my mom at Pepino’s in Burtonsville, MD. It’s a cute little family owned Italian restaurant tucked away in the corner of a sleepy shopping center. We’ve been going here ever since we moved into the area in 2002, as it’s not too far from the high school my sister and I went to. I think it finally deserves a blog post.

The most impressive thing about Pepino’s is the atmosphere. They really treat you like family. While waiting for a table, we had a lovely conversation with the owner, a very nice lady named Margaret. Another couple of people were also waiting and had no place to sit, so right away she said “Here, sit here and talk to my dad,” and sat them right down with her father. It was so sweet!

The food at Pepino’s is Delicious. While you’re waiting, they’ll bring you warm Italian bread. Olive oil and cheese is already on the table: no stinginess there! Pastas are priced around $9-12, with most of the entrée’s at $11-16: pretty comfortable, especially considering the generous portions. My mom had the eggplant parmigiana, which she was raving about. I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, so I went and got the veal parmigiana. Delicious. Cooked perfectly. Smothered in the most delectable homemade sauce you’ll ever get at a restaurant. Slightly on the tangy side. Perfect with the cheese on the table.

We were too stuffed to order dessert. I actually had enough left over for lunch the next day, but sadly I forgot to grab my doggie bag. I almost cried when I realized I forgot it.

Like I said, I’ve been there a million times before, and I’ll go a million times again. Great food, great atmosphere. Actually, not a bad Valentine’s day idea…

Pepinos Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Italian Christmas Feast

My family has a tradition of having a crazy awesome, 5 course Italian feast on Christmas day. Every year my mom would deck the halls and put out an extremely long table for 15-20 people, and I would spend 2 or 3 days cooking the most amazing food imaginable. For the first time in 5 or 6 years, I’m not cooking, and my parents no longer have a house with space for such a long table. In memory of the good ol’ days, here are the courses we used to have:

1. Antipasta: Imported Italian cold cuts (Prosciutto, Capacolla, Mortadella, Sopresatta), cheeses (Provolone, Mozzarella, Fontina), my mom’s antipasta salad (roasted red pepper, mushroom, artichoke, capers), Aunt Annie’s tuna salad (with vinegar, not sure what else is in it but it was good), and Italian bread.

2. THE soup. It’s made with lamb and escarole, and comes from the village my mom’s grandmother is from (Rosetto Valfortore, near Foggia).

3. Homemade spaghetti, meatballs, and bracciole (Steaks pounded thin and rolled up with provolone and prosciutto. In Italy they call this involtini).

4. Salad. Usually we don’t have room for it, but we try to eat a few bites.

5. Pork roast. We try. Again, no room. Many years we end up skipping this or saving it for another day.

Dessert: cannoli, tiramisu, all kinds of pies, cookies, and my mom’s dream pie (Walnut crust, cream cheesey layer, chocolate pudding, cool whip, amazingness).

Someday when I have my own house, I’ll do this again. My aunt is doing something like this for us this year, but it’s not the same when it’s not at our house. I really do miss having a home. But it’s ok,  I WILL do this again someday. I hope it’s not too far in the future.

Chicken Carbonara

I’m a huge fan of pasta carbonara, especially when done right. If you’ve never had it, it’s basically pasta and bacon with a creamy egg-based sauce coating the pasta. In other words, heaven.

Last night, I was out of bacon, but I had 2 big chicken breasts and 4 people eating dinner, so I decided to make it with chicken, and it was AWESOME!! Here’s what I did:

Cook 1 lb pasta (thin spaghetti works best) according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, drizzle about 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Add about 1 clove fresh minced garlic. Throw in a tbsp of butter if you really want it to be delicious. Chop 2 chicken breasts into bite size pieces, and add to pan. Saute together until chicken is cooked but not tough.

In a separate bowl, whip 4 eggs until completely smooth. We don’t want ANY egg clumps. Whip in a few tbsp heavy cream if you have it. Add about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.

When pasta is done cooking, drain and return to pan. Add chicken and some of the juice of the frying pan to the pasta.

Now here’s the tricky part, read carefully:

Add egg mixture to pasta, stirring quickly and constantly. The goal here is for the egg to coat the pasta before the hot pasta cooks the egg. The last thing we want are egg clumps. We want a nice, shiny coating. Don’t worry, you can do it. Just do it quickly.

I hope you like it!