Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Not Only Cook, I'm Also a Nerd

A few months ago, I realized that my blog keeps stats.  As a mathematician by nature, I LOVE looking at them - not to see if I'm becoming the next "Julie and Julia" but out of interest in numbers (and to see what everyone else is interested in).

Yesterday I noticed that I'm almost at 1000 pageviews for my blog (and it doesn't count my own views).

Some other interesting stats:
  • While most views are from people in the US, people from these countries/territories have visited my blog as well (in order of views):  Germany, Russia, Malaysia, USVI, France, UK, Philippines, Turkey, Canada.
  • Most people (40%) view this via Firefox (I'm also anti-IE.  Except at work.)
  • There's a 45%-45% tie between Windows and Mac users (I'm a Mac.  Except at work.)
  • Most of you come here via Facebook.
  • The most popular google search that brings people to my page is "purple and yellow string beans" - I don't have any posts about purple and yellow string beans (except now they're "mentioned" here - I guess I'll be that much more popular).
Top 5 most visited posts:
  1. Consumer Review: Buitoni Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli
  2.  "You should put this on your food blog."
  3. Best Dinner in a Long Time 
  4. I Love Crock Pots 
  5. One Pan Dinner
But these aren't necessarily my favorites.  Well some are.

My favorite recipes/posts:
  1.  "You should put this on your food blog." - Grilled pizza.  I could eat pizza every day.  I also love grilling.  How can anything get better than this?
  2. Best Dinner in a Long Time - Coconut Green Curry Clams and Green Bean Salad.  Clams are one of my favorite foods and green beans are Joe's favorite veggie (and one of my favorites as well).
  3. Healthy Fried Rice - I made this last Saturday.  I'm making it again tonight, per Joe's request (and I want more too!).  In case that statement didn't mean much, please note that I generally don't repeat recipes more than once/month.
  4. For the Love of Brussels Sprouts 2 - Grilled Brussels sprouts.  One of my favorite veggie side dishes ever.  And they're grilled.  (Did I mention that I love grilling?)
  5. Joe's Favorite* Soup  - Perfect for the winter - with Chorizo, chicken broth, and kale, this soup is sure to cure the common cold.  Or at least taste good even if it doesn't.
  6. Baked Manicotti - These take a little bit of work, but are worth the effort.
Sorry for this silly post.  I'm a stats person.  If you made it this far, maybe you are too :-)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Healthy Fried Rice

I really like Chinese food, but I often feel dehydrated and unhealthy after eating it.  One of my favorite dishes is fried rice.  This recipe is my attempt to keep everything I like about fried rice, while making it a healthier meal.  The finished product ends up having a ton of flavor, whole grain goodness, more veggies than usual, and only 2 Tb of oil total.  I hope you like this as much as we do!  (I made the recipe as large as my pan could hold so that we could have a lot of leftovers - leftover homemade Chinese food is just as awesome to have in the fridge as those little take-out boxes!)

 
Healthy Fried Rice (serves 6)

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tb sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tb plus 1/4 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 Tb apple cider vinegar (or rice vinegar)
  • 1 tsp Thai fish sauce (optional)
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger (or 1 Tb fresh ginger, minced)
  • 3-4 shakes cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 3 carrots
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 lb ground turkey
  • 24 medium (51-60) raw shrimp
  • ~3 cups brown quick cooking rice (defer to box for serving for 6 people)
Steps:
  • Cook 6 servings of brown rice according to directions on box (substituting 1 Tb of low sodium soy and 1Tb of cider vinegar for some of the water).
  • Prep the veggies - peel and dice the carrots; slice the scallions on an angle and separate the green and white portions.
  • Premeasure the spices (ginger and cayenne) into a small bowl.  Premeasure the remaining liquids 2 Tb soy, 2 Tb vinegar, 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp lime juice) into another small bowl.  Set aside.
  • Heat 1 Tb sesame oil over high in a large skillet (at least 12").
  • Lightly beat 2 eggs with 1/4 tsp low sodium soy sauce.
  • Pour eggs into skillet and swirl to coat the bottom.  Cook (no stirring) for about 1 minute, until egg is set.
  • Use a spatula to fold the egg into thirds, then transfer to a large plate or cutting board.  Don't wash the skillet, you'll use it again shortly.

  • Cut the egg into thin strips (about 1/4").

  • Peel and devein the shrimp and remove the tails.  (I buy frozen raw shrimp that are deveined and have a split shell.  I thaw them by putting them in a bowl and letting cold water run over them.  Once their thawed, they're very easy to peel.)

  •  Heat the remaining 1 Tb of oil in the large skillet over high heat.
  • Add the scallion whites, and carrots and cook for about 1 minute.  Crush the garlic into the pan.  Cook for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
  • Add ground turkey and premeasured spices.  Cook, crumbling meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
  • Add shrimp.  Cook for about 1 minute.  (Shrimp will finish cooking with the rice.)
  • Add peas, rice, and egg.  Stir to combine.
  • Add premeasured liquids and cook, stirring constantly until rice is coated.

  • Let cook, undisturbed, until warm and shrimp is fully cooked, about 1 more minute.

  • Top with scallion greens and serve.
  • Enjoy!
BTW - made this Saturday and we've been LOVING the leftovers!  Will be making it again very soon!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What I'm Bringing to the Super Bowl Party

I LOVE buffalo wings!  I also love melty-cheesy dips.  The first time I tried this at a party, I knew it would become one of my entertaining staples.  This may not be the healthiest snack, but I'll be sharing with a whole party worth of people :-)  Its SOOO easy to make and only five ingredients!

Not the best picture - taken covertly at the party with my phone :-)

Buffalo Chicken Dip (serves a party)

 
Ingredients:
  • 2 large cans of chicken (depending on the brand, they're between 9.75 and 12 oz)
  • 8 oz softened cream cheese (leave out at room temp for about 2 hours to soften)
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese or ranch dressing
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of Frank's Red Hot (depending on how spicy you want the dip to be)
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)com
Steps:
  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Open and drain the cans of chicken.
 
  • Add the first 4 ingredients plus 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese to a 9 inch glass pie pan or 1.5 quart casserole dish.  If you want the dip to have even more of a kick, add some cayenne!
  • Using a large serving spoon, combine the ingredients.  The back of the spoon is helpful for blending.
  • Spread the dip evenly in the dish.  Top with remaining cheese.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until melted and bubbly.
  • Serve with tortilla chips, and/or carrots and celery.
  • Enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Eating and Drinking in Las Vegas

To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, Joe and I went to Vegas.  Fair warning:  this post contains talk of food, but its also a travelogue of our vacation.

We stayed at Aria in City Center.  Its the one in the back middle (that doesn't look like the empire state building).
 
Big-name resort wise, Aria is between New York New York and the Bellagio.  Really, its between Monte Carlo and Cosmopolitan (which are next to NY and B, respectively).  Location-wise, Aria couldn't be in a better place.  We were close walking distance from many of the big resorts (the previously named ones, plus MGM, Paris, Hard Rock, Bally's, Excalibur, etc), feasible walking distance to Harrah's, Casino Royale, the Venetian, and there were bus/monorail stops at the neighboring property.

Aria is one of the few 5-star resorts in Vegas, and it didn't dissappoint.  Every staff member that we had contact with was beyond friendly and seemed sincerely interested in the fact that we were pleased.  When they found out we were there celebrating our anniversary, they upgraded our view, AND we came home to a plate of luscious chocolate covered strawberries and a 'Happy Anniversary' card after our first night on the town.


The hotel itself was gorgeous - with innumerable fresh flowers everywhere you turned and a modern/Asian feel.

Yes, the flowers hanging in the tree were real too!
 

The pool area had 3 good sized pools, and a "day-club" pool.  We only ate at two of the restaurants, but Aria appeared to have something to please every taste.

Our room was spacious, and the bathroom was beautiful - 5 piece bath with a separate toilet area, and a glassed in soaking tub and shower.  Perfect to soak my feet in after long days of walking in heels.  Our one room complaint (which so many other reviews had raved about) was the bed - sleeping on a queen sized pillow may feel nice at first, but made both of our backs ache.

Our first night in Las Vegas, we were in the mood for Italian food.  We ate at D.O.C.G, which was next door in the Cosmopolitan hotel.  We picked D.O.C.G. because it was described as being rustic, Northern Italian food, and was in the $$ category (out of $$$$).
Joe and I both got the Pici, with Braised Duck Sauce & Black Truffles.  Pici is a thick, hand-rolled spaghetti-like noodle.  The texture of the noodles was perfectly al dente and the braised duck was very flavorful - but a little bit over salted for my taste.  The wine list was out of our price range, but we weren't too disappointed because we planned to go to Vesper next.

Vesper Bar is also in the Cosmopolitan hotel.  Joe is a really big James Bond fan, and the Vesper martini became James Bond's signature drink in Casino Royale.  So of course we had to go!

 
Atmosphere-wise, Vesper Bar was very modern and chic.  It was too bad that it was right near the hotel check-in area though, because that took away a little bit of the classy ambiance.
  
 Joe of course had the Vesper martini (gin, vodka, Lillet, and lemon peel).  I had a drink with gin(?), an Earl Grey infused liquor, egg cream on top, and Earl Grey tea leaves sprinkled on top.

We spent the rest of the night walking the strip, stopping into all of the big resorts, and enjoying the sights.
Paris
Chihuly glass in the lobby of the Bellagio
Me and Joe in the lobby of the Bellagio - our only picture of the two of us from the trip!
Watching the Bellagio fountains - I think we stopped by to watch these every night on our way back to Aria.
We spent the majority of our second day near the pool, and then took the bus to Fremont Street for the afternoon and evening.

With a street performer on Freemont Street

Fremont Street is a street in Old Las Vegas that has become a pedestrian mall.  They covered it with a video-screen covered roof, that conveniently blocks out the hot Vegas sun and holds in some of the A/C that pours out of the casinos.  The casino's on Fremont Street make you feel like you stepped back in time.  They're also the only place that we saw $3 blackjack tables :-)

Our goal for dinner was to find an old-fashioned cheap Vegas meal.  We certainly did.

At 4 Queens Hotel and Casino, we spun the free wheel and won a buy-one-get-one dinner coupon for their restaurant, Magnolia's Veranda.  (This seemed to be the prize for everyone who didn't win the $10K.)  Magnolia's didn't have the best atmosphere (older, open to the casino), but their prices were great.  With our coupon, we both got a steak dinner and a handcrafted microwbrew for about $25.  Can't beat that!

We spent most of the third day  by the pool as well, and then decided to explore Aria more.  We found a Happy Hour special at one of the nicest restaurants in the hotel, American Fish.  As the name implies, all of the seafood served here is from the U.S.  For HH, all of their lounge menu food items were $5.  So I picked four.  They were so good I nearly forgot to take a picture (and was already half-way done)!
Clockwise from the top left:  Shrimp & Grits (with jalapeno and Serrano ham); Truffled Mac & Cheese (with mushrooms and English peas); Crab Truffles (with masago arare and green cocktail sauce); Oysters on the Half Shell (one with mignonette, one with bloody mary granite)

I'm not even sure which was my favorite - they were all soooo good!

Joe couldn't resist the Diver Scallops from the main menu - served with butter poached leeks, purple potatoes, and grapes.  Such succulent scallops.  Mmm.  The food at American Fish was exceptional.  I would certainly go back.

Once again, we spent the night visiting the nearby sights.

Waiting for the fountain show in front of Bellagio.


We spent our last day seeing the sights.

Monte Carlo and New York New York from the front of Aria
mmm...  Steak.  At New York, New York

The Lions at MGM
I just read that they've since closed the lion habitat :-(

Apparently I was performing at Harrah's!

Joe "climbing" in the Palazzo.
The Venetian
Viva Las Vegas!  We can't wait to go back!

Friday, February 3, 2012

For the Love of Brussels Sprouts 2

Part 2 of my series on Brussels Sprouts:  Grilled.  Simple, fast, and five ingredients or less.

The idea of grilling Brussels sprouts was not my own.  My sister, Carla, discovered this while we were living together in Williamsburg.  This is probably my favorite way to cook Brussels sprouts.  The smokey flavor is incredible and very unique.

 
Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Butter and Lemon (feeds 2 as a side dish)

Ingredients:
  • 10-12 Brussels Sprouts
  • 2 Tb unsalted butter
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 skewers
  • fresh ground pepper
Steps:
  • Preheat a grill to medium-hi heat.
  • Rinse the Brussels sprouts.  Trim off the bottoms and remove any ragged outer leaves.  Cut them in half (if there are any super-small ones, leave them whole).
  • Skewer the Brussels sprouts so that they're all cut side up.
  • Zest the lemon.  Put zest to the side.
  • Melt the butter (microwave is quick and easy).  Halve the lemon and squeeze the juice into the butter.
  • Whisk together butter and lemon.  Drizzle over the sprouts.  Sprinkle a few pinches of zest on top and season with fresh pepper.  (The leftover zest can be thrown into vinaigrette dressing to freshen it up.)
  • Grill for about 10 minutes, covered, until browned on the bottom and the middle is tender-crisp
  • Serve and enjoy!  With Brussels sprouts like these, you'll be fighting for the last one :-)