Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies

These are cookies made with almond butter, not butter cookies with almonds in them, although that would be delicious, too!

I wasn't sure how a cookie with no flour, no butter, and not too much sugar would even hold its shape.  Well, it is a VERY soft cookie, but it does have a nice chewiness to it.  The recipe says to bake for 8-10, but I think it's better to bake them closer to 10 minutes, than 8.  Resist the urge to grab one fresh out of the oven, because it will fall apart at the slightest touch.  They have to cool before you can pick them up.

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies
adapted from Gluten Free Easily
1 c almond butter
1 c grated piloncillo (I used evaporated cane juice)
1 egg
1 t baking soda
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract (omitted)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well. Grease or moisten hands slightly and form dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls on parchment-lined cookie sheet. (Don’t press these down) Bake 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown and cookies look “set”. (they won’t look done.) Allow the cookies to rest on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Remove carefully and allow to finish cooling on a rack.
Makes 2 – 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Las Vegas Restaurants: Sushisamba; Il Mulino; Aureole; American Fish

I have always thought Las Vegas was like an amusement park for adults.  You've got the scenery which is incredible.  Where else can you see so many "cities" and "world landmarks" on one strip?  Then there's the shopping and dining.  Dining is definitely an experience in Vegas.  Many celebrity chef-restaurants there.  While the celebrity chefs aren't necessarily in the kitchen cooking up your meal, the quality and flavours of the food are absolutely amazing.  We allowed ourselves two extravagant meals here (well, it was only supposed to be one) and two more frugal meals.

Sushisamba at the Palazzo:  We came here for their $6 Happy Hour mojitos and food from the lounge menu.  Remember that you have to be sitting at the bar for these prices.  We ordered yellowtail seviche, spicy tuna roll, vegetable tempura, salmon taquitos, and salt and pepper squid.  They were all delicious!  It's hard to pick a favourite so I will just explain what I liked best about each dish. 

The yellowtail seviche was served with shredded ribbon of celery, and flavours of ginger and soy.  It was quite sour from the citrus, which I love, but the husband doesn't.  He likes yellowtail so he did eat it, though.

The spicy tuna roll was quite standard.  How can you really get too original with that?  What I did notice was that the spicy sauce was dolloped on tip of each roll, rather than being mixed in with the tuna.  My dad told me (and I don't know how true this is) that sushi restaurants will use old tuna for these rolls because the spiciness will kill off bacteria and mask any "old" smells and flavours.  Who knows?  I thought it was good, though!

The vegetable tempura was exactly what you would it to be.  They did serve it the traditional dipping sauce (tasted a bit weak to me) and their original sauce which is yellow and brown and delicious!

Mmmm... the salmon taquitos were just divine!  Minced, spiced raw salmon in a mini shell.  I don't know how else to describe it!  Again, it's raw fish with spice (dad's words floating around in my head) but it was go-od!

The salt and pepper squid was pretty spicy and had a great texture.  The squid pieces were scored and very lightly coated (not beer or buttermilk-battered).  Awesome stuff!

The mojitos were hand made to order.  I was glad it wasn't some pre-mixed concoction that some places serve up for Happy Hour.

I definitely recommend Sushisamba.  Their regular menu looks good too! 

Il Mulino at Forum Shops Caesars was one of our "splurge" meals.  The husband was looking at their menu online and was drooling as he read.  If you know us, you know that we avoid dairy and wheat but for this trip, we had to say "screw it" and deal with the consequences later.

I apologize for not having any photos of my experience here, but the lighting was so dim.  I also didn't want my flash going off every time a plate was brought out.

We were seated promptly (it was early) and nicely.  A quarter wheel of aged Parmesan was brought to our table and a chunk was broken off for each of us.  Nice!  Then plates of salami, fried zucchini, spicy garlic bread and a basket of other bread (fried bread sticks, foccacia, and what looked like baguette), a mussel and bruschetta was brought to our table as "compliments from the chef".  It was all delicious! 

The husband went on to order gnocci in a basil pesto sauce, but I passed on a first course because I was already a bit full from all the chef's compliments.  The gnocci was soft and chewy, like it had just come out of a pot of boiling water.  The husband loved it, and I loved the several bites I had!  For main courses, he had a pounded veal chop topped with an arugula salad, and I had lagostine split and sauteed with a white wine and garlic sauce, with a mound of spinach (that night's special).  The husband was a bit disappointed with his veal, as it was a bit tough.  I thought my lagostine was cooked nicely (not overdone) but very salty.  The spinach was quite salty as well, and I just couldn't finish it.  For the prices we paid, I wish we had both loved our meals.  Perhaps we didn't order the "right" dishes.  The meal was finished off with small glasses of grappa that had been infused with white raisins.  It Mulino must have several delicious dishes but unfortunately we picked the wrong ones. 

Aureole at Mandalay Bay was another "splurge" meal.  I had a much better experience here than I did at Il Mulino.  First of all, I didn't fill up on bread and the chef's compliments before hand (schoolboy error), and they had 2 tasting menus, plus the a la carte menu to choose from. 

I've linked here to the Parallel Menu, which what we ordered.  Two of everything.  The main course was lamb, something I'm not very fond of.  The husband can't believe that I don't like lamb, and thinks I just haven't given it a chance.  Maybe, but I wasn't going to risk not liking the main dish of the Parallel Menu, so they subbed it with beef.  Again, if you me and the husband, you know that we avoid beef as well but if I really didn't want chicken, so beef it was.  Great choice!

For the first course, the husband and I both liked the lobster and papaya salad over the fluke carpaccio.  The sourness of the green papaya, the sweetness of the the grilled pineapple, and the richness of the lobster were perfectly matched.

For the second course, the husband was very impressed with the coriander crusted tuna, and especially with the carrot sponge cake.  I thought the concept was amazing, but I like the richness of the scallop over the braised short rib.

We liked both of our main courses about the same.

The dessert was interesting.  I'm used to desserts from these kinds of menus to be dense, rich chocolate ganache-type things, or creme brulee, or something like that, not grape sorbet!  I loved the baklava.  The refreshing grape sorbet, with the flake baklava and cream was absolutely incredible.  Then they bring a creme brulee (ah, of course!) and some chocolate macarons as the "chef's compliments".  Too much dessert!

Oh, I almost forgot about the wine tower!  There is a glass elevator for guests to enter the restaurant, that is just stacked with wine.  Each time a bottle is ordered, one of the servers is strapped into a harness and up she goes to fetch the bottle of wine.  It was fun to watch!

American Fish by Michael Mina at Aria was another Happy Hour meal... or at least it was supposed to be, but we couldn't make it there in time.  Still, the lounge menu is pretty good.  We ordered the oysters, crab poppers, lobster corn dogs, yellowtail sashimi, fish and chips, and then the husband had the tuna melt and smoked salmon blt.  We liked them all!  These dishes are all very small but since we were eating quite late at night, it was perfect for us.  The tuna melt and salmon blt are literally a bite or 2 each, in case anyone was expecting a full sandwich. 

Their cocktail menu is interesting as well!  They have a focus on old school cocktails and add a bit on each one's history, origin, etc.  If we go back, I would love to go here again during HH for better deals!

Las Vegas: Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino

What do you do when you have a bunch of airline points (from 3 different airlines) that are about to expire?  Most would book a trip to wherever and however far those points would take them.  Well, what if they weren't quite enough for 2 round-trip tickets?  Two words: travel rewards. 

I, personally, have never accumulated enough points to score a ticket anywhere, because until my mid-20's or so, my parents always made me book my tickets on their rewards credit card, and then I would pay them back.  Even now, I do fly about once or twice a year, but don't accumulate enough points for anything.  My husband, on the other hand, somehow accumulated points, so we quickly got to work on how we could get the most out of them.

We used to airlines reward website to see where we could stay for the most number of nights.  San Francisco and Portland would only give us about 1 night, We could barely get one night at Napa, but Las Vegas gave us 4 nights at Planet Hollywood!  Woohoo!

I had been to Vegas once before in the summer.  I was there for a very joyous and memorable occasion but August is a dreadful time to be there.  Lines for restaurants were out the door, dehydrated drunk people everywhere, and the dry desert heat just zapped me of any energy.

February, on the other hand, is cool, breezy, not as many crazy drunk people, and manageable lines for restaurants (or no line at all!).

I didn't take may pictures of the hotel room because as many reviewers have noted, it is very dark in there.  You have to turn on about 4 lamps for it to be bright enough for a picture.

Anyway, here are my likes and dislikes of the hotel:

Location - In the middle of the strip, easily walkable to other hotels and casinos.  Walgreens and a CVS nearby for water, snacks, etc.
Large bathroom - Big soaker tub with separate shower.  A great way to soak your tired feet after walking up and down the strip all day.
Complimentary luggage storage - This was great because our flight home wasn't until about 6PM.

No coffeemaker - Seriously?!  I believe they are considered a 4-star hotel but it really doesn't look like it.  Not just because of the coffee maker but just the whole look of the place.
No fridge - The husband and I were planning on taking some cereal and almond milk for breakfast, not only to save money, but also to avoid eating bacon, fried eggs and those kinds of things every morning. 
No shuttle - Again, you'd think a so-called 4-star hotel would provide this, at least one way.
Pool - While we didn't use it, we did walk around the pool area.  They have an adults-only pool which would be nice in the summer.

While it was great to have 4 free nights, I don't think I would opt to stay at PH again, especially if I were paying.  I guess there was a reason why we were able to get 4 nights on points, unlike the other strip hotels where we got 1 night, maybe 2.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pork Japchae and Menu for the Week

I looove Korean food!  I wrote a post a while back about how Korean food saved my vacation a few years back.  Since then I've always looked for Korean restaurants to relive those wonderful days of stuffing my face with the local fare.

I remember Japchae as a shiny glistening dish with smoky strips of beef, veggies, those wonderful potato starch noodles, topped with toasted sesame seeds.  At first sight, it looks like it could be a bit bland but the noodles, meat, and vegetables absorb the wonderful flavours of soy, sesame oil, with a slight sweetness of sugar.

I tried to recreate it at home with bell peppers, carrots and some broccoli (stuff we had in the fridge).  After looking through a few forums, all signs pointed to Maangchi's website for authentic recipes and helpful videos.  I couldn't follow her recipe ingredient for ingredient, or measurement for measurement because of what I had/didn't have at home, but Japchae sounds like a dish you can play around with the seasonings until you like what you are tasting.

Pork Japchae
Source: Maangchi


Potato starch noodles (dangmyun) 12 oz.
1/2 lb of beef (I used sliced shabu shabu style pork)
1 bunch of spinach (omitted, I used 1 small bunch broccoli, cut into small florets and stalk sliced into matchsticks)
1 medium size carrot, sliced into matchsticks
1 medium size onion (omitted)
mushrooms - 5 dried shiitake and 1 package of white mushrooms (omitted - I used 1/2 red and yellow bell pepper each)
3 cloves of garlic
7-8 green onion (omitted)
Soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper, and toasted sesame seeds

  1. Boil noodles in boiling water according to directions on package. When the noodles are soft, drain them and put in a large bowl.
  2. Cut the noodles several times by using scissors and add 1 tbs of soy sauce and 1 tbs of sesame oil. Mix it up and set aside.
  3. In the boiling water, add a bunch of spinach and stir it gently for 1 minute. Then take it out and rinse it in cold water 3 times. Remove any grit or dead leaves thoroughly while rinsing. Squeeze it gently to get the water out, then cut it into 5 cm pieces.
  4. Add ½ tbs soy sauce and ½ tbs sesame oil and mix it and place it onto the large bowl.
  5. In a heated pan, put a few drops of vegetable oil and carrot strips and stir it with a spatula for 30 seconds. Put it into the large bowl (don’t burn it!).
  6. Place a few drops of vegetable oil on the pan and add your sliced onion. Stir it until the onion looks translucent. Put it into the large bowl with your carrots.
  7. Place a few drops of vegetable oil in the pan and add the sliced white mushrooms. Stir it for a bit and then put it in the large bowl.
  8. Place a few drops of vegetable oil in the pan and add your green onions. Stir for 1 minute and put it into the large bowl.
  9. Place a few drops of vegetable oil in the pan and add meat strips and sliced shiitake mushrooms. Stir it until it’s cooked well, then add 3 cloves of minced garlic, ½ tbs soy sauce and ½ tbs sugar. Stir for another 30 seconds and then put it into the large bowl.
  10. Add 2 tbs of soy sauce, 3 tbs of sugar, 2 tbs of sesame oil, and 1 ts of ground pepper to the large bowl. Mix all ingredients, then sprinkle 1 tbs of toasted sesame seeds on the top.
  11. Serve with rice and Kimchi, or as a side dish.
For step 10, I added all the ingredients back into the pan, cutting the noodles as necessary (they sure do like to stick!) and adding the seasonings. 
    Menu for 2/13/2011 - 2/19/2011

    Tuesday is my last day of my training session so I'll be having lunch at a regular time again.

    Sunday: B-Peanut butter and banana; L-leftover friend chicken and thai food; D-Pork Japchae
    Monday: B-Oatmeal; S-Banana loaf; LL- Leftover Japchae; D: Sausages, mashed potatoes,
    Tuesday: B-Oatmeal; S-Banana loaf; LL-Leftover Japchae; D: Sausage meatloaf with cauliflower and carrots
    Wednesday: B-Oatmeal; L-Leftover sausage and mashed potatoes; D-Leftover meatloaf and veggies

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Polenta "Pizza" Crust with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Chicken, and Peppers; Menu Plan for 2/6/11 - 2/12/11

     I think it's safe to say that all of us who don't eat wheat or dairy miss pizza terribly.  Whether it's a thick, chewy crust you adore, or a thin, crispy one, it's hard to find a wheat-free equivalent that: isn't crumbly, doesn't stink like beans, or isn't like eating cardboard.  

    While this polenta crust is no pizza dough equivalent, it is a tasty base for toppings and your choice of non-dairy cheese.  Unfortunately, without gluten, I don't think I will ever enjoy pizza the same way.  Instead of pining for food I can't have and being completely unsatisfied or grossed out by substitutions (sometimes very fake and processed), why not try something that is just delicious to begin with?  Polenta? Yes, it's delicious!  Sun-dried tomatoes?  Yup, love those, too!  Bell peppers?  My favourite topping!  Goat Cheese?  Yes, please!

    I used a Silpat to line to baking sheet but parchment paper cut to fit the pan, covering the bottom and sides will work well, too.  Do NOT place polenta directly on a non-stick pan.  In my experience, the polenta has pulled the non-stick coating (the gray-ish stuff) off the pan.  Not only is your pan ruined, but so is your dinner.

    For the "sauce" I adapted a sun-dried tomato jam recipe I made in the past.  It's a pretty rich-tasting jam so I decided to add shredded chicken and some bell peppers.  The husband was advised to avoid onions by the Naturopath, so we omitted those (see here for the original recipe) even though they really do make the jam.

    For the chicken, we found a great deal on bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts at our local supermarket.  As much as love a crispy skin chicken dish, we are trying to watch our fat intake.  I used this method to cook the chicken and saved the fatty chicken water (sounds appetizing, I know) to use in a veggie soup later on.  It's still chicken fat, but at least it'll be spread out over several bowls of soup, rather than consumed by us in one meal.

    The verdict:  Tasty!  The tartness of the sun-dried tomatoes complemented the creaminess of the polenta well, and the water from the sun-dried tomato "jam" kept the chicken pieces from being too dry.  The only downside was that this is not a "pizza" that you can pick up and eat with your hands.  The center of the pizza gets soggy pretty easily, so make sure the crust is baked well, and is firm before you put toppings on.  I think I will make several smaller pizzas next time to avoid this.

    Polenta Pizza Crust
    adapted from Cooks.com

    1 cup corn meal
    3 cups water
    1/2 tsp sea salt
    1 tbsp olive oil

    Sun-dried tomato jam adapted from Everyday Italian

    8 oz. jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, finely chopped (reserve 1 tbsp of the oil)
    1 garlic clove, finely chopped
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 tbsp sugar
    1/4 cup water
    1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
    salt and pepper to taste

    Cooked, shredded chicken (I used the meat from 2 large chicken breasts)
    Chopped bell peppers (I used each of yellow and orange)

    For the crust:

    Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put a Silpat on a cookie sheet (or parchment paper to cover the bottom and sides of pan).
    Stir the cornmeal, water, and salt together in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens enough to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in the olive oil.

    Let cool for about 2 minutes, then spread evenly over the Silpat with a rubber spatula. 

    Bake for 15 minutes, or until set.

    For the toppings: 

    Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the reserved sun-dried tomato oil, olive oil, and garlic. Stir and cook until mixture starts to bubble slightly. Add the sugar, vinegar, water, and thyme, stirring well until mixture starts to bubble again.  Add shredded chicken and toss to ensure that all the chicken bits are covered in the tomato mixture.

    Spread mixture evenly over polenta crust and top with chopped peppers and cheese.  Bake in oven at 375 F, or until cheese is melted.

    This week's menu:
    You will notice that I have a snack and a late lunch from Wednesday onwards, as I'll be at a training session that finishes at about 1:30 PM.  I plan on having a snack (S) at the training and a small late lunch (LL) when I get home.

    Monday: B-Oatmeal and apple; L-  ; D-Polenta Pizza with steamed broccoli
    Tuesday: B-Oatmeal; L-leftover Polenta Pizza and broccoli; D-Vegetable lentil quinoa soup
    Wednesday: B-Oatmeal; S-hummus, peppers, crackers; LL-leftover soup; D-Leftover pizza
    Thursday: B-Oatmeal; S-Banana ; LL- Leftover soup  D- out for friend's birthday
    Friday: B- Oatmeal; S-banana and spelt cookie; LL- Bell pepper and quinoa soup ; D- Out for sushi!
    Saturday: B-Mango smoothie; L- Out for Thai food; D-Husband's fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and broccoli

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Asian Rice and Vegetable Bowl with Eggs and Chili Sauce, and Menu for 1/30/11-2/5/11

    My mother-in-law gave me a year's subscription to Real Simple magazine as a Christmas gift.  I'm really enjoying this magazine because it has a bit of everything, from fashion, recipes, health information, and storage tips.  I found a few recipes in here that look wonderful (like Chicken Adobo from last week).  This Asian Rice Bowl dish sounded a bit like Korean Bibimbap to me (which I LOVE), with the egg on top.  The husband loves eggs on anything so I knew I would be making the recipe very soon.

    I didn't have any sweet Thai chili sauce so I added a bit of soy sauce and honey instead.  I know soy sauce and honey are very different from actual sweet chili sauce but I wanted to keep the sauce more savory/spicy with a hint of sweetness, rather than sweet with a hint of spicy/savoriness.  Call me a fool, but that's what I like.

    The verdict: A simple, flavorful, colorful dish that could easily be adapted for different vegetables, added meat, fried tofu, etc.  The vegetables could even be grilled in the summertime!  I also got to use the new bowls I got for my birthday, too!   The sauce was quite spicy because I omitted the sweet chili sauce, but that was fine for us.

    Asian Rice and Vegetables Bowl with Eggs and Chili Sauce
    Source:  Real Simple Magazine, February 2011 issue

    2/3 cup short grain brown rice
    1/3 cup Thai sweet chili sauce, such as A Taste of Thai (omitted)
    3 to 4 teaspoons Sriracha or Asian chili-garlic sauce (I used 2 tbsp of Sriracha)
    3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets
    2 red or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced (I used 1 red and 1 green)
    2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
    2 tbsp and 1 tsp of canola oil
    4 large eggs
    (I added 1 tbsp each of wheat-free soy sauce and honey to the sauce in place of the sweet chili sauce)

    Cook the rice according to the package directions.  In a small bowl, combine the sweet chili sauce, sriracha, sesame oil, and vinegar; set aside.

    Meanwhile, heat oven to 450 F.  After the rice has been cooking for 25 minutes, place the broccoli, bell peppers, and carrots on a large rimmed baking sheet; toss with 2 tbsp of canola oil.  Roast, tossing once, until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

    Heat remaining canola oil in a large no-stick skillet over medium heat.  Crack the eggs into the skillet and cook, covered, 2 to 3 minutes for slightly runny yolks.  Serve the vegetables and eggs over the rice and drizzle with the sauce.

    Oh, and this week's menu:

    Sunday: B-Oatmeal; L-out for Dimsum; D-Veggie stirfry, potato salad and miso soup

    Monday: B-Spelt toast with PB, and a kiwi; L-leftover dimsum; D-leftover dimsum

    Tuesday: B-Spelt toast with PB, and a kiwi; L-Mochi with seaweed, tortilla chips, veggie sticks; D-Asian Rice Bowl with Veggies and Egg (see above for recipe).

    Wednesday: B-Oatmeal; L-Leftover Asian Rice with Veggies and Egg; D-Roasted asparagus and carrots, chicken sausages, and brown rice.

    Thursday: B-Oatmeal; L-Leftover asparagus and carrots, chicken sausage, and rice; D-Out for Indian food.

    Friday: B-Oatmeal; L-Leftover Indian food; D-Baked tofu slices with Sriracha-soy-sesame oil sauce, miso-based soup with napa, carrots and shiratake noodles.

    Saturday: B/L-Pork breakfast links, sunny-side-up eggs; Late lunch/snack- Guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips; D-Leftover miso soup

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    Almond Butter Maple Cookies

    I loooove the combination of any kind of nut butter and maple syrup.  I sometimes drizzle some maple syrup on my PB toast for breakfast!  These cookies sounded like they'd be delicious, healthy, and not too sweet.

    I added 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum to this recipe, since it is gluten-free.  I have read that 1 tsp of xanthan gum should be used per 1 cup gluten free flour, but I have experienced gummy-textured cookies in the past with those measurements, so I decided to try half that amount this time.

    I used buckwheat flour in place of wheat, but I think it "competes" too much for flavor with the almond butter.  It makes it hard to know what kind of cookie it really is.  Something to note for next time...

    Almond Butter Maple Cookies
    Source: Alive Magazine, February 2011 issue

    1/2 cup almond butter
    1/2 cup maple syrup, No.2 or No. 3
    3 tbsp vegetable oil
    1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
    1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used buckwheat flour)
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 cup almonds, chopped

    Preheat oven to 350 F.

    In large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and salt.

    In another bowl combine almond butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract and oil.

    Add Dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in almonds.

    Refrigerate dough for at least an hour.

    Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls, place onto cookie sheet lines with parchment paper, and flatten to about 1/3 inch (0.8 cm). Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden brown.

    Yields 12 large cookies.