Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Road Food: New Mexico

I am rediscovering the joys of road trips.   I used to take them all the time....until I started leaving the country.  The road trip, in my opinion, is an "American Thing."  We have a lot of roads.   It takes a while to get wherever you're going.  We don't have high-speed rail.  This past weekend my sister and I ventured to the Hyatt Regency Tamaya which is a beautiful resort between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.   In honor of this road trip, we rented a car, 'The Eggplant' (aka a 2010 Cadillac CTS...this is not your grandma's Cadillac).   As always, food plays a big part in travel. 

The big surprise?  Colorado City, Colorado.   Just by luck, this ended up being our dinner stop on the way down and the way up.  There's not too much there, but we found options that saved us from eating at chain restaurants.    On the way down, we ate at Max's.   Our primary motivation?  The sign said dairy treats. The food was good, we both had breakfast for dinner, and our total check, including tip was about $13.   And I had the privilege of reading How to Share a Bad Attitude while I was waiting for my food. 
On the way back, we stopped at another Urban Spoon find called Viktorio's.  It's definitely the all purpose local bar and family restaurant.  But the food was delicious.   The garlic knots were all kinds of soft doughy, buttery, garlicky goodness.  Followed by a calzone so big that I took over half of it home.  

In scenic Bernalillo, NM we couldn't resist stopping at Bad Ass Coffee.  The staff was fun and they had a big drink menu.  The sign outside the door said "Bad Ass Coffee and a Massage"...a great start to the day.
We also dined at the Flying Star which had two awesome things.  1 - a "Petio" a fenced area for dogs to play next to the patio.  2- amazing made from scratch desserts.   Travel and dessert.  A match made in heaven.
For dinner I had the enchilada stack with "Christmas" chile (both red and green...it is New Mexico after all).  The eclair, I saved for breakfast and documented the view from our balcony.   Hooray for road food!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Project 365 - May 20-26

May 20 started a run of leaving town for the weekend.  Two weekends out of state, one back home, one out of state, one back home and then leaving the country.  My sister and I were flying back to the Quad Cities, where we went to high school and where our mother still lives.  We see our mom often.  Just not in Moline.  Chicago, Denver, California, Tanzania, sure, but Moline....hardly ever.  I wouldn't exactly call it a Quad City Bucket List, but my sister had her mind set on Happy Joe's Pizza (home of the original taco pizza) and mine, of course, was on Whitey's Ice Cream.  Whitey's is a QC institution...and one of the places that will hire 15 year olds on their work permits and in general is full of high school students working their first job.  When I was in school one of my friends worked there and the girls had to wear white nurses dresses with the red and white striped apron.  Whitey's has moved forward with the times and now all the employees wear khakis.  In honor of my friend who used to bring me chocolate chip cookie dough shakes with Reese's cups, I had one.   It was a lot of ice cream.   I enjoyed it all.

May 20 - QC Airport

On May 21 we headed to Champaign-Urbana for a family wedding.   Our family, like many, has its quirks.  The recent trend is that we're meeting a lot of our first and second cousins as adults.  As a child, you meet the family your family introduces you to.  As an adult you can make a conscious effort to meet and keep in touch.    While we were in CU we took the opportunity to visit our grandma.  She is almost 100 years old and still lives alone in the house she built with my grandfather over 50 years ago.    This visit was followed by the wedding of our second cousin who we met in April when we came for a memorial service.   We also met some of our other cousins.   Who are hilarious.  Who are a lot of fun.   Who helped us close down the wedding reception.
                                                               May 21 - Family Time

May 23 we drove back to the Quad Cities.   I had an opportunity to visit with one of my best high school friends for a few hours before we went to a reunion party for the group that went to Africa.   After the Africa party, we were home just in time for the tornado sirens and rumors of flying Target carts.   What else would we do but take the wine into the basement?
May 22 - Tornado Shelter and Wine Cellar

May 23 involved us flying back home, then going to work and then going to the gym.  Crazy.  The rest of the week flew by in anticipation of the holiday weekend and our road trip to New Mexico.
May 23 - Chey
May 24 - PR for an internal event at work.  This is a serious claim because the last time there were corn dogs in our employee cafeteria people ate so many that those who went to lunch after 12 didn't get any.
May 25 - Random candy brought in by one of our employees
May 26 - Shots.  Wheatgrass.  Seriously?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Recipe: Chocolate Chili Cupcakes

I learned a little more about cupcakes from one of our pastry cooks at work and wanted to try some 'fancier' cupcakes including fillings and using a pastry bag for icing.   This recipe came from the book 300 Best Chocolate Recipes by Julie Hasson.  They definitely have a kick of chili depending on what kind of pepper you choose and how much.  I was able to make 12 regular size cupcakes as well as another 8-10 mini cupcakes with the batter.

Preheat oven to 350

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder or 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (I think I used a tablespoon of chipotle...hence the kick)
2 teaspoons finely ground espresso or french roast coffee
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup buttermilk (I used a substitution with skim milk and lemon juice)
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (jumbo, since that was what was on hand)

Sift together dry ingredients in a small bowl (flour through salt).   In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, egg and vanilla until smooth.  In a separate bowl (or liquid measuring cup) stir together buttermilk and instant coffee.   Alternately whisk flour mix and buttermilk mix into the sugar mixture.  Start and end with dry ingredients.   Scoop batter into prepared muffing cups.  Bake for 22 to 27 minutes or until tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Let cool completely before frosting.   

*For the mini cupcakes, the baking time was more like 7-10 minutes.
I used a couple different fillings in these cupcakes, just for fun.   The key?  Cook the cupcakes first.  When cool, poke a hole in the cupcake using your finger (or a wooden spoon handle) and then fill.   The frosting you use on top will hide any evidence...
Filling #1  Trader Joe's Mango Butter (there are no Trader Joe's in Denver, but I bought some in Illinois)
Filling #2  Tart Cherry Preserves

It's not very often that I use frosting, much less make it myself.   But here you go:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon strong brewed coffee
pinch of salt

Put it all in the food processor and run until smooth.   I put it in a pastry bag with a tip (I couldn't tell you what the technical name of the tip, but it looked good on the cupcakes) and swirled a little on each cupcake.  This is rich frosting, so a little goes a long way.   I used red sugar sprinkles for the cupcakes with cherry filling and orange sugar sprinkles for the cupcakes with the mango filling.

Project 365 - May 10-19

May 10 - Yes this is snow.  After a beautiful Mother's Day weekend the weather changed dramatically and has been gray, rainy and snowy since.  Denver advertises 300 sunny days a year.  The past month has put a dent in those 65 cloudy days that might remain.
May 11 - It would be a beach read if it was summer and I was at the beach.  Still, the main character owns an ice cream parlor, so what's not to like?
May 12 - I continue to hope that a cluttered desk is the sign of an organized mind.  Seriously, my desk is only completely empty when I'm on vacation.
 May 13 - The 3D light exhibit at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House as a part of Create Denver week.
May 14 - My first Rockies game of the season.  It was cold and rainy and we bailed before the 7th inning stretch.   After this cold afternoon, I was prompted to spend the rest of the weekend indoors, baking.
May 15 - While I was baking cupcakes, the pets achieved that Sunday afternoon laziness that people envy.
May 16 - Earlier in the day I was on a tangent about people expressing their hateful views via bumper sticker.   This was at the end of the day.  I assume this person only has nice things to say.
May 17 - Our attempt at "supercouponing."  It sounds like some people research and plot their shopping and savings in a way that it is like having a full-time job.    In reality, if we have a coupon for something we want to buy, great.  It doesn't go much further than that.
May 18 - French Onion soup at Panera.   I had no idea that I would be at Panera 3 times in about 5 days.
May 19 - Brown rice sushi....my trainer should be proud.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Recipe: Strawberry Filled Lemon Sandwich Cookies

Another fantastic recipe from the Evil Shenanigans blog, Strawberry Filled Lemon Sandwich Cookies.  After amazing weather last weekend that filled Denver's claim to fame of 300+ days of sunshine each year, we had the rest of the week.  A little snow.  A lot of rain.  Not a whole lot of sunshine.  Yesterday, after freezing in the rain at the Colorado Rockies game, it seemed like a great time to stay in the house and bake.  I didn't have a small round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, so I used a shot glass.   It worked just fine.   The strawberry frosting in the middle is amazing.  Very simple and easy to make, but I can see using the frosting again and again.  Conveniently it only required 2 tablespoons of strawberries, which worked out well because I had four berries left in the fridge. 

These cookies seriously do taste like summer.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Sate Burgers

I found this recipe when I was going through my back issues of Cooking Light and determining which recipes to cut out and which to recycle.   I've never made this before, but am glad it made it to the save pile.  The only modifications I made to the original recipe (here) were to use 1lb each of the ground pork and ground turkey (ground turkey was 93% lean) so I didn't have random 1/4lbs of raw meat hanging around.   I also used my little George Foreman grill inside since it was cold and rainy outside (today is May 15, I have friends snowboarding up at A-basin because they are still getting dumped on...crazy Colorado).   Whole wheat bun, a lime for garnish, a clementine on the side and we were good to go!

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts (used spicy peanuts from Sprouts bulk section)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (a staple in my house ever since visiting  Thailand in 2009)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
3 garlic cloves crushed (used the minced in a jar kind)
3/4 lb ground pork (used 1 pound)
3/4 lb ground turkey (used 1 pound)
Cooking spray (if you are using a traditional grill)

Prepare grill.  Combine all ingredients divide mixture into 6 equal portions (I ended up making about 9 because I had the extra meat), shaping each into a 1/2 inch patty.  On an outdoor grill, grill 7 minutes on each side or until a thermometer registers 165.  On my little indoor grill it was just 3-4 minutes on each side.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hey! Look at Me! I'm Important!

Today when leaving the gym, I saw a most unusual sticker on someone's car; "NFL Alumni."   The message it sends (to me anyway) is "I used to be important, but I'm not anymore, but look at me, I was in the NFL."  He could have played in one game for one season.  He could have played for 10 years and won big rings.

According to dictionary.com an alumni/alumnus is:
1.  a graduate or former student of a specific school, college, or university.

2. a former associate, employee, member, or the like: He invited all the alumni of the library staff to the party.

No one goes around rocking a t-shirt that says Franklin Middle School Alumni (a shout out to my Wisconsin middle school alma mater) and frankly I'm not impressed with someone who uses their high school career as their claim to fame, unless they are only a freshmen in college.   Definition number 2 supports the NFL sticker.  I'm assuming only former "associates" of the NFL can get that sticker and that it's not readily available on NFL.com.   Where I work we do not call former employees alumni.  Maybe they do go around in secret repeating our company's mission statement as their code.  Maybe not. 

After more than 10 years in the hospitality business, I have run across my share of VIPs.  In general, if you are in fact a VIP we know in advance who you are, where you're from, and why you have the status.   If you have to announce to someone "I'm a VIP," you're not.  Sorry to burst your bubble.  Just saying "I'm important and I deserve a suite or a bottle of wine or a newspaper does not make it so.  You might be a VIP because you a frequent customer.   The person ahead of you in line or with the more expensive bottle of wine might simply be someone's family member.

At one of my previous properties the oatmeal on the breakfast menu was named after a frequent guest of the hotel.   An unusual way to recognize a VIP to be sure, but you can bet that every time he stayed with us and saw that on the menu, he smiled.    This is in sharp contrast the guest who told me 1) he knew some of the owners 2) he is the reason why we served corned beef hash with hollandaise sauce.   I'm not sure who he thought he was impressing with that statement.   Not me. 

Work hard.  Be nice.  Tip well.  Say Thank you.   That's what we remember.   That's what increases your odds of being a VIP.    Take the NFL alumni sticker off your car.   If you're a genuine person who smiles at kids, pets puppies, and stops for squirrels, I'll respect you just the same.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Project 365 - May 1-9

May 1 - Had a coupon that "needed" to be used at Gigi's cupcakes...this is the margarita cupcake
 May 2 - A book that could be written for me...and I wrote my own post about it.
May 3 - You can't tell from this picture but this is one of the biggest and heaviest cookbooks I've ever seen, but the pictures are great (and Thai street food, by nature, is amazing)
 May 4 - I strongly believe that 4:44 only happens once a day...this was an anomaly
May 5 - I spent the morning shadowing in the main kitchen.  I got to frost cupcakes and learned that you fill cupcakes after baking, not before (to save it from sinking to the bottom)
May 6 - Fun sign
May 7 - Opening day for the Cherry Creek Farmer's Market.   I love snacking my way through.   This was a chile cheese pupusa from Tres Pupusas.  We also got a tasty bottle of Pinot Noir from Blue Mountain Vineyards.    And Mom got a jar of Mandi's Jalapeno Relish which my sister documented in her blog

May 7 - After the market we took advantage of free day at The Cell and saw this exhibit about terrorism.  It was very well done.    This was followed by "grouponing" at Katie Mullen's Irish Pub followed by Amore Gelato.
May 8 - Blooming roses
May 9 - A co-worker gave me special Dutch candies that are only made in a certain part of the Netherlands.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Things Our Trainer Says

My level of sarcasm at least triples the minute I walk into the gym where my sister and work out with our trainer.   You ask yourself constantly "Why I am I paying someone to kick my ass?"  Probably because with free will you would never voluntarily run the stairs or push a weight bench across the gym.  I would spend most of my time thinking a brisk walk with the dog constituted fitness.  So, as much as I complain I have for the most part been commited to regular exercise since last October.  My real struggle is the second part of healthy living: streamlining the diet.   Hence begins a list of advice and motivation our trainer passes on to us.

This week it was this gem:  Next time you go to the vet you better have them take a look at that pair of sick pythons!  (Sweet....I finally have arm muscles)

Other classics that could be made into t-shirts:
Let's Gogo
Serious Calorie Burn
Chiseling the V
Ice cream - where fitness goals go to die
3 minutes or until fatigue...whichever comes first

Thursday, May 5, 2011

52 Reasons to Have a Passport

It's a rare occasion where you pick up a book and say "Wow, this must have been written just for me!."   And self help books don't count, because of course everyone wants to eat healthy, exercise, make money and have fulfilling relationships.   While perusing (not idly...I was looking for books for my upcoming trip to Israel) I came across The Book!!!  Lonely Planet's Don't Let the World Pass You By: 52 Reasons to Have a Passport.   While sipping a mocha at Paradise Bakery, I read through half, finishing the rest earlier this week. 

Travel is one of my passions and I try to share it with others.   Some people are intrigued by the thought of exotic destinations but don't actually want to go themselves.   Some people want to visit the "safe" places, whether they are English speaking destinations (Australia and Great Britain) or the famous sites in Western Europe.   Some people want to see where their ancestors came from, climb mountains, or visit friends.  I know what I like to do, but I try to encourage anyone to leave the US, for any reason...other than running away from the law (although that makes a great story).  I'm in a little bit of shock right now because after my next trip this summer, I don't have another vacation in the works.   I have a feeling that will change as I will have enough Delta miles soon to justify a "free" trip.   Decisions.  Decisions. 

The forward is written by Phil Keoghan, host of The Amazing Race (read about my Amazing Race Moment here).  The Amazing Race is about everything travel...beautiful places, crazy traffic, strange food, and the people.   He says, "I've found that having a passport ultimately isn't so much about the places that it allows you to go as the people who want to share their world with you."   I read somewhere in another book that there is a difference between being a tourist and a traveler, and part of that is whether you just see places or you immerse yourself in them.   It's the difference between taking a picture of a famous church in rural Peru or going in and attending mass.   It's the difference between chasing a guinea fowl in silence or yelling at it in Swahili (which you learned from a local). 

This book is a quick read and makes you want to pack your bags and go.   If you are looking for justification and "I just want to go" is not enough, the authors provide 52 reasons for you.  I've pared them down to the ten that resonate with me.  And my wanderlust.  And my newly renewed passport that needs more stamps so I have more stories.  Now I just want someone, in Where the hell is Matt? style, to fund my travels for me.

Traveler's Top 10
#1 It's who you are
#3 Exercise your rights
#4 Be an ambassador
#20 Meet the neighbors
#22 Feel the thrill of the unfamiliar
#24 Learn the lingo
#29 All the wonders of the world
#38 Taste is everything
#46 We're different, but the same
#48 Write your own life story

One of my reasons to have a passport?
To play games in foreign countries :)

What's your reason?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Traveler Goes to Cooking School: Kitchen Table Cooking School

Because going to one cooking class is never enough, I opted to register for a class on German and Austrian pastry at the Kitchen Table Cooking School in Greenwood Village.  A great feature of this school?  You can buy and drink wine while you cook.   The chef and her assistant gave a lot of great tips in regards to baking, including things I'm sure I learned in school but have selectively forgot (keeping all ingredients at room temperature, adding flour last to avoid gluten development, etc).  And we used a lot of real butter.   I liked learning to make the Linzer Torte for many reasons, not limited to my love of raspberry and almonds.  Baby tart pans and fancy crust rollers...I may have to get some.  For the apple strudel we used phyllo dough, which I haven't used before.  Lessons learned: keep covered with a damp towel until ready to use.  There is also something very enjoyable about having ingredients  
pre-measured and the magic cleaning fairies come after you to take your used dishes, mixing bowls, etc.  I enjoyed both my cooking school experiences in the past two week and hope to add a few more.   I am sad that the "Ice Cream for Adults" (read: booze) class with Aurora Recreation is while I'm on vacation. 
Torte and Strudel before going into the oven

Project 365 - April 26-30

April 26 - It appears there is a massive food photo trend this week.  I love this berry croustade that they server whenever I teach orientation.
 April 27 - Cooking School (part 2) at Kitchen Table.  This time it was German and Austrian pastry.
April 28 - Hint of spring.  It's been hit or miss recently between the sun and the snow.
April 29 - A co-worker brought in mini strudel!
April 30 - Half Thai chicken and half BBQ chicken at home


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