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fabulous las vegas: including bon apetit vegas uncorkd 2013

you might not know if from my lack of posts, but the 2013 vegas crew did indeed survive our adventure.
i also answered the question – is 6 nights in vegas too long? with a resounding NO.  i was not ready to come home and could have lounged poolside for another week easily.

and once again, i headed to vegas with a to-do/to-see list that was a mile long and really only got through a handful of things.
but i did have an excellent time.

when we checked in at the cosmopolitan, the lovely lady at the desk asked if it was our first time.  we told her it was my 7th trip to vegas, but our first time staying at the cosmopolitan.  she leaned over the desk and whispered “you’ll never stay anywhere else again”.
and by george,i think she was right.

the cosmopolitan was top notch from start to finish.  excellent service, beautiful rooms with incredible pools and terrific restaurants.  i have zero complaints about our stay there. and yes, i’ll be back.

our room was over 1000 square feet with 2 bathrooms and a giant patio overlooking the bellagio fountains.  i pretty much never wanted to move out.  it was gorgeous.

(here’s our patio view)

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and a shot of the living room when we were about to check out… le sigh…

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anyways, like most things in life, pictures don’t do it justice, but lets suffice to say it was pretty kickass.

but, more than anything, in las vegas, we come to eat and drink.
and the bon apetit vegas uncorkd was a strong lure for us…
we decided to do two events, the grand tasting and the bellagio block party.  both were very cool and very different.  the grand tasting was a totally mind blowing experience.  celebrity chefs everywhere, throngs of people loaded up with pork belly and short rib and fine liquor flowing very freely.

here’s my partners in crime and i on the red carpet on arrival.

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it’s kind of hard to see and describe, but all the food is poolside in an outer ring and then the liquor was on the inner ring, hugging the pool.  lovely setting.

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this was the most i saw of gordon ramsay all night… he wasn’t exactly hanging out making conversation…

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no big deal… just bobby flay serving food for mesa grill…

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i don’t even know which restaurant this cookie came from, but it had a syringe of chocolate ganache with it and it was a delight.

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i resisted the urge to take pictures of my food and just experience the event instead.  by now, i know that no photo can replicate being there and tasting it, so i’ll just tell you that we enjoyed to the max and kept the camera in my purse pretty much the whole night.  this was an event, not a photo op. and i stand by that decision.

the next night was the bellagio block party… and it was fun!  much more relaxed than the grand tasting and much smaller, in both size and guests.  the food portions were also bigger, as instead of 200 restaurants, you only had about 30 to try from, so you got a bit more of an appetizer vs an amuse bouche.

here’s my crew (minus my husband who left to get a beer) at the block party.

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and then under the bellagio hidden driveway sign…

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yup.  fun times!

anyways… fill in the blanks with food, sun, pool, drinks and laughing… and that was vegas!  definitely always more fun with wicked people.

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travel & food: Vegas Uncork’d

this year’s trip to fabulous las vegas coincides with bon apetit’s vegas uncork’d festival.
and by coincides, I mean we totally planned it that way.

moonbeam, my husband and I have for years discussed hitting this event.
lets face it, it’s a massive food & drink event with celebrity chefs and its in a totally rad place that is super fun to visit. sooooo… it was fated to happen sooner or later.
and this is our year baby.
kinda.

we started with huge plans of hitting multiple events… but then reality bitch slapped us.
these events are not cheap. like, not even remotely close to cheap.
in order to do a couple events a day, we’d be into this for a couple grand each. and it’s just not happening this year.
so we made some tough decisions and committed to two events.

we’ll be at the grand tasting on the friday night at ceasars palace and then the following night at the bellagio for the block party. both sound super fun and will be stuffed full of food & drinks.
and we’re pretty excited about it all.

as usual, this trip to vegas is including a number of our nearest and dearest for super fun party times.
now, this sort of thing isn’t up everyone’s alley, but a couple pals have decided they’re into the block party (because who doesn’t like hanging out at the bellagio and stuffing your face while getting boozy?) and I’m excited to put on some fancy duds and get all prettied up for this.
none of us are “clubbing” people and so we pretty much never end up doing a “fancy” vegas night when we’re there… I might even wear heels.*
(*i am totally not wearing heels. terrible idea)

overall, we’re treating this like a test year to check out the events and see how we feel about how they’re run and if we feel its worth the money and then maybe next year we’ll go a little bigger for the uncork’d.

at the very worst, they’re 2.5 hours each of our vegas time and we can rendezvous with the others after since going out at 10pm in vegas is like going out at 7pm at home, lol.
so there’s not much to lose when you look at it that way. (except the thousand dollars on my visa – yikes)

anyways, we’re all very excited and I’m just calling it now that if I find out mike symon is anywhere near me, I might go full fangirl. just sayin’.

naturally I’ll do my best to blog and instagram and tweet as much as I can and fill all you in on all the details and happenings!

food: fun with the juicer

so… on the weekend, i decided to buy a juicer.
this wasn’t an impulse buy per-say… my pal moonbeam fell back in love with her juicer at the beginning of the month and has been extolling the virtues to me for weeks now…

but i’ve honestly never been much of a juice gal. i’m not even a smoothie gal.
i have often cycled through buying oodles of frozen fruit in a misguided effort to start my day with smoothies, only to throw it all out a couple months later as a solid freezer burned mess.

actually overall, i’ve never been a fruit lover.
but i do love my veggies. and veggies make friends with a juicer too.

the other thing holding me back is that i have limited condo space and therefore i shy away from things that aren’t kitchen multi-taskers. and the juicer is very much a one trick pony.
buuuuuut… it was $99 and really isn’t *that* big, so i’m gonna give it a go.

so step one… obviously buying the machine.
step two… stocking up on fruit & veg.
step three… juice!

i started with a really husband friendly option in an effort to inaugurate him, as he often turns his nose up at my happy planet green juices. so i figured as long as it wasn’t super green i had a fighting chance.

so i went apple, orange & celery.

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they suggest you peel your oranges, so i did and there’s some debate about apple seeds, so i split mine in half and tunneled out the seeds and removed the stems. just to be safe.
celery just needed a wash and it was ready to rock.

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the results were delicious. the husband eagerly downed his glass and all were happy.

so i decided to take the leftover orange, apple celery base and green it up a little.
enter the addition of a couple handfuls of spinach, parsley, 2 carrots and a meyer lemon (skin and all)
to make…. this!

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definitely super yum.
the meyer lemon was definitely the most dominant flavour, but it smelled like parsley and celery. very interesting.
and i know you’re not supposed to “save” the juices because they lose vitamins or whatever, but i poured the rest into a mason jar and put it in the fridge for the next day’s breakfast.

last night, my two besties came over for hockey and one of them was sporting a bit of a hangover, so i whipped up a curing juice.

i decided on a couple apples, a cucumber, a few kiwis and a knob of ginger.
the kiwis were peeled, the apples de-seeded and the cucumber stem removed, but then everything was juiced together to produce this:

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i’m not entirely sure why it separated, but it sure was tasty.  the ginger made it spicier than i anticipated.  i used about a 1 1/2 inch piece and this batch yielded a little over a litre of juice total, but the ginger was the dominant flavour.
delicious, but a pretty strong after burn.  i imagine this would be awesome for if you were sick.

the kiwi maybe wasn’t the best plan ever.  the little seeds got caught in my blade and were harder to clean than i anticipated as they needed to be picked out of the teeth individually with my fingernail.

this morning, we went classic.  simple delicious orange juice.

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man, this is the best stuff.  just so good.

only downside is that i kept my box of oranges on the counter and i think i should move them to patio because my juice (obviously) is coming out at room temperature.

the next challenge is to find a good use for all the pulp i’m getting.
veggie pulp is easy… it can be added to soups, stocks, meatloaf/meatballs/burgers ect.
but the fruit pulp is something that will require some googling.

most of what i’ve read does say that the bulk of the vitamins & nutrients are coming out in the juice… but the pulp is pure fibre.  so while it might not have much in the way of flavour or vitamins, it’s definitely still worth eating.

also, wasting food really bugs me.  and since i don’t have a garden or compost, its making me feel guilty to pitch it.
the internet tells me that saving the pulp in freezer bags works too, and its good to separate it when blending juice… so like if i’m making a carrot whatever juice, do the carrots then stop and collect the pulp in a bag and then do the rest of the veg and store that separate ect.  makes sense.
i foresee carrot cakes in my future.

food: pie party

on sunday we had a pie party.
and it was pretty rad.

3 kinds of pie were served… one savory main and two delicious dessert offerings.

i took care of the savory pie.
since we had a vegetarian on board, i decided just to make a veggie pot pie… it had all the usual suspects… onion, carrots, leek, celery, peas, corn, yellow wax beans and red skinned potatoes.
i made a roux with butter & flour and then added veggie stock and a bit of milk.
seasoned it with salt, pepper, fresh thyme & rosemary.  and dried chipotles.

but the real star of this pie is the crust.
i kinda phoned it in with a frozen tenderflake puff pastry… but then i like to think i made up for it with the magic layer.
this idea is from a canadian living recipe… basically you roll out one layer of puff pastry and coat it with fresh grated parmesan cheese & fresh chopped herbs and then layer the other dough on top.
the result is a secret flavour layer that takes the traditional pot pie up a notch (or two)

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on to the sweet pies!
moonbeam made her decadent s’mores pie… which was so rich and sweet and aiodjg;fngakhnf.  gah.
it was ridiculous.

graham cracker crust, chocolate ganache that you wanted to rub all over your body… and vegan marshmallow fluff that was bruleed at serving time.
because she’s fancy like that.

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julie’s pie contribution was ridiculous in its own right.
a german apple pie filled with sour cream.
it was unlike anything i’ve had before.  and i’m not usually an apple pie lover, because the cooked fruit thing turns me off… but this was awesome.
so i made her give me the recipe to post for y’all.

Sour Cream Apple Pie (or just the German Apple if you prefer)

Filling:
3 TBSP flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/8 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
3 c. thinly sliced apples (granny smiths are good)

Bake in pastry shell 20-30 mins at 400 degrees
Reduce temp to 350 for 30 minutes more

Prepare topping:
1/3-1/2 c. brown sugar
1/3-1/2 c. flour
1-1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1/3 c. butter

make topping into a crumble add to pie and bake another 20 minutes.

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this pie was GOOD.
and such a perfect compliment to the s’mores pie which was super sweet yumminess… this one had a little bit of acid and the filling itself was relatively neutral.

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then, in her infinite wisdom, moonbeam paired the dessert pies with a fortified wine.
which, truly was the icing on the cake.  or the crust on the pie.  depending on your metaphors.

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pie party = great success!

food: more lazy eating & making it better

remember how you start your day/week/month whatever with delusions of health and all the conviction in the world?  and then you have a crap day at work and it all goes to shit?
yes, this was me last week.

but, all is not lost.  i’ve read my paleo books and decided to test drive it.
my work does this cool 12 week challenge thing where you sign up and upload terrible fat pictures of yourself and alllll your measurements, strength test ect… and then you commit to being all around better in 12 weeks from now.
if you’re the winner, then you get fabulous prizes including some really amazing trips.  so it’s a pretty cool thing.

i did it my first year with the company… but never finished it.
and last year, i was full of excuses and was in a cast.
but now that i’m starting my 3rd year with the company (wow – REALLY? – time flies!) i’m ready to rock the shit out of this challenge.  i’m also considering starting a new blog in addition to this one thats focused on daily updates for the challenge.  not so much because i think it’ll be interesting, but because the judging is 30% based on a written essay and i think that will help my chances.

so, the first thing i’m going to do is try full on paleo for 12 weeks.  there’s a couple reasons why… first off, i think it absolutely has to make me lose weight.  and while this isn’t a “biggest loser” competition… losing a visible amount of weight would definitely help my chances of winning.  also, i’m frankly curious about how this will change my body.
it won’t be a forever change (well, i say this now, but you never know) because there’s just some things that i’d like to keep in my life, even if it is in moderation. (cheese, i’m looking at you)

the second thing is an actual regular commitment to exercise.  moonbeam and i had a sobering moment at rock climbing last week.  where we were forced to accept that aquafit, while getting us off the couch and making us move, isn’t necessarily making us strong and fit.  it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s like step 7 of 100.  so we should really be pushing ourselves a little more.
the weather is the biggest obstacle/excuse right now… i hate exercising outside in the rain or worse, the snow.  infact, if its icy, that’s just stupid and dangerous.  BUT, i do have a free gym that i can see from my window.  and exercise dvds and such. so basically, i have excuses, not real obstacles.

the third thing i’d like to achieve is some sort of really quantifiable thing… like maybe signing up for and actually running a race… or something like that.  something that can not be faked or excused or whatever.  this is to be determined, but i love suggestions.

anyways.  goals, they exist and i’m gonna slay them.

 

and now, witness my shame of the last week.  lol.
here’s the thing about getting your mind all worked up about “something big on the horizon”… it somehow excuses yourself to make crap decisions in the meantime.  like i have to “get in all the shit i can before i’m not allowed to eat it anymore”.  because, you know, that’s logical.

so… i ate a few things.
first shame: boston pizza’s gluten free pizza crust.
this is my delicious little ‘za below.  definitely better than the me & ed’s experience.  this guy was about $9 and i got it with peperoni, feta (no mozza) and mushrooms.  it was really good.  one of the better, if not the best, gluten free product i’ve had while eating out.
it was small, but a perfect size for a meal.  i’d buy it again.

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second shame: my ongoing quest for a good mac & cheese… and we have a winner!
thank you trader joe’s.

not only was their rice mac & cheese only $1.99 for the box, but it tasted like delicious kraft dinner-esque garbage fake cheese and i loved every minute of it.
the search is over, the king is crowned.  all bow down to the winner.

(also – who are they kidding with this “serves 4” garbage?  a box of mac & cheese is a meal for one.  always has been, always will be.)

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and my final shared shame…
the soda pop.

i have a mad lust for root beer.  proper root beer.  don’t try and give me that barq’s crap.
for me, when i read the bottle, it must be made with pure cane sugar.  no high fructose corn syrup, thank you.
but really, i love all the craft brewed soda pops.
and the other day, i found this…

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remember the pop shoppe?
my husband waxed poetic over this for an hour, i swear.
apparently there used to be an actual pop shoppe by his house and they used to buy crates of them and $.25 a bottle.
sadly, i paid $2.50 each for these fuckers, but it was definitely a taste of my childhood.

pumpkin beer tasting

hey.  do you know what’s *awesome*?

PUMPKIN BEER!

when done correctly.
a disappointing pumpkin beer can be a downright disgusting experience.
so, in order to save you from the aches & pains of sub-par beers, moonbeam and i took one for the team and tried all the pumpkin beers that we could get our hands on.  (and by *we*, i mean her. because i’m more of an ideas drinking girl)

so, here was our final collection on friday night…

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beautiful, isn’t it?

now, it came to our attention later that those whores at phillips also make a pumpkin beer, but we could not find it.  and since pretty much everything phillips brews is like unicorn cum in your mouth (that’s good, i think), i can only imagine it’s a pretty magical experience.

sorry.  back to business.

we decided to start with the st ambroise – the great pumpkin ale.  it was… pretty freaking great.  nice amount of spice to it and a decently strong pumpkin flavour.  this beer doesn’t fare so well on beer advocate, but we quite liked it.  and just to be sure, we drank 2 bottles.  i enjoyed that it was a little more cinnamon & ginger and a little less clove.  the clove thing is so hit or miss with pumpkin beers.  too much and it’s just gross, but you have to have it in there.

next up was the granville island – pumpkin beer.  no clever witty names, just a straight up beer.  now, i am a huge fan of GI, but this one was a bit of a disappointment.  the pumpkin flavours were weak at best to me, in fact, if you gave me this beer blindfolded and asked me to describe it, i definitely would not use the word pumpkin.  but it was a tasty little beer and i enjoyed it overall… but not pumpkiny.  i got earthy, a little spice… and… GI beer.  not so much on the pumpkin.

number 3 was fernie brewery – pumpkin head brown ale.   tasty, definitely… and i love a brown ale, so i was excited about this.  it was a delight, but again, not heavy on the pumpkin taste.  it did have a nice mouth feel and went down really quickly. i would buy it again.

last but not least was the howe sound – pumpkineater.  the thing i like most about this beer?  the size.  and the swing top bottle.  because sometimes you don’t drink it all at once.  or so i’ve heard… weird, i know.  anyways, this beer was also on the darker side, which again, works for me.  it’s also billed as a “strong beer” so it’s around the 8% alcohol mark.  we found this one to have a nice spice & pumpkin flavour and for a strong beer, it was nice and smooth.

at this point the “notes” kind of start to slide… it’s hard to remember what the first beer tasted like… but we’re pretty sure we liked it best.  so we had to drink the last 2 bottles of it to be sure.
and we were.  the st ambroise won for us.

butchery class

lots of people have asked about the butchery class that we did a few month ago.
basically there were 2 responses from friends & twitter lovers.   either:  a) why? that sounds gross.  or b) cool!  how did you do that?

well, to be honest, it was a bit of a whim.
it was nothing i’d ever considered, but when the opportunity presented itself, it really seemed to easily fall in line with my dedication to really KNOWING what i was eating and focusing on local, whole ingredients.
plus, i’m a total whore for knowledge.  my brain craves being filled with as much random knowledge as possible.  its how i become such a know-it-all.

so a few months ago a groupon appeared for butchery classes at Big Lou’s Butcher Shop.
i had been looking for something fun to do with my husband ~ you know, like a hobby or some junk, and my pal moonbeam (of metal & muffins fame) is always down for some pig handling, so it really just all seemed to make sense.

so we each paid $100 in exchange for a class that lasted a few hours and a take home of 20lbs of pork each.  give or take.
a pretty solid deal IMO, since 20lbs of organic local pork would probably have been in that price range anyways.

the class itself was quite informative.  good class size – 6 of us and the instructor moved things along at a  good pace so it kept it interesting.

we started with this:

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basically it’s half a pig.  or a pig cut in half.  depending on if you’re a glass half full person or not 😉

after being shown all the parts (ie – this is where the bacon comes from… this is a ham…) then our instructor started breaking it down.

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and then it was our turn…

my husband was pretty eager to get in there and make the magic happen.  me & moonbeam took a backseat for a bit, but don’t fear, we made our mark.

here’s my husband removing the pork tenderloin.  the delicious delicious tenderloin.

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and then he got to do the real fun stuff… because all men like taking a saw to a carcass.  essentially he’s separating the ham from the midsection where the ribs will come from.

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now, here’s a few shots of me cleaning up a piece of the piggie… for the life of me, i can’t remember what i’m doing from these pictures, so… you know, just make up something good.
(but my hair looks fabulous)

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there you have it.  our butchery class highlight reel.

it was pretty awesome and i would definitely do it again and recommend it.
i really enjoyed the understanding that i gained about the process that generally happens behind closed doors.  and i genuinely felt like i acquired some life skills that not everyone has.

our instructor mentioned that they will be doing game classes, and indeed, i see them on the web site now.
http://biglousbutchershop.com/bouchery_classes.html

as much as i would be totally into learning how to do a whole deer, the $250 price point is a bit high for me.  $500 for both me & my husband to go?  eeesch, that’s half a trip to vegas.
so i’m going to keep my eye out for a future groupon or deal and maybe something awesome will happen. for me, the $100 class was just right and i felt happy paying it.  even $125 i might have done.

anyways, this experience also left me with an amazing amount of pork.  40lbs between my husband & i.  the big prize was a 16lb bone in shoulder.  it’s going to make magical pulled pork.  i just need to find some pig eaters to help me with the sexy results.  *currently accepting applications*