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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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food: slow cooker beef with balsamic

so this is fun… the leaves are falling, the air is chilled… that means its SLOW COOKER SEASON!
hooray!  every lazy cook’s favourite time of the year.  i for one, am a huge fan.
but i’ll be honest… there gets to be a point when everything you throw in the slow cooker kinda starts to feel the same… it’s broth or tomato base… its a soup or a stew… since it comes from *my* slow cooker, its usually spicy and slightly mexican seasoned… it has mirepoix or similar for the veg…

yes, its easy to get into a slow cooker rut.
i did however find a fun listing of “30 nights of paleo crock pot meals” which has breathed new life into my slow cooker (can i from here on just refer to it as the SC? perfect.)

so yesterday i decided to try out the recipe from civilized caveman cooking for a balsamic roast.
i basically had all the ingredients in my house (besides the roast, which a quick trip to the farm solved) and it sounded different and tasty.  plus we buy a balsamic vinegar from costco that is not only delicious, but in a giant bottle, so i always feel the need to cook with a lot of it whenever possible.

step 1 – season & sear off the roast.

i used paprika, garlic salt, salt & pepper for seasoning and then seared it at high heat with coconut oil in my non stick.
it was smoky in my kitchen for 5am, lol.  but we were rewarded with a beautiful sear on that little fucker.
oh, it was a small beef top sirloin roast about 1lb – served 2 people.  the recipe calls for a 2lb roast but obviously serves more.

step 2 – veggies meet meat.

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the recipe called for onions only, but i had carrots & celery handy, so i threw together the tried & true mirepoix.
i used a whole yellow onion as per the recipe and 2 sticks of celery & 2 carrots.
then lovingly placed the seared roast on top.

step 3 – add liquid.

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the recipe told me to deglaze the pan with the wine & water, but since i seared mine at such a high heat, the pan had some black bits that i decided i should live without.
also, the recipe calls for white wine – which with beef seemed weird to me. so i used red.  also i had red open already and not white, so there’s that.
i combined the following and poured it into the SC:
– 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1 cup tomato sauce (i used the italian kind in the glass bottle)
– 1/2 cup of red wine
– 1/3 cup of water
of course, throw in a pinch of salt for good measure and some cracked black pepper.

step 4 – cook on low for however long you’re going to be out of the house for.  mine went for 12 hours.

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step 5 – serve and eat up!

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final thoughts – as always, i think every recipe can benefit from chili flakes. but also i think its worth mentioning that often in recipes like this, i’ll remove the meat and use my immersion blender to puree the slow cooked veg, making the sauce thicker and more gravy-like.  that would have been delightful in this case.
the vinegar gave a nice acidity but didn’t overwhelm anything and the beef turned out delightfully slow cooker perfect.
and my house smelled fucking spectacular when i got home.
SC win!

here’s the original recipe for those that like to play by the rules.

Crockpot Balsamic Roast

Ingredients

  • 2 Lb any roast, I used Top Round
  • 1 Large Sweet Onion, sliced
  • 8 Ounces Tomato Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 2 Tbsp White Wine
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
  • Rub(Amount to your taste): Salt, Black Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Smoked Paprika

Cooking Steps

Season your roast on both sides generously with the spices listed above to your liking
Heat your coconut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, once warm sear each side of your roast for 3-4 minutes
Place your sliced onions in the bottom of your crock pot and put your seared meat on top of the onions
Combine your balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce in a bowl and mix well, then pour over your meat in the crock pot
Add your water and white wine to your pan and de-glaze it
Pour this mixture in your crock pot as well
Place the lid on, set to low and cook for 6-8 hours
Enjoy

travel: italian adventure

well, it is with GREAT excitement that i can say that my italy trip is officially booked and confirmed and paid up in full.

so what does this mean?
well for one, we’re now BROKE, lol. but it’s all good… so worth it.
but most importantly as of september 26th, we are off for almost 3 weeks to explore italy.

our tour is called “the best of italy & sicily” and it starts and finishes in rome… and goes a little something like this:

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we arrive into rome 2 days before it starts and depart when it ends… i am ridiculously pumped about this.
this will trump hawaii as my longest trip ever – and also will be the furthest away from home that i’ve ever traveled.
and while i’m on it… it’ll also be the most expensive trip i’ve ever taken.

we really debated between the itinerary above that includes sicily and one that includes more of the north.
but my assistant manager has traveled extensively in italy and said this one would be better because if we return to this area of the world, we’ll probably do france, germany, switzerland ect and its easy to dip down into the north of italy when you’re in the neighbourhood so to speak.
in any event, we agreed.
and we were both pretty keen on the idea of including sicily on this trip.

i also absolutely love the idea of taking the “overnight cruise”.  it includes dinner and should be pretty beautiful… i love being on the water.  i hope the weather is good.

we’re going to eat and wine our faces off… i’m especially excited about this in particular: Dinner with wine at a Sicilian agriturismo winery.
ummm… okay!

the one thing thats really blowing my mind is the absolute value of this tour.
yes, its a lot of money upfront, but now we’re done.  every breakfast and 4 dinners with wine are included.  so we have to budget for lunch & a dozen dinners.
but our accommodations, transportation, sightseeing and everything else is done and dusted.
we’ll have this trip paid off before we depart on it.  and thats exciting. especially for my husband, who is much more of a money watcher than me.

also, having someone else take care of our luggage and checkins to hotels ect is really going to free up our days to SEE more.  we won’t be mucking around dragging bags to and fro train stations.  and that was important to me.  while this is a longer trip for us, it’s not a “long trip” to europe by any means.  so we have to maximize our time on the ground.

i bought this book at costco to help:

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it’s really interesting and they break down a lot of cities with “if you only have one day – do this” kind of mentality and include walking maps.
which is perfect, because in most cities, our coach will arrive, they do a spin around the city to orient you and then you do one major sight or activity and then you’re free for the afternoons.

i also like that we get a local guide in Rome, Florence, Assisi, Pompeii, Palermo and Agrigento.
very cool to be shown a city by a local… and i’m looking forward to seeing what they call their “hidden treasures” which is something unique to each guide that they show you that you won’t find in the lonely planet book.

anyways.  clearly i am very excited.
i’m currently making my “to do still” list which includes: getting transfers to/from the airport in rome, booking our 2 nights hotel for before the tour starts, extending our insurance coverage to cover the length and cost of our trip and getting a book on learning italian.  yey!

188 days seems a lifetime away…

drinks: the grinder red wine

also on the “fun & delicious” list is this little gem called The Grinder.

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it’s very chocolaty and rich and i love it a lot.
in fact, it might be a new favourite.
and i know this because my husband went back and bought two more bottles today.

so, here’s the tasting notes from the BCLC…

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overall, i agree.
we enjoyed it tonight with a coffee rubbed grass fed bison roast and the resulting combination was pretty orgasmic.
dare i say, the perfect pairing.

drinks: bear flag red wine

last week i was window shopping at the liquor store and saw this pamphlet for “Fun & Delicious” wines.
well… i like both those things, i said to myself.

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i chose two of them to take home.  because at under $14 a pop, that’s a good investment.
also, i have the aerator which saves even the shittiest bottle of wine.

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i found the bear flag to be a tasty choice.  and for the price point, definitely a winner.
usually i stay away from “animal wines”, but the bear is in reference to the state flag of california, so i’ll let it go.
this was a “nothing special” kinda red, but nice and drinkable.  the first glass was a little abrasive, even with the aerator, but after a few minutes it had mellowed out nicely.
i would buy this one again.

drinks: mon ami rascal

tried a new wine tonight.  mon ami rascal.
what can i say… it’s red, french and pretty affordable.
picked it up for $11.99 at the beer & wine store that is super tits awesome by moonbeam’s house.

i know its monday, but i had a tough day.  i deserve wine dammit.

but this liquor store has a section of top picks below $10 and top picks below $15.
and since i’m broke, but not cheap… i went for the top picks below $15 and grabbed this little guy.

it’s not like ridiculously awesome, but for the price point and once you run it through the aerator, it’s really quite tasty.
perfect choice for a monday night.
you know… when you need a glass of wine, but don’t want to open a $20 bottle.
that’s this guy.

plus, the cap made me laugh a little.  so that’s gotta be worth a couple bucks.

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wine: winter is coming

yes friends… in the words of house stark… winter is coming.
and in my super nerdy friendship circle, it is known.
(you either got that, or you didn’t. just sayin’)

anyways, with winter, comes the shift from white wine to red wine.
it’s true.  there’s just something weird and unsatisfying about drinking white wine on a cold day.
but red wine?  well, that tickles you in all the right places on a cold night.

unfortunately (fortunately?) my husband has developed a taste lately for fine red wine.  now, it’s nothing ridiculous… but let’s just say that he won’t let anything worth less than about $16.99 touch his lips these days.
not to say that we’re going crazy with $50 bottles every night… but it’s safe to generalize that the average bottle price in my house lately has been hovering around the $20-$30 mark.
…and the odd $40 bottle might have snuck in.

we’ve also fallen prey a few times lately on “label buying”
it’s tough with wine… there’s just SO MANY OPTIONS.  and if you can narrow down your choices by $ amount… and then further vet by name & label, well i say, what the hell?

there’s a BC wine that i spent $40 on last week purely on label.  granted, it was in the “best of bc” fall release, so i figure thats a guarantee of at least being decent…
the winery is called “Moon Curser” (awesome) and it used to go by the name of twisted tree… which i enjoyed.  so i figured this one was worth a go.
…but at $40, i feel as though there should be some sort of minor occasion to crack it open.

however, the SKULLS wine that i’m currently digging is *very* drinkable right now at $19.99 each.  (pictured below)

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this is definitely one that was sold based on awesome label & good name.

and in an awesome display of “great minds…” this showed up at our house TWICE in the last week from other people that also thought the label & name were rad.

anyways, it’s a hearty red.  a shiraz that’s got some serious body.  it’s almost chewy.  i dig it.
and to be honest, the australian reds used to be a prime pick of mine in years past, but over the past 4 years or so, they were a last resort… but this one is a delight.

so, see… sometimes buying with your eyes works.