Friday, January 25, 2013

Recipe: Rocky Road Fudge

Rocky Road has been my go-to ice cream flavor since childhood; it's like getting three treats in one - indulgently rich chocolate, soft & fluffy marshmallows and the nutty crunch of almonds.

Of course the weather isn't always right for ice cream, so when I later found out that rocky road can mean any number of chocolate-marshmallow-crunch concoctions, I started experimenting with other sweets with that combo too. Fudge quickly became a front runner; it's infinitely more evergreen, more portable and arguably more healthy too, considering that I can get my chocolate fix satisfied with one little square (OK, maybe three.)

But of course, what's absolutely great about this Rocky Road Fudge is that it's a cinch to make and they're perfect bite-sized treats to bring to a party, box up as an edible gift, or simply stock away in the fridge to polish away whenever that craving hits.

Ingredients: (for approx. 60 bite-sized squares)
12 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips/chunks (my usual go to are the 60% cacao bittersweet chips from Fresh & Easy, which has a deep fruity cocoa flavor but not overly bitter or intense.)
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
6 oz. raw almonds, coarsely chopped (walnuts/pecans work fine too)
4 oz. mini marshmallows
Optional: 1 oz. Amaretto, Coffee or Frangelico liqueur (the last is my favorite to add)
Making fudge
1. Line a 8"x12" pan with aluminum foil, pressing carefully along edges & corners so you don't pierce the foil.
2. In a skillet, toast the almonds over medium heat on the stove, tossing regularly so that they don't burn. Once you smell roasted nut aromas, about 3-5 minutes, turn off heat and set aside.
3. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat -- when it is nearly completely melted, turn the heat to low and add chocolate chips, extracts and liqueurs, stirring slowly but steadily until you get a seductively smooth molten puddle.
4. Slowly pour about a third to a half of the melted chocolate mixture onto the foil-lined pan, using a wooden spoon or spatula to spread it out to completely cover the entire bottom of the pan.
5. Generously scatter the toasted almonds and marshmallows (as photo'd above), then pour the remaining chocolate mixture on top, covering everything evenly. 
6. Cover the pan and put it in the fridge for at least two hours (or overnight) until the fudge is set.
7. After it is set, invert the pan over a clean surface and peel off the foil.
8. Cut the rectangular block of fudge into bite-sized squares (or whatever size you choose, really) and serve right away or store in the fridge.

Obviously, it'll be a bit firmer when eaten chilled straight out of the fridge and more squidgy-soft after it comes to room temperature. I love it either way!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Recipe: Egg in a Purgatory

I am no stranger to eggs in purgatory, but my interest in this dish has been revived thanks to Nigellissima. To cite Ms. Lawson in episode 1 of this fantastic Italian-inspired series on BBC, "egg in a purgatory is absolute heaven when you're feeling like hell" and I couldn't agree more. It's comforting yet bold and super easy to make, perfect for those moments when you need something tasty and familiar pronto!

And who can really resist the glory of a poached egg's runny yolk or gooey strands of melted cheese? (Ok, maybe vegans)

Egg in Purgatory
This dish is extremely versatile too, letting me make use of leftover ingredients around the kitchen--particularly the scant amounts that aren't enough for a dish of their own. Post-Thanksgiving, I've tossed in a handful of bite-sized turkey meat, and other times when I'm left with a small amount of leafy greens (not enough for even an appetizer salad) I just give them a rough chop and wilt them down into this zesty stew. And it's easy to scale up if you're entertaining, just add more eggs, tomatoes & seasonings and use a bigger pan.

So here's my one of favorite breakfast-for-dinner (or dinner-for-breakfast) meal for one . . .

Egg in Purgatory
Egg in a Purgatory


2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
half a can (approx. a cup) of diced tomatoes with juices - I prefer the no salt added variety
2 teaspoons ketchup
1 teaspoon chopped basil
1 egg
1 ounce of shredded cheese - I prefer Asiago
1 slice of bread or English muffin

OPTIONAL: handful of cooked meat (chopped bite-sized) and/or leafy greens (rinsed, patted dry & coarsely chopped)


1. Turn stove on high and heat up the oil in a small skillet or wok (ideally one with a lid)
2. Add garlic, chili flakes and about half the scallions and stir until it becomes aromatic; if you have meat, add now.
3. Bring stove down to medium and add diced tomato, ketchup and basil; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
4. Crack egg into the center. If you have greens, sprinkle around the egg.
5. Cover with lid (or large plate) and allow it to continue simmering for 3-5 minutes, or until egg white turn opaque
6. Take lid/plate off, sprinkle with shredded cheese and let it heat for another 30 seconds
7. Turn stove off, top with remaining scallions and serve with bread, using it to sop up the runny yolk, cheese and stew (or if you're lazy like me and dining alone, eat it straight out of the wok/skillet.)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Five To Try (Again) in Las Vegas

Now that everyone in the office is coming back from the holidays, it finally means time for me to take a break. And a quick excursion to Vegas this weekend will hit the spot.

Planning out my itinerary (OK, foods and drinks -- mostly) for the trip, I decided to look back on photos from my last trip there a few months ago. Having such recalled such a great and delicious time there, thought I might as well shared some of my favorite eats and drinks then.

No. 5 - Short Rib Lasagna @ Fleur by Hubert Keller in Mandalay Bay

Short Rib Lasagna
Simply, a trans-Atlantic comfort dishes melding together two favorites: pot roast and lasagna. The braised short rib is rich and melts in the mouth, the carrots are bright, fresh and sweet and the pasta a lovely al dente. And who can really say no to crunchy breadcrumb topping and gooey melted cheese? (I also loved the microgreens garnish, making this lunch entree seem somewhat healthy... heh)

Be sure to ask for extra bread to sop up all that gravy!

No. 4 - Tea @ Mandarin Oriental Tea Lounge
Tea and Macaron
Come for the tea, but linger for relaxation and the view of the Strip. Despite being in the CityCenter, this 23rd floor lounge is a worlds-away oasis of tranquility from the hot hustle and bustle of The Strip. 

The menu here is fairly posh, but if you're on a budget I recommend getting one of their blooming teas. Yes, not cheap for $16, but it comes with endless refills of hot water (so you can taste the flavor changes as the tea further blooms). And while you're at it, might as well indulge yourself a little more with a sweet bite or two (as I did with their raspberry-yuzu macaron.)

No. 3 - Cocktails @ Vesper Bar in Cosmopolitan
One Night in Bangkok12 Year Itch
Yes, I've already sang the praises of the Vesper Room before, but this place has yet to fail me on a delicious cocktail (and is one of the few reliably good places on the Strip.) 

On my last excursion there, my favorite discoveries included the One Night in Bangkok - a riff off the Ramos Gin Fizz using Thai ingredients such as lemongrass and kaffir lime to give this already refreshing drink an exotic twist, and 12 Year Itch, an available-by-the-ounce combination of Zaya Rum, Fernet Branca and Carpano Antica aged 16 weeks in a Templeton Rye barrel. A heavenly combo of sweet-yet-herbal aromas, rich-but-velvety mouthfeel and a warmingly smooth finish.

No. 2 - Combo Pan Roast @ Oyster Bar in Palace Station
Oyster Bar Pan Roast
A great recommendation passed to me by Conbon, this nondescript-looking eatery (in an even more unremarkable casino/resort) dishes out huge bowlfuls of slow-cooked, made-to-order comfort in the form of seafood stews. 

Even though they serve the Cajun delights of gumbos, jambalayas and etoufees; for your first time here, get their signature Combo Pan Roast - where a good helping of crab, shrimp and lobster and cooked in an intoxicatingly tasty sauce of tomato, cream and brandy (plus a whopping huge scoop of rice to lap up the remaining liquids.)

And without further adieu,

No. 1 - King Crab / Truffle Fried Rice @ Blue Ribbon Grill in Cosmopolitan
King Crab Fried Rice
I came here initially curious about their signature fried chicken with wasabi-honey dip, and while that was delicious, what really haunted my tastebuds and mind was this fried rice. It is presented in beautiful layers, with the fried short-grained rice topped with assorted mushrooms, generous chunks of crabmeat, a soft scrambled egg and finally, fresh shavings of black truffle. Then it is all tossed together to make for one of the best "high-low" dishes I've ever had (and I'm generally one to frown upon gussied-up simple courses.)
King Crab Fried Rice
And yes, it was worth the approximately $50 price tag, especially when there was more than enough rice to feed two (and possibly more if you throw in a few more small plates, like the fried chicken & tempura'd oysters+okras, also delicious.)

And lastly, a non-food/drink shoutout to Marquee...
...and this is coming from someone skeptical of clubs on The Strip, which tends to have overpriced covers, overpacked crowds and featuring overplayed music. I had my doubts when I was invited to check this spot out, but wound up having an amazing time and staying till 4 a.m. I love the multiple rooms each with their own decor and music style, and the general friendliness of the staff, as far as nightclubs go. 
Of course, it didn't hurt that Dash Berlin was the featured DJ of the night. And I hope all of that dancing did burn all some of my caloric indulgences during that trip.

I'm not sure how many of these dishes & drinks I'd be able to re-visit this weekend, but I'm definitely keeping an open schedule (and stomach) with hopes to at least squeeze one or two of these in!

Fleur by Hubert Keller @ Mandalay Bay
3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89119
(702) 632-9400

Tea Lounge @ Mandarin Oriental
3752 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 590-8888

Vesper Bar @ Cosmopolitan
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South 
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 698-7000
Twitter (for Cosmopolitan)

Oyster Bar @ Palace Station
2411 West Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 367-2411
Facebook (for Palace Station)
Twitter (for Palace Station)

Blue Ribbon Grill @ Cosmopolitan
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone:(702) 736-0808

3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South 
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 333-9000

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Recipe: Red Lentils & Sausage Stew

While many folks spent their New Year's Eve in a jubilant blow out at a houseparty/club/restaurant, mine was a much more low-key and humble affair. Partly because I'm exhausted from the assorted holiday gatherings throughout the better part of December, but mostly because I'm working early hours on both the Eve and New Year's Day, so I was more than happy to toast to 2013 with Times Square in realtime, then ready & off to bed by 9:30 p.m.

Lentil-Sausage Stew 
But that didn't mean I neglected all sorts of New Year's tradition; having recently heard an NPR segment with Nigella Lawson on New Year culinary traditions, I was inspired to cobble together a comfort dish of sorts thoroughly infused with not only flavor but also good-fortune symbolism, with the coin shapes of lentils & sliced sausages and baguettes and the bright red of the spicy seasonings (cayenne, chili flakes, paprika.)

I can only hope that eating this on New Year's Eve will bring me luck professionally and personally; at the very least, I took solace that night with a bowl of soothing, edible stew (and an easy recipe that I'd revisit all Winter long whenever I need that extra warmth in a bowl!)

Red Lentils & Sausage Stew
Serves 2 as main, 4 as starter

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 cups coarsely chopped leafy greens (I used Napa cabbage)
1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound sausage, sliced (approx. 2-3 links - I used a chicken-red pepper sausage)
1 ounce Mirin
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
handful of shredded cheese (optional)

1. Heat up the cooking oil in a skillet or wok over high heat, add sausage slices and sauté until the slices start to char and curl; remove sausage and set aside.
2. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze the pan with the Mirin, add the garlic, chili flakes, paprika and cayenne pepper.
3. Toss in the greens and vegetable broth, heat to a simmer or until greens are wilted.
4. Add lentils and water, bring it back to a simmer and continue to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and season as needed with salt, chili, pepper, etc. to your liking.
5. Serve, topping with shredded cheese, extra spices and/or bread as needed.


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