Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gross or Glorious?

I saw these at my local Whole Foods, and I couldn't decide whether I was repulsed or charmed by them.  There's something discordant about the earth-tone snail shells and the nearly neon green filling.  Yet, they're rather pretty and almost look like candy.  At first glance, I thought they were marzipan snails with pistachio paste slipped by accident into seafood case.

They are, in case you're wondering, White Toque Escargots.  I'd never heard of them.  I'm familiar with escargots, of course, but not White Toque Escargots, whatever that means.

Turns out, it's a brand name.  According to their website, White Toque s the leading importer of European specialty products to the food service trade in the United States.  They sell to 250 distributors and wholesalers worldwide, of which Whole Foods is apparently one.  I was a bit disappointed to learn this.  I was under the impression that Whole Foods made all of its specialty items on site.  Guess that's not the case.

The green coloring comes from parsley.  Snail meat is removed from wild Helix snail shells and mixed with the parsley, butter, garlic, salt and red pepper. The filling is then piped back into the shells.
I didn't buy any while I was there, and I'm not sure I want to go back for them.  How do you eat them once you get 'em home? Suck out the filling with a straw? Scoop it out with a tiny spoon?  Channel your inner Gene Simmons and use your tongue?

Nah, I'll just feast with my eyes, rather than my mouth.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cheeseburger & Fries Casserole

This easy weeknight meal makes you feel like a kid again. Throw in some chopped pickles and onions to the casserole if you’d like. For extra nutrition, add a side salad.

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 10 3/4-ounce can condensed golden mushroom soup
  • 1 10 3/4-ounce can condensed cheddar cheese soup
  • 1 20-ounce package frozen, crinkle-cut fries
  • Ketchup, mustard, and relish
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spritz a 9×13 baking pan with non-stick olive oil spray.
  • Cook ground beef in a large skillet until brown.
  • Drain and spoon into baking pan.
  • In a medium bowl, combine condensed soups.
  • Spread over the ground beef.
  • Sprinkle fries over the beef and soup.
  • Bake for 45-55 minutes until the fries are golden.
  • Serve with ketchup, mustard and relish.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Local Flavor, Vegas Edition: I ♥ Burgers

My office is located around the corner from Town Square,  a shopping, dining and entertainment center on the far south end of  Las Vegas Boulevard. There are a range of eateries there, from fancy to hip to casual.  I ♥ Burgers is one of the casual spots.  Although I'd driven past it several times on other outings to Town Square, I hadn't had a chance to try it out.  A lunchtime meeting was a great opportunity to do just that.

The place is bright and cheerful.  Staff wear t-shirts imprinted with (nom),  a hint that the food you've ordered is going to be good.

A variety of beef burgers are offered in standard or junior sizes along with natural-cut or sweet potato fries.  You can also get a vegetarian bean burger or a chicken burger.  There are salad options, too.

The appy menu features ahi tuna sliders and fried pickles, which is what I ordered.  Both were delish.  There's some sort of slaw on the sliders.  It's tangy and crunchy, providing a nice counterpoint to the tuna and the creamy avocado slices.  I loved the pickles.  They're cut in long strips, rather than coins, and coated in a tempura-style batter, so they're light and crispy.  There aren't too many of them, so I didn't feel terribly guily about making full use of the side of ranch dipping sauce.

Next time I go, I want to try the fried mac-n-cheese appetizer and the raw Tuscan kale salad.  I know; opposite ends of the spectrum, right?  But, being able to choose between bad stuff and healthy fare, depending on your mood, and knowing both will be good: well, that's what keeps you coming back.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Loaded Mexican Pizza

This is not your mother's pizza.

Don't let the simplicity of the ingredients fool you.  This is serious business, and you're gonna need a fork to get through it.  Be prepared to dig in and go deep when you sit down to this dish.


  • 1 roll refrigerated pizza dough (You can also use prepared whole wheat dough, like that found at Trader Joe's.)
  • 1 can black refried beans
  • 1/2 cup ground beef, cooked (For a vegetarian version, skip the ground beef or go with soy crumbles like those from MorningStar Farms.)
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • 1 16-ounce jar of medium salsa
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • Diced green onion and tomato for topping


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Spritz baking sheet with non-stick olive oil spray.
  • Roll out pizza dough, smoothing to fit baking sheet.
  • Partial-bake dough for about 5 minutes.
  • Mix taco seasoning and 1/2 cup of salsa into the ground beef, blending thoroughly.
  • Remove pizza dough from oven.
  • Spread refried beans evenly over dough.
  • Spread remaining salsa evenly over refried beans.
  • Spread ground beef mixture over salsa.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese over ground beef mixture.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and browned and crust is golden.
  • Sprinkle with green onion and diced tomato as desired.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mixed Berry Pastry

This is just right for a Sunday morning breakfast in bed, served with a steaming cup of tea and the newspaper.  Refrigerated pizza dough, frozen mixed berries and pre-packaged chopped pecans make it easy.

  • 1 roll refrigerated pizza dough
  • 1 bag frozen mixed berries (I used Sunrise Growers Cherry Berry Blend.)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, mtelted.
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Roll out pizza dough on a baking sheet spritzed with non-stick buttery spray.
  • Using a fork, poke a few holes in the pizza dough.
  • Partially bake for 10 minutes.
  • Thaw frozen berries in a microwave-safe bowl for about a minute, pour off excess juice, and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, stir together sugar, cinnamon, melted butter and chopped pecans.
  • Distribute the mixed berries evenly on top of the partially baked crust.
  • Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar nut mixture on top of the berries.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden brown.
  • Let cool slightly and cut into slices.
This posted is linked up at It's a Blog Party.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bean & Cheese Loaf

Driving home from the office this week, I was mentally cataloging what I had in the pantry, thinking about what I could make for dinner. This idea came to me at a stoplight.  It's got only five ingredients and takes only five minutes to prepare.  Add another 20 for baking, and you've got a hearty vegetarian meal the whole family will enjoy.

  • 1 roll refrigerated pizza dough
  • 1 can black refried beans
  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices provolone/mozzarella cheese
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Spritz a baking sheet with non-stick olive oil spray.
  • Unroll dough to cover baking sheet.
  • Spread beans in an even layer on dough.
  • Sprinkle onions evenly on top of beans.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheddar evenly on top of onions.
  • Tear cheese slices into pieces and scatter evenly on top of shredded cheddar.
  • From the long edge of the dough, roll up jelly roll style.
  • Spritz top with non-stick olive oil spray.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until crust is golden brown.
Serves 4 on its own or 6 with a side salad.

This recipe is linked up at It's a Blog Party and Just Another Meatless Monday.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Buttermilk Pie Bake-Off!

Contestant #1: Traditional Buttermilk Pie
Contestant #2: Sinfully Simple Buttermilk Pie
What do you do with leftover buttermilk?  Make pie, of course! In researching recipes, I found a couple of radically different approaches to this Southern dessert. And so a bake-off was born.

Contestant #1, Traditional Buttermilk Pie, is a classic with a deep dish crust and a hint of vinegar.

Contestant #2, Sinfully Simple Buttermilk Pie, is a one-bowl wonder made with baking mix. 

Pies were rated  to ★ (1 being the worst; 3 being the best) on three factors: Ease of Preparation, Texture, and Flavor.

Disclaimer: No pies were excessively consumed for this bake-off.  After sampling, remaining pie slices were distributed amongst office staff.

Traditional Buttermilk Pie

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 frozen deep dish pie crust
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Partial bake pie crust according to package instructions. Let cool while preparing filling.
  • Combine the sugar and flour in a bowl and set aside.
  • In another bowl, cream the butter.
  • Add the sugar mixture, and then mix in the eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and vinegar.
  • Pour filling into partially baked crust and bake in the oven until top is browned and custard set, about 45-50 minutes.
  • Cool completely before slicing.
This pie is fairly easy to prepare, but it does require partially baking the crust, using two bowls and a couple of steps to blend everything together.  The top was wonderfully crunchy, but the center didn't firm up fully, even after adding another five minutes of baking time.  The custard that did develop, however, was creamy and delightful on the tongue.  The flavor was fantastic.

★ for Ease of Preparation
 for Texture
(because of the liquidy center)
 for Flavor

Sinfully Simple Buttermilk Pie

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup baking mix (I used Bisquick HeartSmart.)
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spritz a pie plate with non-stick buttery spray.
  • Beat all ingredients until smooth.
  • Pour filling into pie plate.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on oven temps.
  • Cool at least five minutes before slicing.
This pie is so easy to prepare that it's almost criminal.  Everything is dumped in a bowl and mixed, and then into the pie plate it goes.  The top lacked the appealing crunch of the Traditional pie, but it did brown up nicely.  The layers of texture throughout the pie were harder to discern.  The baking mix  rises to the top, resulting in a slightly custardy base, but it's not nearly as dramatic as the Traditional pie.  The flavor was terrific.

 for Ease of Preparation
 for Texture
(because of the lack of crunch and the similarity of the layers)
 for Flavor

Winner of the Buttermilk Bake-Off:

Sinfully Simple Buttermilk Pie!

These recipes are linked up at It's a Blog Party.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sin City Chocolate Festival

On Saturday night, July 7, the Venetian Ballroom was THE place to be for foodies, especially those with a sweet tooth.  The occasion was the Las Vegas Chocolate Festival and Pastry Show, and Mike and I were not going to miss it. We even sprang for VIP tix so we could get into the party an hour early.

Garden of Lemon Cake Pops, dipped in white chocolate, by Sweet Ruby Jane Confections
As we walked in, we were each handed a keepsake wine glass, etched with the event logo. It was generously sized and and pretty, but it was awkward to tote around while trying to juggle samples and taking photos.

The event featured the best chocolate and pastry chefs in Las Vegas. I was particularly excited to sample the soda-and-cocktail treats from Pick Your Poison Bake Shop.   The Get Loopy Cake Pop was multicolored and infused with vodka.  The surprising grape-flavored interior made me laugh out loud. 

Get Loopy Cake Pop from Pick Your Poison
The interior was grape-flavored cake!

Some of the items were nearly full size, so I tried to take just a single bite and savor it.  In some cases, things were so yummy - like the chocolate-covered cheesecake bites - that it was hard not to gobble it all down.   The Fudge Brownie Cookies from Sweet Ruby Jane Confections melted in our mouths.  Mike and I seriously considered storming the table, stuffing our pockets, and then making a run for it.

Fudge Brownie Cookies from Sweet Ruby Jane Confections

Puur Chocolat Passion Fruit Chocolates...
with basil seeds inside.  Very unusual!

An unlikely star in this constellation of amazing chocolatiers was the chef at Orleans Arena. I didn't catch his name, but I sure caught the fever for his White and Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding.  Wow!  The silky texture was accented by a hint of crunch from the nut topping, and the chocolate flavors both stood out and blended beautifully.  Mike doesn't like bread pudding, but he was in gastronomic heaven after trying this one.  Plus, how darling are those tiny martini glasses?!

White and Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding by Orleans Arena

Blueberry Pancake Cupcake with an icing push-pop from Goodie Girls
Strawberry Shortcake Apple Slices

The edibles were paired with champagne, wine and other spirits.

If we were inclined to feel guilty about such a hedonistic evening (which we definitely were not!), the fact that the event benefitted St. Jude Children's Hospital eased any concerns. The charity received the net proceeds from this show.

We had a nice evening and thoroughly enjoyed the extraordinary artistry and delicious flavor combinations of the chefs' creations.

Unfortunately, it was difficult to truly savor the treats and spirits.  Only one vendor offered plates, and we didn't find them until late in our tasting tour.  So we spent a lot of time balancing goodies on paper napkins and squeezing into one of the few-and-far-between hightop tables to set things down.  Besides the lack of tables, there was no seating.  There was plenty of room for seating and more tables, so I'm not sure why the Venetian didn't provide them. 

Also, when we asked a server for water, she told us there wasn't any.  A half hour later, we discovered a water station in the back of the room in the corner.  It would have been good to know it was there much earlier on, so we could cleanse our palates before the next tasting.

While I'd love to attend the Vegas Wine & Food Festival coming up in September, I'm not sure it's going to be worth the price of admission if the facilities aren't improved.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Local Flavor, Vegas Edition: Amore Taste of Chicago

In Vegas, hardly anyone who lives here is from here. 

In our little group, we all hail from somewhere else: California, New England, Poland.  We love Vegas, but there are things we miss from "back home".  Food is always high on that list.  Our pal Lauren, who's from Chicago, has found a culinary Chi-town oasis here in Sin City, aptly known as Amore Taste of Chicago.

We dined there on a recent Friday evening in celebration of Lauren's birthday.  Amore serves up authentic Chicago-style pizza, which is what draws Lauren to this place on a regular basis.  She's also a fan of the staff, who were friendly and accommodating the night that Mike and I were there for the party.


Mike and I shared an order of cheesy garlic bread, which came with a side of marinara. The bread was toasty, the cheese gently melted: a nice appetizer.

For my entree, I chose Shrimp Diablo with crushed tomatoes and hot peppers on a bed of linguine. It's typically a pretty spicy dish, so I asked if they could tone it down for me. They agreed, and they delivered. It was still hot after a few bites built the spices up, but not nearly as much as it would have been. I adapted by repeatedly adding grated parm until the red sauce turned slightly orange. Strategic gulps of iced tea helped, too.  The sauce tasted fresh, and the linguine was al dente.

The only bothersome detail was the tails left on the shrimp. I know it looks better, but I hate it when restaurants do that, especially for hot dishes.  There's just no good way to remove the tails without burning yourself and/or making a big, saucy mess.

Mike, of course, decided on pepperoni pizza for his meal. This was no surprise. The man could live on pizza seven days a week; he loves it that much. He selected thin crust because we've been trying to cut down on carbs... or that's what we tell ourselves.  It was good.

The thick-crust pies were a sight to behold. They were huge and seemed to be packed full of meaty, cheesy, tomato-y goodness.  Here's a mushroom and sausage pie that Steve ordered.  Steve let me sample the crust, and it was delicious. 

There are not a lot of options for dessert, but that's okay.  You're probably too full from the main course to eat it anyway, or you should be.  Still, Mike couldn't resist ordering some cannoli.  He made it contingent on me sharing with him, and I agreed.  I didn't want to let him down.  Aren't I a good wife?

Having eaten two pieces of garlic bread and half the shrimp, I was no longer hungry, but I managed to have a couple of tastes of the cannoli.  It was yummy.  Sometimes, if they've pre-filled them and left them sitting, the shells can get soft.  This one was crisp, breaking off with a satisfying crunch beneath our forks.  The cream was rich but not overly so, and the sweetness was just right with the chocolate chips.

Amore Taste of Chicago on Urbanspoon