Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vegas Uncork'd #3: After Hours, The Remix

Saturday had already been an amazing day with our fabulous lunch at Spago and meeting one of our dance idols so we could only imagine what the night would hold. Unfortunately with her bright and early flight the next morning Tori had opted out of joining us for the After Hours Dessert party at The Mix lounge in THEHotel @ Mandalay Bay. Little could we know that she would be missing out on the best night we had ever had in Vegas... Ever.

After waiting in the huge line the night before at the Grand Tasting we decided it was best to be safe and not sorry and arrived at Mandalay Bay about 45 minutes prior to the event start. This was the only "late night" event of the Festival starting at 10:30 pm. After initially entering the casino it took a little while to figure out what direction to head in. The Mix Lounge is in Mandalay Bay's high end Hotel adjacent to it's casino hotel so we had to make our way through the casino floor before we found the check in and bank of elevators that would lead us up to the 64th floor. Although a small crowd gathered while we waited for entrance it didn't even approach the massive throng of the night before - already a good sign.
The View from the patio

Custom Cake Pops

 Once it was time groups of 8 were brought up to the Lounge in the glass elevator giving us full view of the landscape around us. As we entered there were cocktail waitresses handing out champagne cocktails with cherries in the base (already a good sign- we didn't have to hunt down the drinks) and we were instantly over come by the view. The lounge is long and narrow in shape with a broad walk way between the bar and a long banquette lined with tables on each side. Small booths line the window and there is a large patio that you can walk out on to to see the incredible view of the entire strip. To the right of the entrance was a small dance floor with a light up floor and there were tables upon tables of desserts as far as the eye could see!

We couldn't help but be overwhelmed by all the options. Most things were bite size which made it somewhat easier to try as many things as possible but it didn't take long before we began to reach our sugar fill. Nothing cures sugar overload like a few open bar Grey Goose and soda's however. After maybe 45 minutes to an hour the room had filled however it was comfortably full. Everyone had a place to sit and there was plenty of space to walk from table to table sampling. There was a rustle of excitement over by the DJ booth and we saw that they were transitioning from the house DJ to none other than San Francisco's own Michelin Starred Chef of Fleur de Lis - Hubert Keller!

A friend who had been to Uncork'd before had mentioned that he would probably DJ for a portion of an event. Turns out he is really good! and not only that you can't help but love watching him enjoy something so much. We instantly hit the dance floor to get our groove on and work off some of the sugary delights we just consumed. I was over joyed at this point that I had decided to buy flats earlier in the day eschewing the very high heels I had originally planned to wear. We spent the next 2 hours straight dancing away while Chef Keller spun a mix of club hits and top 40. We were joined at times by groups of young and older but never was the dance floor crowded, it felt like we practically had the place to ourselves! So to recap- Dessert for dinner, open top shelf bar, awesome DJ, personal dance floor... does it get any better than that?!?! Oh wait and the view of the entire strip!
Chef Keller and his "Hype Girls"
By the end of the night we felt like we were walking on air. As we said goodbye to Hubert (I mean by this point we were basically best friends right?) he told us that we were "the best dancers" of the night. We made our way next door for something a little more savory to eat at the Luxor Cafe (a regular haunt of our many Vegas trips for late night food). As we rehashed the night we couldn't help but quote the laughing gas kid from YouTube "is this real life?!".

I think it's going to be a long time before I have a day and night that tops that one!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Garden Party Cocktail & Appetizers

It wedding season yet again. You know what that means- Bridal showers! This Saturday we toasted a good friend whose wedding I will be in (a first) with a beautiful backyard gathering with a Farmer's Market theme. Organized by her sister, the maid of honor and a fabulous cook and cake decorator, with the site and decor by none other than the fabulously crafty Ana of When Creativity Knocks this event was first class all the way. I was recruited for my cocktail "expertise" and to help with a few of the appetizers for the day. For the drink I really wanted to play on summer flavors and warm weather so I came up with a Fresh Strawberry Sparkling Lemonade with Basil infused Vodka. This was my first attempt at infusing Vodka and after experiencing how easy it is I can't wait to start creating more unique flavors. It does take some for-planning (you are going to need about a week) but it is worth it to create unique flavors for your guests.

This cocktail comes together in 3 stages- for the Vodka you are going to need an airtight container that holds the quantity you will need or desire. A lot of bloggers suggested mason jars but I wasn't quite sure where to get one that could hold the quantity I wanted (about a liter). I found my container at a restaurant supply store and it worked great. You may only desire to make a few cups for a few friends in which case go for a smaller container. It really doesn't get any simpler than this:
  1. In the container put 2-3 large sprigs of rinsed basil (15 - 20 large leaves stem on)
  2. Pour in the liter of vodka
  3. Make sure the top is sealed on tight
  4. Store in a cool dark pace (like your closet) for 4 - 7 days, giving it a good shake once a day to make sure the flavors are incorporating
  5. Strain through a coffee filter (lining a colander is probably easiest) and you are ready to get you cocktail on!

 The next interactive portion of our cocktail making is the strawberry puree. I went with frozen strawberries vs fresh because once they thaw they have a much softer texture and have begun to get juicy.
 In a large pot add 1/4 cup of sugar for each bag of thawed strawberries. Over medium heat bring to a simmer stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Let cool completely. Once cool using an Immersion (Stick) Blender (if you have one, if not regular blender is fine you will probably just have to do it in batches) puree to a nice thick slightly chunky texture.

The ratio for the cocktail is as follows- (1) bag of strawberries for every (2) 750mL bottles of sparkling Lemonade (Trader Joe's and Safeway have their own brands, you can usually find Lorina a wonderful brand at most grocery stores). To that you add 2 1/2 cups of your Vodka. Serves 8-10. Stir and serve over ice!

With a tasty summer beverage in hand you need some tasty summer snacks! The Maid of Honor did a fabulous job cultivating the menu, these were the two recipes I was asked to make and I highly recommend them for your next Garden Party!

I'm a lover of dips in general and I certainly eat my fair share of Hummus. This a great way to change it up with some fresh summer flavors. Serve with Pita Chips or even other veggies to dip or spread on crostini!

The recipe is Courtesy of Parties That Cook:

3 1/2 cups frozen peas, cooked and cooled
1 cup fresh ricotta
5 mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Everything you need can be found at Trader Joe's! 

Place peas, ricotta, mint, and kosher salt in bowl of food processor and pulse to create a thick, chunky dip. Transfer mixture to center of a serving platter and shape into a mound. Nestle pita chips around dip to make a flower (with dip being in center and triangles pointing out). Garnish center of dip with mint sprig.

 Call it a fritter, latkes, or pancake these fried zucchini wonders are a perfect taste of summer topped with some sour cream and smoked salmon!

Recipe Courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine


1 pound zucchini, trimmed, coarsely grated in processor
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten to blend
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil (for frying)
1/3 cup (about) sour cream
2 ounces  smoked salmon, broken into 1x1/2-inch pieces  

  1. Place zucchini in colander set over bowl; sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Place small plate atop zucchini to weigh down. Let stand 30 minutes to drain.
  2. Squeeze zucchini as dry as possible in kitchen towel. Transfer zucchini to medium bowl. Stir in flour, Parmesan, and shallot, then stir in beaten egg mixture and pepper.
  3. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush large nonstick skillet with enough oil to coat; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, drop zucchini mixture into skillet by scant 1 tablespoonfuls, spacing apart. Using spatula, flatten cakes to 2-inch rounds. Cook until golden on bottom, brushing skillet with more oil as needed between batches, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer cakes to prepared baking sheet. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely, then cover and chill. Rewarm uncovered in 325°F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Place warm zucchini cakes on platter. Top each with small dollop of sour cream and piece of smoked salmon & serve

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vegas Uncork'd #2: Lunch at Spago

With two big events Friday and Saturday night that focused solely on the high cuisine of Las Vegas I hadn't really put much thought into where else we might eat. There are so many options and since we were putting a lot of money into other things it didn't occur to me to plan an outing to one of the big name restaurants. Saturday afternoon however we found ourselves wandering Caesar's and HUNGRY. I had read on another blog the Bobby Flay's MESA Grill had a great Happy Hour so we thought we would stop there and check it out. Unfortunately it seems that blogger had had 1 too many before her visit because they do not (nor, according to the rather snobby host, have they ever) offer a Happy Hour. In fact they close between lunch and dinner. Luckily we were a stones throw away from Vegas' pre-eminent culinary trail blazer- Wolfgang Puck's Spago. It seemed fitting to visit on this trip because Spago was celebrating their 20th anniversary in Vegas! If we were celebrating all the cuisine Las Vegas had to offer on this trip we were at the right place.
As it was Kerry's Birthday we decided that was the perfect excuse to celebrate and decided to start by sharing a bottle of Proseco! We quickly found out it was also our waitress's birthday and so we toasted to her as well. By far one of the sweetest and most engaging servers I have ever enjoyed the company of.

 This was actually the second time we had all dined at Spago. The first visit was 6 years ago on my very first trip ever to Vegas. It holds a sentimental place in my heart as one of the first restaurants I had dined at with a big name Chef at the helm. On both visits we enjoyed sitting on the "patio" which opens out from the restaurant into the Forum Shops.In a way that is uniquely Vegas they turn lunch at the mall high end.
"Bread Basket"
One of the things that I appreciate about Spago is that even though it is a culinary delight it is also hearty. We hit the time of day that their Cafe menu is in effect. Kerry & I both decided to order from their pizza oven,  She went with the Mushroom- Roasted Portabellas, Caramelized White Onions, Italian Parsley and Parmesan.

I was drawn as always to a favorite sweet and savory combination their Proscuitto‐Fromage Blanc, Port Wine Glazed Grapes, Micro Arugula and Aged Balsamic. I have to say grapes on a pizza for me were a first and the combination of flavors was out of this world. Even though
The pizza dough was chewy and flavorful, the cheeses exquisite and there was more than enough to go around. Tori ordered the Flat Iron Steak (well done... because she is crazy...) served with Sautéed Asparagus (which I had to steal a few spears of), French Fries, Maître dʹHotel Butter, Béarnaise Aioli (amazing with the asparagus dipped in it!)

The Piece de Resistance  though had to be Shannon's Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Farmersʹ Market English Peas, Caramelized Shallots, Reggiano Cheese, & Truffle oil
Tender pasta enveloped the mushroom filling while the heady aroma of truffle wafted from every bite. The sweetness from the peas burst through the earthy flavors from the mushrooms, comfort food taken to another level. It took all my self control not to continue to help myself from her plate!

All too soon we were wrapping things up. We decided the experience wouldn't be complete without dessert and decided one would suffice for all of us. Our waitress of course had other plans! We chose the chocolate souffle with salted caramel sauce and brown butter ice cream. Warm and soft this was exactly what we needed to finish off the meal. The salted caramel sauce was to die for I'm pretty sure near the end I was just scraping it out with a spoon.
Our waitress also brought us as a birthday surprise, their strawberry shortcake! (My picture didn't look that great). As we dove in to our desserts Shannon noticed out of the corner of her eye someone that caught her interest, "Isn't that the chick that created the Pussy Cat Dolls??" Kerry quickly confirmed it and before we lost our nerve we quickly got up from the table and headed to the entrance where she had just walked out but was waiting for her friends. It was a tenuous few moments as we stared at her and she looked towards us in a way both shy and confused. "I'm sorry we are doing that thing, 'is that really Robin Antin?' " I stuttered. Her face lit up instantly and we knew it was her. We asked for a picture with a bumbling " It's always been my dream to be a Pussy Cat Doll!" (side note- the burlesque dancers in the clubs, not the pop group although she did helm both). She quickly obliged offering compliments on all of our stripped outfits (apparently she has a thing for stripes?) and after taking the photo shook our hands and as she did asked us each individually our names. I have pretty much never met any real celebrities but she by far exceeded my expectations in how friendly and sweet she was to us. We just met our very own Vegas Idol, Could this trip get any better???
Little did we know what that night would hold....

Stay Tuned for Vegas Uncork'd part 3- After Hours the re-mix at Mix Lounge!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Vegas Uncork'd #1: The Grand Tasting

Viva Las Vegas! I have been waiting a year for this event and finally the day arrived! Bon Appetit magazine's 6th Annual Vegas Uncork'd Food & Wine Festival. Comprised of over 20 special events over 4 days ranging from Chef led wine paired dinners to a rally of food trucks to a Grand Tasting of the top Las Vegas Restaurants this was an event not to be missed by any avid foodie. My birthday present this year from my parents was my ticket to Friday night's Grand Tasting at Caesar's Palace Garden of the God's pools. 77 booths featuring the best Culinary talent represented in Vegas and known throughout the world. We arrived at Caesar's 30 minutes early to find a place in the LONG line that had formed. The event had sold out and we were eager to get in the door!

Each guest was given a glass and plate with a hook to hold it as they walked in the door. I love these things for tasting events. There is nothing harder than juggling glass and plate. The ability to hold them in one hand is the best.
The booths surrounding the first pool were hectic with excitement. Each way you glanced Chef's were hob nobbing with guests and pal-ing around with each other. With so much to take in I'm going to let my pictures do much of the talking for me.

Salt Crusted Fish

Oh Hey Ryan from Season 4 of Top Chef! Such a cute SF guy...I accidentally flung sour cream on his hand, we had a moment :)

That's the top of Gordon Ramsey's head

There were no fewer than 7 places serving ceviche and about as many who went with various sliders... I can just only eat so much ceviche

My first time trying anything with Foie Gras! This was a mousse

Amazing Pasta from Spago!

The beaker looking things are Captain Crunch Milk Shakes, Phenomenal! Also ....sliders

Wearing high heels- WORST CHOICE EVER thank god for the shallow pool!
Things I wish I had taken a picture of? Todd English's staff  throwing potato chips at Charlie Palmer & Michael Mina. A chip hit me on the head, no joke. It was obnoxious and very very surreal. Over all it was a fascinating night. The drinks were a little more difficult to get to than I would have liked and had we realized how much more there was beyond the crowded first circle we would have made a bee-line. But on the grand scheme it was an amazing night to be a part of! Little did we know what was to come on Saturday! Stay Tuned for part 2