La dolce vita… Molto, molto dolce

Not sure why I used Italian there… I’m pretty sure that cheesecake originated in Greece. Maybe I’m just trying to dazzle you with my command of foreign languages…. ooooooh. Yeah. That’s it. Actually, that’s a big lie. I used Italian for a reason; one that I’ll explain later.

As you might have guessed by reading the first paragraph, I made cheesecake. Not just a regular cheesecake, but I remade those Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars that I blogged about back on April 7th. I switched up the recipe and made a graham cracker crumb crust like I was considering. I should have read my blog though and made one more change. I only put in the 3 apples the recipe calls for and not 4 like I did originally. Never again will I make this mistake! I changed it on my copy of the recipe. Smile If anyone would like this recipe, with my edits pictured below, just let me know and I’ll email it to you.

Ingredients and tools

The only things missing from the above picture are my mixer, a butter knife, a fork and a big wooden spoon. I ended up using all three of my ceramic mixing bowls, every one of my measuring cups and each one of my measuring spoons. It’s an involved recipe, but it’s broken down into pretty easy to follow steps. Those with sharp eyes will notice Toni Basil, my basil plant in the back left corner. No basil went into this dessert. She’s just a groupie. I didn’t end of needing any of the graham crumbs in the bag. I had exactly enough for my crust in the box.

what a crumby job... perfect!I found a recipe for graham cracker crumb crust on allrecipes.com and just doubled it for my trusty Anchor Hocking 9×13 baking dish. I thought that the addition of cinnamon to the crust would work nicely with the apples (that also have cinnamon). We’ll see though. This was the first time I’ve ever made a graham crust from scratch, so the jury is still out until the finished product is taste tested. I’m usually not a huge fan of cinnamon and was considering omitting it from the crust. It came together rather quickly and seemed like it was a good amount for my baking dish.

chunks o' apple

I decided to do the next parts of the recipe out of order. I wanted the apples to marinate in the sugar and cinnamon for a bit while I prepped the rest of the dessert. Seemed like a good idea and I was pleased with the results. There was a nice syrup created in the bottom of the bowl from the sugar and the juices needs more applesfrom the cut apples. Like I said earlier, I cut up three fairly large Granny Smiths for this and I really should have done a fourth. I tried to spread the apples out evenly, so I hope the lack of extra isn’t noticed too much. Looking at the picture again, it looks like I could have done a slightly better covering job. Next time. Smile with tongue out

kitchen handymanWhen it came to mixing up the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and eggs together, I ran into a bit of a problem. Our hand mixer no longer mixes. It hums and smells funny when you plug it in and turn it on. I tried using my hands (very messy), a fork (almost effective… almost), a wooden spoon (was trying to smooth it out against the side of the bowl), before I smooooothhad a silkybit of a brainstorm. I got one of the beaters and inserted it into the chuck of my trusty old Black & Decker hand drill. Worked pretty darn good. The cream cheese mixture smoothed out nicely and poured out easily onto the prepared crust.

uhhh... streuselI really need to find some more desserts (or make up some) that require a streusel topping. So easy to make and kicks up the finished product to another level. One of those comfort food desserts, like an apple crumble.

This is another part of the recipe where you really need to goes hands-on and break things down between your fingers. I bought a couple of boxes of nitrile gloves from Costco awhile back and they’re awesome for doing just about anything in the kitchen. Keeps your hands free of grease, butter, batter, dough, blood, soap suds, etc. Good stuff.

topping a dessert... what every streusel longs forAfter everything was thoroughly mixed, I crumbled it onto the apple pieces and the cheesecake mixture. Perfect coverage with this amount. Looked pretty darn good even before I put it in the oven. Needed to bake for 40 minutes though… a bit too wiggly-jiggly thanks to the cheesecake center. Smile

dulce de lecheNow comes one of my roomie’s favorite parts: The adding of the caramel sauce. I know I could make my own caramel sauce (and have a couple of recipes that I’d like to try one of these days), but just opening up a can of Eagle Brand Dulce de Leche is so much easier. That’s where yummy!the Italian in the title comes from. Smile  A single can covers the top of the cheesecake nicely. I had to use a small rubber spatula to get all of that tasty goodness out of the can and onto the streusel, because BECAUSE! Just take a look at a close up of that gooey caramel heaven. You can almost taste it. I know it kind of looks a bit soupy, but it almost all soaks into the streusel as it’s cooling. It’s hard to wait, but if it’s anything like the last one, it’ll be well worth the wait.

golly... I want to lick my monitor

Now that it’s cooled enough (it’s been on the counter while I wrote this up), I’ll toss it into the fridge (read: place it gently on the bottom shelf of the fridge) and it’ll be ready for a test drive tomorrow. If I can remember, I’ll take a picture of a piece of it and add it to the end of this posting.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been thinking about my bake ware and what I could do to change this up a bit. Half recipes, splitting it into 4 mini pans, etc. The idea that’s sticking with me the most though, is to pick up a set of spring-form pans. I haven’t had a set for a very long time and I think a nice 10-12” one would work nicely with this recipe. It would remove the necessity of the tinfoil currently lining my baking dish, and would present much nicer with the traditional round cheesecake form. Now… just have to find a nice (cheap) spring-form pan. Smile

——————– UPDATE ——————–

I wasn’t sure which picture to post, without the flash or with, so I decided to put both of them up here to highlight different aspects.

no flashwith flash

The first picture shows how the caramel has started to crystalize on top of the streusel, the fluffiness of the cheesecake and how dense the graham crumb crust turned out.

The second picture shows the chunks of apple and just how ooey gooey good it is. Smile

Some notes on the crust: Both Allen and I thought it was better than the shortbread crust of the original recipe, but could still use a couple of changes. Next time, I’ll omit the cinnamon (there’s a teaspoon of it in there – that’s as much as there is on the apples), I won’t pack the crumbs down as tight as I did this time and I won’t pre-bake it. While it wasn’t burnt, it did seem a bit on the well done side. That being said, it’s still pretty darn good.

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Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars*

*not to be confused with Rhesus Peanut Butter Bars (now with 25% more macaque!)

One of the recent trends with Facebook that I don’t have a problem with is the posting and sharing of recipes. Personally, I don’t reshare them, but I do save a few of them. Often I’ll tweak a recipe or just use it for inspiration for something else I’m trying. In the case of the two Reese Peanut Butter Bar recipes I found (case? Like I’m a detective), I didn’t change them at all, I just made a half batch of each to see which one was better.

I wanted to credit the original websites where I found these recipes, but I could only locate one of them (mainly because the address is right on the picture I used for the recipe) after over 2 hours of looking. Then I got smart and used Google how I should have in the first place. BOOM! Had them both within minutes.

Here’s the first recipe, from The Girl Who Ate Everything (adapted from allrecipes.com):

Reese Bars (version 1)image

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups milk chocolate chips
2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Instructions
In a medium bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter and melted butter. Press firmly into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan. Melt chocolate chips over a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring occasionally. Spread melted chocolate over the crumb crust. Chill for about 5 minutes (mine needed a little longer because they were still gooey), then cut into bars before the chocolate is completely set, then chill until ready to serve.

These came together fairly quickly. I melted the butter in the microwave while I was measuring out the peanut butter and graham crumbs. I would say that from start to finish, including melting the chocolate chips and spreading them, took maybe 10 minutes tops. Like I said, I made a half batch of these. Doing the math took longer than putting the ingredients together. I really need to brush up on my fractions if I’m going to be doing this baking stuff. Smile

I used a 7”x7” aluminum foil cake pan instead of the 9×13. To ease in removal, I used a little cooking spray before I pressed the graham cracker/peanut butter mixture into the pan. I poured the melted chocolate chips over the top and spread them as evenly as I could manage with my tiny little rubber spatula. I considered making fancy little peaks and whirls in the chocolate, then I remembered that I’m just not that fancy. Into the fridge it went.

Version 1 pictures:

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The second recipe came from I Heart Nap Time (who found it in her Grandma’s recipe box):

Reese Bars (version 2)image

Ingredients
1 cup salted butter (melted)
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 (11 oz) bag milk chocolate chips

Instructions

Combine all ingredients, except chocolate chips in a medium sized bowl. Stir until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Pour peanut butter mixture into a 9×13 pan.
Melt chocolate chips in the microwave (at 50% power) for 1-2 minutes. Stir chocolate and pour over the peanut butter mixture. Spread chocolate with a spatula. To even out chocolate, tap pan on the counter.
Refrigerate bars for one hour. Cut while bars are still cool. Enjoy!
Yummy! These are so good! Enjoy!

There were a few more ingredients to this one, but it still came together nice a quickly. One thing I noticed about this recipe was that it wasn’t clumping together like the first one, but was much moister. Considering that it used a half cup less graham crumbs (or a 1/4 C in my half batch) and a cup less powdered sugar (again, 1/2 C for those of you playing along at home), it’s understandable that it was moister. I ended up sprinkling in an extra tablespoon or two of crumbs into the mixture to help it firm up a bit more.

I pressed the dough (Can I call it dough? Sure. Of course I can) into another lightly sprayed aluminum pan (I bought a 4 pack at No Frills for $2), spread the last cup of melted chocolate chips over the top and popped it into the fridge.

Version 2 pictures:

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I didn’t follow the instructions as fully as I probably should have and didn’t cut them into squares until after I had a nap. The chocolate had fully set and was nice and firm. Being milk chocolate though, it wasn’t too hard to cut. I’ve found other recipes for these online and they suggest melting a tablespoon of shortening or butter or even peanut butter in with the chocolate chips to keep things from getting too hard. They also called for semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I wanted to stick with the milk chocolate for something closer to real Reese peanut butter cups.

The first batch were a bit tricky to cut through. My first cut in the center snapped the whole thing in half before I even got halfway into it. This included the part where my knife didn’t reach. Going a bit more carefully, I sectioned it off into 16 roughly even sized squares. There were quite a few crumbs from this on the cutting board. A tasty chore to clean up. Smile

The second batch was much easier to cut. I don’t know if it was because I was being slightly more careful, or if it was because it had a few minutes to rest at room temperature while I was cutting up the first ones. I’m thinking it’s the latter.

My squares cut cleanly with barely, if any, crumbling. I could tell at this point that it was definitely a moister mix and was curious as to how that would affect the taste/texture. To that end, I employed my trusty taste tester, my roomie Allen, to compare the two bars and to give me his opinion.

The taste was pretty much the same between the two, with the big flavor ingredients (peanut butter and graham cracker crumbs) being almost the same measurements. In the end though, it came down to the texture. We both preferred the Version 1 batch because it was dryer. That being said, I found both batches to be a trifle too sweet.

Now comes the tweaking. Smile I’m going to rework the recipe to cut back on the sugar while maintaining the texture. That’s going to have to be at a later date though. There’s two pans of squares in the fridge right now that I’m not supposed to eat. I don’t need to add another. Heh.

Hmmm… I bet these would be great as peanut butter balls.

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Mom’s Vegas Vacation–Day 4… Leaving Las Vegas

Mom, Aunt Wendy, Joyce and I were up and ready before anyone else, so we decided to head downstairs (really it’s down elevators – I really wouldn’t want to use the stairs for that many flights) to Roxy’s Diner for our last breakfast at the Stratosphere. We got there early enough to take part in their breakfast special: a one pound ham steak with 3 eggs (again!), hash browns and toast. Mom was willing to split one with Aunt Wendy, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to share. Until it arrived at the table. Those ham steaks were huuuuge. In the end, everyone (except me – I finished mine) made sandwiches for after with their leftover ham and some extra toast that was ordered. Not sure if they made it to the plane or were eaten beforehand.

Harrah's CasinoShelley and Bonnie had a flight later in the evening, so they stayed back at the Stratosphere while I drove Mom, Aunt Wendy, Joyce, Kim and Diane up the Strip one last time on the way to McCarran Airport. Thanks to some not very clearly marked lanes, we soon found ourselves on the freeway heading back into Las Vegas. Good thing we always leave plenty of extra time for this sort of thing. Smile Got turned around and to the airport in plenty of time for them to make it through security. On the plus side, it also helped me figure out things for when I dropped off Shelley and Bonnie and where I had to go to drop off the van. All good.

Even though we’ll be seeing each other in a few months when I fly back to ON for my summer holidays, Mom started crying before she said goodbye to me. That set off most of the rest of them. Diane apologized for not crying. I’ll let it slide this time. Winking smile

Planet HollwoodI went back to the Stratosphere to pick up Shelley and Bonnie and all of our luggage. I had an extra night in Vegas and was switching to Planet Hollywood. I thought if I was going to spend an extra night, why not pamper myself with a 4.5 star rated hotel with a room that had 20130522_123900a soaker tub. I really, really need to look at the map for Planet Hollywood and figure out if there’s an easier way to get to the hotel from the parking garage. The way we went required walking for what seemed like the entirety of the Miracle Mile of shops. Even though we arrived early at the hotel, I was allowed to check in early (for a small $16 fee). We stowed our luggage in my room and figured out our plan of attack for our last day.

Knife from CrossworldsFor a 4.5 star hotel, I’m going to have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed. The Stratosphere was much, much better. The carpet in the hallways was worn out in places and the lighting left a lot to be desired. My room had a couple of props and a poster from a movie with Rutger Hauer, called Crossworlds. Haven’t heard of it? Me neither. It was a direct to video gem from 1996. The knife in the picture to the left was one of the props. The other was a sword in lucite case that was sort of encased in this entertainment center. The lights for the cases didn’t work and the entertainment center thingy was barely held on to the wall, with several screws already popped out on the one side. I didn’t get a usable picture of the sword or the poster. You can see in the picture of my room the picture on the wall. That’s the same as the poster as well as a larger version of the picture over the soaker tub. More on the tub later.

I had a threesome with my cousins. Get your minds out of the gutter… After having followed one of the mobile signs the day before for half of the Strip advertising a mini burger trioplace called Stripburger, that was our first stop. One of their appetizers was called the Threesome. Fried pickles, fried onion strings and french fries. Tasty. I couldn’t decide on what burger to get, so settled for their slider trio which had two of the ones I wanted to try. Their blue cheese burger was rather tasty, but I’d have to say that their Jack Daniels bbq burger was my favorite.

Shelley met up with a friend that was in town while Bonnie and I went back to my room. Despite trying to read, we both ended up napping. For me, it was the half week of only getting 3-4 hours sleep a day. Not sure why Bonnie needed a nap. Smile with tongue out

When Shelley returned, we spent some time at the Halo Bar at Planet Hollywood. Drinking ensued. The Ottawa Senators were also on tv in the bar, getting their asses handed to them. Heh.

We were going to go to the Premium Outlet Mall again, only the South ones. Time was running out though, so we skipped that. Good thing too, because I had it marked Famous Dave'simproperly on my map. Not sure where we would have ended up. We decided to go for supper at Famous Dave’s BBQ, a place that I’ve been to before (only in Washington). It was a bit farther out of town than it looked on the map, but worth the drive. We sat outside on the patio and that had both positives and negatives. Positive: awesome evening. Negative: almost as windy as the top of the Stratosphere, dude at the next table with plumber’s cleavage (that Shelley kept on trying to get me to look at). Our server didn’t show up very often either, but she eventually came with the food so I was ok with that.

Texas BBQ BrisketI got the awesome Texas BBQ Brisket.  -drool- Bask in the awesomeness that is this picture. Every bite was tasty. Good thing the nearest Famous Dave’s is almost 3 hours away from where I live. Not just for the brisket, but for the bread pudding they have for dessert. I wish I could make that at home. Any of it. Bonnie wasn’t as impressed with the bread pudding as I was, saying that hers is better. Well… I’ll need to be the judge of that. Smile

With time running out quickly, we hustled back into Vegas and I dropped the girls off at the valet entrance to go get their bags while I waited for the valet to park the van. That didn’t actually happen. No valet ever came up to try to park the van and I ended up just moving it a little further along and waited for the two of them to get back. Another strike against Planet Hollywood in my books.

Thanks to knowing where to go this time, I got Shelley and Bonnie to the airport in good time, then went in search of a gas station. I needed to have a full tank of gas before I dropped off the van in the morning.

I opted out of going anywhere else because I had plans. Plans to have a long, hot soak in the soaker tub (one of the selling points of the room for me). I started to read in the tub, but when I started drowsing off and my tablet started bobbing up and down, I decided to put that on the counter. I got out of the tub, pulled the plug and started drying off. Nothing unusual there. I noticed that the tub was taking an awful long time to drain though. I brushed my teeth before bed and the sink wasn’t draining either. Awesome. I didn’t feel like dealing with it so just went to bed. Everything was drained by the time I got up. Still… so glad I spent the extra money on the 4.5 star hotel room. Smile with tongue out

I was a bit worried when I was dropping off the van because when I picked it up, I had to inspect it myself for scrapes, dents, etc. In the dimly lit parking garage where I picked it up, I missed a nice horizontal dent on the driver’s side passenger sliding door that was only visible in direct sunlight. Didn’t matter in the end though. The guy checking me in didn’t see it either. Smile

I had an awesome time with my family (you too, Diane) in Las Vegas and wouldn’t mind doing that again. There are some plans to do that for Shelley’s and my 50th birthdays in 5 years (Jane too!), but wouldn’t mind if it happened sooner.

People reading this might have noticed that I didn’t mention gambling much at all. Yeah. That part of what happened in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Winking smile

I’ll leave you with two pictures. One is of all the girls with their matching bracelets they got before I arrived and the other is from the Bonanza Gift Shop that gave us quite a few laughs (although not as many as the wall of cocks). Smile

Bracelet BuddiesIf it's in stock...

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Mom’s Vegas Vacation–Day 3… They Say It’s Your Birthday

Mom and the rest of the ladies got into Las Vegas a day before I did. They spent their first night at Palace Station. They raved about the breakfast they had the next morning, so we decided to repeat it the morning of Mom’s birthday. After days of eating like carnivores, we actually had a fruit plate to start. When our bodies didn’t reject it outright, we safely Crimson Mohawk Dudeproceeded to eat even more eggs and bread and hash browns. While we were eating, this old man on crutches hobbles by and sits at a nearby table. What’s so special about that? Nothing. His hair though, that’s another story. The picture doesn’t do it justice. It was a crimson mohawk. Not sure what he was thinking… That orange shirt doesn’t work at all with that hair color.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas!After breakfast, we took a drive all the way up the Strip so we could get pictures with everyone in the daylight. We gave all the cameras to our official photographer, Diane and waited our turn in front of the sign. Birthday Girl at the Vegas SignAn Elvis impersonator there sang to Mom for her birthday (also a Big Bird that may have given Aunt Wendy the finger). Diane was a bit rushed when taking the pictures due to the crowd behind her. The pics on my camera were ok, but the top of the sign is kinda missing. Smile I’m not sure how all of the other cameras turned out. I was just glad to get back into the wonderful air conditioning of the van.

We drove down to the Paris casino and parked the van. We decided to walk through the casino and over to the Bellagio. Turns out these are not tiny little places, but rather large. Add to that the heat, and it made for another big hike today. Not the last one however. I’m going to skip the wordy words and just add in some pics of what we saw. No need to thank me, I can already feel your appreciation. Winking smile

This is not a blue skyStained Glass CeilingOutside ParisLooking out over the Bellagio poolMom with Paris behind herMurals on the wall beside the escalator outside BellagioGoing down!Glass art in Bellagio lobbyGordon effing Ramsay!

I linked the picture of the glass sculpture to a story about it. It’s by an artist named Dale Chihuly. There were so many more pictures I could have taken, but I didn’t. Consider yourself lucky that I’m out of my “National Geographic” artsy fartsy phase. Smile with tongue out 

After we got back to the van, we headed down to Old Vegas and turned left to go to Premium Outlet Mall – North. By this point, it was lunch time and hotter than people should probably be out in. We shopped our way to the food court, fought off hordes of people to get a table, ate, then enjoyed an ice cream cone that melted almost as fast as you could eat it. Most of us headed back to the hotel, with a couple of die-hard shoppers staying behind for a few hours. You know who you are. Smile Back at the hotel, Mom had to ice her knee as it had swollen up from all of the walking during the last few days.

Mom’s birthday dinner was at the Paradise Buffet at the Fremont Casino right on Fremont Street. I feel like I should have more capitals in that last sentence. Mom’s Birthday Dinner! Yeah, that’s better. Smile The swelling in Mom’s knee had gone down enough that she was ok to walk a bit. Getting around the Fremont area is a bit tricky with one way streets and hard to locate parking. Ended up getting valet service at the Fremont Casino (turned out to be free – they work for tips). A short walk through a very smoky casino brought us to the Paradise Buffet. It being a Tuesday, it was seafood night (crab and shrimp), which is why it was chosen. Following my usual plan of attack, I like to try new things when I see them at buffets (like the frog legs I found at the one in Bellingham). This time is was crawfish. I grabbed one of the mini lobster looking guys on my first pass through the food trays. I made a complete mess of it and still don’t think I got any actual meat off of it. I had to settle for crawfish salad (like seafood salad, only more crawdaddy). The star of the show, for me anyway, was the pecan pie at the end. I almost went through this trip to Vegas without pie. I more than made up for it with two pieces of pecan pie and a piece of lemon meringue. Can’t figure out why I gained weight. It’s a complete mystery.

Spazmatics at the Fremont Street ExperienceWe rolled out to Fremont Street to try to see the Fremont Street Experience, but it didn’t seem to be up and running. What they did have was a live band (The Spazmatics) playing on a stage set up between The D! and the Four Queens. They did quite a few covers of 80s songs. Good hearing live music, but I kinda wanted IMGP0431everyone to experience the Experience. Fortunately, there have been other people that have recorded their experiences and posted them to youtube. Over at The D! they had dancers on the outside bar that neglected to put on all of their clothing. How embarrassing it must have been to come to work without your clothes on and finding out your coworker not only did the same thing, but was also wearing the same underwear. What a weird coincidence.

IMGP0430IMGP0434IMGP0435We walked up and down Fremont Street a bit and soaked in the atmosphere. A bit overwhelming with all of the people, the flashing lights, the people on the zip lines zipping above your head for the length of the street, the music from the band and various buskers, and the hawkers of various wares and trinkets. There was so much to see that we only got a fraction of it done. The Fremont area really could use a day or two in itself to even start to do it justice. Next time. Smile

The whole crew in the vanMost of the crew had an early flight the next morning, so we decided to take one last tour up the Strip at night Paris, with a side of assto see the lights. As you can see from the pic to the left, my photography skills while driving require a bit of work. This was the best of 4 tries.  While we were looking at all of the casinos lit up, for some reason no one was actually taking any pictures. The one on the right of Ballys and Paris is the only one I have on my camera. I took it at one of the endless red lights. We missed the volcano show at the Mirage by less than 5 minutes. Boo. Back to the hotel for sleepy sleeps.

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Mom’s Vegas Vacation–Day 2… Hot Dam

After a scant 3.5-4 hours sleep, Mom and I were awake and ready to get things rolling. Unfortunately, other people tend to need more sleep. Hey… this is Vegas. Sleep when you get home. Smile with tongue out

IMGP0290After the sun came up, the view from our room was rather nice. Still not exactly sure what the mountains we could see from our room were, but if anyone wants to figure it out, I’ll give some directions. They’re directly north of the Stratosphere in line with the Premium Outlets. Hmmm… maybe I’ll just call them the Premium Outlet Range. Perfect.

corned beef hashcinnamon roll french toastpeanut butter waffles with bananas fosterMom, Aunt Wendy and I went down to Roxy’s Diner for breakfast. This was the first of three days that I’d have three eggs for breakfast.  Yeah… nine eggs in 3 days. Thank goodness I brought my anti-gas pills. Smile with tongue out Didn’t stop me from tooting every step, but I like to share, so it’s all good. Heh. I almost didn’t get the corned beef hash (with eggs and hollandaise sauce), because the peanut butter waffles with bananas foster sounded pretty darn tasty. I have to admit that when it came (Aunt Wendy ordered it), it looked as good as it sounded. Didn’t taste all that peanut buttery though. Mom really liked her cinnamon roll french toast. Not a huge fan of cinnamon rolls, I thought it was just ok.

After everyone had stuffed their food holes, it was decided to go see Hoover Dam. Joyce opted to stay back and do other things because she’s going to see it with her husband when they go to Vegas. Sometime. Smile We tried to get out there as early as possible in order to minimize the intense heat. On our way there, we passed through Henderson and saw a casino that we’d stop at on the way back. Dollar beers… ‘nuff said.

Hoover Dam

The dam is quite huge. Scary huge. It straddles the border of Nevada and Arizona and holds back a ton of water (Lake Mead). Lake MeadAs deep as it looks now, you can see from the water line that it’s been deeper. Even though we went in the cool of the morning, it was pretty stifling there. No cloud cover and very little wind. Just relentless sun. Happy to report that I actually got a little color. Nothing too bad though. We all had sunscreen on. Check out all my pictures on Facebook. Like the top of the Stratosphere, Bonnie hung back from the edge quite a bit. I have to admit, you get quite the sense of vertigo when you’re in the center span and looking down over the edge. Hard to wrap your head around the size of it, even when you’re standing on top of it.

A bird in hand is worth two in the bush...Despite a little mix up while exiting the gift shop, we were back on the road back to Vegas shortly after 10. Like I said earlier, we stopped off at the Railroad Pass casino. According to the bar tender (and the little museum there), it’s the oldest casino still running in Nevada. That’s all well and good, but they also had dollar draft beer and dollar hot dogs. Needless to say, most of the crew was half snapped before noon. Not going to go into details (you know, what happens in Vegas… ), but suffice to say that there was a pee pee dance done, hooters were purchased, and we learned who likes cowboys. Winking smile Strangely, I only have one picture from our time there, and it’s of the hedges outside the main entrance. Why would I take pictures of the hedges and not the hijinks inside? There were birds in the bushes. Well, it seemed cool at the time. Smile with tongue out

When we get back to the hotel, we decide to split up a bit and go do different things. Diane wanted to find this custom car place from a show on tv while Mom and I wanted to go check out the World Poker Tour game being played at the Bellagio. A good chunk of us piled back into the van and off we went looking for Count’s Kustoms. Going from the Count's Kustomsdirections we got, behind Circus Circus, we were able to discover all kinds of one way and dead end streets that didn’t lead us to our destination. We pretty much had to drive back to our hotel in order to get onto the right street. When we finally found it, I thought they were filming because they had it all roped off and a guy directing traffic sitting outside of the joint. Nope. Not filming… just a tourist stop. Instead of bogging down the blog with all the pictures, they’ll be available on my Facebook page too. Not sure what it was with the lighting in there, but it seemed to bugger with my focus in a few shots.

We parked at the Mirage and Mom and I went for a stroll to the Bellagio. Jumping Jellybeans… what a haul in that heat. We should have parked at the Bellagio and told the girls to meet us back there. Smile with tongue out We finally get into the Bellagio and Mom’s about ready to take a break. What is it with these casinos not having anywhere to sit except for in front of a machine? Fortunately, we find the poker room with the WPT signs up almost right away. Mom and Daniel NegreanuLooking in, I don’t recognize anyone. What a let down. Yeah, we were looking at the regular folk playing at the regular tables. The WPT tables were empty because they were on break. Soon enough, they start filing back in and we see Daniel Negreanu. He’s just heading back to this table, but we were able to snag him for a quick picture. I thought Mom was going to pee herself she was so excited. Smile We wander around the outside of the poker room and look in. We see Eric Lindgren, Jason Mercier, Antonio Esfandiari, Chino Rheem, Will Failla and Phil Hellmuth.

Antonio EsfandiariEric LindgrenChino Rheem and Daniel Negreanu

Phil Hellmuth and MomJason MercierWill Failla

 

 

 

 

 

 

We watched Antonio go all in with an AJ against an AQ and not pull it out. He looked a bit grumpy, so we didn’t try to get a picture with him. On the other hand, when Phil Hellmuth busted out, he provided a sound bite for the camera on hand, then gladly took pictures with fans. I checked earlier today and found out that Chino Rheem won the whole shebang and Eric Lindgren took second. Neat. Would have been great to be able to watch the final table being filmed or to meet Vince and Mike, but this was pretty darn cool.

Fountain show at the Bellagio

On our way back to the Mirage to meet up with Joyce, Diane and Shelley, Mom and I were able to catch the fountain show at the Bellagio. Not the greatest spot to view it from, but it was still good to see. Too bad Aunt Wendy wasn’t there to see it, but I decided to take a small video of it. I wasn’t able to get it all because I was taking pictures at first, but hopefully this gets across the scale of it. The water erupting from the fountain almost sounded like gun shots.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas!Kim holding up the Las Vegas sign while Diane looks onAfter a late supper at Roxy’s (again), the kids decided to go out for a drive. Well, all but Bonnie. She pretty much pulled a Rip Van Winkle after the trip to the dam and the cheap beer. Winking smile We did a driving tour of the Strip, from one end to the other. We saw the Las Vegas sign all lit up (as well as a car owned by a dedicated Pawn StarsBatman fan). At the other end of the Strip, in Old Vegas, we found the place where they film Pawn Stars. The main store wasn’t open, but they have a 24 hour window. That’s where we got our show. Smile There was a slightly intoxicated guy talking/arguing with an old grizzled hobo. Apparently, the slightly intoxicated fellow pawned something and gave the hobo $5, to which he responded with, “Is that it?” Heh.

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Mom’s Vegas Vacation–Day 1

Unlike my usual behaviour of just stuffing my duffel bag a few hours before my flight, I was packed and ready to go to Vegas a good day or two early. The anticipation was so great that I didn’t sleep all that well the night before my flight either. I double-checked my list of things to bring and ended up leaving for the border a good half hour early. Turns out to be a good thing.

I booked my flight (well, truth be told, Denise booked it for me Smile) out of Bellingham, WA in order to save a little over $100 on my ticket. The Bellingham International Airport is only about a 40-odd minute drive from my house, so that was a good deal. The parking was very reasonable too; only $10/day. I approach the border a little after 8 in the morning and the signs are already saying that there’s a 45 minute wait at the crossing that I’m taking. From past experience, that’s usually a very optimistic time frame. It’s usually a good 10-15 minutes longer than that. I get into the Nexus lane and start passing the huge line of cars waiting to get into Washington using the regular traveller lane. I remember gloating. Instant karma came and bit me on the ass. I take out my Nexus card sleeve from my passport wallet and take a look at it, only to find my lovely girlfriend looking back at me from the card. The last time we went down to the States, it must have gotten into my passport wallet by accident. That meant that my Nexus card was currently somewhere in Amsterdam (where she was on her cruise). Awesome… I duck into the Duty Free shop to try to bypass the line a bit. In order to get out of the Duty Free parking lot, you have to show a receipt that you purchased something. Great. Two bags of beef jerky and three chocolate bars later, I’m cutting into line a good 30+ minutes ahead of where I would have been if I would have gone into line at the end. Yay!

out in the booniesAt the airport, finding a parking spot was like playing Where’s Waldo. After my third trip around the lot, I finally found someone leaving and jumped into their spot before someone else could snipe it. I was glad I had left early because of the extra time at the border and this treasure hunt. I now only have about 90 minutes before my flight is scheduled to leave. I hoof it to the airport and encounter a great long line in one of those rat mazes. I dutifully get in line and proceed to stay there for a good 10-15 minutes before I realize I didn’t actually have to be there. I was in the line for people checking luggage and needing boarding passes. I only had a carry on and had checked in and printed out my boarding pass already at home (which was a bit of trick considering my internet had been out for the previous couple of days).

Going through security was relatively painless. There was a bit of a hiccup when I forgot to take my shampoo, shaving cream and toothpaste out of my hygiene kit. After I was told what to do next time (put them in a clear ziploc bag or into one of the bowls they provide) and one of the TSA agents saying to another something about job security, I went to my gate (which isn’t actually marked on the boarding pass, you have to figure it out from the departure listings displayed). A guy came over the PA to inform passengers that the flight to Las Vegas was delayed by an hour. Something to do with the trams at the Vegas airport not working. Awesome. All that rushing, just to wait an extra hour. At least there’s free wifi in the airport. Smile

those are shadows from the clouds, not all kinds of lakesMountains!The flight was fairly non-eventful. This might interest Denise though: my two row mates both had the same Coach purse. Me telling them I felt left out of the club pretty much was the entire conversation I had with them. I spent the rest of my flight reading and took a few pics of the clouds throwing shadows and of some mountains. I don’t know how I do it, but every time I fly I end up just behind the right wing. I really need to try other parts of the plane. About the plane itself: Nice, comfortable seats with plenty of ass and leg room. The flight attendants were friendly and quite jokey. I’ll definitely fly Allegiant again.

Our rideI rented a van once I got to Vegas. This was a bit sticky because there were 8 of us in total. Most vans only seat 7. I found one and they wanted $450 for it for the 4 days I was going to be in Vegas. That was more than my flight and hotel combined, so, no. After some dickering, I got them down to $360 with unlimited mileage. Much more reasonable. I got a newer Toyota Sienna with just over 5000 miles on it. First time I ever drove one… quite nice. Had a back-up camera and a USB port (which I only found on the last day there – thanks to Shelley for showing me where it was) that I could use to charge my phone. Handled very well, but it kind of smelled like feet when you turned off the AC. Smile with tongue out

The slightly phallic StratosphereAfter some texts back and forth, I locate my family in one of the restaurants at the Stratosphere, the hotel that we were staying at. Were they sitting at a table like civilized people? No… they were at the bar. Smile Kim and her friend Diane had gone to the Billboard Music Awards, Mommy and Markbut my Mom, Aunt Wendy, sister Joyce and cousins Shelley and Bonnie were there. I hadn’t seen Shelley or Bonnie in 5+ years. With Diane, it had been since 1988 when we finished the school year and I moved down to Kitchener. I see everyone else each year when I fly back for my summer vacation. It was still good to seem them though. Smile

Gifts!After a quick snack of some pulled pork sliders at Roxy’s Diner (because everyone else had already eaten at the bar), Mom and I took a walk up the street to the huge gift shop so we could get a few things bought and chicken hatnot have to worry about them later. While there, we found a massive selection of hats and mom tried on a bunch of them. I was smiling so much that my head hurt. Open-mouthed smile You can see all of them on my Facebook page when I get around to posting them. We could have spent another hour in there just trying on different ones. So funny.

Vegas, blurry... or as seen by a drunkWe had dinner at the Top of the World, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere. Fancy. Expensive. uhhh… Revolvey. The food was kind of tasty, but I’m not sure that it justified the expense, nor the minimum $50 charge per person, regardless of what you ordered. None of my pictures really turned out from up there or on the observation deck. Should have had the flash on in order to minimize the camera shake/blur. Oh well. The observation deck was suuuuuuuper windy. Bonnie didn’t join us outside though… not a fan of heights.

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Soup and Sandwiches

This past weekend had me in the kitchen a few times, and not just for trying to perfect my soup. On Sunday, Denise came over for dinner and we actually made something instead of eating out. Smile On the menu: BBQ pulled pork with coleslaw and yam fries.

2013-04-16 15.29.26I got up early and took a lot of the fat off of a cheap pork roast before popping it into the slow cooker. I sprinkled it with dried chopped onions and some dried sliced garlic. I put enough water in the crock pot to go about half way up the roast, then mixed in half a bottle of Bullseye Old West Hickory BBQ sauce. Low for 8 hours, drain, shred with a fork, add the other half bottle of bbq sauce, stir and low for another 2 hours. The next time I do this, I won’t let it go for the full two hours at the end. I might cut it back to just an hour. The flavor was nice and it was still moist, but the blackened bbq sauce was a bear to clean off the crock pot. Smile with tongue out 

Denise threw together a coleslaw from a recipe we found online. We cut back on the sugar suggested because we’re already sweet enough. Winking smile It paired nicely with the pulled pork on the cheese buns. That’s something else I’ll switch up for next time. No cheese buns. Yes, they’re nice and tasty, but when you added the hot pulled pork to them the oils from the cheese started flowing and things got a bit greasy. Maybe a nice kaiser roll or an onion bun.

There was a little bit of a debate over whether or not we should break out the deep fryer for the yam fries or just do them in the oven. Considering the rest of the meal, we just popped them in the oven (regular store bought McCain’s). I wanted to try recreating the dip that usually comes with the yam fries in the restaurant, but didn’t want anything too spicy so that Denise could still eat it. In the end, I came up with three quick mayo-based dips and bought some roasted garlic mayo for a fourth. The three that I did: Garlic Lime, Sweet Chilli, and Hickory BBQ. They all came together really quickly and all tasted pretty darn good.

2013-04-15 00.57.35The crazy thing is that we didn’t take any pictures of our meal. Very strange. We’re always taking pictures of that stuff… don’t know what happened there. I decided to have a half sandwich about 6 hours later and took a picture of that. I didn’t have any of the original coleslaw left, so I whipped up some bbq hickory mayo and used that. For something that I threw together at the last minute, it sure worked. Even though this looks like a full sandwich, it’s not. It’s just the back half of a cut bun. Smile 

Soup for Break-pho-est

I was originally going to make us some of my faux pho for lunch on Sunday, but we ended up going out to a new place to try theirs instead (new to us anyway). I had taken out a bunch of meat from the freezer in preparation for this though, so I had to use it up. I woke up Monday morning with a hankering for a big bowl of soup so, after I let the dog out, I put on my apron and got to work in the kitchen.

2013-04-15 10.36.38I bought some Knorr beef stock packets awhile ago and wanted to give them a try. They’re like little beef jello shots. Smile I measured out a bowl full of water for the pot and tossed one in. For the distinctive pho spice flavor, I decided to add a rounded teaspoon of the instant pho soup base. The resulting broth was awesome. Easily one of the best I’ve made yet. I want to try it again without the instant pho base though because it added a reddish oil to the mix. I think I’ll either make up a bouquet garni of star anise, cinnamon sticks and ginger or use one of those pho flavoring “tea bags” I used last time.

2013-04-15 11.00.59For meat, I had 8 beef balls that I cut in half and some steak strips. I added those to the broth as it was simmering on the stove to try to impart a little more beefiness. I reserved some of the steak to add later to keep it rare. I was worried that the steak would get too chewy by boiling away in the broth, but it worked out nicely. A little chew, but still quite tender. A nice addition to the overall texture.

2013-04-15 11.01.08I pre-soaked the noodles again, letting them sit in a pot of hot water while I prepped all the veggies. I drained and rinsed them a couple of times during this process, trying to release some of the starch. I won’t ever cook the noodles directly in the broth again. This is definitely a required step. I’m making soup, not stew. I didn’t end up using all of the noodles this time. I tried to put in the amount that usually comes in a large bowl of pho instead of EAT ALL THE NOODLES!!!! Smile These were also the last of my slightly wider cut noodles. I’ll be going back to the slimmer ones from now on. They’re closer to what the restaurants use and that’s the whole point of this.

2013-04-15 11.12.31The finished product was awesome. The broth was a nice clear brown with plenty of beefy flavor and a nice hint of something else special. It had the right amount of noodles, lots of extra meat (Yay!), and kept me interested right down to the end when my spoon was scraping the bottom of the bowl. Instead of the two green onions I normally put in there, I only used one. I also doubled the amount of cilantro I usually put in (about 6 sprigs). I really need to get some real lime to add to my soup instead of the squirt of lime juice from the RealLime ™ bottle. If I stop experimenting at this point, I’m ok with that. This soup was on par with several restaurants and better than about half of the places I’ve eaten at. I’m not going to stop though. Smile I won’t be happy until I can knock out a quick pho that can compete with any of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants.

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