New Adventures for Jen!

Well hello!

Many of you taste seeking adventurers stopped over to  my 2012 one year project Martinis for Merits to keep up with the yumminess. There you learned that in addition to exploring the world through delicious experiments I also have been working with various charities and trying to help out those around me.

You may have also seen a glimpse of my nerdery.

It’s true, I’ve come out of the lab and confessed my nerd affiliation.  I’m a Star Trek watching – algebra joke making – zombie movie watching – trivia quoting nerd.

I encourage you to check out my 2013 one year project Year of the Nerd!  I promise I’ll make the science approachable and the trivia absolutely silly.  Already underway with several days to celebrate and fun activities for follow up check it out and see what you can do to help the nerd community.

And if you’re concerned, stay tuned for more food adventures in this venue and this nerd’s still gotta eat!

Until we eat again,

Jen

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Unexpected Pleasures or Vegas May 2012 Part 3

It’s my last night in Las Vegas.  The trade show is over, I’m checked in for my flight tomorrow morning and there is nothing left to do but wander the city for one more tasty adventure.

I was looking for something really good but uncomplicated.  There were two restaurants tied to Treasure Island where I was staying that I hadn’t tried yet.  One was a fancy Italian place.  While pasta and eggplant sounded good, I didn’t feel like dressing up.  The other place was Gilley’s – a country themed bar featuring bikini bull rides.  Not really my usual scene but their menu offered burgers and that sounded just about right.

There was a wait for tables but a few open spots at the bar (Reason #16 why I always sit there).  The two bartenders were from Ohio and we chatted about craft brews and our favorite spots back home while I waited for my Bob Wills Burger.  Named after the Western Swing musician this burger had pieces of some of my favorite burgers.

The foundation of this burger is a light honey wheat bun and a well seasoned and even better cooked medium 1/2 pound burger.  Pepper-jack cheese is melted on top with a thick pour of their Jack Daniels bbq sauce. Next we have thick cut smoked bacon.  That alone would be a damn good burger but they didn’t stop, no they went to the far side of ridiculous.

Guacamole on a burger is not what makes this crazy.  It’s the generous portion of amazing guacamole that blew me away.  A large scoop of chunky, fresh, cool and spicy guacamole is sitting on top of this burger.  Then, just to be silly they sprinkled some fried onion straws.

Each part was essential once you tasted the combination. Crunchy onions both fried on top and fresh nestled in the guacamole contrasted the ripe avocado and tender burger.  Just enough bbq sauce covered the burger to add flavor but not enough to drip.  The guacamole acted like glue keeping everything together.

As an extra special bonus the fries were perfect!  Shoestring cut and dipped, fried extra crispy with a light season.  Just perfect.  I dare say that may be in my top 5 burgers of all time and this was a wonderful end to my stay in Vegas.

Fully prepared for airport blandness the next morning I was pleasantly surprised by my options.  I always find it funny when chain restaurants who serve only lunch and dinner feel the need to throw breakfast options on the menu in airports.  It’s usually not good or creative. California Pizza Kitchen pulled it off!

CPK was offering breakfast pizzas, a burrito or a waffle.   I chose the waffle which came with bananas, pecans and whipped cream.  I skipped the whipped cream.  Prepared for the worst I was thrilled to see this was how I would make this at home.  I was expecting overly syrupy fried bananas and candied walnuts with too much butter sauce over a soggy waffle.  Instead I got a light and fluffy, perfectly toasty buttermilk waffle topped with fresh cut bananas and toasted pecans.  Butter and real maple syrup were served on the side.

Fresh fruit is always a plus for me and since the bananas are naturally sweet I didn’t see the need to saute them in tons of butter and sugar.  This is breakfast, not dessert.  A touch of maple finished the whole dish and I was satisfied but not bogged down with a sugar rush and it’s impending crash.

I left Vegas on a good note.  Matt’s planning our next trip so he can get a burger…

Until we eat again,

Jen

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Indulging on the Go or Vegas May 2012 Part 2

My second full day in Las Vegas was jam-packed with errands, meetings and running around to do so I decided to opt for grab and go choices throughout the day.

Breakfast was a pleasant surprise at from the Starbucks inside Fashion Show Mall on The Strip.  Usual breakfast options at Starbucks are typically high fat zero nutrition pastries and  coffee drinks.  More locations are now offering better for you options.  I chose a Greek yogurt parfait and a 30 oz (Holy crap that’s a lot of coffee) iced coffee.

Greek yogurt is high in protein and lower in sugar (double-check, yoplait has been sneaking it in there) and is often served with a drizzle of honey.  This parfait has a touch of the classic watery honey at the bottom, Greek yogurt in the middle and a separate cup of granola on top.  Since the granola was kept separate it was still crunchy. I only used about half of the granola since there was a ton of it but the flavor was good with a toasty hint of brown sugar and an assortment of seeds and grains.  Even with the sweetened granola and a touch of honey the yogurt remains neutral to sour and certainly not too sweet.

For my coffee a went with black iced coffee and 2 shots of sugar-free caramel.  That much little touch of caramel takes the bitter out of Starbucks coffee.  If you are not adding milk or cream it can be a bit harsh.  Loaded with my syringe of caffeine and satisfying yogurt breakfast I headed off to start my day.

After running errands, checking in with a few vendors and catching up with emails it was time for lunch.  Still on that end of the strip I ducked into the food court by the mall again figuring it would be a good place to find something fast.  With an assortment of chains to choose from I pondered the merits of the Greek place, a crepe place and a wrap place.

The line in front of the Greek place was very long and I was in a hurry.  Crepes looked good but they were all sweet, no savory.  Wraps it is!  Great Wraps  had several to choose from and you could make it a combo for just a few dollars more.  The combo gave you the choice of curly fries, rice chips or a salad.  I chose a falafel and humus wrap with the salad on the side.  I always feel more energized when I eat fresher veggies and healthier options.

The wrap was on a spinach tortilla loaded with fried falafel, creamy humus and veggies.  falafel and humus are both made from chick peas or garbanzo beans, an excellent source of protein.  While falafel is coarsely ground chick peas mixed with spices and fried into crisply little balls, humus takes the same bean and purees it with sesame paste for a creamy spread.  I always think it’s interesting to have two completely different preparations of one ingredient together in a dish. Romain lettuce and diced cucumber added fresh crunch to the wrap.

The greens of the little side salad looked good, bright tomatoes popped against dark spinach, mixed with more cucumbers, red onion and romaine but the whole thing was swimming in dressing and was pretty gross.  Next time I’ll ask for dressing on the side.

After a long trade show I was ready for dinner.  I stopped by Isla, a Mexican restaurant and Tequila bar inside Treasure Island.  I didn’t want anything too big but still wanted to treat myself.  I chose the Adobo Shrimp Quesadilla and a Margarita.  I was surprised to see large, plump shrimp used since I was expecting the tiny crappy ones stuffed into egg-rolls.  Not only were they large but perfectly cooked, juicy not rubbery.  The Adobo sauce rich in paprika, garlic and vinegar did most of the cooking in a ceviche like chemical reaction where the acid cooks delicate protein, not heat. These were cooked a little in the quesadilla as well.

My margarita was light and as Jeff would say “I can taste the tequilla, but it’s not being rude to me”.  I typically like to taste more of the tequilla but when the limes are hand muddled and the salt is plentiful you can’t really complain.

Overall I felt like I had a day of indulgent, rich flavors, all while on the go and still kept it lighter and closer to the healthy side.  Yes it can be done.

Until we eat again,

Jen

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In a City Where They Truly Mean “Good Luck” or Vegas May 2012 Part 1

Who has two thumbs and a new toy?  This Girl!

I’ve been posting about my delicious adventures for over a year now and I keep getting the same comments about how there aren’t enough pictures and when there are, they kinda suck.  Well I now have a better camera on my phone (still can’t remember to bring a big kid camera with me), and what better city to try it out than Las Vegas! Bring on the food porn!

I’ll be in Vegas for 4 days on assignment for work.  Since I’m by myself it leads to some strange decisions about what to eat and where.  Sorry, I go where the menu calls.

Breakfast this morning was at The Coffee Shop inside Treasure Island where I’m staying.  I chose the Mushroom Omelet which came with hash-browns and choice of toast.

What a start to your day

The eggs are folded around a generous portion of sautéed mushrooms and a touch of swiss cheese.  A large slice of swiss on top forces me to twirl my fork like I’m eating spaghetti.  The ooey gooey cheese is mild in flavor with a hint of salt that balances the earthy mushrooms.

Hearty Seeded Rye with Strawberry Jam

I chose rye toast and was thrilled to see it was sliced thick and heavily seeded.  The strawberry jam was a perfect sweet note with this savory breakfast.  Portions were large so even though I was starved walking in, I ate about 2/3 of the omelet and crispy hash-browns and only one slice of the toast.

In a cheery mood, I headed for The Mirage where my trade show was getting set up.  I constructed my booth (no small feat I assure you) and prepared my presentations.  Still early in the day I set out to explore a bit.  I crossed the strip to The Venetian where there is plenty of good sight-seeing and shopping. Still full of energy I crossed back to Caesar’s Palace and wandered The Forum Shops. After 4 1/2 hours of walking I thought it might be a good idea to stop for lunch.

It occurred to me that I had been hanging on to a gift certificate for over a year because the restaurant it was for was not near me.  But was I really going to “waste” once in a lifetime food opportunities in Vegas on lunch at The Cheesecake Factory? – Eh, why not.

The Cheesecake Factory www.thecheesecakefactory.com Caesar’s Palace, Vegas Strip

I was pleasantly surprised.  I found a spot at the bar and ordered a Fat Tire draft while I looked over the crazy huge menu.  Fat Tire is a toasty colored Amber Ale.  Light and simple it is always a good impulse pick but never going to be your favorite.  For lunch I chose the Beet and goat cheese salad. Something I was not expecting to see on a sandwich/burger/pasta/Americana menu.

Beets and Goat Cheese

Well done Cheesecake Factory! Served on a bed of arugula are diced granny smith apples, roasted beets, toasted pecans, thinly sliced red onion and crumbles of herbed goat cheese.  The balance of textures from the crisp apples, firm beets and creamy goat cheese were wonderful.  The sweet beets and sour apples enhanced the peppery arugula.  This was a very well thought out salad and a great find in their “Skinnylicious” menu and just $6 too.  Somehow I did resist the cheesecake though and headed on my way.

I headed back to my room to play catch up on some emails and work on my presentation some more all the while knowing that dinner was a treat I planned out from the moment I checked in.  Each email brought me closer to my goal – a giant bowl of pho.

One of the restaurants in Treasure Island is Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in a popular regional soup called pho.  Pronounced “fuh” this traditional soup has its roots in street food mixed with French “visitors”.  While it has evolved to have many variations, the most traditional and common is made with paper-thin slices of beef so this is the version I ordered.

Pho with the traditional sides

This is the traditional presentation. This is a very large bowl of rich beef broth.  The most nostalgic counts of pho tell of the rich broth, pungent and dark with classic spices and ginger.  This broth was lighter and more subtle but still warm and complex.  In the broth will be a large mound of rice noodles and thin slices of beef.  Here the beef was paper-thin and tender.  It can be precooked and warmed in the broth or thrown in to the hot broth to cook as it arrives at your table.  Floating on top are green onions and various herbs like cilantro or basil.  On the side you will typically receive raw bean sprouts, more herbs, limes and chilies.  Many also will add siracha sauce or chili paste.

The protein can vary, some use meat balls, chicken, offal or other combinations.

I happily squeezed my lime to add a touch of acid to the unctuous broth.  Adding the herbs as you go lets you keep them fresh for each bite without overcooking them.  I also save the sprouts for last after I run out of noodles.

In many a travel guide or youtube video you see people hold chopstick in one hand and their soup spoon in the other to alternate between the beef and noodles and the broth.  I am not this ambidextrous and have to go back and forth. Still totally worth it!

Vegas, you always feed me well, and I still have two more days!

Until we eat again,

Jen

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Everyone Knows Bob and Bob Knows Everyone.

Ok, so I took the winter off.  Well not really, I still went on food adventures and I’ve still been writing click here to catch up.  But I haven’t been writing about my dinner adventures.  Matt encouraged me to pick up the ole’ keyboard again as we walked to dinner one night.

Our neighborhood is the residential area in the middle of a square of main streets of the city.  Every now and then there is a little commercial building tucked in among the houses and invisible dog fences.  Well invisible fences for dogs not fences for invisible dogs…

Retz’s Lanconi’s II 330-945-4600

Lanconi’s is tucked along Sackett in Cuyahoga Falls, not far from the riverfront or rout 8. Featuring a full bar and classic Italian fare, the space keeps opening far larger than it looks from the outside.  The bar opens in the back to a full dining room.  A large menu offers pizza, sandwiches, burgers and Italian dinners.

Matt chose a draft Amber Bock and the rigatoni special.  I went with a Captain and Coke and the Italian sausage sandwich.  Neither of us counted on Bob, the 85 year old bartender with a dirty sense of humor, long pours and red suspenders.

We watched Bob work the bar while waiting for our food.  We both wanted to adopt Bob as our grandfather hoping to hear more stories of his adventures in the local restaurant scene the way you would sit at the knee of a member of the Rat Pack.  We were completely charmed with Bob the way you are when you are first allowed to sit at the grown-ups table.  If I was ever going to learn how to tell a good dirty joke it was tonight!

Matt’s food came out first.  The special was a plate of rigatoni, sauce, 2 meatballs a salad and bread.  The bread was good and crusty with sesame seeds, there was more than enough to share.  While the salad was an unremarkable bowl of bagged salad the pasta made up for it.  A large plate with rigatoni, house made, sweet tomato sauce and two large meatballs.  The meatballs were light and well seasoned, baked forever and lightly caramelized on the edges.

That's a tasty meatball!!

My sandwich came out as hot as lava with cheese bubbling over the edges and seasoned Jo-jos steaming, daring me to pick one up.  Once they cooled down (a torturous 3 minutes I assure you) the Jo-jos proved to be seasoned and crispy.  Even at the end of the meal – still crispy.  To me this is the difference between an amazing fry and the crap I leave behind on my plate, it’s that simple.

The sandwich was a natural casing link split down the middle and placed on an Italian hoagie roll, sprinkled with diced onion and bell pepper, smothered in mozzarella cheese and the same sweet tomato sauce as the pasta.  The sausage had a good hearty garlic and fennel flavor with a snap that can only come from natural casings. The onions and peppers were a wonderful warm but crunchy texture which stood up well to the gooey cheese and rich sauce.  The combination of sweet and savory played perfectly.

Our total bill was $24.

We walked home recalling some of Bob’s more choice moments savoring the hearty meal.

Until we eat again,

Jen

 

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