Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hotel Room Gourmet: Quick Tangy Honey Chicken

Matt and I are back in the hotel for a week and, after eating so well at his parents' in South Carolina, it's especially difficult to come back to meals of canned soup and instant oatmeal. Luckily, I've come up with a few recipes that are as enjoyable to eat as they are simple to prepare. Like most of my dishes in these days of hotel room mini-fridges and microwaves, this recipe was born of necessity; the necessity of keeping meal ideas fresh, with only a handful of ingredients and limited cooking utensils at my disposal. Matt is not always thrilled with my endless need to experiment, but even he has embraced this recipe wholeheartedly, requesting that I make when we visited his mom last weekend.

Though it contains no traditional Asian ingredients, this dish was inspired by a new favorite from our local Chinese restaurant, and I think the finished product pretty closely approximates the original. Since it was designed for hotel-room cooking, it's also probably one of the easiest and simplest recipes I'll ever share - so let's get on with it!

Annnnnd... the plastic plate is back!

Four Ingredient Tangy Honey Chicken
serves two

2 chicken breasts (or 8 oz chicken), cut in 1-2 inch chunks and sprinkled with ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons Thick Worcestershire Sauce*
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 -1/2 cup water
*If you don't have the Thick variety, you can blend 2 Tbs regular Worcestershire Sauce with 1-2 Tbs flour. Just be sure to add slowly to avoid lumps!

In a small bowl, combine honey, Worcestershire Sauce and 1/4 cup water. Set aside. In a large frying pan, heat a small amount of oil (olive oil works great, but we also loved trying it with coconut oil!) over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until no longer pink inside. Pour blended sauce over chicken and stir to coat.  Sauce should be somewhat watery.  Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to cook until sauce is reduced - it should thicken and coat the chicken like a glaze. If desired, add additional water to deglaze the pan for a richer flavor (I usually do this once or twice) before reducing sauce again.  Serve with stir-fried veggies and rice. Enjoy!

This post is linked at:
33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays

A Memorable Weekend

This weekend, Matt and I drove down to visit his family in South Carolina where we...

Great garage sale finds - does anyone else remember these?

Fresh South Carolina Peaches (these may make an appearance in jam-form later!)

Bought some apple butter here!

and even Baked:
Chocolate Chip Cookies with a secret ingredient...Coconut Oil!

Memorial Day is important to us so it was great to be able to spend it with family. Stay tuned this week for more updates and an AMAZING chocolate chip cookie recipe using heart-healthy coconut oil!!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Travel Tips: Best Books to Read Before You Roam

Image by Alan Levine

One of my favorite lazy afternoon things to do when I'm house-, or in this case, hotel-bound is to browse travel websites. Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, but somehow gazing at photos of far-flung locales and reading about the adventures of others helps me to momentarily forget my own stationary condition.

If you hadn't guessed, from all the content I've highlighted on this blog, one of my go-to sites for e-tourism is Lonely Planet. Their articles are thought provoking, their photos lovely to look at, and even if you don't agree with all of the opinions they put forth, you can be sure of finding some lively discussion and debate both in each article's comments section and in their Thorn Tree forum.

Lonely Planet was one of the first travel-themed websites I uncovered as a young teen in England, preparing to set off on my first African adventure in the summer of 2001. I was drawn in by the wealth of articles and gleaned a lot of valuable information from the forum, so it makes sense that I would return eagerly and often. They're always updating their content - essential practice for any travel site that wants to stay relevant - and recently added a new feature that I just had to share. If there's anything I love as much as baking and travel, it's reading and now LP offers a condensed list of Travel Books to Read Before You Go.

Grouped by region and country, the list is extensive and offers readings from genres as diverse as Social Anthropology, Memoir, Humor, Politics and Fiction. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a good place for a traveler to begin researching their destination of choice and a great place for a bibliophile to lose themselves for a year or two. I can just imagine an armchair traveler's intense delight at discovering this trove of titles!

We're visiting Matt's parents in South Carolina this weekend and I took advantage of the long drive to finish up French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew, another of Peter Mayle's delightful books about Provence. His books go down smoothly, like the fine French wines about which he writes, and I'm always amazed at how just a few lines can transport me to another place entirely. For a few hours yesterday afternoon, I wasn't sitting in traffic in storm-soaked Tennessee, but relaxing on a terrace in the sun-drenched south of France.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I've always loved travel literature and, over the years, I've collected a few favorite authors and some favorite works. I had fun searching LP's list for some of these favorites (Paul Theroux, James Michener, Robert Falcon Scott, Somerset Maugham, to name but a few) but what surprised me most was just how many of the titles I hadn't read. Thanks to LP, my to-read list is now about a mile long, but I'm not complaining! If you've ever found refuge in a travel book or taken an armchair trip around the globe, you must read this list - search for your old favorites, discover new ones or use it to plan a future adventure.

While we're at it, what are some of your favorite travel/location inspired reads? I've always been a big fan of James Michener, but also love Frances Mayes' portrayal of rural Tuscany or Paul Theroux's account of hair-raising adventures on the Trans-Siberian.  Even with my recently expanded to-read list, I'm always looking for recommendations!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New on Yahoo: The Food of Northern Spain

An unassumingly delicious traveler's lunch: Wine from a monastery, mussels and the best churro ever!

A year ago at this time, I was still walking my way across Spain on the Camino de Santiago.  It was a remarkable journey, not just physically and mentally, but also gastronomically. So many of my best memories involve the foods I shared with fellow walkers - simple, hearty potato omelettes, startlingly fresh seafood, juicy, ripe cherries from a roadside vendor, and my first taste of fresh, boiled chestnuts...to name just a few!  I've collected some of my edible impressions in an article recently published on the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Writing the article was a great trip down memory lane for me and I hope, if you read it, you'll find it just as entertaining and enlightening.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There's an App for That: Free World Nomads Language Guides!

Any world traveler knows that a having few words of the local lingo on the tip of your tongue can really elevate your global experiences. Whether you're offering a polite 'please' or 'thank you,' asking directions to the nearest local hotspot, or trading jokes with new travel buddies, it helps to have a few common phrases at the ready.

In the past, this meant schlepping armfuls of phrase-books, thumbing through dog-eared pages and pointing at the more unpronounceable words. Thankfully, technology has significantly changed the traveling game in recent years. With the advent of the iPhone, language learning became digital and portable; now, whether you're searching for the Rathaus in a Bavarian town or shopping at a panaderia in southern Spain, there's an app for that.

World Nomads is an Australia-based company that, in addition to offering travel insurance, hosts a wide-ranging and stimulating travel community site. Here, travelers can upload photos, browse articles, research destinations, and post to personal travel journals.  The site is free and full of good information, but one of the most useful features is their collection of free, downloadable language podcasts.  Available in 25 languages, including Swahili, Croatian, Nepali and even Aussie Slang, these guides can be downloaded as an iPhone App or, for those less technologically enabled (like myself!), as an mp3.  You can pick and chose your desired languages or subscribe to their podcast to collect the whole set!

The free versions provide a 15 minute lesson in the basics, but if that's not enough for you there are low-cost 'plus' versions available for several languages. I'm not affiliated with World Nomads, I just enjoy browsing their site and think they've developed a handy tool that deserves to be shared. So before you hit the road on your next global adventure, get online and check them out!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hotel Room Gourmet: Egg-free, Edible Cookie Dough and Cookie Dough Rice Krispie Squares

Another weekend, another round of hotel-room baking - I just can't seem to help myself! Like some my earlier forays into hotel room cooking, this simple treat was inspired by ingredients collected from our hotel's complimentary breakfast.  I added some of our store-bought cookie dough and marshmallows to some complimentary crisp rice cereal (and a bit of butter) and - voila - a new ultra-convenience treat was born.

The cookie dough is heated in this recipe, but I'm not really sure whether you can consider it baked...so, for those of you who are worried about things like salmonella, I'm including a recipe for egg-free cookie dough.  It's designed to be eaten raw and tastes just like the real thing. Make this recipe once and your girls' nights will never be the same (I just wish I'd known about this when I was still in the slumber party stage!).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Where in the World?: How Many of Lonely Planet's 'Must-Eats' Have You Tasted?

Matt and I are still without a home address for at least a few more weeks, so while my beloved Budget Travel magazines are being delivered to my in-laws, I've been poring over more online travel and food articles. I unearthed this little 'best of' at Lonely Planet, where they detail seven 'must-eats' named for their geographical birthplace.

Of the seven (Buffalo Wings, Peking Duck, Yorkshire Pudding, Salad Ni├žoise, Nanaimo Bars, Mole Poblano and Singapore Chili Crab) I've eaten only two: I've already professed my love for Yorkshire Pudding, and the Anchor Bar, home of the original Buffalo wings, is just a drive away from my Mum's home in NY. Of course, they all sound delicious - particularly the Peking duck and chili crab!

Cornish Pasty in Cambridge
This article got me thinking about other foods that bear geographical appellations.  There are a few debatable choices, such as Champagne (not technically a food...) and a whole host of cheeses (Wensleydale, Stilton, Cheddar, etc.), but also some other legitimate entries that might possibly give LP's picks a run for their money:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hotel Room Gourmet: Ham and Asparagus Soup

You may be relieved to hear that we've seen the last of the Vegas posts! There's so much to do in that city that I could write about it endlessly - but for those who are stuck at home, and far from the bright lights and busy streets of Sin City, I know the topic quickly loses its novelty. Before I launch into the next segment of our travels (stay tuned to find out what that is!) I thought I'd give you another little snapshot of our current situation.

Yep, we live near Nashville now!

Matt and I reached our ultimate destination, western Tennessee, a few weeks ago but have had the worst time trying to find a house.  We viewed several properties and drove past literally dozens more, without finding anything that was both suitable and available.  Finally we settled on an apartment - which won't be vacated until June! In the meantime, we're living the high life in a hotel.

It's nice to have fresh linens and daily access to a free cold breakfast bar, but even that doesn't really make up for the lack of a place to call our own - a closet in which to hang our increasingly wrinkled clothes, our own bed (with decent pillows!) to collapse into each night and, most importantly, a kitchen in which to cook all sorts of nourishing and delicious things.

As the weeks have drawn on, we've become more creative in our hotel room cooking.  In an effort to resist the stereotypical instant oatmeal, ramen noodles and microwave cookies (okay, maybe we didn't resist the cookies), we've become experts at poaching fish in our tiny frying pan, and whipping up mini stir-fries for two.  Matt has even perfected the George Foreman Panini - made with bagels from the morning breakfast bar.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Little Pizza My Heart

Are the pizza puns getting old, yet? I certainly hope not because, as much as I love pizza, I'm sure there'll be more in the future!

About a week after our extensive Las Vegas pizza adventures, Matt and I were ready to test the waters again - this time at Pier 49 Pizza in St. George, Utah. A long day of driving and a lot of over-booked hotels meant that we were running late on our way to Southern Utah's Zion Canyon. We reached St. George a little past dinner time and swiftly headed to the first, non fast-food restaurant we could find. That this turned out to be yet another pizza place was coincidence; that it turned out to be Pier 49 was luck.

This chain specializes in gourmet, 'San Francisco Style Sourdough Pizza,' and though we were previously unaware that San Francisco even had a style of pizza, we were willing to give it a try. Their menu is extensive - in addition to a selection of 21 toppings, 5 cheeses and 6 sauces, their boards boast thirteen San Fransisco-themed specialty pizzas, ranging from the sea-food topped 'Fisherman's Wharf' to the heavily laden 'Alcatraz,' Pier 49's version of the 'supreme.' There is also a selection of salads, sandwiches and appetizers which, out of sheer hunger, we completely ignored. Matt opted for the 'Trolley' (pepperoni, ham and sausage) while I kept it simple with a 'Tourist' (a blend of 6 cheeses and Spinach Alfredo sauce).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Best Free Things to Do in Las Vegas (Part II)

There are so many free things to do in Las Vegas that I had to spilt them into two posts! Check out the highlights in my Y!CN article or catch up on Part I if you missed it, and then read on to discover even more attractions that are guaranteed to entertain without emptying your wallet (sadly, I can't say the same for the poker tables and slot machines):

Sirens of TI at Treasure Island: One of the more lengthy free shows, this display involves a lot of drama as a group of pirates, complete with giant, mobile Man-o-War, take on the Sirens of TI - a band of 'sexy temptresses.' It's a little more 'adult' than some of the other street shows and takes place in front of Treasure Island at 7pm, 8:30, 10 and 11:30pm each evening.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Best Free Things to Do in Las Vegas (Part I)

Our two weeks in Las Vegas left me with a wealth of travel tips, but this two-part post is for the budget conscious (or newly budget conscious, just in case you find yourself in Vegas and out of luck!). A visit to Sin City can be hugely expensive or surprisingly cheap, depending on how well you plan ahead and how you want to spend your time. The Strip certainly isn't just for gamblers and there are lots of inexpensive, family-friendly options as well. Here are a few sinfully inexpensive favorites:

Welcome to Las Vegas Sign: No visit to Vegas would be complete without a photo in front of this iconic sign. Located on the Strip just south of Mandalay Bay, the sign has been gracing photos and drawing crowds since 1959. It's a small drive from the usual Vegas attractions, but a new parking area makes visiting easy at any time of day, provided there aren't too many tour buses.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Happens in Vegas...

....sometimes shows up on the Yahoo Contributor Network! I have my last two Vegas posts coming up this week - I think they'll be informative, since they deal with budget-friendly entertainment on the Strip - but you can get a preview of some of the information in my first YCN-published article: Best Free Things to Do in Las Vegas.

Today is Matt's birthday and we're celebrating with a friend across the border in Kentucky.  She has a real oven and, since Matt requested a giant cookie for his birthday, I might even get the chance to actually bake. I'm way more excited than the occasion warrants! Happy Birthday to Matt...and happy baking to me!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kitchen-less Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Inspired by Lonely Planet's hotel room gourmet, Matt and I decided to try our hand at some oven-free, hotel room baking this past week.  We're approaching our seventh week without a kitchen - a tough state of affairs for a food blogger, I can assure you - and the things we miss most are fresh veggies and fresh-from-the-oven baked goods.  We recently fixed the veggie problem with lots of leaf spinach and sauteed asparagus, but the baking issue has presented more of a challenge. Armed with only a hot plate and a microwave, we finally got creative with some store-bought cookie dough, and turned up some interesting results.

When this project was still in the conceptual stages, Matt and I were divided as to wether the microwave or the stovetop would produce the best results. I was quite confident in my choice of the stovetop, but you can judge the results for yourself:

Last Place: Stovetop Cookies
We baked these cookies in a non-stick frying pan on an electric burner. It was hard to control the heat and the cookies tended to break apart or stick to the spatula during flipping. When we left them long enough to flip easily, they turned out hard and burnt. Grade: F

Stovetop Cookies = stovetop doorstops!

Second Place: George Foreman Cookies
This version required some real creativity! After our failure on the stovetop, we came up with this idea in order to cook both sides at once (and, yes, we brought our own George Foreman on our road trip with us!). This method was sound in theory, but in practice the metal grating of the grill resulted in cookies that, while perfectly browned, got all mashed up. Grade: B- (the idea was ingenious and the taste was great - too bad the cookies were ugly!)

George Foreman = mushy, but tasty

First Place: Microwave Cookies
Maybe the microwave cooking craze of the 1980s was on to something - our nuked batch came out best. They lack the gorgeous browned edges of traditional cookies (the George Foreman came closest to replicating this feature) and looked a little bit like astronaut food, but they tasted like ordinary chocolate chips and - bonus! - didn't come out blackened or in mushed into little pieces! This was also the quickest method; perfect for those moments when you must...have...a...cookie...now.

Magic Microwave Cookies = strangely delicious

Now, I'm not advocating pre-made doughs and microwave baking as the gold standard, by any means, but for those rare occasions when you're seized by a cookie craving with no oven in sight (or you have to live out of a hotel for six straight weeks), 45 seconds in the microwave is definitely your best bet.

Magic Microwave Cookies
adapted from our desperate need to do some 'baking' and have 'real' cookies

1 tub/tube/tray pre-made Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (you could try this with the real stuff...but why would you?)

To make a single microwave cookie, place a 1-inch ball of dough on a microwave safe plate and cook for 35-45 seconds on high.  Cooking time will need to be increased for larger batches.  Cookies are done when surface 'bubbles' and no longer looks doughy. The cookies will be extremely hot after cooking and should be left to cool for a couple of minutes - I guess it's not quite instant gratification, after all.

This post is linked to:
Sweet as Sugar Cookies: Sweets for a Saturday

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lonely Planet's Hotel Room Home-Cooking!

Getting a little tired of the Vegas posts? Me too. I still have a few that I want to write (including the all-important 'Best Free Things to Do in Las Vegas') but I'll take a little break and show you a great clip I discovered during our travels.

Though Matt and I have finally reached the end of our cross-country road trip, we're still sleeping in hotel rooms and living out of suitcases until we can find a new place to call home. After six weeks on the road, the novelty has worn a little thin and I think we're both eager to be settling down and establishing some sort of routine. One of the things I miss most is being able to cook - which is why I loved this video clip from the Lonely Planet e-newsletter. Our current hotel room actually has a little stovetop so I haven't had to resort to these desperate measures, but I give them points for ingenuity!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Our Fremont Street Experience

Fremont Bokeh
There's a lot more to Las Vegas than the bright lights and crazy crowds of the Strip - an assertion I've tried to prove positive with my ramblings about finding amazing Thai food in a dodgy-strip mall, taking a walk down wedding chapel alley and exercising my taste buds in a Las Vegas pizza showdown. Of course, if there's any place as well-known and well-traveled as the Strip, it's Las Vegas' Fremont Street.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Goin' to the Chapel: Las Vegas Wedding Chapel Tour!

What sort of Las Vegas blog series would this be without an homage to that staple of Vegas lore - the quickie wedding chapel? Not a very good one, of course, so I'm remedying this omission with a picture post. There's a whole street full of quirky, quaint and unusual chapels just north of the Strip - here are some of the highlights:

None of these catch your fancy? Well, what about these (note the drive-thru option and one of the many Elvis-officiated venues):

And for the picky, quickie bride, here are even more options:

Ahhh, Vegas is so romantic!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The 'Best of' Las Vegas Hotels

While most people spend their days in Las Vegas hoping to strike it rich on the casino floor, I spent my time pretending I was rich as I swanned through the fabulous hotels. I admit it, I love people watching and I'm entranced by pretty, shiny things - the famous hotels of the Las Vegas Strip have plenty of both.  During my three visits to Las Vegas, I've spent hours wandering through miles and miles of opulent hallways, discovering hidden features and making a mental list of my favorites.  What follows is my personal list of Las Vegas Superlatives:

Water feature at Mandalay Bay
All-time Favorite: Mandalay Bay
Tucked away at the far southern end of the Strip, this hotel seems much less chaotic and harried than many of the others.  It's not cute (New York, New York) or gimmicky (Excalibur) or ridiculously lavish (Wynn or Bellagio), but it has an atmosphere of almost colonial elegance that, in my opinion, sets it apart from the rest.  It also has a free monorail service, connecting it to the Luxor and the Excalibur, which makes it more accessible than you might think.

Eavesdropping on a wedding at the Venetian - so romantic!
Best Theme: Luxor and the Venetian
These two hotels really trade on an element of fantasy.  The Luxor is dark and mysterious - obelisks tower over the lobby and the casino floor - while the Venetian works hard to create the outdoors indoors, replicating St. Marks Square and the canals of Venice, complete with serpentine alleys, countless footbridges and singing gondoliers.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vegas is Sweet!

For all it's many and varied attractions, Las Vegas is also a sweet spot for sugar addicts. Cash and calories may have limited my hands-on experience, but that certainly didn't stop me from doing a fair amount of window shopping! Here are some of my favorite, sweet selections:

The wall o' candies at M&M's World!
M&M's World: In short, this is a four-story paradise on the Strip for fans of the beloved "melts-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand" candy. The store boasts every kind of M&M merchandise imaginable (think toys, pillows, bedclothes, kitchenware, jewelry and even undies!) but it's much more than just a retail location - there's also an in-store movie theatre, which shows shorts featuring the M&M's characters, and lots of information about the history of M&M's. Even if you're not a candy lover (or you're saving your cash for the casinos) a walk around the shop floor is entertaining and the wall of bulk colored candies is impressive. This is also a great place to take the kids for an hour or two - just don't let them get too hopped up on sugar!

Ethel M's Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden: After visiting M&M's World, you can see where it all started at Ethel M's Chocolate Factory. Located away from the Strip, in nearby Henderson, NV, this factory was started by Forrest Mars Sr. and named for his mother, Ethel. As all good chocolate lovers know, Mars is the company responsible for bringing us a wealth of tasty treats, including Mars Bars, Snickers, Dove and...M&M's!

The factory offers free tours (and free samples!) every day of the week. Due to their 'small-batch' philosophy, I've visited twice and never seen the machines in operation, but it's still worth a visit.  The whole factory smells wonderfully of chocolate and the quality of their product is great. The site is also home to the Ethel M Botanical Cactus Garden, which boasts the one of Nevada's largest collections of cacti, with over 300 species of plants. There are paved paths meandering through the garden and the plants are labeled, with a bit of history and information for the amateur botanist. It's surprisingly entertaining and I think Matt and I spent more time with the cacti than we did in the factory!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Tasty: A Tale of Three Pizzas

Settebello, Las Vegas: Four Cheese? Yes, please!

The title of this post was suggested by one Matt's favorite movies, which is appropriate since the subject happens to be one of his favorite foods. In fact, Matt is so fond of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly that I had to promise to watch it with him when we got married (I made him watch A&E's 5-hour Pride and Prejudice in return!).  I'm ashamed to say that I've yet to fulfill this promise, but we have shared countless meals of this favorite food. It's amazing to me that no matter how many times you eat it, pizza almost never gets old.  We indulged in this favorite meal a few times in Las Vegas and this post is the story of our experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas

If you're a fan of Thai food and have ever been to Las Vegas, you've probably heard of the Lotus of Siam. Tucked away on the back side of a particularly unpromising-looking Sahara Avenue strip mall, this unassuming restaurant has been heralded, by Gourmet magazine, as the "single best Thai restaurant in North America."

I discovered the Lotus on a visit to Las Vegas a few years ago, after reading rave reviews online. My sister and I searched out it's remote location and waited in line, with an assortment of locals and sharp-suited businessmen, for their popular lunch buffet. The restaurant was so small and the food so good that the line of eager patrons stretched out into the parking lot for the duration of our stay. Buffet philosophy seems to run in favor of quantity over quality, but the Lotus breaks with this tradition, offering a limited selection of excellent dishes.  I was particularly impressed by their Pad See Ew (rich, flavorful and not too oily) and their Green Curry (perfectly spiced and slightly sweet), and it's a testament to their food that the memory of this meal brought me back all these years later!