Geek. Pirate. Mom

The Life and Times of Whitney Drake

Archive for August, 2009

Trip Report: Las Vegas Days 2-4

Morning.

Las Vegas at 7:30 in the morning is a strange thing. I woke when there was enough light to illuminate our room- even though we’re facing the west. It’s one of those unfortunate quirks, that reminds me that even though I proclaim I’m not: I am more of a morning person than a night person.

Ronnie sleeps in the giant sized bed. It is large enough that even with my tossing and turning and his tossing and turning, neither of us woke the other. So I find myself, just as I did yesterday after our nap, looking out the window at Sin City. But it’s a different place.

Today is less windy than yesterday, and there are only a handful of people taking advantage of the pools being empty. Instead, I find myself watching employees at the pool preparing the cabanas for the day and checking the lounge chairs for any sort of damage.

The strip itself seems like any normal street at 7:30 am. There are cars driving, but none of that usual traffic jam that Las Vegas Blvd can be. Very few people walking along the street, even though the temperatures are much more comfortable than they will be in a few hours. I’ve seen several runners, and some people out for morning walks. But the vast groups of tourists are apparently sleeping in.

The signs are all going full tilt. We’re across the street from Fashion Show LV (a very lovely mall, I’m sure) which has four very large screens bombarding visitors with ads. Some for nearby shows (I’ve seen ads for Wayne Brady and Phantom- both of which are at the Venetian/Palazzo complex) and one for the ipod touch. I never want to see that ad again.

The rest of the day. Read More…

Trip Report: Vegas, Day One

Roadtrips are wonderful, especially road trips to Las Vegas. The first time we (Ronnie and I) went, it was just a couple weeks shy of my 21st birthday. (I’d been to Las Vegas a couple times with my family, but you have to admit, Las Vegas as a kid is an entirely different experience) At the time, we were working at Disneyland and going to school. January was (and still is) the slowest month at the Park. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, everyone stays home. Consequently, there aren’t many shifts during the week. January was still part of the winter holiday for me, as I never took part in the Winter Semester. So we could take off in the middle of the week, as we did, for Sin City.

The first trip was largely just to see the sights, since I couldn’t gamble. It was during the CES convention, so Las Vegas was packed. We (our group also included three other friends) crammed ourselves into a room at the Travelodge next to Circus Circus. I had a cold, and was taking plenty of medicine to keep myself from making everyone ill. Mostly, we ate. We walked along the Strip, went to the Forum Shops. Mostly, it was the journey that made the trip fun.

Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you have to make a couple stops along the way- either to fill up with gas, to get a bite to eat, use facilities, or just to stretch your legs. This trip, we left our house around 10 am, got some Starbucks and headed off.

It didn’t take long for us to get to Barstow, which is always one of our stops. The first few trips, we stopped at Barstow Station – a run down little cluster of shops with a Taco Bell, Quiznos and McDonald’s thrown in. The most notable part about it is that you dine in the train cars at the McDonald’s. It was where we’d all stopped as kids, so we stopped there, and looked at the candy shop, at the variety of bizarre hot sauces.

But the Big Boy never left! This time, we stopped near the outlet mall. There’s a Del Taco, an In n Out, and now a Bob’s Big Boy (“The Big Boy never left, Sir. He still offers quality food at reasonable prices!”). We gassed up, and went to the Del Taco. Barstow’s the home of Del Taco, as they’ll proudly tell you, and the food’s just a little different than the rest of their chain. The chicken soft tacos are larger, for one. The first time we’d stopped there, we made our usual order, and the woman looked at us like we were insane. Five tacos for two people? Then we saw how large they were, and understood. This particular Del Taco is a well oiled machine. They deliver the food to your table, have people monitoring the tables to make sure they’re cleaned promptly, that you get bags to take your excess food in, and that you always have enough hot sauce.

Read More…

Oven Fried Chicken

Years ago, my husband and I had made the conscious decision to get DSL rather than pay for cable service. So we sat, for hours on end, adjusting our antenna to make sure that the broadcast stations came through loud and clear. Then, years later, we realized we were doing well enough to afford cable (and a precious DVR).

Finally, I would have what I’d been longing for. The Food Network. (To imagine my excitement, you have to hear a heavenly choir of angels singing every time you say it- The Food Network)

In the years that have followed, it’s been the channel that I’d leave on when I needed background noise. I nursed my second child while watching. I assume this is why, at the age of nearly 2, he’ll sit on the floor and watch an entire show with me. Or why he loves to watch Ratatouille.

All of that said, I’m much more a fan of Ina Garten and Alton Brown than say… Paula Deen or Rachael Ray. While both have their merits, usually their shows are on as background noise. But this recipe caught my eye. Paula Deen’s oven fried chicken. Not because it’s simple (it is) or because I love dijon mustard (I do). But it’s an egg free recipe. Not only that, it’s one that you could easily make wheat-free as well. Definitely one to add to your dinner rotation (it’s been added to ours!)

Oven Fried Chicken

Source: Paula’s Best Dishes (Paula Deen)

Ingredients

2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly minced thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 -inch thickness

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place a cooling rack on the baking sheet. Spray cooling rack liberally with non-stick spray (you’ll be cooking the chicken on this).

Pound your chicken to 1/4 inch thickness. If you don’t have a meat mallet, use a pan that has a decent weight to it. (Note: I didn’t have full chicken breasts, but had tenders)

In a shallow dish, combine the dry ingredients for the crust – the panko crumbs, parmesan cheese, thyme, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper this mixture to taste.

In another dish, combine the wet ingredients. 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the dijon mustard and water. Also salt and pepper this to taste.

Coat each piece of chicken thoroughly with the mustard, then dredge into the bread crumbs. Place on wire rack and repeat until you’ve finished all the chicken.

Place in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is a golden brown.

Thoughts

This was a really fast recipe to assemble, and used ingredients that I always have on hand. My oldest son is nearly four and a picky eater, so I was worried that he wouldn’t want to try the chicken- but not only ate it, but proclaimed that it was yummy. He also was happy to see that we had leftovers, and happily ate it reheated. As I said earlier, it’s found a home in our dinner rotation.

On adapting it for allergies: My youngest had severe food allergies, so I plan on trying this with a crushed puffed rice cereal in place of the panko crumbs and a sheep’s milk cheese in place of the parmesan. The recipe itself is egg-free and can easily be made wheat-free or gluten-free by making substitutions for the panko.

Pan-fried Crostini w/ Bruschetta

Recipe time! After seeing the movie- I prepared the first meal that we see Julie Powell make (pre-Project, for those wondering). Bruschetta with a pan-fried bread. It’s quite a simple recipe (I made it in practically no time at all- even after I accidentally burnt the first batch of bread)

Bruschetta ala Julie and Julia
from The Hungry Novelist

Ingredients

For the crostini:
French bread (the wider loaf, not a thin baguette- though if you’re doing a party, those are great, too)
Olive oil
One clove of garlic

For the bruschetta:
Tomatoes (good quality)
Fresh Basil
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

The simplest part of the recipe is the bruschetta. Simply roughly chop your tomatoes, removing the core and seeds if they don’t look edible. Toss them in a little bit of olive oil (the original recipe called for 16 oz of tomatoes, and 1 T of olive oil) and sea salt. I added a tiny bit of pepper as well. Then, tear the basil into bite size pieces and set aside for the moment (to make sure that the basil doesn’t get soggy, it’s added at the last minute)

The crostini is pretty easy, too. But as I mentioned, you might want to keep an eye on the bread- I did burn mine the first time. In a non-stick skillet, heat 3 T of olive oil. Add in your bread (don’t overcrowd the pan) and cook until one side is a golden brown. Flip the bread and add more olive oil, if necessary – the bread will soak up the oil as it cooks. Remove as soon as they’re golden brown to a paper towel. Take your clove of garlic and rub the toast (both sides).

When all your toasts are done, top with the bruschetta and enjoy!

Review: Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron’s latest movie, is actually the story of three separate books. Combining Julia Child’s memoir “My Life in Paris” with Julie Powell’s memoir “Julie & Julia,” the story cuts back and forth between the two women’s lives.

Critics have said that the film lacked a uniting thread, since the two women never meet. But it’s right there, in all it’s glory- Julia Child (and Simone Beck)’s own opus, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Even before Julia becomes involved in creating it, the book is there. We know that she’ll write it, and we know that it will help define her career. And through Julie’s project of completing all the recipes in the book within a year- it’s impossible to ignore The Book’s presence.

Meryl Streep gives another amazing performance as Julia Child, embodying her so fully that even when watching one of Child’s most famous television appearances being re-enacted by Streep, that it wasn’t jarring in my mind. Amy Adams, as Julie Powell, gives a terrific performance as well. Few articles have said much about the performance, save that they felt Powell was too self-absorbed to embrace as a heroine. Yet, that’s the point. Julie Powell, the real Julie Powell, has a reputation amongst the food community as being self-absorbed and not entirely personable.

That said, the movie is about two very different (and yet similar) women seeking to find themselves through food. Through plenty of beautifully prepared, gorgeously shot food.

As a food enthusiast, a fan of Julia (and Julie Powell’s blog), and as someone who enjoys movies, I highly recommend it.

Recipe: Lucy's Lemon Squares

Source: Peanuts Cookbook

I looked forward to summer for these. I never quite believed my mom that these were easy to make- simply because they tasted so darn good!

My family has always loved lemon (my Grandmother has a “famous” lemon meringue recipe that we’ve all tried, and failed, to duplicate).  So it was extremely lucky that my husband loves lemons are well.  I was trying to decide what to bake one day, and his request was “something with lemons.”  Knowing how tricky meringue can be to pull off in the middle of a hot summer, I turned to these lemon bars.

The Husband loved them, but my neatnik of a son decided that he didn’t like them (the lemon portion was too sticky, but it was yummy, he said). I’m sure that he’ll come around! Forgive the horrible picture, all I had at the time was my cameraphone.

Lucy’s Lemon Squares

The crust:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour and sugar into a bowl.  Blend in butter with clean fingertips until well mixed.  Pat evenly into the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch baking pan (no need to grease it, but if you’re worried you can’t get it out, feel free to line with parchment paper!).  Bake for 20 minutes.

The filling:

2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
dash of salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, and pour over baked crust. Return to oven for 20-25 minutes at same temperature. Cool on rack, and cut into squares. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar.

Yield depends on the how small you cut the squares.

Welcome!

Starting soon, this blog will be filled with my culinary journey to reaquaint myself (and my family) to the joys of home cooking.

I’ve always had a deep love of food. My childhood is filled with great memories of both my mother and my father creating amazing meals. My mom was a stay at home mom, and was blessed with the gift of culinary improvisation. Every time I watch Chopped, I think of her. If we hadn’t made it to the grocery story that day, I remember her opening a fairly bare pantry and grabbing a few cans of essentials and throwing together an amazing meal. My mom also loved to bake, and I remember watching her experiment with her “famous” chocolate chip cookies. Or help me make my favorite cookies, snickerdoodles. My dad had worked at a restaurant during college, and would make Eggs Benedict on special occasions. To this day, though I’m not fond of eggs, I’d never turn down my dad’s Eggs Benedict. (I’ve tried the dish at fine restaurants, and it somehow isn’t the same) Even now, I watch him make fish or steak and marvel at how ingrained the motions still are. How, without even thinking, he’ll touch the meat to see whether or not it’s as done as he’d like.

Things were, at our house, more often than not made from scratch. While we did usually have boxes of cake mix, and boxes of rice pilaf… most everything was from fresh ingredients. For the most part, this wasn’t for love of the ingredients. It was out of necessity. My sister was severely allergic to several foods, and there weren’t many alternative products for those allergic to wheat. Of course, there were simply things that couldn’t be duplicated. Like tacos. Tacos were a big deal in my house, because it meant my parents would be frying. Soft tacos? Premade shells? They just weren’t done in my house. (For those aghast, bean burros were quite typical in our house- burros, just small burritos)

Then came the vegetarian years. From about 12 until 18, my family were vegetarians. Well, we ate fish and dairy, but cut out the poultry and beef- not that we ate much beef in our house before that. Consequently, by the time I graduated, I knew about cooking seafood. But nothing about any other sort of meat.

In college, I was lured to the carnivore side by my husband who introduced me to such forbidden thrills as Jack in the Box’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich and In-N-Out burgers. After college, I started working full time (as did he) and suddenly, there wasn’t much time to cook. We ate healthy food as much as we could, but relied on prepackaged meals from Trader Joe’s (though admittedly, there was a lot of fast food in there).

Then came my children. I’m currently a stay at home mom, and eager to be able to make foods that my youngest can eat (he has food allergies) or that my oldest will eat… I’m delving into the realm of cooking. So I’ll be chronicling my various attempts to make good meals, learn culinary skills, and to bake fabulous foods.

While I admit that I’m a little shaky when it comes to preparing meats, I’ve never had a problem baking. So expect this blog to be fairly heavy in the baked goods.

With love, luck, and lots of great food,

-Whitney

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