Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vegas Escape

Polar vortex. Single digit and below zero wind chills. Snow and more snow. Not enough sunlight. We needed an escape from winter. So we went to Las Vegas last weekend!

The famous Las Vegas sign on our last day

It was a very last minute trip, so much so that we were able to check weather forecasts before booking the trip. So much of the country was projected to be cold and/or wet, the Caribbean was a bit out of our budget this year, and flights to and from California and Florida were pretty packed. The best options appeared to be Albuquerque and Vegas, so we chose to return to Las Vegas to see a different (off-Strip) side of it. It wasn't as warm as we had hoped (not shorts weather) but it was a welcome escape from the frigid Northeast. This time we're determined to finish our recaps before our memories fade, unlike so many of our other trips! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Week 4 - Lima Beans Part II

As I mentioned in the original post about the Week 4 challenge, I am no fan of lima beans. To challenge myself to like this "ingredient I hated as a kid," I found two potential lima bean recipes. Since the first didn't succeed, I was hoping the second - for easy lima beans - would make me like lima beans. The reviews for the recipe were mostly favorable - comments like "I am converted to a lima bean lover" and "very tasty" and "outstanding" from non-lima bean people convinced me that this would be the one to get me to like lima beans. Would it work?


- 1 bag of frozen lima beans ($2.69)
- 1 onion ($0.50)
- chicken broth ($0.10)
- cooking spray for sauteing onions ($0.05)
- salt and pepper for seasoning ($0.05)

Fairly inexpensive, about $3.40. But there aren't many ingredients involved.


1. Spray saucepan with cooking spray. Saute onions until translucent.

2. Pour in chicken broth and bring to boil.

3. Once boiling, add lima beans.

4. Stir together lima beans and onions.

5. Add enough water to cover the lima beans and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 30 minutes until the beans are tender.

6. Since not all of the liquid in the pot evaporated, I let it simmer longer without the cover on. It didn't really reduce that much though.


The lima beans this time were less chalky, probably because they were simmering in chicken broth for so long, but they were still dry and bland. After cooking in the broth, the onions were flavorless, the beans were flavorless, and the salt and pepper I added seemed to do absolutely nothing. It wasn't just me. A agreed with me that this recipe was really bland and flavorless. The other lima bean recipe was clearly better, in our opinion. I had to eat the rest of this for lunch as leftovers, and the only way to make it palatable was to use the rest of the broth as "soup" and dump in lots of red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, cumin, parsley and garlic powder. It's like the flavorless black bean soup all over again.

I do know one thing for sure - this dish did not make me like lima beans. It did not convert me to a lima bean lover. If anything, this week's experiment has convinced me that nothing will make me like lima beans. At least I can say that I gave it my best shot.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Geoffrey Zakarian's Heirloom Bean Soup

It's been a while since I wrote about a Hale and Hearty soup, but I think with the way weather in NYC has been going, it was time to revisit the New York mecca of soup. Lucky me that they brought back the Chef's Series for another round, and this was the first 2-week series. Geoffrey Zakarian brings us his Heirlom Bean Soup.

Heirloom Bean Soup

They describe the soup as: "Appaloosa, Yellow Eye Steuben, Tongues of Fire… These are just some of the dozen exotic beans used in Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian's Heirloom Bean soup. This delicious, robust soup uses beans that have fantastic colors and superior flavor."

The soup starts with a base of onions, celery, tomato, green peppers, leeks, and garlic. It's also filled with tons of spices that I couldn't fully place. Obviously it is also chock full of beans as well. Lots and lots of different types of beans. The first thing I got from this soup was an intense hit of citrus. It was actually really refreshing considering that there was so much starchy bean matter loading the soup. In the end this was a refreshing yet hearty soup that was much lighter than I expected considering how dense the ingredients were, and it's one that, if brought back, I would gladly try again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coconut Marshmallow

First new custard review in a long time! In the middle of Winter Storm Janus, M stopped by Shake Shack and picked up some of the Tuesday custard flavor - coconut marshmallow.

M's thoughts:
This custard was the flavor of sweet shredded coconut in custard form. I love coconut so I was a fan of this. I didn't get much marshmallow, but (a) coconut is a stronger flavor and (b) I like coconut much more than marshmallows, so I didn't really miss it.

A's thoughts:
This was a really coconut-y custard, and it was really tasty. The custard itself was full of coconut flavor, and the shredded coconut added additional flavor as well as texture. I may not be as big a fan of coconut as M, but I do like it, and this was really good. I didn't taste any marshmallow, though, and I forgot it was coconut marshmallow until I just read the title again.

Coconut Marshmallow
A's rating: 8/10
M's rating: 8/10

Creamy Polenta

We like polenta, but we don't eat it that often. I've never made it "from scratch" but have now bought from Trader Joe's both the tubes of pre-cooked polenta (which were used in the tamale pie) and the creamy polenta ($2.99) from the frozen section. The frozen polenta looked like an easy side dish to heat up on a day when we would need something quickly.

When I took out the package, I thought maybe it had frozen into blocks because I kept it in the freezer door, so I was surprised to see that the "blocks" were actually the way it was supposed to look. They were large teardrop-shaped pieces of polenta surrounded by frozen vegetables (spinach and carrots). 

I followed the microwave instructions from the package. As the polenta cooked, the pieces started to melt and became softer and creamier.

We were really excited to try this, even if it wasn't the most attractive dish once it was all stirred up and ready to eat. It was okay. It was creamy and rich, but didn't have a ton of cornmeal flavor like you would expect from polenta. I was expecting it to have a really intense cornmeal flavor like the polenta tubes, but it didn't. It was much more subdued. The vegetables didn't add a whole lot either. They weren't easily distinguishable in flavor from any of the rest of the dish. The polenta just tasted like it needed a little extra something. Reading other people's reviews online now, and maybe it would have been better with a little salt or some grated parmesan.

Buy Again? Maybe, but probably not. It wasn't awful, but, given a choice between this and the tube, we would both probably pick the pre-cooked polenta tube instead. I know it's not the same as "real" polenta, but we really enjoy the firmer texture and the flavor. And then you can have tamale pie (among other things)!

Note: I started this post when we ate the frozen polenta over the summer. I think Trader Joe's still carries it, but we haven't bought it since, so I'm not 100% sure.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Alexander's Tea

Another post from the archives, this time from the end of June. Why did I not post anything in June when I wrote them?

I don't buy a lot of drinks (I usually just drink water), but when it's over 90 degrees and I'm on a long walk, I inevitably end up at Duane Reade looking for a good cold drink. Often it's Vitamin Water, but if there's something on sale for $1, it's more likely that. This time the sale was for New Jersey-based Alexander's Real Tea, which sounded good to me!

They had peach and raspberry, and I went with peach. The tea flavor wasn't very strong, but the peach flavor was nice and light. It wasn't overly sweet like some iced teas can be, but tasted more like actual fruit. I also liked that the ingredients had no artificial flavors, but relied on real cane sugar and natural flavors. I think you can taste the difference.

Would I get this again? I think I would. If there were water on sale, I'd probably get that instead since it's better hydration on a sweltering hot day, but this iced tea had a nice sweetness and was really refreshing.

(I love that I wrote this on a day when it was 90 degrees outside and the current weather is temperatures in the 20s with snow for at least the next 12 hours. What a contrast.)

Enchilada Casserole with Kale and Sweet Potatoes

Back to the draft archives... I wrote this post on June 12, 2013. As far as I can tell, the only thing I hadn't done yet was center the photos. I can't believe I still have all of these almost-finalized posts in the archives. Time to get them posted! This one is pretty much as-written from June.

When I was at Trader Joe's earlier this week, I spontaneously picked up another bag of kale since they had a cleaned and cut variety similar to the one from Wegmans. I had no idea if it would be cheaper to get fresh whole kale, but it certainly would take much more time to prepare. I remembered seeing a recipe in my web surfing that used kale in a casserole and I definitely wanted to try that out. The recipe below is adapted from this one that I found on SparkRecipes.


The total cost for the casserole was about $8. We were really hungry so we ate the entire thing, but I could see this working out to 3 portions if you're not starving. It's mostly vegetables so the portion size is pretty large.

The ingredients - disregard the corn salsa as I ended up not using it

- 1 large sweet potato ($0.49)
- 1 small onion or 1/2 of one large onion ($1)
- 1/2-2/3 tsp of cumin powder (or seed) ($0)
- 1 bag of cleaned and cut kale leaves (or chopped leaves from 1 bunch of kale) ($1.99)
- 1 can of black beans ($0.75)
- 1 can of tomato sauce ($1.49)
- 1/4-1/3 cup of chipotle salsa ($0.60)
- 1/2 cup of cheddar jack (or similar) cheese ($0.80)
- 3 green onions ($0.43)
- 7 corn tortillas cut in strips ($0.32)


Step 1:  Prepare the vegetables. Chop the onions and green onions. Grate the sweet potato.

Step 2:  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Step 3:  Coat baking dish (13x9x2) with cooking spray and place grated sweet potato as the bottom layer.

Step 4:  Add a layer of onions.

Step 5:  Sprinkle on cumin. 

Step 6:  Add the kale leaves. [They were higher than the baking dish once we layered them in.]

Step 7:  Drain and rinse the can of black beans. Add the layer of beans to the dish.

Step 8:  Add the can of tomato sauce and the chipotle salsa and layer as evenly as possible.

Step 9:  Add the green onions.

Step 10:  Sprinkle on as much cheese as you like. We love cheddar jack, especially when it's all melted and cheesy.

Step 11:  Cover the dish with corn tortillas. The original recipe called for 4, but that barely covered the dish so I used 7. I think it was just to weigh down the kale, so perhaps it didn't need to be fully covered and could have had some space inbetween.

Step 12:  Cover the dish and bake for 25 minutes.

Step 13:  Eat!


The casserole was pretty good. It was really tasty, the kale was soft (better than the last kale recipe), and all the vegetables came out well. The corn tortillas were crispy on top and I didn't particularly love them, but otherwise all the ingredients were delicious.

The only unexpected thing was that the casserole came out really watery. Most of the water did soak up by the time we went back for seconds, but it wasn't what we were expecting when we first spooned it out.

Would we make it again? (The true measure of a recipe.) I think we would, but maybe I would use only half the kale since it's not really that easy of a vegetable to digest. Maybe add some other vegetables and make a big vegetable casserole. So healthy and tasty!

Week 4 - Ingredient You Hated as a Kid

When I saw the theme for week 4 of the 52 week challenge - an ingredient you hated as a kid - I was initially stumped. What did I hate as a kid? (A hated nothing, so I couldn't use one of his for a theme meal.) I wasn't a big fan of seafood as a kid (what do you expect when people keep telling you it's chicken?) but got over that before I was a teenager. I never really liked artichokes until our Barcelona trip (and now I love them). Then I realized there was one thing I really disliked as a kid and still don't particularly like: lima beans. They're just so chalky and bland. It's not that I didn't eat them as a kid. I did. They were in every one of those mixed vegetable bags with the carrots, corn and peas. I just ate all of them first before any of the other food so I could get rid of them more quickly. Maybe this challenge could make me like lima beans?

I started searching for lima bean recipes weeks before the theme week, not knowing if I would be able to find anything good. I found two and hoped that one of them would be good. The first one I tried was this Food Network Magazine recipe for tomato-basil lima beans


The recipe didn't give measurements for the majority of the ingredients, so I just made it to taste and tried to make the ratio of ingredient quantities look similar to the recipe photo.

- 1 bag of frozen lima beans ($2.69)
- 8 small tomatoes ($1.70)
- 3 large stalks of basil ($0.80)
- 1/4 cup of grated parmesan (not enough on it to shave it) ($0.75)
- pinch of red pepper flakes ($0.05)
- salt to taste ($0.05)
- splash of champagne vinegar (didn't have white wine vinegar) ($0.10)
- olive oil for cooking ($0.10)

A little over $6. For a lima bean side dish! That's no cheaper than a vegetable side at a restaurant. Sure, the quantity is probably larger than a restaurant side dish, but it still feels like a really expensive recipe. Part of that is because the lima beans were so expensive, but the only place nearby that had them was Whole Foods and they weren't on sale. Trader Joe's didn't carry them. Another strike against lima beans.


1. Easy and quick prep! Slice tomatoes into quarters (or halves, depending on the size). Chiffonade basil. Thinly slice garlic.

2. Toast garlic slices and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Then add lima beans and cook for 5-7 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes, basil, vinegar. Drizzle with olive oil. [I actually left it on low for a little longer as I stirred in the other ingredients, because I personally like warm tomatoes and didn't want some of the ingredients to be hot while others were much cooler.]

4. Add parmesan to serve.


If this recipe was supposed to make me love lima beans, then sadly it didn't work. I don't think I blame the recipe though. I still found the lima beans kind of bland and chalky. I liked the tomatoes, fresh basil and cheese, but even those flavors got dulled a little bit by the boring lima beans. A thought the dish was good, but could tell that I probably wasn't going to make this again (at least not with lima beans) because I didn't like the texture of the lima beans. I'm fine with edamame, and even Trader Joe's replaces lima beans with edamame in their frozen soycutash. It's a substitution that I like and would probably use in the future if I can't get myself to like lima beans with the other recipe.

A Giant Party

When we scheduled our trip to Cancun, it hadn't even crossed our minds that we were going to be away the weekend of the Super Bowl. We would be missing an American holiday! Then the Giants kept winning and got into the Super Bowl, and I couldn't believe that as a lifelong Giants fan I was going to miss watching it. I hoped and hoped that Mexican TV at the resort would end up showing the game, but I didn't know if they would care about American football that much. I was thrilled when I found out that not only were they showing the game, they were having a Super Bowl party that night for all the resort's guests. It was originally supposed to be on the beach under the stars, but I don't need to waste more words on the rain to explain why it was held in the conference rooms instead.

The large conference center was decked out in football decorations and a giant American flag (which felt a little bizarre since we were in Mexico). They also set up an extensive buffet (all the food was probably from World Cafe anyway; it's not like we ate anywhere else) with lots of fried food, salads and desserts.

A special Super Bowl cake was on display (which we would later eat). I don't remember much about the cake except that it was really rich and creamy. But I didn't care at the time I ate it because I was either deliriously happy or preoccupied and stressed out (can't remember exactly when I ate it).

That will probably be my excuse for why I don't remember much about any of the food. I was barely focused on it. I remember that most of the salads were pretty good. The fried food was ... fried food. It's hard to mess up but it was standard and not that special. We do remember that they kept running out of chicken wings and eventually started walking around with platters of them because of the demand.

The desserts were just okay. Lots of cream.

The best part of the entire Super Bowl party was that the Giants won. So happy!

It wasn't where I expected to be celebrating a Giants Super Bowl win, but it was a lot of fun!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Surprising Lunch Spot

After our delicious Mexican breakfast, we had a great morning at the Dreams Cancun. Finally there were blue skies and sunlight. We walked along the beach. We laid out in the sun. We took pictures around the resort. We played in the pool. We even went to the swim up bar and had a couple of drinks.

Then we went back to our room to take showers before lunch. Dark clouds had started rolling in towards the end of our beach walk, and soon thereafter, the pouring rain arrived.

Of course it did. The rain wasn't accompanied by the thunder and crazy winds from the day before, but it was a heavy soaking rain. So, despite a gorgeous morning which made us feel sure that we would be able to try something new for lunch, it was back to the World Cafe for another buffet lunch where we would once again eat too much food.

This time I didn't take any notes about the food, either in Cancun or with the photos I uploaded when we got back. So there will be a lot of guessing about what we ate as it wasn't all that memorable. Two years later most of this has sadly faded. At least the menu was different from the two previous days, so it wasn't boring.

For my first plate, I got a quesadilla with salsa and guacamole, some shrimp lo mein (there was an Asian station), potatoes, some roulade type of thing, and a yellow thing that looks like an omelette but I have no idea what it really was.

A also got lo mein along with two stew-type dishes: one with meat and potatoes and another pork stew with onions.

At some point I added some grilled chicken thing (this recap is going really well) and a chicken sandwich. I do remember that I had high expectations for the chicken sandwich since I kind of liked those formed chicken patties when I was a kid. Either they are worse than I remember or this one just wasn't that good.

We also got a bunch of desserts (chocolate mousse with raspberries, strawberry ice cream, some other mousse thing with strawberry and other assorted dessert things). All were fine but I think the ice cream was still our favorite.

And we got some drinks. Because... why not? It was vacation, they were free, and it just wouldn't stop raining.

Lunch was okay, but just not what we were hoping to do that day. Why did it keep raining at lunchtime to force us into the World Cafe option when we would rather try something new? Would we ever get to try the beachside cafe?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blue Skies Breakfast

We woke up really happy on our third morning in Cancun. Why? Because finally the sky was blue. There were still clouds but this was the first time we had seen blue skies on our Cancun vacation and we were thrilled. After a night of booming thunder and nonstop downpours, the resort looked fantastic on our way to breakfast. We even got a seat near the windows so we got to gaze at the blue skies and dolphin pool for our entire meal.

We learned from our first breakfast what we liked and didn't like, and it should come as no surprise that we stuck to the two things we loved most: the juice bar and the Mexican breakfast station. They had beetroot/orange and orange/papaya juices again and we got more of those.

They had a different yogurt at this breakfast - apple yogurt! It tasted so natural, like biting into a crisp green apple. I've looked for this yogurt all over at home but it appears that we don't get this yogurt in the States. All we get are artificial apple flavors, like apple pie, apple turnover and apple cinnamon. Why can't we just have plain apple the way we have plain peach? It was quite good.

And lastly, what we filled ourselves up on (seriously, we ate way too much and were so full) - the Mexican breakfast station. They had sopes, chilaquiles, refried beans, guacamole and lots of pico de gallo. We got multiple servings of chilaquiles. They were delicious. And we stuffed ourselves with them.

This is my favorite type of breakfast. Savory foods, lots of vegetables, and tons of flavor. By this point in the trip, I began to do what I had never really done before (ever) - look forward to breakfast. Heartiest and tastiest meal of the day!