Solo Travel: Momofuku & Hell’s Kitchen (Las Vegas) Part 2; Winter Trip 2018

One of the most fantastic things about Las Vegas is the food.  There is everything from cheap eats to fine dining.  Like Los Angeles, you can get almost anything in Las Vegas.  While I enjoy cheap eats, I really take advantage of the fine dining.  The 2 restaurants on my radar for this trip were Momofuku and the newly opened, Hell’s Kitchen.

I watched a show called Mind of a Chef about 2 years ago.  In that show, it featured a chef named David Chang.  He is behind restaurants like Momofuku Noodle Bar, and most recently Majordomo in Los Angeles.  He opened his Vegas outpost of Momofuku in The Cosmopolitan last year.  His Vegas location serves as a greatest hits of his other establishments.  I have been dying to try it, but it just never worked out.  It was worth the wait.  When in New York this fall, I was introduced to the Momofuku family by Momofuku Noodle Bar in the Village.  So, I knew that it would be good.  I just didn’t know how good.

I ordered the Ginger Scallion Noodles, Dried Mussels and for dessert, a slice of MilkBar Birthday Cake.  Hands down, this is one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  The Ginger Scallion Noodles were topped with pickled shiitake mushrooms, which were my favorite part.  It is definitely a testament to how a simple dish can be elevated to the point of excellence.  The Dried Mussels were excellent.  It was a last minute decision to order them, and they were the perfect addition to my meal.  And for dessert, I knew I was either going next door to get something from MilkBar.  However, because they go with each other, they had MilkBar desserts available there.  I had a slice of MilkBar Birthday Cake.  As the other times before that I’ve had MilkBar, it was outstanding.  Chef Christina Tosi is really just one of the women I admire the most.  I love how creative and classic she can be at the same time.  And it comes out in everything MilkBar comes out with.

 

The next night, I tried the new Hell’s Kitchen.  I have been to 3 out of 5 of Gordon Ramsay’s other Vegas restaurants.  I have yet to try his Fish & Chips place, but that is for next time.  For this trip, I couldn’t wait to try Hell’s Kitchen.  I feel like the concept is a long time coming, and is pretty cool.  Especially if you love the show, it will be just that much more fun.  There was absolutely no question that I was going for the Hell’s Kitchen prix fixe menu.  It had all the parts of the menu they serve on the show.  It had the Seared Scallops for an appetizer, Beef Wellington for the entree and Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert.  I also partook in a mocktail called the The Whispering Banshee.  The meal was to die for.  It is exactly how you think it would taste, but better.  Now, disclaimer…I had never had Beef Wellington before.  And holy cow, it was incredible. The waiter told me that they were fully booked every single night, and they had seen 50K diners since they opened last month.  This is no doubt due to the Ramsay name and the show, but it most definitely has the food to back it up.

 

I highly recommend both of these restaurants if you visit Las Vegas.  They are for sure worth the money.  I did not leave disappointed at either place, and I cannot wait to be able to go back again.  I would also suggest reservations for both places.  Especially Hell’s Kitchen…they get booked fast.

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Naan with Puntarelle & Hummus

Puntarelle?  What is that?  That is exactly what I said.  Last week, while at the farmers market, I saw this interesting looking vegetable from The Garden Of…, who is my go to for kale & lettuce.  They also have the most incredible looking pumpkins in the fall.  But during the winter, they tend to have interesting things from time to time.  For the last couple of weeks, they have had Puntarelle or Italian Chicory.  This week, I went for it.  And I’m happy that I did.  I tend to think that in our normal lives, we stick to what we are familiar with.  I feel like trying new vegetables puts me right outside my comfort zone when it comes to what I eat.  But not so far outside that I’m scared to eat it.

I did what most people do when they don’t know something.  I googled what to do with it.  The most traditional preparation involves an ice bath and anchovy vinaigrette.  However, I really am not into anchovies, and there doesn’t really seem to be a good substitute for them.  I found a couple recipes in which they sautéed them.  This was it!

I sliced the puntarelle into strips, about a 1/4 inch thick.  I added these strips to a hot pan with some olive oil.  Add in some salt & pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.  So, let’s be honest.  By itself, its a little bitter.  Not super bitter, but enough to notice.  I applaud people that can eat bitter vegetables on their own.  But me?  No way.  I need to put them in or on something.  Enter some garlic naan, hummus and some delicious pepper sauce from Trader Joes.  I layered everything onto the naan and then cut it into pieces (easier to eat).  And I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty impressed with this weird, alien looking vegetable.  It adds just enough crunch and texture to what you’re eating, and its not an overpowering taste.  From now on, I’ll look forward to winter at the Farmers Market to get my hands on some.  So, if you see this at your local Farmers Market or grocery store, don’t be afraid, just buy it!

It is 2018: New starts, new passions and The TB12 Method.

We’ve come to another year.  2017 was rough.  Let’s just get that out of the way.  It was a year that was filled with highs and lows.  Personally, this year, I struggled to find out what I want my life to look like.  Unexpectedly, my life took a turn in a completely different direction than I would like.  But that is ok.  Events in my life allowed me to find new passions and new goals.  The picture of what I wanted my life to look like, well, changed.  Again, that is ok.

For 2018, I’ve chosen to focus on my finances, nutrition and fitness.  I’m already signed up for another half marathon in November, and I’m continuing with my yoga practice.  Nutritionally, I was a mess.  I’m all over the place.  I desperately needed to get focused in this area.  After being sick, I’ve tried to make nutrition a priority.  There are so many diets, trends, etc that are out there and one can easily get overwhelmed.  Enter Tom Brady, 5x Super Bowl champion, Gisele Bundchen’s husband, founder of the TB12 Sports empire (well soon to be empire, I’m sure), and a 40 year old in the best shape of his life.  That last part is what attracts me to him.  For the last couple of years, I’ve been intrigued by his lifestyle.  It obviously contributes to his success.  He has to rely on his body and its performance to do his job.

TB12 Sports released a nutrition manual for around $200 awhile ago, but unfortunately, it was a little out of my price range (still on my wish list though).  Then, finally, he released The TB12 Method:  How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance in 2017.  I had to get this book.  I wanted a glimpse into how this man remains in the physical condition he’s in.  In particular, I was interested in the nutrition information.  So, I read the nutrition chapter, and wrote down approved TB12 foods.  For the last week, I’ve tried to adhere to these foods.  I also tried to adhere to the 80% Alkaline/20% Acidic guideline.

After a week of diving into this, I have to say that I feel better than I did.  I have less digestion issues, feel less bloated, have more energy and feel better mentally.  When you know you are putting good stuff in your body, you don’t feel any negative feelings about what you do eat.  Now, I was not perfect.  I most definitely steered off the path a couple of times.  But each time, I didn’t beat myself up about it, and just started the next meal fresh.  It is a fairly restrictive way to eat, but it feels less restrictive the more creative you get.  I’m eager to continue on this path, and to get fully back into working out.  I think all of it in combination, especially when I can start incorporating the pliability, will make for a better, healthier me.

To be continued…

Finally Made My Own Cold Brew

There was a time in which coffee was not very exciting.  Most people had a regular coffee maker with regular coffee.  In terms of brewing coffee at home, it was pretty standard.  Of course, coffee houses and independent roasters have been around for some time.  But at home, the coffee game has changed.  There are so many methods and gadgets for brewing coffee at home.  One of those gadgets is called the Coffee Sock.  My friend got this for me for Christmas and I finally used it.  Truth be told, I wish I had used it sooner.  The Coffee Sock consists of a cloth “sock” or filter that sits in a mason jar.  It is definitely one of those things that is so simple that its genius.  It also helps to eliminate waste from the disposable cups from a coffee house.

I have always wanted to be that kind of person that makes their own cold brew.  I finally took the plunge.  I couldn’t be happier.  I love iced coffee, even when it is cold outside.  And I love not having to pay $4 for a cold brew at Starbucks.  If you don’t have a specific gadget to make your own cold brew, there a so many methods to do this.  If you have a large container and a way to strain the coffee grounds out, you can make cold brew.  Here is what I did.

For my “recipe”, I used 4 cups of water and 1 cup group coffee.  And I didn’t use some fancy coffee.  I used the Trader Joe’s Cup o’ Joe coffee.  When you grind it, just make sure its a course grind.  You don’t want to grind it too fine, or it won’t come out right.  You put the coffee in the sock part, and submerge it in the water.  After the initial set up, you let it sit on your counter for 12 hours.  After the 12 hours, remove the sock part.  What you do with the coffee grounds is up to you.  After making the concentrate, you can store it in the fridge for 2 weeks (or so google told me).  Now, onto the fun part!

How people take their coffee is as personal as what kind of music they like.  This is how I made my Iced Coffee.

  • *1 1/2 Cups Cold Brew
  • *1 Cup Water
  • *Creamer to taste

That’s it.  Its very simple, and not very exciting.  But I love it.

I feel like I’m late to the game to cold brew at home, but I got here, and that is all that matters. But if you need one, you can get The Coffee Sock in a variety of places.

 

Tummy Tuesdays: Quick Lentil Sloppy Joes

I am blessed to be able to stock my house on a regular basis with finds from the Farmers Market and Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  But some weeks, (especially when I’ve been doing a good amount of Christmas shopping) I go into budget mode.  Its kind of like Battery Saver Mode on your iPhone.  All the extras fall away and I get only the essentials.  I grew up in a home that did not always have extra money, so I can default to this mode pretty quickly.

I will say this.  It does become easier to live on a relatively low budget since I stopped stocking meat in the house.  Relying on alternative sources of protein lends itself to stocking grains like lentils, farro, etc. in bulk.  A mason jar is truly man’s best friend.  Meat was eating a large part of my budget when I went grocery shopping, and storing it always skeeved me out.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  I am not a vegan.  I’m a sucker for the chicken gyoza at Trader Joe’s.  But I have definitely decreased my meat consumption.  But I digress…this isn’t a post about the virtues of veganism.  Its about living on a budget.

When I need to trim the budget significantly, I usually get the following at the grocery store:

  • *Eggs (Preferably Organic and Free Range)
  • *Bread
  • *Cheese
  • *Cottage Cheese
  • *Canned Fruit
  • *Pasta Sauce
  • *Tortillas
  • *Salsa

I usually try to keep grains and pasta on hand, as well as some frozen veggies.  So what do I cook during these weeks?

  • *Egg salad sandwiches
  • *Pasta with sauce and cheese
  • *Quesadillas with salsa and avocado (if I can get some for a decent price)
  • *Cottage Cheese w/ canned fruit

These are just a few of the things that I keep in the rotation.  Avocados are most definitely a luxury item, but they have good fats, so I like to have them.  Sometimes, though, I like to get creative.  One of the things I love is sloppy joes.  I haven’t really had them since I stopped buying meat, but that is easily substituted with lentils or another hearty grain.  And much to my skepticism, it actually turned out decent.  I usually use a very basic recipe for sloppy joes, so I would definitely be interested in trying a different recipe down the road.  Here is the recipe I used.  And a quick disclaimer, if you do not like ketchup, I would steer clear.  I love ketchup, so I like this recipe.

Quick Lentil Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

  • *1/2 cup split lentils
  • *1/4 cup ketchup
  • *1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • *1 Tbsp Mustard
  • *Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
  • *Bread
  1. Cook lentils.
  2. Mix ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, salt and pepper into cooked lentils.  Let simmer in pan for like 30 seconds while stirring.
  3. Toast whatever bread you desire, and EAT.  I used sliced white bread with a little bit of butter.  It may not be pretty, but it was tasty and filling.

My original inspiration… https://www.eatingonadime.com/sloppy-joes-recipe/

NYC: Food!!!

New York City; one of the greatest cities in the world.  And one that I had the pleasure of visiting this year.  I have only been to New York once, and it was for less than 24 hours.  I used to work at Macy’s and had the chance to be a balloon handler in the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.  However, that was quite a long time ago, and I remembered almost nothing.

My list of things I wished to do became longer and longer.  And, that list became more and more centered on New York points of interest.  Specifically, I wanted to experience many of the restaurants that can only be found there.  My trip was a full week, and a lot was accomplished.  Here is a recap of some of the great food that I had the pleasure to eat.

Papaya King

*Nothing says NYC like a hot dog.  I will say, I’m not a fan of eating off carts.  There is something about it that has always made me a little sketched out.  So, after a little research, I found a place I could get a good NYC hot dog.  And I certainly found it.  Let’s just say that it was one of the most delicious hot dogs I’ve ever had.

Papaya King

2 Hot Dogs and fries @ Papaya King

Schmakery’s

*Prior to this trip, I started to be interested again in musical theater.  After going down an internet rabbit hole (we’ve all been down one), I stumbled on this cookie place.  Every year, they hold a fundraiser called Broadway Bakes.  I also started seeing it on some must-eat lists.  After looking at pictures of their cookies, I HAD to go.  They looked ridiculously delicious.  I was not disappointed.  I got the Cookies & Cream and the Funfetti cookies.  They were the perfect pre-theater snack.  Schmakery’s is something to behold.  They have something for everyone, and especially if you love cookies.

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The Spread!

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Funfetti & Cookies and Cream

Momofuku Noodle Bar & Milk Bar

Anyone who has seen The Mind of a Chef is familiar with Chef David Chang.  And this is exactly how I was made aware of him.  I am fascinated by his culinary point of view, and he is proof that even the simplest things can be memorable.  Momofuku Noodle Bar was on my list of non-negotiable things to do in NYC.  Shockingly, I have never had ramen.  Like real ramen.  I’ve had variations of it, but never in an actual ramen place.  There is no better way to try ramen than at Momofuku.  And it was so good, and I don’t think I could ever judge ramen fairly again.

Now, under the same umbrella, but altogether different, is Milk Bar.  No, its not some pop-up Clockwork Orange place.  Its one of the most creative and well executed dessert establishments…ever.  It is the brainchild of Chef Christina Tosi.  Coincidentally, as I was becoming aware of Milk Bar, Chef Tosi started as a judge on MasterChef.  One of their specialities is the Cerealmilk products.  Specifically, the soft serve is what I tried.  I’ve never had anything like it, and I double I will ever find anything else like that.  In addition to the Birthday Cake truffles, their famous Crack Pie and the Cornflake Marshmallow Chocolate Chip cookies, I will never look at dessert the same way.  I’m forced to patiently wait for their Los Angeles location to open…soon hopefully.

Le Bernardin

I don’t think any words could possibly convey what it is like to eat at Le Bernardin.  But, I will try.  But first, a slight detour into the background behind why I picked it.  When I was going through chemotherapy, I couldn’t eat seafood that wasn’t thoroughly cooked.  One of the chefs I love is Eric Ripert.  He has a gentle soul, and an appreciation for life that is unmatched.  I admire him, as a chef and as a person.  Since a fair amount of seafood in a fine dining restaurant is usually lightly cooked, it is something that cannot be risked when you have zero immune system.  I made a promise to myself that when I beat the cancer, I would go to eat at Le Bernardin.  And eat at Le Bernardin is what I did.  It was the best meal of my life.  I had the Le Bernardin Tasting Menu and it was incredible.  Each course was delicious.  I will let the picture speak for itself.

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All in all, it was an incredible trip filled with tasty food and fantastic sights.  And one of the best things about my trip was that everything was on my terms.  I went solo, and I can’t imagine seeing New York City for the first time not solo.  I packed so much in in a week, and I don’t regret going by myself.  I’ve done a lot of things by myself, but never a trip like this one.  Most definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Quick Dinner! Stuffed Portobellos

Since I’ve been trying to incorporate more mushrooms into my diet, I’m always looking for different ways to prepare them.  Sautéing them and then putting them in sauce becomes boring really fast.  I also have a secondary problem.  I buy these beautiful vegetables at the farmers market every week, but I always end up with a little bit every bit that I haven’t used.  I hate throwing away food.  HATE it!  Especially the product of the labor of local farmers.  After scouring the pages of Pinterest, I took a combo of a few things I saw and made one of the tastiest dinners.  I was also able to use more of some of the cherry tomatoes I bought at the Farmers Market.

Ingredients (for 1 serving)

*1-2 Portobello mushrooms

*2 slices of Trader Joe’s Pre-Sliced Mozzarella, cut into pieces

*About 6 cherry tomatoes cut in half

*2 tsp olive oil

*2 cloves garlic

*Salt/Pepper

Instructions

  1.  Combine olive oil and garlic in a small bowl.
  2. Scoop out black part from mushroom and brush olive oil mixture onto bottom of mushroom.  Put in 8×8 foil lined pan, cap side down.
  3. Combine remaining olive oil mixture with tomatoes and mozzarella, and salt and pepper.  Fill mushroom with mixture.
  4. Broil for 8-10 minutes.  Then drizzle with a balsamic glaze. (I reduced 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar with a tsp of raw sugar for about 10 minutes.)
  5. Serve alone, with pasta or whatever you want!  I paired it with pasta and red sauce.

 

*Tomatoes from Ellwood Canyon Farms

*Portobello Mushroom from LAFungHi

Travel: Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture

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Tomatoes to greet you on the entrance path!

On my recent trip to New York, I knew that one of the things I had to make happen was a visit to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.  About 30 miles north of Manhattan, in a town called Pocantico Hills, is Stone Barns Center.  It was started by the Rockefeller family more than 20 years ago.  And it has turned into a hub of experimentation and research for something that affects us all; farming and food.  In conjunction with chef Dan Barber and Blue Hill at Stone Barns (11th best restaurant in the world), they have created something very special.  After a day at this amazing place, I have grown to appreciate even more what they do there.

One of the major things that I have learned about SBC is that they genuinely believe in what they do there.  Of course, they have gained more notoriety from their collaboration with Dan Barber and Blue Hill, but the farmers have a bigger purpose than trying to get to the top of the list.  Its very simple.  They want to grow and raise food that tastes good and is sustainable.  One of their major techniques is a 7 year rotation with the crops in the field.  For example, if this year, tomatoes are grown there, tomatoes will not be in that soil for another 7 years.  They understand each crop completely.  They utilize each crop’s assets and defects to grow better food and to make it sustainable.  For example, they know that tomatoes suck nitrogen out of the soil, so they may plant a crop next time in that space that puts nitrogen back into the soil.  Or they may plant a micro green in the same bed at the same time that counteracts the nitrogen depletion.  Its an amazing technique and to see it in action makes you feel like you are witness to a food revolution. Stone Barns Center also utilizes a greenhouse.  They do this not in an effort to grow out of season, but rather to extend the growing seasons.  In the greenhouse, they have a 10 year rotation cycle instead of 7.

 

Another thing they do is create new types of fruits and vegetables.  And they do this without genetic modification.  And they do this for a better tasting crop.  They use traditional methods of cross breeding.  When I was there, I saw the pepper crops.  They had the usual jalapeños, bell peppers, etc.  But they also had a new pepper.  It was called a Habanata (not sure it that is the correct spelling).  It is a habanero that has had the spiciness bred out.  Amazing.

When you go there for a day, you also have the option to participate/observe in activities around the farm.  I chose the watermelon testing, the foraging walk and the pig feeding.  By far, the foraging walk was my favorite.  To learn about how the restaurant uses foraged ingredients made me have a new respect for the chefs at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  It is one thing to say, “I want these ingredients to make this dish”.  It is quite another thing to say “I’ve been presented these ingredients, what will I come up with?”.  And that is what they do at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  They are presented with or have found ingredients and they come up with something grand.  They can be presented wit a giant crop of sunflowers and have come up with a way to use EVERY SINGLE PART OF THE SUNFLOWER.  Nothing goes to waste.  This is an important part of what happens at SBC.

And that leads to my main takeaway of my visit.  They are trying to really create a better world through food.  They want to create something sustainable and delicious and in such a way that keeps you interested.  When I first read The Third Plate, I was convinced that Dan Barber was on to something.  And to see it in action is truly something awe-inspiring.  With so many horrible things going on in this world today, it is important to do things that make you happy and give you hope.  Stone Barns Center gives me hope and it made me so happy to see something like that first hand.  If you ever get a chance to go, I urge you to go.

Quick Breakfast! Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms

I have always found it to be a challenge to make breakfast interesting to me.  Truth be told, I’m not fond of breakfast food.  My usual go-tos are eggs benedict and sometimes, french toast or pancakes.  Overall, I’m just not crazy about that meal.

Enter the mighty mushroom!  As I no longer buy meat for my house, I started to dabble in the world of mushrooms.  I’m fortunate to live in a city in which we have many mushroom purveyors.  My favorite is LaFungHi. They have both foraged and cultivated mushrooms, and they always have something different.

And for some reason, the combo of eggs and mushrooms is just so delicious.  It has even made me enjoy breakfast a little bit more.  Although its pretty simple, here is what I used.

*2 eggs

*1 small bunch of mushrooms (about 1/4 – 1/2 cup) (I used foraged Forest Namekos for this.)

*about 2 pats of butter

*A healthy pinch of dried thyme

*Salt & Pepper

First, I melted the butter in a pan, then added the mushrooms, thyme and salt and pepper.  I let those sauté for about 3 minutes.

Second, I added the eggs, a little more salt and pepper, then fried in pan until done.

It was that simple.  And it gives me an easy breakfast that takes less than 10 minutes.  It makes me happy to be able to utilize as many Farmers Market items in my normal diet.  To me, fresh produce from a Farmers Market tastes better.  And it helps to support local farms!

Ingredients

Simple ingredients

Farmers Market Haul!

Probably my favorite day of the week is Sunday.  And its not because I don’t have to go to work, or because I get to sleep in.  Its because Sundays are for the Farmers Market!  My best friend got me a tea towel that says “The Farmers Market is my happy place”.  And this couldn’t be more true.  I love it.  After I read The Third Plate by Dan Barber, I was inspired to eat more locally, and to be more sustainable.  This is where my love affair with the Farmers Market began.

Living in Los Angeles, I am extremely fortunate to have a good number of them at my disposal.  On Sunday morning, finding a Farmers Market is like shooting fish in a barrel.  But my personal favorite is the Hollywood Farmers Market on Selma and Ivar.  Its huge, and has everything you could possibly want.  Plus, its near both Groundwork Coffee, some great shopping and some great restaurants.  Not to mention, they validate for the parking garage at Arclight Cinemas.  $3 for 2 hours is just a bargain, in my opinion.  But, this isn’t about the Hollywood Farmers Market in particular.  Its about what I found there.

As I’m sure every regular patron of this weekly event of awesomeness can tell you, you end up at the same stalls every week.  There is just something about that lettuce or those tomatoes that keep you wanting more.  Its not just about the produce.  Its about the sense of community that happens at Farmers Markets.  You see the same people every week, and it makes you feel more at home.  Or at least that has been my experience.

Here is what I snagged, and from where!  (All featured farms are linked below.)

*Corn from The Garden Of.. // Cucumber from John Givens Farm

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*Yellow Peaches from Burkhart Organics // Foraged Forest Kemeko mushrooms from LAFungHi // Mixed Cherry Tomatoes & Ambrosia Melon from Ellwood Canyon Farms FullSizeRender 3

*Carrots from John Givens Farms // Shallots & Lemon Cucumbers from The Garden Of.. // Enoki and Maitake mushrooms from LaFunghiFullSizeRender 2

Farm Links!

The Garden Of…

Burkhart Organics

Ellwood Canyon Farms

John Givens Farm

LaFungHi