November 11, 2009

The Marquesa's Tortilla

My Nanny was from Colombia. She is a phenomenal cook. I have memories of plantains, rice with peas and onions, and Tortillas. Tortillas are basically large omelets that in the fussy Bistro world would be called a “Frittata.” It's one of those dishes that bring me back to my childhood. My Nanny became part of the family. When she had her own children years later, my family became God Parents to her two beautiful and genius girls. No matter how many times I've made this, it will never be as good the Marquesa's. Whether that's because she snuck something into her Tortilla and never let me see it, or because memory is always stronger than taste buds, I won't ever know. I suspect, however, it's the latter.

You need a really good oven-safe non-stick skillet, or a clean cast iron skillet for this.

1 dozen large eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion sliced
2 1/2 cups cubed potatoes (I like using the smaller white potatoes, this comes out to about 4)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

*You can add a half cup of fresh or frozen peas if you have them. Add them in with the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 400.
Boil the potatoes in salted water, drain, set aside.
Heat the oil and gently sauté the onions over medium-high heat until, soft, translucent, and cooked through but NOT browned. (If using cast iron, the pan might have soaked up some of the oil, if it seems like it has, add another teaspoon).
Whisk the eggs with salt and pepper very well.
Add the potatoes to the skillet and then pour the eggs in.
Let the bottom and sides of the Tortilla cook. Occasionally pull at the sides to let some of the raw egg get to the heat.
When the sides and bottom are just cooked, about 3-5 minutes, and the center is still liquidy, place skillet in oven.
Cook for 15 minutes or until eggs are cooked all the way through and the Tortilla has puffed up.
Flip onto a platter and serve.

*This is excellent hot right out of the oven, but it’s even better the next day cold from the fridge. You can serve it with salsa, or how I liked it as a kid, and still my fave way to this day... the very unglamorous Ketchup.
I like to serve this with avocado halves, spritzed with fresh lime juice and salt on the side. The creaminess of the avocado really goes well with the Tortilla.


November 5, 2009

Crab Legs Anyone?

Here’s the thing about Vegas… it’s a blast! I went thinking that we’d spend a little too much money on slots, eat some awful yet plentiful food, and have some fun staring at the parade of drunken college kids. Well, we did in fact spend a little too much on the slots, but the rest of my assumptions were thankfully, completely wrong.

I’m comfortable enough with myself to let you know that I am a complete snob. I openly admit it though, which takes some of the sting away right? I am open minded to a fault, and willing to try anything once, and I don’t judge people by their covers, but places, specifically places that aren’t NYC, well that’s when my inner snob rears her perfectly coiffed head and puffs smoke in your face. It’s the Pine Nut Test: if I can’t easily get pine nuts at the grocery store, what the hell am I doing there?

We arrived after midnight (which was actually 3am for us), and fell into a cab. As we drove away from the airport, the lights of Vegas could suddenly be seen. When we turned the corner onto Las Vegas Boulevard, I had to laugh. It was every scene in every movie about Vegas you’ve ever seen. There’s the Flamingo, there are the girls, girls, girls, there are the fountains of the Bellagio - it was almost surreal. Our sweet cab driver who had moved from Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania just 3 years earlier because he loved the heat, told us that our first night in Vegas we should stay up to watch the sunrise. We did. It was spectacular.

Our first Vegas mistake was the Breakfast Buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. No joke, simply amazing. I had some of the best Gravlax and Smoked Salmon of my life that morning. By the way, excellent Gravlax and Smoked Salmon rate very high on the Pine Nut Test; by the way again, spell check does NOT because it didn’t have “Gravlax” in its database… booooo! Piles of crispy bacon, made-to-order omelets and surprisingly good coffee are never a bad thing. So, our mistake was not going to the Breakfast Buffet; our mistake was eating ourselves into a food coma. We somehow managed to wiggle out of our chairs, stand up, and with the clarity and determination of the greatest Olympic athlete, cross the street, go up the elevators, peel off our clothes, and collapse on the bed until we could breathe again. We wound up not eating for the rest of day.

Lesson learned, we planned our days around those crazy buffets. In-between meals we walked and walked and walked. Vegas is an excellent lesson in Urban Planning. Created from nothing in the middle of nowhere, a very well organized city emerged. To make navigating easier, wonderful pedestrian bridges have been erected. It means that you very rarely have to cross the street; in fact Vegas police discourage it. These elevated walk-ways complete with escalators are wonderful and I only wish they could be installed across the country.

The hotels of Vegas are feats of engineering. The Paris hotel, really does feel like parts of France. New York, New York really captured the streets and neighborhoods, and even Caesar’s Palace has created a fantasy of opulence that one could just imagine ancient Rome being. It truly is Disney Land for adults. As I said, we walked a lot. It was a good thing too because something happens to the brain around that much food – you eat it all.

Besides the hotels, there are fantastical free shows on the strip. The pirate ships at Treasure Island, the volcano at the Mirage, and then there are the fountains of the Bellagio. They are a marvel - so beautiful and yet so ridiculous at the same time. Watching water dance to “Proud to be and American,” followed by Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye,” is definitely ridiculous. But it’s also complexly irresistible.

We decided we needed to have one really good meal. The choices were endless, but we tend to celebrate with excellent steak dinners (or Peking Duck, but that was definitely going to be better in NYC), so I did my research. In the end it was between Tom Colicchio’s Craft Steak or a place off the strip, not associated with a hotel called, Del Frisco’s. Del Frisco’s has lots of locations around the country, but the reviews at the Vegas location were phenomenal.

Del Frisco’s is a 5 minute cab ride from the strip, but you do need to drive. It’s behind the strip amongst the office buildings and company headquarters based in Vegas. Wood paneling, very friendly staff, and dear lord what a steak! I took a picture of it with my camera phone because both my husband and I felt self conscience pulling out the camera, so of course the pic didn’t do our meal any justice and I’m not posting it either, sorry. But you can go to their website to take a gander.

Del Frisco’s is known for their double steaks. That means that while the average steak is something like 2 - 2½ inches thick, ours were 4 – 4½ inches. It was a lot of meat, but good god it was amazing. We don’t eat steak often, and when we do, we spend the right kind of money for them. We got our money’s worth. And, without any exaggeration, I can say these might have been the best steaks we had ever had. The only downside was the rest of the menu. It was just average in inspiration and flavor, but that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was that the main attraction was “like buttah!” as Ms. Streisand would say.

We were never disappointed with Vegas. And I was constantly surprised by the level of sophistication that was around every corner. Sure you could find the drunken frat boys, and people walking around with their fanny packs and frozen margarita’s in two foot long plastic cups, but you could just as easily turn a blind eye and walk through the Bellagio or better yet, the Wynn. The Wynn has no theme, is at the end of the strip, and is by far the most elegant and beautiful of the Vegas hotels. We had lunch there on the patio overlooking the pool, and we could have easily been in Spain or Saint Trope, or some equally elegant location. Damn the cost (which I’m sure is steep), next time we stay at the Wynn.

Our final night in Vegas we had tickets to see Cirque Du Soleil’s “Love.” We had yet to do a proper buffet dinner and decided that was the night. We went to the Bellagio, which is considered one of the best buffets in Vegas, and were greeted by piles of crab legs, mounds of shrimp, acres of beef Wellington, platters of fresh sushi, and the prettiest display of desserts we had seen all trip. Of course, we over did it a bit. I don’t think I’ll be able to eat another crab leg for a few years… not to mention crème brule. There was even chocolate mouse (which unfortunately was not set well) in miniature brandy snifters, the effect of which so cute and perfect, I’m determined to find some for myself.

Capping of the trip with “Love” was perfection. I only wish the show toured because it’s a shame that everyone can’t see it. It was a joyous and heart felt show that was a true spectacle in the best sense of the word. Wonderful visuals, amazing talent, and all the things you’d expect from Cirque, with the added pleasure of an amazing soundtrack provided by the boys from Liverpool. If you go to Vegas, you simply have to see it. No, no, I insist.

Vegas was a very happy surprise. It was colorful and fun. It has wonderful food and amazing choices everywhere you look. And rest assured, it passed the Pine Nut Test with high flying, glittering colors that blink through the night.