Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ancora Cucina Italiana

After a long drive home from Lake Arrowhead, my husband and I decided to have dinner at Ancora Cucina Italiana in Tarzana.  We had been meaning to go there for months but just hadn't found the time.
bread basket

Dinner was the highlight of my day.  Upon entering, we were greeted by the owner and ushered to a nearby table.  I immediately liked the place.  The dining room wasn't huge, and it could probably feel a little cramped if all the tables were full, but it certainly wasn't any more crowded than the restaurants in Beverly Hills.  Being a week night after normal dinner time, it wasn't crowded when we were there.  It felt cozy.

We loved the atmosphere.  It felt homey, like you're invited into an Italian family's dining room.  Everyone who worked there was friendly.  I loved the decor, the string lights, the comfortable chairs, the dark wood contrasting with the cream and white colors, the little chandeliers, everything really.

1/2 of the Summer Salad
We looked over the menu, and there was also an insert with items that weren't on the regular menu.  We finally decided on our order, and bread was brought out to the table while we waited for our food to be prepared.  Just based on atmosphere, friendliness and the bread, we were convinced this would be our new favorite Italian restaurant.

Ravioli con Zucca
The food didn't disappoint.  We started by sharing the Summer Salad, which was one of the items on the menu insert.  They split the salad onto 2 plates for us.  It was mixed greens topped with goat cheese, pine nuts, roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes with balsamic vinaigrette.  It was wonderful.  It would be a perfect summer lunch.  Or, if I didn't have my husband to share with me, it would be great as an entree followed by dessert.  I would absolutely get the salad again.

For my entree, I had the Ravioli con Zucca: pumpkin ravioli with walnut cream sauce.  I loved the flavor of the pumpkin and the chopped walnuts in the sauce added a nice crunch.  I also tasted sage in the sauce.  It was creamy and delicious.  I'm not usually a huge fan of pasta, but this was wonderful.  It tasted like dessert.

Farfalle Romano
My husband had an item off the insert menu, the Farfalle Romano: bowtie pasta with pink sauce, chicken, artichokes and sundried tomatoes.  We asked what "pink sauce" was, and the waitress explained that it's marinara mixed with cream.  It's as good as it sounds.  My husband loved the pasta.  Everything tasted fresh.

We decided to save room for dessert (by taking leftovers home), and our waitress listed the desserts available that day.  They have two that are made in house, the tiramisu and an apple art.  They have quite a few other options as well, but we decided to try the tiramisu.  It was super creamy and really just melted in your mouth.  I really tasted the rum that the lady fingers are soaked in and the espresso.  It was the perfect end to the perfect meal.

I look forward to trying more items on their menu during future visits.  Based on the way the bread tasted, I'm sure the pizza is delicious as well.

If this is what it's like to eat in Italy, I really want to do a food tour there sometime soon! The flavor and the friendliness cannot be beat.  As we were leaving, several of the workers, including our waitress, waved goodbye.  I saw them do this when other customers left as well.  There's nothing like making customers feel welcome and then treating them to a delicious meal.

Happy eating!

Bin 189

My husband and I spent a couple nights at the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa.  Our room package included daily breakfast at the resort's restaurant, Bin 189.  We also decided to try out their dinner menu our first night there.

Here are my thoughts about dinner:  Before deciding to eat there, we looked over the menu.  The host and hostess were friendly and they commented about how much they like my camera and how impressive it looked.  Then they led us to a table in the main dining room.  On the way, we passed through the bar.  It looked very cozy there with a fire blazing in the fireplace and cushy seating.  There was also a television, but the volume was low, so it didn't feel like a sports bar.

We were given a table one table away from the windows.  At first I wondered why we weren't given the empty table available at the windows.  It was a mid-week night, so the place wasn't very crowded.  I think only three other tables were occupied when we arrived.  Then I noticed that the empty table by the windows hadn't been cleared yet.  It still had an empty bread basket and wine glasses that needed to be washed setting on it.  The table wasn't cleared until around the time we paid our bill.  Considering how empty the place was, you'd expect the service to be a little faster.

Our waitress was immediately available to take our drink orders.  We just went with water, although I looked over the wine list and noticed that they not only had prices for bottles and wine by the glass, but they also had a price for a 2.5 ounce "taste" for about $3-4.  I thought that was kinda nice and different.

We looked over the menu, and I found a couple things that looked good.  In the end, I ordered the Pan Roasted Hawaiian Butterfish, and my husband, who was in the mood for steak, went with the 10 ounce New York Strip.  Our waitress told us that she'd be right back with some fresh bread.

I'm guessing at least 10 minutes went by before she came back with the bread basket, and that was after reminding her about it.  She said it was hot and had just come out of the oven.  The bread basket consisted of 4 dinner rolls that were pretty hard on the outside.  I understand crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, but this was more like tough on the outside and chewy on the inside.  The flavor was okay, but it was really difficult to cut them open with a butter knife.

Pan Roasted Hawaiian Butterfish
There was quite a wait before our dinner arrived.  We weren't in a hurry, so it wasn't a problem, but we did sit there for a long time.  I wish I had timed it.  It was long enough that we asked the waitress if the music could be turned up a little.  We could hear that music was playing, but barely.  The conversations at nearby tables were much easier to hear than the music.  She said she asked the manager to turn it up, and it seemed like the music actually got softer.  We mentioned it again, and this time she turned it up a little herself.  That was better and added to the ambiance.  It wasn't loud, you could just finally hear what was playing.

New York Strip
Back to the food.  I was surprised at the presentation.  My dinner was described as "pan roasted Hawaiian Butterfish on a bed of spaghetti squash with a smoked red pepper beurre blanc and seasonal vegetables."  Doesn't "bed of spaghetti squash" conjure up images of a large portion with the butterfish on top of the squash?  Not the case.  The butterfish was a nice size fillet, and the spaghetti squash was about the same size, not exactly qualifying as "a bed of."  It was more like "accompanied by."  The seasonal vegetable serving could've been bigger as well.  As far as taste, the fish was like butter and if anything actually tasted better than the butterfish I had in Hawaii.  I need to see if I can get this in L.A. somewhere.  The spaghetti squash was crunchy.  That surprised me.  I expected it to be mushier like zucchini.  I hadn't have spaghetti squash in years so I'm not sure if it's supposed to be crunchy or if it was just undercooked.  The veggies were okay but I would've eaten more if more had been provided.  The red pepper beurre blanc was amazing and added to the flavor of everything on the plate.  I really enjoyed the meal, particularly the butterfish.

Chef Merlo's Cognac Bread Pudding
My husband's meal was described as a "10oz. Prime New York grilled to perfection, with roasted champignons in a white wine and herb sauce served with scalloped Irish potatoes and seasonal vegetables."  Once again, it would've been nice if the vegetable serving was larger.  The potatoes were crisp and tasty.  The steak, although ordered "medium" seemed more "medium-rare."  It was bright pink all the way through.  I tasted a bite, and it was chewy (kinda like the bread in the bread basket).  There was also a ring of fat all the way around the steak.  The meat and the fat were tough and chewy.  It was definitely one of the worst steaks I've ever tasted as far as texture.  I would've expected it to be so tender you could practically cut it with a fork.  Outback's steaks are much more tender than this and for half the price.  "Grilled to perfection" was NOT an accurate description.  My husband has grilled steaks at our house that were tender, juicy and delicious.  I'm glad I didn't order the steak.  The flavor was good though.  That was probably the herb sauce.  For a somewhat high class restaurant, I expected a lot more from the, for it to be "grilled to perfection" as described.

Since the portions weren't all that big, we were hungry enough for dessert.  We decided to share the Chef Merlo's Cognac Bread Pudding.  Once again, I was surprised at how small it was.  They could've improved on the presentation by putting it on a smaller plate.  It was described as "house made vanilla glazed donuts, fresh baked brioche bread and pecans baked to perfection.  Served with a scoop of espresso ice cream and a warm cognac sauce."  I really tasted the donuts and cognac sauce.  It was good, but I probably wouldn't order it again.

Summary on dinner: overpriced, overrated and very long wait for food.  Perhaps the kitchen is understaffed and underexperienced in food preparation.  Our waitress and the host and hostess were top notch however.

On to my thoughts about breakfast.  Since we stayed two nights, we had complimentary breakfast at Bin 189 on two mornings.  The first day, we went down to the hostess stand where it said "please wait to be seated," but no one was there to seat us.  We walked in to the bar area and looked around to try to find someone who worked there.  After a few minutes, we saw a waiter deliver a plate of food to a table.  He saw us waiting and came over to seat us.  I think this place is understaffed.  I later saw a hostess seating some other people, so I'm not sure if she just hadn't started work yet or was on break when we arrived or what.  Also, the restaurant was almost empty, and the waiter told us we could sit anywhere we want.  They might as well change their sign to "Please Seat Yourself."  It'd make things more convenient for everyone.

We chose a table by the window with a peak-a-boo view of the lake.  Once again, the music was very soft, and we could easily overhear the conversations at other tables.  The music should've been a little louder to cover conversations and so that you could at least hear what song was playing.

We had a voucher that was good for 2 entrees and coffee, tea or juice.  I ordered coffee.  It was a little strong, but I drank it anyway.  They brought out a little pitcher of creme.  That's nice, but if you read my review about Belgian Waffle Works, you know that I prefer a variety of flavored creamers.  My husband ordered tea.  They brought out a cup, a little tea pot of hot water, and he had his choice of tea bags.  He went with camomile.  He steeped his tea bag in the hot water and then looked inside his cup.  It was dirty.  He asked for another one, which our waiter brought right out, but it really makes you wonder how clean anything is.  Especially when there aren't that many customers, you'd think it'd be easy to keep things extra clean.

We looked over the menu.  I was torn between the Herb Egg White Omelet and the Arrowhead Omelet.  I prefer egg whites, but the Arrowhead Omelet sounded better overall.  I asked the waiter if I could get the Arrowhead Omelet with egg whites, and he said I could.  He said that it's not clear on the menu, but the Arrowhead Omelet is basically a build-your-own omelet.  Perfect.  I went with egg whites, ham, swiss and all the veggies they had listed (mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, onions).  It came with hash browns and choice of toast.  They were out of wheat toast, so I went with rye.  I was really impressed with the amount of food I was given.  The toast was delicious.  The hash browns were a little greasy (which is to be expected with hash browns), but they tasted really good.  The omelet was huge.  This was the first time that I had seen an omelet topped with cheese instead of having the cheese inside.  It needed a little salt and pepper, but then it was perfectly tasty.  I would get it again.

My husband ordered the Huevos Rancheros, which is described on the menu as "two eggs with refried beans, fresh cheese, salsa Serrano on a tortilla with sour cream and guacamole.  His food looked a little lost on his plate.  He somewhat jealously eyed my overflowing plate.  His overall review of his meal was that it was "good.  On a scale of 1 to 10 it was a 7."  He thought it tasted about the same as what he could make himself.  He's a pretty good cook, so that's not a bad thing.

Overall, we liked breakfast better than dinner.  Our meal was complimentary, but the prices on the menu weren't bad for what you get.  Entrees were about $10-13.  That's about a third of the prices on the dinner menu.

We arrived at the end of breakfast, and when we were leaving, I saw lunch items being delivered to a nearby table, a salad and a burger.  They looked adequate.

my first omelet with a hair on the cheese
Today we had another complimentary breakfast voucher.  This time there was someone at the hostess stand when we arrived.  She asked for our last name before seating us.  I asked her if there was a wait, and she said "no."  I'm not sure why she needed our name.  We decided to sit outside this time.  She let us pick our table.
my second omelet

I ordered the Arrowhead Omelet again. This time I went with bacon instead of ham and wheat toast instead of rye.  Everything else was the same.  My food looked great at first, but then I noticed a hair on top of the Swiss cheese on my omelet.  They sent it back and replaced it no problem, but it makes you wonder how sanitary anything is.

notice the spoon directly on the table
I ordered coffee today, and the waitress brought out a spoon for me to stir it with, but she set it directly on the table.  I tried to assume it was clean, but considering there was syrup on the table from previous guests, I'm sure they didn't actually wipe off the table.  I'm not paranoid; I just hope I don't get sick.

My husband was torn between ordering the Arrowhead Omelet or the Stuffed Ham and Cheese Waffle.  The waitress recommended that he try the waffle and said she'd get him something else if he didn't like it.  He decided to try the waffle.  We thought the wrong order arrived when they brought out his waffle.  It just looked like a normal Belgian waffle.  The ham and cheese was just mixed into the waffle batter.  We had pictured something more Monte Cristoish with ham and cheese "stuffed" between waffles.  He tasted it and said it tasted light and airy.  It wasn't bad but it wasn't as described.  As promised, the waitress let him order something else.  He went with the Arrowhead Omelet with cheddar, sausage and all the veggies with rye toast.  
"Stuffed" Ham and Cheese Waffle

my husband's omelet
The food was good, and the service was friendly, but I don't know that anything is really clean.  If I weren't getting a free breakfast here, I'd go to Belgian Waffle Works for breakfast.

Happy eating!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lake Arrowhead Village Pizza Deli and Arcade

For dinner tonight, we decided to try Lake Arrowhead Pizza.  The inside tables were about half full when we got there.  We waited for someone to come over to the counter, and the waitress told us that we order there (at the counter) and sit wherever we want.

We asked about the size of the calzones, and we were shown a sign that was the size of the pan.  Then the waitress asked us if we'd heard about the Belly Buster.  We hadn't, so she explained that it's a Wednesday only deal.  You get a 10" pizza with 2 toppings and a small side salad for $5.99!  That's a great deal, about half-price!  We decided to each get a Belly Buster, so we placed our order and looked for a table.

side salad with Ranch dressing on the side
At first we thought we'd sit outside since the tables have a pretty nice view of the lake, but it was kind of windy and cool, especially with the sun almost down.  We went back inside and found a couple stools next to the window.  Inside is mainly a sports bar.  It seems like a cool place to hang out for locals, and based on the side salads and 10" pizzas I saw on the tables, the Belly Buster seems like the deal to order.

Our salads were little, but they were good.  Really, it was just a bonus since we didn't originally intend to order a salad anyway.

The pizzas were the perfect size, six pieces that weren't too big to hold.  On first bite, I thought "wow."

10" pizza with meatballs and jalapenos with marinara sauce

10" pizza with sausage and mushrooms with alfredo sauce

The cheese was just fabulous.  I had my pizza topped with meatballs and jalapenos.  The jalapenos added a little heat but weren't too hot, and the meatballs and marinara both had great flavor.  The crust was kind of New York style but not too thin.  It was soft and easy to bite into but was a little crisp on the outside, which was nice.

My husband had his pizza topped with sausage and mushrooms.  He also ordered it with an alfredo sauce instead of the traditional marinara.  They have four sauces (BBQ, pesto, alfredo and marinara.)  By default they use marinara, but it's no additional charge to request one of the other options.  The alfredo sauce really melded in with the cheese.  I didn't taste alfredo or cheese as two distinct ingredients.  It just tasted creamy and kinda like a white pizza.  It was really good.  The sausage and mushrooms went really well with the alfredo.  His pizza was also a little more undercooked than mine, which I like.  Mine wasn't overcooked, but his was slightly softer.  Both of our pizzas fell in the "perfect" range. 

Basically, if we lived in Lake Arrowhead, we'd probably go here for pizza every Wednesday.  It's a laid back environment with simply delicious food.  And, the view, service and TV sports options (if you're into that) are also hard to top.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Belgian Waffle Works

We're in Lake Arrowhead for a few days, and no trip here is complete without a stop at Belgian Waffle Works.  This definitely isn't a place for diets!

I love the location by the lake.  They have indoor and outdoor seating, but we always choose to sit on their outdoor patio.  They have umbrellas for shade, and they have heaters in case it gets chilly.  I love watching the birds, ducks and boats while sipping coffee and looking over the menu.

Speaking of coffee, when I know a restaurant has flavored creamers (french vanilla, hazelnut, Irish creme, etc) I'm MUCH more likely to order coffee.  Otherwise, I think it's a complete ripoff since I know I could buy a bag of coffee at the grocery store for about the same price as one cup at a restaurant.  I know they sell flavored creamers at the grocery store too (I buy them), but somehow knowing that I can get them at a restaurant adds so much to the experience.  Am I the only one who thinks this way?  Anyway, Belgian Waffle Works gives you an assortment of creamers (some flavored, some not flavored) with your coffee, and coffee goes really well with waffles.  If you're like me, you'll just have to get a cup.  They're ready with the refills too.

There are many options on the menu including over a dozen types of waffles plus sandwiches, salads, etc., but as our waitress said today, "Waffles are what we do!"  They do waffles well, and they serve them all day.

Hot Apple Annie

I think my husband and I both said "Wow" when our food arrived.  After debating between the Peach Melba Belgian, the Apples Normandy Belgian and the Hot Apple Annie, I decided to go with the Hot Apple Annie: a waffle topped with cinnamon ice-cream topped with another waffle topped with hot apples, raisins, walnuts and whipped cream.  It's like calling dessert a meal.  It was a little hard to eat with the ice-cream sandwiched between the waffles, so I ended up disassembling it.

Peanutty Belgian

My husband ordered the Peanutty Belgian: a waffle topped with chocolate ice-cream topped with another waffle topped with peanut butter topped with peanuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream.  He loves peanut butter cups, so this was the perfect waffle for him.

My parents owned a bakery when I was growing up, and I remember parents coming in with their kids and telling them they could have whatever doughnut they wanted for breakfast but that they couldn't have a cookie.  That always seemed odd to me because a doughnut is no healthy than a cookie.  They're both basically like dessert.  That's probably one of the reasons I love breakfast food so much; it's like dessert.  The waffles at Belgian Waffle Works are no exception.  I thoroughly enjoyed my waffle/dessert this afternoon!

Happy eating!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rosie's BBQ & Grillery

Today for lunch, we went to Rosie's BBQ & Grillery in Northridge. First impressions matter, and the host who greeted us when we arrived was very friendly and welcoming.  Our waitress was also very nice, but service was a little slow.  We weren't in a rush, so that was a non-issue, but they may have been understaffed.  She might have been the only waitress on duty at that time.  I can't remember seeing another waitress.

They have a salad & sandwich buffet during lunch hours, and we all decided to try it.  The buffet includes a great variety of cold cuts, cheese, toppings, condiments, and breads for sandwich making.  They also have a variety of pasta salads, fresh fruit, lettuce salads and a few hot items (meatballs, chicken wings and french fries).

It was the perfect variety for a delicious make-your-own lunch.  I particularly liked the sandwich options, and the fruit was deliciously sweet.  The only downside was that we had to wait for our waitress to bring us plates.  As I mentioned, service was a little slow, so we had to wait awhile before going back for seconds.  I'm not sure why they don't just leave plates up at the buffet.

In the pictures above, you can see the buffet.  In the pictures below, you can see examples of what sandwich and salad combinations we created.

I ate at Rosie's once before, and that time I had the BBQ tri-tip.  I really loved it.  It tasted better than the tri-tip at more expensive BBQ restaurants.  I would recommend this place for either their BBQ options or their lunch buffet.

When we were there today, a Sunday afternoon, the place was almost empty.  It was a nice relaxing meal.  The music could've been a little louder, but otherwise, no complaints.  I love the canning jar cups and rustic wooden tables.

I'll definitely stop by for lunch sometime in the future.

Happy eating!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Watson's Drugs and Soda Fountain

My mom loves antiques, so today my husband and I went down to the city of Orange in Orange County, CA with her.  They have a lot of antique shops and restaurants there.  We arrived in the early afternoon and decided to find a place to eat lunch before browsing through the antique shops.
We looked at menus at about half a dozen different restaurants and cafes before grabbing a booth at Watson's Drugs and Soda Fountain.  It's very retro.  I'm too young to remember pharmacies where you'd get a malt or flavored soda, but that's what this place was like.  They have a pretty big menu of sandwiches, salads and breakfast items.

First of all, I love how many options they have on their menu for customization, and I love how open they are to customizing even beyond that.  For example, the waitress rattled off a long list of milkshake flavors and said she could even combine some of the flavors.  For instance, they have peanut butter milkshakes and chocolate milkshakes, but you could have a chocolate peanut butter milkshake if you wanted one.  My mom got excited when she heard that they had peach flavored milkshakes, but she almost didn't get one when the waitress told her how big they were...enough to fill two large glasses.  My husband offered to share the milkshake with her, and waitress said she could do two different flavors if they didn't want the same flavor.  She didn't mean that they'd mix the flavors together (like in the chocolate peanut butter example above) but that they in essence make 2 half-size milkshakes in 2 completely different flavors for the price of one milkshake!  Wow!  I love that!  They decided to take her up on the offer.  My mom got a peach milkshake, and my husband got a peanut butter milkshake.  My husband said that it tasted like they put real peanut butter in his milkshake.  It wasn't just peanut butter flavoring.  My mom had whole chunks of peaches in her milkshake that were as big as her spoon.  Very impressive.  They should sell half-size milkshakes.  Those are plenty big!

Patty Melt

Here's another example of options:  Their hamburgers are 1/2 pound, and for no additional cost you can substitute a chicken fillet or a buffalo patty.  You also get a side of french fries, curly fries or onion rings, or you can have a half order of two different sides.  I love customization!

Patty Melt
It had been years since I last had a buffalo burger, but I remembered loving it.  I also remembered that buffalo is supposed to be a lot leaner and healthier than beef or chicken.  I went with a patty melt with a buffalo patty.  I'm sure all of the melted American cheese and the buttered rye bread did nothing to make the sandwich healthy, but I really enjoyed the flavor.  I thought I'd only eat half, but before I knew it I had finished the entire sandwich.  I guess I was hungry!  I went for a combination of onion rings and curly fries for my side order.  The onion rings were good but not amazing.  The curly fries were good but not as spicy or flavorful as what you'd get at Arby's.  Still, it was a huge portion, and I practically licked my plate clean.  I don't know the last time I've eaten that much greasy, delicious, authentic American diner food!

Bacon Cheeseburger
My husband ordered a bacon cheeseburger with a buffalo patty.  My mom got the exact same thing except she went with the traditional beef patty.  They both got the onion ring/curly fry combo.  They were both very pleased with their burgers.  We had three clean plates and three full bellies by the end of lunch.

I glanced around at what other patrons ordered, and I saw some impressively big salads, and another table ordered breakfast in the afternoon.  I also heard people asking for special requests, like putting an item that comes on the salad on the side or making a substitution.

They also have a case full of pastries and cakes.  Some ladies at a nearby table were raving about a pastry that they were sharing and saying they'd have to get some to go.

In short, if you're in Orange, you won't leave hungry at Watson's, and you'll get your food just the way you like it.  The staff is friendly, the tables are clean, and the food is delicious. 

Happy eating!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ono Mai Tai Recipe

Desperate for the perfect Mai Tai to recall my lazy days at the beach on Maui, I made one delicious change to my original recipe.  This new and improved recipe tastes closer to what I remember from the islands, and it's going to be my go-to drink while floating in the pool this summer.  You can get the ingredients pretty inexpensively.  For the price of a few resort-priced cocktails, you'll have enough ingredients for an epic backyard luau. 

"Ono" means "delicious" in Hawaiian, so I've named this version of my Mai Tai recipe after my thoughts upon first sip.

Ono Mai Tai

1 ounce amaretto liqueur
1 ounce triple sec
2 ounces orange juice
2 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces Captain Morgans spiced rum

Fill a tall glass with ice.  Mix the first 4 ingredients and pour over ice.  Float the Captain Morgans on top.

The glass pictured to the right contains half a serving of the recipe above.  For first taste, I split the recipe in two small glasses, one for me and one for my husband.  He particularly loves amaretto liqueur, so he was definitely a fan of this drink.

I used fresh squeezed orange juice from the orange tree in our backyard.  The oranges weren't quite as sweet as I would like, so I added a little Splenda to compensate.  You can use your favorite store-bought orange juice which shouldn't need any additional sweetening. 

I used Dole pineapple juice.  I saw a bartender using this exact same juice at a bar on Maui, so I don't think it gets more authentic than this.  Although, if you happen to be cutting up a fresh pineapple, you could always use the fresh juice.

Happy drinking!

Flavor of India

I love Indian food.  It's so flavorful and spicy, and I don't know of another type of cuisine that makes vegetables taste so good!

Yesterday, my husband and I took in a matinee in Burbank, and then we headed to one of our favorite nearby lunch spots, Flavor of India.  They have a lunch buffet every day of the week.  It costs slightly more on the weekends, but that price also includes a beverage whereas during the week, a beverage is not included.  The weekend buffet is advertised as a "champagne brunch buffet," but if you don't want champagne you can get coffee, soda, etc instead.

We've eaten at multiple Indian restaurants and multiple Indian buffets.  We really prefer a buffet at an Indian restaurant because the variety is always delicious, and we really would have trouble deciding on just one thing to order.  The buffet at Flavor of India is certainly our favorite.

They have a mini-buffet of chutneys and sauces.  They have naan, samosas, multiple preparations of veggies and meats, rice, salad, fruit, etc.  I usually start with a little bit of just about everything and then go back for seconds of my favorites.  On this trip, I paid attention to the items I was craving the second time around.  Alioo gobi was my favorite veggie dish.  This is the only dish I know of that makes cauliflower delicious.  I could eat this all day.  The chicken tikka masala was my favorite meat dish.  It has a nice level of heat and is particularly juicy.  The sauce also tastes great with the naan.  The samosas are also delicious.  I'd be happy just eating the insides out of them.  It's just a mixture of peas and mashed potatoes with yummy spices.  Like I said, Indian food really makes eating you veggies a treat!

If you don't like spicy food, beware.  I had a nice level of heat going on in my mouth.  The food was spicy but not too spicy.  Personally, I love spicy food.  If you can handle the spicy chicken sandwich at your favorite fast food chain, then you can handle the level of heat you'll experience in the food here.

I tried making Indian food a couple times years ago.  I made samosas and tandori chicken.  It tasted good, but it took hours to prepare.  I found the samosas particularly time consuming.  My husband used to make a chicken curry dish a lot, but it didn't taste as good as what you get at an Indian restaurant.  We decided that this is one of those cuisines that we'll leave to the experts.  Besides, when you have easy access to a delicious lunch buffet, why slave in the kitchen?

Happy eating!

Happy eating!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Homemade Whole Wheat Pizza Dough and White Pizza Recipes

Tonight was an experiment in making my own whole wheat pizza crust.  For years we've been using the herb pizza dough that Trader Joe's sells, and while it tastes really good, it has a ton of sodium in it.  In an effort to cut back on sodium, tonight we ate my first ever homemade pizza crust!

It turned out really well.  My husband and I had no problem downing a large pizza tonight.  The recipe makes 2 crusts, so I have one in the refrigerator to use tomorrow night.  :)

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 c warm water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
3 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp oregano

Pour water into a large bowl.  Dissolve sugar in water.  Sprinkle yeast over water and set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes.  At this point, yeast should be foamy.  Add salt and olive oil.  Then add 3 cups flour, basil and oregano.  Mix until dough starts to form.

Turn dough out onto a surface floured with the remaining 1/2 cup flour.  Knead dough until all the flour has been incorporated and dough becomes elastic.  This should take about 10 minutes.

Put dough in an oiled bowl.  (You can use cooking spray or olive oil.)  Turn the dough to coat with oil.  Cover bowl loosely with a towel and put it in a warm place to rise.  (I often put my oven on it's lowest setting and put the bowl in there.)  Set a timer for an hour.

At this point the dough should be doubled in size.  Remove dough from bowl and separate into 2 equal parts.  Form two dough balls and place the balls in 2 separate oiled bowls.  Cover the bowls with a towel and place in a warm place.  (If using the oven idea, you may want to turn the heat off this time.  The oven will already be warm, and you don't want the dough to actually bake at this point.)  Set the timer for 45 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to your desired size.  Each dough ball should make a large thin-crust pizza.  If you don't want to make both pizzas, you can refrigerate the second crust until you're ready to use it.

Preheat over to 425 degrees.  Add whatever toppings you desire and bake in a pizza pan or on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes or until the crust is slightly browned and the cheese is melted and golden brown.  It's pizza time!

Before Baking
Tonight, I turned a pizza crust into a delicious White Pizza.  Want the recipe?  You got it!

White Pizza

1 recipe whole wheat pizza crust (see above)
3 thinly sliced roma tomatoes
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 c ricotta cheese
16 ounces frozen chopped spinach (defrosted and drained of liquid)
2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
16 ounces mushrooms (chopped and precooked to remove excess liquid)
1 tbsp TexJoy
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
2 tsp chipotle pepper flakes

After Baking
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Roll out the pizza crust to desired size and place on a greased pizza pan.  Place tomato slices evenly on top of the crust.  Sprinkle the garlic and salt on top of the tomatoes.  Add small dollops of ricotta cheese evenly on top of tomatoes.  Sprinkle spinach evenly on top of pizza and then sprinkle mozzarella cheese evenly on pizza.  Top evenly with mushrooms.  (It's important that the mushrooms are on top so that any liquid can evaporate so that the crust doesn't become soggy.)  Sprinkle TexJoy, Parmesan and pepper flakes on top of mushrooms

Bake for 15 minutes or until crust is slightly browned and the cheese is melted and golden brown. 

Happy eating!

Mai Tai Recipe

I miss Maui...the weather, the beach, the Mai Tais.

We're blessed with an orange tree in our backyard, and we always have canned pineapple juice on hand for Pina Coladas by the pool, so I decided I need to try my hand at making Mai Tais.

Mai Tai Recipe attempt #1:

1 ounce Malibu coconut rum
1 ounce triple sec
2 ounces orange juice
2 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces Captain Morgans spiced rum

Fill a tall glass with ice.  Mix the first 4 ingredients and pour over ice.  Float the Captain Morgans on top.

It's good, but it's not quite as good as what I got in Maui.  I may tweak my ingredients and try again.  In the is fruity and refreshing like a tropical vacation!

Happy drinking!

Friday, May 17, 2013


One of the benefits to living in a neighborhood with a large Mexican population is the great Mexican food including tamales sold out of minivans in grocery and super-store parking lots.  There are a couple stores (which will remain unnamed) where we occasionally see a young Mexican lady discretely asking shoppers if they'd like to buy tamales.  We refer to her as "tamale girl," and there's usually a note of excitement in our tone of voice when we see her.  For example, "Look, honey, tamale girl's here!"

Tonight we bought a dozen tamales for $10.  Yes, indeed, that's better than any happy hour deal you could get anywhere.  There are 3 kinds of tamales offered out of this minivan: chicken, pork and cheese.  We remembered the chicken being out favorite, so we got 6 chicken, 3 pork and 3 cheese.  Gotta love an easy and delicious dinner!

In an attempt to make the meal somewhat healthy, I made a "tamale salad."  Basically, I put a chicken tamale on top of a pile of mixed greens.  Yum!

Happy eating!