Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Viva Las Vegas - July 2013

What better way to wrap up July birthday season, than with a trip to Fabulous Las Vegas! (You are thinking of the classic Las Vegas sign right now, right? Well start if you aren't already, that is where I was going with that opening bit.)

It was a big family meet up in that bright light city. Most of the crew flew in Friday night and we hit the casinos running. It worked out really well as J was landing at 10pm, D&B at 10:10pm, and M&K at 10:21pm (we were actually concerned we would be delayed because that is what happens when you fly with Michael). As it turned out M&K were 30 minutes early and everyone else was late, we were waiting at the gate when D&B stepped off the plane - which was awesome. We met up with our driver and soon we were all in an Escalade cruising to the Golden Nugget in style.

We spent Saturday afternoon throwing some dice and playing card games. I was not a winner, but J did really well - thanks for dinner! Saturday night we hopped in a cab to the Wynn. None of us had been there before, what a beautiful casino. The entrance has a large walkway filled with trees wrapped in white lights and beautiful flowers. Yes, some of the flowers are fake, we tested them and some are not, we tested those too.

Michael had done some research (he planned the entire trip) and Steve Wynn has recently become a vegan, now all of the restaurants on his property offer vegan options. This worked out well for our crowd. We enjoyed a really tasty dinner at the Italian restaurant, Allegro. They had three different vegan options, J was thrilled. I tried to eat relatively light and enjoyed the Caesar salad as a starter and the bean and grain soup for my main course. The guys both had spaghetti and meatballs. Wow, the bowl of pasta was huge - it could have easily been a family style portion of spaghetti. The flavor was fantastic and I think they both ate more than they wanted because it was hard to put down the fork. B had selection of bruschetta, an appetizer, as her main course. There were three different varieties and I think the Italian peppers and sausage was her favorite. After dinner we walked over to see Encore and it was just as amazing as the Wynn.

Sunday the O's came to join the party, they had to drive through a rain storm but after they arrived we headed to the Strip once again for dinner and a show.

We ate on the patio at Olives in Bellagio. Every 30 minutes we were treated to a front row seat of the water show. The food was Mediterranean inspired with bright and interesting flavors. The wine list was presented on an iPad, so high tech.

The bread basket was a great starter with soft rolls and crispy cracker sheets and two different tapenade spreads. MomW and MomO each had the prix fixe meal and were kind enough to share bites with the table. MomO and I shared her started, corkscrew shrimp, and she had a perfectly cooked piece of Chilean sea bass for dinner. I went with a fig and prosciutto flatbread for my main course. Even though it was considered a starter, it was a very large potion. The rosemary crust was topped with fig jam (hmm, maybe an idea for Christmas), gorgonzola cheese, and paper thin slices of prosciutto. Luckily BDO was sitting right next to me and he didn't let any of the delicious prosciutto go to waste once I was full. BDO started with the charred tomato gazpacho, it was a cool choice for the warm evening. And for his main he really enjoyed the beef carpaccio that was served over a bed of greens and a portion of gorgonzola polenta. (MomO and BDO have been staying away from carbs and each have lost quite a bit of weight. BDO gained 6 pounds while we were in Vegas - we were a bad influence! He has since lost it all and it back down to where he was before the trip.) MW started with the Boston Bibb salad (pictured below) the greens were topped with shaved onions, Maytag blue cheese sprinkles, and a toasted walnut dressing.

The birthday girl enjoyed a special dessert. And then she and Dan headed off to see Rod Stewart. They thoroughly enjoyed the show and were all smiles when we met them afterwards. (It was actually really sweet, we were waiting for them at the show exit doors and as soon as Michael's dad saw him he had a big smile on his face and walked right over and gave Michael a big bear hug. He is a huge Rod Steward fan and tickets to the show were his Father's Day present. He could not have been happier.)

J had to go back to work (boo!), after she dropped her parents off at the theatre, she headed to the airport and the rest of us walked to the conservatory garden in Bellagio. The garden was filled with over sized birds and flowers.

Unfortunately it was also filled with over sized crowds. With more rain headed our way, we scooted over to Caesar's Palace and lost some money playing games while we waited for the show goers.

After a long, tough day in a cabana at the Golden Nugget pool (not so much, it was not surprisingly, quite relaxing),  we spent our last night enjoying dinner at Hugo's Cellar. Hugo's is a classic steak house with waiters in tuxedos, roses for the women, and flattering dim lighting. The service is exquisite and the food is old school fantastic. My favorite part of the meal is the salad cart and custom mixed salad. Any time food is prepared table side it is automatically better and this salad is enough for a filling meal. (In fact, that is all MomO had for her starter and dinner.) We were hoping to have room for table side cherries jubilee or bananas foster after dinner, but that salad is just so filling. Well the salad, and the steaks and chicken and everything else we ordered.
After dinner we headed up to Binion's steakhouse for the view of the Vegas lights and a nightcap. I'm pretty sure none of us went right to bed after that drink so I even though it was intended to be a nightcap it was more of a second wind cap.
The four days flew by and it was the perfect way to end July birthday season. We should do it again next year!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect - little fondant cakes

Well not exactly perfect, but getting better.
Combining my packed July birthday calendar and my newly learned fondant skills I was busy making fancy little cakes last month. 
First off Miss Madi's Tiffany box. The 3"x 4" cake was a very dense chocolate cake topped with a coffee simple syrup and rich chocolate frosting. (My first batch of frosting was grainy so I ended up making a second batch using Trader Joe's Sipping Chocolate and it turned out fantastic. Thanks for the rescue Trader Joe's!) The frosted cake was covered in a thin layer of  '5th Avenue' blue fondant and topped with a white fondant ribbon and bow. I finished this cake about 4am the same morning it was shipped so I was lucky to snap this photo right before it went in to the box. It was cute, but definitely room for improvement.
 Next shipment were three little brownie bites decorated to look like little Tiffany jewelry boxes. They were pretty darn cute and much easier to cover in fondant than the larger cake. 

Unfortunately they clearly smelled very delicious and never made it to Annie - she sent a picture of what happened to her birthday package. We were all relieved that Molly didn't get sick from eating the brownies! What kind of birthday gift would that have been? Next time I should put a warning label on the box, "Keep away from the dog, tasty treats inside."

It took me two tries to get this next little cake right, but the extra effort was worth the end result. This little chocolate cake was covered in chocolate fondant (which tastes like Tootsie Rolls - yum) and then decorated with white fondant polka dots and a fondant bow.  I'm sure you are wondering, no the bow didn't survive shipping, it was flattened. And yes, for the sake of my test kitchen I did eat the first cake. I have to make sure what I'm sending people tastes good, right? Right?

And to wrap up July birthday season I made a white cake that was turned in to one little rounded cake topped with a sea blue fondant and molded shells and sea creatures. Clearly I didn't have plan on how to decorate the cake with the decorations, but they all looked so cute I had to use every last one.

I bought fancy cupcake boxes to package my creations. I don't think it helped them as much during shipping as I had hoped, but they looked good when they left my kitchen.

That same white cake also made 6 little petite fours - these were just about 1.5" x 1.5". I covered each one in a different shade of blue fondant, I was going for more of an ombre effect but it didn't turn out exactly as I was picturing it in my head (that happens more often than not, btw). These little cakes were harder to cover than the larger cake. I had to be careful not to smush them down. The brownie bites had more structural integrity than the small cake bites. I do love how each little cake highlights the individual decorations. How cute is that sea turtle? 

Ahh, August! With no birthdays on the horizon until September what am I going to do?