Sin City shopping

Posted by Anita on 10.28.06 7:19 PM

bread (c)2006 AECMom and I were killing time after dropping Dad off for an appointment this morning, so we stopped by the local branch of Sunflower Farmers Market. Despite the name, it’s really a supermarket, albeit one with a heavy emphasis on produce. You’ll also find a nice selection of Harris Ranch meats, bulk foods, and — if you need assistance in the supplements department — a cranky vegan to lecture you about how meat clogs your colon. (Seriously, though… 99% of the folks who work there are sweet and lovely.) The produce is nicer than what you’d find at the national megamarts in town, but if you’re a regular shopper at real farmers’ markets or even Whole Foods, you may be a bit underwhelmed. Still, it’s nice to walk into a store where the bulk of foods on offer are grown, not manufactured, and you have to go out of your way to find food in a package.

Right across the intersection from Sunflower, hidden in the back of a little industrial park, the amusingly named Great Buns Bakery specializes in fresh-baked breads. I should warn you that there’s nothing artisanal about this place; it’s a large-scale operation, with all the baking done on site in a thoroughly charm-free industrial bakery. One of the employees told us that they supply bread to “90% of the restaurants” in the area, and there certainly were dozens of pallets of rolls and loaves stacked up right on the retail floor, tagged with the names of local shops and eateries. But ‘big’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’: The breads I’ve tried all taste great — the ciabatta in particular – and the prices are competitive. We picked up a loaf of day-old bread for $0.99 today, and it tastes just fine. I’ll just ignore the fact that all the staff wear aprons that say “Keep your hands off my Great Buns”.

[[Update 3/21/07: Just got word from Mom that Great Buns was destroyed in a fire last night: Fire Guts Las Vegas Bakery]]

We still had a few hours to fill, so we consulted the yellow pages and plotted a course to North Las Vegas. Past the end of The Strip, the area near Las Vegas Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue feels a bit like the wrong side of the tracks, but it’s actually a vibrant shopping area.

We first stopped in to the aptly named Thai Market and spent a good half-hour browsing the aisles of its small storefront. The woman working the cash register noticed Mom’s bewidered look, and made a point of telling her to please let her know if she needed any help. The selection was good, but not great: a nice assortment of packaged goods, a few housewares, and a tiny produce cooler. (When we got home, we realized that there’s a larger Thai market in Downtown, pretty close to Lotus of Siam… I sense a Thai field trip coming up.)

Next up was Super Mercado del Pueblo, a little slice of Mexico right on the fringes of Sin City. The market’s strip mall — which reminded me much more of semi-urban Mexico than the shops of Mexican-American neighborhoods in California — also houses a self-serve car wash, a beauty parlor, and a shoe outlet (3 pairs for $20!). As you walk in the door, there’s a portrait studio, a jewelery shop, and an insurance agent …and, of course, slot machines… it’s still Vegas, after all. The market itself is clean, busy, brightly lit, and friendly; at least three employees greeted us during our brief browse, offering help. The meat counter advertises Harris Ranch meats, with a seemingly endless selection of mostly Latino-style cuts; nearby, a well-stocked dairy counter has all of your queso-related needs covered. The large, comprehensive produce section’s offerings looked a little chewed-on, but you can’t beat the prices: $1 for 15 limes, anyone? They make a village’s worth of tortillas every day on site, too… many of the 24-packs were still warm — mmm! Two walls were covered with cellophane bags of every kind of dried chile, herb, and nut imaginable.

We passed at least three more Safeway-sized Latino grocery stores on our way back to pick up Dad. Definitely plenty of opportunities for a mercado prowl in the future.

Sunflower Farmers Market
3365 E. Tropicana Avenue (at Pecos)
Las Vegas, NV 89121

Great Buns
3270 E. Tropicana Avenue (at Pecos)
Las Vegas, NV 89121

Thai Market
3297 Las Vegas Blvd. North (near Cheyenne)
Las Vegas, NV 89115

Super Mercado del Pueblo
2987 N. Las Vegas Blvd. (near Pecos)
North Las Vegas, NV 89030

family, Mexican, shopping, Thai, travel, Vegas
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The “no-recipe” club

Posted by Anita on 10.27.06 10:33 PM

apple cake (c) 2006 aecNot quite five years ago, my mom and dad retired to Henderson, just outside Las Vegas. Their neighborhood — a megasized age-restricted community — is one of those places where you can get hopelessly lost among all the similar-looking houses as you whiz past the golf course, the gigantic rec center, the three-story waterfall… You’re miles from the nearest grocery store or restaurant, or anything else other than a few thousand houses that look pretty much like your own.

But — as much as it’s the kind of development where I’d never choose to live — it’s a pretty cool place in one important respect. Since all the houses in their section were built to order around the same time, everybody moved in pretty much at the same time. Many of my parents’ neighbors had left behind friends and relatives in their old hometowns, and were anxious to make new friends.

My mom found her place among a great group of ladies who live on her street and beyond. They moved to Henderson from all over the country (and, originally, all over the world), so there’s a nice assortment of interests and personalities. In various combinations, they shop together, line-dance together, play Pickleball together.

One of the other things that Mom and her friends like to do is cook, so they formed a Recipe Exchange Club: They each take turns hosting a potluck, and everyone brings their dish’s recipe to share. Or, at least that was the original idea… apparently nobody’s brought recipes since the first “meeting”, because they all cook dishes that they know by heart. It’s evolved into an excuse for a casual meal together where the women sit in the dining room and talk about mahjong and their part-time jobs, and the men sit outside on the porch, admiring the view of The Strip in the distance and talking about poker and football.

Mom and I were in charge of dessert for tonight’s gathering. Since most of Mom’s friends aren’t big dessert-eating types, we decided that something fruity, and not too sweet, would fit the bill. Mom tinkered with a recipe she found on All Recipes, and came up with a great dessert that I bet also makes a tasty coffee cake.

After the amazing spread of dishes these ladies made, I wasn’t sure that any of us would have room for cake. But we sat and talked after dinner, and — lo and behold — everyone found space for a slice.

Caramel-Apple Cake
4 apples – peeled, cored and diced (approx. 4 cups)
1 T sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1/4 cup apple juice
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or angel-food cake pan. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the apples with the 1T sugar and the spices; set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugars with oil, applesauce, juice, vanilla and eggs. Beat at high speed until smooth. Fold in flour mixture, then add in chopped walnuts and apples.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Serve slices with homemade caramel sauce.

baking, dessert, entertaining, family, recipes, Vegas
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Bellagio’s other fountains

Posted by Anita on 10.25.06 8:52 PM

chocolate fountain (c)2006 AECOn the way to take my sister to the airport for a red-eye flight, we decided to stop off at Bellagio to check out the massive pumpkin patch and have dessert. We wandered through the conservatory, eyeing dozens of exotic and enormous pumpkins, many of which topped 500 pounds. We also spied a few plant-sculptures of Mallard ducks, which appeared to be made partly of broccoli and cauliflower!

Right next door to all this healthy fodder, you’ll find Jean Philippe Patisserie. In addition to eye-popping mini-desserts, luscious gelati, and crepes made to order, Jean Philippe is also home to the world’s largest chocolate fountain.

Now, when I heard the words “giant chocolate fountain”, my imagination conjured an overgrown version of one of those gadgets you’d find at a bad Jersey wedding. But I should have known that the Bellagio wouldn’t stoop to something so crass. [cough]

Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing the fountain’s debut:

Standing 27-feet tall, the masterpiece circulates nearly two tons of melted dark, milk and white chocolate at a rate of 120 quarts per minute. [...] Three rivers of dark, two of milk and one of white twist and swirl from vessel to vessel, flood across then spill down to the next carefully positioned receptacle. The colored streams and vessels are staggered, creating a mosaic effect in earthy shades of cocoa, gleaming viscous surfaces and refracted light. Having finished their acrobatic tumble down the tiers of this colossal chandelier, each rivulet funnels into hidden melting tanks, recollects and begins the journey once more.

Sounds like a bunch of PR hype, but in fact, the darned thing really is mesmerizing. Neither the statistics nor my photos do it justice.

Being as it was a Sunday evening, the pastries were rather picked over and looking much the worse for wear. I chose a lemon-meringue tart, which tasted like it had been sitting around for more than just the workday. Mom and Sis wisely opted to share a scoop of chocolate gelato and a bananas Foster crepe. The crepe was nice, although the banana topping looked pretty sorry — no great surprise, as it was kept warm in a hot-fudge pot. The gelato’s deep, bittersweet flavor was my favorite taste of the evening — and I’m not even a chocolate lover.

I’m sure I’ll give Jean Philippe another try, perhaps earlier in the day when the pastries are fresh… if only to see that fountain again!

Jean Philippe Patisserie
3600 S. Las Vegas Boulevard (inside Bellagio)
Las Vegas, NV

dessert, family, travel, Vegas


A peach of a pair

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 10:01 AM

peach bruschetta (c)2006 AECEveryone knows about the natural affinity of pears and blue cheese, but unless you’re a fan (as I am) of the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook, you might not have though of trying peaches avec bleu.

This recipe is good even when you make it with supermarket stuff, as we did… finding local produce in Vegas is virtually impossible. But I promise that you’ll make little grunty noises if you try it with good gorgonzola, perfect peaches, and Acme bread.

Peach Bruschetta with Bleu Cheese
Adapted from Becky Smith’s recipe, as told to Peggy Knickerbocker

4 slices country bread, or 12 slices good baguette cut on the diagonal
2 of the best peaches you can find
extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound soft gorgonzola

Halve peaches lengthwise, and remove the pit. Cut each half in half again, and peel each peach quarter. Cut the quarters into 1/4-inch slices, keeping them as flat as possible.

Place the bread slices on a medium grill, and cook until golden brown. Remove from heat and brush with olive oil. Spread with the cheese, and top with the peaches. Eat standing over the sink, slurping the peach juice from your hands.

cookbooks, cooking, farmers markets, recipes, shopping, Vegas
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Your own… personal…

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 9:54 AM

personal melons (c)2006 AEC…melons.

(apologies to Depeche Mode)

C’mon, it’s Vegas… you didn’t expect a melon joke?

levity, shopping, Vegas


A plethora of piñatas?

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 9:43 AM

el jefe's (c)2006 AECPardon my tardiness with the next couple of posts… I’m clearing out a post-holiday backlog. (Or is that back-blog?)

If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I might not believe there really is a restaurant called El Jefe’s. It made me want to walk right up to the hostess desk and ask, in my best Chevy Chase voice: “Do you have anything here besides… Mexican food?”

But the place is indeed real, and, in fact, they do have plenty of things on the menu that would confuse the heck out of the denizens of San Poco. The decor‘s your first clue that perhaps this isn’t your typical combo-plate shack. Obviously, these guys have pretentions, and it shows in the menu.

Now, I’m no purist when it comes to my comida: I love my gringified Mexican places as much as the next SoCal emigrant, and I’m even pretty fond of Mexican fusion, when it’s done right. But even given the fact that they’re obviously shooting straight for my demographic, I couldn’t find anything to latch onto at El Jefe’s. The chips and salsa they brought to the table didn’t give me much hope: The chips were made from a strange combination of flour and corn masa, giving the impression of eating the wrapping from a greasy chimichanga, and both green and red salsas were obviously sweetened.

Even though I wasn’t particularly hungry, I ordered a “Mexican chopped salad” to hedge my bets. The spicy mix of chicken, lettuce, poblanos, pepitas, hominy, and apples wasn’t bad, although, again, someone in the kitchen used a very heavy hand with the sugar when mixing the dressing. For my main, I went with mole chicken enchiladas. They arrived in a soup plate, swimming in sauce and “artfully” drizzled with crema. The chicken was good, if not particularly interesting; the sauce would have been a perfect balance of smoky, spicy and rich, if it hadn’t been marred by an odd fruity sweetness. Accompanying pintos were bland, and white rice was waterlogged… and unnecessary.

The whole experience made me want to go back into the kitchen and ask: “Could it be that you are angry for something else, and you are taking it out on me?”

El Jefe’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
9925 S. Eastern Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89123

Mexican, restaurants, Vegas
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