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How “Suite” It Is At An LA Kings Game

May 5, 2016

I’ve been lucky enough to be treated to a night in a luxury suite, and all the perks that come with it, at Staples Center in Los Angeles during a Los Angeles Kings game.  The first two times (Los Angeles Kings Game Luxury Suite and Living the Suite Life (Again!)) were courtesy of being invited as part of a work event for my husband and were hosted by the same business contacts.  Last year, my husband’s company was lucky enough to be hosted at a luxury suite at a LA Kings Game again, but this time by a different business contact, who hosted us in a much bigger suite where more people were present and everything just seemed bigger and more grand.

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First off, instead of just having access to coolers with all sorts of sodas, bottled water and beer and wine, we actually had a hosted bar with a bartender for the evening pouring any and all drinks that everyone inside the suite wanted.  Red wine, white wine, several different kinds of beers, and soda among others were our choices for beverages for the night.

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Our hosts provided us with amazing food choices for the evening.  There were quick and easy finger foods such as fresh vegetables, including celery sticks, carrot sticks, broccoli, cucumber, grape tomatoes, bell peppers and rainbow-colored cauliflower with ranch dressing and hummus.  Or there was bean dip and various types of chips to use to scoop up the bean dip.

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More quick and easy snacks such as tortilla chips and potato chips with fresh guacamole, corn salsa, tomato salsa and sour cream.

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Then there was a cheese and charcuterie plate with different cheeses, a selection of sliced, cured meats, and some honey, preserves and some crackers and bread as well.

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We had coleslaw, salad with cucumbers, red onions, olives, tomatoes, cheese and chicken with dressing on the side, as well as crostini with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, basil and olive tapenade as light starters.

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On to the food of the night, there were bbq chicken drumsticks and wings.  Those were really popular.  Hearty, and delicious, yet easy enough to eat, and really, the kind of food you think of when you think of eating at a sporting event.

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Baked beans with sausage, which I absolutely loved, and mac and cheese with a terrific crunchy panko topping.  My husband really enjoyed the mac and cheese, and I noticed that was one of the first dishes to go.  I guess mac and cheese is just one of those comfort foods that everyone loves.  These were just the sides for the main course of the evening.

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The main entree for dinner was a big hit with everyone, pulled pork and pulled beef brisket to go with some sandwich buns.  Essentially, we had a bbq meal.  And the pulled brisket was terrific, just a little spice, and perfectly cooked and tender.  I had to have a couple of pulled brisket sandwiches.

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There were also hot dogs and chicken fingers for those who weren’t quite feeling the bbq theme of the evening.  Again, it was like being at a sporting event tailgate with a bunch of terrific, delicious, and easy-to-eat food.

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And then finally, there was a pan of cast iron cornbread.  Who doesn’t love corn bread with their bbq meal?

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Towards the end of the first period, we had the highlight the evening.  The dessert cart.  When you watch a sporting event at Staples Center from the luxury suite levels, at some point during the evening, a dessert cart is pushed to your suite and its the one thing that tears everyone’s attention away from the sporting event.  The desert cart is exactly how it sounds, a cart filled with all the different, delicious, desserts that you could ever want, and it’s all yours to choose from and enjoy.  As much, or as little, as you want.  But, let’s be realistic, who can resist?

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Let’s start with the cakes.  And there’s lot and lots of cake.  The red velvet cake is a popular selection among many.  There was a chocolate paradise cake with crushed nuts crusted on the outside.  How about the chocolate mocha cake?  That looked terrific.  There was a Chicago-style cheese cake as well.  There was an absolutely decadent peanut butter cup, chocolate brownie stack cake.   That’s all the chocolate and peanut butter that anyone could handle.  For those who aren’t chocolate fans, there was a six layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.  They all sounded so good.  And if you wanted, you could have gotten a slice of each of them.

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But the dessert cart wasn’t just about the cakes.  There were cookies and candies and ice cream.  There were bags of M&M’s and gummy bears and sour patch kids.  It’s my husband’s tradition to always get a bag of gummy bears, and that’s what his choice for the evening from the dessert cart was.  There were chocolate cups on the dessert cart along with some rum and some Bailey’s for the adults that wanted a more adult dessert.  There was at least one person in our group who took advantage of a shot of Bailey’s in a chocolate cup.  There were various cookies including chocolate chip and Reese’s peanut butter cups.  There were candied caramel apples as well as caramel apples with crushed peanuts as well.  If you got one of the apples, they’d slice them up for you as well so you could share it.  There were bars of rice krispie treats and chocolate brownie bars, and toffee crunch blondie bars.  And there were waffle cones, chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, butterscotch and maraschino cherries as the makings for some awesome sundaes using the vanilla ice cream stored in the dessert cart’s freezer.

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I’m an ice cream fan, so I couldn’t resist getting a sundae.  However, instead of using the waffle cones, they had miniature LA King’s plastic helmets, which is what I chose for my ice cream sundae.  Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and rainbow sprinkles.  Yes, please.  It was so good, and large enough that my husband and I were able to share the helmet ice cream sundae.

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Once you’ve enjoyed an LA Kings game in a luxury suite, it’s hard to ever go back to just being a fan in the stands.  The goodies that came with hanging out in a suite, with a hosted bar, all the food you could ever want, and the dessert cart, make you feel like you’re living the high life.  Good game, great seats for the game, good food, good company, and a happy ending on the ice make for such a fun atmosphere with friends.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

May 3, 2016

Sometimes, when it’s cold (relatively speaking, I live in Southern California after all!) and chilly outside, all you want is a little bit of comfort food.  Winter months are great for enjoy a bowl of hearty soup.  Soup is filling, and warm and comforting and some times just a reminder of home during the long, dark nights.  So, one night, I got it in my head to try to learn how to make homemade chicken noodle soup.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but I figured, how hard can it be to make chicken noodle soup?  People make it all the time, and it is definitely the ultimate comfort food.

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While this is homemade chicken noodle soup, I didn’t actually make it all from scratch.  I used a leftover whole rotisserie chicken, and a package of store-bought egg noodles.  I never said this was made-from-scratch chicken noodle soup, just that it was homemade.  Let’s start with the whole rotisserie chicken that I bought to eat for a different meal.  I pulled the rest of the chicken meat off the bones and set the meat aside in a separate bowl to be used later for the soup.

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Before there can be chicken noodle soup, we need to make the broth.  Cut up the ingredients for the chicken stock that will go into making the soup broth.  We need a few basic ingredients for the stock, and that includes onions, carrots and celery.  These three items are the base of flavoring for the chicken stock.  We also need a few basic herbs, that includes some parsley.  Fresh is always better than dried.

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Into a dutch oven goes the whole chicken carcass.  If there’s still some chicken meat left on the bones, don’t worry.  Once we’re done with the chicken carcass, the chicken meat will just fall off of the bones.  Along with the chicken carcass, throw in the celery stalks, carrots and onions.

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To the dutch oven, add in a quart or two of cold water.  Just enough water to cover the chicken carcass and the vegetables.  You definitely don’t need to fill the entire dutch oven with water.  The less water you use, the more concentrated your chicken stock will be when done.  The more water you use, the more diluted the chicken stock and hence you’ll not be able to taste the rich flavors of the chicken and the vegetables.

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The final few ingredients to be added to the pot now.  Throw in the fresh parsley.

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Add this of fresh thyme as well for a woodsy, earthy flavor.

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And finally, add in a handful of whole black peppercorns for some added spice to the chicken broth.  Bring the pot up to a boil and then lower the temperature on the stove down to a simmer.  Cover the pot and let the stock simmer for a couple of hours.  This infuses the flavor of the herbs and the vegetables and the chicken into the stock.  The stock starts to reduce and concentrate.

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After a couple of hours, the celery and the carrots start to get mushy and opaque.  The onions have long since turned translucent.  The remaining meat on the chicken carcass has started to just fall off the chicken carcass itself, and all of the fresh parsley and thyme has turned an ugly dull, dark green color.  Your chicken stock is ready.  The next step would be to take the carcass out and take off any of the remaining chicken meat that can you salvage.  Now strain the remainder of the stock to separate out the stock from the cooked veggies and herbs.  The vegetables and the herbs have done their job now and you don’t need them anymore.  What you do need is the chicken stock that’s now been flavored and infused with all of the essence of the vegetables and the herbs.  This one chicken carcass made two quarts of chicken stock for me.

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Now that you’ve got your chicken stock, it’s time to prepare to make the chicken noodle soup.  I like my chicken noodle soup to have chunky vegetables in it as well as the noodles.  So, I prepared many of the same vegetables we used for the chicken stock: onions, carrots, and celery.  Again, I also used a little bit of the fresh parsley I still had on hand.  Since this is going into your soup and you’re going to be eating it, cut all the vegetables into bite sized pieces.  Also, now is the time to cook the egg noodles for the chicken noodle soup.  In a separate pot of boiling water, pour in just enough egg noodles for the amount of soup that you’ll be making and cook until al dente.

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Into a small pot on the stove, add in a couple of cups of the chicken stock we just made, throw in the vegetables for the soup, the onions, carrots and celery, and allow everything to come up to a quick boil.  This will cook the vegetables to your liking it.  Do you want softer, mushy vegetables then let it boil a little longer. If you want firmer, crunchier vegetables with a bit of a bite to them, don’t boil as long.

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Into the small pot, add in the chicken for your chicken noodle soup.  Again, like the egg noodles, only add in enough chicken for the amount of soup that you’re actually going to make and enjoy.  Once you’ve got the chicken stock prepared, making chicken noodle soup is quick and easy.  So there’s no need to make pots and pots of it in advance.

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After you’ve added the chicken, the final touch is to add in the egg noodles that you’ve already cooked.  Since the egg noodles are already done, there’s no need to continue cooking them in the pot with the chicken stock and the rest of the vegetables.  So, you can turn off the heat to the pot as soon as you’ve added the egg noodles.  Just stir everything to combine.

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Serve the chicken noodle soup right away in a bowl piping hot off the stove.  You can see the beautiful egg noodles, the perfectly cooked and bite sized carrots, onions and celery, and the chunks of rotisserie chicken meat.  The flavor of the broth for the soup is perfect because you made it yourself.  You know exactly what went into the chicken stock, the vegetables the fresh herbs, the peppercorn.  There’s no added ingredients, no additives, just pure flavoring from the chicken and the vegetables.  The chicken noodle soup was perfect and delicious.  The broth was rich and hearty and filling and the soup hit the spot on a cold winter night.  My husband was skeptical at first of my soup making skills, but once he smelled the soup and saw how good it looked, he even asked for a bowl of it himself.

City Tap House

April 27, 2016

As we’ve experienced previously, when traveling over a holiday, especially Thanksgiving or Christmas, you need to do some research before you travel so that you know what may be available to you in terms of meals during holidays on the road.  You can’t expect that same types of eateries or restaurants that are open on holidays at home will be available to you when you’re traveling.  Thanksgiving, especially since there’s such an emphasis on family and family gatherings, tends to be a difficult holiday to find many food options for, especially if you don’t plan ahead since most restaurants are either closed, or those that aren’t tend to fill up quickly as others begin to realize that the options are limited.  In preparing for our trip to Washington, D.C., we looked over the various options available to us for our Thanksgiving dinner meal and tried to pick a restaurant that served a variety of food, where we could still order off of the restaurant’s regular menu rather than being forced to order off of a set holiday menu so that it would satisfy the taste buds of everyone in our party.  While we found quite a few restaurants that were actually open for Thanksgiving dinner, very few either didn’t cost and arm and a leg for a meal, or actually allowed ordered off of the restaurant’s regular menu.  After narrowing down our choices, we decided to go with the restaurant that we thought would be the most laid back and relaxing restaurant and take our chances.

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Located in DC’s downtown entertainment core and close to Chinatown and shopping, City Tap House is a good old-fashioned brewhouse.  Offering craft beer from around the country and around the world, this “rustic, yet comfortable” brew pub serves brunch on weekends, and is open for lunch all the way into the late night/early morning hours the rest of the week.  But it’s not just the drinks people come for, it’s also what they describe as “elevated, American pub fare,” that includes brick oven pizzas and classic burgers you’d find in any gastropub, with a few surprises thrown in.

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The interior of the restaurant was relaxed and casual with a large open dining room and a large bar area.  The wood-paneled interior decor was very Americana and rustic with dim-intimate lighting, a large US flag as decoration as well as some wrought iron design pieces, and somewhat of a mid-western vibe to the atmosphere.  While dinner service was bustling on Thanksgiving evening, it wasn’t jam packed, which was nice.  And somehow seemed to be mainly locals rather than out-of-towners as our waiter seemed to be blown away by the fact that we came from California all the way cross country to not only spend our holiday in Washington, D.C., but our dinner at the restaurant.

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We started our meal by ordering an appetizer of yellowfin tuna tartare.  Made with scallions, cucumbers, red pepper, wasabi tobiko and yuzu-ginger dressing and accompanied by wonton strips, this tartare was fresh and full of flavor.  I really liked the use of wonton strips as an accompaniment to the tartare, the wonton strips were crispy and crunchy and a flavorful compliment to the yellowfin tuna.  I could have done without the red pepper in the tartare itself, but then again, that’s just me as I don’t like peppers.  The tartare itself was fresh and the yuzu-ginger dressing was fantastic.  The dressing made the tartare tart and tangy and incredibly flavorful.  The use of thin-sliced cucumbers was cool and refreshing and provided for such an interesting texture combination.

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My mom decided to order the classic margherita pizza for her dinner.  As the menu describes, the is a classic with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil.  The pizza was a terrific size for an individual entrée.  The dough was yeasty and doughy, which worked for my mom, and the tomato sauce was tangy.  Just the right amount of fresh mozzarella that was nice and melty and the clean, rich taste of the olive oil made for a pizza meal that my mom could enjoy.

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I ordered the rye French dip made with shaved ribeye, Gruyere cheese, bourbon mustard, porter au jus on country rye and served with duck fat fries.  I was a bit concerned about the rye bread as I don’t really love seeds in my bread, but the bread that City Tap House chose for the sandwich was actually pretty good, nice and thick cut and though you could taste the rye, it wasn’t studded with seeds all over.  The sandwich was perfectly cooked and incredibly crunchy and crispy, which I really loved.  The shaved ribeye was fantastic with the meat being nice and medium rare and combined with the Gruyere cheese it was just delicious.  The difference in this French dip was how flavorful and perfectly cooked the ribeye was, that was definitely the star.  The duck fat fries were fantastic as well, so rich in flavor and nice and crunchy and crispy on the outside.  The fries were thick enough that the inside was still soft and tender and full of potato.  The sandwich and the fries were such a delicious combination together.

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My dad and my husband both ordered the Tap burger, the restaurant’s signature hamburger.  Eight ounces of all natural ground beef topped with Lancaster rustic cheddar cheese, agrodolce onions, beer gastrique, toasted brioche and again served with duck fat fries with a truffle aioli dipping sauce created a fulfilling meal.  My husband decided to up the flavor factor in his burger by adding Benton’s bacon.  My husband was so excited by the duck fat fries that he dug into them first and devoured the whole thing.  Anything cooked in duck fat can’t be bad, and my husband can’t resist ordering it.  Both my husband and my dad loved their burgers.  They thought that the flavor of the burger patty was outstanding.  The cheese added a nice tang, and the agrodolce onions and the beer gastrique added the wow factor to the burger with tons of flavor.  This was definitely a burger worthy of a brewhouse.

We were all so full by the end of dinner that we didn’t even have room to consider ordering dessert.  Although this wasn’t the world’s fanciest Thanksgiving dinner, this worked for our family.  A really relaxing, fun atmosphere, a shared family meal that we all enjoyed, was really what it was all about.  We were never looking for a fancy Thanksgiving dinner meal, my family just doesn’t operate that way.  What was important to us was finding a place that served good, old fashioned food that could satisfy all of our tastes.  City Tap House was just fun, from the minute we walked into the restaurant, the atmosphere was relaxed and laid back and it was all about providing guests with a good time with good food.

Tom Yum District

April 22, 2016

Never one to miss an opportunity to take advantage of a holiday and office closure to travel, my husband made plans last year for us to travel to Washington, D.C. over the Thanksgiving holiday.  A few days of rest and relaxation in the nation’s capital while we played tourist is what we had in mind for our quick three-day trip cross-country.  Once we booked our hotel for the trip, my husband started looking in the neighborhood we were staying at, and he happened across a little eatery a couple of blocks from our hotel that he told me we had to go to while we were in town.  Not only did he think I would like it, he thought that my parents, who were also traveling with us, would really enjoy this eatery.  After I had a look at it myself, I had to hand it to my husband, he really knows what I like and what I don’t like, and this was definitely one of those places that I would definitely like.

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Much like the idea of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen that I wrote about not too long ago, Tom Yum District in Alexandria, Virginia follows the same idea of create-it-yourself using fresh, quality, tasty ingredients that have been prepared for your liking.  However, what makes Tom Yum District stand out from any of these other eateries is that all of the flavors are based solely on Thai cooking.  The brainchild of husband and wife duo Aulie Bunyaratahan and Mel Oursinsiri who own two other Thai restaurant’s in and around the D.C. metro area, Tom Yum District is their take on the fast-casual food market.  Using authentic Thai flavors, spices and cooking techniques, they bring Thai rice and noodle bowls directly from their open kitchen onto your plate in a matter of minutes.

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When you enter into the store, you’re greeted with a set of instructions posted along the wall along with printed menus to help you make your decision as you approach the front counter to begin selection your ingredients and putting your bowl together.  As the instructions state, you choose first from a base.  To the base, you add a protein. To that, you top it with a sauce and then you throw in different toppings.  At the end, you end up with your very own Thai-flavored rice or noodle bowl.

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So let’s start putting together our own bowl.  When you’re ready, step up to the counter and start with the base.  There are four different options for the base to your bow.  The choices are white jasmine rice, brown jasmine rice, pad Thai rice noodles and Asian mixed salad.  I’m Thai, we eat white jasmine rice, so that’s what I chose for my bowl both times we visited Tom Yum District.  So a couple of scoops of rice are added to the bowl and you move on to the next step.  Time to pick a protein.  Again, you’ve got four options: grilled steak, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp and grilled organic tofu.  The steak has been prepared using a coriander-garlic marinade, the chicken has been marinated in a lemongrass-numeric preparation, the shrimp has been prepared using a sweet chili sauce, and the tofu has been flavored with a sesame ginger glaze.  I’m a red meat kind of girl, so I had to go with the grilled steak atop my white rice.

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Time to move to step 3, the addition of the sauce.  With the sauces, there are 5 different authentic Thai-flavored sauces to add to your bowl.  There’s the signature tom yum sauce made with house-made chili paste and lime, classic flavors of Thailand.  There’s a panang curry sauce which is a curried peanut sauce and quite popular in Thailand.  There’s the drunken sauce which consists of oyster sauce, chili and garlic, again quite popular in Thailand.  There’s a lemongrass-ginger sauce made with oyster sauce and a mix of Thai herbs.  This is a flavorful, but not spicy, sauce that would go well with any base you chose.  And finally there’s a white wine and orange vinaigrette which is sweet and tangy, and that’s a more universal flavored sauce that isn’t so far out there with Thai ingredients.

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Finally, there are the toppings to add to the bowl, and there are unlimited choices as to what you can add.  The choices including Asian mixed veggies of romaine, napa cabbage and carrots, there are bean sprouts, red onions, cucumber relish, mixed herbs which include cilantro, basil and mint, grilled vegetables, Thai omelet, crushed peanuts, and fried garlic.  You can add as many, or as little, of these ingredients as you like.

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You want your bowl nice and spicy?  No worries.  When you take your bowl to sit down at one of the many tables at the eatery, there are two bottles of chili at each station.  There’s the traditional red sriracha sauce that most people are familiar with, and there’s Tom Yum District’s own green Sriracha sauce made from green chilies.  If you’re taking your meal to go, you can get these chili sauces to go as well.IMG_1592IMG_1593

So, the first meal we got at Tom Yum District, we decided to get it to-go and bring it back to our hotel room to eat.  My husband and I ended up creating similar dishes, though with a few key differences.  My husband’s bowl (top photo) consisted of white jasmine rice, grilled steak, tom yum sauce, grilled vegetables, Thai omelet, Asian mixed veggies, mixed herbs, fried garlic and crushed peanuts.  As my husband is a huge fan of tom yum soup, it was natural for him to get the tom yum sauce.  He has no fear of anything being too spicy or packing too much punch.  For my bowl (bottom photo), I went with the white jasmine rice, grilled steam, lemongrass-ginger sauce, Thai omelet, Asian mixed veggies, mixed herbs, bean sprouts, red onion, fried garlic and crushed peanuts.  My husband isn’t a fan of bean sprouts, while I love them because while they may be a bit bland in flavor, they have terrific crunch and texture.  I also went with the lemongrass-ginger sauce as I was afraid that the tom yum sauce might be a little too spicy for my taste buds and I figured that lemongrass-ginger had enough punch and tang to it.  I also didn’t get the grilled vegetables because I’m a picky vegetable eater and I wasn’t quite sure what vegetables they would consist of, and if I would eat it, so I opted out.  Turns out it was really grilled zucchini, which I would have been fine with.   After eating our meals that night, we both agreed that our bowls were delicious.  My husband loved the flavor of his tom yum sauce, and while I thought that the lemongrass-ginger sauce was flavorful, I admit that my husband’s tom yum sauce was more flavorful and delicious with a profile that permeated throughout the whole bowl.  So, he made the better choice there.  My husband thought that the best part of his bowl was the Thai omelet, which is not just like any other egg.  Thai omelet is like Thai comfort food, it’s what every Thai child grows up eating.  In a deep wok, beaten eggs, generally mixed with a little bit of fish sauce and/or vinegar and maybe some rice flour are mixed together and thrown into a smoking hot wok with lots of hot cooking oil.  The egg cooks quickly on one side, is flipped over whole to the other side and cooked on the reverse side. This creates an egg that is crispy and crunchy and golden brown on the outside, but yet still fluffy and soft with many layers on the inside.  It’s the fluffiness and flavor of this egg that is then cubed into small bite-sized pieces to create the Thai omelet option at Tom Yum District.  It adds flavor and texture to the rice bowls and is just amazing.  What my husband and I both loved about our bowls is that there was so much flavor, and texture, throughout the bowl.  You’ve got the perfectly cooked rice, the flavorful protein, the crunch from the peanuts and the bean sprouts, the fluffy egg, the fresh, crisp vegetables, the spice from the sauce, and the crunch of grilled vegetables.  It all makes such a perfect combination.  And yet, the possibilities of what you can create are endless as there are so many different toppings and sauces, and bases and proteins to choose from.

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The idea isn’t to just eat the bowl the way it comes.  The secret with a lot of Thai dishes is that all of the sauces and the spices are always added at the end of the preparation of the dish.  What you need to do is mix everything together.  Play with you food a little bit.  Combine the veggies with the rice, with the meat, with the spices, with the herbs, with the Thai omelet, with the crushed peanuts.  That mixes and infuses the sauces and the spices into every bite of food that you get.  You don’t want the spices to just be concentrated through a few spoonfuls of rice, you want to taste it in every spoonful of rice you eat.  you want to have a little bit of the veggies, and the egg, and the rice and the protein on every bite of food, and the only way to do that is to actually mix and combine everything together.

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The second meal we ate at Tom Yum District, which was our meal right before we headed to the airport to end our mini-vacation,  we decided to eat at the restaurant.  I had to admit this time that my husband made the better choice to get the tom yum sauce in his bowl, so we actually ended up getting almost the same exact bowl this time.  Starting with white jasmine rice as the base, grilled steak for our protein, tom yum for our sauce and toppings of Asian mixed veggies, Thai omelet, grilled vegetables, mixed herbs and bean sprouts and red onions for me, crushed peanuts and fried garlic.  It was so delicious and flavorful that we both devoured our bowls.

Even to this day, 6 months later, my husband still talks about how delicious Tom Yum District is.  If only we had one of these fast casual restaurants nearby our house in Southern California, we’d be there all the time.  Having the ability to make our own meal, the way we like it, with the ingredients we like, is such a terrific concept.  Add to that, using authentic Thai ingredients and flavors, and you’ve got a winner.  Each bowl is jam-packed with spices, and flavors and textures, and packs such a punch that it just keeps you coming back for more.  What this husband and wife restaurant team has created in Alexandria is a real winner and a place my husband and I would never hesitate to recommend anyone give a try.  Yeah, my husband did really well when he found this place and told me that we needed to go and have a meal at Tom Yum District when we were in Washington, D.C.

 

Alaska Airlines Board Room at LAX

April 19, 2016

Through the years, prior to boarding a flight at various airports around the world, we’ve been fortunate enough to try out a bunch of the different airport lounges.  Some have been fantastic, with terrific relaxing spaces and gourmet food and drinks to satisfy anything you may need to settle your stomach before you take off.  And others have been downright disappointing, so much so that my husband and I have walked out of the lounge in favor of just going to wait at the gate for our flight instead of being uncomfortable at a terrible airport lounge.  Last fall, before our red eye flight from Los Angeles to Baltimore on our Alaska Airlines flight, we had the chance for the first time to visit the Alaska Airlines Board Room at LAX.

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Before our trip to the Alaska Airlines Board Room, my parents actually had the pleasure of visiting the Board Room many months before when they took an Alaska Airlines flight.  Both my parents had raved about how much they enjoyed the Board Room and how nice it was.  So, I was quite curious as to how my husband and I would like the Board Room.

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Of course, one of the things I really wanted to try out, wasn’t operational in the evening hours.  The famous pancake machine.  Many travelers talk of the virtues of Alaska Airlines Board Room’s terrific pancake machine, which I guess must only be operational during the morning hours?  For our late night red-eye flight, while the pancake machine was out on the counter, there was a sign stating that the machine wasn’t working.  I was kind of bummed.  Doesn’t everyone eat pancakes 24/7?

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The board room was nice and spacious with plenty of tabletop seating, comfortable couch seating, and a bar with bar seats as well.  The bar was quite popular at this late night hour.  With each guest to the Board Room being given 2 free drinks per visit, many guests made use of this perk to grab a draught beer or a glass of wine to get them through their red-eye flights.

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For those who aren’t alcohol drinkers, or who just aren’t looking for a night cap, there’s a soda fountain with all of your favorite Coke products as well as some fruit juice and even ice tea too.

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And for those who want a little pick-me-up in the evening with a hit of caffeine, there’s a fancy coffee machine that can make lattes and espressos and cappuccinos.  They even had a few bottles of flavored syrup such as vanilla and hazelnut as well to help customize your drink.  And of course, there was straight up fresh brewed Starbuck’s coffee as to enjoy as well.

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As far as food, there was a small selection of food, but not really enough to say that you could fill up before your flight.  There was an offering of soup – hearty vegetable beef soup – and crackers and some fresh fruit laid out on the counters – bananas, oranges and apples.

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In the small little refrigerator, there were some salad fixings and some cheese cubes to go with the crackers on the counter.  Cubed cheddar cheese and cubed Monterey Jack cheese were really all I needed to keep me happy.  Surprisingly, my husband decided to grab a plate of salad.

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The salad greens were a mix of baby kale and spring mix with shredded carrots, mandarin orange slices and cherry tomatoes.  Crunchy wontons were an option for a tasty topping for the salad.  Sesame dressing, ranch and light Italian were the available salad dressings.  After my husband had a plate of salad, he told me I needed to go and get salad because it was so good.  Now, this is my husband who can eat a salad, but would probably prefer not to have as much of those healthy, green, leafy things.  And yet, he’s telling me I should have salad?  That salad must have been something for him to tell me I needed some of that.  I’ll admit, for salad, it was pretty tasty.  And it was pretty darn filing for a light dinner meal.

For those who wanted more than just soup and salad, entrees could be ordered from the kitchen for a nominal fee.  Pizza, grilled salmon and chicken entrees were offered.  We actually saw quite a few people in the lounge taking advantage of ordering entrees that looked pretty tasty.

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For some quick bites, there was some bar bite party mix and a container of cookies including sugar and chocolate chip.  I certainly took advantage of some of those chocolate chip cookies, and they were nice and soft and chewy.

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Our overall impression of the Alaska Airlines Board Room was generally a good one.  The lounge was nice and comfortable with plenty of seating and arranged in a way that the vibe was just relaxed and laid back.  While the food and drink offering wasn’t off the charts, they had some great choices, including that terrific salad, and just enough food to keep us all satisfied.  When comparing our experience with the Alaska Airlines Board Room versus some of the other airline lounges we’ve used in the past, this one ranks pretty high up on the list of lounges.  In fact, by the time this blog post publishes, my husband and I will have used the Alaska Airlines Board Room again, and we are very much looking forward to that particular visit.

Mexican Pizza

April 12, 2016

It’s definitely been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to write about something I made myself rather than something myself and my husband enjoyed at a restaurant.  It’s not that we haven’t been cooking at home, but most of what we’ve cooked has been the same old, same old standbys.  We’ve reached the doldrums and we just haven’t had the time or the energy to try out new recipes.  On the occasion we have tried out something new, it’s been on a whim and since I never knew how it would turn out, I never bothered to try and document what we made.  But, I’ve been on a Mexican food kick lately.  It seems like I’ve been wanting to have Mexican for every meal.  So, one weekend morning when my husband and I were at home and trying to figure out what to have for lunch, I made a suggestion for what else?  Mexican food!

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I decided to make my version of Mexican pizza.  Mexican pizza is a favorite item of mine when we go out to get fast food Mexican food.  Since we had all of the ingredients at home, I decided we should just make our own Mexican pizza at home, adding in the ingredients the I wanted, the way I wanted them.  Start by heating up a can of refried beans.

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In a pan, brown up some ground beef and add traditional taco seasoning.

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Now for the fixings for the Mexican pizza.  Dice up some tomatoes.  Chop up some green onions.  And shred some cheese, in this case, we shredded up a mix of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack.

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It’s time to start building the Mexican pizza now.  On the flat side of a griddle, take two flour tortillas and start heating them up.  Brown the tortillas on both sides.

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To the tortillas, add a layer of the warmed-up refried beans.

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Now add a layer of the seasoned ground beef atop the refried beans.

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Generously sprinkle shredded cheese atop the ground beef and allow the heat to melt the cheese.

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Time to sprinkle some of the diced tomatoes and chopped green onions liberally over the top.

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It’s time to take two more tortillas, and cover the top of each of the tortillas that have been on the griddle.  It’s almost like you’re making a quesadilla at this point.

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Now to turn this into a Mexican pizza, you’ve got to keep building.  On top of the new tortillas you’ve added, spread a thin layer of refried beans.  The refried beans act as a sort of glue to keep everything together.  On top of the refried beans, build the same way you did the previous layer, add seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes and chopped up green onions.  Finally, cover this layer with another tortilla.  You should now have four tortillas per Mexican pizza and two layers of beans, meat, cheese, tomatoes and green onions.

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If you can, flip the whole concoction over in order to make sure that the top tortilla gets browned.  Sprinkle some cheese over the top of the whole thing and wait a few seconds for it to melt.  The Mexican pizza is done now.

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Take the Mexican pizza off the griddle and slice it into quarters to serve hot off the grill.  Serve with sour cream, if you like.  A two-layer, flavorful Mexican pizza.  Just something different from your traditional quesadilla or taco.  Served in a form that’s filling and easy to eat and handle as well.

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Or serve with salsa instead of sour cream, if you prefer.  Either way, this Mexican pizza is packed full of flavor and different texture combinations.  What’s terrific is just how quick and easy this is to make.  Many of these ingredients are items we keep stocked in our fridge and pantry most of the time, so when you’re in a time crunch, this is super easy to just throw together on a whim and yet incredibly filling.  We make tacos so often at home, this was nice to just use most of the same ingredients and the same flavors and just repurpose it in a different way to create a new dish.

Il Forno Trattoria

April 7, 2016

A few months back, my husband and I attended a dinner gathering being put together by his work at a nearby restaurant.  Even though I’ve lived in this area of Los Angeles for quite a number of years now, and I’ve dined at nearby restaurants, I’d never actually been to, or even heard of, this particular restaurant where this dinner gathering was taking place.  So, I was a bit excited to get the opportunity to try something new.  Apparently, my husband’s boss is great, longtime friends, with the owner of the restaurant, and this restaurant as well as other establishments he’s owned, have been in operation for a number of years, so that could only mean good things lay ahead for us!

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Having opened its doors more than 20 years ago in a small mini-mall in Santa Monica, Il Forno Trattoria, is a local lunch and dinner favorite, especially with nearby business executives who occupy the business park across the street and in the neighborhood.  Serving authentic Northern Italian cuisine, the restaurant is a classy, but not stuffy, restaurant surrounding an open kitchen with both indoor and outdoor, seating.  Il Forno is kind of a hidden gem amongst a sea of nearby chain restaurants.

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As we were there as part of a large group dinner, we had a preset menu created just for us.  To start, a round of appetizers were brought out to the table for everyone to share.  We had an assortment of different kinds of pizzas that were brought out fresh out-of-the-oven.  There was the cheese pizza and the tomato, black olives and artichoke hearts vegetarian pizza.  The pizza was bubbly and cheesy, and delicious with  a good amount of sauce and a good amount of cheese.  A terrific appetizer to kind of whet your appetite.

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Following the pizza, we were presented with the house specialty bruschetta.  If you think all bruschettas are created equally, you’ve never tried the bruschetta at Il Forno Trattoria.  Made with tomato, basil, garlic and balsamic vinaigrette, Il Forno’s homemade bruschetta will blow you away with its bold and rich flavors that seem so perfectly married.  Their homemade bread, which is slightly crusty on the outside, but yet warm, and doughy on the inside is the perfect vessel for the yummy bruschetta.  The bread on its own is terrific, but when it soaks up the flavors from the juices of the bruschetta, the whole dish is transformed into something quite magical.

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We also were presented with a classic Italian dish of mozzarella alla caprese as our final shared appetizer.  Gorgeous fresh mozzarella cheese served over sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and fresh ground black pepper and basil.  Again, simple ingredients served together to create bold flavor with sweet, tangy tomatoes, deliciously creamy and rich mozzarella cheese and the fresh flavor of the sweet Italian basil is just a perfect combination.  This dish was a hit with everyone in the group.

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For the first course of the evening, we each had a choice of 2 different salads.  I chose my favorite Caesar salad, made from romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, anchovies, croutons and garlic tossed with Il Forno Trattoria’s homemade Caesar dressing.  As much as people say they don’t like anchovies, it’s really the saltiness and briny flavor of the anchovies that make the Caesar dressing so special.  Crispy, crunchy lettuce and thick Caesar dressing is my favorite.  My husband chose the other salad option, arugula e radicchio.  Made with organic arugula and radicchio salad with thinly shaved parmesan cheese in a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.  Here we have simple ingredients again, with a simple classic dressing which shows off the peppery flavor of the arugula and the bitter bite of the radicchio.  The parmesan cheese adds the bit of saltiness that you need to add to the flavor of the salad.

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With the main course, we also were given two different options to choose from.  Like our first course of salad, my husband and I decided to each choose a different main dish so that we could try both dishes.  However, honestly, even if that wasn’t what we were trying to do, we would have chosen different dishes just based upon the different types of foods we each prefer.  My husband ordered the linguine mare e monti.  That’s linguine with baby lobster, shiitake mushrooms and fresh tomatoes all tossed in a red bell pepper sauce.  The pasta dish had a great deal of lobster meat in it, which was nice to see that the restaurant didn’t skimp. and it was well cooked and tender.  The red bell pepper sauce actually had a little bit of a bite to it, which added a great amount of flavor to the dish overall.  This linguine dish turned out to be quite rich and the bite of bell pepper was actually a bit more than expected.  My husband loved the dish, and I’m glad that I didn’t order it because it would have been too spicy for me.  Instead, I ordered the filetto arco dolce, which was grass fed, range filet mignon sautéed with leeks and mushrooms in a port wine and balsamic vinegar sauce.  Served with sautéed vegetables, the filet mignon was perfect cooked and quite tender.  The port wine and balsamic sauce was a great compliment to the filet as it was nice and tangy, and slightly sweet.  As I’m not a fan of mushrooms, I didn’t bother with the sautéed mushrooms, but the sautéed vegetables that came with the dish was well cooked and good pairing with the rich and heavy meat.  This dish, while seemingly not too big, actually ended up being quite filling and I wasn’t quite sure I could finish it.  But, it was so good that I decided I just needed to eat every last bite rather than trying to take what little was left home.

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By this point in time, I think we were all full.  After the multiple appetizer dishes we all shared, plus the salad and the entree, we were all pretty stuffed.  But what’s a celebratory meal without dessert?  Our dessert for the evening was a lemon hazelnut meringue cake.  Pre-sliced for us in the kitchen, we were each presented with a piece of cake.  At first blush, the cake looked rather plain and unassuming.  That is, until you took a bite of cake.  This cake was just awesome.  The lemon flavor was strong enough to create a tart bite to the cake, but subtle enough that you weren’t overpowered by lemon-citrus bite.  The fact that this was a meringue cake made it awesome in the fact that the cake, while still soft and fluffy had a great crunch to it from the meringue, which was the key ingredient to this cake, in my opinion.  I loved the textural feel of the crunchy meringue, the softness of the cake, the lemon flavored cream filling and the subtle flavor of the nutty hazelnut.  Such a terrific cake, which I liked so much that I ended up finishing off my husband’s piece of cake as well.

My husband and I were so pleasantly surprised by Il Forno Trattoria.  We live in an area that’s filled with chain restaurants, or high-end frou-frou restaurants where it’s more important to be seen than what’s actually on the dinner plate.  However, Il Forno Trattoria breaks this mold.  This local gem of a restaurant in an interesting and unique location in Santa Monica delivers on terrific and authentic Italian food in a quiet, comfortable setting that is just so inviting.  It’s basically the antithesis of all the other local restaurants that it only adds to the appeal of this restaurant.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Il Forno Trattoria for anyone looking for something good and different in the local area.