Last night we headed to Rustico for a casual dinner out.  I’m not a big beer person, but I always crave one with a burger and pizza. I also like all beers with the word blonde in the title.  I had their dry aged cheddar burger for the first time and holy mother, was that thing good.  Definitely my new favorite burger.

Then I dragged Brandon to the Dairy Godmother only to find out they were CLOSED.  So instead we made a pit stop on the way home and picked up some of this.  And some gummy worms.  7-11 gummy worms are the best!  Then we watched Knocked Up, which was the perfect end to our Saturday night.

Yikes it’s been quiet around here.  I was in a bit of a cooking rut.  But I’m beginning to pull myself out.  Usually I come back from a  trip so excited to be in my own kitchen, but not this time.  Maybe it’s the weather. Can I please blame the weather?  The sky has been the same color of grey for as long as I can remember.  I’m fine with the cold!  It means I get to wear this fabulous thing.  But this dull grey has got to go.  It was sunny right when I got up this morning, and then it went away.  Such a tease!

In winter, I eat a lot of blueberries.  I put them in my oatmeal, which I eat everyday at work for breakfast (during the cold months). You’d think I’d be sick of them, but no.  I’m actually feeling rather addicted to them.  But eating oatmeal on Saturday feels sacrilegious, you need something with more butter!  Well, I actually put butter in my oatmeal, but that doesn’t really make it special.  Since I don’t have a live in 1950s housewife to make me pancakes during the week, pancakes are special.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe for Everyday Pancakes .  Along with adding blueberries, I put in the butter he notes as being optional.  Not optional, this is Saturday!  Brandon thought they were great ( thank you Brandon).  I thought they were pretty good, coulda been better, but still Saturday morning worthy!

So, I don’t really love Las Vegas.  Two days ago I really didn’t like it.  But now, I sort of do.  I suppose that’s what should happen since all I’ve been doing here is eating and sipping yummy cocktails while bouncing from one club/bar/hotel to the next, while partying with fellow meeting planners.  And yes, I’m at a meeting for meeting planners.

Up until last night, I hadn’t seen much in the form of appetizers that was truly innovative.  Then we went to the Cosmopolitan. I know a new hotel in Vegas isn’t really new news, but this is really new.  As in, it opened December 15th, 2010.  And it cost 4 billion dollars to build (or so the dealer at my Black Jack table told me).  Now that I’m thinking about that figure in a more sober state, it seems awfully high, but then I read this and confirmed that it’s actually is true!

But back to their party food- their dessert party food to be specific.  The spread couldn’t have been more playful and fun. Bright lollipops, peanut butter cupcakes topped with mini malted milk balls, individual citrus pana cottas in tiny martini glasses, and my favorite- mini ice cream push pops in every flavor from vanilla to mango.  My iphone pics really don’t do these treats justice, they were amazing.  On top of all that, the event took place in The Chandelier, a bar housed inside an actual floor to ceiling chandelier in the hotel.

And though it may not be the most innovative cocktail, I couldn’t end the night without an actual Cosmopolitan.  Suffice it to say, it was one of the best I’ve ever had.

This year, for the first time ever, I held a New Year’s day get together. Though I had a wonderful New Year’s eve this year (I got to see fireworks!), I’m not big on the holiday.  To make the celebration more my style, I decided to have a small group of people over for a casual dinner of comfort food on New Year’s day.  I set the dinner for later in the evening, so folks had plenty of time to sleep in and recover from the previous night of mayhem.

I decided to make chili.  To be honest, the real reason I like making chili is for the toppings.  Without the toppings, I don’t really care for it that much.  It’s the melted cheese mixed with the spicy beef, sour cream, and ripe avocado that really gets me.  I also put out chopped cilantro and Tobasco.  Brandon is much more the chili connoisseur so I went with his recommendation on the recipe, Halftime Chili from Bon Appetit. There’s a reason this recipe won the Bon Appetit Recipe Sweepstakes, it’s really really good.   I wanted more spice, so I added in two chopped jalapenos and  one chopped poblano pepper.  If you’d like to add those in, throw in the peppers in with the onions and garlic to saute.

This winter weather begs for piping hot bowls of pasta.  Bolognese is one of my cold weather favorites, but I never felt it was really a feasible week night dish.  I’m too tired to do all that chopping after work.  But then, low and behold, Ina came to the rescue yet again, with a weeknight version that is just as good, if not better, as any other more complicated version of the sauce.  In fact, I think this will be my go to for bolognese from now on.  I actually cooked it for the first time for our “holiday” dinner, before I headed up to NY.

I also made garlic bread to go with.  My mother’s garlic bread was one of the dishes growing up, where friends and dinner party guests would often utter, “Molly, this is delicious!  How did you make it?”  Ironically enough, her recipe could not be simpler.  Because of this reaction, and well, the fact that it’s delicious, I’ve always followed my mother’s recipe for garlic bread.  I added some chopped basil to this version, just because I had it on hand, but it’s not necessary for the standard recipe.

Weeknight Bolognese from Ina Garten’s “How Easy is That?”

Serves 4-5

2 T good olive oil

1 lb ground sirloin (or just ground beef)

4 tsp minced garlic

1 T dried oregano

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/4 cups dry red wine

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

2 T tomato paste

1 lb pasta ( such as penne, fusili, orchiette)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 cup chopped basil

1/4 heavy cream (or sour cream, creme fraiche)

1/2 freshly grated parm (plus more for serving)

s+p to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon for 5-7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and started to brown.  Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes, and cook for one more minute.  Pour one cup of wine into the pan and stir, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 T salt, and 1 1/2 tsp pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce.  Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 c of wine, simmer for 8-10 minutes until sauce has thickened.  When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl.  Add the sauce and 1/2 parm and toss well.  Serve immediately.

Garlic Bread

1/2 baguette

2 1/2 T minced garlic

1/4 c good olive oil

garlic salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place olive oil and minced garlic in a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.Be sure to keep the flame low so the garlic doesn’t burn.  Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and lay the pieces crust side down.  Once cooked spoon the garlic and oil mixture evening over the bread, spreading the garlic all the way to the edges. If using basil, stir it into the garlic mixture after it has cooked.  Lastly, sprinkle garlic salt somewhat liberally on each piece. Put the top and bottom back together, wrap tightly in foil, and bake for 12 minutes.  During the last minute of cooking time, remove the foil so the crust can crisp up.  Cut into slices and serve alongside the pasta.