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  1. Meal Kit Hack: Sun Basket’s Spanish paella with tofu, mushrooms, and peas

    October 19, 2018 by marga

    Last night, while making a hack of Sun Basket’s Spanish paella with tofu, mushrooms, and peas, I discovered why meal kits can be great for those home cooks among us that are not great at paying at attention at what we are doing.  I totally messed up this recipe because I did a hack job on it.  The results was a meal that lacked flavor. My vegan daughter ate it, but was not happy with it.  And believe me, as a vegan, her standards are not exactly high.

    I had chosen this recipe to hack because my vegan daughter had eaten a vegan frozen paella that she liked before and because most of the ingredients were easy to get.  Alas, that did not mean I actually got them.

    Mistake #1: First,  I went shopping for this at my neighborhood discount grocery store which didn’t have frozen peas!  I decided to skip them because peas are mostly filler, but still, they add a nice color to any dish plush some vitamins.

    Mistake #2: I didn’t check my pantry before I shopped for this recipe, so it wasn’t until I started cooking that I realized that I didn’t actually have rice! How do you forget that?  True, I don’t cook much with rice because of its high glycemic index, but still that’s a pretty major thing to not realize I was out of.   And given that rice is the MAIN component of paella, you’d think the dish would have been doomed from that point on.  I did find barley while looking for the rice – something I’d bought ages ago and never did anything with it – so I decided to substitute with that.

    Then, as I was making the paella, I realized I didn’t have the required paprika either!  OK, in this case, I did have a paprika jar with traces of paprika inside it, but not enough for even the teaspoon this recipe called for.  No matter, I decided to use whatever paprika I had in the jar and add oregano.  Indeed, the paella recipe I use (or used to use when I still cooked rice regularly) calls for both paprika and oregano, and the latter is stronger flavor.

    Mistake #3: What makes meal kits great is that most of the ingredients are given to you in the exact amounts that you will use.  Now, for normal people who read recipes carefully, this is probably not a big deal – but I’m not a normal person.  So while I knew the recipe called for 3/4 cups of rice, and I wrote down that I needed 3/4 cups of rice, when it came time to actually adding the rice-cum-barley to the recipe, I doubled it in my mind and added 1 1/2 cups instead!  What this ultimately meant is that there weren’t enough flavor agents (mostly leek and garlic) to flavor this dish sufficiently.  Mind you, I tried to spice it up by adding extra salt, garlic powder and more oregano, but it never quite made it.

    Mistake #4: My real mistake, however, was in choosing to make this particular recipe for paella.  Chances are, it was never going to work.  What makes paella great is the saffron flavoring, and this one didn’t call for it (probably because saffron is so expensive).  I didn’t have any at home either (I swear I used to have some but I can’t find it!).  Chances are, this recipe was never going to turn out.

    Still, my out of pocket costs for this recipe were just $5.50, which is still less than half of what the meal kit would have cost  There are leftovers for at least 3 more meals – and while I think normally my vegan daughter might skip eating it given how unenthusiastic she was about it last night, we’re out of vegan food at home, so she’ll probably be forced to have it for dinner again tonight 🙂

     

    KIT INGREDIENTS I BOUGHT COST
    1 leek 2 leeks (used  1) $2.50
    3 cloves garlic 3 cloves garlic pantry
    4 oz cremini mushrroms 8 oz button mushrooms $2
    3 oz grape tomatoes grape tomatoes $1
    3 oz roasted red peppers Skipped  –
    1/2 tsp turmeric 1/2 tsp turmeric pantry
    1 tsp sweet paprika 1 tsp oregano pantry
    3/4 cup rice 1 1/2 cups pearl barley pantry
    1 cup vegetable broth 2 cups vegetable broth pantry
    3/4 lb tofu 1 lb tofu $2
    3-4 springs leafy herb 3 basil leaves pantry
    1/2 cup peas Skipped

    Pantry = an ingredient that I had at home already (whether in the pantry or the fridge).

    Sun Basket is a Northern California based meal kit service started by a Slanted Door chef. They use organic produce – which I didn’t. They have vegan and vegetarian options as well as meals appropriate to other specific diet plans and seems to have the highest ratings among the services out there.  I signed up for it and will be trying it next week.  Use my referral link for $40 off your first delivery (I will also get a $40 credit for future deliveries).


  2. Hello Fresh Hack: Balsamic Rosemary Steak with Garlic Herb Toasts and a Roasted Pear Salad on the Cheap + Salad Recipe

    October 17, 2018 by marga

     

     

    Today I ended up with some extra top sirloin.  This meant I had to figure out what to do with it and I had so much fun making hacking the Plated recipe for French onion soup burgers, that I decided to hack something from Hello Fresh this time, as I’ve started trying their kits. I decided on this recipe for “Balsamic Rosemary Skirt Steak with Garlic Herb Toasts and a Roasted Pear Salad” because I had most of the ingredients at home and it was one of their “premium” recipes, which cost an additional $12 per 2-person meal.  There is no way that I’m going to spend $36 on a meal for two without leftovers that I have to cook myself, unless a rack of lamb or some prime beef is involved, so I can only try these recipes by making them with my own ingredients.

    Once again, I shopped at my neighborhood grocery store so I had to make some drastic substitutions:

    Hello Fresh Recipe My Version My cost
    1 pear 1 bag Bosc pears $3
    1 demi-baguette 1 loaf sourdough bread $2
    2 shallots 1 large shallot Pantry
    1/4 oz rosemary 2 tsp chopped rosemary homegrown
    2 Tbsp. garlic herbed butter 4 Tbsp. garlic herbed butter pantry/homemade
    12 oz skirt steak 12 oz top sirloin $6.50
    3 tsp balsamic vinegar 3 tsp red wine vinegar pantry
    chicken demi glace 1 tsp. beef base pantry
    2 oz arugula 2 oz mixed greens leftover
    2 oz Ricotta salata  4 oz blueberry goat cheese  $3

     

    In all, I spent $15.50 on the meal, less than half of what I would have spent if I’d bought the kit.  I was lucky that all the substitutions worked great.  Bosc pears are actually preferable for baking as they keep their shape.  Sourdough bread (which I’d bought the day before and not used) is tastier than the plain baguettes and the croutons came out great.   While I, myself, prefer skirt take, the top sirloin worked just as well and it was more tender than skirt steak would have been.  And the blueberry goat cheese on the salad (for which I used the mixed greens I bought for my last hacked recipe) was a revelation.   I did have to make the herbed butter myself, but it wasn’t too hard.  I simply chopped a few fresh herbs I had around the house (rosemary from the side yard, basil and some of the living herbs thyme I bought for my last recipe) in addition to a couple garlic cloves and mixed it with softened butter.

    The overall meal was very good, and I loved that it had three elements: steak with a sauce, a grown up salad and herbed garlic bread – but it was a pretty laborious meal to make for that reason.  Still, we both enjoyed the steak and the sauce certainly added flavor to a cut that I think usually needs it (as opposed to NY steak or rib eye which just need salt to be great).  The herbed garlic bread was quite good and I very much enjoyed the salad.  The blueberry goat cheese, in particular, was a revelation.  I’d never had thought of putting it on salad otherwise, but it worked perfectly well.

    But hacking this meal also had me make a mistake: instead of using balsamic vinegar, which I did have in my pantry, I just used regular red wine vinegar for both the steak and the salad.  If I had been using Hello Fresh’s own ingredients I wouldn’t have been able to make the mistake.  I’m sure the balsamic vinegar would have improved the flavor of both.

    Below is my recipe for the salad.  If you want to try this kit without having to make it yourself,  you can use this link to get $40 off your delivery of Hello Fresh (it’s a referral link that will also give me credit towards a future purchase).

    Roasted Pear Salad with Blueberry Goat Cheese

    • 2 Bosc pears
    • 1/3 French or sourdough baguette or 1/4 bread loaf
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil + more for drizzling
    • salt & pepper to taste
    • 2 oz mixed greens, washed and dried
    • 2 tsp red or balsamic vinegar
    • 2 oz blueberry goat cheese

    Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil.

    Cut off ends from the pears, cut them in half and core them; then cut the pairs into 1/2″ wedges.

    Cube the bread into 1/2″ cubes.

    Place pears on one side of the prepared baking sheet and bread cubes in the other.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake until the bread is toasted, about 8 minutes.  Remove the bread cubes to a salad bowl.  Turn the pear slices and continue cooking until soft, about 10 more minutes.  Remove from the oven.

    Add the mixed greens to the bowl with the croutons.  Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Toss.  Top with pears and crumble the goat cheese over the salad. Serve.

     


  3. Hello Fresh Sweet ‘N’ Smoky Pork Chops with Apple Carrot Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and Cherry Sauce Review + Sauce Recipe

    October 16, 2018 by marga

    Sweet 'N' Smoky Pork Chops

    Photo borrowed from Hello Fresh

    We are not pork eaters, both because commercial farming of pigs – fairly intelligent animals – is just brutal and because we don’t find pork particularly flavorful meat, but there weren’t many exciting menu choices in the week I chose to try Hello Fresh,  so we went for this meal kit.  We were pleasantly surprised.  While I was a bit disappointed on how small the boneless pork chops were – specially after I cut off the strip of fat on one side -, the cinnamon-paprika spice mix gave them a very nice flavor, in particular when topped with the cherry sauce.  I don’t like cherry, but loved this sauce and would think it’d go well with turkey as well.    The mashed potatoes could have been better – the kit included small potatoes that couldn’t really be peeled, and I prefer peeled potatoes in my mash.  The slaw was pretty good, but not earth shattering.

    The meal was also fairly easy to make, the carrots come pre-shredded, which saves a lot of time.  The apple was fresh and delicious.  All the ingredients seemed to be high quality and the recipe was easy to make.

    In all, this was a good dish.

    I’m more likely to pay $12 for it than for the tacos I had before.

    If you’d like to try Hello Fresh, you can use this link for $40 off your first box (it will also give me $30 towards a future delivery).

    Cherry Sauce Recipe

    enough for 2 chops

    • 1/8 tsp hot paprika
    • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
    • 3 Tbsp. cherry jam
    • 1/2 tsp water
    • 1/2 tsp vinegar
    • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
    • salt & pepper to taste

    Combine in a microwave safe bowl the paprika, cinnamon, jam, water and vinegar.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper.


  4. Hello Fresh + Pork and Poblano Tacos Review & Kiwi Salsa Recipe

    October 16, 2018 by marga

    It’s true, sometimes all it takes is one trial.  After trying the Plated meal kit for Vietnamese Meatballs with Chile-Lime Dressing,  and being impressed by the convenience and taste, I decided it was finally time for me to join the 21st century and try  other meal kits.  There are a myriad of companies selling these, of course, but I settled on Hello Fresh because I’d gotten tons and tons of coupons for it with other stuff I’d bought online.

    I didn’t look at the menu until after I signed up & paid, and I was actually disappointed once I saw the options.  Most of the offerings seemed to be mainstream American food with a little twist.  I was further disappointed that many of the recipes that sounded more exciting and that included steak or other more expensive ingredients had a $12 premium! A $12 pp meal is no bargain, but at $18 pp, we’re talking about restaurant prices.  Still, I was able to find a couple of recipes that sounded good.  If you want to try Hello Fresh, use this link and you’ll save $40 off your first delivery (and I’ll get $30 off my next),  which gives you a better deal than the promo I used!  Remember to cancel within 2 days of getting your first box to not be charged again.

     

    Review

    I wasn’t expecting much of this dish based on the title.  We’re not big taco eaters at home.  However, this dish was better tasting than it had any right to be.  The kiwi salsa was particularly refreshing and unusual, and I can imagine making it again (recipe follows).  I had never thought of mixing sour cream with lime juice before, but it was a good idea and I’ll do it again as well..

    The pork itself was pretty tasty and while the Mexican spice almost gave it the flavor of Mexican chorizo, it was mild and tasty.  This is not my favorite flavor, however.

    The meal made four tacos, so two per person.  It was just the *right* amount of food to satisfy me, though as I had an early dinner, I was hungry later.  So far this have been the same problem with all the kit meals I’ve made.

    In all, I thought the meal was great for the discounted price I paid for it, but I can get very good tacos for less than $12 pp at my corner Mexican restaurant (albeit not with this great kiwi salsa).

    Kiwi Salsa

    • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
    • 1 Kiwi, chopped
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 5 cilantro stalks, leaves removed & coarsely chopped
    • 1 small lime, halved
    • salt & pepper to taste

    In a bowl, mix together the chopped tomato, kiwi, onion and cilantro.  Squeeze a lime half on the chopped vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper and mix well.

     


  5. Plated Review: Vietnamese Beef Meatballs over Rice with Chile-Lime Dressing

    October 16, 2018 by marga

    Vietnamese Beef Meatballs

    This photo comes from Plated.

    A few weeks ago, I discovered that Safeway delivery sold Plated meal kits.  I had always been curious about these kits, but had never bought them because they seemed too expensive for what they were and I was afraid the portions were too small.  Plus, if I’m going to go through the trouble of cooking, I want to have leftovers for the next day!

    Still, I was curious so I bought one that sounded good and it ended up being delicious, far better than I expected.  The portion was *just right*, though, as I suspected, I started feeling hungry later in the evening (this has happened with all the kit meals I’ve made, and it may be my fault for staying awake until so late).

    The meal was fairly easy to make, though this particular one necessitated lots of chopping of different ingredients.  Fortunately, I discovered that I could save myself from washing lots of little bowls by using a sectional serving tray for the chopped produce.    After that, it’s just a matter of following the very detailed instructions.  The kit includes a card with photos and step by step instructions on how to make the meal.  You can also find the recipe at the Plated website.

    The ingredients all seemed to be very good quality and, as I mentioned, the results were delicious.

    I feel conflicted, however, about the packaging of the meal.  The Safeway version comes in a large plastic box with everything you need.  It would be hard to fit more than one or two in the fridge, however.  Still, it was super convenient to just take it out and have everything ready.  Most of the ingredients come wrapped in plastic, however, so there seems to be a lot of plastic waste.  The box itself is recyclable in theory, but apparently plastic recycling is no longer happening much in the US – low oil prices means it’s cheaper to make new plastic -, so a lot of it ends up in landfills.  So there is a pretty high environmental cost at getting these kits at Safeway (I don’t know how their packaging is for their subscription).

    At Safeway, this kit was about $20 for a kit serving 2 people, and because it came as part of my Safeway order, “shipping” was free.  My Safeway delivery offers 3-5 Plated kits per week, and they vary in cost from approx $17 to $23, depending on the ingredients.  If you subscribe to Plated, their two-person kits cost $24 plus an additional $8 shipping if you buy only 2 kits at the time – shipping is free if you order more.  Kits for 3 and 4 people cost $30-$40 respectively with free shipping.  While the kits are generally cheaper at Safeway, they have much less variety – only 3 to 5 kits per week.

    This particular recipe  didn’t have any strange ingredients, so it should be fairly easy to hack and do at home.

     


  6. Grand European Pasteurized Processed Gruyerère Cheese Product – Review

    October 15, 2018 by marga

    I found this item today at Grocery Outlet San Leandro, while looking for actual Gruyère cheese for a recipe.  Normally, I would stay away from anything that calls itself a “cheese product,” but nothing in the ingredient list seemed scary (though it does contain sodium phosphates, emulsifying salts and sorbic acid) so I figured, why not?

    It was a great choice. This cheese tastes *just* like Laughing Cow cheese, but it’s more solid.  You can cut it into slices and have it melt on your burgers.   As other processed cheeses, it melts beautifully.  It’s also damned tasty to eat by itself – and I’m thinking of including it on my Christmas Eve dinner cheese plate.

    It turns out that processed cheeses can last a long time because they have preservatives added.  Plus they are fattier.  Amazingly, a lot of the cheeses we know – such as Mozarella, Cheddar, Brie, Camembert and Swiss – are processed cheeses.  Who knew?

     

    Amazingly, I haven’t been able to find any references to this cheese in the internet.  Grand European is a trademark of Pacific Cheese Co., located in Hayward (next door to San Leandro), which distributes it.  Costco sells a Havarti and a Gouda with the same label.  This Gruyere cheese products says it’s made in Germany.

    My fear is that this cheese will be difficult to find – cheeses at Grocery Outlet come and go.  Fortunately, it’s very cheap ($2.20 for about 7 oz) and it will last until March next year.

     


  7. Plated Hack: French Onion Burgers with Salad

    October 15, 2018 by marga

    I have recently started trying “meal kits” and while I love the idea of simple meals I can make in under an hour, I hate how expensive they are.  At $20-$28 per entree for two people, they cost about the same as take out and there are no leftovers!  Still, they are super convenient.

    Today, I decided to try to recreate one of those kit-meals buying the ingredients myself to see how they worked and whether I saved money.  Now, if you are a professional billing $500/hour (or even $100), the time spent at the supermarket hunting these ingredients will surpass any savings you may have – so these meals are really ideal for people for whom time is literally money.  But my time is far cheaper than that.

    I chose this recipe for French Onion Burgers with Gruyere and Arugula because I had read good things about it while looking through Plated reviews and it has fairly common ingredients, which I hoped I could easily find at the quirky discount grocery store near my house.  I wasn’t able to get all the ingredients I needed, but I think the substitutions worked well enough.  I haven’t tried the Plated kit dish, so I don’t know how it compares to mine as far as flavor goes, but I don’t think it’s likely to have been significantly better.  My version was far cheaper, however. While the Plated meal for 2 costs between $22 and $28, depending on where you buy it, I spent a mere $15 in groceries and had enough food for 3 people (alas, neither of my kids would eat this, so we have leftovers for tomorrow) with groceries remaining.

    Here is a list of the ingredients in the recipe, what I bought and the price.

    PLATED Ingredient My Substitution Cost
    Beef Stock, 1 container Beef broth, 1/2 cup pantry
    Yellow Onion, 1 small Yellow Onion, 1 regular $0.70
    Thyme, 1/8 oz. Living thyme plant $2
    Lemon, 1 Lemon, 1 $0.80
    Ground Beef, 12 oz Ground Beef, 16 oz $3.50
    English muffins, 2 English muffins, 3 $2.80
    Baby Arugula, 3 oz Mixed Greens, 5 oz $3
    1 Tbsp Flour, 1 Tbsp pantry
    Gruyere, 2 slices Processed Gruyere Cheese product, 7 oz $2.20
    Unsalted butter, 3 packets 1 Tbsp pantry
    Dijon mustard, 2 packets Coarse Dijon mustard pantry
    TOTAL  $15

    Note that I had to substitute baby arugula for mixed greens as all the packages of baby arugula at the grocery store had expired yesterday.  The price was the same than for the mixed greens, however.

    Where I did save a lot of money was by using “Gruyere cheese product” instead of Gruyere.  Unfortunately, my discount grocery store didn’t have it and I decided to substitute with this product as at least it had Gruyere as its main ingredient.  Alas, it didn’t take anything like Gruyere and rather it was a more solid version of Laughing Cow cheese.  Delicious, but far cheaper and different than real Gruyere.  In reality, I don’t think the substitution mattered – the flavor of the onions was so strong that I doubt any cheese would have broken through.  The cheese did add to the creaminess of the burger, however.

    All in all, I felt the burgers were interesting and tasty but the combination of burger and fresh onion flavors wasn’t a big winner for either me or my husband.  I sort of liked the English muffing for a bun substitution, but that’s because I was smart enough to eat the burger with knife and fork.  My husband didn’t and wish he had a bun instead.

    Neither of us were that fond of the lemon juice/olive oil dressing on the greens, however.

    Still, I’m left with 4 English muffins I can have for breakfast, some newly discovered and delicious cheese “product” I’ll eat as a snack (indeed, it’s so fun and unexpected that I may serve it as part of my Xmas cheese course), some more greens to eat as a salad and a very cool thyme plant.  I can’t complain at all.


  8. Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel – Las Vegas, NV – Review

    August 1, 2017 by marga

    We have been going to Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas annually for several years.  My kids love going there and insist that it be part of our annual trip (my husband goes for a conference, I go for the pool, the kids just come along). In these years, I’ve noticed a substantial decline.  We visit it with a Buffet of Buffets pass, which means we pay about $20+tax per person for the meal.  For that, it’s not a bad deal. But at the $32 full price, it’s not in the least justifiable.

    We visited Le Village Buffet both for a weekday dinner and breakfast last week.  I noticed the dinner buffet to be poorer and less French than in previous years.  Gone was the tri-tip from the Savoy section, for example, replaced by roasted cauliflower!  You could still get chicken or sausage, but no beef.    The prime rib had been replaced by roast beef – it had a nice flavor and it was a large piece, but it wasn’t special.  There was no roasted lamb or pork belly.  There was duck a l’orange, but it was a failure.  Once again the meat was too dry and the flavor lacking to justify the dish.  I was sorry I tried it. If they are going to kill a duck, they should honor it by cooking it properly.  Mashed potatoes and mushrooms were good, but pedestrian.

    A mushroom crepe, cooked with cheese and sprinkled with some sort of truffle sort, OTOH, was delicious.  I did have to wait for half an hour to get it – the Paris was apparently too cheap to have two crepemakers working on tandem -, but at least I enjoyed it.  I also enjoyed the leftovers of my daughter’s caprese crepe (but note that the mozarella they use is not fresh, despite their claims).  She liked the truffled mac & cheese.

    Desserts, as usual, did not awe, but some were OK. Mostly not worth the calories, however.

    Breakfast for me the next morning was a strawberry ricotta crepe.  The wait wasn’t as long, but again they could have used a second crepe-maker.  The crepe was delicious – but not worth the $22 price, even if we add the average coffee and non-fresh orange juice that I also consumed.   But the crepe was too filling to want to eat anything else.  My daughter had the cookie dough crepe which she felt was really good but too sweet.  The more traditional banana/nutella crepe was also good.

    The choices for crepes (same for dinner and breakfast) have also gone down.  They used to have mixed berries and sliced hazelnuts available in the past, but they do no longer.

    Note that Le Village Buffet is the only buffet in Vegas that accepts Open Table reservations. Make them and save yourself the line.

    Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel & Casino
    3665 Las Vegas Blvd S
    Las Vegas, NV
    (702) 946-700
    http://www.parislasvegas.com/restaurants/le-village-buffet.html

    Weekday Breakfast $22/13, Weekend Breakfast $24/15, Weekday Lunch $25/15, Weekend Brunch $31/20, Weekday Dinner $31/18, Weekend Dinner $31/20. Groupon deal often available. Available with Buffet of Buffets pass.

    Marga’s Restaurant Reviews

    Marga’s Las Vegas

    The following review is from 2014

    For years, Le Village Buffet at the Paris Hotel and Casino was my favorite buffet in Vegas.   I appreciated the combination of French classics and regional dishes, and looked forward to tasting dishes that I don’t encounter that often otherwise. My daughters love the atmosphere – the buffet is decorated so that you feel you are eating al fresco in a French village square.  However, my last visits to the buffet – for dinner and breakfast in August 2014 – were really disappointing, and I don’t look forward to going back.

    DINNER

    We went to dinner at 8 PM, later than in previous occasions, but not what I would consider particularly late for Las Vegas. The place was hopping and there were enough people in line that I was happy we had made a reservation through Open Table and were sat immediately (however, we were put in the non-decorated room near the bathroom, nor a particularly nice dining location).  The food, however, left much to be desired.  They were out of several dishes and the quality and taste were inferior to previous occasions.

    This time I started with the cavatappi with truffle sauce, which I had raved about the previous year.  It was almost as good.   The duck a l’orange was overcooked and a little tough, but not too greasy and the orange sauce was good.  Scalloped potatoes were as good as I remembered – as was the tri-tip.

    Other dishes were a failure.  Both the prime rib and the stuffed lamb were dry, the former was also chewy.  The mac & cheese had peas instead of bacon, and even my 9-year old didn’t like it.  The sole was cooked Florentine style this time, and also seemed dry.  They were out of quiche. The pork belly, which had been served in a cute individual plate last year, now had the texture and flavor of pork shoulder, but still managed to feel dry in my mouth.  I usually like my dishes salty, but I felt most of the meat was oversalted.

    For dessert I had a made-to-order crepe with mixed berries (they were out of strawberries) and bananas inside, and caramel sauce, powdered sugar, whipped cream and candied hazelnuts outside.  It was outstanding, delicious, perfect.  I would much recommend.

    The creme brulee was also quite good, and there was a square cheesecake with berry fruit inside which was also delicious.  Other cheesecakes weren’t, but I didn’t  try too many of the desserts.

    Service was good, but all in all, I didn’t think it was a particularly noteworthy meal.

    BREAKFAST

    Breakfast the following morning was also disappointing – or would have been if I had paid full price for it.  None of the pastries looked appetizing, they weren’t French and they were served cold.  My daughter likened them to pastries from Costco.  We didn’t actually try them, however, so perhaps they tasted better than they looked.  My daughter had a muffin and enjoyed them.

    My husband said the slab bacon was pretty good.  They have a wide assortment of savory dishes, but I prefer sweet fare in the morning. I had one of their #1 crepes, with banana and nutella, and it was very good.  However,  there is a creperie right outside selling crepes for $11, which is a better deal than the breakfast buffet.

    The coffee was OK, the orange juice was low-quality bottled stuff.

    We’ll be staying at the Paris again this year, so I may still give the restaurant a try if I get a good daily deal.  Regular price for Total Rewards members vary from $23 to $34 depending on meal and day.

    August 2013 review

    I will admit that what keeps us returning to Le Village is, more than anything, the setting.  The buffet is made to look as if you are eating in the middle of a French village, under the  late afternoon sky.  Sure, it’s a little bit Disneyesque, but charming nonetheless and a huge favorite of my oldest daughter, Mika, now age 11.

    We wouldn’t go back to Le Village if the food wasn’t good, however, and indeed the food here is at least a notch or two above that of other buffets.  Not everything is a winner, of course, but there are enough wonderful dishes to keep any French food lover happy.

    The buffet is divided in stations which purport to present dishes from different regions of France.  In addition to these, there is a large salad, soup and seafood station as well as a dessert station.  The food at the regional stations is not always true to the provinces it represents, but they at least try to make the effort.

    During both of our most recent stays, we enjoyed the grilled meats in the Savoie station.  They are nicely seasoned and cooked, just make sure to forgo the sauces.  Don’t miss the cheeses at this station either.

    Next to it, the Brittany station specializes in crepes.  They have both savory and sweet offerings. I haven’t tried the savory yet, but make sure you leave room for a sweet crepe at the end of your meal. They are very, very good. I particularly enjoy the hazelnuts on top.

    The Normandy station specializes in seafood, and if you must have sushi while at Le Village here is where you’d find it.  I had the stuffed sole instead, which was very good. I hadn’t enjoyed the quiche when I had it in 2012, but by 2013 it had become more flavorful.

    No Vegas buffet can survive without the obligatory carved-to-order roasts and other American traditional foods, and Le Village has decided to place this in the Burgundy station.  The prime rib was very good, so I guess I can’t really complain.  The mac & cheese was lacking back in 2012, but by 2013 it was made with brie and bacon and could satisfy both kids and grownups alike.

    Food in Alsace also got better.  In addition to the traditional bakeoff, this year there was an amazing pork belly, fork tender and extremely flavorful. Don’t miss it and get some scalloped potatoes and caramelized onions while you’re at it.

    I’ve always left the Provence station for last, but perhaps next time I should change that.  The cavatappi pasta in truffle sauce I had this year was, easily, the best dish I had in Vegas.  It would not be out of place at a 5-star restaurant and I think next time I’ll begin by having half a plate of it.  Alas, I remember this same dish lacking the year before so hopefully my good experience wasn’t a fluke.

    Dessert wise, if you must try something other than a crepe (and you probably must), Le Village does a particular good job with its chocolate pastries and its creme brulee. The kids like the frozen custard, very much like soft ice cream.

    When we were there, Le Village also offered an “all you can drink wine, champagne or mimosas” for $14.  According to their website, they’ve now changed this to all-you-can-drink Blue Moon or Miller Lite beer, house red and white wine or bloody marys for $12.  The house wines are undrinkable, however, so unless you really like Blue Moon (which I haven’t tried), you may want to stick with water or soda.

    Service was competent both times we went, however it was much friendlier the second time. She got a much better tip.

    The one issue I have with Le Village buffet is that it’s rather expensive.  It’s between $30 and $33 for dinner ($3 off if you have a Total Rewards card)  for adults and $18 to $20 for children, but Le Village defines as an “adult”anyone over the age of 8.  I hope that they don’t apply the same standards to their labor practices.    In any case, I wouldn’t pay full price to go to Le Village, but keep your eye on groupon for special deals (we got dinner and unlimited drinks for 2 for $45).  Le Village also participates in the Buffet of Buffets deal.

    July 2012 Review

    My husband and I love French food and had been happy enough with our last experience at the Paris Buffet (back at the turn of the millennium), that we decided to give it a try again for dinner when we visited Las Vegas last month (July 2012).  This despite the fact that the buffet now gets mixed reviews.  In all, I have to say we were pretty happy and it was easily the best of the four other buffets we ate in Vegas using our Buffet of Buffets pass (Planet Hollywood, the Rio, Harrah’s and Main Street Station).

    Three things make the Paris buffet special.  One is the Disneyiske setting, in an open-air plaza, under a fake sky, surrounded by cute French-looking houses.  My kids loved it, but so did I.  A second is the fact that the food actually tries to be regional French, it doesn’t always succeed, but it’s a valiant effort.  Finally, it’s the fact that the menu is limited enough to at least give you a chance to try everything you want to try (not everything there is, of course).  I tried a lot of stuff.

    The food stands are divided by French region, though there is a station dedicated to soup, salads and seafood and another to desserts.  I tried the French Onion soup here and was underwhelmed.  The onions had not been caramelized enough and the broth was too weak.

    The first region I visited was Provence.  Here I tasted some beef braised in a dark sauce.  My husban liked it quiet a bit, but I felt the dish needed some sweetness, some wine in the sauce or caramelization on the beef.  The saffron rice tasted like plain buttered rice, it was good but there were no hints of saffron.  A dish of pasta in a cream sauce was quite satisfying, though I think it would have been helped by some grated cheese on top.  A stewed chicken gave a hint of having been cooked in wine, but otherwise lacked seasoning.

    My next region was Alsace, a region in the border with Germany that has gone back and forth between the two countries.  I’ve both eaten and cooked Alsatian food before and I’m quite fond of it.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t too fond of the chocroute garni, the meat was a tad too sweet and too spicy for me, while the pickled cabbage was too vinegary for my taste.  The rest of the offerings were better, but not Alsatian.  The cassoulet was nicely done and the meat was flavorful,the caramelized pearl onions were delicious, though a little underdone, and the scalloped potatoes were  wonderful.

    My venture into Savoie (a region I don’t know at all) was even more successful.  Here I tried the grilled pita bread, lamb, tri-tip and chicken – apparently they like to grill in Savoie.  They were all great, in particular the lamb and the tri-tip.  Don’t bother with the chateubriand sauce, however, it wasn’t that good and would have ruined the meats.

    This station also includes a sample of cheeses.  The smoked gouda (or a cheese that tastes as such) was particularly delicious.

    Normandy offered a stuffed sole which I loved.  It had a beautiful crust and a delicious flavor, once you added a squeeze of lemon juice.  Mike wasn’t as fond of it, and I can’t really understand why.  The ham and cheese quiche was less successful, it tasted very much of Parmessan.  There is also a small sushi section, but I didn’t try that at all.

    Finally, I was surprised that there was neither beef bourguignon nor coq au vin in the Burgundy section but I then realized that this was actually the American station.   Here you can find rotisserie chicken (I didn’t try it), prime rib (very good), roasted pork with apples (so salty as to make it inedible), roasted and mashed potatoes (good enough) and mac & cheese (lacked flavor).

    For dessert, I first headed to the Breton section where you could try apple crisp and bread pudding (homey, but nothing to write home about) as well as made-to-order crepes.  The crepes were the standard French variety, rather than Breton buckwheat galettes, but they were delicious.  I had mine with strawberries and bananas covered with fudge and hazelnuts.  The one problem is that the strawberries were already macerated and too sweet, so make sure you add some element to compensate for that.  Still, it was sooo good.

    We also visited the dessert station and here I tried several things.  There was a chocolate mousse pastry on a hazelnut crust which was delicious and a lemon cookie sandwich that was out of this world.  The other desserts impressed less.  The cheesecake was less inspired that at other buffets and the creme brulet lacked umf.  I liked the peanut butter cookie, but the sugar cookie was nothing special.  The kids loved the soft custard (aka ice cream).

    I had the unlimited mimosas/champagne/wine deal for dinner ($14, I think), and it’s a good deal if you’re planning to drink alcohol and are not too picky about quality.  I enjoyed the mimosas and the champagne.  The wine tasted like $2 chuck and I would definitely not have it again.

    Probably the worst part of the evening was our waitress.  She was efficient but seemed to be having a crappy night and there was never a hint of smile on her face.  I’m sorry, but dining is an experience and unhappy waitresses bring it down a notch.

    All in all this is a good buffet  and I’d definitely do it again.

     


  9. Chicken Luisita – Recipe

    March 17, 2014 by marga

    I got some fresh tarragon to make Lobster Thermidor and I wanted to use what was left before it went bad.  So I went looking for an easy recipe that had ingredients I had at home.  I completely lucked out with Peter Micheli’s Chicken Louisa at Epicurious.com.   I didn’t have tomatoes, though, so I substituted with tomato puree.  I also used leftover rose champagne instead of wine.  For that reason, I’m changing the name – slightly :-).

    This recipe can be done in much less than an hour. I served it with plain couscous, but it was also great with homemade white bread.

    Chicken Luisita

    • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
    • salt & pepper to taste
    • 1 Tbsp.  olive oil
    • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
    • 1 shallot, finely chopped
    • 1/2 cup white wine
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1 15 oz can tomato puree
    • 2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely chopped
    • 1/2 tsp. chicken stock base
    Pat chicken dry.  Season with salt and pepper.
    Heat oil and butter together in a frying pan over moderately high heat.  Brown chicken on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove chicken and keep warm in a separate plate.
    Add shallot and cook for one minute.  Deglaze with the wine and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add the cream, tomato puree, tarragon and chicken base.  Mix, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low.  Cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
    Return chicken to the pot, together with any juices on the plate.  Cook until the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.

  10. Simply Homemade Bread Mixes – Product Review

    February 16, 2014 by marga

    countrywhiteI got a breadmaker for Christmas, and Mike picked up one of Fleischmann’s Simply Homemade bread mixes at the store.  I thought it was sort of silly, isn’t the whole point of having a bread maker to be able to throw some ingredients together and get great bread?, but after a couple of failures doing exactly that, I decided to try it.  It was delicious!  Seriously, soooo good.

    I think I got the Country White, though I threw away the box and the bread was actually sort of brown.  I also cooked it for 3 hours, rather than on a rapid cycle.  You don’t get a particularly large loaf – but if what you want is flavor, this has it.  I think next time I’d select light crust rather than medium, however.

    I don’t know how much the package was, my bet is that it’s not cost effective, but if I found them on sale I might buy a couple to keep to make some quick bread without having to put much thought into it.