Artichoke, Spinach & Brie Bake

artichoke brie spinach main

This is an outstanding side dish version of the popular hot artichoke and spinach dip. It goes extremely well with any holiday roast beef, turkey or ham. It can be assembled a day or two in advance and cooked along side your roast, making this vegetable side dish a time saver.

The dish starts with a base of creamed spinach. My recipe for that is below, but feel free to substitute your favorite creamed spinach recipe, if you wish. Use a good brand of artichoke hearts. They will be larger and easier to work with. We like a jarred band we find at Costco, but don’t use artichoke hearts that are seasoned and marinated in vinegar or oil. Freezing the brie will make is easier to dice into small cubes before folding it into the cream cheese. When baked, the cubes of brie will melt nicely on top of the seasoned artichoke hearts and make a delicious combination.

Artichoke, Spinach & Brie Bake

1 12 oz package frozen chopped spinach
2½ tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups milk
¼ tsp sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

12 good quality canned, jarred or frozen whole artichoke hearts
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic
¼ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
⅛ tsp salt
2 tablespoons sherry

8 oz brie, frozen
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Cook the frozen spinach according to the package instructions. Squeeze dry with paper towels and set aside. Make a medium thick cream sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, cook & stir for 1 minute. Add the milk, stirring or whisking, without stopping until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Fold in the cooked spinach, season with the sugar, salt and pepper. Set aside while preparing the next step.

Rinse and drain the artichoke hearts well, gently pressing out any excess can liquid, keeping the hearts as whole as possible. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan and sauté the garlic for a few seconds over medium heat. Add the parsley and sherry. When it comes to a boil, add the artichoke hearts and gently toss to coat until heated through and the hearts are coated with the butter and parsley, trying to keep the hearts as whole as possible. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

Add the cream cheese to a bowl and stir to soften it. Thirty seconds in the microwave will make it easier. Cut the frozen brie into ¼ inch cubes and using a spatula, add to the cream cheese (freezing the brie makes it easier to cut into cubes and blend with the cream cheese.

To assemble the dish, butter one medium or several individual oven proof baking dishes. Layer the creamed spinach on the bottom of the baking dish. Gently nestle the artichoke hearts on top of the spinach. Using a teaspoon and finger tips, dollop the brie mixture over the artichokes. No need to spread the cheese, it will melt and spread as it bakes. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese evenly over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees just until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 20-30 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 8-10.

artichoke brie bake11


Cranberry, Blueberry and Apple Relish

cranberry blueberry relish
This relish, a fruit compote actually, is a quick and easy twist on a standard holiday favorite. Most cranberry relishes, especially store-bought versions, or ones using fresh cranberries, are too astringent for my taste buds. An apple and some blueberries mellow the tartness of the cranberries somewhat. They also give the relish more depth and a gorgeous color. With the use of unflavored gelatin in this recipe, the amount of sugar can be adjusted up or down to suit your taste without jeopardizing the thickness of the end result. A sugar substitute may also be used here for a low-cal option.

Any leftover relish makes a fantastic pancake or French toast topping. It’s also very good spooned over a brick of cream cheese or a wedge of brie and served with crackers as a party spread.

Cranberry, Blueberry and Apple Relish

1 5-ounce package dried cranberries, any variety
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 6-ounce package fresh blueberries
1 cup cranberry juice
½ cup granulated sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat and continue to simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until the fruit is softened and the juice has thickened.

Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate overnight. The mixture with thicken more and set up as it cools. Makes approx 2 cups.

K-Bop Korean Tapas and Bar

K-bop interior
Las Vegas is dotted with a number of Korean restaurants, mostly serving classic dishes or all-you-can eat buffets. K-Bop is different from those places. It joins the short list of new Korean restaurants in town now serving Korean pop-culture food (Korean burritos and bulgogi dogs) , as well as home-style rice and noodle comfort dishes.

A recent early Friday evening dinner was a total hit. Everything we ordered was outstanding. A Bulgogi Dog-an Asian version of a Philly cheese steak packed with tender grilled strips of Korean beef, onions and cheese on a toasted bun, was terrific. We ate every bite of sizzling platters of “Corn Cheese” (a gooey casserole of corn and cheese) and the L.A. Kalbi (thin sliced, Korean style marinated and grilled short ribs).

The highlight of the evening was the takoyaki, a very popular late-night drinking snack in Japan. Six ping-pong ball sized fried fritters were filled with diced octopus and topped with shaved bonito flakes and a drizzle of two sauces. Complimentary dishes of crispy fried pastry strips, stewed sweet potatoes and a terrific house-made kimchi were perfect additions to our meal. We split a bottle of the house soju, the Korean equivalent of Japan’s sake that was amazingly good considering it features that Gangham Style pop singer all the rage now on it’s label.

K-Bop calls itself a tapas bar, but the portions served are generous enough to count as a main dish. Adding to the terrific food is the friendly, upbeat service and the very comfortable, nicely decorated interior. We enjoyed the Korean pop music and videos playing in the background-it was just enough kitsch without being goofy.

Located on the corner of S. Ft. Apache and Flamingo in the Home Depot plaza, K-Bop is open until 2:00AM on Friday & Saturdays making this our number one pick for a late night stop for a bite to eat on the way home from a night out.

K-Bop Tapas and Bar
4235 S. Fort Apache
Las Vegas 89147


Pork Belly Sliders

braised pork_belly slider

pork belly slider

Pork belly is simply an uncured, unsalted, unsmoked slab of bacon. If you are lucky enough to live in area with an Asian grocery with a fresh meat counter, finding fresh pork belly is no problem, otherwise, have a chat with the meat guy in your regular grocery store and ask – no, demand – that he order it for you.

Pork belly can be prepared in a variety of ways, but my favorite is sliced, lightly seared, braised until tender, and served on a soft bun with Asian style condiments. The type of bun is up to you. Classic steamed Chinese buns are the usual vehicle for these sandwiches, but we like soft pretzel buns sold in a small slider size-any good bakery style roll you like will work fine. The condiments can vary too, from simple soy sauce mixed with a bit of minced garlic and ginger, sirracha pepper sauce, Korean pepper sauce or Chinese hoisin sauce. The braising liquid, type of bun and condiments can also be easily adapted for Latin or Italian versions of the recipe. The basic recipe below, which I think is very good as is, is my favorite, but feel free to add your favorite seasonings (sesame oil, star anise, garlic and ginger are nice additions).

Here, I have purchased pre-sliced pork belly that is a little leaner than I prefer and is probably better suited for stir-fried dishes and fried rice. sliced pork bellyYes, it’s a bit better calorie-wise, but pork belly with an equal fat-to lean ratio is more tender and succulent for sandwiches. In my opinion, lean pork belly is better when sliced thinly for stir-fries, or diced, browned and added to fried rice. Either way, the end result will still be very tasty.

These little sliders are a nice change of pace for football parties or weekend movie nights at home.

Pork Belly Sliders

Fresh pork belly sliced to 1/8” thickness
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine)
1/2 cup water

Condiment of choice
Thinly sliced cucumbers
Thinly sliced green onions

In a non-stick sauté pan, brown the pork belly slices until lightly brown on both sides.browned pork belly Drain off the rendered fat and discard.

Add the soy sauce, mirin and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and braise over low heat for about an hour, or until tender. Keep an eye on the pan and add additional water if it evaporates too quickly. The pork should not be covered or swimming in liquid, but the pan should not be dry, either.

To serve, cut the pork into pieces that fit your buns. Spread a small amount of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, or use some of the braising liquid from the pan, on each side of the bun. Top with thinly sliced vegetable such as crisp cucumbers, green onions or jalapeno peppers. Chopped kimchi or grated carrots are also very good.
braised pork_belly slider


NY strip
With roots in New York City that go back to 1927, Gallagher’s is an old school, no nonsense East Coast style steakhouse. You won’t find anything gimmicky on the menu, but you’ll find dry aged steaks, seafood and the side dishes that have been served in classic New York steakhouses for decades.

This comes with a price, of course, but there are times you get what you pay for. In our case it was a $43 dry aged bone-in New York strip steak that was everything a steak should be-beefy, juicy and cooked exactly as ordered. Stellar icy cold oysters, classic Caesar salad and side dishes large enough for two that included a bacon studded five cheese mac & cheese and enormous onion rings were all that were needed to round out an outstanding special occasion steak dinner that hard-core carnivores dream about.

Only one thing didn’t seem right with a recent dinner here. Enormous, serrated steak knives the size of mini-machetes that were not only dull, but out of place for our small table for two. The butter knives on our table were actually sharper. This may not be an issue with a boneless filet, but with our thick, bone-in strip steaks, the steak knives were too cumbersome to be very useful without inflicting damage on the diners seated at the table next to ours.

Service during our meal was spot-on. Our server was personable and efficient which set the tone for a very enjoyable evening. All menu items are ala carte. Dinner for two with appetizers, salads, side dishes and a bottle of wine came to $250 with the tip. Reservations are recommended, but we had no problem getting a table for early dining on a Friday evening without one. Gallagher’s is located on the casino level of the New York New York resort on the Strip.

Gallagher’s Steakhouse
New York New York Hotel & Casino
3790 Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 740-6450

Maryland Style Steamed Blue Crabs


Las Vegas might be landlocked and 2,500 miles from the east coast, but thanks to the seafood markets located in our Chinatown, treats like these live blue crabs are only a few minutes away.

The lively crabs you see here came from the Greenland Market in the Koreatown plaza on Spring Mountain, but all of the Asian markets with a seafood department in Chinatown stock them. They might not be as large as the jumbo crabs I remember eating in Baltimore, but for $1.00 each and with a can of Old Bay seasoning, a traditional Chesapeake Bay crab feast in the Mojave Desert couldn’t be easier.

Being a relatively messy affair, a crab feast like the ones folks in Baltimore enjoy is a usually a back-yard event. Large pots of steamed crabs dosed with a hefty coating of spicy Old Bay seasoning (the seasoning of choice on the east coast for this) are dumped in a pile on top of layers of newspaper. Diners use their hands and small wooden mallets to crack the shells and suck the sweet meat from the legs, claws and body. Nothing more than plenty of cold beer is needed to enjoy the tradition.

Since the live crabs we have access to here in Vegas are on the small side, plan on serving 10-12 crabs per person. As with any live seafood, when buying live crabs, choose the friskiest ones in the bin and keep your fingers away from the claws. Tongs are the best way to safely move them from one place to another. If you are new to eating blue crabs, there are numerous videos on YouTube to walk you through the process.
Steamed Maryland Style Blue Crabs

Live blue crabs (10-12 person if they are small)
Old Bay Seasoning

Place a rack in the bottom of a very large pot and add equal amounts of water and vinegar to make a two inch depth of liquid.

Using tongs, layer the crabs in the pan sprinkling a very generous layer of Old Bay on each crab. It’s almost impossible to over-season these, so don’t skimp.

Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, place a lid on the pot and steam for about 20-30 minutes, depending on how many layers you are steaming at once.

Using tongs, remove the crabs from the pan and place in a pile directly on to a table lined with layers of newspaper and dig in.

Wet paper towels or hand wipes for wiping hands and faces are a nice touch. If you insist on serving something with the crabs, corn on the cob is the only traditional accompaniment for a genuine Maryland crab feast.

Witches Fingers (diti di strega)

Las Vegas Food Adventures

witches fingers

Witches Fingers (diti di strega) 

Kick off the holiday baking season with a popular Italian Halloween cookie. These are seriously delicious cookies, in spite of looking like severed witches fingers. The dough is a versatile cookie recipe-I use the same dough for thumbprint cookies for Christmas filling the centers with chocolate ganache or jam.

 3 cups blanched almonds, divided

4 oz.  cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

3/4 cup  powdered sugar

1 tsp. almond extract

1/4 tsp.  salt

1-1/2 cups flour

red food coloring or red cake decorating gel

Preheatoven to 325ºF.

Reserve 60 nuts for later use; process remaining nuts in food processor until finely ground. Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar, extract and salt in large bowl with mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour. Stir in ground nuts. (Dough will be stiff.)

Roll dough into 60  three inch fingers, using 1 Tbsp. dough…

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