One would think that living in a city like Las Vegas means that you have endless options when it comes to dining out. Well, technically that's true. We do have hundreds, probably thousands, of restaurants within a thirty minute drive from our house. Unfortunately, the number of those that I would consider to be "great" are a limited few. And breakfast places? Fuggedaboudit. Being a super early riser though, this doesn't bother me quite so much. By the time most people are contemplating the contents of their omelet, my thoughts are well on their way to lunch. Besides, I'd rather create something on my own to enjoy in my pajamas (see photo above and recipe waaaayyyy down the page.)
We used to go out to eat quite often, but lately I've been not so eager to plunk down my credit card for what often ends up being a substandard meal. While Eric's palate has definitely matured since the day we met (when his refrigerator contents consisted of Ragu, milk, and Pacifico), he's happy eating pretty much anywhere, so long as they have chicken parm or some sort of pasta on the menu. Me? I'm not quite so easy to please.
I don't mean to sound like the Grumpy Old Man of restaurant reviews. It's not even the big things that I am most critical of; it's the little things. Call me nit-picky if you like, but restaurants are an investment of my time and money, so I think a little nit and a little pick here and there is more than allowed. The following is a list of some of my restaurant pet peeves (many of which unfortunately seem to be trends), a sort of mental check-list that I go through to determine whether I should just stay home and grill next time:
- Salt and pepper shakers: Chefs, I know that your culinary skills are flawless, and that we shouldn't mess with your creations, but I like salt. I like pepper even more. At some point in the last ten years, salt and pepper shakers started to disappear from tables at restaurants, as if to say "Our food is already perfection. Your personal tastes don't matter. Enjoy." This drives me CRAZY. With a few exceptions, food can usually stand to use a little bit of extra seasoning, and I shouldn't need to flag down our server to locate what should already be on the table. Maybe I should just start carrying my own set of travel spices with me. Don't think that I won't! They even sell them on Amazon! ----->
- Bottled Water: There's this one restaurant that we occasionally go to, and for the most part it's lovely. For the most part. Here's the thing: At the start of the meal, they present you with a Bottled Water menu on a whimsical little clipboard. Yes, an entire menu devoted to overpriced artistically-shaped bottles with European one-word names. Pretentious? You bet. Am I ordering some? Not a chance. Yes, I know that this is a great way for restaurants to (attempt to) increase the average check amount, but please, just bring me some ice water.
- Bad Bread: I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bread snob, therefore the bread basket at a restaurant is heavily scrutinized when set on the table. If I'm just dining with Eric, I have absolutely no sense of shame. I'll treat the bread basket like my own personal research experiment/buffet, taking one-quarter of each variety so that I can sample them all. If I'm dining with friends, I really want to do the same thing, but I abstain so that I don't embarrass my husband. Hard/stale/cold/low quality bread is such a buzz kill at a restaurant. On the other hand, a selection of warm and fresh artisanal bread alone can merit a repeat visit. Chefs, if bread baking is not your forte, outsourcing is nothing to be ashamed of. Just a suggestion.
- Hard Butter: Remember that scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts' character is trying to get a grasp of her escargot with the tongs, and the shell goes flying across the dining room into the awaiting tuxedo-clad server's hand? Well, I fear that the same basic, but tuxedo-less scenario is going to happen to me any time that I try to cut into a pat of rock-solid butter, which I am then supposed to be able to spread onto my roll. Providing that the butter doesn't ricochet off of my knife before I even attempt to apply it, my roll inevitably becomes a shredded, squished mess because the butter is, of course, unspreadable. Five minutes in a warm kitchen, chefs. That's all it takes. Just set the butter out for five minutes prior to serving, and future dangerous projectile pats of butter in the dining room can be avoided.
- The dessert "hard sell": I rarely order dessert at a restaurant. This is usually because I am too full, but even if I'm not, a bowl of ice cream at home always trumps whatever is on that cute little dessert menu that the server has just placed in front of me with a ceremonial flourish. Despite the fact that we have already explained that we are not big dessert eaters, we are still given the hard sell, complete with long, drawn out descriptions: "Oh, but you simply can't resist our [lava molten chocolate cake/study of creme brulees/sugared doughnuts and coffee ice cream]", or insert some other currently ubiquitous sweet. Ummm.... very convincing performance, but still not interested. Got a cheese plate?
- Generic sides: O.K., now I know that this is really picky, but it still bugs me. When I am at what is supposed to be a "nicer" restaurant, I find it annoying when all of the entrees, whether they are duck or dover sole, lamb chops or lobster, rib-eye or....you get the idea. As I was saying, I don't like it when every entree is plated with the exact same sides and garnishes. I'm not exactly sure why this bothers me, but it makes me think of an institutional assembly-line in the kitchen, where the side dishes have been sitting under a heat lamp for hours, and they are just plopped on the plate right before serving (there's always one of those icky tomato halves with breadcrumbs and a purpose-less sprig of parsley.) Like I said, it's picky, but worth a mention.
Now, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. Even if every single one of the items above gets a mental check a a restaurant, I'm an incredibly gracious customer, and I hardly ever complain to the server. I've waited tables myself in the past, so I know that: A) It's rarely the server's fault, and B) You really don't want to irritate your server. They can be very creative when it comes to revenge. So I keep my critique internal.
Now to the breakfast recipe (mentioned waaaaayyyy above in paragraph 1). I generally stick to a fairly strict healthy diet, but if I am going to splurge on something sweet, I'll likely do it at breakfast. That way, I have the rest of the day to be "good" and burn it off. This was my most recent creation, inspired by a recipe that I had clipped from an old Bon Appetit. Here are some extra tips for making these sticky-sweet breakfast treats:
- I'm going through a bit of a pear phase right now, putting them in salads, sandwiches, and yes, sticky buns. This recipe would also be great using diced apples, coarsely chopped dried cranberries or cherries, or even a combination of mixed dried fruit.
- If you are all outta Scotch, you can substitute rum or even Grand Marnier for the Scotch whiskey. If you want to keep the recipe alcohol-free, I suggest orange juice.
- If your kitchen is drafty/chilly, you can place the muffin tray in a warm (not hot!) oven for the resting phase. Prior to placing the tray in the oven, preheat it for a few minutes, and then turn it off.
- Although they are best served the day they are prepared, the baked, but not glazed, buns can be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to one week. Wrap the buns in foil and reheat, then glaze as directed.
Butterscotch, Pear, and Hazelnut Sticky Buns
For the dough
¾ cup whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
7 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
4 cups flour (plus additional for dusting)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the filling
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
One large Bartlett or Anjou pear (not overly ripe, still firm), diced
1 cup chopped blanched hazelnuts, lightly toasted, divided
6 tablespoons butter, in pieces
½ cup brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons Scotch
2 teaspoons corn syrup
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon baking powder
Prepare the dough: In a microwave safe container, heat the milk until warm (105-110F), about 1 minute. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the heated milk with the yeast, stirring to mix. Add the sugar and the butter, and mix at medium speed until the butter is broken into small pieces. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then beat in the flour, salt, and cinnamon. Mix at low speed until all of the ingredients are well-incorporated, about 2 minutes more. Increase the speed to medium and mix the dough for 2 minutes longer. Gather the dough into a ball, and place it into a lightly buttered bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick baking spray.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to an (approximately) 9X24-inch rectangle, trimming the edges to make them even. Brush the surface of the dough with the melted butter. In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, diced pears, and ½ cup of the hazelnuts. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the melted butter.
Beginning at a long end, roll up the dough as tightly as possible, pinching the seam. Using a very sharp knife, cut the log into 12 even pieces. Set each piece in a muffin cup, cut sides facing up. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm place for 45 minutes.
Set the muffin pan on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the buns are golden brown and puffed.
Prepare the glaze while the buns are baking: In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, condensed milk, cream, Scotch, and corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Simmer the mixture over medium heat until it has thickened slightly, 2-3 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt, and baking powder.
Carefully remove the buns from the pan and place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Spoon the butterscotch evenly over the buns and sprinkle the tops with the remaining hazelnuts. Allow the buns to soak up the glaze for about 20 minutes. Serve warm!