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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Doubletree Anaheim Resort – Hotel Review

I recently stayed at the Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Anaheim Resort – Convention Center (long name, right?) – this was my first time ever at a Doubletree Suites. I must admit I was pretty impressed.  This property is just a mile away from Disney and the Anaheim Convention Center is just a block or so away too.  We were not going to either of these locations. We were in Anaheim for a quick meeting (meeting was in Diamond Bar).

We reserved our rooms 12 days prior to arrival and got a great rate of $140 all in.  Our flights were outrageously late — we arrived at the hotel at 02h00.  Check-in was easy — of course there were no other people checking in.  We were given a welcome cookie, which was quite nice, since I was starving.  We were also given a check-in amenity that included two bottles of water, a bag of potato chips as well a chocolate bar.  Nice touch.

We went to our rooms and I was surprised by size. This room had a living room, and a bedroom with two queen beds.  I don’t know for sure, but I believe the couch in the living area pulled out to a bed.  The bathroom was acceptable — nothing really to write home about.

The remote to the TV in the living room didn’t work and the remote to the TV in the bedroom wouldn’t work on it either.  I went to bed around 03h00 and was up at 07h00 for meetings. During that four hour window, I slept pretty well without waking up once (which I rarely do, no matter where I am sleeping).

We ate breakfast (complimentary because of Gold Status) at the buffet, which was standard hotel buffet food.  It was nice that the server did continually refill our orange juice – I hate when you are at a place like this and you don’t get juice refills.

I didn’t spend much time at the hotel and while there I only had interactions with the overnight front desk clerk and the breakfast buffet server and they were both very personable and helpful.  The room was quite quiet — although January isn’t really peak season for Disney — who knows if it is like this at other times throughout the year.

I’m not a Disney guy — but if I were, or if I were traveling with kids, I’d definitely stay here.  If I had a reason to go to the Anaheim Convention Center, I would stay here too.  I will definitely keep Doubletree properties on my list of possible hotels.

One thing that I really loved about this hotel, I mentioned earlier on my Hotel Pet Peeves post — there were ample plugs and two connected to the lamp. How great. I wish every hotel had as many outlets as this room had. Kudos.

Have you ever stayed at a Doubletree? How about in Anaheim?  Have you recently spent 11 hours on a plane to then spend 4 hours sleeping and then attending a 4 hour meeting?  Do you find you get much better service if you are an elite member in a hotel’s loyalty program?

Recipe Review — Hearty Meatball Stew

This is the second recipe I made from Giada at Home’s Everyday Ingredients episode. The first was this wonderful Artichoke and Mint Soup, reviewed earlier this week.  This Hearty Meatball Stew was served as the main course last Saturday night.  While it isn’t a traditional stew, in my mind, a stew is a hearty soup with a heavy tomato base. This was more of a soup served with a broth versus my mental picture of a stew.

As before, I won’t restate the recipe, because you can find it here, but I will tell you how I made it and what I suggest for the next time I make it.

Instead of using two mild/sweet Italian Sausages, I used one spicy sausage and one mild sausage partnered with the ground beef.  It added a nice depth of flavor but wasn’t overly spicy.  I also forgot to add in the red pepper to the pot.  Just completely forgot about it – I didn’t even realize I missed it until I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.  It might have been nice to include, but it wasn’t a deal breaker, I don’t think. Next time I will add this to the pot though.

I really like the lengthwise cut potatoes – they were perfectly tender and was a nice change to the chunked potatoes you usually see in a stew.  I think I would add twice as many canned tomatoes next time — I absolutely love tomatoes and just can’t live without them.  Since this more of a broth based stew, I think you need to include a nice piece of bread to help sop up the left over broth.

I served this in a bowl, each person getting two meatballs, some potatoes, green beans and tomatoes.  We opted to add some bad canned Parmesan cheese — for some reason I didn’t have any shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano in the fridge (perish the thought, I know).

So, would I make this again? Yes. It was pretty easy and pretty flavorful.  I would make it again, even without my additions/deletions noted above.  One way to make this a little heartier (and will probably make any Italian food aficionados out there just roll their eyes (and perhaps cry or yell), don’t include the potatoes in the pot, but make a batch of mashed potatoes and serve this stew/soup over the potatoes.  It will make it much heartier and would be nice on a cold winters day.  I haven’t tried this of course, but it sounds pretty good to me.

Do you make meatballs from scratch often?  What is your definition of a stew? Do you often find that you’ve prepped an ingredient and just completely omitted it from the recipe — finding it only when you are  cleaning house?

Electronic Component Redesign

Before – Media Components

I hate the cluttered view of electronics that most people in America have. Why do we need to see all of your components and countless meters of wires in our living areas, do we? Luckily, my home is laid out such that I can hide my cable box, DVD player, cable modem, VOIP box and wireless router in my bedroom closet.  For the past 2.5 years I’ve had my electronics split between two portions of my closet, taking up two full shelves — causing a lot of wasted space.

I did this only because I couldn’t plug in all of my needed electronics in just one part of the closet – I didn’t have enough space to run the enough power strips and I hate the idea of daisy chaining power strips. Let’s just say the Risk Manager in me doesn’t like the idea of burning my house down.

Before –
Internet/Phone Connectivity

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a power strip that was wide enough to plug in all of my cords (even the ones with the big plug housings).  I found this power strip at Best Buy – it was on sale for $59.99, which I bought (I should have bought through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, to earn easily transferable points).  I went to Target later and found it regularly priced at $59.99 — great sale, Best Buy.

This power strip works great and it allowed me to regain an entire shelf in my closet.  While I can’t speak to the long term reliability of this piece of equipment it works well so far.  This power strip is designed to reduce electronic noise — but I didn’t have that problem, so I can’t speak to that part working properly or not. Initially all the plugs didn’t work properly — but I flipped off the “Green Power” switch and everything worked properly.  The Green Power option is designed to restrict power when items aren’t on or aren’t drawing much power — I had to turn that off to get this to work.  I’m not really using this power strip to the full extent the manufacturer recommended, but it serves my needs perfectly.

Close Up – Before
Internet/Phone Connectivity

Really, my goal here was to free up closet space and not reduce electricity consumption.  My problem has been solved.

Do you have “noise” issues with your electrical devices? How about valuable closet space being used up by ugly electronic component systems?

After – Full Component

Recipe Review – Artichoke Soup with Fresh Mint (Giada De Laurentiis)

I watched Giada at Home Saturday morning – the episode was “Everyday Ingredients”.  Two recipes on that show looked really exciting, so I made both of them for Saturday nights dinner.  First I’ll review and offer all my comments on the Artichoke Soup with Fresh Mint and next time I’ll write about the Hearty Meatball Stew later this week.

I won’t publish the recipe on my blog — you can find it here on the Food Network website — but I will tell you how I adjusted this recipe.  First of all, my store doesn’t carry frozen artichoke hearts, so I just swapped out canned artichoke hearts (non-marinated). I used 1.5 14.5 ounce cans of artichokes.  I was excited about the mint flavor, so I added 2.5-3x the mint suggested int he recipe.

My version turned out very nicely.  The addition of the lemon at the end was a perfect way to bring all the flavors together.  Other than using more mint and swapping out frozen artichokes with canned artichokes, I don’t think anything else needed to be tweaked.

One suggestion that Giada didn’t mention (that I noticed at least) was that this soup would be a great spring/summer cold soup.  I love cold artichoke hearts (in salads or as a side dish) and the mint coupled with the citrus bite from the lemon would be a wonderful soup for an al fresco meal in the summer.  When I make this soup the next time, I think I’ll make a much larger batch and freeze part of it.  If you know me, you know how much I hate left overs — but freezing this soup and serving it could I think would be absolutely lovely. Plus it would allow me to NOT crank up the stove when it is miserably hot in Chicago in the summer.

Sorry I didn’t take a picture of the final product, I was just so excited to eat (and entertain my guests) I completely forgot to take a photo. Next time.

Have any of you made this recipe?  When you are visiting me, would you like to try it?  Do you love Giada’s recipes? Who is your favorite Food Network chef (mine are Giada and Ina, even though Ida was rude to me at a book signing and I still haven’t forgiven her yet)? Don’t you think lemon and mint are a great combination for a warm weather meal?

What I’m cooking…Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies are the quintessential American dessert, in my mind.  This was the one dessert my mother would make semi-regularly and I think it was one of the first recipes I ever made.  The recipe we used wasn’t  an old family recipe — it was pulled from the back of the Toll House Morsels bag.  This was a fine recipe, but after a while this recipe didn’t work. For some reason the cookies were absolutely flat and hard like a disc.

I struggled with that recipe for years – I tried several other recipes and just didn’t like any of them.  I then tried a recipe with Raw Sugar — I had never tried Raw Sugar before. It turned out pretty good, but it wasn’t perfect.  I adjusted this recipe a bit and absolutely love it. I make chocolate chip cookies once or twice a quarter now and have had no complaints at all.

1/2 Cup of Unsalted Butter, melted
1 Egg (room temperature)
3/4 Cup Raw Sugar
1 1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Table Salt
1/2 Cup Semisweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Mix the first four ingredients, then add the remaining and mix.  Use a small cookie scoop (1-1.5″) to dish out cookies onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet.  Bake for 11 minutes, or until the bottom is brown and lightly golden brown on top.

The real key to this recipe is the Raw Sugar. Such a great component.  A friend of mine showed me, a few years ago, how to keep cookies nice and fresh.  You put the cookies in an airtight plastic container and put a piece of bread in with the cookies. The bread gets hard and the cookies stay soft and fresh for a long time — which won’t really matter, because these cookies won’t last long — you’ll eat them all up very quickly.

The cookie dough is also quite amazing.  The chunky sugar makes for a great treat. I eat about 25% of the dough instead of making cookies out of it. Obviously eating raw eggs can cause issues, so I wouldn’t recommend it (as I don’t want you to file suit against me if you get sick!)

Do you have a childhood recipe that you love but needs improvement?  How often do you make chocolate chip cookies — and how much of the raw dough do you eat?  How long after the cookies are made do the cookies last?