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Saturday, February 19, 2011

El Dorado

Sycamore Mall, Iowa City
February 2011

I have been to this Mexican restaurant once before, and I wasn't too impressed. But, we were going to a movie at Sycamore and I had a coupon to use, so we gave it another shot. One bonus is that you can choose to sit at tables in the middle of the mall, and people-watch while you eat! But we chose to eat in the restaurant.
The coupon was for 2 combination dinners for $10.99, a pretty good deal. The problem was that the cheese enchilada came with some kind of liquidy cheese, that I wouldn't really classify as "cheese". The bean burrito was just that, beans. Why don't they add some lettuce and tomato?! And the hard shell taco was the best thing on the plate, which is to say it was your typical hard shell taco. If I have to go back (after all, your dining choices in the mall are El Dorado, Pizza Ranch, Panera and Dairy Queen) I would just get hard shell tacos.
The margaritas are decent for $2.50. They don't pack the punch that Los Portales margaritas do, but they also seem to be better quality.
The atmosphere is colorful and fun, but the sports tvs take away from that.
With the free chips and salsa, this is a meal that will make you, possibly uncomfortably, full and with the ValuPak coupon, 2 meals + 1 margarita = $14!
You get what you pay for.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl Food!

Superbowl Sunday might have something to do w/ football, maybe something about commercials- but it's also like having a Thanksgiving of appetizers! Anticipating a large crowd joining us for the big game, I decided to make some old favorites and get a little creative with other ones.
First, I made olive dip. This dip has been in the family for at least 60 years. It's amazingly good and the ingredients are: neufchatel cheese (similar to cream cheese), sour cream, black olives, green olives and salt. Here's a helpful tip I discovered not too long ago, since I almost never use a whole can of black olives: if you transfer the black olives to a glass jar and put them in the fridge (get them out of the can as soon as it's opened), they will last as long as the green ones do!

Next, I made veggie pizza appetizers. I used to live in Okoboji, and during those summers all of the adults in the resort would meet on the sun deck, I think on Sundays, and bring appetizers (all the kids would run around between the lake and the food). Someone always brought veggie pizza, and it was one of my favorites. You take a tube of crescent rolls, the kind that pops when you open it (I know, I'm using store bought crescent rolls. Shame, shame...) and lay it out flat on an ungreased cookie sheet. Ungreased because those store bought rolls come with lots of built-in grease! Convenient! You need to pinch the perforated areas together and push the edges out to make the whole thing a little bigger.
Then bake it according to the directions, but on the low end of the time. For example, mine said to bake at 375 for 11-13 minutes, and I had them in for 10 minutes which was long enough. Just so they are starting to brown. I don't know why I'm saying "they", because "they" are no longer crescent rolls, it is now an appetizer crust and should be used in the singular. I'll try to be more grammatically correct. So, let IT cool. Meanwhile, mix a package of neufchatel cheese with 1 package (or 2 T) dry ranch dressing and 1/2 c mayo (I used nayonaisse, because that's what I have). Spread the cheese mixture over the cooled crust, then top with chopped veggies, chopped really fine, into tiny little pieces. I bought a thing of broccoli and used 2/3 of it, which was probably too much. I cut a thing of cauliflower in half, and that was definitely too much. I bought a thing of radishes and used them all, and could have had more. (I don't know what the correct term for the "things" of the veggies are- probably a head of cauliflower, but the broccoli and radishes come in a rubber band, so I assume that measurement is up to the store or the distributor.) I was going to add celery and carrots, but I ran out of room. I topped the whole thing with shredded cheese and pressed it all down. It's better with more veggies, but the cheese doesn't stay on top as well with all the veggies, so use your own judgment on the amount. It's sat in the garage over night, so it will was nice and chilled for the Superbowl party. Another great thing about Superbowl Sunday in the midwest- you have a giant walk-in fridge if you have an attached garage!

I also made deviled eggs. I was thinking about doing something green and yellow for the Packers (I'm a Chiefs fan, but when it comes down to the final game, I'll side with the "local" team. Plus, my dad's a cheese head.) Deviled eggs already come with yellow, so I thought I would dye the whites green. Then, when looking up what to use for natural dyes, I found something I made a long time ago- I mashed an avocado and mixed it in with the yellow yolk part of the deviled egg to make it green. So, I decided to do 1/2 green eggs w/ yellow middles and 1/2 yellow eggs w/ green middles!
I had some spinach in the freezer, so I heated that up with some water. After awhile, it didn't have much color and looked pretty brown. I added some dried parsley. It started to smell like tea. It got more green, and I added the hard boiled white eggs (cut in half). After sitting a little while, the eggs were beginning to turn pretty brown. I gave up on the experiment, dumped the swampy water and replaced it with-gasp!-green food coloring and water. It looked much more St. Patricksy that way. The yellow eggs were dyed with turmeric and water heated a little and mixed up. They were definitely looking pretty yellow! I let them both soak in their colors over night.
As you can see above, the green food coloring turned the eggs more of a blue-green, not exactly Packers colors. I'm not sure if that's because they started out brown instead of white, I will have to continue this experiment. I used 1/2 avocado mashed up with the yellow filling for the yellow eggs, it didn't turn out as green as I would have liked. They stayed green for awhile, but next time I'll add a little lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.

I decided to make cupcakes- something out of a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, converting a peanut butter cake recipe without the topping into a cupcake recipe with chocolate frosting. They turned out pretty good, you can taste the peanut butter but it's subtle, so not exactly like a peanut butter cup. But we did find football-themed cupcake holders! Paper ones, compostable!

Our 12 year old cat likes to move around between all the kitchen chairs, so after we moved them into the living room for the party, we found her sitting on top of the kitchen table, next to the plate of cupcakes. Upon inspection, 4 had been licked at, so we carefully scooped the frosting off of the parts she had tasted!

My husband made some pretty good bean dip, so I started soaking the beans Saturday, they are a mixture of black beans, great northern beans and kidney beans. This is completely an experiment.
After a day of soaking, all the white great northern beans turned purple from the black beans!
They were cooked in the slow cooker on low for 4 hours, which turned out to be perfect. Then they, with lots of other ingredients: hot peppers, onions, garlic, spices, and more were put in the food processor until smooth. Good hot or cold!

He also made taquitos with corn tortillas, cheese & avocadoes, which were a big hit. I had to wait until I was done singing along to Slash before I enjoyed a couple.

Our guests brought a wide variety of snacks as well: flavored pecans, dip, a fruit dessert, spicy spam, raspberry/cream cheese, pistachios, cashews, little pecan cupcake shaped things, carrots and more!