Thursday, January 31, 2019

Well better late than never. Between work and travelling a bit this month, I’m quite late on compiling my annual roundup post of my favorite meals from that year.

Perhaps this year, I’ll try and stay on top of my favorite meals as they happen.

Just like 2017, 2018 was a year that both hubby and I worked a lot in London, but we always find enough time to take several trips and enjoy some special meals together.

Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner
We kicked off 2018 with a fancy steak dinner in London with a good friend who was moving to Jakarta, Indonesia, for work. Hawksmoor is London’s prime location for a steak dinner and consistently ranks as one of the city’s best restaurants. Who needs a better reason to finally go here!

You pay for what you get as Hawksmoor is an award-winning British steakhouse that serves British grass-fed, dry-aged beef and sustainably-sourced seafood from Brixham. The company works with small farms around the UK that raise cattle to its “specific set of guidelines around the quality of the animal’s life.”

We started off with roast scallops cooked with white port and garlic as well as roasted bone marrow with onions. Yum! I don’t recall what cut of steak we ordered, but it was delicious and weighed nearly a kilo. Steaks are priced per 100 grams. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, I would recommend booking a table for Hawksmoor’s Sunday roast special.
Talking about Tacos
In February, we travelled back to the US to visit family and friends. I added on a few extra days, so I could hang out in NYC with friends. I treated myself to a fancy 3-course lunch at
Empellón, an upscale Mexican restaurant started by Chef Alex Stupak. For my $38 lunch (about £30), I chose the sticky rice tamal with red chile duck starter, chicken tacos with goat’s milk yogurt for my main and the sweetly spiced Mexican chocolate ice cream sandwich for dessert. While the meal was tasty, and I had some good people watching from the bar, I honestly wished that I had just found a street taco truck instead.
Farmer’s Market to Table in Canterbury
In March, we took a day trip to Canterbury, a cathedral city in southeast England (Kent) originally built by the Romans, lined with cobbled streets and centuries-old timber-framed houses. After a day of splendid sightseeing and taking hundreds of photos, we returned to The Goods Shed, an all-day restaurant overlooking a daily market, with its own bakery and an open kitchen. Ingredients are sourced from the in-house market, which was quite busy earlier in the day when we popped in. Though I didn’t take many foodie photos, I would happily return again just to eat the roasted local chicken cooked in wine with mushrooms and crispy lardons that I ordered.
Eating French Classics in Paris
Remember when we did our DIY tour of the Champagne region of France? Well, our group of friends stayed one night in Paris, and we ate a delicious dinner together at Les Enfants Perdus, a highly rated restaurant near the Gare de l’Est station. With a Michelin-starred chef in the kitchen, the menu is sure to delight with such French classics as foie gras, tuna tartare, steak tartare and sole meunière.

Seafood Sharing Plates in Chelsea
In April, we dined at Chicama in London with fellow American expats whom we hadn’t seen for a year and both have Latin American heritage. This Peruvian hotspot is known for its South American seafood sharing plates, so we enjoyed several tasty nibbles such as charred octopus, ceviche and some tapioca puffs. Surprisingly, this restaurant also had some of the most interesting desserts that I’ve had in a while – a deconstructed pavlova of sorts and a decadent, modern-looking chocolate pudding.
Seaside Sunsets and Birthday Treats
For my birthday in May, we picked the last-minute destination of Jersey Island, one of the English Channel Islands. Although I had little time to plan this trip, I think that Jersey ranks as one of our top (surprising) travel destinations for 2018. We kicked off our night with sunset drinks at the aptly-named Atlantic Hotel’s Ocean Restaurant, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean on the western side of the island. We opted for the 3-course menu for £65 so we could sample the desserts. Unfortunately, I was too busy enjoying the night that I didn’t take any notes on the food, but at least I took photos. Also, I recall that everything was delicious and plated wonderfully.
Visiting Jersey was a real birthday treat and a foodie weekend at every turn from local winery tastings to visiting a Jersey cow farm. I should write a post about that whole trip.

Seafood Bliss in Cornwall
During the summer, I was rather busy with work except for a weekend trip to Brittany, France, and a 4-day weekend to Cornwall at the end of August. Cornwall is another foodie destination, and we had two memorable meals there.

On our first night, I had booked us dinner at St.Enodoc Hotel, which features a lovely terrace overlooking the Camel Estuary. However, of course, it was raining the night we went. The menu showcases some of Cornwall's finest local produce, and seafood is the star here as it is at most restaurants in the Cornwall area. The restaurant was run by 2008 MasterChef UK winner James Nathan (and formerly run by top chef Nathan Outlaw), but not sure who is at the helm now.
You can’t move to England and have never heard of Chef Rick Stein. He is like a foodie legend here, and we’ve watched his television shows countless of times. He is so famous in Cornwall and owns several restaurants and shops in Padstow that the town is nicknamed “Padstein.”
At Rick Stein’s flagship aptly called the Seafood Restaurant, we had a 3-course lunch for £41 – a reservation I booked a month in advance. I should mention that we even saw Chef Stein walking around the dining room. What a delight!

For my lunch, I had moules marinière in a creamy garlic and parsley broth followed by a roasted fillet of Cornish hake with wilted spinach in a beurre blanc (sauce). Perhaps having two dishes with cream sauces was a bit much, so I just had a strawberry sorbet for dessert. But all very good!
Country Dining in New Forest
For hubby’s birthday in October, we took our bikes on the train and headed out to New Forest for the weekend. We stayed at one of the spa hotels called Careys Manor Hotel, which once was a royal hunting lodge. For dinner one night, we dined inside at the Cambium Restaurant, which is run by Chef Alistair Craig. The whole menu focuses on local ingredients from the forest area, which featured hearty autumnal flavors during our visit. Definitely recommended!

Wonder what delicious meals 2019 will hold for us!

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Since losing my dad last month, I’ve been struggling with a lot of different emotions. I wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit, but I didn’t want to spend the holidays by ourselves either.

Fortunately, our dear friends in Scotland invited us up to spend Christmas with them in the Scottish Highlands. Perhaps you remember my last visit here when I was hand-feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms National Park?

When you live far away from family, your friends become like your family. Living as an expat for the past eight years has taught me that you can always rely on your friends - your good friends. True friends don’t judge you. They give you a shoulder to cry on when you need it and give you a glass of wine (or two or even three) to cheer you up. That’s what I needed this Christmas season.

We spent three nights cooking, eating, drinking, sitting around a warm fireplace, taking long hikes and talking with our friends – surrounded by the rugged Scottish Highlands. It was a relaxing wee break after I had just worked six days in a row. And absolutely what I needed!

I’ll close this year with some photos from a beautiful part of Scotland. Here’s hoping that 2019 is a happier and healthier year than 2018 ended up being.

Happy New Year!
Joy

Scenic Hikes
Four shadows of four friends hiking on Christmas Day in Scotland.

Birdwatching
Scottish Farm Animals

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Looking back through my photos from this year, I stumbled upon our morning visit to one of the most famous markets in Venice.

The Rialto Market, located in the heart of Venice along the Grand Canal, is a popular area where local vendors sell fresh produce, seafood and spices. Even if you are a tourist, the market is the perfect spot to pick up an afternoon snack or even some foodie goodies to take home. Of course, I love taking photos and simply wandering through a good market as well.
Visiting a market is one of the best ways to see the city’s vibrant social life and as well as hang out with the locals a bit. The market, which has taken place since 1097, is open every day except Sunday and is housed in a 16th-century building.

If you are visiting Rialto Market, I would recommend first having a coffee at Caffè del Doge. This popular coffeeshop also served as the city’s first coffee bean roasting facility, which was founded in the early 1950s by Sir Ermenegildo Rizzardini. Today, the shop exports its delicious roasted beans around the world.
At the market itself, you’ll find a wide variety of stalls selling just about anything you could want to whip up a meal – cured meats, fresh seafood, beautiful veggies and lots of local citrus too. For travelling purposes, I found several spice blends costing 3 for 9 euros that I bought. I can honestly say that I have used the tartufo blend and a spicy hot chili blend to flavor different pastas and have been truly impressed. Yum! I almost wish I had purchased a few more spices.

Wandering through a fresh market is always one of my favorite pastimes wherever we travel, and Venice was no exception.

Even the covered market where the seafood stalls are located
have old columns with fish motifs on them!

I love this "green cauliflower!"
See one of my favorite recipes: Romanesco Broccoli with Turkish Olives.
How pretty are these purple Italian artichokes at Rialto Market?
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Monday, December 24, 2018

If you're baking this holiday season, perhaps you'll enjoy making some of my cupcake designs that I've made over the years. 

In the past, after I posted a few photos via Facebook and Instagram, several readers requested directions and my cupcake recipe, so here you go! 

I'm currently travelling for the holidays, so this post will serve as a rough draft for the time being.

Happy baking!

Snowflake Cupcakes
Roll out white fondant thinly and cut out snowflake shapes using small cookie cutters. Then, make a white Royal Icing and decorate the snowflakes with various dots and lines. Let the snowflakes dry at least 24 hours before using on your cupcakes.

I thought these cupcakes looked extra cute with a pale blue buttercream!

Christmas Tree Cupcakes
Roll out yellow fondant thinly and cut out star shapes using small cookie cutters. Then, pipe your green buttercream with a large star nozzle.



Polar Bear Cupcakes
Use white icing, marshmallows and desiccated coconut to create your own polar bear. 


Snowmen Cupcakes
Use buttercream and large white marshmallows to carefully construct your own snowmen.


Easy Yellow Cake Cupcakes
Yields: 24 cupcakes

Sift together:
425      g.                     plain all-purpose flour  
400      g.                     granulated sugar
1          Tablespoon      baking powder
1          teaspoon          salt

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, place these ingredients in mixing bowl and blend together.

230      g.                    butter, room temperature
230      g.                     sour cream
3          ea.                    large eggs at room temperature
2          ea.                    egg yolks (from large eggs)
1          T.                     vanilla extract

1.      Then, add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat all ingredients together for a 1 minute or so until smooth and satiny looking. 
2.      Line a cupcake baking tray with paper baking cups. Fill the paper cups about 2/3 full (Use a no.16 cookie scoop or a large spoon).

3.      Bake in a preheated 350 F/175 C oven with the fan on for 15 minutes until lightly golden on top and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack.

Italian Buttercream
16        oz.       (455 g.)            butter, room temp.
4.5       oz.       (125 g.)            egg whites (from approx. 4 large eggs)
pinch                                       cream of tartar
1 ¼      c.         (285 g.)            sugar
½         c.         (120 ml)           water

Prepare Italian Meringue, cooking sugar to 120 C (softball stage).

Place sugar in pot with water, stirring to moisten sugar evenly. Wash sugar off sides of pot with damp pastry brush. Cook to softball stage while whipping whites to soft peaks.

Time this properly so that the whites don’t get overwhipped.

When the sugar syrup is ready, turn the whites to high and carefully pour the sugar down the side of the mixing bowl.

Continue whipping the whites until they have cooled somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Slowly, add the butter a bit at a time. Continue whipping until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy and completely cool.

Buttercream can be flavored with melted chocolate, lemon zest, lemon juice, other flavor extracts.

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