Is New York City the capital of the world?

30 Jun

Warning: This is a long post because New York City was full of experiences. I have grouped them by day. Enjoy.

Day 1

Unlike Hong Kong, there were no sweeping views of the city skyline coming into New York City by MTA (rapid transport). After the MTA departs from JFK airport, it goes underground and the next time I was above was at Penn station lugging my bag. Once on the street level, I was immersed in the thick hustle and bustle of Thursday afternoon. It was teeming with people. I stood momentarily to get my bearings, and to soak it all in. I couldn’t help but think to myself: I’m going to love this city.

I stayed in Korea Town or KTown as it is commonly referred to in Midtown, Manhattan. The Avalon, a boutique hotel oozed character and the classic decor added to the charm. It was perfectly positioned for exploring, within minutes of the manic Times Square and other tourist attractions, yet set in a quiet one way street. An abundance of eateries surrounded me and many of the hubs I wanted to get acquainted with were a short stroll or taxi ride away.

I’m sure that I’m not the first to fall in love with New York City and probably won’t be the last. So what was it that seduced me about this city? Well, I’m a big fan of metropolises, which within one square kilometre can offer more diversity than any urban sprawl. It’s the kind of city where you are unlikely to see the same person you were flirting with on the train twice, where you could go for weeks without needing to use a car, where there is always something happening on any given street corner at almost any time of day, any time of the week. New York City has all that and more. It is a trendsetter in art, fashion, food and technology among others.

I enjoy exploring on foot and in New York it was no different. Within hours of my arrival, I set out in search of a quick meal. On my flight from London, I discovered that food was not British Airways forte and on par with their poor service. I was hungry, so I focused on KTown due to its close proximity. Unlike Chinatown, KTown is aloof from the main tourist trail. There aren’t many souvenir shops just eateries, food-courts, restaurants and karaoke bars.

After a brief peruse of the window menus, I settled for BCD Tofu House and ordered a Soondubu jjigae, a hot and spicy stew made with tofu, mushroom, and seaweed. It is served in a porcelain pot with several side dishes (kim chee, rice, fried whole fish, pickles etc.) and a raw egg which is there to thicken the stock. It was filling, flavorsome and a much needed fortifier before the night ahead. Later that evening I went on to see The Boxer Rebellion at Webster Hall where I met with friendly New Yorkers and discovered a few more bars and was introduced to the art of folding pizza at 4am. The local hospitality was unmatched in my travel experience, especially those in populous cities. It was a great start to “YC”.

Day 2

My first night was over and I was already starting to think that my four night stay will only serve as a teaser and that I would need to return to this great city. I couldn’t help but feel anxious about time and the need to squeeze in more set in. The next morning, after a coffee fix and croissant at Piccolo Cafe, I embarked on a day of sightseeing. In my five hour walk, I took in amazing views from the Rockefeller observation deck, visited the Grand Central Railway, whizzed through the exhibition Punk: Chaos to Couture at the MMOA, Theatre District and Garment District.

After my dose of sightseeing, I finished up at a Kajitsu for a late lunch. Its an establishment that serves Shojin Cuisine, an ancient Zen Buddhism type of vegetarian cooking. The meal was served over several courses using seasonal ingredients, preparing them using simple techniques to enhance their flavour and presented beautifully using Japanese earthenware and cutlery. The entire experience for me could only be likened to a cross between meditation, eating and art. It’s an experience worth having at least once. I returned to my hotel for a quick change into my running gear, then went on to complete the 10km Central Park loop in 50 minutes plus a 6 km power walk through the crowds from and back to the hotel.

Shortly after, I returned to the streets to meet up with a friend for dinner. In the mood for Chinese but wanting something nearby, we settled for Cafe China. I had done my research and it paid off. We sat at the bar as all tables were taken in this loud, hip and nicely decorated restaurant. The Szechuan menu was as exotic as the clientele which was dominated by well-heeled and enchanting Asian American women. We sampled a few dishes as we gazed around the room including Bang Bang Chicken a cold salad with sesame dressing, Whole Baby fish which is eaten from head to tail, Chungking Spicy Chicken with dried chillies and szechuan pepper, and Dan Dan Noodles. All the dishes were excellent except the Chungking which was a little too oily for my taste. The meal was substantial enough to get us through yet another night out of bars and clubs without the need to gorge on a pizza slice at 3 am.

General Sightseeing Photos

20130701-090532.jpg

20130701-091138.jpg

20130701-091215.jpg

20130701-091406.jpg

20130701-112646.jpg

20130701-112710.jpg

20130701-112802.jpg

The Kajitsu Experience

20130701-092958.jpg

20130701-093025.jpg

20130701-093039.jpg

20130701-093057.jpg

20130701-093125.jpg

20130701-093144.jpg

20130701-093208.jpg

20130701-093221.jpg

20130701-093328.jpg

20130701-093345.jpg

Day 3

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of venturing out of Manhattan to meet with a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a treat to bask in the sun and soak in the atmosphere at the local flea market. Locals close off the main street, roll out real turf across the road pavement and play scrabble on the asphalt. It was nice to be there with a local, but even more special because I was accompanied by my dear friend, fellow blogger who I had not seen since I departed Mumbai.

After perusing the streets of Williamsburg, she led me to Spriztenhaus 33, a bar where the beer menu was exceedingly larger than the food menu. We both love beer and being a regular, I followed her lead. To accompany my Ithaca Flower Power IPA, I ordered the Biala Kielbasa sausage with sauerkraut and a pretzel with chipotle aioli. The combination, a perfect marriage. As the place started to fill up, we moved on to more walking and iced coffee. There’s was only one word to describe that afternoon: perfect.

20130701-095241.jpg

20130701-095342.jpg

20130701-105258.jpg

20130701-095432.jpg

20130701-095449.jpg

I returned from Williamsburg but instead of resting, I decided to head to see the sunset. I roamed around in search of the perfect shot. All rooftop bars had a waiting list so I decided to head west on foot. Whilst I was not able to get to the Hudson for a clear shot, I did manage some interesting shots. In between red traffic light changes, I laid my G12 on the asphalt. Here are the results.

20130701-110950.jpg

20130701-111035.jpg

20130701-111142.jpg

20130701-111210.jpg

Later that same evening, I headed out content with the idea of dinner, people watching and an early night. I walked a small loop covering the streets of Chelsea and Noho terminating at Saint Marks Place. It was midnight and the strip of mainly asian restaurants was buzzing. I slipped into Oh Taisho, a below-street-level Japanese eatery and was soon escorted to my bar seat. I was hungry and the visual onslaught of the sight of frying, grilling, chopping and stir-frying didn’t help. I ordered far more than my ever shrinking stomach could cope with including Tuna Tataki, Agadashi Tofu, Squid Yakitori, Shitake Yakitori and a pint of Kirin. The food was very good and ambience well suited for groups or a quick meal. Halfway through my meal, I got the call that we would be heading out, much for having an early night! Several bars and hours later, daybreak arrived.

Day 4

The final day was looming and after only a couple of hours of sleep, I was eager to head out and discover some more. By 11am, my running shoes were on and camera was strapped across my body. Two litres of water, an apple and one hour later I was out the door walking westward where the Hudson River run awaited. What I enjoyed about running in New York in summer was the amount of people that flock to fill every grassy patch. Beautiful sculptured bodies of all complexions were strewn randomly and vying for a dose of melatonin. You could sense that they were appreciating the sunshine. I sensed a similar vibe in Hyde Park in London and Central Park. This was people watching at it’s best.

My run terminated near the Brooklyn Bridge where the quaint New Amsterdam market was in full swing. Armed with only 11 dollars, I went for homemade lemonade; a rye bread flat sandwich with mozzarella and cucumber; and, juicy pesticide and preservative-free raisins. Little did I realise that I had left my MTA ticket at the hotel. It was a long but rewarding walk back through lower Manhattan and then along the Highline.

20130701-112646.jpg

20130701-112710.jpg

20130701-112802.jpg

20130701-113901.jpg

20130701-114026.jpg

20130701-114038.jpg

20130701-114055.jpg

20130701-114124.jpg

20130701-114149.jpg

20130701-114244.jpg

It was almost four in the afternoon when I arrived at my hotel. A quick shower and change and I was out the door. This time it would be a quick farewell drink at Mission Dolores in Brooklyn with the same friend I’d seen in Williamsburg. The bar was quirky, the company a delight and people watching a treat. We later picked up a pizza enroute to her home to tide me over to dinner. It was a pleasure to see her again but equally sad not knowing where and when we would meet again. Departing New York also weighed on my mind and my heart felt heavy, emotions took over in the backseat of the taxi. It felt like a long drive back to Midtown where I would wrap up the night with my other friend by midnight. A 6 am start beckoned along with an unpacked bag.

I departed New York knowing that I would return. The was so much more I wanted to discover, so many more foods to taste and people to meet. Thank you New York City. You have my vote for “capital city of the world” title.

24 hours in London

25 Jun

In an effort to avoid long haul flights and jet lag, I decided to break up the Dubai to New York leg with a stopover in London. I had already been there in 97 but on a shoe string so my culinary experience didn’t stretch beyond hot jacket potatoes topped with curried chicken. 16 years on, a different side to London was encountered.

My time was limited to 24 hours because I was set on maximising the length of my stay in New York, a city I’d yearned to strike off my bucket list. So how much can one fit in 24 hours in London? Quite a bit especially if you avoid the shopping frenzy, put on a pair of comfortable shoes and don’t mind walking.

Breakfast was a triple shot soy latte and a freshly baked crispy croissant at Nero’s in Paddington, a coffee chain littered all over this old world city. Both were perfect. From there it was a long walk along Oxford Street, across Soho towards St James Park, Trafalgar Square then on to Embankment. I then crossed the Thames over the Waterloo Bridge (I think) and finished up walking along Southbank up to London Bridge. The weather was perfect and if you’re ever in London for a limited time, this route will give you a good snapshot of what this city is all about. A quick refreshment at the Tate bar on level 6 was a must, a nice vantage point where you can appreciate sweeping views over the Thames, from one of the window seats.

For lunch, I stopped at the Borough Markets. On Wednesdays the stalls are limited to those offering mainly prepared food like sandwiches. The range was stupendously big. Fresh truffles, cheeses, cured meats, spit roast pork, artisanal breads, ciders, sandwiches, paella, seafood, on it went. I must have spent at least one hour browsing the stalls until I settled on a choice. I couldn’t resist one of the Italian stalls, everything they offered was screaming “eat me”! I went for a simple sandwich: baby rocket, semi-dried tomatoes, laminas of mozzarella di bufala in ciabatta bread. It was one of experiences that as you ate, you never wanted the sandwich to end. I then moved on to some prosciutto which I stuffed into some bread. It was melt in the mouth stuff and slightly sweeter than any other that I had eaten before.

After an evening run in Hyde Park, a friend of mine and I set out to Oxo. It’s a restaurant perched over the Thames in southbank. If you’re in London for a short time, I recommend doing both. Hyde Park in summer is a delightful experience because it’s provides you with the opportunity to see the locals at their best: smiling and basking in the sun. Oxo, whilst the execution wasn’t perfect, the spectacular views, buzzing ambience and well thought of menu made for an overall pleasant dining experience. Unfortunately the camera wasn’t on hand to capture the dishes but if you view their website, you’ll get the idea of what it’s all about.

Until New York!

20130625-093150.jpg

20130626-082027.jpg

20130626-082117.jpg

20130625-093328.jpg

20130625-093401.jpg

20130625-093237.jpg

20130625-093305.jpg

20130625-134331.jpg

20130625-134349.jpg

20130625-134420.jpg

20130625-134704.jpg

Dubai and Doha Detour

23 Jun

My travel westward to London included a necessary stopover in the Arabian Gulf to look for a new job opportunity. However, this brief pause in adventure travel wasn’t without a few interesting food discoveries. After all, I still had to eat.

Over the course of eight days, I fleeted across many offices to sell myself to potential employers. Working out free wi-fi hubs within the air-conditioned malls meant that healthy options were going to be difficult to find. This was even more challenging in Doha where buckets of fried chicken, burgers and pizza were in abundance. On most days I skipped lunch, opting for a Starbucks “light” frappuccino of some sort. However, dinner usually included something more substantial and by then I would be famished, especially if I’d been running in the desert heat.

In Dubai where I had already been twice, we dined at Meshawi a renown Lebanese Restaurant where the stand-out dish was pan-fried chicken hearts with a pomegranate molasses sauce. However, the tuna steak at the Belgian Beer Cafe, ravioli at Rosso and noodles at Wagamama were at best average. In Doha, we focused on regional food including Mamig Armenian/Lebanese, Alsoo South Indian and the delights of Yemen at Bandar Adan. All three restaurants were fantastic and possibly the best in their category. I also tried camel at a Moroccan restaurant in the Souq which I can only describe as being similar to goat, but only much softer.

My overall food experience made me think about reevaluating my food expectations in preparation of a move to the region. The fortunate thing is that the availability of organic produce and ingredients are on the rise so cooking the dishes I love will be possible. In terms of dining out, I will definitely have to lower my expectations and be prepared to try many restaurants. You may have noticed that very few vegetarian options were mentioned. This is representative of the regional consumption habits. Here vegetarians need to either choose from the limited options on the menu or request that they omit meat where possible.

I’ll leave you with a few photos. Unfortunately I wasn’t armed with my camera in every occasion so I wasn’t able to show you all the dishes. Have you unearthed anything interesting food lately?

Next stop London…stay tuned

20130623-115605.jpg

20130623-115729.jpg

20130623-115819.jpg

20130623-115842.jpg

20130623-115920.jpg

20130623-120206.jpg

20130623-120304.jpg

20130623-120421.jpg

Wontons in Wanchai

11 Jun

I arrived in Hong Kong late in the evening after a 9 hour flight from Brisbane, feeling jaded and starved. Eager to get to my hotel in Wanchai, I skipped the MTR transfer from Hong Kong Station and jumped into a taxi for a 10 minute ride. I dropped off my bag, showered and went scouting for food.

Wanchai, the suburb I would call home for 5 nights was not only littered with working girls, lager-louts, out of shape drunken expats, Go Go Bars and pubs but also some of the best eateries, offering just about everything imaginable. Options not only include handmade noodles, wonton, soups, barbecued duck and pork, Hainanese chicken, but also Thai and Philippine cuisine to cater for sex workers from those countries.

I roamed around for a while, totally lost in all the variety until I caught a glimpse of an elderly man working the wok in window of a cheap eatery. He looked like he could have been the Mr Miyagi of noodles, so the choice was clear. I stepped into the Wing Wah Noodle Shop and as I made my way to the only vacant table noticed that other diners were either slurping noodles or soup. So I ordered both: shrimp wonton soup with soft egg noodles and within 5 minutes, I was “chop-sticking” noodles and ladling seafood broth. Hiding beneath the noodles were the to-die-for shrimp stuffed wontons, with the softest wrappers, so soft that they were possibly even made that evening. I ended up also ordering the Gai Lan with shrimp powder too and returned twice on separation occasions to try some other dishes, but for me the shrimp wonton noodle soup took the crown.

So that was my run down of my first local meal experience. What else did I savor in Hong Kong during my stay? Unfortunately not as much as I would have liked, at times even wished that I had two stomachs! I’ve included a few photos with a brief description as life on-the-road doesn’t spare me too much time to tell the story of each dish. I hope that you enjoy.

Wing Wah Noodle Shop – Wanchai

20130611-201712.jpg

Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup

20130613-192727.jpg

Gai Lan with Shrimp Powder

20130613-193010.jpg

Sticky Rice Shop – Soho

20130611-201814.jpg

Sticky Rice with bbq pork

20130611-201950.jpg

Hawker Stall – Soho

20130611-202047.jpg

Hawker Stall Chow Mein with Tofu and Bok Choy

20130611-202018.jpg

Dark Soy Rice Noodles with Cuttlefish Balls and a side of Offal Soup – Kowloon

20130611-202106.jpg

Menu at Maguro – Wanchai

20130611-202137.jpg

Cold Soba Noodles with Canadian Salmon Tataki with Sesame Soy Dressing topped wi Corn Flakes (sounds weird but the crunchy texture was a welcomed surprise)

20130611-202220.jpg

Grilled Soft Bone Chicken and Stake (perhaps with was Skate?)

20130611-202250.jpg

Grilled Fresh Shitake Mushrooms with Bonito Shavings

20130611-202320.jpg

One Dim Sum – Prince Edward (according to the locals probably the best in Hong Kong, well the best I’ve tasted)

20130611-202449.jpg

20130611-202503.jpg

20130611-202542.jpg

20130611-202606.jpg

20130611-202623.jpg

20130611-202647.jpg

20130611-202707.jpg

20130611-202731.jpg

20130611-202759.jpg

20130611-202823.jpg

Japanese Boat – TST Ladies Market Area

20130611-202400.jpg

Fish Noodle Soup with Seaweed – Can’t remember where (probably a 5am snack)

20130613-193058.jpg

Japanese drip coffee – Rabbithole Coffee and Roaster

20130613-193212.jpg

Bye Brisbane…Hello Hong Kong

4 Jun

20130604-212021.jpg

When major life changes are imminent or being experienced, we can’t help but reflect on where we have been, where we are and where we are going. Right now for me, it’s more about where I’ve been. I’m on a plane, feeling a little overwhelmed and sinking into deep thought. All I have is a medium sized travel bag, some gadgets and memories to take with me, some of which will fade, others nostalgically remembered.

56 months ago, I arrived in Brisbane for a 6 month contract. Everything I had thought would happen, didn’t. I never imagined that I would work in India for a project located in PNG, become single, start a blog, quit smoking, watch a ballet, take up running, cycling and forge friendships with people very different to me. The list is endless. If I could, would I change anything about this experience? Probably not. The whole experience was the sum of all the small decisions I made which I’m totally content with. It’s what has brought me to where I am, made me who I am, now.

What lies ahead? Will I return to live in Brisbane? Nobody really knows. I have a mud map of where I want to be in the future but it’s totally in the hands of opportunity. All I know is that I’m embarking on exciting five week round-the-world trip with the first stop being Hong Kong. Then it’s Dubai, Doha, London, New York, Miami, Orlando, Miami, Houston, Dallas and Sydney. Perhaps from Dallas I may extend my trip, and, continue onto Vegas, revisit San Francisco and drive down to LA. But that hinges on whether a new contract surfaces. Let’s see.

Prior to departure, I reconnected with someone very dear to my heart over a phone call. She asked me an interesting question, at least to me it was: “what are you most excited about?” I admit, it caught me off guard as I had been so engrossed in travel planning that I had almost forgotten about the trip itself. So the thought of interviewing myself came to mind for my first on-the-road post. I wanted to reflect on my expectations and excitement. I hope that you like it! Here goes…

What are you most excited about?
I’m excited about meeting up with my friends who are scattered across the globe. With the exception of Miami, I have at least one friend in each of the cities that I will visit. I’m looking forward to experiencing the pace and energies of both Hong Kong and New York, the contrasts and similarities between them.

Being “another food blogger”, you must be looking forward to discovering new food, right?
My interest in food consumes me as much as I love to consume it. The street food and markets of Hong Kong I hear are not to be missed. Bagels, pizza and hot dogs are a must in NYC so I’m hoping to sink my teeth in the best of the bunch. I’ll be in search of Cuban cuisine in Miami and Texan BBQ, well is there anything else to do in Texas? Alain Ducasse has recently opened a restaurant in Doha so I’m keen on trying that out too. Experiencing unfamiliar food is definitely one of the most exciting part of travelling.

Do you have an itinerary for each city?
Kind of. I have a list of tourist attractions I would like to see but with no real priority. In Hong Kong I really want to just get lost among the crowd, trek up to the Dragon’s back, do an overnight trip to Macau and see the markets. In Dubai, well I’ve been there twice and Doha it’s mostly about job hunting. I’m familiar with London so I’m not planning much except a quick catch up with friends, a run in Hyde Park, dinner on the Thames. In New York its Brooklyn, the Highline, Chelsea Markets and Rockefeller building, MOMA, MMOA, Meat Packing and East Village. Miami, it’s art deco and South Beach. Orlando is all about bonding with my daughter for eight days in Disney World.

Is there anything that you’re uneasy about or weary of?
Hmm, driving. When I travel, I don’t normally drive especially on the left hand side of the car. I will be taking the plunge this time and driving from Miami to Orlando, and, possibly from San Francisco to LA.

Are there any activities that you like to do without fail in every city?
Yes. I’m a big fan of rooftop bars and appreciate an Old Fashion or a glass of bubbly should I be sharing the vista with someone special (wink wink). The attraction for me is being able take in a birds-eye view of the city. For instance, if you’ve tried Aer in Mumbai, At.Mosphere in Dubai, Unique in Sao Paulo, Sky Bar at The Lebua or Vertigo at the Banyan Tree in Bangkok, you won’t be disappointed. I’m also looking forward to Oxo over the Thames and Ink48 in NYC.

Are there any activities that you plan on doing that you haven’t done before?

Yes. I’d never gone out to see a band in a foreign city during my travels and have tickets in hand to see The Boxer Rebellion at Webster Hall in NYC. I’m also aiming to complete a 10km run in each city, weather permitting of course. And just between you and me, maybe even some line-dancing in Texas!

As a frequent traveller, do you have any inside tips for other travellers?
If you have to travel economy, pay extra and get emergency exit row seating. The extra leg room is well worth it, especially on long haul flights.

Order a “special” meal. The truth is no meal is special on a plane even in Business. However, ordering a special meal means that you get your meal quickly, can eat at a reasonable pace instead of scoffing it down, and in doing so can get on with other things that you like. Even better, bring your own food. On a 16 hour direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney, I packed some leftover kale pie, nuts and bliss balls. It was definitely better than anything Air Canada could offer!

Join a frequent flyer program with the airline that you travel with most. The points will eventually accumulate and lounge access shall be granted where free booze, wi-fi, nibbles, comfy sofa and sometimes even a massage await (perfect after a long-haul).

Travel as light as you can. Avoid drinking alcohol on the plane, save it for your arrival. Plan a little and go with the flow because inevitably plans will change.

Also travel tips, suggestions and feedback are most welcome ;) so please do share.

The not so special meal…

20130604-212628.jpg

Coconut and Ginger Ice Cream

17 May

The countdown to my around-the-world adventure continues and departure is only 18 days away! As a follow-up to my clean out the pantry challenge, coconut cream was another ingredient on my hit list. For some strange reason, coconut cream and canned tomatoes always seem to make it into my bag, even when not on the shopping list.

Thai curries sprung to mind when I first thought about using coconut cream. However, I was out of homemade curry pastes and quite frankly, I’m not keen on the store-bought varieties. I needed another idea. In Brisbane we are in the midst Autumn but the weather has been balmy with temperatures reaching 24 to 26C on some days. For me, that’s still ice cream eating weather. Anything below 20C and it’s off the menu. With curry idea out of the way, ice cream became the choice of the day. Besides I had few sweet toothed friends coming over for dinner who were keen to try this flavor, along with a sample of the beetroot and chocolate ice cream.

Have you tried making ice cream without a churner? When I lived in Brazil, I made Indian ice cream (Kulfi) several times and would serve it as a dessert to help my diners put out the post-curry flames (strangely, Brazilians generally don’t eat spicy food). One thing I detested though was having to beat the ice cream every hour to avoid those dreaded crunchy ice crystals. That’s why I recommend: if you love ice cream, by an ice cream churner. I was lucky enough to get mine on special for $20 at the local supermarket. It really opens up new doors to the world of homemade ice cream.

Whilst I am not a Vegan nor mock meat and ultra-processed soy cheeses lover, I do appreciate the simplicity and creativity of some vegan dishes. This is one of them. The natural fats in the coconut gave it a lot of creamy goodness, no need for eggs or cream. I added young ginger because I love the contrast between sweet and pungent. I also infused the coconut cream with lemongrass just to add another flavor and clear my freezer of one less ingredient.

So here it is. Adjust the proportions to suit your tastes. Experiment with kaffir lime leaves instead of lemongrass, it’s up to you. Enjoy and let me know what you think. :)

Ingredients

  • 500ml Coconut Cream (you can use coconut milk for a lighter version)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 lemongrass stick
  • 10 cm (4 inch) piece of young ginger (grate half and slice half)
  • 1 cup of water

Directions

In a heavy based pot, add water and grated ginger. Simmer uncovered on low heat until all the water has evaporated.

shredded young gingercooking ginger

Then add the brown sugar and an equal amount of water. Stir and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and begins to darken. Set aside to cool.

cooking gingercandied ginger

In a second heavy based pot, add coconut cream, lemon grass stalk and sliced ginger. Simmer uncovered on low heat for about 10 minutes. Strain the coconut cream into a bowl and set aside.

infused coconut creamstraining

Combine the cooled brown sugar syrup, coconut oil and ginger to the coconut cream. Stir to combine then place in the refrigerator for 2 hours minimum (preferably over night). Then pour into your ice cream maker and churn per instructions.

woolworths ice cream maker

Lebanese Feast

6 May

In early April, I blogged about making cheese and the search for my cooking mojo. It was a two-pronged attack: to return to blogging after a long absence and rekindle my love for cooking. I’m glad to say that I feel inspired again to both blog and cook. I’m even getting excited about the opportunity to share my food and travel experience with you in June.

I also promised to post about the Lebanese Feast which I was planning for an overdue dinner with a handful of friends. As with all my dinners, the diners get to choose the cuisine. The other options included Asian, Brazilian, Pizza, Mexican, Vegetarian, Vegan or low-n-slow. But choice is not the only thing. Suffer from a food allergy? Just say so! Don’t like tomatoes? I will prepare a non-tomato based dish. I feel it’s my duty to please everyone, something I’ve inherited from my mother. Thankfully I didn’t have to cater to special dietary requirements this time.

The Lebanese Feast menu included:

Mezzes

mezze

Clockwise from top left: Pistachios, Labneh, Tarator, Olives & Fetta Cheese

Main & Sides

lebanese feast

Clockwise from top left: Baba Ganoush, Tarator, Labneh, Kibbeh, Tabouleh, Fatoush, Homous (I ran out of time otherwise I would have included Falafel too)

Desserts

Baklava and Mafroukeh

I don’t have recipes for each dish because I’ve made them so many times it’s almost instinctive. However, the recipes for the desserts were sourced from other blogs (links provided below). The Lebanese don’t usually make desserts at home but not having the luxury of “sweetery” nearby meant I had to make it myself. I was happy with the result considering it was my first attempt.

I have included a glossary for those who aren’t familiar with Lebanese food at the footer of this page and can provide recipes if interested, just let me know ;).

Step-By-Step Pictorial Guide

Baba Ganoush

smoked eggplantpeeled eggplantpeeled eggplant with garlic

tahinibaba ganoushbaba ganoush 

Fatoush

pomegranate extractfatoush dressingfried lebanese bread

making fatoushfatoush salad

Tabouleh

(For recipe click here)

tabouleh

Kibbeh

making kibbehkibbeh mixture

making bottom kibbeh layerkibbeh layers

filling over bottom layertop layer on

kibbeh ready for baking

Baklava

(For recipe click here)

orange blossom waterlayering baklavarolled and chopped baklava

baklava ready for bakingcrushed raw pistachios

baklavabaklava tray

Mafroukeh

(For recipe click here)

dry roasting semolinaroasted semolina

sugar syrup with orange blossom watermafroukeh topped with ricotta and almonds

 

Glossary:

Baba Ganoush – smoked eggplant dip with tahini, lemon juice, garlic & salt

Baklava – sugar syrup coated puff pastry stuffed with nuts & flavored with orange blossom water or rose water

Fatoush – peasant salad of cos lettuce, radish, fried Lebanese bread, tomato, cucumbers & dressed with a pomegranate extract, lemon, olive oil & salt dressing

Kibbeh – baked layers of ground lamb, wheat, basil, onion, spices and filled with lamb mince, pine nuts, onion & mint

Homous – chick pea dip with tahini, lemon juice, garlic & salt

Labneh – strained yoghurt almost with a consistency like cream cheese

Mafroukeh – roasted semolina mixed with sugar syrup topped with clotted cream & crunchy almonds

Orange Blossom Water – essentially distilled water from orange blossom flowers for scenting syrups

Tahine (Tahini) – sesame seed paste

Tarator – tahini sauce with lemon, garlic, vinegar, water & salt

Cleaning out my pantry

29 Apr

Wow! Tomorrow is the last day of April meaning May is just around the corner. For me, that means roughly thirty-five days to go before I set sail on my round-the-world adventure. I have finished my running list and the first major task complete: fly my cooking books and few sentimental goods like my tortilla press back to my hometown, Sydney. My remaining possessions fit into one medium-sized travel bag so that’s all I have to lug around for thirty-two days between nine or so cities.

Another item on my to do list is cleaning out my pantry. Whilst not the highest of priority, it’s still something that will need attention over the coming weeks. I’ve hoarded so many ingredients which I’d hope to experiment with or learn about, and others quite frankly I just bought too much of.

So what have I found deep in the abyss of my pantry? Polenta, semolina, agar, fungi, cracked wheat, vegetarian mushroom fluff, barley, several cans of coconut milk, hemp seeds and smoke dried chillies. Somehow, some way I will need to use up all these ingredients as I simply can’t throw food away. Any ideas?

Tonight to combat what seems like the start of an irritating cough and scratchy throat, I decided to go for my usual home soup remedy. No it’s not nice, not very tasty nor is the recipe worth sharing and it’s super hot. It’s a concoction of ginger, garlic, fresh chillies, an entire bag of black fungi (one item down) and a few vegetables.

After I’d finished scraping all the bugs off my throat with hot soup, I needed something sweet to soothe it. Honey was a must but I felt like I needed more ingredients with sustenance to maximise my chance of fighting off any remaining bugs. To a teaspoon of Manuka honey I added 1 Tbs Tahini, 1 Tbs hemp seeds, 1 Tbs pumpkin seed protein powder, 1 tsp coconut oil and 1 tsp sesame seeds. That’s it! Oh and a squeeze of lemon. Mix it up in a bowl, roll into a ball then coat with more sesame seeds. That was enough to make two bliss balls.

How were they? Blissful! Don’t believe me? Make them. If you don’t have pumpkin seed protein, use cacao perhaps. If they turn out too soft, put them in the fridge for a little while or add more cacao. Other variations? Sure, just use your creativity. Next time I’ll be adding crushed pistachios or walnuts.

And by the way, I managed to find my cooking mojo since my last post and delivered a Lebanese feast with several dishes plus Baklava and Mafroukeh which I’ll post soon ;)

20130429-232347.jpg

In search of my cooking mojo…

12 Apr

mozzarella kithome made melted mozzarella

I know, I know, it’s been a long time since I last blogged. I hope that this post can make up for any feelings of abandonment that you may have experienced during my absence in March. Unfortunately I have had some of life’s other challenges to deal with as we all do from time to time. Quite frankly, they’ve consumed all of my energy so I just have not been inspired to cook or blog.

So how have I nourished myself? Well certainly not with fast food or frozen dinners. I’ve eaten predominantly raw food. Why? No peeling, no cutting, no dish-washing and no mess. Just wash and eat. I’ve eaten my way through about 15-20kgs of fruit and vegetables per week. But not all of it was raw. On the adventurous nights, I went all out: I roasted vegetables simply with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Has there been anything positive from all of this? Yes, I caught a glimpse of my abs for the first time in years! Let’s see how long I can keep them as my appetite for low-n-slow ribs, marbled steaks and patés is starting to grow.

Whilst the healing continues, I’ve managed to find enough motivation to work on one from the photo archive. Hopefully by going back to the glorious happy-in-the-kitchen days, I’ll be able to find my cooking mojo. I need to find it now as I have a Lebanese feast to prepare this weekend! Please read on, it does get better, I promise.

I have always wanted to make cheese but had thought that it was too complicated and time-consuming. Earlier this year in January, I decided to order the kit online. It came with everything needed to make Mozzarella in 30 minutes. Yes 30! My first trial took an hour because I had to fumble between the instructions, thermometer and precise measurement of each ingredient. Actually it was a disaster (see tips below). The second took 45 minutes and the third about 35 minutes.

What is Mozzarella made from? Milk, rennet, calcium chloride, lipase, citric acid, patience and strong hands to knead hot curds. The science behind cheese making is simple: coagulate the milk solids to separate them from the whey. Think about how many varieties of cheese are made using that simple process! Perhaps thousands.

Was it worth all the effort? Yes. It melts beautifully and tastes creamier than the rubbery and tasteless one that you get in the supermarket.

Before I get into the step-by-step instructions, I wanted to share with you some of the tips that I have learnt so far. In my mind, they are far more important than measuring everything precisely.

Milk

  • Buy the freshest milk that you can find. Make sure its full cream, permeate-free and not ultra-pasteurized. The first time I attempted to make Mozzarella, I bought organic milk thinking that it would be creamier and tastier. I failed to read the label. But I’m only human and who would have thought that organic milk would be ultra-pasteurized and result in very few curds?
  • Another nasty anti-curdforming ingredient is permeate. What is permeate? Permeate is essentially whey, a by-product from the cheese making process sometimes mixed with fresh milk to “bulk it up”.
  • Four liters of milk yields about 400g of Mozzarella. If you have a large pot, use it. It’s the same effort whether its four liters or ten.

Technique

  • Lay out all your ingredients in order of use. Label each of the dissolved ingredients as they all look the same once mixed with water.
  • Do not get over sensitive about heating the milk to the exact temperature or stirring the milk constantly. Also the kit comes with lipase (most do) and it’s supposed to make the cheese taste better. However, I didn’t detect any difference so have stopped adding it.
  • Follow the instructions and be patient. Okay, it’s fun watching the curds form the first time around but there’s no need to stand over the pot.
  • Cut the curds but don’t get hung up if they’re not perfect cubes. Eventually you’ll squeeze them together during the kneading process.
  • To make Bocconcini, roll out with both hands into a long uniform sausage like when making Gnocchi. Then cut with a sharp knife and roll each individual piece before dropping them into the whey.
  • Don’t use a cheese cloth. Use a colander to save washing the cloth as it’s difficult to remove all curds.

Photo-instructions

Just scroll over each photo with your cursor to view a description of each step.

Lay out all the ingredientsLabel the calcium chloride, citric acid, lipase & rennetMix through the calcium chloride and lipase then bring up to 32degrees C

After taking it off the heat, set aside for 10minutesCut the curds using a knifeClose up of the cut curds

Back on the heat and bring up to 38 degrees CTake off the heat and stir gently to collect more curdsNice thick curds

Collect all the curds using a slotted spoonCurds to the left and whey to the rightGather curds into a ball and squeeze excess whey out

Place in the microwave for 30s on highknead with lovekeep kneading just like you do with dough

nice and stretchyThere we have itBocconcini

Store them in the why mixture and add a little saltyumm bocconcini

And yes I think I can feel a spark. Perhaps I’ve found my cooking mojo!

Warm Wheat & Beet Salad

25 Feb

IMG_0496

There is something that I love about wheat. Perhaps it’s versatility. I mean, think about how many ways we can use this ingredient. What about the endless wheat flour recipes like bread, cakes, biscuits and cookies? Then there’s couscous, breakfast cereals and of course, beer!

A nice way to really taste this grain is to eat it in it’s original form, or as close as possible to it. I’ve been lucky enough to have had that chance thanks to my middle eastern heritage. There are many Lebanese dishes which contain crushed wheat both coarse or fine. It’s what turns lettuce, tomato, parsley and mint into Tabouleh, and, mince into Kibbe. Neither of those two dishes would be as distinct without out the star ingredient, wheat.

This is a recipe which I made up using my love for wheat and beets. The nuttiness of the wheat shines through and ties all the other vegetables together. Similar to my Pearl Barley Beet Risotto, it’s very easy to make but you will need to soak the wheat overnight in water. Use whatever spices that you like. Serve it warm or cold. With or without meat. It’s up to you. If you make it, let me know what you think.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 small chilli, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of baby peppers (1 or 2 bell peppers)
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup of whole wheat soaked in water overnight, then strained
  • 1 handful of green beans, blanched
  • 3 medium-sized beets boiled for about 45 minutes, skin peeled
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • A handful of parsley or mint, or both, chopped roughly
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
Meat Option
  • 2 lamb loins per person
  • double the spices above

Directions
Dry fry all seeds in a non-stick pan, then grind in either a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Set aside.

IMG_0471

Roast peppers in a hot oven until skin starts to blister. Make sure you turn over once the tops are slight charred, then cook the second side. Take out, place in a strong plastic bag and seal. Allow to cool then remove skin, seeds then set aside.

IMG_0478IMG_0486

In a non-stick pan or wok, fry the garlic in olive oil, then add chilli and spice mixture. Stir through for a minute or two.

IMG_0487IMG_0488

Add the wheat, green beans and then shred the beetroot over the top. Stir through and cook for a few minutes until beetroot is incorporated well.

IMG_0489IMG_0491

Switch off the heat, then add peppers, parsley/mint mix and stir through.

IMG_0492

Serve warm or allow to cool if you want to serve it cold. Garnish with more parsley, mint, lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil.

Meat Option

For the meat option, trim fat and bone off the loin. Rub with olive oil then the same spice mix above. Pan fry to your liking then pile on top of the wheat

IMG_0499IMG_0501

Extra Pics

IMG_0480IMG_0481IMG_0482

IMG_0483IMG_0484IMG_0504

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers

%d bloggers like this: