It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago so my parents came to visit and we had a lovely weekend stuffing ourselves. We went to Villarubia de los Ojos with my parents and my boyfriend´s parents to a lovely restaurant called El Mirador de la Mancha, which is completely made of wood and is very cosy. It is nestled at the top of a hill in the sierra with windows overlooking the valley below so you have great views while you eat your meal. The first thing you see as you make you way to the restaurant is a giant Don Quijote made of wood and some great lookout points. There are plants and a little waterfall and the surroundings are stunning. The restaurant also has cabañas (wooden chalets) and a swimming pool so would make a lovely escapade for a weekend in the country.
We ordered various typical starters from the region (Castilla-La Mancha)which included migas -a dish made of breadcrumbs, garlic, green peppers,chorizo and sometimes grapes, duelos y quebrantos -a dish which is a bit like scrambled egg with Iberian ham and chorizo in it (I´m always a bit dubious about this dish as I think it sometimes also has brains in it!!)-, gachas- a paste made from flour ,with a consistency similar to porridge, with small bits of chorizo in it and goats cheese with caramelized onion (probably not so typical of the region but divine anyway -definitely my fav of all the starters!)
Most of us chose either cochinillo (roast suckling pig), which was accompanied by roasted red pepper and potatoes or paletilla de cordero (lamb shoulder)which was also accompanied by potatoes and red pepper,if I remember correctly. I went for the cochinillo, which was tender and succulent on the inside and had a golden,crispy skin on the outside-perfect! The portions were fairly generous and unfortunately I was too full to do it complete justice. We skipped dessert as we were all too stuffed! The main dishes were reasonably priced too, at 15 euros each. Definitely worth a visit if you are ever passing through Castilla-La Mancha! There is also a little chapel a little farther up from the restaurant which is good to visit for the views (the chapel itself was closed when we went so I can´t comment on whether it is worth entering!)
We then drove to Niagra Falls(the Canadian side) stopping en route at Volant to see the Amish (unfortunately we didn't see any!) Our hotel was the Hilton and we snuck a peek at the restaurant, which looked lovely and had a great view of the Falls and then went up to the bar, for a drink. I'd totally reccommend it as it also has great views of the Falls and is very tastefully decorated....it'd be very romantic at night! However, prices are fairly steep. The Falls are very impressive in themselves and we bought an adventure pass which includes the 4 main activities and is definitely worth the money: Thunder Behind the Mist(you go behind the waterfalls and can hear the thundering noise of the falls), Maid of the Mist (a boat ride which takes you up close to the Falls-an amazing experience), the White Water Rapids walk (the most dangerous rapids in the world) and the Fury(a multimedia interactive show). We also managed to squeeze in a couple of other sights such as the Spanish cable car which crosses the whirlpool rapids.
Our California road trip was more than a little ambitious. We started off in San Francisco for 3 days, where we visited the different neighbourhoods, toured Alcatraz by night and biked over the Golden Gate bridge. We did lots of walking and as San Francisco is very hilly, I think we must´ve ended up pretty fit after this holiday! We found a great seafood restaurant on a pier in Fisherman wharf, Pier Market with reasonable prices. My boyfriend had the clam chowder, an apparently typical dish in San Francisco, which came in a sourdough bread bowl, which according to him was very tasty. As I´m not too keen on fish and seafood, I had a pulled BBQ pork sandwich with fries, which was delicious. The pork was so tender,it melted in your mouth and had just the right amount of BBQ sauce. I tried a little clam chowder and found it to be quite nice,not too fishy, to my surprise! We shared an Apple Crisp for dessert which was also exquisite.
Our next stop was Yosemite National Park and more walking but worth it for the breathtaking and stunning scenery. I couldn´t believe the squirrels were so tame that they would take food right out of your hands(despite the signs saying Don´t feed wild animals, lots of tourists do!)Didn´t see any bears though, fortunately! We stayed in Santa Cruz and then travelled along Highway 1, which is a lovely drive following the coastline and making stops at Monterrey, Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seals and Santa Barbara.
We had lunch in Monterrey, again on the pier in a restaurant which had lovely views of the sea.Unfortunately, I can´t remember the name of the restaurant to reccommend it but the lunch menu was again very affordable. As it was another seafood restaurant and didn´t really cater for those who don´t really like fish or seafood, I had no choice but to eat fish. I went for the coconut encrusted Tilapia with veggies and rice. It was really nice and presented beautifully with a decorative flower on the top as you can see in the photo. My only complaint would be that the rice needed a sauce.
Dinner was in Santa Barbara and as it was late, it was difficult to find anything still serving food. We stumbled across this great bar/restaurant The Sandbar serving Mexican food, which had an outdoor terrace complete with a fire and with modern, trendy but at the same time comfortable decoration. Again, I didn´t take any photos of the food unfortunately. I shared a beef burrito and a meat taco which came with refried beans, guacamole and rice with my boyfriend and was really tasty.
We then made our way to Flagstaff, pausing to see the Hoover Dam on the way. The following day we went to the Grand Canyon, which was very impressive and stayed in the Grand Canyon Village. We had our evening meal in Yippee-ei-oh (pictured above)which takes you back to the Wild West as the decor is all cowboy-orientated, with saddles and all the waiters are wearing stetsons. I shared a Outlaw´s dinner (if I remember correctly!) with my boyfriend, which was a good job as it was huge. It consisted of 1/2 portion of BBQ ribs and BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans and a jacket potato. It was also supposed to be served with prickly pear jelly but I realised after that you were supposed to ask for that if you wanted it. Everything was delicious and for me it was one of the best meals of the trip although my curiousity wasn´t sated as I would´ve liked to try the prickly pear jelly. Oh well, maybe next time! For dessert, I had warm cherry pie with vanilla ice-cream which was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal and I think is one of the best cherry pies I´ve ever eaten!
Cherry is one of my favourite toppings for cheesecakes and as there are no fresh cherries in the shops at the moment, I decided to use ready made cherry pie filling/topping, which is great if you don´t have time to make your own. I´ve never used mascarpone in my cheescakes before but as I had some left over, I thought why not and added it and believe me, it was definitely worth it but unfortunately I didn´t weigh it so I´ll have to make a rough guess. I´ll let you know next time I make it how much I use as I´ll definitely be including the mascarpone again. The cheesecake is just so light yet creamy....certainly the best cheesecake I´ve ever made. I guarantee if you make this for your partner/family/friends, it´s going to be a big hit and everyone will be left wanting more. The recipe is loosely based on this Raspberry Ripple Cheesecake recipe from the Cookery club but here is my version:
Cherry Cheesecake (Makes about 12 portions)
340g cream cheese (such as Philidelphia)
100ml (just over 1/3 cup)double cream
90g (just over 1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
leftover mascarpone *1/3 cup of mascarpone*
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence, I´ve heard that vanilla extract is stronger so put less)
1 sachet of gelatine
220g/8 oz digestive biscuits
1 595g/21oz can of cherry pie filling/topping
1. Melt butter in a pan, taking care not to brown.
2. Crush biscuits into crumbs using food processor, blender or place in plastic bag and use rolling pin to bash or roll the biscuits (be careful with the latter method as bag may split and crumbs will go everywhere!)
3. Combine butter and biscuit crumbs and then spread evenly into a 9inch, 22.8cm cake tin and place in fridge.
4. Beat cream cheese in a medium sized bowl.
5. Beat in cream, sugar, mascarpone and vanilla extract till smooth.
6. Prepare gelatine according to instructions on packet (in this case add 1 cup boiling water to gelatine and stir till completely dissolved, about 5 mins)
7. Add gelatine to cheesecake mixture and slowly beat in, the mixture will appear very liquidy, like cream.
8. Spoon on top of the biscuit base and refrigerate for 2-3 hrs, until set.
9. Open can and spoon cherry topping over cheesecake, refrigerate until serving.
Bangkok Balcony doesn´t give the impression of being such a nice restaurant from the outside, in fact you might even walk past it without noticing it as it is just seems to be stuck on the end of some shops. However, when you get upstairs and enter the restaurant, it´s a pleasant surprise. The restaurant is medium sized with modern decor an artistic objects which reflect the Thai culture. You are greeted by friendly staff which lead you to your table.
Every Thursday and Sunday night you can also watch Thai dancing while you eat. We were lucky enough to catch this as we went on a Sunday.The girls were dressed in typical Thai costume and it was interesting to see the way they danced, there were a lot of hand movements. My only complaints is that it was quite difficult to see them properly due to the waiters taking orders as I don´t think the restaurant lent itself to such a purpose because of it´s size. Also, that the dancing was over so soon!
I heard a lot about the Thai samosas as I was checking out other reviews about the restaurant so we decided to share those as a starter, seeing as most people seemed to be raving about them. The Thai samosas consisted of crispy deep fried filo pastry triangles with a soft Thai sweet potato filling -a perfect contrast of textures. They were served with a fresh cucumber sauce or salsa. I thought they were delicious but found it a little disconcerting as it was so sweet. In fact, the filling reminded me a little of marzipan!. I wasn´t sure whether it should be a starter or a dessert. My boyfriend chose a Basil leaf dish, which was made up of your choice of meat(beef in his case), red and green peppers, and of course basil leaves in a spicy garlic sauce and I chose a pineapple curry, again with my choice of meat, which was also beef. The restaurant has a spiciness scale from 1-10, which is good if like me you can´t eat too hot a curry. My boyfriend chose 3 on the spiciness scale and I went for 2. My beef pineapple curry was lovely and creamy and hit just the right amount of spiciness for me, however I preferred my boyfriend´s choice as it was full of flavour. Both dishes were cooked to perfection and the meat was really tender. I would definitely go back there again and am now a fully-fledged convert to Thai food. We decided to skip dessert as nothing really appealed to us although I would have liked to try the green tea ice cream if it hadn´t been for having a cold and a sore throat!
The Bangkok Balcony is an average priced restaurant which is worth a visit to sample the delicious food and due to the friendly,quick service. It is also has won awards for being one of the top Thai restaurants in Pittsburgh so I would definitely reccomend it! It is located on Forbes Ave in Squirrel Hill.
I have never taken part in any cooking competitions so I was very excited and nervous at being involved.However, this is not your usual "serious" Blue Ribbon Cookoff (there are many cooking competitions held by various companies such as Pillsbury or Crisco or food magazines throughout the USA )this competition is more about friends getting together and having a bit of fun. And of course the TAPAS! There were four categories: Best Tapa, Second Best Tapa, Best Presentation and the best dessert or sweet tapa. I decided to do a dessert due to the complications of a hot tapa and the logistics of getting it to the event warm and as a true British person chose to make something that reflected my culture and background: Delia Smith´s Traditional Trifle. I doubled most of the ingredients though as I made quite a large one (apparently it´s quite strategic as the bigger your tapa/dessert is, the more people will be able to try it and hopefully vote for you) apart from the raspberries (it was a little short on them) and I left the banana out as I don´t like bananas. I decorated the trifle with grated Galaxy chocolate as you can see in the photo although maybe my presentation could have been better.
The contest was held at someone´s house and garden. Luckily, it was a beautiful day otherwise it might have been a bit crowded and even though most people were in the garden, it was pretty packed. There were about 120 people at least! I didn´t realise there were so many Spanish people in Pittsburgh!There were lots of beer, coke, lemonade etc which you could help yourself to. As you arrived you had to write down your name and the name of your tapa and then you had to pose for a picture with your tapa. There was plenty of competition as you can see in the following photo.
I went more to town on the desserts and sampled almost all of them including my trifle. Tarte tatin, strawberries in a cream, tiramasu, mini cupcakes with poppy seeds and cherry were just some of the competitors hoping to win. I voted for the tarte tatin although I secretly thought my trifle was a pretty close second (even if I do say so myself)! The standard was very high and everything I had was delicious....there are definitely some very talented cooks out there! Some of the dishes were presented beautifully especially a chocolate flan which was decorated with forest fruits and another dessert, tocino de cielo, which even had the Spanish flag on it.
Finally, after a slideshow recap to cast our votes and the counting of the votes which seemed to take forever, the winners were announced and the prizes were given. Silvia La Cabra won the best tapa (think it was toast with ham, blue cheese and a bit of olive oil on top)won Best Tapa, Second Best Tapa was Montaditos de Bacalao (toast with a cod spread). Best Presentation was won by the Coctél Castellano (lentils) mainly because the guy was wearing a women´s top or something (I didn´t even notice or see him!) and the tapa that won best dessert was Crema Catalana, which is similar to Creme Bruleé, I think. Apparently, it wasn´t even that good someone told me, they just voted for it because it´s quite elaborate to prepare. I didn´t try any of the tapas that won as I didn´t like them because they had blue cheese, lentils, fish so it just shows that one man´s heaven is another man´s hell!
As for not winning, well I was a little disappointed but you win some, you lose some.Maybe if I ever get to enter another cooking competition, I´ll do better next time! All the winners were from the Patanegra group (surprizingly enough).None of our group of friends were among the winners. It was definitely a lot of fun and as the old saying goes, it´s not winning that´s important, it´s taking part that counts.
At the weekend, The Strip usually comes alive especially on a nice,sunny day and is a hustle and bustle of people. You can find a lot of street stalls selling food from the shops,like this one of Wholey´s Fish Market cooking Alaskan salmon etc and also others selling Steelers merchandise, soap, sunglasses etc. Usually you find more of these stalls on a Saturday than on a Sunday. I don´t even like fish and used to hate walking through the fish market when I was a child due to the smell but most of the photos are taken in Wholey´s Fish market, which has a wide range of fresh fish. So fresh in fact that you can even choose your own (see photos below)
Wholey´s is not only a fish market it is also a normal supermarket. There are a couple of Asian supermarkets, the largest and probably the best in my opinion being Lotus, where you can find everything from tofu to burdock sticks, noodles to water chesnuts and many things I´ve never even seen before,never mind tasted.
I´ve been pretty busy these past few weeks which is why I haven´t been blogging too much although I have been trying out lots of recipes from other blogs and trying to come up with some of my own creations...so keep an eye out! Meanwhile, I thought I´d share this recipe for Honey chicken drumsticks from BBC Food with you as it´s really easy to follow, tastes really good , almost tastes like it´s from a restaurant and is also fairly economical and at the same time healthy. I used the breadcrumbs as didn´t have any sesame seeds and I also left out the chives but apart from that followed the recipe to the letter. I didn´t make the Waldorf salad as me and my boyfriend aren´t too keen on celery and as I had other leftover salad ingredients, I threw together a salad comprising of lettuce, cucumber, pear, goats cheese and walnuts with a little ready-made bottled ranch dressing to accompany the drumsticks, which made for a healthy,light but delicious meal!
This book is more than just a cookbook. It is full of anecdotes and memories contributed by Roald Dahl´s family and friends about their times at Gipsy House and you learn a lot about the famous author and his family. One of the most interesting facts in the book is that Roald Dahl is related to William Wallace as William Wallace´s family fled to Norway(Roald Dahl´s parents are Norwegian). The book is illustrated with beautiful colour photographs by Jan Baldwin and some drawings by Quentin Blake, who illustrated Roald Dahl´s books. The recipes themselves sound delicious and some are very innovative and unusual such as the Rose Petal Sherbet or the Krokaan Ice Cream while at the same time including some of the traditional and popular recipes of all cookbooks eg. Onion Soup, Thai Chicken or Oxtail Stew. Unfortunately, I haven´t got around to trying any of the recipes out yet so don´t know how successful it´d be when following them! The book is divided into the usual catergories: First Courses, Main courses, Vegetables and Salads, Puddings, Preserves and Cordials, Scones and Biscuits but also includes other sections such as Wine at Gipsy House and one very interesting section is The Hangman´s Suppers in which famous people state what they´d eat as a last supper if they were to be hanged the following day.
This is a delightful and interesting book and a must for any Roald Dahl fan and I´d definitely recommend it.
Ingredients (Serves 8-10)
175g/6 oz (1 cup)plain (all-purpose)flour
30g/1oz (2 1/2 tbsp) caster (superfine) sugar
120g/4oz butter (1 stick)
30g/1oz(4 1/2tbsp)plain (all-purpose) flour
20g/2/3oz ( 1 1/2 tbsp)light soft brown sugar
30g/1oz (2 tbsp) butter
leftover sweet mincemeat
1-3 apples,Fuji best as you don´t need extra sugar, peeled and thinly sliced, depending on how much mincemeat leftover(as I only had a little mincemeat about 1/4 jar, I used 3 apples to fill the pie
1. Sift flour and mix together with sugar in a bowl and rub butter into flour till it looks like breadcrumbs.
2. Add egg and mix until dough holds together(if very sticky add a little more flour). Roll into ball and refrigerate for an hour.
3. Mix together flour and brown sugar in a small bowl and rub butter into flour till it looks like breadcrumbs for the streusel topping. Refrigerate.
4. Roll out the dough using a floured rolling pin on a floured surface till it´s slightly bigger than the 22cm/8 in pie crust.
5. Line pie dish with pastry crust and trim the edges, then crimp the edges.
6. Spread a layer of mincemeat and then place the layers of apple on top fanning out in an attractive way (see before pic. below)
7. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the apples to stop them from turning brown and sprinkle a little cinnamon over the apples for flavour and then sprinkle streusel topping on top.
8. Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees C (425 degrees F) for 25-30 mins, taking care that pastry does not burn.(see notes)
9. When pastry and streusel are a nice golden brown colour, take out of the oven and serve hot with cream or ice cream.
- I´d suggest either cooking the apples a little before placing them in the pie or cook the pie at a lower temperature for a longer time as my apples were a little undercooked but the pastry was ready and I didn´t want it to burn. It still looked and tasted great though!
Another strange tradition is the Pancake Race. Woman compete against each other wearing an apron, high heels, and carrying a frying pan and tossing pancakes at the same time. This wierd custom started when a woman in Olney ran out of her house with her frying pan and forgetting her apron when she heard the church bells for the service.
This year I decided to do something a bit different than the normal pancakes and made Scotch pancakes. They differ only slightly to pancakes in that they are smaller and thicker. They have a light, fluffy texture although can be slightly filling. They are very similar to American pancakes. I followed this recipe from Scottish Teatime Recipes and found it doesn´t need any tweaking. The trickest part was flipping them over (as it usually is). I served them with strawberries and cream and they were delicious- even if I do say so myself! As you can see, I need to improve on my presentation....I´d never win Masterchef!
Ingredients (makes about 6)
4oz (1 cup) self- raising flour
pinch of salt
1oz (2 tbsp) caster(superfine) sugar
1/4 pt( 140ml) milk
1. Whisk egg and milk together.
2.Sift flour and salt into a bowl and add the sugar.
3. Add the egg and milk mixture gradually and combine with wooden spoon
4. Once all ingredients are combined, melt a small amount of butter in small frying pan or girdle.
5. When hot (you can test by adding a tiny amount of batter and if the bottom turns brown in less than a minute, then it is ready), add tablespoons of the batter.
6. When bottom is golden brown, use a slice to flip the pancake over and cook the other side for a minute.
7. Serve immediately and enjoy!
1. Cheese- there is a variety of English cheeses such as Stilton, Cheddar, Cheshire, Lancashire which can be used for sauces, main meals, sandwiches, salads even desserts.
2. Gravy granules- Bisto is the best brand
3.Stock cubes- Oxo and Fallo are the best- used in meat dishes such as casseroles, stews etc
4. Fresh cream- single/double/clotted-the thickest and most delicious cream ever- sauces, main meals, cakes, desserts and sweets e.g fudge
5. Custard/ Custard powder (Bird´s) - desserts, cakes, serving
6. Worcestershire sauce- Lea & Perrins-soups, casseroles/stews
7. Beer/Lager/Spirits e.g. Guiness, Bailey´s, Pimms etc- batter, casseroles/stews, meat dishes, bread, even desserts and cakes.
8. Sausages e.g Lincolnshire, Cumberland- casseroles, toad-in-the hole etc
9. Treacle- Lyle & Tate´s- desserts, sweets
10. Golden syrup-Lyle & Tate´s- cakes, biscuits, desserts, sweets
11. Rhubarb - side dishes, sauces, desserts, jam, cakes
12. Gooseberries- sauces, desserts, jam,
13. Suet- puddings, pastry, cakes
14. Oats- Quaker Oats/ Scots- porridge, biscuits, cakes, desserts
15. Malt vinegar- serving on chips, pickling
16. Lemon curd - cakes, desserts, breakfast
17. Baked Beans- Heinz- jacket potato fillings, toast, main meals/pasta dishes
18. Barley- beer, drinks, stews/casseroles
19. Black pudding/ Haggis - starters, main meals
If you're a carnivore through and through and are not too keen on fish & seafood like me, then although this restaurant has a couple of meat dishes, this is not the place for you. As the main meal comes with a choice of green onion soup or salad plus hibachi vegetables and rice, we decided not to have a starter. I chose the salad and my boyfriend had the soup. I wasn´t too impressed with the salad as it had this really sharp, acidic dressing of maybe garlic and ginger and the soup was a bit lacking in flavour. The main course was definitely worth the visit though and not only for the show! It was like the film Cocktail, only with food! I had chicken terriyaki and my boyfriend had hibachi scallops. The chef was tossing the egg up in the air and catching it with a metal scraper etc and piled the onion ring on top of one another, poured some wine (maybe sake?) onto it so it lit up in flames,like a volcano. As I said it was very entertaining and great for a special night out! The food was delicious and very tender. I even tried a bit of the hibachi scallops and to my amazement liked them! They didn´t taste too fishy and were very tender...they reminded me of calamares or squid a little, only not as chewy! All in all I´d say this restaurant is great value for money as you get wonderful food and entertainment at an affordable price.
This recipe is from my cupcake calendar which takes its recipes from 500 Cupcakes. I couldn´t find fondant icing or silver balls in the supermarket but instead found these great icing pens from Cake Mate which come in a variety of colours and with the aid of a knife managed to ice the cakes. As you can see, I need to work on my icing skills!
Ingredients (makes about 18 cakes)
1 cup (around 227g) of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup(around 192g) caster sugar (superfine)
2 cups (around 222g) self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2oz red fondant icing
2oz white fondant icing
3tbsp raspberry jam
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).
2. Place all ingredients in large bowl and beat with electric mixer until all ingredients are combined (if you haven´t got a mixer, you can do it by hand although I´d cream the butter and sugar together first and then add flour, vanilla extract and eggs gradually as it´s easier!)
3.Place backing cups in muffin or sponge cake pan and place on middle shelf in the oven.
4. Bake for 20 mins
5. Cool cakes for 5 mins
6. If using fondant icing, roll both red and white out to 1/8 in. thick, then cut white fondant icing into circles using a 2 1/2 in. cookie cutter.
7. Cut out 18 hearts using a small heart shaped cookie cutter or a heart template and knife.
8. Brush each muffin with a little jam and place white fondant circle on top and place a heart on top of the circle.
9. Decorate with silver balls.
I´m sure your loved ones will enjoy these simple yet delicious treats. Enjoy your Valentine´s Day with your loved one(s)!