Wednesday, 25 November 2015

F1 Foods Brazil Round-Up and the next challenge: Abu Dhabi

The most recent Formula 1 Grand Prix took place in Brazil, though perhaps it wasn't quite the right time of year for bloggers to be inspired by Brazilian food or cocktails - I have to admit, images that spring to mind involve sunshine and beaches and it's very cold here in the UK today! But there is plenty more to Brazilian cuisine than just that, as I found when I discovered this condensed milk cake or bolo de leite condensado. Unfortunately it took a lot longer to bake than the recipe suggested and I didn't like the texture - I wasn't sure if it wasn't quite cooked through or if it was just the mixture but I wasn't very keen on it. Next time I might stick to steak!

Suelle from Mainly Baking made this banana, chocolate and brazil nut loaf, though she says she thinks it has too much chocolate so the flavour combination doesn't really work. You can never have too much chocolate in my book!

The final Grand Prix of the season comes from Abu Dhabi - which I have to admit will involve a lot of Googling on my part to find a recipe, but I can think of a few Middle Eastern flavours which should work well. The race is this weekend so I'm opening the linkup now - an as it's the final round of the challenge, you can send in anything inspired by Formula 1, cars or racing overall as well as Abu Dhabi. You have until December 6 to get your entries in.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Pad Thai and Ozeri Wok Review

Often we go to my mother in law's on a Saturday night we have a takeaway from her favourite Thai place and we both always order the same thing - Pad Thai. I've never actually made one before but was given more confidence from doing a Thai cooking course recently, even though we made different dishes. And when I was sent a wok to review by Ozeri it seemed the perfect thing to cook.

I followed Felicity Cloake's recipe in the Guardian for the perfect Pad Thai though I wasn't as fussy about the type of noodles and used straight-to-wok ones. I found fish paste, tamarind paste and pam sugar in Sainsburys though I had to do without the dried shrimp; I didn't think it mattered as I was using prawns in the Pad Thai. I decided to leave out the Chinese chives as well as I had no idea what they were or where to get them (Chinatown, I imagine) but what was really annoying was that the shop I went to was all out of beansprouts.  I didn't want to put this meal off and make it another time as I had already done that twice so instead used some alfafa sprouts I had in the fridge and added some shredded carrot for a bit of crunch. I also left out the tofu as I don't like it. Other than all those things I followed the recipe!

 I was sure that the takeaway Pad Thai would taste a lot better due to some sort of MSG or highly calorific additive but was very pleasantly surprised to find that mine tasted just as good - even without the beansprouts!

The Ozeri Green Earth wok I used is one of my favourite pans now – it’s huge (12 inches) which means you can cook enough for the whole family – but it also works well for just one person as there is plenty of room to move the ingredients around, for instance when I added the egg and pushed the other things out of the way to let the egg scramble on the bottom of the pan for a few minutes.
But even though it’s big, it’s not as heavy as I was expecting, so is very easy to handle. The colour is great – the smooth ceramic coating coupled with the green base makes it look quite expensive somehow.
Ozeri pans use a ceramic coating that is PTFE- and PFOA-free, meaning that even at high temperatures it doesn’t release any harmful toxins, and is also scratch resistant and easy to clean. It’s non-stick and made cooking my Pad Thai a breeze.
Thanks to Ozeri for sending the wok to review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Meal Planning Monday Week 48

There were lots of changes to last week's meal plan as I had to work late on several nights so this week I will try and do a lot of the things I was going to do last week!

Thai meal I was going to make last Sunday but didn't

salmon and veg for me, chicken tikka portions for him or spaghetti Bolognese

out at a cake decorating class so will take a sandwich

sausage and mash

chicken pie

Lunch: soup and fresh bread
monkfish in lemon butter sauce for me, chicken for him

Lunch:  TBA, I know my fiancé will want a bacon sandwich if I give him the choice but I'm not that keen
Dinner: beef in red onion gravy from this recipe

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Travel Reviews: Memphis, Tennessee, Part 1

Leaving Nashville, we drove the few hours to Memphis, where we were spending the next three days.
Harbor Town is a posh, quiet area just outside central Memphis only a few minutes from the Arkansas state line (which we crossed just so we could say we had been!). The houses around here are lovely and look quite expensive, and the town square has a few upmarket shops and a hairdresser.
The hotel is very nice (and not cheap) with pretty large rooms and friendly receptionists, who helped us when we realised we were supposed to have confirmed a sightseeing ticket but hadn’t. There’s a small downstairs lounge and the bar area is very small too, though the downstairs restaurant (Paulette’s, where we didn’t eat dinner but was used for breakfast) was nice. There’s a piano in the lounge and a pianist in the evenings, and they bring you a little decanter of port along with chocolates at night. The rooftop terrace restaurant is very good too.
Breakfast was delicious – there’s a menu with about four or five hot dishes to choose from so one day I had pancakes and sausage with syrup and the next French toast, then on the third day apple pancakes with bacon; I preferred the plain pancakes but they were still very good.
Miss Cordelia’s describes itself as a “progressive grocery experience” (say what now?) but also “a throwback to a time when a trip to the store didn’t mean aisles longer than football fields.” It caters perfectly to what I imagine the local clientele might be like based on the expensive homes in this area.

As well as a grocery shop there is a café with around 8 tables; people were buying lunch from the deli counter to take away (mainly sandwiches and salads), though as we were staying in the hotel a few doors down we had our lunch here. I had a roast beef, blue cheese and horseradish sandwich, which was good. They had a very large range of sandwiches, paninis and so on with funny names like “triple decker diet wrecker”. The cakes looked very yummy too!
This is a really important museum I would encourage everyone to visit. It traces the history of the whole civil rights movement in the US, from slavery to black power and beyond. I learnt a lot and it was extremely moving at times, but it is also really nicely done – different types of exhibits and enough things to keep your attention that it made the 3 hours or so we spent here seem to fly by.

The museum is actually located in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Junior was shot which adds a whole other dimension. You get to go into the room where he died and you can also go into the building across the street and stand at the window that the fatal shot was fired from. That building is also part of the museum which I wasn’t expecting so that definitely added something extra.
Our hotel had an open air terrace restaurant which overlooks the Mississippi river (though it’s not a great view as the road is in front of it) but it’s a lovely place to spend the evening. The cocktail list was amazing and the food good; the portions were fairly small compared to other places but that’s no bad thing as we were eating so much all the time!

I had catfish fritters from the Mississippi which came with a spicy remoulade dip, and a side of chips which of course turned out to be crisps which seemed a strange thing to have with the meal but never mind. My fiancé had sliders (mini burgers) and his mum who is veggie had houmous and bread and a side of fries. She had a trio of desserts which looked amazing – three small portions of chocolate mousse, key lime pie and strawberries and cream. Well, they didn’t just look amazing – she did let me taste them as well! My fiancé had a piece of cheesecake which he thought was very good and I felt slightly more virtuous by turning down dessert.

My MIL asked the bartender to make a non-alcoholic cocktail and gave him free rein; the one he came up with was lovely but best of all they gave her a free refill when we had our sodas refilled. You definitely wouldn’t get that in the UK! The meal was fairly expensive though – nearly 100 dollars for the three of us.
We arrived at 10.20 intending to do the 10.30 tour but didn’t realise it was quite a small place so they can’t cater for a lot of people on each tour. There is no time on your ticket so you don’t a specific tour and we found the 10.30 was already full. Normally there is only one tour an hour but luckily there were enough people so they had decided to put another one on at 11. There are a few things to look at while you wait and the entrance is actually a café but bring a book in case you are waiting an hour!

As the tour begins, you stand in a room with exhibits in glass cases while the guide talks about them, then you get time to look and take photos. Then you go down to the studio where he tells toy the rest of the history for instance about the Million Dollar Quartet – the famous photo of them is on the wall and this is the exact spot where it was taken, which is pretty cool. We heard about how people like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis came to record there and you can pose actually holding Elvis’ microphone in the spot where he sang. I would definitely recommend it.
I’m not particularly an Elvis fan (wrong era for me) but I was still really excited about going to Graceland. We went on a week day so it wasn’t too busy at all which was good – at the entrance/car park you queue to get on a shuttle bus and we found it quite uncomfortable to stand for the ten minutes or so it took in the blazing heat.

You are given iPads for the audio tour which you hang around your neck and plug headphones in to. I’ve never seen this at a museum before and it’s great – the ipad lets you zoom in and explore things you maybe can’t quite see in each room (as you generally get to stand in the entrance of each room rather than getting to go right in). Finally you get to visit the graves of Elvis and some of his family members.
Graceland was not as big or ‘bling’ as I expected, aside from the cars and planes. You have to pay extra to see the planes and we didn’t bother but the car collection is really cool. It’s a shame the famous pink Cadillac wasn’t there – ironically at the time it was in an exhibition in London (where we are from!).

We didn’t do the archive as it was 2pm and we were hungry. There is a grill restaurant, burger bar and ice cream parlour on site, and we went to the diner. It looked really cute decorated in 50s style with jukeboxes, though the food is definitely fast food – you order and pay at counter then wait for your food and take it on a tray to your table yourself. We each had a cheeseburger, fries and drink which came to 10 dollars each – the food was fine but nothing special. It was all part of the experience though. And make sure you check out the gift shops – there are several and all have slightly different things but on the whole they sell the same stuff. I bought an Elvis cookery book and spent quite a long time choosing the perfect keyring!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

White Chocolate, Banana and Walnut Gluten-Free Muffins

Some people crack open the champagne when they win an award - I crack open the flour and sugar.

I was recently named Writer of the Year (I know, right?!) by the Institute of Internal Communications (that's my day job in case you didn't know - Senior Writer in a bank's comms team) and as my fiancé was still too tired to go out in the evening - after weeks of working through the night and weekends on a big project - I decided to celebrate by throwing together some cakes to take into work the next day.

I had a few overripe bananas to use up and wanted something quick and easy to make, and my eye fell upon a cookery book called Muffin Magic by Susannah Blake. I found a recipe for nutty banana muffins and decided to adapt it to make it gluten-free as the lady I sit next to at work is gluten intolerant and I wanted her to be able to enjoy them as well. So here's what I did:

White Chocolate, Banana and Walnut Gluten-Free Muffins
300g gluten free self raising flour (I used Doves farm)
90g soft brown sugar
150ml skimmed milk
1 egg, beaten
100ml sunflower oil
2 ripe bananas, thinly sliced or mashed
85g walnut pieces, chopped
100g white chocolate chips - I used Dr Oetker

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Beat the egg and add to the sunflower oil and milk and pour onto the dry ingredients. Mix well.
Spoon into paper muffin cases and bake for 20 mins at 200C.
Allow to cool; I put some of them into tulip muffin cases - these are the kind you typically see in coffee shops - as I think it made them look nice.
The muffins were great - I couldn't tell any difference with using the gluten-free flour. They weren't too sweet so I actually had one for breakfast, and the rest of the muffins which I took into work disappeared pretty quickly!
I'm sharing these muffins with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter she has chosen this month is M.
I'm also sending this to We Should Cocoa, hosted by Tin and Thyme, as the ingredients to use for the challenge this month are chocolate and bananas.

Friday, 20 November 2015

'Will you be my bridesmaid?' cards

Being asked to be a bridesmaid is both an honour and a responsibility, so when I asked my friends, I wanted it to be more than just an ‘oh by the way….’. As I love card making I decided to make them some little cards instead. I gave these to my friends in person when we were talking about the wedding, and watched them open the cards and smile which was a lovely experience. Here are some ideas you can use if you are looking to do the same.

I made each card different as we hadn’t really started thinking about the wedding yet but knew there would be something of a cow theme as my new last name will be Cowe.
I chose pre-printed card blanks – which is a contradiction in terms but basically it’s a box of cards that are blank inside and have different patterns on the front that you can use as a basis for embellishments. They are handy if you need to make a card in a hurry because you are seeing someone the next day!
For the first card I chose a pink heart background and printed out some text on the computer onto white paper, which I mounted on pink – which looks a bit wonky now I look closely! I wanted to find a silly rhyme or something other than just “Will you be my bridesmaid?” which is on the card, so I also added: “I promise no frilly dress if you will say yes.” At the bottom almost as an after-thought I’ve put “Llama wrangling may be required”- something of an in-joke between me and my bridesmaid who has suggested a llama trek for the hen party!
I finished the card with some dress and coat hanger stickers which I think were from Anita’s.

For the second card I chose a purple, pink and white check card and again printed out some words from the computer, saying “You’re more than just a guest so please say yes/Will you be my bridesmaid”. I added some cardboard stickers I had in my craft box of a pink dress and shoes and then of course a silver cow outline sticker, as I had to have a cow on it somewhere!

I decided to do the third card a bit differently and chose a fun purple flower background and some jolly glitter stickers of a flower, rainbow and bee and also a cute cartoon cow topper that was the last of a pack I bought ages ago. On the front I wrote “thank you for always being there for me so now I have a question for you” – I knew that my friend would know what I meant by the first part of that, as she was very supportive when I went through a tough time a few years back. When you open the card, there is a glittery heart inside and the question “will you be my bridesmaid?” – and I was very happy to report that all three recipients of the cards said yes.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

French Toast Stuffed with Cream Cheese and Caramelised Pecans

Breakfasts in American hotels are always awesome (even in cheaper chain hotels which all seem to have waffle makers!) and the River Inn of Harbor Town in Memphis was no different. We stayed there for three nights and had some great breakfasts, many of which involved maple syrup. Instead of giving us a jug, we had miniature bottles which were so cute I couldn’t resist keeping one that I didn’t use as a souvenir, to use in cooking at home.

I’d had a brioche loaf in the freezer after not using it when I had friends staying so decided this was the perfect thing to use to make French toast. I wanted to make it a bit more interesting and remembered one hotel I’d stayed in gave us French toast that was stuffed with cheese and came – I think – with caramelised pecans. It turned out to be very easy to make, and delicious when served with crispy bacon!
You need:
2-4 slices brioche loaf per person
Handful of pecans
50g butter
50g caster sugar plus 1 tbsp
1 egg
Dash of milk
Dash of vanilla flavouring
Fry light or oil for frying
About 100g cream cheese
Bacon to serve on the side
Maple syrup to drizzle over the top
First make the candied pecans – place 50g butter and 50g sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar has melted. Add the nuts and stir around to coat.

Cut the brioche loaf into thick slices and use a sharp knife to make a pocket in each slice as best you can. Fill with some cream cheese.
Mix a beaten egg with a dash of milk, 1 tbsp sugar and a splash of vanilla and dip each slice of bread into it.

Place in a hot, lightly oiled frying pan – I did these in two batches or you could use two pans, as the bread needs to sit flat. Turn once or twice until browned.

Meanwhile fry the bacon, in this case the crispier the better.

Serve the stuffed French toast with the pecans scattered over the top and the bacon on the side, and pour over the maple syrup. A very indulgent but enjoyable breakfast or brunch!

I'm sharing this with Alphabakes, the blog challenge I co-host with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker, as the letter this month is M - in this recipe, M is for maple syrup.

I'm also sending this to the Club Sandwich, a new blog challenge hosted by the Crafty Larder and Cakeyboi.

Finally also to Simply Eggcellent hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen as the theme is eggy breads, puddings and pastries.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Travel Reviews: Lynchburg and Nashville, Tennessee

After leaving Atlanta we headed to Nashville. I'd spotted that Lynchburg was just a short half hour detour on the route we were planning to drive through Tennessee, and thanks to certain black and white posters in the tube I knew exactly what Lynchburg Tennessee was famous for: Jack Daniels!

We had to wait nearly an hour for the next available free guided tour; there are a few exhibits to look at in the entrance hall where you wait, plus free water and lemonade which is nice but the gift shop is a few minutes away in the centre of Lynchburg. There’s also nowhere to buy food or snacks at the distillery (again you need to go into Lynchburg) which we didn’t think we had time to do in the 50 minutes before our tour but as it was around lunchtime we were getting pretty hungry!
There are signs warning that the tour has over 100 steps so my mother in law decided not to do it, but I don’t think it would have been that bad – it’s not like all 100 steps are in one go. You walk down to the spring where the water for the distillery comes from, you see where they smoke charcoal for the barrels, you go up some steps into a warehouse where they mash the rye and down some steps the other side and so on. It’s interesting to learn about and see (and smell!) the process and while I wouldn't make a point of choosing this as my destination if you are in the area it is worth a visit.

The B&B is very pretty from the outside but the first thing I noticed was an awful lot of steps going up to the front door! It's a nicely decorated ‘period’ house and they have put together a whole folder and selection of leaflets about things to do. There is even a section in the folder about where the stars of the TV show Nashville have been seen eating and drinking!

I’ve mentioned before how high some of the beds in the B&Bs we stayed at were – this one actually provided a little set of steps to climb up into bed, which my fiancé didn’t need to use but I did! It was actually quite fun though my mother in law wasn’t as keen on the idea.

We had eggs benedict for breakfast in the morning which was gorgeous, and got to know our fellow guests around the breakfast table, which is one of the reasons I like staying in B&Bs. On the second day, we had pancakes with a choice of sausage or bacon, which was also very good. We were even given a goody bag as a parting gift with a postcard of the B&B, a Nashville fridge magnet, a lip balm and pen, which was a lovely touch.
We bought tickets for the Grand Ole Opry online well in advance, but the catch is that you don’t know who will be performing. They are guaranteed to be good – this isn’t amateur hour – and that’s part of the fun I guess. The acts are named sometimes a few weeks in advance but with most of the names only being revealed a few days before the performance. We got very excited a week before when it was announced Aubrey Peeples (Layla Grant from the Nashville TV show) would be performing the night we were there, but a few days later we were disappointed to see she had been switched to the next night.
Even so we were very impressed by the performers we saw – the range of styles and the amount of talent. We saw Ray Scott, Ralph Stanley (still performing at the age of 88), Mike Snider, Carly Pearce, Green River Ordinance, Bobby Osborne and the Rocket Top X-Press, Elizabeth Cook, The Whites, Connie Smith, William Michael Morgan in his first Grand Ole Opry performance and the Rhett Walker Band.
We were taking this trip for my mother in law’s 60th birthday and I saw on the Grand Ole Opry website that they had a ‘celebration package’ which I bought for her as a surprise.  The best part about the celebration package is that you get your name and what you are celebrating printed in the programme; on this night there were about a dozen names and my mother in law’s was at the top of the list. She couldn’t believe it when she saw it there!
The show was brilliant, each act only did a couple of songs so there is real variety. I would definitely recommend getting tickets if you can!
We hadn’t had time to go for dinner before the show at the Grand Ole Opry, but as we’d had  late lunch we weren’t too hungry. After the show however we wanted to get some food, and found the concession stands in the theatre were shut. The Grand Ole Opry is part of a big retail park with shops and a mall so we went into the mall, only to be told by the security guard that all the places to eat had already closed (it was about 10pm on a Saturday night). I was surprised – I would have thought people leaving the show would want to go for a drink and maybe something to eat, but the entire place was  dead- unless I was missing something, everyone seemed to be getting in their cars and driving home. We don’t know Nashville at all, and weren’t keen on driving around at night (on the wrong side of the road for us) in a hire car we had only just picked up so we went into the only place in the mall that was open – the cinema! I never buy snacks at the cinema normally as they are so expensive and this was no different; we shared a small pizza, some mozzarella sticks and some onion rings which cost $30 including one drink.
We only spent about 2 hours here, probably because we hadn’t heard of most of the people in the exhibits! It was really interesting and a good mix of pictures, costumes, guitars and so on, but there is only so much time you can linger over a display cabinet when you’ve never heard of the person. There was a good mix of old and new, from country music legends to Taylor Swift, and at the end you see the room where people are inducted into the hall of fame and each have a plaque on the wall, so it’s more than just a museum.

cheese curds
We were looking for somewhere for lunch and with live music and this place was near the Country Music Hall of Fame which we’d just left, and we could see a couple of empty tables (places in Nashville get really busy especially on the weekend!). We watched an amazing singer/guitarist called Carlton Anderson – check him out!

buffalo wings
 This is more of a bar than a restaurant really, and you order food and pay at the bar, though it is waitress service as you would expect. I was quite excited by the amount of ‘Southern’ food on the menu – this was one of our first meals out on this trip. But we didn’t realise the portions would be so big! My mother in law ordered cheese curds, as we didn’t have a clue what they were but thought we couldn’t go wrong with cheese. We found them to be a lot like mini mozzarella sticks and delicious though I’m sure not very healthy! They were listed under the starter section of the menu so we thought they would be a small portion but instead we received a huge basket that was easily enough for two or three people to share as a starter or side, or one person as a main course. But my mother in law had also ordered a side of tater tots, which again turned up in a huge basket that would have fed at least two people.
cheesy fries
My fiancé had chicken tenders and fries – again a huge portion. I wanted to try some barbecue food as I read that’s what Nashville is known for, so had the buffalo wings with barbecue sauce. I normally avoid chicken wings at home because they are more bone than meat and I don’t like eating the skin, but these were so much better than I expected – plenty of meat and the sauce was fantastic. I had some cheesy fries with it – I’ve written before about my love of proper American cheesy fries, where they are covered in a cheese sauce rather than melted Cheddar that has then gone hard again which seems to be the way they are done in England. And these were really, really good – I dread to think how many calories I had during this meal but it was worth it! It was also very good value, we paid a little over $50 for all three of us.
 We had booked our Studio B tour as part of a package with the ticket to the Country Music Hall of Fame; you are told a time for the tour and have to be at the entrance to the museum at that time as you get on a minibus. It takes you about a ten minute drive away to the studio, where Elvis recorded more than 260 songs. There seemed to be a bit of friendly rivalry between Studio B and Sun Studios in Memphis, which we also visited; Elvis was “discovered” and recorded his first singles at Sun but did most of his work at RCA. So while Elvis is sometimes more associated with Memphis, he actually did most of his recording in Nashville.

Either way it was an interesting tour – a small studio but the guide has plenty to talk about first in the entrance hall (plenty of other stars recorded here too) and then you enter the studio itself where you are encouraged to sit at a piano and take photos – it was only after we had done that that the guide told us it was Elvis’ piano! You can also see the spot that is marked where he stood to sing. Definitely worth a visit if you are an Elvis fan but don’t expect there to be a whole load of memorabilia herethe tour only takes one hour - go to the Country Music Hall of Fame itself for that.
Nashville in the evening appears to be hen and stag party (or bachelor and bachelorette party) central. We saw so many groups, often riding on a ‘pedal tavern’ (basically a bar crawl on wheels) and the bars and restaurants were absolutely packed in the evening, even on a Sunday night. We hadn’t made a reservation and went in a few places but couldn’t get a table so were beginning to get a bit worried. We hadn’t really done any research into any areas outside the city centre as we had assumed there would be no problem finding somewhere for dinner but obviously that wasn’t the case! So we ended up in the Hard Rock Café – not our first choice as it’s a chain that you can go to pretty much anywhere in the world but by this point we just needed food!
I had a BBQ cheese and bacon burger which was very good though the bun felt apart and I had to use a knife and fork. I also had the chocolate cherry alcoholic milkshake though it was disappointing and not that nice; I only had it because my two companions ordered dessert. Their Oreo cheesecake and apple cobbler looked very nice but I didn’t want the extra calories

Service was excellent as we have come to expect in the US but the bill including a 20% tip came to almost $100 – we paid about half that and had much better food at the Swinging Doors Saloon at lunchtime.
Coming next: Memphis, including review of Graceland