Tuesday, May 31, 2011

London's Borough Market (pictures re-loaded)

Since we like to eat when we travel, we like to visit local markets to get a pretty quick flavor of what the city has to offer food-wise, so I was psyched to hear our hotel in London was a short walk to Borough Market, a foodie destination for locals and tourists alike. Unfortunately, my first morning in London consisted of me being jet-lagged and not hungry. I don't recommend losing your appetite when your first destination of the day is a gourmet food market. The husband happily ate, while I tagged along behind him, taking a few pictures and occasionally sampling some food if my stomach felt up to it.

Borough Market isn't a huge market so it's fairly easy to navigate, but the map was helpful:

I liked the multicultural and colorful nature of the vendors - we strolled past a large bubbling pot of chicken korma, a fully-stocked wine stand, butchers with meat pies, a Spanish food store, a little French bakery, and so on. I think the most unusual thing I noticed was Croatian olive oil, though we didn't stop to sample. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a lot of pictures since there were explicit signs at a number of the stalls banning photography. I did manage to get these shots tho:

Chicken Korma in a giant paella pan
If it weren't 10am, I would have considered a drink...

Mmmm, cheesy goodness...

Haggis! (We didn't try this)

All in all, Borough Market was a great first stop in our eating tour of London - highly recommend it if you'd like a glimpse of all sorts of international goodies, though be prepared to fight the crowds!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Returning from vacation - a rude awakening...

We had fantastic weather for our latest vacation in Europe. The first few days in London was on the cool side but no rain, but our time in Italy looked like this:

Well, not exactly like that since I took the shot of the pool at dusk with light cloud covering. Our days looked more like this, over 80 degrees and brilliantly sunny:

Now we're come home to cloudy skies, highs in the mid-50s and this little present in our fridge:

That's what happens when you leave a can of chipotles in adobe sauce in the fridge for too long - it was the thickest fungus growth I've seen outside of a lab, and I've been out of the lab for a very long time. 

I'd really prefer to still be on vacation...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pre-prepared desserts

I have a touch of OCD.

It's nothing serious (in my opinion). I'm very particular as to how I do things in the kitchen. I refuse to start cooking until the kitchen is immaculate, with everything in its place. This means when I get home from work, I empty out the dish rack, the dishwasher, and take care of whatever leftover items might be hanging out in the sink. Depending on how much stuff needs to be dealt with, it can mean 20 mins go by before I'm prepared to start dinner. By then, depending on how tired I am, I may not feel like making dinner at all.

But for some reason, before I got my act together to actually make-ahead some meals, and not a la Rachel Ray "Week in a Day", the only thing I've had on hand that's been prepared in advance is dessert.

I decided to buy a set of vintage Hall custard cups off of Etsy and the first thing I wanted to make were pots de creme. I'm a big fan of La Tartine Gourmand's site and I adore all the dishware she uses, so I was inspired to search for some similar items. This is the best I could come up with. For their inaugural voyage, I decided to try La Tartine Gourmand's recipe for Dark chocolate and coconut pots au creme, a fancy way of saying puddings or custards. This is what they looked like when they came out of the oven.

If your initial reaction is "yech, those don't look too appetizing", then don't worry because that was my first thought when I took them out of the oven. I don't think the cocoa dissolved fully (hence the black specks), and the coconut milk also created some weird lumps. Definitely not the most appealing of things that I've made.

A much more successful attempt involved David Lebovitz's Goat cheese custard recipe with strawberries in red wine syrup. Some of you may remember when I tried to make this dessert last summer and failed misearably (see here). Well, I've successfully made it twice now and it's the easiest recipe in the world, when you buy goat cheese that has minimal packaging. It's like a tangy, sophisticated cheesecake, maybe because both times I've used heavy cream when I've made the recipe. The red wine syrup is delightful touch. The only downside to these custard cups is that they're so small (I think they hold a 1/2 cup of liquid at most?), so it's easy to gobble one of these down.

The final pre-made dessert that I've had on hand are meringues. I tried to be all Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and pipe the meringues in neat little nests. Can you see how sad they look? In addition to an incredibly unsteady hand that made a mess of a nest that any bird would be ashamed of, I had structural integrity issues - the one in the upper right had a wall collapsing on itself. This was my first attempt and I wasn't entirely surprised by the results since I'm terribly uncoordinated, but when I tried piping meringues for a second time, they were just as ugly and possibly even uglier than these. And how is it that my meringues never come out snowy white? I know I use raw sugar, which probably adds to the caramel tint, but I can't figure out how to cook these suckers long enough so they're not chewy without them browning.
Ah well, minor concern. On to the eating. I've been following a new blog (well, new to me, maybe not truly new) called She Simmers: Thai Home Cooking, and blogger Leela's recipe Mango meringue tart with coconut cream caught my eye since it combines three of my favourite things in one dessert! Despite its promise, it left much to be desired, mostly due to the texture of the custard - 3 tbsp of cornstarch is far too much for anything unless you want a molded pudding. I prefer a creamier textured custard so this gelatinous mess was more than a bit of a turnoff. Since it's heading in to spring (hopefully?) here in New England and rhubarb has put in an appearance in the grocery stores, we've gone back to our old standby of strawberry-rhubarb compote and freshly whipped cream as the topping for meringue. Why mess with a good thing?

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