Although the blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to other parts of my life right now, hubby and I are still managing to carry on with our Alphabet Dating, even if it is a little haphazard (much like this blog really!).
April was our ‘M’ date which saw us attend a Moroccan cooking class. Ok… well to be honest, it was mostly Lebanese but we had already done our ‘L’ date so I’m calling it Moroccan!
Based in Surrey, our cooking class was held by a lovely Lebanese-born lady named Mona – the founder and owner of Samara Cuisine, a Lebanese and Moroccan catering company. When we arrived at her house, we were greeted with mint tea and delicious spicy smells emanating from the kitchen. We sat at her large dining table and waited for the other guests to arrive. There were 10 of us, plus Mona, and we were to be making four dishes that day.
The Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class began with Mona showing us how to make Bistilla, which is a Moroccan chicken pie using filo pastry and an assortment of spices.
We also made muhamara – a pepper and walnut dip not too dissimilar to hummus and batata harrah aka hot potato salad using lots of tasty ingredients such as garlic and paprika. The last dish was called sfouf, a type of cake using semolina.
Although the class was mostly demonstration based, we did get involved in laying out the pastry and chopping peppers, and other people were hands on measuring out ingredients.
Of course, at the end of the class we got to eat what we had made and it was delicious! We had some flatbreads to go with the muhamara and we helped ourselves to the batata harrah. The bistilla was amazing and had a sweetness to it where it had been dusted in icing sugar and cinnamon. I think the only dish I probably wouldn’t make again is the sfouf as it was quite thick and I prefer something a little lighter, sweeter and creamier!
We had a lovely few hours, our fellow chefs were very chatty and friendly, and Mona gave us all a parting gift of some baklava. I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for something a little different!
We put Alphabet Dating on hold for the busy and expensive month of December, which meant that our ‘J’ date fell in January. As we both love Japanese food we decided to try out a new Japanese restaurant.
We went to Love Sushi in Maidstone, Kent on a cold and dreary Sunday afternoon. The restaurant was pretty quiet but was kitted out in a smart, stylish black and red oriental style. We had the option of sitting in a booth or next to the sushi conveyor belt. We chose the belt although it was pretty pointless given that there were barely any dishes circulating the belt. Still, we grabbed a random one to share and ordered some hot food – tempura prawns and chicken udon noodles. I also ordered a Philly Cheese sushi roll.
The food was really good, probably one of the best tempura prawns I’ve tried outside of Japan – and I don’t even like prawns unless they’re covered in tempura batter! The noodle dish was also large and filling and the sushi all very tasty and beautifully presented.
As much as we enjoyed the food, we felt that the restaurant was lacking in… something I can’t quite put my finger on. It may have helped to have a picture menu a la Yo Sushi to help identify some of the sushi dishes and perhaps the atmosphere lacked a little as it was quiet, I don’t know. Still, I’d go back but just not on a Sunday afternoon!
We missed June completely because of returning from Cuba, hubby’s birthday and just generally not knowing what to do for our ‘D’ date. I had found the perfect date – watching Dirty Dancing at the Drive-In Movies, but I saw it advertised far too late. D’oh!
‘C’ date (aka Cuba) was quite an expensive date, so for ‘D’ we decided to go budget and just have a simple dinner date at home. My hubby was in charge of dinner and I was in charge of dessert. The dishes were meant to be surprises but when you share a kitchen, share a fridge and go grocery shopping together, the element of surprise is kind of removed. Oh well, I don’t really like surprises anyway!
For mains we had Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken served with rice and salad, which in my book, tomato + mozzarella + pesto = win!
Baked Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken Breasts – serves 2
2 x skinless chicken breasts
1 x tomato
1 x 125g mozzarella ball
5 tbsp green pesto
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Smother the chicken breasts in the pesto. My husband used around 5 tablespoons but feel free to use more/less depending on your taste.
2. Line a baking dish with foil and place the chicken breasts on top. Cook for 30 minutes.
3. Slice the tomato and mozzarella. Place on top of the chicken.
4. Place the chicken back in the oven and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.
5. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice and salad.
Dessert was a sweet and simple Eton Mess – yeah yeah I know it’s easy but I’ve never actually made one before and there’s a good reason why I’m not a food blogger!
Eton Mess – serves 3 (yeah I made too much!)
Approx 140ml whipping cream
Approx 160g fresh strawberries
Handful of blueberries
3 x meringue nests
Small can of raspberries (optional)
Strawberry sauce (optional)
1. Whisk the whipping cream until it forms peaks.
2. Crush the meringue nests into small pieces and spoon into the cream.
3. Chop the strawberries and add them, plus the blueberries, to the cream and meringue mixture (you may wish to save a couple for garnish)
4. Spoon in a few raspberries and their syrup to give the mixture a sweet pink hue.
5. Mix together and serve. Drizzle some strawberry sauce and garnish with remaining fruit if you wish.
6. Voila! Eton Mess. And your kitchen will probably be an Eton Mess too!
After Dinner comes Dessert, and after Dessert comes… Dishes! Sigh!
If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for E… it’s Exciting!
I’ve had a fun 3 day weekend, kicking off with my birthday on Friday when I received lots of lovely presents, including that amazing Alice in Wonderland pop-up book I raved about when I went to the exhibition at the British Library (I have the best husband!). I did take some photos of it but they just don’t do it justice so I will try again another time.
Another really cool gift I got (because I am a massive nerd) was this Pan Am pilot wings pin. I love vintage travel and I enjoyed the Pan Am tv series, just gotta work out what I’m gonna wear this beauty on!
Then our day out in London was filled with some of my favourite things, namely Japanese, weird and cake.
Japanese food at Inamo Soho – an Asian fusion restaurant with cool interactive tables.
Ending the day with some tea and cake at Crumbs & Doilies cake shop in Soho. I chose a Peanut Butter and Chocolate cupcake with mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on top (LOVE Reese’s!). My husband opted for a slice of the Raspberry Bomb cake which was so huge that I had to help him eat it! Normally it’s the other way around!
Saturday then treated us with even more cake when we took our mums out for a belated mother’s day gift – afternoon tea at Chilston Park Hotel in Kent.
In the evening we played a game of Catopoly – my most random and quirky birthday present. It’s basically Monopoly for crazy cat ladies. I’m pleased to say that I thrashed my husband in what shall henceforth be known as ‘The Revenge of Ragdoll’ BAHAHA!
FYI – you know you’re old when your Saturday is spent having afternoon tea and playing board games rather than partying until 3am.
Sunday has been all about cats and coffee. I did my volunteering at the Cats Protection in the morning and then in the afternoon, hubby and I popped out for a free Starbucks, discussed our possible 2016 travel plans and I bought myself a new face cream because I’m thinking now is probably about time I develop some sort of skin care regime. I think I will, but probably won’t.
Those who have never visited Japan may be under the illusion that Japanese cuisine is all about sushi and raw fish (sashimi) but there’s so much more to be had and for those afraid of trying new things you may be pleasantly surprised.
So let me whet your appetite and take you on a culinary tour of Tokyo and beyond – presenting my top 10 foods to try in Japan …
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish and is cheap, tasty and filling. It consists of thick noodles swimming in broth and then garnished with an assortment of toppings such as vegetables and/or meat. We had ramen a couple of times during our stay – a perfect dish for any budget-conscious traveller.
Okonomiyaki is a cross between a pancake and an omelette and consists of flour, eggs, cabbage and your choice of toppings, such as pork, shrimp, mayonnaise and fish flakes. The name ‘okonomiyaki’ pretty much means ‘grilled as you like’ so there are many variants to be tried and some okonomiyaki restaurants are even grill-it-yourself where you are given a bowl of raw ingredients to cook on a hotplate! We dined at an okonomiyaki restaurant in Kyoto called Nishiki Warai, where the tables have hot plates on them but the dishes are brought ready cooked to your table and are just placed on your hotplate for warming. Yum!
3. Conveyor belt sushi
Of course, it’s not all sushi but you can’t have a list of Japanese foods without including sushi on there somewhere! We dined at two different branches of Musashi Sushi while we were in Kyoto and we were pleasantly surprised. If you’ve ever been to a branch of Yo Sushi in the UK then you will love Musashi Sushi – it’s much cheaper! Every dish is less than £1 GBP (around 130-140 yen) so you’re alot more inclined to be adventurous with your food choices. I tried unagi (eel) as well, just because of that Friends episode. It wasn’t too bad actually!
Sushi doesn’t just come on conveyor belts here! A popular Japanese lunch is a bento box – a box containing a selection of lunchtime goodies such as rice, pickled vegetables, fish or meat. These can be purchased as take-out boxes from convenience stores or train stations, served as a bento box tray in a restaurant, or even made at home. Some Japanese homemakers even go that extra mile by making Kyaraben (character bento) where the food is arranged to look like characters, animals, people etc. Very kawaii!
5. Katsu Curry
Chicken Katsu curry or Tonkatsu (pork) curry were my husband’s absolute favourite dishes during our trip to Japan, so of course my list had to have them. The curry consists of meat that is dipped into egg and then rolled in panko breadcrumbs before being fried. There are many varieties but pork is the most common. We ended up eating twice at the Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, once in Tokyo and then again in Kyoto because it was cheap and my hubby enjoyed it that much!
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal which is beautifully created and often very expensive. Now, I’m not normally one for fine dining but we got to experience a Kaiseki meal during our stay at a ryokan in Kyoto as it was included in the price of the room. Our dinner was served to us in our private room, course by course (of which there were about 8). It was fantastic to experience something so traditional and lavish but I will confess that I didn’t like everything I was given, so I was glad that I was trying Kaiseki as part of the whole ryokan experience as opposed to going specifically to a Kaiseki restaurant. Stay tuned for a future post about my ryokan experience!
7. Ice Cream
So you can have ice cream anywhere, sure, but can you have Purple Sweet Potato ice cream anywhere? No! And you know what, it’s actually quite nice! We went into a little shop in Asakusa and ordered a couple of what we thought were berry ice creams. After we ordered as I was gazing around I noticed that everything else in the shop was potato-based. Oh dear. But fortunately I was pleasantly surprised by the taste – not too dissimilar to vanilla. We also tried sakura and green tea flavours too – delish!
8. Kit Kats, Pockys and Tokyo Banana
I mentioned all the crazy Japanese Kit Kat flavours before, but let’s not also forget the assortment of Pocky (biscuit sticks covered in flavoured coatings) you can buy. Rainbow Pocky has 7 different flavours including orange, strawberry and chocolate. I also saw some Tokyo Banana cakes at the airport and thought the packaging looked fun – hey who doesn’t love a giraffe print banana?!
9. Harajuku crepes
If you’re in Harajuku then be sure to take a walk down Takeshita Dori and stop at one of the little crepe kiosks. There are loads of flavours to choose from – savoury as well as sweet. Both times I have eaten Harajuku crepes I’ve opted for sweet. The sweet crepes are filled with ice cream, fruits and lots of sugary yumminess – and some crepes even have whole slices of cheesecake inside!
10. Novelty/themed food
The Japanese love anything novelty and anything themed, much like myself. Whether it’s one of Tokyo’s many themed restaurants, like the Alice in Wonderland restaurants or even some seasonal novelty fast food, you’re sure to find something random. Even at Ueno Zoo my lunch had a panda face in it, although in hindsight I probably chose the children’s menu. During our stay, McDonalds were selling burgers with pink buns (because it was cherry blossom season) which my husband tried and didn’t rate very much. Lotteria were offering fries with chocolate dip which I tried and I actually quite liked – fries? good! chocolate? good! And I think if we ever make it to Japan for a third time I’d like to try some more novelty nibbles.
Have you ever been to Japan? What Japanese food would you recommend?