Friday, October 10, 2014

TRIP: Sydney 2014

It seems that I'm doing more travel than I'm doing cooking this year. Heck, I still have a couple of posts from the last trip that I never finished. (One features a visit to a chocolate museum in Belgium) I still have a couple of cooking posts that I haven't managed to post either. I'm a bit behind.  As you can tell from the title picture we're in Sydney, Australia! This is a view from a harbor ferry of the opera house.

This was a two week visit but I'm going to consolidate it into one post and skipped a few of the places we ate at (I left my camera in a few instances). We landed 6 am and since we had time to kill before checking in (and had to keep ourselves awake) we walked down to Chinatown and got some Yum Cha (Dim Sum) at the Emperor's Garden. It was ok, the fact of the matter is it was the only thing open so we couldn't be too picky and since we didn't have a fridge we couldn't order a lot to check out the variety.

Here's a picture of a crab at another restaurant window (not open) pictured is my wife's fist to give you a sense of the enormous size.

We hit the Taronga zoo and sprung for the "Koala encounter" we were allowed into the pen where the Koala's slept, no touching allowed but we did get close enough to be within inches of the cute little fuzzy ear animals.  This is a picture of the mother, I twitter posted a picture of the 1 year old baby. I have a picture of us next to the baby it was literally the size of my head. So cute. I highly recommend visiting the zoo especially the Bird show, they managed to train birds for an interactive show it was simply amazing we blew a whole day there. We had fish and chips at one of the restaurants in the zoo, nice but didn't warrant a picture.

The hotel had a basement area with a Pizzeria, seafood restaurant, sushi, greek and Tapas restaurant. I hit most of them but did get pictures of what we had at the tapas bar. Featured in the picture: Grilled chorizo, salt cod croquettes, sautéed mushrooms with manchego, pork belly with honey, Pan fried scallops wrapped in Jamon serrano,  and Grilled lamb served with confit garlic and green olives.  "Pro Tip" (or don't make our mistake): if you want water like in America ask for "tap water" or get charged for an expensive bottle.

After the Zoo we figured the Aquarium would be an equally impressive place to visit. Here's a picture of a Dugong it's a relative to the American Manatee. They are highly intelligent and cute as hell. You can't resist smiling back to that face. We elected to take a behind the scenes look at the aquarium it was neat but you don't get to take pictures.

My friends suggested that I try some kangaroo so we went to Meat and Wine Company. Apparently kangaroo are much like deer at home in Texas, a cute but enuisance animal.

For appetizer we shared African Sausage with Mielie pop (a hominy porridge) and Quinoa and Snow Pea salad with sunflowers and white wine vinaigrette, this was delicious and something my wife asked me to replicate.

Finally the Medium Rare Kangaroo fillet. I have to say it was pretty tough and had a very iron/liver-y/gamey flavor very distinct and unique. Glad I tried it, I might have to try sous vide and different marinades and preparations.

Again, off the recommendation of my friends I hit the Sydney fish market.

It was a bit smaller than I expected but it was chuck full of oysters.

and other Amazing shell fish

Freshest possible sushi


super fresh fish (Look at those eyes!)


Live abalone (which I've never seen)

I settled on lunch picking a box of my favorite Uni (sea urchin) and some fresh abalone. The uni was very clean tasting with a hint of salt water the abalone was very crunchy without a distinctive flavor. I was in heaven eating the uni!

Finally, I was very excited that Sydney hosts one of my favorite restaurants Din Tai Fung. Not just one of them but three! I visited their Taiwan branch with my inlaws and had to stand in a 2 hour line to get they're famous Xiao Long Bao. The production photoed above is in the "mall food court" the guy on the left was rolling out the elastic dough, the lady in the middle was putting in the filling and measuring it on a scale and the last guy was pinching the dumplings together occasionally someone would help him as that seems to be the bottle neck in production.

I ended up going a total of four times while I was here. Above was a meal of Red braised beef noodle soup. Xiao Long Bao, and Fried taro dessert.

It was a lovely visit to Sydney, the weather was spectacular and there is so much to do. Be prepared for a lot of walking if you come to visit but the land down under has a lot to offer we didn't even get to the beaches!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TRIP: Amsterdam Part 2

Our cruise finished where it began, back in Amsterdam. We had one extra day in Amsterdam before we head to Belgium for our friends' wedding. The Amsterdam flag is the triple X which is part of it's coat of arms, I had originally thought the triple X marked the red light district.  I was further mistaken to think the locals were really proud of the red light district as I started seeing the triple X everywhere but was able to get a clarification from a tour guide. Well now that is out of the way....

Something I highly recommend if you take the cruise we were on is to take the Anne Frank House tour. Unfortunately no pictures allowed, so I got one of a statue of Anne Frank outside the house. The tour lets you bypass buying tickets a month ahead online and standing in a crazy 4 hour line. We basically shuffled in before the museum opened and got to see the whole thing.

You can't go to Amsterdam without taking a picture of a windmill. I was only able to snap this picture of the back of a windmill as we were driving around. There's a lot more to these windmills than I figured. Yes a lot of the original windmills were a local place for people to bring grains to be milled but others used the wind power for other functions such as powering pumps to keep the city (which is below sea level) from flooding. A lot of the old wind mills have been decommissioned and the remaining are now protected historical sites (that still function). People are trained to operate and maintain the windmills and are commissioned to live there. When not in operation the wind mills are locked in the "X" or "+" configuration. In the old days mills that were in need of repair were locked in the "X" configuration so that repair people could easily see who needed help.

The other must see from my wife was the Van Gogh museum. Again no pictures allowed but it was neat to see some of the classic paintings I've read about and seen as photos in person. I'm not usually one for museums but this was pretty spectacular. The museum was laid out chronologically to his body of work so the audio tour was really neat to fill in the historical gaps between paintings or what was going on in his life to influence the works.

To finish our we wandered into the sister hotel of the one we were staying. "Art'otel". It was a very modern hotel we actually randomly walked into the restaurant not realizing it was a hotel. It wasn't until after dinner that one of the hotel staff happily took us on a quick tour.

The hotel has a basement for art gallery installation as well as performances. There were large windows to allow passerby's to see and hear performances or rehearsals. Upstairs featured an interactive video display cameras watch for motion to affect the light display. The rooms were very modern and beautiful, if we come back we'll be staying here.

The restaurant "5 and 33" is the main restaurant for the hotel it features italian tapas and all of the ingredients are  locally sourced. The host was super friendly and gave us the run down on the place and it's inspiration. It's only been open a month or so but from our dining experience I'm expecting it to be here a while.

Just like the rest of the hotel the decor was very modern and beautiful. We ordered a bunch of small plates, the food was so awesome I decided to show each dish.

Burrata, heritage tomatoes and basil - their take on a caprese salad. The Burrata cheese was delicious and generous and the tomatoes were sweet and juicy. An impressive first start.

Asparagus, quail eggs, pecornio and Truffles

Green pea soup. The soup had a very "vibrant taste". We loved this dish, there was clearly some cream in the soup however the soup was light and airy so they probably put this thru a blendtec or vitamix to give it that clean and smooth texture.

Grilled Octopus, olives, and artichoke

Seabass ravioli, olives and thyme. Our opinion was that the fish was too dry alone to be in a ravioli might want a little fat to go with it.

Braised ox cheeks, mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms. Wow.

We were barely able to finish this last dish, Pork belly with peperonata.

This was an amazing meal. The hospitality an service was great. Definitely go visit this place, it's right across from the Amsterdam Central station right on the square.

Monday, September 15, 2014

NHK World: Bento, Global Lunchbox Project

I was invited to join NHK World's Global Lunchbox project on Japanese TV. I filmed a submission and sent into photos. The episode apparently aired 9/14 but I was unable to view it so I have no idea whether they used any of my video. They did feature me in the gallery with a shortened version of my video on making this bento here. Eating in a box goes global :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TRIP: Copenhagen Denmark

Our last port of call before returning to home port, Copenhagen Denmark. I'm not sure whether to classify this as our last stop or the stop before last.

I saw this sign on while we were walking down the street.... 'Nuff said yarr.

The big attraction we decided to hit was Tivoli Garden. This amusement park/regular park is very popular destination (especially with the beautiful summer weather) it has a lot more green space sitting area for people to lounge on unlike the amusement parks in America. This is the second oldest amusement parks in the world (built in 1843).

In fact Walt Disney modeled his Disney world parks after the Tivoli park. This is a shot of the Asian themed area of the park.

There were lots of green spaces and where park go-ers can sit and listen to music (a couple of open air theaters). This is a shot of the Mrs. Peacock herding her babies.

Denmark is the home of my favorite toy Lego! Lego seems to distribute all of its models all over the world so I was disappointed that I wasn't able find anything unique to bring home. I hope to come back one day and visit the factory.

Troll goblin thing. I don't know, it was just out there on the street.

We ended our tour with a late lunch at Cafe Norden. One last chance at a Smørresbrød (danish open sandwiches): Egg and shrimp, Homemade chicken salad, Pork loin with red cabbage. Once again very filling. I liked the rye bread, it was more like a multi whole grain shaped into a toast like thing rather than "bread".

I got the "three burgers": smoked salmon, beef and salmon.

I wish we had a little more time to explore Copenhagen, we missed out on Royal residence and crown jewels, but it was a short port call so we had to pick and choose. We'll just have to come back.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

TRIP: Stockholm Sweden

We're rounding the corner home with Stockholm Sweden . We entered the port through the Swedish archipeligos, which was a beautiful site. The Stockholm archipelagos are made up of about 30,000 small islands some of them no bigger than a car poking out of the water some large enough for several houses. We arrived around 6am and it was a very quiet glide through the islands. This shot was from our balcony.

Once in port there were water taxis to take you to various points of interest including an amusement park, the ABBA museum (which I'm a little bummed we missed), and historical district. Since these are the things we missed I only have this picture of a family of fearless barnacle geese to show you.

We opted to spend our time with the Vasa Museum. Above is the remains of one of two famous 17th Century warships to herald the greatness of the power of Sweden sea power. Her name: Vasa.

Unfortunately, she sunk within 25 mins of launching out of port. #epicfail #headswillroll (actually no heads rolled). Long story short, the ship's center of mass was too high, this caused it to take on too much water through the gun ports as it swayed from side to side. They did test for seaworthiness but no one wanted to tell the king his new awesome ship was going to sink. Fortunately, the sister ship was corrected and did sail for 30 years until she was blown apart. Ironically, the brackish water and the mud at the bottom harbor actually preserved the ship and it is in far better condition than her sister. The museum is a wealth of information about ship building and what the lives of the sailors looked like and many people have come to study the ship.

Just outside the museum was one of the hotdog vendors that a fellow passenger told us to check out. Basically, they take a french baguette impale it to create a hole and squeeze in mustard and ketchup from this cow udder like device (to the right of the guy in the picture). It was pretty good, the crusty baguette was an interesting change from the American bun.

With precious little time left we decided to pickup lunch at the Royal Copenhagen where they serve sandwiches and tea from classically made royal floral china (porcelain).

The company was founded in 1775 and commissioned by the Queen of Denmark to replicate the fine dishware found in the far east. Turns out they do a nice lunch and tea.

I picked the "Sommartallrik" Summer plate featuring cured salmon with creamy dill potato salad, egg anchovy salad  with crisp (rye) bread and skagen with roe of shrimp.

My wife picked the Kokets Val which was three halves of smorrebrod (open face sandwiches), Rostbiff (roastbeef with cucumber, horseradish and roasted onion), Kyckling (chicken with chipotle mayo, bacon, tomato and lettuce), Chevre (Chevre with beetroot, leek cream and honey.)

On our way back I got a nice forward shot of our ship. NOOOO it's coming right for us!

We had a sea day on our way back to Denmark the next day. The executive Chef of the boat took our request for reinstating "High tea" at the Oceanliner restaurant and kindly invited us to the "captains club" tea for the frequent travelers. We had a great time talking to our fellow passengers and it was neat to be in the "cool kids" club.