America · Arizona · California · Food · Travelling

Post-Flight Jet Lag

I’m back in England now and suffering from the curse of flying west to east – Jet lag! I tried to avoid the worst of it – I slept about four hours on the plane (discovering that eye masks are actually a massive help in sleeping was a game changer!), stayed up until the evening and tried to keep to as normal a routine as possible, but it’s not completely worked, so I’m going to be productive and use this time to write about a few of the final thing we have done, places we saw and food we ate in our final days in Phoenix and San Francisco.

On the final Sunday we all went out for brunch at the Biltmore hotel, which was undergoing HUGE renovations at the time – it looked unrecognisable inside from our previous visits! All the interiors were halfway through being repaired, the main entrance in particular was being redone at the time! However, brunch at Frank and Albert’s was still delicious. I decided on the huevos rancheros, which featured a lot of guacamole, cheese and the most delicious chorizo, all with added black bean purée which is always a bonus!


The Biltmore is also the only place where meat and cheese is a necessary addition to a Bloody Mary. This wasn’t my drink so I can’t vouch for if it added to the flavour, but it definitely added interest!


After brunch we took a wander around some of the grounds of the hotel, Nathaniel did some painting and we enjoyed the sunshine for a short while. The hotel has some beautiful features to it and I can only imagine it must be a lovely place to stay! 





In the afternoon, Chloe and I tried to replicate the Arizona baking-cookies-outside challenge, however we chose the wrong week in which to visit for that! Despite earlier in the year having been unbearable for Phoenix, we hit right in the middle of monsoon season. Thunderstorms, yes. Humidity – oh yes! But temperatures hot enough to bake cookies on the hood of your car? Not so much. We nearly made it with one set on the hood of the car inside the garage, but the heat just wasn’t there (and the batter was disposed of before the experiment could be finished…)


Test site one – by the swimming pool. (The shadow is me – they weren’t in the shade). These were not a success – they were disposed of after being eaten by ants and stood on… 


On the car bonnet in the garage – the one closest to working!


On the car bonnet outside – much cooler than in the garage so not a real success either…

The final evening in Phoenix was completed by night swimming (after a steak barbecue and many cakes!) and water balloons- the perfect way to cool down.


If only this was appropriate in England!

The next day (Monday) we flew back to San Francisco, just for one night. Landing in the late afternoon we arrived at our hotel, checked in for our flight the next day and also realised we had got there just in time for cookies – you know it’s a good hotel when they give you tea and cookies/brownies at 4pm! We then headed out to Chinatown and enjoyed a massive Chinese Szechuan banquet for our final meal (we hadn’t eaten yet!)


Chicken and lemongrass potstickers and fried wontons


Spicy beef and vegetables

Apparently I failed to take pictures of the rest but it also included hot and sour soup, cashew chicken and mixed fried rice – alongside the fortune cookies and tea! Absolutely delicious, particularly the beef, but I definitely don’t feel the need to eat Chinese food again for a while!


San Francisco in the evening

The next morning we walked around through the districts of Mission in order to prepare for the long flight ahead, particularly with regard to food – I do not have faith in airline meals! We started with breakfast at Hayes Valley Bakeworks with this wonder:


Maple-bacon-cinnamon rolls – whoever invented this is a genius. I’m a sucker for that flavour combination anyway and this was simply divine!

After walking through from our hotel to Mission and around the surrounding areas for a few hours, we broke for lunch/brunch at about 11 at El Taqueria Farolito, a recommendation which proved to be an amazing find. Absolutely huge burritos – I had the regular and I dread to think what the large would have been like! We made the rookie mistake of ordering chips as well – not a plan! The proteins were also hugely varied – we went for the safer options of carne asada (steak) and chorizo but we could have had beef tongue, beef head or beef brains! Maybe next time!


Finally to complete I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit Bi-Rite Creamery (also in Mission) – another recommendation which I was happy to receive! After vacillating between flavours such as peach cobbler, basil and watermelon-coconut I finally decided to go with the black sesame and strawberry balsamic combination. Definitely a good final dessert in San Francisco.

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America · Ice Cream · Salads · Sweets · Travelling

What I eat in Arizona, Part 1

First of all, Southwest Airlines are hilarious- I’m only ever flying with them again! Airline and a stand-up comedy act? Sold.

Featured highlights:

‘If you’re scared of flying, put your head between your knees and tremble until we bring round the alcohol’

‘You are so lucky to have us as your flight crew’ (no lack of confidence there)

‘My guy in Houston writes these leaflets – I know none of you will read them but you should. If there’s an emergency – tough, you’re on your own! (Only joking, obviously look for a crew member!)

[Paraphrased but the gist is there]

They also give very friendly snacks…



During the first few days we have swum, relaxed and eaten a lot of good food, so here follow the highlights!

The first night we ate at Pita Jungle where I was again reminded of the scale of American portions – I ate the  second half of the meal for breakfast the next morning! I had a lentil fatoosh salad which there is no photographic evidence of – it tasted good though!

Dessert did make the camera though – below is an ice cream sandwich made of a chocolate chip cookie, a s’mores cookie with mint chocolate chip ice cream and hot Nutella (hence the salad before…)


(They also gave us free brownies (2) and 12 white chocolate macadamia nut cookies as we were there at closing time!)

The next day we went to one of my favourite lunch places – Flower Child. Basically a hippie place (even including a ‘yoga mat parking’ spot) it specialises in bowls, salads and other tasty things. I had a Vietnamese salad bowl with tofu which was delicious, but I was also very taken by the drinks – honey-lavender-limeade, elderflower-rose lemonade and strawberry-lemonade, all on tap!


Then we had a quick tour around some of the amazing houses in the local area before heading to Creamistry – my favourite ice-cream place! Based on some – very dodgy – liquid nitrogen freezing principles you can create your own ice-cream by choosing a base, flavourings and toppings. Below we have a creamy base, tiramisu flavour with hot fudge sauce on the top. (Again, salad for supper!)


I do also get hugely excited by watching them make the ice-cream in front of you! We are planning on going again later in the week and then I plan to go a little more experimental with flavours.

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Also, this is what a Malteaser looks like in the States…

Until next time then, happy eating!

Baking · Biscuits · Cookies

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

I am not always the most patient person in the world. Some things don’t bother me. Transport delays don’t really bother me – I’m generally hideously early so it’s rare that a delay is ever a real problem.

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However, when it comes to baking I have no patience. And that is a real problem. Baking is all about patience – waiting for bread to rise, waiting for pies to cook, waiting for cakes to cool in preparation for icing. There is no short cut, you’ve got to let it happen at its own speed. And sadly that’s where I fall short.

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Cookies are generally a quick thing to make – a great thing to make after work when you just need a quick fix, right? Well sort of. These are very simple to make, but they do require patience. You have to wait for them to chill, bake and then cool. And you have to let these cool. It may take all your willpower to do this but it will be worth it.

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Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3oz plain flour
  • 1oz cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 1oz butter
  • 1 egg
  • 10ml kahlua
  • 1 3/4oz icing sugar

Instructions:

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together before stirring in the sugar. Rub the butter into the mixture using your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Mix the egg and kahlua together and add to the butter and dry ingredients. Stir until a dough is formed – this will take MUCH longer than you think! It will come together though, so don’t feel the need to add any more liquid – it will make the mixture too loose. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Take walnut sized pieces of the mixture and roll into balls, and then cover with the icing sugar. Be generous as this will give  the cookies the lovely crispy sugar coating. Place the round cookies onto the baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, until cracked on the top and firm to the touch. Cool the cookies before serving (if you can wait long enough!)

Baking · Cookies · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge

Piedmont: Brutti Ma Buoni

coat of arms of Italian region Piedmont

These biscuits have a sad life, the ugly duckling of the baking world. Burdened with the name Brutti Ma Buoni, these biscuits are literally called ‘Ugly but Good.’ Not really the best description, when – let’s face it – they’re more plain Jane than Ugly Betty. However, moving past the name, these biscuits really metamorphose into the swan – tasty, crunchy and slightly chewy, they are just the thing to accompany your afternoon caffeine hit. Whilst the initial response to the name may be unfortunate, the second part is as true as it can be.

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I have added chocolate chips to the mixture which are not traditional and may be left out if desired. However, I personally think that the biscuits are improved by the inclusion of these little chocolate-y morsels. You could also add in larger pieces of hazelnut in, or even pieces of dried fruit if preferred, however if you can resist the combination of chocolate and hazelnut you are a stronger person than I!

Brutti Ma Buoni

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C/Gas Mark 5 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place your oven shelves as close to the middle as possible.

Spread the hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes, shaking the tray occasionally. Remove from the oven and rub he nuts in a clean tea towel in order to remove the skins. Place the skinned hazelnuts in a food processor and blend with the sugar until it forms a finely ground mixture. Scrape this mixture into a large bowl.

Using a electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the nut mixture using a rubber spatula before gently mixing in the vanilla.

Place tablespoons of the batter onto the baking trays and bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm and golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool, before repeating with the remains of the mixture if necessary. Serve with coffee and enjoy!

Baking · Cookies · Nation Cake Challenge · North America

Massachusetts, America: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Flag of the United States of America

Chocolate chip cookies. Possibly one of the most evocative recipes, and one that will be likely to take you back to your childhood, whether they be soft chewy American-style cookies or the small crisp Maryland cookies(/biscuits, depending on your definition of cookies!) For such a popular recipe, it seems surprising that the original chocolate chip cookies were actually an accidental creation by Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in the 1930’s. Running out of chocolate for her famous chocolate biscuits, she substituted chocolate chips, hoping that they would melt into the chocolate cookie batter which they did not, thus creating the chocolate chip cookie. Apparently she then sold the recipe to Nestle in exchange for a lifetimes supply of chocolate chips – sounds like a good deal to me!

Ruth Wakefield’s recipe is still in use today, printed on the back of every bag of Nestlé chocolate chips (I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episode where Monica spends days trying to recreate Phoebe’s grandmother’s fabulous cookie recipe only to find that it is the Nestlé Toll House recipe!) The cookies were also sent to US troops during WWII, and became so popular that a national craze was started, continuing today. It has also been designated as the Official State Cookie for Massachusetts, though I am not convinced that other states have this honour, so it isn’t really so important!

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Chocolate chip cookies are one of those recipes that everyone will have made at some point, and as a consequence everyone thinks that their recipe is the best! Type ‘chocolate chip cookies’ into Google search and most of the returned results will be titled (or at least mention!) some form of plaudit, that their recipe is ‘the best ever!’ Now at some point when I have more time I feel that I may need to actually test out these recipes and choose a victor, but for the moment all I can say is that these cookies are delicious, and you will not be disappointed!

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 115g/40z butter, softened
  • 115g/4oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 100g/3.5oz porridge oats
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g/4.5oz plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 175g/6oz plain chocolate, chopped
  • 175g/6oz milk chocolate, chopped
  • 56g/2oz hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside for later.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy before beating in the egg. Add the oats, milk and vanilla extract and beat together until well blended. Stir in the flour, cocoa and baking powder before adding the chocolate chunks and nuts.

Place tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches in between each cookie. Bake for 20 minutes before removing from the oven and allowing to cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool completely before diving in – I know it’s hard, but it’s so much better to eat them when cool!