Thursday, June 28, 2012

Scotland Day 3 - Isle of Skye

So while I don't have a picture of it, let's start with a description of the ridiculously large breakfast that is served at Fernlea B&B. Make sure you try the Scottish porridge and the homemade marmalade. I had a full breakfast - venison sausages, mushrooms, eggs, bacon, toast, Scottish pancake - while A and my dad chose kippers. The portion of kippers was astonishingly generous (I'm used to the little kippers you can get at Sainsbury's - these were at least twice the size, and there were four or five fillets per plate). You'll notice that aside from our first day in Glasgow, the rest of the trip really only consists of one meal a day since breakfast was always so large that no one was hungry enough for another meal until dinner. 

Cute boats in a cute harbor
So, with full bellies we rumbled off for our tour of the Isle of Skye. We started by driving to Portree, a cute harbour town pictured above. Then, of course, I realised that we should make a clockwise loop of the island instead of counterclockwise, since the two things we wanted to do on the west coast had opening hours (and after the fiasco with the Glasgow School of Art I wasn't leaving it to chance again!) So we changed direction and drove to Talisker so A and his mom could go on a tour. 
Great, if you like whisky
Oh. My. God.
Meanwhile, me and my parents went on a hike up the hill above the distillery, which resulted in my favorite surprise moment of the trip - meeting Paul McGlynn of Isle of Skye Oysters (Up Hill Past Talisker Distillery Carbost, Isle of Skye IV47 8SE), and eating some of the largest, freshest, most incredible oysters I've ever had. Honestly, if you like oysters and you're in the area, you have got to try his, I am drooling right now thinking about them. (The views from up there are pretty decent too, see below for an example).

Look at this while eating oysters
Next up was Dunvegan Castle, which is not exactly attractive, but has gorgeous views from its windows, and some scenic gardens. (Not to worry, there were better castles on this trip!) We drove past Uig, which apparently has a cute pub/restaurant right on the harbour front, but since no one was hungry yet, we just admired the scenery briefly.

Imagine falling off this!
We headed off to the Quiraings for a spot of hiking - this was probably the most stunning scenery of the day, with the craggy cliffs and narrow, steep paths and tiny lochs dotted everywhere. Not for the weak-hearted though - we gave it a try for a bit but then got to a part of the path that seemed to involve walking along a very rocky bit with a steep drop to the right, and decided to turn back before we accidentally turned the trip into a nightmare. 
Kilt Rock (do you think it looks like the pleats of a kilt?)
Kilt Rock was another quick stop (a huge coachload of amateur photography enthusiasts joined us there) and then my parents and I went partway up the path towards the Old Man of Storr, though we realised it would be quite a significant hike and there was no way we'd have enough time. 

By this point, we were actually ready for a meal, and we had booked a table at what is purportedly one of the best seafood restaurants on the Isle of Skye, Creelers (Broadford, Isle of Skye IV49 9AQ).

Cajun haddock
This was the most mixed meal of our trip - while A's gumbo was pretty phenomenal with complex flavors that really showed off some cooking skill, and A's mom was very pleased with her scallops, my parents and I fared a little worse, with my mom getting an atrociously overcooked and bland halibut dish. My Cajun haddock above was a little too blackened for my tastes, though the fish did taste fresh, and my dad's mussels were fine, but no better than the mussels at the Claymore the night before, even though they cost 50% more and came in a smaller portion. Dessert was excellent though - while the cheesecake looked like more biscuit base than cheese, it was actually very well balanced once we dug in - and the chocolate mousse made A's mom deliriously happy. But while it was a cozy atmosphere with great music, I'm not sure whether I'd recommend it as I don't think it delivered enough to justify the higher prices.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Scotland Day 2 - Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Mallaig, Isle of Skye

One tip - do not try and hail a cab at 9.30am Sunday to get to a car rental place on the outskirts of Glasgow.   Book in advance! Or, do what A and I did, which is walk for a while, then ask a bus driver if his bus was going in that direction, then get on the bus to realise they only take change and that you don't have enough money, then rely on the goodheartedness of said bus driver to take you to a bus stop only two blocks away from your destination, completely for free. After that adventure, it was a huge relief to settle into our incredibly luxurious rental car (an Audi A6, which should make you car nuts jealous).

It's summer!

Once we were all piled into the car with our luggage, we headed north, stopping at Loch Lomond for a very rainy and foggy view (or rather, huddling inside the visitor's centre, watching a video of what Loch Lomond would look like on a beautiful day).

Let's get a tan!

Another stop at Glencoe was similarly obscured by rain, but we did supplement it with a chocolate muffin at the cafe. As we drove on, I realised that the rain was making our progress slower than expected, so a planned stop at Glenfinnan turned into a 10 second stop for me to take a terrible picture of the viaduct (otherwise known as the Harry Potter bridge), and then poor A had to get us to Mallaig while the rest of the passengers counted down the miles and minutes, as we had a ferry to catch. But we got to Mallaig in the nick of time and enjoyed a smooth ferry ride (including a sighting of dolphins) over to Armadale. A short drive later, we were in Broadford, where Fernlea B&B is located. John and Iris are wonderful hosts and recommended the Claymore (on the main road through Broadford, Isle Of Skye IV49 9AQ) for dinner as it is one of the few places in Broadford open on Sunday.

"Little balls of seafood." - Waitress describing squat lobsters

We had a couple of bowls of seafood chowder to start, which were incredibly creamy and dense with smoked haddock and mackerel. Pictured above is squat lobster, which apparently is a delicacy particular to the Isle of Skye. Thankfully I was forewarned not to expect an actual lobster - the little chunks of squat lobster are more like crayfish, though sweeter and more succulent. They came drenched in garlic butter, and I loved them, though they're certainly not an every day dish - the richness got to be a bit much by the end of the dish. A and his mom had mussels, and once my parents tasted them they decided that they actually do like mussels (though there still remains a question about whether mussels in the United States are as good, since my parents claim not to like the ones they've had in the US). My mom's fish and chips were enormous (by the way, fish and chips should ALWAYS be enormous, in my opinion), and after we finished our meals, we barely had room for anything else, but we couldn't turn down the chance to introduce my parents to sticky toffee pudding. It was a decent rendition but I wasn't a fan of the surprise addition of nuts, and to no one's surprise my parents found it too sweet (though that is more about their palate than the dessert itself).

More in the next post about the spectacularly large kippers that John serves for breakfast at Fernlea. If you want to read about Day 1, go here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scotland Day 1 - Glasgow

After convincing my parents that they really would like to take a vacation with me and A and A's mom in Scotland, the five of us headed off on an 8 day tour of Glasgow, the Isle of Skye, the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh. Huge thanks to Nigel at Catswhiskerstours,who planned out a self drive itinerary for us and made all of our B&B bookings and car rental reservations, ensuring a smooth journey the whole way.

The train ride to Glasgow was uneventful, aside from me and A forgetting our driving licence counterparts, which meant he had a harrowing dash back to the flat but still managed to catch the train with a couple of minutes to spare. Once we were in Glasgow, we noticed that black cabs are a lot less expensive than in London, making our cab ride to the B&B incredibly affordable. Sadly our first afternoon was quite rainy - as we were walking into the centre of town the rain drove us into a little Italian cafe called Villa Toscana (1080 Argyle Street Glasgow, Glasgow City G3 8LY) for a bite of lunch while we waited out the downpour. 

Seriously, this is a pizza that has been rolled into a wrap shape.

Cured pork makes everything better

The pizza wraps were intriguing, especially at a bargain price of 3.95, so I went with one filled with chicken, salami, mozzarella and olives. It was essentially a pizza rolled up into wrap form, so it was much more food than I was expecting. A's carbonara was also generously strewn with bacon pieces and as rich as a carbonara should be (unlike our last nightmare carbonara at Jamie's Italian).

A unicorn!

Since we were all stuffed after lunch, we wandered into town, stopping at the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. The Cathedral and Necropolis were also worth a look (especially as it happened to be sunny right at the moment we were there), but we sadly missed the Mackintosh-designed School of Art as we got there a bit too late for a tour due to my poor scheduling. A stroll back through the park by our B&B (the Argyll Hotel, clean and affordable, with a generous buffet breakfast included) was going well until it started raining again, and we decided to eat close by to avoid another drenching.

Looks juicier than it was

I see why there are so many sheep in Scotland

Ok, I promise this tasted way better than the picture looks

Luckily, Konaki Greek Taverna (920 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G3 7TF) was almost across the street from the B&B so we made a reservation there after reading some flattering online reviews. The hummus was creamy and nutty - even my parents, who are not big fans of Mediterranean food, enjoyed it. My swordfish special with lemon broiled potatoes was also good, if just a tiny bit overcooked, and A's lamb kebabs were meaty and smoky. C's vegetarian moussaka may have been the best dish, though my mom's Greek meatballs were a close second, especially after I had a taste of the fabulous sauce mixed with the fluffy bed of rice they came with.

Exhausted from all the travel, the parents went off to bed after dinner, while A and I ventured out to Glasgow's Brewdog pub (1397 Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8AN) for a post-dinner drink, as it was around the corner from our B&B. It was so relaxed it was hard to tell it was a Saturday night - quite a different vibe from the Camden branch!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Mason & Taylor

51-55 Bethnal Green Rd
E1 6LA

T & R invited us to have Sunday lunch with them at Mason & Taylor, the new-ish craft beer pub that took over Green & Red's space on Bethnal Green Road (but kept the ampersand, apparently). T and A were very pleased with the beer flights - three 1/3 pint tastes of any beers they have on tap, which allowed them to try a dozen beers in total over lunch. Sunday lunch options are pretty standard - chicken, pork, beef, lamb, mackerel, something veggie... I went with the lamb which came in a generous portion along with heaps of cabbage, carrots and roasted potatoes. It was good, but I seem to compare all Sunday roasts to The Drapers Arms and so far nothing has beat them, so I can't find it in myself to rave about Mason & Taylor. I think the beer is the bigger draw, so at least the food isn't a drawback.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bagel Bombs

As soon as I saw this post on The Amateur Gourmet, I emailed J and told her we had to make them using her stand mixer. They are based on the recipe from the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, which by all accounts is frankly amazing. And while we were very pleased with the results, I am tweaking it to compensate for the fact that 1) there was way too little flour in the recipe, 2) I found the results too salty this time around, 3) why make a single batch of 8 when you could make a double batch of 16 and 4) some ingredients can be tricky to find in London, so I've just omitted them. So below, you'll find my version.

Bagel Bombs
Adapted from The Amateur Gourmet and Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook


400g plain cream cheese (two containers)
Scallion greens from a bunch of scallions, thinly sliced (I also added fresh chives from the garden)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 3/4 cups (or 350 grams) flour (original recipe says 1 3/4 cups)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups (or 370 g) room temperature water (warm enough to activate but not so hot it kills the yeast)
Neutral oil
6 tablespoons white sesame seeds (original recipe gives you an "everything" bagel mix of poppy seeds, garlic, onion, salt, etc. but I actually prefer plain sesame or poppy seed bagels)
1 egg


1. Put the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream it on medium speed, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the scallions and sugar and paddle briefly to incorporate. Taste to adjust.

2. Scoop the cream cheese on to a parchment-lined cookie sheet in 16 even lumps and freeze until rock hard, 1 to 3 hours. (We ended up with 20 scoops, so 4 were saved for spreading on other things.)

3. To make the dough, stir together the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer using the dough hook like a spoon. Continue stirring as you add the water, mixing for 1 minute, until the mixture has come together into a shaggy mess.

4. Engage the bowl and hook and have the machine mix the dough on the lowest speed for 3 minutes, or until the ball of dough is smoother and more cohesive. (If it just looks like a big wet mess, add some more flour until it begins to look more like a ball.) Then knead for 4 more minutes on the lowest speed. The dough should look like a wet ball and should bounce back softly when prodded. (We found this took much longer, but mainly because there was not nearly enough flour to make it turn into a ball.)

5. Brush a large bowl with oil and dump the dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof at room temperature for 45 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 325F (163C).

7. Scatter flour over a smooth, dry surface. Punchdown and flatten the dough on the surface. Use a dough cutter to divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Use your fingers to gently stretch each piece of dough out into a mini pizza between 2 and 3 inches wide.

8. Put a cream cheese plug in the center of each dough circle. Bring up the edges of each round and pinch to seal so that the cream cheese plug is completely contained, then gently roll the ball between the palms of your hands to ensure the bomb has a nice, round, dinner roll-y shape. Arrange the bombs 4 inches apart on a parchment- or Silpat-lined cookie sheet.

9. Whisk the egg and 1/2 teaspoon water together and brush a generous coat of egg wash on the buns. Sprinkle a heavy even coating of the sesame seeds all over the bagel bombs–every possible inch, except for the bottoms, should be coated.

10. Bake the bagel bombs for 20 to 30 minutes. While in the oven, the bombs will become a deep golden brown and a few may have cream cheese explosions. Continue baking until you see this happen! Not to worry–serve them as is or use your fingers to tuck the cream cheese back inside the bagel bomb. Bagel bombs are best served warm out of the oven–or flashed in the oven later to warm and serve. If you can’t finish them all right away, once they are cool, wrap them well in plastic and store them in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Blind Tiger

697 Wandsworth Road 

Lucky me, O was in town for my birthday this year so she and A and I all went out for an amazing dinner and drinks evening at The Blind Tiger. While it is definitely a pain in the ass to get there if you're not from the Wandsworth area, the place is so beautifully done up and has such a great vibe inside that we would consider making the trek back. First up, the cocktails are elegant and interesting - and at happy hour they are a very reasonable 4.50 each! I had some kind of elderflower, mint and gin concoction which was a lovely start to the evening. On to the food - steak tartare to start, and then an entire lemon sole for mains. The tartare was nice but nothing extraordinary; the sole on the other hand was absolutely outstanding with a crispness from the grilling and a gorgeous caper and brown butter sauce that I was practically licking off the board by the end. All of this, paired with some great music from Top Shelf Jazz, made for a delightful birthday celebration that I will remember, especially since I had such wonderful company.