Tuesday, November 27, 2012

First Christmas dinner for 2012

xmas dinner





For the last 5 years since we graduated from university, a group of us uni mates will meet up for a big Christmas dinner reunion. We rotate houses and do it potluck style to minimise the cooking stress on the host. The host always provide the main course while the rest cook/bake/buy the starters, desert and cheese. This year was our turn and we had our Christmas dinner last weekend - the earliest we had ever done so far as conflicting diaries dictates.

In typical fashion, Scott took over the kitchen as he doesn't trust me (to put it mildly, we have different 'style' of cooking - he is an anal cook, while I am from the 'bish bash bosh - agak agak' school of cooking). Tempers are bound to flare and unsurprisingly some choice one-liners were exchanged in the heat.

Me: * carefully lines the roasting tray with aluminium foil then puts the roasting rack on before heaving the turkey on it*
Scott: Where in the instructions does it say use a roasting rack?!?
Me: It doesn't...I didn't want the turkey to swim in it's fat half way through
Scott: Where in the £$%^&*()" instructions does it say use a roasting rack?!? *Tries to put the turkey in the oven, rips the aluminium foil, spat some abuse, takes it out and removes the roasting rack
Me: £$%^ £$%^ &*^$!!
Scott: %%& *^%£ !£$%!!

Should the turkey be roasted on a roasting rack or not? Is it in the instructions? Trivial but yes....different 'style'.

In instances like this, we practice our fail-proof 'time-out' session (marriage tip #1: 5 minutes of not speaking really does work instead of carrying on with the verbal abuse, Marriage tip #2: husband always apologies first), calm down before our first guest arrive and pulled out the stops on the main course.

We served:
- turkey (of course)
- duck (a surprise 'bird' for the evening)
- roast potatoes, celeriac and carrots
- roast maple Brussels sprouts with pancetta
- red cabbage braised with pears
- homemade stuffing
- naked sausages (meaning not pigs in a blanket but your bog standard sausage-ha!)

We had Mediterranean tart to start, apricot pie & chocolate cake for dessert and a huge platter of cheese with Port. The aim is to reach food coma before the music starts to burn off some calories. We often have an interlude between dessert and cheese and do Secret Santa. This year's top present goes to the horse head and Wayne Rooney's mask. It provided endless un-PC dancing moves involving the horse and Wayne with strong cocktails being originally mixed by your's truly Scott.

The party ended rather abruptly when the porter rang the doorbell at 2.30am and told us off for singing 'Jenny from the block' a wee bit too loud. Bring on 2013 xmas reunion!

Friday, November 23, 2012

My weekly World Wide Web treasures

One day I will own a summer holiday home / caravan with pink kitchen cabinets. One day...it will happen...one day.

Folded leather basket :: a minimalistic DIY
DIY leather basket: Looks do-able and I do have leather scraps lying around, no excuse not to try this out

101 Kitchen Substitute - bookmark!

We are hosting an early Christmas dinner for our uni mates this weekend and I am in charge of the greens -  I am making Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts with pancetta! Oh myyyyyy

It is Friday and you are Awesome!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Whisky tasting in Islay, Scotland


Islay distilleries



Islay whisky tour




A couple of days before we flew to Glasgow for our holidays, Scott woke up one morning and told me he had a bad dream. He dreamt that we had our holiday in Islay and he didn't visit any of the whisky distilleries! Oh the boy was upset! The primary aim of visiting Islay is to do a 'whisky crawl' and be merry.

Every day was planned with military precision. The boys wanted to visit as many whisky distilleries as possible while for us girls, it is also about getting some good chow to line the stomach. We (ok, not so much me) would pore over the island map and plan our route making sure we have potential lunch places en-route to these distilleries. On the first day, we drove by a house with a 'home-made tablet' sign outside, we made the boys stop the car, ran to the house under the rain dodging peacocks in the garden (random but true!) and grab some for the car ride. A little sugar fix is always good for the soul!

There are 8 distilleries on the island and we visited 6 - Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman. Each distillery offers whisky tasting and we had most of ours for free with Bruichladdich being the most generous! Scott was extra smug about this as he gets double measure of this 'liquid gold' since I am not a whisky person and my tasting dram gets passed on pretty swiftly to him!

We did 2 tours of the distilleries - Bowmore and Laphroaig. As the brewing process is similar I did not have a preference for one over the other though we did get to see how the malting of the barley is done in Laphroaig but not in Bowmore. The malting process is an interesting one for me as it is fairly labour intensive compared to the rest of the processes involved. The soaked barley are evenly spread out on the ground and it has to be turned every 4 hours to encourage germination. This is now done by a machine though some distilleries try to maintain tradition (e.g. Bowmore and Laphroaig) and malt 20% of their barley using the traditional way whereby a man has to turn over the barley with a shovel every 4 hours!

My top 2 favourite whisky distilleries are Bruichladdich and Laphroaig. Bruichladdich blew me away with its branding and design - it feels fresh and current with a crisp font and color. It wasn't immediately obvious that a Bruichladdich bottle holds whisky in it if you are not familiar with the brand. The aqua colour stood out. There are many speculations on how the color came about but on their blog, they said that it was simply inspired by the colour of the sea outside the distillery (OMG yes they have a blog - how progressive for a whisky company!). I think the branding appeals to the younger whisky drinkers but may have a tendency to alienate its older clienteles. But we 'get' it and and to quote Jenna - we fell for it 'hook, line and sinker'! We left the shop with 6 bottles of whisky, 1 bottle of gin (mine!), a scarf, a cap, and a hipflask....Yup, we 'get' it.

Laphroaig is another favourite but for the exact opposite reasons of why I love Bruichladdich. It has a great museum detailing its history, it feels traditional without being stuffy and it has some clever marketing up its sleeves. They encourage you to be a 'Friends of Laphroaig' - a free membership that comes with a free 1 square foot plot of land around the Laphroaig distillery.  In the museum, you are provided with wellies and waterproof jacket and are encourage to walk the land to find your plot. Once you have found it, you are provided with your country's flag to 'mark your plot'. You can see flags of  various countries sticking out of the empty land surrounding Laphroaig - it inspired you to find your plot and leave your mark too. They also offer the opportunity to choose and bottle your own whisky directly from cask which is such a great idea. I would have bought that experience as a present for Scott if I had known it was on offer. I obviously did not do my extensive whisky research!

I initially thought this holiday would be mainly for Scott but I actually had a great time and would love to visit again. We had a great holiday home, good food, bought 8 bottles of whiskies and I personally came home with a bottle of gin and a tea towel. Not bad...not bad at all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Islay , Scotland














You know what they say about Scotland...if you are lucky and the weather is fine, Scotland is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Unfortunately the weather is rarely fine in Scotland (based on personal experience!). 

In our early dating days, Scott tried to change my perception of the weather in Scotland. I clearly recalled him telling me that palm trees grow in Scotland and his granny has them in her garden in Aaran. I wasn't convinced - I am not sure how those palm trees survive (he wasn't lying, there are palm trees) but they are clearly a different type to those I am familiar with in Malaysia! As luck would have it, the first time I visited Scott and his family, Scotland was experiencing a heatwave and I remember going for walks in inappropriate footwear traipsing around Culzean Castle and Loch Lomond.

But they are right – Scotland is truly beautiful when the weather is right. We spend 4 nights in Islay last week and it was bliss. We flew to the island from Glasgow and we were filled with anticipation in the tiny propeller plane whilst overlooking the sunset landscape.

Jenna (sis-in-law) found the amazing house we rented at Port Ellen (the southern tip of the island) – underfloor heating, beach at our doorstep, fireplace, full length window and sliding door with views of the beach and remote enough that there is no mobile signal.

We spend our days walking and whisky tasting and are often back in the house for a cuppa late afternoon and chill on the sofa with a roaring fire before dinner time. On our second night, we ordered lobsters from the local fishmonger and she drove by the house with the 2 lobsters in her hand, still alive and wriggling, no plastic bag! Free range, green and value for money at £15! We initially made the mistake of putting them in the tub with hot water, thus ‘waking them up’ but we got smart quick and shove them in the freezer to ‘put them to sleep’!

We got lucky with the weather on our first day, the wind is still and you can feel warmth from the autumn sun on your back. But often the weather changes during the day and the in-between offers the most breath-taking view of the island. The clouds changing colour, the distant mist, the moody landscape, the sea salt in the wind and if you chance it for a second too long, that ‘wind’ might drench you. We caught sight of a beautiful rainbow after the passing rain on our first day.

I was hoping to see seals on the beach as apparently they are frequent visitors to the island. The last time I saw seals was in Sea World in Gold Coast Australia! Oh my, we got lucky and saw 4 seals playing hide and seek with a dog in a cove! The seals would slowly surface to air and the dog, standing on a rock close to the water would look out for them. When the dog caught sight of the seals, it would bark and the seals would disappear back into the water! The seals will slowly resurface again until the next bark. Those seals was a highlight for me.