Food

Horned Frogs in London

As the end of May rolled around, we were busy preparing for a long trip away starting with an overnight in London to meet up with some of our TCU friends.  They were overseas visiting family and planned a few days in London.  We were able to plan our travels to meet up and spend a day together.  After checking in early at our serviced apartment in Kensington we hopped the tube to Notting Hill.  We had planned to meet up at Granger and Co for brunch but happened to run into each other on the street en route.  It was a bank holiday Monday so there was already a crowd outside the restaurant and a wait for a table.  Instead of standing around with two kiddos, the moms and tots headed off for a walk while the guys stuck around waiting.  We found a park where Hannah managed to get dirty in the short 10 minutes we were there.  Brunch was a bit hectic but so so tasty!  If you ever make it there, try the banana ricotta pancakes.

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After brunch the ladies left the husbands and kids to start our afternoon tea bus tour adventure with B’s Bakery.  A coworker had told me about the tea bus and I thought it was a great idea.  They did not allow children under the age of 5 so it was the perfect getaway for these mamas!  We sat on the upper deck of a renovated bus devouring sweet and savory treats in addition to the tea or coffee of our choice.  We also packed a bottle of bubbly to enjoy en route.  The staff was great, the food was good and it was a fun way to see the sights.  As we ate brunch shortly before the bus tour we had several bits of food left over.  The staff was kind enough to provide us a box to take the rest away.  Sadly, I dropped said box on the ground spilling the entire contents outside the grimy bus terminal.

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We left to relieve the men of the children so they could have some down time.  As they headed off for drinks and dinner we entertained the kids at our friends AirBnb.  Everyone was getting a little restless so we took a walk around Notting Hill.  On our way back to find the kids some dinner we happened across two rather familiar looking men sitting in a restaurant.  Sure enough, we had managed to find our husbands purely on accident.  We popped in to say hi and ended up sitting down together for dinner.

Notting hill

Notting Hill homes

Secret Garden

 

Hi fives

 

Sadly, all too soon night time came and the toddlers were threatening to turn into pumpkins.  So we took a group photo then went our separate ways with “see you laters” rather than “goodbyes.”  It was a busy full fun day with great friends.  We only wish we’d had more time.

Horned frog friends

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Lodging: Harrington Collection Kensington

Food: Granger and Co., Electric Diner

Activities: B’s Bakery Bus Tour

Transport: Train, tube and lots of walking

Party Time

C and I love hosting parties, especially since we bought our house.  We haven’t had one since we moved to England.  That year felt like forever!  So, we finally put a date on the books and hosted a summer BBQ on Saturday.  One perk of hosting the party?  It made us finally clean up some of the house that we had been ignoring and unpack a few more boxes.

When planning a party menu I try to do a mix of easy/known dishes and something new.  This time we planned to grill so had bratwurst and sliders for the main, veggies, potato chips, greek 7 layer dip, hummus, pita chips and mac and cheese.  For dessert I made frosted cookie cups and a simple fruit salad of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.  The sliders were an Ina Garten recipe and turned out great!  I think I’m going to start using the recipe for regular burgers too.  The Greek 7-layer Dip was a new recipe for me.  It wasn’t demolished by the guests so I’m not sure what everyone else thought.  However, I couldn’t get enough of it (I even had the leftovers today for lunch).  The mac and cheese was also a new recipe made in the crockpot which was easy and super yummy.

We had a great time!  It was nice to catch up with everyone, share our home and food and just kick back with friends.

These two bonded quite nicely

Lacey had tons of fun but was partied out by the time our last guest departed

 

 

Now, here are some recipes!

Greek 7-Layer Dip (Found on Our Best Bites)

1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened (I used Neufchatel)
1 tsp. dill weed
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (I used garlic powder)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 c. hummus
1 c. seeded, diced cucumbers
1 c. seeded, diced tomatoes
1/2 c. chopped Kalamata olives
1/3 c. chopped green onions (about 3 green onions)
1/2 c. crumbled Feta cheese
1/8 c. minced fresh parsley

Combine the cream cheese, seasoning, garlic, and lemon juice until combined. Spread in the bottom of a pie plate or a small, shallow baking dish. Then spread a layer of hummus. In order, create layers by sprinkling the cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, onions, Feta cheese, and parsley. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. Serve with pita chips, fresh vegetables, and/or flatbread.

So stinking good!

So stinking good!

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese (found on Brown Eyed Baker) – I doubled the recipe for my 6 qt slow cooker

12 ounces (3 cups) uncooked elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1½ cups half & half
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Directions:

1. Spray 3½ to 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Cook the pasta to al dente then drain. Place the macaroni in the slow cooker, add the butter and stir until melted.

2. Add the evaporated milk, half & half, 2½ cups of the cheddar cheese, the Velveeta, salt and pepper; stir to blend well.

3. Cover and cook on low for 2 to 3 hours (if you have a larger slow cooker, decrease the cooking time). During the last 15 minutes of cooking, sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of cheddar cheese. Once done, turn the slow cooker setting to warm until ready to serve. 

Cookie cups in process

Cookie cups in process

Frosted Cookie Cups (cookie cups adapted from What Megan’s Making, frosting from Bitchin Camero)

Cookie Cups:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Generously spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray (be very generous – I had several stick and ended up as crumbs)

In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer combine butter, sugars and vanilla until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time mixing well between each.  Add the flour mixture in gradually, beating until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Spoon the dough into muffin cups filling approximately 2/3 full.  Bake in preheated oven 6-8 minutes until tops start to turn golden brown.  Cool in pans for 5 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting:

1 sticks (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix the butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract in bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment.  Once combined switch to whisk attachment and beat on high until fluffy, approximately 3-5 minutes.  Place in piping bag with tip attached.  Pipe onto cookie cups when cooled.  

The deliciously simple result

The deliciously simple result

 Now go cook up something delicious.  Happy Summer!

Kitchen wins

Remember last week I said I was cooking up a Cinco de Mayo feast least week and I’d post what I made?  Yeah, just getting around to it now.  That’s been the story of my pregnancy – I’m behind the eight-ball on pretty much everything in my life especially cleaning and laundry, just ask my husband.

Anyhow, I first decided I wanted to make Brisket Tacos and searched for a good but simple recipe.  The key was it needed to be stovetop/oven prep because my slow cooker is still in storage somewhere (yes, there’s lots still in storage…that’s an entirely separate post).  I found this recipe by The Homesick Texan.  She is a native Texan living in NYC and cooking up her favorite Texas dishes and blogging about them.  I’ve made several things from her website and they’ve all been great.  This was no exception.  The meat smelled amazing after just 30 minutes in the oven and I was starving by the time I pulled out a fork tender slab of meat from my dutch oven.

To go with the Brisket Tacos, I decided to try my hand at something C has been asking me to make for as long as I can remember, copycat version of Chili’s queso.  Saying he loves their queso is an understatement.  After some searching I found a recipe with good reviews and looked pretty easy.  I whipped it up in no time and it was simmering away on the stove by the time he got home.  It’s not the healthiest and chock full of preservatives and difficult to pronounce ingredients, but its definitely not a regular indulgence around here.  While it was tasty it didn’t taste exactly like the queso C loves.  Mind you, that didn’t stop him from devouring it.

The above was served up with flour tortillas, cheese, tomatoes, sautéed peppers and onions, guacamole and black beans.  It was a feast for sure and there were tons of leftovers.  I had plenty of brisket to freeze a large portion for later.  I can see it making great enchiladas, soup, tacos (again), quesadillas or a mexican casserole.

Since I was on a roll after my Cinco de Mayo spread, I decided to make some baked goods for one of the teams at work.  It was to say “thank you” for them helping out my team in the upcoming months.  I wanted to make a lemon quick bread, but didn’t want to go to the store for the 3rd time in 3 days.  Rather I went with what I had in the pantry and made 8 mini pumpkin loaves.  The smell of them baking away in the oven was intoxicating.  Made me think of fall despite the very spring/summer-like weather we’ve had lately. Sadly, the recipe made exactly 8 mini loaves, leaving none for C or I to enjoy.  Because of that the next night I made these pumpkin muffins for us to enjoy.  They were so yummy!  We may or may not have eaten the full dozen in a period of 4 days…

I cannot tell you how great it feels to be back in my kitchen doing what I love!  Now, if only I could get better at cleaning up after all that cooking, C would be a very happy man.  Until then, he’ll just have to settle for delicious home cooked food and a messy kitchen.

A Park City Playground

As I mentioned last post, Em and I took a girls trip to Park City last weekend.  Luckily her flight connected in TX so we got to start the weekend off on our flight into Salt Lake City.  We picked up a rental car after convincing the man at the desk that we were able to drive in snow and we didn’t need a 4-wheel drive (for an extra $200!).  Thanks to Em’s excellent internet searching skills we found a taco place featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, called Lone Star Taqueria.  It was a tiny little building that looked like it belonged in Austin, not Utah.  However the food was delicious and cheap.  Definitely worth a stop if you find yourself in that area of the world!  We then toured around Temple Square where the LDS church is headquartered.  We didn’t too too much exploring as we were averting the gaze of all the missionaries wandering around, but we did walk around the outside of the temple and saw a great nativity display.

The nativity with the temple in the background

The nativity with the temple in the background

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We loaded back into the car for the trek to Park City.  We checked into our weekend home away from home, the Waldorf Astoria, and settled into our room for some down time.  Em’s friend (who hooked us up with a great deal on the room) took a break from work and came to visit for a while.  That night we had plans to check out a highly recommended restaurant.  Sadly, we walked up to the restaurant only to learn they were closed all weekend for renovations.  Booo!  We settled on another restaurant nearby that was also recommended and it was delicious.  We were wiped after dinner so called it a night and passed out.

The view driving into the Wasatch Mountain Range

The view driving into the Wasatch Mountain Range

My Über comfy bed with just a comfy blanket

My Über comfy bed with just a comfy blanket

 

We loved the fireplace!

We loved the fireplace!

Delicious dinner!

Delicious dinner!

So happy to spend some time together!!

So happy to spend some time together!!

Saturday morning we woke up to a blanket of white stuff covering the buildings, trees and walkways.  It was snowing!!  I was instantly in a great mood seeing all the snow already on the ground and more falling from the sky.  We decided to try the hotel restaurant for breakfast and it was an excellent choice!  I had the most delicious French Toast Souffle served in a mini cast iron pot with a side of warm Nutella.  I’m drooling now just thinking about it.  After breakfast we caught the hotel shuttle to Main Street for some shopping.  The shuttle driver was kind enough to drop us off at the top of the street (its on an incline) and sent us off with bottled water and chapstick.  We did some good shopping, picking up several cute items, but keeping within a budget.  After shopping it was time for a rest while watching some college football.

The view from our room Saturday morning

The view from our room Saturday morning

The hotel restaurant - we like the rustic chic theme they had going

The hotel restaurant – we like the rustic chic theme they had going

The gloriously delicious and sinful French Toast Souffle (it was made with pieces of croissant and banana y'all…seriously, I can't say enough great stuff about this thing)

The gloriously delicious and sinful French Toast Souffle (it was made with pieces of croissant and banana y’all…seriously, I can’t say enough great stuff about this thing)

Looking up Main Street

Looking up Main Street

Em made a friend

Em made a friend

Looking up to some of the ski runs from Main Street

Looking up to some of the ski runs from Main Street

Late Saturday afternoon, Em’s friend Hannah, and her husband picked us up from the Waldorf and took us on a driving tour of Park City.  They showed us some of the big fancy resorts, pointed out a variety of interest sites and drove us to Sundance.  It is a resort established and owned by Robert Redford (known as Bob to his friends, we learned that night).  It was very different from Park City as it was more rustic and tucked into the mountain range.  We had dinner and drinks at the Owl Bar – think log cabin with a roaring fire.  It was cool and cozy with pretty tasty food.  After dinner we trudged through the snow up to the Screening Room.  During the fall and early winter they show some of Bob’s movies on Friday or Saturday nights for free.  That week it was The Company You Keep.  I hadn’t seen the movie before and it was really good.  However, I was a bit bummed that we were one week too early for A River Runs Through It.  Thankfully Hannah’s husband drove us back to Park City safely through some pretty heavy snow.

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Sundance General Store

Sundance General Store

My attempt at a nighttime photo with my crummy camera

My attempt at a nighttime photo with my crummy camera

The moon peeking through the clouds was so beautiful

The moon peeking through the clouds was so beautiful

Sunday morning Em and I rolled out of bed and ate breakfast at the Waldorf again.  I decided on trying something different and it wasn’t such an excellent choice.  It just couldn’t live up to the soufflé.  After breakfast it was time to meet up with Hannah for our spa appointment.  That sounds fancier than it was.  We just got pedicures, however they were pretty luxurious.  Unfortunately my pedicurist (is that a word?) got a little over zealous filing my nail down and ended up filing away a good chunk of my toe.  That afternoon we spent some girl time with the 3 of us shopping at the outlet mall.  We never had lunch so around 4 in the afternoon we ate a late lunch/early dinner before dropping Hannah off at home and driving back to the hotel.  The early evening hours were spent lying on our beds, tucked under the blankets and watching football.  Later in the evening we were hungry for a snack so made our way to the fire pit by the pool to make s’mores.  After dropping a marshmallow into the flames and catching another on fire, I finally made a successful s’more.  Em isn’t keen on marshmallows so we went into the restaurant to seek out a sweet snack for her.  A hot chocolate (the best I’ve ever had, mind you), cheesecake and basket of bugnes later we were on quite the sugar high.  We had plenty sweet dreams that night!!

S'mores by a fire in the freezing cold? Excellent!

S’mores by a fire in the freezing cold? Excellent!

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The hot chocolate - Em's hand is there to give some perspective on how huge this mug/bowl was

The hot chocolate – Em’s hand is there to give some perspective on how huge this mug/bowl was

Hooray for sweets!!

Hooray for sweets!!

Yummmm

Yummmm

Monday arrived and it was time to head back home.  We ate one last breakfast at the hotel and this time I made the right decision.  Yep, I got the soufflé.  I know, I’ve mentioned it like ten times in this post, but seriously, I’m obsessed.  I’m planning to recreate it at home.  Anyhow, we packed up our goodies, checked out and drove back to the airport.  We shared a flight back to Texas where Em continued on her way home.  It was such a fabulous weekend away.  I had a great time reconnecting with a wonderful friend.  We’ve already started planning our 2014 Friend-cation!

WWA: What We Ate (Paris & Brussels)

As we travelled through Paris and Brussels we enjoyed some amazing food and drink.  I snapped photos of some of the most memorable foods and thought I’d share with y’all!  Enjoy!

Yes, we got Starbucks in Paris...and paid dearly.  I was amused by the spelling of C's name

Yes, we got Starbucks in Paris…and paid dearly. I was amused by the spelling of C’s name

Cassoulet - duck, sausage, bacon, beans and parmesan cheese - what's not to love?

Cassoulet – duck, sausage, bacon, beans and parmesan cheese – what’s not to love?

Excited for a crepe outside the Eiffel Tower (sadly it sucked, but Paris redeemed itself with a fantastic, and cheaper, crepe the next night)

Excited for a crepe outside the Eiffel Tower (sadly it sucked, but Paris redeemed itself with a fantastic, and cheaper, crepe the next night)

Amazing primavera pasta in Paris

Amazing primavera pasta in Paris

Belgian beer

Belgian beer

Belgian waffle with warm chocolate sauce = heaven on a plate

Belgian waffle with warm chocolate sauce = heaven on a plate

Kriek is cherry beer - pretty darn tasty!

Kriek is cherry beer – pretty darn tasty!

French fries in a cone in Brugge.  These were the best frites (fries) I have ever eaten, no lie!

French fries in a cone in Brugge. These were the best frites (fries) I have ever eaten, no lie!

Macarons in Brussels - not the best I've had sadly

Macarons in Brussels – not the best I’ve had sadly

One of our tasty treats for home - Speculoos cookies

One of our tasty treats for home – Speculoos cookies

Another takeaway treat from Belgium - Speculoos spread

Another takeaway treat from Belgium – Speculoos spread

Raspberry gummies - a Brussels specialty according to our B&B host

Raspberry gummies – a Brussels specialty according to our B&B host

Mary's chocolates - the best chocolates I have ever eaten.  I would fly to Brussels just to buy more...no joke!

Mary’s chocolates – the best chocolates I have ever eaten. I would fly to Brussels just to buy more…no joke!

 

Not pictured? Tons of other good food like amazing croissants & pain au chocolat in Paris, delicious beef stew in Brussels, scrummy breakfast spreads at our B&B, the Liege waffle from Brugge…ugh, I’m getting hungry!  Time to raid to chocolate box :-)

Random musings

The theme of this week and next is work, work, work.  Now that I’ve started working, I just can’t get enough.  No, not really.  But it is really nice to be making money again!  I’m getting settled, figuring everything out and getting good feedback from my coworkers and physicians.  I work the next three days in a row, get two days off, then work another four in a row before two more days off.  It’s going to be tiring (all 12-hour shifts), but I’m looking forward to the days off because we have some exciting stuff coming up!

We were planning to head to Wimbledon today to catch some tennis.  C tried to score tickets online but they sold out in less than a minute.  We then decided to wake up before dawn and head down to London early to join “The Queue” for 2 of the thousands of day-of tickets and passes available.  When the alarm went off at 3:00am we smartly decided to check the weather one last time.  Well, there was a 100% chance of rain and most likely rain all day.  We knew we had no chance of getting Centre Court (the only one with a roof) passes since we didn’t camp overnight and decided we weren’t really that excited about being soaked all day and not actually seeing any tennis, so back to sleep it was!  It was a good decision – most of the games were postponed and not much tennis was played on the outside courts.  However, since I’m such a great wife, I offered to push our beach trip back by a week to give us a 2nd try at Wimbledon glory.  So, we’re going to head out Tuesday and hope for better weather.  The beach will still be there a week later, The Championships won’t.

On a good note, I got a new “driver’s license” today!  It allows me to drive on base and in the UK as well as purchase fuel on base.  This is key because gas on the economy is over $7 per gallon.  From what I hear, gas on base is pretty close to US prices – less than $4 per gallon.  I had to sit through a driver’s ed class on Wednesday morning then take a test to prove I knew the rules of the UK roads.  As much as I was dreading the class, I actually learned quite a bit.  It’s a little scary to think that I’d been driving around for almost 6 weeks without knowing some stuff!  In addition to the driver’s license I picked up a ration card allowing me to purchase alcohol, cigarettes and coffee on base.  The alcohol and cigarettes I knew about, but they ration coffee??  Kinda strange to me, but whatever.

In other great and exciting news we planned another trip!  We’re heading to Paris and Brussels (and possibly Bruges) in August!  And I have another good run of days off in August so we might plan a trip within the UK – we’re looking at Bath/Bristol or Manchester/Liverpool.  Who knows…the more I research trip ideas, the more places I want to visit.

And to close on a totally random thought: Sticky Toffee Pudding.  This stuff is amazing!! It may sound bizarre, but trust me, it’s great.  It’s a mildly spiced, moist gingerbread cake topped with vanilla bean ice cream sitting in a pool of creme anglaise and toffee sauce.  I’ve only ever eaten it at one restaurant a couple times but I think I need to start trying it everywhere.  It just might become one of my favorite sweet indulgences!

Enjoy your weekend!  I’ll be working away ♥

Cooking in the UK

As everyone knows, I absolutely love to cook! Now that we’ve been in our house for 1.5 weeks, I’ve had some time to familiarize myself with our kitchen. In other words, I’ve started learning the difficulties of transitioning from US to UK cooking. Not only are measurements in completely different formats (grams, mLs, or kgs instead of cups or Celsius vs Fahrenheit) but the ingredients aren’t the same either. Plus I came from using a gas stove & range to a flat glass-topped electric stove (aka “hob”) and tiny oven. To make things even more difficult my oven in Texas had digital temperature select to the closest 5 degrees, but the oven here? It has 50, 100, 150, 200 and “max” settings without any markings in between. Oh, and there’s all these choices on the function dial of the oven but instead of words its just symbols which don’t really give a good idea of what each does. I have had to pull out the manual no less than 5 times to figure out what is what. Oi vey!

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Pretty self-explanatory, no?

As I mentioned above, ingredients aren’t named the same or are completely different than in the states.  For example, chocolate chips: We’ve only found them in 100 g packets (in the US a normal bag of Nestle morsels are over 300 g) and they can be a little difficult to find.  Cocoa powder? Look for it in the hot cocoa/coffee/tea aisle, not with the baking items.  Sugar is different too.  Their granulated sugar has much larger granules than the states.  Rather, they bake with caster sugar – a very fine grain (which I actually prefer).  We looked and looked for black beans the other night at our local superstore but with no luck.  We did find them at another grocery – one can for £1.09 (over $1.50)!  Luckily the next aisle over had a large bag of dried beans for slightly less, so we purchased those.  Hey, less sodium that way too, so I suppose its better for us!  I haven’t yet been able to find kosher salt despite looking in 3 different stores.  But on the plus side they have delicious produce (even avocados, pineapples and hot peppers!), crumpets and clotted cream readily available almost everywhere and we found a fantastic farmer’s market last weekend.  And our neighbor across the street sells free range eggs from their chickens for a great price.  Convenient and tasty, and I like the idea that we are helping out a neighbor.

The teeny bag of chocolate chips sold in groceries

The teeny bag of chocolate chips sold in groceries

Farmer's market haul

Farmer’s market haul

Eggs from our neighbor's chickens (laid that morning!)

Eggs from our neighbor’s chickens (laid that morning!)

The brits are on to something with crumpets - you seriously need to try some!

The Brits are on to something with crumpets – you seriously need to try some!

I have had a few cooking flops thanks to the differences, like my chocolate chip cookies that spread way too much thanks to too much butter.  I made an investment in a food scale which I think will help a ton!  I’m slowly adjusting to the differences and hopefully these challenges will make me a better cook moving forward.  I even made some delicious buttermilk biscuits from scratch last night using leftover buttermilk from a chicken recipe plus an entire pan of chewy, rich brownies – bad idea when there’s only two of us at home and I’m not working yet!  Here’s hoping for lots more exploration and success in my kitchen :-)

 Cheers!