February 24, 2009

Trip to Hanoi, Vietnam

I can't believe I forgot to post these photos earlier...they've been up on my Facebook for a while, though.

My boyfriend and I went to Hanoi for 4 nights over the Lunar New Year holiday in January. Unfortunately, what we didn't realize until after we booked the trip was that Vietnam also celebrates this holiday (called Tet over there) and that many stores would be shut...it was also bloody freezing, like 10-15 Celcius everyday, windy and grey.

I think we were a bit unprepared for the crazy traffic and incessant honking, too. Ah, well. We ate a lot of good food and walked around a lot. Hanoi is an amazing and beautiful city in terms of history, architecture, vibrancy and food. Next winter, it's definitely a bit of R-and-R at a nice sunny beach for us! Still, I'd like to go back to Vietnam sometime, visit Halong Bay and see the country when it's not half-shut-down for the annual vacances.

I took quite a lot of photos, and we did eat at a lot of places, but here are a few snapshots that I think turned out well. We had a drink at the bar in the Metropole (I had the Somerset Maugham cocktail, Jon had the Charlie Chaplin cocktail, but not the Graham Greene cocktail) and we also visited the famous Fanny's glacerie for some exotic ice cream (green tea, coconut, young rice..). We didn't visit the Beaulieu restaurant in the Metropole (too expensive) or the Bobby Chinn restaurant (heard mixed reviews).

Our first night in Hanoi. We arrived after dark, dishevelled and hungry. We had dinner at a streetside pho stand run by a taciturn middle-aged woman. Neither of us spoke Vietnamese, so we resorted to gestures and pointing. Cost of dinner? 20,000 dong for a fresh, steaming bowl of pho. (The going exchange rate was 17,000 dong to US$1 when we went.)

Jon's a real coffee addict, so in the morning, we went to try the real Vietnamese coffee. A bit gritty with coffee grounds, a bit too sweet with condensed milk - but boy, was it smooth and rich.

We ate a lot at streetside stands, squatting on tiny plastic stools that looked more for stepping on than sitting on. This lunch was from a restaurant in an alleyway near the big statue of Vladimir Lenin, and near the Hanoi Hilton.

Bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls/crepes with pork, mushroom, spring onions) restaurant. It's like a variation of that staple Cantonese dim sum item, "cheung fun".

Close up of the Bánh cuốn. The one in the foreground had a whole steamed egg inside, silky and rich. It went well with the fish sauce, chili, lime and herbs. Yum.

We did try the infamous civet cat/weasel coffee. It was pretty strong and smooth, but cost about 40,000 dong (US$2.35) for a tiny cup of espresso, which is quite ridiculously expensive by Vietnamese standards (compared to 20,000 dong for a bowl of beef pho) - but in the US I heard it goes for US$30-60 a cup, a huge markup. To be honest, it tasted like a really smooth and rich espresso. Not poopy at all.

February 22, 2009

Using up leftovers for a weekday dinner

2/19/2009 dinner.
Mission: use up left over wine, basil, grana padano cheese, squash, onion and garlic from 2/14 dinner.

I already had some arborio rice in my kitchen cupboard, so the only new item that I bought were the mussels from the supermarket below my apartment.

Nigella's risotto recipe from "How to Eat" inspired me, but I only used the liquid-rice ratios from it. I don't like to stick rigidly to recipe instructions, especially for non-baked dishes -- a bit of creativity makes cooking more exciting.

Round 1: Roasted butternut squash with honey and balsamic glaze

Round 2: Vegetable risotto, mushrooms, sugar snap peas

Round 3: New Zealand mussels with white wine, red onion, garlic, and basil.

February 16, 2009

Bananas Foster

For Valentine's Day, my boyfriend cooked a 4-course dinner. :) We stayed at home this year, partly because we didn't want to deal with the crowds of people outside, and also because dinner at restaurants is always very expensive on Valentine's (and, in my opinion, a bit overpriced).

The menu:

  • Californian caponata (gorgonzola cheese eggplant dip)
  • Curried butternut squash soup
  • Mushroom eggplant lasagne
  • Bananas Foster
The other items didn't turn up too well on film, despite being yummy, so only I only uploaded the dessert photos. The bananas Foster were so simple, yet gorgeously rich and divine. Brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, banana liqueur, ripe bananas, paired with good vanilla ice cream. Delicious and simple. :)

Bananas Fosters recipe from Brennan's in New Orleans.