Monday, 16 January 2017

A Taste of Thailand - Thaikhun Cooking Class

There's still 10 months to go until our honeymoon adventures, yet Thailand is taking over my life. My evenings are spent scrolling from travel blog to travel blog, browsing everything from luxury beach resorts to backpacking tales from this tropical paradise. When I'm not banging on about elephants, it's the food I'm obsessing over!

Stories of glorious street food markets buzzing with vibrant colours, and all sorts of scents and flavours have got me excited. Mango sticky rice, fresh fruit, soups, noodles, pad thai, peanuts, peanuts everywhere! And all for just a couple of quid - no wonder they call it the Land of Smiles!

Cooking classes are a recurring theme when looking for things to do in Thailand. You'll find them everywhere from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and even the party islands of the South. Some include trips to the local market while others will take you to a private herb garden to pick ingredients. It doesn't get any fresher than that! I'm pretty sure we'll check out a class at some point in our two week trip.

Researching all these cook schools brings me back to my first experience of Thai cooking. Back in October I went along to Aberdeen's very own Thaikhun with Lynne. She'd bagged some vouchers from itison and we made a day of it, starting with brunch at Rye & Soda, a spot of shopping and a cocktail (or two) before we headed for the Sunday evening lesson. We were welcomed with warm smiles and the offer of drinks. A refreshing, watermelon flavoured Full Moon cocktail was the perfect start. 

We were seated in a sectioned off area at the entrance to the Union Square restaurant, around 8 of us in total, each with our own individual gas cooker in front of us. Separated into two smaller groups, ours kicked off with a mini geography lesson. A lovely lady explained the various areas of Thailand, and the differences in ingredients, spices and cooking styles between them.

Up next was a short but sweet cocktail lesson...

A brief introduction to the classic mojito led us on to crafting our very own coconut variations. We muddled together fresh limes and mint, adding white rum, Malibu, coconut syrup, and topping it up with crushed ice. A slice of lime, a sprig of mint and a sprinkle of coconut flakes later and our masterpieces were ready. Imagine relaxing on the white sandy beaches of the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, exotic cocktail in hand... Perfect.

All the while our chef was bustling around, preparing ingredients ready for us to get stuck into the main event. The class included two classic Thai dishes - Tom Yum Soup and Phad Thai. Some of the ingredients I'd never even heard of, nevermind seen before (galangal, anyone?) but luckily we got a brief introduction to each one, with tasters of various spices and herbs being passed around the group - some seriously challenging our spice tolerance! 

The end result of our first dish was spot on! A hot and sour soup, most commonly served with shrimp, Tom Yum is full of flavour. Ours was made with chicken, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaf, fish sauce and evaporated milk, sweetened with sugar and spiced with chillies. Thai food is so fragrant, and you could say this soup is an acquired taste. I made it at home a few days later and Gordon was not impressed with the smell but quickly changed his mind after tasting!

The phad thai was my personal favourite and I love that you can add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. I guess this is the beauty of street food when it's made fresh right before your eyes! I piled the peanuts on while only sprinkling a small amount of chilli flakes.

My only negative note from the experience was the waiting times between cocktail making, soup and phad thai. With only the chef himself and one other person to help, the clear up process in between took a bit longer than we expected. The dishes themselves were surprisingly quick and easy to make, and the evening was fun and light hearted in keeping with that Land of Smiles ideology!

We left the class two and a half hours later, with happy bellies, goodie bags and a new found love of Thai. The goodie bags included vouchers, recipes cards and even the fresh herbs and spices we'd need to rustle up some tom yum soup at home. While I can't yet compare or comment on how authentic the experience was, I can say that if it's a taste of what's to come in Thailand, I can't bloody wait!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Hello 2017

Happy New Year!

While many of you will be glad to see the back of 2016, its a bit of a mixed bag for me. In some ways I'd agree it was a year of misery with all the well discussed celebrity deaths, foreboding political change and issues much closer to home. But for us it will always be the year we got married, and I'll always look back on 2016 with fondness.

We've made so many great memories over the last twelve months between the hen parties, the wedding and two minimoons. I smashed a couple of goals along the way - passing my driving test first time, and surviving Tough Mudder! I might not have mastered those pull ups or found any abs this Christmas, but my attitude to health, fitness and my body has changed throughout the year. I'm no longer fixated on aesthetics and I refuse to waste another year of my life dieting.

So, what's in store for 2017?

This year we hope to travel more, and plan to explore parts of Scotland we've never seen, as well as spend more time in Spain. We're saving for an actual honeymoon which, so far, will be in Thailand towards the end of the year - please send recommendations and links to blog posts! As always, I have a few goals to aim for over the coming year.

Walk more (10,000 steps a day).
Try Alphabet dating with my husband.
Read the stack of books I bought last year.
Bag at least two more Munros.
Run my first half marathon.
Discover Thailand.
Learn Spanish - enough to order in a restaurant at least!

Whatever happens in the next 365 days, I hope yours are filled with health, hope and happiness.
Cheers to 2017!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

24 Hours to Eat Your Way Round Aberdeen

My love for Aberdeen's foodie scene was sparked by this little old blog. After trying somewhere new to eat way back in 2013 I was inspired to share the experience and encourage folk to get out of the usual chain restaurants and see what gems our grey city streets are sheltering. My first restaurant "review" was posted and they've been coming thick and fast ever since, and not just from the Granite City. I've shared dinner stories from across the globe over the years - from burgers in New York to an unforgettable New Year's Day dinner in the Eiffel Tower!

In this post, I'm going to tell you about a weekend in December, where we literally ate our way around town. I hope it shows you just how much there is for your taste buds to discover in Aberdeen!

It started with some Christmas shopping around the west end. I picked up some photo frames from Nova before we decided to grab lunch at Melt. Gordon's first taste of grilled cheese heaven was the Melt Classic. An excellent place to start! I opted for the deliciously festive Christmas special of sausage meat, cheese (obvs) and pear chutney.

A few hours whizzing round town and our Christmas shopping was complete. We freshened up back at our hotel room - we stayed in the stylish Park Inn by Radisson which is perfectly located on Justice Mill Lane - and then ducked off to meet some friends at the winter village. Gordon spun his way around the ice rink, showing off while the rest of us clung on to the sides for dear life!

All that skating must of worked up an appetite. Just a hop, skip and a jump away was our foodie destination of the night - the recently opened, flamboyantly fabulous Filthy Gorgeous. I was gutted to miss their blogger brunch so when we planned our double date, I jumped at the chance and tempted our pals along with the promise of burgers and beers!

The menu at Filthy Gorgeous is a little... different, shall we say. With cheerios, frazzles and bourbon biscuits as just some of the quirky toppings, you can't help but let curiosity get the better of you. I was sucked in by the chicken katsu curry otherwise known as Wasabi Wan Kenobi - a must for any Star Wars or Wagamama fan! I can confirm it was both filthy and gorgeous.

I tried to convince Gordon to go for the Beer Belly, but our fun and friendly waitress informed us they didn't actually have any sparklers to top it with! Boring... In that case you can have what you want Gordon. Ha. Instead he opted for the Billionaires Bacon with its beer cheese sauce, pretzels, maple syrup and a shot of bacon laced Jack. Literally just a nip of Jack Daniels with what I can only describe as bacon floaters - adds nothing to the dish!

Our companions tucked into a Dirty South buttermilk chicken burger with chipotle mayo and honey nut cheerios, and the aptly named Cheat Day. A stack of two beef burgers, fried chicken, pretzels and bacon shrapnel - surprisingly wolfed down faster than the rest!

They love their bacon at FG and it doesn't stop at the burgers. We shared two lots of fries along with our bangin' burgers - one with baconnaise and bacon shrapnel, and my personal favourite the sweet potato fries topped with gooey toasted marshmallows and yet more bacon shrapnel. Yes, marshmallows. Trust me, it works!

For a casual, dirty bite to eat you'll find Filthy Gorgeous at Netherkirkgate. Check out the batched cocktails while you're at it - I can recommend the Courtesan but the Trashy Margarita will be my tipple next time. Along with the bacon glazed donuts for dessert!

Up next on our mini bar tour of Aberdeen was Six Degrees North. As a non beer drinker, I've avoided the well known watering hole but not wanting to be a total party pooper, I agreed to go along. Turns out they cater for all! With a huge selection of beers on tap, there is something for everyone. I actually started a conversation with the bartender with the words "So, I don't like beer..." - he asked how I feel about sugar candy and peach, and a few samples later I was chuffed to bits with my peachy keen Lindemans Pecheresse!

Our final destination was one of the Granite City's best cocktail bars. At Orchid we found ourselves sipping on Fierce beers, Long Island iced teas, refreshingly sweet strawberry daiquiris and the infamous staple Pink Orchid cocktail. The sound of Blair McLeod and his acoustic guitar was literally music to my ears, and I settled down comfortably, cocktail in hand, for the rest of the night.

Breakfast was my top priority the following morning. It's something that many Aberdeen restaurants are actually lacking, with only Cup or Rye & Soda coming up trumps with a decent fry up and a reasonable Sunday morning opening time! The Rye traditional breakfast was a hit with Gordon and I demolished the tasty grain porridge with my favourite toppings - banana and peanut butter! 

A browse round the Old Togs New Tricks vintage market at Underdog brought us to Brewdog's buzzing Castlegate bar. Tucking ourselves away in a quiet corner we enjoyed the patriot and jackpot burgers, while my sister tucked into a Yoda melt - veggie haggis for the win! A side of crack fries - black pepper coating and a cheesy dip - just about finished us off... but not quite.

We waddled over to Mad Penguin. Another new addition to Netherkirkgate, the gelateria and coffee house offers authentic gelato made freshly with local ingredients. I was disappointed to find a small selection of flavours - a fraction of the huge array I've seen across social media! The chocolate hazelnut was tasty but not my first choice, and a bit sickly, sweet by the end. Not a great first visit but I'm all for giving Mad Penguin another go.

Where would you go if you had 24 hours to eat your way around Aberdeen?!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Dinner at Barburrito, Aberdeen

Buenos Dias amigos! I picked up a few Spanish words and phrases on our recent trip - I'm pretty sure we all knew hola already? - but I was pleased to spot some of them on the brightly coloured walls of Aberdeen's latest Mexican eatery, Barburrito. I missed the launch while we were sunning it up in the Costa Blanca, but they kindly sent me a wee voucher to check it out on my return!

I love the interiors and the build your own burrito concept, I just don't think it's very clear to a first time customer. It took us a minute or two of awkwardly standing at the entrance ("do we take a seat, do we wait to be seated, do we just head to the counter?") before a friendly but busy burrito barista clocked us. She said she'd be with us in a tick and invited us to look at the fillings on offer while we waited. Gordon sums it up perfectly - it's basically a Mexican Subway.

Choose your burrito - small, regular, loaded, naked, superfood - or tacos or nachos.
Rice, beans, onions and peppers?
Pick your filling - chicken, pork, spicy beef, grilled steak or veggie.
Then your salsa - however you like it - mild, medium, spicy?
And finally the toppings - cheese, slaw, sour cream, guac?

Holy guacamole. I packed a bit of everything into mine - regular wrap with spicy beans, rice, peppers, grilled chicken, chipotle salsa and cheese. I have to admit it was delicious, and the foil kept it all neat inside... until the last few bites anyway! We also enjoyed a bag of tortilla chips with dip. I like spicy but he's not so keen so the manager offered us a salsa pot each - fresh and chunky pico de gallo and the more flavoursome chipotle.

Gordon however couldn't wait for dessert and started dipping his chips in the moreish chocolate sauce that came with our churros! I recently tried churros at the Christmas village. If you tried them too, do not let them put you off! Barburritos version are soft and fluffy on the inside, and perfectly coated with sugary cinnamon. I only wish the portion were bigger!

I really enjoyed my dinner at Barburrito. It's not first date material but for that Christmas shopping pitstop it's ideal. Gordon moaned he was still hungry afterwards but for me it was just enough. He'll have to go large next time - un burrito grande por favor!

Pop in for lunch if you're in Union Square over the holidays. If you're at the other side of town I recommend checking out Muchacho on Rose Street for a local taste of Mexico! Now I just need to work on my Spanish...
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