Monday, December 31, 2018

Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread

This gingerbread recipe via Smitten Kitchen is dense, dark, and delicious. I've made it years ago and keep thinking of it fondly (I believe I ate most of that batch myself). This year for a Christmas party I made it again, and guests who were initially hesitant about ginger in their baked goods raved about it.

A few changes:

  • I reduced the sugar by 20%, so 88g brown sugar and 80g white sugar. 
  • I used blackstrap molasses
  • Obviously, this resulted in minor sticking in the pan. Perhaps next time I will butter and sugar the pan, to prevent sticking.

For future batches, I would consider:

  • reducing the sugar even more, even though the sweetness was fine.
  • Perhaps reducing the oil and baking soda as per the comments on SK.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Cake Paper Party’s Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Brave Tart's Cream Cheese Frosting

Miss R's 9th birthday cake

Yesterday, for Miss R's birthday, I made Cake Paper Party's buttermilk chocolate cake with Brave Tart's cream cheese frosting. She asked for a Tsum Tsum theme, so I bought iced sugar cookies from lan sugar cookie 嵐的甜甜手作 (which were beautiful and arrived well-packaged) and used those to decorate the cake.

Keeping in mind the advice on reducing sugar in cake recipes from King Arthur Flour, I reduced the sugar by 20% which was perfect for our tastebuds. The cake still had a fine crumb and moist texture, and paired nicely with Brave Tart's frosting, which isn't as sweet as powdered sugar based recipes.

Fine crumb, moist texture, lovely chocolate flavor.

here are the weights of the ingredients I used:
57 grams Dutch processed cocoa powder
113 grams bittersweet chocolate, broken (about 60% cocoa)
180 milliliters hot water
315 grams granulated sugar
1 cup (240 milliliters) buttermilk, cold
1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) vanilla extract
227 grams unsalted butter softened-1 cup
4 large eggs
284 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) salt
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) baking soda
¾ teaspoon (3 milliliters) baking powder

Baking time took me over 40 minutes rather than the 25-30 minutes suggested. Perhaps my oven was off; and I think one layer was slightly underbaked as it fell apart after I turned it out from the pan to cool. For future reference, I'd bake this a day in advance and refrigerate it before leveling the cake and icing it; I never got the icing down to 60º F even after chilling it for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

This combo is on the repeat list!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Smitten Kitten's Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl

Why don't I have a photo of this deliciousness? I don't know, but I loved the miso sauce. Easy to prepare, and an excellent contrast to the vegetables.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

BraveTart's Pumpkin Muffins

I first became aware of Stella Park, aka Bravetart, via Kenji Lopez-Alt on Serious Eats, and after trying her Mini Egg Chocolate Cookies and other recipes, I've been turning to her takes on baked goods first. Yes, it's April not Trader-Joe's-Pumpkin-season, but I had a can of pumpkin that I've been meaning to use up and a craving, so I used her Spiced "Pumpkin" Loaves recipe as a starting point. I didn't have any walnut oil, so I used all butter. As usual, I reduced the sugar by about 10%. I wasn't sure if the measurement for nuts was correct, so I used 12 ounces instead of 16 ounces. There's plenty of walnuts, as shown, but if you really like nuts, the recipe can certainly support the full 16 ounces. The recipe yielded 24 muffins. The recipe as I made it is written in metric, because currently the buttons on my scale are a bit sticky and not easily switching between metric and Imperial.

Line muffin tins with paper liners, and spray with oil.

149 g unsalted butter
130 g sugar
130 g brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
397 g canned pumpkin
71 g cream
170 g all purpose flour
85 g whole wheat flour
340-454 g walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°

Combine the butter, oil, sugars, baking powder, soda, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl. Beat them all together for about eight minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape the sides down occasionally.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until each is thoroughly incorporated. Turn the mixing speed to low and add in the flours all at once, followed by the squash puree and then the milk or cream. Quickly add in the nuts and shut off the mixer as soon as everything appears mixed together.

Portion into lightly greased muffin pans and bake for about 20 minutes.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Do: Kui Buri National Park (Thailand)

Prior to our second visit to Hua Hin, I looked for day trips that would be fun and interesting for a 4-year old, a 7-year old, and adults. This rules out most historic and cultural sights, as the kids are too young to appreciate them. I'm always trying to find ways to incorporate nature and activity, so a day trip to Kui Buri National Park seemed like the best option.

Wildlife viewing area at Kui Buri National Park
Established in 1999, Kui Buri National Park is in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, and its primary draw are the herds of gaur (aka the Indian bison) and elephants. There are also several species of birds and apparently event a resident tiger (a sighting of which is understandably extremely rare). What you are almost certainly guaranteed to see are elephants in their natural setting, which is a delight, instead of caged up or chained up for human performance. 

Elephants in the wild!
Don't be intimidated by the logistics of visiting - the formal tours sold in Hua Hin town go only on Fridays, and a private tour was quite pricey. We ended up asking our cab driver one afternoon if he'd be willing to drive us, which he did for 2,000 baht round trip. At the park, the entrance fee was 200/100 adults/children and the hire of a truck/Jeep and guide was an additional 850 baht. In total, this was a third of the cost of an organized tour. We left our hotel in Hua Hin at 1:30p, and returned by 6p, so the timing was better for us as well. We enjoyed seeing the elephants and birds (bring binoculars), even if we did not spot the more exotic animals that also reside in the park (deer, bears, etc.).

The 'safari' trucks available for hire for 850 baht, which includes a tour guide.
Related posts:

Saturday, March 3, 2018

BraveTart’s Glossy Fudge Brownies Quick Take

Just pulled brownies made following Stella Park's (aka BraveTart on Serious Eats) recipe. She warned of this on her video, and so I reduced the time by 5 minutes, but an initial assessment looks like the edges are a bit over cooked and dry. But it smells lovely, and Miss Nomad Food happily licked the beater clean.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Stay: Hyatt Regency Hua Hin (Thailand)

We first visited Hua Hin five years ago when I was pregnant with Miss Nomad Foodie and we realized that we had airline miles expiring. Given the range of destinations we could fly to on miles, and that I'd feel comfortable bringing a 2-month newborn to, we quickly decided on Thailand. Granted, on that particular trip we spent most of our time at the resort, but I found Hua Hin to be much more relaxed than other areas of Thailand, meaning I didn't notice any touts.

From Bangkok, the drive to Hua Hin takes between three to four hours, depending on traffic. For our last two trips, we used Hua Hin Cab and found the service to be prompt, professional, and comfortable.

Stay: Hyatt Regency Hua Hin
Do: Hua Hin Vineyard Tour & Lunch
Do: Kui Buri National Park
future posts:
Do: Hua Hin Bike Tours
Dining in Hua Hin

We've since returned to Hua Hin and have spent the past two Christmas holidays at the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin. The hotel is located on the southern end of Hua Hin town, and has several pools set in a among truly lovely, lush gardens. And, despite the expansive gardens, we've never had an issue with mosquitoes.

Sea view beyond the gardens and pool at the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin
On our first visit, we stayed in their Club room. The bathroom was to the right of the entry, and featured a big soaking tub and separate shower. The tub was framed with two sliding panels, which could open up to the entire room, or closed for privacy. The kids loved the tub; I loved the retractable clothesline in the shower. I wish more hotels that have swimming pools would provide a clothesline, because where else am I going to hang swimsuits to dry without causing puddles? (I now bring this clothesline on my travels, and love it.) The room also came with an enclosed balcony, which featured a day bed that was made up with bed linens.

I had contacted the hotel ahead of time as Miss Nomad Foodie's birthday was during our stay, and the housekeeping staff came through with this super-cute decoration on the day bed. They also provided a chocolate cake, and our four year-old felt like a star.

Birthday recognition at the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin
On this most recent stay, we used one of Mr. Nomad Foodie's Globalist certificates to upgrade to a suite. The bedroom part of the suite was similar in layout and decor to the Club Room, but featured an additional outdoor covered patio.

Daybed made up with bed linens and desk area in the bedroom of a standard suite, overlooking the covered patio.
I find the beds to be a bit firm for my liking, so you can request to have an additional mattress topper added to the bed to increase the softness. Note that the iPod speaker system (on the night stand to the left of the bed) is a bit outdated in terms of the plugs, and so to use it, you have to bring your own 3.5mm auxiliary audio/speaker cable (Housekeeping did not have any to borrow, so on our first visit we weren't able to connect our phones to the speakers). However, there are plenty of plugs including USB ports on both sides of the bed.

The living area of the suite provided plenty of space to stretch out, and included a dry bar that spanned the length of the shorter wall facing the couch.

The bathroom had an enclosed toilet, separate shower and bathtub, and could either be opened to the room or closed off with a sliding panel.

This year, Miss Nomad Foodie requested a strawberry cake, and a strawberry cake she received.
Complimentary birthday cake

Our room came with a welcome fruit plate, which was refreshed throughout our stay, along with some locally dried fruit and crackers packaged in paper bags which were also made by local craftspeople. We also had a floral arrangement and two handwritten notes welcoming us to the resort.

Welcome fruit plate and snacks.
One of the reasons we like this hotel so much is that it's very family-friendly. The main attractions are the pools, which include a pool that winds like a river past a few wings of the hotel. It's not a lazy river, so there's no current pushing one along, but it does provide ample nooks for loungers with a bit more privacy.

This river-like pool flows into the lagoon pool, complete with an "island" that features the poolside restaurant. The lagoon pool then flows into a zero-entry beach pool perfect for the kiddos. The pool staff have bottles of water, towels, and some pool floats on hand to borrow.

Lagoon pool
There's also a tiny little wading pool and a 7-meter tall water slide that leads to the lagoon pool. While the signs say you have to be 1.2 meters in order to go on the slide, the staff allowed my daughter, at 1 meter, to go down the slide. Also, only one person is allowed on the slide at a time— unlike at the Grand Hyatt Bali, parents are not allowed to hold their children—so that is something else to keep in mind.

Club-level rooms and above access the Regency Club area of the hotel, which features it's own rectangular pool adjacent to the Regency Club lounge. There are signs posted in the area requesting quiet, so it's not suitable for children.

Another point to keep in mind is that the pools are not heated. While this was not an issue on our first visit in 2016, on our most recent visit, we experienced cooler and windy weather which meant the pool water was too cold. Even with shorties, the kids didn't want to play in the water.

That's not a worry, as there are two playgrounds. The newer one is adjacent to the baby wading pool, while the older one is next to the basketball court and tennis courts. I appreciated the variety of equipment for the kids to play with, and that a basketball could be borrowed from the fitness center for use on the courts.

Newer children's playground
Older children's playground next to the basketball court and tennis courts.
In addition, the kid's club, Camp Hyatt, features different activities each day. I was pleasantly surprised on our first visit to pick up my kids after their full day in the program to have my son ask me, "what are you doing here so early?" They were having so much fun they didn't want to leave! This is a rare situation since my kids have always been eager to go home from daycare. There is a charge for the kid's club, but a full-day program includes two craft activities and lunch. I appreciated the programming as the kids are not just inside watching movies and playing video games; they also spend time outside doing activities such as feeding the fish in garden pond.

Bridge/walkway designed to look like a boat over a pond filled with fish,
Of course, there's also the clean beach for beach combing and the expansive grounds for exploring and observing. The hotel also arranged seasonal events, such as caroling by local children at a school that is supported by the Hyatt community. At night, kid movies were screened in the dance studio, complete with beanbags and snacks, so that parents enjoying the evening canapés and drinks at the Regency Club just steps away have a chance at some kid-free time.

In addition, twice a week the hotel offers family movies on the great lawn adjacent to the beach, complete with popcorn. The outdoor screenings are a step up from the movies at the park we enjoy in the summer because the staff sets up lounge chairs. This was a super comfortable way for my kids to get their snuggles and cuddles with their parents while we watched favorites like Moana and Sing!.

Exploring the plant life in the gardens at the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin
The fitness center was small but well appointed, and the hotel will lend a yoga mat and light weights for use in the room. There were bikes which could be borrowed (which we didn't use) and fitness classes. I tried the yoga class and aqua aerobics, and to be honest, both classes were underwhelming,.

One Mile at a Time has an extensive review of the hotel from a stay during Christmas 2015. In general, that review matches my experience except that I think that the quality of the dining service has improved (the actual food items and dishes appear to be the same). The food we ordered - whether at the lounge, poolside dining at the You & Mee Noodle Shop and Poolside Bar, or through room service came quickly and correctly. There were menus for You & Mee were paired with each table next to the loungers, and you could also order via an app on your phone (which, to be honest, I couldn't download), although I never had a problem flagging a member of the pool staff, along with tags attached to each lounge chair outlining the hotel's policy on claiming loungers. Even during an obviously busy holiday season, I never had a problem finding an available lounge chair.

I think the General Manager rotated into his position prior to our first visit; he and other members of the management team were continually walking the grounds and greeting guests, during both the day and during the evening canapés at the Regency Lounge. I'm sure their active presence motivates staff to be their best!

In any case, I found the staff to be warm and friendly - one morning the buffet didn't feature my kid's favorite corn kernels. Not a problem, they quickly brought out a bowl of corn for her. I do wish that there were more cooked vegetable dishes, especially on the children's menu. For example, my kid's loved their penne with carbonara sauce, but just two broccoli florets is not enough veg for this mama.

Outdoor seating at Figs Restaurant (where the buffet breakfast is served) overlooking the grounds
On our first visit, we preferred to dine at the lounge in the morning—it's a more calm environment than at the main buffet breakfast—but on our most recent trip, we preferred the buffet breakfast with indoor seating because of the much cooler weather. While it isn't mentioned in the hotel literature, the Club does serve complimentary ice cream daily at 3pm.

Finally, my last two data points on services available just outside the hotel that were mentioned in the OMAAT review: I found the Thai massage just outside the hotel along the hotel's driveway to be mediocre and the service at Smile Laundry on point and as described.

In summary, this is one of my favorite resorts in my favorite vacation destination (Thailand, for it's hospitality, food culture, and value for money). It's well-run, comfortable, and makes relaxing with my kids easy. We've gone two winters in a row, and I'd love to make a tradition of it!