March 31, 2014

weekend baking ~ no-knead bread

I can't imagine ever going on a low-carb diet or giving up bread completely just because I love all kinds of bread. From sweet to savory, there's something about freshly-baked bread, the aroma, the texture and taste of it that makes it a universal food transcending many centuries and cultures. Artisanal bread with a chewy interior and crispy crust has always been one of my favorites. It's great that they're now available at most grocery bakeries. I'm also happy that they can be made at home with a little effort and time. It just needs some planning ahead as the dough has to rest for 18-20 hours or overnight. 

No-knead bread was a breakthrough for many home bakers like me and with its introduction, we gained the opportunity to make artisanal bread anytime. Supermarket breads are good but thay can be pricey for the budget-conscious shopper. I've read that baking bread at home is much more economical. Aside from that, there's nothing more rewarding and satisfying than fresh warm bread. I'm glad I was introduced to the world of bread making years ago. After more than 10 years since I baked my first batch of rolls, I still enjoy baking bread and eating it too :-)

I finally disposed my sourdough starter and although I regret it at times, it was getting to be a chore to keep feeding it. Too bad but even with the sourdough starter, making artisanal bread at home is still possible by mixing an overnight starter or biga. I particularly like no-knead bread's uncomplicated procedure, just stir together flour, water and a little yeast then let it rest overnight at room temperature. The long resting period allows the gluten to slowly develop creating the chewy interior with an open crumb as shown above. A slice of this bread (I prefer it slightly toasted with butter) and a cup of soup is the perfect combination for lunch or dinner :-)

For the recipe and procedure, here's the link to the video. I find it helpful to watch the video with more info about the mixing and baking techniques.

March 26, 2014

back to St. Augustine

Our final stop was at Florida's oldest city, St. Augustine. This city has a European flair with its ornately decorated architecture and old historical points of interest. It has been more than 10 years since we first came here and it was good to be back.

Flagler College, shown above, was formerly Ponce de Leon Hotel, a luxury hotel conceptualized by Henry Flagler and built in the late 1800's. The history of the hotel is shown on the marker by the entrance of the college.

Not to be missed is Castillo de San Marcos, an old Spanish fortress right in the heart of the city. Shown above are just a few of the highlights at the fort (1) Castillo de San Marcos walls (2) drawbridge entrance (3) tour guides in period costumes (4) cannon display.

Castillo de San Marcos gate

cannon display

Pedro Menendez de Aviles monument, above

Downtown St. Augustine with its Spanish architecture, old buildings and Bridge of Lions.

a tourist attraction, Fountain of Youth Park

We had tasty picadillo and beef empanadas for lunch at the Spanish Bakery (shown above and below). Located along busy St. George Street, it may be considered off the beaten path because of its quiet and obscure garden seating right in front of the bakery.

our dinner at Mango Mango Caribbean Grill along A1A Beach Blvd.

The map above shows the route we took. It was a fun discovery drive and tour around Florida.

March 18, 2014

our visit to the Kennedy Space Center

As we continue our leisurely drive around the Sunshine State, one particular attraction we planned to see has long been in my husband's wish list. With his keen interest in anything space-related, this was a must-see for us. A highly-recommended tourist attraction on this part of the state, the educational exhibits and well-organized tour around the Kennedy Space Center  were outstanding, but for us, the most impressive was the space shuttle Atlantis presentation and exhibit. It started with a short movie detailing the challenges in designing the space shuttle then ending with a dramatic unveiling of Atlantis. I have to say that it was an out of this world experience seeing it for the first time up close. Another unforgettable interactive experience that shouldn't be missed was the space shuttle flight simulation. Although I was a bit apprehensive to try it at first, it turned out to be quite enjoyable :-) I have more appreciation for space travel and exploration history after our visit. The many achievements of the US in this field is phenomenal and something Americans should be proud of.

As shown in the photo collage above (1) the main entrance with the rocket garden (2) a full scale replica of the powerful booster rockets and fuel tank greets the visitor by the entrance (3) in its brand new building, the exhibit opened only last year, the dramatic display of Atlantis (4) the massive VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) as seen from the KSC bus tour (5) one of the many informative indoor exhibits, this one tackles what and how astronauts eat in space (6) a family is seen dwarfed by the Atlantis booster rockets (7) the launch pad as seen from our tour bus (8) lunar module hanging by the Saturn V display (9) replica of the mission control room.

The Apollo 11 exhibit took me back many years when, like the rest of the world, my family and I were glued to our small black and white tv in Manila as we watched Neil Armstrong's first step on the surface of the moon.

impressive Saturn V display

main entrance

March 14, 2014

a light salmon lunch

This is my favorite way to cook fresh salmon. Served with romaine or any green salad drizzled with lemon vinaigrette or a very thin honey mustard dressing for a fast but healthy and filling lunch.

When cooked just right, I love how salmon becomes tender, flaky and melts in your mouth. There's really no need to over season fresh salmon, just sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and olive oil. I like to keep it simple and light. Now that the Lenten season is here once again, this idea will come in handy for my meatless (fish is always allowed) Fridays.

relax mode at Morikami Japanese Garden

As we drove along and head on to our other destinations, I couldn't think of a more perfect stopover than the Morikami Japanese Gardens at Del Ray Beach. I had this attraction in mind before we even started planning our Florida trip. It was sad to leave the tropical vibe of Key West but we had more places in our list to visit. We left at sunrise and got to our destination in time for lunch as we hoped for. Cornell Cafe, a Japanese restaurant conveniently located by the entrance, welcomed visitors to this popular attraction. Too bad I was too hungry and missed taking pictures of our lunch :-) but I remember it very well though. We had steamed dumplings, pan-seared teriyaki salmon that wasn't too sweet with vegetables and a rice bowl with beef stir-fry. Shown in the pictures above, clockwise, a serene lake view greeted us as we stepped into the gardens. I love traditional Japanese zen garden design with beautiful minimalist landscaping. 

Along the winding path, as shown above, more Japanese garden accents and stone accessories can be seen in this well-designed garden. I think I can spend hours just relaxing by the koi pond with the soothing sound of a nearby waterfall. It was also interesting to see small turtles swimming with the fish, sharing the pond and food as well. We had a relaxing time here and if distance is not an issue, it would nice to come back and spend another quiet afternoon here.

zen garden

flowers, foliage, bonsai exhibit and Japanese house

waterfall, bamboo bench and garden gate provide a sense of balance and harmony

cute mask at the museum

March 10, 2014

seaplane to Fort Jefferson

Shown in the photos above (1) our seaplane parked on the beach :-) the Key West Seaplane Adventure charter to Fort Jefferson was an unforgettable experience (2) aerial view of Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park (3) walking path along the interior walls (4) just one of the many cannon displays (5) the moat walking path (6) clear and warm water makes it ideal for swimming and snorkelling (7) view from the top of the walls (8) archways inside the fort (9) amazing view of the sea from the second level or tier awaits anyone who seeks a quiet moment of solitude (10) shells and corals are preserved and plentiful by the beach (11) signage by entrance.

Thanks to my husband, I've been introduced to many old Spanish and US forts and together we've visited a few over the years. If not for him, I would probably not even be interested to visit :-) but I'm glad I did. In general, they're all impressive but I have to say, I was overwhelmed by the sight of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park and it's definitely worth visiting.

Key West Seaplane Adventure office and planes (above)

It was my first seaplane ride and I was most thrilled experiencing the landing and take-off right on the water. We had an amazing day just exploring the fort and walking along the moat. This will be noted as one of the most enjoyable and memorable excursions we're ever done.

the lighthouse (shown above)
two ways to get there - by seaplane or by ferry boat
Aside from sailing on a private yacht or boat with a special permit, there are two other ways to get there. The 10-seater seaplane charter to the Dry Tortugas got us there much earlier (the flight was just 35 minutes) than the ferry so it was the best option for us. We did the half day tour and we had the privilege of touring the fort when it was most quiet. More info may be found at the Key West Seaplane Adventure official website.

March 1, 2014

semolina cake

I got inspired to make this cake while watching a travel show filmed in Dubai featuring traditional Middle Eastern desserts. The cakes and other sweets all glistened with syrup and looked so beautiful with pistachios and almonds. It was enough temptation for me to start hunting for the recipes. 

sweet semolina cake was perfect with afternoon tea

I recently bought some fine semolina from King Arthur FLour primarily for pasta but I thought there must be other recipes I can make with it. I have a weakness for all kinds of cake and semolina cake sounds great. I found many recipes online but this particular one caught my attention. The cardamom spice in the cake and the rosewater syrup that was poured over the warm cake took it to another level. It's very unique with more complex flavors which I like.

grinding the cardamom in a mortar and pestle, pouring the rosewater syrup over the warm cake

Thanks to Cooking Melangery blog for this recipe for Cardamom Semolina Cake with Rosewater Syrup. I can't wait to try to make a version of it, perhaps with ground pistachios mixed into the cake batter and sprinkled on top.