Cooking The Books: Easy Grilled Salmon with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette

Living in Hong Kong and being a relatively lazy weekday shopper ( a trip to the wet market, GrEAT or Citisuper is a detour), I am always happy to come across a nice salmon recipe as it is the only fish that I would cook that’s available in my regular supermarkets down the road. A recipe also gets bonus points for being something that I can whip up in 10 minutes – sometimes we are at the office late, and other times I just cannot be arsed to spend too much time in the kitchen.

That’s why this recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s book “It’s All Good” is perfect. You might think that her book is all gluten-free this and vegan that (especially if you have read this hilarious article describing one woman’s effort to eat like Gwynie for a week), but actually some of her recipes are quite accessible, and you can always make substitutions or even omissions with some of the ingredients if necessary.

This recipe is simple as pie, no changes necessary. I serve it with a simple salad, or a pasta salad such as Roasted Vegetable Orzo Salad.

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As you can see, I didn’t have any parsley, so I substituted chopped spring onions instead.

 

Grilled Salmon with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette

You’ll need:
(serves 4)

4 fillets of salmon
2 tbsp of olive oil, plus 1/2 cup for the vinaigrette
2 lemons, halved
2 tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tbsp finely sliced chives
Good quality salt and freshly ground black pepper

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Cooking the Books: Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Last summer, after watching one too many of her cooking shows, I went Barefoot Contessa CRAZY and bought nearly all of her cookbooks, including Barefoot Contessa Parties, which is where I came across this wonderful recipe. There are many gems to be found in her books – some have nice European influences and many are straightforward and easy to make. She has several good recipes available on the Barefoot Contessa website, and also themed menus (but they’re pretty naff).

This (lightly adapted) recipe would go down a treat at any BBQ party, or with a summer roast such as this boneless leg of lamb, or any grilled fish dish – I like to have it with grilled salmon and a tangy grilled lemon vinaigrette. Heck, you could eat it by itself and be perfectly content!

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Ina Garten’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

You’ll need:
(serves 6)

1 eggplant, 1 inch diced (don’t worry about the size of the eggplant, you can never have too much)
1 red bell pepper, 1 inch diced
1 yellow bell pepper, 1 inch diced
1 red onion, peeled and 1 inch diced
1 courgette, 1 inch diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3  cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
225 grams or 1/2 pound of orzo

For the dressing:
Juice of half a lemon
1/3 1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 pound good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

All of this colour is quite inspirational when you're cooking this dish, and the flavours are scrumptious!

All these colours is quite inspirational when you’re cooking, and the flavours are scrumptious!

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LoveBites Lunches – Cocotte

After visiting Cocotte for dinner when it first opened a few months back, I went back to this lovely French brasserie-style restaurant to try out their new lunch menu, which they introduced just a couple of weeks ago. The menu is a straightforward compilation of tasty seasonal dishes, beautifully presented with choice ingredients, and well portioned to fill you just enough but not leave you bursting at the seams.

You can either opt for the Express Lunch (starter and main) for HK$ 168, or the three course Executive Lunch at HK$ 198, both include tea, coffee or a soft drink. There is certainly a plethora of choice when it comes to lunch menus in the Central and Soho areas, but this one really stands out in terms of the quality of food and the high level at which it is executed.

Gazpacho - tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, extra virgin olive oil

Gazpacho – tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, extra virgin olive oil

 Frisée Salad - poached egg, lardons, Pommery mustard dressing

Frisee Salad – poached egg, lardons, Pommery mustard dressing

These two dishes are a light and refreshing way to start the meal. I’m not one to usually order a cold soup but this gazpacho is super refreshing, with a distinct bell pepper taste and I enjoyed the addition of whole cherry tomatoes for varying textures. The frisée salad is a simple dish with a perfectly poached egg and a grilled slice of baguette for extra crunch.

Confit of Salmon - Salt baked beet, tiny potatoes, horseradish cream, dill

Confit of Salmon – Salt baked beet, tiny potatoes, horseradish cream, dill

Steak Tartare -  truffle egg yolk, salad

Steak Tartare – truffle egg yolk, salad

For something a bit more filling, the steak tartare has got to be my favorite starter of them all. Add as much as you want of the tangy and ever so slightly spicy tartare sauce, with a dollop of the egg white and caper mixture after mixing in the fresh egg yolk (or not!) into that wonderfully tasty beef. The salmon was under-seasoned for my liking, although those baby potatoes and horseradish cream on the side were a nice accompaniment.

On to the mains, whilst hand on my heart I loved every one of them, the star of the show has got to be the filet mignon.  I’m not usually a fan of very lean cuts and usually opt for rib eye for an extra bit of taste, but this filet mignon was incredible – tender, tasty and perfectly cooked. I hope they never take it off the menu! Beware of those fries and béarnaise sauce, they’re dangerously addictive.

Beef Filet Mignon Frites - matchstick fries, Bearnaise Sauce

Beef Filet Mignon Frites – matchstick fries, Béarnaise Sauce

The codfish was also a fabulous dish, transporting you to the Mediterranean with perfectly cooked, large translucent flakes of codfish, moreish polenta disks (I have to try making those at home!!), and a really nice ratatouille.

Codfish Mediterranean Style - spiced ginger polenta, ratatouille, red beet reduction

Codfish Mediterranean Style – spiced ginger polenta, ratatouille, red beet reduction

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Les Templiers B&B in Charroux – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

Summer is well and truly here, and I find myself reminiscing about our last summer in the beautiful French countryside. PB and I together with my family hired a car and drove down from Paris towards Cantal in Auvergne.  This area is well known for some of France’s best cheeses and meat (beef and lamb). It’s one of the least populated departments in France and can get extremely cold in the winter. But in the summer, it is the perfect time to visit Puy de Dome, the town of Laguiole (where those lovely Laguiole knives are produced), and eat at the fabulous Serge Vieira. If it’s your kind of thing, you can also go to Chaudes Aigues , famous for it’s hot spring waters and also the annual Tattoo Festival! Random, but true.

We wanted to break up the 5 hour drive between Paris and Chaudes Aigues, and thought a visit to Vichy might be nice.  Serendipitously, the nicer hotels in Vichy were booked, so we decided on a small B&B in the nearby Charroux. Classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Charroux is a former fortified village famous for it’s mustard.  Sometimes you come across the best places by accident, and Les Templiers in Charroux is one of those places.

Charroux

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A magical place, with it’s very own wishing well

Opened in 2012, this 19th century building has been lovingly restored and converted into a tasteful and modern “chambre d’hôtes”,  keeping all of the original wooden floors, stairs, roof beams and stone walls. With beautifully manicured gardens in the back, crêperie restaurant to the side, and the charming little village of Charroux surrounding it, Les Templiers was the perfect place to stop for one night.

Unfortunately we had to leave after breakfast and didn’t have a chance to have a good amble around the village. From the 12th to 14th century, Charroux was fortified by the lords of Bourbon and once protected by a double rampart. Now, only the east and west gates together with 60 meters of the inner wall remains. It’s a fascinating place to walk around and at certain places find pictureque lookouts over the surrounding countryside.

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The courtyard garden of Les Templiers

Templiers design

Original features of a beautifully restored building

The Combles Room

The Combles Room

We stayed in the Combles Room in the attic, featuring original comble roof beams, a stand alone tub, bathrobes and interesting light fixtures. In fact, the whole property was accented with eye-catching lighting. It is these small details which really make a place stand out, it’s obvious that the owners paid attention to every element of the decor, and I must say they have very good taste.

Breakfast on the following morning was a real treat! Father and son team Rémi and Aurélien are wonderful hosts and are passionate about doing what they do. Aurélien makes his own yoghurt as well as bakes his own delicious almond cake. The jams were supplied by his friend in a neighboring village, and the cheese was the freshest Saint Nectaire I have ever tasted. We had fleeting thoughts about buying a yoghurt maker, but leaving it to sit on the kitchen counter over night is just not a good idea in Hong Kong – maybe in the winter …

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

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Falling in Love with The Lombok Lodge

After countless visits Bali, we returned from our first trip to Lombok in May (of which I’m sure will be many more), and I’m compelled to write a post entirely on the subject of the hotel that we stayed at, and yes of course all the trimmings that came along with it.

Lombok is the next island along to the east of Bali, separated by the Lombok Strait. Most tourist activities are focused around the Kuta area in the south, and the north eastern Sengigi area. In Kuta you’ll see lots of surfers, and travelling east up the coast there are beautiful white sand beaches, each one more beautiful that the next. The waves roll quietly and softly onto the sand unlike the huge beastly, crashing waves of Bali, and the beaches are clean! My favourite day in the south was spent on Selong Belanak Beach, about a 25 minute scooter ride from Kuta.

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Selong Belanak Beach

In the north, Sengigi is close to the capital of Mataram and the old airport site and is therefore a larger hub for tourists and local expats, with lots of bars and more hotels to choose from, as well as shops, which you will be hard pressed to find in the south. A little further northwest is the Medana peninsula, where you’ll find a few luxury resorts such as the Oberoi and Tugu Hotel. Nestled in between these two is the loveliest of all, The Lombok Lodge boutique hotel. Believe me when I say that there is nothing else like it on the island, and indeed, with all the travelling that I do, I can honestly say it is one of the nicest places I have stayed at.

It was not just the luxury lodgings, nor the food, nor the attention to detail and service, activities, the smaller details or the beauty of the surrounding areas. What makes this hotel so special is that every single thing is done perfectly, and you are made to feel at completely at home – everyone literally knows your name.

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Poolside at the Lombok Lodge

The design of the hotel is really ahead of it’s time on Lombok, a developing island where high-quality architecture is difficult to come by, as are skilled construction teams and quality materials. The architect is Belgian-based Italian designer Vittorio Simoni –  he has created 9 low rise suites, which are terraced so that each suite has a view of the ocean. It is a truly functional space, and whilst the land on which the hotel is situated is not actually that big, The Lombok Lodge feels quite grand.

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A terrace with a view

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The bedroom, complete with ipod dock, beach bag and sunhats

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Motivational quotes in each room

Bathroom

The bathroom – Hermes bath products, stand alone tub and outdoor shower. Orchids and frangipani everywhere!

The people are a big part of making this place what it is; some of the staff were trained at the nearby Oberoi Hotel, whereas others had no official hospitality training. Regardless of this, the whole team are super sweet, friendly and eager to help and make your stay as special as possible. What makes a huge difference is that the Belgian owners of the hotel stay there for half of the year, perhaps that’s why the standards are so exceptional.

The Resort Manager, Mangsur Y Wayan, is a true perfectionist, and makes sure that everything is always running smoothly. They contacted us prior to our stay to make sure all was in order, suggested several itineraries of things to do whilst we were there, gave us a late check out when needed, made no fuss when I forgot to cancel my spa booking, left notes on our pillow every night, printed out our boarding passes when we were in a rush and delivered them to us by the pool, and offered to clean our sunglasses whilst we sipped on our complimentary pool smoothies … I could go on and on.

Dinner

Traditional rijsttafel dinner

Breakfast

Some of the breakfast selections at the Lombok Lodge

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Alchemy – dinner in the dark

The concept of dining in the dark is not a new one, yet not everyone has the fortune of traveling to Paris or London and having the opportunity to try the Dans le Noir restaurants. They have however been the inspiration for French Creation Group‘s opening of Hong Kong’s very own dinner in the dark experience! Opened just last week, Alchemy is located where Taboo once stood on Arbuthnot Road, and is on two levels – the ground level features a modern and inviting bar area, and cozy lounge seating areas, complete with lush velvet chairs and shelves lined with books – a library of alchemist’s secrets! The entrance area is lined with mock medicine drawers to reinforce the theme.

Alchemy Lounge - Interior 6 - HD

Alchemy - Entrance 2 - HDWhen you arrive, someone will explain the experience to you, and the dos and don’ts of dining in the dark. You can either opt for a 3 course dinner with bottled water only at HK$500, or add three wine pairings for an additional HK$200. You will have to leave your bag and belongings in a locker before you sit – for the moment there has been a small oversight with making the lockers only big enough to hold a clutch handbag, but that will be rectified. Each table will have one waiter to guide you and serve you through your meal. The are fully aware of the entire layout of the restaurant and can navigate it perfectly, memorise all of your names, giving clear instructions on who to pass the plate to, which direction the water and the wine is coming from, and personally escorting you to the bathroom if needed. And they are all visually impaired.

As far as the guides are concerned, this is a restaurant that gives back to the community – five percent of the restaurants profits go to the Hong Kong Society of the Blind. With no service charge, we tipped directly, and generously.

Once you have been given the low down on the dinner, you are lead through a series of blackout curtains to your table. To preserve the experience for all of you, I will not do what a food blogger is always itching to do, which is tell you every little detail about what we ate – I don’t want to ruin the surprise or give anything away – what made this meal interesting was the sensory response to every aspect of it. However I do have some photos for you …

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