Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trip Report: Star Alliance lounge hopping at LHR Terminal 2

Terminal 2 is the new home of Star Alliance at LHR, and I took advantage of a long-ish layover to try out all of the lounges: Lufthansa Senator Lounge, Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, and the United Club (Singapore Airlines isn't open at the moment). On my return, I tried the Arrivals Lounge which is shared among United, Air Canada, and South African.

First stop: Lufthansa Senator Lounge.

Ahhh, Lufthansa lounges feel like home to me now, since I've spent so much time in them, especially the Senator Lounges at FRA.

I had a lovely English breakfast with particularly fine sausage and vegetable patty, along with some fresh cut fruit (no dull edges on the melon or pineapple) and Greek yogurt.

Next stop: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.

The interior was a bit drab here, and felt like a long hall carved out of the space of another hallway.

The food offerings here weren't very impressive, but I did try the coconut porridge and fresh strawberries. I guess I was eating the national colors of Canada.

Final departure lounge stop: United Club.

What a surprise!

Especially if one has only been to the overcrowded lounges at an airport like IAD with torn furniture and carrot sticks and cheese packs.

Here's a cold buffet.

And a hot one!

And then a dessert buffet too!

There was even a drinks menu, including cocktails and my favorite section, shaken-to-order iced tea!

Here's a little bit of everything, including a wonderful chicken curry, crave-worth flapjack and banana tart, and a hibiscus iced tea which I got a couple of.

And by the way, each toilet is housed in a little room with its own sink. I love this! It means you can roll your baggage in and go about your business like brushing your teeth in private. This isn't a shower room, just a toilet.

On the return, I got to try the Arrivals Lounge.

It is the ultimate luxury to take a shower after a long flight. There are pretty decent shower suites with a valet door where you can leave your suit to be pressed. Toiletries are Korres products.

In the main room, there are a lot of tables. I think the main point of the Arrivals Lounge is to fresh up in the shower, have breakfast, and then go into town. Not lounge around for hours.

For breakfast, they have a little buffet with items like these flapjacks (again!), and fruit salad. But then they also have a little made-to-order menu, with items like this smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on bagel. One of my favorite breakfasts!

Next time, I would like to try the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge to add to the comparison. But the lesson from this trip is that United has one of the best lounges at LHR, so don't hesitate to head straight there!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cooking at Home: Thanksgiving in Spain, Part II final product

And here is the final Thanksgiving table!

The paella pan turned out to be perfect for first frying up the turkey leg confit, then plating the breast meat alongside and keeping it all nice and warm.

My favorite side dish from year to year, the corn bread and mushroom stuffing. Without pecans, I used pumpkin seeds which worked well.

Glazed sweet potatoes, plus green beans and dinner rolls in the back.

And mashed potatoes and gravy.

For dessert, walnut bars and pumpkin pie.

This might have been my most successful Thanksgiving, if I may say so myself! I was shocked that everything came together at the same time in the end. My favorite part was the confit turkey leg; I will never roast a turkey whole again. It's so much better this way!

Cooking at Home: Thanksgiving in Spain, Part I preparations

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, because it revolves around food. Overseas, I think Thanksgiving takes on even more meaning because it's the most "American" of holidays (besides July 4 I suppose, which is more symbolically American but one doesn't celebrate it in the familial manner of Thanksgiving).

For the second year, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at home. Preparing Thanksgiving on a workday makes one very jealous of those back in the US who get the day off! So this of course calls for preparations ahead of time. In fact, my Excel spreadsheet with day-by-day and hour-by-hour (on the day of) schedule showed that I should get started a week before.

First is some supermarket grocery shopping. Lots of butter as always, and since pecans are extremely hard to find in Spain (and outrageously expensive, like $6 for a snack sized portion), I got walnuts instead to make walnut bars instead of my favorite, pecan pie.

I got started ahead with making cornbread, making it in a large cazuela usually reserved for arroz al horno saves a lot of time. Two batches in one go! I also made a bunch of dinner rolls. Here they are already baked, but I froze a couple more batches before the second rise, so that they could defrost and rise the day before Thanksgiving.

Then a couple days before, I went early in the morning before work to pick up my fresh turkey which I had reserved in advance. I went to the same stall that sold me the turkey last year (the only ones in the market who had a whole bird!).

Then I went to my usual vegetable stand and got a couple kilos of the green beans from that big pile in the corner.

The haul from the market, including some lovely fresh herbs on the right.

The boniato is the closes thing to sweet potatoes that I could find - they have a brilliant purplish-red skin and firm orange-yellow interior.

Then I got some nice mushrooms, including the rovellons (Catalan/Valenciano) on the left. They translate as saffron milk caps, and are very seasonal, only appearing at this time of year. They also vary a lot in price, with the larger ones fetching a higher price (and the bits and pieces of broken ones being the cheapest; they are quite fragile).

One thing that I love about buying meat in Spain is that the butchers are excellent. I didn't want to roast the turkey whole, but instead wanted to roast only the breast while I confit the dark meat. So I asked the butcher to cut the parts exactly as I wanted, saving the spine and wing tips to make gravy... in advance!

No Libby's? At this time of year, the bakeries sell roasted pumpkin, perfect to mash up into pumpkin puree!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Copenhagen Eats: Dinner at Amass

Copenhagen is very expensive for eating. Very, very expensive. A McDonald's meal can set you back US$10. So I decided to treat myself: I went to have the prix fixe dinner at Amass restaurant. At 575 DKK, or about US$85, I thought this was quite a good value in relation to Copenhagen prices.

I wanted to try out what's been called "New Nordic" cuisine, yet I didn't make any reservations ahead of time. I came across Amass in my search - it's headed by a former Chef de Cuisine of Noma, the New Nordic restaurant named Matt Orlando. It turns out Matt is from San Diego originally! Plus they hold back a few seats every evening for walk-ins which I love. So I figured if I would have a shot at a nice meal in Copenhagen, this would be it.

Amass is located away from the city center, accessible by water bus.

I was seated right away, as I arrived close to opening time.

One aspect about Amass that is very striking is that the chefs and cooks themselves present each course, explaining things as you go along! This was a delicious first course, "to get your hands dirty" as the cook who presented it told me. Vinegar crisp, with the tiniest cubes of potato in potato salad with marigold leaves

The pastry chef, Milton Abel, presented the bread. "I'll be bringing you fresh bread throughout your dinner." A potato flatbread with a kale and pepper topping. Very dense, but so delicious. Could have been a meal by itself. I read later that before Amass, Milton was pastry chef at French Laundry (and before that Noma).

This was a super delicious salad - with raw langoustines underneath the lettuce from the garden, "beach plants," and a super delicious crispy chicken skin dressing which the cook ladled from a small saucepan onto the salad as she was explaining the dish.

I did not like the following course very much - raw egg yolk in roasted corn broth with black pepper oil. It was very funky tasting.

I did not like this course either. Roasted beets, dried yellow plums, and almond oil, which made it all very unctuous. Somewhere in there is red seaweed.

A very interesting main course. Rare duck, said the cook, "wild, in this case Mallard. Because it's wild, please be careful in case there are bullet shards, but we slice the duck very thinly so there shouldn't be any." With green dots of sorrel and oyster sauce, and mustard greens.

Milton, the pastry chef, came back and presented the yeast ice cream, sliced apples, pastry crust, and whisky caramel sauce. "I like to have a little bit of everything in each bite. It's how I designed it." I asked about yeast ice cream. "It's not like ice cream flavored with the cubes of yeast you buy in the market. I put yeast in the milk and it develops the flavor. Think of it like wine or beer."

Mignardise: freshly baked carrot cake mini muffins, with creme fraiche and carrot reduction. All for me! The joys of dining solo.

I was seated at a high ledge looking outside, and behind me was the open kitchen. It was thrilling to hear the chef yell out orders and then to hear the others acknowledge him in a loud, crisp "Yes, Chef!" Just like Top Chef!

There were some hits and some misses as far as the food went, but overall this was one of the most memorable meals I've had with the unique flavors and the care with which every course was presented by the cooks themselves. Highly recommend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Flying to/from VLC is sometimes a struggle because lack of good connections. The fastest and cheapest way to Denmark and back from Sweden turned out to be on TAP Portugal, flying through Lisbon which involves going in the opposite direction for a connection.

But no matter, extra miles for me, and an opportunity to sample economy class catering from a bygone era. Because TAP is still state-controlled (in the process of privatization now), the food service is bountiful and delicious, probably costing a lot of money.

The first leg was a very early morning flight on Portugalia, a regional feeder.

Ham sandwich and an Actimel yogurt drink were served on this 1.5 hr flight.

Then in the TAP lounge in Lisbon, I indulged in a couple savory empanadas, chocolate cake, egg yolk tart, muffin, and regular pasteis de nata.

On the 3.5 hr flight to CPH, we had pork stew with grapes, potatoes, salad with cheese, more grapes, and almonds, cheese and whole wheat crackers, roll and butter. Dessert was flan. Almost got too full!

On the way back, started the journey in the SAS lounge in Gothenburg. A bit sparse, food-wise.

No matter, I was about to fly TAP in economy class!

The main course was empadao de Pato, which was shredded duck and spinach between two layers of mashed potato, with an egg wash on top. This was accompanied by a salad with chicken and almonds, an egg yolk dessert which was very gummy and sweet (could not finish because too sweet), same crackers and cheese and bread and butter as the outbound flight. The tiny tray table became completely overcrowded with the amount of food, especially because they served the coffee at the same time as turbulence was expected later. It would otherwise have been served as a separate course.

Back to the TAP lounge in Lisbon for more pasteis de nata and empanadas. My favorite empanada was definitely the corn and bacon one (the cylinder with no pastry markings on top). Interesting pear and cauliflower puree in the bowl.

And the final leg on Portugalia, tuna sandwich and strawberry puree. Had to save the sandwich for later, because was too full by now from the previous inflight meal and lounge food!

Once TAP is privatized, who knows how much longer this food service will last. What I enjoyed the most, beyond the fact that a) there was food, b) it was good, and c) there was a lot of it, was d) it really reflected the Portugal. On other airlines, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, you'd probably have some vegetarian pasta or cheese sandwich on flights like these. No way would you find egg yolk pudding or duck. Let's enjoy the food on TAP while it lasts!