30 July 2014

Vietnam-part 2

Welcome to Halong Bay.

A Unesco World Heritage Site- commonly known by many of us Brits as "that place they went to on Top Gear!"
It's a surreal place, and to be honest, when I first saw it I was a bit disappointed. I'd imagined it to be much taller and so tightly packed together that you really had to weave in and out. However, then I realised that I was seeing it from the deck of a rather large ship! Once at sea level in a kayak, the scale and beauty of it was much clearer. It really is quite spectacular.

In the kayaks we rowed in and around the bay and over to one of the fishing villages formed of floating houses. It's amazing how these people live their lives, making do with the natural
resources around them, using boats as floating grocery stores, catching squid under lights at night time and building floating houses - which raised many questions, how do they get their post?!

Not sure I'd want to live in this one!!

We also stumbled across the famous floating bar from that Top Gear programme that sadly  was closed as well as the brightly coloured boats they use for squid fishing- they hang lights from the boat and use them at night to attract the squid.

Halong bay is formed of around 2000 islands - legend has it that the islands were created by a great dragon from the mountains! It's now a thriving tourist site where flocks of boats weave in-between the islands dropping groups off here and there to explore the caves and hidden bays. We were surprised by just how green the islands were and to find out that there were goats living on them- I imagine clinging on to the steep rock face!!

We stayed on one of those typical cruiser ships that takes you in to the middle and then puts down anchor over night whilst you have a meal and experience a night sleeping in the cabins before setting off again the next day to visit the beach and viewpoint. 

Sorry for the misty photos- it was so humid that my camera really couldn't cope!!

From Halong bay we flew to Hue. 
Hue is what I would describe as a kind of in-between place. Everyone seems to stop there on their tour for a night or so before moving onto Hoi An.
It's famous for its old imperial city modelled on the Forbidden City in China and its beautiful temple.  

We were also shown around a traditional Vietnamese house with its beautiful old wooden shutters. 

As well as the famous old imperial city and temples, Hue is also known for its slightly spicier food. 
I sampled the spicy grilled beef with pineapple which was definitely a bit of a hair raiser! 

Since our travels in Sri Lanka last year, we were also all craving some banana fritters. The bananas out here are small and sweet with a much stronger banana flavour than we are used to. Mix this with a crispy deep fried batter and passion fruit sauce and I'm in heaven! 

From here we took the famous mountain view drive from Hue to Hoi An, the foodie capital of Vietnam- more to follow in the next post!

23 July 2014

Goats cheese stuffed courgette flowers with honey and pomegranate

My little brother is fed up- like last year we have a GLUT of courgettes already and he's not a happy bunny. Let's say they aren't his favourite vegetable- especially when served in every single form possible hidden into every meal! But I love them- they are actually a really versatile vegetable. You can roast them stuffed with couscous or with simple spices to top a pizza, spiral them into "courgetti" (a vegetable alternative to pasta if you have one of these), turn them into a deliciously moist courgette and lime cake or use the flowers for a colourful addition to a summery salad or these versions which are stuffed and deep fried- delish!

Look at the colour on those!

Courgettes are really easy to grow. They are really simple to plant (make sure you sow the seeds far enough apart to give the plants room to grow!) and just require a good watering now and again. Every year our courgette plants seem to have gone wild and taken up a whole bed, providing us with some monster-sized courgettes for weeks into the summer.

This year, however, unlike last, we have also got some homegrown cucumber.
Not fan of cucumber? - well try growing it- it actually tastes of something!

This recipe is super easy and makes a great starter or accompaniment for a summer meal. You can also make them earlier on in the day and then crisp them up again in a hot oven- perfect if you're going to be rushed for time later on!

Ingredients: ( serves 4 with 2 flowers each as a starter)

8 courgette flowers with baby courgettes attached
Sunflower oil
1 Pomegranate
Runny honey

250g soft goats cheese
Salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves
1/2 little red chilli
Handful of fresh mint, chives and basil

8tbsp plain flour
8tbsp cold sparkling water
Salt and pepper


Start by preparing your courgette flowers. Wash them throughly- ( be careful as they may be very delicate!, keeping the small courgettes attached to the flowers. The remove the stamen from inside the flower.

Next, prepare your batter. Whisk together the plain flour and cold water with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper with a balloon whisk until you have a smooth but fairly runny batter. Then leave the batter to stand whilst you prepare the filling.

To make the filling, spoon the goats cheese into a large bowl and stir in some black pepper and a small pinch of salt. 

Then finely chop the peeled garlic cloves and deseeded chilli and add to the goats cheese.

Next, finely chop the herbs and add them to the mixture as well. Give the whole thing a good stir to combine everything together. 

Then carefully unravel each flower and fill with a heaped spoon of the goats cheese filling. Once you have filled the flower, gently wrap the petals back around - try to make sure there are no gaps for the filling to seep out of!

Then fill a deep, wide pan 2/3 full with sunflower oil and put on a high heat. 

To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a little spoonful of the batter into the oil and if it bubbles straight away it's ready. Coat your filled flowers with the batter and let any excess batter drop back off into the bowl.

Then carefully lower each flower into the oil and deep fry for 3-4 minutes until crispy and golden. Once ready, remove from the oil and keep warm on a plate lined with kitchen towel. Repeat the process with the other flowers.

Serve with a generous drizzle of honey and a scatter of pomegranate seeds. 

Adapted from: http://www.donalskehan.com/2013/06/deep-fried-courgette-flowers-stuffed-with-goats-cheese-and-lavender-honey/