Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year Eve Dinner Menu

Time flies. We are approaching the end of the year. About this time last year, I started this blog to note down all my cooking, wine & dine and travel experiences. My first few posts were about our regular wine gathering and the Degustation menu that I had prepared for the Christmas gathering 2010.

This year, it will still be held at Restaurant 2706 (aka my humble house) on the new year eve. We are going to do some blind wine tasting game after the dinner and HH will take charge of that (HH: Is there a prize for the winner?). As such, I decided to reduce significantly the number of courses for this year's menu so that we can have more time for the wine.

Here is the menu and I hope I get the french translation right:

œuf 63-degré à l'huile de truffe et mousse de foie gras
63-degree Egg with truffle oil and Foie Gras Mousse

Poêlée de pétoncles aux champignons
Pan Seared US Scallop served with mushroom in mirin-shoyu sauce

Poitrine de Porc Sous Vide avec Sauté d'épinards
Peach and Coffee Glazed 24-hours Sous Vide Pork Belly served with baby spinach

Tatin aux Poires et Crème Glacée Vanille
Pear Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream

Sélection de fromages
Cheese Selection

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011

As the families all have different holiday vacation plans, this year's traditional year-end dinner with the kakis has been planned on the last day of the year when everyone is back instead of the usual Christmas dinner. I will start my preparation tomorrow and will post the menu in my next post.

Nevertheless, few (in fact 4 out of the 5 families) of us still met up at CJ's place on Christmas day for a potluck dinner. It was a simple and straight forward dinner but we had a great time and some interesting wine.

Great effort from CJ and Jazz for the table setup

Candle and aromatherapy diffuser gave a "Balance and Harmony" ambience

I felt like I was in an old British Colonial hotel :) 

Dinner is served

The kids have their setup too

Seafood Salad prepared by Jazz

Eeleen's Lasagna

My creation - Stewed Oxtail with butter rice

CJ's Peach Trifle topped with Pistachio

We started the night with this Chablis... dry and full of aroma... I like!

The salad was paired with this creamy Pinot Gris from Central Otago, New Zealand.

Australia Hunter Valley's Margan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

International Wine Challenge 2011winner - La Chamiza Martin Alsina Malbec  

McLaren Vale Rosemount Blend

Fresh nose with apricots, pineapple and honey - Chateau Carmes de Rieussec Sauternes 2008

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New accessories for My Sony Nex-5

I have been using my Sony Nex-5 for coming to a year now. Most of the pictures that I had posted in my blog were taken using the Nex-5. Although I really love this camera, I started to feel the need for more zoom and a better flash for the camera especially during the recent Chiang Mai Trip.

Last week, I went on a crazy hunt and got myself three additional accessories for the Nex-5:
  • SEL18200 11x Telephoto Zoom Lens
  • VLC-EF1 Fisheye Converter Lens
  • HLV-F20S External Flash

SEL18200 11x Telephoto Zoom Lens

The set of e-mount lenses for my Nex-5 that I currently own: 16mm pancake, 18-55mm and the new 18-200mm

Nex-5 mounted with the SEL18200 lens

I was deciding between getting this lens or the cheaper SEL55210 lens since I already have the SEL1855 that came with the camera package. In the end, I decided to get the SEL18200 due to its solid build and stylish metal body and I do not like the hassle of changing lenses especially when the environment is dusty.

To illustrate the zoom capability, below pictures were taken at my balcony (Not so sharp as I was not using tripod) using the SEL18200 lens at 18mm focal length and the maximum 200mm zoom.

View from my balcony: Taken using nex-5 with SEL18200 at 18mm. The green Holiday Inn Neon sign board which I zoomed in in next picture is at the top center of this picture.

VLC-EF1 Fisheye Converter Lens

This was an "accidental" purchase and I am glad that I got this. The fisheye offers lots of fun and a different perspective to the 16mm pancake lens. Below pictures taken in my car illustrate the wider angle and fisheye effect using the converter.

16mm Pancake lens

16mm Pancake lens with the VLC-EF1 Fisheye Converter

Notice that the angle opens up to almost 180 degree. Below are some more shots to show the difference with and without the converter taken during my girl's ballet class. The fisheye opens up and shows 3 sides of the studio wall instead of 1 as shown in the first picture. The curvature on the edges and the distortion added element of fun. The 3rd picture interestingly amplies the size difference between the ballet tutor and the kids.

Some more test shots using the fisheye converter:

Taken with the partial Red picture effect that comes with the latest NEX firmware

HLV-F20S External Flash

The main reason I had wanted to get a new flash was because of the SEL18200 lens. Due to the size, specifically the length, of the lens, it causes a shadow everytime a shot is taken with the original flash that comes with the Nex-5. I was looking for a flash extender but ended up getting this flash as it offers the "bounce" option for better and natural indoor shots and a "direct" option for outdoor shots.

See below test shots for better illustrations:

Taken with no flash at all

Taken with "Direct" option using the HLV-F20S External Flash

Taken with "Bounce" option using the HLV-F20S External Flash

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chiang Mai Trip

We just returned from a 6D5N Chiang Mai trip last week. This is my third visit to Thailand this year after Krabi and Phuket and this is by far the most educational and interesting trip as far as the kids are concerned, they truly enjoyed the trip.

Based on the reviews on Trip Advisor, we booked the Siripanna Villa Resort for the 5 nights here in Chiang Mai and were very happy with the choice although the location was a bit far from the city. The rooms are spacious and cozy with traditional Thai setting. In fact, they are designed and decorated based on the Lanna style (Chiang Mai was a former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna from 1296 - 1768). Great buffet breakfast and service staff.

Resort's front desk area

Rooms designed in contemporary Lanna style

The setup intertwines specific references to the past with a modern twist

View from the balcony

The signature Siripanna Pool

Designed to symbolise the ancient Mae Ping river in the centre of the lost city of Wiang Kum Kam this is one the most unique aspects of the resort design.

Chiang Mai has a large and famous night bazaar for arts, handicrafts and imported products of all descriptions. The night bazaar sprawls across several city blocks along footpaths, inside buildings and temple grounds, and in open squares. A handicraft and food market opens every Sunday afternoon till late on Rachadamnoen Road, the main street in the historical centre.

After a lazy breakfast, we made a day trip to the Maetaman Elephant Camp.  It is located at Mae Taeng, about 50km from Chiang Mai City. Thai elephant used to be the symbol on the red Thai flag before the current three-coloured flag and Elephant has an important relationship with the Thais.

The day trip includes an Elephant show, Elephant ride, Ox-Cart ride and bamboo rafting along the Rivers. The kids were really impressed with the well-trained elephants.

The elephants taking a shower before the show commenced

The Elephant Show

Can you believe that these were painted by Elephants?

A ride on the bamboo raft

On the way back to the resort, we visited the Long Neck Village. We experienced and understood the different native tribes of Thailand, their dailyhood and their culture. Their lives are definitely not a bed of roses. It is really an eye-opener for the kids to witness their humble living environment and the hardship they are going through.

Story goes.... a long time ago when they were still many tigers alive, they ate people.
Men were given guns and woman were given neck rings so the tiger does not have such an easy time biting their head off.

The padi field in the village

The second day was a long one. We left the resort early and headed for the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet. It was an early morning drive through beautiful scenery, with a stop at the Hot Springs at Maekajan.

This was really relaxing...

... and yummy - Eggs cooked with the hot spring water

Before reaching the Thailand-Myanmar border, we visited the famous white temple - Wat Rong Khun. It is different from any other temples in Thailand, as it is designed in white color with some use of white glass. The white color stands for Lord Buddha’s purity; the white glass stands for Lord Buddha’s wisdom that "shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe."

This is a great place for photography especially on such a fine sunny day.

We continued our journey and reached the Myanmar border after lunch. The 2 countries were separated by a small river. There was a busy market near the customs building and an interesting sight was the bridge connecting the countries. It is so much shorter than the Singapore-Johor causeway we are familiar with.

The Customs office
The bridge connecting Thailand and Myanmar. Notice the different flags along the bridge.
Chestnut hawker

Upon reaching the Thai side of the Golden Triangle, we took a speed boat ride to view the splendor of mighty Mae Khong River and ended up on an island the other side of the triangle belonging to Laos.

Cobra in Whisky

For the next couple of days, we explored the Chiang Mai city, lazed in the resort pool, tried Thai massage and a few interesting restaurants.

Chiang Mai's China Town is located around "Lao Jo" or "Lao Jow Street" and is one of the busiest shopping areas in the whole of Chiang Mai.

The Warorot Market is the most important single daily market in the whole of Chiang Mai, and is known locally as "Kad Luang" or Royal Market.

We had one of the better meals at Le Grand Lanna at the Mandarin Oriental, well known for their fine Northern Thai cuisine in a calm and beautiful layout and ambience. The dishes were well prepared and among the best interpretations of typical Thai cuisine in Chiang Mai. Be sure to look at the extensive wine menu but be prepared to spend more than at other restaurants in hotels of similar caliber in the area.

Northern Thai combination platter

Grilled pork skewers served with sticky rice

Papaya Salad

Northern Thai Pork curry

Ashley's favorite - Mango with sticky rice

First taste of Thai wine - Monsoon Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Thai dancers performing in the restaurant

We also enjoyed the dining experience in the resort restaurant "Slee Banyan and Slee Luang". The staff were very friendly and few of the dishes that we had were actually not found on the menu but recommended and specially prepared for us.

Grilled Salmon served with spinach and potato puree

Wife loved the lamb rack

Antique House Restaurant - The resort staff recommended this place which was a 10 minute walk from our resort but we felt the food here was at most average. I was more interested in the antique pieces than the dishes served.

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