Food

The Exquisite Experience of Ladurée SOHO by Amanda Liew

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  I always joke that I had the worst first macaron experience. I had never tasted one before, but my friend Madeline insisted that we make a trek to this special shop that was the "best in Paris." We walked into Ladurée, and I was instantly overwhelmed by the beautiful dainty pastries and decor. When I finally made it through the line and tried one for myself, I couldn't believe I had lived 20 years of my life without this amazing delicacy. How are there so many textures in one bite? How does this rose macaron taste like a rose smells?! Sadly, when I returned to the US and happily bought myself a macaron to enjoy my new favorite dessert, I was sorely disappointed. Shells were crackly, creams were wrong, sizes were all over the place! Oh, the horror! I was a macaron snob. Fortunately, moving to New York City has quickly remedied that situation for me because there are not only one, but two Ladurées here. The one in the Upper East Side is perfect for your grab-and-go for a walk in the park, whereas the SOHO location offers the perfect spot for the ultimate girl brunch.

In anticipation for her move to the West Coast, my dear friend Cameron made the effort to come into the city just to get one last hurrah before thousands of miles would separate us. I knew instantly that this called for an exquisite and grand experience of total indulgence. Surprisingly, I was able to make a 1pm reservation on Open Table just a few days in advance. To make things even better, I had accumulated enough points for a gift certificate (note: you have to get this mailed to you, you can't use the app) which meant that we would be spending it all on extra desserts, rather than comping our bill.

We were early to our reservation, but they were able to seat us right away. We inquired about the patio seating, and while that does not open until May, they graciously seated us at the table along the windows for plenty of gorgeous sunshine. The back room was truly incredible! Unfortunately my fixed lens wasn't able to take it all in, but even my iPhone 6 shot captures it quite well.

Laduree Interior

To start, we each ordered a pot of tea (for me, black tea with lavender) and they came with the sweetest little "L" napkins for the handles. 20150410_0010_AmandaLiew_Laduree

We then decided to split one sweet and one savory, ordering the original french toast and the eggs benedict. The waitress made a point of emphasizing that the benedict was done in a "french style" which we didn't fully comprehend at first, but then realized the simplicity of it once it came out. The french toast was pretty incredible - the bread was dense and the maple syrup was flavorful rather than just sweet. The eggs benedict itself was simple and very, very small, but tasty. The poached eggs were cooked just right, and I was guilty of sneaking some of the table bread to dip more in the hollandaise sauce once I finished. 20150410_0015_AmandaLiew_Laduree 20150410_0018_AmandaLiew_Laduree 20150410_0019_AmandaLiew_Laduree

When it finally came time to dessert, I was horrified to realize that my stomach was a little fuller than expected. Nevertheless, we tried our hardest to ignore the sensation and championed on as planned (I'm dedicated to a good meal in case you can't tell...) Keeping it simple, Cameron ordered two macarons: salted caramel and chocolate. For those of you unfamiliar with Ladurée's macarons, the tiny dessert somehow manages to have three layers: there is a perfect crispy shell, a chewy layer at the interior of the cookies, and then a delicate soft cream or jam filling. In other words, it's incredible.20150410_0020_AmandaLiew_Laduree

For my dessert, I opted for a favorite: Saint-Honoré Rose. The magnificent creation is a puff pastry filled with the impossible-to-exist rose petal cream and raspberry compote, topped with a rose frosting. Sitting on top of the bottom layer, is a giant stack of more rose petal cream and mini versions of the base pastry sitting on top! Insane. I had eaten this dessert once before at the Upper East Side location, and was a tad bit disappointed to find that this one wasn't quite as good. It seemed that they had refrigerated the pastry a little too long and it lost a bit of its light flakiness. Nevertheless, the cream and compote were still irresistible.20150410_0023_AmandaLiew_Laduree

 

Overall, it was a truly wonderful experience. I had previously read reviews that the service was terrible, but we didn't encounter that at all. To the contrary, all the tables around us seemed to receive professional and courteous service.For the full experience, I recommend trying to get seated in the back room as it is much lovelier than the others. While small portions, the entrees themselves were quite affordable. The desserts, of course, are a given. Laduree with CameronAll food shots and Cameron's portrait are taken on a Nikon D3100 50mm. All photos capturing the room are taken on an iPhone 6.

 

(Pinterest) Failing for 100 Posts and 100 More by Amanda Liew

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As my post count has been ticking closer and closer to 100, I've been mulling for weeks over what I wanted to feature. Did I want to highlight something aesthetically beautiful like my recent brunch at Laduree? Or perhaps showcase a men's fashion shoot in Chelsea and talk about my developments as a photographer? Nothing felt quite right until last week, though, when I experienced the most hilarious Pinterest fail of my life trying to make cute mason jar cupcakes. After seeing pictures like the below from Cookies and Cups, I thought it would be the perfect thing to send across the country to my "little sister" Kiersten for her birthday and my dear friend Maddie who is an MD Martha Stewart of sorts.

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So how did they start out? Not so hot. Photo 120150412_0006_Pinterest FailFortunately, my friends Janet and Kevin were over to "help out" (ie eat the ugly ones) and let's just say they were eating a LOT. We were laughing so hard at how hideous the jars looked (chocolate frosting smudged on glass isn't that appetizing...) and also how difficult it was. We tried so many different methods - putting the cake in first then adding frosting (resulted in smudging), frosting the cake first then plopping it in (half of them flipped over), tearing up the cupcake to fill out more of the bottom (it looked stupid). All the while I'm simultaneously crying and laughing at just how epic of a fail it all was. Finally, finally I thought I had mastered the process! In my pride and glory, I even whipped out my DSLR to get a good shot, dreaming of how this would be blown up on Pinterest boards. I would write my blog post full of tips (dollop of frosting and sprinkles at the bottom, frost only the middle of the cupcake avoiding the edges, lower it in with chopsticks, repeat, and then add a solid layer of frosting at the top), and it would be a fantastic addition to my food section! 20150412_0004_Pinterest Fail

But then...I decided to test how they would fare in travel and on my way to work this happened..

Photo 3The frosting was far too slippery, the jar far too big, and the cupcakes far too skinny. I could only imagine the girls opening up their boxes and just seeing a jar full of a frosting mess and being so confused as to what I sent them. I couldn't help but laugh at my #nailedit moment and forced my coworkers to eat my ugly cupcakes just to make myself feel better (for the record, they were delicious).

So what does this all have to do with my hundredth post? Trying. And failing. You see, as far as this little blog has come in the past four years, I've hoped that amandaliew.com at its very core is still about the journey, not the end game. From the start, I've wanted it to be about life, experiences, challenges, and above all trying new things. What started out as a travel blog, morphed into a passion for digital photography - and where that passion is focused changes each day! Sometimes those new things turn out wildly successful, and sometimes they turn out disastrously bad. But in the end, the effort was made and the idea was explored. As more people have seen my work, I've gotten more project proposals, fee inquiries, and even questions of if I would ever pursue this as a career. But I've come to realize that there's a huge amount of freedom in clinging to the "amateur photographer" title. It gives me the chance to pursue what intrigues me, try new styles without worrying about a portfolio, share my stories of what I've learned, and ultimately laugh at my own failure. I love that this website is not just a portfolio of my best work, but instead an insight into how I'm growing and challenging myself as a photographer. And so, I'll keep trying and I'll keep (Pinterest) failing. I've done so for the past 100 posts, and I'll keep doing it for 100 more!

Bacon Is Always The Answer by Amanda Liew

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20150404_0004_Scones 20150404_0006_Scones For the most part, I'm a total cheater when it comes to baking. Despite being a prolific hashtagger of #bankerbydaybakerbynight, I stealthily use box recipes and then throw something crazy into it to make it sound homemade. I mean...chocolate peppermint cupcakes stuffed with junior mints sure sounds like something you would find on Pinterest, but in reality I accidentally "invented" it because all the grocery stores were closed by the time I got out of work at 11pm, and I had to improvise with ingredients found at CVS. Now if that's not a true #bankerbydaybakerbynight, I don't know what is!

Nevertheless, special occasions deserve an extra touch of specialness, and this Easter I decided to whip up a batch of Bacon Cheddar Chive Scones with my awesome friend and fellow-lover-of-food, Katie! Why? Because bacon is always the answer. I'm not going to lie, the recipe took us a while, but I mainly blame that on my insistence in cooking the entire package of bacon rather than what the recipe actually called for. When I make these again, I think it would be smart to bake the bacon while I prep the rest of the ingredients. I'm quite proud of my developments as a baker considering I had to Google Image search "chive" while at the grocery store to make sure I was getting the right thing...

So the verdict in the end? These things are HEAVENLY. Katie and I were particularly impressed with how the bacon and cheddar actually flavored the dough (as in, it wasn't just a bland bread item with yummy chunks scattered about) and also how the chives weren't too overwhelming. It's a densely packed scone, and for that reason I think the mini scones would make more sense in the future. I think we could have baked them a little longer or used a little less of the heavy cream (we used the extra 2 tablespoons that the recipe lets you flex on) to make it crispier. Nevertheless, all around phenomenal!

Many thanks to King Arthur and our good friend / chef extraordinaire / California travel buddy Victoria! To find the recipe, see below or go to the original link here.

And if you're interested in mixing it up with a sweet scone recipe, I highly recommend Raspberry Buttermilk Scones! There's a lot less prep in this one since you just toss the raspberries in.

King Arthur Flour Bacon-Cheddar-Chive Scones

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur  Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Perfect Pastry Blend 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 teaspoons sugar 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) cold  butter 1 cup (4 ounces) very coarsely grated or  diced cheddar cheese 1/3 cup (about 1/2 ounce) snipped fresh chives, or finely diced scallion tops (the  green part, 3/4 ounce) 1/2 pound bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled (about 1 cup) 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) heavy cream or whipping cream, or enough to make the dough cohesive

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.

1) Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.

2) Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly, with some of the butter remaining in larger pieces.

3) Mix in the cheese, chives, and bacon until evenly distributed.

4) Add ¾ cup of the cream, stirring to combine. Try squeezing the dough together; if it’s crumbly and won’t hang together, or if there are crumbs remaining in the bottom of the bowl, add cream until the dough comes together. Transfer the shaggy dough to a well-floured work surface.

5) Pat the dough into a smooth 7" disk about ¾" thick. Transfer the disk to the prepared baking sheet.

6) Use a knife or bench knife to cut the disk into 8 wedges, spreading the wedges apart a bit on the pan.

7) Brush the scones with a bit of cream; this will help their crust brown.

8) Bake the scones for 22 to 24 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. Serve warm, or at room temperature. Yield: 8 large scones

Baker's tips •Want to make scones now, freeze and bake later? Make scones up to the point they're on the baking sheet, cut and ready to bake; don't brush them with cream. Freeze, then remove from the sheet, and wrap airtight in a plastic bag. When you're ready to bake, remove however many you want to bake from the freezer, place on a baking sheet, brush with cream, and bake in a preheated 425°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

•Make mini-scones: Divide the dough in half, and roll each half into a 5" round. Cut each round into 8 wedges. Bake in a preheated 425°F oven till golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes; or for about 25 minutes if frozen.

London's Bluebird Cafe by Amanda Liew

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Sometimes simplicity is all you need. I didn't have many things on my check list for my British Thanksgiving since I have already been fortunate enough to cross all the major sites off of my checklist, but the one thing I did insist on was grabbing some afternoon tea! Rather than go for a multi-tiered tea experience (while quite lovely isn't exactly an "everyday" event like Americans seem to believe), we decided to take a little trip out to the ever so quaint Chelsea to visit Bluebird Cafe. For an affordable £9, we ordered the a Tiny Tea which came with homemade scones and a delicious assortment of jams and clotted creams. It's amazing how something so simple could be so satisfactory, but the meal was just that! We all agreed the scones were some of the best we had ever had (a much higher compliment coming from the Brits as opposed to myself!) and we asked for jams upon jams to try them all out. The courtyard seating was lovely, even with the chill of November, and each table had blankets available to keep yourself cozy. The only downside of the experience, however, was the terrible service - and I don't say that lightly. We were routinely forgotten by all staff members (waiters, hosts, busboys alike), and had to ask 3 or 4 times for each item - it was all quite odd and we couldn't help but wonder if something had happened for them to all be so off their game. Nevertheless, for the price and scones, I would probably deem them to be worth a second chance! _DSC0253_British Thanksgiving _DSC0244_British Thanksgiving _DSC0248_British Thanksgiving _DSC0254_British Thanksgiving _DSC0258_British Thanksgiving _DSC0266_British Thanksgiving _DSC0270_British Thanksgiving _DSC0276_British Thanksgiving _DSC0239_British Thanksgiving