Every goodbye makes the next hello closer.

Have you ever heard the song by Ben Folds Five called “Steven’s Last Night in Town?” Have a quick listen before you read on…

I thoroughly represent Steven in this song. I had my last day of work, two goodbye parties the next week, went to work one more time to say “GOODBYE goodbye” and then Irene decided to ruin my plans of heading to school last weekend, so I really am still here. Don’t worry though, I am 120% sure that I am leaving tomorrow morning. I swear this time.

For my last day of work, however, I decided to go out with a bang and made what I found to be the best cupcakes I have EVER made for my co-workers (aka new family): chocolate cupcakes with a raspberry (and cherry liquor) buttercream. This cake recipe was the most moist, rich, and delicious chocolate recipe I have ever had.  Here it is! (from SmittenKitten)

Cupcakes (makes 36)
3 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. baking powder
1-1/4 t. salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup oil (canola)
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 t. vanilla extract

When you are making something classic, such as chocolate or vanilla, it is so important to use the best possible ingredients you can find so that it really pops from the normal, “average” flavor. I vouched for Ghirardelli semisweet:

I took the chocolate and cut it up as thin as I could with a chef’s knife (is it weird that I love the sound of cutting chocolate?):

Then…the magic happens. I threw the chocolate in a bowl and poured HOT coffee on top to melt it.

I’m sure you have heard this before but coffee brings out the flavors of chocolate the way water and sunlight brings flower buds into bloom. Don’t worry, it isn’t going to taste anything like coffee. Only an eye-popping, mouthwatering, full, bold chocolate flavor.

After I mixed the coffee and chocolate together, I set it aside and began sifting all of my dry ingredients together. It’s never a bad idea to sift your dry ingredients, but whenever you are working with Cocoa powder, it is an absolutely MUST. There are so many lumps that are impossible to get out of your batter unless you do so!

In a third bowl I combined the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla:

And then in one final bowl I basically whisked the living daylights out of the eggs until they got pale yellow and super frothy:

Once I got all of my ingredients ready, I (slowly) combined both the chocolate mixture and the buttermilk mixture with the eggs. It is important to do it slowly just incase the chocolate is still warm so you don’t end up with chocolate and scrambled eggs cupcakes! Yuck. After they all got along, I added the wet to the dry mixture and mixed until just combined. Trust me, seeing those little lumps and air pockets is a great thing. When the cupcakes bake, the air pockets will turn into steam and will only add even more moisture to the cake, and overworked batter prevents your teeth from sinking in when you take a bite :).

Seriously?

I began to bake off the cupcakes and got started on my buttercream:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
6 cups powdered sugar
1 T. raspberry liqueur (optional)

The recipe asked for Chambord, or raspberry liquor, but since i did not have any, my mother got the brilliant idea of using a cherry liquor instead. BY THE WAY: before you get as frustrated as I did, make sure you double the icing recipe because I had to make a second batch…unless you decide against piping..but, I’ll get to that in a bit…

Okay, cupcakes are baked off and cooled, I have my buttercream, now it’s time to frost. Taking just a little extra time to pipe the icing as opposed to using a butter knife, I guarantee, will take the cupcakes from “holy” to “HOLY %^&#”. Just be aware, as I mentioned before, piping requires much more icing than a thin spread with a knife across the top. Worth it? You tell me 😀 :

Tons or grocery stores now carry these adorably fashionable cupcake liners that don’t fade in the oven after baking! Adorable. I think the best part of this entire day was using the leftover batter to make mini’s for my family to be able to have a little sample.

Enjoy everyone!  As for my fellow Dubliners and family, I can’t get over how incredible each and every one of you are and I cannot wait to see you all in November! So much love <3.

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You put da lime in da coconut and mix it all up.

Key Lime Pie. Tart, tangy, a little sweet, delicious. It was created in the late 19th century in Key West, Florida. There are 4 common ingredients: key lime juice, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk (because fresh milk was not common in the hot Florida sun back then), and pie crust. Key lime pie is my dad’s favorite dessert, so I thought I’d surprise him for father’s day with something special. As I was looking online for recipes, however, I found myself falling asleep. They were all so boring. I’m not a fan of boring. Some even had you buying pre-made pie crust! I wanted to spice it up a bit and then I came across Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown” key lime pie recipe and as soon as I came across the word coconut, I put my game face on.

It all started out with these gems:

They were so cute. Key limes differ from your average Persian lime in that they have a higher acidity, they’re seedier, and they have a higher tartness level. Their juice is also more yellow instead of green, so if you are about to dig into a “lime green” key lime pie you are more than welcome to call them out on trying to deceive you.

The recipe called for a couple teaspoons of zest and a 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of juice. You  see how small they are. This was a bit tedious.

+

= my hand muscles literally hurting this morning.

It was my own fault, though. At first I started squeezing each little lime into a measuring cup through my other hand so I could catch all the seeds. After about 10 limes I thought, “there has to be an easier way.” Finally, the light bulb turned on and I realized I could just pour the juice through a strainer and boom, I got to squeezing two at a time.

……DUH SAM.

To the zest and lime I added 4 egg yolks, vanilla extract, and a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Sweetened condensed milk is basically a cow’s milk where all the water has been removed and sugar has been added. You can put the can in boiling water and turn it into dulce de leche (yummy caramel sauce):

After I had all of my filling ingredients together, I whisked them for a few minutes, incorporating as much air as possible to get it super thick.

 Bobby told me to let the mixture sit for at least 20 minutes, so I set it aside and moved onto the crust…

In a food processor I combined coconut, graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and just for the hell of it, a pinch of cinnamon. I added melted butter, pressed it on the bottom of my pie pan, and par-baked it for about 10 minutes. As soon as it came out of the oven, I poured the filling on and baked it off again for 15 minutes, or until it stopped “jiggling”.

Before

After!

Note:  From this point on, ALL my pictures will be from the brand new camera I purchased yesterday. I have been saving up for one and went with the Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS and it is absolutely amazing. It’s small enough for me to carry around but takes professional looking pictures, which is only going to make my food look better, which in the end will make me look better than I really am. That, my friends, is a win-win-win situation. 

Moving on. When the pie came out of the oven, I brought it to room temperature, covered the top with plastic wrap, and let it set in the refrigerator for a few hours (well, what should have been a few hours, but we couldn’t wait that long….I’ll get to that later).

As far as pie toppings are concerned, I am not a fan of meringue…it has never appealed to me. I ended up making Bobby’s vanilla bean and coconut whipped cream. I combined the seeds of a vanilla bean, coconut cream, powdered sugar, and heavy whipping cream and using a hand-mixer, beat the living daylights out of it until it turned into stiff peaks.

That may or may not be a finger imprint in the back, there…totally not mine.

When we were finally about to eat, I put the whipped cream in a pastry bag, and decorated with coconut that I toasted and a thin slice of lime . I was really happy with how it looked in the end!

LOOK AT HOW GREAT THIS CAMERA IS 😀



What do you think?

Okay, this is where we need to sit down and have a little chat. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t exactly let it set for as long as I should have. The pie looked so beautiful, but cutting it was, well, a different story. I debated even showing you how it turned out, but life is about making mistakes, correcting them next time, and never apologizing (well, for the minor mistakes :))!

I know. As I was serving it to my family, I decided to change the name of it last minute to “Deconstructed Coconut Key Lime Pie.”

Overall, it tasted absolutely amazing. You’ve got to try it. Here’s the recipe!

I almost forgot to mention the drink my mom made to pair with the pie. She muddled a peach, nectar, and peach schnapps, put it in a blender, strained it, put it in a martini glass  and finally topped it off with some prosecco.  Peach bellini’s anyone?

I hope you all had a Happy Father’s Day! Cheers!

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“Hey yogurt, if you’re so cultured, how come I never see you at the opera?” -Stephen Colbert

I could start off apologizing for how long it has been since I last blogged. Instead, I thought I’d show you a picture of my cupcake and consider this a fresh start. Can we move on from this? Great!

Okay, I should probably give you the quickest summary of what is going on in my life, and then I promise we can start discussing chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream.

  • I started pastry school in Philly in September, but it was not a good fit for me, so I decided to take this year to get a full time job and make money.
  • I was fortunate to get a serving job at Dublin Square in Cherry Hill and got to experience opening a brand new restaurant, a rather eye opening experience. It also doesn’t hurt to have some of the greatest coworkers in the world.
  • In September I am going back to Johnson and Wales to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in Food Service Management and I could not be any happier. This year off was absolutely necessary for me to figure out which direction I wanted to at least start to take after having my culinary degree.
That about sums it up for my life! I’m still the same old SammyRoo with the same ridiculous passion for food :).
Okay back to cupcake business. I adore cupcakes. They are delicious, small, and there positively endless possibilities with what you can do to them. I personally think a lot of society’s everyday problems can be solved with cupcakes. Yesterday I made Ina Garten’s chocolate cupcakes and threw together my own vanilla bean buttercream icing. Ina uses not-your-average cupcake ingredients (such as buttermilk and sour cream), but the end result is a moist cake that focuses more on the deep flavors of chocolate rather than a standard super sweet cake.

The batter starts with butter, granulated, and brown sugar that gets creamed together. Whenever I’m baking anything, I love doing everything by hand, no mixer. When people talk about “love” being the ingredient that makes their dish special, thats what I think of as my love. Even though it may take a bit longer, I find people enjoying what I make all the more fulfilling. 

The eggs then get added, one at time, and then the vanilla. WARNING: If you attempt to make something with an extract containing the word imitation“, it will never be at its’ full potential. Trust me, it is worth spending a couple extra bucks on the real deal. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Buttermilk used to originally be the remaining liquid left over after churning butter from cream. Before I became familiar with the product, I would always cringe at the word, thinking it was ridiculously fattening and terrible for you. In this case, the buttermilk is merely a fermented milk that gets a sour-like taste from lactic acid. Thats why a lot of deep fried meats are soaked in buttermilk before getting breaded because the acid starts to break down and tenderize it!  I consider it a “liquid sour cream”.


Now you may think the second picture was the vanilla, but you are wrong.It’s actually brewed coffee. I don’t know who discovered this, but coffee has this unbelievable way of severely enhancing the flavor of chocolate. I used 4 tablespoons and combined it with the buttermilk and a cup of sour cream.

Okay, as far as dry ingredients are concerned, there are two that HAVE to be sifted every single time, no matter what: confectioners sugar and cocoa powder. If you don’t sift these ingredients you will end up with huge lumps in your batter that no matter how much you mix and no matter how many curse words you say, they will never break. For my chocolate cupcakes I went for the best of the best cocoa powder:

There really isn’t much else I can say about that.

It’s finally time to put all of the ingredients together. I rotated the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture back and forth to original butter and sugar mixture, and the final batter was a big bowl or rich, thick, chocolate heaven.

Yum.

I used to have a serious problem with making my cupcakes even. I’m hardheaded and wanted to prove that I could “eyeball” it and then end up with undercooked, overcooked, enormous, and miniature cupcakes that made me want to never cook again. After a few years, I finally got over my hard-headed attitude and invested in an ice cream scoop and have succeeded in consistency.

equals:

It really is a beautiful thing.

Okay, time for a very simple, but delicious vanilla butter cream. Ingredients? Butter, the seeds of one vanilla bean, vanilla extract, and lots of (SIFTED) confectioners sugar.

Okay my camera decided to not focus during my pictures, but to get those precious gems of vanilla beans, you take a paring knife and slice it all the way down the middle. Then, just simply use the back of the knife to scrape out the seeds.

It looks like ice cream!

And finally……..

I believe that the icing of a cupcake is underrated. It’s what makes them go from “aw” to “awesome”.

The cupcakes came out fabulous. They were so moist and it blew my mind how intense the chocolate flavor was with that little amount of coffee. Here is the recipe for Ina’s cupcakes: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chocolate-cupcakes-and-peanut-butter-icing-recipe/index.html. If there is anything I can leave you with about these cupcakes it’s that these are definitely more of an adult cupcake. I personally would not use her recipe for a child’s birthday party because they prefer the sugary chocolate candy flavor. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed this and I am so looking forward to coming back around to my blog!

Have a great weekend!

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Vanilla Cake + PB Mousse + Vanilla Buttercream = Happy Thanksgiving?

I made the best cake I have ever personally ever made before in my life. I took three separate recipes (the cake, the mousse, and the icing) and put them together to make it “my own”. Later on I will explain the purpose of me making this extremely decadent dessert and you will stop thinking that I am either A) pregnant, or B) really, really bored.

Lets talk about this vanilla cake first. You cannot go wrong with this vanilla cake recipe I found. The cake has stayed extremely moist (even four days later!) and is so tasty you could eat all on its’ own. You can find it here!

I started by sifting together all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Why cake flour? Cake flour is very fine and goes through a process called chlorination. This makes the flour slightly acidic which allows it to distribute the fat content more evenly for an amazing texture.

I then creamed together the butter and sugar in a separate bowl. Whatever the recipes asked for, I did them all by hand. There’s something about really putting the effort in creaming, whipping, and mixing all by hand that makes it that much more special. Granted, when pastry shops and restaurants rely on time management and making products in bulk, of course they need their gadgets to get the job done. This cake was for a really sentimental event, though, and I wanted the “love” ingredient to really get in there.

Then I added the eggs and the mystery ingredient: 1 cup of evaporated milk? I found it odd at first but realized that this is what kept the cake so moist. The milk and the dry ingredients get slowly added 1 at a time until you have your batter. I made sure to evenly distribute the batter between the two 9″ pans as best as I could for even baking, which is always important.

Here’s what they looked like when I took them out of the oven!

Boy, did my house smell good.

While the cakes were in the oven, I put together the peanut butter mousse filling. It was unbelievably easy! I whipped 1/3 of a cup of cream to soft peaks and in a separate bowl combined peanut butter, confectioners sugar, and butter. Finally i just folded the peanut butter mixture into the cream and it turned into  light and frothy peanut butter yummy-ness.

This is what soft peaks should look like. When you lift up your whisk you should see peaks that sort of collapse.

NOTE: before measuring ANYTHING sticky in a recipe (peanut butter, molasses, honey, etc) I always use Pam spray on my measuring cups. It’s less messy and gives you more of an exact measurement!

See how much better that is?

Before adding cream.

After 🙂

The recipe for the mousse can be found here!

Finally, the simple buttercream icing. A lot of intense icing recipes call for you whisking sugar and egg whites over a double boiler or cooking sugar and water until its at a “softball” candy stage, then adding it to whatever ingredients. For me, though, I wanted the peanut butter filling to really stand out in my cake so I went it a simple and easy vanilla buttercream icing.

I know…you might want to Atkins Diet a few days before eating this cake.

When the cakes completely cooled, I cup both of them in half, making this a four layer cake. I added the peanut butter mousse in between each layer and covered the outside with the vanilla buttercream. At the end I though it would be a good idea to cover the outside with crushed peanuts!

What do you think??? I certainly have A LOT to learn at pastry school.

Now it’s time to tell you why I have made this cake. My boy left today for 3 and a half months to study abroad on what is known as “semester at sea”. You can follow him around on his blog, travelwithdinote.blogspot.com as he sails on a mid-sized cruise ship around the world. It will be an amazing experience for him. But, I’m going to miss him more than anything. Since he won’t be home for Thanksgiving this year, his mom thought we should have a Thanksgiving dinner before he leaves. I thought the idea was fantastic. She set the table with her pumpkins and cornucopia, we listened to Christmas music, and the feeling of fall just ran through our blood. It was an unforgettable night.

What’s a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Well, unfortunately NONE of the local markets carried canned pumpkin so we had to go with plan B and buy some pre-made pumpkin pies. With cool whip, of course. And…..my cake 😀

And, if I say so myself, it was amazing.

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Braised Short Ribs with Smashed Cauliflower and Sesame Snow Peas

Before I get into my dinner from last night, I would like to inform you that my oldest brother and parents have been on this diet called “The Metabolism Miracle”. Long story short it requires 8 weeks of a “5X5” rule (no more than 5 grams of carbohydrates every five hours) and then it gradually builds you back to being on your own with carbs. They are six weeks in and have lost a combined total of over 30 pounds! I am extremely proud of them. The reason for me telling you this is because I did not make a starch last night. Also, there are a few vegetables that have to much sugar in them that they cannot eat, such as carrots, which is why I also did not use them in my short ribs dish.

Okay, ready?

Beef short ribs are what I consider to be the little pork spareribs’ big daddy. There are only two ways to properly cook these puppies; either low and slow (French), or marinaded and grilled at a super high heat (Korean). If done right, these tender pieces of meat should just melt in your mouth and become an ultimate comfort food.

The recipe I used, Ina Garten’s, reminded me a lot of the technique I was taught working at Napa Valley Grille. It made me miss that place quite a bit, but was also proud of knowing my steps before reading them on the recipe!

The first thing I had to do was roast the short ribs at a super high 400 degree heat for about 15 minutes. I put some oil, salt, and pepper on them too to give them that nice crust on the outside.

Meanwhile, in a dutch oven I roughly chopped three medium vidalia onions, 1 leek, and 7 stalks of celery. Again, she asked for carrot, but I just chopped more of the other veggies to make up for it in flavor. I sauteed them in some oil for a good 20 minutes or so to get them pretty soft. Once the onions became translucent I added 2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste, about 5 cloves of minced garlic (she asked for 3 cloves…no thanks), and a full 750 mL bottle of Merlot.

Let’s do some simple math:

Plus

Plus

Equals:

Plus:

Equals:

This lovely concoction gets reduced by half which turns it into this opaque deep purple syrupy mixture. I then put the short ribs back into the pot, added 6 cups of beef stock, a bundle of fresh thyme sprigs, covered it and put it in the oven for 2 hours, which should now be at 300 degrees. Incase you were wondering you are halfway to making your own demi glace!

Now, lets get to the cauliflower! I’m telling you right off the bat, this is not the prettiest picture in the food book, but it turned out to be absolutely amazing! I was a little scared to try this recipe, but I did not miss the potatoes one bit…unless, of course, you’re talking about my moms famous mashed potatoes that we get to indulge in once or twice a year. This was also very simple to do. I used one big and one small head of cauliflower, covered and cooked it in about 3 cups of chicken stock for 10-15 minutes, removed the cover, let the stock reduce in half, added parmesan, extra sharp cheddar, and a few tablespoons of butter, mashed it, and served!

Between both the short ribs and the cauliflower, guess how much salt I put in these dishes? 1 tablespoon. It is extremely important to realize that when reducing any sort of liquid, especially stock, the flavors intensify. My mom even buys low-sodium stock and it turned out to be spot on. So, make sure if you’re tempted to season your sauce, wait until it’s at the consistency you want for service!

My mom put together the snow peas to give us some more vegetables as well as add some color to, let’s face it, not the prettiest of meals. She trimmed off the ends, tossed them in oil, a hint of sesame oil (sesame oil is very strong), toasted sesame seed, and microwaved them! They came out lovely and were a great addition to the meal. 🙂

As soon as the two hours was up, I removed the short ribs from the pot, as well as the bundle of thyme, and reduced the sauce even more until my family was basically on my shoulders dying to eat. The more you reduce that sauce in the end, the thicker and sexier it is. Here is how the whole plate came out!

The meat literally fell off the bone and I thought overall it tasted delicious. The best part? An eighth of the GUILT!!

Enjoy everyone!

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Zen.

Zen- Chinese Buddhism. A Mayahana movement, introduced into China in the 6th Century a.d. and into Japan in the 12th Century, that emphasizes enlightenment for the student by the most direct possible means.

If you are ever thinking about going to Barbados, there is something you need to know about dinner time: The busy shift of diners going out to eat begins around 8:30-9:00. My family tends to have early dinners, anywhere between 5:30-6:30. So, when we thought we were all being little daredevils by waiting until 7:00 or 8:00 to go out only to find that we could easily walk into some of the most popular restaurants, we all thought, “where is everyone?”. I think I can speak for my whole family when I say that hands down our favorite restaurant (which we went to twice), was Zen. Zen is a Thai and Japanese restaurant with items that range anywhere from Pad Thai to sushi. The black iron walls, soothing fountains, and different asian masks at each table (see below) made you feel as though you were walking right into Bangkok.

Yes, this mask stares at you the entire time.

Unfortunately, my pictures are from our second go-around, when we went a bit more simple with our choices. One thing we knew we HAD to get again as an appetizer was the grilled dumplings. I have had plenty of steamed and pan fried dumplings in my past, but never have I had these delicate pouches of heaven before.

I’m sure that because of how fragile the wrapping was (my chopsticks could tear them in half), they were steamed and then quickly flash grilled to give them their marks. Regardless, the wrapping, filling, and dipping sauce was just a win win win situation.

I decided on the chicken teriyaki. I don’t care how plain jane chicken teriyaki seems to us foodies, I will ALWAYS go cuckoo for my teriyaki fix. The chicken was incredibly juicy and the added touch of sesame seeds gave it that perfect crunch. NOTE: The ginger salad dressing you get at most japanese restaurants? SOMEONE PLEASE FIND ME THE RECIPE!!!!!!

Apologies for the blur. My brother went simply for the chicken fried rice. As common as that dish is, he said it was by far the most delicious fried rice he has ever had. Barbados is keen on choosing the most fresh ingredients which is something I absolutely love.

My parents decided to split two sushi rolls and went for the spicy tuna and the spicy salmon. Amazing.

Asian food has to be up there with Italian as far as how much I love it. Pretty soon I want to start making my own Asian influenced meals so that I don’t have to go out all the time to find it!

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The Crane Resort- Barbados

Graduation came and went, I went on my vacation to beautiful Barbados with my family, and, well, got lazy. I took the whole idea of “kicking back” during summer a bit too seriously and the more the days added  up without me updating the more I have been regretting it. It’s time to get back into the swing of things and that means way more blogging.

I have to say that I would never have wanted to do Barbados differently. My family goes back and forth every other summer between “active” and “nonactive” summer vacation. Last summer we had a blast in Walt Disneyworld, so this time around it was all about relaxation, sunbathing, and fruity drinks you would never order unless on vacation 🙂 . We stayed at The Crane which was just fabulous. Let me give you a quick tour of the room we got upgraded to:

This was my parents room…..

This is just a little glimpse of their bathroom…it also had an enormous shower. My brother and I had our own bathroom just like this to ourselves!

Here is our living room…and if you turn around and go outside….

What was originally supposed to be a tiny plunge pool turned out to be our own full sized pool!

This was my brother and I’s room…unfortunately, my other brother could not join us for this vacation as he was (and still is) studying his head off for the BAR exam!

We had our own sitting area, kitchenette, and bathroom!

Enough of our room, though, the real beauty comes from the hotel itself. Located on a cliff, The Crane had breathtaking views of the Atlantic and being that it is literally the oldest resort in the Caribbean, the design of everything is so rustic. It almost makes you feel like you’re living in a difference time period.

This is one of the restaurants that we ate at the first night, called L’Azure.

This was an elevator that took you down to the beach! We tried it once, but opted for the stairs for the rest of our trip because although it is a great idea, a non-air conditioned-damp-sandy-small compartment wasn’t exactly pleasant.

One amazing fact about Crane Beach is that it is one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the whole world. I heard about it having pink sand and had to see it for myself. It was like walking on silk, not a pointy shell in sight, the water was crystal clear, and they were right; the sand was really pink!

It is a little hard to see, but if you click on this picture and make it bigger you can definitely see the little pink crystals poking out of the white sand. It was unbelievable!

Here is the view of L’Azure from beach level. Speechless? You have to see it for yourself.

There were three different pools, all of which cascaded into one another. As you can see, the ocean views from the pool were just perfect.

You could walk right up to the edge of the cliffs and admire the rocks below as well as see the hotel itself from a better angle.

This was a separate pool that was oddly closed for the majority of the trip, but I loved the walls that made you feel like you were in a greek amphitheater.

If you thought these pictures were great, just wait until you hear about the FOOD. I captured our way through a few of the delicious restaurants we went to and cannot wait to share! I am so happy to be back!

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