Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dinner at Upstairs at 21, The 21 Club, Manhattan New York

Readers, every so often you come across somewhere that sticks with you.  Sometimes you turn up at a venue with no idea of what you’ve booked, apart from the little knowledge you gained from the internet before you emailed to make a reservation… which asked for a credit card to secure it.

Fast forward a few weeks and with Mr WhatClaireBaked dressed with no sneakers, no jeans and a mandatory jacket for dinner and me in the nicest, least crumpled dress at the end of the holiday, we headed to 21 Club.  We were met at the door by the concierge who accompanied us upstairs and knocked on the door.  Yes knocked.  Next thing we were met by two waiting staff in full dinner suits and led into the dining room.

Upstairs at 21 is something special and from what we could gather, is relatively unknown.  The private dining room seats 32 people max,  

But let’s start with the venue.  21 officially opened on 1st January 1930.  It’s New York’s original speakeasy.  In the era of prohibition, the bottles would drop out from the bar, down trap doors into the cellar.  During a raid, the alcohol disappeared without a trace…  Sitting in a room with so much history makes you think, what was it like back then?  Celebrities, heads of state and figureheads have dined and drank here in peace over the years.  The original owners Jack and Charlie were enthusiastic collectors of art… in the great depression, customers who couldn’t settle their bills with cash did so from their art collection. 

You’re greeted at the doors by ornamental jockeys’ man of whom were donated by some of America’s top stables and the wrought iron gates at the front entrance date back to 1926.  Let’s be clear… this place comes with history as standard.  
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The private dining room “upstairs” is nothing short of beautiful.  Four huge murals adorn each wall of the rectangular room, depicting iconic New York landmarks across the four seasons.   There’s white linen on the tables, the cutlery carries significant weight and there’s crockery when you arrive “for show”.   I’ll be honest, we had no idea what we’d booked.  I found 21 on a New York dining guide.  The likes of 11 Madison Park were out of budget, but we were looking for something with class and elegance for the last night of our trip.   The four course tasting menu sounded great.
upstairs at 21 club new yorkupstairs at 21 club new york

Upstairs at 21 oozes elegance.   It’s 1930s glamour throughout: walking in the front door you can imagine the days of old.   Wives of Wall Street brokers mingling with America’s first lady.  Walt Disney sneaking to a table… you get the picture. 

Dining at Upstairs at 21 is an experience.  It’s to be savoured; food is taken slowly, drinks are poured as you need them and there’s no in, out, have a nice night approach.  We were in the restaurant for nearly 3 hours.  Every course was a masterpiece in itself.  The highlight though, it wasn’t pretentious.  We’re fairly sure a number of diners were significantly wealthier than us, but to Steven our host for the night it didn’t matter.  We were there to enjoy the experience as much as everyone else.  We bonded over our “over the pond heritage” – both hosts were from Ireland.     The couple sitting next to us had been coming to the venue for years and took the time to ask where we were from, how we found the food and wished us well for our lives back home. 

It didn’t feel appropriate to take photos of my food.  So I’m afraid there aren’t any.    I’ll just need to talk you through it…

...We started with fish courses – me enjoying crab cakes and Mr WhatClaireBaked trying oysters for the first time, which came served over ice, with lemon and salsa.     Next, came the mid-course and for both us, lobster ravioli was the only choice.  Pasta was perfectly al-dente, the filling rich and creamy. 

Moving on to mains – a filet mignon for me, with a rich meaty sauce, potatoes and seasonal veg, whilst my partner in crime, went for the duck.   

I broke my own rules of white wine with white meat only, justifying it with the two fish courses I started with, forget the beef that followed – enjoying a Sancerre which I savoured.  

Never one to shy away from dessert, despite the mammoth amount of food we’d consumed, we saved space.   In fact, I was delighted to be told there was a wait for the chocolate soufflé.  It arrived towering over its ramekin (soufflé goals) with cream and a delicious raspberry ice cream.  Absolutely delicious. 

Several hours later, stomachs full and in a comatose state, we realised we were the last left in the dining room.  The staff hadn’t rushed us, in fact encouraged us to stay as longs as we liked and enjoy the surroundings, just in case we didn’t find ourselves back in Manhattan again. 

Despite being slightly anxious on arrival at the formality of the dining room, we both enjoyed the experience, were delighted with the quality of food, standard of service and the wonderful once in a lifetime trip to a little piece of Manhattan history…
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So much so, I’ve managed to find a copy of Jack and Charlie’s Iron Gate yearbook published in 1950. A memoir from the original owners, documenting the famous faces who'd walked through those iron gates  I’m not bothered if it’s battered, bruised and a little worse for wear when my copy arrives.  I just want my own little piece of Manhattan history to stay with me on the bookcase.  When I’m old and my years of travel are a distant memory, I’ll look back on this red leather book with great fondness. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Lunch at Bellagio Las Vegas for Under $100 for Two

Readers, yes, you read the title correctly.  It is possible to dine at Bellagio in Las Vegas for under $100 for two people.

Bellagio is without a doubt, the jewel of Vegas’ crown.  In the middle of the strip, escalators leading to the entrance surrounded by the biggest fountains I’ve ever seen  and crucially, a great place to play the 1c slot machines if you’re in town with no plans to gamble big time.

By chance I read a Vegas blog when I was looking at places to go for some fine dining in Vegas, as a break away from fried chicken and waffles (I won’t like to you all… they were amazing, but back to that later).

I’d read online that Lago, run by award winning Julian Serrano was a pretty amazing place to go if you are into tapas style dining and small plates… they have a gorgeous European style sun terrace and best of all, it’s in the middle of the front of the hotel, overlooking the famous fountains.

lunch at lago las vegas
Starting with cocktails

But shhhhh…. Here’s the bit not many people know.   Bellagio’s famous fountains start at 3pm.  The last sitting for lunch is at 2.30pm… looking for the best seats in the house for the dancing water whilst enjoying delicious food?  Lago could be the place for you.

The best bit – they do a 3 course prix fix lunch menu for $28 per person.  Not widely advertised, but its right there in the middle of the menu if you look closely.  The servers might not mention it, but if you’re keen for Bellagio on a budget – this might just get you there.

We pre-booked well in advance, as Bellagio is world famous. We went on a Monday, so possible quieter than a weekend in the height of summer, but by the time our mains appeared, we had the terrace to ourselves.  15 minutes later, the fountains came on and are nothing short of spectacular.  I could only describe it as feeling like we were part of a private showing as there was nobody else around us.  The water feature is so huge, that the tourists on the pavement opposite, may as well have been ants!

Aside from the spectacular setting, it’s a great place to escape the madness of the Vegas strip.  The terrace has a laid back vibe, cocktails and great beers are available and special mention should go to Antonio from Lisbon who was our server.  He never rushed us, left us in peace to enjoy the view and provide some recommendations of things we might enjoy off the menu.

I started with the antipasto plate – filled with Spanish cured meats, cheeses, olives and roasted peppers.   So much for small plates… I could have shared my plate with Mr WhatClaireBaked as it was HUGE.  But in the spirit of testing the food for the blog.  I wired through by myself.  Mr WhatClaireBaked went for the equally delicious seafood salad.
lunch at lago las vegas
Antipasto to start

After a bit of a breather, we got stuck into the Italian themed mains – this time a bit smaller, but still enough to feel satisfied after.  Note – we went wild and ordered rosemary potatoes and grilled asparagus on the side but even without these, the small plate sizes were filling.  I had two gigantic meatballs whilst the lasagne verde was served across the table (tried a little, it was also fab).
lunch at lago las vegas
Our mains

The only thing you don’t get to choose is the dessert, which is noted on the menu as “chefs choice”.  Provided you’ve no food fears and are open to try anything, you’ll probably not be disappointed.  We were served a delicious tiramisu with coffee ice cream and a lemon meringue slice with pastel coloured chocolate disks.  Presentation was beautiful.
lunch at lago las vegas
Spot the fountains in the background

After an amazing lunch, we took the time to enjoy our drinks in the sun overlooking the fountains and never once felt rushed.   A little piece of tranquility on the Vegas strip.  And if you get the chance, don’t rush out after lunch.  Enjoy the themed display around the lobby (Autumn was the feature during out visit), take a stroll around the shops and make sure to place your bets in their famous casino… for a small tip, waitresses will make sure you have a drink in hand as you place your bets.  

So there you have it, lunch for under $100 for two at the famous Bellagio resort. 

For reservations visit their website
or to find out more about Bellagio, check out their Facebook page.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Vegan, Dairy Free & Gluten Free Caramel Shortcake

Readers, a miracle happened in the kitchen this week… I made something with substituted ingredients which tasted, not too bad AND remotely close to the real deal. I found the original recipe for these on Pinterest, named as Twix Bars, but in reality, when I made them, they looked more like slices of caramel shortbread.  Maybe in America, they don’t get caramel shortbread?

Anyway, this actually only uses about 6 ingredients, just reformatted in a lot of different ways.  I even ended up with something remotely chocolate like from cocoa powder.  Who knew?!

This made around 10 slices, and they are REALLY filling, so around 5 days after making them I still have 3 slices in the fridge.  Be warned, you really need to keep these refrigerated before you eat them, otherwise the “chocolate” and the “caramel” go really soft and gooey – I made the mistake leaving it on the desk at work, barely edible by the time I got to it in the afternoon.

Anyway, many thanks to Bakerita for the original recipe.  I made my own nut butter for the recipe – easy – ground almonds, in a food processor for a bout 15 minutes.  Prepare to be amazed!!!!


2/3 cup coconut flour
¼ tsp salt
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup solid coconut oil

½ cup almond butter
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt

¼ cup melted coconut oil
¼ cup coca powder
2 tablespoons maple syrup


  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan.
  2. Line a silicone 8inx8in pan with baking parchment.
  3. Combine all ingredients for the base in a bowl and bring together to a dough, using your hands.  Press the dough into the base of the baking pan and transfer to the oven. Bake for around 8-9 minutes until the biscuit goes golden.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.
    Press into the tub

    Bake perhaps for 30 seconds less than I did!
  4. For the filling, add all filling ingredients to a small pan and gently warm through, stirring, until the ingredients are fully combined.  Remove from heat, pour over the biscuit and transfer to the fridge to set. 
    Prep the filling 
  5. Make the chocolate topping by melting coconut oil and whisking with the maple syrup and cocoa powder.  Pour over the set filling and use a silicone spatula to smooth out before returning to the fridge to set.
    gluten and dairy free caramel shortcake
    The finished article
  6. Once set, slice into small rectangles and store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve. 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Dairy Free Protein Brownies

Readers, I’m just about surviving this whole non dairy thing.  The lack of cheese has been challenging and I’ve absolutely failed in kicking my chocolate habit completely, but I am noticing a difference.The bloating has stopped, I’m starting to get into shape and I’m discovering how creative you can be with non-dairy ingredients in cake.

I saw this recipe in Joe Wicks Lean in 15 cookbook and decided it to give it a go for myself. Note – these don’t really last any more than a couple of days – I made them midweek last week and by this morning (Sunday) they were starting to go mouldy. I assume it’s because of the lack of preservatives.  So if you happen to be the only person in your gaff that enjoys a protein brownie, I’d suggest you make a half batch to stop any wastage…

These were dense, super moist, made without refined sugar and the lack of flour also means they are suitable for gluten free diets.   Worth a go, but note – these are more cakey than brownie, expect a dense moist cake like thing coming out of the oven, rather than a gooey brownie.  I’m pretty sure these are a bit better for you though, than something off the shelf, or a standard chocolate brownie recipe.  

Happy baking.

The original recipe is available in the Joe Wicks book – I made a few amendments based on the ingredients I had available in the house.
dairy free protein brownies

Dairy Free Protein Brownies

Ingredients – makes 12 bars
140g cooked beetroot (in natural juice)
175g ground almonds
120g chestnuts (blitzed in a processor with water to make a puree)
30g cocoa powder
45g honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 medium eggs


  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan
  2. Add all your ingredients to a food processor and turn into a smooth batter (you may need to stop and start and wipe down the sides with a spatula, to make sure the mix is well incorporated).
    In the beginning, there were ingredients

    And then they were blitzed
  3. Line a silicone 8in x 8in brownie pan and transfer the mix to the pan.
  4. Bake for around 18 minutes before removing from the oven.  Allow to cool, then cut into bars.  Enjoy!
Allow to cool before slicing

dairy free protein brownies

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Glasgow Living Part 7 - Black Dove, Shawlands

 Readers, apologies for being quiet over the summer months, it seems to be how things go in the blogging world.   I’ve been doing lots of dining out posts recently, probably because we are so spoilt by amazing restaurants in Glasgow.  Since moving Southside last year, Shawlands has seen so many new places open. 

We’ve been saying for months that we’ll try out Black Dove and never quite got round to it, then in the space of 3 days, we visited Black Dove and Pazzo (next door) for lunch and dinner.

My lovely Ma and Pa are not quite city dwellers, so every time they come here I try to take them somewhere nice and showcase the great food offering we have locally.

Black Dove on Kilmarnock Road opened around a year ago and its black signage and sleek looking brand really elevated the venues locally to a new level.  Until last week and a chance visit to the 5pm website, I had no idea they did any sort of dining deals.  By chance, I found a lunch special, offering 2 courses and a soft drink or beer or wine, for £12 per person.

My parents aren’t big fans of overly “fancy” food – so I was delighted to see fish and chips (albeit a classy fish and chips on the menu).  There were a number of meat options, but they decided to play it safe.  Unusual for me, I went for a vegetarian option.  I had the pea and pearl barley risotto.  
black dove shawlands

Delicious but as the pearl barley was so filling, also unusual for me, I never managed to finish it off.
Dessert options were beautifully presented.  I’ve been trying to cut out and avoid dairy, so have eaten A LOT of sorbet this summer.  Luckily, the blackcurrant sorbet at Black Dove was paired with meringue, lemon curd and edible flowers, elevating it to a delicious and refreshing dessert.    Dad went for the chocolate ganache, caramel and banana combo which usually would have been right up my street, but alas, not this time.

There were a few other tables in on the Monday we went – from friends, to a young family and me, the grown up with my folks.  Service was great, food was timely, but not rushed – we were in and out in an hour and a half.  Now I have an idea of the amazing standard of food, I look forward to heading back with Mr WhatClaireBaked in the near future. 

Find out more on Black Dove's website, or on social media 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Dairy Free & Gluten Free Vanilla Cupcakes

Readers, for health reasons I’ve been trying to cut dairy from my diet.  The cheese is an issue.  A big issue.  Other than this, I’ve managed to find substitutions, including swapping to almond milk at breakfast, cutting tea and coffee (I’m trying to wean myself off bit by bit and swap to water) and eat as normally as I can, making dairy substitutions if possible.  I did a nutrition course last month and learnt loads about why eating less dairy can be good for you.  

Anyway, as I love a cake, I’d been trying to make some changes to a standard cupcake recipe.  Going home for the weekend, I didn’t want to turn up empty handed, but equally didn’t want to have to avoid my cakes I’d made.  So we went dairy free.  A word of warning – these will only keep 3 days tops, hence the smaller recipe for 6 cakes, as they don’t preserve too well.  I also kept mine in the fridge until just before serving , to keep the topping firm.   And who knew…. It’s even possible to make a substitute for buttercream!

Happy Dairy Free Baking!
dairy free gluten free cupcake

Ingredients (makes 6 large cupcakes)

125g coconut oil (solid consistency)
125g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g gluten free self raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 can full fat coconut milk (refrigerated for 24 hours before use)
Icing sugar to whip
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Strawberries and cherries to decorate

  1. Put a can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge for 24 hours before baking.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/Gas 6.  Add 6 large cupcake cases to a muffin tin.
  3. Cream together the coconut oil and sugar, in the way you would do with butter.  The coconut oil needs to be firm and not in liquid form.  Add vanilla extract
  4. Once creamed and fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time and mix with a spoonful of flour to prevent curdling.  Then, add in the remaining flour.  The batter should look like a cake mix. If it’s a little too thick, add a splash of almond milk to loosen.
  5. Spoon the mix into the cases to around ¾ full then bake in the oven for around 17 minutes, or until golden in colour and skewer in each cake comes out clean.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Put a mixing bowl and your beaters into the freezer for 10 minutes.
  7. Whilst cakes are cooling, start to prepare your topping.  Remove the bowl and beaters from the freezer.  The cold will help set the frosting.  Tip the coconut milk upside down,  This will separate any liquid from the solid. Drain off the liquid and transfer the solid to the mixing bowl.
  8. Slowing add in icing sugar and start to whip up as you would butter cream.  Add in the vanilla extract and taste as you go – the aim is to have a sweet frosting to your liking, with a hint of coconut. Mix until the frosting is strong enough to be piped through a nozzle and hold its shape. 
  9. Once happy with consistency, transfer to a piping bag with an open star nozzle.   Check cakes are cool before piping a swirl on each.
  10. Finish with a cherry or strawberry.  Serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to eat.

dairy free gluten free cupcake

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Glasgow Living Part 6 - Dinner at Atlantic Bar & Brasserie

Readers, it’s been an exciting week for my wee Glasgow living feature.  On Tuesday night, Nikki from Couthie Cantie and I were invited along to an exclusive blogger event being held at Atlantic Bar and Brasserie at St Vincent Place in the City Centre.  Owned by the Di Maggio Group and located under sister venue Anchor Line, this classic French bar and bistro was the high of a sophistication for some Tuesday dining in the city.
Atlantic Bar Brasserie Glasgow
Welcome to Atlantic
We were spoiled with the weather – the sun was splitting the pavement when we arrived and hoards of people were enjoying cocktails and drinks on the terrace.  Honestly, we could have been in a glamorous European city when we turned up. 

Our event started at 7pm with cocktails in the bar.   We had a choice from some fantastic beverages, all mixed in house in front of us by some great mixologists. Nikki went for a Bardot to start, whilst, as a gin lover, I stuck to the Saveur D’Orange with refreshing citrus flavours, which got us set up for the night.  We could have enjoyed several cocktails but instead decided to stick to one and move onto wine with dinner.

We were seated at an elegant table for two in the back corner of the restaurant – surrounded by photos and memorabilia from the golden age of sea travel.  Coat pegs were numbered – just like you’d find on the cabin of a boat… how very elegant!

We were offered a L’Escargot to begin out night.  Needless to say, neither of us are regular snail eaters so were apprehensive, but after one of the staff suggested there was no better time to try than in a French restaurant, we gave them a go.  Served in a delicious sauce with bread, the idea was more scary than the actual eating of them.  We managed 3 each, before toasting each other with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the house selection – delighted we’d conquered the fear.
Atlantic Bar Brasserie Glasgow
Next we moved onto starters -  as two people who were completely indecisive when it came to selecting our choice, some guidance from the incredibly helpful staff led us to try the scallops and black pudding with apple puree, as well the charcuterie selection (meant for two).  So there’s already enough for three on the table, but we went for it., leaving a little morsel of scallop behind.  The scallops were beautifully presented with a portion having 3 scallops on the plate – just the right amount.
Atlantic Bar Brasserie Glasgow

Atlantic Bar Brasserie Glasgow

After warming up with starters, meat loving Nikki decided to take a risk on a vegetarian main and was not disappointed.  Choosing La Tartiflette, she wasn’t disappointed by the layers of Ratte potatoes with garlic, onions, crème fraiche and golden melted cheese which arrived.  It smelled and looked amazing, however, as I’m currently cutting out dairy, I could only admire from afar. I selected a classic beef bourguignon.  It was soft, tender, slow cooked and was richly flavoured with Burgundy red, served with mash and carrots and courgette.  Rich comfort food at its best. Portions were generous and had it been a cold winters day, I probably would have demolished it all.  Given we’d gone overboard on the starters, I didn’t quite manage a clear plate.

Atlantic Bar Brasserie Glasgow

There was no way we were leaving hungry and our lovely servers were keen to make sure we enjoyed something from the selection of delicious desserts.  I’d have tried everything given half the chance, however, due to current dairy restrictions, I’d to ask for an off menu selection.  The staff couldn’t have been more helpful, suggesting a blackcurrant sorbet with a selection of forest fruits.  It was the perfect end to a rich dinner.
Atlantic Bar Brasserie Glasgow

So highlights from us – the staff for sure.  We felt like each of them really cared about their job and the customer.  They were knowledgeable, helpful and went the extra mile to ensure that we were looked after.  Nothing was too much trouble.    The owner even popped in to see us, took the time to come over to each table and asked what we’d enjoyed about the night.

A relative newbie to the Glasgow dining scene, we were impressed by the experience, loved the décor and thought it would be a great place for a girls dinner… starting with a cocktail in the bar and ending with a crème brulee (or two) over a Glasgow of cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Cocktail Menu! 

For more information check out their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Disclaimer:  We were invited along to dine at Atlantic as guest bloggers. Any opinions expressed are my own.