Mystery Device Revealed

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had the opportunity to try out a new device to capture pictures under low light. What impressed me was its performance worthy of a good quality point-and-shoot camera, but in a super slim handheld mobile phone. Mobile phone cameras have come a long way indeed, and to be able to capture decent shots during the night is considered a pretty challenging task, even for full-fledged cameras. Therefore, I am happy to reveal my new found love for the Nokia Lumia 925, which is more than just a smart phone. It is an awesome camera!

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The mystery device

When I first unboxed the phone, I thought the aluminium casing was pretty solid and sleek, without being heavy. It also had a huge screen, but not too big that it didn’t fit my palm. To me, it was the optimum size for watching videos and looking at photographs without having to squint my eyes. One of my concerns with using a touch screen was its responsiveness. I have had plenty of experience with various smartphones where the touch screen just wasn’t sensitive enough to my touch and it was frustrating to say the least. Thankfully, the Nokia Lumia 925’s touch screen was smooth and easy to navigate, even with my cold hands during winter.

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Nokia Lumia 925

Being an iPhone user for the past few years, I was worried that I would find a Windows phone difficult to use. The first time I powered it on, I was presented with different tiles of different shapes on the home page and I thought, where do I start? Thankfully, each tile was pretty self-descriptive and after just a few minutes of trial and error, I was navigating through the phone with ease. Being a Windows phone, it has the capability of operating Office software on the phone itself, which is something I had never been able to do with my own phone. Imagine rushing your work report or finishing that spreadsheet while on the go, without having to turn on the PC. It’s quite fabulous.

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Home page of the phone

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Phone’s camera at the back – solid aluminum casing

Of course, what I’m more interested in with the phone is the camera at the back. As with most Nokia phones, it is powered by Carl Zeiss lens. The camera packs a 8.7 Megapixel resolution within a slim and lightweight aluminium body, and has a huge 4.5 inch HD+ display. When I first launched the camera application, I was presented with several modes: Automatic, Night Portrait, Sports, Night, Close-up, Backlight. Since I was interested in low-light photography, I chose the Night mode for most of my pictures. The good news is, there is even further customization possible since you can change the ISO and Exposure values for the optimum shot. Talk about a a full-featured camera in a phone indeed.

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ISO and Exposure values are customizable

To test the phone’s camera, I made a night trip to the city to capture some of Sydney’s attractions. Since it was my first time using the phone, I set the mode to Night and left all the other settings to Auto. Here are some of the pictures taken using the Nokia Lumia 925 phone, under the Night mode with everything else under Auto (default). To further clarify, all the pictures below were not edited or touched up in any way (except for resizing), so whatever you see is purely the phone’s work. :)

Luna Park Sydney

Luna Park entrance

Ferris Wheel Luna Park

Ferris Wheel at Luna Park

After using the phone’s camera, here are some of the features that I like:

Touch focus – not only are you able to focus on the point that you touch, the camera will automatically capture the shot once you touch on the focus point. With my own phone, after I touch the focus point, I still need to touch on the camera button to capture the picture, and in the process, I might have moved or shaken the camera. Having the capability to touch focus and capture simultaneously allows for sharper pictures with less chances of movement in between.

Automatic Night mode – using just the default Night mode was good enough for most of the night scenery pictures taken around Sydney. This is definitely good news for camera dummies who have no idea what ISO or Exposure mean. Just let the camera do the hard work!

Image Stabilization – during the night of my outing, it was exceptionally windy around Sydney Opera House. There were many times when my hands were shaking due to the piercing cold wind during winter, and I was worried that the pictures taken would be blur. I was pleasantly surprised to find that while some pictures did not turn out as sharp as I would like them to be, most of my favourite shots were pretty clear. And if you look closely, they also have minimal noise level, which is very impressive considering my own point-and-shoot camera still has visible noise capturing night shots.

Nokia Smart Camera – This is an awesome app within the camera that allows users to capture a series of pictures in a row and chooses the Best Shot for you. I found this feature perfect for taking photos of a large group of people, where there is bound to be one or two persons blinking their eyes at the point of shoot. With this app, the camera takes a sequence of pictures within a short period of time, so there is going to be one perfect shot where everyone is smiling with their eyes wide open. And if you have an active moving baby, this feature is perfect! :)

Windows Instagram 6tag – There is actually an instagram client for Windows Phone 8. Well, a great camera certainly needs to have its channel for sharing photos. It’s called 6tag and allows you to upload picture and videos, apply filters, tag your friends, view posts on a map and so on. On top of it I am sharing with you other camera apps.

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6tag for Windows Phone

Now that I’ve shared the features that I like about this camera phone, it’s time to share the pictures taken using it. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

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Sights around Circular Quay

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Boats docked at Circular Quay

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Dining outlet at Circular Quay

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Sydney Harbour Bridge at night

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Sydney Opera House

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The ever-popular Opera Bar

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My favourite shot – Sydney Harbour Bridge

See how there is minimal noise level in all the night photos? I found that pretty darn awesome! I have to say that I now have new found respect for camera phones, after testing out this device. I love the fact that it’s slim and light weight, and fits into the palm of your hand. Also, with it being a phone as well, I actually don’t have to carry extra weight in my purse. Talk about efficiency!

If you want to find out more about the phone, visit http://www.nokia.com/my-en/products/phone/lumia925/
Retail Price : RM 1599

Ferry from Tea Gardens to Nelson Bay

On our second day at Tea Gardens, we woke up early to catch the ferry to Nelson Bay. We did not initially plan to go to Nelson Bay, until we saw a voucher included with our motel stay that provided a 2 for 1 return ferry ticket for AUD$20. That’s quite a deal considering the trip to Nelson Bay would take almost an hour. That worked out to be just AUD$5/person per trip! The ferry departs from Tea Gardens wharf (Marine Drive) at 9.30am, so we left our accommodation just after 9am and parked right next to the wharf. Since it was still early, we had some time to kill and walked around the pier while enjoying the nice morning scenery.

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Path along the Tea Gardens wharf

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Clear morning at Tea Gardens

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What are these called?

Even though it was a weekend, there were not many people around this small town, giving us the much needed peace and quiet away from the city. The many birds chirping and pecking around, oblivious to us, also made us feel like we were part of the nature.

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Pelican swimming in peace

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Saucer enjoying the view of Port Stephens

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One of the many piers along Tea Gardens Marine Drive

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A picture with the pelicans in the background

With such gorgeous weather and quiet surroundings, we could spend hours just watching the birds and listening to the sound of the lapping waters. It was a feeling of tranquility at best. Once in a while, you would get the local couple or two walking their dog past us, while waving a friendly “Hi”.

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Plenty of pelicans

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Sun and sparkles in the morning

About 10 minutes before the ferry was due to start, we were asked to board. Payment was done on board and was a breeze once we showed them our voucher.

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Our ferry is here

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On the way to Nelson Bay

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At Nelson Bay wharf

If you happen to be at Tea Gardens and are interested in the ferry service, do find out whether you can get some 2 for 1 vouchers from the local accommodation.

Tea Gardens – Hawks Nest – Nelson Bay Service:
From Tea Gardens
Departs Tea Gardens 9:30am and 2.30pm
From Hawks Nest (phone to confirm pick-up)
Departs Hawks Nest 9.45am and 2.45am
From Nelson Bay
Departs Nelson Bay 11:15am and 3.45pm

Return Fares: Adult $20, Concession $18, Child $10 (under 5 yrs old free), Family $50 (2 adults, 3 children)
Telephone: 0408-494-262
Email: wallamba1@bigpond.com

Waterfront Bistro

Tea Gardens is really a small town, so exploring the town centre took us barely an hour. But that’s also what makes this quaint little town special and charming. It was as if you knew each corner of the town within a few hours of being there, and felt a sense of closeness to it. We loved the quiet walks down the pier, watching the sun set and also the bright moon at night. On our first evening there, we parked our car near the pier and walked around the small town hunting for food. It didn’t take us long to finally decide on Waterfront Restaurant and Bistro at the Tea Gardens Hotel Motel, since Saucer was in the mood  for steak.

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Bright full moon at the pier

We were there pretty early and the restaurant was not open for business yet. So we took a walk up and down the waterfront and admired the bright moon that was out before 6pm. By the time the restaurant was open, we were one of the first ones there. Saucer had a glass of stout to warm himself up after the cold walk.

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A stout for the cold night

After looking through the normal menu and the specials board, we decided to go for the specials instead. Most restaurants in Tea Gardens have their Specials menu which are rotated daily, making these items more attractive. Saucer had the Viking Cutlet, which was something we had never tried before. Apparently, it is a premium cut of beef, which is a scotch fillet on a bone. It was done medium rare and according to Saucer, one of the best steaks he’d ever had! It was BBQ-ed  to a charred finish on the outside while the inside remained tender and juicy. He also liked the variety of vegetables on the side, which was a different mix to the usual lettuce and spinach. In fact, he loved this steak so much that he wanted to come back again the next night, but we didn’t because it was my turn to pick then. :)

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Viking Cutlet with vegetables (AUD$25)

Since I couldn’t eat anything raw that time, I opted for the Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom pasta, which came in a generous portion. It was cooked al dente with plenty of chicken pieces within. The sauce was creamy and very fragrant, but could be a tad too heavy. Thankfully I didn’t feel guilty eating that since I had the excuse for eating for two then. :)

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Chicken, bacon and mushroom pasta (AUD$18.50)

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Our first dinner at Tea Gardens

Dining environment at the Waterfront Bistro was nothing too fancy. It was dimly lit and well-heated, providing the much needed comfort from the winter night. Somehow, the weather up north was much colder! If we happen to drop by Tea Gardens in the future, this would definitely be one of the places we’d revisit, if only for the Viking Cutlet. Hopefully it would still be on the Specials board then!

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Dining environment at Waterfront

Waterfront Bistro Tea Gardens

Waterfront Restaurant and Bistro

Waterfront Restaurant and Bistro at Tea Gardens Hotel Motel
Cnr Maxwell St & Marine Drive
Tea Gardens NSW 2324
Phone: (02) 4997 0203
Fax: (02) 4997 2453
Email: office@teagardenshotelmotel.com.au
Website: www.teagardenshotelmotel.com.au/bistro.html

Australian Pub Food

If there’s one culture that I thought is quite prominent in Australia, it’s the beer drinking culture that usually happens after work in the many pubs found around town. I suppose it’s one of the common socializing activity out of work, to relax and unwind after a hard day’s labour. While I am not much of a beer drinker, I do find that most pubs here also offer reasonably cheap food. One of the latest pubs that we visited was the Hillside Hotel in Castle Hill, which has an amazing deal of $10 for a 300g T-Bone steak daily. I say it’s amazing because it’s by far the cheapest T-Bone steak that I have seen offered around Sydney. Most pubs offer $10 rump steaks instead and only at 200g.

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The Piazza opposite Hillside Hotel

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Salt, pepper and Tabasco

Being intrigued with its offer, I brought my mom for dinner there one night. Since she’s not a big fan of beef, she ordered the Salt and Pepper Calamari instead, another prominent candidate in Australian Pub Food menu. Some other usual suspects are Chicken Parmigiana, Chicken Schnitzel, Fish and Chips, Spaghetti Bolognese and Pizzas just to name a few. The ordering system in Hillside Hotel is pretty straightforward – one just needs to walk to the cashier, place an order, pay and receive a wireless device that will vibrate and beep when your order is ready. I find that this is one of the most efficient way to order since it requires minimal labour and allows customers the flexibility to order whenever they are ready.

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Salt and Pepper Calamari with Garlic Aioli Sauce (AUD$12)

As expected, the serving was pretty huge considering it’s a dish for starters. The calamari was freshly fried, judging by the scorching hot and crispy skin. They were also nicely seasoned with salt and pepper, without overpowering the very fragrant calamari. We also found them to be tender and moist, instead of hard and tough like they easily would be when they’re overcooked.

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Crispy and tender calamari

As for the special of the night, the 300g T-Bone steak arrived with a generous serving of thick cut chips. I absolutely loved the chips that were served on the side, they were crispy and hot, giving the impression that they were freshly fried. I ordered a side of mushroom sauce to go with the steak, which was separately charged at $3 each. The sauce was thick and creamy, with plenty of button mushrooms within. While I loved the sides that came with the steak, the steak itself was unfortunately slightly overdone the medium rare that I ordered. It was more medium than medium rare, but thankfully it still managed to retain the juices within.

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T-Bone Steak 300g AUD$10

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Steak with mushroom sauce

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Hillside Hotel at Castle Hill

Overall, we were pretty satisfied with the quality of food at Hillside Hotel, especially considering the decent price tag and reasonable portions. On another note, the pictures from this visit were taken with a new device that I had the opportunity to try out. Since the restaurant was quite dimly lit, I was surprised to find that the pictures actually turned out to be pretty good without any editing required. Best of all, this device is small, light and easy to use. If you want to find out more about the other pictures you can take with this impressive device, simply click on this link and take a guess on what device it is… Who knows, you may just win one too! :) www.facebook.com/NokiaMalaysia

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Guess what device I used?

Do you have a good low-light camera device that you personally can’t live without?

Our Baby Moon

Some of you may already have known this – the reason that I have been blogging a lot less for the past few months is that I was pregnant. Yes, I used the past tense, because I have recently given birth to a beautiful baby boy. :) The feeling is indescribable to say the least. I am currently still under the Asian practice of confinement for a month, and at the same time getting used to waking up every 3 hours to feed the baby. It’s definitely not easy and it’s taking a toll on me by making me a constant zombie. But I’m sure things will only get better. :) In the mean time, I would like to just quickly blog about our mini baby moon that we had about 2 months before baby was due. We went for a weekend trip to Tea Gardens near Port Stephens, about 3 hours from Sydney.

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About 36 weeks 

Port Stephens is known for its many gorgeous beaches, but the ones we were closest to were located at Hawks Nest. During our visit, the weather was mostly windy and cloudy, making it extremely cold to stay out for long. The good thing about it was that the beaches were deserted and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

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Beach at Hawks Nest

Before heading out to the beach, we checked in to our accommodation at Tea Gardens Club Inn Motel. We paid for a double room but found out that there was an extra bed given on the side. I thought this was convenient for families.

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Our beds

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Queen size bed

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Sliding door entrance

The room was nothing to shout about – everything provided was basic and practical. There was complimentary breakfast provided but only in the form of cereals, milk, some bread and jam.

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Complimentary breakfast

The bathroom was huge, with a spa bath included! We didn’t use the spa bath though, since we thought it would waste quite a lot of hot water. Such environmental-friendly of us. *LOL* The toiletries provided were very basic, there wasn’t even toothbrush or toothpaste in the set.

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Bathroom with spa bath

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Basic toiletries

Once we checked ourselves in and freshened up, we headed to the nearest beach which was about 5 minutes drive away – Bennett’s Beach. Due to the cloudy and windy weather, the pictures did not turn up to be as nice as they should be. Also, it was so windy and cold that we only managed to stay there for around half an hour before we decided to head back.

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Bennett’s Beach

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We had the whole beach to ourselves!

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A beer in hand to keep Saucer warm :)

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Us at Bennett’s Beach

Couldn’t even keep my hair in place for a picture! :) Despite the cold weather and the wind, standing there facing the deserted beach listening to the sound of strong waves lapping did make us forget the world. It was a nice ending to whatever was left of the short daylight time that we had. Tea Gardens is such a small and quaint town that it took barely a couple of minutes to finish exploring the town centre. It was also filled with friendly people with smiles, so we felt right at ease. Our next task was to find a place for dinner!

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Bennett’s Beach in the evening

Tea Gardens Club Inn Motel
2 Yalinbah Street
Tea Gardens, NSW Australia.
Phone: 02 4997 0911
Email: clubinn@bigpond.com.au
Website: www.teagardensclubinn.com.au

The Making of Mexican Tacos

Last Friday, my colleagues and I went to a Mexican joint for lunch, where I had a burrito with extra spicy salsa. One of the signature of Mexican food is their spiciness, and God knows how I love spicy food! So I came across the idea of making my very own Mexican meal for dinner last weekend, much to the amusement of Saucer. As a beginner, I didn’t want to go through the trouble of making my own spices from scratch, so I decided to opt for the quick DIY way, using one of the established Mexican recipes from Old El Peso. Instead of Burrito, I decided to make crispy tacos!

Old El Peso

Mexican Tacos

The first thing I did was to head to the local supermarkets and hunt for the Mexican food aisle. Once I was there, the bright yellow Old El Peso packages were hard to miss. So I started browsing through them to look for the crispy taco shells and a spicy mix! I chose the most spicy level that I could find from the aisle, which was the Chili Spice Mix.

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Old El Peso Taco Shells and Chili Spice Mix

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Recipe at the back of the Taco Shells box

And as a bonus, there was even a recipe at the back of the Taco Shells box! That saved me the trouble of hunting for the right recipe to use the spice mix. Using the recipe as a guide, I modified a few steps and ingredients since I didn’t have some of them at home. For example, I substituted the beef with chicken, and omitted the cucumber. Here is the adapted version of my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 brown onion chopped
  • 400g chicken thigh fillet chopped
  • 2 small carrots grated
  • 2 tomatoes chopped
  • 1 bunch of coriander chopped
  • 1/4 iceberg lettuce sliced
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Old El Peso Chili Spice Mix
  • 8 Old El Peso Taco Shells

Steps:

1. Heat oil in frying pan and brown the onions until they are soft.

2. Add in grated carrot and chicken cubes. Cook for about 5 minutes.

3. Add in Spicy Chili Mix and 3/4 cup of water. Simmer until sauce thickens (it took me about 5 minutes).

4. In the meantime, chop tomatoes and coriander and mix them in a bowl to create fresh salsa.

5. Preheat oven to 180C and spread out the taco shells on a baking tray. Bake them for about 5 minutes.

6. Finally, remove taco shells from the oven and chicken from the stove.

7. Start dressing your own taco shells with spicy chicken, fresh salsa, lettuce and some grated cheese on top.

Old El Peso

Adding in chicken and grated carrot to the soft onions

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Salsa and lettuce ready to be served

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Spicy chili chicken Mexican style

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Fresh salsa

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The complete Mexican Tacos meal

I loved how spicy the chili mix was! It had a nice kick that was not overpowering yet fragrant and flavorful. The best part was, the spicy chili chicken was so versatile that we could eat it with not just tacos, but with a piece of wrap or even a slice of toasted baguette. It’s all in the flavor. It’s such a simple meal that I prepared in less than 20 minutes, and the plus point is I was given the thumbs-up by Saucer too! And that, my friends, is part of getting your way to a man’s heart. :)

Old El Peso

Mexican Chili Chicken Taco

Mexican Chili Chicken Tacos
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 tsp Olive Oil
  • ½ brown onion chopped
  • 400g chicken thigh fillet chopped
  • 2 small carrots grated
  • 2 tomatos chopped
  • 1 bunch of coriander chopped
  • ¼ iceberg lettuce sliced
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Old El Peso Chili Spice Mix
  • 8 Old El Peso Taco Shells
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in frying pan and brown the onions until they are soft.
  2. Add in grated carrot and chicken cubes. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add in Spicy Chili Mix and ¾ cup of water. Simmer until sauce thickens (it took me about 5 minutes).
  4. In the meantime, chop tomatoes and coriander and mix them in a bowl to create fresh salsa.
  5. Preheat oven to 180C and spread out the taco shells on a baking tray. Bake them for about 5 minutes.
  6. Finally, remove taco shells from the oven and chicken from the stove.
  7. Start dressing your own taco shells with spicy chicken, fresh salsa, lettuce and some grated cheese on top.