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November 2007

28 November 2007

The Tastes & Textures of Thailand


I've been meaning to post this piece for a while so I could share some insights into the tastes and textures of Thailand. On my recent trip there, which wasn't for pleasure mind you, I was lucky enough to eat some really fabulous food.

It is hard not to eat well in Thailand especially when buying from the street vendors where there is always something new and exciting to be discovered. Mind you, I did have one particularly ghastly food experience which I will share at the end. Maybe. But for now, here are some of the delightful things I got to eat.

Thai Khanom, otherwise known as Thai sweets, are very special. Coconut and Bai Toey, or pandanus leaf, are often key ingredients in the little jellies featured below. Pandanus leaves are long and slender and have a wonderful aroma that is used for anything from flavouring sweets, wrapping and barbecuing chicken in, flavouring drinking water and even deodorizing taxi cabs! It's true. I took of photo in the back of a cab that had a whole bunch of leaves just sitting on the dash board. The cab smelled wonderful.


Kao Niew Mamuang, or sticky rice and mango is my favourite Thai dessert. I crave it often. I can actually make it now that I have a sticky rice steamer but it is not the same as it is in Thailand. I am not sure what it is, maybe just the extra Thai touch. Towards the end of my trip, I made a point of eating it every day just to get my fix. The Kao Niew is steamed and then mixed with coconut cream that has been boiled with sugar and little bit of salt and then served with ripe mango.


Continue reading "The Tastes & Textures of Thailand" »

25 November 2007

What a tart!


A tart indeed...a dark chocolate mousse tart with raspberries on top. This is my entry for this month's Waiter there's something in my...topless tart, being hosted by Cook Sister.

I got up at 8am today and started making this rather decadent dessert. I hadn't had any breakfast so I kind of ate bits and pieces of the ingredients. A raspberry here, a spoonful or three of chocolate mousse there...that sort of thing. Now, it's entirely justifiable to taste as you cook. It's the only responsible thing to do in the circumstances. However, as I am typing this out, I'm trembling from the early morning overload of sugar. Deep breaths.

The tart was pretty easy to prepare. I used my chocolate mousse recipe I made for Bastille Day a few months ago (minus the orange rind). The tart base was simply finely crushed biscotti mixed with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter. I could only seem to find biscotti with almonds or raisins in them so I opted for the latter. I just picked them out when I crushed the biscuits.


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23 November 2007

The Sunday Roast


My mum grew up on a small farm in rural Queensland, Australia in the 1950s. She had a horse, several cows and a flock of chickens. Each Sunday the family would get together and have a Sunday roast. It was an all-day affair that began at the crack of dawn.

Her dad would kill a chicken at first light, soak it and then it would be mum's job to pluck it when she woke up; a task that still haunts her to this day.

Her mum would milk the cows and with the fresh cream, she'd make butter for the table. The potatoes, carrots, peas and herbs would be picked fresh from the garden. Another one of mum's jobs would be to shell the peas, which she'd do till her little fingers were sore. She needed enough for four people, after all.

By the time the meal was served it would be would be two o'clock. Then came afternoon tea at four with a sponge cake, fresh out of the oven. And then it would be time for supper. A weekly ordeal!

While it sounds idyllic with all that fresh produce, what a hell of a lot of work! All but the beheading was done by the women, while her father and brother would retire to the couch to read. Pah!

What a long way we've come: I whipped up this roast in an hour and a half with only 20 minutes of prep time - and, to show how far women have come, I made Nic do all the chopping while I read the latest issue of Gourmet.

And so it was that an hour an a half later we tucked into a delicious roast chicken with a lemon herbed butter. The butter consisted of fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley and grated lemon zest.

When I roast a chicken, in order to get really crispy skin, I bake it on top of a wire rack that I fit over the baking pan. This way, all the juices run into the pan instead of having the chicken sitting in them while its cooking. The result: deliciously crispy skin!

This week I will be submitting this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging which is being hosted by Truffle at What's On My Plate.


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19 November 2007

Purple potato and artichoke chowder


Traditionally, a chowder is a milk-based soup flavoured with bacon and thickened with flour or saltine-like crackers. The soup can contain anything from seafood, to potatoes or whatever vegetables are available to the cook at the time.

I used artichokes, purple potatoes and some leeks. I slightly adapted the recipe I found on a website called SPUD which called for the use of soy milk instead of milk. Not this time though, I needed something a bit heartier than soy milk.


To give the soup a smoky flavour I used ground cumin and for some sweetness, I added fresh sweet basil. Just before serving, I added a generous shaving of Parmigiano Reggiano which gave the soup an extra kick.

If you don't have purple potatoes, not to worry as they don't seem to taste any different from normal potatoes, they just add a great flash of colour to the otherwise neutral shades of the chowder. These little purple gems are known as Purple Peruvian potatoes and were considered by the Inca to be food of the gods.

Their colour is gorgeous and holds pretty well despite being steamed and then boiled.   


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16 November 2007

The Humble Lamington


The humble Lamington: a squarish piece of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and then rolled in desiccated coconut. They can also come with a cream or strawberry jam filling.

The Lamington is a quintessential part of every Australian's childhood, because they are sold at tuck shops (canteens) around the country and they are the most popular treats to sell at school fairs.

Lamingtons are believed to have been named after Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington, Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901.

Governor Lamington is reputed to have been highly displeased with his name being lent to the little sponge cake due to his rude utterings about them. I won't repeat what he was alleged to have said but let's just say he would have preferred to have been remember for other things.

I found an excellent recipe for Lamingtons on the Joy of Baking website. The sponge cake, which I was a bit apprehensive about making, turned out perfectly. It was light, moist and delicious.

Continue reading "The Humble Lamington" »

13 November 2007

Thai in Ten: Hoi Lai Pad Prik


Hoi Pad Prik translates to Fried Clams with Roasted Chili Paste. I use the Mae Pranom brand of paste which I picked up in Thailand recently. It contains vegetable oil, dried shrimp, dried chili, onion, garlic, tamarind, sugar and salt. The paste can sometimes be labeled in English as 'Chili paste in soy bean oil'.


If you can't find it, don't fear! Up until I got hold of the Mae Pranom brand, I used a Chinese dried chili oil paste, which worked just as well and is easier to find.

It is really important though to cook the clams over a hot flame so I always use our portable gas cooker for this dish.

This recipe is so simple to make and literally takes only a couple of minutes to cook. Even on these colder days, it's fun to slurp up the clams, beer in hand, sauce on chin and pretend we're at the beach in Thailand.

Continue reading "Thai in Ten: Hoi Lai Pad Prik" »

09 November 2007

Bovetti Bars: turning chocolate upside down


I discovered Bovetti chocolates on a recent trip to Montréal. The artisan chocolate originates from the Périgord region in France and is made from high quality pure cocoa butter. What makes the chocolate so tempting is that it comes with a wide range of exciting and innovative 'flavours'.

The chocolate bars come in dark, milk and white chocolate that have one side coated with anything from fennel seeds, banana chips, chili flakes, peppercorns, to my favourite... the ubiquitous caramel and Fleur de Sel. There's just something extra special about the Bovetti version that trumps other caramel salt chocolates. I think it may be the texture of little chewy pearls of caramel interspersed with crunchy salt crystals melting on you tongue. Whatever it was, it made me demolish three bars in four days. Ssshhh.

I was on holiday after all.         


07 November 2007

Thai Red Duck Curry


I recently made this Thai Red Duck Curry to warm us up on a chilly Sunday evening. I always think duck meat is best complimented with something sweet like plums, honey or, as in this case, lychees and pineapple. These fruits really add layers of flavour to the curry. Canned lychees are ok for this recipe but it is important to use fresh pineapple to take full advantage of its tropical tartness. Canned pineapple doesn't work because its sweetness isn't balanced by any acidity.

It is also really important to try and use Thai Basil in this recipe as it has a stronger flavour than other sweet basils and a faint licorice essence.   

I kind of cheated with the duck. I didn't cook it myself. Why bother when Chinatown is five minutes away with hundreds of freshly barbecued ducks for sale!

This week I will submit this recipe to Weekend Herb Blogging which is being hosted this week by The Expatriate Chef from The Expatriate's Kitchen


Continue reading "Thai Red Duck Curry" »

05 November 2007

Breakfast for one: Eggs (salmon) benedict


Syrie had to go out early this morning. So I woke up today alone and with the kitchen to myself. I love cooking breakfast for myself. Syrie prefers the simplicity of a dippy egg or the wholesomeness of bircher. This morning, though, I cooked myself my favourite breakfast: Salmon Benny!

After almost three years of living in Vancouver, I have yet to find a place whose Benny I love. In Sydney, I loved Le Petit Crème's on Darlinghurst Rd (although it was so rich, you often developed slight feelings of regret for the following half hour). Most of the Benny's I've sampled recently, however, have no tang. They taste like a cheesy butter sauce. I think the difference is that I learnt to make Hollandaise with lemon juice and vinegar. I'm not sure vinegar is widely used to make Hollandaise around here.

There are lots of variations on Eggs Benedict. My favourite replaces the ham or bacon with smoked salmon.

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01 November 2007

Upside Down Caramel Banana Cake


I saw the recipe for this cake in a Delicious magazine a few years ago and promised myself I would make it one day. Well that day came and last Sunday was my Caramel Banana cake day. The recipe was measured in metrics which drives me nuts.

I understand how neat the metric system is when you're converting cubic centimetres to litres and I far prefer Celsius to Fahrenheit (0°freezes, 100°degrees boils - Mr. Fahrenheit must be kicking himself: "Why didn't I think of that?"). I'm sure the metric system is very useful when you're building a house, but I have a very hard time trying to work out what 180 gms of flour is. Cooking lends itself to measurements in cups or teaspoons - we have cups and teaspoons just lying around... Why complicate matters?

So to aid me in my cooking conversion crisis, I use the site ConvertMe.com. It's pretty handy and will help you convert measurements from anything from butter to shelled walnuts.

Anyway, the Caramel Banana cake was a success. I added a touch of pure Mexican vanilla which gave the cake a deliciously rich aroma. Another addition was a big dollop of freshly whipped cream.   


Continue reading "Upside Down Caramel Banana Cake" »

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