25 June 2009

Street vendor fruit, photo essay two

Here's the second post in a two part photo essay series! Thailand's fruits are just too wild to let the photo opportunities pass one by.

While I'm not entirely sure of the spelling and can't even quite get a consistent pronunciation of the fruit featured on the right of the platter, consensus seems to lead me to thinking that it is called Mong-Pong. Just peel open the shells similar to a pea pod fresh from the garden and you will find bright white starchy fruit. Neither sweet or sour, this little fruit serves as a great snack. Think of it as the popcorn of the fruit universe! On the left of the platter is one of Southeast Asia's most gorgeous fruits-- Rambutan. Related to the lychee, the rambutan looks similar. The flesh is somewhat translucent once you peel back the exterior soft spiky shell.

In the picture at left, is one of Thailand's Red Lady Papayas. Split in half, the fruit is still heavy and fragrant. One of most intensely flavored papayas I've ever experienced, the Red Lady almost tastes like flowers smell. Floral with pungent green notes, the texture follows with a dense silkiness.

And, one of the cutest and best fruits I've ever had the pleasure of meeting is pictured here---mangosteen. With a thick outer skin, the mangosteen resembles one of Asia's plump little eggplants. But, slice it open and you're treated to opaque white segments of fruit that will blow you away. Strong intense sweet flavor pack into these tiny things... in fact, think about the best mango you've ever eaten, add some sugar to it and multiply by ten. Then you're getting an idea of what the mangosteen does on your tongue.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 57:
Passion fruit Puddings
My absolute favorite food in the world! I can not think of anything else I'd rather eat if presented with the opportunity to consume only one food until eternity. These little puddings are a perfect finish to a spicy Thai meal. If Passion fruit isn't easy to come by in your area of the world, hunt some down (or plan to on your next vacation) and try these adorable little puddings.

4 Passion fruits
1 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon of butter

Cut the tops off of the passion fruits, remove seeds, pulp and juice (do not discard). Rinse and dry the shells of the fruit. Set aside. In a medium saucepan add the cream, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened. Remove from heat and strain the pulp of the previously set aside passion fruit to remove 2 tablespoons of the juice. Add the 2 tablespoons to the pudding mixture along with the vanilla and the butter. Stir well. Allow to cool slightly and spoon into fruit shells. Place into refrigerator and just before serving, spoon a small amount of pulp and seeds onto the top of the puddings. Serve with small spoons and enjoy!

20 June 2009

Street vendor fruit, photo essay one

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I adore Thailand's street vendors. And, with so many different kinds of food to sell, it only makes sense that each of their carts is outfitted to do a particular job. Some carts are set up for grilling satay, others for making and serving home made ice creams. The cart here is detailed with the purpose of selling freshly cut fruits. Each fruit is presented in an enclosed glass container, with room for ice to drain off (keeping the fruit cool, but not water logged!).

We've enjoyed so many of Thailand's unusual fruits. And, since so many of them are native to this area of the world and too fragile to be exported commercially, I wanted to spend a couple of postings celebrating our culinary discoveries here. So, please enjoy a few of our unusual finds and if you have the opportunity to try them for yourself... don't let it pass you by. 

Wah, about the size of a large black olive, with a pit in the middle, this fruit is dark purple in color. The skin is thin and a bit bitter. The flesh inside is a bright violet color and is somewhat sour and bitter. Many of the fruits sold from the vendors come with a little packet of chili sugar (see below for a recipe). And, it should be noted that I'm not entirely certain of the spelling of this fruit's name!

Fruit at left: Sala. Looking somewhat like a giant strawberry, the sala fruit should be taken seriously. Harmless looking thorns are sharp and embed in your fingers easily (trust me, I know from plenty of personal experience!). Strongly scented and extremely sweet, the sala fruit is white inside (the red, prickly skin is removed before eating) and has a large pit. Absolutely delicious!

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 56:
Chili spiked sweet salt
A popular condiment provided by almost every vendor selling fresh fruits. The vendor cuts the fruit open, packages it and provides you with a little sachet of the sweet and spicy salt to sprinkle on the fruit. Serve in a small dish, accompanying any fruit of your choice (see picture of wah fruit above!).

1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of salt
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and store in an airtight container for up to four months.

15 June 2009

What I love RIGHT NOW in Bangkok

Every few months, no matter where you live, I think it's a good practice to take a look around and make note of the things that excite you in that minute. What people, places, things really get you excited to be planted where you are? After a quick few minutes of reflection, I always feel a bit more excited to continue blooming where I am planted. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things at this moment!

10 o'clock in the morning. The smell of charcoal wafts through the city's air as the street vendors begin to prepare for the lunch crowd. The light dances on the leaves of trees and the heat rises in little snakey streams from the pavement. And, when the charcoal lights up, the scent transports me to an exotic land. And, then, I realize... wait, this is an exotic land and I get to live here. A happy walk home continues.

Pla Dip, a fusion restaurant. Now brace yourselves, this sounds like an odd combination: Thai, Italian and Japanese. Odd, but somehow it works here. The place features an outdoor wood fire oven, an in-house DJ and an industrial minimalist vibe. A kick-back watering hole, with great food that my husband and I keep returning to time and time again.

The return to rainy season! A few afternoon storms always help to cool the hot humid morning air. No matter where you live, a change of season should be embraced.

School uniforms. As Thai summer ends, Thai children are heading back to school for another term and that brings school uniforms. With an endless parade, it is fascinating to see how all different ages of children attempt to adapt their uniforms while staying within school code. Office supply binder clips seem to be extremely popular with teenage girls. I haven't yet figured out their meaning or purpose, but they are clamped onto the uniforms belts of almost every pre-teen and teenage girl in town. And, with my daughter starting school here in just a few short months, the parade of uniforms provides fodder for the ongoing topic of "school is cool"!

Thai Thai at J.J. market. Located on the outside edge of Section 8 at Chatuchak Market, this little stall offers gauzy hand made clothing items for women. Tunics, skirts, and billowy sundresses from 100 percent cotton in a gorgeous pallette of colors for about the price of two lattes. Can't go wrong.

Funarium. A relatively new outstanding indoor play complex for kids up to age thirteen. With an indoor bike track (with bikes of every size), a basketball court, HUGE bumpy slides of every make, obstacle courses, ball pits and an in-house art studio, this place is heaven for Bangkokian kids and parents in search of active fun in an air conditioned environment. My kids raced until they dropped and I look forward to our next visit!

For a few of my favorite things from months past, take a click here!

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 55:
Rustic Thai Crab Boil
Beautiful, fresh ingredients prepared in the simplest of ways to create something amazing--- the very essence of my favorite dishes. It seems that nearly every seaside culture has it's version of this dish and no matter where you find yourself in the world it's a dish worth serving up!

1 tablespoon veggie oil
1 head of garlic
4 shallots, diced
15 pieces of thinly cut salami
2 carrots cut into large pieces
2 corn, on the cob, cut into large pieces
2 crab (I like Thai blue crab when in Bangkok), cleaned
1 cup broth
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 tablespoon smoky paprika
1 giant hand full of thai basil, plus extra for garnish

In a large stock pot, heat the veggie oil and add the salami, whole head of garlic and shallots. Cook until the shallots are golden. Add a few tablespoons of water as necessary to prevent the ingredients from buring. Add the stock, coconut milk, curry paste, paprika and basil. Bring to a simmer and add corn and carrots. Cook, covered until carrots are fork tender. Add the crab and cook until bright in color (approximately 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the crab). Pour immediately into a large bowl, garnish with basil. Remove the garlic, squeeze out of paper and serve alongside with warm crusty bread (and a lot of napkins!).

10 June 2009

Hello, meet BOB

Have you met BOB? I wanted to tell you about BOB. And, so goes the verbal spillage put forth by my son. Have you met my son? He's the little now three year old running around Bangkok and absolutely obsessed with DreamWorks' newest offering, Monsters vs. Aliens

The whole obsession began around mid-April when movie posters featuring a motley crew of monsters started to appear in Bangkok. The ever-present posters (on the Skytrain and all the shopping mall floors, projected on random walls, bill boards, etc.) struck an immediate chord with my son and my husband and I laughed and played along by telling him the characters names. On and on and on the dialogue went, becoming elaborate and more detailed. Monsters vs Aliens imaginary play games were created in our house, craft projects featuring the characters were started and great discussion ensued: What do you think Dr. Roach (a monster) ate for dinner tonight? What color gelatin is BOB (another monster) made out of again? What would Missing Link (another monster) do if he were here? Do you want to be Ginormica (you guessed it... another monster) tonight mommy?

The one little trick to this obsession is that the movie is really intended for a much older audience. But, after including the friendly little monsters in our lives so often, I broke down, bought a copy of the movie and proceeded to snuggle in with my kids to possibly get it out of my son's system. No luck. After "watching" the movie.... okay, he's seen about 10 percent of it, I hit fast forward and skipped entire scenes... the obsession continues. And, I've agreed to embrace it. So when we celebrated my son's third birthday this weekend, I whipped up a triple batch of butter cream and enthusiastically built BOB's likeness in cake. Viva la monsters.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 54:
Tropical Fruit Cakes
In the event you don't have a reason to cook up a BOB, you might want to find an excuse to whip up these delicious tropical cakes. Light and fluffy, they are really more of a muffin than a cake. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert or warm and serve alongside a glass of fresh squeezed juice for breakfast!

1/2 cup butter
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 large or 6 small Thai variety)
3/4 cup sour milk (add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to sour your own)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons steeped peppermint tea, cooled
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh diced pineapple
1 carrot, grated
1/2 cup cashews, roughly chopped (optional)

Grease a popover pan (a cupcake pan will also work) and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream the butter and add the banana. Mix together and, working progressively down the ingredients list, add each ingredient until all are combined. Spoon into prepared pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden on top. (Cooking time will vary depending on the size of pan you select)

06 June 2009

Beauty Buzz

I enjoy tradition and appreciate history. But, I ADORE anything labeled "new" or "the next big thing." I can't help but just sort of gravitate with curiosity towards a trend. And, if it's not my thing? Oh well, at least I've had the adventure of checking into it.

So, for months now, I've seen an increased number of ads and posters around town promoting little tiny bottles of beverages referred to as Beauty Shots. The bottles are marketed towards women and have all sorts of feminine colors and cute names: iBeauti-full, beauti shot, i-healti, blink (I'm going out on a limb here, but guessing that refers to "in the blink of an eye you'll be gorgeous."). And, they all seem to pack an extraordinary amount of cosmetic filler and vitamins into those bottles. 

So, with my husband out of town (he usually saves me the torture of shopping with the kids) I was left to do our weekly grocery shopping. And, of course, when I strolled by the impressively large segment of the grocery containing beauty beverages, I quickly snatched a couple of them for the cart.

I'm not sure what I was thinking would happen when I swallowed, but I was sure to find a quiet moment to myself (in the event I would turn into some other creature and my children wouldn't recognize me?!). Sending out a quick prayer that there was nothing dangerous in the little metallic bottles, I quickly chugged down one laden with both collagen and beta carentene. Gulp. Swallow. Hey, not so bad. I cracked open the one labeled sugar-free glycosamene and collagen. Hmmm. Intensely carrot and tomato-like, the little shots weren't so bad. Next up, the pink bottle with three days worth of vitamin C and E servings.

I wonder what a beauty shot chased with my newest, hippest, trendiest coconut chocolate cookies would taste like? I'm certain that the world's best cosmetic surgeons inject collagen and then offer chocolate. Right?! Like I said, I enjoy checking into "the newest thing," but tradition isn't so bad either. I'm off to whip up a batch of cookies in hopes of absorbing some of the collagen rumbling around in my stomach...

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 53:
Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
These were invented last week when my kids and I had scheduled a playdate and (horrors!) had no goodies in the house to offer to our guests. So, I pulled out the last egg, my dearly saved imported darkest chocolate bar and bags of unsweetened shredded coconut that I had in the pantry. Devoured hot out of the oven, these cookies were an instant hit!

1/2 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 C flour
1 1/2 C finely grated, unsweetened coconut
1 large dark chocolate bar, cut into small pieces

Cream butter and sugars together until well whipped. Add baking powder, soda and egg. Mix well. Add flour first, stir just until combined. Then, add the coconut. Stirring until well combined. Mix in chunks of chocolate. Form into small balls and gently push down onto a silicone or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 5-7 minutes, until lightly golden, in a 375 degree oven.

03 June 2009

Cracking the shell

One of the many surprises of parenthood happens in the moments I desire to recreate memories from my own childhood. Simple activities that were long forgotten bubble to the surface as I look into the eyes of my own children. Holding my children's hands and walking through the grass in bare feet, picking a dandelion and blowing hard to scatter its seeds to and fro, sucking on a lemon while sitting on hot concrete... all simple moments that happened decades ago and have been replanted into the newly created psyche of my kid's childhood memories.

Some memories are easily repeatable. Others, not so easy. Last week, a simple conversation led me into a wild goose chase of one of my childhood memories. Let's start with two words: Magic Shell. If you're of a certain generation you'll immediately ooh and ahh at the mention of this wondrous ice cream topping that magically turns solid when poured atop a milky scoop of your favorite flavor. My sister and I downed many a bottle attempting to build the perfect rock hard coating when we were a bit younger. So, while whipping up a batch of spaghetti in my kid's pastel colored play kitchen, my daughter announced that I should concoct a perfect pairing of dessert for her plastic noodles is was only natural that I immediately said "Okay, how a bout vanilla ice cream with magic shell?" The land of the imaginary meal cooking halted abruptly and everyone wanted to know what Magic Shell was. I recognized the sparkle in their eyes and knew a fire had been lit. The kids and I popped on our sun hats and headed out on a walk to the store. 

Let's just cut to the chase on this one... no magic shell at the local Bangkok Market. Surprise. Carting two cranky kids home who babbled on and on about how life would not be the same without magic shell was not fun. So, the next morning, I spent two hours chasing down Bangkok's lone bottle of pseudo Magic Shell (actually produced by some other company and delivered under an impostor name of... Hard Coat). The impostor would have to do and I whipped it out after dinner to drizzle on to little scoops of vanilla ice cream. As I watched my kids thwack away at the waxy cocoa coating, I smiled knowing that another childhood memory was taking root.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 52:
Magical Hard Coat Cocktails
For anyone who was, is or wants to be a fan of that magical ice cream topping... cheers to you!

1 bottle of Hard Coat or Magic Shell Chocolate Syrup
1 ounce of coffee liqueur
2 ounces of vodka
2 ounces of espresso
1 ounce of heavy cream*
1 tablespoon dark pure cocoa powder
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 small scoop of vanilla bean or chocolate ice cream, for garnish

Place a cocktail glass into the freezer. Allow to chill for at least 10 minutes, remove and swirl with magic shell. Place back into the freezer. In a saucepan, warm cream over low heat with the cocoa powder and sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool.* Once the glass is chilled and the chocolate cream mixture is cooled, add several cubes of ice to a cocktail shaker. Into the cocktail shaker add the coffee liqueur, vodka, espresso, and chocolate cream mixture. Shake. Strain drink into prepared glass and top with a float of ice cream. Enjoy being a grown up kid!

*Since one ounce of cream is such a small amount, you may want to make extra and keep it in the freezer for future beverage making!