29 October 2009

A late night chocolateria

Tonight was a long glorious night. A string of magical moments that had me singing along to my iPod, smiling, dancing and seeming to float just above the ground. With a sprinkle of mother's love, my kids drifted off to dreamland immediately tonight. I crept to the other side of the house, pulled out my supplies, cranked up the music and transformed the kitchen into a full scale chocolateria.

Moments ago, I was up to my elbows in chocolate ganache. I've taken a momentary break to visit my laptop, but will soon be returning to the magic that is roasted cardamom pods, split vanilla beans, toasted chili peppers and cream spiked with bittersweet chocolate. It's just after midnight and a fine veil of bittersweet cocoa powder covers everything within my fluorescent lit kitchen.

With Halloween just a couple of days away and a party on Thursday, my desire to create a spectacular has been stirred. Not that I've been alone in my ventures! My five year old has awaken her inner mischief-maker and has busily been creating orange and black construction paper chains that now line our entryway. My three year old has helped out with the painting of dead plants black and stringing them with cobwebs. And, in a combined effort two home made paper mache pumpkin heads sit atop newspaper stuffed clothing creating welcoming giant pumpkin people. Paper mache ghosts float along the ceiling, orange and black balloons loom over a candy covered haunted gingerbread shack and a pumpkin patch was collaged against our dining room wall. And, at least once a day for the last two weeks, a woodland fairy and a spiderman have donned their attire and practiced their magic spells and web slinging in preparation for October 31.

Now, you might remember from my post of last year that Halloween is not celebrated in Thailand. Prior to our move overseas, I really wasn't overly "into" Halloween. Frankly, it's always kind of seemed like a holiday to get through on the way to my favorite holiday of the year. But, a move overseas seemed to stir some odd desire in me to create a magical dream-like Halloween for my kids. And, so, for our second Halloween in Thailand, I have given into my children's need to fill the house with Halloween schlock and my desire to whip them into a Halloween frenzy.

Okay, back to my truffles. Time to continue dancing to the Monster Mash and whip up another couple dozen pieces of dark chocolate before my little ones awake from dream land. And, when they finally rise, they'll catch the drifting scent of dark chocolate, catch the sparkle of the newly strung fairy lights and the flame of the tiny pumpkin candles as the gauzy ghosts float overhead. Happy Halloween!

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 68:
Ginger Infused Truffles
Dark bittersweet truffles spiked with just a hint of ginger are one of my favorite types of truffles. In addition to buying the highest quality chocolate you can find, look for the very best heavy cream as well... both ingredients make a huge difference in the final product. A delicious grown-up treat that a whole family of goblins will adore.

1 cup of heavy cream
2 cups of bittersweet chocolate
1/8 teaspoon dried ginger
2 cardamom seeds
a pinch of chili powder
a pinch of salt
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In a heavy bottom saucepan, heat the cream to lukewarm. Add the cardamom seeds, vanilla beans and pods. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove the cardamom seeds, vanilla pods and reheat the cream to lukewarm. Add the ginger, chili powder and salt. In a mixing bowl, add the chocolate and pour the heated cream mixture over it. Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well combined and glossy. Pour into a shallow-sided baking pan and allow to cool at room temperature for one hour. Cover with plastic wrap or parchment paper and place the newly made ganache in the refrigerator for a minimum of three hours. (The ganache will keep for one week if well covered and refrigerated). When you are ready to create the truffles, place the unsweetened cocoa powder on a large plate. Using a melon baller, scoop the chocolate ganache into balls. Roll in your hands to create a rounder shape and immediately place into the cocoa powder. Roll gently to cover and transfer to a parchment lined baking pan. Once all of the truffles have been created. Place them in the refrigerator until ready to serve. (Or, transfer to the freezer, freeze solid and then transfer to an air tight container. The truffles will stay in the freezer for three months. Defrost before serving.)

Makes approximately 30 truffles, depending on size.

26 October 2009

Expat mingling

Getting to explore a new land. Spending time immersed in a local culture. Learning more about yourself-- what you love, what you can endure, what pushes you too far. These are all of the elements of a life lived abroad. But, far too often, one of the keys to a robust life lived overseas is neglected to be mentioned-- the other expats.

For the first three months of life in Thailand, I only had a few connections that I had either made during Internet research prepping to live abroad or by a matter of circumstances. In an effort to set up "home" and find some friends for myself and my kids, I had a few bumps along the way... a morning playgroup that turned into a cocktail mixer, the well meaning neighbors, the kid-centered play areas that felt more like a disco. But, as time went on, I slowly began to meet some wonderful people who were also on their expat journey.

A few months back, about ten of us sat around a dinner table. I found myself at a quiet moment and looked around at the faces of those seated at the table. On this particular evening, we were all moms enjoying an evening out sans children. And, as wine was poured and the meal was served, I realized what an amazing experience I was a part of when I took note that my dining companions hailed from the Netherlands, France, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, England, America, Canada and Thailand. The opportunity to talk with women who are all at a similar point in raising their families overseas is one that I get to repeat often as an expat. And, during this quiet moment at the dinner party, I realized again how incredibly fortunate I am to be having this experience.

I have valued these friendships through weekly playgroups, explorations through local markets, mornings at coffee shops, limoncello shots (sans kids) and, yes, even visits back to those nasty Bangkok play areas that still feel like baby discos to me. And, along the way, I have collected wonderful stories from their home countries and generous conversations about their overseas experiences. One can not meet so many amazing people from around the globe and not be changed by the experience. For the positive affect my other expat friends have had on my life, I am profoundly thankful.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 67:
Yeast Dumplings (Kynute knedliky s ovocem)
A wonderful friend from the Czech Republic, and fellow expat living in Bangkok, gave me a gift of a Czech cookbook. Having never cooked Czech food before, I excitedly embraced the opportunity to test my culinary skills out on her gift. After several "test" batches (and a couple of pounds gained!), I fell in love with these amazing little fruit dumplings. I altered this recipe from the one found in "Traditional Czech Cuisine" from the Czech Chefs Association.

for dumpling dough:
2 teaspoons of yeast
1 cup of whole milk
1 Tablespoon of sugar
2 cups of flour
1 egg
pinch of salt

for filling:
1 cup of chopped fruit (apples, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries, blueberries, gooseberries)
1/4 cup of apple juice
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
sugar, if needed to sweeten the fruit

for topping:
your choice of melted butter, confectioner's sugar, cinnamon, yogurt or extra fruit

To make the dumpling dough, heat the milk to lukewarm. Remove from heat and add sugar and yeast. Set aside. In a mixing bowl combine remaining ingredients, then add the milk mixture. Stir until combined and turn onto a well floured surface. Knead and add more flour to create an elastic dough. Return to a bowl, cover and allow to rest for an hour. When you return to the dough, separate it into golf ball sized pieces and set about two inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Begin to make the fruit mixture. Place fruit and juice into a small saucepan and bring to a bubble. Remove a bit of the liquid, place into a small bowl and add the cornstarch. Combine well and return to the fruit simmer. Add sugar if the fruit doesn't meet your sweetness requirements and bubble until thick. Remove from heat and cool.

To assemble and cook the dumplings: Again, working on a well floured surface, flatten each ball and gently roll until the dough is about 3 inches in diameter. Place about a 1/2 teaspoon of fruit filling in the center, pinch the dough closed and form back into a ball. Make sure the seams are well sealed and set the balls seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with all of the dough. Cover and leave to rest for half hour. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the dumplings (working in batches) into the boiling water. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, remove from water and place in a serving bowl. Top with desired topping and enjoy hot!

(Note: you can freeze the filled dumplings prior to boiling. Place cookie sheet containing unboiled dumplings into freezer, remove and individually wrap later. Place into boiling water to cook, when desired, directly from the freezer and double the cooking time.)

16 October 2009

The Pineapple Market

My brain is forever programmed to hear the words Bobae Market and to think of pineapple. It's a Pavlovian response. Would you like to explore the famous Bobae Market, the epicenter of wholesale clothing trade in southeast Asia? Ding. Pineapple. Shall we spend a few hours wandering the steamy outdoor alleyways or the seven floor tower at Bobae Market? Ding. Pineapple. Perhaps we could go pick up some really inexpensive brand name outfits for the kids this weekend at Bobae Market? Ding. Pineapple.

Comprised of an extensive labyrinth of open air alleys and two seven story air conditioned towers, rows and rows of discount clothing fill the stalls at Bobae. (Ding!) I experienced my first trip to the market a few weeks back and while I picked up a few items, it didn't exactly live up to my expectations for clothing. Now, don't get me wrong. The place is filled with clothing and has a strong sampling of what you'll find at other markets in Bangkok. There's a fantastic costume store where you can buy everything from feather plumes to rhinestone studded shoes to crowns and elaborate dresses in every size imaginable. The towers also house multiple stores for children's dress wear that is absolutely gorgeous-- taffeta spun with chiffon overlay and three piece suits starting for your 3 month old and heading up in size. You'll see every T-shirt imaginable, along with biker jackets, men's sized high heel shoes, beauty supplies and name brand children's clothing (manufactured in Thailand and exported). But, for every day wear, it was just kind of... inexpensive in every way. The quality of the every day clothing was flimsy and the location isn't exactly convenient to drop into. However, if you're looking for a unique specialty costume item or want to have a thousand polo shirts custom made-- you'll find it at Bobae.

But, enough about the clothes and the main reason that every other human being visits Bobae Market. I was smitten with the pineapples.

On my early morning drive into the heart of the market, I noticed massive amounts of huge empty baskets being loaded onto trucks. Once I arrived at the perimeter of the market, it seemed that there were baskets everywhere and as I grew closer and closer to the towers, more and more baskets materialized. At the time, I thought it was an unusual sight but wrote it off as something that must be unique to the clothing trade. I shopped for a few hours, wandering and discovering. When it was time to go, I climbed back into the car and, warm from the humidity, cracked open a bottle of water. One gulp into the cool liquid and my eyes bugged out of my head. The sight outside my window was unreal. The baskets were back and full (I mean heaping, over flowing full) of pineapples. With each street and each turn, the baskets were stacked higher and higher on the sidewalk edges and people were resting on their haunches with huge knives, carving the skins off of the fruit. At times, I could only see the tops of fellow shoppers heads because their bodies were hidden from the highly stacked baskets. I flipped open my camera and rolled down the window. The scent of intensely sweet pineapple warming in the sun smacked me in the nostrils.

Upon arriving home, I regretted not stopping somewhere in order to really photograph the scene. A blurry basket was all that I got after snapping in succession as we careened through the winding market streets. But, the memory of that day has forever united the words Bobae Market and pineapple in my brain. Ding.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 66:
Pineapple Satay
Thinly sliced pineapple is made even more delicious when grilled. Add a few pieces to your bbq when making this dish, serve with a side of rice and you'll have a completely delicious meal.

2 lbs of meat (chicken, pork or beef), sliced into one-inch strips
2 cups of pineapple juice
1 hand full of fresh basil, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
bamboo skewers

Place a piece of saran wrap on a cutting board. Place one strip of your chosen meat on top of it and cover with another piece of saran wrap. Using a meat pounder, gently pound the strip until thin taking care not to tear the meat. Repeat with all slices.

In a shallow dish, combine the pineapple juice, basil, green onion, coconut milk and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add the meat. Cover and refridgerate for a minimum of two hours. Remove the meat from the marinade, skewer each with a piece of bamboo taking care to run the stick through the meat several times. Place on a charcoal bbq and cook until done. The cooking time will depend on what meat you select, but should be no longer than a few minutes on each side. Take care not to overcook.