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The best salad award goes to the Asian Chicken Salad at Jerry’s and Corner Cooks in Winnetka, IL. I swear this salad was made just for me. The combination of dates and goat cheese (I ask for extra) is enough to make me weak at the knees. Adding fresh avocado, tomatoes and crispy wonton strips gives the salad color and texture. Finally, top this mountain with shredded chicken and Jerry’s homemade peanut-lime salad dressing, and the next thing you know, you will have cleaned your plate.

If you can’t make it to Jerry’s to try this masterpiece, making it at home is pretty easy. Just top romaine lettuce and cabbage with your favorite salad veggies. The wontons are key- Jerry’s are homemade but you can buy them pre-packaged at your local grocery store. As for the dressing, making your own peanut sauce will always taste better than something store bought. Go for a recipe that calls for a lot of lime and a little heat, adding more of both ingredients as you blend. Personally, I tend to double the amount of lime in my homemade peanut dressing, because who wouldn’t want more lime?

Finding a good salad in Thailand is like trying to track down a needle in a haystack. Unless you are willing to pay exorbitant prices ( I am almost at that point), salad is just not something the Thai palate craves. Before Thailand, I had salad for dinner almost every night. In my mind, it is one of the most versatile side dishes; change the ingredients around and  salad will compliment almost any main course. For the last six months, I have basically gone cold turkey (with a few exceptions). Needless to say, I find myself dreaming about salad more than I should.

** Picture taken by Holly Stuart Designs

Last spring, Sean and I woke up Saturday morning and decided to make a not-so-typical breakfast. We headed to Treasure Island in the pouring rain, picked out our ingredients, and came home ready for a feast.  On the menu: Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and pesto scrambled eggs on ciabatta.

The key to the bacon wrapped dates is to make sure your dates are not pre-pitted and big enough to stuff. I would recommend medjool dates. The first step is to slice them lengthwise until you hit the pit. Open the date, take out the pit, and spread a good amount of goat cheese into the crevice, then close the date. Wrap one piece of bacon around the date, using a toothpick to help secure the package. Cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until the bacon begins to get crispy. Take off the heat and set on a paper towel to soak up any extra bacon grease. If you want to taste test bacon wrapped dates before trying to make them on your own, check out a Spanish or tapas restaurant, they are bound to have them on the menu!

 

Now, it is time to start your scrambled eggs. In a bowl mix 4 eggs, a splash of milk, a pinch of salt and pepper, and about a tablespoon of cream cheese. I learned this trick from a friend’s Italian mom after having the best homemade scrambled eggs on the planet. The cream cheese helps make the eggs fluffy and creamy. Beat the mixture and add the pesto. Cook the scrambled eggs on medium heat. While eggs are cooking, cut a ciabatta bun in half, butter, and lightly toast. Now it is time to prepare the sandwich. Spread some extra pesto on one side of the bun and spoon on the scrambled eggs. I like to add a slice of ripe tomato and a few slices of avocado; Sean also likes to add another piece of bacon.  For those who like a little heat, dash a bit of Tabasco on your eggs and enjoy.

If you are getting sick of the traditional eggs and pancakes, these two recipes will makes for an upscale and delicious Sunday morning brunch.

In need of some fresh air and cool weather, Sean and I headed to Khao Yai National Park for the Buddhist holiday weekend.  Our original plan was to drive our motorbike there, but after celebrating a friend’s birthday in Ayutthaya Thursday night, more than one of our Thai friends told us it was too dangerous, and would take around four hours. We woke up Friday morning with a plan… take the train to the closest city and then hitchhike to the campsite (this is not as bizarre as it sounds, Thai’s are more than willing to pick up a few farangs in the back of their pick-up trucks). Needless to say, it is never a good idea to have a set-in-stone plan, as we found out trying to buy our tickets at the train station ticket counter, “No train, have accident, no train today.” “Is there a train tomorrow?” “Don’t know, maybe no train, accident.” Well great!

After two mini-buses and a motorbike taxi, the local songtaew dropped us off at the park entrance, leaving us to find our own ride to the campsite (25 km into the national park). It was shocking how quickly a Thai family stopped their pick-up truck and told us to jump in the back. I couldn’t help but think that this kindness to a foreigner would be hard to find in the US.

Saturday morning, the six of us hitchhiked a ride to the visitor’s center to begin our morning hike, traveling 8km into the jungle, ending up at Haew Suwat, the waterfall used in the film “The Beach.” A Thai man standing outside the office recommended we hire a guide for the hike, as the deer and elephant tracks can make the trail some what confusing.

There are wild monkeys, elephants and deer at Khao Yai, but between our loud conversation and game of twenty questions, I wasn’t expecting to see wildlife. About an hour into our hike, Philip, our guide who had yet to speak, stopped in his tracks and began repeating the word, “beah, beah, beah”. Confused, I looked up into the ceiling of the jungle and saw a fully-grown black bear barreling down a tree.  Philip was saying, “Bear”, which was soon followed by him yelling, “RUN!” Philip took off running and all I could do was try to keep up. The six of us instinctively started running and yelling, “oh my god, oh my god” along with a few swear words. We were lucky; the bear didn’t follow us. Philip was not carrying a weapon. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the bear. If I had I might not be here to tell the tale.

That night, we decided to treat ourselves by renting a grill and charcoal. We had a feast: grilled chicken with chili sauce, snow peas, grilled corn, white rice and best of all, grilled bananas for dessert. Thai’s are not familiar with S’mores, but with six Americans, we improvised: grilled banana in between two Oreo cookies.  I will be the first to say, it was better than S’mores.

My Shop

Markets in Thailand can be a gold mine for a vast array of handicrafts; everything from clothing and scarves, to ancient Buddha sculptures and tribal jewelry. Most markets are absolutely enormous, home to thousands of stalls, and can feel like navigating through a complicated maze. To come out alive, or at least with a few good purchases, you have to be willing to do some heavy searching.

On one of my recent trips to a market in Bangkok, I found this amazing little clothing shop, carrying one of a kind, hand-printed dresses. I bought myself a black and white maxi dress, thinking, I would never be able to find something this unique in the states for a reasonable price. That is when the light bulb went off!

Take a look at the new page on my blog: My Shop. This is a place where my blog viewers can buy the dresses I am bringing home from Thailand in April. Check out my new page, My Shop, and please send me an email if you are interested in purchasing a dress: alexa.j.stuart@gmail.com

It is somewhat of a young tradition that I make Sean dessert for Valentine’s Day. I knew last year’s homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream cake would be a hard act to follow. I racked my brain and searched the Internet for no-bake recipes, as our one room apartment did not come equipped with an oven, but couldn’t find the perfect recipe. Then I remembered making bananas foster at the Chopping Block in Chicago last year. It was one of the best dessert’s either of us has had and could not be easier to make.  To say the least, it was a huge hit and the total prep and cooking time was not more than 10 minutes.

Start off by melting 1/4 cup butter in a pan over medium heat. Once completely melted, add 2/3 cup of brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 2 tsp. vanilla extract and 3 tbs. rum (I substituted with Whiskey because drinkable rum is hard to find in Thailand). Stir until mixture is bubbling. The sauce should be a dark, rich brown color, almost like chocolate (picture below). At this point, taste the sauce and add ingredients according to personal taste, like another splash of rum for good luck!

Add 3 quartered bananas and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (I substituted cashews; again, Thailand doesn’t have walnuts). Stir the mixture for a minute or two, just until the bananas and nuts are coated with the sauce and the bananas are still firm. Serve a spoonful into a bowl and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Pair this dish with a great bottle of red wine and I promise, your special someone will be very satisfied this Valentine’s Day.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great picture of the final outcome. I had a little issue with using half melted ice cream. Here is a picture of what bananas foster should look like. But I will tell you that even if the presentation isn’t spot on, you will still produce a deliciously mouthwatering dessert.

Recently, I have found myself day-dreaming about foods and dishes from home that I have not been able to find in Thailand. For starters, my Chicago refrigerator was never in short supply of cheese (especially goat cheese), avocados and at least one bottle of Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc. To say that these three staples from my Chicago life are sparse in Thailand would be an understatement.  White wine is bought at the local 7-11 (you have a choice between two equally mediocre bottles) and we have to drive on our motorbike 10km just to buy a block of cheddar cheese, spending an arm and a leg for both.

Recently, I have had a craving for a recipe I found in Cooking Light Magazine last summer: Crunchy Shrimp with Toasted Couscous and Ginger-Orange Sauce. I made this dish for my parents one night last June and lets just say there were no leftovers. I even made the dish again the next night.

Picture taken from CookingLight.com

The textures and bold flavors of this dish are really what make it a homerun. The panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) encrusted shrimp or chicken and the toasted almonds add a crunch to the “melt in your mouth” citrus-infused couscous. The layer of watercress gives the dish a fresh yet peppery taste that is countered by the sweet orange ginger sauce.  This dish has it all, and to top it off, it’s healthy.

If you are like me and can find an excuse to add goat cheese to just about anything, a few crumbs sprinkled on top adds a creamy component that is absolutely delicious with the citrus dressing and tempura shrimp.

Tip: When breading meat or seafood, I prefer to use panko breadcrumbs, trust me, the end result will taste better. If you are having trouble with the tempura breading crumbling off into the pan, coat the meat or seafood in flour, salt and pepper before the egg wash, it helps everything stick together.

This post is a bit out of the ordinary for me, as the main focus is not food, but rather my lifestyle in Ayutthaya, Thailand. I have been traveling Thailand and SE Asia for six months and working as a primary English teacher for three. Working and living in a foreign country has been truly eye opening, as adapting to the local culture and way of doing business has been crucial for my success and sanity.

Here are a few of the reasons why I decided to leave Chicago and spend close to nine months traveling and teaching on the other side of the world.

Known as K 3/5 (5 and 6 year olds) at my school, here are some pictures of my favorite class. Now, as you can tell by some of their mischievous smiles, they are not the best behaved class, but they are by far the most fun!

Ekaput- He head butts me once a class, but I like to think of it as a big hug.

Modem- She is my little helper. She quiets the class for me and helps the other kids write their name in English... Love her!

 

BM- The only one of my students who can read. He is even more mischievous than he looks.

 

M.O.- She and Modem are two peas in a pod. She is obsessed with the word LOVE (as seen on her worksheet).

Nam Tan (Thai for sugar)- She always has a new and improved hairdo.

Here are some of my other students, ranging in age from K2 (4 and 5 year olds) to P1 (1st graders).