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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Thai’s are not accustomed to cold weather. During the two-week “winter” in December, the temperature drops no lower than 60 degrees.

Sean and I traveled to Nan, seven hours north east of Chiang Mai, in hopes of signing up for a three day/two night trek. March and April are the hottest months in Thailand, temperatures well into the 90’s and high humidity; you can imagine why we would plan to be in the coolest part of the country.

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, Nan welcomed us with below 50 degree weather and freezing rain. We checked into a guesthouse and decided to wait out the weather, hoping to make it on a trek the next day. The freezing rain continued for three days straight, never stopping, and only getting colder. Restaurants and food stalls closed up shop. For the first two days, we  hardly left the guesthouse, spending our time playing backgammon, eating cashews, and drinking red wine.

We were starving by dinner time and decided to make one last attempt to find a real meal. We stumbled across Just Jazz, a small restaurant, no more than ten tables, with an extensive Thai and Western menu. We placed our order, curry for me and lasagna for Sean. We both could tell that this meal would help turn around our dreary days in Nan.

The food was unbelievably good. The lasagna was creamy, the cheese and béchamel sauce oozing from the layers of pasta, and the curry was homemade, thick and rich. We ended up joining a party of regulars; two brits and a guy originally from Boston. As a St. Patty’s Day celebration, one of the regulars ordered the Chef’s Gourmet Beef Burger for the group to split. It was by far the best burger I have had in Thailand. Using local beef, the chef creates a flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth patty, using almost no fat. She then top the burger with home-cured bacon, spicy pickles and melted parmesan cheese.

The five of us sat around the table for hours, sharing various dishes from the menu and drinking whiskey. One of the chef’s realized that I wasn’t drinking whiskey and brought me a complimentary glass of red wine.

In a town with few restaurants and no Western options, Just Jazz is an absolute gem. The quality of the ingredients and the time and care that goes into each dish is not something you will find anywhere else in Nan. We had such a good time that we decided to push our bus back and enjoy brunch the next morning. As it turns out, the bus was full and we ended up eating dinner there as well and sampled some of the Thai dishes. Unsurprisingly,  they were delicious!

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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.

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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.

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In the attempt to find the best pad thai in Thailand, I have eaten this dish at least once a week since for six months. I am a little shocked that I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. I guess it makes sense; if I were living in Italy, pizza and pasta would definitely be a weekly indulgence.

I have had everything from inedible ramen noodle imposters to the most delicious and mouthwatering plates of pad thai you can imagine.  For me, pad thai is my Thai equivalent to homemade risotto, pure comfort food. Diving into a dish that, seconds before hitting my mouth, was bubbling from an open flame in a nearby wok is an experience all on its own. It takes everything in me to let it cool down, so I use this time to jazz my plate up with extra peanuts, chili infused vinegar, lime and bean sprouts.

The consistency of pad thai is one that can easily be ruined. Not enough time in the wok leads to crunchy noodles and a thin, watery sauce and a minute too long will leave it dry. Classic pad thai begins with sautéing garlic, shallots, carrot (optional) and tofu in vegetable oil until golden brown. Add the pre-soaked Thai rice noodles to the wok, stirring actively. Next comes the sauce: add tamarind, sugar, fish sauce, and chili pepper until the noodles and sauce are fully combined.  Push the noodle mixture off to the side and crack an egg in the wok. Scramble the egg and incorporate it into the pad thai (Not an egg fan? Leave it out). Add green chives and bean sprouts a minute or two before serving. Top your pad thai with peanuts, bean sprouts, chives and a wedge of lime.

There are too many amazing pad thai places that I have discovered to name them all, but when I have the craving, a local guesthouse in Ayutthaya comes to mind. It is hard to walk by ‘One Love…Coffee’ guesthouse and not stop in for at least a drink. The three women who work there love practicing their English and all but harass you until you decide to take a seat and stay a while. The company and a perfect plate of pad thai always has me coming back for more.

For a traditional pad thai recipe, I found a great website with step-by-step instructions and pictures for a first timer. Enjoy.



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For the past few months, I have been eating lunch Monday–Friday at the school where I teach kindergarten. The food started off mediocre and has gotten progressively worse throughout the semester. I told myself that I would only eat out once a week, in an attempt to save money. However, for someone who loves food as much as I do, having four awful meals a week just wasn’t working out.

Thankfully, I discovered a som tam lady. I have had som tam many times in Thailand so it would be more accurate to say I discovered my latest som tam lady.  While taking a short motorbike drive to grab a diet coke from the local convenience store, I spotted her. The piles of shredded papaya and limes were a dead give away.

Som tam is a classic spicy Thai salad. Unlike most western dishes, som tam’s flavors are multi-dimensional; sweet, sour, spicy and salty. The dish is made by pulverizing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. The process begins with a handful of small Thai garlic and fresh red chilies (I have to ask for, “neung prik kha”, one pepper please). Then comes the sauce: a mixture of fish sauce, palm sugar, freshly squeezed limejuice, and salt.  A large handful of shredded papaya, plum tomatoes, green long beans and peanuts mak mak (lots) are added to the mortar to finish the dish. The concoction is tossed in the sauce and served alongside sticky rice.

Som tam is a great alternative when I get to the point where I just can’t eat another rice dish. Needless to say, my som tam lady is a lifesaver, or at least my lunch saver. By now she knows to leave out the fermented shrimp and raw crab and gives me extra peanuts to compensate. Already, I have had som tam for lunch four times this week (and it is Thursday). Can you guess what my lunch will be tomorrow?

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Before moving to Thailand, I considered myself a curry lover, and still do. I grew up eating Panang curry at home and love every variation of this Indian delicacy. Back home I head to Mt. Everest in Evanston with my family to indulge in Indian food. Even though I smell like an Indian restaurant for days it is worth it every time.

It is undeniable that Kaeng khiao wan (literally translated to sweet green curry) is a staple at every Thai restaurant and green curry paste is as prevalent in the market as fresh coconuts. The first time I tried green curry I was surprised by the sweetness of the sauce. Something was not right. How could I not like a dish made with Keffir lime leaves, coconut milk and Thai basil?

The only conclusion I made is that I am not a fan of Thai eggplant and pea aubergine (I will admit, I was not familiar with this vegetable the first time I tried it). Both vegetables are slightly bitter and when cooked keep their coarse, crunchy texture. I guess I am used to eggplant that melts in your mouth.

Even though I don’t love green curry, the entire country of Thailand swears by it. So, if you have a fantastic recipe for green curry, send it my way, I will always give something another try. Or better yet, next time you’re out for Thai, order the green curry and make your own conclusions about this famous Thai dish!

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Tonight, we headed to Malakor for dinner. This seems to be a trend when we are unsure on our dinner plans. Malakor is a very modest Thai style restaurant. There are never more than 8 diners  sitting cross-legged on the floor, and yet they serve the best Thai food in Ayutthaya. Malakor was our first meal in Ayutthaya and has been a weekly occurrence ever since.

One dish that has become a staple for me in Thailand is Pad Med Ma Muang, or Stir-fry chicken with cashew nuts. It seems that the more I order the dish, the better it is. Either each restaurant I go to makes it better than the last, or I just cannot go a week without the combination of warm crunchy cashew nuts with caramelized onions. I’m going to go with the latter.

Malakor’s take on the dish uses dried red chilies instead of fresh, giving the dish a smoky flavor. The stir-fry also includes sweet green peppers (similar to banana peppers), carrots, green onion, baby corn, and local mushrooms. Ma Muang, meaning mango in Thai, could be one of the reasons the sauce is so flavorful, but with the communication barrier, I am not even sure if mango is used. Even if can’t figure out the exact ingredients, mai bpen rai, I know my fix is just a five minute motorbike away.

I am aware that my blog must look like an advertisement for Malakor, but if you ever find yourself in Ayutthaya, it would be worth it to eat multiple meals in this hole-in-the-wall spot.

I am the opposite of a picky eater. I’m no Andrew Zimmern, but I’ll basically try anything. Soup, however, has just never been my cup of tea. I like foods with multiple textures and soup tends to get boring. Or so I thought until I had my first bowl of Tom Kha at Malakor.

On our first trip to Malakor, Sean and I split Tom Kha and another main dish. By the time the second course came out, we had both our spoons in the Tom Kha bowl, fighting over the last few sips. We were more than tempted to order a second bowl.

Tom Kha is a coconut milk-based soup and has similar flavors to Tom Yum (a popular spicy Thai soup). The coconut milk is slowly cooked with large pieces of galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, red chilies and bay leaves. The mushroom, tomato, onion and shrimp are added with a few minutes left to cook, allowing the liquid to reduce and for the flavors to come alive.

Another Malakor crowd favorite: red curry with shrimp (featured below).

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