Free dinner Withlocals

Just a quick post for my Bangkok readers: Withlocals, the company that I reviewed on the blog a few weeks ago, is giving away FREE dinners in Asia as part of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day. The offer is only good until the end of May 16th (Whoops! Yes, I am a leeeetle behind in posting this link). Definitely worth checking if they have any free meals left – it was a great experience! Here’s the link:

Foodie Friday: The Pork Noodles That Won My Heart/Gut

When we moved to our little Thai ‘hood back in July, street food was uncharted territory. We were jet-lagged, sweaty, and didn’t speak any Thai, and trying to order from a local stall was a little intimidating. Fortunately, our orientation leaders took pity on us and introduced us to one of our soi’s (street’s) most delectable offerings: bah mee moo, or pork noodles. The noodles didn’t exactly solve our problems – we still woke at odd hours, dripped perspiration on our surroundings, and communicated with grunts – but they made them much easier to bear. We ate them so often in those early days that we had to take a several month hiatus, but lately, we’ve been hitting the bowl once again, and hitting it hard.

Our cute drug noodle dealers

The restaurant has several rows of tables. In these photos, it looks quiet, but on certain evenings, it is hoppin’. On one memorable occasion, we made friends with an intoxicated gentleman who wanted us to have a drink with him. We turned down the offer, so he settled for trying to feed Todd from his own bowl. This involved forming mounds of sticky rice with his dirty hand, and trying to push them into Todd’s mouth. While Todd wasn’t fully appreciative of this effort, I certainly enjoyed it.

A quiet night – boring but hygienic

Every table has a set of condiments. They are covered by a basket to keep the flies away.

Clockwise from left: crushed chillies, sugar, crushed peanuts, fresh chillies

Every table also has a basket of greens. Apparently, flies aren’t so fond of veggies, because the greenery is straight-up al fresco. You never know who’s been rooting through that basket before you…

Thai basil, lettuce, and bean sprouts

The bowl contains noodles, broth, green vegetables, pork strips, dumplings, and fried pork fat. Breathe in the heavenly scent, and garnish at will – I usually add crushed peanuts, dried chillies, and bean sprouts to mine.

It’s so great to have a neighbourhood eatery where you can completely be yourself. Even if that self is a post-workout, unwashed, unshaved, hot mess.

“Who are you referring to?”

6 months into our Thai adventure, we’re sleeping better, sweating slightly less, and speaking a little Thai, but the pork noodles are just as good as ever.

Foodie Friday: Fish Food

I think I’ve found my new favourite street food. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I have many favourite street foods, but most of them are calorie bombs that threaten to clog my arteries for life (hello, deep-fried bananas). Let’s call this my new favourite (reasonably) healthy street food. Introducing the whole roast fish, complete with eyeballs sockets and scales. These fishy fellows are conveniently available at the end of our street, but to my eternal regret, it took us almost 4 months to sample them.

So convenient that you don’t even have to get off your bike.

There was a good reason for our delay – we were concerned that they were scooped out of the local khlong, and frankly, nothing would induce me to sample critters that came out of that swamp. Fortunately, one of our health-conscious friends at school (thanks, Erin) assured us that the fish did not crawl out of the muck, and furthermore, they came with wicked-awesome sauce.*

She’s telling the truth, right guys?

We decided to make our first foray into fish paradise one evening. The cute couple that runs the fish stand seemed pleased and surprised that the farangs had popped in for some of their wares.

What took you fools so long?

The fish are jammed onto metal skewers, and slowly roasted over a charcoal fire. When you order the fish, the vendor asks you to choose the one you want (kind of pointless, because they are all the same size). He then uses a knife to gently ease your prize off the prongs and into a Styrofoam box. His adorable wife adds a bag of wicked-awesome sauce, a bag of fresh veggies, and a bag of rice noodles. Haul it all home, and dive into your prize.

Our fish overlooks the khlong behind our house – that wasn’t your former home, was it?

The whole haul.

To access the fish goodness, simply peel back the skin. Don’t throw it away, though, because it is covered in delicious coarse smoked salt that is perfect with the tender fish flesh.

Hmmm. This is a little creepy. Sort of like Body Worlds.

The fish is stuffed with an herb mixture – mostly lemon grass, I think.

Can’t decide if this visual crosses the line between delicious and disgusting.

There is an important method to eating this meal. First, flatten a large cabbage or lettuce leaf, and prepare to fill it with goodness. Layer rice/noodles, fish, herbs, and sauce on top of the leaf, roll it up, and mow down.

We usually substitute brown rice for the rice noodles.

Take a moment to peel yourself off the floor after collapsing in a fit of ecstasy, and repeat the process. I may have missed out on a few months of fish fabulousness, but I plan to mend the error in my ways.

Best 100 Baht (3$) I’ve ever spent.

*This may or may not have been her exact phrase.

Foodie Fridays: How to Make Cheese in an Elfin Kitchen!

(Whoops! Sorry once again for the late Foodie Friday post! I spent the last few days in Cambodia with a group from my church (not visa related!), and due to the hours of bus travel/brutally long passport control lines/crazy outreach in Siem Reap, blogging got a little delayed).

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I like to rant about my apartment in general, and my kitchen more specifically (see this post or this post). Basically, it was designed by/for elves. Everything is miniature, from the single hot plate, to the shelf that is perfectly positioned to smack your forehead when you stand up. The sink is so low that Todd washes dishes sitting down, and the fridge holds approximately one jug of milk and 3 eggs. Because of this, for the first few months that we lived here, we ate out most of the time. However, as time goes on, we have been craving a little home cooked (ie: not drenched in sugar and msg) goodness. This craving, coupled with the paucity of cheap dairy products in Bangkok, led me to experiment with cheese making. Unfortunately, rennet (necessary for harder cheeses) is not readily available in Bangkok, but the ingredients for ricotta/cottage cheese are easy to find. This is a great recipe for my fellow Bangkokians who have limited kitchen resources, or for anyone who wants to become reacquainted with the pioneering spirit.

Ricotta for an Elfin Kitchen

Time frame: 45min plus 1-5 hours of draining time

(recipe taken from this site)

1. Find a kitchen. Hopefully the elves haven’t hidden it.

Oops! There’s one hiding on the side of my toaster. Classy.

2. Gather your ingredients and equipment. You will need:

– A strainer/colander

– cheesecloth

– half a cup of white vinegar

– 2 litres of milk (any fat percentage will work, but remember that more fat = tastier).

– a saucepan with a lid

Tip: to make your own “cheesecloth,” you can use a tea towel, or, in this case, an old shirt. Simply find your husband or another random dude, steal his ugliest shirt, and cut it up. Wash it first if you don’t fancy man-flavoured cheese.

3. Begin by heating the milk in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. You want to heat it until it is 120F, or, if you don’t have a thermometer, until it feels warm but not hot.

Sterilize your finger with boiling water first if you’re nervous about germs.

4. When the milk has reached “warm” status, turn off the heat. Pour the vinegar into the milk, and gently stir the mixture until the ingredients are combined.

We haven’t splurged on measuring cups yet.

It will soon start to separate.

5. Cover the pot, and let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes. When you remove the cover after 30 minutes, the mixture should look something like this:

Curds and whey.

6. Line your strainer (in this case, part of my salad spinner) with the cheesecloth.

7. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the lined strainer.

Like I said, the shelf is the correct height for forehead whacking.

8. Allow it to drain for a few minutes, then gather the corners of the cloth together, and gently squeeze the mixture to release additional moisture.

Drain that sucker.

9. The next step is an optional one. Once most of the moisture has been drained from your bundle, you can rinse the bundle (still wrapped up) under the tap to get rid of the vinegar flavour, and gently massage it to break up the curd. I once forgot to follow this step, and my cheese still turned out fine.

I wasn’t able to take a photo of this step, because my photographer disappeared and I don’t have a third arm.

10. Once your cheese is rinsed (or not), hang the bundle on a protruding object to allow it to drain further. I like to use my kitchen tap. The longer you leave it, the firmer it will be. I let mine hang for 1-5 hours, depending on my mood and my schedule. If you’re unsure, open the bundle and take a peek to determine the firmness of the cheese.

11. After the cheese has hung out for a sufficient amount of time, open the bundle.

Sour milk is so tasty.

11. Scrape your fresh cheese into a container. I like to mix in some salt when I make it. You really could add any number of seasonings – pepper, garlic, chillies, jam, etc. I also like to refrigerate mine for a bit before eating, but you could also just tear into it like a ravening wolf.

It’s also great on pancakes, and I’m sure it would be charming in a lasagne, but since I don’t have an oven, I really can’t verify this.

12. Serve to your favourite elves, (now shirtless) husbands, and Intrepid Italian houseguests.

“Sorry” for cutting up your ugly shirt, T-bone.

The Italian approves.


Foodie Friday: The Miraculous Mangosteen

(Hmmm. When it comes to ‘Foodie Friday’ posts, I often seem to find myself stuck in Superlative Land. You’ll have to bear with me once more, though, because it is impossible to describe mangosteens without using superlatives.)

The “Queen of Fruits” is so miraculously perfect that it deserves its own post.* It is only when I moved to Thailand that I met this fruit ‘vis-a-vis’ as the French say, but it has been nothing but pure love since then.  I was originally sceptical of this fabled perfection, however, because:

A) The Durian is called the “King of Fruits,” and I have never smelled anything so revolting – think onions mixed with teenage-boy B.O. (Making me actually taste it would require a force-feeding adventure). Royalty designations just don’t do it for me.

B) Todd was really excited to eat mangosteen again. Todd, however, gets excited by mixed congee, mysterious lumps from the market, and low-quality carbohydrates. His culinary instincts are sporadic at best.

Plus, they look like strange lumps – not exactly flaunting their perfection.

As soon as I tasted one, though, I knew I that all the stories were true. It is the perfect fruit. There aren’t really adequate words to describe its flavour, but I will try: imagine the most beautiful flower you can think of, then imagine that beauty in the form of a flavour. Voila, the mangosteen.

They look pretty unassuming on the outside:

Giving you a fuller picture of the “strange lump” spectrum

Who cares about the outside, though? I never judge a book by its cover. All I’m into is innards.

And these innards are worth gettin’ into.

The fruit itself is arranged in a flower formation, and each section has a big seed in the middle. The sections are sort of like skinny-fat people: they’re mostly bone, but the flesh they do have is soft and flabby.

Never has flabby been so tasty

Getting to those innards can be tough. Todd once slit open his hand in his anxiety to hit mangosteen paydirt. I am forever indebted to fellow Bangkokian blogger mishvo for alerting me to the fact that mangosteens can actually be peeled. Who knew? I believe that this knowledge has already saved T-bone’s life several times over.

Although plastic bags may yet claim him

Sometimes, mangosteens go bad. It is tragic when perfection is corrupted.

The mangosteen on the right is sporting some mould, while the one on the left has a few mushy neon blemishes.

Pulpy, woody, rotting, stinking, tragicness.

But because of the amazingness of the good fruit, we keep tearing into them, rotten or not.

Awkward self portrait. Dang it, T-Bone! Why are you always working when I need a photographer?!

And a more successful portrait of someone enjoying mangosteen.

Sadly, mangosteen season is drawing to a close. Leave me a comment if you have suggestions on how to fill the void that it is leaving in my culinary life.

* Also, I was too lazy to scout out more new and bizarre fruit.