Travel Diary: Thai Cooking Class

During our first week of the trip, which was spent in Phuket, we attended a cooking class at the next town over, Kata Beach.  I had signed us up nice and early with it being high season, and the class having stellar reviews on Trip Advisor. Much to our surprise, when the driver showed up we were the only two attending class that day. Nice. Our instructor, Mimi, and driver transported us from our resort to The Kitchen, a Thai restaurant and cooking class venue, with one stop at a market along the way.

Many types of prawns.

Many types of prawns.

It was the type of day in Phuket that edged on unbearably hot, for a canuck like me… well over 30 degrees and disgustingly humid (and this was dry season). Mimi took us to a large nearby open-air market (thankfully with shade), to give us an example of how fresh produce and meat are sourced for the plethora of Thai restaurants in that area. We sauntered around while she gave us explanations on mostly vegetables, and meat, and we asked some questions. We could have easily walked around for an hour, just looking, but we were eager to get to the class, where the ingredients had already been purchased and prepped for us. We were treated to as much bottled water as we wanted, and after we arrived, had a few minutes to rest in the wind of a two large fans; I started to cool off.

Mimi.

Mimi.

Our setup was a humble folding table with a plastic tablecloth, single gas burners, plastic cutting boards and the necessary knives, utensils and pots and pans. We were learning four Thai dishes, which we picked in advance on the website: vegetable spring rolls, gang keaw waan tai (green chicken curry), traditional pad thai with prawns and tom yum goong (pictured at the very top). So, very recognizable Thai dishes that we thought would be fun to cook while in Thailand! The methods were a little less complicated than we were hoping for (especially for Geir), as in, we used some short cuts like pre-made green curry paste. But overall it was a great experience and Mimi was super fun and friendly.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

All of the dishes turned out flavourful and tasty, with the curry and the pad thai having a very healthy amount of heat! We found the recipes used a surprising amount of sugar, and that a lot of Thai dishes include either white or brown sugar to balance out the spicy chiles. We got to take a copy of the recipes home. Check out the photo gallery for the market tour and cooking class, and below that — a recipe for green curry chicken!

Below is the green curry chicken recipe we were sent home with, which is very fast and easy to make. The measurements are a bit different, and the yield is not listed, but I’d guess two servings. You can’t get the type of small eggplant that we used here, usually, so substitute for any vegetable you enjoy in your curries. Carrots, green beans and potatoes all work nicely (cook the potatoes a bit in advance).

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Gaang Keaw Waan Gai (Chicken in Green Curry), from The Kitchen, Kata Beach

180 grams Sliced chicken breast

10 grams Crispy eggplant

10 grams Small eggplant

1 tbsp Green curry paste (I like Mae Ploy)

10 grams Thai (sweet) basil leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

2 pieces Sliced red chiles (or to taste)

2 cups Coconut milk

2 pieces Kaffir lime leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

2 tbsp Palm sugar

1. Add the vegetable oil in the pan then heat to medium heat. Add the green curry paste and heat until it brings out a good aroma.

2. Add the sliced chicken (note: let it get a good sear before moving on), and add the coconut milk a little at a time. Add crispy eggplant and small eggplant.

3. Add the kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil leaves and sliced red chiles at the end. (Note: it’s ready when it’s reduced a bit to a thicker consistency, and smells amazing.)

4. Serve with steamed rice.

Recipe Drop from DFC: Festive Ricotta Fritters

The cheese gods continued to smile on me (thank you) last week, when another recipe drop from DFC (Dairy Farmers of Canada) arrived on my doorstep, by the lovely food photographer Beth Dunham, no less. I was told in advance what the recipe would be this time, and was provided with the link to check it out. Thankfully, it was for a savoury appetizer (we remember what happened last time with the baking incident), called Mediterranean Ricotta Fritters. The recipe looked ridiculously simple… maybe even fool proof, but it still required baking something in the oven, which can be hit or miss with me.  I prefer to take many liberties while cooking… throwing in ingredients here and there, or changing things up. Baking doesn’t lend well to that.

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Everything needed for the recipe is pre-measured and dropped off. The first change I made was that, instead of adding just chopped herbs (parsley), I used the basil-arugula pesto that I had made a couple days before. This was incorporated into the batter. The batter recipe was so minimal, really just flour, an egg, ricotta cheese, Canadian Swiss cheese, a little bit of nutmeg, and salt and pepper. You then spoon tiny portions onto a baking sheet and just let them puff up until golden brown. I’m not sure if it was the additional ingredients in the pesto, but mine didn’t really puff up. They kind of did, then cooled flat. They tasted delicious, though, like a mini ricotta pancake. Fritters are normally deep-fried, so perhaps that would have helped.

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The two toppings — tomato sauce and black olive tapenade — were also provided. I livened up the tapenade by adding the life-changing olives we all know about from Pete’s, and a bit of roasted garlic oil. I did have the suggested serving utensil (wonton soup spoons) for a quick photo op, but in reality I took these with me on a board to serve at a potluck I was going to that evening. People liked them.

They are now referred to as Festive Ricotta Fritters because of the green and red. They look kinda, sorta close to the photo on the Dairy Goodness recipe page… right? Watch the steps below.

Ricotta Fritters

Ricotta Fritters

 

She can cook, but she can’t bake

When I was offered a package compliments of Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) a few weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity. I had heard about other bloggers receiving freebies from DFC in the past — giant parcels full of delicious, assorted Canadian cheeses. I was excited. When my styrofoam cooler arrived, though, it wasn’t full of cheeses. It was full of ingredients, and a printed recipe (developed by local chef Richard Julien). Ingredients to make an all-Canadian dairy cheesecake. Yep… that’s right. They wanted me to bake.

You may have noticed a pattern on my blog. I cook, I eat (a lot), I take photos, I write… I don’t bake. I don’t even particularly eat a lot of desserts. So, yes, I was a bit disappointed with my task, but, nevertheless I didn’t want to anger the powers that control the free cheese. So, I tried.

The task at hand was bumble berry cheesecakes wrapped in phyllo, with sweet creamy strawberry caramel, (as featured on dairygoodness.ca).

Yeah, phyllo. And yeah… cheesecakes… plural. The third problem was the recipe required a muffin tin, which I didn’t have. I figured that one out about half-way through.

So, the cheesecake mixture was easy. It used sugar, cream cheese, sour cream and mascarpone cheese (which I love). We also have an awesome stand-up KitchenAid mixer. I prepped the berries with no incident.

The creamy strawberry caramel sauce? I don’t even want to talk about that. Let’s just say, it didn’t survive.

Onto the phyllo. My first time working with it. I spread the sheet out,  brushed it with butter, being very gentle. I folded it in half, and repeated this action. I folded it in half AGAIN, and brushed it once more. This may sound easy, but it took several minutes. I then had my buttery phyllo square which was meant to go into a muffin tin, and be filled with cheesecake mixture, and topped with the berries.  Okay, cool, I could do that. If I had a muffin tin. I read on… “repeat with remaining ingredients to make 16 cheesecakes.”

SIXTEEN cheesecakes? Not happening.  Just… no. So instead, I made one, small cheesecake, inside a ceramic baking dish. I couldn’t completely wrap the phyllo into the beggar’s parcel shape, but I curled it up around the sides. I looked cute. It still tasted good… and it was the perfect-sized dessert for two people to share.

And... that's when I gave up.

  And… that’s when I gave up.

What did I do with the rest of the filling? Well. There was mysteriously a bag of graham cracker crumbs inside my package, that didn’t seem to have a place in the recipe… so I made a crumb crust, and a regular, berry cheesecake. No phyllo. No tedious, never-ending brushing of melted butter required.

The quitter's cheesecake.

The quitter’s cheesecake.

I may have botched this one up a bit — but I’m still holding out hope for that big bag of Canadian cheeses from DFC. I’m very good at savoury recipes. (Examples here, here and here.)

Seven steps to making the perfect camp burger

What is a “camp burger,” you ask? It’s simply a delicious, juicy, smoky, amazing burger that you create while on a camping trip. Cooked in the great outdoors, eaten by the fire. Could it get any better than that? Here are my seven steps to making that perfect camp burger. Keep in mind I learned the best way to cook the beef from my camping partner and chef (Geir).  It starts at your local farmers’ market.

1. Buy local, humane, sustainable, grass-fed beef from a butcher you know and trust. We got ours from Getaway Farms at the Seaport Farmers’ Market in Halifax. We made our patties from a mix of medium-ground beef and lean-ground beef. Don’t add any fillers (this is one of the most important points). Just salt and pepper is all quality ground beef needs. Leave the eggs, bread crumbs or other craziness out of it. When you’re using local beef, it’s safe to cook your burger medium, as long as it reaches the proper internal temperature. We always make ours medium.

2. Smoke up. Use a charcoal barbecue, or, if you don’t have access, get a nice, even cooking grate to put over the wood-burning campfire. Your burger deserves to be infused with that smoky flavour. Luckily, we have a small portable Weber Grills “smokey joe.” And we love him.

3. Add some cheese.  I’m a bit more lax on this point… you definitely need melted cheese, but I believe your favourite cheese should work just fine. As long as it’s real cheese, not too mild, and it’s not smoked. We used That Dutchman’s medium Gouda.

4. Have crispy bacon prepared. Grab some local bacon, regular or double-smoked, from a local meat shop (we prefer Rose Lane Farm double-smoked for just about any occasion). Have it cooked crispy and pressed in paper towel for the perfect burger-topping texture.

5. Get your crunch on. This thing needs some crunchy acidity. Sometimes I do caramelize my onions, but I find thinly sliced, raw, much better (or maybe a mix of the two). Also, add a sliced crunchy pickle.

6. Find the mustard. This is important… your burger needs mustard. I don’t care if you add ketchup, but mustard is key. And a nice mustard, too. We went for traditional hot Dijon on this, by Maille. There are tons of amazing mustard options, so don’t slack off and reach for the French’s.

7. Grill the bun, but not too much. I believe the bun should be warm and toasty, but still have some softness to it, especially the outside parts.

So, to review, the equation for juicy camp burger goodness is = local beef + no filler + cooked medium + cheese + bacon + smoke + crunchy acidity + mustard + toasty bun.

Now let me ask you, what’s your favourite burger side dish? We’ve been experimenting with seawater-boiled new potatoes, tossed in fresh dill, green onions and BUTTER. But I’ll save that for another post…

Green curry-coconut spicy fusion tacos

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This has been the week of green curry. I brought home a can from Tian Phat on Monday and have been trying to use it in a variety of ways since. My favourite, so far, has been these green Thai curry-marinated tempeh tacos. You could easily make this recipe with the meat or seafood of your choice, but I think it’s delicious with tempeh or tofu.

Here are the elements that came together to make this delicious (almost vegan) creation…

Grilled masa corn tortillas + green Thai curry and coconut-marinated tempeh + spicy “Asian” slaw + Sriracha-citrus yogurt + daikon sprouts + crumbled peanuts + fresh cilantro = delicious fusion tacos.

This is my second run at fusion tacos, because as most of you know I am obsessed with the bulgogi style tofu tacos at Indochine Banh Mi on South Park Street. I tried recreating those once and something just wasn’t right. These are different, with the Thai curry influence, and I was extremely happy with how they turned out. I’m putting them in regular dinner rotation, maybe switching up the protein now and again. The marinating did take a little bit of time, but it was completely worth it.

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I’m not going to do a full recipe, just give you the basics. The tempeh marinade consisted of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, lemon-infused olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, freshly squeezed blood orange juice, fish sauce, green curry paste, more fresh ginger and garlic, fresh basil and of course coconut milk. I let that sit, sealed, for a couple hours. The cooking method to really infuse the flavour into the tempeh is to then put it on the stove, cover it in the marinade, bring to a boil them simmer for about 20 minutes. After that, jack the heat and let it completely reduce to nothing.

The Asian slaw I made had sliced napa cabbage, grated carrot, green onion, red pepper and cilantro. The dressing was hot (and tasted SO good the next day) with chiles, fresh ginger, rice vinegar, lime juice and lemon-infused olive oil. The Sriracha-citrus yogurt is simple, I used a mixture of Fox Hill plain yogurt, store-bought greek yogurt, Sriracha, lime juice and my secret ingredient, roasted garlic oil.

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Add your favourite Asian-inspired toppings and you’re good to go. I found amazing daikon radish sprouts at Selwood Green last weekend and they were perfect; those along with crumbled peanuts and fresh cilantro, and these were some spicy, yet beautifully balanced tacos.

Thanks to the Seaport Farmers’ Market I was able to use mostly all local vegetables, and grab fantastic handmade corn tortillas from El Gallo.

(To make these vegan, just leave out the fish sauce and use your favourite dairy-free yogurt.)

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Unintentionally Vegan: Creamy Lentil Salad

veganlentilsSince it’s January, I, like everybody else, am trying to eat a little bit healthier. Since I already do almost all my cooking from scratch and generally feel pretty good, it’s more about using nutritious ingredients that I’m not overly familiar with, and expanding my repertoire.

So, lentils. We’ve got a ton of them in our pantry, and they’re still not my number one choice, simply because I don’t entirely know what to do with them. I’ve come to love the brown variety; they are extremely easy to cook. There are just a couple tips about lentils that I’ve come across, including that you should always rinse them off beforehand, and that you should wait to salt them until after they are cooked (or they might get mushy). Other than that, lentils seem pretty easy-going. I haven’t overcooked them yet, or burned them to the bottom of the pot.

This recipe was very much an odds and ends creation, but came together better than I ever expected. And it’s perfect for Meatless Monday. I call this dish: creamy lentil salad with avocado-lemon dressing, and cashews. It is filling, rich and flavourful… oh, and unintentionally vegan. Here is the recipe, for one person, as it was a work-day lunch for me:

Creamy lentil salad with avocado-lemon dressing, and cashews. For one. 

  • 1/2 cup brown lentils, cooked and cooled to room temp. or warm
  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • EVOO
  • 1/4 cup white onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 radish, chopped
  • 1 button mushroom, chopped
  • 1 sun-dried tomato, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of crushed cashews (preferably unsalted)
  • Greens for on top, optional

As a note, the ratio for lentils to water is 1:2. They only take about 20-30 minutes to cook. Bring them to a boil then simmer, uncovered, for the rest of the cooking time.

Method: This is pretty easy. Mix up the avocado, lemon juice and EVOO until you get a creamy dressing that isn’t too thick. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Mix the dressing with the lentils until they are covered. Mix in all your chopped up veggies until covered. Add salt and pepper if you need to. Spoon into a bowl and sprinkle the cashews on top. Finish with a handful of greens. (If you are a lover of heat, cut the richness of this dish with your favourite hot sauce!)

Look for my next post, which will be the complete opposite of vegan. It will feature making ravioli from scratch and other indulgences from my recent birthday weekend…

Meatless Monday: Sloppy Joe

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There is a way to get some flavour into that veggie ground round and use it for your favourite meat-heavy meals. This dish came from us just having odds and ends in the fridge, including a package of ground round.. Since it’s Meatless Monday, I thought I’d share the recipe. The Guinness and worcestershire are what really amped up the flavour, as well as the long simmer. (Leave out the jalapeño and it would be great recipe for kids too!)

Sloppy Joe Filling:

  • 1 package of Italian Yves Veggie Ground Round (or original)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 2 vine tomatoes, chopped (you might like it chunky)
  • 1/2 cup or so, sun-dried tomatoes that were packed in oil, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red pepper, diced
  • Chilli powder and cumin to taste (a few shakes of each)
  • Tablespoon of worcestershire, or to taste
  • Sprinkle of brown sugar (optional)
  • Generous splash of Guinness, or other dark beer
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method for filling: In a good-sized saucepan (you will need some depth) sautée the onions until slightly caramelized at medium heat, add garlic, then all other vegetables. Sautée for a couple minutes, then add veggie ground round. Season with chilli powder, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Add worcestershire and sugar, stir. Add the beer to de-glaze the pan. Then add the water. Stir, then cover the saucepan. Let this simmer for about an hour. Check on it every so often, stir, and add more water (or beer) if necessary, as filling should be… sloppy.

To finish: Use the broiler to melt a cheese of your choice onto a toasted bun. Add filling. Top with sliced green onions, and maybe, hot sauce.

One note is that the ground round does have quite a few ingredients. To use fewer ingredients and fillers, consider trying brown lentils, which can substitute for ground beef nicely, like in my meatless shepherd’s pie recipe.

Odds and ends: gluten-free lunches

Working from home has allowed me the convenience of making fresh lunches every day in my own kitchen. If you read the blog regularly you might know that I love both cooking and eating out. So, while I definitely find excuses to swing by Indochine for fusion tacos after meetings downtown (at least once a week, it’s an addiction — I’m dealing with it), or easily agree to that Friday sushi “business” lunch, most days I am challenging myself to whip something up, at home, that’s somewhat healthy.

I’m definitely not gluten-free and personally don’t have any health reasons to be, but for the past week or so have felt compelled to make gluten-free lunches that I still really enjoy. A midday challenge, I guess. Using whatever I have in the house, here are a couple recipe ideas I considered gluten-free successes.

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The first is a baby kale, sautéed leek and garlic pesto frittata I coincidentally made on National Kale Day last week. I wasn’t aware of this super important holiday (who makes these up?) but was happy to find out I inadvertently participated, after the fact. We have a perfectly-sized cast iron skillet for making personal size frittatas. This one was sprinkled with chives, and lots of goat cheese after I took the photo.

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Second, some gluten-free fusion. Here we have a spicy quinoa stir-fry. The sauce is made from coconut milk, Sriracha, garlic, ginger and fresh lime juice. I had bok choy in the fridge along with peppers, carrots, corn and green onion. Then, because I felt like it, I put a fried egg on top. The creamy yolk toned down the heat and added some protein.

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Third is an odds-and-ends frittata. Whatever vegetables you have will work. Throw in some fresh herbs, your favourite cheese, and you’re good to go.

I must mention something else I experimented with this week. Putting quinoa in the frittata, with roasted garlic and corn, and also a touch of cornstarch as a binding agent. I finished this in the oven on broil; it puffed up and turned into somewhat of a savoury quinoa pancake. I topped it with freshly-made salsa, hot sauce, and some greek yogurt. It had a real Mexican feel… I’d make that again.

Chocolate Pudding Pie with Peanut Butter Whipped Cream

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A little last minute, I know, but here is my better-late-than-never #ECOMilkComp entry:

Chocolate Pudding Pie with Peanut Butter Whipped Cream, on Rooibos-Vanilla Graham Cracker Crust.

Pudding Filling:

Rooibis-Vanilla Graham Cracker Crust:

Peanut Butter Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup organic heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 2 tablespoons smooth organic peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons Just Us organic sugar

Step-by-Step Recipe Instructions (follow along in the photo gallery below):

Do the graham cracker crust first. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the crackers, butter, salt, tea and vanilla in a food processor until combined. Press firmly into a 9 or 9.5-inch pie plate (with nonstick spray). Bake until fragrant and edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Let cool.

Next, the chocolate pudding filling. Whisk together cornstarch, sugar and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in the milk. Place it on the stove. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil (you will see bubbles and feel it start to thicken at this point), keep whisking for about two minutes, until the consistency of thick pudding. Remove from heat, and immediately whisk in all the finely chopped dark chocolate, and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least two hours. I did mine overnight.

Lastly, the peanut butter whipped cream. This one is easy. If you have a mixer, attach the whisk, pour the heavy cream in, add peanut butter and sugar, then mix on medium-fast until you have stiff whipped cream. You can also whisk by hand.

Top the pie with your whipped cream, and enjoy!

Cauliflower steaks, all smoked-up

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Since we became those people – the kind who own two types of barbecues – earlier this summer, we’ve been experimenting a lot with charcoal versus gas. Overall I’d say we’ve found most barbecued foods turn out better using the charcoal, big egg-style grill because you just can’t beat that smoky flavour. That was definitely the case during our second run at cauliflower steaks a few days ago.

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Geir’s plate

Last summer, we grilled cauliflower steaks for the very first time, and loved them. I figured they’d be hard to beat. This time, I marinated them for about an hour (simple stuff like oil, balsamic, white wine vinegar, garlic, herbs, lemon), and we heated up an Emile Henry stone inside the charcoal grill. As you can see in the photo, the steaks got a lot more colour, and around the edges, the florets became crispy and heavenly. The cauliflower soaked up the smoke more than we had anticipated – and it worked perfectly.

Accompanying the steaks was a spicy corn and tomato salad with chunks of goat paneer, as well as some freshly-made garlic scape pesto. Also, a dollop of goat’s milk Greek yogurt, just for fun. All the goat products were from our favourite goat farm, Ran-Cher Acres.

I still can’t get over the incredible texture of cauliflower steak. It takes a while to cook them through – about 20-25 minutes – but the consistency and flavour is worth it. And if you’re wondering – yes – they are extremely filling!

fresh off the grill (left) my plate (right)

fresh off the grill (left)
my plate (right)