Tiny Gourmet

Thailand: So much more than Pad Thai

Food, TravelKristenComment

It's been just over a week since we returned home from a two week adventure in Thailand. Thailand had been on our our travel wish list for a long time, so when we found reasonable airfare to Bangkok we jumped at the opportunity. We spent time in three different parts of the country: the southern islands, the northern city of Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. There was so much to see and learn, but per usual our number one priority was eating as much food as possible.

Lucky for us, the Thai people are passionate about food and it was available on street corners, in markets, and even at temples everywhere. We sampled everything we could, from eggplant curry at a roadside beach shack to meat skewers at the nighttime markets, and a spectacular 11-course tasting menu at Gaggan in Bangkok.

One of the best meals we ate during our trip was a bowl of Khao Soi, a Chiang Mai specialty that consists of a spicy curry coconut broth, pork or beef, soft rice noodles, and a topping of pickled greens, red onion, and crispy fried rice noodles. We ordered the dish at Khao Soi Khun Yai restaurant after hearing good things about it, and we were not at all disappointed! The broth was richly flavored, the meat was fall-apart tender, and the dish was so beautifully balanced: creamy, spicy, salty, crunchy, and soft. And it cost just 35 baht (just over $1 USD) per bowl!

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My favorite experience during our trip was the day we spent at Elephant Nature Park, just outside of Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants from the tourism, entertainment, and logging industries and rehabilitates them. They don't allow elephant riding and they don't use bull hooks, which was the biggest draw for me (Nomadic Matt has a great post about the issues of elephant tourism and how Elephant Nature Park is helping). We spent a fantastic afternoon trekking through the hills with the elephants, feeding them bananas, and watching as they splashed around in the river. They are such beautiful animals, and it was incredible to interact with them up close! We took a break for lunch and were served with this gorgeous vegetarian feast of fresh veggies, lentils, curried potatoes, noodles, rice, and fruit. The best part was looking down on the park while we ate and watching the elephants play.

We ended up at Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak aka "The Lady in the Cowboy Hat", after seeing the place on Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. This is a popular street food stall in Chiang Mai where you'll always find the proprietor dressed in a cowboy hat and wielding a cleaver -- she serves one dish, khao kha moo, or pork over rice. For 30 baht (~ $1), you get a plate of rice topped with pork and a soft boiled duck egg. There are a number of condiments on the table that you can use to customize your dish, like pickled mustard greens and chili oil. We saw a lot of people going back for seconds or thirds! They don't have a website, but you can always find them in the same spot: there is a food market that opens every evening just outside of the old city of Chiang Mai, across from the northern gate (Chang Phueak). You really can't miss her in that hat!

In case you're wondering, yes, there is plenty of good Pad Thai to be found in Thailand! I have to confess: I only ate it once on our last night there because I was so excited to try the dishes I had never heard of before. I'll post again soon about the great cooking class we took, and maybe try to recreate some of the dishes for you at home!

 

 

 

 

Cherry Shortcakes

Food, RecipesKristenComment

One of my favorite things about our new place is how close it is to the weekend farmer's market in our neighborhood. I have to be careful and only bring a little bit of cash with me; otherwise, I end up spending $40 on artisinal chutney and fresh produce. I couldn't resist picking up a basket of fresh, first-pick cherries, though. Unlike the cherries you often find at the grocery store, these were burst-in-your-mouth juicy and sweet. If you're going to go through the trouble of working around the pit in a cherry, it should taste like this!

After I finished snacking, I decided to put the cherries to good use in (what else?) a dessert. I love making shortcakes -- the dough comes together fairly quickly and it's pretty foolproof. In my opinion, the more butter, the better, so don't be afraid to use it liberally in this dough.

I added just a little bit of sugar and a touch of rose water to my cherries, which gave them a nice floral hint without being perfume-y. An important note about rose water: check the label before you buy! A good rose water will only have water and roses listed in the ingredients, but many common brands also contain a small percentage of alcohol -- not good if you're using it without heat, as in this recipe. I prefer to just always go with the real thing It's more expensive, but totally worth it.

Cherry Shortcakes

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Ingredients
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Filling:
1 pint fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. rose water

Shortcakes:
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
5 tbsp. cold butter
3/4 c. milk

Whipped cream:
1 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. granulated sugar

Instructions

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Filling:
Combine cherries, sugar, and rose water in a medium bowl. Let this sit while you prep the rest so that the cherries start to break down and get juicy!

Note: If you don't have a cherry pitter, you can use the pointy end of a pastry tip to remove the pits. Just poke it into the stem end of the cherry and push until the pit pops out the other side! Messy, but simple. 

Shortcakes:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Give it a quick stir together.  

Cut the butter into small cubes. Add the butter to the dry ingredients and work everything together with your hands. Work quickly so that the butter doesn't melt too much. The mixture should be sand-like without big clumps of butter. 

Stir in the milk until a shaggy dough comes together. Don't overwork it. Dump out your dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it a handful of times, just so that all of the ingredients are well-distributed. The dough will be just slightly sticky. Add just a tiny bit more flour if it's too sticky.

Roll the dough out to about 3/4 inch thickness and cut out round cakes with a drinking glass or cookie cutter. Continue to re-roll the dough and shape it all into cakes. You can get 6-10 shortcakes out of this recipe, depending on the size you choose. I like to go for about 2-inch circles, which makes 6. Transfer to an ungreased metal baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until golden brown on top. 

Whipped cream:
Begin whipping the cream either by hand or with an electric mixer. When it has slightly thickened, sprinkle the sugar over the top of the cream and continue whipping. Whip until stiff.

Assembly:
While the shortcakes are still warm, slice them in half. Top the bottom half with a big dollop of whipped cream, followed by a generous spoonful of cherries. If you're like me, you'll probably add even more whipped cream before you smoosh on the top half of the shortcake.

New kitchen, new challenges

KristenComment

See those cookies up there? They were the first thing I baked in the kitchen of our new apartment. I was so excited to make my inaugural batch of baked goods after a few long days of moving and unpacking. I'd love to say that these guys were satisfying and wonderful, but the reality is that they were TERRIBLE! They were too salty, flat, and not the least bit chewy. I failed miserably at making chocolate chip cookies.

But that happens sometimes -- I get an idea for something I really want to make and post here on the blog, and something goes wrong. I had the incredible opportunity to speak about the ups and downs of blogging with a fantastic group of food journalism students at NYU a few weeks ago. They had a lot of great questions and interesting ideas, so I hope they'll consider starting blogs of their own! One student asked me why I never post photos of my kitchen on the blog, which made me laugh. The truth is, I have never had a kitchen that was worth posting a photo of -- New York City rental kitchens tend not to be the most, eh, photogenic.

I did promise that I would post some pictures, though, so here we go. First, a photo of my old kitchen. It's not much to look at, and it's so small that it was actually pretty difficult to capture. But it did the job when I needed it and helped me to turn out a lot of wonderful meals. And how can you resist those DARLING floral wall tiles? I mean...

And now for my new kitchen, which I'm still slowly getting acquainted with. The main draw for me here (besides the counter space!) is the fact that I have windows that bring in plenty of light while I cook. We're even growing a little basil plant on the windowsill! Maybe a successful batch of chocolate chip cookies will be in the works next... one step at a time.

Strawberries and Cream Pavlovas with Basil Syrup

Food, RecipesKristenComment

It's been a while since I posted a good, sugary dessert recipe here! To celebrate the fact that our grocery stores are finally getting some strawberries that are somewhat edible, today we're making Strawberries and Cream Pavlovas with Basil Syrup.

If you're unfamiliar with pavlovas, you're probably not alone. That is, of course, unless you are from Australia or New Zealand, where this dessert hails from. It's a simple concept: a cloud of meringue dolloped with whipped cream and garnished with fresh fruit. There are many varieties of this dish, but today we're making one with summery flavors.

A pavlova can either be prepared as one large "cake", or as smaller individual servings. I prefer the latter since I don't like to share my dessert (obv). The most important attribute of any pavlova is that the outside be crispy but not too browned, while the inside stays soft and chewy -- almost marshmallow-like in texture. I like mine to be so airy that you almost can't tell where the whipped cream ends and the meringue begins. The basil syrup in this version gives an otherwise sweet dessert a nice, unexpected herbaceous twist.

Strawberries and Cream Pavlovas with Basil Syrup

Adapted from Tartine and Apron Strings, meringue recipe from Joy of Baking

Ingredients
---------------
Meringue:
4 large egg whites
1 c. granulated sugar
½ tbsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. white vinegar

Basil syrup:
2/3 c. fresh basil leaves
½ c. light agave syrup or light corn syrup

Whipped cream:
1 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped

1 pint sliced fresh strawberries

Instructions
----------------
Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Trace six circles (I use a drinking glass) about 2.5 inches in diameter onto the parchment and then invert the paper so that the side you drew on is against the sheet.

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in one bowl. Combine the vanilla and vinegar in another.

Start with the egg whites at room temperature. With a stand or electric mixer, start whipping the egg whites at a medium-low speed until they start to become frothy (about 3 minutes). Increase the speed to medium-high and whip for another minute or two -- you're looking for soft peaks.

Begin adding the sugar-cornstarch blend a few tablespoons at a time, allowing it to fully incorporate into the egg whites before adding more. When you have finished incorporating everything, add the vanilla and vinegar.

Turn the mixer to high and whip to stiff peaks. You'll know you're there when: a) you can see defined whisk marks in the meringue while the mixer is running, and b) when you stop the mixer and pull the whisk or beaters out of the meringue, it should leave a stiff peak in the bowl and on the end of the whisk.

Using a spatula, divide the meringue between your six circles on the baking sheet. This part takes a little time and patience, but you should use the back of the spatula to shape your meringue "cakes", building them up as you go. It's nice to create a slight bowl shape in the top to hold your toppings.

Place the sheet in the oven and bake for one hour. If they start taking on too much color, lower the oven temp by 10 or 15 degrees. They should feel relatively solid to the touch when they are done. Turn off the oven, crack the door open, and let them cool completely in the oven (about 2 hours more).

Basil syrup:
Fill a small saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Add the basil leaves and blanch them for about 30 seconds. This will bring out a bright green color. Immediately transfer the leaves to a bowl filled with cool water and ice.

Drain and pat the leaves dry. Combine the leaves and syrup in a food processor or blender and blend to a smooth consistency. Refrigerate the syrup for at least two hours to let the flavor infuse. Before serving, bring to room temperature and strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Whipped cream:
Begin whipping the cream either by hand or with an electric mixer. When it has slightly thickened, sprinkle the sugar over the top of the cream and continue whipping. Add the seeds from one vanilla bean. Whip until stiff.

Assembly:
Place one meringue on a plate. Top with a generous dollop of the whipped cream and drizzle with basil syrup. Finish with fresh sliced strawberries and enjoy!



Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

Food, RecipesKristenComment

We've somewhat skipped over spring here in the Northeast -- on Monday, we celebrated Memorial Day with blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. Not that I'm complaining that winter FINALLY seems to be over, but I do feel like my food calendar is slightly off this year. It's normally a gradual transition into more spring-y fresh veggies and lighter dishes, but I'm already looking forward to summertime grilling and lots of fresh fruit.

Lamb is one of my favorite springtime dishes, so I decided to hold on to the season just a little longer by making a lovely herb crusted rack of lamb for dinner. Rack of lamb can be pricey, but it's totally worth it for a special dinner, especially if you dress up the richness with some fresh herbs.

The herb crust comes together quite easily in the food processor -- just a few quick whirs turn basil, breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs de Provence, cheese, mustard, and olive oil into a beautiful coat for the lamb. Be sure to take a moment to breathe in the gorgeous smell of all those ingredients when you take the lid off of your food processor!

My favorite part of this recipe is packing the herb crust around the rack of lamb -- it's like wrapping it up in a pretty green blanket! You want a nice even layer covering every visible part of the meat, and then into the oven it goes. For a medium-rare lamb, I roast it for about 25 minutes at 425 F. That's all it takes for this showstopping dish, which means you'll have plenty of time to toss some potatoes in the oven for a side, AND open up a nice bottle of red to go with it all.

Recipe followed precisely as written from Bon Appetit: Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb