Thursday, February 28, 2013

Indian Cooking In Thailand

I loved the Indian Cooking class I took earlier this week and learned quite a bit about spices, cooking techniques and Indian food. 

Similar to Thai cooking, making Indian food requires a lot of preparation. There are a lot of ingredients in each recipe and everything needs to be cut, chopped, pounded, ground, etc. - onions, garlic, ginger, meat, fruits and vegetables. Many times, even the spices need to be prepped - ground, roasted, sauteed or fried. If you are not especially skilled in the kitchen, it can take forever just to prep the ingredients. In my opinion, it isn't worth the effort when Indian food is easily found and not expensive. In addition, the spices used in Indian food are extremely pungent and the odors fill the house and are absorbed into everything. Before we began the class, Susan, our instructor, had us put our handbags in another room and then she closed off the kitchen to the rest of the house.

This was Susan's "desk". 
We used a variety of spices. Some I was familiar with (cumin, garam masala, turmeric  cardamom, coriander) and some I was not (fenugreek leaf and seed, charoli). Obviously, Susan makes Indian food quite frequently as she had these industrial-sized containers of spices!
Susan had prepped quite a bit for us which saved us a lot of time and we were able to begin cooking almost immediately. I took a series of Thai cooking classes last year and the students did everything from beginning to end - even washing the vegetables and herbs. While it was nice to see the recipes come together in those classes, prepping for 3 or 4 dishes and then doing the actual cooking really made for a long day.

Susan showed us all of the spices we would be using in our recipes that day and we were able to sniff or taste if we wanted. Many of the spices were used in a few forms - seeds, leaves or ground into a powder. Susan first demonstrated to us how to make Daal. She used yellow lentils and added water, ginger, turmeric, salt, and cumin seeds before cooking in a pressure cooker. 

There were 8 of us taking the class so we split up into pairs and began to work on our first dish, chicken curry. My partner, Liane, and I opted to remove the skin from our chicken legs. I cannot stand to touch raw poultry - so slimy and yucky. Liane felt the same way so we just gritted our teeth and skinned. 

We sauteed the chicken in the curry sauce that Susan made in advance until it was golden brown.  
Then we added water, salted to taste and cooked some more.
In the photo below, you can see how nicely the sauce reduced. We stirred in chopped fresh coriander, added a little more salt and voila! 
The next recipe we were making was Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cottage Cheese). I don't know exactly what I was expected but it sure wasn't what we made.

Susan began by sauteing chili peppers (she cut them in half) and some herbs and spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom) in a little bit of oil. 
Susan added a TON of fresh spinach to the wok and sauteed until it wilted. The kitchen in the photo below was located right outside the house and it is where the maid cooks for the family. There was a complete kitchen inside as well. The outdoor kitchen had a two burner gas stove and this is where Liane and I cooked and where Susan demonstrated for us. 
 After the spinach cooked, we processed it in the blender until it looked like this...
We gathered the rest of our ingredients -the paneer cheese and the sauce (already made by Susan). The sauce was a simple mixture of tomatoes, onion and a little garlic. 
 First we heated up our spinach mixture.
We stirred in the paneer cheese. Paneer cheese is an Indian cheese - its texture was similar to tofu and it was very bland tasting. Susan said it is very easy to make but easier to buy! 
 And finished off with a splash of cream, a pinch of garam masala and salt to taste.
The last recipe we made was roti. Roti is a Indian bread eaten in South Asia that is made from stone-ground whole wheat flour (atta flour). Roti originated and is eaten in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh  Nepal (where Susan is from) and Sri Lanka. Indian roti bread is an unleavened bread while Indian naan bread is a bread leavened with yeast. The Indian roti is very different than the rotis I have eaten here in Thailand. The Thai rotis are crepe-like, filled with sweet ingredients and eaten for dessert.

The roti was very simple to make - a mixture of atta flour, water, salt and ghee (clarified butter used in India). The dough was kneaded for a few minutes and chilled. We actually made the dough earlier in the class and let it chill while we made the other dishes.
 We rolled the dough into a log and cut sections off to roll. 
 The dough was rolled into a circle, about 5-6" diameter. 
The roti was then cooked on top of the stove in a dry pan. After it was cooked, it was removed from the pan and placed directly on the open flame of the gas stove burner. This final step gave it a little char as well as "puffing" the roti up. 
I made another roti using a different method that Susan had shown us. I preferred the look of the round roti - this one looked like something out of "SpongeBob Square Pants." 
The Daal was finished as well and Susan served it over rice with peas, fried scallions and roasted cashews.
One of the women in the class arranged a plate with all of the items that we made and took the photo below. So pretty! And delicious.
Our class. Susan is in the white dress in the front row. 

Susan is going to try and organize a field trip for us to go downtown to the spice market and then to Little India for lunch. Everyone who took the class lives in Nichada and most of us have kids at ISB so I was a little surprised that I knew only one woman in the class. As small as Nichada feels (sometimes it is like living in a very small fishbowl), I guess it really isn't.  

I don't see myself cooking a whole lot of Indian food - I wasn't too crazy about the taste and I can't imagine the kids enjoying anything other than the chicken curry and roti. The spices and the dishes are so very different from those that we are used to cooking with and eating - even living in Thailand (so it isn't just a "western" thing). I think it would take a lot of tasting and eating a variety of dishes in order to get used to the Indian flavors and scents. 

Obviously, I will be scratching "Indian Food Cook" off my list of future career/job possibilities. I guess that, even if I don't find a new career path, it is worth it to take these classes and at least figure out what I DON'T want to do! 

Have a great Friday!

Style vs. Shake

I will post tomorrow about my Indian Cooking and Floral Designing classes - I had to share this today...

Christopher has become friendly with twins (girls) who live down the street from us. Yesterday was their birthday and their mother, who was out of the country taking another daughter to Chile to begin university, asked me if I would do "something" to help them celebrate. Two hours and 21 pre-teen/teenagers later, this mother was ready for a glass of wine and some peace and quiet. 

All of the kids were sitting nicely, chatting with each other and listening to music...

The Twins stood up and began to dance. 

Nobody seemed to notice and the chatter continued.

Then, the Twins got a little crazy... 

And, instantaneously, the next thing I knew, the place went WILD!

This, my friends, if you are as unfortunate to be as far behind the times as I apparently was, is called the "Harlem Shake".

For those of us (Kevin and myself included) who just (finally) figured out what "Gangnam Style" style was all about...The Harlem Shake begins with one (or, in our case, two) person dancing to the Harlem Shake song alone for about 15 seconds. During this time, the dancer(s) is surrounded by other people who are not paying attention or seem to be unaware of the dancing individual. At a certain point in the song, the entire crowd goes wild and does a crazy convulsive dance for the next 15 seconds.

While this was happening yesterday afternoon, I knew something was odd but I had no idea as to what it was exactly. I learned all of this at the breakfast table this morning after asking Caitlynne and Christopher a few questions. Christopher told me that the University of Georgia Men's Swim & Dive Team has the best "Harlem Shake" video on YouTube and I had a few minutes this afternoon to take a look. Would you believe almost 195,000 results appeared when I typed "Harlem Shake" into the search engine. Don't these people have anything better to do?!?

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Night Into Day

My run this morning was horrible. Each step was a struggle - mentally and physically - and I just barely made it to 3 1/2 miles. I downloaded the new Tim McGraw album over the weekend and concentrated on listening to those new songs while I pushed through. Any other day, I would have thrown in the towel at mile .25. However, I didn't run Monday or Tuesday and knew I needed to pound the pavement to work off all of the bread and pasta that I have been inhaling eating lately. Note to self: do not make pasta and bread on the same day. Or in the same week. Especially when dear husband is gone and there is no one around to eat it except YOU! Our netball matches last night were a little intense and my quads and shoulders were sore which didn't help things at all. 

The one (and only) good thing about my run was looking up and seeing this sight.
So beautiful!

A few hours later, the sky had changed dramatically and this was the sight from my balcony...

Aren't I lucky to have such a nice view of utility wires and a construction site? The photo below is a view  of the same area when we first moved here in July 2011.

Things have changed a little!

It is going to be another scorcher today. Fortunately, I was able to run all of my errands yesterday so I don't need to be out and about today. In fact, I am taking an Indian Cooking class later this morning so I will be in air conditioning for the hottest part of the day. 

The Indian Cooking class was offered through the ISB PTA's Adult Education Program for the Spring Session. I signed up for the Indian Cooking class as well as for classes in Floral Arranging and Jewelry Making. I told my friends that I am exploring a variety of activities and hope I like one enough to pursue a new career when we move back to the U.S. Today is the Indian Cooking class and the Floral Arranging classes begin tomorrow. Unfortunately, not enough people signed up for the Jewelry Making class and it was canceled. However, the instructor is a friend of mine and she said she will work with me privately.

This is the menu for our Indian Cooking class today:

Palak Paneer (Spinach with cottage cheese)               
Chicken curry
Daal (lentil soup)
Rice & Roti (wholewheat pitta)

The instructor is Indian and she has degrees from Le Cordon Bleu and the Leiths School of Food and Wine in the UK. I liked the little bit of Indian food that I have tried and am interested to learn about some of the spices and seasonings used.

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pain de Campagne

Caitlynne had to babysit yesterday afternoon so a trip to Ayutthaya was not going to happen. Having nothing too important to do, I decided to make bread. I tried a new recipe, "Pain de Campagne", mainly because I was intrigued by the description, "for a crusty artisan style bread, start with a sponge or poolish and let the flavors build during a long slow fermentation process."

From beginning to end, this bread took me 9 1/2 hours to make. Yikes! It was a good thing that I was able to plan my errands and the making of the butternut squash & spinach pasta dish around the steps of this recipe. 

First, I made the sponge or poolish - yeast, warm water and whole wheat flour - and let that develop for 3 hours. The recipe called for the poolish to develop 2 - 8 hours but, after I went through the recipe and calculated how many hours were required at all of the other steps, I felt three hours was enough development time - unless I wanted to be baking bread at midnight.

The poolish. 
A poolish (also called mother bread) is a pre-fermentation starter used in bread making and is widely used in artisan bread recipes. Making a poolish starter in the bread-making process allows more time for yeast and enzymes to act on the starch and proteins in the dough. This improves the keeping time of the baked bread and creates greater complexities of flavor. There are two varieties of pre-fermentation starters - "sponges" which use baker's yeast (like mine) and the starters used to make sourdough breads which are based on wild yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria. To be honest, I had never even heard of a poolish until yesterday morning - thank goodness for the internet.

The poolish - nice and bubbly - after fermenting for 3+ hours.
After the fermenting time was up, I added 2.5 cups of warm water and some more yeast to the poolish, stirred well and added 6 cups of flour (cup by cup and combining well after each addition). The directions then called for the dough to be kneaded for 12 minutes. Oh, my aching arms - peeling & cutting squash and then 12 minutes of dough kneading are better than all the strength training in the world! 

After the 12 minutes of kneading was finished, the next step was rather unusual. The recipe called for me to sprinkle 1 tablespoon of kosher salt over the dough and knead for another 5-7 minutes. I would have expected the salt to be added either after the fermenting process (at the same time I added the water and yeast) or with the 6 cups of flour. I was very curious as to how the salt would be evenly distributed and absorbed into the dough. More on that later.

I let the dough rise for almost 3 hours.
The recipe called for the dough to be divided in half, covered with a damp cloth, rested at room temp for 30 minutes and then formed into two baguettes.

The two portions of my dough after resting.
Another odd direction... the baguettes were to be placed seam side up on a heavily floured cloth, separated by a fold in the middle of the cloth, covered with a damp towel and left to rise for 2 hours. Whew. 

I have no idea why the baguettes couldn't have been placed to rise on a floured baking sheet or cutting board but the recipe was very specific about using a cloth. Since I was investing so much time into this bread, I followed the instructions to a "T". 

Isn't my fold beautiful? 
After two hours, the baguettes were huge! But that fold kept them separated for sure. 
Next time I will use a pastry cloth for this step instead of the towel. Although the bread did not stick to the towel, the flour did not "absorb" into the towel - maybe because of its loose weave and texture? When I flipped the baguettes to move them on to the baking sheets, there were big clumps of flour stuck on the "tops" of the baguettes. I tried to dust off the clumps but eventually ended up just baking the baguettes with the seam sides up. I think that baking with the seam side up contributed more to the rustic look. 

The baguettes then went into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes. I have an oven similar in size (maybe even smaller) to the "Barbie Bake With Me Oven" and whenever I bake more than one dish, I must constantly rotate the dishes between the oven shelves so everything is evenly cooked. I also need to allow at least 15 minutes longer baking time than what the recipe calls for. 

The first loaf looked pretty good. The baguettes were so large that I had to squish both of the baguettes a little so they would fit on my 9 x 13 baking trays. In my opinion, the squishing gave them more of a rustic look.
 This one got squished a little too much. One end looked like the face of a pug.
 Both loaves. Lots of bread! 
Christopher and I did a taste test and the bread was delicious. After the pasta dinner earlier and then "testing" the bread, I better plan to run long tomorrow! 

There are several things in this recipe I would like to either get more information about or experiment with. I wonder if and for how long the poolish could be stored in the refrigerator? If it is "fed" like sour dough starter, maybe I could keep a batch on hand to use when the urge to bake bread strikes. Having the poolish already made would knock at least 3 hours off of the time required for this recipe. I would also like to experiment and add the salt with the 6 cups of flour instead of midway through the kneading process. When I was spreading the dough to form the baguettes, I could see and feel some patches of salt. I also had a few bites of bread that were noticeably saltier than others.

This recipe made way too much for our family of four (minus Kevin for another three weeks) to eat over the course of a few days so one loaf went right into the freezer. 

Have a great Tuesday!

A Tasty Creation

Yesterday morning, I ran a great 6 miles to end my week with 22 miles. More importantly, I had no pain and no injuries! I am still in Missouri on my transcontinental run and, given the amounts of snow that fell in the Midwest this week, if I were truly at mile 1355, I probably would be running in a foot or two of snow! Here in Bangkok, it was still warm (79 degrees) but the humidity had dropped to 52% and what a difference the lower humidity made. I planned to run only 4 or 5 miles but I was at ISB running on the cross country path and felt like I could just run and run. Like Forest Gump. Sort of. 

That run must have triggered my hunger sensors to the max because I was absolutely famished the rest of the day. I couldn't get enough to eat! I felt the extreme need to cook something delicious but since we had an end of the year dinner for Caitlynne's softball team last night, I had to wait and cook this evening. I was reading through the Pioneer Woman website for inspiration and saw this recipe for this butternut squash risotto.
(Photos courtesy of the Pioneer Woman. )
I love love love risotto but the few times I made it, I ended up with a gooey gloppy mess of uncooked rice. I am not sure why because, after the first fail, I followed the recipe to a "T" and still had the same outcome. There are some fabulous recipes for risotto online and, although I am always tempted to try and make it again, I have resigned myself to accepting that risotto (for me) will be something that I only order in a restaurant. 

Since the risotto part of the Pioneer Woman's recipe was out, I started to think of how I could adapt this concept into something that would stand a chance of being edible.

I turned this...
Into this...
Butternut Squash, Spinach and Cream Pasta. Yum!

When I go to the market here in Nichada, 99% of the time there are pumpkins or butternut squash already cut and packaged for sale. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any yesterday so I had to peel and cut them myself. My arm will be sore tomorrow. That is one reason why I never cook with pumpkins or squash - the prep just isn't worth the time and effort.
Sauteing the butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper.
After the addition of chopped onion.
I sprinkled about 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg over the squash and onions.
At this point, I would have been happy to just have this for dinner. In fact, I thought about saving some to scramble with eggs for my breakfast.
I added about 1 cup of chicken stock and four loosely packed cups of baby spinach and cooked until the spinach wilted.

I added a few handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese and about 1/4 cup of cream and stirred until the cheese melted.
And served over bow-tie pasta.
I sprinkled some grated Parmesan cheese over the top before serving. 

Definitely a win! Both of the kids thought it was good. Caitlynne didn't like the onions but she wasn't able to pick them out because I chopped them quite small. Christopher commented that there was "an abundance of pumpkin." I loved it and it satisfied my craving. Now, I will need to run another 6 miles tomorrow to burn it all off. 

Have a great Monday!

A happy P.S. - In exactly four months from yesterday, Kevin, the kids, Sonder and I will be on a plane flying back to the U.S.. We have been away from our home in Virginia for 8 years - sad to leave Bangkok but excited for what is ahead!