Tawn Makes Pineapple Fried Rice

The evening after Andy and Sugi’s wedding, the newlyweds were off at a family dinner so Tawn and I invited Andy W and Kenny over to our condo for dinner. Sugi’s family had sent us home the night before with a pair of very ripe Maui Gold pineapples, so Tawn offered to make pineapple fried rice.

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Chef Tawn busy in the kitchen. We had to buy a few items such as the raisins, the pack of which I carried with me back to Kansas City to leave with my sister’s family, since the friend we’re staying with in San Francisco doesn’t like raisins.

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Dinner started with a fresh mango and pineapple smoothie. Healthy treat to whet the appetite.

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Filling the hollowed-out pineapple with the fried rice. The top shell is placed over the rice and then it is baked in the over until fragrant.

A short video of Tawn removing the top of the pineapple!

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The finished product! It was really tasty.

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For dessert: green tea ice cream.

 

Cold Jasmine Rice in Hot Weather

Thailand’s hot season, which felt hotter than normal this year but according to the weather service was not, is just winding up. One of the few positives to the hot season is that many restaurants serve a seasonal specialty known as khao chae (ข้าวแช่). Tawn and I joined a few friends to sample this delicacy.

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We dined at Lai Rote, a old-timey restaurant located on Sukhumvit Soi 39 across from Samitivej Hospital. It is a traditional Central Thai restaurant and its name means “many flavors.”

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Making khao chae is a three-day process. The rice is parboiled, which leaves it with a “toothier” texture than is typical for jasmine rice. It is then soaked with jasmine petals in a container that has lit jasmine candles floating in it. The delicate floral flavor permeates the rice. Finally, the rice is served in ice water, a cool treat during hot season.

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The side dishses are the real attraction, though. They vary depending on the house’s specialties but what you see above is pretty typical. It includes (working clockwise) elaborately carved green mangoes, cucumbers, grachai (fingerroot), hua hom yat sai (fried stuffed red onion), prik yuan sod sai (young banana peppers stuffed with pork and wrapped in a crispy, eggy shroud), muu wan (sweet dried shredded beef), plaa wan (sweet dried shredded fish), pad hua chai po (thin strands of dried pickled radishes stir-fried with egg), and luk kapi pad (fried fermented shrimp paste balls).

Unlike most Thai food, the khao chae side dishes are quite bland and not spicy at all. It derives from so-called “palace cuisine,” the types of elaborate food traditionally served in the Thai royal palace. In addition to the khao chae, we ordered some other dishes:

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khao tang na tang – Fried rice cracker with a minced pork and peanut topping.

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khanom pang na gung – little toasts with shrimp pate and sesame seeds served with plum sauce.

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yam tua pluu – a spicy salad of wing beans and toasted shallots with a peanut and roasted chili dressing.

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For dessert, I had a less-common dish called khao maow grob. It features grains known as meang lak (hydrated lemon basil seeds) served with syrup and crushed ice, topped with toasted rice grains coated with palm sugar.

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Here’s a close up of the palm sugar coated toasted rice grains. Just like very crunch Rice Krispies. One of the more interesting Thai desserts I’ve had.

The meal was a refreshing break from our hot weather. Thankfully, by the time I’ve gotten around to writing this, rainy season has started to arrive and the heat is breaking.

 

Caramel Rice Flan

One recipe that caught my eye a week or so ago while browsing the New York Times’s website was Caramel Rice Flan.  This egg-enhanced rice pudding is made with risotto rice, giving it a nicer “toothy” feel when you eat it.  The best part is the homemade caramel which lines the bottom of the souffle dish, subsequently becoming the sauce for the flan when it is flipped upside down and unmolded onto a serving dish.  I decided to try the recipe for dinner last Friday at Ko and Per’s place, where Tawn and his girlfriends gathered to watch the royal wedding.

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The recipe takes about an hour of active time to prepare and then around two hours to bake.  After that, it needs at least six hours in the refrigerator so it really is a “make today for tomorrow” sort of dessert.  Ingredients include arborio rice (one of the types you use for risotto), milk, cinnamon sticks, ground cardamom, lemon zest, cardamom pods, cream, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and sugar. 

The recipe said it serves 8-10 but looking at it, it appeared to be a big recipe so I cut it in half.

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The recipe is moderately complex, requiring several saucepans, a few bowls, and a strainer.  Helpful to have everything prepared in advance and maybe even an extra pair of hands along the way.  The first step is to simmer the rice in boiling water for about 15 minutes to start cooking it.

You then drain the rice, then add it to a medium saucepan with most of the milk, the cinnamon, and ground cardamom, bringing it to a boil and then lowering the temperature and simmering it for 30 minutes, cooking until the rice is very tender.

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Any unabsorbed milk is poured off and then the rice is put in the bowl and lemon jest is stirred in.

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You then make the custard, cooking the rest of the milk, the cream, and the cardamom pods.  While that is coming to a simmer, in a separate bowl you whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and part of the sugar.

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When the milk comes to a simmer, you temper the eggs by adding the milk and cream mixture to it a little at a time, whisking constantly.  This keeps the eggs from scrambling.

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You then strain the mixture back into the pan, discarding the cardamom and any bits of egg that scrambled.  Next, stir in the rice.

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This was the point where I felt like too many things were going on at one time and the recipe would be easier if a second set of hands was helping.  That way elements of the dish could come together simultaneously.

The next step was to make the caramel, heating the remaining sugar and a little water in a saucepan until it boils and starts to caramelize.  I think I had the heat too high because it burned a bit, leaving the caramel with a slightly bitter taste.  Must remember to be gentle when making caramel, something I have little experience doing.

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The caramel is poured into the buttered souffle dish and quickly swirled around the sides before it starts to cool.  This was easier said than done!  Then, pour the rice and custard mixture on top.

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The souffle dish is placed in the middle of a baking pan and boiling water is filled about halfway up the side of the pan.  This water bath helps the custard cook more evenly, instead of the outsides cooking too fast and the inside still being uncooked.  Cover the pan with foil, making some small slits in the corners of the foil for steam to escape.

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Pop it into a 300-degree oven for about 2 hours, checking after 90 minutes.  Try to use a better bending technique than I did as I was just begging for a strained back. 

Since I had a half recipe I failed to anticipate that the cooking time would be less.  When I checked at about 1 hour, 40 minutes the flan was a bit more solid than desired.

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Remove and allow to cool.  At this point when I shook the dish it didn’t jiggle very much.  The idea would be just a little jiggling in the center when it comes out of the oven, as it will continue to cook for several more minutes.  Once cool, cover the flan with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. 

The real moment of truth was how well it would unmold.  You set the souffle dish in a larger pot with hot water in it for about 20 minutes, letting the caramel melt again and then loosening the edges of the flan.  Invert it onto a serving dish.  Expecting a potential disaster (after all, the recipe warns of this possibility), I decided to film it for posterity.

And the result is….

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Quite pleasant to look at, actually.  Not quite as beautiful as the picture illustrating the Times’ article, but they probably had a better set-up for photography. 

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The texture was like a pretty thick rice pudding, a little eggy but not overly so.  The caramel was burned, there was no getting around the bitter flavor.  I attribute it to making a half-recipe, which is so little that in even my smallest saucepan, overheating was a risk.  Next time, maybe I’ll add a dollop of butter at the end to tame it a bit.

All in all, though, it was a nice dessert.  I’m going to try it again soon at the full recipe and see how it turns out.

 

Great Eats in Bangkok Volume 2 – Khanom Krug

As I promised, my “Great Eats in Bangkok” series is in fact becomming a series and not just a single video.  Using my new wireless microphone that plugs into a Kodak Zi8, the audio quality is a bit better than the first time I shot the footage for this episode.  I’ll have to keep playing around with the equipment in order to learn to master it, but hopefully each successive volume of the series will get better.

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Photo courtesy yang1815

In this volume we explore one of my favorite Thai desserts, something called khanom krug.  “Khanom” is the broad term used for snacks and nibbly type of desserts and “krug” refers to the half-sphere shape in which these tasty treats are made.  You can loosely describe khanom krug as “rice flour and coconut milk pancakes”, although that description fails to capture what makes them so special and worth seeking out.

Here’s the 3-minute video.

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Photo courtesy yang1815

The interesting thing about khanom krug is how it is composed of two batters, both made with rice flour and coconut milk.  One batter is a little saltier and the other is a little sweeter.  The sweet batter is poured into the indentations in the pan, filling them about 2/3 of the way.  Then a few seconds later the saltier batter is added.  Savory fillings such as corn, taro, or free onions can be added (but just as often, are not) and then the whole thing is covered and allowed to bake and steam for several minutes.

Once the khanom are fairly firm, but still a little molten in the middle, the halves are scooped out and paired together for serving.  You have to be careful of a few things when eating them: first, they will be incredibly hot and the interior will decimate your tastebuds like lava flowing through a forest.  Second, don’t let the vendor put the container of them in a bag.  Steam is the enemy of these khanom and they will lose their crisp exterior very quickly.  Third, solve that problem by eating them right away!

I hope you enjoyed the video.  A third one is being edited now and the first volume, focusing on rice noodles called guaytiaw, is here.

 

Food in Bangkok – Khao Mok Gai on Convent

Flipping through Khun Chawadee’s book Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, I got an itching to try the Khao Mok Gai vendor on Soi Convent.  Khao Mok Gai, which alludes to a mountain of rice burying chicken, is the Thai take on chicken biryani.  Doubtlessly Indian in origin, the dish traces its more recent roots to the predominately Muslim south of Thailand.  It is a dish that is simultaneously simple and complex, one that rarely fails to satisfy.

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The vendor in question has long been a fixture on the sidewalk along Soi Convent, just off Silom Road.  Just down from the Starbucks and in front of an Irish Pub, the khao mok gai vendor’s cart perches on the edge of the curb with a half-dozen folding tables and plastic stools set out beneath umbrellas.

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The menu is rudimentary.  The khao mok gai comes in three ways: regular for 30 baht (US$1), rice special (extra rice) for 35 baht, chicken special (extra chicken) for 45 baht, or double-double for 50 baht.

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The dish is not fancy – a piece of chicken with a heaping pile of turmeric-stained rice.  Fried shallots and cucumber slices garnish and a dish of sweet chili sauce is on the side.  The rice is tasty and the chicken flavorful, though.

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Don’t skip the soup, which comes on the side.  Made with bits of chicken, herbs, and fried shallots, they serve this plain or spicy and its rich flavor hits the spot.

Like all street vendor places worth their salt, this cart gets very busy at lunchtime and they make their day’s wages or so. Don’t dilly-dally.  Eat your food, pay your tab, and get moving!

For an alternate (and Xangan) version of biryani, check out this video I made about a visit to the kitchen of Dr. Zakiah back in 2009!

 

Tawn Cooks: Pineapple Fried Rice

The only gifts we’ve ever had appear on our doorstep are pineapples, and both have been left by givers unknown in the past month.  About three weeks ago we returned home to discover a medium-sized pineapple, a variety that is very juicy but also a bit tart, sitting on our doormat.  No card, no message, no hint of who left it.

No wanting to waste a perfectly good pineapple, Tawn decided he would make pineapple fried rice.  While you don’t see it much in my blog, Tawn actually cooks and is quite proficient.  When we lived in the United States and he was going to school, he prepared a lot of our dinners.  Since we’ve moved to Thailand, I do most of the dinner preparation so you have precious few opportunities to see his culinary skill.  Let me use this opportunity to fix that.

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Iron Chef Tawn, armed and ready to cook.

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Today’s challenge ingredient: pineapple.

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First off, fry some Chinese sausage.  Once starting to brown, add some crispy pork and fry for another few minutes.

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Add the pineapple and fry for a few minutes until it begins to brown slightly.

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Add rice.  We like using whole-grain rice cooked the night before.

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Mix rice into other ingredients on high heat.  Add turmeric.  You can add other spices if you wish to customize the flavor.

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Once almost finished, add some raisins.  We added some pine nuts, too.

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Finished dish, carefully plated to look like a pineapple.  Very tasty weekday evening treat.  This week’s champion: Iron Chef Tawn!

 

Sunday Date Brunch

This is going to be the final word on dates for the time being.  I invited two couples, Doug and Bee and Ken and Chai, over for Sunday brunch.  Since I had been on such a roll this week with date-themed recipes, it became something like an Iron Chef challenge.  This meal’s challenge ingredient: dates.  In all humility, it turned out pretty darn good.  Let me share the menu with you.

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An amuse bouche of sedai dates stuffed with a little French chèvre (soft goat cheese) and a sliver of almond.  What a tasty combination!  The orange rind, which I should have salted, was more for presentation than flavor.  Had it been salted, I think it would have been a nice contrast and would have really stimulated the appetite.

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Two of our four guests – Doug and Bee.  Doug is a fellow American who lives in our neighborhood.  Credit goes to Tawn for the elegantly understated table setting.

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Two types of flatbreads.  Both were brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.  The one of the left has freshly chopped rosemary.  The one of the right has za’atar, a Middle Easter spice mixture that contains oregano, thyme, basil, savory, and sesame seeds.

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Greek style salad with fresh romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives and Feta cheese.  Served with a homemade lemon vinaigrette dressing.  (The dressing recipe is here)

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The main course was the Moroccan style braised chicken.  This picture doesn’t quite flatter the dish, which I thought was the standout of the meal.  Wednesday’s Moroccan Pork Chop dinner (my blog entry about it and the original recipe I followed) was the starting point.  Based on what I learned from that recipe, I repurposed it for chicken.  Zakiah suggested a recipe for tamarind-date sauce (thank you – what a great idea!) and I extrapolated from that and braised the chicken instead of just pan frying it. 

The chicken was brined for four hours in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, and cayenne pepper.  While it was brining, I created a tamarind-date sauce.  This was a learning experience as I haven’t worked with tamarind paste before.

Tamarind paste comes from the flesh of the ripe fruit of the tropical Tamarind tree.  The flesh is very sour with just a hint of sweetness.  Mashing the paste in a little warm water, you can extract a thick liquid with which you cook.  A little goes a long way!  To make the sauce, I sauteed an onion with the same spices I used for the chicken.  Once the onion was soft I blended it with chopped dates and the tamarind water.  Then I thinned this mixture with broth and cooked it down for a few minutes.

While the sauce reduced, I rinsed, patted dry, and dredged the chicken pieces with a spice mixture, then pan fried them a few pieces at a time.  Once all the pieces had formed a nice crust, I returned them to the pot and added the tamarind-date sauce, covered the pot and cooked for an hour at low heat until the chicken was tender and cooked through.  The nice thing about this recipe was that it could be prepared the day before then reheated.  Tender, flavorful, and convenient.

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To accompany the chicken, I made another batch of the Moroccan style rice.  (Recipe I started with but I modified it a lot as I don’t cook with a microwave.)  I was out of apricots so used dates, raisins, and dried mango to accompany the rice.  Interestingly, this batch turned out much softer and mushier than the one I made Wednesday.  I used the same type of rice and proportion of rice to liquid as before, but the rice was from a new bag.  All I can figure is that this bag of rice was younger and didn’t need as much liquid.  Still, plenty tasty!

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For dessert, we has two items.  The first was a date nute bread (recipe) from Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa series of cookbooks.  This is a quick bread similar to banana bread or zucchini bread.  I think I overcooked it a little as it was dry.  Tawn, however, likes his food drier than I do, so he thought it was perfect!  Toasted, I think it would make no difference.  On the side is a tub of butter whipped with a little honey and orange zest.

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The final dish was a Greek Yoghurt Panna Cotta with dried apricots reconstituted in a white wine and honey sauce.  (Recipe) This turned out very nice as the panna cotta is not overly sweet and has a nice tanginess from the yoghurt.  Of course, by this point we were stuffed, and smaller servings would have been fine!

All in all, the brunch was a success.  Pleasant company and conversation, most importantly, and the food turned out nicely, too!