zondag 30 mei 2010

A Thai themed dinner party

The reason of this posting has numerous purposes and is therefore longer than the ones I am accustomed to writing. I hope you will bear with me and perhaps the colourful photo's will somehow make up for it.
I hope to encourage those who are not yet familiar with Thai cuisine- perhaps even inspire (a reluctant) someone to prepare some Thai food at home.
I hope to give ideas and tips on how to host a Thai themed evening.
It is in reply to my guests who have requested the recipes. (scroll down)
And lastly it is to torture the absentees of my Thai dinner party- I am so sorry you guys couldn’t make it- and who knows perhaps I may even be convinced to organise another evening- Thai food is easy, tasty and healthy!

Last year Indian, this year Thai:
Once a year I hold a themed dinner party. Often we have girly get together and mostly do the ‘pot luck’ thing but during the themed evenings the guys are invited- and we are talking about men with large appetites! Last year we enjoyed a taste of India, and this year it just had to be spicy Thai. The essence of Thai cuisine is in the use of simple, fresh ingredients, cut into bite sized pieces and cooked to perfection.

I felt I had mastered the art of good authentic Thai food after being inspired by my holiday in Thailand last year and I felt confident enough to cater to the needs of 15 friends- but could I pull it off...? I did indeed- but I couldn't have done it without my two Bodum wok pans- they are fantastic. And in particular the help of one friend- I even forgive her for throwing olive oil over my kitchen floor in the process!
Asian food (apart from Indian) never really hit the spot as far as I was concerned up until my recent holiday that is. My eldest son has an allergy to MonoSodium Glutamate, often added to Asian foods, so we avoided eating at Chinese/ Indonesian restaurants at all costs.
We have however always eaten Indian food on a regular basis. When I first came to Holland, many years ago, I was taught to cook authentic Indian cuisine by a family where I worked as au pair. It has always remained a favourite.

Thai food:
I didn't really expect to enjoy Thai cuisine but was curious. I had once attempted to cook a Thai curry with little success. The sauce was thin (I didn’t realise it should be- can you believe I actually thickened it with corn flour!) and it separated. I also found it hard to get past using =fish sauce in a chicken curry- and oh boy it was HOT!
The Thai people are food obsessive and seem to be eating, (warm) dishes, every moment of the day- be it early morning or late at night!
Thai food can be very hot but in general they will honour your wishes if you request a milder curry. Ask for ‘mai pet'.

I must say it did take me a few days to get over the fish sauce thing. I really didn't care to taste fish in my chicken curry! But there is no salt used in Thai cuisine, the curries are 'salted' with fish sauce, and I must say I did get used to it.
The key to great Thai food is about getting the balance right: hot(spicy), sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Flavours should complement one another.
Often the food is a work of art, the appearance is beautiful and often the garnishes are lavish. Thai food is often served with masterfully carved fruits and vegetables.

Rice is a staple component of Thai cuisine. The food is often served with plain steamed rice to tone the spicy food down and soak up the abundant (thin) sauce. Jasmine (or Pandan) is a slightly sticky but very fragrant rice. It is traditional to start every meal with a mouthful of rice out of respect.
Chopsticks are rarely used, in favour are a spoon and fork. Thai food is further served with one or two condiments.
The food is 'shared-' an unusual concept for us but we soon became used to it as the food was always placed centrally and we sampled each other’s choices. There are no 'courses' as such, you eat the food as it arrives.
Important ingredients are coconut milk, chilies, garlic, galangal (also known as Galanga, Blue Ginger or Laos) ginger, lemon grass, palm sugar, lime juice, kaffir leaves, shallots, spring onions, Thai Basil, coriander, turmeric, and Thai curry paste.
Often the ingredients are added to 'feel', not accurately weighed, later it is adjusted accordingly by tasting.
I always have two pots of the basic curry paste: green and red on hand. (I haven’t tried yellow as yet) Basically it is a ground mix of lemongrass, red (for red curry paste) or green chili (for green curry paste) garlic, galangal, onion, salt, bergamot and coriander. You certainly don't have to feel guilty using paste since it is quite accepted, although you could start from scratch. I use paste and extra fresh ingredients, and am more than happy with the results.*
Often the meat of a Thai curry is ‘poached’ in coconut milk- doesn’t sound very appetizing does it? There are one or two ways of preparing a curry. You can start off with frying the curry paste, then adding the coconut milk and then ‘poaching’ the meat but I prefer the method of heating a little coconut milk, adding the curry paste and then the meat.
Note: A proper Thai curry should have a sheen of (coconut) oil on top. I hope I have given you some insight on Thai food.

I started planning my meals by scouring through my cookery books. I had one small Thai cookery book, one wok book and I purchased an extra 'Easy Thai Cookbook' because it came with a CD featuring traditional Thai music.
I happened to come across a Thai water melon salad in a Jamie Oliver book and on sight I knew instantly one of my choices was made.

I wanted to make a basic Thai green curry and a Thai red curry. I choose chicken to complement the green and fish for the red. Further I wanted a beef dish and opted for a dish with coconut milk and peanuts. I opted for mushrooms in a oyster sauce. A Thai evening wouldn't be complete without loempia's (spring rolls)and for a vegetable dish, I decided on pak choi. (pak soi) Further I couldn't leave out the vivid colours of butternut squash and the topper had to be the tiger prawns- that is sure a dish to impress! I also prepared some freshly toasted salted coconut pieces.
Dessert was tapioca pudding with coconut milk and lime juice, and a selection of fresh fruits.
We served rose / white wine, a selection of fruit juice and Thai 'Singha' beer.
Scroll down for recipes.
Green Thai chicken curry with Thai 'pea' aubergines and bamboo shoots
Red Thai pangasius fish and prawns with red onion, cherry tomatoes and oyster mushrooms
Beef with sweet (but spicy) peanut sauce
Dried mushrooms in oyster sauce
Pak choi with caraway seeds
Tiger prawns with chili and mustard seeds
Spiced butternut squash in coconut cream
Coconut crisps
Loempia's/ springrolls (thanks to Gail-10/10)

Pandan rice (thanks to Paula- 10/10)
Salads: Thai water melon (thanks to Gail)
Cucumber and coriander (thanks to Breda)
Mixed green salad (thanks to Iryna)
Snacks and kroepoek (thanks to Iryna and Rob)
Various dipping sauces: Incl Thai sweet chili sauce (see photo)
Tapioca in coconut milk served with lime juice
Fresh fruits:
Pineapple and mango marinated in caramel, star aniseed and brandy
Dragon fruit
Seaweed desserts (thanks to Rob)
The Durian is the king of Thai fruit. We actually didn’t serve the fruit but did have a Durian fruit ‘sausage’ (Thanks to Rob). It is has a spiky thorn like appearance, has a unique taste and texture and is relatively expensive. The Durian however, is famous for its strong and offensive odour that has even led to it being banned from many hotels, airports and public places. I didn’t find it offensive at all, I found it to be very fragrant and pleasant- once I got past the unusual texture.

Decor: We brightened up the dining/livingroom with a few simple props. A giant fan, a parasol, some (artifical)orchids (don't tell anyone!)and some draped scalves really set the scene.
Tablecloths were just lengths of material. I made some ice lanterns and scattered a few pebbles. I used scallop shells as serving plates and oriental pots for various condiments
We burnt some insense to get the mood right. As a finishing touch we had ordered via internet 5 Thai lanterns. Here is an example, not of ours but you'll get an idea. These were a great success, they really have something magical- make a wish, you never know it may well come true!
We provided chopsticks and made a few food decorations. The Thai garnishes are made are quite simple, you can peel a tomato in one long piece and wrap in into the shape of a beautiful rose. You can also make cuts into a radish, make a flower from a chili, fine slices in a spring onion or fans out of pieces of cucumber. To get the onion, chili and radish to curl, plunge in into ice cold water.
I set the table, 15 settings, as I like to be seated and there was a strict policy- no childern! The meal was buffet style- self service! We also had a salad bar, a dessert bar and a juice/ drinks bar.
Fortune cookies brought a fun element at the end of the meal.
We played Thai music and had planned to do a spot of karaoke- very populair in Thailand, later in the evening but decided to relax outside by the open fire instead.

Setting the menu was half the work. Last year I prepared a lot of the dishes the day before because Indian food just gets better. I like my Thai food freshly cooked so I planned to do most of the cooking on the day itself. I did however cook the coconut pieces, the tapioca, cut the fruit (and marinated it) and the pumpkin dish one day before.
I started doing the dried mushroom in the morning because they obviously need soaking. The peanut sauce I prepared early on and cooled down, as I added the steak very last minute. The two red/green curries I cooked late in the afternoon. The pak choi was also made last minute- I want crunch! And to really get the best out of the prawns I cooked them after the guests had arrived!
We served the prawns and spring rolls as starters.


Green Thai chicken curry.
Note: I made the green curry using 1250gr chicken and 1 litre coconut milk but I normally make a curry with approx 600gr chicken and 400ml coconut milk. This is a fairly basic curry so I don’t actually follow a recipe. I used the smaller Thai chili peppers (Rawits) Below is roughly my standard Green Curry recipe.

500-600gr chicken breast, cut in small pieces/ cubes (or any meat of choice)
400ml coconut milk
2-3 tbsp green Thai curry paste
Piece ginger and galangal, grated
1-2 sticks lemon grass, bruised and bashed (brings out the flavour) alternately you could use minced lemon grass from a jar.
1 green Thai chili, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed/grated
1-2 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp brown sugar/ or a small piece of palm sugar
Juice of one small lime
Kaffir leaves (or a little lime zest)
Thai sweet basil, fresh
1-2 Spring onion, sliced
Vegetables of choice: I used bamboo shoots and baby ‘pea’Thai aubergines

Heat a wok and add nearly half of the coconut milk. Heat and stir until the coconut boils and starts to separate. Add the green curry paste and stir for a few minutes- this brings out the flavor- When it appears a little ‘oily’ add your fresh ingredients (if using- see notes above*) lemon grass, garlic, galangal and ginger. Add chicken pieces and stir occasionally. Add sugar, lime juice and kaffir leaves.
After a few minutes add the remaining coconut milk. Cook until the chicken is tender. Add the vegetables for the last few minutes. The pea aubergines only need a few minutes.
Taste and adjust accordingly- add more sugar if too hot. Add more green curry paste for more flavour. Add a little lime juice if necessary or fish sauce.
Just before serving add the fresh basil leaves and spring onion to garnish.


Red Thai pangasius fish and prawns with red onion, cherry tomatoes and oyster mushrooms:

Note: The method is basically the same as the green curry, except the fish is poached towards the end.
I used 1000gr pangasius fish, and a handful of prawns, 1 liter of coconut milk. I used the smaller (fresh)Thai chili peppers (Rawits) Here is a recipe for a basic Red Thai curry

500-600gr fish of choice, cut in small pieces (or meat of choice ie beef)
Oyster mushrooms
400ml coconut milk
2-3 tbsp red Thai curry paste
Piece ginger and galangal, grated
2 sticks lemon grass, bruised and bashed (brings out the flavour) alternately you could use minced lemon grass in a jar
1 red chili, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed/grated
1-2 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp brown sugar/ or a small piece of palm sugar
Juice of one small lime
Kaffir leaves, (or a little lime zest)
Thai sweet basil, fresh
1-2 Spring onion, sliced
Coriander, chopped
Vegetables of choice: I used 1 yellow capsicum, red onions and mini tomatoes.

Heat a wok and add nearly half of the coconut milk. Heat and stir until the coconut boils and starts to separate. Add the red curry paste and stir for a few minutes- this brings out the flavour- When it appears a little ‘oily’ add your fresh ingredients (if using- see notes above*) lemon grass, garlic, galangal and ginger. Add sugar, lime juice and kaffir leaves.
After a few minutes add the remaining coconut milk. Add the oyster mushrooms, the fish and prawns accordingly and cook until just done. Add the vegetables, remembering they will only need a few minutes.
Taste and adjust accordingly- add more sugar if too hot. Add more red curry paste for more flavour. Add a little lime juice if necessary or fish sauce.
Just before serving add the coriander and garnish with the fresh basil leaves and spring onion.


Beef with sweet (but spicy) peanut sauce:
(adapted from the cookery book 'Het Beste van Thailand')
NOTE: I doubled the quantity of the ingredients. I also always use an extra handful of peanuts.
I made the sauce earlier on (with peanuts) and added the beef just before serving.But beware- it did become a little greasy as a result.
I didn’t garnish with Ducks eggs. I used the smaller Thai chilies (Rawits) Here is the original recipe.

4-6 servings
6dl coconut milk
3 tbsp red Thai curry paste
3 el fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar or dark brown sugar
2 sticks lemongrass, bruised
450gr beef (good quality steak) thinly sliced
75gr roasted peanuts , ground
2 red Spanish peppers, thinly sliced in rings
5 kaffir lime leaves, ripped
10-15 Thai basil leaves
2 salted duck eggs (optional)

Heat half of the coconut milk in a wok , stirring until it boils and separates.
Add the curry paste and cook a few minutes. Add the fish sauce, sugar and lemon grass.
Allow everything to simmer until the sauce becomes darker in colour. Add the remaining coconut milk and stir. Bring to the boil. Add the slices of beef and the peanuts. Stir well and allow to simmer for 8-10 minutes, the sauce will be reduced as the steam evapourates.
Add the peppers and the Kaffir leaves. Garnish with the basil and salted boiled ducks eggs.


Dried mushrooms with oyster sauce:
I used monkey mushrooms (about 225gr dry weight, if I remember correctly)I washed the mushrooms and placed them in a bowl with warm water for about ½ hour. I placed a saucer over them to weigh them down- as they tend to float.

NOTE:The following ingredients are roughly what I used and should only be used as a guideline.
You can improvise by using ground ginger/ ginger syrup. If you have no rice vinegar then use sherry or even (basamic) vinegar.

Reconstituted mushrooms, (see above) patted dry
1 red onion, diced
Oil for frying
1 piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 piece of galangal (optional)
2 gloves of garlic
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Approx 2 -3 tbsp oyster sauce
2-3 tbsp.soy sauce (I used the sweet ketjap manis)
Fish sauce
1 tsp. Sesame seed oil
2 small Thai chilies chilies
1-2 tsp (brown) sugar/ palm sugar
Sweet Thai chili sauce
2-3 tbsp rice wine (I used Japanese Sake)
Water and corn flour to thicken
Spring onion, sliced

Fry the red onion in a little oil. Add finely chopped garlic, ginger, galangal and 1 finely chopped (Thai) chilli. Add the mushrooms and stir fry. Add oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, a squeeze of Thai sweet chili sauce, soy sauce / ketjap manis and a splash of fish sauce. Simmer until the mushrooms are tender. Add the rice wine and corn flour (dissolved in water) and bring to boil to thicken. Taste and adjust adding more sugar/ salt(or fish sauce). Add more water if too thick.
Place is a serving dish and garnish with spring onion and remaining chili cut in small strips.


Pak Choi with caraway seed.
Note: Not strictly a Thai dish but I thought it would be perfect.I doubled the ingredients.

Packet/ head pak choi
1 small (red)onion, chopped
Few tsp. sugar
Large knob butter
Caraway seeds, heaped tsp
Salt and pepper
Chili flakes
Cornflour/ arrowroot

Firstly caramelise some sugar. Use a dry saucepan, and add a few teaspoons of sugar, heat gently and watch in amazement how it will turn liquid. Keep stirring (do not leave!) until all the sugar is dissolved and it has a nice brown colour. Cool slightly then add a large knob of butter (I love butter- I never use margarine, though I suppose you could or vegetable oil). When melted add one finely chopped onion, and cooked for a few minutes, then add one heaped teasp. of caraway seeds a good pinch of salt and pepper and chili flakes, the white pieces (sliced) of the pak choi. Stir fry for just a few minutes. Lastly add the roughly chopped green tops and stir until wilted.

Thicken the sauce by making a paste with a little cornflour and water. Add it at the end and bring quickly to the boil.Even better remove the pak Choi first and then thicken the liquid, as I did slightly overcook mine on this occasion.


Prawns with chili and mustard seeds:
( adapted from the cookery book 'Snelle Wokgerechten')
Note: I used 30+ Black Tiger prawns and adapted the recipe accordingly. These shouldn’t be cooked ahead of time. You can however prepare them up to rubbing them in with turmeric and chili peppers. I made mine after the gusests had arrived. Here is the original recipe:

20 large raw prawns (1 kilo)
¼ tsp gound turmeric
2 fresh Thai chili peppers, seeds removed an finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

Peel the prawns. You can leave the tail on. You can also make a cut in the back and flatten them slightly if desired. (I took the tail off and left them otherwise intact)
Rub the prawns in with turmeric and chili peppers.
Heat the oil in a wok. Fry the mustard seeds and garlic until they start popping.
Add the prawns and toss them until they turn a lovely pink colour.
Mix the coriander through and serve directly. Looks like I could have chopped my coriander a little finer!


Coconut crisps:
(recipe from 'Easy Thai Cookbook- Sallie Morris')

1 large fresh coconut
2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Break the coconut open. Carefully remove the outer shell. With a potato peeler remove the hard brown skin.
Make thin slices with a food processor or if you, like me, don’t have one the potato peeler works fine. Mine, this one OXO did anyway.
Place the thin coconut slices on a baking tray, sprinkle with salt and bake for 30 minutes. Turn at least twice to ensure even baking. Cool before serving.


Spiced butternut in coconut cream:

This I choose for the vibrant colour and because it is an all time favourite of mine.
There isn't really a recipe. I just prepared the flesh of the butternut squash (pumpkin is also fine to use) and added a good sprinkling (be very heavy handed) of spices (coriander, ground cumin, cumin seeds, dried chili flakes and any other spices you wish) Add cloves of garlic to your personal taste, rough sliced red onions and salt and pepper. Mix. Drizzle lavishly with (mild olive)oil and bake in the oven until tender. I baked mine at 170°C with the coconut. Towards the end of the cooking time stir in 1 sachet of creamed coconut (50gr).


Thai watermelon salad:
(recipe Jamie Oliver's Family Dinners)
Note: This was a delicious salad and complemented the food perfectly, the combination of the watermelon-mint-rocket was fantastic! There was more than enough dressing. We used peanuts.

1/4 watermelon
2 handfuls of fresh coriander leaves
2 handfuls of rocket
2 handfuls of fresh mint leaves
1 small bunch of radishes, finely sliced
a handful of peanuts or sunflower seeds
120gr feta cheese

a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 red, 1 yellow and 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
juice of 3 or 4 limes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the skin from the watermelon and cut the flesh into small cubes, removing as many seeds as you can.
When you pick the coriander leaves, remove the stringier part of the stalks but keep the finer ones, as they are nice to eat. Place in a bowl with the rocket, mint, watermelon and radishes. Put the ginger, chilli, soy sauce, olive oil and sesame oil into a smaller bowl and add just enough lime juice to cut through the oil--the number of limes you use will depend on how juicy they are. Season to taste and make sure the dressing is well balanced.
Place your peanuts or sunflower seeds in the oven or in a pan and warm through, then roughly pound them up in a pestle and mortar or in a metal bowl using the end of a rolling pin. Dress the salad really quickly. (You can use more dressing if you wish, but any left over is great to keep in the fridge to use the next day). Divide between the plates, sprinkle over the hot peanuts or sunflower seeds and crumble the feta cheese over the top.


Tapioca with coconut milk and served with lime juice:
(recipe is adapted from cookery book 'Het Beste van Thailand')
Note: Tapioca- like Durian fruit, is an acquired taste, a lot of the problem has to be the slimy texture- 'Frogspawn'! I had a youth trauma from Tapioca- vividly remembering it from school dinners but suddenly years later I had a fancy for it. Now it is a firm favourite on our menu.
This recipe is one I make quite a lot- I always use more coconut milk (a tin of 400ml- I adjust the water accordingly) and less sugar. On the Thai evening I tripled the quantity (I used 1 liter coconut milk) but reduced the sugar content. I served it cold with marinated fruit. See below.
I find it particularly delicious with a splash of lime juice.

For 4 person
115gr tapioca
4,75dl water
175gr sugar
2,5dl coconut milk
Pinch salt
Thin slices of 1 lime
250gr tropical fruit, peeled and cut

Soak the tapioca for 1 hour in warm water. Drain.
Bring the water to the boil. Stir in the sugar and the salt.
Add the tapioca and coconut milk and bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes, until the tapioca becomes transparent.
Serve warm with the tropical fruit and garnish with lime slices.


Fresh fruit marinated in caramel, star anise and brandy:

2 pineapples
3 mango’s
3 star anise

I prepared the fruit, then I caramilised some sugar. Waited until it cooled slightly added some butter , a little water and the star anise. I heated it for a few minutes, cooled slightly added a good dash of brandy and poured over the fruit. I marinated it overnight.


Time to clear up:

donderdag 27 mei 2010

Sage, courgette and pasta with pine nuts

Sage is one of the herbs that positively thrives in my garden, it has even moved house with us! And it has been replanted on several occasions.
Apart from pairing it off with onion (sage & onion stuffing) and chicken until recently I didn't really know quite what else to do with it.
Sage is a perennial herb with a very strong flavour that tends to overide everything else- so a little bit goes a long way- perhaps if the truth be known I was a little bit afraid of it!
It was after a Italian cookery workshop given by Victor Russo (I will be doing a blog on Italian cooking soon) that I really started using the herb on a regular basis in my kitchen. We didn't actually use it in the workshop on the evening self. But there was something about the look on his face when he described the taste of fried sage with pasta and the words 'Mamma mia' that just days later had me rushing out into my garden to pluck a handful of sage leaves. I always choose the smaller young leaves, they are flavourful and tender. I carefully wash and dry them. You can fry them in butter or olive oil. They become crisp and delicate, the taste is aromatic and simply amazing- spot on Victor!
Fried sage, courgette pasta for two:
Today I was preparing a meal for two and because I wanted something simple, quick and tasty I opted for sage and pasta. I love Italian food and creamy rich sauces but sometimes simplicity is perfection. It was a wholesome and satisfying meal.
I started to cook about 150gr of dried whole wheat pasta.
And grated some (parmesan) cheese that I put in a dish.
I toasted a handful of pine nuts in a dry pan for a few minutes and left aside.
I then heated a little olive oil and fried the (washed and dried) sage leaves (handful), roughly ripped if they are large. They will be done in just a few minutes. These also went to one side.
In the same pan I browned several bacon rashes (chopped) I lastly added a clove of garlic and a spring onion and cooked briefly and set aside.
Using the same pan I stir fried a whole (medium sized) courgette finely diced. When it was done (still al dente) I added a little white wine, and seasoning. (use lemon juice if you prefer)
I drained the pasta which was now ready and added this to the courgette with nearly all the pine nuts and sage (reserve some for garnishing), the bacon/onion and most of the cheese.
Stir carefully and serve. Sprinkle the remaining cheese, pine nuts and sage leaves and drizzle with virgin olive oil. Mamma mia!

This was a bit haphazard but a rough list of ingredients:
fresh Sage leaves
150gr Pasta
several bacon rashers (or pieces)
parmesan cheese
Olive oil/ utter
pine nuts, about 30gr
1 medium courgette
70-100ml wine oo dash lemon juice/ zest
salt pepper, virgin olive oil

Now I just hope I'm not going to get 'pine nut syndrome' or 'pine mouth' as it's widely referred to- an intriguing taste disorder, occurring 1-3 days after consumption of certain pine nuts and lasting anything up to two weeks! The symptoms are a bitter metal taste in the mouth making practically all other food and drink unpalatable! Even water tastes likes battery acid!
How very odd! It's something I luckily haven't (yet) experienced. Even stranger while some people get this taste disturbance, others do not, even though they have eaten from the same batch of nuts. So perhaps there is a genetic factor involved and I am just one of the lucky ones. I do get a very disagreeable odour when I eat asparagus- but it doesn't stop me eating it!
While 'pine mouth' sounds very unpleasant it doesn't actually seem to be harmful so I will keep risking it!

Apparently the 'culprits' are largely from China so try and stick with ones that you know the origin of- (European nuts are claimed to be fine) although obviously it is difficult when ordering in a restaurant to know the source of the seeds.
It is unclear whether or not toasting/roasting the nuts makes a difference- but I always toast mine.
It can be extremely upsetting for the sufferers since the cause is not immediately apparent and these symptoms can suggest anything from Diabetes, brain tumors and liver failure! But thank goodness for Google: the link to pine nuts can soon be made. (it is so widespread)
But there are still people unaware of the unpleasant side effects of pine nuts and for this reason I am mentioning it on my blog- I would hate to put anyone off their food! I can hardly imagine it myself- fancy all food and drink tasting vile- even chocolate!
Apparently if you are unfortunate to fall victim the best thing to mask the taste is spicy food, another reason to keep checking my blog- coming soon recipe's from my Thai themed evening.

maandag 24 mei 2010

Riding down the path of life- to the Oriental supermarket.

A few days ago during a motorbike trip my mind couldn't help but stray back to a journey I made about a month ago.
Riding pillion is exhilarating and you experience and see things from a different perspective but sometimes I find myself sitting on the edge of my seat! I am much more aware of the dangers than I was a few years ago. I view every parked car as a potential hazard- imagining the door suddenly flying open. It is in your best interest to stay alert and every maneuver has to be thought out carefully. I obviously trust my husbands judgment because I was relaxed enough to wander with my thoughts. I viewed my surroundings with interest and amusement, the trees all standing in a row as if welcoming passersby with a salute!
I was suddenly back to the day we picked up our Harley Davidson bike a few weeks ago- bought on Ebay! The landscape then was very different but oh so familiar- yes it was in England.

A lot of what you have you take for granted, and they say when you lose something you only then realise it's true value. Well I can relate with this- It wasn't until I had left England that I appreciated its beauty. Let’s just say I started seeing things with new eyes. Funny when I lived there I thought it was 'flat' and boring- it wasn't until I returned some months later that I realised the countryside was beautiful and undulating. Suddenly the trees were interesting and they are not all standing in line! There are natural unruly looking 'forests' sprouting all over. (note the newly planted trees in the first picture above)

Generally the English trees are a chaotic mix and the colours are vivid. When I left England I thought the grass was greener on the other side but in actual fact the opposite is true- the English grass is by far greener as are the trees! (Possibly all the rain?!)
Back in present time with a jolt I suddenly glanced up and lo and behold a familiar blue and white plane was flying low- something up unto recently also taken very much for granted- the day previous all flights were yet again cancelled due to the volcanic ash.
I didn't have my camera so I was unable to take pictures of my trip to Amsterdam but I still have photo's from my trip to beautiful England. We were lucky enough to pick out a fine day. We were picked up at the train station In Braintree, Essex and travelled to the most quaint village of Finchingfield. We breakfasted in a beautiful Tea room called Bosworth's situated on the village green.

We ordered a 'full English' and a cup of tea (hubby ordered coffee).

Often people ask if the Brits really eat this rather heavy breakfast on a daily basis, I always laugh and say no not daily- well not everyone only the (un)lucky few. As I have already said I was brought up on a healthy diet of plenty. My mother made sure I was lacking in nothing. Even in the morning she would make sure I had a good breakfast before I left for school despite my many protests. Just before nipping off to work she would prepare me a cooked breakfast and on many occasions I would dispose it the minute she was out the door! (don't worry she doesn't read my blog). Also I would insist on just two slices of bread for my paced up lunch- because we had unsliced bread my mother cut 'doorsteps' for me so I didn't go hungry! I wonder how many regular slices these doorsteps were equivalent to!? My mother was so sneaky- when I decided to becomes a vegetarian she enticed me back by making all my favourite 'meat' dishes.

After breakfast we viewed the bike, the lady seller was very friendly and we shared experiences over a laugh and a cup of tea!

The winding countryside was a challenge for hubby's somewhat 'rusty' riding skills. We visited family who lived locally and shared a lovely traditional 'Sunday Lunch'. We were even treated to the first asparagus of the year! My uncle has an allotment and grows his own produce. We had some delicious roasted veggies- something else that I now appreciate but didn't way back.
We decided to spring a surprise visit on the parents and began our 1 1/2 hour journey. I took out my camera and snapped happily away.
We passed beautiful yellow fields of rapeseed and gently undulating countryside.

We rode through picturesque villages and quaint little towns.

I smiled as we passed the Sugar Beet factory in Bury St Edmunds where I was born and went to school. Funnily enough I refer to this town as 'home' but I have never actually lived there!

Often people ask me "don't you miss your home?" Well where is home? Where the heart is? Where you live don't necessary guarantee happiness, just as someone else cannot make you happy- it has to come from within. I learnt a long time ago that home is nothing to do with bricks and mortar that's just a house.
I have now lived longer in Holland than in England- that is weird.. I am Dutch but will always remain British. What does it matter, I don't feel like I need a label. I am both- a Dutch Brit.
So what was the purpose of my journey to Amsterdam you may well ask. Well I went here: Wah Nam Hong Supermarket.

I was planning a Thai dinner party and needed to stock up. I have never been to this Toko before and it is very favourably situated near the Sligro, Makro and Amazing Oriental.
My goodies included: Fresh Thai basil, coriander, butternut squash, galangal, ginger, rawit (Thai) peppers, limes, spring onions, Thai aubergines, a small coconut, solo garlic, coconut milk, tamarinde paste, oyster sauce, dried monkey mushrooms, palm sugar, lychees, bamboo shoots, black and white sesame seeds and spices. I couldn't go too overboard because we had to fit everything in the limited space of the motorbike cases! Can you believe in the good old days, when the motorbike was our sole means of transport, we actually conducted our weekly shopping on the bike?!
I will be doing a write up about my very successful Thai evening (held Saturday 22nd) so keep posted!

donderdag 13 mei 2010

Eggs-traordinary Discovery

A while ago I praised the many uses of the humble egg. I suggested uses in the garden Quote:"eggshell (fine) can enrich compost with calcium and scattered eggshells deters not only snails but also cats."
Recently I planted some basil seeds and decided to use the left over eggshell halves as mini pots.
You will be amazed at the difference it made in the growth of the little seedlings. With a little extra nourishment the basil plants growing in the eggshells have positively flourished! I was so taken back that I consider it Blog-worthy!
Isn't it fantastic?!
So do you have plans to plant seedling?- then get cracking!

PS If you were wondering what it is growing in the background- Purple Ruffles, sweet basil, purple red. Or Ocimum basilicum purpureum to be precise.

zondag 9 mei 2010

This product contains nuts.

Every family seems to have at least one recipe that tends to be passed around within the family. In our case this has not, as yet, been passed down through the generations but I'm sure it will be. No, it is not the best Chili con carne, sausage casserole or meatloaf but cookies. Peanut butter cookies to be exact. A simple recipe that works every time. Don't turn your nose up and say: but I don't like peanut butter because even person who claims to utterly detest peanut butter can't resist these cookies! It is love at first bite.
As a child we always were encouraged to bake and would often turn out a batch or two! When my sister left home the recipe disappeared (and I'm talking about the times before one could do a quick search on Google) It wasn't until a few years later that I had the recipe (in my sisters handwriting) in my possession.
Funny enough I believe it is not a British but an American recipe. In America they are wild about peanut butter and it is often eaten in unusual combinations.
While we may speak the same language the differences between the two countries are immense. The first difference is in the name. Are 'cookies' and 'biscuits' one and the same? Well maybe I have been living outside the UK too long because i am beginning to see the difference. I see rich tea (the Dutch call these Biskwie) and digestive as biscuits. And chocolate chip and peanut butter as cookies. In general I feel cookies are sweeter and of softer texture while biscuits are more plain and crisper. (Am I beginning to think like the Dutch)
Just to confuse matters, you can also buy Beschuit here which is what we in England refer to as 'Dutch toast' but then in a round shape (see photo below)also known as Holland rusk . Funny enough the regular square 'Dutch Toast' is available in Holland but here it is called 'Engelse Toast'! Yes- you've guessed it- English toast!
The 'consistency' of a cookie/biscuit also plays a role, or rather the 'crispiness' factor. An American cookie is considered fresh when it is soft but stale when it is crisp, whereas a British cookie should be crisp, if it is in the least bit soft it is regarded stale!
I think this is a matter of personal taste and the desired result can be achieved with careful baking: i.e. bake until crisp or just long enough that they remain soft.
I actually made these cookies on a whim for Easter but have been extremely busy. I have lots of posting/ pictures and hope now to keep on track with blogging.

What is worse than planning a batch of peanut butter cookies and discovering someone has eaten all the peanut butter!? However this isn't a problem if there are peanuts in the house. Yes! And so I decided to make my own peanut butter. It is so easy.
Homemade peanut butter.
I just blended salted peanuts (so I didn't add salt) with a little arachide/peanut oil, a little sesame oil, a little brown sugar and voila. Just add enough oil until you have the desired consistency. If you prefer crunchy then just add a few finely chopped nuts at the end.

'Beschuit' with homemade peanut butter.

I have never made peanut butter before, it is so cheap and easy available but at least if you make your own you know exactly what's in it. I would like to start from the beginning and shell and roast my own nuts. I like the idea of keeping the red skins on. Or perhaps I'll try using cashews or hazelnuts. What about adding a dash of honey or ginger syrup instead of the sugar. Hmm...I'm on a runaway train of ideas again! Back on track!
The recipe I believe was originally in American (cups), has been converted to English (ounces) and here (the grams) in brackets are what I use.

Peanut butter cookies:

4oz butter (125gr)
1/2 cup (4oz) sugar (125gr)
1/2 cup (3oz) brown sugar (87gr)
1/2 cup peanut butter (128gr)
1 egg
1 1/4 cup (5oz) plain flour(150gr)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt

Yield 36
Oven temperature 375-400°F (190-200°C)
Cream butter, sugars and peanut butter in a mixing bowl. Add beaten egg and mix well. Sift and stir in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Chill dough.
Roll into balls the size of large walnuts. place 3 inches (7.5cm) apart on greased baking trays. Flatten with a fork dipped in flour, criss-cross fashion. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 10-12 * minutes. Cool for a few minutes on baking trays before removing to a cooling tray.

*Don't brown because they will lose flavour.
They will keep for a few days but don't worry there will be none left to become stale! Next time you may well be making a double batch!