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New Site

June 1, 2012

Inquiring Chef is now officially moved over to www.inquiringchef.com.  Come visit us there!

cleaning house – thank you for your patience

May 30, 2012

Hi there friends!  Some of you have noticed that we’re experiencing a few glitches over here at Inquiring Chef.  The time has come to upgrade and improve the site, but with that comes some growing pains.  I hope to have us fully up and running by the end of the week.

Thank you for your patience while we “clean house”.

Jess

the little things: memorial day weekend

May 28, 2012

a sneak peak of a cooking class I took at Bo.lan over the weekend

 

Saturday night and french fries for dinner.  amazing

new label maker – how did I go so long without one of these?

finally cracked into our tea from Glenburn.  every bit as good as I remember it

breakfast crowd at the noodle stand on our street

 

mission control today.  new things in store for the blog…

soba noodles with eggplant and mango

May 24, 2012


Often I eat something and think that it is good.  But much less frequently I eat something that is not only good, but surprising.  This dish is both, and the first time I tasted it, it was both these qualities that kept me going back for more.  (And kept me thinking about it for days and weeks afterwards.)

You’ve already heard me wax sentimental about the magnificent Glenburn, where we stayed on our recent trip to India.  I’ll try to refrain from going down that path again (although I make no promises).  On our last day at Glenburn, I made a list of all of the amazing things we ate while we were there.  Lunches were my favorite, consisting mostly of vegetable-based salads in a seemingly endless variety.  Each and every one was creative and delicious.  I took crazy looking notes on every single thing I tasted on the blank pages at the back of my book (which I ripped out before leaving the book in Glenburn’s lending library).

One night at dinner, seated next to the woman who managed the kitchen at Glenburn, I mentioned how interesting and wonderful I had found the food.

Anything in particular? She asked.

Many things in particular, I responded.  But one really stands out.  The noodles with mango and eggplant.  It just had something…

Sesame oil.  But I can’t take the credit.  That’s all Yotam Ottolenghi.

Of course.  As if I need another sign.  I ordered Ottolenghi’s book, Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, immediately upon arriving back in Bangkok.  I am certain that this book, which has done laps around the internet since its release in 2011, will be nothing short of amazing, if this one dish is any indication.

That last dinner in Glenburn continued, as they all did – well into the evening, with laughter, great food, servers in crisp white suits pouring great wine, and crisp mountain air drifting in through the doors and windows.  But I carried the secret of the Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango with me.

When I made this back here in Bangkok, the taste brought me back to Glenburn.  And as this will surely become a regular in our kitchen, I hope it continues to transport me for years to come.


_____

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, and published by Serious Eats

serves 6

Note: I made a few small adaptations in the version below, including reducing the sugar and garlic by just a bit, as I simply didn’t think it needed as much as the original recipe called for.  This dish is so incredibly flavorful.  The one thing I would say is that you might want to increase the sugar by a tablespoon if your mangos are not terribly sweet.  Here in Thailand, as you can imagine, the mangos add plenty of sweetness on their own.

-Ingredients-

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of small 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil
2 eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice (this was about 3 cups in my case, but if the eggplant you buy is large, 1 will probably be plenty)
9 ounces soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, cut into 3/8-inch dice or into 1/4-inch-thick strips
1 2/3 cup basil leaves (if you can get some Thai basil, but much less of it)
2 1/2 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the eggplant in three or four batches. Once golden brown remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel.

In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.

the little things: unusual sightings in Bangkok

May 22, 2012

hometown shout-out – a Kansas City bagel in a Bangkok bagel shop

wine disguised for Saturday night’s amazing wine-tasting party

amazing cheese tray at aforementioned wine-tasting party

political rally downtown

early evening and the pool all to myself

Last year I wrote about my wish to capture a moment in words and pictures.  As Frank and I pass the halfway point of our Thailand adventure, I am struck by the desire to hold on to the bits and pieces of this time.  When we look back, I suspect it will be the “little things” about these two and a half years that define our expat experience.  It will be the scenes of Bangkok rushing past taxi windows, the fragrant spice and buzz of voices from food carts, the dinners with friends on steamy nights, and the moments we spend in what is truly our first “home” together.   “The little things” is a weekly glimpse into our Bangkok life.  This is what happens between the recipes.  

Other “little things” posts can be found here.

kettle corn with caramelized cashews

May 21, 2012

It’s Monday, friends.  And it really feels like a Monday around here – busy, busy, and still feels like I didn’t quite get to everything I needed to.  At the end of the day, I came home and was happy to be reminded that I had something fun for the blog.  Mondays are too serious.  They need something light…and sweet.  Something like kettle corn studded with caramelized cashews.

And since work ran late and there is something that smells warm and delicious coming from the stove, I’m going to make this a quick one.

First though, a quick reality check.  This is a great recipe, and I highly recommend it.  However, Frank had to come to the rescue of the popcorn.  It turns out that in my impatient, distractible hands, something as time-sensitive as popcorn is in trouble.  I burned one batch and produced one batch that was oddly soggy, and finally I had to turn it over to the expert.  Good thing.  Frank’s kettle corn was crisp, crunchy, and irresistible.

I simply don’t have “the touch” with popcorn.  Okay, and perhaps, I did not follow the directions very closely, as my husband warned me several times I must do.  I wrote the instructions carefully and clearly at the bottom of this post, largely for my own sake.  (I’m not sure I can handle another kettle corn failure the next time I make this.)

Suffice it to say, I am confident that you will be a bit less impatient than me, and will have no trouble with this recipe at all.  If you have any interest in making your own kettle corn and adding something that puts it totally over the edge, like caramelized cashews, the recipe that follows will not disappoint.  The caramelized cashews were a great find from the blog I was assigned this month through Secret Recipe ClubThe Freshman Cook.

And when, after a few fails, a bit of cursing, and an ever-patient husband who saved the day, I at last produced this finished snack, we literally could not keep our hands out of the bowl.  It is not overwhelmingly sweet.  Just a hint of sweetness really.  But the crisp salty popcorn with the crunchy caramel kiss of those cashews… well, they turn out to be the perfect pair.

_____

Caramelized Cashews
adapted slightly from The Freshman Cook 

makes 1 cup

-Ingredients-
1 cup cashews
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Lay a square piece of parchment paper on the kitchen counter.
Put a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat.  When the skillet is hot, add the cashews and toast, stirring frequently, until the cashews start to brown on both sides, about 5 minutes.  Pour the cashews onto the parchment paper and set aside to cool.
Return the skillet to the burner and reduce the heat to medium.  Sprinkle the sugar evenly into the bottom of the hot skillet.  Heat the sugar, without stirring, until it has all melted, 4-5 minutes.  (Keep a close eye on it at the end, as it will start to burn just moments after it has all melted.) Pour the cashews and cinnamon into the pan and stir vigourously until all of the cashews are evenly coated in sugar.  Scrape the sticky cashews onto the parchment paper.  Allow the cashews to cool completely, about 20 minutes.
When the cashews are completely cool, use your hands to break them apart into bite-sized pieces.
Serve with a batch of still-warm-from-the-pan kettle-corn (recipe below).

_____

Frank’s Kettle Corn

serves 2 popcorn-loving grown-ups

To make this recipe, one popcorn-capable spouse is highly recommended.

-Ingredients-

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn
1/6 cup sugar
pinch of salt

Pour the oil into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Add three popcorn kernels to the oil and place the pan over medium-high heat (do not put the lid on the pot yet).  When one kernel pops (the signal that the oil is hot enough), immediately pour the remaining kernels into the pan and put the lid on the pot.  Take the pan off the heat for 30 seconds.  (Frank literally counts to 30.)

Put the pot back over the heat and pour the sugar on top of the kernels.  Hold the lid on the pot so that it is slightly ajar (you just want a small space to be open so that steam, but not popcorn can escape).  Vigourously swirl the pan so that the sugar evenly coats the kernels.

With the pot over medium-high heat and the lid held slightly ajar (see the picture below), gently shake the pot every few seconds until nearly all of the kernels have popped and there is a 2 second break between “pops”. Quickly pour the kettle corn into a bowl (the sugar will still be very hot, so any kernels that remain in the pot will burn). Allow the popcorn to cool slightly before tossing it with your hands to break it apart.

Serve immediately.

and then, Glenburn.

May 19, 2012

The day had been oppressively hot in Kolkata.  At the train station as we stood, bags in hand, waiting to board the Darjeeling Mail, there was a crack and the heavens opened.  With the rain sizzling on the metal of the station, a local train pulled in and crowds surged from every door.

Our guide turned to me with wide eyes.  “We’re going to have to push.”

And push we did.  For a moment, I thought I’d lost Frank in the current of bodies.  Even his tall frame couldn’t compete with the porters, balancing towers of luggage on their heads.

It was our most chaotic moment in India.  The rain, the people, the volume of the evening commute in one of the world’s most crowded cities.  But hours later, at the end of the journey, there was Glenburn.

I’ve thought of Glenburn Tea Estate often since our return from India.  It comes back in smells and flavors – memories surrounded by the soft sense of peace that defined all of our days there.  It took three hours of rocky driving on mountain roads to reach, plus a 45 minute delay while the road in front of us was paved, but the entire way we were treated to crisp mountain air wafting in the window and wet fog floating over the valley.

And when at last we arrived and were shown to one of the 8 guest suites on the working tea estate, I was smitten.

Every day at Glenburn there were fresh lunches with produce from the garden, shared with an ever-changing cast of jovial guests -  one day a charming couple of graphic designers with a firm in Germany; the next day, two reunited friends, having met designing jewelry in Paris.

In the afternoons there were hikes to be had through the mountains that surround the estate.

And when we weren’t eating, or hiking, or swimming in the cool river, or having a massage, or drinking tea…we were relaxing in a room that I (only half) joked I would lock myself into on the day we were scheduled to depart.

(An act that would have been ironic considering that none of the doors actually locked.  It’s very safe there.)

We sat in those cozy chairs and sipped tea in the early morning sunlight, nibbling on house-made banana bread, and marveling at the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance.  We watched fog creep across the valley and fierce storms roll in on a few late afternoons.

We could see the 3rd highest mountain in the world, Kangchenjunga, from that very spot.

And all day long, across the mountainside and in the valleys, on paths winding across every inch of the estate, children laughed, women gossiped, people sang as they tossed tea leaves into baskets.  Temples rang out with chants, and melodies rose from the village below.

In the evening, hours before we would curl under the warm quilt in our room, we gathered with cocktails in hand, under the sparkling stars of the mountain sky.

A fire crackled.  Laughter dominated the circle, canapés were served on white trays, lights from the surrounding mountains blinked.

Dinner was served; seats marked with name cards, conversation filling the room.  Kind servers passed with platters of creamy paneer, bright cucumber salad in vinegar and coriander, hand-sealed vegetable dumplings in tangy sauce, and generous pours of wine.

With night air blowing in through the door, and soft light bathing the room, there was a momentary break in conversation.   Someone raised a glass high.

“To Glenburn,” he said.

To Glenburn, indeed.

Glenburn Tea Estate

www.glenburnteaestate.com

*In addition to being a magical place to vacation, Glenburn has numerous programs that work in collaboration with local communities to support education, medical care, job training, and a variety of other programs. More about Glenburn’s programs to support the local community here.

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