One of our wedding gifts from our friends was some cookery school vouchers with The Square Food Foundation, we didn’t get around to starting to use them until now.

I booked us onto the Spice Trail evening for a date night…

The kitchen is a big light space with enough cookery stations for people to pair up.

We sat with the chefs first while they talked a little about chillies and spices. Here are some points they raised… most of you will know these but I thought I would include them anyway.

Chillies;

  • The general rule of thumb is that the smaller the chilli the more potent it is; the heat is concentrated in the seeds and the veins of the chilli (simply because they are smaller)
  • Remove seeds from chillies to make them milder for cooking or leave them in to gain full effect
  • Take care when preparing chilli to avoid touching the eyes and sensitive skin; wash hands, boards and knives thoroughly after preparing chillies – wash with soap before adding water, as chillies are oily this will remove the heat.
  • Chilli powder dried chillies are used sparingly and should be added at the beginning of cooking; they will keep for 12 months in a cool, dark place
  • Cooking does not really diminish the intensity of chillies but their strength can be mitigated with cream or yoghurt

And spice;

  • Spices like cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seed, coriander, cumin, tumeric & fenugreek should be added at the early stages of cooking to release flavour
  • Salt is vital for carrying flavour and should be added at the beginning of the cooking process; check the seasoning at the end of the cooking and adjust

We made 2 dishes and ate 3, 1 Thai influenced, one Indian influenced and a dessert.

First we started our main;

A quick chicken curry with yogurt and spices

This is a really tasty alternative to the greasy take away you might have eaten if you’d had slightly less energy. I like to serve it with a little yoghurt and naan bread for an inexpensive, warming meal.

Serves 4-5

For the curry base
¾in ginger, peeled
6 fat garlic cloves, peeled
3 medium tomatoes, chopped into large chunks
1½ tbsp ground coriander
1¼ tsp garam masala
¼-½ tsp red chilli powder, or more if you like it hot
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin powder
3 good tbsp of full-fat Greek yoghurt
Salt to taste

For the curry

750g chicken thighs, skinned
7 baby potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 handfuls of baby spinach
Handful of finely chopped coriander leaves and stems

 For the base, make a paste of the ginger, garlic and tomatoes. I use a hand blender, but you can chop the tomatoes and finely grate the ginger and garlic – the sauce will not be as smooth though. Stir in the spices, salt and yoghurt. Add the chicken and potatoes and leave to marinate in the fridge for 10mins. Heat the oil and butter/ghee in a medium non-stick saucepan. Add the onion and cook over a moderate flame, stirring often, until the onion is well browned on the edges, around 7-8 minutes.

Add the chicken, potatoes and curry base and cook over a moderate-high heat, tossing the chicken in the paste quite often until small oil droplets start to form on the base or edges of the pan; this takes around 10-12 minutes. If it still isn’t cooked, you can add a splash of water and cook for another 5 minutes or until the water has reduced.

Add enough water to come halfway up the chicken and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on a low flame until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through, around 12-15 minutes more (depending on the size of the joints and potatoes).

Add the spinach and, once wilted, taste and adjust the seasoning. There should be enough of the sauce for a creamy gravy; if not, add a little more water from the kettle. If you add too much, reduce over a high heat.
Stir in the coriander and serve.

For the vegetarian alternative – replace the chicken with one small cauliflower, leaves removed and broken into florets. Treat in exactly the same way as the chicken.

Pilaff Rice

 25g 1oz butter or ghee
2tbsp onion or shallot, finely chopped
400g 14oz long grain rice, preferably basmati
Scant 1 litre chicken stock
2tbsp herbs (parsley, thyme, chives), freshly chopped, optional
Salt and pepper

Melt butte or ghee in a casserole, add onion and sweat for 2-3min. Add rice and toss for 1-2min, just long enough for the grains to change colour. Season with salt and pepper, add stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a minimum and then simmer on top of the stove or in the oven (170°C/325°F/gas 3) for about 10min. By then the rice should just be cooked – about 10min. By then the rice should be just cooked and all the liquid absorbed. Just before serving, stir in the fresh herbs if using

This is so worth the extra effort so go for it people, best rice ever.

Sea bass or grey mullet en papillote

Serves 4

4 x 160g fillets of sea bass or grey mullet, cleaned, scaled and trimmed
Olive oil
2 red chillies, deseeded and cut into thin strips
1 stalk lemongrass, outside leaves removed, discarded and very finely slice
400g can coconut milk
1-2tbsp fish sauce
Juice and zest of 1 lime
4 lime leaves, very finely sliced

( I would also add some sugar, Thai food is supposed to hit the 4 different tastes (salt, sour, sweet and bitter) and this didn’t really. Not my favourite dish)

Preheat oven to 220C (425F) gas 7.

Season fish inside and out with salt and pepper. Brush four 12in (30cm) squares of foil with a little olive oil and put a fish diagonally across the centre of each piece. Bring sides of the foil up around the fish and crimp together tightly at each end leaving the top open.

In a bowl mix the coconut milk with the lemongrass and chilli, lime zest, juice and lime leaves. Spoon the mixture over the four fish.

Finally, pour a teaspoon of fish sauce into each parcel then seal well. Put on a large baking sheet and bake for 10min.

To serve, put the unopened parcels of fish on four warmed plates and allow each person to open up their parcel. Serve with coconut rice.

The curry was great though and this really is a good easy recipe that most people will like as you can tailor it to anyone’s heat tolerance and likes and dislikes.

My husband has already made this again.

Like I said I wasn’t hugely into this dish but I think a few tweaks and it could be good.

The dish we didn’t get to make (due to time) was the dessert but the lovely Square Food people passed on the recipe so I hope to make this soon.

Rich Chilli Chocolate Tart

For the Sweet Pastry 
 
250g flour
85g icing sugar
125 butter
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways and seeds scraped out
1 small egg beaten

First make the sweet pastry. Sift flour and icing sugar until completely combined. Rub butter into the flour until nearly breadcrumb consistency. Make a well in the flour and add vanilla and egg yolks. Knead mixture with fingers. Refrigerate for a minimum 20 minutes

Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible and line a tart case with it. Bake blind for 15 – 20 minutes at 190°C then for a further 5 minutes with the baking beans removed, until the pastry is completely cooked.

For the Filling

700ml cream
pinch chilli flakes
350g 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate
5 eggs
2 yolks
1 tsp cocoa powder
150g sugar

To make the tart filling, bring the cream to boiling point with the chilli flakes then remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate, stirring to combine until the mixture has a smooth, glossy consistency. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, yolks and cocoa and then stir into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the sweet pastry case and bake at 150°C – 160°C for 15 minutes until the tart is just set. Remove and cool for 30 minutes before eating. Serve with crème fraiche.

 We still have more vouchers to spend and I am looking forward to picking our next course. This one was a great way to spend an evening but as we both cook with chilli and spice a lot at home we didn’t really learn much. So next time instead of sticking to what we know and like I might pick something geared towards something we don’t cook.

Check out the Square Food Foundation – they are doing really great things.

Cabbages and condoms is a bit of an institution in Bangkok, several people told me I must go and when I arrived Adam had already been with Jack once and was keen to go again.

The strange name is explained…

Here are the cabbages.

The strange thing about this place is the many ‘sculptures’ made from condoms… they are all through the entrance and make it smell of rubber a little. Nice.

Hi Santa.

Who knew you could make a wedding dress from condoms.

Even the lights didn’t escape.

Also lots of safe sex advice on the walls.

So basically to explain the name the restaurant is part of a non-profit organisation that promotes safe sex and family planning in Thailand. These kind of charities are massively important in countries where contraception is not widely used.

You can read more here

Once you are inside the restaurant opens up into a beautiful courtyard, and is huge with many rooms going up and around here as well.

There was traditional Thai music played while we ate.

The food is the reason most people visit, and they do make great (Thai) food. I have nothing more to say than that really… go!

We all ordered Tom Yum soup which came in a huge vat and was served to us at the table into smaller bowls.

I ordered a big pile of dim sum as well, I ordered it as much as I could in Thailand. Again it’s something you can’t really get in Bristol (I don’t know where to look really)

The classic Papaya Salad.

Masaman Beef curry. This really was a dinner of classics, nothing exciting here.

Of course we had to try the Pad Thai, always good.

We also got some stir fried vegetables. There were three of us and we ordered way too much food but it’s such good value here you really have to dive in.

And still the dishes kept coming, this was stir fried beef with chilli and vegetables.

And we ended with the favourite dessert of all time (from my Husband) mango and sticky rice. I really should learn how to make this.

 

So when in Bangkok you really should visit Cabbages and Condoms, give some money to charity have a great dinner and enjoy the fun restaurant.

And yes they really do give out tons of condoms!

Cabbages and Condoms

Night Market in Hua Hin

April 19, 2012

This is my last post from Hua Hin before we move on to Bangkok, our last stop in Thailand!

I must apologise for a couple of days of silence, with a very busy few days at work and out of work I just haven’t had a chance to post let alone write.

So anyway my last recommendation for Hua Hin is to check out the many night markets, we went very hungry which is more than necessary to the biggest which is near the mall and sells food as well as having more permanent stalls selling clothes, make up, motorbikes (really) and sadly also a pet store which was horrendous, poor dogs in tiny cages made me cry. Avoid!

But the food stalls were amazing we started at the front and walked around once before walking back around and trying little bits from as many stalls as possible.

The only way to eat at a market.

One thing I did refuse was bugs… I am just not into bugs, I definitely don’t feel the need to eat them.

There were so many BBQ stalls, this chicken was pretty amazing, sticky and sweet. One tip bring wet wipes with you.

Dim sum, you gotta get the dim sum. It looks crazy weird and colourful but it great.

And spring rolls, deep-fried. Not much health food available here but oh these were so good, served with sticky chilli sauce. Amazing.

My husband had to get squid, I couldn’t handle it as it came whole. I am a wimp about that stuff.

And our last dish which finished us off was called fried green stuff. Serious. It was okay but definitely not good for you. We didn’t finish it.

I even had a beer. It was actually pretty good, one of those occasions that calls for beer not anything else. I never drink the stuff… I don’t think I could finish it though.

You must visit markets and eat street food in Thailand, if I can do it little Miss squeamish then anyone can find something they want to eat.

Putahracsa – Hua Hin

April 11, 2012

Our next destination was Hua Hin, and our hotel was Putahrasca one of the best places we stayed in.

The food had a lot to do with this.

This was their beachside restaurant, a lovely cool and breezy place to eat lunch.

I ordered a crab and avocado salad on our first full day, simple and not Thai food but so fresh and perfect.

Another dish sampled was chicken with papaya salad. Again freshness and so well cooked. They make everything fresh to order so the food doesn’t fly out but it was always amazing.


Another recommendation was the stir fried chicken with chilli and basil, made super hot my husband loved this. I also highly recommend the prawn caesar salad eaten on our last day… it was so good there is no photograph. Huge juicy prawns and a light salad with a little of the perfect sauce.

The second restaurant was near our room and in the sheltered pool area and where breakfast was served.
  
One particularly sweltering day I refused to move from the pool side and ordered to my sun lounger.

My husband ordered a Pad Thai, and like I have mentioned measures a place against it. He did say it wasn’t the best he had eaten (or the biggest) but it came with all the right components and was good.

I ordered a club sandwich, fries and a sprite, boy was that a happy 15 minutes if I could transport myself back to that moment right now I would; poolside with french fries and sunshine.

And breakfast… well breakfast ruled. If I ate like this every day I would be living in the gym.

So I am gushing again, but I did love it here. You can eat in the restaurant by the beach even if you are not a guest and it is a great place to spend an evening, drinking cocktails on the huge day beds and then watching the sun go down while you eat… Putahracsa 

Check out my full post here

The Candle – Koh Lak

April 3, 2012

The Candle looked like the kind of restaurant that I could get dressed up for, so I persuaded my Husband that we should, in the land of amazing food markets, posh it up now and again.

We wanted to sit outside, which is kind of porch around the side of the actual restaurant, with a little long thin pond filled with Koi carp… who I have to say I felt a little sorry for. They have really good air con here, so during the day I would sit inside at night it’s too cold.

It’s one of those rare places where they sell wine and actual spirits, not Thai versions.

They even brought us a little amuse… a little won-ton each.

With wine being few and far between in Thailand each time I got a glass I appreciated it so much, I should have learned a lesson here I think…

We ordered shrimp cakes to start, I have never seen them look like this; a shrimp donut!

My Husband messed up a little here and didn’t order Thai food, he ordered a Prawn dish that was supposed to be like duck a l’orange. It was okay but certainly not the best.

I ordered beef masaman which was amazing… always stick with the Thai food in Thailand.

We were too full for dessert but they brought us a little fruit plate anyway, I love these touches. The pineapple really helped us to feel less full.

They also gave us these crazy coffee sweet. Stay away I warn you.

 
Lessons learned, stick with the Thai food and drink less wine and you’ll appreciate it more!

The Candle  in Koh Lak

After enjoying my day at the Phuket Cookery School so much when we arrived on Koh Lanta and had a couple of rainy days I suggested that my Husband and I do one together.

This is another great set up and a lovely small class, we went to Lanta Thai Cookery School.

They grow their own vegetables and herbs here in their garden…

And the school is tucked away within an orchard (?) of rubber trees.

It’s a big beautiful open room with much smaller stations than I had seen before, a little more basic and you all prepped together on one big table at the same time as the teachers, which again was different that before but I liked this way of doing things equally.

We also prepped each dish before cooking anything.

I am a tidy prepper.

One of the great things about a small group was that we got to pick what dishes we wanted to make.

One thing everyone wants to learn on a Thai cookery course is how to make curry paste. I was given a recipe and a small lesson before but we didn’t actually make the paste.

This time we all worked together to make a big lot of paste which then got split between us to make our curries.

You need;
1 stalk lemongrass minced 
1-3 green birdseye chilies sliced
1 shallot sliced or 4 tbsp minced red onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 thumb-size piece of galangal or ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander/cilantro leaves & stems
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp brown sugar
3-4 tbsp coconut milk (enough to blend ingredients together)

To make the paste pound all dry herbs & spices together first in a pestle and mortar to form a paste, then gradually add the wet ingredients, stirring until smooth.

Your paste should look something like this, and is now ready to go. This is a great thing to prepare in advance to make quick weeknight dinners.

For two you need;
2-3 tbsp curry paste
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tin coconut milk
4 chicken thighs (or two large chicken breasts if you prefer) cut into small bit size pieces
a handful of green beans or asparagus – or whatever vegetables you have to hand.
bunch of coriander or Thai basil

1. Heat a wok or large saucepan over medium to high heat.
Add 2-3 tbsp oil and swirl around and then add 2-3 tbsp of the green curry paste or to your own taste if you prefer it stronger. 
Stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Do a taste check here and add more fish sauce for salt or more chilli if not quite hot enough etc.

2. Then add 1 tin of coconut milk, I use light at the moment and it’s (almost) as good, if a little thinner. Simmer this for a couple of minutes, add two kaffir lime leaves then start to add your curry ingredients, if you are adding meat do that sooner and then vegetables towards the end and cook through.

Garnish with Thai basil or coriander and chilli, serve with steamed Jasmine rice.

We also made the famous spicy seafood salad to start, very similar to the one I made before but without noodles, good recipe here

We also made a Pad Thai.

My Husband loves Pad Thai and will eat it anytime he has the option. We had eaten many by this point some great and some not so, the not so ones always tended to be a little too red/orange and here we found out why.

It looks this way when instead of making the ‘sauce’ from scratch a cheat version is used. So although the school didn’t teach us the proper method, we found out why sometimes it looked this way.

I also asked for tips while I was at Phuket Cookery School and will make this and share with you at some point soon.

 
Once again I got full very quickly and took my curry home to eat later. I was so glad I did as it was raining the BIG FAT Thailand storm rain that day.

See, check out those clouds, you couldn’t even see the top of the hills.

We went to Lanta Thai Cookery School and highly recommend it, the teachers are all chefs from various restaurants and can recommend spots on the island as well.

This spot was one of our best finds, whilst staying at Rawai Palm Beach we checked out the little strip of restaurants along the waterfront and picked this one purely because it was packed with Thai families.

We did good.

Being right on the water where all the fishing boats came in this strip was all about the seafood.

The kitchen is kind of ad hoc and just sits within the restaurant,

We ate stir-fried squid with garlic and pepper, a great basic but delicious dish, like I said it’s all about the seafood here. This squid was so fresh and hardly cooked at all. Perfect.

My husbands test of any Thai restaurant even in Thailand; the Papaya Salad, get it wrong and you’re history in his eyes.

This one was proper, although he prefers it a bit hotter I was able to enjoy this one as well.

The random assortment of mouth cooling vegetables and salad.

The closet to a Pad Thai here; stir-fried noodles with prawns was delicious.

We also ordered some fried prawn cakes which were amazing and not greasy at all, pretty light actually.

The restaurant is located in Rawai on Phuket, on the waterfront where most of the day trip and fishing boats go from and you will find it if you ask around, google it and lots of reviews come up.

The kind of real Thai restaurant I would LOVE in Bristol please!