Thursday, July 12, 2012

Burmese ginger salad

I have had a lot of different jobs over the years, including some pretty bizzarre ones when I was in University.

Like that time I did a good friend who worked in PR a last-minute translating favor because he had an emergency which ended up with me wearing a short red velvet dress with white fur lining, pretending to be Santa's helper/wife (I'm still not sure which) standing on a theater stage with a microphone in front of a crowd of pre-schoolers and mothers translating their questions to him in English. Santa spoke not one word of English and we had to totally improvise and the only reason I am telling you this is because we are good friends in an intimate setting.

Another time, when I was working for the inauguration of a historic Italian landmark that had been painstakingly restored, I was asked by that same friend (come to think about it, he is probably to blame for some of the insecurities that have followed me into adulthood) to become an impromptu interpreter for HRH xyz who was on an offical visit from xyz while they were taking her on a tour around the place. Just so you know, they started talking horse racing and thoroughbreds and the related terminology is not a part of my everyday English or Italian vocabulary. I was then pressed to entertain and distract her when the waiters had to take back the second course of the gala dinner as the pigeon that was being served was giving off a rotten smell because it had been aged a tad too long.

These days, however, working in finance, my work life is not quite as eventful or as exciting as it used to be so I had to smile today when I received an email offering me a free lance job totally unrelated to blogging by a person  because he is a foodie, or at the very least has a good sense of humor.

This is what he wrote at the end of his email:

"...P.S. The thing that really convinced me to contact you is the fact that you are a food blogger. Sure beats financial statements..."

In life, you never know what is around the corner and the best way to go through it is not taking yourself too seriously.

When I read the recipe for this salad on Global Table Adventures, I knew I had to make it. I love the flavors, textures and colors of Southeast Asian cuisine but had never tasted anything typically Burmese. I also conveniently had a most of the required ingredients in my kitchen, always a plus for me.

When it comes to food, you also never know what new surprises are awaiting you out there. A few weeks ago I discovered the joy Burmese food can give your taste buds.
Before making it I decided to do a little research. It turns out that this salad, called Gin Thoke, is usually served as a palate cleanser or even a dessert in Burma. I found several recipes for it and although almost all of them listed ginger, lime, peanuts, fish sauce, sesame seeds and cabbage as their main ingredients, several left out chickpeas and lentils or substituted these legumes with black eyed peas, split peas or lima beans. You can also use deseeded tomatoes, papaya, carrots or dried shrimp in it. As all popular dishes, there are as many variations as there are cooks. This salad is ideal for pescatarians and even vegetarians/vegans simply substituting the fish sauce with soy sauce (and kelp powder for fishiness if you like).

As many Asian recipes, this one may seem daunting if you just read the list of ingredients but it is actually very simple to make because it mainly involves a lot of chopping and the following of a few basic steps.

I set out to make this to bring to an aperitivo we were having with friends on Saturday evening and as potluck for a BBQ the following day, so I made about 16 servings worth, which meant I fried in several batches. If you make a smaller amount it will be even less laborious and time consuming.

Oh, last but not least, this recipe will leave you with about a 1/2 cup of deliciously aromatic ginger-infused lime juice that you can use to make a refreshing digestive summer drink with some sparkling water, or as Sasha over at Global Table suggests, adding hot water, vodka or honey (or all three together) to make a somewhat unusual, exciting cocktail.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chocolate chip cherry no-churn... ice cream?

I just can't seem to get enough of all those lovely pictures and recipes for ice cream out there these days. I spent hours in the heat last week looking at one photograph after the other, wishing I had the ice cream maker kit for my Kitchen Aid but, honestly, I can't justify buying one on a whim just to make ice cream a few times in the next month, until I move on to my next endeavour.

So I started ogling non-churn ice cream recipes and even though there are not half as many of them, there still are a few different methods for making it. One involves stirring the mixture every 15 minutes once it is in the freezer until it starts turning solid, but that is way too time consuming for me. I cannot imagine myself sitting around the house all afternoon waiting to stir my non-churn ice cream. Also, just thinking of opening and closing the drawers of my over frosted freezer and fitting the container in the abovementioned overflowing drawers is enough to discourage that course of action.

Another method involves blending frozen fruit with cream or custard and then freezing. You can blend again right before serving for optimal texture. I think I will try this next.

Last, a foolproof method which caught my eye, suggests using condensed milk to ensure creaminess and no ice crystals in the cream. No stirring once in the freezer, no cooking or eggs... hmmm, interesting.

I was sold.

So I pitted a big bag of very ripe cherries (I was very grateful for my cherry pitter, another on-a-whim buy from two years ago, although a much cheaper one than a Kitchen Aid accessory),  whipped up some cream, chopped some bitter sweet chocolate and made the ice cream. Next I put it into the freezer and waited the 6 suggested hours.

Not enough, back into the freezer.


I am not gonna lie to you: it ain't ice cream.

It is cold, pretty creamy, good, but it just isn't ice cream as we know it. Because the truth is the flavor is lacking in depth, the depth only custard gives you. And although it doesn't have crystals in it, it is not the same kind of creaminess you get from real ice cream.

So next time I will be trying the other method. Or, more likely, sooner or later I will give in to buying the ice cream kit for my Kitchen Aid.

Until then I may make this summer dessert again. It is good, so go ahead and give it a try. But be warned, just don't call it ice cream!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thai cold rice noodle salad with chicken, lime and peanut sauce

It has been really hot here.

The "36°C at 7:00pm in the evening" kind of hot.
The "I-feel-like-I-peed-in-my-pants-after-biking-home" kind of hot.
The "only wear very dark or very light tops to work" kind of hot.
The "my-thighs-just-got-stuck-to-the-waiting-room-faux-leather-sofa" kind of hot.
The "I-keep-finding-my-son's-discarded-diapers-around-the-house" kind of hot. (Yes, we tried potty training when that started but realized very quickly it was purely a desire to cool off his Netherlands, not a sign of wanting to use a toilet).
The "opening-the-fridge-just-to-cool-off" kind of hot.

Like many apartments in old Italian buildings, we do not have air conditioning. With a just-turned three-year old who loves looking out of the window, we pretty much have to keep either our windows or shutters closed to avoid accidents, unless we are in the room. We did buy universal window catches to protect our children, but it seems that our seemingly standard 1920s window frames somehow do not fit the definition of "universal". Last but not least, I don't think our landlady would appreciate us screwing white plastic guards into her grandmother's beautiful wood pannelled window frames. So that sort of rules out the possibility of exploiting our apartment's double exposure and the lovely current it creates.

As a result, we have been drinking a lot of water. We have been lying around in our underwear loungewear like dead leaves. The kids have been splashing around a lot in the bathtub. Luckily we have ceiling fans, although the pretty period molded ceilings are so high, we only catch a slight breeze at top speed.

So now you know why my most recent pinning has involved lots of salads, ice cream recipes and South East Asian influences recipes. Since I feel the need for fresh, cool and crunchy ingredients, a lot of those recipes will be coming your way in the near future.

Today's recipe is courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, who did the hard work of converting complicated, laborious restaurant food into something more accessible for home cooks. The preparation is actually much simpler than the list of ingredients and variety of steps would lead you to think, so read through it before you decide it is too much work. It really isn't, and if I say so you know it is true since I am the queen of simple and fast family-friendly recipes. The most laborious part was squeezing the limes (I used 8). Feel free to play around with the vegetables you prefer, just keep it crunchy.

Lemme just make sure it is al dente!