Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Thailand: Cooking School

When we decided to come to Thailand, one of the things I knew we wanted to do was take a cooking class. At the time, I thought I would just do it with the older kids, but Raphi and Pearl wanted to join in, and Erik thought it would be fun as well. We found a local restaurant that offers private classes and were able to all go together.  We chose four dishes to make and Nok, who runs the restaurant with her partner, Jo, walked us through the whole thing. The kids were a bit in and out, more interested at some times than others, but it worked out well. Raphi was all about pounding our spices into a nice, thick paste with the mortar and pestle! 

Mise en place. This makes cooking so much easier! (I need someone to come prep all my ingredients and clean up after me at home!)

One of our choices was panang curry, a dish we've been enjoying here in Thailand. We started with slices of fresh lemongrass and galangal root (similar to ginger), garlic, shallots, keffir lime skin, dried mild chilies and hot fresh chilies. Lots of pounding resulted in a wonderfully fragrant, thick paste. The addition of a little bit of shrimp paste added to its characteristically Thai smell!

We heated some nice, thick coconut milk to a boil, and when the oil began to separate, added in our curry paste. 

Oh, the delicious smell! Here Poppy stirs the coconut milk and curry paste into a thick mixture, adding coconut milk a little at a time.  

A little fish sauce, some salt, sugar, and chicken bouillon get added to the mix. (I'm pretty sure this is not a traditional ingredient, and wonder if it's got MSG. I will leave it out at home!) Thinly sliced chicken goes in next, stirring until it's all coated and "dry", at which point we dump in enough coconut milk to cover it. 

I add in some kaffir lime leaves, and then we cover and simmer for a while. When it's time for plating, we garnish with thinly sliced strips of more lime leaves and red pepper. Beautiful and delicious, and hey, that was easy! (Having someone do all the prep work and clean-up makes it seem like it, anyway! I know that at home it will not seem so simple, nor will it taste quite as yummy, but that won't stop me from trying!)

Meanwhile, Nok has a big pot of chicken stock simmering, and she's carefully skimming the scum as it rises. She uses it for soups and sauces, including the pad thai sauce that we're making next. I'm a big fan of bone broths, so I'm excited to see this!

The pad thai sauce starts with fresh tamarind simmering in chicken stock. The tamarind gives it a wonderful sour flavor that gets balanced out perfectly with salty and sweet notes from fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and palm sugar. While the sauce reduces, Peregrine chops garlic to fry in a generous amount of oil along with thinly sliced chicken. 

Nok brings out a package of fresh rice noodles but includes instructions on how to properly soak the dried ones we buy at home. (And I've been doing it all wrong... maybe that's why my noodles never seem quite right!) The noodles are added in with the chicken and garlic and then you stir, stir, stir until they are soft, adding in the sauce a little at a time as it's absorbed. Nok likes to add cabbage and carrots to her pad thai along with the traditional bean sprouts and green onion. I'm a fan of veggies, so I like that. A little more oil, a few eggs, some peanuts, and chili flakes are thrown in the skillet, and the heat is turned up for one final stir. Mmmmmm..... it looks and smells wonderful!

Erik in the kitchen... now there is a sight I like! He plates the pad thai like a pro, and Nok and some other women rush in with garnishes, fanning out lettuce and bean sprouts. We also made larb gai, a delicious dish made with finely chopped chicken and lots of fresh herbs. I have attempted to make it at home before but was quite disappointed in my results. It has roasted rice, which I did, but Nok taught us to toast uncooked sticky rice along with galangal, kaffir lime leaf, and lemongrass until the rice is brown, then pound it in the mortar and pestle. It gives larb the taste I was missing when I tried it before. 

Last, but most definitely not least, Poppy and Peregrine each make a small pot of warm, sweet coconut sauce to pour over fresh mango and sticky rice. I was introduced to the amazing-ness of this dish on my first trip to Thailand in 2000 by some family friends who lived in Chiang Mai. My life has never been the same since. Seriously, it might possibly be the most delicious sweet treat ever. I'm not kidding. I don't think I've ever made it at home, but really, it's simple. (And it costs $6 or $7 at Thai restaurants in the US, so it's maybe a once a year treat!) But, like so many other things, now that we know, we can make it ourselves!

After all that cooking and sweating (did I mention it was HOT?), we are hungry! I wish I could share the smell, and more importantly, the taste with you! Under Nok's expert guidance, I think we did a pretty good job! It will certainly go down as one of our most memorable meals here, because we made it ourselves! 

I know you're not supposed to feed the wildlife, but.... feed the hungry monkeys! 

Peregrine disappeared for a minute and came back with a tray of soft drinks for everyone. We enjoyed our meal, and our cooking class with Nok, immensely! I'm so thankful for family experiences like this.  

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Thailand: Snorkeling Racha Island

The beautiful, clear waters off Racha Island. 

Pearl is not quite ready to snorkel, but she had fun trying on fins this morning!  We had to be out the door by 7AM to meet the driver who took us to where we would get on the boa. It was most definitely bright (and hot) and early!

It was about half an hour on the "speed boat" from the southern tip of Phuket to Racha Island. There we found beautiful, clear water and powdery soft sand. The kids were excited to find this big crab, and he actually grabbed Peregrine's fin and held on for a while! 

Do you think this boy was happy to be on a boat?

Another boy who was happy to be out on the water.

After swimming and snorkeling, it was time for lunch! This picture doesn't show how ridiculously hot we were!

There were several cats roaming around the outdoor restaurant, and the kids were thrilled. The staff saw how much they loved the cats and took them over to show them a mama with her little kittens, which the kids got to hold.

Pearl seems to make friends everywhere she goes! There are loads of Chinese tourists here, and they seem largely interested in taking selfies. Lots and lots of selfies. It's a wee bit amusing to watch.

This girl is just on the brink of becoming a little fish like her siblings! She's getting braver by the day. I think that by the next time we go snorkeling, Erik and I will have four strong swimmers and both be able to go out together. That will be fun. We usually take turns going out with whichever kids want to snorkel. I think the only time we've gotten to snorkel together was once when we were in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and my parents came down for a week. They watched the kids one day while we were all at the beach so we could go snorkeling together.

There were tons of fish just off shore, which made for very fun swimming and snorkeling. Peregrine and Poppy seem to love snorkeling as much as I do. It's such an incredible feeling to be swimming right along with fish we usually only see in aquariums!

On the way back to Phuket, tired, hot, and happy!

 We're so thankful for a fun day out on the water!