Vietnamese Cooking

Monday, April 27th, 2009

After a very entertaining Thai Cooking class, I was eager to compare it with Vietnamese cooking in Hoi An. Our guide Huy set up our group with a dinnertime class, which was nice it that it took care of dinner and left the day free for the beach and clothes shopping.

This class was “family style” at Gioan, where all of us sat around the table chopping ingredients and then cooked one batch together. Our teacher Vinam was very sweet and energetic; she gave us all vegetable names (I was “Lemongrass”) and jokingly threatened to put us in the corner if we didn’t pay attention. (I was too tired and sunburnt that night to go crazy with my camera, so I stayed in her good graces.)

The ingredients were similar to the Thai dishes, though with less intensive preparation. The one exception were some ingredients that had to be wrung out or juiced by the “big strong men”: Barn “Green Papaya”, Matt “Aubergine”, Chris “Cucumber”, and myself.

We learned how to roll and fry the spring rolls we’d been enjoying all week, as well as make a surprising green papaya salad, and fish wrapped in banana leaves. Vinam was flexible with all the recipes, making vegetarian substitutions for Jenn (”Baby Onion”), and suggesting less exotic ingredients we might be able to find at home.

With 5 dishes, several rounds of drinks, and an impromptu fashion show of some of our new clothes , it was a long but enjoyable night learning some new recipes.

Thai Cooking

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Learning to cook some Thai dishes at Silom Thai Cooking School was a blast! The outdoor kitchen is tucked away down a side street across from a market that’s the first lesson. Owner and teacher Nusi explained the various ingredients and filled up our baskets with goodies. This would be the first of many effective uses of delegation…

Back at the school, we split into groups to prepare the ingredients. We washed vegatables, peeled ginger, and shelled & deveined shrimp. Next up was making coconut milk from freshly shredded cocounut mixed with water and hand-squeezed. While we got to know our classmates, Iron Chef Nusi provided motivation by good-naturedly cracking the whip, “chop faster - hurry, hurry!”; he’d be a great project manager!

To prepare the dishes, we circled around a big pile of ingredients on a straw mat on the floor, and chopped up vegatables for soup. All that went into woks on burners on the balcony, where we fine-tuned the gas “more heat! less heat!” until it was ready to serve - and eat! (As my chemistry teacher Mr. Schwartz used to say, “the best part about cooking class is you get to eat your homework!”) The more forward thinking students had actually skipped breakfast in anticipation.

The rest of the menu included classic pad thai, curries, and jellied water chestnuts in coconut milk for dessert. Our diverse class found plenty to talk about as we were all at the start, middle, or end of some kind of travel oddessy. Everyone left full, with a new appreciation for making Thai food completely from scratch, and ready with a recipe book for future dinner parties!

More Aspen Eats

Friday, February 9th, 2007

A few more noteworthy meals from this trip:

The warm and sunny days have been great for lunch out on the deck. At Ullrhof’s on Snowmass, they also had the outdoor grill going with a real treat: elk sausage stuffed with jalepenos and cheddar. Real power food for riding the rest of the afternoon!

The J Bar at the Hotel Jerome has certainly lived up to it’s reputation. Even it’s more casual bar menu has some good finds. After a great burger on my day off, Mike and I returned last night for dinner. The mustard-crusted trout got nods from both Mary and our waitress, and it didn’t disappoint.

Fine Dining

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Coming to a ritzy ski town like Aspen, I expected the food to be on the expensive side. So it was a pleasant surprise to find pretty reasonable fare at The Cantina in town the first night. On the mountain, it didn’t take long to find pricey lunches with a fancier twist. Crepes for lunch, anyone?

The best indication, though, came at a slightly frou-frou cafe-type restaurant the second night. The waiter asked what kind of water we would like, sparkling or “Aspen regular”?

British Museum

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

Overcast skies quickly cleared on Sunday, making for another great day in London. I first returned to the London Eye for a nice ride and some great views of the city. The Eye itself is quite an impressive engineering feat with security to match: metal detectors, x-ray machines, and a sweep of each capsule before it’s loaded.

British MusuemOn Brian’s recommendation, the one museum on my must-see list was the British Museum, home to artifacts from around the world. Also, after the rest of London’s high prices, it was nice to get something for free! The museum didn’t disappoint, with interesting religious pieces from Asia, Greek statues, and Egpytian mummies. The Great Court and Reading Room also boasted some jaw-dropping architecture.

Behind the museum, I relaxed with a tiramisu ice cream cone in Russell Square. The grand Russell Hotel overlooks the park with its layer cake facade. Yet another Tube ride took me to Oxford Street for some shopping, though nothing really grabbed my eye. There was no shortage of nice, tempting suits, but I knew I’d have few occasions to wear them. Riding back to the hotel, I mused how the diagram of Underground stops reads like a catalog of Rolling Stone’s lyrics.

While in line for the Eye earlier in the day, I had scoured my guidebook for a dinner recommendation and found a good Indian place. Dinner at Kennington Tandoori offered me a chance to check out a quieter residential section of south London and enjoy some great Indian food before packing up to go back home.

View the British Musuem photos

Odds and Ends in Farnborough

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Working 12-hour days in the lab hasn’t left much exciting to write about the last few days in Farnborough, but here are some odds and ends.

Walking back late one night, the only other soul on the road was a fox darting across the road into the hedges. I saw another one the next night on a TV news show; a man had adopted an injured fox that had become an exceptionally docile pet. It sat on his lap and purred like a cat, looking quite content.

Food has swung back and forth between typical and Atypical English Food. At the office park cafe, we had shepard’s pie and the requisite fish and chips. One rushed evening we settled for the hotel restuarant with chicken and a side of totilla chips (!). Last night, with more time to tromp around, we finally located a Thai restaurant with some spicy dishes. Restaurants here seem fairly deserted during the week, perhaps due to the fact that “take-away” places outnumber them by a good margin.

Tonight I catch the train to London for the weekend, where there will definitely be less work, hopefully less rain, and undoubtedly a bit more excitement.

Atypical English Food

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

One guidebook summed up the culinary landscape by saying that you could find good food in England, so long as you didn’t limit yourself to English food. So far, ethnic restaurants have outnumbered the expected pubs, and even the more pedestrian offerings have had a bit of flavor to them.

For instance, the local mini-mart presented some typical sandwich offerings and the more flavorful curried chicken and apples on a baguette. The same rang true of the office park cafe: I found myself with a steak and mushroom sandwich topped with an unexpected layer of fried egg. (The office park is quite smartly designed; half a dozen small buildings surround a central one with a quick cafe and more lesuirely restaurant.)

Unfortunately, the office and hotel are a bit out of town, so the nearby dinner selections are a little slim. Though we did pass a Nepalese place on our way to the reasonably authentic Manhattan Italian restaurant with a menu of traditional courses. Tonight’s late dinner of pizza at the lab wasn’t as authentic, but did pack a little more spice (and corn!) than deliveries at home.

Natural Food at Wildwood

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

Taking a Chowhound suggestion and a slightly late bus, Brian and I headed to Wildwood in the Nob Hill area for dinner. Their niche is local natural ingredients, something they embrace wholeheartedly, down to the waiter being able to tell you where everything was from and how it was raised.

After scouring the wine list for some of the local pinot noirs we had sampled on our wine tasting trip, I started with some Puget Sound mussels. They were all quite meaty and accentuated by a saffron and butter sauce. As good as they were, the grass-fed strip steak was even better. Done to perfect pinkness, it tasted lighter than “normal” beef and went down nicely with the pinot. Along with some hush puppies and sauteed fresh veggies, it was quite a plate. The desert and after-dinner drink list were equally impressive, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to try their chocolate pudding with a side marshmellow and chocolate cracker smore. Brian also blogged about his dinner.

Though I don’t consider myself a real foodie or natural food devotee, I have to say that everything was excellent, and quality of the starting ingredients definitely has something to do with it.