Wednesday, November 4, 2015



So, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I turned one year older: I’m now on the down slope of my 30s. It’s also got me thinking philosophically about where I’m supposed to be in life and that sort of thing. The same kind of thing I think every birthday. The only place I know I need to be is writing at the computer and cooking or baking something in the kitchen. That part I do know. 


And now after a slight delay, I’m ready to make food from Laos today. It’s a little strange cooking on a Tuesday, and it was a little hectic since I had to shop today and go pick up the kids from school halfway through my day as well. (It’s also Election Day in Indianapolis, so I had to make sure I work that into my schedule as well.) After my mad dash to buy my ingredients and some birthday presents for my son who’ll be seven in a few weeks, I was finally ready to cook. The first thing I started was my bread: Hmong Sweet Bread. In an aluminum roasting pan (I used a disposable one from the Dollar Store), I mixed together a ½ can of evaporated milk (I may have used too much), a ½ can of sweetened condensed milk (I may have used too much of this, too), 5 eggs, 2 ¼ c sugar, 5 tsp vanilla extract (it actually calls for 5 packages of vanilla sugar), 1 can coconut milk, 1 can water (using the coconut milk can), 1 Tbsp baking powder, and 1 yeast packet. Then I added 4 c all-purpose flour to this mix until it was the consistency of a really thick pancake batter. Covering the pan with foil, I let it rise in a 170ºF oven for about an hour. After this hour was up, I took the dough out of the pan and set it on top of the stove while I went to go get the kids from school. When I returned, I thought it would have solidified enough to break it into pieces, but it was still the same pancake batter consistency. I even put in about two more cups of flour and stirred, but it only got marginally thicker. So, what do you do when your batter won’t thicken? (Besides curse. I tried it. Didn’t work.) I decided to make cupcakes out of them. (Truthfully, they may be more like muffins. I’m not quite sure of the difference.) So, I spooned in the batter into a greased muffin pan before putting them into a 350ºF oven for about 23-25 minutes. I ended up making about 36 cupcakes with a little batter left over that I threw out. And now, I wanted to try my hand at filling pastries based on one of the suggestions. I decided to go with vanilla pudding (I used an instant pudding mix.). Luckily, I found a cake decorating kit with a long tip at the Dollar Store (all I had were some regular tips and star tips). After discussing this with my husband, we figured the best way was to probably fill this from the side, and after a few tries, I think I got the hang of it. I topped it with a little powdered sugar dusted on top. And adding a few drops of chocolate syrup made it awesome. I loved the flavors in this. It was sweet, but not overly sweet if you can believe it. The cake was soft although some of the outer edges were a little crisp. The vanilla pudding was really good, but I think I would like to try other flavors next, like lemon pudding perhaps. 

Who doesn't love a little pudding leaking out? That's the best part.

My main dish today is Kao Soi (Northern Lao Noodles). It comes in two parts: the pork sauce and the broth. I started with the pork sauce. Because my kids and husband are wimps when it comes to spicy foods, I left out the chilies. Using my mortar and pestle, I pounded my garlic and shallots (and added in a little crushed red pepper in lieu of the chilies), throwing in a big pinch of salt and pounding for another minute. Then I heated a little oil in my skillet and added this shallot-garlic mix and fried it until it started to turn brown. Instead of fermented bean paste that I couldn’t find, I added in some miso to the mixture and stirred for another couple of minutes. Now I added in my ground pork to the mix and let it brown for a few minutes before adding in some water. I added in a little salt and some chicken broth and let it simmer to thicken up. Now comes time for the noodles and broth. I bought already cooked Thai-style rice noodles, so I didn’t have to spend any time worrying about that (pierce the bag, heat it in the microwave for 90 seconds, and I’m done. Don’t judge.). In a separate sauce pan, I brought my water to a boil. Instead of making my own chicken broth, I just boiled 3 c water with 3 c of store-bought chicken broth. Then I added in the French-cut green beans and the watercress. After a couple minutes cooking altogether, I took it off the heat. Now it comes time to assemble it: I divided the noodles into each bowl, pouring two spoonfuls of the pork on the noodles. Then I added the chopped green onions and cilantro, followed by the cooked vegetables, and lastly the broth. I served this with a little crushed red pepper and a lime wedge. The lime wedge was what did it. I was the only one who added any crushed red pepper to it, but it made it superb. After I had two bowls, I realized I could’ve used some sriracha sauce in it. 

I wish there were more left over. I loved everything about this.

After making the bread and the noodle soup, I was completely worn out. So, I made my second dessert the next day: banana rice pudding. I know the bread is a dessert in and of itself, but I couldn’t pass this one up. First I cooked a cup of white rice. The recipe called for brown rice, but all I had was white. In a separate sauce pan, I added two sliced bananas, water, honey, vanilla extract, some cinnamon, and some nutmeg and brought it all to a boil. I reduced the heat and let it simmer for about 7-10 minutes. Then I added in the cooked rice and milk and mixed, bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer for 7-10 more minutes. Because I deviated from the recipe slightly (it called for one banana and a can of fruit, but it didn’t specify as to which fruit to use, so I just used two bananas), I don’t think it was quite sweet enough. I poured in two serving spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk that I had left over (at my husband’s suggestion). That did the thing: this was amazing!! It’s served warm, and I thought the spices were exactly the right amount; all the flavored meshed well. And luckily I got the rice the right consistency. I hate when I get it undercooked, and some pieces are hard. But this was wonderful.

What a warm and wonderful way to end this section of the blog.

So, even though it took a long time to finally make all of my dishes being delayed from the start, I did manage to get it finished. And everything was amazingly tasty. I really like the cuisine from this part of the world, and I’m such a fan of Asian soups. I quite admired the different color greens in this soup. And I think their food is built upon the subtleties of flavors and fresh herbs. When I think of Southeast Asian food, I often think of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and fresh herbs and spices. It seems to be a very “clean” cuisine without the use of much processed foods. I mean, I’m sure they have their own junk foods and such, but overall, they seem to use fresh foods as a basis for their dishes. Of course, living in a tropical environment probably helps give them access to longer growing seasons, I imagine. Whatever it is, it’s amazing.

Up next: Latvia

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