Monday 26 April 2010

Sukhothai - Headingley, Leeds

Sukhothai is a warm and friendly yet, classy Thai restaurant in Leeds. The authentic food and service has been to an exceptional standard of quality every time I have dined here.

We were warmly greeted with a bow and a "Sawatdee Kaaaa", seated and asked if we would like any prawn crackers. I find that serving a sauce with the prawn crackers dictates the altruism of a restaurant... fortunately for Sukhothai they served their prawn crackers with a pot of sweet chilli sauce. Well done! However, it was very small pot and I do like my sauce and didn't have any to go with my last 10 crackers! (Bigger pot next time please!)

My friend Hana and I ordered the Special Mixed Starter for two (no. 131) which included a selection of Satay Chicken (one of my favourite starters - marindaded chicken on skewers served with a peanut satay sauce), Pandan Chicken (marinaded chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves), filled Tung Thong (deep fried vegetable filled dumplings) and Chicken on Toast (marinaded minced chicken sprinkled with sesame seeds served on toast and deep fried - very similar to prawn toast that you may have had at your local Chinese). The starters were all served on a large plate with a beautiful salad garnish as well as a hand-carved vegetable rose and various dips including the satay, sweet chilli and soy sauces.

The Chicken Satay was delicately marinaded and the texture of the chicken was perfect - juicy and soft. The Pandan Chicken was again soft and lightly seasoned. The Tung Thong was probably my my least favourite part of the starter dish. The dumplings were a little bland and the vegetables were English rather than Thai (mainly peas and sweetcorn) however the vegetables were cooked well and the pastry was crispy. Finally, the Chicken on Toast was delicious. The flavours, again, were well balanced and the toast was crispy. If anything, the toast was a little too oily but this did contribute to its favourable richness.

For mains, I recommended that Hana choose the Weeping Tiger, sometimes known as Tiger Cry, as she is not a fan of spicy food. I would also recommend a Masaman curry to someone who wasn't keen on really hot food because it is quite mild and I would consider it Thailand's version of a korma - mild, creamy and nutty. The Weeping Tiger is a sirloin steak cooked to your liking. It is served on a hot sizzling platter with a special Thai sauce that they pour over the steak at the table in front of you, creating a huge bubbly steamy sensation of flavours and aromas.

Hana's Weeping Tiger was very moist and flavoursome. She ordered it medium-rare and it had an incredibly soft texture. The sauce had a delicate flavour that allowed the flavours of the meat to be released. The sauce was so delicious we mopped it all up with hand-rolled balls of Thai sticky rice.

I ordered my favourite dish from Sukhothai. This was the Gung Yang Rad Prik Gang (grilled shell-on large king prawns wok fried with red curry, coconut milk, lime leaves and fresh chilli).

To my disappointment, this dish did not live up to its original incredulousness. As you may have read from my "Southeast Asian Favourites" post, I have a deep obsession with large prawns cooked in their shells. This is one dish that specifically brings me to Sukhothai over any other Thai restaurant because I have never seen prawns the size of these on my plate in England before coming here! From previous experiences in Sukhothai, this dish has been served with absolutely mind blowing flavours. One unique ingredient that I discovered at Sukhothai was fresh green peppercorns. They were served on their stalks (photo shown below) in the curry sauce of this dish. The stalks look almost like mini versions of the brussel sprouts that are sold on their stalks in supermarkets around Christmas time.

The prawns, unfortunately, seemed to be a little undercooked to my liking. I prefer my prawns to be super-charred so that the shell is edible (some people believe it is a little strange to consume the shell and head of a prawn but honestly, they contain so much more flavour than just the meat alone). The shell was still quite chewy and the prawns didn't feel soft enough - with the exception of one of the prawns that had a considerable difference in taste and flavour (very odd). I wasn't sure that the prawns went down too smoothly but this may have been due to my fragile state in consuming excess alcohol the previous night... The prawn shells also looked a little grey which also indicated that they might have been undercooked. I wasn't too bothered about consuming the shells due to my hangover anyway, so didn't bother to complain. I did, however, enquire about the lack of peppercorns.

It turns out that the volcanic ash disaster had finally affected me. No holiday of mine was cancelled, yet I did not receive fresh green peppercorns in my Gung Yang Rad Prik Gang because they could not be imported from Thailand! It may seem ridiculous how much of a big deal I am making of this, but seriously, the psychedelic peppery-ness and aromatic herb-like flavours from the fresh green peppercorns are simply like nothing else I have ever experienced. Kaffir lime leaves, however, were in the dish and, I believe, they provide such an intense flavour that these leaves alone could potentially summarise the flavour of Thailand as one ingredient.

Overall, I generally enjoy every aspect of Sukhothai and it will remain in my heart for a very long time. I will continue to treat myself to an exquisite meal there when I have the funds to do so.

Khob Koon Kaa! (Thank you!)

Friday 23 April 2010

Speculoos - the spreadable biscuit

Have you ever been to the hairdressers and been served your requested hot beverage with a little biscuit in a red wrapper on the side? If you have, then you will understand what this spread is! Speculoos was introduced to me by my wonderful friend Ant(honey) Cornish - in the photo shown below. When I was living at Bodington Halls in Leeds last year, I received a package from Anthony in an iPhone box. Inside was not an iPhone, but a new jar of this incredible spread and a note saying "Enjoy this spread onto warm crusty white bread, delicious."

Thanks honey :)

When I first tried it I was baffled. I had never tried anything like this before. Was it a sesame seed spread like tahini with caramelised sugar? Was it made from some sort of nut? No. It is an exquisite spread made from BISCUITS!

From those biscuits that I used to get with my hot beverage at the hairdressers.

The texture of Speculoos is very smooth, similar to that of smooth peanut butter. It has a caramelised sugary spicy flavour that reminds me, slightly, of gingerbread.

That first jar didn't last a week! I introduced it to many of my friends from my halls and it went down brilliantly with everyone. Most of the jar was consumed as it came, on my finger, yummy :)

Anthony had informed me that it was a Dutch spread made from those biscuits. He brought some back after visiting his family in Holland over Christmas and was incredibly generous in giving me this other jar! My mum recently went to Amsterdam and I requested she brought some Speculoos back with her. She did and also brought back some "De Ruijter" which are sprinkles that go on top on the Speculoos once it has been spread onto freshly toasted bread.

Here is a photo of my friend Hannah modelling how to eat Speculoos and De Ruijter on toast!

Hopefully at some point in the near future I will try using Speculoos in a recipe. Speculoos cookies, cupcakes, truffles....? Watch this space.

Friday 16 April 2010

Thai lime, chilli and coconut white chocolate slab

Thai has always been my favourite cuisine, and chocolate has always been my favourite food. My big brother Owen encouraged me to design my own Thai chocolate. I believe the three most significant unitaste (meaning could be combined in a sweet or savoury dish) Thai flavours are lime, chilli and coconut. White chocolate has always been the best out of the three for fruity chocolates therefore it will have the greatest affinity for my chosen combination.

Lime, chilli and coconut are used in all sorts of Thai cooking. Kaffir lime leaves are the true taste of Thailand, and if I were to make truffles I would have infused cream with lemongrass and kaffir lime, but for the chocolate slab I needed to add solid ingredients.

These are literally the only ingredients used for my chocolate slab; lime, dried chilli, dried coconut and creamy white chocolate.

I decided to add only the zest of the lime as I thought the juice may affect the composition of the chocolate and prevent it from setting. Lime zest carries a great deal of flavour and lime oil (very expensive and difficult to get hold of) so thought this would be enough to flavour the chocolate.

I decided not to add chilli into the chocolate as the dried chilli I had was prettttyyyy pungent - this one small chilli flake was enough to make my nose run!

I simply mixed the zest of one lime with 200g of creamy milk chocolate and poured it into a rectangular container. I then studded the zesty chocolate with flakes of dried coconut and chilli before letting it cool.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this chocolate. I was concerned that the zest of one lime wouldn't be enough but there is a very noticeable lime flavour present. I was worried that the chilli would be too strong and overpower of the other more subtle flavours, but the creaminess of the chocolate seems to smoothen it out. If anything, a little more chilli could have been added but that would be to my personal taste and I generally like my food very hot! The coconut adds a contrast in texture by providing a little crunchiness against the velvety white chocolate. I enjoy the texture of coconut in many baked goods and I know that Fox's add desiccated coconut to some of their biscuits purely for added richness and texture. A chunk of this slab truly melts in the mouth like butter on toast, painting your mouth with a layer of refreshing creamy lime and a tickle of chilli.


Wednesday 7 April 2010

Southeast Asian Favourites

When travelling through Southeast Asia last summer, I experienced some absolutely incredible food. Thai has always been my favourite cuisine and experiencing true Thai, Malaysian and Singaporeon food in their own countries only enhanced my passion and love for Southeast Asian cuisine. Verity and I participated in a two-day cookery course at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School where we learned how to make various authentic Thai dishes through professionals. It was a pretty amazing two days! Here are some of the dishes I sampled and created during my travels.

Thai green curry, probably the most famous Thai dish. England's version simply doesn't compare. I think I naturally have a sweet tooth so prefere the red curry as it's usually served with fruit (pineapple and red grapes) but anything Thai I love!

Below is a Thai Penang Pork Curry. This was made with curry paste I had made earlier in the day, as shown in photos below. (We are wearing sunglasses to protect our eyes from the chillis when making the curry paste!)

On the cookery course we also made Thai fishcakes, Tom Yum soup, Chiang Mai curry, black rice pudding, Pad Thai, chicken glass noodle salad, waterchesnut pudding and sweet and sour vegetables (sooo good!).

One of my favourite desserts is deep fried banana (AKA banana fritters). In Chiang Mai we found them on a menu after searching many different restaurants and pubs and were extremely disappointed with what arrived on our table...

...yuck! This resembled a few strips of banana coated in BREADCRUMBS served with some sort of jam sauce... I hate wasting food but literally could not finish this.

Then we went to the night bazaar and found banana fritters on the menu again and decided to take another chance and to our delight we were served battered deep fried banana, and it was amaaaaaazing :)

Here is Verity enjoying it, we both agree it's best served with ice cream so it can melt on the hot banana....mmmmm!

On our jungle trek in Northern Thailand we were fortunate enough to sample some bugs. They tasted quite garlicky, I personally didn't have a problem with them and hear they are actually quite nutritious.

Rambutan is by far my favourite fruit of all time. I probably consumed hundreds of these pink and green hairy fruit during my month in Southeast Asia and am quite frankly suffering from withdrawal symptoms, tinned rambutan simply doesn't taste as good!

Next on my list of favourites would be Cappuccino Maltesers, even though they aren't remotely Thai I have no idea where else in the world they are sold?!

I think the second best possible way to experience a true Thai curry (after making one yourself in Chiang Mai Cookery School) would be to eat one straight off the street. We made sure we chose a stall where locals were eating from to ensure it was safe. Verity had a green tofu curry and I had a red, cost 60p each and came with rice, can't complain!

Swensens, again not exactly Thai cuisine, is amazing and we did have a cheeky (little!) ice cream sundae from there....mmmmm!

After Northern Thailand we headed south. Our first stop was Phi Phi where we discovered the ULTIMATE Thai banana pancake.

On Phi Phi we also experienced another set of banana fritters with ice cream in this little restaurant called Garlic. I admit that I had the most horrific garlic hangover after eating at this restaurant as the starter they served was 3 slices of baguette with about 4 diced cloves of garlic on each piece....blergh!!

If we felt peckish after dinner in Thailand we would visit the local 7Eleven (probably the best convenience store in the world!). 10 baht (20p) banana cake was a frequent purchase. On Koh Phangan a random motorcyclist drove past with a 7Eleven 10 baht banana cake in his basket and I picked it out of his basket as a joke and he gave it to me! Below shows Verity and I very happy with our free cake!

I am also holding a heart straw and free Singha beer from my Thai friend Tom :) good times!

Something again not Thai but still amazing was chicken schniztels baby! After our final night out on Koh Phangan the night after the Full Moon Party, 5 of us got our chicken schniztels at 8am after one last all-night party. The first photo below shows the 5 of us dancing through the sunrise... take me back!

There was this absolutely fabulous little bakery by one of the piers on Koh Phangan. It had the friendlest staff I have ever met, full air conditioning, free internet, and most importantly, a stunning array of beautiful cakes, slices and scones. We visited the bakery daily to satisfy our sugar fix and English craving. They sold scones for 50p which they served warm with jam and cream. Every day I went in there I asked if they had the 'chocolate rum balls' that I had spotted the first day we visited as they had sold out and I had foolishly chosen something else instead. They kept reassuring me that the chocolate rum balls would be out on the counter soon and on our very last day on Koh Phangan, they brought out the glorious chocolate rum balls! We waited in the bakery for about 5 hours for our ferry reading and writing and they brought out the beautiful chocolate rum ball on a plate with a gorgeous little chocolate flower.... such adorable people!

After Koh Phangan, Verity and I headed straight for the Perhentian Islands (a horrific 26 hour journey including ferries, buses, trains and taxis). There wasn't a great deal to do on these islands except chill out, swim and eat! So eating we did. We decided to try pineapple fritters as it was the first time we had seen them on the menu and they didn't disappoint, but still didn't match up to banana fritters.

After dinner we had a hot 'Milo' - a chocolate energy drink. We managed to sway the staff to give us some banana cake to dip into it, heaven!

We are now approaching my favourite meal.... of all time. Below is a photo of Malay style prawns (standard size).

These were amazing but sweet and sour in Thailand was even better so the next night we went for dinner I ordered sweet and sour prawns and asked, if I paid a little more money, would I be able to have some more prawns with my meal instead of the 5 I was given the night before. They asked me if I wanted a couple more, like 7, or if I wanted double. I definately decided double. The waiter then came over and said that the prawns they caught that day were massive so he was going to give me 7. This is what came out and it literally was THE most incredible meal of my life! Large sweet and sour prawns Malay style...

So so so so SO good!

The traditional breakfast in Malaysia is Rota Canai served with a curry sauce and a tea tarik. Tea tarik is normal tea but made with condensed milk.

After a nice long day of sunbathing and relaxing Verity and I would get a milkshake. Verity would get a Mars or Snickers and I got an M&M milkshake, so tasty and great to cool down with!

This was the gorgeous view we had while we schlurped on our milkshakes.

After the Perhentian Islands we went to Kuala Lumpur where we discovered a whole stall devoted to bagels! We bought an Oreo bagel and I bought a Mexicali bagel with cheese and jalapeƱos, yum!

I found this very interesting peanut pancake down Petaling Street in China Town. It cost 14p a slice! Definately a cheap lunch for me.

Despite being in Malaysia we ate Indian in a restaurant close to our hostel and fell in love with garlic naan and tarka dahl, awesome combination.

After Malaysia we arrived at our final destination, Singapore. Here we ate a fair amount of Indian as we stayed in Little India. When we first arrived we ate off of a banana leaf!

We were in Singapore during the Singapore Food Festival however it was pretty dead at the time we arrived and had other plans during the day so didn't really get to see a lot.

On our last night we were craving sweet and sour prawns but it seemed a bit too expensive in the restaurant we found, so went for yet another Indian. This dish below may not look incredibly appetising but it was surprisingly almost as tasty as the Malay sweet and sour prawns. We chose each part of the dish from the front and was stunned in the fact that every single choice I made was unbelievable in flavour and texture. Well done Asia!

Last, but not least, is my newly favourite cocktail the Singapore Sling. I thought I may as well go all out and pay the £14 or however much it was to have the Singapore Sling in Long Bar in the Raffles hotel (as it's apparantly "the place" to have a Singapore Sling). The combination of flavours suited me perfectly - pineapple, angostura bitters, cherry brandy, lemon juice, gin (perhaps not so much the gin!). After I had finished I was very glad I had bought it because I very much enjoyed it. Yummy!