Monday, September 30, 2013

Tamarind Laos Cooking Class - Market Tour

This post goes back a ways. More than a year, in fact. Vietnam's National Day is September 2nd, which is the day in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered after occupying the country during the Second World War. The previous French occupiers were still around but while they weren't looking, here in Hanoi "Uncle" Ho Chi Minh gave a speech in Ba Dinh Square declaring Vietnam an independent state. (The French fought this quite intensely for another 9 years before finally being defeated.)

What it means now is that on and around that day every house is flying a Vietnamese flag, it's a day off work and there are probably communist concerts on street corners around the city. I'm actually not sure because when I get a long weekend I tend to go away!

On this weekend in 2012 I went to Luang Prabang, Laos. If you haven't been, it's a smallish town on a peninsula in a big river bend, and is full of wats and monks and tourist shops and a night market on the main street every evening. Yes, it's touristy, but it has somehow managed to retain its lovely charm and become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a great place to wander, rent a bike and ride around, chat with the monks, and just relax in Laos' completely chilled out atmosphere.

View of the Eastern side of Luang Prabang.

On Phou Si hill.

Of course, being me, I couldn't leave it at that and I had to do a cooking class! The one at Tamarind came highly recommended online, so I gave it a go.

As with most cooking classes in Asia, it started with a market tour, outside of the touristy area.

Various herbs, one of the definitive ingredients in Lao cooking.

A large pile of banana flowers.

Various sizes of baskets for sticky rice.

I think it's dried fish.

Look at all the starfruit!

Inside the market building: fish sauce, chili powder, garlic and shallots.

In the meat section. I think it's congealed blood. Not sure what animal.

Pig trotters anyone?

TONS of dried chilies.

Wat (temple) necessities: candles, incense, and statues.

Visit the drink stand for a refreshing coconut.

Nap time for the market ladies.

We used these ceramic/metal contraptions as barbecues to cook our food. I want one!

A variety of ceramic cooking pots and accessories.
Shops across the street from the market.

They use these to transport entire meals for monks I think.

Inside a shop.

There you have it! Soon I'll show you the rest: the actual cooking class itself!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Raspberry Chocolate Cake

You may recall that the first day of my recent Hanoi Food Challenge Number Two was also my friend Christine's birthday. For that occasion we went to Bluebird Restaurant, and I took a cake I'd made. When I asked her what kind she wanted, she hummed and hawed a bit and then I casually mentioned that I still had some raspberries in my freezer. That was the end of that, as Christine's favourite flavour combination is chocolate and raspberry! (And one of my favourites too, I should add!)

I thought maybe I was just going to make a normal chocolate cake and then chuck some raspberries into it, but that just didn't seem very special or like it would even work all that well, so when I found this recipe I was sold!

I basically halved it, because we were only going to be a group of five and I didn't want a ton left over.  The amount was absolutely perfect for a decent-sized, but not overwhelming slice for each person, and a small piece for Christine to have for a treat at home the next day!

This cake is supposed to self-ice, which means you pour the topping into a greased pan, then the cake batter on top of it, and then bake it all as one and I guess it's all supposed to come out neatly and perfectly at the end. Had I not been taking this out to a birthday party, I would have tried that, but I just couldn't quite see how it was going to work and still look nice and not just be covered in the butter I used to grease the pan. Instead I just baked the cake as normal, in my small rectangular cake pan lined with baking paper, and poured the ganache topping on after.

For garnishes I had bought some fresh raspberries at one of the import shops, as well as these little white chocolate balls. The balls were hollow and had holes in one side, so I got very ambitious and made a raspberry mousse the night before. I then filled the balls with the mousse using a piping bag. 

 The mousse didn't set very well though, and I was worried that it would run out of the balls, so I melted a bit of white chocolate I had on hand and sealed up the holes with it as best I could! 

I used these and the raspberries to decorate the cake, and while I think it would've looked better on a bigger cake, it tasted delicious! The white chocolate balls made an awesome 'pop' in your mouth, which then got flooded with tangy raspberry mousse. Yum.

One of my mousse-filled white chocolate balls.

The cake was rich and dense, with more little chunks of raspberry throughout and coated in the creamy chocolate raspberry ganache.

I think this might be one of the best cakes I've ever made. It certainly was a hit that night, and every plate was clean at the end! I'll definitely be making this again!