Cooking in the land of smiles (and MSG)

preparing papaya salad :)

First of all, many apologies for abandoning the blog and you wonderful readers these past few months! I have no excuse except that I was having lots of fun exploring the southeast of Asia. And as much as I would have liked to write some posts, blogging from a phone without all my photos was just never that appealing…

So now here I am, back in my home with a much-too-quickly fading tan and an inspired spirit that always lingers after being in another culture for a while. And more wanderlust, which seems to grow exponentially with each trip I take. Luckily, this was only part 1 of my grand adventures of 2014, with moving to Australia coming up in merely a month!

But let’s talk about Southeast Asia. Without doing much research beforehand, I had few expectations for this 2-month backpack adventure except to be able to travel cheaply and eat some good food. I was not disappointed :)

(And, having few expectations helps me appreciate every place I go so much more — a key to happy travels I’ve learned throughout the past).

Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Flower Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our first stop was Thailand, where I was eager to take a cooking class and learn what authentic Thai food is all about. I found our first tastes of Thai fare in Bangkok to be quite heavy and rich, and much smaller portions than we’re used to – which was a good thing! Along with the sweltering humidity, cramped city feel, and bad traffic made horrendous due to ongoing political protests, I was ready to get my massage on the street and get outta there.

A (long) train ride later Forrest and I breathed a sigh of relief and fresh air as we stepped into Chiang Mai. Our songthaew (pick-up taxi) ride from the train station drove us to the moated old city where flower-coated parade floats lined the streets and a colorful, neon-lighted concert was blasting its music to the whole city. We arrived in this super cultural northern city smack in the middle of the annual flower festival – lucky us!

The laid-back, down-to-earth city of Chiang Mai has all the Thai culture your senses could care to soak up. And more. It was such a relief to be there after overwhelming Bangkok, especially at a time of such celebration and blooming flowers galore! Forrest and I had fun trying to navigate through the narrow alleys fringed with tropical plants and quaint cafes to find majestic temple after temple, each with their own style and color and peaceful aura. We’d pick up a street food snack and a Thai iced coffee (the best) and continue our day of exploring or people-watching in the park until it was time to experience the craziness that is the night market.

Then the day came to indulge our tastebuds, stuff our stomachs and learn what it is that makes Thai fare so rich and flavorful. We were recommended a school called Smart Cook Thai Cookery School, and the full day involved browsing the morning market to learn about essential Thai ingredients and then heading to the open-air kitchen to learn how to prepare six different dishes. (Yes, that’s a lot of eating!) Continue reading

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stir fried quinoa with chicken + veggies

Mm mmm…I almost never order Chinese takeout, but some days I just get that craving for chicken and rice drenched in salty, sweet n’ sticky “brown sauce,” or so they call it. So flavorful, so full of MSG. Oh so unfortunate.

The top reason I’d say I cook for myself is so I know exactly what goes into my food. No MSG hiding in this kitchen. Fortunately it’s very simple to make your own Chinese-style fried rice,  and after I saw this variation made with couscous I thought why not use my favorite (and super nutritious) grain: quinoa!

Rather than keeping the numerous ingredients to make Asian-style sauces and marinades, I recently found a store-bought version that I love and is versatile enough to be used for any purpose! Salad dressing, marinade, veggie dip, sauce for rice—pretty much anything you want to have that delicious soy-sesame-garlic-ginger flavor. The brand is called Soy Vay, and I buy either the Veri Veri teriyaki or Island Teriyaki. Both consist of soy sauce, sugar, pineapple juice (in the Island Teriyaki), sesame seeds, fresh garlic + ginger, dried onion, and soy + sesame oils. Basically what I would put in my own marinade if I made it. No preservatives or hard-to-pronounce ingredients. Awesome.

The teriyaki works perfectly as a marinade for the chicken in this dish, as well as a drizzled topping for some extra flavor and moisture.

stir fried quinoa with chicken + veggies, inspired by this

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten with salt + pepper
  • 1-2 cups cooked, cooled quinoa (preferably leftovers)
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2/3 cup broccoli slaw (this is an estimate – use however much you want)
  • ½ cup broccoli florets
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 t minced fresh ginger
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • teriyaki sauce, for marinating and serving

Chop chicken breasts into small pieces and marinate in teriyaki sauce for at least 30 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Add beaten eggs and stir with a spatula until scrambled, fluffy and cooked through. Remove to a small plate.

Add 1 T sesame oil to skillet, increase heat to medium-high and add chicken. Let cook for a couple minutes and turn over several times until almost cooked through. Add ginger, scallion whites and broccoli to skillet, sautéing until slightly softened and fragrant. Add broccoli slaw and cooked quinoa, 2 T soy sauce and sauté until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Stir in scrambled eggs, top with scallion greens and serve drizzled with more teriyaki or soy sauce.

Enjoy! –mich