Flying Solo

I’m oddly unenthusiastic about this trip.

I’m off to Vientiane in Laos to apply for my one year Thai Visa.
The reason I’m going to Laos is that you cannot apply for an education visa inside Thailand. It has to be done a a consulate or embassy on foreign soil and Laos is the most convenient .
No. I don’t know why I have to leave the country either, but I do, so here I am at the airport waiting to board my flight for Udon Thani. Yes I know I said I’m going to Vientiane but it is half the price to get a flight to Udon Thani and cross the ‘ Friendship Bridge’ into Laos from Thailand by bus.

Ah visa runs……

I’ve been to Vientiane before, last year when small one needed her Education Visa. And as much as I was looking forward to it I really didn’t have a good time.

When you first do a visa run there is always an element of confusion and chaos as you are not really sure of the procedures or which lines you need to stand in to get the right forms and such, add to that a very tired and confused 8 year old and it’s a joy I can tell you.

There are a few oddities at the Laos border crossing that its worth being aware of before you go.

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1- while you can pay the visa fee in thai baht the preferred currency, and cheapest option by far, is US dollars. 35 of them to be precise. Unless it’s a weekend when you will be asked to pay an extra dollar for ‘overtime’. ( T he irony of the preferred currency being the US dollar in Laos is not lost on me and if you have even the smallest grasp of Laos/ US history it should not be lost on you either ).

2- the Laos visa on arrival form is available to download online. Don’t bother. The actual form given to you is a very particular and specific size and any other sizes are not accepted. It really doesn’t take long to fill in the correct one.

3- it is advisable to ensure that the bills that you use to pay the visa fee are spotlessly clean and un wrinkled. This may sound silly but, I can assure you after the near fiasco we had last time, border officials will refuse to accept any bills that have even the tiniest smudge or wrinkle. I have been told that ‘some’ will accept blemished bills, but it’s really not worth the risk of either being refused entry or being stuck with a blemished $100 bill that can only be exchanged in one particular branch of one particular bank in the whole of Vientiane.

4- Be warned that once you are across the bridge you will be at the mercy of the local taxi drivers. You will, unless you happen to be with a local, get overcharged. It will cost you a minimum of $15 to get to Vientiane city.
However; Before you leave Thailand as you wait to get your passport stamped you may be offered a taxi into the city for around $10. It could be a wise move to take this offer as the price rises once you are across. If you are very fortunate the driver will accompany you through the crossing process and magically produce all the forms you need so you can fill them in on the way over the bridge ( there is a mandatory 20 baht bus fare for the bus that actually takes you across the actual friendship bridge ) . This only applies if you get a seat. It is usual for the bus to be packed far beyond normal capacity

Once the formalities of the crossing and taxi negotiation have been completed it is a short ride to the city itself. A city which is peculiarly similar to most other northern thai cities, yet in many ways starkly different.

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At first glance Vientiane seems like a vibrant multicultural city, but most of this is an illusion due to the huge numbers of ‘visa-runners’ who are simply passing through.

As little as 5 years ago it was still considered to be somewhat quirky to visit this cheap and cheerful corner of communist south east Asia, but the taxi drivers and street vendors soon got wise to the sheer volume of tourists passing through on visa runs for various other SEA countries and prices have been driven up to such a high that it is comparable cost wise more with western nations than eastern. There is also an unusually high level of aggressive street begging with many reports of people being followed around the city for hours at a time by groups of ragged looking children.

It was not children that spooked small person on our last visit, but a clearly unfortunate man who saw us having lunch in a side street cafe and decided to help himself to small ones bottle of pop from the table. Despite being chased out of the cafe by the owner he waited for us to finish and followed us down the road wailing and begging for money.
Now I’m not heartless and clearly he had suffered much in his life, but when he started tugging on my bag from behind it was more than time to flag down an overpriced taxi and get out of Dodge.
Of course i cannot blame people for trying to exploit the ‘rich white tourist’, but it has gone so far now that many people, myself included, will only come back to this city because they have to rather than because they want to.

Which is a great shame as I’m sure the city has many charms and wonderful sights to see, but to be honest after my last trip here I’m really not that inclined to seek them out.

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It’s now around 5 hours since I started this blog post and I am ensconced in the comfort of my hotel room with a take away dish of delicious smelling mystery food and a couple of cans of beer Lao. The rain is thundering down outside and ensconced I shall stay till the early morning sees me take my place in the first of many lines at the Thai Consulate. Once that is done and dusted I will try to walk around the city with fresh eyes and see the beauty that is here rather than relive the disappointment of the last trip.

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Wish me luck.

Jer Gan Mai

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Couscous Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

My Small person announced in the supermarket the other day that she ‘really liked that frilly kind of cabbage’. When I picked myself up off the floor and put the savoy cabbage in my trolley it occurred to me that there are quite a number of leaves a whole cabbage and only 2 people in our house at the moment so I had better come up with some cabbage recipes quick smart.

My big sister has also been asking for some good low fat healthy recipes, not something HillyWillys kitchen is known for, so I thought I should try and come up for something for her as well. Hopefully she’ll like it as much as small person did.

This is a great tasting low fat dish on its own as a starter or served with a green salad and coleslaw as a main. If you happen to have any parcels left over wrap them in foil and keep in the fridge overnight and they can be eaten cold as a snack.

Couscous Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

Ingredients

6 large Savoy Cabbage leaves
500ml Vegetable stock
200g pre-cooked couscous*

*You can put just about anything into couscous to jazz up the flavour, but this is what I used in mine.

150g of dried couscous
25g raisins
Pinch of dried mint
1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs
2tsp dried mixed pepper
(if you wish to use fresh pepper add 20g of finely chopped mixed peppers with the chopped tomato)

Place ingredients into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover and leave for 5 minutes. Once the water has absorbed into the grain stir in 1tsp of olive oil, 1tsp lemon juice and 1 finely chopped cherry tomato .

Take the cabbage leaves and cut away the hard white stalk
Image. Drop the leaves into boiling vegetable stock and blanch for 1 minute ( if you are using red or white cabbage you may have to leave for an extra minute) until slightly softened.

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Take each leaf ( bring together the two edges where the stalk was cut away so you have a solid flat leaf ) and place a small amount of couscous in the middle of the leaf.

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Wrap the leaf into a small bundle by bringing the bottom of the leaf up to cover the filling, then fold in the left then right sides and roll the bundle upwards.

Tightly pack the stuffed leaves into an oven proof dish and cover with the stock you used to boil the leaves. Cover and place in a 200 degree oven for 25 minutes. Uncover and cook for a further 10.

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If you wish you can serve with a spoonful of low fat cr猫me fraiche or a sprinkle of grated cheese on top.

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A Bientot.

Merry Christmas to one and all

I hope you have a peaceful time with your loved ones, and a joyful celebration.

HillyWillys kitchen will be open again on Boxing day as it’s hubby’s turn to cook dinner tomorrow and I can’t wait 馃檪

I’ve been turfed out of the kitchen this evening as our wonderful small person is just cooking what smells like a delicious cannelloni for dinner.

I will have (what shows all signs of being) a delicious recipe to share with you. Chocolate, Chestnut and chili torte. It’s setting now and being sampled tomorrow……

So until then may I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Now where’s that cannelloni ?

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A Bient么t.

Not much cookin

HillyWillys kitchen has been virtually closed this week due to a very poorly small person in the house. Not much eating or cooking being done. Certainly nothing in the manner of my usual kitchen experiments! I have been kept thoroughly busy mopping brows and floors in equal measure.

I have also been kept busy working on our personalized on-line advent calendar for hubby who is working in The far east at the moment, but that’s another website and another story for another day!

Small one seems to be on the mend now, so hopefully normal service will be resumed soon. I will have a fish around my photos and see if I can find an as yet unpublished treat and upload it later.

But for now I hope you are all well and getting ready for the upcoming festivities, we are slightly delayed, but I’m assured that as long as there is a fresh lump of marzipan resting in the fridge and some mince pies ready for hubby’s return, that all will be well!!

A Bient么t

Cinnamince PIes

Cinnamince Pie

Mmmmmm Mince Pies

I’m just putting it out there; I LOVE mince pies.

One of the best things for me about the build up to Christmas is the smell of mincemeat gently bubbling inside a crispy pastry shell. Oh just thinking about it makes me want to sing carols and stuff my face with pies – not at the same time obviously, that would be gross.

For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, 聽the humble mince pie is a singularly British concoction that starts to appear around mid-November, hangs around for the festive season then disappears for the rest of the year. It is a small sweet pastry shell filled, 聽not with minced-meat, but with mincemeat. I hope that’s cleared that up.

I’ve been making my own mincemeat filling for a few years now, as it tastes so much better than shop bought, 聽and of course you can monkey around with it till it tastes just how you like it .Home-made mincemeat is VERY easy to make, but rather time consuming so its best to prepare it reasonably well in advance. The joy of this is that when it comes to actually making the pies, it takes a matter of seconds to fill the pastry cases.

You also get to monkey around with the pastry shell. Some people favour puff pastry, but my preference is definitely shortcrust and of all the different types I’ve tried out, my absolute favourite for mince pies is sweet cinnamon pastry.

This is my favourite mince pie combination to date, I hope you enjoy.

Mincemeat
(can be made up to 3 months in advance… definitely jar it and聽 leave it overnight before baking. This recipe makes around 1kg.)

200g Apples ( peeled cored and finely diced)
100g shredded suet
175g raisins

100g sultanas

100g currants

175g Brown sugar

1 Orange ( rind and Juice)

1 Lemon ( rind and juice)

2 tsp mixed spice

陆tsp Cinnamon

陆 tsp ground nutmeg

4 tsp Armagnac

4tsp Amaretto

add juice to fruit and nutsSimply put all of the ingredients, except the brandy and amaretto, into a large bowl, mix well and leave covered with a cloth for at least 12 hours.

place in an ovenproof dish and bakeStir the mixture well and place in a large dish and bake at 120 degrees for 2- 2&1/2 hours ( dont let it get too dry).

Take it out of the oven and allow to cool completely.

jar and top with greasproof paperOnce cooled stir in the brandy and amaretto and spoon into sterilised jars. Top with greaseproof paper and seal jars.

Cinnamon pastry

200g Flour
100g Butter (diced)
50g Cinnamon sugar*
1 Egg (beaten)
Icing sugar to roll out pastry and dust finished pies. .
(* if you don’t have any cinnamon sugar there is a method here, or you can add 1/4tsp ground cinnamon to regular granulated sugar)

ingredientsCut together the butter and flour until there are no large lumps left. I have this nifty little pastry blender gadget, but a knife works just as well, but a bit slower. Finish by rubbing the flour and butter through your fingers until the mixture looks like sand.

blend pasrtyAdd the sugar and mix well.

Gradually add the beaten egg and bring together with a fork. You only really need a few spoonfuls of the egg as you don’t want your pastry too wet. When it starts to go sticky on your fork use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball. If its too dry add a little more egg, if it’s too wet add a little more flour. (reserve the remaining egg to brush the pastry).

gradually add egg

Kneed well until smooth and crack free, place in a polythene bag and refrigerate for at least half an hour before rolling.

ball pasrty dough, then refrigerateWhen your Pastry is cold and a little stiff, sprinkle your work surface with icing sugar and roll out to desired thickness ( I like about 1/4cm). Cut a large circle and a star for each pie.

roll and cut pastryGrease and flour your baking tin ( I prefer to use a deep tin as this tends to minimise spillage from over boiling in the oven), lightly place your pastry circle into the tin then spoonabout 1&1/2 to 2 tsp of mincemeat into each case. Gently place your star on top and brush with beaten egg.

fill and top piescook聽 in a 200 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brow. Remove to a wire tray and allow to cool for 5 to 10聽 minutes.

Cinnamince PiesWhen still warm, dust with icing sugar and eat immediately. You’ve waited long enough 馃檪

You can serve with cream or cr茅m茅 fra卯che and i can assure you that they are just as tasty cold ( if they make it that far)

A Bient么t.

Cuppa time

So there really should be a recipe here by now shouldn’t there. Well there isn’t ….. Yet.
My kitchen has been going full steam for the last few days and there will be one or two making an appearance, including a very interesting chocolate cake with a secret ingredient ( that will rock my big brothers world). But I’m afraid you will have to wait another day or two.

You see it’s small persons birthday today ( and seemingly for the past few and next few days too ) so whilst I’ve been cooking up a storm of birthday treats and cakes I haven’t really had that much spare time to document them, only to enjoy them 馃檪

So rest assured there will be much much more from HillyWillys in the next few days, but for now I have a film to watch and some trifle to eat. Mmmmm trifle.

A Bient么t.

My humble apologies

Sorry there haven’t been any new recipes for a few days, I’ve been up to my elbows in pickling vinegar, which is quite as disgusting as it sounds.

There will be a new post tomorrow that doesn’t involve vinegar of any kind. In fact it’s going to be a scrummy new cake I made last week which has been thoroughly tested for deliciousness 馃檪

So now I’m off to try and wash the stench of vinegar from my hair, it may take a little longer to cleanse the house ……

A Bient么t