tomato ratatouille

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This vegetable stew is hearty and filling, and it comes with the added feeling of virtuousness because it is made entirely of fresh vegetables.  There is nothing in it to feel guilty about. I used salsa to season it, but a tomato paste or puree with some wine would be wonderful.

Tomato Ratatouille (adapted from The Photo Cookbook-Quick and Easy)

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion cut into thin wedges
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small eggplant, chopped
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I used two tablespoons salsa for flavor and bite)
3 tablespoons water
2/3 cup sliced mushrooms (I used fresh shiitakes)
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
pepper
1 tablespoon shredded fresh basil, to serve, optional
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve, optional

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch pot. Add the onion, garlic, and eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.
2. Add the bell peppers and zucchini.
3. Mix together the tomato paste and water in a small bowl and stir into the pan. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Add the mushrooms and tomatoes, with pepper to taste, and continue to simmer for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
5. Garnish with shredded basil and serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

steamed chicken breast with herb butter and coconut basmati rice

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I forgot the pickled vegetables.

This dish is made in 2 steps; the rice is cooked in a rice cooker and the chicken is steamed by wrapping each breast in foil then baking the packets in the oven. The original recipe from The Photo Cookbook-Quick and Easy directs steaming packets of chicken over the rice as it cooks. This is tricky, since both rice and chicken cook at different rates depending on the temperature. I thought it would be easier to do them separately. My solution worked, for the chicken and the rice came together wonderfully, with delicate undertones of coconut and herbs. The original recipe called for just a butter-cilantro stuffing. Though I love cilantro, by itself, the taste can be monotonous. The Chinese know this, and often combine it with other herbs such as Chinese celery (kunchai in Thai) and onion. The result is a more complex flavor, however, it lacks that extra bite and tang. The Thai solution is to put in chiles, and I agree with this approach. You want the flavor of chile without burning off your taste buds.

Coconut Rice
2 cups (8 oz each) Basmati rice
1 250ml coconut cream
3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt

Rinse the rice, if directed to do so. Then put all ingredients in a rice cooker pot, press the button and forget it!

Cook’s Note: If desired, dress up the rice with fried garlic and minced scallion.

Steamed Chicken Breasts with Herb Butter
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 fresh Thai chile, seeded and chopped (if more heat is desired, leave in the seeds)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped Chinese celery stems (reserve leaves to garnish a soup otherwise discard, they are bitter)
3 tablespoons onion, minced
8 boneless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
8×12 inch square pieces of aluminum foil

Preheat the oven 350˚F/185˚C

To stuff the chicken breasts, slit each chicken breast from the thickest part almost to the end of the thinnest part. The pocket should be about 2 1/2 inches deep at the thickest part. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, chile, cilantro, Chinese celery, and onion. Stuff each chicken breast with a generous spoonful of the herb mixture. Sprinkle top and bottom of the breast all over with a pinch of salt and pepper. Place the stuffed chicken breast in the center of a piece of aluminum foil, bring to edges together and fold to seal. Fold and seal each end. Place on a baking tray and repeat with the other chicken breasts.

Place the baking tray in the oven. Do four at a time or at the most, six. Bake about 15-18 minutes. Pierce the thickest part of one chicken packet with an instant read thermometer. The chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F. If not, bake an additional 3-5 minutes.

Spoon cooked coconut basmati rice on a plate and place one cooked chicken breast on top; pour reserved juices from the packet on top. Serve with Pickled Vegetables, which as I said,  I forgot.

Pickled Vegetables
1 medium carrot
1 medium cucumber
3 scallions
1/4 cup rice vinegar
4 tablespoons simple syrup

Shred all the vegetables. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and simple syrup. Pour vinegar mixture over the top of the vegetables and toss to combine.

 

arugula burger

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I put greens underneath this burger, inside it and beside it! When my children were little, I used to make a version of this with spinach called Popeye burgers. This is my low-calorie “healthy” burger made from lean ground pork and arugula or rocket salad as it’s known here, on top of grilled iceberg lettuce served with fresh guacamole on top of mixed salad. . In fact, any kind of greens can go inside the burger patty–spinach (called English spinach in Bangkok supermarkets), and pak khom or Thai spinach. I haven’t tried it but I bet chopped broccoli would be good too.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes or 5 minutes per side

1 lb lean ground meat (pork, chicken, or beef)
1 lb rocket salad or arugula, lightly sauteed and chopped coarsely
1 large egg well beaten
2 large cloves garlic, minced
fresh herbs such as thyme and basil
salt and pepper

iceberg lettuce
guacamole

In a medium bowl put the meat, rocket salad, egg, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and shape into 6 patties. Grill 2-5 minutes on each side.

I served it on top of a slice of grilled iceberg lettuce, and, on the side, some home made guacamole made with crushed avocado, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, scallion; seasoned with lime juice, salt and pepper. It was a simple and easy meal to make.

 

asian style grilled chicken legs

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grilled vegetables, green banana with escovitch sauce, asian style grilled chicken leg

I found this recipe for grilled chicken legs on Skinnytaste and thought it was easy to adapt.  The basic ingredients are soy sauce and vinegar in equal proportions, but you can dress up this marinade any way you like. I’ve made it twice and each time I used what I had on hand. The first time I substituted mirin, a Japanese cooking wine, for the vinegar. The second time I made it I used ordinary white vinegar. I added chopped garlic instead of garlic powder and I found it ramped up the garlic flavor deliciously.

Asian Style Grilled Chicken Legs

prep time: 12-18 hours
cooking time: 20-25 minutes

8 skinless chicken legs
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vinegar or mirin
5 large cloves of garlic, crushed
ground ginger
black pepper
Seasoning salt

Glaze, optional
1/4 cup sweet chicken chili sauce, available at Asian groceries
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon honey

To de-skin the chicken legs, grasp both ends with paper towels and simply pull down the skin. It’s a bit like taking off skinny jeans! Put the skinless legs in a glass bowl fitted with a lid. You can use a zipper lock bag but it’s more environmentally friendly to use the glass bowl.

If you wish season the legs with ground ginger and black pepper. It occurs to me that instead of ginger and black pepper, you can also use a light sprinkling of seasoning salt, my mother’s favorite chicken seasoning. But the chicken will still be flavorful without any seasoning. The secret is in the simple marinade.

In a small bowl, combine equal parts soy sauce and vinegar or mirin. Add the garlic. Pour over the chicken legs and cover. Shake the bowl back and forth to distribute the marinade. Refrigerate at least 12 hours.

Grill the chicken legs. I used my electric skillet on 180˚C with a teaspoon of rice bran oil brushed on the bottom. Turn the chicken legs every five minutes for a total of 20 minutes. At the end of grilling, if desired, brush with the glaze. Done!

 

fish tacos with corn-guava-avocado salsa

DSC03876 We woke up this morning to discover one of the neighbors looking in through the window. It’s been pretty quiet in the condo complex because of the switch over in the school year at the university from June to March to August to June. This means that this year’s summer holiday is 5 months long. Not many uni students are back yet of course, and at the high school, we are just beginning our two month summer break. The students seemed quite bewildered, some of them, at suddenly having nothing to do after exams last Tuesday were over. Since some of their friends came back for ROTC on Wednesday afternoon, they decided to show solidarity and showed up at school for old times’ sake. I suppose this curious visitor was doing the same thing, wondering where everybody had gone. What should he do now that his time is his own?

DSC03881With grades in, I’ve been cooking with the electric pan. The lid can open out and double the cooking surface, so I have both a skillet and a griddle. Cooking on the balcony is somewhat challenging because there is no electrical outlet so I have to run an extra long extension cord outside. Plus, there is just a little two-foot square space right next to the sink. If I angle the pan just so I can open it out. Last night for supper I made grilled chicken thighs, but I had made them in Bangkok. We ate them with a mango-avocado salsa. If it seems that we are eating more avocado it is because we found them for Baht 20 apiece at the Suan Luang market yesterday.  We bought 6 and the vendor added 1 more for goodwill. I hope she will be there next weekend. I love avocado.

 

DSC03885Because I love to eat, I really should exercise more. To respect one’s body is to exercise, and then to eat good food that is fresh and homemade. Today, we rode our bikes around Phuttamonthon, the Buddhist park, and then we each swam 500 meters in the Sirimongkol Pool. We decided to eat in rather than eat out. For lunch today I prepared lightly sauteed pangasius fillets which we ate wrapped inside warm flour tortillas topped with corn-guava-avocado salsa and Greek-style yogurt.  It’s so good to be cooking again!

 

 

Fish Tacos with Corn-Guava-Avocado Salsa

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes (in a double electric pan heated to 180˚C)

2 white fish fillets (e.g. tilapia)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon rice bran oil
4 flour tortillas

Pat dry the fillets then sprinkle one side with salt and pepper. Lightly sauté in a little oil until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas. Keep warm until ready to serve. Cut the fillets into large chunks just before eating.

Corn-Guava-Avocado Salsa
1 ear of fresh corn, niblets removed from the cob
1 small Thai guava, peeled, seeded, and chopped (can substitute jicama or mun kaew)
1 medium avocado, peeled, pit removed, and chopped
8 grape tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 of a large onion, thinly sliced
the juice of 3 small limes
salt to taste
1 tablespoon minced scallion for garnish
1-2 chopped fresh Thai chilies, optional

Lightly cook the corn in the microwave for 4 minutes, drain the niblets and cool them. In a medium bowl, put the niblets, the guava, avocado, tomatoes, cilantro and onion. Squeeze the lime juice all over. Add salt to taste. Garnish with scallion and chilies, if using, and spoon over fish chunks on top of a warm tortilla. Put a generous dollop of yogurt on top and eat–leave out that steaming side-dish of guilt and enjoy. It’s low in carbs and calories.

guisada: pork stew with leeks, potatoes, and grape tomatoes

DSC03486We wanted American food. We went t0 The Great American Rib Company in Soi 36. Andy had half a rack of ribs and I had the pulled pork. Andy’s ribs were tender and came off the bones. He got baked beans, cole slaw, and chili corn bread slices with his ribs. I tried a bit of the beans and the corn bread. The beans were a tad sweet–too much brown sugar is my guess. The cornbread was dry and the chili flavor was stale. Andy ordered a side of curly fries. They were fresh and hot and served with a side of barbecue sauce. My dinner arrived with barbecue sauce on the side, cole slaw, and french fries. The pork was dry and chewy. Dabbing sauce on top helped a bit. To save costs, the pickles had been shaved so thin on a mandoline you couldn’t taste them. The cole slaw was watery and warm. We didn’t finish it. I’ve eaten at American Rib Co. before, but I think the quality of the food has deteriorated. The whole experience cost Baht 1500 (approximately US$46.00). Disappointing. Not worth the expense.

On Sunday evening, I made the guisada again. This is a latin beef stew which I had adapted to pork. This time I freely experimented with the ingredients, adding what I like to the stew. I thought leeks would be a nice exchange for the scallions, and tomato paste would ramp up the flavor without having to add more salt.

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Guisada

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks, white part only
4 cloves garlic
1 cup organic grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped coarsely
1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin, sliced into chunks
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons beer (I used Chang beer)
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 large dried bay leaf
4 cups small-medium organic potatoes, quartered or cut into eighths
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large Dutch pot. Add the leeks, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro. Cook 5 minutes or until the vegetables are wilted.
Add 1/3 cup beer, 1/3 cup water, 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, cumin, paprika, and bay leaf. Stir to combine. Add the potatoes and the tomato paste. Add more water about 1/3 cup more, if needed. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

Put the pork in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of the seasoning salt and the flour. Mix well. Over medium high heat, heat the teaspoon oil in a large skillet then brown the meat. Add the meat to the vegetables. Return the skillet to the heat. To the skillet, add the 2 tablespoons beer and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. The beer will bubble, thicken, and reduce. Pour the reduction in the stew, scraping out all the browned bits into the guisada.

That’s it. Serve and eat.

chocolate sponge cake

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Now I’ve come to the best part of any meal, the dessert. I made a chocolate sponge cake from the South Beach Diet cookbook. This recipe frustrates me because I can never get consistent results. The method is not very clear, and sponges, alas, are delicate. Sometimes when I make it, it is humongous! Other times, it’s only six inches high because of over mixing. I think a height of eight inches signals success. So here is what I think: when combining the batter with the meringue, the flour, and the melted butter, mix them up all at once. It’s a light and airy cake when done well. Not as moist as a chiffon, but it has its charms, particularly with  the rich chocolate ganache that just oozes down the sides. Included at the end of this cake recipe is the chocolate glaze from the South Beach Diet cookbook. In the photograph above I used a chocolate ganache that’s 1/2 cup whipping cream and 11 1/2 oz milk chocolate.


Chocolate Sponge Cake (
SBD)

Prep time: 1 hour 45 minutes (includes cooling time)
Baking time: 40 minutes

Cake
7 egg whites (210g) separated while cold then bring to room temperature, about 30 minutes
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup (169g) superfine sugar
3 egg yolks (75g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (130g) cake flour
3 tablespoons (43g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Glaze
1 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Make the sponge cake. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Use one 10-inch tube pan, ungreased and un-floured, Microwave the butter in a glass one-cup measure for 30 seconds on high heat. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the egg yolks and vanilla. In another large bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meringue forms stiff glossy peaks. Fold in one-third of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture.

Gently scrape the remaining meringue into the egg yolk mixture. Using a sifter or a strainer/sieve, sprinkle the cake flour over the top of the mixture. Pour the cooled melted butter on top. Very gently, fold—do not over mix.

Spoon the batter into the pan, spreading evenly. Use an skewer to make cuts in the batter around the inner and outer edges to reduce air pockets. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted hear the center comes out clean.

Invert the tube pan onto a large funnel or bottle, or if it has feet, let it rest on the counter top. Let the cake hang until it is completely cooled, about 1 hour. Press a thin blade knife towards the cake around the inner and outer edges of the cake to release the cake. Use a skewer to do the center. To release the bottom, turn the cake on its side and rotate it as you press between the cake and the cake bottom. Turn out onto a rack, and cool completely, with the crusty topside up to prevent splitting.

Make the chocolate sauce. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Cool slightly.

Put the cake bottom-side up on the rack in the center of a large cookie sheet. Drizzle the melted chocolate in a criss-cross pattern across the top of the cake, letting the excess run down the sides and onto the cookie sheet below. Using a large spatula, lift the cake and transfer it to a serving platter.

cauliflower tots

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Cauliflower is becoming my favorite vegetable. It is so versatile to cook with, and its health benefits are undeniable. It is low in fat and carbs. There are different ways to serve it. Puréed, it becomes a low-cal substitute for mashed potatoes. Grated, it takes on the texture of rice or couscous as a vegetable–and vegetarian–side dish. Here’s yet another way to serve it: cauliflower “tots.” When my kids were little, their favorite vegetable finger food was Tater Tots. These tots are so tasty it’s a surprise to realize that cauliflower is the main ingredient. I found that the addition of the Chinese celery, cilantro, and scallion added a wonderful herbal flavor to the tots. If you haven’t got Chinese celery, chop up some celery instead. It will add a nice crunch to the tots.

Cauliflower Tots

Prep time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 18 minutes
Servings: 18-20 tots

2 cups grated cauliflower, florets only, discard stem
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup chopped Chinese celery, stems only, discard leaves
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallion
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 cup grated white cheese (e.g. Cheddar, Mozzarella)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs or 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Spray a baking tray with olive oil. Set aside.

Pulse the cauliflower florets 5-6 times in the food processor. Transfer to an oven-proof bowl and microwave on high power 2 1/2 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the egg. Add the cooked cauliflower, Chinese celery stems, cilantro, scallion, garlic, cheese, and panko. Add salt and pepper to taste. I added a teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. Mix well.

Scoop a tablespoonful of the cauliflower mixture into your hands and shape it into a fat oval. Place on the prepared baking tray. Bake 16-18 minutes or until browned, turning once during baking.

Cook’s Note: I found that the cauliflower tots stuck to the baking tray. My solution is to add more oil to the tray, but I remember when I did this to the black bean veggie burgers, it didn’t solve the problem entirely. The next time I make these I am going to fry them on the stove top in a skillet sprayed with cooking oil over medium to medium-high heat. This way I can turn them more frequently thus preventing sticking, and control the heat better.

Cook’s Note(added December 2, 2013): The cauliflower mixture should hold together when shaped. If it is too dry, add one large egg white.

fried cauliflower rice with chinese sausage and seasoned shiitake mushrooms

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Today I walked-jogged 18 laps around the jogging track; that’s 6k! So, not wanting to spoil the good feeling, I made a healthy fried rice for dinner. I used grated cauliflower instead of rice for a low carb option. Since I married an unreformed meat lover, I put slivers of Chinese sausage in it, but they can easily be left out to make this a vegetarian dish. The seasoned mushrooms are meaty and so full of flavor they really make this dish satisfying, I think.

Fried Cauliflower Rice with Chinese Sausage and Seasoned Shiitake Mushrooms

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Servings: 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish

1 small head cauliflower, florets only, discard stem (yield: 2 1/2 cups grated)
8 large fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into slices
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon dark thick soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 large Chinese sausage or 2 small, cut into 2” sticks
1/2 onion, sliced
4 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
2 tablespoons oil

Cut all the florets into even pieces and put them in the workbowl of the food processor. Pulse 6-7 times until the cauliflower is the texture of couscous.  Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. When it is hot, add the sliced mushrooms, soy sauces, and sugar. Cook until the sauces are absorbed. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Clean out the skillet.

Heat another tablespoon oil in the skillet. Cook the Chinese sausage until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

To the oil remaining in the skillet, add the onion and cook until it is wilted, then add the garlic. Cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower rice. Cook until it softens and turns brown, about 5-6 minutes. Add the reserved mushrooms and the Chinese sausage. Mix well.

stuffed chicken breasts with orange-mustard sauce

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Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Orange-Mustard Sauce

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Servings: 3-6

3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 cup frozen spinach, slightly thawed
1/2 cup chopped bacon
Salt and pepper
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon Dijon grain mustard
4 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven 350˚F.

Prepare the chicken. Trim the chicken breasts of excess fat. Split each breast in half horizontally so that you get two thin steaks about 1/4 -1/2 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the bacon. Fry the bacon in a small skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from rendered fat and let bacon drain on a sheet of paper towel. Don’t discard the bacon fat.

Fill the chicken rolls. In the middle of each steak, put about 1 tablespoon bacon and 2 tablespoons frozen spinach. Fasten with toothpicks.

Sear the chicken rolls. On medium high heat, lightly brown the chicken rolls in the bacon fat. Don’t discard the fat and brown bits in the pan. In fact, don’t wash it!

Bake the rolls. Put the rolls in an 8-inch baking pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the rolls are cooked through. If some rolls are small, test them with an instant read thermometer after 10 minutes. Test the larger rolls after 15 minutes. Cook for 4-5 minutes more until the temperature reaches 160˚F. Remove the toothpicks.

Make the sauce. Meanwhile in the pan in which the chicken was browned, add the chicken broth. I like to save time by using concentrated chicken broth paste. It’s very salty so there’s no need to add salt, but do use it sparingly. If it says a teaspoon, use half a teaspoon then add the water to the pan. Add the orange juice and the Dijon mustard and cook down until the liquid is thickened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Remember you have almost a full bag of frozen spinach left over? Well, cook it with salt and pepper.

Spoon sauce over each chicken roll,  add a generous spoonful of cooked spinach on the side, and eat! I also recommend serving these stuffed chicken rolls with roasted vegetables.