Actually this is Mamma Mia’s in Salaya but the place owes a lot to Paolo’s personality. He’s a great host. For a month, Andy and I noshed on the Antipasto Italiano but today we decided to move on. We ordered the Mamma Mia Salad with Italian Dressing, Salmon Spaghetti, and Mushroom Risotto–with our usual glass of house red.
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.
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.
1 medium carrot
1 medium cucumber
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.
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
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!
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?
With 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.
Because 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.
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.
I adapted this recipe from Misty’s vegetarian lasagna recipe adding the zucchini and bell pepper and using fresh Thai vegetables instead of the frozen Western spinach. By fortunate happenstance, Tops supermarket had fresh lasagna sheets. I split the recipe into two 9-inch square dishes, otherwise use one 9×13 inch dish.
Lasagna with Thai Spinach and Chinese Chives
Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 35 minutes
2 large eggs
2 cups home-made ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon pesto Genovese
2 small zucchini, peeled and sliced into quarter inch rounds
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups skim milk
1 bunch fresh spinach or Pak Khom (about 6 cups), coarsely chopped, tender leaves & stems
1 bunch Chinese chives (no flowers), leaves only, chopped into 1-inch lengths
1 medium carrot, grated
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
8 fresh lasagna noodle sheets, trimmed to fit
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I used Edam)
1 cup marinara sauce (I used diced tomatoes processed fine and seasoned with 1 teaspoon pesto)
Heat oven to 350˚F or 175˚C.
Beat the eggs lightly in a medium bowl. Fold in ricotta cheese and pesto.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, pepper, onion, and garlic. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and pepper. Add the milk. Cook until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in the spinach, carrot, chives, 1/2 cup of Parmesan, and salt.
Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish or two 9 inch baking dishes. Layer the zucchini rounds on the bottom. Slice some to fit.
Make layers in this way: spinach mixture; noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and cheddar cheeses; noodles. End with noodles.
Spread the marinara sauce on top to cover the noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
But I’ve been indulging my inner gourmande. I have been discovering and savoring new flavors in and around Salaya where I now work. So far, my favorite place is Vietnam Hut; their specialty is pizza on a cracker. The cracker is made of rice that puffs up wonderfully light and crispy in hot oil. The cracker is then overlaid with a rice pancake, thin slivers of meat sausage, herbs, lots of crisp slivers of fried garlic, and sprinkled with vinegar dressing. That’s the Vietnamese version of pizza. It’s crunchy, salty, tangy, sour– I just love blended cuisines!
Now that I am off for the Songkran or Thai New Year holiday, I intend to cook as much as I can. This first recipe of my vacation is a guisada. It refers to a Portuguese stew that somehow in its translation to Jamaica the gizzada became a shortbread cup filled with a sweet coconut mixture. It went from a stew to a dessert. But I’m not making either traditional guisada or gizzada here. I found this recipe on Skinnytaste and of course, it went through some necessary transformations, not all of it cultural. Much of the changes were dictated by what was available at Tops Supermarket.
First of all, I couldn’t find beef stew so this became a pork stew. I used Chang beer–so that makes it Thai in my estimation! I also added the Chinese celery (คื่นฉ่าย), a piquant herb that’s used to add flavor to Thai soups and salads. I added sweet soy sauce, which is thicker and sweeter than regular soy sauce, and is available only in Asian grocery stores– in New York, that is. I used it to color the sauce and the meat and to add a little sweetness to balance the salty earthy flavors of the herbs and the seasonings.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30-45 minutes
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3 stalks scallion, chopped
2 stalks Chinese celery, stripped of leaves and chopped
4 fat cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes
1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin trimmed of fat and silver and cut into 2 inch chunks
10 oz small potatoes, halved and then quartered
1/3 cup Chang beer
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
In a large Dutch pot, heat a teaspoon oil. Cook the scallions, celery, garlic and cilantro until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the mixture. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute. In a large skillet, heat the other teaspoon oil and cook the meat until it is seared on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side.
Add the seared meat to the vegetables in the Dutch pot. Add the potatoes, beer, water, seasoning salt, paprika, cumin, and soy sauce. Mix well. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes to 45 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
You can also cook this in a crock pot; it will take 6-8 hours to cook though.
Serve the stew hot with hot cooked rice. To reduce calories even further, serve it with riced cauliflower instead of rice, or my favorite, slices of fresh Jamaican hard dough bread to soak up the gravy.
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At Sra Bua (pronounced sah BOO-ah) we discovered the magic of food meticulously and scientifically prepared. This was a marathon of eating that began at 7 p.m. and ended three hours later. I wanted to try the full tasting menu and Andy didn’t, a difference of 3 dishes. And when Andy and I finally got up from the table, we felt sated but not uncomfortably stuffed. It was a time to enjoy eating, all my senses were on alert, and I became aware of each sensation, the taste, the sight, the smell, and even how food sounded in my mouth. Familiar tastes, I learned, can be rediscovered in different combinations.
In the beginning, we sat at small tables with comfortable chairs and cushions to enjoy the nibblings and street food, in other words, the hors d’oevres. The fun began with a cool refreshing lemongrass-and-pandan tea that was lightly sweetened. We proceeded to enjoy a soy roasted cashew nut meringue, prawn cracker with chili-tomato dip, and kaffir-lime scented lotus root. The meringue was an unexpected take on the Japanese soy-sauce flavored crackers. Prawn crackers, so ubiquitous in Asia,was freshly paired with a chili-tomato dip. The lotus root was a disappointment, however, lacking a strong flavor identity. After these nibbles we moved on to the street food offerings. Bangkok’s street food is hard to top so I wondered what we would see next. Each course was eagerly anticipated!
Up next was smoked sausage served on traditional bamboo skewers. It was paired with prawn bread with sesame, which wasn’t much of a stretch from its original Chinese incarnation, shrimp toast. Thais love Japanese food, so the umami flan’s arrival was a fresh idea. Nestled in a wonderfully delicate but flavorful miso soup, the tofu-like flan was a new way to present something traditional. It was paired with a sashimi-style tuna wrapped around a pork bone, a great serving idea but the spiciness of the seasoning drowned out the delicate taste of the fresh tuna. The next course was both hot and cool. The hot was the tom yam, a spicy Thai soup. It was paired with a cool foamy galangal with fresh baby lobster. Andy loved the soup; he said he broke out in a sweat, his own personal Scoville Scale. I couldn’t taste anything but chili so I gave him my soup to finish.
Andy decided to try an Argentinian Malbec from the wine list. Like the courses on the tasting menu, it seemed to be a sampler too. Moderation rather than excess seemed to be the theme of the evening; leave room for the next course and the next…By this time, we were invited to move to a booth for the main courses. It was intimate, and covered with silk and cotton embroidered cushions, but I was three feet away from Andy at the other end of a silk table runner. Too formal. I wanted to sit beside him, not opposite him, so the server simply set a place mat for me next to Andy. Everything in its place!
The first entree was scallops with a tamarind and lemongrass sauce drizzled over it. Scattered on the plate were five or six tiny shrimp like creatures that were amazingly crunchy and tasty. Now I know how a whale feels when it eats krill! The scallops were grilled and served with orange-colored purees dotted on the plate like an archipelago of islands. You couldn’t see what they were originally, but the taste was unmistakably carrot and pumpkin. Then I had marinated codfish with tiny red disks of beetroot on top and little gray-green pearls of kaeng khio wan or green curry on the side. The beetroot was slightly sour and tart, like pickles. The green curry was amazingly good with the beets and the codfish. It was a surprising combination but it worked. Because Andy’s tasting menu was not the complete one, he did not get these last two courses.
No Thai meal would be complete without the services of a kroke or a mortar and pestle. At tableside, the server pounded the ingredients for a sauce and drizzled it all over the larb duck or duck salad. It came in two little onion cups joined by a savory meringue that connected the two cups of ground duck flavored with lime juice and fish sauce. It was the traditional paired with the new, meringue instead of a bed of lettuce. Next up: Kiin Kiin Egg with wild mushrooms and holy basil served in the egg-shell on top of a bed of salt. It didn’t need the salt so I presume it was there just to hold up the egg on the plate! The last entree was the braised beef. It had the delicate flavor of palo powder; the Chinese call it Five Spice Powder. It was reminiscent of braised pork leg or khao khaa moo. The beef was served with sweetbread, a papadum on top, and a spoonful of sweet and sour pineapple sorbet on the side. The sweetbread’s flavor was somewhat nondescript, but the coolness and tartness of the sorbet was a nice contrast with the strong flavor of anise seed.
Though I savored each course, I felt finishing each one would bring me closer to my true joy: dessert. I looked forward to The Snowball. It arrived at table, a spun sugar confection on a white plate. The server poured coconut cream on it and my snowball vanished on the plate, dissolved into the coconut cream. It was like magic. Then I ate a spoonful of the dessert–and tasted the gritty sugar of the snowball at the bottom of the spoon. This was a variation on two Thai desserts: roti sai mai or pancake with spun sugar, and ruammit literally “little bit of everything.”
The servers were well trained, courteous, and professional. They were very well-informed about the restaurant and its history and could answer our questions about the menu. Our server told us that the menu is changed every three months. Chef Nielsen flies in from Denmark to create a new menu. The servers are then invited to taste the new menu, which is what makes them so knowledgeable about its preparation. The management did offer Andy a complimentary dessert–The Snowball–because we complained about the slow service. It did take three hours to eat the entire meal.
We went to Sra Bua for an early celebration of Valentine’s Day. I would go back to try a new menu, but only for another very special occasion. And if we have the stamina to eat for another three hours. In any case, this is the place to go to enjoy a leisurely meal, European fashion, with home-grown Thai ingredients. Another thought is that it would be great if the Chef could make recommendations from the wine list.
I wish I could say that the second dessert, the banana cake, transported me to gastro-heaven, but it was a dense disappointment. It tasted like convenience-store banana cupcake in a cellophane wrapper. There was too much coconut (coconut again!) and not enough salted ice cream and caramelized milk. Perhaps I was full by then, but I found the petit fours with tea (me) and coffee (Andy) not worth the picture. The petit fours arrived at table in dramatic fashion, inside a large lacquered binto box. But inside each layer were just two macarons, two marshmallows (covered in that ghastly coconut again), and two chocolate pepper cookies each the size of a US cent. Over dramatization. Not a worthy end to the meal that was, in retrospect, uneven in quality, preparation, and presentation.