Monday, September 25, 2017

Making Maltese Rabbit Pie

Malta is a group of islands in the Mediterranean between Sicily and
North Africa that it has been influenced by a variety of cultures including the Roman, Moors, French, and British. While in Malta during October 2016 John and I stayed at the luxurious Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa (www.corinthia.com/en/hotels/palace-hotel-and-spa).

The hotel was once the luxury villa of the founder of Corinthia Hotels and many of the villa’s architect remains. It is located near the Presidential Palace and the botanical gardens in a quiet gentrified area of the capital. 

Rabbit Pit is considered one of Malta’s national dishes. Rabbits were most likely brought to the island by the Romans or
Phoenicians from the Iberian Peninsula. One of the items on the hotel’s menu was Maltese-style Rabbit and Mushroom Pie which, Stefan Hogan, the Executive Head Chef, agreed to let me watch him make. Rabbit is not a common food in New York State but there is a meat market near us that sells rabbit and a wide variety of unique meats.  I think any meat could be used if rabbit wasn’t available. The pie was very savory. 




  
  

Maltese Style Rabbit & Mushroom Pie (Torta Tal-fenek)

Olive oil as needed 
3 lbs rabbits ready to cook 
2 celery sticks, cut into cubes
2 carrots, cut into cubes
1 leek, sliced
6 garlic cloves
Bay leaf
Sprig of rosemary
1 cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
8 shallots 
1/2 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup peas
2 Pie crusts  
Flour for dusting
Egg wash for brushing & glazing (one egg blended with 1 to 3 tsp milk and a dash of salt.)

Put oil in pan. Add rabbit pieces. Fry until golden brown, transfer to an oven dish.  In a separate pan put some oil; sauté half the celery, half the carrots and the leeks with two garlic cloves until lightly brown, Add to the oven dish with the rabbit. In the oven dish add the bay leaf and the rosemary. Deglaze the rabbit pan with the red wine, add to the oven dish. Cover with the chicken stock. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 1.5 hours. Remove from the oven. Cool. Remove the rabbit pieces from the stock and pick the meat off the bone – try and leave the meat in large chunks. Strain the liquid and reduce by half.

In a clean pan heat add some oil and lightly brown the remaining garlic, celery, shallots and carrots, drain off excess oil, and add to the rabbit meat. Sauté the mushrooms in a little oil until golden brown and add to the rabbit mixture; add the peas. Allow to cool completely. Lightly brush a circular baking dish with oil and dust with flour. Line the baking dish with the rolled-out pastry leaving half an inch of the pastry hanging over the sides, fill with the rabbit mixture. Fold the overhanging dough over mixture then cover with the remaining dough. Seal edges of dough. Brush
liberally with the egg wash. Prick the pastry with a fork. Bake in an oven at 400 degrees for the first 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to cook for approximately 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven. Allow it to cool before taking it out of the pan. Let it rest 15 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Stay at The Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Le Club

The trip between the United States and SE Asia is long no matter how the flights are booked and the best airfares are usually ones that begin and end in Bangkok.  We spend a fair amount of time in SE Asia and, at first, I dreaded the flight; well, I still do, but I have turned it into something I look forward to – not the flight but the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport at the end of the flight.  For those heading into the city of Bangkok keep in mind that it is an hour by taxi and who, after flying for twenty or more hours, wants to take a flight to another destination. Not me. I book a night (sometimes two) at the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Hotel.
After collecting my baggage I walk to Gate 4 where a gentleman the Novotel Greeter’s Desk takes my bags and leads me to the complimentary shuttle. In a few minutes I am at the Novotel, someone takes my luggage, tags it, and tells me it will be delivered to my room. Just walking into the bright, airy, elegant atrium I feel better – no longer cramped in a metal tube.

There is a lot to like about the Novotel.  Guests can arrive anytime and check-out 24 hours later. The choice of five restaurants and bars off the lobby make dining a pleasure.  The hotel has one of the nicest roof top swimming pools I have had the pleasure to enjoy. It breaks the mold of airport swimming pool with its Thai design and plenty of trees.  Adjacent to the pool is a workout room.  The spa is also wonderful with special massages designed to relieve jet lag.  When I arrive after a long flight I like to spend a day getting adjusted to the time change, going to the pool, and getting a spa treatment.  The hotel also
has an open-air “garden room” where it is possible to relax surrounded by greenery; a wonderful place to chill out with a book. I usually book a night or two at the same Novotel when it is time to return to the States so that I feel ready to endure the long flights.
I am a fan of the Novotel’s Le Club Level and find it value-laden. Checking in at Le Club is a sit-down experience and swift.  The accommodations are large and Le Club includes complimentary internet, breakfast in Le Club or at The Square’s massive buffet. We prefer breakfast in the serenity of the Le Club at “our” table by the window.  Le Club bookings also include discounts at the spa and other benefits.
We like the friendliness of Le Club and have come to know some of the staff and they often remember us. A nice touch.  On our last visit we noticed the chef checking out Le Club’s evening offerings. When I complimented him on the delicious selections and mentioned my husband’s favorite was the Thai Fish Cakes  Executive Chef Maximilian Schwaighofer offered to have his Thai sous chef, Banyon Malalek, show me how to make them.  Amazed, I accepted.

Thai Fish Cakes Recipe

7 ounces white fish meat similar to Tilapia
10 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 egg
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
10 fresh coriander leaves, minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp pepper
3 kaffir lime leaves
7 ounces cowpeas trimmed, diced (or string beans)
1 cup vegetable oil for deep frying

Dipping Sauce
2 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tbsp roasted peanuts pounded
1/2 cup diced cucumbers

In a bowl mix thoroughly the fish meat with chili paste, egg, soy sauce, sugar, coriander leaves,
garlic, ginger, and pepper. Add cowpeas and kaffir leaves, mix. Take one handful at a time and slap it down on the mix, grab a different handful and repeat. It will make it stickier. Put some oil on hands (gloves) and shape the mix into balls or rolls; the fish can be formed into various shapes using a cookie cutter dipped in oil; only pack the form halfway full. Drop into hot oil for about five minutes.  They will rise to the top and when toasty brown remove, and drain.  Lightly mix chili sauce, cucumbers and peanuts.  Serve with dipping sauce on the side.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Learning about Vietnamese food on a Pandaw cruise

While in Vietnam John and I enjoyed Pandaw’s 10-day Halong Bay and Red River cruise. Pandaw is value-laden because everything is included. Halong Bay is the highlight of northern Vietnam and of the cruise; and, yes, it is beautiful, but I really enjoyed the shore trips along the Red
River and its tributaries because we visited places not frequented by most tourists.  Many small villages are noted for one specific product. In Gia Thanh village I marveled at an 80-year-old lady threading a needle (no glasses) and sewing palm leaves on a traditional Vietnamese conical hat.  


In a village in Hai Duong province villagers were making Green
Bean Cake, a specialty food of the area, and wrapping them up for sale. The sugar-cube size cake is made of green beans, sugar, vegetable oil, essence of coconut, and grapefruit flower. Years ago King Bao Dai visited the province and was offered the green bean cake to enjoy with his green tea. He liked the flavor so much he allowed the Golden Dragon, a symbol of royal power, to be used on the package. I should have tried the green bean cake with some green tea because I found it too dry and with very little flavor. 


In Ninh Giang I tried Banh Gai, sticky rice cakes, made from glutinous rice flower, gai leaf, sugar, mung beans, and wrapped in a banana leaf. I found this much more palatable.  Rice noodles are common part of many Vietnamese recipes. In one village I saw rows of rice noodles hung out to dry.


An on-board event included how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.
All the guests got to try making their own spring roll. Assembling the ingredients was easy but I need a little more practice to make my spring roll look as neat and as perfect as Chef Rotha’s.  The spring rolls are healthy and a variety of ingredients can be used. Chef Rotha, the cold chef, suggested using two rice papers to prevent the ingredients from breaking through. The rolls can be dipped in a variety of sauces but Chef Rotha was Cambodian and shared the recipe for his Khmer dipping sauce.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
14 round rice paper wrappers 
Several springs of fresh mint leaves
7 oz chicken, cooked, cut in 4 inch long, one-half inch wide strips (cooked shrimp, peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise can also be used) 
7 lettuce leaves
1 cup cooked rice vermicelli, cold
1 carrot, julienned
1 cup fresh bean sprouts

Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip two rice papers (or one) in water for about 1 minute, until soft. Lay the rice papers on wax paper. Start layering, making sure to keep the ingredients an inch from the sides.  Place four mint leaves on the rice paper. Add 2 or 3 pieces of chicken. Top with a lettuce leaf, a small portion of vermicelli, several pieces of carrots, and then several bean sprouts Add additional mint leaves (or cilantro). To roll, fold side inward, the tightly roll the rice paper. 



Khmer dipping sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium red chilies, seeded and minced
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1cup water
3 tbsps fish sauce
3 tsp ground peanuts
Blend garlic, chilies, juice, sugar and water. Add the fish sauce and stir. Stir in the ground peanuts. Recipe can be adjusted to taste by adding more water and/or fish sauce or chilies. For more information log on to www.pandaw.com.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Making Jingha Masala in the Holiday Inn in Penang


The Malaysian island of Penang is on several lists of great places
people should visit during their lifetime; and, it is second on CNN’s list of “The 17 Best Places to Visit in 2017.”  It is easy to see why. The island has a myriad of different things to do from exploring the UNESCO Heritage City of Georgetown to a walking tour through the new Entopia Butterfly Farm to parasailing over the Straits of Malacca.  

I find the island’s heterogeneous population which is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and religion fascinating. In 1786 Captain Francis Light landed on the shore of Penang making it Britain’s first settlement in SE Asia.  English is a compulsory subject in Malaysian schools. Today the island is about 40% Malay, 40% Chinese and 10% Indian with a variety of other groups
making up the rest.  We were at the Holiday Inn Resort for Chinese New Year which the hotel celebrated with firecrackers, Lion Dance, and the traditional Prosperity Toss. A Prosperity Toss is a plate of colorful veggies, fish, and noodles that people, using their chopsticks, toss in the air while shouting “Loh Hey” which literally means to 'move upwards'. It is symbolic of the wish for fortunes to grow during the coming year.

Penang is a honeymoon destination for Saudi couples and a winter getaway for Europeans.  There are Europeans in itsy-bitsy bikinis and Arab women in swimsuits that covered them completely except for face, hands and feet; some are very colorful. There are women in abayas, some with face veils, mixed with guests clad in a variety of other outfits including saris and hijabs. Usually it is only the women who are so attired but there is an occasional male in a dishsdasha.

With such a diverse clientele the chefs need to prepare food to suit all their guests.  All the food is halal. The breakfast is impressive: eggs, pancakes, grilled tomatoes, cheese, soups, salads, fruits, bread pudding, curries, rice, and even a fava bean dish called foul which was very good. Every Wednesday the Holiday Inn Resort offers a free cooking demonstration in the garden. In the class Chef Laxman, the hotel’s Indian chef, showed us how to make an Indian dish – Jingha Masala.   An Englishman standing next to me said, “I don’t usually like seafood but this is delicious.” I agreed.

Jingha Masala

1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped onion
15 curry leaves
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp garlic paste
½ cup tomato puree or finely chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tbs red chili powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
25 pcs prawn or shrimp (cleaned and washed)
one-half green pepper diced
2 tbs cream (light)
1 tsp kastoori mathi powder (fenugreek)
Fresh coriander leaves chopped for garnish

Heat oil in wok or frying pan. Add garlic, onions, and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds. Add ginger and garlic paste. Sauté for one minute. Add tomato puree, salt, red chili powder and turmeric. Cook for five minutes stirring frequently. Add prawns and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add green pepper. Cook for one minute. Add cream and kastoori mathi. Stir and remove from heat. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.  Serve with naan bread. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pan seared octopus Maltese style

Malta is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  The Malta archipelago
of islands is located in the Mediterranean south of Sicily which means it is blessed with a Mediterranean climate - think no snow.  There are many wonderful places to visit; in fact, Malta has three UNESCO World Heritage sites including the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples, and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.  Several other sites are on the UNESCO Tentative List awaiting inclusion. Impressive for an island that is 17 miles by 9 miles.  

We toured many places in Valletta, the capital city, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral with golden carved pillars and fabulous paintings on the vaulted ceiling. In the Oratory is Caravaggio’s “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” painting; the only one he signed. I was especially impressed with Casa Rocca Piccola, a unique 1850 house/museum where the friendly owners are still in residence. They have an extensive bomb shelter where the family sought safety during WW II.  I didn’t know that Malta was the most bombed place during WW II.  

One day we scheduled a ‘hotel day’  -  reading around the pool,
enjoying the spa and learning how to make a traditional Maltese recipe. Ramla’s Executive Head Chef Christian Borg showed us how to make Qarnit Moqli. Chef Borg said Maltese cooking is simple, colorful, and tasty.   He explained further that many countries invaded Malta over
the years so many recipes are a mix of Italian and Arabic cuisine.  Qarnit Mogli is usually served as a starter but we found it was enough for a lunch.  John, the seafood –lover, declared it excellent.  I am not a lover of seafood but of course I tried it.  The flavor was wonderful. I knew it would be from the aroma when it was cooking; however, I found the octopus a little too chewy to my liking. 



Qarnit Moqli

2 whole medium-sized octopuses
1 medium fresh chili, diced (depends on how hot you want it)
1 lemon
1tbsp black pepper corns
6 bay leaves
10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small red onion, diced
2 – 4 springs of fresh mint 
2 – 4 springs of fresh basil 
10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, diced
½ cup white wine
1tbsp capers 
1tbsp pitted black olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground pepper as desired
Extra virgin olive oil as desired 
Crusty white loaf (Hobz tal-malthi) or bread bowls



Boil the octopus together with half the chili, half the lemon, black pepper corns, bay leaves, and half of the garlic. Let it boil gently until the octopus is nice and tender (approximately 40 minutes). When the octopus is ready separate the tentacles from the head and cut them in half. Remove the beak. Cut the head into three thick slices. In a frying pan add a dash of olive oil when warm  add the onions until it starts to become soft then add the with rest of the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and the rest of the chilies.  Add the octopus and white wine. Cook over medium heat until it is reduced by half. Add the capers (rinse these before adding to the pan) and the olives and let them cook slowly for about 5 minutes.  Finish with a squeeze of lemon, freshly ground black pepper, and more olive oil. Scoop out center of bread bowl and fill with octopus mixture. Garnish and serve. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Nicaraguan style Mini-burritos a la Xalli with gallo pinto

John and I have been to Nicaragua several times since our first visit
in the 90s. At that time the country was trying to recover from the devastation caused by the conflicts between the socialistic Sandinista junta and the opposition, the U.S.-backed contras.  It wasn’t the first involvement by a group from the United States.  Every school child in Central America learns about William Walker, an American who invaded Nicaragua with his private army. Walker became president of Nicaragua from 1856 to 1857.  We visited the local museum where money issued by Walker during his administration is on display. Around the same time Cornelius Vanderbilt considered building a canal connecting the natural waterways between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  Instead the Panama Canal was built. In 2016 a Chinese tycoon started to build a canal across Nicaragua; but work is at a standstill.  The Rio San Juan connects the Atlantic Ocean with Lake Nicaragua and from there it is only a short distance to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific.  Hopes for a new Nicaraguan canal spurred hopes for increased tourism on the projected route including Ometepe Island. 

Ometepe is home to twin volcanoes connected by a narrow isthmus. In December 2015 John and I visited the island which is accessed by ferry from San Jorge, which is 10 minutes from Rivas.  The island is popular with nature-lovers.  


We stayed at Xalli Beach Hotel located on the isthmus with views of both volcanoes, (www.ometepebeachhotel.com, Calle Principal, Playa Santo Domingo, Comunidad de San Fernando, Altagracia, Isla de Ometepe, Rivas, Nicaragua; phone 505-2569-4876, email:info@ometepebeachhotel.com) We paid $102 for a room with a lake-view porch, breakfast, and Wi-Fi.  

Xalli, whenever possible, buys organic and locally-grown produce.  It insures freshness and helps the local farming community. I loved the chicken burritos and asked the cook, Lorena Alvarez, to share the recipe with me.  She showed me how to make burritos and gallo pinto Nicaraguense. Pedro Centeno, the manager, acted as the translator. It is thought that the burrito originated in Mexico and spread throughout the Americas with each area making their own adaption.  The word “burrito” means “little donkey” and possibly referred to the bedrolls carried by the donkeys. 

Chicken Burroitos

1 large tomato – diced
1 small green pepper – diced
1 small onion – diced
1 tsp cilantro - diced
2 tsp olive oil 
1 tsp lemon juice
12 ounces cooked chicken, shredded or diced
¾ (three-fourths) cup cheese – shredded (cheddar or white Nicaragua cheese)
Salt and pepper
Small 2. burrito ingredients
Mix tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro, oil, and lemon juice in a bowl add salt and pepper to taste. 

On each tortilla add place two tablespoons of chicken, two tablespoons of veggie mix, top with cheese. Fold. Lightly oil a pan. Grill burritos about one minute each side. Ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and assembled when ready to eat. Assembled burritos can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for several hours.  Serve with gallo pinto and /or sour cream. 

Gallo Pinto Nicaraguense
1 lb rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, finely diced
1 can small red kidney beans (Goya sells Central America Beans)
1 green pepper, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice, set aside. In frying pan, add oil, sauté onions over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add beans with liquid.  Mash beans a little to add aroma and color. Add green pepper. Sauté about two minutes. Add rice, sauté about two to three minutes.  Can be refrigerated for later use. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learning how to prepare bánh bò hấp, in Vietnam

My husband, John, and I live in upstate New York, and most of the
retired people in our area are “snowbirds,” who head south to spend the winter in warmer, snow-free states. John and I head all the way to Asia for three months. We find Asia reasonable, cost-wise, and enjoy the diversity of cultures. We like the flexibility of wintering for a few weeks each in several countries.

In January 2016 we were in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. We had been there several times but wanted to revisit the Cao Đài Temple and the Củ Chi Tunnels. The Cao Đài Temple is the center of the Caodaist church, an indigenous religion that incorporates the teachings of many religions. The first time we visited the temple was in 1998. It was as colorful as I remembered. 



The biggest change was at the Củ Chi Tunnels. The part of the
tunnel that we visited in ’98 is now open only to Vietnamese, whereas the new area has been made handicapped-accessible, with visitors entering via a gift shop. Also, other activities have been added, such as a rifle range. 

We wanted a hotel in HCMC close to the airport, so we booked a few days at the Parkroyal Saigon. A standard room cost $88 a night, but we upgraded to an Orchid Club room at $137. The Orchid Club room price included airport/hotel transfers, breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails plus laundry for up to four garments per day. A great deal! We liked the relaxing atmosphere in the Orchid Club Lounge, especially during afternoon tea, when there was an assortment of tea sandwiches. 

We commented to the waitress that the most common dessert
in Vietnam was fresh fruit but seldom cakes or pies. She said that many Vietnamese don’t have ovens. Also, they don’t have a “sweet tooth.” She told us that her favorite dessert is bánh bò hấp, which she said are also called “cow cakes” because the word bò means “cow.” She said her mother told her the word bò also means “crawl” because when the cakes are steamed, they “crawl” up the side of the pan.

Later we had an opportunity to try this dessert. We reported back to our waitress that we loved the light and tasty “cow cakes” and thought they looked simple to make. She said she was sure the pastry chef would love to show us how to make them. The next day, pastry chef Nguyen Thanh Ngoan and his helper Nguyen Thu Nhi showed us how they are made. I found out it was not as simple as I had thought!

Bánh Bò Hấp (Vietnamese Rice Cakes)
1 ¾ cup rice flour 
3 tbsp corn flour (or tapioca flour)
2 tbsp rice wine
1/3 cup coconut water
½ tsp salt
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
optional — food coloring

Sesame Sprinkle
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp sugar
dash of salt

Coconut Sauce
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp water
1 ¾ cups coconut milk
3 tbsp sugar

For the Bánh Bò Hấp, 12 hours ahead of time, mix rice flour and corn flour and set it aside. In a small pan, add rice wine, coconut water and salt and bring to a boil. Cool for five minutes, then add it to the flour mix and stir until smooth. A drop of food coloring can be added, if desired. Strain if lumpy. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside (not in the refrigerator) for 12 hours.  After the 12 hours, combine water and sugar in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Boil just until the sugar is dissolved, then cool for five minutes. Stir into the mix made 12 hours before. In a steamer, heat water to the boiling point. Brush small dishes or forms with oil and place in a steamer. Cover and steam for two minutes. Ladle batter into the dishes or forms, then cover. Steam for seven minutes or more, depending on the sizes of the dishes. When the center of each cake rises, remove from steamer. Repeat with any remaining batter.

To make the Sesame Sprinkle, place sesame seeds in a pan at medium heat. Toast until light brown. Set aside. When cool, add sugar and a dash of salt, and stir. 

To make the Coconut Sauce, mix rice flour and water in a sauce pan. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, slowly stirring until it's the consistency of cream. Remove from heat and stir in sugar to taste. Strain the mixture to eliminate any lumps. 

Plate each cake, sprinkle with the sesame seed mix, top with dollops of coconut sauce and serve. 

NB: If the steamer has a metal lid, remove any water off the lid to prevent water from dripping onto the cakes. Cakes can be made ahead and refrigerated but should be steamed again for one minute before serving.