Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Porta Patens Esto. Nulli Claudatur Honesto. “Be the door always open. Be it not closed to any honest person.”

First off, I’d like to apologize for the lag in posting. The last couple of weeks have been utterly crazy for me; I started up working full-time again, but didn’t quit my old job, plus I’m in the rehearsal process for a show that opens in three weeks. So I’m working 6-7 days a week and going to rehearsal, which unfortunately leaves little time to cook or enjoy a nice meal out.

But Monday I had a half day at work, so Kevin and I took the opportunity–and free time–to go out for a nice, sit-down meal. He and I have this little thing we do where we try to go to a new restaurant every month. Monday was our February opportunity though, admittedly, we cheated on this one a bit. We chose to go to Porta in Asbury Park, N.J. It was brand new to him, but I had been there. Just once. And not for dinner. I just went there after work late one night with a friend and we split a pizza and a carafe of their house red wine (more on that later.) So really, I hadn’t experienced Porta to its fullest, so it was still fair.


Porta is a pizzeria by name, but it is so much more than that once you step inside its wide white doors. The building looks like a converted garage, complete with three large bay doors on one end that open up to their patio and outdoor bar (dubbed “Porta National Park”) in the warmer seasons. Inside, Porta is arranged family-style, with large picnic-style tables rather than traditional individual seats. The back wall is lined with antiqued wooden doors, and in clear view sit their wood-fired pizza ovens, imported from Italy, with the open prep and cooking space. Porta also has a large bar, complete with a great wine list and varied beer options. (“Porta” is Italian for “door,” hence the door theme.)

By night, Porta becomes a bar and nightclub complete with a DJ, live music and dancing. But by day (well, Monday evening), it had a unique, modern-classic feel, pumping standards through the sound system rather than Top 40 dance beats. It mixed sophistication with a backyard feel.

But enough of that. Really, this is about the food. And the food is no less unique than the space itself. While the menu is small by normal standards, its anything but boring. Mostly appetizers and pizza with a few pasta options, Porta keeps it simple while keeping it special.

For appetizers, we ordered two salads to share: The Winter Caprazy and the Cavolo Nero. The Winter Caprazy is exactly what it sounds like: a seasonal take on the classic Caprese salad. This one included slow roasted tomatoes, black garlic and fresh oregano.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had black garlic or fresh oregano (only dried.) I’ve been missing out. Black garlic, while it looks a bit scary, is a sweeter, richer cousin to what we know. And fresh oregano blows the dried stuff out of the water. Upon eating it, I got that distinctive bite and slight hit to the sinuses that confirmed I was indeed eating oregano, but the flavor was so much milder and fresher than its spice rack counterpart. Where has this been all my life? Needless to say, everything worked together pretty well, with the roasted tomatoes imparting a sweeter, heartier flavor than the raw version. I don’t love roasted tomatoes, but this definitely made a pretty good winter version of one of my favorite classic Italian salads.

However, I don’t think the Winter Caprazy can hold a candle in creativity next to the Cavolo Nero. Tuscan kale, shaved sunchoke and watermelon radish with garlic crostini and parmigiano reggiano in a lemon-garlic dressing. This was my first introduction to kale, and what a way to start! This definitely makes me want to eat kale more often. My only complaint about this salad would be that the toppings (sunchoke, watermelon radish, garlic croutons) were a bit too scarce. As good as the kale was, it was a bit boring without the accouterments and we left some on the plate once we finished everything else. But it was delicious. I love radishes, so this was a treat to me, especially with how beautiful shaved watermelon radishes are.

Sliced watermelon radish. Photo via SmartSeeds

I need to find some watermelon radishes and use them in everything I make. Everything. They taste great, and they’re gorgeous! (New goal.)

Moving on…

Kevin, being the pizza-lover that he is, obviously could not resist the major part of Porta’s menu: the pizza. He ordered an Italian Stallion with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sweet Italian sausage and long hots. (I could insert a joke here about him being an Italian stallion, but I’ll pass for his sake.)

As much as he loves pizza, Kevin hates blue cheese, but he bit the bullet and tried it on this pizza. And he didn’t hate it. Overall, he thought the pizza tasted great, but the generous drizzle of olive oil (and probably the grease from the sausage) made it a little soggy for his liking. He boxed half up to take home and said he’ll try to crisp it up in the oven before eating the leftovers.

I was in a pasta kind of mood that night, so I went ahead and ordered off their small, but not limited pasta menu. I went a little off the beaten path with a wild boar ragu with rosemary papardelle, rosemary, sage, red wine and parmigiano reggiano. If you hadn’t told me this was wild boar, I wouldn’t have known. But I’m so glad I tried it. It’s, unsurprisingly, very similar to pork, but a bit heartier and beefier. Sort of like a delicious pork-beef hybrid all stewed up and served over pasta.

Oh right, the pasta. Between the rosemary papardelle and the rosemary in the sauce, I expected a double whammy of in-your-face rosemary. But instead, it was subtle and underlying and I had to really look for it at times. Still, I ate almost the whole thing. Hearty, warm and inviting. It almost made me forget it was nearly 60 degrees that afternoon.

Pizza; Photo via http://www.pizzaporta.com/

Not the Italian Stallion, but another one of Porta'a pizzas. Photo courtesy of Porta Pizza.

And of course, what better to complement a great meal than some house red wine? Porta has a nice Italian wine list, but the standout is their house-made red and white wines, which can be ordered by the glass or the carafe. I’ve been here twice and only ever had one wine–the house red, a Cabernet. I thought about switching it up at dinner, but I figured, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Next time I’ll have to try their house white and eventually branch out to their other wine selections.

Kevin went a more traditionally American route–pizza and beer. Porta seems like the kind of place that would have tons of local and craft beers on hand, but most of their beer list is surprisingly generic. They have a few crafts, including three varieties of Six Point. Kevin had the “Bengali Tiger,” which he said was very pine-y with a citrus finish. He equated it to Pine Sol at one point, which I assumed was a bad thing, but he seemed to enjoy it. I picked up on the pineyness but not as much on the citrus. However, the back of the can did quote William Blake’s “The Tyger.” (Plus one for Six Point.)

Porta’s minimalistic atmosphere and inspired take on locally-sourced ingredients may be far too hip and trendy for some, but I actually found it a relaxing and enjoyable Monday evening. Is Porta a bit hipster? Yes. Are the food, drinks and service worth it despite that? Absolutely. It’s nestled on an obscure little corner of Asbury Park, right between the bustling downtown and the boardwalk and offers a casual retreat that’s still leaps beyond traditional pizzeria fare. So, if you’re looking for an original, quality meal in a quaint, casual environment, head for Porta.

Porta also runs several specials throughout the week, like gluten-free pizza every Tuesday and a 4-course family dinner every Sunday night. They weekend brunch every Saturday and Sunday and, of course, the club/bar scene at night.

I’ll have to check out the nightlife sometime and see if it lives up to the weekday fare. Come summertime I’ll have to give this another go too, of course.

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In honor of National Margarita Day…

It’s time to celebrate! Today is National Margarita Day. (I know, right? There’s an actual holiday for that?!) In honor of this wonderous culinary (beverage?) celebration, I’m revisiting my favorite margarita recipes. (These originally appeared in my Superbowl post, but they’re good any day of the year, especially National Margarita Day.)

Giants blue margaritas

2 parts gold tequila (Jose Cuervo is my go-to)
1 part Blue Curacao
1 part fresh lime juice
1 part lemon-lime soda
1/2 part Rose’s lime juice
Agave syrup to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher or shake together in a glass and add agave syrup to sweeten to taste. For a large group, my one part was 1 cup. For individual margaritas, one part can equal one or two ounces. In that case, the recipe would call for 2 ounces of tequila, 1 ounce of Blue Curacao, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, 1 ounce of lemon-lime soda, 1/2 an ounce of Rose’s lime juice and agave to taste.

If you want to make the same margarita but you don’t want it to be blue, simply substitute triple sec for the Blue Curacao.

This was adapted from my usual margarita recipe, which are pineapple-cilantro margaritas, inspired by the flavor profile of pineapple salsa:

Pineapple-cilantro margaritas

2 parts gold tequila
1 part triple sec
1 part fresh lime juice
1 part pineapple juice
Agave syrup to taste
Fresh cilantro

Muddle some fresh cilantro at the bottom of a glass. Mix all other ingredients together in a pitcher or in the glass and pour over the cilantro. (Note: do not add the cilantro directly to the pitcher; add cilantro to each glass individually. As the margaritas sit, the cilantro flavor intensifies, so if you leave the fresh cilantro in the pitcher, it will eventually become over-infused with the cilantro flavor.)

Like I said, this was inspired by the flavor profile of cilantro salsa. I’m not a fan of spicy drinks, though, so I do not add any jalapeños to my margaritas. If you like the heat, though, you can definitely shake a few jalapeño slices into the cocktail for the full pineapple salsa effect. Similarly, you can also exclude the cilantro if you’re not a fan and still have delicious pineapple margaritas.

If you like salt with your margarita, salt glasses as follows: on a small plate or saucer, pour a bit of Rose’s or fresh lime juice, enough to just cover the bottom of the plate. You can also run a small slice of fresh lime along the rim of the glass to dampen it. Cover the bottom of another small plate with Kosher salt. Dip the rim of the glass in the lime juice, then in the salt to cover the rim. Pour in your margarita and enjoy!

If anyone tries any of these recipes or has any of their own, please be sure to let me know! Happy National Margarita Day!

More margarita recipes from around the Web

Snickers, the 250-cal version

Snickers Purchased Feb. 2005 in Atlanta, GA, USA

Image via Wikipedia

This has the potential to be some good news out of the candy world: Mars, Inc. will stop selling chocolate with more than 250 calories by the end of the year, according to Reuters and the Huffington Post.

Mars, Inc. makes many chocolate-coated favorites like M&Ms, Twix and Snickers bars. Personally, I think this may be great news because, frankly, I love Snickers bars (who doesn’t really?) And if I can get a Snickers for fewer calories, then that’s great.

Now, only time will tell how this will play out. Will Mars actually start changing its recipes and formulas, or is this really just another “smaller portion, same price” scenario in disguise? (Unfortunately that has been quite a popular money-saving trend for food producers as of late, and that unfortunately seems to be the route Mars is going based on other news stories [see below].)

But a change is a change, and any nutritionally-driven change is good news. So, for now, I say +1 for Mars. Way to go!

Read the full Huffington Post Food article here.

According to the Snickers Web site, a Snickers bar is currently 280 calories with 14g of fat (5g saturated) and 30g of sugar.

The North American Twix wrapper as of 2010.

Image via Wikipedia

Two Twix bars (or one package) has 250 calories, 12g of fat (9g saturated) and 24g of sugar, according to the Mars Healthy Living Web site.

Interestingly, the 3 Musketeers bar, so often marketed as a “light” and seemingly healthier alternative to other chocolate bars, clocks in at 260 calories, 8g fat (5g saturated) and a whopping 40g of sugar, according to the same site. You’re better off with the Twix.

Now, if Mars can get more than calories down we’d really be talking. (5 grams of saturated fat  and 40 grams of sugar in a “light” candy bar?!) But this is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully the rest (and other companies) will follow suit.

Survey says: Nutritious fast food takes the cake!

A new survey of 100,000 diners from research firm Sandleman and Associates names the top ten fast food restaurants, ranked in order of customer favorites. The top four results are undoubtedly healthier options than what most of us think of when we say “fast food:”

4. Jersey Mike’s Subs
3. Chipotle
2. Panera
1. Chik-fil-A

Chick-Fil-A

Chick-Fil-A (Photo credit: Link576)

While not entirely virtuous, these chains (and similar ones) are known for healthier food options (subs; fresh food; salads; sandwiches; grilled chicken; vegetables; organic, natural foods). It’s a promising turn in American fast food society to see these new “favorites” over the old standbys of McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC and the like. (None of those were on the list, by the way.)

To see the full top ten list, check out the full article on Huffington Post Food:

Best Fast Food Chains: Major Survey Says Chick-Fil-A, Panera, Chipotle Are America’s Favorites

Today is National Bagel and Lox Day! The Jewish girl that I am (from the New York area, nonetheless), I am loving this food holiday! I think I know what I will have to stop for on the way home today. Happy National Bagel and Lox Day! And thank you to Foodimentary for bringing this holiday to my attention.

Foodimentary - National Food Holidays

Celebrating February 9

Daily Five Food Finds: Bagels

1. The word Bagel is often thought to have derived from the ‘buckle‘ shape it has, but actually it is from a Yiddish word ‘beygl‘ meaning ring or hole.

2. Bagels are one of the few breads that are boiled then baked. creating the sought inside while retaining a crisp exterior.

3. Over a Billion dollars a year are spent on bagels in the US alone.

4. The top selling bagels are Plain(#1), Whole Wheat(#2) and Sesame Seed(#3)

5. Originally bagels were baked and sold by street vendors. They would have been carried around on a long string draped over the sellers’ shoulders. (Link to drawing)

What’s a lox? Lox is thinly sliced smoked salmon

Bagel & Lox are typically bagels with cream cheese, onions,  and smoked salmon. Other variations often include  tomatoes, cucumbers, capers, and/or scrambled eggs

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Semi-homemade Superbowl

I know this is a few days late (the Superbowl was Sunday, after all), but I had to come right off the fun and pull a double, so here it is now.

This past Sunday, I threw a small Superbowl party for a few of my friends and family. It was a lot of fun, but to spare my sanity I took a semi-homemade approach to the party.Cover of "Bobby Flay's Grill It!"

To start, the menu:

Chipotle-honey glazed chicken wings (courtesy of Bobby Flay’s Grill It!. Recipe to follow.)
Plain baked chicken wings with three sauces: barbecue, sweet Thai chile, chipotle-honey
Homemade pizza
Giants blue margaritas
Snacks and appetizers: veggies and dip; chips, pretzels, salsa; mixed cookies

The first “homemade” part of the night was the chipotle chicken wings. It’s a recipe from Bobby Flay’s Grill It! cookbook that I’ve made before and really, really enjoyed. The original recipe calls for grilled wings, but since it’s February in New Jersey, I baked the wings instead. They were still delicious.

For anyone that doesn’t know, a chipotle pepper is a smoked jalapeño. It’s a bit spicy and quite smoky. You can find them canned in the grocery store in adobo sauce. The recipe calls for pureed chipotles–I used my bullet blender to puree them quickly and with minimal mess. It took about 30 seconds. It also calls for ancho chile powder. An ancho chile is a dried poblano and also takes on a bit of a smoky quality, but it, too is on the milder side of the chile spectrum.

Image courtesy of Clarkson/Potter Publishers and Bobby Flay's "Grill It!"

Courtesy of Clarkson/Potter Publishers and Bobby Flay's "Grill It!"

The recipe also includes a step for trimming and dividing the wings, but I didn’t need to take that step. I used a combination of frozen wings and packaged fresh, divided wings. Both were from Perdue and had no added hormones or chemicals, and both saved me a lot of time!

Chipotle-honey glazed chicken wings with toasted sesame seeds and green onion

1 cup honey
3 tablespoons pureed canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons ancho chile powder
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (The recipe called for canola, I used vegetable because I had it on hand)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
3 pounds chicken wings
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (see below)*
Green onions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Whisk together the honey, chipotle puree, mustard, 1 tablespoon of the ancho chile powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small bowl. Divide the glaze evenly between two bowls–a small one for brushing the glaze and a large one for tossing the wings later.
3. Stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons of ancho chile powder with the coriander, cumin and paprika in a small bowl.
4. Rinse the chicken wings under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the tips off the wings if necessary and discard (or freeze and use for chicken stock.) Cut each wing into two pieces through the joint, if necessary.
5. Place wings in a large bowl, add the spice rub and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and place wings on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-11 minutes until golden brown. Turn wings over and brush with the small bowl of glaze. Place wings back in oven for 15-20 minutes, brushing with the glaze every few minutes and turning once during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
6. Remove wings from the oven, toss with the remaining glaze and place back on the baking sheet. Turn the oven to broil and broil the wings until glaze caramelizes and the skin is crispy.
7. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions.

*To toast sesame seeds: put a single layer of seeds in a frying or saute pan and toast over medium-low heat, shaking the pan every couple of minutes to prevent burning, until lightly golden brown and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.

Make ahead: Follow the recipe up through Step 5, then put wings aside or refrigerate. Before serving, reheat wings in the oven at 375 degrees, then broil.

These wings were a hit and cleared off the plate completely. But, I have friends who are somewhat picky eaters, so to accommodate everyone’s taste, I also made plain baked wings (just salt and pepper) with three dipping sauces. I bought bottled barbecue sauce (Jack Daniel’s Master Blend). I put out the remainder of the chipotle-honey sauce, and I whipped together a Thai chile sauce. I used the leftover sweet chile sauce from the last post’s Thai lettuce wraps and added some store-bought sweet chile sauce to fortify it and make it a bit thicker. (Mine was more like a vinaigrette; the added bottled sauce was thicker and more gelatinous, so together they made a good dipping sauce.)

My boyfriend Kevin also made his “famous” pizza, which is a semi-homemade masterpiece. It uses store-bought or pizza shop dough (you can walk into pretty much any pizzeria and ask for their dough. They’ll usually sell it to you for just a few dollars, and if you know it’s a good pizza place, you know you’re getting good dough.), jarred tomato sauce and a store-bought shredded mozzarella mix. Of course, you could certainly make the dough and sauce from scratch and shred your own cheese, but this way is quick and still yummy.

Kevin’s “famous” semi-homemade pizza

1 package store-bought pizza dough or pizzeria dough (I like the stuff in the refrigerated section that comes in the bag, not the frozen or canned ones)
1 jar tomato sauce (this time, we used Ragu 7-herb tomato sauce–the more flavor, the better)
1-2 packages pizza cheese blend (I prefer 4 or more–this one had mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and Romano)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat out pizza dough as per instructions on the package and stretch onto a baking sheet. Bake for 2 minutes to par-bake the crust. Remove from oven, spread with sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Add any spice you desire (oregano, garlic, basil, rosemary, Italian spice blend, etc.) Add any toppings you would like, as well (pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, peppers, the list goes on.) Bake pizza at 375 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes or until you start to smell the spices. Remove from oven and let cool at least five minutes before cutting into slices.

In addition to some store-bought snacks and desserts and plenty of beer, I made one signature cocktail for the game–Giants blue margaritas. (I’m from New Jersey; it’s no secret who we were rooting for.) The blue color can be off-putting, but this recipe uses no food coloring, just orange-flavored blue liquor in place of the usual orange-flavored triple sec, so the taste is very similar. When I usually make margaritas I use pineapple juice as a sweetener, but the yellow juice would have turned the color green, so I had to come up with a clear alternative in the form of lemon-lime soda. It also added a bit of fun effervescence.

Giants blue margaritas

2 parts gold tequila (Jose Cuervo is my go-to)
1 part Blue Curacao
1 part fresh lime juice
1 part lemon-lime soda
1/2 part Rose’s lime juice
Agave syrup to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher or shake together in a glass and add agave syrup to sweeten to taste. For a large group, my one part was 1 cup. For individual margaritas, one part can equal one or two ounces. In that case, the recipe would call for 2 ounces of tequila, 1 ounce of Blue Curacao, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, 1 ounce of lemon-lime soda, 1/2 an ounce of Rose’s lime juice and agave to taste.

If you want to make the same margarita but you don’t want it to be blue, simply substitute triple sec for the Blue Curacao.

This was adapted from my usual margarita recipe, which are pineapple-cilantro margaritas, inspired by the flavor profile of pineapple salsa:

Pineapple-cilantro margaritas

2 parts gold tequila
1 part triple sec
1 part fresh lime juice
1 part pineapple juice
Agave syrup to taste
Fresh cilantro

Muddle some fresh cilantro at the bottom of a glass. Mix all other ingredients together in a pitcher or in the glass and pour over the cilantro. (Note: do not add the cilantro directly to the pitcher; add cilantro to each glass individually. As the margaritas sit, the cilantro flavor intensifies, so if you leave the fresh cilantro in the pitcher, it will eventually become over-infused with the cilantro flavor.)

Like I said, this was inspired by the flavor profile of cilantro salsa. I’m not a fan of spicy drinks, though, so I do not add any jalapeños to my margaritas. If you like the heat, though, you can definitely shake a few jalapeño slices into the cocktail for the full pineapple salsa effect.

If you like salt with your margarita, salt glasses as follows: on a small plate or saucer, pour a bit of Rose’s or fresh lime juice, enough to just cover the bottom of the plate. You can also run a small slice of fresh lime along the rim to dampen it. Cover the bottom of another small plate with Kosher salt. Dip the rim of the glass in the lime juice, then in the salt to cover the rim. Pour in your margarita and enjoy!

All in all, the semi-homemade approach to the Superbowl was a success both with my guests and with me. By the time everyone arrived, we had delicious food for them and I was able to fully enjoy myself since everything was done. Made from scratch can be great, but when it comes to entertaining, sometimes it’s more important to have the time to enjoy yourself. The best part is, these recipes are great any day of the week, not just for the Superbowl. Enjoy! (And by the way, congratulations New York Giants!)

Thai-Style Lettuce Wraps: It all started with a jar of peanut butter

A jar of spicy peanut butter, to be exact. My mom bought Kevin a jar of Peanut Butter & Co. “The Heat is On” peanut butter as a stocking stuffer this holiday season, and ever since, I’ve been dying to make some kind of Thai-style peanut butter sauce with it.

Peanut Butter & Co. "The Heat is On" spicy peanut butterBetween the two of us (Kevin and I), we decided to make Thai-style lettuce wraps inspired by the ones at the Cheesecake Factory. (Side note: yes, I know it’s a chain, yes I know most of its menu is terrible for you. Nonetheless, those lettuce wraps are awesome. And Kevin’s favorite.) I found various recipes online for all the components, and made some changes along the way. Inevitably, with that many parts, there were some successes–and some failures. (See: peanut sauce. More on that later.)

As I said, there were several components to this recipe. So, to start, here’s the breakdown:

Boston or bibb lettuce leaves (for the wraps)
Thai-marinated grilled chicken
Spicy peanut sauce
Thai sweet chili sauce
Coconut curry noodles
Marinated cucumbers

Extras:
Chopped green onions
Cilantro
Rainbow salad

For many of these, I used recipes based on the actual lettuce wraps served at the restaurant. The rest I found on other Web sites, and some I tweaked.

First things first, make the marinade for the chicken and let the it sit while you prepare other components.

Thai-marinated grilled chicken

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (I used about 1.1 lbs)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced (or pressed)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water
Pour all ingredients (except chicken) into a large shallow dish or large plastic zip-top bag. (I used the bag method.) Add chicken and stir or toss to coat. Set in fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.Marinating chickem
To cook, remove chicken from marinade and place on either a grill, grill pan or indoor grill (I used a George Foreman grill.) If you don’t have access to a grill, go ahead and cook in a pan. During cooking, brush or baste with extra marinade. If using a traditional grill or pan, turn chicken halfway through cooking (just a few minutes on each side, depending on thickness of chicken.) If using a George Foreman or some other kind of press, leave in to cook for about 5 minutes, or until completely white inside.
Remove from cooktop and let rest for a few minutes before cutting into small strips.
Cooked chicken
While the chicken marinates, go   ahead and start making the other components of the dish. I made the marinated  cucumbers next so they could sit in the fridge for some time, as well. (Note: This recipe came from the blog “Meemo’s Kitchen” and I followed it exactly as is. And they were delicious! The marinade would actually make a great salad dressing on its own.)
Marinated cucumbers
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper
1 large cucumber seeded
In a small pan, combine vinegar, sugar, water and salt; cook over medium heat, stirring, until liquid boils and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Peel or score cucumber, if desired and cut lengthwise into quarters; then cut quarters crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place in a serving bowl, pour marinade over cucumbers; stir to blend. If made ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Cucumber marinade/dressing

Now the chicken and the cucumbers are marinating and its time to move on to the sauces and the noodles. First, the spicy peanut sauce:
I adapted this recipe from two recipes that I combined, and I added the spicy peanut butter in addition to the regular to give it more of a kick. I actually had to make this sauce twice, though, as the first attempt was an utter disaster. (Yes, I see the irony there.) When I first followed the recipe as it read, the sauce became thick and caramel-like and I had to add water and vinegar as it cooked to bring it to a sauce-like consistency. Then the sauce separated and took on a very unpleasant texture, and it was too spicy for my taste. (Originally I used half spicy peanut butter and half regular. If you like heat, you can still try that ratio, but for me it was too much.)
The second time around with the new adapted recipe worked much better, though the sauce still thickened more than I would have liked as it sat and was not nearly as smooth as I expected. By the time we ate, it had only a slightly thinner consistency than regular peanut butter. It tasted great, but we had to spread it on the lettuce rather than drizzle it over. So, this is the adapted recipe I used, but I’m still searching for a better recipe for a smoother, thinner peanut sauce. (If anyone knows of one, please pass it along!) In the meantime, I’ll have to use trial-and-error.

Failed peanut sauce--Take 1

Spicy peanut sauce
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3/4 tablespoon spicy peanut butter (or 1 full tablespoon to up the spice)
3 1/4 tablespoons regular peanut butter (or 3 to 1)
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Continue stirring over heat until mixture is combined and smooth and thoroughly heated through. Remove from heat and transfer to serving bowl.
Of course, if you want this recipe less spicy or don’t have spicy peanut butter on hand (because, really, I know it’s not common to), use 4 tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) regular peanut butter and add spices if desired. Try chili powder or chili oil, garlic, cayenne, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes and/or ginger.

Peanut sauce Take 2--Success!

The second sauce, the sweet chili sauce, was also a tweaked recipe. I couldn’t find any red hot chiles in the produce aisle of my supermarket or any plain red chili paste. So we bought one Serrano chili and one green long hot. Most recipes also call for cornstarch as a thickener to create a more gelatinous texture, but we didn’t use it and created a more vinaigrette-style sauce. We grated down the chiles to create something almost paste-like and so there were no large pieces of chili since the original recipe I worked from called for chili paste.
Thai sweet chili sauce
1 fresh Serrano chili, grated
1 fresh long hot pepper, grated
2 teaspoons minced (or pressed) garlic
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Combine everything except cilantro in a small sauce pan and mix. Once blended, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool and stir in cilantro. Sweet chili sauce
If you want the thickened sauce, add 4 teaspoons of cornstarch to the recipe with everything else in the saucepan. As it cooks down, the cornstarch will thicken the sauce to create more of a dipping sauce than a dressing.
Finally, the last component of the dish is the coconut curry noodles. Again, I adapted this recipe by paring it way down, but it still came out tasty. I made mine with only part of the noodles in the package, but I ended up with way more sauce than noodles and they were a bit over-saturated, so I recommend using the entire package to create a more even noodle-to-sauce ratio.
Coconut curry noodles
1 package flat rice or egg noodles (I used rice noodles)
1 tablespoon minced (or pressed) garlic
1 cup coconut milk + extra for topping
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable)
1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon curry powder (based on taste)
1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon soy sauce (again based on taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice
Coconut curry noodles
Separate noodles in hot water, as per instructions on the packet. Drain & keep warm. In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk on low heat. When it begins to simmer, add in the remaining ingredients. Heat and stir approximately 2 minutes to heat through. Stir in the noodles, drain any excess sauce and serve. If desired, toss with more coconut milk before serving. (I felt it needed more coconut flavor, so I added some more coconut milk and it helped.)
To serve the lettuce wraps, tear full leaves off of a head of Boston lettuce for the wraps and fill with the ingredients however you’d like. Add some bagged rainbow salad (carrot, broccoli, cabbage) or any other vegetables you’d like–bean sprouts, grated carrots and shredded cabbage would work well. Chop plenty of green onions and fresh cilantro for topping.
All in all, it took about two hours from start to finish, including remaking the peanut sauce. It was a lot of work, but so worth it in the end. All of the components of the dish work wonderfully together, and I really believe that is the point. Some of the parts tasted only okay on their own (I kept trying to figure out what the noodles were missing, and the sauces were pretty spicy) but when put together, magic. Crunchy, fresh, spicy, sweet and exotic.

It took all this...

It was a lot of work and time, and I can still see the appeal of going out for Thai food, but it was definitely an experience, and when you consider the amount of leftovers I have (at least one or two more meals’ worth), the time involved doesn’t seem so bad. Also, some of the individual components can make good meals on their own–the marinated chicken would be delicious with just some veggies and rice; the cucumber marinade would make a great dressing. So go ahead and try making some Thai-style food at home. It’s refreshing, delicious and fun!

...to get this. The finished product. Yum!

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