Sunday Brunch

Sunday morning we hosted brunch for a group of friends, all of whom work (or used to work) in the aviation industry.  Needless to say, the topic of conversation frequently turned back to shared work experiences.  Despite this, we still had time to enjoy a relaxed meal of salad, sandwiches, and dessert.


A ripe, juicy watermelon from a roadside stall in Korat province provided the inspiration for a cool, refreshing summer salad.  Trying to scoop melon balls while avoiding seeds was a challenge, though!


Based loosely on a recipe by the New York Times’ Mark Bittman, this salad features just four ingredients: watermelon, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and fresh mint.  I didn’t dress the salad with a red wine vinaigrette as Mr. Bittman suggests, because when I tasted the combination I found the flavors already beautifully balanced.


To make the main course, I first baked a batch of focaccia bread, the light, airy, rosemary infused Italian style bread.  This batch was based on a recipe in the Los Angeles Times by La Brea Bakery owner Nancy Silverton.  The problem is, the recipe is missing the last step: how long to cook the bread and at what temperature!  Critical information, methinks.  Referencing another recipe, 450 F for 15-20 minutes was sufficient.


Despite the absence of time and temperature information, the loaf turned out nicely and when paired with some herb smoked ham from Soulfood Mahanakorn, provolone cheese, and a roasted red bell pepper and onion relish I made, we had some beautiful paninis.


For dessert, I made one of Tawn’s favorites: banoffee pie.  This British import features a layer of rich toffee on a cookie crumb crust, covered with freshly sliced bananas, whipped cream, a drizzle of coffee flavored syrup, and chocolate shavings.  Instead of making a cheat version of the toffee, I made it the old fashioned way: boiling tins of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for three hours until the contents caramelize.  Care must be taken to keep the tins fully submerged, otherwise they will explode and spray your kitchen with boiling hot caramel.


The end result – my first ever attempt at this dish – had its ups and downs.  The crust hadn’t been made with enough butter so it didn’t hold up well, collapsing under the weight of the filling.  The toffee, which was insanely tasty, was too much – one can would have been plenty.  I didn’t whip the cream quite enough so it didn’t hold its shape and instead spilled through the collapsing crust.

But, despite all that, it was really tasty.  I’ll try again one of these days and refine the recipe.


Panini Extravaganza

After dining twice at ‘ino in New York and purchasing their cookbook, Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar, you knew that I would begin preparing as many panini as were necessary for me to feel confident in my understanding of them, right?


The first step was to make some of the condimenti.  Perusing the cookbook, I realized that one thing that had kept my pre-New York panini from really popping was the lack of a flavorful condiment.  Generally, a panini is made with a meat ingredient, cheese, and an acidic or sour ingredient.  Most of the time I was using mustard but that didn’t have enough impact.


I started with four main ingredients: garlic, red onions, red peppers, and a kind of chile that was the closest thing to a cherry pepper I could find.


Several of the red onions were cut into sixteenths and then tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


After about two hours at a low temperature with frequent stirring, we had a nice mass of caramelized sweet onions.  I also made some balsamic roasted garlic bulbs.


Using some of the sweet onions as a base, I chopped some of the hot chilies (mostly deseeded to keep the heat at a tolerable level) and a little bell pepper to create a relish.  Normally this is made with cherry peppers, which are mildly spicy round peppers.


Finally, I made peperonata, red peppers cut into one-inch dice and tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and chile flakes, roasted for thirty minutes under tender.



The “secret” to ‘ino’s panini is that instead of using loaf bread they use ciabatta.  Slicing the top off to make it roughly flat, they then slice the ciabatta in half length-wise.  This way each bite has some of the nice crust on the bottom.


I made a couple of loaves of ciabatti and while the flavor was good, the rise wasn’t as high as I thought necessary and the crumb was very wide with large air bubbles.  This made for a tough sandwich to grill as the fillings just worked their way through the bubbles and out the crust.

Batch #1


Italian Coppa, sweet onions, roasted garlic, arugula, and gouda cheese.


Homemade pesto, peperonata, and fresh mozzarella cheese.


The results: tasty, but a bit flat.  The pesto nearly soaked through the bread.

Batch #2


Similar to the first sandwich – except with pickled red onions instead of roasted sweet onions.  More cheese this time as the gouda seems to evaporate rather than melt.


Pesto, peperonata, mozzarella cheese (this time not fresh but lightly aged), with some chile relish for a change.


The results were better with this second batch – my ciabatti were higher thanks to folding over the dough several times during the rise.  In this picture, you can see how the rolls have had their tops sliced.  Still, though, the panini end up too flat because the bread just isn’t high enough.

Batch #3

This time a trio of sandwiches using a baguette I baked.  Since I couldn’t get the ciabatta as high as I wanted, I decided to try an alternate style of bread.


Based on a suggestion from Sheldon (with some modification), here is rocket (arugula), camembert cheese, and the chile relish.


A scrambled egg with roasted sweet onions and gouda.


A different and prettier arrangement of peperonata, mozzarella cheese, and basil pesto.


This trio turned out very nice (accompanied with some of the balsamic roasted garlic) with bread that remained substantial after grilling.  The only challenge was that since the diameter of the loaf is pretty small, there was a lot of crust to deal with.  I love crusty bread but it was sometimes a bit tough on the roof of the mouth to chew!


One thing I’ve decided is that the regular loaf bread like a boule is the most suitable for panini, despite what ‘ino does.  If/when I can make a ciabatti that has enough height or can find a place to buy decent ciabatta, then I’ll switch back to it.  In the meantime, I’ll return to my pale ale boule recipe.

Another pleasant discovery – you can use the condimenti for other purposes.


Omelet with lightly pan fried zucchini, mozzarella cheese, and roasted sweet onions.

I hope you enjoyed!


Food in the US – ‘ino

A grilled cheese sandwich.  One of the most perfect foods to eat, especially if we’re talking about a grilled cheese done in the form of an Italian panino.  (Plural: panini)  Last August I wrote about this little Italian panini shop and wine bar in Greenwich Village called ‘ino.  Opened by Jason and Jennifer Denton, protégées of Mario Batali, this is the cutest place and, though I didn’t know it beforehand, kind of a ‘big deal” in the New York Italian restaurant scene.


The place is tiny – perhaps ten two-seater tables plus a half-dozen stools at the wine bar.  With a brick wall on one side and a bar on the other, it is cozy and welcoming, a place that you just want to stop by on your way home to have a drink, snack on a few tasty bites of something, and catch up on the neighborhood gossip.  It is what I think a “third place” should look like.


The kitchen is thirty square feet, no larger than enough room for two people, two panini grills, and a toaster oven.  It is enough to make me stop complaining about my kitchen and instead think about adding some more shelves.


Tawn’s school friend Rosrin and her husband Sean recently moved to Manhattan from Boston, and had their first child, Quinn.  Being equally big foodies as Tawn and me, we met Rosrin (along with her father and her son) for an early lunch one morning.

Back at home, we regularly make panini as a weeknight dinner.  Cut from a fresh loaf of homemade whole grain bread, two grilled slices with some meat, cheese, and something tangy inside make for a healthy and wholesome meal.  Serve it up with a side of mixed greens and it transforms the ordinary sandwich into something really special.

Simple Italian Sandwiches

While eating, I discovered that ‘ino sells their cookbook, Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar.  Needless to say, I now have a copy.  Now, why do I need a recipe book for something that is, at its most basic, a grilled cheese sandwich?  Because I realize that my panini, while satisfying, are pretty plain.  I’m not getting the most out of them.  The panini I eat at ‘ino have another level of flavor complexity that elevates them to a whole other plane of existence.


For Tawn, there was one objective in mind, besides visiting with Rosrin: to have a slice of ‘ino’s truffled egg toast.  This thick-cut white bread is toasted, hollowed out, filled with egg yolks, and topped with fontina cheese.  After a few minutes of broiling, a healthy dash of truffle oil is poured on top and some sautéed asparagus is served alongside.  Available morning, noon, and night, the egg toast is the highlight of the menu.

Now that I have the cookbook, I’ve discovered the not-so-secret secret to making their egg toast.  When I tried this at home after our last trip, I put a whole egg into the middle of the toast, which was too much egg and overflowed.  Now I realize that the trick is to use two yolks and no whites. 

I’ve also learned about several spreads and sauces I can make to help spice up my panini at home: roasted peppers, olive tapenade, an balsamic roasted garlic, to name a few.  Watch for some future entries resulting from the purchase of this cookbook.


Above: Panino with pepperonata (roasted bell peppers), fresh mozzarella cheese, and basil pesto.

The panini are really exquisite at ‘ino.  Another lesson I learned is that instead of cutting slices from a loaf of bread, they use ciabatta rolls with the top sliced off.  This ensures that every bite has some crust from the bottom side.  I’ve tried doing this but so far my homemade ciabatta have so many large bubbles that fillings form the panini spill through the bread.  I’ll have to keep practicing and see if I can create (and then consistently reproduce) a ciabatta that compares to the ones made at the Blue Ribbon Bakery, the next door bread supplier for ‘ino.


Above: Scrambled egg, cheese, and sweet onions.  How’s that for a breakfast treat?

We returned for breakfast the day before we left, one last chance to enjoy one of the most fun little restaurants we’ve been to, a gem that we would love to recreate here in Krungthep.


Could you imagine this somewhere along Soi Thong Lor?  Not with people dressed like this, I think.