Every so often, Khun Vic invites friends over for a get-together at his apartment. Sometimes it is a poker party, but seeing as how so few of us actually play poker, more often than not it is a simple get-together. Most people contribute by bringing something snacky or a bottle of something alcoholic. No surprise, I contribute something cooked.
Last time we attended a party that I didn’t host, there was too much of the salty, snacky, sweet stuff and nothing substantial. By the end of the evening, Tawn and I were feeling yucky and not because of the drinking. If you invite people over pretty early in the evening, there should be at least something quasi-substantial (cheese and crackers with fruit, for example) to fill your stomach.
Taking matters in my own hand, I bowled over Vic’s objections (“I didn’t want to have to put out utensils or plates…”) and insisted that I would bring some salads. I’m kidding, of course, about the “bowling over” thing. Vic and I talked a couple of times and, ultimately, I wore him down and he agreed that some substantial food would improve his party.
Turning to Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties, I found some perfect recipes. Ina believes that parties should be as much fun for a host as for the host’s guests, so she emphasizes recipes that are either easy to prepare or that can be prepared in advance. Since this wasn’t my party and I was a guest, not a host, “prepared in advance” was critical but “easy” wasn’t.
Chinese Chicken Salad
Sure, I know it isn’t politically correct because the Chinese just don’t eat chicken salad like this. But that’s the ubiquitous name of the salad that is dressed with a soy sauce – peanut better – sesame seed oil dressing, which makes it sound more like satay dipping sauce than anything else.
Step 1: Cook the chicken. Ina suggests thighs, which have more fat and, therefore, more flavor. She also suggests roasting the thighs in the oven with the skin on. I like thighs, too, but went with breasts as they were less expensive and I tried poaching just for a change of pace. Below left.
Step 2: Prepare the other ingredients. The body of the salad contains scallions, red bell peppers, and blanched asparagus spears. I blanched the asparagus in the liquid I had used to poach the chicken breasts. Water chestnuts would have been a lovely addition, too, but I didn’t have any. Above right
The sauce was a mixture of the aforementioned soy sauce, peanut butter, and sesame oil, with cider vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper to taste, and some good-quality vegetable oil to smooth the whole thing out.
Step 3: Combine. Afterwards, I’d recommending refrigerating for a few hours to let the flavors mix and develop.
The second dish was Pasta, Pesto and Peas. For her recipe Ina suggests that you can “cheat” and use store-bought pesto to save time. But with a large bunch of fresh sweet basil selling for only 7 baht – about $.023 – how can I not make fresh pesto? Plus a little extra for the freezer!
Step 1: Prepare all the ingredients. This includes your basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and walnuts, and Parmesan cheese for the pesto. Wash the basil leaves and remove them from the stems as the stems will add a rather chunky texture to your pesto.
Step 2: Make the pesto. This is super-easy. The hardest part is washing, drying, and removing the basil leaves from the stems. You start with a small amount of olive oil in the base of the blender and then grind the pine nuts, walnuts and garlic into a paste. From there you start to add the leaves a small amount at a time, adding a little olive oil as necessary to maintain consistency. At the end you can season with some lemon juice (to keep the bright green color) and salt and pepper to taste.
Below, the finished pesto. Lovely, isn’t it?
Step 3: Gather your remaining ingredients. You’ll need lemon juice, mayonnaise, frozen peas and spinach, and of course cooked pasta for the rest of the salad.
You take your pesto and put it back into a blender or food processor (if you made it from scratch, no need to have taken it out in the first place) and add the spinach, making sure to squeeze excess water out of the spinach.
Puree it to blend the spinach into the pesto then add some lemon juice and some mayonnaise. Blend until mixed. This is the sauce for your pasta salad.
Step 4: Mix together. Your pasta is mixed with the pesto-mayonnaise mixture and then add the peas, grated Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. You can also throw in a few handfuls of toasted pine nuts for garnish and texture.
Those two salads took me about two hours to make, but I wasn’t entirely focused on the cooking and was multi-tasking. The results were lovely and perfect for any party.
What’s especially good is that the pasta dish is entirely vegan so it is good for any crowd. And it tastes great, too. Now, if you wanted to add some grilled chicken to it then you’d really have something going. But then the vegans would be unhappy. So would the vegetarians. And the chicken.
Left, Tawn is ready to go to the party in his “school boy” outfit.
We headed out on Saturday evening and arrived just a few minutes late, what we would describe as “fashionable”. Since Vic lives in the Asoke Place complex where we lived until this past December, the guards still recognized us and gave us a resident parking pass instead of the usual guest parking ticket. No waiting to have our host come down to get us as the clerk working the front desk wai’d us and buzzed us in. So nice to be known!
Vic is from San Francisco and is a man who defies stereotypes. There is nothing more demonstrative of this than his big-ass toolbox that he keeps on his balcony, padlocked so his maid won’t steal a monkey wrench. Would you believe that he had this shipped over from the United States when he moved here? It must have weighed as much as everything else he shipped, combined. Next time I need a tool, I know who I’m invited over for lunch.
Above, the party-goers. Sadly, we’re lacking in diversity when it comes to gender and sexual orientation. I’m trying to work on that, but it is a slow process. Since some of these people may not be familiar to you, I’ll let you know who they are. Back row, standing from left: Russ, Jay, Markus, Vic, Brian, Piyawat and Stuart. Middle section, seated from left: Francois, Chairat, Ken and Mark. Front group from left: Tam, Darrin (visiting from SF), Tawn, Kobfa, and Suchai (standing on right).