Sunday, July 28, 2013

Discovery Weekends: Celebrating 12 years with my Hubby at Sasa

My husband and I recently celebrated our 12th anniversary dinner. We usually either go out of town or select a good restaurant to enjoy an evening out. This year, we opted to do the latter. We revisited one of our favorite restaurants: Sasa in Walnut Creek, California.

We’ve probably have been to Sasa numerous times.  We love the classy Asian-inspired decor.  We were there on a Monday, so a lot of people were taking advantage of their extended Happy Hour, Getsuyobi Monday’s. I found the happy hour name somewhat funny since "Getsuyobi" literally is Monday (so it’s Monday Monday’s). A lot of people were taking advantage of the $5 and $10 sushi rolls and special priced appetizers. Sasa also offers an extensive sake menu and a good selection of wine and cocktails, which makes it a great happy hour choice.

We never had a bad experience at Sasa. This evening was no different. We arrived a bit early, so we sat at the bar while we waited for our table.  The bartender was very attentive, in spite of the crowd that evening. I tried one of their non-alcoholic pomegranate mojito since I was designated driver (actually refreshing and hydrating especially in a hot summer day), and we shared an order of root chips and aioli. We’re not sure what roots were included, but it was delicious. The chips were very savory, and not too salty. To be honest, it was quite addicting.

Sasa specializes on small plates: Asian tapas-style. For dinner, instead of our usual share an appetizer, entree, and dessert strategy, we decided to share a few small plates... and dessert, of course.

The pork belly skewers were a good start. It reminded me of a Filipino Lechon Kawali (Deep Fried Pork Belly) on a stick. The only thing missing was the crispy skin (and lechon sauce) – the way it is traditionally served. Maybe if it was served the Filipino way, it will exceed the cholesterol limits of the dish. This went way too fast to photograph (My fault, lechon kawali is one of my favorites).

Duck Confit on Steamed Buns

My duck confit on steamed buns had more a Chinese inspiration – like a duck confit bao. It reminded me of dimsum lunches, but elevated to a different level. Using a duck confit gave a good crispiness and the hoisin sauce and plum wine vinaigrette reminded me of its Asian roots.

Lamb Chops with Pistachio Sauce

The roasted spiced lamb chops was equally delicious. It was perfectly cooked and spiced and quite succulent.  The green pistachio sauce on it was different than what we expected, but had a refreshing twist.

Banana Macadamia Tart
We ended dinner with a Banana and Macadamia Cream Tart. I usually end an evening like this with a light sorbet, but I am a bit sorbet-ed out. The tart had the right combination of creaminess yet freshness. It was the perfect way to end the meal.
The food was plated and presented beautifully, it was inviting and you just want to dive into it. We had excellent service all through the evening. We’ve been there for lunch on a weekend and had the same experience. We love Sasa and will most likely return... soon. Hope you will also enjoy this Walnut Creek find.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mad Gourmet's Chicken Adobo Recipe

Being Filipino, I recently had a craving for chicken adobo. I thought that instead of buying it from our nearby Filipino eateries, I would be adventurous and cook it myself.

Chicken Thigh Adobo
First Attempt was not bad: Love the seared chicken skin
I’ve never cooked adobo at all. When my mom used to cook it all the time and we have a good number of Filipino eateries around us. Why mess with a good thing if it is available. However, most of these eateries probably do not use the best ingredients (I doubt that they use EVOO – I can just hear “my husband say what is that?”)

So for a change, I did not consult Google first. I have a wealth of sources for adobo, so I asked to my friends on how to make it. All of them gave me great tips: use peppercorns, use sugar instead of honey, some vinegars are stronger than others so more sugar may be added. So now I have an idea on how to do this.

The one thing that my sources did not give me was proportion: they just said soy, vinegar, sugar but not how much. I found this chicken adobo recipe in, so I used it as a base for measurements.

Skinless, Boneless Chicken adobo thighs with Seasonal Vegetables
Second attempt: Trying to elevate the plating a bit
On the choice of vinegar, I remember that we only had one or two choices for vinegar in the Philippines. My mom mostly used coconut vinegar. I had a lot of vinegar at home, but not this. I opted to use my mildest vinegar – Japanese rice vinegar. Perhaps, my next trip to the Filipino grocery store, I will pick up a bottle.

For my first batch, I used boned skinned chicken thighs. This worked really well, but it took a lot longer to cook. After the thighs were simmered, I put the thighs back in oil to get a good sear.

For my second batch, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. This was a healthier option and much easier to cook. We were both hungry, so we did not opt for a sear this time.


Mad Gourmet’s Chicken Adobo
Recipe makes about 3 servings

  • 6 Chicken Thighs
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, unsweetened (see note below)*
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (see note below)*
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Garlic Powder, to taste
  • Black Peppercorns (start with about 1 tsp and see if you want more)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves

* If you can only find sweetened rice wine vinegar, you can omit the sugar.

  1. Place chicken pieces in a large bowl. Pour vinegar and soy sauce over chicken, and season with ground black pepper and garlic powder to taste. Toss to coat. (If you can, marinate for at least 3 hours)
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sweat the garlic.
  3. Place marinated chicken pieces in hot oil. Add bay leaves and peppercorns. Cook chicken pieces until they are no longer pink and juices run clear. Some of the marinade will come from the chicken, and I found that this was enough for our dish.
  4. (Optional step) Heat oil in a separate skillet and put the chicken thighs a few minutes. Cook just enough to add a good sear to the chicken.
  5. Serve with rice and veggies.


Overall, this was a pretty good chicken adobo. Even my hubby gave it a thumbs up. I wanted to elevate the plating and make it a bit healthier, so I served it with brown rice (I would serve it with brown rice-quinoa blend, but I ran out of quinoa). I added a side of seasonal veggies to make it a more balanced meal. I only put pepper on the veggies, because I figured that the soy sauce would be salty enough.

I also was hoping that when the marinade reduces, I could get a good sear on the chicken pieces. Unfortunately, this did not happen. So, I had to cheat and put them in a separate pan. I may also half the marinade next time.

I found this recipe after I made my second batch from (translate “Filipino taste”). This site provides great information on what adobo is to Filipinos. I may incorporate components of this recipe in my next batch.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mad about minis: (Relatively) Guilt-free Chocolate-Strawberry Lava Cake

chocolate lava cake in ramekinI had a craving for cake, but it was about 9 pm and don’t feel like going out. Browsing through the Food and Drink area on Pinterest, I found this easy but tempting recipe. The great thing is I have most of the ingredients at hand. I also recently bought some almond flour and have been experimenting with whole-wheat flour, so I thought this small serving would be a great opportunity to try these out.

Single-serve Guilt-free Chocolate-Strawberry Lava Cake
Yields 1 cake


  • 1 tablespoon almond flour*
  • 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour*
  • 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour*
  • 3/4 tablespoons light brown sugar**
  • 1/2 tablespoon agave nectar**
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli’s)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon non-fat strawberry-flavored Greek yogurt***
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

* You can use 2 1/2 tablespoon of flour (any combination).
** You can use 1 1/4 tablespoon of sugar, any combination – I just like brown sugar and agave.
*** Actually, any flavor yogurt will do, but anything that blends well with chocolate will be best. In my case, this would be berry, banana, or vanilla-flavored. I used Dannon Oikos Strawberry (Fruit in the bottom, but mixed).


1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.     Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
3.     Mix milk, yogurt, and vanilla in separate bowl.
4.     Pour wet ingredients into bowl of dry ingredients and stir until combined.
5.     Grease a 7 ounce ramekin with cooking spray. Pour batter into ramekin and bake for 12-16 minutes or until edges and top of cake are set.
6.     Let cake cool for 1 minute then invert onto larger plate or bowl.


Chocolate Lava Cake Serving
This is an awesome dessert and relatively guilt-free (the original recipe is only 171 calories, not sure what mine is with all the substitutions). It really looks quite decadent especially when you serve it with whipped cream and berries. Personally, I would have preferred to serve it with strawberries, but I only had blackberries.

I will try this again. Maybe use honey instead of agave. I think you still need to use a bit of sugar though for moisture.

And when you invert the ramekin and a cake pops out, wow!  Girl who bakes is right! You will feel like a professional. Not sure about looking like one though, especially if you are baking these in your jammies.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Mad Gourmet's Lamb Burgers ala Plaka

Lamb Burgers
Gyros on a bun! (I need a better camera.)
Whoa! This is just too good not to share.

My husband had a craving for lamb burgers. Normally, he would be in charge of the kitchen in the evening, but we both were feeling a bit tired. So, I volunteered to cook while he gets the groceries.

Normally we would just have lettuce, tomatoes, Heinz 57 ketchup, and mustard (Gee, that sounds like a Jimmy Buffet song), but I thought I’d try something different. I thought a tsatziki sauce (Greek Yogurt Sauce) would be a sauce for lamb, so from memory, I asked my hubby to buy yogurt, cucumbers, lemon, and Italian parsley. He bought cilantro, though – he often gets those two mixed up. And obviously, I got it wrong (it should be mint).

I started looking through Google for a tzatziki sauce recipe, but I remembered that we bought a Greek recipe book years ago from our favorite Greek Festival in Oakland, CA. This was an awesome festival with great food made by Greek mothers and yiayias (grandmothers). It saved my iPod from being my recipe book, at least for tonight.

For some reason, I started looking through it and found the recipe for a Gyro Sandwich, Of course, I do not have oregano and thyme, but I think my Italian Seasoning has these and more. I know, I know… Greece and Italy are two different countries, but I got to make do with what I have. I think this would be a good blend to spice up the lamb.

Regarding the ingredients for the burgers, my apologies for it not being precise. I was winging it this time and was not measuring. I’ll measure it next time we make it and update this recipe.

Mad Gourmet’s Lamb Burgers ala Plaka
Adapted From “Kali Orexi! A Collection of Recipes by the Philoptochos Society of the Ascension Cathedral” (Oakland, CA)


Tsatziki sauce:
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1 6 oz container of plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 2 T of chopped cilantro (I did not have mint)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

  • Ground lamb
  • Italian seasoning, to taste (use sparingly, these herbs can be potent)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste (bring it on, just kidding)

  • Tomatoes
  • Red Onions, thinly sliced


Preparing the sauce:

  1. With a sharp knife, peel cucumbers, cut into small dice.
  2. Place in colander, sprinkle with salt. Let drain for an hour (I did not have time to do this).
  3. Pat cucumber dry with paper towels (ergo, I did not need to do this, either).
  4. Mix together garlic, cilantro, and yogurt, Season with pepper.
  5. Stir in diced cucumber.
  6. Chill while burgers are cooking.

Prepping the lamb patties:

  1. Mix lamb and seasoning together. Note: Ideally, you should “marinate” the meat for an hour or two, but we did not plan ahead.
  2. Make the patties and cook them in a hot pan (in olive oil) to our liking.
  3. Split the hamburger buns and toast lightly on one side.
  4. Spread tsatziki sauce on the buns.
  5. Add lamb patties, tomatoes, and red onions.


These lamb burgers are awesome! It reminded my husband and I of the gyros we enjoyed in numerous Greek festivals or even in Greece! The only thing missing is a cold bottle of Mythos beer and you’re back in Old Town Plaka in Athens. Opa!