March 30, 2015

green salad days

Now that spring time is officially here again, the warmer sunny days made me think of colorful refreshing green salads. I love using a combination of baby greens, sometimes adding other varieties like romaine, spinach and arugula. For starters, I like serving green salads for lunch or dinner most days now.

Very fresh Greek salad, shown above and below, is one of the easiest to put together and one of the healthiest too. The combination of crunchy salad greens and other vegetables, salty feta cheese and olives tossed together with a light vinaigrette, is something I truly crave. The vinaigrette may be mixed ahead and stored in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend well. 

Another one of our regular favorites is Cobb salad, which is more filling with the addition of ham or other deli meats. I used pastrami for my version then added more crunchy vegetables and avocado which is usually present in traditional Cobb salad. Shown from left to right in the picture below, shredded red radishes, shredded carrots, diced cucumbers, diced feta cheese, diced tomatoes, sliced red onions, pastrami strips, avocado slices and sliced black olives were arranged over a bed of romaine and spring salad greens.The dressing may be a simple ranch or other creamy mixtures.

March 25, 2015

pork carnitas

Using the same basic cut of pork and the same braising technique, I just have to say that pork carnitas can very well be the Mexican version of Filipino adobo :-) The flavors are quite different though but both dishes are very easy and quick to make.

I like that the carnitas were broiled in the oven and not pan fried in oil like with certain versions of adobo. I'm afraid I made these carnitas more Filipino than Mexican because I even had it with steamed jasmine rice rather than with the more traditional tortillas :-) The convenience of using a slow cooker for this dish makes it even more appealing for everyday meals.

I just had to take a closer shot of the tender chunks of pork

Served with thinly sliced jalapenos, serranos and another kind that resembled habaneros but were red and not orange, shown above. Sliced green onions and some cilantro were served on the same plate.

March 23, 2015

strawberry cake

I recently baked this fresh strawberry cake to celebrate and welcome the coming of spring. Fresh strawberries have been showing up at the grocery stores, some were still on the tart side but they were perfect to use for a sweet cake like this. Thanks to Once Upon a Chef for the idea. All I did was follow her exact recipe and instructions. The cake turned out lovely, as shown above. 

Even less than perfect strawberries may be used, just wash and dry them thoroughly and slice. Set aside the strawberry halves while mixing the cake batter.

I used about a pound of strawberries to top the cake before baking. Just lay them out evenly on top of the thick cake batter. They don't really have to be pressed well into the batter, as I later found out, some of the strawberry halves got buried inside the cake. I used a 9" round cake pan which worked out just fine. I made the sides taller with extra strips of parchment paper just in case the cake rose higher. It turned out I didn't have to do that after all.

I like that the batter was thick so it was easier to arrange the strawberries on top and yet the texture of the cake turned out moist and fluffy. Just avoid overmixing the batter. For the recipe, just head to Once Upon a Chef website and search for Simple Summer Strawberry Cake recipe.

a slice of the sweet strawberry cake

March 16, 2015

pistachio sansrival

The more common version of this Filipino cake dessert is made with cashews instead of pistachios. It's basically made with crisp layers of nut-filled meringue and buttercream. The cake is very rich and high in calories but it has a remarkable flavor enough to make me crave it every now and then.

The procedure is not that complicated. It just takes time to prepare all the ingredients. Baking the meringue is also time consuming as they need to baked until crispy and almost dry. Shown above (1) measuring the finely chopped toasted pistachios (2) making the meringue and folding in the chopped pistachios (3) baking the meringue layers until crispy (4) golden brown and crispy the meringue layers just out of the oven.

The buttercream requires room temperature butter and all the reserved eggyolks. A candy thermometer is helpful to determine the correct syrup consistency without the guesswork. The amount of butter makes this cake extra rich and delicious!

As soon as the buttercream is done and ready, spread it on the layers then sandwich the layers together. The meringue layers are very fragile and may break easily, but they may still be used by patching them up together.

The edges of the meringue rounds may be trimmed to make them more even, but they can also be left irregularly shaped for a more rustic appearance, as shown above.

After assembling the layers, spread the remaining buttercream evenly on top and all around the cake. Sprinkle the top and side of the cake with more finely chopped pistachios. The cake may be made ahead and stored in the freezer until serving time. Enjoy as a dessert or a special treat with your favorite cup of hot tea.

Based on Heny Sison's Pistachio Sansrival recipe, cashew nuts may also be substituted for the pistachios.

February 25, 2015

quick pickled cucumbers

Sometime ago, while browsing the vegetable section at a local grocery for ideas, I found some salad cucumbers that looked so fresh and crisp. Aside from adding them to our usual Greek and other green salads, I thought of making pickles with them using just a few ingredients. For the dressing, just combine apple cider and rice vinegar together to make about 1/2 cup. Add some white sugar, salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Pour over the sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate to blend the flavors. At serving time, garnish with sliced green onions. For a spicier vesion, sprinkle thinly sliced red Thai chilis on top.

The pickled cucumbers in a very light, sweet and sour vinegar dressing were just the perfect side for our pan fried pork chops dinner that night. Back in Manila, this was always my personal favorite to have with fried whole fish. There's a particular fish, sold in local markets, called "hasa-hasa" which, when fried until the skin is very crispy, worked so well with these pickled cucumbers. I miss that fish :-)

Shown above, the salad cucumbers were smaller than regular cucumbers. They were bright green, very fresh and crisp. I like to use  this Thai vegetable gadget, which can also be used to shred carrots and other vegetables, to score the cucumber peel lengthwise, creating a nice scalloped design when sliced. This gadget is available in most Asian stores.

February 15, 2015

desserts for Valentine's Day

There are many ways to make Valentine's Day memorable. A day of relaxation, a leisurely walk in perfect spring-like weather and simply enjoying quality time together made our Valentine's Day this year quite special. It was also a good opportunity for me to make desserts! I've been curious about these 3D Hearts Cupcakes since I saw them featured on a tv show recently. I think the 3D idea is genius. So off to YouTube I went and as always, I found answers to my questions. After watching the cute video by Ann Reardon, I couldn't wait to give it a try.

The taste of the cupcakes may be improved by replacing the water in the recipe with fruit juice and adding more flavorings. I didn't bother frosting them as I was more interested with the process of making them. Most of the hearts didn't turn out perfectly shaped but it was fun making them :-) The hearts will also look nice in pastel colors. 

The recipe makes smaller size cupcakes but with enough frosting, they will look adorable on the dessert table at parties and other appropriate events.

Shown above (1) the 3D hearts, looking like small marzipan strawberries, were shaped using crumbled cupcakes mixed with a little red food coloring (2) two tablespoons of cupcake batter baked for about 5 minutes with 3D hearts placed in the center (3) the cupcakes from the oven, after covering the 3D hearts with more batter and baking for another 10 minutes (4) the cupcakes cut in the middle to show the heart shapes.

Another dessert I made post-Valentine's Day was Cathedral Windows Gelatine, shown above, which is popular in Manila. It's usually made with a combination of colorful gelatine, supposedly to resemble the stained glass art in gothic cathedrals and churches. However, I only had two boxes of gelatine, cherry and strawberry flavors, that are both red. They were exactly the colors I needed for Valentine's Day :-) The marbling effect wasn't intentional but my husband had very favorable comments when he saw it.

Make ahead assorted colors of gelatine and cut them into 1" squares. The creamy gelatine was supposed to cool down and allowed to thicken in the fridge for a few hours before mixing in the pre-made cubes of colorful gelatine. Since I was using only red gelatine, I went ahead and arranged the squares in a plastic mold. I cooked the creamy gelatine mixture in a small pot then, without letting it cool down, I carefully spooned the hot mixture directly over the red cubes of gelatine. The hot mixture melted some of the red cubes of gelatine resulting in a marbled effect. It was an error that didn't turn out so bad after all. I have to try this using other colors next time.

cross section of the Cathedral Gelatine dessert, served with strawberries
Happy Valentine's Day!
For the recipe...

February 9, 2015

chicken kabab koobideh

The inspiration to make this at home started after our memorable dinner experience at Persepolis, a Greek and Persian restaurant we recently tried in Savannah, where we had a taste of Persian cuisine for the first time. 

Kabab Koobideh is a uniquely flavored Iranian grilled chicken, beef or lamb cooked with traditional Middle Eastern spices. I love how grilling the meat intensifies the flavor of the spices. I also like the idea of using ground meat as it allows the spices to get distributed better and evenly into the mixture. I had to think of other ways to shape the meat without the traditional wide metal skewers. On the flat side of a small wood chopping board, I formed the mixture into narrow logs using a spatula. Then I carefully transferred them to the grill pan and flattened them (as pictured below). The ground chicken meat cooked fast and retained it's nice shape.

Shown above, (1) I used my favorite stove top grill pan to cook the chicken kebab koobideh (2) ready for plating (3) a pinch of saffron soaked for a few minutes in hot water is all that's needed to flavor and give the rice an intense yellow color (4) combination of exotic spices.

It was only upon learning more about this recipe that I was introduced to advieh. It's an aromatic Persian spice mix that's a blend of cumin, cardamom, coriander and rose petals to name a few. The exotic world of spices is amazing. We always appreciate trying new flavors like this.

kebab koobideh served on a bed of saffron rice sprinkled with toasted pistachios

Food discovery has always been a part of our itinerary when we travel. We have fun seeking interesting restaurants offering local and international cuisine. Thanks to informative apps and popular websites, looking for restaurants is now faster, easier and more interesting. Ideas that I get from our occasional food trips and dining experiences often inspire me to cook at home.

For the recipe...