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...

February 4, 2015

healthy Bircher Muesli

I've heard of muesli before but the first time I tried Bircher Muesli was at The Collins Quarter, a hip and trendy Melbourne-style cafe bar we tried for breakfast on our recent visit to Savannah. I liked it so much that when we got home, I went online asap to research more about it. I've been enjoying it for breakfast these days as an alternative to my usual steel cut oatmeal.

a colorful mix of thinly sliced strawberries, green apple and bananas

Bircher Muesli was developed by a Swiss doctor, Maximilian Bircher-Benner back in the 1900s as a healthy meal idea for his patients. It eventually became popular as an easy breakfast dish. My bircher muesli variations are shown above and below.

Old-fashioned oats are soaked overnight in yogurt and water or apple juice, for more flavor and sweetness. For my version, I like to mix 1/4 cup of yogurt with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water in a small bowl. Reduce the amount of liquid if a thicker consistency is preferred. Add 1/2 cup oats and combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the mixture overnight. The next morning, I top it with a tablespoon of honey, thinly sliced fruits (strawberries, banana and green apple are my favorites) and some toasted nuts.

January 18, 2015

a week in Savannah

Shown above, statue of the Waving Girl by the river, oak trees loaded with Spanish moss, scupltures in front of Telfair Museum, gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Forsyth Park fountain, beautiful twisted oak tree, Jones Street, Wilkes House signage, a creative cannon display by the entrance to The Savannah College of Art and Design

Our timing wasn't perfect as it was cold and rainy the week we were in Savannah, but the gloomy weather didn't stop us from walking around the historic district, enjoying the many attractions this city has to offer. I often heard Savannah described as a city with a Southern charm and now that I've seen it, I have to agree that the city exudes that special charm in many ways.

restored homes with wrought iron details along Gaston Street and the Wilkes House facade

wrought iron gates, ornate home entrance, archways, old clock at the City Market

Walking along the lovely streets in Savannah's historic district was like being transported to another era filled with history and elegance. The homes along Jones and Gaston Streets were beautifully preserved with wrought iron and other ornate details.

We had a chance to see the famous sculpture (shown above) used on the cover of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was later on made into a movie. It has since been transferred from the Bonaventure Cemetery to the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Museum of Art.

the bright and modern lobby of SCAD Museum of Art

we snacked on these tasty macarons and sweet cupcakes :-)

We stayed right in the historic district and it was an easy walk to many interesting shops and restaurants along Broughton and many other interesting streets.

striped seabass dinner and mango upside down cake at B. Matthew's Eatery, ham and cheese croissant breakfast at Goose Feathers, braised pork belly steamed buns appetizer at Flying Monk Noodle House, Greek and Persian food at Persepolis

We tried a few restaurants for breakfast such as Goose Feathers, B. Matthew's, Pie Society and The Collins Quarter. I have to say, they were all good, there were no disappointments at all. For dinner, we tried Circa 1875's French restaurant, Zunzi's eclectic international food and Persepolis Greek and Persian cuisine. We also enjoyed the Asian noodles at Flying Monk Noodle House along Broughton Street. Overall, Savannah is a city worth visiting and returning to :-)

Pie Society at the City Market selling traditional handmade savory British meat pies and our elegant tea for two serving

January 10, 2015

ramen at home

my husband's ramen (above) with a touch of sambal oelek

It's exciting that the Japanese ramen craze has invaded big cities in the US over the past few years. I remember growing up in Manila enjoying many variations of it. However, I had one particular Filipino noodle soup favorite popularly called "mami" in Manila which my mother used to make for the family. The fresh egg noodles were store-bought but she would make all the toppings from scratch. These days, our laid back weekend meals at home usually mean very simple cooking involved with instant ramen soups ranking high in our list :-)

We had a chance to visit my favorite Asian market on our way back home from a recent vacation. I was excited to see some fresh vegetables like enoki mushrooms, baby bok choy and fragrant Chinese chives that aren't usually available at the grocery store. They also sell them at a very reasonable price. These vegetables were perfect for ramen.

Shown above, I arranged the cooked ramen noodles, blanched baby bok choy strips, thinly sliced chives, enoki mushrooms and eggs in a bowl. I just rinsed the enoki mushrooms, they didn't have to be blanched. Pour boiling ramen broth over the arranged ingredients. Serve immediately and enjoy!

January 1, 2015

celebrating 2015

Just like in Manila where I was raised believing that food on the table on New Year's eve ensures a bountiful and blessed year, our celebration this year was as traditional as in the past years. Continuing the food tradition, we happily welcomed 2015 with a toast and enjoyed our quiet New Year's eve dinner at home.
Happy New Year to all !!!

a good start...a toast for another good year!

some round fruits for good luck

pandesal (Filipino rolls), cheese and my traditional sandwich
more round food ~ lumpia (springrolls) and sausage balls (below)

baked macaroni with bechamel topping
our New Year's eve table

brazo de mercedes dessert is shown on the bottom right
a slice of heavenly brazo de mercedes :-)