December 27, 2005

rosemary & garlic stuffed chicken

Trying my best to cook and eat healthier lately but I must admit it can be a challenge. At times though, the simpler the dish or the less number of ingredients used in it, the better the flavor. Take this baked chicken fillet dish for instance, finely minced fresh rosemary leaves and fresh garlic were mixed with a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper and used as stuffing for the chicken fillets, which were split and pounded a bit. Rosemary is an indispensable herb in our small collection. I decided to plant it in the ground this past summer and, unlike our other herbs which are all in pots, it’s still doing well even in colder winter temperature. I've read that rosemary is best used for chicken and pork. After stuffing the chicken, they were then transferred to a hot grill pan, brushed with a little olive oil, for a few minutes to achieve those nice grill marks before the final baking or broiling process in a preheated oven. This is only a suggestion though but I find it important for even just the top side of the chicken to have those grill marks for presentation purposes. Served with couscous and a side dish of blanched veggies, I used carrots here but asparagus or brocolli are perfect additions too, for color and flavor as well. A very simple and healthy dish like this can be quite satisfying. The rosemary and garlic stuffing also prevented the chicken from drying out. Another idea for this exact recipe and technique is stuffing pork tenderloin instead of chicken. Serving healthier alternatives like this at dinnertime on weekdays is my current objective. Not really planning to totally eliminate rich foods in our diet but a good reduction of it gives us a little room for some guilt-free indulgence later. So I guess I may say it’s justified? ( :

December 26, 2005

embutido


Christmas is a very special religious holiday in the Philippines. The birth of Jesus is clearly the reason to celebrate Christmas in a nation that’s still 90% conservative Catholics. Like everywhere else, the annual religious observance is also a time for giving and sharing. However, Christmastime and New Year are two of the holidays most definitely associated with food in the Philippines and everywhere as well. I’ve never experienced more cooking and eating than during the holiday season. Although we don’t observe Thanksgiving Day in the Philippines, I must say, in a way New Year’s day is it’s counterpart, because it’s during this day that we look back and give thanks for all the blessings we received the entire year and it’s also a time to look forward to the another bountiful and blessed year. It’s during New Year’s eve when we set and fill our tables with lots of food, with the belief that food represents bounty. Food, overflowing on the table on the first day of the new year, assures us that this blessing will continue everyday of the year. One of the treats associated with the holidays is embutido. For as long as I could remember, my mother made this ground pork roll during Christmastime, which would last until the New Year. The traditional morcon and embutido logs when sliced into rounds are also appropriate for the season’s requirement for “anything round” on the table. Many Filipinos still believe that gathering 13 kinds of round fruit will bring good luck to the family and household. Just as many still practice the traditional fireworks, which my father was quite fond of. This belief of setting off fireworks to drive away evil spirits, was passed on to us by the Chinese. We even had a cannon that my father made of steel, which he fired on New Year’s eve. For us and the many village kids, New Year’s eve just wasn’t complete without it, so for many, many years, this was part of the celebrations. But with the struggling economy and inflation, more people seem to be getting more practical and are spending their hard-earned money on food rather than fireworks. Fireworks may lose it’s appeal one day but food and the love of it never will. Embutido has always been my favorite. I remember getting excited about eating lunch and dinner everytime my mother served it. I would also request for it pan-fried a bit, which was so good to eat with rice. This year, I made it once again, reliving those past memories when I used to watch my mother make embutido and morcon during the holidays. I could still hear her ask me to get a #20 roll of string from our store to tie the morcon with. Memories of food are as special as the meaning of Christmas and New Year holidays. Wishing you all a blessed and bountiful year!

December 22, 2005

moussaka

Greek cuisine with it’s very distinctive flavor and aroma, is always a welcome treat. It uses a variety of herbs and spices. Cinnamon, one of the most used spice, is even added to meat dishes like moussaka. The first time I had it was at this very good Italian/Mediterranean restaurant owned by a local chef, who, sad to say, passed away a few years ago. The restaurant no longer exists and has since been sold. We later read the sad news about the chef in the local paper. One of the dinner specials we chanced upon one night was moussaka. That was the first time I tried it and I enjoyed it. The series of cookbooks I have, fortunately, includes Greek cooking. The step by step instructions were not hard to follow. I had the wrong notion that moussaka is a complicated dish to cook, but it’s actually simple and easy to make. The meaty sauce can be made a ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. Ground lamb is traditionally used but regular ground beef is an excellent substitute. It’s best described as a Greek version of lasagna but instead of layering lasagna, pan-fried eggplants are used. Just brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and pan-fry until browned on both sides. I find this technique better that putting some oil in the pan because the eggplant is notorious for absorbing all the oil in the pan, which leaves them rather soggy and greasy. By just brushing them with olive oil, you get to control the amount of oil they absorb. I haven’t tried broiling or grilling them but I heard this is also better for a less oily result. Set aside the pan-fried eggplants on papertowels. Start alternating the layers of eggplant and meat sauce in a rectangular baking dish until they’re all used up. A rich bechamel sauce is spread as a topping and sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese before baking in the oven until bubbly. Baklava, is the recommended dessert to end this very satisfying meal.

December 13, 2005

bread gift idea

The same challah bread, this time, with a Christmas theme. A few suggestions for items to include in the basket with the bread are some jam, jelly or honey, a butter or jam spreader preferably with a Christmas design, maybe some tea, coffee or hot cocoa mixes and some cookies, chocolates or candies. The basket may be lined with a red cloth napkin or some red and green holiday tissue paper.

steamed pompano

We're lucky to have quite a few fresh fish markets here in our area. I treat myself to whole fish when I get a chance. My husband likes salmon and grouper when cooked right with absolutely no fishy smell and taste but he doesn't care much for other kinds of fish unless they're sashimi-raw at the Japanese restaurant. Having been raised in Manila where fish and seafood have always been part of our everyday diet, I must say I get cravings for fish. Frozen fish or ready-to-cook and breaded fish fillets may be available in groceries here but they're tasteless compared to fresh whole fish like this pompano. I think pompano is at it's best when steamed and topped with white sauce, but I had to try this Chinese-style steamed fish recipe I got from the Food Network. It's very simple and quick to make with sliced ginger and scallions. Very hot oil is poured on top of the cooked fish to slightly toast the fish skin as well as the scallions and ginger slices.The photo above was taken right at the dock of a popular restaurant last summer, where they sell the catch of the day every afternoon. All sizes of red snappers and a big grouper were available that day. Direct from the fishing boats and guaranteed fresh. Red snapper is a beautiful fish. I usually make another popular Filipino fish dish, "escabeche", whenever I buy red snapper. Although "sinigang" or sour soup with tamarind and "paksiw", another sour fish dish with vinegar, are good possibilities for this type of fish.

pumpkin cake roll

The holiday season isn't over yet and so pumpkins are still at their peak. A common and well-loved dessert using pumpkin is obviously pumpkin pie. Browsing my recipe collection the other day, I was trying to search for some other dessert ideas aside from the usual pumpkin pie, which I think is more practical to buy than make, I came across this one from Libby's, a pumpkin cake roll made with canned pureed pumpkin with cream cheese frosting filling. Interesting and different. It was quick to make.

The result was a very moist snack cake with a mild pumpkin flavor. The cream cheese filling was a perfect match for it. It's the same cream cheese frosting for carrot cake. Chopped walnuts may be added to the filling or even to the cake. Canned pureed pumpkin is not as popular in Manila. I don't remember ever seeing pumpkin pies in bakeshops there. But here, the holidays don't seem to be complete without pumpkin pie, as well as sweet potato, apple and pecan pies. From what I have observed, these are the most popular pies during the holidays.

siomai

Siomai has always been an easy finger food which appeals not just to adults but to kids as well. Steamed dimsums are popular Chinese appetizers. Some countries have their own versions of course. Like the ravioli in Italy. In Korea, they have "mandu" which is basically the same as the Japanese "gyozas". Made of ground pork or of a combination of ground pork and ground beef, siomai may or may not have ginger although a hint of it is a welcome addition. The photo above shows the siomai before the steaming. Leaving some space between them prevents them from sticking to one another. Brushing the steamer basket with oil is also a good way to avoid sticking. My sister-in-law back in Manila always makes these & I must say this is one of her many specialties. They're a favorite "baon" or snack food of her kids to school. Freezing doesn't alter their flavor at all and microwaving is a perfect way to reheat them. They can also easily be added to instant ramen or chicken soups.