January 28, 2006

torta


Always a hit, it doesn’t matter where or who you serve it to. Back in the Philippines, this simple but tasty ground beef and potato pancake is one of our staples and everybody’s favorite. It’s a simpler fritata version. Spanish influence in food is still very evident in everyday Philippine cuisine. The combination of spices is a well-appreciated flavor. For this popular meat pancake, diced potatoes or potato strips are pan-fried in some olive oil until slightly toasted or they may just be boiled in water for a healthier alternative.The potatoes are then drained and using the same pan, the ground beef is then cooked with minced or grated garlic and sliced onions along with some chopped or sliced tomatoes until browned. I find grating the garlic using a microplane grater is an effective way to release the flavor of the garlic to the max. The ground beef is seasoned with salt, pepper and a few drops of worcestershire sauce. The cooked meat mixture is then set aside to cool. Cooked potatoes are added to the meat mixture next. Pan-frying the potatoes may also be eliminated since they can just be added to the ground beef to cook. But the pan-frying method was the way my mother did it and I always like to do it her way. Just make sure to drain the fried potatoes on some papertowels to get rid of as much grease as possible. When the meat and potato mixture has cooled off a bit, the beaten eggs may be added with some cornstarch as well. Cornstarch will help bind the ingredients together to make the tortas a bit firmer and easier to flip over. Mix with a fork until combined. In the same pan, add a little olive oil and start making the tortas or meat and potato pancakes. Some suggestions for the sauces or dipping are catsup or some good hot sauce. My husband craves this now and everytime he would see me making these for, he can’t wait to eat! The torta can definitely be everyone’s favorite.

January 26, 2006

calzones

My husband is always hungry for pizzas. We tend to alternate pizza and calzones especially on weekends. Ordering pizza is big out here. Almost everyday of the week and mostly on weekends, small pizza delivery cars are a common sight, zooming in and out of the neighborhoods trying their best to reach out to hungry and usually impatient customers. There are several pizza places serving our small town. Aside from the well-known chains like Pizza Hut and Domino's, which are also quite popular around Manila, we also have several other local chains like Hungry Howie's, Papa Johns, Mellow Mushroom as well as smaller family-owned pizzerias like Mama Rosa's, Ciao Bella ( this is a good Italian restaurant serving not just pizzas but Italian staples like lasagna, gnocchi, ravoli, etc ). However, our favorite around here is still Merlin's Pizza. They have specialty and gourmet pizzas like pesto chicken, seafood, shrimp florentine, pollo bella ( with portabella mushrooms ) and cordon bleu in their menu. Unfortunately, they don't make calzones, at least, not yet. We make our own calzones now. I use the same basic pan de sal ( Manila's popular bread ) recipe or one of those store-bought pizza crust mixes. The pan de sal dough is just perfect for the calzones. As for the fillings, there's no set rule for it. Our usual is sauteed sliced mushrooms, sliced onions, chopped salami or cooked Italian sausage. I have also tried vegetarian calzones with olive oil in place of the pizza sauce, chopped fresh basil leaves, sliced ripe tomatoes and cheese and also a sauteed spinach and mushrooms version. For the final assembly, pizza sauce is spread thinly on the crust, followed by a layer of pepperoni, then the sauteed ingredients and topped with cheese. We usually add some Italian seasoning, dried basil and red pepper flakes to the basic pizza sauce. There's a limit though to the amount of filling per calzone. Trying to close and seal the dough with the mound of filling can be tricky at times. After sealing and laying them out on the pan, they're allowed to rest again. I make sure that I brush them with beaten egg and sprinkle them with sesame seeds, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes for more flavor and color before baking. Calzones have become a favorite pizza substitute in our household.

January 21, 2006

beef caldereta & chicken with pineapple

Two of the staples we cook back in Manila are beef caldereta and "manok sa pinya" or chicken with pineapple. Favorites of both adults and kids, we cook these on a regular basis and even serve them at parties. They are both easy make-ahead dishes which keep well in the fridge, the flavors actually improve with reheating the next day. Caldereta is a beef stew dish of Spanish influence. Originally, it was made with goat meat in the northern regions of the Philippines. Since not many people care much for the strong, gamey flavor of goat meat ( I just heard about this, I've never tried goat meat ) making caldereta with lean beef has now become more popular and well accepted. Spanish chorizo sausages are optional but may be sliced thin and slightly browned in a saute pan over low heat or until the oil ( a very intense yellow orange color ) from the chorizo comes out. With a small amount of the oil from the chorizos, combined with some olive oil, lean beef strips or cubes are initially sauteed with sliced onions. A combination of tomato sauce, pan-fried potato cubes or wedges, green olives, red bell pepper strips and canned garbanzo or chick peas makes it a very colorful and attractive dish. Liver pate or spread may also be added, but I usually just omit it. The beef is simmered in the sauce until very tender. I've trying using the slow cooker for this and it turned out good too.

Manok sa pinya or chicken with pineapple is a dish that I've had since I was a kid. It's also one of the many versions of Hawaiian Chicken. This has always been a hit with most kids. I think they like the slight sweetness of it from the sliced pineapples. It's important to use some chicken parts with bones. I usually combine boneless chicken fillets cut into chunks and drumsticks and/or thighs minus the skin. The chicken bones give out so much flavor as the dish is slowly simmered. Minced garlic and onions are sauteed in a small amount of butter and oil. In Manila, we often use Star margarine, a local brand. The chicken parts are then added, seasoned with salt and pepper, and allowed to absorb the flavors of the sauteed garlic and onions for a few minutes. Some of the juice from the canned pineapples are added next. Simmer the chicken until very tender and almost falling off the bone. At this stage, a small can of evaporated milk or half & half is poured in. Pan-fry the pineapple slices until slightly browned on both sides or until the natural sugar in the pineapple caramelizes a bit. Chop into chunks before adding to the dish or you can also just use them as a garnish. Manok sa pinya, with it's slightly sweet, creamy and rich flavors is best enjoyed with steamed rice. This is definitely one of my favorite home-cooked meals.

January 20, 2006

green tea, etc.

Let me take a break from the foodtalk and ideas with this post. We have been into all flavors of tea particularly herbal teas for quite sometime now. My husband regularly orders coffee and tea online from www.coffeeam.com website. They have a good assortment of coffee from exotic countries all over the world and loose leaf teas. My favorite has always been a loose leaf green tea variety called Chinese Hy-son. Tazo teas are consistently good and one of our favorites. Another one we tried is the Numi tea brand. They're packaged in their exclusive bamboo boxes and they even offer these lovely flowering teas. As quoted from their website, "they're handsewn rosettes of fine tea leaves that elegantly bloom into a work of art when steeped in hot water". Sounds and looks very exotic. But we have yet to try how good this is. Lately though we discovered a very flavorful and aromatic tea brand. This is the Yogi Tea brand available in the organic section of most groceries and supermarkets. Some of the unique flavors we tried are Detox with a distinct sarsaparilla flavor and aroma, Bedtime with chamomile among the many sleep-aid combination of tea leaves, Ginger and Lemon Ginger which they claim is good for digestion. There are many others to try but not all is available at the grocery. However, their website shows all the interesting flavors they have: www.yogitea.com - I suppose it's a good thing that we have been enjoying green tea as well as other herbal teas, with all it's known health and antioxidant benefits.

cassava cake

This popular cake may be served as a dessert. It uses grated cassava or yucca, which is probably the more familiar term for it. Frozen grated cassava is available in most Philippine or Oriental groceries here in the US. But back in Manila, I remember grating the boiled yucca ourselves, which was a real challenge. Using the frozen kind and defrosting it in the microwave makes it so convenient. It's considered a rich cake with coconut milk and condensed milk in the mixture but it's not very sweet. The topping is a mixture of coconut and condensed milk, poured on the baked cake, then broiled for a few minutes. Another popular merienda or snack using the grated cassava is the pichi-pichi, which are small portions of cooked grated cassava rolled in fresh grated coconut. Sometimes these come in pastel colors and are a standard dessert in gatherings and parties. They're also commonly sold in markets in the Philippines along with the puto, cuchinta ( a glutinous rice cake ) and other local meriendas or snacks.

salad night

Part of the current goal for lighter meals ( at least on weekdays ) is our 'salad night' featuring three kinds of salads - a lentil & portabella salad, pesto chicken salad and the all-time favorite green salad with garlic honey mustard dressing. The lentil, portabella & diced tomato combo with an olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice & cumin dressing is light and has a bit of a Southwestern - Mediterranean flair. We like the combination of flavors. For the chicken pesto salad, boneless chicken fillets were poached but I must have done something wrong with the technique because the chicken ended up tough. Based on my research about it later, the chicken must be simmered over low fire until tender. I remember I was in hurry to get done and made a mistake about the simmering technique. The basil pesto came out really good though. Fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt & pepper to taste & a little fresh milk or cream was pureed together and used as a dressing for the poached chicken. Gave me the idea of using this pesto as a filling for baked chicken fillets or pork tenderloin. The third one we had was the usual combination of salad greens but I added a little grated garlic to the honey mustard to give it a little kick ( bam! as Emeril would say ) but has a rather strong garlicky taste, so next time when I make this again, I'll try to roast the garlic bulb and use the soft garlic paste instead. Roasting the whole garlic bulb mellows the flavor which I guess is preferable for salad dressings.

Rye bread is a good kind to go with the salads. This one's a Hodgson Mill brand caraway bread mix that I have been getting and making in the bread machine. I've been trying out a few of the Hodgson Mill whole grain products including their assortment of organic whole grain pasta. We like the variety and so far, everything we've tried is good particularly this rye bread. I add a tablespoon of caraway seeds to the mixture. There's nothing like freshly baked and warm bread straight from the oven.

January 5, 2006

ham and cheese roll-ups

These tortilla wraps were fun to make. I was looking for a quick and easy sandwich recipe to serve for a light afternoon snack. Found this in the very informative Land o'Lakes website which I occasionally visit for new recipes, tips and menu ideas. These ham and cheese tortilla rolls-ups were sliced into bite-size appetizer portions and, I must say, gave these everyday snacks a more appealing look. I like using either baby swiss or provolone cheese. Warming the flour tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds make them softer and more pliable for rolling up. Kalamata and green olives in toothpicks are handy for securing them. Served with spicy brown mustard or honey-mustard dressing, this is a good healthy snack idea worth the time to make.