February 25, 2006
February 23, 2006
Grilled chicken and blanched asparagus (below)
Although summertime is most often associated with backyard picnics and barbecues, indoor grilling is the answer to wintertime’s grilled food cravings. Summertime, in the Philippines, reminds me of picnics at the beach and grilling, which also brings me to think about pork barbecue. This is a popular grilled specialty and a streetfood mainstay in Manila. Just like lemonade stands here, perhaps anybody in Manila can just as easily get away with setting up a small grill stand in front of his home and start grilling and selling these delicious stuff. Thinly sliced small pork pieces are marinated in a basic soy sauce and lemon juice combination, to which is added a long list of spices and other secret ingredients. The best dip for this is a simple vinegar, minced garlic, salt and pepper combination. This goes well with most grilled food. The long holiday weekend went by fast. We had a chance to try a newly-opened branch of a popular family-style Italian restaurant chain out here. I was hoping to find my favorite grilled salmon and angel hair pasta with a lemon flavored sauce in the menu, but unfortunately they have altered their menu and dropped it from their list. I ended up ordering another pasta dish instead. It was very rich, cheesy and creamy. It was very good and I enjoyed it, but my craving for something grilled remained. This inspired me to fire up my grill pan at home. I tried this combination of salmon and chicken with yellow squash and asparagus, on the side. It’s the best time to try asparagus, they’re in season now. I like this particular young or baby variety with thinner stalks. They’re very tender and tasty. I just blanched them for a few minutes but decided to grill the squash. A little lemon juice, pepper and capers added to store-bought instant hollandaise mix, makes a perfect sauce for the asparagus as well as for the other grilled stuff. This lemon-caper sauce is quick and easy to make from scratch. If a grill pan was used, the pan drippings must be scraped and transferred to a sauce pan. To the chicken drippings in the pan, add one to two tablespoons of butter, olive oil or a combination of these two. Loosen and incorporate all the pan drippings before adding a tablespoon or two of flour. The flour is then cooked for a few minutes, before adding some water or chicken broth and lemon juice to it. Season with salt and pepper. Stirring the sauce with a wire whisk is important until the sauce reaches the right consistency. More water may be added if the sauce gets too thick. Finally, stir in some capers and a few lemon slices, for garnish.
February 22, 2006
Banana Bran Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unprocessed wheat bran
1 tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda (optional)
half cup oatmeal, oat flour or cornmeal ( I used cornmeal )
half cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup dark brown sugar
half stick or ¼ cup butter, melted
additonal ¼ cup corn oil
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
Mix the above dry ingredients together in a big bowl, in the order given above, until just combined. The mixture will be lumpy. Then, with a wire whisk, mix the ingredients below, until well blended.
2 large eggs
¾ cup fresh milk
3 tbsps. honey or molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, and stir with a fork until just blended. Spoon into the muffin tins. Sprinkle with some sugar and extra bran flakes before baking. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until done. These muffins are not very sweet and may be enjoyed with extra butter and jam.
February 20, 2006
Another vegetarian favorite of ours is this classic stir-fry which goes well as a side dish for simple grilled meat dishes. A very easy dish, it takes only minutes to make this. A block of tofu, preferably soft to medium, is cut into cubes and pan-fried in some oil until slightly toasted. This takes a few minutes. A non-stick or well-seasoned sautee pan will prevent them from sticking. The slightly browned tofu cubes are then transferred to a papertowel lined tray or mesh collander to drain. In the meantime, the bokchoy leaves are separated and rinsed well. There are a couple of bokchoy varieties available here that I prefer to use. In Manila, there’s only one common type I know of, which we call pechay, that’s always available in the local markets and groceries. Baby bokchoy, sold in the produce section of most Oriental grocery stores here, is actually my most preferred variety. This same variety is also commonly used by most Chinese restaurants around here. However, they don’t usually sell it in regular grocery stores. What they usually have is the giant ( as I refer to it ) version of the pechay variety. It’s easy to tell that they’re from the same family, but this one has much bigger and thicker leaves and stems. I always had to slice the leaf and stem vertically first to make narrower strips, before I thinly slice them across. Chopped onions and minced garlic are sauteed together in a little oil. The bokchoy is then added and given a few minutes, a huge stack of sliced bokchoy will wilt down to almost half the amount. It always just looks bulky, just like most green leaf veggies do before cooking. The next step is to add the seasoning, which is a simple combination of light soy sauce, oyster sauce and ground black pepper with some water to thin it out. The cooked tofu is added next and stir-fried with the bokchoy for a few minutes, to absorb flavor from the sauce or seasoning. The beansprouts are best added last because they usually cook in just a few seconds and they’re much better when they’re still crisp or crunchy and definitely not overcooked.
February 18, 2006
February 17, 2006
A layered cake with cream filling and fruit topping. Crema de fruta has always been in our favorite cakes list. We’ve been baking this cake for many years now. It’s a rich dessert but the cake is light, airy and very easy to make. My sister-in-law even bakes this commercially now and despite more affordable versions of this cake are widely sold by better-known bakeshops in Manila, she still gets orders for this popular cake. One of her secrets is maintaining its homemade quality and freshness all the time, which also means, never cutting down on the ingredients nor altering the recipe. Since she doesn’t use preservatives, the cake is usually made fresh by order.With the ongoing inflation in Manila these days, costing has been one of the many challenges her small cake business has seen. Some of her patrons would sometimes resort to buying this from these well-known bakeshop chains but their discriminating palates could instantly tell the difference. It's true that most people would rather spend their money on good quality, especially when it comes to food, rather than be sorry and regret it later on.
The basic sponge cake base is lemon-flavored which goes well with the fruit toppings. Any combination of fruits, fresh or canned, will do. I think the more colorful, the more attractive the outcome will be. I like using sliced fresh strawberries, kiwi, blueberries and some red grapes. For my version here, I used canned mandarin slices, which was what I happen to have in our pantry, with some fresh raspberries for a bright accent. Traditionally though, we use canned fruits like peaches or regular fruit cocktail, it may even be the tropical kind. The sponge cake is very light and not very sweet. The recipe doesn’t call for any oil at all although sometimes I would add just a tablespoon or two of regular vegetable or corn oil, to make it easier to slice. The cream filling is a combination of evaporated milk, fresh milk and/or half and half, eggs, lemon or rhum flavoring, some flour and butter. It is cooked until of spreading consistency. Assembling the cake starts with slicing the cake horizontally for the layers. Spread the cream filling on each layer finishing off with extra cream filling on top. Arrange the fruits and pour some quick set clear gelatine on top of the fruit to seal it and create a smooth, glassy surface.
February 14, 2006
From fiestas, to birthdays to weddings to christenings, you name it, the Philippines is always alive with colorful celebrations. Times may be hard but Filipinos find a way to gather and have fun. And in the midst of all these gatherings is, of course, food. I’m sure most Filipinos out there will agree. I was fortunate to be back there in 2004 in time for my baby nephew's baptism. My sister-in-law cooked all these delicious food. I suggested that she should start her own food catering business, having seen and tasted all the good food she cooked for the occasion. Food business though is a big undertaking requiring much time and dedication. From top to bottom, in the photo above, are embutido ( partly hidden ), pasta carbonara, menudo, beef asado and prawns with peas & quail eggs. My other sister-in-law cooked the embutido and I helped out with the fruit salad. The chinese-style beef asado has become one of our favorite foods to serve at parties. It may be made ahead and reheats well, which makes it an ideal buffet food. In the family cookbook I'm planning to do, I would certainly give one of my aunts the credit for this dish that she has since shared with us. Combining soy and hoisin sauce with brown sugar and star anise gives this dish it’s subtle asian flavoring. The slow cooker is such a handy kitchen appliance to cook dishes like this requiring a very slow simmering process.
This post is dedicated to my sisters-in-law, who both enjoy cooking, in appreciation for the many meals they have cooked for me and our family. Baking commercially for years now, one of my sisters-in-law has been supplying cakes and other baked goodies to a catering business as well as to a company cafeteria. Christmastime is always a busy season for her, with extra cake orders from friends. She has been baking her popular moist chocolate cakes, brownies, chiffon, crema de fruta, and carrot cakes for many seasons and occasions now. The pictures below show some of the baked goods she supplies:
The chocolate chiffon slices, pictured above, are the very same ones I used to sell back in high school. I mentioned this in my previous post on chiffon cake. It has always been a hit, then and now. My mother was instrumental in instilling in us the love of cooking ang baking. She set the example for us by constantly experimenting and cooking in the kitchen, and I'm most grateful to her for this. I was in high school when I started with cookies and brownies but with time and practice, graduated to the more complicated and delicate chiffon cakes. Oh yes, it took several unsuccessful attempts but I have since learned the correct consistency to watch out for especially with the rather tricky beating of the eggwhites until it reached the required soft peaks stage, and then finally learning the folding technique.
Strawberries always remind me of our memorable Baguio vacations years ago, when we would buy and bring the ripe fruit all the way back home to Manila, only to find most of them bruised from the trip. I guess Baguio strawberries are more the smaller wild variety and I think they were just not meant to leave the cooler Baguio climate. They literally melt in Manila's hot summer. So as much as possible, as soon as we get home, they had to be consumed. One of our favorite ways to serve them is like fruit salad, with condensed milk and Nestle's brand cream.
February 12, 2006
I got into an experimental mood one day having run out of corn tortillas when I was about to make these enchiladas. We also have this popular Mexican dish for dinner on a regular basis now. I had all the ingredients I needed to make it except for the corn tortillas. I tried to scan through my cookbooks for a recipe. All of them called for a particular “masa harina” or corn flour which, as specified in the recipes, is not the same as cornmeal. I’ve seen this type of flour sold in most grocery stores. I still have a container-full of cornmeal so I thought about making “corn tortilla-crepes” instead.
Using the available yellow cornmeal, combined with some whole wheat flour, I altered my basic crepe recipe to come up with the cornmeal crepes. They worked great for the enchiladas. They were thin, light and pliable which made it easy for me to wrap them around the meat filling. The basic meat filling I make is usually with lean ground beef, browned with sliced onions, chopped fresh tomatoes and flavored with cumin or southwestern spices. I usually add corn kernels and black beans to the mixture. Some grated cheese goes in with the wrapped enchiladas and also on top.
The enchiladas may be baked or broiled until the cheese has melted. Some minced jalapenos, fresh cilantro, lime slices, extra enchilada sauce, light sour cream and minced green onions are always good to have on the side for an extra sprinkle of flavors.Some guacamole and tortilla chips completed our Mexican meal that night ( see spread below ).
February 10, 2006
“ The term 'upside down cake' wasn't used very much before the middle of the 19th century, but the style of baking probably dates back much further, probably to the Middle Ages. The early recipes for fruit upside down cakes were made in cast iron skillets on top of the stove. The classic American 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake' dates to sometime after 1903, when Jim Dole invented canned pineapple. The Hawaiin Pineapple Co. (now Dole Pineapple) held a pineapple recipe contest in 1925, with judges from Fannie Farmer's School, Good Housekeeping and McCall's magazine on the judging panel. The 100 winning recipes would be published in a cookbook the following year. Over 60,000 recipes were sent in, and 2,500 of them were for Pineapple Upside Down Cake. So it is obvious that between 1903 when canned pineapple was first available, and 1925 when the contest was held, Pineapple Upside Down Cake had become a very popular item. The Hawaiin Pineapple Company ran an ad campaign in 1926 based on the fact that so many recipes for the cake had been submitted, naturally making the Pineapple Upside Down Cake even more popular.”
The recipe I used to make my version of this cake came from an issue of Everyday Food magazine. It was actually for a pear upside down cake. I run out of maraschino cherries so I tried using some raspberry jam as a substitute, just for a little bit of color for the photo. I will share the recipe later.
February 4, 2006
Thailand is still in my mind. It’s one of the places I would love to visit again someday. Exploring the city and learning about the colorful and exotic culture was a valuable experience but I must say it was the food that was unforgettable. Got a chance to dine at the Royal Dragon restaurant, where part of the attractions were the foodservers in rollerskates, loaded with trays of food, constantly zooming by the tables at rather reckless speeds. Amazing. It was once listed in the Guinness Book as the world’s biggest restaurant. One superb dish our host ordered for us to try was whole crabs in a coconut milk-based sauce. Near the Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok, we also sampled some delicious “streetfood” made fresh by order. I remember we had some kind of a veggie mix filling wrapped in crepe-like springroll wrappers which were made on a hot griddle right in front of us. The sugarcane juice we had with our crepes was quite refreshing. I also observed that there were many food stalls in open areas and parks everywhere where anyone can just sit and enjoy a meal. Bowls of chili sauce, dried red chili flakes and fish sauce were always within reach by everyone. It has been many years since that memorable trip, but I still look back with inspiration to relive the food adventure by attempting Thai cuisine in our kitchen. Somehow, the road to discovery led me to two of these favorite Thai dishes. I make this Thai chicken curry and sour soup ( tom ka gai ) combo on a regular basis now. The best thing is they're so quick to make with boneless chicken breast sliced into strips. The chicken strips may be marinated in lemon or lime juice for about a half hour in the fridge. Canned red thai curry pastes which are normally available in asian stores keep well in the fridge and it's good to have some available as needed. Coconut milk may be reduced to make the dish lighter. The chicken strips are simmered in a spicy and slightly sweet sauce combination. Red bell pepper strips are added last. Garnish with chopped cilantro or thai basil. The soup is a very light clear chicken broth enhanced with the flavors of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. I make it with or without coconut milk. I guess somehow travelling back to Thailand is possible anytime with these dishes.