February 25, 2006

poached pear dessert

Fresh pears are a welcome sight with the arrival of the colder months. There are several varieties in the market and I always like to try every one of them. Bartlett, Anjou, Red Bosc, and the classic Bosc, a good choice for baking and poaching, because they are firmer and they retain their shape when cooked. Another inspirational idea from the latest issue of Everyday Food magazine, these poached pears are quick and easy to make in the microwave. Measure two tablespoons brown sugar and one tablespoon butter and combine in a microwavable bowl. The ripe pears were cored from the bottom and peeled leaving the stem intact. Place the pears over the butter and sugar combination in the bowl and cover. Microwave for 10-12 minutes depending on their ripeness. When done, the pears are transferred to serving cups or bowls. To the sauce in the bowl, about one fourth cup of vanilla ice cream was added, stirred and blended well to make an easy cream sauce. Pour the sauce over the pears. They may be served warm or chilled. It was the first time I tried this, I was surprised how good they were, literally melts in your mouth.

February 23, 2006

it's indoor grilling time

Grilled salmon and yellow squash (above)

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

I must admit this was another experiment. I recently bought a box of cracked wheat cereal to try. I followed the directions at the back of the box for making hot cereal, since I was getting a little tired of oatmeal and would like to try something that’s new to me. However, although I must have boiled the cereal for more than ten minutes, I still found the texture a bit tough and grainy for my taste. I finally decided to try to grind it in the blender to make it finer. I usually make oat flour from regular oatmeal this way. Although the wheat grains are tougher and more difficult to grind than oatmeal, I managed to grind them finer enough for the muffins I was planning to make. As I’ve just mentioned, this is just an experiment and although it worked, next time I need to make sure that I get the correct product, which is unprocessed wheat bran. The mashed ripe bananas, aside from adding extra flavor, sweetened the muffins naturally and made them more moist. The combination of whole grains and natural sweeteners in this recipe makes it a healthier choice either for breakfast or tea time. Grease and flour the muffin pan, this recipe makes 12 muffins. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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

chop suey

A standard meat and vegetable stir-fry technique, the legend and history of Chop suey is very interesting. Along with some meat, either chicken, pork or beef, a combination of vegetables are first blanched or steamed until half-cooked. Blanching the vegetables and immediately transferring and soaking them in iced water for a few minutes, stops the cooking process and retains their bright color. They are then removed from the iced water, drained and set aside. Using lots of colorful veggies in this dish makes it very attractive. The meat pieces or strips are browned in about two tablespoons of vegetable oil. As the meat pieces are cooking, a combination of lemon juice, soy sauce, worcestershire and oyster sauce ( may be optional ) black pepper, water and a little cornstarch are mixed together. This seasoning sauce is then slowly added to the browned meat and simmered. The veggies are then stir-fried with the flavored meat. Since the veggies are all cooked, the stir-frying takes only a few minutes.

tofu with bokchoy & beansprouts

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

beef steak with onions and squash side dish

Popularly known as beef steak or “bistek” as some would refer to it in Manila. This is comfort food Philippine-style. What’s interesting is, this dish is commonly eaten for breakfast with fried rice, eggs and tomatoes, but I guess the time of day to have it doesn’t matter at all. Breakfast back there often consists of rice with preferably some salty dish to go with it. Another popular example is rice with pan-fried spam and eggs. There’s also a much drier meat dish version, called tapa, which is very similar to beef jerky here. For the steak dish in the photo above, the beef, is very thinly sliced across the grain. For the marinade, calamansi or lemon juice, light soy sauce, ground black pepper and a little worcestershire sauce are combined together. The beef slices are browned in a little oil and piled up as they cook in a serving platter and kept warm. Sliced white or yellow onions are stir fried briefly in the same pan. As the onions start to caramelize, a little sugar is sprinkled to sweeten them up, except when using vidalla onions, since these variety are already naturally sweet. The caramelized onions are then transferred to the serving platter with the meat. The dish may be served just like this, garnished with finely sliced green onions. However, if a saucier dish is preferred, return the meat to the pan, add some water, then simmer for a few minutes more. A very flavorful dish which is best served with some vegetable side dish. I decided to make this vegetarian side dish with squash & green beans combination. I tried using butternut squash this time, I tend to buy acorn, but I discovered that the butternut variety is even better, with a deeper yellow color and much easier to peel. Add the cubed squash and cut green beans to some sauteed onions in pan. Then add some coconut milk when the veggies are half-cooked, and simmer until fully cooked.

February 17, 2006

crema de fruta

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.

a post valentine's treat

Still having a Valentine’s day hangover obviously. Never did get a chance to make a special Valentine’s treat since we went out for dinner that night. A local restaurant, owned by a top chef in the area, was doing a Valentine’s dinner / wine tasting and we decided to give it a try. We’ve tried their regular lunch and dinner specials a few times before but this exclusive dinner was a first for us. And as usual, we were not disappointed. The menu was first class all the way, from the appetizers to the steak and lobster main course to the dessert. There's no doubt we enjoyed the food so much, we were still talking about it the next day! Well, inspired by the food presentation at the restaurant, I guess, I decided to make this fancier than usual dessert. My initial plan was to make a crema de fruta cake with the lemon sponge cake I baked. ( I will be discussing about that after this post ). But then, I thought about serving it in cups more like a trifle. It worked and with the fresh raspberries, it was the way I envisioned it. Having baked a large sheet of lemon sponge cake, I knew it was too much for us to finish. I cut the cake in half, went ahead and made the crema de fruta cake and stored the rest in the freezer. The frozen cake will thaw out nicely for possibly some tiramisu next time. In the meantime, enjoying this fruit trifle wasn’t hard to do.

February 14, 2006

baptism party food

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.

pancakes and berries

A simple Valentine’s day treat with an undeniable universal appeal. Even back in Manila, pancakes or hotcakes, as we call it there, have always been a part of our “meriendas” or snack time. Although there are always boxed hotcake mixes available, a popular local brand is White King, I used to make them from scratch, more for an afternoon snack than for breakfast. We were not even used to having them with bacon or sausages either, although I’m now accustomed to how they're served here. I have since understood the sweet with salty combination of flavors, and in fact, have grown to like it. What’s interesting is, in Manila, instead of pancake syrup, we like to top them with butter and some sugar, then pour some milk ( evaporated or fresh ) over them. This may sound different but having tried Tres Leches cake here, I must say that the idea is very similar. I still like having pancakes this way, although there’s just so many good varieties and flavors of syrups available here to try. I have learned to appreciate blueberry pancakes as well. Can’t wait until it’s blueberry season once again. This year, I have to remember to buy a batch when they’re at their peak and cheap for freezing. The frozen berries make very good blueberry muffins also. Usually I would add an extra cupful of fresh blueberries into the muffin mix. In my opinion, the more overloaded, the better. Strawberries, however, are now finally available. These big, ripe and luscious strawberries in the photos below were on sale the other day at the grocery. A perfect time to have them around.
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

clubhouse sandwich

We have officially declared weekends as relax to the max, no-cook days. The idea and inspiration for this sandwich came from an issue of Everyday Food magazine. The featured sandwich actually had a southwestern flair, with cumin spice and avocado. We have since discovered that avocado is a good substitute for mayo. Since my husband is not a mayo fan, this substitute works well for him. Thin avocado slices were layered along with some spinach leaves, turkey, ham, cheese slices and scrambled egg. Hard-boiled egg slices instead of scrambled eggs would also be perfect. A great idea for a late breakfast or lunch, I have to say, there must probably be unlimited clubhouse sandwich variations out there. And I don’t think you can get wrong with any variation you can come up with. A basic BLT sandwich can be built up to clubhouse sandwich proportions, given a few more ingredients to complement it. For the bread, I used our recent discovery and favorite caraway rye baked from the Hodgson Mill bread machine mix. The tartness of the rye and the extra caraway seeds in it, makes this bread ideal for a rich and hearty sandwich like this. Having done a few variations in the past, this is one of the best we’ve come up with.

pineapple upside down cake

Sometimes there’s nothing like the simplicity of a good old-fashioned “comfort” dessert like pineapple upside down cake and that’s all it takes to make your day. I reduced the sugar in the cake itself and in the topping as well as we’ve been tying our best to limit our sugar intake these days. I found out that some recipes can sometimes be overloaded with sugar and reducing it doesn’t seem to affect the end result at all. The sugar reduction, I must say, worked well for this kind of cake. Delicate chiffon cakes may not take it too well though. I was reading a little bit about the history of pineapple upside down cake. It was a winning recipe back in the early 1900’s. Here’s an interesting trivia about it from www.foodreference.com :
“ 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

breakfast food for dinner

Vegetable fritata and buckwheat pancakes for dinner.Occasionally we crave breakfast food for dinner. Since we really don't get to sit down for breakfast everyday, it's always a welcome treat. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, there are just days when I seem to be suffering from a taste bud malfunction and couldn't think of anything to fix for dinner. Surprisingly, even all the cookbooks and food magazines I have around don’t seem to inspire. When this happens, I usually resort to a fool-proof breakfast fare like this, which always works for us. Breakfast food to the rescue! For this particular night, it was a veggie fritata with some buckwheat pancakes. A combination of vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, carrots, fresh button mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers is just perfect. Sliced green or black olives and some ham strips may also be added for color and flavor. This was a quick and easy meal to fix. We have tried a few Hodgson Mill whole grain products. Their buckwheat pancake mix was what I used to make these fluffy whole grain pancakes in the photo above. Here's a photo of the product:We have started buying and trying out more whole grain food products lately and have discovered numerous brands that we like. So far we haven’t found any Hodgson Mill product we didn’t like.

thai chicken curry & sour soup

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.