December 25, 2006

morcon ( meat roll )

Always a part of our Christmas and New Year food tradition in the Philippines, this festive meat roll is called "morcon". Many of our traditional Filipino holiday food have a strong Spanish influence and this is just one fine example. Every year, I vividly remember the busy holiday seasons back home. Religious activities like dawn masses were the highlights of Christmas but food preparation was just as important as well. My mother used to start cooking a few days before Christmas, making morcon ( meat roll ) and embutido ( steamed meatloaf which I featured before ) first since both keep well in the fridge. Both dishes actually become more flavorful the day after cooking them. Morcon is easier to slice when allowed to cool and much better after having been refrigerated. I would always be present in our small kitchen to watch my mother cook morcon. The special cut of meat for the morcon was usually ordered from our favorite meat seller at the market several days ahead. They make sure that the meat was butterflied very carefully with no slits or holes to prevent the filling from falling out when the meat is rolled. My mother marinated the meat pieces ( butterflied flank steak ) in soy sauce and calamansi ( Philippine lemons ) for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. As the meat marinates, an assortment of fillings were sliced and laid out on a tray. The popular fillings were slices of hard-boiled eggs, Spanish chorizo sausage, vienna sausage, green olives, pork fat ( I don't care much for this ), cheddar cheese, sweet pickled gherkins, and even some chinese sausages at times. For this morcon I made, I used sweet pickled gherkins, hard-boiled eggs, cheddar cheese, Canadian bacon, vienna and chorizo sausages. The marinated meat was laid flat and brushed with margarine. Then the sliced fillings were arranged neatly on top of the meat. The meat was then rolled up carefully making sure that all the fillings remain inside. A most unforgetteable part of morcon-making with my mother was when it was time for her to truss or bind the meat roll, she always asked me to get a particular kind of string ( #20 size ) from our small store that she preferred to use. She would let me hand the string to her while she was holding the meat. Then she would start the time consuming process of tying each meat roll. Sometimes she would have five to six meat rolls to tie. It took a big casserole or pan to braise them. Lots of juicy and ripe red tomatoes were sliced ahead, along with some garlic and onions and these were first sauteed in the braising pan. Then the meat rolls were added to the pan and the heat was lowered to allow them to simmer and braise in the garlic, onions and tomato flavors. It usually took a few hours for the meat to get very tender. These holiday dishes will always remind me of the many joyful Christmasses spent in the Philippines with my family and as my husband and I together make our own memories here, I have introduced and included this traditional dish to our holiday celebrations. I'm glad that I've learned to make morcon, as complicated as it may seem. I think the time I spent cooking with my mother wasn't only a very effective learning experience but the best time we had together. In short, priceless.
Shown above :
1. Butterflied marinated flank steak was brushed
or spread with butter or margarine.
2. An assortment of fillings were sliced and arranged on top of the meat.
3. The meat was rolled up and carefully tied with string.
4. Braising the meat in sauteed garlic, onions & tomatoes.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

December 19, 2006

travel & food highlights

a loaded papaya tree in Cozumel
creamy risotto with roasted garlic & mushrooms
served at the main dining room
daily breakfast treat from the omelet station
breakfast corn muffin
vw beetles line a busy street in Mexico (above)

black orchid (above) the national flower of Belize

Cozumel coastline ( above )

perfect day for clear kayaking in Costa Maya

Guatemalan market scene

fruit stand at a local market in Guatemala (above)

chocolate buffet

A week of fine dining & good food
ended with a grand finale -
an extreme chocolate buffet experience

December 2006 will always be a most memorable month for us. The long wait was over and we finally got to go on a cruise to the Caribbean. Visiting three Central American countries for the first time was the highlight of this adventure. The sceneries of Mexico & Guatemala remind me so much of the Philippines while the Mayan ruins, pyramids & rainforest of Belize were like nothing I've ever seen. Cruising was fun and all the travel experiences we had will definitely continue to inspire us and may lead us to more adventures.
at sea on one of our shore excursions

cooling off with a colorful tropical drink at the ship's Observation Lounge

coconut tart dessert from our lunch buffet in Belize

December 6, 2006

chiles rellenos

I used to dread this time consuming task of roasting & peeling the skins of these poblanos for rellenos but not anymore. I now put them on a piece of non-stick foil laid directly on the stovetop burner, turning them by the stems as soon as each side is toasted & charred. Placing them in a covered bowl to steam for a few minutes also helps to easily peel or scrape the skin off later. For the filling, brown some ground beef with chopped onions & garlic, then flavor with southwestern seasoning and a little cumin. After the cooked ground beef has cooled a bit, mix in some grated cheese and fill the chiles with the mixture. The grated cheese will act as a binder so adding egg to the mixture is optional. Lastly, dip them in beaten egg & coat evenly with a combination of cornmeal & flour. Pan-fry them in a skillet with some olive oil until toasted and golden brown. Serve with extra salsa on the side. Back when I was still in Manila, spicy hot poblano chiles were not readily available, so I always used green bell peppers for these rellenos. I remember my Baguio trips when one of the highlights was a visit to the public market teeming with good quality fresh produce which they grow best in that cooler part of the country. I always brought back those huge green bell peppers and never failed to make rellenos with them. Aside from iceberg lettuce, strawberries, lengua de gato ( thin & crispy butter cookies ), Good Shepherd convent's ube jam and peanut brittle, I guess bell peppers were part of my favorite take home treats from the city of Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines.
( shown above ) roasting the poblanos on foil
set directly on the stovetop burner

December 3, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

So many blessings to be thankful for
but we are most grateful for the gift of family
and being a part of this very special and
meaningful American tradition.
I made these dinner rolls ( above ) to go with the traditional Thanksgiving food

Mom-in-law's lovely Thanksgiving arrangement in the dining room

salty-sweet oatmeal cookies

Thanksgiving holiday is now over and as we head onto the Christmas holidays, we fondly recall our many blessings as well as all the opportunities that came our way and we give thanks. Everyday is a day of discovery, a chance to reach our goals and fulfill our dreams. We look forward to a memorable holiday celebration, celebrating with family and friends, a season for cooking, baking and enjoying food, a time for cookies! The idea and inspiration for these oversized oatmeal cookies came from Salty Oats cookies by Terri Horn. She was also featured in the Food Network show Recipe for Success. With the recipe I have in my file for simple oatmeal cookies, I came up with my own version as well. I guess most oatmeal cookie recipes will work, the key is to sprinkle a little bit of kosher salt on top of the cookie before baking. The salty-sweet combination makes them so special. The salt amazingly brings out the sweetness of the cookie. I made the cookies bigger and thicker, with a diameter of about 4 to 5 inches. One cookie will surely satisfy a desperate cookie craving.