January 31, 2007

basic banana bread

I described this as basic because lately I've been trying out many different recipe variations for this favorite snack. I've also tried making banana muffins, banana cakes, banana pancakes, etc. I've tried so many interesting substitutions and additions to these recipes. I've successfully replaced the usual raisins with dried cranberries, experimented with whole wheat, oat flours, added bran and even wheat germ for healthier alternatives. But this particular one is the most basic recipe I have on file which we often used in Manila. Basic but definitely not boring, the banana variety we have in the Philippines are smaller but much sweeter than the varieties here. We call them "lakatan" and their color is also a deeper yellow compared to the Dole bananas in the market. Possibly has something to do with the harvest time of the bananas. The Dole bananas exported from the Caribbean are always harvested while they're still green but in the Philippines, where they are naturally grown, they can be harvested at almost ripe stage and delivered to the markets where they need only a little more time to ripen fully. I remember buying the sweetest and the best ripe "lakatan" bananas directly from fruit stands along Tagaytay ( where they're also locally grown ) highway. These tropical fruit stands are a popular stop for tourists visiting the countryside. I can't wait to make banana bread with those sweet bananas again, but in the meantime, this recipe works great with any ripe banana variety.

Basic Banana Bread

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup or 1/2 stick butter or margarine
2 large eggs
1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh milk
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts ( optional )

Grease & flour a standard 9" x 5" size loaf pan or use two smaller loaf pans. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, cream softened butter or margarine with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture & milk, ending with the flour. Stir in mashed bananas & walnuts. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 45 minutes to an hour or until done. Avoid over baking to prevent bread from drying out.

banana muffin version

January 30, 2007

dessert take out

Everytime we go out to eat at our favorite Italian restaurant, which is an easy five minute drive from our place, there's always that temptation to order two of the most irresistible desserts in their menu. Not a very difficult decision to make. Crispy cream-filled cannoli and creamy tiramisu went home with us this particular day. They were perfect with some hot tea at home. The servings were just enough for a little taste of our favorite desserts. A full recipe of cake or dessert is always too much for us and we often end up getting tired of it. This is why I think it's just practical for us to pick up single servings of desserts like these, when the craving is on.

January 28, 2007

pancit canton ( asian style noodles )

Inspired by a recent post from one of my favorite foodies, Sassy of Pinoy Cook ( her foodblog is listed under my favorites ) I made this Cantonese style stir fried noodles for dinner. We checked out a Korean store last weekend. Among the supplies we picked up was this Japanese soba noodles, which I used in this dish instead of the usual egg noodles. It turned out really well, the soba noodles absorbed the sauce making it very flavorful. Lots of colorful veggies made the dish attractive. Stir-frying the veggies in a hot wok works well, but to better retain their bright colors, it's best to blanch them for a few minutes then just stir fry them with the noodles before serving. Some of the veggies I used were thinly & diagonally sliced, carrot, red and green bell pepper strips and sliced Chinese Napa cabbage. Blanch the veggies & set aside to drain. Cook the noodles al dente in boiling water, just like cooking pasta, then drain in a colander. Meanwhile, combine and mix well 1 tablespoon each oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and light soy sauce in a small bowl then set aside. Oyster & hoisin sauces can both be found in Oriental grocery stores, but these days some grocery stores now carry these as well. Next, pan fry some thinly sliced Chinese sausages in the wok until browned. Drain them on paper towels to get rid of excess fat. Reduce the fat in the wok to about 2 tbsps. and saute the garlic and onions for a few minutes. Add the sauce mix and about half cup of water. Add the cooked noodles to the sauce and toss until much of the broth is absorbed. Lastly, add the blanched veggies to the noodles and serve hot topped with some chopped scallions and lemon slices.
Japanese soba noodles ( above )

individual serving of the stir-fried noodles
with lemon or kalamansi slices

January 26, 2007

chicken piccata

Straight from Cuisine at Home sample magazine, this has become one of our favorite chicken dishes now. I've even tried substituting tilapia fish for the chicken with good results. I was just talking to my aunt the other day over the phone when she asked me for the recipe. I cooked this for her party sometime ago while I was visiting her. So I'm posting the recipe below for her. Oat or whole wheat flour may be used instead of all purpose flour for dredging or dusting the chicken.

orzo pasta tossed with fresh parsley, olive oil, salt & red pepper flakes

roasted vegetables make a good side dish

Couscous or orzo pasta may be served on the side along with some steamed veggies. I tossed the orzo pasta with some olive oil, a little salt, red pepper flakes and chopped fresh parsley to give it some flavor. Roasted vegetables are also a good side dish idea.

Chicken Piccata

4 chicken cutlets
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T capers, drained
2 T unsalted butter
Fresh lemon slices
Chopped fresh parsley

Prepare the chicken fillets by splitting in half and pounding gently with a meat mallet. A good tip is to use plastic wrap to cover the meat while pounding. I always like to sprinkle chicken with a little lemon juice. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. Very lightly dust with flour and saute in oil until browned and cooked through. Set aside in a serving platter and cover with foil. Add the minced garlic to the same pan with the drippings. Deglaze with wine. Add chicken broth, lemon juice and capers. Simmer for a few minutes then finish by adding the butter and lemon slices. Pour over cooked chicken and garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

January 24, 2007

bananas foster

bananas foster with pistachio ice cream
and sesame seed brittle

Invented by a chef from New Orleans, this may be one of the quickest and easiest desserts to make with just four basic ingredients, sliced bananas, butter, brown sugar & cinnamon. Adding rum or banana liquor is always required in the recipe but too bad we didn't have any of that so I decided to omit it and added pandan ( a very fragrant leaf commonly used in many Asian desserts ) flavoring instead. Can't resist comparing this dessert to the bananas in syrup we make in Manila. We use a local banana variety called "saba" which may be substituted with ripe plantains. These exotic banana varieties are ideally used since they remain firm when simmered in thick syrup and they absorb the syrup well. Instead of serving it with vanilla ice cream, a classic favorite here, a refreshing choice for us back in Manila was to top the bananas in syrup with finely crushed or shaved ice and some evaporated milk. This combination is a favorite during the hot summer months in Manila and just as popular as bananas foster here. As the ice cream starts melting on top of the warm bananas in syrup, there's just no turning back from this comforting dessert, a perfect end to any meal.

January 22, 2007

baked fish with pasta

There's nothing simpler for just about any day of the week than this baked tilapia fillets with fettucine pasta. This must be one of the easiest meals I've fixed lately. To start off, whole wheat fettucine was cooked, drained and kept warm. While the pasta was cooking, about four pieces of tilapia fish fillets were washed, drained and arranged in a baking pan. Next, in a small bowl, about 2-3 cloves of finely chopped or grated fresh garlic were mixed with 1 tbsp. of melted butter, 2 tbsps. olive oil, finely chopped parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir this mixture until well blended and pour over the fish. Let stand while preheating the oven. Bake uncovered for about 8 minutes then broil for additional 2 minutes. The cooking time depends on how thick the fish fillets are so it's always best to check for doneness. Remove from the oven and keep warm by covering with foil. Meanwhile, toss the cooked pasta with olive oil, red pepper flakes and about 2 tbsps. finely chopped fresh parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta into a serving dish and top with the fish. Sprinkle with extra chopped parsley before serving.

January 13, 2007

kalamansi juice

freshly squeezed kalamansi juice from our backyard harvest

It was a sunny and warm January day today, a perfect time to water and check our backyard plants, a task I've been postponing due to the cold weather. Birds were happy and singing this morning, perhaps they thought spring is finally here, or just simply enjoying the nice weather : ) Just like them, I can hardly wait for springtime.

As an early warm weather treat, here's the last batch of this year's calamansi harvest. They have already turned yellow and matured before I had a chance to pick them all. Sometimes I pick only a few for my cooking needs. We have been enjoying these small citrus fruits from a couple of small trees we have almost all year round. Calamansi ( spelled kalamansi in Tagalog ) is a small, very tropical citrus fruit commonly available in Philippine markets. We use them for everything, for marinades, dips, flavoring and fresh juices ( even cleaning tarnished jewelry) in place of lemons and limes. This basketful of harvest inspired me to whip up some freshly squeezed calamansi juice. My husband hasn't been feeling well for days now suffering from a bad cold and this tart juice was just what he needed. I remember calamansi juice used to be my favorite drink to bring to school. They sell them cheap in the summer, they're also bigger and juicier during this time, although they start getting smaller and more expensive towards the end of the year. It was also in the summer when my mother would sometimes preserve them as a syrup, boiling a mixture of sugar and juice together. It was cooled and stored in a glass jar in the fridge. A simple addition of cold water and ice to a few tablespoons of the syrup was enough to make a very refreshing summertime drink.

Excelente brand ham

Still having a holiday hangover and thinking about one of our favorite Christmas and New Year treats in the Philippines, Excelente brand ham. We usually do an annual trek to Quaipo, one of the busiest places in Manila during the holidays for this special Chinese-style ham. ( Quiapo is also famous for a big annual religious event which happens on the 9th of January, the feastday of the Nazareno, a miraculous image of Christ carrying the cross. ) At the popular Excelente store, hams are available whole, bone-in or boneless or sliced. We like to buy it already sliced by the kilo. There's an option if you prefer it with or without syrup when they weigh it. It's obviously more expensive without the syrup then you get extra syrup in a bag to go. This can be poured on the ham when it's reheated and served later. The extra syrup is my favorite. I usually prefer the ham pan-fried a little bit with the special syrup. Before my aunt migrated to the US with her family, she always went to Quiapo with her friend and would just buy the ham for us. It was important to be in front of the store early morning when it opens since there's always a long line especially during the holidays. Too bad the cost of the ham goes up every year, but it's not that easy to give up the tradition. Best on Christmas morning with hot coffee, warm pan de sal and queso de bola ( aged gouda ), this ham has been a part of our many memorable holiday food traditions and celebrations. I'm looking forward to it on our next visit to the Philippines!

January 9, 2007

sinigang na hipon ( sour shrimp soup )

One of the best things I like about where we are is having the privilege of getting fresh seafood anytime of the year. Although I don't cook shrimps often, considering that my husband is allergic to them, I do have desperate cravings for them. Whenever we go out to eat is the ideal time when I usually get them in a dish to fix my 'shrimp withdrawal symptoms' :) This sour soup with shrimps ( along with other sour soup versions and favorites from the Philippines using fish and/or pork ) gets top billing usually when the holiday season is over and after all the rich holiday food consumption. This is also one reason why the price of seafood at the local markets escalates after the holidays when the law of supply and demand takes over. But still there's nothing more satisfying than the taste of the hot and sour broth of this shrimp soup. It's usually flavored with sour tamarind, I know there are some who still take the time and effort to make the tamarind extraction, boiling fresh tamarind fruit until tender then mashing them, to get the pure tamarind taste, without all the preservatives. But fresh tamarind fruit is not always available so many of us now rely on convenient instant tamarind soup base packets, like Knorr and Mama Sita's brands. There are other local fruits like guava and "kamias" ( a sour fruit very similar in texture and taste to the starfruit ) which may be used for sinigang. I usually like my sinigang very tart and it's easy to make it the way you like it with the soup base. Vegetables like white radish, stringbeans or cut-up green beans and other green leafy vegetable like green leaf lettuce, etc. are usually added to the soup last. It's best served steaming hot and definitely not just after the holidays!
fresh shrimps from the local seafood market

January 4, 2007

holiday cupcakes

Inspiration for cooking and baking comes in many forms like from the simple cupcake papers I used here. I've been thinking about making these cupcakes since I bought these cupcake paper liners with poinsettia design long before the holidays. I must admit I took the shortcut and used a boxed spice cake mix for these cupcakes, which worked quite well. I just folded in finely chopped walnuts to the batter. The cupcakes turned out moist and light. While letting them cool down, which didn't take very long, I started making the cream cheese frosting. Half a box of cream cheese and half a stick of butter were mixed together until well blended, then sifted confectioner's sugar was gradually added until the desired frosting consistency and sweet flavor were achieved. The cupcakes may even be refrigerated briefly, just to be sure that the icing doesn't soften or much worse, melt. This is the same basic cream cheese frosting used for carrot cake. Cupcakes are great for a quick additional dessert or teatime snack. Perfect to bring for potlucks and very pretty to serve at parties or gatherings.
cupcakes cooling down before frosting