January 25, 2010

lumpiang sariwa (fresh springroll)

lumpiang sariwa with dried shrimps (above)

lumpiang sariwa with pork strips (above)

(1) rinsed & soaked "hibe" or dried shrimps and annatto juice. Annatto seeds and dried shrimps are both available in Asian markets (2) chopped fresh cilantro (3) pan-fried diced sweet and yukon gold potatoes (4) thinly sliced green beans, cabbage and onion (5) browning the pork strips in the wok (6) blanched vegetables were combined together.

There are many variations of the lumpia or springroll in the Philippines. Perhaps the most popular are the crispy fried springrolls that are served in most Asian restaurants. Even with the fresh kind, there are a few variations, and this is just one of them. It has been years since I made this type of lumpia or springroll. Although they're usually served wrapped or rolled in a fresh springroll wrapper, it's also acceptable to serve them without the wrapper. Minus the wrapper, we call them "lumpiang hubad" or "naked springroll". In Manila, we get fresh wrappers straight from the guy who makes them at the local market. The wrappers are made with a simple flour and water mixture and are similar to very thin crepes. This recipe calls for a mix of fresh vegetables cooked with either pork and/or dried shrimps although the dried shrimps add a distinctive flavor. They can be salty so it's best to rinse them. Pan fried diced potato and sweet potato are also important in the dish. The jicama strips provide the crunchy texture. With my husband's shrimp allergy, I had to make this in two batches. The first batch was cooked with pork and the second, with the dried shrimps. One unusual ingredient we like to use for this dish is achuete, achiote or annatto seeds. The seeds, which give the dish a deep yellow orange color, are sold in Asian markets as a natural food coloring. They have to be soaked in hot water, then strained before using. The unusual flavors of this vegetable dish come from a combination of peanut butter or ground peanuts, rinsed and soaked dried shrimps, cilantro and annatto juice. It's also served with a sauce made with minced garlic, ground roasted peanuts, soy sauce, water, sugar, salt and pepper then thickened slightly with cornstarch. I would say this Filipino vegetable dish is quite different from most Asian stir fry dishes we're familiar with.


canola or vegetable oil
1/2 lb. pork, thinly sliced in strips (optional)
2 tbsps. dried shimps or hibe, rinsed and soaked in water (optional)
2 tbsps. garlic, minced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tbsps. natural style peanut butter
1/4 cup ground roasted peanuts
2 tbsps. annatto or achuete seeds, soaked then strained
1 cup thinly sliced green beans, blanched
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage, blanched
1/2 cup julienned singkamas or jicama (optional)
2 small potatoes, diced and pan-fried
1 small sweet potato, diced and pan-fried
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the peanut butter and annatto juice and mix well. Set aside. If using pork, cook the pork strips in a little oil over medium heat until well browned. Drain and set aside. Cook the garlic and onions in a little canola oil in the same pan. Add the annatto juice and peanut butter mixture. Drain the shrimps before adding. Thin with a little water if mixture is too thick. Stir in the blanched vegetables followed by the pan-fried potatoes and jicama. Sprinkle the cilantro and ground peanuts. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with some green leaf lettuce leaves and the sauce (below). The green leaf lettuce leaves may take the place of the fresh springroll wrapper.


2 cups water
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons white or brown sugar
finely minced garlic, about 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup ground roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with water

Combine the water, sugar, soy sauce, garlic and peanuts. Simmer over medium heat for a few minutes. Stir in the the cornstarch mixture. Serve with the fresh lumpia.

January 24, 2010

weekend food discovery

Shown above are two kinds of German sausages and Italian sausage, coiled in the center.

Our fun and exciting weekend of food discovery was dampened by the disappointing news that one of our favorite restaurants in town, a very good German restaurant, is now closed for business. It actually came as a shock to us even though we keep hearing that a number of restaurants in our area had closed this past year due to slow business. We never thought this restaurant will join the trend for it was quite a popular place not just with tourists but with locals as well. We will definitely miss their creamy mushroom soup, German potato pancakes, house salad, pork schnitzels, bratwursts and of course, their wheat and dark beers. The good news is, as I was saying earlier, we discovered a new deli in town selling fresh European sausages, cold cuts and other gourmet food products. Aside from the deli, the friendly chef, assisted by his personable wife, can prepare a variety of hot and cold sandwiches and platters to go. We were so delighted to discover this place and vowed to come back very soon for some more of their tasty products. I guess we can very much relate this to the saying, when a door closes, a window opens. In this case, it just happens to be true.

Note: As of now, our favorite German restaurant may have closed but the good thing is, a new one took its place. Along with other changes, the interior has been updated and the menu was revised as well. We've tried it once and so far, we enjoyed the different versions of classic German and European cuisine they offer.

January 15, 2010

blackened fish fillets

To eat lightier after all the rich food during the past holidays is one of my goals these days. It's not easy to do but it's worth trying. I have only one word to describe this fish fillet dish ~ easy. It was so quick and easy that thawing out the fish took more time than cooking it. We particularly like tilapia fillets but any kind of white fish fillets will work for this. Blackening is a cooking technique used in traditional cajun and creole cuisine. Instead of dipping the fillets in melted butter, I just brushed them generously with olive oil. I used a combination of salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and yellow cornmeal for the seasonings. The olive oil made the seasonings adhere well to the fish forming a crust. Place them on a greased or foil-lined baking dish then drizzle a little more olive oil on top. Broil the fillets for about 10-15 minutes or until done. I tried to broil them in our toaster oven, which I prefer to use for smaller baking and broiling jobs, and it worked quite well. The yellow cornmeal helped brown the fish topping evenly. Instead of cornmeal, regular breadcrumbs may also be used.

January 10, 2010

pospas (chicken & rice soup)

When it comes to comforting soups, the Philippines has a lot to offer. They are well integrated in everyday cuisine and they are usually considered as main dishes which can be eaten with rice and vegetables. One of those we like to have on a regular basis, which my mother loved to cook because it was also one of her favorites, is "pospas" or chicken and rice soup. There are many variations but with the same basic flavors of ginger, onions and garlic. The chicken asopao, which my husband tried at La Mallorquina restaurant on our first visit to Puerto Rico, reminded me of this chicken and rice soup version. Still recovering from our seasonal allergies and colds, and with the onset of the lower winter temperatures, this steaming hot soup with chicken and rice was a complete meal by itself. It was exactly what we needed to get us through the cold snap.


1 whole chicken, cut-up or meaty parts of chicken (I used 6 pcs skinless chicken drumsticks)
thinly sliced fresh ginger (2" piece)
minced fresh garlic (about 2 tbsps.)
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
1/4 cup jasmine rice (1/2 cup may be used if not using sticky rice)
1/4 cup sticky rice (optional but available in Asian markets)
water or chicken broth
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
a few saffron strands (optional)
1 tsp. paprika
chicken bouillon (optional)
fish sauce (optional)

Wash the chicken pieces well and pat dry with papertowels. In a soup pot, pan fry the chicken pieces in about 2-3 tablespoons of canola oil until lightly browned. They don't have to cook thoroughly at this point. Transfer them to a plate as they brown. In the same pot, over medium heat, sautee the ginger until fragrant and slightly toasted. Add the minced garlic and the onions. Cook for a few minutes. Meanwhile, combine the rice, rinse and drain well. Add to the pot and stir for a few minutes. Add the chicken pieces and stir together to combine with the rice. Add about 5 cups of water. Add the saffron strands and paprika. If the soup gets too thick as it simmers, just add some more water. Season with fish sauce (optional), chicken bouillon (optional) salt and pepper. Squeeze half a lemon into the soup. Simmer until rice and chicken are fully cooked. Garnish with sliced green onions. Serve hot with more lemon wedges.

Note: One common version is using chicken broth instead of chicken pieces then adding hard-boiled eggs to the soup at serving time. Lightly toasted minced garlic in oil may also be sprinkled on the soup along with sliced green onions before serving.

January 9, 2010

happy 2010

A mix of traditions and a toast for a new year that will hopefully be blessed with more good food, exciting travels and new adventures! This was our very simple new year's eve dinner. We had a comforting and spicy soup with black-eyed peas and thin sausage slices garnished with green onions, which is popularly known as Hoppin' John. I like having this with steamed white rice. I learned that it's usually eaten on New Year's day for good luck. To go with the soup, I also made some crispy springrolls. Fresh roll (called "pan de sal" in the Philippines) filled with pan-fried ham slices and edam cheese, was always my favorite New Year snack in the Philippines. My mother would always buy Chinese ham from a busy food store in downtown Manila. The cheese was usually aged gouda imported from Holland which has been a part of the Christmas season there for many years. A good sign that the holiday season has began is when groceries and markets start selling Chinese ham and round gouda cheese (dipped in red wax). Having this sandwich for New Year's eve will always remind me of Christmas in the Philippines. Fresh round fruits that the Filipinos believe to be for good luck is a favorite centerpiece for the table. Some like to have as many as thirteen different kinds of round fruits but for me, the number is not as important as the meaning it conveys. As for my husband and me, our New Year's eve wouldn't be complete without our traditional toast.

~ our quiet setting and simple new year's eve celebration ~ happy 2010!

January 6, 2010

cruise food highlights

Finally, as one of the highlights of the cruise, here are some of the good food served to us mostly at the main dining. Their capability to prepare and cook all the food was simply amazing. Aside from those served at the main dining, there was also non-stop cooking and serving at the all day buffet located at the upper deck. To think that they did this every single day, over and over, is just unbelievable. This was our fourth cruise (our second Christmas cruise) but I will continue to be amazed by the skills of the professional chefs and the hardworking kitchen staff in a cruise.

(1) salmon with crispy onion rings and snow peas (2) slices of braised beef with asparagus (3) grand marnier souffle (4) roast rack of lamb (5) spicy grilled chicken on top of Asian noodles with coconut cream sauce (6) dulce de leche cheesecake (7) asparagus and brie tart with arugula (8) banana creme brulee (9) grilled butterflied prawns with asparagus and sticky rice (10) coconut cream pie (11) lobster and shrimps served with yellow rice (12) smoked salmon appetizer (13) grilled skewered teriyaki chicken cubes served with white rice (14) crispy tortilla chips with a cheesy spinach dip (15) layered dark chocolate cake and chocolate mousse with dark chocolate shell on top.

a quiet day in Tortola

We docked early in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. This port was the least busiest of the other ports of call. Our shore excursion here was at 8 a.m. so we were out at the promenade deck before sunrise. The view was incredible, very calm with only a few sailboats passing by. We signed up to go on a morning hike to Sage Mountain National Park followed by a beach break. Our ship was scheduled to leave the port by 1 p.m. that day so our time at the excursion was limited. The hike in the rainforest was very interesting and not extremely tiring. From there, we continued to drive downhill to the beach. It was very laid back and relaxing. It was our first visit to the British Virgin Islands but hopefully not our last.

(1) a peaceful morning in Tortola (2) the view of the mountains and a few buildings from the ship (3) a secluded cove at the beach (4) my quiet spot at the beach was a perfect place for a nap (5) shiny rocks piled on the beach sand (6) exotic coco plums grow around Sage Mountain (7) lush elephant ear philodendron at the Sage Mountain National Park.

exploring Philipsburg & Marigot

(1) Old Street passageway in Philipsburg decorated for the holidays (2) a colorful restaurant that's hard to miss (3) bell at Oranje School (4) old Oranje School (5) a Catholic Church

It was our second time in Saint Marten, our next stop. We reached the port early allowing many of the passengers to get off the ship by 7 a.m. A convenient round trip ferry boat ride took us to Philipsburg in Saint Marten. We were supposed to join a shore excursion but it got cancelled so we just took a taxi to Marigot on the French side. Our plan for the day was uncomplicated. We just wanted to look around and find a good French restaurant for lunch. Dark rain clouds were forming as we headed back to the shopping and restaurant areas. The heavy rains which immediately followed made us think about the travel umbrellas in our cabin that we should have brought with us. It was a good decision to stay out of the rain and get some drinks at Le Vie en Rose, another restaurant we wouldn't hesistate to try. Unfortunately, their main dining is only open for dinner but we got very good recommendations from them for a French restaurant to try for lunch. I must say O'Plongeoir was the exact restaurant we were looking for. The food was great, the service was quick and the staff was friendly. It turned out to be quite a memorable meal. Despite the rains, it was an unforgettable and enjoyable day.

(1) local Marigot produce market (2) Serafina, a French pastry & bread shop (3) escargot appetizers (4) very fresh, light and airy French baguette slices were served with our meal (5) my green salad with grilled chicken strips, anchovies and crispy bacon was so good and full of flavor that I almost finished the entire serving (6) au gratin potaoes, roast duck (hidden behind the alfalfa garnish), served with a rich creamy dip, made us want to come back someday.

back in Saint Thomas

It was exciting to be back in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on Christmas day. The first time we came here, we visited Water Island where we joined a bike tour around the island. This time, we planned to go to another island, St. John. As part of the tour, we sailed on a small boat passing a few other islands along the way. Our guide also pointed to us a couple of vacation homes owned by well-known celebrities that were built on cliffs. I can just imagine the amazing views from their homes. When we got to St. John, we transferred to a tour bus which was more like a truck than a bus. Our tour guide and driver made sure that we see all the breathtaking views of the beach and mountains as we went up the hilly island. It was another fun day of discovery at a beautiful location.
(1) colorful Christmas lanterns we call "parols" at the Fiesta, a Filipino restaurant in St. Thomas (2) the boat which took us to St. John Island (3) Fiesta Restaurant where most Filipino crew from the cruise ships docked at St. Thomas go for a little R & R and for some good Filipino food (4) a quiet setting at one of our stops in St. John (5) shopper's paradise in St. Thomas (6) native rooster out on a morning stroll (7) these suntan flowers are also very common in the Philippines and it was nice to see them in St. John Island.
(1) a local snack bar in St. Thomas (2) breathtaking view from a high point in the island (3) a colorful tropical hut (4) bright pink bougainvilleas

January 5, 2010

our first visit to San Juan

After two long days of sailing, we finally reached our first port of call in Puerto Rico. We were ready to get off the ship to explore Old San Juan for the first time. We spent the day just walking to and around El Morro fort and other landmarks in the old city. The temperature was 82 degrees, sunny and very bright. It was a perfect day for a new adventure.

1) the Spanish fort of El Morro as seen from the ship's promenade deck. 2) San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico. 3) El Morro's thick walls. 4) a quiet and shady spot by the fort entrance.

We were hungry even before we started our stroll, so as soon as we passed by La Mallorquina restaurant located at the busy main street of San Justo, we didn't hesitate to stop for lunch. A full day of walking under the heat of the glowing sun left us thirsty and dry. Refreshing pineapple sorbet from a local vendor was a welcome treat.

1) the interior of La Mallorquina restaurant in Old San Juan. 2) asopao with chicken, a thick Puerto Rican soup cooked with rice and served with fried sweet plantains. 3) an appetizer plate of fried Spanish cheese. 4) Spanish flavors dominate this chorizo appetizer cooked in tomato sauce. 5) my plate of steaming hot yellow rice with crab was also served with fried sweet plantains. 6) a snack cart selling all kinds of native Puerto Rican snacks. 7) a local vendor selling fruit sorbets and shaved ice flavored with syrups. 8) refreshing scoops of pineapple sorbet 9) an old cobblestone street.

pre-cruise visit to Tampa

We spent two nights in Tampa before our cruise to the Caribbean. It was our first time in the city so it was a good opportunity for us to check out the attractions close to the port and also to unwind after the long drive. We stayed at Ybor City and had quiet strolls along the main street during the day.

It was a sunny day but a bit chilly when we visited the Florida Aquarium, one of the main attractions in Tampa, located just beside the port. The photo above was taken from the second level of the aquarium.

A giant stingray welcomes the visitor to the Florida Aquarium.

American Victory (above) ship docked at the port.

This streetcar (above) was a very convenient means of transportation around the city. As we crossed the street, we saw this weekend market. They were selling all kinds of food. There were an assortment of fruit preserves, rustic loaves of bread and fresh produce. Some stalls were offering handmade soaps, plants, jewelry and other interesting decorative items.

We had a late lunch at La Creperia at Ybor City. They had both sweet and savory crepes in their menu. I was torn between the sweet Nutella and banana crepe and the ham and cheese breakfast crepe. I finally decided to get the savory crepe. La Creperia has an all-day breakfast crepe menu as well. We also tried the the Spanish-Cuban food at Columbia restaurant in Ybor for dinner but didn't get the chance to take pictures there.

We also stopped by one of the biggest home furnishings store, IKEA. We weaved through the creative furniture displays inside the store, checking out a few interesting ideas as we went along. After the cruise, we remembered to stop by at IKEA once again to pick up a few food items from the grocery and to try the Swedish meatballs with lingonberry preserves for lunch.