Monday, November 30, 2009

Pinsec Frito- Traditional Chinese dish with a Spanish name

My 15 year old son had an assignment. His group was to suggest a kind of food that they can serve on International Culture Day. They were appointed to research on chinese food and bring bite-size samples to school. My immediate response was dimsum-- --perfect! However, if my son had his way, he wanted yang chow rice.

Of the 5 suggestions, his team chose Pinsec Frito. It doesn't sound chinese at all like "siomai", or "Bam-i", or "chop suey". Pinsec Frito is as traditional a chinese dish as fried noodles, sweet sour pork and steamed wontons. It is a Spanish term for fried dumplings, part of "La Comida China". And like the pansit, pinsec frito is so much a part of the history of our foodscape.

So last saturday, Miggy and I tested the recipe so we could be ready for the big day.He did the prep from chopping, to mixing, to wrapping. It is so simple, even a younger child can do it.

  • 1/2 kilo finely ground pork
  • 2 t finely chopped or grated ginger
  • 2 t sugar
  • 1/4 c chopped pork fat (optional)
  • 1/4 c finely chopped singkamas (jicama)
  • 1/4 c finely chopped carrots
  • 2 T finely chopped scallions
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 T soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1 pack large size wonton wrappers (molo wrappers)
  • Oil for frying

Simply prep all ingredients and mix them well in a bowl. Fill the middle of the wonton wrapper with 1 t of the meat mixture and gather up the sides to wrap around the filling. Try to keep the corners upright so it will "bloom" when deep fried. The difficulty with wonton wrappers is they get easily wet or damp, and stick to the tray or plate, causing it to rip. The trick is to line the tray with a cloth or tea towel.

Heat oil through, but make sure it is not smoking or else you will end up with cooked wrappers but raw meat. Without the benefit of an oil thermometer, I got this easy to follow tip: Dip a barbecue stick in the oil, and when the bubbles run up the stick, it is ready.

Gently drop about 4-5 pieces at a time. Too many pieces will cause the temperature of the oil to drop, resulting in greasy dumplings. What you want are golden brown and crispy bites.

To remove excess oil, place newly fried wontons on kitchen paper towels. Sweet chili sauce is the perfect dip for these crunchy morsels. Just dip and pop them into your mouth. We eat it with yang chow- chinese style fried rice or as my parents would call it "morosquieta". With a side bowl of egg-drop soup or noodle soup.

I was so proud of Miggy as he took his assignment a step further. He not only researched, but tested it himself. I must say, he was successful as we had a wonderful lunch last Saturday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lemon Meringue Torte

I like many things that has lemon in it... I like it as lemonade... I like it with extra-virgin olive oil as a simple dressing...I love it as gremolata (lemon zest with chopped garlic and basil--heavenly)...I like it squeezed over paella or mussels cooked in white wine... and I love it as dessert.

My version is a cross between a lemon pie and a lemon square. I particularly like the strong tartness of the lemon square because it is more pronounced. The meringue just adds a bit of depth and creaminess to the bite.

I was especially happy when I experimented on this as I was never consistently successful with beating egg whites. I have yet to succeed in making my son's favorite dessert which is sans rival. I was a dismal failure so I will try and try again.
Plus, this time I was challenged to do it by hand and not rely on a mixer ( To be truthful about it, I was just too lazy to bring out the heavy mixer from the shelf in my pantry. To get it was a greater challenge for me at the time.)

I find that this a perfect ending to a heavy meal or a meal that had very strong flavors like beef and pork dishes, or spicy dishes, because it cools the palate. Though sweet, the lemon seems to cleanse the tongue.

This recipe is not intimidating as the crust does not require much skill, except mixing and pressing onto the pan. The zest is really important because I find that this gives the round flavor and it just makes the dessert more appetizing even on the first whiff. The best couple of tips I ever got to beating egg whites to a fluff are: they should be at room temperature and the bowl should be absolutely dry.
Pucker up and enjoy.

1 c all purpose flour
1/2 butter or butter compound
1/4 c powdered or confectioner's sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
1 1/2 c sugar
Lemon zest, chopped (about 1 1/2 T)
Juice from 2 lemons (about 6-7 T)
1 t baking powder

Prepare a shallow pie pan or tart pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Blend together flour and powdered sugar. Then combine it with softened butter.
Simply press this on the pan. And bake in oven for 15 minutes.
In a bowl, beat eggs and sugar till creamy and fluffy. Add your lemon zest, lemon juice and baking powder. Pour over pre-baked crust and bake for another 15-20 minutes till the top layer is set. Let cool.

To prepare meringue, beat eggwhites with 1 t cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 c sugar and beat continuously until stiff but not dry. Spread on top of pie and bake or broil until it is lightly browned.

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fiesta Fare for City Kids

I've had the good fortune of growing up in the best of both worlds (no tribute to Hannah Montana here), where I grew up in the city but spent a sizeable chunk of my childhood vacations in the province. These were in the towns where my parents grew up.

And so I've seen the bucolic countryside, complete with fields, nipa huts, fishing villages with no electricity. Hating the boredom at times... scared of the "tuko", a scary-looking thorny lizard... eating fresh young coconut meat--creamy and syrupy after swimming at the beach... enjoying sugary sweet and pulpy atis (custard apple)...blowing the steam off newly-cooked chicken "gata"(cooked in coconut cream) resting on top of a mound of rice and fried fish on the side...playing under the moonlight and waking up to the free-for-all crowing of the roosters.

My children are city kids who moan at the thought of a blackout after a typhoon hits the country. That meant no TV and no computer. This also meant that they didn't get to climb trees...never swam in the ocean with the help of floaters made out of tire inner tubes ("salbabida")... never caught a gold beetle (salaginto)... nor ate with bare hands with banana leaves as plates while sitting on the seashore with underwear full of sand...

My eldest once said, everything seems to taste better when wrapped in banana leaves. And so for my husband's birthday very recently, I promised a family dinner reminiscent of how it was done during his childhood. An entire table lined with banana leaves and viands right at the center for everyone to pick; to enjoy every morsel with their bare hands.

Now where my parents come from, eating with the hands is an art form: you should only use your fingertips and keep the rest of the palm clean.

The menu was pork belly and pompano fish stuffed with onions and tomatoes, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over hot coals. Fresh shrimps simply seasoned with salt and pepper, flash-cooked in little water and topped off with a dollop of butter, mussels soup, laing , diced red egg and tomatoes with the all important hot and fluffy rice. Dessert was a bowl of chilled lychees and served with ice.

It was I must say a feast!
We had a grand time. Much as we were nowhere near a farm nor a fishing village, I was just happy that my boys were enjoying this time, having a ball and literally getting a taste of what it was like for me and my husband when we were growing up.

I tell myself there will be MORE of this.
On the practical side, all we did was fold the banana leaves and the clean-up was done!

Charcoal-grilled pork belly (Inihaw na Liempo)
  • 1 kilo of pork belly (about 1/4 in thick), about 6-7 slices
  • 1 c vinegar
  • 1/2 head of garlic finely chopped. Or better yet, pound away into a paste in mortar and pestle
  • 1 T sea salt
  • black pepper

When using a mortar and pestle, put the salt with the garlic to prevent the garlic from jumping out. Mix all the ingredients together and this is your marinade. Keep the pork soaked in this mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Mussel Soup (Tahong na may sabaw)
  • 1 kilo mussels, cleaned and bearded
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 thumb size ginger, julienned
  • Fish sauce (patis) or salt
  • pepper to taste
  • Optional: handful of chili leaves (dahon ng sili)

In a pot, heat a little oil and saute your garlic and ginger till fragrant. Careful not to burn your garlic as it gets bitter. Simply put in the mussels and add 2-3 cups of water. Add fish sauce or salt to taste. Balance with a pinch of pepper. Turn on high heat to boil.

When all the mussels have opened, this means it is cooked. Turn off the heat. A handful of chili leaves does not add any heat nor spice at all. It just gives a nice touch of fresh frgrance and a mild herb-y flavor to the broth.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brunch at my Home-- "Kain Tayo!"

Since I am a full-time working mom, I try to make up among other things, by making meal times special for my family. I cook Saturday and Sunday dinners and Sunday Brunch. On Sundays, we tend to linger longer at the table before heading for worship service at midday.

It has been such a habit that my youngest, now 15 years old would wake me up in the morning, less I forget to cook! They look forward to that. I'm glad.

I cook depending on what's in the pantry. Or when I happen to be in the grocery on a Saturday, I start buying for my brunch menu. Pinoy breakfast is hearty. And while I add things of my own, revise bits here and there-- you will find my family heritage at our table.

The latest pinoy theme included chicken tocino, crispy boneless dilis, spanish sardines, sunny side-up, puting keso ng calabao (carabao white cheese) pan fried in butter and tsokolate eh (spanish chocolate). with the pre-requisite sinangag (fried rice) and bread. For toasted bread, it's a toss-up for me between pandesal, french bread, whole wheat or rye.

Both my parents hail from Batangas, so I grew up with native white cheese, although then it was saltier and wrapped in banana leaves...
tocino, although then it was with fatty pork...

The rest especially the spanish chocolate is still the same--dark and thick. The way I imagine the Spanish Friars had them in the olden days. Tablea is basically roasted cacao seeds ground and placed in small tin molds till dry.
  • 6-9 unsweetened chocolate tablets
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 c sugar

Simmer the chocolate tablets in water till it dissolves. The traditional way is to beat it until frothy with a batirol. In the meantime, a wire wisk will do. Add sugar. This istill quite bitter. Just offer milk and sugar or condensed milk at the table. Let them add according to taste. We enjoy ours bittersweet.

I cherish this time with my children and I hope that they will remember these sunday brunches with fondness. That they too, will make it a point to keep the weekly tradition alive where their own families are able to bond and make up for the hectic week that had just passed.

Summer in the midst of a Storm

Despite the incessant rain and typhoon-- I dream of summer and the cornucopia of fruits that it yields.

I was so thrilled when I accidentally stumbled upon a mound of native guavas, the small, sweet and fragrant kind. They were at the peak of ripeness that I just could not resist! And so I bought 2 1/2 kilos giddy with the thought that I will get to experiment on making guava jam.

What I see in supermarkets (which are rare these days) is guava jelly. What I wanted to make is true to the fruit, the result of which is a spread that is a dessert in itself!

I remember my grandmother had a lone guava tree in her backyard in Quezon City, next to the fruit-laden tamarind tree. The flesh of the guava was pink and almost sugar-sweet. The tree was short and easy to climb on. And my cousins and I would excitedly devour it. (on other days, we would pick from the neighbor's aratelis tree).

And so, I washed my guavas well and removed the seeds. The ones with soft and mushy pulp were the sweetest and I couldn't resist popping a few in my mouth. It was like going back to my childhood days of summer. The tougher ones, about less than ten pieces had to be removed, otherwise they will leave a bitter (mapakla) aftertaste. So my guess is, I was left with 2 kilos of guavas to cook.
I didn't put much sugar because the guavas were already sweet. I just needed the sugar to heighten the flavor and preserve it.

2 kilos ripe guavas, pitted, discard seeds
2 1/2 to 3 /2 c sugar
1 t salt
juice of 1 lemon

In a deep pot or wok, put the sliced guavas, add about a half to full cup of water, and when boiling, bring the flame down to a simmering heat, leave to cook for 30 minutes. Add salt and sugar and cook for another 15 minutes. Finally, add the lemon juice. When the fruit is soft, let it cool a bit and put in blender. You don't have to liquefy it as a few chunky bits make more enjoyable to eat. Put back in pot or wok and cook till thick and of spreadable consistency. It's like thick fruit sauce.

For me it's still best with thin crackers, with it's sweetness and crunch dancing in my mouth. Or on toasted wholewheat mainly because of the crunch and the earthiness of the bread.

As I was savoring my guava jam one cool morning, I thought it would probably go great with panna cotta. Too late-- my stash was almost gone! However, I have saved a little because I heard that it's wonderful sauce for baked ham. So, I'm saving some for Christmas. And that's not too far away. :-)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kiss the Cook: Typhoon Pepeng and Hainanese Chicken Rice

Kiss the Cook: Typhoon Pepeng and Hainanese Chicken Rice

Typhoon Pepeng and Hainanese Chicken Rice

Saturday, many waited for Typhoon Pepeng's fury with bated breath-- as they indulged in their favorite comfort food. So did we.

Among those eats that we truly enjoy as a family is Hainanese Chicken Rice. I love this dish because it's simple yet flavorful. It feeds the senses--from the smell to the mouth feel to the taste.

For many who have gone to Singapore, I bet their shopping expeditions were mostly for clothes and shoes. As for me? My luggage had a box which contained the following: A couple of jars of chicken rice mix, 3 bottles of premium soy sauce, 2 small jars of chicken rice chili, 1 bottle of laksa paste, curry mix and black pepper mix and 6 bottles of kaya jam for pasalubong. I also brought home difficult to find spices like cardammon. And given the chance to go back--I will bring home more of the same things!

Because I won't be going to Singapore anytime soon, I've learned to make my own chicken rice mix and kaya jam (coconut cream jam). I wanted to get as close to the original taste that I so thoroughly enjoyed! I intend to bottle these and join bazaars one of these days.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is not hard to do. I've checked different recipes and they varied a bit from each other. So what I'm sharing is what works best for me. I've tried the boiling-chicken-and-plunge-in-ice-water method...but I find that what I like to do best is steam it. The chicken stays succulent that way. The trick I believe is in the prep.

1 whole medium to big chicken
dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder
thumb size ginger, cut into thin slices

Remove excess chicken fat--the yellowish mass under the skin, near the thighs. Gently run your fingers under the chicken skin, to separate it from the meat, especially at the breast area. Massage with the mix of salt, pepper and garlic powder on the meaty side. So as the chicken cooks ,it is already infused with flavor. Under the skin, put the ginger slices in strategic areas: breasts, legs, thighs.

Steam chicken in a steamer or wok. The water for steaming itself should have a couple of slices of ginger,too. The water must remain a rolling boil. Steam for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chicken. Cover tighly, and add water every now and then to prevent it from drying up. The water used to steam the chicken will catch the juices and basically becomes the broth. Set this aside for the chicken rice.

Chicken Rice

Thumb size ginger,sliced into thin strips (matchsticks)
2 big segments of garlic, sliced into thin strips (match sticks)
1 t salt
1/3 c of oil
3 c uncooked rice

Heat oil in the pot (or the rice cooker pot on stove flame). It should be a gentle heat...add the ginger and garlic, just to release the aroma-about 30- seconds to 1 minute, then add the uncooked rice so as to coat the grains with oil. Use the chicken broth as the water (about 3 cups) ,add the salt--stir and let cook as you normally would with rice. (Likewise with the rice cooker pot-- after the open flame--let it cook in the rice cooker).

Chop chicken into smaller pieces, serve chicken rice heaping in bowls and a siding of really good soy sauce and chili paste. What I like about the premium soy sauce is its syrupy thick and mild sweet-salty taste. My friend prefers the salty variety. To contrast with crunch, serve with cucumber slices. It is a lovely and cool counterpart to the chili. If you don't have chili paste-- a little tabasco will do the trick.

The rice has to be piping hot!

Once we took the first spoonful-- Pepeng was soon forgotten.


The latest recipes from Kiss the Cook-- enjoy

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gising gising

To be honest, I don't know the roots of this dish. I assume it's from Bicol (South of Luzon, about 9 hours from Manila), because of the chili and coconut cream. It seems to be related to the "Bicol Express" but a much milder version.
The transliteration of gising-gising is "wake-up! wake-up!". And I suppose it's because the strong flavors wake your taste buds up.
It is a viand by itself, but it's always a great partner to grilled or fried fish and hot steaming rice: pinoy staples. Plus, it is economical as the main ingredients are inexpensive. I cook a big batch and it finds its way as a side dish for lunch or dinner.

Again, it's easy to do. Helpful for beginners and young housewives. Here goes!

- 2 big bunches of kangkong (also known as water cabbage)Remove the tough stalk at the bottom end of the kangkong. Separate the leaves from the stems and sliced into small pieces. Wash and drain.
- coconut cream from 2 small coconuts (about 2 cups yield)
-1 onion or shallot, sliced. (shallot is to the pinoy's pulang sibuyas)
-About 1/2 cup shrimps, shelled and deveined.
-About 1 cup of lean ground pork
-3 green chilies (siling pang-sigang) slice diagonally in half.
-fish sauce (patis) to taste or salt
-pepper to taste

Heat your pan (not too hot, otherwise you'll burn your onions in seconds!). Add a little oil and saute the onion/shallot until clear. Add the ground meat and stir fry for a couple of minutes so as to cook the meat evenly. Add the shrimp till light pink.
Proceed to add the small pieces of kangkong stalks and continue to stir for about 3 minutes.
Add the coconut cream, add the leaves and cover the pan till the mixture begins to boil.
Veggies appear plenty when they are raw, but when you begin to cook them, you realize it isn't as much as you thought!
Add the chillies. (Some people prefer the biting heat of the small red chillies, also called "siling labuyo".) Use whatever suits you.
Lower the heat to get a gentle boil. Let it simmer till the coco cream thickens a bit.
Add fish sauce or salt, and pepper to taste.

Gising gising is also a vegetarian's delight. Simply skip the meat and it can be just as good.
This is because the coco cream has a distinct flavor which for me caressess the ingredients just so.
I happen to like freshly squeezed coco cream with grilled eggplant and chopped onions...but THAT is another recipe, for another day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tortang Giniling...Meat Frittata...

If you check Wikipedia, torta is a mexican sandwich or spanish for round cake. By the looks of this particular torta, it is more like meat frittata (an italian omelet).

The Pinoy version of torta is wonderful anytime of the day. And parents like me can "hide" the veggies which some kids shun. My family loves it with rice. Although an extra helping in the fridge makes it a hefty filling for pandesal, soft roll or wheat bread for snack on school days.

It doesn't take much skill to cook torta, however, creating the perfectly round torta can be a challenge. So it is always good to look back at tradition and do it the way our parents did it back when there where no teflon, non-stick pans. The secret is using banana leaf. Not only will you get a perfect torta all the time, it also smells good and has a slight hint of smokey taste that the banana leaf gives.

This is what my husband grew up with-- a cooking tradition I find worth passing on.
1 onion, coarsely chopped
300 to 350 grams of ground meat. I use either all pork or half pork/half beef
Make sure it's lean.
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced into small cubes
small to medium potato, cut into small cubes
small to medium carrot, cut into small cubes
(tiny cubes about the size of crumbled ground meat is advisable when you want to add veggies to your child's diet)
1 T soy sauce
1-2 T ketchup
salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs

Heat pan through, preferably non-stick pan. Add 1 T of oil and saute the onions till transparent. Add the red bell pepper, then the ground meat and stir till the pink meat color is gone.

Add the veggies and cover for about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the seasoning until mixture is relatively dry, (not watery). Should your meat be fatty, drain the oil. Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, beat 3 eggs till frothy. Once the meat mixture is cool, add to the eggs and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Get a banana leaf and remove the mid rib. Cut into 2 pieces, which should be 2-3 inches bigger all around than the pan. Heat the banana leaf over stove flame quickly. This is to wilt the leaf to make it easy to handle.

Heat your pan through and line it with banana leaf. Pour the meat and egg mixture. And cover.

Keep heat low to ensure even cooking and prevent the banana leaf from scorching. Cover the pan for about 10 minutes. Check to see if the mixture has set. At the edges, the egg will begin to cook. If it is still runny, give it another 5 minutes.

Here's the challenging part: put the second banana leaf on top of the pan, get a plate bigger than the pan and use this to cover the leaf. Keep the plate firm with one hand and with some serious wrist action, flip the pan. This would have turned the torta, revealing the cooked side. Simply slide the banana leaf on the pan to cook the eggs completely.

Let it cool a bit before serving. Because by then, the torta is firm and easy to slice into wedges. Keep in its leaf lining so your family or guests will appreciate the aroma of the warm banana leaf.


Chinese Steamed or Braised Chicken

Sometimes I joke around that if I were to base my past life on food preference, I couldn't decide if I were italian... thai... or chinese.

I have a favorite dish that to my knowledge is chinese given it has garlic...ginger and chinese chorizo (referred to by my parents as chorizo macau.) This is also the dried, cured sausage bits I see in yang chow rice. Sometimes the cooking method I do is steam, like you would with dimsum or braise in a clay pot. And eat it with steaming hot rice. Yum.

It's been raining non-stop in Manila and this lists as one of my comfort food. I like the tender chicken bits...chewy, sweet mushrooms and the salty bite of the chorizo. For me, this should go with steamed or blanched bokchoy, which they also call at the supermarket as chinese pechay. (Not to be mistaken with pechay baguio).

1 thumb size ginger, sliced
3 segments of garlic, sliced
1-2 pcs chorizo macao, sliced
1 c mushrooms (buttons, shitake, or dried mushrooms soaked in warm water and sliced)
1 spring chicken cut into pieces
1 T oyster sauce
2-3 tsp soy sauce
pepper to taste
2 t chives, chopped

Marinade chicken in oyster sauce and soy sauce. Set aside.
Heat pan thoroughly, add 1 T oil and add chorizo macau until you render the fat a bit. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry. Keep the heat at medium so as not to burn the garlic. Burnt garlic is bitter.
Add chicken pieces and stir fry till the meat turns from pink to opaque white. Sprinkle with pepper.

Option 1: Transfer to a container and steam like dimsum. About 30 minutes until chicken is tender.
Option 2 is to put in a clay pot, put the cover and cook over low heat. (Chinese clay pots can be cooked over fire.) Add a little water to add moisture and prevent chicken from drying out.
Sprinkle with chop chives before serving.

This is also great served as rice topping and let the sauce and juices drizzle down the rice to soak up all the flavors!
I find that the chorizo macau, mushrooms already pack a lot of flavor so if at all, have soy sauce ready on the side. Chili paste or dried chili flakes for chili heads give it a nice kick,too.

It's oriental night--so bring out the chopsticks!
(A friend reminded me that a dash of sesame oil to top it off--gives that aroma, that is distinctly oriental. I agree!)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Caramelized Bananas

In short, "minatamis na saging".
I surmise for many Filipino households, this is quite common. Alongside turon (crunchy, wrapped in rice paper with sugar, jackfruit and deep-fried, maruya (enveloped in batter and panfried) and banana cue; it is a ubiquitous merienda fare.

As a child, I remember adding crushed ice and a little milk. Since we didn't have an ice-shaver, we would put ice cubes in cheesecloth and pound away with a clean hammer. It was one of the many summer treats in my grandmother's house.
Today, I simply enjoy its syrupy goodness with a cup of hot tea.

I got to make a big batch as I was talked into buying 2 "buwig"or bunches-on-a-trunk for peanuts. I also bought 9 kilos of sweet, sweet rambutan freshly picked from the tree with black ants still all over it.

This is one of the things I enjoy in a road trip. The anticipation of the destination and knowing that there will be road-side shopping going home. This was especially exciting as we were on our way to Ugu Bigyan to shop for his beautiful pottery.
Through the years, I've collected his works which grace my dining table and many parts of my home. Plates, bowls, cups, serving dishes,vase, soup tureen, tea pots... so this year my husband and I agreed that what we would like to get are additional statement pieces for our lanai. Apart from pottery, one can simply go there to enjoy breakfast or lunch which showcases tagalog fare. That deserves another blog...

For my version of caramelized bananas, I add a little twist:
20-25 small saging na saba, I think they are called plantains
or about 15 big ones
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c honey
1/2-1 c water
1 t cinnamon

In a deep pan, combine white and brown sugar. Put on medium heat and wait for the sugars to caramelize a bit. Don't leave the stove as burnt sugar is bitter. Add honey and water and stir. (Sometimes I add a little bit of acid like a tablespoon of lemon juice or juice of 1-2 calamansi).
Add the bananas. My mom advised that I put on low heat because this way, what you get is a chewy, "makunat"texture. Stir once in a while to make sure each banana gets coated. After 30 minutes, the sugar will begin to thicken. Sprinkled the cinnamon and gently mix. If you're like me, you may cook it for another 10 to 15 mintues to get a thicker consistency.

Wonderful as is...or serve with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Boys' Breakfast

The perfect bacon.
Though it is store bought and presumably easy to prepare, the perfect bacon eluded me for a long, long time. I followed tips but still experimented to see what worked for me. And when I did get it right-- I paired it with my favorite kiddie treat-- french toast! The last thing my son Jam and I have to have with this pair, is a bowl of beans (canned pork and beans).

We have this once in a while as it isn't exactly the most healthy of foods. But hey! Throwing caution to the wind and enjoying a crispy bite of bacon is what's eating is all about!

French toast and pancakes are also the easiest for kids to do and they tend to appreciate what they eat when they get to help in the kitchen once in a while. I used to put pancake mix in a squeeze bottle and my sons would "draw"on the pan. But I digress...

I add a bit of sugar or honey to the french toast for a hint of sweetness as my sons do not particularly like pancake syrup.

This adds to a long list of choices for Sunday Brunch. Our mid-morning time together is more leisurely, peppered with stories, browsing the headlines, blind-items and comic strips. Then it's off to worship service, late lunch and when there is one--a good movie.
The perfect bacon:
1. Get the frozen pack out of the freezer the night before and thaw it in the fridge.
2. While non-stick pans are definitely healthier to use, bacon is best with regular pans-- particularly the thick bottom pans. (thin pans scorch and burn the bacon-not good).
3. Heat the pan thoroughly then lay strips beside each other. Keep on low to medium heat only.
It will begin to render the fat but not enough to crisp the sides. Add a little oil to "help it".
Be patient. Flip the strips to brown the other side.
4. When you pick it up with the tong and it is stiff, place on paper towels to absorb the oil. (that's the attempt to make bacon less sinful :-). A limp bacon is not what you're looking for.

French Toast:
Left over bread is always a good sign to have french toast.
1. Whole wheat bread or raisin bread is always the yummiest for me.
2. For every egg, add 1/3 cup milk (non-fat or soya is what I use. go ahead and use whatever you have in the pantry)
3. 1 T of honey or sugar.
4. Mix thoroughly. Dip bread on both sides.
5. Heat your trust, reliable non-stick pan through. It's ok to brush with a little oil the first time around.

Option 1: Pork and Beans
Option 2: 2 thinly sliced bananas, 1-2 T slivered almonds lightly mixed with 1/2- 3/4 cup of pancake syrup. This is another way ot top your french toast.

Then again, who says you can't have both!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Herbs in my Garden

There is something about growing your own herbs that makes cooking more profound. Does that make any sense to you?

I recall in high school, I would look at the old imported women's magazines, hard-bound and well-preserved by the nuns. I would read the recipes and somehow in my mind I could taste them as they were described. And in as much as then, herbs like dill and basil were not popular nor common in the Philippines, nor have I ever tasted them--I was just imagining how good it could be.

I knew the basics of cooking like frying and sauteing :-) And all because I was hungry saturday mornings. So I began with sardines, fried egg, sauteed corned beef with the prerequisite garlic fried rice. Eventually, I graduated to sweet sour pork, calamares, hotdogs with onions. Then on to baking like marble cake and brownies.
My Father would indulge me by letting me plan and cook the family Noche Buena and media noche which meant a bigger budget for crown roast, lasagne, turkey, galantina, paella and so on.

I used to hate onions, uncooked or undercooked garlic, leeks and ginger (unless I had to take salabat or ginger tea because I kept losing my voice!) Today, i enjoy practically all kinds of veggies and couldn't imagine my tastebuds without sweet basil (mmmm pesto...gremolata...)... lemongrass (ohhh tom yum)... pandan (kaya jam) ...dill (with smoked salmon or with my version of the spanish omellete)... ginger (ginger and green onion leaves sauce...hainanese chicken)...rosemary (heavenly roasted chicken or pork roast)...

As to growing my own herbs-- I've had hits and misses. Meaning, some have died on me before I can enjoy them! So I'm still learning. To date, I have a couple of sweet basil, rosemary, italian organo, a small patch just for pandan and turmeric. We grew lemongrass last year, but they became too grassy in such a small area at our backyard. I'm now trying mint and stevia.

I'm imagining that someday soon I will have a small patch of land somewhere near Tagaytay, so I can grow more that a few pots of herbs. I romanticize the thought of tomato plants for my own consumption... a couple of cocoa trees to make my own "tsokolate tablea"... perhaps a row of magic fruit trees (you know, the one with the small red berry that when you eat, will make any sour fruit taste really sweet for a few minutes.)

It's so clear in the movie in my mind that someday, I get to serve guests tarragon tea after a satisfying meal of grilled rosemary-garlic chicken... roasted vegetable salad...lemon and basil pasta...

I imagine that you will be visiting me someday.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Osso Bucco

I'm not a big meat eater... however , there are meat dishes that are hard to resist. Like the Osso Bucco. Best when tender and fall-off-the-bone. It's the slow cooking process that allows all the ingredients' flavors meld into one yummy stew.

For me, it's not even the meat that gives me the oomph, but the topping that gives the kick of aroma and flavor that is divine-- called "gremolata".
1 kilo of good quality beef shank. (More meat than bone, ok?)
I find that the most consistent in meat quality is Montana at S&R.
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
2-3 onions, finely chopped
about 3-4 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 big can or a tray of button mushrooms, finely chopped.
(If I find oyster mushrooms in the supermarket chiller, I get them,too)
Optional: 1 c red wine
1 can of dice tomatoes, or stew whole tomatoes
1 can of good quality tomato sauce
Salt and Pepper

Zest, finely chopped from 2 lemons
1 cup of sweet basil leaves, stems removed
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped.

This is such an easy dish which for me requires little skill. If you happen to have a slow cooker lying around, you pretty much leave everything to simmer.

If not, here's the typical way: Heat a deep pot with 1/4 c olive oil, saute onions and celery, till onions have become transparent. Add mushrooms and carrots and saute for about 3 minutes more. Then, add the shank. Allow the meat to turn light, then add water until it is submerged. Add red wine and put on high heat till it boils. (While it is optional, I highly suggest you use red wine. When you find that you have leftover wine, don't throw it away. It's also good when cooking fabada) Once boiling, simmer on low, low heat. Let it cook until tender, which is about 1 1/2 to 2 hours later.

By then, add tomato sauce and can diced tomatoes. (If you happen to have the stewed tomatoes, simply mashed them in the pot) Add salt and pepper and simmer until sauce is thick.

In the meantime, get the zest of 2 lemons and finely chop it, likewise with the basil leaves. (After washing the basil leaves, best to remove the excess water with a salad spin dryer. If you don't have, here's a tip: put the leaves in the middle of a tea towel, get the corners together and spin it round and round. Smart,huh?) Likwise, chop the garlic and simply mix all 3 ingredients in a bowl. Put a lid on it, to keep the aroma concentrated. Let it do its magic later.

Serve with steaming rice or top on pasta. While it is hot, sprinkle the gremolata on top and you will immediately smell the sweetness of the basil, alongside the faint, pungent smell of garlic and the fragrant citrusy lemon. Once mixed-- I just enjoy the sauce with my eyes closed.

This dish is all you need. Throw in a first course salad just to get a balance meal.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Healthy Pomelo Salad

Here is a delicious break from typical salads like cesar salad or chef's salad. It is light, juicy and healthy as it does not require oil in its dressing. Serve chilled from the fridge makes it a refreshing course or side dish to grilled chicken, baked fish or anything just as light.

Best of all, it is easy to do-- hardly any technique. What is important though is getting the best ingredients:
Bowl-full of fresh salad greens, mixed lettuce
1/2 to 1 pc pomelo (depending on size), peeled, seeded and segmented
(must be succulent and sweet)
1/2 cup of cashew nuts
Optional: 15-20 pcs of cooked shrimp

Juice of 2-3 lemons
fish sauce or patis

Wash and dry greens (If you love salads, a salad spinner is a must have).
Pomelo picking can be a tricky thing so get from a reliable source. Some pomelos are already dry and bitter. My Mom's advise to me which seems to work most of the time, is to choose pomelos that are still green. That way it is still plump and juicy on the inside. The guarantee of sweetness it seems is based on which farm it came from. Check the label and make sure it's a reliable brand.

Cut the pomelo segments with your fingers and gently arrange them on the greens. I would tuck pieces of of this fruit under the lettuce as well. Top with shrimps although this is purely optional. Shrimp may be boiled or grilled, then cooled before adding to the salad.

Then finish by sprinkling cashew nuts. I would usually add a little more than required :-) Let it chill in the ref.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing in a medium size bowl.
There is no specific measurement here because it's all about the balance of flavors. Add fish sauce and honey to the lemon juice a little at a time and whisk until you get the perfect balance of sourness, saltiness and sweetness. DON'T substitute sugar for honey.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad only when you are about to eat. Toss lightly, then serve.

What I find enjoyable about this salad is when the pomelo bits burst inside your mouth--juicy and sweet, add to that the crunch of the lettuce and the nutty taste of the cashew. Honey gives this dressing its distinct taste. I've had guests who initially found this to be different,but was happily surprised at how good and refreshing it is.
Hope you like it-- enjoy!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Macaroon Cookies my Grandmother made

In the past few months, I have been longing for food that I remember from my youth but have not had them for a loooong time. I recall my favorite "pan de coco" from the Tasterite Bakery at Project 6 Market. It's not the typical coconut and brown sugar filling but it seems like coconut moistened with condensed milk. Thinking about it, makes me want to drive there and buy a dozen!

Another one is my Grandmother's macaroon cookies. She would drop small spoonfuls on squares of wax paper. Her's was chewy and difficult to peel off the paper. But I just loved it so much-- it didn't matter that I was eating the bit of wax paper stubbornly stuck to my morsel!

One afternoon, I decided to give it a shot and make a batch, again, based on taste bud memory.

It's not as chewy, but almost like my childhood. And with silicon mats-- I don't have to chew on wax paper ever again. :-)

3 cups dessicated coconut
1 can or tetrapack of condensed milk (250 ml)
3 eggs
2/3 c butter, melted
2 t vanilla extract
1/2 c flour mixed with 1/2 t baking soda
optional: 1 zest of dayap

Preheat oven to about 275-300 degrees. Beat eggs, add condensed milk, melted butter, vanilla extract and hand mix.(Not much arm action here, don't worry.) Slowly add flour and baking soda mixture. Add zest. Drop spoonfuls and bake for about 10-12 minutes.

For a bit of decoration, top with glazed pili nuts before putting in the oven. (Glazed pili nuts can be bought from the grocery.) I'm not really much of a baker, so I check the cookies in the oven every now and then.

Now, I get to share another bite of my childhood with my own kids :-)

Adobong Bisaya

My husband is an adobo fan--and I mean FAN.

He absolutely loves the adobo I learned from my Batanguena mother which uses soy sauce: fall-off the bone tender, lots of garlic with whole pepper corns and bay leaves. Sauce reduced until thick, with a coating of pork fat.

I also immensely enjoyed a college friend's adobo which she calls adobong bisaya. And I thought, i'd make this one based on taste bud memory. So it's the "mestiza"one, cooked till dry, a mix of tender and crispy bits. Best for breakfast...

heck great for lunch and dinner,too.

Liempo is really the best part but is a killer-- so kasim will do. My version sort of throws caution to the wind. For those who just have to watch their cholesterol, stick to kasim or make it all chicken. (But...where's the fun in that?)
1/2 k liempo cut into big cubes (get the one with the least fat all the same)
1/2 k kasim cut into big cubes
1 kilo chicken cut into pieces
1 to 1/2 cups vinegar
3-4 T salt
1 head garlic finely chopped
2 T whole peppercorn
6-8 bay leaves
2 T oil
1 T annato seeds (achuete) for color
1 c water

Marinade meat and chicken in vinegar, salt,garlic and peppercorn for at least 15 minutes. Drain and set aside the marinade.
In the meantime, put oil in pan and heat the annato seeds. Remove annato seeds.
Put on high heat and use this oil to quickly sear the meat/chicken until the pink flesh turns white. Add the marinade and water,tear the bay leaves, turn to low heat and slow cook adobo till tender.
By the time it is cooked, the liquid would have dried up and the fat from the meat already rendered. Now put on medium-high heat. The oil will now "toast"the garlic to light brown, giving off an aroma that begs for rice!

Keep stirring to avoid burning the garlic. Turn down the heat if you have to, because burnt garlic is bitter.
A little patience and arm power will result in crispy bits on the sides of the meat and skin.

This is the type of adobo that gets better with age. Won't spoil so it's the best to take for picnics and out-of-town trips.
What about you? What's your version of the adobo? I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bangus Sisig

When you make a trip to the supermarket's frozen section. you will find that bangus or milkfish has been cut and sold in different ways, the way you would with chicken parts.

The yummiest and most expensive of course, is the prime bangus belly. Perhaps the most "boring"of them all is the back fillet. It is obviously the trimmings of the belly cut. For budget reasons, I get that and serve it the easy way-- breaded fish fingers.

Late last year I thought of coming up with a more novel way to serving it-- thus, Bangus Sisig.

Easy to prep, no rocket science involved. A healthy alternative.
However, it isn't sisig unless you serve it sizzling on a hot plate!

1 pack back fillet
1 red onion finely chopped
1 knob of ginger
1-2 green chili fingers (sili for sinigang)
salt and pepper
soy sauce (optional)

Pre-cook bangus fillet in little water with salt and pepper. Let it cool, remove the skin and separate into flakes.
Finely chop red onions or shallots. Get a knob of ginger and finely chop it as well.

Finally, slice the chili fingers, really thin. Keep the seeds to keep the heat of the dish. If you are a chili head then use siling labuyo instead (tiny red chilis).
(Simply sprinkle all of those on the bangus flakes.)

Just heat mixture in a teflon pan with little oil, add a little soy sauce of you wish, salt and pepper to finish. Toss or stir quickly just to get the spices mixed and to bring out the aroma.

Heat the sizzling plate thoroughly, brush with some oil (to get the best sizzling sound).
And transfer the bangus mix. Serve with calamansi or lemon wedges and eat it while it's hot!

(I suggest you serve the typical soy sauce,shallot,chili mix on the side to control the saltiness.)
Personally, I prefer it simple, with a light gingery taste and mild heat. That way you still get to taste the fish.
I usually serve it with hot steaming rice and munggo soup (mung bean soup). Happiness.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Some of my favorite things in Davao Part 1

I went to Davao, Southern Philippines for work but found enough time to engage in my simple joys. More than a year ago, I discovered their wet market called "Bangkerohan". I make it a point to go to the market wherever I go because this is where you really feel the pulse of the town...and where you discover great things to eat.

Before our prelude-to-a-buffet-breakfast-at-marco-polo-hotel, we dropped by a small stall that agreed to do freshly-made peanut butter according to our specifications. This is another story.

Growing up on "tsokolate eh"or Chocolate Espresso, I never knew that I could enjoy that heavenly brew in Davao. Somewhere in the small alleys of the market they call "painitan". I guess it means to "heat something--like coffee or chocolate!".

And so this opportunity allowed me to indulge (again) in 2 cups of thick tsokolate, with a hint of brown sugar sans milk. I felt milk was taking the zing away.

My friend and I, bought bread from the local bakery and a local delicacy-- I failed to ask the name. It was as fluffy as puto (steamed rice cake) but had a charred top like a bibingka (rich rice cake cooked via hot coals).

The norm is to eat "puto maya"which is neither a puto (steamed rice cake) nor a maya (native bird). Other stalls use white sticky rice, but I like the one that is reddish which they call "tapul". It was cooked with coconut milk, sugar, hint of ginger and anise. I like it served in a packet made of banana leaf.

This lovely brew I can get to make in my own home as they also sell "tablea"(chocolate tablets) which would also be wonderful for "champorado"(sticky rice chocolate porridge).

I also bought for starters 1/2 kilo of cocoa beans. I was instructed to dry-roast it in a pan, the way you would dry-roast chestnuts. And the skins would be easier to peel. Afterwhich, I can grind it into a paste and mold it in the fashion of "tableas". I will update you on this mini project of mine.

Whenever I get the chance to visit Davao-- this remains to be my personal ritual.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Risotto Balls

Risotto balls aren't as difficult as they sound.
In fact they could be your leftover rice-- at least that's what I did. It turned out to be a great summer afternoon snack. It could also be a wonderful appetizer.
My experiment turned out to be great the first time around :-)

4 cups of cooked rice (brown or white)
1 cup of milk
1 block or about 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
4-5 slices of ham, coarsely chopped
3-4 T coarsely chopped herbs (it could be flat-leaf parsley, basil or chives)
salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs, beat till fluffy, flour, Bread crumbs (ordinary or japanese type)

Simply heat milk till warm and add to the cooked rice. (You may add the milk to the rice and heat in the microwave for about a minute). This allows the starch to act up and make the rice stick better. Simply add the grated cheese, chopped ham and herbs. Form into balls.
(I would use a small ice cream scooper for uniform sizes).

Prepare a plate of flour, a bowl of eggs, and a plate of bread crumbs.
Now get ready to assemble.
Simply roll the rice balls on the flour, then dip in egg and roll in bread crumbs.
Put on a tray and you may chill them a bit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Heat oil in a deep pan. There should be enough oil that will accomodate the rice balls. Just put about 3-4 at a time in order to keep the heat consistent. Otherwise,you will not achieve that crunchy exterior.

When the balls turn golden brown, put on kitchen paper towels to drain the excess oil.
Serve while piping, gooey hot! Just as good served by itself or with salsa.

(If you're feeling a little bit more Italian, tuck-in a small cube of mozzarella--to get a stringy bite everytime. If you're the meat lover type, instead of chopped ham, tuck-in a small cube of any cooked sausage of your choice.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kiss the Cook

I have been wanting to start a blog but never got around to. Maybe it's because I haven't found the title that I thought was apt and so precise about what I like to do the most.
I just had a conversation with my eldest boy who told me that he feels my presence even if I had gone back to corporate life...and that of course if he misses anything, it would be more of my cooking. And since they were small, everytime they wiped their plate clean, I get a resounding kiss-- such a big reward for a small task. And I thought-- yup--that's it... And so Kiss the Cook is born.

It's not about fancy recipes, but easy to do food stuffs-- from a non-chef but avid cook like me. I try to cook during weekends, mostly making sunday brunches extra special.

It may be my own recipes, something I learned from my own parents, something a friend suggested to me, something I thoroughly enjoyed from a cook book or magazine...
When it lands on this blog, it is certified friend-tested and kid-approved.