Saturday, April 24, 2010

3-Mushroom and Tofu

Whenever I go to a chinese restaurant and I'm handed a menu-- my eyes jump straight to the vegetable and the tofu selection. Tofu has gotten popular, that it merits its own section. I usually get braised Tofu with vegetables or braised Tofu with mushrooms or stuffed Tofu.

Usually, at the chiller section at a supermarket 10 minutes away from my home, you would find a choice of mushrooms from oyster to shitake. I got myself the usual button, some shitake and another favorite--enoki. I also wanted to add straw mushrooms even if they came in cans-- but unfortunately they were out of stock.

The great thing about this recipe is it can be a melange of mushrooms whichever is available(button, straw, enoki, oyster, shitake). You can mix any desired combination or in fact have it all in one dish! The squid/cuttlefish balls are a yummy, filling addition especially when serving a big group.


1 medium block firm tofu
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
half a thumb size ginger, sliced thinly
2 T vegetable or canola
10-12 squidballs cut in half
1/2 cup whole button mushrooms cut in half
1/2 cup whole shitake mushrooms cut in half ( if fresh are available and are reatively big, you can slice it into quarters)
1 bunch of enoki mushrooms
*you can mix and match other kinds of mushrooms like straw and oyster)
2 T oyster sauce
1 T dark soy sauce
1/2 c water with 1/2 T cornstarch to make a slurry
ground pepper to taste
Oil for deep frying the squid balls

Cut tofu in 4 blocks and deep fry on high heat till lightly golden in color, drain on paper towels. Deep fry squid balls on high heat till puffed and also drain on paper towels.
(My personal taste is I don't like the paste-y texture of squid balls so it must be deep-fried first. It becomes a bit chewy to the bite.)

Cut the fried tofu in smaller cubes. Set aside.
In a wok or deep non-stick pan, saute garlic and ginger in oil till aromatic, be careful not to burn the garlic. Immediately add the mushrooms, increase heat to high. Stir-fry for a minute then add the tofu and squid balls. Sprinkle with ground pepper.

Mix the oyster sauce, soy sauce, water and cornstarch to make a slurry and pour into the pan. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens and adheres to the tofu, mushrooms and squidballs. Turn off the heat immediately.
Get the rice and chopsticks ready!

Vegetarian Canneloni that kids will love!

I introduced veggies to my kids at an early age, wanting them to pick up a good eating habit from the very beginning. But when my first born turned 3, it was as if he just woke up one day and decided he will not each vegetables anymore!

And so began my many innovative efforts to "hide" the veggies somewhere in the dish whenever I can. Thankfully, they are now coming around and have gotten back to it, slowly but surely. They now eat pansit and veggies, sans the meat as well as the all-tomato spaghetti sauce and garlic and mushroom pasta with no fuss nor negotiations.

I call myself a pseudo-vegetarian, feasting on lovely greens, carrots and fruits on weekedays. But giving in to the temptation on weekends when I'm with my family. Then it's back to fruit detox on a monday. I eat meat just so I don't feel deprived. I prefer fish, seafood and chicken. I do enjoy pork ribs and sausages... and I do fall prey to an occassional prime rib--only and only if it is THAT good. But I digress...

I blanched and froze a big batch of spinach a couple of weeks ago. And as my younger boy would say, it's a special dish to welcome his brother home from a weekend youth retreat.
Special it is-- because its filling,albeit slighty rich and nonetheless healthy.
Spinach Filling
  • 2 cups, frozen spinach, excess water squeezed, then chopped, THEN measured
  • 1/2 c coarsely chopped button mushrooms
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 block light cream cheese
  • 10 - 12 tubes of canneloni pasta
  • 1-2 cups tomato/spaghetti sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T finely chopped garlic
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely minced carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely minced celery
  • 2 cups stewed tomatoes with tomato paste* OR 2 cups canned pureed tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • About 1 tsp of dried oregano or italian herb seasoning
In a non-stick pan, saute onions in butter then add mushroom and spinach. Since the spinach is already cooked, simply heat the mixture through. Put in a bowl and mash in the cream cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can sprinkle a little cayenne pepper if you like some heat. Set aside.
In a pot, saute garlic and onion in olive oil till aromatic, simply add the vegetables and heat through. Add the tomatoes and herbs and simmer on low to medium heat for about 30-45 minutes, stir every now and then. Unless the sauce is served on spaghetti, I don't put fresh basil. Because it will overwhelm the creamy taste of the spinach-mushroom filling. Bay and oregano is just the kind of herb that you taste but somehow stays in the background and not get the attention away from the central ingredient.
I personally let it cool down and throw in the blender for a smooth and velvety finish.

To assemble:
Put the spinach mixture in a piping or plastic bag, cut at the corner and squeeze filling into the canneloni tubes. Pour sauce over filled canneloni. And proceed to bake for about 30-40 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve while piping hot!

TIP: Let the sauce sit on the uncooked pasta first to soften it, for about at least 30 minutes. That way, when you pop it in the oven, it will cook more easily. This is the type of dish you can make ahead of time. Assemble and put in the fridge, to be popped in the oven the next day.

*Remember my homage to the tomato last month? I've cooked quite a number of pots and turned in some very good stewed tomatoes. Get about 8-10 fresh,red, ripe tomatoes and cook in boiling, salted water for about 5-10 minutes; until the skin breaks making it easy to peel off. You can choose to coarsely slice or keep whole, mix in a small can of tomato paste, put in a freezer container (tomato juices,seeds and all) and keep in freezer till needed.

Local tomatoes are yummy but are not as bright red as italian plum tomatoes. The tomato paste boosts not only its color but its flavor. My version of this homemade sauce can get orangy at times because local tomatoes are quite pale--but hey! it beats synthetic color red#41 anytime. Happy Healthy Eating!

Ho Chi Minh Hangover-- Springroll spin-off!

I still have the Ho Chi Minh hangover, I must admit. And though I am in no way connected to the tourism board of Vietnam, I have encouraged a lot of people to visit the place. It's budget-friendly and a must for BFFs.

Time was when Hong Kong was the cheapest travel abroad. Today, I venture to guess Vietnam is the one that's easiest on the pocket, but not lacking in adventure. If fashion shopping is high on your list though , then this is NOT the place to go. It's a foodie haven. Add to that lacquerware, embroidered linen, coffee and dried fruits.
I'm scrimping on the dried jackfruit to make my supply last. Its crunch and bite rivals the best chips, without the sodium and oil.And I still have my dried candied tomato safely hidden in my fridge. I'm saving it to go with my pan-fried white cheese. We only have one bag of coffee beans left, since we got home.

Fortunately, there are some foodie memories that are relatively easy to re-live and enjoy once again at our dinner table.

Springroll is a wonderful Asian staple, and there are indeed many versions which include our very own lumpiang shanghai and piniritong lumpiang gulay o ubod. The vietnamese version has a couple of twists that add novelty to the meal. For one, it has an odd kind of mushroom which we Filipinos call tenga ng daga (not an appetizing name if you ask me). Not really an ear of a you-know-what; but a dried fungus that when re-hydrated in water grows big 5-6 times its size!
It is best eaten wrapped in lettuce and dipped in sweet-sour fish sauce. So what you have is a combination of crunch, mildly sweet-sour-salty with the lettuce's counter-cooling effect.

What's great about this recipe is you can make your own tweaking. For example you can change ground pork into ground chicken...or make it half pork and half chopped's that versatile.

  • 250 gms ground lean pork
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried fungus (tenga ng daga), soak first, chop, then measure
  • 1/2 cup finely minced carrot
  • 1/2 cup cut-up vermicelli (soak first, before measuring). It can be rice vermicelli (bihon) or mung bean vermicelli (sotanghon)
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste (you may opt just a dash of soy sauce, but use sparingly, otherwise it will overwhelm the flavor of the other ingredients)
  • spring roll wrappers
  • 1/2 c water with a few drops of lemon or calamansi
  • oil for deep frying
Simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Prepare on your work table a kitchen cloth towel to make sure the wrapper doesn't stick.You can use springroll wrapper from the wet market or the chiller section of the supermarket.

For authenticity, try your hand at the vietnamese dried wrapper. With water and lemon in a bowl, slightly dampen the dried rice paper using a silicon or regular pastry brush. If it's too wet, the wrapper becomes limp, sticky and hard to work with.

Quickly place about 1 spoon of the meat mixture and wrap tightly into a sausage, roughly 2 inches long. Tuck the sides in, roll and seal the corner tip with water.

Prepare a deep wok or deep fryer and pre-heat the oil. Cook your springrolls till golden brown.

At the table, wrap your cooked springroll in lettuce and dip in the sauce!
Best to eat with your hands.

Dipping Sauce: Sweet-Sour Fish Sauce
  • 2 T fish sauce (good quality patis)
  • 4 T water
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp minced chili
  • 1 T lime, lemon or calamansi juice
  • 1/2 carrot, grated. Sprinkle with 1 t salt and after 10 minutes, squeeze to dry.

In a small sauce pot, heat fish sauce, water and sugar till dissolved. Let cool. Add the rest of ingredients.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

SSS- Superb Salmon & Spinach!

When I think of Salmon, what comes to mind is “special occasion”. Salmon screams “restaurant or hotel fare”. Truth to tell, I don’t buy Salmon often enough as it gets pricey.

I once bought this beautiful head which yielded me a comforting hot bowl of Sinigang sa miso. And a couple of times I bought salmon belly strips which I marinated in sweet teriyaki sauce, wrapped in banana leaves and baked. My youngest boy ate it up.

About 2 weeks ago, my sister-in-law texted us to say that salmon steaks were on sale in a particular supermarket. I was skeptical as to how affordable it truly was and what a pleasant surprise to see it at half the price! That is rare treat. I got 2 kilos and would've bought more, but that's all my freezer could take, along with great pork ribs and beef shanks.

Salmon is not a house favorite as much as the cream dory and it was a challenge to prepare something that all family members would like to partake of. Remembering this entrée that my husband enjoyed in a friend’s party one time, I proceeded with my experiment.

Now my recipes aren’t 100% original. I take my inspiration from cookbooks and magazines. When the mood and opportunity hits me--then I do my own measurements and my add-ons. That’s the joy of weekend cooking. The kitchen is my domain and my critics are those who love me :-)

Thankfully my SSS turned out well and my critics raved over it.
My reward? Of course! This Cook gets ALL the kisses.
· 1 kilo salmon stakes (about 4-5 pcs) or salmon fillet
· 1 cup of chopped spinach (squeeze out excess water first,chop then measure)
· 2 T butter
· 1 small onion or shallot , chopped
· 1 container all-purpose cream
· 100 -150 grams grated cheddar cheese
· Salt and pepper to taste
· Dash of nutmeg, optional
Remove the skin and remove any visible fishbone. Season with salt and pepper and put in a baking dish. Keep in fridge to chill and prevent it from getting spoiled and smelly.
Squeeze out the excess water of your spinach. While you can get frozen spinach from the deli store or frozen section of the supermarket, you can always make your own. When I find that spinach is cheap in the produce section, I’d buy about 2 to 3 bunches. I would simply wash, blanch in salted water, drain and freeze.*

In a non-stick pan, sauté chopped onions in butter until it turns translucent. Add chopped spinach, stir till heated through. Add cream and about ½ c water, grated cheese, a pinch of nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste. (You can use parmesan or romano cheese but about 30-40 gms only as it is salty enough.) Heat through but not boil.

Pour your spinach and cream mix over salmon fillets and proceed to bake.
About 30-40 minutes, until fish is flakey. The spinach and cream gets richer as it gets cooked so it becomes a decadent savoury sauce.
Serve immediately.

*Prepare your own frozen spinach:In a pot, salted water to a brisk boil, about 2 liters of water and 1 T sea salt. Drop spinach leaves which will wilt immediately. Turn off as soon as the leaves turn bright green and drain right away. To overcook spinach will turn the leaves murky green. You want to keep that bright green to keep it looking good on the plate and tasting good.

When cool, divide the leaves into 1 cup portions and put in a ziplock bag. Freeze for future needs like SSS or a thick bowl of spinach cream soup.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Vietnamese-inspired Grilled Beef

Nope! Not Pho Hoa (pronounced as “Pha”) as one might expect. This noodle dish might as well be Vietnam’s national dish—hot steaming broth with beef slices and egg or rice vermicelli noodles served with fresh herbs and aromatics. The smell alone, assures me satisfaction. But I digress.

Instead, I’d like to share an evening of barbecue cookout we had on the third floor, roof top in Ho Chi Minh. We ordered beef slices, fish fillet, manila clams baked with cheese, fried spring rolls and Chinese-style fried rice.

In the middle of the table is a stove top round, somewhat flat grill, where we cooked our own food. We were served with various sauces and dips. Including one saucer that has salt and pepper with lime on the side. The salt I understand was “toasted” first.

Our interactive menu consisted of beef slices with 5-spice powder and fish fillet both in oil marinade. What I enjoyed the most were the beef slices marinated in lemongrass and chili.

I thoroughly enjoyed the food trip we had in Ho Chi Minh. While it was easy to gain weight especially since I had a checklist of must-try eating places; we walked the calories off as we went from place to place, museum to museum. Really, a strategy so we had more reasons to eat. To be honest, I don’t mind going back to Vietnam for second servings.

Now that we’re home in Manila, I decided to make a fusion dish—give it that Pinoy touch.

With my trusty mortar and pestle, I pounded away lemon grass and chili, added a little salt. I mixed with a local bbq marinade brand to make it sweet and savory at the same time. The lemon grass or tanglad gives it a delicious flavor and aroma that is unlike the usual. It is best with plain, steaming rice if you ask me.

· 750gms- 1 k beef bite-size slices, sirloin- pounded with meat mallet. I have to say that pounding the meat makes it tender and absorbs more marinade. So, this is a worthwhile step.
· 8 stalks of lemongrass, just the tender, white part
· 1 piece of chili
· 1 pack of Mama Sita’s BBQ marinade, 160 ml (or your favorite Filipino –style bbq marinade)
· 1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable oil
· Salt and pepper to taste

Get the white part of the lemongrass and pound in mortar and pestle, along with the fresh chili. If you are a chili head, then add another piece. Add the liquid BBQ marinade and oil and mix thoroughly with the meat. Chill in the ref for at least 30 minutes. I prefer it over hot iron grill because somehow it becomes watery when cooked in the pan.
I found that the marinade was completely absorbed by the meat, so every bite was perfectly packed with flavor. Should you want to stay authentic, simply used lemongrass, chili, garlic, salt and pepper and oil.

I was so excited over this that I served it to a couple-friend of ours, along with my version of Vietnamese-Filipino spring roll. Suffice to say, we had a good time enjoying our meal, exchanging plenty of stories,ideas and encouraging one another.

Ahhh, that’s in the next blog!