Saturday, May 22, 2010

Merry May



May is a month  filled with birthday celebrations in our family.    There are over a dozen members in my family who celebrate  birthdays in May, which includes my hubby.  He just turned 27 (wink wink, he stopped counting when he reached 27--haha!)

As a Filipino Tradition (as to its origin, I'm not quite sure), the birthday feast should always include a noodle dish... which signifies long life.  Any kind of noodles is acceptable: spaghetti, chow mein or rice noodles.  Guests are expected to have some of the noodle dish, and somehow this simple act of eating expresses to the celebrant:  Here's to more birthdays to celebrate and we wish you to have a long and happy life!

That said, imagine how many times I've eaten noodles this month?  Hahaha!  And for my husband's birthday, the noodle dish I prepared was Sotanghon Guisado.  And what impeccable timing that this month Kulinarya Cooking Club 's theme is pancit

Sotanghon (aka glass noodles or cellophane noodles) is a type of vermicelli noodle. To be honest, it took me sometime to learn how to cook this noodle dish. It always turned out to be mushy or gooey. Indeed, practice makes perfect and I have a tip, or more of a trick, to create the perfect sotanghon texture. Let's take a closer look...




See, the strands are shiny and well-defined.  Not pasty or stuck together.   Read on I will share the trick here... but first, let's start with the ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 package of sotanghon
1 stick of carrot, sliced
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1/2 cabbage, sliced
1 chicken breast (boiled, then sliced thinly)
4 pcs shrimp balls sliced
2 cups chicken broth
dried sliced  mushrooms (soaked for about 20 mintues, then drain it)
season with oyster sauce and soy sauce
salt
garlc, mince,
onions, sliced

Directions

In a wok, saute some garlic and onions, add chicken and shrimp balls.  Add the veggies.  I don't want my veggies to be overcooked, so set it aside as soon as it is ready along with chicken and shrimp balls. 

On the same wok, pour 2 cups of chicken stock.  Now here's my secret, I set aside some boiling hot chicken stock for use later (if needed).  When the stock is boiling in the wok, add the sotanghon noodles.  While some people soak their noodles in water before cooking, I don't follow this rule.  Instead, I cook the sotanghon in the boiling stock without presoaking it.  Within minutes the noodles are cooked.  The noodles absorb the chicken stock quickly, when you see that the stock is absorbed, check the firmness of the noodles.  If it needs to be cooked more and all the stock has been absorbed, add more boiling chicken stock (which you previously set aside).  Let it cook 1-2 minutes.  However, if it's already al dente, take out the excess stock.  You don't want the noodles to absorb more as this will make it soggy. 

Another trick is to get the noodles out of the wok right away.  This will prevent you from overcooking the noodles.  Now we're ready to garnish.

For garsnishing, use the stir fried chicken/shrimp balls and veggies.  Top it with chicharon (crispy pork rinds) green onions and toasted garlic.

Serve with fish sauce, lemon or calamansi... enjoy!




For the birthday celebrants out there... Here's to long life and happiness.  Cheers!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Orchids in Bloom

Not a day goes by that I don't think about my Mom. Thank goodness for digital cable service, which includes discounted international phone rates. At least I can indulge in having long conversations with her to my heart's content, without having to pay exorbitant phone fees or suffering the inconvenience of using phone cards. But upon hanging up the receiver at the end of the call, I feel like I'm zapped back in time and space, back to the moment immediately before making the phone call, enveloped by a sudden sadness. The irony of pressing the "talk" button to end my call does not escape me.

Living overseas, I have developed a kind of sixth sense that is part memory - remembering my most treasured moments with her, and part imagination - wishing I'm with her and not being 5000 miles away, which has made me cope being so far away from Mama.

Seemingly common things trigger powerful, pleasant memories. Seeing a bouquet of flowers or orchids in a vase would make memories explode in my mind. Similar to what the narrator felt in Marcel Proust's novel, wherein a bite into a madeleine awakens vivid memories of the past and the happiness associated with it, I am reminded of my childhood days when I wake up and couldn't find my mom in the house. I would then check the garden wherein, sure enough, she is with her orchids doing her morning ritual of "talking" to them. The delicate and stunning orchids in bloom, and even the tiny buds that are just about to bloom, would always bring a bright smile to her face, like she's hypnotized by its beauty ... I would imagine her replanting, regrouping or propagating different plants and flowers, and with the use of nylon stockings, she would tie them around the betel nut trees that surrounded our house.

My mom is not into music or songs but I remember she once told me that when she hears the song "I Know Him So Well" (a hit from the 80's), she remembers the days when I used to play the song on the piano and my sister would belt out the song. So when I heard my flatmate play the song this morning, I was transported back in time, during those hot summer days, in our house in my hometown. Where the glistening wooden walls echoed the sound of the piano... and the chorus of voices singing along with the boisterous laughter.  Although I didn't know it then, my mom revealed that it brought so much joy to her heart seeing and hearing her children sing and acting silly....

As I look at the fridge with my leftover spaghetti sauce, boom, I can imagine my mom say: "make some estralladu (omellette)". Yes Ma, look I made eggplant omelet with my leftover pasta sauce like you always did before, only I made my own signature of tweaking the dish and modernizing it.

Thank you for always being there for me, and for the memories that make it possible for me to always be with you... like a time machine to carry me back to you… especially today on Mother’s Day.


EASY MICROWAVE EGGPLANT OMELETTE (TORTANG TALONG)



Left-over spaghetti sauce (if you don't have any leftovers, saute' some ground beef and add tomato sauce then season it with salt and pepper)
2 eggplants
4 eggs, beaten
frozen green peas

Grill the eggplants until the skin is burnt like so:



Let it cool.  Meanwhile beat the eggs lightly.  Add the ground beef or the left-over spaghetti sauce.   When the eggplant is cold enough to handle, peel off the skin and give it a light mash.  Add the eggplant into the egg mixture.

Using a microwavable poached egg maker, pour the egg mixture on the one side and cover. Microwave it on high for 2 minutes. If it's not yet cooked at this point, microwave it for another minute. Let it stand, Unmold the poached egg maker and voila... you will enjoy your omelette in no time...





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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Honey, I Fried the Chicken Curry!

I don't even know where to begin... it's just that life took a different rhythm for me lately and I can't seem to find the grace and balance to dance to the new beat. Most of you who've been following my blog will know how much my life has centered on my family. So it may come as a surprise to hear that I accepted a job in L.A. L.A.???

“You accepted a job in L.A.? But you live in San Diego…“, is the comment that many friends make when they hear about my new job. “So do you commute or have you moved to L.A.?” is the next question people ask. My answer is both.

So for the past week, I tried to dance to the LA beat, but somehow I miss the calming rhythm of San Diego. Instead of waking up with the sun brightly shining upon my face amidst the quiet stillness of the Carmel Valley community I live in San Diego, the noise that the City of Angels makes awakens me long before daybreak. I imagine myself inside a high school band room, where hormone-induced teens bang their musical instruments …clashing cymbals resemble the sound of cars honking their horns, and the loud trombone is like the siren of a fire engine or the cacophony made by the hydraulic brakes of the city buses. Instead of taking an easy drive in the rolling hills of San Diego, I spend 3 hours per day in what seems to me to be the largest parking lot in the world, as cars slowly creep their way along the L.A. freeway. Some days, I find myself taking the train to L.A., then by bus and walking the remaining 2 blocks to my office, with a prayer in my heart that I won't be the next victim of a random crime in the city. “What have I done?” I would disapprovingly ask myself at this point.

It is funny how life can be sometimes, when an epiphany came from a George Clooney line in a random movie called “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. Clooney spoke about "optimum trajectory”. Huh? Well, in his theory he explained “…life is like a river... if you are aiming for a goal that is not your destiny you will be swimming against the current. Find out your destiny and let the river carry you to where you are supposed to be."

Is this my destiny? While other people complain about the scarcity of jobs, I was extremely fortunate to have this job seemingly fall on my lap. And each detail about the job was revealed to me in a most serendipitous way, way too much to be a coincidence, even for me.

So it’s all up to me whether to look at it as a wrong decision or a make it into a good one. My daughter came up to me and said, “It’s not that you’re leaving us mom, you are finding yourself. For most of your life you took care of us, I’m already 18 and leaving for college in a few months. Joey will be off to college next year too. Now you can think about yourself, you have to find yourself...”

I realized that there is a whole new world out there for me, an uncertain, but nevertheless exciting, future to look forward to. So now, when I run to catch my bus, I take it as a chance to lose a pound or two. When I hear the “city noise” early in the morning, it is a reminder that life should be vibrant and “always on the move”. And when I take my seat on the train, I enjoy the indelible beauty of the Pacific, with the sun slowly rising or sinking, either breaking into a new day or lazily fading away as night falls, marking the start or the end of another fruitful day.

“I thought I smelled chicken curry” said my husband as he sat down for dinner.

“Yes Honey, I fried the chicken curry!”

We both smiled, as we know that life is all about perspectives.

Like this fried chicken curry for example, it’s a different take on a well-loved dish from the Far East, preserving the curry “goodness” while incorporating the fried texture that many of us love and crave for in chicken. While some may not like the veering away from the traditional dish this recipe does, others will have fun with the innovative mix of the curry with the fried chicken



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FRIED CHICKEN CURRY

Ingredients

1 package of chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste

For breading:

1 c flour
salt &pepper
2 tbsp curry powder  (well adjust this according to your preference)
salt and pepper to taste

Fill a large skillet (cast iron is best) about half full with vegetable oil. Heat until VERY hot.. Meanwhile, roll the chicken pieces into the breading. Shake off excess flour. Drop 5-6 pieces into the hot oil. Make sure there's enough space to stir the chicken. Deep fry it until golden brown. Drain the fried chicken. It should be crispy goden brown.

For the gravy:

1 tbsps. cooking oil

1 cloves of garlic
1 small onions, chopped
1/4 c chicken stock
1-2 tbsps curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 c coconut milk

In a wok, saute garlic and onions in cooking oil.  Pour the coconut milk together with the chicken stock.  Spice up using the curry powder. I like to make my curry rich and flavorful so I used around 2 round table spoons. You may want to add 1 tbsps first and adjust it according to your taste.  Bring the mixture to a boil until it's reduced.  The sauce should be thick and creamy.








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