Wednesday, June 30, 2010

friends and tiramisu

It all started with Tiramisu. Well, almost. The truth is, the Italian cake was only one of the many things that forged our friendship… I still can remember the moment: I was amazed by the biggest Tiramisu I’ve ever laid eyes on, a masterpiece created by my friend and“celebrity” (in his own right) pastry chef, Ed.

Ed and wife Vicky are pastry chefs. Both have worked at Walt Disney World Resorts.  Our paths crossed through my sister who met the adorable couple in a serendipitous manner. At the time, my sister Marvie and her husband Benedict recently moved to Orlando and exchanged pleasantries with Ed and Vicky in a restaurant. They swapped contact numbers only to find out  later  that one of Ed’s friends visiting from London is Benedict’s cousin. A year later, Benedict’s cousin and his family migrated to Orlando. That‘s how our group of friends was formed… We had a lot of fun during those nights of playing poker and charades while enjoying good food and wonderful company. And it was only through, as I’ve said, a fortuitous meeting in a hole-in-the-wall joint. Serendipity!

So what makes friends click? It’s just chemistry, sharing things in common, and enjoying each other’s company. What was initially a casual meeting turned into a deeper friendship, sharing similar values, interests, our passion for good food, and yes our love for tiramisu!

We would meet up almost every weekend until Ed and Vicky moved across the country to Seattle. A few months later, we moved to San Diego, but the bonds of friendship we formed in Florida have outlasted the distance and time…

So let’s fast forward. Four years later.

I got a call from Ed saying that they were visiting San Diego. Again, what impeccable timing as my sister’s family was scheduled to arrive the same week for my daughter’s graduation… and so last weekend we had a chance to revisit what we had before in Orlando. We got together like the good old days… We laughed as we recited the names of who were the best (and worst) players in charades, the songs we loved to sing, as we talked about how our kids have grown so fast, and yes, how we would want all this again… We may not be able to do it as often but we will schedule it for next year, hopefully in Seattle.

Ed will always be the “leader of the band" as he loves to organize our parties… the random movie titles he would give that were impossible to get in charades, our theme parties he would come up with that were always fun, and of course the delicious dessert that he and Vicky always prepared. I asked him what the theme of my menu for his visit should be, he said nothing but healthy food... My a-ha moment came... as I thought out loud “SEAFOOD”. The recipe in this post is one of the dishes  I prepared that night..

Yes having chefs as close friends has its benefits but on the other hand having them come to dinner is quite intimidating... but  that night  Ed and Vicky gave me a rating of 5 star (***** wink wink)... yeah that's what friends are for.



Shrimp with Tofu
This dish is so simple and light. And it’s easy to prepare.



Ingredients:

2 blocks of tofu, sliced thinly
“Less sodium” soup stock
2carrots, cubed
Quail eggs, boiled and shelled
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 egg white
1 tsp sesame oil
2 lbs. shrimp

Directions:
In a saucepan, pour the soup stock. Drop the tofu slices. Let it boil. Set aside the tofu when done.

In the same broth, put the carrots, celery and quail eggs. Let it simmer. Add the shrimps. Cook until shrimps turn bright pink. Do not overcook the shrimp (cooks in a few minutes, usually no more than seven minutes if thawed). You may add 2 tsp of cornstarch dispersed in water  to slightly thicken the sauce, and add a few drops of sesame oil.

It's that easy and to think that this was one of the favorite dishes of the night.
Cheers!







Saturday, June 26, 2010

Izzy Does It

It was mid-afternoon on an iconic beautiful San Diego day. We were enjoying the weather San Diego is famous for, as we arrived at the sunken high school football field an hour before the graduation rites.

"We are an hour early?" protested the two young kids of my sister; they flew all the way from Florida to join us to witness the high school graduation rites of my daughter Izzy. So there we were, sitting under a cloudless sky, with my family and my sister's family plus a handful of Izzy's friends. We took the front row seats on the east side of the field.

We sat on the hot concrete bleacher seats and suddenly realized we were unprepared to sit under the sun for the next few hours. Yes, it was sunny but the gentle rays of the sun and the cool breeze made it relaxing, giving us a chance to look around, chillax, talk and enjoy our time under the sun. Yes, we also laughed at ourselves, mostly for not being prepared. We quietly observed other families around us, they were ready for the wait, as they brought with them cushions, blankets and even umbrellas. We watched them in envy as they applied sunscreen lotion... and we laughed even harder when my daughter's friend shared her sunscreen lotion and the tiny tube made its way around the group, only to be returned almost empty. Oh yes we were ill-prepared but we had fun and now know what to bring for my son’s graduation in 2011.

As soon as the graduates started to make their way down the field, while cameras were clicking away, the heap of emotions unveiled quickly. Each group had their own way to celebrate and make noise, as horns were sounded, plastic balls were tossed in the air, screams and laughter emanated from the crowd and the field. There was one moment when the crowd was in awe as they listened to one of the graduates with severe autism. With the aid of a computer he was able to express himself and after his last word, tears flowed and a big applause ensued. Indeed, an inspiring and touching moment for all the attendees.

When the graduates’ hats were tossed up in the air, I started crying profusely. I suddenly remembered how Izzy worked so hard to this point, and knowing she will be working even harder in college. I am extremely proud of her. I feel blessed for having such a wonderful daughter, who is so responsible and mature for someone her age. I am glad she made the decision to be a Bruin on her own, selecting UCLA over 7 other schools that accepted her (much to the chagrin of her sister who is at UC Berkeley).

We will miss Izzy when she leaves us in the Fall. But random things will remind us of her, like the sound of the rice cooker whistling as she cooked our rice every day. And yes bread scraps, as she's the one who removes the edges of the bread and tells me it's time to make bread pudding when she has filled a bag with bread ends and edges... just like today. .. and yes we salute Izzy as she graduates from high school.



Grandma's Old Fashioned Pudding
This recipe is an off-shoot of my husband's paternal grandmother. She gave me this recipe almost 18 years ago just before I had Izzy.

Ingredients:
8 pcs. eggs
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 loaf of bread (in my case, I used bread scraps)
1 cup sugar (to caramelize the pan)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F
In a baking pan, pour sugar and caramelize.  Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, mix the evaporated milk and condensed milk.  Add the eggs and gently mix it together.  Add the bread.  I tear the pieces by and I make sure it is chunky. 

Pour the mixture into the pan.  Bake it in a baine marie for about 30 minutes or until cooked.  I always use the "toothpick" technique of checking (it's done when you prick the pudding with a toothpick and the toothpick comes out clean ).



We love topping our pudding with condensed milk and more caramel.





Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oops!... I Did It Again!

The beach was busy today. My local beach may not be as popular as Venice Beach or Laguna Beach, but it's as picturesque as any in Southern California. As I arrived at the Torrey Pines State Park and Beach, I first took in the scenic artistry of the cliffs merging on to the Pacific. The surf is good today, adding a slight haze to the view of the cliffs, as I can feel the ocean spray lightly hit my face. People have already reserved their spots on the beach. There were tents pitched... one of the tents I remembered vividly as the smell of the grill reminded me of my family’s beach outings when I was a child. All my senses are simultaneously stimulated… Surfers carrying their long boards run towards the Pacific, beachcombers and joggers pass me by, and kids enjoying in the water as the waves collapse onto the shore. As I look up to a cloudless deep blue sky, a bunch of gold and maroon balloons fly up aimlessly, escaping a new high school graduate’s attempt to tie it down to a table. Kites fly high against the strong and cool Pacific wind, a zephyr playing the rhythm to complement the perfect summer day at the beach. Families with little tots enjoying the sun so brightly yet gently shining with the temperature holding at 70 degrees ... ahhh! The benefits of living in San Diego.


It may sound like I’ve done this before, having posted in Spring Fling when my daughter and I had fun at the beach and proceeded to have even more fun at home to cook my hometown's noodle dish called Batil Patung. Oops, I did it again... but this time with my ten year old niece Pia and his little brother Peter.

We laughed and giggled every time a big wave splashed our backs. We would skip and gallop, run and scream, annoying my husband constantly. And just like in Spring Fling while we were in the water giggling and screaming, we could see not only my husband shaking his head, but this time he is joined by my sister and her husband keeping an eye on us from afar.

We didn't plan to get wet. As my sister's family is just visiting, we thought of just walking on the beach and do some hiking at the adjacent state park. But as the group was trekking up the hill, the sound of the waves and the cool breeze got our attention. So we retreated down the hill and ran into the ocean... washing our worries away... Ahhh, summer in San Diego... where the sun is gentle and the breeze cools you down, and the water, always so inviting and alluring.

As we drove home, I can’t help but think of another noodle dish to prepare, just like I did before. Maybe because it's Father's Day, I remember my Papa always insisting to bring with us a pot full of freshly cooked noodles every time we take a dip at the river... Or maybe it's because of the many celebrations we are currently having... of anniversaries (yes it's my hubs' and my 22nd anniversary today!), birthdays(my son's and my sister's) plus my daughter's graduation. Or maybe because I wanted to join the International Incident Party wherein this month's theme is noodles,.. well maybe, just maybe, its because I feel this event is special, I am preparing another sumptuous noodle dish. Before I ramble on, let me share with you this Fried Noodle Dish.




Fried Noodle Dish

Ingredients:

1 package fresh egg noodles
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dispersed in water
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 fresh eggs
1 cup chicken stock
1 package seafood mix
1 package squid balls (i used up ha;f of it)
4 pcs.  tiger prawns:, deveined
1 package bokchoy

Procedure

Deep fry the fresh noodles until crispy.  I was inspired to create a nest out of the noodles but go ahead you could just fry it the way you want it.

In a saucepan, saute the seafood mix with garlic and onions.  Add the oyster sauce. Give it a quick stir.  Remove some of the seafood mix.   Add chicken stock, thicken it with cornstarch. Stir in the eggs when it's boiling and when the sauce starts to thicken.  Season it with oyster sauce.  Add the sesame oil. 

Garnish the dish with steamed bokchoy and boiled quail eggs.  Arrange the seafood mix on top of the fried noodles.


When ready to eat, pour the sauce...and enjoy!







This is my first time to participate at the International Incident Party. Check out the other participants at  Jeroxie's




Sunday, June 13, 2010

it's Krystal clear

I stand by my office window, staring in awe at the HOLLYWOOD sign, as the sun gently shines through. I can see the sign clearly this morning, unlike other days when the smog over L.A. blurs it with a haze and gloom that makes the sign almost invisible.

Seeing the Hollywood sign made me think about my former co-worker, Krystal. She resigned a few weeks ago because, as she explained to me, of the Hollywood sign. She must have seen it just as clear as I saw it today. Every time she sees the sign it reminded her of the big dreams she envisions for herself. She feels that she’s wasting her time within the four walls of the office and just staring at the sign. She wants to be a part of the “Hollywood” scene. It was time for her to chase her dreams.

The next day she packed her stuff and she said goodbye.

Was she na├»ve? Was she bold? Who am I to judge. Some days, I admire her boldness. Other days, I’m scared for her seemingly futile attempt to go after her dreams. But I’m certain she knows what she wants, and I can only hope that she knows how to get it. She said to me that she has pictures of her dream house and how she sees her future life to be posted all around her bedroom. She has a vision of how she wants to live her life… and today she’s out there chasing after her dreams, attempting to make her dreams come true.

Bravo Krystal, for having the courage to go after your dreams.

-------------------------------------
BULGOGI




 In fulfilling my promise to share more Asian recipes with Krystal, I am sharing an easy-to-prepare Korean dish bulgogi, or marinated pork (usually made with beef).  This dish is  one of my "I want something special but am too lazy to prepare" dish... so let's start.

Ingredients

2 lbs, pork thinly sliced
7 tbsps soy sauce
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chinese coooking wine
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bundle of green oinons
2 tbsp sesame oil

Marinate pork with all of the ingredients.  Set aside.  Heat up a wok,  when it's hot enough, pour the meat mixture.  You will hear it sizzle. Stir  to cook the meat evenly.  You may also add a little water to make sure the pork is thoroughly cooked.

You should watch it when the water is reduced as it carmelizes easily.  You may want the edges to be brown and crunchy but you don't want it burnt.  Add more green onions and minced garlic.   Give it a quick stir and voila, it's ready.

Transfer to a serving plate.  Garnish it with toasted sesame seeds....  It looks and smells good...

This is best paired with mongo sprouts and with steamed white rice.

ENJOY!





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Saturday, June 5, 2010

off the record

Being a blogger can sometimes be difficult, especially with family members and close friends being wary of saying personal things in front of you. When my family and friends gather, we often crack jokes, talk about private matters and I would always get the preemptive statement "Hey don't blog about this, ok?"  And the naughty me would reply, "it's for me to know and for you to find out... by reading my blog". But they always end up making me promise not to mention them.

So the person who helped me with this post doesn't want to be identified... well to put it simply, because of the nature of his business. No, he is not a spy or an undercover detective. But he is very much a foodie like me. He says he visits my blog daily and he comments that my pictures are not sharp enough.  So the pictures that you see in this post is a result of one afternoon taking a short "photography 101" lesson from him.  

When we had  lechon kawali  (crispy pork belly), he introduced me to pritchon



Pritchon is a term combining the words prito or fried, and lechon or roasted pig.  This post doesn't need a recipe since you could use lechon (roast pig) or the lechon kawali.  But in order for you to make this wrap, we need:

Hoisin Sauce (diluted in water)
Flour Tortillas
Green onions

 Chop the lechon into bite pieces and arrange them in a platter like so:





It could be served as an appetizer or an entree itself.  Everyone enjoys assembling their own wrap... and before you know it the whole plate is gone.


Enjoy..

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

all aboard the reality train I: a toast to the graduate

Riding the Metrolink (the LA metro rail transit) is like watching reality television.  Like in most trains, the seating arrangement is such that you are face to face with other passengers, which makes it uncomfortable for me... well depending on who is in front of me.  As soon as I sit, I start noticing a variety of things: the people making their way home, the view of the ocean, the kids by the tracks waving at the train... I just love observing it all.

I watch the other passengers and I notice that some are train buddies and it seems like they are having a party, enjoying each other's company. I have learned to distinguish the commuters into the following:  chatter-bug - who chirps faster than the guy in the old FedEx commercials,  the techy - whose gadgets ranges from the latest i-pad to the wisest smart phone, the inconsiderate - who talks on his phone so loud (sometimes at worst in a different language) that the whole car notices and the pleasant ones - who always smile despite the long, hard day and even in between breadths from running to catch the train.

Last Friday, as I was enjoying a hotdog in a corner, I noticed a young lady in front of me who was busy texting. She was all smiles, even giggling after reading each text. Two stops later, she was joined by 3 "train buddies."

The three of them were carrying bags filled with decorations and goodies. One of them told the woman in front of me, "all you had to do was save seats for us."

Overhearing this, I offered to move but they insisted that I stay. They started taking out party favors from their grocery bags.  A lady started decorating the car with napkins with a graduation motif and a banner.  I offered my scotch tape and they all laughed wondering why I have a scotch tape in my purse (CALL ME McGyver). I started to feel like I was one of them.  They called me the "tape lady".

"So what's the story?" I asked (You know I am always being nosy).

The man in a khaki shirt explained, "we're trying to pitch a surprise party for our 17-year old train buddy who is graduating next week".

Soon, the car was very festive with banners, tables nicely covered  with table cloth, napkins, glasses, etc.  Later on, they were joined by another woman, then another. I began to insist again that I move at this point as I felt like I was crashing a party. And after two stops, the graduate walks into the car.  They all chorused,

"Surprise!"

The graduate was flustered.  She didn't know what to say. Then, the party started, drinks were passed around, food and laughter ensued. The lady tourist beside me said that she'd never seen anything like this in Japan... Yes only in America and this is by far the most unique party I've ever seen.

 I took pictures from my camera phone (so pardon the grainy picture) as I just want to share with you.




That's the table and notice the window taped with grad napkins...




The banner...


As I reached my destination, I could still hear their laughter and their voices.  Not even the loud brakes and the train whistle could drown their voices.  What a heartwarming grad party and I was glad I was able to witness it.

----------------------------------------

In my home country, one of the most celebrated occassion is a graduation party.  Lechon (roast pig) is a  party staple. It could be the whole lechon or the miniature version, which is called lechon kawali (roast pork belly). And this is what I'm going to share with you in this post.





Lechon Kawali (Crispy Pork Belly)
Most of us dread frying, especially large chunks of meat. So I cooked the pork belly in a turbo broiler, so it’s sans frying (a healthier way to cook Filipino food!)







2 lbs Pork belly
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic
2 stalks of lemongrass
3 bay leaves

Directions:

Pound the lemongrass. Make sure to get the juices out. Rub it on to the pork. Mince the garlic and mix it together with salt and pepper. Rub it on to the pork . Roll the pork belly and stuff some garlic salt , pepper and lemon grass. Secure it with strings.

Boil the pork and throw in some bay leaves and peppercorns to add more flavor. Boil it for about an hour or until the skin is tender. Some hang it to dry. I just put mine in  the refrigerator until I am ready to cook it, usually the following day. Make sure to bring the pork out an hour before cooking.

Now here’s the twist. Usually back home, the pre-boiled pork gets submerged in a pot full of oil and deep fried on high heat. That’s why it’s called  Lechon Kawali coming from kawali which is pan or wok. But I am not too keen on deep frying, not just because of health issues (as if the pork belly is healthy-- haha!) but because of fear of oil splattering and me having to call 911…
Bake it at 375F in an oven, or in my case, the turbo broiler for about an hour or until very crispy. When you hear the skin crackling, voila, it’s done! I didn’t have to slave away to satisfy my cravings.

Let it cool before chopping. You could enjoy your crispy pork belly with your favorite dipping sauce but my favorite is vinegar and soy sauce with chopped onions and garlic.  ENJOY!



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