Monday, March 28, 2011

when life gets in the way

Everyone needs to have a fast and easy dish in their repertoire - something that you can cook easily especially when life gets in the way. You know those instances when you lose track of  time watching reruns of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and before  you know it your husband calls  saying, "Love, I will be home in 30 minutes!" And you know that the phone call was really code for "I'm exhausted from a long day at work. I can't wait to get home so I can eat and relax on the couch. I hope you already have food ready!"

Yes, that sometimes happens at home. When this occurs I frantically dart to my kitchen, and before I could even tie the strings of my apron, I already have my beef stir fry in mind. Trust me, you can easily whip up this dish on the fly without your husband ever suspecting a hint of your procrastination. On the contrary, he would think you put forth a lot of planning to pull off this scrumptious meal. Shh it's our little secret haha!

Beef Tips with Dried Cranberry and Almonds

1 lb beef sirloin, cut into strips
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
onions, sliced
1/2 green pepper sliced
1 carrots, sliced
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c almonds
1/2 c soup stock
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbs[ white sugar (optional)
2 thinly sliced ginger


In a bowl, thoroughly mix beef tips with soy sauce, sesame oil, and oyster sauce. Toss cornstarch to coat the beef. Set aside.

*Note: If you are not in a rush, you can refrigerate the beef to allow the marinade to soak in.

In a skillet, heat cooking oil. Add the beef, do not stir immediately. Allow one side of the beef to caramelize then flip it to caramelize the other side as well. Add the veggies, stir fry until cooked. Drizzle some sesame oil to enhance the flavor.

And voilĂ ! dinner is ready. You still might even be able to catch the last few scenes of Stabler and Liv on TV haha... Enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fish Friday

My family and I watched last week's Top Chef All Stars episode with great gusto. The chefs were in the Bahamas, fishing for their own protein and cooking on the beach with very limited resources. It was all very much like Survivor instead of Top Chef; I expected Jeff Probst to come out of the beach instead of Padma! The winner of this elimination challenge was Mike Isabella. Although I wasn't a great fan of his throughout the season, his method of steaming grouper in banana leaves caught my attention. This is a very common way of cooking fish in the Philippines. 

But I have a side story to tell. Even though I wasn't very fond of Mike Isabella, I follow him on twitter (@MikeIsabellaDC). I decided to tweet him that day after watching the episode. I posed a silly question just to test if he would reply back...

Much to my surprise, he did tweet back! Suddenly, my impression of him changed. Maybe this guy is just being portrayed on TV an arrogant villain. Maybe he is just fulfilling that role for the camera (remember how much we love our reality TV villains like Santino from Project Runway?). Anyway, it was a huge surprise to read that Mike Isabella replied to my tweet. 

Thanks to the inspiration from Top Chef and Mike Isabella's ingenious cooking under pressure, I present you with a new slideshow on How to Steam Fish in Banana Leaves. I had so much fun doing my first slideshow (Royal Bibingka) that I decided to do another one. ENJOY!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Home is where the heart is.

"Mom... I don't think you should serve that to the girls..." My son took one look at the stack of disastrous pancakes at my kitchen station with a confused look. "That would be a really bad idea."

I defiantly asked him, "Why not?!"

But he avoided my question with a quick and witty suggestion. "Just make your stuffed French Toast, Mom. The girls will love that." As if he knew with authority what I make in the kitchen daily!

Now that my girls are home for spring break, I've been planning to cook everything that's on their long list of requests (named "Mom, Please Make the Following Dishes when we Come Home!"). I had it all planned. They wanted a big breakfast, so I made pancakes. But something wasn't right that Sunday morning.

I can't blame my son for being worried about the sad fate of my pancakes. Looking on the burnt heap of pancakes, I decided that I had to redeem myself. I wanted to make a welcome spread that will bring radiant smiles and warm hugs; my stuffed French toast had to make an appearance.

"Ah yes, I'm home," said my daughter as she walks to the dining area. "You know how I know I'm truly home? I wake up to mom's voice in the kitchen." She smiled. I knew that it was not just my loud laughter that woke her up; it also was due to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of sizzling bacon on a hot skillet. Whenever my daughters come home, I don't mind being busier than usual in the kitchen. Never mind if the plates are not put into their proper shelves. Never mind if the dishwasher is always full. Never mind if the shelves in the fridge are disarrayed. This is still their home... Home is where the heart is and I'm glad that our kids still find their hearts in ours.

2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tbsp French vanilla Coffee-mate
8 slices of white bread
3 tbsp butter
1/2 c pancake mix
Ripe bananas sliced thinly
Strawberries, sliced thinly
Cream cheese

Break the eggs into a bowl. Whisk it lightly then add milk and French vanilla creamer and the pancake mix.  Make sure the batter is not too thick.  

On a flat surface, flatten a slice of bread.  Spread some cream cheese, top it with banana slices and strawberries.  Roll them together.  Dip the rolled bread stuffed with fruits to the batter mixture.

Heat a skillet coated with a thin layer of butter.  Put the coated stuffed bread into the skillet. Cook it until all sides are golden brown.  You could serve it on its own or serve it with butter, whipped cream and syrup. Enjoy!!!

As part of Foodbuzz's Tastemakeer Program, I received a sample of  Nature's Pride 100% Natural Bread. 

With its natural flavors, and its soft texture, making my stuffed french toast was a cinch.   I was inspired to transform it from sliced bread...

to mouth-watering French Toast... I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

crunch time

This month's Kulinarya cooking challenge instructions were clear. Our host, Erika from Ivory Hut, told us that since March is the end of winter and the beginning of spring -- which also meant that we'll finally start seeing fresh, local vegetables again soon -- she thought that it would be great to feature Filipino vegetable dishes. She encouraged us to show that Filipino food is not just fatty or greasy.

Vegetables are rarely the center piece of the Filipino culinary experience. Although I initially thought of  classic dishes, like pinakbet and laing, I was feeling adventurous. And oops I'm sorry Erika  I may not be able to present the vegetables in a healthy way... as I deep fried them! But I have a good alibi, as my husband requested for an appetizer on this beautiful spring day... perfect timing as he is enjoying the men's NCAA basketball tournament, March Madness indeed.  Several games were nail-biters and had some players stepping up during crunch time.  And I was inspired by the games, as I saw a bundle of water spinach in my crisper and prepared Crispy Kangkong.... and my husband enjoyed these crunchy vegetables.

Without further ado, here's my contribution for this month's vegetable theme: Crispy Kangkong!

Crispy Kangkong
Kangkong leaves (water spinach)
oil for frying

For the batter, mix all the ingredient below:
1 egg
1 cup ice water
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp five star spice
salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil in a frying pan.  When the oil is hot, drop the batter coated water spinach.  When it floats, it's time to get  it out from the pan.  Drain the excess oil.

Serve with garlic dip:
garlic salt

Click here to know more about our club

Friday, March 18, 2011


I heard echoes of laughter and I was jealous that I wasn't there.   The wooden walls reverberated familiar voices through the phone, voices of my aunts who traveled for more than half a day just to be with  my mom as she celebrated Papa's birthday.  He was supposed to be 79 that day.

We are having "deko" said my  mother, referring to sticky rice cake or in tagalog bibingka.  "It is a gift for your Papa's birthday" she further explained.

Papa's birthday was always a big celebration in our home.  Every year, our family and friends, along with his clients, visit our house to bring their gifts in the morning and then attend the party later that day.  Gifts of livestock included pigs, goats, the freshest catch from the ocean, and yes "deko".  Drinks overflowed and I remember amongst Papa's favorites were Black Label Scotch whisky and Fundador brandy.  And like a little boy, each gift and each birthday greeting would make him flash his "kindergarten" smile. During the latter part of his life he would say, "I won't celebrate my birthday this year!" but my mother knew better.  She would always prepare just the same, ready to feed an army because she knew his plans always changed at the last minute.  "I can't  help it!" Papa would shyly explain.  "They come to the house with gifts, so I invite them in to celebrate" would be his annual alibi.

But we all knew Papa loved the festivities.  So on the first birthday after his death, there was not much to celebrate.  Calling home on his birthday and not hearing his voice was unnerving.  I miss his voice, his laughter, his excitement in anticipating the party.  I was suddenly enveloped by sadness so consuming that words cannot explain how I feel.

After I hung up the phone, I willed myself to be transported home.  I wanted so badly to just be there.  Sadly, I am unable to.  Instead, I had the craving to have a slice of "deko" to reminisce about my dad... to just remember him.  One of my favorite blogs, Jun Belen's food blog, had a post on how to make "biko" or another version of sweet sticky rice cake. I was immediately inspired.   I got my utensils ready and luckily I had the ingredients (I've been wanting to do a bibingka recipe). And before I could even think of how much I miss my Papa, I found myself tying the strings of my trusty apron... But the echoes in my mind kept repeating "I miss him... I terribly miss him”.   So to celebrate Papa’s birthday, I made Royal Bibingka (a special kind of sweet rice cake).  I can imagine again my dad's "kindergarten" smile – as I remember him on his birthday and greet him:  “Happy Birthday Papa, this one's for you!!!”.


I was so inspired to bake, to write and to take photos that day.... I turned it into a slide show and this video is the start of a special segment that I have always wanted to do. For those of you who requested a step by step account of my recipe, here's my first attempt at preparing a video.  This is the initial episode of my  "How to cook Filipino Food Series".  Your comments and suggestions to improve on it will be most appreciated.  Thanks.

3 large eggs
1 1/2 c sweet rice flour
1 1/2 c coconut milk
1/2 c evaporated milk
1 1/2 c sugar

3 large eggs
3/4 c condensed milk
1/2 c evaporated milk
1 small can heavy cream
1/2 package shredded young coconut

Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees
Line your baking pan with banana leaves
In a mixing bowl, add everything on the first list of ingredients.  Stir them all together until it is smooth and in liquid form.  Pour into the lined pan.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a little firm.

For the topping:

In a saucepan, break the eggs add condensed milk and evaporated milk.  Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously.  When it thickens add the heavy cream.  Give it a quick stir.   Then you may now add the shredded coconut.

Check the cake mixture in the oven.  When it's firm enough, add the coconut caramel you just made.  Bake for 7-10 minutes.  Broil for 4-5 minutes or until the top caramelizes.  Keep a tight watch as you don't want to burn the topping. It should be golden brown...Voila, enjoy a bibingka made  for the Royals... haha.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

riding the charcutepalooza wagon

When my friend  Annapet of The Daily Palette suggested that I should join Charcutepalooza,  I agreed instantly, even if I didn't know what the challenges lie ahead nor how to pronounce the word CHARCUTEPALOOZA... char what?

So I tiptoed to the the sites of the creators Mrs. Wheelborrow's Kitchen and The Yummy Mummy to figure it out. These two wonderful ladies are bringing back the old-fashioned way of curing, salting and smoking meats. Something that I've never done before, and quite frankly, I was intrigued... so here I am stepping up, joining the challenge they have set up.  To know more about the fun challenges, you could click here.

The March challenge is brining,  There are different options to choose from, so I opted to make corned beef. Oh yes corned beef... that red looking beef brisket that is usually in a sealed bag at the grocery store or the ones that you buy from a deli  or for us Filipinos, the one that is canned! While making corned beef,  I never thought it would be that easy.  Who would have thought?  The most difficult part really is the waiting game (as you brine the beef brisket for 5-7 days).

How fortuitous that the challenge this month is corned beef?  What with St. Patty's Day just around the corner.  Or maybe that's what the hosts had in mind for this challenge.

I first did my version of an Irish jig more than ten years ago when we migrated here in the US.  I don't particularly remember any similar kind of celebration in my home country.  All I can remember is that my first year here in the U.S., I dressed my kids in green outfits and shamrock necklaces.  I did such a good job dressing them up that it convinced my second daughter she was part Irish.  And for dinner, I remember quite vividly how my father-in-law introduced me into eating corned beef.  He had a big slab of red beef sliced thinly on a big white platter boiled to perfection with brussel sprouts and potatoes.  It was my first corned beef meal beyond the canned corned beef that I was accustomed to back home.

"Eat this with horseradish" said my father-in-law  Oh boy did I love it.  From that time on, everytime I cook corned beef, I would perfectly do it exactly as how he served it to us more than a decade ago. Corned beef with brussel sprouts, potatoes and horseradish on the side.

But for today's challenge, I wanted to stamp a Filipino badge on my dish, a unique take on a common Filipino food.  Instinctively, I imagined corned beef as a breakfast staple.  We usually have it for breakfast, either with our pandesal (literally means salt bread) or with sinangag (fried rice) but I'm going on a new adventure - so I'm taking this Irish staple to a trip to the Far East.

Inspired by what I had in my pantry I made Corned Beef Sinigang  (Corned Beef in Tamarind broth)

Sinigang is a sour  soup.  Traditionally, pork and shrimp are the main ingredients for the soup.  Tamarind or guava are usually the souring agents.  I never get tired cooking Sinigang as it is comfort food for my family, as I usually cook this when my girls come home from their school break... and after each sip of the soup, I could almost hear them say "I'm home!"

Now the vegetables that you see here are okra, radish and eggplant.  You could also add long beans.  I sliced my corned beef as cubes to follow the template of pork sinigang, complete with a thin-layer of fat ala "liempo".

Believe me, the Irish meat blended so well with the unfamiliar ingredients surrounding it. So let me share with you my recipe for Corned Beef in Tamarind Broth.

3 lbs. Corned beef (sliced in cubes)
2 pcs. radish (thinly sliced)
2 pcs. eggplant (thinly sliced)
1 pack okra
3 medium tomatoes
2 pcs. onions (quartered)
1 pack tamarind soup base
fish sauce (optional)

Other vegetables that you could add on include: taro, bokchoy and chili to give this dish a kick.

In a pot, boil rice water (water used for washing rice) onions and tomatoes.  Add the corned beef.  Cook until tender.  Add the vegetables and the souring agent.  You may want to add a small amount of the souring agent first then see from there.  Season with fish sauce or, if unavailable, with salt.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

spring cleaning

"What are you giving up for Lent,Mom?"  asked my son.  I signaled to him that I was busy writing and as he was leaving he said again, "You better think of a good sacrifice for Lent," as if he knew that I had yet to decide what to give up for Lent.

"So have you decided yet Mom?" he asked again the following day in the car as I took him to school. I answered him with a simple question.

"How about you?"

He quickly answered, "I'm giving up playing games on my phone."

Hmmm... I was impressed by his answer.  I knew this is going to be quite a sacrifice for him because he had downloaded so many games on his smartphone.

I was compelled to give him an inspired answer.

"I'm spring cleaning," I replied.  He had a quizzical expression on his face.

Yes, I'm spring cleaning my thoughts and actions, which means that I have to dust off the thick cobwebs from my mind, and discard the baggages I have been carrying in my heart. I have to learn to let go of all the ill feelings I kept against some people, lower my expectations, especially when it pertains to my family.  And I'll even work on being more patient.

"Then that means that you'll have to stop nagging," he joked as he stepped out of the car.

I laughed because I knew exactly what he meant.

So the question is... What are you giving up this Lenten season?

Seafood Risotto 
They say cooking risotto takes a lot of patience, as you need to stand in front of the stove, stirring, adding more broth, and stirring some more, until you get the proper texture that you desire. Patience? Ok, Seafood Risotto it is for dinner then.

 If you think this dish looks like paella and/or palabok, you're exactly right. I had both dishes in mind as I was fixing dinner.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 pack  mixed seafood
1 lb shrimp with head (set aside the head to be used as shrimp broth)
3 cups Arborio
4 cups shrimp broth (Boil the shrimp heads, crush the head or use an Osterizer, then drain)
fresh basil (chopped)
1/2 cream of mushroom soup (low sodium)
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, add olive oil over medium heat.  Saute onions.  Add the seafood and shrimp. Brown the edges and set aside.  Reduce heat to medium.

Using the same skillet, stir in the rice for 5 minutes (stirring frequently).  Add 2 cups of shrimp broth.

Continue to stir gently then add the remaining broth mixture, feel the kernel if it's soft enough.  If not repeat this step until it's nice and creamy.  Add the cream of mushroom. Mix well then add the seafood back in.  Give it a quick stir.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add chopped basil and voila...

You may have to repeat the previous step until the rice kernels are soft.  This is where patience is needed.  Also, I keep my broth hot, so when I need more the temperature doesn't go down.

Now, for those of you who are familiar with palabok sauce mix, this could be a great option to use instead of making your own shrimp broth.

Verdict: Yes - patience is a virtue and I'm glad that I passed the test.  And the dish?  My son and his girlfriend gave it 5 stars.

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