Friday, October 26, 2012

Reasons | Ukoy (Shrimp Fritter)

Things happen for a reason. 

I've been missing my kids the past few days and I wish they are still home with me. Was it worth it having them all go away for college? I struggle with the thought of what could have been if we all stayed together?  What if we didn't leave the Philippines?  What if I had just asked them to go to school in the same city I'm in?  What if I tried to hold on to them as long as I can?

These questions lingered in me.  Until I visited each of my kids' Facebook account. I go through their recent photos, my eldest daughter had a busy week entertaining a visiting high school friend.  They went around Berkeley and San Francisco and had a blast.  My second daughter had a busy October at school but still manages to attend her pre- health organization's meetings and events at UCLA.  My son in Cornell also has been busy with school work and had a lot of fun with his Filipino-American student organization's event of hosting a comedy workshop.

Finally, I read a conversation among the three of them, with my eldest daughter leading the way, on how they should catch up on Google Hangout.  All three of them promise to update their planners so they can arrange a meeting, hoping to do this bi-monthly.  This thread was so heart-warming for me.  I guess my greatest fear is we are all so busy that we lose connection to each other.  But that connection can no longer be broken.  

No matter how busy our schedules get, how far away we are from each other, we are still the same.  Our connections have been built through all the years we were together.   We started early, raising the kids in an active and creative environment, making sure they played a sport and a musical instrument in elementary school.  It continued by demanding from them the highest grades possible but at the same time asking them to do extracurricular activities.  Getting them involved in research and internships in high school.  And asking them to be the best person they could be when they leave for college.  Things happen for a reason.  My kids are all away from home to get the best education and experience for them to prepare for the future.  And now I am just riding along until I get to be with them again.

Ukoy (Shrimp Fritter)
Ukoy is a popular street food in the Philippines.  I've been wanting to make this especially at this time of the year when pumpkins are everywhere.  Squash is one of the ingredients and I wanted the streaks of squash to show, but it turned out like it blended with the batter.  My husband said it didn't look like the traditional one, but whatever it is he said, it surely tasted great... LOL!

1 lb shrimp, deveined
1 cup squash, shredded
1 medium carrot, shredded
2 stalks green onions sliced
(you could also add mongo sprouts or potatoes)
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp lemon-pepper powder
3/4 water (pour it slowly, making sure that the batter is still thick)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
salt to taste

You don't like a soggy shrimp fritter, so I'm sharing a technique which I learned from America's Test Kitchen on PBS. The solution is to dry the ingredients (veggies and shrimp) with a paper towel first and mix them with the dry ingredients.  The dry ingredients absorbs the moisture of the veggies and shrimp.
Mix the dry ingredients first: flour, cornstarch, lemon-pepper powder.  Toss the veggies and shrimp.  This will allow the water to be absorbed by the dry ingredients.

On a separate bowl, whip egg and water together.  Pour it over the dry ingredients and mix well.

Heat cooking oil in a pan.  Scoop about 2 tablespoons of batter.  Quickly drop them in the hot oil.  Cook each sides for about 2 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with vinegar with pepper and onions but you could also use the sweet chili if you'd prefer.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Autumn: a photo, a poem and a plate

I posted a picture of fallen leaves on my Facebook page, and Maria Theresa, one of the subscribers attached a few lines from a poem by Maureen Kwat Meshenberg of Heart's Calling

When I saw your fallen leaves photos I thought it would be a perfect visual accompaniment to that line of poem, Maria Theresa writes.

With the help of Theresa, (thank you :) )  and with the permission of  Maureen Kwat Meshenberg of Heart's Calling (Maureen, thank you!) I am sharing the poem in its entirety below. If you love the poem, (which I'm sure you would) visit Maureen's Facebook page Heart's Calling for more poetry.  You will be enthralled by the magic of her words.

So for today's post, I am sharing with you Autumn:  a photo, a poem and a plate.  May you also find inspiration in unexpected places... Happy Wednesday!

In this day,
in this morning-
I clothed my soul,
with autumn's dawning.
Beautiful colors
to fabric me-
rest to be, so freely...
touching my life,
with possiblities.
For in this breath of morning,
comes to me with beauty-
I choose how they hold me,
to wrap around me.
Breath to my waking,
I see sometimes breaking-
but spilling out of me,
are my colors to just be.

Lemongrass Pork with Shitake Mushrooms


1- 1 1/2 lbs pork, butterfly sliced 
2 stalks of lemon grass (sliced and crushed)
1/4 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 lime - add the lime juice
4 clove garlic - minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 cup soup stock
Cooking oil for frying
2 pcs carrots, sliced
1/2 c bamboo shoots (I used the canned one)
4 large dried shitake mushrooms (soaked in water then slice when soft)
1/2 cup straw mushrooms (I used the canned one)
1 stalk celery, sliced

Season pork with salt and pepper.  Dredge the pork in flour (also seasoned with salt and pepper).  In a wok, fry the pork in batches until slight brown. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine: hoisin sauce, fish sauce, soup stock, lime juice, sugar and chili garlic sauce. Whisk to blend.

Using the same wok, saute garlic and onions until fragrant. Add the lemongrass and pork. Pour the sauce mixture. Cover and let it simmer.  When pork is tender, add the mushrooms and vegetables.  Cover for a few more  minutes and voila it's done! Enjoy!

I'm sharing  more photos I captured around St. Louis for you to enjoy...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Impromp-tea | Cayenne Spiked Autumn Tea

"Do you have any plans for lunch today?" asked my friend Vivian.

"No, I don't have any" I blurted even if I was in the middle of cleaning.

"I just cooked up a storm and I was wondering if you'd like to come over"

Cooked up a storm???  "I'll be there in an hour" came my instant reply.

Let's be honest. There are times when friends invite you for an impromptu meet up and our perfidious mind would fabricate excuses to avoid going.  We are caught up with our own fictional "busy world" that we cannot afford to lose a few hours of connecting with friends.  But chilax, impromptu get-togethers  usually end up wonderfully. Saying "yes" to Vivian  turned out to be one fine afternoon; enjoyable, fun and relaxed. Amidst laughter and heartwarming convos, we both knew that we should do "lunch" on a regular  basis from now on.

Happy Monday!

Cayenne Spiked  Autumn Tea
I understand, one of the hesitations of saying yes to an invite on the fly is not having anything to give. I myself wouldn't want to appear at my friends' door step empty handed.  But don't be caught up with this because bringing simple things are equally appreciated.  In my case, with just an hour to finish my chore of cleaning, showering and making something, uh well I had to make something quick. 

I've been making beverages of tea at gatherings so I thought I'd make a jar to bring. It was a cold Autumn day, so I spiked the tea with cayenne powder, to give it a kick.  And true enough, even when the beverage was served cold, the contrast of the hot spice of cayenne made a perfect beverage for a chilly October afternoon lunch.

5 individual tea bags 
5 cups water
2 pcs (thumb size) ginger peeled and pressed
3 pcs. dried orange peel
3 pcs dried lemon peel
2 tbsp agave syrup
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 tsp cayenne powder

In a kettle, mix all the first five ingredients together.  Brew for about 5 minutes or until the water boil.  Cover the kettle and let it cool.  Stir in orange juiuce, agave syrup and cayenne powder.  Please adjust to taste.

Pour it over a glass with iced cubes.  Garnish with apple slices.  Enjoy!

Thanks Vivian, and I'll see you next month!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

With a smile | Seafood Kare-Kare Noodles (Seafood Noodles in Peanut Sauce)

On the last day of my 10 day catering gig, she came and gave me a tight hug and said: Thank you!

The truth is I should be the one to thank her.  I wanted to tell her how grateful I am to see the strength of a woman facing pressing issues and her being positive a midst a difficult situation.  Her dainty look, well kept hair and light make up,  even her infectious laugh will never reveal her story.  I saw her at church with her family, I saw her wake up in the early morning on a weekend to attend a 5k run.  I saw her with her children, always with a smile.  Such is the strength I've seen. 

I was commissioned by her friends to cook for her and her family.  For ten days, I found myself chopping, stirring pots, running around an unfamiliar kitchen, but I was extremely inspired.  I can't believe how much joy I had cooking. 

And yes, I am most grateful for being part of a group of friends stepping in to help a friend in need.  And the song "that's what friends are for" played over and over in my head, while I cooked.  I thought I was in my zone.

Seafood Kare-Kare Noodles (Seafood in Peanut Sauce Pasta)
This was one of the recipes I developed especially for the family.  I took the familiar flavors of a traditional dish (Kare Kare) and tossed them with unfamiliar bedding.  


1/2 package rice stick noodles (you could also use linguine )
2 tbsp annatto oil (if you don't have the annatto oil, use cooking oil and add annatto powder as you saute)
1 package of seafood
1/2 block of firm tofu, cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tbsp oyster sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp peanut butter

1/2 c crushed peanuts
4 cups of shrimp stock (boil shrimp heads. Extract its flavor by pressing the heads)
cornstarch dispersed in water


Soak the noodles in a pan filled with water.  Leave it for 30 minutes.  If you are using linguine, please prepare it according to package instructions.

Sear the seafood on a pan.  Using the same pan saute the garlic, onions and seafood with annatto oil. Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper. Stir fry for about 5 minutes. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar.  Add peanut butter. Stir in tofu. Transfer half of the cooked seafood on a plate. Set aside. (the idea is not to overcook the seafood)  

Using the same pan add shrimp stock.  Let it boil. To thicken the sauce pour the cornstarch mixture. Add the noodles (do not add the water wherein the noodles were soaked in).  Cook until al dente.  Add the remaining seafood topping and give it a quick stir.  Drizzle the sesame oil.  Stir for another minute or two.  Season with fish sauce. Sprinkle  crushed peanuts.

Friday, October 12, 2012

BFFs | Biko (Sweet Rice Cake)

Friendship is a wonderful thing.

My friendship with Mariel spans three decades. We sat side by side sharing a wooden desk in grade school. We lived on the same street and we would walk home after school together. She climbed the guava tree at my house (since I cannot climb myself) and we sat by our terrace to enjoy the soft warm yellow guavas. We wore the same blue and white uniform in high school (although I wore mine shorter while she would wear her's down to her ankles). Years later, we drove on the same interstate highways (when I lived in Florida a few years ago) and got to see each other on special occasions   And you bet, BFF is an apt description for our friendship.

Melo is another BFF since high school.  As a bright boy from another town, he didn't come to his new school unnoticed. He sat in Mariel's class during the first year, then he was in mine for the next 3 years.  He now lives in Florida too - he is finishing up his Ph.D. in Psychology this semester.  He might not know it (or maybe he does?) but my constant phone conversations with him often times turn into free  psychological assessments (and sometimes unsolicited as he could read between the lines)... He must be the reason why I'm still sane these days...LOL! 

"Let's make deko (in Ibanag, our native dialect word for biko or sweet rice cake) when you visit..."  Melo excitedly said upon learning that I was going to Orlando.

And so we did.

We made deko - a sweet treat we all enjoyed during our childhood days And what came with it was the recollection of funny adventures that still warms our hearts. We laughed so hard until our bellies hurt. We forged new memories as we stirred the warm sticky rice but yet cherished the old ones that came with our blue and white uniform. The laughter and stories echoed - just like as we had once did in the gray concrete hallways of our high school.  And we know we have more stories to tell and reminisce about in the years to come.

I'm sure you have stories about your BFFs that resonates the same way - indeed friendship is a wonderful thing.  Happy Friday!

Biko (Sweet Sticky Rice with Caramelized Coconut Cream)


5 cups of sweet rice
2 cans of coconut milk (I used Arroy-D)
3 cups water
1 cup sugar (you could add more if you want)
3 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vanilla
lemon zest

For the topping:
2 coconut milk
1 can heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp butter

or you could also use the following for the topping:
1 coconut milk
1 condensed milk
3 tbsp butter
lemon zest


Pre heat oven to 375 F.

Pour 2 cans of coconut milk and 3 cups of water in a pot. When it's starting to simmer add the sticky rice. Stir the rice continuously while cooking. After 10-15 minutes check the water level and if the rice is cooked (it should be soft but still firm). If it's not, add more hot water (if needed) and continue to stir. Stir in butter, salt, vanilla, sugar and lemon zest. Set aside.

Pour  the cooked rice into a baking pan lined with banana leaves. I used 3 circular ones, but you could use a 9 x 12 baking pan. Leave room for the topping (about half an inch)

For the topping:

Pour the ingredients on a pan. Cook until the cream is thick enough. This may take up to 30 minutes, but it's all worth it. Pour the topping on top of the baking pan with rice. Bake @ 375 oF for an hour or until top is golden brown. Broil for 5 minutes but make sure to keep a tight watch as you don't want to burn the top. Enjoy...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Homecoming | Igado

It feels like a homecoming!

With my luggage in tow, I hold tightly to the pole as the elevated tram moves towards the main terminal of the Orlando Airport.  I immediately felt the peculiar sensation of deja vu; I felt like I was home.

At the curbside, Benedict, my brother in law gave me a warm hug and says "Welcome!"

"Where are the kids?"  I asked.  

"They didn't come with me" he said.

Just as I was beginning to believe that yes, they are now older and could be left home, there was a duet of   "Hello Tita Malou"  Pia, (my niece) and Peter (my nephew), hiding in the back seat.  Their giggles and happy faces were the warmest welcome I've had in quite awhile.  The thrill escalates even more when I heard the voice of my sister Marvie on the phone.  "Welcome to Orlando" she said.

I'm in Orlando to visit my sister and her family.  I'm doubly excited because I'm also here to show my support to her- she just opened a new medical practice in the city. I'm beaming with so much pride and joy as she starts another chapter of her medical career.

There is always something special about visiting family. A semblance of home is re-created through loving arms, warm hellos and  partaking of a comfort food that is distinctively from your roots.   And now I'd like to share  one of my brother in law's specialty, a local fare in my hometown of Tuguegarao we call Igado.

Igado ala Benedict (Pork and Liver Stew adapted from Philippine Cuisine, by Michaela Fenix)
If you follow my blog, chances are you might have read a post or two about my brother in law Benedict.  I have shared his recipe for Ibanag longanisa, one of my all time popular posts.  My brother in law have so many "pogi points" (wink wink, he might be reading this post) but I think his greatest charm is that he is a wizard in the kitchen. House guests' visit is always highlighted with the dishes that he creates because they are spot on. His repertoire is mostly traditional Filipino food. definitely a bridge that connects you to home.


2 lbs pork
1/4 lb pork liver
1 tbsp garlic, minced
3 pcs red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 large onion, diced
1 cup frozen peas
3 tbps soy sauce
1/4 c vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp lard (he says this is his secret)
3 pcs liver, mashed (again he says this is the other secret)

In a pan, saute garlic and onions with lard.  Add meat and cook for 15 minutes.  Add water and after 4 minutes, add red bell pepper and green peas.  Cook until the pork renders its fat.  Add the mashed liver to thicken the sauce.  Enjoy

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Inspired | Korean Beef Stew

I call them daily miracles; miracles that lift the spirit and fill my head with wonderful thoughts.

Outside my window I hear the leaves rustling  in the crisp morning breeze.  Green leaves slowly turning into soft  amber beneath the clouds that look like giant mounds of marshmallow on a regal blue canvass. 

This morning, while hubs and I walk to the park he tells me what's taking me so long?  Well, I can't help it.  I just need to stop and capture the dramatic scenery the season brings.  They are like post its of love notes that serve as daily reminders that will cheer you on throughout the day.   

And with the changing of the colors and crisp autumn air, there's nothing more satisfying than the smell of your favorite stew permeating from the kitchen. The sound of a simmering pot blend perfectly like a symphony so soothing to the soul.  Now tell me how else can you not FALL in love with autumn?

Now, while I am immersing myself and enjoying God's gift of nature,  I hope you are enjoying the moment too wherever you are.  And if you need a pick upper,  let me share with you a family favorite that will surely lift you up.

Happy Monday!

Korean Beef Stew


1-2 lbs of beef chuck cut into cubes (ribs is also preferred for this dish)

7 tbsps soy sauce
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chinese coooking wine
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bundle of green oinons chopped
2 tbsp sesame oil
3 thumb size ginger, peeled and pressed
1 serrano pepper
1/2 c beef stock (add more if the beef is not tender)


Season the beef with salt and pepper.
Add cooking oil in a heavy pan.
Sear the beef on all sides (a light layer of golden crisp forms around its sides)
In a bowl mix all the ingredients together. (Except serrano pepper) Make sure to dissolve the sugar.
Once the beef is seared, pour over the soy sauce mixture.
Let it boil. Once it's boiling, lower the heat and let  it simmer.
You may need to add water if it's necessary. Cook until completely tender.  Add the serrano pepper and cook for about 3 more minutes.
If you want the sauce to be thicker you may mix conrstarch with a little water and add to thicken the sauce.  But we prefer the sauce as is... so it's all up to you. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds...  Enjoy

And oh btw, best served with those crunchy, spicy Kimchi... nom nom nom!

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