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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dinner in a Hurry

Its been quite a few months since I have not even peeked at any internet site. And that includes this site too. However, now that I am able once more to go to these pages, I thought it only apt that I share a few of the dishes I have prepared for my family considering the busy busy hours at the office. While I sometimes fall back on certain familiar Filipino dishes, and thank God, I have someone I can rely on to cook these dishes when all I want to do is sit back and relax, there were times that I felt that there should be something healthier and faster presented at the table even if I’m already at my wits end or would just rather raise my feet and watch pre·dinner tv.

After noting that I have a tray of pomelo sections in my fridge, and there were really fresh, succulent shrimps available, I thought of preparing a Thai style salad to accompany our pork dish. It’s quite easy to prepare.



Shrimp Pomelo Salad

pomelo sections from 1/2 fruit
1/2 kilo shrimps
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
handful cilantro sprigs, chopped
Dressing:
2 tsp. white sugar
2 Tbsp. fish sauce (or patis)
juice from 5 calamansi (Philippine lemon), seeds removed
1/4 cup toasted peanuts, crushed, for garnish


1. Peel half a kilo of shrimps of their heads and shell, leaving the area of the tail intact, sprinkle & toss in a dash of rock salt.
2. Poach in vegetable broth for just a few minutes, or as soon as the shrimps turn pink in just boiled broth.
3. Take the shrimps immediately out of the hot water and dip in ice cold water to stop them from overcooking. Drain the water and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, tear the pomelo sections into bite size chunks and place in a bowl.
5. Prepare the dressing by mixing all ingredients together in a smaller bowl. If you dont have calamansi, you may use 3 Tbsp. lemon juice. You may adjust these ingredients according to preference.
6. To assemble, add the shrimps and chopped cilantro in the bowl of pomelo chunks and toss with the fish sauce mixture until all flavors are incorporated.
7. Garnish with additional sprigs of cilantro and sprinkle with toasted peanuts.

It took me around 15 minutes to assemble the ingredients and prepare the salad, so it’s a real time saver. The salad can be a refreshingly light meal on its own or can be a side dish to balance any fried or saucy meals.

Another time saver is this quite popular Japanese beef soup, the Beef Sukiyaki. There were occasions when we would eat out in Japanese restaurants and I thought how complicated this dish might be. Then I thought of trying to make my own when I came across a recipe for this in a local cooking magazine and saw the multiple steps that are necessary to go through to get to your sukiyaki. But when it was time for me to cook it, I lost the copy of the recipe and so decided to just go with whatever is on hand instead and just simply guided myself with how the picture looked like from memory for the list of the ingredients. Two things that saved me were the packets of hondashi soup base, which is essential, of course, and my bottle of Kikkoman Tempura & Noodle base, which is my impromptu ingredient. These can be found in the Asian/Imported section of supermarkets.



Beef Sukiyaki

1 white onion, sliced in strips
2 stalks onion leeks, sliced in match sticks, light green to white part only
250 grams beef, cut sukiyaki style (or beef belly sliced thinly)
250 grams fresh shitake mushrooms, whole or sliced, stems removed
1 tub Japanese silken tofu, cubed
200 grams vermicelli or rice thread noodles
1/4 cup carrots, sliced into coins
2 cups cabbage, sliced roughly
3 packets hondashi soup base
200 ml Kikkoman Tempura & Noodle Base
2 liters beef broth
1 egg

1. After assembling the ingredients, soak vermicelli noodles in water for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In a casserole or deep saute pan, saute white onion followed by onion leeks in 2 Tbsp. cooking oil until fragrant.
3. Add the beef broth, hondashi and Tempura & Noodle Base and let boil.
4. Lower heat and add carrots. At five minute intervals, add the mushrooms, noodles and slowly add tofu to prevent breaking.
5. When noodles are almost cooked, add the cabbage leaves then the beef. Season with pepper and salt according to taste.
6. Just before serving, add one raw egg into the casserole while still cooking and slowly distribute the egg into the soup.
7. Garnish individual bowls with sliced onion leeks.

Well, my little diversion had really good results, considering that I was in a fix as to what to serve my family. The assembly of ingredients, from a look on the list, would seem too many, but its actually quite easy to have them all together. The actual cooking didnt even take too much time (the benefit of a one pot dish) and we were able to have it for dinner in less than 30 minutes. If you ever decide to take this up as part of your menu plan, this can served by itself but some would prefer eating it with plain rice regardless of the presence of the noodles in the pot.

However, if all energy fails, there is always the reliable sandwhich and potato chips. I took a bit more effort by adding greens in the bread for added bite and less guilt especially since I am trying to make healthy choices. A cup of tea also helped freshen my palate.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In Between Wolfing and Snacking

For the past few weeks, I've been more in tune to dining out. Some are old haunts that are worth coming back to, and some new ones that really deserve a visit.

1. The steaks at Hollywood Steakhouse located at the Seven Suites Hotel Observatory along Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City.

2. Persian Grill's Beef Kebab and Lamb Chops (Valero Street, Salcedo Village)



3. The Smoked Salmon and Mango Salad at Le Bistro Boheme (Blanco Bldg., Leviste Street, Salcedo Village)

4. People watching with Eggplant Chips at Pazzo Power Plant

5. Coffee at Alexandre (Bonifacio Global City in front of the SBDA)


But in the end, if you want some healthy snacking, try making Brocolli and Cauliflower Au Gratin : )


brocolli florets removed from 1 head
cauliflower florets removed from 1 head
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 stick of butter
2 Tablespoons or more of flour (depending on consistency desired)
1/2 cup of evaporated or full cream milk
1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste

- poach brocolli & cauliflower florets in a casserole of chicken stock for 15 minutes or until crisp tender
- drain vegetables from stock and keep stock for other cooking purposes. meanwhile, set vegetables on a shallow dish
- in a separate small pot, spray a little cooking oil to prevent the butter from being overheated and melt butter
- gently whisk in the flour to form a roux, but it should still be runny and not creamy
- pour in milk while stirring continuously until creamy
- season with salt & pepper to taste.
- pour white sauce over the vegetables and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese followed by the parmesan cheese
- bake in an oven toaster using top & bottom heat sources for 15 minutes or until cheese melts and browns
- serve alone as a snack or as a side dish to your own steak or fried chicken

This is a great dish to serve the kids - its colorful, creamy, and flavorful. You can also mix in canned corn kernels after baking to make it even more irresistible.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Comfort Food a la Francaise

Ooh la la! Another French restaurant in Makati caught my attention during one of those times that I was in Salcedo Village. It had an inviting homey facade, and so I towed the first few people who were available to try it out with me - my brother and daughter. Both were willing companions for my food samplings especially since for my daughter, we are always in search of alternative providers of her favorite dessert - the chocolate souffle.


La Cuisine Francaise is located at the ground floor of Paseo Parkview Condominiums, which building is just across the Paseo Uno commercial center. Upon entry, we were greeted by a polite staff in a very cozy ambiance filled with flowers and well-set tables. We settled ourselves in one of the tables lined against the wall and the seats were plumped up with French toille pillows. We were instantly served with a small plate of amuse bouche and our glasses filled with water to whet our appetites.


An examination of the menu told us that they are quite proud of their terrines, so we tried the Duck al'Orange which was served with a side of salad. It arrived in a serving that was good enough to be shared between two people together with a basket of hot baguette slices and rolls of creamy butter. The terrine slice (Php245 per) was served thick and taste nothing but of fresh, clean ingredients. This was accompanied by a tangy mustard dijonnaise. On another day, I would take this as a light meal on its own. But I'm here to try and get a taste of everything. So, in the spirit of everything la nourriture confort, my daughter had the Normandy Porkloin with apples (Php475). This is normally served with mashed potatoes but the kitchen was very accommodating when she preferred it with plain rice. While normally, it is quite hard to expect a porkloin to be tender, this one was, oh so almost melt-in-your-mouth, but not quite, so you can enjoy its meatiness. The apple sauce wasn't heavy either and the natural fruitiness just came out to complement the pork. Truly comforting.


My brother, on the other hand, ordered the Roast Chicken Provencal (Php350) which is a quarter of a spring chicken, all perfectly roasted together with the cloves of garlic, served with a gratin of potatoes, and a side of greens clothed in home-made French dressing (what else?). Chicken may be the usual "safe" choice you make when you are in a new restaurant, but the freshness of the ingredients just takes centerstage and you'd suddenly wonder why not take the "safe" choice?


For my part, I was hoping that my Moules Mariniere (Php615) will be that equally simple stew I was expecting. However, I was surprised that it came in a saffron-based broth with a generous sprinkling of minced vegetables. While the mussels stew was indeed flavorful, it was my preference that it be simply braised in the mussel's own broth, white wine, and garlic. I think I prefer Katrina Kuhn-Alcantara's version (at Cuillere, Serendra).

The Chocolate Souffle was another disappointment. It wasn't completely cooked so it came out like a chocolate egg - solid on the outside, but liquidy on the inside. I don't know, but this isn't how I know a souffle should be. So I suppose, for my daughter, the chocolate and vanilla souffles of Zuni (Greenbelt) still reign supreme in Metro Manila.

Nevertheless, La Cuisine Francaise is a place I'd like to come back to, but maybe when I get my bonus. It's homey and welcoming atmosphere, their very attentive waitstaff and well-timed kitchen has its price, of course, but will certainly feed le corps et l'ame.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Go Fish!

Well, what do you know...Lakbay Mesa's first anniversary came and went (!)

While I try my best to put in entries as regularly as I could, handling my food business while at the same time keeping my day job has proved quite challenging. Admittedly, one of them had to suffer (just a little). But for those few people out there who've read one or two of any of the entries here, I'd like to thank you for taking the time. I regret that I wasn't able to make an anniversary entry here but I'll have to forgive myself for this since the recent typhoon "Basyang" blew me over, including our electricity connection for over a week! Thank God that our water supply wasn't affected. I suppose counting one's blessings is still in order...



To mark a more frugal situation such as the rise of gasoline prices, electric bills, and other basic commodities, a simpler menu would probably be welcome. But instead of reaching for the nearest burger joint, I recommend eating fish instead. I suppose at present, one of the cheaper kinds of fish in the supermarket would be the cream dory. While I do remember this particular chain email I received about the supposed truth behind cream dory farming or what is called the Panggasius fish in Vietnam or some other Asian country, maybe for our purposes, I'd like to recommend buying cream dory that is farmed from our native waters like the ones produced by Saranggani Bay, which sells at competitive prices alongside the imported ones. Check your friendly supermarket.

Actually, this recipe is quite easy to make and makes the fish very tasty. It's a great idea for a weeknight dinner, just like the one we had this Tuesday.

Chinese Style Fish Kebabs

Recipe:

1 kilo cream dory fillets, cut into chunks of 1 in. by 1 in.
3 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1 Tbsp. ginger, sliced into thin strips
1 Tbsp. sliced spring onions
1 tsp. sesame seeds

Procedure:

1. Skewer fish chunks into thin barbeque sticks that have been submerged in cold water for a few minutes.
2. Mix the other ingredients together and marinate the fish sticks for 15-20 minutes.
3. Heat a grill pan that has been coat thinly with corn oil in medium fire.
4. Cook the fish sticks 3-4 mins. on each side, while brushing it with remaining marinade to keep the fish moist.
5. Serve while hot with noodles or rice

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Eating Italian in Oxford

For this entry, I've invited my sister to be a guest blogger and share her experiences in her recent travel to Oxford. Here are her views:



Having lived in Rome for a little more than seven years now and having lived la dolce vita for all those years, it was not my intention to try Italian food in England when I went to visit there the second time in February early this year. After all, I get my fill of authentic Italian cooking in Italy. The boyfriend is also a good cook and he never cooks anything else but Italian.

But when my sister learned that I was going not only to London, but to visit – for the first time – Oxford as well, she told me not to miss Jamie’s Italian. She had never gone to this restaurant since her last trip to the UK was some years back when the Jamie brand had not yet infiltrated the British scene, but she had heard about it. She wanted to know from me if it was worth the entire buzz it was getting. Jamie is of course Jamie Oliver, the well-known British chef and restaurateur and now a media personality because of his television shows and cookbooks. I’m no food blogger nor restaurant/food reviewer, but I promised to send her my thoughts about the place. So this is just a simple tourist’s account of her experience at Jamie’s Italian.

It was raining when I arrived in Oxford. After checking in at the hotel (Ethos Hotel, 59 Western Road), I thought I’d ask my hotel receptionist where would be a good place to dine even if I had already made up my mind before arriving where I would be going. The receptionist immediately and proudly, I might say, recommended Jamie’s Italian. I guess she has every reason to be proud because I learned that Jamie and his partners carefully chose locations that are based in university towns that lack mid-market restaurant options. The Oxford site was the first one that opened for this chain and I learned too that the arrival of the restaurant in this prestigious university town was much anticipated by the locals.

So when dinner time came and after touring a bit of Oxford, I walked to George Street, a busy high street filled with other trendy restaurants. First thing I noticed upon approaching were the sacks of rice displayed on the window sills with legs of prosciutto di San Daniele hanging on hooks (incidentally, I’ve always slightly preferred the San Daniele hams for its sweeter taste over the more famous Prosciutto di Parma). There is a no-bookings policy at Jamie’s Italian so walk-ins are always welcome. I was lucky that there was no long queue when I arrived. Normally this was par for the course, as I was told by the hotel receptionist.

The look inside the restaurant is a bit industrial, but chic. The general feeling is urban and modern. It has second and underground floors, but I didn’t get to explore them. I came to dinner quite early. It was only getting on 7.00pm, and although the place was not yet full there were already some people who were well into their dinner. I find this surprising. I guess I had gotten used to Italians eating at 8.00 or 8.30 for dinner…

I was quickly ushered to a table and handed a menu by a young staff. I took a look around the place and noticed the originality of serving plates of antipasti on cans of tomato sauces. I smile to myself and think that I am definitely in for something quite pleasantly different to what I am used to in Italy.

It was a cold evening so I chose Pappa al pomodoro, which is one of my favorite Tuscan “peasant” meals. Whenever I see this on a menu, my instinct is to order it. I am based in Rome and this dish is not usually seen in the Roman trattorie or ristoranti. It is only when I am in Florence or other Tuscan towns that I usually get to taste it. Pappa al pomodoro is tomato soup made of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, broth and unsalted Tuscan bread. The bread makes it a heavy meal, but I still ordered another dish, something light: Beef carpaccio with rucola salad and parmesan cheese.

The soup was naturally brought first. It was in a huge bowl. I am again reminded of the difference between British and Italian servings. I guess the British is closer to an American serving. In Italy, this dish would be in a smaller bowl.

The mixture of the smell of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil leaves already whetted my appetite. I couldn’t wait to dig in. I finished the bowl in just a few minutes. Suffice to say that it was good. The beef carpaccio arrived shortly after that and I was glad I chose the meal since the thinness of the beef didn’t make me feel as if I had eaten too much after that hearty soup I wolfed down. The carpaccio was finished in a few minutes as well. I may have ordered only two dishes (I was eating dinner alone so there was no desire to order more and hopefully share them with someone!) but they were, as well as the dining experience, definitely better than what I had gotten used to in Italy. I am now a fan of Jamie Oliver. I can now see that his passion for Italy and anything else Italian, were translated well into his restaurant and his food.

The staff tried to entice me with ordering dessert and much as I was almost tempted to do so, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t succumb to the pressure. Now I wish I had at least tried it so I wouldn’t have to wonder now…oh well, however, I can see that there will be a next time…☺

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tweaking a Hometown Dish

Just last Friday, I conceded to an officemate who is one of my loyal customers at Heaven's Country Kitchen, to whip up a fish dish for lunch. And so that same night, I consulted some references and took note of past reactions of my other customers regarding fish dishes we've already prepared, and decided to try something familiar but different. During these past occasions, I've learned that people from Rizal aren't really adventurous, and neither are they into fish or any kind of seafood. Must be the mountain ranges that make one crave only for saucy meat dishes to keep warm from the cool air.

One recipe that caught my eye though was for a Bicol Express Rice that is part of this compilation of the Philippine edition of Good Housekeeping magazine. Bicol Express has turned out to be one of the popular dishes being prepared today, although surprisingly, its origins are not strictly from the province of Bicol.

I claim Bicol to be my province considering that both my parents came from there, more specifically, in the province of Albay. I recall living there for 2 years where I attended pre-school at the now defunct St. Benedict's Academy in Guinobatan while we lived in my mother's family compound where we wake up everyday to a great view of the perfectly coned - and still very active - Mayon Volcano. We would return to this province almost every summer thereafter when my parents would pack everything up and my father would drive us via the South Road for 10 hours from our home in Las Pinas.

The Bicol region is located in the the southernmost tip of the Luzon island of the Philippines and is known for a cuisine that is distinctly different from the rest of the country by its people's incessant need to cook all their meals in coconut cream and/or milk and chilies. And then, it is here where the pili nut is found and made into all kinds of pastry from budin to pili brittle. It is the home of the "pinangat", a bundle of fresh gabi leaves simmered in coconut milk and cream and flavored with either a slab of pork, fish or shrimps. It is referred to by the Manila crowd as "laing", although they're not one and the same. "Laing", which also originated from Bicol, is a vegetable dish made also from gabi leaves, but the difference is that the leaves are air-dried first and cooked loosely in coconut milk, and not tied up like the "pinangat".


Bicol Express, on the other hand, is a dish composed of sliced pork sauteed first in onions and garlic, a few minced ginger and then simmered in coconut milk, to be followed by thinly sliced chilies Tagalog or siling haba for that bitingly hot flavor. Seasoning would just be salt and pepper. Other versions call for sauteing shrimp paste (or bagoong alamang) in the concoction for that added character, and as my father would sometimes do it, opting out the coconut milk and just saute the chilies and pork together as a way to boost appetite over our Sunday lunch.

Bicol Express is said to be a dish developed by Cely Kalaw for her Grove Restaurant in the district of Malate, Manila in the 1960s. (More of this can be found in http://kumain.com/bicol-express/) It was named so because at the time she cooked it, they heard a train passing by from the station in Paco, Manila.

For my purposes though, I thought the idea presented by the Good Housekeeping compilation was very promising. The recipe called for preparing the chilies into a paste and then mix it with rice that was previously simmered in water and coconut milk. Nevertheless, I took it a step further by retaining the pork version and poured it over the rice as additional sauce then served it simply with Crispy Fried Tilapia. In a word: Divine.



The Recipe:

For the rice -

2 small onions, halved with skin on
1 green bell pepper
6 cloves garlic
4 hot green chilies
1/4 of a chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup uncooked rice
1 cup water
1 cup coconut milk

For the pork sauce -

1 slab pork belly, sliced in strips
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 tsp. ginger, chopped finely
1 cup coconut milk
salt & pepper to taste
a few slices of the green chili

Preparing the rice: 1. Bake onions, bell pepper, garlic and chillies until their skins are charred in the oven at 350 deg. Cool then peel the vegetables and remove their seeds.
2. In a bowl, dissolve the chicken bouillon in the hot water. Add the cold water.
3. Chop the grilled vegetables then put in a blender with the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Set aside.
4. Boil the rice with the remaining water. When rice has almost absorbed all the water, pour in the coconut milk and mix well.
Continue cooking the rice until done.
5. Fluff the rice with the fork then toss in the pureed vegetable mixture. Let flavors set while you prepare the sauce.

Cooking the sauce: 1. Saute garlic, onion & ginger in 2 tablespoons of corn oil. Add in the pork belly and continue sauteing until pork is browned.
2. Pour the coconut milk and let simmer until pork is cooked through and sauce is slightly creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add in the slices of green chili when done.

When plating this dish, shape the rice as desired on a plate, pour in the pork sauce over it and serve with fried tilapia fish. The crispiness of fried fish really brought out the creamy and spicy flavors absorbed by the rice. According to my friends who tasted this dish, they couldn't help but eat everything up. This is a pretty good idea to serve to a crowd and I'm pretty sure it'll become a house special with me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Celebration Dish

What better way to celebrate the Philippines' 113th Independence than preparing a Filipino celebratory dish?

Beef Caldereta is usually one of the dishes that comprises a Filipino household's menu during parties, get-togethers, potlucks and fiestas. While this stew may show traces of Spanish influence, it has become a truly Filipino dish all its own. This version I'm sharing is one that my father developed over the years when there are parties to be held at home and which our guests would usually gush over and pour compliments at how very tasty it is. It was a good thing that I finally sat him down and dictated the recipe to me.

Ingredients:

3 kilos beef cubes
5 pcs. hotdogs/sausages
1 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup green olives
2 big onions, quartered
2 cloves garlic
few thin slices of ginger for sauteing
2 T tomato paste
1 sm. can liver spread
3-4 large green & red bell peppers
4 T Knorr liquid seasoning
1/2 kilos potatoes, quartered
2 large carrots, sliced

Procedure:

1. Marinate beef in 1 cup beer & Knorr seasoning for 30 mins.
2. Saute beef, onions, garlic, ginger & black pepper until beef is partially cooked.
3. Add 1 cup water (or as desired depending on how thick you want the sauce to be). Cook under slow heat. Cover until juice of beef comes out and until tender.
4. Add liver spread. Mix then season with salt & soy sauce to taste.
5. Add all other ingredients, last being the grated cheese, and let simmer until vegetables are just cooked. Serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Truly Asian Sojourn

Malaysia has been described, in so many words, as a country where worlds met, collided and mixed in a sumptuous brew of eastern spices and religion with western discipline and sensibilities.

Such was the whiff I got from the hot, humid air when we disembarked in Kuala Lumpur. Except for the mosques sprouting in between modern buildings and the Petronas Twin Towers, it was just like Manila only cleaner and with wider highways. The people are even gentler and are quite honest workers. Taxi drivers will know just where your destination is without inconveniencing you by asking "Where's that?" and will not haggle with the fare. Salesladies in stores will want to help you with a smile whether you end up buying something or not instead of looking glum the minute you stepped into their store because it would mean they would have to work.

Malaysian food has it's own character as well. Nevertheless, it shares this character with Singapore with the ubiquitous Hainan Chicken Rice and other fried specialities like fried wantan (wanton), fried chicken chops, and fried tofu. Malaysians, however, have two versions of the famous Chicken Rice - steamed or roasted. Of course, one doesn't go to Kuala Lumpur and miss the chance to try out Madame Kwan's Nasi Lemak, quite famous all over Malaysia, so a local tells me. I didn't think much of this fame until I had to be told by the major domo that the standard waiting time to be seated was between 10 and 15 minutes. So I patiently waited as told. I was getting more intrigued. But true enough, I was seated in 15 minutes in my own little corner of a very crowded restaurant situated on the top floor of Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC).

Of course, I asked for the Nasi Lemak which is a dish composed of Chicken Rendang or curry served with rice steamed in coconut milk, half a boiled egg, shrimp floss and spicy anchovies. Quite a lot on one plate, but well worth the wait. It is one spicy dish that reveals all its flavors only after you've been hooked with those preliminary bites. I got to stop eating only when there was nothing more on my plate. Cleaned it good. Surprisingly though, I didn't feel heavy as I would have expected despite the generous serving. So I had room for Sago Gula Melaka as dessert. It was just the right sweet ending to a full meal. All this satisfaction for RM35 (Php455). Admittedly, this is not a budget meal, but worth the experience. Notably, Nasi Lemak is a usual breakfast fare. The locals around my table would usually eat the Nasi Jemak, a tri-colored fried rice with a quarter roasted chicken and other side dishes.

For shopping, one can either sample the shops in the many malls surrounding the city, but for someone looking for particularly Malaysian goods, one is almost always directed to the Central Market along Jalan Hang Kasturi. Anyone new to the city will not miss the big block painted in white and baby blue. it is surprising to note that this particular building was already around in 1888 when it was used as a wet market. It has now been classified as a Heritage Site by the Malaysian Heritage Society and tourist landmark where you can purchase a wide variety of Malaysian handicrafts, including items made in pewter by famous Royal Selangor, trinkets and figurines fashioned out of batik wood, and souvenirs such as notebooks, fans, and bags made from tree barks. This market is air-conditioned so it does provide respite from the heat outside. There is also a resident cafe - the Old Town Cafe in case you need a breather from all that walking around in circles. Credit cards are also available options for payments in some stores.

Another shopping destination is Chinatown, a few minutes' walk from Central Market found in Jalan Petaling. It's the only block in the area where its street has a roof. In other words, rain or shine should not stop anyone from checking out the goods there. However, for my part, I ended up not attracted to anything on offer since all of the items found there I can find and buy either in Baclaran or in Divisoria at even dirt cheaper prices. But at least I got to know what it was all about and my curiosity has been fed.

While in Malaysia, though, do not miss the chance to go to Malacca or Melaka in the local vernacular. It's a little over 2 hours from KL if riding just the public transportation. Find a way to get on the KL Komuter train (different from the Rapid KL or their version of the LRT) and buy a ticket for the one that goes to Seremban (RM14/person). From that last train station, get a taxi to take you to the bus station Terminal 2 and purchase your ticket (around RM7/person) there for a bus (we rode the Transnational line) that will take you to Malacca, which leaves every 30 minutes. It's a two-hour ride from there where the bus will drop you off at Melaka Sentral. This is another bus station that's also a mini mall and just off the other side of a giant Tesco Hypermarket.

During our trip, we arrived at Melaka Sentral at past 1pm so we were quite hungry. We decided to rest and eat lunch at Nasi Ayam Bebola, one of the Halal eateries inside. It was part of my husband's must-do-in-Malaysia to eat the street version of the Chicken Rice. And so we did. It was more tasty and savory than the hotel versions. What's more, 3 of us for a total spend of RM25 with drinks? Not bad.

Anyway, from Melaka Sentral, you can either ride the red bus (RM2/person) or the ordinary bus (RM1/person) with a hawking conductor and cigarette-chugging driver (even though there's a sign that smoking is prohibited inside the bus) to take you to Malacca's historic center, starting point of which is the clock tower.

Let me just say that upon reaching the historic center, Malacca did not disappoint. It's an altogether different city with a character that is very different from KL. While you get the feel that the place is aging, it charms and entices you to find out more about it's colorful past.

Melaka used to be a small fishing village which developed into a thriving and busy port of trade between the Malays and Chinese due to its strategic location along the Malacca Straits. This later on attracted Siamese invaders. Development of relations between Malacca and China was forged mainly for the purpose of warding off further Siamese attacks. Portuguese colonization followed via Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1511. They were the ones who built the fort called "A Famosa", but only its gate is all that remains of the ruins. It was through the Portuguese also that the Jesuit missionary was established in the city.

The Dutch, however, defeated the Portuguese over Melaka in 1641 and their influence is seen in the Stadthys Square where the clock tower is located in front of the Stadhys or Red Building erected in 1650. Beside it is the Christ Church Melaka constructed in 1753 which is of original Dutch architecture as it stands today. This Church itself is a treasure trove considering that most of its contents are still the originals that are well-preserved - from the hand-crafted church benches to the jointless ceilings, the copper-bound Bible, the headstone with Armenian letterings and the replica of the Last Supper.

The Dutch later ceded Melaka to the British in 1824 and became part of the Crown Colonies together with its Sumatran neighbors. Later on, Melaka was brought back to the Malayan state.

Exploring the town, a walk along Jonkers Street is a must, not only for a more authentic feel of the place as you are surrounded by colonial architecture, but for the antique stores that line it up. From a Filipino perspective, be ready to spend. The antiques on sale, while very beautiful, are not for a trifle. As consolation for the budget traveller, I would recommend a coffee break at Geographer Cafe, a gorgeously renovated colonial building offering Italian coffee and an assortment of beers. A sighting of a pastry shop across had me sampling the durian puffs which are kept cool but a bite revealed oozing durian flavored cream on buttery pastry.

An ideal trip to Melaka should include an overnight stay since a lot more of the antique stores and even more restaurants and bars are closed during the day. We didn't even get to sample the Baba-Nyonya Cuisine for which the state is known for. So while our day trip there had to end, it was with a promise that the next time we go there (and yes, there will be a next time), we plan to have a sleep over.

Our day here ended on a trip back to KL, but instead of the hotel, we went straight to Cheras Night Market which only opens on Wednesdays. This is a street market set up along a busy highway and everyone goes there for cheap eats. The vendors there mainly sell Chinese food: pan mee, all kinds of mee (noodles), Taiwanese fried chicken chops, fried wantans and dumplings, char kwey teow, the stinkiest tofu steaks you can smell in your whole life; and then some: sugarcane juice, takoyaki, popped beans, candies, chinese pancakes, san rio character pancakes, nasi lemak, laksa, and a whole lot more. You will certainly stuff yourself silly as you take in the festive atmosphere. We certainly wanted to try everything! Well, maybe if we were 10 years younger and 20 lbs. lighter... Even so, I've chalked up my favorites (fried chicken chops and the sugarcane juice) and my least favorites (pan mee and fried wantan).

What is true for every Malaysian (and tourist) is that you may go home tired, but not hungry. But then again, when I got back to Manila, I craved for, and ate lechon kawali, sizzling pork steak and planned my household's menu around pork dishes for the next two days...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

City Bites


It's been over a month since I've written here. The reason being I had to focus all my and my household's energies to finally setting up my food business, which to all intents and purposes, has been set up before my self-imposed deadline of when I'm 42.


Our latest fond discovery is The Coral Garden along Libis, outside Eastwood City. This is of the Cocina Tsina variety that evokes the streets in Binondo. Their crispy froglegs (no kidding) has created a loyal following in my husband. It certainly is crispy and tasted exactly like chicken wings. Of course, if you can't take away the idea from your head that you're actually eating frogs, you may take the fun out of their garlicky taste. My husband says the legs pair well with ice cold beer.


Their other offerings are equally enticing as well, there's the crispy tofu, which is requested without fail by each table, the lemon chicken and fish with tofu hotpot. Their salted fish fried rice is generous and very tasty. All in all, compared to their Binondo comrades, The Coral Garden offers a cleaner taste on Chinese food. We certainly keep coming back for more.

The second discovery is Sugar Cafe which is located at the Seven Suites Hotel Observatory just off the Sumulong Highway in Antipolo. It has a sister restaurant called The Hollywood Steakhouse. The cafe takes full advantage of the clean air and sky, thus, open; and the interiors are more in tune with night visits than day. Their version of Sacher Torte is moist, gooey and tasty but quite expensive at P260/slice.

We also tried the tofu steak of Hollywood Steakhouse, but it was served with not enough sauce and didn't deliver as much as the Coral Garden's version. However, their servings are generously plated and each meal in the menu is served with the soup of the day (it was Black Bean soup that time), coleslaw and a choice of starch - baked macaroni and cheese, fries or rice. We tried the macaroni and cheese which was really cheesy, the way a mac & cheese should be. We'll have to try out the other items at another time though. I can only guess that these
two restaurants serve as on-the-job training outlets for students of the Asian School of Hospitality Arts (ASHA), apparently the first culinary school to be based in Antipolo.

Another great affordable buy is SM Hypermart Rotisserie's Slow-Roasted Beef Belly. At P210/order, it's a great alternative for those times when you're just not in the mood to bustle in your kitchen for dinner. We usually buy it whole then just slice it thinly. It comes with its own sauce/gravy too.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Teddy Bear Tea Party




I read somewhere that US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once said, "Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot." And with this at the back of my mind, I opened my big mouth one day and volunteered the idea of holding a teddy bear tea party for members of the Club Tipolo, a club that was set up by a group of mothers in the Antipolo area for the purpose of involving girls of varying school ages to learning activities that regular school are not able to include in the usual curriculum. Such activities mostly include arts and crafts and perhaps a little culinary angle in some, all with a particular theme in mind.

And so, after this idea was blurted out one very cold and windy December afternoon, it caught on, much to my surprise. I was told that it was something a bit different from their usual activities and there was more excitement about it when there were daughters of the organizers who found out about it and couldn't wait for the tea party to happen.

Having given such a "bright" idea, I likewise volunteered to be the one to give a short, short talk on proper tea etiquette since there are no tea etiquette gurus that we know of who can give such a talk. Frankly, I only know this much, and most of the things I know I only got from some books and magazines I have on the subject. As to having been actually invited to a proper tea party, I have no such experience. I don't know if having tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London some years past would count as such, but hey, I had tea and scones with clotted cream. In England. So as the preparations for the event started brewing, I had some qualms on how my young audience will receive the lecture part of the afternoon. I certainly had a program for it, and planning it down was seamless enough. However, I will later find out at the actual event itself that since the audience are still kids, it is better to keep the program loose and adaptable to any reactions. Having the party as a teddy bear tea, it kept the whole thing a bit informal and interesting for the girls.


I was surprised with the turnout too. There were 30 girls who showed up so it was really such a large crowd that it was quite hard to keep them interested in the finer points of the talk. I had to change my tactic and switched the whole tea etiquette thing to actual simulation, which they took on wholeheartedly - from the preparation of their own sandwiches, to the setting of their respective tables with complete tea amenities, and the actual drinking of tea, sandwiches, fruits and sweets. There were some girls too, who were converted to liking tea now that they've tasted it. The moms who attended, including me, discovered that underneath the girls' restlessness, they were quite serious in learning the etiquette of tea. Their caring nature were brought out as they took turns being "mother" or the hostess of the tea and ensured that each member of their group has what she liked. The whole exercise also calmed them as they sat on their tables and talked to their companions.

I got to thinking that, indeed, it is never too early to start teaching children the art of serving
tea. In this age in which there is the seemingly worsening prevalence of
inappropriateness coming in different shapes and sizes, it would only be just the right occasion to remind children of the importance of having and practicing good manners. Giving them such an opportunity
need not be so stiff and formal. After all, knowing the simple rituals of afternoon tea is none other than inculcating in young minds the importance of being considerate to others.

Afternoon Tea is also a time for adults to bond with their children or
grandchildren, or nieces and nephews. Thus, teaching them proper tea etiquette will certainly get them involved in a grown-up world.

The Menu

Sandwiches
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Hazelnut Spread
Cheese

Store-bought Cupcakes

Fresh Fruit Kebabs

Tea
Apple Juice

Some of the Finer Points:

1. Wait for the hostess to unfold the napkin and place it on her lap. This is a signal to the the guests to follow suit. If table linens are smaller tea napkins, unfold entirely and place on lap. Dinner napkins should be folded in half, with the fold facing the body. Napkins should not be placed on the table again until the end of tea or meal. It is the hostess who will be the first to do this, a silent indication that the tea is concluded.

2. Guests are given the option which they'd like to add to their tea - sugar, lemon or milk or all of them. However, etiquette dictates that milk is always poured in last, if this is desired at all. Lemons are served thinly sliced and not in wedges. These are conveyed to the cup with a fork.

3. When serving tea, the same should be done from the right side of the guest and pouring it until the cup is 3/4 full.

4. Maintain good posture at all times and don't reach across the table. Ask your seatmate nearest the desired food to pass the dish to you and thank him/her; take small bites of the food and listen to others when they speak.

A final point: A tea party is a good theme party for kids. Just keep the menu simple since it really doesn't take much to make children happy. You can involve your own kids in planning the menu since they would know better what their friends would like and enjoy eating.








Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tumbet y Pescado


As the Lenten season begins, my thoughts fly to one of my favorite Spanish dishes - the Tumbet, which is a mediterranean dish hailing from Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands of Spain (of which Ibiza is part). I first tasted this dish more than 10 years ago when La Tienda, the Spanish restaurant, offered this as part of their special menu in their Alabang branch during the month of October in celebration of their National Day.

While originally, the tumbet is a vegetable dish, La Tienda offered theirs with fish and baked in the traditional but individual earthenware greixonera. Since then, I've been replicating this dish myself, and have been serving it to my friends for dinner. This is very good served with a warm baguette than rice, and quite good as the star of the show. Nothing more simple than a complete meal in one pot. By the way, baking this dish in a pyrex tray is just as good.

The Recipe:

2 large aubergines or 5 local eggplants
salt & pepper
6 large or 9 small potatoes
2 large white onions, chopped
6 T. olive oil
2 T. garlic, minced
2 big green bell peppers, seeded & sliced
1 big red bell pepper, seeded & sliced
9 T. chopped fresh parsley
3-400 g. cans chopped tomatoes
2 t. paprika
3 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 kilo maya maya, labahita or cod fillets

Slice the aubergines or eggplants on the diagonal, as thin as you can and lay them on a tray. Sprinkle them with salt and leave to sweat 30-40 mins. Blot with kitchen towel. Peel potatoes and boil them in salted water. When almost cooked, lift them from water and slice into rounds. Saute onions briefly in low fire with olive oil then add garlic afterwards. Set vegetables aside.

Grease your baking dish (8 x8 in. & 3 in. deep preferably) with olive oil. As base, pour 1/3 of the first can of the tomatoes & its juice at the bottom of the dish and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Then layer with 1/3 each of the potato slices, aubergines/eggplants, fish, bell peppers, onions and garlic. Pour the remaining tomatoes and juice from the first can and season once again with salt, pepper and paprika. Repeat procedure until all ingredients are layered in then sprinkle the red wine vinegar and add 1 tablespoon on top of dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven at 200 deg. C or 400 deg. F for 1 hour. Then remove foil and turn the heat to 170 deg.C/325 deg.F and give another 30 minutes to brown and concentrate the juices. Serve hot or cold. This dish also reheats well.

Note:
1. For variation and a little more flavor, you can add shredded queso de bola on top.
2. If crammed for time, omit the onions, garlic and cans of tomato and buy 2 bottles of
Bravo's Tomato and Garlic Dip and use this as the tomato sauce.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Newspaper Recipes

My love and adventure with food and cooking started with collecting recipes when I was a teen-ager in the 1980s. Yup, was very much in the middle of Generation X (and loving it) when my interest then was stimulated. I suppose I was more into baking than cooking, and the appliance being raved about was the turbo broiler, which deserves an entire article all its own. (Note to Self: Write a rhapsody on turbo broiler as next blog entry.)

But going back to the topic at hand, recipe collecting then was not as accessible as it is today, with the proliferation of cookbooks for sale, cooking shows on cable and live shows by our own homegrown talents, and of course, the internet. During the '80s, my school allowance did not give me room to buy cookbooks, and of course, the choices weren't as much varied as are found in newspapers. And it was way cheaper anyway. So, I would just cut out recipes from newspapers and even women's magazines such as Mod, Women's or Woman Today, courtesy usually of either the weekly columnists or advertised by food companies endorsing the use of their products as an essential ingredient for the success of the meal.

However, when my folders got messed up with all these bits of newsprint pasted on bond or typewriting paper, I decided that there must be a neater way of preserving my - ahem - research. So one summer vacation, my project was to transcribe all these collected recipes in Wordstar (!). Hey, trivia: does anyone out there still remember what this is??? Transcribing spilled over into the following schoolyear, but I did finish it and the pages since then have been compiled in a thick clearbook. There is a trade-off of course, and that is the fact that these cut-outs are art in themselves and are now gone.

But one evening, after several years of not leafing through this treasure trove, I checked it out for ideas and there were several dishes that stood out. My collection prove to feature pork chops or chicken meat as the main ingredients, but I managed to cut out a recipe for Menestra Con Cordero a la Riojana (Lamb Stew a la Riojana) and one for Sampaguita Ice Cream without any consciousness. I'm sharing some here that I've already tried out just in case it becomes useful to you. I apologize that I don't remember anymore from which newspapers I got them from, but I'm pretty sure you'll know which food product shared them in the first place. They will be hits for your family, as they have been for mine.

ORANGE-GLAZED CHULETAS

2 1/3 c. Sunquick orange
1 T. butter
1 T. chopped onion
3 slices old bread, cubed (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 t. orange peel
1/4 t. salt
6 pork chops
1 laurel leaf
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 T. cornstarch
1 orange, sliced for garnish

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and saute until tender. Remove from heat. Add bread cubes, 2 1/2 t. orange peel, marjoram & salt and stir until well mixed. Moisten with 2 tablespoon Sunquick.

Slit pork chops from top midway through to produce pockets and stuff bread mixture in it. In the skillet, heat some oil and brown chops well on both sides over high heat. Add 1/2 cup Sunquick, laurel leaf, 1 t. each salt and pepper. Heat to boiling. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Turn occasionally. Add 1/4 cup Sunquick, if necessary to prevent from sticking. Discard laurel leaf.

Remove pork chops from pan; keep warm. Mix cornstarch and remaining Sunquick until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to skillet and cook stirring occasionally until thickened and mixture boils. Add remaining orange peel. Serve sauce over chops.

SAFARANCHO (Easy Pork & Rice Dish)

1 T. oil
4 pork chops
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cup uncooked rice
1/2 c. UFC Banana ketchup
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper
2 1/2 c. boiling water/broth

Pour oil in bottom of skillet and arrange meat on it. Add onion and green pepper. Sprinkle the rice on top. Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper. Pour boiling water or broth. Cover and simmer 45 minutes. Allow to stand 15 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

PORK CHOPS WITH GOLDEN STUFFING

4 pork chops, 3/4 inches thick
2 T. margarine
1 c. celery slices
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 8-oz. jar Cheez Whiz
2 T. water
6 oz. croutons

Brown chops in margarine then remove from skillet. Saute vegetables in skillet and remove from heat. Add 3/4 cup Cheez Whiz and water; stir until cheese spread is melted. Add croutons and mix lightly. Spoon into greased 8-in. square baking dish; top with chops. Bake at 350 deg. F oven. Top w/ remaining Cheez Whiz. Makes 4 servings.