Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Filipino food,good


I spent the holidays in sunny Florida, visiting my wife's family.

We stayed with my brother- and sister-in-law, Mike and Winnie, in St. Augustine for the first few days, before heading to Orlando for the Disney thang.

Winnie is from the Philippines and she served us a lot of Filipino dishes during our stay.

We ate spring rolls (frying in the wok to the left) and pancit, a noodle dish with vegetables and meat, nearly every day, and white rice was a part of every meal.

Winnie made her pancit (pictured right) with two kinds of noodles -- rice and wheat; cabbage; carrots and seasoned pork.

A few days before Christmas, Mike and Winnie threw a birthday party for my nephew Ian. Winnie was up early marinating pork and fish and preparing other dishes, including more pancit, spring rolls and rice. Winnie was also making some kind of soupy black dish that she was reluctant to tell me about... We'll get to that one later.

More after the jump!

Guests arrived with even more food, including a beef stew with bok choy, potatoes and ginger and oxtail soup with bok choy in a peanut-butter-based broth (pictured left).

The oxtail soup wasn't as rich or sweet as I had thought it would be. I guess I was expecting satay. One of the Filipino guests pointed out a pungent black shrimp paste and suggested I add some to the soup. It had a very salty and unfamiliar taste, and I'm not sure I liked it. But as with most unfamiliar foods I try, I am determined to keep trying it until I do like it!

Another guest brought a tray of little rice puffs, or puto. (pictured right) They were spongy and a little sweet.

Winnie told me they were to go with that black mystery dish, now revealed to be dinuguan, a pig's blood stew with pork offal, vinegar and spices. (pictured below)

Now you see why she had been hesitant with the details.

But I'm an intrepid eater and wasn't put off by the idea of eating pig guts -- no worse than scrapple or hog maw, right? I scooped a healthy portion over some rice and tucked in.

It was mild-tasting and fragrant with lemon grass and ginger. I gobbled it up quickly and mopped that last of the black stew with puto, to the apparent amusement and pleasure of the Filipinos around me.

There was a lot more food -- pork kabobs, pork chops, marinated salmon -- but I had just a little of each to save room for dessert.

Suman is a sticky, sweet dish made from rice, coconut milk and brown sugar. (pictured right)

Winnie made a big batch in a pan, but another guests brought some wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.

This cassava cake (pictured left) was made with finely grated cassava (yuca), eggs, sugar, coconut milk and condensed milk. It reminded me of coconut custard pie filling.

And I almost forgot to mention the beer. I washed down all that delicious Filipino food with the number one beer of the Philippines, San Miguel Lager.

San Miguel is a typical, light-bodied, yellow lager from a tropical location. You know how it works -- exotic location, boring beer.

But this one seemed a little sweeter and fuller bodied than other tropical beers like Corona, Presidente or Red Stripe.

But when you're on vacation and the temps are in the mid-eighties, light tropical lagers can really hit the spot.

Here's some history about the beer and its maker from the San Miguel Website:

"Established in 1890, La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel, Southeast Asia’s first brewery produced and bottled what would eventually become one of the bestselling beers in the region. Within the span of a generation, San Miguel Beer would become an icon among beer drinkers.
San Miguel Corporation is the largest publicly listed food, beverage and packaging company in the Philippines. Founded in 1890 as a brewery, the company has over 100 facilities in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, China and Australia.

By 1914, San Miguel Beer was being exported from its headquarters in Manila to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guam. A pioneer in Asia, San Miguel established a brewery in Hong Kong in 1948, the first local brewer in the crown colony.

Today, San Miguel Beer–the Company’s flagship product–is one of the largest selling beers and among the top 20 beer brands in the world. While brewing beer is the company’s heritage, San Miguel subsequently branched out into the food and packaging businesses.

From the original cerveza that first rolled off the bottling line, San Miguel Corporation has since diversified to produce a wide range of popular beverage, food and packaging products which have–-for over a century–-catered to generations of consumers’ ever changing tastes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

International Day of Italian Cuisine,


Tomorrow, 17 January, is the International Day of Italian Cuisines. For one day, everyone who makes, promotes or simply loves Italian food outside of Italy is invited to celebrate the authenticity and quality of Italian cuisine.

The unprecedented celebration is led by over 130 Italian chefs and restaurateurs in 35 countries. They all belong to the Virtual Group of Italian Chefs and each of them will be cooking Pasta alla Carbonara according to the original and authentic recipe.

Why pasta alla carbonara? The Virtual Group of Italian Chefs suggests that this simple dish is one of the most commonly abused in establishments serving “counterfeit Italian cuisine” worldwide and their preparation of the “real carbonara” is an effort to raise awareness about the principles of real Italian cuisine.

Want to join the effort and honor Italian food by preparing your own pasta alla carbonara tomorrow? On their website, the Virtual Group of Italian Chefs offers the following recipe as well as tips for making an authentic dish:

Pasta alla Carbonara

Recipe serves one

60 to 80gm spaghetti freshly cooked al dente
1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
30gm pancetta or guanciale
1 or 2 eggs
25 gm freshly grated Pecorino Romano and/or aged Italian Grana Cheese. (Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano)
freshly ground black pepper

  • Mix the beaten egg with grated cheese and ground black pepper
  • Slice the pancetta 7 to 10 mm thick and cut in 2 cm rectangular bites
  • Slowly fry the pancetta in the extra virgin olive oil in a non stick pan until crispy. If the pancetta has enough fat you will not need to add oil
  • Add the spaghetti with some of the cooking water, do not fry the spaghetti but rather just let it absorb the flavour of the pancetta
  • Simmer gently until the water is almost gone
  • Remove the pan from the stove
  • Add the egg, cheese and pepper mixture to the pasta and stir quickly making sure the egg does not overcook but remains creamy. It shouldn’t pass the 70-72 C? (158-162 F?) temperature, which is the point at which its coagulation starts
  • Place in a hot pasta bowl
  • Season with ground black pepper
  • Serve immediately
  • Offer more black pepper and more grated cheese at the table

Remarks

1. You cannot make a Carbonara with pre-cooked pasta
2. Cream is not an option but a gimmick, avoid it
3. If you like, you can mix the two cheeses
4. Timing is important when you serve this dish
5. Make sure the plate or bowl is hot
6. Do not overcook the egg, otherwise you will make spaghetti with scrambled egg.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Indian Cuisine


All coastal kitchens make strong use of fish and coconuts. The desert cuisines of Rajasthan and Gujarat use an immense variety of dals and achars (preserves) to substitute for the relative lack of fresh vegetables. The use of tamarind to impart sourness distinguishes Tamil food. The Andhra kitchen is accused, sometimes unfairly, of using excessive amounts of chilies.

Typically, North Indian meals consist of chapatis or rotis and rice as staples, eaten with a wide variety of side dishes like dals, curries, yogurt, chutney and achars. South Indian dishes are mostly rice-based, sambhar, rasam and curries being important side dishes.

In the rain-swept regions of the north-eastern foothills and along the coasts, a large variety of rices are used. Potatoes are not used as the staple carbohydrate in any part of India.

Modern India is going through a period of rapid culinary evolution. With urbanisation and the consequent evolution of patterns of living, home cooked food has become simpler. Old recipes are recalled more often than used. A small number of influential cookbooks have served the purpose of preserving some of this culinary heritage at the cost of homogenising palates. Meanwhile restaurants, increasingly popular, encourage mixing of styles. Tandoori fish, mutton dosas and Jain pizzas are immediately recognisable by many Indians in cities.

Many Indian dishes require an entire day’s preparation of cutting vegetables, pounding spices on a stone or just sitting patiently by the fire for hours on end. On the other hand, there are simple dishes which are ideal for everyday eating.

Several customs are associated with the way in which food is consumed. Traditionally, meals are eaten while sitting on the floor or on very low stools, eating with the fingers of the right hand.

Most of the spices used in Indian food have been used for their medicinal properties in addition to the flavor and taste they impart. Ginger is believed to have originated in India and was introduced to China over 3000 years ago. In India, a knob of fresh ginger added to tea is believed to relieve sore throats and head colds, not to mention it’s aphrodisiacal properties! Turmeric is splendid against skin diseases and neem leaves are used to guard against small pox.

It is the complexities of regional food in India that make it a so very fascinating try!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies


These cookies are extraordinary because they are both practical and mysterious.

Let’s start with the practical. Not so unusually, this common cookie meets two of my key food recipe requirements: they are easy to make and they taste really, really good. Plus I had all of the ingredients on hand and both of my kids liked them. They look yummy and photograph well. Healthy? Relatively…

Perhaps most striking though, is that these flourless peanut butter cookies epitomize a subtle but critical aspect to the joy of cooking for me, and that is the “how did that happen?” factor, the mysterious chemical metamorphosis that transforms simple single ingredients into a result that is greater than the original separate components. No flour - just peanut butter, sugar, a little bit of baking soda and 1 egg.

These delicious cookies are crisp, light and extremely tasty — and addictive.

  • Peanut Butter - 1 cup chunky or smooth
  • Sugar - 1 cup sugar (can substitute 1/2 cup brown and 1/2 cup white)
  • Egg - 1
  • Baking Soda - 1 tsp.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside.
  2. Combine peanut butter and sugar until well combined, about 2 minutes (I did this by hand but you can use a mixer.)
  3. Add egg and baking soda and mix for another few minutes.
  4. Roll into walnut sized balls, and then press down with a fork to create a criss-cross pattern.
  5. Optional: add a few chocolate pieces to the top of the cookies.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a baking sheet for two minutes.
Quick Garlic Cheese Biscuits

This recipe is a variation on quick Irish Soda Bread, with the addition of cheese and garlic. One member of the family who shall remain nameless thought it was “too spicy” but those of us with hardier palettes thought the flavors were perfect, and the aroma was amazing. Cheese and garlic can be omitted, or you can use a milder cheese such as Cheddar.

The shape of this bread was based on a plan that didn’t quite turn out as expected. (Welcome to my life.) The plan was to create several small one-size mounds for single biscuit serving. The actual result was larger mounds that were best separated in half for a single biscuit, but work well as a sandwich bun. Also unexpected but appreciated: I really like how it looked like a giant flower after baking - perfect for a spring time feeling (even though it is still too cold here in Chicago!).

  • Flour - 4-4 1/2 cups
  • Sugar - 2 tbls white
  • Baking Soda - 1 tsp.
  • Baking Powder - 1 tblsp.
  • Salt - 1 tsp.
  • Butter - 4 tblsp, melted
  • Buttermilk - 2 cups
  • Egg - 1
  • Cheese - 1 cup (I used 1/2 cup Asiago and 1/2 cup Parmesan), shredded
  • Garlic - 2-3 cloves, minced
  • Butter - 4 tbls., melted - for topping (optional)
  • Buttermilk - 1/4 cup - for topping (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (190 degrees C), and lightly grease a cast-iron frying pan or baking sheet.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and melted butter. Mix thoroughly and then create a well in the middle, where you will add the buttermilk and egg.
  3. Combine buttermilk and egg and beat lightly. Add to the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon.
  4. Add garlic and cheese and blend thorougly, but do not overmix.
  5. If the dough seems too wet, add more flour, up to a half a cup. I almost always add more flour. Dough should begin to form a ball. It will still seem wettish but that’s okay as long as it is forming a ball shape.
  6. Flour your hands and knead the dough slightly on a lightly floured surface, for a minute or two. Again, add flour as needed for wettish dough.
  7. Form the dough into several roundish mound shapes and place in the greased skillet or baking sheet, with one mound in the center and the other mounds surrounding it.
  8. Let the dough sit for about 30 minutes. This allows the baking soda and powder to react and rise, creating an airier bread.
  9. For the topping, combine buttermilk and butter and mix well with fork. Brush all over the dough and place in the oven. Brush a few times during baking.
  10. Cook for about 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cooking time varies upon ovens and what the biscuits are cooked on. Using the cast iron skillet may take longer, but the heat is distributed well, and the bread will be cooked thoroughly.

chocolate chip cookies

These are delicious large chocolate chip cookies, which I made especially for my daughter, as she accuses me of making too many unusual foods (what is so unusual about coconut flan?).
I found the recipe on Tracey’s Culinary Adventures who got it from Alton Brown, with a few minor tweaks (one of these days I’ll get






I’ve always hesitated to make flan because I don’t have special timbale cups and I still can’t believe an ordinary person can make caramel sauce. But, I recently came across this recipe from Chicago Mexican Food Examiner and the coconut, combined with one-pan cooking, convinced me to give it a try.
I was not deterred




These cookies are extraordinary because they are both practical and mysterious.

Let’s start with the practical. Not so unusually, this common cookie meets two of my key food recipe requirements: they are easy to make and they taste really, really good. Plus I had all of the ingredients on hand and both of my kids liked them. They look yummy and photograph well. Healthy? Relatively…

Perhaps most striking though, is that these flourless peanut butter cookies epitomize a subtle but critical aspect to the joy of cooking for me, and that is the “how did that happen?” factor, the mysterious chemical metamorphosis that transforms simple single ingredients into a result that is greater than the original separate components. No flour - just peanut butter, sugar, a little bit of baking soda and 1 egg.

These delicious cookies are crisp, light and extremely tasty — and addictive.

I found this recipe on Bonne vivante who found it on joy the baker who found it in The gourmet cook book(pass it on…)

  • Peanut Butter - 1 cup chunky or smooth
  • Sugar - 1 cup sugar (can substitute 1/2 cup brown and 1/2 cup white)
  • Egg - 1
  • Baking Soda - 1 tsp.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside.
  2. Combine peanut butter and sugar until well combined, about 2 minutes (I did this by hand but you can use a mixer.)
  3. Add egg and baking soda and mix for another few minutes.
  4. Roll into walnut sized balls, and then press down with a fork to create a criss-cross pattern.
  5. Optional: add a few chocolate pieces to the top of the cookies.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a baking sheet for two minutes.

Makes about two dozen cookies.

Spanish Rice



I’ve been making this rice for my children for many years as a main dish, and pair it with quesadillas or grilled cheese sandwiches. It is more Tex-Mex than Spanish, I think, but someone somewhere many years ago dubbed this classic American dish “Spanish” and everyone knows what it means. It is a variation of a similar rice dish served in Mexico and South America.

This is one of those dishes that hits all the key notes for me: It’s super-easy to prepare and very flavorful (but not so spicy that my daughter won’t eat it, yay); I almost always have all the ingredients on hand, and it is healthy if you use canned tomatoes that have no additional salt or other chemicals. Even better for busy moms with hungry kids — you can make this dish even faster with instant rice. I prefer regular brown rice because it has the best flavor and texture (and yeah, it’s healthier I think than the instant rice).

This recipe is adopted from “The Classic Vegetable Cookbook” by Ruth Spear.

* Olive Oil -3-4 Tblsp (or enough to cover the bottom of a pan)
* Bell Pepper - 1, chopped
* Onion - 1, chopped
* Garlic - 2-4 cloves, minced
* Tomatoes - 1 14.5 oz. can, diced
* Chili Powder - 1 tsp.
* Rice - 1 cup (brown is preferred, but any rice will do; adjust cooking time for instant rice)
* Water - 1/1/2 cups

1. Pour oil into bottom of large heavy pot.
2. Add onions, peppers and garlic, and cook under medium heat until onions are soft — about 5-7 minutes.
3. Strain tomatoes, pouring the juice into a measuring cup and setting aside. Add the tomatoes and the chili powder to the pot and mix well.
4. Pour water into the measuring cup with tomato juice to measure a total of 2 cups, and add to the pot, along with the rice.
5. Mix well and bring to a boil.
6. Lower heat (to very low) and cover tightly; cook for 20-30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes and if it is still really watery, cook another 5-10 minutes.
7. Turn off heat and let it sit for 10 minutes with a clean kitchen towel between the pot and the top.
8. Fluff up with a spoon and serve.



Scalloped Potatoes

I was looking for a simple potato dish to make in the slow-cooker, and I found a recipe at the official Crock-Pot Web site. I’ve simplified it (of course) and it came out delicious. The cheese and onions combined to give the potatoes a rich flavor but it was not too rich (I used lowfat milk and lowfat cheese). The potatoes went well with grilled steaks and veggies, and it could go with a meat loaf or chicken. I took the pot top off about an hour before serving and there was a bit of crustiness formed on the edges, but not as much as you get in an oven version. Still, very tasty — and super-easy, ready when you are are.

  • Potatoes - 6 medium or 8 small, russet, thinly sliced
  • Onion - 1 large, thinly sliced
  • Garlic - 2 cloves, sliced or minced thin
  • Cheddar cheese - 1 cup (8 oz. package), shredded
  • Milk - 1/2 cup
  • Butter - 1/2 cup, melted
  • Pepper - a few dashes
  • Salt - 1/2 tsp.
  1. Spray or coat the inside of the pot with oil.
  2. Add potatoes, onions, garlic and cheese.
  3. In a small bowl combine the milk, pepper and salt.
  4. Pour this mixture over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix all ingredients well.
  5. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.