Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leche Flan

If you're Pinoy or have eaten at a Pinoy's house, chances are you've experienced the majesty of the leche flan. Much creamier and sweeter than its Latin American counterpart, the leche flan was introduced to Filipino cuisine during the Spanish occupation (1521-1898) and has graced Pinoy dinner tables since. It's also added as a garnish to halo-halo. The dessert's attraction comes from its apparent effortlessness, requiring less than five ingredients normally found in the Pinoy cupboard.

I've taken over leche flan duties for the holidays early in my high school years, but I've continued to tweak the recipe and method to get it perfect. The best leche flans have the texture of a solid creme brulée that does not jiggle like Spanish flan, with no air bubbles. The air bubbles can make the leche flan taste like overcooked, curdled custard. To me, this element is the hardest to master. I've always used the open-steaming method, but I've discovered that the best way to achieve the desired texture is to bake it in a bain-marie, or a water bath. 

You want this.

Not this bubbly business. 
For this year's Thanksgiving, I baked three leche flans this way and hoped for the best. The result was divine - and I'm so pleased to have finally perfected my recipe. 

Leche Flan

1 can evaporated milk 
1 can condensed milk 
10 egg yolks at room temperature 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

For the caramel: 
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and boil some water in a kettle.
  2. This step takes some patience and babysitting. In a medium sized saucepan, add the sugar and water over low heat. Make sure all the sugar is dissolved by the water. Do not let the sugar water boil vigorously. Do not mix the sugar water. Leave it alone, moving the pan by its handle to see if the sugar has thickened and lightly browned - a light amber color. When it's done, remove from heat. Even if it's a little lighter than you want, it'll continue to cook from the residual heat in the pot. *Some recipes call to boil the sugar which is such a mistake! 
  3. Pour the caramelized sugar into aluminum molds and spread to evenly cover the bottoms. 
  4. Mix the evaporated milk, condensed milk, and egg yolks slowly with a rubber spatula. Many recipes call for a mixer, but this only contributes to more bubbles. Blend the vanilla. 
  5. Gently pour the mixture in the molds, on top of the caramel. Fill the molds to about an inch thick. 
  6. Place molds in a deep flat pan - I use a roasting pan because the handles come in handy in carrying the pan with the hot water to cool on the counter. Place pan in the oven's middle rack. Carefully pour hot water into the pan, filling up halfway to the molds. 
  7. Bake for 45-60 minutes. They're done when an inserted knife comes out clean. 
  8. Remove the pan very carefully from the oven. Some of the water should have evaporated. Remove the molds from the pan and let cool to room temperature. 
  9. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. 
  10. When you're ready to serve, fill the sink with some warm water. Place the molds there for a few seconds. Using a sharp knife, separate the sides of the flan from the mold. Invert quickly onto a plate. 
My late grandfather used to call this dish my specialty. I wish he were alive to taste it now! Oh, Lolo - how far I've come since then. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Edition: Origins of the Tamayo Thanksgiving and Postcolonial Reflections

In the past month, whole food advocates have suffered severe attrition from the political landscape. In sum,  pizza (with enough tomato paste) passes as a vegetable in school lunches, the USDA is cutting back on critical research, consumers have been fed mislabeled fish, and the Super Committee's failure could mean serious cuts for the FDA.

As I schlepped through my Thanksgiving food shopping this morning, a dark, dismal cloud of despondency hovered over my head, my negativity worsening with every processed food purchase ringing at the registers. Notwithstanding the holiday's ignoble origins, Thanksgiving was my absolute favorite American holiday. My family didn't celebrate until years after we immigrated to the States, mostly because we felt detached from its apparent purpose - to commemorate the friendship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans with a golden turkey. What the hell did that have to do with us? Between working two jobs, raising three kids, and supporting a spouse studying for the medical board exams, my mother felt the holiday's demands to conjure a feast for patriotic purposes absurd and frivolous. As an adolescent, I felt alienated from the other kids who excitedly chatted about their Thanksgiving plans and returned from the long weekend with Guinness World Record feats of eating. 

My family soon caught on and thought it was a good reason to have turkey and my grandfather's famous baked ham. Turkey soon disappeared from the menu and the ham remains the porcine prize of the dinner table, flanked with white rice, my grandmother's incomparable pancit, my leche flan, and my mother's fruit salad. Over the years some experimental dishes would appear - candied yams, spinach lasagna, stuffing - but the five Filipino dishes have a fiercely tenacious presence on Thanksgiving. An extra holiday (other than Christmas and New Year) when we had the chance to weigh our plates with these dishes sounded like welcome news to me - without the mad rush of Christmas gift-giving and the unavoidable reflection of the past twelve months of the New Year. Give thanks and eat. 

Now it seems like a serious serving of cognitive dissonance is necessary to derive pleasure from the holiday. Was that beautifully dressed ham processed in the Smithfield plant in North Carolina, where pig manure runoffs pool into "lagoons," contaminating the drinking water and the soil? Besides questioning the source of our food, I lapse into the self-flaggelation of privileged guilt: One billion people on earth are starving and I refuse leftovers? 

Perhaps I will never reclaim that politically insular sensibility, which kind of sucks. I guess that was the tradeoff: a privileged existence living in a "superpower"nation, while fighting for our right for access to  wholesome food, surrendering a humbler life with a basket full from that morning's catch from the sea.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horse Meat and the American Taboo

I came across an interesting piece by Food Safety News' Dan Flynn on the subject of horse slaughter in Florida. Apparently, a horse carcass without legs and a heart was discovered in Florida's C-9 Basin. Many suspect the illegal sales of horse meat persist in the region, even after 70 illegal horse slaughter operations were shut down down in 2009. 
What I found particularly interesting is that 60,000 - 100,000 American horses are exported to Canada and Mexico for human consumption. 
Some figures in Congress are moving to make horse slaughter and the export of horse meat a federal crime, while other state populations view horse slaughter as a boon to the paralytic American economy. State regulation of horse slaughter will create jobs and stop horse abuse, they claim. 
I have never eaten horse meat, not because I choose not to, but because I have never had the opportunity to consume equine delicacies. The taboo of eating Mr. Ed seems to be an American one, since Europe and Asia consider horse as a part of their cuisine. Experiencing horse meat consumption requires the use of one's passport. 
Bon appetit, Mr. Ed. 

Coming from a culture that includes dog in its cuisine, I can't quite understand why horse meat is off-limits from the American menu. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chocolate and Child Slavery

For a lot kids, Halloween is a damn good time. Tricked out in a costume, kids go door-to-door for free treats, then come home to Mom or Dad (hopefully) examining the candy before a veritable orgy of sugar consumption. For many chocolate manufacturers, Halloween is their Christmas - profits soar as citizens participate in a holiday of which the purchase of candy is an essential feature. I live in a co-op where very few families live, so after one quiet Halloween, I've stopped buying bags of candy for trick-or-treaters. I do cruise the streets of my mother's neighborhood with my 2 year-old son, so one way or another, snack size candies make their way into my house (and eventually, into my belly).

Kristen Howerton's topical piece on chocolate and child slavery, and a BBC documentary have completely made me averse to the purchase or consumption of any goods manufactured by the major chocolate companies, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury (the British Cadbury tastes completely different, trust me!). 284,000 children on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other countries in Africa are employed as workers and, for many of them, were ripped from their families and sold as slaves. (By the way, Hershey's had its fair share of controversy - like their modern version of indentured servitude)
I guess one can literally be enslaved to chocolate. 

Slavery for chocolate. This is craziness.

What's more, the International Labor Rights Fund sued the American government for not enforcing laws that prohibit the import of commodities made by child labor. The chocolate industry, in response, has offered free-trade products in addition to the stuff made by kids. That's like having a brothel in a church.

I cannot wait for the gems I will inevitably hear from cognitive dissonance to justify the continued purchase and consumption of these products.

Jonathan will go trick-or-treating this year, but those chocolates will end up in the trash during my screening process. It sucks that on one end of the world, kids are literally slaving away so that kids on the other end can enjoy a holiday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Carrot-Oat Muffins

Last weekend, I fell in love with my sister-in-law's super moist and guilt-free zucchini and banana muffins, a recipe she found in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. Inspired and determined to end my streak of bad-luck baking in the past few days (flat meringue cookies, terrible bread, bubbly leche flan), I baked my own take on healthy muffins. These muffins have a lot of texture from the oats and flaxseeds, but remain nice and moist from the carrots - and they passed the taste tests of both my spouse and my toddler!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reporting on the Colbert Report

Last night, I saw, in person, one of the greatest living satirists, Mr. Stephen Colbert (I am aware of the many commas in that sentence.). Coincidentally, his show's featured guest was U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who spoke about the humanitarian and terrorist clusterfuck in the Horn of Africa, a subject that continues to break my heart every day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

First-World Guilt

My heart is heavy with "First-World-Guilt" today. Guilty that I not only had enough to eat for lunch, but threw out what was left over. Guilty that it is raining in Scarsdale, while those living in the Horn of Africa haven't seen a drought this bad in over 60 years. My privileged self-pity does not help anyone, and it certainly does not put any food in any of these malnourished children's mouths.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

On Microwaves; Or, Microwaved Food Tastes Like Hot Garbage

As I waited for my mug of hot water to heat up in the microwave, I felt a wave of shame brought on by conscious laziness. Let me explain.
When one wants hot water for tea, one usually uses a teapot. After the teapot screeches its announcement that the water's done, you remove it from the hot burner and allow it to cool a little. Scorching hot water burns tea leaves, which is a huge reason why I hate how Starbucks makes tea. Totally wrong! Anyway, you pour the hot water into a clean mug and steep the tea bag or tea leaves for a few minutes, depending on your preferred potency of tea. Sip and enjoy with your favorite Eliza Haywood novel.
So here I am, heating up tea in the microwave. But my toddler's napping and I don't want to make noise by dragging the teapot out of the depths of the upper (key: upper) cabinet in the kitchen. That means I'd have to do all that while balancing unsteadily on a rickety stool with the loose screw that I've been meaning to tighten.
Here I am, sipping tea that feels like radioactive goblins brewed it from a moldy pit in a hole in a tree stump. There's just something that happens to food when it's microwaved. I'm not sure if there's any scientific basis for this claim, or if it's truly some mental neurosis of mine, but food tastes different after its carousel ride around that plastic box. Softening butter in microwaves is impossible. It either entirely melts or the middle section is completely frozen while the edges have drooped into an oily mass. Defrosting food in the microwave is unforgivable - unless half cooked-half frozen meat is the desired effect. "Cooking" vegetables in the microwave is just gross. I will reheat leftovers from time to time, but I do it with begrudged resignation.
Obviously, I'm a microwavist. There is not one thing in my pantry that requires microwaving as the primary cooking process. Absolutely not. Wait - that's a lie, I have a box of popcorn somewhere.
Don't you dare cook that meatloaf in that! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

To Arnie: Thank you.

It's been a while since I've written here and I've been feeling the itch all week. I just didn't know what to write about. Dave and I recently registered Jonathan in daycare for the fall, and I was thinking of writing about what pushed me to choose this particular center: their revamped menu of food items that consist only of organic, seasonal, and locally source food products. This was exciting for me, but I think I'll save that post for when I actually see (and perhaps taste) the food in September.
Speaking of organic, seasonal, and locally sourced, my septuagenarian neighbor Arnie, who runs Barton Orchards in Poughquag, New York, generously supplied me with huge bags of yellow plums, golden delicious apples, and his famous sweet white corn. And, in true Arnie fashion, offered me a can of beer to go with them while he let Jonathan run through his sprinklers in the late summer afternoon.
A beautiful landscape of yellow and green on my kitchen counter.

Unsurprisingly, as a huge fan of Tobias Smollett and Jonathan Swift, I have frequent flights of misanthropy fueled by the news and my daily interactions with American society. However, it's good-hearted, hardworking, honest, fun-loving, big-laughing, beer-offering, porch-talking, ox-strong farmers like Arnie who remind me that the world is not a bag of shit all the time. It can be a bag (or three) of gorgeous produce that feeds my family.
P.S. What in the world am I going to do with all these plums? Suggestions? 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best Recipe (so far) in Amanda Hesser's NYT Cookbook: Flat-and-Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Last month, I received a lovely gift from my dissertation advisor for finally(!) completing my manuscript: The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, meticulously compiled by Amanda Hesser, a renowned NYT food columnist. After receiving it with grateful excitement, I imagined Kathy, who is a very petite woman, schlepping down 1st Avenue towards Momofuku Noodle Bar with this monolithic, red brick (as I write this, Hesser's book competes with Bittman's How to Cook Everything for space on my cookbook shelf, both books standing proudly in their crimson jackets). 
Over our fried oyster buns and charred octopus appetizers, Kathy dished on the merits of Hesser's book. The book is no mere collection of recipes; it literally traces the evolution (and backslides - ambrosia salad. What the hell?) of the American culinary landscape, including recipes in the late 19th century (deviled crabs from an 1878 recipe, for example) submitted to the Times. As anticipated, the early recipes took a lot of guesswork, since they were about as vague as they can get. 

An example: 

Crullers (1878)

One pint sour buttermilk, nearly the same white sugar, half pint butter and lard mixed, three eggs, one teaspoonful soda, flour to make a light dough; warm ingredients. 

Um... how much butter? How much lard? How much flour? Dump them all together? You can imagine the kind of work that went into testing out these older recipes. This kind of recipe writing isn't totally extinct; whenever I call my grandmother to ask for the exact measurements in her pancit recipe, which, by the way, is very complicated, she becomes annoyed with me, expecting me to know! 

Hesser's book is a delightful read, but not all the recipes included were good. Asparagus alla Fontina was good, although too salty with the amount of prosciutto the recipe calls for. The Corn Chowder was okay, but not memorable. One recipe called for a strange combination of ingredients for a vinaigrette, which did not win too many diners over. The Florentine cookies were a hit at a party, but they need to be kept cool since they melt as soon as they are exposed to heat or humidity. 

My absolute favorite recipe is Hesser's flat-and-chewy chocolate-chip cookies. I have an undeniably sweet tooth, and this salty, buttery, chewy cookie gratifies my sugar cravings. This is also a winner with David, in sharp contrast to Jonathan's absolute indifference. Easy to understand, when sometimes it feels like this finicky toddler subsists on oxygen and crackers. 

I will share the recipe here, but I've made some slight changes after testing it a handful of times. 

Flat-and-Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 30 cookies

My attempt at plating. I'm a minimalist.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons of baking soda
1 tablespoon kosher salt 
       not Morton! I use Japanese sea salt, which holds more moisture and adds texture
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened 
       back when I was young and stupid, I didn't think using salted or unsalted butter made a difference. Boy, was I wrong! 
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (chunks and shavings) 
       I don't use baking chocolate; I process chocolate candy bars in the food processor for uneven "chips" and "dust"
2 cups chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
       I hate nuts in my cookies, so I've never done this.
1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

2. Cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate and nuts, if using. Chill the dough. She suggests overnight, but leaving it in the fridge for at least 3 hours did the trick for me.

3. While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll 1 teaspoon* lumps of dough into balls, then place on baking sheet and flatten to 1/2-inch-thick discs spaced 2 inches apart. You must keep the dough in the fridge between batches, otherwise you'll end up with sticky palms and shapeless, stubborn lumps of cookie dough. Bake until the edges are golden brown, 11 to 13 minutes.** Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack.

*her original recipe says 2 1/2 tablespoon lumps of dough, which spread out too far, resulting in conjoined cookies. Reducing the lumps to teaspoonfuls makes pretty little discs. 
**originally 14-16. My oven does the trick in 11 minutes. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Queens Comfort

Last night, a friend, who I'll call John, introduced me to Queens Comfort, a sweet little place on the edge of Astoria. He suggested this particular spot because he thought I might blog about their homemade ice cream. He also thought it would agree with our other friend, who I'll call Mark, since the restaurant screened The Warriors during dinner one evening. I understood why he'd recommend the place for me, but both Mark and I were confused to why John thought Mark would like it because of a campy gang movie. Towards the end of our dinner, when we were enjoying our ice cream, they screened Dawn of the Dead, of which Mark thought was "awesome."
When I viewed the link to the restaurant, I told John that it looked like a homeless shelter. Perhaps the pictures didn't represent the restaurant accurately, because it did not look like that at all once I walked in.
Anyway, the restaurant has a short menu composed of eclectic and slightly weird, but homey, dishes. The kind of stuff you'd make if you were kind of broke but wanted to eat something filling. Shortly after I arrived, thirty minutes late because of infuriating traffic on the I-87, Mark tried the Olvera Street Corn, a corn on the cob drizzled with sriracha, parmesan cheese, and mayo. I didn't sample it, but it looked like Mark enjoyed it, as messy a food as it is.
I ordered the Fried Chicken and Eggo for my main course. I've never had chicken and waffles before, but I've been meaning to try it. So, I thought this was as good a time as any. Besides, John recommended the dish, so that clinched it. The thick strip of darkly fried chicken, which was crisp and moist, was wedged between two Eggo waffles that were soaked in maple butter. When I say soaked, they were soaked. The saltiness of the chicken balanced well with the sweetness of the maple syrup, but I couldn't enjoy the Eggo once I ate all of the chicken.
For dessert, I ordered the mint ice cream with Oreos. The server highly recommended this ice cream, claiming that the mint leaves were grow in her grandmother's backyard. That was enough to convince me to try it, and I wasn't disappointed. The ice cream was rich and evenly peppered with mint leaves. So rich in fact, that I couldn't finish it. I could have done without the Oreos; I felt like it didn't add anything to the dish.
Overall, a good dining experience. The servers were so pleasant and friendly - which can be a rarity in NYC dining. This is the kind of place where you could literally linger for hours, if you'd like. The place is BYOB, so be prepared to be disappointed if you planned on drinking a beer or a cocktail. If you forget to BYOB or choose not to, there's a bar next door, Canz a Citi Roadhouse, where you can continue your conversation over a few drafts or "canz" of beer. The bar is a complete culture change from Queens Comfort, however - you go from a leisurely, casual atmosphere to a bouncy, techno-poppy, semi-pretentious bar scene with predictably scantily clad waitresses. Its redeeming qualities for me are its al fresco section (where you can sort of escape the music) and having Guinness on draft. But, if it weren't for the company and the close proximity to the restaurant, we probably would not have chosen to go there. Mark especially detested the fact that they allowed a giant bear-beast-dog inside the al fresco area. I didn't mind, since I love bear-beast-dogs.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Global Dining in the Oldest City in America

I like to use birthdays as a reason to dine at more extravagantly priced restaurants. I love to try new places, but I'm definitely much more of a home cook. Last year, David took me to the incomparable Le Bernardin, a dining experience which can never be rivaled. The dishes and service were literally perfect. I can still taste the sea urchin risotto's creaminess on the roof of my mouth. And it better damn well have - the price tag for a dinner left a bruise in my wallet.
But Le Bernardin's not the subject of my post today. This year, I celebrated my twenty-something birthday on the coast of northern Florida, staying at my in-laws' place in Palm Coast. A short drive away is St. Augustine, a pleasant little beach town with a rich history from mid-sixteenth century Spanish occupation. The little city can border on the kitschy, as most beach towns can, but the narrow cobbled streets lined with independent merchants selling various wares, from handblown Venetian glass to souvenir T-shirts, more than make up for it. 
Dave surprised me with dinner at Collage Restaurant, whose tagline is "Artful Global Dining." The owners, Mike Hyatt and Cindy Stangby, transformed the French establishment to an eclectic one in 2007, boasting flavors from across the culinary globe: A collage of flavors, you see. I was immediately intrigued, never mind the claim that they are considered one of the ten most romantic restaurants in America. 
After much debate, we began with escargot, cooked with mushrooms and a creamy cognac sauce in a puff pastry shell. The combination of complex textures, from the viscosity of the cream, the bounciness of the escargot, to the airy crunch of the puff pastry, was very satisfying. 
For my entree, I chose the charred steak with truffle butter. And, just because that wasn't enough indulgence, I added charred fois gras to the plate. The result, of course, was sinful. This dish needs to be eaten slowly, savoring every fatty, creamy bite. 
Oh, and we split a bottle of '06 Argentinian Malbec, Famiglia Bianchi, which hit the notes well with my steak. And since I hit the third glass by the time dessert came, I can't remember too much of the last course - though I remember the creme brulee being delicious. That's the problem with ordering a bottle of wine and reviewing a meal; amnesia roosts around dessert.
Overall, the dinner was excellent. My only disappointment: The steak was not locally sourced and the server did not know which farm it came from. I'm used to visiting restaurants where our servers knew exactly where their meat was sourced. When my server told me she didn't know, I actually reconsidered ordering the steak. Obviously, I couldn't resist trying the meat with truffle butter and fois gras. 
The long drive along the coast on route A1A back home was lovely. An evening well spent with my significant other, the beach, and good food. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How Homemade Pakistani Food Opened the Gastronomic Floodgates

Back in my undergrad days, I met one of my dearest friends. She comes from a rich southeast Asian heritage, specifically Pakistan. It was at her house, at her dinner table, where all my prejudices about "foreign" food shattered and my tastebuds experienced the glory of spice for the first time.
Let me tell you a little bit about my food preferences pre-Pakistani food. I loved pinoy cuisine, of course, but nothing with any heat. I enjoyed the food my husband (then boyfriend) ate with his family, but was averse to anything that smelled too strongly of spice. Basically, I felt like a big bad foodie because I ate chicken feet and pig liver, but in reality, I was a spice sham.
That is, until I ate lentils, roti, and some savory chicken dish I don't remember, with my hands as the rest of the family did. I remember hearing an Indian chef say that unless you ate with your hands, you could not reach the full sensory experience of the dish. Perhaps it was that, or perhaps it was the good company, or maybe her mother poured love and care into the dishes that occasioned the sea change in my culinary landscape. Whatever it was, I'm glad for it. Dishes with complex spices are a treat for me and I still find myself craving the same dishes I used to eat at her house. Now that she has moved across the country (ready to have a baby!) and her sisters are scattered across the globe, I miss dining with them. Now, I eat at random middle eastern and southeast asian cuisine establishments, but it's just not the same.
For those of you who are wary of trying new foods, go to a friend's house and have dinner with their family. There is no better way to experience something new than to share food with friends.

Fisherman's Dream [Insert obscene joke here]

It's not what you think. This relatively complex fish dish is very pretty and delicious to boot. My mom presents this is the piéce de résistance at any family party. The younger me used to throw a fit when party guests poked and broke the fish apart, completely ruining the aesthetics. 

I've omitted the MSG the original recipe called for. I try not to use carcinogens in my cooking if I can help it.

This grouper's stylin' in stripes.


1 ½ kilo apahap or lapulapu (grouper)
2 calamansi or 1 slice of lemon
2 medium size onions, chopped
2 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
4 tbsp. white wine
½ c. olive oil
1 ½ c. water
1/3 c. grated cheese
2 tbsp. butter
extra salt and pepper
1 medium sized boiled beet, chopped
1 medium sized boiled carrots
4 tbsp. chopped sweet pickle relish or sweet pickles

Scale and clean fish thoroughly. Cut diagonal slashes on sides of fish. Dredge with calamansi or lemon juice, salt and pepper. In a baking dish arrange onions and tomatoes, and lay the fish on them. Put in the wine, olive oil, and water. Sprinkle grated cheese on top of the fish and dot with butter. Season with a little salt and pepper.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to 1 hour. When done, place fish on a serving dish and cover the sauce over it. Decorate with chopped beets on the band across the fish. Alternate with chopped carrots and chopped pickles.

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. toasted flour
1 ½ c. fish stock
2 tbsp. grated cheese

Melt butter in pan. Remove from heat. Add toasted flour and strained fish stock (if you don't know how to toast flour, here's what you do: heat flour over a high heat in a pan until it browns a little. Done.) Season with salt and pepper. Stir over low heat until slightly thick. Add grated cheese and pour sauce over fish just before serving. 

Sweet (or Hot) Longanisa or; My Mom's Idea of Comfort Food

For some reason, whenever I'm feeling bummed out my mother cooks me fried sweet longanisa, or pork sausage. She knows I can put them away like a can of Pringles, and probably believes that the sweetness and homey-ness of the food can fill up whatever's breaking my heart at that moment. Tomorrow she's undergoing a follow-up procedure for her breast cancer. This event - which scares me to death - reminds me of the many longanisa dishes she's served me during my harder times.
This pinoy staple is frequently served as hearty fare for breakfast, along with fried rice and an egg, sunny side up. Along with tocino, cocktail hotdogs (no, that's not a typo), spam, canned corned beef, and beef tapa, traditional pinoy breakfasts are meant to slow down your heart rate a little and put some fat in your flesh, meant to be burnt off during hard work during the day. This kind of lifestyle, of course, is rapidly becoming more obsolete as food consumers in developing nations are becoming less active than their ancestors.
I wish I knew how to make the sausage from scratch, but for now I'll settle with the store bought version. If I'm lucky, an independent sausage maker will have his or her bags of homemade longanisa at the local Filipino store.

Love in a hog casing.

A few links of longanisa
Neutral oil

Some fry their longanisa straightaway, but I like to boil them first to cook them through. The seasoning of the sausage caramelizes quickly, so frying them at a high heat might undercook them. Start by boiling some water with the sausages over high heat, enough to reach halfway, in a frying pan. Turn once or twice to evenly cook. Once most of the water evaporates, add enough oil to cover the pan and lower to medium heat. Poke some holes into the sausages immediately, or you'll end up with a lot of oil spatter from the sausage fat. You'll know it's done when the sausages are browned nicely.

Once my mom is discharged from the hospital on Saturday morning, there'll be a hot plate of longanisa waiting for her at home.

My mother and her awkward children. That's me with the Goofy shirt - and no, I wasn't being ironic.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Avocado Shake

On especially hot days in Cebu, my mother used to break out the old-school Osterizer and make my brother and I avocado or papaya shakes, depending on the season. My brother and I used to make avocado or papaya "mustaches" with the shakes, gleefully licking our upper lips clean to make another green or orange mustache.

In my own kitchen 20 years later, my son makes the same mustaches, though he does it inadvertently. It never fails: Jonathan will slurp from a straw at first, decide that he can't deal with plastic interface, and eventually sips directly from the cup, pinkies up.

2 (5 oz.) cans of evaporated milk
1 very ripe avocado
A dozen ice cubes  - or however much fits in a standard ice tray
2 tbsp. sugar (more or less to your taste)

Dump the ice first into the blender, then follow with the rest of the ingredients. You'll know the avocado is ripe when you can easily scoop out the green "meat" with a spoon and you're left with a clean shell. I usually add very little sugar at first, then add more according to my taste. The shake should be very creamy, but not so thick that you can't drink it through a straw. You can also use evaporated milk with a lower fat content, but the shake won't be as rich.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lechon Kawali (Crispy Pan-Fried Roasted Pork)

I have very fond memories with lechon kawali. A favorite of my late Lolo (Grandfather), the dish was a staple anytime my grandparents visited. I used to watch him eat this peasant dish with a quiet relish, a fascinating and unusual degree of dissonance in dining culture and class. For the most part, my family ate food with casual abandon, using our fingers to scoop up sauce and rice, reaching for plates over other diners, and laughing and talking with our mouths full. I like to think we weren't uncultivated beasts; we ate with relative politeness in other public spaces. We just felt comfortable enough to be ourselves. My grandfather was the unusual refined square peg around a table of messy round holes. He even ate pizza with a knife and fork!
My Lolo invented the "tall, dark, and handsome" convention

Lechon kawali is not for the faint of heart - it will give you heartburn, no doubt. It's one of those dishes in which you already know you're going to have to pay for it after, so stock up on your Tums before tackling this dish.
Basically, you boil the pork belly (or any super-fatty part of the pig) in a marinade, let it rest, then deep fry that sucker.

I will not apologize to you, stomach, for eating this. 

1 lb. pork belly (If your family can eat more than this, I applaud you.)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
A few cloves of crushed garlic
Neutral oil for deep-frying

Marinate the pork belly with all of the ingredients (except for the oil, obviously) overnight. Around lunchtime, dump the contents into a deep pot. Add water so there's just enough water to touch the top of the pork belly. Bring to a boil, then cover, turning the flame to a low heat. Let the belly simmer for about an hour. Once the meat is nice and tender, let it rest for a few hours.
When the meat has reached room temperature, fire up the deep fryer - though I use the same pot and just add a *lot* of oil. Make sure the flame isn't too high or you'll burn the meat too quickly. Stick the belly in the pot slowly, place a spatter screen, and step back - seriously. There will be an oil rave in that pot and the oil will spatter all over your kitchen. I rarely make this dish, not because it's so unhealthy, but because of the inevitable cleaning I'll be doing afterwards. My mother suggests sprinkling a few drops of water to give the skin a nice crackle, but I haven't tried it, too fearful of a visit to my local burn unit.
When one side of the belly has a nice golden brown crispiness to it, turn to the other side. You'll know it's done when the meat is nicely browned all over and the skin is crispy. Remove from the pot and let it rest on the spatter screen to drain the grease. Slice and serve with either some Mang Tomas, a popular pinoy "all-purpose" sauce, or some vinegar and crushed garlic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Raise Your Hand (pricked from daily glucose testing) for Chocolate Milk

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that chocolate milk in school lunches has become the focus of a controversy. Some school districts, including Fairfax County, whose lunch program has been considered the nation's healthiest, have banned the drink outright. Unsurprisingly, this action provoked the wrath of angry parents, accusing administrators of "robbing students of a tasty drink and the vitamins and minerals that fuel bone and muscle growth." In an attempt to placate the mob, the district is considering a reformulated substitute that will use sucrose, made from sugar cane and beets, instead of the fearsome (and justifiably!) high-fructose corn syrup. Though "healthier," the calories are the same, but the district will have to pony up more money for the sucrose substitution. What's more, if the district continues to ban chocolate milk, the dairy industry will be adversely affected; Dean Foods, a dairy supplier, sells about 144 million gallons of chocolate milk across the nation.
Why the big deal over chocolate milk? School cafeterias have long been hot spots for political and economic contention. The American public school is an attractive and important consumer of food, making them an important client for those in the food industry. Soft drink companies fought tooth and claw over "pouring rights" in schools, a recent development in food marketing in which a payment is given to a school in exchange for that brand's exclusive sales in that school. If Pepsi has pouring rights with P.S. 123, Coke will not be sold within its halls or at any of the school events. Extra money from a corporation, in exchange for a few vending machines, seems sensible for schools struggling with funding. Of course, soda has been linked to childhood obesity, which has tripled in the past 30 years and tooth decay (Nestlé, Food Politics, 200) time and time again. Not only is the social cost high, but pouring rights erode legislative efforts for proper funding for education. Truly, the free market has not only entered, but made itself comfortable within the "safe" sanctum of the school.
So, what does all of this have to do with chocolate milk? In 1999, the National Dairy Council spent $130 million in the "milk mustache" celebrity campaign to try to reverse the decline of milk consumption, from which 40% of its increase came from the sales of flavored milk.
This NDC campaign explicitly pushes children to advocate for chocolate milk
 In 2005, the NDC tried "science-based" marketing to promote a 50% increase of recommended dairy consumption by encouraging consumers to drink 2-3 dairy servings a day, which will meet the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) for potassium (eat a banana!) of all things. It was a success, grossing the NDC $50 billion. Aggressive lobbying on research funded by the NDC and financial ties to members of the DRI committee made this happen.
I really hope that the Fairfax school district sticks to its guns, because they have a long and grueling fight ahead. Pressure from emailing parents is only the tip of the food politic iceberg. Thankfully, activists like Chef Ann Cooper, the "Renegade Lunch Lady," are trying to change the outrageously unconscionable platforms behind public school lunch programs. Regarding the gripes of the parents in Fairfax, she retorts, "Trying to get students to consume calcium by drinking chocolate milk is like getting them to eat apples by serving them apple pie."
What the hell is this nonsense?

I can't say this any clearer: Industries will always choose profit over people. In this case, it's literally the little people. Any claims a corporation makes that will benefit consumers is most likely going to benefit their coffers more. Yes, dairy has calcium. But so does broccoli, watercress, kale, okra, nuts, sardines, apricots, figs and orange. Here are the bare facts: Too much milk = too much fat = weight gain. Too much milk + too much sugar = weight gain. Don't let anyone tell you any differently.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Salted Duck Eggs (Itlog Na Maalat)

The word "fermented" usually doesn't get diners' stomachs growling with anticipation. However, eating salted eggs with vinegar is a time and transpacific trip for me to the dinner table back home. We used to eat this with rice for lunch, a super filling and budget-friendly meal for many Filipinos who couldn't afford to eat meat for every meal. The egg yolk is wonderfully creamy, a nice contrast to the chalkiness of the egg white. Neither Dave nor Jonathan is too fond of this dish, but there's still time to get them to convert, tee hee.

Salted Eggs


1 dozen eggs (duck or chicken)
5 c. salt
2 c. water

Boil water with salt. Strain and cool. Place eggs in a glass container. Pour cooled brine solution over eggs to cover completely. Cover the container with cheese cloth. Soak eggs for 2 weeks. If you want the eggs to be more salty and oily, soak longer. After 2 weeks, wash the eggs and boil them as you would a hard-boiled egg. Dye with purple food coloring. Once they've considerably cooled, serve with sliced tomatoes and vinegar. 

The fermenting process is a popular method in Asian cuisine. You know what fish sauce is made of? That's right - fermented fish in clay jars or boxes. The Thai version is called nam pla. Our version is called "patis," which should not be confused for soy sauce. The discerning pinoy tongue can tell the difference right away. If you frequent Asian establishments, most likely, you've eaten some form of fermented food. Itlog na maalat will not disappoint, I promise! 

If you don't feel like waiting a whole two weeks for these eggs, a trip to your local Pinoy or Asian specialty supermarket should carry some kind of fermented duck egg, which may or may not be dyed. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Bitchin' Kitchen?" Not Quite.

As much as I think I'm obsessed with food, I don't spend too much time watching the Food Network. I get my food TV kicks from the "Top Chef" series and Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods." So, it was through Zimmern's blog that I discovered Nadia G. from the Cooking Channel's "Bitchin' Kitchen." After browsing through her website, my internal feminist started a temper tantrum.
I get that anyone who wants to market themselves in a consumer culture already saturated with commercialism must find some kind of gimmick to distinguish themselves from the other equally desperate celeb-wannabies. Rachel Ray works for harried, guilt-ridden working mothers who don't have time to do dry their hair, much less cook. Paula Deen's cloying persona and heavily-mascara'd eyes work for those with a grandma fixation. Anthony Bourdain is supposed to be that modern day Byronic hero, the object of lust for many masochistic women. Granted, I'm painting a very crude picture for how these chefs are perceived, but that's the whole point: to market yourself, you need to give the public only one dimension of yourself and run with it til they get tired of it.
I wasn't surprised that Nadia G. presents herself as the "Rockstar" of the kitchen. Starting with web episodes, she secured a contract with the Cooking Channel, making her the first female to go "from Net to Network, and the rest is herstory."That's great - I love that. Successful autodidacts are amazing. Won't take that away from her. What's troubling for me is the gimmick she's chosen: the no-holds-barred empowered feminist-cook who shamefacedly uses her sexuality to sell herself. On TV, of course.
Surrounded by her legion of emasculated he-groupies.

I can't swallow this brand of feminism. And her shows don't make sense: how are we bitchin' women, when one of the first shows is all about finding a man? And one of the necessities in the kitchen is a pair of killer stilettos? I'd say a good pair of tongs would be more useful in flipping rib eyes than my Manolos. This is the kind of absurdity that has me tearing my hair out whenever I turn on the television. 
I'm sure Nadia G. is a good cook. It's unfortunate that her culinary skills will be the second thing her viewers notice.

Sick Day Siomai and Sweet and Sour Sauce

I like alliterations too.

All productivity has been ground to a halt today since I am nursing a bad cough and cold. I taught with virtually no voice yesterday (out of dedication to my students, my neurosis for making up missed classes, or my irrational commitment to commitments?) only to feel worse this morning. A trip to my doctor yielded a z-pack prescription, including a cocktail of other over the counter medications that will hopefully abate my symptoms and make me sound less like Gollum:
Gollum, like me, enjoys fresh seafood. 
Today's post will be considerably more complex than the the ones I've posted yesterday. Siomai is, I believe, a completely underrated "side dish" in many Japanese meals. You know what they are: those little fried or steam rice paper bags sitting in your bento box that can taste slightly fishy. My mom's recipe punches your face with flavor, in contrast, and is totally worth the trouble.


½ kilo ground pork (1 lb.)
1/3 kilo shrimp, diced (3/4 lb.)
¼ c. chopped dried Chinese mushrooms (Soak in water before slicing. These are called "cloud ear mushrooms" and are difficult to find fresh, but can be found shredded and dried)
½ c. singkamas chopped (Soak in water after cutting. These are called "Jicamas" in English.)
¼ c. chopped spring onions
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tsp. sesame oil
Salt and pepper
Sweet and sour sauce
Lumpia wrapper (spring roll wrappers are fine)

Combine pork, shrimp, mushrooms, singkamas, spring onions, egg yolks, soy sauce, vetsin, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Wrap into thin rolls in lumpia wrapper and fry in deep fat/oil. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Serve with sweet and sour sauce.

Sweet and sour sauce

2 tbsp. vinegar
1 c. water
5 tbsp sugar (caramelized)
1/3 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1 tbsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. water for dissolving cornstarch

Mix vinegar, water, sugar and salt, in saucepan then add ketchup, and oyster sauce. Bring to a boil. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to the boiling mixture stirring until thickened. 

These are my mother's original directions, of which I've added some notes for clarification (these metric conversions are a chore, so thank goodness for Google) These will look considerably different from the siomai you've probably eaten because you cut the fried rolls into serving sizes rather than before frying. There's also the option to steam them, but why would you? 
I asked my mother while I was typing out this recipe what "deep fat" meant in her recipes. Vegetable oil (or any oil) was scarce, so for the most part, people used pork lard for all their frying. (The sesame oil is a modification I made.)

"This is why many people died from heart attacks. But you can't compare the flavor with the other oil." 

Nope. Can't argue with the world of difference pork lard made for the dish either, mom. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Egg-Ceptional Dining Venue

Yes, I make bad puns. And I enjoy them.

On my last road trip to Montreal for an English literature conference, when I was pre-baby and regularly martini'd, my road trip companion and fellow foodie Tiffany ate breakfast at this egg-themed restaurant, complete with an egg chandelier greeting us past the heavy iron doors.

I wasn't kidding.

The place is called "Eggspectations" or "Le Cirque des Oeufs" which translates to, "Bad puns exist in Canadian French as well, friends." The service was slow, especially for American standards, but the food was delicious. When I know I'm eating a big breakfast, I tend to order the same thing: corned beef, sunny side up eggs and toast. I figure, if I'm going down, I may as well go down in fatty, fatty flames. For this meal, I opted to go with scrambled eggs and forego the toast. My favorites were served with sliced fried potatoes and some fruit.

No toast and not sunny-side up, but good 'nuff.

My satisfaction is documented in this exaggerated, definitely not candid picture: 

A fun place, but not incredibly spectacular. We made off with the peanut butter packets on the table (How could we not? We've never seen them in the states!) and enjoyed the rest Viéux Montréal had to offer.
This cheese didn't come with the eggs.
I told you about those puns, right? 

Chicken Adobo - The Bald Eagle of Filipino Cuisine

My husband, Dave, who thankfully loves Filipino food (or food, period) as much as me, absolutely hails this one as his favorite. And it's not surprising: Most folks associate pinoy food with the adobo, lumpia or pancit (of which the recipes are forthcoming). Chicken adobo is a simple braised chicken dish, with heavy notes of pepper, bay leaf and soy sauce. You can virtually do the same with some sliced pork belly and increase the sin factor.

2 lbs. of chicken parts (and I mean, chicken parts - with bones and skin, y'all. Filipino food laughs at tasteless chicken breasts)
3-4 cloves of crushed garlic
1/2 cup of soy sauce (I prefer Lauriat Special Soy Sauce)
1 tbsp. of peppercorns
some bay leaves
1/4 cup of neutral oil

Marinate chicken, garlic and soy sauce in a bowl for an hour. Throw contents of bowl (including liquid) into a large deep saucepan (I like to use the dutch oven for this, too). Add peppercorns and bay leaves. Add water, but not so much that it covers the chicken, then the oil. Fire up the stove and put the pan over a medium-high heat. You'll know it's done when most of the water has thickened to a sauce and the oil starts to fry the chicken, about 20 minutes. Turn the chicken a few times to brown them evenly. Be careful with the peppercorns when you stick the chicken in your mouth, unless you like hot little landmines in your cheeks.

 Jonathan, Dave and spectacular Korean BBQ at the Los Angeles Farmer's Market

Steamed Mussels with Ginger

This is a favorite of mine. I love this poured over hot, white rice. Though I love a lot of stuff over white rice, which isn't saying very much, but this one is awesome with it. Rice BEGS for broth, in my opinion.
Or you can sop up the broth with some crusty bread

A few pounds of fresh mussels
A few cloves of garlic, pounded (I don't dice, I pound.)
Diced tomato
Diced onion
1 tsp. of diced ginger (but for ginger I dice.)

In a heavy pot (I prefer using the dutch oven) saute garlic, then the tomato, then the onion. It's very important not to sauté them all at once. This is the base seasoning for many Filipino dishes, called "ginisa." Add the ginger. Add the mussels (I assume they've been scrubbed and have gone to the barbershop for their beard trimming?). Cover the pot. Check in 15 minutes to see if they've opened. Once they're opened and showing off their sexy bivalve meat, add as much water as you'd like for the broth. "You're so hot you need to be cooled off!" is what I like to say to my mussels. Remember, however, that adding too much will dilute flavor. Replace the cover and cook for another 15 minutes.

I served this dish this week with some whole wheat pasta and it was glorious. Or have it by itself. It can dance by itself, for sure.

The Simplest Fried Rice Recipe Ever

I've made this dish a number of times using leftover rice. Make sure the rice (preferably long grain white jasmine) is cold and crumbled (separated with your hands) before adding to the wok. You can also add a number of vegetables or meats after sautéing the garlic and onion.

A variation with carrots, green beans and corn.

Neutral oil (vegetable or corn) or sesame oil (if you want the flavor)
A few cloves of crushed garlic (however much punch you want)
Diced onion
Scrambled egg, chopped
Day old rice (best if it's been refrigerated overnight, makes it easier to crumble)
Salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. of soy sauce

Sauté garlic and onions in a lightly oiled wok over high heat. Add rice. Season with salt and pepper. Stir consistently for 10 minutes, otherwise the rice will stick to the wok, or worse, burn. Mix in the soy sauce. Mix in the egg. Cook for two more minutes.

Filipinos traditionally have fried rice for breakfast with tocino (seasoned meat), longanisa (sweet sausage) or fried fish. That's a super heavy start to my day, of which I can see myself going into a food coma before 9 a.m., so I usually serve it for lunch with a veggie dish, like miso-braised bokchoy.