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.