In Which There is a Box of Instant Ice Cream…

Yes, it's a box of ice cream mix.  Such things DO exist...

Yes, it’s a box of ice cream mix. Such things DO exist…

As someone born in the mid-1970s and a child of the 1980s, I grew up reading Reader’s Digest and, consequently, the ad-driven recipe booklet inserts that came within it for nearly two decades.  These were an almost endless source of fascination for me  In the booklets from the late ’70s, there were ads featuring instant ice cream mixes, most of which were made by the RFM Corporation under the brand name Hans which later became synonymous with instant gelatine desserts.

Ice cream mixes were a way for folks to get their dose of cold, creamy goodness at home without having to make a run to the supermarket freezer section.  These were also dead-simple to make: just stir the powder into some milk, chuck it into the freezer, and you were good to go in a few hours.  Of course, when the local ice cream wars began heating up in the mid ’80s and Yankee brands like Dreyer’s, Breyer’s, and Ben and Jerry’s became available in Manila supermarkets, ice cream mixes pretty much became as outdated as shag carpets and miniskirts.

But, as in fashion, what goes around comes around: ice cream mixes are making a comeback – but, this time, they’re imported from Korea.  Beksul Authentic Desserts at Home are now available in selected Oriental groceries within the Greater Manila Area.  The novelty for these is that all you need to do is whisk the powered mix into 200mL of warmed milk, freeze it for a few hours, et voila: dessert is served.  It isn’t as rich or as creamy as standard-issue ices, but it’s a pretty interesting concept.  (Oh, and stick to the chocolate!)

In Which There is a Tin of Corned Lamb

Corned...LAMB?!?

Corned…LAMB?!?

I’ve mentioned this numerous times before: lamb is not a very popular meat here in the Philippines.  For one thing, very few people have considered raising sheep as viable commercial livestock.  For another, most Filipinos don’t like the robust, gamey flavour of the meat.

But for those of us who actually like lamb, there are ways of getting our fix at the local supermarkets: freezer sections hold such popular cuts like chops, legs, and loins and grilled lamb – either chops or kebabs – are best-selling meals at several local restaurants.  And now, possibly to add lamb to possible breakfast meats, meat processing giant CDO has introduced corned lamb to the market.

Kind of like corned beef, but leaner and somewhat gamier

Kind of like corned beef, but leaner and somewhat gamier

CDO’s corned lamb is the most recent addition to its Highlands Gold line of premium tinned meats which started off with its premium Angus corned beef.

Upon opening the tin, you quickly get a whiff of a somewhat gamier aroma than what you’d get upon opening a tin of corned beef hash.  But you’ll also notice that the pink meat is more tender and there is considerably less fat and gristle in the mix.

Straight from the can, the lamb is actually tasty enough on its own.  But, truth be told, much of its savour comes out when it’s cooked.

Saute it up and serve

Saute it up and serve

The easiest way to prepare this is as regular hash: saute an onion and some garlic in a bit of olive oil, then add the lamb.  Interestingly, considering how fresh lamb is cooked for a shorter time than raw beef, corned lamb takes a little longer than corned beef to get crisp at the edges.  Let me assure you that it is worth the wait: you get a nicely seasoned heap of shredded lamb that is tender to the bite, meaty and still a touch succulent.

I daresay you could serve this the Filipino way with rice and a fried egg or go totally Brit (or Aussie or even Kiwi) and serve the crisped-up lamb on top of mashed potatoes.  In which case, mint sauce may be necessary.  ;)

In Which a Classic Meat Dish Gets a Couple of Unconventional Twists…

Seafood kare-kare and bagoong with hot rice

Seafood kare-kare and bagoong with hot rice

Kare-kare, a slow-cooked stew featuring oxtail or pork leg braised till tender in a rich peanut sauce, has long been a mainstay of weekend dinner tables and the groaning boards typical of the local fiesta scene.  As stated, it’s usually made with hearty oxtail or fat pork legs both cooked until the meat is so tender that it falls apart when you prod it with a fork.  However, many home cooks, restaurateurs, and institutional caterers have put their own spin on classic kare-kare, using unconventional ingredients to either make the most of seasonal produce or use up leftovers to prevent wasting food.

Seafood kare-kare is one such variation on the theme.  Here, fresh squid or cuttlefish, mussels, and chunks of fish – usually chunks of fresh tuna belly or blue marlin – are simmered in the peanut sauce.  The addition of finely-cut slivers of ginger keeps the dish from getting too odiferous for diners and, by serving it with bagoong alamang [fermented shrimp paste], the briny condiment brings out the sweetness of the aquatic ingredients.  It is also considerably healthier than the beefy or porky original, so it goes over well with dieters.

On the other hand, some cooks use leftover lechong kawali [deep-fried pork belly with crunchy, crackling skin] or crispy pata [deep-fried pork knuckle] as their protein of choice.  The end-result is a shortcut version called crispy kare-kare which is, nevertheless, quite a treat as the bits and bobs of pork are fried to a crunchy golden-brown and provide a contrast to the sauce-softened vegetables.  It is not the most diet-friendly dish, but it goes down a treat.

Both of my favourite variations of kare-kare are sold at our regular lunch provider, Tezman Convenience Store over on the Upper West Side of the BGC.  The seafood version (P 60.00 per bowl) is loaded with good things: while the mussels are few and far in between, the generous chunks of marlin and squid make up for it.  The crispy version (P 55.00 per bowl), on the other hand is an excellent go-to dish for lunch as it is crunchy, flavourful, and highly satisfying.

Tezman Convenience Store:  Ground Floor – Kensington Place, 1st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

In Which a Vegetable Extravaganza Graces the Dinner Table…

A fresh and colourful mise-en-place

A fresh and colourful mise-en-place

Lo Han Chai - also known as luohan zhai or, more poetically, Buddha’s Delight – is a dish that my family frequently enjoys whenever we go out for lunch at one Chinese restaurant or another.  While we enjoy it invariably as a side to a meaty main like three-cups chicken or char siu (asado) pork, vegetarians can actually order it as a main in its own right.

As its name suggests, it was originally prepared for religious celebrations within Buddhist monasteries and lay communities.  It is most commonly eaten on the eve and the first day of the Chinese Lunar Year as a way of purifying the body and preparing the self to receive the blessings of the new year.

In its most basic form, it is a selection of various fresh and preserved vegetables stir-fried then braised in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar; indeed, it is easy to surmise that classic chop suey takes much of its substance and technique from this dish.  Lo han chai can be made with any number of vegetables, but the traditional mix includes Savoy cabbage (Chinese cabbage / wombok), cubes of deep-fried tofu, bamboo shoots, wood-ear fungi (tengang daga), carrots, and black mushrooms – either the ovoid straw mushrooms or the meatier-tasting shiitake.  Nevertheless, the only thing that probably limits the home cook is one’s imagination and the availability of produce at one’s greengrocer’s.

Yes, that is a HECK of a LOT of veg...

Yes, that is a HECK of a LOT of veg…

Truth be told, the recipe for lo han chai varies from cook to cook.  Strict vegetarian households will obviously not choose to use meat broths or oyster sauce.  More omnivorous folks will gladly welcome the addition of either or both to add an extra dimension of flavour to the dish; there are even those who choose to throw in prawns or scallops to make the dish more interesting.  Some, like myself, swap the Savoy cabbage for fresh, local greens such as pechay (a Filipino vegetable whose closest point of comparison would have to be Swiss chard) which has a sweet, mild flavour, and a crunchy texture.  Some chuck the tofu in fresh, while I prefer to use the restaurant method of deep-frying the tofu first to firm up the texture.  And there are those who use stinky tofu to enhance the dish; honestly, you have to draw the line somewhere and my line gets drawn here.  (Stinky tofu in my lo han chai?! [Shudders])

My spin on the dish is quite easy to do and shows off the fresh flavours and textures of the different vegetables I used.  I should warn you at this point, however, that cooking lo han chai at home is fairly labour-intensive: you have all that chopping and dicing to do on top of the stir-frying and braising.  (Believe me, a moment’s inattention led to a nasty, self-inflicted cut when I first cooked this!)  But believe me when I say the effort is most definitely worth it: even hardened non-veg eaters and picky kids will enjoy it.  :D

Serve it on top of steamed rice or, as shown here, on top of blanched noodles

Serve it on top of steamed rice or, as shown here, on top of blanched noodles

Lo Han Chai

For the stir-fry:

  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced into half-moons
  • 3 blocks firm tofu (momengoshi), deep-fried till golden and diced
  • 2 bunches pechay or bok choy or 1 bunch Swiss chard, stems diced and leaves sliced into strips
  • 1 medium (approximately 300 grams) can shiitake or button mushrooms, drained and liquid reserved
  • approximately 100 grams fresh oyster mushrooms, cut into strips
  • 1 pack dried wood-ear fungi (tengang daga), soaked
  • approximately 100 – 150 grams fresh baby corn, sliced on the bias
  • 1 head of broccoli, broken into florets and the stem peeled, trimmed, and julienned
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 6 – 10 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (optional if you’re making this all-vegetarian)

For the braising sauce:

  • Reserved mushroom liquid with enough water to make 2 cups total liquid
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce or vegetarian substitute thereof

Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Set aside.

Put a wok over medium heat.  Once it heats up, add the oil.  When the oil sizzles, add the sliced onion and the white part of the spring onions; cook till softened.  Add the garlic and cook until the garlic has browned a little at the edges.  Add the carrot slices, julienned broccoli stem, and the pechay stems; stir-fry for about two minutes.  Drain the wood-ear fungi and cut into thin strips.  Add these along with the shiitake and oyster mushrooms; stir fry for two minutes more.  If using the bouillon cube, add it at this point and toss with the vegetables until it has more or less dissolved.  Add the baby corn and broccoli and stir-fry for three minutes.  Pour in the braising sauce and stir the dish well to coat all the vegetables.  Cook until the sauce is bubbling and slightly thickened.  Toss in the pechay leaves and the tofu; mix well and cook an additional two to three minutes.

Remove from heat and move to a serving platter.  If desired, as shown above, pour the cooked vegetables over blanched noodles.  Scatter the green spring onions over to garnish.

Serves 8 as a side dish; serves 4 as a vegetarian main.

In Which Convenience Store Pasta Plates are Surprisingly Good…

Yes, your eyes aren't deceiving you...

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you…

Under most circumstances, meals bought at a convenience store, while satisfying and budget-friendly, tend to be lacking in terms of both variety and flavour.  In the Philippines, however, given the emphasis that food has to taste good no matter how cheap it is, it is to the credit of the research-and-development teams at 7-Eleven that this particular chain is able to offer a number of options from small but filling snacks to full-scale meals featuring that typical trifecta of starch, protein, and veg.

The 7-Fresh line of light meals is a clear example of this.  The line started about a year ago with a selection of single-portion salads; today, the line now includes a series of pasta plates featuring both cream-based and tomato-based sauces on different forms of pasta.  At P 79.00 (US$ 1.76) per plate, these are surprisingly hefty and event tasty.

Bacon and Eggs on Fettucine

Bacon and Eggs on Fettucine

The bacon and egg on fettucine is one of my personal favourites amongst the varieties I’ve tried.  You get a steam-cooked egg, a few slices of bacon, and a cheese and leek infused cream sauce.  Not bad for a carbonara wannabe, it’s actually nice and the noodles have a toothsome texture.  One tip, though: order this for takeaway as opposed to noshing it on the premises, crisp up the bacon in a pan or an oven toaster (whichever’s more convenient), and you have a smoky-tasting meal with a bit of a crunch.

Grilled Chicken Pesto

Grilled Chicken Pasta

The grilled chicken pasta, on the other hand, is as bland as plain rice and the chicken, is, alas, dry.  I recommend skipping it and opting instead for another plate of bacon and eggs or giving the other variants which feature tomatoes and sausage a shot.

In Which Cold Rice and Tinned Fish are Transformed Into a Hearty Meal…

It's a burger with a difference...

It’s a burger with a difference…

Love food, hate waste is the mantra on the lips of many people whether they’re foodies or just sensible hausfrauen trying to keep precious food resources from being callously tossed into the garbage bin.  In these days when the price of edible groceries is up by a whopping 30%, every morsel counts.

Rice is one of those precious edibles in this part of the world, what with typhoons ruining fields full of crops before they’re ready to harvest.  Resourceful Filipino households have always had a way with leftover rice, transforming it into a savoury side simply by frying it with garlic or tossing in scraps of meat and veg for Chinese-style fried rice.  Both are good ways of using up cold rice, but it can get monotonous at times.

That said, today’s recipe takes a cue from the Japanese in the sense that cold rice is wadded up into patties and grilled till crisp on the outside and warmed up within to make yaki-musubi.

These yaki-musubi, however, have a bit of a difference: deep in the heart of each rice patty is a bit of tinned fish – in this case, tuna sisig – to give it more flavour.  The cooked patties are smothered in a rich, spicy curry gravy made with Japanese curry roux and onions.  You can use any other tinned fish of your choice; you can even use canned meats such as cubed luncheon meat or corned beef hash.  Whichever you choose, you can serve up your leftovers as a fresh new dish your family can enjoy.

Curry musubi and coleslaw

Curry musubi and coleslaw

Yaki-Musubi Curry

For the musubi:

  • 3 cups cold cooked rice
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 small tin tuna or milkfish (bangussisig or pink salmon, drained well
  • 2 tablespoons oil for frying

For the curry

  • 1 cube Japanese curry roux
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped

To make the musubi, mix together the rice, egg, and tinned fish.  Chill for 30 minutes to an hour.  Form into four patties.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan over medium heat.  Fry the patties until browned and crisp on both sides; set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Add the curry and cook while stirring till thickened.

Transfer the patties to a serving dish and pour over the curry.  Serve immediately with a salad.

Serves 2.

In Which We Talk About the Recipes We Share With Others…

Pesto cream linguine with fresh cauliflower

Pesto cream linguine with fresh cauliflower

For dinner last night, I decided to fix an enormous bowl of pesto cream linguine - one of my signature dishes.  It’s one of those things that’s an absolute doddle to make, if I may steal a line from the divine Nigella Lawson.  You just saute minced onion and garlic in some of the oil from a pack of store-bought pesto, throw in whatever veg or proteins you fancy, add the pesto and a bouillon cube for flavour; let it bubble, throw in the cream, bring to a simmer, then toss in the pasta.  An easy-peasy effort if there ever was one.

This simple recipe is one of many that I’ve shared through this blog or among friends both off- and on-line.  Other recipes I’ve passed on to willing cooks or bakers include my totally moreish rum butter cakes in all their iterations, toffee bars, Chinese roast pork, and goodness knows what else.

In this day and age when information can be shared conveniently with the global community, it is easy to share recipes, to get feedback for them, and to see where they can be tweaked for improvement.  Not too long ago, however, sharing recipes was actually a no-no for many home cooks.

It is something that is almost anecdotal but applies to cooks throughout a broad cultural spectrum: people spend the better part of their lives perfecting certain recipes and building up a culinary repertoire of their most sumptuous specialties.  Because of the labour, the effort expended on the development of these dishes, many cooks opted not to share the recipe with others, guarding those lists of ingredients and procedures jealously and zealously for a lifetime.  Indeed, in many cases, some of the greatest dishes ever created in the history of gastronomy are gone forever – never to be tasted by future generations – only because their creators took the secret of cooking them to the grave.

One case is particularly personal: my maternal grandmother was known to bake a magnificent torta .  This rich, eggy cake made with lard, not butter, was a great family favourite among her children and a treat they all looked forward to.  Unfortunately, as with all those cooks of old, my grandmother guarded the recipe with her life and did not share it with anyone – least of all her five daughters for various reasons only she herself knew.  She did, however, write it down; possibly, the old girl meant to pass it on to someone before she departed this life.  However, when my grandmother died in early 1998, it is galling to know that nobody got the torta recipe.  This is not because she chose to hold it back in the end, but because of the petty quarrels among her children (an extremely long, convoluted, issue-ridden thing that annoys me to no end), no one’s gone back to her house to retrieve it!

Thank goodness, then, that home cooks nowadays have more sense and willingly pass the recipe on for dishes that are sure to please families and friends to those who are keen on working in the kitchen to produce, if not culinary wonders, dishes that are guaranteed to be enjoyed by appreciative diners.  In that way, we are no longer in danger of losing recipes and thereby losing part of our culinary heritage.

I have not, of course, given up on getting my hands on my grandmother’s torta recipe.  I’ll be able to make it, eventually – either from her notes or I’ll find a reasonable facsimile thereof and make that particular dessert my own.  In the meantime, let me share with you one of my own recipes: this is a rather complicated bit of cookery – one for grand family feasts or, as we call it at home, Sunday dinner.  It features pata tim, that classic Chinese braised pork leg, but has the added virtue of being served on a bed of noodles.  Goodness knows it isn’t traditional; but it is stonkingly good – and I am proud to say that the recipe is mine to share.

So, what recipes did your grandmothers leave to you – or has your family lost certain treats because someone didn’t leave the recipe behind?

Pata Canton

Pata Canton

Pata Canton

  • 1 kilo sliced pork leg with the skin on (sometimes sold as ‘pata chops’) water
  • 1 tablespoon rock salt
  • 2/3 cup dark soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup shaoxing wine or rum
  • 1 medium can button mushrooms, drained and the liquid reserved
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into half-moons
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, cracked and peeled
  • 1 Chinese chorizo (lap cheong), sliced into thin strips
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 star anise, broken into segments
  • 2 bay leaves (laurel)
  • 1/8 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup rendered lard or cooking oil
  • 1 pork bouillon cube
  • 2 small bundles (or 1 large) pechay (Swiss chard) or bok choy, washed and divided
  • 400g pack pancit Canton (wheat stick noodles, available at Oriental groceries)

Place the pork, salt, and enough water to cover the meat in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Pressure-cook until somewhat tender (meat will soften more thoroughly as it braises), about ten to fifteen minutes. Remove the meat from the pressure cooker, reserving the cooking liquid [pork stock].

Pour the lard or cooking oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once it sizzles, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook until the cloves have browned, then add the star anise and peppercorns; stir-fry until fragrant. Add the Chinese chorizo and cook for two minutes. Throw in the meat and carrots and stir-fry for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bouillon cube, brown sugar, reserved mushroom liquid, soy sauce, shaoxing wine or rum, and 1-1/4 cups of the reserved pork stock. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 45 minutes.

When the meat has simmered for 20 minutes, add the mushrooms and bay leaves. Toss in the pechay during the last five minutes of cooking. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Blanch the pancit Canton in boiling water for five minutes. Drain well. Place half the noodles on a serving platter. Top with the cooked pata, vegetables, Chinese chorizo, and some of the sauce. Serve the remaining noodles and sauce on the side in separate dishes Serve whilst still hot.

Serves 12.