In Which a Deep-fried Fish Classic Gets a Fiery Twist…

Panko-crusted cobbler with a chilli-butter sauce
Panko-crusted cobbler with a chilli-butter sauce

 

The principle of cooking deep-fried crumbed or battered fish is such a simple one that it boggles the mind why it’s done so badly both at home and even at the nicest restaurants.  The fish is either overseasoned or underseasoned; soggier than wet paper; burnt to a crisp – definitely not palatable.

But, when it’s done right, it can be sheer delight: a crispy exterior encasing a meltingly soft and almost creamy interior that doesn’t taste too fishy because it’s been seasoned properly.  Plus points if it comes with a proper batch of deep-fried spuds or, perhaps, a salad dressed impeccably with a citrusy sauce.  

That said, the panko-crusted cobbler over at Melo’s (yes, the steakhouse; you can get lovely fish at a steakhouse!) is a paragon that others would do well to imitate.  Each piece is properly crumbed, seasoned, and deep-fried into the crispy outside / tender inside ideal.  But what sets this one apart from the competition is the smattering of sauce that gets drizzled over it: a garlic, chili, and lemon-infused clarified butter whose taste infuses each and every piece – spicy, sharp, lightly salty.  The steamed veg and the small portion of potato Parmigiana seem almost unnecessary; yes, the fish is that good.

In Which One Attempts a Japanese Cheesecake…

Meringue: also known as the reason why I could never get top marks in HomeEc
Meringue: also known as the reason why I could never get top marks in HomeEc

No se puede hacer tortilla sin romper los huevos.  (You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.) – Spanish/Catalan proverb

I’ve said this time and again whenever anyone tells me I should make a business out of cooking and baking: NO.  I have neither the patience nor the acumen for turning my favorite hobby into a business, though I do confess that I have been sorely tempted to drop everything and do so.  Indeed, my pet threat whenever the chips are way down is that I will run away to Barcelona when I’ve had enough and open a cafe.  Or a chocolateria.  Maybe give the siblings running the famed conservas bar Quimet y Quimet a run for their money.

But, again: NO.  Ask my best friend and he will tell you – provided he remembers – about the time I baked those hideously hard Milo biscuits that could have doubled as either hockey pucks or weapons for use in a riot.  While my cooking and baking have improved considerably over time, there’s a nagging feeling at the backs of both of our minds that we have not seen the last of the like of those dreaded biscuits from our days in uni.  Oh, dear…

Nevertheless, my willingness to try new things in the kitchen has had amazing results over the past decade since I started this blog.  I’ve tried new techniques, made twists on existing recipes, and, yes: I even got over my fear of making meringue as shown above.

11760135_10153233965174177_4026055058334762731_n
An oh-so-billowy batter…

My family was torn between having our mother’s chiffon cake or one of my baked cheesecakes for dessert yesterday.  Since no clear answer could be found and Mom was busy, I decided to make the most out of the situation and try my hand at making a nama or momengoshi cheesecake which is pretty much a gorgeously fluffy hybrid of the two.

Also known as Japanese cheesecake, the dessert is so called because it is usually served unadorned (nama = naked) and because it has the light, fluffy texture of cotton puffs (momengoshi = cotton-style).  You could get a reasonable version at Uncle Tetsu or, better yet, at JiPan; even SM supermarkets and Family Mart branches offer acceptable variations on the theme.  But, you know this blogger: if I try it from the shop often enough, I will be tempted to make it at home.  And so it went…

...turns into a fluffy cake
…turns into a fluffy cake

As I stated above, this is pretty much a cross between a chiffon cake and a baked cheesecake.  You’ll need a proper mixer (or a very strong mixing arm), patience, and a bowl of egg whites at room temperature to make the meringue that gives this dessert much of its airy heft.  While it does sound fiddly – and, to the uninitiated and the impatient, it is fiddly – don’t ever make the mistake of not doing this properly: you will regret it.

The end result is a light, tangy, fluffy dessert that certainly casts the commercially made ones into the shade and you will feel a sense of pride and sheer delight that borders upon the unholy as you slide a butter knife into its cottony innards to serve it.  (Yes, it is that soft.)

The recipe I am sharing with you is somewhat modified.  Feel free, nevertheless, to swap the lemon juice in the recipe for kalamansi juice (for a more blossomy citrus taste), orange juice (admittedly, you can use half-lemon and half-orange for a Gateau St. Clement [You know the nursery rhyme: “‘Oranges and lemons,’ say the bells of St. Clement’s.”  Just don’t tell my best friend; he’ll raise an eyebrow, no doubt…]), the beans scraped from half a vanilla pod, or even an equal amount of either Bailey’s or Kahlua.

So, who wants a slice?
So, who wants a slice?

Momengoshi Cheesecake

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened (8oz/225 or 250g)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup softened butter or margarine
  • additional butter and powdered sugar

Grease and line an 8-inch springform pan or disposable aluminum baking tin with baking parchment / waxed paper.  If using a springform pan, wrap the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil.  Grease the parchment and dust over with powdered sugar; set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees / Gas Mark 3.

Put the cream cheese and milk into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Setting the mixer to medium speed, blend until smooth and creamy.  Add the butter, flour, lemon juice, and half of the sugar (1/4 cup); blend until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula from time to time.  Add the egg yolks and blend well; set aside.

Put the egg whites in another bowl and beat at lowest speed for about 30 seconds or until frothy.  Add the cream of tartar; whisk another 30 seconds.  Increase speed to medium and gradually add the remaining sugar; whisk until soft peaks form.

Fold the meringue into the egg yolk and cheese mixture in thirds, incorporating gently.  Pour into the prepared baking tin and gently shake down to remove air pockets. Set the filled pan into a larger baking dish; fill the baking dish with boiling water till it reaches about halfway up the sides of the filled pan.  Carefully place in the oven; bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Check for doneness with a toothpick; turn the oven off and leave the oven door ajar for about 15 – 30 minutes.  Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for an additional 30 – 45 minutes.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 8.

In Which One Slow-Cooks a Savoury Beef Stew…

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…

For most modern home cooks, a pressure cooker is a key piece of kitchen equipment they can’t seem to do without.  I can’t blame them: you get to tenderise cheap and tough cuts of beef in 10 – 15 minutes tops rather than wait forever and six days.  However, what it delivers on in terms of speed and tenderness tends – alas! – to fall short with regard to flavour.  Sure, your beef is as tender – perhaps even more so – than your first kiss, but it’s about as bland as a chunk of cardboard.  Nine times out of ten, home cooks tend to keep adding more salt or bouillon cubes to whatever it is they’re cooking just to give it more taste – and, unfortunately, also raise everyone’s blood sodium levels in the process.

Slow cooking, on the other hand, takes forever and six days to do – but the results are absolutely worth it because stews and soups are more flavourful without having to chuck in any additional salt.  Beef stews, specifically those from France and Spain, are prepared in such a manner for lavish Sunday family dinners: pots are prepared as early as the night before and allowed to simmer on the stovetop or sealed into tightly covered saucepans and slow-baked in the oven for hours on end.  Modern-day cooks – especially urbanites – may look askance at this long-winded cooking method, but let me be quick to assure you again: the results will be worth it.

Be ready with your plates, boys and girls!
Be ready with your plates, boys and girls!

After a glorious meal of tuhod y batoc (a slow-cooked stew featuring beef shin and neck in a wine-infused brown gravy) at Dulcinea recently, I was certainly convinced of the merits of slow-cooking: the beef was very tender, silken almost; the gravy rich and full-bodied and truly savoury having absorbed the bare essence of the meat.  Something to be savoured with a bowl of just-cooked rice or maybe mashed potatoes for a taste of glorious comfort on a rainy evening.

That said, I tried my hand at slow-cooking a beef stew inspired by a French classic: the cream and wine-enriched blanquette de veau.  However, given that veal is hard to find in these parts, stewing beef had to do – and the term blanquette kind of becomes a misnomer because you have to brown the beef prior to stewing as opposed to gently poaching it directly in a fond blanc (white stock) with aromatics such as citrus rind, fennel fronds, and herbs.  Plus, the aromatics for this particular stew are more robust: red onions, garlic, rosemary, and bay leaves round out the flavour profile here and bacon throws in additional savour and smokiness.

But a slow, gentle simmer for the better part of an hour and more tempers these robust tastes, softening and melding them into a delicious whole.  The beef – cartilaginous and tough – becomes almost meltingly tender; the onions take on an appealing sweetness.  The addition of heavy cream towards the end of cooking evokes a classic blanquette and the enriched sauce blankets the rest of the elements to make a meal that is both satisfying and absolutely indulgent.

I know it is more than a little time consuming, but take the time and the effort to cook this at least once – and you’ll find this becoming a regular feature on your weekend menu.  ;)

Blanquette de Boeuf

  • 1/4 kilo stewing beef, cut into chunks
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium tin whole button mushrooms, drained and liquid reserved
  • 1 beef bouillon / stock cube
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • large or 2 small bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup bacon or hickory- / bacon-flavoured Spam, finely chopped
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon rock salt
  • ground black pepper to taste

Additional

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or wok over medium heat.  Brown the beef in batches; set aside.

Add the onions to the pan and cook till softened and slightly caramelised at the edges.  Add the garlic and cook till slightly browned.  Stir in the bacon and the beef cube; cook until the beef cube dissolves.  Combine enough water with the reserved mushroom liquid to yield 1 cup total.  Pour this in along with the water, 1/4 cup wine, rosemary, and bay leaf.  Stir well and bring to a boil.  Add the potatoes and carrot chunks and lower the heat.  Allow to simmer for 45 minutes before adding the mushrooms.  Cover and cook an additional 20 minutes.

Whisk together 1/3 cup water and the cornstarch to make a slurry.  Uncover the pan and pour in the slurry, mixing well.  Cook until slightly thickened, then add the wine.  Stir well and allow to cook an additional 10 minutes before stirring in the cream.  Remove from heat and serve immediately with rice or mashed potatoes.

Serves 6.

In Which One Cooks a Sweet and Peppery Ragu Bolognese

A bit of pasta and ragu for you?
A bit of pasta and ragu for you?

Under ordinary circumstances, I turn my nose up at local versions of spaghetti Bolognese.  Time and again, I’ve stated – quite bluntly, actually – I don’t care much for the saccharine sweetness that goes into most renditions of this dish.  It’s a classic case of seriously mucking up a very basic recipe that tastes magnificent if you’d just keep the damned thing simple and stick to the fundamentals.

Honestly, if you want a sweet hint in the taste of your classic red sauce, don’t – under any circumstances whatsoever – load the ragu with ketchup.  Not tomato, not banana – just don’t – wait, make that never – put ketchup into your red sauce.  It’s a travesty; a slur against everything that is good and wholesome.  Yes, I’m starting to sound like a hard-core culinary purist here, but this is one cause for which I won’t get off my soapbox: there is no place for ketchup in a proper pasta sauce.  End of story.

Now, if you want to add some sweetness to your Bolognese, add sweet elements to it: a bit of brown sugar to make the flavour of the tomatoes pop right out, let the sugars in a proper red wine do the trick, or use sausages with a sweet flavour profile like those made with fennel or, better yet, hamonado-style longganiza or a Spanish chorizo with a bit of caramel going on.

This is the principle behind today’s recipe for ragu di Marga (“Marga’s sauce”; my full given name is Maria Margarita, go figure…) which features sweet Aklanon longganiza, skinless pork links from the Central Philippines.  These sausages are pink when raw, but cook to a gorgeous reddish-caramel colour; be sure the char them a bit on all sides as some charring amps up the flavours of the garlic, black pepper, and muscovado sugar used to season these links.  When used in a pasta sauce, these sausages add a sweet, peppery nuance that perfectly balances the acidity of the tomato sauce and a scattering of pungent aged Edam completes a mouthwatering dish.

Try this at home for the weekend; it’s quite a treat.  Oh, and if you haven’t got access to skinless longganiza, Aklanon or otherwise, use another sausage with a hint of sweetness.

Ragu di Marga

  • 1/2 kilo spaghetti, prepared according to package instructions, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water
  • 4 links skinless longganiza, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato-based pasta sauce
  • 1 cup plain tomato sauce
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 pork bouillon cube
  • 2 tablespoons Italian mixed herbs
  • 2 tablespoons red wine
  • 1 tablespoon muscovado or brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • grated Edam or Parmesan cheese to serve

Set aside the spaghetti, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Pour in the oil.  When it begins to sizzle, add the onion and cook till softened.  Add the garlic and cook till browned at the edges.  Add the eggplant and the sausage and cook until the former has softened and the latter has browned, about 2 minutes.  Add the bouillon cube and herbs and cook till the bouillon as dissolved.  Pour in the pasta cooking water and the wine; bring to a boil.  Add the pasta sauce and tomato sauce; stir well and return to a boil.  Add the brown sugar, pepper, and paprika; stir well and cook for another two or three minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl.

Pour over individual portions of pasta and sprinkle over the grated cheese.

Serves 6.

In Which Pork Mince is the Star in an Oriental Rice Bowl…

On the hob...
On the hob…

And it is finally storm season here in the Philippines: the rain has been falling non-stop for the past several days due to two typhoons and a third is just hovering around the edges of the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR).  The winds have been strong and have been blowing cold for almost a week, prompting folks to ditch bikinis and flip-flops in favour of jackets and rain-boots.  It is my season and, really, I feel a deep sense of proper comfort with the coming of the rains and the stronger winds.

It is, likewise, the season for heftier meals.  Salad days are over, light meals eschewed for thick soups and rich, meaty stews loaded with good things and served over rice, noodles, or a proper mash of spuds.  That said, I was hankering for something different to cook up and gobble down for these nice, cold days and that turned out to be a Taiwanese dish that goes down a treat with its robust flavours: lu rou.

Lu rou (滷肉) is easily translated as “minced pork” which is pretty much what goes into the dish: fatty ground pork, usually taken from the belly side so as to make the finished dish gloriously rich and rib-sticking.  The clincher here, however, is the way the minced pork is cooked down into a magnificent gravy that is slopped generously over steamed rice to turn it into lu rou fan (滷肉飯 – braised pork mince over rice).  Expatriate Taiwanese refer to it as their version of Sunday gravy and those still in their homeland consider it a national dish because it is absolutely satisfying and beautifully flavoured: the saline nuance of soy sauce harmonising nicely with the sweetness of five-spice powder and caramelised shallots.

The most basic versions feature pork simply braised in soy and five-spice powder.  More elaborate preparations call for a splash or two of rice wine, sliced lap cheong (dry-cured pork sausages), quartered hard-cooked eggs, and shiitake or wood-ear mushrooms.  Some also eschew the rice and serve the resulting pork sauce/gravy over thick wheat noodles similar to udon or wholegrain flour noodles similar to soba.

Mine is, essentially, a somewhat bastardised take on this classic.  Beer replaces rice wine in my version, there are tinned mushrooms in this for an umami touch and I’ve thrown in a bit of muscovado sugar and diced carrots to amp up the sweetness.  I’m horrible at boiling eggs (yes, really; go figure), so…

A fried egg makes ANYTHING better
A fried egg makes ANYTHING better

…my lu rou fan is topped with a fried egg, instead.  :)  Oh, and this also tastes wonderful when reheated the next day; it’s the sort of sauce or gravy that keeps on giving.  One thing, though: try to get fatty pork mince as opposed to lean; you need the extra fat for flavour as well as to give the sauce depth and body.

Lu Rou Fan

  • 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 kilo fatty ground pork
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 1 medium tin whole button mushrooms, drained and liquid reserved
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced,
  • mushroom liquid + enough water to make a total of 2 cups liquid
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1 large star anise, broken into “petals”
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • steamed rice and fried eggs to serve

Heat the oils in a wok over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion and lower heat slightly; cook whilst stirring occasionally until the onion has caramelised at the edges.  Add the garlic and cook until slightly browned; add the carrot and cook for an additional minute.

Raise the heat back to medium and add the pork; cook until browned.  Stir in the white sugar, star anise, and five-spice powder; cook for an additional minute.  Pour in the beer and bring to a boil; allow to bubble furiously for about 30 seconds.  Pour in the mushroom liquid / water mix, soy sauce, and brown sugar; stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Cover and lower the heat; leave to simmer for 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place helpings of rice in individual serving bowls and top with the braised pork and a fried egg each.  You may also choose to serve steamed bok choy or a selection of Asian pickles on the side.

Serves 6.

In Which One Has Soba for a Kitchen Supper…

Instant buckwheat soba
Instant buckwheat soba

There is a Korean grocery on the ground floor of the building where I work.  Sun-Han Mart is where I get stuff like the Lotte Ghana Dark Chocolate bars I bash up for cookie recipes, instant ramyeun for kitchen suppers or gluttonous weekend breakfasts, corn snacks that aren’t as heavily-seasoned or as MSG-heavy as local nibbles can be, cheesecake bars, those fish-shaped ice cream-filled wafer-wiches, and goodness knows what else.  (They have instant ice cream mixes, by the way!)  It’s also where I’ve made a number of interesting culinary discoveries from frozen dumplings with interesting savoury fillings and tinned foodstuffs that are perfect for rolling into kimbap or futo maki if you’re feeling more Japanese than Korean to dried mushrooms of varying intensities and soup bases.

And, interestingly enough, they have instant buckwheat soba.

What's inside the packet
What’s inside the packet

At P 40.00 (US$ 0.89), it’s a trifle more expensive than most instant noodle packs.  But here’s what you get: a solid, tightly woven disk of dried buckwheat noodles whose nutty aroma permeates the air upon opening the packet.  There is a clear plastic packet of a mildly sweet soy sauce and a smaller green packet that contains a freeze-dried block of wasabi interspersed with bits and chunks of shredded nori seaweed and freeze-dried scallions.

You just chuck the noodles into a pot of rapidly boiling water for about four minutes, then drain them well.  You should save about a couple tablespoons of the cooking water, by the way.  Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water.  Chuck the wasabi cube into a bowl and pour over the reserved cooking water till it fizzes and dissolves completely into a clear-ish solution with bits and bobs of seaweed and spring onion; the aroma will have the sharp, pungent notes of fresh wasabi.  Add the soy sauce to the wasabi solution and, you, dear reader, are technically done.

On their own, the noodles are anything but bland as they have a nice, rounded flavour: nutty, earthy, somewhat rich.  Dipped into the soy-wasabi broth, they gain additional savour and are pretty good eaten as is, perhaps with some grated fresh daikon radish and / or a scattering of more shredded nori.  But you readers know how I am: I like my noodles hefty and substantial; and so…

Make a meal out of it!
Make a meal out of it!

I like topping my soba with some deeply umami stuff like a good sesame and katsuoboshi furikake that adds robustness to the earthy-tasting noodles.  Round that off with store-bought gyoza (or, what the heck, steam or boil up some meat- or kimchi-filled mandu dumplings while you’re at it!) and a few slivers of home-cooked tonkatsu and you have a meal fit for an empress.

Of course, I’m not saying you should eat like this everyday, but it’s a magnificent way to indulge yourself in the middle or end of a hectic week.

In Which We Have a New Contest: Binge on a Budget

What's your Binge on a Budget?
What’s your Binge on a Budget?

Filipinos are amazing when it comes to food.  It’s as if we know instinctively what tastes good, what will satisfy our cravings in the best manner possible.  That said, Filipinos are also keen on getting as much bang for the buck as possible – especially where food is concerned.

This is the premise behind this year’s contest on Midge in the KitchenBinge on a Budget!  We’re looking at meals for one – personal indulgences, little treats for yourself, mini-celebrations done solo – that cost P 200 or less!  We’re looking at budget meals with the dials all cranked up to MAX; spoiling oneself rotten with good food on a very tight budget.  

The rules are simple:

  1. Take a cue from the picture above.  Snap a picture of your most indulgent meal.
  2. Post your picture on Instagram, tagging @deessedomestique with the hashtags #midgeinthekitchen and/or #bingeonabudget or email me your picture at midge(dot)manlapig(at)gmail(dot)com.
  3. Caption it with a witty description plus total costs.
  4. Winner takes all: P 500 worth of Starbucks GCs plus P 500 worth of assorted Japanese treats.

Contest runs from today, 24 June to 24 July.  I’ll be announcing the winner here on the blog on 31st July.  Good luck, everyone.  ;)