Tortang Talong: A Frittata with a Twist

Torta, anyone?

You have to hand it to the people who devised the art of egg cookery: add or subtract a few ingredients, swap a couple or so worksteps, and you have a completely different dish.

Take the frittata, for example.  It is, essentially, an omelet – only, instead of folding the cooked eggs over a filling, the filling is scattered over or mixed into the beaten eggs.  The mixture is then fried till the eggs are set, flipped over, then allowed to brown before serving.  Zucchini frittatas are often served as a light entree during the summer in Italy.  In Spain, frittatas are known as tortillas and the most famous of these is the tortilla de patatas, that potato frittata that serves as a substantial breakfast, ample appetizer, and sandwich filling.

Here in the Philippines where the cuisine was heavily influenced by 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, the tortilla de patatas is equally popular and has been made more substantial by the addition of ground pork or beef.  But there is one variation on this dish that takes it to a completely different level.  This is the tortang talong.

Tortang talong at our house is made in pretty much the same way my maternal grandmother used to make it.  Eggplants (talong in the vernacular) are boiled, peeled (but the stems are left on), stuffed with a cooked mixture of ground pork sauteed with onions and garlic, then fried.  Beaten eggs are poured over the stuffed eggplants and these are pressed down in the pan till flat.  After browning to a dark shade on either side, these are served alongside bowls of chicken sopas (creamy chicken macaroni soup).

I don’t know if the method we use is the same one used in other local households.  Indeed, I’ve seen some versions of tortang talong where a whole eggplant was enveloped by an omelet.  But it’s what works for us and this savory dish is a perfect meal for those days when you just need something hot, crisp-edged, and – ultimately – belly-warming.

Mom’s Fabada: A Dish Worth Coming Home To

A hot bowl of pork and beans...

This is a fact: my mother rarely ever cooks.  But when she does, it’s always something incredibly scrumptious, inimitable, and most certainly comforting.

Case in point: the pastel con pollo, callos Madrilena, and paella she whips up for Christmas.  Then, she makes an asado siopao [homemade char siu bao that are barely the size of a palm and stuffed to the gills with tender sauced pork] that is both portable and worth fighting over.  (Trust me: you do not want to be at our house when there’s just one siopao left.  It gets ugly – very ugly.)  But that’s nothing compared to the lengua con setas [ox tongue braised in a rich mushroom gravy till meltingly tender] that hasn’t made an appearance in years.  That’s how rarely my mom cooks, so it came as a surprise when I came home the other night to find a steaming bowl of fabada waiting for me in the kitchen.

Fabada is the Spanish version of cassoulet, that rustic French bean casserole made rich with smoked meats.  A specialty of the Asturias region, this dish is commonly made with white beans, a shoulder of pork, assorted sausages, and a hint of saffron to give it a nice orange color.  While this is commonly served as part of a selection of tapas in the larger cities, this is usually served as a main course in the countryside.  Thick slices of crusty peasant bread are a necessity and not a mere option as you need them to sop up the thick sauce left behind in your bowl after the beans and meats have been eaten.  Plus, this wasn’t meant to be eaten with a glass of wine alongside; no, sir, this robust monster demands to be washed down with a good tankard of beer or some chilled hard cider.

My mother’s fabada has a few variations to it, though.  Since the classic , huge fabes de la granja (farm beans) used for this dish aren’t easily available in this part of the world, she uses the usual white kidney beans available at the supermarket or black-eyed peas.  A large pork pata – the fatty leg – makes its way into her pressure cooker in lieu of the traditional pork shoulder.  (Mom’s tip: keep the bone in.  It makes it more flavorful.)  She doesn’t really go in for spices the way I do, so her dish is flavored and colored with lots of minced red onions and a goodly amount of tomato sauce.  Tiny slivers as opposed to huge slices of chorizo de Bilbao just to add a hint of a smoky undertone to the dish finish it up.  The meat and beans are pressure-cooked for a good hour or so until the beans are mushy and creamy on one’s tongue and the pork practically falls apart when lightly prodded with a fork.

When you’ve had to weather two and a half hours of traffic in the driving rain after a long day, the sight of a good steaming bowl of this dish puts back the heart in you and brings welcome color to a wan face.  We don’t eat this with bread, but we ladle generous helpings on hot white rice and eagerly scrape the last bit off our plates before going in for more.  Throw in a perfectly chilled Cerveza Negra plus some welcome chatter from my mom and dad, and I feel that my homecoming is complete.  😉

A City Girl Eats: Sit Down to a Good Breakfast

Breakfast is served!

Truth be told, I’m a morning person – but I hate the fact that all the rushing and bustling involved in getting ready for the day.  In my case, because I live in southern suburbia, I end up skipping breakfast just to get to Makati on time.  As a result, I end up grabbing something to nosh from a convenience store or a McDonald’s on the way to the office.  Not substantial enough, not tasty enough, and certainly not the way I want to start my day.

But I do have days when I find myself getting into the city early enough – about two hours early – to get a proper breakfast.  You know the sort: the one with the works.

It would be so easy to grab another ‘silog (fried rice and a fried egg plus one’s protein of choice) or pancakes and sausage, but I didn’t feel like any of those.  Instead, I opted for a hefty spread of waffles, beef franks, and a poached egg at The Tea Republic.

Tea infusers and things...

I’ve written about this cosy teashop’s turtle pie and the delicate and soothing peppermint-rose tisane, but I’ve never written about the breakfasts served here despite the fact that they’re among my favorites.

Shown at the top of this post is the shop’s American Breakfast.  It consists of two crisp-edged waffles with a generous chunk of butter and a small dish of maple syrup, one’s choice of coffee or tea, a choice of ham, bacon, or sausage (actually a pair of all-beef frankfurters), and an egg cooked to one’s specifications.

Hot cuppa coffee

I started my meal with the coffee: a rich, fragrant brew with a good balance of bitterness and acidity.  If it’s rather ironic that I had coffee at a teashop, here’s something to think about: Tea Republic also serves wine!  😀  But, again, I digress…

The waffles were quite good and fresh off the griddle.  However, I couldn’t shake off the nagging feeling that they were prepared from a mix as opposed to being made from scratch.  The poached egg was also good, as the white was just solid enough to have bite and the yolk was still nice and molten.  I take issue, however, with the franks: they were tasty, but I think they could have been more flavorful if they came to the table hot instead of tepid!

A good selection of teas

Unlike other tea purveyors, the teas sold at the Tea Republic are loose as opposed to bagged.  Nevertheless, I find them more delicious than those sold in the supermarket: there isn’t any of the odd mustiness you sometimes get from grocery-bought teabags.

The Earl Gray is headier with a wild, citrusy tang from premium bergamot and my favorite peppermint-rose is delicately minty with a gorgeous floral bouquet and a slight tang because of the dried rosehips.  (It also makes a fabulous infusion for truffle-making!)  I’ve been told that the black tea with jasmine is a bestseller, but I’ve yet to try it.

Cushy seats and soft lighting

Satisfied with my meal, I take the last few sips of coffee as I pay the bill and hum to myself as I merge into the milling crowd, and head on over to work.

Mushrooms in the Morning: Now on Muffins

Fried mushrooms on a toasted English muffin

I’ve long been a fan of fried mushrooms for breakfast, but I rarely ever get the chance to cook them either for my family or – on even rarer occasions – myself.

So I guess it was serendipitous that, while doing prep work for the sesame-soy chicken I brought for lunch today, I had the notion of fixing a hot pan of mushrooms.  While we did have a loaf of sliced bread, we also had some English muffins (known to most Pinoys as the bread used to make sausage sandwiches at McDonald’s).  These are lovely when split and toasted (though some may prefer them toasted and split) and thickly buttered (or cream-cheesed).

That in mind, these lovely discs of toasty dough make a wonderful accompaniment to the meaty-tasting fried oyster mushrooms I had for breakfast this morning.  Throw in a creamy cappucino and you’re all set for a lovely morning.  😉

Try them for yourself; you won’t regret it.

Butter-sauteed Mushroom Breakfast Plate

  • 1 cup fresh oyster mushrooms (you can use other types of mushroom, but you’ll have to slice them)
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • dashes of dried marjoram, salt, and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan or Edam cheese
  • 1 English muffin, split and toasted

Place the toasted muffin halves on a plate; set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion and cook till soft.  Add the mushrooms and cook till softened and are beginning to exude some juices.  Season with the marjoram, salt, and pepper.  Remove from heat and heap over the muffin halves.  Sprinkle with grated cheese.  Serve immediately.

Serves 1.  😀

Shanghai Bistro: Rainy-Day Luncheon

Taro Puffs

The thing I like about Shanghai Bistro over at the Paseo Center is that it looks quite elegant, but is actually quite cosy, making it the perfect place to lunch on your lonesome.

Chinese lanterns and old photographs

The primary idea behind this restaurant’s aesthetic is that of the city of Shanghai before either the Second World War or Mao’s Cultural Revolution: elegant, softly lit, and gorgeously carved wooden furniture finished with deep, dark stains.  This aesthetic was supposed to evoke fin de siecle Paris for homesick Continentals who were doing business in China during the period.  The resulting combination of Oriental and Occidental design [and cultural] sensibilities led to Shanghai’s moniker “the Paris of the Far East.”

Waiters bustling about...

Well, I’m not sure about the authenticity of the decor, but it does work in my book.  But decor notwithstanding, let’s talk about the most important aspect of any restaurant: the food.

I started this particular meal with the taro puffs shown at the top of this page.  These are quite delicious: the outside is perfectly crisp and crumbly and doesn’t feel greasy at all.

The insides are beautifully soft, oozy, and mouth-filling: think of the texture of really good peanut butter.  The flavor of the taro was quite pronounced – an earthy, somewhat buttery taste – but did not overwhelm the savory pork-and-shrimp filling.

Compared to other taro puffs I’ve had of late, this is the best so far in terms of appearance, taste, and texture.  So much, as a matter of fact, that it seems a crime to dribble even a bit of the accompanying hoisin sauce over it.

Wonton and Fish Ball Noodle Soup

I was planning to order one of Shanghai Bistro’s rice bowls, but got sidetracked by the noodle offerings on the menu.  That said, I ended up ordering the wonton and fish ball noodle soup.

Alas for me, I was more than a little disappointed.  The thing about a proper bowl of Chinese soup noodles is that it should involve a flavorful broth.  The broth in this case, I am sorry to say, was not flavorful at all.  It was like sipping hot garlicky water faintly redolent with spring onion and ginger.  That is not a good broth, in my honest opinion – especially for a Chinese restaurant!  A proper broth for noodles involves rich chickeny flavors: hints of chicken fat and ginger, perhaps a hint of star anise or Szechuan peppercorn – flavors that were sadly lacking in this case.

The noodles and dumplings were nothing to write home about; indeed you can get a better batch of noodles and dumplings from places like David’s Tea House or Han Pao.  But what saved this bowl from total obscurity were the fish balls.  Unlike the flattish discs sold deep-fried and skewered by street carts, these fish balls are huge clouds of coarsely ground labahita fillet.  They are firm to the bite and have a definite seafood flavor without too much in the way of fishiness.  Seriously, I began to wish I’d ordered the fish balls alone.

 

Hello Pudding!

I ordered the mango pudding [bo din in Cantonese] for afters.  Now, I was expecting a quivering jelly-mold made with pureed mangoes.  Instead, I got a fetchingly, disturbingly cute milk pudding made in a Hello Kitty mold and drizzled with more milk.

What the hey – ?!?

But cuteness aside, this was quite good.  Not quite a traditional mango pudding, but the chewy milk pudding was generously dotted with nubbins of fresh mango.  Custardy, tart, and cool, it was a good way to end the meal.

When all’s been said and done, Shanghai Bistro needs to step up its game in the noodles section of its menu.  Otherwise, it’s still a good place to have lunch when you’re all alone.