In Which One Samples a Spicy Indonesian Coffee…

Tora Bika Ginger Coffee
Tora Bika Ginger Coffee

The addition of spices to coffee is a practice that goes as far back as the very beginnings of the drink itself.  In the Arab nations where coffee-drinking first gained ground, cardamom is added to what is called al-qahwaa thick, rich, bittersweet brew.  Turkish coffee is prepared in a similar fashion, though it does eschew the spices most of the time.  In other parts of the Middle East, cinnamon and/or cloves are sometimes substituted for the cardamom.

In Asia, where more tea is drunk than coffee, the principle of adding spices to one’s brew of choice has led to the creation of chai, that wildly and widely popular milky tea infused with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and pepper.  In Malaysia and Singapore, they have teh tarik halia or simply teh halia which features milk tea livened up with the zingy, restorative taste of root ginger.

And there is jahe susu, an Indonesian coffee beverage that is also livened up with ginger.

Sweet, hot, and spicy...
Sweet, hot, and spicy…

A colleague who recently came back from Indonesia brought back packets of Torabika instant jahe susu for the rest of us.

According to the English section of the manufacturer’s website, Torabika’s ginger brew features a mix of Robusta coffee, full-cream milk, and ginger powder to create a uniquely warming yet revivifying drink.  The fiery taste of the ginger helps to tone down the harsh bitterness characteristic of Robusta coffee and the milk helps to round it all out.  Not many people will appreciate the flavor combination, but if you love spice as much as I do, it’s worth a shot.

I should warn you, however, that it’s a rather strangely-textured drink.  Once you’ve dissolved the mix in hot water, it goes down smoothly at first.  And then, you run into the rather gritty lot of spicy-hot ginger shavings.  It’s also off-putting that, despite all the stirring that you do, there will always be a dark, grainy sludge at the bottom of the cup – evidence that there was just too much ginger or that said ginger wasn’t ground as finely as it should have been.

Nevertheless, if you could just put the textural issues to one side, it’s actually a pleasant way to get your motor up and running.

In Which a Few Tweaks Yield an Amazingly Scrumptious Breakfast Dish…

Just out of the oven and very satisfying!
Just out of the oven and very satisfying!

Recent TVCs for a popular brand of mayonnaise in this part of the world have been touting the use of the creamy condiment in, of all things, scrambled eggs.  As the copy for those ads goes: it makes scrambled eggs lighter, fluffier, and tastier.

My sister is a fan of mayo eggs; she thinks it’s one of the best culinary inventions since the creation of sliced bread.  Me, I’m not really convinced; at least, not for plain scrambled eggs.  In a frittata, however, I’m definitely a convert.

Swapping mayo for half the amount of cream, milk, or creme fraiche called for in a frittata recipe actually adds oomph to the dish.  The eggs set into a texture midway between total solidity and the texture of custard: to compare it to anything would be saying it cooks into a quiche, albeit without a crust.  Eggs prepared and baked this way are tender, toothsome, and almost dangerously moreish.

Also, this particular frittata has the added charm of being flavored with chunks of smoked turkey and a generous amount of processed cheese food (you know: those very pale blocks of pseudo-Cheddar flogged at most supermarkets).  Don’t turn your nose up at the cheese food for this recipe, though.  It adds a slightly sweet and slightly salty creaminess to the dish that makes it so much more appealing than it already is.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this particular frittata was, unlike all its predecessors, gone to the very last morsel by the time breakfast was over.

Smoked Turkey Frittata

  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons whole-egg mayonnaise
  • 1 large red onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coarsely-chopped smoked turkey (or ham, even bacon will do – just use diced picnic bacon if so)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and cut into thick wedges
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cubed
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup processed cheese food or mild Cheddar or Gruyere, grated

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees/Gas Mark 6.

Put the carrot and potatoes into a roasting tin or a large cake tin and toss with the oil until evenly coated.  Roast for 25 minutes.

Whisk together the eggs, mayonnaise, and milk with salt and pepper; set aside.  Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the onions until softened.  Add the turkey and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.

Scatter the turkey mixture evenly over the roasted vegetables; pour over the egg mixture.  Scatter the grated cheese over as evenly as possible.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

In Which One Whips Up a Quirky Take on Surf and Turf…

Believe it or not, this pasta has surf-n-turf...sort of...
Believe it or not, this pasta has surf-n-turf…sort of…

Wikipedia defines  surf and turf as:

…a main course in American cuisine which combines seafood and meat.  It is particularly common in British/Irish-style pubs in North America and North American steakhouses,  The “surf” part can refer to lobsterprawns, or shrimp, which may be grilled or breaded and fried. The “turf” part usually refers to a steak.

But really: it can be any combination of meat and seafood.  Steak and lobster is the combo normally associated with the term, but it could just as easily be pork and shrimp, chicken and scallops, even – in this particular scenario – sausage and fish.

Today’s recipe is another of my “love food, hate waste” experiments in that I used leftover peppered Italian sausage (kind of like pepperoni, but sold in links as opposed to circular slices), a half-cup of cream I had in the fridge, the last of a bottle of red wine, and some mushroom broth (the brine drained from a tin of sliced button mushrooms).  Everything gets cooked down to a lovely sauce with some store-bought tomato sauce and other seasonings – and gets amped up further by a topping of peppered-up cream dory.

Because cream dory is such a mild-tasting fish, its flavor doesn’t overpower that of the sauce the way a stronger-tasting fish would.  In fact, when dusted with pepper and pan-fried till just done, it is the perfect thing with which to top a serving of sauced-up pasta.  You get a delicate, slightly meaty flavor pushed up to the fore by the addition of black pepper nicely complementing the creamy tanginess of the sauce.

Personally, this has to be my favorite spin on the surf-and-turf theme as it is quite elegant and most certainly delicious.

Tomato-Cream Pasta with Peppered Cream Dory

  • 1 250g pack spaghetti prepared according to package instructions, saving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water
  • 1 330ml retort pouch Italian-style tomato spaghetti sauce or same amount of jarred tomato-based pasta sauce
  • 1 cup mushroom broth
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose or single cream
  • 1 cup Italian sausage or pepperoni, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin), halved
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine (for preference, a Spanish or Aussie wine works best)
  • scant 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 beef or pork bouillon cube
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning or a fistful of mixed fresh basil and oregano, finely chopped
  • 1/4 kilo fresh oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium creme dory fillet, cubed
  • salt and pepper

Prepare the pasta according to package instructions.  Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water; set aside.

Season the dory fillet with salt and pepper.  Heat a frying pan over medium heat.  Add half the oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the fish and cook for approximately 2 – 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add the remaining oil.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Add the garlic, cook until the garlic has browned, then add the bouillon cube and the herbs.  Cook the mixture until fragrant, then add the mushrooms.  When the mushrooms have softened, add the sausage and cook for an additional two minutes.  Pour in the mushroom broth, reserved pasta water, spaghetti sauce, and the wine.  Stir well and bring to a boil; taste and check for seasoning.  Reduce the heat and add the sugar and cream, stirring until well-combined and the sugar has dissolved.

Remove the sauce from the heat and toss in the pasta.  Divide the sauced pasta among four plates and top with the peppered dory.

Serves 4.

In Which There is a Bowl of Fruit After the Storm…

Certainly fresh, very fruity, naturally sweet
Certainly fresh, very fruity, naturally sweet

Much as I love cold-weather cooking, now that the sun’s has begun to peek through the clouds, I find myself craving for fresh fruit.

While there are always apples, bananas, and oranges at home, there isn’t much in the way of healthy snacks you can buy at your friendly neighborhood convenience store save for somewhat limp-looking prepackaged salads, tired-looking apple slices (no brown spots, but they’re mealy-textured as opposed to crisp), and grapes just inches away from becoming raisins.  Definitely not something you’d enjoy snacking on for some quick energy.

And then there are the fruit cups from Family Mart.  Reasonably priced between P 49.00 – 55.00 (US$ 1.11 – 1.24), they’re fairly large enough to share with a friend, kept properly refrigerated, and the variety keeps the lot from becoming boring.  Choices include the Triple P (pineapple, pomelo, and papaya), All Melon (muskmelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), and the one shown above, Dragonfruit-Pineapple.

This nifty, three-chambered, clear plastic cup features red and white dragonfruit and pineapple chunks.  I wasn’t expecting much, seeing how this was a convenience store offering.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised: both kinds of dragonfruit were nicely ripe with a proper, somewhat floral fragrance, and the black seeds in both were nicely crunchy, contrasting well with the almost melt-in-your-mouth flesh.  The pineapple was another surprise: most pre-cut pineapple tends to err on the sour side, but this was deliciously sweet, almost honeyed in flavor.  It was certainly a better, healthier choice than another bag of chips or yet another greasy steamed bun.  😉

In Which Roast Chicken Provides More Than Food for the Body…

Roast chicken is the very epitome of comfort food

A roast chicken looks like one of life’s most innocuous pleasures: a Sunday dinner for some, a once-in-a-blue-moon feast for others.  For me, roasting a chicken was a way to stay even marginally sane in the midst of the storm that has rampaged through the northern and central parts f the Philippines for nearly a week.

For most people, the coming of a storm is a cause for worry, even panic.  Such has been the case in the low-lying areas of the Greater Manila Area for decades on end: several regimes have come and gone, generations born and passed on, but floods during the height of the monsoon season remain a critical and, yes, crippling issue in this nation.

The past five days have become the stuff of legend: a lesson for those of us alive now and those who will come after us.  Decades of wholesale misappropriation of public funds, of the people’s taxes have led to flooding virtually everywhere on the big island of Luzon.  Half of Manila and both its northern and suburb satellite cities was underwater, with the Marikina River rising way above the 20-meter mark.  Water has spilled in, crashed in massive waves into public thoroughfares. Schools and offices have been closed since Monday.  Beginning Saturday night, people from places where the floods were knee-high, waist-high, even neck-high ran for cover and are now shivering in the cold, sheltered in public school classrooms.

As grateful as I am for living on higher ground in a house strong enough to stand against the elements, I feel guilty for my good fortune.  Housebound these past three days, rendered immobile so to speak by rain that falls in heavy sheets and the threat of being stranded due to the lack of viable public transportation, I watched the news with dread and horror.  Much as I love cold and stormy weather, nearly a week’s worth of torrential downpours is too much even for me.  I shudder to think of the toll it has taken on local infrastructure, on businesses, and – most especially – on my people.

Much as the act of cooking has saved me from the depths of despair in the past, it saved me from becoming overly depressed by recent circumstances.  The act of preparing a meal for my family enabled me to stay calm, to keep my focus, to keep my chin up.  It enabled me to tell myself “The storm cannot beat us!  The rain can neither quench us nor quell us from doing what needs to be done!”  Cooking has kept me busy and, likewise, kept me from becoming numb and lethargic.

This is a very simple recipe I’ve tweaked off  In the original, chicken marylands – leg and thigh quarters – were used.  I figured there was enough marinade for a 1.5 – 2-kilo chicken and used that.  It is a delicious thing to feed your family on a cold night with a storm raging outside.  At the same time, any leftovers can be used in stir-fries, sandwich fillings, chicken pot pie, salads, and pasta sauces.  Even the carcass can be frozen once you’ve eaten all the meat; you can use it for making stock.  At a time like this, wasting food is an absolute no-no.

Honey Roasted Soy Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, approximately 1.5 to 2 kilos
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey or golden syrup
  • 2 inches fresh ginger-root, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and minced
  • 1 star anise,broken up
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

On a chopping board, put the chicken breast-side-up.  Using a cleaver, split the breastbone and open the chicken, effectively butterfly-cutting it.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large, non-reactive bowl.  Add the chicken, massaging the marinade into the skin and meat.  Leave to marinate for at least two hours, turning several times in the process.

Preheat your oven or Turbo Broiler (tabletop convection oven) to 350 degrees / Mark 4.

Put the chicken skin-side down in a roasting tin (or, if you’re using a Turbo Broiler, skin-side down on the inner rack); reserve the marinade.  Roast for 25 minutes, spooning or brushing on marinade every ten minutes.  After 25 minutes, turn the chicken over and roast an additional 25 minutes, basting occasionally.

Remove the chicken and leave to rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

Serves 6 with leftovers.

Marikina residents fleeing the floods on Tuesday, 20 August 2013. (Photo from “The Philippine Daily Inquirer” – AP/Aaron Favila)

Incidentally…  For those of you who want to help, click here to know more about how you can help in the relief efforts that are currently underway.  For those abroad, donations may be coursed through the Ayala Foundation’s Laging Handa program.  You may also get in touch with The Children’s Hour – Philippines by emailing Patricia Mallari at

For the mobile-savvy, you can also text your donations to the Philippine Red Cross by texting RED<space>AMOUNT to 2899 (Globe) or 4143 (Smart).  You can donate the following amounts in Philippine pesos:

Globe: 5, 25, 100, 300, 500 or 1000
Smart: 10, 25, 50, 100, 300, 500 or 1000