In Which One Brings Pasta to a Potluck…

With dishes like these, who WOULDN'T love Potluck Friday?

With dishes like these, who WOULDN’T love Potluck Friday?

Where I work nowadays, we have a tradition known simply as Potluck Friday.  This means that lunch on the last Friday of the month is a communal thing as opposed to the individual lunches we usually grab everyday.  On Potluck Friday, there is food to share and there is a certain level of one-up-manship among those of us who cook.

My contribution for this month is a dinky little number that involves a few things you can hunt down at your local grocery and a few pantry staples.  It’s a pasta dish that plays up the classic flavours of bangus ala pobre (milkfish cooked with butter, garlic, and pepper) and adds them to standard-issue spaghetti, turning it into a regular feast to be shared among friends.  This dish has a bit of eggplant for a soft smokiness and a bit of spicy chorizo de Bilbao for warmth and zing.

For all of you kitchen habitues or even you kitchen-phobes, it’s a spot-on easy dish to make.  All it takes is a little effort: chopping, sautéing, and boiling up the pasta.  Try it for yourself; I’m pretty sure you and those you cook it for will be quite pleased.  😉

Pasta ala Pobre

  • 250 grams spaghetti prepared according to package instructions, reserving 2 tablespoons of cooking water
  • 150 grams bangus sisig or Spanish-style sardines
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 fish bouillon cube
  • chorizo de Bilbao, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger vodka or white wine
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or aged Edam cheese
  • wakame or nori furikake to garnish

Boil up the spaghetti till just al dente; drain, reserving two tablespoons of the cooking water.

Over medium heat, warm up the oil and butter till the butter has melted and begun to brown at the edges.  Add the onion and cook till softened.  Add the garlic and cook just till the edges begin to brown and crisp up.  Add the chorizo, diced eggplant, herbs, and bouillon cube; cook for about two minutes or till the bouillon cube has dissolved.

Add the sisig or sardines and cook for a few minutes.  Pour in the reserved pasta cooking water and vodka or white wine.  Stir and allow to boil for about two minutes.  Remove from the heat and toss in the cooked pasta.

Transfer to a serving plate and top with the cheese and the furikake.

Serves 6.

In Which the Coffee Helped Put the Blogger to Sleep…

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Coffee that’s supposed to help me relax?!?

Coffee is not exactly the best nostrum to use for getting to sleep.  On the contrary, it’s the sort of pick-me-up people drink to stay awake.  However, as there is an exception to every rule, there actually is a brand of iced coffee that can help you chill out.

RealBeanz, a Brooklyn, NY-based brewer, offers one such ready-to-drink coffee.  RealBeanz’s Relax is a decaffeinated brew mixed with milk and a touch of Madagascan vanilla to make a delightful, not too sweet sipper that goes down smoothly.  And, more than that…

What have they put into my coffee?!

What have they put into my coffee?!

…this particular drink is compounded with several herbs that have long been known in the practice of both aromatherapy and homeopathy to help lull the mind and body into a state of repose and relaxation.

Chamomile, in particular, helps alleviate the effects of stress and eases anxiety.  Lemon balm helps relax the drinker’s mental state and calms the psyche.  And there is a tinge of passion flower to help relax tense muscles.  So, you see, it’s the sort of coffee you can chug down at the end of the day – and still be able to grab forty, well-earned winks.

(Note: I found RealBeanz iced coffee in the chilled drinks section of Shopwise Supermarket in Alabang.  All variants are priced at P 117.00 per bottle.)

 

In Which We Talk About Binatog

Binatog for a lazy afternoon...

Binatog for a lazy afternoon…

The clang of a bell in the mid-afternoon is considered a herald of light yet satisfying eating in many residential districts throughout the Philippines.  An ambulant vendor on a bicycle cheerfully rings his bell between two and four in the afternoon – a sure sign that there is binatog on offer for hungry souls seeking something heavier than crisps but not as hefty as rice cakes.

Binatog is one of the simplest dishes in Philippine cuisine.  It is, basically, starchy white corn soaked in salt-water until the innards get all puffy.  The soaked corn is then drained and boiled in fresh water just until the skins on the kernels are beginning to slip off.  The cooked corn is then drained thoroughly and stored by vendors in a large, cylindrical container made of stainless steel.  Several smaller containers are attached nearby, each containing such accoutrements as freshly grated coconut, salt, and sugar.

A bowlful of binatog will set a diner back P 10.00 (about US$ 0.22), though individual diners have to provide their own crockery as there is no room on the vendor’s bike for even the flimsiest of paper plates or cups.  It is a deeply satisfying snack: the bland corn gains savour from the addition of salt (we never ask for sugar when we buy binatog) and there is a muted sweetness from the coconut.  It is, to me, the taste of summers past; it is a taste of my childhood.

In Which One Tries Her Hand at Home-smoking Pork…

Pork soaking in the curing solution

Pork soaking in the curing solution

I’ve noticed that there is so much media focus centred on bacon – bacon, of all things!  Those salty, smoky rashers and slabs of pork belly that are part and parcel of a good, lip-smacking breakfast and are also key to adding flavour and savour to dishes like pasta carbonara or sautéed broccoli or creamed peas.  Much of the bacon eaten here in the Philippines is supermarket bacon – either Purefoods-Hormel or Swift or CDO.  There are some who go out of their way to hunt down artisanal bacon from prominent delis or particularly clever entrepreneurs, buying sticks of picnic-style bacon, smoked pork loin, or gammon.

Believe it or not, there is actually a way by which home cooks can add smoky goodness to their favourite meat dishes.  This is what is known as tea-smoking.

Tea-smoked Pork Belly

Tea-smoked Pork Belly

Here, the pork is first soaked in a sugar-sweetened marinade for at least four hours before being roasted over a mixture of black tea and brown sugar.  It’s an absolutely easy thing to do and the results are totally delicious.

I should note, however, that I made this in a turbo broiler (multifunctional convection oven), as it keeps the smoke in and cooks the meat to perfection.  I’m still working out how to do this in a regular oven.

It may not be exactly like bacon, but it delivers on smoky goodness.  It’s a treat with mashed potatoes, but also works well when tossed into hot pasta or served with fried or poached eggs for breakfast.

Tea-smoked Pork Belly

  • 1 kilo pork belly

For the Cure:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ginger wine or ginger ale
  • 2 star anise, broken
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

For Smoking:

  • 5 teabags black tea (Lipton is what I used)
  • 5 additional teabags of whichever flavour of tea of choice (I prefer a mix of raspberry white tea and Earl Grey for a slightly fruity tang)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Combine the ingredients for the cure and pour over the pork belly.  Allow to marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Place the ingredients for smoking in a disposable aluminium dish and place at the bottom of the turbo broiler.  Set the roasting rack over the aluminium dish.  Switch on the broiler and set to 350 degrees; leave on for 15 – 20 minutes to torch the tea mixture to smoking point.

Place the pork belly directly on the roasting rack.  Cook for 20 minutes, then turn over and cook for an additional 20 minutes.  Switch off the broiler but do not as yet remove the pork.  Leave it in there to absorb the smoke and develop flavour.

When the broiler has cooled completely, remove the pork and slice thinly.  Serve at once.

Serves 6.

In Which There is a Different Sort of Citrus Beverage from a Jam Jar…

Yuja-cha

Yuja-cha

Yes, I know it looks rather like marmalade – specifically one made with bitter-tart Seville oranges – but here’s the kicker: this stuff is actually a fruit tea!  It’s a mad notion, I know, but this 600-gram jam jar contains enough citron tea to stave off colds and soothe sore throats for the coming cold season.

This is yuja-cha.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a type of Korean marmalade specifically created not for slathering on bread or scones but more for dissolving in hot water to make a warming, soothing, rejuvenating drink in chilly weather.  It is part of a long Oriental tradition of steeping preserved fruit, flowers, and herbs in hot water to make beverages that are both refreshing and healthful.

To be quite specific about it, yuja-cha is the name given to the prepared drink.  The marmalade itself is referred to as yujacheong or yuzu (citron) paste.  Yujacheong is prepared by first washing bright yellow (ripe or slightly underripe) citrons in salt water, then drying them up.  The dried citrons are, then, finely sliced and marinated in dark honey or a heavy sugar syrup for a few days until the paste is ready to use.

One takes a heaping tablespoon of yujacheong and dissolves it in a mug of hot water.  The fragrant steam helps to clear congested sinuses, the honey calms down ragingly sore throats, and the tangy citron provides plenty of vitamin C to stave off nasty viruses.

Saveur Magazine featured yujacha in its 2014 Saveur 100 list of the best things to eat, drink, and read, citing it for its lovely citrus taste and warming qualities.  Interestingly, it also works well when prepared like lemonade: a tablespoon dissolved in a tablespoon of hot water and topped up with chilled water – still or sparkling – over ice works wonders on hot days.

If you’re lucky enough to grab a jar of yujacheong (and if you live or work in the Bonifacio Global City, the many Oriental groceries keep it in stock for P 280.00 per 600-gram jar), you might also try my spin on the classic Dark and Stormy cocktail as a refreshing sipper with plenty of sassy, bittersweet, tart bite.

Seoul Stormcloud

  • 1 generous tablespoon yujacheong
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 shot dark rum
  • ginger ale
  • ice

Dissolve the yujacheong in hot water; allow to steep for a few minutes.  Add the rum and pour over ice in a tall glass; top up with the ginger ale.  Muddle with a swizzle stick; serve immediately.

Serves 1.