Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

And I’m Back…With a Recipe, Too

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Kangkong and bacon salad

It’s been a very busy three or four months since my last post.

I’ve settled in nicely at my current workplace and have managed well through my first five issues with the magazine.  While there was a rather depressing incident involving the misspelling of someone’s name, it’s been a rather fulfilling and satisfying time.

However, that’s also meant that I haven’t had at all that much time with which to update the blog.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve been too busy to cook.  On the contrary, that’s something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

And so, this salad.  This takes inspiration from the horensou-bacon (sauteed spinach with bacon) I love from Tori Ichi, a yakitori joint over at the new wing of the Festival Supermall. The sublime salty, smoky flavour of the bacon goes down a treat with the spinach; just that and a mound of hot rice is just heavenly.

But since spinach isn’t exactly available all the time here, I’ve used kangkong (swamp cabbage / water spinach) to pretty much make the dish at home.  I must say that it is rather savoury and, yes: it also goes well with hot rice.

Easy Warm Kangkong and Bacon Salad

  • 1 bundle kangkong, stems finely chopped and leaves set aside
  • 6 strips fatty bacon (trust me; you do not want to use the lean kind here), diced
  • 1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the meat has browned a little. Remove the meat from the pan; set aside.

Saute the onion in the drippings until softened; add the garlic and cook till browned a little around the edges.  Add the chopped kangkong stems and cook till crisp-tender, about five minutes.  Add the bacon and cook an additional three minutes or till the bacon is crisp around the edges.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the reserved leaves.  Cover and leave to cook for about two minutes, just enough to wilt the leaves.  Add the balsamic vinegar and toss the kangkong and bacon till well-coated.  Remove from the heat and season to taste.

Serves 4.

 (Oh, and by the way: I’m back and blogging…if a trifle sporadically.)

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, Uncategorized

In Which We Talk About Tenderloin…

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USDA Beef Tenderloin…with all the trimmings

It goes without saying that a good steak is one of the finest dining pleasures in the world.  And by “steak” I mean a prime piece of beef: not pork, not chicken, not fish, and definitely not that horrendous slab of plant-based detritus the vegan terrorists are trying to talk us into eating.  No, a proper, bloody steak.

When cooking at home, the cut of choice is a proper rib-eye: gorgeously marbled, preferably bone-in, meltingly tender, and cooks to a wonted medium in minutes on a very hot grill pan.  When dining out, however, a filet mignon is just the thing to suit beefy cravings when one is feeling indulgent.  And, once in a blue moon when nice dinner invites are accepted, there’s proper tenderloin.

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Come to momma…

A tenderloin is found on the lower back of the animal, usually the portion closest to the kidneys.  In traditional butchering, the cut is further divided into three: the butt end which is shaved for carpaccio, the tail end which is minced fine for steak tartare and beef Stroganoff, and the eye from which the actual steaks are cut.

A tenderloin steak is at its best if cooked rare to medium rare: that way, you get the full impact of the ferrous tang of the meat tempered by the rich, buttery fat.  Any more and you’ve needlessly toughened up the meat.  Also: real gourmets know that a lean tenderloin is a curse against both God and humanity – what the hell is wrong with all those lean meat junkies?!  You need that fat for flavour, for the love of everything holy!

Truth be told, a good tenderloin needs but a good sprinkling of salt, a faint dusting of pepper, and a small knob of butter melting upon its still-steaming, nicely charred surface.  Mashed potatoes are a must, buttered veg is de rigueur.  Truffle butter – or any other flavoured butter – is a matter of personal taste.  But I say: bring it on, et laissez les bon temps rouler.

Oh, and a proper red is just the thing to wash it down.

Posted in Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Well-read Foodie, Uncategorized

In Which One’s Bossam Turned Out Pretty Awesome…

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Pork, soybean paste, ginger, honey…

It all started with a recipe from American Iron Chef Judy Joo featured in an old issue of Where Women Cook Magazine.  The pictures were certainly tempting: a whole slab of roasted pork belly slathered in a rich, thick sauce bundled into an iceberg lettuce leaf with some rice and kimchi.  Mouthwatering would have to be an understatement here.

The dish in question was a roasted pork belly bossam, a modern spin on a traditional Korean specialty.  Bossam (보쌈) is a dish commonly served in autumn, just as families are preparing a fresh batch of kimchi from the year’s vegetable harvest or, as the period is called in Korea, at gimjang time.  It is also a drinking-man’s dish, as it is usually featured as an anju, or one of a set of dishes made to accompany soju or other alcoholic beverages.

In a traditional bossam, a whole slab of pork belly is simmered down with ginger and other spices to remove the gaminess of the meat.  The boiled pork is allowed to cool, then cut into thin slices that could be wrapped with  kimchi and other condiments in a lettuce leaf and eaten like a hand-roll.

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Kimchi, pork belly, and rice with furikake

Judy Joo’s spin on the dish is twice-cooked: the pork boiled till super-tender in a miso and garlic broth, then slathered with a second miso paste – this time with ginger and honey – before roasting.  The end result is a meltingly tender slab of pork with a subtle, nutty taste of soybeans and a hint of spice.

When I decided to cook the dish recently, I realized that I would do well to grab a tub of doenjang or Korean soybean paste (Korean miso, if you will).  Doenjang has a coarser texture than the more common white and red Japanese soybean pastes with nubbins of crushed soybean that impart an almost peanutty nuance.  Here, it is used to season the pork in two ways: first as the base of the simmering solution, then as part of the marinade rubbed onto the meat before the second phase of cooking.

One thing I had to change was the cut of meat.  I still used pork belly, but – as seen here – I had to use pork belly ribs as these were what I had on hand at the time.  Also, I didn’t bother roasting: we found that grilling the pork on a smoking-hot grill pan with some dark sesame oil works just fine.

The result: very tender pork that falls apart as you prod it with a fork with a subtly sweet and nutty taste and aroma that goes very well with spicy kimchi and just-cooked rice.

Grilled Pork Belly Bossam

  • 1-1/2 kilos pork belly ribs
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

For the broth:

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 inch of ginger, sliced but unpeeled
  • 1 onion, cut into eighths

For the grill rub:

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon kochujang or sriracha hot sauce

Place the pork and the broth ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  Allow the pork and broth to cool completely.  Remove the pork and reserve the broth for other dishes.

Combine all the ingredients for the rub and smear generously over the pork.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight to improve the flavor.

Heat the sesame oil in a grill pan over medium heat.  Add the marinated pork and cook for about 10 minutes, turning at the halfway mark.  Serve with rice and kimchi.

Serves 6.

Posted in Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment, The Grocery Shop-a-holic

In Which a Refreshing Drink Can Help Ward Off Colds (and Other Nasty Infections)…

Sweet and Spicy
Sweet and Spicy

Practically everyone here in my neck of the woods has been coughing or sneezing of late.  The weather is strange: blisteringly hot at noon, bone-chillingly cold at night.  Pollution is at an all-time high, especially on traffic-strapped streets in the big city.  Throw in long hours languishing in the said traffic in a bus packed like sardines with people of varying states of health, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Keeping this state of things in mind, there is a need to amp up the Vitamin C in one’s system to scare off any bacteria or viruses nasty enough to try and take up residence in one’s body.  Oranges, in particular, are plentiful at the moment and are one of the most delicious ways by which to give your immunity a boost.  From domestically-grown green dalandans and their bigger cousins the sintunes to sweetly juicy ponkan mandarins and clementines to the hard-to-peel but honeyed Valencias, they are quite a healthy treat.

Dive into blue
Dive into blue

Ginger is another good, natural restorative and preventive.  Typically prescribed for sore throats, ginger also works wonders for upset stomachs and jumpy nerves.  Likewise, throw in a superfood like acai berries into the mix and you have something that can certainly keep even the most virulent infections at bay.

One tip, though: don’t use standard commercial ginger ale in this.  A pure infusion of ginger or, as in this case, a ginger, lemon, and honey blend can give you more of the health-giving benefits.  Most commercial ginger sodas are, alas, nigh on useless as they are mostly 60 – 70% sugar than actual ginger extract.

Ginger Blue

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons acai or acai-blueberry concentrate
  • 1 slice lemon
  • juice from 1 ponkan mandarin or clementine
  • 3/4 cup ginger infusion or Ginger Soother from The Ginger People
  • ice

In a large mug, pour in the water and muddle the lemon slice to release the juice.  Mix in the acai concentrate and the mandarin juice; stir till well-combined.  Add 3 – 4 ice cubes and top up with the ginger infusion.  Mix well; serve immediately.

Serves 1.

Posted in Sweets for the Sweet, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Joy of Snacks

In Which There are Korean Rice Sweets to Usher in the Lunar New Year…

Baram tteok
Baram tteok

With the Lunar New Year coming up, supermarkets here in the Philippines are all stocking up on tikoy – large translucent discs of steamed glutinous rice dough that are usually sliced up, dipped in egg wash, deep-fried, and eaten for breakfast.  Practically the same thing as Japanese mochitikoy is supposed to symbolise good fortune and prosperity for the coming year.

Unfortunately, as a food, it isn’t very exciting.  Even the kind flavoured with ube (purple yam) and pandan (screwpine) tend to be bland and just faintly sweet.  Again: not a very exciting thing to eat and bother the fact that it represents good fortune and wealth.

For those of us who are just so done with tikoy, Korean grocers here in the Philippines offer several interesting variations on the classic glutinous rice cake.  Baram tteok, shown at the top of this post, is one of them.

These are half-moons made by folding discs of steamed glutinous rice dough over a mildly sweet, slightly nutty-tasting red bean [adzuki] paste (an in Japanese).  The pink ones are tinted with food colouring, but the dark green ones in the bottom row are flavoured with green tea or a blend of edible herbs.  The resulting deep-green cakes have an exterior whose flavour has a pleasant bitterness that is balanced by the bean paste within.

Kyeottok
Kyeotteok

For those of you wanting something chunkier and more substantial to sink your teeth into, kyeotteok may grab your fancy.

These are slabs of steamed glutinous rice dough over which a sumptuous, lightly sweetened topping is scattered.  The mixture scattered over kyeotteok can be a simple mix of sweetened beans and nuts; more elaborate confections may also include jujubes and oriental dates, perhaps some shreds of dried peach or apricot and diced dried persimmon for a honeyed sweetness.  The resulting cake is then sliced into more manageable slabs for serving.

May I just say that both are particularly comforting and satisfying when eaten with a good cup of green or jasmine tea,  or perhaps a mug of bittersweet and citrusy yujacha.  Whichever you prefer, these Korean rice cakes make an interesting alternative to a traditional Oriental sweet.

Incidentally…  For those who want to try these Korean desserts, I bought them over at Sun-Han Korean Mart on the Ground Floor of Fort Palm Spring, 1st Ave. corner 30th St., Upper West Side, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.  The baram tteok goes for P 100.00 for a tray of nine pieces; the kyeotteok is P 25.00 for a tray of four slabs.

Posted in The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Joy of Snacks

In Which Corn Snacks Take on the Flavour of Honey Butter…

It says salted butter and honey on the label; sign me up!
It says honey butter on the label; sign me up!

The combination of butter and honey is something I find irresistibly appealing.  It’s the sort of flavour combination I enjoy when it soaks into fluffy golden breakfast pancakes, when it melts within a hot, split pan de sal or a toasted English muffin.  I’ll even go out on a limb and say it also works on a hot croissant.  (Butter on butter?  Yes, please!)  So when I saw these honey-butter flavoured Kko Kkal Corn snacks from Korea’s Lotte, I just had to grab a bag.

The honey butter Kko KKal Corn is actually just one of a number of snacks introduced to the Korean market earlier this year, hot on the heels of the honey butter craze that swept that part of the world.  I mean, really: everything in the SoKor snack market seemed to smack of honey butter: potato crisps, French fries, crackers, puff pastry leaf pies – name it and it came in golden yellow packaging that released a puff of a honey-ish aroma once opened.

Not much to look at, but these are delish...
Not much to look at, but these are delish…

If you love the taste of salted butter caramel, you’ll love these.  These aren’t much to look at, but they are deliciously addictive.  Not too sweet, just enough salt to grab your palate; crunchy and totally noshable.  If you’re a popcorn junkie like I am, this will remind you of sweet-salty kettle-popped corn.  Definitely a snack to consider the next time you go to the movies – or just about anytime.  🙂

Posted in Liquid Refreshment, The Grocery Shop-a-holic

In Which There is Chocolate Milk – for Grownups…

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Anyone up for chocolate milk?

A few months ago, a friend who relocated to New Zealand made the whole boiling lot of us green with envy when she posted pictures of herself drinking Whittaker’s Chocolate Milk.  “The nectar of the gods,” she called it.  “Pure, glorious gluttony in a bottle.”

“We need to get our grubby little paws on that stuff,” I declared to another chocoholic friend.

“But how?” she exclaimed back.  “I don’t think anyone imports the stuff to the Philippines!”

Well, there you go.  But, hey: all good things come to those who wait.  Sure enough, even if the folks at Whittaker’s still haven’t caught on to the massive craving for chocolate milk in this part of the world, someone else managed to beat them to the punch: Cocio.

Cocio is a Danish dairy brand that does chocolate milk in two ways: classic and dark.  A company that believes in the purity and quality of their ingredients, they make it a point to state rather succinctly that all you get in the bottle is cocoa, milk, and sugar – and believe me when I say that is is never as sweet as the more popular commercial brands here in the Philippines.

This is anything but your average, garden variety “chocolate” milk.  Think of a just-made ganache, only thinner, drinkable but every bit as rich as the kind you use for fondue or for frosting decadent chocolate cakes.  The dark variant, in particular, has the wonted bittersweetness of very good chocolate; a 60% or 65% cocoa solids mix, I daresay.  Frankly speaking, it tastes like proper chocolate truffles: a hint of smokiness overlaying the interplay of bitter and sweet.  Oh, so good…

At P 75.00 per bottle, though, it isn’t exactly something you’d drink everyday even for the sake of all that calcium in the fresh Danish milk.  (And, oh,  the calories; goodbye, waistline!)  But it’s the sort of thing you need for cheering up and indulging yourself: a taste of childhood all grown up.  😉