Monday, December 5, 2011

Still Thankful But... Can I Rant?

Thanksgiving is not normally celebrated in my country, the Philippines.  But recently, maybe because of the internet and various social networking sites, the practice of celebrating an actual day for giving thanks is kinda getting on. I mean, why the hell shouldn't it?  Certainly, we must have something to be thankful for in our lives no matter how big or small it may be.  There is also no Thanksgiving holiday in Manila but in our home, we cook something a little more special for Thanksgiving.  Last year's was Roasted Cornish Hens and Fried Mac and Cheese and my Fudge Brownies.  This year, I wasn't even home as I was with my family in Philadelphia where we feasted on an American-Vietnamese spread. The shrimp dish in this lunchbox came from a recipe from that menu which I promised to make for him.

Speaking of giving thanks, my boy and I get into this talk every time he rants or complains about mundane things such as a game not loading fast enough, the internet being too slow, some game he played not being entertaining enough, his team mates in Warcraft or whatever on earth it is called ganged up on him, etc. etc.  I'm telling you, if there's a ranting contest out there, I'm going to be first in line to register my boy because I am sure that we will win.  Times like these, I reply by listing down all the blessings he has received in the year alone and I get this look--this "you're making me feel bad about myself" look like I had to make him feel guilty because he's so blessed.  Which is so beside the point.  I don't know what to do.  Maybe being thankful for a life such as his is a view beyond the grasp of a 13 year-old boy (he's turning 14 this weekend).  I mean he is thankful on a daily basis for the food I make for him and for little things.***sighs***

I'm telling you, the most difficult thing to become is not becoming a doctor, or a lawyer, or a rocket scientist.  The most difficult thing to become is becoming a parent.  It is of course the most fulfilling too, but dang...It's tough!  Now let me rant about that...

Today's lunchbox:  Crispy Fried Shrimp with Onions and Peppers (I have no name for this, can you see?), Steamed Rice

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And We're Back...

After a two week absence, we are finally back.  And today, I am happy to post something from my recent trip to visit my family in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. The two weeks I spent there enriched me in so many, many ways which does not exclude extra poundage thereby giving me an extra difficult time getting into my jeans these days.  And that my friends, is by no means, a bad thing.  Not if you've been fed as well as I've been.  It was a culinary, cultural and emotional trip like no other.  Definitely one for the books!  :-)

Let's begin the culinary annotations with the Di Bruno Brothers (since the contents of today's lunchbox came from this wonderful haven for foodies like you and me).  My sister, Christina, took me to this  top culinary spot in Philly and I am certain that this will be one of the most vivid memories I shall keep in my entire life.  The look, smell and feel of the store will forever be etched in my mind.  You see it sits right in the middle of Philly's Little Italy and has been there since 1939.  It was set up by, well, the Di Bruno brothers initially as a grocery and has since evolved to the epicurean destination that it is now.  It is a primarily a cheese store but not devoid of specialty cured meats that I formerly only dreamed about.  Being inside the store is, well, what does a food lover do inside an artisanal food store?  Go crazy of course.  

For today, I made use of  Guanciale which is actually cured pork drawn from the jowls of the pig.  Mario Batali mentions this too often and I finally got hold of some after years of just imagining what gustatory nirvana it held secret within its layers of fat and meat.  And  I just have to say that it was truly worth the wait.  Now, I'd been cursed with the Guanciale madness as I wonder how to replicate the experience when we run out of this unforgivably sinful meat.

And then I brought home some Burrata, a creamy version of mozzarella di buffala filled with a ricotta-ish filling made fresh daily at Di Bruno Brothers.  I'd been forewarned that the cheese is best eaten the day it's made, but what the heck?  I wanted to have this cheese with my boy and even after a day of traveling, the boy and I, cried oohs and aahs as we sank our teeth on some bruschetta I made with it.

I have often wondered what I have ever done to deserve such a trip.  Was I good?  Have I been doing things correctly?  Have I paid for my sins?  Have I done enough?  But whatever it was that I did to deserve such gifts of travel and food, I am thankful beyond words.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be with my brothers, sister and family out there in Philly--to be able eat wonderfully diverse food and drink beautiful wine, to share our stories from the last decade of our lives, to laugh about our foolishness, to cry about our past loves.  But most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to tighten the bonds of family with a love that I know will grow more and more in the succeeding years of our lives.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Today's lunchbox:  Pasta Carbonara with Guanciale, Bruschetta with Burrata, Passata and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Japanese Bento for the Nth Time

Last night, at around 10 PM, I had a sudden anxiety attack as the thought of how long I will be gone finally kicked in.  Mixed with my claustrophobic tendencies, vivid imagination and having accidentally seen an episode of Air Crash Investigations in Discovery Channel--things became a wee bit out of hand that I had to jump out of bed to catch my breath and calm my nerves.  I tried to go online but it didn't quite work so I did the thing I should've done in the first place, nope, I didn't pack.  I planned this lunchbox and the menu for the entire time I won't be home.  And so today, I have a million things to buy and a ton of things to do.

Today's lunchbox: Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), Shrimp Teppanyaki, Rice Balls rolled in Furikake, Oreos

See you when I get back!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Another Quick Post

Another quick post today.  

I am busy preparing for the longest trip I would have taken away from my two kids.  I am excited, antsy, eager, worried and plenty confused with the tug of war of emotions in my heart.  I convince myself on a daily basis that when I return, I will be an even better Mom, cook, friend, boss, sister and daughter.  And no I'm not going to visit the Dalai Lama.  It's a journey for seeing, learning and tasting more out of life, not that what I've seen, learned and tasted isn't good because truth be told--I'm good.  I've said before that I am fortunate to have everything I need and desire within the distance of my arms opened wide-- that I only have to light my stove to eat something that can nourish our souls.  That I can only reach out to have in my embrace the true loves of my life.  That I only have to close my eyes and feel small against the will of God.  All these remain to be true in my life and I am deeply and truly thankful for it.  But I must have done something good to deserve a ticket to see even more.  I promise to bring home more flavors, more textures, more color and depth to an already colorful and meaningful life.

Thank you God.  Thank you Universe.

Today's lunchbox:  Roasted Chicken scented with Oregano, Rosemary and Lemon Myrtle, Pearl Barley Rissotto with Mushrooms. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Out of Africa and Into The Kitchen

Quick post today as I need to be in 4 places at one time.  Tell you more about it next week.  

Today's lunchbox: Chermoula Spiced Grilled Chicken and Steamed Rice

Catch you later!  :-)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back To The Islands

I am expecting visitors (one of my favorite couples) for breakfast today and they will be arriving in an hour or so.  In short, today's lunchbox is also today's breakfast fare:  my new and more Filipino Honey-Garlic Ribeye Tapa (not too sweet) and the lowly Galunggong (round scad) filleted and marinated in a vulgar amount of garlic and olive oil ala Sentro.

For my guests though, I am also setting up an Eggs Benedict station where they can put on spinach, cheese, etc. on top of their poached egg before spooning on some Hollandaise which I prepared in advance as I am using the stabilized version (aka cheater's Hollandaise).  In case you don't know how to that, I shall be posting the recipe here.

I have to go now. Bon jour, good morning and most of all Magandang Umaga! :-)

Today's lunchbox:  My Honey-Garlic Ribeye Tapa, Garlic Galunggong

Cheater's Hollandaise (adapted from Secrets of Great French Restaurants by Louissete Bertholle)

3 Tablespoons Milk
1 Teaspoon Cornstarch
3 Egg yolks
150 grams unsalted butter (a little bit over half a stick of butter)
lemon juice from half a lemon (more if you like)
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put together milk, cornstarch, egg yolks, 25 grams of the butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  2. Stir continuously on top of a double boiler.  When incorporated, add the remainder of the butter bit by bit (cut it into cubes before hand).
  3. Et voila--Hollandaise that won't separate and can be reheated gently before your guests arrive.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Spanish Excursion

Today we decided to extend our little sunny vacation by visiting an equally sunny and beautiful place we vow to see one day: Spain.  In my mind it is a country filled with places as beautiful, as colorful, as magical and as memorable as Seńor Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo.  That book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a book to be read in silence because the names alone as the generations of characters went on and on repeated so much that that I would find myself repeating pages just to remember which character was doing what.  But Marquez is indeed one of the greatest storytellers I've ever read much like J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling in that I am able to travel through all of time and space to experience great emotions I would have never have known living a pretty regular life.  I mean I would have loved to have an axe-yielding dwarf best friend named Gimli but that's not going to happen anytime soon. I think this travel in time is what motivates me most in reading.  And in making these lunchboxes.  I am able to take my boy to places we haven't seen and make him look forward to one day being there, sitting on a table, having a laugh and eating some soul-cradling food.

So we travel through this lunchbox as often as we possibly can, going to places familiar and strange.  Sailing seas both calm and stormy much like our journeys as mother and son.  There are good days and there are better days.  Today was a good day.  Spain did us good and I think today's dishes captured the most memorable facets of this country in manner of flavor and hue as can very well see. But.  I could also be wrong--we haven't actually been there.  Yet. :-)

Today's lunchbox:  Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimps), Left-over Arroz Negro (Rice with Squid and Squid Ink) from yesterday's lunch

Thursday, November 3, 2011

From Boracay and Back

I have not seen too many beaches in my life.  But still, I would bet that Boracay, can give the best of them a run for their money. For example, Maldives, though beautiful and rich in terms of marine life can not rival the fineness of the sands of our beloved island.  We just love it. You can walk on the beach from sun up til sun down and not feel the burn on the soles of your feet.  The burn on your back--that's another thing.  

Incidentally, the boy did get burnt because he wouldn't let me put sunblock on his back.  Apparently he is "too old" for such shenanigans and insisted that he do it on his own.  Of course, he did it haphazardly that on the last evening of our stay, he fell asleep in the middle of a sunburn rant without any shirt on.  Moral of the story:  listen to your mother, she's been burnt before.  :-)

Today's lunchbox is a repeat performance, a dish called Bicol Express.  I had earlier posted this dish making use of bacon-cut pork belly (See the post Kain Na-  For today however, I used pork belly too but cut it in chunks after deep-frying and rendering its fat. Bicol is the southernmost province in the island of Luzon here in the Philippines.  It is most famous for dishes made with coconut cream and a hefty serving of chili.  In fact, the Bicol Express is a stew of chilis in coconut cream with some pork bits (may actually be omitted).  But, the boy can't have that much chili and so I adjusted it to suit his taste which could only mean one thing--more meat!  (Sorry vegan friends for ruining a perfectly vegan treat.)

Today's lunchbox:  Crispy Pork Belly Bicol Express (sauce on the side), Steamed Rice
I shall share the recipe here for you to try.  

Crispy Pork Belly Bicol Express 

1 Kilo Pork Belly
Salt, Pepper
1 whole onion, peeled
1 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices ginger
2 birds eye chili
2 green finger chili
2 slices turmeric (or 1/2 teaspoon turmeric  powder)
1/2 cup stock (chicken, pork or beef)
1 cup coconut cream 

  1. Boil pork belly in water with the whole onion.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  When fork tender, meaning you can poke the meat with a fork easily, drain and store in a cool place to dry thoroughly.  You can put it in the refrigerator and store uncovered for the skin to dehydrate more.  The longer you dry it, the crispier the skin.
  2. Deep-fry covered until golden and the skin is so crispy you can tap on it and hear a distinctive "tok-tok" crackling sound.  Set aside.
  3. To make the sauce, saute onion, garlic, ginger, chilis, turmeric until the entire kitchen is fragrant with their union. Add in stock, reduce a bit and throw in the coconut cream.
And that is how Bicol Express is cooked in my kitchen.  Enjoy!  :-)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lebanese Delight and a Daring Baker Challenge

Yesterday was a not so stressful Thursday because my little girl (the one I have to rush back to and bring to her school after bringing her brother to his school) is now on a break  and so are most of the schools here in Manila.  So there wasn't any traffic yesterday.  However, I failed to post this because the boy brought the camera with him and I was too tired to write about it last night.  

This is actually a repeat lunch of Shish Tawook (recipe from Taste of Beirut).  We used chicken leg quarters instead of thigh fillets though and when the boy went home, he complained that I didn't pack enough food for him.  I'm telling you, the boy is growing and shooting up so fast and eating like a full-grown bear now. 

Yesterday's lunch:  Shish Tawook and Turmeric Rice

Povitica--Daring Bakers Challenge for October
I would also like to share in this post my completed project for the latest Daring Bakers challenge which I joined.  This is actually my second project, the first one being croissants.  I joined the sight to flex my baking muscles which have been unused for a bit.  The past couple of months though, I went (still am going through) some sort of baking mania which is good so as not to forget the skills.

This month's challenge is an Eastern European bread called Povitica--something which I have heard of only the day the challenge was posted.  It is a delicious bread filled with a nutty-syrupy filling that fills the entire house with a perfume that makes people say (while drooling)..."What are you making?"  

The Daring Bakers forum helps me challenge myself in learning new things and adapting new skills to use both in my personal and business endeavors.  If you are an avid baker such as myself, you ought to join.  Keeps your baking neurons young!  

Here is the recipe of Povitica from the host of October's challenge, Jenni of the Gingered Whisk:

To activate the Yeast:
2 Teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) Sugar
1 Teaspoon (5 ml/3 gm) All-Purpose (Plain) Flour
½ Cup (120ml) Warm Water
2 Tablespoons (30ml/14 gm/½ oz/2 sachets) Dry Yeast

2 Cups (480ml) Whole Milk
¾ Cup (180 ml/170gm/6 oz) Sugar
3 Teaspoons (15 ml/18 gm/2/3 oz) Table Salt
4 Large Eggs
½ Cup (120ml/115 gm/one stick/4 oz) Unsalted Butter, melted
8 cups (1.92 l/1.12 kg/39½ oz/2½ lb) All-Purpose Flour, measure first then sift, divided

Walnut Filling:
7 Cups (1.68 l/1.12 kg/2.5 lbs) Ground English Walnuts
1 Cup (240ml) Whole Milk
1 Cup (240ml/225 gm/2 sticks/8 oz) Unsalted Butter
2 Whole Eggs, Beaten
1 Teaspoon (5ml) Pure Vanilla Extract
2 Cups (480ml/450 gm/16 oz) Sugar
1 Teaspoon (5 ml/4 gm) Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon (5 ml/3 gm) Cinnamon

2 Tablespoons (30 ml/28 gm/1 oz) Granulated Sugar
Melted Butter

To Activate Yeast:
  1. In a small bowl, stir 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon flour, and the yeast into ½ cup warm water and cover with plastic wrap.
    2. Allow to stand for 5 minutes

To Make the Dough:
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk up to just below boiling (about 180°F/82°C), stirring constantly so that a film does not form on the top of the milk. You want it hot enough to scald you, but not boiling. Allow to cool slightly, until it is about 110°F/43°C. 
  2. In a large bowl, mix the scalded milk, ¾ cup (180 gm/170 gm/6 oz) sugar, and the salt until combined.
  3. Add the beaten eggs, yeast mixture, melted butter, and 2 cups (480 ml/280 gm/10 oz) of flour. 
  4. Blend thoroughly and slowly add remaining flour, mixing well until the dough starts to clean the bowl.
  5. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and does not stick. Note: I did not use all 8 cups of flour
  6. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (they will each weight about 1.25 pounds/565 grams)
  7. Place dough in 4 lightly oiled bowls, cover loosely with a layer of plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel and let rise an hour and a half in a warm place, until doubled in size.
To Make the Filling
  1. In a large bowl mix together the ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa.
  2. Heat the milk and butter to boiling.
  3. Pour the liquid over the nut/sugar mixture.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
  5. Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to be spread on the dough.
  6. If the mixture thickens, add a small amount of warm milk.
To Roll and Assemble the Dough:
  1. Spread a clean sheet or cloth over your entire table so that it is covered.
  2. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons to a handful of flour (use flour sparingly)
  3. Place the dough on the sheet and roll the dough out with a rolling pin, starting in the middle and working your way out, until it measures roughly 10-12 inches (25½ cm by 30½ cm) in diameter.
  4. Spoon 1 to 1.5 teaspoons (5ml to 7 ½ ml/4 gm to 7 gm) of melted butter on top.
  5. Using the tops of your hands, stretch dough out from the center until the dough is thin and uniformly opaque. You can also use your rolling pin, if you prefer.
  6. As you work, continually pick up the dough from the table, not only to help in stretching it out, but also to make sure that it isn’t sticking.
  7. When you think it the dough is thin enough, try to get it a little thinner. It should be so thin that you can see the color and perhaps the pattern of the sheet underneath.
  8. Spoon filling (see below for recipe) evenly over dough until covered. 
  9. Lift the edge of the cloth and gently roll the dough like a jelly roll.
  10. Once the dough is rolled up into a rope, gently lift it up and place it into a greased loaf pan in the shape of a “U”, with the ends meeting in the middle. You want to coil the dough around itself, as this will give the dough its characteristic look when sliced.
  11. Repeat with remaining three loaves, coiling each rope of dough in its own loaf pan.
  12. Brush the top of each loaf with a mixture of ½ cup (120 ml) of cold STRONG coffee and 2 tablespoons (30ml/28 gm/1 oz) of sugar. If you prefer, you can also use egg whites in place of this.
  13. Cover pans lightly will plastic wrap and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes.
  14. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4.
  15. Remove plastic wrap from dough and place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes.
  16. Turn down the oven temperature to slow 300°F/150°C/gas mark 2 and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until done.
  17. Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter.
  18. Check the bread at 30 minutes to ensure that the bread is not getting too brown. You may cover the loaves with a sheet of aluminum foil if you need to.
  19. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, still in the bread pan. Remember, the bread weighs about 2.5 and it needs to be able to hold its own weight, which is difficult when still warm and fresh out of the oven. Allowing it to cool in the pan helps the loaf to hold its shape.
  20. It is recommended that the best way to cut Povitica loaves into slices is by turning the loaf upside down and slicing with a serrated knife.
See you in the next Daring Bakers Challenge!  :-) 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Big in Japan

From an American Hamburger Steak Lunch, we now move on to a favorite lunchbox country of ours, Japan.  I have expressed in previous entries my admiration of the entire bento culture of this highly modern country with still very old-school eating ways sticking to quality and simplicity of tastes and natural beauty of ingredients.  It is wonderful how they are able to merge the old with the new by using technology to preserve tastes and enhance textures of seemingly inane ingredients such as seaweed, vegetables, meat and what have you.  (Incidentally, I read somewhere that in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami, Japan is encouraging tourism by conducting a blogging contest where winners will be given free tickets to go visit their wonderful country.  I'm not particularly a contest-joining type but I might just (might being the operative word) make myself "unlazy" and join it.  Or.  I could let the boy join it.  :-))

So for lunch, I made a Katsu-Kare donburi or rice topping.  Katsu is a word for anything breaded and fried (Tonkatsu--breaded pork cutlet, Torikatsu--breaded chicken fillet, etc.) and Kare is curry which is pretty big in Japan.  They cook in curry nearly anything, beef, chicken, vegetables.  They even have Kare Pan or bread curry!  For this dish, I had a little help from these ubiquitous curry cubes you can find in the Japanese sections of most groceries.  God knows everyone needs a little help now and then and these curry cubes are very helpful indeed.  Of course, if you want to make it from scratch, by all means do so.  To tell you honestly, I don't know what stuff they put in the cubes as the entire package is in Nihonngo.  But last I checked, the Japanese are one of the healthiest people on earth.  So I suppose these cubes are alright.  :-)

Today's Lunchbox:  Katsu-Kare, Steamed Rice with Furikake


500 grams Pork Tenderloin Medallions (cut rounds from tenderloin and pound between 2 sheets of wax paper until thin, you may also use pork cutlets or chops or chicken fillet--which will then be called Torikatsu)
Flour for dredging (may be omitted for a lighter breading)
2 beaten eggs
Panko or Japanese bread crumbs (for final dredging)

  1. Season pounded pork medallions with salt and pepper.
  2. Dip in flour, beaten eggs, panko.  If omitting the flour, press the bread crumbs gently to stick more onto the surface of the meat.
  3. Deep fry in medium heat, drain in absorbent paper
Kare Sauce

2 Curry Paste Cubes
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, cubed
1 potato, cubed
1 cup beef stock

  1. Saute onion until slightly translucent.  Add in potatoes and carrots, 2 curry cubes.  Mix around until the cubes have disintegrated.
  2. Pour in beef stock and wait until thickened.
  3. You may pour this on the Tonkatsu you have earlier made or serve it on the side ala Sally Albright.  Bon appetit!  :-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Salisbury Steak Lunch

I am still so tired from the Halloween shindig we had at home over the weekend.  So this will again be a very short post.

Today's lunch is a Salisbury Steak with a Brown Mushroom Gravy.  It is a very, very easy and quick dish to make so I seriously hope that none of you buy those ready-to-cook ones found in the grocery.  There is no excuse in buying those stuff.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  I mean, come on.  How difficult is seasoning some freshly ground beef and forming them into patties, pan-grilling them and making some gravy?  It's easy as 1-2-3.   

I am posting my recipe here.  Now you really have no excuse.

Today's Lunchbox:  Salisbury Steak with a Brown Mushroom Gravy and Homemade Smores Bars (leftover from the weekend party)

Salisbury Steak, My Way
500 grams ground Sirloin (or 250 grams Ground Sirloin, 250 grams Ground pork--this would make for a softer patty)
2 strips of Bacon
1 big onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Button Mushrooms
1 tablespoon flour (you may omit, if gluten-intolerant)
2 Cups Beef Stock
2 tablespoons cornstarch dispersed in water

  1. Render the fat from the bacon then crumble. Sweat onions and garlic in the same oil then when cool, toss in the ground meat and season with salt and pepper.  Let sit for a minimum of an hour then form into patties.  I make them into the size of a smallish tennis ball and chill that way. Then I flatten them on the pan-grill when cooking.
  2. Drain a bit of the oil from the same pan and brown the mushrooms.  Do not overcrowd which just means that you should let the mushrooms sit on a single layer and fry in relatively high heat.  Toss in the flour, if using and let it brown a bit.  At this point, you may opt to deglaze the pan with some wine (which I did) or with some stock.  Thicken with a bit of cornstarch.
  3. Pour on the patties and serve.  Easy as 1-2-3!  :-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Choco Loco

I only asked the boy to bring me home 2 things from his recent trip:  Tim Tams and Violet Crumble.  For some reason Tim Tams here taste differently and Violet Crumble's hardly available anywhere.  Turns out looking for these babies were just as difficult to find where he was because it was always a full day of museums and zoos such that the time they were finally free was the same time shops closed.  Bummer.  But, he did find a suitable replacement in Cadbury's Crunchie Bars--similar honeycomb center covered with milk chocolate that is guaranteed to stick to your teeth or what's left of it.  Incidentally, I will be making these for our Halloween shindig this Saturday where I will dress up as Bellatrix Lestrange.

For today, I adapted a recipe from the blog Give Me Some Oven-- Cocoa and Chili-rubbed Pork Chops.  I tweaked it by changing the chili powder into chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce--everything else I retained, including the brining which is much needed to keep the chop moist even when it becomes cold by lunch time.

Today's lunchbox: Cocoa and Chipotle Rubbed Pork Chops and Mexi-Cali Rice

Now, as I still have remnants of the weekend's flu, I must go back to my chemically-enhanced, deep sleep.

Good night and good morning to y'all.  :-) 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We're Back!

So after a week's absence, we are back.  As you know, the boy went on a field trip somewhere far, far away and has just returned last Saturday hence the absence of the posts.  It was the first time he went away overseas without either parent so I was a bit antsy which apparently (thank God) was for no reason.  He mingled quite well with the other kids and was not a bother to the upper school prefect.  He told me that he did not miss me nor feel homesick--a proof that he's super sick of my nagging (which I vowed I will keep doing so long as he keeps on doing stuff he's not supposed to and vice-versa) and of his growing independence.  However, as independent as he may seem, it still gave me much satisfaction hearing this third sentence from him: "Mom, what for my lunchbox next week?" ***sighs***  I am mighty pleased with these lunchboxes.

So this week I am sharing my recipe of Cereal Prawns, something so easy to make but is sold in restaurants here in Manila at disgustingly exorbitant prices.  It's pretty sick.  One restaurant even sells it at PhP150.00 a piece.  That's just too much for something so very simple to make.   One may actually buy mixes for Cereal Prawns in groceries abroad which I too tried.  We purchased some in Singapore which tasted a bit too salty and one in Malaysia which was perfect.  Both  also contained MSG. However, there is no reason why you can't make it here from readily available and very cheap store-bought stuff sans the MSG too.  I must admit though, that I have not tried those versions sold here. This recipe is based on what I remember tasting in Singapore and so I dare say, this is a pretty good guide.  :-)

Today's lunchbox:  Cereal Prawns (Cereal separated), Steamed Rice with Babirang

Cereal Prawns

1 Kilo medium-sized prawns, shelled and deveined
salt and pepper to taste
3 Packets Nesvita Cereal Drink--original flavor (Nestum in other countries)
4 Tablespoons Coffee Creamer
4 Tablespoons Cerelac--original flavor which is wheat and banana (Yes the baby food)
4 Teaspoons Quick-Cooking Oats
2-3 Tablespoons Butter
a fist-full of curry leaves
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 chili padi (or more if you like it spicy)

  1. Season your prawns with salt and pepper and quickly fry in oil. Set aside but do not drain because the oil is needed if you want the cereal to stick to the prawns. 
  2. In a bowl, mix together all dry ingredients:  cereal drink, creamer, cerelac, oats and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
  3. In the same pan where you fried the prawns, remove nearly all the oil and saute in it the garlic, chili padi and curry leaves.  When garlic is golden and the chili has released its oil, add in the butter and all of the cereal mix.  Toss around until crumbly like the texture of polvoron or pie crust.  
  4. Toss in the prawns and voila!  Cereal Prawns that didn't cost an arm and a leg to make.
PS  If you get to try this recipe, please do share your experience.  Would appreciate any comment at all.  Cheers!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Meat Loaf Lunch

Yesterday was a Meat Loaf lunch for the boy.  Didn't get to post it as I had a million things to do and was too tired to think of what to write about it.  Actually I'm still tired and haven't figured out what to write about it.  So instead, I will write about next week since there will be no lunch boxes all of next week.

The boy is going away for the week, out of the country and an ocean (maybe 2?  I suck at geography too) for the very first time without either parent.  And I'm fiddling with my fingers and making a hundred lists in my head of what could possibly go wrong with this trip.  I think this is where my fatigue is coming from.  I should totally stop.  The boy is taller than I am and can very well figure out a crook from a good bloke.  I should relax, probably have a drink with my girlfriends and let him have fun without me.  Yes. He is after all turning 14 this year.  I'm sure he will learn a lot of things both on an academic and personal level.

Relax Mama...relax.  Inhale...exhale...

Yesterday's lunch box:  Homemade Meat Loaf, New Potatoes and Gravy

See you week after next.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Çok Lezizdi! (It Was Delicious!)

Hello darlings.  Sorry for having been absent for the past two days.  Monday's lunchbox was a replay (Garlic Steak) and Tuesday, the cook made Tonkatsu--I was too spent to get up so I told the boy that I'd rest for a day.  So today, I made one of his most favorite things in the world: Bulgur Köftesi, Turkish Kofte.

If you haven't tried it, you really are missing a whole lot, if you are into bold and exotic flavors that is--like my boy, Enzo.  He has a very mature and diverse palate.  He eats anything from street food to high street food, from the very cheap to the, well, during special occasions, very expensive (emphasis on special occasions).  Today's recipe was adapted from the blog Almost Turkish which I tweaked a little bit to suit Filipino taste buds. The yummy salad which I made into a sauce (just so that he would eat eggplant) was from a Turkish chef, Ismail Tosun of the restaurant Eminem in Perth, Australia (what a cutie!).  

Try making these to spice up your repertoire.  It is easy, yummy and different.  You may, of course adjust the spice level according to your preference and fry a bit of the meat mixture to taste if it is already to your liking.  But remember, be brave!  You'll never know what culinary delights you're missing if you fail to try what the world has to offer.  If you don't like it, then you'll find out you don't.  And if you like it, just say--Çok Lezizdi!  And be thankful for finding one more beautiful, yummy thing to live for.  

Şerefe! (Cheers!)
Bulgur Koftesi (adapted from Almost Turkish)

500 grams ground beef (you can use a mixture of beef/lamb or beef/pork)
1/2 cup bulgur (I bought mine at Santi's Delicatessen but there's also some at Taj in Makati)
1 big onion, finely minced (I do this in the food processor)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup cilantro (wansuy-you could use less if you don't like this so much)
1/2 teaspoon cumin (a lot less than the original recipe which calls for 1 1/2!)
1/4 cup Italian or flat-leaf Parsley, minced
4 cloves of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the bulgur in a bowl and cover it just until the surface with boiling water.  Let sit for 10 minutes then drain. 
  2. Combine all ingredients in a biggish bowl and mix with your hands until uniform in color and texture. 
  3. Let the flavors develop for at least 4 hours, I do this overnight.  Just make sure to cover the mixture well or else your water will taste like onions.  (Yuck!) 
  4. Form into patties, or oblongs or whatever shape you like.  Traditionally, they are skewered into to long kebab like sausages but I find that too difficult to grill.  They always disintegrate on me so we do it like pelotas--little teardrop disks.  I think they're cute! 
  5. Grill on coals or on an electric grill like we did this morning or fry in a little bit of olive oil on a non-stick pan.
Narli Paticlan Kizartma (Fried Eggplant with Tomato and Pomegranate Sauce) recipe adapted from Ismail Tosun 

500 grams fire-roasted and peeled eggplant
5 pieces canned, whole, peeled Italian tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses (I made my own by reducing 2 cups of pomegranate juice, 1/4 Cup sugar and squeeze of lemon until the consistency was that of molasses.  About 7 minutes in high heat)  
  1. The original recipe said that you fry the seasoned eggplant (not roasted--that's my take) and put aside.  My son won't eat that because it still looks like an eggplant.  But you can do it that way, of course.  In my version, I fire-roasted the eggplants for that smokey taste and then sauteed it with the tomatoes and garlic until it looked pretty much like a thick sauce.
  2. Add in pomegranate molasses, season with salt and pepper.
  3. That's it.  Serve and wait for the ooohs and aaaahs.  Oh and a great big hug! :-)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Cut, Err- 3 Dishes

Hello there.  As promised, here are the two other dishes I served for the boy's lunch box.  I originally planned to make four, but classes were suspended Tuesday because of the typhoon so here are the other two.

Babirang, Rice Spice (Korean)
Lunchbox #2 contained Beef Teppanyaki with Enoki Mushrooms which was really just a stir-fry with some onions, the mushrooms and a bit of butter.  The fried rice was seasoned with a sweetish onion sauce a la Pepper Lunch which I made by sweating finely minced onion until they were translucent.  I steeped them overnight with equal parts mirin and Japanese Soy, around 1 tablespoon each.  In the morning I used that sauce to season the fried rice and to that I added some sweet corn and spring onions.  I shaped it in a flat bottomed container, topped it with some more corn and Babirang, a Korean rice spice mix.  Also packed some fudge brownies I baked during the height of the typhoon the previous day.

Lunchbox #3 was transformed into Beef with Brocolli, another stir-fry.  I cooked the brocolli separately and just seasoned it in salt.  When it was done, I put it aside and sauteed in the same pan the remaining beef with 2 slices of ginger and a yellow onion.  And that's it!  If you want this dish to taste more Chinese, you can add some oyster sauce and finish it off with a few dribbles of Sesame Oil.  The rice in this lunch ox was again sprinkled with that yummy Babirang.  :-)

So, there you go.  One cut, 3 dishes.  There's a lot more you can do with this very versatile cut of meat.  You can try most anything to toss it with to make exciting stir-fries.  Just pay attention to the combination of taste, texture, color and you're well on your way to making a better lunch box for your dear kids.

Hope that helped!

Monday, September 26, 2011

One Cut, Four Dishes

This week I will share a very basic mother recipe for sukiyaki cut beef that can be tweaked and transformed in 4 ways.  It is easy, quick and very economical to make and will keep your kid excited as to how it will be transformed next.  As you know, sukiyaki cut is the thinnest possible cut of beef and as such, remains tender even when served cold.  It is also taken from a relatively lean part of the beast such that your child will not complain that the some fat has solidified on the surface of his lunch, in Filipino it's called sebo and it is that yucky powdery and greasy animal fat that clogs arteries.  Yikes!

Here is the mother recipe:
1 K Sukiyaki Cut Beef
1/4 Cup Japanese Soy
1/4 Cup Mirin
1/4 Cup Water

For this mother recipe, just boil the mixture covered until the meat is fully cooked while skimming as much dirt as you can every now and then.  Also, be sure to toss the meat around to separate the pieces so that there won't be just one clump of beef in your pan at the end of the procedure.  Cool then store the mixture in your refrigerator.  At this point, you can portion what you intend to cook the next day and freeze the remainder for future consumption.

For today's lunch box, I did again--as requested by the boy, last week's Teriyaki Tapa and served it with some Kimchi Fried Rice.  For the Teriyaki Tapa, I got a portion of beef from the mother recipe which I sweetened with a bit of honey (not too much, it is lunch remember, not dessert) and stir-fried it in a bit of oil until it was nicely browned with little bit of caramelization.  I finished it off with a teaspoon of butter.  This process takes all of five minutes and I'm telling you that after you've tried this, you will never again buy those heavily-nitrate laden, double-dead versions you find in groceries. 

The Kimchi Fried Rice was made with the help of some Korean-style Furikake which contains Kimchi, some dried nori, sesame seeds and other Korean spices. I think that  Moms should find as many healthy products in the grocery that can help make meals easier, more interesting and of course, yummier for our kids.  There really is a lot out there and I will be featuring some of them in the coming days.

Please do come back tomorrow and we will transform this same cut into a Pepper Lunch Style dish.  Hope to see you then!

Today's Lunch Box:  Teriyaki Tapa and Kimchi Fried Rice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Japanese Tapsilog (Tapsirog II)

It is stressful Thursday once again and I've been up since 3AM to prepare some special arrangements for today's catering event.  Today was so stressful that I drove the kid to school crying because we had one of our usual arguments...*sighs*.  I think the tears came as a result of a combination of things: some staff drama, not being able to have my usual cup of Joe for the past few days since the other help poured water INSIDE the coffee bean grinder, and the biggest contributor of all--this low-carb diet that I got myself into.  It's driving my carb-addicted mind and body nuts!  I'm wondering if all the trouble it takes to fit into that dress is really worth it.  And to make matters worse, in about a month, we're going to the beach!  I think it's time write a love letter to my waistline:

Dear Waistline,

I don't know how much grovelling I need to do for you to come back.  I realize now that I was wrong and you were right.  All the sweets, cakes and chocolates...the pasta, the bacon and those grilled steaks and fluffy white rice were bound to keep us apart. You are so right for walking out on me as I put that lechon skin in my mouth. 

I know that now and I am sorry.  Please come back to me.

 P.S.  I dedicate Natalie Cole's Miss you Like Crazy  to you

And when I hold you in my arms I promise you
You're gonna feel a love that's beautiful and true
This time I'll love you even better, than I ever did before...lalalalalala)

Now if it were that easy, life would be wonderful.

Today's lunch:  Teriyaki Tapa, Japanese Style Omelet, Shio-Spiced Fresh Bacon, Garlic Rice with Furikake and some Korean Chapjae

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sleeping With The Fishes (And Some Homemade Mango Chutney)

The one thing you shouldn't be when you do the groceries is hungry.  You'll have the tendency to buy twice more than you really should even when you have a list. Believe me, I have stuff in my pantry I don't remember buying and have no recollection what to make of.  However, the hunger works when I am trying to develop a dish, a process I read about and learned from a much respected chef here in Manila, Billy King.  One becomes truly creative in designing menus and dishes when one is starving.  I imagine the guy who made that burger out of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, bacon and cheese hadn't eaten for two weeks.  Not only was he hungry, he completely didn't care if he died after a bite.  

Today's post however was not a result of me being hungry but rather me being too busy.  In fact I had just decided what to make for today after having half a sandwich for dinner last night (I'm on a semi-diet and don't ask me what that is).  The thing was, the boy had some pork for lunch yesterday.  And I hadn't gone to the grocery yet so what was in the freezer was more pork and some fish steaks.  Obviously, I had to work with the fish steaks which I'd been struggling what to make of a good part of the day.  So finally, I went on Tastespotting, typed in fish steak on the search button and bada bing, bada boom...Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.  (Sorry, nobody's dying here--just a little Godfather moment.)  We got us some lunch ideas.

Thank you to Kevin of Closet Cooking because that is where I got the recipe for today's lunch.  Fish steak?  Check. Mango Chutney?  Check. Lentils?  No check.  We had no lentils, so instead of that, I made curried fried rice.  And this is what we do with recipes, we let them inspire us and be creative to work on the stuff we have in the pantry.  You don't have to confess for not following it to the dot.  :-)

Today's lunch box: Fish Steaks with Homemade Mango Chutney spiced with Chili, Turmeric and Pink Peppercorns, Curried Fried Rice with some Homemade Vietnamese Ham

So which country do you think this dish came from?  :-) 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another Japanese Bento

I'm sorry but I think the Japanese are the bomb when it comes to lunch box making.  I don't think I'll have to convince anybody of this fact.  Y'all just have to look at the Japanese bento blogs to see what I mean.  They are not only beautiful to look at but lovely to eat as well.  Each box pays attention to an experience that is quite unique to every set and is built around a concept based on the perfect combination of color, texture and taste.

One day, I'll be just as good as them.

Today's lunch box: Buta No Kakuni (slow-cooked pork belly stew), sauce in the middle (Soft, sweet and umami), Ebi Mayo (crispy fried shrimps with sweet mayonnaise based sauce) (crunchy, spicy, salty, sweetish sauce) recipe from, Steamed Rice with Furikake (crunchy, salty and umami)

Good Morning!  :-)

Monday, September 19, 2011

An Ode to High School and Garlic Steak

Last night, I introduced the boy to an iconic meal in my alma mater--Garlic Steak. Nobody in my school and batch did not know or love this meal. And I was just beyond myself to see that the boy loved it just as much.  Of course I'm not sure if I did it quite the same way as the concessionaire did but if memory served me right, I think it was pretty spot on. However, the boy expressed a little anxiety over it being his lunch the next day knowing that it would turn cold in his lunch box.  I replied that that was exactly how I ate it many school years ago.  

Let me just tell you off-hand before you begin imagining thick, juicy, well-marbled expensive cuts of meat: this steak was no wagyu. It was this thin and dry cut of beef from an unidentified and undeclared anatomy of the cow (though I suspect it was sirloin) that wasn't a Ribeye or a Porterhouse or a New York strip.  It was served in room temperature, not freshly grilled or off the pan, on a military type (not the shiny kind) mess hall plate--the one with compartments with a side of rice and gravy on which they dribbled some kind of garlic oil and some toasty garlic bits.  Okay, so cold steak doesn't sound so very appetizing but this has got to be the only exception to that rule.  It was cold, dry and served without special accoutrements but it was really good. Really good. Did I mention it was good?  In fact, I think my school mates would defend this steak and beat up in the "field" (where most fist fights occur) whoever dares say anything ill of this steak. What can I say?  We were a crazy bunch.  And those were pretty d*mn, crazy, good times.

High school was this great roller coaster ride for most of us where the highs were really high and the lows, super low.  Of course the cause of both highs and lows were as inane as ones crush having a crush right back on you or whether they had recently acquired a new girlfriend.  Yes, we were a whole shallow bunch.  And sometimes I have to remind myself that the boy is going through that very same roller coaster ride right now.  I have to make this conscious effort to remember how silly, shallow and carefree I was when I was his age.  And I know I have to do this because I think sometimes, I could be quite unrealistic and unfair with my expectations of a 13 year old.

How I wish he would enjoy high school as much as I did. I wish that he be able to look forward to each day no matter how shallow the reason be (crush, shortened periods, movie day, whatever).  I wish that he nurtures his inner comic that he will much need to help survive some of the more difficult moments in his grown up life.  I think that this ability to laugh at the world and at oneself is a life skill that people should truly learn no? But most of all, I hope that he be able to develop the friendships I was able to when I was his age.  After all, my girlfriends, the ones who I know without a doubt has my back at ALL times, the ones I know will not sell me out even for a million bucks, I found them all in high school. Of course I met a couple of treasures later on in life, but the ones from high school share a common history and for that alone, the bond can never be duplicated.  

Here's to my girlfriends, my high school and Garlic Steak.  Possibly the best steak in the whole, wide, world.  :-)

Today's Lunch Box:  Garlic Steak, Pan drippings with Toasted Garlic, Buttered Vegetables, Leche Flan made of Carabao's Milk

Thursday, September 15, 2011

From Vietnam, With Love--Day 3

I was fretting leaving the 2 little people here alone with our yaya (nanny) for a couple of days fearing that the younger one (5 years of age) will be crying herself to sleep without me by her side.  My fear regarding the boy on the other hand was mostly anxiety over the idea of him not getting up in time to have some breakfast before he leaves for school.   I got more anxious on my way out because the girl bawled her eyes out such that the nanny had to bring her out to play.  Enzo on the other hand was fooling around the car as the driver pulled out of the driveway.  He was making funny faces and googly eyes like he was just three years old and then right before we were to drive away, his face became both serious and sad.  I pulled down the window and said: "I told you, you will miss me."  And then he stuck his tongue out, ran away and proceeded acting crazy.

 Both fears of course were unfounded as they did just fine without me.  There were no crying bouts and the boy left for school in time every time.  If anything, they behaved better without me fussing about.  I left little notes, cards and gifts for my daughter to open, read and play with every morning she woke up and each night before she went to sleep.  I also planned the boy's lunch boxes that were prepared by Yaya the days I obviously couldn't. They couldn't take pictures of the lunches though since I brought along the camera with me.  All in all, it was quite uneventful here at home while I was gone. 

A part of me was happy that they can actually survive without me--after a day, they wouldn't even reply to the text messages I sent them and relegated the task to their nanny.  They were busy with their little things, playing with friends, doing homework, going on the computer such that they didn't mind or notice that their Mother wasn't around.  I think I got a little sneak preview on how it will be like somewhere down the road and I think it's not so bad.  Of course I'll miss their little fingers and their belly laugh and the way they look at me like I was some kind of a hero.  But I think I'll get by when the time comes that they get to live their lives because then I'll also get to live mine.

But of course I am getting a way ahead of myself (again) because when I got home, I was still glad to see a great, big banner in my baby girl's writing:  Welcome home Mama.  She hugged me and told me how much she missed me.  The boy?  He hugged me and carried me and the first thing he said to me was, "So what did you eat?"  To which I replied, "I'll make them all for your lunch box next week."   

Today's Lunch Box: Ga Xao Xa Ot (Spicy Lemongrass Chicken), Nem Nuong (Grilled Pork Patties, Steamed Rice

As nice as it is out there, it sure is still nicer to be back home. :-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From Vietnam, With Love-Day 2

Hours before boarding my plane to Manila, I found myself on the backseat of a motor bike thinking that I was about to die.  No kidding.  It was rush hour and we were about 30 minutes (maybe 45 to an hour by a car driving normally) to the first district which we were going to in order to pay for my change in luggage weight.  Apparently, a 20 kilo baggage allowance wasn't enough and rather than paying the exorbitant fee at check-in, we opted to pay for the extra 10 via travel agency.

The boy driving this bike was also our driver around town so I trusted that he knew his way about because there was no way we could communicate with each other as he didn't speak a word of English and we didn't have any time to lose because it was already past 5 in the afternoon. The agency was to close at 6.  Okay, so we were in a hurry, but my goodness did he drive like we were being chased by Godzilla himself.  We keep complaining in Manila that motorcycle drivers here are nasty but compared to them, the motorcyclists here in Manila are angels, I tell you.  There was no street we didn't counter-flow. No "no left turn" sign we followed.  No intersection we did not dare drive through even with cars and buses bustling through from both directions.  At one point, I just covered my face with my hands thinking that we were surely going to be hit only to look up facing head to head this black car with the driver giving my driver the middle-finger salute.  "Oh so they do that too in Vietnam?"--were my immediate thoughts followed by "Oh we're still alive!"

We did get the job done but when we got back to the hotel, I told Mom this story that I just kept on smiling because at least if I had died, I would have died with a smile on my face.  This made her laugh like a mad woman.  I made this strangling gesture with the driver and said in English "I could kill you now.  Now that I did not die."  More laughter.  I told her too, that while we were driving,  I was thinking to myself that Ho Chih Min at night was beautiful as it was the first time I've seen the place after sunset except that at the same time, I was fearing that it might also be the last knowing for sure that we couldn't possibly get back to the hotel in one piece.  In the end I said that next time, I will gladly pay the $80.00 we saved because surely my life is worth more than that.  Still, more laughter...

It was indeed a trip that put a period on most of the questions I've asked and a journey that was short in the numbers of days but distant in the kilometer reading of my heart.  I would forever remember it as it ended as one of the many exclamation points of my life.  I am thankful for taking the ride to see, hear and hug my Mother again.

Today's lunch box: Chả giò (Vietnamese Egg Rolls), Ca Kho To (Fish Steak Braised in Spicy Caramel Sauce), Steamed Rice.

PS Today is my Mom's birthday.  Happy birthday Mommy, I love you.:-)