Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Involtini Shminvoltini

Please forgive me if I write incoherently today.  I am still asleep.  Even the lunch box looks sleepy, if you ask me.  A four-day weekend can easily mess up any 38 year-old's body clock, I tell you.  And it didn't help I couldn't decide if we were going Japanese or Italian today.  So at 3 AM, I woke up with dreams of Mario Batali's Veal Involtini and so Involtini it became.

Today's lunch: Beef Involtini stuffed with Bacon, Mozzarella di Bufala and Homemade Red Pepper Jelly, Quick Saffron Rice (no time to make Rissotto)
P.S.  I promise to make a more interesting lunch box tomorrow.  When I am finally awake.  :-)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Of Mooncakes and Moonbeams

I should warn you, there isn't any mooncake in this lunchbox though that would have been perfect because the boy's having Chinese for lunch.  As you may know, the Mid-Autumn Festival otherwise known as Moon Festival or Zhongqui Festival is celebrated every 15th of the eighth month of the year commemorates the success of the Yuan Dynasty in overthrowing Mongolian rule in 1368 A.D.  They apparently commissioned bakers to make a special cake on the occasion of the Moon Festival which they used as vehicles to communicate strategies on how to overthrow their invaders. Moon cake lovers like me have to be somewhat grateful to the Mongolians because without them, we wouldn't be enjoying the many varieties of moon cakes today.  I'm going to get us some later.

Here in Manila though, it's been awhile since I've seen a beautiful moon what with the humidity and dense cloud cover.  We even missed the Perseid meteor showers because of this Edward-Scissorhands-weather.  Everything is gray. Even when it isn't raining, like right now, the sky is still ashen like the world has been set to be viewed in grayscale and in the pantone of gray.  

Maybe I'm exaggerating.  Maybe because it's Stressful Thursday.  Maybe because the boy and I had an argument about him not finishing his homework just because it was difficult.  The little one (she's five years old) found an old Pin Yin (Mandarin) writing notebook of her brother yesterday and tried copying the characters all afternoon.  And the reason she was able to do that was because most of the pages were blank, nearly every page had the teachers marking which read: INCOMPLETE.  The boy didn't do his homework because according to him he was having a difficult time.  Really?  A difficult time writing?  These kids really have it easy, you know?  Sometimes, I'd like to believe this thing I read: A happy childhood is the worst preparation for life. I hope that's not true.

Mama needs a break.  Where is that moonbeam when you need one?

Today's lunch: Fish Fillet with Sweet Corn Sauce (Separate Sauce), Yang Chow Fried Rice, Homemade Kikiam (not made in my home though, made of chayote) and Oatmeal-Apple Cookies.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Marley and Me

Though I loved the movie Marley and Me and appropriately cried what seemed to be two buckets of tears, this post is about another Marley--the one that moved an entire nation through his music and message of love, Bob Marley.  Yes, I'm one of those people who love the slow, steady, relaxing vibe of reggae.  In fact, the anthem in my car when I'm driving to an event is Marley's Three Little Birds...

Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou:")

Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."
Singin': "Don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"
This totally calms my nerves which helps me focus on the upcoming event.  Works like magic every single time.  

However, I'm far from being a complete Rastafarian Mama.  As in my palate, I appreciate a wide variety of music from Bach to the Beatles to Coltrane to Queen to Bono to Jobim to Taylor to King to Tyler to Marley to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Thievery Corporation to Adele to Dixie Chicks--I love them all.  I play all these on Sunday mornings when the kids and I are finally taking it slow and recharging for the week ahead.  The little one particularly likes Queen's Under Pressure and I Want to Break Free while the Boy likes RHCP's Give It Away Now and Aerosmith's Walk This Way. :-)

I like to expose the kids to many kinds of experiences whether it be about music or food or people.  I constantly ask them, "how do you know you don't like something when you've never even tried it?"  Admittedly, the little one is a little bit difficult to convince with other tastes as of now.  But I know that later on, she will be open to the magical and diverse world of flavors and textures too.  I'm trying to teach them the beauty of keeping an open mind about things because it is truly what will help them learn and discover stuff that will make their lives richer and more complete.  I want them to learn that while they may not like everything they hear, see or taste, the knowledge that such thing exists will help them develop respect, acceptance and tolerance.  Something which the world, in my humble opinion, truly lacks. How boring it would be if we all shared exactly the same thoughts and ideas.  I think it is the fact that we are different that makes life more interesting because that very difference helps expand our minds into the many possibilities and perspectives of looking at things.  A picture is beautiful in many, many ways.  And I think such is the lesson and legacy that Marley left behind taught wonderfully and succinctly through the melody and memory of his legendary music.

Well, whaddaya know?  I think I may be a Rastafarian Mama after all.  :-)

Today's lunch:  Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Buttered Green Rice

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

좋은 아침입니다 (Jo-eun Achimimnida)!

I made a Korean doshirak (the equivalent of a Japanese bento) for the boy's lunch box today.  It's much like the bento concept--a little of different things that look and taste good together.  It looks complicated, but it really isn't. It's just the French in me that has this constant urge to make curvy lines out of straight ones, but you can make it as simple but as yummy as you want it to be. You can combine new stuff and repackage some of your leftovers and voila--you have a healthy, good-looking and exciting lunch box.  It doesn't have to be super elaborate as mine sometimes tend to be, I can't help it--I'm in the food business.  But you can build on what is available in your pantry and the things that you can imagine to make out of it.

Here are some basic things to remember when making your kid's lunch box:
  1. Everything will be cold by the time he/she eats it. So don't worry about the food being not yummy anymore come lunch time.  Believe me, a cold Bistek Tagalog will still taste way better than a cold hotdog. That being said, don't serve soup.  Unless he's into gazpacho or borchst.
  2. Don't serve anything raw. 
  3. Saucy dishes are okay.  But if you can separate the sauce, the better it will be.  It really isn't very appetizing to eat lunch that looks like it's been toyed with by a two year old.  If this can't be done, at least choose a lunch container with separate compartments.  That way, the sauce won't be jumbled in one big, icky mess with the rice.
  4. Drain your fried dishes well on kitchen paper to remove excess oil so that the oil won't be the first thing your kid tastes.  Cold oil is just nasty and makes food cloying. It will also stay crispy longer.
  5. Sneak in your vegetables.  My boy now eats beans, sprouts, brocolli, zucchini, eggplant, squash, etc.  And you know what?  He doesn't even knows he does!
  6. Lastly, as corny as it may sound, serve it with love.  Tell your kid that you tried to make a special lunch and that you'd want to know what he thinks about it when he gets home.  Maybe he'll love it or maybe he won't. But you can always talk about how to make a better one the next day.  
I know it can be a challenge especially with Moms that have corporate jobs to make these lunch boxes.  But even so, you can delegate the job to your household help into making healthier lunch boxes.  You can start by limiting your purchase of stuff so heavily laden with coloring and preservatives (read: hotdogs) and just start buying fresher things.  You don't have to go cold turkey, I mean what kid doesn't like to eat hotdogs?  But feeding them that stuff on a regular basis is just bad.  I had to wean my little girl from commercially prepared chicken nuggets and I know, it's a darn difficult thing to do both for child and parent.  These little buggers are really quick and can pacify any rambunctious toddler as fast as you can say Backyardigans.  But you and I know what these things are made of and it's not fresh chicken, girlfriend.  And they don't come cheap too.  For that price, I can assure you that you can produce twice the amount of something that you know for sure is fresh and to your child's taste.  So what say you?

Today's lunch: Yubuchobap 유부초밥 (Seasoned Tofu Pockets stuffed with Rice), Doejibulgogi 돼지불고기 (Spicy Stir-fried Pork), Spring Onion and Shitake Pajeon 파전 (Korean Pancake)*

*Recipes courtesy of

Monday, August 22, 2011


There exists in our country a cult following for the type of dish called Tapsilog.  The name is derived from the combined syllables of the food found in a "plated" set:  TAP (Tapa-cured meat which tastes like somethng between ham and beef jerky)+ SI (Sinangag or garlic fried rice)+ LOG (Itlog-egg done to your liking)= TapSiLog.  I put the word plated in quotation marks because plating conjures up architectural pieces of edible art sitting quite smugly on fine, bone china.  Nope--this kind of food is definitely not that kind of thing.  It is (for the most part, unless you're having it in a 5-star hotel) cheap, quick and depending where you have it, can be very, very good.  

Sometimes, the meat component in this dish can come in overly sweetened concoctions one might mistake for dessert.  Though some people like it just like that, I don't.  I like it when I can nearly not tell where the salty ends and where the sweet begins.  I enjoy that kind of balance when flavors meld with each other that it is difficult to isolate each taste. That for me is what culinary nirvana looks or rather, tastes like--a perfect balance in the harmony of voices of flavors and aroma that you can hear it sing Handel's Hallelujah, a true multi-sensorial and out of the body experience in the same breath. 

Today's lunch is Tapsilog rendered in a Japanese way, hence Tapsirog--my version of a maximalist lunch with a minimalist budget.  My boy doesn't particularly like Tapsilog so I deviced a way to make him eat it.  I made my own tapa using ribeye sukiyaki cut (yes you know me, I'm crazy but you can use regular thinly sliced meat of your choice) which I seasoned with some Japanese Soy and a bit of honey, no preservatives of course.  For the sinangag portion, I toasted some Furikake and rice together and shaped them using triangle nigiri shapers which you can buy in Saizen.  For the itlog part, I made Japanese omelet without the mirin.   :-)

Today's Lunch Box:  Homemade Beef Tapa, Tamagoyaki with no Mirin, Fried Rice with toasted Furikake

Tapsirog Banzai!  :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tengo Hambre!

Tengo Hambre or I'm hungry!  For Mexican food that is!  I love a really good Mexican meal (who doesn't) and lately, I've been craving to eat a really good fajita or some nice, crispy nachos dipped in some really gooey rendition of Queso Fundido washed down with a classic, icy Margarita.  Sadly, the nearest Mexican place to us was a grand failure, the last time we visited.  No smokiness to the meats, the aioli which I hated then was even sweeter this time around, the one waiter with character is gone...sigh.  It's so very sad to see places you love drown in its own complacency and lose the flavors and nuances you once loved.  You look to replicate the experience but it's gone, gone, gone.   :-(

It's a good thing though that we can try making anything and everything in the comfort of our own kitchens and adjust recipes according to our personal preferences without getting the stinkeye from the chef (that's you).  And so today, since I still am craving for Mexican food, I used my recipe for Carne Asada on some good pork tenderloin for the boy's lunch box.  Why not beef you may ask?  In my experience, recipes for beef without any sauce tend to not stay good in a lunch box.  They become pretty much as parched as the Gran Desierto de altar. So instead, I used pork tenderloin which, I should warn you, can get pretty dry too when overcooked (as with everything).  For this recipe, the meat is marinated in a relatively dry rub (equal parts Spanish Paprika, Oregano, Chili Powder and a dash of Cumin) save for the olive oil and lime, some garlic, red onions and cilantro.  We usually grill the meat, whole and covered on white hot coals to sear the meat on the outside.  Though today, we used the electric grill because it's way too early to be starting the barbie.  When cooked, these are sliced thinly across the grain.  They come out pretty rare so if I had a guest who wanted it to be cooked a little more, we grill it some more on the coals until desired doneness is achieved.  It can then be eaten with rice, as in this lunch box or put inside fajitas.  Yum!

Today's lunch: Carne Asada (Pork Tenderloin), Arroz ala Mexicana (no peas but asparagus instead)

Ay Chihuahua!  :-)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cómo Está, Manila?

Okay, so I don't have darts in the house.  But today, we're still going to a distant, magical land--Cuba.  It isn't as exotic as you may have presumed it would be, but Hemingway I think would agree that it is just as enthralling and mystical as any mystic country.  I don't know if you are a big fan of his work or if I am in fact that big a fan too.  But I once read The Old Man and The Sea to the boy (when he was seven).  I don't think he remembers the book at all but it was a good book to read with the rambling way the words rolled out of my lips with a story just went on and on. That old man kinda reminded me of MY old man.  :-)

Anyway, the recipes for today's lunch box came from the blog La Cocina de Nathan (Muchas Gracias!) written by Nathan (of course) who so generously shares the ancestral recipes of his family to the world.  I am truly in awe of people with such giving hearts and I am certain that theirs is a legacy that would transcend time and place as each dish finds its way to the tables and hearts (not to mention stomachs) of people around the world.  What a happy, happy thing!  I myself, have never cooked Cuban food before and I am more than happy to have done so.  The flavors are both familiar and different because our country, the Philippines, has at least 300 years of Spanish influence.  So the smokey taste of paprika is familiar while the earthy tones of cumin is different to most Filipino palates.  If you decide to follow a recipe with such strange spices, I suggest that you add them little by little to the dish you are preparing.  Spices are like voices, you know?  Some are like whispers of flavors while others are like mad banshees screaming at a close distance.  Cumin is one of those screamers, so better to put just a little at a time. You wouldn't want to not hear (or taste, really) the other flavors of the dish.  

Today's lunch: Salpicón (Mini Cuban Meatloaf-Fresh Tomato Sauce on the Side), Moros y Cristianos (Black Bean Rice-- Also called Castamiento or marriage (of the black beans and white rice)

Muy rico Nathan!  Muchas Gracias!  :-) 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Another Vietnamese Soujourn

It's another Vietnamese sojourn today since Mama--that's me, has got a Vietnamese craving.  I do promise however, to travel to some distant, never-before visited land next week.  Maybe I'll play darts with the map we have here, what do you think?:-)

I made Chao Tom which is like a prawn mousse of some kind wrapped around a piece of sugarcane.  This is normally served as an appetizer and eaten by putting it inside a lettuce leaf with some mint, dipped in Nuoc Cham. But we're serving it here as a main course so no lettuce and mint, just some nice, fluffy, white rice. You can follow Ravenous Couple's recipe which was an adaptation of the one found in Rasa Malaysia.  For my interpretation, I added some coriander leaves and chili both for flavor and aesthetic purposes such that the paste was spicier than usual and had flecks of green and red in it.  I then steamed the Chao Tom last night and had them grilled this morning, it was lovely! I also cooked the cream dory ala Ca Kho To (Braised fish in a claypot).  You're supposed to choose a meaty fish for this dish, which the dory isn't.  So I didn't cook it in a clay pot and also not long as I should lest it be reduced to a pile of fishy mush.  I also dredged it a bit in flour and pan-fried it before braising it in the sauce.  My Vietnamese relatives will NOT approve.  :-)

Lunch for today: Chao Tom (Prawn Mousse on Sugar Cane Sticks), Tiny Bottle of Nuoc Cham, Dory ala Ca Kho To (Braised fish--not in a claypot this time), Steamed Rice

Chao Ban!  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

いただきます。(Itadakimasu--Time to eat)

Hello and happy morning to you.  Sorry, no post for the past two days being that the boy was on a study holiday because the teachers in his school were having a training upgrade of some kind.  Kid wasn't too happy though with the ton of homework they were tasked to do which was roughly about a truckload.  He finished it all last Monday but caught a cold somewhere around the afternoon and so he didn't get to play much.  

It must be from the sudden shift in the weather that's getting people sick everywhere.  Have you noticed the growing incidence of pocket weather disturbances?  Some time back, a tornado announced itself in the middle of the day somewhere near the state university (here in the city) toppling over electric posts and breaking open roofs of houses.  Unimaginable!  One second it's sunny like summer and then the next it's the wild monsoon flooding the streets of Manila.  Sometimes I'd be going out to meet my friends in Makati and here, where we live it'll be raining cats and dogs.  Naturally I decide to wear my trusty riding boots and jeans and something warm for my top and then when I get to the place my friends would be in sundresses and sandals looking at me like they've found our long, lost resident idiot.

Anyway, I'm rambling.  Lunch today is from one of my favorite countries, Japan (not that I've been there already, hopefully one day soon).  I love making bento.  I can't make the cute ones though because 1. the Boy said I shouldn't and 2. I don't have that much patience anymore to be making cute animals in the morning.  So instead, I make him these boxes with a variety of food in it which I can prepare mostly the night before like this Chicken Stew with Satoimo (taro).  I surfed around various blogs not really replicating anybody's but developing my own.  What I did was tucked in a piece of Satoimo inside a thigh fillet, rolled it and secured it with kitchen twine.  I then stewed it in equal parts mirin, sake, soy sauce and water (same recipe for Buta No Kakuni--slow cooked pork belly).  I cooked it until the taro in the middle was sticky, gooey and, well, so yummy.

Today's Lunch: Chicken Stew stuffed with Sticky Satoimo, Ebi Furai (Deep-fried, breaded prawns, Stir-fried Nama Udon with Shitake and Vegetables, Ajitsuke Tamago (Seasoned but hard-boiled egg--it's supposed to be soft), Rice Balls tossed in Toasted Furikake and some of Yaya's (nanny) freshly baked Chocolate Chip Cookies (as in they really just came out of the oven).  YUM!:-)

お腹がすきました。 (Onaka-ga-sukimashita--I'm hungry!)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Special Saturday Post

Due to the number of cancelled school days brought about by the horrendous rains we've been experiencing, the Boy is going to school today--something which he really, really loathes.  I had to remind him of his previous unabated glee during the actual days he stayed home instead of school which made him stop grumbling.  I promised I would instead add a little treat for him and his classmates on Saturday make-up classes (there's one again next week).  It apparently worked as he is now preparing to leave the house without much stomping (which of course he knows will earn him some good grounding).

Today's lunch is similar to Boeuf Bourguignonne except that instead of using a good Burgundy, I used our world-renowned dark ale, Cerveza Negra which actually and truly deserves an entire post on its own. I used a cut of beef I prefer for its marbling, I think--the beef crest or batoc in our native tongue looks like local Wagyu. It is chunky and does well in slow-cooked, deeply-flavored stews and the likes. Everything else--the mushroom duxelle and baby onion garniture I also added.  And to make this Saturday class a little more bearable for the kid, we have dessert.  Dessert is this Sticky Toffee Pudding I managed to squeeze baking into my crazy schedule yesterday.  Hope that does the trick for the Kid.  I mean, come on.  Who likes to work on a weekend, right?  :-)

Today's Lunch Box contains: Ale-Braised Beef with a Bourguignonne Garniture, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, Small box of Homemade Sticky Toffee Pudding to share with his classmates.

Happy weekend!  :-)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Curries of The World-Day 3

The Kid's Raw Matrix-y Night Shot of a Petrol Station 
I'm writing this post late in the afternoon, nearly evening in fact because it's Terrible Thursday. I'd earlier blogged about Thursday being extra stressful because the driver doesn't come on this day and I have to drive the Boy to school and get back in time to bring the little girl to her school.  Plus the Boy got into photography after a recent trip to Malaysia and joined the school photography club.  So today, he brought the camera I used for taking the photos for this blog to school--with the memory stick of course which contained the photo for today's entry.  But it's okay.  I think he's pretty good at it too considering he's just been practicing for 2 months.  I have 2 brothers who are professional photographers and one is learning cinematography in Vancouver (he's the one who rode that train to Kerala--Post:Bollywood Day 3).  The other one just concluded his exhibit in one of the artsy joints here in Manila.  I showed him the Boy's photographs and he said they were really good.  I'm posting my favorite one here.  

Back to today's lunch which is a Vietnamese chicken and beef curry inspired by the recipe Ca Ri Ga (Chicken Curry), found in my favorite Vietnamese food blog, Ravenous Couple. The recipes there are as authentic as they could ever get so if you suddenly take interest in Vietnamese food, check that blog out.  For this entry, I used a whole organic chicken for (instead of the usual thigh fillets that I prefer) and added some beef with some marbling in it and the result was a winner, if I may say so myself.  :-)

Today's Lunch box contains: Ca Ri  & (in my poor and nasty Vietnamese that's Chicken and Beef Curry), steamed rice.

Ngon lắm (Delicious)! :-)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Curries of The World-Day 2

Classes were again suspended yesterday because of the heavy rains which we're all sick of here in Manila. It's just been going on and on and on and the constant pitter patter of the rain has moved from memories of Broadway musical sketches to tribal drumbeats of virgin offerings to demigods--it ain't amusing, let me tell you.  Everybody's on their toes thinking another Ondoy (2009 worst Philippine typhoon ever) is just crouched in a blind corner waiting to pounce on an off-guard city such as Manila.  Fortunately, he wasn't.  The rain has let up though the skies still look ominous and we're all hoping for even just a pocket of sunshine today. Our house is full of clothes that won't dry!

Today's lunch was yesterday's reheated because the announcement of the cancellation of classes came only after the boy's lunchbox was packed.  Of course he ate the one in the actual picture for lunch yesterday but we made more than enough for reheating today.  May I tell you that this is one of the best curries I've made?  Like ever?  The recipe came from the blog Elra's Cooking and it is this Indonesian Pineapple Curry with Ground Beef Kofte.  I tweaked it a bit though by adjusting the spice level and I used a Turkish recipe that I've been using (made with Bulghur which you can buy at Santi's) for the Kofte which I then cooked on an electric grill.  I also caramelized the pineapple by sauteeing it along with the spice mix to bring out its natural sugars.  It was sweet without being cloying and spicy with a deep, lingering heat that made you eat more rice than you really should. Verdict?  "This is soo good, Mom."  (Thank you, Ms. Dewi of Elra's Cooking!) THAT was my pocket of sunshine amidst yesterday's gloomy, gloomy day.  I wonder what today's will be?:-)

Today's lunchbox contains: Pacri Nenas (Indonesian Pineapple Curry with Ground Beef Kofte, Steamed Rice)

Selamat Pagi (Good Morning)!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Curries of The World-Day 1

I don't know about your kids, but my son loves Curry.  Absolutely loves them no matter which country it came from, or what color it is, or the degree of spice--he adores them all.  It was actually his idea that we do curries for the whole week which was really a nice idea though we could actually go on for 3 weeks without repeating a country and the whole year if we did the curries of India alone.  But of course we won't do that.  We will however begin the week with an Indian curry and rightfully so because it is widely accepted that India is the birthplace of Curry (from the Tamil word Kari which meant a spiced sauce).

I am serving today's curry with a Mango Chutney I made yesterday, part of a product line I'm developing called Artiste (shameless plug, I know).  The chutney was spiced with turmeric, cardamom, chilis and pink peppercorns.  I'm quite happy that they turned out quite well--sunshine in a bottle as I described them in Facebook, perfect for the Pappadums I put in the lunchbox.

His main course is a tomato based Kerala Shrimp curry which was inspired by the recipe found in this beautiful, and yummy blog-- Plateful, written by a wonderful, generous person by the name of Nashira.  You should check it out!  It wasn't so long ago when I thought all curries had coconut cream in it for it to be really good and authentic.  Boy, was I wrong. The permutations are so vast and varied ranging from spicy to curse the heavens spicey, colored form the brightest yellow to the deepest red.  It could be tomato or coconut based. There's even one that has cashew as its main curry ingredient!  Can't wait try that one out.  But for today, we're having this. :-)

Today's Lunch: Chemmeen Mulakittathu (Shrimp Curry--Tomato Based), Punjabi Masala Pappadums (bought from Taj in Makati) with Homemade Mango Chutney spiced with Turmeric, Cardamom, Chilis and Pink Peppercorns.