Archives for category: Food at Home

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Leche Flan

Leche Flan – the light, tender, sweet custard served during fiestas, big family get-togethers and potlucks – is the Filipinized version of Southern Spain’s Tocino del Cielo, which means ‘bacon from heaven’. Of course this ‘tocino’ contains no bacon, but that should clue you in to its rich, decadent, grunt and eyeroll-inducing deliciousness – much like its porky namesake. That’s because, unlike traditional flans – which are made with whole eggs and milk or cream – Tocino del Cielo is made only with egg yolks, sugar and water. No goopy egg whites, no dairy to compromise its texture and lightness. That makes Tocino del Cielo the flan of flans, and our Leche Flan, well, its poor man’s version – in fact, a poor man’s version of even the traditional flan. The Philippine Leche Flan – at least the recipe I’ve been taught – contains mostly egg yolks, yes, but with a couple of whole eggs thrown in “parsimoniously”. And, instead of whole milk or cream, we use condensed milk and evaporated milk. So you see, ours is a frugal flan – also one that speaks of our double colonization (by Spain, whose Tocino del Cielo once underscored the divide between the poor indio and his conquistador and, of course, the US who market-tested and brought these canned goods, along with Spam, to our shores.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup white sugar (do not use brown sugar)
6 egg yolks, from large eggs
2 whole eggs (large)
1 300-ml condensed milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract, or
3-4 pandan leaves, known in North America as screw pine
lime zest
Procedure:
1. In a flan mould or a 4″x8″ meatloaf pan, caramelize the sugar by stirring constantly over medium heat. When melted, tilt the pan to cover the sides, up to 2 inches high. Set aside to cool and harden.
2. Omit this step if not using pandan: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine evaporated milk, water and pandan. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, turn off the heat. Do not allow to boil! Set aside to let the pandan infuse. Do not use until the infused milk and water mixture is cool. Discard the pandan.
3. Beat the egg yolks & whole eggs until somewhat combined. Do not overbeat or stir, otherwise bubbles will form in the flan!
4. Add the condensed milk, the evaporated milk, water & vanilla extract. Stir until combined (do not worry if some of the egg whites are not completely incorporated)
5.  Strain the mixture using a double cheese cloth (for a finer consistency) or use a fine-mesh strainer. Pour into the caramel-lined flan mould.
6. Place the mould in a high-sided baking pan or aluminum tray. Fill with water enough to reach 3/4 the height of the mould or at least to the same level as the flan mixture. Bake at 320ºF degrees, uncovered, until firm (approximately 2 hrs). Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick – it should come out dry.
7. Cool and refrigerate to set, preferably overnight, before removing flan from the mould.
8. To serve, remove flan by inverting mould onto a plate. Drizzle flan with the remaining caramel from the mould. Zest lime on top.

 

Taho

Unless you grew up in gated and exclusive villages like Forbes Park and Dasmariñas Village, you’d be familiar with the ambulant vendor who usually came around at breakfast or sometimes for mid-afternoon merienda, shouting “Ta-hoooooo”. The call, its lilt, exactly where the voice would start low (on the first syllable) and then crescendo on the second, with a throaty elongation of the “o”…. Of course you remember that, you KNOW that. Because, whether that taho vendor was in Singalong or BF Homes, the sound was the same. The sight too was the same, of those two large aluminum buckets of taho the vendor carried and balanced on his shoulder with a bamboo yoke or some piece of wood. How weighty those buckets looked, bobbing up and down as the magtataho (taho vendor) walked down the street and up to your door.

To this day, I can’t think of a more universally Filipino sweet treat. Despite recent innovations back home in terms of flavouring and marketing (taho can now be purchased from shiny metal carts in airconditioned malls), to most Filipinos, taho is a singular experience, a singular taste: soft, silken, steamed tofu scooped in thin layers into a cup, then drizzled with a dark simple syrup and small sago pearls. Funny how the universally Filipino taho is actually of Chinese origin, reminding us once again of our long history of trade with China.

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But why is it that in Toronto I can find all other exotic Chinese foodstuff – even smelly tofu – but not taho. Not in Chinese restaurants, not even at Filipino potlucks. Diona Joyce of Kanto served it during Kapisanan’s 10th anniversary celebration and posted the recipe online. But for someone (that’s me) who has tried (once, and I swear, only once) an home-made soy milk, cooking taho is an even more involved and complicated process. That’s maybe why, for us Filipinos, taho will remain strictly street food, inseparable from the ambulant vendor, the large aluminum buckets and the all-too-familiar siren call, “ta-hooooo!”

That is, until I found this recipe from Kawaling Pinoy. Why sweat it? Just use store-bought Extra-soft or Silken Tofu!

 

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Photo by Catherine Mangosing

My version of salmon sinigang involves brining the salmon for 45 minutes, cooking it sous vide at 104ºF for 60 minutes, then chilling the cooked, vacuum-packed salmon for a few hours in the refrigerator before serving. It’s a series of prep based on the recipe for Salmon Mi-Cuit at Chefsteps.com.

Sure, it’s a more lengthy, seemingly complicated process, but I find that cooking the salmon this way results in incredible taste, texture and color – impossible to achieve when simply steaming, blanching or grilling the fish for sinigang.

Thanks to the brining, the salmon retains its bright pink-orange hue, with none of the whitish proteins that usually leach out when the fish is cooked. Because it is slow-cooked, sous vide, at a temperature just a tad warmer than breath, at 104ºF, the salmon comes out “mi-cuit”, a luxurious taste and texture akin to sushi – except it is anything but raw! Finally, chilling the package in the fridge for a few hours (6 recommended) after cooking, allows the salt from the brine to continue “curing” the fish so it yields a dense but fork-tender texture. After that, all it needs to shine is the very hot, very tart sinigang broth.

The traditional Filipino sinigang is a one-pot dish. Ingredients – meat (or seafood) plus vegetables such as taro, radish, long beans and spinach – are added to the sour broth in timed progression, depending on how fast each ingredient cooks. Somehow I never get this right – the vegetables invariably turn out limp and overcooked.

Hence, my deconstructed version.

The broth – tomatoes, onions, souring agent, long chilli or banana pepper, fish sauce, taro (for thickening) – is cooked separately, then – with the chilli discarded – processed in the Vitamix or blender into a smooth, tart and slightly spicy broth. The vegetables (scallions, grape tomatoes, eggplant) are grilled, the char adding a depth of flavour and a touch of sweetness. I could blanch the rest of the vegetables (long beans, radish, spinach), but now I prefer to cook each vegetable in the microwave at 15/30-sec bursts. No mess! And precise. Best of all, the vegetables keep their color, especially the long beans which also stay crunchy.

What I love about deconstructing the sinigang is it can be presented at the table with some flourish. Imagine all the vegetables arranged in a circle, the contrast between charred and “blanched” making for visual appeal. A wedge of space is, of course, reserved for the salmon. The broth makes the final and dramatic entrance, poured hot and steaming into the bowl. It releases such an aroma that you know this sinigang is going to be rich and tart. The mouth can’t help but pucker up.

Ingredients:

Salmon fillet/s, skin and pin bones removed, good for 4
neutral oil like canola

5 cups water
Extract of unripe tamarind (in a pinch, packaged Sinigang Mix from the Filipino or Asian store will do)
5 TBSP lemon or lime juice – or kalamansi, if available
1 tomato, quartered
1 onion, quartered
5-8 taro, depending on the size

fish sauce

12-16 grape tomatoes

4-8 shallots, depending on size, halved
1 Japanese eggplant, sliced crosswise on a bias
1 daikon, peeled, sliced crosswise and half-mooned
12-15 long beans, cut into 2.5″ pieces
12-15 stalks of spinach, tough stems discarded

Directions:

A. The Salmon Mi-Cuit

1. Prepare cold or icy water with 2:1 salt to sugar solution. Make sure the salt and sugar are completely dissolved before adding the salmon. Keep in the refrigerator to brine for 45 minutes.
2. Remove  salmon from the brine, pat dry and vacuum-pack with oil and cook sous vide at 104ºF for 60 minutes. The oil helps the salmon keep its shape while cooking.
3. Immediately place the sous vide salmon in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Refrigerate 6 hours. For me, this 6-hr refrigeration is optional. I once skipped this step and the salmon still turned out okay. It really depends on how much time I’ve got.
4. Gently remove from the packaging and blot out excess oil. Slice into 4 equal serving sizes, cover and refrigerate until ready to plate.

B. Cook the Sinigang Broth

1. Bring water to boil. Add tomato and onions. Stir in the souring agent (tamarind extract or Sinigang Mix). Add taro. Season generously with fish sauce (you should be able to smell the fish sauce).

2. Add lemon/lime juice. Taste for tartness. Ideally, the broth should register “High” or “Very High” on the sour-meter. Add more lemon/lime juice if needed.

3. Take a piece of taro and test for doneness. When it’s  soft but doesn’t break apart when pierced with a knife or fork, ladle out half of the taro and set aside for plating.

3. Turn off heat. Place broth in a blender or use a handheld to blend the broth, making sure the taro is broken down and there are no lumps in the broth. If the broth is still watery, add more cooked taro and blend to thicken. The consistency of a light creamy soup is what we’re going for. It may happen that there will be no cooked taro left for plating, but that’s ok.

C. Prepare the vegetables

1. Heat cast-iron grill until almost smoking. Grill tomatoes and shallots (cut side down) until slightly charred.
2. Place long beans in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave at full heat for 30 secs or until cooked but still crunchy. Repeat with the radish and spinach. I prefer the radish al dente and the spinach just wilted, so maybe microwaved at 40-45 secs and 15-20 secs, respectively.

Divide and arrange vegetables and salmon in 4 soup bowls. Bring to the table and add broth, to serve.

Notes:

• My most recent sinigang experiment (above photo) includes nori. Since the salmon was skinned, I figured nori sheets would approximate the taste and texture of salmon skin. Interesting, but it didn’t add much. Next time I’d take the skin peeled from the salmon and bake/toast it to a crisp – much like chicharron or pork rinds. A topping like this should add another, much needed, texture to the dish.

• Mi-cuit means half-cooked, in French.

• Chefsteps.com is a website on contemporary cooking founded and led by Chris Young, the co-author of the acclaimed six-volume cooking opus, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Check it out!