Archives for category: Recipes

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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!

 

MC's Pork Belly Adobo 3.06.31 PMI posted this Instagram a couple of days ago and regretted it. Am I an adobo nazi?

There it is, on page 224 of Nathan Myrhvald’s Modernist Cuisine At Home, the recipe for Pork Belly Adobo, “considered a national dish of the Philippines.” If there’s clear indication that Philippine cuisine – represented by our adobo – has hit the mainstream, this must be it. Unfortunately, the recipe was for pork asado, not adobo.

Pork asado – while resembling the Filipino adobo in its use of vinegar – is actually a sweet pork dish introduced by the Chinese, distinct for its use of star anise, (or five-spice powder) and sugar. Sure, the adobo has seen various transformations and at times taken on Chinese ingredients like soy sauce, but pork asado and adobo are of separate provenance – just as our sour soup, the sinigang, is different from the Malaysian singgang.

I feel it’s a distinction that’s important to make, if we are to present a national dish to the world.

MC's recipe Pork Asado. Note nice crust of caramelized sugar.

MC’s Pork Belly Adobo is actually an asado. Note distinctive crust of caramelized sugar. But, hey, it’s good!

Not an easy job. To start with, a foreigner would often confuse it with the Spanish adobo – which is basically a condiment or seasoning – and the adobos of Mexico, Puerto Rico and Peru where adobo refers to a type of marinade or pickling sauce. And then there’s the asado, a Hispanic term for the Chinese dish that found its way to our tables, perhaps via the Parian, Manila’s “Chinatown” during the colonial times.

In the Philippine context, adobo is not a particular dish with a specific set of ingredients; it is a method of cooking, one that is indigenous to us: braising meat in vinegar and salt. It predates trade with the Chinese, which according to records, did not begin until the 900’s. It certainly predates our colonization by the Spanish who, mildly reminded of their own adobo, gave it the same name, “adobo de los naturales”. Sadly, there is no record of how our ancestors called this “dish”, this method of cooking, our adobo.

But for sure, it was very simple and austere – just vinegar and salt and maybe garlic, another preservative. We didn’t have royalty the way the Chinese and the Europeans did, for whom we had to cook, to please and impress. While we shared DNA as well as some maritime routes with the kingdoms in Java and Brunei, we were practically a cultural isolate –  Filipinos were a people divided by water and more than a hundred languages. If there were variations on this adobo, they were mainly geographical: the addition of coconut milk in Southern Luzon where coconut was abundant; turmeric in Mindanao because of its proximity to Indonesia.

The adobo has since transformed – or to be precise, become more embellished – in a way that reflects our history as a people like no other Asian dish I know. The addition of onions, tomatoes, bell pepper was an influence of Spain; potato, most likely from Americans. Similarly, no single dish has become a means to show off one’s status in society or level of sophistication: balsamic or sherry in lieu of vinegar; foie gras, because pork isn’t rich enough.

There are 7100 Philippine islands and perhaps as many ways to cook adobo. At least 100 ways, as recorded and compiled by Reynaldo Gamboa Alejandro and Nancy Reyes Lumen in The Adobo Book. My mom made about three kinds of adobo: kapampangan-style (braised then fried), Tagalog-style (with coconut milk), and with eggs or potatoes (well, to feed a household of 10). So when my mom – sensing my lack of aptitude for cooking and disinterest in anything to do with the kitchen – told me that I should at least learn how to cook adobo, the question in my mind was “which one?”

Traditionalists assert that what makes “authentic” adobo is the triumvirate of vinegar, garlic and salt – no soy sauce, perhaps some peppercorn, and no more! The austerity of it has always intrigued me. Slow-braise, pressure cook,  sous vide, deconstruct? How else do you make this adobo shine enough for the world stage?

The answer is just cook it! On low fire for 1-2 hours, or until the pork fat melts. You’ll be amazed, just as I was, at how deep-flavored, dark and decadently rich it can be. And so simple, anyone can cook it. Our national dish it is!

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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!

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This is my go-to recipe for bread loaf. I have go-to recipes for practically everything, all bookmarked in categories on my desktop. Those that I make quite often, like this bread or scones, or those more elaborate like Oxtail Stew in Peanut Sauce, I like to write down. Preferably with sketches or doodles of the ingredients or steps. I love to use felt tip pens, inks of different colors. I don’t know, it seems easier for me to remember or memorize stuff that way. And oh, did I tell you I’d draw or write them down with my left hand? I’m right-handed, but using my left is somewhat akin to engraving words, pictures and ideas on paper and, eventually, in my head.

Many many years ago, when I used to write poetry, I wrote with my left hand too. That way the exercise felt more deliberate; it slowed down my thoughts and enabled me to build the structure of the poem in my head. I hardly write poetry nowadays (nil, in fact) and have abandoned writing with my left hand but for occasional recipes like this. I don’t know, is that sad or what?

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More than 10 lbs of chicken thighs skinned and deboned for AdoboAidTO. What to do with the discards? Ask the butcher at Sanagans to vacuum pack them, of course, for future use in the kitchen. The skin makes sinfully crunchy chicharron that’s great as a pulutan (like tapas) with beer or cocktails! And the bones make a better broth than you can ever buy in the grocery, just what you need this winter to make a hot bowl of chicken arroz caldo (Filipino rice porridge), or chicken noodle soup. It’s always handy to have chicken broth in the fridge anyway.

1454920_10151769253601884_1701295425_nI shared some chicken chicharron with a friend last night and got a tweet about how she crushed it over her sunny side up, which she then liberally anointed with Diablos Fuego Hot Sauce. So many ways to crunch a chicharron, if you ask me. How about smothering it with maple syrup? Candied bacon, you’ve met your match!

How-To: Defrost chicken skin. Flatten individually on oven rack. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake (I hate frying) at 350F for about 40 minutes or until desired brownness and crispness. Remove from oven and drain on paper towel. Keep uncovered until thoroughly cooled, to keep crispness. Can be kept for a couple of days without refrigeration. If needed, re-crisp by reheating in oven (I use the oven toaster for small batches) and draining on paper towel again. Best served with a dipping of vinegar and bird’s-eye chilli. The vinegar cuts the grease, so munch on.

(Thanks, Catherine Mangosing, for the chicharon-on-egg photo. Beautiful!)

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Not one you’d want to cook, especially if you lived in a condo. But in this case, nostalgia for tastes of home trumped neighbourly considerations. Hence these home-dried, home-cooked fish.

Smelts, when butterflied, resembled danggit enough, so…

I split, deboned and marinated them overnight in some salt, vinegar, water, salt and pepper, then laid them on a rack for a slow, 2-hour heat-drying in the oven set at the lowest possible temperature (170ºF in mine). I waited till the fish were dry, but made sure they weren’t browned or cooked.

Finally, when both fish and I were ready, I popped them in the oven toaster, at Bake. Ah, the smell of it just took me home!

Suggested serving: with fluffy scrambled eggs (cooked on very low heat, with lots of butter), fried rice (with lots of garlic) and a vinegar-chili dip.

Laing

The one dish my mom cooked that never failed to impress guests was laing. Her laing came in small packages – pork, sometimes fish, wrapped in taro leaves, tied securely with a string, then stewed in coconut milk spiced with bird chillies. At the table, she would serve the guests a package each, first making sure there was enough sauce on every plate and then, with a bit of flourish, snipping off the string, thus unravelling the meaty, spicy, coconut-y treat.

Laing is a popular Filipino dish using taro or gabi leaves. These leaves are huge – almost a meter long and just as wide at the base – with a soft, furry surface coating that I found fascinating as a kid. In fact, I thought the gabi leaf looked and functioned pretty much like an umbrella. “Look, ‘ma, it’s water-repellent!” I remember the horror on my mom’s face when she saw me with a gabi leaf over my head. Before I knew it, I was itching all over – thanks to the needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate that occur throughout the plant. Thankfully none of those toxic particles got into my eyes, but the experience was such a trauma that I swore off laing for good.

It wasn’t until my 20’s when I started eating laing again and decided I actually liked it. Even then, I didn’t think I’d ever cook this dish – too many hazard warnings, too many cautionary footnotes about its possible toxicity and the calcium oxalate that could cause itchy mouth and throat.

Then I read a Facebook post about laing made, not with gabi leaves, but spinach.

Tanke Tankeko, an advertising creative director turned restaurateur, wrote about this version of laing that she serves in 1521, her restaurant at The Fort. Spinach! Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve always loved spinach. As a kid I thought all green leafy vegetables were nasty – but not spinach. Spinach was cool. After all, wasn’t it spinach that Popeye ate to gain strength and rescue Olive Oyl, the damsel always in distress? It was spinach that got him all beefed up to beat bullies like Bruto. It was superhero stuff, for sure, as even I stopped being anemic and no longer fainted in churches or crowded spaces.

I decided to write Tanke and ask for the recipe.

“I’m really quite a miser when it comes to sharing my recipes,” she wrote back. “I am completely comfortable, though, to let you into my spinach laing secret. Foodie instinct, I suppose.” And with a smiley, she shared the recipe with me, including tips on ingredients, proportions and serving.

So that’s how laing found its way back to my table, and how I finally found the courage to cook it, even experiment, substituting spinach with kale, for example, as in the laing pictured above.

Now, if only I had my mom’s sense of theater and presentation…

Photo from terra-organics.com

In my mom’s household, the eggplant was the poor man’s vegetable that got royal treatment.

She cooked it like bistek, marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi, then fried and served for breakfast. Sometimes she prepared it as torta or omelet. If time and budget allowed, or if it was a weekend, that torta would include ground meat, raisins, the works.

As in my mom’s household, the eggplant has taken its esteemed place in our tiny but busy kitchen. I’ve recreated my mom’s eggplant bistek and, to Poch’s befuddlement, served it for breakfast. I guess eggplants –  that is, eggplants cooked like flank steak – don’t figure as breakfast fare in many households. But hey, nothing like a solid umami hit in the morning! Besides, Rama – she with the Pinoy palate – loves it.

Our tortang talong, on the other hand, started out as the generously stuffed kind, until we realized the vegetarian ground meat we were using had more chemical additives than real pork or beef. It was also a pain flipping a whale of an eggplant in the pan.

So the plain egg-and-eggplant omelet has since become a dinner staple. The eggplant is first charred in the oven toaster, skinned, and fried before the beaten egg is added. A little salt, a little pepper. We’re not missing the weight and flavour of meat at all.

(Except last night, while the resident vegetarian was away, I found some leftover crab meat in the fridge and promptly stuffed it in my eggplant. Shown above, Rama’s half of the crab-stuffed eggplant omelet. Yum, she said.)

A few months ago, my friend G popped in, bearing gifts: home-made pork buns a la Momofuku. It was incredible, and seemed easy enough to do.

The pork belly is brined overnight then roasted in the oven toaster. How simple is that, requiring no more than 4 sq.f. of counterspace? No frying, ergo no fatty missiles shooting from the pan, no porky smells sticking on the walls, no huge clean-ups.

David Chang of Momofuku suggests using boneless, skinless pork belly. But here’s one paradox from my open kitchen: if you want pork in its naked glory, leave the skin on. Nothing like pork buns where the sweet pork meat is complemented with shiny, almost translucent, soft-as-jello, sinfully rich pork skin.

Check out Momofuku’s recipe for pork bun here. My version is assembled with wilted spinach, drizzled with a modest amount of hoisin sauce, and served in steamed, store-bought Chinese buns.

Lydia Go’s sinigang na lechon is the best I’ve ever tasted; her arroz caldo with lechon skin, instead of chicken, an epiphany. God knows how many reincarnations of leftover lechon she can create so masterfully.

Tastes like these never leave the memory. That’s why, last Christmas, I squirrelled some scraps of the roasted pig and channeled Lydia Go as I cooked sinigang na lechon for the first time.

“But why is my sinigang na lechon too soupy and not as thick?” I asked Lydia Go at our Thursday Group’s year-end get-together. She leaned over, as a master chef would to share a secret with an apprentice. “Dagdagan mo ng gabi.”

Is that it, just add more taro? No other secret ingredient, no extra rituals, no conjuring of spirits? And isn’t adding more taro to thicken sinigang soup already public knowledge?

Dagdagan mo ng gabi… she said softly.

But knowing how much more taro to add to a pot of sinigang requires an instinctive grasp of alchemy, a cellular memory that probably goes back to the invention of fire and the discovery of how it transforms the enzymes in a piece of meat, or a root. It’s not so simple for the less gifted, more so for the latecomer in the kitchen, like me, who will need years of trial and error to hone such instinct and, eventually, trust it.

Dagdagan mo ng gabi... actually left a lot unsaid, I realized. “Take the pieces of taro,” Lydia Go must have meant to say,”… weigh them in your hands, pay attention as you mash them into the soup, seek that delicate balance between the sour and the salty, the broth and the starch, and listen. Listen to your inner chef, the voice of your mom, the laughter of the family at the dinner table, listen for stirrings in your memory , listen until that moment of recognition comes, which is quite like a snap of a finger, only softer, the gentle crescendo of an mmmmmmm….”

Now I get it. Thank you, Tita Lyds.

(You’ll find a lot of posts about Lydia Go in my old blog. But you’ll find a good one in Anton Diaz’ Awesome Planet, here, about a dinner that Lydia Go hosted for us, a group of bloggers, in 2007.)