Loading...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kimchi Stew - Perfect for Rainy Days



Kimchi Stew.  The words alone can warm me up and fire up my salivary glands to overdrive.


A Korean lady who owns a grocery taught me this recipe.  It's a good thing I did not quite understand her - I mixed up her versions of Kimchi Soup AND Miso Soup and came up with spectacular results.  When I was telling her what I did, she was shaking her head - apparently I committed some sort of Korean Culinary boo-boo.

I continued making this mistake of adding miso paste to kimchi stew, since I liked the taste. Eventually, I found recipes on the net that make use of this combination, along with other flavorings such as chili powder for added fire, soy sauce, onions, and sesame oil.

I keep mine simple, and you can glean the ingredients from the picture above.

Kimchi, plus some kimchi juice from the jar, chopped to bite size portions
Wakame (dried Japanese seaweed)
Miso paste (about a heaping teaspoon per serving)
Soba noodles
Tofu
Water

That's basically it.  I make it in a Korean cooking vessel which I bought very cheaply.  It needs to be placed on a trivet, since it's quite unstable over my gas range.

Basically boil everything and you're done!  I sometimes break an egg during the last few minutes of simmering the stew.  Another one of my not-much-cooking recipes.

It's amazing how cuisines go together at one point as our lives intersect with that of other cultures.  One thing I learned from an Italian chef is to add a dab of butter after reheating left over spaghetti with sauce - it adds an element of richness and makes everything taste fresh.

I found exactly the same tip in this soup, in this version!  I must try that.

And the post that started my craving for Kimchi Soup - thank you, Shinshine!



Sources:

Lodge Cast Iron Trivet, and other Lodge Cast Iron Pans
     - Living Well, Podium, Ortigas, Manila



Friday, August 19, 2011

Quick Pasta

There are times when I crave for something savory, something fast, and something that does not include a lot of prep work.  Well, this pasta dish is far from being the perfect solution - it calls for leftovers in the fridge.  I usually have a pot of pasta sauce, ready for tossing into noodles when the line-up for dinner is not in keeping with my food preferences.

Tuna cooked in tomato sauce is a favorite.  But after the third reincarnation, it does tend to get a tad bit old.

For this version, I freshened it up a bit with cherry tomatoes and lots of basil.

Heat up olive oil in a pan, drop the cherry tomatoes to soften them, and squash them to release the juice.  Better yet, cut them into two - pressing on them might release a shot of wayward hot tomato sauce.  Add leftover sauce, and a handful of chopped fresh basil.  In the absence of leftover sauce, a packet of Del Monte spaghetti sauce will do in a pinch - the flavors are already balanced and does not need much tweaking.  I also added a generous splash of white wine.

It helps if you have basil ready for harvesting in the garden.  The parent plant has self-sown already, and these are the second generation plants.  

Again, I always have a container of cooked spaghetti noodles - I make sure there are plenty of leftovers, separate from the sauce, so I can make the exact dish that I want for that day, be it plain pesto, Aglio y Olio, or red sauce.

Drop the noodles, cover to heat it all up and blend the flavors - and serve.  Definitely does not taste like leftovers.



*** Note:  No pasta?  no problem.   This is just as good served over hot rice.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Excelling in the Little Things...

I'm reminded that the most significant things sometimes do not come in broad sweeps and grand gestures.  In my line of work, I meet a varied group of people with different complaints.  I sometimes get surprised to get feedback on what people valued most.  Not for the what seems to me as the most significant - the dramatic saves, the successful resuscitation.

No, not those...

It's in the little things that I thought were trivial.  Those were apparently what matters to people.  They tell me that they appreciate it if someone takes time to listen to them.  It comforts and reassures them.  Occasionally, they say that one's presence is enough to make them feel better.

And I feel guilty since during those moments, from head up, I look pleasant, agreeable, smiling.  Underneath the table, my hands are clenched and I am tying my writing pad into knots.

Little things, not grand gestures.

Like Madame Valentina Lisitsa.  This is her fourth encore.  After playing Rachmaninoff powerhouse pieces, she settles down and starts playing the first bars of Fur Elise.  The audience is amused, and a wave of soft laughter spreads.  This, after all, is a piece played by five-year-olds at piano recitals.  She continues playing, her fingers lightly caressing the keys while the audience sits in rapt silence.  After her performance, appreciative applause rings out.

It takes an artist to make something simple sound profound and meaningful - and this is exactly what she did.

Brava, Ms. Lisitsa!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Invertebrate Anatomy


We used to have courses like that back in pre-med.  It involves studying snails, slugs, and other lower life forms - not the most fascinating topic in the world.

However, I encounter it with much more interest nowadays.  

One of my more worthwhile impulse buys was an order for ornamental aquarium shrimps.  Yup, that's right, you can buy pretty much anything you want on the net nowadays.



And these babies are quite...  industrious.  They've multiplied to hundreds in my ponds, fishbowls, and basins.  At 40 pesos per shrimp, they probably are the world's most expensive bagoong (fermented shrimp paste).

A side note:  Bagoong is a Filipino condiment with cousins in China, Thailand, Burma, and Indonesia.  It's a heady, pungent, briny, umami-filled (I should add "stinky") ingredient that is much beloved in this part of Asia.

Well, these shrimps are fastidious cleaners.  I dump my algae-encrusted plants in there, and viola, just like the Jacques, the cleaner shrimp in "Finding Nemo," by the next day, the plants are spotless and pristine.


They're fun critters - one of my best investments ever!



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Achuete

The seeds of Bixa orellana is commonly used as a food coloring in Asian cuisine.  It's more popularly known as Achuete (Atsuete) or Annato seeds.

Marketmanila, my favorite food blog, has entries on Atchuete in the following links:

... As an ingredient in Pancit Luglug

... and in Kare-kare (Oxtail Stew in Peanut Sauce) as well.

However, people were surprised to see it in some of the flower arrangements my mom brings to the shop.  And why not - the seedpods are a vibrant color of red. It adds an interesting texture and a splash of color.


It goes well with orchid blooms and variegated foliage.


... and as an added benefit, long after the orchids have dried up, you can still put the dried seeds of the Achuete to good use, in Annato Oil.  Apparently it's commonly used in Carribean cuisine.  Recipe here:

"Achiote Oil"

And where to use it?

Deeny blogs about an interesting recipe for Chicken and Yellow Rice.  The picture on her page is positively mouthwatering.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fun Things to Do with Odds and Ends in the Refrigerator

I've written a previous entry on how easy it is to create a fresh-tasting Salad with miscellaneous items in the refrigerator over here.  

Sometimes, when I'm at the dining table already and something needs jazzing up - I turn to an array of flavor boosters.  Favorites, of course, are olives, capers... Filipino pickles (achara).  Spices and spicy food - small fiery chilies, kimchi.  I also make my own flavored vinegars, usually with my favorite herb - basil, of course.  

Recently, we've taken to dicing more raw mangoes that we can finish in a meal - so off it goes in a covered bowl, with a sprinkling of sugar and salt.  The mangoes eventually lends some of its juices to make a very flavorful pickling solution.

Here are the mangoes, added to various odds and ends in the ref.

With Broccoli and Dragon Fruit:
  

... and with tomatoes, basil, and fried dried anchovies.  

These are welcome additions to my pared-down diet - it adds a lot of volume and flavor to my meal - hence filling me up without adding a lot of calories.

Makes a most satisfying crunch, too!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Update on Basil Cuttings

I haven't done much gardening lately, on account of a little health snag.  Most of my green work happened inside the house.  These are the cuttings that I left out to root 5 days ago.

Bringing Fresh Herbs in the Kitchen

Some of the cuttings have good root development already.  These are ready to be potted up soon.  I don't let it stay too long in water - it's a sterile medium with no nutrients whatsoever, and eventually, the cuttings lose a bit of their vigor of kept too long in water.



I have observed that basil grown from cuttings don't grow up as robust as seed-grown plants.  It's still a good way to propagate a particular variety, though  - and I can always harvest the dried seeds when these cuttings mature and eventually produce flowers.

Basil is something I must have perennially - and I'm thankful that we are in an area where spring is eternal.  Ok, a bit of an exaggeration - but we can grow these things year-round, even in scorching summer - and that's good enough for me.

Quick and Easy Dinner - Tuna, Tomato, and Basil Sandwich

I came home late last night, and I wanted something fast, easy, and, well, mildly nutritious.  Times like these call for Tuna Sandwich.  Since I make the spread myself, I control how much mayo I put in.  I also change up the flavors once in a while - it might contain a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, or, a particular favorite of mine - sun-dried tomato pesto.


For this sandwich, I piled it up high with slices of tomatoes, and a generous amount of chopped basil.  It would have been nice to sear this on a cast-iron pan - but I was too hungry, and it's just as good eaten over plain un-toasted white bread.

I didn't bother with other added flavors this time - this trio - tuna/tomato/basil - is perfect as it is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wake-up Videos

There are times when I don't want to wake up to the sounds of Death Metal.  I'd rather be eased gently into the day.

And this is what I listen to, when I don't want to be jarred awake.

Janet Jackson's Runaway:
The girl has skillz.  She can sing and do that amazing choreography at the same time. At best, I can only hum tunelessly while tapping my foot. This song never gets old.

Now, if I am not sure if I want to get up or go back to sleep, I listen to this:
The Waters of March, by Elis Regina and Tom Jobim. And suddenly, I couldn't care less about whatever bugs me at the moment.

"These are waters of March closing the summer;  it's the promise of life in your heart."

I have no idea what it means, but it sounds really deep, and it is most definitely reassuring.

Good day everyone!

And Happy Father's Day, Papa!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sleepy Time Videos on YouTube

When sleep does not fall gently, like a gossamer veil across conscious thought, and instead, I am reduced to tossing and turning and itching to log on to eBay again ... I turn to YouTube.

There are a number of good videos out there;  some are from beloved classics - gems from long ago that have not lost their luster.

A favorite of mine is Clair de Lune.  It is unobtrusive - it weaves and out of your senses as you drift off to slumberland.  It flows, caressing your tired mind and allows you to let go of whatever bothers you at the moment.

David Oistrakh does Clair de Lune beautifully.  Not achingly sentimental and not too showy.  I like it when artists perform this as a gentle lullaby.


Now, if you want a lush video to go with that, this is a deleted scene from Disney's Fantasia.  It's a pity this wasn't included in the final cut.  Perhaps Disney thought the kids will be bored at this type of artistry.  Still, it's quite enchanting.


and finally, lest anyone gets Clairdelunitis, let's have a spot of Yoyo Ma's "The Swan".  It's a perfect continuation of the mood evoked by Clair de Lune.


Well, it's too early in the day to say this ... but good night y'all!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An "Indoor" Pond

Well, technically, not "indoors".  It is separated from my folks' room by a glass sliding door.  We were wondering what to do with a small space that is within the perimeter of the room when we were doing the renovation.  The architect suggested that it be turned into a Zen garden.

Wonderful idea!  We're suckers for anything green and plant-like.  We promptly turned the project over to another architect, this time, a specialist in Landscape Design.

The landscape architect is much in-demand for projects involving resorts and such.  I'm so glad he took on this project, which is rather small by his standards - more of a micro Zen garden.  He suggested putting in a pond with a waterfall.  Complete with man-made boulders, and a mural of a mountain in the background.

And so it was.

Close-up of a Fern that grew wild, in the fern slabs that were attached to the wall.

Wider shot:


Part of the mural that the architect himself painted on the wall, depicting a forest-covered mountain.  The "root" cords are made of epoxy, molded by hand, and affixed to the wall.  The mural is doing very well, even if it is exposed to the elements.  This photo was taken when the painting was about 10 years old.  


For the pond greenery, we were limited by the low-light conditions available to the area - so I planted Cryptocorynes and Anubias.  Both plants thrive well in low light.

A tangle of Cryptocorynes - these have adjusted well and are now quite lush.


Once you created a hospitable and welcome environment, it's inevitable that others will find it pleasing as well.  Here, two kinds of ferns took root, brought along by spores carried from the winds.  Welcome to my garden, ferns!

Adiantum capillus-veneris




And, well, Fernus Ferni.   Ok, so this is still up for ID.  Patrick?  Help?

It's amazing that the design was able to incorporate a pond AND a waterfall, considering the space limitations.  The pump is a strong one.  Quite a torrent of water in this particular waterfall.


We have three functioning "waterfalls".  It was an artform - calibrating the amount of water that goes into each hose, so that there's a balance of flow in all three outlets.

The effect is quite natural, specially when the patina of moss covered the boulders.


There is a plan, afoot, to turn this pocket garden into a closet, since we were not able to put in enough closet space for the house.  I hope it doesn't happen, though.

Pockets of serenity are important in our lives.  It's a wonderful thing, to turn on the waterfall and listen to the sound it makes.  It's quite amusing to see the fish scrambling about, trying to get your attention, and begging for food.  It's amazing, how in their tiny communal brain, they associated human beings with providers of sustenance - and they do beg for food, much like a puppy.

I like the way this pond has matured.  Algae and moss has crept in, giving it a more natural look.  This in turn, provided a haven where ferns can thrive.

Life unfolds beyond the sliding door.

One merely has to step outside in order to observe and participate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Clean Way to Grow Table-Top Plants

I had plenty of downtime recently - and it was good time to catch up on gardening backlog.  Problem was that I couldn't stay outdoors for a long time (I was on antibiotics - specifically quinolones).  Hence, it was perfect time to tend to my window-sill greenery.

When the kitchen was renovated, the architect placed a wider ledge under the kitchen windows.  It was perfect for putting my sprigs of basil.  Gradually, the collection occupied a bigger space, to include various plants - even a fish bowl with a fighting fish.


(Click on Read More for continuation)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Avocados, avocados...

In our little orchard, I look forward to the time when the Avocado tree bears fruits.  In fact, I celebrate this more than Durian season.

Avocado still-life, on Mahjong table

There's something about the creaminess of the avocado flesh that puts me in a state of mild rapture.  It's just perfect... if durian overwhelms, avocado, on the other hand, wraps you up in a blissful state of silky textures and delicate flavors.

It's like listening to a Liszt's genteel Liebestraum in the background, as opposed to being jarred by a triumphant Tchaikovsky Overture.

Liebestraum, performed by Evgeny Kissin


Tchaikovsky Overture

We like Avocados in its high-caloric best - mixed with a lot of condensed milk. You wouldn't think Avocados can't get any lusher - but it does, when eaten in this fashion.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Pet Water Dragon

That's what I call my fighting fish (Scientific name:  Betta splendens).  I have two of them now - and I'm partial to blue.

I used to keep lots of them in tiny jars with plants - but it was a chore maintaining a bunch of unsightly algae-coated bowls with murky water.

Now, I only have two of those ugly things.

In a previous fit of impulsiveness common amongst serial hobbyist, I once ordered 8 (Eight!) mini-aquaria, each measuring about 10 inches cubed.  At present, most of them are empty souls.  Two of them, however, are in my room, and one is home to my happy fighting fish.  Quite an industrious one - he's always tending to his bubble nest.  Male betta's make nests with their own saliva, in preparation for rearing a brood of baby fighting fish.

My Betta's bubble nest.  He keeps really busy fixing up his nest.  Must find him a mate!
(Click on Read More for continuation)

Ensaimada

While researching for this pastry, I realized how much Spain has influenced our country.  Even the Ensaimada is from Spain!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensa%C3%AFmada

Once in a while, an unexpected gift graces our lives.  This one was in the form of what our neighbor unassumingly calls "Potato Rolls".  Simply put, her recipe calls for mashed potatoes which is mixed with bread dough, rolled in a log, cut up, and baked, and then sprinkled with sugar.  The resulting pastry elevates the common ingredients into the realm of the sublime.  She is quite famous for this specialty, and it is always a treat to receive it on occasions.  Lathered with jam, accompanied by green/mint tea... this makes for a very nice break in the day.



Thank you, Tita Purit!

Leftovers + Leftovers = Not Bad at All!

I was in a mood for a fast, quick snack after coming home, ravenous, from the farm.  I espied a container of diced fried tofu in one corner of the refrigerator.

Now, tofu is highly nutritious and is low fat - we all know that.  But it is also as boring as plain white bread.  What to do, what to do...

Then I saw a bowl of left over diced raw mangoes, which were tossed in a little bit of sugar and salt.  After  one day, the osmotic effect of the salt/sugar mixture drew out the juice of the raw mangoes. It was at that perfect stage - still crunchy, and oozing with that tart/sweet/salty juice.

I mixed the two together, and added some of the Tofu sauce (*).

The result:

The raw mangoes certainly added a bit of flair and flavor to the bland tofu - and the tofu sauce was able to offset its tartness nicely.  

Not bad, not bad at all.



(*) Tofu Sauce:

Mix soy sauce, chopped onions, garlic, a little rum, sugar, and scant black pepper in a saucepan.  Taste for balance of salt / sweet.  Put over low fire and simmer gently.  


Rescue the sauce with a splash of apple juice if it is too salty.  


Serve with fried tofu, cubed.

Recipes I Want to Try

I have compiled too much recipes already from the net - and inevitably, when I see something that strikes a chord, I save it and do the whole shtick - obsessively format it in MS Word, add columns to compress the recipe in one or two pages, attach helpful comments from those who tried it ... only to find out I've done the same thing on the exact recipe two months ago!

These recipes bear trying.  I really have got to start real-life cooking and stop recipe window shopping.  Right now, I'm perusing Dorie Greenspan's recipes.  She has a lot of loyal bakers-bloggers, who select one of her recipes and upload their thoughts on the recipe - all of them rave reviews.  Her rustic recipes call out to me, more than the multi-layered confections in my recipe files.

Dorie Greenspan's Corniest Corn Muffins


Dorie Greenspan's French Yoghurt Cake


Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Yogurt Loaf Cake


Dorie Greenspan's Banana Cake, Big and Small

And of course, what's life without cheesecake.
Lime-Vanilla Cheesecake from Delicious Days


I'll put up the results of my attempts - hopefully, soon.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rosemary

The scent of Rosemary is fresh, bracing, and quite invigorating.  Reminds me of Pine-scented air fresheners. It has an enticing aroma and it is positively mouth-watering, specially if it emanates from the oven, admixed with the heady vapors of lemon oils, roasted chicken, and garlic.  Ahhh!

Picture taken from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary


In spite of the fact that it ranks high in my list of favorite herbs, I do very little with it, actually.  I can only think of two dishes:  topped on focaccia, and baked inside the chicken recipe I just described.

Hence, I keep more pots of rosemary than I ever need.  Most of the sprigs end up as decor on gift boxes in lieu of ribbons - a bundle of fresh rosemary is a visual and olfactory delight, and the recipients can make use of it in their kitchen. Far more use than an ordinary non-biodegradable length of ribbon.

Growing Rosemary, however, is a bit of a challenge.  I used to have twenty pots of rosemary, all in a row -and one by one died on me.  I think they were severely over-watered.

Now, Rosemary does not like to keep her feet wet.  Far from being a dainty creature, it is actually a robust shrub, used to harsh conditions and sparse nutrients on Mediterranean soil.  Since I learned that rosemary prefers to be the alkaline side of the pH scale, I added crushed marble stones, easily available in construction supply stores, in the potting mix.  This also enhances drainage which is a boon for this dry-loving plants.  I'd rather see the plants a bit on the dry side, rather than water logged.

For the past 5 years, I seem to be doing well with rosemary.  I found a spot which they seem to prefer - bright but filtered sunlight, and full morning sun.  We keep the potting mix loose and well-draining - not a lot of organic material.  And we don't re-pot it too frequently.

I figured, after killing a lot of rosemary plants with too much kindness, that this plant actually thrives on a bit of neglect, and suffocates with too much care.  As with a lot of things in life. 

Snapshots from the Garden: Variegated Herbs / Fruits

Variety and Variegation in the garden.
Some herb and fruit trees are pretty enough to be ornamental plants.  Here are two of them:

Variegated Calamansi / Calamondin / Citrofortunella microcarpa


The leaves of the Variegated Calamansi are quite striking.  It brightens up the predominantly green foliage of the surrounding plants...


Variegated Cuban Oregano / Plectranthus amboinicus
     Apparently this herb is used in Carribean cuisine.  I haven't actually cooked with this - it seems a tad bit too strongly-scented.  I like having it around, though - the leaf pattern is interesting and there's a lot of texture, too.  The leaves are thick and succulent.  It's very easy to propagate, too.  Friends grow it at the base of a potted plant, to drive away aphids, in pest-prone plants such as Hibiscus.






Friday, June 10, 2011

On Cast-Iron Pans

I go through cycles of hobbies.  Each passion is usually met with people sighing, here we go again!  These hobbies usually consume a lot of eBay and internet time.



I went through a cast-iron pan phase last year.  This came about when I read an article detailing the hazards of Teflon.  Do you know that if you put your empty Teflon-coated pan on the stove and turn the heat up high, the resulting breakdown of the Teflon coating will release fumes that will result in dead pet birds?

Hazards of Teflon to your pet birds

While there's no final verdict yet on Teflon, there are articles which point out a possible link between Teflon and numerous ailments, ranging from infertility in women to developmental defects.

UCLA researchers report that exposure to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) may reduce women’s fertility

Might chemical in Teflon pose health risk?

Time Magazine Article on the Hazards of Teflon

In my search for a suitable alternative, I was led to cast-iron pans.  As the article in New York Times succinctly phrases it:
While nonstick cooking offers big benefits--ease of cleanup, drastically reduced need for oil--nobody has yet invented a coating that works as well as Teflon. But there's a low-tech solution that dates back hundreds of years: a good cast-iron skillet. It's cheaper than a coated pan, it browns food better, and as for the nonstick factor, when properly seasoned, it's nearly as good.
And thus beginneth my cast-iron phase.

The problem was, Cast-Iron Pans are not very popular in our country.  We're more of an aluminum wok - Teflon saute pan kind of a crowd.  It was a good thing that I found a store affiliated with one of the bigger stores in Manila - and from there, I was able to source out my first skillet:  a Lodge 8-inch diameter skillet.


Presently, it's being put to good use, frying chicken for lunch.



Cast-iron pans are perfect for searing and for frying.  Fried chicken, for some people, is synonymous with cast-iron pans.  There is a drying effect of cast-iron on the crust of fried food, lending a crispy crunch to the surface, yet maintaining a moist and tender interior.  Alton Brown recommends it in this recipe.  In his Good Eats episode, there's even a shopping trip to procure a cast-iron pan.

Alton Brown's Fried Chicken

My second piece of iron was an Ebay find.  I stumbled on a site for Aebleskivers one time, and that triggered a hunt for an Aebleskiver pan.  These are Danish pancakes, traditionally served during the holidays.  I found a pan on Ebay, and after weeks of waiting, it arrived in the post office.  I couldn't wait - I just had to park somewhere and open the package.  This is the baby that came through the mail.  It had the original Griswold and Wagner box, and the surface was very smooth and slick.

My Griswold and Wagner Aebleskiver Pan

Close-up of one hollow:


I couldn't wait to try it out.  The funny thing is, the first batch of Aebleskivers was a success.  In an effort to tweak it, future attempts were sub-par.



My sister, a wonderful enabler to my hobbies, recently gave me a book on Aeblskivers - and hopefully those recipes will point me towards better 'skivers.

You'd want such a pan, too, after watching this video.


It's fascinating she flips the pancakes by quarter turns with practiced ease, ensuring that the final result will be a perfectly spherical pancake.


I quickly built up a collection which covered our library table with pans.  Getting a Lodge Wonder Skillet was a no-brainer - it was small, cheap, and it made it to Ophrah's 10 Favorite things.  This small pan is wonderful for grilled cheese sandwiches.  You don't have to wait a long time to wait for a bigger chunk of iron to heat up - it just takes a few minutes to reach toasting temperatures.

The Lodge Wonder Skillet, on the company site (I'm not affiliated with Lodge!)

A smaller Lodge skillet followed, for those times when I'm making a batch of french toast and there's a queue forming already.  And then a Griddle from eBay - again, a Griswold and Wagner piece.  Plus two more skillets...  and another square skillet. My eBay friend threw in a free (!) skillet when it took him a slight delay in processing my order.  I just had to stop when a dear relative was expressing dismay about the accumulating mound of iron in the library.

Well, a little bit of warning - it is always mentioned that the problem with cast-iron is sticking.  That might be true if you are using a new piece - but for well-seasoned pans, it's almost as non-stick as Teflon.  I've seen videos of people cooking sunny side up eggs in a CI (cast-iron) skillet and the thing just slides across the pan, as if it was wearing tiny roller skates.

*Seasoning* refers to putting a non-stick layer of carbonized oil on the surface of the pan - and it does not mean sprinkling it with salt and pepper.  To do this, I coat a pan lightly with oil and put it out on the barbecue grill for about three hours.  I don't want to use the oven, to save on gas, and seasoning involves generating a lot of smoke, which I don't want to happen inside the house.  Gradually, the surface of the pan becomes darker after several bouts of repeated seasoning.  Using the pan frequently also helps bring the process along.  During seasoning, oil get burnt off, leaving behind the carbon atoms.  The carbonized layer fills up the minute crevices leading to a smoother surface, and hence, a more non-stick finish.

Two videos on seasoning cast-iron pans:



So why do we bother doing all of these?  Why not just buy one of the greener versions of non-stick skillets that replaced Teflon?

Well, a number of things...

One important factor is the end product.  Food cooked in a cast-iron pan benefits from it's steady heat.  Because of the mass of iron, temperature does not fluctuate widely.  Once the oil reaches desired temperature, we turn the heat down to low, resulting in a lower LPG consumption.  Food fried in cast-iron results in a crispy surface - apparently, the reason to the superior crust is that the layer of moisture between the food and the hot oil in the pan evaporates faster in a cast-iron pan.  In contrast, there is a tendency of food in a Teflon pan to be "braised" rather than seared. Hence, food with important surface appeal - corn bread, fried chicken, and steaks  - these benefit from the dry even heat of cast-iron pans.  Another benefit is that a small amount of iron leaches into the food.  This does not affect the taste, but it does give your hemoglobin a nice ferrous boost.

Two, you won't be able to pass on your teflon-coated pans to the next generation.  Some of the pans I bought are well over fifty years old - and I can pass them on down the line, with proper care.

and three - well, you can't beat chicken fried in cast-iron!

Lunch awaits.


Additional Resources:

     - Homepage of the Lodge Manufacturing.  This site contains their product line up, plus basic information on how to care/season cast-iron.  There are also a few recipes here - check out the Southern Fried Chicken with Milk Gravy



(end)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tomato - Basil Salad

Yesterday's post on basil inevitably leads to this one - Tomato Basil Salad.  It's one of my favorite fast easy recipes that's healthy AND tasty.


To make:

Slice tomatoes thinly, so more surface area is available to soak up the marinade.  Sprinkle with strips (well, ok, julienne) of basil.  Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and salt.  Drizzle with olive oil, and vinegar of choice.  I like balsamic for its depth of flavor, but apple cider is an acceptable substitute.  Take the obligatory photographs, and serve.

Yesterday, to make it more substantial, I sliced ripe mangoes and hard boiled egg, and added that to this tomato salad.  Croutons will turn this into a complete meal of carbs + protein + veggies.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bringing Fresh Herbs in the Kitchen



Fresh herbs should be in the kitchen, for easy access.  Sometimes, plain inertia (laziness) gets in the way of going out in the rain (or blinding sunshine here in the tropics) to snip a few choice herbs from the garden.

I've discovered two ways to merge gardening and cooking duties:  I bring sprigs of fresh basil into the kitchen, trim down the lower leaves, and place them in jars with water.





Once I have harvested most of the leaves, I retain some on the sprig, and let the cuttings root out.  These cuttings can then be planted out in the garden, ensuring I have a continuous supply of fresh herbs.

(Click on Read More for continuation)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Johnny Cupcakes

It is easy to like, and devour, a box of Johnny Cupcakes.

This establishment was recommended by a friend - and I'm very glad this was pointed out to me.  It's quite easy to miss out, since it's not in my usual travel routes - and considering it's accessibility (Arellano Street - across one of the perimeters of Central Bank) - it's going to be a pity to miss out on this gem of a pastry shop.

The chef-proprietor took up his advanced courses in baking pastries at an American culinary school.  The passion for his craft shows in the tiny details - the exquisite frostings, the novel pairings (beer + chocolate!), and the overall balance of flavors and sweetness in each cupcake.

I tend to lean on the chocolate side of things - so my favorite is his Chocolate Surprise.  Red Velvet is also a best seller.

The surprise in each cupcake is in the reasonable prices of his offerings.  Each cupcake costs Php 40.00... roughly less than a dollar.  Cupcakes these good are usually sold in Manila, with too much frosting, at double the price.

It's worth the visit, if you are craving for a tasty treat - and working out an extra thirty minutes on the treadmill afterwards!

Located at Arellano Street, Davao City, Philippines.  
Go inside the compound beside Mercury Drug - it's on your right side, two establishments from the entrance.

Google Maps:
http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=13925467374832606607&q=jonathan'&hl=en&ved=0CDwQ-gswAA&sa=X&ei=WebuTYTTH8adkAWBrKyrCw

Telephone number:  +63 82 224 5000 



Lotus Court, Marco Polo Hotel

Lotus Court in Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City, is my favorite Chinese restaurant.  They recently underwent massive renovations - and I like the changes.  The overall look is less glaringly red and oriental.  The new design is more soothing to the eyes, and has a more cosmopolitan vibe.  Quite a refreshing change from the previous down-town Chinese restaurant feel.

Lotus Court calls for a celebration, and that invariably includes their Peking Duck.  For us tightwads, we request the three-way - the traditional Peking Duck Skin served with crepe wrappers and plum sauce, then Soup, then chopped and topped with a sweet sauce over lettuce leaves.   That's truly stretching the duck!  Of course, the first time it turns up on the table is the best... the head waiter expertly wraps it up in tiny delicate pouches.  The table is in silence as each of us are transported into gustatory nirvana, borne aloft by waves of flavors and contrasting textures exploding in our mouths as we bite on the Peking duck parcels:  the thin strips of crisp duck skin, the pungent bite of the green onion sprig, and with the sweet - salty plum sauce pulling all the flavors together.

That alone, my friends, is worth the trip.

Their Lapu-Lapu (Grouper) cooked two ways is also a revelation.  And such ease, to partake of this delicacy, too!  It comes to the table, with the succulent flesh cubed and deep-fried.  Memory seems to escape me what the "second-way" was - I was in a very happy place, and as such, details escape me when I am enjoying myself too much!

... and last but not the least, their Sweet-and-Sour Pork is not your generic catsup with sugar glazed fried pork - I suspect the sugar was caramelized before it was added to the dish.  I remember David Leibovitz has a most excellent recipe on Vietnamese Ribs - and I think the technique is essentially the same.

Lotus Court never disappoints, and it is worth saving up for the next visit.

Location:
Lotus Court
Marco Polo Hotel
C.M. Recto Street
Davao City
Philippines


Telephone Number:  (63) (82) 221 0888


Link to the Lotus Court page on the Marco Polo website

Kimchi Somang Restaurant

This is my go-to Korean Restaurant in Davao City - and why not?  The food is reasonable, the servings are huge, and they are quite generous with the appetizers.

One time, I couldn't find a dining buddy to share servings with me, so I ordered what I thought would be the lightest item on the menu.  The Korean Pancake.  I wasn't expecting the usual round of complimentary appetizers to go with this order, since the item was rather cheap - but the waitress kindly brought out a round of four small platters of appetizers.  That was a nice touch.  And then the omelette came.  It had vegetables, seafood.  It was as big as a platter.  I inwardly groaned, since I knew it was going to be good, and I was going to overeat again.

The place is packed with Korean nationals - proof that the food is authentic.  It's homey, with no pretensions whatsoever at ambiance.  A television set overhead is tuned in to a Korean channel non-stop.

My favorites - the Spicy Squid (I'll put in the Korean name once I get back to the restaurant).   Comes served over noodles or over rice, your choice.  And the Kimchi Soup.

Problem with writing about Korean food - I invariably start drooling and must go hunt for something spicy in the kitchen!

Kimchi Somang Restaurant is located at JP Laurel, in front of Victoria Plaza.
Telephone Numbers to follow....



Miso Soup

Miso Soup ranks high up in my list of comfort food.  It's easy to prepare, it's nourishing, and rich in flavorful umami.  What's not to like?

I used to be intimidated by it.  Most recipes call for making dashi - a soup stock made with bonito flakes and konbu.  Two more exotic ingredients, and just to make the soup stock!  That was until the proprietor of a Korean grocery taught me a simplified version.

Instead of bonito flakes, she taught me how to use dried fish from her store.  They seem like big fat dilis (dried anchovies) to me.  Simply pop off the heads and take out the stomach part containing the entrails.  Chop into fine pieces.

Drop in a pan (I use a Korean ceramic vessel), add some wakame (dried seaweed), and a tablespoon of miso per bowl of water.  That's it!  Optional ingredients are onion sprigs and tofu.

It's a bit less refined than the Japanese version - but good nonetheless.

I've taken to adding chopped kimchi to this mix, plus whatever left-over steamed vegetables I have in the refrigerator.  Some soba noodles oftentimes end up in the mix, too.  I add an egg when everything comes to a rolling boil, then turn down the heat.  The ingredients are now pantry staples - I have Miso paste in the freezer, and dried seaweed in the cupboard.  I've also discovered this powder in a Japanese grocery.  It's granular - much like fish food (...)  and it amps up the flavor in the broth.



My recipe is by no means authentic to either the Korean or the Japanese versions - but it's fast, cheap, easy, made with few ingredients, and I have dinner on the table in 10 minutes flat.  And quite a good one at that.

Sankai Japanese Restaurant



Irasshaimase! The joyous welcome rings out from the staff, even before you could step through the glass sliding door.


Sankai Japanese Restaurant is my little Japanese nook in the heart of Davao City.  They never fail to disappoint. I knew I was going to be in for a treat, when I saw the robed-clad Japanese sushi chef standing behind the counter.


The counter had quite an array of fresh fish, meticulously encased in cling wrap.  The slab of tuna had a very vibrant hue.



Their customers are avid followers of their seasonal specials. I was prevailed upon by a customer seated at the bar to try the Hamachi. I hemmed and hawed, since the item was rather pricey... but after it was served to me, I knew right away why it was recommended. It was incredibly fresh and succulent. A fatty fish with a delicate taste and a sublime texture.

Another favorite is the California Maki.  When ordering the CaliMaki, make sure to request they add the Roe for a nominal fee. These are the largest Cali Maki I have ever been served - a far cry from the tiny bland ones that you see in fast-food Japanese restaurants.

I'm partial to ordering sushi and maki whenever I am in this restaurant. It seems a lot more authentic.  The servings come in symmetrical shapes, with very clean cuts.  There is balance and harmony in the dish - it's almost zen-like.  



Location:  Sankai is located at the corner of Arellano and Emilio Jacinto Extension - in front of Central Bank.  It's a few feet away from HSBC.