Friday, October 31, 2008

Beef w/ Gai Lan for a double iron hit

We’re now about 34 weeks in the pregnancy. And we recently found out the Cherry is a bit anaemic. She’s now taking iron supplements (and will for the duration of the pregnancy) but we’ve also been advised to eat more red meat. That’s not so hard!

The recipe below does not have a lot of ingredients and is also pretty quick to make (as with most stir fries). And the added bonus, you get a double hit of iron! So, eat up!

Beef w/ Gai Lan (aka Beef w/ Chinese Broccoli)

500g rump steak cut into stir fry pieces

1 bunch gai lan

1 teaspoon ginger

1 clove garlic chopped

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

A bit of oil

¼ cup stock or water

  1. Marinate the beef using 1 tablespoon of the oyster sauce and 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce
  2. Prepare the gai lan by cutting the vegetable in half separating the stalks from the leaves.
  3. Heat up the wok in high heat. Add a bit of oil. Stir fry the beef in batches to avoid steaming the meat. Set aside the stir fried beef.
  4. Add a bit more oil to the same wok. Stir fry the ginger and the garlic for about a minute.
  5. Add the stalk part of the vegetable and stir fry for about 2 minutes. Add a bit of stock/water.
  6. Add the beef back in and stir fry for another minute.
  7. Add the leaf part of the gai lan together with the remaining sauces and stir fry until the gai lan has wilted.
  8. Serve with steaming hot jasmine rice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera

SYNOPSIS (taken from Urban Cinefile) :When young Colombian poet and telegraph clerk Florentino Ariza (Unax Ugalde) first sets eyes on the lovely Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) he falls desperately in love with her, vowing to be faithful and in love till he dies. Fermina's widowed mule trader father (John Leguizamo) is furious; he wants a man of social standing and wealth for his daughter, so takes her far away from Cartagena. On their return to the city, Fermina meets Dr Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt) who has earned a great reputation as the doctor who brought good medicine to the city, fighting the curse of cholera. They soon marry and spend a few years in Paris on an extended honeymoon. The mature Florentino (Javier Bardem), who has inherited a small shipping company, continues to nurture his love for Fermina, although his vow of fidelity has been broken ... several hundred times. Even in his old age, Florentino retains his love for Fermina, in the hope that perhaps one day ....

After reading the last page of the book I immediately dropped my lunch plans and headed straight to the nearest shop that stocks the DVD of Mike Newell’s film adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.

I was so excited to watch the film! I made sure dinner was finished by 8pm and the kids are asleep by 8.30pm.

It still baffles me why filmmakers would choose to make a movie in English spoken with a thick non-English accent. Any film done in this manner is pretty hard to take seriously. And the actors just sounded ridiculous. Why can’t they just do it in straight English? Or better yet, why not just use Spanish which was the book’s original language?

Giovanna Mezzogiorno certainly looked beautiful all throughout the film but her portrayal of Fermina Daza somewhat fell short of what the author intended. I found it really challenging to find something in her that would make Florentino Ariza linger for over half a century. I think it was pertinent that the audience fall in love with her to make the film more plausible.

There was also a lot of “verbalisation” of emotions. I did not want the actors to “say” what their character is going through or what their character is feeling! I want to see it in their performance!

Mike Newell (director) and his scriptwriter Ronald Harwood opted for a literal interpretation of the book rather than a combination of fantasy and realism which is what characterises Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works. As a consequence the film looks clumsy and incomplete.

In the end I couldn’t help but wonder how a director with a better understanding of the author’s language and culture – Pedro Almodóvar perhaps or even our very own Carlitos Siguion-Reyna – would have handled it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Breakfast at Work

From personal observation I’m quite saddened by the fact that breakfast, which is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, is largely neglected. The most preparation people do in the morning is “open a box”. I suppose they are comforted by the “health promises” printed on these boxes. Makes you wonder though why society is getting fatter and fatter.

Everyday of the working week I have my breakfast at work. Anytime before 8am is just too early for me to eat anything.

Cold breakfast was never my thing (as mentioned in a previous post). But thankfully at work we’re provided with a pretty well equipped kitchen. There is no stove but I have managed to make the sandwich press work beyond “what the box” says (as you can see in the photos).

One of my other dislikes is the drip/filtered coffee. It features prominently in Hollywood movies and when I was young I couldn’t wait to grow up and start drinking this stuff. How wrong was I? It’s actually quite horrible in my opinion. But thankfully at work were also supplied with an Italian espresso machine (De’Longhi Magnifica) that makes really good coffee.

Here are some samples of my breakfast in the office:

  1. Ham & Cheese omelette

  1. Roti Paratha (with Nutella)

  1. Eggs & Toast

  1. Pancakes

  1. Arroz Caldo (Rice Porridge)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mantra Pandanas

43 Knuckey Street, DARWIN

Mantra Pandanas is a pretty standard business hotel. But it stands out among the rest for four special reasons:

Pandanas plant (very prolific in the NT)

  1. It’s new

There are two Mantra properties in Darwin. One is the Pandanas (newer) and the other is the Esplanade (older). I was a bit suspicious of the older Mantra after visiting their website and finding no photos of the rooms. The link to the Pandanas, on the other hand, featured photos of the bedrooms quite heavily.

  1. CD Player

This is actually the first time I’ve ever stayed in a hotel that has a CD player in the room. I did not use it but it’s good to know it is there just in case…

  1. Extra large lotus-shaped shower head

Coming from Queensland where water restriction is de rigueur I was pleasantly surprised to see this monster of a shower head. The size betrays little about how gentle water flows out of it. This one I used a lot!

  1. Good ground coffee and a French press

Most hotels give you only two options of in-room coffee. It’s either decaf or caffeinated instant coffee. Mantra excelled in this in that you still get the instant option but you are also given the choice to have freshly brewed coffee using a French press. The hotel charges $6.00 bucks for a 50g pack but I think that is quite reasonable.

So whether for business or leisure in Darwin, I highly recommend the Mantra Pandanas!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hanuman Restaurant

Holiday Inn Esplanade, 93 Mitchell Street, Darwin

Hanuman has now become a Darwin institution that a visit to this city would not be complete without dining there. Although the restaurant is classified in the directory as Thai it actually has a lot more to offer. Mixed in together with traditional Thai curries are Indian influenced dishes and the restaurant’s own creations.

When I go to a restaurant I would only order what I know they do well. I would not deviate from this mindset unless I have been to the same restaurant day after day after day…you know what I mean. I’m sure there is a name for this way of thinking. Conservative? Traditionalist? Risk averse? I don’t know… I need to improve my English language skills, I know. Please do not hesitate to comment to advise me of the name for my condition.

Kang Kong Greens

Hanuman is no exception to this approach. For entrée it’s got to be the Hanuman Oysters. And for main it is always their Thai Crispy Whole Fish.

Thai Crispy Whole Fish

During my recent visit to Hanuman I was accompanied by six other colleagues. Everyone tried the oysters and half of us had the fish. The fish was excellent but everyone unanimously voted the Hanuman Oysters as the highlight of the evening’s meal. Not only did it taste terrific the restaurant also devised a way to present it in an unconventional way (read: not in shell on a bunch of something). The oysters come in a tagine inspired clay platter with seven pockets (six for the oysters with the middle seventh for extra sauce…just in case). The dish is certainly Thai influenced with the liberal use of sweet basil, lemongrass, coriander, and fish sauce.

Hanuman Oysters

I would like to think of it as Divine intervention. As I was sitting in my room flicking through a magazine pondering what to write I came across…*drum roll please*…the Hanuman Oysters recipe! How cool is that! For the benefit of you all I’ve copied it below, verbatim. Enjoy!

Hanuman oysters

Serves six in a restaurant enough for me if I make this at home!

2 stalks of coriander, roots attached

1 stalk sweet basil, leaves removed, stems reserved

½ teaspoon finely grated galangal

2 tablespoons thinly sliced lemon grass, white part only

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

60ml (¼ cup) lime juice

30ml fish sauce

2 tablespoons shaved palm sugar

36 pacific oysters

  1. Cut roots and 5cm of stems from coriander and chop finely, reserving leaves.

  2. Finely chop basil stems.

  3. Process roots and stems, galangal, lemon grass, chilli, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

  4. Check for the balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot and adjust if necessary.

  5. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate until needed. Makes ¾ cup and will keep refrigerated for up to one month.

  6. Place oysters on an oven tray in 200C oven or under a hot grill for one minute until warm.

  7. Thinly slice basil leaves.

  8. Drizzle each oyster with ½ teaspoon of sauce, scatter with basil and coriander leaves and serve remaining sauce passed separately.

Source: Northern Territory Scoop Traveller Magazine December-June 2008 edition or visit

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Off to the Never Never

Brisbane Airport Check-in

I started writing this while we were cruising at 30,000 feet. But I had to abandon my blog writing as I had other more important work related matters to complete. By the time I was ready to get back into it I my laptop only had less than 10 minutes of battery time left. Did you know it runs out pretty quickly? As I was not travelling in Business Class there were no power points available to me that would allow me to continue.

It is now approximately 12 hours since I started writing this post. I just got back from dinner but I couldn’t be bothered doing anything else.

Today started well enough. I was on my way to Darwin (Australia’s Never Never land). I checked-in online the day before to guarantee I get to sit where I want to sit. On the day of the flight though, I had to move to another seat to give way to a couple travelling with a baby who needed the extra space more than me. I gladly gave up my seat as I understand fully the couple’s needs. Thankfully the flight was not that full I was able to move to another window seat. Although I had to move further back there were a lot of positive points to this serendipitous occurrence. Although SeatGuru has got warnings regarding row 32 of a 767 I did not experience any of the nuisance the website was talking about. And the other great thing…the seat next to me was empty giving me more room to move. Everyone knows how precious space is in airplanes.

I had a bit of breakfast already at the Qantas Club but I was still hungry by the time I got on board. Breakfast was served during the flight but it was not my kind of breakfast. I was never into “cold” breakfast. It just does not satisfy me. Thankfully though they always serve a warm fruit roll with it. Now, that is always tasty!

The flight turned out to be very productive. Not only was I able to complete my work I was also able to watch a movie (Baby Mama – review in a later post) and read a little bit.

Monday, October 20, 2008

At Home – Kai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) with Oyster Sauce

Good food does not need to be complicated. Most times it’s the simple ones that I actually enjoy the most.

One good example of this is the recipe I have below. I’ve listed about 7 ingredients but there are actually only 3 main ones. The other great thing about this recipe is the fact that you can substitute almost any green leafy vegetable that is in season. If Kai Lan is not available Bok Choy or Pak Choy (varieties of Pinoy pechay) are good substitutes.

Kai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) with Oyster Sauce

2 bunches of Kai Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

2 cloves of garlic chopped

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

A few drops of sesame oil

Chicken stock or just plain water

A bit of oil

  1. Prepare the Kai Lan by cutting the bunches in half (crosswise). You should end up with four bunches (2 stem bunches and 2 leaf bunches)
  2. Boil some water with a bit of salt.
  3. Blanch the stem bunches first in the boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove then set aside.
  4. The leaves should only take about a minute to blanch. Set aside together with stems.
  5. Heat up a bit of oil in a pan.
  6. Stir fry the garlic for about a minute. Do not wait for it to turn complete brown.
  7. Add the oyster sauce and soy sauce.
  8. Add about ¼ cup of stock.
  9. Pour over the blanched Kai Lan. Add a few drops of sesame oil.
  10. Eat on its own or serve with jasmine rice.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Better Health, Cleaner Air

My current fitness level is not at its best. I know it and I can feel it! I used to spend my lunch breaks doing some sort of exercise (swimming, running, walking, etc.). But lately you’ll find me mostly at my desk. And at home you’ll find me on the couch a lot.

Days of 1 hour plus lunch breaks are long gone. Midday is now no longer an option. My work load just would not allow for it any more. Evenings would have been good but my home commitments are more important. I have no choice but to exercise in the morning.

I have gone “green” lately by taking public transport to work. To make it on time I have to be on the bus by 7am. If I’m going to get involved in some fitness activity I would have to be up by 5am at the very latest. That is too early! It would not be sustainable.

What is it then that I could do that will save me precious minutes and improve my fitness at the same time? My solution, WALK TO WORK! Every stride improves my fitness and brings me a step closer to my office. And the other bonus, it’s “green”!

I live approximately 11++ kilometres from my workplace which means I still have to be up pretty early. According to it should take me almost 4 hours to walk! 4 HOURS! Who’s crazy enough to do that! It’s good I did not consult this website before I decided. Otherwise, I would have been discouraged immediately.

I am happy to report though that it took me less than 2 hours to walk to work. It would have been quicker if I did not stop to take some photos for this blog. Plus, on this first venture I had with me quite a heavy bag (with my work clothes and toiletries) which slowed me down even more. I expect the succeeding ones to be much quicker as they would be planned better.

If you have other fitness suggestions please feel free to comment…

Monday, October 13, 2008

At home – Salt & (Chilli) Pepper Calamari (aka Deep fried squid)

A lot of people find squid intimidating. It is easy to see why as these creatures look like they belong to another planet. It is impossible to visualise how something good can come out of these slimy beasts.

There are other good reasons why squid could be daunting. For one, cleaning squid is an art. I’m sure you can Google this. Next, cooking them must be perfectly timed. You either cook them really quickly (like the recipe below) or stew them for hours. In the wrong hands squid might turn out to be the worst fodder on earth. But if done right…

My recipe below is similar to what they usually served at Yum Cha. Their good on their own as entrée or main with salad (or rice for us Pinoys).

Salt & (Chilli) Pepper Calamari

6 large squids (best to buy fresh rather than prepared squid tubes)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt (Iodized salt might be healthy but it does not taste good so don’t use it! Get your iodine fix elsewhere!)
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
Lots of oil for deep frying

1. Clean the squid by separating the head from the body. Turn the body inside out to make sure nothing nasty is left in it. Cut off the eyes from the head but make sure the tentacles are intact.
2. Cut the body of the squid into rings. Marinate all the squid pieces in soy sauce for about half an hour.
3. Mix the flour, sea salt and chilli powder.
4. Heat up the oil in a deep pan or use a deep fryer. Test the oil by dropping a piece of squid. If it sizzles immediately then your oil is probably ready.
5. Coat the squid in the flour mix a handful at a time. Shake the excess flour off.
6. Drop the squid pieces in the hot oil. It should be ready in less than a minute.
7. Drain excess oil and serve with lemon wedges.

At home - Pinakbet (Asian Vegetables in Shrimp Paste Sauce) & Pork Chops

My idea of the perfect Pinakbet is quite far from what is served outside my home. It seems not a lot of care goes in the preparation of this dish in some households. What should be a wonderful medley of vegetables usually turns out to be some watery ash coloured mash that is barely edible.

The bright green colours of the okra, snake beans and bitter gourd are virtually wiped out.
The pumpkin and the eggplant are obliterated into nothingness pureed together with the rest of the overcooked vegetables.

I never serve Pinakbet on its own. For dinner we also had Pork Chops, my way.
We didn’t have any okra and snake beans so I substituted string beans.


Garlic chopped (as much as you like)
1 medium sized Onion chopped
1 large tomato chopped
A bit of pork (prawns can be substituted)
2-3 Tablespoons Shrimp paste
Snake beans
Bitter gourd
Oil for sautéing
A bit of oyster sauce
Salt or Fish sauce to taste

1. If you’re going to use prawn you can skip this step. Heat up some oil. Stir fry the pork until they’re done. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. In the same pan (with still the oil left in it) sauté the garlic until golden brown.
3. Add the onions and cook until it is translucent.
4. Add the tomatoes together with a bit of salt (or fish sauce), some oyster sauce and the all important shrimp paste.
5. When the tomatoes are cooked add the pork back in (or the fresh prawns) and cook for about a minute or so.
6. Add the pumpkin and the eggplant (as they are the longest to cook). If the mix is too dry add a few tablespoons (not cups of!) of stock or water.
7. Before the eggplant and the pumpkin are completely cooked add the okra and the bitter gourd.
8. To keep the colour of the beans cook them in the microwave for about a minute and immediately refresh in cold water.
9. Add the beans to the mix about a minute before turning the heat off.

Kidpawan’s Easy Pork Chops
Pork Chops
White Pepper
All purpose flour
Oil for frying

1. Season the pork chops with salt and white pepper.
2. Season the flour with salt and white pepper as well.
3. Heat up the oil in high heat for quick cooking to avoid rubbery pork chops.
4. Coat the pork chops in the seasoned flour shaking off any excess.
5. Fry the pork chops in high heat. They’re done when they’re golden brown.
6. Drain excess oil.
7. Serve with the Pinakbet and some jasmine rice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

At home – Pancit Sotanghon (Stir fried Bean-Thread Noodles) revisited

As mentioned in the previous post it was my wife’s birthday a couple of days ago. We would normally go out to dinner but that night we just didn’t feel like going anywhere. And at this stage in the pregnancy (7+ months) we’re not quite up to staying out very late.

So anyway, Cherry requested I cook noodles because she actually felt like having noodles and also as a birthday tradition. She already had her big dinner party on the weekend when we served noodles but she wanted more. Being the obedient husband (takusa) I gladly complied.

I love sotanghon (bean thread noodles). I actually did not know that it was made from soy beans until recently. How cool is that! I also like it because among all the noodle varieties it is the most forgiving. It’s pretty hard to get it wrong. You can’t do that with bihon (rice noodles) or miki (egg noodles) or even Canton noodles. Too much or too little broth means disaster. Not with sotanghon.

Pinoy sotanghon is typically bright yellow or orange due to the atchuete (annatto). I don’t think the atchuete adds anything to the dish apart from colour so I never actually use it.

Kidpawan’s Sotanghon

500g Sotanghon (bean thread vermicellit)

Chicken (whatever part you like except for claws, beaks and feathers)

2 cups chicken stock

2 medium sized onions chopped

4-6 cloves of garlic chopped

1/3 cup Kinchay (Chinese celery, you can substitute normal celery)

2 Chinese sausages chopped

1 large carrot julienned

1 cup mushrooms (fresh not canned)

1 head broccoli (optional)

Half a cabbage head

1/3 cup soy sauce (Lee Kum Kee Premium is the best. It’s light in colour and not too salty)

2-3 tablespoons oyster sauce


A bit of oil for sautéing

Freshly cracked black pepper

  1. Boil the chicken together with one onion and a bit of salt in approximately 2 cups of water for about 10-15 minutes. Let it cool down. Save the stock. Chop the chicken.
  2. Soak the noodles in cold water for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large wok heat up a bit of oil. Sauté the garlic until golden brown then add the chopped onions.
  4. When the onions are soft and translucent add the chicken and the Chinese sausages.
  5. Add the carrots. Add a bit of oyster sauce and soy sauce at this stage. Stir fry for a minute.
  6. Add the rest of the vegetables plus some more soy sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper. Stir fry for about another minute. You do not need to cook them fully at this stage.
  7. Take the stir fried mix off the wok and set aide.
  8. Pour the stock in the wok and let it boil. Adjust the taste by adding salt, pepper, soy sauce and oyster sauce.
  9. Lower the heat then add the noodles. If it is too dry add some more stock a little bit at a time to avoid soggy noodles.
  10. Add the stir fried mix back in the wok. Mix it well with the noodles. Cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  11. Add more black pepper. Cover the wok and turn off the heat. Let it stand for about 5-10 minutes.
  12. Turn the heat back on and stir fry the noodles one more time before serving.
  13. Serve with pan de sal.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

At home – Ginataang Kalabasa at Hipon (Pumpkin & Prawns in Coconut Milk)

This is a perennial favourite in my house. There are lots of versions of this dish all over the Philippines but my recipe below is how we do it in Laguna (about 2 hours south of Manila). Coconut is plentiful in the region that is why you’ll find it is almost always present in Laguna recipes from entrées to desserts.

Although prawn is prominent in the name of the dish all you need is the flavour of prawn. This is not supposed to be a luxurious seafood dish but rather a rustic side dish usually paired with grilled or fried fish.

Snake beans (sitaw) are typically included in this dish but I didn’t find any in the shops. I also add mustard greens (mustasa). The slight bitterness of this vegetable adds more dimension to this otherwise plain dish.

Ginataang Kalabasa at Hipon (Pumpkin & Prawns in Coconut Milk)

1 medium onion chopped
6 slices of ginger
4-6 medium prawns
Pumpkin (I don’t know how to quantify this. 1 regular size wedge, I suppose)
1 bunch mustard greens
1 can coconut milk
Fish sauce or sea salt
Oil for sautéing

Heat the oil in a pan.
Sauté the ginger for about a minute then add the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent.
Add the prawns and cook for about a minute.
Add the pumpkin.
Add a bit of fish sauce or sea salt at this stage of the cooking.
Pour in the coconut milk and simmer until the pumpkin is done.
Add more fish sauce or sea salt if necessary.
Add the mustard greens and cook for another minute.
Serve with grilled or fried fish.