Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chop Suey (Mom's Way)

I was very difficult to feed as a child. It’s either logannissa or tocino or I would not eat at all. For a time I only favoured the fat of the tocino rather than the lean meat. Thank God I eventually out grew that.

My kids are not dissimilar to how I was, especially my son. Although I know that he’s inherited it from me it is still a never ending source of frustration when he would not eat the food that I’ve prepared. WARNING: Just in case you’ve invited him for a meal at your place please remember he only likes egg white (if you’re serving eggs, that is).

As a youngster vegetables and me did not get along well. The health benefits of vegetables were not enough to coax me into putting any in my mouth. They taste horrible and the texture very off putting. Remember all those TV ads? Ang malunggay…bow. I thought this just made them look desperate. Thank God, once again, I’ve matured…I think.

But mom, in her very clever way, managed to make me eat a variety of vegies by preparing a Filipino style Chop Suey. I did not put up a fight when mom cooks this. It appealed to me as a child with its variety of colours and the “special” vegetables mom adds to her Chop Suey. Celery, broccoli and cauliflower were a rarity in our kitchen. They were expensive and therefore only for special occasions. Quail eggs were added when she’s feeling a bit more generous. But one ingredient that gives a unique but very tasty addition to the finished dish was chicken liver. Mom’s Chop Suey is not complete without chicken livers. It was one of the first dishes I learned to cook in early ventures in the kitchen.

Chop Suey has a lot of variations depending on which country you are from. The Philippines is no exception in creating its own version with each Filipino household further adding to the diversity of this dish. But basically Chop Suey is a melange of vegetables and meat and or seafood cooked quickly like a stir fry.

I’ve undergone some minor surgery a few days back (reason for the lack of posts) and it made me yearn for the taste of home. So, in my post-op state, I concoct my own chop suey version using what we have in the fridge. There was no cauliflower or capsicum but we have chicken livers.

Mom’s Chop Suey

2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 large onion chopped
1 stalk of celery cut diagonally
Chicken livers chopped (as little or as much as you like)
Chicken/pork/beef/prawns whatever is available
1 carrot
1 broccoli
6 button mushrooms
Half a cauliflower
Half a cabbage
Other vegetables you can add are chokoes (sayote), snow peas, beans etc.
Fish sauce (salt or soy sauce are good substitutes)
Oyster sauce
½ tablespoon of cornstarch (mixed in ½ cup of chicken stock)
Another ½ cup of chicken stock
A bit of oil for sautéing

1. Heat up a bit of oil in a pan. Stir fry the garlic until golden brown.
2. Add the onion and stir fry until translucent.
3. Add the chicken livers and the meat/seafood of your choice.
4. Add the stock and cook the liver and the meat/seafood until done. Season with a bit of fish sauce.
5. Add the vegetable that takes the longest to cook. If you have chokoes they should go in first. 6. Otherwise, the carrots and the celery should be added at this stage.
7. This should be followed by the broccoli and the cauliflower.
8. Add the mushroom and the cabbage while the broccoli is still half done.
9. Adjust the seasoning by adding more fish sauce (or salt or soy sauce) and oyster sauce.
10. Add the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce and cook for about a minute.
11. Serve with jasmine rice.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Easy Roast Pork ala Beancounter

Picture Dr Evil and Mini-me, only cuter, with better fashion sense and a lot more hair. *LOL* That's a bit much! But that's a little bit how it's like when I’m looking after Tikay (Eliyah). I'm frantically cooking in the kitchen with a tiny person dangling in front of me.

So, coming up with easy to prepare meals is not just pertinent, it's a matter of life and death...again too much drama! *LOL*

The love for Lechon (Filipino Roast Pork) is culturally embedded in my genes. But I haven't got time to source a pig, slaughter it and spit roast it for half a day. Fortunately, there are less bloody versions of this much-loved dish. Apart from the traditional spit roast there is the Lechon Kawali (Deep Fried) and the Lechon sa Hurno (Oven Roast) varieties, the latter being the least complex but very tasty nonetheless.

The secret to my Easy (oven) Roast Pork is the cut of meat. Low fat advocates look away now...The best and the only cut I use when roasting this way is a fatty pork belly. Ok, ok! It does not have to be really fatty. That is just to annoy "low fat" people. But a good layering of fat is vital. This would almost always guarantee a roast that is not dry. Pork Belly is quite forgiving in that an extra hour in the oven (due to the onset of dementia) would still result in an edible roast albeit crispy and a wee bit charred!

My recipe is easy but by no means quick. There isn’t a lot of fussing around with ingredients, in fact there are only three, but it involves a few hours of cooking.

The recipe is actually quite basic but that's the beauty of it. Once you feel confident you should be able to embellish without fear. You can add garlic and rosemary sprigs for example.

Also, this roast pork works really well served the traditional Pinoy way with a sweet and tangy lechon sauce eaten with rice. Or you can opt for a more western style of serving with gravy (made from the drippings), roast potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Easy Roast Pork ala Beancounter

1 piece of pork belly
Sea salt

1. Pre-heat the oven to about 200C.
2. Rub the pork belly with salt and pepper.
3. Put about a cup of water in your roasting tray. Place the meat (skin side up) on a rack on top of the roasting tray making sure the meat is not touching the water. Put it in the oven.
4. After about 30 minutes reduce the heat to about 150C. Cook for another 2-3 hours depending on the size of the meat. This is when the fat becomes really important. The melting pork fat will keep the meat moist. Check it after 2 hours and see how the crackling is forming. If it is done to your liking take it out of the oven at this point.
5. Let the meat rest for a few minutes before serving.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


…And so begins another chapter in my blogging life.

When I first began writing online my intention was never for food to be the main focus…it just organically became that way.

But now I want to continue or you might say, begin again with the intention to fulfil my original intentions.

Salt –

Why Salt?

Although this is not going to be about food it is still about me…

Salt has been used in the Bible as a metaphor for a lot of things with the following verse as one of my favourites:

Let your speech be always with grace, having been seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one – Colossians 4:6

Salt’s preservative characteristic has always been highlighted pushing aside its other wonderful qualities that are just as important (maybe even more).

In the verse above, I believe “having been seasoned with salt” is less about preservation but more about “bringing out the goodness” of people through ones speech.

My pan de sal and ensaymadas would not be their brilliants selves without salt!

Can you imagine “nilaga” (Filipino Beef Soup) without it? You might as well drink hot water and chew rubber.

And doesn’t pineapple taste more pineapplely when dipped in a bit of salt? This is probably an acquired taste but salt, for me, brings out the sweetness of the fruit even more.

I just couldn’t help my self, could I? We’re back in the subject of food again. What I mean is, can you imagine how food in general would taste like without salt?

Let’s go back to the why…

Jesus said, in Matthew 5:13:
You are the salt of the earth…

I am just trying to follow…

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day

I don’t know what the etiquette is on Valentine’s Day. Are you supposed to greet only your partner? Is it alright to say Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone?

Anyway, I thought this quote is both beautiful and profound:

“Blessed is the influence of one true human soul on another”George Eliot

Happy Valentine’s Day…to whoever bothered to read this…. ;)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pan de Sal Chronicles: Wood in Action

This post is a continuation of my pan de sal adventures. I should have labelled them My Pan de Sal Chronicles knowing fully from the first post that there'll be more to come. Surely enough this is the 5th instalment in my quest to make the perfect pan de sal.

I think there is no better way to show ones sincerest appreciation of a gift than actually using it. So, for the first time last night I've put to good use my new dough cutter. It was fantastic! Not only did I use it in making my favourite breakfast bread (my kids' name for pan de sal) and its variations it proved to be quite handy as well in making ensaymada (Yes, I was up till the wee hours of the morning baking for this week's baons). I suppose, it's a very good all-around dough cutter. Thanks Tatay Rudy once again!

I'm not going to bore you with more narrative. So instead what I've got here are a series of photographs showing the wood in action!

To make sure my cutter is never lonely I've introduced it to my good 'ol friend the rolling pin... their similarities are quite uncanny, don't you think?

This is actually an ensaymada dough. I’ve used the cutter to divide it into pieces before rolling.

First ever cut of my pan de sal dough. The dough is divided into three strips.

The strips are then cut into pan de sal sized pieces

Ready for baking!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ode to a Piece of Wood

Some of you are probably thinking I must have gone mad writing about a piece of wood. It’s probably the lack of sleep that’s causing this, some might say (well, I’m getting more Z’s lately so that’s not it!). And then some might wonder it probably is a metaphor for my profession which is often viewed as inflexible and humourless. I am a bean counter after all.

No, this is neither a dissertation on the parallels of accounting and a piece of wood nor am I going mad…well, maybe I am but that’s not the point! This "thing" is actually a gift from a friend’s father who’s had quite an influence in my recent baking exploits.

Tatay Rudy has got decades of baking experience under his belt owning and operating a bakery in the suburbs of Valenzuela for years. I did not know this at first but one time when we invited his family over for dinner (with pan de sal on the menu) he observed my pan de sal methodology quite intently. He was probably laughing inside seeing how clumsy some of my steps were. He was kind enough to show me some tricks of the trade. He’s also realised that I was missing a very essential tool!

Being the kind hearted man that he is he made me my very own pan de sal dough cutter…by hand! Isn’t that special! Well, I certainly felt special! It is one gift that I will treasure for a very long time.

The ingenuity of the Filipino is definitely not lost in Tatay Rudy. No new trees were hurt in making my cutter. Also, not having his woodworking implements here he’s made use of what’s available, including the concrete floor! I think it’s great and very earth friendly!

is that a prophecy?
So, from the bottom of my heart I would like to say, Maraming, maraming salamat po! I do hope to become a good baker…someday!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Of Fried Noodles and Flat Peaches

Fresh egg noodles and I don’t get along well. I mean, I love eating it but cooking with it is another matter. All my past attempts to work with thin fresh egg noodles were failures. That’s why I am so delighted when a friend of mine introduced me to Kwan Wo Fried Noodles. This is not a product placement hiding behind a blog. I am just genuinely pleased about this noodle!

Fried Noodles are not new I’ve been told. They’ve been around for a while I just wasn’t aware of them. Probably because after so many disastrous endeavours I have steered clear of the fresh egg noodle section. I don’t know why it is called “fried” in the first place when it looks quite fresh to me. But regardless, I’m just so happy that this noodle retains its texture and shape even when subjected to high heat or boiling hot soup.

Ever the advocate for uncomplicated food I made a simple beef stir-fry noodles using this product with some baby bok choy (pechay to us Pinoys). The resulting meal was satisfyingly good (Refer to the recipe at the end of this blow).

Another new discovery in the past week was Donut Peach. I thought I’ve seen every kind of peach that is available. Apparently not! Looking at this peach variety at first you can be forgiven for thinking someone just stepped on it. It looks flat a little bit deformed. Apart from its unusual appearance it tastes exactly like a “normal” white fleshed peach. The other benefit of this strain is that it is easier to eat as it has got a much smaller stone.

Beef Stir Fry Noodles ala Beancounter

200g Fried Noodles
Some slices of beef
Some bok choy
1 clove garlic chopped finely
Oyster sauce
Soy Sauce
Chicken stock
A bit of oil

1. Heat up a bit of oil in a wok.
2. Brown the meat pieces then set aside. You might have to do this in batches to avoid steaming the meat.
3. Add a bit more oil if necessary. Stir fry the chopped garlic for a few seconds.
4. Add the meat back in.
5. Add the bok choy.
6. Add some oyster sauce and soy sauce to your taste.
7. Add about a cup of stock. Let it boil.
8. Add the noodles and cook for about 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cute's Blogger Award - 10 random Food Habits

I would like to thank Laura of Amazing Thirty Something for this award.
My took me more than a month to accept this...but thank you so much!
I am, by the way, slowly running out of "random" things after being tagged in various networking sites. Anyway, I decided to focus only on my "food" habits

Here are the rules of this award:
1. Each blogger must post these rules.2. Each blogger starts with ten random facts/habits about themselves.3. Blogger that are tagged, need to write ten facts about themselves. You need to choose ten people to tag and list their names.

Here are the 10 Random Facts/Habits About Me:
1. I like soy in my coffee...but no sugar.
2. I don't dunk bread/donut/biscuit/or any other pastry in my coffee...i hate the texture of wet, soggy bread/donut/biscuit/or any other pastry.
3. I think Starbucks is overrated...there are plenty of better ones out there. Go explore!
4. I want my ulam on the side not on top of my rice...I do not like Toppings...
5. I have big breakfasts on Saturdays.6. Fresh bread or chocolates? Fresh bread anytime!7. Airline food can be good!8. Filipino ice creams are much better than Haagen Dazs.
9. I use stock cubes!
10. I like leche flan made from condensed and evaporated milk.

Here's the next 10:
1. Thennie
2. Jim
3. Joh
4. Sheila
5. Desh
6. Lourdes
7. Merla
8. Nette
9. Charm
10. Lawrence

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thai Beef Salad (Yam Neua)

It is probably pretty obvious by now how fond I am of Thai cuisine. If you're not convinced yet here's another family favourite that you'll hopefully like as well.

Warm Thai Beef Salad was one of the dishes that got me hooked to Thai cuisine. My idea of what salad should be was totally turned upside down after trying Yam Neua. Salad, which I thought was supposed to be a cold and an unexciting, not very filling nor satisfying, side dish, is one of the main attractions in the Thai gastronomy and a great one at that!

Typical of Thai dishes, this salad also requires you to put together ingredients with very strong flavours of their own but when combined together contributes a nuance to the final taste that it can be pretty difficult to use substitutes.

Coriander root, for example, is a pretty unconventional ingredient that I think has no other alternative (apart from other parts of the coriander plant). Mint is another. Lemon is just not good enough as a stand-in for lemongrass.

Although a food processor can do a decent job in making the dressing I still suggest you acquire a proper mortar and pestle (if you haven’t got one yet) to do this dish. It is a worthwhile investment as you can use it to make all sorts of pastes to add to your cooking repertoire.

You do not have to stick to the selection of salad vegetables I’ve listed in my recipe. Feel free to add or take off ingredients to suit your taste. Also, the levels of sweetness, spiciness, sourness and saltiness can be adjusted to your liking by adding more or less of the dressing ingredients. The dressing can also be used as a marinade for other meats like lamb, pork, chicken or even fish.

Thai Beef Salad

A couple of steak pieces of your choice


3-4 pieces coriander root
1 lemongrass - white part only chopped finely
6-8 mint leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 birds eye chilies
Juice of 2 limes
2-3 tablespoons of palm sugar or white sugar
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce

Iceberg lettuce
Bean sprouts
Spanish onion
Snow peas
Coriander leaves
Mint leaves

1. Combine all the dry dressing ingredients in a mortar and pestle and pound until it turns to paste.
2. Add the remaining ingredients. Adjust the saltiness, sweetness, sourness and spiciness according to your taste.
3. Using some of the dressing marinate your steak for at least half an hour. Set aside the rest of the dressing.
3. In a large bowl combine all your salad ingredients.
4. Barbequing the meat adds more flavour to the final dish but pan frying can work just as well. Heat up a pan on very high heat. Rub the meat with a bit of oil before frying. You decide then how done you want your meat to be. Let your steak rest for a few minutes before slicing.
5. Place the sliced meat on top of your salad. Pour the remaining dressing over the salad. Enjoy on its own or serve with other barbequed meats.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Variation(s) to Pan de Sal

Before I delve into this variation to my pan de sal I just would like to tell you that the frozen ensaymada dough worked really well. It worked so well it gave me an idea for a “new product” to rival canned cinnamon rolls… well, to Filipinos at least. I can make millions out of this…

Enough of that dreaming…

The great thing about making your own pan de sal is the fact that you can vary the recipe to suit what you like and what you need at that time. And I’m not talking ‘bout just adding more sugar for a sweeter variety or salt if you feel like salty bread (the sal, by the way, of Pan de sal is actually the word salt in Spanish).

Tonight, as we were preparing for another new week ahead my wife and I were wondering what to put in the kids lunch boxes? Well, they’re fond of hot dogs and they like pan de sal a lot. Why not combine the two together?! It’s neither gourmet nor very original but it is a variation that we’re all excited about at home. The possibilities seem limitless. Next would be cheese. Then ham… Then ham and cheese. Maybe pan de sal cheese dogs after that. Then we’ll go for something sweet like nuttella. Then…who knows!

It’s not hard at all. To make hotdog pan de sal all I did was put a piece of hotdog in the middle of each piece of dough (refer to the previous post for the pan de sal recipe). Bake it for the same amount of time as the plain variety and voila, instant lunch (or breakfast!)