Sunday, January 31, 2010

SPAM Fried Rice

There is no middle ground with SPAM. You either love it or loathe it with passion. I’m in the love it camp and not afraid to show it.

And one of the best uses of SPAM is to put it on fried rice.

The cooking process is deceptively simple but the pre-cooking prep is anything but.

The foundation of any good fried rice is the rice. All the other ingredients (yes, including the SPAM) are merely sideshows to the main event. So, if you’re rice is no good to start with do not expect your fried rice will be any better. You can have the most luxurious ingredients imaginable but without a good rice foundation it’ll just be a wasteful exercise. Good fried rice can be as simple as the traditional Filipino sinangag with nothing but rice, garlic and salt.

There are lots of rice varieties available. Each one has a place in the culinary world. My choice for making fried rice is nothing but Jasmine (Milagrosa). You’ll be able to get away with ordinary long grain rice but it would lack the fragrance unique to Jasmine.

Your rice must also be at least a day old. Freshly cooked rice is sticky and will just turn to paste when fried. Characteristic of good fried rice is that the grains are separate and distinguishable from each other. Leaving your cooked rice in the fridge overnight helps a lot.

You don’t have to have egg in your fried rice. But if you do, remember there are two schools of thought on this. First is the “pre-cooked omelette” version and the other is the “add the raw egg before taking off the heat” variety. I personally like the pre-cooked omelette style. And that’s what I’ll show you here.

SPAM Fried Rice ala Beancounter

The Omelette
2-3 eggs beaten
A pinch of salt
A pinch of white pepper
A few drops of sesame oil
Oil for frying

1. Heat up a large pan. Add a bit of oil.
2. Add the salt, white pepper and sesame oil to the eggs and beat a little bit more.
3. Pour the mixture onto the pan and coat it as thinly as possible.
4. Cook on each side for a couple of minutes.
5. Take off the heat, roll and cut into ribbons.
6. Set aside.

The Fried Rice
3-4 cups of cooked rice (left overnight in the fridge)
Half a can of SPAM diced
2 spring onions chopped
1 clove garlic chopped (optional)
1 carrot diced (into very tiny cubes)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
A pinch of salt
A few drops of sesame oil

(Do not limit your vegetable and meat choices to what’s listed. Celery, peas, etc. work really well. BBQ Pork/Roast Pork/Roast Duck from your neighbourhood Chinese BBQ are also excellent options.)

1. To begin with, take your day old rice out of the fridge. Separate the grains of rice by rubbing/crushing with your hands. You might need to moisten your hands with water from time to time to avoid the rice sticking to them.
2. Heat up a pan and add a bit of oil.
3. Stir fry the SPAM for a couple of minutes. Set aside.
4. Sauté the garlic and spring onion, followed soon after by the diced carrot. Add back the SPAM.
5. Add the rice. Stir and make sure everything is mixed well.
6. Add the salt, soy sauce and the oyster sauce. Stir well and make sure they evenly coat the rice. This will take a few minutes.
7. After 10 minutes or so of stirring your fried rice should be almost ready. Add the omelette and a few drops of sesame oil.
8. Serve hot.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Australia Day

I am Australian by choice.

I think that is just as powerful as living here by default.

I am also Filipino.

26 January is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Britain in 1788. And on this day we celebrate Australia Day.

Fusion of cultures...celebrating Australia Day under the shade of a mango tree...under the bridge

Snags (sausages) on the traditional Aussie barbie (bbq)

Traditional dessert

Fusion again...bbqed meat on Thai inspired salad

New generation of Aussies

Glimpse of fireworks

Friday, January 22, 2010

Calamansi Watch Update and Other Garden Stuff

It’s been almost a fortnight since the post about my calamansi.

I’m delighted to report that things are progressing really well. All the flowers have dried up to reveal tiny green balls which are the beginnings of the calamansi fruit.

I counted over a dozen of these teeny weenie orbs. I think that’s a pretty good yield. In fact, it’s an excellent yield for a foot-tall shrub. That’s 1+ fruit for every inch.

Just to prove to you that I’m not entirely useless in the garden I’m posting photos of other delights available in my front yard. Yup, they’re not in the back.

Kaffir Lime

What is it with citrus and me? I’ve never been able to make my Kaffir lime fruit, ever! Fortunately though, Kaffir is more prized for its leaves than its fruit. Thai curries and soups just would not be the same without this essential ingredient. It adds a layer of flavour and freshness to the taste that no other herb can provide. A packet of about half a dozen of these leaves can set you back at least AUD$3 (approximately P120). My Kaffir shrub is worth hundreds (if ever I decide to harvest all the leaves).

Lemongrass (Tanglad)

Look at how luscious they are. No thanks to my gardening skills but more to the fact that they are grass. They need less looking after than other plants. Tanglad is central to chicken binakol. And it is the secret to my clean, light and fresh tasting tinola.


My chillies seem to thrive without much intervention. I have had capsicums, birds’ eye and other strains of chillies in my yard before. The only one I’m left with now is the siling haba variety which we use mainly for sinigang. This tiny plant also blesses us with leaves which we use for gulay na mais (corn soup), monggo guisado (mung bean soup) and tinola.

Different times of the year you’ll find mint, parsley and tomatoes in my garden. But in the height of summer it is a bit too hot for them to flourish.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ensaladang Talong ala Beancounter (Asian Style Eggplant Salad)

This was one of the first things I learned to cook as a youngster. I remember being introduced to this by a friend, Nguyen Thi Bich Lieu aka Giao, who is a Vietnamese-Filipino. She was in primary school when her family left Vietnam and settled in the Philippines. After a few years, most of them moved to the west coast of Australia. She chose to stay.

I can recall this was served as a side to inihaw na tulingan (grilled bonito). It’s sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavour was the perfect accompaniment to such a strong flavoured fish.

Thank you very much Giao! I have not forgotten it since. I have modified the recipe slightly but the essence I kept intact.

I don’t think this is “authentic” Vietnamese. Giao’s recipe had to make do with what’s available. That is probably why the herbs which are normally found in Vietnamese cooking are noticeably absent. Mint and coriander were not easy to come by then. Adding them creates another level of flavour.

Ensaladang Talong ala Beancounter

4 -6 Lebanese eggplants (shallow fried or grilled)
1-2 spring onions chopped
1-2 cloves garlic chopped
1-2 siling labuyo sliced (bird’s eye chillies)
2 teaspoons palm sugar (white sugar is an OK substitute)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice of one lime (or two calamansi if you have them)
Mint and coriander (optional)

I actually prefer to grill my eggplants for the smoky flavour. You would not get this by frying. But because I needed to get dinner ready fairly quickly frying was the only way to go.

If you’re going to grill your eggplants make sure you keep them whole. Use low to medium fire/heat. Turn your eggplants regularly. The skin will blister and turn black but the insides will remain just right and moist. It’s better to do this outside the house if you can as the aroma lingers.

If you’re not so inclined frying could work just as well sans the smokiness. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise before frying. Fry skin side first. Turn over after a couple of minutes and cook until golden brown.

Whatever method you use you need to remove the skin.

Combine all the salad ingredients together (except for the eggplant). Adjust the taste to your liking. Add the skinned eggplant. Serve with your favourite fish.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

To the One Who Got Me Started…Happy 60th Birthday Dad

I did not appreciate it at the time but as I look back and take stock of my life I realise that it is actually my father who first ignited in me the love of food.

My eyes, as a youngster, were veiled to the invaluable lessons my dad despairingly tried to teach me.

Rising up early to go duck/deer/wild boar hunting wasn’t my idea (still isn’t) of a pleasant day out but it was through those trips that I gained knowledge of where food actually comes from (and that fresh is best). Those expeditions also involved foraging for fruits and vegetables which we would later serve with our hunted meal.

Rather than indulging me with my favourite fast food he took me to “adult” restaurants proving good food actually takes time. Although I never once tasted his cooking I’ve heard legendary tales of his slow cooked sinigang.

He did not limit himself to “proper” eateries, if you like. Rather, some of his favourite places are hole in the wall type operations. Where do you find the best pancit canton in Ongpin? I’m sure he’s got an opinion on that. Do not judge a restaurant by its premises, I now know this for a fact!

To celebrate and to show his appreciation he does it with food. And now, so do I.

So here’s to you dad! Happy 60th birthday! You don’t look a day over 35 (and I wish I would be to when I’m your age)!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Little Calamansi Shrub

It is not an exaggeration for me to say we’re more successful in bringing up kids than propagating calamansi. Our four kids seem to be thriving but our solo calamansi is barely surviving.

Our calamansi shrub was given to us by a botanist friend almost 10 years ago. Unfortunately though, we’ve harvested less fruits than the number of years we’ve had it. For some peculiar reason it would bud, then bloom, the flowers then naturally develop into fruits but just before they ripen they start falling off our sad little tree. At one point it was on the verge of dying. In the height of summer it really struggled to survive.

I don’t know exactly what the cause is and it has been a source of frustration for years. What we’re doing differently this time is keeping a closer eye on it. I think I should rephrase that, my wife is keeping a close eye on it. Early signs of disease or pest infestation will be immediately dealt with.

It is such a wonderful fruit that although available down under is still quite rare. Its citrus flavour is like no other. Cumquats are not juicy enough to be worthy as a substitute. Lemons and limes, on the other hand, just taste different.

Arriving home from work one night I was really pleased to see our foot-tall tree showing a lot of promise. It has lots of buds and flowers in bloom. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll mature into prized fruits.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A nice way to end the year

I didn’t expect to be travelling this late in the year and this close to the holiday season. But changes in our Darwin office beyond my control required me to visit that part of the world a few days before Christmas.

I originally planned to use my points to upgrade my seat as a Christmas gift to myself but I was pleasantly surprised to have been given the privilege for free by Qantas.

I’ll let the photos tell the story of what transpired during that trip.

Early Morning on the way to the airport

Organised chaos at BNE

Breakfast: Ham, cheese, avocado croissant

Breakfast on board: cereal and a warm fruit roll

Aerial view of Brisbane

Morning tea: biscuits and water

Re-reading East of Eden

Pre-flight drink

Pre-lunch snack

Lunch: Barramundi

Afternoon Tea: Magnum ice-cream and coffee

Cheese platter

Fish & Chips

Pho (from Saigon Star, DAR) - very average

Vietnamese Spring Rolls (from Saigon Star, DAR) - again, average

Seafood Laksa (from Rendezvous, DAR)

Home made iced tea (from Rendezvouz, DAR)

In-room breakfast: scrambled eggs & bacon

Bugs with Quandong Jam (from The Char Grill, DAR) - superb!

Sights of DARWIN

Holiday Inn Esplanade DAR