Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Mexican cuisine has always been a family favorite, and yesterday I realized we hadn't done Mexican in a long time. I didn't want to do anything elaborate so I went with the old favorites but as Emeril Lagasse would say, "kicked up a notch!" hehe.

Killer Quesadillas
Chop a bunch of cilantro, and a bunch of chives. Caramelize two large white onions. De-seed and julienne a few green chillies. Toss with lots of grated cheddar and season. Sandwich this filling between two flour tortillas and toss onto a hot pan. Scrunch the quesadilla down while in the pan & the cheese is melting to get it real thin. Toast both sides well--you want this crunchy. Cut into quarters.

Bash up some coriander root and sauté in oil. Toss the root out before proceeding. In the same oil saute chopped tomatoes in chopped red onions and garlic. Add lime juice and plenty of chopped cilantro. Season with salt & pepper, and some cumin to give it a little anghit factor haha!. Add chopped chili or just blast it with Tabasco.

Serve quesadillas with salsa, avocado slices (or make some guacamole if you like), sour cream, and lime wedges.

Also on the menu last night:
Chicken Fajitas, Pepper+Corn Muffins (corn muffin batter baked in halved red bell peppers)
Yakon & Fruit Salad.

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Monday, August 20, 2007


Three weeks ago during our charcuterie sessions Chef Gino gave us some homework: cure some meat at home and submit three weeks hence. This was to be done in the manner of tasso, but unlike traditional tasso, we were not to smoke it. Flavoring and choice of meat was freestyle.

Our group decided to use pork loin (inexpensive) and to each make our own flavor mixes. I did a bit of research and found recipes for traditional tasso spice mixes.

That's mine on the left. The others are my classmates'

Here is my recipe for (unsmoked) Tasso-style cured meat.
Read the rest of this post...

Three weeks ago during our charcuterie sessions Chef Gino gave us some homework: cure some meat at home and submit three weeks hence. This was to be done in the manner of tasso, but unlike traditional tasso, we were not to smoke it. Flavoring and choice of meat was freestyle.

Now curing meat is pretty tricky because the raw meat can go real bad real fast. Here's a funny article from a website I found.

Because smoking meats takes place at a pretty low temperature, the meat can turn sickly and bad while this is happening. To prevent this, you cure the meat first, either by brining in a salt solution, or by rubbing a salt mixture on the meat. In either case, the cure has to sit on the meat for as long as several days. After this, the meat can be safely smoked without anyone dying. Except.

In order to make the meat turn a nice red color, and also to help keep botulism or other sicknesses out of the meat, TCM is added. TCM stands for Tinted Curing Mixture, and is 94% salt, 6% Potassium Nitrite, and some red food coloring to turn it pink. This is so that you don't think that it's salt and add it to food. Why would that be bad?

Well, Potassium Nitrite binds with the myoglobin/hemoglobin in meat/blood, preventing it from binding (later) with oxygen. In meat, this keeps the meat from reacting and turning gray/brown. In your body, it can cause a lack of oxygen in the blood. You can pass out, or even die, if you get too much. In lesser amounts, it can cause "performance problems" in males of the species. Moral of the story? Measure twice.

In the bad old days, Saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate) was used. The problem with using either pure Potassium Nitrite or Potassium Nitrate is that it's very difficult to measure accurately, and you can get too little (and get a bad cure) or too much (and get dead). Because of this, the cure mixes are now cut down with salt, making it much easier to measure for small batches of meat.

Saltpeter is locally known as salitre. I think tocino and longganisa makers still use it. Like the guy mentioned, TCM (a.k.a. praque powder, brand name Ultra Cure) is far safer, and this is what we used. Still, only 1/2teaspoon of TCM maximum should be used per kilo of meat.

So. On to the school project. Our group decided to use pork loin (inexpensive) and to each make our own flavor mixes. I did a bit of research and found recipes for traditional tasso spice mixes.

Here is my recipe for (unsmoked) Tasso-style cured meat (adapted from this website). We used a whole pork loin (local name: lomo) cut into about 4-5 inch long, 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices (about 200grams each). This is seasoning for about 2.5kg of pork:

Homemade Unsmoked Tasso Curing Mix

3 Tbsp salt

2 tsp Cayenne or to to taste

4 Tbsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Garlic powder

2 Tbsp Coarsely Ground Black Pepper

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 Tbsp White Pepper

1 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 1/4 tsp maximum Tinted Curing Mix

Mix the seasoning together well. Rub the seasoning into the meat, you want a lot on there, use it all. Place on a plate or tray, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate 5 days.

Hang the meat to air dry for 2 days. Alternatively you can put the meat on an elevated rack (a cooling rack or a trivet works great) so that air can circulate around it, then put a fan on it for a few hours to dry it out. This is crucial, as moisture is your enemy here. You also need to protect it from flies and other bugs. In this tropical country and in the typhoon season it was especially tricky. I actually had the fan on it for the full 48hours. I also kept a light on it constantly to inhibit mold growth.

Refrigerate. When completely cold portion and store the Tasso in vacuum sealed packages. Freeze.

Makes 2.5kg of Tasso-style cured meat


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Poached Pompano with Dill Sauce, and Pork Stew alla Milanese

I didn't start thinking about dinner tonight until pretty late and so it was another round of "let's see what we can whip up with what's in the ref & pantry." So like MacGyver trapped in a garage with six armed terrorists waiting outside, I cracked my knuckles and got to work.

» matchbox-sized Stewing cuts of pork (pang sigang), still frozen
» leftover crudités (carrot & celery)
» various fresh herbs: rosemary,thyme, dill, tarragon
» the tail half of a pompano
» a week-old, half-zested lemon

I started with the pork....

Read the rest of this post...

I didn't start thinking about dinner tonight until pretty late and so it was another round of "let's see what we can whip up with what's in the ref & pantry." So like MacGyver trapped in a garage with six armed terrorists waiting outside, I cracked my knuckles and got to work.

» matchbox-sized Stewing cuts of pork (pang sigang), still frozen
» leftover crudités (carrot & celery)
» various fresh herbs: rosemary,thyme, dill, tarragon
» the tail half of a pompano
» a week-old, half-zested lemon

I started with the pork. I decided I'd cook it the way I would some osso buco. Thawing the pork out was no mean feat. I'm leery about thawing in the microwave and so I did it the hard way under running water. That done I seasoned and the pork pieces and dredged them in flour before searing in butter. When well browned I plunked them along with a handful of celery leaves into a pot of water to start tenderizing. Next, the mirepoix (1 large onion, an equal amount of carrot, a couple of celery ribs, all minced). Softened the vegetables in the same pan I'd seared the pork in, deglazed with about half a cup of white wine, reduced. By this time the pork stock was boiling furiously. Tossed in six big ripe tomatoes, and that brought it down to a simmer. Took the tomatoes out, and had Sarah peel, deseed and chop them up. The tomatoes joined the mirepoix, and (after I removed the celery leaves) so did the pork and the stock. Tossed in a sprig of thyme, a couple of strips of lemon peel, a bay leaf, and more wine. Boiled off the wine, and throttled down to a simmer for a couple of hours. Finished the dish with a little butter, and some incomplete gremolata (minced garlic and lemon zest...I'd run out of parsley)

While all that was going on I'd been making some simple court-bouillon (water, white wine, celery, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf, some carrot, a quartered onion), and in a tiny saucepan I'd been reducing some white wine & lemon juice with the chopped dill leaves. Strained off the court-bouillon and poached the fish in it just until flaking. Tossed in the rest of the carrot and some cabbage. Finished the dill sauce with a cream reduction, and that was dinner. A pilaf or some risotto would've been nice but the rice was already happily steaming away before I even started thinking about dinner so that was that.

Everybody loved both dishes..Papa was particularly taken with the pork, but wished it was just a tiny bit more lemony. I admitted I'd scrimped a little on the gremolata hehehe.

During dinner I was thinking about dessert but nobody had any space left for it ;-)

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Back when we were munching on panocha, kropek, camote cue or bahaw topped with condensada after having climbed mango trees and blowing bubbles using crushed gumamela leaves, bambinos over in Italy fresh from play in the fields were munching on crostini smeared with all manner of condimenti. I've been making bruschetta and crostini and my own ligurian pesto for a long time but I've found some new condimenti that we like so much I think I'm going to be making batches of 'em over and over hehehe. Here's the recipe for one of them. Acquasale is a recipe from Basilicata in the south of Italy.


3 to 4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
1/2 clove garlic, minced
3 sweet red peppers, roasted, ribs, membranes and seeds
removed, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 or 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into chunks
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

Warm the olive oil in a large heavy pan. Add the red onion and saute over low heat until the onion starts to go limp and translucent. Add the garlic and saute briefly. Then stir in the pepper strips, and sweat them over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt,and cook another 2 or 3 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Toss the mixture into a food processor and pulse about 30 times. Do not puree; this stuff should be chunky in texture. If it seems too moist, add the bread crumbs. Makes 3 cups.

To make the crostini, preheat the oven to 400°F (205°c). slice up a baguette into 1/2 inch thick diagonal slices. Brush the bread with olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt if you like, and then set them on a baking pan or cookie sheet & bake until lightly browned, maybe 8 minutes. Turn once midway through baking for even color. You can also do this using the broiler, or even your oven toaster, but remember that the bread will brown faster that way. Spread the Acquasale on the crostini and munch away!

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Revisiting Asia

While we took a break from Dine&Jam I thought I'd take a break from cooking pasta, too. Steph and I found ourselves eating a lot of asian food. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Persian, Pinoy. Mama and I revisited some of the recipes we hadn't prepared in a long time. We were reminded we could put this stuff on the menu, too! Here's an asian spread Steph, Sarah and I prepared one December night. We took a few shots while waiting for Mama & Papa to come home and then we tucked in and demolished the spread hehehe.

Thai Bagoong Rice

Bulgogi (Korean beef stew)

Thai Pandan-Wrapped Chicken

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fettucine with Brandied Apples & Ham, and Garlic Enoki Mushrooms

I got some really good comments on one of the pastas I served recently at Dine & Jam. The great thing is it's a recipe of my own invention (as are many of the Dine & Jam recipes, though definitely not all). When I do use something out of a cookbook I like to tweak it anyway, but it's especially gratifying to have one of your own inventions complimented :D

Fettucine with Brandied Apples and Ham


1 lb (455g) dried fettucine
2 Fuji apples, diced or cut into small wedges
juice of 1 lemon, squeeze onto diced apples to prevent "rusting"
3 cloves garlic, minced or bashed to bits
1 Tbsp butter (or two hehe)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
500g cooked ham, diced
1/4 cup brandy
a small handful of minced parsley
a pinch of dried thyme (if you can get fresh thyme, so much the better)
1 1/2 cup crème fraîche
dash of nutmeg
crushed red pepper flakes
salt & pepper


Cook the pasta for half the time it says on the packet. Drain, butter, and set aside.

In a heavy-based pan large enough to hold the pasta, heat olive oil.
Put in garlic, parsley, thyme, red pepper flakes.
Saute til just before garlic turns color.
Put in the ham. Season with salt & pepper. Cook ham til browned.

In another heavy-based pan, melt butter. Heat til very hot, but do not brown.
Drain the apples. Cook in the butter til they begin to caramelize.
Pour in brandy. Bring to a boil, then simmer 5minutes.
Put the ham back on moderate heat. Put the brandied apples into the ham & mix it up a bit, but not too much (you don't wanna mush up the apples)
Put in the crème fraîche. Lower the heat. When just heated through, turn the fire off. Put in the nutmeg. Toss with the noodles. Check seasoning, top with Parmesan cheese & some extra minced parsley, and dig in.

I meant to make a side dish of garlic enoki mushrooms but I just didn't have time for that anymore so I served the pasta by itself. Enoki mushrooms are tiny little mushrooms that I thought would add great texture to the pasta, and make for an interesting presentation. I'm putting the recipe here but first, some notes on the pasta.

I always half-cook pasta & finish cooking in the sauce. That way they absorb flavor. In any case I'm sure you guys know how to cook pasta al dente. If you follow the timing printed on the packet your pasta'll be overcooked. Pasta-cooking water should always be salted (1 Tbsp/ 1L water). Some people like putting in oil. That prevents noodles from sticking, but also prevents sauce from staying on the noodles. When your noodles are done, drain them immediately but unless you're making lasagna NEVER rinse them under cold water (makes your noodles rubbery) Just butter them lightly and set them aside.

About the brandied apples, I just cooked them in brandy but if I make this dish again I would flambé them. Oh yeah, you don't have to use lemon juice to preserve diced apples while they're on standby. What I actually did was this: Mama happened to be baking something with canned fruit cocktail in it, and so I asked her to save the preserving liquid and I put my diced apples in that.

The whole idea behind this dish is to have the mild sweetness of the apples be there as something interesting--something you wouldn't normally see in a pasta dish--but you don't want this to be a sweet dish. You want the saltiness of the ham to still assert itself. The whole reason behind the red pepper is to veer the diner's senses away from a "this is a dessert" feeling. You don't want the sweetness overpowered either, or else the novelty is gone. You gotta find a good balance.

The first incarnation of this dish (which I did close to a year ago) used cayenne pepper and didn't have any liquor in it. It tasted like a kiddie dish, in spite of the pepper. Preparing for Dine & Jam, I added parsley for more interesting color, and switched from cayenne to dried red pepper flakes for the same reason. Added the thyme to the saute instead of at the end so the ham takes on more flavor, and tried using wine. I love cooking with wine, but for this dish it didn't work. Too sour. As soon as I thought of using brandy instead I knew I had my recipe.

On to the enoki mushrooms...

Garlic Enoki Mushrooms

4 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, bashed to bits
a bit of salt & black pepper
about 200g enoki mushrooms

Heat the oil. Add parsley, garlic, and seasoning. Cook briefly.
Toss in your shrooms. Fry til golden.
Serve hot, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Golden Pasta

I have a catering gig on Friday, Dine&Jam on Sunday, and Papa's birthday party on the 15th so I need to get the creative juices flowing.

I'd been kicking around the idea for this unusual pasta sauce in my head for days. I chose today to try it out and I got so pumped up about it that even though I had some trouble searching for the ingredients that I wanted, nothing could stop me hehehe.

I did have a backup dish that I was also excited about. Indira's comment on the last post had gotten me thinking about doing something en papillote again, so I did a bit of ref raiding. This morning's inventory check turned up -among other things - a few potatoes, and some fresh tarragon in danger of drying out.

Even though I had doubts the two dishes I had in mind would pair well, I just knew they would both make really good eats & so I went ahead and made both of 'em.

After two hours in the kitchen, Sarah & I had our Golden Pasta with Pine Nuts & Dried Apricots, and Tarragon Chicken En Papillote.

Just like I hoped, the pasta looked way funky! I dug into that first, and I had to smile. It turned out just the way I wanted it. Maybe a tad too spicy. Though I'm a nutball for spicy food, I intended this sauce to be on the delicate side. Will bring the spice down a notch next time. The apricots were a stroke of genius, if I may say so myself hehehe. The toasted pine nuts gave it just the crunch & nutty flavor I was shooting for.

Golden Pasta with Pine Nuts & Dried Apricots
Golden Pasta with Pine Nuts & Dried Apricots

Next, the baked bird. Panalo!

En Papillote is just a fancy shmancy french term for "wrapped in paper." You put all your ingredients into a parchment or foil bag & bake it. I'm a big fan of cooking in bags. What I did was parboil some potatoes (well scrubbed so I could leave the skins on, and to conserve water I did the boiling in the same water I was gonna use to cook the pasta). Next I julienned some carrot, sliced up some mushrooms, and seasoned a couple of whole chicken legs. The sauce was orange juice & zest, olive oil, mustard, a nice bit of wine, and of course the fresh tarragon. I divided up into two bags and baked those suckers for half an hour.

Tarragon Chicken En Papillote
Tarragon Chicken En Papillote

P.S. After posting this I woke up in the middle of the night & remembered I had meant to use herbes de Provençe on the chicken, but forgot about it come cooking time! Will save that idea for next time.

P.P.S Hey why are my food shots so blurry?!

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Mushroom fest

I tried out Jamie Oliver's Baked Onions and as he promised they were "smashing, pukka, the absolute dog's kahunas!!" I don't know if I'd be violating copyrights by putting the recipe in here, but the basic idea is you boil some big fat yellow onions, then hollow them out. You take the pulp and mush ‘em up with some cream and your favorite herbs and cheese, and stuff that back into the bulbs. Then you wrap the lot with pancetta if you can get it, or if (like me) you can't then just some nice streaky bacon. You bake these babies, and the onions come out all sweet and cheesy and herby and they just majorly kick butt, man!

Went scouting for mushrooms at the local market & grocery store. No gourmet shops for me. I wanted to know what could be had at short notice & on a budget. What else is there besides the common canned champignon (aka button) mushrooms? Funny fact I learned about champignon mushrooms: Wikipedia says, "while this specific mushroom is sometimes called simply champignon in the English-speaking world, this word means "fungus" in general in French, including all mushrooms, toadstools and even fungal infections." Yummy.

Too bad we don't have porcini mushrooms here. What I found were some fresh oyster mushrooms and some big meaty shiitakes. I also found packets of dried 'shrooms I couldn't quite identify. After soaking 'em I realized they were shiitakes too. I'd occasionally chanced upon some enoki mushrooms but none today. In any case they would've been nice for variety but would probably not have added much flavor as the shiitake was bound to overpower everything else. I roughly chopped up my finds & sautéed them in some butter and plenty of garlic and herbs. Served this up on top of some baked polenta and the beautiful onions.

Herbed Mushrooms on Polenta, and Baked Onions

While the onions and the polenta were baking I wondered what to do with the extra onion + cheese + cream that I couldn't stuff back into the onion bulbs. I had some extra champignon mushrooms, too. I minced and sautéed the ‘shrooms and put them in the cream with some ground beef. Quickie cannelloni filling. The cannelloni just caught the tail end of the other stuff's cooking time, and didn't quite make it to the table as early as I would've liked, but Mama, Papa, Sarah and I still found tummy space to dig into it before the baked onions completely disappeared.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Cooking in a bag

The French call it En Papillote, the Italians call it cartoccio, and it's got to be the wildest (& easiest) cooking methods ever. You basically chuck all your ingredients into a bag & bake it. What this means is that minimal fat, if any is needed since all the ingredients, sealed tightly in the bag, steam in their own juices, mingling the flavors. You get this natural, healthy sauce from cooking your meat or fish in the same bag as your veggies & herbs. It's amazing. The bonus is that there's hardly any washing up after (just toss the used bags into the wastebasket).

Classically the packets are made with parchment paper. You can substitute tin foil, but you'll have to handle it with extra care as foil punctures easily, and you don't want to use foil if you've got acidic mixtures in the food, like tomatoes sprinkled with vinegar, as the foil may react with it. Parchment paper isn't that much more expensive, and you'll find it in the same grocery section as the foil. Go with the'll make you look oh so gourmet hehehe.

You serve each person his own packet on a plate, and they cut it open or you cut it open for them. Watch them ooh and ahh when the amazing aromas come steaming out. You could conceivably make bigger bags for more people but getting the cooking time right might get a little tricksy.

Here's something I did with fish & couscous but really, you can put just about anything in a bag. The key is to have food that's gonna give off some moisture, and to cut up the food into reasonably small pieces so they cook all the way through. Seafood pasta lends itself well to this method, as would sliced meat or chicken on rice or whatever, I should think.

Fish Fillet & Couscous "En Papillote"

  • couscous (How much, you ask? Well I don't know, how much do you wanna eat? The spices here are enough for 6 packets, each containing about a cup and a half cooked couscous)
  • zucchini and carrot, shredded
  • a good-sized onion, chopped
  • 1 lemon, shave or grate the zest off, then slice thinly
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • as many fish fillets as you have people (the spices listed are for roughly 6)
  • as many bay leaves as you have fish fillets
  • chopped or sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Cut a 10-inch sheet of parchment or foil for each guest, and put a fold down the middle. In a bowl, plunk together the couscous, the broth, the veggies, zest from your lemon, the spices, and half the salt. Feel free to give it a splash of white wine. Stir it around a bit to blend. Divide the mixture among your paper packets (Just spoon it onto the middle). Place the fish on top and sprinkle with the pepper & remaining salt. Top with a lemon slice, a bay leaf, and toss on some almonds. Fold the packet up (making sure it's well sealed), put them on a baking sheet and bake for maybe 15 minutes. Serve with some crunchy salad.

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