Monday, June 30, 2008

Rum Cake Made Easy

I would usually make rum cake with a butter cake base. I would bake a basic butter cake. Then when the cake cools, I would brush the cake with rum glaze.

It just so happens that I discovered cake mixes. There's a white cake mix, a yellow cake mix, also a pre-mix for lemon cake, brownies, devil's food cake and a lot more other kinds of pastries. I think these are wonderful time-savers for those days when you need a dessert but too busy to make from scratch.

Of course, purist and serious bakers would consider using cake mixes a sacrilege! And of course, using cake mixes would take out the joy you really do get out of baking, specially if you are baking as a hobby. However, as I have mentioned, cake mixes can be used to help shorten the time you spend in the kitchen. There's less measurements to do, less ingredients needed, less utensils to wash. Plus cake mixes are so versatile, you can garnish them, add different flavors, make different icings and fillings and you can produce professional looking cakes that can impress your guests or audience.

I was invited to an informal birthday gathering yesterday and I wanted to bring a cake. However, I had several writing deadlines, leaving me less time to putter around in the kitchen. So, I took the easy way out and made rum cake using the yellow cake mix. :)

1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 C Bacardi's rum
2/3 C water
1/3 C Canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 350F (for regular bundt pans). I used a silicone bundt pan so I had to lower the baking temperature to 325F.

2. Grease the baking pan and coat with a little flour.

3. Mix everything up in the cake mixer for 2 minutes. Pour into the baking pan. Bake in the oven for around 30 to 35 minutes, until cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

4. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes. Invert the baked cake into a serving platter. Let cool completely before adding the glaze.

Rum Glaze

1/4 C Butter
3 T sugar
2 T water
1/4 C Bacardi Rum

1. Boil butter, water and sugar until sugar is melted and syrupy.

2. Turn off heat. Let cool for a while before adding the rum.

3. When completely cooled, brush rum glaze all over the baked and cooled yellow cake.

I have to confess that I find my butter cakes baked from scratch more fluffy and moist. And of course, the taste is totally different. But still, this is easy baking, isn't it? It can keep in the refrigerator for a longer period of time and the taste will just get better. It is delicious in its own way. Just do not let out that you cheated... hee... hee...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cream of Potato Soup

Potato, potato, potato.... hmmm... do you know that potato is always on my mind this month of June? This is because Wandering Chopsticks challenge for this month's Weekend Wokking is the ever humble potato.

The United Nations has declared this year, 2008 as the Year of the Potato. I think they want due recognition to this humble crop, which is easy to grow and very nutritious. They want to increase awareness for this crop that may be a good food source for developing nations. Of course, when we say potato, the first thing that comes to mind is starch. Potato is pure carbohydrates and with a high glycemic index at that, which is not good for dieters. However, you have to consider that potatoes have the health benefits of fiber. Therefore, it offers protection against colon cancer, it improves glucose tolerance and increases satiety, and possibly even reduce fat storage - because you will tend to eat less if you include potato in your meal. They also have one-fourth of the calories of bread and, when boiled, have more protein than corn and nearly twice the amount of calcium. They contain vitamin C, iron, potassium and zinc.

Potatoes are very common and quite cheap here in this country. We often use it as an extender. We add it to stews, or add it for stuffing. However, I wanted something different for this event. I want to feature potato as a the main ingredient for a dish. Aside from the Potato Salad that I made, I know some dishes that has potatoes as main ingredients are: mashed potatoes, which are first peeled and boiled and then mashed with milk and butter; French fries (oooh! very unhealthy!) whole Baked Potaotes (smothered with unhealthy sauces!) Hash Browns, grated potaotes then fried again. I wanted something that is healthy and nutritious, something that will make the potato's assets shine out...

I decided to make a humble soup - as humble as this crop. It is easy to cook, it is warm, it is flavorful, it is healthy, it is tummy-filling, perfect for dieters (unfortunately, not on South Beach).

2 T buter
2 heads garlic
1 big onion, chopped
4 pcs (around 400 gms) potatoes, diced
1 C milk
3 C Chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

submerge peeled potato in water to avoid discoloration

1. Heat butter in medium heat and cook garlic cloves until golden brown.

This is the garlic cooking in butter.

2. Add onions and cook until soft. Add the potatoes without browning them.

It gets very fragrant at this stage. Smells yummy!

3. Add soup stock. Boil and simmer until potatoes are cooked (around 15 minutes).

4. Add milk. I usually add milk last and I do not let it boil to prevent the milk from curdling.

5. Put soup in the blender and pulse until creamy.

6. Season to taste.

You can serve this with sliced French bread topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and basil, which I did. And I already consider this a full meal.

By the way, I just came from a dinner last night, hosted by my German missionary friend (the one who taught me to make Quiche - recipe and story here.) She also served us Potato Soup! She flavored hers with curry and a dash of nutmeg. It was also yummy!

This is my entry to Weekend Wokking, launched by Wandering Chopsticks. This month's hosts are Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. Please check out their site in a few days for the round-up! Looking forward to the next ingredient and the next Wokking event!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Prawn and Mushroom Quiche

Truth to be told, most Asians are not familiar with Quiche, much less pronounce it. :)

Although I knew of a dish called Quiche, I never bothered to make it nor learn about it until a German missionary friend introduced me to this dish more than a year ago. She brought a quiche dish with bacon and cauliflower to our Couples@Work fellowship and it was an instant hit! I loved the flaky crust. I loved the texture and the flavorful filling. It was yummy!

She gave me her recipe, and then I also combed the internet for more recipes. I found out that a quiche is basically a dish made with egg and milk (or cream) baked with a pastry crust. Although some quiche can be made without the crust (for those on low carb diets). However, I thought a good quiche should have the crust because it provides the nice crunch and flavor to the dish. A variety of ingredients can be added; usually a combination of meat and vegetables.

I bought a 27 cm quiche dish just specially to make quiche. I remember I made one before I started blogging. It was a bacon and spinach quiche. It was a big hit with my family! But for one thing or another, I never made it again. Until last Tuesday... This is because my Tuesday group has been asking me to bake one for them ever since they found out that I knew how to make one!

And so, last Monday, I started preparing the crust...

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1 C cold butter
1/3 C cold water

1. In a bowl, mix together the flour and salt. using a pastry cutter, or a large-tinned fork, cut the chilled butter into the flour until it resembles coarse sand with a few pea-sized pieces of butter still visible.

2. Sprinkle water evenly over the mixture and toss gently a few times, just until a ball holds together.

3. Separate the dough into 2 balls. Flatten it slightly into thick disc shapes. Wrap in plastic and chill overnight (or a few hours before working on it.)

4. When ready to use, prepare the table, clean and dust with flour. Roll the dough to flatten it, into 1/8 inch thick round crust. Place the dough in the quiche dish. Pat down with clean fingers to follow the mold of the dish. Cut off the excess dough and crimp the edges.

5. Prick the dough with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes at 350F.

I have read these tips from the internet, which I followed to the letter, and the resulting crust is flaky and buttery (which we like):

1) The secret to a flaky crust is to handle it as little as possible. When mixing the dough, stop once it sticks together to form a cohesive dough.

2) Run your hands under cold water for a few minutes and pat dry before handling the dough. This prevents the dough from melting together and being 'processed' by body heat.

On baking day, I assembled my ingredients. I wanted to make a prawn and spinach quiche. But probably in haste, or excitement, (or is it forgetfulness?) I was not able to buy spinach at the grocery! (Huh? How can one forget a major ingredient???) What to do? I then spied my pot of onion leeks... hmmm...

I am quite proud of my leeks. They are a product of my being a cheapskate. One day when I bought some leeks, I just thought of cutting off the roots with a little part of the stem - probably an inch of the white stem, and just planted them in a big pot. It was just an experiment. I was not even sure if leeks can re-grow themselves or if they have to grow from seeds... I was so happy they started to slowwwwwly grow new leaves. Admittedly, these new leaves were scrawny, but tall. Yes, they were not photogenic. But, they are still leeks! Edible and organic!

So, here is the recipe for Prawns and Mushrooms and Leeks Quiche. With this recipe, I was able to make one 27-inch quiche, which I brought to my Tuesday Bible Study group (no picture was taken because everybody was so hungry then) and a small 12-inch quiche (photo above).

8 eggs
1 C all-purpose cream
1 C cheddar cheese
20pcs medium sized prawns, shelled, deveined
1/2 C white onions, chopped
5 T garlic, mined
1 C chopped leeks
1/2 C fresh Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 t salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 F

2. Whisk all the eggs, cream and cheese together. Add salt and pepper. You may set aside some cheese for the topping later.

3. Distribute and spread the prawns, onions, garlic, leeks, and mushrooms into the prepared quiche crust. Pour the egg-cream mixture into the dish. It will be enough to cover the prawns and mushrooms, etc.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for around 60 minutes, until it tests done in the center. After around 45 minutes of baking, sprinkle the cheese (you have set aside earlier) on top of the nearly-done quiche. Continue cooking until done.

This is my entry to Andrea's Grow Your Own, a monthly foodie event that celebrates the foods we grow or raise ourselves and the dishes we make using our own homegrown products. Please check out Andrea's Recipes for her round-up in a few days!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cucumber Salad with Creamy Soy-Ginger Dressing

Do you know cucumber is technically a fruit? Although it is widely considered as a vegetable. It is easy to like cucumbers. They are moist and crunchy at the same time. It has lots of vitamin C. It also contains a certain kind of nutrient that reduces swelling. So, it is true that if your eyes are tired and swollen, just slice up a couple of cucumbers and cover your eyes with them!

Cucumber also helps you cool down with its high water content. It also contains fiber to help your digestive system. When buying cucumbers, choose the firm ones with green color. Avoid the yellowing ones with dried up ends. Cucumbers can be eaten with their skin on. However, if you are concerned with the chemical pesticides or preservatives most vegetables are sprayed with, it is recommended that you peel the skin off.

Cucumber is best eaten raw, dipped in simple vinegar-chilli sauce or in a salad.

I got this delicious salad recipe from White on Rice Couple here. It is quite simple to make, a very refreshing side dish for a grilled or fried entree.

I followed the recipe to the letter except that I did not mince the garlic finely as White on Rice Couple did. I still wanted the texture and crunch of the garlic. I also did not have grapeseed oil on hand so I substituted canola oil.

2 pcs cucumbers, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly

1 T sesame oil
2 T rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1/2 t sugar
1 T mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 T fresh grated ginger
1 t freshly ground pepper
1/4 C Canola oil

1. Slice cucumber and onion thinly. place in a plate with paper towels to blot out excess moisture. Remove paper towels.

2. Combine all ingredients for the dressing together.

3. Arrange cucumber and onion in a serving platter. Top with the mixed dressing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dried Scallop Congee

Yesterday was a very very stormy day. Typhoon FengShen devastated Central and Northern Philippines. Now, it is on its way to Taiwan, Southern China and Japan, leaving many people dead or homeless, and a passenger ferry capsized (more deaths.) If not for the news, we would have been so removed from the reality of these disasters around us, because we had to stay put inside our own homes.

In Asia, we call a tropical cyclone, a typhoon. Elsewhere, it is called a hurricane. But basically, they are the same weather disturbance that originates at sea. In Asia, our typhoons come from from the Pacific Ocean. It brings heavy rains, thunderstorms, and the dreaded powerful winds that damages properties and can topple anything in its path. I remember two years ago, Typhoon Millenium brought powerful winds that all our sliding doors and window glasses on the fifth floor were broken. That was the first and only time my family had experienced such winds.

When there is a typhoon, powerlines are often down. My mom would then cook something simple but warming and nourishing. More often than not, it would just be a simple congee. And I have done the same for my own family. It is a complete dish in one, with protein and complex carbohydrates. It brings warmth to the body on a cold stormy day. It comforts and calms our minds while strong winds are lashing outside.

This picture shows the dried scallops. Dried scallops or conpoy is a type of dried seafood made from the adductor muscles of scallops. Its taste is rich, marine, intense. According to Wikipedia, it has high content of various amino acids and minerals such as calcium and zinc. In Hong Kong, where we buy dried scallops, it is considered a delicacy because it has complex flavor that enhances various dishes. It is ideal to use scallops to flavor congee, and for stir frying various vegetables. Even if it is a relatively expensive ingredient, we do not have to use a lot to impart flavor to our dishes. Like for this 4 bowls of congee, I only used 3 medium pieces.

Dried scallops have to be prepared before cooking. I would usually wash a cup or two of dried scallops. Boil and simmer them in water for half an hour until softened. When cooled, I would divide them (scallops and broth) into serving sizes, store them in the freezer for future use. When I need some for cooking, I would just get a pack of pre-cooked dried scallops from the freezer. It would not be convenient to soften a little amount of dried scallops every time.

While the scallops impart the flavor, the main ingredient of congee is the Rice. Rice is the main staple of the Asian people. For most Filipinos, it is difficult to imagine a meal without rice. Because a meal without rice is perceived as "not filling" enough. As children, we are taught to give due respect to the rice farmers because of their back-breaking work planting rice in water paddies under the hot tropical sun. Magtanim ay di biro, maghapong naka-yuko...

Rice is a good nutritious food. Rice is high in complex carbohydrates, contains almost no fat, is cholesterol free. All rice, red, brown and white, is considered a good source of vitamins and minerals. Red rice is the rice wherein only the husk is removed. It is not milled and polished like the white rice that you often see in the market. White rice is simply polished and milled red or brown rice (color depending on the variety). Although almost all the nutrients are stripped from white rice when the bran layer is removed during milling, most of the rice sold in the market are enriched with minerals lost during the milling process. So, you have to check out the label to know what minerals your rice contains. Rice is gluten-free and easily digestible making it a good choice for infants and people with wheat allergies or digestive problems. To know more about how rice is grown and what the different types of rice are, please click here.

I mixed 1 part organic long grain red rice with 3 parts long grain white rice for this congee. Red rice is healthier because it is unpolished and still has the outer bran layer. Therefore, aside from the natural nutrients that the rice has, it is also rich in fiber and protein. However, I was afraid my kids are not used to the texture and "graininess" of the red rice, so I had to mix them up with the white rice first. Later on, I plan to increase the red rice ratio to the white rice.

1 C mixed rice, washed once
3 pcs prepared conpoys or dried scallops, with some juices/broth
1/3 K lean ground pork, marinated in 2 T soy sauce and 2 T cornflour
4 T cooking oil, preferably canola oil
3 slices ginger
4 T minced garlic
4 T light soy sauce
3 - 4 C water, depending on how thick you want your congee to be (more water, less thick)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped green onions for garnish

1. Heat up the oil in a pot or wok. Saute the ginger until light golden brown. Add the garlic. Stir fry until fragrant but not burnt.

2. Add the conpoy or dried scallops. Stir for a while. Add the marinated ground pork (including sauce). Stir for a while until the pork changes color. Add the rice. Add soy sauce. Mix everything up.

3. Add water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until rice is cooked (around 20 minutes).

4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into bowls, top with chopped green onions. Serve immediately.

Am sharing this steaming bowl of congee filled with the natural goodness of rice with Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by the one and only Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. To see last week's delicious round-ups, please check out Joanna's Food.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Milkfish (Bangus)

Here's another recipe featuring one of our favorite fish - the Bangus (Milkfish)! Milkfish in Tamarind Soup was featured previously here.

Milkfish are large silvery fish with forked tail, and a sharp snout. According to the Wikipedia, it is also known a Chanos Chanos, and the sole living specie of the Chanidae fish family (other family members are already extinct.) Milkfish are aplenty here in the Philippines. It is already cultivated in fish ponds across the archipelago. It is the country's national fish, after all. This fish has delicate taste and soft texture, similar to Bass. It has lots of healthy fish fats making it a family favorite. The only bone we have against this fish is that it has lots of bones!!! It is not difficult to debone this fish, because all the bones are all neatly lined up anyway. But it will still take time. So if you want to eat this fish in a more convenient way, buy the deboned version.

There are many "forms" of milkfish available in the market. There's the fresh milkfish, with bones and all. There's the deboned whole milkfish, milkfish fillets, milkfish belly, marinated milkfish, smoked milkfish, etc. And now the newest milkfish product to hit the market is the bottled milkfish fillets and belly in oil.

It is indeed very convenient to have this bottled version. Just open it and serve with rice, it makes a yummy, flavorful, and filling meal. And without the bones to bother us at that. However, to use this milkfish in a pasta dish would be perfect! The bottled sauce is flavorful and spicy - perfect for a pasta sauce.

These are the Milkfish Belly pieces taken out of the bottle. The black parts are edible and yummy. Those are the fish fats. My kids would often save those best parts for the last...

I used whole wheat pasta for this dish. Whole wheat products are healthier, with higher protein content than the regular pasta. Of course its texture would be grainy as well. At first, the kids did not like the 'graininess' of whole wheat pasta. We experimented on different brands and finally settled on this one.

1 bottle milkfish belly, spanish style in corn oil
1 pack (350gm) whole wheat spaghetti
4 T minced garlic
1 onion, chopped
5 tomatoes, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
handfull of basil, cut
5 T olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Set aside.

2. Mash 1 to 2 pieces of milkfish fillets, set aside. Reserve the rest of the milkfish belly/meat.

3. Heat up the cooking pan or skillet. Pour the oil from the bottle into the cooking pan. Cook onion and garlic in the oil until fragrant but not burnt.

4. Add the tomatoes. Simmer for around 2 minutes for the flavors to develop. Add the mashed bangus meat. Saute for a while. Add the bell peppers. Add the basil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil. Turn off heat.

5. Arrange pasta on the serving platter. Top with the sauce, then add a reserved milkfish belly on top. Alternately, you can add all the pasta into the pan and mix the pasta with the sauce inside the pan - for easier, less messy mixing. Serve into individual plates topped with the remaining milkfish belly meats.

I am submitting this pasta dish and the featured milkfish to the HomeGrown Gourmet, hosted this month by Joy through Cooking. Milkfish, being the national fish of this country is truly home-grown. :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gorgeous Beauties!

Look at these gorgeous flowers!

Hubby surprised me today with these gorgeous flowers. Am truly tickled pink! Hee! Hee!

Am so happy, happy, happy I want to share these beauties with my WHB friends! I hope you don't mind that there is no recipe entry today. Kalyn did mention that we can include flowers for Weekend Herb Blogging. I apologize that these flowers I am featuring are not edible. But they are truly feasts for the eyes! Enjoy!

deep pink, white, and blue roses

are these SnapDragons (Antirrhinum)?

purple Lisianthus

pink Carnations

love these pink Carnations! I think they're sweet and feminine...

violet Hydrangea

pink Daisies

are these Lillies?

Maybe in your part of the world, these flowers are considered common. But in this tropical country, flowers like these are difficult to grow. Specially since I live in a city where space is limited and the soil is not rich nor fertile. So I am enjoying these visual feasts as long as I can. I hope you enjoyed it too.

I am also not sure if I got the names of the flowers right. Please correct me where I am wrong. Thanks!

Am sending this to Weekend Herb Blogging. The event is hosted this week by Joanna's Food. To see last week's round-up, please check out Astrid's Paulchen's FoodBlog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cream of Broccoli Soup

I am forever on a diet. Which is kind of difficult for a person who loves to cook, to experiment in the kitchen, and who blogs about food (another reason to cook and eat!) But Hubby and I are not getting younger. We know we have to consciously stay healthy, live a healthy lifestyle and choose healthy and nutritious food. Part of that is dieting - saying no-no to bad fats and bad carbs, processed foods, carcinogenic ways of cooking, etc., and choosing healthy, fresh organic and nutritious foods in small portions -- without going hungry...

So, when Ben of What's Cooking? and Ivy of Kopiaste teamed up for Fat Chefs or Skinny Gourmet? a food event featuring diet foods and low calorie foods, I knew I will just have the post to enter. Here it is... the Cream of Broccoli Soup.

The first thing that satisfies us is having a warm bowl of filling and nutritious soup. That is why we almost always have soup in every meal - even in this hot tropical country. Maybe it is just the Chinese in me. We believe soups are nourishing, and healing most specially if we add some Chinese herbs. (I should do more posts abut healing Chinese herbs. Please stay tuned for that!) Soups do not contain much calories. If you begin your meal with nutritious soups, you will likely eat less food later on. And you will still get the adequate nutrition that your body needs.

Vegetable soups are ideal diet foods. Specially broccoli. Broccoli is believed to have anti-cancer properties. It is also high in Vitamin C, A and Calcium. Others says that the longer we cook broccoli, more nutrients are lost to the cooking process. That is why stir-frying is preferred over steaming or blanching (where as much as one third of the nutrients are lost immediately!) However, less nutrients are lost when you cook the broccoli in soup - you get to drink all the liquid anyway. Choose Broccoli that have compact head, with no bruising, uniform green color, not yellowing.

This is also a wonderful way to recycle left-over Broccoli Stir-fry. We had lots of left-over food from Jayce's birthday party. The first one I have to recycle is the Broccoli Stir Fried with Fresh Scallops. I do not know why - cooked broccoli flower gets spoiled easily in this heat. So, I had to do something with it first.

When we came home from the party, I immediately re-heated the broccoli dish. I stir fry it again until the flowers became limp. Then I added some homemade shrimp broth. To learn how to make fresh shrimp broth, please click here. I needed a strong broth to counter the "veggieness" of the broccoli. Shrimp broth seems to be the perfect candidate specially since the broccoli was already flavored with scallops. I then put everything - the broccoli and the broth into the food blender (food processor) until pureed very well (in batches, because my blender could not contain a lot.)

a few slices ginger
1 onion, chopped
4 T garlic, minced
pureed broccoli with shrimp broth
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 C milk

1. Saute ginger in some oil. Add onions and garlic and saute until softened.

2. Add the pureed broccoli and shrimp broth. Add more broth if you want thinner consistency.

3. When the soup boils, season with salt and pepper. (The broccoli is already cooked so we do not have to simmer)

4. Add the milk before turning off the heat. Serve immediately.

Instead of cream, I used fresh milk. (Should this dish then be called Milked Broccoli Soup?) Ideally, skim milk or non-fat milk should be used to make it a truly diet food. But I do not have skim milk in my pantry then.

I have to confess that the kids do not particularly enjoy this soup. For one thing, it's green! and for them, it tastes green. (Is there a 'green' taste???) But Hubby enjoyed it. He likes any kind of vegetable. (Perhaps he just loves anything that tastes green???) And it is indeed quite flavorful since I used fresh shrimp broth as the base. He even said I should cook this more often even if we do not have broccoli left-overs. To which the kids shouted, "Noooooo....!!!"

Oh well, dieting is for adults only anyway... :)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jayce's First Birthday Party

Here are some pictures of my nephew and godson Baby Jayce-Jayce's first birthday party. The theme was "Under the Sea." And the party planner - Party Time - was really able to transform the Valle Verde 6 Club House into somewhere under the sea. The atmosphere was festive. There were lots of hanging balloons simulating bubbles. There was also a real bubble making machine (near the stage). There was a bubble show for the kids, aside from the balloon show and kids games. Everybody had fun, even the adults were gamely joining the kids' games!

This is Jayce's wonderful 2-tier birthday cake, beautifully made by Kitchen Crafts. It had simple cake base - just made of chocolate with marshmallow icing. But the decorations were prettily made. Just look at the different colorful characters! The characters on the cake were made using 'royal icing.' There were lots of lollipops with different under the sea characters stuck around the cake, some were made using butter cookies, some were made of chocolates.

Just look at these cute mini-muffins!!! Don't they look too good to be eaten?

Of course I am impressed with the creativity and the effort behind these because I am only an amateur baker (translate: home-baker). I do not know how to decorate cakes or use icings to make a cake pretty. Hmmm.. one day, maybe I might enroll in a cake decorating class... :)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oyster and Dumpling Noodle Soup

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there! I hope your celebration today is a memorable one.

My family did not celebrate father's day today, though everybody is together today -- because we celebrated the first birthday of my nephew and godson -- baby Jayce Jayce! Will show you his wonderful birthday cake as soon as I get the picture from my brother. So, stay tuned!

But I am celebrating Father's day in my own blogging way. I would like to honor two men today.

I am blessed to have a wonderful father. He is a strict disciplinarian. How else would he be able to raise up 5 obsessive-compulsive girls? I do not know how he did it. He never spanked us nor threaten to spank us (That was Mommy's role). But whenever we would even try to do something naughty, mom would just say, "wait until your father hears about it." And that would be enough to make us behave. (And yes, I am trying that line with my children too. Amazingly, it works!) He also observes strict curfew hours. When I was still dating my boyfriend (now Hubby), he would always wait up for me, no matter how late I reach home. That alone was enough to make me feel guilty as I know he still has work the next day.

Daddy is a very good provider. He had to stop schooling and start working when he was just 16 because Grandpa died then. The burden of earning money for Grandma and his brother and sisters fell on his shoulders since he was the eldest son. He took on many different jobs. He was able to feed his family and send his brother and sisters to school. When he and mom got married, they were able to start a home business that continues to this day. He had no school diploma but he had plenty of work experiences. I think that was also the primary reason why he wants us to excel in school. He also wants us to go to the best schools. Now that we kids have all finished college (2 of us have post-graduate degrees), he proudly tells his friends that we are smarter than he is! We owe what we have to Daddy!

I am also blessed to have a wonderful father of my kids. I have written about him many years ago which I posted here. I wrote it on the seventh year of our marriage. Looking back, nothing has changed. Well, except perhaps the way we look - we certainly look older than we were before, I think we have expanded a wee bit of our waistline (we both love to eat!) But our dreams, our hopes for our children are still there. We still have fun together. We talk and talk and still are the best of friends.

I am sharing with you a dish Hubby, the father of my kids, cooked himself. This dish is a marriage of our favorite ingredients. I love oysters. He loves dumplings. And the resulting dish is as colorful and as flavorful as our marriage.

We used ready-made pork and shrimp dumplings Jiao Zi bought from a Chinese deli owned by a Taiwanese. The picture is taken from Wikipedia. (I was not able to take a picture of the uncooked dumpling. It was Hubby who cooked.) Chinese dumpling is usually made with ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of round dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together. I have tried to make dumplings before (I have yet to do a post on that.) And believe me, it was not easy!

Dumpling is not be confused with Shu Mai or Wanton. Dumplings have a thicker chewier skin (because of the different dough mixture used.) They also have a flatter, more oblate, double-saucer like shape (That is why they are called Jiao Zi - it is shaped like a horn.) source: Wikipeadia. Dumplings are usually steamed or fried eaten with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce with the option of adding chillies. But sometimes, we just boil the dumplings in soup, just like in this dish.

1 pack (around 20 pcs) pork and shrimp dumplings
300 gms fresh oyster meat
10 pcs Kani or crabsticks
4 slices ginger
4 T garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
5 C pork broth (I made broth from pork bones)
100 gms watercress, washed, cut into bite-sized pieces
250 gms fresh hand-pulled noodles (available from your Asian groceries)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Saute ginger in a little cooking oil. When they turn a bit golden brown, add the onions and garlic. When fragrant, add the oysters. Stir fry for a while. At this point, you have the option to take the cooked oysters out of the pan. (Leave the juices in the pan.) Because if the oysters are further cooked, they will become smaller and more chewy.

2. Add the pork broth. Bring to a boil. When it boils, add the dumplings. Cook the dumplings for 5 minutes or until they float up the broth. Add the hand-pulled noodles. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until noodles are cooked al dente.

3. Return the oysters to the noodle soup. Also add in the crabsticks and the watercress.

4. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mango Muffins

Ever since I read about the Mango Bread that Wandering Chopsticks made, (she posted it last year, but I was able to read it probably 10 days ago) I knew I just had to try it. Mangoes are available whole year round in this tropical country. And it is specially plentiful now that its summer.

Ripe yellow mangoes are my kids' favorite fruit. Actually, it is the whole family's favorite fruit. There is something comforting about eating a luscious ripe sweet mango. The sweet scent itself is already soothing. Mangoes are rich in anti-oxidants, potassium and fiber. It is one of the best fruits around. So I try to include it in my shopping list every week. When buying ripe mangoes, smell the head part - the one where the stem was. If it smells good, then, it will taste good. For information on how to peel, or cut and cube a mango, please click here.

I initially wanted to make a loaf bread just like the original recipe. But I am also bringing this as a snack to my Tuesday Bible Study group. So, I had to make it into a more "convenient for everybody" form, where I do not have to slice the bread and request for additional forks and plates from the host. Thus, I decided to make muffins!

I still used the original recipe from Wandering Chopsticks. The only difference is that I used muffin pans instead of a loaf pan. I also know that the baking time will be shorter because of the pan used, so I had to watch the baking time closely. Instead of 1 hour baking time for a big loaf pan, the muffins turned out pretty nicely after 30 minutes! That's half hour of gas saved! Please notice that I used Silicone bake ware, so I also adjusted the oven temperature. The original called for 350C. With Silicon, and teflon-coated bakeware, we always use 25C less, or the batter will be burnt on the outside but still unbaked on the inside. Use the original temperature if using the regular baking pans.

see the muffins puffing out nicely while baking inside the oven?

2 C flour
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C mango nectar or mango juice
1/2 C vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 fresh mangoes, diced
1 C chopped walnuts (but I did not add walnuts because I didn't have any.)

1. Preheat oven to 350C (again, mine was 325C because I used Silicon ware)

2. Dice 2 mangoes and set aside.

3. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. That's the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt.

4. In a separate bowl mix the liquid ingredients - the mango juice or mango nectar, the vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla.

5. Add the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. I used a stand mixer at this point, at low speed.

6. Gently fold in the mangoes (and nuts if using).

7. Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour for the loaf pan, and 30 minutes for the muffin pans. Bread or muffins are bakes when a toothpick inserted at the center of the bread or muffins comes out clean.

The resulting muffins? Very yummy, soft and moist. It had the right amount of sweetness, not too cloyingly sweet, which I prefer. I wish I had added more mangoes though, and less cinnamon. But then, that's just me. I am not a fan of cinnamon. But Hubby and my Tuesday group like them very much. I was able to make 12 big muffins and though there were only 8 of us, there were no leftovers! Thanks Wandering Chopsticks for such an easy to do and yet yummy recipe!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Milkfish in Tamarind Soup (Sinigang na Bangus)

Today, being the Independence Day of the Philippines, we celebrated by having a dish that is close to every Filipino's heart. The Sinigang is a sour soup dish similar to Thailand's Tom Yum. A soup is called Sinigang based on the sour broth, not on the meat used. We can use pork or beef, or different seafoods. I have posted on Prawn Sinigang before. Recipe here. There are also several 'souring' fruits that can be used for the soup. Most cooks would rather use the tamarind. (That's also my favorite). Guavas, kamias, and even green mangoes can also be used to make the soup sour. The taste quality would be different if different fruits are used. But the dish would still be called Sinigang.

For today's Sinigang, I used milkfish (bangus) - the national fish of the Philippines. True, it is one of the boniest fish in the world, and one of the trickiest to eat. But the taste and texture of the meat is incomparable to other fishes. We also love to eat the "milkfish fat" which is good for the health. So, we do not let the "bony-ness" or "bones-full" bother us. Besides, all its bones are all lined up neatly, it is easy to "predict" and remove the bones as we eat. For those who are less enthusiastic about picking the bones off, there are boneless milkfish being sold in all markets and groceries.

One thing good about this soup is that it is an all-in one nutritious dish : It has meat, it has vegetables, it has fruits. It is also our hot comforting soup. Most of my friends who have been abroad for some time would ask for this soup once they come back home. Or they would ask for ready-made packs of tamarind or guava soup base powder to bring abroad so they would not miss this soup too much once they are out of the country.

1 big milkfish (around 1 kilo), sliced into 4 to 5 pieces
1 radish, sliced
5 slices ginger
5 tomatoes, deseeded, chopped
1 onion, chopped
300 gm tamarind, washed
6 C water
2 pcs taro root, cleaned, peeled, cubed
1 bunch kangkong (swamp cabbage), cleaned, cut into bite-size pieces
5 pcs finger chillies or jalapeno chillies (siling haba)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil water and add in the tamarind, radish, and taro roots. Simmer until tender. Remove the tamarind, reserve water with the radish and taro. Mash the tamarind in some of the water. Pour the mixture into a strainer, and extract the juices of the tamarind. Discard the seeds and the skin. (Alternately, you can use ready-made tamarind or guava powdered soup mix, so you do not have to do the extraction. Just add the powder in the water after the taro and radish had softened.)

2. Add the tamarind extract back to the boiled water with the taro roots and radish. Boil the broth again. When it boils, add the finger chillies, tomatoes, ginger, and onions. Simmer for about 3 minutes to let the flavors develop.

3. Add the milkfish. When it turns color, add the swamp cabbage. When the soup boils again, season with salt and pepper.

4. Serve hot.

This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Astrid of Paulchen's Food Blog. This event was launched by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen to celebrate herbs, vegetables, flowers, and produce from around the world. Last week's round-up was done by Maninas of Food Matters.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Banana Heart (Bud) in Coconut Cream (Ginataang Puso ng Saging)

When I was younger than today, I refused to eat Banana Heart - Puso ng Saging. That is the name given to Banana blossom or bud in this part of the world. Primarily because I thought the farmer had to chop off the whole banana tree to get it's heart! And I love bananas - the fruit more than I love the heart! How will the tree bear more fruit if you chop off the heart!?

Of course, now I understand that this vegetable (by the way, why is the bud called a vegetable, and cooked like a vegetable when its produce is called a fruit???) is actually the reddish heart-shaped bud found at the end of the banana stem, and that harvesting the bud will not endanger the tree in any way. The reason why it is called Banana Heart in this parts is because it indeed looks like a heart! To see a picture of a banana heart and know more about it, please click here.

This is a very simple Filipino dish. Banana Hearts are aplenty here in this country. Sometimes it is made into salads. Most of the time, it is stewed in Coconut Cream.

Coconut cream is made through infusing a little amount of water with shredded mature coconut meat. It is then squeezed and strained through a cheesecloth. This first extract is called the coconut cream. You can add some more water and do the whole process again. The second extraction is called coconut milk, which has a lesser consistency than the coconut cream. However, canned coconut cream and coconut milk are easily available now in any groceries. This makes the cooking process so much easier. Also, you can ask your favorite vendor (suki) to chop up the banana heart for you.

1 pc Banana Bud/Heart (puso ng saging)
4 slices of ginger
3 T garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
4 T cooking oil
1 T vinegar
200 gms ground pork or shrimp meat
4 pcs jalapeno chillies (siling haba), chopped (or more, if preferred)
1 can coconut cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove the outer reddish part of the banana heart and discard. Only work on the yellowish white part found inside.

2. Slice the bud lengthwise into 4 parts, then chop each part thinly across the grain. Soak the chopped buds in salted water to prevent discoloration.

3. When ready to cook, drain the salt water and squeeze out all the juices.

4. Saute the ginger in the oil. When they turn golden brown, add the onions and the garlic. Saute until softened.

5. Add in the ground pork or shrimp meat. Stir until cooked. Add in the chopped banana heart and the vinegar. Cover and do not stir for around 3 minutes.

6. When the 3 minutes are up, open and add in the chillies. Mix everything inside the pan so that he banana heart can absorb the flavor of the meat. Cook until the banana heart cut-ups are tender and soft.

7. Add the coconut cream. Simmer for a few minutes more until the sauce is thickened.

8. Serve warm with lots of rice.

Banana Bud is one of the richest source of Potassium and Fiber. That is why I am submitting this dish to a new foodie event - - Eat Healthy : Fiber Rich launched by Sangeeth of Let Us All Cook or the Art of Cooking Indian Food. We should indeed try to eat healthy foods. After all, life is too short to eat bad food. :)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hot Pot (Shabu Shabu) with Beef

With the induction cooker, we can cook Asian Hot Pot right on our table. Of course you do not need the induction cooker to do Hot Pot. All you need is a table top electric stove and a deep soup pan. Even an electric pan or fondue pot will do.

Asian Hot Pot is simply food cooked and served right in front of the diners on the spot - at the dining table - from a communal pot! It is quite fun to do. Each diner can select ingredients he prefers to eat and cook them in the communal pot. (or request another diner to cook it for you). Lest you be concerned with food hygiene, be assured that there are as many cooking implements used as there are as many diners. To each his own laddle, chopsticks, spoons, dipping baskets, etc.

Hot Pot is becoming a popular dish because it is easy to do, it is a healthy way of cooking, it is very flavorful, you can add in any ingredients you choose, you can make your own sauces and dips according to your own taste.

Locally, Hot Pot is called Shabu-Shabu. Technically, that is misnamed because the real Shabu-shabu is a Japanese soup dish with Konbu (Japanese seaweed) as the soup base. The Soup base often used in local restaurant is either chicken or pork broth.

For today's Hot Pot, I prepared:

Pork broth

1 small Napa Cabbage or Chinese cabbage, cleaned cut into 1"
1/4 K Tung-O Chinese vegetable, cleaned
lobster balls, fishballs, squid balls (all available in Asian groceries)
meatballs with mushrooms
fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
tofu, cubed
1/2 K beef tenderloin slices (sukiyaki cut)
egg noodles

for the dipping sauce:
chinese barbecue sauce (see the picture? this brand is by far better than the others I have tasted)
chopped garlic
chopped bird's eye chillies
soy sauce

1. Prepare and clean all ingredients beforehand. Arrange on serving trays and place on the dining table. The cooker should be at the center of the table, easily accessible to all diners (or to the designated cook, if you choose this option.) Make sure the electric cords will not bother any diner.

2. Place all individual dining utensils as well as the cooking utensils on the table. Each diner should have a bowl to put in their cooked food and soup, as well as chopsticks, soup spoon, or spoon and forks, as well as a sauce plate.

3. Pour hot soup broth in the cooking pot. Wait for the broth to boil before adding any ingredients. While waiting for the soup to boil, diners can prepare their dipping sauces according to taste. Add as much chillies, garlic, soy sauce and barbecue sauce as you like.

4. When the soup boils, add in your favorite ingredient ( from the choices available, of course). It would be advisable to add in the meat first to make the broth more flavorful. This is a cook as you go dish. Once the meat is cooked, laddle up, dip in your sauce and eat. Then, you can proceed to cook the next ingredients in the soup. You go on like this until the ingredients prepared are finished, or you get full - whichever comes first :) It is also advisable to add in the noodles last. By then, the soup is already very flavorful, and the noodles will be flavorful too!

Some more tips:

It is advisable to have around 4 to 6 diners only. It is hard to organize which food is who's if there are too many diners. Plus, there will be longer cooking time. Although, eating Hot Pots is a good way for family members and friends to talk and bond.

It is advisable to have a simple broth first, so that the taste and flavor of each ingredient will not be lost.

You do not have to stick to one variety of meat. You can combine seafood (oysters, fish fillets, clams, etc) with meat( chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, etc).

Prepare a large batch of broth in the kitchen. Add this to the hotpot as needed. Because the soup in the hotpot gets lesser while cooking and eating.

Try doing Hot Pot! It is a versatile way of cooking any of your favorite ingredients.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Woks, Induction Cooker and Prawns in Tamarind Soup

Whew! long title? Actually, I was going to write about my new induction cooker (umm... actually, not that new... but story later.) Then, Wandering Chopsticks is inviting everyone to write about their woks. Aside from my old wok, I have a new wok that I bought specially for my induction cooker! So, I have to include my woks in this post too. And of course, I have to share a recipe using my new gadgets... :)

This is my relatively new induction cooker. Last year, when Hubby went to Hong Kong for one of his business conventions, he was able to purchase this induction cooker. Accordingly, this induction cooking is different from what we ordinarily know - gas or electric coils. Ordinarily, the range tops or electric coils becomes hot and this heat is then transferred to our cooking vessels - the pots and pans, in order to cook the food inside. But in induction cooking, the pot or pan itself becomes the generator of heat! The surface of the cooker remains cool to the touch!

How does it work? Through electromagnets that the cooking pots or pans have. Thus, iron skillets and woks are ideal for induction cooking. Stainless and other types of pots are also alright to use, if they are equipped with electromagnets at their base. For a detailed explanation of how induction cooking works, please click here and here.

However, last year, I was too stubborn. I insisted on using my faithful gas stove. I like my gas stove (translated: I like to stay in my comfort zone.) I have always used my gas stove. (translated: I am too lazy to learn new technology.) My gas stove gives me high stable fire and heat I need for my cooking (translated: I am still lazy to learn new technology.) I just set the new induction cooker aside. (translated: I am slow to learn new technology.) Come to think of it, Hubby must have not been happy when I did not use his "gift" :(

This year, the gas prices have been steadily going up and up and up. One day, when I was bemoaning the high prices of everything, Hubby suggested I should use the induction cooker. It will save us money for the cooking gas. Isn't he very patient with me? One year and he still is not insistent I use his "gift."

Finally, I did use it and I am hooked! Wow! It is so easy to use. Things get cooked faster than the regular gas stove. Therefore it is energy-efficient. It is so easy to clean. No more grills and coils to scrub. Plus, the surface is really not hot! There is no steam or fire coming out of the cooker. In this hot country where our everyday temperature hovers around 30C, this matters a lot! I can turn on the electric fan while cooking and there is no fire that will go out. I do not have to sweat while cooking! Yipee!

But lest you accuse me of being biased towards induction cooking, here is the site where it tells you the pros and cons of induction cooking.

Actually, the only "cons" I can think about now is that if you do not have iron skillet or pans, or any pan that can attract magnets, you have to invest in another set of cookware if you are going to use induction cooking.

I already have a non-stick wok which I am using for many many years now (for the gas stove). I would have preferred a cast-iron wok like the one Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok has. But cast iron woks are rare here in this country. My mother-in-law has one but she had to lug it back here all the way from China! (Imagine the excess baggage weight she has to carry!) I do most of my cooking in my wok. (translate: I use my wok everyday.) I cook eggs in it. I do stir-fries, I do deep fry, I steam, I braise and make stews in it. It is an all-in-one versatile pan and pot! Here is an example of a complete meal I cooked using my non-stick wok: Chinese Flavored Rice.

a WOK is definitely indispensable in any serious cooking. However, I believe I do not have to bring my wok to heaven :) I am sure there will even be a better kind of wok in heaven! :)

Since I am still on earth, and since I want to use my induction cooker now, I have to buy a wok that can be used for induction cooking. See my shiny new wok in the second picture above?

I can do a lot of things with it. A wok is not limited to doing stir-fries and deep fries. You can do almost all kinds of cooking in it. I can even cook pasta in it! So, if you want to invest in a cookware, make sure it is a versatile WOK!

Here is a simple soup I made using the new wok and induction cooker. It is a Filipino Dish called Sinigang na Sugpo (Prawns in Sour Soup). Actually, the real dish is a lot more complicated with more veggies like okra, string beans, radishes, etc. I did not have these ingredients on hand, but I made the soup anyway...

400 gms prawns, cleaned
5 slices ginger
1 onion, chopped
400 gms tamarind, cleaned
1 small piece taro root, cleaned, skin removed
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch chinese kang kong (swamp cabbage)
3 pcs finger chillies (jalapeno peppers)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil the tamarind and taro root in a cup or two of water until softened. Mash the tamarind in the same water to extract the sour juices. Mash the taro. Remove the solids through a sieve. Keep the water with the juice extraction.

2. Boil the tamarind extract with 2 more cups of water. Add in the ginger and onion slices. Also add in the tomatoes and the finger chillies. When everything boils, add in the prawns.

3. Prawns are cooked when they turn pink. Add in the kang kong. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Dish up. Serve hot with rice.

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