Wednesday, December 26, 2007

San Francisco Bay Area, Day 9

Arived in SFO nine days ago, and have been too, um, occupied to blog. So here's a run-down of what I've been not blogging about the past few days.

Day 1 onwards: My Mom's home cooking-- Yes, I only get my childhood comfort food when I'm on vacation in SFO. After all the countries, cuisines, and restaurants I've tried, nothing beats Mom's cooking. So far, I've had pork sinigang, garlic-fried salmon belly, soy-marinated catfish, linguine in meat sauce, and lots of fried rice. Looking forward to the stuffed cabbage, beef mechad or nilaga, etc. Michelin and Zagat have nothing on this.

Day 1: Masu (3rd Ave., San Mateo, CA)-- This is a Japanese restaurant specialising in the quick-fire production of California sushi rolls. It features an all-you-can-eat lunch for $12/person, which of course we availed ourselves of. There is no buffet table here; rather, you order each dish you want after you finish the last one you ordered. As far as sushi craftsmanship goes, Masu will not exactly please the aesthetic sense of the shogun-- the rolls look like they were haphazardly done (something to be expected here) and the rice sometimes falls as soon as you dip into the soysauce. Flavour-wise, it isn't bad with its varied selection of sushi rolls, and the raw fish are fresh enough for the average Joe (i.e., no fishy smell). Aside from sushi rolls, you may also order tempura, ramen, and teriyaki-- the salmon teriyaki is actually good. Service is pretty fast and efficient, and your order usually comes within five minutes, longer if you order cooked stuff. Bottomline, Masu isn't haute Japanese cuisine, but it offers superb value for money and is much better than the average buffet lunch in its price level.

Day 2: Godiva Chocolates (Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo, CA)-- Godiva makes some of the smoothest chocolates I've eaten. Quite pricey, but good. As usual, I prefer the white and milk chocolates over the dark. They also make blended chocolate shakes in this store, which for me defeats the purpose of going to Godiva.

Day 4: Marina Food (Norfolk St., San Mateo, CA)-- No this isn't a restaurant, this is one of the many Asian supermarkets in the Bay Area, and a very well-stocked one at that. The reason Marina made it to this post is because of what it sells-- Victorias Spanish Sardines and Bangus. After weeks of looking for them in Manila (my folks wanted be to bring some to SFO), this is where I find those orange-and-yellow cans. For those who don't know, Victorias are a Filipino company selling goods manufactured in the Philippines. A stocker in Landmark Supermarket (Gateway Mall, Quezon City) told my Dear and me that Victorias have stopped delivering their products to local stores and instead export practically all their stuff. Well, this confirms his story.

Day 6: Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe (Burlingame Ave., Burlingame, CA)-- I've been going here since 2001 usually for coffee and desserts, but this is the first time I had breafast here. People here will find this weird since Copenhagen has been a breakfast institution in Burlingame for decades, with many people walking here from church on Sunday mornings. I got the Veracruz omelette ($8.95)-- roasted peppers, avocados, sour cream, and cheese-- which was that day's special; my Dad got the Popeye omelette ($7.75), which had spinach and cheese; and my Mom got blueberry pancackes ($6.95), which always seem to come in threes. All omelette orders come with country-fried potatoes and buttered toast, which makes this a very hearty breakfast indeed. Copenhagen has a relaxed and casual atmosphere, and, despite its brisk business, has managed to keep its neighbourhood feel. And yes, avocados are a good filling for omelettes, depending on what goes with it.

Day 8: Noche Buena-- I'll have a special post for this. Eventually.

Day 9: Carl's Jr. (Triton Dr., Foster City, CA)-- I got the Portobello Mushroom 6-Dollar Burger. It was very good, I should say. Much better than the restaurant burgers I get in Manila. For one, you can actually taste the beef here, which is thick and juicy, not the anemic and shrivelled patties in most burger places in Manila. They are also generous with the lettuce, tomatoes, and mushrooms (of course). And to think Carl's Jr. burgers only rate 18 out of a possible 30 in Zagat surveys, so at most it is above average and in no way an outlier. So yes, the Americans make a pretty darned good burger.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hong Kong, T minus 2 hours

At the CX lounge in HKG now, the one called The Pier (CX has two lounges in HKG, the other called The Wing). As far as airport lounges go, the CX lounge in HKG is the best in amenities and food. Top marks for design, though, goes to the TK lounge in Istanbul with its palatial interior design.

The food in the CX lounge in HKG is superb, complete with a Noodle Bar where you order freshly cooked noodles. In no other lounge have I seen freshly cooked food; usually the main course is a bunch of cold sandwiches and soups kept on warm. For this layover, I got the following: wonton noodles, spring rolls, fried rice, sausages wrapped in bacon, vegetable tempura, and a fruit plate. And before you start making aspersions about my appetite (which, if you know me, are not necessarily off the mark), the serving sizes I got were very small, like a piece or two of each dish. So, no, I'm not about to burst with all this free food.

Next stop, SFO.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Recipes (not a recipe)

A current favourite of my Dear is Recipes. No, she hasn't suddenly discovered cooking as a hobby; Recipes is the name of a restaurant chain here in Manila, serving dishes from various Asian cuisines (Filipino, Thai, Korean, Chinese). We've eaten at Recipes before, but we rediscovered it last Saturday.

First time I ate at Recipes was in Alabang Town Center back in 2004, courtesy of a friend's girlfriend (now ex) who threw him a surprise party. As with most parties where you try not to look like the resident glutton, I didn't get to eat much so I wasn't particularly impressed. Also, the concept of a resto offering dishes from various cuisines isn't very inviting to me-- those types tend to be jacks of all cuisines but masters of none.

Recipes, however, is not bad at all. I wouldn't go there if I wanted authentic Thai or Chinese food, but their signature dishes are superb. Our favourite dish, bar none, is called General's Chicken (P200)-- crunchy fried chicken cubes (with skin) and eggplants in a thick sweet and spicy sauce. This dish is best described as just right-- not too sweet, not to spicy; the crispy chicken complements the soft eggplant. This dish is always ordered when my Dear and I visit. Goes very well with rice (P35/cup), which itself is quite good and has a very good texture-- I would guess they serve dinorado rice cooked with pandan.

Another good pick, this time clearly Chinese-inspired, is the Spicy Squid (P165). Their squid has the customary light breading, fried with garlic and chilies, but is sliced relatively thin (comapred to other restos), almost like straightened squid rings. But unlike squid rings, their squid is completely cooked yet soft-- not an easy feat when cooking squid.

Not so high on my list is the Lechon Kawali with Kangkong (P200). You'd expect the pork to be hot and crispy in this dish, but when we ordered it last night the pork came out rubbery and cold, as if it's been lying around for some time. The kangkong, though, was freshly-cooked and similar to the kangkong dish in Thai restaurants. I've had this dish before and I remember the pork being freshly cooked and perfectly crispy, which is to be expected. I'm thinking the pork last night was a fluke, a temporary lapse of quality, but it's still a disappointment.

Another signature Recipes dish is the Crispy Tilapia, but we haven't tried it yet because my Dear is still recovering from successive days of eating tilapia at home. At one time we tried the Laing-- the quintessential Bicolano dish of gabi leaves, chilies, shrimp paste, and coconut milk-- I remember it as being ok but not spectacular (serving size was huge, though).

Ambience-wise, Recipes has a modern minimalist look-- practically no decor and no visual clues as to what to expect. You'll really have to look at the menu to see what they have to offer. Service is friendly and efficient. Expect to pay around P300 per person in this restaurant.

Recipes is not exactly authentic gourmet food; don't go here if you're looking for haute cuisine. Its forte is in preparing simple comfort food, something your aunt might cook on a Sunday lunch when she's trying to impress the family.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cyma (see-mah)

Last Friday, a day after that idiotic episode at Manila Pen, my Dear and I ate at Cyma in Trinoma (for those who don't know, Trinoma is a new mall in Quezon City, near SM North Edsa). Cyma is a Greek restaurant owned by a Filipino chef, and apparently it has already carved a name for itself. I actually wanted to go to a Persian resto last Friday, but my Dear wasn't too keen on it so we compromised on Greek cuisine. And it turned out to be a good decision indeed.

First, the non-food review. Cyma has a casual and relaxed ambience, and the decor captures the flavour of the Mediterranean. Being on the 5th floor of Trinoma, an unobstructed view is an added bonus. Service, I should say, is friendly in the American hi-my-name-is-XXXX-and-i'm-your-server-for-today style. But unlike American restos, they don't kick you out the minute you're done with your meal and are unlikely to order anything else. One thing they can change is the layout-- the bathroom door is in plain view of the dining area and it ain't a good sight.

As for the food, here's what we ordered:

Melitzanosalata (P100)-- basically a roasted eggplant and tomato salad served with whole wheat pita bread. Think of a Greek-style ensaladang talong, with olive oil and lemon juice instead of vinegar. Good, actually, although not as "Greek" as I expected.

Dolmadakia (P195)-- grape leaves stuffed with baked rice and pine nuts, served with yogurt. Very tart. And I mean tart. I had something like this when I was in Baku (also called dolma), stuffed with rice and mutton, but it was not so tart as Cyma's version. And for extra tartness, they serve this dish with a wedge of lemon. I don't know if it was supposed to be that tart, but if it was, I strongly prefer the Azeri version. Oh, did I say this dish was tart?

Roka Salata, solo (P295)-- arugula (roka), sun-dried tomatoes, and walnuts with shaved parmesan cheese and a sweet dressing. This was the gem of the meal, and I'm pretty sure we'll order this every time we eat at Cyma. Although parmesan cheese isn't really Greek, it was a very good addition to the salad. Don't let the "solo" fool you-- this salad is good for at least two.

Mixed Meat Gyros (P180)-- a gyros of pork, beef, tomatoes, onions, and some reddish sauce, rolled in whole wheat pita bread. It is very big and filling-- think of an oversized shawarma. It's so big that it's unwieldy-- I suggest against it if you're on a first date. But if you want a hearty meal and don't mind making a mess, I strongly suggest it. I ordered my gyros with a side of roasted potatoes sprinkled with parsley and parmesan cheese (P80), which I barely touched on account of being too full.

Chicken Gyros (P140) with a lettuce wrap (P25)-- my Dear's order. Same as a regular gyro, but replace the pita bread with lettuce. Not bad, but I still prefer bread on my gyros. My Dear also ordered her lettuce gyros with a side of roasted potatoes (P80), which she barely touched.

Refillable iced tea (P80) and lemonade (P80)-- thankfully, not that saccharine mixture that usually passes for iced tea and lemonade.

As it was our first time at Cyma, we got carried away with our orders and ended up spending almost P1,400. A sane meal for two can include a salad, a gyros, and maybe some entree or pasta, costing around P300 to P400 per person, even less if you'll share the hugely-portioned dishes. All in all, a pretty good deal.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Colourful Meat

My friend dr.sbdink recently asked me why there can sometimes be a rainbow-like sheen on raw meat or fish, whether "colourful" meat is safe to eat. I told him told him not to worry as it has something to do with the proteins oxidising-- I was right on the prescription, but wrong on the reason. Consulting Dr. Wolke's handy book, I found the right explanation.

Those colourful waves you see on raw meat are actually an optical illusion caused by the slicing process. When you cut across the muscle fibres-- myofilaments-- with a sharp knife, the tips of those fibres can play with light. The transluscent tips of the myofilaments-- through birefringence or diffraction (or both)-- cause light waves to interfere with each other, breaking up light into its component parts (i.e., the colours of the rainbow). Basically, it's the same reason you see "rainbows" through some crystals or on CD's. Note that this can only happen if the knife is sharp-- for the colours to appear, you need the surface and the myofilament tips to be fairly flat, not torn or squished by a dull knife.

So next time you see meat with a colourful sheen on the deli shelf, worry not-- it just means they sharpen their blades. But it's a totally different story if the colour on the meat is not a sheen but a solid greenish mass.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

우리 집 (Woorijib)

Woorijib (or Woorijip, as my koryophile Dear insists it should be transliterated) is a Korean restaurant along Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City. Literally meaning "our house", the restaurant is a family-owned and operated enterprise which started just a few years back. Everytime my Dear and I go there (which is quite often), we see three generations of the family around the restaurant.

Ambience-wise, Woorijib is very homey, to put it nicely-- family members lounging and playing around, the tv set to Arirang or KBS, no strict dress code. So really, this won't be the place to impress your date with fine dining. But if your date likes good Korean food with matching good service (complete with call buttons), this is the place to go.

All tables are served with around six to eight different kinds of banchan (side dishes or appetizers) on the house, the most recognisable being kimchi. They usually just give you one or two servings of banchan, but if they recognise you as a regular (and you're extra nice to the family) the banchan will keep on flowing until you ask them to stop. You can also buy the kimchi for P120 per kilo, which unlike supermaket kimchi uses higher grade chili that is smoother on the palate (it also has a more orange tinge-- another sign of quality).

Our regular orders include mandujim (steamed dumplings, pictured above, P100) or gimbap (rice rolls, P200) for appetisers, stir-fried pork with kimchi and chili sauce (pictured right, P250) or ojingobokum (sauteed squid with vegetables in a spicy fermented chili sauce, P300) for the main course, and two cups of sicky purple rice (P40/cup). So for less than P500, you can have a very sumptuous dinner for two, even cheaper if you drop the appetisers and stick to the banchan. On occasion we've also tried their japchae (stir-fried potato noodles), some buckwheat noodle soup, kalbi chim (beef stew), and jajangmyeon (noodles in a fermented black soya bean sauce)-- all of which we liked except for the last (which is really an acquired taste).

Relatively more pricey fare we have tried include samgyeopsal (thinly-sliced pork grilled on the table served with greens, P500) and dakdooritang (chicken and vegetables stewed in fermented chili sauce, pictured left, P500). By the way, only the owner can cook the dakdooritang as this is her specialty, a fact we later learned when we were told that the waiters had to wake her up to cook our order. Now that's service.

Serving sizes are all very generous and the taste is authentic, judging by the number of Korean regulars. Service, I should say, is above par-- the owners even greet you out the door if they happen to be unoccupied as you leave. Bottomline, if you want to dine in Korean elegance served by waitresses in hanboks, do not go here. If you want good, authentic Korean food north of Makati, and don't mind hearing VJ Isak introduce the latest in the K-pop charts or seeing an occasional patron in sando and shorts, Woorijip is the place to go.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

KL food trip

It's been almost a week since I got back from KL, so this post is long overdue. Unfortunately, my KL trip wasn't the food trip I expected (work getting in the way of what I should be doing in KL, hehehe), but it did have its highlights.

1. Otak-otak. I wrote about this in a previous post, and I did get to try it in KL. Rather than baked or grilled, the version I tasted was steamed. It basically tastes like a fish-flavoured tamale with a good hint of chili and curry. It was actually not bad, although I don't see myself craving for it either.

2. Nasi Ayam. Nasi means rice, ayam means chicken, and nasi ayam is a common meal served by street hawkers in KL. An order of nasi ayam costs around RM 5 to RM 6, giving you a generous serving of spicy fried rice and a modest piece of fried chicken breast, sometimes with a soup of garlic and cilantro on the side. One can also order nasi daging (beef or mutton) instead of chicken, or mee ayam (noodles) instead of rice. Basically, street hawkers have a set of staples on one hand (fried rice, fried noodles, noodle soup, fried bread) and viands on the other (chicken, beef, mutton, seafood) and you can order any combination of staple and viand within a reasonably narrow price range.

3. Teh tarik. Basically black tea sweetened with condensed milk (RM 2). Teh means tea and tarik means altitude-- the tarik in teh tarik comes from the process of mixing the tea and condensed milk. Place piping hot black tea and condensed milk in one cup (usually metal) and pour it onto another cup, increasing the distance (or altitude) between the cups as you go proceed. This process cools down the tea and gives it a frothy texture. Now, I'm more of a green tea person, but teh tarik ranks high in my list of black tea favourites, second only to Indian masala chai.

4. Roti bawang. Roti (RM 3) is an Indian bread cooked on a hot griddle instead of baked. It begins as a ball of dough that is stretched many times over, giving the final product a chewy texture-- you'll see the same process in making pizza dough. Unlike pizza dough, roti is much thinner and folded over when cooked, so it is pretty light despite being cooked in oil. Bawang in Bahasa means onion, so I got the onion roti. One can also add an egg or even some meat to the roti. It is served with a thick curry sauce (taken from any meat curry dish they have lying around) on the side.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Manila, T minus 24 hours

I'm going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, tomorrow. This is actually my second time in KL and, if the first trip is any indicator, I think this will be a good food trip (hopefully, work won't get too much in the way).

Among the highlights of my previous trip:

1. Hainanese chicken rice in Suria KLCC (below the Petronas Twin Towers). Unlike the dish that goes by the same name in Manila that is basically glorified tinola (not that tinola is bad, but if I wanted tinola I'll order tinola), the chicken here is roasted, not boiled. The chicken is first cooked ala-Peking duck, then chopped and served with rice cooked in chicken broth and some vegetables.

2. Salmon/Beef teppanyaki at Concorde Hotel. Ok, this is not Malaysian, but their teppanyaki sauce is so far my favourite. It's very garlicky that it's almost a cross between teppanyaki and ala probre sauces. Not really traditional Japanese fare, but I like it.

3. Some set meal in Suria KLCC. Ok, I was in Suria a lot-- that's because it's a 10-minute walk from my hotel. But this food court is in the non-touristy part of Suria where the real and cheap Malaysian food is served. For the equivalent of P70, you get three big viands and rice. I got two vegetable dishes-- something like curried taro leaves and curried langka-- and a spicy chicken dish (I like to say rendang but I'm not so sure). Best meal in KL I had, including hotel and resto food. No kidding.

4. Malaysian halo-halo in Suria KLCC and Bukit Bintang. The main difference with our halo-halo is (1) different fruits like durian, lychees, and others I don't recall or recognise, (2) coconut milk instead of evaporated milk, and (3) no beans.

I'll try to pay more attention this time, and take some pics.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

One man's cooking...

... is another man's biological weapon: Burning chilli sparks terror fear (from BBC)

My friend dr.sbdink, who is currently living in Singapore, says that tenants over there are not allowed to cook. I think this is a rational policy, and very vital for a smooth lesee-lessor relationship. Even if Singaporean cuisine has its share of stinky pastes and sauces, they're their stinky pastes and sauces.

Speaking of stinky food, dr.sbdink tells me of this food in Singapore called otak-otak. According to the interweb, the dish is from Indonesia but Malaysia and Singapore have their versions. It's basically fish paste placed in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal or baked in an oven. I found a recipe here. It can be eaten on its own or as a side dish or as a viand with rice. Dr.sbdink has tried it and, well, didn't really like it. I'm going to Kuala Lumpur next week-- hopefully I'll find this dish so I can give my own review.

As for the name, otak-otak perplexes me. I know that otak means brain in Bahasa, so what does otak-otak mean? Well, based on the pics I've seen, the greyish brown fish paste does look a little like brains. It wouldn't surprise me if that's the etymology of the dish's name-- in the Philippines we have even weirder names for food. E.g., kulangot (literally booger), which is a sweet concoction of coconut and sugar placed in small coconut shells-- the shells are the nostrils and, well, you get the picture. And then there's pan de regla (literally menstruation bread), which is bread with red jam and some butter. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Great Guatemalan Guacamole

This recipe is from my colleague Eliana. She is actually a Colombian living in Australia, but the guacamole recipe is Guatemalan due to the addition of mint.

avocados (2)
lemon or lime juice (1 spoon)
vinegar (1 spoon)
onion (about 2 spoons, finely chopped)
tomatoes (about 2 spoons, finely chopped tomatoes)
coriander (about 1/3 cup)
mint (about 1/3 cup)
salt and pepper
garlic (one clove, if you don't have a date that evening)

Mash the avocados with a fork. Finely chop the onions, tomatoes, chillies and garlic. Chop the coriander and mint. Mix everything and add the lemon juice and vinegar. You may also use a blender or food processor to mince and mix the ingredients, but you'll end up with a very smooth guacamole.

A mixture of chopped coriander, onion, tomatoes, chillies, and garlic with a dressing of lemon and vinegar is called pico de gallo. Guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream are three essential ingredients for authentic tacos. Recipe for chicken and beans to follow.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

UK shops to lose famous soup can

(From BBC)

The Campbell's Condensed Soup tin, made famous by pop artist Andy Warhol, has been canned by new owner Premier Foods. Read more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chicken and Pork Adobo ala Drip

pork, cubed, preferrably with a some fat
chicken, chopped
soy sauce...

Better yet, just watch the vid:

Nice dish. And the adobo's good too. ;)

Credit to dr.sbdink for suggesting this post.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Of Chorizos and Terry Selection

Almost all cultures have their own style of cured meats-- Italians have their pancetta, Germans have their Wursts, we have our longganizas-- but, for me, nothing beats the Spanish cured meats. They have that particular texture, aroma, and taste that other cured meats can't replicate. Jamon, chorizos, morcilla, salchichon-- I can't get enough. In the mid-90's Campofrio offered vacuum-packed chorizo and jamon slices in supermarkets, which my older sister and I quickly consumed. Unfortunately, they were pulled off the shelves after the merger with San Miguel and replaced with regular hotdogs (I never bought those in protest). A form of the Campofrio chorizos made an appearance around 2002-- these were raw chorizos ideal for cooking-- but they also quickly disappeared. The last time I came across those Campofrio packed chorizos was last year on the Beta Stores shelves in Bishkek (of all places).

Terry Selection (named after the owner, Juan Carlos de Terry) is a delicatessen and restaurant specialising in European gourmet food with a bent towards Spanish cuisine. I heard from Chef Anne that they have a good selection of chorizos and jamon, so I visited it yesterday. I've actually been working right beside it for more than a year now, but I just never saw it (never visited the basement of Podium). They do have a very good selection of chorizos, jamon, cheeses, olives, and many other European delicacies that are hard to find this side of the globe. They also sell paelleris and other utensils, although I was disappointed that they ran out of cazuelas (I've been looking for them for years now). They're not limited to European food, though, as they also carry Filipino-made products like sardines, tawilis, free-range chicken, and even Dagupena bangus (which is cheaper in Terry than in SM or Shopwise). Since I still had a some chorizos and olives at home, I decided to try the restaurant. Here's what I got:

Castellana al Ajo (P195)-- their version of the classic Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup). Like the classic soup, it's a garlic-infused broth with some fried garlic bread (for texture) and a poached egg, but they add jamon serrano. The jamon does make a significant difference, and its flavour is infused in the broth.

Chori-queso (P325)-- a sandwich of chorizo de Salamanca and Tomme de Savoie (Tomme is a kind of French cheese) with lettuce, tomatoes, and dressing on a baguette. You have a choice of bread when you get a sandwich-- focaccia, ciabatta, baguette, sliced loaf-- but for this one I chose the baguette for its texture and so it won't interfere with the flavour of the chorizo.

Bottomline, Terry Selection offers great food, but it ain't cheap. Surely, there are lots of very good and less expensive places out there, but if you love Spanish food and Spanish cured meats this place is worth a visit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Grams Diner

I tried Grams Diner last Sunday. Yes, it's not exactly a hole-in-the-wall type of place but I've never tried it before, mainly because it's very rare that I crave American food when I'm here in the Philippines. I heard good reviews about it and I was in the mood for Red Robin-type burgers, so I tried it last Sunday. I went to the branch at The Loop.

The decor was nice-- typical 50's diner. I got the Cuban Burger (P175) with a side of fries (P45) to go. The burger comes with a small side of salad which, frankly, I can do without. They boast of a half-pound patty so I was expecting it to be big and hefty; to my disappointment, I found that they flatten the patty in that particular burger. I chose the Cuban Burger because it had pickles and Dijon mustard, but I wasn't aware of the flattened patty. I think they should clearly indicate this detail in their menu. I was also unimpressed by the amount of fries I got. To be fair, the fries were actually good-- real potatoes with enough crunch.

So what's my assessment? Not as impressive as I thought it would be, but it deserves a second visit (I'll steer clear of the Cuban). The menu actually looked good and the service was nice. Maybe I'll try the Classic American Burger next time, or the Philly Cheesesteak.

By the way, if you're gonna be an American diner, do bring on the fries.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Luxurious Liempo

Here’s my take on the classic lechon kawali. It stores well in the fridge and, as you'll see, it attains perfection after reheating. Perfect for those who only have time to cook during weekends and can only reheat stuff for weekday dinners.

pork liempo (at least 1 kilo)
laurel leaves

1. The most important element here is the pork. You need to use pork liempo (belly) and they have to be in big chunks. And I mean big: I usually cut one kilo of liempo into three or four pieces. You need the size to ensure the right texture; don't use those bacon-thin strips of liempo. You also need to use liempo for the flavour-- yes, the fat really helps. Obviously, health food this isn't.

2. Season the pork with salt, pepper, and spices. You can use any spice mix you want: recently I used Cajun seasoning, but you can also use Old Bay, curry, or anything that's available. You can also skip the spices and just stick with salt and pepper. Remember to be generous with the flavourings-- very few of the essential oils will actually penetrate the meat so make up for it with flavour strength.

3. Braise the pork (i.e., boil in slow to medium heat) along with the bay leaves and garlic; I also add some dried chile arbol just because I have some. Boil the pork for a long time, like two hours or more, until the pork is completely cooked and soft. Take your time; watch some TV or do some homework. Turn the pork occasionally, and make sure it doesn't run out of water before you're done.

4. Drain the remaining stock and allow the pork to cool down. If you did this at night, put the pork in the chiller and go to sleep. If you still have a meal ahead of you, keep the piece you're going to eat and chuck the rest into the chiller.

5. Prior to serving, brown the pork using your preferred browning method-- frying or broiling. I personally prefer broiling because it allows the fat to drain. Since the meat is already cooked all you have to worry about is its final state-- how crisp and brown you want it or how much of the fat you want to drain away. With some patience you can get the skin to a very crisp state-- not like lechon or chicharon, but still good. Note that this is the second time you're cooking the meat so by the time you're finished it will be falling off your fork.

Serve with steamed rice and vegetables on the side-- grilled eggplant is a perfect partner.

* When you braise meat it goes through three phases: (1) raw, (2) cooked but rubbery, and (3) cooked and soft. From (1) to (2), the heat denatures the meat (i.e., cooks the proteins) but also makes it tougher. As you continue to braise the meat, the heat and moisture transforms the tough proteins (specifically collagen) into gelatin, softening the meat to perfection. The meat will toughen up when you put it in the fridge because of the gelatin cooling down, but it will easily soften again with just a little reheating.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Roast Beef of Old England

No, this isn't a recipe for roast beef. The Roast Beef of Old England is an English patriotic song composed by Henry Fielding in 1731.

The word beef comes from the French boeuf. Credit the Norman Conquest of England for introducing this word to the English language. Otherwise, we'll have such delectable dishes as Roast Cow, Corned Cow, and Cow Stroganoff.

The Roast Beef of Old England

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

But since we have learnt from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We're fed up with nothing but vain complaisance
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

Our fathers of old were robust, stout, and strong,
And kept open house, with good cheer all day long,
Which made their plump tenants rejoice in this song--
Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

But now we are dwindled to,what shall I name?
A poor sneaking race, half-begotten and tame,
Who sully the honours that once shone in fame.
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne,
Ere coffee, or tea, or such slip-slops were known,
The world was in terror if e'er she did frown.
Oh! The Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

In those days, if Fleets did presume on the Main,
They seldom, or never, return'd back again,
As witness, the Vaunting Armada of Spain.
Oh! The Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

Oh then we had stomachs to eat and to fight
And when wrongs were cooking to do ourselves right.
But now we're a . . . I could, but goodnight!
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Saciçi (sa-ji-chee)

I had this dish during my trip to Baku. It tastes like the Filipino aftritada and is a good introduction to Azeri cuisine. It's easy to prepare and all ingredients are available in the Philippines. Saciçi literally means "in the sac". The sac is the paelleri-looking dish in the picture.

bell peppers (preferrably green)

1. Heat the sac; in the absence of a sac you may use a wok or any other shallow pan. Place butter and water in the sac. Keep in mind to keep the butter-to-water ratio at 2:1 or 3:2; i.e., more butter than water. The water is there to keep the butter from burning as you cook the chicken. Bring to a boil.

2. Place chicken (slightly salted) in the sac. The chicken would be of the same size as in afritada. Cook the chicken in the butter-and-water mixture.

3. When the chicken is almost cooked, add the onions, potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants-- again same size as if you're making afritada. Cover the sac and cook until the vegetables are done.

4. While it's hot, garnish with sliced oranges then serve.

Azeris usually serve this with greens on the side and pita bread, but I'm sure this will go well with rice.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Looking for Grechnevaya Kasha

No, this isn't a personal ad for a Russian girl-- there are other sites for that.

Grechka (гречка) is Russian for roasted buckwheat groats and kasha (каша) is porridge, so grechnevaya kasha (гречневая каша) is buckwheat porridge.

I had grechnevaya kasha twice when I was in Dushanbe-- once in my colleague's house (pictured) and the other time on board Tajikistan Airlines. The kasha is the brown-rice-looking stuff on the left side of the plate; beside it are mutton rissoles (kotleta in Russian), some mashed potatoes, and pasta.

Grechnevaya kasha is simply prepared by boiling the groats like one does to rice; in special preparations it is cooked in broth and some onions. It is quite similar in taste and texture to brown or red rice, albeit much nuttier and coarser. It is often topped with some butter and served as a side dish-- bread is the omnipresent staple-- but of course, I took to it like rice and treated the rissoles like my ulam. On the plane, I was served kasha with roasted chicken.

Anyway, I recently found myself craving for grechnevaya kasha and can't find it anywhere. So if you know where to find it, do tell me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Simple Spinach Surprise

Here's a simple spinach dish I concocted a while back. I was happy with this one because I expected very little but it turned out surprisingly well. Very easy to prepare.

spinach (and loads of it)
red bell peppers (paprika to some people)
black olives
freshly-ground black pepper
Worcestershire sauce
virgin olive oil (just enough to brown the garlic)

1. Roast the bell peppers in the convection oven, turning occasionaly, until the skin starts to brown on all sides and the peppers are soft. If you have a paper bag, put the roasted peppers in the bag and crumple the top; if you don't, just leave the peppers in the oven after you turn it off. The idea is to let the peppers steam and sweat-- this'll make the skin easy to peel later on

2. Peel the skin off of the roasted peppers. This can be time-consuming, but, believe me, it's worth it. Throw away the seeds and juilienne the flesh (yeah, I did a poor job).

3. In a skillet (or wok), heat the oil and fry the black pepper until you can smell it. Sautee the garlic (I just halve or quarter the cloves) until it starts to soften but not yet brown. Add the roasted peppers and olives. This'll cool down the pan, so allow the heat to build up to sauteeing heat.

4. Add the spinach and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and cook until it starts to wilt, then turn off the heat. Don't let them wilt totally-- the remaining heat will do that. You'll see that the spinach will be a small fraction of the original bulk. You can see from the picture that I underestimated my endpoint remaining spinach.

Goes great with grilled meat or fish.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dagupeña Bangus Belly

One of my favourite ulams these days is bangus belly made by Dagupeña. I usually buy it at SM or Shopwise, and one bangus belly costs around P120. Relatively expensive considering that a kilo of pork liempo (good for at least four meals) costs only P150+; however, if you like bangus belly (which I do) it's really worth the price given the size. Their bangus bellies come in four flavours: (a) honey mustard, (b) pesto, (c) teriyaki, and (d) Thai green chili. Notwithstanding my reservations about the stability of preference relations, I'd say my ranking of the four flavours is b > a ~ c > d (> reads "is preferred to" and ~ reads "is indifferent to").

It's very simple to prepare and very bachelor-friendly. First I thaw it in lukewarm water-- this takes around 20 minutes-- but instead of frying the belly I broil it. Since broiling doesn't give even heat (all from the top), I fold the belly in half and broil each side (both of them skin side) for around 10 to 15 minutes until the skin is browned and crisp. Finally, I reopen the belly and broil the meat and belly until it's browned. I often add granulated garlic to the pesto and Thai green chili bellies, while I add unagi sauce on the teriyaki belly.
While searching the web I found Anne Castro's blog. Perusing her appropriately-named blog and IP address, I gather that she (or her family) is the owner of Dagupeña Bangus. Nice food blog too, I should say.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Galley Gear

Before I go into the stuff I've cooked (and reheated), let me first describe my kitchen. I have what could be described as a typical single-person-household kitchen. This would be the kitchen of a bachelor (or bachelorette) who's living alone and mostly cooks for himself (or herself) plus the occasional visitor. Space is of a premium, so most equipment will have be stowable (thus, a galley), and a lot of the items would be hand-me-downs from parents. Here's a rundown of my gear:

1. convection oven (Imarflex Turbo Broiler, c. early 80's)
2. microwave oven (Chefmaster, 1988)
3. rice cooker (3D, c. early 90's)
4. single-coil electric stove (Asahi, 2004)

That's it. As you can see, my equipment is very limited and most are more than 15 years old. It's true what they say though-- the older models are sturdier. And even my electric stove is old-school: all metal and just one coil that turns red.

So anyway, all the stuff I make is bachelor- (bachelorette-) friendly, with few equipment requirements. I also limit myself to stuff that can be made quickly (with minimal technical skills) and amenable to reheating. Therefore, you won't see souffles or baked cornbread here. Also nothing that has anything to do with making my own dough.

If you have recipes which I can do using the gear I have above, please feel free to send them my way.

My first post

Ok, so I started a new blog (as if the previous one weren't neglected enough). This'll be significantly less serious than Nontrivial Pursuit. Well, it has to be, considering that it'll be all about food. Food I ate; food I cooked; food I want to taste. Food-related shows I watch. Even articles and books on food that I've read.

About the title-- it's actually an inside joke with a few friends. I'm a good cook-- in theory. I've read enough recipes and viewed enough cooking shows to know how stuff is cooked; problem is, I've never tried my hand at them. I also have a stockpile of spices in my pantry-- from chile arbol and Madras curry to shichimi togarashi and Kyrgyz caraway seeds-- but don't really know how to use them properly. But I guess being a theoretical chef makes me a practical foodie, and that's what I'll try to reflect here.

So anyway, here's my new blog. Bon appetit.