Wednesday, April 28, 2010


He knows who I am, but doesn't call out my name. Still, he beams in earnest, and I know he's truly glad to see me. Then Mom raises her voice and says, "Honey, Annie's here!" Sometimes she needs reminding that Dad isn't deaf, he's got Alzheimer's Disease.

And so we've gradually come to accept that this man who once laughed and danced, provided and nurtured, managed and mentored, now lives life in his room on the second floor, contentedly existing in this quiet, private world of past memories.

I hope they're memories of his grandkids running through the golf greens at dusk, while we parents lounge on the verandah, the Patriarch watching with glee, as he nurses his usual Sweet Vermouth on the Rocks.

I hope they're happy memories, that's all.

Cheers, Dad.

Spaghetti with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce

Adapted from Gourmet Everyday

It's the addition of Sweet Vermouth that gives this dish an interesting twist!

3 tablespoons Olive Oil
500 grams large Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 large Garlic cloves, forced through a garlic press
1/4 teaspoon dried Oregano
1/4 teaspoon Chili Flakes
1/2 cup Sweet Red Vermouth
1 can (14 oz) diced Tomatoes, drained
3/4 cup heavy Cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh Lemon juice
Spaghetti or Angel Hair pasta

Cook shrimp and garlic in olive oil on medium high heat, add oregano, chili flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well and cook for about 2 minutes.

Stir in vermouth and tomatoes, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of pan. Add cream and briskly simmer until sauce has thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain pasta and top with shrimp and sauce to serve.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cool Down

Beads of sweat run steadily down my back as I lumber back home from my morning walk. It's only 9 a.m. but it feels like noon.  I look up at the sky, hoping to find a hint of clouds, but the blistering rays on my forehead tell me that no relief is in sight.  My dogs are sprawled out on the patio, soaking up their daily dose of vitamin D.  In just a few minutes, they start to breathe rapidly and amble into the kitchen to cool down.  I plop a few ice cubes into their water bowl for a chilly treat. 

In this scorching heat, I think of biting into a cool, juicy watermelon to chill out. When choosing a whole watermelon, the World's Healthiest Foods website says, "look for one that is heavy for its size with a rind that is relatively smooth, not overly shiny or overly dull.  One side of the melon should have an area that displays a yellowish or creamy tone.  This is the underbelly, the place that was resting on the ground during ripening.  If the fruit does not have this marking, it may have been harvested prematurely, which will negatively affect its taste, texture and juiciness".

And what better way to crank up the chill factor than with a Watermelon Granita!  Plan ahead, as you will need about 10 hours freezing time before it's ready to enjoy.

Watermelon Granita
adapted from Sunset Magazine

1 cup Sugar
2 teaspoons Grated Lime Peel
2 pounds Watermelon, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon Lime Juice

Combine 1 cup water, sugar and lime peel in a pan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.  Pour through a fine strainer into a bowl.

In a blender, whirl watermelon and 1 cup of the lime syrup until smooth.  Pour mixture through a fine strainer into another bowl.  Stir in the lime juice.  Add more syrup to taste (mixture will taste less sweet once frozen).

Pour puree into a square baking pan or container.  Cover and freeze until mixture has started to freeze at the edges but is still slushy, about 2 to 3 hours.  Stir the mixture thoroughly, scraping the sides down.  Cover and freeze until solid, at least 8 hours.

To serve, scrape with a fork to make large flakes and spoon into chilled glasses or bowls.

Why stop at that? To serve as a cocktail, dip a glass lightly into a shallow plate of water (or remaining sugar syrup), then dip into a plate of salt (or sugar if you prefer).  Fill glass with granita, add a splash or two of vodka or rum, and a squeeze of lime.  Mix and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


"Have you done your homework yet?" I ask my teenager, whose eyes are glued to his Facebook page.

"Nah. Doing it tomorrow. Have an hour break", he mumbles, still staring at that darned computer.

"Why wait when you can do it now?",  I start to whine. 

"Why do it now when I have time tomorrow...?"  I think he just stopped short of saying "duh??".  Smart move.

Before I could hurl a crescendo of life lessons at my darling son, a deafening blast of thunder let out heavy sheets of rain.  So much for my perfectly planned sermon on "Don't put off until later what you can do now." I was guilty myself of  procrastination!   I put off walking to the supermarket all day to buy the remaining ingredients I needed for dinner, and now it looked like this deluge was not about to let up any time soon.  Dinner was in an hour.   

A quick peek in the fridge, and Plan B was made.  Salmon, check.  Lemon, lots.  Maple syrup, yes!  This could be the easiest recipe yet.


4 medium Salmon Fillets
1 Lemon, sliced into thin rounds
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup Real Maple Syrup
(do NOT use Pancake Syrup/artificially flavored Maple Syrup)

Preheat oven to Broil.

Layer lemon slices on an ovenproof dish.  Top with salmon fillets.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with olive oil.  Drizzle salmon with maple syrup.

Broil the salmon fillets until cooked on the outside but still rare in the center (about 5-8 minutes, depending on the thickness).  Remove from oven.  Let salmon rest for a few minutes as it continues to cook with the residual heat.  Serve with mashed potatoes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I have just joined the Kulinarya Cooking Club (see information below),  a group of food bloggers from around the globe who share a recipe from the Philippines each month.  The theme for April is Polvoron.

"Wasn't that the crumbly thing that Yaya used to make when we were kids?"  The first bite took us all on a trip down memory lane, of childhoods spent visiting the grandparents, of endless fun with so many cousins, aunts and uncles.

Polvoron is described as a "candy made of flour, sugar, butter and powdered milk.  The flour is toasted, all the ingredients are mixed and shaped into round or oval-shaped molds.  It is believed that making Polvoron started during the American occupation (of the Philippines) to use up the huge amount of powdered milk brought in by the Americans".  The name comes from the Spanish word polvo, which means dust or powder, and aptly describes the fragile, crumbly consistency of the candy.

I had a bit of a challenge making an authentic Polvoron, mainly because I couldn't find the special mold to hold the shape of the mixed ingredients.  I decided then to do a cookie version, using the closest mold I could find - a melon baller!  These little bites are a sweet treat with afternoon tea.

Polvoron Cookies

1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Flour
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract 
1 cup Powdered Milk
Icing Sugar for dusting

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, except for the icing sugar.

Use a melon baller or mold of your choice to shape into half-spheres, making sure to press the filling firmly into the mold.  Lay directly onto a lined baking pan.

Bake in a 200 deg C oven for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  For a softer cookie, decrease your baking time to 5-7 minutes.

Dust icing sugar onto cookies while still warm. Makes about 55 mini cookies.

Kulinarya was started by a group of Filipino foodies living in Sydney, who are passionate about the Filipino culture and its colourful cuisine.

Each month we will showcase a new dish along with their family recipes. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino Food as we do.

If you're interested in joining our Kulinarya Cooking Club, please visit http://au.groups. group/kulinarya - we would love to hear from you.

Here are the members of the Kulinarya Cooking Club (and more to come!). Please feel free to visit and comment on their blogs.
Asha –
Malou -
Cherrie –
Acdee -
Valerie –
Bel –
Divina –
Anna -
Dahlia -
Joy -

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Notebook

I found my old recipe notebook today. My poor, tired notebook, bullied to the back of the bookshelf by the glamorous and flashy celebrity cookbooks! Carried to cooking classes, passed on to friends, this fifty-cent supermarket notebook was once my Stained sheets of paper with frayed edges and faded handwriting held tried and tested recipes that became my family's favorites.  The Lasagne page is so filled with splatters that the blue ink simply disappeared into the now translucent red stains.

I remember writing down this recipe on a corner of a manila envelope as my Japanese colleague hurriedly dictated short codes for making Katsudon.  This is my expanded recipe.  (I used chicken breasts this time, but pork cutlets are ideal).

Japanese Breaded Pork Cutlets

8 pieces Pork Cutlets, 1/4 inch thick
2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
2 tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 Egg, beaten
Japanese Panko Bread Crumbs
1 Onion, sliced thinly

Cooking Sauce:
1/2 cup Water
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
3 tablespoons Mirin
1 tablespoon Sugar

2 Eggs, beaten

Marinate the pork cutlets in garlic and soy sauce for at least an hour.

Pat dry the marinated pork, coat with flour, then dip in beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Deep fry until golden brown.

In the meantime, mix together water, soy sauce, mirin and sugar to make the cooking sauce.  Set aside with the onions and beaten eggs.

After frying, remove all of the oil from the pan.  Over medium low heat, pour in a small amount of sauce and let it come to a gentle simmer.  Layer the fried pork cutlets over the sauce.  Sprinkle sliced onions evenly then pour in the beaten eggs, making sure to cover most of the pork and onions.

Cover and cook on low heat until sauce has almost evaporated and eggs are set.

Serve with steamed white rice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


It's the weekend.  The boys have enlisted themselves once again as soldiers in their virtual war, playing Call of Duty with six other team members online.  Fierce commandos sweep through a deserted house, armed with guns, grenades or RPGs, eager to kill the enemy.  I hear cries of rage, fists pounding in frustration, screaming frantic strategies. Are we having fun?

Their snack of choice is just as fiery: Burger King's Angry Whopper with spicy crispy onions, jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, and an Angry Sauce loaded with chillies. So my plan to make Thai food tonight should spice things up even more.  

My first cooking holiday was in Bangkok. Learning the intricate cuisine of Thailand was intimidating at first. Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crunchy, creamy. Herbs and spices pounded to a paste. Funny looking ingredients like galangal, kaffir limes, wing beans.  I came home with recipes that felt too complicated to replicate. My taste experience in Bangkok remained but a good memory, until I found The Taste of Thailand cookbook by Vatcharin Bhumichitr.  Yes there is pounding involved, but otherwise many of the recipes are surprisingly simple.  I adjusted the chili quantities to suit our heat tolerance.  Be careful not to overcook the fish cakes, or they will harden.   Serve with Cucumber Relish.

Tod Man Pla 
Fish Cakes

4 dried Red Chillies, deseeded and soaked
1 Shallot, finely sliced
2 Garlic cloves, chopped
2 Coriander roots, chopped
1 tablespoon Galangal, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Kaffir Lime Leaves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Salt
450 grams firm-fleshed Fish Fillets, skinless and boneless, minced
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
60 grams Green Beans, sliced very fine
Oil for deep frying

Using a mortar and pestle or blender, pound the chillies, shallots, garlic, coriander roots, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and salt together into a paste.

Mix the paste thoroughly with the minced fish. Add the fish sauce and green beans, mix thoroughly until you have a firm paste.  Shape into small flat cakes, no more than 1/2 inch thick.  Heat the oil to medium hot and deep-fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.  

Cucumber Relish

125 ml Rice Vinegar
50 ml Sugar
5 cm piece Cucumber, skin on
1 small Carrot
3 Shallots, finely sliced
1 small Chili, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Ground Roasted Peanuts

Boil the sugar and vinegar together until sugar is dissolved and a thick syrup is formed (about 7 minutes).  

Quarter the cucumber lengthwise, then slice finely.  Add the cucumber, shallots, carrot and chili to the syrup and mix.  Sprinkle peanuts on top, stir once and serve.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Craving

Glistening golden brown skin blistering in the heat, languidly frying to a crisp like European sunbathers on a Thai beach. My Lechon Kawali (crispy pork belly Philippine-style) is in the deep-fryer, on its final hurdle to our dining table.

It began as a craving from Teenage Son #3. According to nutritionist Deanna M. Minich, crunchy food cravings are more about texture than taste. She analyzes the crunch craver as attention-seekers, with every bite saying "hey look at me!" Deanna says, "maybe there’s something they are trying to say, but can’t. Perhaps they are angry and want to “snap” back at someone, but they feel restrained." Is my son trying to tell me something, like Back off on my homework, or The eleven o'clock curfew is ridiculous?

Or is it because Lechon Kawali is simply delicious? No instant gratification for this craving, though, as it takes at least 2 days to meticulously complete the steps toward the proper crunch. The pork belly's journey to deliciousness began fourteen hours ago, marinating overnight in the fridge. I spent the next day boiling, skimming, and simmering the meat for an hour. The tender bellies went straight into the oven for half an hour, and slowly air-dried for another four hours! Then, finally, into a pot of hot oil to blister and crisp the skin.

Your patience has been rewarded, Son. Dig in.

Lechon Kawali
from Memories of Philippine Kitchens
by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan

4 pieces Bone-in Pork Belly with skin (about 1 lb each)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Salt
3 Bay Leaves
2 tablespoons Black Peppercorns
1 head Garlic, cloves separated, peeled and halved crosswise
1 large Onion, quartered
1/2 cup Rice Vinegar, or as needed to coat the pork belly
Canola Oil for frying

Rub the pork with 2 tablespoons of the salt, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, rinse the pork, and place it in a large covered pot with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Add the remaining salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic and onion. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour, covered, until the meat is tender. Add additional boiling water to keep the meat covered if necessary.

While simmering the pork, preheat the oven to 400 deg F. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan fitted with a wire rack, pat the pork dry with paper towels, and brush both sides with the vinegar. Transfer to the oven and roast for 30 minutes to dry, turning once. Remove and place in a cool place to dry for another 4 hours.

Wipe the pork dry with paper towels. Fill a large pot with enough oil to submerge the pork belly pieces. Using a frying thermometer, bring the oil to 360 deg F over medium-high heat. Fry the pork until the skin is blistered and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, transfer pork belly to paper towels to drain. Pull out the bone, and cut into 2-inch slices. Serve with a soy sauce-vinegar-garlic dip or lechon sauce.