Monday, May 31, 2010


Gossip mags lay on the coffee table in the lobby of my Language School. An old issue of Hola! headlines the scoundrel Jesse James on its front cover, lamenting "Sandra Bullock sospechaba que yo le era infiel y sabia que algun dia me pillaria!"

Sounds better than "Yeah, she knew I was cheatin' and that someday I'd get bagged!", right?

I imagine the "Spanish-speaking" Jesse morphing into an Enrique Iglesias look-alike, his lustrous black hair pulled back into a slick ponytail, in designer jeans and a fresh, white shirt, exuding macho sophistication as he grants the interview. The Spanish language is so emotional, crisp and fiery that a change in personality happens when it is spoken (even if only in my imagination). As a Czech proverb says, Speak a new language and get a new soul.

At our last session, we pumped up an otherwise serious class with a lesson on superlatives: Guapisimo! Divertidisimo! Rapidisimo! A quick coffee break, and we pushed on with Cansadisimo! and even Dificilisimo!

In the mood for some Patatas Bravas, then? According to, Patatas Bravas is one of the most demanded tapas in any bar in Spain, along with the Spanish Omelette. Serve this tangy version with chilled white wine or a pitcher of Sangria!

Patatas Bravas
Crisp Spiced Potatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 large Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons Spanish paprika

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup Ketchup

1/4 cup mayonnaise

chopped parsley

1 cup olive oil for frying

In a saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft. Turn off the heat, and add paprika, tabasco sauce and thyme, stirring well. Transfer to a bowl and add the ketchup and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Sprinkle the potatoes lightly with salt and pepper. In a large skillet fry the potatoes in 1 cup olive oil until cooked through and golden brown. Take care when adding the potatoes to the pan because the oil will splatter due to the salt. Drain on paper towels.

Mix the potatoes with the sauce immediately before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

School's Out

Our last cooking class for the season ended with the theme Sunday Roast Dinner, requested by my British neighbor. It is said that this traditional meal originated in the days where the King of England ruled over vast farmlands tended by serfs. The serfs had no freedom, worked the land for 6 days a week, with Sunday being their only "free" day. After Church service, the serfs were still required to practice war games to ensure that they would be able to protect their King in battle. The slaves were then rewarded in kind with a feast of ale and roasted ox.

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten, who uses the fairly inexpensive beef chuck to make a delicious Pot Roast. The ideal cut of meat for this type of roast should be marbled with fat and connective tissue to ensure moist slices of beef after hours of cooking.

A Pot Roast will usually take at least 2 hours to tenderize, so be patient!

Beef Pot Roast

1 kilo boneless beef chuck roast, tied
Salt and pepper
All-purpose flour
Olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped leeks
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 branches fresh thyme
1 branch fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 325 deg F/170 deg C.

Pat beef dry with paper towel. Season roast all over with salt and pepper. Dredge the whole roast in flour, including the ends. Sear roast in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned on all sides. Set aside.

Sauté carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper, for about 15 minutes until tender. Add wine and brandy, bring to a boil. Add tomatoes, water, stock cube, thyme and rosemary. Put the roast back into the pot; bring to a boil and cover. Place in the oven for at least 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.

Transfer half of the sauce and vegetables to a blender and puree until smooth. (For a thicker gravy, puree all of the vegetables). Return puree back into pot, and simmer sauce over low heat. Add butter and taste for seasoning. Remove strings from roast and slice the meat. Serve with sauce spooned over it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


This month's theme at Kulinarya Cooking Club is Pancit. I was inspired by my bible of Filipino cuisine, Memories of Philippine Kitchens. The authors, Amy Basa and Romy Dorotan say, "Ask a Filipino to name typical dishes and he or she will invariably list pancit and lumpia. I encounter dumbfounded looks when I mention that these are Chinese in origin. Much of Filipino home cooking traces its roots to Chinese ingredients, cooking methods, and seasoning. The influence of the Chinese came with the traders (from Fujian and Canton), who brought noodles, ducks, duck eggs, soy sauce, soybeans, sausages, and other affordable, accessible foods that could be eaten on a daily basis."

Each family has their favorite recipe of pancit, using a wide range of ingredients. Our version is one made by Yaya, who helped care for my boys as we hopped from country to country, and introduced them to the tastes, smells, and textures of Philippine home cooking. Thanks to her, the kids never cringed at the smell of fish sauce, or the sight of a fish head popping out from a bowl of soup, or an overload of garlic in their fried rice.

Yaya decided to retire many years ago, after we moved (again!) to a country she thought was too cold for her arthritis. Yaya's Pancit embodies all the care and love she shared with us. There is never a day that we don't miss her.

Yaya’s Pancit

adapted from Memories of Philippine Kitchens

1 pack (250g) vermicelli sotanghon noodles
1 pack cooked Chinese egg noodles
2 pork cutlets (slightly marbled with fat)
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups water
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 Chinese sausages, sliced diagonally
1 onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 30 mins, drained then sliced
2 carrots, julienned
½ head cabbage, cored, halved and sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Spring onions for garnish, sliced
Lemon wedges

Soak vermicelli noodles for 30 minutes, making sure water covers noodles. Drain and set aside.

Place pork cutlets in a pot and add 6 cups water and salt, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until pork is cooked. Set aside to cool. Slice thinly and set aside. Leave broth in pot for later use.

Heat oil in a wok and saute sausage and pork. Add garlic and onions and cook until softened. Add mushrooms, carrots and ½ cup of broth and saute for 2 minutes.

Add cabbage and another ¼ cup of broth and cook for another 2 minutes.

Mix in vermicelli and egg noodles, continue cooking while mixing thoroughly until the broth is absorbed by the noodles. Season with soy sauce and fish sauce, salt and pepper. Toss in the sliced spring onions. Serve with calamansi or lemon wedges.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mrs. Fixit

It's not a big deal! You don't get it. You can't help me! I hear my teenager yell as I furiously knock on his locked door, in another futile attempt to understand him. My right is his wrong, my principles become his defiance, my advice rejected as intrusion. I've hit a brick wall.

So I baked. And failed miserably too, I thought. I am not a confident baker. I over-filled the bundt pan with cake batter so that halfway through baking time, I had a thick flow of yellow magma creeping down the mold, dripping through the rack, burning into a black heap. But, wait, what was left in the cake pan looked salvageable, and with a little quick thinking and desperate creativity, I sliced off the nasty bits, made a sugar glaze and fixed it. Not bad for a potential complete disaster!

I thought of my teenager, looked at my cake and realized, hmm, maybe someone's trying to tell me something. It's not that bad. You can fix it. It will all work out in the end.

Streusel Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Gourmet February 2002 issue

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup (250g) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 whole large egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest

Preheat oven to 175 deg C or 350 deg F.

Stir together granulated sugar, flour, salt, and 3/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl, then blend in 3/4 cup butter until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized lumps. Transfer 3/4 cup of this to a bowl and blend in cinnamon, remaining butter and remaining brown sugar until crumbly. Stir in pecans and chill topping for 15 minutes.

Whisk together sour cream, whole egg, yolk, vanilla, baking soda and zest, then stir into remaining flour mixture until just combined.

Pour into a 9 1/2 inch buttered springform pan and sprinkle with streusel topping, pressing it lightly into batter. Bake for about 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Carefully remove cake from pan.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Cafeteria

Nuns in deep purple habits and white veils that flap in the wind as if in flight, rosary beads sashaying from their waists. Everything else is silent as they hurry down the path, except for the scurrying of little feet drawn into the chapel by the clanging of bells. My Kindergarten is scary, I thought. Climbing up the dark marble staircase always gave me the creeps. Specially when Ms. Catherine was waiting on the landing, so serious and stern, white as a ghost, and always smelling of baby powder or Ivory soap. But the sight of her also meant it was lunchtime, and she would be taking us to the cafeteria! There the lunch ladies would pamper us like surrogate grannies, serving an extra heaping spoonfull of warm Cottage Pie. Each dish was lovingly cooked fresh, from the jam tarts to the pork dumplings to the beef stew and rice. Here was my refuge from the scary, new world of Kindergarten. And the food was always good.

So when I found this recipe in an old magazine, I wondered whether the boys would find this as comforting as I had then. What food brings back your childhood memories?

Cottage Pie
adapted from bon appetit

500g eggplant, unpeeled, diced
olive oil for sauteing
500g minced beef
1 cup onions, diced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cube beef bouillon
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
about 2 tablespoons ketchup

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup whole milk
grated cheddar cheese for topping

Place eggplant on a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, over a plate to catch the extracted liquid. After half an hour, squeeze eggplant to remove remaining liquid, and pat dry.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Saute eggplant until tender. Add onions and 4 cloves minced garlic and cook until softened.

Add minced beef and saute until cooked. Add oregano, tomatoes, bouillon cube and wine, and boil over high heat until liquid almost evaporates completely, about 5 minutes. Add a squeeze of ketchup and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a glass baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 175 deg C. Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash until smooth, mixing in the butter, extra-virgin olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic and milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Drop mashed potatoes over the filling and spread evenly, covering completely. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until topping is golden.

Friday, May 14, 2010


My wardrobe of the '90s hangs neatly in the guest room closet; cocktail dresses in garment bags, suits from my working days hang by color-code, coats and jackets remind me that I once shivered in the cold (and not from airconditioning!).

Store...donate...keep...with good intentions to clean up, I chanted the mantra as I bust open the closet doors. Oh, I loved this outfit, I thought to myself, wiggling into an off-the-shoulder patterned velvet flared-leg pant suit (yeah, baby). I was sucked into a time warp, cocktail in hand, mingling with the young and upcoming, standing on a balcony with a skyline view. Eighteen years later, my velvet outfit isn't slinky anymore and blatant blobs of flab make an embarrassing spectacle of themselves in unwanted places. How did I get here??

"Unfortunately, the flow of fat from our arms, legs, and hips to our stomachs is a natural part of ageing", says Dr. Pamela Peeke of the University of Maryland. "Up to about the age of 40, estrogen in women and testosterone in men controls fat allocation, keeping it away from the abdomen. Once these hormones decline, it becomes easier for excessive calories to be stored deep inside the belly."

Darned mid-life crisis!

My mantra shifts. Must....Lose....Weight! Eat less, make healthy choices, and exercise daily. We all know what to do. Let's start now.

Fresh Pineapple, Orange and Apple Juice
(you will need a juicer for this)

1 whole Pineapple, peeled and sliced
4 whole Oranges, peeled, white pith removed
2 Apples, sliced in half

Juice all of the fruit in a juicer. Start the day with a tall glass.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cooking Class

"THIS is how you peel them!" Ms. L says, a little too loudly, to her co-students in Cooking Class, and completely takes over the task of peeling, deveining and butterflying the prawns. The other ladies leave her to it and wait for my next instruction.

Ms. E looks up from her inconspicuous corner as I ask her to pound the spices into a paste. She is quiet and restrained in every movement, from chopping onions to using a mortar and pestle. We cheer her on like a last-place marathon runner dragging herself to the finish line...."pound, Ms. E, harder, c'mon, you're almost done!" Meanwhile, Ms. C takes notes on every tip, every secret I share while going through the recipes, and happily volunteers to sautee or deep-fry or stir. Cooking class can be frenetic!

This week's lesson has simmered down quite a bit. I'm sure Ms. E is relieved that the pace has mellowed as we learn how to make soothing and flavorful soups.

Beef and Mushroom Barley Soup
Adapted from The Food You Crave

4 teaspoons olive oil
500g beef stew meat (preferably shanks), cut into ½ inch pieces
¼ teaspoon salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 ½ cups)
1 cup button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, diced (about ½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
6 cups beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes with their juice
½ cup pearl barley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large soup pot, heat 2 teaspoons of oil on medium-high heat. Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Set aside.
Add remaining oil to the pot. Sauté onion and mushrooms until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add carrots, celery, garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. Add broth, tomatoes, meat, barley and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the barley is cooked and meat is tender (about 50 minutes). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish each serving with a sprinkling of parsley.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Doggie Daycare

Anthropomorphism n. Attribution of human motivation, characteristics or behavior to animals, objects or natural phenomena.

If Max could only speak, he would say "I'm NOT going!" He burrows into a pile of comforters on our bed, and looks at me soulfully as I stand over him with hands on my hips. Meanwhile, Eddie's already curled himself up into a ball underneath the armoire.

The dogs go to daycare on days when I teach cooking at home. Those who are familiar with the breed know that Dachshunds are sweet, funny and lively dogs who immediately form a loyal attachment to their family. So when strangers come into the house, our little watchdogs are intimidating with their loud, persistent bark. Max and Eddie have just started at daycare, so my dogs still aren't sure why they have to spend hours away from home, and with strangers - the four-legged kind!

Each "parent" takes a diary home, with a daily update on their pets. Yesterday's entry said, "Max and Eddie spent all day following their handlers around. They don't really play with the other dogs, but we are encouraging them to develop social interactions."

The Montessori of Doggie Daycare!

This is one recipe I taught at class yesterday, using the original ingredient of Red Snapper fillets. I substituted the fish with chicken breasts when I made it for dinner, as seen on the photos. I would recommend using Red Snapper, Halibut or Cod fillets, though, when you do this recipe. It's delicious!

Nut-Crusted Fish Fillet with Soy Vinaigrette

1/2 cup crushed Peanuts

1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs

4 Halibut or Red Snapper Fillets*

1 tablespoon Peanut Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 tablespoons each Peanut Oil and Butter

Preheat oven to 200 deg C.

Combine peanuts and panko in a bowl. Rub fillets with 1 tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper. Dredge in crumb mixture to coat one side thoroughly.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saute pan until very hot. Add butter and let foam (should brown but not burn). Saute the fillets coated side first until golden brown. Flip over and place in an oven. Cook until fish breaks apart easily when lightly pressed, 5-10 minutes depending on thickness.

Drizzle with Soy Vinaigrette. Serve with sugar snap peas or favorite vegetable.

*If you use chicken breast fillets instead of fish (or if you want to coat a fillet on all sides), please remember to dip the chicken in beaten eggs before coating in bread crumbs.

Soy Vinaigrette

1/4 cup Soy Sauce

1/4 cup Water

1/4 cup Rice Wine Vinegar

1/2 cup Mirin (Japanese Sweet Cooking Wine)

1/4 cup Sugar

2 tablespoons peeled and minced Ginger

3 tablespoons peeled and minced Garlic

2 tablespoons Chili Sauce

1 tablespoon Cilantro, finely chopped

1/4 cup Sesame Oil

1/4 cup Peanut Oil

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients except sesame and peanut oils. Slowly whisk in the oils. Season to taste with more vinegar and/or sugar.

Monday, May 3, 2010


"Can do at home, look!", nods my Chinese hairdresser. Edward Scissorhands brushes, pulls and blow dries my wet, limp hair with effortless frenzy, and in the time it took me to read why Pamela Anderson was booted off DWTS, I had a sleek, silky bob. ("Cannot do at home!")

"Ahh, First Boy is back!", she says as Son #1 walks into the salon. He arrived yesterday, exhausted from the gruelling 16-hour trip, and I had gone into "nesting" mode: his old room revived with fresh smelling sheets, desk dusted, bathroom sparkling clean; Coke, chips, and chocolates made their way back into the pantry; avocados mashed into guacamole.

And of course, I made one of his favorites, Fabada, a dish originally from Asturias, Spain and adapted by the Spanish colonies into their own version of a bean stew, flavored by ham hock, chorizo, bacon or any other pork product. Unfortunately my butcher ran out of ham hock, so in keeping with the porky theme, I used a slab of ribs instead. This version lacked the smoky richness from the ham hock, but it was still comfort food. Welcome home, First Boy, welcome home.

Spanish Bean Stew

300g Pork Ribs
(for best results use a Ham Hock instead)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 teaspoon Pimenton (Spanish Smoked Paprika)
2 stalks Celery, diced
1 medium Onion, diced
1 small Carrot, peeled and diced
6 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tomato, diced
1 Spanish Chorizo, casing removed and sliced
2 1/2 cups Water
3 cans Cannelini Beans

Season pork ribs with salt and pepper. In a heavy deep pan, heat olive oil and fry ribs until well browned. Remove and set aside.

Add celery, onion, carrot, and garlic to pan. Sprinkle pimenton. Saute for 5 minutes, or until onion is transparent.

Return ribs to pan, add sliced chorizo and tomatoes. Pour in water, cover and boil for about 30-45 minutes until pork ribs are tender.

Add the beans and boil for another 30-45 minutes until stew has thickened, making sure to stir up beans regularly to avoid sticking to bottom of pan.

Drizzle olive oil on the stew just before serving.