Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let the Games Begin

American football season has begun at my boys' high school. Gruff-voiced coaches bark out unending commands at practice, guaranteeing that my sons come home exhausted, beaten and scarred. (This is obviously a Mom's point of view. If you ask the boys, they'd probably say "Bring It On!"). I watch them come down from the late bus drenched in sweat and mud, dragging helmets, pads and sports bags with whatever strength they have left, showing off the bruises and gashes they've collected for the day.

Unlike his older brother, Son #3 is as tall and skinny as a string bean. He would certainly be a good fit for basketball, but football has been his sport of choice, brushing off the incident a few years ago where a hefty teammate fell on his arm in a touchdown attempt. With a broken arm in a cast for the rest of the season, he was silently hailed by coach and team as a hero. I wonder if that's why he keeps signing up.

So his diet strategy this season is to "buff up" with copious servings of protein and carbs, and I sneak in salads and veggies to complete the meal. This is a delicious dish that even ravenous, meat-eating teenagers would scarf down.

Dry Fried Long Beans
adapted from The Best of Chinese Cooking by Willie Mark

450g long beans
75g shrimps, peeled, deveined and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
75g pickled chinese vegetable, diced
(or you can use japanese pickled daikon)
75g minced pork
oil for deep frying
3 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon chinese black vinegar
(or rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
red chili for garnish

Slice off the top and tail of the long beans and cut into 2 inch lengths. Heat oil in a wok until smoky and deep fry the beans for about 3 minutes until they wrinkle.

Remove and drain on colander lined with kitchen paper. Pour oil from the wok and set aside. Return wok to heat, add the drained beans and stir fry until they start to brown. Set aside.

Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into the wok, reheat to high and add the shrimp, garlic, ginger, pickles and pork.

Stir fry for a few minutes then add the stock, soy sauce, sugar and pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the beans and mix thoroughly over high heat until liquid has just evaporated.

Stir in vinegar and sesame oil. Garnish with slices of red chili (or red bell pepper) and serve.

Around the World

As the joke goes, a wife asks her husband about vacation plans, and he declares, "Honey, I'm taking you to a place you've never ever been to!" The wife gets all excited and pleads, "Tell me, tell me, where!" To which the husband replies, "I'm taking you to the kitchen!"

My mom doesn't cook. In fact, she probably couldn't boil an egg. But she had a wonderful collection of cookbooks. The books were pristine, and still had that new-book smell, because they were kept in a special cabinet in her air-conditioned bedroom. No oil stains on the bookmarked pages, no scribbles of measurement conversions, no flour dust on the book rib. These cookbooks were loved, but from a distance. Whenever she purchased a set from a door-to-door salesman, the books were carried upstairs like a new baby, unwrapped and carefully tucked into the mahogany cabinet. I don't remember whether she ever looked at them again, but they were there for me. I would sit on her bedroom floor leafing through the pages of her Foods of the World cookbook collection and be transported to France, Italy, Germany. I imagined the creaminess of a Zabaione, or what the heck was so good about Oeufs en Gelee.

Many years later, each time I would travel home to visit family, I'd take back with me whatever remained of the cookbooks. I still leaf through the books in awe of the wide world of food, but now the yellowed pages are stained and scribbled on and well loved. This is one of our favorites.

Polpette alla Casalinga
Italian Meatballs
adapted from The Cooking of Italy
Time-Life Books

2 slices bread, torn into small pieces
(I used 2 leftover croissants)
1/4 cup milk
500 grams minced beef
2 pieces raw Italian sausages, casings removed
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
grated lemon peel (from 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
olive oil for frying

Soak the pieces of bread in milk for about 5 minutes. Mash softened pieces with your hands until most of the lumps are smoothened out. In a bowl, combine softened bread, egg, minced beef, sausage meat, parmesan cheese, parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, lemon peel, salt and pepper. Knead the mixture vigorously by hand or with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well blended.

Shape the mixture into small meatballs. Lay on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a heavy skillet. Fry the meatballs over moderately high heat, shaking the pan constantly to keep from sticking to pan. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Serve with favorite tomato sauce over preferred pasta.


While on a recent mini-break in Manila, I went on a Lumpia binge at the neighborhood farmer's market, in keeping with Kulinarya Club's theme for the month. Here's a sampling.....

Chinese-style Fresh Vegetable Lumpia


Fried Lumpia with Beansprouts, Carrots and Green Beans


Fresh Lumpia with Heart of Palm, Shrimp and Green Beans


Caramelized Lumpia with Plantains and Brown Sugar


While most of the Lumpias consisted of the standard sauteed vegetables and shrimp (or pork) rolled in a fresh or fried wrapper, the Chinese-style Lumpia had all that, plus some interesting toppings of seaweed flakes, a ground peanut-sugar crumble, and crisp vermicelli noodles. According to the Vendor, she prepares the vegetable filling by sauteeing diced shrimp and pork belly in plenty of shallots and garlic. She then adds sliced green beans, cabbage, carrots, firm tofu, and seasons it with salt and pepper. She makes a brown sauce by boiling water, brown sugar, soy sauce and minced garlic, thickened with a cornstarch slurry. I watch her assemble the Lumpia as she lays a romaine lettuce leaf on the fresh wrapper (see top photo), then proceeds to layer the drained vegetable filling, topped with the crisp vermicelli noodles, seaweed flakes, ground peanut-sugar crumble, fresh cilantro leaves and some minced boiled egg. Brown sauce is drizzled on and the lumpia is done. It's a wrap!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Breeze

The summer exodus is making its about-face, with families trickling back from their long holidays in time for school opening. Over a decidedly light lunch (our waistlines!), we share our vacation stories of visits to medieval villages, mountain biking through ancient temples, white sand beaches and dog sled rides. Most of our holidays these days involve enough research, planning and logistics to rival a seasoned travel agent.

I remember the time when summer vacation simply meant taking the long drive down to see the grandparents. Mine lived by a river bank, in the days where the water was cool and clean, shallow enough to play in. When the afternoon sun got too hot, we'd come back to the breezy verandah and just lie in the hammocks, waiting for the local ice-cream man to come by with his cart, sampling weird but good flavors like cheese, yam, or corn. There were no schedules to follow, no must-see sights, no must-do excursions. Our only obligation was to come to my grandmother's dinner table on time. She was a wonderfully meticulous cook, and every meal was delicious. One of her most comforting dishes was Pote Gallego, or Galician Stew, which has its influence from Spain, and adapted to the Philippine palate. To accompany the pote, my grandmother would serve cow's brain fritters with a crispy edge and a creamy center, which I loved as a child but haven't had since. Our family's version of Pote Gallego has been passed down the generations, from Lola's table to my Dad's to ours, all without a written recipe. I hope my memory served me well.

Pote Gallego

8 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
3 lage tomatoes, diced
olive oil
1 teaspoon spanish smoked paprika
2 chorizo bilbao, sliced diagonally
5 large veal or beef shanks, deboned and cubed
about 2 cups water
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 large sweet potato, cubed
1 large potato, cubed
1/2 head cabbage, cubed
1 beef bouillon cube

Preheat oven at 175 deg C.

In a large cast iron or ovenproof pot, saute garlic, onions and tomatoes in olive oil for about 20 minutes on low heat. Add chorizo and saute for another minute.

Add the shanks. (Note: I like to leave the bone on the shanks to enhance the flavor of the broth, specially if it has the marrow, then dice the meat and remove the bones after the cooking process. For easy cooking, you can use deboned shanks.) Mix well. Pour about 2 cups of water into the pot, enough to cover the meat.

Remove from stove and transfer to the oven to braise for about 2 hours.

When meat is tender, remove pot from oven and transfer meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl. (If you used shanks with the bone in, separate the meat from the bone, scoop out any marrow, and dice the meat. Discard the bones). Set aside.

Place a sieve onto another bowl and strain the broth through. Pour strained broth back into the pot and bring to a boil. Add the diced meat, garbanzos, potatoes, sweet potatoes and beef bouillon. Mix well. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the cabbage on top of the stew, cover and cook until just done. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with rice, couscous, or toasted sourdough bread.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Get Well Soon

Teenage son #2 had been in the hospital, weakened by a nasty virus. All the rooms were occupied, except for a bed in the children's ward. Knocked out by drugs, he was thankfully oblivious of the crying babies and whining toddlers and worried parents shuffling about. Still, the nurses were kinder and gentler, and looked into the patients more often than usual. Meals were even provided for the accompanying parent (ok, it's hospital food, but it was a considerate thought nevertheless).

We're back home now, and I've had to keep him on a soft diet. After days of nothing but Creamy Scrambled Eggs, I thought of making Macaroni and Cheese. This is an adapted recipe from Gourmet magazine's 2002 edition. It's so easy, and you could use any cheese you have in your fridge. I added a bit of dijon mustard to lift the flavors, and lots of freshly ground pepper. The bread crumb topping transforms this into a comforting gratin.

Easy Creamy Mac and Cheese
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

2 cups elbow macaroni
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Gruyere
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Cheddar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (or Japanese bread crumbs)
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 170 deg C.

Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring cream and butter to a boil, then turn heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes, uncovered. Reduce heat to low, then add cheeses, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well until cheese melts.

Add cooked macaroni to cheese sauce and mix thoroughly. Transfer to ovenproof dish.

For the crumb topping, thoroughly mix bread crumbs, garlic and olive oil together. Sprinkle evenly on top of macaroni and cheese. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes or until crust is golden.