Wednesday, August 25, 2010
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
adapted from The Cooking of Italy
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.
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
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.
Monday, August 2, 2010
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.
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.