Thursday, January 31, 2008

Country Sausage, Sausage Country

Traveling down the country side- north to south of Luzon alone - will give you clues about the kind of people we are. We hate uniformity, specially in our cuisine. Like how we establish personal beliefs and superstitions, you can’t stuff into our resilient palates right away what we are supposed to do. Ask the country manangs. They will treasure ancient recipes more than sophisticated, kitchen- tested inventions from a modern culinary school. Then as dialects change at every border, so do flavors… and what is most evident is the traditional country sausage, the inviolable longganisa.

Our sausages are as diverse as the 1700 islands. No two flavors are the same. Tiya Pusit’s sausage is a pepper- spice different from Tiya Maria’s skinless. And while Mrs. Banting’s pineapple- laced craft is simply irresistible, the city butcher hangs his meat garlands with so much pride you’ll be curious what is in there.

Sausages are also most likely to tell you where you are. Glance over the bus window and you know you’re in the long strip of the Quezon province when you see the dangling Lucban longganisas along the road. And in Bulacan, north of Manila, when there are the peddlers of the longganisang Baliwag. Still up north there is the Pampanga province, which has made serious meat and culinary business successfully such that their products made their way to the supermarkets and restaurants in the big city. Then in the picturesque Ilocos region is the famous longganisang Vigan, as legendary as the ultra- delicious “bagnet” (bag- net).
History, culture and the people’s essence are mixed into the bloody ground pork, each with its own proportion of salt and spice, of ingredients within reach. Indeed, no two flavors are the same. Likewise in the process of filling, curing, preserving- everything is performed with a distinct uniqueness that spell of regionalist pride and originality.

Longganisang Baliwag “Masarap!” (delicious!) “Malaman!” (meaty!) “Malinis!” (clean!) “No Sugar!” “Bawang Flavor” (garlic flavor).

Passion. Perspiration. The squeal of a hog for butchery. The sweltering kitchens. All of these are stuffed in the food that is so classic and appeals to almost every tongue- young or old, bourgeois or middle class, the pretentious and the true. Originally consumed for breakfast, but are now eaten just about anytime of the day for their flavor and ease of preparation. But nothing beats the longganisa breakfast platter: from the lady neighbor’s to the butcher’s to Lucban’s to Baliwag’s to Vigan’s- tossed into the frying pan. Best served very hot, with vinegar laden with chili and crushed garlic, super garlicky fried rice, fried eggs with just the perfect yolk, plump tomatoes, piping hot coffee with or without milk.

Some cynics blame the diet as the cause of terrible Filipino drivers’ temper on the road. There’s something in the food they eat, they say, they eat a lot of pork. I don't know if it is true. But with these country sausages, one thing I can say is, you are most likely to forget… a fraction of your sanity.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Huntress Haikus Vol. 1

While the other tribe members are changing flat tires in the middle of nowhere, what’s a food huntress to do? Shoot pictures. Then write haikus.


Cotton- candy clouds,
In your gaze I am a child
Searching for my soul.

How long have you stayed
On your roots deep in the ground?
Trees witness the past.

Stretch your arms, tall tree
Receive blessings from the sky
The fruits on my plate.

In the endless space
Water, air, earth and sunlight
We are nobody.


Blue sky, still mountains
Are you having an affair?
Tell me your story.

You are true treasure;
From the mud you grow to give
Rice grains for mankind.

Little roadside blooms
Sun feeds you, rains quench your thirst
What else do you need?

Drops of gold sunshine
Growing in a place so bare
No one to envy.

Beautiful flowers
You hide your tears and live on
In adversity.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vikki's Fancy Dinners

Vikki is my youngest sister. A menopausal baby, she’s bordering to retardation and being a genius. But by some divine intervention, her chromosomes somehow aligned themselves in place and there she grew up “abnormally” – her words- into a bottomless pit: no matter how much she eats, she never gets fat!

Living with me since her second year at university (she’s now in 6th year), I have been her surrogate parent, dictator, boyfriend bully, and private chef (you lucky brat, you…) . Dinners range from the traditional favorites to impulsive fast food take- outs, lazy leftovers and, the fancy stuff. These fancy dinners, sometimes of chicken sesame with steamed jute, fresh tuna penne, or homemade sausage ravioli under Yann Tiersen’s spell, are all whipped up in that helpless pursuit of making the girl get some weight. So here’s one of her dinners, main course - January 24, 2008, Thursday – celebrating my favorite color: purple.

Pan- grilled Beef in Ma Po Sauce with Blanched Vegetables and Purple Mashed Potatoes

Beef, lean cut about 200 grams
Ma Po Tofu Sauce


This Ma Po sauce is actually designed/ flavored for tofu dish. A Chinese sauce made of sesame paste, sesame oil, chili paste, tomato paste, the flavor is very exotic. Can be bought pre- mixed, though if I had enough time (and a more generous cupboard), it would have been more fun to do this from scratch.

You can use tender lean cuts like sirloin (tender and less expensive) and in a nation of non- beef eaters, tenderloin tips would be a little too pretentious for an ordinary weekday dinner.

Slice the beef thinly about ¼” thick, roll and truss with a cotton twine. The rationale for doing this is to prevent too much ma po sauce from soaking into the flesh. The sauce may overwhelm the taste of the beef. When rolled, soak the beef into the sauce. Let stand for about 15 minutes.

Pan- grill the marinated rolled beef on a hot pan, for about 10 minutes, rolling once in a while. Some juices will ooze out from the meat. Remove from heat when there aren’t too much drippings. On a clean chopping board, slice the beef about in inch thick. You will realize that the insides of the beef is still tender with a good taste of the ma po sauce.

On the same pan where they have been cooked, put water about 3 T, pour 1 teaspoon ma po sauce, a little flour, butter. Allow the mixture to thicken. Pour this over the beef slices on the plate later on.

Purple Mashed Potato:
1 C potatoes
1/2 C purple yams
4 T fresh milk
2 T butter
2 T grated cheese
1 pinch white pepper, onion powder, sea salt

Cook potatoes and yam first. When done, let cool. Peel, grate, then add all other and mash ingredients into a homogeneous mixture.

Blanched Vegetables:
50 grams of each:
Carrots, cut thin
Baby corn
Green beans, , about 2 inches long

Heat water in a pan. Bring to a boil. When boiling, toss all items at once for about 45 seconds then remove immediately. Submerge in ice cold water. Drain, set aside.

Place a scoop of the purple mashed potato on a plate. Then the blanched vegetables. Top off with the beef slopped with sauce.

Sorry, dear sister, I know you like your food saucy but I was already too lazy to make gravy from scratch so I just had your beef a little saucy, the mashed potato a little moist and the vegetables a little bland and juicy. Stubborn chef.

Enjoy the fancy dinner.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

One Bok Choy Patch at a Time

Gourd flowers. Speaking of.... squash flowers can be made into nice summer fritters :)

So much for the corporate social responsibilities discussed in business schools. Outside the classroom we are just private individuals; outside our books, we are back into our old habits. And the moment we push our grocery carts down the aisle thinking about our own families – those social responsibilities specially about solution to world hunger and environmental care seem to fly out of the window. (Or at least, when the stubbornness bug bites me, I am guilty of this.)

To add more salt to the painful wound, I find it quite ironic that our country being an agricultural third world, can have high levels of hunger (Check out the stats). Go on a road trip to any province and you’ll see lots of vegetation. We are surrounded by seas- perhaps we have no reason why our salt has to be iodized (Besides, sea salt tastes much better). We are certainly far from being a desert. Throw a handful of mungbean seeds anywhere, and in the next few days little seedlings will sprout (nope, they won’t become the sprouts you put in your sandwich). My point is, there are just the glorious signs of life- and food- right under our nose.

Maybe I could trace this ounce of optimism from my roots for having come from a family of farmers. The lifestyle of my ancestors were quite laidback but the good thing is, even in their old age with and without the benefits of social security, I haven’t heard of anyone die of hunger nor suffered from any chronic disease. Most of them even lived longer although not necessarily up to a hundred. I have my personal thoughts on their lives (and even a little envious of how they lived theirs) and how that simple, happy existence actually can be lived all over again in the modern times.

I experienced on the first quarter last year one of the greatest joys in my life. During my breaks, I tended to the family garden. Hoeing, digging, weeding, planting, transplanting, working on a new seedbed. It was very rewarding, actually. I was very happy because I never get to do that in the city. (Plus I got my lazy muscle arms toned. We also took photos to celebrate a great summer and freeze the moment before the typhoons arrive).

I saw my grand parents do the same thing many years ago. Now that I am a bit older, I not only realized just how fun gardening could be, but the wonderful access it gives you to real clean, fresh food. That same summer, for example, we need not buy everything from the grocery store nor the wet market anymore. Mornings always included a little walk to the garden: We cooked breakfast omelet with freshly- picked green peppers (hidden under the leaves were small patches of aphids, though :), fresh radish and jalapeno pepper for sinigang, freshly- uprooted bok choy to go with our tofu, soft gourds for misua with egg, and fragrant lemon grass for baked chicken. There wasn’t even the slightest worry about pesticides and chemicals, nor the need to wash the produce with soap prior to cooking. I will not emphasize here either the good that you can get from green- leafy vegetables. Information is everywhere, that is already taught in grade one – or even Popeye can testify that greens (not in cans, please) can get you that extra “healthy point”, I should say. I don’t know about the Popeye makers, but were they really promoting veggies to kids?

Anyway. This may not be the soundest formula to solve world hunger, but I consider them lucky who have small pieces of land there at their doorsteps. Large agricultural corporations may have laid down their plans of highfaluting solutions to feed the many, but gardening, and even small- scale farming could very well solve food problems of a family. Pretty much. I know little- or rather nothing – about the history of France but knowing that this beautiful country survived the depression- for the fact that it is a country of farmers- is a living proof that tilling a small piece of land can go a long way. (I don’t remember who exactly said that. Wendell Berry?)

Having a gift of land for even a few square meters, I could easily transform myself into Pomona. A pair of garden clogs, gloves, sunblock, a packet of seeds, and ah, yes, a little sense of fun – screw hunger.

Hunters swear. Hunters kill. But hunters never underestimate the capacity of the earth to give. And our harvest definitely smiles back at us :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

La Violeta Gentil y Los Cangrejos Rojos

My crab- killing skills were not learned from the culinary school, but from a most gentle woman named Violeta. A very amiable woman who ball room- dances weeknights and goes to church at dawn, Señora Violeta, mother of my best friend Frances, is one of my best culinary influences. I have been eating at Frances’s house since I was thirteen. After school and we were very hungry, we would drop by for bahaw (rice leftovers from lunch), and feast on adobo (pork stew in soy and vinegar), kinunot (baby shark in coco milk with Japanese horseradish tree leaves), crema de fruta, etcetera. It was with La Señora whom I experienced my first catering task: Christmas party for kids at the Chiang Kai Shek Chinese School. I was fourteen.

Señora Violeta was the one who taught me how to cook live crabs.

“How do you cook live crabs?” she once asked.
“Submerge in water? Then boil?” I said.
“Then, you’ll find all legs gone when you open the pot.”
“Ok, how?” I asked.
“You kill it first. Get an ice pick, impale the crab through the navel. The creature won’t struggle in hot water when it’s dead. You’ll have a nice, beautiful crab- all legs intact – because all that struggling makes the crab lose its legs.”

I loved that advice – for before that I didn’t care if I tortured the poor crabs – getting boiled alive – and get all peripherals gone. So cruel of me! Cooking live crabs is also something not ordinary in the culinary school because we get our orders as crab meats, the Japanese kani sticks or unhappy dead crabs delivered to us by suppliers.

There are crabs available in most wet markets, and normally live crabs are placed in cages like these ones at the Farmer’s Market.

Crabs can be cooked in different ways. For me they are actually some of the world’s yummiest sea creatures. Like the ones they serve at the Red Crab Restaurant, they can be cooked spicy Szechwan style, or Señora Violeta’s incomparable red crabs with vermicelli and coconut milk. Then Sponge Bob’s crabbie patties (crab cakes- I used to prepare this at home then my sisters always ask, “Why do you like crab (and fish )cakes?” Duh- it’s delicious!), crab salad (real crab meat though a little expensive is much better than the crab stick) , crab omelette, stir- fry, many more.

I remember when as a child we had crabs at home, I was always dismayed when they were cooked with something else – specially vegetables (Except Tatay Inggo’s -the old family chef- crab and corn soup). Not that I didn’t like vegetables, but cooking it that way didn’t appear so nice to me back then. While I didn’t have the power to convince our house help or my mother to change their minds on crab cooking, I’d always have my crabs – my way: just cooked in natural water and a little salt. This way, there goes the essence of the crabs – the “crabness” – a little taste of the brackish water that they absorbed in their lifetimes, the tenderness of the flesh hidden under the shell – and if the crab is a little healthy, that delicious layer of aligue. All- crab. Without the alien taste of spices nor sauce.

So here it is to prepare live crabs (afterwards, you can do anything you want with the cooked creature)

1. The crabs are purchased tied with a string – sometimes plastic- but I always prefer the organic ones like raw abaca or coconut material. Don’t remove these strings when the crabs are very aggressive, unless you want to chase them throughout your house or claw you. Once I was in the kitchen of the big house and I let loose some crabs, one fell from the kitchen sink and there it went walking sideward until I have to poke it with a broom stick when it went under the sofa. Ok. – Crab cooking.

2. While still tied, turn the crab on its back. Then get a knife or an ice pick and puncture through the navel. Search on the crab anatomy and the stomach of the crab is that part between where the covering (the apron) makes an angle near the eyes. Impale the crab through it, and it will hold still.

3. When the crab is dead, place on a pot, add very little water (or to fully maximize the crab taste and full texture, add nothing) drizzle a little salt. Some cooks may not want to add salt- it's up to you. Crabs are naturally tasteful, though. Cover. Cook until done, about 15 minutes.

4. Best served steaming hot, on a table lined with newspapers or banana leaves, and bottles of super iced beer. You can have lemon wedges if you like, or soy cause with calamansi- native lemon. For Asians, best enjoyed with hot rice- eaten with bare hands.

5. Best enjoyed with a good company.

Cooking live crabs with all legs intact – is highly advisable when you are serving the crab whole – it is very presentable.

Entonces, muchas gracias Señora! =)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Meat Pie Of Fleet Street

In the spirit of Sweeny Todd whose poor throat was slit by the mistreated but lovable little boy Toby, and the ghoulish humor of Tim Burton, I present to you Mrs Lovett’s succulent meat pies. Sans of course, the roaches and “man devouring man” part =). The dark alleys of Fleet Street and that little meat pie shop below the barbershop inspired me to pore over my ancient Foods of the World Cookbook – The Cooking of The British Isles….

I like meat pies myself, turnovers, empanadas – different nationalities, same family. Meat pies, shepherd pies, chutneys, fish and chips and beer are all memoirs of our British cookery in school.

. .

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?
Are your nostrils a quiver and tingling as well
at the delicate lashes ambrosial smell?
Yes they are I can tell
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that aroma enriching the bees
Is like nothing compared to its succulent source
as the gourmets among you will tell you of course.." - Toby

Veal and Ham Pie
To serve 6 to 8

2 T butter, softened
2 lbs lean boneless veal, cut into ¼ inch cubes
1 lb. lean smoked ham, cut into i/4” cubes
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
6 T brandy
6 T fresh or canned chicken/ beef stocks (better use brown stock for this)
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t finely grated lemon peel
1 t crumbled dried sage leaves
1 t salt
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
4 hard cooked eggs
8 – 10 pickled walnuts (optional)
1 eggyolk combined with 1 T heavy cream
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 C chicken stock, fresh or canned

Hot Water Pastry:

5 C AP flour
½ t salt
10 T lard
6 T milk
2 T water

1. In a deep bowl, combine the flour and salt. Warm the lard, milk and water in a saucepan in moderate heat, and stir until the lard melts. Beat the mixture, a few tablespoons at a time, into the flour, and continue to beat until the doug can be gathered into a compact ball.

2. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 2- 3 minutes by pressing it down, pushing it forward, and folding it back on itself until it is smooth and elastic. Again, gather it into a ball. Place it in a bowl and drape a dampened kitchen towel over it (this prevents the dough from drying out while resting– FH). Let the dough rest for 30 minutes before using.

To make veal and ham pie:

1. Pre- heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Using a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 10x5x4 inch loaf mold with butter. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the veal, ham, parsley, brandy, stock, lemon juice, peel, sage, salt and pepper. Toss the ingredients about with a spoon until thoroughly mixed.

3. Break off about 1/3 of the hot- water pastry and set it aside. On a lightly- floured surface, roll out the remaining pastry into a rectangle about 20” long, 10” wide and ¼” thick. Drape the pastry over the rolling pin, lift it up, and unroll it slackly over the mold. Gently press the pastry into the mold. Roll the pin over the rim to trim off the excess pastry.

4. Spoon enough of the veal and ham mixture into the pastry shell to fill it a little less than half full. Arrange the hard- cooked eggs in a single row down the center of the mold and line up the pickled walnuts, if you are using them, on both sides of the eggs. Cover the eggs with the remaining meat mixture, filling the shell within in inch of the top.

5. Roll the reserved pastry into a 4x13 inch rectangle ¼” thick. Lift it up on the pin and drape it over the top of the mold. Trim off the excess with a small knife, and with the tines of a fork or your fingers, crimp the pastry to secure it to the rim of the mold. Then cut a 1” round hole in the center of the pie. Roll out the scraps of pastry and cut them into leaf and flower shapes. Moisten their bottom sides with the egg and cream mixture and arrange on the pie. Brush the entire surface with egg and cream mixture. (Brushing the “egg wash” on breads and turnovers give the food that golden- brown, shiny surface upon baking and prevents drying. –FH)

6. Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 2 hours or until the top is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, in a 1 to 11/2 quart saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over 2 cups of cold chicken stock and let it soften for 2 minutes. Then set the pan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly until the gelatin dissolves completely. Pour the gelatin through a funnel into the opening of the pie.

8. Cool the pie to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours, or until the aspic is set. Ideally the pie should be removed from the refrigerator about 3o minutes before being served.

9. To unmold and serve the pie, run the blade of a sharp knife around the inside edges of the mold and dip the bottom of the mold in hot water. (Hot water will soften the adherence of the pie crust to the mold. Remember that the pastry was made with 10 T lard – FH)

10. Wipe the mold dry, place an inverted serving plate over it, and grasping mold and plate together firmly, quickly turn them over. Turn the pie over and serve, cut into ½ inch thick slices.

"(Now) sample Mrs. Lovett's meat pies
savory and sweet pies as you'll see
You, who eat pies Mrs. Lovett's meat pies
conjure up the treat pies used to be.."

Foods of the World
The Cooking of the British Isles
By Adrian Bailey and the Editors of TIME- LIFE Books
New York, 1969

Lessons From My First Cook Book

Published paperback in 1989 by Dorling Kindersey in Great Britain, I received in 1991 when as a grade- six student my head was stuffed with science fiction and biology. Pursuing a career in the culinary arts wasn’t something I considered heavily at an early age although I should admit I enjoyed many hours in the kitchen.

There have been a few cookbooks at home, like Imelda Marcos’s popular “Your Food and You” – an intensely- read material we harassed with purple and orange crayons, but nevertheless gave me my first glimpse of boob- shaped gel desserts. Then there’s “The Filipino Heritage” from where I first read Ma Mon Luk, decorative pickles and exotic fruits; “The Young Home Maker”, with basic recipes of escabeche and sinigang.

But this Yan Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook is really something else.

With this cookbook came my first French knife, filing knife, serrated knives, Pyrex wares, cookie cutters, food processor, cleaver - all purchased abroad and given by my father before he lost fortune and succumbed to a lifetime of self- doubt.

For those who understand food, I know that you all know how much our cooking is attached to the chemistry of our emotions. This cookbook witnessed many emotional days, such that even with the simple instruction of chopping finely, I got too clumsy. Or the eggs just keep sticking to the frying pan. For a time when Lady Luck frowned at our family, suddenly the kitchen hearth got colder, the family chef died of old age, we siblings were struggling through college, and opulent celebrations just didn’t exist anymore.

Somehow Yan Kit So’s passion fueled heat during many tough times. Her use of non- fancy, pragmatic traditional kitchen tools had a great effect on my psyche: “ Look at this lady, she uses only these, but she creates marvelous dishes.” Efficiency.

As a student in food science (a hybrid course of pre-med and culinary arts. There was just as time when I thought I was going to be a doctor, but then realized that I’d rather spin caramel than dissect a cadaver), I leafed through the pages in search for healthy recipes. Critically- thinking this book gave a lot of evidence why Chinese women don’t get fat. I appreciated her particular attention to details, of the simple arrangement for example of cucumbers with the jellyfish and the fictional title of food, i.e,”ants climbing a tree” (minced meat on a heap of glass noodles) her passion on the simple things in general.

From this book I first learned the four regions of Chinese cooking: Peking (Northern), Shanghai (Eastern), Canton (Southern) and Szechwan (Western). The book is also written in a way that it seems to converse with the reader. I can relate very well for the ingredients have always been familiar to me. With excellent photographs, it could show the difference between a corn oil and sesame oil; you could feel the dampness of the prawns, and almost hear the crispness of the tientsin fen pi. Featuring only two knives, she could make five- way spring onions and cut meats paper- thin. Plus, her instructions on using the chopsticks made it easy for me when eating in Chinese restaurants.

I think many recipes in this book has embedded in my subconscious because for a long, long time I’ve had a close penchant to stir- frying, egg soups, glass noodles and my constant love affair with mushrooms (Mushrooms, mysterious and dark creatures, what was God thinking when He created you?) . The stir- fried Chinese broccoli with beef (p 160) has become a staple dish in our busy days in the city, the stir- fried bean sprouts (p169), the bean curd soups have become more popular for us than french fries, and my craving for nai cha (milk tea) every time we eat out is extremely unstoppable. The dishes are practical, healthy, tasty and colorful such that even when I am taking a bath and my sister is doing the cooking, I could recite the instructions for her in thirty seconds.

Yan Kit So and her very amiable aura (as it seems to reflect on the pictures- she’s always smiling) could very well fit into being Amy Tan’s kitchen god’s wife.

No wonder books – and travels – can greatly influence who we are. For now my dining lifestyle es muy Chino – breakfast, lunch, dinner, I eat with chopsticks, on a blue china bowl, squatted on the carpeted apartment floor. But the ultimate lesson is this: when you respect food- and with the simple application of the Chinese philosophy of being happy and content with what you have- Lady Luck smiles all over again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sons of Beaches and the Super Adobo

Bring your guitar, bathing clothes, flip flops, beach whatnots… anything you can think of. While everybody was busy with their stuff checklist, there I was, working on the food list. Except for the rice and water, we didn’t bring anything pre- cooked to the beach for as family practice goes, there should always be that primitive scenario: dig on the sand, cook like a caveman. So again, the checklist. Fresh fish, salted eggs, tomatoes, and - everything else it takes to make an adobo.

There wasn’t any beach occasion without this marvelous stew- for in our tribe, there is no better place to eat adobo than on the beach. Nowhere else. There wasn’t any trip where I had to ask, “What do you people want?” For it seems all the time there is a balloon in everyone’s aura that screams, “ADOBO!!”

Just like the numerous flavors of ice cream in the world, there are also many ways to cook adobo all over. You can have chicken, pork, chicken- pork, dog-meat (I’ve never tried this, though), snake adobo (neither this), squid, frog’s legs adobo style, monitor lizard in adobo sauce (and this), catfish, mudfish, tofu, swamp cabbage, string beans, pork knuckles, eggs- almost anything can be cooked adobo. You may or may not add sugar. You may or may not use chili. You can use calamansi or vinegar, add star anise, dried banana flowers , garlic overload – anything you please!

This tasty dish is almost highly associated with the Philippine islands, so, where else is the best place to enjoy than in a cottage by the sea?

So here it is, the super adobo, son-of-a-beach style:

1. Prepare all ingredients first: (Although that day, I was a little dreamy and fictional, feeling like an island nomad who walks down the shore collecting sea shells so I didn’t really use tablespoons)

1 kg. Pork
1 T cooking oil
2 T garlic, sliced (you can add more if you want your adobo garlicky)
2 T onion, sliced
Soy sauce
Bay leaves
Bananas (optional)
2. Boil pork first. While this is boiling, you can work on other ingredients. Cooking the pork first, in my experience, not only makes it extra tender, but it is already cooked that when you add soy sauce, it wont take longer and therefore the soy sauce will not caramelize at once and give a burnt aroma.

3. While pork is cooking, you can throw into the open fire the bananas- this will give the fruits that smoky flavor. Besides, you’re on the beach, so cook as if you’ll never have a glimpse of civilization. Imagine you’re in an island, and you saw a generous banana grove. This makes that beach experience really flavorful. Ok, the bananas. The bananas will cook in a short time. When the banana peels are a little darkened, remove from fire, let cool, peel then slice into about an inch thick.

4. When pork is done, put on the side, then sauté garlic, onion, peppercorns, bay leaves. Add the pork, followed by vinegar.

5. Simmer in vinegar before pouring in the soy sauce.

6. When simmered, add soy sauce and sugar

7. Continue to simmer until the soy sauce coats all meats evenly. It will arrive at that dark adobo look as time moves on. You’ll notice that the soy sauce and sugar will caramelize- but not burnt- with prolonged cooking. This makes the adobo extra delicious.

8. Add the bananas, then salt to taste. Cook for about 10 minutes, then remove from fire.

Super adobo is best served really hot, on a communal meal with the whole tribe, pirate boodle style, on a table lined with banana leaves with rice, grilled fish, salted eggs with tomatoes, then fresh young coconut juice. We were very lucky because we have a farm near the beach making fresh coconut juice always available at hand. After gulping down the juice, you can cut down the coconuts for the meat. Put a little sugar, scrape the flesh- for that perfect dessert as sons and daughters of the beach.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Through Eve's Mouth

Lately I have been buried in readings in philosophy, a simple favor I’m doing for a friend- a foreign priest- who has a hard time understanding English. Read, translate, explain. Read, translate, explain. Although a little out- of- grasp of my primitive mind, I somehow managed to do a satisfactory job and in the end appreciate the matter myself. Besides, the world seems to present to hunters something to discover all the time. Oh well. So taking a short break from my little adventures and cooking, here I go staring at a beautiful artwork (it’s 6:22 am and U2’s “All I Want Is You” is playing in the background). This painting of Carlos Verger, a Spanish artist, is the most sensuous nude I have ever seen and will probably see in my life. The moment I laid eyes on it I was captivated at how the artist could have imagined the beautiful Eve, wife of Adam.

How this painting relates to a food blog is summarized in this statement: Condemnation and salvation take place in the mouth. (Religious scholars, please don’t invite a debate for this- religious arguments isn’t my cup of tea)

But first of all, I would like to express a thoughtful sympathy to poor Eve. Women curse her at the pains of childbirth, men blame Eve for tempting Adam and therefore the suffering of mankind. “It’s all Eve’s fault!”

However, seeing it at a different angle, there is the observable pattern in the events of the Bible stories. First, there it was, the cunning serpent and his strategy. I ask sometimes, why the fruit of all things? Why not, say, a piece of clothing to make you invisible or, a mirror, a book – anything but food? Then placing ourselves in the place of the tricky serpent, indeed, what else can you offer to someone who already has everything? Who is in need of nothing more in a marvelous paradise where everything has been provided for, and whose job description is to basically watch over it and procreate….

Then who am I to question the mindset of God, but the two sides of the story seemed to deal with food. I will not state here the very exact terms – but why was Christ’s eternal life (supposedly designed to counteract Eve’s and Adam’s disobedience) made symbolic at a dinner table? Why not a ritual dance or, a bath perhaps?

Hard core scholars may analyze all sorts of Eve’s or Christ’s stories, but what I can derive from there is: it is food, man. Who can help it? Both God and the devil know it’s one of the greatest gifts- and truest pleasures- ever given. Food is something so attached to us poor humans, something we can’t refuse, something that heals, something that changes who we are, and most of all, something we can never live without. Though with a little application of common sense (-and obedience- How could you, Eve? How could you??), we now have all privileges of food information- to know what’s good or bad- which we can use at our advantage. And pretty sure, even more common sense to convince ourselves that parties who happen to promise of extreme, unbelievable results are pure cuckoos and are best ignored. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “All our diseases pass through our mouth, and all our mistakes fly out of it”. In Eve’s case and in observing the many ailments of excess or affluence in our lives, we’ll all agree how true it is. Then contrarily, food was made positive by a great man who wisely declared that “Food is medicine”.

Ah, food glorious food!

So hats off to you all food people out there- whether you are a balut vendor, wine-maker, apple- picker, fishmonger, baker or a well- paid chef- take pride in your work! It’s always been food- whether a stolen bite hidden in a garden or an ultra-serious dinner witnessed by disciples- there is always something so great we can align ourselves in the phenomenal Christian salvation story.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tagaytay: Paradise for the Soul - and the Stomach

I was very happy last night to receive a message that my mother will be flying to Manila from the province. We were just together for the holidays, but the fact that meeting all over again still excites me. It is because her trips to Manila always include going around – and my favorite is that Sunday family trip to Tagaytay.

With my brother Enrique, or Elay ( at the driver’s seat running at the fastest gear, we have all car windows open to fully breathe the mountain air. Tagaytay is a semi- mountainous place a few kilometers down south of Manila, and for many city- dwellers, this is the perfect weekend retreat. Characterized by clean, winding roads, colorful blooms, roadside restaurants, pastry shops – and many, many more! – this is definitely one of the best places on earth. Then who can miss the picturesque Taal Volcano – the smallest and only volcano in the world surrounded by a lake...

Now, what makes this place the ultimate haven for food people? While there are many commercial and specialty restaurants manned by brilliant chefs around, what truly fascinates me is the abundance of produce on the roadside. Along the Silang Highway are corn fields, and beside these fields - just along the road, are nice people peddling boiled corn. You can buy without going down your vehicle, and these gracious people will treat you like a VIP.

Then going up Tagaytay, there are long strips of food stalls (sigh, I could have taken better pictures) selling farm- fresh fruits. In the summer, you could actually smell the nice fruit enzyme vapors drifting in the air. Jackfruit, bananas – the very pretty bananas, citrus, native mangoes, peanuts, papaya, mangosteen- and much, much more. Then in the market are farm- price produce also, ultra- fresh, colorful…. Wow. We get nice mushrooms, lettuce, watercress, radishes from the market stalls; a great assortment of native sweets – and even brooms.

For the restaurants, if we are not having a freshly-brewed barako coffee- and- kakanin at a mom and pop’s humble coffee shop along the road (and ask them the favor as well, if we can temporarily leave our car on their side garage so we can walk to view the Taal Volcano- we were very lucky at this), we are charmed by the old- school cafeteria ambiance of the Mushroom Burger. They have an honest window display of the mushrooms which they use in their recipes. (That’s my sister Victoria and friend Janet there who did the modeling). In the market also, they sell the best bulalo (Philippine version of the British boiled beef), sinaing na tawilis (tender, freshly-caught small fish of the sardine family from the Taal Lake then cooked in natural spices), and awesome traditional dishes. Still along the beautiful roads, are the exceptional pastry shops where you can get the best apple crumbles this side of the planet, coconut pies, fruit preserves, and tarts.

I can write many things here about various experiences in the paradise-like Tagaytay, celebrating the most honest pleasures of life, but I’ll just leave this message here at the end of my post: “See for yourself." :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Ultimate Organic Vinegar

This will be my first- and favorite- product endorsement. I consider myself really lucky for having had the privilege of meeting the very amiable and beautiful owner of the company, Mrs. Linda Corsiga, who formerly held a post at the World Bank regional office and is now full time entrepreneur. I met Tita Linda at a trade fair (her product has won trade awards, and she has also had guested in many business talks, interviews, features, locally) while doing research for my post- graduate paper on international food and beverage trade of local products. Additionally, we realized that we come from the same province in the Bicol region, so there were quite common threads.

There are many types of vinegar in the market, and for most coconut- based vinegars, the coconut juice is used. But the ultimate organic vinegar actually comes from the unopened flower of the coconut.
This unopened coconut bud is full of potent liquid. When you cut it across, a sweet- tasting fluid gently oozes out and this is gathered as drink- the so- called “tuba”. The tuba is a traditional drink in provincial Philippines back in the days, but ever since the introduction of alcoholic beverages from large companies, this has become a dying art.

Favorably gathered early in the morning, the tuba juice is so pure that it is highly perishable- on certain conditions it can get spoiled (turn sour) in a matter of less than five hours. When it sours, then it can no longer be enjoyed as a drink- that’s how it becomes a vinegar. But the fresh tuba, I like its taste so much. Sweet, a little milky-bubbly sometimes, and tastes like no other else.

To become vinegar, the tuba has to undergo periods of fermentation. After harvesting liters and liters of the coconut- flower sap (yes, the tuba) they are placed in clean barrels to age, to become fine vinegar. Like wine, the longer this vinegar ages, the better the taste becomes.

Then after aging, the vinegar is pasteurized prior to bottling. Pasteurization kills certain organisms, so this makes the product extra clean. They are afterwards filled into sterilized bottles, flavored, then cap- sealed.
The flavorings- ginger, lemon- grass, honey, garlic and chili- are all natural. Tita Linda says she never uses anything synthetic in her products. Making them even more decorative, you could actually see colorful chilies, lemon grass stalks, garlic cloves, and ginger strips in the mixture. For the honey, she uses the raw wild type, meaning, the bees are not fed with synthetic sugar but are the type that really suck the nectar of flowers.

I have tried the vinegar variants on various foods myself. I am lucky because every time we see each other, Tita Linda always have a bottle present for me. The chili is just great as dip to fried foods like anchovy tempura, crispy crablets, and dried fish. The unflavored variant, with stews. The honey- laced, with salads. This is the same vinegar in my previous happy pomelo recipe. Also, when placed over crushed ice and added with a little water, the honey- flavor tastes somewhat like wine. And sometimes when I go semi-hypochondriac (imagining my own illnesses), I just swallow a few spoonfuls, get a little high, and my mood is back. (Even my sister’s ex chugs it straight from the bottle) . In a chemical analysis, the vinegar was found to have high levels of inositol, a cancer- fighting ingredient also found in apple- cider vinegar. (But sans bias, I like this one over apple cider, taste- wise)

Anyway, this latter part is purely business. (This mad blogger is also a business student, though). The ultimate organic vinegar is available abroad, the US was the pioneer importer, but is now also making waves in Singapore, Malaysia, and certain Chinese territories.

Visit the following sites:
Smart Supply and Services, LLC, USA

Also available in Metro Manila Supermarkets.

Feel free to contact the owner herself:
Mrs. Linda R. Corsiga
Mobile: 0918 634 6010
Tel. #: (63- 2) 427 2227

There. Tagay!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Journey of the Happy Pomelo

After a few harsh realizations of apartment living and the post- holiday w(h)ines, I resolved to breathe my enthusiasm back. Now that our pad (and our sacred purple fridge) is squeaky clean, it is time to resume my little preoccupation on food writing.
For some adventurous spirit, driving down the countryside is the ultimate food experience. Packed lunches, great music, great company, crossing towns- never boring- and you will even find the best food in unexpected places. Like my so- called experience with the “happy pomelo”. Who would have thought that I’d find perfect Señoritas (term for the large- size fruit) in Camarines Sur- when all I know is that the Mindanao area is the land of this delightful, pink citrus? We were having our tank filled up in a nearby gasoline station. When I went down the vehicle to get a little muscle stretch, these kids started calling, “Ma’m, 3 for 100! 3 for 100” (3 pcs. For 100 pesos- a little over 2 dollars with the current exchange rate). Then the rest of the pack started gathering around me so I summoned my brother, “Go, get some for the family!” I also bought a few for myself because the kids were really funnily pushy!

My brother actually did all the buying from the little stall, and myself, dealing with the kids. They were just that happy, proud of their wares. For who wouldn’t be happy? At closer look, I noticed that the fruits were close to perfect. The skin, a little moist with a lot of zest and visually free of the awful rind-borer damage. I was far from worrying about how they were farmed.

So during the ride home and everyone was enjoying the juicy find, I was thinking of other things to do with it- there was just a lot of them at the back seat.

What does a hunter do in the event of excess food at hunt?
A. Reserve some for future use
B. Give to neighbors
C. Get creative and gather the tribe for a feast!

My personality goes for letter C. So this is where the pomelo went:
Happy Pomelo Salad with Honey Vinegar Dressing

1 head iceberg lettuce
About 3 wedges pink pomelo
1 pc medium size orange
1 C ripe mango cubes
1 C white sweet turnip, julienne cut
1/3 C red cabbage, cut into strips
1 T Salad oil (optional. Although this is a classic salad staple, I prefer this version to be really "squeaky" to the palate and a little fruity)
½ - 3/4 C Honey- vinegar (We have a bottle of coco- nectar vinegar with raw wild honey given by a family friend who makes them. It’s just perfect for this. However, you may also make your concoction from scratch : cane vinegar or apple cider, then honey, at a ratio of 1:1. Shake well.)

1) Wash the lettuce clean and dry thoroughly. With clean hands, tear into bite size pieces and place in a salad bowl.
2) Peel pomelo, remove all white membrane, deseed, and with your hands, just separate into chunks. Do the same with the orange. Throw in the two fruits into the salad bowl with the lettuce, followed by the cubed mango, turnip, and red cabbage.
3) Drizzle the honey vinegar like summer rain – gently, all over. You can also squeeze in a little fresh orange juice. Toss. Best served chilled.

Enjoy. It’s the feeling that counts :)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Whines of the Times : )

Back to our apartment after the big holidays in the big house.

Arriving at dawn with a box of goods- and fresh- harvest vegetables and herbs from the province, my first instinct was to clean up the fridge – and the whole pad in general. Sleepy and tired, I was also very much aware that I have a scheduled dinner that same day of my arrival- with a foreign student from the graduate school whom I help with research – I was just confused where to begin. The laundry in the hamper was a mountain. There were unwashed plates in the sink (charge it to my sister , an air force pilot, who came here first a few days ago- then left immediately for her post in Mindanao – she didn’t have time to wash). And the fridge?

The mess of what we have left pre- Christmas stared back at me, and man, the purple fridge was a horror. Having it unplugged for two weeks, we thought it was empty, (didn’t we, Victoria?). I didn’t expect that some black, hairy, tiny monsters would greet me: The big, halved onion was black, the tiny cream cheese from Starbucks bagels was black, the fresh noodle was black, the eggplant was black, soft and gross, the cream was black, and my baby- food (should I admit it here? I eat mix-with- hot water baby food for comfort) - I just threw in the trash can.

Anyway, I am quite oblivious already of the hours I spent cleaning the whole unit. Can’t imagine how I ravaged the fridge cruelly of its contents– then scrubbed it hard and clean with detergent and baking soda- still in my traveling clothes – then the cupboards, the study, the bedroom, the backdoor, and took out the garbage. Where did I get all that strength?

For now here, writing and sniffing with a little fever and aching muscles (where did I catch this nasty cold?), I look to my left at the wine bottles, witnesses of a few celebrations – from my sister’s bon voyage party to ‘peace dinners’ – still standing on the backdoor veranda. In this backdoor we do barbecues, sip coffee while watching the sunrise. Good thing the bottles are still there – exactly how we left them. Me and my sister glued them there then tied with nylon to a hook in the ceiling – lest we risk them falling at five floors down to the garage of the building owner…

I still went to dinner. And lately, I just received a message from the same student that he got a good applause for the report we worked on together. Alleluia.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Feeding the Grand

It is said that the insane, the children and the old always tell the truth. Strangers to lies, there are no gray areas in their judgment- they know how to tell the good, the bad and the beautiful with the sharpness of a good knife. In that sense, I believe they have the same take at food: they won’t care whether the cook is a fine chef who studied at a top culinary school or a fat, sharp-tongued woman who only finished fourth grade and whips up an unforgettable vegetable massacre. They won’t tell you what areas you need to improve your cooking, either they smile or shake their head then give you that painful shove of the plate. What they need is a little understanding of their lives.

I thought of these things when I was planning a lunch menu for the residents of the home for the aged last holiday break. It was actually only a reprise of what we have been doing many years ago, though now with a keen understanding of my profession. With a license in nutrition, I have been schooled to understand the logic of food when feeding people: what to add, what to eliminate, what to choose, what to prepare, etc. - for whom. Checklists are definitely helpful as they guide you at every step. Consider the physical attributes of food, i.e, texture, visual appeal, nutritional content, method of preparation, among others. Then respect the psychology of the person: elder people may be past their adventurous days, so think twice about serving the bizarre and the unfamiliar. I heard that the residents here didn’t like pasta dishes, including the everybody’s-well-loved spaghetti in red sauce, so how sensible is it to insist our sherried clams with chopped whatnot?

But there is something about geriatric feeding that is so dear to me because I grew up surrounded by a lot of old people. Food for them has its own story. I have countless tales of these heard at the dinner table- days of the Japanese war, town fiestas, lazy summer afternoons, Sunday mornings- back in the days. Emotions, when it comes to food, have a big role to the elderly– they give them a particular attachment to their own lives and memories.

It didn’t take too long for me to plan a simple menu. (Or after getting bone-tired from cooking the Christmas banquet, I was just too tired to think :P) What was running in my mind were thoughts of happy days, grand old times with a little introduction of the contemporary, then translate everything into a Sunday lunch.

So going there (with my two funky siblings, in Converse sneakers and apron) and the basketful of ingredients, I was armed only with two things from home: a knife and a chopping board. (I am really particular with chopping boards). Everything else has to come from their kitchen. It was a beautiful day, and we have to finish soup to dessert in a little over an hour.

Budget: 500 pesos, 15 pax ( Approx. $11)

The menu:
Ginger chicken vermicelli with vegetables: As colorful as the memories of old- time brunches after Sunday morning mass. The delicate flavor of chicken and fragrant ginger awaken the sense of smell and warms the stomach prior to a meal.

Pork hamonado, Chinese style: Reminiscent of glorious town fiestas when a whole pig was slaughtered for the household. Hamonado has always been a classic. The mixture of spices in the tender pork is just so nice.

Buttered vegetables- corn, carrot, chayote and mushroom: I wasn’t quite very sure about the acceptability of this (will they choke on the corn kernels?) but this item is a common dish in modern establishments (buttered corn and carrots, sans mushroom and chayote :P) – as siding to steaks and grilled items. I decided to have my vegetables cut into smaller pieces for easy digestion (One resident said at lunch time: “I only have my upper teeth, so a little chewing and it happily slides down my throat!”) I also decided to add a little aroma with a sprinkle of dried rosemary, and buttered just right as the old people are known to have aversion to strong-tasting, greasy foods.

Boiled rice (they have it their way)

Squash maja: Not only a vegetable disguised as a dessert, but it is also a well- loved Filipino delicacy alongside rice cakes, leche flan, etc. Red and yellow look appealing together as peaches and cherries do in danishes, so I came up with a simple contrast here: the all-too familiar, neutral tasting tapioca pearls and a little drizzle of condensed milk because I didn’t make the maja mixture too sweet.
The judgment:

What is it with grown ups that make us so ultra- conscious of our craft?

Whew. When the residents were wheeled in to the hall, I was there at the kitchen assisting in the portioning of food. Going through my mind were questions that swing to and fro in my conscious insanity. Will they even touch the flatware? Will they push the plate away and tell me what I didn’t want to hear? I try to calm myself with positivities: Oh, what was important is that I had fun doing – smashing the pumpkin, flavoring the lovely pork-it’s the fun that counts!

But for my little worries, I wasn’t truly expecting anything that day. After a few minutes, the grand people asked us to join their table and began telling the stories of their lives.

Just like the old days, I thought, when me and my sisters brought them porridge fourteen years ago and play the out of tune ukulele- they didn’t care if I repeated over and over a few chords- I saw them dance what they used to with old sweethearts. What was important…

Their best statement? An empty plate :)