Friday, February 29, 2008

Dragging -Tagging

Yay, five random things about me! Who will be interested? If I were in a Miss Universe contest and asked to recount five things – I am most likely to lose! But I was tagged by Coco- you lovely girl- how can I say no... :)

Shoveling through the memory grave, here they are -

1. My kindergarten teacher thought I was dyslexic and even talked to my parents to get help. What she didn’t know was, I juggled the alphabet the way I wanted it- because I didn’t want to copy what was on the board. (Creativity doesn’t apply when you are learning the alphabet after all!) :P

2. A popular food writer filed a nicely- written complaint to our company about me as a restaurant trainee seven years ago about a lousy lasagna. Considering the fine reputation of the writer, our HRD circulated that letter to everybody- to serve as a very important lesson . Shame, shame, shame!

3. For my 15th birthday, I organized my own party. Then one of my classmates thought it was a little weird because I placed tapioca pearls on the mango shake- then everybody was laughing. That weird party really spread in class. Then years later and we were in college, the pearl shake business has become the craziest thing in the country.

4. I was 16, a fat and clumsy teenager. I just came from a town fiesta sleep over in the big house of my best friend’s grandmother- three days of smorgasbord. The town was very far from our place, and you could see nothing but a long stretch of dirt road and vast rice fields. While waiting for a ride, I felt very uncomfortable in my jeans – it was very hot and dusty – so rummaging through my backpack, I changed clothes – in the middle of the highway- almost in my underwear? I just told my friends to please close their eyes for a while…

5. I eat with chopsticks on a china bowl squatted on the floor everyday, and my brother who never went to culinary school fries food better than me- all the time!

Who else is left untagged? Tell me, tell me :P

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Memories From Food Huntress Kitchen

Before the big old house became a sprawling mansion (in its own right), and before the age of popcorn makers, Betamax and doctorate degrees, it was first a shack, with grass leaves for a roof, and bamboo sticks for floor. The shack was standing two feet above the ground and there was a silong – then we kids would creep under the silong to hunt for coins that slipped through the bamboo floors.

And the kitchen? Just like the one in this picture- a close replica (though this one is actually taken from the back kitchen of my sister’s barracks). In the kitchen of the shack I grew up in, we had eleven cats, we cooked with charcoals, sometimes firewood, and when the rains arrived, we would cover the precious charcoal/ firewood first before our own heads. The pots and pans were blacker than a thousand midnights, the soot rose to 45 mm from the metal surface, and we had to get sand from the river to scrub them off.

I could close my eyes right now and smell the familiar wood smoke, see the braided garlic on the wall, coconuts under the kitchen sink, and corn husks being dried in the ceiling. Then when a new yaya (nanny) moved in with us from another town, she placed beside the coconuts a basinful of salted fish under the kitchen sink. That smoky kitchen held memories of warm days; my first cooking lessons when I was nine years old with our yaya, (the very first dish I cooked was a garlicky pork adobo with freshly- snipped swamp cabbage from the field at the back of our house), and many days of coconut- grating and afternoon snack cooking.

And yes, I had a favorite cat also, named “Creekhank” – and I don’t know how we came up with that name. I guess because of our intensive reading of American books that had a stamped “Books for Asia” on the inside cover that what embossed in our consciousness were American Indians and cowboys over the batang yagit (dumpsite kids). Then since we had no TV, we knew Hans Christian Andersen better than Voltes V.

As a child I used to pretend that that cat was a pet raccoon because of the patch of black fur around the eyes like a raccoon’s. Our cats were the classic guests of the kitchen hearth… sleeping on a single clump, one on top of the other, close to the warm ashes specially during cold weather. Careful, though, for when cooking fish, the twinkling of the eye, your fish is gone from the pan. This infuriated my family a lot.

But looking at this kitten all-warm and nonchalant beside the ashes, with its forefeet closed against its chest… the snuggly warmth of the young fur… waiting for fish… makes me want to just get that same comfort : on a cold February night and dream of story- reading over a warm bowl of bua loi and a great mug of coffee beside the fire...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ode to the Sea... Creature

Here surrounding the island,
There's sea. But what sea?
It's always overflowing….

(I'm getting that dreamy nostalgic look again) Neruda- reading is an intimate rite to me and my… ssshhh.

- ok, where was I?

Yes, I definitely see myself one of Neruda’s fishermen (though I should admit that they are nobler), yet still I identify with being hungry and cold from the shore. But this time the sea is not my foe for it opened up its coffers and placed gifts of delicious creatures in my hands… or rather, in the hands of the happy fishmonger from whom I bought these…

These are not shrimp, comrades, but a different specie of the alupihang dagat, or the sea mantis caught fresh out of the still Philippine waters. Not as succulent nor as fleshy as the shrimp or lobster, but the essence is just the same- white flesh, the familiar crustacean smell, taste , though with higher moisture content and therefore more perishable. In a country where anything savory (pork cracklings, potato chips, instant noodles, etc) is eaten with rice, so are these creatures cooked in many savory and spicy ways: with young fern and coconut cream, with egg noodles, etc. Yet again, as I would have crabs my way, I want delightful sea creatures all natural- the taste of the sea, the natural juices…

Sea mantis cooking 101. Best purchased alive and wiggling their little legs. If you’re not about to cook them yet, just keep them alive in a basin of water. Relax, they won’t claw and creep away under your sofa. Then because of its high perishability, expect immediate shift of smell after a few hours after they died. So… best purchased alive. Period.

In a pot, place about 500 grams sea mantis. Pour 1 bottle soda (Sprite, 7- UP), about 250 ml. Cook for about 15 minutes or until done. The creatures will change in color. See above.

Best eaten with bare hands, with rice, soy sauce, hot sauce… or any sauce you please. But when I ate them that afternoon, I was also drinking hot coffee… and I don’t know why the combination feels so right.

Cooked alive, at least they died with the recitation of an ode…

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Real Food Heroes

Hog butcher for the world,
Tool maker,
Stacker of wheat
And the nation’s freight handler….

I could go over and over on that Carl Sandburg’s passionate poem, “Chicago”, but I just came up with a marketplace poetry – a simple tribute to the food heroes. But this is not even poetry, by the way. And if there’s one wish I could make right now and make it come true- right here, right now, then I wish to have the photography skills of Sidney.

I am always impressed by happiness.
My food hero is a happy coconut man

Lovely seafood ladies whose radiance will put soap commercials to shame…

The jolly lobster man at a Sunday market (who knows he looks like Manny Pacquiao and proud of it)

A farmer in deep concentration on the precision of his measurements who believes firmly: That to waste food is to waste life.

A fishmonger working with a fully- painted face, trendy haircut, a Loony Toon shirt and exudes the confidence of a beauty queen;

Or a child who has his own style of peddling his wares. Miles to go before he sleeps… And miles to go before he sleeps.

My favorite food hero is a feisty manang who sells bagoong and knows the difference of a one- half kilo shrimp paste from a one- fourth.

Not a politician whose face is pasted all over the place.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Breakfast for the Chopper Flyer

A few nights ago I had a dream of going to a remote provincial district in a Southeast Asian country… I’m not sure if it’s because I fell asleep reading “The Food of Thailand” or had been listening to Miss Saigon, or it’s rather usual for me to dream of food – like blue cabbages and golden apples. In that most recent dream, there were these gardens tended by child refugees – and I was there to cook – and there were beds of spring onions and ginger that sprout every five seconds! Then from the sky was a chopper and it dropped a square package that landed snugly in my arms. I looked up and it was- the Flygirl! In that package was a small toy and some food. It was quite coincidental- because I heard that the Flygirl has gone to a medical mission recently.

I don’t know if this is my conscience’s way of reminding me that Flygirl has done a lot for me- including fixing my blog page or teaching me how to drive the car or reserving me seats at the MTR in Hong Kong or shipping kilos of tuna and prawns and exotic crabs from the South - and many others – and that I forgot to cook for her birthday last February 10. But she wasn’t here! Somewhere scraping the skies, I guess. And I did nothing to return those favors but – what else – cook her breakfasts whenever we’re together. It has never been a burden, though in chilly mornings in my pajamas with my hair hastily bunned on top of my head, I am already at the kitchen rummaging through the purple fridge while my beloved chopper flyer is still sleeping and she’d wake up to the smell of coffee and butter.

Anyway, since she has the tendency to look for diversity in food as in her life, this is only what I was able to whip for her in 20 minutes- using whatever was offered by the cupboard and the fridge the day it was created. So here it is, a quick, fancy, girly breakfast dish for that adventurous soul.

Teriyaki Tofu and Red Cabbage Omelet

50 grams tofu, cut into small pieces then sprinkled with 1 tsp thin teriyaki sauce
3 pcs. Large eggs, beaten
2 T coarsely chopped roasted cashew nuts (which she brought from Palawan )
¼ tsp toasted sesame seeds
1/3 C shredded red cabbage
1 pc small tomato, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic
1 T chopped scallions
Salt and pepper
Oil for sautéing and egg frying

1.Heat oil. Sautee/ stir- fry garlic, scallions, tomato, tofu very quickly. Add cashews, then toss in quickly red cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2.On a clean pan, heat oil for omelet. Put in the beaten eggs and fry until done. (Flygirl wants her eggs well- done. She hates those oozing yolks- which I truly love- but rather have them... well- done)
3. On a plate. Place the sautéed tofu and cabbage mixture in the middle of the fried beaten eggs and roll. Slice. Serves 4. (Or, depends on the appetite)
4.Serve with rice or garlic rice.

Spiced coffee

1 C Brewed coffee or instant coffee
1 T Sugar
½ C Fresh milk
½ C Foamed milk
Nutmeg and cinnamon

In a large mug (we don’t use dainty coffee cups- we use mugs as large as our face), pour hot coffee, dissolve in sugar and spice powders, add fresh milk, top with foam, then a dash of the spice powders.

Freakin’ fake foamed milk. Since we don’t really have an Egro coffee machine at home and therefore no steam jet, I foam by whisking fresh milk as we do to foam egg whites. The milk proteins will split and incorporate air, thus the fake foam.

Pass the ketchup, please Luis! :)


"Knives and cutting boards are sacred." - Masaharu Morimoto

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mad Brews: The Food Huntress Notebook

I am a self- confessed food bric-a-brac collector. I am talking about those leaflets, flyers that seem to follow us everywhere. From supermarkets to train stations to malls. As long as there are pictures of food, I don’t throw them around- and I don’t know if this attitude is considered normal or not. On the brighter side, I used this method of "learning from everywhere" when I was studying for the national board exams. It helped me pass with much luck- third place from the bottom. Since then, this learning from everywhere has become a sacred rite to me.

Now these pieces of garbage find their respective places in my little existence. First, I place them in an envelope as I do with bills and letters. Then I think about them later- probably when boredom or outrageous ideas kick again - at least I have something to work on. Besides... I confess that I... I... don't watch TV. Ergo, yes I admit in all my ignorance, I don't know who the Desperate Housewives are. Anyway, Starbucks brochures are what my sisters bring- not the signature paper cups- after hanging out at the coffee shop. Then after some time these things go into our scrapbooks, or get even more bastardized as I cut the letters and put them as labels in my spice jars. Then of course, the more informative side, i.e., “How to brew the perfect coffee” goes into that compilation of food information. Where else will you learn? But from the coffee experts! I don’t know if Starbucks will sue me for this, but at least I am participating in their save- earth campaign- recycle, reuse, reduce! Peace, Mr. Schultz!

I have this little white notebook where I doodle down anything under the sun- mostly food related insanities. On the right panel is a strip from Calvin and Hobbes – my favorite comics, then on the center is a sadist hot chick – taken from a Yo Card – whose whip I replaced with a slotted spoon. There’s a mug of beer. The perfect pizza from a Pizza Hut flyer. Umberto Eco’s On Ugliness book cover picture- I haven’t read the book – but I like the picture. How to Eat Like A Hot Chick by Vincent and Lipper (I haven't read this too, but I think I'm going to like this). Tuna pasta from a tuna company scrap. The perfect blueberry cheesecake from a can of Blueberry Comstock. A cleaver – one of my favorite things in the world.

Then turn the page of this “Mad Brews” notebook and find hidden madness. From instructions on how to cut curled octopus arms, to recipes of guacamole and garlic paste, to personal resolutions, to layouts of dream restaurants, to star signs. I was born year of the Sheep. Chef Masaharu Morimoto is Sheep. Zhang Ziyi is Sheep. Beauty. Food. This puts a big smile on my face and I am still yet have to be diagnosed if this too, is considered normal.

Then from those gardening fairs, leaflets of seed companies. If I am fascinated by the colors, I shove them in my pocket. Colorful peppers. Tomatoes. Lettuces. When I watch occasional TV, Jaime Oliver’s superb pizza. On the back page, Kenny Rogers’s Philly Steak Sandwich. Reminds me of my days at a French café. A noodle bowl from Mr. Ube in Chinatown. New York Cheesecake Donut from Krispy Kreme. A colander. A bag of coffee beans (which I sometimes fantasize, how it would feel if you actually sleep on top of a coffee bean sack. Will it massage your back?). The old Little Caesar’s Pizza Pizza- a souvenir on the company’s big days in Manila...

And oh. The spine. Fresh. Hot. Now. Food Huntress. Delicious. Anytime. Anywhere. Again, back from the top, this is a compilation of food insanities and grand illusions…

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Red Dragon Vanilla Dessert

Wow… what am I doing here. Is it still my page? I almost forgot my password already...

I don’t know if I have been too busy dilly- dallying in the field or cooking with brats or cramming for a research deadline, or getting nagged by the real estate broker's call at bedtime to process stacks and stacks of papers - that I just forgot this page and the Chinese New Year was over and it is almost Valentine’s Day and still I have no post. Whew! Or even thanking the very generous Zen Chef that, yessssir! – the Food Huntress has received the vanilla giveaway package already. Thank you, thank you. The world was on time- and I wasn’t!

The Food Huntress still can’t believe that this is what she got for just a little story sponsored by the Zen- man last month: vanilla beans, vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, and yes, that caveman photo of the Zen Chef- and a very nice surprise. To all fans of Zen Chef, a most delightful proof that your Zen Chef is… zen.

But way before this blog entry was written, in my excitement together with a pack of jubilant cooking brats, I already harassed the vanilla beans – a few pods had gone into chocolate fudge, vanilla coffee, custards, a few versions of fruit desserts. Now to make these things all relevant to each other, the Food Huntress whipped up a dessert that actually is already a little too cold for the Chinese New Year, yet still quite fresh for Valentine’s Day - but most of all, has a story of its own.

I should even call it “recycled recipe” because it is not originally intended for this post but for a picnic in the field that I had with a friend last weekend where we dragged a heavy cooler so that the ice cream won’t melt. Oh well! And since my friend thought it was really good and that it has the characteristics of a romantic dessert (I thought being all- red and sweet and stuff like that), then I reckon it is suitable for the romance- suckers that is undeniably innate in each one of us. (And actually because I was really floored by my hectic schedule for the week, the creative juices for cooking are not cooperating anymore.)

Inspired by the compote recipes by Kate Zuckerman from the cookbook “The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle” (also included in Zen Chef’s package. You’re too kind, Mr. Zen- man!!) this multicultural dessert brings to the plate a little piece of the world’s sweetness.

Local fresh strawberries from Benguet in the Mountain Province. Dragon fruit- memory of my brief study trip to the dragon land of Chairman Mao- which I smuggled together with nectarines, plums and kiat mandarin oranges (I was waiting for the Chinese authorities to drag me in hand cuffs or throw my luggage from the airplane window- but they didn’t). Cashew nuts from the wild, pseudo- virginal forests of Palawan. Nice, refined sugar from the fields of Negros (though at times associated with child- labor). Coco nectar vinegar from Bicol- indigenous alternative to Madeira. The vanilla pods – from the forests of Madagascar, Mexico,Uganda to a gourmet store in France, were flown all the way from New York to Southeast Asia. And, vanilla ice cream from a blood- sucking multinational company.

Strawberry and Dragon Fruit Compote with Vanilla Ice Cream
(Good for 2)

About 200 grams fresh strawberries
1 pc dragon fruit
¼ cup roasted cashews, chopped coarsely
½ vanilla pod
2 T coco nectar vinegar with raw wild honey
2 T sugar
1 scoop vanilla ice cream

1. Scrape out the seeds from a vanilla pod using a sharp paring knife.
2. In a saucepan, combine strawberries, vinegar and sugar. Bring to full boil, stirring once in a while.
3. After 10 minutes, pick the largest strawberries, pass through a sieve to squeeze out the “blood”.
4. Return strawberry juice into the pan and simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Meanwhile, cut a quarter of the dragon fruit. Slice into ¼ inch thickness.
6. Drop the dragon fruit slices into the strawberry mixture and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir. (The dragon fruit has a mild taste of its own. I suggest that it should not be masked by the strong flavor of strawberry). Let cool, then chill.
7. When chilled, pour into a bowl (or compote plate) and add the cashews. Or, top with vanilla ice cream and add the cashews.

Not designed for a dragon of an emperor and definitely not too bloody… It’s good : )

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone! : )

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fruits Gone Wild

You are in your summer dress. The heat is dancing in the distance forming mirages of what seemed like broken mirrors…sweaty young boys playing with kites, farmers resting under trees fanning themselves with straw hats… water buffaloes wallowing in the mud to cool themselves. On other days, shortly after a summer drizzle early in the morning, you could see a rainbow in the field, and you and your sisters would run crazy towards it. The irony is that, there really wasn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but you could actually “enter” through the color. It is like a mist. The closer you go, the lesser you see. The air is fresh, the sky is super blue, and in the afternoon you know that your yaya has guinataan or boiled corn or fried bananas waiting for you… and you don’t pay taxes.

Welcome to my childhood.

And I, with playmates, hop from one hedge of bushes to another in search for wild berries. That got me the perfect tan (which here in the Philippines is not considered pretty) a good immune system, and I think built the foundations of my food curiosity.

Cape gooseberry (a.k.a. laptukay)

The ultimate summer fruit for children…wild berries.
The classic is the gooseberry … laptukay. Native gooseberries. When ripe, the outer petals (are they even called petals?) covering the fruit turns light yellow and the berry inside swells. Ripe fruit tastes a little sweet, a bit sour and texture is like saliva. Imagine your saliva with little, little white seeds. In old rice fields after a long time of non- irrigation, grasses grow and wild quails inhabit, so do these laptukay populate. I would go through tall grasses, sometimes getting scratches on my limbs, and insect bites – but all of that was nothing compared to the euphoria of finding a golden laptukay plant. A bursting bite… seek the gold in thy world.

Along this fruit are its colorful comrades, the controversial kalampunay , a curious plant with velvety, tomato- like, seductive fruit. This is known to have drug properties like the marijuana plant, and a few years ago I heard that in our village (which used to be a rice field), authorities were in the lookout for this. There was also the gin- gin , wild red juicy berries grown in hedges to separate one land territory from another.

Native passion fruits

The native passion fruit speaks its own fashion. I am not sure though if this (this dulce kurumbot) is technically of the passion fruit family but a priest who visited my grandmother saw the flowers and it resembles that of the real passion fruit. The flowers are one of the world’s most beautiful… and later only sacrifice their lovely beauty to the little delightful baby fruits. Green, and caged in a delicate plant shell that when opened, they smell like the juicy passion fruit with only a mild grassy scent. The mere thought of its sour- sweet taste extracts my salivary juices writing this down…
I remember as a child climbing the roof of my grandparents’ house to harvest a skirtful of passion fruits; the dark seeds, the cool pulp, the very fruity smell so reminiscent of summer. According to a book, passion fruit is called that way not because of romantic passion but more of the passion of Christ- if you observe the flowers, there are little crosses there. The flowers of the dulce kurumbot exactly have the same structure of the passion fruit widely available. I can’t put the pieces together, but I can fairly associate passion fruit harvest during the Holy Week – and my grandparents. Probably because during Holy Week, school is over and therefore I had all the time to go food- hunting while reverberating in my memory the sung “pasyon” – the suffering of Christ- recited in Spanish by old women in our province.

Then my grandmother would have a stick in her hand to whack me for climbing her roof which was so unlikely for young girls, who are supposed to be prim and proper and must stay indoors..

I think I did stay indoors well too much- in the kitchen most specially, and as much as I have this desire to have a collection of the wild fruits I used to enjoy when I was a child, I might also consider making laptukay- dulce kurumbot dessert one of these days… That is, if I find them.