Friday, April 1, 2011

Champagne, St. Germain, and Lychee Cocktails

Spring Forward, kick back and enjoy a nice, cold champagne cocktail...
I whipped this up for the hubby and he loved it. I'm no mixologist but once in a while I get the urge to get creative with cocktails. For me, mixing drinks is pure alchemy but sometimes I strike gold.

What you'll need:

1 can of lychee with syrup -- removed from the can and then chilled overnight.

2-3 ounces of
St. Germain Liqueur. Exhibiting fresh Honeysuckle and lychee notes, St. Germain Liqueur is a lot like the St. Germain section of Paris: dense, lovely and bright.

Chilled Champangne -- For this drink, get a Brut Champagne to offset the sweetness of the Lychee syrup. A Demi-Sec Champagne might make this drink cloyingly sweet. It doesn't have to be top shelf Champagne as long as it is "dry". You can also use a Rosé Champagne, Proseco or any Sparkling wine.

10 drops of Angostura Bitters -- Yes, it is hard to find Angostura these days and if you do find yourself a bottle, it can be expensive. Without knowing what it is used for, my husband got me a bottle while we were in the Bahamas. Now that we know what it is, this blended clove flavor enhancer exhibits that "umami" factor and has been an indispensable ingredient in many of our cocktail recipes. It's like MSG for cocktails only not as controversial.

4-5 leaves of Thai Holy Basil
-- Adding the right fresh herb to your cocktail will give it life and flavor. Think of it as Thai Mojito.

How to do it:

Muddle your Thai Holy Basil in a cocktail shaker with about an ounce of Lychee syrup. Add St. Germain, a cup of Lychee syrup and some ice cubes. Give it a good shake and then pour and strain into two chilled Champagne flutes. Drop 3 Lychees into each glass and then top with Champagne. Voila!

Sante! A la vôtre !

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Top Ten Favorite Spices

Spices bring depth and personality to any bland dish. Cooking with spices gives any dish a pulse, a rhythm, and a beat. They make food sing. Here are my Top 10 favorite spices to cook with:

10. Saffron is a powerful and expensive spice so I use it sparingly. I add it to my Saffron ice cream, classic Spanish paella, Tunisian lemonade and Moroccan Lamb Tagine.

9. Hungarian paprika is great for Chicken Paprikash and regular California paprika is a major ingredient in my Southern BBQ rub. But smoked paprika adds a unique smokey flavor and richness to some of our favorite dishes. The "smoke" in this sweet paprika is the wow factor. It makes Mexican carnitas and tacos and Spanish Paella more flavorful. We also love it sprinkled on top of hummus and home fries.

8. Vietnamese Pho won't be the same without this spice. It also gives Thai Iced Tea its distinctive flavor. I also like to add this to my Vietnamese Style beef stew. For my husband's birthday party this year, I made homemade bread with star anise and figs.

7. I use both black and green cardamom seeds in savory Indian and Tibetan dishes and the green ones exclusively in sweet desserts. One of these days, I would like to make one of my favorite Ethiopian dishes using berbere sauce and cardamom. Sometimes, I add ground cardamom to my blueberry muffins to give them an added flare.

6. Nutmeg is an easy choice. It's versatile and not just for baking anymore. With my microplane, I grate a dash into bechamel sauce to give it dimension and flavor. I also like to dunk and soak corn cobs in milk, butter and yes, freshly ground nutmeg.

5. Thanks to Penzeys, I learned that there are many different types of cinnamon depending on their country of origin. I use this sweet spice in lots of things including my homemade cinnamon buns, korma masala and countless other applications.

4. Turkish Bay Leaves are the best bay leaves I've ever cooked with. Mild and earthy, Turkish Bay leaves are an important ingredient to many of our homemade stews and soups.

3. Once I saw women selling freshly picked allspice in little plastic bags during a trip to the Caribbean. Allspice gives many popular Caribbean dishes their great flavor. If you want to make authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Pork, you'll need allspice. Ground Allspice along with really good cinnamon take hot chocolate to a whole new level.

2. Pepper is the most popular spice in the world. I cook with many different types of pepper ( Szechuan, pink, green and so on). Tellicherry peppercorns from India are the most aromatic black peppercorns I know. They enhance any dish and they are the ONLY peppercorns I use when I make my Philippine adobo. For me, this knocks any peppercorn out of the park.

1. The second most popular spice in the world is #1 in my book! Cumin is found in kitchens all over the world -- from North and South America to India to the Middle East. It is intense and robust in flavor. I lightly roast Cumin seeds in a pan and then pulse them in a coffee grinder to transform them into a powdery power spice. Biting into roasted whole cumin seeds are my version of grown-up pop rocks candy. :)

I get my spices everywhere -- from Penzeys, local ethnic stores and some of our travels. Most of my spices are stored in tightly seeled jars. We have a lot of spices and some of them are in this plastic and durable organizer. Where did I get this fancy contraption? Home Depot! This was my hubby's brilliant idea and I do believe it's in the nuts and bolts section.

What spices do you like to cook with? :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Garden Story

"Gardens are a form of autobiography." ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

There's one thing I learned about myself this year. I LOVE gardening. I love everything about it: from sowing the seeds to picking the vegetables off the vine and all the hard work in between. When my maternal grandmother was alive, she spent many days tending her huge Quezon City vegetable garden. I remember running around her garden and playing "Cops and Robbers" with neighborhood friends. This has to be one of my most memorable childhood memories of being in my lola's garden. In the middle of her garden was a rectangular fish pond which she constantly stocked with Tilapia and other fresh water fish. Every so often, she would bring home a cornucopia of Asian vegetables like kangkong or water spinach, talong or eggplant, and puso ng saging or banana heart/blossom. Unfortunately, I was one of those picky eaters who refused to eat anything green and healthy. I often shoved or hid vegetables under my plate (or fed them to the dog). I just didn't know any better. Like most kids, I did not appreciate what my grandmother was trying to do back then.

I do remember the joy of being in her garden and watching her hunched over with her hands in the earth. As a novice gardener, I am now just beginning to understand why my grandmother spent all those long hot hours planting and meticulously caring for her vegetable garden. I recently learned that the process of planting your own vegetables is addicting. My family and I love watering our plants and watching recognizable supermarket vegetables pop right out of our own garden. Gardening creates a stronger connection between the food we eat and where the food comes from. I don't admit it out loud but I even like pulling out those unwanted weeds. It's pretty meditative. There is something really good that comes out of planting some of your own food. Growing vegetables goes beyond satisfying our appetite and keeping us healthy. It somehow fulfills our need to nurture, grow and produce food that's better for our family.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the gardener and her garden. A gardener keeps the plants alive and in return they give her food, gardening skills, a sense or pride and for me, memories of my grandmother. If you know me, you probably know that I like to cook pretty much everything. I'm a fan of global cuisine and global cuisine requires ingredients that are not local. Our little suburban garden cannot sustain all the food we like to eat. It is possible to use our locally sourced garden ingredients to create some of our international favorites but this requires a lot of creativity in the kitchen. I have a few new recipes using our abundant Zucchini so I'm learning to bridge garden ingredients and the international flavors that we love. Of course, I will not completely rely on our garden for sustenance this summer. It's just not practical. Plus, I like to cook with international ingredients: frozen calamansi from a Filipino store, labne from a Middle Eastern Market, Gailan from Chinatown, Kaffir Lime leaves from a local South East Asian market and so on. With today's world food market within a 20 mile radius of our home, there is no need to make everything "artisinal" or plant everything from the ground up. But if I can substitute locally grown produce from our garden in some of my dishes, I will. Organic vegetables that we have planted ourselves just taste better.

There is a wonderful Asian restaurant in the heart of the Champagne country in France that uses a lot of locally grown ingredients. For me, this place is proof that bridging local ingredients with old school Asian flavors can be done. At Le Grand Jardin de Chine in Reims, France, I noticed that they beautifully married many different locally grown vegetables with traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai flavors. We had black wood ear mushrooms here but I didn't see bokchoy or any other fresh Chinese green veggies on the menu. More on eating in France later. I will strive to cook with more local vegetables but I still like my international and imported ingredients. Our pantry is like a stamp collector's book -- the ingredients are from all over the place.

In our garden, you will find Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Chives, Rosemary, Thai Holy Basil and....

These are the sweetest, crunchiest and most delicious raw snow peas we've ever had. I've been buying snow peas from Asian Supermarkets and Boston's Chinatown for years and store bought snow peas can't hold a candle to home grown snow peas. The only problem with them is that the vines seem to deteriorate after the first couple of harvests. We pick them of the vine, wash them and eat them raw just as they are. They never made it to the vegetable crisper.

Zucchini plants come with Zucchini blossoms -- a delicate natural vegan casing ready to be stuffed, battered and deep fried, preferably with really good goat cheese or Queso Fresco. :)

This was the first monstrous Zucchini we harvested this year. In the middle of the summer, there is a population explosion of Zucchini in gardens all across the country but I never thought we would experience it ourselves. I'm sure Zucchini gardeners (and their neighbors) are not complaining. It's a good problem to have.

There is something to be said about planting your own food. I learned that your time and effort are the best fertilizers for your garden. I also learned that by growing some of our own vegetables, we are harvesting food for our bodies as well as our soul. I also learned that when I look at my somewhat green fingers and thumbs cultivating the soil, I see my grandmother's hands.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Our Favorite Family Friendly Eats Near Storyland

It's summertime in New England and if you are a parent to young children, you are probably thinking about fun day or weekend trips with your little ones this summer. One thing that might come to the minds of many New England parents with young children is New Hampshire's kiddie wonderland and amusement park, Storyland. If you are a foodie parent with foodie (or picky) kids, where do you eat around here? Honestly, there is not much to pick from especially if you are used to variety. But there are some hidden gems near the park. I've been to the White Mountains a few times and have enjoyed the food at Coyote Rose, Shalimar of India and Horsefeather's. Here are some other family friendly eats in the area.

A good bang for the buck is the Hill's Top BBQ Restaurant in Bartlett, New Hampshire. I like a place that invites you with the wonderful aroma of delicious smelling slow smoked meats wafting in and around the restaurant. I wish I could bottle that BBQ smell!

I'm no barbeque expert but I've had a lot of great barbeque across New England (from Boston, MA to Brattleboro, VT) and the Hill's Top made my list of top BBQ restaurants way north of the Mason-Dixon line. Their house smoked beef brisket is comparable to the ones I've had from Texas.

Who doesn't like an assortment of BBQ condiments on their table? The Hill's Top BBQ even has a white BBQ sauce called White Mountain White. This reminds of the mayonnaise and vinegar based BBQ sauce from Alabama.

Generally speaking, the food at Storyland is not bad. I like an occasional perfectly fried dough, here and anywhere else for that matter. But who doesn't like deep fried chewy bread bathed in powdered sugar? I was happy to see quasi Mexican food at this amusement park. It's a good alternative to the standard amusement park burger and fries.

Red Fox Bar and Grille in Jackson, New Hampshire is kid friendly and pretty affordable. They have many beers on draft and a pretty good wine selection for thirsty parents. We like their finger licking baby back ribs and melt-in-your-mouth roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Because this place is close to Storyland, it's a popular oasis for many families coming out of the park.

At Storyland, you and your kids might feel like a fast moving ball in a pinball machine. There are lots to see and lots to do so pace yourself and take lots of breaks especially if you have little ones. The whole family will be exhausted after a full day of riding the roller coaster, log ride and those spinning tea cups over and over again. It's all worth it though. The smile on your child's face is priceless and one you will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Weeknight Linguini with Fresh Pesto

There are days when I don't feel like cooking. Linguini with fresh pesto is one of my go to pasta recipes when I'm busy and don't have a lot of time to cook. I love pasta dishes that by the time the pasta is aldente, the sauce is finished. This dish is one my favorite odes to summer although I like making it any time of the year if I can my hands on some fresh sweet Italian basil. My son and husband make lots of yummy noises while eating this. It'll satisfy the carbo lover in you too! You can use Grana Padano or your favorite commercial brand of Parmesan cheese instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Our local Le fromagier/ cheese guy swears he can't tell the difference between a Grana Padano and a Parmigiano-Reggiano so use whatever Parmesan cheese that works for you.

1 Pound of Linguini (Barilla is our favorite pasta brand)

2 cups washed and packed fresh sweet Italian Basil (leaves only, discard the stems)

1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (you can buy this pre-grated or pre-shredded at Whole Foods Market).

2/3 cup of roasted pine nuts (toasted in the oven for 15 minutes or until it acquires a nice tan)

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1 fresh garlic clove

2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Kosher or sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste (I use a blend of of black Tellicherry peppercorns, Szechuan Peppercorns, and pink peppercorns in my pepper mill).

Cook your linguini according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare your pesto: Using a food processor, "pulse" the rest of the ingredients except for seasonings (salt and pepper) until you achieve a smooth and slightly gritty consistency. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper. Scrape every little bit of the pesto into a large bowl and fold in hot linguini. Serve while hot!

Click here for another quick and easy pasta recipe (published in the Harvard Business School Centennial Cookbook).

Have a fun summer!

Jen :-)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gifts from Bermuda

Every island on the British overseas territory of Bermuda is like a postcard. We've traveled there twice via cruise ship but have not really sampled a lot of local food. Why? See my last posting! We went to a very popular local restaurant called Frog and Onion Pub just to try some of the indigenous fare. If you happen to come across it, try their Bermudian fish chowder. Their fish chowder is not at all related to the New England clam chowda or any chowder I've ever had. Their tomato-based fish variation is a chowder of a different persuasion but just as good.

My husband gave me gifts while we were on vacation and a couple of them were food related. This cookbook has some interesting recipes from famous restaurants and inns in Bermuda. It's filled with a lot of sophisticated yet easy to make British isle recipes.

Nothing screams like Bermudian flavor to me than Sherry Peppers(okay, rum cakes and those dark n' stormy drinks remind me of Bermuda too). It's a complex blend of spices and peppers steeped in some nice dry sherry. Use this sparingly and in lieu of hot sauce. It's good with Bermudian fish chowder.

Made in England Cadbury chocolate bars. I have nothing against their American counterpart but these are a lot creamier.

Before I go, here is one of our favorite stories from Bermuda: Bermudians were so nice and polite to each other and to us. For example, we hopped on a bus to go downtown Bermuda and a woman who was obviously a local got on the bus after us said "Good morning everybody." The whole bus said in unison: "Good Morning" back. It was almost Utopian.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2009 Boston to Bermuda Cruise

My husband and I came back from a 7-day Boston to Bermuda cruise with Norwegian Spirit not too long ago. This was our second trip to Bermuda. It was like visiting an old friend: warm, friendly and eager to tell you what's new (or the same) with her while you were away. Staying on a luxurious cruise ship is in itself a pampered and well-rounded vacation with everything you need -- lodging, entertainment, and food. It's a fun one-stop, (mostly)all -inclusive one heck of a boat ride. This cruise ship is no different from any other. There is food. Good food and tons of it. It's an added bonus when the ship takes you to a fantastic destination like Bermuda.

Two years ago, we sailed with Norwegian Majesty. The food was pretty good but the food on Norwegian Spirit far exceeds the food on the Majesty. Celebrity Cruises still has the best food overall but the "freestyle cruising" on NCL can't be beat!

My Top 10 food related experiences and observations (this is a food blog after all). The Norwegian Spirit itself is a culinary destination...

1. Escrargots a la bourguignon! If you didn't like snails before, you will after eating these!
2. The specialty restaurants: They have 11 restaurants on this ship and more than half of them are "specialty" restaurants including a steakhouse, a Pan-Asian restaurant, a French restaurant and a sushi bar.
3. The cold fruit soups were superb: peach and pistachio, cherry soup, and the blueberry soup to name a few.
4. Garlic Fried Rice. A lot of chefs are from the Philippines so there is "Sinangag" or garlic fried rice on this ship. I had it twice at the Raffles Lunch Buffet and they have it everyday at ship's amazing Teppanyaki grill. The Teppanyaki chef made garlic fried rice with our Fillet Mignon and jumbo shrimp.
5. The mostly Filipino waitstaff! We also met very friendly and attentive staff from Peru, Poland and St. Lucia. If you are going on a cruise, give an extra tip or write a "comment card" to those who provide you with exceptional service. The crew don't make a lot of money and are always working. I wrote 20 comment cards prior to disembarkation. I was told that comment cards actually help promote them.
6. The tuna and salmon tartare. I'm usually a little weary about eating raw fish on a cruise but these were exceptionally fresh and light.
7. The breakfasts at Windows Restaurant were phenomenal. I woke my husband up a few times in the morning because I didn't want to miss it. They "brunoise"(cut them into very tiny geometric cubes) the corned beef hash everyday! The lox, scotch kipper and some of our favorite European breakfast items were available at the restaurant everyday.
8. The ice cream was so luscious and creamy. I asked and they said the brand was San Bernardo. It's no Ben and Jerry's but it was pretty darn good. I had ice cream every day!l
9. Blue Lagoon Cafe. I nicknamed this restaurant and mini galley, "bottleneck cafe" because it's narrow as it is long and it's a very high traffic area. It's perfect for people watching and eating "comfort food" like freshly made fish and chips, big burgers and wonton soup. My favorite menu item here is the hot and perfectly deep fried crispy chicken wings. They did not say what kind of hot sauce they use but it tasted pretty similar to sambal oelek, a delicious chili sauce from Indonesia and Malaysia.
10. The food at the Windows Main Dining Room. It's pretty self explanatory:

Oh and yes, The Chocoholic Buffet...what NCL is known for.
We didn't miss the chocoholic buffet even though they didn't announce it! Take care!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Big thank you!

Thank you so much Acdee for this award! I truly appreciate it! Now I would like to pass this award to five talented, creative and haute mama bloggers:
Mely , Manang Kim, Peachkins , Acdee and Karen

Here are the simple rules:
♥ Take your award and put the logo on your post. ♥Link the person who awarded you.Remember each recipient of the award should acknowledge the person who honored them and go to Mom's Special Diary to copy and paste the award. ♥Put your own blog title and link. ♥Nominate at least five deserving moms.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Neighborhood Dish: Episode 7 "A Taste of the Philippines"

Last winter, my friend Kristine and I taped a show for Neighborhood Dish, a cooking show on Malden Access TV. Neighborhood Dish is produced and hosted by the multi-talented and vivacious Karen and Paula. This cooking show rocks! Some of my neighbors and I have never missed an episode. I cook a lot but never in front of a camera. This experience was fun and nerve wracking at the same time. For this episode, we simply channeled our inner Rachel Ray and just had fun. If you want to see Kristine and I cook Filipino food on TV and live in the Malden, Melrose and Stoneham area, please watch Neighborhood Dish on Fios Channel 28 or Comcast Channel 3 on Fridays at 4pm, Saturday at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm. MATV will run this episode until the end of June/beginning of July. You can also watch the episode online:
Neighborhood Dish: Episode 7 " A Taste of the Philippines"

Karen and Paula worked hard on this episode and every single Neighborhood Dish episode. I don't know anything about TV production but I after watching this episode on TV, I gained an appreciation for the hours and hours of editing that goes into one hour of TV. Not being Filipino herself, Karen picked appropriate Filipino music that perfectly matched the content and transitions of this episode.

I'm very proud of "A Taste of the Philippines" because the representation of Filipino cooking and food on US TV is few and far between. I'm very grateful to Karen and Paula for featuring Filipino cooking on Neighborhood dish. My recipes for fresh vegetarian spring rolls or Lumpiang sariwa with leeks, shitake, fried tofu, Chinese parsley and green papaya, "French custard based" Ube Ice Cream, Kalamansi juice with simple syrup and Kristine's delicious Chicken Abobo recipe can all be found on the Neighborhood Dish Website:

Neighborhood Dish Website

Thank you so much Karen and Paula for letting us cook on your show!

Jen and Kristine with Karen and Paula

Kristine's chicken adobo with green beans

Jen rolling vegetarian fresh lumpia

"French custard based" Ube ice cream

Kristine, a rockstar in the kitchen!

Jen and Karen rolling some fresh lumpia.