Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stone Fruit Compote and Honey Labne Parfait

Last year, my good friend Mikell introduced me to Labne, a thick, silky and delicious Middle Eastern style yogurt(very similar to Greek yogurt). It is commonly used as a spread or dip for bread. It's a good low fat alternative to cheese. I also saw labne make an appearance on my dinner plate at one of Boston's high end restaurants last week. I recently created a labne parfait as the curtain raiser for last Sunday's brunch. I flavored the labne with honey and cardamom. My hubby loved it. This is a yogurt parfait for two:

For the fresh stone fruit compote:
2 peaches stoned, peeled and diced into small cubes
3 plums stoned, peeled and diced into small cubes
1/3 cup of tropical orange juice( I used a guava, mango and pineapple cocktail juice)
1 teaspoon of fresh orange zest( just the orange part -- the white part is very bitter)
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract(Bourbon or Tahitian)
1 -2 teaspoons of sugar

Bring everything to a gentle simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until fruit is tender.

For the Labne with honey:

1 cup of Labne
6 green cardamom pods in a tea filter paper
3-4 tablespoons of honey
1/2 cup of milk

Combine the Labne, honey and milk. Steep the cardamom "tea" in yogurt. Refrigerate overnight and remove cardamom tea bag before serving. Put some fruit compote in a serving glass and then top it off with some Labne. Bon appetit.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Burrito time!

I first had burritos in a little hole in a wall taqueria in Somerville, Massachusetts. It's a place where you can get authentic Mexican Food and practice your Spanish at the same time. Making homemade burritos is fun and easy. It involves an assembly of ingredients that were simply made for each other.

Beans: I like to use South American Grade A dried black beans. You can use canned beans if you like. Soak the dry beans overnight and then simmer them with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, beef bones and a bay leaf until the beans are tender.
Rice: I use Jasmine rice to make my Arroz Mexicana or Mexican rice. Why Jasmine rice? I like the scent, flavor and texture of really good Jasmine rice. Saute finely chopped garlic and onion in a couple of tablespoons of achiote infused extra virgin olive oil(steep the annato or achiote seeds in extra virgin olive oil). Add cumin, Ancho chili powder, adobo seasoning and 1/2 cup of tomato puree to the pan. Then, saute 1 cup of rice with the oil and spices until every grain is orange. Add 1 and a half cups of chicken broth, cover the pan and cook the rice for 20 minutes.
Meat: I usually like slow cooked carnitas for my taco and burrito filling. For this weeknight burrito, saute ground beef and taco seasoning until the meat turns brown.
The rest of the crew: large tortillas, salsa, chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream, and Mexican cheese blend(asadero, Monterey jack, and so on) and anything else you like in your burrito..guacamole perhaps? Oh yes, don't forget wedges of fresh lime.

Let's wrap and roll...
Lay the tortilla on a flat surface. Arrange some of your fillings on the middle of the tortilla. Take the tortilla end closest to you and pull it over the filling. Fold about 2 inches of left and right sides towards the center of the tortilla, creating a pocket. Roll the burrito tightly until you end up with a wrap.

What do I like to wash it down with? How about some Horchata, a refreshing Mexican rice drink with vanilla, cinnamon and sometimes almonds or caswhews. I like to garnish mine with fresh whipped cream, cashews and a Mexican Chocolate cake.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays to all!

Have a wonderful and memorable Christmas and New Year.
May you have a holiday full of good eats and sweet treats.

Jen :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pumpkin Braised in Thai Red Curry Sauce

I love making Thai food any day of the week. This is a Thai red curry pumpkin recipe that hits all the sweet, salty and spicy notes. This recipe also makes good use of wonderful locally grown New England pumpkin.

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil
3 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 medium onion roughly chopped into chunks.
2 pounds of pumpkin flesh cut into small chunks( you can substitute butternut squash).
1 teaspoon of finely slivered ginger
1 teaspoon of finely slivered galangal
2 tablespoons of Thai red curry paste
3 kaffir lime leaves
1/2 pound of snake or long/yard beans cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1 can of coconut milk
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar

Using a large fry pan, heat 3 tablespoons of oil. Saute the garlic and onion for a few minutes until fragrant. Add ginger, galangal, red curry paste and cook for an additional 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pumpkin, kaffir lime leaves, long beans, coconut milk, stock, fish sauce, brown sugar to the pan. Bring to a gentle boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for 20 -30 minutes until the pumpkin and long beans are fully cooked. The pumpkin will help "thicken" the sauce. Correct seasonings with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Silken tofu with brown sugar syrup and tapioca pearls

From Street fare to breakfast flair: Taho
Taho or steamed silken tofu with brown sugar syrup and tapioca pearls is a very popular type of street food in the Philippines. When I was growing up in the Philippines, the taho vendor would make his rounds in my neighborhood every morning and my brother and I would buy a couple of huge bowls of his yummy concoction. A few weeks ago, I surprised my parents with my homemade taho. They said it's better than what they used to have back home.

I cooked the tapioca pearls and tofu separately. I boiled the tapioca pearls or "sago" until they were translucent and chewy/gummy in texture. Water naturally forms when you steam your tofu. Drain tofu and discard water before serving.

I made a brown sugar simple syrup or "arnibal" by boiling equal parts of brown sugar and water and then reducing it in half. I added good quality vanilla flavoring( use bourbon or Tahitian vanilla) to the syrup.

Ladle tofu first in a serving glass or bowl. Add tapioca pearls and then add the warm syrup on top.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gambas Al Ajillo

Gambas Al Ajillo or shrimp/prawns with garlic is a simple and easy recipe that remind me of those delicious little plates of Spain called Tapas. Here is a quick and easy recipe highlighting the flavors of Spain: good extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, and fresh shrimp.

1 pound of large shrimp (shell on and deveined)
2 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley(just the leaves)
2 cloves of freshly minced garlic
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
A pinch or two crushed chili flakes
kosher or sea salt and freshly cracked peppercorn

Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large fry pan. Saute garlic, crushed chili peppers and parsley for 2-3 minutes until fragrant and garlic is lightly toasted. Add shrimp and stir fry until shrimp is fully cooked(another 5 minutes or so). Season with salt and pepper. This is another peel and eat shrimp recipe so peel, eat and enjoy. Bien provecho!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lentil Soup, Two Ways.

My husband loves lentil soup and I love making it for him. I like to make Tibetan and European style lentil soups and sometimes I create lentil soups that don't belong to any specific cuisine. Lentils are super healthy, flavorful, versatile and cheap! These soups were totally impromptu and both were well received by the family(the little guy included). Here's a quick summary of lentil soup, two ways.

Sometime in September~
Type of Lentils: French lentils (I love the way they retain their their shape and form even after you cook them for a long time.)
Flavoring agent: sauteed apple wood smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes
Aromatics: homemade sofrito(onion, garlic, celery, carrots, green pepper, flat leaf Italian parsley)
Spices: Paprika, cumin, and sumac.
Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Sometime in October~
Type of Lentils: Organic black lentils
Flavoring agent: smoked turkey necks and homemade chicken stock.
Aromatics: Cajun trinity: onions, green pepper and garlic.
Spices: cilantro, chili powder, Mexican oregano
Cooking time: 1 and a half hours.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Macadamia and Panko Crusted Orange Roughy Fillets

During a trip to Hawaii, we stumbled upon a Macadamia nut farm on our way to the North Shore of Oahu. The farm had a store where you can sample and buy native Hawaiian macadamia nuts grown at that farm. It was kismet because I just love Macadamia nuts. This recipe is a way for me to use macadamia nuts in my everyday cooking.
Fish breaded and sauteed in oil is good. Fish sauteed in a macadamia crust is better. For this recipe, I used orange roughy fillets and coated them with crunchy and buttery macadamia nuts and Japanese Panko bread crumbs. The orange roughy's mild and white flesh is perfect for this dish.

1 egg beaten plus two tablespoons of milk
1/2 cup of Japanese Panko bread crumbs
1/2 finely crushed Macadamia nuts
3 Orange Roughy fillets
salt and pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sauteing
Green Onions for garnish
Beat egg with milk in a shallow dish and then set aside. Combine Panko bread crumbs, macadamia nuts, salt, and pepper on another plate. Dip one fish fillet in the egg mixture and then dredge both sides of the fillet in the Panko and macadamia nut mix. Repeat the process with the other two fillets. Saute the fillets in hot oil until both sides of the fish have a lovely golden brown color. Garnish with green onions and serve with lime wedges.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fast Forward to Summer: Watermelon Grand Marnier Granitas

Watermelon balls

Watermelon Grand Marnier Granita

I usually like to cook with the seasons but I found a beautifully ripe watermelon at the market the other day so I decided to make something that reminds me of summer. Watermelon is one of those things that reminds me of Fourth of July picnics and endless summer BBQs. Watermelon is the main ingredient in this Granita. Granita is a type of flavored Italian ice or coarse grained sorbet and does not usually contain alcohol but this one did. I used the creme de la creme of triple secs, Grand Marnier. I found that if you limit the amount of alcohol you add to the flavored liquid, the granita will freeze nicely.

1 cup of pureed fresh watermelon
1-2 tablespoons of extra fine sugar
1 jigger or 1.0 fluid oz of Grand Marnier
1 jigger of Arbor Mist tropical fruits chardonnay or some other fruity chardonnay
1/2 cup of pineapple juice

Mix everything in a glass bowl. Pour into a plastic container with a tight lid. Freeze overnight in the deepest and coldest part of your freezer. Scrape flavored ice with a fork. Refreeze for another 6 hours or so before serving. Scrape ice again with a fork and then serve in margarita or martini glasses. It has a grainier or grittier texture than sorbet because the flavored liquid is frozen and then manually scraped or raked with a fork.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Improvisational Salad of the Day: Iceberg Lettuce, mangoes, Mcintosh apples, and oven dried grape tomatoes.

Sweet Red Mangoes from Brazil

You can take the girl out of the tropics but you can't take tropics out of the girl. I can eat about 10 mangoes in one sitting. I love mangoes in salads too. It has the taste of perpetual summer and my childhood in the Philippines. This salad has another interesting addition --oven dried tomatoes, one of my husband's favorite salad toppings. When grape tomatoes bake in the oven with extra virgin olive oil and good quality coarse sea salt, they get a concentrated tomato flavor and a chewier texture. Yum.

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut into big chunks
2 cups of hand torn iceberg lettuce
1 Macintosh apple cut into 1 inch cubes
Oven dried grape tomatoes, about half a pint
* Cut tomatoes in half
*drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
* liberally season with salt and pepper
*bake for 20 to 30 minutes until they shrivel up.
a couple of sprigs of chopped cilantro for garnish.

Put a handful of lettuce on a plate. Place apple and mango chunks and cilantro on top of the lettuce. Salads look pretty when they are pilled high on a plate. Arrange oven dried tomatoes around the salad. Dress with your favorite lime or lemon based vinaigrette.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Braised Country Style Pork Ribs in Soy, Vinegar and Garlic: Adobo

The word adobo comes from the Spanish infinitive, "adobar" which means to marinate. Abodo is considered the national dish of the Philippines. It's the quintessential Filipino dish. If you pair it with white rice, it's a match made in heaven. This is one of the first dishes every Filipino cook learns how to master. Some Filipinos even have several adobo recipes. My paternal grandmother made one of the best adobo recipes I ever had. She made it with a lot of love and patience. It's pretty foolproof once you learn how to master it. I learned that really good abodo is not something you can rush. The adobo recipe I have grown to love is marinated and then braised in lots of freshly chopped garlic, soy sauce, salt, bay leaves, crushed peppercorns, native palm vinegar and a touch of brown sugar. I don't like repeats so I make this entree once or twice a month. When I crave adobo, I channel my grandmother and try make it really well. I prefer ribs or cut up Boston pork butt for my adobo recipe. I marinate the meat overnight and then cook it for two hours or until most of liquid have reduced down to a savory syrup. My grandmother made her adobo "dry" and this allowed the flavors to concentrate in the meat. If we have leftovers the next day, I like frying or quickly broiling the pork. Adodo always taste better the next day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Philly Cheesesteaks, my way.

A Philly cheesesteak sandwich with a twist.
My version uses a different type of bread. I use Vietnamese baguettes. This type of bread is tradionally used in Bánh or Vietnamese subs. I use this bread because it is delicious and crusty. It stands up to the robust flavors of the beef, onions and peppers and never gets soggy. I use a tender and well marbled cut of beef and char it to perfection. This has no cheez whiz. I use colby jack and provolone, caramelized onions, green peppers and lots of mayo.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Young Coconut or "Buko" Panna Cotta

You might have seen them the last time you went on vacation. You probably even had one. It's the symbol of a holiday on a warm island paradise. What am I talking about? A young green coconut. It's the perfect sustainable cool drink that even comes with its own biodegradable container. All you need is a straw. I grew up with young coconuts or "buko", as Filipinos would call it. Now that I'm older, I still crave the sweet, distinctive flavor of young coconuts. During our trips to Hawaii and the Caribbean, we saw them everywhere. Young coconuts are sold to tourists thirsty for that real tropical experience. Unfortunately, coconut trees don't grow here in the East Coast. I buy them frozen. This is not the desiccated coconut you find in your supermarket. When I eat a young coconut dessert, I am temporarily transported back to the islands. Maybe that's why I like cooking with it.

Young coconut panna cotta is simply a creation of two of my favorite things: panna cotta and young coconuts. It's a perfect marriage of east and west. Panna cotta is one of my favorite Italian desserts. It translates to "cooked cream" in Italian. For this dessert, I combined traditional panna cotta ingredients like cream, sugar and unflavored gelatin with young coconut flesh and water. The coconut juice separates from the cream, creating a terrine. The result is a refreshing new way of eating a beloved classic Italian dessert.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pineapple, White Asparagus and Mushroom Fried Rice

I love all types of fried rice. This one was inspired by some of our favorite Thai restaurants. It's a pineapple fried rice of sorts.
3 cups of cold Jasmine rice
1 cup of white asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces (just the tender non-fibrous part)
1 cup of fresh pineapple cut into chunks(you can also substitute a small can of pineapple chunks)
1 cup of white button mushrooms, sliced thinly
1/4 cup of diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup of diced yellow bell pepper
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of yellow curry paste or curry powder
3 tablespoons of peanut or extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of finely chopped shallots
2 cloves of finely minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Using a large non-stick fry pan, saute mushrooms in oil until they start to caramelize. Add the white asparagus, yellow and green peppers and saute 3 minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, turmeric, and yellow curry paste to the pan. Stir fry the ingredients for an additional 3 minutes. Bring your rice to the party and combine and mix with the rest of the ingredients until every grain of rice is mellow yellow. Add fish sauce and brown sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Corn, Hominy, Watercress and Sweet Italian Sausage Soup

During the colder months, I make a lot of soups. Luckily, I have lots of chicken stock in our deep freezer. I make my own chicken stock -- about nine or ten quarts at a time. Yes, it requires a lot of time and effort to make your own stock but it's worth it. Soups have that homemade quality to them. Today's soup is corn, hominy, watercress and Italian sausage. Hominy or dried corn is used in some Mexican recipes like Pozole. Hominy has a slightly firm bite to it and adds a great texture to this soup. The watercress leaves' peppery and bitter taste is a nice contrast to the hearty and rich broth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shake it up

I made avocado shakes for the family the other night and it was a hit with everyone especially with the little guy. This quick recipe was inspired by our trips to the gorgeous beach of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. They call shakes licuados in Mexico and like many Mexican drinks -- this one had a touch of lime. Lime livens up your taste buds and prevents the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown.

6 -8 cubes of ice
2 ripe Haas avocados
2 cups of whole milk
2-3 tablespoons of sugar
The juice of half a lime.

Blend the avocado meat and the rest of the ingredients in a blender until smooth (for 3-5 minutes depending on what kind of blender you have). Pour into tall glasses and enjoy!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An American Breakfast with a Portuguese Accent

Today's breakfast was inspired by our travels as well as our trips to local diners. I took what I learned from our favorite breakfast joints to our own kitchen. Our weekend breakfast items all depends my own creative whim that day. The fresh ingredients also play a huge part. The ingredients tell me and inspire to prepare and transform them into something scrumptious. Variety is the spice of life so I make different breakfast foods inspired by different cultures and cuisines. So what is today's breakfast? red bliss home fries, linguica or Portuguese sausage and fried eggs.

Home Fries: The potatoes are peeled, cut and boiled for 20 minutes. I do this the night before to save some time in the morning. When you are ready to make home fries, fry roughly chopped onions until they are slightly caramelized and then set aside. The potatoes are then seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika, onion powder and garlic powder and pan fried with some extra virgin olive oil until you get that nice crispy crust on your potatoes. I add a tablespoon or two of finely chopped green and yellow bell pepper for color.

Linguica or Portuguese sausage: The linguica is beautifully seasoned seasoned with paprika, garlic, onions and salt. The linguica is pan fried until it is slightly charred and fully cooked.

Eggs: I like to make eggs many different ways but today we like our eggs sunny side up. I don't like the runny slimy film on top. The solution: cover the frying pan with a tight lid during the last two minutes of cooking and the steam inside the pan cooks the gently cooks the protein on top.
I always serve breakfast with seasonal fresh fruit.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Shrimp in Tamarind Broth



When I'm craving something savory and sour, I make shrimp simmered in tamarind broth or "Sinigang na Hipon", a traditional Filipino soup. It takes about 15 -20 minutes for me to make this tangy concoction. I make this soup with a pound of large fresh shell-on shrimp. The shells prevent the shrimp from overcooking and becoming tough. I love this soup so much that I made it twice last week. My husband says this reminds him of another favorite soup of ours, Thailand's Tom Yum soup. However, Tom Yum soup is flavored with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chilies while this one is flavored with sour green tamarind. My family have used guava, citrus and kamias in place of tamarind. There is no need to extract tamarind pulp because you can buy a tamarind soup mix(or guava soup mix if you prefer it less tangy) in most Asian supermarkets. This is a peel and eat shrimp recipe so put an empty bowl next to your plate for the shrimp shells. In the Philippines, soup is served and eaten throughout the meal. Shrimp in tamarind broth is never the opening act but rather takes center stage at our dining room table.

1 Pound of large shrimp.
1/4 package of tamarind soup mix or a little more if you like it extra tart
4 cups of rice water(reserved water from washing the rice)
1 medium onion sliced into 1/2 inch slivers
3 roughly chopped plum tomatoes
2 cloves of finely chopped fresh garlic
1-2 tablespoons of the best fish sauce you can find.
1-2 cups of broccoli, green beans or long/yard beans cut into bite size pieces.
Freshly cracked pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Saute garlic and onions in extra virgin olive oil in a heavy duty pot until they are slightly caramelized. Add tomatoes and saute for five more minutes. Add the rice water, fish sauce and tamarind soup mix and cover the pot with a tight lid. Bring this to a boil. Uncover the pot and add shrimp and veggies. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and the veggies are tender-crisp. Season with pepper. Eat with freshly cooked white rice.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Improvisational Salad of the Day: Swiss Chard with Grape Tomatoes

There's a million ways to make a salad. My salad recipes usually depend on the fresh ingredients I have available in my kitchen that day. I also rely on what flavor combinations I think go well together. Fresh young Swiss chard is a good alternative to lettuce, baby spinach or mesclun greens. Swiss chard is considered a dark leafy green vegetable so you know what that means? It's really good for you. It has tons of vitamins(mostly Vitamin K and A). Today's salad is easy to assemble: First, rinse your veggies in cold water. Dry your veggies well (use a salad spinner for your greens if you have one). Combine torn fresh young Swiss chard, grape tomatoes, chopped yellow bell pepper and thinly sliced red onion. Top with your favorite salad dressing or vinaigrette. :-)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Massachusetts Masala

My Chicken Tikka Masala

I like Indian food a lot. The many flavors, tastes and textures in Indian food range from mild and rich like korma to assertive, spicy and savory like tikka masala. I love all kinds of Indian food -- Southern, Northern and even coastal Indian dishes like Xacuti. Authentic Indian food is one of those cuisines I have grown to love and their food appeals to both the vegetarian and carnivore in me. I've dined at more Indian restaurants than I can count . When I really like food I've had at a restaurant or at a friend's house, I try to recreate it at home.

I started making Indian food a few years ago. I experimented with a lot of different types of masalas and curries -- tasting, comparing and contrasting sauces over and over until the flavors were close to the original flavors. The local Indian markets provided a wealth of authentic ingredients I can play with. After countless hours of cooking, I can add Chicken tikka masala, butter chicken, dal makhani and kheer rice pudding to my culinary repertoire. My husband also makes a mean saag paneer with homemade masala. I'm pretty happy with the dishes I can make so far. When I make a big batch of any type of Indian food, I give some of it to my Indian neighbors. I will always be a student of Indian cuisine, learning as I go, because Indian food rocks.

Melt in Your Mouth Beef Marinated in Greek Oregano, Sea Salt and Tellicherry Peppercorns

Last night's dinner: Boneless beef ribs marinated overnight in Greek oregano, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, minced garlic, freshly cracked tellicherry peppercorns and a splash of red wine vinegar. I pan fried the boneless beef ribs on high heat until I got a nice sear on both sides of the meat. We also like this marinated beef on the grill. I served this with a Chinese celery and grape salad and Jasmine rice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two Cheese Penne with Crushed Aleppo Pepper

When I've had a busy day, I make one of my quick and easy recipes. This pasta recipe is one of my grown up versions of mac and cheese. I use cheeses that melt well like Colby Jack, Gruyere, or sharp cheddar. I even made this with goat cheese once. This recipe has crushed Aleppo pepper, a complex, moderately hot crimson red pepper from Syriah. Aleppo is available at Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods in Cambridge. Aleppo is one of my favorite peppers and gives any dish a little added "zip." Use your favorite type of pasta. I use Penne for this recipe because it is one of my husband's favorite type of Italian pasta.

crushed aleppo pepper

1 pound penne(or your favorite pasta)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup of finely minced shallots
Freshly cracked black pepper (I like crushed Tellicherry peppercorns)
1/4 lb of Colby jack cheese
1/4 lb of Monterrey cheese
2/3 cup of sour cream (I never said this was going to be a low cal meal!)
1/2 teaspoon of crushed allepo pepper. You can substitute a couple of generous pinches of crushed red pepper. You can add more if you like it hot.
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook your penne according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare your sauce: Using medium heat, saute your garlic for 2 minutes in a large fry pan. Add the shallots and Aleppo peppers and "sweat" onions and garlic for an additional 3 minutes. Keep a close eye on your garlic and shallots because you don't want them to burn. You want your shallots translucent and garlic slightly caramelized. Garlic and shallots sauteing in oil is one of the best aromas in the world! Add sour cream and stir for one minute. Add your Monterrey and Colby Jack cheese right in the pan. Allow cheese to melt into the sour cream. Stir occasionally. Using a bamboo skimmer/spider or a similar contraption, take out pasta 2 minutes before it reaches its aldente state and then add your pasta directly to the sauce. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce while absorbing its flavor. Fold the pasta into the cheese sauce. Add a little pasta water to the pan and cook for a few more minutes until it penne is aldente. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish and serve with your favorite side salad.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some of my adventures with chocolate

Fine chocolate is one of the great eating experiences in the world. Many of us are passionate about this decadent and luscious treat. I love its complexity, richness and versatility. I love beautifully crafted pastries and desserts, whether they are created by a home cook or an experienced pastry chef. Chocolate desserts are the perfect ending(or sometimes beginning) to a meal. What’s better than eating a gourmet chocolate dessert? How about going to a gourmet chocolate buffet? Here are some of some highlights from my tasting adventures with chocolate.

The Langham Hotel's Chocolate bar in Boston is the mother of all gourmet chocolate buffets. It's a chocoholic's dream come true. The 125 gourmet desserts, mousses, cookies, crepes, and panna cottas will please even the finest chocolate connoisseur. I have been to Cafe Fleuri's Chocolate Bar a few times and it's overwhelming every single time. I never know where to start. Even if you eat three or four plates of assorted desserts, you won't make a dent in their section. They are constantly restocking the supply. They use the very best chocolates in all their desserts. This is a great "special occasion place" here in Boston. My favorite foodie memory there: the chocolate bread pudding and the roasted pear and white chocolate mousse cake.

Cruise ships are known for their extravagant midnight buffets. The Celebrity Millennium cruise ship is no exception. During our February 2005 trip, we enjoyed their delicious European inspired food. At the extravagant midnight buffet, they lavished us with beef wellington and caviar ( the non beluga kind) and lots of chocolate! We sampled Italian, French, German and of course Viennese pastries and cakes. This picture was taken 10 minutes before guests raided the chocolate and dessert bar. I almost got trampled when they opened the buffet to the public but I managed to get one shot. Most memorable dessert: a chocolate praline ganache layered cake.

Norwegian Majesty Cruise, May 2006. This was wonderful Boston to Bermuda cruise. Norwegian Cruise Line is known for their midnight Chocoholic Buffet. We met a lot of friendly and hard working Filipinos working on board(about 60-70% were Filipino) and I felt right at home. A battalion of mostly Filipino pastry chefs made the most amazing chocolate sculptures and desserts. My husband and I noticed the iconic Philippine Jeepney, a very popular mode of transportation in the Philippines. The jeepney was completely made of white, dark and milk chocolate. I felt happy and nostalgic when I saw something that reminded me of my home country.

My adventures with chocolate brings us back to Boston. All these chocolate buffets inspired me to host an event called "For the Love of Chocolate" for my mom's group on November 2007. We had our own CHOCOLATE POTLUCK! We took a break from taking care of our little ones and indulged in everything chocolate! This event was pretty casual. We used paper plates and folding tables and had a great time! The participants of this event brought decadent chocolate fondue, cookies and cakes. I baked a chocolate croissant bread pudding and made a white chocolate and passion fruit mousse nestled in fillo cups(seen here). This was fun event and will gladly do this again with friends.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tonight's Dinner: Pata Tim or Slowly Braised Pork Shoulder in Soy, Sherry and Sesame Oil.

My mom is a fantastic Filipino cook. She makes a delicious Chicken relleno, an impressive deboned whole chicken stuffed with seasoned boneless shredded chicken meat, pork, whole eggs and spices. It’s similar to a Cajun turducken minus the turkey and the duck. Several years ago, my mom started teaching me her authentic Filipino recipes and trade secrets. I'm still learning how to cook Filipino food like her but there are several Filipino entrees, soups and desserts I can make consistently each time. I was thrilled when she taught me how to make Pata Tim, one of my favorite Filipino foods growing up. For me, Pata Tim is Filipino soul food and one of those things that remind of me of my childhood in the Philippines and my mom's home cooking.

Filipino Food has been influenced by many different types of cuisines: Spanish, Indo-Malaysian, American, Chinese and so on. Pata tim is a Filipino dish with a strong Cantonese influence. It's similar to a steamed pork shoulder I've had at authentic Chinese restaurants. What is Pata Tim? It's a slowly braised pork leg (pata = pork keg) in a flavorful braising liquid. When I make Pata Tim, I use a Boston pork butt or pork shoulder(pork rind and all) instead of pata. It's meatier than pork legs and we like meat! If you never had Filipino Pata Tim but had pied de cochon(pig trotter) from French restaurants, you will like this dish too. Eating Pata Tim is a quick trip to cholesterol city but it’s worth it as long as you don't overdo it.

This dish is not too hard to prepare. First, I seared all sides in a couple of tablespoons of oil. Then I braised the pork in water, good quality dry sherry, soy sauce, brown sugar, dried shitake mushrooms, star anise, peppercorns and a Filipino mirepoix: a combination of finely chopped onion, garlic, and grated ginger for six or seven happy hours in a crock pot. The meat falls of the bone and you end up with a delicious sweet, tender, melt in your mouth pork. I like to serve it with Jasmine rice and green peas(or salad greens) and garnish it with finely chopped green onions. Pata Tim is also great as leftovers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Gourmet Sundae for Foodies

A Spotlight on Aged Balsamic Vinegar: I’m a fan of this stuff. It's like the perfect little black dress. It's sexy, it stands out in a crowd and you don't use it everyday. Aged balsamic vinegar is not your average supermarket balsamic vinegar. It has a nice amount of acid and a sweet, intense and complex taste. It refines the palate in an indescribable way. This syrupy sensation is great over berries or sweet creamy food like a sweetened marscapone tarts or vanilla bean ice cream. It’s also great with salads. Here’s a quick and easy recipe using aged balsamic vinegar and ice cream. Vinegar and ice cream??? Don’t knock it till you try it. If you like a sharp contrast in flavors, you will love this dessert.
Anyone can make this in a flash. You need two ingredients and the best aged balsamic vinegar you can find. I like aged balsamic vinegar that's at least 12 years old. Yes, aged balsamic vinegar is expensive but a little goes a long long way. Where can you find great aged balsamic in Boston? The North End of course! Salumeria Italiana on 151 Richmond Street, Boston, MA 02109 is a small but fantastic authentic Italian grocer. You can also purchase it online.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Raspberries and aged balsamic vinegar for two:

1/3 cup of raspberries or sliced strawberries
1 cup of super premium vanilla bean ice cream
2 tablespoons of aged balsamic vinegar (I use Fattoria Estense. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, 12 years old).

Directions: Scoop vanilla bean ice cream into your favorite ice cream dish. Arrange raspberries or sliced strawberries on top. Drizzle aged balsamic vinegar on top. Eat. Savor. Molto Bene.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tonight's Dinner: Korean Fire Pork!

When I crave Korean food, I make Korean Fire Pork. I learned how to make this lovely dish from my gal pal Doohee. I love a flavor profile that's both spicy and sweet. I marinated thinly sliced pork in a wonderful Korean chili paste called kuchu jang overnight. I also added sliced onions, chopped garlic, green onions, ginger, roasted sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce, asian pear puree, and a touch of sake to the marinade. The next day, I sauteed the pork in its own juices until the meat was fully cooked. This dish is also great grilled. I served it with homemade Chinese chive kimchee, Japanese sticky rice and a side salad.

Wild Salmon, Cucumber, Avocado and Japanese Pickled Daikon Rolls!

I took a sushi class with a sushi master last spring. Ever since then, I have been making inside-out or uramaki sushi for dinner and parties. Making your own sushi is innexpensive and fun!
This recipe has “cooked” fish so even our toddler can eat it. I like to eat toro sashimi and yellow fin sushi at restaurants but I don’t like to make sushi with raw fish at home. Grade A tuna and salmon are too expensive for our weeknight dinners and our little one can’t eat it. For this recipe, you can cook the wild salmon your way – poached, lightly sautéed or even sous vide!
What you need:
5 or 6 oz piece of cooked wild salmon filet. You want to flake this salmon filet and then mix with
½ teaspoon of wasabi paste and 1 tablespoon of Japanese Mayonnaise (a lot like making tuna salad for sandwiches)
5 cups of freshly cooked seasoned sushi rice
6 small sheets of toasted nori
1 ripe avocado, cut into thin sticks
4 inch piece of cucumber cut into thin sticks
4 inch piece of Japanese pickled daikon cut into thin sticks

Now, let’s roll…
Put a sheet of nori shiny side down on a rolling mat (covered with plastic wrap for easy cleaning). Using wet hands (put a bowl of water next to you), spread about ¾ cup of rice in an even layer on the nori. Cover the entire nori with rice. Gently turn it over. You will fill the “nori” side with your other ingredients.
Spread a thin line of a tablespoon of the salmon-mayo mix on the nori (the side that's closest to you). Put a line of avocado sticks on top of the salmon and then lay a line of cucumber sticks next to the avocado. Lastly put a line of pickled daikon next to avocado. You get the picture.
Roll the sushi, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking the end of the nori. Squeeze gently and keep rolling until you end up with a finished roll. Repeat the process until you run out of ingredients.
Cut it into even bite size pieces with a wet and a super sharp knife. Arrange them on a plate and serve with soy sauce and pickled ginger.
I hope you enjoyed that recipe. Honto ni arigato gozaimas (thank you very much)!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Now this is my cup of tea...

I love making homemade ice cream with exotic flavors like saffron or thai tea. Thai tea or “cha yen” is a strong black tea flavored with one of my favorite spices, star anise. It’s great with sweetened condensed milk and if you were me, lots of cream and sugar. Why not take it a step further and make ice cream out of thai iced tea? Here is my recipe for a French custard based ice cream infused with thai tea!

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
4 thai tea bags (fill large tea filters with 3-4 teaspoons of thai tea and tie tea filters with a tight knot).
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 and ¼ cups of sugar
¾ cup roasted cashews(optional)

Combine milk and cream in a saucier or heavy duty sauce pan. Add tea bags and allow to steep. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. Use an automatic hand mixer to beat eggs, egg yolks and sugar for a couple of minutes. Temper the egg mixture by pouring out one cup of the hot liquid into the egg and sugar mixture. With the mixer on low speed, add the cup of hot milk and cream in a slow steady stream. When thoroughly combined, pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook gently and constantly for about 4 minutes. Don’t leave this unattended or you will end up with scrambled eggs in your ice cream. Transfer to a bowl and chill completely(tea bags included). Cover with plastic wrap. Making great ice cream is a two day process so allow for flavors to marry for at least 12 hours. Take tea bags out of the custard mix before making into ice cream. Add cashews or your favorite nut into the custard mix for a crunchy texture. Freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. I use a Cuisinart Automatic Ice Cream maker. It's great for making sorbets and homemade ice cream. Transfer to a covered plastic container and put in the freezer for a couple of hours before eating.