Saturday, May 19, 2007

Spaghetti and meatballs

Mike made a yummy spaghetti and meatballs dish for dinner.


250 g lean ground beef
whites of 2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp ground allspice
pepper, to taste
garlic salt, to taste
1 native onion, finely chopped
3 cloves native garlic, ground
cooking oil


1 pack ready-made tomato spaghetti sauce (we used Del Monte)
1 slice of cooked double-back bacon, finely chopped (we used Earl's)
2 native onions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp dried basil
olive oil

In a mixing bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the egg whites. Mix in the lean ground beef, allspice, pepper, garlic salt, and garlic. Mix well. Form meatballs. Sprinkle dried oregano and basil on the meatballs.

In a pan or wok, fry meatballs in oil until browned on all sides, about 5 to 6 minutes. Lay on a paper towel to drain oil.

Boil water for the pasta. While waiting for water to reach rolling boil, prepare the sauce separately. Heat olive oil in a separate saucepan. Add onions and allow them to caramelize. Add bacon until warm. Pour in spaghetti sauce. Allow to simmer for around 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent bacon from scorching. Add dried basil. If sauce gets too thick, add a little water (not more than 1/4 cup at a time) and mix well. Add meatballs and allow to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes to make sure that meatballs are cooked through.

Prepare pasta according to directions. Drain.

Serve spaghetti topped with sauce and meatballs. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

A yummy classic!

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A trip to Assad Mini Mart

I looooove Asian cuisine--Filipino, Singaporean, the different regional cuisines of China, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Korean ... you name it! (Well, with the exception of some North Indian and West Asian/Middle Eastern dishes: I'm not really into beans.)

And the secret to authentic Asian food, as most people know, is finding the right flavors and spices! Using, for example, Japanese soy sauce for a Chinese dish is simply wrong, and Malaysian food without lemongrass just isn't the same ....

Of course, it isn't always easy to find spices which aren't endemic to the Philippines. A few substitutions can be made, because a lot of ingredients in other Asian countries have parallels in the Philippines. (You can, for example, use Filipino patis instead of Thai patis, although it's harder to use Filipino shrimp bagoong in place of Malaysian belacan, because the taste just isn't the same.)

But oh, the difference it makes when you find authentic ingredients!

A few months ago, a friend told me about the Indian groceries along U.N. Avenue, although I never got the chance to go. Today, however, I had an errand to run in Manila. And while we were there, Mike had the brilliant idea of eating at a little Indian eatery he had seen across Unilever. It was--you guessed it--right beside the row of Indian groceries!

So after eating scrumptious mutton curry and shrimp masala at Assad Cafe, Mike and I trooped to Assad Mini Mart, just a few doors away. I wanted to buy some ghee, but it came in a giant box and had an August 2007 expiry date (I told Mike: "I don't think we'll be having that much Indian food between now and August). It was also a little expensive. So instead we settled for dry spices and different kinds of masala powder. I was also tempted to get some lentils and basmati rice, but we didn't bring a lot of money for this excursion, so I changed my mind at the last minute.

I remember how we learned in history class that one of the principle motivators for the Europeans to explore the world was the spice trade. People actually died for these spices! And now all a Pinoy needs to do to get a bag of spices is to take a trip to U.N. Avenue. Hmmm.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

I had a piece of pork tenderloin in the freezer and decided to try my hand at a stuffed loin. Here's the recipe:

1 250g piece pork tenderloin
2 tsp grain mustard
a few leaves of salad lettuce, cut into shreds
some bacon, cooked and chopped into bits
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
whites of 2 eggs
3 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tsp Mesquite powder
vegetable oil

1. In a pan, saute onions until caramelized.

2. Remove some of the excess fat (although leave a film so that the pork does not lose too much moisture when cooking). Butterfly the pork loin and open flat. Pound on meat to make it thinner. Place on top of a sheet of alumnium foil.

3. Spread mustard on the top surface of the pork loin. Mix the bread crumbs into the egg whites and spread half of it on top of the mustard. Sprinkle garlic powder, sage, oregano, a few drops of Tabasco, and the shredded lettuce. Spread onions and bacon bits on the loin, then top with the rest of the egg whites and bread crumbs.

4. With a knife score the entire pork loin down the middle, lengthwise. Fold one half of the loin over the other, so that the stuffing is inside.

5. Brush a little bit of oil over the surface of the pork loin. Rub the surface with Mesquite powder.

6. Wrap the entire pork loin in the aluminum foil and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

7. Remove pork loin from the foil and place it in a baking dish. Roast, uncovered, in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Allow pork loin to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serves 2.

Verdict: The pork loin came out quite tasty, although both Mike and I were looking for some sauce to dip it in. Next time, I'll probably prepare it with a light mustard sauce or barbeque sauce.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bulk Cooking

Although I haven't done it in a systematic way, I've been interested in the concept of "bulk cooking" (also known as "freezer cooking").

Bulk cooking is the practice of cooking huge amounts of food that are suitable to freezing, as infrequently as once a month (hence, it's other name, "once a month cooking"). All that food is stocked in the freezer, and the family simply warms up food as they go along. The result is that the family (or whoever does the cooking in the family) is able to save time and energy by having to cook less frequently.

There are other variations of bulk cooking as well, such as preparing ingredients for freezing, but not doing the actual cooking until the meal itself. The most basic form of bulk cooking, and the kind I'm inclined to, is simply doubling or tripling dinner recipes that are suitable to freezing, so that there are at least enough leftovers for lunch and maybe one additional dinner. (More tips for a less radical form of bulk cooking.)

I'd like to do this simplified form of bulk cooking a little more systematically, so I did some research about the tools required. The most obvious, of course, is some extra freezer space, which our freezer has a lot of, since we have a separate freezer. Having an oven is also helpful, because then you can bake more than one meal at a time. A microwave makes defrosting and reheating a cinch (and minimizes the softening of reheated veggies, or the overthickening of reheated reheated sauces). Depending on the amounts you intend to cook, you might eventually feel the need for bigger mixing bowls. You'll need a storage system, such as Tupperware, freezer bags (though they are more environmentally-harmful), or aluminum pans. Finally, bulk cooking advocates recommend that you have a marking pen on hand so that you can label and write the date that you prepared each dish.

Another thing to learn is which recipes are suitable for freezing, and which aren't. This article lists food items that don't freeze well. There list includes:
  • fried food

  • cake icings made with egg whites

  • custard and cream fillings

  • soft cheese

  • mayonnaise

  • sour cream

  • potatoes, when cooked in soups and stews

I'd also add mashed potatoes to the list.

On the other hand, stews and casseroles generally keep for up to three months, and sauces, for even longer, so that's a good place to start. (Personally I find that most stews taste better when reheated.)

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Twenty Steps to a Healthier Kitchen

Now that Mike and I are in our 30s (just barely), we're getting more health-conscious. In our 20s, being healthy for us meant doing (or trying to start doing!) some kind of physical activity to keep us fit. But now that we're in our 30s, being healthy isn't confined only to the activities that we do, but also, what we eat.

The great thing about cooking our own meals is that we have greater control over what goes into our body. I've become more conscious about this over the last few months and have kept health, instead of just price, as one of my main criteria when choosing food while supermarketing.

We're far from being poster-children for health, of course. But we're trying, little by little, to be healthier. Allow me to share with you a list of some of the steps we've been taking, or have been trying to take, in the Palacios kitchen:

  1. Never buy carbonated softdrinks (sodas) in the grocery unless you're hosting a party. Replace softdrinks with healthier alternatives like fruit juice (our favorite of late is calamansi concentrate), or the best alternative of all: water.

  2. Shell out the extra money to buy the leanest (or at least the leaner) meat at the butcher's. It may seem like it's hurting your pocket now, but remember that health is a more important form of wealth.

  3. Always have fresh fruits in the house, and keep them within easy reach. When your stomach is craving for a midday snack, reach for a banana instead of a bag of potato chips.

  4. Speaking of potato chips: when you're in the supermarket, skip the "junk food" aisle altogether. The only time you should buy potato chips is if you're going on an out-of-town trip.

  5. If your family has a history of hypertension (which is true for both Mike's and my families), then you should be watching your salt intake. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your food. Stock up on a variety of dried herbs and learn which goes with which food so you can easily add them to the dishes you're cooking.

  6. Speaking of salt: keep the salt shaker away from the dining table.

  7. Filipino weight-watchers: go easy on the rice. Control your rice portions by serving rice in individual rice bowls at the dining table.

  8. Milk isn't just for kids. Have a glass of milk (low-fat or skim, now that you're an adult) every evening, before going to bed. It's good for digestion, too.

  9. Carrots are wonderful! Super-rich in vitamins, barely any calories, and fantastic for main courses, soup, snacks, salad, or even dessert. Plus they keep very well so you can store them in your refrigerator longer than you can greens. Buy carrots every time you go to the supermarket and look for different ways to slip them into your meals.

  10. Buy salad greens every time you go to the supermarket, and always have some salad dressing (whether home-made or store-bought) handy at home, so that you'll be ready to eat a salad in no time. A note when buying lettuce: choose deep green (or red, as the case may be) lettuce like Romaine. Stay away from iceberg lettuce! Not only does iceberg have no nutritional value; it's actually bad for you! (Update: See comments section for more on this.)

  11. Olive oil and butter have about the same calorie count, but olive oil is healthier. It's also a lot more expensive, however. When making a recipe that calls for a lot of butter, consider replacing a third or even half of the butter with olive oil.

  12. And instead of using butter, use low-fat margarine instead.

  13. Buy whole wheat instead of white bread.

  14. Trim the excess fat of pork, beef, and lamb before cooking. And whenever you can, take the skin off the chicken. Chicken skin is almost pure fat.

  15. Speaking of chicken, don't pour the drippings back onto chicken when serving it ... (although I can't resist when it's a roast, because a roast chicken without drippings just isn't the same)!

  16. Consider using honey instead, when a recipe calls for sugar.

  17. Cut down on pan-fried and deep-fried food. Instead, bake, poach, steam ... and when you need to fry, stir-fry (i.e., chop your food into small pieces and fry it in a wok using a very small amount of oil).

  18. When you go to the butcher, have your meat bagged in exactly the amount you will need for cooking one dish. (For example, Mike and I always ask that our ground beef be bagged in bags of 200 to 250 grams each: one bag is thus exactly enough for one meal for the two of us.) That way, you never cook or eat more than you should.

  19. Limit the treats. Mike and I only allow ourselves to buy one kind of dessert when we go to the supermarket: dark chocolate.

  20. For the sake of your health and your wallet, always have a grocery list when you go to the supermarket, and follow it as much as possible. This way, you don't end up buying impulse purchases.

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Spices and Surprises

Mike and I came from England a few weeks ago, where Mike had to attend a business conference. Afterwards I headed to Hong Kong and Macau, while Mike headed home to the Philippines.

While we were away I stocked up on yummy spices that aren't easy to find in the Philippines. Here's our loot:

Everything you need for Hainanese chicken, in one box (except the chicken)! How convenient is that!

Beef bulgogi sauce.

Brown sauce. A must-have for a true full English breakfast.

Garam masala.

Tandoori powder.

Cumin powder.

And I also got a bamboo steamer!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Baked Honey-Mustard Chicken

We have a relatively new oven that we haven't used much, so today I wanted to experiment with it. I also had a jar of sunflower honey from Baguio, that I hadn't opened, so I decided to try an old classic: honey-mustard chicken. Below is the recipe I came up with. I actually wanted to use tarragon instead of basil but we're all out.

7 chicken thighs, washed and patted dry
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 tbsp mustard
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
juice and rind from one small lemon
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.

In a saucepan, combine over low heat the butter, mustard, honey, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce and ground pepper until the butter melts. Mix well. Remove from heat then slowly mix in the lemon juice and rind.

Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in a greased oven-safe dish. Brush chicken with sauce. Bake covered for 30 minutes.

Remove chicken thighs from oven. Turn them over, skin-side up. Brush chicken with the remainder of the sauce. Sprinkle basil on the chicken. Return to oven and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes. For a healthier meal, pour out and throw away the drippings before serving.

Serves 3.
Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour
Calorie count: approx. 500 calories per serving

Verdict: It was yummy but we had to keep some extra sauce on the side to dip the chicken into as we went along. Next time I think I'll actually marinate the chicken instead of just brushing the sauce on it, for more flavor. Mike also suggested adding something to the sauce to give it an extra kick; I think I'll add some chili garlic next time for a little bit of spice.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lamb Stew

Mike's parents have a lamb recipe that is so good, Mike has dubbed it "Lamb of God." Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the sheet of paper where I copied that recipe, so instead I did some experimenting in the kitchen today, and tried to make a lamb stew from scratch.

Here's the recipe I used.

500 g lamb for stewing (shoulder, shank, neck or leg), chopped into cubes and excess fat trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 garlic, finely chopped
2 medium native onions, finely chopped
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1-1/2 cup water
1 tsp sugar
4 native tomatoes, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

1. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper.

2. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb in batches, about 4 to 5 minutes per batch. Return all the lamb into the pot.

3. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.

4. Add onions, dried rosemary and dried thyme. Saute for a few minutes until onions have begun to caramelize (about 5 minutes).

5. Stir the sugar into the water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then add the tomatoes and carrot. Wait until the stew boils again.

6. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover with lid slightly ajar. Allow to simmer until lamb is tender (about 45 minutes to 1 hour). If stew dries out, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time. Season with salt to taste.

7. Serve stew with steamed rice.

Serves 4.
Calorie count: approx. 420 calories per serving.

Verdict: I'm proud of this dish. It's very flavorful. Mike liked it too.

As an afterthought, I threw in a chopped up chorizo sausage in the last few minutes of simmering, to make the dish taste a little more Spanish, although I added it too late to alter the flavor of the stew much. Maybe next time I'll try putting in the chorizo from the beginning, or replacing the carrot with chorizo and bacon to see how that'll taste. I'll try it next time and I'll let you know.

Just a quick note about the teaspoon of sugar. When Mike and I went to England on honeymoon we found out that English tomatoes are very sweet, unlike Filipino tomatoes which are rather sour! Since then, whenever I've encountered a Western recipe calling for tomatoes, I've continued to use native tomatoes but have added a little sugar, to bring the overall taste of the dish close to what was originally intended.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Beef a L'orange

Hey everyone! Sorry for the long absence. M and I were away for work, then I was away on holiday. But we're back and raring to get back into the kitchen.

It's difficult to find real orange juice in small quantities in the supermarket; the brand I buy only comes in 1-liter bottles. Once you open a bottle, it has to be consumed in a week, and I don't really drink the stuff for breakfast, so I thought it would be a good idea to look for additional orange juice recipes to make it easier to finish a bottle.

I found this recipe online and adapted it a little, and here's the version we finally tried.

2 beef steaks (suggested: tenderloin), cut 1 inch thick
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
2 tsp. dark sesame oil, divided
1/8 c. Soy sauce
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. fresh orange juice
1/8 c. balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp. chili garlic sauce

Pound beef steaks, flattening to 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle both sides of steaks with garlic salt, ginger and pepper; brush with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Mix soy sauce and cornstarch in small saucepan until smooth. Add orange juice, vinegar, and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer just until sauce becomes thickened, stirring constantly. Cover; remove from heat and set aside.

Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in large skillet over high heat. Add steaks; pan broil 3 minutes on each side (for medium rare). Add sauce to pan. Bring to a boil, turning steaks once or twice to glaze. Spoon half the sauce in equal amounts onto 4 individual plates. Place steaks on top of sauce; spoon remaining sauce in equal amounts over steaks.

Serves 2.
Total preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes.
Calorie count: approx. 264 calories per serving.

Verdict: It's all right but not fantastic. A "B" perhaps. The sauce is interesting; a little like teriyaki sauce, but less sweet, with a sour, tangy taste.

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