Friday, January 23, 2015

Peking Pork Chops

If you are thinking that much of what we eat at home is Asian food, or at the very least Asian-influenced food, then you would be absolutely right.  My pantry is packed with everything from soy sauce (regular and dark) to sesame oil (Chinese and Korean), oyster sauce and hoisin, Shaoxing wine, rice wine, rice wine vinegar, mirin, fish sauce, coconut milk, various chili pastes (with and without soy) hailing for different Asian countries, plum sauce, sweet chili sauce, and probably a few other items that I can’t recall at the moment.

There are two very good reasons for this.  One, the most obvious, that I live in Asia, and am Asian.  And two, that I absolutely and unequivocally love Asian food.  All Asian food.  Yes, all.  And although I do love cuisines from other continents as well, none have a hold on my heart the way Asian food does.  I’ve said this one too many times that I am sure there is someone (or two or more) out there who desperately wants to shut me up (or whack my head at least).  But there it is.  I can’t deny it nor stop waxing obsessive about it.  Asian food is just this side of criminally awesome.  Nothing can match it when it comes to its crazy range of flavors.

The great I think I may be raising two more Asian food lovers as well.  My two gremlins are just as happy with their sabaw (Filipino for soup), adobo, and fish steamed with soy and sesame, as they are with fried chicken and spaghetti.  Little C in particular has recently discovered the joys of Korean food.  And don’t get me started on the excitement when she sees a whole steamed fish (almost at par with mine and C’s…almost).

So you will forgive me for having yet another Asian recipe to share I hope?

Peking Pork Chops
(amended slightly from Rasa Malaysia)

  • 250-300 grams pork steak or pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • Oil for frying
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon plum sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon hoisin
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • A pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- Pound the pork with a meat mallet to flatten and tenderize.  I like to do this in between two sheets of baking parchment for easy clean-up.  Set aside.
- In a bowl, whisk together the egg, cornstarch, Shaoxing wine, and salt.  Add the pork slices to the mixture and turn everything to make sure all surfaces of the pork are well covered in the marinade.  Set aside and let marinate for 30 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients: ketchup, plum sauce, chili paste, hoisin, Worcestershire sauce, black vinegar, sugar, Chinese five spice, and water.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Heat a skillet or wok over high heat.  Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is hot, add the pork slices in one layer.  If they can’t all fit then do this in batches.  Fry the pork on one side until golden brown, turn and repeat on the other side.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Don’t overcook the pork or it will be tough.  Set the pork aside and drain on paper towels.
- In the same skillet or wok, wiped down, bring the sauce to a boil and let this bubble for a bit, just a few seconds, and then add the fried pork.  Stir until the meat is well coated with the sauce.  Remove from the heat and serve sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds. 

This recipe was adapted from Bee of Rasa Malaysia.  I love her recipes and her magical way of making all Asian dishes seem easy and within reach, even in my flat’s little kitchen.  I have her cookbook as well and last year it was one of my most used ones.  Hmmm…do I sense a giveaway here?

Anyway, moving right along, this dish was a success with my Asian-food-loving family…even with the littlest one.  I used half a teaspoon of the chili paste (a Thai brand in soya oil that was sweet as well) and that was fine with him.  If you have no small mouths to feed though go ahead and add more.  Serve this with lots of hot rice and some simple steamed greens and you will have happy campers.  I am imagining this would also be great tucked in a soft bun with some pickled chili and kewpie mayo...but that's just me.

Maybe next post I will have something different for us.  Maybe something from different lands?  Or maybe something sweet?  Or maybe we will see another Asian dish?  After all, this blog is about home cooking, and there are no rules when it comes to that…which is one of the things I love about it.

So, despite the lure of berries and figs and fresh truffles, of chanterelles and morels and the tempting produce of distant shores…I am totally and blissfully content right where I am.  And I hope you are too.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bulgogi Korean BBQ

My little neighborhood has been getting spiffier by the minute.  I still remember when I just moved in, my pregnant belly swaying before me, excited to be in the heart of the city (that’s me…the city girl), eager to explore my new home.  There were definitely some gems already in place back then, but lately it seems like the gastronomy gods have been smiling down at me.  Almost one on top of the other, lovely new places have sprouted, like so many answers to my fervent prayers: my favorite bakery/cafe that is going to be the death of me (they make a mean kimchi fried rice too), the absolute best flat white ever, a fantastic local brick oven pizza place (that makes their own burrata and stracciatella!), a store selling all kinds of natural and local products, a rustic home store (that I have yet to visit but looks oh-so-promising), an excellent ramen bar (long lines but life changing ramen), a crêperie (because really, who wouldn't benefit from having crêpes nearby?), and a couple of other places that look like they would be perfect for a post-work cocktail or two (or three). 

To add, in the interest of my husband, I’ll also point out that a nice looking bike shop has opened.

Anyway, moving right along.

One of the old standbys though, that has been here before the hoopla of all things hip decided to grace us with their presence, and a place that has seen me through many an emergency, is our neighborhood Korean grocery.  It goes by the unassuming name of Kang’s, it’s a bit crowded, and certainly not as swanky as some of the new places here.  But oh boy is it ever a treasure trove.  Packed to the gills with Korean goodies (as you can imagine a Korean grocery would be) but also all kinds of other things that you (or at least I) find yourself running out off –garlic, canned tomatoes, cereal, ketchup, chicken fillets, pororo crackers.  It is also great for when you suddenly realize you’re out of vegetables and need produce in a pinch (like green onions to make the recipe below).  They also have gochujang…that Korean chili paste which I have fallen madly in love with.  And is used in this.

Bulgogi Korean BBQ
(adapted from A Spicy Perspective)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil (or any neutral flavored oil)
  • 300 grams thinly sliced beef (see note below)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 – 1/2 teaspoon gochujang (Korean chili paste)
  • 4 stalks green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
  • Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- In the dish where you wish to marinade your beef, place the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, black pepper, the white parts of the onion, and the gochujang.  Whisk well to combine.  Add your beef slices to the marinade and turn well to make sure all the beef is coated in the marinade.  Let this marinade for 30-45 minutes.
- Heat a wok or a large skillet over high heat.  When hot add the canola oil.  When the oil is hot add the beef, making sure not to crowd the pan.  Do this in batches if necessary.  Sear the beef on one side and then the other, until just done.  Since my beef was sliced so thin this took less than a minute per slice.  Repeat until all the beef is done.
- Pile the beef on a serving place and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and the green parts of the onion.  Serve immediately.

Gochujang is a Korean chili paste that is made with fermented soybeans and chili (and other such goodies) that has wended its way into my heart ever since the first bulgogi recipe I tried.  It is spicy, savory, and pungent, and, although perhaps not as often used as my other Asian ingredients (like soy and fish sauce), still something I like to keep on hand.  You can use it in a lot of ways, not the least of it being this dressing, which I can eat with anything.  If you’d like to add another dimension to your spicy dishes try it!  A tub will keep for quite a bit in the fridge.

On the subject of condiments and seasoning…I find I gravitate more towards Korean brand sesame oil versus Chinese brands.  The aroma is just so much deeper and nuttier.  It’s my own preference so please use your favorite.  If you don’t keep sesame oil in your pantry do consider investing in a bottle.  It has a fantastic fragrance and is awesome in all kinds of Asian cooking.  It gets a lot of use in my kitchen.  Aside from a plethora of Asian recipes that call for it, it will turn your regular weeknight veggie stir-fry into something magic.

A note on the beef:  You can choose to buy beef and slice it yourself as Sommer does.  She used New York Strip I believe.  I am both lazy and clumsy so I usually buy beef that is already sliced for tepanyaki or karubi, and this works well for me.  The original recipe calls for lean steak but I like to make this with beef that has a good marbling.  The chances of me buying anything even remotely lean are, well, slim (no pun intended).  I like to buy mine at the Kitayama meat shop in Makati.  They sell beef from Japanese Wagyu cattle crossbred with local Brahmans, raised in Bukidnon.  You get beef that is not as expensive as 100% Wagyu but still has really good marbling.  And don’t think they are all about steak – they sell all cuts of beef.  Their short ribs are amazing and are what I used in this beef stew.

I am pleased as punch with everyone that has been setting up shop in my little corner of the city.  I have always tried to be mindful of practicing gratitude and this is something I want to continue and build on this year – and although it may seem like a small and not quite earth-changing detail, I am absolutely grateful for the food fates for sending this abundance my way.

Wishing you all a great week ahead!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Korean Beef Stew...and I'm back

Hi.  I hope you’re still here.  Because I am.  I always have been in a way. 

All throughout these past months of little sleep, of no respite, of tiredness and sadness.  Of trying to get by, trying to make sure everything was at least a decent amount done.  Of squeezing in work, and children, and food, and a household…while watching my father leave this world.  As I knew he was.  As I always knew.  Even when people gathered around with extra loud voices – as if the volume of it could somehow push the sickness away – I stood by and did what I needed to do.  I watched, I spoke to doctors and nurses, I updated family members.  Rinse, repeat.  I whispered in his ear that I loved him, because I felt that was the most important thing he needed to hear.  If everything else was left unsaid it was ok, that I loved him was enough.  I cherished each time when he would respond, and say it back, and told my heart that it was ok if this was the last time.  So when it was really the last time, and the days to follow held no response, no “saying back”, it was ok.  And I continued to do what needed to be done.  In companionable silence.  And people’s foreheads knitted in worry, hands were wrung, and tears were spilled.  I looked at them almost as if watching from afar.  Shook my head and went about my business.  There were things to be done, and I did them.  Until the end.  And truth be told, until now.

Grief.  They say it comes to us in different ways...and it’s true.  I have certainly shed some tears.  But how do we measure our grief?  Is it in tears?  In the days we can’t get out of bed?  The days of being inconsolable?  I can’t say.  There are things that need to be done, and I do them.  I feel sadness like an old wound, humming a bit every now and then.  Is this grief?  I used to go to bed in fear, that I would wake up and “real grief” would arrive, and attack me with a vengeance.  Punishing me for having let others cry in my stead.  But I’ve stopped being scared.  There is too much life yet to be lived.  If there is one thing that my father has taught me it is to live life to the fullest, and to follow your passions.  So I go on, doing what I do best, which is doing the things that need to be done.  And if one day, weeks, months, or years from now, the grief arrives, big and dark and monstrous, then I’ll deal with it then.

Meanwhile, there are booboos to be kissed, books to be read, trips to be taken, birthdays to be celebrated, food to be cooked and to be eaten.  There is work to be done, and a new year to experience.  There is life to be lived.

Korean Beef Stew
(from Trissalicious, with some changes)
  • 1 kilo beef short ribs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 5 spring onions, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, to serve
  • 2-3 spring onions chopped, to serve
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon cornstarch diluted in 2 tablespoons cold water 
- In a small bowl mix together the dark soy sauce, sesame oil, 5 spring onions, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and mirin.  Set aside.
- Bring an oven-proof pot to medium high heat then add the oil.
- Season the beef ribs with salt and pepper.
- When the oil is hot add the beef to the pot, making sure not to overcrowd the pot.  Do this in batches if needed.  Fry the meat to sear until golden brown.
- Once done, return all the meat to the pot and add the sauce mixture and the two cups of water.  I like to almost cover the meat in the liquid.  Bring to a boil and skim off any scum that rises to the top.
- Cover the pot and transfer to a pre-heated 180C oven and cook for 2-3 hours or until the beef is very tender and falling off the bone.  Check your pot occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking or burning and to turn the meat around in the sauce so it braises evenly.   Towards the end of the cooking time, I like to give it an extra 15-20 minutes with the cover off to reduce the sauce a bit.
- Once the meat is meltingly tender remove the pot from the oven and stir in half the sesame seeds.  If you are serving immediately then top with the other half of the sesame seeds and the remaining spring onions.  If you aren’t serving this immediately, then add the rest of the sesame seeds and spring onions right before you serve.

**If you want to thicken the sauce further, you can add the cornstarch that has been diluted in cold water when the ribs are done.  I didn’t feel I needed to (or maybe I was lazy) so I left it out.

Stews and braises are some of the most comforting foods for me, both in the eating of them and in the cooking.  The feeling of “tending a pot” that blips slowly in the oven for hours gives me just as much pleasure as sinking my teeth into a tender piece of meat while dribbling its sauce on hot rice.  So I am sharing this with you, some comfort in a pot, to bolster us through forlorn times, and to fortify us for new undertakings.  Korean beef stew is one of my favorite stews and Trissalicious’ recipe is both delicious and relatively simple to make.  I make mine in the oven (vis a vis on the hob) because I love making almost all braise-y dishes there.  The heat is slower and gentler, and, you don’t have to look after it as much.  I’ve cooked everything from binagoongan baboy to adobo this way.  Although of course, you can prepare it completely on the hob, as the original recipe says, and that is absolutely fine.  This dish was a hit with my husband and both the little ones so I hope you give it a whirl.

So…here we are at the beginning of a new year.  I can’t say that we can shrug off all last year’s troubles like an old jacket, and that everything henceforth will be shiny and fresh.  I can’t say that last year’s ghosts will not come back to haunt us on cold rainy nights.  But I can say that with each new dawn, new possibilities will show themselves to those who are looking.  So keep watch, and be ready to reach out and take their hands.  And when I stumble (or lock myself in a bathroom – a story for another time), I’ll know there is someone watching over me.  And I’ll whisper, “Oh dad!” as I have many times since he passed.  And I’ll keep going.

I want to wish all of you a wonderful New Year!!  Your messages of comfort and sympathy have touched my heart and have given me solace throughout this tough time.  I cannot express enough how much I want to stretch my arms across this virtual world and give you a big hug.  May 2015 smile upon you tremendously!!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Fight Food Waste -- Love Food Don’t Waste

Hi folks…you still there?  I hope so, because I've been a bit pensive lately, a bit meditative, and usually, when I surface from these states, I have a thing or two to share.  And where else would I share it but here…a space where no one can interrupt me and I can ramble to my heart’s content.  So apologies in advance in case I am a bore!

For those of you who are wondering, after this post, my father is a little better, although the general condition has not changed.  Right now, all we can do is make sure he is as comfortable as possible.  Emotionally I don’t (can’t) really delve too deeply into it all.  Not if I want to be able to look after his care efficiently and effectively.  I suppose am in a state of “automatic pilot”. 

I am lucky.  I have a family who is supporting each other through everything.  Although of course, it can’t be helped, every once in a while, driving home from the hospital at night, or hearing a familiar song, that you feel alone.  But I get home and am greeted by the noisy ruckus from my two wild things, and a warm solid hug from my steadfast and stalwart husband, and I am ok. 

I am beside my dad as I type, having fallen into the steady rhythm of being in a hospital.  I watch him in his sleep as maybe he once watched me.  Where did the time go?  I know it sounds corny and trite and overused, but really, cherish each moment you have and enjoy it to the fullest. 

Now…I've promised you some practical advice...

I wanted to share with you some things I have put together to make use of leftovers (and those odds and ends that lurk in most of our fridges).  All of this is part of an endeavor that is close to my heart and that is to fight food waste.  By no means am I an expert in this department…I would be a liar if I said I've never wasted food.  That being said, fighting food waste has been a little personal project of mine for a while, and it is one that I would like to share with you as well.  We could all benefit from learning tips and tricks on how to effectively use leftovers, avoid fruit and vegetables going bad, and using up the bits that we usually toss.

Healthy Options, a store I turn to for quinoa, steel-cut oats, and different varieties for flour (and Green & Blacks I confess!) has been running an advocacy campaign for food waste awareness for a year now.  It’s called Love Food Don’t Waste.  Which really, is something that could have easily come from my own mouth!  So when they reached out to me to help spread the word I was glad to pitch in.  They have put together some great informational videos on food waste and tips to avoid it.  To get started, take a peek on Why We Waste Food.  And before the food actually gets to us we should Shop Smart.

I've placed other videos below together with my own tips on avoiding food waste.

From the photos here, top left onwards:

This is one of my favorite things to do with leftover tomato-based pasta sauce (or any tomato based sauce…even a bit of leftover stew with the meat shredded).  You know that little smidge of sauce left in the fridge...too small an amount to make another bowl of pasta from, taunting you, challenging you.  Well, this is how to make short work of that last little bit.  Heat the sauce in a skillet.  I like to add a few extra drizzles of olive oil just to make it a bit rich.  When this is hot and bubbling crack an egg in the center.  Cook until the egg is done to your liking.  Eat straight out of the pan with a couple of thick slices of rustic-looking bread for an awesome breakfast.

** My favorite thing to do with leftover steak, which we all know is quite pathetic the next day and can never, short of wizardry, be restored to its former glory.  For this, I turn it into fried rice.  Leftover steak?  A bit tragic.  But steak fried rice?  Awesome.  I like this best started with some fried garlic before adding the steak…and ending with some shakes of Worcestershire sauce.  Goes without saying that this makes use of leftover rice as well.  If I have some leftover vegetables in the fridge I sometimes toss this in as well.  Top the whole mess with a fried egg and a squirt of hot sauce (sriracha is my favorite hot sauce for most kinds of fried rice) and you are more than good to go.

Something I do to avoid vegetables, particularly broccoli, from going bad is to cook them as soon as I buy them, so they are cooked fresh…and then set them aside to use at my leisure.  If you are going to consume it in the next couple of days just keep it in the fridge.  If it’ll be longer then tuck it into the freezer.  This keeps me from finding a tragic piece of broccoli in my crisper at the end of the week.  Now you have a nice supply of veggies without having to worry about them spoiling.  Use throughout the week in stir-fries, salads, mixed into your baby’s rice (heehee), or in my favorite preparation: tossed warm with your best olive oil and coarse salt…better than popcorn folks!

** What I like to do with the older veggies that I need to use up is to roast them.  Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars in vegetables, rendering them soft and sweet and intense and a touch smoky.  I just chop up the veg (this works best for vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, capsicums, onions, zucchini, and, as pictured here, eggplant).  I then have effectively extended their life for a couple more days, during which I can decide what to do with them.  These are good in a salad, rolled or tucked into a pita with a dollop of garlic yogurt, in a rice bowl like this, or tossed with some pasta.  If you have roasted eggplant you can also turn this into a dip by processing with some yogurt, garlic, olive oil, and seasoning.

For more on fighting food waste you can check the “leftovers” tag on my sidebar.  You can also follow me on instagram and check the hashtags #fightfoodwaste and #500daysoffriedrice.  For more on Healthy Options Love Food Don’t Waste campaign you can check out their Facebook page or their website.

Thanks for sticking around friends!  I'll be back soon with more food and other forms of sustenance!